It took all of two hours for the snow to start falling.
Kirk squinted through the whorls of flakes, huddling deeper into his jacket as the wind darted and whistled at his face. Beside him, Spock merely shifted his hands from his sides to his pockets, staring fixedly ahead; Kirk had a sneaking suspicion the Vulcan was operating under the hypothesis that it was indeed possible to melt snow with a well-placed glare.
"Oh, hell," Bones said, from somewhere behind them. "This is all we need."
Deciding that it would be a shame to waste a perfectly good opportunity to put his back to the wind, Kirk turned. Bones was falling behind, struggling with a pair of what looked suspiciously like warm woolen mittens.
The doctor scowled at his scrutiny. "So help me, if the next words out of your mouth are 'cold enough for you?'-"
"Wouldn't dream of it," Kirk said, and judiciously ignored Spock's raised eyebrow. "You'll just have to grin and bear it - we'll be back at the beam-up point in a few hours, Bones."
Spock straightened. "Actually-"
Stamping his feet in what Kirk assumed was a mixture of cold and exasperation, McCoy glowered. "Spock, if I wanted the precise number of minutes, seconds, and- and picoseconds, I'd ask for it!"
Without doing anything so radical as shifting his expression, Spock still managed to exude an air of smugness. "At present, we are not moving, Doctor. I merely wished to point out that, at our current non-velocity, it will take us considerably longer than 'a few hours'."
"Gentlemen," Kirk said, but the grin creeping across his face undermined what he'd intended to be a thoroughly commanding tone of voice.
"Oh, come on, then." McCoy stomped past them, quickly enough that Kirk only just caught the twitch of a smile at the corner of his mouth.
Kirk took advantage of the impromptu increase in pace to lengthen his stride and stretch his legs; it felt good after all the sitting he'd endured over the past few days, all the politics, to do something useful, tangible - even if that something was the direct result of having accidentally destroyed their Starfleet-issue flitter over the course of their so-called "routine diplomatic mission". Now, under the swirling sky, marching towards the agreed-upon emergency beam-up point, Kirk was even finding it difficult to dread the paperwork that would be waiting for him on his return.
"It's kind of peaceful, isn't it?"
He wasn't aware that he'd spoken aloud until Spock said, "Indeed."
McCoy snorted, but it was a half-hearted scoff at best; glancing over, Kirk caught his CMO staring up at the dizzying swirls of snow with an expression that was unreadable enough to do Spock credit. "We never really got much snow," Bones said after a moment. "As a kid, I mean. It's not like you expect it in Georgia that much anyway, and the tourism board was all for keeping the skies as sunny as possible."
"Considering your earlier complaints regarding the weather, Doctor, I should think you'd be quite pleased at that." Spock's voice was the picture of innocent curiosity, but Kirk caught the glint of humor in his eyes.
Smirking, Bones rubbed his bemittened hands together. "Oh, don't get me wrong - sun's all well and good, but sometimes you just can't beat a white Christmas."
Kirk grinned. "Spoken like someone who's never had to clear snow off the front porch when it was twenty below."
"Fascinating," Spock said, and lapsed into silence. Kirk shot him a long-suffering glance, and he continued, obediently. "As you're no doubt aware, the climate on Vulcan is fairly uniform - I merely find the dramatic differences between your experiences to be an interesting example of the volatile meteorology of Earth."
At that, Kirk laughed, a puff of breath that hovered in the air. "Volatile's the right word. Sam and I-" A moment after he spoke his brother's name, he was acutely aware of the way McCoy's eyes fixed on him with gentle, concerned, professional scrutiny. Kirk swallowed, realized he was only making things worse for himself by hesitating, and plunged on. "Sam and I used to drag our sleds out to the biggest hill, fighting our way through a blizzard, and by the time we'd made it to the top, half the snow had melted."
Spock withdrew his hands from his pockets and clasped them behind his back as he walked. "That does not seem-"
Rolling his eyes, Bones unconsciously imitated the Vulcan's stance. "Nobody ever teach you about hyperbole?"
"The practice of deliberate exaggeration seems counterproductive, Doctor, and open to conflicting interpretations." With a sniff, Spock shrugged off the snow that had started to accumulate on his shoulders. "In a word: illogical."
"Why, thank you, Spock," drawled McCoy. "On behalf of the human race, I'll take that as a compliment."
With the bravery and initiative that had made him Starfleet's youngest captain, Kirk interjected before the two combatants started battle in earnest. "What about you, Spock? Ever spend winter on Earth as a boy?"
Spock stiffened, and Kirk found himself grasping frantically for a way to make it sound like he hadn't been prying; to his relief, the Vulcan relaxed almost immediately. "My mother is quite fond of a peculiar practice involving the throwing of frozen projectiles. I did not find it agreeable," he said, with a primness that set Kirk to grinning again.
Bones was positively beaming. "I'll just bet you didn't!"
"I do, however, recall one particularly fascinating phenomenon that caught my attention." Spock stopped in his tracks so suddenly that Kirk nearly plowed into him. "In fact, I believe this planet boasts the necessary conditions in somewhat greater quantities than Earth."
McCoy was following Spock's intent gaze at the sky, and Kirk followed suit, enjoying the strange, almost weightless sensation the slow-falling snowflakes evoked. "What're we looking at?"
"There is a much more significant ionic bombardment of this atmosphere," Spock said. "We are also at a sufficiently high latitude that-"
Even through the grey of the cloud overhead, Kirk was becoming aware of a flickering, wavering light - the impression grew stronger, the colors shifted from grey-green to brilliant gold and red, like whispering curtains in a breeze, and he found himself stumbling back a step at the sheer scale of it, at the dizzying motion, at the impossible, alien beauty.
"My God," Bones whispered.
"This planet's equivalent of your Aurora Borealis, I believe," said Spock.
And James T. Kirk, legend in his own right, veteran of a captaincy that had taken him, thus far, to the very ends of the galaxy and back, watched in silent awe as the sky slipped comfortably into its nightly dance, breathing and singing in light and color, mingling with the faint wisps of his breath, with the drifting snow.
It didn't last long, which just as well or they'd never have stopped watching. (Years later, Kirk was still nursing a sneaking suspicion that Spock had planned the whole thing from the start, timing and all.) As the last vestiges of color faded away to the slate-grey of the night sky, Kirk let out a breath he wasn't aware he'd been holding.
McCoy was the first to find his voice, rocking back on his heels. "You can't tell me you didn't feel anything while you were watching that, Vulcan or not."
Spock's eyebrow climbed towards his hairline. "On the contrary, Doctor. I was quite intrigued by the ranges of the visual spectra produced by the different ions in this region-"
"Oh, shut up, Spock," Bones said, cheerfully, and started leading the way back through the snow with what Kirk suspected was an actual spring in his step.
Kirk turned to Spock, who merely regarded him with polite curiosity. "Captain?"
For a ridiculous moment, Kirk couldn't think of what to say; finally, he nodded towards the sky. "Thanks," he said.
The corner of Spock's mouth twitched. "I can hardly take credit for-"
"But all the same," said Kirk, "thanks. Now, c'mon." He jammed his hands back into his pockets and grinned, setting off after McCoy. "Let's keep Bones out of trouble."
"A challenging mission, indeed," Spock said, and followed.
And, through the blowing snow, under a quieter sky, lightyears from Earth and Vulcan and the points in between, three friends made their way home.