Holding On (Star Trek: TOS story)

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K/S Fanfiction
Title: Holding On
Author(s): Kathy Stanis
Date(s): 1997
Length:
Genre: slash
Fandom: Star Trek: The Original Series
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Holding On is a Kirk/Spock story by Kathy Stanis.

It was published in the print zine KaleidoScope #6.

Summary

"After the five year mission, Kirk has trouble keeping his life on track, as his memories of going through pon farr with Spock dominate his thoughts."

Reactions and Reviews

I was open-mouthed with awe as I read this story. I've always been very interested in what happens to Kirk on Earth if we postulate that Spock leaves for Gol after the first five year mission. (I don't think this is necessarily the only way to write their story, though.) And even though this isn't what I personally think would happen to our captain, still I consider Holding On a tour de force. It's a character study with very little plot, and boy, what a character study!

What better way to show the depths of Kirk's despair then to follow him through one dark night? What better, more evocative way to start the story than with "Five o'clock. The first drink was always the best." (I was hooked from then on.) The skillful way the author weaves in just enough information about why Kirk was taking first one drink, then another, rationalizing them and the ones he would take later that night. I loved the "lifters" that he fingers in the pocket of his jeans, and the question that he asks himself: should he take one? I considered that the first indication that Kirk had some will left, that he decides "No — he didn't want to take one."

Such atmosphere conveyed! I felt as if I were there in San Francisco, in the bar, surveying the bar keep and avoiding the woman, feeling the despair and the memories wash over him, then push them back, then let them creep over him a little further. Loved the little touch of the drying beam in the doorway of the bar. Just a little something that shows the author is so aware of appropriate setting, that she is in charge of her material.

Also so appropriate, the thought that "they didn't know him too well here yet." This is part of the new life Jim Kirk has built for himself, or sunk into, avoiding bars from which he's been evicted, or where it's possible he's disgraced himself, though he doesn't always remember that when he does. What sodden sadness.

This whole section conveys such a delicate touch, such an understanding. Never did I feel as if the situation were over-blown. Like Terri who reviewed this story a few months ago, I too grew up with an alcoholic parent, and this is the real thing. Even the ability to function at the job when it seems impossible.

At all times I felt as if I were absolutely inside Kirk's head, looking out, knowing exactly how he felt.

One of the very few imperfections in this section is in the transitions, I think, and this is true of other parts of the story, too. On page 136 the switch from rainy sidewalk to apartment had me re-reading to try to figure out where and when I was. Likewise the scene switch on page 138. lean see that the author might possibly have wanted the connection from being in bed to sitting on the bed as the link between two times, but I found it confusing. And page 142 was the most disorienting, as I thought we were back with Admiral, not Captain, Kirk.

The second section of the story is, if possible, even more riveting than the first. After more than 20 years of K/S, and so many stories, one might think that the whole pon farr scenario has been done to death, that there can't be anything new. Not so! Such intensity, such wonderful characterization as Kirk is determined to give, but also wants so much, as Spock is strong enough to receive. Love this segment: "I don't think we even need to talk about this," Kirk said quietly. He could feel the heat from the fevered body, another step closer. "Am I right?" "You are." Spock's voice was rough, an octave deeper. "But.... I will not say I am sorry, but I wish to say ... thank you."

And then the incredible sequence at the end of the pon farr, when Spock offers to Kirk, and Kirk is strong enough to take .... I hate to use a K/S Press cliche, but be still, my heart! I have re-read this section. Oh, yes.

So many unique aspects of this pon farr, Spock's inability to speak much, the sounds he makes during sex changing with the rhythm and purpose of his thrusting, Kirk wanting to touch Spock on page 143, wanting more even then he was getting, and yet still loving what he was getting The reader understands exactly where Kirk is, understands the genesis of the misery of the first part, sees how hope springs from the pon farr experience.

Loved this part, especially about the embarrassment. It's a new insight: "... and even through the water pelting their faces Kirk could see it was his friend Spock, his first officer, not the Vulcan in pon farr, who was sucking his cock — a joy and a shock and an immense turn-on. And an embarrassment — but he let that go and opened himself to Spock's gaze..." Oh — My — Palpitating — Heart."

I do believe that the first 18 pages of this story are among the most beautifully, insightfully written passages in the history of K/S. I love them. However, I don't think that Holding On actually hangs together as a story. For me, it wasn't satisfying. As a matter of fact, I was so disappointed by the end, after such an exquisite beginning, that I hopped around my living room in anguish, shouting to my husband. To be so close to one of the few perfect K/S stories ....

It isn't so much that I think that the ending is rushed, although that is part of it. It isn't so much that I thought using the turbo-lift scene at the end was disorienting because it superimposes the author's vision over the movie's vision, and the movie is inevitably so much stronger. (I'm not against an author interpreting a movie or series scene differently, but I think this is done too quickly, and too abruptly within the story when this technique hasn't been used before.) It isn't so much that I believe Kirk's recovery from his disintegration was too easy to believe: even if he isn't physically addicted, he certainly appears to be psychologically addicted, and I saw no signs that his resolutions the morning he awakens will be fulfilled any more than any other of his morning resolutions. The primary problem, from which in my opinion all others flow, is in the structure of the story.

There are all different kinds of structures, and stories with all different kinds of purpose. But there are some common elements, and among these is that scenes are written for a purpose. Also, that what precedes an ending contributes to the ending. Not even necessarily a resolution, for not all stories will have that, but a clear and distinct ending.

I feel as if the first two long segments of Holding On are among the most gorgeous set-up scenes imaginable. But I don't think they lead anywhere. The ending of the story is not really connected to its beginning.

I asked myself what is this story really about? Why is the drunken Admiral segment written, what purpose does it serve in the progression of the narrative? Because Kirk didn't appear to have to struggle for anything, not the Enterprise, not Spock, the drunken Admiral sequences don't appear to me to have purpose. They aren't used for anything.

Perhaps my perception would be different if the Admiral segments were written a little bit differently, so that I thought Kirk was truly struggling against his state, that there was some reason, some impetus, some event that could possibly push him over the edge. I didn't see that. I thought that this night was just like any other night for him.

But instead he wakes up after his night of drink and despair, and takes a shower, feeling fine. Then Nogura hands him the Enterprise, without Kirk trying for it, yearning for it, working for it, using it perhaps as a reason to stop his torturous spiral downward. I believe that this part is intended to show that Kirk is actually on the way to "recovery" before he hears from Nogura. If it's that easy, why the months, maybe even years of despair and struggle before? What causes the change? It occurs to me that possibly the memory of the pon farr was intended to be that causal event, but my impression as I read it was that this was a memory Kirk had experienced many times.

And, there's Spock, too, on the Enterprise to go after V'ger and apparently ready to fulfill all of Kirk's desires. The implied sorrow of the pon fan, (such a life-defining event for Kirk, but knowing throughout that it might not ever happen for him again) serves no purpose, because as soon as Spock returns, it's implied that he's ready to turn to his former captain with love.

I think this story needed to be more fully developed, so that the promise of the first 18 pages could be fulfilled. A careful development, in whatever way, would have taken care of the feeling of the rushed ending, the problem with the turbolift scene, and our understanding of exactly why Kirk manages to achieve functional sobriety.

I still have re-read those opening parts with great pleasure and awe in the author's ability to write such poetry in prose, and I know I'll be re-reading them in the future. Regardless that I don't think the story is as richly satisfying as it might have been, it is still an extraordinary work of art. Such beautiful words. Such insight. I love Kathy's work. [1]
An exquisitely crafted story of one man's desperate rush toward self-destruction. Skillfully avoiding the pitfalls of portraying Kirk as a caricature—as just another staggenng, falling down drunk—the author has painted a true representation of the painful, often devastating effects of alcoholism.

Having grown up with a functioning alcoholic, I am totally familiar with the subtleties of this insidious disease. The denials, the deceptions, the rationalizations for "just one more drink". The promises to quit, knowing it was all a lie, the blackouts and the most unbelievable of all—the ability to function at work as if nothing were wrong. All these, the author has captured to perfection.

But there's more. Kirk's memories of Spock are so poignant they bring a lump to your throat. Reading them almost seems like an invasion of privacy somehow, as if the thoughts are just too personal to be shared.

The pon farr scene just blew me away. Great, hot emotional sex—wonderful descriptive passages—and so much feeling, heartbreaking in its intensity. Oh damn, I need a Kleenex. [2]
I had left this story for dead last because I assumed a tale of alcohol abuse and despair would be too much of a downer. Wrong! This was one of the best character studies of James T. ever. Not only was the prose beautiful but nothing seemed forces or contrived. It was totally believable while remained true to Kirk's character. Never over dramatic yet deeply moving this was a memorable story. The sex was really lovely and intimate. Kirk and Spock made love not just had sex. This story gets one of my votes in next years awards. The accompanying Spock drawing was also excellent. [3]
"Holding On" is told from Kirk's point of view. The story begins in the period of time just previous to ST;TMP, with an examination of how Kirk is dealing with life as an admiral, separated from Spock and tied to a "...big, pretentious, status-symbol chair—made to grow soft in, and old, to dictate fates from...but not his own." We see enough of Kirk's life to learn how miserable he is in his new position, and we also learn, through a flashback, about "...the time he had felt most alive." The story then moves on to the KinVSpock reunion which occurs in ST;TMP. Unfortunately, this last part of the story is a little weak, but the first two parts—the description of how Kirk's life has degenerated and the flashback—are so wonderful that I'd recommend this story to anyone who enjoys reading really well written K/S. I'll elaborate, but first I want to warn everyone that some plot details are revealed in what follows.

Although the action in the first part of the story spans only one night, we soon realize that Kirk has made a habit of seeking temporary comfort in alcohol, narcotics, and meaningless sexual encounters with strangers; it is only detox pills and a depressing sort of dogged determination which keep him functional enough to return to his desk each day and continue playing the part of a Starfleet admiral. Throughout it all, he keeps thinking about Spock. He also keeps promising himself that it's all going to change, but we get the distinct impression that he's made these same promises to himself before and broken them.

This is obviously a very dark part of the story, and Kathy handles it beautifully, using images of rain (when it rains at night Kirk can't see the stars) and Kirk's new, confining, drab, white and gray uniform to reinforce the general misery. Her descriptions of Kirk's reactions to the large quantities of alcohol he's consumed are quite effective and really make us feel Kirk's despair and helplessness and, in his more lucid moments, his disgust with his own behavior. Kirk is trapped, and Kathy makes the reader feel this very strongly, right along with the captain.

The flashback is Kirk's recollection of how he helped Spock through pon fan. As I said above, Kathy handles the first part of the story beautifully. In the flashback, she's incredible. From beginning to end, the mood is perfect. Kathy occasionally uses long, stream-of-consciousness sentences to describe what Kirk is experiencing. This technique works well in the first part; here, it's downright hypnotic. As Kirk faces what he is about to do, we get a powerful combination of chills-down-your-back fear and tension amid intensely sexual anticipation. Then, during the progress of the fever, Kirk finds himself alternately wondering if it's ever going to end and hoping that it never does. And when the fever does, finally, end, the flashback keeps going. This is very strong, sensual, poetic prose, and some of the best K/S I've read anywhere. As I said above, the last part of the story is not as strong as the rest. It feels very rushed. It's also somewhat confusing. Kirk suddenly throws off his bad habits (permanently, as far as we can tell). This seems to be a response to Spock's mind reaching out to him from Vulcan, which may explain why this time it's going to be different than it has been all those other times Kirk has promised himself he will clean up his act. But we're also told that "...he [Kirk] would not make his happiness depend on Spock. He would not be a hatf-man, crippled by emptiness. He would find in his own self what he had lost...," so I wasn't quite sure if this was all Kirk's initiative, or if Spock was actively helping him. And then, the initial KinVSpock encounter on the bridge of the refitted Enterprise seems to proceed quite smoothly and we are led to believe that K and S know that everything is going to be fine even before Spock has melded with V'Ger and decided that emotions are not so bad after all. Since this doesn't really fit with what we saw in the movie, I was left wondering if we were in an alternate universe, even though I hadn't felt that way at all during the first two parts of the story.

However, despite the problems I had with the reunion part of the story, the rest is just so damn good that I'd still have to strongly recommend "Holding On" to anyone who has even the slightest interest in reading it. [4]
I’ve never been able to see Kirk as an addictive personality — obsessive yes, but not addictive. The Pon Farr incident does help to set up his demoralized state, but whenever we’ve seen Kirk faced with unbearable loss, he’s always dug in his heels and tried harder. I was glad to see him rally prior to the emergency and Spock’s return, but it might have been better if he had done so even a few days prior to this so we would have the feeling he could succeed on his own rather than exchanging one crutch (alcohol) for another (Spock’s love/presence). However, the sheer excellence of Ms. Stanis’ writing (i.e.: broken sentence structure during Kirk’s thoughts, language choices, etc.) kept me reading and enjoying the story when I didn’t necessarily agree with the premise. [5]
And as I read, I thought: Oh gosh, this is good! This is very good! I'm in for a real treat. And indeed it got better and better and then...boom...finito. All of a sudden it was finished. A few sentences marked the end of what I considered (until that moment) to be a perfect story.

Does it seem too easy, too soon, or are the words that Spock mind-speaks not exactly the right ones? Or is it simply because I don't want it to end?

That description of Kirk's state-physically, mentally and emotionally-is a jewel. He needs his pain to remind him that he is alive still, though barely. That stubborn streak which doesn't allow him to give in or to give up. That belief in himself never dies, no matter what.

I loved so many things about it, but I'll end with a sentence I particularly found very beautiful: "Spock's eyes always kissed him." [6]
Oh. My. Where to begin? You start reading through a zine or zines, and every story has its merits, its high points and its fine moments of love. But then something changes and you know you have something in your hands that is of great significance in the K/S realm. You know this one is going to touch your heart. I felt that from the moment I read the opening lines: “Five o’clock. The first drink was always the best.” From that moment I was plunged into the deep, dark hole where James T. Kirk had been since the end of the five year mission.

I know I’m not going to express myself adequately, but this is one of those rare stories where you don’t feel as if you are an outsider looking in, you feel as if you are one with the character, experiencing his thoughts and pain and in this case plowing through his despair as if it were your own. Kirk is drinking. Not his first and not his last, though each time he tries to tell himself it is. This is one of the finest depictions I’ve read of how Spock’s departure to Gol might have affected the once proud, seemingly indestructible starship captain. Every step he takes through a drizzly San Francisco evening is exquisitely defined. And then, to make matters much, much worse, Kirk allows himself the rare pleasure of taking out his memories of Spock and savoring them, an excursion we are privileged to join. Together we relive the rigors and the ecstasy of their unification through Pon Farr. Even that experience is written in a different light, not brutal but not slow and sweet and sensitive by any means. Invisibly written between every touch and every word is dedication and unselfish love. Why would Kirk be living in anything other than abject misery to have lost all that? With the dawning of a new day, Kirk rises from the tatters of his bed and his life and somehow feels renewed, his heart thrumming with a determination to rise above all that he has become, even if he must do it alone. If possible, it is at this juncture that the story gets even better. Before he pours a second cup of coffee to reinforce his uncertain resolve, he receives a call from Nogura that a shuttle is on its way to pick him up. “We need you, on the Enterprise.” Words of benediction. Now Ms. Stanis shows us the familiar scenes as Kirk steps in the lift and orders “Bridge,” closing his eyes to savor the moment. She has thrown brilliant floodlights on every word, every motion. We hear Kirk’s mental motivational speech to himself that he can do this alone, though he looks for Spock at every turn. We feel the staccato beat of his heart as the lift doors open and the Vulcan he thought he’d never see again appears like an apparition of the desert. But – and this is great – we hear Kirk’s thoughts, and so does Spock! And across the link that has held fast during their two separate journeys through hell, Spock answers. “I have come back to you, if you will have me.” Yes! Yes! Yes! And so the story ends. Oh, but no it doesn’t! There is a scene we somehow missed during the movie. Kirk halts the lift doors before they completely close and steps inside. “And Spock opened his arms and Kirk fell into them, and it was like the first time, like the last time...”

Sigh. [7]
My own reaction to the story was that it was strongly written and that if it had been a story about Kathy‘s own original characters I‘ve counted it among the best stories I‘d read, but as a Trek story—it wasn‘t my Kirk. While I concede that virtually anybody except 100% teetotalers who never touch the stuff does occasionally say 'I need a drink!', my Kirk isn‘t so lacking in self-sufficiency and inner resources that he would have to turn to drink for any sort of, say, comfort on any sort of regular basis. I could see him going on a bender the night of Spock‘s departure, but then the next day picking himself up and getting on with his life. He doesn‘t have the sort of character that would readily succumb to depression. I accept that different people see the characters in different ways. I can also understand Kathy‘s wanting to explore this situation, this characterization. Any half-way competent writer will, sooner or later, find herself wanting to explore something, let‘s say controversial, even if it‘s only for her own satisfaction. My own reason for writing something like this, if I was ever to do so, would be to develop a mounting feeling on Kirk‘s part that he was wasting his time, that day by day he was going into the office, pushing paper around and accomplishing nothing. I could see that leading to eventual depression, causing a man like Kirk to feel that he was finished. On the other hand, I never did see the 'I‘m 50, I‘m old' reaction shown in TWOK. My Kirk is not a character to consider mere age a handicap—witness ― 'The Deadly Years". [8]
'Five o‘clock. The first drink was always the best.' I believe this is one of the most perfect opening lines of a story I have ever read. It not only draws the reader in close right away, but it shows Kirk‘s behavior so clearly. We know by implication that if there‘s a first drink, then there‘s a second and a third. Knowing that James T. Kirk is drinking is evocative and unsettling. Also, you can almost feel Kirk‘s relief that it‘s finally time to drink—since supposedly the evening is the 'proper' or accepted time to drink.

I also loved the opening and the closing of the story using the feel of his uniform. In the beginning it‘s tight and restrictive, then in the end 'his uniform felt just right now, not confining at all.' Much has been said and discussed about this story—clearly the mark of a highly original work. But I need to address some of the criticisms—such as Kirk being an alcoholic and changing too easily. I feel very strongly that in this story, Kirk is not an alcoholic. I thought it was made very clear that he was drinking at this point in his life for a particular reason and to drown his sorrows. This is very different behavior than an alcoholic who don‘t need a reason to drink. Also, his change is not easy. The pon farr sequence/memory was there for a specific reason—not just to show he thinks of Spock. Kirk vividly remembers the experience, something unusual during his days and nights of drunken stupor. He is finally able and ready to understand what his relationship with Spock means to him. He finally realizes how much he needs Spock—not to make him whole—he has his career and the Enterprise—but because he loves him. And it is during this pon farr memory that he comes to term with his needs and makes the decision to stop his self- destructive behavior. 'No—he would not make his happiness depend on Spock. He would not be a half man, crippled by emptiness. He would find in his own self what he had what he had lost, and when Spock came back to him it would be a whole, strong man, a better man than he had left...' So he‘s putting his life together for himself and for Spock. This does not sound like an alcoholic, who typically wallows in their plight, and indeed sounds very much like the Kirk we know—whether or not you accept the premise that he would drink over the loss of Spock. After all, he doesn‘t know Spock is coming back! We know it because we saw the movie! In the memory, Kirk tells Spock that he loves him. This telling is very important. During the whole experience, Kirk is there for Spock—everything he does is for him, and Kirk even tells Spock that. Just before he remembered: 'He opened up the treasure he kept hidden in a corner of his heart, let it play before his mind‘s eye, felt it in every part of his body...and as he returned from the dead of his drunken stupor, he thought about the time he had felt most alive....' Spock says: 'I have died and come back.' And Kirk cries. That is so damn beautiful. There‘s so much more that I loved in 'Holding On'—the scene in the bar with the gorgeous bartender, for one. In addition to the excellent, excellent writing.

I found this story to be an extraordinary one—filled with a haunting look into Kirk‘s troubled psyche—but a psyche that is quickly healed once Kirk is returned to his soulmate. [9]

References

  1. ^ from The K/S Press #14
  2. ^ from The K/S Press #12
  3. ^ from The K/S Press #13
  4. ^ from The K/S Press #13
  5. ^ from The K/S Press #18
  6. ^ from The K/S Press #18
  7. ^ from The K/S Press #119
  8. ^ from The K/S Press #15
  9. ^ from The K/S Press #15