I don't know how to begin
to let myself let you in.
Kirk checked carefully around the living area of his quarters, then, satisfied, he nodded to himself. Everything was ready. The table was set with dishes and cutlery usually laid on for diplomatic parties and top Fleet brass. A lighter rested against one of the candle sticks and the three violet blossoms of the Vulcan Talana bush filled the room with their delicate fragrance. It was pure luck that the blossoms had begun to appear two days earlier. The food synthesizer had been programmed, and, on a shelf, the wine bottle waited beside two crystal goblets.
"It must not be chilled," the Vulcan trader had cautioned when Kirk had asked how it should be served. Finding the wine on his last shore leave had been another unexpected stroke of luck, for few traders would even admit the existence of such beverages. But then, he and Skarlan had known each other a long time.
Kirk glanced at the chronometer again. Five more minutes. He started the tape and listened for a moment as the sound of a classical guitar playing Barsanti filled the room. He adjusted the volume so that it would not be intrusive, then forced himself to sit at his desk and begin to review one of the reports awaiting his attention. He would at least try to conceal his impatience.
At Spock's signal, the door to Kirk's quarters opened promptly. Kirk rose from his desk with a smile, shutting down the terminal as he did so.
"Good evening, Captain," Spock said, wondering at the air of excitement he detected in his friend.
"Spock," Kirk replied. "You'll join me for a pre-dinner drink, won't you?" Without waiting for an answer, he led the way into the living area.
They had known each other for nearly two years, and though Spock invariably refused, Kirk still offered before taking his own drink. Spock had been about to decline again when he saw the specially set table and then, the unmistakably-Vulcan wine bottle. This was not the first time they'd eaten here, but never had any special preparations been made.
I have been aware for some weeks that Jim has been inexplicably pleased about something. Perhaps he has actually found a bottle of kamota berry wine and wishes to serve it in a festive manner?'
"I will be honoured," Spock replied in the traditional Vulcan style. He watched as the scarlet liquid filled the two glasses. The colour was as it should be.
Kirk gave him one glass. "I've never tasted this, so I won't be able to judge. You'll have to evaluate it for me."
Accepting it, Spock raised the glass to chest level. He inhaled cautiously; it seemed authentic. Then he inhaled deeply, as the bouquet rose, bringing with it memories of Vulcan and family feasts.
He looked up at his waiting friend and allowed his expression to soften. "This wine is rarely found outside Vulcan." He paused, then added, "It has been made from prime quality berries."
Kirk ignored the question implied in Spock's response. "That's a relief," he said with a smile.
He raised his glass and touched it gently against Spock's, then his eyes met those of the Vulcan. "To friendship," he said softly.
As if, thought Spock, he fears to trespass where he will not be welcome.
"To friendship, Jim," he responded firmly and an unfamiliar warmth began to relax the barriers he usually held tightly.
They settled comfortably in two easy chairs and slowly sipped the wine. "I could become quite fond of this," Kirk said appreciatively. "Too bad it's so hard to find." His eyes sparkled with the knowledge he'd still not answered Spock's question.
"You really miss a lot, staying on the ship during shore leaves, Spock. The market on Rindal was as good as a museum, with traders from all over the galaxy, including one from Vulcan. I'd run across him before. In fact, he owed me a favour or two. So this time, I decided to collect."
His voice took on an abstracted tone as he remembered how he'd met the trader, Skarlan.
Some other time, he decided. The abuse to which Vulcans are subjected by some races is not a pleasant, pre-dinner topic.
He took another sip, then continued, "He assured me that all Vulcans would consider this wine acceptable."
I assure you, Kirk, the Vulcan you wish to honour could ask for no finer beginning to the meal.
"Indeed, it is not customary for it to be served to out-worlders ..."
A chime from the food-server interrupted Spock's reply. Immediately, Kirk rose, set his glass at one end of the table, and went to collect the tray which had just arrived.
As Spock stood up, he again became aware of the odour which had greeted him when he entered Kirk's quarters. Then, he had been distracted by Kirk's offer of the wine. Talana blossoms? He turned and looked more closely at the table. Three in full bloom and I had not noticed that new flower buds had formed!
He raised the container to examine them more closely, and the peace he associated with quiet times in his parents' garden filled him. I must not permit myself to become so absorbed by research that I forget the study of living things.
Looking up, he saw Kirk watching him. "Good timing, wasn't it?" he asked cheerfully. "Those are the first in months."
Kirk set down the tray and placed the covered dishes on the table. "Dig in, Spock." There was a slight edge to Kirk's voice. Spock looked up at him quickly.
Why is he again less assured? Perhaps, since he pre-selected our meal, he now doubts the suitability of his choice?
Kirk watched Spock lift the lid of the first dish. Oh god, I hope he doesn't mind me prying. It seemed like such a good idea at the time. I don't want to embarrass him, but, damn it, there are times when a person has to say something.
Spock looked up, his surprise evident. "Pilarin?" he asked, wondering as he did so if Kirk would even know the name of the unusual Vulcan dish.
Kirk nodded, his expression watchful and uncertain. "Yes."
Swiftly, Spock lifted the covers of the other three: Nantal, R'meeno, H'rytis, all four were Vulcan dishes, and personal favourites of his.
The formulations for these are not in the Enterprise computer banks. He corrected himself. They have not been.
There were two questions on Spock's mind when he looked at Kirk, but he only articulated the more important. "Why, Jim?"
"I wanted to serve a meal you'd enjoy, not just the same old routine food you eat every day. And Spock," he added, "they may look and smell right, but the real test's when you taste them."
Spock nodded, aware that Kirk had only partially explained. There would be time later to probe more deeply. He served himself from each dish, then cautiously sampled them in turn. When he had done so, he looked at Kirk, who had lit the candles and now sat waiting for the verdict.
"Only from my mother's kitchen have I tasted such..." Spock saw a certain flicker in Kirk's expression and suddenly grasped the whole conspiracy, if not the motivation behind it.
"Jim." His gaze was steady, waiting.
"Well, you don't think I'd waste an opportunity like that, do you?" Kirk tried unsuccessfully to look indignant; he was too pleased that Spock didn't seem to mind. In a matter-of-fact tone. Kirk continued, "I cornered Amanda while you and Sarek were still confined to sickbay and told her I was sure your dietary needs were adequately cared for, but… Well, I figured that even Vulcans had favourite foods, and asked her to tell me some of yours. She did better than that: she promised to send me the programs in her own food synthesizer as soon as they got home from Babel. When the tapes came, I saw she'd marked certain ones that Humans usually enjoy too... I kept to those for today," he added, then began to serve himself from the dishes.
There was silence. Kirk looked up and saw that Spock was still not satisfied.
"I'm just relieved I transferred the program accurately. Not only am I out of practice but it was hard to time it so you wouldn't notice." He began to eat, hoping that Spock would not demand more, just yet.
"Jim," Spock tried to protest; he was not used to such consideration. He shook his head slowly. Kirk's actions were neither logical nor necessary, but ... it was pleasant to be given evidence of his friend's regard. From this man, he could accept it, perhaps even learn to welcome it.
"Thank you," he finally said. For once, these words were apt.
Kirk smiled. "You'd better eat before it gets cold."
While they ate, Spock found himself reminded of his life as a boy on Vulcan. Precious memories of happy days exploring with I-Chaya, helping his mother in the garden, learning of stars and other worlds. Never before had he wanted to share these. Now he offered them, hesitantly at first, then more easily, when he saw Kirk's obvious enjoyment of the memories and his understanding of how one can obtain pleasure in quiet, simple things.
At one point. Kirk tried to convey this understanding. "I've always enjoyed people, but I learned early, that spending time alone was important too. That's why summer holidays on the farm were special for me. When chores were done, there were quiet places not even Sam ever went... and at night... the stars. I'd be out for hours... and there were so many more of them than in the city."
"Now you have the greenhouse and the observatory," said Spock, who had learned where his captain could often be found when not on duty.
"Yes, they have the same effect... and I don't even have to worry about whether it might rain." His eyes twinkled at the memory of times he'd been caught in a sudden downpour.
Then he asked a question he'd wondered about since he'd known Spock, one that might lead naturally to what had given him the idea for this evening. "Did you have any special days, or events, that you really looked forward to during the year?"
"Vulcans consider that commemoration of historic events are logical reminders of past achievements; they are not intended to be pleasurable." The mood of reminiscence was strong and a twinkle surfaced in Spock’s eyes as he added, "They were a considerable trial for a small boy."
"I'll bet," responded Kirk wryly. "But didn't your family even celebrate your birthday when you were little?"
Spock hesitated, for this memory was of shame initially, and later, an annual embarrassment. Then suddenly, he knew he wanted to tell Kirk.
"Only once, when my Terran grandparents came to visit. My mother and her mother decorated a cake on which they placed candles. There were toys and books which had been specially wrapped. My father said nothing until the visit was over, for to have done otherwise would have been rude. He then informed me that such festivities were illogical, and unseemly displays of emotion. I did not hear his words to my mother... but she was quiet for some time afterwards."
"How old were you?" Kirk tried to hide the anger he felt at hearing of Sarek's behaviour.
"Four Standard years."
"Oh." There was a prolonged silence, and then quietly Kirk spoke again. "As you've noticed, Humans can always find something to celebrate, but in our family, birthdays were the special day. There were gifts, always wrapped so we couldn't guess what they were, and then, treat of treats — we got to choose what we'd eat for the evening meal — and no-one was allowed to complain. It was always a problem trying to decide which of my favourites to pick for that year." He looked up at Spock and hesitated.
Shall I tell him now? No, later, it's too soon. I may disagree with some Vulcan customs, but it's not my place to find fault with them.
Another childhood memory surfaced, one that might inject a note of humour into the mood again.
"I'll always remember the year Sam and I had a fight about a week before his birthday. He was so mad, that everything he chose was something I hated, and then he sat there grinning while I had to eat it. It took a long time to dream up a suitable revenge, but I did."
A satisfied gleam shone in his eyes, one which Spock had already learned to recognize. Spock allowed his curiosity to form the next question.
"Your parents permitted such deliberate provocation?"
"Well, since Sam had to wait for his cake and presents till I'd finished, they figured he'd not try it again. And... rules were rules, and they didn't play favourites."
Spock suddenly realized that his question had been critical of Kirk's parents, and although Kirk did not seem to have noticed this liberty, Spock felt impelled to assure his friend that he did not object to Human ways.
"Jim, I've studied the origin of many Terran holidays and understand that for Humans, as for Vulcans, tradition is important. We express this in different ways, ways that are appropriate to our cultures."
Kirk smiled. "You have an advantage over me, Spock. Humans assume that everyone wants to know about them, while Vulcans are reluctant to answer even the questions of interested Humans, let alone announce such things to the galaxy."
"I will be pleased to answer your questions, Jim," Spock replied, then began to tell his friend the history of the special foods they were eating. He discovered an illogical pleasure in talking about his home world to this listener.
Without their noticing, the wine and the food disappeared. Kirk sighed with satisfaction. "If all Vulcan food tasted that good, I wouldn't mind becoming a vegetarian."
"For Humans, a mineral supplement is required to satisfy all nutritional requirements," Spock cautioned. He saw Kirk's grin and recognized that the previous remark had been more rhetorical than statement of fact. As was his way, he retaliated soberly, but with a glint in his eyes.
"I noticed the absence of plomeek soup, Jim." He knew Kirk disliked even its smell.
"There are limits, Spock. Besides, you have that quite often enough." He pushed back his chair. "I left the tea for you to make," he said, beginning to load the dishes onto a tray.
Spock went to the counter where the tea, tea pot, and mugs were kept. He remembered the first time Kirk had asked to be allowed to try the Vulcan beverage that he preferred at the end of his meals. He'd been surprised by the request, having become accustomed to Humans who would work with him, but who showed no interest in social contact. Kirk had only been his captain for a few weeks at that time, and Spock was only beginning to learn this man was different.
Kirk had not pretended to like the tea, even diluted. He'd sipped at it, then shook his head. "It smells good, but it needs something."
After some experimentation, the 'something' turned out to be a sweetener. Ever since, when they'd spend an evening together, they would both drink the tea. Kirk's somewhat weaker and sweet, Spock's almost bitter.
It seemed, Spock realized as he stirred honey into Kirk's mug, a time for remembering, memories of childhood, memories of the beginnings of their friendship. He settled down in the easy chair that had become 'his', and watched the steam rise in the mugs as he waited for Kirk to join him.
I have never been so much at ease anywhere. The thought surprised, then pleased him, but he had no time to analyze the reason.
"These have been frozen since Ryndal," said Kirk, as he put a plate of small confections on the low table beside the mugs. "You won't be able to get them from the synthesizer when you feel like snacking."
Somehow, Spock was not surprised to see some of his favourites. "Like many pleasures, rarity enhances one's enjoyment."
"Of some things," Kirk replied and concentrated on stirring his drink, unnecessarily, as he knew.
One doesn't say such things. Why? Because I'm embarrassed by an honest emotion, or because I'm afraid I'll embarrass him? Both, he decided.
Spock studied his friend's profile. All evening Kirk had been intermittently ill-at-ease for no reason that Spock could discern, although it seemed to be related to Kirk's preparations for this evening. It was not Spock's way to probe the motivation of others, for that would assume an intimacy he did not want. But Kirk was not 'others'. Half-expecting a rebuff for his intrusion, Spock finally inquired.
"I do not understand, Jim, why you have expended so much time and effort to make tonight so memorable for me."
Kirk looked up slowly. Where's that famous courage, Kirk?
Their eyes met and he took a deep breath. "Happy Birthday, Spock," he said softly.
Spock's birthdate was etched into his brain by the yearly reminders from his grandparents. Calculated in Federation Standard years, it was his birthday.
"I do not understand."
Still, Kirk's gaze did not falter. A little smile played around his mouth; this was something he'd wanted — needed — to say for some time; he just hoped that Spock wouldn't mind hearing it.
"If you hadn't been born, I wouldn't have had you for my friend. So I have a good reason to celebrate your birthday and... who else would I celebrate with?" His eyes left Spock's, and focused on the mug of tea.
The Vulcan's face softened into that rare, almost-smile that only Kirk ever saw. He feared to offend, but sensed that this assurance was needed. I, too, have found it... pleasant, that we have become friends.
"Jim, I believe that Sarek has found a worthy opponent with whom to debate points of logic." There was a pause, then, "Thank you."
Kirk looked up slowly, his relief evident, but all he said was, "Of course, just because it's your birthday doesn't mean I'll let you win our chess game." The glint of teasing and challenge was back in his eyes.
I don't know how to begin