Title: A Celebration in Infinite Combinations, 12/12
Characters: (this chapter) all previously mentioned, basically
Pairings: (this chapter) Tomlinson/Martine, Chapel/Spock (unrequited), McCoy/Barrows (briefly), Scotty/Uhura (barely), etc. You get the idea, and you know me.
Rating: T overall, this chapter a decided F for Fluff
Summary: The first year of the five-year mission is a critical time for the crew of the starship Enterprise. A new chain of command, a new crew; and a new captain who must prove himself to both - all must work together and learn to function, not as a crew, but as a family.
Warnings/Spoilers: Liberties with early TOS canon, nothing beyond the usual. Spoilers and specifics are footnoted.
A/N: Ten mini story arcs revolving around ten sets of characters, all converging in the last chapters. Holiday and gift-giving themed story; every even chapter containing main characters and odd containing minor characters with nods at main characters. This is definitely a character exploration piece, with a holiday flavor - because we all need more holiday fluff and hope this time of year.

A/N2: And here we have it, folks, the last chapter. Took forever to write, but here it is - in all its almost 8,000-word glory. And I will warn you, if anything this chapter may be controversial for fans who are serious shippers. Other than Scotty/Uhura, because they're obviously canon in TOS, I'm a firm no-ship-but-friendship person and so this chapter is not meant as a ship but rather a gen. However, it may not be to everyone's liking - so read at your own risk. *puts up caution tape*

And on the third try, here's hoping the site has fixed the posting bugs and this link works this time! (crosses fingers)

Chapter Thirteen

While a career in Starfleet was, by all accounts and propaganda, glamorous and full of adventure, it was also as personally difficult as any military career would be; millions of light-years from home, with only the same four hundred comrades day after day for company, would wear on even the best of a ship's crew. The Enterprise, while the most elite and therefore the favored ship of the 'Fleet, was no exception.

Even live video-communiqués could not take the place of time and love spent with family and friends on each crewman's homeworld, and so if the party-planners for the Enterprise's recreation department went a bit overboard on any occasion they could scrounge up for a social event, no one minded, including the captain. The science department's Christmas party, for everyone was still calling it that though it encompassed any winter holiday, fell into this category.

"Looks like a tinsel store vomited in here."

"You're just lacking in the spirit of the season," the captain returned, grinning at the physician's grousing. Someone (he suspected Nurse Chapel, because no one else possessed the kind of blackmail necessary to do so) had coerced their CMO into holiday-themed civilian clothes; in this case, a blue velour variation of his uniform tunic, thinly trimmed with white fur. Given that the shade exactly matched the doctor's eyes, Kirk suspected their head nurse was not solely crushing on the elusive First Officer. Interesting. "You look good, Bones."

"I look like somethin' off a corny old Earth holovid," was the grumpy reply. "As if one elf at a Christmas party wasn't bad enough."

"Hey, none of that tonight," Kirk chided gently. "The crew doesn't need to be encouraged, indirectly or not, to make Spock feel awkward. You know until now, he never once has attended a social event aboard ship? Pike never made him, and he never wanted to."

"Doesn't surprise me." They glanced over toward the decorated stage, where the Vulcan in question was conversing with Lieutenant Uhura and two of the evening's musicians. "How'd you manage to convince him?"

"I didn't have to; Uhura asked him to participate. I just asked him to stay." The captain's smug grin fairly lit up the space around them. "After all, it is only logical to enhance crew morale with a visible sense of unity in the command structure."

The doctor snorted into his punch. "He'll be lucky if he escapes without being jumped by some half-intoxicated, half-infatuated ensign. Welcome to human partying."

James T. Kirk liked women very much, that was no secret; but he would have to be blind to not agree that their First Officer cut a very stunning figure, all graceful and mysterious black and silver in his long fitted tunic and trousers. Jaws were already dropping as the Vulcan detached from the group and made his unconsciously regal way across the floor. "He can take care of himself. And he has to learn to interact with humans more than he does. I'll never get Command to promote him to full Commander if he can't find a way to connect better with his subordinates. His science department worships him, but the rest of the crew doesn't know him well enough yet." (1)

"That why you've told him to mingle in the rec rooms?"

"Yes. That's how he's made such a connection with Uhura, I think."

McCoy nodded, relaxing slightly as the slight buzz from Scotty's secret punch eased the tension accompanied by such an accident-prone event as this one. "Good idea, Captain."

Kirk smiled. "You can call me Jim tonight, Bones; we're all off-duty." The two men nodded in greeting to a trio of Botany personnel which were wandering past on their way to the crowded dance floor. "So," he continued, changing the subject, "who did you end up with for the gift exchange?"

McCoy shot his superior a sour look. "Three guesses."

The captain's eyebrow inclined, and the physician wondered absently if he'd picked up the habit from Spock, or vice-versa. "No idea."

"I, of all people, got the resident walking database, Captain. Brilliant idea of yours, this gift exchange. I think I said at the beginning, it's a lame idea."

He was interrupted by laughter, bubbling over from the younger man's lips. "What on earth, Bones? Please tell me you didn't get him something horrible like Terran love poetry."

An evil grin creased the physician's face. "I got him electric-green furry slippers." (2)

Hazel eyes grew wide over the rim of the captain's punch cup. "What did he say?"

"'I believe I am required to offer thanks as a return for a gift, however illogical that may be,'" McCoy recited with glee. "And when I told him he didn't really have to wear 'em, he just looked at me and said that 'their functionality, not their aestheticism, is of true importance, Doctor, and therefore it would be illogical to refuse to wear a perfectly functional article of footwear aboard this specist-temperate ship.'"

Heads turned fondly as the captain of the Enterprise dissolved into howls of laughter, bracing his back against the nearest tinsel-wrapped column.

"Captain, Doctor," the calm voice of the being in question greeted them. "Am I interrupting something?"

Kirk made a strangled hooting noise, waving his hand in the general direction of the Vulcan's feet, and stumbled over to snag a passing lieutenant for a glass of flavored water; he'd had two cups of punch and that was enough for an authority figure.

"Why, not at all, Mister Spock," McCoy drawled. "We were just discussin' the merits of various articles of perfectly functional footwear."

An eyebrow danced up to the Vulcan's hairline. "Indeed?"

A volley of giggles drew their attention, and they saw that the captain had been unwittingly cornered under a well-camouflaged sprig of mistletoe by four of Spock's Xenosocietal personnel.

The eyebrow stretched up even further. "I do not understand the appeal of that most strange human custom."

"You wouldn't," the physician said with a snort. "Just the same, I'd advise you to steer clear of the stuff tonight, because you can't go around making poor yeomen cry by refusing to participate."

The captain had allowed himself to be pulled out onto the dance floor by Lieutenant Uhura, who had wisely rescued him from the overeager ensigns, and was now currently whirling about with their communications officer in high enthusiasm. They made a striking couple, he a glow of sunshine in gold and black, and she in a stunning, plunging crimson gown.

McCoy could fairly feel the women in the crowd turning green with envy.

"Are you not going to participate in the…festivities, Doctor?" Spock inquired, seeing his attention flitting around the dance floor.

"Why, you offerin' to dance with me?"

The look of horror which he received nearly set the doctor off into a fit of snickers, but he controlled himself with an effort.

"Go on, go break some hearts, Spock," he chuckled, shooing the confused Vulcan away. "You gotta learn sometime."

Looking like a lost child in a sea of oblivious adults, Spock disappeared reluctantly into the crowd, doing his level best to not come into contact with any member of the laughing, chattering throng. The doctor smiled briefly before scouting out Yeoman Tonia Barrows, whose hints had been anything but subtle during her last physical examination two weeks ago. (3)

He'd show the captain and first officer of the Enterprise that supernova charisma and unattainable mystery had nothing on old-fashioned Southern charm.

Matthew Turner had finally convinced the medical staff to let him wear soft braces on his still-healing legs and leave his hoverchair aside, just for tonight, with the strict instructions that upon any pain he was to resume his seat and not overdo it. Even with the most advanced of treatment, neurological repair was still a tricky business and weeks of therapy and regeneration was no laughing matter. But he was glad to be able to attend the party, even if he'd somewhat fallen from the loop of gossip during his time out of active engineering duty.

Montgomery Scott had encouraged him to come to the Science Lab party, even though Engineering and Maintenance were going to have their own event a bit later in the season, and he had acted on the Scot's suggestion to try to re-acclimate to having a life again, after weeks of being hoverchair-bound. Now, he had managed two dances and a congratulatory drink with a completely lovestruck Robert Tomlinson before his legs had threatened to give out and he was relegated to his hoverchair, soon scooting in between people in search of Lieutenant Lisa West.

He found the lieutenant sitting along one less-crowded wall by a table of candles, and upon drawing near saw that the decorating crew had set up the candles on purpose, with a mild forcefield over them so as to satisfy safety regulations and not able to be disturbed by passers-by. In front of each candle lay a small placard with the name of a deceased crewman written upon it, and below the table various members of the crew had placed mementos, flowers, or letters to their late friends or lovers.

"May I?" he asked quietly, and the young lieutenant looked up quickly, startled.

"Sure." She smiled at him, a bit shyly. "I would say pull up a chair, but…"

He chuckled. "I was glad to get out of it for a bit tonight, at least. How are you doing?" He indicated the table of softly-glowing candles, seeing the name Ardia Shomari before one of them.

Lisa shrugged, candlelight reflecting in her dark brown eyes. "As well as can be expected, I think. It still hurts."

"I know," he whispered, and they fell silent for a few moments, each lost in memory. His legs gave an involuntary twitch, remembering that awful day in Engineering, and he could still hear Shomari's screams before he'd passed out from the pain of his legs being crushed under a durasteel bulkhead.

Lisa's eyes flicked over to him when he shivered, and he offered a tentative shrug. "Did she ever tell you what she did to poor Kevin Riley, the last time we had a party this scale in Engineering?" he asked suddenly.

No names were necessary; they both knew who 'she' was. West's eyes lit up. "No, she didn't."

He laughed, remembering the look on Riley's face. "Riley is a bit of an odd one, he always drinks milk when he's depressed or has a bad day or what have you. A comfort food, I suppose. Well," he continued, when West nodded, smiling, "it was Commander Scott's birthday, and we had a surprise party for him after beta shift. Something about crew evaluations coming up, I think, but whatever the cause, Riley was chugging milk like it was going to be rationed tomorrow and refusing to come out and party with the rest of us. Something about needing to study to pass the captain's tests because he wanted to be sure he'd stay on the Enterprise come crew rotation."

Turner grinned at the memory as he continued. "And so Shomari, fantastically brilliant engineer that she was, took apart the beverage replicator around the corner from Auxiliary Control, and programmed a double dose of caffeine and sucrose into the milk replication script."

Lisa laughed. "And?"

"You've never seen anything until you've seen a hyperactive Kevin Riley," he groaned, shaking his head. "The kid took apart everything in sight and put it back together, was bouncing off the walls for almost two days. Tried to kiss Angela Martine and got himself slapped for it, then treated the whole party to his special rendition of The Wearing of the Green, adapted to The Wearing of the Red in honor of the Engineering party."

The lieutenant was laughing outright now, and he joined her, rubbing at his eyes when the memories got a bit too vivid for such a happy occasion as this should be. "She was an amazing person, she was," he sighed, smiling at the glowing candle before them.

"Yes," West agreed softly. "Definitely."

"And you remember that mission to Jairus II, back at the very beginning after the shakedown?"

"Was that the one where the transporter malfunctioned just after the landing party beamed down into a jungle cat-fight?"

Turner grimaced; that had not been pretty, and Scott had nearly shot his transporter operatives out the nearest airlock for not identifying the three feline life-forms before sending a landing party down into the same vicinity. They all had made beginners' mistakes at some point, but those had been costly for the captain, who had nearly been mauled.

"Yes, sent the captain and Mr. Spock and two Security guards down in the middle of three massive panthers, of a sort, fighting over their territory. Commander Scott was not a happy man."

"What about the mission?" West asked eagerly.

"Well," Turner chuckled. "We were all standing there, watching as Scott just laid it on Kyle about not identifying the life-forms before sending the captain down. Arm-waving, a proper dressing down, the works – poor Kyle looked like he was about to be sick or else run away to kill himself. And here is Lieutenant Shomari, under the transporter, yanking out wires, throwing broken machinery, and fusing panels while Mr. Scott just piles it on poor Kyle while none of us dare to even move. And finally she pops up, calm as you please, and basically tells Scott to shift himself and the drama out into the corridor so she can bring up the captain and the landing party. You should have seen Scott's face; he'd been going on about protocol and had forgotten the transporter really should have been fixed before the fireworks started."

They shared a laugh, and Turner found himself letting go of some of the pain which had been lingering over the memory of how lucky he'd been that fateful day, and how unlucky Lieutenant Shomari had been. West met his eyes with understanding, and a bit of gratitude if he was not mistaken.

"So, I think my legs have it in me for one more dance," he said hesitantly.

"You're sure?"

"Oh, yes."

"Then let's do it," she replied, and smiled.

"Oh, and I need to tell you something," he added as he slowly stood, testing his balance.

"What's that?"

"I'm your Secret Santa," he admitted, shuffling one foot nervously. "But I didn't know what to get you, so…the captain suggested I just be here tonight, just talk and try to understand…is that all right?"

Dark eyes smiled at him. "More than all right."

Captain Kirk had paused to sit out the next dance, a modern variation on the old standby of a foxtrot, since Montgomery Scott had asked for Uhura to dance it with him, and was sipping his water and generally greeting members of his crew whom he rarely saw outside of a shipwalk or a rec room. Across the room, he perceived the glint of a diamond sparkling on the left hand of Angela Martine, and smiled to himself; soon he'd be performing his first wedding aboard ship, and that was a duty every captain looked forward to. Everywhere he looked, his crew appeared quite happy and well, which was the goal of this party; and he was beginning to relax himself when a trim figure in a clean-cut holiday gown stopped in front of him.

"Captain," Chanya Lin greeted him, and though the tone was entirely business-like her smile appeared genuine.

"Ensign," he replied in kind, returning the smile. "Your crew is going to have a terrible cleanup to do later; my thanks in advance for that, and I'll try to see you all have first shore leave rotation next time we dock."

"Unnecessary, but appreciated, sir. Are you enjoying the party?"

"Very much. And you?"

Lin hummed, a non-committal gesture if he ever heard one. "I'm not much of a party person, sir."

He resisted the urge to respond with a humorous remark, for it was not appropriate even in informal circumstances; the woman simply amused him in her continual refusal to socialize more than was absolutely necessary to keep her evaluations up. However, she did appear more well-balanced than in previous months, and with that he was pleased.

Chekov – who on earth gave that microphone to the worst-accented person aboard? – called the change in dance to a more traditional waltz. "Would you care to dance, Ensign?" Kirk asked, interested in her reply more than the dance itself.

The woman shot him a pointed look. "I'd rather not draw the attention to myself, sir, if you don't mind my frankness."

"I don't know whether to be insulted or complimented," he returned with a smile, unoffended. Lin's expression softened, and he saw she had not meant it as anything but the latter. "As you wish, Ensign. Is there anything I can do for you?"

"Aye, sir." A PADD was placed in his hands, and he looked down, somewhat mystified; business at a social function was pushing it a bit, even for this intriguing young woman. "I drew your name for the exchange, Captain," she added dryly. "And I seriously doubted you would want me to buy you clothing, plush toys, or flowers?"

He laughed and turned the PADD on. "Quite so, Ensign. What is this, then?"

Lin impatiently tossed a stray lock of curling dark hair over her shoulder. "A transfer request, sir."

Surprised, the captain looked up. "To another ship?"

"No, sir. To the open research archivist position in Library Sciences."

Kirk cocked a quizzical eye at the young woman. "I distinctly remember you saying, Ensign, that you had no wish to transfer or change positions aboard this vessel."

"And, sir, I distinctly remember a certain person informing me to set some goals in my life because stagnation was unacceptable in a Starfleet officer." Dark eyes flickered with momentary amusement. "He was right, sir. I would like to submit a request to be considered for the archivist position."

"You understand I can't transfer you without consulting with Mr. Spock, Ensign."

"Naturally, sir."

"But you have my word that I will do so at the earliest opportunity."

"Thank you, sir. If that's all, then?"

Kirk's lips twitched briefly at the formality, but was gentleman enough to play the game if that was what the young woman wished. "Quite so. Dismissed. Oh, and Ensign?" he called, as the woman nodded and turned to leave.

"Aye, sir?"

Whether she liked it or not, she was on the receiving end of the famous blinding Kirk smile. "Thank you, Chanya."

Commander Spock was highly uncomfortable.

In the past thirty-four minutes, he had found himself on the receiving end of seventeen decidedly lustful stares from various crew members, been forced to decline eight hints from young hopefuls to dance on that appallingly crowded dance floor, managed to escape two attempts at backing him under the various mistletoe placements, and declined the offer of a chocolate liqueur from a mischievous Ensign Chekov.


He was quite relieved – yes, it was an emotion, but the cause was sufficient, he believed – when the time for live music came around, for that afforded him the chance to extricate himself from the throng of emotional humans and take his place with the other musicians on the small platform which functioned as a stage.

First on the program was a series of instrumental performances, including various old Terran carols (he had been previously unaware that Lieutenant Riley could 'fiddle') and other, more modern, additions from worlds beyond the Sol system.

Then it was Lieutenant Uhura's turn to sing, and she graced the crowd with the old Terran carol Silent Night in seven of the many languages in which she was fluent. After a resounding thunder of applause, she then spoke.

"I had on the program chosen the ancient Terran carol I'll Be Home for Christmas, as it seemed appropriate," she said. A murmur of assent rippled through the crowd. "However," she continued, flicking a smile at the captain, who was standing close to the front, watching with fondness, "a very wise person pointed out to me that this ship is our home, and we are a family – for the next five years at least." Spock had little doubt who the man in question was. "And so I've chosen something else."

That was news to Spock, though he had not seen the entire program as he was not involved in each musical number; but the crowd seemed pleased, and somewhat calmer, now than they had been earlier in the evening – this could only be beneficial to crew morale, and as such he wholeheartedly welcomed whatever the lieutenant had planned.

That almost – not quite, but almost – changed, when he suddenly felt what was known as a Santa hat drop onto his head with a whispered apology near his ear, and then their audacious communications officer began to trill an appalling Earth carol suggestively entitled Santa Baby.

Never having heard the song previously, it took about three measures for him (and the crowd, who began wolf-whistling in appreciation) to realize what an atrocity was actually happening; and at that point, he had only two choices. He could withdraw, stiffen his posture and simply endure the nightmare…or he could, as the humans said, play along.

While he was trying to decide, his mental processes somewhat slowed from sheer shock, his eyes fell on the distinct figure of Captain Kirk. The human was watching with undisguised concern, gnawing unconsciously at his lower lip in worry, sandy brows knitted with tension; Kirk was intensely worried about his reaction, and his comfort. That knowledge made his decision for him.

When the lieutenant swung low enough and draped herself loosely around him, breathily crooning …Next year I could be oh so good… he performed what humans referred to as an 'eyeroll' and dryly replied "I highly doubt it," within pickup range of the lieutenant's microphone.

Kirk's eyes tripled in size.

The crew lost it, shrieking with laughter loud enough to drown out the next line of the song.

It was a familiar routine, this tolerant teasing, one that they had certainly done before (though not to that extent) in the Enterprise after-hours recreation rooms (4); and from the smile visible in Uhura's eyes she was heartily relieved that he had forgiven the liberty she'd taken without his permission. It had been a gamble, but she knew him almost as well as the captain, and he respected both of them far too much to ruin such a potential 'bonding moment' in the crew's camaraderie.

When the lieutenant had finished harassing him, the entire room rang with applause and laughter, and for a moment he lowered his mental shielding just enough to discover, much to his complete shock, that they truly and genuinely were pleased at his reactions. They were not laughing at him, nor mocking him, but were simply happy that he had responded. That one simple compromise of his dignity could produce such a euphoria of joy in these beings was incredible to his mind.


Once the laughter and clapping had died away, the program continued without a hitch; various groups sang or performed holiday songs, encouraging the entire crew to sing along, and in that pleasant manner a half-hour passed amiably. He accompanied the lieutenant on the much more sedate song Do You Hear What I Hear?, and also joined in a stringed quintet in rendering the Orion holiday carol For This Night (the captain applauded more loudly than the rest of the crew, evidently highly approving).

Then, it was time for his olive branch in the form of Nurse Chapel's favorite carol, and during Uhura's introduction he finally discovered he knew what human meant when they spoke of an attack of nerves; for it was certainly an attack, coming unexpectedly and leaving him uneasy about the entire proceedings.

From the corner of his eye, he saw Kirk give him an encouraging nod, and after settling himself in the correct position he endeavored to put the matter out of his mind, only losing himself in the haunting melody he had adapted from Terran harp music for the Vulcan lyrette. It was a beautiful song, and there was no shame in appreciating the sensations evoked by such music; it was to these he turned in the uncertainty, and not the reason for his playing.

The last note fell in a completely silent room, and he was then completely startled to hear a thunder of applause which rendered him incapable of speech for a moment, so pleased did the crew seem to be at his public performance.

The captain had been correct. Spock had become reclusive by choice, thinking that all humans were similar to those few bigoted ones he had unfortunately been attracted to in the past – but the majority of this crew seemed to genuinely accept him, or at least tolerate him – Kirk had said 'liked', but he had no point of reference for that – and he must learn to accept that.

Then he caught sight of Nurse Chapel at the very back of the crowd, and inwardly cringed. She was crying.

For a single, entirely human moment, Spock wished that the Vulcan language had an acceptable equivalent to Standard swearing.

Uhura had asked the captain to say a brief word regarding their deceased crew members following the musical program. Kirk kept it brief, light-hearted, but sincere, ending by a toast to absent friends, which was echoed by everyone in the room. After one more musical selection from a flute duet, the dancing resumed, and the crew scattered about the refurbished science lab to continue their merry-making.

Kirk was not overly surprised to find himself cornered near the holographic fireplace by the ship's psychologist.

"Doctor Noel," he greeted the woman easily, though he only barely prevented himself from doing a double-take; the psychologist looked far different in a flattering, deep green gown with her hair done up in a complicated mass of curls and twists than she did in the unflattering Starfleet uniform. In fact, the difference was…stunning.


"Enjoying the party?"

"I am," she replied easily. "And I am very pleased with the reactions of the crew; they appear to be adjusting quite well."

"Have you seen O'Brien, from Library and Research? I didn't notice him anywhere, and he's worrying me a bit lately," the captain said, scanning the room.

"He left with Ensign Chee'tha a minute ago, after your speech ended. I think he's improving, Captain, especially now that Chee'tha has requested to room with him; I said at the time that the man needed a companion other than that undergrown butterball he calls a kitten," Noel replied. "If you're still debating on the room transfer, my recommendation would be to accept it."

"Noted. Do you think Tomlinson and Martine need to be on separate phaser crews, now that they're soon to be married?"

"I don't think so; psychologically their status hasn't changed just because there's a diamond flashing about the place," she answered, smiling at the young couple, who thought they were being subtle by ducking behind the Christmas tree. "Did you know that Matthews from Security was the recipient for Lieutenant Cho? He's not taking it well; I haven't seen him tonight. Granted, he told me he had some kid in Engineering as his recipient so he may be with him, but…"

"I'll check on him in an hour; I need to make the rounds of Sickbay with a few presents and food from the party here," Kirk replied, mentally adding the name Matt Matthews to the list. "I owe him. Is there anyone else you can think of who might need some attention?"

"Unless you feel like rescuing your alpha-shift navigator, no, Captain."

Kirk grinned briefly as he watched Lieutenant Sulu trying to hide from a determined Cory Forst-Nechart, weaving between dancers and casting a frantic look about for Chekov, who was still blithely bobbing about with some blonde lieutenant from Bio-med Databasing.

"So, Captain, may I ask, since we're still talking shop: who did you draw for this gift exchange of yours?"

The man lowered his eyes, pain filling them. "Yeoman Mu'adh."

Noel winced visibly, and nodded. "I'm sorry, Captain."

"Thank you."

"I had Nurse Dj'umba, who stayed behind on Starbase Nine to attend that Xenomed Conference about Tellarite physiology; gave him his present before he left," Noel remarked. One of her long earrings caught on a strand of hair, and she briskly detangled it. "Tanya Bodine was the one who had my name, according to the results you gave the Psych department."

"So we're both without obligation for the exchange, is that what you're saying?"

"I'm a psychologist, Captain; I make other people do the talking, not me." A small smile crossed the woman's face, and he wondered at the change from the sharp-tongued, competent officer he knew her as. She was actually quite attractive. "But I know that you don't really like me, so if you'd prefer I go practice on someone else feel free to tell me so."

Kirk chuckled ruefully. "I never said I didn't like you, Doctor."

"Captain, I'm a psychologist. And it doesn't take a telepath to know when you don't like someone."

And it also didn't take a telepath to know when the Kirk Charm was getting turned on full-force; she was half-amused, half-flattered when he smiled again and spoke. "In that case, Doctor Noel, I've been incredibly rude. May I try to make amends for my behavior?"

"You may try," she retorted. "But your crew is starting to stare, so shall we make this conversation mobile?"

"Do you tango?" was the captain's response, as the music changed.

Her eyes glinted. "Oh, yes. Quite well, actually; I taught dance for four years in San Francisco while working my way through medical school, before I was accepted into Starfleet Academy."

Wide-eyed, the captain straightened his tunic before bowing and offering her his hand. "Should we show them how it's done, then?"

"You will have to keep up. Sir." (5)

Spock of Vulcan had limited experience with human emotion, and even more limited experience with female human emotion – which was an entirely different class than that of the male. In short, he could not understand why Nurse Chapel insisted that she had 'loved' his performance, when in reality she had shed tears during and following it.

Their conversation regarding the nurse's one-sided attraction to him had been something of a small disaster; he had no experience in rebuffing attention of that sort, and while his words had not been intended as unkind they had not left room for a grain of doubt. Chapel was, he well knew, a highly intelligent being; he had been attracted to her brilliant mind upon that ill-fated touch during the Psi2000 crisis, but knew they were simply incompatible. Any type of relationship other than that of the friendship he denied for some of this crew would be disastrous, and he had said so in no uncertain terms.

Chapel had taken the news calmly enough, but he had heard through other medical personnel that she had been deeply hurt by his apparent 'coldness' when he had informed her she was making him highly uncomfortable and if she could not cease her persistence then he would be avoiding her completely.

That had not been his intention, for he believed he could enjoy the nurse as an intelligent friend (she was, at the least, more amiable than Dr. McCoy, and he tolerated that human without question); he simply could not give her what she obviously wished for. He had never meant to 'hurt her feelings,' he believed the common phraseology was, and so he had extended the offering of a carol tonight in hopes of smoothing the wrinkles in that particular relationship (or lack of one).

And now, the nurse was assuring him that she had only wept during his performance because it was so beautiful, not because of any pain he had caused; and if he could read humans correctly, she was telling the truth. Excellent; she was a highly intelligent female, more so than the average of the species, and he hoped they might maintain a working relationship at least.

They stood, talking politely and observing the humans moving about the dance floor in a complicated and sensual dance known as a tango. Captain Kirk shot by with the ship's psychologist, both of them grinning and quite obviously showing just how good they were, and every eye in the vicinity (except his of course) widened in admiration of the two's skill on the floor.

The dance hurtled to a breathless close, and after an interim of applause the music suddenly blared into a furious rendition of ancient Terran music of the type known illogically, he believed, as "hip-hop." He remained amazed at the flexibility of the human race as a whole.

But Spock was observant, and he could see the slight melancholy that hovered over Christine Chapel as they awkwardly stood in silence, watching the rest of the ship's crew moving about the floor.

Perhaps it was the small shot of chocolate liquor he had indulged in just prior to his current conversation; perhaps it was the fact that he could not bear to see another being in pain, especially pain of his own doing.

Or perhaps James Kirk was simply corrupting him. Whatever the cause, however, he decided the sacrifice was one he could make, to atone for whatever harm he might have done in his cold and ruthless rejection of this intelligent being.

"Do you dance, Nurse?" he asked calmly.

Startled, Chapel looked at him incredulously. "Yes, I do, Mr. Spock; why?"

"If you…that is, I…am not averse to one such exercise with you, if you wish it," he replied, wondering for a moment why he had taken more than two seconds to formulate that awkwardly-constructed sentence. "Not this particular variation," he found it necessary to add, as the dance floor seemed to be in utter pounding chaos, a mass of writhing bodies, at the moment.

The nurse was regarding him with amusement, mixed with what was probably wariness. "You don't need to do that just to make me feel better, or because you got my name in the captain's gift exchange, Mr. Spock," she responded quietly.

"I am not," was his truthful response. "I see no reason why we cannot maintain a…you would call it, 'friendly' relationship, if you are amenable? We are both reasonable beings."

For the first time in a long time, he saw the woman's eyes soften toward him. "But you are a touch-telepath, Mr. Spock," she replied pointedly. "You couldn't touch me without disrupting your mental shields, could you?"

"There you are correct, under normal circumstances, Nurse. However," and he indicated his hands, whereupon she looked down with interest. "These are a…Christmas gift, from Captain Kirk. Insulated chameleon gloves from the blended fabrics of Martus IV; they conform in tone and texture to the skin of the wearer, and are thin enough to permit sensation but not feeling. Immensely practical; I required them for my instrumental playing, as the ship's air-conditioning systems activated when the heat rose in this room earlier tonight."

They were, in short, the most amazing gift he had ever received – actually, the only gift he had ever received from a human besides his mother. James Kirk was an incredibly thoughtful human.

Nurse Chapel was looking at him in surprise, and scientific curiosity. "I've heard about those, but have never seen them," she remarked. "The physical properties of the blended fabrics are an incredible feat of artificial engineering."

"Indeed. It is the same sort of technology currently being experimented upon in scientific circles, in hopes of eventually producing what amounts to an invisibility cloak for personal use."

"We should research it sometime." The woman suddenly blushed, which on humans indicated embarrassment. "I mean, you should, sir."

"I have no objections to an occasional research partner, Nurse."

"Um…well, that's good! I mean…"

Spock took pity on the floundering human, as the music changed to a more sedate version of Andorian swing. "You said you did dance, Nurse?"

Southern charm was working its magic, helped along by the fact that Tonia Barrows had obviously been angling for him for the last few weeks; he received a thumbs-up from Jim when the captain whirled by with Helen Noel (who'd have thought that), before the couple stole the show in improvised but impressive freestyle, much to the envy and chagrin of most of the couples around them.

The driving beat had not been appealing to him, and so he and the yeoman had taken themselves off to the food table while the rest of the crew tried to twist themselves into knots and injure each other in the pulsating throng. But now the shift in mood appealed to him, and Tonia Barrows was more than willing to swing and sway with a crusty old country doctor.

They swung into place with the other couples, switched partners a few times, and finally found themselves back together toward the end of the song, dancing near Captain Kirk and the ship's psychologist, who smiled knowingly at Barrows and ignored the glare from her Chief Medical Officer. Then suddenly McCoy saw Kirk's eyes widen over Noel's shoulder, and he turned to see what could have produced that reaction.

Spock was dancing with Christine Chapel.

His jaw hit Tonia's shoulder.

Spock. Was dancing.

With Nurse Chapel.

He didn't realize he'd stopped dead in his tracks until Tonia pouted and tugged on his waist to get him moving again.

"I didn't know he danced," he heard the captain mutter as they passed each other again. "And how he can dance!"

"He's an ambassador's son; of course he can dance," Noel replied. "All children of political attaches and diplomats are taught societal niceties at an early age, even Vulcan ones. One never knows when one will require the skill at a diplomatic function."

"In other words, Jim, dancing is quite logical," McCoy shot over his shoulder with a grin as they moved off.

Spock certainly could dance; every person in the room was envious of his poise and grace, for the Vulcan moved like a cat and looked thoroughly sophisticated while doing so. Every couple they passed stopped to stare, until McCoy could see his Head Nurse's cheeks growing dark pink from the attention.

It did him good to see; Christine was a darn fine nurse, and he liked her a good deal (partly because she would take him on if needed), but this crush she had on Spock had to go for the sake of all concerned. If they could simply be friends like normal people, they could be a real benefit to the science and medical departments, a formidable team.

And he was glad to see Spock making this last gesture; it no doubt would mitigate the rejection a little. All in all, he was very pleased, and impressed, to see Spock making the effort to be slightly human for this one hour in one night of the year.

And then it all was shot to pieces when the dance ended and the couples paused on the floor.

Someone giggled and pointed, and then everyone turned to look, soon laughing and pointing; Spock and their Head Nurse had unfortunately stopped right under one of the sprigs of mistletoe.

The captain of the Enterprise was twenty feet away when the dance stopped, and he immediately saw the trouble. Tensing, he was about to weave through the intervening couples and inform them that their customs were not to be forced upon other species, but Helen Noel grabbed his arm and firmly planted him in place.

"He's got to stand on his own two feet, Captain; this isn't your battle," she said quietly. "He's perfectly capable of explaining diversity to the crew if he so chooses. He does not need you to continually do it for him."

Kirk was instinctively irritated, for he felt it his responsibility to care for a crewman who was in need of it, and especially Spock, if he was honest with himself. But then, he realized, Noel was quite right. Spock had to learn these things for himself, by himself. No, he had not much experience in balancing his human side with his Vulcan, but someday he would find that balance – and it would not be through his human captain coming to his defense every time it might be needed.

He stood silently and watched.

To his relief, Chapel looked more embarrassed and amused than anything else. She turned a mortified smile up at Spock, who looked torn between a Vulcan panic attack and utter confusion. "No one expects you to conform to human tradition, Mr. Spock; that's hardly IDIC," she said with rueful fondness. "We can just walk away, or I can just walk away if you'd rather I do that?"

Someone wolf-whistled from across the room, and both turned a freezing glare in the direction of the idiot who'd made the noise. Kirk choked on a laugh, as the crowd hastily parted under the power of that icy glower, leaving the culprit to scramble for cover in embarrassment.

"I believe the diplomatic answer is that there exists always a reasonable compromise, to ensure the mutual satisfaction of all parties, Nurse," Spock returned calmly.

"Mr. Spock?"

The Vulcan held up two fingers. "This is the way of the Vulcans, Nurse Chapel. Your human equivalent might be…a kiss on the cheek or forehead; signifying affection but not passion." (6) He reached forward, and brushed his fingertips against her cheek, quick and chaste.

Everyone blinked in shock.

Some yeoman behind Kirk cooed, earning herself a withering glare from Chapel, and then Chekov hastily came to his beloved mentor's rescue by belting out the steps for the next dance as loudly as he could over the speaker system. In the ensuing melee, the event was forgotten. By most. Christine Chapel sent the Vulcan a sweet smile and disappeared into the crowd, skillfully evading the grinning medical personnel who attempted to stop her.

Noel shot Kirk a look that fairly screamed I told you so. Spock looked slightly lost for a moment, and then saw Kirk standing twenty feet away.

"Well, well," the captain murmured, sending his First an approving nod as their eyes met across the crowd. "We may just pull this voyage off, after all."

(1) As you can see from those addressing Spock in early episodes, and by comparing the braid on Spock's sleeves throughout the series, in the first post-pilot episode Spock was only a Lieutenant-Commander, though he carried the title of First Officer. At some point in the series, that was changed to the rank of full Commander; fandom speculates as to how and why, but the facts are that at some point he did advance in rank.

(2) This is a nod to my ficlet In the Night, which you can find in my A Star to Steer Her By series under my profile. Someone wanted the history of Spock's fuzzy slippers; here it is. :)

(3) Tonia Barrows is better known as the catalyst for the controversial backrub scene in Shore Leave, but she also was a brief interest of Dr. McCoy's in that same episode (one of the few girls he ever got in the series, poor guy).

(4) I'm not making this stuff up; this type of thing happened in Charlie X, and that Spock I see in the rec room scene there is far different from the one I see interacting with other people. I don't ship Spock/Uhura by any stretch, but I do think he liked her and she him (in a slightly flirtatious way on her part). Again, I write characters as I see them, not as fandom likes to state they are.

(5) In Dagger of the Mind, we learn only that Kirk and Noel met at the Science Lab Christmas party and that they danced there. All else is my own creative license.

(6) Again, I view canon as what I see on screen, not what people have taken and run with or used so often that it's regarded as practically canon. I frankly don't see the ozh'esta as being a sexual action; it would be in horribly bad taste to do so publicly if so, and we see Sarek and Amanda doing it often enough that it simply wouldn't be practical if it were a sexual experience. I don't subscribe to the theory that Vulcans' hands are so sensitive that touching things can turn them on; otherwise how the heck would they type, or write, or eat dinner, or even tie their shoelaces, without becoming…very uncomfortable? I see it as a gesture of affection, nothing more, and so that's why I've used it here. And, incidentally, the Vulcan Language Dictionary agrees with me, calling it 'a finger embrace'; not a secret making-out session for Vulcans. :)

And there, I think I've wrapped up every loose end. I certainly hope so, as the goal of this fic was to create a finished novel. Let me know if I've missed something or if you want further clarifications. Thank you so much for reading and sticking with this!