For The Love Of Poinsettias
Lieutenant Nyota Uhura entered the botany department to drop off informational mission cartridges that she had downloaded from Starfleet. Normally she would have sent a yeoman or trainee to make this delivery. This time, it was a good excuse to get away from the bridge—and him.
They had argued last night. His usual stubbornness kicked in, as did hers. Through their argument's ebb and flows, then through its final escalation, they resolved nothing. They had parted, each upset at the other.
Fortunately for Nyota's mental health, the Marcus IV mission had drawn most ship departments into the preparation process, and she could distract herself this morning by staying busy. Even without a "To Do" list for the official mission, planning the ship's end-of-year holiday parties provided Nyota and her crewmates many ways to spend whatever time they could spare.
The holiday parties—they had been the subject of the argument. Nyota had always understood his reluctance to go. Spock, hardly a "party animal," barely qualified as a "lurker" at any soiree. As with most Vulcans, he preferred quieter pursuits. Even if genetics and cultural upbringing had let his human side dominate, Spock most likely would have been socially shy anyway. His nature preferred professional and academic settings with their measured and codified interactions.
Nyota, on the other hand, enjoyed the buzz and hum of a crowded room. Conversation came easily to her. Meeting new people and the spontaneity of their interactions were fun. Parties reenergized her. She looked forward to them. Spock had recognized and indulged her need by either accompanying her quietly for a short time or simply encouraging her to attend these functions without him.
Last night he surprised her. Firmly, he requested that she turn down invitations to two holiday functions: the party in Engineering and another in Security. He saw no reason to go, as, unlike the party that the captain hosted, their command positions did not require their attendance. He suggested that they spend the time on the Observation Deck or, perhaps, in the Arboretum. He cited concern that she might "tax energies" between her duties and "excessive revelries."
His request to avoid the parties had not kindled her anger, not at all. What sparked her anger was his suggestion that she inadequately balanced her work and social life. It exploded into a full-blown firestorm when she figured out the real reason—a reason that was clear to her, one he refused to admit: good old-fashioned jealousy.
Since they became a couple, Nyota had never flirted with anyone other than Spock. When she did, it was only in the privacy of quarters or in the presence of their closest friends. Lately other men, attracted to Nyota's vivaciousness, tried to flirt with her. After each of the last three social functions, Spock had commented on it. The first time he brought it up, Nyota had not been concerned. She pointed out that she had handled those situations by smiling, nodding, and steering the conversations toward safer venues. She reassured Spock that none of the men were really serious. It was another quirk of human interaction, and it was OK.
Spock accepted her explanations, and all was fine until the second party when several male crewmates approached Nyota again and joked in the same manner as before. Again, Nyota had to explain that the men were not serious. This time, though, Spock refused to believe it. No matter how often Nyota explained the nuances of human social interactions, assured Spock that he had nothing to be "concerned" about, their flirtatious approaches to Nyota offended him beyond reason, in her opinion, yet he would not tell her why. He refused to discuss the matter in any detail. However, she felt a mixture of alarm, incredulity, and anxiety through their bond before he tamped it down.
After the third time, Spock's restrained intolerance tottered perilously on the edge of unrestrained intolerance. Though he carefully maintained the controlled Vulcan demeanor, she caught sporadic waves of his agitation raging inside. At his insistence, they had left that party earlier than planned.
Last night he stopped just short of forbidding her to go.
His possessiveness was pissing her off. This was not happening. What had gotten into him?
And so they had fought in the way that Vulcan-human couples at an impasse do: He tensed his jaw, set his mouth in a straight line, and stared at her with The Vulcan Glare. She uttered a few terse phrases, crossed her arms, and returned her own Glare Of Death. And that's where they had left it.
This morning, upon arriving on the bridge for another day of duty, she hoped that Spock had resolved his issues overnight. When her supposedly logical Vulcan significant other ignored her—and continued to ignore her—in that pretending-not-to-be-obvious obvious way, her anger from the night before reignited. After a couple hours of Spock pointedly focusing on his science console, she decided that, as far as she was concerned, he could just sit there and stew in it. No matter which side spawned Spock's jealously and insecurity, human or Vulcan, Spock was being nothing but a big—
The jolt of psychic hurt stung her before vanishing quickly. She peered from her board toward the science station where a pair of brown eyes briefly met hers, hardening before snapping back to a monitor. She had broadcast her anger, and he had caught it.
Shocked, embarrassed, and still angry as Hell, Nyota needed to do her duty and maintain bridge efficiency. At this moment it meant either she had to go, or he had to go.
"Simmons," she called to her relief officer while she stacked a set of tapes. "Take over while I deliver these comm cartridges to Botany."
"Yes, Ma'am," he said. "Would you like me to take them down there instead?"
"No, but thanks," she said, trying to project a friendly professional demeanor. "You could use more hours logged on the main board, and I could use the exercise. Carry on."
She left, refusing to look back. Hurt at Spock's stubbornness, but angry at herself for her uncontrolled mental outburst, she really did need the break.
Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu, ship's helmsman and sometime-botanist, reached for a scoop. On one side stood a phalanx of potted poinsettia plants, on the other, a bag of soil. He had deposited the soil around the base of his first plant when the swish of doors and angry clack-clack-clack of women's uniform boots across the floor caught his attention.
Nyota Uhura walked over to the chief botanist's desk and pushed a stack of cartridges into the in box. She would have turned on her heel and walked back out, clacking her footwear again in sharp staccatos if she had not seen Sulu there, looking back at her, his eyebrows up, his eyes looking back with some concern.
Nyota stopped halfway between the desk and the door and sighed.
Nyota shook her head. "Hi, Hikaru…"
Sulu set down his scoop. "Are you OK?"
Nyota breathed out and looked at the ceiling. "Sorry. I'm having a bad day."
"Want to talk about it?"
Sulu nodded. "Understood…. I hope whatever-it-is gets better."
"Thanks." Nyota appreciated Sulu's support. He had become a good friend in the year and a half since their mission began. Even Spock trusted him.
No, she refused to think about him right now.
"These poinsettias are lovely," Nyota breathed, trying to lighten her mood through distraction. She approached the work table to look more closely at the vibrant red and green plants. "Some of our instructors at the Academy had them in their offices at Christmastime, but I don't remember them being as red as these are."
Sulu beamed while he pulled up another poinsettia in front of him. "The secret's all in the photoperiodism. Just give them 12 hours of bright light to stimulate them, then 12 hours of dark. Some things just don't 'bloom' unless you give them their quiet time."
"Hmph," Nyota huffed, "don't I know it."
Nyota had not meant to let out that thought aloud, let alone as bitterly as she had said it. She had not realized the depth of her own anger.
Sulu's mouth dropped open a bit. He looked at her more intensely for just a moment. He refrained from comment, however, as he returned his attention to his work. Nyota appreciated his respect of her privacy.
She forged on to obscure that awkward moment. "This," she indicated the row of plants, "looks like a project."
"These are going to the party in Engineering." Sulu moved another plant into place, scooping the rich-looking soil mix around its base. "They're tough, but even tough plants need a little TLC before going to a party or else they'll stress," he explained.
"They're not the only thing," she ground out between her teeth before she could stop herself.
Why had she said that? What was wrong with her?
Oh, yeah…the party in Engineering. The one that "someone" forbid her to attend.
Sulu calmly deposited another scoopful of soil around the next plant's base. Internally Nyota kicked herself. Sulu was one of those quiet, perceptive types. Not only had her lapse confirmed that she was upset, it had been enough for Sulu to determine who was at the core of her irritation. Nyota hoped that he would leave the topic alone. She had come here to get away from that.
Sulu pulled the next plant forward. "Bright red, deep green…beautiful."
Good. He was not "going there." Nyota nodded. "Yes, it is."
"Poinsettias come in many color variations—orange, pale green, cream, pink, white, marbled—their diversity is amazing. Still, I always thought the classic red-green combination was the most stunning," Sulu continued. He paused, then held a plant up, closer to Nyota. "Don't you think so?"
"I do. Very much. It's also my favorite combination. It's…." Red-green? Nyota's eyes narrowed as instinct told her that Sulu was alluding to something other than poinsettias. Maybe something to do with human-Vulcan red and green? She pushed herself back from the table. "I have to go."
"Uhura…" he cajoled softly.
"Stop! You're not talking about the poinsettias! Clearly I'm upset, but you don't know about what, so you're fishing. I'm sorry. I can't talk. Please, leave it alone."
"Maybe, maybe not, but hear me out." Sulu had shook his head in shock at her uncharacteristic outburst, but persisted anyway. "All I've got to say is that if a couple guys in Engineering were hell-bent on stealing my prize pink poinsettia, I'd think twice about bringing it to their party."
"What?" Nyota's heart nearly stopped. Of all the things Hikaru Sulu could have said, she never would have imagined that. "What are you talking about?"
She stared at him, tried to read his face. She detected the same earnest sincerity that Sulu always carried with him. Of all her crewmates, Sulu had one of the most level heads, calm demeanors, and sound judgments. If he had seen the need to breach her privacy, it had to be important. Wisely, Sulu let a few more seconds pass for Nyota's head to clear.
He proceeded carefully. "You hear things, Uhura…catch a few phrases in a conversation sometimes…conversations in the corner about who does or does not 'deserve' to keep a…a beautiful plant."
Nyota stared at Sulu, stunned. A warning—he was warning her.
"…The worst is hearing them plot how to take it," Sulu added. "They think they can simply charm a prize pink away…without considering who they hurt in the process."
"I-I don't believe it! Why? Why would anyone do something like that?"
Sulu shrugged. "Who knows? Greed. Jealously maybe. A superiority complex." He lowered his voice, hesitant. "An idiotic perception that the plant's caregiver doesn't have the capacity to care enough."
Nyota's chest constricted as a gasp escaped, and she looked suddenly to a blank wall as her mind reviewed everything from the last few social events. If Sulu had overheard these things, then Spock most definitely had. Her eyes watered. What bigoted comments had reached him? Even worse, what plotting had threatened Spock with another loss? She, his ashayam, who should have protected him, had insisted on returning to the same environment that reinforced that threat. She had not known, and it did not matter to her that she could not have known. What mattered was that he had been hurt again, mostly by her own anger. The depth of his pain she felt from him on the bridge this morning when, in her thoughts, she called him a…
Her fury redirected itself to Lieutenants Avon and Derus. Yes, she was sure it was them. If she had known what they had said...
With her realization, two tears broke free. She wiped them away angrily.
Sulu offered a small, tentative smile. "Uhura, they're idiots, and what do idiots know?"
"Nothing," she whispered tightly, feeling like an idiot herself.
"Less than nothing," he emphasized, "because they got it all wrong."
Nyota had "it all wrong," too. Of course Spock wanted to avoid the parties and, thus, avoid confronting Avon and Derus. First, confrontations on such matters violated the privacy his culture valued. Second, it would break out their relationship into the open and provide juicy fodder for the ship's rumor mill, which could compromise their authority if it got out of hand. Third, Spock kept interactions between himself and those outside their circle of friends professional. Fourth…well, fourth, fifth, or sixth, it did not matter. She and Spock needed to talk this out, and this time he needed to do more talking, she more listening.
"It will be OK," Sulu assured. "You'd be surprised at how resilient these prize pinks or classic red-greens can be."
Nyota rolled her eyes despite the comfort she found in Sulu's reassurance.
Sulu picked up one of the fullest and brightest plants in his collection. "I repeat, I do believe that the red-green combination is the most charismatic of all…. Did you know that Euphorbia pulcherrima grow to anywhere between .6 and 4 meters tall?"
"No…," she indulged him. "I did not."
"Left on their own, however," he grinned, his warmth already making her feel better, "they will grow to be…uh, the best description might be 'tall and lanky.' I don't know for sure, but if you ask me, it's most true with these red-green combinations!"
Nyota, attempting to regain composure, tried to suppress a chuckle.
Sulu looked pleased that his attempts at levity were working. "Now, if you graft two varieties together, they become fuller and more beautiful." He wiggled his eyebrows suggestively.
Nyota laughed. "I can see that…!" She wiped the last moisture from her eyes and smiled. "What else can you tell me, Mr. Poinsettia Expert?"
"A few people have misconceptions about the plant, like that the sap is poisonous. It isn't, but," Sulu tilted his head conspiratorially, "it can be an irritant."
Nyota cracked up. "I'll have to confirm that with Dr. McCoy!"
Sulu tried to keep a straight face as he continued with his lecture. "They don't do well with too much water. And, one more thing…." A wicked gleam sparkled in his eyes as he leaned across the table and whispered. "Don't expose them to drafts—it causes premature leaf-drop."
"Oh, well, you wouldn't want that!" Nyota giggled.
"Neither. Would. You!" Sulu threw back, wiggling his eyebrows again.
Nyota's mouth dropped, and she felt her face flush with heat. "Hikaru Sulu!" she squeaked out.
Sulu's eyes opened wide in all innocence. "What?"
Suddenly the door swished open admitting a wary Commander Spock. Sulu's skin flushed red as he drew a breath. Spock's eyebrows knitted together as his eyes darted from Sulu to Nyota, then back again where they remained on the quickly sobering helmsman.
Sulu recovered quickly with the nonchalance of a feline that had just fallen off the couch. Smoothly, casually he picked up the next plant. "Can I help you, Sir?" He scooped soil into the pot as if he had been doing so all along.
Spock straightened into his own version of nonchalance. "I am procuring tricorders calibrated for botanical readings to outfit the Marcus IV landing parties. They are in the cabinet to your left, are they not?"
Like Nyota's delivery task, Spock's task was also one normally assigned to a subordinate. He had sought her out. Maybe he wanted to talk. Nyota did, too. Nyota glanced to Sulu, sending a silent request.
Sulu caught it. "Yes, right here." Sulu indicated the correct storage unit with every bit of professionalism he could muster. "If you don't need me, Sir, I need to visit storage. I'm running out of soil."
An eyebrow rose at the bag, two-thirds full, sitting there on the table. "You are excused, Mr. Sulu."
Without a word as he turned toward the door, but with a wink to Uhura when Spock looked toward the cabinet, he exited. As soon as the door swished closed behind him, Spock turned and was about to say—
He did not get the chance. Nyota strode the few meters to him and wrapped her arms around his waist. She pressed her cheek into his chest. "Spock, I'm sorry! Why didn't you tell me?"
Spock stood still. "Nyota?"
She held him even tighter, then felt his relief as his body relaxed into her embrace.
Nyota and Spock shared the couch in her quarters, leaning against each other. At the end of their shifts, they discussed what had happened in detail. Together, they created a plan for handling what they would do next time.
"We can't let people like that run our lives," Nyota said. "I would never leave you, and I'll make that clear to anyone who doubts that."
"You have not explained how you discovered their intentions," Spock said.
"Well, I should have found that out from you!" She thumped his bicep lightly, making her point.
"Perhaps. You have not, however, responded to my query." The eyebrow was up. He expected an answer.
She reached up and cradled one of his cheeks. "Sulu shared his concerns about the poinsettias. Mostly worries about people who think they can charm them away, or take them away, from their caretakers."
Spock's eyes narrowed while he deciphered what Nyota was saying, widened when he understood.
"Hikaru Sulu protects his plants and his friends. Sulu is a good friend to us, Spock."
Spock's eyes traveled to Nyota's credenza where a lush, full red and green poinsettia bloomed front and center. "He is, indeed."
Author's Note December 4, 2012: Greetings! I intended this story to become total holiday fluff, but then it took off in a strange, completely unexpected direction. Who knew? Sometimes you just gotta ride the wave... Can't say that I mind featuring Sulu, too. He seems like a nice guy. Thanks for reading!
DISCLAIMER: Others own the Star Trek universe and its characters, not I, therefore I do not profit from this or any of my other unlicensed Star Trek-based works. This is for entertainment only.