Spock of Vulcan does not understand the entirely non-Vulcan concept of partying.
He has been told, by various well-intentioned humans or other species, that it is a crucial part of maintaining a state of pleasant emotional/mental wellbeing in most sentient life forms – but as the idea of being dependent upon such a pointless pastime in order to remain functional has little to no appeal to any true Vulcan, he dismisses the concept as he does all else which is alien to his precisely ordered physiology: as unnecessary, and therefore unimportant.
Captain James Tiberius Kirk, a peculiarly fascinating human to which he is still acclimating, evidently believes otherwise. The man has gone from asking, to pleading, to coaxing, to finally the time-honored human act of blackmailing, in order to get his reluctant First Officer's agreement to attend the celebration of their Chief Engineer's birth being held below decks later this evening. Spock is not pleased with this persuasive human's irksome ability to throw Spock's own words back in his face.
"Look, you know how hard I'm fighting to get you instated as full Commander, Mr. Spock," Kirk is saying, arms folded across his chest and sandy brows knitted with intensity. (1) Spock briefly marvels at the human's entire obliviousness to the fact that he is craning his neck to look up at his First Officer, an act which is usually intimidating to most humans shorter than his Vulcan stature.
But then, Kirk appears to have no clue when he is being intimidated, by friend or foe. The intense self-confidence is a great strength in such a starship commander, and also a great weakness. Spock is not certain yet which of those is more prevalent in this particular being.
"And one of the requirements for you to receive your full Commander's stripes is to mingle with the crew of this ship," Kirk continues, and though his features are stern his tone is gentle, understanding. "If you cannot tolerate two hours' worth of communication with other species on such an even playing field as a human’s birthday party, Spock, then that is not going to appear favorable on your official record."
Spock is, of course, aware of this; and he is even more aware that Kirk is above all, a just and fair commander. The captain will continue to fight for his status aboard ship, but he will be completely honest in doing so against the near-fully human Admiralty, very few of whom see him as capable of becoming second-in-command of the Federation's flagship.
"Captain, I –"
Kirk makes a sort of strangled noise in the back of his throat, shaking his head with a small wry grin. "Don't look at me like that, you know I can't stand against it." Spock has no idea to what the human is referring, but Kirk does not elaborate, only continues, voice becoming more stern. "I will not back down over this, Mr. Spock. I expect you to report to Rec Room Thirteen along with my other senior staff tonight precisely at 1900 hours. Do I have to make that an order, Science Officer?"
The use of his technical title, rather than the as-yet undeserved 'Commander' which Kirk usually dignifies his station with, is not lost on him.
"Negative, sir." He, Spock of Vulcan, reduced to obeying a human's desire for increased social interaction! His dignity has already suffered since becoming intertwined with this unique human's brand of captaincy, and the prospect of an evening spent among half-intoxicated crewmen and officers does not promise to be at all pleasant.
Kirk immediately relaxes, however, at his acquiescence, and those ridiculously penetrating eyes glint with a bit of surprise; no doubt, the captain was expecting a lengthy diatribe on how illogical it is to celebrate a birth-date.
"Scotty'll be tickled to death that you're coming, you know," Kirk continues blithely, as they move toward the turbolift, he en route to the Botany Lab and Kirk to the Bridge. "You two are the only old-school officers who stayed aboard at the captaincy switchover, aren't you?"
"We are," he replies, as the lift opens. They step inside, in oddly perfect sync, and grasp the directional handles simultaneously. "Science Deck," he adds, after Kirk has placed his own verbal command for the Bridge. "Mr. Scott refused to be parted from his engines, and I saw no logic in leaving a satisfactory posting aboard the ship bearing the most advanced scientific equipment and laboratories in the Fleet."
Hazel eyes dance sideways at him, as the lift slows to leave him on Deck Nine. "Not regretting that decision yet, I hope, Mr. Spock?" the human teases, a soft lilt in his voice.
He lifts an eyebrow, strangely compelled to return the captain's half-serious jest in kind. "Ask me again after tonight's…undertaking, sir," he replies dryly, and the door shuts behind him on Kirk's sudden laughter.
This human will be the death of his Vulcan dignity, he is quite certain.
Oddly enough, the experience promises to be…quite fascinating.
Chief Engineer Scott has always been kind to him, from the time he signed onto the Enterprise as a very young Science lieutenant straight out of Starfleet Academy, and Spock supposes he does, by virtue of fair retribution, bear an obligation to return the favor by attending the man's birth-date celebration. This alone would not necessarily be the trial it promises to be, were it not for the fact that the captain has, admittedly cautiously, approved the moderated use of non-synthehol for officers not on alpha shift duty the following morning, and that the Starfleet dress code has been waived for the informal occasion.
The former, has nothing to do with him, as he cannot become intoxicated by the alcohol content of anything suitable for a human to consume in large quantities; but the latter, is something with which he is highly uncomfortable. Spock has worked aboard the Enterprise for nearly twelve years, and in that amount of time has never worn attire other than his uniform save for one occasion a few years back when he was injured on an away mission and forced to remain in Sickbay scrubs for three days. (He is, however human the emotion might be, relieved that Starfleet rescinded their temporary uniforms, handed out in bulk before the shakedown cruise of the newly-refitted Enterprise; he had never been so close to the emotion of pleasure as he was to re-don his Science blues after being forced to wear a decidedly nauseating shade of officers' gold during the shakedown.) (2)
But he understands, from what little he has gleaned of human interaction, that to appear at Mr. Scott's gathering in his uniform would engender a divide between him and the informal crew, the exact situation which Captain Kirk has instructed him to avoid if possible. The problem is, that he owns very few articles of clothing which are not his uniform or the equivalent thermal wear that he dons on most days to keep warm aboard this specist-temperate ship. And those which he does possess that are non-Starfleet issue, are decidedly Vulcan; will that not also engender a spirit of division in the same manner a uniform would?
He vaguely suspects that he might be overthinking this; but he will most certainly suffer in silence before asking a human to aid him in his choice. Kirk has not yet earned that confidence, not by any stretch; fascination does not necessarily equate to trust.
In the end, he reluctantly decides upon wearing the Vulcan equivalent of formal-wear; a simple, flowing black tunic over trousers of the same rich material, trimmed at the edges in silver shot with threads of shimmery blue. The look is proper without being ostentatious, and hopefully none of the crew will realize the costliness of the robes and thereby extrapolate the truth; that his clan, albeit at the moment slightly estranged from him, is one of the wealthiest in all of Vulcan. That is yet another wedge he does not desire to drive between himself and these humans, nor does he wish them to melodramatically romanticize his status as the equivalent of a vrekasht Vulcan prince. (3)
A curse drifts from the joined bathroom. Evidently the captain's valiant struggle against his hair is still ongoing; and having no wish to become part of yet another undignified conversation on that topic, he leaves his cabin and heads down to the Engineering Deck, where the members of their Engineering division have appropriated Rec Room Thirteen as the location for Mr. Scott's gathering.
After thirty minutes, all has gone well thus far: Engineer Scott appears to be both genuinely shocked and pleasantly surprised at his appearance, Spock has spent an agreeable twenty minutes discussing temporal anomalies and their effects upon the warp flux capacitator with Lieutenant Masters, and he is beginning to minutely relax in the hope that the evening will not be as unpleasant as he has anticipated – when his tranquility is shattered by the appearance of the one human against whom he has developed an almost instant antipathy.
Lieutenant-Commander Leonard H. McCoy, their newly-instated Chief Medical Officer, is, to use a human metaphor, going to be a thorn in his side; this much he can discern already. The man is rebellious, insubordinate, and bears a bizarrely contradictory official record, with as many reprimands as commendations for bravery outside the line of duty, as well as a few scientific recognitions for laudable accomplishments that entirely bely the human's annoying tendency to poke fun of Spock's logical nature and Vulcan ancestry whenever the fit strikes him. How the human became the most competent xenobiologist in his field is entirely beyond Spock's comprehension, as McCoy appears to have no diplomatic skills whatsoever even against his own species, much less toward any which is alien to him.
How Spock is going to tolerate the man for five years, is an entirely different, but no less incomprehensible, matter.
McCoy skeptically gives him what he believes humans call a "once-over" while downing his second cup of suspect fruit beverage, and he braces himself for the onslaught of borderline-xenospecist remarks about his Vulcan attire and its 'inhuman' connotations.
He is never more relieved to see and have physical contact with a human in his life, than he is when a gold-and-green blur claps him on the shoulder as the captain breezes past, giving his CMO a friendly elbow that makes the doctor curse, nearly spilling his drink all over his Sickbay scrubs.
"That's a waste of good punch, Jim!"
The captain's mischievous grin is reflected in the crystal bowl as he helps himself. "Lighten up, Doctor; this is a party! And you know you didn't have to wear the uniform?"
"You try coming off fifteen complete physicals and psych evals and see if you feel like changing clothes for a birthday party," McCoy grunts, finishing off his drink. "And on that note, you're next on my list, Commander," the human adds, jabbing a bony finger at Spock's chest. "You really tellin’ me you never had a complete evaluation in eleven years aboard this flyin’ tin can?"
Spock ignores the human's tirade, and increasingly dropped consonants due to the effects of the ‘good punch,’ with practiced ease. "I was never in need of one, Doctor. I do not succumb to your human illnesses, nor have I ever been in a position to be seriously injured, due to my status as Scientist aboard a primarily exploratory vessel."
Behind them, Kirk takes a tentative drink of the frothy mixture and promptly chokes, eyes wide as he stares down into the cup's depths. "That is not what I meant by approving 'slight alcohol consumption,'" he finally proclaims, glancing dubiously around them at the increasingly raucous humans packed into the rec room.
Spock's left eyebrow dutifully follows the right into his hairline. "I would suggest in future you monitor your subordinates' interpretation of orders more closely, sir."
The young captain's face flushes slightly in embarrassment (though that was not his intention, certainly), but it is their resident physician who interjects with an indignant, "Now look here, you pointy-eared stick in the mud!"
"Just a minute, Captain. Mr. Spock, it's none of your business what orders the captain gives or how they're interpreted!"
"It is my business, Doctor McCoy, as at least temporary First Officer of this ship," he replies without breaking stride, ignoring the arm-flailing indications of human temper and the captain's weary sigh, now buried in the depths of his drink. "The safety of the ship and her captain are the primary responsibility of each member of the command chain – as you should know, Doctor, being fourth in that chain yourself. An immense responsibility which I am still at a loss to understand, given your entire lack of respect for authority, not to mention the concurrent lack of what I believe you humans call a 'bedside manner.'"
"I'll show you beside manner, during that physical you owe me!"
"One which is totally unnecessary and therefore may be disregarded under a superior's officer's discretion, Doctor."
Blue eyes flash icicles in his direction. "In matters of medical science, I outrank you, thank you very much! Just because you're a Vulcan captain's pet and can get whatever you want –"
"All right, that's enough! Both of you," the captain finally interjects with a scowl, physically interposing himself between his subordinates with an upraised hand. "Bones, he's your superior officer, so give him some respect. Spock, Doctor McCoy is human, so give him some diplomatic tolerance!"
Spock belatedly realizes that interested heads have turned their direction at the escalating voices, and feels a pang of regret that such a scene was made, however harmless it might have been intended. This incorrigible human simply disrupts his tranquility as no other he has ever encountered! In three months, he cannot recall a single conversation which did not devolve into an argument of truly galactic proportions between himself and this fiercely human doctor.
"My apologies, Captain," he says quietly.
"Spock, stop apologizing." Kirk shakes his head, and with a gesture of frustration throws back the rest of his punch with an almost violent enthusiasm. "Just, both of you – learn to work together, or reassign yourselves. I'm not going to have anything on my ship that even resembles bigotry or xenophobia in any form, no matter how much I want to keep both of you. Is that clear, gentlemen?" The words are light, but the tone holds a diamond edge of danger.
McCoy blinks at him over Kirk's head in something that resembles shock, and then stares down at his boots. "Geez, Jim," the doctor mumbles at last. "I didn't mean –"
"I don't care, Doctor," Kirk snaps, uncharacteristically sharply. "Learn to work with him and report to him, or I'll have you transferred." McCoy's eyes widen at the unusual threat, but the human wisely stays silent. Kirk half-turns Spock's direction, a warning glinting in his eyes. "And that goes for you too, Commander," he warns. "You'd better prove to me you can command humans, or we're both going to have a lot of explaining to do to the powers that be."
"Aye, sir." Spock is Vulcan, and shame is an emotion a Vulcan thankfully does not feel. For this, he is grateful, as otherwise he might be thoroughly wishing he were elsewhere at the moment.
"Honestly, it's like babysitting my nephews all over again," Kirk mumbles under his breath, as he shakes his head and disappears toward the punch bowl once more. (4)
This leaves him and the human healer glaring at each other across a meter of duranium flooring, ignoring the crewmen who carefully skirt around the perimeter in hopes of not becoming collateral damage if something explodes within. Spock suspects McCoy feels much the same as he does; rather like a cadet having just been chastised by an Academy professor – one who is considerably younger yet more mature, obviously, than one's self.
"Huh. Yeah, okay, that probably wasn't necessary…" McCoy's highly informative response to the silence is, after all, less of a threat than their previous conversation, and as a diplomat's son Spock knows to accept an olive branch when it is offered.
"I concur, Doctor."
McCoy frowns suddenly, and cocks his head in quizzical discomfort. "Y'know I don't mean anything by poking at you bein' Vulcan, don't you?"
Spock's eyebrow inches upward. "I do not follow."
"Look, Commander," and the other eyebrow follows suit in surprise at the sudden respect in the title, "I yell at everybody, and I give everybody a hard time. You're just easier than most because…well, you're just easier to pick at. It's nothing against you personally, understand."
"You are implying I am simply an easier target to bully, due to my mixed heritage, Doctor?"
The utterly horrified look that crosses the human's expressive face is, Spock is certain, quite genuine; possibly the man simply does not realize how he appears to an outsider – an outworlder. At any rate, the doctor now looks quite ill, rather than belligerently annoyed as he has been.
"Is that really what you think of me, Mr. Spock?" McCoy asks, uncharacteristically gentle.
Spock shifts his stance, the Vulcan equivalent of shrugging. "I do not know what to think of you, Doctor. I merely observe and interpret facts. This you should know, as a scientist yourself."
McCoy frowns, elbow resting in the opposite hand as he taps one finger absently against his mouth. "And the facts are pretty damning against me, aren't they," he says at last, looking unaccountably weary.
"I am unaccustomed to dealing with a human of your…most volatile nature, Doctor," he attempts to explain, and has the feeling that he has only made matters worse when McCoy glares incredulously at him.
"And how's a statement like that any more bigoted than me sayin' it's impossible to talk properly to a Vulcan?" he demands, and Spock is blindsided by the sudden realization that, in actuality, perhaps they both are in the wrong here.
He bows his head in acquiescence, shifts back into the loose folds of his tunic in an instinctive gesture of withdrawal from the field of battle. Some of the ice melts slowly in the physician's sharp gaze, and a silence falls, only slightly less uncomfortable than the one before their unresolved discussion began.
Then McCoy's eyes fall on the silver embroidery at the wide sleeve of his tunic. "What's that say?" he inquires, genuinely curious. "It's High Vulcan, isn't it?"
"It is, Doctor. It is the name of my Clan, and the symbol of my House."
"And those?" The bony finger which had been in his face a moment before gestures to the symbol and words inscribed at the right shoulder of the tunic.
"K'lalatar prkori k'lalatar prnak'lirli," he enunciates slowly, feeling a slight twinge of amusement at the disbelieving look he receives over the complicated syllables.
"Yes, and we don't all speak in tongues, so what's that mean?" McCoy asks dryly.
"Your Federation has come to translate the phrase as Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations, Doctor. It is the motto of my people, and one of the founding principles of the United Federation of Planets, brought by the founding Vulcan members of that organization centuries ago."
"Huh. 'Magine that." Blue eyes glint ruefully up at him, before the doctor leans over to snag another cup – two cups? Spock raises another eyebrow at the human's tolerance levels – of punch from a passing crewman's tray. The young man splutters only briefly before scurrying away, obviously choosing wisely to pick another battle this night.
Spock only barely restrains a twitch of discomfort when the doctor nudges his hand with one of the cups, and it is the self-preservational desire to panicpanicgetthehumanaway more than understanding that makes him hastily accept the drink.
"Well, let me be the first to introduce you to an old-fashioned human tradition, Mr. Spock," the doctor declares, raising the cup and touching it briefly to his own. "A toast, Commander, to…whatever the heck you said just now."
Unaware of the proper protocol in such situations, he stares blankly as McCoy cheerfully drains his cup, and only realizes his error when the doctor rolls his eyes in a gesture of hopelessness and saunters away to accost some other unfortunate being.
Spock regards the retreating human with bewilderment and then, realizing with dismay that only forty-five minutes of his promised two hours have passed, throws Vulcan dignity to the winds and downs the drink in one long swallow. He looks up to see Captain Kirk staring at him, eyebrows raised, and he feels his ear-tips begin to burn.
"Don't worry, Mr. Spock," Kirk reassures him with a grin and a pat to the arm (he has no time to spare thought for why this human's touch does not immediately engender the same reflexive reaction that McCoy's does). "He's enough to drive anybody to drink, sometimes. But at least your night can't get any more awkward than that?"
It is only then that Spock realizes he (and the captain, but the captain is most likely accustomed to such) is being stared at by at least two dozen crewmen and women, all in varying stages of partial intoxication, and nearly all of them with something akin to interest…or is that the more intense emotion of desire? Then one (extremely brave, or extremely drunk) lieutenant from Hydroponics actually winks at him over her shoulder, and the discomfiting suspicion becomes a certainty.
The captain either does not notice the stares they are receiving, or does not care (more likely), only shrugs off the attention as he does everything else, with that slightly self-deprecating tolerance which just barely prevents him from appearing horribly arrogant to those who do not know him well. Kirk makes some inane comment about them 'cutting a dashing figure' while out of uniform, and Spock makes a private resolution without further delay.
He will do whatever it takes to earn his full commander's stripes, as there do exist at least a few regulations against any such…advances, when it comes to the top two ranking officers of a Federation starship. (5)
Humans. He will never understand them.