Hikaru picked up the small potted tree and inspected it. The leaves were green and heart-shaped, just like those of the sacred fig back home. He paid for it with his credit chip and walked away from the nursery stall in the market to look for some trinkets to decorate it with. Some bells and a star for the top would turn it into a nice little Bodhi tree.
He had planned to come shopping with Pavel, but the little rat had bailed on him after Lieutenant Tyler in Stellar Cartography had batted her glitter-scattered eyelashes at him in the club the previous evening. Some guys had all the luck. Pavel hadn't even made it back to their shared room before Hikaru left for breakfast that morning.
A stall of shiny gewgaws caught his eye and he turned to appraise the small garlands hanging cluttered on multi-armed display stands. Picking through one of the displays, he found a set of silver and gold bells that chimed with a tinny clamor as he shook them. Perfect.
Paying for the garland, he looked up when he heard the uninhibited laughter he recognized as belonging to his captain. Kirk and his CMO were strolling through the market, arm-in-arm. McCoy had a look on his face like someone had told him that Christmas had been cancelled, which meant he was almost smiling. Hikaru ducked his head a little, trying to edge around the corner of the stall so they'd pass him by. He was out of luck.
"Sulu!" Kirk's voice didn't really hold any command in it, just pleasure at the day, maybe, the hail-fellow-well-met-bonhomie he was known for.
"Good morning, Captain, Doctor McCoy." Hikaru smiled pleasantly at them. He was in no way jealous that they were able to spend the morning hanging out together when he'd been left in the lurch by that underaged lothario he'd chosen to room with.
"Oh, no. Not while we're on shore leave. Call me Jim." Kirk flashed him the smile that was pasted on half a dozen recruiting posters and a number of news holovids. He knew more than a few crew members that had copies of them on their PADDs.
"Call me anything but McCoy and I'll lose your shot record." McCoy glanced at Kirk as he said that, receiving an arm punch from Kirk in return.
"But Booooonesy, you looooove my nicknames." Hikaru was starting to think Kirk was plugged into something that provided low level voltage because that shit-eating grin just would not stop. He tried to look away, but the crinkles at the corners of the captain's eyes caught him like a fly in a spider's web. He was forced to look away when Kirk reached over to poke at the tree he was carrying in his left hand.
"Whatcha got there? Something new for the Botany lab?" Long fingers ruffled the branches of the little tree, stroking one of the heart-shaped leaves. Hikaru refused to wonder what they would feel like stroking skin.
"Not this time, sir. I'm getting this for the holidays for my quarters," Hikaru admitted.
"Is it even big enough to hold any Christmas ornaments?" McCoy questioned as he reached out and tugged Kirk's hand away from the tree. "Allergies, dipshit."
Kirk put his hand back down by his side, sticking his tongue out at McCoy. "They wouldn't be selling it if it was dangerous to any of the visitors to the market. I'm sure it's safe." He turned to Hikaru with another of those thousand watt smiles. "Right, Sulu?"
"It's definitely classified as non-toxic, sir. Can't say if that includes you." Hikaru delivered his own verdict, eliciting a crack of laughter from McCoy and a wounded look from Kirk.
"I'm going to tell Santa that you and Bones deserve coal for Christmas." Kirk elbowed McCoy in the side with those words.
McCoy shrugged. "I'll give it to Scotty for the still. He can use it to filter that rotgut he's been brewing; couldn't hurt it, that's for sure."
Hikaru smirked at Kirk. "I'll put it in my incense burner for my Bodhi Day meditations. Might even turn down the environmental controls a little."
Kirk cocked his head at Hikaru's words. "You're Buddhist? How did I not know you were Buddhist? Your service record has "no pref" listed; is it wrong?" Hikaru was fascinated as a faint moue brought Kirk's pink lips together. They looked chapped, but the pout emphasized their plushness and he would not think about what they might feel like against his own, nosiree.
Shaking off the errant thought, he explained, "I'm not a very good Buddhist. Celebrating Bodhi Day is a bit of a hold-over in my family. I mean, we celebrate Christmas, too. Most of my ancestors converted to Christianity when they emigrated to San Francisco, but it made it easier by simultaneously celebrating the traditions they were used to alongside the new ones. The kids kind of got used to celebrating both and we've never totally given it up after 300 years."
Kirk nodded at his explanation. "Makes sense. Just like we always had to make latkes for breakfast Christmas morning. We lost the habit of going to Temple and most Jewish practices, but we held on to the food."
McCoy interrupted them, looking at his watch. "Jim, I'm gonna take off. I've escorted your ass around the damn market enough for one morning."
"You just want to go gild the lily in the mirror before your date, Bones. It's not going to help, you know; you're never going to tame that cowlick no matter how much product you put in your hair." Kirk slapped him on the back, laughing at the disgruntled look on McCoy's face as he turned away to head back to the hotel.
"Yeah, well. I'm going to tell your next boyfriend that you wear mascara because your eyelashes are actually pale as hell." McCoy winked at Sulu over his shoulder as he fired that off at Kirk.
Kirk's hands flew to his chest, then flipped the doctor off with a single finger salute. "A hit! Not. I don't use mascara; I have one of the barbers dye them for me." Hikaru glanced at Kirk from under his own very black eyelashes. If Kirk did do anything to them, it wasn't something that the casual observer would ever know. He did have a thicket of eyelashes, though. Hikaru had heard some of his shipmates refer to the captain's lashes as "eye fur." They were, to Hikaru's taste, the perfect frame for those cornflower blue eyes that seemed to reflect the limitless height of the sky overhead. Given the opportunity...well, there wasn't a hope in hell of that happening.
"C'mon, Sulu. I'm not done shopping yet; are you? We can browse the market together, if you don't mind?" Kirk turned those shining eyes on him and Hikaru found himself helplessly agreeing with a nod of his head. Shit, he was being hypnotized, he'd swear. Not that he minded, he was just surprised at being the focus of the captain's attention for such an extended period of time during off-duty hours. Still, he wasn't one to look a gift horse in the mouth. After all, McCoy was the one who had characterized Kirk as a stallion and he should know, right?
Eight hours later, Hikaru slumped against the door of his hotel room. He was exhausted, more than a little bewildered, and completely emotionally off-balance. Hikaru didn't know if he should be pissed or ecstatic. Pissed that Kirk had spent all afternoon trying to find some new nickname for him, while loading his arms down with presents or ecstatic that he'd got to spend, you know, the whole day with him.
Shaking his head in mute denial at his unspoken hopes, he finally walked over to the bed he'd claimed as his the day before and dropped the armful of presents he was holding onto the coverlet. Looking at them all in disbelief, he picked out the flagging seedling he'd picked up for his Bodhi tree. A little water would go a long way to rejuvenating it. He headed toward the en suite to take care of that, but found himself turning back to the bed. Pawing through the packages, he plucked one out and dumped the contents on the bed and stared at it in revulsion.
It was small, white and, worst of all, cute. The miniature watering can Kirk had picked out for him had the thick black outline of a stylized cat with a hair ribbon on its head--a pink hair ribbon and no mouth; the unnatural thing gave him the heebie-jeebies. The captain claimed it was "vintage, Wild Bill." He'd growled at that nickname, but was forced to accept the watering can in order to appease the pouty look on Kirk's face. He was starting to understand McCoy a lot better after spending the day with Kirk.
Stalking into the bathroom, he filled the can with water before taking it out to the main room to water the plant. At least that made him feel good. His Bodhi tree would fit his needs perfectly. Heartened, he walked back over to the bed where he started shaking out the contents of all the packages.
There was a hone for his katana, laces for his fencing shoes, a star (six-sided) for the top of the Bodhi tree, a kazoo shaped like a pair of fat red lips, a package of rice cakes (cinnamon raisin), jelly beans (in red and green), incense, and the only other thing he'd purchased himself, the string of bells. None of it expensive, no distinct theme, just a lot of disconnected stuff. Well-intentioned, he thought, but weird.
Hikaru was in the process of winding the garland around the small tree, when the door whooshed open and Pavel barreled in, tearing off his outerwear and flinging it at the cubby meant to hold hanging clothes.
"Dibs on the shower!"
"Yeah, fine, whatever." Hikaru flapped a hand at him as Pavel's bouncing curls were the last thing he saw before the door closed behind him.
With the garland tucked neatly around the tree, the only adornment left was the topper. It was a small, woven, wicker star with a delicate tracery of bright blue around the edges. Kirk had found it at a little stall with other holiday decorations that appeared predominantly Jewish: dreidel, tacky tin menorah, tarnished gelt and this star. Kirk had insisted, "You need a star for your tree, Kicker." Hikaru's curt dismissal of that particular sobriquet earned him a set of doleful puppy dog eyes that compelled his submission--at least to accepting the star, if not the nickname.
Sighing, Hikaru sat on the bed, one leg tucked under the other. Breakfast was hours ago and other than a few skewers of mystery meat and some pork bao at another stall mid-afternoon, he hadn't had anything to eat since he'd left the hotel. He was supposed to meet Kirk for dinner in another hour, but he was hungry now. Well, there were rice cakes and jelly beans if he didn't eat so much as to spoil his appetite.
Picking up the jelly beans, he selected a green one, popping it in his mouth. He'd barely had time to bite through the sugary outer coating when his mouth dropped open again. Hikaru surged to his feet and looked around wildly for the recycler. Jalapeno! Who the hell ate jalapeno jelly beans? Who bought them? The jelly bean didn't so much drop from his mouth as explode from it like an Idaho russet from a potato gun. Being the brilliant helmsman that he was, the bean hit the recycler dead center. His eyes watered, he thought, as much at the offending bean as at the recollection of the way Kirk had grinned at him when he picked them up and asked him if he liked "everything sharp, Killer?" Hikaru had turned his back and only an arm rapidly slung over his shoulders had kept him from abandoning his captain and his terrible attempts at saddling him with one of his ill-advised nicknames. What was wrong with the name Hikaru? It was good enough for his friends and family. That particular repudiation had earned him an actual apology and the bag of jelly beans pushed into his hands. He was starting to wish he hadn't let Kirk charm him into accepting them; if he'd only known!
Hikaru sat back down on the bed, his head in his hands. What did Kirk want from him? He looked up when Pavel came out of the bathroom, his eyes still stinging from the spicy jelly bean.
"You are crying! They are tears of joy for so many presents, yes? Someone loves you very much. I am guessing your family; they seem to know you very well," Pavel declared as he walked past the bed, peering down at the jumble of gifts.
"It's all junk, Pavel! I got roped into a shopping trip with the captain." Hikaru swiped his shirtsleeve over his eyes. "And I'm crying over these stupid jelly beans." He tossed the bag onto Pavel's bed, spitefully refraining from any comment on their flavor.
"They are romantic! Green and red for season: evergreen and romance. Someone will love you forever and his heart is truuuueee," he crooned. Pavel popped one of the red ones in his mouth, his eyes going wide after biting into it. Hikaru hoped whatever it was burned his tongue.
"Hot cinnamon! I think he has the hots for you." Pavel turned back to the dresser and took out a change of clothes, which he pulled on quickly. After settling his collar and shooing his cuffs he stepped back over to Hikaru's bed and looked at the presents again.
"He knows you very well; he has paid good attention. Why are you crying over jelly beans?" Pavel asked.
Hikaru grimaced. "I got a jalapeno flavored one."
"Ouch. Still, the keptin, he gives you things you can use, he is whimsical, he is professing love. What more do you want?" Pavel's brow wrinkled in confusion.
Hikaru was momentarily stumped. What did he want? He considered the day carefully and while Kirk had chattered amiably about the things they saw in the market, about the weather, about the last mission (where Hikaru had used some outstanding maneuvering around an unexpected encounter with an exploratory drone that had gone off-course) and a host of other inanities, he had discussed nothing really personal. Hikaru didn't even know why he'd asked him out to dinner. It wasn't like they spent their mealtimes together in the mess on the Enterprise; Kirk usually dined with McCoy and Commander Scott, while Hikaru did likewise with Pavel and some of the other junior officers. He wanted to know why Kirk chose him to lavish his attention on today.
"I want to know what he wants from me. I feel like he was trying to buy my time and attention, today. Why doesn't he just tell me he's interested, ask me out on a date?" Hikaru poked at the pile of gifts, stirring them around disconsolately.
Pavel met his eyes in the mirror, where he was fluffing his curls with product. "Hikaru, are you being obtuse or are you actually that stupid?"
Hikaru straightened up in indignation. "What. What am I missing? He could just ask."
"Tchah. You are stupid. Keptin cannot ask; is power differential. Why do you think I am always asking; not waiting to be asked? I am ensign. Superior officer cannot ask me; it smacks of coercion or harassment. I ask. I get lots of dates." Pavel's chest puffed out as he stroked the lapels of the gray suit jacket he wore.
Hikaru gaped at Pavel. He had never considered that aspect before. At the academy, all cadets were more or less equal, at least within their year cohort, and since being assigned to the Enterprise he'd only had the occasional transient hook-up with a couple lieutenants in different departments from his. Shit, this was probably something they'd covered in one of the leadership development courses that he'd done his best to forget the minute exams were over so he could concentrate on celestial navigation and astronautics. He'd just never thought about something like this.
"See? You figure out." Pavel beamed at him, clapping his hands together. "And now I am going to find my date for tonight--Lieutenant Commander Taggert from Engineering."
"But she's at least fifteen years older than you!" Hikaru objected.
Pavel shrugged. "So? She is funny and likes to dance. Nice legs, too. You are provincial, Hikaru. It is why you are afraid to ask the keptin for a date."
"I am not!" Hikaru objected. "It just never occurred to me that he might be interested." He stood up, scooping up his gifts and taking them over to his duffel, stuffing them inside to get them out of his sight.
Pavel glanced at the duffel on his way out the door. "The keptin is interested. Wery interested. Do not be a fool and let opportunity knock, you do not answer." With a final handwave, Pavel disappeared down the hallway, the door closing behind him leaving Hikaru scratching at the back of his neck.
What should he do now?
Hikaru smoothed his hands over his hair before dropping them to his sides, clenching and releasing them. He paced from the dresser to the bed and back again, too restless to alight anywhere. Should he say something to Kirk or just go with the flow? Have dinner, see what happened after? Maybe Kirk would just walk him back to the room, thank him and retire for the night with McCoy. He did another circuit from the bed to the dresser, unable to quell the feeling in his stomach that a tribble was giving birth inside him. Crap, he hadn't been this nervous since he asked Francisco Solomon to prom in high school.
His breath left him like he'd been punched when the door chimed at him. He swiped his palms over his pant legs before keying the door open, only to see not just Kirk, but McCoy standing in front of him, too. What the fuck? McCoy was coming with them? So much for his theory that this was a date. He was going to kill Pavel when he saw him again.
"Hey, you ready?" Kirk gave him an up and down that lingered around the open neck of his shirt. Hikaru really wished he'd only left one button open instead of two; that he hadn't put himself on display. He debated telling Kirk and McCoy to go on without him, this was leaving him too confused. Then he looked at Kirk and saw the way his mouth curled up at the corners, while his eyes tipped down like he wasn't quite sure of his welcome.
Hikaru nodded his head. "Yeah, yeah; let's go." He stepped out of the room and the door whooshed closed after him. At least he'd have a nice dinner.
"Well, I'll leave you two pretty princesses to your dinner. I've got a date." McCoy nudged Kirk's shoulder and then he winked at Sulu. For the second time that day. Goddammit! That was it.
Hikaru stopped dead in the hallway. He grabbed Kirk's elbow and turned him so they were facing each other.
"Is this a date?" he demanded.
Kirk ducked his head and gave him a look from under his eyelashes. "Uh, do you want it to be?"
"I asked you first, dumbass." Hikaru stood with his hands on his hips and glared at Kirk. For once and for all, he was going to find out what the hell was going on.
"Okay, then, since you're asking." Kirk beamed at him. "Yes, I'd love to go on a date with you."
McCoy interrupted to slap Kirk on the back. "I told you the kid was bright and he'd figure it out."
Hikaru turned and poked McCoy in the chest with a finger. "You! You didn't help with all your wink, wink, nudge, nudge. I thought you two were doing the horizontal mambo and you were signaling Jim about your intentions for later."
Kirk interrupted his tirade, "Hey, you called me Jim!" A huge smile spread across his face.
McCoy's mouth turned down in a grimace. "Are you kidding me? My idea of a nice date is to sit under a spreading oak tree with a mint julep. Jim would rather corrupt his system with as much adrenaline as possible, wreaking fear and terror wherever he goes. We'd drive each other insane in under a week."
Hikaru's ire subsided like a deflated soufflé. "Oh. Well. Don't be late for your date, doc." He nodded politely down the corridor.
McCoy growled at him. "What did I tell you about nicknames?"
Hikaru gave him a bland stare. "I'll report you to the captain--my boyfriend--if you tamper with my medical records."
Kirk gave a nervous giggle. "Outmatched, Bones. Better leave before he gets out the katana."
"And you." Hikaru turned to Kirk. "I am not Wild Bill, nor Kicker, nor Killer, nor any of those lame-ass nicknames you've been throwing around. My name is Hikaru, use it."
"Yes, Hikaru." Jim's eyes crinkled at the corners, that secretive little smile curling the corners of his mouth. Hikaru couldn't help but respond in a similar way. He reached over and took Jim's hand, tugging him down the hallway, giving McCoy a brief wave as they parted ways.
"C'mon, let's go try that place that had those tentacly-looking fried things. I like eating things that might just fight back."
Jim gave him a heated look. "I promise not to fight back too hard, if there's dessert on the table later."
Hikaru rolled his eyes. "Oh, my god. Your puns are as bad as your nicknames. You are terrible at innuendo"
"You're still here, though. To know me is to love me," Jim asserted.
Hikaru looked at their linked hands, the smile on Jim's face and it made his heart feel like it wanted to burst out of his ribcage with joy. "Yeah, that just might be true." Tonight, he would light some incense and let the smoke take his thanks to Gautama Buddha that he'd taken his courage in hand to win something he hadn't been willing to admit he wanted. This had been his best Bodhi Day ever.