"Mama! Elf, mama!"
Spock triangulated the sound to 3.7 metres behind him. He was determined not to sigh. But this was not the first time today that he had been mistaken for one of Santa's pointy-eared helpers and it was difficult. Particularly since sitting in the food court made him a stationary target. Nyota was seated across from him, picking at the remainder of her French fries and trying to convince him that he should send his mother a Christmas present.
"Shush, sweetie, mommy's on her comm."
In Spock's limited experience observing human toddlers, this was unlikely to be a compelling argument.
Sometimes being right was not as satisfying as one would think.
He hazarded a glance behind him and was less than pleased to see that the woman, having collected her food order, was moving in their general direction while trying to maintain her grip on her squirming offspring, her meal tray, her comm, and a wheeled child carrier that was full of bags instead of its intended cargo.
When he turned back, Nyota was also looking behind him. She looked somewhat wary—although it was difficult to tell since she also seemed to be suppressing laughter—as the woman stopped at the empty table beside them and put down her tray.
"ELF!" The toddler seemed infinitely pleased at the choice of location and leaned precariously in its mother's grip to grab at Spock with sticky fingers. Spock dodged. This was interpreted as a personal affront.
The demand went unheeded.
"Yes, sweetie, there are elves here. We'll go see Santa after we eat." The harried woman plunked the toddler down in a high chair, oblivious to the real topic of conversation. She tried distracting the child with nutritionally-questionable meat nuggets, but the child was not so easily deterred.
"Elf!" This was accompanied by an accusatory gesture in Spock's direction.
"Sweetie, you have to eat. If you don't, we can't go see Santa and his el—" The woman, having finally followed the toddler's insistent pointing, looked over to see a very dour looking Vulcan. "Oh."
There was a small choking sound from Nyota who was taking an undue interest in the last few French fries and the table top. Spock looked at her disapprovingly. It had as much effect as it had on the toddler.
"Elf!" Triumphant, the child grinned happily at finally getting its message across.
"Umm, no sweetie, he's not an elf."
"Elf," the toddler said again but with less vigour.
The child looked doubtful and turned to Spock for confirmation. "Elf?"
"No," he said helpfully, ignoring the fact that by now Nyota's shoulders were shaking with suppressed amusement.
The child looked at Spock suspiciously until its mother distracted it with a sugar-syrup covered meat nugget. Spock decided that this was a good time to leave and gave Nyota no choice but to follow.
* * *
"I'm sorry," Nyota said for the third time as they ducked into a bookstore. Her sincerity was somewhat hampered by the fact that she was still occasionally overcome by giggles.
"No, really. I am."
Spock watched her and waited. After 34 seconds, Nyota started giggling again. This time Spock did sigh.
"How many does that make?" Nyota asked in between giggles.
"Fourteen. Three toddlers, six school-age children, three belligerent teenagers, and two inebriated adults."
Nyota got a mischievous look about her. He raised an eyebrow and waited.
"And a partridge in a pear tree," Nyota finally added, complete with melody. And then grinned unrepentantly.
Spock stepped up to a console and started navigating the book offerings. "I fail to see how a religious observance became a celebration of magical gift-giving elves and their leader."
"It didn't. Some people treat it as a religious observance, some don't. Some people just do gifts. And food." Nyota fell silent. When he waited for her to continue, she shrugged her shoulders and added, "It's not really as superficial as all the commercials make it sound."
"I like it and it's not like I grew up with it. It's fun," she said pointedly.
"That has not been my experience."
"Then you're not doing it right."
As an explanation it lacked specificity. And actionable steps.
The bookstore console had millions of books. No matter what specifications he entered to narrow the selection, Spock was still left with a list of millions of books. He reconsidered getting his mother a sweater and then dismissed the idea for the same reason he had already dismissed it: a sweater had little utility for a Human on a desert world since she did not venture out at night. His problem-solving was interrupted by movement where there should have been none.
"I think you have mistaken my pants' pocket for your own."
Her hand remained in Spock's pocket. He restated his observation as a request.
"Spoilsport," she said, withdrawing her hand. "So, did you find anything?"
"You could always give her one of these book readers." She handed him a slim tablet. The data cartridge contained a collection of popular fiction from the last five centuries.
"When did you find this?"
"Five minutes ago, but you looked busy."
He joined the line up for complimentary gift wrapping.
"I bet I can make you like Christmas."
* * *
"Ooh, we need to check this out," Nyota exclaimed, grabbing Spock's arm and leading him to a kiosk in the middle of the mall. There was a crowd several people deep around the kiosk, but its wares were obvious enough. Fleece hats of various whimsical configurations—at least Spock assumed Humans found them whimsical, he simply found them garish—covered every flat and vertical surface of the kiosk.
"How about this one?" Nyota asked, picking up a green fleece toque with stuffed reindeer antlers sticking out of it that someone had discarded on the kiosk counter.
Spock subverted her attempt to place it on his head. "I do not wish to be mistaken for a Christmas character of ANY kind."
"Grinch," Nyota accused, grinning. She did put the hat down, but immediately moved onto another.
Spock scanned through the wares looking for something less attention getting. There were some court jester style hats with unstuffed points draping downwards that, although garish in style, were at least reasonable in colour scheme. He picked out one that was an unusually subdued colour combination of grey and black. As he was considering putting it back, he saw a group of mothers and children approaching from the far end of the mall.
Perhaps trying it on for fit would be a good idea. Nyota did a double take when she turned around with another hat for him to try only to find him standing there, fleece court jester hat pulled down over his ears and brow, bell-tipped points hanging to his shoulders. Spock glanced over at the approaching test subjects.
"Oh," Nyota said.
The gaggle of children passed without giving Spock a second glance. He lined up to pay the vendor.
"I will take this one," Spock told him, indicating the hat he was wearing. Just as the vendor finished inputting his order, Spock grabbed another one off the display. "Also, this one."
The vendor gave him an odd look, but rang up the sale.
"Do you want that one wrapped?" The vendor asked as Spock swiped his credit chit.
Nyota chose this moment to join Spock at the till. She gaped at the second hat on the counter.
"Don't tell me you're buying that one."
Spock turned to Nyota, and without ceremony placed the red fleece Santa hat with attached stuffed elf ears firmly on her head.
At her shocked look, he said, "I believe the expression is: Misery loves company."
"Okay, I deserved that."
* * *
"Are you sure you don't want to buy some chocolate for later?" Nyota waved a dark chocolate Santa Claus at him.
"I believe you are sufficiently intoxicating that chemical assistance is unnecessary."
They wandered though the chocolatier, Nyota choosing various small items with seasonal motifs to complete her gift shopping until they came to the displays of boxed chocolates.
"Maybe your parents would like some chocolate."
"What? You don't think your parents ever get a little bit wild?"
"So your mom couldn't possibly think that your dad needs a little, uh, loosening up?"
Nyota had loosened Spock up once. The idea of his parents doing the same was not something he wanted to contemplate.
"No," he said emphatically.
She looked at him skeptically. "I suppose you also think you were conceived through immaculate conception."
"Genetic engineering and in vitro fertilization."
"Oh." After a beat, she added, "Well, it's inconceivable that they don't—"
"While it may be conceivable, I do not wish to conceive of it."
He failed to see how he was being unclear.
"Oh. Mental image?"
"I am attempting to avoid one."
"Sorry. Sorry, sorry, sorry. Okay, new topic." She continued lingering over the boxed chocolates. "Maybe a small box for just your mom?"
Spock gave her a look that he generally reserved for unprepared cadets who were severely trying his patience.
"Hear me out. Think of it as just food. Really, really good food. A delicacy that she can't get on Vulcan."
Well, perhaps in that context it was not a terrible idea.
"Your dad doesn't even have to know about it. I mean, the Christmas gift is really for her, right?"
"What would you suggest?"
Nyota picked out a box that contained a selection of chocolates with various types of fillings. Spock paid and steered Nyota out of the chocolatier before they could become sidetracked.
* * *
As they were passing a junction in the mall, Nyota stopped dead in her tracks, then retraced her steps. Nestled between stores was an unmanned automated kiosk. A large enclosed black stall with a red curtain and an interface to the side of it.
"Oh, this is too good to pass up."
"It won't take long."
Spock maintained his position, waiting for her to acquire whatever it was that the booth dispensed, but when she glanced back from the booth it became apparent that this was unsatisfactory to her.
"Come on, you'll like it."
She pulled the curtain aside, revealing a bench inside the booth with a screen across from bench.
"Entertainment?" Now seemed an odd time to stop and watch vids.
"Yup. Have a seat, I'll be there in a sec," she said, inserting her credit chit into the booth's interface.
Spock had barely sat down when Nyota joined him, sitting sideways on his lap even though the bench could, just barely, accommodate two. She slung her arm around his neck.
"You've never been in one of these, have you?"
She grinned. A flash of light filled the booth.
Spock opened his mouth to ask a question. A flash of light filled the booth.
Nyota kissed Spock. A flash of light filled the booth.
Spock kissed her back even though he recognized a delaying tactic when he was subjected to one. A flash of light filled the booth.
Their comms chimed simultaneously. There were no more flashes of light. There was more kissing.
A lot more.
An automated recording advised them to vacate the booth for other patrons. It was ignored.
The curtain was pulled aside, flooding the booth with light and revealing a red-faced human male.
"Fer Christ's sake, go rent a room. I've been waiting forever."
"We were just leaving," Nyota told him, glaring at him.
"You were waiting no more than 4.4 minutes," Spock informed him, correcting him because the man had exaggerated and not because he had interrupted a particularly enjoyable moment in an otherwise trying day.
"Perverts," he muttered as he herded three children under twelve into the booth. "Get yer butts in there and you better be smiling, I'm not paying for this twice."
When they were out of earshot, Nyota muttered that some people should not be allowed to be in charge of children. Spock was inclined to agree.
After a moment Nyota's mood lightened and she fished her comm out of her pocket.
"Want to see?" Without waiting for an answer, she flicked through the interface until she brought up a picture of her and Spock. In their newly purchased hats.
She flicked the screen and the next picture showed Spock, mouth open, staring at the camera with Nyota perched on his lap looking decidedly pleased with herself.
*Flick* Nyota kissing Spock.
*Flick* Spock kissing Nyota.
"I had the files sent to your comm too."
"I see." What else was there to say?