The young Lieutenant, a gawky man in a blue science officer's uniform, startles so hard that he almost drops the container of small plants he's carrying. "Captain!"
"At ease, Lieutenant." Kirk glances around the large open bay of the botanical facility, appreciating both the energetic activity of the crew working there, as well as the familiar scent of rich soil and plants. The air is just a bit warmer here than in the rest of the ship, and even though they've barely begun work, it already smells like growth and life. He grins and looks back at the young officer. "I was just stopping by to see how the setup is going."
Decker seems to relax a bit, and shifts his container of seedlings to one hand, gesturing with the other. "We're almost done, Sir. We received the last non-Terran soil samples at 1600 hours, and we'll be done installing the specimens for our initial studies by the time we leave drydock."
"Captain?" He looks a bit confused.
"You don't install a plant, Lieutenant," Kirk says, with just a touch of mock-scorn. "You plant it."
"Oh. Uh... yes, Sir." Decker's confusion turns into mild embarrassment.
Kirk bites his lower lip for a second. He doesn't want to intimidate the guy - officers in the science lab don't often deal directly with the command staff. Besides, he has a favor to ask. "Say, Decker, how much of the Botanical Facilities are going to be in-use over the next few months?"
"Well," he starts, turning to a large diagram on the wall, "right now, we've only got about forty percent of the total space allotted for specific studies. Most of the large projects will be conducted in Facility 1, right here." He points out the filled sections, gesturing back to indicate which zones on the floor correspond to the colored plots on the diagram. "Based on current projections, we won't fill more than seventy percent of our total space with essential projects by the end of our first year. We've got about thirty percent of the two bays set as flexible space."
"Do you have a couple of spare Terran soil beds that nobody is using?"
"I believe we do, Captain."
The Captain has a garden. It's one of his more curious pastimes, seemingly incongruous with his other hobbies. Kirk practices hand-to-hand combat in the gym, plays chess in the rec room, reads about historical battles in his quarters... and tends tomato plants.
The garden is tucked into the far-back corner of Botanical Facility 2 - quite well hidden from most people on the ship, but McCoy isn't most people. He knows Jim Kirk better than anyone. Still, he admits that Jim has managed to surprise him this time. There are two raised beds filled with actual dirt, containing not only tomatoes, but also peas, carrots, green beans, peppers, and McCoy thinks that might actually be Brussels sprouts. He stands there, arms folded across his chest, marveling at the impressive spread of vegetation when he sees a hint of movement on the far side of the tomato foliage.
"Jim, I take it back."
Kirk's head pops up, his dirt-smudged face revealing surprise first, then pleasure. "Bones! What are you doing down here? And take what back?"
"All the times I gave you grief for not eating your vegetables in the mess hall." He shakes his head in amusement, taking a couple of steps closer. "When I do dietary evaluations of the crew, your replicator and fresh rations logs always get automatically flagged for insufficient fruits and vegetables."
Kirk laughs. "You can't get fresh vegetables from a replicator or stasis field, Bones. You should know that." He ducks back down behind the plants, but his voice continues. "How'd you find out about my little pet project?"
"Sulu mentioned it in the mess hall the other day." McCoy chuckles to himself. "He overheard me telling you to eat your vegetables. Again."
The foliage rustles a bit. "That figures. He's down here often enough, playing with those crazy plants of his." Kirk grunts, and the plant shakes. "I swear, he's going to train that Denebian vine-thing of his to fetch."
McCoy paces around to Kirk's side of the garden box, the oversized tomato plants spilling into the walkway and brushing against his knees as he passes – but Kirk barely seems to notice of him, preoccupied with rabbiting around in the soil he must have had transported specially from Earth. He makes quite a picture, McCoy reflects: James T. Kirk, distinguished Starfleet Captain, veteran of space battles and diplomatic tangles alike, on his knees in the dirt, dressed in civilian clothing with soil smeared at strategic points across his face and shirt. The higher-ups in Starfleet would just love a holo of this.
Finally, once he's done with his soil-mussing, Kirk looks up, sporting a confused frown. "What, Bones?"
"You never cease to amaze me, kid."
Kirk snorts. "I do what I can. Gotta keep you on your toes, old man."
McCoy cuffs him lightly upside the head. "Call me 'old man' again, and I'll make sure your next physical -"
"You keep making that threat, Bones," Jim interrupts smoothly, "but you never make good on it." He reaches into the foliage and, with a twist of his wrist, retrieves a bright red tomato. "You know... what's amazing is that here we are, in the middle of space, light-years from Earth, floating in a vacuum -"
"Don't remind me, Captain, or I will make good on that threat."
"- and here we have a freshly grown, old-fashioned, heirloom tomato... straight off the vine." He holds it out, and nods in approval when McCoy automatically takes it from him. "It just amazes me a little bit, you know?"
McCoy looks at the tomato, turning it over slowly in his hand, unable to keep the grin off his face. "Yeah, Jim. It really is kinda amazing, when you think of it that way."
"Take a bite."
McCoy shrugs and sinks his teeth into the side of the fruit, and finds himself actually startled by the rich, sweet flavor. It's juicy and warm and makes him think of the garden his mother used to keep behind his childhood home. Despite the fact that he's in one of the ship's open research facilities and not in the privacy of his own quarters, he closes his eyes and lets himself savor it for a moment. When he swallows and opens his eyes again, Kirk is looking up at him with something resembling pride.
"That's really good, Jim." McCoy tips his head in appreciation before taking another bite.
"Thanks," Kirk says happily, immediately reaching into the plant and pulling out another tomato for himself. He stands and, with a nod of his head, starts leading McCoy around the garden as he talks. "I rotate the crops and re-plant in sequence so I've always got at least a quarter of the garden ripening at any given time. Fresh tomatoes are the best." Kirk takes a bite of his own tomato, and McCoy has to suppress his own grin at the obscene sound of enjoyment that Kirk makes. "Yeah," he mumbles around the mouthful. "That's the stuff. Try getting that out of a replicator."
"Not possible," McCoy says after swallowing his own bite.
"You bet." He points down at some leafy vines with slender tendrils crawling up a short trellis. "The snap peas are like candy. I used to steal snap peas out of my aunt and uncle's garden."
McCoy raises an eyebrow. "You never mentioned an aunt or uncle."
"I didn't see them much growing up." Something like a shadow crosses Kirk's face, but it's gone in a heartbeat as he grins. "But when I did, they had a garden. Those snap peas were awesome."
"I'm sure they were." McCoy takes another bite of the tomato, appreciating the flavor as well as the time that went into growing it... a far cry removed from the molecularly-reassembled mockery of a vegetable he'd get if he ordered a tomato from the replicator. "And I'm sure doing a bit of something soothing like gardening is really therapeutic for a person in a high-stress position like yours."
"I do find it therapeutic," Kirk says neutrally. "It's relaxing. And the produce isn't bad either."
"Not bad at all." McCoy grins and holds up the half-eaten tomato like a toast. "I'm really impressed, Jim."
"Thanks, Bones." He glances sideways, looking just a touch devious. "If you let me skip my next physical, I'll supply you with all the tomatoes you can eat."
"Bribery will get you nowhere." He takes a huge bite of the tomato and talks around it. "But I won't dissuade you from the notion that a small basket of these every so often will lighten my hand when it's time for pre-mission vaccinations."
"You're a piece of work, Doctor McCoy."
"So are you, Captain Kirk. So are you."
Hunched over the edge of the garden, tucking dirt loosely over a new row of seedlings, Kirk starts slightly. When he glances back over his shoulder, he's grinning broadly. "Lieutenant Uhura," he says with a nod, "I didn't notice you come in."
She smirks. "One of the bonuses of excellent aural acuity is that you learn to walk quietly."
"Ah." Kirk nods, then stands with a melodramatic groan as he pulls off his gardening gloves, which contrast almost comically with his uniform. "So what brings you down here? I thought we weren't due to reach Starbase 11 for another two hours. Intercept any interesting transmissions lately?" He waggles his eyebrows, and Uhura is sure it's meant to be yet another faux-flirt, but it falls just short of his usual joviality.
"No transmissions, Captain. We're on-course and on-schedule." She hesitates, then inclines her head towards the garden. "I heard you had a garden patch down here. Chekov mentioned it." She lets out a short laugh. "Claimed that Russians invented garden boxes."
Kirk leans back against the wall, shoulders shaking lightly in silent laughter. "That's our Chekov. But yeah, I've got a garden. We dumb hicks who don't only have sex with farm animals also grew up farming." His eyes twinkle with mirth. "The cucumbers are around the other side of that box."
"Those are excellent finely sliced and marinated in vinaigrette," she says flatly, appreciating the slight wince it elicits.
"Touché, Lieutenant." He salutes her with his trowel. "So you just came down to see the garden, huh?"
She shrugs. "I was on my way back from the communications array control room. Just checking in with my staff before we arrive at Starbase. The botanical facility was en-route... and I was curious." She ducks her head, almost feeling apologetic for intruding. "I didn't expect to actually find you here."
Kirk nods slowly. "I wanted a bit of time to clear my head before the Rigellian Ambassador comes onboard. I've already reviewed the mission briefing thoroughly. I just..." He pauses, looking thoughtful. "I process things better sometimes when I'm down here."
"Ah." Uhura can understand that. Her mother used to keep a small flower garden, and she knew that the garden was always best-tended when her mother was stressed. "I didn't think you were the type for gardening."
His lips smile but his eyes are unreadable. "I didn't think you were the type who'd still be surprised by the stuff I do."
"Touché." She chuckles and leans over to run her fingers through the lacy carrot greens. "So... how long have you been hiding this down here?"
Kirk crouches next to the garden box and looks through the foliage, his hands folded together, elbows on his knees. "How long have we been on this mission?"
Uhura doesn't quite succeed in keeping the surprise off her face. "I thought the botanical facilities were for xenobotany research and cultivating exotic samples. We've got the replicators for staples, and then shipments of fresh vegetables are kept in stasis. It's more efficient."
Kirk laughs. "You've been dating Spock too long. Yes, yes, and yes, but the ship's botanists are barely using two-thirds of our growing space, and it seemed like a waste. Besides..." He reaches over and, in one sure move, grips a cluster of greenery just above the dirt and pulls, revealing a perfect carrot. He brushes off the dirt with his fingers lightly as he continues, "There's something about growing your own food that's... I don't know... it's just better. Like an accomplishment."
"You bet." He bites into the carrot with a satisfying crunch and chews appreciatively. "Want to try my carrot?"
She shakes her head in amused chagrin as she stands upright, disapproving hands on resolute hips. "You're unbelievable."
"You walked right into that." He looks up at her, eyes mischievous, wagging the rest of the carrot at her.
She huffs a sigh as she plucks the carrot from his hand. "Nice garden, Captain."
"The zucchini will be ripe in a week."
"I'll see you on the bridge," she calls back over her shoulder as she strides towards the door so he can't see the amusement on her face.
"Dismissed, Lieutenant!" His voice is equally amused. She can still hear him chuckling lightly as the door to the botany facility slides shut behind her.
Out in the hallway, she brushes the carrot lightly against her uniform and takes a bite. Blinks. And realizes how much she misses really fresh vegetables.
Maybe the Captain is onto something.
Spock is... impressed.
Although he has sufficient confidence in the Captain's ability to focus on projects pertaining to his duties, the patience required to maintain a garden seems uncharacteristic of the man he knows as James T. Kirk. Therefore, it does indeed cause him some surprise when Uhura confirms that the rumors of the Captain's garden are true.
Given this knowledge, however, Spock finds it less surprising that after the Captain leaves the observation lounge following the first round of Rigellian-Hekaran trade negotiations, the computer gives his location as Botanical Facility 2. Spock finds himself there now, pondering whether his presence would be an intrusion on the Captain's privacy or not. He quickly reasons that it would be logical to discuss the negotiations with the Captain as soon as possible to give them both adequate time to prepare for -
"Spock, are you going to stop hiding in the bushes and announce yourself, or am I going to have to practice stealth tactics and demonstrate why it's a bad idea to sneak up on your Captain?"
Spock most decidedly does not feel a flush of embarrassment at being caught so blatantly. He makes a mental note that his surreptitious approach is clearly not surreptitious enough, if not technically also considered a breach of protocol. "I apologize, Captain," he says, approaching the back corner of the room where Kirk's voice came from, "but I admit that I hesitated to interrupt you."
He finds Jim sitting on the edge of one of the raised garden beds, one knee bent, the other leg sprawled out. "Interrupt what, Commander? I'm just doing some thinking. Please," he indicates the raised edge of the garden bed opposite from him, "have a seat."
"It seems unnecessary to risk sullying my duty uniform in the middle of a negotiation session, Captain." He doesn't mean it to sound like a chastisement, but Kirk only laughs.
"Come on, Spock. You know they make these things so dirt-resistant that they practically wash themselves."
Unable to counter that argument, Spock concedes with a nod of his head and sits. Kirk seems satisfied with this, and he leans forward on his knees.
"So, Commander, your assessment of the negotiations thus far?"
Spock feels awkward as he mimics the Captain's posture. "I believe that the Hekaran delegates are unwilling to admit the planetary shortfalls their proposals would cause. Their desire to enter a free trade agreement with the major planets of the Rigellian system is causing them to offer more than their planet could sustain."
Kirk nods slowly. "That's what I've been thinking. And I'm pretty sure the Rigellian system representatives are aware of that." He pauses, but Spock suspects that he isn't done speaking, and waits, watching as the Captain turns and looks through the plants of his garden. Several varieties of Terran vegetables are represented; Spock recognizes most of them. Finally, Kirk speaks again. "Hey Spock, do you have any types of Vulcan vegetables you'd like to see growing here?"
That was a seemingly unrelated comment, but Spock had served with Captain Kirk long enough that he knew the man always had a point, and it was best to simply cooperate with the odd twists in the conversation. "I admit that it would be pleasing to cultivate some varieties of Vulcan root vegetables. I could cross-reference the botanical database for a list of edible plants that are compatible with Terran soil, if you wish to co-mingle the varieties in one garden."
"That would be nice," Kirk says absently, still staring at his plants. "It seems to me that the Hekarans don't realize that in order to sustain the output needed to meet their proposed trade agreement, their mining activities will leave their agricultural production short of their own planet's needs."
Spock inclines his head. "It is unfortunate that their people reject the use of food replicator technology."
"And hydroponics." He sighs. "I'm sure that the Rigellians will offer hydroponics technology in the next round of negotiations, but Hekarans have an absolute and unwavering spiritual belief that food must come from the ground." He reaches out and runs a hand over the leaves of a plant bearing several red and green fruit - peppers, if Spock recalls correctly. The gesture is almost affectionate. "I can't really blame them, Spock. Even with modern replicator technology and automated farming techniques, a lot of humans back on Earth still keep vegetable gardens."
"I have indeed heard that many humans claim that soil-grown vegetation has superior flavor," Spock says neutrally, still waiting to see where the Captain is leading. He's learned not to bother trying to anticipate.
"That's one reason." Kirk's tone is odd, and Spock can not extrapolate the emotional association with that vocal tone, but Kirk doesn't seem to care to elaborate. "If the Hekarans want to enter this trade agreement as initially proposed, they have a choice. They can either embrace food replicators or hydroponics technology, or they can let some of their citizens starve."
"Then it would seem that the only logical choices, Captain, are for them to embrace modern food production techniques -"
"Which would be a horrible violation of their culture."
"- or alter the terms of their trade proposal."
The Captain considers the pepper plant for another moment before grasping one of the red fruits and tugging it off the plant. He turns back towards Spock, leaning his elbows on his knees and staring at the pepper in his hand. "I fully agree, Spock. The problem is that we can only act as moderators in this negotiation. We can't dictate the terms of the agreement in any way, shape, or form."
Spock nods slowly. "If the Hekarans wish to put their food supply at risk, that is their decision." He tilts his head. "Although... they are currently in the early stages of discussions on their home planet towards petitioning for membership in the Federation. If they were to pursue the trade agreement as originally proposed, it would jeopardize their membership."
Kirk lightly tosses the pepper in his hand. "Very true. But until they submit a formal proposal to the Federation Council, that means nothing." He's staring at the pepper as though it could somehow provide him with the answers he requires. "They need to explore their other resources, Spock. They can't risk letting their people go hungry for a trade agreement, no matter what materials they might gain. I can't let them consider something like that." Despite his calm appearance, the Captain's voice is fierce.
"Captain, I have a thought."
"Hark, the herald, Spock."
He rolls his eyes. "Tell me."
"Stellar Cartography concluded a survey of their planetary sector last week when we took on their delegates for the negotiations. Their territory includes a possible trade route that has not been utilized as a major shipping lane. That route lies on a nearly direct course between the Rigellian system and several Federation planets and allies."
Kirk's eyes snap upwards, meeting Spock's gaze and locking with it. "Spock, you're brilliant."
"We can't dictate the terms of the negotiations, but we can sure as hell make suggestions." He grins broadly, holding out the pepper like a prize. "I think they'll go for that."
"A valuable trade route would also increase their planet's likelihood of joining the Federation."
Kirk stands up suddenly, and Spock hurries to mirror him. "Let's go talk to the Hekaran Ambassadors. And here." In one smooth motion, he slaps the pepper into Spock's hand. "Try it. It's quite sweet."
Spock looks at the fruit in his hand, raises an eyebrow, then follows the Captain out of the Botanical Facility.
Sulu is almost done pruning his Denebian pet vine plant when he realizes he's not alone in Botanical Facility 2. He's seen the captain working on that garden patch of his enough times, but hasn't really taken the time to look at it. He felt bad enough after he mentioned the garden to Chekov, only later considering that perhaps the Captain wanted some privacy, so it's only fair if he gives Kirk a chance to show him around the garden himself... or tell him to give him some space. Pushing aside his residual feelings of guilt, Sulu makes one more tiny clip to his vine, strokes its leaves affectionately, and makes his way to the far back corner of the facility.
Captain Kirk is almost completely hidden by a fully grown row of corn stalks and some surprisingly large tomato plants, but as Sulu approaches, he can hear the Captain humming as he works.
"I was wondering when you were going to stop by, Sulu." Kirk's voice is relaxed and calm in a way that Sulu doesn't often hear from him. It's unexpected, but really nice to hear that kind of tone, like a reminder that Starfleet isn't always about Romulan warships, Klingon skirmishes, and hostile planets.
He comes around to the side of the garden box to find Kirk halfway through planting a row of tiny seedlings. Sulu smiles. "We're not usually in here at the same time, Sir, and besides, I'd wager this is the only quiet time you get when you're awake."
"Yet another reason I like you," Kirk says, offering a grin as he glances up. "It's okay. If I needed real privacy, I could always lock the door to the facility."
Sulu finds himself grinning. The Captain would say something like that. But then, he would probably also lock the door if he really wanted to keep people away. "I appreciate that, sir. But I also wanted to see what you were growing over here, and I know it's important to let the gardener show off his own work."
"And I appreciate that. Just let me get these into the dirt, and I'll give you the grand tour. Not that it's terribly impressive. Just an old-fashioned vegetable garden." The fondness in his eyes and voice belies his description. "I've seen what you and the real botanists are doing around here. Now that's something to show off."
Sulu chuckles. "I couldn't waste my entire second undergraduate degree, Captain."
"You're hardly wasting it. And you're going to have to introduce me to that vine-thing of yours, too."
"Anytime, Captain. It's friendly." He pulls his gloves out of his pocket and holds them up. "Actually... do you mind if I help?"
Kirk gestures towards the rack of seedlings as an invitation. "Go for it. These are green beans, and I give them thirty centimeter spacing." He pulls the next seedling out of the rack and begins digging a shallow hole for it. "Do you only work with crazy alien plants as a professional hobby, or did you ever have a garden back on Earth?"
Grinning as he starts preparing his own spot for a bean plant, Sulu shakes his head. "Not really. We had an apartment. My mother had boxes of flowers on the windowsills, and sometimes a few basic cooking herbs, but nothing resembling an actual garden. Did you?"
"I was a farm boy," Kirk says, and the way his thumb emphatically jerks towards his own chest forces Sulu to smother an almost-affectionate smile. "More corn than you'd ever want to see in your life."
"A commercial farm? Do they actually do hands-on work of any sort on those?"
"Not a bit." His tone is ironic and amused. "But my aunt and uncle had an actual garden. I got to enjoy it when I visited them, but when I tried to make a garden plot in Iowa, I wasn't really able to keep it up." He gently presses the dirt around the base of the seedling.
"Not enough time?" Sulu glances at him sideways, and finds that Kirk's expression is oddly grim.
"My stepfather sure thought it was a waste of time." He reaches for another seedling. "But nah, I was usually too busy, really. Forgot about it for a week, and didn't water it. Seedlings don't do too well with no rain for more than a couple of days in Iowa."
Sulu feels his eyebrows pinch together, somewhat surprised. "There are modern moisture collection techniques that almost eliminate the need for manual watering. Weren't you using a system like that?"
"I was a kid, Sulu. Modern systems?" He laughs, but it sounds a bit pained this time. "Come on. I had some seeds and a patch of dirt, and some crazy idea of growing my own food."
Sulu shrugs and offers a grin as he works the soil around the roots of his seedling. "That's not so crazy. What gave you the idea?"
For a moment, Kirk says nothing. The only sounds are his breath and the soft brush of dirt against gloves. Finally, he speaks again, his voice soft. "You know that obnoxious story parents tell kids to make them clean their plates? 'There are starving children on other planets, so stop complaining and eat your vegetables.'"
Sulu can't help himself. He actually snorts. "Yeah, I'm sure we all got that pep talk when faced with a plate of unidentifiable green stuff. I'll bet your parents didn't try to make you eat seaweed, though."
There's something sad in the Captain's expression, but Sulu can't pin it down before it's gone, and Kirk is snickering. "No, Sulu. No, they didn't." He stifles the laughter with a sigh and grabs another seedling, shuffling further down the row. "But anyway, I figured if I could grow my own food… well, it just seemed like a good idea, that's all."
Sulu nods slowly. "I didn't grow anything until I took my first horticulture course."
Kirk looks as he doesn't believe a word of it. "Come on… didn't you ever grow a bean plant in a cup of dirt?" He reaches over and grabs the last seedling, holding it out like the question mark at the end of his inquiry.
"Can't say that I did."
"Well, here." He smoothly presses the bean plant into Sulu's hand. "It's about time you did."
Startled, Sulu finds himself stammering - not something he's accustomed to doing. "I... I don't have Terran soil in any of my allotted plant beds. This would probably die."
Kirk stands, brushing his gloves off and grinning down Sulu. "It doesn't need a full planter bed. Just a pail of dirt. I'll give you one from my garden." He holds out his hand and pulls Sulu to his feet.
"Well, I... thank you, sir." He glances down at the seedling in his hand, barely two inches tall, with the first pair of leaves still clinging to the remnants of the bean itself. It was just a bean plant, but Sulu has the inexplicable feeling that he'd just been given something insanely valuable. Valuable to Captain Kirk. Maybe symbolic. He swallows past the unexpected thickness in his throat. "That's... just unexpected. But really thoughtful." He's really not sure how to express that much gratitude over something so seemingly insignificant.
It seems to be plenty though, as the Captain claps him lightly on the shoulder. "Just put it in your windowsill like every other kid does when they grow their first bean plant, and don't forget to water it like I did."
"Come on," Kirk says, a bright grin lighting up his entire face. "Let me show you my boring little veggie garden. The best part of it is," he says conspiratorially, "that I've finally gotten Doctor McCoy to stop pestering me about eating my vegetables."
Sulu laughs, and lets himself be led on a pleasant tour of what Kirk should have accurately described as a very impressive vegetable garden. As he listens and admires, he feels his hand wrap tightly around the little cup containing his seedling, and vaguely wonders if it's possibly the most touching gift he's ever received.
The doors of Botanical Facility Two have barely opened wide enough and Scotty is already pressing through. The air inside is warm and moist and peaceful. Peaceful on a day like this! He's walking so fast it feels like running as he makes his way through the rows of plants, both familiar and bizarre.
"Captain Kirk? Are yeh in here? Captain -"
"Back here, Scotty." The voice is soft, but harsh and rough in a way that cuts through everything else. "Back here," the Captain says again.
Scotty is breathing hard by the time he makes it to the back corner of the botanical facility to find Captain Kirk slouched on the side of one of the raised garden beds. Sure, he's caught the hearsay that the Captain plays gardener in his spare time, and maybe on another day he'd be curious to see this odd habit of James T. Kirk, but right now, Montgomery Scott is on a mission. Still, his desperate request catches in the back of his throat as he takes in the Captain's appearance. Shoulders slumped, dark circles under his eyes, haunted expression as though it's not just the long hours that have caught up with the man.
"Sir? Are yeh alright?"
He looks up, and the exhaustion shows. "As fine as we all are, Scotty. It's been a rough day for everyone." He pats the ledge of the garden next to him. "Have a seat. You've worked three straight shifts - and don't think I haven't noticed - so sit down before you fall over."
In no way does Scott feel like he's about to fall over. In fact, even after three shifts, he feels as though he's going to jump out of his skin. But still, he sits down heavily and says, "Thank you, Captain... but I'd guess you haven't stopped either, Sir, and if you'll forgive me for saying, but you look like you've already half-fallen over."
Kirk laughs dryly, and it sounds painful. "Nobody has stopped since we got that distress call, Scotty. And I didn't feel tired until I realized I'd run out of things to do." He leans forward on his knees. "Eleven more hours until we arrive at Caldos II, and that's twenty hours sooner than the next closest ship. At this point, the medical supplies have been packaged and prepped, emergency shelters have been tested and staged in the cargo bays, and every department and lab on this ship has managed to contribute something to the relief effort."
"Aye, Captain. It warms the heart to see the crew putting in so much."
Something like a smile ghosts across the Captain's face. "From this crew? I wouldn't expect anything less, and I hope I never take it for granted."
"You wouldn't, Sir. We know that."
"I'm glad, Scotty." And then the smile is gone, replaced by a look of concern that could gut a man. "You've got family on the Caldos Colony, don't you?"
And in a snap, the momentum that had been driving Scott for almost eighteen hours nonstop suddenly dissolves, leaving nothing but a faint ache in his chest. "Aye, Sir. That's why I came to talk to yeh."
"I know." He places a hand on Scott's shoulder - it's cool through his uniform tunic, in contrast to the warmth of the air. "Tell me what you need, Scotty."
"Let me go down with the first rescue and aid team, Captain." The words of his request had been churning in his head for hours, but hearing them aloud makes the situation too damned real. He swallows, wondering when his mouth got so dry. "I've got to find out... yeh know..." His voice trails off. He can't say it, but he doesn't need to.
"We don't have a casualty list yet," Kirk says softly, the apology clear in his tone. "We won't know until we get there."
"I know. We've been monitoring the transmissions down in Engineering and in the workshops... had the folks in Communications keep us informed." He looks away from Kirk and stares at the floor between his feet. "My uncle - father's youngest brother - and his family moved there a couple of years ago. But to a planet like that, Sir? I know the colony's planners wanted it to be like Scotland, but the storms on Caldon are unpredictable! They can make the Highlands in the winter look like a spring day in Paris."
Kirk lets out a slow breath. His face is as neutral as can be, but his eyes make it obvious that he's hearing and feeling every word. "The colony is small. Four-thousand, two-hundred and thirty seven before the storm hit." He says it as though he's acutely aware of every single person in that number. "It'll be at least a couple more decades before they'll be able to get a weather control grid installed. Maybe more, depending on how bad the damage is from this storm."
Scott feels himself nodding. "My uncle mentioned that, when he'd send messages back to Earth - that they needed a weather grid, but that the colony's founders were so sure that true Scotsmen could weather any storm. And look where it got 'em, Captain." He shakes his head and growls to himself. "I got the specs on the construction and engineering needs... but what about the other damage? How bad is it, Sir?"
For a moment, Kirk doesn't move. His eyes seem as though they're reading an invisible screen, reviewing a list of sorts. Then he holds his hand out in front of him, and stares at it as he speaks. "The water reserves and wells have been contaminated with runoff and mud, so we'll have to set up a water purification system. Their central medical facility has been flattened, so although we'll bring the worst injuries up to our ship's sickbay, we'll need to establish a functional clinic on the surface to handle basic injuries." Kirk pauses, and there's something that curls tight inside Scotty at the smile that twists the Captain's lips – because it's a smile like he's trying to keep it together and this is the only way that's even faintly working. "Doctor McCoy only stopped running wind-sprints between sickbay and the main cargo bay when Chapel reminded him that he needs to leave some supplies on the ship." The smile fades again. "More than half of the private residences have been completely destroyed, and almost all of the other half have been damaged. And..."
His voice trails off, and Scott isn't sure he wants to hear any more. It doesn't sound good. Not good at all. But he's a man of science and facts; he's got to know what's really happening down there, even if it's all he can do to push the image of his young cousins' faces out of his mind. "Go on, sir," he urges.
Kirk's hand slowly clenches into a fist. "Crops and grain storage. Some of the livestock, too. Nobody's starving yet, of course, but they'll need supplies. If they don't decide to collectively evacuate, they'll need replicators to keep them going until they can reestablish crops and a reserve supply of food."
"They swore off replicator technology for the Caldos colony," Scott says, feeling both wistful and frustrated, "but I can't imagine they'd refuse the assistance."
"I'm sure they won't refuse, Scotty." Kirk wraps his other hand over his fist, and settles his chin on his clasped hands. "But sometimes, that's not the point."
Scott is about to ask what he means, but Kirk shakes his head vigorously, and suddenly stands. "Captain?" Scott scrambles to match.
"Mister Scott," he says firmly, placing both of his hands on Scott's shoulders, "Give me a list of the people you want on your search and rescue team. We've got enough trained people to install the shelters and emergency power units without you. And then... get some sleep, okay? You'll need to be rested when we arrive."
"I... I'm not sure I can sleep right now, Sir."
"Stop by sickbay and get a sedative if you need to, but sleep, Scotty. That's an order." He smiles, and for a moment, Scotty feels like everything will be just fine. "You'll need to be well rested if you're going to give your uncle and his family a proper Scottish greeting when you get there, right?"
Scott can't help the mirroring smile that creeps across his face. "Aye, Captain. Last time I saw my uncle, the man nearly cracked my ribs with his 'proper greeting.' Told me that Starfleet made me soft." Then he frowns. "You'll get some rest, too, right sir?"
Kirk drops one hand from Scotty's shoulder and glances back at his little garden patch before looking Scott straight in the eyes. "I will. I've just got one thing I need to do, first."
Scott lets Kirk's gentle push aim him towards the door of the botanical facility, and he doesn't look back until the door slides open in front of him. When he glances back, he sees the Captain staring at his garden. Slowly, Kirk reaches up and brushes a hand over one of the plants, and there's something sad and distressing in the motion.
Realizing that maybe the Captain needs to be left alone now, and getting the feeling that this is no longer something for public viewing, Scott hurries out the door. He's got his own concerns.
"Jim!" After two exhausting and nerve-wracking days of aid-and-rescue operations on Caldos II, enough additional ships have arrived to allow the Enterprise to return to her mission. And that means that the Captain should be in his goddamned quarters getting some much-overdue sleep. Which, naturally, means McCoy is tracking down that reckless, overzealous, self-sacrificing idiot of a Captain to get him to do just that. This time, his man-hunt leads him directly to Botanical Facility 2.
"Jim!" He growls as he makes his way around one glorified flower bed after another, following the route through the large room to Kirk's garden. "Dammit, I thought I told you to stand down and get some sleep -" McCoy's momentum and tirade both come to a grinding halt. There's the Captain, but...
"Good God, Jim... what happened?"
Kirk is kneeling in the middle of one of the raised garden beds, knees splayed to the sides. He's got dirt on his hands, his uniform, his face. Dirt everywhere. Nothing but dirt. In fact, it looks like -
"Hey Bones." He doesn't look up, doesn't move. "Sorry, but I won't be able to bribe you with tomatoes before my next physical."
"That's not... I don't..." Feeling as hollow and gutted as the garden patch itself, McCoy climbs up onto the decimated plant bed and crouches down in front of Kirk. "I hardly care about a few tomatoes. I am a little bit worried about you right now. Jim, what happened to your garden?"
"I dug it up," he says in a small voice. "Put it in planter units. Brought it down to the Scott homestead. Or what's left of the homestead."
McCoy feels his eyes widen. "Is that what Mr. Scott was bawling about before I sedated him?"
A tiny spark of amusement almost brightens Kirk's face. "You sedated him?"
He snorts. "That man can be worse than you are about taking care of himself. He was up in sickbay with his ankle the size of a grapefruit, and I don't think he'd slept in two days." Then shakes his head. "He wanted to go back down to the surface for something before we left orbit. Kept railing on about what a bloody fine human being you are, Jim."
Jim gives him a wrecked sort of grin. "Good thing you sedated him. He was obviously delirious."
"Scotty's uncle and cousins are okay, by the way," Kirk continues smoothly, an act McCoy knows too well. "His aunt... Bones, how's Scotty's aunt?"
"Recovering well. I transferred her to the medical facilities on the Syracuse. They're staying in orbit for at least another week, and she'll be ready to go home by then." He shakes his head, refusing to let himself get caught up by one of Jim's classic diversionary tactics. Aileen Scott is going to be fine. Jim Kirk, on the other hand, has seen better days. "They're all fine, kid, but... why your garden? I know what this thing means to you. There were plenty of relief supplies for the colonists. Why this?"
The hoax of a grin on Jim's face erodes into pure exhaustion as his shoulders slump and he leans heavily on his hands, pressing them firmly into the empty, crumbling dirt. "Because that's what the garden was for, Bones."
McCoy was concerned before, but now he's just confused. "Jim, you planted that garden months ago. Hell, it's been over a year now. You had no idea that this would happen, so what do you mean?"
"That the garden served its purpose."
"Okay, kid... you're making less sense than Scotty was earlier. If you don't start sounding coherent, I'm going to have to sedate you and have security carry you back to your quarters for twelve hours of solid sleep." He scowls to let Kirk know he means business.
But even his best scowl seems lost on the Captain, who merely sighs and looks at him with eyes that are too young and too old at once. "Bones... let me tell you a story. You know this one, but let me tell it to you a bit differently."
There's something in Kirk's voice that takes the wind out of McCoy's sails, and he sits down heavily on the dirt. "Okay, Jim. Go on."
Kirk gives him an appreciative nod, then begins. "There was this kid. He went to visit his aunt and uncle on a colony planet. Maybe stay with them a while. Maybe learn to stay out of trouble. And they had this garden. It had tomatoes and carrots. Peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, beans, and snap peas. Oh, and the snap peas were sweet as candy, Bones."
The realization of what story Jim is telling grabs McCoy's chest like an icy hand, catching his breath sharply, but all he can do is to nod and let Jim continue.
"Then the garden started to die. So did all the gardens. And then the people." Jim swallows tightly, but his face maintains a carefully schooled neutrality. "The kid... he tried to keep the garden alive. If the garden lived, maybe he could feed people, and they wouldn't die." The first hint of emotion on his face is a slight grimace. "It didn't help. The garden was dead, and soon a lot of people died."
For a moment, it looks like Kirk is going to continue, but he only opens his mouth, then closes it, before shaking his head and dropping his eyes.
McCoy doesn't need Jim to tell the rest of this story. He knows it. And this is what Jim had been doing all these months - recreating the garden that had died on Tarsus IV. "So," McCoy says, taking over the story, "when this kid grows up, he plants another garden. A better garden. And he insists on feeding his friends and taking care of people. That's what his garden was for - to feed people. To take care of people. And so that this man could keep this garden alive, where the other garden had once died." He sighs, watching Kirk nodding slowly in agreement, and wondering how strongly a man like Jim Kirk must feel everything he experiences. "And then there was another colony. Someone else's garden was destroyed, and people died, so this man helped to start a new garden for them. He took the garden he'd grown, and gave it to the people who had lost everything."
"Closing the circle, Bones." He doesn't look up.
"Maybe, Jim. But he also gave everything away until there was nothing left." McCoy puts every bit of concern and gentle reproach and admiration he can manage into that statement, hoping Jim will understand.
"But you're wrong."
"How can I be wrong, Jim? Look at you." He's exasperated now. "You're exhausted, emotionally wrung-out, and your garden is gone."
And then Jim looks up again, and there's something like hope in his eyes. It's that flash of brilliant amusement that can seldom abandon Jim Kirk for long. "The plants are gone, Bones. But..." He reaches into a pocket on the side of his trousers and pulls out a small, white packet, then tosses it to McCoy.
Confused, he turns it over in his hands to read the neat block printing on the side of the packet: "TOMATO: Red Beefsteak, Heirloom."
"I was just about to start planting the last row when you came in," Jim says softly. His voice is exhausted, McCoy realizes, but not the same sort of broken he'd thought it was when he'd first arrived. Jim smiles, just a little grin. "But I can't start the last row. You're sitting on it."
McCoy stares at Kirk, then glances around the garden, noticing for the first time that there are small mounds of soil in neat rows, perfectly spaced. Kirk came to re-plant his garden before he could rest. McCoy finally looks back at the Captain, feeling a hot tightness in his eyes, in his throat, but he smiles back. "I'll move if you let me help."
The grin widens, just a bit, as Kirk says, "I didn't think you liked gardening, Bones."
"I don't," he says flatly, shifting back and digging a small hole with his fingers. He opens the packet and pulls out a tomato seed, holding the tiny white fleck up where Jim can see it. "But if it'll get you to bed sooner, I'm happy to oblige."
At that, Kirk actually laughs aloud. "You're a piece of work, Doctor McCoy."
"And not only will it get you to sleep, but at least I won't have to hassle you to eat your vegetables."
This time, Jim snorts as he grabs the seed packet and starts his own mound. "A real piece of work."
McCoy smiles. "So are you, Captain Kirk. So are you."
The Captain has a garden. It's tucked into one corner of Botanical Facility 2. There are two raised beds filled with actual dirt; well tended, carefully cultivated, and shared when needed. It contains not only tomatoes, but also peas, carrots, green beans, peppers, a lot of memories, and a few secrets. Some gardens will never be allowed to die.