The first officer of the USS Maverick walked into Ten Foward - aka 'The Saloon' and looked around. The lighting was dim and the synthetic wood walls seemed to make it darker. When Inez had taken Vin's suggestion to turn the bar into an ancient western saloon she had gone all out. As Buck's eyes adjusted to the light he could see the bar was fairly quiet. The mustached officer walked over to one of the empty tables and sat down. Inez came over to his table and Buck could see something was bothering her.
"Good afternoon senor."
"Inez," Buck said with a smile. "Something bothering you?"
"Well maybe it's none of my business," she began, "but Lieutenant Tanner has been sitting here for a couple of hours."
"That's not unusual for Vin," Buck replied. The Vulcan navigator often kept to himself.
"No it isn't," Inez admitted. "But he's ordered three hot fudge sundaes."
"Three!" Buck said in surprise. "Something must really be bothering him." It was common knowledge that Vin took the same solace from chocolate ice cream that some of the human crewmembers did from alcohol.
"Do you think you could talk to him?" Inez asked.
"I don't know," Buck hesitated. He liked the Vulcan, but the young officer was not the easiest person to talk to. He often took what you said literally, and with Buck's tendency towards flowery phrases, there was sometimes a definite communication problem. "Maybe Chris should do it."
"But the captain isn't here and you are," Inez argued.
"Alright. I'll see what I can do," Buck sighed as he stood up.
The commander knew exactly where to look for the Vulcan. Vin liked to sit in a far corner where it was dark. In this corner he could sit and watch everyone. Vin was a loner by nature and only let a few people get close. The other six men that made up the first line crew were the only ones Vin socialized with.
As Buck got closer he could see the long-haired junior officer stirring the remains of his third sundae. Buck smiled as he looked at Vin. The lieutenant was kind of scrawny for a Vulcan and at first glance most people mistook him for a human. Vin tried very hard to hide his Vulcan heritage by wearing his hair long so it covered his ears. Buck understood Vin's reluctance to have people discover the truth. Vin hadn't been raised as a Vulcan and didn't act like one. He showed his emotions, and that confused people. Buck wasn't surprised when Vin looked up at his approach. He did have some inherent Vulcan abilities and keen senses were among them.
"Howdy Vin," Buck said as he got closer. "Mind if I sit?"
"Guess not," Vin shrugged.
"That sundae looks a little melted. Do you want another?" Buck asked.
Vin just gave him another shrug in reply. Buck motioned for Inez to bring two more. The bartender rolled her yes but did as Buck asked. As soon as the sundaes formed on the replicator pad she picked them up and brought them over. She placed a sundae in front of each of them and went back to the bar. Buck watched as Vin ate the cherry first then started in on the ice cream. The commander knew if he sat there long enough "the elf," as he and Chris affectionately referred to him, would open up.
"Do you ever wish you were back home?" Vin asked.
"Sometimes," Buck admitted. "It wasn't always easy growing up in a pleasure house on Regalia IV, but there are some good memories."
"Why'd you live there?" Vin asked surprised.
"My mother worked there," Buck smiled.
"You mean your mother was a...."
"My mother was a saint," Buck said cutting him off.
"I'm sorry," Vin apologized. " I didn't mean any disrespect."
"I know you didn't," Buck assured him. He wasn't ashamed of his mother, and he never felt he had to defend her, to anyone, but he knew Vin didn't judge people that way.
"So your mom is dead?" Vin innocently asked as he took another bite from the sundae.
"Yeah," Buck answered. "She died while I was at the Academy."
"Oh," Vin sighed. "My parents died too."
Buck already knew this. He also knew Vin meant his adoptive parents, not the Vulcan ones that he had no memory of. "You really miss 'em don't you?" Buck asked.
"Yeah," Vin replied. "I miss my mom's cooking and riding with my dad... I miss... just having them, y'know?" He looked up with sad eyes.
"Yeah," Buck nodded. His mother had been so proud when he'd made it into Star Fleet Academy. Buck wished with all his heart that she could see him now, a senior officer and second in command of a Starship. She'd never had much in her life, but she'd given all she could to see that he had a chance to be something. "You got any other family, Vin?"
"My Uncle Vlad," Vin shrugged. "But I haven't seen him in a long time, since graduation day at the Academy. I talk to him when we can get a direct frequency, but that's not the same."
Buck knew that the name"Vin" was an acronym and that the Vulcan's actual first name was Vladimir. He suspected he was named for this Uncle of his, which meant the relationship was a close one.
"'spose I got Vulcan kin somewhere, too, but, I don't know 'em." He looked up with a slight smile. "Don't reckon they'd want to know me, either."
Buck laughed softly, even though it wasn't funny. Other Vulcans seemed to consider Vin, with his soft Texas drawl and somewhat volatile nature, more of a social embarrassment than anything else. He had no real heritage.
"You gonna be alright, Vin?" Buck asked checking the time. "I have to be on duty in a few minutes."
"Yeah I'm fine," Vin smiled. "Thanks."
"The sundae," Vin said embarrassed.
"Anytime, Elf," Buck said as he stood up. "We're going to get together later for some cards."
"I'll be there," Vin said.
The commander walked over to the bar and told Inez everything was all right, that Vin was just homesick. Buck gave her a wink and left the salon. Inez watched Vin as he pushed away the sundae and stood to leave. The Vulcan gave her that funny little half-grin of his as he left. Buck hadn't talked to him very long, and despite the smile, he still looked like something was bothering him.
+ + + + + + +
As Buck walked towards the turbolift he flirted with all the female crewmembers he encountered that he knew wouldn't consider it an insult, which, because he was Buck, was all of them. The lift stopped and he walked on, delighted to see he wouldn't be alone. When Buck finally made it to the bridge he walked off the turbolift with a huge smile on his face. Lieutenant commander Standish turned around and knew that the stupid grin on the commander's face could only mean one thing. The security chief shook his head and turned back to his console. Buck saw Ezra's reaction and laughed.
"Can I help it if my animal magnetism attracts the fairer sex?" Buck chuckled.
"Who did you snare this time?" Josiah asked.
"That pretty little blonde from engineering," Buck answered
Captain Larabee just sighed as he listened to the details of Buck's latest conquest. Chris could never figure out why women never got offended by Buck's attitude. He figured it had to be Buck's charm. The commander was friendly and didn't have a mean bone in his body. Chris sometimes wondered how they had ever become friends. Buck's easy-going nature was so different form his own brooding and darker one.
Chris realized he had tuned Buck out when his first officer asked, "Chris did you hear me?"
"I said, do you know what's bothering Vin?"
"Why, what's wrong?" Chris asked, concerned.
"Weren't you listening?"
"You were talking about your latest conquest so I was ignoring you," Chris admitted.
"That hurts," Buck complained. "I tell you these things so you can learn."
"Get back to Vin, Buck," Chris warned.
"Alright, keep your shirt on," Buck pacified. "I was talking to the elf down at the saloon. He said he was just homesick but I think it's something more."
"Maybe it's the holiday," JD said.
"What holiday?" Buck asked.
"Christmas," JD answered. "We were talking yesterday and he said his family celebrated most of the holidays."
"Really," Josiah said. "So Vin's parents were Traditionalists?"
"Yeah," JD smiled. "Vin said Christmas was a big affair at his house."
"Did he tell you what they did?" Buck asked. "Don't think I've ever seen a Traditionalist Christmas."
"They are quite elaborate affairs," Ezra replied. "Mother took me to one when I was a child."
"Somehow I doubt Vin's parents threw that fancy a party," Chris said. He was familiar with Vin's background, The people who had raised him had been archeologists, a couple, whom he called his parents, and one of their much younger colleagues whom Vin had been named for. The four of them had spent 12 years of Vin's childhood on an isolated rock in the Tasco system.
"You're probably right, Chris," Josiah agreed. "They might have had a tree and gifts, though, and a celebration feast."
"So what can we do?" JD asked.
"Not too much right now," Chris said. "We are on duty."
"We'll just have to think of something to take his mind off the holiday," Josiah said.
+ + + + + + +
Vin left the saloon and wandered the ship. He never knew what to do to entertain himself on his day off; usually he went to the holodeck. Today he didn't feel like it. Vin felt bad for not telling the commander everything that was bothering him. Most people didn't understand the Traditionalist beliefs - or even trivialized them - so Vin never mentioned them. Vin really missed the Christmas holiday. His mouth started to water just thinking of his mother's eggnog and deserts.
All of a sudden Vin got an idea. What if he put together a Christmas celebration for the others? He was pretty sure he could make everything like his mother did. Maybe not as good, but he knew most of the ingredients and the flavors and he could program a replicator fairly well...
Vin stopped in the corridor and sighed. He knew there was no way he could arrange this by himself, but he thought Inez might help. She was from Earth, from a region where the Traditions were still celebrated. Vin headed back towards the saloon feeling much better than he had that morning.
Later in the day they all met at the saloon to play cards. JD was teasing Buck as he tried to get Inez to pay attention to him while she resolutely ignored him. The captain kept watching the door.
"Don't worry, Chris, he'll be here," Josiah said.
"If he was feeling down earlier he might not show," Chris said as he turned to the counselor.
"Josiah's prediction was correct," Ezra said as he shuffled the cards. "Here comes our wayward navigator now."
Chris looked to see Vin walking towards them. The Vulcan was smiling broadly and Chris was suspicious. Vin was good at hiding his feelings and Chris suspected he didn't want them to know he was homesick. The lean navigator pulled out a chair and sat down.
"Howdy," Vin said in greeting.
"Well you're a lot happier than you were earlier," Buck commented.
"That's what happens when you eat four hot fudge sundaes," Vin laughed.
'Four!" Nathan exclaimed. "It's just a good thing it's not real chocolate,"
"Why?" JD asked.
"Real chocolate makes me drunk," Vin admitted sheepishly.
"You're kidding," Josiah said.
"Now that I'd like to see," Buck laughed. "I can just picture you dancing on a table."
"If I recall correctly, commander, it was you dancing on the table on our last leave," Ezra replied.
"I was?" Buck said confused. "I wouldn't be surprised."
"Have we come to play or listen to Buck's drunken antics?" Chris commented.
"Which Chris knows all about," Buck laughed.
Ezra dealt the cards and they started the first hand. Inez came over and brought them drinks. Buck watched as Vin smiled brightly at the bartender. Inez smiled back and leaned over to whisper something to Vin. He gave her a surprised look and she winked. Buck watched as Inez left and Vin turned his attention back to his cards. Chris also watched the exchange then turned to Buck. He saw the mischievous look in Buck's eyes and knew he was about to tease Vin. Chris kicked him under the table.
"Hey!" Buck exclaimed when he felt the impact on his shin.
"Really, commander, can't you sit still," Ezra scolded.
"Not when someone is kicking me under the table," Buck complained and looked sternly at JD.
"It wasn't me!" JD protested.
The game resumed and Buck glared around the table. When he got to Chris, Buck knew who had kicked him. He gave his friend and odd look then shrugged his shoulders. Inez came back with some snacks and placed them on the table. She and Vin looked at each other like they had a secret. Buck was about to say something when he was kicked again. He looked immediately to Chris and saw him scowling. Buck realized Chris didn't want him teasing Vin. He shook his head, thinking how over-protective Chris could be when it came to Vin, and concentrated on his cards. Buck knew the Vulcan sometimes didn't understand his humor or took teasing seriously.
The ladies' man smiled as Vin won the first hand. He really did seem in a better mood than he had before, and Inez clearly had something to do with that.
"Congratulations, Lieutenant Tanner," Ezra said.
"Thanks," the Vulcan beamed as he pulled in his winnings.
Chris kept an eye on Vin as they played for a few more hours. The Vulcan seemed happy enough but Chris decided to have a talk with him, anyway, and when the card game was over, he followed Vin to his cabin
"Got a second Vin?" he asked.
Vin was puzzled, but said, "Sure, Chris... come on in..."
Vin's quarters looked like a Texas tornado had been through. His cat, Lila, who was almost as big as Vin was, took up the entire couch where she lounged liesurely, giving him a warning glare as he approached. It wasn't that the big animal disliked him, but, she was very protective of Vin. The Vulcan stroked her fur and she began to purr loudly.
Vin removed a pile of clothing from a heretofor invisible chair and invited Chris to sit down.
"Buck tells me something is bothering you," Chris got to the point.
Vin never lied to him. "It was, but I think I got it figured out."
"Was it the Traditionalist holiday that's coming up?" Chris asked. He wanted to make sure.
Vin lowered his head. "Yeah. My parents made a big deal out of Christmas. Reckon I got kinda spoiled... decorations, food, presents... "
Chris leaned back. "Tell me about it."
Vin described the holiday in detail, although he was careful to point out that not all Tradionalists celebrated it the same way. He told him about the tree, egg-nog, sugar cookies, candy canes, and gifts that came wrapped so you had to look at them for days trying to figure out what was inside. "They could be anything," Vin explained when Chris asked him what kind of gifts were usually exchanged. "Sometimes big, sometimes just little things.but it's usually best when they mean something to the person who is getting them. Hell, it don't even have ta' be a thing at all. You could just do somethin' nice for somebody... " Vin got a wistful look in his eyes as he continued. "On Christmas mornin', we'd open the presents, but, the night before, my Uncle Vlad would wrap me up in lots of blankets so we could sit outside and watch meteors."
Chris nodded that he understood. Vin had never undergone the rigorous physical conditioning he normally would have been sujbected to, and nightside in the region where he had grown up would have been too cold for the frail Vulcan child to survive without meticulous planning. It would have been much more convenient just to keep him indoors - but then, he would never have experienced the wonder of those meteor showers. That had clearly been this Uncle Vlad's gift to him.
Vin continued, "You could see the Xanthus supernova in the sky there, and we'd look at it and he'd tell me the story about the Star of Bethlehem. You know that story, Chris?"
Chris was familiar with the legend. "The star that lead the Wise Men to Jesus."
Vin nodded then shrugged. "Don't know if it's true or not, but, I reckon it coulda happened that way."
Chris agreed. He was beginning to get an idea for a gift of his own."What are you and Inez cooking up?" Chris suspected, but he wanted to be sure.
Vin cast his eyes downward. He didn't want do something Chris disapproved of, but he really wanted this to be a surprise. "I can't tell you," he said softly.
"You can't, or you don't want to?" Chris asked gently.
Vin looked up hopefully.
Chris's first inclination was to say no. The last time he'd let this bunch plan an off-duty event on their own, they had almost started a war with the Ferengis. But looking at Vin, and knowing how seldom the Vulcan felt confident enough to interact with the rest of the crew, he caved in. "Might be kind of fun, at that," he smiled. "Just don't let Buck and Ezra in on it, whatever you're planning. Not after what happened the last time..."
Vin grinned broadly. "Thanks, Chris... Captain."
Chris got up to leave and clapped him on the shoulder. "Don't make me sorry I said yes."
+ + + + + + +
Vin sat at navigation the next morning trying to contain his excitement. He'd made a bunch of plans with Inez and she'd said she'd come up with a way to get a tree. Vin didn't want a replicated one but didn't know where to find a real one. Now he tried to wait patiently for the captain.
"Ensign Dunne," Captain Larabee said as he exited his ready room. "Set course for Walron 12."
"Aye captain," JD said as he touched a few buttons. "Course laid in, sir."
"Lieutenant Tanner," Chris said turning to Vin. "Take us to warp four."
"Aye, sir," Vin acknowledged.
"Chris why are we going there?" Buck asked as the ship jumped to warp speed.
"Inez needs to get a few things for ships stores," Chris said.
"That means she's getting ready to try out some new recipe," JD said.
"I must admit some of Inez's culinary efforts are quite delicious," Ezra noted.
"I'm glad you all approve of us going on an errand for her," Chris said dryly.
"Well the planet is still in Sector 7 so we can patrol there just as easily as here," Buck smiled.
An hour later Vin put the Maverick in synchronized orbit around Walron 12. The captain buzzed Inez to tell her they had arrived and that she had two hours to get everything she needed.
"Thank you, captain," Inez said. "Can I ask one more favor?"
"Alright," Chris answered.
"Can I borrow Lieutenant Tanner?"
"Vin?" Chris said surprised. "Why?"
"Well," Inez thought fast. "Vin is a picky eater and I figured if he liked the stuff I get then the rest of the crew will like it."
Vin held his breath as he sat at navigation. He didn't think Chris would go for this lame excuse. For one thing, he wasn't a picky eater. He just didn't like stuff that looked or smelled or tasted weird, or felt funny in his mouth. Vin knew Chris was looking at him without having to turn around.
"Vin do you want to go with Inez?" Chris asked.
"Sure," Vin said a little too eagerly.
"Go on then," Chris ordered. "She'll be waiting at the transporter."
Vin headed for the turbolift and got on. Once the doors shut Chris looked at Buck.
"Don't look at me I have no idea what they're up too," Buck said.
"JD?" Chris said turning to the ensign.
"I don't know either," JD shrugged.
"Captain shall I send a security detail to make sure nothing happens?" Ezra inquired.
"No that won't be necessary," Chris said. He was pretty sure he knew what Vin and Inez were up to.
"Did any of you think Vin might like spending time with Inez?" Josiah asked.
"Vin and Inez?" Buck said shocked. "Nah."
"Buck's right," Chris agreed. "Vin's too shy."
"I don't know," Josiah smiled. "They make a handsome couple."
JD couldn't help laugh at Buck's expression. The mustached first officer had been trying to get Inez to go out with him since she came on the ship. Inez wasn't falling for Buck's charms but the commander insisted she would.
+ + + + + + +
An hour and a half later the transporter chief beamed Lieutenant Tanner and Inez back aboard the ship. She didn't say anything as they dragged a tree off the platform and out the door. The chief figured the less she knew the better.
Vin and Inez dragged the tree to Vin's quarters, leaving a trail of dirt and loose vegetation behind them. They tried to move quickly so as to be seen by the fewest people possible. The crewmembers they encountered gave them odd looks but said nothing. They were accustomed to Inez bringing exotic herbs, fruits and vegetables on board, and Lieutenant Tanner often did things no one could quite figure out a reason for.
Once they had the tree safe in Vin's quarters, Inez had the replicator make a tree stand for it. When it appeared she filled it with water and placed it in the corner where Vin wanted the tree. After it was set up they both admired the perfectly formed conifer.
"This is going to be a nice Christmas," Inez smiled.
"I hope so," Vin replied. "I better get back to the bridge... we can decorate it later."
"Alright, I'll see you then," Inez agreed as they walked out the door.
Vin headed for the turbolift. He knew he and Inez had returned early but they had found everything they'd need except for one thing, and Vin was not exactly sure what it was. He hadn't been able to find it in any of his references, and no one in the huge Walron marketplace had known, either.
When the lift opened onto the bridge Vin made his way quickly to navigation and relieved the ensign sitting there. Vin ran a few diagnostics and settled in.
Buck nudged Chris and pointed to Vin. Chris smiled when e realized what Buck was smiling at. Vin had all sorts of twigs and leaves tangled in his long hair. Chief medical officer Nathan Jackson also looked at the Vulcan amd from the way Buck was smiling, he knew Vin was in for some teasing. The commander got up and walked towards the Lieutenant.
"So, Vin, what were you and Inez doing down there?" Buck asked as he pulled a leaf from Vin's hair.
"Nothing," Vin answered as he concentrated on his console.
"Had to be something," Buck commented as he pulled a twig from the Vulcan's hair. "A roll in the hay maybe?"
"Buck," Chris warned.
"A roll in the hay?" Vin asked curiously as he turned to Buck. "There's no hay on that planet."
"It means, how'd you get all these twigs and leaves in you hair?" Buck lied.
"Well why didn't you say so?" Vin sighed. Sometimes he just didn't understand Buck. "I fell out of a tree."
"You what!?" Nathan asked. "Are you alright?"
"I'm fine," Vin answered quickly. Nathan stared at him, obviously skeptical. "Really, I am."
"May one inquire as to what you were doing in a tree?" Ezra asked.
"Well," Vin stalled as he tried to think of something. "I saw this interesting bird. I wanted to get a closer look."
"Next time use optical enhancers," Chris suggested.
"I didn't have any," Vin said seriously.
JD just started laughing as Buck began picking the rest of the twigs out of Vin's hair. The commander lectured Vin about calling the ship if he needed anything. Buck could tell Vin was taking his little lecture too seriously. Sometimes the Vulcan didn't know when Buck was kidding. When Buck was finished he ruffled Vin's hair.
"There, you crazy Elf, all finished," Buck said.
Vin looked up at Buck and stuck out his tongue. When Vin realized what he'd done he quickly turned to his console. Buck smiled as Vin's complexion got darker as he blushed. Chris just shook his head at the antics of his bridge crew.
"Captain you have an incoming call," Ezra announced.
"Who's it from?" Chris asked as he turned to the security chief.
"Captain Mosby of the USS Gettysburg."
"I'll take it in the ready room," Chris said as he got up.
Chris walked to the small conference room just off the bridge. He sat at the table and hit the communication screen.
"Hey Jack," Chris said as a face appeared.
"Afternoon Chris," Jack replied. "I have that item you requested on baard. We should hook up with you at just the right time."
"That's great Jack," Chris said. "I appreciate it."
"Hey when you offer real chocolate for a job how could I refuse," Mosby laughed. "I'll see you in two days."
Chris acknowledged then signed off. The captain sat back with a smile. He couldn't wait to see the look on Vin's face when he gave him his surprise.