Sulu shifted his weight as he stood in the turbolift. None of the crew – except for Doctor McCoy obviously, and maybe Commander Spock – had seen the inside of the captain's quarters before. The doors whooshed open, and the helmsman stepped out into the hallway. It was remarkably quiet in the upper levels of the ship. In fact, he was the only one in the halls. Needless to say, that realization did nothing to alter his uncomfortable feeling.
The Bridge crew had gotten roped into a game of Szinthorp by Scotty and Chekov. It was a complex game from one of the more obscure Federation planets, and despite its dozens of rules, it was actually pretty fun. Someone had suggested inviting the Trio (the captain, the First Officer, and the CMO, those three were almost always together these days) to play with them.
They had drawn straws.
Sulu had gotten the third shortest. It felt like the shortest.
There was an unspoken rule among the crew of the Enterprise. You never approached the captain in his own space. It wasn't a rule born out of fear (of Kirk at least, his 'bodyguards' Spock and McCoy on the other hand...), but one born out of respect. Despite the fact that he tried to hide it, the crew wasn't blind, and they certainly weren't stupid. Kirk was giving this job everything he had, doing more for the crew than any captain had a right to.
Kirk always seemed to know the names and interests of the crewmembers all over the ship, no matter how new they were. He would not-as-secretly-as-he-thought take work from them to lighten their loads. There was even a rumor that he had taken on the whole of the Admirality to get Scotty pardoned for the failed experiment that led to him being on Delta Vega. Sulu didn't quite believe that one. At most, he would have taken on three.
In return, the crew gave him the only gift they could: a space of privacy.
Thus, the reason for Sulu's current nerves. He was breaking a shipwide taboo, after all. He began walking, and scanned the labels on the several doors he passed. He vaguely noted that the number of doors combined with the amount of space on this floor meant that the rooms must be pretty huge. He found the right door at the end of the hall, and paused for a moment. He thought about the result of returning both empty-handed and without a response, and realized that by now he had no choice.
He then pressed on the alert button, and heard a several melodic notes come from inside. He blinked, not having anticipated the quiet noise in regards to his captain. His mind drifted over what he knew about the man, then admitted that maybe it wasn't all that unexpected after all.
"It's open, come on in!" he heard Kirk call in a muffled voice. Sulu hesitated one more time before tapping the button that would open the door, and it slid open quietly. Sulu was hit with a wave of warmth, and what smelled like fresh air. He didn't realize that he was inhaling it like it was water in a desert for several moments. He also hadn't realized how much he missed fresh air amidst the recycled, sterile air aboard the ship.
He took a step into the room and paused again. Everywhere he looked there was color – green being the dominating one. It was a bit of a shock, considering that everything else on the ship seemed to be a clinical white. As his eyes adjusted, he realized that the color came from plants that covered nearly every surface, even the walls. If there was anything else in the room besides plants, he couldn't tell.
Kirk came around a table containing several small trees. He was wearing a white, dirt-stained T-shirt, a pair of equally stained black sweats, and was barefoot. Sulu blinked, never having seen the captain in anything but his uniform and the black underlayer of the regulated clothing. When the captain saw who it was, his eyes brightened, and a dazzling smile lit up his features.
Sulu wondered briefly how his presence could be the cause for that much joy, until he remembered that Kirk loved his job and crew with a fervor that made it seem like that was his life's purpose, so Sulu decided that it couldn't be taken personally. (That didn't stop the tendril of pleasure that came from being the focus of that much happiness – honestly, though, the man was like a puppy sometimes: ecstatic to see everyone no matter how recently he'd seen them last.)
"Sulu!" the captain exclaimed, wiping his hands off on a nearby rag. "What brings you here?" Sulu opened his mouth several times to respond, but kept getting distracted by their surroundings. Seriously though, how did he even get all of these plants in here? There were at least several hundred in the room, hanging from the ceiling or walls, sitting on the floor, placed on tables or shelves. The result was nearly a jungle. Kirk caught on to his distraction, and grinned.
"Pretty cool, huh?" he said, gesturing to his plants. He walked over to an emerald one on a shelf and stroked a leaf with his finger. Sulu watched as it unfurled, and seemed to twine several tendrils through the air towards the man. Kirk cradled them in his hands, petting them like he would a dog, paying no mind to the sudden shift in the plant's color to a vibrant cobalt.
"Sulu, meet Shir'kikthe." He gestured to the plant. "She's a sentient plant from one of the forest planets at the edge of the Thorentian system. She changes color with her emotions, and can recognize voices and touch. Come on, she won't hurt you." At the captain's beckon, Sulu hesitantly walked forward. Keeping one hand intertwined with the plant, Kirk lightly took hold of Sulu's wrist and pulled his hand forward until his fingers brushed over the plant's tendrils.
The plant felt soft, and strangely warm. There was a pulse under the surface of the tendril he touched, and the brilliant cobalt was now laced with a muted orange. Several more tendrils disconnected from Kirk and wove towards the helmsman. Sulu glanced uncertainly at Kirk, and only saw reassurance in the captain's expression.
"Talk to her." he said softly, watching carefully as Shir'kikthe gently brushed the other man's face, arms, and hands with her tendrils. "Let her learn your voice." Sulu's gaze flicked back and forth between the two for several moments before awkwardly clearing his throat and turning towards the plant.
"Uh, hello Shir'kikthe. I'm Hikaru Sulu; I work with the captain aboard the ship. I help drive it." As he spoke, one of the tendrils rested against his throat, right where his voice was coming from. He chuckled nervously. "You're awfully friendly, aren't you?" He glanced at the captain to see if that was good enough, and received a nod in return.
"Nice job. You handled that better than Bones when he first realized that I'd gotten a plant for a pet." Kirk carefully disentangled both of them from the tendrils, and his next words addressed the plant. "C'mon now, Shir'kikthe. You have to let us go for now. I'll give you some of that nectar stuff Toring gave me tomorrow, though. I promise."
The plant protested briefly with a wash of dark brown, but her color soon returned to the original dark emerald as she furled up into a splay of leaves and stems again. Sulu blinked, not quite sure what to make of the experience, though he'd be lying if he said he wasn't interested in the plant. His side hobby wasn't botany for nothing, he'd just never met a plant-pet before.
"Shir'kikthe's species had no natural predators or threats, so they developed a consciousness of their own. I got her from a guy named Toring when on shore leave one time." He laughed slightly as he gestured for Sulu to follow him around a row of flowered plants so vibrantly colored, they almost hurt to look at. "Now that was an interesting shore leave. I still never learned what happened to that circus performer after Bones got kidnapped by her horse. Long story." He said, catching Sulu's bewildered expression.
"Anyway, what brings you here?" he continued as they approached a cleared area on the other side of the flower wall. The space contained a bed, the closet, a mahogany bookcase with actual books, a vid-screen, and a table with several chairs surrounding it. A door to the left seemed to lead to the bathroom he shared with his First Officer. It was a small but cozy space, surprisingly plant-free. "Not that I'm upset or anything, it's just usually only Spock or Bones come to find me here. Not really sure why that is." he mused aloud.
Sulu was mildly surprised to hear that, given that the captain usually knew everything about the crew. Apparently shipwide taboos weren't included in that 'everything'. At Kirk's gesture, he sat across from him at the table. The chairs were surprisingly plush, given their thin and hard appearance.
"Oh, right. The Bridge crew was playing – or learning to play – Szinthorp, and decided to extend the invitation to you, Doctor McCoy, and the commander as well." Kirk's eyes lit up again, and he let out a laugh.
"Someone's going to try and convince Spock and Bones to play a game? Wish I could be there to watch." He laughed again, and Sulu felt himself grin as well at the thought of the resulting conversations and expressions. Maybe he had gotten lucky with the third-shortest straw after all, despite the taboo he'd had to break.
"Sounds like fun." The captain said, standing up and moving to the closet. "Just give me a minute to change and clean up a bit, and I'll walk down with you. Man, I haven't played Szinthorp in forever. I hope I haven't lost my edge." Kirk grabbed a yellow command shirt, a pair of black pants, and the required black undershirt, and walked into the bathroom.
Sulu glanced around him, examining the space a little more thoroughly. His attention was drawn once again by the brightly colored flowers that walled off this section of the room. As his gaze drifted over them, he caught sight of a plant that was a dark maroon. It was in a pot beside his chair, and was pretty much all leaves. The helmsman reached out a hand to brush his fingers along the uppermost leaf.
"Careful." Sulu's fingers had been about to touch the leaf when his captain's voice had him jerking around again. He was met with the sight of the captain he was most familiar with: Starfleet uniform, shoes, and dirt free. "That plant excretes a toxin that will dissolve your skin. I meant to return that to the poisonous section of the room, but I got called away to deal with a problem in Engineering and it slipped my mind."
Sulu looked at the deceptively innocent plant, and make the executive decision to not touch anything else in the room without seeing the captain touch it first. Seemingly unconcerned with potentially dissolving his skin, Kirk scooped up the pot, and motioned for Sulu to come with him. They reentered the rest of the room, and the captain gently set the pot in an empty space on one of the shelves across the room. The man turned, and clapped his hands together, a mischievous grin on his face.
"Right," he said enthusiastically, "let's go play some Szinthorp!" Sulu laughed aloud as the captain rushed out the doors, bouncing on his feet as he waited for the helmsman. He cast a final glance around Kirk's contained paradise, and followed the man out of the room towards their friends, and what was sure to be an interesting game of Szinthorp.