Have you ever seen cherry blossom like that, Spock?"
"Indeed, Captain. I believe Mr Sulu has an excellent specimen of the prunus serrulata variety in the Botany lab on board the Enterprise." The Vulcan looked about him before continuing, "the Earth-like conditions on this planet provide ample opportunity for the successful importation and cultivation of many Terran-native plants."
"Well, I didn't mean the whole tree; I just asked if you had ever seen blossom like this before."
"I see." It was clear he did not.
Kirk opened his mouth to say something but the Vulcan spoke again.
"I have not previously had the opportunity to examine the prunus serrulata in its flowering season but am familiar with the cyclic growth patterns inherent in deciduous plants." To assure his captain that he did understand he added, "We do have a small number of similar plants on Vulcan."
The human stifled the impulse to roll his eyes in exasperation. Six months into their five-year mission they had come so far - a tentative friendship was taking root, loyalty and respect had already been mutually earned - and yet there was still a yawning chasm to cross.
Spock had an excellent command of the English language - his multi-syllabic utterances left most humans floored; he was even beginning to comprehend a number of "illogical idioms", which certainly came in handy with Doctor McCoy around. Nevertheless, Kirk was frustrated by times like this when his first officer seemed completely unable to understand him.
Would the situation never improve? If that was so, how could they possibly function as a command team?
He briefly thought of changing the subject but reconsidered when he contemplated what was at stake.
"Spock," he began, thinking hard of a way to explain, "I didn't mean 'have you ever seen cherry blossom before'. I..."
"That is what you asked, Captain," interrupted the Vulcan, looking more perplexed than ever.
"Yeah, well... that's what I said. It's not what I meant."
The explanation was not going well judging by Spock's twin eyebrow ascension and Kirk's lip biting. The human tried again.
"Humans don't always mean what they say - I mean, they don't always mean what they say literally. Usually, there's something more in what's said than just the face value of the words.
"Take my question about cherry blossom for example. I didn't just ask if you'd seen it before; I asked if you remembered seeing it, what your experience was like. Humans like to share their experiences and memories. It helps to bring people closer and let them not forget things they've seen and done. People like to remember how they felt on occasions which were pleasant."
Kirk had thought Spock's eyebrows had gone as high as they possibly could. He was wrong.
It was time to try another approach.
"Spock," he hesitated, anticipating the Vulcan's likely negative reaction to his suggestion, "your race has a... way... of sharing thoughts and memories, right?"
Spock nodded slowly. "The mind meld," he said at length.
"Would you mind..." he cringed at his unintentional pun, "er... be adverse to melding with me? I'd like to share a memory with you."
The first officer looked away for a moment, considering, but he too knew what was to be gained by increasing their ability to communicate. "Very well, Captain. You are aware of what is involved? Our minds will be joined and our thoughts open to the other."
"That's the idea, Spock."
If the Vulcan was surprised by Kirk's apparent eagerness to meld, he didn't show it. Sitting down with Kirk under the cherry tree, Spock placed his fingers gently on the human's face and Kirk was instantly aware of a great warmth emanating from Spock's skin.
"My mind to your mind, my thoughts to your thoughts..." Spock's voice was both soothing and hypnotic.
Kirk felt like he was dissolving, particles of his mind separating before blending with those of Spock's mind, creating a soupy mix of the two yet leaving their individual cognitive processes intact.
//Spock, call me Jim. It doesn't seem right to be so formal in here.//
//As you wish... Jim.//
Kirk smiled. He'd been trying for months to get his first officer to call him by his given name and he'd only now succeeded - in an environment where Spock had no logical reason to refuse.
He surveyed his surroundings; he and Spock were standing in a swirling mist of muted colours.
//Where are we, Spock?//
//What you are seeing are projections of our bodies within our minds. The colours represent our thoughts. Concentrate on the memory you wish to see and you will be guided to it.//
Kirk closed his eyes and focussed intently, opening them when he had found what he sought. He took hold of the Vulcan's arm, propelling him along. //This way.//
The soft pastel colours swirled gently, gradually solidifying into a scene drawn from Kirk's memory: a grassy field, empty save for a blossoming cherry tree at the top of a small incline. He smiled warmly at the joyous familiarity of the setting and the instant recall of the carefree moments he had spent here.
He turned to Spock, who was studying the scene with a curious fascination and wondering what significance this place had in his captain's life.
//This is my grandparents' yard. I used to come here as a child....// He looked away almost wistfully. //Until Granddad died and Grandma went into a home.// His mind-voice was merely a whisper.
//I always thought that cherry tree looked sort of... lonely, just sitting there by itself. Stupid, huh?//
Kirk turned to Spock expecting the Vulcan to favour him with a 'that is illogical' expression; instead, he found his first officer staring at the tree with a look of... understanding?
//Every Christmas we'd come here and that tree would be there on top of that little hill, sitting there with no leaves or flowers and it somehow seemed stark and depressing.//
A sudden flash of sunlight emerged from behind the tree and lit up Kirk's eyes highlighting the green in them.
//Then, often we'd come here in Spring. Grandma's birthday was in April and Granddad used to love inviting the whole town over for a special birthday feast. Grandma used to always pretend she was embarrassed but I think she actually enjoyed being fussed over.
//It was only four months after Christmas, but that tree would've transformed. When it was full of bloom it looked almost... proud. People would always comment on how beautiful the blossom was and Sam and I would sit beneath it, wait until the wind loosened some of the petals, then tell everyone we'd just walked in a snowstorm.//
As Kirk had talked the mind-projections of their bodies had walked slowly toward the tree. The human indicated that they should sit and the two men sat themselves down amongst the blossom-covered grass with their backs leaning against the trunk of the cherry tree.
Kirk had stopped talking. This was a memory he wanted Spock to experience for himself.
After a time, the breeze picked up causing the branches to sway elegantly in a semi-synchronised dance. The flowers lost their grip and thousands of individual petals swirled and pirouetted as the wind blew them where it wished before gently depositing them on the ground below.
Placed as they were, under the dancing tree, Kirk and Spock were sprinkled liberally with the drifting blossom, becoming part of the environment and eye-witnesses to one of nature's most spectacular displays.
Kirk thought he saw a slight smile tilt the corners of Spock's mouth, an appreciation of the experience which had nothing to do with scientific discovery. His thoughts were confirmed when the Vulcan's dark eyes turned to him and, in one brief moment, conveyed such a multitude of emotions that Kirk couldn't count them all: a quiet joy, deepening friendship, understanding and gratitude for the gift shared.
The meld dissolved and they were mildly amused to find that a memory had once more found realisation as they stood up and brushed real cherry blossom from their bodies. They headed back to the beam-up point in silence, a serene delight at a new level of understanding and perception infused in both their souls.
They were stopped short when Kirk noticed a particularly beautiful lake he somehow hadn't seen when they came this way before.
"Have you ever seen a lake like that, Spock?"
A pause, then...
"Indeed, Jim. As a child I once visited Lake Annitracas on Beta Francisca with my parents. I recall my mother's displeasure when I slipped and fell into the lake fully clothed. We were due to meet with the Franciscan dignitaries within the hour and Mother had purchased my new outfit especially for the occasion. I believed I had made some fascinating discoveries in the lakeside fauna but Mother was... unimpressed."
At once, Kirk had an image of Spock, a small, serious Vulcan child, receiving a dressing down from his mother because he had ruined his new clothes. It wasn't too hard to imagine the scenario - he'd been at the centre of it himself - but the idea of Spock....
Kirk laughed until he thought he'd burst. Spock simply raised an indignant eyebrow but the gleam in his eye betrayed his humour.
As they once more continued on, Kirk reflected on what had passed this afternoon. A barrier had been breached between them and a new stage of comprehension achieved.
Looking forward, he realised he no longer held any fears about their ability to work together has a cohesive team. In fact, he was beginning to believe that he and Spock were going to be very successful as they travelled the galaxy side by side. How he knew that, he wasn't entirely sure, but his hunches had never failed yet.
It was many years later that Captain James T. Kirk remembered that he had sat under the cherry blossom with his brother twice.
Click here to see the pencil drawing I did to accompany this story.
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