It isn’t really new, this desire to bring Pavel food and set the holodeck to look like Russia and clean his bathroom. Sulu’s wanted to ever since Pavel nipped him so neatly out of the air moments before he hit ground. Pavel is extraordinary, after all, he deserves to be treated like – well, like a princess, only he is also a tough-as-nails street-fighting foul-mouthed Russian in addition to being a sweet and enthusiastic navigator as easy to read as a summer novel. So Sulu makes him happy in any way he can, and that includes not standing in his way when he wants to do something where he could get hurt.
Pavel reaches for his PADD, but Sulu’s already handing it to him. A few minutes later, he realizes that his tea is gone, and before he can even gather himself together to stand up, Pavel has set a new mug down beside his hand, and carried his own drink back to his station. Sulu smiles at him, and if he basks a little because Pavel has a grin brighter than a solar flare, he’s sure it’s all right. He can. This is Pavel Andreievich Chekov, and he can.
Sulu makes arrangements to sneak a muktok plant into Pavel’s quarters. If he’s there to watch it, it will survive, and he thinks Pavel will love the sound. When he reaches his own quarters, his fencing practice outfit is laid out, and he can’t help but notice that it seems brighter, cleaner. Not that it was in bad condition, but he doesn’t usually have the time to do it up properly. When he looks for that tear he was going to repair last week, he finds a very neat line of stitches. Better than his, really.
Pavel’s in the cafeteria when he gets there.
“Thank you!” Sulu says, and runs a hand down Pavel’s cheek. For the tray, he means, and the tea, and the practice outfit. Pavel leans into his hand, and smiles up at him, tugs his hem so he’ll sit down. He wishes devoutly that the Enterprise had benches in the mess hall instead of chairs. Sure, chairs were more elegant, but benches facilitated closeness, which was good. For ambassadorial relations, of course.
“Eat, eat!” Pavel replies brightly. “We will go make the plant sing, it is very beautiful plant.”
He likes it, then. He really likes it, Sulu amends, because the way Pavel is smiling makes him want to fill Pavel’s room with muktok plants so that Pavel will never stop smiling like that. Of course, it wouldn’t always work. He wonders what other things he can do for Pavel, and can’t say anything for smiling.
Carry his tray back, that’s one thing. Beg the doctor for some of the ‘medicial uses only’ very good actually Russian not-replicated vodka he’s got hidden in the med bay, that’s another. Be there whenever Pavel wants him, and never get impatient. He couldn’t imagine why he would, anyway. Pavel is perfect. Sure, he makes Sulu’s heart stutter whenever he goes on away missions, because Pavel is a genius, and geniuses aren’t very good at standing down and standing quiet especially when they’re also excellent at fighting and know they could do something about the situation. Which he can, and so Sulu doesn’t protest, but he does drag him off to the nearest conference room whenever he gets back, and check him all over for injuries, and kiss him so long and hard it feels like they’re both going to pass out. He knows he worries Pavel, too, because he may not be quite so smart as Pavel but he’s still pretty much a genius and a fierce fighter and really not very good at standing down when there’s something he could do.
The way they fly the Enterprise , now, it’s better than anything Sulu has ever dreamed of. All it takes is a motion, a murmur, and he knows exactly what Pavel’s saying. They work like they’re part of the same being, and even Scotty is looking a little unnerved by just how well theEnterprise is working for them. Commander Spock insists that he knew it was possible all along, it’s only logical that proper and full cooperation results in proper and full performance. Sulu knows that it’s not logical at all. Because something this good is beyond logic and irrationality. Which is a horribly sappy thought, but Pavel likes it when he says things like that, when he lets himself look at Pavel like he’s lovestruck – which he is – and does everything he’s ever wanted to do to let someone know he adores them. It’s the first time someone’s welcomed it, and certainly the first time anyone has wanted to do the same for him. He thinks this means something, that they were meant to be, and looks across the chessboard to say it to Pavel, but Pavel says it first.
When they moved into shared quarters, it was a little hard at first. They kept running into each other sneaking into the room to clean, or to set up a surprise – it seemed that they’d more or less switched chores, so that Pavel was cleaning Sulu’s room, and Sulu was cleaning Pavel’s. Sulu couldn’t help thinking that his room had been more of an imposition, but Pavel seemed to feel the same way. Eventually, they got it worked out. Sulu cleaned the bathroom, which Pavel hated. Pavel folded clothes, which Sulu hated. They both did the floors, which still got a little grimy every now and then despite the nanofibers, and the non-folding part of the laundry.
Lieutenant Uhura comes to him one day and asks him if he ever minds, that Pavel always wants to touch him, and he looks at her curiously as she stumbles on, uncharacteristically awkward,
“I mean, it says, in – in your profile, that, that you’re - that you seem - uncomfortable - with physical contact. In general, I mean. You have a – a strong sense of personal space, but, but Ensign Chekov is always touching you, do you – do you ever get frustrated with him for being so - ”
Sulu thinks this might not be about him.
“Lieu - ” he starts. Maybe not, he thinks. She probably needs someone to talk to as a friend, and God knew there were few enough people on the ship she could talk to like that. Uhura probably figured the gay pilot was a good bet, and somehow easier to talk to than Pavel. “Nyota, is this about Spock?”
She twists her mouth a little, and shrugs. He hates to see it, it mars her mouth, which is far too lovely to be damaged in any way.
“Nyota, Spock loves you. He really does. But sometimes – Nyota, when someone touches me, I flinch because I have to consciously determine that that touch is safe. You know that, it’s in all the books. Pavel, when he touches me, I know it’s him. Without thinking about it. Maybe because I’m always aware of where he is, I don’t know – it’s like he was born with a presence that blends into mine.” Sulu sighs. He isn’t the wisest person on this ship – normally, he’d say that is Uhura. The whole damn ship is filled with mixed-up slow-thinking barely-adult geniuses. It’s a disaster waiting to happen, and right now it feels like one, but only because he has to explain something that really isn’t his business. “He loves you, but he isn’t completely comfortable in your presence – and – there is, there are…”
“There is a person, or are people, on this ship, who can touch him and he relaxes.” She finishes for him, and her mouth twists further. “Yes.”
“It doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you, you know.” Sulu tries desperately to explain in the way least likely to hurt her, and vows to go yell at his superior officer just as soon as he’s done here. “It’s just – Uhura, you deserve someone who welcomes your touch, you really do, and he never will. He’d never betray you, not willingly, but his body betrays him every day, and he’s going to realize it soon.”
She’s going to cry, he realizes in horror, and so he braces himself, and puts his arms around her. She collapses into his shoulder, and sobs, and he can do this because a gentleman would and dammit, he’s a gentleman. Her hands are twisted into his uniform shirt, and she’s choking that she knew it, she knew, and it wasn’t fair, they didn’t even know, but she hated them for it, she couldn’t blame them.
Pavel appears at the door, and Sulu glances at him and then at Uhura, and because Pavel is wonderful, he comes over and wraps his arms around them both. His touch allows Sulu to relax, and they hold her between them, stroking her hair. Pavel raises his eyebrows at a seat, tilts his head inquiringly, and they guide her over, sit down. Eventually, she falls asleep, and Sulu scoops her up and carries her to her room, Pavel trailing behind. It’s fortunate that Uhura’s not very sneaky; Sulu’s seen her enter her access code so many times he punches it in almost as easily as he does his own. They leave her on the bed, curled up around a pillow.
When the door hisses shut behind them, Sulu turns to Pavel.
“I’m going to find Commander Spock and inform him of the situation at hand,” he says, falling back on the formal speak of their official lives because he just can’t say that he’s going to go rip a new hole in his first officer for being an unthinking bastard. Pavel nods, and gives him a little hug.
“I think may go and ask Ensign Gaila to come down in few hours with ice cream.” He grins, a little grin, and walks off down the hallway. Sulu watches him – okay, watches his ass – and thinks that that’s what’s so wonderful about Pavel. He’s that thoughtful about everyone, not just his boyfriend. Of course, being his boyfriend, Sulu gets even more of this thoughtfulness, and he can’t imagine what he’s done to deserve it.
Commander Spock is right where Sulu thought he would be – directly behind the Captain’s shoulder. As Sulu walks up, Kirk swivels around and pokes Spock in the xiphisternum. Spock doesn’t flinch away. His hand comes up, and he prods Kirk’s arm in retaliation. It’s just that simple, and Sulu feels no guilt about coming up to the pair of them and saying,
“Captain, Commander. I request a conference with Commander Spock. It concerns a subject of some immediacy.” Kirk, as always, looks vaguely amused. He waves a hand.
“Sure, sure, take him for as long as you need.”
“I am not a pet, Captain, nor am I a mindless tool to be passed on at a moment’s notice.” Commander Spock says stiffly, glaring at the Captain. But he follows Sulu away and towards one of the less-frequented conference rooms. Of course Spock notices his choice, and of course he comments.
“I believe you have some reason for selecting this particular room, Lieutenant Sulu?” he asks, and Sulu’d be damned but that eyebrow’s inching up.
“Yes, Commander. Since this is about your relationship with Lieutenant Uhura, I thought a room we were unlikely to be interrupted in was appropriate.” And it’s not so unused that they’re likely to be run across by a couple looking for somewhere private, too. He likes this room, it’s a good one. Small, sure, and not terribly comfortable, but he can come here to read and no one would know where he was unless they went to the trouble of looking up his life signs.
“Lieutenant Sulu, my relationship with Lieutenant Uhura is none of your concern,” Spock returns sharply, and makes like he’s going for the door.
“It became my concern when the lieutenant came to me this afternoon to discuss her troubles.” Sulu says, quietly, and it’s logical enough that Spock pauses. “She cried.”
Spock turns around, sits at the little table. He’s listening, now. “My apologies, Lieutenant. I was unaware that the two of you were of sufficient closeness to warrant such a confession.”
Sulu laughs, and runs his hands through his hair. “Believe me, commander, I was unaware as well. But there was… logic behind her selection of a confidant.” He stops, sits down at the table, and considers for a moment.
“You’re aware that we share a dislike of physical contact, Commander? That if someone approaches either of us, we’re likely to flinch and jerk away unless we’ve schooled ourselves to accept that touch?”
“I had noticed similar tendencies in your person, yes.”
“Lieutenant Uhura came to inquire if I was discomfited by the touch of my own lover, having found her own touches – not necessarily unwelcomed, but uncomfortable. I was forced to reply that I’m not.”
“Ah.” Spock is focusing on Sulu, now, and he almost wants to squirm, but there’s a fair maiden and all she’s got to defend her honor is him, so he’d better be as shining a knight as possible.
“She believes you don’t love her, sir.” There, it’s said now, and Spock flinches, but doesn’t say anything. “I told her that wasn’t true, but – sir. Once, there was someone I loved very much, and desired very much. However, we were incompatible in that this person’s touch was – not easily welcomed. And it was very difficult to reciprocate. We parted amicably, sir, but we did part, because it was unfair to her to have a lover she could not touch, and I could not – it was impossible. Sir.”
Spock’s sitting very still now, and if he were a human male, entirely human, Sulu is fairly certain he’d have thrown something or started pacing or burst into tears.
“I have – noticed this, this flaw, and – I have attempted to correct it in myself, to little success. Observation shows that it is not universal, this – rejection of touch. I have been unable to ascertain the source, however.”
Which is very hard for a scientist, Sulu knows, and it was easier for him because he’d cut his teeth on Grimm’s Book of Fairy Tales and there was always part of him a little more willing to accept the unexplainable as natural, and move on.
“Believe me, Commander Spock, I understand completely.”
Spock eyes him for a moment. “Yes, I believe you do. But what would you have me do? I love Nyota, but – is it truly so difficult for her?”
“Sir, being able to touch someone, and to receive touch, is – it’s worthwhile, sir. Perhaps you might consider the people whose touches you accept without question, sir. There might be a reason.”
Sulu stands, and leaves the room, leaves Spock behind him at the table staring at his hands. He doesn’t want to see any of that again, and he especially does not want to play matchmaker again.
When, a few weeks later, he sees Lieutenant Uhura in the botany bay, flowers in her hair, laughing a little at something the young botanist beside her has said – or at being there, or at being happy, it’s so easy to laugh – Sulu smiles and wanders off for his away mission. Captain Kirk and Commander Spock are coming this time, and he’s a little worried, because the Captain’s presence usually means something disastrous is likely to happen, but maybe not this time – he’s seen how carefully Spock’s been studying Kirk, and how Kirk’s been pretending not to notice. He thinks they’re likely to be so distracted with each other that everyone else can get the work done undisturbed. If he’s lucky, he’ll even find a story for Chekov.
Lately, ever since they started dating – well, as much dating as could be done on the Enterprise – he’d taken to finding presents for Chekov when he was planetside. Books were greeted with the most enthusiasm, or stories of any kind, so he always tried to find the local bookseller, if there was such a thing, and if not, he tried to get one of the people they were visiting to tell him a story, which he’d surreptitiously record. Apparently, storytelling was a big thing, in Chekov’s town and in his youth, and he missed it a little. At the rate he was going, he’d be the local raconteur if they ever settled back on Earth.
Pavel’s taken to bringing him flowers, too, or local plants, whatever he thinks is interesting enough or beautiful enough. Somewhere, secretly, he’s gotten a botanist to teach him how to collect the specimens, and Sulu’s collection is growing large and bewilderingly complex. He loves it, all the leaves reaching out to him, but Pavel’s face when he sees Sulu after an away mission, while he’s doggedly clutching some bit of greenery – he’s so proud, because he can do this for Sulu. It’s better than flying, and that’s better than anything.
He thinks, as time passes, that maybe a little dirt will build up in their room, and maybe Pavel won’t have always grabbed him a tray, and sometimes he’ll forget to have exactly what Pavel needs on hand when Pavel needs it, but that’s okay. It’s possible that eventually he won’t be thinking of Pavel every moment of every day, that sunlight won’t bring his hair to mind and water his eyes and the entirety of everything his wonderful smile, but that’s okay too, if improbable, because he will always be able to melt into Pavel’s touch. There’s no question of anything else.