This is not the story of how they got together. This is the story of how they almost fell apart.
Pavel kills things. This is what Hikaru tells him when he banishes Pavel from the botany lab, ignoring how big Pavel's eyes get, ignoring the protests that pour from his mouth.
"I love you, Pavel," he says, blocking the door with his body, "But you kill things. I need to be alone right now." He stares Pavel down, and a crack splits right through his heart when Pavel finally turns and walks away, sniffing and wiping his nose on his sleeve. Hikaru doesn't know where Pavel's going and a part of him doesn't care, and when he turns around again and surveys his lab, that feeds that part of him, and he growls in his throat, frustration rising in him.
The Bajoran Singing Ferns are dead. Hikaru kneels in front of them, stroking the fronds which have fallen, limp, to the floor.
"Mother fucker," he mouths, "God dammit, Pavel." He doesn't dare speak his frustration aloud; the plants have already been exposed to enough bad energy today, and some of them are so sensitive that Hikaru shudders to think of the damage that has been caused.
He closes his eyes and sits on the floor, forcing himself to breathe. In through the nose, out through the mouth, remembering the techniques he learned in the yoga class he took in order to impress a guy at the academy. He never did manage to impress much of anyone, but the breathing works, and Hikaru can feel the stress of his afternoon with Pavel starting to melt away from his shoulders.
He opens his eyes and sets to cleaning up, discovering as he does that the ferns might not be dead after all; there are signs of life low on the stalks. He trims them back, talking to them, encouraging them to grow, humming something that resembles one of their songs. Hikaru's been told more times than he can count that he can't carry a tune in a bucket, but that doesn't matter, because he knows that the ferns know he's trying, and besides, it's making him feel a little better, too.
A trip around the rest of the lab eases Hikaru's mind even more. A few of his other plants are drooping, too, but the most sensitive ones, the ones he keeps behind glass, in climate-controlled rooms, seem to be all right. He'll set an alarm for the middle of the night and check on them then, he decides, but for now he just waters and feeds them, talking to them all the while, promising them that this was a one-time occurrence and they'll never be hurt again.
And they won't, because he's not letting Pavel near them again. He shakes his head and remembers to breathe, locking up the lab with his private code and heading along the corridors to his quarters. He thinks about the places they've been so far on this journey, pictures nebulae and gas planets, and the thoughts calm him, at least a little. He's feeling somewhat better by the time he bumps into McCoy, who is muttering to himself. McCoy looks up, and Hikaru nods, though the last thing he wants right now is to talk to anyone else.
"So, guess you're doing okay," McCoy says, and there's some kind of innuendo in his voice that Hikaru can't quite make out. McCoy looks at him, and Hikaru has the strangest feeling, as if McCoy can read his thoughts. His guilty conscience flashes on Pavel, naked and sprawled on his bed, grinning and begging Hikaru to suck him. Before Hikaru can banish that thought from his mind or figure out what McCoy's tone of voice is all about, McCoy rolls his eyes. "Come on," he mutters, and he walks past Hikaru without another word, leaving Hikaru to wonder what's just happened.
He's still puzzling this over when he reaches his quarters. He punches in his code, hoping the door will open to an empty room, as tidy as he left it. But Pavel is there, sitting in Hikaru's computer chair with his legs tucked up under him, and Hikaru sighs.
"You hacked my entry code again," Hikaru says, stripping off his shirt and crossing the room to kneel between Pavel's legs. "I wish you wouldn't do that. Just move in with me."
"No," says Pavel, shaking his head, "I like our secret."
Hikaru pillows his head on Pavel's knee. "Mmm, I do, too," he says. He lets Pavel touch his hair, stroking fingers through it. It's hard to be upset with Pavel when they're like this, alone together, forgetting that all day long, to everyone else on the ship, they're just close friends.
He could fall asleep like this, his head in Pavel's lap, forgetting what happened in the lab, those lithe fingers scratching lightly at his scalp, but then Pavel shifts and sniffs and sighs, and Hikaru props his chin on Pavel's knee.
"Still sniffling, huh?"
Pavel frowns. "It is better than it was, thank you. The sneezing was…distracting. It is as I told the doctor. I could not concentrate on anything."
"You got that right," says Hikaru, and he rises and crosses the room, sitting on his bed and pulling his boots off, then his socks. He sits there in just his uniform trousers, hands on his knees, and regards Pavel, who is sitting as far back in the computer chair as he can. "Wait. You went to sickbay?"
"Yes," says Pavel, and he wipes his nose on his sleeve. Hikaru can't tell if it's a bid for sympathy or if Pavel's nose is really still running. "He said it was allergies and that perhaps I should stay out of the botany lab. He was looking at me very strangely when he said this, Hikaru, and he poked me very hard with the hypospray. I still do not understand, however, how he knew I was in there, in the lab. He has been in sickbay all day, or should have been. Of course, perhaps I should have been elsewhere, but I do like spending my recreation hours with you." He pauses. "Hikaru?"
"Mm. I heard you. Well." Hikaru rises, reflecting that it's taking him longer than usual to change out of his uniform, and goes to the bureau drawers that recede into the wall, rummaging for a comfortable t-shirt. When he finds his old high school baseball jersey tee, he smiles and rubs the fabric between his fingers for a moment before pulling it on over his head.
Pavel laughs. "What is this shirt?" Arms go around Hikaru from behind, an embrace he's not excited about returning.
"I played baseball in high school," says Hikaru, "I've told you that." Pavel rubs his face against the iron-on letters on Hikaru's back. "Sulu," he says, drawing the name out into a purr. "This is how I first called you. Sulu. It is strange now to think of it. Lieutenant." Pavel laughs, and Hikaru screw up his face and extricates himself from the embrace, going to the bathroom and closing the door.
"What is your baseball title?" Pavel asks through the door. Hikaru frowns at himself in the mirror, then bares his teeth. He's not sure why he's been so annoyed with Pavel lately, but to have it all come to a head in the destruction of his babies, and now for Pavel to be acting like nothing happened—
Hikaru sighs and unzips his pants, moving to the toilet.
"What do you mean?" he calls out while he pees.
"Your—I do not know what it is called." There's silence for a moment, then Hikaru can hear the smile in Pavel's voice. "Position, ah. Yes."
Hikaru flushes and washes his hands, making another face at himself in the mirror before he opens the door.
"Catcher," he says. "No jokes about that." He touches Pavel's nose, a gesture he hasn't made in weeks, and Pavel beams at him.
"I do not know any jokes about this," he says, and they settle onto the bed together, kissing. Hikaru takes off Pavel's shirt, thumbing over his nipples, and Pavel shudders and whispers Hikaru's name. It feels right. Hikaru can almost forget about what happened. Pavel slides his hand down Hikaru's belly and into his pants, and Hikaru starts to get hard.
"I am sorry about his afternoon," Pavel whispers between kisses, and Hikaru pulls away, groaning.
"Why'd you have to go and bring that up?" he asks. Though they're not kissing any more, Hikaru doesn't pull Pavel's hand out of his pants. He's human, after all, and Pavel has talented fingers.
Pavel keeps his hand moving. "I said I was sorry."
"You still—Christ, stop that." He grabs Pavel's wrist. "Just for a sec, okay? We were fine, then you have to go and mention the plants."
"I did not explicitly—"
Hikaru wants to scream, images of his wilting babies tormenting him. He gets off the bed, zipping his pants back up. "Just, maybe you should go. Just go. Right now. Before I—I don't want to be angry with you, Pavel, but I am, and you really, really fucking need to go right now." He turns away, gritting his teeth, still hard in his pants. Pavel's shirt is on the floor by his feet, and he picks it up and tosses it over his shoulder. "Just get dressed and go."
He can't look at Pavel. Two things will happen. First, he'll melt when he sees those green eyes rimmed with tears—and even if there aren't any tears, Hikaru will imagine them there, and he'll want to kiss Pavel's eyes and those long lashes and down to his mouth and forget everything that happened, and he can't do that, because the second thing that will happen is he'll see what happened, see again in slow motion Pavel's mistake and his own inability to move fast enough across the lab to prevent his babies from injury.
"It was my allergies, Hikaru. My eyes were blind," Pavel says, his voice small. "I know how much you love—"
"Just. Go. I don't want to fucking see you right now."
Hikaru waits until he hears the door close, then slumps onto the bed and jerks off, annoyed with himself, but knowing he won't be able to concentrate until he comes. It's close to clinical, but he needs the release, after Pavel got him all worked up like that.
And, he thinks, when he's wiping his release from his belly with a corner of the sheet, maybe he shouldn't let Pavel get him so worked up. He does it all the time, and he's never been like this before with anyone, but there's something about Pavel that makes him ache inside, makes him wake in the night, his fingers grasping at the air.
He's not ready to tell Pavel that yet, though—and maybe, he thinks, maybe that's the entirety of his problem.
He flops back onto his bed and stares at the ceiling and thinks about Pavel, about the time they curled up together late at night on the observation deck when they were sure no one else was around. He had wrapped a blanket around the both of them, and it had felt so safe there in their shared cocoon that he'd found himself whispering all his secrets to Pavel. He wishes he could feel like that again, but the nature of their secret is such that he can't. Not often, anyway, and not for too long, because he needs to guard himself, needs to be prepared for the event of an emergency. He can't respond to a red alert in his boxer shorts with hickeys on his neck and Pavel right behind him, dick still stiff in his pants.
Hikaru sighs and turns onto his side, grabbing his PADD.
It takes fifteen minutes and a dozen discarded drafts, but finally Hikaru is satisfied with his message.
Observation deck, 2300 hours. Bring your blanket.
Half an hour before the meeting time, Hikaru still hasn't heard back from Pavel, and he wonders if Pavel's going to show at all, or if he's hurting too badly. He hadn't really shown it when Hikaru banished him, but Hikaru knows that sometimes Pavel works his pain into a tight little ball that he keeps in his chest until he has the time to take it out and examine it, dealing with it properly—and sometimes he doesn't deal with it at all. It seems, Hikaru thinks, to depend on the day and on the particular pain that dwells inside him. And maybe Pavel hasn't had that chance yet. Maybe he's still angry with Hikaru, and as Hikaru makes his way towards the observation deck, he starts to think that this is a stupid idea, that he can't fix yelling at Pavel with a rendezvous on the observation deck, that he can't bring his babies back to full health by recreating a date they had ages ago.
He rounds a corner and stops short when he hears voices. It sounds like someone's on the verge of an argument. Hikaru doesn't mean to eavesdrop, but he can tell that one of the voices is the captain's, and then there's the doctor's drawl, and when he hears his own name, then Pavel's, he can't help himself. He presses himself to the wall and listens.
"They seem really happy together," says Kirk. Hikaru's eyes widen. He has always thought that his relationship with Pavel was a well-guarded secret, not least because Kirk would have mentioned something to him by now if he knew, demonstrating his legendary nudge-nudge-wink-wink attitude about these things.
He doesn't want to hear the rest of the conversation. He turns and takes an alternate route to the observation deck, trying not to break into a run.
And Pavel is there.
"You came," Hikaru said, and Pavel looks up.
"Of course," he says. He indicates the quilt folded on the floor beside him. "I brought this one. Not the Starfleet issued one. My mama made it."
Hikaru doesn't say anything, just settles by Pavel's side, crossing his legs, and leans his head on Pavel's shoulder. Pavel puts a hand in Hikaru's hair, and Hikaru sighs, and neither one of then move until Pavel reaches for the blanket and wraps it around both of them.
"I'm sorry," Hikaru whispers, turning his head so his lips are pressed against Pavel's neck, just behind his jaw.
"No," says Pavel, "I am."
"No, but I—I know it was an accident. I shouldn't get so upset about them. They're—"
"No, Hikaru. They are not just plants," says Pavel, and Hikaru picks up his head.
"How did you know what I was going to say?" He puts a hand on the back of Pavel's neck. Pavel's hair is getting long, and Hikaru wraps a curl around a finger. He knows Pavel will be cutting it soon, and wants to enjoy it while he can.
"Because," says Pavel, "I know. I know you. I also know it would have hurt you inside to say that, because it is not true, they are not just plants. They are your babies. I know you call them that. I know you love them."
There's a pause, and Hikaru puts his head on Pavel's shoulder.
"I take care of the things I love," he says. "I have to."
Pavel just nods, as if he's waiting for something.
"People, too," Hikaru finally says, and Pavel lets out a breath. "I didn't take care of you. How are your allergies?" He kisses Pavel's neck.
"Fine," says Pavel, and he turns his head and captures Hikaru's mouth with his own, and Hikaru pulls the blanket over their heads.
When they have kissed until they are both short of breath, Hikaru pulls Pavel into his lap and they stare at the stars together.
"I heard Kirk saying we seem really happy together," Hikaru ventures.
"Ah," says Pavel. "So he does know." The stars go on forever, Hikaru thinks, or at least as far as he can fathom.
"We are, aren't we?" Hikaru asks.
"We are," says Pavel, "And we will be." And they keep looking outward together in the same direction.