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Eight hours until he has to be up for work and Pavel is still wide awake. He's watching Scotty sleep. He does that a lot, enough to make him wonder about his own sanity at times. He doesn't know why he does it. It's a little creepy, watching someone sleep. Or romantic. Scotty would probably think the latter. Pavel is amazed at how often those two concepts overlap.

The lights in Scotty's bedroom are dimmed to what Scotty calls Shag Lighting, the setting he usually uses when things get intimate. It's enough to see properly but low enough to allow sleep, which is why Scotty forgot to turn the lights off after he and Pavel settled down for the night. Or perhaps he knows, perhaps he left them on deliberately. He certainly knows it takes Pavel longer to fall asleep than it does him, that's no secret. But the idea that he knows what Pavel does before falling asleep… that makes Pavel uncomfortable.

Well, Scotty's asleep now, so it's safe to examine his features, which are smoothed out by the soft light. And gravity; Scotty is lying on his back. He doesn't look his age anyway, but he looks even younger now. Pavel has seen pictures of him when he was younger. He was a pretty teenager, gawky and lanky like Pavel, with a sweet, boyishly innocent face but a quirky mischief in his eyes and smile. More than one of those pictures had a busy pub as its backdrop. Pavel thinks about that younger man a lot, wonders how they'd have gotten along if they'd been the same age at the same time.

He wonders if Scotty has thoughts like this about him, about the many years of Pavel's life before they'd met, or even what Pavel might be doing during the hours they spend apart.

Not that Pavel would want to have met Scotty at a different age. He suspects he'd fit into a younger Scotty's life even less than he does now. Besides he likes that Scotty's older. He isn't like men Pavel's age. He knows who he is. When he's confident, it's a confidence that he's earned. Men closer to Pavel's age are too much like Pavel himself; buzzing with often unfocused energy, a little too sure of themselves when they've no cause to be. He knows he can be annoying, he just can't help it sometimes. He's in awe of Scotty's patience with him.

He places a few gentle pecks on Scotty's mouth and then puts his head down to nudge his face against Scotty's neck. Scotty doesn't stir, merely exhales a little sigh and goes quiet again.

He nips at Scotty's neck. It's almost involuntary. Being this close, wrapped in the warmth and scent of Scotty's sleepy, post-coital body, always leaves Pavel feeling cuddly and needy and embarrassingly in love. He picks a spot on Scotty's throat and sucks it, but only a bit. He can't leave marks. Officers can't go around with hickies, especially officers who are already suspected of sleeping with certain younger officers. Or certain younger officer singular; Scotty hasn't made a habit of this as far as Pavel knows.

He wonders if Scotty knows people are talking. Pavel's heard the gossip. He wouldn't even care, if the gossip wasn't so cynical. Is it really so difficult to believe that Pavel might genuinely be attracted to Scotty? People are strange. He vacillates between not caring what they think and caring far too much. Half the time, he wishes he could prove them wrong somehow, show them how things really are. The other half, he's glad the relationship is still technically a secret. It's nobody else's business.

He's even glad there are some aspects of it that Scotty never sees. Like this, when Pavel lets his guard down and gazes at him and unabashedly cuddles him. The fact is, Pavel is very sure that things aren't altogether equal in this relationship, if that is what they're calling it (and he isn't sure they are). He wants Scotty more than Scotty wants him. Scotty's never said so, but he doesn't have to. He's older, has different priorities. Pavel does his best to act like it doesn't bother him. He's nonchalant when one or both of them are too busy to get together. He acts cool when Scotty kisses him goodbye, in the hopes that indifference will somehow even the playing field. Yes, there are times when he can actually control his annoying, childish impulses.

He hugs Scotty now and thinks about what he's gotten himself into. This isn't what he'd joined Starfleet for. This isn't what he'd worked so hard for. He wasn't supposed to have fallen in love so soon, and certainly not with someone twice his age. He wasn't supposed to be riddled with anxiety about a relationship that might not even be a relationship. He'd had a plan, spanning the next twenty years of his life. At this stage he was supposed to be focused on work, on promotions and learning as much as he could.

Well, that was what some thought he was doing here with Scotty anyway, wasn't it? Working on getting promoted.

That definitely wasn't supposed to have happened to Pavel; the rumors. He's an awkward nerd, despite his confident act. He's nothing to be gossiped about. What the hell had happened to his life?

He raises his head again to look at Scotty's peaceful face. He's terribly cute. Pavel can't even be angry that the man has turned his entire world upside down and goes on slumbering like nothing's wrong. He strokes Scotty's cheek. Scotty merely wrinkles his nose at the disturbance. Adorable. Overcome with need, Pavel goes for his neck again, sucks and licks and bites and smells him. He snuggles against Scotty's naked body, his own bare groin mashed against Scotty's thigh.

"Sulu to Ensign Chekov," says Hikaru's voice from above.

Pavel's eyes fly open. He pulls his mouth off Scotty's skin and freezes, afraid to rustle the sheets, afraid Scotty will wake and make a noise. "Chekov here," he says cautiously, slowly sitting up.

"Hey, was just wondering if we're still on for poker tomorrow."

Pavel relaxes a bit. He's not sure what he'd expected Hikaru to say. "Yes, I will be there."

"Cool. Sorry to bother you so late. I was too busy earlier, figured I'd catch up with you later, then got caught up doing other things and almost forgot."

"It is okay, I wasn't asleep. Sorry I disappeared."

"No problem. Are you… can you talk?"

Pavel glances back at Scotty; he's still dead to the world. "Yes."

"Good. So, um… you don't have to tell me where you are. But you know you can if you want to, right?"

Pavel hesitates. "Does it matter where I am?"

"No. It's just that it's late and you're not in your quarters. Or any of your usual haunts. And that's increasingly been the case lately. I was going to ask the computer where you were, but… I know I'm not supposed to know."

Pavel is quiet for a moment and winces at the little stab of guilt he feels in his chest.

"I didn't really need to speak to you face to face, so asking the computer felt like an intrusion," Hikaru adds.

"I was going to tell you."

"No, it's not a big deal. It's none of my business, I know that. You had to keep things quiet. I get that. I just wanted to make sure you didn't feel like you couldn't tell me. I'm not everybody else, you know?"

Pavel nods even though Hikaru can't see him. He doesn't want to admit that the reason he hasn't said anything is because he's still not sure where he stands with Scotty. No matter how he phrases that, it's going to sound like a) he doesn't trust Hikaru and b) he's in over his head. The former isn't the case at all, and he'd rather not admit the latter to anyone. "I know. It wasn't you. I just wasn't sure I should say anything to anyone yet."

"I figured. So, is it serious? With him?"

Pavel hesitates. He isn't sure what the answer to that should be. "Yes, I think so."

"You're happy, right?"

Pavel smiles. Rather than be annoyed that Pavel kept secrets, or disapproving of Scotty's age, Hikaru's just concerned about Pavel's happiness. "Yes."

"Good. I'm happy for you," Hikaru replies with a little extra warmth in his already mellow voice.

"We can talk more tomorrow if you want," Pavel offers. He realizes that he wants that very much, to be able to talk about his relationship, no matter where he stands within it.

"I'd like that. See you tomorrow. Sulu out."

The connection drops and Hikaru is gone. Pavel sits there smiling to himself and wishing he'd been more open with his best friend before now.

"D'you say something, pet?" says Scotty's groggy voice. Pavel twists around to look at him; his eyes are open and blinking sleepily at Pavel. "Thought I heard voices," he adds, reaching out and petting Pavel's back. "Wouldn't be the first time, but since I'm not drunk I figured they might be real."

"Hikaru," Pavel explains. He goes back to lie with Scotty, who envelopes him in his arms. "Making sure we are still getting together tomorrow."

"Ah. You've been awake this whole time, haven't you?" Scotty asks. His voice is low and soft. It's down to the almost gravelly register it hits when he's relaxed. It reverberates around in Pavel's lower belly, teasing at his cock.

"Yes," Pavel admits.

"Watching me sleep."

Pavel tenses. "I don't do that."

Scotty kisses his head and whispers into his messy curls, "When are you gonna relax around me, hm?"

"What do you mean 'relax'?"

"It's like you think if I see too much of you, it'll put me off."

Pavel stays quiet.

"I wonder why you worry so much, you know. I wonder what you think about that makes your fingers do that nervous tapping thing. I wonder if you're like this when you're alone."

Pavel looks up at him. "You do?"

"Sure, I do. I…" Scotty pauses, raises his hand to his throat. "Were you sucking my neck?"

Pavel tenses more. "A little."

Scotty chuckles. "Bloody hell, you really went at it, didn't you? Bit sore there now."

Pavel looks at the spot he was working on and almost gasps. He's left a mark. It's not too bad; he didn't even notice it until now, but if it's noticeable at all in Scotty's Shag Lighting, it'll be even more so in normal light. And Pavel doesn't think Scotty's uniform collar will cover it. "Shit, there is a spot there now," he grumbles, putting his head down again. "I didn't mean to do that, I just…" He sighs and trails off, frustrated that he can't finish the sentence without sounding like a needy child, frustrated at the momentary loss of control that put that mark on Scotty's neck.

"It's all right, nothing to worry yourself over," Scotty assures him. "I'd love to have a look at the damage, but getting out of this bed doesn't appeal to me at the moment."

"They can probably do something about it in Sickbay."

"Dr. McCoy can cure a great many ailments, but laziness isn't one of them, love."

"No, the bruise."

"Oh, that. No bother, it's not that big a deal."

"But someone will see it."

"So what?"

Pavel looks at him again. "You… you don't care?"

"Why should I? I'm a grown man, I'm allowed a hickey now and then."

"But people will talk. They already think…"

Scotty frowns. "What?"

"Nothing."

Scotty's expression darkens. "Someone's said something to you, haven't they?"

Pavel avoids his eyes. "No. Not directly."

"Hey. Look at me."

Pavel obeys, but he'd rather not. He doesn't want to see it, the moment of realization when Scotty finally figures out this relationship, or whatever it is, isn't worth the hassle.

"Who's been troubling you?" Scotty asks.

"No one," Pavel insists with an annoyed frown. "People talk, it is what they do."

Scotty looks thoughtful, but not surprised.

"Have you heard things?" Pavel asks.

Scotty shrugs. "A snippet here and there. Apparently, I'm going through an early midlife crisis, at least according to the Enterprise grapevine. And you…" He hesitates. He doesn't want to say it. Pavel doesn't particularly want to hear it, but it's not like he doesn't already know.

"Say it," Pavel urges gravely.

There's tension in Scotty's brow and jaw as he takes a breath and says, "They think that you're, um… ambitious, if you catch my meaning. That you're using things other than your brains to get ahead." He pauses to clench his jaw in frustration. "Gets me right fired up when I hear things like that about you. Didn't think it'd gotten back to you, though. Wish I knew who the filthy bugger was. One of my men in Engineering gave me a heads up about the gossip, but he refused to finger anyone. 'Spose I can respect that." He looks at Pavel sidelong. "How about you? You wanna name names?"

Pavel looks alarmed at that. "No. What good will that do? What will you do about it, tell on them?"

Scotty's frown intensifies. "If anyone says anything directly to you, or deliberately in your presence, you tell me, understand?"

"Why?"

"Because they'll be reprimanded. By me."

"You can't do that. It will only make things worse."

"So what? Gossip like that about fellow officers, about a senior officer at that, is unacceptable. Right unprofessional, that. That's not how Starfleet carries on. Besides, anybody who fucks with you is fucking with me."

Pavel's mind reels. "But if you come to my defense, don't you think –"

"That that's as good as confirming the rumors? Maybe. What of it?"

"…That doesn't bother you?"

"No. You're of age now, we can confirm it if we want. Oh, shit, by the way, um… we probably should've disclosed the relationship months ago, yeah?"

"Disclose…"

"To the Captain. It's procedure."

"Yes, I know that, but you… you want to do that?"

"Yeah. Unless you don't."

"I want to. I mean if you do."

"Why wouldn't I?"

Pavel shrugs and mumbles, "I wasn't sure."

Scotty scrutinizes him for a moment, looking mildly confused, but then his features relax as something dawns on him. A second later his expression turns regretful, even pitying. None of these expressions make Pavel very comfortable.

"What?" he grumbles, frowning and dropping his gaze to Scotty's chest.

"The fact you're still not sure how I feel means I've been a bit of a prick about things. I don't know why I'm surprised. I never said anything about it, so how could you possibly know? You're such a smart thing, I guess I half expected you to read my mind."

Pavel looks sheepishly at him. "How do you feel?"

"Like I'm ready to bloody well tell everyone what's going on and to fuck off if they've got a problem with it. I'm sorry, love, didn't mean to make you wonder. But this is what I was talking about. I know I should be taking my own advice here, but you keep all this shit inside you instead of just coming out with it. We could've had this conversation before now. "

"Okay," Pavel says distractedly, trying to figure something out. "I worry too much, I get it, but why would you not say anything?"

Scotty sighs. "I dunno. Thought maybe you'd…" He trails off, seeming to second guess his own words.

"What?" Pavel urges.

"I suppose I thought maybe you'd say you didn't want things to change, that you were happy sneaking around."

"And… that would have been bad?"

"Well, yeah," Scotty admits sheepishly, drawing random shapes on Pavel's back with his finger. "Didn't want to scare you off with talk of moving things forward."

Pavel stares at him, stunned. "You didn't want to scare me…"

"And you didn't want to scare me," Scotty guesses. "That why you hide yourself all the time? I thought you were just keeping your distance so as not to, I dunno, get too involved."

A little something inside Pavel's chest aches as the full impact of his silly games begins to hit him. "You thought I didn't want you?" he asks quietly.

Scotty gives him a sad smile and admits, "Not as much as I want you. Oh, don't look like that, pet, it's not that serious, is it? We're just a couple of idiots, that's all. This is just proof we deserve each other."

Pavel allows himself a small smile, even though he's still reeling.

"You have to understand, me being older and all, sometimes it's a bit odd for me. What would that look like, some pervy old sod desperate for the attention of some indifferent young thing? A bit pathetic, that."

That makes Pavel feel even more off kilter. This whole time he and Scotty had been feeling the same thing. "There is nothing pathetic about you," Pavel assures him. "Pervy, however…"

Scotty laughs, a deep sort of laugh, the kind that lifts weight from shoulders. He looks happy and relaxed again when his laughter subsides, but Pavel is still thinking too much.

"Did the gossip get to you?" he asks. "I know you don't like what they are saying about me, but what about what they are saying about you?"

"Nah, I don't care about that. You know how people are, just looking for something to be cynical about. It was your opinion of me I was concerned with."

Pavel thinks about all the times he'd put on an air of indifference, all the times he chose to keep things to himself rather than talk to the man whose bed he shares. Just when he'd thought those instances served as proof that he could control his childish impulses…

There's only one thing he can think of to say now, something he's been putting off because saying it would make him vulnerable. It's basically a question, the question, and if he doesn't get the answer he wants, where does that leave him?

But he realizes now that it's not just about him.

He takes a breath and just spits it out, quickly before he can think himself out of it: "I love you. And I am sorry that I kept that from you. I was selfish. And scared. I thought I was doing us both a favor by not saying it."

Scotty smiles. The smile is in his eyes now too. Pavel can see it even in the semi-dark, how the smile seems to seep into the happy little lines around Scotty's eyes. "Same," Scotty replies.

Is that it? The answer Pavel wants? He isn't sure. "Same?"

"Yeah, everything you just said. I was doing the same."

Pavel stares, blinks.

"I love you too, is what I'm saying."

There it is. "Oh!" he exclaims. He smiles with a mixture of embarrassment, relief and happiness. "Right, yes. I mean thank you. No, that isn't what I mean. What I mean to say is…" He stops himself, and thinking it best that he stop talking altogether he shuts his mouth and hugs Scotty instead.

"So, what do you say?" Scotty asks. "Ready to let the Captain know what's going on? I suspect he already has an inkling. Sharp as a whip, that one. Don't tell him I said that, though. Besides, you've already gone and marked me as your own, haven't you?"

Pavel raises his head again. "What?"

Scotty points to the little red bruise on his neck. Pavel blushes and hopes it's too dark for Scotty to notice.

"I swear I didn't do that on purpose," Pavel says.

"I know. You keep things all bottled up, they're bound to come out in other ways. Besides, it's fine. You thinking of me as yours is something I can get behind. You're right, though," he adds, feeling the sore spot's position on his neck. "It's gonna be seen tomorrow. Too bloody bad I don't give a shit."

Pavel's laugh snorts a bit on its way out. He cuddles into Scotty's embrace again. "It is unprofessional to walk around with hickies showing."

"Now, now, you can't be saying things like that to me. You know it just makes me want to be defiant for the hell of it."

Pavel does know that, but that honestly hadn't been his intention. Now that Scotty's mentioned it, however, Pavel's beginning to feel a little defiant himself. With a mischievous giggle, he nestles his mouth against Scotty's neck and goes for the red spot again. Scotty's contented chuckle quickly turns to soft, breathy moans as Pavel sucks hard. Scotty hugs him tight, encourages him with a hand on the back of his head. His body moves against Pavel's, his thigh lodging securely between Pavel's legs to provide much needed friction. He must feel the slow, hot swell of firmness between Pavel's legs. He himself isn't so quick to recover from their last session, but Pavel's body seems ready for round three.

"That's it, good lad," Scotty says, his voice now a low, husky rumble. "Show those fuckers who I belong to."

Those words send a surge of arousal south inside Pavel's body. His cock throbs. He slides halfway up on top of Scotty and begins riding his thigh. Scotty's words have the added effect of turning Pavel's playfulness into determination and righteous indignation. Every moan from Scotty's throat is like Scotty egging him on. Show them, Pavel thinks.

Pavel gives him one last hard suck, then pulls his mouth away. His grinding slows as he has a quick look at the area. It's as red as it's going to get, looks angry and even painful, even in the dim light. He licks and kisses tenderly at it as though trying to soothe it.

"That's my boy," Scotty whispers. "How bad is it now?"

"Pretty bad."

"Good. I'll wear it with pride. Lie down for me."

Pavel slides off him and lies on his back. Scotty rolls onto his side and cuddles Pavel close with an arm around his shoulders. He licks his other hand and moves it down beneath the covers. A warm, wet, firm grip wraps around Pavel's shaft, squeezes and strokes and makes Pavel's mind go blank. Scotty's lips meet his and they kiss deeply until Pavel is panting. The swell of pleasure behind his groin makes him thrust his hips up, fucking into Scotty's fist, and Scotty's low voice in his ear makes that pleasure pulse hotter.

"Come on, lovely," Scotty says. "Let it all out. Everything you keep hidden, let me see it now."

Even in his dazed pre-orgasm state, Pavel isn't sure that's a good idea. But his defenses are weak, and when Scotty adds in a whisper, "Share it with me, love, I want all of you," that's enough to push Pavel over the edge. That hot pulsing behind his groin swells even more and finally bursts. As he spills wet, hot streaks across his belly, his arms go around Scotty's neck to cling. He buries his face against Scotty's shoulder, needing to be close. He feels young and vulnerable and he hates it, but if Scotty wants to see it, Pavel won't hide it from him anymore.

He shudders in Scotty's arms. Scotty holds on tighter and milks every drop out of him, murmuring, "That's my boy." When Pavel is empty and his body sags, Scotty keeps him close, still cuddling. Pavel waits, quiet, catching his breath.

"You all right?" Scotty finally asks.

"Yes."

"When you're quiet like this, I know there's some deep thinking going on. Still not sure if that's good or bad."

Pavel looks up at him, examines him a moment and asks, "Don't you think about being with someone your own age sometimes?"

Scotty looks momentarily surprised by the question. "No."

"You don't think it would be easier?"

"I dunno. Every relationship has its challenges. There something you've been wanting to tell me?"

Pavel hesitates, but finally admits, "I don't like what people are saying about you and they wouldn't be saying it if you weren't with me."

Scotty's expression softens. Once again Pavel isn't sure he likes what he's seeing on Scotty's face. It looks too much like pity.

"You know, when you're with the right person, it suddenly becomes worth it to put up with all the rubbish that comes with relationships," Scotty explains. He then turns away to grab tissues. He cleans Pavel's belly, his cock, and his own hand. When he's finished, he pulls the covers up to their shoulders and pulls Pavel into a warm, secure embrace. "I never think about breaking up with you," he goes on in a whisper. "At least not because you're a burden to me. You're not. I suppose, after our earlier conversation, I don't need to tell you that sometimes I wonder if I'm not a burden to you."

"You're not," Pavel whispers back. He speaks softly, but there's a fierceness bubbling inside him. He has to push it down before it brings his anger up to shatter his afterglow. He could rant about his gossipy coworkers all night, how they've influenced his relationship and shaken the confidence of this genius man in his arms. But seething about it won't change it and he doesn't want to ruin this moment.

He hugs Scotty tighter and kisses his chest over and over as though his kisses can somehow punctuate his words. He feels Scotty's arms tighten around him too, just for a moment, and if it's possible to feel contentment radiating from a person, Pavel is sure he feels it from Scotty now.

"I never gave you the chance to answer my question," Scotty says.

It takes Pavel's foggy post-orgasm brain a moment to remember, but a quick rewind of the night's conversation tells him which question Scotty means. "Yes, I would like to disclose the relationship. If you do."

"I do. I'm not much for hiding. Not that sneaking around wasn't fun for a while, but we're past that now." Scotty kisses Pavel's head, then says, "Computer, lights!"

The room goes black. It's the kind of absolute darkness that feels claustrophobic and presses in on the eyes. Pavel couldn't watch Scotty sleep now if he wanted to. But he can hear Scotty breathing, hear his heartbeat in his chest. He can feel arms around him, hands caressing his skin until they slow and then stop and Scotty's breaths grow deeper. He can't see Scotty now, but it's okay, because now Scotty feels closer than he ever has before.

END