The rations in the shuttle are disgusting, but there isn’t any other option. The shuttle doesn’t have food synthesizers, and they’re certainly not opening the doors. Pavel can still hear the screams in his head from Lieutenant Terrance and Ensign Renxia as the cloud of orange dust encircled them. It’s horrifying; it’s haunting. Pavel’s still not sure how he and Commander Spock managed to get out of it alive. A fistful of the alien chemical made it into his lungs, and Spock practically coughed up an organ yesterday. (Seeing that was worse, but Spock’s the rock that kept him sure they weren’t doomed.)
Today, they’re not leaving the shuttle for anything. Communications are down and power’s low, but life support should hold until the Enterprise returns in a week. The rendezvous was scheduled back before the seemingly harmless planet turned out to be an infected wasteland, and suddenly the planet’s natural magnesite reserves don’t seem nearly as research-worthy as before. ...And he was so, so excited at first to come down and look... with Mr. Spock, of all people...
For the first few hours, Pavel watched in awe as Spock practically took apart the computer, attempting to patch through for subspace signals. It didn’t work, but it was still fascinating to see. For someone as mathematically inclined as Pavel, it’s hard not to be in awe of someone so wildly intelligent. He looked beautiful in the lulled shuttle light, bent over the beeping console.
Now, Pavel’s sitting up in the front. Spock isn’t working on the computer anymore, and Pavel isn’t about to try—he’s smart enough to know that if Spock can’t fix it, he can’t. He’s staring out the windows, because somehow, he keeps hoping the dust storm will disperse and it’ll be safe to leave. Mainly because it’s boring in here. And a little because he knows he’ll feel foolish returning to the captain with such little data. He chokes down the last of the protein bar and leans forward on the console. Even if the chemicals in the atmosphere leave, it’ll be too risky to go outside. But he can still daydream about different circumstances.
A sharp clatter rings through the shuttle, and Pavel’s bolt upright in seconds. The shuttlecraft’s small—just six seats, three rows of two, a back compartment and nothing else. Spock’s standing in the corner, a metal box at his feet, packaged rations everywhere. He’s got his back to Pavel, broad shoulders tense.
“Commander? Are you alright?”
Spock grunts in an oddly strained voice, “I am fine.”
Pavel slips out of the seat and walks over to help put the rations back into the box. His fingers brush Spock’s once, and he quickly withdraws them, cheeks a little pink. Then he looks up at Spock for some suggestion of what to do with his time—an ensign awaiting orders from a superior officer he more than admires. Spock offers nothing, so Pavel disappointedly goes back to staring vaguely out the window.
Sleeping is an awkward affair. There are no blankets, nothing like a bed, and the floor is hard. Spock is again towards the back, on his side, facing away from Pavel, but it’s hard to see through the darkness they throw the shuttle into. Lights are a drain on power anyway. It’s night outside, but the storm’s still going.
Pavel’s curled up in the front seat, listening to the howl of the wind. It’s uncomfortable. He keeps adjusting. Once, his sleepy, bored head stupidly thinks of wandering over to Spock and curling up next to him. Spock’s probably warm and comfortable. Handsome and comforting. Maybe Pavel could use his strong shoulder for a pillow and nuzzle into his chest. Maybe Spock would stroke Pavel’s curls and pull him close, away from the raging storm outside.
More likely, Spock would send him away and write up a report for when the Enterprise returns, and Pavel would be kicked off the bridge and demoted for being either inappropriate or ‘illogical.’ He probably shouldn’t daydream so much. They don’t often end well.
He takes off his yellow top shirt and bunches it up like a pillow, but then he’s slightly cold and still uncomfortable. Seven days away. That’s not so bad; it’s bearable.
There’s something out there that Pavel doesn’t recognize; a shaky figure through the darkness and hazy, like a giant wolf or a bear. Some alien predator, and he’s sure he sees the glint of giant fangs. But the window’s a little dirty, and it’s hard to tell. He tries to keep his eyes closed, but it’s hard.
It’s shameful to be a Starfleet officer and be afraid of shadows in the night. He swore to the captain he could handle this mission. He’d work hard, learn a lot. He’d be of service to Spock.
Instead he’s tired and lonely and bored and scared.
So he gets out of his chair and heads for one of the ones at the back, behind Spock. He curls up again in the side of it, trapping his balled up shirt between the seat and his head, watching the back of Spock’s head for a few minutes before shutting his eyes. Could a Vulcan take down an alien bear? Would he?
Pavel tries to sleep but spends more time shivering.
In the morning, there’s a blue shirt over him. Spock’s sitting in the left front seat, down to his black undershirt, the thin material stretched tightly against his taut muscles and tensed shoulder blades. Pavel blinks drearily and snuggles under the shirt that’s become his makeshift blanket. It smells like Spock. Spock thought of him. His cheeks are pink again. He calls softly, “Zhank you.”
Spock looks over his shoulder. His gorgeous eyes are darker than usual. He just nods.
Of all the people to get stuck in a shuttle with, Pavel gets the one who won’t talk to him. (And who he’d very much love to talk with—there’d be so much to learn from someone so accomplished. How did Spock come up with the Kobayashi Maru? What are his thoughts on Scotty’s transwarp beaming calculations? Does he have any particular thoughts on the magnesite deposits?) But he doesn’t want to be a nuisance or overstep his place, so he forces himself as quiet as his companion. He assumes if there were any news—hails from the Enterprise or signs of better conditions outside—Spock would tell him.
He drops his head to his knees and dozes back off.
Spock isn’t fine.
They’re eating rations when he springs to his feet, abruptly pacing the length of the shuttle with an aggressive step, with uncharacteristically loud footsteps and fists tight behind his back. He’s breathing harder than usual. His eyes look different. His hair isn’t as neat as it would be if they were on the Enterprise, and it’s lost some of its shine.
At one point, he looks at Pavel and growls. Pavel gulps and asks hesitantly, “Commander?”
Spock just keeps staring at him. On any other occasion, Pavel would love that. Be honoured. Feel special. Eagerly hope something’s about to happen. But Spock doesn’t look right.
Then Spock walks to the back of the ship and kicks the wall hard enough to slightly dent the metal. Pavel physically jumps in his seat. Their medkit was with Ensign Renxia. They should’ve brought Dr. McCoy down. Pavel doesn’t know what’s wrong, but something is. He doesn’t know what he can do about it.
He crosses the ship anyway and puts his hand on Spock’s shoulder. There isn’t any plan, just an innate need to be there for his crewmate.
Spock whirls around and grabs his wrist hard enough to bruise, and Pavel gasps in pain. Spock holds him there, watching him like a wild animal, so very not Spock. Eyes blazing. It’s scary as hell.
“C-commander, you’re... you’re hurting me...”
After another very intense second, Spock seems to struggle with himself, and he lets go. Pavel steps back, cradling his wrist. Spock is practically panting. He looks away and stalks to the front of the ship, hissing, “Stay away from me.” A knot twists in Pavel’s stomach.
Spock doesn’t hiss.
So Pavel listens.
Pavel’s still keeping his distance in the morning. He’s at the back of the ship, Spock in the front. Pavel gave the blue shirt back, but he woke up with it again, and he clings to it as he watches Spock. Spock’s sitting cross-legged on the floor, eyes closed. For a moment, he looks serene again. Meditating. Pavel gets that moment to really look at him. He’s a little thin, but he’s toned too, muscled and full of strength. Handsome and solid. He looks particularly magnificent with the light streaming in through the windows, haloing his silhouette. Pavel’s face grows hot from staring, but he doesn’t look away.
Then Pavel gets a sudden cramp in his leg. He pushes out of the chair as quietly as possible, but he isn’t surprised that Spock looks up. Pavel hides his blushing face by turning and walking to the wall, sitting down against it, and looking aside. The lights in the shuttle are still off, but the sunlight still reaches him.
Spock stands up and walks to the ration packs in the side, pulling out a bottle of water. Pavel’s heart is beating too fast. A part of him wants Spock to come over to him, but another part is full of trepidation; he doesn’t know how to handle Spock right now. Spock takes the water bottle to Pavel and holds it out, and Pavel takes it while Spock settles down next to him. They’re close enough that their shoulders are almost brushing.
“We need to talk,” Spock says. His voice is better than yesterday, but it still isn’t as flat as usual. “It is unlikely the Enterprise will arrive in time. I will do all I can to remedy the situation, but we must be prepared for the likelihood that I will not manage.”
“Zhe situation?” Pavel repeats, closing the bottle again and passing it back. Spock takes it and places it down. He isn’t quite looking at Pavel. Whatever he needs to talk about, it’s clear that Spock doesn’t want to. (But they’re talking, finally talking, and Pavel’s silently ecstatic about it.)
“It is... not something Vulcans discuss. I will have to now out of necessity, but only what I must.” Pavel wasn’t aware there were things the Vulcans didn’t discuss. It seems strange for such a pragmatic people to keep secrets, but then, Pavel’s background is in physics and stellar cartography, not cultural issues. He nods along. “I believe the chemicals on the planet have reacted in my body so as to trigger a neurological imbalance known as pon farr.”
“Pon farr,” Pavel repeats. “...I hawe newer heard of it.”
“You will not have,” Spock replies curtly. “As I stated, we do not discuss it.”
Except that he is. Pavel sits quietly, then goes for more water. He takes another sip, closes the bottle, and puts it back down. That’s when he notices that Spock’s long fingers, usually so elegant and skillful, are in fists, trembling slightly. “Commander...”
“It will plunge me into madness,” Spock continues suddenly. “I will not be myself. I will become violent, destructive, and most likely cause you either grave injury or take your life, something which I would very much like to ensure could not happen. There is no way to know how this chemical may or may not change the process of pon farr, but a typical cycle continues for eight days, wherein my own life will end if certain conditions are not met.”
Pavel’s... speechless. This isn’t at all how he wanted to talk. He opens his mouth, then closes it again. Another attempt, and he manages, “You... you’ll die?”
“If conditions are not met. There is a ritual a Vulcan may engage in to end it, but it too results in the death of one party, and I believe we would be unable to duplicate the conditions in this shuttle, regardless. Another remedy is intensive meditation, which is a far rarer solution that is difficult to master and does not have a particularly high success rate. I have been attempting to stem the condition with meditation, but my progress is not substantial enough for me to believe you are not in danger. As your superior officer, it is my duty to think of your safety.”
Pavel’s eyebrows knit together. His safety? Spock’s the one who’s going to die in eight days, apparently. Or less, if it’s already started. He heard the rest, but... “Are zhose zhe only options?”
“There is a third,” Spock says, “but it is not ideal.” None of this is ideal. When Pavel doesn’t say anything, Spock adds in an oddly begrudging tone, “The third option is to take a mate.”
Pavel’s eyebrows rise to his hairline.
“As I said, it is not ideal.”
Pavel’s throat is dry again. It’s better than the alternative. It’s... mate with Spock. Pavel’s heart is suddenly beating too fast, loud in his ears and colouring his cheeks. He barely misses a beat before he tries to ask, “But it is better zhan you dying—what does it entail? A ceremony? A—”
It’s so, so strange to hear Spock’s voice twisted with emotion, shaking with a distinct lack of control. It’s odd and unnerving, and mildly terrifying. But he cuts Pavel off, snarling, “It is a physical copulation far more intense than any human’s bonding might be, and there is no option in this shuttle other than yourself, which would be unconscionable. It would be a terrible crime to defile an innocent. I will not force myself upon a human child.” When Spock stops talking, he’s breathing very hard again. Pavel wants to say he isn’t a child, but he’s too busy shrinking back. Forcing his voice calmer, Spock adds, “I will continue to attempt meditation. If my condition has not shown recessive signs by tomorrow by the time you awaken, I will have no choice but to lock myself outside of the shuttle in order to assure your safety.”
“But zhen you will—”
“That’s an order, Ensign!” Spock jumps to his feet as he shouts, towering over Pavel like a monster in a fairy tail. Pavel shuts up instantly.
Pavel breathes, “Yes, sir.”
Spock nods and cross the shuttle again.
Things are technically just as boring, but now Pavel has a lot to think about.
He was so excited to be on an away mission like this, on a completely new world, discovering all sorts of things. And he was going to go with the first officer too. The undeniably attractive, ingenious first officer. He’d felt so important.
Now he has hardly any data at all, he didn’t really learn anything, and he might be the only person to survive this mission. Pavel’s a natural optimist, but right now, things are undeniably depressing.
He tries to pass the time looking out the windows and squinting for signs of life, but instead he mostly stares at Spock, meditating in the center of the shuttle. His lashes are against his cheek, perfect hair in slight disarray, high cheekbones hard and tense. His square jaw is fixed firmly shut. His curved lips are about as far from smiling as possible, but then, Pavel’s not sure he’s ever seen Spock smile.
He’s seen a lot of Spock lately, and the more he looks, the more he likes what he sees. He liked it to begin with. That’s not a fact he’s proud of. But despite what everyone seems to think, he is a man, not a boy. And men have urges. Humans have feelings. Spock’s about as good looking as they come. It’s impossible to be trapped in a shuttle with him for so long and not notice his beauty.
The way his long, powerful fingers so skillfully form different symbols, carrying out foreign traditions. The way his broad shoulders rise ever so slightly with his breath, deeper and deeper as the hours pass. The way his pupils dilate when he isn’t meditating, the way his arched eyebrows will furrow together to create an impossibly domineering presence, even more commanding than usual. The way a hint of stubble begins to grow on his chin in the absence of a razor. The way his musk builds in the lack of more than cursory showers. The way he holds himself when he walks, perfectly drawn up and tall, boasting both power and aptitude. The way his eyes flicker over the consoles like it’s a simple piece in a child’s jigsaw puzzle. For all of Pavel’s hard work and talents, Spock has the mind of a genius twice Pavel’s intellect.
Or, he did. Now, he lets Pavel check for transmissions and life signs. When Pavel runs calculations by him, he barely nods. It’s as though the only thing he can hear is the blood thumping in his ears. Just when Pavel forces his admiring gaze aside, Spock gives up on his meditation.
He slumps forward and puts his elbows on his knees, pressing his lips against his fingers, tented in the middle, two fingers from each hand. He watches the floor intently, and the precision on his face radiates an authority that makes Pavel shiver.
Pavel turns to his own reflection in the windows. He’s never been any good at growing facial hair; he’s still clean. He probably won’t grow anything before the Enterprise finds them. Would Spock? Because Pavel likes to think that the Enterprise will save them, in time to stop the pon farr.
“You have been watching me.”
It’s not a question.
Pavel glances shyly over his shoulder, trying not to look as embarrassed as he is. “...Sorry, sir.” But there’s nothing else to look at, and it’s cold in these metal walls, and Spock’s probably warm all over.
And he’s hot. “You have been thinking about what I told you this morning.”
Pavel nods. His throat’s a little dry again. He waits for Spock to continue, but Spock doesn’t. Pavel looks back around, so he won’t have to see Spock when he says this. Tentatively, he mumbles, “Perhaps... if it is zhe only way... I could... I mean, you could, wizh me...”
“No,” Spock growls fiercely. “You are too young.”
“But... but if you’ll die...”
“I would rather die!” Spock shouts. Pavel flinches. He doesn’t turn back around. He never really knew how to handle Spock in the first place. (Although he would’ve liked to learn to—this mission started off so full of hope.) An emotional Spock is even harder.
A part of Pavel is a little hurt and wonders if he’s not good enough to mate with. Perhaps what Spock means is that he’d rather die than touch Pavel. But that’s understandable. Spock dated Lieutenant Uhura once; he probably isn’t even into men. And why would he be into a lowly Ensign like Pavel, inexperienced and inferior? Blue, Pavel says quietly, “I’m sorry, sir.”
Spock goes back to ‘meditating.’
Pavel spends all evening praying the meditation will work. But when he curls up in the chair next to where Spock’s sitting, still cross legged with his hands on his knees, Pavel can see the agony all over Spock’s body. He’s trembling almost violently, and the noises he occasionally makes are akin to a dying horse. It’s horrible to watch.
Pavel desperately wants to stop this. His mind has been wracking for solutions, something else they could do. He’s been through all the supplies on the ship in a last-ditch attempt at a miracle, but there’s nothing he could fashion into help. Nothing that could possibly stop a brain imbalance that Pavel knows nothing about. Nothing that would pacify a violent Vulcan. Spock clearly won’t tell him anything. Pavel feels helpless, and that isn’t a feeling he likes.
There’s sweat on the back of Spock’s neck, peeking between his dark hair and black collar. Pavel’s tired mind can’t help but conjure thoughts of licking it off. Perhaps if he slunk to the floor and sat behind Spock, gave a great massage and made Spock’s muscles relax, Spock wouldn’t be in so much pain. Then he could lick the shell of a pointy ear and whisper that everything will be alright; he’d be happy to be ravished by his handsome commander. Perhaps Spock would relax and ‘physically copulate’ with the mate he needs, feel better and melt into Pavel’s arms.
Or perhaps Spock would be angry with him for interfering with a Vulcan matter and rip his head off. It isn’t some new alien disease, Spock said; it’s a part of Vulcan culture. A part of Spock. And this new Spock is... unpredictable.
But it’s still Spock under there.
Spock, who Pavel’s always looked up to, Spock, who’s always so calm and collected, so proud of being logical, even if he won’t admit it. When Pavel thinks of how this loss of control must feel for a man so normally tight with his emotions, Pavel’s heart breaks.
He desperately wants to give Spock a hug. It probably wouldn’t help. And Spock would hate it—the old Spock and this one alike. And his superior officer gave him an order to stay away.
But he still wants to.
Before he falls asleep, he mumbles to Spock’s shuddering back, “It’ll be okay.”
It’s still dark out when a jarring sound forces his eyes open. For a second, he’s just caught in the hazy remnants of a dream, and then the same sound rings through the little shuttle again. Pavel looks over to where it’s come from, and he shouts before he can stop himself, “Commander, no!”
Spock stops abruptly, head lurching over. His hands stay firmly on the shuttle door, which he seems to be trying to physically pry open. The chemicals outside must have fused it shut.
Pavel doesn’t have time to worry about that. He climbs sleepily out his chair, rubbing at his eyes and muttering, “What are you... what are you doing?”
Level as ever, Spock says, “My condition has not lessened. I must remove myself from your presence before it is too late.” He turns back to the door and resumes pulling with all his might, tensing up and gritting his teeth.
In a flash, Pavel’s bolted over, and he throws himself between Spock and the door without thinking, knocking Spock’s hands aside. “Commander, I won’t let you do zhat! You will die out zhere!”
“I will die anyway!” Spock roars. He takes a step back though, and he’s panting, skin crawling with clear fury, eyebrows down and knit together, boring a hole through Pavel’s chest.
Pavel stomach is tight with fear. He tries to reason, “B-but, perhaps you could meditate more—you said you would wait until zhe morning, zhere are still seweral hours left for you to—”
That’s all he gets out before Spock slams into him, pinning him back to the wall. There are two fingers on his face, light rushing through.