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Always Coming Home

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“Do NOT hit on the Vulcan envoy,” hisses Da Qing out of the side of his mouth a split second after the Vulcan envoy coalesces from a spangle of golden dust into a startlingly beautiful figure standing straight and solitary on the transporter dais, his face haloed by the hood of a long black cloak.

Yunlan’s appreciative gaze darts automatically from Envoy Shen’s perfect eyebrows to the delicate mouth and slides all the way down to the demure tips of his toes before returning to the face once again, and Da Qing, watching him, groans.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Yunlan lies, sotto voce, striding forward with his shoulders squared and an expression of professional captainly welcome plastered onto his face. Granted Da Qing has known him since he was a scruffy first year cadet, and granted Zhao Yunlan may have gathered a bit of a reputation for himself at the Academy, being that his taste in partners is diverse and his enthusiasm for experimentation is boundless, but that was then, and this is now. He’s the Captain of the Empire-Class starship 事业, for fuck’s sakes, not a horny kid given to multi-species threesomes in the astro-nav labs. He is perfectly capable of keeping it in his pants, thank you very much. This is work. He’s a professional.

“Welcome aboard, Envoy Shen,” says Zhao Yunlan sunnily; such a pleasant change, when the random bigwigs they’re supposed to ferry around are young and ornamental. But the Envoy is standing stock still on the dais, staring at him like he’s speaking in tongues. Yunlan’s eyebrows fly up, and he pulls a quizzical face, then smiles again, uncertainly. He’s rather terrible at some aspects of diplomacy, he’s well aware, but he’s always been good at charming people when he wants to make an effort, and he certainly wants the beautiful envoy to like him, even if he isn’t planning to cause any kind of scandal. He doesn’t know quite how to parse the thunderstruck expression on the Vulcan’s face - in fact he rather thinks that this is the first time he’s seen ANY expression on a Vulcan’s face, and that includes the face of the visiting ethics lecturer who had clearly hated his guts. It’s a stereotype, calling Vulcans logical or inscrutable, but it’s a stereotype *for a reason*. And right now Envoy Shen is staring at him with an expression of unguarded astonishment and - vulnerability? - and something intense and desperate that Zhao Yunlan has absolutely no idea what to do with.

And he still hasn’t taken a step forward.

Zhao Yunlan hurries up the steps, trying to figure out how things have already gone wrong, and he’s somehow so flustered by the envoy’s burning glance that he reflexively sticks his hand out in greeting, for all the world as though the man were human.

There’s a tiny, frozen moment of awkwardness as the envoy’s gaze drops to his outstretched hand and Yunlan realises his mistake: Vulcans don’t shake hands. Famously. Day One of Interspecies Relations 101 at the Academy starts out with an analysis of the extremely messy historical results of this misunderstanding, and Yunlan can’t quite recall whether it’s cultural or actually physiological, but he DOES remember his lecturer emphasising that grabbing a Vulcan’s hand is roughly equivalent to sticking your tongue down their throat, and giving their butt cheek a lingering squeeze. Really not an appropriate polite formal greeting for a stranger.

Shit.

All of this rushes through his mind in a mortified split second after he’s reflexively offered his hand in greeting and seen Envoy Shen’s beautiful eyes widen, and he’s hastily pulling his hand away and trying to think of some way to convert the clumsy gesture into something smooth and culturally appropriate like the Vulcan Salute when the envoy steps - almost lunges - forward, and clasps his hand tightly.

Da Qing makes a strangled noise behind them, but Zhao Yunlan ignores him. Zhao Yunlan ignores everything except the warm, steely pressure of the envoy’s fingers wrapped around his own, and the suffused, wild-eyed look on the envoy’s face. This feels momentous in a way that Zhao Yunlan has no idea what to do with, and his uniform pants are starting to feel uncomfortably constricted right about now, and he hasn’t a clue how his morning went from business as usual to pulse-racing and breathless in the space of a few seconds. The envoy’s thumb slides against his own in a delicate, circling motion and his fingers squeeze tighter. Zhao Yunlan licks his lips, and is acutely conscious of the way that the envoy’s gaze darts down to follow the movement.

“I am Captain Zhao,” Zhao Yunlan says, his voice little ragged, because “Holy shit are we basically groping one another in the middle of the transporter room, what the FUCK is going on here?” just wouldn’t be very captain-like. He swallows, and glances down at their interlocked hands helplessly; the envoy’s hand is clutching him in a grip so hard he can feel his bones pressing together; he’s clutching him as if Zhao Yunlan is the only spar of driftwood in a dark and icy sea, and the envoy is a drowning man. “Um…” Yunlan adds. The envoy follows his gaze and an expression of embarrassment floods his face - and within thirty seconds he’s already seen more emotions on Envoy Shen’s face than on the faces of every Vulcan he has ever met added together. More emotions than any Vulcan is willing to admit they even experience.

The envoy lets go of Yunlan’s hand, looking like it almost pains him to do so.

“Envoy Shen is very kind to honour me with such a greeting,” Yunlan says, winging it desperately. “Truly he is a sophisticated diplomat, to adapt to human customs so generously, despite the discomfort.”

Envoy Shen swallows. His voice, when he speaks, has a little rasp to it that raises goosebumps on Zhao Yunan’s flesh. “I am...familiar with human rituals,” he says, looking down as if this is a shameful confession and then glancing up through his eyelashes as though it is a genuine hardship to look away from Zhao Yunlan’s face.

“I see,” says Yunlan, who doesn’t see at all. He nods, like this is all perfectly fine. “Please allow me to introduce Mr Da, my First Officer.”

Da Qing steps forward and spreads his furry paw into a Caitian approximation of the Vulcan Salute, as if he’s modelling what Yunlan SHOULD have done in the first place.

“Welcome aboard, sir,” says Da Qing, pretending he isn’t a sassy asshole. “Live Long And Prosper.”

The Envoy returns the greeting.

Zhao Yunlan’s hand is still tingling.

“Please come this way, Envoy Shen,” says Da Qing, gesturing towards the doors and darting a glance at Yunlan that very clearly telegraphs ‘get it together for fuck’s sake’. Yunlan mentally smacks himself, and then glances back at Envoy Shen.

The envoy’s dark eyes snag his gaze, and the Vulcan’s calm mask cracks again, just a little, his lips twitching from their cool line into a tiny half-hidden smile that is, by Vulcan standards, basically grinning like an idiot. His cheeks are flushing a delicate shade, like shaved ice drizzled with pandan liquor, and somehow, bafflingly, he's still looking at Zhao Yunlan as if he's the most extraordinary, unexpected and perfect thing in the universe.

Oh, good GRIEF, Zhao Yunlan is in so much trouble.