It takes them so long to get to Risa that it becomes a joke between the two of them. There goes Risa again, the message headers say as yet one more clusterfuck cancels their leave and sends them to opposite sides of the galaxy; or, It's not Risa, but…, when they manage to get themselves into the same system even if it's only for a day and one of them has found a place to meet up.
Part of it is that, well, Chris is the captain of a starship and Ash runs Starfleet Intelligence, and it’s a joke trying to align their schedules.
When they finally do get there, it really would have made better sense just to have stayed on Earth, but Chris is nothing if not stubborn and his brain has been latched onto this idea for far too long to let it go just because of practicalities.
Plus, Chris thinks, laying his head back against the seat in the commercial cruiser, Ash never once tried to talk him out of it, so it's on both their heads.
"Still awake?" The seats are close enough that Ash's murmur is perfectly clear even with the hum of the warp drive.
Chris lifts his head up. His eyes are gritty and burning, and his head is pounding from the last rounds of debrief that he'd come directly from. He wants to sleep for a good month or so, but that's not really happening, at least not yet. He gestures at the window and the warp signature outside it.
Ash sighs. "You're going to have to talk to somebody about that at some point."
"Yeah," Chris grunts. "Later. Already had my fill of Fleet doctors."
"Ash." Chris catches his hand. "I'll sleep in-system, on impulse power. The thing with the warp drive and no sleep is just a--thing."
"Kind of a big thing, given what you do for a living."
Chris shrugs. "I'll deal with it later. Right now, I'm on leave." He laces his fingers through Ash's. "With you."
Ash looks at him steadily; Chris sighs. "I mean that--all of it. I will deal with it; later; I'm on leave now."
"Okay," Ash says.
"Okay," Chris answers. He lays his head back again, only this time he keeps hold of Ash’s hand. It’s not enough to let him sleep, but it’s definitely better than being alone.
* * *
They’d had a little less than 36 hours on Starbase 23, not nearly enough time to pull together a relationship, but, Chris thought, enough to make a firm intention to do just that. Plus, as Chris was fond of telling Ash, he was a starship captain and Ash ran Intelligence, so they were clearly focused high-achievers, and it definitely was enough time to figure out that while Chris liked sex a little on the rough side and Ash didn’t, they could walk a fine line and make it spectacularly good for both of them.
After that, Ash made a point to watch the Enterprise's logs closely enough that he could make an educated guess that they'd be docking in the Beta Quadrant for re-provisioning and brief shore leave, and had gotten himself there on the off-chance that Chris might have some free time.
Chris did wrangle a little—less than 24 hours, which wasn’t ideal, but Chris wasn’t going to argue that it wasn’t worth every rushed second. Ash didn't like to be held down and didn't like to be the one holding Chris down, but somewhere in there, they stumbled on the variation of Chris just doing what Ash said and they spent almost the entire time they were together with Chris spread out on the bed, taking what Ash gave him. Most of it was a blur, hours and hours of Ash petting him and teasing him, his mouth and hands all over Chris and Chris not doing anything because that was what Ash told him to do. Chris was half out of his head when Ash had finally leaned close to tell Chris he needed to pick whether he wanted to fuck Ash or be fucked and hadn't let him move until he answered.
It took Chris three tries to get the words out, but then all he had to do was follow what Ash said and he'd been up on his hands and knees with Ash pushing into him almost like a time-skip. Ash had fucked him carefully, one deep, slow stroke after another, talking to Chris the whole time, telling him how good he felt and how incredible it was to have him like that, and Chris had let go and let everything wash over him, Ash's hands holding him steady, Ash's voice whispering and murmuring in his ears, Ash's cock moving in him. When Ash finally decided they could come, he'd gotten Chris off with three fast, rough strokes, his nails dragging fire the length of Chris' cock, and Chris barely had the presence of mind to muffle his howl in his own fist.
The second time they managed time together, Chris was the one who'd gotten himself to a briefing that he was sure Ash would be monitoring. The briefing would have been a complete waste of time, except it got them two days. That part of the trip started with Ash sprawled naked on a bed, jerking himself off while Chris watched, waiting to fuck him until he’d come all over himself. Since it got better from there, Chris didn’t care about the useless briefing.
A few months after that, Ash made another good guess as to where Chris might be. He was right, but Chris hadn't been able to grant leave to the ship's company, and so wasn't taking any himself. That turned out to be okay, though, as they were both in the same system, close enough that communications' lags were negligible, and they could open a video line between their two ships. Somewhat surprisingly, they spent the whole time talking as though they were in the same room, just random conversations as they went about their days. Chris would have bet a fair amount of credit that there would have been some video sex in there somewhere, but it never happened. He was even more surprised that he couldn’t think of any bit of the time they spent together that he would have traded for sex.
The next time after that, they didn’t even make it to a bed.
Chris gave them a little credit for getting the door closed, but he'd barely heard the lock engage before they were all over each other, Ash solid and strong in his arms.
Chris was sure that it was only his twenty years of service that got the blasted uniforms off without tearing them anywhere, but when he forced himself to stop long enough grit out, "Bed," Ash only smiled a sharp, almost vicious smile and answered, "Just fuck me, Pike."
"Ash, wait," Chris started to say, but Ash hissed, "Now, c'mon, I'm good," dragging Chris' hand down so that Chris realized he was good, had gotten himself open and slick.
"You know you want to." Ash's smile sharpened even more as he reached back to brace himself on the decorative, but otherwise useless table next to the door. Given that provocation, Chris knew they were damn lucky the stupid table didn't shatter under them as Ash let Chris push into him in one hard thrust.
Chris very nearly came from just that, from the slick, hot pressure and the thought of Ash waiting for Chris, prepping himself so Chris could do just exactly what he was doing now. Then he sucked in a long, deep breath and held himself still.
"How long did you think about this?" Chris asked, his voice already betraying the strain it was taking to not just fuck Ash through the wall. "Tell me," he insisted when Ash all but growled at him to Move, goddamnit, Christopher. "Please," Chris breathed, pressing in deeper, pushing Ash back further off his feet. They stayed like that for what felt like forever, Chris buried deep and Ash barely balanced and doing his best not to meet Chris' eyes. "Please," Chris repeated.
He wasn't sure exactly where he'd slid from a little bit of talking dirty into what was basically a plea for Ash to trust him, but then, he wasn't exactly sure how any of this had happened either, so he wasn't in completely unfamiliar territory. And he could wait--captains had to be almost as good at waiting out the conversations no one wanted to have as they were at making split-second decisions.
"All day," Ash finally answered, his voice almost inaudible. "All fucking day." He finally turned his head and looked at Chris, his eyes equal parts defiance and resignation, as though he couldn’t not answer, but knew he'd given up an opening and was trying to brace for the attack.
Chris was only going to get one chance to get this right, so he took his time and leaned in slowly to catch Ash’s mouth in a long, deep kiss.
"Then I better get on it," Chris said once he came up for air. He kept his mouth moving, skimming over Ash’s skin, cheekbone to temple and down to his jaw. "Fast or slow, sweetheart?"
"Slow," Ash murmured, tipping his head back so Chris could get to his throat. "So it feels like it's never going to end."
Too bad that’s not happening, Chris couldn’t help thinking, but then shoved the thought back in its Boreth-labeled box at the corner of his conscious mind and did his best to fuck them both to insensibility.
* * *
Chris does manage to nap on the in-system, impulse-driven parts of the trip, so he's not completely out of his head from exhaustion as they finally get to the private, over-water bure they have for the foreseeable future.
The sky is darkening rapidly as they're ushered into the small house, the second sun about to slip under the horizon. Ash hip-checks Chris out onto the lanai to take in the views of the lagoon and the setting sun while he deals with the hovering staff. Chris doesn't argue--he is happy enough to still be standing; it's all for the best that he doesn't have to make any decisions at this point--just takes the hint and lets his momentum carry him up to the railing at the edge of the lanai. He's still standing there, the light breeze perfumed by the tangles of flowers on the deck and back along the shore reminding him with every breath that he is grounded, finally, and against almost all the odds when Ash comes up behind him.
"Please don't fall off this deck," Ash says. "Your crew will hunt me down and tear me to pieces if you drown on my watch now, after everything else."
Chris doesn't answer, but he does lean back and hums wordlessly at how easily Ash moves into him, solid and strong at Chris' back.
"You're about two steps away from purring," Ash says and Chris can hear the smile in his words. He doesn't move away, though, which is all Chris really cares about.
"I might," Chris answers, leaning back a little more, just because he knows Ash won't let him fall, "be a little touch-starved."
"Yeah," Ash sighs, wrapping one arm around Chris and sliding his hand up under Chris' shirt. Chris would groan at how good it feels, but it all gets caught up in his chest. He lays one of his own hands on top of Ash's and that's even better. "Yeah, me, too," Ash says, his beard silky as he kisses his way up the back of Chris' neck.
The last sliver of the second sun disappears beneath the horizon and the quick tropical night rushes in. If Chris thinks about it, he'll be able to pull up the map for the stars he's seeing now, be able to identify them and find the ones he's visited, but that's going to have to wait for another night.
"C'mon," Ash is saying, turning Chris around and steering them both back inside. Chris half-stumbles as they make it into the bedroom, but Ash is still there and they get to the bed without actually falling. Chris can feel sleep dragging him under almost before he hits the mattress, but Ash is right there next to him, so that's not a problem.
* * *
The stupid part of the delay in actually getting to Risa was the part where they spent almost six months fighting over… Chris wasn't exactly sure what, when it was all said and done. It started because he stuck to not wanting to keep their relationship a secret and Ash couldn't let go of him destroying his career, but it spiraled into a nasty, vicious tangle, where every single time they tried to communicate, whether written or over comms or in person, they ended up more furious than when they started. To be fair, Chris could admit that he wasn't used to having to take a second opinion on his personal life into account and he'd probably been a little (or a lot) dismissive. Ash would probably cop to being stubborn and overly pessimistic, too, but none of that actually got said when it might have done some good.
One transmission ended with Chris snarling that Ash could just find the balls to break it off straight up rather than pushing Chris until he was the one who walked. Ash disconnected another one after laughing, somewhere between incredulous and bitter, that Chris and his martyr complex really didn't leave much room for anyone else in a relationship.
It came to a head at a Section 31 briefing with half the captains in the Fleet, including Chris, in physical attendance. The briefing itself went fine; Ash was sharp and cool, refusing to engage on anything other than the topic at hand, but also flicking his eyes contemptuously over the lesser veiled insults so that everyone got the point that he’d heard them, but wasn’t expending any energy on them. Even as furious as Chris was with him personally, he couldn’t help the surge of satisfaction and pride every time it happened.
It was after the briefing when everything fell apart. Chris maneuvered it so that he was the last one in the room--everyone knew he and Ash had a history from the supposed loss of Discovery--and when Ash jerked his head toward the ready room he used as his command center, Chris followed silently behind him.
"You handled that well," Chris said. It came out stiff, almost impersonal, nothing like how he meant it, that Ash was doing a thankless job set forth by politicians jockeying for power and doing it so well they couldn't even see how he was side-stepping their manipulations. For a split-second, he thought he saw a flicker of something like gratification in Ash's eyes, but then it disappeared and Ash was saying shortly, "Yeah, it's amazing how I can actually do the job I've been doing for years."
Chris ground his teeth together. "I didn't mean--"
"No, you never do." Ash's jaw looked as tight as Chris' felt. "I'm guessing the condescension comes standard with the captain's bars?"
Somehow, Chris managed to bite back the snarling answer that would do nothing but inflame the situation further, saying instead, "Why did you ask me back here?"
Ash muttered something in Klingon, which infuriated Chris entirely more than it should have, and he found himself stalking across the room. "Did you have something to say, Commander?"
Ash looked him up and down, and if it wasn't quite with the contempt he'd shown in the meeting, it was close. "No, Captain, I don't."
It hit Chris with a visceral intensity that it had been months since he'd been in the same room with Ash, and not just in the same room, but close enough to see the scrapes on his knuckles and a small, mostly-healed cut high on his cheekbone and know that he didn't have any idea how Ash had gotten them. That, the waste, time he didn’t have, sent a fresh surge of anger through him--mostly directed at himself for not having fixed this stupid fight, but there was enough overflow to catch Ash and the entire aggravating situation in the backwash.
"Ash," Chris said, his voice still harsh from all that free-flowing anger. He swallowed hard and tried again. "Ash, I--"
"One way or the other, Pike," Ash said, short and distant. "Either I'm the junior officer you need to groom up or I'm the toy you pick up when there's nothing else better on offer."
False dichotomy, one very distant, faint part of Chris' brain was saying while the rest of him had gone incandescent with fury that Ash could only see those extremes (and, if he was being honest, that his own behavior was supporting them.)
"Well?" Ash taunted. "It’s not like you not to know the right answer, Captain."
"Toy," Chris snarled. "Fuck knows I don't need another junior officer hanging around."
"What a surprise," Ash all but sneered. His hands were at his shoulders, working at the buttons on his tunic, but he hadn't quite finished with them before Chris got to him and the last few went spinning off to scatter across the room as Chris yanked the tunic up and over Ash's head. He got one hand into the hair at the back of Ash's head, twisted his fingers tight to hold him steady so Chris could bite down his jaw and over to his mouth. Ash met him bite-for-bite there and backed them the last few steps to the desk, getting one hip on it so he was braced and scrubbing the heel of his hand hard down Chris' already hardening cock.
Chris hissed at the sudden pressure, his hips stuttering forward as he pressed closer, his thigh between Ash's, but then Ash had Chris' pants open and his hands on Chris' cock, slapping it back and forth hard enough that Chris nearly howled, but he was never going to be sure if it was from how much it hurt or how good it felt. Ash's mouth was twisted into a bitter smile that said he knew exactly what he was doing to Chris; Chris tightened his fingers in Ash's hair and yanked his head back so he didn't have to see it. Ash only laughed and switched to raking his nails across the head of Chris' cock and that time, Chris did yell, but since he muffled it in a bite to where Ash's neck curved into his shoulder, it didn't really matter.
Ash knew exactly how to push his buttons, but Chris could do the same, pushing him down on the desk, both of Ash's wrists caught in one of Chris' hands so he couldn't reach his cock as Chris fucked him deliberately, stopping whenever Ash got close and holding back his own climax with a furious concentration that, when it broke, left him half-blind with want.
That one part of Chris brain reminded him that Ash really didn't like it rough, but Chris did and he was too far gone to stop and try to figure out why Ash was deliberately goading him, at least not until he was back on board the Enterprise, staring bleakly at himself in the mirror.