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Reflected Light Is Still A Straight Line

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--

Chris walks the ship at night.

He’s never been one of the “weird” captains—the kind that cadets tell each other stories about. Like Captain Lin, who liked breaking into the ship’s galley in the middle of the night to bake tray after tray of muffins, then threw them out before anyone could have a taste. Or Captain Marceaux, who insisted that all of his senior officers practice knitting, presented them with a set of needles when they first came on board, and regularly checked on their progress. Or Captain Ottaria, who was obsessed with quoting the Federation Charta in every conversation.

No, Chris has always been “the normal one”—the “textbook definition of a Starfleet captain,” one of his superiors had once called him with no small amount of irony. Chris has been fine with it, being known as reliable to the point of boring. His missions aren’t boring, and the results he brings even less so. He knows the brass still holds him up as a living model of what “proper” Starfleet looks like, and he can't complain. It might not sound glamorous, but it’s not the worst thing in the world.

Sitting out the war changes that; not so much the act as the reason. Hell, Admiral Cornwell practically throws it in his face. “If we lost, and Starfleet was to survive, we wanted it to be you.” He gets what she’s trying to say, he does; yet, aware as he is of his pedestal, he’s never enjoyed being a mascot.

Being in temporary command of the Discovery changes it even more. Despite any number of highly dangerous and complicated missions he’d drawn in the past, it had never been something like this. It’s like he’d been living under some kind of protective dome his whole life, shielded from the darker tones of life’s spectrums. Whatever it was, it’s broken now, and he can’t undo what he’s done, or unknow what he knows. It puts every decision he’s ever made in a new and troubling perspective.

So, Chris walks the ship. In the middle of the night, when everyone not on gamma shift is sleeping in their quarters, when Chris should be sleeping, too. He makes the effort; goes through the motions. Showers, changes for bed, lies down. Then, he gets up, steps through the door, and walks.

The Enterprise is a big ship. Compared to the limited, almost intimate space of the Discovery, where most of the crew had to share quarters, the Enterprise is a palace, complete with a pool, three observation decks, and an arboretum. It’s lot of space to get lost in.

Chris walks her decks and corridors without purpose or destination. Not every night, but enough to be spotted a few times. He wonders if he looks like a ghost to them, an oddity in his non-regulation sleepwear, barefoot and rumpled, like a teenager forty years late for a sleepover. No one ever says anything, his crew respects him too much, but Chris knows. It’s happened; he’s officially one of the “weird” ones now. Strangely, it doesn’t seem to bother him as much as he thought it would.

--

The lower observation deck is usually not as popular as the upper two, certainly not mid-gamma, but tonight, Chris isn’t the first visitor here. He takes in the dark figure kneeling on the deck, right in front of the viewport, and feels his heart do something strange inside his chest—not quite a blip, yet something disquieting. For the first time, Chris thinks there might have been a reason why his previous excursions had never brought him to this particular spot before. Some part of him must have known that he’s not the only one who’s developed a new routine.

He hesitates, but realizes within a moment that it’s silly. No doubt his presence is known, and whatever disturbance it may have created, the damage is already done. Still, he tries not to make too much noise as he comes closer, sitting cross-legged on the deck. He won’t be able to hold this position for long, he knows. He has no idea how people find it comfortable.

Spock is also out of uniform, wearing something dark, as if trying not to disturb the low-lit ambience. His back is almost perfectly straight, the line of his shoulders tight even under the soft fabric. He’s gazing at the stars, his eyes a perfect mirror, reflecting everything back, holding on to nothing.

Chris is struck with sudden premonition—a veritable curse since his visit to Boreth. He can see Spock doing this—sitting here, just like this—years into the future. Someone else discovering him, having no context for it, taking it as something that has always been a part of Spock, never knowing where it came from. Spock never enlightening them. For once, it wouldn’t be out of stubbornness or reticence. There is simply no explaining this context unless it’s been lived.

“You are troubled,” Spock states quietly, not looking away from the view.

It’s such a Spock thing to say, too, drawing an involuntary smile from Chris. For anyone else, it’d be stating the obvious, but Spock never wastes time with that. For him, it’s an invitation. Chris has one of his own.

“So are you.”

There’s a tiny, almost intangible shift in Spock. Chris can almost see it—the reflexive denial rising, then dropping instantly in view of the obvious truth. Part of him marvels that he knows Spock well enough to read that, their shared history compressed and transmuted into subliminal knowledge, giving Chris unprecedented access.

Spock must sense it, too, because he shares, albeit slowly, “Meditation is proving to be ineffective. The emotional… residue... persists.”

Chris nods. “It’s hard to let go when you don’t want to.”

Spock’s posture thaws some more, and he turns to look at Chris, letting go of the reflected light. Chris almost wishes he hadn’t. He feels trapped, pinned in place. There is nowhere else in the universe he’d rather be, and yet he’s praying for an escape. His skin prickles, and he wants to tug at his collar.

“Do you ever wish”—Spock’s tone is low, soft, the incredible depth of his voice all the more effective for it—“that you did not know the future?”

Chris closes his eyes. He can’t be surprised that Spock knows; their shared history goes both ways. It was a mistake to forget that Spock can read him, too, just because he chooses not to remind Chris too often.

“Yes.” Chris exhales, then shakes his head. “But… no. It changed me. Even if I forgot, I—I can’t go back to being the way I was.”

His eyes fly open, startled, when he feels a gentle touch to the back of his hand.

“It appears we concur on this matter.”

Chris swallows, looks down at Spock’s hand covering his own. Spock hasn’t called him Captain once in this conversation. The belated realization feels like being singed by wildfire.

“Spock?” Chris doesn’t recognize his voice as he looks up.

Spock’s eyes are hooded, and Chris can’t read him, not anymore, and not when he so desperately needs to.

“I do not believe in futures set in stone.” Spock is still speaking softly, but with perfect clarity. “I do not believe in self-fulfilling prophecies. A sufficiently powerful mind will always defeat them, and yours, Christopher, is one of the most powerful I have ever encountered.”

Chris’s throat closes in, and he fights to get the words out. “To have a… a chance, I’d still need to forget, and that’s—”

“There are ways of forgetting without forgetting.”

It hangs in the air between them, the charge of it so strong Chris can almost taste it, the burn of electricity on his tongue. Dangerous. Deadly.

“Spock,” he says, struggling to form the words. “I need you to be clear now. I need you to be crystal clear. I don’t want to think I’m hearing something else entirely because I… because I want to.”

Spock doesn’t do anything, but suddenly, for one paralyzing moment, his touch is all Chris can focus on. It passes, and Spock uncoils from the floor, graceful and effortless, as he breaks their connection. He never looks away from Chris.

“You walk the ship most nights. You always take a different route, never repeating them. Not once, I do not think. Not even by accident.”

There is something in his tone, in his presence, that makes goosebumps break out on Chris’s skin. A wave of heat rolls down his spine.

“But you always,” Spock says, softer than before, “walk past my quarters, and you always stop before my door. You never come in, and I wish...” He exhales. “I wish you would.”

--

Chris watches him walk away, the paralysis expanding, rooting him to the spot. It’s a shock, of course, it is, and yet…

How long will he keep lying to himself? How long will he keep pretending he didn’t know?

He ignored it, but he knew. He’s known for a while. He was never going to cash in, no matter how tempting. He wasn’t that kind of person, that kind of captain.

But he’s not himself anymore. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Maybe he’s more himself now than he’s ever been. He’s never been as honest with himself as Spock had to be his entire life. Spock never once retreated from the truth, no matter how vulnerable it made him. He’s not retreating now. What does that make Chris, then? A coward?

And does Spock even know—does he realize what kind of base, savage instincts he’s awakening in Chris this very moment, as he makes Chris watch him walk away? Chris never had trouble controlling them before, but for the first time in his life he feels his control slipping, the very blood in his veins suddenly rebellious with a wild, powerful roar of “Enough!”

He drags a hand over his face, realizes his breathing has become panting. He staggers to his feet and has to stand still for a moment, his muscles tense as if he’d run a marathon, or been in a fight. He presses his hand against the viewport frame, leaning heavily, and wants to howl as he watches the stars.

Boreth. That damn vision. He’d made a situational choice—or so he thought, and he wouldn’t take it back… except he wants to. That’s the truth, and it’s not pretty at all. He’s never been challenged like this. Not in any of his most daring missions, not in any of his death-defying feats. He’s never been confronted with his true nature like this.

Talos IV was his first wake-up call. Vina as an Orion slave girl, a fantasy pulled straight out of his subconscious mind. He was pathetically grateful no one had witnessed it. Centuries of cultural conditioning and that’s what he defaulted to. Number One would probably have left him there if she’d seen. And Spock…

Chris closes his eyes. Spock should be safely in his quarters by now, behind a locked door that Chris… can override with a word. Dammit. He smashes his fist against the frame, feeling pressure pulse up his arm. What the hell was Spock thinking, saying things like that? Chris is his commanding officer; the power imbalance is—

Chris laughs suddenly. An illusion is what it is. Spock isn’t the one tying himself in knots right now over a few words his captain had said. He knows better.

His mind settling, Chris stares out into space again. No, the chain of command has nothing to do with this. Spock knows it; Chris knows it. Spock had told him what he wants in no uncertain terms. And Chris… Chris needs to be the man Spock sees in him. He sure as hell can’t stand the man looking back at him from the mirror.

--

Spock’s lock recognizes him before Chris can press the chime. The door slides open, the soft sound mocking him. He steps inside the low-lit cabin, and within a moment is cut off from the harsh light of the corridor and anything it might illuminate.

Spock stands up from the station chair and lays his PADD down on the desk. He’s been waiting, Chris realizes with a pang of hysteria. He knew Chris being here was only a matter of time.

“This is a bad idea,” Chris says; it needs to be said. “We’re breaking a lot of rules—”

“We are not breaking any rules,” Spock interrupts, stepping closer. “I approached you.”

Chris lifts his chin up in challenge. “We will be when we don’t tell anyone.”

Spock is unfazed. “It is none of their concern.”

“Spock—”

“I have told you what I desire,” Spock continues, maddeningly close, yet still out of reach. His voice drops lower, and that’s just not playing fair. “What is it that you want, Chris?”

It’s not like Chris didn’t know that it was always going to end this way.

“You,” he breathes out, and whatever space was still between them is suddenly no longer there.

Spock is kissing him or he’s kissing Spock—Chris doesn’t know, doesn’t care, because yes, he’d thought about it, and there’s no point denying it anymore. He’d thought about it on missions—being in close quarters, sleeping next to each other on the ground and sharing rooms. He’d thought about it as he watched Spock over campfires and negotiating tables. Thought about it under enemy fire a few times, even, and couldn’t stop thinking about it that one night when Spock played his lyre, delicate and arresting, in the rec room. Thought about it during quiet moments on the bridge, too, because Chris is human, all human, and he’s finally ready to admit it.

He pushes until the backs of Spock’s knees hit the bed and Chris shoves him down. Even in the low light, he can see that Spock is flushed, color high on his cheekbones, more than Chris has ever seen. He’s breathing open-mouthed, and his eyes are completely black, pupils blown wide.

Chris crawls on top of him, hand sliding under Spock’s shirt and rucking it up as he goes, and as he leans to kiss Spock again, he feels their dynamic shift imperceptibly to one Chris is more familiar with. Spock is not a novice at this, definitely, but Chris knows without asking that his history couldn’t have been as long as Chris’s own. It’s not about Chris being that much older, no, though that factors into it. But for Spock to get this far with anyone, it had to matter—it always had to matter. It didn’t always have to matter for Chris; in fact, it rarely did.

“I want to take you apart,” Chris whispers into the curve of Spock’s ear before sealing his lips over it. The sound Spock makes is barely audible, but so utterly helpless that it goes straight to Chris’s head. “Piece by piece, until you don’t remember anything… your name, my name… just this.”

“I do not believe…” Spock manages, lifting up to help Chris get his shirt completely off, “that you would need to… exert yourself… overmuch for that.”

Chris can’t help a laugh. For anyone else, it would be flirting, but Spock is just honest, completely honest, the way he always is, and Chris should have realized that this is how it was going to be all along. And Chris would like to make good on his promise, but even as he says it, he knows it’s not in him to tease Spock deliberately right now—not with so much naked skin on display, so much trust splashing in Spock’s eyes, glazed over as they are with desire.

Chris feels his mind begin to drift, slipping into snatches of moments and sensations, as they make short work of their clothes. Chris is getting drunk on this, his head spinning, and he’s getting more and more out of control every time Spock arches into his touch, draws a breath out of sync, or makes another wounded little sound. It’s setting Chris’s blood on fire. He’s always prided himself on his restraint, but he can’t think like this, not with Spock touching him in so many places, Spock’s mouth panting in tiny gasps under his.

The scent of the oil Spock usually uses—and isn’t that “usually” doing a number on Chris just now—is heady and sharp, but the real punch to the gut comes when Chris realizes that it’s familiar. He’d caught it on Spock once or twice before, without consciously being aware of it, and the implication is making him cross-eyed. Spock’s entire body turns a deeper hue of green as he catches the thought slipping through their connection, and he tries to explain, it isn’t quite how Chris thinks—

But Chris doesn’t care, he’s done, he can’t take it anymore.

Spock seems to have a gift for peeling off every veneer Chris has ever worn or trained himself into being—right now, the considerate, polite lover Chris has always believed himself to be is nowhere to be found. Spock reduces him to someone little better than a caveman, and one day Chris will learn the trick of it, but not today. He pushes in sharper than he intends to, and feels Spock’s fingers clench painfully tight on his shoulders, watches Spock’s head roll back against the bed. Gods alive, Spock is loving this, every line in his body and flicker in his eyes screaming intense pleasure. Chris doesn’t know any man, any being, who could resist that.

Time starts to transmute around him into gasps and sweat-soaked skin. Spock’s eyes are holding him tighter than his body is, and he’s letting Chris lead, but Chris is not in control here; he never has been. He should have realized that sex with Spock was never going to be about power, but only trust, and—and—

Spock doesn’t say a word, but everything about him seems to challenge Chris.

Yes. Trust and what else?

Chris groans, bites his lip hard, and can’t stop himself from thrusting harder, faster, as if trying to outrun the answer. They’ve all done this to Spock, almost every day, pretending to be his teachers in humanity when, most of the time, he was the only one brave enough to face it. Chris is guiltier than most, and he can’t run anymore, ambushed by this beautiful body and ever-reaching mind trapped under his, starving for the truth.

“Love,” Chris gasps, barely coherent. “Love, Spock, God, like… like you didn’t know.”

Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t, but the word makes Spock’s whole body tense and arch up, and then they’re both falling, holding on to each other desperately, leaving bruises as they shatter into one another, and every single intentional thought is wiped out of existence.

--

Chris doesn’t wake up so much as becomes aware. He’s lying on his stomach, and Spock is drawing gentle circles on his back, patiently working out the tension.

“You might have killed me,” Chris rasps, lifting himself up on his elbows. He rolls over just in time to catch the tail end of Spock’s smile. “I missed this.” He reaches up to press a thumb to the corner of Spock’s mouth. “Missed seeing you like this. Come here.”

Spock lies down fully, humming softly in pleasure when Chris kisses his temple.

“I am reasonably certain you have never seen me like this.”

Chris smiles. “Well, now that I think about it, I remember you looking… less than perfectly put together that morning we picked you up on Ylos. I also remember His Serene Highness Prince Xar being a lot more agreeable during the negotiations than he’d been before we left you there. Lieutenant Spock, are you blushing?”

“Absolutely not.”

Chris laughs, kisses his forehead. His smile fades as he feels that tugging sensation at the pit of his stomach again, the one that calls on him to wander restlessly, as if one night he might walk just fast enough to escape. It’s less pronounced now, his body more relaxed than it’s been in days, yet there, like something he can only see out of the corner of his eye.

Spock shifts next to him, no doubt sensing it. The connection still resonates between them, and Chris can feel him collecting his thoughts. A darker, baser part of him hums with satisfaction that he’d had that effect on Spock, that Spock needs time to recover, too.

When Spock speaks, it’s soft, weaving the words into the silence between them without breaking it. Spock always had a perfect command of silences.

“I do not believe in predetermination, Chris. I have experienced time as a non-linear progression, and, as a state, it is clear to me, yet I cannot explain. It is always fixed—and it is always fluid. It is not a contradiction, but a paradox.”

He pauses, a frown between his brows as he fights to be precise with something that escapes definition.

“Every moment we live, we live by choice. There is nothing I can perceive in the known universe, no—mystical action, nor artifact or device, that could take that choice away. I did not see your vision of the future, but I still know that it will be your decision. And, knowing the consequences, you can make a different one when the moment comes.”

Chris blinks, slow and steady. Does a man with a gun to his head really have a choice? Centuries-old dilemma. Yes, he supposes, if he’s prepared for the ultimate one. And no, he doesn’t have to like it.

Strange, but, at the moment, Chris feels almost at peace with it.

He pulls Spock closer and kisses him.

“Thank you,” he whispers, “for being here for me.”

Slowly, Spock opens his eyes, reflecting nothing this time, alive with their own light. “Always.”

Chris is loath to leave him, every moment suddenly filled with so much meaning. Still, he makes to sit up. “I should go, crash in my own bed.”

“Stay,” Spock says immediately. “I will wake you in time. You need rest.”

Chris pauses, but he doesn’t have any fight left in him. “This can turn into a habit,” he warns, sinking back into the sheets.

“A better one than roaming the ship in the middle of the night,” Spock murmurs dryly. “Computer, lights off.”

The viewport in Spock’s cabin is small and narrow, but it’s directly opposite the bed. Chris lies on his back, watching the stars drift by for a long time.

If Spock is right, and all of time exists at once with no distinction, it should follow logically that one can choose the point where they exist. Chris chooses this one—a quiet moment on his own ship, with starlight on his face and someone he cares deeply for sleeping peacefully beside him. The nightmarish scenario revealed by the time crystal flashes before his eyes once, twice, and is gone. Forgotten without being forgotten.

Chris falls asleep easily for the first time in weeks, and doesn’t dream.