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You Only Love Your Collider

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It was stupid, really. The handsome physicist with the high cheekbones and shiny black hair had come into the Health Center with a burn mark between thumb and forefinger, thanks to some genius who had a coaxial cable carrying power to a homemade piece of equipment. Whole thing had to be more of a headache for the people heading up the electrical disassembly work than it was for Leonard, but protocol dictated patients with shock injuries needed to be observed for some time. Barring other emergencies demanding his attention, he’d just as soon do it himself; these scientist types could be interesting.

Leonard’s patient, Spock Grayson, was the accelerator physics lead on the upgrade to the lab’s ion collider. He seemed reluctant to get into talking about his work until Leonard asked a question or two that made it apparent he knew at least a little about ion beams. Leonard’s interests were always more in the life sciences, but he certainly had an appreciation for physics and the folks who had the patience for the abstractions of it. It was how he ended up here. One of the best parts of his job was hearing about the work his patients did. Spock seemed at first to be giving the standard PR spiel, but as Leonard followed up with more questions, Spock became more animated. And the guy really was a genius. Talking about how, once the upgrade finished, they’d be able to collide heavy ions at lower energies than ever before. Something about the upgraded lattice of magnetic fields allowing a lower emittance. The whole experience of hearing about the upgrade felt a little more exciting than he’d normally expect, and when his patient left, Leonard realized he might have a little bit of a crush. He hoped to catch him again soon. Hopefully without another electrical injury.

They saw each other in the lab cafeteria the following week. Leonard didn’t want to bother the man, but he figured he had enough of an excuse to say something, maybe tease him about needing a follow-up visit. Wait, that might be too forward. He plonked himself down across from Spock, and they ended up talking until Spock had a meeting to rush off to and Leonard had to get back to his office for afternoon appointments.

Two months on, Leonard and Spock were accidentally running into each other in the cafeteria a couple of times a week. Even when Spock was with other accelerator folks, he’d find a way to sit with Leonard and chat with him. It stopped feeling so accidental after a while. They exchanged personal mobile numbers.

A local science museum had a temporary exhibit that Leonard was interested in seeing, about the history of nuclear and atomic physics, and he decided to take a chance in asking a certain someone if he’d be Leonard’s personal museum interpreter for an evening. The certain someone accepted. It was an even better evening than Leonard was hoping for. Evenings at the museum were for ages 21 and up, and wine was being served. He didn’t like to self-medicate, but it certainly didn’t hurt his ability to relax around Spock on this outing that felt an awful lot like it might be a date. He should know if it was a date--he’s the one who’d asked the guy! After listening to Spock explain, with his characteristic subdued delight, the theory behind each display detailing the history of nuclear and atomic physics, they wandered into the main atrium of the museum to find a live orchestra playing. They stood and listened for a bit. When the museum closed, late at night, Leonard didn’t want the evening to end. They wandered the city until they found a place that was still serving ice cream at midnight. They missed their trains and shared a cab. When they ended up back at Leonard’s place, where Spock’s car was parked, Spock walked Leonard to the door and kissed him goodnight.

So they were dating, Leonard supposed. It was a pretty normal relationship for a while after that. As normal as a relationship with an accelerator physicist can be. They went to museums, took drives along the coast on weekends, went out for dinner a couple times a month, spent time at each other’s houses a few evenings a week.

Leonard woke in Spock’s bed on a Saturday morning in early June, sunlight filtering in through the partially-shaded window. He heard Spock already up and preparing tea in the kitchen. Leonard got up to use the bathroom and was collapsing back on the bed as Spock re-entered the room with two mugs of tea and handed one to Leonard. “As you know,” he said, “the commissioning period is approaching. Beginning next week, and for the next six months, I will likely have very limited time to spend with you in the evenings and on weekends.”

“What exactly does ‘limited time’ mean?” Leonard asked, taking a sip of tea.

“The commissioning of a new accelerator is an unceasing process. Three months of equipment testing, followed by a first beam run of three further months, will take place across all shifts. Our operators are talented, but nonetheless they require a directing physicist to be present for much of the process while certain parameters of the new machine are determined experimentally. After we take first beam, I may well be occupied seven days a week, with perhaps an hour per night when I am home and not sleeping,” Spock explained, sitting beside Leonard at the head of the bed.

“Wait, really? Don’t you get a day off? Isn’t that illegal?”

“As you know, being a salaried employee yourself, being exempt from overtime pay often means being required to work hours that no hourly employee would be expected to.”

Leonard set his tea down, stood up, and began getting dressed. “Well, then, darling, we are taking advantage of the time we have together today. Let’s drive down the coast to the aquarium and I’ll get us dinner reservations at that little place we went on Valentine’s Day, huh?”

“That is a most agreeable plan,” Spock agreed before joining Leonard in getting ready for the day.

As promised, the following week, Spock’s availability diminished drastically. Commissioning began, and Spock was working evenings. For the first few months, Leonard was still seeing Spock a night or two a week, he was often in the office on weekends but not for full days, and it all wasn’t quite as dire as Spock had made it sound. Spock had a standing invitation to sleep at Leonard’s place.

A few months into the busy period, once beam was established in the new collider, Leonard stopped waiting up for Spock after his first week of no sleep. Spock was coming in at 2 or 3 in the morning.

“Do the people running this project know how bad it is for your health to get so little sleep, Spock?”

“Leonard, I am ‘the people running this project,’ and I am well aware it is detrimental to my health, but it is imperative that the work continue. I will endeavor to delegate more of my work, so that I may rest while I am not needed on odd shifts.”

Spock sometimes managed to sleep until noon or so. His time spent not working was typically spent sleeping, but occasionally he managed to spend an hour with Leonard here or there. Leonard spent much of his time a combination of worried for Spock’s health and safety and annoyed at the lack of regard for their relationship that Spock seemed to show. But he knew it was temporary, and they’d occasionally spend an evening texting while Spock was on shift in the control room but where things were slow going.

More frequently, it seemed, Leonard would try to get in touch with Spock and he felt like he was shouting into the void. That shiny new accelerator sure was demanding. It started to feel like the collider was Spock’s boyfriend, and not Leonard.

On the rare occasions when they did spend time together, Spock would talk about the collider, except instead of being intrigued, as he was at the beginning of their relationship, Leonard often found himself annoyed and jealous. Rather than Leonard, it was the lattice, the synchrotron tunes, the RF frequency, that were responding to Spock’s careful and attentive touch. No, he wasn’t quite going to accuse his boyfriend of cheating on him with a damned ion collider, but it was a close thing.

When the gifts started showing up, Leonard wanted to be bitter about them, like Spock was giving him things to shut him up, but they were good. Thoughtful. Practical. To his annoyance, they made him feel cared for. A bouquet of flowers that showed up at his office on the anniversary of a rough day. A new tie for when they finally got a chance to go out for a nice dinner together. A new towel bar for his bathroom, when his old one was on its last leg. Many little things that made Leonard feel like Spock really did read his texts and emails.

There were days when Leonard really kind of wanted to give up. But he remembered, among other things, that first date with Spock. He remembered the first time he’d slept in Spock’s arms. He remembered how easy things seemed, how well understood he felt whenever he was with Spock in that first year, and how much it felt like nothing had changed on the occasions when they still did find time to spend together. This was temporary. It was temporary, it would be worth it, they would be fine.

After six months of what felt like only seeing Spock briefly in the mornings, and perhaps an hour here or there, and maybe ten meals together outside of work, the machine went into a maintenance shutdown after which it would come up in a normal operational mode. On Spock’s first full Friday evening free in six months, Leonard expected Spock to want to stay in and maybe do something crazy like play Scrabble. But Spock notified Leonard of dinner reservations at a fancy place in the city. Leonard was surprised, but he’d certainly had enough of sitting around at home in the evenings. They went out, and to Leonard’s great relief, it was not a bit awkward. It felt like nothing had changed in the months from hell. They enjoyed a leisurely dinner, went for a walk, kissed by the waterfront. They went home to Spock’s place where Leonard took Spock thoroughly apart in bed. Leonard sat and did the morning paper’s crossword puzzle seated on the opposite side of the kitchen counter while Spock prepared breakfast. They spent much of the rest of the day in bed. Leonard hoped his life would be like this for a long time.

The lab’s annual holiday party was going to include recognition for everyone involved with the commissioning of the new ion collider. Leonard had not worn his suit in years, but as the partner of someone who was going to be the center of a lot of attention tonight, he figured he’d better pull it out of his closet for the occasion. Spock came over to get ready with him. When Leonard allowed Spock to tie his tie and fix his collar, he noted they were both still a little touch-starved, even after the solid effort they’d made to make up for lost time last weekend.

“I could get used to this,” he said to himself, when they entered the space and Leonard was seen on Spock’s arm by everyone.

“I am glad, because I hope you will be my date to this event for many years,” Spock confided, and a thrill went through Leonard’s nerves and butterflies flared up in his stomach.

“Good.”

When Spock was called upon to make a speech as the lead physicist on the upgrade, he recognized Leonard’s constant support as integral to the project’s success. As he got back to his seat, he got down on one knee, took Leonard’s hand in his own, and asked Leonard to be his husband. Leonard was so happy he could burst, but instead he kissed Spock and whispered in his ear, “of course I will.”