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Neither Rhyme Nor Reason

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Charles liked to tell people that the first time they met, Serik punched a kitten.

That said kitten was in fact a Caitian ensign who over-estimated his capacity for intoxicants remained — much to Serik's very logical objection — a mere footnote in Charles's favourite anecdote. But of course Charles almost always got his way. He was equal parts infuriating arrogance and breath-taking intelligence, rolled up neatly into one charming telepath.

Serik didn't think he would like Charles, the first time they met at the Academy. He'd been one of the first batch of Vulcan cadets after the destruction of their homeworld, bristling with the keen pain of the empty places in their heads. Vulcans were taught to eschew anger, but Serik allowed rage — and a Vulcan's rage was as deep and true as the oceans of Earth — to drive him into submitting an application to Starfleet and packing his bags for San Francisco. He hadn't needed to say goodbye. He had no family left, being the sole survivor of a clan that had its origins in the forges of Gol.

He attended the preparatory briefing at the newly-rebuilt ShiKahr. The Human Starfleet officer who conducted the briefing indicated, with tactful delicacy, that Vulcans sometimes had difficulty integrating with non-Vulcan cadets. Serik had fully expected himself to be one of them.

He hadn't counted on the roommate assigned to his quarters: a dark-haired, blue-eyed Human who, suitcase in hand, casually stepped over the Caitian ensign now moaning on the floor in front of Serik's door.

"I'm Charles Xavier," Charles had said. "You must be Serik, how lovely to meet you. And may I say, you have a spectacular arse."

Serik forced himself not to blink. He reminded himself that Xavier was his roommate, thus conflict was best averted until and unless necessary. "Sexual harassment is grounds for expulsion, cadet," he said frostily.

"I'm part-Betazoid." Charles grinned, his bright blue eyes doing... things... that slightly elevated Serik's heart rate. Ridiculous. "We have a cultural imperative towards full disclosure. By the way, I'm a telepath, but I will try to be polite about reading your thoughts."

"Curious," Serik said. "Part-Betazoid children have never been known to fully inherit their Betazoid parent's telepathy."

Charles's smile didn't waver. "Funny how these things work out. Shall we escort the good ensign to the infirmary?"

He was determined from the outset to lay down boundaries. Rules of inter-personal engagement. But Charles tore through them blithely, leaving Serik to pick up the tattered remains of his dignity and trudge after where Charles led. Before Serik knew it, his circle of acquaintances expanded to include Raven Dax, Charles's oldest, closest friend and adopted sister; a Megazoid Science cadet named Han Ree, who was a genius irrationally self-conscious about his appearance; and a trio of noisy, argumentative Humans: Angel Salvadore, Alex Summers, and Sean Cassidy. Summers was apparently embroiled in — according to Charles's highly subjective description — a tragic, chaste ("did I mention tragic?"), star-crossed affair with a Deltan by name of Arman.

And then there was Emma Froi, the sole full-blooded Betazoid in their year. Her relationship with Charles seemed to be limited to judging Charles and finding him wanting, and laughing at Serik while in telepathic communion with Charles. Serik told himself that dislike was a perfectly rational response to a thoroughly disagreeable person. Truly, he could see no logical reason why Charles gave every appearance of being enamoured with her.

"Charles is a masochist," Dax said cheerfully to Serik. "I could tell you stories, but I promised I wouldn't spill unless it's to someone he's fucking. Though hey, I can argue he's getting off on coming back to you to be metaphorically spanked."

Occasionally, Serik reflected, it was a challenge to remember that Raven Dax was a Trill and her symbiont was well over a century old. A propensity for speaking like a Human adolescent did not suit her in the least.

Serik said, "It would be in your best interest to cease from pursuing this line of speculation."

Dax rolled her eyes. "Fine, I'll drop it for now. Oh, did the others tell you? I'm switching to Command track. My supervisor was all, blah blah you won't be a pilot forever, have you thought about captaining your own ship blah. I wish Charles would do the same. He's wasted in Science."

"He disagrees very vehemently," Serik — who was in Engineering — said drily.

"We'll see," Raven said, ominous. "Could you tell Charles I want my lace top back? I have a date with a hot Efrosian tonight, and he's got to have seduced that guy in Xenobiology by now."

*****

Salvadore lost one of her mothers in the battle against the Narada. She rarely spoke about the death, and when she did it was after the consumption of numerous intoxicating beverages, as the bars they went to started to empty out.

"You know what was the worst thing about it? That everything went back to normal so goddamn fast," she once said, toasting the dead with a half-drained pint of ale. "Sometimes I'd catch myself thinking, I gotta tell Mama about this shit — and then I remember she's dead."

Serik was a Vulcan. Forgetting was not an option, no matter how brief the moment of absent-mindedness, and his loss was a presence that crowded around every minute of every day. It drove him to wakefulness in the middle of the night, whereupon he would hunch over a tablet in his bed, drawing schematics of weapons he saved and set aside. His people lost Vulcan because the Romulans on Narada had more destructive weapons at their disposal and none of the Vulcans' scruples. What if Surak was wrong about peace and pacifism? After all, his people's ability to retain their way of life with relatively little change after the founding of the Federation was due to the fact that they had been able to negotiate from a position of strength. Principles had little practical value without the power to enforce them.

Sometimes, on these nights, Charles shook himself awake and made tea for both of them: spice tea for Serik, chamomile for him. He chose the mug with bright yellow ducklings for Serik each time and handed it over without a word, though always with a smile. And, because Charles wouldn't be Charles if he wasn't being presumptuous, he would climb into Serik's narrow bed and made himself comfortable next to Serik, almost close enough to be touching. The faint buzz of his drowsy mind was a solace Serik found himself unwilling to refuse.

Charles was a weakness he could ill afford, but the man drew him in anyway, tethering Serik to this life the way his planet once did — the way his people's beliefs and rituals grounded him within something larger than history or lineage. A way of being in the universe. Cthia.

His cognisance of his weakness made him work harder to prove himself, perhaps more recklessly than he should. Serik wondered if Charles knew, and if so, why he kept silent instead of confronting Serik as was his wont. But neither moved to uproot what was growing between them, in the heady sweetness of summers spent exploring Earth, and the companionable sprawl of evenings revising together. Time rolled on in the Academy: one year, then two, then three.

If we were assigned to the same ship— Serik cut off the thought. Wishes and hopes were for the irrational. Perhaps it would be for the best if they were separated upon graduation.

*****

And that would be that, if it hadn't been for Quidditch.

Starfleet instructors rode the cadets hard in basic training for a reason: a single lapse, or a careless prep, could result in serious injury or death. But even Commander James Howlett — nicknamed Wolverine by a succession of bruised and shell-shocked cadets — couldn't root out the combination of egotism and youthful self-confidence that made excellent breeding ground for acts of impetuous competitiveness among the Academy's best and brightest. In theory, Starfleet's field training exercise would inculcate cadets with the value of teamwork and teach them to handle any terrain under any condition. In practice, it was an opportunity for one team of cadets to get a leg up on the others and receive the accolades of their peers, if they came out on top in the last test: In-Terrain Strategy and Operations Exercise, also known as The Game.

Unlike the Kobayashi Maru, The Game always had a clear winner.

That year, the objective of The Game was to capture a mobile, flight-capable probe and return with it to Base Camp. Cassidy had scratched his head during the exercise briefing and blurted out, "Isn't that, like, Quidditch?" — and the name stuck, with Human cadets dubbing the probe "the Evil Snitch" to the bemusement of their classmates. Nevertheless, none of the laughter could disguise the seriousness with which every cadet took The Game, all determined to win.

In hindsight, perhaps Serik should have considered the possibility that long exposure to more irrational species would irrevocably influence him, and took steps to correct it. Certainly he should've done so before embarking on the field training exercise, or at the very least, the night before he jumped into an ocean to chase after the Snitch.

Cold water closed around him like a grave. Serik pushed away the beginnings of panic, holding on as tightly as he could to the slick, metallic surface of the Snitch. Tendrils of green seeped up from his fingers — blood, his flesh caught in the sharp edges of the probe. He would not fail in this, he thought to himself. He refused to.

Arms grabbed him from behind.

Serik, you have to let go, said Charles's voice in his head. You have to let go or you'll drown.

I will not, Serik said. I cannot fail.

Please, Serik. Please.

Warmth burst through him — Charles, his bright presence flooding into Serik's psyche, knitting together the ragged edges left behind by the loss of kin and home. Charles in his head was like the truth spoken after evidence. An afterthought to what Serik already knew but refused to see: that Charles belonged here, in him.

Serik let go.

*****

They didn't speak about it, still. What was there to say, when anything short of yes would be a lie?

*****

Charles knew he was absolutely shite at relationships, despite his gregariousness and undeniable love for people. Making friends was easy, finding lovers even more so, but keeping them was another matter. His friendship with Raven almost didn't survive her joining with the Dax symbiont — she was no longer the girl who held his hand as they walked from school, fundamentally altered in ways he could only share with another telepath. People were complicated and messy, and even love couldn't overcome all the things that drove people apart.

In another life, he might have pursued Serik with little thought of consequences. It wouldn't take much effort. Serik was attracted to him, if ever "attraction" was an adequate term to describe the possessiveness and the certainty of rightness that Serik felt for him. It wouldn't be just a fling to to Serik, and Charles had learned enough discretion from his Human mother to know when to tread gently. Serik wanted children to re-populate Vulcan and his clan — wanted it so badly, he would leave Charles for it. And Charles would let him go, would eventually heal from it, but it would tear Serik apart.

This was stupid, Charles thought to himself savagely. He's getting ahead of himself. They hadn't even acknowledged what lay between them, let alone kissed.

It didn't mean he couldn't fantasise, though. Serik felt like the kind of man who'd fuck like a piston, Charles decided. He would make Charles sore for days and be discomfited by it, and after the first time Charles succeeded in goading him into a brutal fucking, he would be apologetic. Kind. But Charles would kneel at his feet and beg for more, still slick from Serik. Would Serik enjoy being fucked? Charles closed his eyes and flicked through his memories for what he knew of Vulcan physiology. Mmm, perhaps not. But Serik might like having his hole licked, and Charles had always loved eating out lovers of all sexes and genders.

Vulcan fingers were more sensitive than Betazoids and Humans. Perhaps...? Charles shivered at the thought of Serik's beautiful hands inside him, while Serik kissed away the tears from his eyes. Serik would be careful, so careful, but merciless in making Charles take it, every digit and ridge and knuckle.

Charles glanced at his clock. Serik wouldn't be back at their room for at least another two hours. Biting his lower lip, he reached down and undid his trousers.