"The Step"

Aug. 29th, 2010 02:16 am
fairhearing: (the final frontier)
[personal profile] fairhearing
Title: The Step
Pairing: Sulu/Chekov
Rating: R
Warnings: Sexual content
Kink Request: "Chekov is uncomfortable with the way Sulu is always wanting to be with him and take care of him and kissnhug him, because he never grew up with that kind of affection."



Chekov clearly remembers the first time he saw Sulu. It had been at a winter party for the physics department, held at Professor Daravon's old brownstone on the edge of campus. The party was already half-over by the time Chekov arrived -- he'd spent the earlier part of the night celebrating the end of the semester with the track team -- but he noticed Sulu in the crowded living room almost immediately. Not because of any particular feature that stood out, but because Sulu was greeting a friend, who had arrived just ahead of Chekov, with a hug, standing from where he'd been sitting cross-legged on the couch to close her entirely in his arms.

Chekov had taken note of this the way he always took note of such displays: with slight disdain at the obvious play-acting, and with a faint sense of superiority. And the tiniest bit of wistfulness, too, because no one had ever held him like that, not in his life.

***

Chekov's parents had had a loveless marriage and were divorced by the time he was eight. He would have rolled his eyes, however, at the implication that this was somehow tragic, or damaging to his upbringing. To him, his parents' failed marriage was simply an example of what happened to human relationships when they were forced to try to fit with society's ossified myths of unconditional adoration and deathless love.

Chekov learned things like this quickly: he had always been far ahead of his peers. Yes, when he was three or four, he had been inconsolable when his parents left for their weeklong conferences; he would weep and strain for them from his nanny's arms. But by the time he was five, he understood the importance of things like work and responsibility, the need for personal space and private time, and how draining the demand for physical contact could be, especially from a child.

By the time he was ten, he knew enough about chemistry and biology to realize that what society considered to be profoundly meaningful human relationships were really nothing more than an interconnected construction of neurological impulses, evolutionary urges, environmental conditioning, and intellectual connection. And it didn't surprise him that most people outside his own family had yet to figure this out, and probably never would. Chekov was already used to knowing things that those around him would never learn.

It didn't mean he respected or appreciated his parents any less, or that they themselves were somehow less invested in his well-being or plans for the future. They simply recognized among themselves the artifice of what society labeled a family, and that its trappings did just that: trapped, stifled the intellect. Life was much easier when they could relate frankly to each other on equal footing, as rational and reasonable human beings, without straining to fill the overbearing and mythical roles of doting father, adoring mother, loving and beloved son. Other families clung with an almost pathological devotion to the tired old routines -- pats on the back, kisses on the cheek, hair-mussing, chin-ticking, syrupy lullabyes and weepy farewells -- the way an obsessive-compulsive had to count every tile in his kitchen floor, or reorganize all the texts in his datapadd six times every night. It was magical thinking: the desperation to imbue meaning where there was none.

"Love is hard, Pasha," his cousin Dimitri had sighed to him one afternoon when they were both twelve.

Chekov had laughed.

"Yes, it is," he had said. He didn't mention it was because human beings were not designed to contort their lives into the shape of a fairy tale.

***

Chekov didn't meet Sulu that night at the party. He grabbed a glass of ginger ale, said hello to the department chair (his thesis advisor), and left. In fact, he didn't meet Sulu until over a year later, when they shook hands over the helm of the Enterprise.

Chekov did, however, recognize Sulu from that December night -- that hug, the convincing easy warmth. It probably should have been a warning sign.

***

Four weeks into his five-year mission, during his first subspace video conference with his mother, Chekov considered telling her about Lt. Sulu. She would have liked him. For the Chekovs, to be intelligent was to have worth, and Lt. Sulu was acceptably intelligent. Nowhere near Chekov himself, or his family, of course -- no one was -- but good enough.

He could have related to her how easily Lt. Sulu compensated for gravitational anomalies, how he often caught Chekov's references to theorists in the field, and she would have been pleased to hear it. But he didn't. It would have somehow been disrespectful, he thought -- and unnecessary. Lt. Sulu was more impressive than all the child geniuses and decorated scholars that Chekov had once counted among his peers.

But Chekov's mother wouldn't understand that, and somehow he didn't want her to. For the first time in his life, he didn't like the idea of one of his friends receiving his mother's acceptance, or even her approval. It had something to do with the idea of exposing Lt. Sulu to that -- a glare that he had always thought of as clear and penetrating, but which now simply seemed harsh. And, he didn't know then, because he wanted to keep Sulu for his own.

***

One night he was explaining his own ideas for isolated warp-bubble construction when Sulu, still nodding, leaned over and brushed his thumb over Chekov's cheekbone.

"Eyelash," he said through his smile, as though it was the most natural thing in the world, and Chekov couldn't believe how long it took him to find his voice again.

He'd dated before, of course. Knowing that the "truths" behind society's ideas of human companionship were eye-rollingly mythological didn't mean the actual benefits of that companionship were mythological, too. Interesting conversation, for instance. Social interaction, physical pleasure. And, as Chekov had never been coy or hesitant about anything else he wanted in life, he'd never had a problem with approaching people he found attractive, or letting them know he was interested. But somehow around Sulu he was clumsy, tongue-tied. Sulu was always on his mind while at the same time on an entirely other plane of existence, impossibly far away.

It finally happened on one of their days off, when Chekov was in his quarters. He was hanging prints of St. Petersburg on the wall with the aid of a transparent-aluminum step that was left over from a staircase in engineering which he'd helped assemble, and which he was using as a makeshift stepstool. He didn't hear Sulu come in, or walk up behind him, till he felt two hands rest lightly on his arms.

When he turned around, Sulu was smiling. His eyes were level with Chekov's -- they were the exact same height this way. Somehow that was what that stuck out most in Chekov's mind, even after Sulu leaned in, right up to when Sulu pressed a kiss to his mouth and he couldn't think of anything at all.

***

For the first time Chekov tolerated the silly posturings that were expected in a relationship. He allowed Sulu to pull him close, nuzzle his curls, keep an arm slung around his waist as they waited in line at the mess and a thumb stroking down his side when they talked after shift. Sometimes Sulu just wanted to touch him for hours, gentle caresses on his bare skin that didn't necessarily lead anywhere further, or hold him close with one arm while they both did quiet work on their PADDs; and Chekov allowed him this, too, even though they could just as well been working alone. He had decided that if this was something Sulu had convinced himself he needed, Chekov would give it to him. Relationships were about give-and-take, about compromise, and even though this one wouldn't last -- honest ones never could -- Chekov would still try to make it something they could both remember fondly.

His parents would have undoubtedly scoffed, given him disgusted looks; but they weren't here, and they wouldn't have understood that just because he was going through the motions didn't mean he'd given in to the delusion. And Sulu was such good company that it was hardly irritating at all to pretend: to relax into his touches, let him murmur hackneyed and ridiculous things into Chekov's ear.

The night they first slept together, Chekov was trying so hard to avoid seeming anxious or inexperienced that he couldn't stop trembling. Only when Sulu's skin was pressed completely against his own did he begin to relax, to breathe slowly through the burn until it could start to feel good. Sulu whispered how well he was doing, asked if he was okay before he started to move; and the thought came to Chekov -- this is Hikaru inside me.

Something happened then. Chekov let out a breath, a whimper, and clutched at Sulu's shoulders with both hands, pulling him closer, making little noises into Sulu's mouth he'd never heard before as they rocked against each other with increasing desperation. He shuddered so hard when he came that he felt like he would fly apart, and Sulu held him throughout as if he were afraid of the same thing.

Afterwards, Chekov felt dizzy, or drugged. He blinked, and brought the heel of his hand up to rub at his eyes: they were wet. When Sulu looked down at him, heavy-lidded, breathing deep and slow through his open mouth, Chekov felt a stab of something close to terror.

Sulu fell asleep that night with his cheek pressed to Chekov's shoulder. Chekov himself was up most of the night: staring at the ceiling, or at Sulu's slack face, a feeling in his stomach like ice pressing up against his ribs.

In the morning, Chekov waited until Sulu was dressed and leaning over him at the desk, stroking his curls with one finger, to tell him.

It was something he'd been thinking about for a long time, he explained, his head down, talking to his PADD. The previous night had only cemented his decision. It was Chekov's own particularity, nothing Sulu had done, but their relationship had run its course.

Here his voice began to shake, mainly because of what Sulu was saying now -- the questions he was asking -- the catch in his voice -- his hand on Chekov's arm, trying to get him to turn around, look at him.

Still there was really nothing Sulu could say that would change his mind. And Chekov was sorry it had to be so sudden. But the truth was, it was like this: he didn't like who he was when he was with Sulu.

There was silence. Chekov reread the same line on his screen twenty-eight times -- he counted -- before he heard the door open and close, and the screen unfocused in his vision until it was nothing but a blur.

***

It was hard, but he had known it would be. Three months of physical closeness and personal habit, cut off all at once, would obviously result in symptoms of withdrawal equal to those of addiction. He gave himself an hour every day to feel through it, and then go over all the reasons why his mind was making him react this way, remind himself that what he was feeling was the result of neurotransmitters and thousands of years of social conditioning, not some profound cosmic force.

It had always worked before. But now he struggled through his days with a sharp pain in his stomach, feeling ill and shaky and somehow always cold. He didn't see Sulu during the day -- Chekov wondered if he were switching shifts to avoid him -- and when Chekov returned to his quarters after work, they were so empty that Sulu's absence seemed to have become a force, an oppressive silence that pushed and pulled at Chekov's insides like the weight of several atmospheres' worth of pressure. One afternoon the feeling was so strong that Chekov sat down in the floor in the middle of the room, overwhelmed.

All the more evidence, he told himself, breathing hard and staring at the carpet, that he'd been right. His attachment to Sulu had been extreme, destructive. Against all of his knowledge, all his resolution, he had almost become a cliché.

That night Chekov went to singles' night in the rec room and ended up chatting with a good-looking blond petty officer from Communications. He kept swallowing shot after shot of vodka, telling himself it would steady his nerves, relax him, unravel the tight black kernel at the very center of him that wouldn't stop hurting and wouldn't go away.

It would feel worse before it felt better, he told himself as the petty officer leaned in and his own body stiffened. This was how it worked. This man touching him was no different from Hikaru touching him, and it was time to move on; it was healthy, it was smart.

When the man tried to kiss him Chekov shuddered violently, shoved him away, stuttered out an apology before he ran through the crowd and out the door, all the way back to his room. He skidded into the bathroom and knelt over the toilet, panting, afraid he was going to be sick; but instead, he burst into tears.

After a few minutes he sniffed and wiped his eyes with the back of his hand, angrily. When he stood, he caught a glimpse of his face in the mirror, tear-streaked and pathetic.

"You're embarrassing yourself," he hissed in Russian: and all at once the memory returned to him.

He had been four years old, maybe five. There was an experiment his father had been working on -- he couldn't remember exactly, only knew that it was something dangerous, and that something had gone wrong. There had been several hours with no word from the research team, and he still remembered his mother's white-knuckled grip on the plastic chairs of the laboratory waiting room as they watched the closed-circuit broadcast.

When they shuffled through the door, all six of them, weary and shaken but alive, she had risen from her seat with her fist pressed to her mouth before running to Chekov's father. She tried to say something, Chekov could see, but she was clearly breathing through the beginnings of sobs instead, her hands tight in the fabric of his lab coat.

Chekov's father had covered her hands with his own and lowered them.

"You're embarrassing me," he'd said through his teeth, quiet so no one else could hear.

Chekov could see then how her face trembled, but by the time Chekov's father walked past her to speak with the director, her expression had returned to that of cool, steady control. They would never discuss it again, any of them, what had happened that day; or the moment when Chekov had looked into the wet eyes of his mother and seen shame.

Chekov was stumbling through his quarters before he knew what he was doing. He ran through the corridors blindly, his eyes blurred, his breath harsh, and when he reached Sulu's quarters he pounded on the door, forgetting that there was a chime he could use, forgetting that it was 0400 hours. He was already crying again by the time Sulu opened the door, looking confused and frantic in his sweatpants and his backwards Academy t-shirt, his hair sticking up everywhere. Chekov grabbed him the second he saw him.

"What happened?" said Sulu, pulling him inside. "Are you okay?" He was trying to get Chekov a glass of water, find him some tissues, pull up a chair for him, all at the same time. He kept dropping things. He wasn't angry; he didn't even seem to notice they'd been broken up for two weeks. It didn't make any sense, any sense at all.

Chekov pressed his face against Sulu's chest and laughed through a sob.

"Hikaru, I love you," he said -- before he even knew what he was saying, before he could even think.

***

In video conferences with his mother, when she sniffs and implies that his decisions are now influenced by maudlin sentimentality, he just smiles and asks her how her latest lecture was received. At night, when he and Sulu are pressed together in the dark, he whispers things he never thought he would ever say, things about always and forever. And every day after their shift, he takes the step from its place under their bed, climbs up on it, and pulls Sulu's arms around him, till Sulu is holding him the way he held that friend at the party, the first time Chekov had ever seen him.

Chekov has them stay that way for ten minutes, fifteen, not talking or kissing, just soaking up Sulu's warmth as though he's charging a battery inside him, or healing a long-neglected wound. Sometimes Sulu laughs, but Chekov doesn't mind, because Sulu always lets him do it, and because he's teaching Chekov things that no one else ever has.

Even Dimitri had been wrong. Love wasn't hard. Life was hard, maybe; people were difficult. But loving Hikaru was like blinking, or breathing -- the easiest thing in the world.

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