The first time Sulu gave Spock a flower, it was just a pleasantry. He brought a nice bundle to the bridge, each blossom clipped so they would last as long as possible, each bundled with a little water reclamation system to keep them fresh. Everyone was there nearly a half hour before their shifts were supposed to start, so he didn’t feel like he was disrupting anything. A zinnia for the Captain, tiger lily for Nyota. Sulu brought a non-terran poppy-like blossom for Spock and a few quiet daisies in case the doctor decided to show. Pavel got nothing because he had been banned from touching anything with chloroplasts (that included Ensign Otomaea). He had what Sulu liked to call a black thumb as plants shriveled under his care as a general rule.
Sulu was used to the captain’s soft smile of thanks and Uhura’s friendly arm pat, but he’d never given Spock anything before. He’d never been thanked for anything so trivial. When he handed over the flower as he passed by the science officer’s console, he was struck by how well the fresh colors of the Xulqwan complimented Spock. The orange brought out an array of warm tones in his eyes that Sulu had never noticed before, and the green that was shared ever so slightly by his skin tone made Spock look a bit like a plant himself.
“Thank you, lieutenant,” Spock said, bringing the flower to his nose. Call him crazy, but Sulu thought he might even look pleased.
“No problem,” Sulu said, sliding back toward his seat. His mind was quietly overcome by a sense of “oh, shit.”
The bright of the stars began to speed by in warp, the flower in its little reclaimer-vase balanced neutrally on Spock's console. It wasn’t a huge surprise that he was a little attracted to the commander. That wasn’t weird. Spock was an attractive guy. Every straight girl on the ship had been blushing over him since the start of the voyage. They adored his features but giggled at his hair (Sulu happened to think was a bit cute). That might have meant something, but he wasn’t thinking about it.
He was on duty. He forced himself to will away the hint of a smile, the awkward but well-meaning greetings, the pink of his lips.
Weeks later when he harvested the mint and fennel, he noticed a yellow pansy growing in a place that it shouldn’t. He hadn’t brought any flowers to the bridge in a while.
Sulu’s impulsive brain told him to bring it to the bridge.
“No,” he said aloud. Any present humans would see right through him.
But he would like it, his brain supplied. Remember how he almost smiled last time?
He gritted his teeth. Yes, there was that.
Imagine the look on Pavel’s face, said Sulu’s brain.
And that was settled. He didn’t bother putting it in a vase, just stuck it in water until he could get the rest of the mint harvested for the kitchens. The bridge was on the way there, and it would give him an excuse to run from the room. He had a feeling he would have to.
Hikaru walked to the bridge, a huge basket of fragrant herbs under one arm, and did his best to pretend like he was totally supposed to be there as he walked into the turbolift.
“Hey Pavel,” he said, and his friend perked right up.
“Hikaru!” he greeted, grinning. And then his smile fell and a light of suspicion glinted in his eyes. “What are you up to?”
“Eh,” he said casually, “just passing by.”
He turned around to give the captain a wave (and the doctor, who was hovering by his shoulder as usual), Uhura a nod, and the ensign in the pilot chair a clap on the shoulder before turning to his actual target. Spock hadn’t looked up since he had walked into the room.
“Here,” Sulu said, quietly enough he was sure that, though they were listening, they wouldn’t hear anything. A geologist was quietly talking to his department in the background, and Pavel was cursing his dashboard.
Spock looked up, eyebrows raised, and accepted it gently. He sniffed it.
“Thank you, lieutenant,” he said, and Sulu felt the back of his neck heat.
Spock raised the purple bud as if to inspect it, tilted his head, and bit the flower clean off.
“Oh,” he squeaked, “Ah, I don’t know if that’s—you maybe shouldn’t eat that! Here,” he dug through his basket of herbs and procured a mint leaf instead. “Try this.”
Spock obliged, looking at the mint leaf as though it was a foreign substance. He glanced to the captain, who was wearing a grin about as wide as Sulu had ever seen, back at the mint, and bit it hesitantly in half. Why on earth he would eat a pansy with less hesitation than a piece of mint, Sulu wasn’t quite sure.
“Acceptable,” the commander said, chewing. He nodded to emphasize his point.
Sulu could hear snickering in the background. He wanted to crawl into the floor and remain there until the Enterprise returned back to Earth.
As he left with cheeks aflame, McCoy patted him on the shoulder and murmured, “Vulcans,” as if that was all there was to say. It probably was. It felt like that time when he came back to consciousness and they told him he had been running around the ship half-naked with a sword. Fun.
“The formation of the asteroids in this portion of the nebula resemble a human’s sinus cavities,” Spock said matter-of-factly, and that was his limit.
“Okay!” Sulu said, standing up so his seat swung and smacked into Chekov. “Come on, commander, we’re going to the sickbay.”
He looked to the captain for permission, but Jim was doubled over in his seat with tears running down his cheeks. Sulu felt like shouting but sighed instead.
“Alright,” he said, attempting to lift the significantly heavier Vulcan from his seat.
“Where do you wish to take me?” Spock said, pupils dilated. “The observation deck is most pleasant.”
“Oh my gods,” Chekov said, both hands clapped over his mouth.
“No! We are going to the sickbay, commander, please stand up!”
Spock did, but he swayed and stumbled. Right into Sulu’s chest. This is hell, he thought, hell.
“I would prefer not to,” Spock said, leaning heavily against him, “Doctor McCoy will be displeased.”
Sulu blanched. “You’re right about that,” he mumbled.
“Actually,” Uhura said, “I’ll bet you a hundred credits he’s going to get a kick out of this.”
“Not! Helping!” Sulu said, dragging Spock's arm over his shoulders and trying to propel him forward with a thumb through his belt loop. His feet scraped uselessly across the floor. “Please, Spock, give me a hand here.”
The Vulcan jumped to attention. “You are in need of assistance?”
Sulu opened his mouth, but Chekov beat him to the punch. “Commander,” he said, “Hikaru is sick. Please take him to see the doctor.”
He flipped his friend off with the one hand that was still somewhat free, but it did seem to work. Spock was standing on his own, now, but he was looking over Sulu like he was trying to find the cause of the malady.
“My stomach hurts,” he lied. “Will you help me get there?”
“Of course,” Spock said, pulling him along. “You should not have eaten the flower.”
“That was you!”
Doctor McCoy’s face when they got there was the most offensively elated thing he had ever seen. He burst out laughing so hard he had to call in Christine, who also started to giggle.
“What did you feed him?”
“I didn’t feed him anything!” Sulu protested. “He ate another one of my flowers!”
McCoy took a deep breath, wiped his palms on his pants, and pointed a flashlight in Spock's eye. “Mhm,” he said. “What exactly was it that you gave him?”
“I brought him a vase of a few. I forgot to tell him not to eat any of it, I was busy and Pavel was talking to me and—”
“Kid, trust me when I say weirder things have happened.”
He snapped his mouth shut and nodded. That was true. Once they had a kid on board that turned people into lizards. Once they had a furry worm from hell crawling through the Jeffries tubes like a dragon through a cave. He pressed his lips firmly together. Damn, he should’ve clarified that they were for aesthetic purposes only.
“M’Benga!” McCoy called, steering Spock onto the biobed, “Get your ass out here!”
“Hikaru is sick,” Spock said, causing the man in question to jump. “He has an ache of the stomach.”
Ignoring the fact that Spock called him by his first name, Sulu shook his head when McCoy looked at him with an eyebrow raised.
“I’ll look at him in a bit, Spock,” the doctor promised. “Why don’t you sit down for a moment?”
M’Benga bustled into the room, pulling on gloves. He tilted his head when he saw Spock being held up by Sulu.
“What can I do for you?” he said.
“Have you ever seen a high Vulcan?” McCoy asked him.
The two looked at each other and McCoy tossed over the tricorder with a flip of his hand. “Vulcan neurochemistry isn’t quite my specialty, but I believe even I can tell what that is,” he said. M’Benga nodded in response.
“I think you may be right.” Without a glance toward the two of them, M’Benga strolled out the door and into the lab.
McCoy paused before leaving. “Sulu, you going to be alright looking after him for a while?”
He nodded numbly. Spock muttered something, his eyes drooping. Oh no indeed, he thought. Sulu hopped up on the biobed next to him (because Spock didn’t seem altogether willing to stay sitting down) and sighed at the wall.
“Is your stomach…”
“I’m fine, Spock,” he said, reaching over to pat the other man on the hand.
He sighed. He had plenty of energy an hour ago, but it seemed to be sapping away by the minute. He closed his eyes and rested his head against the hard wall, enjoying the feeling of the cool metal. Spock's abnormal warmth was still present beside him, so Sulu knew he hadn’t run away. He almost felt himself falling asleep to the whir of machines and bustle of lab assistants, but he knew he was responsible for the current state of the first officer, so dozing off in a time of crisis was probably not the best course of action.
Sulu opened his eyes, the bright sterile white of the sickbay sending a jolt of pain through his head. Spock was examining his hand in great detail as if it had told him the secret to true happiness in the universe.
“Well,” McCoy said, busting though the doors with a hypospray in hand, “I’ve got your diagnosis.”
Sulu sat up straighter. Spock did nothing at all. M’Benga tried to smother a laugh.
“So, as M’Benga helped to determine, the Vulcan brain’s response to common psychoactive substances is much different than humans’. What you’ve got here is...a common opiod!”
“Oh my god the Salvia,” Sulu confirmed.
“Yep,” M’Benga said.
“What can you do?” he asked, glancing at Spock, who had lowered his hand and was staring at the opposite wall with an expression that was disturbingly close to a smile. “It’s just an opiod, can’t you give him something?”
McCoy glanced at his friend and sighed, less humored than exasperated. “I could, yes, but the easiest solution to such a small dose is to let him be. I’ve taken him off duty for today and tomorrow. This,” he said, waving the hypospray, “is for you. Don’t think I can’t see that headache.”
Sulu almost groaned. He could feel it, that was for sure.
The I-got-the-commander-stoned experience could hardly get worse, but Spock somehow managed. In the cafeteria while Sulu was shoving spaghetti noodles into his mouth and listening to Ensign Camila spin a shockingly inappropriate story of her time on Orion, Spock plopped down beside him. He nearly choked, and the ensign froze her story with a look of sheer panic.
“H…hey commander,” Sulu said, wiping his mouth, “I’m surprised to see you here.”
Sulu was thankful that he had recovered so quickly. Being responsible for the first officer’s death would have been quite unfortunate.
Spock didn’t beat around the bush. “I apologize for my behavior yesterday,” he said. “it was unbecoming for a Vulcan.”
“No, please don’t apologize, I’m the one who gave you an opiate. I totally didn’t think. I was in the wrong, Spock, and everybody knows it, so don’t think you were un-Vulcan or emotional or anything.” He shrugged, avoiding eye contact in favor of shoveling more food into his mouth. One of the best parts of talking to Spock was that he could get away with doing things that would be considered rude to another human.
A communicator from a table away beeped. “I will no longer consume the flora that you bring me,” Spock told him as if it was regrettable.
“That might be a good idea. Unless I tell you otherwise.”
“Indeed,” Spock said, and walked away as abruptly as he had come.
“Doctor McCoy? Doctor McCoy, please respond!”
The communicator hissed static.
“Doctor!” he called, spinning the dial and feeling for a pulse in Spock's neck. It was there, thank goodness, but it was weak and atypical. Sulu had no idea if Vulcans had a different heartbeat than humans, hell, he didn’t even know if his body temperature was supposed to be this cold.
“McCoy here,” came the reply.
Sulu almost sobbed. “There’s something wrong with Spock! He’s unconscious, his breathing is erratic, I don’t know what his heartbeat is supposed to be,” he said, unable to keep the urgency out of his voice.
“Mr. Sulu?” McCoy said, his voice faint and warped. “The quake busted our rover. I’m dead in the water about 30 miles from you. You’re going to have to tell me what’s going on.”
“Shit,” he muttered, apparently loud enough to hear.
“Do you see any external markings? Rashes or open wounds?”
He couldn’t see any blood except for the dirty laceration caused by the fall. Sulu lifted up Spock’s sleeves looking for bites, pushed up his shirt in search of hidden wounds, but he found nothing. He looked in between Spock's fingers. He looked in the creases of Spock's pants. Nothing.
“I can’t find anything. There’s nothing there. He just collapsed!” he said, gripping the commander’s hand as hard as he was the communicator.
“Do you have your tricorder?”
“Yeah, but it’s a botanical tricorder, and Spock's got wet in the fall.” Damn the electrically charged water on this planet.
“Alright, give me a second,” McCoy said, his voice so relaxed it was frustrating.
“He might not have a second!” Sulu argued. He wished something would happen. A gust of wind, another earthquake, anything. Just so he didn’t have to see how motionless his friend was laying. “What’s the situation?” he said to the communicator.
“Borrowed Christine’s tricorder. What can you tell me about his vitals?”
“His breathing is slow. Like, really slow. Sometimes it doesn’t look like he’s doing anything at all. And his skin is hot for him.”
“I have no idea, I don’t know which beats to count, but it…it sounds a little bit funny.” he thought of the stuttered echo and shivered. What would he do if Spock stopped breathing? Did CPR even work on Vulcans?
“Okay,” McCoy said without hesitation, “I’m going to need you to do a couple of things for me. Snap your fingers next to his ears, and if he does nothing, I need you to put his hand on your psi points.”
“Already did the first. Put his hand where?
“One finger above your eyebrow, one beside your nose, and another at the edge of your lips. He might be in an emergency healing trance, and pulling him out of it will be dangerous. If he isn’t, though, and he’s just unconscious, we’ve got a whole different problem. If you establish a psychic connection while he’s in a healing trance, he should at least respond instinctually.”
Hikaru did at told, trying to mold Spock's hands to his psi points. He resisted the urge to bury his face in the commander’s large palm and pretend like it was all going to be alright. But it wasn’t. Spock made no response, physical or otherwise, to the meld position.
“He’s not doing anything!” he told McCoy urgently.
“Damn it,” he said.
There was a pause in the communication, presumably as the doctor was thinking, but it was so quiet he thought for a moment that Spock might have stopped breathing. Sulu did his best not to panic and pressed his ear against the commander’s chest. There was the unreliable thud of a heartbeat. And breathing. He couldn’t tell if it was his adrenaline making it seem like the respiration rate was decreasing or if it actually was.
“And there was nothing at all that he could have walked through, breathed in, been stung by?” It was Christine’s voice this time, and Sulu was relieved that he was not the only one to have lost his composure a little bit.
“There’s no insectoid life on this planet,” he said. “And he was walking right next to me the whole time. We were both perfectly…”
Wait. Wait, there had been something. Spock had stopped for just a moment to investigate a geological sample, a white-clear quartz vein with speckles of metallic color. While he knelt and brushed away a light pink moss, Sulu had run his tricorder over bright, blossom-like fungi that responded to his movements. As the scans came back they continued on with little thought to either. Sulu felt fine, so it must have been something that either reacted very differently to their species, or something Spock touched that he did not.
Sulu stood, brushing dirt from his knees. “One minute, Doctor. Sulu to bridge,” he called.
“Kirk here. What’s the situation?”
“Commander Spock is in critical condition. We are attempting to locate the specimen that is responsible for his state right now. Captain, before the interference, Spock was investigating a quartz vein and his tricorder should have picked up the nearby plant life. I need to know what was in it.”
“Damn it. I’ll call in M’Benga,” the captain said.
His heartbeat was echoing in his ears. Sweat was beginning to dampen the fabric underneath his collar, and he dimly recognized his relief when the sun disappeared again behind the clouds. With the lack of red light, Spock looked much weaker, much greener. As of now, it was only Sulu’s tricorder and communicator that still worked. They had yet to hear from Chekov or any of the other members of the landing party, but he assumed that he would have been informed if something similar had happened to them. If the plant that Spock came in contact with had somehow poisoned him, he would’ve gotten the scans before the tricorder fizzled out and transporter capabilities were lost.
“Sulu,” came M’Benga’s voice.
“What was it?”
“It wasn’t anything, lieutenant. It’s just moss. What the tricorder recorded wasn’t the cause of the Commander’s current situation. He must have come in contact with it before he activated the sensors.”
He tried very hard not to crush the communicator in his hand.
“We are able to monitor your vital signs in your current location,” he continued, “and while yours has remained stable, his has not.”
“Lieutenant Sulu, please do your best in locating the substance,” the captain said, and Sulu thought he sounded scared. Which was good. Because Sulu was fucking terrified.
“Yes sir. I’m going back right now. Will you monitor Spock while I’m gone?” Hikaru asked.
“I’ll tell you if his condition changes. Have you gotten a hold of Bones?” Jim said.
He nodded and then realized that they couldn’t see him. “Yes. He said his rover was damaged and he’s too far away to get here quickly. Are transporters still offline?”
“I’m afraid so, lieutenant.”
Hikaru looked at the sky, the sun nowhere to be seen beneath thick black clouds. He steeled himself and pushed Spock's unconscious body beneath a small overhang and dashed the way they had come, praying that his communicator wouldn’t short out like Spock's had. There was some sort of strange electrical charge in the water and they couldn’t let electronics touch it. Fortunately or unfortunately, they knew for sure that the rain was not what had caused Spock's condition.
Sulu dashed over a bridge of tan colored rocks, tiptoed around lichen that looked like cilia, and dashed towards the little clearing where they had beamed down. It looked so peaceful and welcoming, despite the growing wind. He recognized the fungus right away as it swayed toward him. Spock had been a bit to the left, over by the—there, the quartz vein. Chunks of gold protruded from the rock, framed by the same pink moss that he had mistakenly thought to be the problem.
He approached cautiously.
“I’m sending you scans of the area,” he said, pointing his tricorder at the vein.
“Receiving,” M’Benga said.
He pointed slowly, the box-like mechanism in his hand whirring. He knew he had to go slowly to pick up any life signs he had missed before, to focus on every target that he possibly could, but his fingers trembled in anticipation. A tiny blue mushroom luminesced slightly. The pink cilia moss vibrated.
A raindrop the size of a grape landed right on the tricorder screen.
“Damnit! M’Benga, is it still reading?” he shouted over a sudden gust that flung his hair out of place.
“There was a huge fluctuation. It’s raining there again isn’t it?”
“It sure is,” Sulu mumbled. “My screen is out! Are you still getting anything?”
A shuffle, the push of a distant button, and the sound of ensigns working frantically replaced the sound of M’Benga’s voice. “Still reading. Just don’t let it get wet again!”
Sulu crouched over the tricorder like he was saving a flame from the wind as the rain pelted his back and drenched his clothes. It made little clicking noises that he was sure it was not supposed to. If Spock died… he shook his head. Worrying about it would lead to nothing. Spock would be just fine because he was going to find out what was ailing him and he was going to cure it. A tendril of fungi wrapped itself around his finger and he smiled wanly at it.
“McCoy to Sulu. I’m ten minutes from a port, then I’ll be there as fast as I can. My guess is it will take about 20 to get there. Can you hold on that long?”
Sulu shook his head. “I don’t know, doctor. It’s bad.”
“You’ve got M’Benga on the line?”
“I do,” he said without moving his hands from where they were protecting electronics.
“Good. You just do what he says and Spock will be right as rain in no time. I’ll be there soon.”
Rain was the exact thing that he did not want, but he knew what McCoy was trying to say. He also knew that the doctor was comforting him in the same way that he told injured ensigns that their injuries would be an easy fix no matter how damaged they were. He’d bet money that M’Benga had already told him that Spock's condition was declining. The rain began to tilt sideways with a gust of wind.
“It’s raining harder,” Sulu said, water invading his mouth as he spoke. “Please tell me you have something.”
“I think I do,” M’Benga said. “Do you see a small, star-shaped white epiphyte blossom with pine-shaped leaves? I’d recommend not touching it.”
He scoured the surface. He saw pine needle shaped leaves everywhere, certainly, hidden amongst protruding orange moss leaves and grey dirt. He didn’t see a blossom.
“How small?” he asked.
“My guess is the size of flea. Anyway, its pollen contains H9LX3, a compound we’ve only seen on Denobula up until now. You might know it better as Delfindel blossoms,” M’Benga said, hesitant. However impressive of a doctor he was, he did not know botany like Sulu did. He was probably reciting what he heard from the computer, hoping it would make sense to someone who knew plants better. Namely, him.
And the name Delfindel blossoms certainly meant something to him. When the Vulcans had first revealed themselves in other parts of the galaxy, Denobula had been among them. The Denobulans themselves had never been a combative race, but others nearby who knew what the foliage of the paradise-like planet had to offer were. A terrorist group known as the Suliban Cabal was familiar with the material and successfully assassinated several Vulcan high council operatives using an isolated version of the same compound. Only many years later when Starfleet had grown in strength did they again encounter the Suliban and their strategies and connect the two. Delfindel blossoms were not, apparently, the only plant with the neurotoxin that would kill a Vulcan in under a half hour.
Sulu only had fifteen minutes left.
“I know what to do,” he told M’Benga, and rushed to the side. He stopped. The rain had abated a bit. It was probably safe to bring out the tricorder again. “I need you to look for the antidote,” he said. “On an atomic level if necessary. It’s very nearly the same compound, but the beryllium atom has been transitioned into the center of the structure.”
“I know what it looks like, Sulu, but that could take hours!”
“it won’t,” he assured him. “It’s got to be in the same plant. The energy creation process uses the early form of the poison as its means of photosynthesis. Only during reproduction would it release—whatever. I need to find plants with only buds. Blossoms that are very far from blooming. Lots of them.”
M’Benga paused. “High concentrations of Phenylactemine is what you’re saying?”
Sulu’s eyes searched fervently for the nearly microscopic blossom. It didn’t take long for him to see one in a plant nearby the one M’Benga had directed him to earlier. He plucked it and it was barely visible in his palm. He’d need a lot to make any sort of difference. A quick search yielded four more.
M’Benga’s voice fizzled back in. “I’ve got a hit about thirty feet to your left!”
“Got it!” he said, spotting a patch of green. Sulu didn’t dare run to it in case he missed some on the way, so he scanned the ground like a tricorder, buds cradled gently in his palm. Sure enough, the little patch of green was accented by the pale blossoms like pins stuck in a cushion, and he plucked them as fast as he possibly could without dropping any.
“9:00 about ten feet,” came the voice from his communicator. His head was taking the blunt of the rain, but he didn’t care. His comm was safe in a plastic bag, so that would be fine.
He dove for the other patch. This one had handfuls of them, but they were interspersed with tiny white flowers.
“No good, M’Benga. These have got too many blossoms,” Sulu said, heart clenching as he dropped them to the ground.
“Damn,” said the doctor. “Alright, another smaller one—”
“I see it.”
Three feet behind that one was a smaller patch of acceptable ones. Soon he’d have enough for Spock to ingest, but he wanted to apply it topically as well. They’d need more, and he relayed it quickly.
“Yeah. On the other side of the clearing next to that weird-ass mushroom is a little patch, and then another ten feet north of that.”
The mushroom bumped fondly against his head while he harvested the plant that grew around the piece of rotten wood next to it. That was probably enough for the antidote, but he wasn’t going to take any chances. Sulu lifted his shirt and used the makeshift pocket as a pouch. Their total mass could only have filled a tablespoon.
“One more patch!” he shouted.
There was silence for a second. “Have you got enough?” the voice said.
“Just barely. I’d like a bit more.”
“The commander’s heart rate has dropped. You do what you gotta do, but do it quick,” M’Benga said. His voice carried through Sulu’s head like an echo. “There’s one more concentrated point at the edge of the cliff right next to where he fell.”
Sulu stood, clutching the blossoms in the bundle of his shirt, and bolted toward the natural bridge. He was three minutes away from Spock. Four, if he was being as careful on the foreign terrain as he should. The pulse of his heartbeat was so strong it almost blocked out the sound of the rain. Sulu ran so hard his feet felt like they were going to bruise, like he was leaving scorch marks in the wet sand behind him. He could see the little rock he had tucked Spock underneath. It was dry, but far too small for him to work underneath.
He pulled the lid off of his tricorder with a pop and dumped the specimens inside, crushing them with a thumb. Light red liquid seeped from the damaged foliage, staining his knuckle the color of candy. With a few more crushes, he had a thick paste. Now he just had to get to Spock.
The Vulcan wasn’t light by any means, but pulling him out from under a rock was much easier than shoving him beneath it. He covered the makeshift tricorder bowl and wrenched Spock forward. His head lolled weakly, and it took Sulu a minute to discern any breathing at all.
“Here goes,” he told himself, pouring the paste into Spock's mouth and holding the remnants to his nose in hopes that some of it would be inhaled. The antidote was fast acting and had some amount of effectiveness when applied topically. Soon Spock should be recovering enough brain function to regain regular breathing patterns and other semi-autonomous functions like swallowing.
“Come on,” he pleaded.
Sulu tried the meld position again, holding Spock’s hand to the side of his face. He felt a twitch under his fingertips.
“Come on, Spock, you can do it!”
Spock's larynx jumped, and Sulu heaved a breath of relief. The next few seconds brought two more swallows, responses to the foreign substance in his mouth, and Sulu laughed in glee.
He felt dizzy and a little bit nauseous as his emergency adrenaline high had dissipated, and he let his head collapse against Spock's chest. He felt the rise and fall of breathing through the spongy wet uniform. Sulu began to actually feel the raindrops against his head. They were cold. He was cold, he realized, his body shivering in waves. He laughed weakly, not bothering to shift his weight from the rocks that dug into his knees. One of his fists clutched Spock's shirt like it had a mind of its own.
A hand landed on top of his soaked hair.
“Sulu,” Spock started, his voice gravelly and weak.
“Don’t try talking just yet,” Sulu said, sitting up. Spock's hand fell to his shoulder. “Doctor McCoy’s on his way. Just close your eyes and conserve strength until then.”
Spock didn’t oblige right away. His deep brown eyes peered at Sulu for much longer than he would have preferred, his hair plastered to his forehead and water glistening where it could catch hold on his skin. And finally, while Sulu reached for his communicator, Spock's eyes closed. This time it was exhaustion, not poison, that sent him into unconsciousness.
After the mission that went a little too wrong, Sulu kept dreaming. He dreamed, in the literal sense, about Spock's cold hands carding through his rain-drenched hair, and as the dream transformed their hair dried and Spock's complexion returned to him and Sulu held him the way that his conscious thoughts refused to allow. It was pitiful, he thought, how far gone he was for someone he had never even spent casual time alone with. It was pitiful how Pavel nudged him in the ribs whenever Spock walked in the room, how Uhura had started wearing a conniving little smirk whenever she looked at them. It was unnerving how the captain patted him sympathetically on the back whenever they happened to cross paths.
Spock was oblivious, not an idiot. Hikaru knew it was just a matter of time until he was forced to address the issue. He dreamed, in the metaphorical sense, of running his hands through Spock's hair. On his shift when they spent more time waiting than exploring, he thought, daringly, about whether or not Vulcans kissed like humans. It was unprofessional, he knew that, but the annoying little seed of hope had already been planted in his heart.
More often than not, he found himself hiding in the greenhouse.
Janice found him there the day after a very stressful mission with food he forgot he needed. She had a small coffee stain on her left sleeve and the intricate weave of her hair was starting to come undone. It was a difficult day for her as well, undoubtedly.
“Hikaru,” she said, holding a tray of purple leaves and spices.
He jolted. “What time is it?”
She glared at him. “Don’t pretend you were asleep, your eyes were open when I got here five minutes ago. You know,” she said, kneeling beside him on the grey material that padded the floor beneath the raised beds, “cilantro is fascinating, but I don’t think it needs that much attention.”
“You’re supposed to talk to plants to make them happy,” he said tiredly, running his thumb absently against a packet of seeds. The label was starting to peel off.
“Maybe you should focus on what you need,” she said, petting the top of his head like she was trying to placate a small dog. “The plants can wait until tomorrow morning.”
His eyes were starting to burn from lack of sleep, but stress made actual rest very, very difficult for him. She made an effort to steer him out (towards either a therapist or his bedroom, he could never tell) even though she knew the effort was mostly in vain.
Hikaru sighed. He opened his mouth to tell her that he had no intention of leaving his beautiful, beautiful children when the door opened with a hiss. Janice stood, her hand leaving his head and returning to the tray. He wished he could close his eyes.
Spock stood inside the door, greeting Gertrude as she wiggled her leaves at him from her perch on the desk. His hair was out of its pristine order and his shirt was torn and rumpled. There were dark circled under his eyes that undermined his constant insistence that Vulcans didn’t need as much sleep as humans. Sulu frowned and rubbed the tiredness out of his eyes, but only succeeded in poking himself in the cheek with a cilantro blossom.
Spock exchanged a look with Janice. She huffed a laugh that Sulu probably would’ve been able to interpret had he been less sleep-delirious but his brain was running at a thousand thoughts per second and it was starting to give him a headache.
“Feeling alright, Commander?” she asked politely.
“Adequate, Yeoman Rand. If I may?”
“Course,” she smiled, and handed him the food tray. “But you both better get to sleep soon or I may or may not mention scheduling to McCoy.”
“Understood,” Spock said at the same Sulu yawned “shut up, Jan.”
He tilted his head back against the side of the herb garden and relished the pressure and cold of the alloy. Spock walked towards him until his shoes touched Sulu’s thigh. His brain was both wired and sluggish, and he didn’t press away the thoughts as they came to him. He wanted to curl his fingers around Spock's thin ankle or pull him down by the hand that was so close to brushing against the top of his head.
Spock knelt next to him, dark eyes displaying a hint of concern. “The other members of the crew have retired to their quarters already,” he said.
“Can’t sleep,” Sulu explained with a shrug. “It’s nothing new.”
“Perhaps I can be of assistance,” he said, holding up his hand. Sulu knew just enough about telepathy to assume that he meant some sort of “Vulcan voodoo” and nothing beyond that. Spock must have sensed the confusion. “I would not put you to sleep but rather ease your anxiety.”
That sounded appealing enough. Admittedly any alternative to wallowing in his feelings would be an improvement. “Why would you do that?” he asked, knowing perfectly well how conservative his friend was with touch telepathy on the ship.
The crow’s feet at the edges of Spock's eyes deepened and a dimple appeared on his left cheek, which was the sort of Spock-smile that made Sulu’s heart turn into absolute goo. He bit back a mournful protest.
“As the captain might say: why not?” Spock said.
“Yeah,” he laughed, as if he could resist that face, “sure. Why not?”
Sulu reflexively closed his eyes as a hand approached his face. It seemed that as soon as Spock's fingers made contact with his temple, his headache disappeared in a wash of a pleasant chill. The tension in his muscles drained away and he felt a bit like he’d never been on the mission at all.
“That’s amazing,” he said as Spock pulled his hand away.
“It is a process that requires very little energy on my part. I would prefer that you let me know so that I may be of help before you reach this state,” Spock said, looking at him like he might crash at any moment.
Sulu felt gratitude well up in his chest and wondered, very briefly, what it would be like to reclaim Spock's hand. He would trace his fingers along the lines of the palm and maybe, if he was daring enough—
“Do it,” Spock said.
“What,” he stammered, clutching both hands around the cilantro blossom like a kid hiding stolen cookies behind their back.
The half smile was gone from Spock’s face, replaced with a sort of intensity that Sulu didn’t want to (really, really wanted to) think about. He pried the flower from Hikaru’s hand and replaced it with his own. It was a blatant offering. The inevitable rush of thoughts began again: how did he know? For how long? But one echoed more loudly than the others.
You can, it said. He told you to.
Sulu abandoned any plausible deniability and took the offered hand in his own, running his thumbs across knuckles and threading their fingers like some sort of a kiss. Well. What was it that he had seen Sarek and Amanda do again? No wonder, he laughed. Before he could urge himself to do otherwise, he lifted Spock's hand to his lips and kissed the center of the green-tinged palm. His impulsiveness was rewarded with a sharp intake of breath.
“This is completely unprofessional,” he said into Spock's hand, grinning. Flicking his eyes up he determined that yes, the ever-so-stoic commander was blushing as much as he himself must be.
“I believe the Captain will be sympathetic to our cause,” Spock told him.
“No way,” Sulu said, “You asked him about this already, didn’t you?”
Spock lifted an eyebrow as if to say, “of course.”
“Oh, no wonder,” he groaned, “and here I was thinking I was being too obvious.”
“You acted with very little subtlety,” Spock confirmed.
Sulu laughed and tipped his head into Spock’s chest. Janice found them that way thirty minutes later, half asleep, and she gave them a look that left absolutely no question that they’d never hear the end of it.
Three weeks prior:
“Come on in, Mr. Spock,” Jim said, finishing the paragraph before he raised his eyes to the door.
“Captain,” Spock said, standing a bit stiffer than usual. Jim didn’t even know that was possible.
“What have you got for me today?” he asked standing up to fetch the tea that they usually shared in times like this. He was sure it wasn’t important, Spock always had an intensity about him when something was wrong. Today, he was just…unsure. Confused, almost.
One elegantly pointed eyebrow twitched. “I have recently become aware of a crewman’s…attention…to myself that I believe pushes the boundaries of professionalism.”
He rolled his eyes. “That was quite a mouthful. You mean Lieutenant Sulu, I take it?” Even Bones had noticed the little flower-giving incident, and he was willfully blind as a bat when it came to romance.
Spock looked off-balance. “You are aware of it, then.”
Jim brought a light grey geometric-patterned cup and set it next to Spock on the table. He took a calming sip of his own, relishing the thickness of the honey, and turned his full attention to his first officer.
“Spock, there’s not a person on board this ship who wasn’t aware of it. What’s the problem?”
“I have been required to transfer personnel when their relationships with one another interfered with their work,” he stated. It looked as if he were a little unsure of what the problem was.
“Sulu dated Ensign Parker for a year and a half. He’s not the type to let it interfere. And really, interpersonal relationships are part of the reason we’re on this voyage. We can’t stop forming relationships with each other if we hope to form meaningful partnerships with those we make contact with. So why not, Spock? Drink your tea.”
“Captain?” he said, hand mechanically grabbing for the cup next to his elbow.
Jim smiled. He’d been waiting for this conversation for a month. He was going to enjoy every bit of it. “Does Mr. Sulu’s attention make you uncomfortable?”
“I am Vulcan,” he said blandly, “I do not feel—”
Alright, I walked right into that one. “Sorry, rephrasing. Would you prefer that Lieutenant Sulu cease communicating with you in the manner that he has been?”
Spock pursed his lips and drew his eyebrows together in a noticeable frown. “I do not know,” he said.
Jim didn’t say “I told you so” because he was a mature adult and would at least wait until Spock had left the room. Instead, he nodded sympathetically. “As you commanding officer, I give you permission to engage in a romantic relationship with persons under your rank provided that it not interfere with your ability to complete the tasks you undertake as first officer. Happy?”
“No,” Spock told him.
He chuckled. “Alright, Spock. Just think about it, alright? All you have to do if you want it to stop is talk to him. He’s respectful. He’ll understand.”
Taking a long, final sip of his tea, Spock nodded. “Thank you, captain,” he said.
“No problem at all,” Jim grinned.