Yunlan hadn’t realized he’d been searching for his first officer until well into his third stroll of the recreation room.
What used to be reserved for computer-simulated field sports like competitive archery or Andorian rugby had been converted into a lively, decked out party space of silver and gold to celebrate the new year. Although most of the Humans aboard were welcoming its arrival, other species were celebrating its end with traditions of their own. Those whose homeworlds did not follow stardate calendars still indulged in the festivities, grateful for anything breaking the monotony that sometimes came with serving on a starship.
As Captain, Yunlan knew his presence would be anticipated. Not that it was particularly a chore, secretly relieved to get away from quarterly reports he had yet to submit. By default, wherever the Captain was, the First Officer could be found as well. Except here he was, synthehol in hand as cold as the glaringly empty space to his right, sans Shen Wei.
Shit. I really got it bad. He needed to stop being an idiot. Yunlan donned his best Captain’s smile, allowing the talk of ‘Fleet politics and earnest new year resolutions to distract him from Shen Wei-shaped thoughts. All the while, he turned a blind eye to Lin Jing and Congbo’s illegal brewery constructed with spare engineering parts that were definitely not being used as the manufacturer intended.
As the food and drinks flowed without end, anticipation charged the air, time ticking down on the holographic chronometer projected. At some point, Wang Zheng pulled him on the dance floor, transporting Yunlan back to his Academy days when he had fewer wrinkles around his eyes, fewer scars, fewer daydreams involving someone lightyears out of his league. Perhaps he should have set his sights lower, but then again, his professors did accuse him for being the poster boy of shamelessness.
Breaking away from the dance floor once his legs began to ache, Yunlan broke through the crowd until he found a quiet corner to catch his breath. If his seat just happened to face the entrance of the rec room in case a certain science officer decided to show up, well— that was nobody’s business.
“Looking for someone?”
Sliding into the seat next to his, Zhu Hong looked stunning in her sequined dress. Yunlan thought she looked beautiful even in her usual medical blue, but red was definitely her color. At least in her current outfit there was no way she could hide hyposprays to torture him with, but Yunlan remained watchful. Past experience had taught him never to underestimate her.
“No idea what you’re talking about.”
His CMO scoffed, taking a swig of her drink. “Sure you don’t. You’re a worse liar than all these fools who swear they won’t need me to cure their hangover tomorrow.”
Yunlan laughed at how disgruntled Zhu Hong sounded knowing her sickbay would be overrun tomorrow. “Lin Jing wasn’t kidding when he said that stuff was strong. I already told him there’s a drink limit for everyone.”
“Good luck imposing that.”
“I’ll pull rank if I have to.”
“One of your softer approaches, I see.” Tearing her gaze away from the subject of their conversation, Zhu Hong fixed Yunlan with her signature piercing glare. The exact one she wore when he tried to avoid his bi-annual physical. “Don’t think I didn’t notice you avoiding my question.”
“Do you want another drink?” he tried, already halfway out of his seat. “I think I saw some Cardassian ale—”
Sharp nails bit into his forearm, pulling him right back down. “Don’t play games with me, Zhao Yunlan. I know you better than you know yourself.”
Yunlan loved her, he really did, but sometimes having his CMO be his closest friend was a real pain in the ass. “Was I that obvious?”
The look on her face said more than he was comfortable with. “Yes. And, because I care about you, you should know this.” Her hold on his arm loosened, warm fingers trailing down until she held his hand gently in hers. “Shen Wei isn’t coming.”
Oh. Yunlan swallowed down the heavy disappointment lodged in his throat. Naturally Shen Wei would not come; the heightened emotions packed in one room would have been an overabundance of sensory input for a Vulcan. Yunlan held onto that excuse, not yet ready to face the truth of the matter.
Shen Wei was purposefully hiding from him.
As if able to read his thoughts, Zhu Hong rolled her eyes. “Yunlan, if he’s not here, you should go to him,” she suggested, as if it was the most obvious thing to do and Yunlan was a dumb ass for not doing so.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea—”
“It’s not like you want to be here, right?” She squeezed his hand before letting go. “Look, there’s fifteen minutes left until the new year. Do you want to spend those minutes here, or with that pointy-eared smartass you’ve fallen head over heels with for who knows why?”
Yunlan hated when she was right. “Hong-jie—”
“Science labs.” Zhu Hong’s eyes swam with fond amusement. Or maybe it was the drink. He wasn’t entirely sure. “Now get out of here.”
Slipping away wasn’t hard. As he hurried down the hall for the nearest turbolift, the last two years flashed across his mind. Had he known accepting a transferal to the Guardian would alter his life in the best of ways, Yunlan would have accepted it sooner. The distaste of having others believe he got the position due to being Zhao Xinchi’s brat rather than through merit was what delayed his decision.
The starship’s Vulcan first officer had certainly been a deciding factor in his eventual acceptance. Shen Wei’s reputation preceded him, recognized for his precise, logical mind, scientific accomplishments, and honorable service to the Fleet. Yunlan couldn’t deny his curiosity was piqued. But of all the things he’d heard, curiosity did not prepare him for how beautiful Shen Wei was. It wasn’t just his physical appearance that had Yunlan lying awake in the early hours before his shift. Beneath the rigid Vulcan mask so many misinterpreted as emotionless, there was a hidden warmth and kindness Yunlan had witnessed on multiple occasions.
It was at the rocky start of their five-year mission when the lieutenant commander first surprised him. Beamed down to the surface of Leonis IV for a routine survey, the away team was unexpectedly attacked by a predatory species. Unfortunately, Ensign U’Bani, whose theoretical simulations were marked with exceptional scores, suffered a panic attack midway through her first mission. Seeing as she was distressed over nearly endangering her teammates, Yunlan felt it was his responsibility as Captain to comfort her.
Yet, it was Shen Wei who approached the ensign first, consoling her with quiet words as he escorted her to sickbay with a gentle hand on her back. To anyone else, the detail would seem trivial, but Yunlan by then had learned how touch-adverse his first officer was. The fact he did so meant he was placing the ensign’s comfort above his own, a matter that was by no means insignificant. Hours later, Shen Wei had privately informed him he had instructed the ensign through Vulcan meditative techniques, expecting her to perform satisfactorily on her next assignment.
Shock did not begin to describe Yunlan’s reaction, but he masked it under a smile and his heartfelt thanks.
“Gratitude is unnecessary, Captain.”
“Well, you have it anyways. I can think of no one better who deserves the crew’s appreciation. And my own.”
The tips of Shen Wei’s ears coloring like spring moss had been the second shock of his day, a sight that remained on his mind long after the commander left his quarters.
Over the course of those strained months trying to balance his impulsive nature with his first officer’s logical temperament, Yunlan noticed again and again Shen Wei’s hidden depths. His first officer was undeniably brilliant, allowing Yunlan to debate with him over any topic under the stars. His curiosity for seeking new knowledge was unparalleled, and Yunlan had caught him several times sporting a small smile when collecting water samples or mapping stellar regions, cataloguing them with precision into the star charts. Even when doing the most mundane of tasks, Shen Wei held himself with dignity and polished control that made Yunlan’s skin hot under the collar.
So consumed by his first officer, he didn’t realize how intertwined their lives had become.
Shared meals in the mess hall which Yunlan insisted on for the sake of building camaraderie. Sparring with one another because Shen Wei criticized Yunlan’s personal combat style as “unrefined for a decorated officer such as yourself.” Missions that ended with one or both of them limping to sickbay, neither leaving the other until Zhu Hong personally kicked them out. Seeking each other to discuss ship matters, even when Yunlan didn’t need Shen Wei’s thoughts but liked to hear them anyways. Quiet glances on the bridge reflecting mutual displeasure when an admiral questioned their judgement. Spending their off hours together in one of the rec rooms for a game of go before migrating to Yunlan’s quarters for additional privacy - - all of it accumulated, turning their professional relationship into an uncommon, extraordinary friendship.
He had been content with just friendship… up until Shen Wei was captured and held in a hostage situation. As if the rug had been pulled out from under him, the feelings which for so long he couldn’t put a name to suddenly became startling clear. Nothing like seeing the person you love tortured in front of your eyes to make you realize some things.
His time as Captain had taught Yunlan he couldn’t save every member of his crew, but he’d be damned if he lost the most important person in his life. Every minute of bargaining for his first officer’s life, not knowing if his next move would endanger Shen Wei further, was spent with a helplessness and barely restrained anger he never wanted to experience again. In the aftermath, sitting in the cold metal chair next to the biobed where Shen Wei laid unconscious under a healing trance, Yunlan made a decision: he had to tell Shen Wei how he felt.
Perhaps it was foolish optimism, but a part of him believed Shen Wei felt the same, had been aware of what had been building between them. His first officer’s time was heavily sought after, yet whenever Yunlan needed him, Shen Wei never turned him away. He could pinpoint moments when he flirted with his first officer, the fruits of his labor almost always the Vulcan equivalent of an eye roll, but on rare occasions, he was treated to Shen Wei’s blushing cheeks. He recalled the many times he woke up in sickbay, Shen Wei’s features softened under the harsh lights, his fingertips grazing Yunlan’s own before pulling away. Small touches like these that could be accidental, but Vulcans were always deliberate in their actions. The evidence was there, so his conclusion was logical. Shen Wei would be proud of him.
Yunlan just needed to say something, but two weeks had passed since the hostage incident, words unsaid.
It really wasn’t his fault.
Once recovered and released from sickbay, Shen Wei stopped attending their weekly go games, citing needing to work overtime to catch up on backlog. He avoided Yunlan in the mess halls, taking meals in his own quarters. Cornering Shen Wei didn’t work since the Vulcan closed himself off even more, refusing to meet Yunlan’s eyes, let alone his questions. Nowadays, the only times Yunlan ever saw Shen Wei was on the bridge. Instead of partaking in their usual banter, Shen Wei’s responses were kept short and overly courteous, lacking its usual warmth.
It didn’t take a genius to realize Shen Wei was angry at him. For what, Yunlan didn’t know, and not knowing soured his mood.
He held back the frustration as the turbolift opened up to the science decks. Occupied by only a skeleton crew, the labs were easy to search through as he made his way past. It didn’t take very long to locate where his officer was hiding. Standing before the door, Yunlan took a deep breath before swiping his hand over the sensor panel. The door slid with a soft hiss, opening to a bioengineering lab where a lone Vulcan was bent over a microscope.
His first officer didn’t look up, but the stiffening of his shoulders didn’t escape Yunlan’s notice. “Captain.”
Stepping forward into the coolness of the lab, he let the door slide shut behind him. “We— No, I. I was waiting for you at the New Year’s party, but you didn’t show up.”
“As I never stated my intent to attend the festivities, it was illogical of you to expect my presence.” Shen Wei reached for his notebook to scribble something within before peering back into his microscope. His unusual preference for old-fashioned note taking rather than using a PADD was one of the many charms Yunlan loved, regardless of its inefficiency.
“Well, it’s not like we see each other long enough for you to tell me anything.” A low blow, but there was some satisfaction in seeing Shen Wei tense. When Shen Wei remained silent, Yunlan sighed. “Computer, engage privacy lock. Captain’s executive code Zhao-delta-eight-oh-two-six. Override access of all ship personnel denied.”
As expected, that gains Shen Wei’s attention. Shen Wei looks up from his microscope, his raised angular eyebrow reflecting his surprise. “For what reason have you engaged the lock?”
“We need to talk, Commander.” Slowly, as if approaching a caged animal, Yunlan began to close the distance between them. “We need to talk about why you didn’t see me after Zhu Hong released you. Why you’ve been avoiding me like the plague. Why even though you’re here in front of me, I feel like I still lost you on Brondi Prime.”
There’s a brief flicker of something that passes Shen Wei’s face, gone before Yunlan can interpret it. Rather than standing over Shen Wei, Yunlan drags a stool over before taking a seat, placing them at eye level. The last thing he wants is to make this feel like an interrogation.
This close, Yunlan frowns at the traces of exhaustion evident on Shen Wei’s face: the gaunt pallor of his face and lips, dark spots under his eyes tinged an unhealthy green, the tight creases between his thick brows from no doubt frowning so often. Straight bangs, normally neat, lay in disarray. A surge of protectiveness constricts Yunlan’s chest, but he restrains himself from reaching out. “When was the last time you slept? Have you meditated at all?”
Shen Wei’s eyes flicker to a spot behind Yunlan. “Your concern for my health shows your lack of faith in Doctor Zhu’s medical care.”
Yunlan snorted. “It’s not a lack of faith. I’m just worried about you.”
“It is natural for a captain to be concerned about his or her crew—”
“—I’m not worried as captain. I’m worried as your friend. As someone who…” This was it. He could say it. “…who has a personal interest in you. Who cares for you, Shen Wei.”
Yunlan counts quietly in his head as he waits for Shen Wei to understand his meaning. By the time Shen Wei looks back at him, there are cracks in his mask, allowing Yunlan to see the guilt and sorrow that bleeds through. “You asked why I have been avoiding you. This is why, Captain.”
Yunlan swallows. “Explain. Whatever I did to make you angry, I’ll make it up to you.” He should be embarrassed by the pleading tone in his voice, but he isn’t. He’s ready to apologize on his knees if need be.
“The fault does not lie with you,” Shen Wei says hurriedly, words colored with surprise. His hand rises from the desk but then he retracts it just as quickly. “I hold no anger towards you. I see now the lack of explanation for my behavior led you to incorrect assumptions. The error is my own.”
“If you aren’t angry with me, then why have you been avoiding me?”
His first officer doesn’t sigh, but he comes close to it. “During the events that transpired on Brondi Prime, I came to a realization about my… regard for you. What I believed to be feelings of friendship was, in fact, something else. An emotion than ran far stronger and deeper than anything I had previously experienced.” Shen Wei closed his eyes, head bowed in defeat. “I realized I harbored amorous feelings towards you, Captain.”
Yunlan had so many questions, but it was hard to think knowing his affections were returned. The happiness coursing through his veins felt like molten gold. “If you think you’re alone in feeling that way, you’re not,” he said quickly, hoping to alleviate Shen Wei’s misplaced guilt. “It took me seeing you be taken as a hostage to finally hit it home how much I loved you.”
For the first time, Shen Wei flinches. He opens his eyes, still avoiding eye contact. “I had surmised your regard for me was mutual. However, once I regained consciousness in sickbay, I was determined not to act upon my yearning. I believed by avoiding you, perhaps such thoughts would cease to exist.”
“But why?” Yunlan’s head was reeling, his stomach churning with uneasiness. “Love doesn’t disappear like that, Shen Wei.” Without thinking, Yunlan reached over, resting his fingers over Shen Wei’s hand, but his first officer curled his hand away.
Yunlan watched with a heavy heart as Shen Wei rose from his seat, taking a few steps away from him. His first officer stood at attention, hands behind his back and mouth set in a straight line. “Given our status, any relationship beyond friendship isn’t advisable, Captain.”
“Yunlan. If we’re gonna be talking about feelings, you should call me by my first name.”
“Calling you by your first name would not remove the fact that you are the captain.”
“Then what would you have me do?” Yunlan asked, throwing his hands up in frustration. “Would you have me give up my captaincy? Is that what I have to do for you to give us a chance?”
Dumbstruck, Shen Wei falters. “Negative. I would not request such a sacrifice. Not only would it be a considerable loss for Starfleet, but it would be unfair to you.”
“Having you,” Yunlan muses faintly, “would be worth it.”
His first officer inclines his head. “It is for this reason I see no logic in forming a relationship. You were compromised because of me on Brondi Prime.”
As if the final piece of the puzzle falls in place, it all begins to click for Yunlan.
“It isn’t unheard of for a captain to use every available resource to protect his or her crew,” Shen Wei continues on, “but the efforts you took to rescue me were beyond rational. Your actions were enough cause for the Council to question your command. I do not wish to see you emotionally compromised as a result of me. Had it not been for Admiral Ma Gui and Admiral Fu You speaking on your behalf, the Guardian would be awaiting a new captain.”
This time, it was Yunlan’s turn to flinch. He would be repaying his debt to both Admirals well into his next life. He came close to being stripped of his rank, the endless debriefings having to defend his decisions during the hostage crisis replaying in his mind. “My judgement was clouded for a moment, but—”
“—A singular moment is sufficient evidence, Cap- Yunlan.” Shen Wei steps forward, his eyes imploring him to see reason. “Your inability to separate personal feelings from duty occurred when only friendship defined us. What would happen if we entered a romantic relationship?”
The hum of the engines and the soft whirring of the ventilation fan filled the silence following Shen Wei’s words. He thought clearing the air with Shen Wei would bring them closer, but the physical distance between them only emphasized the opposite. There was truth to what Shen Wei pointed out, a truth that Yunlan had long since accepted. He’d been compromised, but he could not find it in himself to feel regretful.
It was Yunlan’s turn to stand, offering a sad smile to his First. “I don’t know what would happen. I imagined it would be the same as what we have now, just with hand-holding and kissing.” Ignoring Shen Wei’s startled expression, he shakes his head ruefully. “I won’t deny my judgement was questionable, but I promise that is the first and last time it will happen. There is a reason why we have a CMO on board. Zhu Hong wouldn’t be afraid to declare either of us unfit if we were compromised from carrying out our duty. Hell, she and Shuzhi banded together and talked sense into me a few times on Brondi Prime.”
Shen Wei still remained unmoved. “Nevertheless—”
“I don’t believe in no-win scenarios, Commander. I’m aware of my duty to this ship, to this crew.” He steps closer, allowing his gaze to roam over Shen Wei’s long eyelashes, the swoop his unblemished cheeks, how his ears curve into delicate points. Unconsciously, Shen Wei leans forwards, Vulcan control no match for desire. “I also know that you’re it for me.”
Cautiously, Yunlan brings a hand between them, hovering above Shen Wei’s lower abdomen where his heart lay. He doesn’t make an effort to move away, and Yunlan takes it as a sign before pressing his hand firmly against rigid muscles and a strong heartbeat. The heat of Shen Wei’s body draws Yunlan into his personal space until they’re inches apart.
“I know you’re trying to protect us,” he says kindly, his thumb rubbing slow circles into Shen Wei’s side, “but that doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice this. It’s not like there isn’t any precedent of first officers and captains being together romantically.”
Shen Wei’s hands remain firmly behind him, not relaxing until Yunlan has counted to fifteen. “Precedent does not ensure ‘the road will be easy,’ to borrow a Human colloquialism.” His warm breath flows over Yunlan’s lips, causing him to shiver.
“No, but we’ll make it work. I think we make a good team, on and hopefully off the bridge. But if you say no, I’ll respect that.”
Holding a breath, he waits for Shen Wei to consider his words. He prepares himself for possible rejection, but the steady heartbeat under his fingertips soothes away his worries. “Were I to agree,” Shen Wei begins, bringing Yunlan out from his thoughts, “we should discuss this with Doctor Zhu. The ramifications of our relationship changing must be made transparent to her. I wish to… avoid making any more mistakes in the future.”
“You and me both.” The mention of his CMO made him chuckle. “I forgot, she was the reason I came here. Not just to speak with you,” he explains sensing Shen Wei’s puzzlement, “but to also welcome the new year with you.”
“Ah.” Yunlan tries not to burst with joy when one of Shen Wei’s hands reaches forward to curl over his wrist. “Would you not rather do so with the others?”
“Nah, I’d rather be here with you.” Yunlan glances behind Shen Wei where the chronometer displayed the time. “We’re welcoming the new year. Should we celebrate with a Human tradition?”
The corners of Shen Wei’s mouth turn upward. “You refer to a New Year’s kiss. I am familiar with this tradition, strange as it is.”
“Oh?” Now Yunlan was really grinning openly. “Have you indulged in a few?”
Shen Wei’s ears flushed the color of jade. “No, not personally. I meant my father would indulge my mother as she was fond of that tradition. Although it was just a Vulcan kiss, it made her incredibly happy.”
A Vulcan kiss? Well, if Yunlan was going to date one, he better start learning about cultural differences. “Is it different from Human kissing?”
“Affirmative.” Shen Wei’s hand lifted from where it had been curled around his wrist, extending his index and middle fingers pressed together. “Our fingers would touch.”
Huh. Yunlan found his fingers itching to touch Shen Wei, who had yet to put his hand down, clearly waiting. “You know, I’ve always— okay, not always, but definitely a lot of times welcomed the new year with Human kisses. The Vulcan way would be a first.”
An eyebrow quirks his direction. “As you are someone open to new experiences, an opportunity is available to you.”
Yunlan glances at the chronometer, the time reading seconds left, the milliseconds counting down rapidly. “Happy new year, Shen Wei.” He brings two fingers together, brushing their fingertips together. There’s an instant, minuscule electric shock before a rush of pleasurable heat travels down his fingers. As their fingers caress in a gentle motion, the thrill that Yunlan experiences is reflected in Shen Wei’s heated gaze.
Before he can react, Shen Wei’s lips are over his, careful as they shape over Yunlan’s mouth but no less enjoyable. If the new year brings more kisses like these, Yunlan would count himself the luckiest man this side of the quadrant.