A/N: Slash of the favorite kind. H-B.
Bova himself wasn't particularly bad to look at. His constant blank expression could be a little unnerving, but he wasn't incredibly unattractive or disgusting or rude in any way that caused people to physically refrain from looking at him.
Bova when /eating/, however, caused eyes to avoid looking in his direction like people fleeing from the plague.
Such is the reason why, when Harlan entered the mess hall, his first action was to push Bova's plate out of his grasp before ever sitting down. When he did sit, he did so across from the Uranusian, keeping a firm hold on the plate so it couldn't be retrieved. Bova began to speak, the slight irritation on his face telling a tale of a much more /violent/ emotion beneath the blank exterior. However, brownies aren't the best food to attempt to talk around, and the Uranusian had to take several gulps from the glass near him before he could speak. "Hey," he said finally, and, like his expression, there was only a faint tone of annoyance in his voice. "I was eating that."
"Yeah, I know," Harlan replied, keeping the tray out of the other's reach. "But if I'm going to talk to you, I have to keep from retching. You can have it back when I'm done."
Bova raised an eyebrow, irritation turning to curiosity. Harlan had counted on this as well. There were two ways to successfully distract Bova and both had been implemented in less than an hour: with food and with new information. Both would easily keep him spellbound so long as there was something to do with it. So while Bova looked at him in confused interest, Harlan took that chance to toss the boy's compupad back to him.
It was a slow toss, more of a lob, really, and Bova caught it easily. As part of his curiosity, the Uranusian was also capable of fast comprehension, proven all the more when he blinked a few times and met Harlan's gaze again, slipping the compupad back into his pocket. "…That'd be Suzee's help, then," he commented, not looking upset as Harlan had predicted, or properly awed as the Yensidian would have preferred. He kept Harlan's gaze for a few more beats of silence before speaking again. "So?"
It wasn't a challenge. More of an introduction, really. And since Bova had basically given him an opening for his questions, Harland decided to go ahead and take it. Leaning back in his chair, though keeping a firm grip on Bova's brownie tray, he kept the other's gaze steadily. "What are you really trying to figure out?"
"Why you're interesting," Bova replied, proving to Harlan once again that Uranusian's lacked whatever gene it was that caused embarrassment.
"Why I'm interesting," Harlan repeated. A few beats of silence as the other refused to elaborate any further. "Why are you trying to figure out why I'm interesting?"
"Because it bothers me."
"Something bothers you?" Harlan repeated again, this time with a grin.
The teasing comment was met with only a shrug, blank black eyes never wavering from the human's own.
Harlan sighed. Talking with Bova was a lot like talking to an android. Not Thelma, of course, but a properly functioning android. "Why does it bother you?" he asked instead.
"Because you don't seem particularly interesting," the Uranusian replied with his usual bout of brutal honesty and logic. "There are more interesting people on this ship that I could focus my attention on." A brief pause before he added as an afterthought, "No offense."
Harlan laughed quietly at that, the insult mollified by Bova's attempt to follow polite rules of society. And failing horribly. "But you don't focus your attention on them," the human said. "Why not?"
"Because you're more interesting."
"And you don't know why."
Harlan watched the other in silence. He sat there, unmoving, simply watching, until /Bova/ became impatient and began to glance at the brownies. Uranusian metabolism must be a pain in the ass, in Harlan's solemn opinion, though Bova never complained about it. Bova never complained about much anymore. The first six months, he never /stopped/ complaining, but over the next year the complaints dissolved into… silence. As if, when enough time went by, Bova stopped caring about everything. Even stopped caring about what finding his own crewmate interesting meant.
"Why do you find me interesting?" Harlan asked suddenly.
The Uranusian wrenched his gaze from the brownies and back to Harlan. With a raised brow, he replied, "I told you, I don't know."
"But you can guess," the human told him. "You're a scientist, aren't you? You have theories, right?"
The other blinked at him blankly a few times. "Yes. A few."
"Well, what are they?"
Though his gaze didn't waver, Bova stayed strangely silent.
Well, Harlan never had had much of a problem with sticking his neck out first. That old saying 'look before you leap' had never held much ground in his own personal philosophy, after all. "You like me," he told Bova, in a guess that sounded fairly sure of itself. "You're attracted to me."
Black eyes stayed on his as the other shrugged. "That's a theory, yes. But I'm attracted to Suzee, too, and I've never been compelled to study her like I have you."
In his mind's eye, Harlan flashes back to a certain point in time where Suzee had kissed him. Or, more accurately, he had kissed her. He'd come out of the jump tubes and she'd been there, running up to hug him, and he'd kissed her. Close behind him was Radu, who Suzee had run up to hug and kiss in what Harlan had decided at the time was merely pity. And just after Radu was Bova, only fourteen, with his arms out and lips puckered. Suzee had given him a pat on the head.
He had no problem believing Bova found Suzee attractive. So the problem became, why did Bova find Harlan so incredibly interesting?
"What are your other theories? No, wait," he waved a hand to dismiss the topic as soon as Bova's mouth opened. "Never mind, I don't want to know." While Bova had gotten better about informing everyone of everything that could, would, and already had gone wrong, any invitation for him to start again was taken seriously.
And Bova's blank look had a sense of amusement hovering around it.
More silence passed between them as Harlan tried to think of something, anything that would trap Bova. The human, too, was suddenly very interested in why Bova had been compelled to study him. "So you /are/ attracted to me?"
He really /hated/ the way Bova could say that; so matter-of-fact and who-cares about it. Harlan's eyes narrowed, annoyed now. "Well, doesn't that bother you? You're attracted to a crewmember."
A half-smile appeared on Bova's face, that sense of amusement stronger. "Does it bother /you/?"
'?!' could properly describe Harlan's facial expression at the question. But as soon as it appeared, Bova was already adding, "I meant Catalina and Suzee, Harlan."
"Oh." …Okay, true. But it had been different then. Cat hadn't been with them as long as Bova had been, and Suzee hadn't lived in the same bunk room, hadn't sampled Harlan's most-likely toxic attempts at alcoholic drinks at three o'clock in the morning with himself and Radu. It was different. "We've known each other for four years," he reminds the Uranusian. "We've slept in the same bunk. It's different."
Bova simply shrugged, and that only forced Harlan's irritation to increase. "You don't seem exactly phased by it."
"Why should I be?" And, as with most of Bova's question, it was honestly curious. He also had a habit of being scathingly sarcastic, but mostly curiosity ruled. "It's not like I can change it."
"But it should be weirding you out at least," Harlan informed him, disgruntled at the Uranusian's inability to care. "I mean, Christ, Bova… doesn't it bother you that I might not feel the same way?"
"Not really," he replied in his monotone with another shrug. The grating noise inside Harlan's head was shortly identified as the grinding of his own teeth again. "Like I said, I can't change it. If you don't, you don't."
Harlan's brow furrowed in his own annoyance, staring at Bova. It wasn't quite a glare, but it certainly wasn't nice. When Bova stood to take his empty glass over to the sink, Harlan called out, "What if I do?"
"Then you do," Bova called back over his shoulder.
More grating noises.
By the time Bova had finished rinsing out his cup and setting it aside, Harlan was only a few feet behind him. And when the Uranusian turned, he came face-to-face with a very disgruntled human. "What are you--"
"Here's the thing," Harlan began, brow still furrowed in annoyance. He paused, regarding Bova whose eyes, he noticed, were slightly wider. It was the same look the boy got before dashing off. Harlan leaned forward to grasp the countertop behind Bova, an arm on either side of the Uranusian and effectively trapping him. "Here's the thing," he repeated, becoming no less irritated as Bova glanced at both of his arms and met his gaze again with an unaffected stare of his own, "you don't care about anything."
Bova snorted, giving Harlan a look that told him he thought the human was being rather stupid. He also, Harlan noticed, backed away from the other as far as he could, straight into the counter. "Of course I care about things."
"Fine, then you don't /mind/ things," Harlan corrected himself, not moving from his own position. "You don't /mind/ liking me, you don't /mind/ if I don't like you back, you don't /mind/ if I /do/ like you back. Hell, Bova, you probably wouldn't /mind/ if Warlord Shank walked in and asked if he could have a brownie!"
"Sure, I would. Those were damn good brownies."
"Okay, see, /that/ was a joke," Harlan told the other in a harsher tone, his annoyance more obvious. "And when people tell jokes, they smile, or say them in something other than monotone. But I guess you don't /mind/ having the emotional range of a titanium wall."
Bova blinked at the human for a few beats of silence before saying, "No, I don't really."
An increase of the grating noise in Harlan's head did not help his sour mood. Rather, he scowled at Bova and demanded, "Well, what /do/ you mind?"
The Uranusian shrugged as if it didn't matter, but Harlan noticed that his scowl had caused the other to press further away and into the counter, gripping the sides of it. Not as tightly as Harlan was gripping it, his dark knuckles pale with the effort, but he was still holding onto it pretty tightly.
Not at all mollified to know that his scowl was more effective than his glare, Harlan continued using it on Bova. Blank eyes, blank face, the only sign of tension being how much space he'd put between himself and Harlan, and his grip on the counter. Actually…
"Do you mind how close I am to you right now?"
This time, Bova's blink was surprised. Harlan briefly wondered if that was something he would have noticed if he was further away than his current twelve inches from Bova's face. 'Briefly wondered', because Bova's reply pushed him back into his annoyance and scowl. He shrugged.
Harlan let out an annoyed breath, scowling straight at those black eyes, willing them out of blankness. When his own nonexistent mind powers failed, Harlan removed his grip from the counter. And replaced it on Bova's hips. "Do you mind /that/?"
That, he'd certainly expected, would force Bova to react. Unfortunately, and much to Harlan's annoyance, all he received in terms of shock value was Bova's eyes widening a bit. And another shrug.
Grating his teeth was beginning to produce a squeaking sound, rather than a rough, grinding one, and Harlan assumed that was a bad thing. He stepped forward and, since there was little to no room left between them in the first place, ended up with a leg between Bova's. And one of Bova's between his. "Do you mind /this/?" Harlan demanded through clenched teeth, thinking, if nothing else, the smell of his breath so close to Bova's face would at least cause a nose-wrinkle.
The Uranusian, to Harlan's mind-numbing rage, stiffened, sucked in an almost inaudible breath. And /shrugged/.
Harlan's grip on Bova's hips tightened, but pure will kept him from actually trying to bring pain to the other. "All right," Harlan snapped, louder and extremely annoyed. "Do you mind touching me?" At the surprised blink that followed, Harlan only allowed Bova's shoulders to lift a fraction of an inch before snapping, "Then do it."
A few more surprised blinks, and Bova's hands released the countertop. Belatedly, Harlan realized that the Uranusian's knuckles, which were only slightly lighter than his own, had been undeniably white. Then Bova's palms were resting on his forearms, barely touching, and, unless Harlan was much mistaken, Bova had an actual expression on his face.
What it was, he didn't know. But he was pretty damn happy to realize it wasn't blankness.
This was basically the victory Harlan had been waiting for – expression, reaction. But something was off. Perhaps the fact that Bova had yet to actually /say/ anything, and was simply shrugging mindlessly – perhaps /that/ was the problem. Which meant the ante would have to be upped again.
His gaze, which had never left Bova's for more than a brief moment, stayed connected to to the other's. And while the fact that there was more white showing around those black eyes than usual would have mollified Harlan, it was now a contest of shrugging and response. The human had to remind himself of this several times. Realizing he was holding the other's hips quite forcefully, and unable to do anything about it aside from releasing him completely, Harlan kept his hands where they were. "Would you mind if I kissed you?" An upped ante, indeed.
This time, there was no mistaking the widening of Bova's eyes, and the grip on his forearms that had been basically nonexistent, was suddenly obvious in its presence. And just as those shoulders began to lift, Harlan spoke again, rapid-fire, "Would you mind kissing me back?"
Another second where his shoulders began to rise before Harlan bit off three final words. "Then do it," he ordered, in what was technically a snap. It was softened, however, by the quiet tone in which it was served. And shortly after, with their bodies already pressed together, Harlan was pressing his lips against Bova's.
And, to his surprise, Bova was pressing right back.
It wasn't a long kiss, but it didn't need to be. What it did was prove to Harlan that emotions could be found in places /other/ than eyes or expressions, body language and tone. The intense way the Uranusian mimicked Harlan's movements, both in lips and body, was almost eager. And Harlan suspected his movements weren't much less in intensity. It was not a suspicion he addressed at that specific time, however, just one he focused on later when he looked back and imagined the exact time that Bova's grip on his forearms had moved. One hand pressing in to Harlan's shoulder and the other on the side of his face, /guiding/ their movements. Later on, though he wouldn't admit it for some time, it had been just /before/ Bova moved, that Harlan's hands on the other's hips had slid around to the small of the Uranusian's back, pulling him into a close embrace.
It /could/ have been a long kiss. In fact, what with the intensity and the fact that they had both been stuck on a starship without any other company for four years, it /could/ have been a lot of things. Fortunately, or perhaps /un/fortunately, they were interrupted.
The door to the mess hall opened, and both men froze. Bova's expression was actually worried, while Harlan's was almost a pained wince. Despite being eighteen and twenty-two, both would later admit their first reactions had been the heavy guilt of being caught pulling a prank on the principal. The difference being, Harlan actually knew what that guilt felt like, and Bova was simply guessing.
Still in that close embrace, only their faces turned toward the entrance of the mess hall, both Harlan and Bova watched as Thelma clattered into the room. She gave them both a cheery smile and a wave that included the clash and whirr of several gears before exiting through the opposite door.
Silence spread through the room quickly once the android had gone. And it remained that way, with the two crewmembers staring blankly after Thelma, until Bova spoke. "How'd you figure it out?"
Harlan could tell Bova wasn't looking at him yet and decided to do the same, keeping his gaze on the door the android had left through. "Why else would you have a list of what you thought was physically attractive about me?"
The following silence was wrongly interpreted by Harlan as evidence that he had won. But when Bova replied, "It could have just been more notes," he realized the other had only been thinking about the question.
Harlan sighed, rolling his eyes although he couldn't find it in him to really be /annoyed/ by this point. He felt more privileged, really. /He/, of all the crew, knew Bova had emotions. He just didn't think the rest of the crew would be as open to the method Harlan had used to /find/ said emotions.
He looked back at Bova, almost bumping noses with the Uranusian. They stared at each other for a few moments, and Harlan wondered if his expression was just as blank as the other's, since his mind felt especially blank at the moment.
And then, without warning… Bova smiled.
While Harlan was busy gaping at the oddity of it, the Uranusian's words slowly came into focus. "You were asking the wrong questions."
Their roles switched, it was Harlan's turn to blink blankly, not comprehending. "What do you mean?"
"You asked if I minded." Bova gave the other a pointedly blank look before Harlan realized he'd been released and was being waited on to return to the favor. As his hands dropped from Bova's waist, the Uranusian continued. "You should have asked if I /cared/."
Harlan took a step back, putting more space between them and snorted. Despite what had just happened… it seemed very much like nothing had changed between them. At the moment. "Yeah? Would your answer have changed any?"
Bova's expression turned thoughtful. /Too/ thoughtful, Harlan realized as he suddenly noticed the younger man was backing /away/ from him. He was just about to reach out to keep Bova from doing something that would piss him off, when Bova did it.
And, unfortunately, he was still too freakishly fast to tackle.