Chekov needed someone to talk to. It wasn't difficult to pinpoint where the members of the Enterprise would be off-duty.
Lieutenant Uhura could usually be found working on her sub-space transmissions at her com station in the bridge. If not there, it was likely she was conversing in Vulcan with Spock in his quarters. Likewise, Spock's other most probable location was in the science lab.
He could count on McCoy and Kirk sitting together in the galley, knocking back a few drinks. If Scotty wasn't working on a new engineering problem, he was probably with them polishing off some whiskey.
Chekov typically found himself either puzzling over a physics equation in his quarters or running around the ship's track.
But the one person he was looking for now was in none of these places.
Chekov ducked into the rec room, listening for the familiar clink of a metal rapier. Nothing.
That meant that Sulu was in the botany lab.
Chekov honestly couldn't understand his friend's zeal for plants, but the excitement in Sulu's voice when he discussed his latest discoveries was enough to make him listen attentively. That's what friends are for, right? he told himself. Besides, Sulu was willing to listen to anything that Chekov had to say, whether it was unrequited love, gossip, or his favorite topic, Russia.
The ensign stepped out of the turbolift and strolled towards the arboretum and greenhouse that Sulu frequented. Feeling like a bull in a china shop, Chekov squeezed his way through rows of alien vines and tendrils, until he saw the figure of the helmsman at the far corner of the lab, hunched beneath a small window.
"Hi, Hikaru," he said brightly. "Vhat are you doing with all zese plants?"
"Just re-potting, watering, running some tests. The usual. What are you doing here?"
Chekov smiled wryly. "Just need someone to talk to, you know?"
Sulu looked knowingly at his friend. "Okay, who is it this time?"
"Yeoman Rand turned down my inwitation to dinner. Again."
"Ah, don't worry about it, Pavel. Just give it some time and you'll find the right person."
"You really sink so?" Chekov mulled it over and then decided to change the topic. "Do you need any help around here?"
"Mm, yeah, pass me that jar, would you? Careful—it's Orion pheromone pollen and it's hard to come by."
There were at least five different containers on the shelf. Seeing the uncertainty in the ensign's eyes, Sulu pointed.
"That one. Never mind, I'll get it," he said, just as Chekov reached out to grab the jar.
Both of them gripped the vessel, but the combined force of their hands sent it toppling off of the shelf.
The lid must have been loose, because as the jar fell, a cloud of what appeared to be silvery fluff descended upon Sulu and Chekov.
Chekov sneezed and glanced abashedly at his friend. "I am so sorry!" He knelt down to collect the spilled pollen, and then paused when he noticed the helmsman's frozen stance.
Sulu gaped at the open but intact container and brushed some of the fluff out of his black hair. "Orion pollen has one distinct characteristic," he said slowly. "Anyone exposed to it falls in love with the first person they come in contact with."
"Are you sure?" Chekov cried, both horrified and fascinated by this piece of information. "How do ve fix it?"
"I'm an expert botanist," Sulu replied, shaking his head solemnly. "And I know for a fact that its effects are completely irreversible."
A long silence followed. Neither of them knew what to say in the face of the inevitable.
Sulu's dark eyes met the bright blue of Chekov's. The navigator looked back at him. In that brief moment, they felt an inexorable pull towards one another, a bond that had seemingly materialized in the space of seconds.
They stood in each other's arms, their hearts racing with confusion and an inexplicable thrill. Tiny wisps of the pollen floated around them, like snowflakes on a wintry Russian morning.
"Well, if we're going to have to do this, we'd better do it right," Sulu murmured. He bent down to gently press his lips against Chekov's.
Chekov gave him a wobbly smile. "Eet is a strong spell zat zee pollen casts. Are you feeling it too?"
Sulu nodded and pulled him in close for another kiss.
Strange, they thought, that something that was so suddenly forced upon them could feel so right.
Years later, they meet again at the same spot in the botany lab. They stand beneath the window and wordlessly watch the stars go by, their connection surpassing the need for verbal communication.
His arms wrapped around Chekov's waist, Sulu whispers into the younger man's ear. "Remember, Pasha? Here's where it all began."
"Eet ees not so bad," Chekov replies. "Even if we did not have a say in zee matter." He pauses, then speaks again with conviction. "I do not know how I deed not see it before zis whole thing happened, but…I love you, Hikaru."
"I love you, too," Sulu murmurs, as he looks up at the shelf and smiles at the jar that has always contained nothing but plain old dandelion fluff.