Two weeks after their violent away mission, Sulu and Chekov are at the bridge surveying a rather disorganized starchart of a region they are approaching when a man Chekov doesn't recognize arrives from the turbolift. The ensign barely notices the intruder—not until the man says "Ensign Chekov?", and then his curly head snaps up in response.


"You have a transmission. From Earth."

Chekov frowns. His mother is meticulously aware of his schedule and never calls when he is on duty. But she has not called for a while, long enough that Chekov has not even been able to recount his adventure with Sulu to her, and he has worried over the lack of communication. Perhaps she has just mistaken the hour.

"It can vait?" Chekov asks, puzzled.

The man shakes his burly head, and Chekov's heart leaps uncertainly. The feeling of foreboding in the air stifles him, but he clambers dumbly to his feet anyway. "I'll be right back, keptin," he says apologetically to Kirk, trying very hard to hide his embarrassment.

The captain seems concerned, but Chekov stalks out of the bridge before the man can say anything. By the time Chekov reaches his quarters the transmission is a recording, left for him on his PADD. He sits cross-legged on his bed and plays it, anticipating his mother's voice. Instead he hears his eldest sister's.

"маленький брат," Darya begins softly. Chekov bristles. She is usually boisterous and loud, like the rest of his sisters, but her voice is soft as she addresses him in Russian. "Pavel. Oh, Pavel . . . I hate to tell you this in a message, but you have to know."

Chekov's blood pulses beneath his skin and he leans forward. Oh, God, he thinks, wishing the moment away, knowing that whatever Darya says is going to hurt worse than the mission with Sulu.

"Mascha stole a car . . . and crashed it."

His throat is too thick to make a sound, but his mouth hangs open in astonishment. Not his Mascha. Not his meek, bright-eyed half-brother . . . when Chekov left home Mascha was only four years old. He would have just turned nine.

He was "another little genius," as their mother said.

"He didn't feel anything. They say he died on impact." He hears Darya choke back a sob. "He's not bad, Pavel, I don't think he meant to do anything wrong—he was just—he was curious, and—"

Chekov registers that his tears are splotching the pad, draining into the corners of the screen. He pushes it away from him as if it has burned his flesh and a small cry of remorse escapes him.

"Oh, Pavel, I'm so sorry. I know how much he meant to you. Mother couldn't bear to tell you herself."

But Chekov wants to hear his mother's voice more than anything at that moment, and he curls into himself, shaking his head into his knees. Mascha cannot be dead. There must be a mistake, this must be a mistake—

His shame overwhelms him. Once again, he has failed to protect the ones he loves.

"She told me to send all our love. I know it . . . gets lonely up there for you."

Chekov has to bite back his hysterics. "Lonely" was certainly a word for it. In his whole life he has never felt as alone as he does right now.

Because he can hear the omitted words in Darya's explanation. The truth is that Mascha had probably found his old bicorder, the one he'd tinkered with before Starfleet had scooped him up, and used it to get into the car. The truth is that Mascha was probably just curious enough to try and emulate his older brother, to try and prove that he was just as capable as "Pavel in the stars".

The truth is . . . it is Chekov's fault Mascha is dead.

"I'll call again later," Darya vows. "Stay safe."

The message ends there. The teenager remains motionless on his sheets, clutching his legs to his torso, folding into himself as if he can flatten the swell of agony threatening to tear through his ribcage. Forgotten are his navigational duties, his promise to return to the bridge . . . Chekov forgets he is even on a ship, forgets that he is in his quarters—he just closes his eyes, spilling tears into his bony knees, and sinks into his disgrace.

Fifteen minutes turns into an hour and the bridge crew of the Enterprise are uneasy at Chekov's absence. They exchange glances, but nobody says anything at first; finally Kirk, practically twitching in his chair, blurts, "Where the hell is that Ensign?"

Spock looks at up him sharply, but sees that he has misinterpreted Kirk's reaction. He expects to see anger, but instead recognizes worry brewing in the captain's eyes. "I'll locate him, captain," Spock offers.

Kirk regards him warily. "It might be bad news." They both know Chekov would not abandon the bridge for anything less.

Spock understands, though, that Kirk is implying that he would not appropriately handle such a situation. The Vulcan stiffens just slightly. "That is a possibility," he acknowledges calmly.

"I'll go," both Uhura and Sulu say in unison, standing from their consoles. But Spock has already reached the turbolift.

"We're expecting a transmission from the Fallion colony within the next ten minutes, and without the navigator at the console it would be unwise for the pilot to leave his post," Spock reasons. It is only logical that he retrieve the ensign, as there is relatively little for him to do at the present. He communicates this with a meaningful glance at Uhura. She sits, albeit it hesitantly, and Sulu follows suit.

The doors to the turbolift close and Spock exits at the deck containing Chekov's quarters. He does not bother locating him with the computer, choosing instead to knock on his door, knowing full well that the ensign would not dare venture anywhere else on the Enterprise when he is on duty.

His knock is followed by a lengthy silence.

"Mr. Chekov?"

It is then that his keen ears register the sound of Chekov's light sob. He considers his next course of action carefully. Although it is clear that the ensign would rather be left alone, Spock remains standing at the door. It is only logical that he assess Chekov's condition and the circumstances involving it, as it will determine whether or not he is fit for duty.

"Permission to enter, ensign."

"No," says Chekov, his voice miserable and low. A few beats later he adds a frightened, "Commander."

"I would rather not request a security override to gain entry to your quarters."

Chekov understands the less-than-subtly phrased threat and his muffled voice carries through the closed door. "Geef me a meenute."

True to his request, exactly a minute passes, and the door to Chekov's room slides open. He half obscures himself in the dark room, but Spock sees that his eyes are swollen and wet and that, for the first time since he first met the boy, his shoulders are hunched over this thin body. It strikes Spock that Chekov appears anything but a crew member of the U.S.S. Enterprise.

The ensign stares determinedly at the ground. "Zere," he says in an attempt at defiance. "Now can jou please leaff?"

"Computer, lights on," Spock commands, and the room illuminates. He enters and sees that the ensign's quarters are as orderly and sterile as his own. He turns his attention back to Chekov, who is now shuffling his feet apprehensively by the open door. "May I ask what the matter is?"

"I am zorry for ze delay. I vill be on ze breedge een a few meenutes."

"Ensign Chekov, I asked you a question." He keeps his voice stern, but forces himself to soften it. Although the sensitivity of humans is sometimes lost on him, he understands that Chekov is more susceptible to offense, as he was careful to stay updated on the emotional profiles of all the crew members.

"Aye . . . zere ees no matter."

The lie is so blatant and absurd that Spock cannot help but raise an eyebrow. Chekov doesn't notice, still consumed with his task of averting his gaze. One of his tears hits the carpet with a soft thud.

"Approximately one hour ago you left your post for a transmission. As it seems uncharacteristic of you to disregard your duties, I would appreciate an explanation for this absence, Chekov."

The boy opens his mouth to speak and his skinny chest rattles, halting him.

"You may take as much time as you need to explain."

The words spill out of Chekov in a harsh breath. "My brother is dead."

Spock watches as the boy's face crumples, and all his pretense of composure falls apart. Although Spock himself does not outwardly react, the statement surprises him immensely—he had expected to hear unpleasant news, but he had not expected the ensign's crushing remorse. His chest heaves as if it pains him and his brown eyes are wide and unintelligible.

Almost mechanically, Spock reaches his arm out and places his hand on Chekov's shoulder, but he flinches away.

"Now jou know, now jou can go back to zee breedge," he manages.

Spock's feet are rooted in the carpet. "Chekov," he says, but he is unsure of what he means to convey. He sets his arm down and clears his throat. "Under the circumstances I will relieve you from your duties for the next few days, until—"

"No!" The desperation in his voice is unmistakable. He shakes his head emphatically. "No, I am fine, I joost need . . . a leetle vhile, a few meenutes."

Spock notices that the rate at which he is breathing is abnormal. "I can accompany you to sickbay," he offers, but this only seems to worsen the condition.

"I am fine, please, joost leaff me alone," Chekov begs.

It is then that Spock recognizes that Chekov is ashamed of Spock witnessing his emotional outburst. "There is no need to be embarrassed. This must be difficult for you," he says, trying his hardest to extend some sort of sympathy, wondering what it was Uhura would do in this situation.

"Of course eet ees hard, eet ees my fault he ees dead!" Chekov bursts. His hands gesture wildly in his attempt to communicate to Spock the impact of his words, but he is shaking too much to control himself. "Eef I hadn't left home—eef I hadn't left zat stupid bicorder under ze bed—"

"Ensign, you cannot blame yourself for something beyond your control," Spock says firmly.

For a brief moment Chekov's arms drop to his sides and he looks up at Spock in incredulity. "Vhy are jou trying to help me?" he asks. "Mascha ees dead, I let him die joost like I . . ." He shudders, and says so quietly that an ordinary human might not have heard it, "Joost like I let jour muzzer die."

"That was my fault," Spock returns, shocked that the ensign would possibly attempt to take the blame.

Chekov shakes his head again. "No, I vas ze one who lost her."

"If you will excuse me for speaking bluntly, I must say that your guilt is quite irrational. It was my responsibility to make sure she stayed still for transport—"

"I vas specially trained een emergency transport, I took enough classes zat eet should haff been easy, but she—she joost deesappeared . . . "

"You must understand that you are in no way culpable for my mother's death, ensign." Spock does not mean to sound harsh but he cannot help it. In response Chekov blinks at him, young and lost and hurt, but Spock continues. "There are more than a few who can be held responsible, but you are not among them."

For a few moments Chekov's dark eyes meet Spock's in apprehension, as though he is considering the validity of Spock's claim. He opens his mouth, presumably to protest.

And then, to Spock's immense relief, he sees Uhura standing in the still open doorway. In a beat she assesses the situation and swoops in to embrace the now weeping Chekov, murmuring kindly without so much as asking what the matter is. Spock observes in surprised silence as the ensign willingly cries into her shoulder.

He sees that his approach was entirely the wrong one, and as he ducks out of the room he can only hope that Uhura will convey the sympathy Spock is incapable of expressing himself.

That night Uhura lets Chekov cry into her shoulder until he falls asleep. The next week Kirk lets him keep his space on the schedule, but the one time Chekov fails to show up he does not say a word against him, only joins him in the gym where he is engaged in running a grueling twenty-six miles. Scotty brings replicated vodka to his quarters and together they toast to the life of a bright eight-year-old boy. Sulu spots for any mistakes Chekov makes at the conn, and catches only one, but never tells him.

Bones calls his mother and forces him to talk to her, and they spend the whole night talking and crying and remembering, lightyears away from each other.

The crew members of the Enterprise take care of Ensign Chekov, Pavel Andrieivich because he is their blank corkboard, and every day they tack little pieces of themselves on him, defining who he will become.

Some pieces are bigger than others, but Chekov's friends are more than willing to share the burden.

Well, if you made it this far, thanks for reading! That's the end :)