This little bit of a chapter is here so soon after the last one because it's two years ago today that I posted my very first chapter of "Both Ways at Once" and started actually writing fanfic for the first time - and I thought it would just be kind of fitting to update it today. Y'all would laugh a whole lot if I told you how nervous I was the first time I ever hit the "publish" button. So, for all of you who have stuck with me faithfully through two years (so far) of Chulu and so much more - you know who you are, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart - and here's #22…


On mornings like this one, Pavel wasn't sorry to have his morning run to himself; as much as he usually enjoyed Hikaru's mostly silent company as they made their way through the twists and turns of the Enterprise's corridors, today he was just as glad to be alone with his thoughts. He knew people thought he was crazy to be pounding through the ship each day before the ship's artificial dawn in the quiet solitude of Gamma Shift - and though he readily admitted that maybe they were right, it had never mattered to Pavel, who had long since turned his morning run into his own personal ritual. It had become as necessary for him as meditation was for Spock; something about the steady, even rhythm of his stride and his breathing helped him to focus, to put things into perspective before he started the rest of his day.

And today, some perspective was definitely necessary.

Over the course of many hours' work, he and Nyota had finally isolated some oddly anomalous signals that had come from the alien ship Albiorix - and even more minute examination had proven almost definitively that the signals were consistent with what was likely to be Cardassian teleportation technology. They couldn't prove it, but the evidence was all but screaming that the aliens had transported the captain - and from the looks of things, any number of other beings - off the ship days before they'd gone ahead and blown themselves up.

He and Nyota had brought their findings to Hikaru first, thinking that he might be somewhat more willing to listen than Spock seemed to be at the moment - and though he hadn't been easy to convince, he'd finally come around to their way of thinking, and agreed to go with Nyota to present the results of their work to Spock.

Spock, not surprisingly, had been much more difficult to persuade - but finally, Spock had agreed that although they did not have absolute proof, what Nyota and Pavel had found simply made sense. He'd sent Nyota and Hikaru away at last to do further research, to narrow down where the Albiorix might have sent everyone - and once they'd determined that there hadn't been any ships within transporter range since they'd been in that part of space, Hikaru had come to the conclusion that of the various small planets and moons in their vicinity, only the planet Soukara had the necessary conditions to sustain life.

Pavel was glad to let the sound of his own footsteps and the regular, harsh rasp of his breath fill his head - crowding out the tumultuous thoughts that had kept him awake for far too long the night before. They knew - all right, they didn't know - but they were pretty sure where Jim was. That could only mean that Spock wouldn't wait much longer before he went to find him - they all knew it. Of course Spock would go.

And then Hikaru would be captain.

Pavel knew that Hikaru would be a wonderful captain - probably better than Spock, he thought with a surge of defiance and pride - but he also knew that Hikaru would be the last person to agree with that assessment. This last few weeks as Spock's first officer had been horrifically hard on 'Karu - and though Pavel blamed Spock for the most of the poor communication between the two commanding officers, he also knew that Hikaru blamed himself entirely.

The last thing Hikaru would need as the captain of a Federation starship in enemy space would be a crisis of confidence - and Pavel realized that it would be up to him to make sure that didn't happen to the man he loved.

He was in the "home stretch," as it were - that last hundred meters or so before he got back to their quarters - and he had just begun to slow his stride when he saw Commander Spock himself heading down the corridor in the opposite direction. All things considered, it only seemed reasonable to assume that Spock had been there to talk to 'Karu - about what, though, was anybody's guess. Pavel had to make a conscious effort not to run faster for those last few seconds.

He was keying the entry code into the door without knowing how he'd gotten there - and the first thing that met his eyes when he came into their quarters was Hikaru, sprawled in his favorite chair and looking a little as though he'd been knocked back into that position. He smiled slightly in greeting as Pavel came in.

"Saw Spock in the corridor on the way back here - everything all right?" He was pretty sure he was sounding as worried as he felt - but he didn't really give a shit if 'Karu knew he was worried about him. After all, that wasn't exactly a surprise.

Hikaru nodded briefly in reply, sounding amazingly composed. "It's all good, Pav," he said. "Go shower - then I'll tell you about it."

"Is there news?" Because if there was, Pavel probably wasn't going to be able to survive the suspense for even the time it would take him to shower.

"You could say that, yeah." Hikaru's expression had an odd intensity that Pavel couldn't readily place.

"Then screw the shower, 'Karu - you better tell me now." He sat down in the chair that had only recently been vacated by Commander Spock, and waited. "Spock is going to Soukara, isn't he?"

Hikaru nodded again, seemingly unsurprised that Pavel had figured it out. "Yeah - him and McCoy, most likely, as soon as they get together whatever supplies they'll need to go. With Soukara's inhibitors set up to defend against our transporter technology, they're going to have to outfit a shuttlecraft - and honestly, that's probably the best way to go anyway, seeing as how it's not like it's a small planet. They'll probably have to do some exploring before they figure out where our buddies decided to hole up with Jim. I can only hope that the inhibitors don't mess up the rest of the 'Fleet technology - it'd be helpful if they had more than just Spock and Jim's bond to go by to help them find him."

Pavel listened to Hikaru's explanation with a growing sense of wonder; he sounded a little overwhelmed, sure - but calm, too. He seriously didn't seem a bit nervous about the prospect of being acting captain - and that was amazing. Surprising, but amazing.

"So…" Pavel didn't really know where he was going with that statement, so ended up letting it trail off awkwardly with a little bit of a self-conscious shrug.

"Yeah. So." Hikaru leaned forward in the chair, taking a deep breath and letting it go in a long sigh. "So, I never in a million years thought I'd say this - but pretty soon I'll be commanding the Enterprise."

"Wow - even if I've been thinking about it the whole time I was out for my run, it still just sounded really weird to hear you say it." Pavel rose from his chair to kiss Hikaru chastely on the forehead. "You're going to be fantastic as captain - I just know you are."

That got the first real smile he'd seen out of 'Karu in days - even though there was something lurking behind those brown eyes that made Pavel suspect that he still hadn't heard the whole story.

"Well, I don't know about 'fantastic,' but I'll give it my best." Hikaru was still smiling up at him, and Pavel found himself smiling back without really knowing why.

"But if you thought what I said before sounded weird, Pav…" He gently shoved Pavel back toward the chair he'd just left. "You'll probably want to sit down for this one."

Pavel Chekov had never thought of himself as either a stupid or an unnecessarily modest man - but even so, the next words out of Hikaru's mouth came as a complete shock to him. "Spock came down here to - well, he and I ended up having a lot to say, but that's not so important just now. But he told me he was planning to leave the ship, and that he wanted me to get my Command team together. He didn't ask me who I wanted for my first officer, Pavel - he told me whom he'd chosen."

Hikaru leaned forward and clasped one of Pavel's hands as it rested on his knee, his words starting to come in a rush in his earnestness. "He chose you, Pav. I'd have chosen you - wanted you for my XO more than anything - but you've got to know it wasn't my choice. Spock chose you."

"Me." Pavel was so stunned that the word wasn't even a question. "I'll be your first officer."

He was pretty sure he knew now where Hikaru had come by that thunderstruck expression he'd had as Pavel came through the door - this was… there weren't words for what this was, honestly.

'Karu looked solemn again. "You know, don't you, that one of the first things I'll have to do as CO is to tell Starfleet to take their orders and shove them up their asses because we won't abandon Jim - or Spock, or McCoy. Then one of the next things we'll have to do, you and I, is to figure out how to keep ourselves from getting blown to shit by some random Cardassian craft that happens by until such a time as we get everybody back - however long that might end up being."

He shook his head slowly. "I always kind of thought it'd be fun to get my own command someday, Pav - but this isn't my command. And there's nothing fun about it."

Hikaru got up from the chair then, taking both of Pavel's hands and pulling him up and into a tight embrace. "I'd be scared shitless if I thought I was going this alone, Pav - but I've got you." Pavel could feel 'Karu's breath on his neck. "This sounds sappy as hell, I know, but there's nothing - nothing - I can't do with you by my side."

Pavel leaned slightly back to see Hikaru's face, wondering at the love and faith he saw there - and knowing that Hikaru was seeing the same thing reflected back at him. His voice didn't sound quite right when he said, "You know I'll do anything I can to support you, da? You know you can count on me."

Hikaru closed his eyes, leaning forward to touch his forehead to Pavel's. "You know I trust you with my life, right? Always have, always will. And knowing I've got you - it makes all the difference, Pav. It's what makes me able to not freak out - to be able to take a deep breath and say, 'my best may or may not be good enough, but it's as good as anyone else's, and it's all I've got to give.' It's what making me feel like I can do it, Pav - like you and I can take care of things until Jim and Spock come back, like there's nothing too big for us to face together."

Pavel moved even closer into the embrace. "You do not know - because I can't find the words to begin to tell you - you just don't know how much I love you," he whispered against Hikaru's lips. "And you don't know how unbelievably proud of you I am." He ended the sentence with a quick, soft kiss. "I know you'll take good care of the ship, and of all of us," he murmured, kissing 'Karu yet again. "I know that I'd follow you anywhere."

"Anywhere?" Hikaru grinned back, a little crookedly. Despite the intensity of their conversation - or perhaps because of it - they were both starting to find that their physical proximity was affecting them in ways that it hadn't for quite some time.

With a self-conscious shake of the head, Hikaru took a step back then, eyes downcast. "No - this isn't the time for… well, for that."

Before he knew what had hit him, he was back in Pavel's arms and on the receiving end of the most fiercely possessive kiss he'd experienced in a long, long time.

"The hell it's not," Pavel ground out, his hands still gripping Hikaru's hair. "Who knows what happens tomorrow, 'Karu? Who knows what happens today? We don't have any idea what kind of time we have - none of us do. All I can tell you is that we've got an hour until Alpha Shift starts. That, and that I need a shower, and now that I've been sweating all over you and your clean uniform, you need one, too."

Hikaru laughed softly, reaching up to thread his fingers into Pavel's damp curls. "You're a persuasive one, Lieutenant." He paused to kiss Pavel long and thoroughly. "I hope you don't intend to employ these tactics to convince me to see things your way when we're on duty, do you?" He stopped again, just long enough to allow his own gold shirt to be pulled off over his head - Pavel suddenly having had more than enough conversation - before allowing himself to be drawn into another kiss.

"Stop talking, Hikaru," Pavel whispered, his words the merest breath against Hikaru's ear as he went on to place hot, open-mouthed kisses down the length of Hikaru's neck and along his collarbone. "You know what I want."

Hikaru was more than happy to comply; after all, he'd had more than enough talking for one morning, and this man who was already the other half of him did not need his words right now.

Besides, he knew what he wanted, as well.


This chapter is also for WickedWitchoftheSE - who, I might add, demanded this scene. She really did. And since, bless her heart, she's taken her grandmother and her great aunt to the beach for vacation, I think she deserves to have a demand or so met, don't you?

That said, I spent two hours fixing my parents' computer tonight, and I'd have liked some ice cream, but none was forthcoming. Does that seem fair?