"Captain, this is crazy." It had not taken long for Hikaru's use of Kirk's rank to spread to the others. The once familiar title had, however, now become a constant reminder that all was not as it should be. "You want to send three boys to look for someone we aren't even sure they'd recognize and bring him back here of all places."

"We can't risk anything happening to you." Kirk agreed, but there was little choice. He was hardly in any condition to be up and about, and Chekov wasn't going anywhere. McCoy wasn't going to leave as long as he had people to worry about.

Hikaru insisted he was going anyway. Pavel didn't speak, but drew himself up to his full less-than-impressive height. Jim looked around.

"The Karate Kid and I will handle it." He said, nodding towards Hikaru. "Paul's in almost as bad shape as the Captain and this other guy here, and the Doc needs to stay in case something happens. It only makes sense that we should go.

"Absolutely not." Kirk replied. "It's too dangerous. If-"

Jim crossed his arms over his chest. "If it's too dangerous for me to be involved, than you never should have brought me along. There is no other choice. You'll keel over before you get two feet. We don't have time to argue about this. Come on, Karate Master."

Hikaru calmly turned to follow him. Kirk opened his mouth once more to object. "Overruled, Captain." Hikaru interrupted easily.

And they were gone before anyone could say anything else.

McCoy groaned and went back to taking care of Pavel.

Pavel was eventually assigned to the bed on the other side of Kirk. He climbed up there and sat, reluctantly, but did not seem inclined to sleep.

He looked better, but not by much. His eyes were haunted. Kirk wondered if they had been too late, if the future had been changed anyway.

The kid scowled and fingered the skin below his right ear; the injury had been small, and McCoy had healed it, but a small, white scar still remained.

"What happened?" Kirk asked, when the kid realized Kirk was watching him. "It's okay, you can talk."

Pavel nodded. "I know. You are Captain. You know who I am." He rubbed the small scar absently. "They threaten to cut my ear off." He offered as an explanation. "I think I have you to thank, for rescue me. And him." He pointed at Chekov; the man was actually asleep at the moment. "And other man, who die." The boy swallowed nervously. "I do not know vhat they vant vith me." He said, and his voice cracked as he continued. "They say they make me vish I never vas born. Before you come, they vere going to-to-" Again he faltered.

"It's okay." Kirk said softly. "You're safe here."

The kid nodded, and took a deep breath. "I know." He whimpered. "I know." Kirk didn't know what to do as the boy's whimpers became sobs. Again he was struck with the fear that it was too late, that what had happened to Pavel had already messed everything up.

Chekov was awake in an instant; he nearly fell in his effort to get up out of the bed. Kirk watched in awe as the dying man made his way painfully to the frightened child's bed and pulled him into a hug.

"It's okay." Chekov whispered to the kid. "It's going to be all right. You're okay. Hush."

Kirk was startled; here was a tenderness he had thought was lost in this Chekov. Was it simply because he was dealing with a younger version of himself? Or was it something else? Perhaps this Chekov had not changed completely; perhaps traces of Kirk's Chekov still remained.

Eventually the sobs died down to soft cries; the cries retreated to whimpers once again. As the boy finally quieted, Chekov maneuvered him to lie down on the bed. Pavel had cried himself to sleep.

As Chekov staggered back to his own bed, Kirk couldn't help but ask. "Were we too late?" He asked. "Pavel, will he-?"

"He will be fine." Chekov rasped. "He'll be fine." The look on Chekov's face, though, made Kirk realize exactly how Chekov was so certain.

Kirk did not know what to say. It was probably better not to say anything at all, but the sudden weight that settled with the silence was nearly unbearable.

"I'm sorry." Kirk said quickly. He was startled by the short burst of laughter that escaped the other man.

The laugh quickly turned into a cough that brought McCoy over from where he had been watching over Spock and Tirma. The doctor helped the man sit up so he could actually breathe and held him upright until he managed to stop coughing.

"No more knock-knock jokes." He scolded half-halfheartedly, and Kirk wondered what had caused the change in McCoy's treatment of Chekov-he had been all but bullying with all of his patients so far, a tactic Kirk was not only familiar with, but had to admit was probably the only method that would have been effective with most of those present.

Chekov was eying McCoy critically as well as he recovered some of his breath. "You sure you don't want anything for the pain?" McCoy asked, and Chekov shook his head.

"Suit yourself." McCoy said wearily, easing the man back down on the bed. He hesitated for a second, but decided to go ahead and speak. "I saw what you did for the boy." He said softly. "Thank you."

Chekov did not answer, but his gaze shifted to somewhere just past the doctor.

McCoy let the matter rest. "Call me if you need anything." He muttered, moving back to resume his vigil over the two settled in the other corner of sickbay.

Chekov turned to fix Kirk with an incredulous look when McCoy had left. "Why?" He demanded.

"What do you mean?" It took Kirk a second to back track.

Chekov tensed instead of answering. "I'm not one of your people." His voice was hard when he did speak. "Neither was Sulu. Maybe we should have been, but we aren't. We're trying to fix that, and if all goes right, your world will go right back to the way it was as if we never existed. So what does it matter if Sulu dies? What does it matter what happens to me?"

Kirk again found himself at a loss for words. Even if this world's Sulu had not died, even if Chekov did not, if they pulled this off they would be gone anyway-as if they had never existed, as Chekov said. He had, in effect, signed the death warrants of both men when he had awakened on their ship.

"I-"

"Don't say you're sorry again." Chekov interrupted. "Would it be better to leave this universe as it is?" Kirk absently wondered how the man had found the strength to have this conversation, and why it was so important to him to do so.

Chekov scowled at Kirk; the familiarity of the action was surprisingly comforting. "What happens to me doesn't matter if you succeed." He insisted, though Kirk could not entirely bring himself to agree with the statement. "So why do you care?

Kirk had not been expecting that. "Pardon?" He asked.

Chekov did not repeat himself. He simply studied Kirk and waited.

"Why did you try to comfort Pavel?" Kirk asked instead of trying to come up with some sort of answer that would likely make little sense to either of them. "Not because he's you."

"No," Chekov agreed uncertainly, "not anymore." Chekov frowned; he was thinking. Kirk had seen his Chekov wear that expression before. He also recognized the next expression that crossed the man's features: insecurity. He wondered what could cause such a feeling in this Chekov. "I don't want him to be me." He admitted, after a moment.

"I don't know what you've been through," Kirk began, but Chekov interrupted him once again.

"It doesn't really matter-"

"It does matter." Kirk realized that it did matter. It mattered to Chekov, certainly-he had been forced to live through this nightmare-and it mattered to Kirk himself. "Whatever happens-whether we succeed or not-it matters, because whatever you've been through during your life made you into what you are right now, and if not for that we wouldn't stand a chance. We would already have failed if you hadn't shown up in that warehouse."

"You exist right now." Kirk added, when it seemed Chekov wasn't listening. "Right here, right now, you exist. You think, you breathe-"

"Not well." Chekov muttered.

"You feel." Kirk persisted. "Of course it matters."

"It's over and done, Captain." Chekov said wearily. "And frankly, I'm glad that I'll soon be free from this nightmarish existence."

The man offered Kirk a wry grin that was at odds with his last statement. "I'd stopped believing there were people like you, you know. People that actually cared about others beyond what they could get from them."

Kirk wondered when he had started liking this strange, twisted version of Chekov and why he was beginning to feel guilty over the fact that their success would in essence destroy everything the man had ever known.


Disclaimer: Star Trek sadly does not belong to me. Oh the fun we would have...