They've been in this situation before, he and Pavel – any number of times in the months they've served together on the Enterprise. It's almost routine by now; the two of them, somehow separated from the rest of the away team, and everything falling to shit all at once. Then the two of them – Sulu and Chekov, Chekov and Sulu, always – stand together and get out of whatever God-awful trouble they're in by some combination of skill, guts, or sheer luck.

The story isn't supposed to end like this.

The hell of it is, Hikaru can't even remember quite what went wrong; whatever's caused the injury that has his head exploding with pain seems also to have wiped out his short-term memory. More than anything else, this realization pisses him off.

If I'm going to die, dammit, I'd at least like to know why.

Because, for the first time in all their away missions, he's pretty sure that he is.

Going to die, that is.

They've made it together into the shelter of a cave, at least temporarily out of reach of whoever – or whatever – the fuck it was that's done this to him. To them.

Because, damn – Pavel's in worse shape yet than he is, if that's possible. There's a huge red stain spreading across the gold of his jersey – and Hikaru realizes dimly that the blood that he sees all over his own arm isn't his after all, but Pavel's.

The warmth Hikaru feels pouring steadily down the side of his face – now, that's his own blood.

The pain in his head is increasing, and he struggles to keep his vision clear; he needs to be able to see in order to do what he can to tend to Pavel.

"Don't worry about it, 'Karu." Pavel's voice is barely audible as he bats away Hikaru's hands from the wound on his chest. "It's... not that bad." His breath is coming in uneven gasps, and his face is already pale as death. He's lying, knows that Hikaru knows it, too.

"No, Pav – I'm not going to let you give up. We'll get out of this. We always do." Hikaru makes another futile attempt to hail the Enterprise – but of course the damn communicator is useless here. Maybe it's the cave that's blocking the signal – but he can't seem to get back out into the open; his legs have stopped working the way he needs them to. He can't help thinking that it won't be long now until he and Pavel both die in this motherfucking cave.

And God – it's so hot. There's something wrong with that, and Hikaru realizes vaguely that he ought to know what that is – but his thoughts aren't cooperating.

This isn't good.

So he scoots awkwardly over to where Pavel is leaning against one wall of the cave, and gently shifts them both so that Pavel is halfway across his lap and can rest his head on Hikaru's shoulder. He thinks Pavel might get some comfort from that – he knows it comforts him.

This is his best friend – his first, his only best friend – and he's always better with Pavel than without him.

Hikaru knows he doesn't want to be without him.

But now Pavel's breathing is making a horrifying new sound – something between a sucking and a rattling – that makes Hikaru's blood run cold, even in the sweltering heat of the cave.

"Pav." He can hear the desperation in his own voice, tries to play it down a little, for Pavel's sake. "Hang on. You've gotta hang on, man – it's just a matter of time before they come for us. Come on, Pav – you can do this."

Pavel looks up at him with those huge, clear blue eyes – reaches over with his failing strength to grasp Hikaru's hand. "I'm sorry, 'Karu – I don't think I can." He gives Hikaru's hand a squeeze. "I'm glad you're here, though. If it has to be now... glad I'm with you."

With his free hand, Hikaru reaches down to cup Pavel's face. "Pav – I'm right here, and I'm staying right here. I won't leave you – not ever, do you hear me? Now, don't you leave me either – I mean, dude, come on... we're Chekov and Sulu, Sulu and Chekov..." Hikaru feels the tears in his eyes – hopes they're not visible in the murky light of the cave. "You can't leave me."

Pavel looks up at him – there's agonizing pain on his face, but so much love, as well. He tries to smile, draws a long, shuddering breath.

"Oh, 'Karu..."

Those blue eyes slowly close, and...

...And nothing.

"Pav? Pavel!"


He's gone.