The next thing Hikaru feels is a bizarre chill crawling through his veins. He shivers, hard.
He tries to remember anything about where he is, what the hell is going on. Fails.
He vaguely recalls thinking he was about to die.
If this is death, then it sucks – his head is splitting, and he aches everywhere. He's freezing.
Then it comes crashing back...
Pavel had been with him, hadn't he?
Pavel had, had...
But he's alone here now – wherever "here" is. He can't see around him, can't hear past the buzzing in his head.
"Hikaru! Hikaru, I'm right here – open your eyes and look at me!"
God. It sounds just like Pavel – but that's not possible, is it?
Pav, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to leave you. I'm sorry, sorry...
"Hikaru – come on. Listen to me." Pavel feels his blood jangling like ice through his veins in sheer terror.
When Pavel had left the ship a few days ago, Hikaru was fine – a little worse for the wear after their last away mission, but fine.
Then had come the sudden call from the Enterprise – in his shock, he'd only registered the words "Sulu," and "emergency," and "immediately," as well as the unmistakable urgency in Commander Spock's tone.
Now... Dr. McCoy tells him that if he can't get through to Hikaru, he could die.
And that is unthinkable; he can't let that happen.
He's been trying to make 'Karu listen to him now for half an hour without success – but it goes without saying he'll keep trying for as long as it takes. He'll never give up on his best friend.
Not ever, he promises himself fiercely.
"Can you hear me, 'Karu? Squeeze my hand if you can hear me."
Pavel sounds scared to death, Hikaru thinks; automatically, he squeezes his hand in reassurance.
"S'okay, Pav," he whispers without really waking. "Don' be scared, Pav... m'here. Won't go."
Pavel's heart breaks just a little at that. Oh, Hikaru...
"Listen to me, 'Karu. We're back on the ship now – on the Enterprise. You got sick – you've been dreaming bad things – but we're both here. I'm here, 'Karu – I'm fine. Do you hear me, 'Karu?"
Hikaru's forehead creases, his head rolls back and forth restlessly on the pillow. He doesn't respond.
"Squeeze my hand again, 'Karu." The far-too-hot hand closes around Pavel's again, immediately.
He's in there – he hears me, thinks Pavel. That's a start.
So, now what do I say? He thinks for a moment, then forces a stern tone into his voice.
Make him listen to you, Chekov...
"All right, Sulu. You damn well open your eyes and look at me – now – or, or... next time I do the all-ship announcements, I will tell the whole crew that when we were at the Academy, you are wearing boxers with rocket ships on them."
"Like hell I did. Those are your boxers, you little shit."
Hikaru's eyes are still closed, but he sounds almost like his normal self. Like the Hikaru who's never left his best friend, and who won't start now.
Pavel laughs at that unexpected response – and it's that sound, Pavel's laugh, that finally makes Hikaru open his eyes.
He looks – just looks – at Pavel for a long, silent moment. Looks at him as though he's the best thing Hikaru has ever seen.
Pavel's alive, oh, dear God, he's right there, he's fine, looking down at him with wide, expectant eyes. Hikaru is overwhelmed by a flood of sheer relief like he's never known before, sees that feeling reflected back at him in Pavel's face. Without meaning to, they've been scaring the shit out of each other. He wants to laugh, he wants to cry - but for now, he can't summon up the strength to do either one. Anyway... it's enough just to look - to see the best friend who wasn't lost, after all.
Pavel squeezes his hand yet again, giving him a watery smile as he sags against the side of Hikaru's biobed.
Then McCoy is there, bending over Hikaru with a relieved expression of his own. "Sulu? You with me now?"
"Yeah, Doc." Hikaru groans, looking around now and taking in his surroundings. "What the heck happened, anyway?"
"Well, Lieutenant, you're almost as bad as your buddy the Captain with your ability to pick up any random illness or injury that a planet has to offer. You evidently came back from that last mission with a nasty little parasite that's been trying to do a number on your insides – and your insides have been fighting back with the damnedest fever I've ever encountered in a human. But we've gotten rid of the organism, the meds are knocking out the infection – and now we'll see about that fever, all right?"
"That'd be good, sir. I feel like hell."
McCoy's hand on Hikaru's shoulder is gentle. "I don't doubt it, kid. You've been through the wringer." He reaches over to a nearby table. "See if this doesn't feel a little better – this is some good old-fashioned medicine." The doctor places a cool, damp cloth across Hikaru's forehead.
And it does – it feels amazing. For maybe an entire minute, and then the cloth is as hot as he is – and he's too weak just now to move his arms and do anything about it. Damn.
Pavel is watching him intently, though, and reaches down to turn the cloth over so that it's cool again.
It feels good, and he's exhausted – but Hikaru thinks he probably needs to protest, anyway. "M'not a baby, Pav – don't have to do that."
"Shut up, 'Karu. I want to." After a little while, Pavel switches out the first cloth with another that's in a shallow bowl of cool water nearby, places the new cloth on Hikaru's forehead. He's trying to ignore how terrifyingly hot Hikaru feels as he touches his face.
Meanwhile, McCoy has prepared a hypo, and presses it deftly into Hikaru's neck. "This might help, too. But while we're waiting for this stuff to kick in, Sulu, I need you to rest and concentrate on getting better. Think you can do that?"
Around the edges of his consciousness – he really hasn't had much of a grip on reality lately, he realizes – Hikaru remembers wanting to give up, for it all just to be over.
But that was before.
"Yeah, Doc. I can for sure do that." He gives Pavel a smile, and almost instantaneously, he reaches over to squeeze Hikaru's hand again.
Whatever was in the hypo is starting to take effect; it's taking the edge off the ache in Hikaru's body, and making him feel pleasantly drowsy.
"This is good stuff, Doc," he slurs, and McCoy laughs softly.
"Glad you like it."
He scans Hikaru's monitors, and smiles; amazingly, the kid's vitals are already stabilizing. "Now, see if you can't get some sleep, okay, Sulu?"
Then he looks down at his patient, laughs again. "Never mind." McCoy exchanges another smile with Pavel as the man on the bed between them begins to snore softly.
"What do you think, Doctor ? He will be all right now?" Pavel can't take his eyes off his best friend's face; he's no expert, but Hikaru looks... well, more like Hikaru now.
"Now that he's stopped fighting us, there's no reason why he shouldn't get through this just fine, Chekov." Pavel feels like he's able to breathe again, for the first time since Uhura called him on the Revere – how long ago was that? He's lost track of the time.
McCoy is still speaking. "...probably going to be pretty well out of it for several hours, now. No reason why you need to stick around; we can let you know if there's any change in how he's doing."
Pavel looks down at where he is still holding Hikaru's hand. Without letting go, he sinks into a chair next to the bed.
He smiles fondly at his sleeping friend – his friend who would have died sooner than leave him.
"Nyet, Doctor. I will stay."
As always - I love it when you review. But you know this.
An aside: I've had some questions about my "Both Ways" 'verse, and where (or if) some of these stories fit into that bigger story. Fact is, a lot of them do - so here's the chronology.
5)Good Morning, Pasha
...and eventually, the rest of "Sestina" and the end of "Both Ways" - if indeed I ever manage to FINISH "Sestina."
So, does that make sense? Hope so. :-)