First - my sincere apologies for both the lengthy delay and the brevity of this chapter.

I hope to do more writing, and longer chapters, soon.

Better to be without logic than without feeling.

Charlotte Brontë

"McCoy to Sulu - you awake, or am I interrupting something I don't want to hear about?"

Hikaru noticed that the CMO's voice over his communicator sounded significantly more cheerful than it had for a while - which probably came as a result of their now having at least a vague idea of where Jim may have been taken. They'd gone from just being stuck in enemy space to being stuck in enemy space with a plan for what to do next - and if that cheered McCoy up, then Sulu got that, because it cheered him up, too. A whole lot.

Weird what could make them smile these days.

"Yeah, I'm awake, Doc - and no, you're about five minutes too late to have interrupted -"

"I clearly recall saying I don't want to hear about it, Hikaru. So shut up."

"All right, then. What's going on?"

"Need you down here in Sickbay - no rush, but as soon as you get your clothes on."

"You know, Leonard, for someone who doesn't want to hear about it, you seem pretty fixated on the details. You sure you wouldn't like me to tell you about my morning? Or, hey - Pavel's right here," Hikaru said, smiling over at Pavel who in turn was watching him with barely-suppressed amusement. "I could put him on, if you'd rather hear from him."

"I fucking hate you, Sulu." Those words were belied by the fact that McCoy was laughing as he said them, and Hikaru couldn't help smiling at that himself. "Drag your ass down here, stat."

McCoy's prurient imaginings aside, Hikaru had in fact been dressed and ready to leave his quarters when the intercom had buzzed, so it was only a matter of a couple of minutes when he had arrived at Sickbay.

"Here I am, Doc - what can I do for you?"

"Oh, hey, Sulu." The CMO looked up from the paperwork that was, as usual, all over his desk. "Not a thing just right now - but I did want to give you a heads up that for the time being, you're in command."

Sulu felt a brief jump of alarm before he took a moment to think; of course, if anything untoward had happened to Spock, McCoy wouldn't be nearly so circumspect about it - so he could be pretty sure nothing was really wrong. But…

"Don't guess you'd mind clarifying that, Doctor?"

Leonard had the oddest smile on his face as he rose from his chair; Hikaru's grandmother had called that expression "the cat who ate the canary."

"Wouldn't mind a bit, Sulu. Come with me, will you?"

Everything made perfect sense to Hikaru just a moment later, when they turned the corner into the private alcove of Sickbay that was usually reserved for Jim and his notoriously frequent visits. There, lying silently on the biobed, was an unconscious Commander Spock.

"You sedated him into next week, just like you said you would, didn't you?" The doctor had been threatening Spock for days with exactly such a move if he didn't take more care to get regular rest and nourishment.

"Before you tell me why that was a terrible idea, you've gotta understand how badly he was deteriorating. He -"

"I wasn't going to tell you any such thing, Doc," Sulu interrupted. "I know as well as anybody that he was reaching a breaking point. And if you two are going to leave the ship and go looking for Jim on Soukara, then Spock is going to have to build some of his reserves back up first."

The doctor froze, staring at him blankly. "How did you know I was going to try to get him to let me go along?"

Hikaru smiled slightly. "I don't think anybody thought anything differently, ever. And I'm guessing the two of you didn't have time to discuss it before you took to Spock with the hypo, but he'd told me that he planned on bringing you along as well."

"When did he say that?" McCoy eyed the sleeping Spock suspiciously, as though not quite willing to believe what Sulu had said.

"Not an hour ago, when he visited me and told me I needed to prepare to take command soon. He's ready to go, Doc." Sulu gestured somewhat vaguely at the Vulcan who lay in front of them. "Well, he's obviously not ready now - but let's just say he's not going to want to delay once you think he's up to it."

"I see." Leonard stopped for just a moment, examining the monitors over Spock's biobed. "Don't know exactly when that'll be, Sulu - but it ought not to be too long. Matter of days at the most, if I had to guess. The hypo I gave him is just something that brings on a Vulcan healing trance when the patient has problems initiating one himself. The Vulcans came up with the technology themselves not long after they lost their planet - a bunch of them lost the ability to start a healing trance on their own, and they were dying of things that don't normally kill 'em." He picked up his PADD, entering some data before continuing. "Spock's not all that bad off, obviously - just exhausted, malnourished, and dehydrated - but I sure can't take him out looking for Jim until he's in a lot closer to good shape."

Sulu regarded him in silence for a long moment. "Does Nyota know?"

The doctor blew out a gusty sigh. "Do you mean to ask if I've talked to her about it? No - I tell myself it's because I haven't had the time, but it feels a lot more like I haven't had the nerve. But whether I've talked to her about it or not, I'm pretty sure she's got a good idea of what's going on. That woman's a lot of things - and stupid ain't never been on that list."

Hikaru inclined his head in agreement. "You're right there - on all counts, I'd say. I haven't seen that much of her in the past couple of days - we've all been just about stretched to the limit - but she's acted a little… well, subdued is as good a word as any, I guess. If I know Nyota - and you know I do - she's figured out that you're going to want to go with Spock to find Jim."

Sulu's expression, already serious, became almost grim as he continued. "That doesn't get you off the hook, though. She deserves to hear it from you."

McCoy drew himself up to his full height, so that he could look down at the other man. "You tellin' me that as my commanding officer?"

"No, I'm not, and you know it. I'm telling you as one of her best friends - and one of your friends, too, idiot." Sulu shook his head in exasperation. "You know you've been feeling guilty about not mentioning it to her, or you wouldn't be so damn defensive about it now."

"I know." He blew out the short, gusty sigh again. "And I'm sorry I bit your head off, really." They took the few short steps back to the CMO's office, and McCoy closed the door behind them.

"But… how do I tell her that there's a very real possibility that I don't come back to her?"

Hikaru's expression was decidedly grim now. "We'll be out here waiting for you in Cardassian space for as long as it takes for you to find Jim and bring him back - or for as long as we can survive out here. Has it occurred to you that there's a very real possibility that we won't be here to come back to?"