He finds them both together, which is better than he hoped for. But he finds them in the mess hall, eating, surrounded by crew, which is worse.

Pavel moves through the door and approaches the table, noting how closely Kirk and Hikaru are sitting, the private grin they send each other as another at their table finishes some loud story that makes the others laugh.

Pavel's brow creases in annoyance, but he walks up behind them calmly enough. "I need to speak to you, Captain. Hikaru."

They both look back. Jim flashes a grin without hesitation. "Hey, Pavel. Can it wait? Sit down and grab a bite to eat with us."

He shakes his head, tense but confident now with the memory of Len's hands on his body, and the image of Len sleeping so peacefully first in his mind.

"I need to speak to you, and I prefer to do it in private but I will do it here if I have to."

Kirk's grin fades and his eyebrows climb up.

Silence has fallen around the table, the crew - as they so often do - hushing the moment they think they'll overhear something good.

Hikaru glances at Jim. "Come on, Jim. He's not kidding that he'll say anything in front of everybody."

Pavel smiles at that, less grim than he intended. Hikaru knows him well enough to know that Pavel isn't embarrassed by the things others are embarrassed by. It is more important to say what he has to say than to keep it from the knowledge of those around them.

He can't help but notice Nyota sitting there watching them, her eyes as sharp as ever. There isn't much she misses - he would be surprised if she doesn't already know just about everything that's gone on.

Beside her is, as usual, her best friend. The lovely, smiling Janice Rand. Pavel's eyes fall on her and his will gets that much stronger, thinking of Lieutenant Harris and his own experiences.

Kirk flashes a look back at his dinner but stands. "Okay, kid, where we going?"

Pavel only leads them out to the corridor. What he has to say won't take long.

Hikaru regards him openly, curious and hesitant and displaying it all the way he always displays everything that he feels. It is one reason Pavel is so close to him, that Hikaru is unable and usually unwilling to hide anything about himself.

The door slides shut on the mess hall and the murmuring voices within.

Pavel faces his best friend and his captain and speaks firmly. "I will no longer allow either of you to try to sabotage my relationship with Len."

Hikaru nods minutely, as if he knew what was coming.

Kirk's shoulders tense. "Excuse me, Ensign?"

"I am not here as an ensign. Just as what you are doing is outside of your duties as Captain." Pavel faces Kirk - he's going to be the hardest to get through to, the hardest to watch. But Pavel isn't scared to confront him like this.

Back in Len's quarters is the evidence of what he has to lose if he lets this go on, and Pavel is in no way willing to risk that.

"If you think that protecting the well-being of my crew doesn't fall inside my duties..." Kirk frowns at him, sharp-eyed now. "Give me one reason why I ought to believe the two of you are in a position to make unbiased choices, Mr. Chekov."

Pavel regards him. "If you will give me one good reason why our feelings alone in this crew are somehow invalid."


"Is it because we have experienced a traumatic event?" Pavel hears his voice rising and schools himself, glancing towards the closed door to the mess. "If that's the case than you surely believe we are incapable of making any decisions. I would certainly not be scheduled to work my old shift on the bridge tomorrow, and Len wouldn't even be under consideration yet to return to his duties. So I don't believe that's it."

Kirk heaves a sigh, the hardness in his face softening into something else. "Pavel, look. There's a lot you don't understand about-"

Hikaru makes a warning sound, nudging Kirk with his arm.

Pavel two months ago would have perhaps gotten angry at that: since he is one of the two who suffered through this ordeal, Kirk can only be implying that something about him makes him incapable of understanding the full scope of things. Doubtless Kirk means his age.

Pavel is beyond being stirred to anger over that, though. The last time he let that particular rage take him he ended up yelling at poor Len as he lay there suffering. He won't do that again.

"I am old enough," he says calmly, with perhaps a bit of an edge judging by how Hikaru looks so quickly back at him, "to understand a great deal more than you think, Captain. I understand that even though you and Hikaru began sleeping together while we were missing, ibecause/i we were missing, you have not once thought of your relationship as being born from trauma. As if you are somehow free of that concern because your pain was mental and not physical."

Kirk shoots Hikaru a look, but Hikaru doesn't look back. Hikaru's surprise shows on his face, but he doesn't object.

"He didn't tell me, Captain, I am capable of observing and comprehending things around me. I can see for myself that the two of you care for each other but haven't yet said anything. I know that you, Captain, fear his walking away because he assumes that for you this is simply another fling. And Hikaru doesn't have flings, but he hasn't yet told you that because he fears your response to any threat of a real relationship."

The two of them try so hard not to look at each other that they stand unnaturally still, like statues.

Pavel would smile any other time.

"I could tell you more than you think about you and Hikaru, or Spock and Nyota, or Scotty and Gaila. Perhaps you think that a child with no history of relationships can't see things that are clear to the rest of you. I can. I can also turn that sight to myself, and to Len."

Kirk frowns. "Fine. Can you tell me without any reservations that what you two have comes from something stronger than the suffering you did together?"

"Stronger?" Pavel shrugs. "What they put Len through, and myself to a lesser extent, was very strong. I've got no right to speak for Len, to say if its impact on him was more or less powerful that my own feelings for him."

Kirk nods, grim. "Then what do you expect us to-"

"I can tell you," Pavel goes on, perhaps for the first time in his life willingly interrupting his Captain, "that what we feel will last a great deal longer than the effects of what we suffered. I can tell you that the former did not come from the latter."

He hesitates, regarding Kirk. Kirk's objections, he knows, come solely from his concern for Len. He can't resent Kirk for that. But he doesn't have to listen to him, either.

"You're right," he says carefully. "It makes little sense that because of what we suffered, we would love each other. But it also doesn't make sense that two people would cling so closely if they felt nothing for each other beyond a memory of shared pain."

He looks to Hikaru, hoping his words make sense.

Hikaru meets his eyes, his expression soft. He is listening.

That bolsters Pavel. "The only thing that makes sense," he goes on, turning back to Kirk, "is that we suffered, and we learned to care for each other. Not one because of the other, but both at the same time. It's hardly impossible."

Kirk doesn't answer. He does sneak a glance at Hikaru, and seems to let go of a little tension at whatever he sees in Hikaru's profile.

Pavel lets out a shaky sigh. He isn't scared to speak his mind, even to his superiors, but this is draining him quickly.

He thinks of Len, softly snoring in his bed waiting for Pavel's return, and he draws confidence from that.

"Unless you can tell me that I'm wrong, that somehow our feelings must be unhealthy and unnatural, than you ought to leave us alone to figure out our own relationship. It isn't normal, perhaps, not the normal that we left behind when we started this mission. But that doesn't make it wrong."

"He gets worse when you're around," Kirk says, a softer objection than his last few. A true worry of his, judging by the look in his eyes.

Pavel is surprised by it, but he shakes his head easily. "No, captain. He is better with you because he knows it's what you want. You have told him from the beginning that you want him as he used to be, and so he tries to give you that. If he seems worse with me, it's because he knows that I don't expect to see anything different."

Kirk pales, his thoughts instantly and visibly moving far away from this conversation.

Pavel gives him a moment, turning to Hikaru instead. "I am not," he says, unsteady, "co-opting anyone's recovery. I simply can't leave him alone. Can you understand that?"

Hikaru nods without hesitation. "I shouldn't have said those words to you. It was knee-jerk and stupid, and I know you better than that." He reaches out for Pavel's arm.

Pavel steps in closer, flashing a small smile.

Hikaru's touch is warm, supportive as it always is. "I'll get used to things not going back to what they used to be. May take me a little time, but the least I owe you is not trying to butt in to you and McCoy's relationship."

Pavel smiles at that, wide and sincere. "Thank you."

He turns to Kirk.

Kirk looks back, eyes distracted. "I need to go see him."

Pavel hesitates, but nods. He steps in closer to Hikaru. "Perhaps I'll get some dinner after all. He's in his quarters."

He can't quite find the words to warn Kirk that he is in bed, that it's going to be obvious what he was doing in that bed hours ago.

Kirk is a grown man, he'll figure it out for himself.

He turns to Hikaru as Kirk strides off own the corridor. Hikaru grins and slings his arm around Pavel's shoulder and leads him back through the doors to the table they deserted.

There are quiet greetings, undisguised looks of curiosity, but Pavel sits silently beside Hikaru and reaches for an abandoned bowl of tapioca that Kirk left behind.

"Pavel, how is Doctor McCoy?" Nyota asks under all the greetings, soft and concerned.

Pavel can't help himself. When he looks over at Nyota he sees Janice Rand, and he can't stop himself from saying too much.

"Doctor McCoy is well," he says. "He is recovering. He's lucky, you know, that he has so many people to help him."

"What's that supposed to mean? How the hell is he lucky?" Someone down the table, an engineering ensign Pavel doesn't know, asks the question.

Pavel shrugs, looking down at his stolen dessert. "The victims of trauma have a hundred people volunteering to help them. Doctors, law officers, family, friends. I think that makes them very lucky, though it may not feel like it at the time. Compared to those who don't suffer so obviously? The ones who have to watch it happen, who suffer it along with them but don't have wounds to show for it?"

He glances to the side, and his eyes catch on Janice though they mean to slide right past. "Those people have no help. Those people have to heal on their own, if they can."

At his side Hikaru nudges his arm. "Hey, that's not fair. You have a lot of people here helping you."

Janice's skin has lost color. She is staring right back at Pavel now.

Pavel returns her gaze. "I'm not talking about myself."


Pavel lets out a breath, looking back at Hikaru. "Nothing. I'm not ungrateful for my friends, believe me."

Hikaru flashes a smile.

The engineering ensign mumbles something that sets the people around him protesting, and as it always does talk builds up and goes on around them.

Pavel glances over just once more, just enough to see Janice staring at the table, her brow furrowed and her expression lost, distant - perhaps a year or so in the past.

He doesn't smile, though, until the doors open and a loud group of security officers come in, pushing their way past the table to the replimats. He watches Janice's eyes raise and catch on one of those officers, and follow him as he passes.

It's a start.

The door and the hideous, squealing sound that it makes as it opens are imprinted, Len thinks, in his brain. Like some kind of Pavlovian nightmare. If he ever gets off this floor and out of here and lives somehow for another fifty years, he thinks he'll still want to burst into tears and huddle in a ball if he ever hears this sound again. Ninety years old and he'll still feel it.

Such pointless thoughts, really. He has resigned himself to dying here. He hasn't been able to eat for a few days, he hasn't had any desire to force himself.

The only reason why he wouldn't welcome death instantly and without hesitation is because he doesn't like the idea of leaving Pavel here alone.

There are times lately when he hates the kid. When he pleads to some nonexistent diety that the Maalox will go after Pavel instead. When he curses Pavel in his mind, hates him, for not being strong enough to fight the Maalox off when they come in.

But he knows that isn't real. He knows that Pavel must have the same thoughts, must direct an even stronger anger towards himself. The kid's always been too solemn and too responsible.

There are times when Len opens his eyes to find himself in the middle of one of those Maalox funtime sessions. There are times when he shuts his eyes and opens them and somehow knows that he's lost hours to this grey, incoherent fog he finds himself falling into.

He's already leaving the kid alone, he's just doing it slowly.

It's amazing, he realizes sometimes, how much more a person can endure than they think they can. He thought after the first and second sessions that he wouldn't live through any more. But here he is, useless and limp on the ground but still alive. His mind is spotty, but occasionally it still functions. He has no strength, but his heart keeps beating.

He used to be a doctor, he should have gone into this knowing how much he'd be able to stand. But maybe that's not possible. Maybe to survive it mentally he had to think of things in terms of one more time, not one more month.

Pavel talks himself to sleep, Len's been aware of it happening a couple of times. He sits there and fills the silence with useless Russian words and lays his hand on Len's hair until his hand slips off and the words fade out. It's the only time Len doesn't hear him.

He woke the kid up, both times. Shifted and groaned until those green eyes blink open and Pavel's voice revs up before he's even aware of being awake again.

And this is life now.

Len doesn't know a time when any part of his body didn't hurt. He doesn't remember clean rooms or metal beds, uniforms or laughter. He doesn't remember the taste of food.

The human body is a remarkable thing, but he's ready for his to give up. Sometimes it's all he can beg for, silently, in his mind. It's all he wants.

The days pass and the hours blur and drag and melt into each other, and he doesn't remember when life wasn't like this.

Until the kid is up on his feet, shouting out hoarse Russian words, and a voice answers him. A voice Len doesn't remember but knows all the same.

A voice that says, "Chekov?"

He doesn't hear Pavel's nightmare, if the kid even makes any noise when he dreams. But he hears the soft sniffling, the muffled breathing and helpless choked sounds.

He rolls over, still feeling heavy-limped and relaxed from earlier, and finds Pavel curled away from him in a tense ball.

He doesn't hesitate, reaching out and touching the kid's shoulder. "Hey," he says softly, hoarse from sleep.

Pavel doesn't move. He stills, as if forcing himself to be quiet, but he speaks after a few long moments.

"In my dreams," he says, "you hate me for letting it happen. In my dreams when they come to get us, you tell Kirk what I've done, and you leave me there."

"Jesus." Len's eyes open, wide awake just like that. "Pavel..."

Pavel doesn't move.

Len sits up, reaching for Pavel more insistently. "Hey. Come here."

Pavel obeys after a moment, rolling over and curling against Len, burying his face in Len's chest.

God, it's so easy to let Pavel be the strong one. Len's done it without complaint for weeks now. Pavel asks for it, demands it.

Len just let himself make the mistake of thinking that strong means impervious.

He strokes Pavel's thin back, feeling tears against his skin. "Christ, kid, you know how wrong that is."

Pavel nods, the barest movement of his head. Len is more than aware that just knowing something isn't right doesn't make it go away.

"I know it's wrong," Pavel says, his voice thick. "I know they're wrong. I know it. But...what if they're right?"

Len frowns out into the darkness, tangling his fingers in disheveled curls. "Who?"

"Hikaru and Kirk. They agree with us now, maybe, after we convinced them to. But..."

Len snorts softly. "Hikaru and Kirk are idiots," he answers easily, and his mind cheerfully throws Christine Chapel into that mix.

Pavel sniffles and clings to Len, and he seems more young and more scared than Len has ever seen him.

It's an answer in itself, even if Pavel doesn't realize that yet. That a kid so fucking brave can face a group of violent sadist monsters, but can sob to himself in the night at the thought of losing the man sleeping beside him...

It's the answer to his fear right there. And the answer to Len's fear, if any of that fear remains. Pavel needs him so badly that he's brought to tears by it, and Len needs him so badly that those tears seem every bit as humbling as any inhumane torture.

He was pretty sure of it the first time he stroked Pavel off, the first time Pavel lay under him, shivering and glowing and sated. He was a little more sure after Jim showed up and had it out with him about pretending to be healthier than he was because he thought it was what Jim wanted (which, to be fair, Len didn't realize he was doing until Jim said it and his mind dinged in recognition).

He was convinced hours earlier, as Pavel lay beneath him sobbing in pleasure as Len pushed so fucking slowly into his body.

They suffered together, but that's the least of what they are. Len is so attracted to him that he's felt like a pervert for months, he's so fascinated by him that even weeks in a cell make him sure that he's only scratched the surface of this kid. He ilikes/i him, which in Len's experience is pretty rare for a couple.

Pavel has brought him his faith back, and if that faith doesn't extend any further than this bed, it's a start.

He folds his arms around Pavel, feeling his shuddering breaths, and shuts his eyes and talks, quiet. "You remember that story you told me back on Maalox?"

"You'd have to be more specific," Pavel says after a moment, and there's a glimmer of amusement in the answer that makes Len smile.

"The one about the guy who married a bird and had to go look for something for the king."

Pavel draws in a breath and nods, pulling back enough to look up at Len. "Poydi tuda, ne znayu kuda, prinesi to, ne znayu chto."

Len meets his too-bright gaze and his chuckle dies in his throat. "Surprisingly I didn't manage to learn Russian down there."

Pavel smiles. "It means 'go I know not whither, and fetch I know not what.'"

Len returns the smile. "Yeah, that's the one."

"Mmm." Pavel lays his cheek back against Len's chest, smoothing his fingers down Len's stomach as if to soothe...both of them, maybe.

Len slips his hand through the kid's curls again. "You said that story made you realize years ago that the only important thing was to have a goal in mind. Whether you reach that goal or not is up to fate, but not having the goal in the first place would be your failure."

Pavel nods again slowly.

"Well, you said down there...our goal was to get back here. I guess once we were back our goal was to get better." He smiles, because there's this optimism in what he's saying that he hasn't felt for a long time. "You're working a shift tomorrow. I'm going through a few tests with Jabilo. We're getting better."

"Yes." Pavel reaches for Len's other hand, his fingertips smoothing over the backs of Len's fingers.

"So who says our next goal can't be this?"

Pavel seems to hold his breath. "This?"

"Us. You and me. Seems like as good a goal as any, and you said yourself that as long as you've got a goal in mind, that's what really counts."

Pavel blinks another spot of wet warmth down Len's chest. He draws in an unsteady breath.

Len leans in, smiling into Pavel's curls. "Hell, the idea makes me feel better, because I know a genius kid like you hasn't ever failed in a goal before. Right?"

"Right." Pavel laughs, warm air tickling Len's damp skin. He hesitates, and there's a note in his voice that makes Len grin. "I suppose I can postpone my next goal. I like this one better."

Len has to ask, of course. "What was the next one?"

"To let Admiral Pike beat me at chess."

Len laughs into the darkness, pulling Pavel in tighter against him. "I love you, kid. You know that, right?"

"Of course." Pavel shifts against him, tugging him down until they're both prone against the pillows again.

He stays pressed close to Len, fingertips tracing absent patterns across his chest. As Len's eyes start getting heavier he begins to hum, the soft familiar tune of an old Russian lullaby.

The End