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"Put some energy into it, runt." The guard commanded.
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Sulu shifted his grip on the anti-grav unit they were using to convey the box from one side of the storage compartment to the other. "I hate it when he calls me that," he muttered.
"You have it easy," Chekov replied unsympathetically.
Sulu had to agree there -- although neither one of them was experiencing what any sane person would term a run of good luck. They'd been assigned to ferry an ambassador from the Quinessian Collective to a series of Federation-sponsored peace talks with the Mergonian Star Empire. Diplomatic relations had deteriorated with unexpected suddenness. The shuttle had been boarded. Instead of merely taking their passenger and leaving them to explain the situation to the captain, the Mergonians had arrested the two Enterprise officers and taken them to this detention camp on one of their colony worlds.
Chekov and Sulu were assuming that the Enterprise was engaged in high level negotiations to have them released. Both agreed that a rescue attempt would have been quicker and therefore more desirable.
Although less than what the Federation officers would consider modern, the accommodations in the camp were clean and well-maintained. The real problem was that discipline in the camp tended to be lethal and detention on this planet also meant hard labor.
"Come on. Back to it, chiksa."
This Mergonian term was why Sulu was more fortunate than his companion. 'Chekov' in the dialect of the guards was close to chiksa, the native word for 'princess.' This particular guard, Vargik, had hit on the unfortunate similarity early in their stay and had exploited it ever since.
"Excuse me," the ensign said in his best false polite tone, "but you are mispronouncing my name again."
"Am I? And just how is it supposed to sound?"
"Chekov, hmmm? Okay, chiksa, I'll try to remember that."
The ensign looked as though he was going to explode.
"Let it go," Sulu advised, picking up another box.
"Yeah, listen to your pal," the guard advised, as the ensign followed suit. "Don't let me spoil your cool, royal demeanor."
Chekov turned dangerously.
"You know for a little man, you've just got too big of a temper," Vargik scolded with deceptive mildness. "I'm not going to have to put you on short rations again, am I?"
The ensign's eyes traveled guiltily over to Sulu. "No," he relented.
Despite orders to the contrary, Sulu had insisted on sharing his meager portions of food with the ensign. The lieutenant hated that Chekov felt compelled to give in to Vargik in order to protect him. However if a little guilt kept the Russian out of trouble, it was worth it.
"Hmm?" Vargik persisted.
Chekov paused a long, sullen moment before finally saying, "No, sir."
"That's better. Now if you wouldn't mind getting some work done, your highness?"
The Russian gave a very prolonged and eloquent sigh as he bent to lift another box.
Before he could heft it, however, a blast of an airhorn signaled the end of the day's work period.
"Well, what do you know? Saved by the bell," Vargik said, taking the ensign by the shoulder and pushing him in the direction of the lock-up area. "Come on, back to the cage with the two of you."
Sometimes the two Federation officers were allowed to eat in the prisoner's mess. Then without explanation, they would be completely cut off from contact with anyone but the guards. They weren't sure if these periods of segregation signified improvement or worsening relations between Mergonian authorities and the Federation.
They shared a two-man room at the beginning of a long corridor of cells. It reminded Sulu of an old Army barracks he'd seen on Mars once. Everything folded up into the walls, ceiling, or floor. When unoccupied, the room looked completely bare except for the bars and handles that indicated the hiding place of the beds, sink, and toilet. It didn't look particularly like a cell until the guard pulled the switch that lowered the mesh curtain of reinforced metal that locked them inside.
Sulu was always somewhat relieved to be locked in. Their cell faced a blank concrete wall giving the illusion of some privacy -- despite the fact a guard walked by every few minutes.
"I think I'm going to have to kill him." Chekov muttered as he crossed to the far wall.
Sulu glanced over his shoulder to double-check that Vargik was out of earshot. "Would that you could," he said pulling his bunk down from the wall.
Chekov unlocked the two bolts that held the rotating portion of the back wall in place and turned the segment so the sink was facing out. "Why does he harass me?"
"Maybe he likes you," Sulu suggested lightly.
The ensign frowned forbiddingly as he re-bolted the section.
The lieutenant held up his hands in surrender. "Just joking."
Chekov turned to look at himself in the small greenish mirror. "I think I should shave," he said, running a finger down his jawline.
Sulu didn't think the ensign had ever shaved before in his life, but now that their beard suppressants had worn off, the Russian seemed to be quickly becoming obsessed with the activity. Chekov shaved once or twice a day -- Of course, he did tend to have a five o'clock shadow by 10:30 in the morning...
"Go ahead," the lieutenant said, laying down on the bunk and folding his arms behind his head. "I'm still committed to this beard."
Chekov smiled as he splashed water on his face. Sulu had tried the razor once out of curiosity, but didn't look as though he'd have any real need of it again for a few months. "Yes. It's getting very thick."
Oh, yeah," the lieutenant replied, stroking his smooth chin. "Must be up to about five or six hairs now. Pretty close together too."
The razor was a small black box with a grill on one end and a chain that connected it to the wall on the other. They weren't quite sure how it worked. The guards had to show them how to use it. Alarms sounded when they had tried to take it apart.
Sulu loved to watch Chekov shave. It wasn't the activity itself that fascinated him, but rather the way the ensign looked at himself in the mirror as he ran the buzzing mechanism over his cheeks. The navigator always got a stern, determined, and yet somehow vulnerable expression on his face. It looked almost as if his helm partner was examining himself for flaws of character as well as stray bristles. It was a very old-fashioned and masculine activity. Sulu thought it suited Chekov well.
From down the corridor came a distinctive rattle.
"Puppy chow time again." Sulu said cheerfully as he sat up to reach the small nook where their bowls were stored.
Chekov sighed at his reflection. "I wish you wouldn't say that."
"Sorry." Sulu got up and put the bowls into a cabinet in the wall adjoining the front of the enclosure. A door to this shelf opened onto the corridor only when the door from the prisoner's side was securely bolted.
The food cart rattled closer and the Enterprise officers could hear a guard pouring their bowls full before they could actually see him.
"Eat up," the Mergonian said, banging on the outside of the cabinet to signal it was safe for them to open their end.
"Mmmm, yummy," Sulu said ironically, as he removed the dishes. Their 'food' came in small dry chunks that looked and smelled like nothing he could think of other than dog food. He handed one bowl to the ensign, who grimaced at it in disgust.
"Doesn't it suit you, chiksa?" the guard called.
Sulu could see his companion's cheeks color dangerously.
"Is this what you eat?" The Russian demanded, stepping towards the mesh curtain and holding out the bowl accusingly. "Is this even something that you would feed an animal?"
"No," the guard admitted. "But I'd feed it to you."
"This is inedible." Chekov said between his teeth. "Why don't we receive proper rations?"
Sulu sighed inwardly. The ensign made this or a similar complaint almost daily. The lieutenant was beginning to get as tired of it as the guards were.
"Listen, princess," the Mergonian said, pointing a warning finger. "You're not in charge here. You don't give orders. I'm getting tired of your stinking attitude. If you don't straighten up, you're going to be taking a trip to the warden's office."
"Chekov," Sulu added his warning quietly.
The Russian ignored him. "Really? That sounds like a very good idea. I think I'd like to have a nice, long discussion with the warden about the treatment we're getting."
"Don't tempt me," the guard retorted. "I've just about had it with you. Just one more word.... Just give me half an excuse and I'll haul you down there myself."
"All right," the ensign agreed, drawing back the hand that was holding the bowl of food.
"Chekov!" Sulu shouted, but the word wasn't out of his mouth before the Russian had flung the bowl full force against the screen encaging them. Food pellets rained down noisily inside and outside the cell.
The guard's face purpled as pellets rolled off his head and shoulders. "That's it" he said, reaching with one hand for the switch to open the cell and with the other for an alarm bell that would summon a co-worker to aid him.
"Look, he didn't mean it," Sulu pleaded, stepping immediately between the guard and the ensign as the mesh slowly rolled open. "Say you're sorry, Chekov."
"I am not sorry," the ensign replied stubbornly as a second guard arrived on the scene.
"Not yet," the guard said, brushing the lieutenant aside. Chekov didn't resist as the Mergonian roughly spun him around and bound his arms behind him.
The guard's comrade quickly moved in to push Sulu out of the way. "We're political prisoners," the lieutenant cried around the man's bulk. "We're not criminals. There's no need to..."
His protests fell on deaf ears as the guard quickly hustled Chekov out of the cell. The second Mergonian released the lieutenant with a shove to discourage further resistance as he backed slowly out of the cell and re-lowered the mesh.
"Damn!" the lieutenant swore crossing quickly to the panel that slid away to reveal their only view of the outside world. "Damn it!"
It was raining in the courtyard. The thick glass prevented Sulu from feeling the cold, but it looked as though there might even be some ice in the thick droplets that fell into the spotlights illuminating the yard.
Mergonians were generally taller than humans. Chekov looked no bigger than an adolescent next to the guard who quick marched him towards the warden's office.
"They won't kill him," Sulu repeated to himself as though the words were a protective mantra. "They can't kill him. They won't risk a diplomatic incident."
Chekov slipped and nearly fell while trying to keep up with the guard's long-legged pace.
"Don't hurt him," the lieutenant begged as the Mergonian hauled the ensign up by the back of his collar.
Both of the Federation officers had heard stories of the terrible things that took place in the disciplinary barracks behind the Warden's Office -- beatings, electro-shock torture, executions. On a few days that they worked nearby that building, they'd thought they'd heard screams.
"Please, please, please," the helmsman begged as the guard paused to ring the bell to the warden's door.
The last glimpse he had of the ensign was of Chekov tossing wet bangs out of his eyes with a defiant shake of his head. The Mergonian pushed the ensign through the doorway.
All Sulu could do now was wait... and listen.
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"Put some energy into it, runt." The guard commanded.
"Put some energy into it, runt." The guard commanded.
It seemed like years before they brought him back. Chekov was wet and shivering, but still defiant. Sulu breathed a grateful prayer to the powers that be as the guards unlocked the handcuffs binding him. The ensign imperiously shook the stiffness out his wrists as if the bonds had only been an annoying inconvenience.
Sulu felt like the parent of a wayward child. He was torn between the desire to hug the navigator and the urge to give him a good spanking for having scared him so badly.
"Lights out in five minutes," the guard announced as they brought the mesh screen down behind Chekov.
"Yes, sir," Sulu replied quickly to cover the fact that the ensign probably wasn't going to acknowledge them.
He was right. The navigator headed straight for his locker.
Fortunately the guards didn't seem to care. They went on about their business as the ensign took a towel and a dry set of coveralls out of the fold-out locker.
Sulu waited a full three seconds for Chekov to volunteer the information before asking, "Are you all right?"
"Fine." The ensign's voice was muffled by the towel over his head. Sulu waited patiently for his companion to finish drying his hair. He then waited impatiently for Chekov to comb his hair.
"So," he prompted at last. "What happened?"
If Sulu wasn't so relieved to find that he was still alive, the helmsman was afraid he would have killed the Russian.
Instead of falling to his knees and crying, 'oh, Sulu! I'm so sorry! Please, please forgive me for being so stupid and worrying you so badly. They didn't hurt me. They just scared the hell out of me. I promise never, never, never to do such a reckless thing ever again!' the ensign changed into a dry pair of coveralls as nonchalantly as if he'd been caught in the rain on a leisurely stroll in a park.
The lieutenant was relived to see there were no bruises on Chekov's back. He knew, however, that the Mergonians did things to prisoners that left no visible marks...
The ensign turned and frowned at Sulu as if he couldn't fathom why the helmsman was staring at him in so rudely intense a fashion.
"They took you to the commandant?" the lieutenant asked, feeling guilty despite himself.
Chekov nodded. "He spoke to me."
"And what did he say?"
The ensign smiled ruefully as he pushed the locker back up into its place. "That he was very disappointed in my behavior and hoped I would follow your example and be a model prisoner henceforth."
"And that was it?"
Chekov shrugged again and crossed to the mirror.
Now that he was convinced that the ensign was unharmed, Sulu was sure he was going to have to kill him. "You know," the lieutenant began slowly, "they say that after someone goes through electro-shock, their fingernails turn blue for a few days..."
Chekov didn't catch on quickly enough to prevent himself from taking an incriminating glimpse down at his hand.
Sulu closed his eyes, sorry that his trick had worked. "Oh, Chekov."
"I won't do it again," the ensign said, curling his fist defensively. "I thought that the warden was unaware of how we were being treated and if I had the opportunity to speak to him.... I was wrong. He is aware. The matter simply does not cause him any concern."
"They don't seem to regard us the way we would look at prisoners of war," Sulu said, repeating what he'd already said a hundred times and hoping Chekov would finally be in the right frame of mind to listen. "They don't see us as law abiding citizens just following the orders of our government. They seem to feel that we are criminals and that we should just accept all this as the outcome of our wrong-doing."
"Yes." The ensign nodded slowly as he sat down on his bunk. He looked up at the lieutenant. "I think they would kill us."
The lieutenant could now see why the navigator was going to such lengths to pretend he didn't care -- the Mergonians had scared the hell out of him. With someone else, Sulu might have felt a moment of triumph in finally having proved such a long-debated point. With Chekov, however, the lieutenant always ended up feeling a little sorry that he'd won. "I think we have to operate on the assumption that that could happen," he said gently. "They don't seem to be too afraid of provoking a diplomatic incident with the Federation."
"No," Chekov agreed with a rueful enough expression to make the lieutenant wonder exactly how extensive the ensign's punishment had been. "They don't."
"For them to seriously harm us, though, I think we'd have to push it." Sulu said, then let a lengthy, disapproving silence do his reprimanding for him.
Chekov absorbed it for a few long moments before he finally said, "Like I did."
"No more antagonizing the guards," Sulu ordered. "Don't take any extreme action against them without consulting me first."
Chekov looked away and nodded.
"Okay?" the lieutenant prompted, dissatisfied with only a lukewarm commitment.
The ensign looked at him for a moment. Sulu knew Chekov had grown to dislike being reminded of the difference in their ranks almost as much has he'd begun to dislike reminding him.
"Yes, sir," he said at last, giving the helmsman a sharp salute. "Should I consider myself confined to quarters for the rest of the evening, sir?"
"I think you'd better, Ensign," Sulu agreed, in the same vein. "And for good measure, I'm going to confine myself to quarters right along with you."
"Such dedication to duty," Chekov complimented him dryly, as he lay down on his bunk.
Sulu smiled, wishing he could hug the navigator. He lay down on his own bunk instead. "Anything for one of my men."
"Come on," the guard complained. "We haven't got all day."
Actually, Sulu thought, leaning a little harder onto his mop to appease the Mergonian, we do.
Their isolation from the other prisoners had continued this morning. After being fed in their cell, they'd been assigned as a two-man cleaning party for this room. It was one of the three mess halls for the guards. A larger contingent of prisoners could have cleaned it within an hour, but it usually took Sulu and Chekov most of morning. The lieutenant couldn't figure out why the installation had three different mess halls or why the duty of cleaning them was rotated in such an irregular fashion. Probably a security measure of some sort. His limited contact with the other prisoners had confirmed that it was standard procedure to switch prisoners from one work detail to another seemingly at random. No one was allowed to become comfortable with an established routine.
Sulu glanced over to where Chekov was wiping off table tops. He knew this particular assignment was always torture for the ensign. It wasn't that the work itself was bad. The problem was that at one end of the hall was what looked like an open doorway. Through it, you could see into a squad room with large windows that were frequently open.
The ensign believed there were probably weapons in that room and exits leading outside the prison. Sulu thought so too, but didn't pay much attention to the often unoccupied office. The seemingly open doorway was equipped with a primitive but effective alarm system. Invisible beams of light criss-crossed the portal. Breaking a beam set off a series of alarms. It had been emphatically explained to them that one step inside that room meant summary execution for any prisoner.
Sulu didn't know why Chekov bothered to dream up escape plans. If they got out of here, where would they go?
The lieutenant sighed and shook his head as the guard began to pace back and forth, making his way slowly but surely closer to Chekov with every round. Sulu couldn't fathom Vargik's fascination with the ensign. Most of the guards hated Chekov. The lieutenant could see why. The ensign was not the bright and cheerful individual he usually was on the Enterprise. Here, Chekov was a sullen and miserable little person who seemed determine to make everyone around him as unhappy as he obviously was with the situation. He argued, complained, and blamed any convenient Mergonian for conditions over which they had no control. Sulu could understand why they disliked him.
With Vargik, however, the situation was different. He didn't merely react to the ensign's insubordinations. He seemed to go out of his way to provoke such outbursts. Like now, for instance. Chekov was focused on his assigned task -- like the model prisoner he'd promised to be henceforth. Any other guard would be happy to let him be. Not Vargik. The more quiet and subdued the ensign was, the more agitated and dissatisfied the Mergonian became.
Either he's a sadist, Sulu decided. or he's got a crush on Chekov the size of Jupiter.
"You work a little slower every day, chiksa," Vargik complained as his circuit of the room drew him near the ensign. "You act as though you're afraid of dirtying your dainty hands."
"Do I?" Chekov asked so innocently that his tone set off alarm bells inside the helmsman's skull. "Then I will attempt to apply myself more enthusiastically."
Vargik's crooked half-smile showed that he was as puzzled by this uncharacteristic response as the lieutenant was. "Your trip to the warden's office has put you in a better mood," he said, taking a few more steps towards the ensign nonetheless.
Chekov shrugged. "It informed my perspective of my position in this institution."
"Really?" Vargik sat down on the end of the table the ensign was cleaning. "I heard you squealed like a little girl while you were being punished."
"Really?" the ensign replied mildly. "I wouldn't know -- I do not often have occasion to hear little girls scream."
Sulu's grip on his mop tightened involuntarily. Something was definitely up.
"Of course, to a man of your sexual tastes," Chekov continued with a smile, "it would be quite a familiar sound."
The Mergonian didn't move. His lips pulled into a sort of a frozen, crazed and very dangerous grin.
"Oh, I'm sorry," the ensign said pleasantly. "I have made a mistake, haven't I? From what they say, your taste runs more to farm animals..."
Although he'd been anticipating it, the moment came too quickly for Sulu to do anything to prevent it. Vargik lunged at Chekov, giving the ensign the opening he'd apparently been angling for. The navigator kicked the baton from the Mergonian's hand as he dodged out of the guard's way.
Vargik whirled around with a roar, but found to his surprise that his victim was armed.
"Give me your key," Chekov demanded, stepping in to press the dinner knife he'd apparently found earlier that morning against the guard's throat.
"Chekov!" Sulu threw his mop aside and rushed towards them. "He doesn't have a key. Guards never carry keys when they're on duty in this part of the building."
"He's not supposed to have it." Chekov backed his captive up against the wall nearest the door. "But he does."
The Mergonian offered no resistance. "Very observant," he complimented the ensign.
Sulu picked up the guard's baton. He wasn't at all happy about this turn of events, but Chekov had crossed the Rubicon for both of them. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"
"Escaping," the ensign replied, searching through Vargik's jacket pockets with his free hand. "I don't intend for us to be killed by these savages while we wa..."
Vargik's counterattack was as swift as it was sudden. Without warning, he jammed one arm between his body and the Russian's and then used that powerful bicep to sweep the smaller man away and around. Chekov's head hit the wall beside Vargik with a sickening crack.
Before Sulu could interfere, the Mergonian had pulled the crumpling ensign back against him. "Think about it," Vargik warned, putting the sharpened edge of the blade to the unconscious ensign's throat.
Although his grip on the baton didn't waver, Sulu felt sick. He could see absolutely no way out of this situation. They'd execute Chekov for attacking a guard. It was as simple as that. The thought that they'd probably kill him as well didn't seem very important to the lieutenant at the moment.
Vargik edged cautiously towards the button on the wall that would summon backup. Chekov lolled in his arms like a broken doll.
"Wait," Sulu said, although his blank mind refused to supply a reason why the Mergonian should. "What will it take for you to walk away -- forget this happened?"
Vargik paused, his elbow inches from the button. A happy, greedy look came over the guard's face as he contemplated the lieutenant's question. "I want him," he said at last. "I want him -- willing."
"You want to have sex with him?" Sulu asked, sounding stupid to his own ears, since that much was obvious to both of them.
"He's got to co-operate," Vargik said, not bothering to acknowledge the lieutenant's statement. "It'll be when and where and as often as I say. And it's got to be quick -- no arguing, no tricks, none of this shit."
"But... he..." Sulu shook his head, despite the fact he knew they were going to have to take this deal no matter how bad it was. "You can have me."
The Mergonian grinned as he pressed the call button. "Don't want you," he said over the screaming alarm.
"He doesn't ... He won't..." Sulu protested as the guard dropped Chekov carefully to the floor.
"In three days, the three of us will be on duty here again," Vargik said. The sound of boots pounding against the floor drew closer as he stepped forward and took the baton from the lieutenant's weakened grasp. "Either he co-operates then, or I throw him through that doorway and make sure that you stay alive long enough to see him executed."
"What happened?" demanded one of the two guards rushing to Vargik's assistance.
The Mergonian smiled his best slightly crazed grin as he concealed the incriminating knife in his jacket before turning to his comrades. "The little princess fell and broke his crown."
"Okay," the newcomer said, accepting the story without question. "Let's get him to the dispensary. Gorone, you get his feet..."
"Here," Vargik said, taking Sulu by the shoulders and pushing him forward. "Let this one help you." He leaned close to the lieutenant before releasing him. "You do want to help your little friend, don't you?"
"Yes," Sulu said, already regretting every moment of this encounter and knowing the feeling was only going to get worse. "Yes, I do."
Despite having ample time to consider what he needed to say and how best to say it, when Chekov was led into their cell several hours still looking dazed and pale, Sulu could think of nothing to begin with other than, "Are you all right?"
"I have a concussion," the ensign admitted readily. He waited until the guard escorting him left before continuing, "And I am surprised to be alive at all."
"Vargik.... " Sulu hesitated. "...decided not to kill you."
The ensign snorted as he crossed to his bunk. "That was very nice of him."
"Not at all." The lieutenant took in a deep breath. "He expects you to have sex with him."
The Russian seemed remarkably unfazed by the news. "Ha!" was his only reply.
"Chekov," Sulu said, crossing to sit next to him, "he's serious."
"So am I," the ensign retorted.
"In three days, he says. He'll kill you if you don't co-operate."
The Russian shrugged. "Then let's hope for a rescue within the next forty-eight hours."
"He's not bluffing, Chekov," the lieutenant assured him. "He's serious. He'll try to kill you."
"And probably succeed," Sulu said, hating to be arguing for Vargik's side of the conflict. "He knows this place, we don't. He has contacts and influence, we don't. He has power here, we don't. He has options and we don't."
Chekov frowned at him. "You mean that I do not have an option other than to...." The ensign stopped unwilling to even name the act required of him.
The lieutenant was beginning to hate himself for being a part of this conversation. "Chekov..." he began slowly.
"We will not discuss this further," the Russian cut him off, rising from the bunk.
Sulu watched for a moment in dumb disbelief as the ensign calmly walked over to the mirror and began to get out his shaving gear. Surely the navigator didn't think he could just shut him out like that. "Chekov, I know that you must feel..."
"No." The ensign turned and pointed a forbidding finger at his helm partner. That finger shook with concealed emotion. "No more discussion."
Sulu rested his throbbing head against his hands and allowed the Russian to turn back to his mirror. A thousand conflicting impulses surged through him. He couldn't recall ever feeling simultaneously so much sympathy and anger towards another person before. He remained silent out of respect for the ensign for as long as he could. "Why don't you ever listen to me?" he finally boiled over.
"You never listen to me," Sulu repeated, hearing an uncontrollable harsh edge in his own voice. "I know we're friends, but I'm also your superior officer. I told you not to push Vargik. I ordered you not to have anything to do with him. But you disobeyed me. Repeatedly. As if you have no respect for me whatsoever."
Chekov looked at him in the mirror, seeming surprised to find himself being rebuked. "That is not the case."
"Then why did you do such a stupid, idiotic thing that was almost sure to get us both killed?" Sulu blurted out, unable to stop himself.
"I... thought there was a reasonable chance of escape," the navigator replied slowly.
"There wasn't," the lieutenant said with brutal bluntness. "You're too inexperienced to be able to make that sort of a judgment call. That's why you're still a junior officer. That's why it wasn't your decision to make. It was mine. Do you understand, mister?"
Chekov was silent for a long moment. He then replaced the razor. "Yes, sir, " he replied quietly.
"You disobeyed the direct orders of your immediate superior," Sulu heard himself listing uncompromisingly. "You ignored the chain of command. You've gotten yourself into a situation where you're facing near certain death in three days because of your own pigheaded stubbornness."
The ensign was looking down at the deck. "Yes, sir."
"You... you..." the lieutenant began, but his rage was ebbing and leaving only useless despair in its wake. "Damn it..."
The Russian came and sat down near him on the bunk. "So," he said slowly, "am I on report then?"
Sulu refused to look at him. "I'm not joking, Chekov."
"Yes, sir," the ensign replied dutifully. He released a long sigh. "What are your orders, Lieutenant?"
The helmsman turned and opened his mouth, but the words wouldn't come out. He purposefully closed it and tried again, but the right phrasing remained elusive.
Chekov tilted his head sympathetically. "You see, it's not something you can order someone to do."
"Damn it," the lieutenant swore, conceding the point. "I don't want you to die."
The Russian shrugged. "I'm not fond of the idea myself."
"Chekov..." the helmsman began.
"Sulu," the ensign countered. "In my position, you'd do the same yourself."
The helmsman shook his head. "No, I wouldn't."
Chekov blinked at him.
"I offered to go with Vargik in your place," the lieutenant explained. "He turned me down." The Russian's normally highly readable face went blank as he processed this unexpected information. His brown eyes stared vacantly as an unfathomable chain of thought and emotions passed through the navigator's mind.
This violent non-reaction made Sulu feel a little sick. He'd never talked to his helm partner about being bisexual, but he'd never thought it would make that much of a difference. Chekov was certainly no prude and had never showed signs of being particularly homophobic. There was no reason to expect he'd be bothered by the fact... Until now.
The navigator stood in a silent but clear invitation for the helmsman to vacate his bunk.
Sulu complied feeling dazed and strangely ashamed of himself. "Chekov," he began apologetically.
The Russian cut him off with an upraised hand. "We won't discuss this further," he said, turning his back on the lieutenant.
Continued in Part Two
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