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He's grateful, embarrassingly so, and sick after the fact with the truth of his own gratitude, that he isn't called upon to be one of the three officers who initiate the self-destruct.

Admiral Kirk's crammed his emotions to the bottom of his awareness, surmounted them with other vital details, but Sulu can still feel the spillover of his grief wailing like a siren that's just distant enough to be heard. No beach to walk on, none, this is it--Sulu stops listening as hard as some people slam ground transports into reverse.

Scotty's compartmentalizing, roughly and by sheer force of will, and if his voice didn't tell that tale - his matter-of-fact tone is alien, absolutely alien, even next to the Klingons shouting all over comms - the mental keen he's barely containing, part Gaelic, part English, part Speech but mostly upwelling, wordless, hair-tearing anguish would spell it out plainly and more.

Sulu can feel the clever, ruthless little wizardry Chekov wraps around the strongest of his own grief and fury the minute he activates it. It cuts like an old-fashioned zip tie yanked too tightly, like a corset lace out of an ancient Victorian story, like a winched cable. If this were any other circumstance just about at all, Sulu would call Pavel on that one out of plain shock; that sort of spell is almost diametrically opposed to his style. This situation, though, is extraordinary in all the wrong ways, and Hikaru has enough of a quasi-partnership link to his friend to feel that Chekov's keeping himself physically upright by loyalty and necessity and not much more. The vicious little temporary twist he's put in place is nothing short of a desperate brace for him. Sulu leaves it alone.

McCoy, or Spock, or McCoy and Spock, look dazed. They don't say a word. The faint, intermittent, crew-familiar sense that he's used to picking up from the science officer during normal bridge shifts is absent, except for the barest hint of something occasional that Sulu isn't convinced he isn't daydreaming out of nothing. McCoy aches, dully and continuously in a low-level broadcast, and how much of that is the current, impending loss and how much is the crowding of his comrade's katra on the doctor's own mind, Sulu isn't sure.

There are gaps, too, missing voices in the slightly unorthodox crew-network of wizardly mental links the Enterprise regulars have cobbled together and maintained for years already, phantom spaces yawning like the sockets for so many amputated limbs. The absence of the warm, wonder-tinged lyrical candor that's Uhura's close presence feels like, Sulu imagines, a sucking wound must. Not that he's ever had one of those, but--off to one side, McCoy flinches, bare and real, and it's just enough to confirm at least some of that imagery as fitting. The lack of rough cotton cloth, gossamer and hands scrubbed clean - that's Chapel out of range, Dr. Chapel, and the careening friendly fireball and the snippets of off-key song - those should be, but aren't, Riley, aren't anything because Riley's not here, and the silence is downright unnerving. Tamura's tidy lacquerwork and sunlight, and the cool, playful ocean currents that are Mears are gone too-no, not gone, Sulu revises as firmly as he can, just not currently present in this space/time, this place, this--God, Kirk's started speaking, they're really going to do this.

And Janice, or maybe that particular sensation of a missing arm's equivalent is his own friendship with the yeoman turned transporter specialist talking. Sulu would think about that one in greater detail, wants to think about it, wants to have time to think about it, wants to have time for just about anything but now Scotty's picked up the thread of both the Starfleet sequence and the spell he and the other two have written, sounding as frank as is likely humanly possible while one's thoughts are howling a fracturing counterpoint - lady, forgive me lady, please lady, lady, ladyladylady - and Sulu can't do much but keep silent or cry.

Chekov's audible voice doesn't waver when he uses it, but bile is just this side of burning in his throat, or is that Hikaru's own? One remove away, the constricting wizardry's doing things that feel like the metaphysical answer to cord biting into flesh--McCoy flinches again, at the reality of the spell's effect spilling over, the comparison Sulu's just made, or maybe both. Pavel doesn't. Finish now, throw up later, Hikaru thinks he hears his semi-partner tell himself, but he's never been any better at Russian than Pavel's been at Japanese, and back-translating in the Speech would take, how'd Chekov say it in spacedock, precious time--later, he'll ask what the words are later, he'll come apart and sob later, he'll mourn his silver lady, his ship, his own later, and his pilot's soul will scream for the rending agony of the loss but now--

Now they don't have time.

As the transporter engages, a voice like satin, warm wiring and space-blasted steel says, "I know what I'm about to do, and I'm plenty willing. None of you boys need my forgiveness. But you have it. Don't worry."

She sounds fond of us, Sulu thinks dizzily, surprised and amazed and heartbroken in measures he can't quantify, and his feet hit the ground.

"Get out!" the Klingon commander is shrieking down a wide open comm to his subordinates, "get out of there!"

Take this! that same female voice says, in the backs of all their heads but clearly not to them, vehement and bright and like she's relishing the chance to turn the tables on the enemy again--

The explosion doesn't double him over, but Sulu can't lie; he's leaning hard on the borrowed, digging pain of Chekov's limiter spell the better to keep his feet under him at all.

And then they've got work to do.

A lot of that work's frankly blurry in recollection. The time until just after their captured vessel leaves the disintegrating Genesis planet safely out of detailed view is more haze than memory, at least. Sulu's glad of it, no matter how much a coward he feels for the relief the day's patchy recall brings him. He's well aware there are options, both wizardly and non, that can clarify such things. He touches none of them.

Days later and, subjectively and simultaneously, three centuries earlier, he dreams of moving unassisted through a starfield crowded with ships. One of them, achingly familiar and limbed in silver, stays entirely, impossibly stationary in space.

Until he reaches her.

"I told you, Hikaru-chan," she says, warm wiring and fondness, feminine satin and time-tested metal, "that you didn't need to worry. I was in willingly. I'm here willingly too, and beyond happily as it happens, but I know you knew that. Now come on, Sulu-cousin, honest valor, pilot soul. I've got eternity, but at the moment, you haven't, and I don't mind saying I've missed you like a thruster someone disconnected. Let's fly."