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Hope and Flames

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They all knew what was about to happen. Whether the others wanted to admit it or not, Sulu knew that it was going through everyone's heads. There was no way in hell that the Admiral was going to let this ship fall into Klingon hands, even if it was on its way to retirement. Even if the Genesis information was useless and the technology a disastrous failure.

It was his ship, and no Klingon was going to take it from him.

Nevertheless, in some way, it would have been easier if they could just let her go; it would mean there was a chance to get her back. It would mean she wouldn't have to die. Realizing the enormity of what they were about to do, Sulu thought that the death of the Enterprise would be every bit as traumatizing as the death of a crewmember – this had been their home for so many years. As helmsman, he'd gotten to know the ship as a good friend and partner; he knew the quirks of steering her so well he thought he could fly her in his sleep. She was more than that to others on the crew, though. To Chekov, she was a mentor. To the Admiral and Scotty, she was a mistress.

He'd seen the grief-stricken look on Scotty's face and the look of wide-eyed horror on Pavel's as he'd left for the transporter room with a thoroughly rattled McCoy. He didn't envy his friends the task of setting up the self-destruct sequence. It must have been like handing down a death sentence; necessary, but no doubt a weight of guilt on the conscience.

"It tore me apart," Pavel admitted later, when the two of them were alone in the guest quarters of Ambassador Sarek's massive residence on Vulcan, staring into a crackling fire that smelled of exotic wood and incense. "I grew up there. It was my home, the only ship I served on for any length of time. I felt like I was biting my own arm off."

Brushing past his friend's gift for unusual and vivid imagery, Sulu had to admit that what he said was literally true – Chekov had been twenty-four years old when he'd joined the Enterprise crew, fresh out of the Academy. He was still practically a kid when he was made navigator – brilliant, but naïve and immature. Sulu had enjoyed showing him the ropes at the helm, but it had mostly been Spock's guidance that had turned the immature ensign into the seasoned navigator and scientist that he was today.

After Captain Spock's death, it was obviously the Admiral who was hit the hardest. However, for Sulu, the worst thing had been watching Pavel try to perform the Vulcan's duties without taking his place. The way he hesitated to sit at the science console or give the captain astrometric reports was heart-wrenching. The young man hadn't been ready to fill Spock's shoes. He hadn't been ready to take on the responsibility of CSO. He hadn't been ready to face the Admiral's grief so directly in addition to his own.

It should have been Spock giving the self-destruct order. It had only been the fact that Pavel was the acting science officer that the duty had fallen to him.

Sulu felt a pang at that and handed his friend a shot of Aldebaran whiskey poured from his personal flask. Pavel gratefully accepted it with a wry smile. "Thank goodness. Vulcans don't make a decent alcohol."

"I don't think they drink. Can you imagine what would happen if a Vulcan got wasted? He'd probably be exiled."

Pavel snickered a little. Sulu caught the tiny note of hysteria in it. He wasn't surprised – the mixture of trauma, exhaustion, and relief that they all felt had left them in a sort of wired state. All except McCoy – he had fallen asleep in Lady Amanda's sitting room almost the minute they'd arrived. Sulu guessed that after nearly a month of having a true duel personality (especially one in which half of said duel personality consisted of a Vulcan mind, whose species was known for their little need of sleep), the man was glad for a little peace.

"I feel sorry for Uhura," Pavel said, unexpectedly. "She cried when she heard about the Enterprise. When she sent us off, she didn't expect that she would never see the ship again."

Sulu was surprised. He couldn't think of a single time he'd seen Nyota cry. She could get emotional, yes, but it was always controlled, always kept in check. She had always been an anchor on the bridge crew; she was like the air traffic controllers back on Earth – her voice was cool and calm no matter how badly they were faring.

"It was worth it though, no?" The young navigator continued. "I mean, we got Spock back, and he's alive. We didn't expect that. We saved Saavik. She and Spock would have both died if we hadn't come. And Dr. McCoy's not crazy anymore." He drained his whiskey. "We might get reprimanded, kicked out, whatever. But we did the right thing. Didn't we?"

It was surely the question on everyone's minds. Was it worth it? Worth the Enterprise? Worth Kirk's son, who, while not entirely innocent, had still been a civilian caught in the wrong place at the wrong time? Was it worth the ruined livelihoods of Starfleet's most brilliant, including his own promising command-track career? Sulu nodded slowly, thinking of everything they'd lost and weighing it against what they'd gained. "I hope so, Pavel," he said finally. "I hope so."