Chekov stared out the viewport in one corner of the Enterprise's recreation lounge. He had never heard the deck so quiet. People trickled in, walked around aimlessly with their heads downcast, and then fell into whatever seat was nearby. None of the spirit and energy that usually filled this area with the noise of cheerful off-duty hours existed. Spock was dead, killed when he saved them all from Khan.
Scotty sat off to Chekov's left, hit by the double blow of losing both Spock and his nephew, Peter Preston. He hunched over the folded hands that sagged over his knees, and his whole body drooped. Uhura sat next to him, doing all the hushed talking. The thought struck Chekov that Scotty was now the ship's first officer. That thought would be even harder on the engineer.
They were just far enough away that Chekov couldn't hear them. He considered that a good thing. He didn't want to hear them. Hearing any of the pained talk going on around the lounge added to the weight on his chest.
"It's my fault, Hikaru."
"Pavel... Pavel, this isn't your fault. It's no one's fault."
Chekov looked over his shoulder at the cavern filled with the broken spirited crew. Spock's cadets looked lost without their leader on top of so many of their group dead or badly injured in Sickbay. The veterans, especially if they had served a long time with Spock, sat as if relearning the lesson of Kobayashi Maru all over again.
"It's someone's fault, Hikaru. If I had just remembered about Ceti Alpha.... if I had resisted Khan..."
Sulu got to his feet, moving as if some sensitive organ inside was battered by his walking. "You can't blame yourself. You were barely involved with the Botany Bay incident. You were sectioned off with everyone else while Kahn held the command crew captive. You might as well blame Admiral Kirk for not checking on the Ceti Alpha system again."
"Do you notice he's not here? Admiral Kirk."
"The funeral took too much out of all of us. He'll be here." Sulu's eyes followed Chekov's around the quiet deck. People barely spoke, as if breaking the silence had become a crime. "He'll be here when he can't stand staring at the walls in his cabin any longer. Like the rest of us. It's tougher for him. If he or Dr. McCoy come here... it's not fair, but people expect them to shoulder this for the rest of us."
Chekov went back to the small viewport. The Enterprise limped to Regulus I and then home to Earth. The once proud Enterprise...
So many years he had served here, so many great years. He had left only for the right opportunity, to become someone's first officer, to show new captains what he had learned from the best. Something stabbed him all over again as he remembered Terrell turning that phaser on himself.
What he had learned...
"I am sorry," he whispered to Spock. Sorry he had failed so miserably. That he had not only forgotten the dangers at Ceti Alpha, but had become Khan's tool, helping him wound Enterprise, attack Kirk, and kill...
"Sir," a woman called behind him.
He didn't turn. He didn't want anyone bothering him. If he kept his back turned, maybe Sulu would handle it.
"I apologize for the intrusion, Commander Chekov."
Sulu did answer her, bless him. "It's all right, Saavik."
Saavik... That made Chekov turn. She hadn't been anywhere on the recreation deck a second ago. How did she come up so fast and silent?
She was neat and trim in a perfectly pressed uniform. Her sable hair was cut differently, the long tresses spilling down her shoulders and exposing her ears. From somewhere, Chekov remembered Spock -- a jolt of pain stabbed him again -- saying Vulcans wore no adornments during mourning, unless their position required it. That was why Saavik's single earring was gone, and her hair cut to fit regulations without needing hairpins. It was also why she still wore her uniform insignias as Starfleet required.
He wasn't the only one who had looked up, realizing Saavik was in the room. So did a number of the trainees, and he recognized the way they latched on to her. For the same reason Sulu had said people were hungry for Kirk or McCoy to come to the lounge. And he understood why the trainees picked her: she had been Spock's right hand where they were concerned, and she gave them a pillar of Vulcan strength with her tall, strong bearing.
But Chekov had worked with Spock for decades, and had picked up a few things about Vulcans. The brittleness Saavik kept covered with her pressed uniform nearly laid bare to his eyes.
But it didn't put him in any more of a mood to talk. So Sulu was still stuck with speaking for them both.
"Are you doing all right, Saavik? I heard you were in Sickbay."
"My health is quite satisfactory, sir."
Chekov was hit by a bout of unwanted, sickened humor. Saying you're fine is a lie, Mr. Saavik. Vulcans don't lie.
"I merely followed Dr. McCoy's order that all bridge crew report for a physical, sir."
"You just had yours? The doctor ordered that right after the battle with Khan."
Pavel bet Saavik couldn't read how Sulu flinched inside with those last words.
"Yes, sir. But as I have already stated, I am well. I saw no logical reason to report to Sickbay immediately."
He wanted to smile again, for a much better reason now, listening to her attempt to avoid McCoy's clutches. But he didn't.
Sulu did though. "Well, Dr. McCoy can make all of us want to avoid Sickbay at times, but he does it only for the best reasons."
Something flashed deep under Saavik's controlled expression, the barest flicker behind her eyes as something tried to escape, and she didn't let it. Chekov caught Uhura looking over their way as Scotty got up to go.
When Uhura had reported for her physical, she had found Saavik in Sickbay.
"She stood over Spock's body." Uhura had bit her lip. "They... hadn't cleaned it yet, he still had the... the blood stains and burn marks. I don't know how she could bear to look at him like that. I couldn't. No one in the room could, so she stood there by herself, staring at him. It was as if she couldn't find the willpower to look away."
Chekov hadn't paid much attention when Uhura had first told the story to he and Sulu. But now he pictured what it must have looked like, Saavik standing alone by that body. The eye in a hurricane of everyone else treating wounded and the patients waiting for treatment, all averting their eyes and keeping a distance. If she had rushed from the bridge, her own uniform would be scorched from the explosions and flames that had rocked each station. It would have been nothing compared to Spock's body.
Uhura had went on. "I didn't know what to say to her. I started to say I'm sorry, I know what he meant to you, but then she asked me if it was true that Spock was always sealed off from everyone. When he entered Engineering. I thought it was a odd thing to ask, but I told her yes. She thanked me very politely and left. She never looked away from him once."
Saavik's expression shifted now under Chekov's stare, becoming more in line with Sulu's original suspicion. "I confess, Dr. McCoy often defies my understanding. For example, he is performing all the physicals himself, despite his having a full staff. However, he is chief medical officer and he did order me to the examination."
Or you vould never have gone, Chekov thought and chuckled a bit inside at the thought of her trying to escape McCoy. It pushed past the mental image of her in Sickbay, until those eyes found his and held them.
"Commander Chekov, I apologize again for interrupting your privacy. I wished only to tell you this. Captain Spock spoke highly of you, sir."
His heart hammered with hurt and unexpected pride.
"He said while he had taught others before you, in many ways, you were his first protégée. He set the same exacting standards for you as he set for himself, and you met them. You became an officer he was honored to know. He told me I would do well to emulate you in this way. I know he told all his protégées this."
Chekov couldn't take it all in. That Spock, who rarely gave compliments for good work -- after all, Mr. Chekov, you are expected to perform your responsibilities well. Am I to praise you for doing the expected? -- had said so much about him. Had set him as one of the exacting standards.
And maybe that was why this Lieutenant Saavik held him with her eyes. Everyone on board this ship, from Admiral Kirk down to the newest cadet, could say they had become what they were partly due to Spock. But he and Saavik had shared in something more than the other students: Spock's direct attention and, he liked to think, the Vulcan's friendship.
"Thank you, Lieutenant." You don't know how much.
She nodded, a simple bow with her head, and then... hesitated. "I am unfamiliar with your mourning customs, but Dr. McCoy said my coming to you would not be unwelcomed."
I should have known. He was surprised he felt so disappointed. "So, Dr. McCoy sent you." She hadn't come to him herself. Maybe Spock hadn’t said anything about him after all.
"No, sir. He talked of his thoughts regarding your state. I asked for his opinion about approaching you, if it was in violation of your customs. I believe I surprised him." Her eyebrows came together, and her head cocked to the side in thought. "Although, his manner in responding seemed less like himself and more like..." Her eyes didn't leave Chekov, but he got the impression they focused on the starfield behind him. "But I am most likely misinterpreting his actions."
Sulu straightened up, and Chekov knew his friend made a mental note for someone to check on the doctor. Hikaru was going to make a fantastic captain. Better than I did a first officer.
Saavik turned to go, but stopped halfway. "Sir, Captain Spock had a new protégée. Victoria Wyndham, starting in the next freshman class. Without him, she will need a new mentor."
Take over for Spock? The heavy feeling in his chest returned, but Spock would expect him to do the right thing. He owed the Vulcan this much.
"I vill talk with Cadet Vyndham." But his words laid as heavy as the grief pressing on him. "If you don't mind pointing her out vhen ve reach Earth."
"I am not going to Earth, Commander. I am transferring to the Grissom when we reach Regulus I."
"It goes to Genesis."
Vould that be better or vorse? To go to the planet vhere ve sent Spock? Chekov imagined Genesis' fiery core turning the burial tube to ash. He suddenly didn't want Saavik going there -- anyone going there if they had known Spock.
"You vill miss graduation." It was the only thing he could think of on short notice. "You ranked first in your group. You vorked hard for the recognition they'll give that." Those trainees that are still looking this vay... they need someone to stand up for them. Spock von't be there.
"I do not hold the first rank, sir."
"But... you vere Mr. Spock's first officer."
"I have command training. Lieutenant Dawson, who ranked first, does not. He will lead the class through graduation along with the other instructors."
So she knew they looked her way and maybe even why. Where was Dawson to help?
He suddenly realized that with Spock dead and Saavik on another ship, he'd have to take the science station. And the thought of sitting in that seat... his body drooped inside his uniform. He imagined he looked the way Scott did at being the ship's first officer.
Saavik stood patiently, probably waiting to be dismissed. She still clearly planned to go to Genesis. He wondered if he had offended her by bringing up she was second after Dawson.
"Still, you vere Mr. Spock's first officer..."
"Yes, and I consider it much more important than any class ranking. After all, Captain Spock did not rank first in his class, nor did most of the command crew here. And yet, you all, even in your senior years at the Academy, received strong ship assignments. I consider that the better measurement."
"Of course, but you have a responsibility to your group. That vould be better served here and on Earth than the Grissom."
Her whole manner stiffened. She folded her hands behind her back. "I am well aware of a first officer's responsibilities, sir."
Chekov swallowed hard. He knew those responsibilities too. The same person who had pointed them out to her had instructed him as well.
"I accepted them for the trainee crew, sir, when Spock made me their first officer. I best serve them by placing their emotional support with someone more skilled than myself."
Now he had insulted her. But he didn't want to come right out and say it. Are you up to going vhere ve just buried him?
Saavik kept her gaze on his. "I am going to Genesis, sir."
Sulu spoke again. "You earned the assignment and you'll do good work. We know that, Lieutenant."
He stressed the rank, but aimed it at Chekov, not Saavik. Pavel finally got what he was saying: Stop beating on her. She knows what she's doing. She's not a child. He remembered when Saavik first came aboard the Enterprise to stop a Romulan weapon. And how, during the battle with Khan, he had looked over to Hikaru, asking silently if he needed to take over at navigation. Sulu had given his highest praise of shaking his head, indicating he trusted her next to him. It made her the only one in Spock's trainee crew not to be replaced by another officer.
Chekov didn't know her very well. He bet Sulu didn't either. Nobody seemed to know her well -- except Spock. And Spock was gone.
If she chose to go back to Genesis, he couldn't say it was the wrong thing for her to do. So he echoed Sulu.
"I'm glad one of our group is going with the Grissom." Her shoulders somehow straightened more under his compliment of including her in their circle. "And I'll find Cadet Vyndham vhen I reach Earth."
"Thank you, sir. She will appreciate meeting you."
"She vill be disappointed." He didn't know he spoke those words out loud until he saw Saavik stop sharply as she started leaving again.
Sulu answered her confused expression. "We've all been thinking of what we didn't do in the past few days, Saavik. How we could have prevented... losing Spock."
Amazing how he could actually feel whenever her eyes landed on him, Chekov thought.
"Do I understand, sir, that you blame yourself for the captain's death?"
He wished she'd go now.
She stepped forward instead. "You are wrong. You are my superior officer, and most likely believe you know better than I do."
That was exactly what he thought.
"However, I am more experienced than you know."
He remembered thinking how old her eyes looked; older than he ever had anywhere near the same age.
"I have, in hindsight, found a number of my own actions wanting. Most likely, I will always see them that way. However, those thoughts are illogical. I cannot change the past, no matter my wish to do so. And, despite this wish, I am not guilty for Khan's actions, nor are you. Victims are innocent of what the criminal has done to them."
So I do not think logically. I never have, just ask... He turned away from her, but Saavik marched right around to face him and refused to back off. He couldn't believe it. ‘By the book’ Saavik?
She gave him an order as if their ranks were reversed. "Do not act against the effort expended on you."
He sucked in his breath. He heard the ghosts of so many lectures in those words.
Be vorth vat he said about you. Live up to those standards.
Sulu seemed to agree. "Good for you, Saavik."
With a subtle adjustment in how she stood, she moved away from Chekov without stepping back. "I apologize, sir, for showing such disrespect to a senior officer. If you wish to reprimand--"
Sulu said, "I won't let him."
Chekov finally laughed; just a small smile and barely more than an exhale of breath, but he laughed and looked back at Hikaru. He knew he was going to hear plenty when Saavik left.
No more really needed to be said to her except: "He's right. So are you. Thank you, Lieutenant."
She didn't know what to make of that, so she slowly nodded to both men and turned away. He watched her, and suddenly called out as she passed Sulu.
"Mr. Saavik. I grieve vith thee."
He knew a few Vulcan words, but he didn't know how to say those particular ones except in English and Russian. He doubted she knew Russian, and, after all, Spock had been appalled at his Vulcan accent.
Still, she stopped and met his eyes again. Finally, she gave him that same simple bow of her head and was gone.
A hundred pair of eyes followed her, and Chekov imagined her shoulders shifting under the weight of that yoke. She abruptly changed her path that circumvented the crowd and strode right into the middle of the lounge. She looked into every corner and niche, finding every trainee that stared at her. Some eyes dropped away, unable to meet her gaze. Others straightened in their seats as if under inspection while some nodded to her. Maybe in thanks.
She was out the lounge's main doors before Chekov thought of the thing he really should have said: He spoke of you too.
Sulu watched him. "She might be the smart one, getting away from here."
Pavel began to wish for the bottle of vodka he used to keep chilled in his cabin on the Reliant. "She might be. But think of vhat she might find."
"I'm guessing she's thinking of that too." Sulu turned expectantly from looking at the lounge doors back to Chekov. "Well?"
Vell... He breathed in, long and slow, and watched the stars go by. "Ve shouldn't leave this mess for the Admiral to find." He strode over to the nearest, sad little pack of trainees. He almost changed his mind when those lost expressions lifted to look at him, but he knew better than most what they were going through.
He sat down at the head of their group. After this, he had to contact Cadet Wyndham, comfort her, and make sure she knew the exacting standards about to challenge her.
He leaned in and swept the group with sympathetic eyes. "I thought you might vant to talk."