Hikaru Sulu wasn't entirely sure what made him head for Rec after leaving the bridge.
Apart from his own exhaustion after pulling a double shift, there was a particularly energetic quasi-sentient Metarian creeper that needed close supervision in Botany, and he definitely didn't want to have to be the one to explain the spontaneous consumption of all the neighboring agricultural experiments to the captain. He had a million other places to be, in fact - Dr. McCoy would be quick to remind him that he'd dodged his last physical, and he still owed Ilara in Engineering a rematch after he'd trounced her with both foil and sabre the week before.
He decided, finally, to think of this spontaneous migration to the recreation deck as the mark of a good helmsman - only an expert tactical officer would know when to plunge headlong into battle, and when to relax and go wherever the space winds would take him.
The only other explanation, of course, was that he was hiding from his previous engagements.
As he stepped off the turbolift, Sulu indulged in a scoff at that particular theory, then caught himself as a yeoman grinned at him in passing. "Definitely getting some sleep after this," he muttered as the door swished open. "Be talking to myself next."
After the hubbub of shouting and red alerts on the bridge, even the Rec deck's usual low roar of conversation and laughter made Sulu's ears ring. Beta shift was beginning to stream in, and gamma shift was just in the process of finishing coffees and executing kamikaze tactics on the chessboards, moving gradually towards the exit.
To tired to bother seeking out familiar faces, Sulu slumped into the nearest chair and let his brain work on unravelling the past nine hours: the frantic distress call that had come in just before the end of his shift; the endless, terse negotiations with the inhabitants of the neighboring planet over whether they, as a starship nonaligned in the local conflict, had any right to jump in after the foundering vessel - not to mention the equally endless and terse negotiations with the asteroid field between them and their target. There'd been electrical malfunctions, of course, preventing their scanners from picking up some or all survivors on the ship, and, of course, Captain Kirk had decided to beam over with a security detail and check for himself.
Sulu grimaced, then stretched, working out the kinks in his shoulders and back. He'd heard enough of Spock's side of the intership transmissions - not to mention McCoy's shouted interjections - to know that the captain had managed to get himself injured while aiding in the rescue of five crewmen who'd been missed by the scanner sweeps. He didn't know how serious the injuries had been, but McCoy had done a lot of good-natured grumbling, so things probably weren't as bad as all that. Still, it felt strange to have been relieved in the midst of that sort of crisis, regardless of how long he'd been on shift-
"Well, fancy meeting you here."
Halfway through another stretch, Sulu paused, then tilted his head back; Uhura was standing behind him, bearing two cups of coffee. "Oh," he said. "Hello. How long have you-"
With a sigh in lieu of reply, she sat heavily beside him, handing him a cup, and took a long sip of her own coffee before answering. "Mr. Spock relieved me right after you left. Dr. McCoy did call up to say something about the captain's injuries being mostly superficial, though."
For a long moment, Sulu couldn't manage much more than a relieved grin. "That's good," he said at last. "Really good. I'll bet Dr. McCoy didn't use the phrase 'mostly superficial', though."
Uhura smirked. "He did, actually, somewhere in the midst of calling the captain a 'damn fool' every few seconds."
A hand landed heavily on Uhura's shoulder, and she actually jumped - Sulu, however, had seen Scotty approach, and only chuckled at the engineer's ominous tone of voice. "Are we being insubordinate, here?"
Uhura's face froze for a moment in surprise, then relaxed into a wry smile. "Well, I won't need the coffee to wake me up, now," she said. "Thanks."
"Oh, any time." Scotty slumped into a chair across from them, looking somewhat the worse for wear.
Sulu took another sip of the coffee; it didn't seem to be doing much in terms of waking him up. "Long shift?"
"Hm?" Scotty blinked at him for a moment, then shrugged, distractedly. "Oh, aye, I suppose so."
There was a devious twinkle in Uhura's eye. "And how are the engines?"
In an instant, Scotty seemed to regain all the energy he'd lost; he straightened and only just stopped himself from banging a fist on the table. "They took a beating in that asteroid cluster, and that- that-" A few heads were turning at his raised voice, and he softened his tone, though it looked like it took some effort. "-that Mr. Spock relieved me of duty for the night before I had a chance to see to them properly."
"He does that," Sulu said, and hid his grin behind another swig of coffee.
Clearing her throat, Uhura leaned in, lowering her voice conspiratorially. "Couldn't your men handle the repairs without you?"
"Aye, well," said Scotty, and settled back in his chair with a sigh. "I should be there. Who knows what they'll be doing if there's anything seriously wrong-"
Sulu feigned a panicked expression. "Is there anything seriously wrong?"
"I couldn't say," said Scotty, darkly, and crossed his arms. "I'm not there."
"Is that Chekov?"
Sulu turned at Uhura's voice to see the ensign standing at the entrance of the Rec room, staring dazedly out at the assembled personnel. Sulu waved to catch his attention, but it took some time for his friend to notice the signal.
"You look exhausted!" Uhura pushed a chair out before Chekov stumbled over it, and he sank down with a groan.
"I feel terrible," he muttered, and folded his arms on the table, resting his head against them. "I think maybe somebody has been playing lojki against my forehead."
"Not over that Antaran sinus infection, yet, huh?" Sulu couldn't help feeling sympathetic; he'd been laid up with it for much of the previous week.
"I'm not talking to you," Chekov said, his voice muffled by his arms and the table. "You're the one who brought this on board the ship. You should be court-martialed." He sniffled miserably. "Or shot."
Scotty cleared his throat. "Shouldn't you, ah, be in sickbay, lad?"
"I am fine," Chekov said, with the tone of voice he usually reserved for the announcement of Klingon battlecruisers off the port bow.
Uhura raised her eyebrows, conveniently covering her smile with the coffee cup. "That's all well and good, but I don't think that's what Scotty was concerned about-"
Chekov glanced up, grinning faintly. "No, Mr. Scott, I am no longer contagious. Dr. McCoy has given me a clean bill of health." To punctuate the statement, he sneezed. "Relatively speaking."
"Well," said Scotty, a little awkwardly. "That's all right, then. A wee nip of brandy might do you some good, mind."
They all chuckled at that, and drifted into a companionable silence, punctuated only by Chekov's sporadic sneezing.
Sulu stared into his coffee, imagining he could see galaxies and nebulae in the whorls of steam rising from it, and said, "What if the captain doesn't come back, next time?" Everyone stared at him, and he felt his cheeks flushing - he was tired, he was talking too much, he'd be sure to say something he'd regret - but he stubbornly pressed on. "I mean, he keeps-"
"-dashing in where angels fear to tread?" Scotty supplied, softly.
"Well, yes." Sulu took another swallow of coffee to cover his unease, and glanced over the rim of the cup to find Uhura smiling faintly at him.
"I'm not sure anything could stop him," she said. "I'm not sure anything would dare."
"That's right," Chekov said, with such idealistic fervor that the mood lightened dramatically, prompting another laugh around the table. "He always comes back."
"And even if he's not back in one piece," said Scotty, and raised an imaginary glass in a toast, "he's got the best crew in Starfleet to put him back together."
"Here, here," said Sulu, and downed the last of his coffee, with enough pomp and ceremony that it might as well have been the universe's finest vintage. Uhura followed suit, and Chekov sneezed his agreement, and Sulu felt a bit light-headed, a bit unreal, sitting in a chair in a room in a spaceship an impossible distance from San Francisco, from home, and drinking a toast to all the people around him who'd also been crazy enough to plunge headlong into the unknown.
They said Starfleet was where people went to escape bad divorces and rough childhoods and lonely, isolated lives - a grown-up's way of running away from home.
"Well," Sulu murmured, as the conversation turned to chess and Chekov dashed off to steal a board from the nearby table, bragging to Scotty about Russian tactics and strategy all the way, "if this isn't home, I don't know what is."
Uhura smiled. "Do you know T.S. Eliot?"
"We haven't been introduced," said Sulu, and grinned, figuring this was probably one of those things that seemed funnier the less sleep he'd had. "Twentieth-century Earth poet, right?"
"That's the one." She leaned back in her chair, beaming as Scotty calmly announced mate in six moves, much to Chekov's indignation. "He once said that home is where one starts from."
"Well, then," said Sulu, and the future was spiraling out ahead of him, wonderful and impossible, and he laughed outright. "I'd say this is one hell of a way to start."