Author's Note: This is a birthday fic for masterofmidgets , who was absolutely positive that this should be written.
Chekov sat across from McCoy, worrying his bottom lip with his teeth. With great deliberation, he moved to 18th point and sidled his lone checker off the bar.
“Good move, kid, but,” McCoy hit the checker on the 18th point and passed on to safety. Chekov groaned.
“Ai, that I should have seen.”
“Why not?” Chekov said fatalistically. “It is all same.”
Around them, the sickbay was quiet. No one had gotten hurt on the last away mission, and the lack of whining people who’d injured themselves in stupid ways had put McCoy in a very good mood. And then Chekov had shown up, wide-eyed and clutching a backgammon board. He’d taught the kid to play a few weeks ago when he’d come down with a bug and the sickbay had again been remarkably empty. Well, there’d been that one fellow from Engineering. But he’d spent most of the time sleeping anyway.
Chekov rolled, groaned, and shook his head. He stared at the board, wondering what to do next, and ran the possible board positions through his head. It didn’t look very good – he’d have to make at least one blot, and there was no way he could close off his home board any time soon. Whereas if he didn’t get that last checker off the bar, it might well be stuck there. Unfortunately, the only two points the dice would let him reach were already occupied. He was beginning to feel a little uncertain that he would ever get the hang of this game. It was nice just sitting here with McCoy, though, even though he kept losing.
He moved his checkers to the least harmful place he could think of, with the best strategic advantage. It didn’t look that good, but if he was lucky the doctor would roll very badly the next time.
Losing was okay, though. You didn’t have to win games, that was the thing about them. Unless you were betting for very high stakes, the consequences were pretty much nil. He liked not having to worry too hard about losing – on the Enterprise, losing often meant being dead or at least very, very sore. Or vomiting odd colors. Or getting married to one of the other crewmembers by accident. Or being dressed in girl’s clothes because the person who really lost said, ‘but Chekov would look so much better!’ And of course he did, which was some comfort, but he’d really only lost his resentment when the Captain had had to don a lacy feather headdress and sing ‘tunes of his homeworld’ while doing a rather exotic dance one of the ladies of the planet had taught him after he’d messed up the diplomacy yet again. Maybe this sort of thing just happened when captains were learning diplomacy. He giggled.
“What?” said McCoy.
“I remember last time Captain had to – to forfeit. With the headdress, yes? And I wonder if Admiral Pike had similar problem when started.”
McCoy spluttered and lost his train of thought, moving a checker almost at random. Chekov cheered silently.
“Kid, you couldn’t play poker if your life depended on it. I hope to God Jim never tries to have you lead in any diplomatic session, because we’d be picking sequins out of your hair for weeks, and there’d be more bootleg videos than there are hidden stills.” McCoy grumbled, trying not to grin. “Also, if you ever make me think of Admiral Pike in a dress again, I’ll shift you out of this sickbay so fast you won’t even hear the door close behind you.”
Chekov tried to look injured, but the effect was ruined as he squirmed a little on his chair, peering happily at the board.
“Is good, is good.” He mumbled. “This, maybe. Or this.” His fingers hovered over the tiles, flicking back and forth.
Behind them, the door to the sickbay slid open, and Sulu wandered in, looking curiously at the various mysterious implements of the medical profession. He flinched at an open drawer full of carefully arranged hyposprays. It looked like the medical equivalent of a weapons display wall. McCoy watched him approach with amusement. He looked like a cat pretending it wasn’t actually following you.
Chekov rolled, and beamed. “Ha!”
“Hey, if you put that one there, then you could almost force a move in that hole.” Sulu pointed at one of Chekov’s checkers and gestured at a point. Chekov froze, looked up at Sulu, looked at the checker, looked at the point, and back again. McCoy frowned. What on earth did the boy think he was playing?
“I – I have strategy I want to try, it is new strategy, very exciting. Maybe next time I do that, okay?” Chekov babbled.
Sulu leaned forwards. “Of course, it is your game. Just a suggestion, that’s all.” He smiled at Chekov, who grinned up at him, and did something clever to the board that made McCoy frown grumpily.
“Hey, no helping!” he said. Although he was more than a little uncertain that any advice Sulu gave would be of use.
“Right, yes, sorry.” Sulu said meekly, and hovered behind Chekov’s chair. McCoy scared him a little. He was nice to Chekov, though. But everyone was nice to Chekov.
McCoy rolled. Two pairs of eyes tracked his moves intently. He bore off a checker, and was forced to make a blot. Chekov bounced, and nearly hit Sulu’s nose with his head. Sulu looked at the board, looked at Chekov, and blinked, wondering why Chekov was so cheerful. Chekov rolled, grinned widely, and reached for his checkers.
“Shouldn’t you - ” Sulu said, and stopped. Chekov had already moved. “Are you sure?”
“Is part of strategy.” Chekov explained. It seemed to be a damn good one, McCoy thought. Blast the kid for making him think of Admiral Pike in a – damn, he’d thought of it again. Maybe that was the kid’s strategy.
“Just thought maybe you could block him.”
Chekov looked at the board. All of his checkers were either on the bar or paired up on the points. He was already blocking. Confused, he glanced up at Sulu. “I not very good at this game yet,” he decided. The other option was that Sulu had just said something extremely silly, and Sulu didn’t do that.
Across the table, McCoy snorted quietly, and rolled. A good roll. He moved, and sat back smugly.
“No, you’re doing great. Why, I think you could check him in a few moves!”
Chekov blinked. McCoy stared.
A few hours later, Chekov was sitting in the mess, frowning with great concentration at the curious soup in his bowl. To his great surprise, he had won the game earlier. It was wonderful. Possibly not wonderful enough for a victory dance, but he’d done one anyway, and only stopped when the sound of wheezing reached his ears and he looked around to see Sulu standing uncertainly by McCoy, who was very red and having trouble breathing. Concerned, Chekov had run over and hit him on the back a few times. McCoy had waved his hands helplessly.
“I’m fine, I’m fine.” He’d said, and it had dawned on Chekov that perhaps McCoy had been laughing at his dance. He frowned.
“It not that funny, sir!” Chekov had said reproachfully, but he wasn’t really that irritated. McCoy needed to laugh more, in his opinion, and he felt he was entitled to one. After all, McCoy had actually chosen to spend some of his free time playing backgammon with him. That meant McCoy liked him, and you could have opinions about friends that you couldn’t have about superior officers.
Sulu had grinned at him over McCoy’s head. “It was a good dance, Chekov.” That made Chekov feel warm inside. Sulu was a good friend too. Which was why he was a little bit concerned. He wondered if there had been any questionable foods on the last planet Sulu had been on, or perhaps one of the plants in the botany bay had flowered and was doing something strange, because Sulu had sounded slightly addled.
“That soup done something wrong, Chekov?” Sulu asked.
Chekov sat up sharply, eyes going wide. “No, no, sop – soup – fine.” He took a big spoon of it, and coughed a little. It had far too much pepper in it, and he quite liked pepper. Sulu laughed. “I was just thinking – could you maybe explain rules to me? Of backgammon?”
Sulu looked at him questioningly. Chekov seemed to be doing fine earlier, and he’d been playing for a little while. It was possible that he was just feeling uncertain again. Most of the time he was extremely confident, but sometimes he seemed a bit low, like he wasn’t sure what he was doing there, or if he was performing correctly as an officer. It had to be tough, being the youngest. In all honesty, Sulu was a little, sneakingly, guiltily glad that Chekov was the youngest. It meant he wasn’t. However, it also meant that sometimes he really wanted to give Chekov a hug. Actually, most of the time, whether Chekov was uncertain or jubilant.
Sulu shook his head, clearing his thoughts.
“Fine, but you beat McCoy, so I doubt I can clear anything up.” Chekov nodded. Sulu explained the complex interactions of the pieces, and the mysteries of checking, building, blotting, and mating. He brushed over some of the more subtle moves, such as castling and the Lover’s Leap.
Chekov stared at him. Sulu, fixed by a pair of wide gray eyes under a mop of curly hair, felt a little worried. Chekov wondered what on earth he was supposed to say.
“Su – Hikaru,” he began carefully. “Is – have you ever played chess?”
“Yes, my grandmother taught me backgammon and chess on the same day.” He said slowly, unsure.
“It – I think that - you may possibly have – um, the rules of the game, you have mixed them.” Chekov said finally.
Sulu thought back over what he’d said, and the game earlier, and what he’d said then, and the chess match he’d seen between Kirk and Spock last week, and blushed bright red. He buried his face in his hands. “Oh, god.”
Late that night, a strange noise could be heard in the engineering bay. A muted whine, a thud, and a stream of words, half irritated and half coaxing, though the content was anyone’s guess. Then the smell of varnish seeped into the air, tickling Scotty’s nose in his sleep. By the time he reached the engineering bay, though, the only sign of the midnight intruder was a little pile of sawdust.
When Sulu woke the next morning, it was not quite time for him to get up. He lay tangled in his blankets for a while, staring at the ceiling. It was so horribly embarrassing. Especially since he’d been showing off, and he had to admit, he’d definitely been showing off. And then when Pavel had asked him to explain, and he had – oh, god, he’d been patronizing, hadn’t he? He hadn’t meant to be patronizing. It was horrible. And Pavel had tried so hard to let him down gently. It was just like him. He was always so nice. Well, except to people he didn’t like. And bullies. And sometimes he had bad days. But he rarely had bad days at Sulu, and Sulu thought that Pavel liked him, and he wasn’t a bully. Not very many people in the Starfleet were – the most of them had been the quiet kids with glasses and button-down shirts with pocket protectors.
A little sound, a whumf, teased at the edges of his thoughts. It almost sounded like someone had just leaned hard against the wall outside his room. You’d think they’d make the rooms soundproof. After all, this was the 23rd century, surely they’d mastered the art of cheap soundproofing, but, on the contrary, he heard about as much every night through the walls as he’d heard back in the dorms. He fervently hoped that whoever had just staggered into his wall was not on duty for the next shift.
Another sound, like a thud and a slide. Sulu sighed, got up, pulled on his uniform, and opened his door.
“Pavel?” he asked, surprised. They weren’t on duty, he could use Chekov’s first name. It was what he thought, anyway. And there was no one else in the hallway.
Chekov bounced up, beaming at him. Sulu felt warm. He was sure that the only other things Chekov beamed at like that were really good equations.
“Hikaru! Good morning! I hope did not wake you?” Chekov quivered with excitement. Hikaru did not seem to be terribly upset this morning, although last night Chekov had been slightly worried because Hikaru still seemed slightly preoccupied and embarrassed during their shift.
Now that he thought about it, he suspected that a soft knock or two on his door might have been the reason he was up so early. It was fine, though.
“No, I was already up. Here, come in.” Sulu noticed that Chekov was clutching something. It seemed fairly heavy – his arm was dragged down, and his shoulder was hunched. Sulu frowned. Looking closer, the kid’s eyes were puffy and a little reddened, and his skin was dead white. “You don’t look so good. Are you okay?”
“Da, da. I am fine.” Chekov waved dismissively. “Here, I have brought you something!” He held out the package. Sulu took it before Chekov toppled into him from the weight, and set it down on a table. “No, open it!”
“I’ll open it when you sit down.” Sulu said, concerned. “You really don’t look good.”
“I am, ah, just a little tired. It’s nothing. I have free morning.” He sat down on the edge of Sulu’s bed and looked at him expectantly. Sulu turned to the package. It was square, wrapped in one of Chekov’s towels, and rattled a little bit. He tugged the towel off, and handed it to Chekov.
The object lying underneath was a wooden case of some sort, prettily patterned with slightly lopsided squares and triangles. He looked at it uncomprehendingly, and then opened it up. Inside were a number of nuts – half seemed to be pentagonal, and the other half octagonal. He closed the case, and looked at the pattern again. Hmm.
“What is it?” he asked finally.
“Is your game, Hikaru!” Chekov said happily, bouncing again, then curling up on his side, head propped on one hand. “I made for you. You were very clever, making game like that. It was hard to figure where square and triangle go.”
“You stayed up all night and made me a game?” Sulu examined him closely. Chekov looked even more tired on closer inspection, and very comfortable, snuggled into Sulu’s bed like that. Sulu swallowed surreptitiously.
“Da, a good night. Very sneaky.” Chekov smiled, pleased with himself. “I think doctor lose very much to you at this.”
“Hey, thanks. We should have a game tonight.” Sulu said. Chekov let his head drop down to the bed.
“Yes, I look forward.” He yawned. “And, my pleasure. To make your game for you.”
“Why don’t you just sleep here? I’ll wake you at lunch, okay?” Sulu offered.
“I think – maybe – good idea.” He said, smiling, and fell asleep promptly. Sulu sat watching him for a while, then got up and tugged the cover out from under him, settling it around his shoulders. Chekov squirmed deeper into the mattress, and Sulu trailed a hand through his hair before leaving the room.