Pavel Chekov stared mindlessly at the computer monitor affixed to the desk in his cabin. As he rolled the glass of a cool, dark bottle absently between his fingers, the images flashing across the screen in front of him made little impression on his consciousness.
The door chime startled him as its foul sound split the silence of the cabin. He scowled and made a disgruntled noise. Putting the opening of the bottle to his lips, he upended it and let the cool, bitter, liquid gurgle down his throat. Neither the sound on the computer nor his cabin lights were on and he wondered if could make the utterly rude person in the corridor believe he wasn't there by simply not responding.
The door chimed again. Where else would he be? He sighed. Although a friendly person, he didn't welcome drop-in visitors to the private sanctum of his cabin and anyone who felt free enough to ring the chime clearly knew he'd been spending nearly all of his off-duty time there lately. He sighed again, but it was a surly noise revolting against life's ultimate injustice.
"What?" he continued harshly to the male figure who stepped into the darkened cabin, his form edged eerily by the light from the corridor behind him. Chekov didn't bother to expend the energy for either hospitality or scrutiny. He merely raised the bottle for another long drink.
"Lights," came the visitor's voice without a note of apology for the forwardness as he strolled further into the cabin.
Coughing in a spastic survival reflex, the Chief Navigator came up sputtering from his drink as he suddenly inhaled the liquid he should have swallowed. The bottle was back on the desk instantly, the computer monitor off, and he was rising to his feet—but the Captain waved him back down.
"This isn't ship's business, and you're off duty, Pavel." The older man's warm hazel eyes sparkled amiably. "As a matter of fact, we both are." The eyes remained steady on the younger man as he approached him. The Ensign had stripped his uniform shirt off and was barefoot, standing only in his pants and undershirt as he twirled the empty beer bottle in his hand.
"You certainly do have a good source of supplies coming to you from back home," the Captain commented.
"Keeps them busy," he answered drolly, an ice cold chill to his voice. "Would you like one?"
Kirk had no answer immediately. He was too concerned with the number of empties already littering the desk top. The young man did seem to have an enormous tolerance for alcohol, but it was also true that he didn't like getting drunk. At least it wasn't that much vodka that had been consumed, the Captain reasoned. "Yes, I'd love one," he finally answered. "I didn't realize you liked beer."
Chekov turned a dark eye on him as he passed on the way to the other room. "What the hell do you think I drink with pizza?"
The Captain's eyes remained on the conglomeration of beer bottles, tapes and trash on the top of the desk. Uhura affectionately referred to the ship's Helm Team as the Odd Couple. Chekov was so fastidious in the way he kept his quarters and belongings, the easy-going organizational style of his friend often drove him to clean Sulu's cabin in an impulsive need. Good-natured arguments had entertained the crew around them when the Helmsman had subsequently been unable to find things—important things like his boots, which had disappeared from where he had clearly left them in plain sight in the middle of the floor.
Pavel Chekov, Kirk mused, would never let a single empty bottle be set down. It belonged in the ship's recycle system. The sight of the slovenly desktop troubled Kirk: but not nearly as much as did the sight of the man's uniform shirt on the floor. The sheer disrespect for the fleet it represented wounded him. It had also not just been tossed casually in the corner behind the desk: it showed signs of having been fiercely twisted and wrung—and ultimately smashed down with the heel of the boots the man had shed. The Captain straightened with a tremulous breath.
Pacing a few feet into the sleeping area, the Kirk pointedly ignored the knotted bed covers. Sulu routinely tormented his helm partner that he never actually unmade the bed when he slept in it. His eyes came to rest, instead, on the wall across from the foot of the bed that had always fascinated him. In the central top was a large photograph of a ballerina in a flaming red costume, its tattered fabric edged in brilliant gold. Surrounding it and filling the wall were dozens of other pictures in various shapes and sizes of ballerinas. It could have been overpowering, even tacky, but what Kirk repeatedly noticed was the way the human eye was pulled around the arrangement and back up to the large picture, no matter where one looked.
The Captain smirked slightly. Pavel Chekov was no neatnik—Pavel Chekov had a strong inner eye for symmetry. This is why books out of place on a shelf irked his artist's sensibility, and it was why he was such a good navigator: the star patterns were burned into the circuitry of his brain.
"New one on the bottom left, if you're checking," the Ensign said caustically as he passed by, handing the Captain a cold beer.
"I noticed," the older man lied and took a drink out of the bottle. He took a moment to appreciate the rare taste, refusing to ruminate on the fact the beverages seemed to be kept somewhere in the bathroom. Kirk wandered back to the room divider.
"Actually, Pavel, the reason I stopped by is that I have some free time and I was hoping to get some one on one time with you."
"No," came the blunt reply.
The Captain studied the man who was standing in the middle of the room, seemingly staring into space as he drank his beer. Hazel eyes sparkling, he flashed him a wry grin. "I could order you to."
Chekov turned his head slowly and fixed his dark eyes on his Commanding Officer at this comment.
Kirk straightened, lowering his beer as he felt a chill. It was said that Russians that were raised in their traditional culture learned to communicate with their wide eyes before they learned to speak. The Captain of the Enterprise and his command team had come to expect this from Chekov—had come to count on it. The young man's chocolate brown eyes were always full of warmth, humor, and energy. When they got dark and angry, it was perhaps more humorous then.
Yet, they hadn't seen those eyes in weeks. It was the eyes the Navigator stared at his Captain with now that the command team had been facing. These eyes were dark and somber and resoundingly depthless.
"Captain James T. Kirk is going to order his Chief Navigator to play basketball?" Chekov asked darkly.
There were dozens of reasons he could, Kirk reasoned, but the man made it clear how ridiculous such an order would be for such a fine Captain. He leaned against the edge of the room divider, took a sip of beer, and then smirked to lighten the situation. "Seems to me you're just aware that the statistical probability is that the more we play, the more likely it is that I'm eventually going to win."
He flashed a full grin then. "Pavel, I deserve a chance to figure out how someone so short can manage to dunk a basketball the way you do."
Chekov made a snort of derision and turned back to stare at the wall in front of him. "I'm no midget."
"No," Kirk agreed easily. "However, certain basketball skills are not usually excelled at by men who are only 5'6." It wasn't the Navigator's height, or even dunking ability, that actually intrigued the Captain about his basketball mastery. The man's small build was actually tight and athletic, and he was remarkably quick and agile. Chekov's adroit nimbleness allowed him to easily twist and turn and dart around his opponents on the court. It always reminded the Captain that the Navigator was supposed to be a remarkable soccer player and, given the leg muscles that shorts revealed on him, Kirk believed it.
"You're only 5'9," the younger man was replying with irritation.
"And if I excelled at basketball you wouldn't keep winning, would you? I'm going the discover secret of your dunks if it's the last thing I do, Pavel."
Kirk froze, the mouthful of liquid he held becoming tepid. It wasn't the revelation, not even the word itself: it was that Pavel Chekov was an extraordinarily private individual. That he would so easily reveal something so fundamentally personal spoke volumes about the unusual mood he was in. Sulu claimed it was the man's Russian nature; that only a Russian's very close friends really knew anything about them. Jim Kirk was friendly with Chekov but as far as the Navigator was concerned he didn't actually qualify as a friend.
"You took ballet?" he asked when he finally swallowed the warm beer.
"Everybody takes ballet in Russia. It's the state religion," the Navigator rasped thinly. He turned after a moment to eye the Captain. "The early grades in school require it: it's considered a prerequisite for all other athletics. It also ensures the country finds anyone with talent."
Kirk nodded understanding. "They require American football players to take it. So how talented are you?"
"I'm a principal with the Bolshoi, or haven't you noticed?"
The Captain shrugged off the mocking tone and took another sip of beer. The information definitely shed light on the young man's grace, solid grasp of his center of balance, and the power behind his leaps on the basketball court. Besides, Doctor McCoy had long claimed Chekov could do the splits.
The Navigator turned and moved further into the living area. He stood for a moment staring down the mouth of the bottle in his hand. "So are you it, then?' he asked with a sneer in his tone.
Kirk instantly stopped himself from making every response that immediately came to mind. He could easily call upon his tongue-in-cheek ego to assert that he was, in fact, 'it': but Chekov's sense of humor had left something to be desired lately.
"It?" he repeated.
Without turning, the young man upended the dark bottle he gripped again. "Yes, 'IT'," he snarled. "The last in long line of condescending souls to invade my life in a self-righteous attempt to 'fix' me. Mr. Spock alone has left me in peace.
"You can consider your appearance made and duly noted," he added curtly.
Kirk took a moment before he paced toward the young man in their yo-yo jostling of positions. He had realized Chekov was intently avoiding being in the same room as the Captain. "Pavel," he said quietly. "We're all concerned. Something's obviously wrong and we care about you."
"What you care about is losing your clown," Chekov spat out contemptuously.
The Captain started. "What?"
"Good old Chekov," the younger man sneered. "Always warm, friendly, good-natured and funny. You can count on Chekov to keep everyone entertained and laughing. Well, if that's your problem, Captain, I suggest you look elsewhere for a new ship's jester. I quit."
Kirk stared at him, wondering what he was most stunned about. It was true that Chekov was no longer his light-hearted self and that everyone was concerned, but it was hardly at the loss of his comedic place among them.
"Frankly, you were never that funny to begin with," Kirk spoke the baited jest with an all-too-serious tone. "Your skills and professionalism as a Starfleet Officer have always had the respect of everyone on this ship and if you've come to doubt that perhaps you need to speak to a medical specialist in more detail."
Chekov's face was still sour as he finished his beer. A measured two weeks ago something had changed in the young man. His jokes had become fewer, the shine of his personality paled and slowly he had faded into himself while on duty: speaking rotely only when required by his job. Off-duty he had burrowed into his cabin and stayed there.
Nothing apparent had begun this process. They'd had no missions, no duty that was remarkable and there hadn't been any interpersonal problems in his life. They hadn't even had a mail-call bringing news from home. He gave no hint of what troubled him to anyone who spoke to him.
The Navigator deliberately paced into the bedroom, turning his back on Kirk. "You said this is a personal visit?"
"Yes," the Captain replied, stepping toward him in hope that it meant Chekov, at last, felt comfortable enough to reveal something of what was bothering him.
"Good: then you know where the fucking door is."
Straightening, Kirk stared at the young man's back. What Chekov had said was true to some extent. The close-knit team his command officers had become were so successful because they were almost a family. The Navigator played the youngest brother, the clown that eased tension in that dynamic, and it was as necessary as Spock's dour father role.
If Chekov wanted to throw himself into a surly pout—for whatever reason—than he was right: it was his prerogative. This new personality may not have a place in the Enterprise's family, however. The Captain considered the man who stood poised at the end of the bed, swinging the empty bottle from his fingertips, obviously waiting to hear that the Captain had left. Maybe what the 'younger brother' needed wasn't concern, after all. Maybe what he needed was a swift kick in the butt.
"Someone once told me," Kirk stated flatly. "That Russian's may be many things, but they are never rude."
The bottle stopped swinging and Chekov twisted his head back, bringing his eyes to rest on Kirk. He could make you laugh with a single look, bring pity rushing forth or, with a darker gaze frighten a person into immobility. Now, however, those same eyes were completely devoid of life. Utterly depthless, their dark orbs seemed to absorb the light. He turned his body then and deliberately sauntered over to the Captain, stopping so close Kirk could feel his body heat.
"Who the fuck told you I was Russian?"
"Well, you..." Kirk began, but then froze. Chekov was clearly attempting to intimidate the senior officer and Kirk was impressed...because it was working.
There was a glint in the man's dark eyes, but it wasn't amusement, and it wasn't kind. "Who," he demanded in a roar, eyes raking his commanding officer. "Who did I ever tell I was Russian?"
The Captain realized the man was right. The younger man may have touted Russia's achievements, but he never had, in fact, claimed to be Russian. The Captain carefully raised the bottle to his mouth and took a drink before he continued. "You were born in the Russian Federation."
"No," the man answered sullenly. "I was not."
Kirk ignored the attempt to shock him and continued with the logic problem presented him. "You have a Russian accent, Pavel."
"Do I now?" Chekov answered in perfect English.
Pursing his lips momentarily, Kirk said: "You don't have an accent."
"No shit. My mother's a teacher," the Navigator said in the same pure tenor voice as before. The man enunciated the English language better than Kirk. "Do you think she's that bad a teacher? Fuck, if she heard the way I speak here, she'd drop dead from some kind of aneurism."
Kirk twisted the neck of the bottle in his hand. He doubted the younger man's mother would be impressed with his obvious and unexpected command of English vulgarity."Than why…"
"Because it's what you all want," Chekov sneered, his accent back. "Cute, funny…
"I do hold citizenship in The Independent States of the Russian Federation," he finally added in a mutter of acquiescence, although his tone was no more respectful.
The Captain watched the sour emotions play over the young man's usually happy and innocent face. One couldn't discount the Navigator's gregarious nature, but his friendliness only existed to the point of where one actually encountered the man within. There was a wall there behind which the shadowed presence could only glimpsed on the rarest of occasions by most people around him. The number of people he actually let in behind the barrier were few.
"Pavel, you never told any of us this," he said quietly. Just like you're shutting us all out now.
Chekov stared down the mouth of the beer bottle. "You never asked," he bit out angrily.
Kirk blinked, straightening as he studied the self-righteous young man before him. He moved up and placed a hand on the Navigator's shoulder. The muscles, rock hard with stress, winced instantly at the touch. "Human beings aren't telepathic, Mister. If you need something from them, you need to tell them: and you need to accept what they give you, because we none of us make it through life alone."
Chekov dropped onto the end of the bed as the door slid shut behind the Captain. Letting the bottle slip from his fingers, he took pleasure in the tinny thud that filled the small room as it hit the floor.
Sulu came strolling casually into the room from their shared bathroom then. "Are you going to join us for Monopoly tonight, Pavel?" he asked, jabbing his thumb back in the direction of his own cabin. "Good old capitalist decadence," he teased hopefully.
"So how long were you listening?"
The Helmsman shifted. "Cabin bulkheads aren't very thick."
"I wouldn't count on me continuing to be part of the bridge crew much longer," the younger man muttered.
Pursing his lips, Sulu shook his head slowly. "You certainly seemed to do your best to ensure that. You even told the man you weren't Russian," he observed with a subtle note of amazement. The Lieutenant knew the statement to be half true—at least in a technical, ethnic sense, but it was the way Chekov had used the information that bothered him.
"Pavel," he continued with a sigh, gesturing briefly with his hands. "What is it that you are so intent on punishing yourself for?" He'd been the man's best friend since they'd roomed together at the Academy and he knew even the worst of Chekov's pouting fits had a deeper purpose. A person with a Russian soul lived very few days of his life without feeling he'd done something wrong, and if he found it he wasn't satisfied until well tortured for it.
"This is...beyond acceptable. You're punishing everyone else too. What's so bad that you feel the need to push everyone away, including me?" It wasn't the first time the Helmsman had made the observation in recent weeks. With the Captain's efforts, perhaps he was hoping his friend would finally feel ready to share his misery.
"Go fuck yourself."