Jim opened his eyes and wasn't sure if he was more startled or relieved that he'd somehow gone from that disgustingly cold planet of lost hopes to Sickbay, in the time it had taken him to blink.
Or at least, he thought that was how long it had been, but then he tried to sit up and realized he was in a bed, covered in bandages and tubes, and that Bones had thoughtfully strapped him to it to keep him from escaping. Another one of those missions, and he didn't even remember getting whatever injuries were underneath the bandages. He was obviously on the good drugs.
He gave up on his struggle and sagged back into the pillows with a sigh, wriggling his toes under the blankets. It was a waiting game, until Bones showed up and Jim could annoy him into granting light duty clearance.
It was probably ten minutes later, and Jim was valiantly trying not to fall asleep, when the privacy curtains around his bed swooshed open to reveal Spock.
“You are awake,” Spock said, sounding mildly surprised.
“I take it this is a new turn of events,” Jim drawled, shifting on the bed. His nose itched and his arms were strapped down. Damn Bones.
Spock sat in the chair next to the bed. “You were unconscious for thirty-seven hours after your surgery.”
Jim winced. “How bad was it? I don't remember a thing.”
“Hardly surprising, given the severity of your injuries and the shock associated with them. You and Lt. Riley were exploring an ice cave, when a native carnivore of some description took you by surprise. You suffered severe mauling of your torso and left thigh. Additionally, the destruction of your cold-weather gear in the attack resulted in a great deal of skin exposure; the harsh climate, combined with your weakened state, rendered you somewhat hypothermic before you could be recovered to the ship.”
An animal mauling? You couldn't even make this shit up, Jim thought with chagrin. “And Riley?” he asked, not entirely wanting to hear the answer.
“The lieutenant fought off the creature when he could lay hands on his phaser, and dragged you out of the cave. He suffered only minor injuries and has been enquiring after your health.”
Jim relaxed. “Thank fuck nobody died.”
“Indeed,” Spock said. He paused. “We were not sure about your fate, Jim.”
“Maybe I have nine lives,” Jim said thoughtfully. When Spock raised an eyebrow, he added, “Like humans think cats have.”
“Were that true, you would undoubtedly have a very low reserve of them remaining at this point,” Spock said calmly.
The curtain swished open again and there was Bones, whose eyes passed quickly over Jim before he fixated on Spock.
“Jesus H. Christ,” he said, “how many times do I have to kick you out of my Sickbay? Don't you have a ship to run?” He gestured at Jim with the clipboard he was holding. “Sleeping Beauty's awake now, so you can stop lurking.”
Jim took a moment to blink at that information before his instincts to annoy kicked in. “Bones! I'm all better, so you can let me go now.”
“Not a chance, kid. You're in no shape to go running around like the idiot you are.” Bones spared one more look for Spock, who was still in the chair. “Spock, don't make me call Security.”
Spock obediently got up and left without a word, stopping only to glance back at Jim before leaving. Jim grinned after him tiredly as Bones started fussing over him. He watched intently as the medical tricorder scanned his apparently shredded torso, waiting for the beep.
“Well?” Jim asked.
Bones glanced up at him, distracted by the readings. “You'll live, amazingly. Four days of observation and bed rest and then we'll discuss the possibility of light duties.”
“This isn't a goddamn cold, Jim. You got half-eaten by a wild animal. Chicken soup and positive thinking won't fix it. Now get some sleep.”
“Could you at least loosen the restraints?” Jim whined. “Or scratch my nose for me, if you're too heartless to free me? It itches like a motherfucker.”
Bones ignored him and pulled the curtain shut behind him as he left.
Jim yelled something really uncomplimentary about his mother. Then he settled in for a nap, wriggling his nose irritably and trying to ignore the itchy feeling.
The worst part of being held hostage in Sickbay was the boredom. Nothing to do but sleep—he couldn't even eat, because his stomach had apparently taken all the king's horses and all the king's men to put back together again, and he was hooked up to a nutrient bag for nourishment. And he was still strapped down, because Bones was an asshole and had apparently been serious about his threats the last time Jim had been a patient and kept wandering around Sickbay, hitting on the nurses and chatting with Sulu over at his bed (another memorable mission).
At least his nose had quit itching, he thought, staring vacantly at the ceiling.
There was a vague rattling noise and the privacy curtain swished open. Jim craned his neck to look; it was Spock, and he was carrying Jim's chessboard.
“Um?” he tried.
“My shift ended an hour ago,” Spock said. “And you were unconscious for the entirety of this week's chess night.”
“Sorry about that,” Jim said.
“You are forgiven.” Spock pulled the wheely food table out from the corner and set the chessboard on it before opening the box of pieces to set it up.
“I guess you figure since I'm drugged to the gills, I'll be an easy target.”
“That would constitute poor sportsmanship.” Spock pulled a chair over to the bed and adjusted Jim's bed controls until he was sitting upright.
Jim thought for a moment. “How the fuck did you get my chessboard, anyway? It was in my cabin.”
Spock raised an eyebrow. “I obtained it from there.”
The word 'how' died on Jim's lips. He wasn't sure he wanted to know. Instead he gave his restraints a tug. “Am I gonna have to dictate all my moves? What if you take advantage of me?”
“I could not fathom such an occurrence.” Spock reached toward him to free his right arm. “Are we now sufficiently matched?”
Jim rotated his wrist slowly, enjoying the freedom of movement. “Well, with my handicap....” he said.
“Please feel free to take white, then.”
Bones kept Jim in Sickbay for another week, and Spock showed up to play chess every day after his shift finished. The games were engaging, especially as Jim began to taper off his painkillers and could focus more on what he was doing, and Spock would also tell him snippets of what was going on around the ship, including issues related to all the bridge shifts Jim wasn't allowed to work. It kept him from going crazy and he found himself starting to look forward to Spock's daily visit. It was nice of him and showed his awesomeness as a first officer, that he would take the time to keep Jim sane while he recovered. Of course, Spock knew firsthand how boring Sickbay was from a biobed, especially when Bones wasn't around to pester.
On the fourth day, just as he was about to take Spock's queenside bishop, Jim had a sudden epiphany. He finished his move and stared wonderingly at Spock as he frowned down at the board, considering his material loss.
Maybe one reason Spock was here all the time was that he was a great first officer. Sure. But, Jim realized, that wasn't all. Maybe it wasn't even the most important reason.
Spock missed him.
The first day—the first day—when Jim had woken up in Sickbay, Spock was there. Hovering, frankly. And reminding him, in his own stern, Spockish way, that Jim had almost died again and that it was happening far too frequently. That, he realized, was Spock acting worried. And apparently he'd been in Sickbay enough during Jim's thirty-seven-hour nap to annoy Bones into chasing him out.
So, Jim realized, these visits were a selfish move on Spock's part; a ploy to have Jim all to himself for a while since they didn't see each other all day. Reassuring himself that Jim was still, somehow, in one piece.
It left a warm feeling in the pit of his stomach. A smile flitted across his lips as he put Spock's king in check.
The curtains had been thrown open by Bones the day before in a fit of pique and never shut again, and all of Sickbay was visible. So when Uhura walked in to pick up her new doctor boyfriend for dinner, she cast a glance over at Jim's bed and shook her head, one hand on her hip.
“Look at you two,” she said despairingly.
“What?” Jim asked, confused.
She waved at them vaguely. “Your codependency is ridiculous. How much chess can two people even play?” And with that, she swished off.
Jim and Spock blinked at each other. Then a grin sneaked its way onto Jim's face. When a corner of Spock's mouth twitched up in response, he laughed.