It was almost painful to watch, as if each impact was against his own body. Over and over, Doctor Leonard McCoy winced empathically as his captain was tossed from one end of the gymnasium to the other – by none other than his Vulcan first officer. Each time, James T. Kirk would land heavily on the mat, jarring joints and pulling muscles. Each time, he would rise to his feet, a jubilant smile plastered over his sweaty features, and face the Vulcan again.
Why in tarnation does he do it? McCoy sometimes wondered about the sanity of the captain of the Enterprise, despite what his psych files said. Every time Kirk got up, he looked like he had won, like he had taken on twenty Klingons single-handedly and beaten them all.
If it hadn't looked so painful it almost could have been comical; sure, Spock was several inches taller and had a longer reach, but he was slender, his thin frame appearing even thinner next to Kirk's bulk. If Spock had been human, he probably would never have had a chance against his captain, a man who went to great lengths to be the strongest and fittest he could be. But Spock was Vulcan; his bones were much denser than a humans and he was heavy. And strong. Very strong.
I wonder what he hopes to gain, mused the doctor as Kirk hit the mat once more. Does he think that he actually might win one day?
Again, the captain landed heavily.
McCoy watched with relief as Spock lowered his hand and hauled Kirk to his feet, the two men calling it a day and heading for the showers.
Look at him. McCoy observed the first officer closely, unobtrusively waving his medical scanner. Not even breaking a sweat. Pulse is barely above normal for him. That damned green-blooded Vulcan could go another ten rounds with every man on board this ship and still have energy to spare.
And Kirk looked... pleased. A veil of victory hung over the captain's shoulders as he limped away, tired, sweaty, and bruised, beside his Vulcan friend.>
McCoy sighed, shook his head in wonder, and left the room.
They had been playing for hours, virtually from the moment the two of them had gone off-duty. The rec room was crowded and McCoy found himself unable to leave, unable to tear his eyes away from the intense expressions of concentration on the captain and first officer's faces. The force of their absorption drew people in, powerfully holding them in its grip until the game ended, thereby releasing them.
For those with some knowledge of chess, watching Kirk and Spock was like watching two grand masters. Their strategies were so completely different, yet well-suited to their individual characters. Kirk took risks, made intuitive leaps, and used illogic to his advantage on occasions. Spock was like a biological extension of the computers he worked with on the Enterprise, logical, fast thinking and accurate, his mind working on a multitude of possible moves and their consequences simultaneously.
Kirk had been known to win the odd game and McCoy suspected that was part of the attraction for the audience; an obviously one-sided game would hold little appeal for anyone. However, so far tonight, the captain had lost seven games in a row and was quickly losing ground in the eighth.
"Checkmate," the Vulcan announced impassively.
The captain looked up from the board and beamed at Spock, his whole face glowing. "Congratulations, Spock."
The first officer inclined his head graciously, allowing nothing other than a slight warmth in his eyes to show.
As he watched the two senior officers stand and leave the rec room in companionable silence, McCoy wondered again at Kirk's seeming ease at losing so convincingly to Spock over and over again.
Hell, judging by their expressions, you'd think Jim had won. An immense yawn overcame the doctor and he returned to his quarters, where he fell fast asleep dreaming of fierce battles between a man and a giant.
The planet was lush and beautiful, a veritable paradise. Unbelievably, the mission had gone exactly to plan, and Kirk, Spock and McCoy were all intact, completely unharmed, and with nothing more to do than walk the kilometre or so back to the designated beam-up point. McCoy walked slowly, appreciating the impressive vista of lakes and hills, a trio of orange-yellow suns high in the sky above.
Kirk, at McCoy's left, looked past the doctor at Spock. His eyes twinkled mischievously and his voice was light with child-like fervour.
"Race you to the beam-up point, Spock. Last one back has to buy dinner every night during the next shore leave." Without waiting for a response, Kirk took off, feet pounding the blue-green grass.
The Vulcan, twin eyebrows lifted, glanced briefly at the doctor before chasing after Kirk, passing him in a matter of seconds.
McCoy, who certainly had no intention of running anywhere, strolled casually to the required spot alone. When he finally made it back aboard ship, Kirk and Spock were already having their dinner, seated at a table in the corner of the rec room, Kirk wearing an enormously satisfied grin.
McCoy frowned at Spock. "Nope, you're clear. That damned green blood of yours has let you off the hook again."
The Vulcan climbed down from the examination table and walked towards the sickbay ward. "What of Captain Kirk and the other members of the landing party, Doctor?"
The doctor followed Spock's gaze to where it settled on the captain's pale, ill face, noting the undisguised concern. "They'll be okay in a day or two. The antidote was found in time and their blood tests have improved each time we've taken them. Pity they don't have your green blood. It seems to have an answer for everything, doesn't it, Spock?"
Without reacting, Spock turned and walked over to his captain's bed where he was met with a welcoming grin.
"Are you all right, Spock?"
"Yes, Captain. I was unaffected."
Kirk's lips lifted tiredly, a little sluggishly. "Good. I'm glad." With a pleasant smile, he drifted off to sleep.
"I just don't get it, Jim! That Vulcan whips your backside in the gymnasium, trounces you at chess, thrashes you at damn-near everything you challenge him to.... Then you're stupid enough to try and race him when his legs are this much longer than yours!" McCoy held his hands apart in front of him, wildly overestimating the difference in leg length between the captain and first officer. "Add to that his ability to not get sick from any of the nasty bugs and viruses that have knocked you out for days at a time, that nerve pinch thing he does without ruining his knuckles..." He looked incredulously at Kirk. "And all you ever do is look pleased!"
"You're right, of course. I'm no match for him physically, mentally... logically..." He smirked at McCoy. "We're two completely different men."
"Then why do you do it? I've heard you say it a hundred times: 'I don't like to lose'. Yet you do lose and you seem overjoyed every time Spock beats you at something. It makes no sense at all."
"Because..." The captain's smile brightened noticeably. "I know he can run for miles without getting puffed, he can take on a whole bunch of people at once and he thinks like a computer. I can rely on him to carry on when everyone else is sick or injured. He's strong, fast and smart and... " Kirk leaned in closer to the doctor. "He's on my side."
All of a sudden it fell into place. Kirk was glad of his first officer's differences because they were an asset, a tool to be used in conjunction with his own, by no means worthless, skills. Every time Spock proved himself stronger, swifter, cleverer, he was reminding his captain that he had valuable skills to be used and they were at Kirk's disposal. Kirk hadn'tlost in any way. He'd gained a great prize and had learned to mould his own abilities with those of the Vulcan, creating a single, unified, practically unbeatable team.
McCoy smiled. A lesser man would be jealous, perhaps threatened, by a first officer who proved superior in any way. Not Kirk. He was proud to have Spock, a man so unlike himself, yet like in spirit.
McCoy was suddenly very proud to have them both.
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