It was inevitable, really. Anyone who spent even a fraction of time around the Captain and Doctor McCoy inevitably ended up admiring the doctor for his restraint. A lesser man would have snapped years ago.
With 'damnit, Jim' being the most quoted phrase on the ship and despite his irascible nature, McCoy was one of the most sympathized men on board. There wasn't a single member of crew who didn't love and adore their Captain, not one person who didn't trust him with their lives or were willing to lay down their own for his…
…but they weren't Kirk's best friend. Had they been, he'd have been thrown out of an airlock before they'd left planetary atmosphere. Bad enough that Kirk was at times childish, petulant and stubborn as hell. Bad enough that he was maddening, frustrating and operating on a level few could understand let alone hope to imitate. No, to add to all that Kirk had to be the single most unlucky man in existence. If there was a war, he'd find himself in the middle of it; a rampaging psychopath on the run from the law, he'd be the one to stumble upon him; and earthquakes, floods, fires and tornados just seemed to simmer in the background, waiting for him to arrive. And just as soon as McCoy was done putting him back together again, he was up and off and careening towards the next bout of insanity.
It would be enough to drive anyone to madness. And how McCoy had actually managed to live with him during their Academic career was anyone's guess. A roommate who didn't sleep, stole your clothes and obsessed over things to the point of insanity was usually considered a cadet's idea of hell.
So when McCoy landed a right hook squarely in Kirk's face, half the assembled crew cheered him on. The other half secretly wanted to, but were either new, shy or hadn't actually spent any time with Kirk one on one.
"You enjoyed that way too much." Kirk said nasally, wrinkling his nose and shaking off the hit.
"I always enjoy it, Jim." McCoy grinned. "Highlight of my goddamn week."
When word had gotten out that Kirk and McCoy were sparring partners – and had been for three years – Thursday mornings between six and seven am had become uncommonly busy in the gym.
First it had been curiosity that had drawn the crowds. For all his ranting and raving and threats of violence against Jim Kirk aside, McCoy was stubbornly a pacifist. But apparently that wasn't to say he couldn't fight and there were rumors going round that had McCoy laying one of those right hooks on everyone from Spock to Admiral Kormac.
"You could at least pretend you're here for a reason that doesn't involve hitting me." Kirk was somehow able to pout and look like he was on the verge of laughter all at once.
"Don't have to pretend." McCoy said, twisting out of a lock Kirk had gotten on his wrist and putting an extra foot between them. "Regular exercise is essential for maintaining fitness and good health. This just also happens to be great for my anxiety levels as well."
"Not a stress ball, Bones." Kirk said dryly as they circled one another. He moved in fast, forcing McCoy to concede ground. They were fascinating to watch and were clearly in complete sync with each other's style of fighting. There were some moves that Kirk had clearly taught the doctor – ones that toed the edge of acceptable in a polite match between friends and were more than likely picked up in one drunken brawl or another.
They both practiced Krav Maga, the taught martial art of Starfleet Academy, but they mixed it up with other things. Kirk's style of fighting was no longer a surprise to anyone who knew anything about him. He fought hard, rough and dirty, less concerned with how something looked and more focused on inflicting damage swiftly and brutally.
McCoy had clearly boxed at some point in his life and was a hell of a lot stronger than most would have expected from the doctor. He was broader in the shoulders than Kirk, both his legs and his arms longer, and he used all of it to his advantage. He also had that deadly surgeon's precision that meant he could inflict exactly the amount of damage he wanted, in exactly the place he intended.
In that respect, the fight would always fall in his favor. Control was not exactly Kirk's byword, and he had to work harder at pulling his punches. McCoy was the very epitome of control.
So in truth, the more exciting match would probably have been between McCoy and Spock, but the Captain was the only one who had ever managed to get the Vulcan on the mats – probably for the same reason McCoy was there. Who could resist the chance to punch Jim Kirk in the face?
"What have I missed?" Lieutenant Sulu skidded to the side of the mats, breathless and most likely having made a beeline from the bridge following Gamma shift.
"No' much." Scotty said from the center of his court. When it came to gambling on this ship, if it was anything more serious than a friendly bet between two people, it ran through the Chief Engineer. That was Kirk's way of keeping control of things. He didn't ban it outright – hell, he often participated, especially when his First Officer and CMO were the subject of discussion – but he regulated it in a way that made it seem like he had no idea what was happening, and that was far more fun.
"Good." Sulu slid down onto one of the bleachers. "Put me down for McCoy."
"Are ye sure laddie? Bets are on Jimmy today. Lad's in fightin' form for once." Their captain had not been out of sickbay all that long after taking a particularly nasty spear to the gut protecting one of the ensigns down in Engineering. When Kirk was on the mend from one malady or another, McCoy never pushed as hard as Kirk did.
"I'm sure." Sulu said with a smirk. "McCoy's cleared him for fully duties, he wouldn't do that if Kirk couldn't take a beating."
"Still," Scotty shrugged. "Well, they're your credits lad."
Sulu continued to smile. "What do you know that we don't?" Carol Marcus asked. She tended to swim early in the morning and had discovered the ship's favorite form of entertainment by accident one week. She'd not missed one since, though she probably didn't watch for the same reasons as the rest of them. She was probably one of the few people in existence who didn't want to wring Kirk's neck on occasion.
"Who says I know anything?" Sulu said enigmatically as Kirk pulled off an impressive move down on the mats and dumped McCoy hard on his back.
"That one's new." McCoy grunted, rolling over and pushing back on to his feet.
"Nah, not really." Jim grinned, ducking under McCoy's answering swing.
"And which lowlife did you learn it from?" McCoy snorted, reminding everyone that Kirk had the most eclectic group of childhood associates going.
"That would be me, Doctor McCoy." Uhura said sweetly from the side of the mats, distracting McCoy enough for Jim to dump him on his face.
"Come on, Bones!" Jim taunted playfully. "You're holding back on me."
"Kiss your credits goodbye, laddie." Scott gave Sulu a consoling pat on the shoulder.
"Come on, doc." Sulu muttered.
But McCoy stayed down. For too long, in fact, as Kirk suddenly stopped grinning and his face pulled into a frown of concern. "Hey Bones, you okay?" He asked, taking a step closer.
A step too close.
McCoy's legs lashed out, tangling with Kirk's and bringing him crashing down with a painful looking thud. Winded, it took McCoy only seconds to pin him. "I'm fine, Jim. Thanks for asking."
"Cheating bastard." Kirk wheezed.
"Learned from the best, kid." McCoy smirked. "You yield?"
"Hell no!" Kirk squirmed, trying to gain some leverage from a nearly impossible position. With his arm pinned behind his back by a man who knew exactly how to manipulate someone's limbs, and a knee pressed against his spine, Kirk wasn't going anywhere.
"I'd give up if I were you, kid." McCoy said, the biggest grin on his face than any of them had ever seen, "unless you want everyone to know exactly how tickl-"
"Yield!" Kirk yelled dramatically. "I yield! Evil. You're evil."
McCoy released his hold and pulled Kirk up to his feet. "I'm one hundred percent okay with that." He said, brushing himself down, then pressing his thumb lightly into Kirk's shoulder joint, checking he'd not caused any damage.
Kirk rolled his eyes. "That was a nice move."
"One of yours."
"Could be why it worked." Kirk sniggered, not in the least embarrassed or upset that he'd just been floored in front of half his crew. He always seemed to take any blow landed when sparring against those who served under him as a mark of personal pride. He wanted them to be able to take care of themselves more than he cared about saving face. It was one of the reasons why they loved him.
"Go again?" McCoy asked him.
"Nah, I was thinking maybe sprint sets? Last one to one hundred gets breakfast!" Kirk yelled, already tearing across the gym to the track.
"Now who's cheating?" McCoy yelled back, quickly taking off after him. "Show's over people, go do some actual work!" He called back to the gathered crowds.
Sulu held out his hand expectantly and waited for his winnings. He'd give Jim his share later. A Captain had to get his kicks somehow.