I needed a little counter from the twisty turns, tension and angst of Transitions, so please have a little intellectual flirting between Jim and Spock to balance you out. Set before STID.
In chess, a swindle is a ruse by which a player in a losing position tricks his opponent, and thereby achieves a win or draw instead of the expected loss.
Edward R Brace.
BISHOPS OF OPPOSITE COLORS
McCoy was enjoying the unusual peace and quiet of the galley and a slice of peach cobbler with a large dollop of cream on the side.
As a way of rewarding the crew, Jim had asked each department head of nominate one of their division to have their names put into a draw that ran ship wide. Jim would then select one at random and program their choice of food or drink into the ship's replicator bank. It was a long and tedious process and so far Jim had only been able to do one a month, but already the Grand Reveal, as it had become known, was one of the most anticipated days in the ship's calendar. After four months, they had peach cobbler, churros, a strange blue Telleraite dish of unknown origin and an unpronounceable name and Polish bigos. They also had haggis as a thank you to Scotty for fixing the hot water rations when the system had crashed. Jim had been in the shower at the time and the whole room had flooded. While many of the crew seemed to have no objections to seeing their Captain storming down to Engineering in nothing but a towel, Jim himself hadn't been all that amused. McCoy made an effort to remind him of it at least once a week.
The peach cobbler had been Christine Chapel's idea but McCoy was enjoying it none the less. Personally he'd have made Jim program him a decent mint julep. Jim was allowing alcohol – with some restrictions, though Spock had put an outright ban on several variants, including Cardassian Sunrises and Romulan Ale.
Spock was a stick in the mud like that.
McCoy was contemplating the sweet crust of the cobbler – and by god, Jim was good – when Chekov came stumbling into the galley, almost tripping over his own feet in the process. "Doktor McCoy!" He flailed his arms comically as he skidded to a halt at the edge of McCoy's table. "You must come qvickly! Ze Keptain and Mester Spock-"
McCoy was already on his feet. "Goddamnit I knew this was going to happen." He huffed, shoving aside the cobbler and almost bounding over the table.
He'd told Jim this would happen. Many times in fact, and in great detail. Jim, you're a goddamn pain in the ass and you'd drive a saint to sin, let alone a Vulcan to violence. But did Jim listen? Did he ever listen?
"Where?" He demanded, practically running the young Ensign over in his haste to get to his damn fool friend before Spock actually did kill him this time - and probably with just case, knowing Jim.
"Rec Room 1!" Chekov panted, falling quickly behind as McCoy sprinted down the hall towards the turbolift. "Doktor, vait-" But McCoy was already inside and he wasn't waiting for anyone.
"Deck 4." He ordered. Moments later, they arrived. He charged into the primary rec room, wondering how exactly he was going to stop a homicidal Vulcan from strangling their captain without sounding like a complete hypocrite when he ran headlong into a wall of bodies.
By god, it looked like half the ship had turned out to watch Jim get his ass handed to him. "Move!" McCoy growled, "out of the way, move!" he shoved, budged and elbowed his way through the crowd, most people jumping back when they saw him, but not all.
Eventually he was at the front and his jaw hit the ground.
There was Jim, and there was Spock, but there was no bloodshed, no violence, no screaming argument – and there had been several of those the last few months.
In fact, they were seated on completely opposite sides of a table, a large 3D chess set laid out between them.
"Oh you have got to be kidding me." McCoy looked around for Chekov – damn kid trying to give him a heart attack – but he could not see him for the mass of people gathered around the match, watching in near silence as their captain and his first squared off over a board. "How long have they been at it?" McCoy spotted Sulu close by and made his way over.
Sulu had a half eaten apple in his hand, but seemed to have forgone the snack in order to pay closer attention to the match. "About an hour." He shrugged absently.
On closer inspection of the game, Jim seemed to be getting his ass handed to him. He was two pawns down and had no way to save his pinned knight.
McCoy had only played Jim at chess the once. It wasn't his game at all, but one evening he'd had enough brandy to think it was a good idea to give it a shot. Jim had wiped the floor with him and he suspected that was more a case of his friend being kind. Jim had dominated in all the tactical aspects of the Academy's schooling and he'd absolutely annihilated one of McCoy's less than friendly rivals in the medtrack when the fool had tried to get one up on his 'dumb command track buddy'.
Jim could be a vindictive bastard when he felt like it.
But chess was a game of logic, and no one could argue that logic was anything but Spock's bitch.
The two players remained silent as they contemplated their next moves, shocking those in the crew who had up until that point believed their captain incapable of either silence or stillness.
"I heard the Commander hasn't lost a match ever." Sulu said in a hushed voice.
McCoy rolled his eyes. Even cool, levelheaded men like Sulu could be prone to such flights of dramatics when the Vulcan was concerned.
"He's never played Jim before."
McCoy wasn't wrong to place his faith in Jim, because suddenly the game exploded into action. Jim made two moves, then out of nowhere came in to take Spock's Queen.
The next dozen moves were made quickly as the two opponents reached the climax of their battle, and in mere minutes, Jim had all but decimated Spock's offense.
"Check." Jim said calmly, placing his Knight down on the board. Spock's eyebrows rose in surprise and the gathered crew began to chatter excitedly. "Think we can call that a draw, don't you? You can check me in two, I can check you two after that." They were in perpetual check, actually. Neither could win.
After a moment of studying the board, Spock tipped his head to one side. "You swindled me." He said, looking up from the board into Jim's grinning face. "Why am I not surprised?"
The crew fell silent once more.
"You're upset. Why?" Jim asked affably, not even trying to deny the play he had followed.
"While you managed to draw out play considerably longer than expected, you were on a losing trajectory from your third move." Spock accused.
Jim leaned back in his chair, his body an artless sprawl of limbs. It looked both relaxed and cocky, "So what, you think that because you always had the upper hand you were morally entitled to the win?"
A pin could have been heard dropping in the room as the assembled crew held their breaths, waiting in rapt silence as the game continued on a verbal playing field.
Instead of answering the direct challenge, Spock chose to counter with his own attack. "I would not have believed you capable of accepting defeat so early in the game as to leave yourself the resources to respond as you did."
Jim laughed. "I'm stubborn Spock, not stupid. I know when I'm beaten. You play unlike anyone else I've ever faced. It was incredible."
McCoy sighed. He knew that look in Jim's eyes. It was a rare thing, but when Jim finally encountered someone his intellectual equal he tended to develop a bit of a nerd crush. It was both adorable and annoying in equal measure and the main reason why Jim would happily let Uhura walk all over him, despite his claims to only be interested in her mile long legs.
"Yet you still felt the need to cheat me." Spock said flatly.
Jim held up his hands. "Whoa whoa, who said anything about cheating? I didn't do anything unethical. Swindling has been a part of chess for as long as the game has existed."
"You operate on the false principle that victory justifies a sacrifice of all virtues."
Jim leaned forwards to rest his elbows on his knees. The crew all leaned with him. They had never seen him like this, McCoy supposed. Calm and rational and quiet even when being completely open about his somewhat ambiguous principles. It was utterly enrapturing to watch, and not something that would have happened only a few short months ago. Back then, Jim would have taken great offense to the words coming out of Spock's mouth and jumped right on the defensive.
"I didn't sacrifice any of my virtues, Spock. I was objective. I knew I was going to get my ass kicked and recognizing that gave me the psychological edge. I wasn't afraid of losing and that gave me strength."
McCoy had a distinct feeling that they weren't just talking about chess any more.
"You acknowledged defeat yet you did not accept it." Spock concluded with a small nod. "A most unorthodox approach. It implies that you are perhaps more aware than you give indication."
"Gee thanks." Jim laughed off what might have been considered a harsh insult.
"It was a compliment." Spock tipped his head. "Of sorts."
Jim's laugh was delighted. "Hell, I'll take what I can get. Seriously though, we should do this again."
Spock pushed back his chair and stood. "I would be agreeable to that proposal."
"You could just say yes, you know."
"I could." Spock agreed, making Jim laugh once more. "However I have come to believe you enjoy more sesquipedalian discourses than you would admit to."
"That's a lot of big words, Spock. I'm just a country hick, remember?"
"I'm sure Lieutenant Uhura could explain them to you if you require." Spock said archly.
"Oh hell no." Jim stood from his own seat. "I'm not opening that can of worms." Before Spock could respond to the phrase, Jim finally noticed the crowd gathered around and staring at them both in quiet shock. "Whoah! Is anyone actually running my ship?"
The crew took that good-natured comment to scramble back into action but McCoy knew they'd be hearing about the epic chess battle on the ship's grapevine for weeks.
McCoy hung around until Jim and Spock joined him. "Glad to see you both getting along." He said dryly. "I came in here expecting bloodshed."
"The captain and I are more than capable of behaving like civilized beings, Doctor." Spock said, falling back into his stiff and snooty speech patterns.
"Really, because Jim's medical records say otherwise."
"I find it prudent, Doctor, to remind you that-"
"Girls!" Jim interrupted, "You're both pretty. Can we go get something to eat now?"
McCoy grunted reluctantly, only agreeing because any day he didn't have to remind Jim about a mealtime was a good day in his book. Spock probably agreed just to irritate McCoy.
Still, he felt some of his irrational ire dissolve when Jim threw an arm over his shoulder and leaned in closer. "So Bones, did you see the game?"
"He kicked your ass, Jim." McCoy said with as much gruff affection as he could summon.
"Yeah, but I made him work for it and it was awesome!"
"Actually, captain. A draw does imply that you proved yourself equal to a Vulcan in a game devised entirely of logic. A most impressive feat."
Jim practically levitated in glee and McCoy knew he'd be hearing about it for weeks. Still, it was better than Jim constantly questioning Spock's every word to him.
"Don't let it swell your head, Jim." McCoy rolled his eyes when Jim scoffed and waved the thought away. "I mean it. The lifts aren't big enough for your ego to grow any more."
"You're a real party pooper, you know that Bones?" Jim asked him. "Oh hey, you tried the cobbler yet? I could totally go for some of that right now. And maybe…"
McCoy and Spock flanked Jim as he all but bounded down the corridor towards the galley, contentment and happiness in every bounced step. They shared a glance over Jim's shoulder and McCoy shrugged helplessly.
Jim was exactly like his chess moves: illogical, ridiculous, confusing and more than a little brilliant. McCoy wouldn't change him for the world.
And he'd put credits on Spock starting to think the same way.