They all get really good at ping-pong. Not right away, of course. At the outset of their month-long trip across Federation space, everyone lets out a collective sigh of relief. It's been one thing after another for the past few months- a thorny series of negotiations over mineral rights, inconsistent life-form readings from a seemingly deserted planet, an unexpected power failure on a mining vessel that meant the Enterprise had to hotfoot it across the galaxy to keep her from drifting haplessly into the Neutral Zone. Now, though, it's smooth sailing- delivering a shipment of supplies to an earth colony on- well, some planet, somewhere.
What's important is that said planet is four weeks out, and the crew now has ample opportunity to, in the words of the ship's First Officer, "shift focus to the considerable backlog of administrative tasks" generated by mission after mission after mission. Jim has never seen someone look so excited about paperwork. It's like pulling teeth to get himself in front of the damn computer, but Spock is practically rubbing his hands in glee at the thought. OK, fine, Jim thinks, there is something oddly satisfying about hitting "submit" and sending a report off to Starfleet Command. But experiencing that thrill once a day or so is fine with him, unlike some masochistic Vulcans he knows.
The ping-pong thing starts about ten days in. They've all been straggling into the rec room increasingly often. Jim's gotten through all his reports, even that one clusterfuck on Gamma Vega with the ice bats (Mating Habits of Chiroptera Glacialis, which Jim was so tempted to subtitle OMFG, ICE BATS!). It's Chekov who starts it. Apparently, there's a dusty ping-pong set in one of the rec room closets, and Chekov drags it out and starts whacking a ball against the wall. Maybe it's just because she gets sick of the thwack-bink-thwack of Chekov playing ping-pong with himself, but one night Uhura grabs a paddle and joins him. After she creams him, Chekov stutters, "B-best out of three, Lieutenant?" and suddenly Sulu wants to play winner and Scotty wants to make things interesting.
Jim isn't great at it, but it's ok- it's so much fun just sitting there, watching them and heckling. But then one night Uhura grabs Spock and drags him to one side of the table, and there's a paddle in his hand and there is no way Jim is missing this. Spock looks at him and raises an eyebrow and it is so on.
"Captain. There is…I believe the phrase is, something riding on this match?" He serves.
"Oh yeah, Spock? And what's that?" Thwack! Jim sends the ball back across the net.
"The losing team has agreed to take over Gamma shift for the remainder of the quarter."
"That's going to be murder on my love life," Jim says. "Oof!" He strains, reaching with his paddle. He makes contact and fires the little white projectile decisively back at Spock.
Spock raises an eyebrow, and his eyes dart toward Uhura for a second. "Indeed." He bites his lip in concentration.
The ball shoots past, just out of the range of Jim's paddle. There's a chorus of disappointment from his side of the peanut gallery.
"Dammit, Jim, I spend enough time in sickbay without being stuck there for Gamma too." Bones brandishes a flask of something illegal. Jim raises his hands in a gesture of deference. "Sorry, Bones. Ok, who's up?"
Scotty gets up, and there's a Booooo! and a Yeah, Mr. Scott! from the crowd, and Jim flops down onto the couch and closes his eyes, and just for a second, he feels like he's dreaming. Like he'll wake up hungover in a studio apartment in Riverside any minute. But he's not going to. So he sits up and leans forward and talks some smack at Spock, and elbows McCoy for a slug of whatever he's drinking. And he knows he'll be bored tomorrow, and before long he'll be jumping at the first distress call they get from the ass-end of whatever planetary system, because that's what they're up here for. But right now- Jim loves right now.