Most of the characters and situations in this story belong to Alliance Atlantis, CBS, Anthony Zuicker, Paramount, the Bride of the Great Bird of the Galaxy, and other entities, and I do not have permission to borrow them. All others are mine, and if you want to play with them you have to ask me first. No infringement is intended in any way, and this story is not for profit. Any errors are mine, all mine, no you can't have any.
Spoilers: general eighth season.
All righty then. It's been more than a year since I posted the original story, and I didn't mean for it to go further, but Mossley wrote such a great take on the idea that I had to, well, finish. So here it is at last, just in time for her birthday. Many happy returns of the day, Mossley, and thanks for both your patience and a really terrific Sofia/McCoy tale!
We're all still nutbars, though.
Thanks also to Cincoflex, for betaing supreme, and everyone else who squeed at the idea. Also, discerning fans will realize that I owe a great deal to Diane Duane's stellar ST:TOS novels, which to me are more canon than the actual canon. I hope she doesn't mind my mentioning a few incidents here.
I so need this. Sofia hurried through her shower and makeup, still stressed from a night of endless petty annoyances. Investigations that went nowhere, fruitless searches, suspects that mouthed off to her and then spilled their guts to Vartann, evidence gone missing because Dayshift didn't document it properly--none of these were much on their own, but the accumulated effect made her want to scream, or shoot something.
Still, the prospect of a date was a great antidote. Len was courteous, smart, funny, charming, and quite handsome in his own way, and Sofia was determined to wrest some enjoyment out of the morning if she could. It wasn't often that she encountered a man who could make her feel deliciously feminine without also making her feel as if he regarded her as weaker, or lesser.
She'd just slipped on her shoes when the thought occurred to her. Sofia hesitated, hearing her mother's voice in her head, and then reached down to the bottom of the little bookshelf next to her bed.
The expiration date on the package was coming up, but the condoms were still good. She dumped a couple out, and with only a brief pause shoved them into her purse before putting the box back.
"Probably nothing'll happen," she muttered. "But you never know."
And any cop worth their salt knew to be prepared.
She didn't know quite what to expect when she walked into the restaurant lobby, but when Sofia spotted Len in a button-down shirt and slacks she grinned in quick appreciation. Without a coat he was almost too casual for the tapas place, but not quite; instead, he just looked relaxed. She tugged down the hem of her own jacket just to make sure it was straight; the black silk pants and silk Chinese-style jacket fit her well, but the thing did have a tendency to ride up.
Then Len saw her, and the way his face lit up made the past night suddenly insignificant. A little giddy, she came forward to meet him.
"Well, Detective," he drawled, taking the hand she held out in both of his. "You look magnificent."
Sofia smiled wider, and leaned in to press a kiss to his cheek, not missing his sudden intake of breath. He smelled good. "You're not so bad yourself."
Len grinned, looped her arm through his again, and guided her towards the hostess. "I do have a question, though. What the hell is a tapa?"
She had to laugh. "I'll show you."
The food was excellent, and they debated over the various offerings, ordering and eating over and over again, trying new things each time. Len seemed to avoid meat, Sofia noticed, though not shellfish; it puzzled her slightly, because she knew he wasn't a vegetarian, but eventually she figured he just might have a touchy stomach. He did veto the breaded squid with such firmness that Sofia changed her mind about ordering it for herself, but that was a small matter.
They talked about food. Len seemed to have eaten a wide variety of dishes, even if he hadn't heard of tapas, but Sofia countered with tales of the French dishes her father would make, earthy country cooking that was deceptively simple.
He was easy to talk to, and funny. They flirted delicately throughout dinner, and unlike her last couple of dates Sofia did not find herself hoping that she would be interrupted by a call-in. In fact, she was insanely tempted to shut her phone off.
They lingered over coffee and dessert, taking up table space without shame, gradually leaning closer over the tablecloth in the slow dance she knew. Her laugh got lower, his smile grew more intimate, and Sofia realized that at some point during their time she'd made up her mind.
So Len surprised her when he sighed, his expression going a little melancholy. "Sofia, m'dear, I still don't know much about this city of yours. Care to show me a few of the sights?"
It took a bit of mental scrambling to catch up with him. She was almost hurt by his words, but one thing about being a detective--or a CSI--was that it taught you to think about what people said. Either he's giving me space, or there's something going on with him.
"Sure. It's not too hot yet," she told him, smiling, and after a moment his lips curved upward in return.
Len paid for dinner with cash, which was slightly unusual, but not too much so for a gambler. He tucked her arm through his once more as they stepped outside, and Sofia slipped on her sunglasses; Len squinted, but didn't seem overly bothered by the glare. "You've seen the Strip--there's the zoo, the roller coasters, the Liberace Museum, Madame Tussaud's..." She tried to recall more. "There's a number of parks, and the shark exhibit at Mandalay Bay."
"How about that last?" he said, almost automatically. Sofia looked around, calculated distances, and shrugged.
"It's easier to walk than fight for parking."
So they walked. She might almost have pulled away, except the pressure of his arm on hers was active somehow, as if he wanted the touch. Baffled but not unwilling, Sofia guided him, chatting idly about the history of the city and wondering when he would tell her what was going on.
It took almost three blocks, longer than she expected. Len suddenly halted in the middle of a fortunately sparsely-populated sidewalk and swung around to face her, turning their linked arms into a grip on both her hands. "Sofia," he began...and stopped.
Sofia arched a brow at him, and waited with a professionally honed patience. Len grimaced, let out a breath, and spoke again. "I'm enjoying your company very much, and I'd like to enjoy more of it...if you're willin'." His eyes met hers with a steady gaze that was so deeply melancholy that her throat ached at the sight. "But I only have a week, maybe two, before I have to--leave. And I won't be coming back."
Sofia considered him gravely. It was pretty clear that he wasn't going to tell her his secrets, and yet it didn't seem to matter so much. "Are you in trouble with the law?" she asked quietly.
Len blinked, looking honestly startled. "Me? No, not at all."
Sofia nodded, freed one hand, and reached up to trace that surprisingly mobile mouth, aware of a growing curiosity as to how it would feel on her skin. "Then I would love to spend more time with you, Len," she told him in her best sultry tone.
The slow smile that crinkled his eyes was downright beautiful, and his hands were gentle as they slipped around her waist. His lips were equally gentle, and Sofia let her hand find the nape of his neck, returning his leisurely exploration with interest. And couldn't bring herself to care that she was kissing someone in the middle of a public sidewalk.
What the hell. This is Vegas.
He couldn't keep his hands out of her hair. The thick stuff was as gorgeous to the touch as it was to the eyes, and McCoy found himself stroking it lightly even as he tried not to disturb Sofia's drowse. She lay curled neatly on her side, long-lashed eyes closed, and he propped his head on his other fist and just watched her, appreciating her beauty.
I wish I could offer you more. It felt strange, this intense attraction to someone he really didn't know, but there was more to life than logic, as he kept trying to tell Spock. There was affection, and attraction, and physical lust...lovely, lovely lust.
It had actually been a long time since he'd spent any time with a partner. Shipboard romances did happen, but generally he tried to avoid them; when one was both the psychologist and the chief surgeon for everyone on board, emotional entanglements could get tricky indeed--not to mention the ethical implications.
But there were none here. And Sofia was a delightful lover--generous, enthusiastic, experienced...and able to laugh. McCoy had to grin a little at the memory of his first encounter with a condom; fortunately, he'd been able to cover his blunder with a comment that it had been a long time since he'd had opportunity to use one. Which was true enough. He knew what they were, but it had been many years since his medical history classes, and primitive contraception had been only a small part of those.
Of course, it was no good telling her that his annual injection would ensure that he was infertile, so he'd gone along with the process, and certainly having her put it on him had been...enticing. And her laughter had been kind and her smile inviting--
Oh, calm down, he told his overeager body silently. Let the poor girl sleep. She had the night off, she'd said, but it was clear from the shadows beneath her eyes that she needed the rest. And while she might not even believe he actually was a physician, well, he was. Diagnosis and the imperative to heal was as automatic as breathing.
Sofia sighed, and McCoy looked away, afraid his gaze might wake her. Her apartment was dim with the shades pulled against the desert sun, but little gleams edged in around the windows. It was a comfortable, slightly messy space--the living quarters of someone who had little time to spend on housework, with a faint film of dust on various surfaces and a plant drooping beneath one window. Comfortable...but not very lived-in.
When he glanced back down, Sofia was regarding him with a soft, lazy expression, the corners of her mouth curling up. "Hi," she said throatily.
McCoy reached out to stroke a strand of hair from her eyes. "Hi there."
The smile widened, and one cool hand touched his collarbone and began to trail slowly downward. "A week, huh?"
Melancholia didn't have a chance against the sensations produced by her caress, and McCoy struggled to keep his eyes from crossing. "About, yes ma'am."
"Better make the most of it then," she purred, and pulled him down to her.
Later, in the warmth and closeness, McCoy indulged himself. "How'd you end up a detective, Detective?" He looked down at the head resting on his shoulder. "I'm just curious, mind."
Sofia's soft laugh had a bitter edge. "Aren't you going to add that it's a dirty job for such a pretty lady?"
"Fishin' for compliments?" He smiled, until he saw that she meant it. "Good grief, no. What's your looks got to do with it?"
She tilted her head up to regard him for a long moment, but in the end she seemed to believe him, and relaxed again. "My mom was a cop," she said after a moment. "She always wanted better for me. Especially since I was an only kid."
It was plain from the tone of her voice that there was more to it than that. McCoy waited, and when she said nothing he made an encouraging noise. Eventually Sofia sighed.
"My dad always told me I could be anything I wanted, but Mom was the practical one. She was right, you know--I'm too big to be a classical dancer and the only way to be an astronaut these days is to be military or a scientist." She shrugged. "There's never enough cops or CSIs, and the pay's not great but the work's a challenge."
He could understand that. People had to work for a living, that was true the Galaxy over, and for everyone who found their dream job there were a hundred who just went about making ends meet. He pressed his nose into that shining hair, and waited some more.
"I suppose I could do something else, now that they're both gone," Sofia mused after a while. "But I don't know what I'd do."
McCoy pulled her a little closer. "What do you want to do?"
Her finger traced his collarbone again, this time absently. "Go back to school. See the world, maybe. But that takes money."
"Join the Merchant Marines," McCoy suggested dryly, and Sofia giggled, an unexpected sound that made him smile.
"I'll take it under advisement," she told him, and fell silent again, and he couldn't help picturing her in Starfleet red. She'd be damn good with a phaser, he knew.
I wish I could show you the Galaxy.
But some things just weren't possible.
Several hours later Sofia was showering, and McCoy--clean and dry himself--was trying to figure out how the stove in her little kitchen worked. Every time he twisted a knob, he could smell the gas and would shut it off hastily; if there was some kind of striking device, it wasn't obvious. The can of soup had a pull top, at least, even if he'd sat waiting for five minutes for it to heat up before realizing that it was purely mechanical.
He was trying the fourth knob for the third time when he felt the room's air pressure change. Turning, McCoy was only slightly surprised to see Spock standing in the middle of Sofia's tiny dining room, wobbling a little and holding a tricorder in one hand.
"Well, hot damn, Spock, I should have known better than to give up on you," he said, grinning widely.
Spock steadied himself and took in the apartment in one quick glance before fixing his gaze on McCoy. "Yes, Doctor, you should have," he replied, and only someone who had known him for years could detect both the tease and the relief in those inscrutable eyes. He was dressed in much the same clothing as McCoy had been when he'd fallen through the Guardian, but the tricorder wasn't standard issue for either the Vulcan of the past or this branch of Earth's history.
McCoy held out a hand. "Gimme."
Without a word, Spock reached into the pouch at his waist and came out with a spray hypo--again, not chronologically proper, but McCoy didn't care. He reached over the breakfast bar and took it, pressing it to his bicep and injecting it with one smooth practiced motion before letting out a sigh of relief. There. That'll do it.
Or not quite, but it would halt the infestation, and further treatments would eradicate it. Life stood open before him once more, and it made him a little giddy. "How'd you find me? I thought the alternate reality problem was supposed to be too big to solve."
Spock took the hypo back and tucked it away scrupulously. "I had to enlist the help of the Guardian. The calculations did take some time." His glance was hooded. "It is...good...to find you still among the living, Doctor."
"Yeah." McCoy rubbed his temple, acknowledging the offering and still too relieved to tease Spock about it. "When we get back you can explain why it took a damn week."
"Temporal dislocations--" Spock began, then shook his head. "Later. Your possessions, Doctor--"
McCoy slapped his pockets, where he had his dispenser and a couple of other items and shook his head. "What I don't have with me can stay. But there's--"
Spock was staring over McCoy's shoulder, holding absolutely still, and McCoy sobered, turning. Sofia stood in the doorway to the hall, barefoot in jeans and a t-shirt, her hair wet and her gun aimed unwaveringly at Spock.
Whatever secret she had imagined McCoy keeping hadn't included a weird-looking guy in the middle of her apartment, come to take him away if the conversation she'd overheard was what it sounded like. An escapee from a Lord of the Rings reenactment, it appeared, who moreover had somehow entered without setting off her very high-quality alarm system. She didn't glance at Len, though she addressed her words to him. "Did you let him in?"
She knew he hadn't; he didn't have the code. Len made a disgusted noise, though it didn't seem to be directed at her. "He let himself in, which is kind of hard to explain just at the moment. Sofia, can you trust me enough to put that barbaric thing down? I promise you nobody means you any harm."
Sofia cut him one hard glance. "I'm more worried that he means you harm." But he didn't look like he was lying, and the taller man wasn't making any threatening moves. After a moment, she went with her gut and lowered her gun.
Len blew out a breath. The tall man relaxed infinitesimally, and bowed his head just slightly to her. "Dr. McCoy is quite correct," he said, with a hint of accent she couldn't quite identify. "I assure you, we are simply...passing through."
She looked to Len again, who was fidgeting. "'We'?"
He grimaced, and the expression was astonishingly sad. "Yeah. Looks like my week isn't a week after all."
"Ah." The pang of hurt was deeper than she expected, and Sofia immediately shoved it back down. He didn't promise you a thing. You knew this was a fling when you got into it. She shifted her gun to one hand and let it hang; the holster was back in her bedroom. The tall man still didn't move, which was reassuring. "Well, guess this is goodbye, then."
She kept her voice cool and her chin high. Len frowned, a suddenly ferocious expression, and looked across her breakfast bar at the intruder. "Is there a mass limit?"
The tall man blinked, regarding Len with what looked like very restrained disapproval. "Surely you are not suggesting--"
"I damn well am," Len snapped. "If this is an alternate branch--"
"Temporal alterations are not to be taken lightly, Doctor--"
"I don't give a damn, she's not nodal--"
Sofia frowned, trying and failing to figure out what they were arguing about. "Excuse me--"
Neither one paused. "You have no way of knowing that," the tall man said.
Len folded his arms. "Then scan her." He pointed his chin at the device. "Don't tell me you don't have the Guardian hooked into that thing, because I know you do."
The tall man's eyes narrowed in what looked like annoyance, and he pointed the boxy object at Sofia. She tensed, but all it did was chirp, and one of the man's brows shot up. "Confirmed. She is not nodal."
"Excuse me. What the fuck are you talking about?" Sofia interjected with more force. "What's nodal?"
Len looked at the other man, clearly waiting. The thin lips tightened, but he answered. "In this situation, it means that your existence does not have a significant effect on your time stream from this point on."
Sofia had encountered many people in her line of work who could only be termed nuts. She'd seen the most elaborate scenarios, the people who were utterly convinced that their delusions were real. What these two were saying was not only crazy, it made no sense at all--and they believed it.
And yet, she just couldn't believe Len was that kind of insane.
"Am I supposed to be insulted?" was the only thing she could think of to say. The tall man didn't crack a smile, but Len snorted, and took two steps to stand in front of her. Ignoring the gun, he put his hands on her shoulders, gripping firmly and looking straight into her eyes.
"Sofia," he said softly. "I don't have time to explain any of this, and I know you don't have much reason to trust me. But I'm askin' you to come with me. Permanently."
The idea was just as insane as the argument. Sofia tried to frown at him, but his gaze was compelling. "Go...where? Just leave my whole life behind, you mean?"
He shrugged, the corner of his mouth twitching, as if he recognized the absurdity. "Darlin', you wanted a change."
"Doctor--" The word was a warning, but McCoy shook his head, not looking away.
"Go where?" Sofia repeated, more strongly. "Dammit, Len, you can't expect me to just--" She trailed off, not even sure what he was asking of her.
"Call it the future," Len said, his tone suddenly merry. "You wanted to be an astronaut, well, we have spaceships that travel the galaxy. You could see whole worlds instead of just countries. Learn things that don't even exist now."
Crazy. He really was crazy, and yet she couldn't quite shake him off and shoo them both out of her apartment and her life. What life? some part of her suddenly asked. A job you don't like and an empty apartment, no time to do anything else--why not?
"Because it's insane," she muttered, half to herself, half to the man still gripping her shoulders. "There's no such thing as time travel."
"Not now there isn't," Len said, his lips twitching.
The tall man let out an almost inaudible sigh. "Mz. Sofia. I assure you that while Dr. McCoy's suggestion is extremely irresponsible, it is in fact possible. However, you should be aware that there is no possibility of return." His gaze was calm. "Should you choose to accompany us, you will never come back."
She wanted to believe them, Sofia realized. She ached with wanting, with the idea that there was a reality out there with spaceships and other planets and so much more than what she saw around her every day. But to never return--
Actually, it didn't sound all that terrible.
Sure, it was impossible. Except that the tall man couldn't have come through her door. And whatever the future was like, it had produced Len, who was kind and sweet and charming. Sofia bit her lip, and felt the weight of the gun in her hand.
Len's face lit up like a sunrise, and she couldn't help smiling back, though her entire body felt shaky. "I--can I take something with me?" Visions of Terminator flashed through her head, though the tall man was dressed and composed and held his strange device.
"If you can carry it," Len said. "But we'll have to hurry."
"Two minutes," Sofia told him, and half-ran back to her bedroom.
She didn't let herself think about what was about to happen, because she knew if she did she would never have the courage to go back out to the main room. Instead she pulled an old daypack from her closet and tossed in her wallet, a hairbrush, a few pieces of jewelry--mostly random grabs, because who knew what their "future" held?
The framed photo of her parents, though, was a deliberate choice. Sofia added her journal and a couple of pens, thrust her feet into shoes, and spotted her gun where she'd laid it on the bed. Tearing out a sheet from the journal, she picked up one of the pens.
I left of my own free will, she scribbled, a message to whoever came to investigate when she turned up missing. I'm going to a new life and I won't be coming back. Will is in safe-deposit box.
She added the bank name, signed and dated the note, and left it weighed down on her bed with her gun and badge. A few people would miss her, she knew, and while they might or might not believe her statement, it was at least better than an empty apartment with no clue at all. She wondered abruptly which shift would land the case, and shook her head, snatching up the bag.
The two men were still waiting in her living room. The tall man looked as if he'd lost an argument, but Len held out a hand, and Sofia stepped forward and took it. His grip was warm and firm, and she felt an unaccustomed upwelling of excitement.
"Ready?" he asked, and she grinned at him.
"As I'll ever be."
"Please do not move, Mz. Sofia," the tall man said, and tapped a button on his device. Sofia tightened her hold on Len's hand, half-expecting nothing to happen at all...or, worse, to find herself alone.
Things wavered, shimmered, and then shifted. Sofia sucked in a breath, and heard Len laugh with joy. His hand around hers never loosened.
In the empty apartment, the papers ruffled by the sudden intake of air settled back into place.