Jim was mad for retaking the Kobayashi Maru, crazier still for cheating, and out of his farm boy mind for going on a date the night before his hearing. McCoy didn't share his friend's brash optimism that he could talk his way out of trouble. Jim was facing academic suspension. Since he was too deluded to acknowledge the possibility, however, McCoy would have to drink for the both of them.
The bar he chose was within staggering distance of the Academy. Most cadets didn't frequent it. The small Irish pub advertised no karaoke or free beer, only Celtic folk music on Saturday nights. McCoy was an infrequent patron. Most of the time, the memory of his ex-wife crying to the judge about her "no 'count drunk" husband was enough to keep him following Aristotle's path of moderation in all things.
This was one of his detours.
The interior of the pub was dark and cozy. A couple of old men in fisherman caps perched on leather-padded barstools. A slow night. The air smelled of hops and something that took McCoy back to his grandmama's house in Mississippi. He walked up to the woman polishing the bar a few feet away from her customers. "Is that beeswax polish?"
She looked up with smile. "Yes, I mixed a little lavender oil in with the lemon this batch. Do you like it?"
"Very much." He liked her looks, too. She wasn't the usual blue-eyed California blonde. Her skin was pale, her hair pulled back in a style that was soft, yet professional. Attractive.
"Thank you," she said. "I'm Chris. Welcome to The Plough and Stars, Mr. . . ."
"Nice to meet you. My uncle Johnny is the bartender, I'm just helping out for a few minutes, but if you want something that's not on tap or from a bottle, I'll be happy to mix it if you walk me through the steps."
One of the old men held up a wide-mouthed shot glass. "She makes a damn fine Astro Pop!"
Chris shook her head. "That's my first and last one, Mr. Foley. It took me forever to pour five layers of alcohol. You have to go easy on me next time."
McCoy said, "I'll have Kentucky bourbon. Neat."
"That's easy." She put away the polish and cloth and washed her hands before choosing a brandy snifter from the array of glasses behind the bar. "Should I make it a double?"
Foley said, "That's going to make your hair stand on end!"
"Like quills upon the fretful porpentine." McCoy took a drink.
"Hamlet!" Chris said. "You know your Shakespeare."
Her admiring smile was a welcome change from the blank looks he usually received when quoting the Bard. Too many people watched stories instead of reading them. McCoy said, "I could a tale unfold, whose lightest word would harrow up thy soul."
Chris said, "I'd like to hear it."
McCoy blinked. Was she flirting with him? It had been a while since he'd attempted to navigate the treacherous waters of romantic relationships. He was the oldest in his year group at Starfleet Academy and had little in common with most female cadets of his acquaintance. Their life experiences were radically different. Chris was older—mid to late twenties—and radiated a quiet maturity.
A couple McCoy recognized as the usual bartenders walked through the front door. The woman, a pixie-sized redhead, rushed over to Chris. "Thanks for minding the pub. You're an angel." She patted her stomach. "Baby O'Brian is the tiniest thing, but he's got all his parts, and I've promised to eat my fruit and veg." She turned her bright gaze on McCoy and the drink in his hand. "Hullo. No Georgia-style mint julep tonight?" She winked at Chris. "You won't forget this one. He's a real Southern gentleman."
"I appreciate that." Chris turned to McCoy. "If you plan to stay awhile Nola can mix your usual drink and I'll deliver it to your table."
She wanted to talk. She was interested.
"I'm not much of a storyteller," he said. If she expected him to lay on the Southern charm, she'd be disappointed. He didn't have regular charm, much less Southern.
Chris didn't take offence at his bluntness. She asked, "Have you read any good books lately?"
"As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner."
"I'd love for you to tell me about it."
McCoy nodded, flattered by her interest. What could it hurt? "I don't want the usual," he said. "Make it bourbon with a cube of ice."
He chose a table in the back corner and finished off his drink. When Chris joined him, she held a teacup in one hand and a narrow, cylindrical tumbler in the other. She handed him the bourbon.
"Why does a single ice cube change the glass a drink's served in?" she asked.
"The snifter's used to concentrate the aroma. Once a splash of water or ice is added . . ." He shrugged. "Things change. What are you drinking?"
"As an herbal remedy?" He didn't discount folk medicine as long as it didn't jeopardize a patient's health.
"To relax," she said. "I'm a little nervous. I haven't done this in—" She laughed a little. "I'd be embarrassed to say how long."
That made two of them. McCoy glanced at her ring finger and wasn't surprised to see a white line on fair skin. "Recently divorced?"
He didn't say "sorry" because he wasn't. If she were still with the stupid son of a bitch, McCoy would be drinking alone. He sipped his bourbon, enjoying the smooth glide down his throat.
Chris said, "Faulkner sounds like an author I should remember from Classic American Lit."
"Did you major in English?" he asked. She was well spoken. Intelligent.
"Bio-research. I left the field for—for something else." Chris touched the side of his glass with a fingertip. "Things changed."
The pain in her voice was the kind with which he was intimately familiar. "I'm sorry," he said.
Another woman would have taken his sympathy as an invitation to pour out her life story. Chris smiled determinedly. "What about you?" she asked. "Are you an English professor?"
"I enjoy reading, but I'm a doctor, not a professor."
He waited for the barrage of questions about his occupation and income. She said, "What did you enjoy about the book you mentioned?"
It took him a moment to gain his mental balance. "It's about a proud, bitter woman, her family, her Southern community." McCoy started telling Chris about the book and the multiple narratives. He shared some of the black humor. It felt good to laugh.
"You lied, you're a great storyteller," she said. "You had my sides aching with laughter imagining that poor woman's corpse falling out of the casket and into the river."
McCoy was uncomfortable with compliments. "Don't feed my ego. I'll start to think I can cure a rainy day."
"Maybe you can."
His gaze dropped to her mouth. "I'll offer to make a house call." He was surprised at how badly he wanted to kiss her. "And I don't make house calls."
"Not for a long time. I was top of my class in anatomical and forensic pathology." He felt like a schoolboy, bragging.
She looked impressed and amused. "Does that mean your . . . patients . . . flock to you?"
It had to be the bourbon. He snickered. "Nope. I have a terrible bedside manner."
"Yep. I'm abrasive. Blunt. Cantankerous." He could probably go through the alphabet.
"I don't believe it," she said. "Your tableside manner is so charming." Her eyes danced.
He smirked. Jim-boy wasn't the only one who was deluded.
Thoughts of Jim and the hearing pricked McCoy's conscience. He wouldn't be much of a friend if he drank all night and showed up with a hangover, or made a "house call" and slept through the hearing. "Will you be here tomorrow night?" he asked. "I have a friend who needs my support—whether he realizes it or not—but afterward, I want to see you again."
"I'll be here."
He glanced around the room, irritated to see that during the time they'd spent together the bar had gone from near-empty to packed with customers. The whistles and claps of rowdy drunks shouldn't accompany a first kiss.
McCoy took her hand and brought it to his lips, glad Jim wasn't there to laugh his head off. "Chris . . . what's that short for?"
"Lovely name. It suits you." He bid her goodnight.
"What's McCoy short for?" she called after him.
He chuckled. "Bones."
The next morning he awoke with the feeling that something good was going to happen. Hours later, he figured the universe had a twisted sense of humor and the warm fuzziness should have warned him the day would go to hell.
Jim's academic suspension . . . the distress call from Vulcan . . . the commissioning of cadets . . . using a vaccine to cause an illness in order to get Jim onto the Enterprise shuttle . . . racing to sickbay . . . McCoy didn't think his stress levels could spike any higher.
And then Jim had an allergic reaction.
McCoy looked at the posted duty roster, read the first name, and yelled, "Nurse Chapel! I need fifty ccs of cortizone!"
Somewhere behind him, a woman answered, "Yes, sir!"
He didn't have time to order the woman to move her ass. His patient was leaving the treatment area. Cursing beneath his breath, McCoy ran to catch Jim.
By the time he returned, all medical personnel were assembled in sickbay, preparing to put their training into practice as the ship readied for combat. "Nurse Chapel!" McCoy barked, intending to tear a verbal strip off her hide.
An attractive blonde with her hair pulled back in a style that was soft, yet professional, stepped forward.
Christine! McCoy stared in disbelief and then gestured for her to accompany him into the corridor.
The moment the sickbay doors shut, she said, "My apologies for not being able to assist you immediately, sir. I was treating a crewman for minor lacerations."
"You didn't tell me you were a nurse," he said.
"You didn't tell me you were a Starfleet doctor."
Women! They had the infuriating ability to turn everything around so the man took the blame. "You should have asked," he said. "It had to occur to you that there was a possibility—"
"That you were a cadet? That Vulcan would be attacked and we would be assigned to the same starship? How would that ever occur to me?" Her cheeks were pink, her eyes electric blue. "I'm a nurse, not a psychic."
He was a heartbeat away from grabbing her and doing something rash when the doors to sickbay opened.
Dr. Puri, the chief medical officer, asked, "Is there a problem, Dr. McCoy?"
"No. No problem."
"Excellent. Resume your station, Nurse Chapel."
McCoy couldn't stop himself from watching her. "Who assigned Chapel to this ship, anyway?"
"I don't know," Puri said. "But I like her."
McCoy followed the commander into sickbay. So do I.
A/N: I borrowed the name of The Plough and Stars from an actual Irish pub in San Francisco, and Astro Pop is a real drink. McCoy graduated from the University of Mississippi in both Prime and Alternate realities, so I took the liberty of giving him family in that state. In the original series, he quoted Shakespeare, was fond of mint juleps, and said the "I can cure a rainy day," and "house calls" lines. The quotes from the film that I repurposed (I'm eco-friendly, :D) are more obvious. As for Nurse Chapel, if this reality is open to the pairing of Spock and Uhura, it can support a nurse who falls for a good doctor instead of the first officer.
Special thanks to kerrymdb for transporting ideas back and forth with me and to any reader who boldly traveled here from the Potterverse.
The majority of my fan fics are Harry Potter, but I've written Star Wars and Stargate: SG-1, as well, and I'm a longtime Trek fan. What can I say? Karl Urban's portrayal of Bones inspired me. If this fic inspires a smile in readers, I'd appreciate a review. Creating a story is its own reward, but knowing readers enjoy it is the icing on the cake, and not even chocolate tastes as sweet. ;)
ETA 1June: I originally marked this as a one-shot because I didn't know when I'd be able to continue the story and I didn't want to leave readers hanging (do unto others and all that). The characters wouldn't leave me alone, so I'm working on the second chapter and edited the summary and status to reflect it.