McCoy had contacted sickbay to have a patient transport standing ready. When the turbolift doors opened, he was surprised to see Wen and Gottesman.
Pike said, "Pulled rank on the corpsmen, Doctors?"
"Yes, Captain," the men answered in unison.
McCoy assisted Pike onto the transport. "I'll take your end," he told Gottesman. "Go prepare the primary biobed." The neurosurgeon had completed a post-graduate fellowship in spine surgery. Pike's conditions required the doctor's full range of expertise.
"I was surprised not to see Puri," Pike said as Gottesman took off running and the transport eased into motion. "He's never stayed behind on any other mission."
Pike's gaze asked a question McCoy wished he didn't have to answer. "He's dead, sir. An explosion on Deck Six."
Pike exhaled heavily. "David Puri was a good man. A good friend."
"Yes, sir." McCoy glanced at Christine. Her eyes were misty. He wanted to comfort her but couldn't. Senior officers didn't hug subordinates, at least not in public.
Ensign Ruiz started clapping when Captain Pike entered sickbay. The rest of the staff and the patients joined in.
Pike raised his hand, a commanding presence even while lying flat. There was immediate silence. "I appreciate the sentiment, but there's a battle ahead. As you were."
McCoy and Wen transferred Pike to the biobed. The containment field generated by the overhead sensor cluster sterilized all matter within its radius and scanned the patient, displaying data on the screens of the biofunction monitor. Chapel and Johnson readied the patient and McCoy assisted Gottesman to remove the Centaurian slug from Pike's brain stem.
Afterwards, McCoy nodded to the biofunction screen displaying the scan of Pike's spinal column. "I'm just an old country doctor," McCoy said, "but it looks like the Romulans cut his spinal cord."
"A partial cut," Gottesman said. "There will be some sensation present below the level of injury."
"Preventing escape, yet allowing the prisoner to feel torture. Efficient bastards."
"And technologically superior. What's been done—" Gottesman shook his head.
Fury churned in McCoy's gut. There was no justification for committing such an atrocity.
A voice said, "Excuse me, Doctors." It was Christine.
"Yes?" McCoy snapped.
She held up a vial containing the slug. "Shall I destroy this or remove it to the lab for study?"
McCoy wanted to blast the thing with his personal phaser. "Take it to the lab," he said, tacking on "please" as an apology for displacing anger.
"Yes, sir," she said softly.
McCoy watched her go, thinking Christine personified grace under pressure. He turned to see Gottesman looking at him with an upraised brow. "What?" he asked curtly.
The biofunction monitor beeped. Captain Pike was coming out of anesthesia. McCoy went to break the news about his condition.
Pike took it amazingly well. "Hey, if I can flex my toes, that means I can still tap to the beat at concerts."
Gottesman nodded. "And control of the sphincters is intact."
"That's certainly a plus."
McCoy said, "There are spine clinics . . . therapies . . ."
"And I'll try them all," Pike said. "I'm not giving up, I'm accepting what I cannot change, living one day at a time."
"That's very enlightened of you," Gottesman said.
Pike grinned. "I didn't make it up. It's from the Serenity Prayer."
McCoy left the captain in Gottesman and Nurse Johnson's capable hands. To keep from walking over to Christine and asking her to give him a patient update in his office, he made his rounds.
A few minutes later, the wail of a klaxon blared. The ship shook. Supplies on tables crashed to the floor.
"Computer, is the enemy firing on us?" Pike called out.
A calm, feminine voice sounded over the alarm. Negative. The enemy vessel has been destroyed.
A crack appeared in the glass separating the intensive care unit from the rest of sickbay. Equipment rattled.
"What's happening?" McCoy shouted.
The computer took a moment to process. The gravitational pull of a black hole is damaging the structural integrity of the Enterprise.
One of the nurses broke down into sobs. McCoy yelled over the noise, "Tell me engineering found a solution, dammit!"
Affirmative. The warp core has been ejected and will detonate in five seconds.
McCoy searched for Christine. When their eyes met, she smiled.
The ship tilted like the floor of a fun house.
Above the cries and shouts rang Captain Pike's voice. "We've blasted out of range! We made it!"
Cheers that arose that drowned out the klaxon and continued after the alarm ceased ringing.
The next hours passed in a blur of activity. After the Enterprise docked, patients were transported to the Starfleet Medical facility in San Francisco. McCoy oversaw Captain Pike's transfer. He would have liked to have asked Christine to go with them in the shuttle, but he needed her triage team to stand duty until relief arrived to care for the crew who were staying aboard.
"I'll be in touch," he said when informing her of his decision.
"I'll look forward to it."
McCoy started to walk away and turned back. "Soon," he said.
Christine's mouth curved in a way that played in his memory as the group accompanying Captain Pike traveled to the shuttle bay. He didn't realize someone was waiting to see them off until a hand clapped him on the shoulder.
McCoy chuckled when Jim wrapped an arm around his shoulders and crowed, "I didn't go in guns blazing, but we sure went out in a blaze of glory!"
"Yippee-ki-yay," said Pike. "Excellent leadership."
Jim laughed and walked over to shake Pike's hand. "Thank you, sir. I learned from the best captain in Starfleet."
"I may not be captain much longer."
"Then you'll be admiral," Jim said.
Pike's expression was pensive, yet resigned. "There are worse fates."
"Like never reaching the stars. Thanks for talking to me, maaan," Jim said with a grin.
McCoy had heard how Jim met Pike several times. He said, "You owe him more than thanks. A drink, at the least."
Jim told Pike, "I'll do better than that. After you bust out of the hospital, I'll throw a party to celebrate. We'll invite the crew. Bones'll make the arrangements, he's organized."
"Gee, thanks." McCoy gestured for the corpsmen to take Pike onto the shuttle.
"I'll look forward to it," Pike said.
McCoy froze. The captain didn't have a knowing twinkle in his eye or give any indication that he was repeating something he'd overheard, but what if he had? Would it matter?
McCoy spent the trip down to the planet trying not to imagine all the ways shuttlecraft could malfunction and wondering how to ask Christine out. Should he do it when they were talking by viewer, or would it be better to drop by her house or meet in the pub?
On terra firma, he said goodbye to Pike, briefed the specialists, and was debriefed by Starfleet officials. By the time he walked out of headquarters, McCoy was hungry as a bear and just as grouchy. Academy food wouldn't hit the spot. He needed southern home cooking and lots of it. Fried chicken; spicy black-eyed peas and rice; collards and corn bread; sweet tea: the Hard Knox cafe had it all, and boxed it to go.
When he returned to the dorm, the cadets sharing the turbolift remarked how great the food smelled. McCoy told them the name of the restaurant as he exited.
The dorm was the same half ship-shape, half pigsty he'd left. Jim was a good friend but a slob roommate. He never made his bed, his clothes piled on the floor, and his desk was covered in food wrappers and drink cans. McCoy shrugged and unpacked dinner on his own meticulously clean desk. His stomach rumbled in anticipation.
As he picked up a chicken leg and took a bite, a notice flashed onto the screen of the viewer on the wall behind his desk.
Unviewed messages: one.
McCoy finished the piece of chicken and two others, ate a square of cornbread dripping with honey, and washed it down with tea before saying, "Play message."
He expected it to be a "glad you're safe, tell me all about it" message from one of his relatives or a former colleague who'd heard he was one of the Enterprise crew. It was a shock to see his ex-wife. Barbara's face was rounder and extremely tanned. She was still pulling the old trick of lowering her head and then looking up to appear sweet and vulnerable.
"Hello, Leonard," she said. "You don't know how relieved I was to find out you were on the Enterprise, that you survived. All the news programs call you a hero. If your mother was still with us she would be so proud."
McCoy had no doubt of that. His suspicions were about Barbara's motives for contacting him three years after the divorce.
"I'm proud of you, too," she said, "and, well, since Beau and I aren't together anymore, and your cousin Suzanne told me you aren't dating anyone, I thought—" Barbara's image smiled as though butter wouldn't melt in her mouth. "I'd love to come to San Francisco. I miss you."
She was lyin' like a no-legged dog, hoping to use him in some scheme, probably revenge against Beauregard Lee, the divorce attorney stupid enough to cheat with her but smart enough not to make it legal.
McCoy said, "Computer, delete message and put a block on the caller." He wasn't interested in holding onto the past.
After a forkful of black-eyed peas, he amended his thought. Southern food, caring people and good times: those he would never want to leave behind. It was Barbara and bad memories he was determined to forget.
He tapped his communicator. "Nurse Chapel."
That was quick. He sat up straight. "It's Bones. Where are you?"
"Where's home?" If she lived in one of the dorms, he would brush his teeth and walk right over.
"Dolores Park. It's my parents' house. They turned their basement into an apartment."
Did it have a private entrance? Would her folks call the police if he showed up?
Christine said, "It isn't dark and grim. Bay windows overlook the front garden and—"
"I'd like to see it," he said.
He did need sleep, and didn't want to appear too eager. "At seven?"
"Or six. Whenever you like."
"Six it is." McCoy said goodnight before he changed the time to A.M. There was a place he could get some N'awlins-style beignets and coffee. He pictured Christine with powdered sugar on her lips and suddenly wasn't hungry for food. He put away the leftovers.
In the morning, he awakened to the clang of metal. Jim was shooting cans like basketballs into the recycle bin. "Morning!" he said. "The chicken in the fridge, is that from last night?"
"Great! I'm starving, but I was afraid to eat it." Jim grabbed a chicken leg and held up another container. "You want the green stuff?"
"Collards," McCoy said, "And no, I want coffee."
"On your desk."
McCoy checked the time. Eight o'clock. "What are you doing up?"
"Never went to sleep. A bunch of admirals came aboard, grilled me like a steak and then took me back to headquarters for an official debriefing. By the time I was through—" Jim paused to take a drink of coffee. "I figured why bother." He tossed the chicken bone into the trash.
"And the reason why you're cleaning?" McCoy asked.
"Mom's coming to see me." Jim jerked a thumb toward his viewer. "I got the message and went straight to the galley for coffee."
Winona Kirk was a formidable woman. "When will she arrive?"
"Couple of hours, maybe less." Jim held out two bags.
McCoy reached for the trash bag, the lesser of two evils. "God only knows what's in your laundry."
"That sounds like a song." Jim hummed as he stuffed dirty clothes into the laundry sack, singing, "God only knows" every once in a while in a God-awful falsetto.
Thankfully, it only took ten minutes to clear the mess. McCoy ordered his friend to nap until Mrs. Kirk arrived and went to shower and shave. When he returned, Jim was lying face down across his newly made bed, snoring.
McCoy sat down at his desk and directed the computer to establish communication with Suzanne Baker. His cousin's face soon appeared on his viewer screen.
"Leonard!" she cried. "I was just sayin' to Mama I couldn't believe the boy who used to spit watermelon seeds at me grew up to save the planet."
"Give Aunt Ina my love," he said. "Tell her—and anyone else you think might be interested—that I'm dating someone."
Suzanne's eyes widened. "You are? Who is she? What's she like?"
"Her name's Christine, and she's a steel magnolia." Beauty, grace, and strength, those were qualities southern women prized and Christine embodied naturally.
After he finished the call, McCoy deliberated whether to ask Christine to move up the time of their date, or find an excuse to be "in the neighborhood" and drop by.
A chime sounded. They had a visitor.
"Hello, Mrs. Kirk, nice to see you," McCoy said as the door panel slid open. "I'll wake Jim."
"Don't," she said. "It's been a long time since I've watched him sleep." Her angular features softened. "I miss that part of motherhood now it's gone. I'll wait and let him rest a while longer."
"All right. Tell Jim I'll see him later. Enjoy your visit, ma'am."
"Thank you, and it's nice to see you, too, Leonard."
He left the dorm and hailed the first cab gliding by the Academy. He asked to be let off by the shops close to Christine's address. He made a few purchases and walked to Christine's house, a Victorian that rubbed elbows with its stately neighbors.
A woman trimming the side hedge lowered her shears. "May I help you?"
"I'm looking for Christine." He felt like a schoolboy trying not to fidget beneath a parental eye. The family resemblance told him this was Mrs. Chapel.
A shade in the lower set of bay windows shot upward. "No, I'm not!"
He could see Christine, dressed in a robe, gesturing. "Come in, Bones!"
"The stairs to her apartment are inside the foyer to the right," Mrs. Chapel said.
"Thank you, ma'am." McCoy held the shopping bags in one hand so he could offer the other. "I'm Leonard McCoy. It's a pleasure to meet you."
Mrs. Chapel removed her gardening glove and shook his hand. "And you also, Doctor McCoy."
When he reached the door to the apartment, he found it standing open. "I'm in the bathroom, changing," Christine called, "I'll be out in a minute."
He set the bags down on the kitchen counter that also served as the dining area with stools for seating. The rectangular apartment was an open plan, allowing the bay windows to fill the space with natural light. Bedroom, sitting, and kitchen areas were uncluttered and tidy.
McCoy huffed in amusement. She must have made the bed and run to the bathroom at the opposite end of the apartment. A glimpse of black material caught his eye. He walked over. There was a robe on the floor, the long sash visible beyond the footboard.
She'd dropped the robe and streaked naked.
The click of the bathroom door opening sent McCoy hurrying away from the bed. "I took you at your word and came over whenever I liked," he said.
"I'm glad you did."
She wore a gauzy sundress that made her eyes impossibly blue. "I got food for a picnic," he said. "They didn't have a basket."
"I'll borrow one from my parents. I was thinking we'd have a picnic later actually. They're having movie night in the park, if you're interested."
He picked up a bag. "I'll put the stuff in the fridge."
They ended up going to Fisherman's Wharf, walking through the marketplace of historic Pier 39 and visiting the aquarium. For locally produced seafood, Christine brought him away from the tourist areas, to a restaurant that served warm crab rolls. The food made him sleepy.
"You need a nap," Christine said. "Why don't we go back to the house?"
Was that an invitation? He didn't want to assume. "Your sofa looked comfortable."
"It's only five feet long. The bed's big enough for two," Christine said. "I trust you'll be a gentleman."
An invitation, but not a full one. He asked, "Is a gentleman permitted a good night kiss?"
"Or two . . . or three . . . ."
Lying in bed facing each other, the first, soft, kiss was followed by kisses that became longer, and deeper, until Christine said, "Maybe I should nap on the couch."
"I trust you." McCoy shifted onto his back and closed his eyes. It was like being a teenager again, content to suffer frustration to be close to a special girl.
After their picnic in the park, he walked Christine home and politely declined when Mr. Chapel offered to drive him back to the Academy. Even when he was fifteen he'd never let a girlfriend's father drive him home. That was asking for trouble, or worse: a man-to-man talk.
He kissed Christine goodnight on the front porch, the first of many such kisses. Since Jim divided his time between Starfleet and taking advantage of newfound hero status to party every night, McCoy didn't think his friend noticed his absences until Jim asked at the Starfleet memorial service, "Which one's your girlfriend? Point her out."
McCoy had been looking for Christine in a section filled with nurses and medical staff. He turned his attention to his program. The list of those killed in battle filled pages.
"Fine," Jim said out the side of his mouth. "Don't tell me. Keep pretending to volunteer at the infirmary—which, it so happens, I visited last night after proving I could crush a shot glass with one hand."
McCoy couldn't reply. The service was beginning.
Afterwards, when they filed out of the Romanesque auditorium, Jim asked, "Did I mention Nurse Betty was both friendly and informative?"
McCoy scowled. "OK, I've haven't been in."
"Because of a girl."
"She's not a cadet?"
Jim's eyebrows shot toward his hairline. "She has her own place and you're sleeping in the dorm every night?"
"Yeah, I am." McCoy tried to explain. "She's . . ."
"Special, goddamn it!" McCoy's voice had risen, causing several people to give him disapproving glares. "Hell's bells," he muttered.
Outside, Jim asked, "What's her name?" When there was no answer, he said, "Tell your secret and I'll tell mine."
Jim glanced around as if to make sure no one was in hearing range and then said, "My party will be a double celebration. Our victory over the Narada . . . and my promotion to captain of the Enterprise!"
You gotta be kidding me. McCoy stifled his first, cynical response, preferring to have faith that Jim was the best man for the job. "Congratulations!"
"I want you to be chief medical officer."
"Same staff as before?"
"Shouldn't be a problem."
"Thanks, Jim." McCoy strode toward the dorm. If she was home—
"Hey! You didn't tell me her name!"
McCoy yelled over his shoulder, "It's Christine!"
She'd gone straight home after the memorial service. On screen, her eyes were watery and the tip of her nose was pink. He said, "I'm coming over," jogged downstairs and flagged a cab.
Christine ran outside to meet him, throwing her arms around him in a hug he returned with equal fierceness. "They shouldn't have died, it wasn't fair," she said in a tear-choked voice.
"No, it wasn't."
She pressed closer, body shaking with her emotions.
He stroked her hair, her arms. "I should've asked you to sit with me. I'm sorry."
"Me being selfish, not wanting anyone to find out, not wanting to share your attention." McCoy felt guilty and ready to make things right. "That's going to change," he said. "Starting now."
"Christine?" her mother called from inside.
He took her hand and pulled her toward the sidewalk. "Starting later," he said, leading her to the park.
They sat on a bench, fingers entwined, watching people enjoy the balmy day. "Jim's going to be captain of the Enterprise," McCoy said. "He's appointed me chief medical officer and I'd like you to be head nurse."
Christine's smile was the most beautiful thing in the universe. "I'll only call you Bones outside sickbay," she said. "On duty, it's Doctor McCoy."
"Deal," he said, sealing it with a kiss.
On the night of the party, McCoy was listening with half an ear to the hotel manager's assurances that the catering staff was the best in the city when Christine entered the ballroom. She wore a strapless white gown that made him forget how much he disliked wearing a tuxedo. He went to meet her.
"You've done a wonderful job," Christine said.
"Thanks." He kissed her hand and heard a splutter of laughter. McCoy said, "Let me introduce you to my friends."
October 2016: Had to update the author note to say the irony of this ending doesn't escape me. In the second alternate timeline film, it's heavily implied that Jim Kirk is the reason Nurse Chapel is serving on the outer frontier instead of the Enterprise. I remember thinking, "F-you, whoever came up with that. You rogered my idea for a McCoy/Chapel Roger Korby story!" Ah, well, maybe in the future.
In this chapter, like the first, I used the name and ambience of a real establishment in San Francisco. The Hard Knox cafe is located in the Dogpatch neighborhood and looks like a shack with corrugated metal walls and old signs nailed up everywhere. General Beauregard Lee is the name of a groundhog on a ranch near Atlanta who gives Punxsutawney Phil a run for his money. The phrase "butter wouldn't melt in her mouth" I've always heard referred to someone who appears innocent or sweet and isn't, which fits Barbara, who deservedly felt low as a toad in a dry well when McCoy never returned her call. God Only Knows is a classic Beach Boys song, and it was fun to imagine Jim, goofy with sleep deprivation, trying to hit the high notes.
Special thanks to readers (past and present) who made me happy as a puppy with two tails with their reviews. :)