The Feeling of Being in Motion Again - Epilogue
The sun was low in the sky, but still shone brightly on the assembled crowd. It was the height of summer and the heat was still oppressive even this late in the day. A bead of sweat trickled down Christine's back underneath her dress uniform as she walked to take a seat a few rows back from the podium. She kept her eyes on the screen on the platform in front and, not for the first time, felt the weight of so much lost settle in her chest. Her throat tightened.
A shadow fell over her and without looking up, she knew who it was.
"I wasn't sure if you'd be able to come," she said softly.
"He was a fine doctor," McCoy said. "I wanted to pay my respects."
Christine moved her legs so that he could squeeze past. He settled down in the seat beside her and his shoulder brushed slightly against her.
"I also thought you might like some company," he added.
"I do," she said. "Thank you."
She lightly pressed her shoulder to his and left it there. He made no attempt to move away.
The eulogies for Dr. Rajesh Puri were heartfelt and honest. The outpouring of respect and gratitude for the lives he'd saved and changed over his many years of service were numerous and widespread. Christine felt lucky to have had the chance to work with him and tried to focus on the doctor's visage on the screen, the one that showed him smiling and patient. Not the image she had been left with when the recovery crew brought his body back from the wreckage of deck six. Despite the heat, Christine shuddered. McCoy just increased the pressure against her arm.
Memories of the ordeal with the Narada tended to come back to her in flashes during the day and in her dreams at night.
She distinctly remembered being in a class when the call from Vulcan came and she had been ordered to report to the sickbay on the Enterprise. Christine still hadn't figured out if it was irony or fate that she hadn't decided whether or not take the Head Nurse commission Pike had offered. Calling it fate certainly sounded better than calling it ironic.
Everything after that was a blur of inventory, names and doling out assignments. Then after the torpedoes hit and evacuees were brought on board it became sheer, utter work. Endless hours of triage and then endless hours of surgery. She managed to emerge mostly unscathed baring a bruise on the side of her face when she was slammed into a wall during the first attack. It wasn't until hours later when she went to change her filthy uniform that she noticed all the finger-sized bruises around her wrists and arms from various patients looking for something to grip when they cried out in pain.
Her clearest memory was the operation that removed the Centaurian slug from Captain Pike. She remembered every detail of those five hours, beginning with the call to the transporter room to assist, to the painstaking precision the senior medical officers exercised in the extraction. The most vivid part being the terrible lurch the ship made when the warp core was ejected.
She's woken up on the floor next to her bed after a nightmare too many times now to count.
Christine came back to the present as the last eulogy was given and everyone stood for a moment of silence. Then the crowd solemnly dispersed. She nodded to Dr. M'Benga and a few other familiar faces. McCoy stopped to talk to another doctor and she chatted for a minute with one of the nurses and her husband. They eventually found each other again and headed away from the memorial.
The breeze had finally picked up and Chapel gave into the urge to unbutton her top button. McCoy just shoved his hands into his pockets.
"Buy you a drink?" McCoy asked. She looked over at him in mild surprise. He was just staring straight ahead of him, eyes focused on the horizon.
"I'd love one," she said. He offered her his arm still not looking at her. She allowed herself a small smile and slipped her hand through his crooked elbow. He pulled his elbow back to secure her hold on him.
"Ship and Castle all right?" he asked.
They headed away from the campus towards the bar she'd been a few times before with him and Jim.
"Did I tell you I ran into Dr. Grant a few days ago?" he said.
"The infirmary supervisor?"
"The very one. He said in light of the recent events, we no longer need to present ourselves to the Disciplinary Committee and apparently my future as a primary school teacher has been delayed indefinitely," McCoy said in a deadpan that induced Christine to grin.
"Aww, and you were so looking forward to that," she said. "What a shame. All those impressionable young minds."
"I'm not sure how I'm going to cope," he said.
Silence fell after that, because the amount of truth in that statement was not exactly funny.
They arrived at the bar just as the street lights turned on. He loosened his arm to let her enter first and she blinked to adjust her eyes to the dim lighting inside. She headed straight for the bar, McCoy right behind her.
The bartender approached with a genial, "What'll you have?"
"Bourbon, straight up," McCoy said. He looked at Christine and asked, "Gin and tonic?"
"Not tonight," she said. "I'll have whiskey, neat, water back."
McCoy smirked his approval and said to the bartender, "You heard the lady."
They leaned against the bar and waited for their drinks in silence. Once their drinks were handed over to them, they turned to find a booth. Christine slid onto her side while McCoy just seemed to land on his.
"To... Aw hell, what do you want to drink to?" he asked.
Christine thought for a second. "I don't know."
"Cheers, then," he said. She repeated the sentiment and they clinked their glasses together. The whiskey was warm and smooth and hit her in all the right places.
"I saw Pike this morning," McCoy said.
"I'd heard you were asked to be on his recovery team," she said.
"Yeah, well, they needed someone to tell them about the initial mess those bastards left of his nervous system. Looks like he'll be okay. Got a lot of physio ahead of him, but the man's a goddamn fighter."
"Yes, yes he is. Speaking of fighters, how's Jim?"
"Freaking out. Or maybe he's thriving. Hard to tell the difference. Hasn't been able to sleep for more than three hours since it all happened."
"Tell me about it. He's been stuck in a meeting all day. He was going to meet us at the memorial, but it must have gone into overtime." McCoy took a healthy swig of his drink. "What are your plans?"
"Plans? Do you mean long term or for the next hour?" she asked over her glass before taking a sip.
"How about something in between?"
"Well, I plan to drink the rest of this whiskey and then coyly bat my eyelashes at you so you'll get me another one," she said. He snorted, but tipped his head in acquiescence. "Then tomorrow morning I have an appointment with an appointed psychiatrist to discuss my current state of mind."
"I had mine last week," he said. "She told me to schedule at least five more."
"So how is your current state of mind?"
"I keep falling out of bed," she said wryly. "You?"
"I've torn apart three pillows in the last week."
"Is that a new record?"
She lifted her glass. "Congratulations."
They clinked their nearly empty glasses together, and then drained them.
"You promised me a coy look."
Christine ducked her head and then peered up at him through fluttering eyelashes. He chuckled. "That'll do." Then he headed over to the bar and she restrained from actually watching him saunter up to the bar.
Oh, heck, of course she watched him. As much as she wanted to admit to the contrary, she drank in the sight of his profile.
Friendly banter aside, she hadn't actually seen McCoy in a few weeks. Once the Enterprise had been towed back to Earth, the bureaucrats took over. Everyone had been de-briefed and then briefed and then de-briefed again. She'd catch glimpses of the crew in hallways, but the officials were taking care to keep them separated, 'to make sure the facts stood by themselves' was what one advisor said. She'd communicated with Nyota a few times and had visited some of her patients, now situated in the Academy hospital. She hadn't been given any orders yet and felt like she was just floating in uncertain waters. When Christine got the message about Dr. Puri's memorial service, she'd automatically forwarded it to McCoy.
She watched him throw a few peanuts into his mouth from the bowl on the counter and studied the line of his jaw.
"You stare at him any harder and one of you is going to burst into flames," an amused voice said from just behind her. Christine looked up and discovered a grinning Nyota.
"Hey, you," she said standing up. They hugged briefly but firmly. "It's good to see you."
"You too," Nyota said. "How was the memorial?"
Christine lifted a shoulder, but said, "Nice, actually. You had another briefing, didn't you? How did it go?"
"Awful," she said crossing her arms over her chest. "At one point I started speaking in Swahili, because they obviously didn't understand my Standard, seeing as how they repeated the same questions they asked me last week."
"I'm sure that went over well."
"I think the point was made, they didn't ask me to come back," Nyota said with a satisfied quirk to her mouth. "You're here with McCoy?"
"Yes. Well, sort of," she said. "He came to the memorial. And then we came here."
"Nice of him."
"It was. What about you?"
"Oh, well." Nyota glanced at the bar and Christine followed her line of sight. She saw Commander Spock standing stiffly next to a now equally stiff McCoy.
"Oh, I see," Christine said. She looked at her friend. "Things okay?"
"They're... Getting there, I hope," she said. "I'm afraid he's thinking of leaving. Going to the new Vulcan colony."
"And if he is?" Christine asked carefully. "What are you thinking?"
"Honestly?" Nyota asked. "I'm trying not to. At least not for another twenty-four hours. Then I'll start thinking."
"Well, it's always good to have a plan," Christine said nodding seriously. Nyota shot her a mock glare to which Christine just shrugged. Their attention returned to the gentlemen who were approaching the table, drinks in hand.
"Good evening, Lieutenant Chapel," Spock said.
"Good evening, Commander."
"Uhura," McCoy said with a nod.
Oh for heaven's sake, Christine thought. "Would you two like to join us?" she asked. She saw McCoy swallow hard and mentally commended his restraint.
"Oh, no, Christine. That's okay," Nyota said. "We've... We..." She trailed off and looked at Spock who was still holding their drinks.
"We have things to discuss and do not wish to intrude," he supplied.
"Fair enough," McCoy said in relief as he sat down.
"I'm going to see Gaila tomorrow," Nyota said. "They're finally letting her use her arm again and she said she's craving fresh fruit. Apparently, the hospital's supply is abysmal. Do you want to come?"
"I've got a list of old 20th century science fiction novels for her to make fun of, so yes, absolutely," Christine said. "I'd love to see her."
"And double check her diagnosis and treatment program?" McCoy asked with a smirk.
"Are you saying you haven't?" Christine asked. He held his glass up to her in a silent touchè. She turned back to Nyota. "1100 hours okay?"
"Meet you out in front." The women hugged and said good-bye.
"Lieutenant, Doctor," Spock said as he nodded to each of them.
"Spock." McCoy watched as Nyota and Spock walked over to a vacant booth towards the back of the bar. He shook his head.
"What?" Christine asked. She sat down and took a belt from her whiskey.
"Just," he said jerking his head in their direction before taking a swig, "did not see that coming."
"Really?" Christine looked over her shoulder at the couple sitting and talking quietly. Nyota had her hands wrapped around her glass as did Spock. Every now and then, they would brush their knuckles together. "It's been in the making for a while now."
"It has?" McCoy asked looking at Christine in surprise. "Since when?"
"Oh, as long as I've known her," she said. "Probably goes back a ways before then."
McCoy narrowed his eyes. "Son of a bitch. That's who you were talking about? Spock?"
"What? When was I talking about what?"
"That day. The trifecta!"
Christine furrowed her brow and then her eyes widened. "Oh! That."
"Yeah, that," McCoy said. He swallowed a large gulp. "Tall, dark and handsome and you were talking about Spock. Christ."
"Well, umm... He is," she said. He rolled his eyes and stared down at his drink. "But, so are you!"
He slowly dragged his eyes up to hers and she felt her cheeks burn.
Oh, nice, Christine, she thought. Once again, we are reminded why you should eat something before you drink.
"Is that so?" he asked arching a brow.
"Yes," she said evenly. Oh go for it. You can't make it any worse. "You are. Not like Spock. All polished and austere. You're..." She took a drink and gasped a little at the burn.
"I'm-?" he prompted, his lips quirking up.
"You're... Raw," she said. She met his eyes. "You're the most honest and raw person I've ever met. And I'm glad you came to the memorial today. I...wanted to see you."
McCoy just stared back at her with dark, warm eyes. "Aw hell, Christine. You better remind me that I'm a gentleman and that I don't take women home with me after goddamned funerals."
The rasp in his voice and the desire that washed over took her aback. She could go to bed with this man, her friend, her colleague and it had the potential, no-- it was an absolute that it would be earth-moving. But, it wouldn't be right. And it wouldn't be fair to either of them. Not right now.
Armed with this abrupt knowledge, she felt empowered and a little overwhelmed. However, Christine couldn't help the smile that formed. "You're a gentleman, Leonard."
"We sure about that?" he asked, his voice light and teasing, but his eyes remained serious.
"It's one of the only constants in my life right now," she said, Then traced a finger around the rim of her glass and teased, "Besides, it would just give the shrink more fodder if I turned up looking like I hadn't gotten any sleep at all." She looked up from her glass. "I'm assuming that's how I would be looking?"
"Oh, darlin', I can guarantee that's how you'd be looking," he said with an easy grin. "But one of these days, Christine, I'm going to forget my manners."
"Cross my goddamn heart."
She felt giddy. Maybe it was the whiskey and her empty stomach, or maybe it was the promise of more someday, whatever it was, she started giggling. McCoy just shook his head and laughed at her.
They had one more drink and shared "Denobulan" nachos that were no different from any Earth variety, except the fact that the chips were different colors. They chatted about some of their patients and thought up of good lines for Christine to feed to the psychiatrist, all designed to ensure this was the only session she had to endure. She paused the conversation once to wave good-bye to Nyota as she and Spock left. McCoy just rolled his eyes.
The bar started to get to crowded and Christine couldn't hide the yawn that escaped, so they left. They were halfway down the street when the familiar shout of 'Bones!' stopped them. Jim Kirk jogged up to them.
"Hey, guys," he said. "I'm sorry I wasn't here earlier."
"Did you just get out?" McCoy asked. He checked the time. "It's 2100 hours."
"Yeah, believe me, I know," Jim said. He looked a little shell-shocked. "It's... Man, I don't have words for what's going on."
Christine and McCoy shared a worried look.
"Are you okay?" Christine asked.
"Yeah, yeah," he said. Then he looked at McCoy and grinned wildly. "I've got to talk to you."
McCoy frowned. "Okay. Let me walk Christine home."
"Woman! I swear to God. I'm walking you home."
"All right! Don't get all huffy."
"I really do love watching you two."
The trip back to her apartment was mostly silent, Jim seemed very preoccupied with whatever was on his mind and McCoy appeared to be content just to walk. Once they got there, Jim turned to her and with a serious expression asked, "Do you have any plans for the next week or so?"
"Ah, not really," she said.
"Good," he said. "There may be a thing next week or the week after."
"A thing?" she asked.
He nodded. "An important thing."
"And you can't be more specific?"
"Not right now."
"Hunh," she said. "Well, I should be around."
"Good," he said. Then that wild grin resurfaced. "That's awesome."
"O-kay," she said. She looked at McCoy who just made a face and shrugged his shoulders. "I'll say good night, then."
"Night!" Jim said.
"Good night, Christine," McCoy said, his eyes still heavy with his promise.
She let a corner of her mouth turn up. "Good night, Leonard."
As she entered her building she heard, "Oh, so it's Leonard, is it?" Followed shortly by, "Bite me. Now, what the hell is going on?"
The 'thing' turned out to be the ceremony in which James T. Kirk was awarded the USS Enterprise. Throughout the ceremony, Christine expected to feel some sort of disbelief at this incredible turn of events. But when she saw Jim relieve Admiral Pike, all she felt was honored to know and to have served with all these amazing people.
Precisely a week later, Christine found herself once again waiting in the former-Captain Pike's office. Her hair was pulled back and her uniform was neatly pressed. The door to the office opened and the receptionist stood up quickly, but Jim Kirk just waved at her.
"Sorry, Miss Miller," he said with a wince. "I promise to let you announce the next visitor."
"You've said that for the last four," Miss Miller said disapprovingly. "Lieutenant Chapel is here for you."
"Thank you." Jim grinned at Christine who stood up and walked over. "Lieutenant, after you."
"Thank you, captain," she said entering the office where Admiral Pike and McCoy were waiting for her. Still in his wheelchair, Admiral Pike came over to shake her hand.
"Lieutenant, as always, a pleasure to see you," he said. He glanced around the room, then back at her with a glint in his eyes. "Deja vu all over again?"
"Something like that, admiral," she said with a slight nod. "And the pleasure is mine."
"Lieutenant Chapel," McCoy said from his position next to the desk. One corner of his mouth turned up.
"Well, now that we've established who we all are, take a seat, lieutenant," Jim said gesturing to a chair in front of the desk. Admiral Pike pulled back to a position next to the desk and McCoy dropped into the chair next to Christine. "I have to say, lieutenant, your record is outstanding. You've shown great aptitude for stressful situations, your work planetside and during missions is exemplary. You have a remarkable-- Oh, forget it. Christine, I'd like you be the Enterprise's Head Nurse."
Christine blinked at the sudden departure from the formalities. Pike coughed into his hand.
"I know, admiral, I apologize for the informality, but the first time I met this woman I told her she smelled like cookies," Jim said. He pinned Christine with a serious look. "Fact is you're a great nurse. Another fact is that guy—" He pointed to McCoy. "—is one of the few people who can keep me in line. Which leads me to the final fact, which is you're one of the few people who can keep him in line. Not only would you be serving the Federation by taking this commission, you'd be serving the known universe."
She opened her mouth to say something, but Jim interrupted her. "Wait. I know that you are still in the middle of medical school. The last thing I'm going to do is order you to give that up. This is a choice. I want you on my ship. But, I only want you there if you want to be there."
Christine studied the captain. It struck her that the last time she was in this office the weight of such a choice was staggering. However, now there was really no choice here to be made. She raised her head.
"Gentlemen, I can honestly say that there is no place I would rather be than on the Enterprise." She spared a quick glance at McCoy. The assignment, like their relationship, promised more than she'd ever imagined. She allowed her smile to come through. "Thank you. I gladly accept the commission."
A/N: I would just like to point out, that when I started this story, it was going to be a one-shot. However, all of your wonderful reviews spurred me on. Each alert in my Inbox makes me grin from ear to ear. So, Thank You to everyone who has read and reviewed. I hope you have enjoyed this story as much as I enjoyed writing it. A very, very big thank you must go to my 'most excellent' beta, Kerichi, who has helped me reign in my adverbs and provided a much-needed sounding board. I will be back with a sequel in a few weeks! Please, do let me know your thoughts on the epilogue and I will see you all soon when I return with:
A rash of illnesses threatens the crew of USS Enterprise. Will the cure be found? And will Doctor McCoy ever truly ask Nurse Chapel out on a date? Stay tuned for Standing in the Doorway the next adventure in the Going to Georgia series!