Title: I'm Not Cheap, But I Can be Had
Rating: M - for slight sexual situations, language and mild violence
Word Count: 15,157
Summary: What happens when the mild-mannered Head Nurse has to survive in the jungle with her CMO?

Notes: This would be the point where I freely admit that I have no shame. I was attacked by a rabid plot bunny demanding that I re-write Romancing the Stone with a McCoy/Chapel pairing. If you have not seen the movie with Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas, go now and watch it. Classic cinematic gold from the 80s! Anyway, this little plot bunny was very persistent.

I do not own any of the characters or the general plot. If you recognize it, it is not mine. I'm only doing this for the lulz.

A very big thank you goes out to my wonderful beta and enabler, fringedweller! And also to the lovely people who told me to just go for it!

His strong silhouette appeared atop the hill. Angelina felt her heart soar like a falcon into the sky. He quickly dispatched the bandits with ease and raced his horse down the hill towards her. She sped down the stairs of the porch.

He dismounted swiftly and Angelina threw herself into Jesse's warm, strong arms.

"I've longed for you so much, my love," she said lifting her face up to his.

"As have I. You will never be alone again, I promise," he responded deeply before covering her mouth with his. The flame of passion within her breast ignited and swept over her entire being. He lifted her into his arms and without removing his luscious, firm lips from hers carried her into the homestead.

The sun set as they expressed their love for each other and they knew they would never be parted ever again.

Christine let her fingers hover over the keypad and took a shaky breath. Then she typed in the final two words.

The End.

She lowered the PADD to her lap and gazed up at the ambient light emitted from the ceiling. Her eyes slowly shut and she tilted her head to listen to the soft thrum of the Enterprise. She sighed in a kind of wry contentment.

Of all the stupid hobbies to pick up, she thought to herself as she opened her eyes and regarded the digital story still open to its last page. Leave it to you to pick the most embarrassing one.

She'd been given her first romance novel shortly after graduating from nursing school by a colleague. Christine had just gone through a horrific break-up with her then fiancé and exclaimed one night over cocktails that she had resolved to never 'fall' for a man ever again. Her friend had patted her arm and given her a playlist of romance novels. The reason behind the gift was to have something light and fluffy distract her with. Christine had scoffed at first, but then gave one a try. Then another. It was a little startling to see how quickly they became a comfort to her in the evenings after a long day of patching people back together. Then one day she decided to try her hand at writing one. One little draft turned into a long story. She submitted it under a penname to a publishing company late one night after too many glasses of red wine and it was accepted.

Turned out that not only could she list all the symptoms of most of the known diseases in the universe, she could also write best-selling romance novels.

Go figure.

It's a good hobby, as far as hobbies go. It brings in a few extra credits and she really does enjoy the act of writing. Even if it still makes her feel a little silly.

However, she is first and foremost a nurse. A good nurse. That's what she wants recognition for. Therefore, she lives in a perpetual state of fear that someone will figure out that the romance novelist 'Carrie Church' is actually her.

Christine tapped the screen to close her manuscript and then stretched her arms up over her head. She looked around the quiet and mostly empty sickbay. It was the stillest she'd ever seen it. She wondered how the negotiations were going on the planet below.

The planet Cundinamarca was not unlike Earth's country of Colombia. It had a vast range of terrain from jungles to sandy beaches to large mountain ranges. It was still several years behind technology-wise. Their communications system was suitable for planet-side calls, but they still had severe interference when speaking to ships in orbit. However, all reports from Starfleet and the planet's government described it as peaceful and ideal for a long-overdue shore leave while the captain and his senior staff helped the government out with a few minor matters.

Everyone had leapt at the chance to go. Even McCoy seemed relieved, even though he put up a good fight against leaving his sickbay.

Unfortunately, it was soon discovered after most of the ship's personnel and senior staff had been beamed down, it also suffered from a lot of the same political issues 20th century Colombia did. The reason the Enterprise was in orbit around the small planet was to help track down a probe that had been ejected from a freighter which had been fired upon by a violent militia hell-bent on gaining control of the government. The probe had been carrying a state-of-the-art crystal that would help regulate the planet's power supplies and improve their shaky communications systems.

Christine hadn't actually heard from anyone from the planet in a few hours and tried to ignore the worry that had settled into her stomach.

She stood up and decided to go through her rounds, even with the lack of patients. She was checking on her inventory when all of a sudden, the comm on her desk started chiming. Christine hurried over to answer. The screen flared into life and she was startled to see a very shaken up and disheveled Gaila appear.

"Gaila! What on earth?" Christine asked.

"Oh, Christine! You've got to help me," the Orion said her eyes darting off to the side and then back to Christine's.

"What? What's going on?" Christine asked leaning forward.

"I need you to bring something to me. You have to go into my room and log onto my terminal. You know how, right?"

"Well, yes. But, Gaila, are you okay? Is that a bruise?"

Gaila's hand reached up to touch her cheek and she said, "It's nothing. Christine, you have to listen! I need you to log on, my password is 0856794, did you get that?"

"Ah," Christine scrambled for her PADD and typed it in. "Yes, I got it. Gaila, please tell me what's going on!"

"They want the crystal! They need it and they know that we have the location of it. And you can't tell anyone else! No one! They'll know! They're watching Jim and everyone. If you try to make any contact with anyone… You have to do what they say or else they'll..." Gaila broke off and bit her lip.

Christine's eyes widened and she felt extremely out of her depth, but she said, "Okay. It's okay. After I log on, what do I need to do?"

"Go to the Engineering folder and in that you should see a file called Cundin054. It's a map of the surface that shows where the energy readings of the crystal came from. I need you to upload that to a PADD and bring it to me, down on the planet," Gaila said.

"What? I can't go planet-side! I'm not authorized to do that!" Christine said quickly. "Gaila, I can't!"

"You have to! Oh, Christine, you're the only one I can trust! Please, all you have to do is catch a transport to Cordillera from the main shuttle port. Then go to the Hotel Cordillera. Call frequency 561234, did you get that?"

"Yes, yes. But, Gaila... I should really tell someone…"

"Christine, please! You can't tell anyone!" The muzzle of an antiquated phaser pressed against Gaila's temple. Christine gasped sharply and reached out a hand to touch the screen. "You have to get here!"

The screen went dark.

Christine sat in shocked silence and then stood up so quickly, she saw spots for a second. She shook her head and hurried off to Gaila's room. The entire way there a voice in her head whispered quietly that she was in no way up for this.

The voice got a little louder when as she beamed into a out of the way space in the shuttle port. The utter chaos that assailed her eyes was unlike anything she'd ever seen before. She clutched her bag to her side tightly.

It had been surprisingly easy to find the file on Gaila's terminal. It had been even easier to convince a young ensign to beam her down to the planet. She'd just given him a quick story about medical help being needed and she had to be beamed down immediately. He'd done so with a smile on his face. Christine felt unbelievably guilty and promised herself to make sure he didn't get into trouble.

She slowly made her way over to the row of transports in front of the port. Her grip on her bag was making her fingers ache. She felt out of place in her civilian blouse and skirt and her blonde hair in a regulation bun at the top of her head amongst the tan and dark-haired natives.

You are not so not up for this, the voice whispered again. You're just a nurse. You're just civilian personnel, you're not a Starfleet officer! The closest you've ever gotten to survival training was when you were a teenager in Girl Scouts and I don't think selling cookies is going to get you anywhere here.

But, it's Gaila, she whispered back.

The voice had no answer to that.

She felt her confidence slipping again when she realized that all the signs were in Cundin and she had no way of translating any of it. Christine rummaged in her bag until she found the little card with a few Cundin phrases. She stepped up to one of the buses and asked the driver, "Is this the bus to Cordillera?"

"Eh?" was the answer.

"Oh," she faltered and tried her best to follow what was on her card. "Es es-tes el a Corda-"

"Cordillera?" an accented polished voice came from behind her. She whirled around and came face to face with an older man with the hint of a smile on his face. He was medium-height and had thick dark hair and an even thicker mustache.

"Oh, you speak Standard?" she asked.

"Of course, how may I help?" he asked meeting her eyes. She felt a few misgivings just accepting help from a stranger, but at least he spoke Standard.

"Is this the transport to Cordillera?" she asked.

His eyes flickered up and then back to her. "Yes, it is. It will get you to Cordillera."

"Oh, thank goodness. Thank you, very much." She sighed with relief and tucked her translation card back into her bag and smiled again at the gentleman. He smiled back at her. Christine boarded the bus and so did he.

She chose a window seat and settled down for what would hopefully be a short trip. The bus pulled away and before she knew it, the effect of the hypospray she'd given herself for motion sickness kicked in and she dozed off.

Christine woke with a start and it took her a moment to realize just where she was. On a bus. On a planet. Without leave. Trying to get to Gaila. She glanced out her window and did a double take. Her mouth dropped open. She wrestled the latch to open the window.

"Oh, dear Lord," she said out loud. The sight that greeted her was not one of beaches and resorts, but one of thick, green trees and steep cliffs. With a horrified look she scanned the horizon to find anything approaching civilization. Nothing. This was a jungle. She nearly choked at the sight of two monkey-like creatures swinging from tree to tree. Christine swallowed hard. She looked around the bus and caught the eye of the gentleman she had listened to the previous evening. All trace of gentility was gone and he now watched her with cold eyes.

She turned away quickly and a sinking feeling washed over her, prickling her skin with cold dread. With a look of determination that was all for show, she stood up and tried to make her way to the front of the bus, tripping and apologizing to the other passengers. Once she made it to the front, she tried to speak again to the driver.

"Hello? Sorry to bother you..." she said.

"Eh?" the driver said turning back to look at her.

"Ah, when do we get to Cordillera?"


"I need to get to Cordillera. When do we get there?" she tried again helplessly. She glanced up and saw the man with the mustache get up out of his seat. "Please, when do we get to Cordillera?"

"Eh? No se!" He turned to face her again, taking his eyes off the road completely.

"Corda-- Aaah!"

Christine yelled out when she saw the small jeep-like vehicle right in the bus' path. The driver yelled and slammed on the brakes, but it was too late to avoid a collision. Christine fell to the floor as the bus hit the jeep and the entire bus erupted in yells and curses. She winced as her hip struck the unforgiving floor and ducked her head down to protect her head from the falling baggage. Once the motion stopped, the driver threw the doors open and hopped off and started yelling at the jeep. The rest of the passengers exited grumpily and Christine just stayed put, cataloguing each person for any injuries. Miraculously, no one seemed any worse for wear. She tumbled out of the bus after them and looked over the jeep and was relieved to find it empty. The passengers were casually talking amongst themselves and taking this and that from the overturned jeep.

"What are--" she started to say. But they all just headed down the road. "Wait! Where are you going?"

She stood a little ways apart helplessly clutching her bag. She gave herself a shake and headed after the rest of the passengers. The man with the mustache stepped in front of her. Christine took a step back.

"You don't have to follow them," he said with a smile that looked very out of place. "There will be another bus soon."

"There will?" she asked. "Are you sure?"

"Of course. We are not as regimented as Starfleet, but we do keep to schedules," he said. He tipped his head and she nodded briefly. He walked a little down the road as if to stretch his legs and Christine decided to sit down on a piece of discarded luggage and regroup.

She was pretty sure she didn't trust the guy, but she'd give it a minute or two and see if anyone else came down the road. She breathed in and out slowly to calm her nerves.

The man walked back into her line of sight and half-smiled while lighting a dark-colored cigarette. Christine straightened a little. He turned his back to her. Then with an abrupt turn he faced her again, this time pointing an old-style phaser at her.

"What?" she shrieked as she stood up quickly.

"Bolcha!" he demanded.

"What?" Christine said again, still trying to get a handle on the situation.

"Your purse!" he shouted.

"No!" she said gripping her bag to her chest. "What?"

A noise distracted both of them. They turned to look at the ridge and the form of a man came into view. He was backlit by the early morning sun, but something about his form struck Christine as familiar.

"Hey!" the man with the mustache shouted.

The man on the ridge stopped. The mustached man fired the phaser at him. Christine cried out. The phaser hit the side of the tree closest to the man. He jumped a little and raised his hands in the air. Suddenly, he grabbed a phaser from somewhere on his back and fired back. Christine ducked down as the blast hit near the bad man's feet. He ducked and fired back. The air filled with blasts from both men and Christine, feeling like a first class idiot, fell to the ground to hide under the bus. The man from the ridge shot out the windows of the bus and she heard someone clamber over the jeep, land heavily and run away. Then it was silent.

Christine lowered herself even more to the ground.

"Son of a bitch! What the hell happened to my transport?" the man said in Standard. Oh, God. That drawl was awfully familiar. He kicked a piece of debris out of the way. "God damnit!"

God damnit, indeed, she thought cringing.

Christine watched his boots head her way and she considered burrowing into the dirt. He dropped to one knee and peered under the bus. His eyes widened comically and he shouted, "Chapel? What the hell?"

With as much composure as she could collect, she answered coolly, "Doctor McCoy."

Christine stood off to one side as McCoy ranted about all his missing equipment to his jeep. She was having a hard time reconciling the usually neatly dressed doctor with the man in front of her. He had on loose khaki trousers and a fitted black t-shirt underneath a brown jacket. He looked like he'd been out in the elements for at least a day or more.

"Right," he said when he was finished picking over the wreckage. "They just took all of it?"

She nodded. "I didn't know it was yours. I would have tried to stop them."

"Sure, you would," he said wryly. She frowned at him. "How the hell did it happen?"

"Ah, the driver was distracted," she said looking down at the ground. "I think."

"Distracted by what?" McCoy asked flatly. Christine flinched guiltily. "Right, of course. Jesus."

"What are you doing here?" Christine asked.

"Seeing the sights, obviously," was the caustic reply. "I came for peace and quiet. A few days hiking on my own. I told Jim to come and get me when he was done debating politics."

"Oh," Christine said. He bent over to look under the front seat of the jeep and she saw the bulge of his phaser on his back. "I thought you didn't like weapons."

McCoy glared at her and the part of her that was still freaking out over recently having had a phaser pointed at her wanted to cower. The part that was used to her CMO's attitude stood tall.

"I don't," he said. "That doesn't mean I don't know how to use one." He walked over to her. "Which brings us neatly back to you. Chapel, what the hell are you doing here?"

Christine swallowed. "Gaila contacted me and said she wanted me to meet up with her. So, I beamed down."

"Un huh. Where did she want you to meet her?" he asked coming to stand close to her. She tilted her head back to meet his eyes. "Here? In the middle of the jungle?"

"No," she said. "I'm meeting her in Cordillera."

"Cordillera?" McCoy laughed. "Angel, you are nowhere near Cordillera. That's on the coast."

"What? Oh. But, they told me this bus went to Cordillera!" she said suppressing the urge to stamp her foot and throw something.

"Who told you that?" he asked.

Her shoulders slumped a little as she answered, "That guy…"

"What? That nice guy who pulled a phaser on you? Did he also try to sell you some beachfront property in Wyoming?" McCoy asked with a smirk. He shook his head and walked away.

Christine gave in and stamped her foot. "Okay. I was stupid. I get it. But, look, I need to get to Cordillera. Gaila needs me!" She felt the outline of the PADD in her bag.

McCoy turned and pinned her again with one of his looks. "Why?"

The man truly did have the most expressive eyes and it was only due to the fact that she'd been working to develop an immunity to their intensity during the last year that she didn't confess then and there.

"She just needs some company," Christine said quietly. She left it at that, because immunity or not, she really didn't want to lie to him. Well, lie to him anymore than she already was. Gaila had been so adamant about no one being told. He narrowed his eyes so Christine quickly added, "Look, just point me in the right direction and I'll be fine."

The doctor snorted. "Yeah, I'll bet. Look, honey, I'm heading towards the nearest town, I suggest you tag along," he said imperiously.

She bristled at his tone. This was not the sickbay and they were not on duty. She brushed the dirt still clinging to her skirt and attempted to fix her hair. McCoy just shook his head and headed down the road at a fast pace. She stumbled at first but quickly caught up to him.

And of course, it started to rain.

To say that Leonard 'Bones' McCoy was fed up was an understatement. Truth was he was pretty god damn pissed off.

First, this so-called 'peaceful' planet was anything but. The first night he was here, he realized that each region had its own political agenda. However, everyone seemed to be in fear of one of the former military outfits. It used to belong to the government, but too many years in the jungle made the group jump ship and become their own law, constantly searching to find a way to overthrow the current regime.

If that wasn't enough, now he was stuck walking in the rain with a full pack on his back after having to fire a weapon at some local thug. The fact that he had managed to hold his own still made him want to shake his head in disbelief.

The other thing that was currently baffling him was trudging along in the mud behind him. He snuck a look over his shoulder.

Yep. She was still there, trying to look as immaculate and prim as she could manage with mud spattered all over those long legs of hers. Chapel did a pretty good drowned rat impression. It was quite the departure from his normally serene and level-headed Head Nurse. He really didn't buy that story of hers either. Gaila must have gotten herself into some kind of trouble and Christine was too tender-hearted to not help her out.

Damn fool, he thought to himself, not sure if he was referring to himself or her. You should call Jim the second you get to that comm.

He reached the next bend and waited for her to catch up.

"Don't suppose you brought an umbrella?" he said loudly over the pounding rain.

"No," she said shaking her head. Blonde strands of hair stuck to her face and her cheeks were pink. Her dark eyes were bright as she squinted at him through the sheets of rain.

"Thought as much," he said and then started to walk again. He heard a muffled curse behind him and smiled to himself a little. Yeah, maybe it was a little petty. He was going to have the mother of all blisters on his foot at the end of this. Guaranteed no-friction socks, his ass. He called over his shoulder, "Don't suppose you've got a medikit on you?"

"Um, ouch, yes, actually," she called back. "A small one. Are you hurt?"

"Not yet," he muttered to himself wincing as his heel rubbed against his shoe. They walked along in silence for a few more yards when another thought occurred to him and it was most definitely petty of him, but he couldn't help himself. It had been driving him a little crazy ever since he figured it out. "This is a bit different than what you're used to, isn't it?"

"You could say that," she said as evenly as she could while trying to maintain her balance on the rocky path.

"All this tramping about in the rain. Not quite as romantic as it's described in the books, is it?" he asked still walking ahead of her.

Christine was silent.

"I always liked that," he continued. "You know, the way fiction never quite gets it right. Makes real life seem more real."

He could feel her bewildered glare on the back of his neck.

"Of course, you'd know all about that wouldn't you, Miss Church?" he asked.

There was no reply to that and so McCoy slowed down and turned around. Chapel stood in complete shocked silence, her mouth wide open, rivulets of water running down her face. Some went straight into her mouth and she spluttered.

"What did you say?" she finally asked.

"What did I say when?" he asked his eyes wide and innocent.

She boggled at him and then shook her head furiously. "You know? How do you know?"

"My ex," he said. "I went with her once to this convention thing. She liked your stuff and you signed something for her. I was pretty far back, but I caught a glimpse of you." He shrugged and grinned. "I knew there was something familiar about you when I met you onboard."

The nurse looked horrified. "So, you've known this whole time?" She walked stiffly towards him and came to a stop near the edge of the road next to him.

"For a few months now," he said.

"And you didn't say anything?" Her voice was shrill.

"Didn't see the point," McCoy said cheerfully. He leaned towards her. "Tell me, how much of your art imitates your life?"

Chapel's mouth dropped open and then snapped shut. The look on her face became murderous and she took another step closer to him. "You son of a bi—"

The rest of her sentence was swallowed up by a scream as the road gave way underneath her and she was swept off down the side of the mountain. McCoy looked heavenward and said, "Oh fu--!"

Then he was falling and sliding in the mud behind her.

Christine was sure that she was never going to feel clean again as she sat primly on a log attempting to wipe mud off her legs and feet. Her body still felt as though it was free-falling down the side of the mountain. She was determinedly not looking at McCoy. If her stomach was still rolling from the fall, her mind was still rolling from his knowledge about her alter ego.

Still fuming, she snuck a look at him. Other than his hair being wet and slicked back from his face and his trousers looking a little worse for wear, he was surprisingly chipper. She'd never seen the CMO laugh as hard as he had when they both reached the bottom of the hill. He was currently going through his backpack and examining the phaser. He pulled out a large knife and stuck it through his belt. His hands stilled halfway through the motion.

Christine looked up and realized that he was staring back at her with a smirk on his face. Her face went red and she abruptly looked back down at her legs. She really should have worn trousers.

At least it wasn't raining anymore.

"Sure you're okay?" McCoy asked quietly.

"Yes. Fine," she snapped. Then after a beat grudgingly said, "Thank you."

"You're welcome," he said sounding amused.

She bit her lip in frustration. This was not going well. She picked up her bag and felt around the edge of the PADD, making sure it was still in one piece. Nothing felt cracked or broken and Christine sighed in relief. She bent down to put her shoes back on and a loud phaser blast hit the tree right where her head had been.

McCoy lunged for her and knocked her down to the ground behind a boulder for cover.

"Jesus!" he yelled. Christine was too shocked to do anything but gape at the charred spot on the tree. "What is going on?"

He peered up over the rock and as a blast hit the top of the rock he fell back with a curse. Christine craned her neck to try to see who was shooting at them.

"Who is it?" she asked.

"That guy! From before! With a bunch of uniformed men!" McCoy said. "Why is he bothering with us?"

McCoy looked sharply at Christine, she stared back at him. "He's not after us. He's after you. Why is he after you, Christine? What the hell is going on?"

"I don't know!" she shouted.

His face twisted in frustration and anger. "Damn it, woman! Come on!" He grabbed her arm and pulled her after him into the thick trees away from the firing phasers.

Christine struggled to loop her bag on her shoulder with one hand, her other firmly in McCoy's strong grip. The blasts were still coming and the men had obviously descended down the mountain after them. McCoy dropped her hand and pulled out his machete and dove into a thick field of high grass, chopping and hacking the grass back.

"Where are you going?" Christine shouted.

"Beats me!" he called back but kept hacking at the tall grass.

McCoy blindly hacked through one last patch of grass and his momentum nearly carried him off a ledge of a very deep canyon. Christine called out and grabbed the back of his pack and pulled him away from the edge. He fell back into her with a grunt.

Christine risked a look down at the canyon. It was a long way to the other side and an even longer way down where rushing water tumbled over sharp rocks. "Oh, my God. What now?"

The men behind them were still coming; she could hear the sounds of brush being trampled.

McCoy scanned the area and spotted a torn-up bridge. Christine followed his gaze and shook her head. "Oh no. No way. Nuh unh."

"You see any other way of getting across? You suddenly grow wings?" he asked striding over to the bridge.

"Sarcasm is never helpful!" she yelled chasing after him.

"Thanks for the tip, Miss Romance Novelist. Now move!"

They edged out on the bridge slowly, their feet testing the strength of each and every board before standing fully on them. Christine stepped onto one board and it gave way instantly. She cried out and McCoy reached for her with a yell. Her hands scrabbled for purchase and grabbed onto a stray vine which swung under her weight across the canyon to the other side. Somehow she had the sense to let go and she fell to the ground with a thump that knocked the breath out of her. She swayed dizzily. She heard McCoy call out and struggled to her feet, her bag knocking against her side as she rushed over to the edge of the cliff.

All she saw was a hand hanging onto the side. He must have tried to swing across.

"Oh, sweet Jesus!" she said before she grabbed his hand and helped pull him up. He grabbed at the ground and pushed himself upright and then they both ducked as the men on the other side came into view and opened fire.

"Go!" he shouted pushing her into the trees.

She went.

Go on, Bones! Have a nice walk in the forest, Bones! You need to get away from the sickbay, Doctor. It'll do you no end of good!

McCoy snorted mentally at the phrases running through his head.

It'll probably be my end when this is all over, he thought as he hacked away through the large, thick jungle foliage with his machete. He wiped a hand over his face to clear some of the rain away.

They hadn't gone more than a few yards into the jungle away from the canyon when the rains started again. McCoy fought the urge to yell at the sky and simply soldiered on, Chapel right behind him. With each hack he made with the blade, he debated whether or not to interrogate the heck out of his nurse. She was quite obviously keeping something from him.

Get out of this rain somehow, he thought his arms muscles burning with the exertion. Then start asking questions.

They made their way further into the jungle. Finally, McCoy sunk the knife into a small tree and rested his arms for a few moments.

"What's wrong?" Chapel asked. "Are we stopping?"

He turned to look at her and met her tired but still bright eyes. He gestured ahead of him. "Have at it," he offered.

She furrowed her brow and went to take the machete in hand. Her slim fingers grasped the handle and with a soft noise, she pulled it free of the trunk. McCoy watched as she slowly but surely started to cut through the brush. She was methodical and careful, but then she always was. He shook his head. Seemed some things remained the same no matter where you were.

Chapel picked up the pace a little, getting into a steady rhythm of swinging the blade. McCoy hung back to stay out of the way of her swings and his eyes slipped down to her legs. The tumble down the side of the mountain had ripped one of the seams on her skirt. As she stepped forward, the fabric fell back to reveal a long, toned leg. He fought the urge to stare, but his eyes kept being drawn back.

Oblivious to his stare, she continued to cut through the leaves and vines. She gave a strong whack to a large frond and it fell quickly revealing a rotten and emaciated corpse.

Chapel gave a loud shriek and turned away straight into McCoy's arms. He grimaced at the sight of the body and pulled her close. She pressed her face against his chest and he enjoyed the feel of her body against his. He cradled her in his arms and felt her shake slightly. She pulled back, but he wasn't ready to let her go.

McCoy cupped her face and met her eyes, "It's all right. Are you okay?"

"Yes, yes, I'm fine," she said as she nodded. She even managed to roll her eyes. "A little embarrassed."

McCoy chuckled and tucked a strand of wet hair behind her ear. "Don't be. I screamed in my head."

She chuckled weakly and turned around to look at the body. He dropped his hands to rest on her waist and looked over her shoulder to look as well. It was leaning out of what appeared to be a downed shuttle.

"Could have been here for a few months," she said. "Judging from the amount of decomposition."

"Maybe even less in this climate," McCoy said. "I always said shuttle's were nothing but trouble. Let's go 'round to the back."

He moved in front of her and she silently took his hand. They walked slowly around to the back of the shuttle and saw that the rear had been detached during the crash. McCoy peered inside and sighed in relief at the lack of other bodies. It appeared to be a cargo transport.

They walked inside and Chapel took her bag off and propped it against the side of the shuttle. McCoy looked at the cockpit and with a slight shake of his head to the doomed pilot grabbed the satchel on the floor.

He went back into the main cabin and set the satchel down while Chapel was doing her best to wipe off some of the rain from her face. McCoy opened the bag and found a few protein bars. He nearly groaned out loud at the bottle of whiskey he found at the bottom of the bag.

"Thank Christ," he muttered, Chapel just chuckled. He ignored her and opened the bottle and took a long pull. He savored the burn as it went down and warmed him inside out. Then he handed it to Chapel. She looked a little taken aback, but held the bottle up to her lips and he watched the column of her throat as she swallowed. He grinned as she coughed and gasped afterwards.

She handed it back to him with a shake of her head and said, "We should try to get dry."

"Yeah," he said after another drink. He looked around the cabin and saw her bag on the seat. He walked over to it and opened up. His fingers accidently brushed against a PADD and it flared to life. "Do you have any-- What is this?"

He touched one of the icons on the screen and a geo-physical map opened up on the screen.

"Do I what-- Wait! Don't --!" she said coming to grab the PADD. He lifted out of her reach easily and studied the terrain displayed. McCoy looked at her. She was flushed and a range of emotions were racing across her face. What worried him the most were the prominent expressions of guilt and fear. She lowered her outstretched hand and looked at him helplessly.

He stood very close making her tilt her head to look into his eyes.

"I think we need to have a chat," he said softly.

"Yes," she said. "We probably do."

They managed to get a fire going and Chapel sat across from McCoy. She munched absently on a protein bar while he studied the map she'd taken from Gaila's terminal.

"So this where that thing is located, hmm?" he said zooming in on the bright red dot marking out the crystal's high energy readings.

"Supposedly," Christine said glaring at him a little. She was still mad at herself for confessing to him so easily, but what else could she do when he stood so close and talked in that low voice of his?

"You know, we're not too far from its location," he said. "In fact, we've been hiking through this region all day. We follow the river and we're there."

"So?" Christine asked. McCoy looked up at her.

"So? So we could go and find this crystal," he said. "See what the big deal is."

"No!" Christine said. "I'm taking that map to Gaila. Those were the instructions and I'm not endangering her just because you're curious."

McCoy rolled his eyes. "Either way, the second we get to a town, I'm contacting Jim and getting you beamed out of here."

"Have you not been listening to me?" she asked incredulously. "They're watching the captain. They'll know if he's been contacted. You can't just endanger Gaila like that."

"Do you not get it?" McCoy said loudly. "This is the reason we're here on this godforsaken planet! For this little hunk of rock! We find it and we have the advantage. Obviously other people are interested in this thing. Have you forgotten your friend from the bus?"

Christine grabbed the bottle of whisky and took a swig. No, she had not forgotten.

"So, we get to a town, we contact the Enterprise, if we can, and then we go find this crystal," he said. "Then we get to Cordillera and find the rest of the staff."

Christine snorted and gritted her teeth. McCoy peered at her over the top of the PADD. "What?"

"Nothing. Just, I knew this would happen," she said glaring at him and then taking another drink. "I knew if you found out, you'd just take over. Because, heaven forbid anyone else have a plan."

"Seems to me that your current plan wasn't really working out so well, now was it?" he said tossing the PADD to the side and sitting up.

"God! You always do this! Your word is law. You never listen to anyone else's opinions. It's either your way or the highway, right? Like it's yoursickbay?" she said.

"It is my sickbay!" he yelled.

"No! No, it isn't! It is the ship's sickbay and the other doctors and nurses have just as much a right to express a course of action as you do," she said. "But, noooo. You just push on through and go your own way. Well, I don't want to go find the crystal. I want to go help Gaila. That's what I set out to do and I'm doing it."

"And you're doing a real bang-up job, aren't you?" he said. "Need I remind you that I already participated in one gunfight for you today?"

"See! There you go again!" Christine cried. "Got to get that last word in, right? You know a real man wouldn't do that. A real man would be honorable and gracious. And, and polite! You… You're… You're a mondo dismo!"

McCoy's mouth opened and closed and he made a strangled sound. "I'm a what?"

"You're a man who just expects people to fall in line behind him. You could at least have the decency to attempt to understand my reasons, but you don't even bother!"

McCoy had been watching her with a look of fascination but his eyes shifted from her face to stare in the space next to her head.

Christine scoffed and set her jaw. "You know, you could at least pretend to listen to me when I'm talking to you. This is exactly what I meant. You never take me seriously and –"

She cut off with a cry as McCoy leapt up with the phaser and shot a blast into the air next to her. A dull thump followed. Christine sat up slowly and looked behind her. She recoiled when she saw the body of a very, very large snake-like creature just a few inches away.

"Damn local wildlife," McCoy muttered coming over to look at the carcass. "It's a Lachesis. They warn you about them in the brochure."

"Are they poisonous?" she asked breathlessly.

"Yep. And supposedly taste pretty god," he said with a grin.

Christine stared at him and then gagging slightly turned away.

"Then comes the swelling," McCoy said after he swallowed a shot of the whiskey. "All it takes in one bite and your veins constrict and your skin turns blue." He shook his head. "Amazing what nature creates."

Christine sighed and grabbed the whiskey from him. He watched her put the bottle to her lips. She finished her pull and gave the bottle back. Her eyes were hazy with the alcohol and he probably should cut her off, but at least this way she wasn't yelling at him anymore. That had been a sight to see. He smirked at the memory of her flushed cheeks and flashing eyes.

"Did you always want to be a doctor?" she asked leaning heavily on a seat cushion.

"Pretty much," he said. "My dad was one, my granddad before him. It made sense."

"Even when you were a kid?" she asked, the corners of her lips turning up. "My brother wanted to be a firefighter."

McCoy smiled lazily. "I spent the summer I turned fifteen wanting to be a cowboy."

She smiled back. "A cowboy?"

"My granddad on my mother's side has, well had, a ranch in north Georgia. Fifty acres worth of land perfect for breeding horses," he said. "I spent most of my summers there learning all about horses and riding from sun up to sun down. Nothin' quite like bein' out there, on your own, following a trail just to see where it goes." He chuckled. "I had a plan to retire there when I finish, whenever that will be."

"So you'll just ride off into the sunset, spend the last days of your life all alone in a field somewhere?" she asked. He met her eyes and was stunned to see a trace of sadness in their depths. "That sounds a little lonely Dr Leonard H. McCoy."

The urge to trace the curve of her lips hit him swiftly in the gut and he felt his fingers actually twitch in response. She lowered her eyes and shook her head a little.

"What does the 'H' stand for?" she asked lightly.

McCoy grinned. "Honorable."

Chapel froze and slowly grinned back. She looked away and with a laugh propped her head up with her hand.

He shook his head again and turned to get his jacket. "Well, it's been one hell of a day, hasn't it?" There was no answer. He turned back to see Christine fast asleep. McCoy studied her face and then shut his eyes firmly. He opened them and looked over at the PADD containing the map.

"God damnit," he muttered.

The next morning saw the doctor and nurse back on a road that wasn't too far from the shuttle they spent the night in. No more was said about what they were going to do once they actually found a working comm station. As far as they knew, there was still interference between the planet and the Enterprise.

Eventually, they found themselves entering a small village with a smattering of rickety houses and very few people.

"Do you think we should ask for a comm?" Christine asked quietly.

"Do you honestly think they have one?" McCoy said just as quietly. "Or even speak Standard?"

"Eh!" was called out behind them. They began to slow down. Christine glanced over her shoulder and was shocked to see a group of men following them.

"McCoy…" she whispered.

"Yeah, I know," he said. "Get ready to run."

"Run? Why—" Then she noticed him fingering the phaser. "Oh. Oh!"

Christine really didn't want another phaser fight. She waited a moment and then turned quickly to face the men behind them.

"Hi! Sorry to bother you, but we really need to get to a comm. Or borrow a transport? We've had a bit of trouble." She said all of this in an even, friendly tone with a calm smile on her face. McCoy did his best to go along, but his smile was less than convincing.

A man stepped forward.

"See the man in the white house," he said in heavily accented Standard. "Maybe he can help."

"The white house?" Christine said pointing at the structure a few houses down.

"Yes," the man said.

"Thank you. Very much," she said. "Thank you."

McCoy just nodded and they hastily walked towards the building.

"You are aware that you're insane," McCoy whispered harshly. "God knows what this guy will do."

"Well, it's better than pistols at dawn," she said.

They walked up to the large wooden door and McCoy rang the bell.

A small partition opened up and a man looked out. "What do you want?"

"Oh, hello. You speak Standard, that's great. Ah, we really need to use a comm or borrow a transport," McCoy said. "We heard you might have one."

"No. Now go away," the man said.

"Wait, sir," McCoy said. "We really need to get in contact with someone."

"You really need to hit the road," the man said pulling a large phaser out and pushing it through the partition. He took aim at McCoy. Christine gasped and stepped back, as did McCoy.

"Fine, fine, sorry to bother you," McCoy said. They turned around only to come face to face with the group of men from earlier all pointing phasers at them.

"Oh my," Christine said.

"Oh shit," McCoy said. "Ahh. Well, write us out of this one Carrie Church."

Christine spared him a quick glare.

"Carrie Church?" the man behind the door said. "The Carrie Church?"

Christine looked at him and nodded. His eyes widened. He closed the partition and opened the door completely. The man that came out was of medium height with curly black hair and an outrageously plaid shirt.

"You are Carrie Church, the romance novelist?" he asked seriously.

"Yes," she said bewildered. "Yes, I am."

The man's face broke into a huge grin. "I love your books! I've read them all!" After this he turned to the group of men and spoke quickly in their native language. It must have been complimentary because they all started smiling and waving happily at Christine. She waved feebly back.

"Come in! Come in!" The man put his arm around Christine and ushered inside. "You too! And get the door."

This last statement was directed at McCoy who was far too baffled to object. He shut the door and followed Christine and her enthusiastic fan into the house.

The man was talking fast and introduced himself as "Juan! Just Juan! And I can be in your books!" McCoy just watched in bemused silence as Christine tried to get a word in edgewise.

"Do you have a comm? It's very important," she tried.

"Oh, no. No comms," he said. "I have drinks, though. Lots of Earth varieties."

Juan began to list everything in his kitchen and McCoy was driven to mutter, "Got any beaming technology?"

"Oh, I did!" Juan said cheerfully. "But it broke!"

"We, ah, heard you had a form of transport," Christine said coming to stand next to McCoy. "I really need to get to Cordillera."

"Oh, sure! You'll like her. I call her Juanita," he said. "This way."

A few minutes later, they flew out of the small garage next to Juan's house in the cab of a huge truck complete with massive tires. The truck raced through what appeared to be a small armed envoy. After a small flurry of activity, the envoy chased after them.

"Oh my God! Is that the guy from yesterday?" Christine asked turning to look through the back window.

"Christ! How did he get himself a freakin' army?" McCoy yelled. "Ah, Juan, anything you could do to lose these guys would be great!"

"No problem, my man! Hang on!"

Several twists, turns and curses from McCoy later, the truck was headed straight for the river.

"Where's the bridge? There's no bridge!" McCoy yelled. Christine grabbed his hand.

"Don't worry! Check this out!" Juan aimed a little device and a ramp appeared. The truck sailed up the ramp and landed smoothly on the other side. "See! No problems!"

McCoy looked out the back window to see the first of the envoy slam on the brakes at the river and the second to slam into the first. They toppled into the river. He thought he caught a glimpse of the man with the mustache. But Christine squeezed his hand again and he looked into her worried eyes. He smirked at her and returned the squeeze. She sighed and McCoy faced front.

Juan very kindly drove them to another town only a few hours away that actually had a comm unit for planet-side calls only. He kept up a steady stream of chatter the whole way.

"I think my favorite book is the one where the librarian falls in love with the pilot," Juan said to Christine. "When they first kiss... Whooo, I needed to take a bath in the river!"

McCoy turned to look at Christine with a smirk on his face. "What's the title of that one, Juan?"

"A Flight in Fantasy," Juan said. "And the one with the governess and the lord of the manor is also very good. When he takes her in his arms at the end and carries her off across the... what do you call them?"

Both men looked at Christine. She was blushing furiously and kept her eyes on the road ahead.

"The moors," she said at last.

"Ah, yes! The moors!" Juan said. "I nearly cried."

"I will definitely have to look those up," McCoy said softly in her ear. Christine bit her lip and battled with the compulsion to shiver at the feel of his ips so close to her skin. She lost.

Juan made very good time and pulled into the town only an hour before dusk. The community was small and people were decorating and setting up tables for some kind of party.

They thanked him genuinely. Christine promised to send him an advance copy of her next novel as soon as it was published. McCoy thought the guy was going to burst from excitement.

As it was, McCoy was having a hard time deciding what course to take. But as they approached the comm box and Chapel faced him with a serious and resolved expression on her face, McCoy just nodded and let her call the people holding Gaila.

He went into the small hotel and due to some local carnival being held he got the only room available, all the while keeping an eye on Christine. Christine finally exited the small booth and gave him a frustrated look.

"What? Is Gaila okay?" he asked.

"Yes. Just… The guy sounded like a jerk," she said. She shook her head. "I don't know."

"Look, you've got something they want and they've got something you want," he said. "It's not really a friendly exchange."

"Yeah," she said. She looked down at her dirty skirt and cringed at the grime. "What are the chances of a laundry service in this place?"

McCoy chuckled. "I may be able to help out with that. I, uh, got a room at the hotel. There's a bus in the morning that can take us to Cordillera. We could have dinner. Or something. I was going to find some new clothes." McCoy trailed off.

She looked down shyly and smiled. "I'd love some dinner. And I'd probably murder for a shower."

He handed her the room key. "No need for homicide. It's number 12."

"Number 12," she said taking the key. "Good number."

McCoy watched the evening light play on her hair as she walked into the hotel.

Christine looked around the square and admired the amount of effort the little community put into their party. Brightly colored banners and lights were draped over anything that would hold the weight. And the food was to die for.

She felt relaxed and best of all clean, for the first time in what seemed like forever. She'd emerged from the shower to find that McCoy had gone out of his way to find a lovely outfit for her. Christine had grinned and felt as giddy as a teenager at the sight of the green and blue patterned wraparound skirt and embroidered top to match. She'd dressed quickly and after trying to do something with her hair, gave up and decided to leave it unpinned and it fell in loose waves around her face. She left the room only to find McCoy waiting in the hallway, his hands shoved into clean dark trousers and a button-down shirt. The way his eyes moved over her body left her slightly out of breath.

They found themselves a table on the edge of the dance floor and quickly ordered food. Both were too hungry to talk and by mutual unspoken agreement, ate their fill in silence.

But, now the dancers had taken to the floor and the music was lively and Christine was on her second glass of wine. McCoy leaned his arms on the table and was watching the people dance. As she thoughtfully watched the way his eyes observed everyone, she found herself feeling guilty.

"I think I need to apologize," she said drawing his attention to her. "I shouldn't have said the things I did last night. I certainly should never have implied that you don't listen or don't care. I'm sorry."

The eyes she'd been admiring studied her and then smiled. "It's okay. You weren't too far off the mark about a few things. I'm the first to admit that I get territorial in sickbay. And I do have a tendency to bowl people over."

"But you always have a good reason," Christine said. She toyed with the folds of her skirt. "Really, I don't want you to think that I think badly of you. I really don't. I... I like working with you."

"I like working with you, too," he said. He took a deep breath. "And I need to apologize myself. I'm sorry if I came on too strongly about the writing thing. I didn't mean to make you angry."

"Are you sure about that?" she asked wryly with a hint of a smirk. "I mean, I did cause a bus to crash into your vehicle."

"You really did, didn't you?" McCoy chuckled. "One thing's for sure, you sure know how to keep a guy on his toes."

She ducked her head to hide a pleased blush.

"But, honestly, I am sorry," he said. "I shouldn't have thrown the fact that I knew in your face. It was... Less than tactful."

"Yes, it really was," she said. Then she shrugged. "It's okay. It was bound to come out sooner or later. I actually remember the convention you mentioned. It was the first and last one I went to."

"Really?" he asked pouring her some more wine. "How come?"

Christine sipped her drink. "I suppose because, writing was always a hobby. Something to take my mind off of real life and all its messy complications. It was something for me to escape into. The fact that what I wrote was popular was a perk more than anything else." She shrugged again. "I'm a nurse. That's my career. That's what's most important to me."

McCoy nodded. "I think I understand what you mean."

"Besides, I'm not the only one with secrets," she said with narrowed eyes. "I had no idea you could aim, let alone fire a phaser."

"Well, I had to in order to get through the Academy," he said. "I don't like it, but it's better to know how than not. Besides, I already had practice from when I was a kid."

"On your grandfather's ranch?" she asked tracing a finger along the rim of her glass.

"Yeah," he said quietly watching the path her finger took. She looked up at the tone his voice had taken and froze at the darkness of his eyes. She felt her lips part and a frission of something started low in her stomach and traveled quickly up her spine.

McCoy broke his gaze first and looked at the dance floor. A smirk began to appear. "Since I've already diverted from my usual austere CMO status," Christine couldn't help the giggle that escaped, "come and dance with me."

"What? Oh, no, I don't dance," she said shaking her head. He grabbed her hand and pulled her up.

"You do now," he said.

Christine bit her lip and let him lead her to the dance floor. He placed a warm hand on her back and pulled her close. She automatically placed her left hand on his shoulder and her right was firmly in his grasp. McCoy led her effortlessly into a simple box step. The music was spirited and the carefree sounds of the party filled Christine's ears. She threw her head back and just laughed. McCoy spun her out and then back into his arms. She couldn't stop giggling and stumbled a bit in his arms. He grinned at her and spun her out again.

This time she threw in an extra twirl and slammed straight into the length of his body. The impact took her breath away and she looked up to apologize. But the sheer force of his gaze caused the words to fade away.

Christine licked her suddenly dry lips. McCoy made a low sound and pulled her close. Their lips met.

The kiss started out soft and slow. McCoy splayed his hand on the small of her back and brought his other hand to caress the side of her face. The warmth of his hand made Christine part her lips in a soft gasp. He immediately deepened the kiss and stroked his tongue against hers. She eagerly matched his fervor with her own. Her hands smoothed up the firm plane of his chest to his neck and shoulders; she lightly scraped her nails against the back of his neck. His response was a noise made deep in his throat and he pressed his hips against her. She grabbed at his shoulders desperately and tried to get closer. With a groan, he pulled back from the kiss allowing just enough space in between them to meet her eyes.

Dimly, she was aware of the crowded dance floor, but her entire being was centered on the dark warmth of his eyes and the rapid beating of her heart.

Then he uttered two words that made her weak in the knees: "Bed. Now."

They stumbled into the small hotel room and McCoy kicked the door shut with his foot while Christine carelessly dropped her bag on the floor and kicked her shoes off. His large hands framed her face gently and kissed her slowly, lazily. Eventually, she had to let her head fall back in order to breathe and he trailed his lips down her neck to settle on her thrumming pulse. She moaned as he licked and sucked at the juncture of her throat and shoulder.

"Taste so good," he mumbled against her skin. "And you smell like god damned Confederate jasmine."

He found her mouth again and they kissed deeply. Christine's hands went to the buttons on his shirt and opened them one by one. She broke away from the kiss to look at his chest and smoothed her hand over his heart, then pushed his shirt off his shoulders. The cuffs got caught on his wrists and they both pulled impatiently to free him from the fabric. Christine giggled as he cursed. The shirt finally gave and he cupped her face again to capture her laughter with his mouth.

He pulled her blouse up over her head, but struggled when it got caught on her nose and strands of her hair got tangled on his fingers.

Christine couldn't help the full laugh that emerged. McCoy grinned at her.

"Not like it is in your novels, is it?" he asked trailing his hand over her shoulders and pressing his forehead to hers.

"No," she said tracing the line of hair that led to his trousers. Her nimble fingers flicked the button. "I think this is better."

"Oh yeah," he said with a growl. He cupped her bottom and lifted her easily. "Much better."

Christine wrapped her legs around his waist and he walked them to the bed. His knees hit the edge and they tumbled onto the sheets. Her skirt fell to reveal her long legs. She suddenly blushed as she realized what else it revealed. McCoy noticed as well and while his eyes went even darker with arousal, he kept his voice light and teasing.

"Why, Christine Chapel," he said "just where exactly is your underwear?"

"You forgot to buy me a clean pair," she said attempting to sound nonchalant.

"Smartest thing I've ever done," he said as he pushed himself up to stand at the end of the bed and looked down at her. He raised one of her legs and pressed his mouth to her ankle. The stubble on his jaw tickled her skin as he ran the side of his face against her calf.

"God, I love your legs," he said. He looked down at her and pressed another kiss to the inside of her knee. "I love watching you when you have to get something off the top shelf. The thoughts I've had about you, Christine."

"I'd always pegged you as a breast man," she said.

"Oh, I'm an equal opportunity type of guy when it comes to a woman's body," he replied picking up her other leg and giving it the same attention he gave the first one.

"Is that right, Dr. McCoy?" she asked breathlessly.

He looked at her and said, "Christine, I'm about to make love to you several times over. Call me Leonard."

She actually stopped breathing for a second. She swallowed hard and then propped herself up on her elbows.

"Several times?" she said. "That's a pretty big claim, Leonard."

He lowered her leg and slowly crawled up the length of her body to rest between her thighs. Their eyes remained locked together as his finger traced a line from her shoulder across her clavicle and then between her breasts and then down her stomach. He undid the tie on the side of her skirt and peeled the material away leaving her bare to his gaze. He let his fingers dance along the soft skin of her abdomen. Christine's muscles fluttered and jumped and she found she couldn't look away from his eyes. His fingers then trailed even further down to press and stroke gently, she couldn't hold back her moan.

"Several times, Christine," he repeated. "Or do you doubt my word?"

Christine let herself fall back to the bed and raised her legs to lock him in place.

Then she smiled and said, "Prove it."

The last of the carnival goers had long gone home and people were folding up tables and turning off lights. However the only sound Christine was aware of was the steady thump of Leonard's heart from where she rested her head on his chest. His strong arms held her close and their legs were tangled together underneath the thin sheet.

She ran a hand lightly over his chest and he absently pressed his lips to her head.

"I'll take you there someday," he said in a low voice, "to the old family place. There's a room on the second floor where you can see all the land and the light shine through the pecan trees."

Christine smiled and hmm'ed happily and kissed the skin above his heart.

"Then I'll take you riding on all the trails that lead up to the Appalachia range." He turned his face to breathe in the scent of her hair. "I promise, I will."

"I believe you," she said. She frowned a little and raised her head to look at him. "I have a confession, though."

He arched an eyebrow and waited.

"I don't know how to ride," she said. "I never learned."

Leonard smiled lazily. "Well now, you sure seemed pretty proficient in that last go 'round."

Christine's mouth dropped open and he chuckled. She narrowed her eyes and dug her fingers into his side. He let out a bark of laughter and they wrestled for a minute. McCoy finally pinned her underneath him, trapping her hands above her head and settled between her thighs.

They grinned at each other before he captured her lips in a kiss that had her writhing beneath him. He mouthed the side of her face and then her throat.

"I'll teach you," he said against her ear before suckling the lobe. "How to walk, how to canter," he rocked his hips against her at an achingly slow pace and dropped his voice to a hoarse whisper, "then how to gallop."

Christine felt her body respond to his movements but she couldn't keep the question from escaping, "Why haven't you tried to contact the captain?"

Leonard stilled and lifted his head to look in her eyes.

"I mean, you could have," she said. "Why haven't you?"

"Because, despite what you said the other night, I do listen to you," he said. "I do trust you. You're the one I want next to me in surgery. The one I trust to keep the staff together. I'll admit to wanting to get this thing and give ourselves, and the Enterprise, the advantage. But, I'll follow your instincts on this."

Christine studied his face and could sense the truth in his words and how much it was costing him to say them.

"Let's do it," she said at last. "Let's go find it. But, even if we do find it, we get Gaila first, then contact the captain."

"Deal," he said. He looked down at their bodies and then back up with a smirk. "Should we shake on it?"

"Oh, I think we can come up with another way to seal the deal," she said as she rolled her hips. He groaned deeply and covered her mouth with his.

Christine only felt slightly bad about stealing a small car the next morning. Whether her lack of guilt stemmed from the need to get this whole adventure over with or the distracting memories of Leonard's body moving against hers, she didn't really know.

She held the PADD in her lap and they easily found the landmarks surrounding the downed probe. The landmarks were a very fast moving river and a thicket of trees. They made their way through the dense vegetation, McCoy making quick work of the branches with his machete. One final hack and they emerged into a small clearing where the probe had landed.

It was small and made from a dull grey metal. McCoy stepped up to the damaged hatch and pulled on the handle to open the door. It wouldn't budge. Christine joined him and they both pulled. It still wouldn't open.

"Right, one more time, on three," McCoy said. "One, two, three!"

They pulled with all their strength and the panel opened with a harsh creak of metal. The inside was remarkably clean of debris, only a few wires and circuit boards dangled from the wall. A small black box was found underneath a plate of metal. Christine looked at McCoy and he spared her a quick glance before taking the box. They sat on the ground outside and studied the case. The lock looked flimsy and sure enough, it only took one blow from the handle of McCoy's machete to break it off.

Shoulders touching, they examined the contents. McCoy reached in and pulled out the crystal. It was a light green color and had uneven sides that reflected the light in all directions.

"So this is what the fuss is all about," Christine said softly. "This little piece of rock."

"Christ," McCoy muttered. "We better get going."

Christine couldn't have agreed more.

They hurried back to the hovercraft. McCoy pocketed the crystal as Christine fastened the PADD safely back into her bag. They set off down the road only to be met with the sight of the envoy from the day before heading in their direction quickly.

"Shit!" McCoy yelled before jerking the wheel and sending them off the road into a field.

Christine gasped sharply. "What are you doing?"

"No idea!" he said. The old car sped over the uneven ground and jostled its occupants back and forth.

The envoy fired on them and McCoy did his best to avoid the blasts, but the back window was destroyed. Christine cried out as the glass shattered.

"Get us out of here!" she yelled.

"I'm trying, damn it!" he yelled back.

He pulled the car into a field of high grass; the envoy hot on their bumper. Splinters of green flew in every direction and McCoy could tell the engine was slowing down under the barrage of plants.

"Come on, hold on," he said under his breath. "Hey, I think it clears up ahead."

"No, wait! Don't go any further!" Christine yelled remembering from the map what was up ahead. "McCoy!"

The automobile sailed out of the field and straight into the river with a massive splash. Water poured in the open windows and the engine sputtered and gave out. The car floated in one place and then was swiftly carried off by the current.

"Oh, shit," McCoy said his eyes wide and staring at the frothing rapids that surrounded them.

"I tried to tell you," Christine said in a small voice.

"Oh, shit!" he repeated.

Christine faced him furiously. "Is that all you've got? 'Oh, shit'?"

He turned to her. "How about 'Oh fuck!' Does that suit the setting better?"

"Yes, actually!" she yelled back. Then her breath caught in her throat. "Oh, god, Leonard. Oh, god. What are we going to do?"

"I don't know," he said slamming his hand against the wheel. "Where does this river go?"

"Ah, it goes..." They heard the thundering sound of rushing water at the same time and both looked out the windshield. Christine pointed her hand limply. "It goes there."

The water was tumbling, crashing over the side of the mountain.

"We have to jump," McCoy said.

"Are you insane?" Christine shrieked.

"Completely," he said before grabbing her face and kissing her harshly. "Jump!"

She jumped.

Looking back, Christine would never truly remember how she got the door open or the fall itself. But, she'd always remember the shock of plunging into the turbulent waves and the sting of the water in her eyes and nose.

Somehow, she swam her way up to the surface and sucked in a breath. She painfully paddled over to the rocky shore and pulled herself up. A distant voice called her name. She shook her head and looked across the river where she saw McCoy standing on the other side.

"Christine! Are you okay?" he called to her. His shirt was ripped at the pocket and his trousers were torn at the knees.

"Oh, I'm fine! I'm great! I'm absolutely splendid!" she yelled back. "Thank you for asking!"

"Hey!" She couldn't really see his face, but she knew he was scowling.

"This is exactly what you wanted, right?" she yelled back. "You've got the crystal and now you can go off on your own."

"You think I wanted this?" he yelled back. "Woman, you are nuts!"

"Oh, yeah, totally!" she yelled.

"Look, get yourself to Cordillera and I will meet you there," he said. "I promise."

"Sure, you will! After you go running to Jim, right?" she said putting her hands on her hips.

"Damn it, Christine!" He wiped the water off his face. "Head towards the sunset and it'll get you there. I will find you!"

A phaser blast came and hit the rock next to Christine's feet. She shrieked and ducked into the trees behind her. She heard McCoy call out one final time, "I'll find you!"

Cordillera was vastly different to the towns and villages Christine had seen so far on her journey. It was bustling and far more modern, with gleaming buildings and white, sandy beaches. She ignored the disapproving looks thrown at her dishevelled state and walked straight into the Hotel Cordillera.

She was shown to a room and immediately used the local comm unit to contact the men holding Gaila. A thin man with a receding hairline gave her instructions to follow in order to make the exchange.

Christine ended the call and immediately contacted the front desk to see if a Dr. McCoy had left any messages for her. He hadn't. She looked around the empty hotel room and felt very, very alone.

A small boat was waiting for her at the docks to take her to an island out in the bay as the kidnappers had instructed. She spent the majority of the short ride biting her bottom lip and wondering where McCoy was. She stepped off the boat and firmly pushed him to the back of her mind and focused on just getting rid of the PADD and getting Gaila.

The island consisted of an old fort-like structure and Christine followed the burning torches left out for her into the building. Her footsteps echoed off the old stone walls. She approached a small square and a voice said deeply, "Stop right there, Miss Chapel."

Christine stopped.

"Do you have the map?" the voice asked.

"Yes," she said. "I do."

"Show it to us," it said.

"Show me Gaila first," she said.

There was a small shuffle of feet and Gaila was thrust into the light not far away from Christine, who sighed in relief.

"Hi," the Orion said with a little wave and a sheepish look on her face.

"Hi yourself," Christine said.

"Enough! Show us the map," the voice boomed.

Christine reached into her bag and pulled the PADD out. She tapped on the file and the map came into view. She held the PADD up, displaying the map to the hallway.

A man pushed Gaila forward and the man from earlier with the receding hairline, presumably the leader came around the corner. Another half dozen men followed close by. The leader walked straight up to Christine and took the PADD from her. He gave her an assessing look and then studied the screen. He raised his eyes up to hers.

"Miss Chapel," he said. "You and your little friend... Can go!"

He grinned crazily and Christine expelled the breath she felt she'd been holding since the whole thing started. The leader went back to his men and they started chatting excitedly. Gaila rushed to her and the women hugged. Christine pulled back to look at her face.

"You're okay?" she asked.

"Yeah," Gaila said. "They were pretty nice most of the time. I'm so sorry I made you do this, Chris."

"Forget it, let's just go," Christine said.

They hugged again and headed back the way Christine came in. A sharp burst of phaser fire hit the wall in front of them and they jumped back.

McCoy appeared at the end of one of the corridors and Christine stared at him.

"I couldn't find you at the hotel," he said. He was shoved into the square with a sharp prod from a phaser held by a man in a uniform.

Christine grabbed onto Gaila who was holding tightly to her. The square filled with men in uniforms and phasers were trained on everyone.

Footsteps came up behind the two women and Christine whirled around to see the man from the bus stride towards her. The pure malevolence in his empty eyes made her feel ill.

The kidnapper swore in his own language and then said, "Marquez! I should have known."

Marquez watched Christine for a minute and then walked over the kidnapper. He took the PADD from him and smashed it on the ground.

"You won't need that," he said casually. "They have the crystal."

All eyes went to Christine. She lifted her chin defiantly. Marquez just smiled and walked back over to her. "Isn't that right, Miss Chapel?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," she said.

"Oh, I believe you do," Marquez said. He threw a quick look at McCoy who was just staring at Christine. "Where is it?"

"I don't know," she said.

The man stepped closer. "Where is it?"

"Honestly, I don't know," she said forcefully.

His eyes bored into hers and then he nodded and walked away. He seemed to stare into space and then gestured for his men to bring everyone out into the open. One man grabbed Christine and separated her from Gaila.

The back of the island had a small pool filled with large reptiles that Christine could hear splashing around. Marquez gave them a look and wandered slowly back over to her.

"They are not dissimilar to the creatures on Earth you call crocodiles," he said conversationally. "Ours simply live longer and reproduce less frequently. However, they share many of the same characteristics. For example, they are carnivores and the smell of blood is like the sweet scent of a flower."

He grabbed pulled a knife from his pocket and grabbed Christine harshly by the elbow. The man behind her held her still and Marquez sliced a line across the back of her hand. She cried out at the sting.

"No!" McCoy yelled from where two men held him back.

The blood flowed freely from the cut and Marquez put his arm around her waist and dragged her over to the waiting reptiles. "Tell me where it is, Miss Chapel."

"I don't know," she whispered and tried to pull away, but his grip was like steel around her waist.

"Stop! She doesn't know where it is! I do!" McCoy shouted.

"McCoy! Don't!" she said.

"Where is it?" Marquez asked. He looked back at McCoy. "Where?"

McCoy hesitated and Marquez twisted the flesh of Christine's side. She struggled and watched as her blood dripped into the water. The splashing came closer.

"No! Wait! It's here," McCoy said. Christine craned her neck to see him. He met her eyes and then reached into his pants. Christine's eyes widened in disbelief. After a few seconds of him maneuvering around, he pulled out the crystal. The courtyard was silent as they looked at the small piece of rock. McCoy looked around and finally grinned madly at Marquez. "Catch!"

McCoy wound his arm back and threw the crystal straight at Marquez with great force. The rock sailed through the air and all eyes followed its trajectory. Marquez loosened his hold on Christine and neatly caught the crystal in one hand. Christine steeled herself. He smiled.

"Thank you," he said fervently. Christine took advantage of his distraction and elbowed him sharply in the stomach. He doubled over and she drew her knee up to slam into his chest. He fell to his knees.

Suddenly, the roof was filled with shouts as men in very familiar red shirts carrying phasers appeared. The men in the courtyard fired immediately at them. The red shirts fired back. The courtyard erupted into chaos. The kidnapper's men tried to make a run for it and Gaila was shoved to the ground. McCoy yelled out and grabbed a phaser off the man guarding him.

Christine broke away only to be grabbed by Marquez as he caught hold of her skirt. He lunged and pulled her down to the ground. She tried to kick him away and he slashed at her with his knife. She just managed to block his arm as it came down close to her face but the blood from her hand made her grip slippery. He pressed hard and she scraped the side of his face with her free hand. He pulled back with a yell and she shoved him with all her might.

Marquez lost his balance and fell backwards with a splash into the pool. Christine found herself watching the carnage before she shut her eyes in horror. She got to her feet and held her cut hand to her stomach. She turned away from the pool and caught sight of Leonard rushing towards her. He stopped a few feet away. She noticed that he'd gotten a spilt lip at some point.

"I couldn't get to you," he said shakily. Christine felt her resolve crumble and walked straight into his open arms. She pressed her face to his chest.

The courtyard was quieting down as the militia men realized they were heavily outnumbered by the Enterprise's security team.

"Well, that was fun," Captain Kirk's voice rang out. Christine cringed and McCoy groaned.

They pulled apart to see the captain approach them with a cheeky grin, Commander Spock close behind. The rest of the team rounded up the militia. Another group of men in the standard uniform of the government assisted. Gaila walked over to stand next to Christine.

"So, who wants to explain what the heck they're doing here?" Kirk asked cheerfully as he clapped his hands together. No one said anything. "No one? That's okay, I'll go first. Picture this, I'm happily ensconced in a very nice meeting room with several of the top government officials for, oh, I don't know how long."

"It was seven hours and forty-five minutes, Captain," Spock said.

"Really? That's all? Felt longer. Thank you, Mr. Spock," Kirk said with a nod to the commander. "Anyhoo, I suddenly was informed that not only has my Chief Medical Officer failed to check in, but my Head Nurse was beamed down to the planet on a so-called 'medical emergency' and one of my top engineers is not where she should be. I am also informed that a rash of shootings have taken place in the jungle. Not to mention an accident involving a bus and the vehicle my previously mentioned Chief Medical Officer was driving."

Kirk looked each of them in the eye. "Now would be the time for one of you to start talking."

McCoy, Christine and Gaila started to speak at the same time. Kirk held up a hand and they stopped.

"One at a time, please," he said. "Gaila, you first."

"Captain, this is my fault," she said. Christine opened her mouth and Gaila shook her head. "No, Chris, it is. I was at the resort in town and started chatting to this guy. He found out I worked on the Enterprise. The next thing I knew, I'd been knocked out and these men told me to contact the ship and get the file of the map with the location of the crystal on it. But the only way to get it was for someone to take it from my terminal and bring it to me." She sighed. "So, I called Christine, because I knew she'd help me."

"You were unable to contact me?" Kirk asked her gently.

"They said they were keeping a close watch on you and would do something drastic if I tried to get to you," Gaila said.

Kirk nodded. He looked at Christine. "So, is this where you come in, lieutenant?"

"Yes, sir," she said. Then she started from the beginning and told him everything, from the bus to running into McCoy to them going to find the crystal, to the final confrontation with the man with the mustache. She left out the part with the hotel room.

"Wow," Kirk said when she was done. He glanced at McCoy and gave him a grin. "You've been a busy little pair of bees."

"Jim," McCoy warned.

"Forget it," Kirk said. "Fact is, you saved the government some trouble. You've essentially given them something they've been wanting for a while now, the militia and the crystal. You do still have the crystal, right?"

Christine winced and looked behind her at the pool a few feet away. The rest of the group followed her glance. Spock got out a tricorder and aimed it at the water.

"Captain, according to these energy readings it appears that the crystal is moving steadily out to the sea," Spock said.

"So, it was… Ah." Kirk didn't quite know how to put it.

"Ingested, I believe is the word you're looking for," Spock said.

"Yes. Right. Well, that's gross," the captain said. He turned to the government officials headed their way. "Gentlemen, we have a slight situation, but I believe we can fix it pretty easily. Who knows how to snorkel?"

A week later, Christine found herself sitting in her room and looking at a blank screen on her PADD. The days after her 'adventure' had been absurdly quiet in comparison. The captain kept most of their story out of his official report. But this just meant he stopped by sickbay more often and kept winking at her and making pointed remarks to McCoy.

She and McCoy had easily fallen back into their routine as CMO and Head Nurse. They managed to have dinner twice and while it was lovely to just talk to him, they hadn't actually discussed that night in the hotel.

She groaned and tossed her PADD on her desk, then threw herself on her bed. She eventually drifted off, only to wake up when an incoming message chirped on her PADD. Christine rubbed her eyes and walked over to look at the message.

It was from McCoy and all it said was: Research material for your next story. She clicked on the attachment and laughed out loud when she read the title of the large text document. With a small smile, she opened to the first page and started reading.

The next day after her shift, she entered McCoy's office and palmed the door shut. He looked up from his paperwork and leaned back in his chair.

"Nurse Chapel," he said. "What can I do for you?"

"Oh, I just wanted to thank you for the reading material," she said. "I would never have thought the fundamentals of horseback riding would be quite so… stimulating."

"Well, I thought it might be useful. And informative," he said as he stood up slowly and sauntered around to stand in front of his desk only a foot away from her. "Have you started on a new story?"

"It just so happens I've recently begun one that explores the tempestuous relationship of a gruff, but handsome Chief Medical Officer and a mild-mannered Head Nurse," she said.

"Is that so?" he asked.

"Mmm hmmm. It's going to be rather epic," she said. "Lots of heated exchanges and dire situations."

"Sure it's not too much for you?" he asked. He caught her eyes. "I wouldn't want you to overdo it."

"Well, I had been entertaining the idea of acquiring a research assistant," she admitted her eyes wide and innocent as she took a step forward.

"Oh? And what qualifications would you be looking for?"

"Well, access to sickbay, for one. Knowledge of medicine and medical instruments is certainly preferable."

"What about knowing the code to enter the CMO's office?" he asked pushing off his desk to stand right in front of her.

"Oh, I don't know," she said looking up into his eyes. "That may be too much to hope for."

"You know, it just so happens, I've been looking for a second job to help fill up my empty hours," McCoy said putting his hands on her waist.

"Have you really?" she asked.

"Oh yes," he said.

Christine placed her hands on his chest. "Well, do you think you'd be up for the position?"

"Oh, I'm definitely ready, willing," he lifted her easily and spun to set her down on his desk, "and very, very able."

She grinned, but schooled her face to adopt a serious expression. "I should warn you, I can be a very demanding boss."

"I'm very good at taking commands." Christine raised an eyebrow and he amended his statement. "Well, I'm willing to learn."

"You should also know that this is a long-term appointment," she said quietly meeting his eyes. "I'm not interested in something temporary."

"Me neither," he said. He pulled her body to the edge of the desk and stood in the cradle of her legs. "I don't like to share. What's mine, stays mine."

"Well, then," she said with a twinkle in her eyes and looping her arms around his neck. "I think that's that. Should we shake on it?"

"Oh, but weren't you the one who showed me a better way to seal deals?" McCoy said leaning down to kiss her neck.

She sighed as his lips caressed her skin, but pulled away to look him in the eyes. "Well, as your first job as my research assistant, I'm curious to know just how much weight and friction this desk can support. Do you know how we can discover such information?"

McCoy grinned.

Apparently, that particular desk could support quite a lot of friction and the weight of two people very satisfactorily.

Three months later, the release of The Sensual Sickbay hit number one on the romance novel bestseller list and is to date the most popular of Carrie Church's novels.