Title: Carried Safe to Shore
Author: Jedi Buttercup
Disclaimer: The words are mine; the worlds are not.
Summary: Buffy was far too old and jaded to cry; not even for the first man she'd, okay, loved, in more than a century would she let herself be that weak. But this was a day of surprises, it seemed. 2500 words.
Spoilers: Post-series, and post-Star Trek (2009)
Notes: For kerrykhat, who once asked me for "Buffy/McCoy with the prompt of (I Won't Say) I'm In Love". Written as a less-angsty tag to my previous gift, "Out of the Silver Sea". Originally posted elsewhere 8/13/2015.
The walk to sick bay felt interminably long; even the rush of the turbolifts as Buffy moved between the crew decks and Deck 6 seemed to pass more slowly than usual. It wasn't her first time on a Starfleet vessel- but it was her first time on a ship as new and huge as the flagship. The Enterprise was all glass and reflective surfaces, shiny blacks and crisp clean whites and bright lights everywhere she looked, a place that fairly projected purpose and motion from every square centimeter. As different from the small, sleepy Southern town where she'd met Leonard as could be imagined.
She felt sick to her stomach. All the effort she'd put into getting there, to convincing the Director of the Department of General Services to reassign Earth's primary Slayer to their primary starship, with the idea of seeing Leonard again in front of her the entire time- and now she was remembering every argument they'd ever had. Even the one that hadn't even really happened on the Shore Leave planet: the bitterness in his voice when he'd said, I've made my own damn bed; might as well enjoy lying in it.
What if he really was over her? He'd waited for years while she used his clinic and home as a refuge on Earth, stopping in between missions, never explaining anything. Somehow, she'd always thought that that would never change. But then he'd taken off without a word to her, joined up, become a hero to more than just one emotionally damaged, needy, immortal Slayer. What if she'd waited too long this time? Big as the ship was, it was a small space to be trapped in long term with someone who was determined to avoid you.
She slowed further as she finally approached the door to the CMO's private office, and paused just out of range of the sensors that would trigger it open.
Luckily- or unluckily, it remained to be seen- before she could either convince herself to take that last step or bolt, the decision was taken from her. The door to the office swished open and Dr. McCoy stepped out.
"Watch it, this is a sickbay, not a..." Leonard began, as he automatically began to sidestep the obstacle in his path. But then he actually looked her way, and stopped in his own tracks, staring at her in consternation.
"Len," she replied, swallowing. "You, uh... you look good."
He did, actually; the blue uniform and black undershirt set off his coloring well, and the clean-shaven, neatly trimmed look really worked for him. The swoosh on his chest and rank bands at his wrists were all of a piece with the toned muscles and the unconsciously confident posture; except for the clothes, it more than lived up to her imaginary image of him post-Starfleet Academy. He seemed- healthy and purposeful and, under the shock of running into her, much happier than the last few times they'd met up on Earth.
He glanced around the rest of the empty sick bay, then back to her, eyes slightly wild with disbelief, as if half-convinced he was hallucinating her presence. Then he reached out and took her by the elbow, pulling her back into the sanctuary of his office. She barely had time to register the flush of heat that radiated out from his touch before he let go again, pulling away and scanning her from head to toe.
"You're... here," he tried again. "On the Enterprise. Wearing... a Starfleet uniform. Lieutenant?" His eyebrows climbed his forehead as he eyed the rank marks at the wrist of her red support services tunic.
"I'm sorry, was that a question?" she replied, managing a feeble smile. "Yes; it's, uh. Lieutenant Summers, now."
She'd technically come on board as a logistics specialist, the DGS' favorite cover for inserting her into other official Federation branches since they'd taken over the old Initiative's successor organization in the early days of the UFP. But there was no temporary apocalypty, monster hunter-y goal behind the assignment this time; she'd be living the role for real. If the Enterprise was going to make like a mobile Hellmouth for the next five years, sailing around attracting all new and fresh levels of chaos, surely they deserved the personal attention of a Slayer? It wasn't even mostly an excuse; she'd gotten pretty good at creative and efficient acquisition and repurposing of supplies over the years, and Mallory had made sure she knew the Starfleet regs.
Leonard's gaze sharpened as he shook off the surprise, intent and suspicious. "Unbelievable. I never asked, but I was always under the impression you had a... more clandestine job. On Earth. What brings you here? It's not something to do with all that nonsense last year, is it?"
"Not just Earth; I had missions away, too. Why did you think I was gone for months, sometimes?" She shook her head.
Not that she'd been free to tell him the details, then... and not that he'd ever asked. Surely he'd wondered, though? "But no; I'm actually here on Starfleet's behalf, this time. Mostly. Not anything to do with any political whatevers, anyway. You know I'm not that kind of girl."
Leonard huffed at that, brittleness threading through his voice as he replied. "I thought I knew."
That hurt, unexpectedly; she sighed and turned away, staring at his desk, buried in PADDs and file chips. "Guess you were right; I shouldn't ask questions I don't want the answer to," she winced.
For some reason, his voice sharpened considerably as he replied. "What was that?"
"What was what?" She glanced back at him, meeting startled eyes. Had he started tuning her out already? She probably deserved that; but she didn't know what she was supposed to say next.
Leonard stared a moment longer, then shook his head and seemed to abruptly remember he'd originally had some other place to be. An agitation seemed to fill him, and he took a few steps toward the office door. "Never mind. Look, unless there's something urgent, I'll... assign your medical records to Nurse Chapel, all right? That's why you were down here, wasn't it? There's no sense making things more difficult than they have to be."
"Have to be. Right," Buffy lifted a hand as if to reach out to him, then let it drop, shaking her head. Well, so much for the falling back into each other's arms plan, as much of a long shot as it had been. She couldn't let it go entirely without clearing the air, though. He deserved that much from her. "I understand. Just- there's something I wanted to say, before we- something I should have said, a long time ago."
"Buffy..." He looked back at her again, a warning note in his voice to match his pained expression.
"I'm sorry I hurt you. I really am; I never meant to," she continued quickly, voice catching. How many times had she practiced this speech? Too many; she was tripping over her tongue. "You were so- you reminded me of things I'd forgotten a long time ago, made me care. But I didn't know how to say anything; or what to; and since I'm made of fail, by the time I realized I had something to say you were already gone."
Leonard shook his head dismissively, clenching his jaw. "How did you put it? 'I know how that song goes. Boy, do I ever.' Look, I appreciate what you're saying, but..."
How that song goes? Now it was her turn to startle, flashing back again to a beachside hideaway that hadn't ever actually existed. The slang sounded wrong in his Southern accent; sounded like something she would say. Something she'd imagined she had said, months ago.
He hadn't suddenly become telepathic, had he? "Wait, what did you say?"
They stared at each other in equal bafflement for a moment. Then a third voice suddenly broke in, followed by a dark blond head of hair and a matching Command uniform as the door swished open to admit Captain Kirk.
"Hey, Bones...?" he said, glancing toward the desk, then came to an abrupt halt, glancing between them.
Leonard seemed eager to head off whatever his reaction might be, clearing his throat. "Uh, Jim, this is..."
Buffy hadn't got around to telling him yet that the Captain already knew- the part where she wasn't really a Starfleet officer trained from the Academy up, anyway; not the part about their former relationship. And Kirk clearly realized that, had maybe even planned on it, with how quickly he'd followed her down here. Or maybe he'd thought she'd wait 'til tomorrow and wanted to give his friend a heads-up? Whichever, he only gave her a perfunctory glance before turning a shit-eating grin on his friend.
"Lieutenant Summers, I know. Sorry, I can see that I'm interrupting; Lieutenant, nice to see you again. Doctor, I was just checking to see if you had time to discuss some of the new crew assignments this evening, but I can see you're already doing your own research with our lovely new logistics officer. So I'll just leave you to it, shall I?"
Buffy could see the sharp blue eyes taking note of her in his peripheral vision, though, and she'd heard enough about the famous Captain before taking her assignment to Enterprise to know that masculine appreciation was probably only a very small part of it. He might be young and lucky; but he was a genius, and the nonstandard formation of his crew had resulted in a very tight-knit group of veterans. Two of whom, his first officer and CMO, had been judged qualified enough to also be read in on her secret. He'd been clearly suspicious of her motives in their earlier meeting; he'd surely ask Leonard's opinion of her later.
She could deal with that, though, as long as he wasn't the type to disregard her suggestions over personal differences of opinion. Starfleet wanted to explore strange new worlds, but didn't train their people sufficiently to anticipate strange new things that might possibly, occasionally, try to eat them for lunch; the current casualty rates among their away teams were a travesty. She hoped to start changing that, one security officer at a time.
Leonard waved Kirk off with a wry remark while she was thinking, then turned to her, shaking his head, as the door shut behind him. "You know what I told Jim the day we met, about why I joined Starfleet?"
She shook her head slowly. "No."
"That my ex had got the whole damn planet in the divorce," he said, smiling mirthlessly. "Earth not enough for you now? Buffy... what are you doing here?"
Buffy's knee-jerk reaction was to blurt that they hadn't actually been married; but her stupid tongue, or lack thereof, had ruined enough already. "I missed you," she said, abruptly realizing that she'd left that part out. "And I do want to apologize. It's been so long since I wanted anything- but that's no excuse, I know. I went to the Shore Leave planet before taking this assignment to clear my head; but all it ended up doing was making me realize how much I'd lost when you gave up on me. So- here I am."
"Shore Leave planet?" he repeated, frowning- then suddenly sucked in a breath. "Wait- you were there, too?"
Too? The word fell like a rock into her gut, and she repeated it numbly, voice shooting up a register. "There too?"
Hastily, Buffy tried to remember what exactly she'd said that day. Telling the Shore Leave planet's version of him all the things she'd wished she'd actually said when they'd last parted...
Oh, God. Slowly, the implications sank in: that everything she'd thought was only the planet's wish-fulfillment guides giving her what she wanted to hear, might be things he'd actually said and felt; and that he might've believed everything she had said, clearing the air for her own peace of mind, was born of his own wishes and fears.
She groped for the nearest chair and sank to a seat, staring at him. "You said you were a doctor, not an adventurer," she blurted.
He laughed at that, abrupt and disbelieving, looking just as shocked as she felt. "You said there'd always be a part of you with me. Good God, you were there."
"Did I- did I lie?" she couldn't help but ask, wetness welling up in her eyes with the words. She was far too old and jaded to cry; not even for the first man she'd, okay, loved, in more than a century would she let herself be that weak. But this was a day of surprises, it seemed.
He'd said- there- that he had a new crazy blond in his life. She thought back to the Captain's casual entry; his affectionate nickname. Had Leonard meant Kirk? Was she still too late?
The question seemed to shake something loose in him, though; he reached out almost hesitantly to cup her cheek with one palm. He had different calluses now than he'd had as a country doctor on Earth; but they matched what she'd felt that night in an imaginary beach-cooled room on a world built of dreams.
"No," he murmured, shaken. "No, damn it; it wasn't a lie. All those years I spent waiting- if you'd ever given me even a hint in all that time, I'd never have left Georgia."
"But here we are."
He nodded, stroking a thumb over her cheek. Then he frowned, searching her eyes again. "If you're yanking my chain... if you're trying to make me hope just so you can leave me behind again without a word..."
Leonard McCoy had been Buffy Summers' one real thing for years, her anchor in a transitory, impermanent world. But she hadn't let herself show it; she'd told herself nothing was worth the aggravation of letting him under her armor, not when she'd lose him eventually one way or another. Until one day she'd come back to find him vanished to the stars, and realized how deeply she'd been in denial.
And maybe it had been for the best, then; if she had to count- he'd saved more lives than she had, since he'd signed his name on that dotted line. But that didn't change how she felt now: scared, and determined, and more alive than she'd been in a very long while. He was offering her a chance; she wouldn't waste it.
She shook her head. "There's a lot I have to tell you about my job. But I want to try."
"Good enough," he replied, gruffly. Then he reached for her again- not for a kiss, as she'd half-hoped, but something better, pulling her into the shelter of his arms as if she'd never left.
She clutched him back, turning her ear to press against his heart, and closed her eyes as she listened to the sound of home.