Nobody Knows Me Like You Do
Chapel sat in the bar on spacedock, watching as the techs floated around the Enterprise, assessing the post-V'ger damage. She sipped her wine, trying to figure out if she was going to stay with the ship now that Kirk had made her demotion to deputy permanent.
Deputy CMO on the flagship was still a coup right after graduating med school, and she knew that. She just had a huge sense of "been there, done that, got the goddamned t-shirt." Would she never get free of this part of her life? Kirk? Len? And now Spock. The everlasting trinity, who were not supposed to be part of this joyride. She'd signed on to be with her friends, with the other members of the crew she'd served with, not with the big three.
They'd been safely gone. Why hadn't they stayed that way?
"This seat taken?" A soft southern voice. Softer than she'd heard it during the crisis with V'ger.
She looked up and studied Len, before saying, "I'm not sure. I'm thinking about things. Important things."
"I know you are. And I know what about. Now, can I sit?"
She shrugged and then nodded.
He pulled the chair out and sat. She saw he had a drink already—bourbon, no doubt.
He looked out at the ship, his eyes betraying nothing. "I never wanted to be back here. You know that, right?"
"I know. He shanghaied you. I've heard this version."
"Version?" He turned back, his eyes hard.
"You accepted the post again. Shanghaied doesn't play well when you make the servitude permanent by choice."
His eyes widened slightly, the way they did when he was surprised. "You speak your mind a bit differently than you used to."
"Maybe that's because we're peers now. Or are you going to tell me we're not?"
"We are peers, Christine. You're a doctor."
"And all I hear you tell Kirk is you need your goddamn nurse back." She finished the wine she had left in one big swallow.
He waved the server over. "The lady will have a refill." He looked at Chapel. "You still drinking that fancy dry Riesling?"
The server didn't ask what kind since they only served one, just nodded and left.
"I don't want my nurse back. I have plenty of nurses. I just want back the Christine I could talk to."
She looked out the window. "You mean the one you could talk at."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"I was never your friend." She could feel her mouth turning down, the bitterness rising in her eyes. "The way you used to ride me about Spock."
This time it was he who threw his drink back. When the server came with her wine, he told her to bring him back a double. "And you wasted no time in making it known you were happy to see him when he showed up this time."
"You are so right. I won't stop you if you want to give me shit for that. I've already given myself a raft of it."
He smiled. "Then I don't need to if you've finally started doing it." He leaned forward, waited as the server set down his drink and left, then said gently, "And I haven't been giving you shit this time. Maybe you haven't noticed?"
"I noticed. Figured you thought you couldn't do to a colleague what you did to a subordinate."
"Well, that would make me a real asshole, wouldn't it?" His mouth got very tight. "Maybe I just didn't want to get you upset when you'd already had several bad hits. Decker's death and being demoted—with me coming back. I can't imagine I was your first choice for boss for life?"
She laughed. "I've had worse."
"Oh, yeah, compare me to Korby. That's sweet." He leaned back. "I came here to say one thing and I've managed to screw it up, so I'm just going to say it. And I've never said it before because it never seemed the right time, but I'm afraid you're going to leave, so now is the only time."
He fell silent.
She waited, and then she started to laugh. "Did I miss the part where you say this thing you are going to say?"
"No, damn it all, I'm working up to it." He took a quick sip. "Don't go. Don't leave the ship."
"Don't...that's all you have? That's your big statement?"
He took another sip, and not a quick one. "That's just the intro."
"Oh." She sighed. "Len, I—"
"Let me finish, woman." He took a deep breath. "I rode you the way I did about Spock because I wanted you. And I was too damn dumb to simply tell you, and you either didn't care or couldn't see it—or both." He exhaled as if he'd just run a marathon, then took another deep breath. "And...that's why I don't want you to go. I know Spock's back and you think maybe...but I think maybe, too. So...don't go."
She stared at him.
"Well, say something, damn it."
"You wanted me?"
"You were so mean to me."
"Well, that's how little boys are, Christine. They pick on the girls they like. You've accused me of never growing up before. Why would I start with how I handle relationships?" He closed his eyes. "This went better in my head."
"Are you even interested? Just shoot an old dog if you really don't give a damn."
"You're my boss."
He laughed out loud. "Because everyone knows you've got a problem with that."
She wanted to hit him but settled for laughing. How could she not when it was true?
"Have you really never considered it?" He met her eyes. "Is Spock all you can see?"
She didn't answer at first, but then said softly, "When you were sick. I thought about it then."
"I've never forgotten what you said to me. 'A lot can happen in a year.' It never did for us. Not in one. Not in five." He reached over, touched her hand for a moment then pulled back. "I'm asking for that year now. You said to give myself every minute of it. I want to do it now. With you." He frowned at the same moment she did. "Only that sounded creepy because we need to build into this, I realize—I don't mean I want to smother you."
"You finding all this funny, Doctor?"
"You wouldn't happen to be finding it charming and oh-so appealing, would you?" He gave her a very hopeful look that she suddenly did find more than a little charming. She'd never seen him so...vulnerable with her.
"Maybe? Well, hallelujah. That's much better than the 'Hell, no' I was expecting." He grinned at her. "So you'll stay?"
She looked out at the ship again.
He followed her gaze. "You can leave any time if it's not working, you know that. With your credentials, people will be fighting over you. You know that, too. And no one will question why you left, not with Jim pulling a boneheaded stunt like reinstating me."
She turned back to him. "I'll stay. And...I don't want to chase Spock. I don't want to be that woman. But...this thing with us. I don't know about it. You and I have a history that isn't always pleasant for me. I like this conversation we're having. I've learned more in this conversation than in five years with you, I think. More things that matter, if you get me?"
"Oh, I get you." He held up his glass. "Taking it slow is not a problem for me. It is a southern tradition to court a lady. I'm perfectly all right with upholding that fine practice."
She smiled. It had been a long time since anyone had wooed her. Much less this man, who'd so often annoyed the crap out of her.
Might be nice.
And if it wasn't, she could always leave. She'd already received several notes from high-ranking officers asking if she was staying on Kirk's ship now that Will was gone. Len wasn't wrong: she had options.
It was strange, McCoy couldn't deny that. Working with Christine and having permission—her permission—to want her. To pursue her. It was strange but wonderful.
In a terrifying way. He'd never been so afraid he was going to fuck something up in his entire life.
He had a feeling Christine was wondering when the courting was going to begin. Right now, he was just trying to let himself get used to the idea that he had her consent to chase. Which would get him in a better frame of mind to do this the right way, not some half-assed way that would leave her feeling like she got gypped.
He knew he had a lot to make up for. He also knew that Spock still loomed large in her mind, no matter what she said she did or didn't want to do about him. If McCoy wanted her for himself, he had to make her forget every other man. His track record on this with other women was not stellar. Hence, his caution.
But what he was doing, and he thought Christine was noticing this, was letting her in professionally. Not just as a woman he wanted, but as a colleague and, more importantly, as his partner, his deputy. Talking to her not at her, asking her opinion rather than giving orders. It wasn't hard. She was as smart as he was, if not smarter, and they both knew it. She just lacked experience.
And the more he included her, the more she seemed to settle into the job, into the routine, into just being on this ship again. And that was his first goal. Get leaving out of her mind.
He saw Jim come into sickbay, saw him stop to talk to Christine and narrowed his eyes. He wasn't going to exclude the idea of anyone being a possible rival, and Jim's best hunting ground, if he did decide to mess in his nest, was medical. And Christine was just his type.
And McCoy had shared nothing of what was going on. He'd never told Jim about how he felt for Christine. Had always felt like a silly teenager harboring this desire for his head nurse, when here he was older than his friend.
Jim turned and walked back to McCoy's office. He grinned and said, "You really are a miracle worker, Bones. I got a smile from Chapel today."
"Just trying to make her feel like a demotion isn't the end of the world."
"Well, I certainly don't mind mine." Jim sat. "You okay? You've been quiet lately."
"Fine. Just...getting used to being on this deathtrap. One you had no hand in refitting, which makes me nervous to no end."
Kirk laughed. "Same old Bones."
"Did you expect any different?"
"You being you is one of the cornerstones of my security." His smile faded. "But Spock being Spock is, too, and he's not really himself yet. How long do you think this emotionalism is going to keep up?"
McCoy was wondering that himself. He had Spock in for more check-ups than Spock believed were necessary. But he wanted to observe the progress for himself and also see how Spock acted around Christine.
Keep your friends close and your romantic rivals closer. At least until you secured fair lady.
"He's getting better, Jim."
"Not fast enough for my taste."
"You go meld with a big damn killing machine. Then tell me how fast you get better."
Jim smiled. "Good point." He rubbed his eyes. "I just want things back to normal."
"You mean you want them the way they were. They won't ever be the way they were."
A frown was his answer. "Is that pessimism or a pep talk?"
"Both. You got your ship back, but she's not the same ship. Accept that. You got Spock and me back, but we're not the same people we were when we served with you last. Spock, especially. Give it time. You're where you should be. It's just different."
"Wise as ever. That seems the same." Jim sighed, then he got up. "Thank you, Doctor. As always, you have earned your pay for the day."
"Then the rest of my shift will be cake." He grinned and watched Jim walk out, glad to see he didn't stop to say goodbye to Christine.
Chapel carried a dinner tray to the lab, smiling as she passed crewmen she knew and those she'd only briefly met in sickbay when they'd processed onto the ship. She turned into the lab, waited as the doors opened—these weren't as responsive as they should be. Something else to report that wasn't up to par yet.
Then she walked in and set the tray in front of Len. "I realize the captain needs these results yesterday, but you already skipped lunch. And I know you. You won't take a break to go get this."
He smiled up at her. "Thank you."
She nodded and walked back to the door.
She turned, saw he was watching her, his eyes very gentle. "Yes?"
"My results will be a while. Come sit with me while I eat. Talk to me. I'm tired of being alone with my brain and this microscope."
She smiled, studied the table he was at. There were any number of stools to pick. Then she saw him put his foot on the one next to him and slide it out.
She looked around. The lab was empty. What the hell?
She walked back to him and sat down. And was instantly aware of how this was not the stool she would have chosen. In the empty lab, she seemed to be almost in his lap.
He turned and started to eat, handing her a padd. "Does any of this look promising to you?"
She smiled that he thought she could just look at what he'd done and know if it was working. She could, but she usually didn't think he thought she could. "Test four-b and six-a both look good."
"That's how I'm leaning, too." He sighed. "This is great. Thank you. I didn't realize how hungry I was." He looked over at her. "I used to be jealous when you'd bring Spock food."
"I only did it the one time. Other than when he was under medical confinement or in sickbay, but I did that for everyone."
"True. But the one time stands out."
"Only because I nearly ended up wearing the soup."
"Also true." He looked down. "Did you make him more?"
"Why do you ask?"
"Just a hunch."
"Yeah, I did."
"Did he like it?"
"He never really said." She looked down. "That was a strange time."
"On that we can agree." He reached over, took her hand and gave it a squeeze before letting it go. "Sorry, didn't mean to bring up bad memories."
"Well, they're our memories, aren't they? We can't sweep them under the rug."
"No, I guess we can't."
"Your actions make more sense. I mean...if you were jealous."
"I was. As seething green as that blasted soup." He grinned.
She laughed, glad to see he could be light about this. "I get that. I certainly had my moments being jealous."
"Of Spock and his bevy of beauties?"
"I was actually thinking of Natira." She looked down. "That was a hard time. I really did think about you. What you meant to me. What I probably didn't mean to you. It was...strange. I didn't let myself think about that again, Len. I just put it out of my head. Told myself it was that you were dying that made my mind and heart go all the wrong places."
"No, they went the right places. But I can't regret you didn't say anything. I'd be dead now if we hadn't found that Fabrini book with the cure for xenopolycythemia."
"True enough. Everything happens for a reason, I guess."
The lab door opened and another couple walked in. She started to get up, but felt Len's hand on her thigh. "Let people get used to this. What difference does it make? We're just talking."
She settled back down. "It's just we're sitting very close."
"We've stood closer when we've been working. You just need something to eat so you don't feel so conspicuous." He handed her one of the cookies she'd loaded up on his plate. It was her favorite kind, a snickerdoodle. "That'll make it all better. And I don't even like those, so don't tell me you didn't pick that for yourself anyway."
She smiled. "Maybe I'm trying to expand your horizons?"
"Well, that's entirely possible. You're not afraid to take on impossible projects." He grinned at her and went back to eating.
She picked the padd up, scrolled back so she could see how he'd started. "Maybe if this batch doesn't work, try some Em-4 solution as a stabilizer. I've found that it can get rid of impurities other things won't even find."
"I'll try that. Good tip. Thanks." He sounded open, not at all patronizing. "What about Carbolimix. I keep seeing it written up, but so far I'm not having much luck with it being a miracle addition to anything."
"Marketing hype that everyone has bought into. You're right, as usual. They should have you field test things before they allow Starfleet Medical to buy anything." She bumped shoulders with him.
"We could charge a fee. Hell, we could cash out and open our own product-testing business."
She laughed. Then her communicator went off. "Oh, crap."
"I was supposed to meet Ny and Jan for drinks. Not linger here after dropping off your dinner tray."
"Did they know you were dropping off my dinner tray?" His voice dipped into an interesting register.
She shook her head.
"Do they know I'm pursuing you? Or that you're letting me?"
"Well, technically, since the most action we've seen is me bringing you dinner, they might interpret it more as me once again setting my sights on a man who doesn't know I'm alive. But no, they don't know."
"They'd be wrong in that assessment." Len glanced back at the other couple, then reached over and touched her hand, letting his linger, his fingers doing something to her palm that was making her suddenly very aware of him and how intently he was staring at her with his blue eyes. "I most definitely know you are alive."
Her communicator buzzed again. She exhaled slowly, pulled her hand away. "I have to go."
"I know you do. Thank you for looking out for me." He picked up the padd. "And for the tips."
"Sure." She took a deep breath before getting up and walking to the door. She did not look back as she walked out, even though she really wanted to.
McCoy saw Christine in her office and her coffee mug by the coffee maker, which had just finished brewing. He poured her a cup, fixed it the way he knew she liked it with more milk and sugar than was medically advised, and took it in to her.
"You're working late," he said, as he set the coffee down on the coaster she kept near her terminal.
"Evals. Funny how the deputy gets stuck doing most of them."
He smiled. "Always been that way. Just ask M'Benga." He sat down in one of her desk chairs rather than perching on her desk like he normally did.
"You're doing mine, though?"
"Yep. I did yours before. Me wanting you won't change how I evaluate you. You'll get a fair rating. You always have."
She took a sip of her coffee, smiled at him and he knew he'd made it to her liking. "How did I not know you wanted me?"
"You didn't care?"
"No. Care or not, a woman usually can tell."
"I'm a surly SOB adept at hiding his feelings under coats of nasty sarcasm? I probably worked so hard to not make you uncomfortable that I hurt you worse with all the smokescreens."
She nodded and looked surprised he'd admit it.
"Hey, I'm at least I'm a self-aware, surly SOB."
She laughed. "If you want me so bad, why haven't you asked me to dinner yet?"
"Do not question the great method of southern courting, my dear. You still have leaving on your mind?"
She shook her head.
"Well, then, clearly, I am doing something right." He grinned as if he hadn't a care in the world, but she had no idea how hard it was for him to put on the brakes and take it this slow. Had no idea how much time he spent thinking about her in his quarters—or what he was doing when he was thinking about her. He wanted her—he'd wanted her for years, but he knew his problem was rushing things. For some reason, he'd never rushed things with her and he wasn't going to start now. Especially not with Spock around.
It wasn't enough that Christine was open to him. She had to want him. She had to want only him. When he finally made love to her, he wanted it to be because she couldn't stand it if he didn't.
He wasn't sure they'd ever get there. But he was a pathetic enough old romantic at this point in his life for him to need them to get there. Or he'd pass.
God help him, he'd pass.
She turned back to the screen, moaned softly and rubbed her neck.
He got up, said, "Here, let me." He'd never really treated her to one of his neck massages. Had been afraid he'd telegraph what he wanted if he did. He felt along her shoulders, found the spot immediately that was knotted and went to work on it, kneading it as she let out the soft exhalation he knew meant relief.
"You're a god," she murmured, her voice almost unbearably sexy.
"Yes, yes, I am. The epiphany has come to you late in life, my child, but it has at last come."
She laughed and her back shook under his hands, making him grin. He moved to her neck; this was the part that would be more sensual, less therapeutic. He heard her inhale suddenly as he made slow deep circles around her neck, working his way to the sides of her throat. He smiled when he saw that she liked this. She liked how he touched her. He could tell by the way she was pushing back gently, the way she'd gone still under his hands, still and almost boneless.
"Welcome to the Church of McCoy."
"Nice place you've got here."
He could hear the smile in her voice, and it made him work even harder as he slid his fingers up under her hairline, massaging just a little more and then stopping. He patted her shoulders, said, "There you go, kiddo," and walked out.
He heard a small groan from her—a complaint because he'd finished too soon. Then her calling, "Thank you."
"You bet. Now, get those evals done, Chapel." He knew he was smirking as he walked back to his office.
First rule of courtship: leave them wanting more.
Chapel sat at the bar in the rec lounge with Ny and Jan. They were facing out, leaning back against the bar, checking out the impromptu limbo contest that had erupted as part of the Caribbean Night party. None of them had dressed up, but others had, many in skimpy little bikini tops.
"Does it make us officially old if we're sitting here wearing things that actually cover our boobs and asses?" Jan asked in a philosopher's tone before she took a long hit off her beer.
"I think so, yes," Uhura said. She shrugged. "Don't care. I'm long past the days where I'm going to subject this rear end or the girls to trying to get under a limbo rod wearing nothing but triangles and some string." She held her martini glass up to the bartender. "Another?"
Chapel saw Len come in with Kirk. Now that she knew what to look for, she saw the way Len's expression changed when he saw her, but it was subtle. He was good at hiding what he felt, and she doubted that either of her friends had noticed a thing.
"Ladies," Kirk said as he and Len walked up to them. "I see the party is in full swing." He took in the limbo scene. "Am I getting old or are there less clothes this year?"
"We noticed that, too." Jan smiled at him. "You still dance with anyone who asks?"
He nodded with a grin.
"Well, if they ever put dance music on instead of this marimba crap, I get first dibs."
"Your tactics have changed since you went to transporter school."
"We were taught to be direct. Saves time and lives."
Kirk laughed. "First dance is yours, then." With a grin, he moved down the bar and ordered a drink.
"Is your first dance taken, Doctor?" Len's voice was as casual as ever.
"I don't believe so."
"May I pencil my name in on your nonexistent dance card?" He made a face as if in offense that the time-honored tradition had been ignored at this party.
"I don't see a line waiting to dance with me."
He frowned. "That's the wrong answer."
She realized there was a bite to his voice, saw something in his eyes that told her to try again. "You may pencil your name in, sir."
"Much better." He smiled, the hurt—or whatever it had been—gone. "If this marimba crap ever goes away."
"And there is no guarantee of that," Ny said, proving she was listening in to everything, as Chapel always took for granted. Hazard of palling around with a communications officer.
Len walked down to where Kirk was sitting, and Chapel waited to see if Ny would have any further comment, but she didn't. Not for Chapel anyway, but she did turn to Jan and say, "Good job, you. Grew a pair?"
"Didn't have a choice. Transporter school wasn't easy." She shook her head as she watched more people show up and join the limbo line. "You know this marimba shit is not going to end. Or it's just going to turn into a big conga line."
Ny and Chapel nodded. They'd seen it happen before.
And it happened again. A few hours later, Chapel gave up, left Jan and Ny at the bar, and walked over to where Len was sitting with Kirk and Scott, who'd come in late.
"Next time," Len said softly as she smiled and said "Good night."
"So what was that?" Jim asked at breakfast the next day.
McCoy busied himself with putting hot sauce on his omelette. "What was what?"
"Next time. You said—actually sort of purred it—to Christine."
"Oh. Just a dance. Guess she got the idea from Rand's ballsy cornering of you." He grinned.
"She didn't ask you. You asked her. I saw you do it while I was ordering my drink. What's going on?"
McCoy took a nice big bite of egg to give himself time to think. This was his friend. He could trust him. But did he want to?
Jim waited, his eyes narrowed.
"I like her," McCoy finally said when he'd finished chewing. "I always have. There. There it is."
"Like as in like to go to lunch with or like as in why won't she do me this minute?"
"The latter, Jim." He took another bite of egg. Maybe honesty had been the wrong way to go.
"Ahhhhh. That explains a lot, actually. How you treated her. How you treated Spock. How you never treated me that way." He nodded. "Must have driven you nuts, seeing her chase him."
"Wasn't fun—I'll admit." He shrugged. "I didn't always handle it the best way known to man."
Jim laughed. "Uh, no. But she's still talking to you—and working with you—so clearly she's a forgiving sort. I take it you've made it known to her that you fancy her?"
"Oh, yes." McCoy let out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. God damn, it was a relief to just say it. To tell his best friend that he was interested in Christine.
"Does she return the feelings?"
Jim waited, his eyes full of something McCoy didn't really like. Pity, maybe?
"I know. I know. Maybe not ever. Spock's still around. Is he...interested in her? After V'ger, I mean? I keep trying to tell, but he has that poker face down."
Jim smiled. "I haven't noticed any interest in her direction."
"But he can go one way when you think he's going to go another."
"Yeah, he can." Jim leaned forward. "How are you playing this?"
"Very carefully. I don't actually want my heart broken again. It was hard enough to get over my divorce. And I was young then. More easily mended."
"I remember. That's why I asked." He smiled. "For what it's worth, she looked interested last night. And I have a reputation at being somewhat good at this." He grinned wider.
"She did look a little disappointed that we weren't going to get a dance." McCoy smiled. "We'll see how this goes. However it turns out, sickbay's a lot nicer place now that we're being more...honest with each other. Or I'm being more honest anyway." He smiled. "She's staying put for now, which is what I wanted. I assume that's what you wanted? I never asked you before I started my campaign to get her not to leave."
"You're fine. I wanted her to stay. I just wanted her to stop glaring at me." Jim laughed, that silly, self-deprecating laugh that McCoy loved. "She can be daunting."
"You have no idea."
Chapel walked into her office, saw a white flower lying on her desk. It had a note next to it that said, "Handle with care. Lots of thorns. Not unlike the sender."
She laughed, picked it up very gingerly, and sniffed. A lovely clove-like scent filled her head. "Mmmm."
"It's a Cherokee Rose. The state flower of Georgia." Len stood at the door. "The thorns are the devil."
"Aren't they always."
"Well, what's something nice without a little work?"
"Umm, something nice." She laughed as she waited for him to come up with a snappy reply, but he seemed fresh out. "They should make a perfume of it."
"You can find it in some smaller shops in Savannah. It's expensive."
"It'd be worth it. This is exquisite. Thank you."
He moved over to her desk, stood next to her. "It's more than just a pretty gift. It's an invitation to dinner. We'll be back at Command next week. There's an amazing restaurant in Savannah, if you're free?"
She'd tentatively said she'd go to the beach with Ny and Jan, but, "I could make myself free."
"That's a much better answer than the one I got for our dance that never was." He pulled a small stand from behind some books on her desk and set the flower into it. "This will keep it fresh for days. Special mixture at the bottom keeps it fed and watered."
"You went to a lot of work."
"Oh, I'm sorry, are you not worth a lot of work?" He let his eyebrow go up.
She conceded his question with a slight head nod.
"But yes, I did go to a lot of work, Christine. That is one of the tenets of courtship." He laid his hand on her shoulder, and she reached up and covered it with her own.
Something changed in his eyes when she did it. It was as if, for just a moment, the man with all the defenses was gone.
"You are worth it, as far as I'm concerned."
"Glad to hear it."
"But pampering goes both ways."
She let go of his hand. "And what do I need to do for you?" This should be good. Would it involve peeling grapes or something even more extreme?
"Will you do the weekly report? I've been swamped with this after-action thing from the dust-up Jim got us into yesterday."
"The weekly report is due tonight." She rolled her eyes. Then she smiled and handed him a padd. "I knew you were busy. I went ahead and just did it."
His eyes lit up. "Really? I may officially love you."
"I thought you already did?"
"Yeah, but I may declare it from the rooftops. If I can find some on this ship." He grinned. "Thank you."
"You're welcome." She was amazed at how happy she'd just made him. "So this place. Is it a hair up or hair down spot? Sundress or gown?"
"Hair down. Sundress."
"Okay. What makes it special?"
"I've been going there all my life. It has the best seafood you'll ever want to eat. It's casual, but the wait staff treat you like kings and queens. And I love the view—it's right on the river."
"It will be." He smoothed a tendril that had worked its way from her hair clips off her cheek, his eyes incredibly tender, then he turned and walked out.
The scent of the rose was filling the room. She could still feel his hand on her cheek and remembered the way he'd touched her when he was massaging her neck. She felt a little warm feeling in her stomach, the slight twist of desire.
She had to give it to him. Len was better at this than she'd thought he would be.
McCoy changed his clothes three times before he finally settled on an outfit for dinner in Savannah. He didn't want to look like he was trying too hard, but he didn't want to look like he wasn't trying hard enough, either. The last outfit seemed to fit the happy medium of just enough effort. He wished—not for the first time in his life—that he was taller, not so thin, more handsome. Maybe had pointed ears.
Damn it all. Why was he so nervous? They were just eating dinner at one of his favorite restaurants. This was a first date.
Oh, shit, yeah. This was the first date.
He really wanted a bourbon but she'd smell it on his breath. And he didn't want to show any weakness. Why the hell hadn't he stocked away some decent anti-anxiety drugs just on the off chance Christine ever said "Why, yes, kind sir, I will go out with you"? What the hell was the matter with him?
He leaned over the counter in the bathroom, looked in the mirror, gave himself a fierce glare, and said with as much of a snarl as he could, "Pull yourself together, man."
Then he stood up, made sure he had his credits fully stocked in his account, and left his quarters for the short walk to hers. He tried to ignore that his palms were sweaty.
She didn't open the door on first chime but got it as he rang again, still in her robe, a little flushed. "I'm so sorry. I'm having a dress dilemma."
He smiled, and suddenly felt himself relax. "I had one of those. Well, not with a dress. You as nervous as I am?"
"Yes. And it's ludicrous, isn't it? I mean...how long have we known each other?" She pulled him into her quarters. Two dresses hung on the closet door. "Which?"
"They're both pretty."
"I know. I'm, I'm...stuck. I put one on and then I think the other one would be better."
He rubbed her back, hoping it would calm her a little. "This is the third dashing ensemble I've had on tonight. It is the first date, after all."
"Exactly. And there's expectations and rituals and..." She turned to look at him and swallowed hard. "Will you do something for me?"
She smiled at the way he'd said it. "Just...kiss me. It's gonna sit there otherwise. This thing at the end of the night that we might do...or we might not. Something might happen, one us might get struck by lightning."
"I don't think so. No storms tonight." But he smiled at her whimsy.
"Just...can we get it out of the way?"
"That is so unromantic."
She looked down. "You don't want to kiss me?" She turned. "Okay, then. Umm. I guess this one." She reached up for one of the dresses, and he realized her hand was trembling.
"No, it's okay. I get it. Not part of your plan. I'm sorry I asked." She wasn't looking at him. "I'm just going to change in the bathroom."
"Christine." He turned her. "Of course I want to kiss you. And I can be flexible." He pulled her to him slowly, smiling as he did it, and went in for a very gentle kiss, nothing too passionate or he'd never be able to resist untying her robe—no, he should not think about what was right under that robe.
She moved closer, opened her mouth a little, and he was lost. He pulled her in tighter, felt her wrap her arms around his neck, the dress resting on his back.
They kissed for a long time. It was, he was pretty sure, the best kiss of his life.
He hoped to God it ranked up there for her. When he let her go, she looked a little dazed.
He played with her hair for a moment; she had it long and wavy, held back with two clips, and she looked beautiful. "Well, I don't have any desire to run away after that. How about you?"
"No, no, I'm definitely up for the rest of the evening now." She tilted her head, her eyes dancing. It was going to be one of his favorite expressions, he could tell. Pure deviltry.
"Show me your hand. Still shaking?"
She smiled and shook her head as she lifted her hand. Rock solid. She turned to go into the bathroom.
She glanced back.
He reached up, got the other dress down. "Wear this one."
She laughed. "You just want to wrestle control back."
"Damn straight." He knew the look he gave her was a mix of affection, amusement, and pure Georgia passion. "But I also like this one better."
"Fine. I'll be right out." She gave him a smile that was very pleased—and a little surprised.
He was very pleased and a little surprised himself.
Chapel loved the restaurant. They were given a lovely table on an upper deck facing the river. The evening was gorgeous, a sweet breeze playing around them, just enough to keep them cool, but not enough to blow things over. On the deck, the noise from the lively bar she'd noticed in the back was muffled.
He had a funny look. "Yes, it is."
"You used to do more than eat here, didn't you?"
He actually blushed. "It's as you say...popular."
"So how many women have you eaten on this deck with?" She leaned forward, interested to see how he would finesse the question.
"A few," he said. Then he sighed. "More than a few. I was retired for months. But none of them were you. And God knows I wanted them to be." He gave her a smile that was too weary to be anything but true. "Not a good answer."
"Honesty is always a good answer. It hurts sometimes, but it's a good answer."
"Yeah, I guess if I'd tried that earlier..." He laughed. "Well, this is getting off to a bang-up start."
She reached over, put her hand on his. "You can't control everything, Len."
"I don't try to."
"Yes, you do. What do you think all that sarcasm is? It's like a forcefield—the directional kind they use with crowd control at events to keep people queuing up the right way. You like to know you're on solid ground. The rest of us...not so important to you."
"That's not very nice."
"It's just truth. If we can't talk about something like this, what can we talk about?" She felt the old surge of frustration. Why was he doing this now? Especially after that kiss?
Ah. Of course. That kiss. She leaned in. "You liked that kiss, didn't you? You liked it too much. That's why you're striking out."
"You have an ego the size of Stone Mountain."
"I'll take your word for it since you haven't shown me Stone Mountain yet." She saw him bite back a smile, knew she'd just found a key to winning a fight with him: hold out the future while you did it as if it still existed. "I liked it, too, you know. Maybe that's why I need to talk about this? And for the record, this little disagreement we're having was just an observation that this was probably your happy hunting ground. You acknowledged that. We could have just moved on. But, no. You turned it into a big deal, not me. Just be aware, you're causing your own problems here."
"Did you take a lot of psych classes in med school?"
She started to laugh. "I've majored in McCoy for quite a while. It was necessary to get ahead when I first started and then to survive once I settled in. And now..." She let her voice dip into the husky tone she thought he liked. "Now, I have other reasons for wanting to figure you out."
"Could you say that again exactly that way?"
"I could. I'm not going to, though."
"Doctor McCoy. Such language." She pulled him to her, planted a soft, gentle kiss on his lips. "There I go, taking control again. Are you going to pick another fight or kiss me back?"
His grin was wicked as he pulled her to him and gave her a kiss that was not soft, not gentle, and was really good. Another useful thing to know: the man responded well to challenges.
She heard a soft cough, realized their server was hovering.
"Do you folks need more time or do you want to hear about the specials?"
Len waved him closer. "Tell us about the specials, young man. There is not enough time in the world for what we need."
The kid blushed, stammered out the specials, she thought incorrectly, and then fled.
Len chuckled. "I embarrassed him. Did I embarrass you?"
"No." She smiled. "So what's good here? He mangled the entrees, right?"
"Oh, like you wouldn't believe. Stick with the oysters, the grouper, or the catfish. And the mussels are often good but not the way he explained—we might want to ask him again how those are being done tonight."
"You don't think 'in turpentine' was right?" She started to laugh. "He turned so red. Is it because we're old and shouldn't have sex?"
"We're not that old." Len didn't say it angrily, just as a matter of fact.
"Yeah, but he's a kid, everybody's old."
"I think it's that he's a kid. They do everything fast. Everything." He waggled his eyebrows. "Maybe it never occurred to him before he could take his time with certain pleasures."
She chuckled. "You'd like that. Think you'd saved this young man from a life of taken too quickly love."
"You are not wrong." He put down the menu. "I'd also tell him when he finds the girl of his dreams to tell her."
"Unless he is going to contract xenopolycythemia. In which case, he must wait, fall in love with a priestess in, oh, about one day, marry her, have an instrument of obedience placed in his body, defy said instrument, nearly die, and then be saved. Also, he must fall for Yeoman Barrows in there."
"Miaow. To all of that, but how did Tonia get thrown in here?"
"She just bugged me."
"That was quite a bit before I got sick. And after you found Roger." He studied her. "What happened to honesty?"
"I didn't say jealous. She bugged me. That whole...princess thing. It played into your southern chevalier thing so well."
"But you cared."
"I was angry at the world back then. Roger, who I put my career on hold for, had turned out to be both an android and also psycho. And he'd made a playmate who was not, as it turned out, modeled on me but his other grad student. The one after me. Who he swore he was not sleeping with. Anyone who was happy was going to get the stinkeye from me back then."
"You weren't jealous?"
"Not then. But if she walked up to this table tonight, I would be now."
"Would you fight her for me? A big, high-drama catfight right here in front of everyone? "He's mine, you witch. Hands off!'"
"Damn. Man can dream." He winked at her. Then he reached out and stroked her cheek, his face going serious for a moment. "Thank you."
"For calling me on my bullshit. It was a good kiss. I did like it. A whole hell of a lot. Things I like don't always stick around."
"Like I said." She leaned in, stopped halfway to him, then met his eyes. "Just in case you want another before that poor traumatized boy comes back?"
He grinned and kissed her. They managed to finish before they could scar the kid for life—and they did get the real skinny on the mussels.
McCoy felt himself relaxing as the dinner progressed. Christine didn't seem to care that he could be the biggest idiot in the world. She just called him on his crap the same way she was doing in sickbay now and then moved on. And sometimes there were kisses.
Kisses that only got better the more of them he got. He decided the rule of supply and demand might be wrong. Okay he'd give them that maybe surplus bred ennui on the part of the consumer, but sufficiency sure beat the hell out of scarcity.
And it was nice to let go a little. To not have to be in complete control of this thing. Not that Christine was busting down the door to domination-ville, but she clearly was not interested in sitting back and being told what to do. And he found he liked that.
They finished their entrees, ordered a dessert to split, had coffee and brandy, and then walked along the river, holding hands like they were a couple of kids.
"Did you make the captain bring us back on a night when the moon was full?"
"No, but it's beautiful, isn't it?" He pulled her closer. "And you need to start calling him Jim."
"I'll call him that when he tells me to call him that." Then she turned to him. "Does he know about us?"
That was easy to answer. "He figured it out."
"Does he approve?"
"He doesn't disapprove."
She stopped walking, a deep frown growing. "Why not just say yes?"
"He doesn't disapprove? Meaning what? He's...concerned? Is it the chain of command thing?"
"No, I mean he's fine with it."
"No, you don't. Or you'd have said it." She dropped his hand. "Look, I'm a little sensitive around him right now. The man demoted me. And his explanation was 'I need Bones.' So as feedback goes, that's really not much. If he thinks I'm not up to par, not good enough to stay, and he's worried he's going to be sending me away and—"
"He's afraid you're still in love with Spock. That you're going to break my heart." McCoy took a deep breath. "Afraid's a little strong. Mildly concerned is probably closer. But this has nothing to do with your professional qualifications—you have to know that. He wants you to stay."
"It'd be nice if he told me that." She closed her eyes, seemed to be trying to compose herself. "Spock and I never were anything, never will be. Why would he worry about that?" She seemed to read the truth on his face. "Oh, it's not the reality, it's that you both think I can't give up on him. When will this stop haunting me?"
"Maybe when you stop lighting up around him?" The words were out before he could stop them.
She just stared at him. "What the hell does that mean?"
"Yesterday. I saw him talking to you in the corridor outside the lab. You were both quite animated."
"We were discussing science." The freezing cold anger in her voice told him to tread carefully.
He ignored the voice of reason. "Sure you were."
"Oh my God, what is wrong with you? What do I have to do? He liked a paper I did in med school. He gave me ideas for how to expand it into something to present at a seminar that's coming up. You didn't do that. You didn't even read it. I don't even know how he found it, much less took the time to read it, annotate it, and give it back with words of encouragement."
"I do. He wants you."
"No, he doesn't."
"Maybe he does. And then what will you do? What will a few kisses in a little southern place mean when compared to the great love of your life actually wanting you back?"
"He gave me footnotes, not roses. You are the biggest idiot I have ever met." She stared at him the same way she did at staff coffee mugs that had been allowed to sit around and grow science experiments rather than be cleaned. "It was a lovely evening, sir. I'm going to go now."
"You do that." How dare she sir him? Where the hell did she get off acting as if he was the one who couldn't see?
He watched her stalk off under the moonlit sky, felt a moment of helplessness as what had been such a great evening turned to shit in his hands.
In his hands? Hell, at his hands.
Goddamn it, he was a moron. He took off running, caught her before she'd gone very far.
"Leave me alone."
"I'm sorry." He pulled her to a bench that sat near the edge of the river walk. "Christine, I'm sorry."
"You're an idiot." She hit him, pushing him off her, but not with very much effort.
"I agree. I'm an idiot." He got her seated next to him, but she wouldn't relax, wouldn't look at him. "He terrifies me because I know you love him."
"I don't even know him, Len. But I do know you and you know me. And you terrify me, frankly, because despite that, you do things like this. Are you going to keep pushing me away? Because if that's your method for courting, I can see why it fails all the time."
He felt her words cut, as she no doubt meant them to. And she wasn't wrong. He did sabotage things. He didn't trust. And he was pushing her away already even though he wanted her, would take her right now on this bench if he didn't think they'd get picked up by the Savannah authorities for lewd behavior and defacement of historical property.
"How many women did you pick up from the place we were just at? Women that you ended up taking home? Did you see any of them in the bar tonight? You do that to me and then throw Spock in my face? Maybe I should go back up, huh? See what he wanted? Spock, Len had this idea that maybe in your parlance, footnotes equal a rose or a box of candy. Maybe what you meant when you said I should present a paper was that you really wanted to fuck me blind?"
He grabbed her, pulled her to him. Some part of himself said to stop, this was not courting, this was not the plan. But he couldn't stop. "If anyone's going to fuck you blind, it'll be me." He didn't kiss her, just held her close, both of them breathing hard, lips inches apart.
"I'll say that, not you." Her eyes were hard, glittering under the street lamps.
"Well, then say it, or don't. My house is just a few blocks away."
"Is it ready for us? Did you plan this?"
"No. The cleaning lady was last by two weeks ago unless she's cheating me and not really going in until I'm due home. There's no food, but there'll be booze because it's me we're talking about. I didn't plan this. Sex was not on the agenda for tonight." He started to let her go.
"Well, I think we need to get it onto the agenda. I'm sick of dancing around this. Get it out of your system. Get me—the me you've wanted all these years—out of your system, so you can see the real me. Maybe they're the same. Maybe not. Maybe it'll be horrible. Maybe not. Maybe I do want Spock. But maybe I don't." She slapped her palms against his chest. "Maybe I hate you right now."
He pulled her to him, wrapped his arms around her, and said, "Maybe I hate myself right now, too."
"Then let's go. Let's just get this over with."
And he knew that's what it would be. Getting it over with. It would be hot and passionate and horrible in the end. Because this was what he did. This was how he screwed everything up.
He turned love into anger and hope into pain.
He felt the energy dissolving out of him. "We're not going to my place. We're not having sex tonight. That won't help me see the real you. I need...time, that's all. I'm—"
"Just say it. For God's sake. You're afraid. Just say it."
"I'm afraid." He stood up, eased her up. "Let's go back to the ship."
She let him take her hand, but the joy of earlier was gone. Her face was stone—as emotionless as Spock's ever was. McCoy felt a pit forming in his stomach and desperately wanted a drink. Maybe he should have taken her back to his place, had her the way he'd always fantasized about.
What if he was going to lose her anyway? Wouldn't something have been better than nothing?
Chapel avoided Len as much as she could during an only semi-busy shift the next day. He seemed to be doing the same with her, which made it easier.
The atmosphere was less tense then full of regret. She had the distinct feeling he wished he could redo the whole damn night.
When the shift ended, Len got ready to leave with Kirk for dinner. She gave the captain a hard look as they were walking out, and he stopped and said, "Is there a problem, Doctor?"
"I don't know, sir, is there?"
Kirk narrowed his eyes and glanced at Len.
"Captain, you were talking to me, I believe. Not him."
Len closed his eyes, the expression that was half anger and half "don't go there."
Kirk's expression stayed the same. "You're right. I was. My apologies. Should we do this in your office?"
"I think we should. Doctor McCoy can wait a moment for dinner, can't you, sir?"
Len's mouth grew tighter, but he nodded and went back to his office.
Kirk followed her into her office, and she turned before he could start the conversation and asked, "Do you want me here. On your ship?" She saw his surprise at her taking the lead. "Because if you don't, tell me now and I will go. I know you're aware what's going on with Len. I also know you're not a big fan. But I need to know how many sides your disapproval is coming from before I decide what to do with that fact."
"I never said I wasn't a fan."
"Because we're such close friends. You didn't even tell me I was demoted in person. You made Will do that."
"Will. I wondered if you were on a first-name basis with him." There was something in his eyes she did not like.
"I was his CMO. Of course I was on a first-name basis with him." She realized what he might be implying, why else he might be worried about Len. "What the hell are you saying?"
"How did you get this posting?"
"You think I was sleeping with Will?"
"He fought like hell for you. I was in the meeting when he did it. Over other suggestions that made a great deal more sense. Why?"
"I've known him for years." She sat down in her chair, all the fight gone. Was this how everyone thought she'd gotten this job? "After his father died, I went to see him. You know, my impulsive nurturing gene? The one that makes soup?"
He sat down in the chair across from her, studied her. "You weren't sleeping with him?"
"No." She sighed. "Is that what everyone...? I can see why you'd worry for Len. Rebounding from boss to boss. I'll go—I'll get a transfer request ready and—"
"Belay that. There were only a few of us in the meeting, and the rest didn't know you well enough to see how strange it was."
She smiled bitterly, hearing what he wasn't saying. "But you knew my history with Roger."
"Exactly. But I didn't say anything. You were right to get this cleared up between us."
"So now there's only Spock to worry about?"
He nodded, but she thought he didn't look as concerned about that as he had about Will.
"I plan to confront that head on, too."
"I somehow do not doubt that." He grinned and she found herself responding. He stood, then put a hand on her shoulder. "My preference would be for you to stay."
He shook his head. "Or on your own, as my deputy CMO. But I'd prefer not to see Bones' heart trampled in the process. Are we clear?"
"Good." He walked to the door, called out to Len's office once the door opened, "Bones, come on, I'm starving. Everything good will be gone."
Chapel waited until Len had gone by, gave them a few minutes, then closed down her terminal and left for the night. She rode the turbolift, considering her next move, knowing it would be awkward but also knowing she had to do it.
Talking herself into it until she stood in front of Spock's door, she rang for admittance. She heard the soft, "Come," and the door slid open. He was meditating as she expected.
"I apologize for interrupting. May I sit? I come seeking answers."
He considered, then waved her to the other side of his meditation mat. She sat cross legged, grateful they were allowed to wear pants and not the minidresses.
"This will seem self serving, but I come less for myself than it will at first appear."
"Very well." His voice was so different than it had been. So harsh, as if he had not used it at all while he was at Gol.
"Why did you read my paper?"
"It was an emotional indulgence. I was...connecting with the things I had given up when I left the Enterprise. I read your paper, one that Mister Scott had put out on engineering, I watched a video of a fencing match that Mister Sulu had participated in, you see the pattern?"
"In this way, I was able to begin to rebuild my associations with all of you passively while the austerity left over from Gol warred with the emotional barrages of the meld from V'ger."
"That makes perfect sense. So you have no romantic interest in me, do you?"
"I do not. You do not sound particularly upset at this idea."
"I'm not. No offense."
"None taken." He studied her. "You said you were not here for yourself. Has Doctor McCoy finally admitted his feelings to you?"
She knew her mouth was open, tried to cover. "His what now?"
"Christine, please. Sometimes those on the outside see what those on the inside fail to. His attraction to you was very plain."
"Not to me." She gave him a hard look. "If you knew, wouldn't it have made sense to just tell me? Turn me his way and off your scent?"
"It might have been logical. But by the time I ascertained his feelings for you, I had grown to...resent, is perhaps the right word, his insults. And he was not always kind to you. I was not completely unmoved by you. I did not wish to pursue you, but that did not mean I wanted to push you in his direction."
"You think he's wrong for me?"
"I thought he was wrong for you. There is a difference in tense." He met her eyes. "I used to consider Leonard an enigma. He was a constant whorl of emotion, yet underneath he kept his deepest desires—such as his regard for you—hidden the same way a Vulcan would have. I found his constant exhortations to let my own feelings out to be...hypocritical. I resented him on many levels."
"But now you don't?"
"I believe I understand him better. I will eventually be unable to credit the meld with V'ger for every epiphany that I have, and I believe Jim will be grateful."
She smiled at the easy way he shared that with her.
"But for now, it is a very powerful force and is making me challenge beliefs I have held about what I know, what I could have, or what I could be. And also what others are and can be. I judged too harshly before. I looked too much on the surface and did not dig to see root causes. As a scientist, this was most remiss of me."
"People are the worst system to study."
"Indeed. What I see with Leonard now is that he fights his nature the same way I do. He fears his own emotions with equal intensity. Or perhaps more?"
She nodded. "I can see that."
"He is also like a Vulcan in that he seeks to control what he fears. You, if you choose him, must not allow him to control you."
She gave him a questioning look.
"It is crucial that you remain your own person. I imagine he is jealous of me, is he not? That is why you are here?"
"If we wish to become friends—and I can envision that, Christine..."
She smiled. "I can, too." This was the strangest day of her life.
"Then if we wish that, he will not like that you come to see me in my quarters alone. But that must not deter you. What we speak of as friends, as fellow scientists, is none of his concern."
"Except right now we're speaking of him."
"I do not anticipate him being the topic of our conversations in the future. Perhaps you could use Uhura or Rand as sounding boards if you wish to discuss his shortcomings?"
She laughed. "Fine. I won't come crying to you. Unless my experiments go flat." She got up. "Thank you. I appreciate this more than you will ever know."
"It speaks volumes for how much you do care for him that you would come here to ask me this. We have never talked this way before."
"No, we never have."
"He is a fortunate man."
"So is the captain." She smiled at his look of surprise. "You're not the only one in here who can read a room, Spock."
McCoy was getting more coffee when he felt a hand on his arm and then Christine's voice in his ear, much softer than he probably deserved. "You want to take a walk?"
"A walk?" He turned, saw that she was watching him with a look he'd categorize as causally wary.
"You remember those from when you were just starting out? The lovely below-decks constitutionals?"
The courtship walks? She was going to let him take her on one of those? "O...okay. I just have to..." He glanced toward his office.
"It's just a walk." Casually wary turned into actually wary.
"No, it's just I've been working on an apology to you all day, and I don't want that up on my screen if someone comes in." He grinned in what he hoped was his most "I'm an ass, and I know it" way.
"All right. Go clear your screen. You can apologize in person."
"That's harder." He made a face.
"I know. Why do you think I want it?" She crossed her arms and nodded toward his office. Daunting Christine was back.
He swallowed hard and hurried into his office, cleared the damned "I'm sorry" note off his terminal, and came back out. "All right. Below decks. Should we just explore? Lots of parts of the refits I've never checked out."
"Sure." She was back to casual, fell into step with him as if he was leading the way, but he knew he wasn't.
They rode a lift they didn't normally take, went deep into the bowels of the ship, nodding at crewman who gave them some odd glances. The silence went from wary to curious, and he began to relax.
As they rounded a corner into a deserted corridor, she said, "If you can't trust me, then we won't make it. Controlling me won't be an acceptable alternative to trusting me."
He had an urge to turn on his heel and walk away.
She seemed to know it. "No answer? You're so good at forcing confrontations. Don't like to be the recipient, though?"
He felt frustration flood through him, not least because she was right but also because he was tired. He'd been up drinking the night before after dinner with Jim, thinking about how badly he'd screwed this up with her. And trying to figure out how to fix things.
To get things back under...control. He took a deep breath. "I can't just turn a blind eye to the facts."
"You loved Spock."
"I had a crush on him. An infatuation."
"You were with Roger when you fell for him. You weren't faithful." He looked at her when he said it, knew his words would hurt and saw they did, but she didn't get as mad as he thought she would.
She smiled sadly and said, "How young was I then? I got engaged to Roger when I was in college. I waited for him—I changed my life to look for him. And then while I was looking, while I was lonely—because I was faithful—I fell for Spock. You never said anything to make me think to look your way. Get over it. If I had been with Roger, I would never have cheated on him and you know it."
He looked away, feeling like a bigger ass than he was already.
"And I would not cheat on you, Len, if I was with you. But if you can't ever believe that, then this will not work." She touched his chin, made him turn back to look at her. "Spock and I may become friends. Other men and I may become friends. What will you do then?"
"Pout like a little girl."
She smiled. "If only it were just that." She took his hand, got him walking again, and he was surprised how long she held on before she let go. "When you touched me—when we kissed, especially—I felt something. I was surprised how much I felt. You're lucky I felt that, or I'd be long gone. You need to know that."
"I was wondering." He smiled, wondered if he'd be pushing his luck by kissing her again, reminding her what it was she felt.
"I know exactly what you're thinking at this moment," she said, with a small grin. "Do not even try it, mister."
"Damn. Tough crowd."
"We're here to walk. Back to courtship or did you forget that was your intent?"
"I may have lost the mission somewhere along the line."
"Well, next time you may lose me. So play this carefully from here on out. You won't get a lot more chances." Her expression wasn't angry, wasn't even very sad. It was resolved. The same way he'd seen it when she'd first shown up, after convincing Jim he should sign her on as head nurse despite her glaring lack of experience. And later, when she'd gotten into med school, leaving before McCoy was ready for her to. Just as he'd made up his mind to tell her how he felt.
"I'll play this carefully," he said. "Now, let's walk."
Chapel sat with Ny and Jan in the bar again. Not a Caribbean night, thank God. Just a regular night, with regular dancing, and Jan had her eyes peeled for the captain. They'd never gotten their dance, either.
Chapel didn't have the heart to tell her they never would. She imagined eventually Jan would figure it out on her own.
Chapel saw Kirk and Spock come in together, and as they headed for the bar, Jan smiled at Kirk, and said, "Are they playing our song, sir?"
"You do still have first dibs, I guess." He shot her a smile that clearly said to not take that too seriously even if he was leading her onto the dance floor.
She gave him a smile back that Chapel thought meant she heard and understood. Chapel shared a smile with Spock, then moved over so he could sit between her and Ny.
She saw Len come in a moment later. He gave her a slight bow of his head but then made his way to the bar by a more circuitous route, ending up on the other side. A lieutenant from engineering came up as she was looking to see where Len had landed, asked her to dance, and she followed him onto the dance floor.
She realized Len was watching her, bourbon in hand, a lazy smile playing at his mouth. She narrowed her eyes, wondering what he was up to, sure he'd cut in at any moment.
Three more men asked her to dance before he finally found his way over to her as her partner was letting her go, claiming her for the next dance as if it really was an old time cotillion and they still taught how to gracefully change partners.
"What's your strategy, mister?" she asked, then sighed as he led her into the dance. He was better than the others were. She liked the way he held her more. She liked the feel of his hands on her.
"Giving you a taste of that trust you wanted. Giving myself a taste of just watching you with other men."
"That won't extend to other venues, will it?" She started to laugh.
"You know me better than that." He sighed. "I always loved dancing with you. We did do that."
"Yes, we did do this." They'd been partners of choice much of the time. How hard had that been for him? "You never used to hold me this close."
"For obvious reasons, I'd think." He moved a little, and she could feel the obvious reason. She smiled. "Wipe that grin off your face or everyone will start pointing and laughing at the foolish old doctor with the years-long crush."
"Technically that could be either of us."
"True." He chuckled, the sound low and rough in her ear. "Although I am a lot older than you."
"Older never bothered me. I think you know that."
"That thought keeps me going some days, my darling." Again the chuckle, a sound she could so easily get used to. Such a sexy laugh, especially when it was so close and low, and accompanied by his hands on her this way. "Christine, I don't like watching you with other men."
"Let me finish. I don't like it, but I'll get used to it. If I know I'm the only one who takes you to bed. Who kisses you. You're right: I've let control become my default. I need to trust you. With whomever you want to be around."
"Even"—he took a deep breath—"Spock."
"I like that attitude."
"I'll learn to like it. You can help."
"Do another weekly report for you?"
"I was thinking something a bit more personal." He pulled away, and she thought he needed to see her face. "Tonight maybe?"
"Tonight? Ooh. Big move."
"Totally wrong move, if I were playing this right. If I were controlling this."
"I get that. Very spontaneous." She brushed her fingers through his hair near his temples, saw his eyes widen a bit at such an open display. "Probably a reaction to all that nasty trust." She let her fingers run down his cheek.
"Are you really caressing me on the dance floor?"
"If you want it tonight, then someone should notice we're together. Even if it's just the couple of ensigns manning the music. I don't want to sneak around."
"I don't, either."
"Then we're agreed." She smiled at him. "Tonight's fine. I want to."
"You want to?"
She nodded. "I really want to. It's been a long time since I have." She saw something on his face. "I know it hasn't been for you. You had all those months in Savannah. That's okay."
"I wish it had been. That's all. I just wish it had been."
"Such a romantic under all that SOB."
"That's probably the root of all my problems." He spun her as the music ended. As Sulu came up with a grin and a hand out to her, Len said, "Beat it, Hikaru. She's mine tonight. Ask her to dance at the next party."
Chapel started to laugh. "Uhhhhh?"
He made a face, but there was no trace of anything that really bothered her in the expression, just some garden-variety frustration. "I'm sorry, Christine, but you cannot tell a man that you are going to sleep with him in a few hours—or did you mean minutes? Minutes would be better. And then go dance with another man. I will resume my posture of trust after we've had sex for the first time."
She let him pull her closer, then laughed as he nuzzled her neck in what she thought was an unconscious move. "Oh, very well. I'll let it go this time."
McCoy wondered just how long Christine was going to torture him. Minutes had turned into hours. On and off the dance floor. They mingled—clearly more a couple than two friends. He knew what she was doing and approved heartily, even did his best to help the picture along, getting her refills, touching her every now and then.
But he wanted her in the worst way, wanted to get the hell out of there and start with showing her how the hell he felt, not watch her talking to Spock and Jim, even if it was nice to realize she really didn't seem to look at Spock with any sort of googly type of expression.
Finally, she turned to him and said softly, "I'm getting tired. Think I'll turn in."
They said goodnight to the others, and he thought they were not fooling Jim by the brightness of his friend's smile, but no one else seemed to pay them much mind.
"Damn it all, next time they have an opening for grand inquisitor, I know who I'm nominating," he said as they hit the turbolift.
She laughed. "Anything worth having is worth waiting for."
"Yes, and I will make you remember that just a little bit from now. You wait and see." He cocked an eyebrow at her, earned himself another laugh. Silly woman if she thought he was kidding.
They got to their deck, and he leaned in as they walked out of the lift. "Your quarters or mine?"
He smiled. "I'm going to give up control. In this aspect, anyway. Tonight."
"Caveat that anymore and you'll have nowhere left to go."
"I know. I thought of that. So?"
"Your place it is." He put his arm around her, could feel his heart beating like a drum.
She palmed them in, turned to look at him the minute the door closed behind them. "I want you to kiss me so bad."
"Well, never let it be said that I denied a lady something like that." He pulled her to him, enjoying how easily she moved into his arms, how she twined her arms around his neck like she'd been doing it for years. How easy it was to kiss each other, to push her up against the wall, to pull her leg up, run his hands down her hip and lower.
She moaned and he was in a place he'd only visited in his fantasies with her body pressed tightly to his. He pulled away, long enough to see how swollen her lips looked from his kisses, how her eyes were half closed, how she smiled and said his name a way he'd never heard before.
"I love this dress, but it needs to come off you." He began to undo the fastener, and she slipped her arms out when he needed her to, let it fall around her. He knew his hands were shaking so he pulled his own shirt off rather than moving on to her bra, then he smiled when she took over and began undoing his pants. He felt his nerves calm down, reached around and unhooked her bra, slid it off her, then her underwear, then stepped out of his.
There, finally. Naked. And they were still only feet from her door. He studied her, smiled as he did. "You are so beautiful. I made up stuff in my mind. It wasn't as good as this."
She looked down and he knew if the lights had been on higher, he would have seen her blushing.
He took her hand, led her to the bed. Then he kissed her again and she murmured between his kisses, "You're really good at this," and he said, "thank you for noticing," and then they fell back onto the bed, their kisses growing more fierce, exploring each other's bodies.
She moaned every time he swept his hands down her belly and hips, and he finally stopped kissing her, eased back, and said, "Remember how things worth having are worth waiting for?"
She nodded, a smile on her face.
"You may regret saying that." He kissed his way down her body, stopping at her breasts for a very long time, but letting his fingers play other places, never doing more than tease a little. She began to make the groan that was half complaint, and he smiled as he finally left her chest and kissed his way down to where his fingers were.
She moaned, "Yes, please."
He began to lick and suck. But not the way she wanted him to. And he grinned as she arched herself up, as if she could make him do what she wanted, make him finish this.
"Wait for it, Christine."
"Told you." He went back to torturing her, enjoying it even more as he watched her responding to what he was doing, to everything he was doing. She was utterly present and utterly his at this moment.
"Len, please." She arched again and he took pity on her, moved his tongue just enough and heard her cry out, her body going rigid for a moment. He rode it out with her, enjoying the feel of her pleasure.
She was breathing hard as he moved up her body, as he eased into her, but she wrapped her legs around him, pulling him in tighter, in what was, if he admitted it, his biggest fantasy. Taking her this way, with her pulling him deeper inside—it was what he'd always wanted. Not that he'd sneeze later at her riding him to completion, or him being behind her, or any of the other ways he'd thought of having sex with her over the years. But this, for their first time—this was perfect.
She seemed to be coming back from her orgasm, her eyes more focused, and she pulled him down to her for a deep kiss. He moved slowly, not wanting to come too fast, not when it felt so damn good to be inside her. He felt her run her hands down his back, her touch silky and ticklish, and he smiled at the sensation.
"My God, I love you." He stopped moving. He had not meant to say that.
She smiled at him. "Just keep going. I'll get there."
And he knew what she meant. Was glad she wasn't going to lie to him. Didn't want her to say she loved him if she didn't yet. But she was here. She was here and she might get there.
She arched up into him. "I said keep going." A sensual smile accompanied the movement. Then she pulled him down for another kiss.
He started moving again, not caring about going slowly anymore or coming too fast. He thrust the way he wanted to, let go, and buried himself in her.
It lasted longer than he thought it would. When release came, he felt as if he might black out, knew he was calling out her name too loudly because she had her hand over his mouth, was laughing softly as she kissed his cheek.
"Sorry," he murmured into her hair.
"Don't ever be sorry for that," she whispered into his ear as she let him roll them onto their sides. "You were lost in me."
"Yes, I was."
"No one's ever been lost in me before."
"Well, I don't tend to get lost doing that. You're special." He ran his hand down her cheek. "So special. And you don't have to love me. Don't ever say it back till it's true."
"I won't." She kissed him gently. "Although I do love you. Just...not the way you want. Not yet. But give me time."
"All the time you want. The downside for you is that the time will have to be spent with me."
She laughed softly. "Yes, that is the downside. Think of all the orgasms I'm going to have to endure. Holy God, you're good at those."
He beamed, knew he was doing it, couldn't help it. A man liked to hear praise like that. "I imagine you're good at those kind of things, as well."
She was grinning. "I imagine I am." Her grin grew wider. "Maybe in a bit you'll find out."
Another favorite fantasy that might come true. His life was complete.
Chapel woke up, her body aching from a night of lovemaking. Len was spooned behind her and the only part of her body that didn't hurt was her back where he supported her.
"You awake, hon?" He sounded like she felt.
"Did you get the call sign of the shuttle that ran over us?"
He laughed and kissed her neck. "I'm not sure I can walk."
"I'm not sure I can either." She turned so she could see his face, smiled at him in what she knew was a more carefree way than her norm. "I feel pretty great in other ways, though."
"Yeah, me, too." His grin was huge.
Her stomach rumbled and she knew she turned red. "And I'm starving. Clearly."
"I am famished." He looked over her shoulder to where her chrono sat. "If we shower together, there is no way we'll get breakfast."
"I know." She leaned in, kissed him gently. "And I will be in traction if we try to have sex again without a break."
"How about I meet you in the corridor in fifteen minutes. Showered and in uniform."
"Sounds good." As he started to get up, she pulled him back down. "Just in case I wasn't clear, that break I just mentioned only has to be until tonight. Or even, say...lunch?"
He started to laugh. "Thank you for clearing that up. I was wondering." He pulled the sheet off her, stared down for a long moment. "Need this to last me till lunch."
She arched a little, making him groan. Then he gave her a kiss, slid off the bed with a moan, pulled on his clothes, and was gone. She lay for a second in bed, replaying the night before, her mouth curling in a smile she'd be embarrassed to wear in front of Ny and Jan—she knew it was that self satisfied. Then she forced herself to get up and get ready, was outside to meet him with time to spare.
They found Kirk and Spock in the mess after they filled their trays, and the captain waved them over with a grin. "You two are getting a late start."
"Yes," Spock said, and the look he gave Chapel was one of approval. The look he turned on Len was more bland. "You overindulged, perhaps?"
"You have no idea, my friend." Len tucked into his breakfast, occasionally throwing her small smiles.
"Bones, you seem very mellow for someone who's overindulged," Kirk said. "Do we have you to thank for that, Christine?" He gave her a different smile than she was used to. A smile of welcome. The same one he always gave to Len.
She smiled back. A smile that didn't have anything left to prove. "I think you do, sir."
"Well, about damn time. And Christine? Call me Jim."