Disclaimer: Star Trek is the property of Paramount/Viacom. This story is the property of and is copyright (c) 1996 by Deborah Baudoin. Originally published in The Farthest Frontier #2, Kathryn Agel, editor. Rated PG.
This Simple Feeling
Christine Chapel was watering her plants. It wasn't something she normally did in the middle of Earth-threatening emergencies, but this time, somehow, she felt it was of the utmost importance. She looked down at her roses, soft and fragrant in the shade of the ivy which pushed on slender stalks toward the makeshift trellis she'd built, oblivious to the danger which threatened its home world.
Earth. Three hours away from Earth's planetary defense boundary, V'Ger loomed, a giant green cloud waiting to burst on the tiny blue planet. V'Ger, twelve AU's of heartless, soulless power.
Chapel could stand battle. It had taken years to learn to stomach the icy ball of fear which spread from her gut outward every time the red- alert klaxon howled. She could stand death. Death was a part of life, rarely expected, often tragic, but comprehendible. She could even stand the thought that, under certain circumstances, she might somehow be responsible for death. But this waiting, this preparing to die was almost more horrible than death itself.
There was only so much she could do. After the rush of preparations for this mission, after the months of working with Decker preparing Sickbay, Chapel was suddenly odd man out. The return of Leonard McCoy made her essentially redundant. Chapel felt a wave of empathy for Will Decker. Despite her joy at seeing McCoy, the now-"assistant" CMO couldn't help feeling a bit resentful.
She'd spent the better part of the day sifting through Lieutenant Ilia's cabin, looking for something, anything, which would jolt through the mechanoid's programming. She was disgusted with the picture she'd presented, a voyeuristic prowler in a dead woman's home. No matter that this was life or death; no matter that she'd been ordered to do it. Ilia was a friend; Ilia was dead, and there was no time in the rush for survival to mourn.
She couldn't be there for Will Decker, a man for whom she'd developed a true affection over the last few months. She thought of his expression, the sadness in his eyes upon seeing Ilia again. She knew that expression; she knew the horror of facing an android which masqueraded as someone you've once loved. She knew what Decker was going through, both professionally and personally. And she could do nothing.
Chapel sat back on her heels, breathing deeply. She was being hard on herself. A logical, rational pan of her mind told her she was reacting to shock -- the shock of seeing Ilia die, the shock of knowing that Earth, her Earth, was only hours away from the same fate which had destroyed Epsilon Nine and three Klingon battle cruisers, the shock of seeing the morale in Sickbay wiped away by the unexpected return of Leonard McCoy.
At the thought of McCoy, Chapel sighed. His return threatened to throw her neatly- packaged life back into a shambles. It wasn't McCoy's fault he'd been, as he so rustically put it, "drafted." It wasn't his fault he had years more experience than her, plus the legend status to back it up.
The crew in Sickbay -- her crew -- had eyed McCoy with wary caution as he made his way through the facilities. They didn't know him; they had no reason to trust him any more than they trusted Kirk. Chapel had worked with McCoy for 19 years, trusted him as easily as she did her next draw of oxygen. But the men and women who served under Chapel had no reason to think of Leonard McCoy as anything but the man who usurped their CMO's position. She couldn't damn them for their loyalty, but it did make for more tension than they needed at this particular time.
She pictured McCoy's bearded face when he'd showed up in Sickbay, full of uncertainty as he pulled her into an enormous bear hug. Probably looked just as foolish as she did later on the bridge, her face carved in an idiotic ear-to-ear grin upon Spock's arrival. Chapel pulled at a weed, then cursed herself for her absent-mindedness as the ivy came up by the root in her hands. As she carefully replanted it, patting the moist soil around its base, she grimaced at the effect both men had on her. "What a clever time for a romantic triangle," she muttered to herself.
It was stupid, really.
She could tell from the light in McCoy's blue eyes that he intended to pick up
where they'd left off three years ago in
And then there was Spock. Chapel patted at the soil a little harder than she wanted to. Just like him to show up when she'd gotten her life under control. She'd convinced herself that the infatuation she'd had with him was finally over, that this undying, unrequited love business was strictly for teenagers. Then he showed up on the bridge, black and forbidden, and her knees went all wobbly again. That damn, inane, idiotic grin?
"Doctor Chapel to Sickbay," came the harsh, male voice of the computer. Chapel looked up, surprised. Somehow, she missed the old computer voice.
Stretching up to her feet, ignoring the cracking joints as she did so, Chapel dusted off her dirty- hands and hit the communicator. "On my way."
* * *
"What happened?" Chapel demanded as she strode into the newly-redesigned sickbay. Techs were bustling about, and Nurse Corington was nowhere to be found.
"Storeroom," was one harried technician's quick response to her query concerning the head nurse. When she asked for McCoy's location, he never looked up from his work, saying, "Office."
"Thanks," Chapel exhaled, turning for McCoy's office. She didn't knock; just walked in to find a grim-faced McCoy seated behind what had been her desk just days before. "What happened?"
"That damn fool Vulcan of yours tried to meld with that monstrosity out there."
Chapel blanched, half-believing that the doctor was joking from the pale tightness around his mouth and eyes, she realized he was worried sick. "Was he able to--"
"V'Ger obviously has better taste than we thought -- spit Spock out like a sour grape. Jim's got him; they're bringing him up now." There was a moment of silence between them, as each doctor decided how best to handle this situation. Chapel was the first to recover.
"Is his perscan functioning?"
"Good. I'll call up the transcript of readings from the moment he entered V'Ger until now. We'll have to brief Corington and Bingham. Both have treated Vulcans before, but they've never treated Spock. I'll also start the biocomps on synthesizing plastiskin and..."
"No physical damage," McCoy grunted.
Chapel blanched, then without missing a beat, continued. "Computer, retrieve all neurological information on Mr. Spock and transfer to main operating facility." She paused, gathering her thoughts. "Lieutenant T'Niel is our expert on neurological medicine. I';; have her--"
"Chris..." Chapel looked up at McCoy, startled by the look of sympathy on his face. She was confused at first, then angry at his insinuations, then mollified when she realized the sympathy had nothing to do with romantic clap-trap. McCoy was seeing in her the same reaction she'd seen in him so many times -- the frenetic need to do something, anything, in an emergency situation. A slow, understanding smile spread across his weathered face. "Good job, Doctor."
"We should have blood donors available. She felt a bit shy under his approving gaze. "Just in case."
"You take care of it, darlin'," McCoy said slowly. "I want to be available in case Jim needs me."
A brief feeling of gratitude flashed through her at his words. Action. Work. That's what she needed; that's what would get her through this...
"Just what the world needs -- a Vulcan with a martyr complex...." McCoy's words trailed off at her absent expression, then he continued in a softer tone, placing his hand on her arm. "It's gonna be okay, Chris."
Chapel. shook herself, then saw the look in his eyes and smiled. She couldn't figure out which of them was more transparent-McCoy or herself. "I'll see to those briefings, Doctor." Giving his hand one brief squeeze, she turned on her heels and set off to work.
* * *
"I want him on the bridge as soon as possible."
Christine Chapel, MD, watched in disbelief as Admiral Kirk strode purposefully out of Sickbay, leading a bewildered McCoy in tow. For lack of anything better to say, she barked a quick order to Nurse Corington, "Dalcymine, five CCs."
Spock lay on the diagnostic table beneath her, his face pale but peaceful. Chapel had spent years scrutinizing that face, searching beneath layer after layer of Vulcan reserve to find any trace of emotion. To see the softness of his features, the gentleness in his eyes, the sheer expression on his face after so many years of searching was somehow ... embarrassing to her. "Can you sit up?"
Spock pulled himself upright slowly, still weak from the meld with V'Ger. She reached out a hand instinctively to help, then almost immediately snapped away from the contact as the Vulcan's eyes met hers in undisguised gratitude. "Thank you, Nurse," he whispered hoarsely.
"Of course," she murmured. It had been a long time since anyone had called her that. Part of her wanted to correct him, to remind him that she was now technically his equal. But the words were stilled between her lips; she swallowed them unspoken. She pulled her professionalism around her like a cloak, uncomfortable with the naked emotion Spock was displaying, knowing from experience how disturbed he would be when he came dawn from this euphoria.
She dismissed Corington, who was listening to the exchange with surprise. As head nurse, he'd trained with her as his chief medical officer, had seen her cut the most arrogant attitudes down to size in twenty words or less. Corington gave her a long, questioning glance before leaving, obviously annoyed with this stranger -- Vulcan legend or not -- who dared demote his superior with a single word. Chapel nodded him off, then turned back to her patient.
"Mr. Spock, I'm going to ask you to stand. There will be a little disorientation from the drugs, so I want you to take it easy." There. Strictly business. No possibility of anyone accusing her of emotionalism; of taking advantage of the situation.
The Vulcan eased himself out of the bed, stifling a groan as he grabbed for Chapel's forearms. She steadied him with more strength than she knew she possessed, helping him back onto the bed. Spock's eyes closed momentarily in pain, then he breathed, "One moment, please, Doctor."
She nodded, scanning his features for any side effects from the dalcymine. She tried to pull away and was surprised by the firm grip on her forearms. Spock was gazing up into her face with inscrutable curiosity. Suddenly self-conscious, she pulled again only to be met with that iron grip. "Mr. Spock?"
In a voice measured and unashamed, he murmured, "You have loved me."
His words, uttered so calmly and simply, shocked Christine Chapel to the core. "Excuse me?"
He looked directly into her, brown eyes locking with blue in searing calm. "You have loved me ... in the past." He studied her for a moment, and Chapel felt every moment of every day of every year of her long life creeping into the creases of her face, the tired chasms of her eyes, the graying strands intertwined in the rich chestnut locks of her hair. Those expressions of love, those timid attempts at seduction, belonged to a past so far removed from the person she had become that she almost blushed at this blunt reminder of her misspent youth.
"It is what V'Ger desires," Spock croaked, still digging his long fingers into her flesh. "To be loved." He loosed the grip on one arm, trailing a single hand up to gently touch her cheek. "You have cried for me. In the past."
The echo of Admiral James T. Kirk's orders in her mind rescued Chapel from the reeling shock Spock's words sent through her. Somewhere within her, she found the professionalism to counter the effect his touch had on her. "You're needed on the bridge, Mr. Spock," she managed hoarsely as she firmly removed his hands from her arms. "I'll have Nurse Corington help you with your uniform." She turned quickly on her heels towards the door.
As the pneumatic swish separated the sickbay doors before her, Spock's voice penetrated her facade of calm. "Christine ... you made a difference."
* * *
"V'Ger wishes to join with the Creator."
Chapel played the tape again, watching in slow motion as the events of the last few hours played and replayed with surreal intensity on the viewer before her -- the journey into V'Ger, hop-scotch across the void to the heart of the gaseous monstrosity, the column of energy which consumed the physical essence of Will Decker and Ilia -- all captured with amazing clarity by the Enterprise computer. Two friends, gone with nothing more than to show for their contribution than the word "missing" in the status line of their personal records. Chapel pulled back in the chair, stretching. "Computer, discontinue."
The happy job of recording this incident in the medical records had fallen on her shoulders. She struggled over the entries, trying to find the proper words to sum up the final moments of their lives. Despite James Kirk's flippant orders, Chapel felt they both deserved more than one word entries. Ilia -- dead. Then alive, but in an android form. Then not dead, but evolved into a higher being. Willard Decker -- evolved. She sighed, laying down the medical forms in exasperation.
"Problem, Doctor?" Nurse Corington had stepped into her office, a look of concern creasing his young face.
"Nothing a few months leave won't cure, Hugh." Careful scrutiny of Corington's features told Chapel that he felt as awful as she did. "Have you slept?"
Corington shook his head. "No more than you, I'm sure." He nodded towards the abandoned medical records. "The captain and Lieutenant Ilia?" At her nod of assent, he tightened. "Will Doctor McCoy be..." There was a long pause; Chapel could see him biting down his annoyance. "The other nurses and I would like to know the current staffing situation, Doctor."
Chapel knew what he was asking. Now that Kirk and Spock had made it clear they were staying, what would the situation in Sickbay be? Would McCoy's "temporary" placement as CMO become as permanent as did the positions of his friends? Chapel felt a wave of sympathy for Corington, as well as a touch of appreciation for his loyalty. At least someone on this ship didn't consider her redundant. "I'll let you know as soon as I do, Hugh," she said tiredly. "Until then, status quo."
There was a moment of silence as Corington let that sink in, then he said, "If you need any help with the reports, I'll be glad to assist."
"Thanks." The dark-haired woman watched quietly as Corington turned to leave, then stopped him. "Hugh."
He turned, a confused frown darkening his expression. "Yes?"
She hesitated for a moment. How often had she been in his position? Chapel knew from experience what a thankless job head nurse could be; more than anything, she wanted him to know what a strength he was, how good it was to have one of her own people at her side. But how could she say the words without fueling the already negative morale among the staff? "Good job," was all she could think of to say.
Corington studied her carefully, then allowed a rueful smile to play on his lips, "Thank you, Doctor." He understood.
* * *
Chapel had walked into a disaster. She let out an exasperated sigh at the ruins of her garden. The trellis had fallen, not only destroying the ivy, but the rose bushes beneath it as well. She sank to her knees beside the corpses of flowers fallen to the mud, not wanting to contemplate the work she'd sunk into them. "What kind of idiot plants flowers in space?" she muttered to herself as she tried in vain to right the trellis. Finally, with tears stinging her eyes, she began ripping the plants out by the roots. By the time her vision was completely blurred, she'd pulled up half of the roses.
Stunned, she stared at her own destructiveness. Like a rabbit confronted by a snake, Chapel snapped her hands back, slipping off the thick work gloves and letting them drop into the mud. She was still trying to figure out just what was going on when McCoy's voice startled her out of her trance.
"What a mess."
She looked up to find him standing over her, a dark look furrowing his brow. His cerulean eyes flickered across the wreckage of her garden, then lit on her. She could read his mind clearly on his face. His eyes seemed to be asking her, what the hell is goin' on here, Chris. She ignored the question, choosing instead to report the bare facts. "One of V'Ger's tantrums. She pulled at the splintered length of synthetic wood which had once been part of her trellis. "It fell."
"Your trellis uprooted half a dozen rose bushes?" Chapel shot her eyes skywards, and McCoy grunted in response. "That's what I thought. I don't suppose your flower rampage has anything to do with this, does it?" He produced a small info disk, flashing it before her with an accusatory look.
Chapel sat back on her heels, a flicker of defiance cutting through her. "Leonard, I--"
"What the hell do you think you're doin', Chris?" He stooped down beside her, his momentary burst of anger dissipating. "What's goin' on? A request for transfer?"
"Excalibur needs a CMO. She ships out of Jupiter Station in two weeks. I don't think the paperwork should be too excessive, especially if--"
"Excalibur is a scout ship. What are you thinking--"
"I'm thinking it's a scout ship that needs a CMO." Chapel's words came out harsher than intended. She exhaled slowly, then turned a tired expression to McCoy. "I'm thinking I won't be gratuitous on Excalibur."
McCoy sat on the walkway next to her. "Is that how you feel, Chris?"
"It's not your fault, Leonard. I mean, if I were a writer and Shakespeare showed up, I'd give him the computer. If I were a conductor and Bernstein showed up, I'd hand him the baton." She contemplated the toes of her boots. "If I were a chief medical officer and Leonard McCoy showed up..." She turned her eyes up to him with a sad smile. "I'd give him Sickbay.
"I can't go back to being Nurse Chapel again, Leonard. I've earned my degree, and I've earned my job."
"What makes you so sure I'm buckin' for your job, Missy?"
At this she smiled. "Our new captain and first officer. Do you really think they're going to let you go back into retirement?"
"What I do with my life is none of their damn business. And as for you..." He hesitated, then plunged forward in defiance of good sense. "Does this have anything to do with that night back on Earth? Because if it does, if our sleeping together has ruined our chance of ever working together again, then just put it out of your mind. Forget it ever happened."
"I won't forget it. And it has about as much to do with my decision to transfer as these new uniforms had with your decision to reenlist." She let that sink in for a moment. Leonard McCoy had never been one to hold his tongue when voicing his disgust with any version of the Starfleet uniform. "I'm part of Decker's crew; you're part of Kirk's. A ship can't have two CMO's, Leonard. It's bad for morale."
"Christine, how often in the past few days have I asked you where an instrument was? Or how to use one of those blasted new bioscan beds?" At her shrug, he snorted. "Let's not kid ourselves, here. You've been in on this redesign from the start; you know that Sickbay inside out. I may be part of Kirk's crew, but that's your Sickbay. You belong here. You make a difference. I know it, you know it, and the staff knows it. So stop playing the martyr. Request for transfer denied."
As he rose stiffly, Chapel stared at him in exasperation. With only a trace of a smile in her voice, she muttered, "You're a pig-headed bastard, aren't you?"
"You've been missing staff meetings. I've been a pig-headed bastard for years."
"So, wait a minute. You're denying my request for transfer, right? Then what are the boundaries? We have to set up some parameters of authority or else we'll drive each other crazy."
"'Parameters of authority?" McCoy mimicked. "Good lord, I should have never let you go back to med school."
She accepted the hand he extended to her, feeling lighter despite the stiffness in her joints. "I'm serious, Leonard. What's mine, and what's yours?"
He put an arm around her as they made their way to the door. "What say we paint a line down the middle of Sickbay, and--"
"Okay. Jim and Spock are mine--"
"Aw, you get all the good stuff--"
"All those blasted computers are yours--"
"The staff is yours--"
"Wait a minute. I get the staff, the computers and what else?" Chapel paused as McCoy stepped into the cleansing unit, and a low-level sonic beam cleaned the mud from his uniform boots. She folded her arms across her chest in mock annoyance. "I have the feeling that you're planning to be nothing more than personal physician to the stars."
"Now, you're getting the picture, kid. You want to be CMO? You got it. I'll just sit back in my office, pick on Jim and Spock every so often, and let you do all the real work."
"In other words, business as usual." She grinned broadly. Just her luck to get what she asked for. "You know, you're going to have to pull your weight in my sickbay, McCoy. You thought I was tough as a nurse..."
He stepped out of the unit and pulled her into a gentle hug. "How about this? You take care of Sickbay, and I'll help you replant those roses. Deal?"
She gazed back over the terrarium to her trashed garden and sighed. "Oh, well, since I'm going to be hanging around..." The rude sound of her stomach growling interrupted Chapel. She grinned sheepishly at McCoy's disapproving stare. "I was going to lunch right after I finished here." McCoy nodded his head, disbelieving.
"I promise." Linking his arm in hers in a distinctively chivalrous gesture, McCoy led her toward the door. "It's not that I don't trust you, Doctor Chapel. However, I plan to make it my business to keep you from developing the same bad habits I've gotten over the years."
As the doors swished open before them, Chapel grinned. "I hardly think I'm in any danger of developing a taste for cheap bourbon and cheaper women..."
"I was talking of skipping meals, Doctor. And despite the fact that you insist upon casting aspersions on my character--"
"Merely observations gleaned from many years of professional contact."
"I'm going to personally accompany you to the rec deck for dinner." He smiled down at her, a mixture of amusement and flirtation broadening his grin. "Feel free to he impressed."
"Oh, I am." They turned the corner towards the main turbolift, running directly into Spock. Chapel felt her stomach clench as the Vulcan, instead of nodding and moving on, paused, turning an amused look at McCoy.
"Doctor." Spock let his gaze rest on Chapel, a slight glint lighting his eyes as he acknowledged her as well. "Doctor."
"Mr. Spock," she breathed, wishing one of them would say something flippant and end this uncomfortable moment.
McCoy looked from Spock to Chapel and then back to Spock again. With a knowing grin, he said, "Well, Spock, you're looking less like a Vulcan every day. It looks good on you. What do you think, Doctor?" He turned to Chapel in mock seriousness. "Periodic mind-melds with omnipotent beings? Once at least ... oh, I don't know ... every seven years?"
Chapel felt the floor melt under her heels and wondered how many years she'd have to spend in jail for pushing a loud-mouthed Southern surgeon out an air lock. Spock saved the trouble of homicide by raising his eyebrows skeptically. "If you would like to propose that treatment to T'Pau, Doctor, I'm certain she would provide you with adequate feedback."
McCoy did a classic double-take, then scowled. "Chris and I are going down to the rec deck for a toxic supper loaded with sugar, meat and other things you usually turn up that Vulcan nose of yours at. Now, if you promise to be good and keep that healthy food of yours to yourself, you're welcome to join us."
Spock turned to Chapel, a questioning look on his face. "Doctor?"
She paused a moment, suddenly realizing the opportunity she was being given. After years of being on the outside, she was finally being accepted; she was finally being taken seriously. Chapel smiled. She was finally getting the chance to deliver a punch line. With a haughty tilt of the head, she stepped into the turbolift, saying, "As long as you don't order plomeek soup.