DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Ingrid Cross and is copyright (c) 1977 by Ingrid Cross. Rated PG.

Home is the Sailor

Ingrid Cross

Leonard McCoy straightened stiffly from the microscope and swore. For the third time in an hour, he had failed to isolate the elusive bacteria. He glanced at the chronometer across the table.

"Where is that nurse, anyway?" he muttered irritably. "She's been gone for a day and a half. How much longer will she be down on that blasted planet?" He moved to the wall intercom and smacked the button with his palm.

"McCoy to bridge."

"Lieutenant Uhura here, Doctor."

"Uhura, is Christine Chapel returned yet?"

The usually calm voice of the communications officer wavered as she replied. "The Captain and Miss Chapel beamed aboard ten minutes ago. She--"

McCoy stared at the intercom. Ten minutes? It's about time she got here, then, he thought. "I guess she'll be down here soon then."

"Doctor..." Uhura began.

"Thank you, Lieutenant. Sickbay out."

McCoy moved back to the table and stared at the paraphernalia scattered about. He decided to leave the project until Chapel returned. He wasn't going to accomplish much at this rate, anyway.

I'm tired, he realized as he flopped into his desk chair. I've been workin' on that research for a day straight and it's due at Star Fleet within two weeks and I don't have a solid lead yet. And my chief nurse leaves to go traipsing about on some icy planet just when I need my most competent assistant. God in heaven, where is she?

The swish of the doors into Sickbay answered him. It's about time, the doctor thought. He pushed himself up and burst through the doorway.

"Nurse." It wasn't a question; he was upset and discouraged and wanted someone to know it.

The blonde nurse was leaning against the doors. At her superior's voice, she looked up. "Hmmm?"

McCoy refused to keep the sarcasm out of his words. "Good to have you back. I've been having problems with that," he sighed, gesturing toward the mess on the table. His head pounded at the thought of spending even more fruitless hours at the microscope. But at least he had someone to do the record-keeping for the experiment.

Christine Chapel stared blankly at the table and he fought to hold back his temper.

"Miss Chapel. I have been trying for several days to get to the point of some achievement. Without success. Now, if you don't mind, I'd like to get started again." McCoy turned back to the microscope and refocused the eyepiece.

He was too tired to care if he had hurt her feelings; in fact, lately he was damned sure that he was sick of playing everyone's father or friendly uncle. He was down right sick and tired of seeing younger crewmembers moping about in sickbay, waiting for some advice from good ol' Doc McCoy. Although he wasn't old, he felt it lately in his joints, and he wasn't getting paid extra to play psychiatrist for the Fleet.

When an hour of absorbed work had yielded nothing, McCoy sat back and rubbed his eyes. He had been distinctly aware of the nurse's movements and now turned to find her.

Christine Chapel stood with her back to him, rummaging through a cabinet containing lab materials. As he watched closely, however, he noticed that she was just pushing items back and forth on the shelves.

What the--? thought McCoy. Now what?

He was vaguely aware of how wrong it was for him to be so upset by another person's behavior. But things were not going well lately. Minor accidents had taken precious time from this stupid project, and some virus was circulating among the crew because new recruits had somehow managed to avoid the inoculations against this strain.

McCoy didn't care whether his voice was gentle or not. "Nurse, what is wrong?" Not that he cared, really. He just wanted to get her to work ... wanted this project cleared up and sent out to Star Fleet Medical and out of his domain. Matter of fact, the doctor thought, I just want to go to my quarters and sleep for about a week. Tired of everything routine, complaints and Spock's logic.

She sniffled before she answered. "Nothing, Doctor McCoy. Nothing's wrong." But she refused to face him.

Oh, geez. She's definitely not a very good liar. Probably a female problem, he thought. Probably had a fight with someone and needs to talk it out.

And he knew he would not leave it alone, like he wanted to. He knew he was soft inside for people who needed to talk. And he realized that the crew knew that, also.

"Nurse." No, darn it. That's too formal. Soften it. "Christine."

She was far too quiet and quite obviously was ready to ignore him.

"Christine, I'm sorry I blew up earlier. It's just that everything's goin' wrong lately and I'm a week behind because of this project. And I'm tired and ..." He let his voice trail off. What on earth am I doing? What does she care about the schedule right now? Listen, McCoy! he instructed himself. Just listen to her and she'll let you absorb what you can.

"What happened down there?"

She whirled around and he noticed her red eyes. Helplessness washed over him; crying women always made him uncomfortable. It had been like that with Joanna as a child. If she hurt herself or was disappointed or got into some childish scrape, he would expect waterworks. Arianna seldom cried, seldom indulged in that luxury, but when Joanna let loose, he would weaken and give into her.

Christine sniffled before she answered. Again, thought McCoy. How I wish she would stop that crying! "Doctor, I'm afraid I won't be of much help for the rest of the day. I'd like to go to my quarters." She started for the door, obviously certain of his permission.

McCoy spoke quickly, sharply. "Nurse, stay here. Running and hiding isn't going to help, either. Now come on, sit down. That's it." Christine let him lead her into his office, where he lowered the lights.

He sat on the desk edge, watching her. She seemed to cringe, trying to shrink into the chair. Like a child, he thought sadly. As if I were going to hurt her. Another wave of neuralgia hit him.

"Wanna talk about it?" he asked quietly.

Christine considered the question for a moment. She looked up and smiled weakly. "Must look like a mess," she apologized.

Well, she does, McCoy admitted to himself. Her hair is coming loose and falling every which way. But it's kind of ... attractive. In a way. But he brushed her statement away with a small gesture.

"I, um, lost something someone I cared about." She looked down at her hands and he noticed that her usually manicured nails were viciously bitten down.

"We were going to be married. He was assigned to Exo III for exobiological research and then we didn't hear from him for a year. They listed him as 'missing', officially," she said, her eyes wide with indignation. "Off the record, though, everyone said he was dead. So I joined up, active duty, and got assigned to this ship. I guess I was just waiting. I don't know for what. As Mr. Spock would say, the odds were astronomically against my being near Roger." Her eyes filled again, and she continued with difficulty.

"And then they sent orders to Captain Kirk to send a search party to look for Roger. And he took me with him, because he knew he knew that I..." and suddenly she couldn't talk any longer.

McCoy reached absently for a tissue and handed it to her. She murmured her thanks though layers of tissue.

As usual, he didn't know what to say. Contrary to popular belief on the ship, McCoy did not always have the right answer for every problem. He had often tried to figure out why he had more difficulty responding to death than any other problem someone would bring to him. It goes beyond the fact that I'm trained to save lives, to stymie death, he thought distractedly. Perhaps it's simply that I have had enough losses in my life than most people would have in three lifetimes.

He reached out and touched the nurse's shoulder. "Christine, I'm sorry." But it seemed inadequate for the moment. Always, apologies were not enough to fill the void.

Christine Chapel looked up and oddly enough smiled. "Thanks, Doctor." He nodded in acknowledgment.

She seemed to have calmed now, as she carefully wiped her eyes and tear-stained cheeks. "Y'know something? I guess I needed to cry. Got it out of my system, anyway." She sat quietly for a minute, then spoke again. "He was probably the first man I really loved. It's going to be different now. I'm not waiting for someone, and I'm no longer obligated to anyone out there for my future. This little sparrow is out of the nest now, on her own."

She stood awkwardly, swaying a minute. When she regained her footing, she looked straight into his eyes. "Thank you for listening. I'm glad you cared enough to ask what happened. It means a lot to me." She moved to the door of the office, where she turned back for a moment. "I think I'll go take a look at that slide. You probably overlooked something," she teased gently.

He smiled, a bit startled. It was unusual to see his chief nurse joke about the job at hand. She used to be so serious, he mused. I suppose she's loosened up. I just hope she doesn't leave the ship now, because she feels there's nothing for her here.

"Nurse, you're most likely right. You'll go in there and have that little bugger cornered in seconds."

"Then I'll go take a look at it. Excuse me." She slipped out the door.

McCoy watched her shapely legs propel her out of his immediate sight, but he could hear her moving things on the table in the lab.

Despite the fact that the subject matter had been gloomy, McCoy realized that his own attitude had cheered considerably. Once more he was glad to be aboard the Enterprise. In a minute or so he realized that he was also happy with his role of father-confessor-healer. It rather suited him. Besides, he smiled, it means I'm needed somewhere.

A matchmaker at heart, Leonard McCoy was already working intently, trying to think of some eligible male who would suit his chief nurse's new personality. He turned off the office lights and walked into the next room.

The warmness inside continued to buoy his spirits for the next three days.