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On Borrowed Time

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"This is ridiculous! The Enterprise is a starship, not a cruise liner for little girls who want to find out what being a Starfleet officer feels like! We don't have time to play games! We have a mission!"

Captain James T. Kirk was furious. What an outrageous idea of Starfleet Command to send a girl aboard his ship and ask him to find out whether she might - one day - become a good officer. His mission was to seek out and contact new life forms. Not to show little girls round the galaxy.

"I understand why you don't like it, Jim,” Admiral Dakunia’s placatory voice sounded from the screen, “but Dr. Hope is not just any girl. She was one of the finest students I've ever had. She has all the qualities a good officer could possibly have, ..."

"So, what's the problem?" Kirk cut him off rudely.

"The problem is," the admiral continued calmly, ignoring Kirk's irritation, "that, along with being a couple of pounds underweight for her height according to Starfleet regulations, she has some minor health issues. We need the recommendation of someone like you, Jim, if we are to allow her aboard a starship as an officer."

That took the wind out of Kirk's sails, and although he still didn't like the idea, especially after the mention of ‘minor health issues’, whatever that was supposed to mean, he muttered, "All right then, tell her to be ready to beam aboard at 0900 hours sharp tomorrow morning. I don't seem to have much of a choice, do I?"

"No, actually you don't, Jim. But I prefer convincing people to giving orders. And I appreciate you realising the importance of this,” Dakunia smiled sweetly. “So, I gladly accept your kind offer to take Dr. Hope aboard your ship. Like I said, she is specialised in linguistics, working on the intuitive enhancement of the universal translator specifically, but I leave it to your discretion to employ her wherever she might be needed. In fact, I'd very much appreciate you giving her a full all-round-training. The point is to find out how she’s performing under pressure. So don’t be too soft on her! Dakunia out."

As if, Kirk thought, but before he could start to protest again, Dakunia's image had faded from the screen.

"Damn!” he slammed his fist on the desk in frustration. “This man really knows how to impose his will on people!"

 


 

"Calm down, Jim!"

Dr. Leonard McCoy had been sitting right next to his friend in the captain’s quarters, listening quietly to the conversation. He tried to be soothing, even though he knew there was no point when the captain was infuriated by someone abusing his ship or their mission. And the Enterprise was certainly overqualified for training flights. But if Admiral Dakunia had selected the Enterprise in this particular case, he surely must have had his reasons.

At least now he knew why he’d been summoned to join the conversation.

Minor health issues! That didn’t bode well. He’d have to get hold of Dr. Hope’s file right away to find out what exactly was awaiting him. Just what he needed right now. As if a sickbay full of patients wasn’t enough to keep him busy. Best to make Jim see reason quickly, get this over with, and go back to work.

"You have every right to be angry, Jim. What Dakunia asks of you is highly unusual. But you have your orders. So, try to make the best of it. This girl must really have been an exceptionally promising student, if Dakunia is going to such lengths for her. He’s a decent, level-headed guy. I’ve never known him to pull rank for no reason. And who knows, maybe she won't be any trouble at all."

"Oh, don’t give me that, Bones,” Kirk snapped, rolling his eyes at McCoy. “You know perfectly well what 'exceptionally promising' students are like. We've met the kind before."

McCoy just tilted his head to one side, raised an eyebrow, and smiled wryly.

“But you’re right, of course. Let’s give Hope a chance,” the captain went on, chuckling mirthlessly, then added with a scowl, “but she’d better not expect me to make things easy for her. If she thinks that her connection to Dakunia gets her any favours, she has another think coming.”

McCoy almost felt sorry for the girl.

“Maybe try to be neutral when you meet her tomorrow?” he suggested. “Remember? You were just going to give her a chance. Make it a real one.”

“I think you’re needed in sickbay, Bones,” Kirk grumbled.

“I believe I am,” McCoy smirked as he got up and made to leave. “Gotta read up on those ‘minor health issues’. Good night, Jim!”

 


 

After McCoy had left, Kirk slipped into his workout gear and went to the gym to let off steam.

He was livid at the prospect of this Dr. Hope coming aboard. They were not on a training flight. They had a mission. And he had a feeling that this was going to be a lot of trouble. The girl was only 23 years old, for Christ’s sake! Granted, she had already obtained her PhD of linguistics. She’d been best of her year and was obviously brilliant. Maybe even less immature than he feared. But still, his ship was not a playground for little girls.

Anyway, no matter how much he disliked the idea, Starfleet Command had left him no choice. There was no way for him to get out of this one. Bones was right, he’d better make the best of it. His orders were to fully integrate her and appoint her to every duty in any field she could be of use to the ship. He was to give her a thorough all-round training and test her abilities very carefully in order to recommend her for further starship assignment, if he thought her so fit. But he was determined to make it anything but easy for her.

Chapter Text

Dakunia switched off his screen with a pleased smile. He’d just given Dr. Jennifer Hope the good news and had been happy to see how thrilled she was at the prospect of being on the Enterprise. He only hoped Jim Kirk wouldn’t take out his anger on her.

After having finished her studies of linguistics at Starfleet Academy at the age of barely 22, Dr. Hope had joined a project doing research on the possibilities of incorporating intuitive aspects into the universal translator.

The project had been limited to a year, and after that she’d volunteered to be stationed at a new starbase in one of the outer sectors of the United Federation of Planets. Of course, she'd much rather have taken an assignment aboard a starship, where Dakunia felt that her extraordinary linguistic talent would be put to much better use. But unfortunately, some minor health issues rendered her unfit for starship duty. At least without further recommendation. 

Dakunia had taken a kind of fatherly interest in the young woman over the past three years. She had been one of his finest students ever, and he knew that she possessed the courage and determination it took to be a good Starfleet officer.

Dr. Hope was an exceptional young woman. She'd gone through a number of difficulties in her life already and had come out the other side stronger. Knowing that Starfleet sometimes made exceptions for people who were extraordinarily capable in their field, he’d felt compelled to pull some strings for her.

Therefore, he’d contacted everybody of influence he was acquainted with, and finally they had agreed to grant her a year aboard a starship under certain conditions which she’d accepted more than willingly. Although some of them were rather hard to take. She would, for instance, hold no rank, despite her completed studies at Starfleet Academy. But she was prepared to accept virtually everything that would give her the opportunity to prove herself aboard a starship.

Starfleet Command had chosen the Enterprise, because they believed that Dr. Hope could learn the most there. The Enterprise was known to have the most capable crew in Starfleet.

After his conversation with Captain Kirk, however, the admiral was a bit worried. The final decision whether or not Dr. Hope would be allowed to continue starship duty was up to Kirk's judgement after her training period. Dakunia was afraid that the captain would give her an especially hard time - Jim was known to be a rather demanding captain. But on the other hand, he was also known to be fair. So Dakunia was determined to hope for the best.

 


 

Jenny was sitting in her tiny starbase room, trying desperately to relax – and failing to do so. She’d been working so hard towards this day during the past three years. She’d been struggling with unknown technology, with a language she was no native speaker of, with friends among whom she felt like a total stranger at times, and with a world that she sometimes felt she didn’t belong in. And now, that the day she’d been longing for had finally arrived, she was so nervous, she felt like running away.

But it was too late now. Admiral Dakunia had already made arrangements for her departure tomorrow. The thought of quitting had occurred to her several times over the past three years, but somehow, she had always managed to hang on. If she gave up now that she had almost succeeded, all her struggling would have been in vain.

So, she gritted her teeth and told herself that she was being silly. That dozens of people before her had felt the exact same way in this situation, and that the Enterprise was no more than an ordinary spaceship with human beings aboard who made mistakes from time to time.

Who am I kidding?

The Enterprise could not be regarded as ordinary, and her crew never made mistakes. But Jenny had faced and overcome difficulties in her life before. Somehow, she would manage again. And she was determined to give it her best.

Chapter Text

When Dr. Hope beamed aboard the next morning, Kirk was in the transporter room to welcome her personally. He wanted to make it clear from the start that she couldn't expect any special treatment because of her good grades and high-ranking connections. She had accepted Starfleet conditions and was going to be treated accordingly.

Kirk was prepared for the worst. He knew what ‘best of the year's’ were like. They were annoying know-it-all’s.

He looked at Scotty, who had picked up on his captain’s bad mood and wasn’t sure what to expect himself.

"All right, Mr. Scott, let’s beam wonder-girl aboard," Kirk sighed.

“Aye, sir!” Scotty threw him a glance and activated the transporter.

As soon as Dr. Hope materialised on the platform, the two men exchanged surprised looks. The woman was tiny – or rather petite, Kirk thought was the established term. But she was far from disagreeable. In fact, she was rather attractive.

The first thing that struck him about her were her big, dark eyes darting around eagerly, trying not to miss anything. She was not exactly a beauty, but much rather pretty. Very pretty. And she seemed so natural, like someone you could have a good time with. Her dark brown, long hair was fastened in what was supposed to be a simple knot behind her neck, but was obviously not used to being tied up.

On the whole, she had a slight air of unruliness about her, which made her personable and rather interesting. Kirk liked her right away. She was, admittedly, on the slim side, but not in a skinny way. And although she looked somewhat delicate and fragile, he got the impression that she had much more strength and energy within her than one would presume according to her slight frame.

 


 

Dr. Hope stepped off the platform and looked around shyly. She had a warm smile and not a hint of the expected arrogance.

Kirk realised that she was a little unsure of herself, obviously not having expected to be greeted by the captain. But she didn’t just seem uncertain of what to do or say, she actually appeared to be experiencing something like a dream come true.

When she became aware of Kirk's stare, she lowered her eyes and blushed. Kirk, who hadn’t even been aware of staring until that moment, was sorry for having embarrassed her and stepped towards her with his arm held out in greeting.

"Welcome aboard, Dr. Hope," he said with his most charming smile.

"I'm Captain Kirk, … and this is Mr. Scott, our Chief of Engineering," Kirk went on to relieve an obviously more than impressed Scotty from his turn of having to say anything meaningful.

Dr. Hope, apparently, wasn’t sure if shaking hands with a starship captain was appropriate. But after a second’s hesitation, she took his hand, appreciating his endeavours to make her feel at ease.

"Thank you, Sir. Permission to come aboard, Sir," was all she could muster.

“Permission granted,” Kirk smiled, and, to make up for unintentionally having made her uneasy, decided to show her round the ship personally. He wanted to grab the chance to get to know her. Quite contrary to his expectations, he had to admit that he had taken to her rather easily.

"Let me give you a quick tour of the Enterprise first, and then you can get settled in your quarters afterwards."

"Do you show every new crew member around in person, Captain?" Dr. Hope asked, smiling self-consciously.

"Not usually, no, but I think I can make an exception for a beautiful young lady."

Blushing again, Dr. Hope quickly looked away, and Kirk cursed himself for embarrassing her even more.

"Sorry, Doctor, that came out wrong,” the captain tried to salvage the situation, “but in a way, you're not just a new crew member, you’re my guest, too. Today, at least. I have special orders regarding you, and, therefore, I need to get to know you a little. But, of course, you won't get any special treatment. After the sightseeing tour, that is,” he added grinning. “Apart from being the captain of this ship, I'm only human after all."

She smiled at that and, as they walked on, gradually lost her shyness.

Touring the Enterprise, she asked numerous questions and was interested in every little detail. But Kirk felt that her curiosity was genuine, that she was not just faking interest in order to impress the captain.

He had seen this enthusiasm in other space recruits, including himself, before, but with Dr. Hope it seemed to be even more than just that. There was an intensity to her eyes looking around eagerly, as if anxious to take everything in as quickly as possible for fear of waking from this dream any moment. As if it were a special privilege to see all this. But maybe it was. The Enterprise was the Fleet’s flagship, after all.

Kirk enjoyed himself immensely, showing off his ship and his crew to someone so eager, and also approved of how she met everyone from simple crewman to senior officer with deep respect and attention.

He was more than a little disappointed that he couldn’t introduce her to McCoy straight away, as the doctor was busy operating when they toured sickbay. He knew that his friend, who liked to maintain his image of perpetually grumbling curmudgeon, could be extremely charming, when he set his mind to it. And he was already immensely looking forward to seeing his reaction to this extraordinary young woman.

They took a short break on the observation deck, where Kirk got them some coffee, and looked out at the stars.

Dr. Hope had turned completely silent, absentmindedly sipping her coffee and reverently taking in the view. Kirk himself was still awed every time he looked out at the stars and told her how he’d wanted to be out here in space ever since he was a little boy back in Iowa.

He’d seen lots of people react with awe to the view from the observation deck, but her reaction was somehow different. She was not merely impressed but seemed to have fallen into a trancelike state. As if she’d only just realised how small she, or even the starship, was, compared to the universe.

Watching the expression on her face tugged at his heart. She suddenly seemed so very young and vulnerable to him, and he gave in to an urge to put a reassuring hand on her shoulder. She stiffened under his touch at first, but relaxed again after a moment. As if he’d just awakened her from her trance, she turned around and smiled up at him endearingly.

She’d obviously begun to feel comfortable around him, and he was surprised by how much that pleased him. He wanted his crew to feel at ease in his presence, expecting respect but neither fear nor worship.

How strange, he thought, that only a couple of hours ago he’d been angry at the prospect of having Dr. Hope aboard the Enterprise, and now he wanted nothing more than to make her feel welcome. She was just so easy to like. And not only because she was easy on the eye, but because she radiated a warmth and kindness that just made you feel comfortable around her.

“Makes you realise how small we really are, doesn’t it?” he asked, smiling down at her kindly.

“Oh yes, it does, Captain,” she replied wistfully. “It’s overwhelming. Who’d have thought I’d ever see the stars like this?”

What a strange thing to say for a space cadet, Kirk thought, but didn’t pursue it, guessing that she was, as she’d just put it herself, overwhelmed.

On their way to the bridge, the last destination of their tour, Kirk went a little into the bureaucratic stuff.

"You have permission to go anyplace aboard the ship and ask whatever you want to know. Mr. Spock, our First Officer, will revise general starship and emergency protocol with you this afternoon. Starfleet Command seem to be quite convinced of your all-round abilities. My orders are to give you a chance to prove yourself in every field."

“Thank you, Sir,” Dr. Hope answered a little flustered, obviously embarrassed by Starfleet Command’s praise. “I’ll do my best to live up to everyone’s expectations.”

 


 

When they arrived on the bridge, Kirk savoured her awestruck face as the doors of the turbolift opened and they stepped out. He clearly remembered his first time on the bridge of the Enterprise and felt ridiculously proud of his bridge.

He gave Dr. Hope a few moments to take everything in, then started to show her around all the different stations and introduce her to the individual crew members.

Uhura welcomed Dr. Hope with a cordial smile, and Kirk could sense an immediate rapport between the two linguists. He’d noticed before, that practically everybody took an immediate liking to Dr. Hope and her warm and unassuming way.

Even Mr. Spock seemed to be taken in by her genial nature.

Although he’d hardly admit it, Kirk thought, smiling to himself.

But the way he immediately launched into a very detailed explanation of his station and duties as a science officer, prompted by Dr. Hope’s very genuinely expressed interest, spoke volumes to Kirk.

None of the reactions Kirk had witnessed so far, however, beat Mr. Chekov’s wide-eyed and open-mouthed captivation. He was so obviously love-struck that the captain was tempted to put a hand under his jaw and lift it back up.

Dr. Hope herself didn’t seem to notice. Or was too polite to show it, if she did. But then, Kirk thought, she’d seemed genuinely oblivious to the many appreciative glances she’d received throughout the ship. Maybe she really wasn’t aware of the effect she had on other people, especially of the male species.

Since Hope and Chekov were closer in age, and Kirk was rather fond of the young Russian, he asked Chekov to show her to her quarters. He exchanged an amused smile with Uhura, as Chekov beamed at him and eagerly led Dr. Hope to the turbolift.

 


 

Pavel Chekov couldn’t believe his luck. Dr. Hope was by far the most attractive woman ever to come aboard the Enterprise. She was so beautiful and gracious, it took his breath away. He’d known he was in love the moment the lift doors had opened and this ethereal creature had stepped onto the bridge. And now he’d been given the chance to be the first of the crew to get to know her better.

Don’t spoil your chances, Pavel! he thought. Think of something deep and meaningful to say. Make a good first impression!

But somehow, his mind went completely blank. He couldn’t think of a single meaningful sentence. Luckily Dr. Hope came to the rescue and started a conversation.

“How exciting to be working on the bridge of the Enterprise!” she enthused. “I really envy you, Mr. Chekov.”

“Oh yes, I feel very privileged that Captain Kirk wants me on the bridge for Alpha shift. And call me Pavel, please, Dr. Hope.”

“Only if you’ll call me Jenny,” she smiled, offering her hand to him. “Pleased to meet you, Pavel.”

Pleased is an understatement, Chekov thought happily.

They arrived at her quarters way too soon for his liking. So, when she stepped inside, thanking him for accompanying her, he spontaneously offered to take her to dinner after his shift, which she accepted gratefully.

“I’d like that very much, Pavel. You can tell me all about the Enterprise and her crew. I found Mr. Spock very intriguing, for example. He must be brilliant.”

“Oh yes, he is. He’s one of a kind. But there are many interesting people aboard the Enterprise. It’s a great crew!”

And with a happy smile on his face, Chekov headed back to the turbolift to resume his duty on the bridge. He was so caught up in the pleasant anticipation of his dinner date, that he didn’t even notice the amused grins his fellow officers exchanged.

 


 

After Chekov had left, and the doors had closed behind her, Jenny surveyed her quarters and found her bags already waiting in a corner. As she started to unpack, she let her mind drift back to the events of the past couple of hours. She’d been so nervous about beaming aboard this legendary ship and had been utterly shocked to find the captain himself waiting for her and even showing her around the ship personally.

The famous Captain Kirk was even more impressive in person. Charming and very good-looking, too. And after having overcome her initial star-struck timidity, she’d really enjoyed his company. He was pleasant and witty, and she liked how very proud of his ship and crew he was.

Everybody had been so welcoming, Jenny thought relieved. She’d especially liked Nyota Uhura and was looking forward to working with her, expecting to have a lot in common with the lovely communications officer.

And she was also looking forward to spending more time with Pavel Chekov. He was sweet and fun and easy to talk to. And, of course, she had to admit that it was nice to have someone have a crush on her.

Chapter Text

That evening, over dinner in the mess, the captain eagerly told his CMO all about his first encounter with Dr Hope. How she had surprised him and Scotty with her appearance. How he’d taken to her immediately, just like everybody else aboard.

“She’s a fascinating young woman, Bones,” he enthused. “Unlike anyone I’ve ever met. There’s something exotic about her. And although she’s a graduated PhD, she’s so natural and girl-like, almost a bit shy. You'll like her too!"

"Sure,” McCoy countered, grinning wryly at his friend, “a girl who fascinates you, simply has to be extraordinary."

The captain chuckled softly to himself, remembering Scotty’s tongue-tied reaction, and how he’d had to save his usually chatty chief engineer from having to say anything meaningful.

"You don't have to believe me, Bones, but don't say I didn't warn you!" Kirk wagged a finger at him.

Tired after a long operation, McCoy was in a rather grouchy mood.

"Listen, Jim, Dr. Hope may be nice, and she’s obviously bright, or she wouldn't have her PhD at that young age, but why the hell do they send us another linguist, when I'm desperately in need of more medical staff…"

"I wouldn't mind working in the medical department, Doctor!" an amused voice cut in.

Dr. Hope had been passing by their table in Chekov’s company just in time to hear the doctor’s last statement.

McCoy spun around, deeply embarrassed, only to be even more taken aback when he saw the girl who the voice belonged to. For once, it seemed, Jim hadn’t exaggerated. Taking in the sweet smile, that lit up her whole face, and the big, dark eyes, twinkling at him mirthfully, he thought there really was something exotic about her. Something different. Her crisp, slightly dated accent, of course, adding to the effect.

Kirk gave his friend a broad grin.

"Why didn’t you tell me?" he hissed at the captain.

"I did!" Kirk smirked.

McCoy apologised profusely, using all his Southern charm, and introduced himself to Dr. Hope with a gallant little bow and the hint at a kiss on the hand, at which Kirk had to suppress a snigger.  

“Please don’t mind me, Dr. Hope,” he said again, “I’m just a crabby old country doctor, grouching about Starfleet. I didn’t mean to offend you.”

“Don’t worry, Dr. McCoy,” Dr. Hope laughed good-naturedly, gently extracting her hand from his, “I’m not that easily offended.”

After she’d reassured the embarrassed CMO, whom she found very refreshing and who, she sensed, was quite a gentle man underneath his grumpy façade, Dr. Hope told the captain that she’d meant what she’d just said.

“Unless there is some linguistic emergency that requires my immediate attention,” she chuckled, “I’d rather be appointed to where I can really be of use.”

Turning towards McCoy, she continued, “Unfortunately, I don’t have more than basic medical training, but I can imagine there are enough simple tasks to be carried out in sickbay? And, of course, I’d do my very best to become more efficient quickly.”

Kirk looked questioningly at McCoy, who seemed rather pleased by the idea.

“Want to give it a try, Doctor?”

"I could really need a hand in sickbay. We still have so many patients from our last adventure." He put a lot of emphasis on the last word, glancing somewhat reproachfully at Kirk. "And I'm sure, our patients wouldn’t object to a lovely face down there."

McCoy smiled when he saw Dr. Hope blush endearingly at the compliment. Although extremely pretty, she seemed unused to receiving compliments.

"Could you start right away, say tomorrow morning?” he asked in his most charming Southern drawl, still trying to make up for his earlier rudeness. “You can meet me in sickbay at 0800 hours, and I'll show you around."

"Why not start today?” she smiled. “You said you could use a hand down there, and I'm not particularly busy at the moment. In fact, there's nothing else for me to do."

Unlike Chekov, who just couldn’t believe what was happening, McCoy was impressed by Dr. Hope’s eagerness.

If only more people were like that.

"Are you sure?” he made certain, and when she nodded, went on, “Well then, what are we waiting for? Let's go! If you’ll excuse us, gentlemen?"

And with that, he gallantly held out his arm for her and led Dr. Hope towards the exit, leaving behind an amused Kirk and a crestfallen Chekov.

 


 

It only took one look for Kirk to see the monumental disappointment written all over Chekov’s face. 

“Cheer up, Chekov! You’ve already had dinner with her. Now let someone else enjoy the pleasure of her company for a while. It’s only her first day, you’ll see enough of her in the months to come.”

“If you say so, Captain,” Chekov replied miserably.

Kirk took pity on him and, sitting back down at the table, motioned for Chekov to join him, just as a curious Sulu and Uhura ambled by, eagerly accepting the captain’s invitation to join them as well.

“So, Pavel, what’s she like? Is she as lovely as she looks?” Uhura blurted out before she had even sat down. “I so wanted to join you for dinner, but Sulu here wouldn’t let me,” she added with a reproachful glance at the helmsman.

Kirk winked approvingly at Sulu, who gave a resigned shrug and chuckled, “I had to physically keep her away, you can thank me later, Pavel.”

Chekov shot Sulu a grateful look, his eyes taking on a misty shine as he realised that, if he couldn’t be with Jenny, talking about her was the next best thing.

“She is adorable,” he gushed, “and so beautiful. And she knows so much about Russian history!”

Kirk, Sulu and Uhura snorted as one.

“What?” Chekov asked indignantly. “Didn’t you know that knowledge of Russian history is the best indicator of someone’s sophistication?”

But when the others looked at him incredulously, he couldn’t suppress a guffaw that gave him away.

“Seriously, though. She’s a pleasure to be with. If she’d ask me to marry her today, I wouldn’t hesitate.”

This time there was no telling grin on his face, only a faraway look, that left the others guessing as to whether he was making fun of them again or was, in fact, serious.

“I’ve only really said hello to her, so far,” Uhura chipped in, “but she’s so warm and lovely, she’s promising girl-friend material. I’m really looking forward to getting to know her better.”

“Same here,” said Sulu. He’d found her nice enough, even though he wasn’t as smitten with her as his navigator friend quite obviously was.

“Not girl-friend material in my case, of course!” he added quickly as an afterthought, just to be on the safe side with Chekov.

Chapter Text

McCoy and his new protégé were headed to sickbay. The doctor’s shift had actually ended more than an hour ago, but who was he to refuse an eager young lady to start working. And funnily enough, his tiredness had magically vanished minutes ago.

Although Dr. Hope was trying hard not to let it show, McCoy was well aware of her nervousness. He’d let go of her arm as soon as they’d left the mess, sensing that she was not really comfortable with this level of intimacy yet. He respected that.

It was quite natural, of course, that she should feel uneasy at the prospect of entirely new work in unfamiliar surroundings. In fact, her professionalism was exemplary for someone her age. He had to give her credit for that.

To make her feel at ease, McCoy involved her in a little friendly small talk, and as they made their way through the corridors, he could see her gradually relax. By the time they arrived in sickbay, she’d lost her reserve, yet didn't display exaggerated self-confidence, either. She was simply acting natural, which he found very agreeable. Apparently, she needed to get to know someone a little better before opening up. McCoy could relate to that. Being a rather private person himself, he disapproved of people who told the most intimate things to any stranger they came across.

After the doctor had shown Dr. Hope around, introducing her to the few staff on nightshift and the patients who weren’t asleep, he started to explain some basic instruments. Her quickness of mind and keen interest to learn something out of her usual area of expertise were impressive, her determination to do everything just right almost palpable. A girl right after his own heart – efficient, meticulous and reliable. And delightful to watch.

While she was focused on adjusting and readjusting a medical tricorder over and over again to get the hang of it, McCoy had the chance to study her a little more closely. She was good-looking, no doubt, but not in a groomed way. No, her pretty features, although certainly part of her appeal, were not what really made her beautiful. That had more to do with her personality. The warmth she radiated. That catching vivacity.

McCoy was definitely not averse to beauty, he’d met many beautiful women over the years, but at the end of the day, a pretty face was just that: a pretty face.

With Dr. Hope, it was the little things that stuck out. Like the dimples that worked their way up and down her cheeks as she was completely engrossed in her task, or the soft smile, her lips pursed in a little pout in concentration. Her animated movements were gracious and precise. And of course, there was the way she looked at him with those big bright eyes, when he explained something. Eyes like those of a child, eager to learn. And so much warmth in them, too. They seemed to reflect all her emotions. One just could not but like this girl.

He looked around and saw that his patients had perked up, too, since he’d brought Dr. Hope here. She seemed to have a way of spreading cheerfulness, a gift that would come in handy working in sickbay.

When McCoy looked at the time, he found that almost three hours had passed. He’d enjoyed Dr. Hope’s company so much, he’d completely lost track of time.

“I think it’s time, we called it a day, Dr. Hope,” he said, suppressing a yawn. “You’ll want to get some sleep before starting your first proper workday in sickbay.”

“Of course, Doctor, I’m sorry!” she exclaimed. “I didn’t mean to keep you so long. I was just so excited to learn something new and wanted to be prepared as well as possible for tomorrow.”

“Don’t worry, my dear,” he smiled. “It was my pleasure to show you the ropes. Before I can let you start working, however, we’ll have to do your required medical check-up first thing tomorrow morning. Think you can be here early? By 7.30?”

“Certainly, Doctor, I’ll be here.”

“Excellent,” he beamed. “Go get some rest now, I’ll just finish up here.”

“Thank you, Doctor, and good night!”

“Good night, my dear,” McCoy said. And just before she was out the door, he called out, “And sweet dreams! You know how it’s very important what you dream the first night in a new bed?”

“I know, Doctor,” she chuckled, “I wouldn’t have taken you for the superstitious kind, though. Anyway, I’ll try my best to dream something nice.”

“I’m not superstitious,” McCoy muttered to himself when the door had swished shut behind her, “not very, anyway. But a little banter is always good to break the ice.”

And with a satisfied grin, he made for his office to get everything ready for the next morning.

 


 

Jenny was lying in bed, looking back on the day’s events, hardly believing that she was really aboard the legendary Enterprise now. Everybody had been so warm and welcoming, she’d felt none of the rejection she’d been afraid of as a consequence of Admiral Dakunia’s pulling strings for her.

She was a little annoyed with herself, though. She’d vowed to make a good first impression, to stay calm and professional. But instead, Jenny feared, she’d come across more like an overzealous child, eager to please.

Maybe offering to help out in sickbay unprompted had been a little too forward? But then again, her wanting to work where she was needed had been the truth. And the doctor had seemed pleased. He’d been very charming and patient with her, and quite fun to be around really, once you got over his surliness. And she’d really enjoyed learning something new. She’d always loved a challenge.

Anyway, she’d be more careful to stick to Starfleet protocol in the future and try to behave according to her rank - or non-rank, as it was. Even though the atmosphere aboard seemed much more relaxed and unmilitary than she’d expected.

What made her really nervous, however, was the thought of her physical the next day. Kind as the doctor was, he didn’t miss a thing. She’d felt him scrutinising her while she’d been figuring out the medical tricorder. He’d ask questions. She’d have to be on guard.

 


 

McCoy was sitting in his office, stifling another yawn. With everything going on in sickbay, he hadn’t yet had time to go through Dr. Hope’s medical file. But with her upcoming physical in the morning, he had to catch up on that quickly, no matter how tired he was.

Before he pulled the file up on his screen, however, he wanted to make his own assessment based on his first impression and observations, as he usually did with new crewmembers. He liked to form his own opinion before being influenced by a file.

Dr. Hope, he mused, was a curious blend of highly professional academic and inquisitive little girl. Thinking about the way she wanted to know everything, and her eyes that moved around restlessly, as if afraid to miss anything, he shook his head, considering that this girl was already a graduated academic.

And yet, she also had an air of authority about her that wouldn’t let him question anything she said within her field of expertise. Her vast knowledge of so many things and the perceptive questions she’d asked that evening were impressive. It was fascinating - Did I just use that word? -  how confidence and shyness were united in one and the same person. How she aroused both admiration and protective feelings in him at the same time.

Alright, enough of that, he thought to himself. His mind was drifting, he really had to get some sleep.

Curious as to what ‘minor health issues’ he would find, he started reading through the file. He’d watched out for clues all evening, but all he’d seen was a healthy and happy young woman.

Shorter than average – right, no surprise there, a little too light – o.k., quite obvious, too, Dr. Hope had what the file called ‘genetically induced osteoporosis’ – now that sounded intriguing. Apart from that, the file listed ‘nystagmus’ – so that explained the restless eyes, and ‘congenital pelvic obliquity’. All of the conditions could be compensated medicinally or therapeutically but needed constant monitoring. And her bones would probably take longer to heal once broken or damaged.

Right, that would make for an interesting check-up tomorrow. Who the hell had those medical issues in this time and day? What had her parents been thinking?

And feeling a little sorry for her, he closed the file and left for the comfort of his quarters to get as much rest as he could before another busy day in sickbay.

Chapter Text

Dr. Hope arrived in sickbay at 7.30 on the dot the next morning. Not that he’d have expected any different from her.

“Good morning, Dr. Hope!” McCoy greeted her cheerfully. “I hope you slept well. So, tell me, did you dream something nice?”

“Good morning, Doctor,” she sounded amused. “Thank you for asking. Yes, I had a very good night. But, honestly, I have no idea what I dreamed. I guess I’ll just have to hope for the best. To think I might just have ruined my life and wouldn’t even know about it,” she added in mock horror.

“Whatever it was,” he chuckled, “I’m pretty sure it won’t ruin your life. First day aboard and all. Took it out of you, didn’t it?”

“It would seem so,” she admitted. “But I feel very rested and ready for anything now.”

“That’s good. Let’s get started, then. Hop on the biobed for me, will you?”

Dr. Hope obliged with an elegant leap, making McCoy laugh as he began his examination.

The moment she was sitting in front of him, however, the sassy officer-to-be was gone, and in her place sat this timid girl, nervously watching him run his tricorder over her body. Almost as if she was afraid he would find something seriously wrong with her. Although, knowing her medical file, it was not really surprising that she was a little apprehensive.

Her sudden transformation tugged at his heart as much as it intrigued him. He’d have to be extra gentle to coax her out of her shell again, maybe make this examination a little more touchy-feely. A gentle touch was sometimes all it took to gain a patient’s trust.

So, putting aside his tricorder, he took an old-fashioned tongue depressor to check her throat and tonsils, and put a gentle hand under her chin, softly tilting her face up a little. When he felt her almost imperceptibly lean into his touch, he lightly caressed her cheek with his thumb and saw her briefly close her eyes while the softest sigh escaped her lips. 

Most people probably wouldn’t even have noticed, but McCoy was a close observer and rather good at reading people. It had only been the most fleeting moment of tenderness, but it had done the trick. Dr. Hope started to relax and revert to her confident self.

The little touch, however, had told him something about her a tricorder never could have.

For all her sass and cheerfulness, and seeming to make friends so easily, he thought, this girl was really touch-starved.

Unexpectedly moved by the realisation, he made a mental note to try and find ways to give her a little of the human touch she so obviously craved, without being obvious or indecent. Like an occasional hand on the shoulder when they talked, maybe. 

McCoy continued her check-up as gently as he could, talking to her so kindly and respectfully that she finally opened up to him completely, the last of her bashfulness dissolving. Charming and cheerful again, she lifted his spirits just by smiling at him. And the trusting look in her eyes, when she gazed up at him as she diligently answered his questions, went under his skin. 

If he’d been intrigued by her medical file the night before, he was even more surprised now that he saw what excellent physical shape she was in. Some things just didn't fit. Her heart was strong, her stamina admirable. And, taking into account her short size and underweight, she showed considerable strength. 

"Ever had problems with your bones?" he asked casually, while she was pushing the pedals for her exercise ECG. 

It was odd, she had the body, looks and energy of a twenty-year-old, yet his instruments confirmed what was written in her file, namely that her bones were brittle like a much older woman's. 

"No, Doctor, not at all. But then, I've never broken anything so far." 

"And your hip? Does it bother you?" 

He didn't mention his surprise when he'd found out that such a simple thing as a scoliotic pelvis had not been fixed prenatally. It wasn't her fault, of course, but obviously her parents’ negligence. So, he’d decided to save her the embarrassment and not comment on it. 

"Only sometimes, when I overdo my yoga or lug something really heavy around. But not too badly. I generally don't notice it at all."

"Good," he concluded, smiling reassuringly at her. "You're fit as a fiddle. Let's just check out those lovely eyes of yours, and then we're done." 

And with a strange sense of protective tenderness for this strong, yet so delicate young woman, he gently lifted her face to check the nystagmus in her eyes. A very rare condition, and again something that could have easily been taken care of prenatally. If he thought about it too hard, he could definitely get angry with her parents for inflicting such unnecessary trouble on their child. 

Dr. Hope compliantly opened her eyes wide for him, and he had to fight an extremely unprofessional urge to caress her cheek again, as he gently touched her face to tilt her head the way he needed it for the examination. 

"Do your eyes give you trouble?" he asked softly, trying hard to keep any emotion out of his voice. 

"I only ever notice the trembling at all when I'm very nervous, extremely tired or dizzy. But even then, I get it quickly under control with the appropriate medication." 

"Right," he said kindly, smiling as he detected the slightest tremor in her eyes, "you’re definitely not tired or dizzy at the moment, and there's certainly no reason for you to feel nervous." 

McCoy tried to sound reassuring. It was sweet how nervous her first physical seemed to make her. He just couldn't help it, he wanted to make her feel cared for.

Probably, because she reminded him a little of his daughter, Joanna, who was still in nursing school. A few years older than Joanna, but the same clever and feisty bundle of energy. And just as warm-hearted and lovable. 

Since he’d have to monitor her health closely, and now that she was even working in his department, he would keep an eye on her. He felt strangely compelled to make sure she was alright. And he wished, someone would watch over Joanna in the same way, when he couldn't be there for her.

 


 

After her check-up, the day had passed in a blur. There'd been lots to do in sickbay, and Jenny had met nurse Chapel, with whom she'd hit it off right away, and who'd taught her all she needed to know when Dr. McCoy had been busy elsewhere. 

The doctor had insisted on her taking a lunch break, and she’d had a nice chat with Chekov over a sandwich and coffee. She’d felt bad about ditching him so unceremoniously the evening before, and had apologised. Luckily, he’d seemed to understand that everything was just so new and exciting for her.

They’d discovered that they were both passionate dancers and shared a love of old-style ballroom dancing from Foxtrot to Salsa to Rock’n’Roll. Jenny had suggested meeting up for training sessions, and Chekov had eagerly agreed. She hadn’t had the chance to dance in ages and was immensely looking forward to it, hoping that Chekov was as good a dancer as he was ardent about it.

Just before the end of her shift, Dr. McCoy took her aside for a little debriefing, mainly wanting to know, if she still wanted to work in sickbay, now that she had a better idea of what she was getting into.

“So, how was your fist day, Dr. Hope?” he smiled, motioning for her to sit down while he perched on the edge of his desk.

“Busy, interesting, exciting, what more can I say?” she gushed and saw the corners of his mouth twitching at her enthusiasm, his eyes crinkling in amusement.

“And are you really sure you want to do this? That you’re alright with it?”

“Did I do something wrong?” she blurted out, suddenly uneasy.

“No, no, not at all!” he laughed. “You’ve been a great help. I was just wondering. I mean, it’ll be mainly hands-on work for you, not much scientific about it. Wouldn’t you rather work in your own field after all?”

"Not at all, doctor," she assured him, "I'd much rather be where I am needed. At the moment, I’m just doing a little research, I can do that when I’m off-duty. Besides, I love working with people."

And I rather like being around you, she added in her head, surprising herself and pushing the thought to the back of her mind for later inspection. 

It was only a few days afterwards, when she was lying in bed, exhausted, yet exhilarated from her great and exciting first week aboard the Enterprise, that she remembered. 

I rather like being around you.  

It was true, she realised. She enjoyed being around the doctor. Even though she’d found his harsh and grumpy manner a little scary in the beginning. There was a warmth to his smile and a kindness in his eyes that made her feel at ease in his presence. He seemed to be well liked by all the crew, and she admired his rather unique bedside manner as well as his sense of humour.

Lovely as everyone else she'd met so far was, Dr. McCoy was different, in an endearing way. Fun, smart, easy to talk to. Not your typical Starfleet officer. He was very outspoken, wearing his heart on his sleeve, his sharp wit sometimes bordering on the offending, but basically good-natured. Highly perceptive and very kind, too. He tried to hide it for some reason, but underneath his crusty shell Jenny had already seen glimpses of the gentlest soul. Caring, compassionate and fiercely protective of his friends and patients.

Being around him made her feel ... safe. Yes, safe and secure in a way she hadn't felt in a very long time. And she liked it immensely. Maybe it was him being a doctor. Or a little older. Or both. The gentle manner in which he'd conducted her check-up, asking questions to the point, but never prying, respecting her privacy, had been so very ... reassuring. Yes, that was the word she'd been looking for. Reassuring. He had this warm and reassuring presence.

She knew, of course, that she had an embarrassingly strong need to feel safe and cared for, though probably quite understandable in her circumstances. And he was just what she needed. The way he stood close to her while explaining displays and readouts, always a protective hand on her shoulder or back. 

Silly! She shook her head angrily. You're not a little girl anymore.

She was a grown-up woman. Strong and independent. An expert in her field. At the beginning of her career. She definitely didn't long for a protector.

And yet, the memory of his gentle fingers under her chin, carefully tilting up her face in order to examine her eyes, sent a rush of warmth from her stomach up to her chest. Those intense, blue eyes that didn't miss a thing, so kindly searching her brown ones, seeming to look right into her soul, but really just investigating her nystagmus, had nearly undone her. Kindness always did. She was pathetic.

Cringing with embarrassment, she remembered how she'd hardly been able to fight the urge to lean into his hand, when he'd so tenderly touched her cheek. If he'd noticed at all, he hadn't reacted or commented, for which she was very grateful. 

Promising herself to be more professional in the future, she let herself look forward to the upcoming weeks and months immensely. She'd make the most of having the opportunity to work for Dr. McCoy. And she would enjoy being around him while still being her professional self. He was certainly a man she could learn a lot from. A patient and devoted teacher, if you worked diligently and gave 200%, but surely grim and unforgiving, if you made careless or negligent mistakes.  

 


 

Kirk had McCoy join him for a drink in his quarters that evening.

“I haven’t seen you all week, Bones! Since you left with Dr. Hope the other evening, actually,” Kirk grinned. “Is she giving you a run for your credits?”

McCoy chuckled good-naturedly, accepting a glass of bourbon from his friend and holding it to his lips.

“To keen and hard-working linguists!” he toasted, before taking an appreciative sip and making himself comfortable on Kirk’s couch.

“To think that only a week ago,” he grinned at Kirk, “we were sitting here hopping mad about ‘this girl’ coming aboard.”

I was hopping mad,” Kirk corrected, “you were your usual calm self.”

McCoy gave a snort at Kirk’s remark.

“Well, maybe you did let it show more that time,” he conceded. “But anyway, you were totally right about her. After you’d met her, I mean,” he quickly clarified.

“You don’t mean to tell me, Bones, that a girl that – and I quote – ‘fascinates me simply has to be extraordinary’ after all?” he asked with a mock-appalled expression.

“At least I can admit when I’m wrong, Jim,” McCoy grumbled, taking another sip.

“And, yes, she is extraordinary. A quick study, prepared to do any stupid chore you throw at her and give it her best, and,” he looked at Kirk going for the clincher, “she hit it right off with Christine.”

That’s something,” Kirk nodded impressed. “Your head nurse can be quite a tough one to get to know. I was terrified of her for a long time, and I’m her captain.”

McCoy had to laugh at that. He remembered it well.

“What can I say, Jim?” the doctor went on, raising his hands in a gesture of defeat. “She’s delightful to have around. A red whirlwind amongst the calm blues of sickbay. You can tell Uhura that I’m not planning on returning her to communications anytime soon. Even my patients are perking up. At this rate, she’ll turn sickbay into the most cheerful place on the Enterprise in no time.”

Kirk studied his friend closely.

“Is it possible, Bones, that she has you under her spell just like every other crew member aboard?” he asked with raised eyebrows. “You sure sound a lot like Chekov. The boy couldn’t stop talking about her on the bridge the whole week.”

“Ah, speaking of Chekov,” McCoy chuckled, glad to steer the conversation away from himself, “poor boy comes looking for her at lunchtime almost every day. You should see his face when she doesn’t even take notice of him for the longest time, all caught up in some sorting or cleaning. I usually take pity on him and send her on her lunch break with him. I swear, he wouldn’t be more grateful if I cured him from a terminal disease.”

Kirk laughed at that.

“Yeah, he’s totally smitten. Hope it works out for them – I wouldn’t want to see him getting his heart broken.”

Chapter Text

Dr. Hope’s second week in sickbay was no less exciting than her first one had been.

Having proven herself a quick learner, McCoy let her assist him with treating minor wounds. The usual things, scratches, cuts, sprained ankles, and the like. And knowing her eagerness to learn as much as she could, he always gave her as thorough an explanation as time would allow.

Halfway into the week, he was just elaborating on the barbarous methods former surgeons often had to apply, without any sign of warning, she suddenly collapsed. One moment she asked questions and the next she passed out.

Taken completely by surprise, McCoy was barely in time to catch her before she hit the floor, then gently lifted the unconscious girl in his arms and carried her to a biobed, where he administered a hypo.

Hope felt sick and weak when she regained consciousness and tried to get up. The doctor gently pushed her back down, and, smiling kindly at her pale face, took her hand to feel her pulse.

"You gave me quite a shock there, young lady! You should have told me before," he admonished mildly.

"I'm sorry, Doctor, I had no idea it would happen again."

"Again?" He looked at her sternly, concern showing in his eyes.

"I mean, it has happened to me as a child on similar occasions,” she explained quietly.

"Maybe you’re not exactly cut out for work in sickbay after all?” He frowned a little.

"No, it's not that at all,” she was quick to assure him. “In fact, I don't mind seeing things like that, it was just your detailed description that had my autonomic nervous system run riot."

McCoy lifted an amused eyebrow, then smiled at her reassuringly.

"All right,” he squeezed her hand gently, “we’ll give it another go. No detailed descriptions next time."

Then he softly brushed a stray strand of hair from her forehead and put a comforting hand on her arm.

"But for now, you remain here, on this bed. Just a little longer, to be safe!"

 


 

Turning away after she’d closed her eyes again, he thought how fragile Dr. Hope looked, lying on that bed, her face drawn and pale, so vulnerable underneath all her sass. Seeing her like this reminded him of a child forced into the part of a strong and competent woman, triggering every protective instinct in him.

He knew, of course, that he was rather susceptible to vulnerability. Always wanting to protect everyone. It was his caring nature that had driven him to go into medicine in the first place. But it had not always served him well in the past. That’s why he tried to hide it behind a thick layer of grumpiness. Why he’d been successfully building up this cranky curmudgeon reputation over the years.

But Hope was different. Not like the people who’d taken advantage of him over the years. She was not playing the helpless-damsel-in-distress card to get attention or manipulate people. Quite the contrary. There was a genuine vulnerability to her which she desperately tried to hide. 

Once more, he felt this urge to make her feel safe and cared for. And he had a feeling that, at the moment, she did.

 


 

Laughter roused McCoy from his reverie. He looked around and found that, despite his warning, Dr. Hope had already got up and was entertaining his patients again.

In practically no time, she’d become everybody's darling. She seemed to be happy all the time, forever smiling. He’d only known her for a little over a week, and yet he’d somehow already become used to having her around, was, in fact, already finding it hard to imagine sickbay without her.

Chapter Text

McCoy was nursing a coffee in his office, enjoying the quiet and solitude after one of the more hectic days in sickbay. 

He still had some reports to file, but couldn’t bring himself to start on it just yet. Instead, he let his mind wander and wasn’t overly surprised when it conjured up Hope’s cheerful face. Thinking of her always had an exhilarating effect on him. 

Dr. Hope’s first month aboard the Enterprise had gone by in a flash, and McCoy was more than impressed with her work. She’d always be there to help him and his team, seeming to know exactly who needed a hand. Forever preparing and cleaning whatever they needed.

And she had turned out a real asset in crisis, too. Fully focused and thinking on her feet, she was quick to react to every order he shouted out.

But whenever she had time to spare, she would wander the rooms of sickbay and cheer up the patients.

Joking with those who were complaining about having to wait too long, pointing out to them how fortunate they really were as opposed to real emergencies being rushed in and treated right away.

Soothing and cheering up the more seriously ill or injured, who had to stay in sickbay longer. Always seeming to sense, if they wanted their minds taken off their worries and fears, or if they needed to talk about what had happened to them and why.

He just couldn't get enough of watching her interact with his patients. Wherever she went, it was as if the sun had been turned on.

A warm feeling took hold of him at this thought, and he remembered fondly how even Mr. Spock, in his capacity as First Officer, had, very matter-of-factly, once or twice commented on how crew morale in general had been raised since the arrival of Dr. Hope and her many contributions to recreational activities.

Christine and Hope got along really well, too, and McCoy was more than glad about it. He’d been a little worried that Christine might somehow see Hope, even medically untrained as she was, as competition. But Hope had made it clear from the start that her expertise lay in a completely different field and that she was more than happy to follow McCoy's and Chapel's orders unquestioningly. 

The two women also shared a shrewd sense of humour, not unlike McCoy's own. He enjoyed listening to their chatter, often teasing each other - and even more often him, which he didn't mind, since it was always good-humoured and respectful. And highly entertaining to everyone in sickbay. 

The whole atmosphere had changed, and sickbay had turned into a warm and cheerful place. Just as he’d predicted to Jim. Visits to injured friends had become enjoyable events, and quite often people would just stop by for a chat or for some advice from Hope.

Word had got around that Hope was an exceptionally good and patient listener, and in only a couple of weeks she had turned into the ship's unofficial "agony aunt", always there for those seeking comfort or advice.

At first, McCoy had tried to listen in on their conversations, concerned that she might give unsound advice, not having had any psychological training. But he soon realised that, in fact, she didn't give any advice at all. She just listened and asked the right questions. Only in practical matters, or, sometimes, matters of the heart, did she voice an opinion of her own. 

She was amazing all around, there was no other way to put it. And McCoy did not miss a chance to point this out to his friends, who, of course, didn’t stop teasing him about it. Even Spock, that hypocrite, had come up with some snide remark the other day, although McCoy could have sworn that the Vulcan’s eyes shone a little brighter, too, whenever Hope was around.

Heaving a sigh, McCoy put his coffee and all thoughts of Hope aside, and got on with his work.

 


 

Exhausted after a rather stressful day in sickbay, Jenny found that she couldn’t sleep. She’d tried yoga and a meditation tape, but hadn’t been able to unwind.

So she just lay there, letting her mind drift.

She’d been amazed by how quickly she’d settled in, enjoying every moment aboard the Enterprise. She’d made new friends every day and had yet to come across a crew member she didn’t get along with.

Her most pleasant surprise, however, had been to discover the many artistic talents of her crew mates, ranging from music to painting to dancing. Painting, sadly, was not one of her gifts, but there were drama groups, all kinds of choirs and musical bands, yoga and dancing ensembles. It was paradise.

When she’d started her old-school dancing sessions with Chekov, they’d soon found themselves surrounded by people who wanted to join in and learn from them.

Chekov had turned out a great friend and dancing partner, indeed, although it wasn’t always easy to keep him in check, his infatuation with her sometimes getting the better of him. She tried hard not to lead him on, emphasising that they’d never be more than friends at every opportunity she got. But every time she thought he’d understood, he’d look at her with his puppy eyes, and she knew they still had a long way to go.

Fortunately, that was not a problem with Sulu, whose kind offer to help her improve her combat skills she’d gratefully accepted, or Mr. Scott, whose endless enthusiasm for engineering was contagious and a great way for her to get a better understanding of the latest technological developments. Even less, of course, with Mr. Spock, whose frank, yet polite logic she’d come to appreciate, and with whom she’d already had a number of very enjoyable philosophical conversations on ethics and human emotions.

Her closest friend, right from the word go, however, had been Uhura. The two women had soon found out that they had far more in common than just their love for linguistics, and consequently spent a lot of their free time together.

Jenny’s first love, ranking even above dancing, was music. So she and Uhura, together with some lads from engineering, had started a new band focussing mostly on classic terran rock music, intended for others to dance to. It was a great success, more and more people attending their gigs every time, so now, they filled the grand assembly hall on a regular basis.

Between her work in sickbay, her research, and all her recreational activities, she hardly found time to sleep, and she loved it. Loved her life on the Enterprise. Loved how so many people seemed to enjoy spending time with her. And talk to her.

She wasn’t sure how it had happened, but she seemed to have gained a reputation of being a good adviser. Even people she hadn’t really met before turned up in sickbay, asking to talk to her. And even though she couldn’t give actual advice – she had no training as a counsellor after all – she was happy to see that most of them left feeling clearer about whatever had bothered them. All they obviously needed was someone who’d listen and help them rearrange their thoughts.

Sometimes, Jenny caught Dr. McCoy watching her when she talked to patients, clearly checking up on her. And at first that had made her a little uneasy. But when, after a while, she realised that he actually liked what he saw, she started to enjoy his attention. Seeing him standing in the doorway or leaning against the bulkhead, arms crossed and smiling encouragingly, made her feel strangely proud.

Mmmh. Dr. McCoy.

The calm voice in the midst of a frantic battlefield.  She had to admit that what really soothed her and helped her to unwind was thinking about the CMO. 

She’d felt comfortable around him right from the start, soaking up his kindness, every little touch of his gentle hands.

Of course, she’d heard about him even before she’d come aboard. There were a lot of stories about the legendary crew of the Enterprise going around at the Academy. And Dr. McCoy with his extraordinary medical skills was no exception.

But when she’d met him in person, she’d somehow not really been able to reconcile the tall tales with this humble, unassuming man. Not until a couple of weeks into her assignment, when disaster struck - and she’d seen him in full action for the first time. That’s when she’d found out how truly admirable he was. 

The way he’d taken charge, when a battered landing party had beamed back aboard after a mission gone terribly wrong, not a second’s hesitation, radiating absolute confidence, calmly delegating tasks and keeping track of everyone and everything as he steadily worked to keep everyone alive, was incredible and had sparked an unfailing faith in him and his skills. 

Only after every single patient had been minutely tended to and had either already left sickbay again or was at least safely recovering, had the doctor let on how worn out he was, and she’d felt infinitely safe at his side ever since, as if nothing could harm her as long as he was around.

Jenny had worked with him through a few similar, if less dramatic, situations since, and never got tired of watching the normally often fretful and worried doctor turn into this confident and unflappable superhero. 

She was really grateful he’d given her a second chance after that embarrassing fainting incident at the beginning of her ‘career’ in sickbay. He hadn’t even been angry at the time, only concerned. 

What a shame, she’d been unconscious when he’d carried her to the biobed! But she clearly remembered how his hand on her forehead had felt, when he’d so tenderly brushed her hair from her face afterwards. Firm but ever so gentle. Like you'd expect from a surgeon, of course, but she’d still savoured the feeling on her forehead.

Pathetic? Sure, but then, no one ever touched her tenderly like that these days. Even if the doctor had just done it in the line of duty. But then again, he hadn’t had to, had he? It had just been a comforting gesture, not a medical treatment. Just him being the kind man that he was.

Mmmh.

She closed her eyes and relaxed into the memory of his reassuring touch, softly stroking her forehead and running his fingers through her hair. Calming her. Comforting her. Until she finally succumbed to her tiredness and fell into deep, untroubled sleep.

 

Chapter Text

Scotty was cleaning up his desk in engineering, smiling at the memory of Dr. Hope’s eagerness. She’d just spent an hour of her free time with him and his lads, replacing a combusted tube and happily getting her hands dirty in the process. She looked adorable in overalls, but the lads had quickly learned to pay more attention to her questions than her looks.

When he’d finished clearing his office from unnecessary bits and pieces that had been lying around, he made for the mess, where McCoy was probably already waiting for him.

He hadn’t had a chance to catch up with his friend for some time. The past few weeks had been rather busy, what with the captain getting them into seemingly more trouble than usual and Hope and her insatiable curiosity about all things technical taking up a big chunk of his free time.

Not that he was complaining, of course, he greatly enjoyed sharing his knowledge of engineering with this inquisitive and delightful young lass, and showing off his well-trained staff.

 


 

As it turned out, the doctor had been delayed in sickbay, too, and by the time McCoy turned up, Scotty had already got them both drinks and a little snack.

“So, you bagged the lovely lass for sickbay?” Scotty was looking enviously at the doctor over his glass. “Ach, I should’ve recruited her right off the transporter. But then, I didn’t know the linguist was available for retraining, did I?” he added almost reproachfully.

“Well, now and again I happen to be at the right place at the right time,” the doctor grinned at his friend.

“Aye! And I heard how charmingly you welcomed her, too,” Scotty chuckled. “Miracle she even considered working for you.”

“Ah, Scotty, you know me. Charm impersonated.”

“Don’t I know it, laddie!” the Engineer grumbled good-naturedly.

“But you’ve got no reason to complain, really, do you?” McCoy demanded. “I hear she spends quite a lot of her free time in engineering, listening to you droning on and on about your engines. Probably helps her go to sleep at night.”

“Ach, now you’re jealous she doesn’t spend her free time with you as well? But yes, she completely gets what’s so fascinating about engineering. Has a brilliant mind, that one. Even borrowed some of my technical journals. Nothing more attractive than a lass with a knack for technology.”

McCoy raised an amused eyebrow and took another sip of his drink.

“What’s she doing now, anyway, that she’s not with either of us?”

“Probably off dancing with young Chekov. Poor lad is completely smitten with her.”

McCoy nodded knowingly at that.

“Or making music with Uhura, or Spock.”

“Ah, talk of the devil!” Scotty exclaimed. “There she is, deep in conversation with pointy-ears. Well, I say, if I didn’t know better, I’d think he’s quite taken with her, too.”

McCoy snorted.

“Well, you’re right, if anyone could get through to that Vulcan heart of his, it would probably be her.”

The two men watched Hope and Spock thread their way through the tables, looking for a place to sit down, while talking animatedly all the time.

Was there a light green hue to Spock’s cheeks?

“Well, well, well,” McCoy muttered, “looks like our pointy-eared friend has finally found a human who’ll put up with him and his scientific monologues.”

Knowing fully well how secretly fond the doctor really was of their green-blooded crew mate, Scotty grinned at McCoy, and the two men fell into a companionable silence, enjoying their drinks while observing the buzzing of the mess, their eyes somehow always finding their way back to Dr. Hope.

McCoy loved to just watch her and felt he could never get tired of it. It was like watching your favourite kitten. Everything she did, she did with so much grace. From dancing to singing to work.

More and more frequently, he found himself unconsciously seeking out places where she might be, wanting to be near her, even off duty. He’d go to see her perform in the band she’d called to life, or find excuses to be in the gym at the exact time she practiced her dancing with Chekov or her combat techniques with Sulu.

It didn’t matter if she even noticed his presence. He just enjoyed being around her. Her cheerfulness and warmth were balm to his soul, something he desperately needed to exorcise the atrocities he experienced in sickbay on an almost daily basis.

Jim, of course, teased him about it every chance he got. Like right now, joining him and Scotty at their table with a smug grin on his face.

“Stalking our lovely new crewmember again, gentlemen?” he laughed, setting down his drink and grabbing a chair.

“Look who’s talking,” McCoy shot back. “Or are you just checking up on your chess partner? Former chess partner, I should probably say,” he added nastily, nodding meaningfully towards where Spock and Hope were still engrossed in their conversation, totally lost to the rest of the world.

Kirk threw him a pitying glance. It wasn’t hard to guess what had his friend so on edge. And a little amusing, too. He’d never seen McCoy jealous before. But of course, the doctor was still a far way away from admitting to having any feelings for Hope. Understandably, too, given his history with women.

But when Scotty had excused himself to get back to his technical journals, and the two friends were left alone at their table, he just couldn’t bite back a comment.

“Instead of drooling over her from afar, why don’t you just go up to her and ask her out, Bones? You spend so much time together already, anyway!”

“Don’t be silly, Jim!” the doctor snapped irritably. “We’re just working together.”

“Long hours, though, I hear.”

“Oh really, Jim, drop it already! What would I do with a young thing like her? And more to the point, what would she do with an old man, a divorcee, like me? She deserves far better than that. But with all the men fawning over her, she needs a friend, a paternal friend, to look after her. To see beyond her beauty and charm.”

The captain almost spluttered his drink at that last sentence.

“And yet, she can make you smile and your eyes light up like no one else can,” Kirk stated in an annoying singsong voice.

“Keep your stupid comments to yourself, Jim, or I swear I’ll make your next physical one to remember,” McCoy growled, rolling his eyes.

That shut Kirk up. He’d learned long ago, that he could only go so far, teasing his CMO. It didn’t keep him from trying a different tactic, though. And with an innocent smile he got up from his chair, grabbed the surprised doctor by the arm, and pulled him along in the direction of Spock and Hope.

“I’ll need your help to get my chess partner back,” he grinned.

 


 

Before McCoy could protest, Jim had reached their table and pulled out a chair.

“Mind if we join you, Spock? Dr. Hope? I hope we’re not intruding!”

“Not at all, Captain,” Spock said politely, “please join us, by all means!”

He made an inviting gesture with his hand, even after Kirk had already sat down.

“Doctor?”

“Dr. Hope? Spock?”

The two men in science blues nodded curtly at each other, before McCoy sat down, too, smiling apologetically at Hope and relieved to see her beaming back at him, obviously not annoyed at the intrusion at all.

“I hope we haven’t interrupted an important meeting?” he enquired of Spock.

“Nothing we can’t continue some other time, Doctor,” the Vulcan replied serenely. “Dr. Hope was just kindly explaining one of the more puzzling human emotions to me. Jealousy. Very illogical, and yet very intriguing.”

Kirk made a choking sound that he quickly covered up with a cough. And McCoy opened his mouth, but, not being able to come up with a single quip, shut it again. Spock just tilted his head a little to the side, and the doctor could have sworn, he was gloating.

Dr. Hope looked from one man to the other, not quite sure what was going on, and then decided to change the subject.

“Is Mr. Scott not with you?” she asked the doctor. “I was pretty sure he said he’d meet up with you for a long overdue lads’ night.”

“Oh, he was here, all right. Already gone back to his technical journals, though,” McCoy grinned, then told Hope he wanted to hear all about her adventures in engineering earlier that evening.

Spock sat back in his chair, partly listening to Dr. Hope, but at the same time using another part of his brain to study the people around him. He found analysing the interactions between humans a most entertaining occupation.

Contrary to common belief, he felt quite comfortable around humans, even enjoyed being part of a mostly human crew. No one had forced him to serve on the Enterprise. Asking to be assigned to this ship had been his own choice, after all.

Over the years, he’d learned to shield himself against the bulk of emotions that humans just couldn’t help broadcasting. And he’d got used to the more or less constant teasing of his crew mates, having understood long ago that it was part of the human way to demonstrate friendship.

In a way, he’d even come to relish the challenge of a little bickering. Especially with Dr. McCoy, whose affection he could clearly feel underneath the snark. Although he’d never tell that to his face. In fact, he found it most interesting that someone as emotional as McCoy, and proud of it, too, so fervently fought to hide his strongest emotions, namely the gentle, positive ones.

As for Captain Kirk, they’d been through enough together already, to know that they could fully trust and count on each other. He’d most definitely call him his friend. Although the captain, too, liked to tease him a lot, always trying to coax some emotion out of him, he knew that Jim deeply respected him and his skills and had more than once been able to save the ship and her crew by relying on and trusting in Spock’s logic.

Dr. Hope, however, was different in many ways, although some of them he couldn’t exactly pinpoint. Of course, being new to the Enterprise, and it being her first time on a starship in general, made her a bit of an outsider.

She spoke slightly differently, for instance. And although she was as talkative as any human, she sometimes seemed to lack that special connection, the ‘in-jokes’ so common between members of her species. No covert glances exchanged between her and other humans, where he was concerned, either. No eye-rolling like from McCoy or indulgent smiles like from Kirk.

At times, it almost seemed as if her human crew mates were as alien to her as they were to him. As if she was just another kind of alien. All that went unnoticed by the other humans, of course. They just found her ‘exotic’ and ‘mysterious’, which obviously added to her attractiveness.

Like him, Dr. Hope was curious, but not in a meddling, prying way. She was emotional, too, but in a pleasantly nonintrusive way. In fact, her presence had a warm and soothing effect on him.

She’d accepted and respected him like he was from the start. Just as she was unreservedly accepting and respectful of people in general – Scotty’s obsession with all things technical, McCoy’s cantankerousness, Kirk’s brashness, even Chekov’s often clumsy advances.

She never judged, and he felt extremely comfortable in her presence. No least, because her presence also seemed to shield him from others’ judgement and comments. If that triggered his fellow officers’ jokes about him being just as much in love with her as everybody else, he could easily live with that. He could certainly see why she was so well loved.

He thought back to their first encounter on the bridge where she had already demonstrated her vast interest in the science department of a starship, curiosity being the one human emotion he understood best. 

Shortly after, they’d had a more extensive meeting about starship regulations and safety protocols, and he’d found it most agreeable to see her treat this important and serious matter with the attention it deserved. Unlike most new crew members before her, who had openly displayed boredom and started fidgeting halfway through his speech. 

Afterwards, to his slight astonishment, she’d asked him very politely, if he could also make time to give her his version of the most important facts of protocol around Vulcans, as she felt that what she’d been taught at the Academy was too basic and perfunctory. She’d further asked him to point out any future faux pas immediately, to give her the chance to correct her misdemeanour and help her in her endeavours to treat everyone with the respect they deserved. 

Of course, he’d meticulously done so ever since, and she was always really grateful. 

In return, she’d taken on the task of explaining – patiently and scientifically – a number of human emotions to him, elaborating on ‘what brought them on’, as she phrased it, and advising him on how best to deal with them. 

Her explanations had been, and continued to be, very enlightening, indeed, and he found it extremely agreeable to be able to turn to her openly with any questions concerning human nature, in the knowledge that he could expect a neutral explanation instead of illogical, teasing remarks. 

Apart from all that, he had to admit that he simply liked to be around her. It was highly pleasant to have a conversation with someone who was more interested in what he had to say than in how he said it.

“Spock!”

The captain’s voice brought him back to the present, and he was unpleasantly surprised to find that, curiously, his considerations of Dr. Hope’s character had taken up all of his mind, leaving no part of his brain to keep up with his current surroundings.

“Excuse me, Captain,” he said quickly, “I had my mind on a rather intriguing analysis.”

He saw Kirk and McCoy exchange amused glances, as Dr. Hope excused herself for the evening and the three men politely stood to bid her good night.

Chapter Text

Late the next evening, McCoy went back to sickbay to get something from his office, surprised to find Hope happily dancing through a deserted sickbay to a tune only she could hear. He’d completely forgotten that she had switched shifts that day and was on night duty.  

Even though it was obvious that she thought herself alone and he felt like intruding, he just couldn’t resist watching her a little. The way her energetic personality rubbed off on him was exhilarating. He simply felt more alive when she was around and even briefly considered joining her, the idea of taking her in his arms and twirling her around very alluring. But of course, he stopped himself from doing so. It wouldn’t be right. He hadn’t known her all that long, and he was her superior after all.

It took quite a while for her to notice his presence, but when she turned around and found him standing there in the doorway, she stopped in her tracks, a little embarrassed smile on her lips, obviously not sure whether to apologise or just act as if it was the most normal thing to dance around sickbay at night time.

Seeing her discomfort, McCoy let a wide grin spread across his face.

“Don’t mind me, Dr. Hope, just keep on dancing. It’s a delight to watch you. Not many people enjoy sickbay as much as you obviously do. Although you might have to put on some real music next time, so we can all hear it and join in, too.”

At that a relieved smile brightened her face, and she laughed, “So sorry, Doctor. I thought I was on my own. Sometimes, when I’m feeling happy, I just can’t help myself.” Then, sobering up again, she added contritely, “But I can be serious and concentrate on my work, too, Doctor, I promise.”

McCoy chuckled, looking at her fondly.

“You’re a crazy one, Hope, and just what we needed here on the Enterprise. Stay exactly as you are, don’t you ever change! There’s enough misery around here anyway, and I’m sure I can do grumpy enough for the both of us. But don’t worry, my dear, I’ve watched you at work, I know that you take it very seriously and that I can rely on you.”

 

Jenny couldn’t help laughing, she admired his easy ability for self-mockery. And to hear him praise her work boosted her confidence considerably.

Judging from the relaxed way he was leaning against the bulkhead, arms crossed in front of his chest, an easy smile on his face, he must have been standing there for quite some time already. She liked that. Liked what he’d said about not wanting her to change, too. He’d said it so affectionately, it warmed her heart ineffably.

Suddenly, it struck her that they were basically alone in this part of sickbay. The thought sent mixed emotions to her stomach, and she was relieved when the only patient chose exactly that moment to press the call button. Quickly excusing herself, she got back to work, glad to escape this situation, to which, she suspected, she attached far too much importance, anyway.

If she’d looked back, she’d have seen the shadow of disappointment darkening McCoy’s features. He’d enjoyed having her to himself, for once, immensely, and just stood there in the doorway for several moments before slowly walking out of sickbay.

The next day, however, she couldn’t resist taking the doctor at his word. Right before the end of her shift, glancing cheekily at the CMO, she put on some music, then addressed the whole of sickbay.

“If you don’t like my choice of music, you’ll have to leave sickbay! If you can!” she declared cheerfully.

Everybody, of course, started to dance, even the patients swayed to the happy rhythm, as the first bars of Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Holding Out For a Hero’ rang out.

McCoy returned her gaze with a twinkle in his eyes. And when she started to move to the rhythm, really getting into the groove of the song, she saw him laugh out loud and shake his head in disbelief.

Next on Jenny’s playlist was the soundtrack of one of her favourite classic films, ‘Dirty Dancing’, which she’d made Chekov sit through after one of their dancing sessions.

Just as ‘Hungry Eyes’ began to play, to Jenny’s surprise and delight, Dr. McCoy stepped towards her and, with a gallant little bow, took her hand and asked her to dance. Not a proper dance holding her close, of course, but the feeling of her hand in his was enough to send goose bumps all over her skin. The effect increased by his affectionate smile and the choice of song, of course. Although Jenny was pretty sure that McCoy had no way of knowing the soundtrack and had not chosen that song intentionally.

He was a surprisingly good dancer, really. Moving smoothly and elegantly, and perfectly in time with the music. But when she looked into his handsome face, all she could think was that probably not many people in sickbay had ever seen the CMO grinning like a Cheshire cat before.

 


 

About a week after their impromptu dance interlude, Jenny hurried out the door of sickbay at lunchtime, bumping straight into McCoy, nearly losing her balance and grateful for him reaching out quickly to steady her, thus ending up in his arms for a long, exciting, embarrassing, heavenly moment.

“You seem a little distracted lately. Got something on your mind?” he asked kindly, concern showing in his eyes, while she was still busy sorting out her emotions.

“No, Doctor, sorry. Maybe just too many late-night talks recently,” she chuckled, her voice sounding tired, even to her own ears.

“Don’t get me wrong, Hope,” he continued softly, “I really appreciate what you’re doing around here, the way you care about people and how you help them is great.”

He smiled warmly at her.

“But you mustn’t neglect your own needs. Rest, sleep, you need those too! You need to take care of yourself. Or is there something else bothering you?” he tried again.

Jenny shook her head, but the doctor held her gaze.

“If you need to talk, I’m here. Anytime.”

The words nearly brought on her tears, but, with a quiet “Thank you, Doctor,” Jenny managed to quickly turn around and continue on her way.

 

McCoy watched her go, an uneasy feeling in his gut. He’d have to keep an eye on her. She’d been awfully quiet lately, not her usual bubbly self at all.

He didn’t have to wait long, however. Just before the end of his shift, there was a knock on his office door and Hope stuck her head in.

“Have you got a minute, Doctor?”

“Sure! What can I do for you?” he tried to sound as inviting as he could, not wanting her to lose her nerve again.

“You were right earlier. I’ve got something on my mind. I think I need your advice.”

“Glad you came, it was hard seeing you so subdued,” he smiled. “This will take longer, I take it? Want to grab a coffee and find somewhere quiet to talk?”

“That would be great.”

She seemed relieved to have this conversation away from his office, making him wonder what this was really about.

Knowing that she liked it and felt comfortable there, he suggested the observation deck, to which she readily agreed. There, they got coffee and found a quiet corner to sit down.

“All right, Hope, shoot. How can I help?” he began with an encouraging smile, watching her fidgeting around and giving her time to find the right words. 

 

Jenny was very grateful for his patience.

“I don’t even know where to begin.”

“Just start anywhere. We’ll piece it together,” he smiled reassuringly.

“OK. I’m just trying to do the right thing here. But I don’t seem to know what that is anymore.”

“That sounds serious.”

He raised a concerned eyebrow at her, but didn’t push it, waiting for her to continue in her own time.

And then the words started tumbling out of her.

McCoy listened attentively, calmly asking questions here and there, taking her concerns very seriously. Just talking to him, telling him what was on her mind, was a great relief and helped to clear her mind. He was so understanding, and sitting here with him, she felt warm and comfortable.

 

Hope’s problem, it turned out, was not her own but that of a female ensign who had come to seek her advice some days ago. McCoy felt sorry and responsible that she’d had to deal with this. He should have been aware that the people coming to talk to her would burden her with more serious stuff, too. She couldn’t be left alone like this in the future. He’d have to talk to her about that some other time.

Said ensign, it transpired, had hinted at having been molested, possibly even worse by one of her male crew mates, but wouldn’t tell who.

“She only said that it was a lieutenant who’d already transferred off the Enterprise some time ago, and had died since in the line of duty,” Hope explained. “If he were still alive, I’d have come to you right away, of course,” she quickly assured him. “I mean, this is a serious allegation, and I wouldn’t want to be responsible for a repeat.”

McCoy was relieved to hear that. But then, he’d never doubted Hope’s sense of duty and responsibility.

“But since he can’t do any more harm, and she told me this in confidence, I was going to keep it to myself. Especially, since I don’t know for sure what really happened between them.”

“So, what changed your mind?” the doctor asked gently, taking in her pained expression and thinking how easy it was to forget how young she really was. The thought weighed heavily on his conscience. He’d definitely have to be more protective of her.

“I can’t really put my finger on it, Doctor, but when I talked to her yesterday, she seemed a little…” Hope took her time to find the right word. “… off?”

She looked at McCoy for help, and he could see her inner struggle. She so badly wanted to do right by this ensign, whose name he had yet to learn.

“I mean, even though there’s no reason for her to be afraid anymore, she’s clearly not over this yet. Over him, or over what he’s done to her, I don’t know. And maybe I’m reading too much into this whole thing. I just have a feeling that she needs help. Professional help. Your help. But if I’m wrong, she’ll feel betrayed by my telling you. I don’t want to betray her trust.”

The words came pouring out now, the relief of confiding in him outweighing her sense of discretion, and McCoy was glad to see it. He leaned forward and gently put his hands on her arms in an attempt to ground her. It worked. She looked straight into his eyes, exhaled deeply and fell silent.

“I’m glad you came to me, Hope. I don’t think you’ve read too much into it at all, and I’ll take care of it. Don’t worry, you did the right thing.”

McCoy saw his words of comfort sink in, and was deeply touched by the look of relief and utmost trust in her eyes, as she gratefully looked up at him. He’d really have to look out more for her from now on. He needed to keep in mind that, despite her confident and sensible personality, she was barely grown-up and had accordingly limited life experience, after all.

Once again, he felt a warm wave of protectiveness for this extraordinary young woman wash over him and couldn’t resist a comforting caress of his hand to her face. But when, for a brief moment, she smilingly leaned into his touch, lifting affectionate eyes to his, he realised that, deep down, he felt something else, too. And that something, though not yet definable, worried him.

An instant later, however, he did what he always did to unbidden thoughts. He pushed them to the back of his mind, totally intending to forget about them.

Chapter Text

The next day, after Hope had told him the name of the ensign she’d been so concerned about, and he’d again promised to take care of the matter, McCoy was happy to see her flitting about sickbay, back to her happy self.

And once again, he had the opportunity to admire her way with people, when two of his obviously bored patients started a noisy argument about something or other, and Hope managed to restore harmony in sickbay in less than five minutes.

Hearing the commotion, he’d come running out of his office, only to see Hope already standing between the two beds, hands on hips, like a displeased mother. In her cheerfully bossy way, she insisted on them communicating civilly, made them find something they had in common and eventually let them both come out of the argument as winners.

Watching the two men, both tall and burly security guards, hang their heads in shame and obediently do as they were told, was a sight to behold. And after making sure that everything was quiet again and Hope had it all under control, he quickly returned to his desk, closing the door behind him and letting out a loud guffaw.

How many trained psychologists could never achieve what Hope accomplished with sheer intuition? he wondered fondly.

No wonder, she was so successfully involved in the intuitive enhancement of the universal translator, whatever that was exactly.

Hope and Uhura had tried to explain it to him several times, and he could certainly appreciate its usefulness, especially when encountering new species whose language might not even be based on actual words. But he just didn’t see how it could work.

They’d compared it to him knowing what was wrong with his patients before they even said a word, just by observing them, reading their faces, their body language, and so on. And when he’d pointed out that he’d had years of experience to get there, Uhura had immediately refuted that by reminding him how many aliens he’d already helped, even though he hadn’t had the first idea about them.

That, admittedly, was true. He’d surprised himself more than once in that regard. But at the end of the day, the universal translator was still a machine. And in his book, that just didn’t go together with intuition or empathy.

Cobbler, stick to your last, he thought contemplatively, and safely leave the universal translator and its further development to the experts.

 


 

Towards the end of Alpha shift, there was a lull in the constant stream of people coming to sickbay for more or less urgent medical attention, and McCoy, Chapel and Hope sat around the doctor’s desk, nibbling on some delicious biscuits a grateful patient had left them earlier.

“How can you be so happy all the time?” Chapel wanted to know, looking enquiringly at Hope. “You are so balanced and well-adjusted. And so full of energy. I’m jealous! What’s your secret?”

Hope laughed and took a moment to think about it, while McCoy gazed at her with interest, often having wondered the same thing.

“I do a lot of yoga,” she finally explained.  “A little every day. Breathing exercises, too. But basically, I think, it’s a matter of attitude. I want to be happy, so I am!”

“Just like that, huh? So easy,” Chapel scoffed, clearly not satisfied with Hope’s explanation.

“Well, what else can I say, Christine?” Hope chuckled, shrugging helplessly at McCoy. “I try to appreciate the good things in life. There are plenty, at least in mine, and they clearly outweigh the less pleasant ones. Besides, dwelling on the bad stuff helps no one. Least of all me. I don’t want anything to spoil the happiness in my life.”

“But don’t you ever get annoyed or upset or anything?” Christine questioned.

“Of course, I do!” Hope laughed. “I’m not a saint! But I try to deal with it as quickly as possible and then just let it go. I believe in the law of attraction. You attract what you send out into the universe. If you expect bad things to happen, they eventually will. So, I endeavour to keep my thinking positive, and it usually works. It’s all about good vibrations!”

Nurse Chapel seemed impressed, and even though McCoy was not really inclined towards the esoteric or supernatural, he respected Hope’s belief and even gave it some thought. The way she explained it didn’t lack a certain logic. But real or not, it certainly seemed to work for her, and that was all that really mattered.

 


 

That evening, long after his shift had officially ended and there was still no end of dealing with all the bureaucratic stuff in sight, McCoy had developed an annoying headache. He was rubbing his temples and just about to take a painkiller out of his desk drawer, when Hope stopped him.

“Don’t! There’s no need for drugs, Doctor! I can help you with a tension headache.”

“You can?” McCoy spun around, surprised that she was still there. “How? Are you going to kiss it better?” he asked wryly, immediately regretting his cheek when he saw her blush furiously.

But then again, he rather liked the way she blushed over silly little comments like this. It was adorable, how she couldn’t help it, even though she knew he was just teasing her.

“Not quite what I had in mind, Doctor, but I can always give it a try, if you’d prefer that method,” she quipped, smiling sweetly at him.

“You spend too much time with Spock,” McCoy grumbled. “You already sound just like him.”

But secretly, he was impressed. She was learning to give as good as she got. He liked that. Just as he liked her sense of humour in general. She was great fun to be with. She was great – full stop.

But before he could get carried away by the image of this lovely girl kissing away his headache, he put on a more serious face again and asked her what she’d really had in mind. His headache had almost vanished already, simply by her soothing presence, but the physician in him was curious as to what she was suggesting instead of ‘drugs’, as she’d called it.

“Lean back, close your eyes and relax,” she ordered.

Now it was his turn to glance at her warily, which she acknowledged with a satisfied grin.

“No kissing, Doctor, I promise,” she giggled, a warm and cheerful sound that delighted McCoy every time he heard it.

Then, thinking that the no-kissing promise was almost a shame, he leaned back in his chair and relaxed.

Hope stood behind him and touched gentle hands to his temples, cool fingers massaging in circular motion. And even though he’d already been feeling much better before, he could now feel all the tension ebbing away. He relaxed completely into her tender touch and felt invigorating energy flooding him. It was an immensely pleasant feeling, as if all her kindness and positivity was pouring into him, relieving him of any pain he might have been feeling. The sensation was so strong that, for a fleeting moment, he was afraid he was somehow draining her.

An involuntary sigh of contentment and wellbeing escaped him as he opened his eyes again. And when Hope took away her hands, smiling enquiringly at him, he was relieved to see that she was her usual energetic self and didn’t seem drained at all.

“Unbelievable,” he blinked, shaking his head in amazement, “It’s completely gone! That’s amazing! Where did you learn that?”

“It’s …” she hesitated slightly, a faint shadow crossing her face, gone again so quickly that he might have imagined it, “just something a friend taught me. I’m glad it worked.”

“You can work your magic on me again anytime, my dear!” McCoy smiled at her gratefully, hoping that she would, since he had enjoyed the connection very much.

“If your headaches are a regular thing, maybe you should go to the gym to loosen up more often?” Hope suggested.

“You might have a point there, young lady,” the doctor conceded. “With all that’s been going on in sickbay lately, I haven’t made much time for exercise.”

“I’m headed to the gym right now! Why not come with me? Otherwise you’ll just put it off again,” she smiled at him encouragingly.

How could I resist such a charming invitation? he thought, revelling in a feeling of lightheartedness brought on by her beaming smile, then nodded, turned off his computer, and followed her out of sickbay.

 


 

A few minutes later, McCoy joined her in the gym, where she was already doing some yoga exercises with a group of people. As always, she looked gorgeous in her gym suit, and with the touch of her gentle fingers still fresh in his mind, it took the doctor some effort to keep his thoughts on the straight and narrow.

His own not entirely platonic feelings, however, were completely forgotten the moment he overheard two young lieutenants from the biochemical lab shamelessly discuss Hope’s hot outfit. Outraged, McCoy swung around and glared at the two men who, unfortunately, couldn’t take a hint.

“Have some respect, you louts!” he bellowed, attracting the attention of the whole gym.

The two men looked at him, perplexed, but turned around and swiftly left anyway. Even though they hadn’t known the doctor to mind a little man-to-man talk up to now, they knew better than to cross their superior over something so trivial.

McCoy exhaled deeply in an attempt to regain his composure and turned back towards the yoga group. Hope shot him a questioning glance, but when he smilingly shook his head and raised his hand in an everything’s-just-dandy gesture, she quickly went back to focussing on her yoga.

Yoga, however, was not for him, he decided after he’d watched her a little longer. The way she moved and twisted around on the mat, he just couldn’t believe how flexible the human body was. Not to speak of her impressive ability to keep her balance, taking the most strangely tangled postures without as much as a wobble. No wonder, she was so balanced in her personality, too.

Remembering that he’d actually come here for some workout, he finally tore his eyes away from Hope and her yoga group, and made for the nearest treadmill.

Chapter Text

Ever since she'd so magically taken away his headache, Hope had taken to giving McCoy gentle massages whenever she saw him hunched over his desk, tense with worry or fatigue. It was life-transforming, his headaches all but gone. Not to speak of what the touch of her tender hands to his head, neck and shoulders did for his soul.

As CMO, he was used to looking after everybody else, but it felt so good to just let go, relax and be taken care of once in a while. He'd even stooped to pretending being tense once or twice, if it had been too long, craving the warmth and vigour that filled his body and soul by her simply standing close behind him. 

He didn't feel too guilty about that, though, because, however giving she was, he sensed that she, too, enjoyed these moments. While she soothed away his worries and frustrations, she also drew strength from their physical contact, which he’d often draw out by gently placing his hands over hers to give them a grateful squeeze, before she pulled them away.

He knew that underneath her mature and confident personality, she was hiding the tender soul of a very young woman, a girl really, desperately in need of warmth and affection. And this was another perfect way for him to get her a little of that.

 


 

Right now, however, McCoy was anything but relaxed. In fact, he was so tense, he was afraid he was going to snap any minute. Feeling his blood-pressure rise to new heights, nearly popping the pulsing vein in his jaw, he gripped the handles of the treadmill he was currently maltreating so hard, his knuckles went white.

Next to him, Scotty was puffing away at a steady pace, and he could sense the Chief Engineer’s bewildered gaze on his face.

“Who rattled your cage, laddie?” Scotty couldn’t help asking after a while. “Got a problem with Hope and Chekov dancing together?”

McCoy didn’t take his eyes off said pair, practicing on the far side of the gym, wincing every time Chekov lifted Hope off the floor.

“They can dance all they like,” he muttered through clenched teeth, “but this has nothing to do with dancing. Rock’n’Roll is acrobatics, and it’s life-threatening!”

“Well, there sure is a lot of jumping and throwing and summersaulting involved, but it’s splendid to watch, and they certainly know what they’re doing.”

“I’m happy, you’re enjoying the show, Scotty, but as for me, it’ll give me a heart-attack any moment now.”

“Ach, don’t be such a sourpuss, Doctor!” Scott laughed, slowing down his treadmill to catch his breath. “Let them enjoy what they’re obviously so good at.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” McCoy rounded on him, thinking about Hope’s brittle bones and what a fall from that height could do to them, then nearly falling off the treadmill himself, as he watched Hope throwing herself over Chekov’s shoulder, dive head first towards the deck, only to have Chekov grab her by the hands and pull her up again through his spread legs in the nick of time.

“And you’re not the one who has to patch her back together again, if something happens,” he finished in a hiss.

Scotty just looked at the doctor, flabbergasted. He was used to the doctor fretting and railing all the time, of course, but this level of agitation over nothing was a new high, even for him.

“Sorry, Scotty, but I can’t watch this any longer,” McCoy growled, hit the stop button of his treadmill hard with his fist, and, with a last angry scowl in the direction of Hope and Chekov, stomped out of the gym, leaving a baffled Scotty behind.

 


 

Chekov watched Dr. McCoy leave the gym in a huff and wondered what he’d done to make the doctor throw him such furious glances. Up to now, he’d always felt that McCoy rather enjoyed their little dancing shows.

He didn’t want to let that spoil his evening, though, and quickly turned his eyes and thoughts back to the woman of his dreams. He was in heaven. As always when she was so close to him. Dancing with her, holding her, was the highlight of his evenings. They made a great pair.

And as much as he enjoyed every kind of dance with her, Rock’n’Roll was special. The way he could lift her slight form around, her lithe body rolling across his chest and shoulders and back so excitingly, sent hot showers down his spine.

And the way their movements blended together with perfect timing, her trust in him to catch her just in time, were absolutely thrilling. Not even Salsa could top that.

But they didn’t just dance together. Chekov relished every minute he spent with Hope. She was so much fun, so interesting to talk to, and simply the most adorable woman he’d ever met. He would sit through the dullest film again anytime, just to be close to her. There were certainly worse things than watching ‘Dirty Dancing’, right?

They often met in the mess – and mostly not by chance, either, but she didn’t have to know that – and had breakfast or dinner together. And sometimes, he would still go to sickbay at lunchtime, where he could be sure of Dr. McCoy’s support. Always worried about Hope losing weight, the doctor didn’t miss a chance to order her on a lunchbreak.

The only fly in the ointment was that she kept emphasising how much like a brother he was to her. That irked. But one could still hope, no?

Chapter Text

Sulu had the conn on nightshift, when the Enterprise received urgent orders to set course for one of the newest planets to the Federation.

Four diplomats, who had spent the better part of the last three months there, had been kidnapped by members of the resistance, who just couldn’t accept that their government had finally joined the Federation and wanted to blackmail them into leaving again. The diplomats’ five children had been left behind, and the Enterprise was supposed to pick them up and take them to the nearest starbase.

Given the seriousness of the matter, Sulu had notified the First Officer right away, and was not surprised to see Spock enter the bridge, closely followed by the captain, mere minutes later.

Swiftly taking the centre seat, Kirk had the communications officer on duty open a channel to the planet’s government, and had a long conference with the local governor. The diplomats’ lives were not in danger, the governor assured him, but since they couldn’t be sure how long the negotiations would take, he thought that the children – all humans – would be safer and better taken care of back with their own species.

A little while later, the captain, Spock and a still yawning McCoy had a meeting in Kirk’s quarters to establish the best way of proceeding.

“The children must be terribly afraid and traumatised,” McCoy stated the obvious, his face full of compassion after he’d been filled in on the full story.

“That’s why I need you and your team to take care of them. You’ll know how to give them the psychological support they’ll need.”

“Of course, Jim,” McCoy nodded, his face lined with a mixture of sadness and rage. “I think I’ll put Hope in charge of taking care of them. I can’t think of anyone better suited to the task. I’ll prep her first thing tomorrow morning and ask her to meet the children in the transporter room.”

“Won’t you be there, too?” Kirk asked a little worried.

“No, Jim,” the doctor smiled at him. “Believe me, Hope, security and the transporter operator will be more than enough. They’re only little, and they’re scared. Too many strangers waiting for them would just frighten them more.”

Kirk looked at McCoy and nodded. That made sense. Now, more than ever, he was glad that the Enterprise had such a kind-hearted and compassionate CMO. The children would be in good hands.

 


 

Jenny was appalled when McCoy filled her and her colleagues in on the facts of their current mission the next morning, her face mirroring the doctor’s emotions exactly. They arranged for one of the bigger guest quarters to be turned into child-friendly accommodations, setting up a direct intercom line to Jenny’s quarters and a communicator she was going to carry on her at all times.

When the children arrived on the Enterprise, seeing this bunch of terrified, pale-faced kids standing on shaky legs on the transporter platform, almost broke Jenny’s heart. But knowing that tearful pity would do nothing to help them, she put on her most cheerful smile, asked them to step off the platform and squatted down to warmly welcome each of them individually.

Then she took them to their quarters to get them settled, memorising their names on the way, and trying to make them feel at ease, asking all about their favourite foods, animals, stories, anything she could think of to take their minds off the scary situation they were in.

By the time everyone had chosen a place to sleep, the first smiles had appeared on the kids’ faces, and when she asked if anyone would like a hug, because she suddenly felt very much like hugging, she was happy to see them eagerly taking her up on the offer. All but one. Ella, the eldest, was still looking at her a little warily, but Jenny noticed that she, too, had stepped closer, and just gave her a beaming smile and a wink.

 


 

The next stop was sickbay, where Dr. McCoy was already waiting for them, needing to give them a medical check-up. But even though the doctor was as warm and gentle as she’d ever seen him, the sterile surroundings clearly scared them. 

Jenny cheerfully introduced them to the CMO, trying to make them comfortable around him, but when he smilingly asked, “Right, who wants to go first?” they just huddled together and avoided his gaze.

Seeing that he could really do with a little help there, she quickly yelled, “Me, Doctor! Please, can I go first?” and eagerly started towards the biobed.

McCoy chuckled and, grateful for her support, played along. He liked how he could always count on Hope to save the day with some whimsical idea. She was resourceful, he had to give her that.

With a big affectionate grin on his face he grabbed her around the waist with both hands and easily lifted her onto the biobed, where he pretended to check her, making a big show of tickling her ears and neck with his scanner.

Watching her have so much fun with the doctor, the children forgot all about being afraid and eagerly demanded their turn at being examined, McCoy of course taking great care to keep up the tickling and fun throughout the complete check-up.

Watching the probably noisiest physical ever, Jenny beamed when the doctor, between patients, gave her a wink and a thumbs-up mouthing “Thank you!”

She was glad she’d had this idea to make the children more comfortable around sickbay. And she’d rather enjoyed her own ‘examination’, too, always relishing being close to the doctor. The way he always looked after her, along with the gentle touch of his hands, which he ever so often casually bestowed upon her, never failed to make her feel wonderfully cared for.

He knew next to nothing about her, of course. Couldn’t know that there was no one else to care about her. But then, maybe, she thought, being the kind and compassionate man he was, he just somehow sensed what she needed.

She could have watched the doctor like this all day, her heart brimming over at his gentle and affectionate way with the children. He was so sweet with them, and she could tell that the kids enjoyed his attention immensely.

McCoy, in turn, was enjoying himself thoroughly, too. He loved the way the children had taken to him, wanting them to feel safe and cared for. Loved the way they let him examine them so trustingly.

And, if he was honest, he also liked how Hope watched them, her sweet face so full of love and tenderness for the children. What a great team they made, he thought fondly, smiling at the memory of the ‘check-up show’ they had put on for the children earlier.

 


 

That evening, after his shift had ended, McCoy went to the children’s quarters to look in on them and found them singing ‘Five Little Monkeys’, one of Joanna’s favourite songs when she was little.

Apart from her cheerful personality and loving way with the kids, Hope had turned out to be a true well of children’s songs, games and stories, and McCoy was happy to have been right in assigning her to be the children’s official caretaker.

He stopped in the doorway and smilingly watched the children jumping around on the biggest bed like mad. They hadn't noticed him yet, but when towards the end of the song they all chanted, “Mama called the doctor and the doctor said,” he ventured farther into the room and shouted, “Put those monkeys back in bed!” at the top of his voice.

They all came bounding towards him, jumping up at him like eager puppies and dragged him over to the bed, where they fell into a giggling heap around Hope, and he joined in their tickle fight.

McCoy was very relieved to see the children so cheerful. They seemed to be okay, considering. Having fun despite the circumstances. And it was all Hope’s doing. He gave her a sidelong glance. Her hair had come a little undone, and she looked adorable.

He felt an intense surge of gratitude and affection for her, and thankfully, she didn’t seem to mind that she probably got even more tickled and cuddled by him than the children. 

Afterwards, he stayed to help her put the children to bed, monitoring trips to the bathroom and teeth being cleaned, the air filled with warm affection and tenderness. He even stayed on to listen to her reading them a bedtime story. The way she read, putting on all kinds of different voices, quite obviously enjoying herself, too, you'd think she'd done this her whole life.

She really is a remarkable young lady, he thought fondly as the children, one after the other, fell asleep.

Hope quietly finished the story, and before they left the cabin, she brushed the softest good night kiss on each of their foreheads. McCoy’s heart was melting and he found that, at that moment, he felt surprisingly envious of the children. 

 


 

Having enjoyed the evening enormously, and wanting to keep her a little longer, McCoy asked Hope to join him for a nightcap coffee in the mess, where they continued to talk about the children.

He told her how great he thought she was with them, at which she blushed adorably, like she always did when he paid her a compliment. And she said how much she loved taking care of them, having realised that one of the things she really missed on the Enterprise were children.

“They’re all coping differently,” she went on, “but one of them, Cal, started to show rather aggressive behaviour. That’s why I thought a little action, like jumping on the bed, was a good idea.”

“It was a great idea,” he agreed, “I couldn’t have recommended anything better. They need to let off steam. And tickle fights are perfect, too. Give them the chance to work off their aggressions and get some cuddles at the same time.”

“My thoughts exactly, Doctor,” she smiled. “I’m trying to give them as many hugs and cuddles as I can, anyway, because I feel they really need a lot of tender love care.”

Just like you do, he found himself thinking affectionately, remembering how her eyes lit up with every little touch she received.

“What else can I do for them, Doctor?” she asked, drawing him back to the present. “Do I talk to them about the situation? Or had I better take their minds off it?”

He thought a little about it, touched by her deep concern for the children.

“I think you’re handling it perfectly fine, mostly taking their minds off thinking about their parents. But if they start to talk about them, take up the conversation. Be gentle but honest, don’t promise things it’s not in you power to keep. Try not to scare them more than necessary, of course, but don’t tell them everything will be alright, either. Just make it clear to them that, whatever happens, they will not be alone, they will be taken care of. And if you feel out of your depth, just take them in your arms – you were right about them needing a lot of TLC, then call me and I’ll take over.”

Jenny nodded, smiling gratefully at McCoy. As always, she found it immensely reassuring to have the kind and experienced doctor at her side. Sitting here, across from him now, nursing her coffee, Jenny felt completely at peace, regarding him with growing fondness. She’d long figured out, of course, that underneath his crusty shell lived the softest, kindest heart.

He’d been ever so gentle with the children, tenderly taking care of all their medical needs. But obviously a little at a loss of how to entertain five to eight-year-olds, he had been perfectly happy to leave the playing and generally taking care of them to her.

All the greater her surprise, when he’d so enthusiastically joined in the fun that evening. She’d enjoyed the warmth and affection he’d shown the children – and her – immensely. Being so close to him, his fingers gently tickling her, his hands so naturally caressing her, had left her wanting more.

And when they’d worked together to get the children ready for bed afterwards, she’d felt a new familiarity between them, which she found incredibly pleasant.

Chapter Text

The next afternoon, Jenny was playing ball games with the children in the gym, when five-year-old Marc fell and hurt his knee, immediately begging to have Dr. McCoy check his injury. After their Little-Monkey tickle fight the evening before, he had taken a real shine to the doctor.

Carefully checking the boy’s knee and finding it perfectly all right, Jenny realised that Marc was just looking for a chance to see the doctor again. And hoping McCoy wouldn’t mind, she decided to indulge him.

She left the other kids with Uhura and Chekov, who’d eagerly volunteered to help her entertain the children in their free time, although probably for different reasons, and took the boy down to sickbay.

There, Jenny winked at Christine and quickly explained that Marc’s knee needed Dr. McCoy’s personal attention, at which the nurse smiled knowingly and went to fetch the doctor from his office.

McCoy entered with a big smile on his face and, after exchanging a quick glance with Hope to make sure there was really nothing wrong with the boy, crouched down in front of Marc.

“All right, young man, I hear you hurt your knee?”

“Yes, Doctor,” the boy smiled shyly, “I fell catching a ball, but I didn’t cry!”

“Is that true?” McCoy made a very impressed face and looked at Hope as if for confirmation.

“Yes, Doctor,” she nodded, smiling. “Marc here is a very brave boy.”

“And my team won, too!” Marc piped up.

“I see!” McCoy could hardly hide his amusement this time. “So, you’re a really good player, as well. Congratulations!”

Straightening up, he gently hoisted the boy up onto a biobed and started to carefully probe his knee with his hands.

“Does that hurt?” he asked, softly squeezing a little here and there, at which the boy shook his head and started to giggle.

“No, Doctor, it just tickles!”

“Oh, does it now?” McCoy said, feigning surprise and squeezing a little more, making the boy giggle again.

Then, glancing sidelong at Hope, he suggested, “I think you’ll need to have an ice cream with your friends now, and your knee will be as good as new. What’s your favourite flavour?”

“Strawberry!” Marc’s reply was instant, delighted at the prospect of ice-cream.

“That’s perfect,” McCoy said with a straight face, “because chocolate or lemon just wouldn’t have done.”

Hearing Chapel’s and Hope’s muffled guffaws next to him, he ruffled Marc’s hair affectionately and was just about to lift the boy back down, when the latter launched himself at the surprised doctor and wound his little arms tightly around McCoy’s neck.

“Thank you, Doctor!”

Quickly recovering from his surprise, McCoy hugged the boy tightly to his chest for a few moments, then drew back a little and said, “Know what, son? Why don’t you come back tomorrow afternoon, so I can check your knee again? Just to make sure?”

“I will, Doctor,” Marc promised solemnly, and McCoy was touched to see the boy’s eyes light up at the thought.

Jenny, who had watched the scene with rapt attention, felt her heart melt at the doctor’s kindness and Marc’s delight. Sometimes, she was thrown by all the warmth and kindness she experienced on the Enterprise. It really was a special ship with a very special crew, and she was forever grateful to be here.

When McCoy had released Marc from his embrace and gently put him back down on the floor, she threw the doctor a warm glance, which he returned just as warmly. Then she took the beaming boy’s hand and led him out of sickbay.

McCoy watched them leave with a warm feeling in his heart. The little boy’s trusting affection had deeply moved him. Those were such sweet children, they deserved a happy and carefree childhood. He’d really like to give their parents’ kidnappers a piece of his mind.

Christine suddenly appearing at his side startled him out of his thoughts.

“I didn’t know you had such a great way with children! Always thought they’d be scared of a grouchy doctor like you,” she teased. “But that little one really seemed to like you.”

“Don’t act so surprised, nurse,” McCoy grumbled, “You know my bedside manner is faultless. I’m always a great hit with my patients – big or small.”

Nurse Chapel just snorted at that and turned back to her work.

 


 

That evening, after Jenny had put the children to bed, she was delighted to find McCoy waiting for her outside the children’s quarters.

“It was so quiet inside, I thought you’d be out any minute,” he smiled. “Care to have coffee with me again?”

“Of course, Doctor!” Jenny beamed, trying not to sound too enthusiastic.

She'd really enjoyed their conversation over coffee the evening before. Being around the doctor always made her feel so good.

When they were seated at a table in the mess, Jenny glanced at McCoy over her mug and smiled.

“You were brilliant today, Doctor, thank you! Marc really adores you. He wouldn’t talk about anything else but you all evening, telling everyone that he’s going back to sickbay for another check-up tomorrow. You really made his day!”

“Well, he’s a cute little boy,” McCoy shrugged, a little embarrassed by her praise, then grinned mischievously, raising an enquiring eyebrow at her, “I hope his knee isn’t giving him too much trouble?”

Jenny laughed, regarding him fondly.

“You’re a very kind man, Doctor. Children can sense that. Marc feels safe with you. Can’t say I blame him, I always feel safe with you,” she added softly.

McCoy looked up from his coffee, deeply touched by her words. Where most other people saw a difficult and cantankerous man, she seemed to see only kindness.

Clearing his throat, he reached out and, for a moment, gently cupped her face in his hand. It was only the lightest touch, but so tender that Jenny thought her heart would burst.

“You sure know how to flatter an old man, Dr. Hope,” McCoy chuckled as he pulled his hand away again.

Then he continued more seriously, “But we’ll have to be careful. Sweet as the children are, we mustn’t let them get too attached to us, or they’ll have a hard time leaving again next week.”

“You’re right, Doctor,” Jenny nodded, grateful, as always, for the doctor’s prudence, then sighed, “but that’s not an easy feat. There’s a very fine line between making them feel cared for and getting them too attached.”

“True, but if there’s someone who can accomplish that, it’s you, my dear.”

His voice was soft, his eyes on her even softer, making his gaze feel like a gentle caress.

“Thank you for your trust, Doctor,” Jenny replied, looking a little doubtful.

“Anytime, my dear,” McCoy smiled. “And while we’re here, do me a favour and have something to eat with your coffee. You’ve lost weight again. And impeccable as you are in looking after the children, you obviously need someone else to look after you.”

Jenny grinned at him sheepishly. She knew a rebuke when she heard one, but seeing the doctor looking out for her like that still sent a warm glow to her heart.  

 


 

Joining Hope and the children before bedtime whenever his shift allowed it, had quickly become a much-loved routine for McCoy. Just like having that ‘debriefing coffee’ with her afterwards, when the kids were asleep. He would certainly miss that when the children were gone.

The evening before the Enterprise reached the starbase where the kids would be taken care of, he entered their quarters to the heart-warming sight of Hope with the children all huddled up against her on a big bed of mattresses, watching a film.

He’d had a rather busy day in sickbay thanks to Scotty and one of his ‘worst case’ drills in engineering, so he’d come here for a more positive end to his day, and this was exactly what he’d had in mind. A peaceful, loving scene. 

Just as he was about to sit down next to the little group, eight-year-old Ella got up and went to sit in a corner all by herself. Hope immediately tried to untangle herself from the other children to go after her, but the doctor motioned for her to stay put, lifting a hand and mouthing, “I’ve got this!”

Then he went over to where Ella was sitting, squatted down next to her and put a gentle hand on her back. When she shrank away and shook her head, he sat down next to her on the floor, not touching. 

Jenny watched the doctor quietly talk to the girl, who didn’t react at first, but then shook her head vigorously. His face so full of tenderness, it made Jenny’s heart flutter, and his eyes never leaving the girl’s face, McCoy kept talking until Ella started to cry and let herself be pulled into his lap. Wrapping her tightly in his arms and tenderly rocking the sobbing girl, he kept murmuring soothing words to her until her tears subsided again.

Jenny couldn’t hear what he was saying, but whatever it was, it had obviously worked. She watched, enthralled, as McCoy gently wiped away the last of Ella’s tears with his thumbs, then offered her a tissue, which he’d seemingly produced out of nowhere, waited for her to blow her nose, and whispered something in her ear. She nodded and smiled, and they both got up to join the others again. 

McCoy sat down on the edge of a mattress with his back leaning against the bulkhead, and Ella quickly climbed into his lap again, nestling snugly into his arms, quite obviously feeling comfortable there. 

Jenny’s heart melted at the sight, and she couldn’t help thinking how good it would feel to be right there in McCoy’s arms, being held so tightly and lovingly. Envying a little girl whose parents had been abducted was very wrong, of course. And yet... 

Cradling Ella tenderly in his arms, McCoy had a hard time keeping his rage under control. Seeing how this adorable little girl’s sense of basic trust had been so cruelly corrupted and replaced with fearfulness and distrust, he was overcome with murderous feelings of hatred towards these thoughtless kidnappers.

It took a few minutes of conscious breathing, until he finally felt calm enough to meet Hope’s eyes again, certain that she’d watched them closely all the time.

If he hadn’t been so angry, he’d probably have basked in her attention, the realisation of how much he thrived on her approval a little unsettling at the back of his mind.

Finding Hope glancing questioningly at him, clearly concerned about Ella, he nodded reassuringly at her to let her know that the girl was all right.

But when she kept gazing at him holding Ella, he also saw the yearning in those soft brown eyes, wondering if she longed to be held like this, too. And feeling another surge of the by now familiar protective tenderness towards her, he wished there was a way for him to give her all the tender affection she so longed for.

Maybe that’s why she enjoyed dancing with Chekov so much, he mused. That definitely involved a lot of touching and holding. And even though his feelings for Hope were nothing but fatherly and platonic, the thought nagged a little at him.

 


 

It took longer than usual to get the children to sleep that evening, having to leave the Enterprise the next day making them a little anxious. But McCoy managed to put their minds at rest by telling them that he had a friend there, who was going to take care of them. That ‘friend’ was just an acquaintance, really, but he knew her to be kind and trustworthy. So, surely a little white lie was ok, if it took away some of the kids’ fear.

Hope smiled at him warmly when the children started to relax, and gave in to the request of a second bedtime story. It was their last evening aboard, after all.

A little later as well as a little more subdued than the days before, they found themselves sitting in the mess, nursing their coffees, and McCoy watched Hope absentmindedly stirring her mug, even though she’d put neither sugar nor milk in it.

“What was Ella so upset about, Doctor?” she broke the silence eventually.

Still simmering with rage, McCoy tried to choose his words carefully and hesitated just long enough to worry her.

“Something I did?” she asked quietly.

“No, not at all, my dear,” the doctor was quick to assure her. “She was just scared about tomorrow. And a little disappointed because you can’t come with them.”

“So it was my fault, after all,” Hope hung her head. “They got too attached to me. Exactly what you warned me about. I’m so sorry I let them down.”

“Don’t be, Hope,” McCoy reached across the table and put a gentle hand over hers. “It’s hardly your fault they like you, is it? You gave them love and security when they needed it most. They had a wonderful week because of you. It was unavoidable that they would be sad to have to leave again.”

She looked at him despondently, obviously not quite ready to forgive herself.

“So what did you tell her?”

“I told her that she was a lovely girl,” McCoy smiled, softly squeezing Hope’s hand, “and that everyone at the starbase was looking forward to having her and would like her just as much as we do. And then I asked her, if she thought my hugs were as good as yours.”

“They obviously were,” Hope chuckled, and McCoy was glad to see her cheering up again.

“Well, I honestly wouldn’t know, because she never said,” he grinned, “but at least she wasn’t complaining, either.”

They finished their coffee in silence, each of them lost in their own thoughts, comfortable in each other’s presence. It was only when they got up to say good night, that they realised that the doctor’s hand was still lying on top of Hope’s.

Chapter Text

When the Children were gone, everything went back to normal. Hope spent most of her time in sickbay again, and McCoy couldn’t get enough of watching her interact with the patients. Her buoyant personality brightened sickbay no end, and the grown-up patients appreciated her infectious liveliness just as much as the children had.

They’d never talked about the ‘hand-incident’, as McCoy called it in his mind, after that evening, and he’d since convinced himself that it wasn’t really such a big deal at all. They’d grown closer during their time with the kids, she’d been upset, he’d wanted to comfort her, end of story.

Just another gentle touch, another opportunity to give her a little of the physical affection he knew she craved. That one had just lasted a little longer, so what? It had seemed like the most natural thing at the time, had, in fact, felt so right that he hadn’t even been aware he was still holding her hand.

And Hope hadn’t seemed embarrassed or uneasy, either. She could have pulled away anytime, after all. But when he’d stood up and let go of her hand, she’d just smiled at him in her sweet, affectionate way.

What he didn’t know, however, was that Jenny had enjoyed his soothing touch, his thumb absentmindedly drawing gentle circles on the back of her hand, so much that she’d been sitting completely still, afraid that if she moved, she’d startle him out of his thoughts and draw his attention back to his hand still protectively covering her smaller one. The contact had somehow been so intimate, yet felt so right, Jenny could have sat like that all night, savouring the warm and comforting feeling.

The evening had really worn her out – getting the overexcited children to sleep, covering up how sad she was to see them go again so soon, watching Ella in exactly the place she hadn’t even known she desperately wanted to be, and then learning that she’d got the kids too attached despite her endeavours to the contrary, had simply been too much.

But when the doctor had so tenderly reached for her hand, talking about love and security, it had felt as if a weight had been lifted off her shoulders. A simple touch of his hand had taken away her pain, and Jenny had wanted to hang on to that wonderful feeling forever.

When he’d eventually pulled his hand off, Jenny had been incredibly relieved to find that the awkward moment she’d been half expecting, never happened. Instead, the doctor had acted as if they did this every day, smiling at her in his sweet, distinctive way, and giving her hand a final affectionate squeeze before finally letting go. 

 


 

A couple of days later, Jenny was carrying her dinner tray across the mess, heading to where Sulu and Chekov were sitting, when she heard the captain’s voice calling her name. Surprised, she turned around and saw him beckoning her over to his table, where he was just having dinner with Mr. Spock and Dr. McCoy.

“Dr. Hope! Why don’t you join us for dinner?” he smiled. “I haven’t yet had a chance to thank you for taking such good care of our recent young guests.”

Tilting her head in appreciation of his words, she put her tray down on the table and sat in the chair next to Mr. Spock, immediately regretting her choice of only salad for dinner, when she saw the doctor’s disapproving face.

“How often do I have to tell you to eat more than just a salad for dinner?” McCoy scolded her.

“Why do you never say that to me?” Kirk complained, grinning.

“I’m all for a healthy diet, Hope,” the doctor continued, with a warning glance towards Kirk, “but if you plan a career as a starship officer, you just can’t lose any more weight! I really don’t want to be a nuisance, but if I can’t trust you to look after yourself, I’ll have to supervise your eating habits. Meaning you’ll have to eat with me for the time being.”

Before Jenny could decide whether this was actually a good or a bad thing, the captain chortled, then laughed out loud.

“Bones, this is by far the worst chat-up line I’ve ever heard,” he scoffed, wiping tears of laughter from his eyes, while the corners of Spock’s mouth twitched almost unnoticeably, too.

“Very funny, Jim,” the doctor grumbled, “you’re hilarious!”

Jenny was surprised to see McCoy actually blush a little before turning back to her and putting on his sternest doctor-face.

“I really mean it, young lady,” he went on. “No more unsupervised dinners for at least a week. Until the scales show me what I want to see. And now, chop, chop, go back and get some meat and potatoes to go with your salad.”

Feeling like a naughty schoolgirl caught out by the headmaster, Jenny glanced at Kirk and Spock, who were both sitting straight-faced and very still, and obediently got up to do as she was told. McCoy could be really quite intimidating, if he wanted to be.

When they were done eating, Spock and the captain took off for a game of chess in one of the rec rooms, while McCoy asked her to stay for coffee. Jenny was more than happy to continue their tradition of ending the day with a comfortable chat over coffee, even now that the children were gone.

“Sorry for that earlier,” McCoy started the conversation with a nod in the direction of where Kirk had been sitting. “Jim just loves to embarrass me, he can’t help it. But he certainly didn’t mean to embarrass you.”

“Oh, don’t worry, Doctor, I know he likes to tease you. But he adores you. How long have you been friends with him?”

“Well, for quite a while now. We’ve certainly been through a lot together already.”

“I really like him, I think he’s great,” Jenny said, sounding almost a little surprised. “And so very different from what I expected a starship captain to be like.”

“He certainly is,” McCoy smiled fondly. “He’s one of a kind. Keeps me on my toes, mind you, with all his harebrained ideas and the risks he takes. But I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. In fact, I’d probably even grow more of an ulcer, if I couldn’t be around to patch him back together every single time he goes and does something stupid.”

Jenny smiled at McCoy’s display of loyalty. There was certainly no better friend to have than the doctor.

“You know, when Admiral Dakunia first told me that I was allowed aboard the Enterprise, I never thought I’d even get a chance to talk to the captain, let alone have the occasional dinner with him.”

“Yeah, Jim wants to know everyone in his crew, wants to really get to know people. That’s how he sees command. To lead, and not just to rule.”

“He’s really awesome.”

“Of course, he is. Everybody aboard loves him.”

"I know! And it really surprised me at first. I somehow expected people to complain about him behind his back – as people usually do, seeing their boss as too demanding, or unfair, or whatever. But people here never do. They adore him and wouldn't put up with anyone talking badly of him. They'd go through fire for him."

"And a lot of them literally have,” McCoy chuckled wryly. “But yes, you’re completely right. That's the special thing about Jim and his ship."

"But what makes him so special? Why would people give their life for him?"

"That's very simple to answer, my dear. Because he would give his life for each of his people's. He asks a lot, but he gives a lot, too. And he'd never order anyone to do anything he wouldn't do himself."

 


 

The days on the Enterprise seemed to go by so fast. There was always plenty to do, but McCoy and Hope still tried to find time for sharing a late-night coffee whenever their shifts allowed. Even though neither of them would openly admit it, they were more and more drawn to each other and treasured their easy conversations immensely.

One evening, McCoy even told her about his daughter Joanna, something he rarely talked about to anyone, not even Jim. It was too hurtful a topic for him. But he found that he actually enjoyed talking to Hope about it. Enjoyed her listening so attentively to his tales of Joanna as a toddler, not judging or commenting on his divorce or the ensuing neglect of his parental duties.

On the contrary, she saw how badly he missed Joanna and even encouraged him to try and rebuild their relationship.

“Your problems were only with her mother, Doctor. And I get that it was difficult when she was little. But she’s almost grown up now, she understands things. You should just talk openly with her. She needs her father in her life. In fact, she has a right to have her father in her life. You’re a wonderful man, a renowned physician. She can be more than proud to have you as her father.”

McCoy was deeply touched by Hope’s fervent speech and that she should care so much about him and a girl she didn’t even know. And, of course, she was right, too. He really should make more of an effort to become closer to Joanna again. He’d been so hurt by how things had ended with her mother, by months and years of not being allowed to see his daughter, or, sometimes, even talk to her, he guessed he’d just started to accept it as the way it was.

For so long, he’d contented himself with birthdays, graduations, maybe even the odd weekend, grateful for every little chance to see his girl. And seeing her become more and more of a stranger over the years. That had hurt most. But Hope was right! He’d been so caught up in his pain, his sorrow, he’d never even thought of doing something about it now that she was no longer a child under her mother’s influence.

Well, he’d definitely start doing something about it now. And he couldn’t be grateful enough that Hope had pointed it out to him. It was incredible in what ways this woman kept changing his life.

 


 

Jenny saw the doctor in a different light after that conversation. Maybe that's why she felt so comfortable with him, so safe, so taken care of. He had a daughter nearly the same age. And he was a very proud and doting father, the love for his little girl shining from his eyes with every word, every story he told about her. Once he’d started, he couldn’t stop talking about her. It had been heart-warming.

To think that there was a young woman out there who had a wonderful, loving father like McCoy and might not even realise what she was missing. Jenny just had to make sure that the doctor really did start to make an effort now. His daughter surely deserved to have him in her life again, to get more from him than the occasional birthday or Christmas card.

So, after that evening, Jenny kept making little comments on how proud Joanna would be, or how lucky Joanna was to have such a wonderful/kind/gentle/brilliant father. She never stopped pestering McCoy, although she liked to think of it as inspiring him, until he finally sent a message to Joanna. And another one. And then regular ones, turning into real-time conversations, whenever he got the chance.

Jenny was really happy to see him become a regular part of his daughter’s life again, to see the love and the joy in his eyes whenever he told her about any of Joanna’s news.

And she was deeply moved to find a message from Joanna herself on her computer, one evening, simply saying “Thank you for looking after my dad!”

Chapter Text

McCoy was in high spirits. His staff was already gossiping about possible reasons for his ever-improving mood, as word got around that he actually smiled at people who brought him reports or requests to sign. Even he was aware that it got harder and harder to keep up his cranky image.

Incredible, he thought to himself, shaking his head in wonder, his eyes repeatedly darting over to where Hope was busy disinfecting and restocking hypos. There were no recent casualties, he was talking to Joanna on a regular basis, and he’d even adopted Hope’s habit of humming to herself while doing desk work.

Life can be really good, he realised, and happily started on the next report.

It was very quiet in sickbay when he finally shut down his screen and tidied his desk. Unbelievably, there were no patients, and McCoy assumed that everybody else had already left. He got up and went over to lock up the cabinets, softly singing one of his favourite classic country songs.

Just when he started on the chorus, a second voice joined in. He whipped around, startled, and came almost face to face with Hope, who laughingly gestured for him to keep singing. They finished the chorus together, and McCoy was thrilled to find that they made a pretty good duet. Her normally crystal-clear voice was strong, yet somehow suitably husky for the song.

Of course, she’d be the perfect country singer on top of everything else!

“You know that song?” he asked incredulously when they’d finished. “I was pretty sure I was the only country music lover aboard.”

“Faith Hill and Tim McGraw,” she smiled wistfully. “My favourite Nashville couple.”

“I don’t believe it!”

“I didn’t know you were into classic country music, either. Let alone that you have such a great singing voice. You should join our ensemble! Uhura’s not really a fan, but I’d love to do a few country classics for a change. If we get on it right away, you could be the star of our Christmas gig! Are you in?”

“Oh, no, no,” McCoy shook his head and laughed, raising is hands in defence, “I’m not much of a performer. But I’m very good audience. What other kinds of music do you like?”

“Well, I’m a sucker for the really old stuff. From Bach and Mozart to Pop and Rock. And country music, of course, as you now know. You?”

“Pretty much the same, we seem to be kindred spirits in music,” he smiled at her. “I have quite a good collection, actually. We could do a music and drinks evening in my office some time.”

“I’d like that,” Hope beamed at him, a strange feeling of excitement gripping her stomach at the idea of spending some time alone with him.

 


 

Christmas was approaching fast, and with the crew being mostly Terran, it was always a big event. Not necessarily a religious one, but mostly about having a party and presents.

With all the smaller department parties going on, Hope and Uhura’s band was fully booked, leaving them not much time for other activities. But the two women didn’t mind. Singing and making music was the best recreation for them, anyway, and the lads they played with were a lot of fun.

The only one not happy at all with the situation was Chekov, because for him, of course, that meant no dance practice with Jenny. To compensate, and being quite popular really, he managed to get invited to most of the parties, for then only to mope about in some corner and give the male members of the band the evil eye.

The main event, however, was going to be the big, ship-wide party on actual Christmas Day. A big fake fir tree had already been put up and decorated in the great assembly hall, and Hope had learned that it was customary for the senior officers to hand out the presents that had arrived on the Enterprise from family and friends and were stored all around the big tree.

Although certainly a nice tradition, Jenny’s first thought was about the crew members who might not receive anything and feel left out. And, of course, being Jenny, a plan began to form in her head immediately. She’d ask Pavel to help her with it. That would keep him busy and happy.

Chekov, of course, didn’t have to be asked twice, and spent the next couple of days putting together a collection of little Christmas presents. So, on Christmas Eve, having volunteered for the late shift, Jenny spent a quiet evening in sickbay wrapping and labelling small presents with Pavel.

That’s how McCoy found them, when he came over after the senior officers’ Christmas Eve dinner with some non-alcoholic punch for his staff on night duty.

“Who are these for?” he asked, looking over Hope’s shoulder and watching her write ‘Santa sends his love’ on the card.

“We don’t know yet, Doctor!” Chekov grinned, then, seeing the doctor’s puzzled expression, cheerfully added, “We’ll find out tomorrow.”

“OK,” McCoy drawled, clearly not understanding any of it, but prepared to let it go, when Hope smiled at him reassuringly.

“You’ll see, Doctor. All for a good cause, though.”

 


 

On Christmas Day, after the band had accompanied the crew in their ambitious rendition of a number of popular Christmas songs, it was time for the presents.

Hope positioned herself close to the tree, armed with part of the now beautifully wrapped gifts. Seeing her standing there with her arms full, McCoy beckoned her closer, holding out his hands to take the presents off her.

But she just shook her head, pointing out one of the still blank name tags to him, mouthing, “Not yet!”

And as he looked around and found Chekov and the young men from Hope’s band each standing close to one of the other senior officers, holding a bunch of similarly wrapped presents, it finally dawned on him what they were doing. The thought made him feel all warm and soft inside, and he gazed at Hope with endless tenderness. Sometimes, he just couldn’t help but wonder, if she was for real.

Sure enough, when all the other gifts were gone, Hope’s little presents had magically appeared under the tree, each now neatly labelled with a name on it. By the time he was done distributing those, too, the band was already back on stage, getting ready to rock as soon as his fellow officers had finished as well.

When the music started again, McCoy grabbed a glass of punch off a tray and went over to where Jim, Spock and Scotty were standing around Chekov and Uhura, talking animatedly.

“I know that this has been a tradition on the Enterprise since long before I was in command,” Jim sighed, “but there was always someone left after the last gift was gone, and I hated that.”

“Exactly,” Uhura nodded. “And it wasn’t about not getting a gift, either. It was about being exposed as someone obviously without friends or family, that was so humiliating. Even though your presents might just have arrived late, which is not unheard of in the midst of nowhere out here in space.”

“That’s why Jenny came up with this plan!” Chekov explained proudly.

Uhura nearly spluttered her drink when Kirk deadpanned, “Do they not come up with plans in Russia anymore?”

And Scotty couldn’t help but add, “Ach, Captain, who needs inventions from Russia as long as there’s still Hope?”  

Chekov sighed good-naturedly, a long-suffering grin spreading across his face, as everybody around him just cracked up. Everyone but McCoy, he noticed, who gave him a fond smile and a sympathetic pat on the back instead.

“You did well, Chekov,” he smiled approvingly. “That was an excellent idea. You and Hope have just made some of your crew mates really happy!”

Chapter Text

With Christmas and all the extra gigs involved over, Jenny could finally make more time for Pavel and their dancing sessions again, and Chekov was back to his happy self at last. To make up for lost time, he also made a point of having at least one meal per day with her, and she was all right with that.

He was really sweet, always making her laugh, and he had been a great help with the Christmas presents, after all. Chekov was definitely one of the good guys. Besides, he was always happy to finish her meals for her, if she once again couldn’t manage to eat everything McCoy had put on her dietary card.

Usually, she’d scan the mess thoroughly before quickly swapping Chekov’s empty tray for her own. That evening, however, she’d obviously been careless, and had failed to notice the doctor sneaking up on her, making her jerk and nearly topple her glass when his booming voice suddenly sounded right behind her.

“What do you think you’re doing, young lady?” he rumbled, sounding genuinely pissed off.

Jenny froze. She knew, of course, that the doctor was just worried about her, and had, admittedly, put a lot of thought into her nutritional plan. But that didn’t give him the right to yell at her like that, did it? It wasn’t as if she’d committed a crime.

She just didn’t need that much food. It all tasted pretty much the same, anyway. She ate when she was hungry, and she was really comfortable the way she was. She certainly didn’t need scales to tell her how healthy, strong, or energetic she felt. 

Taking in her defiant expression, McCoy relented a little and even managed a weak smile.

“I’m not doing this for fun, Hope,” he sighed, “you really need to take this more seriously.”

“I know, Doctor,” she conceded, “but I just can’t force down all this food. Please, believe me, it’ll just make me sick. And that would be really counterproductive.”

Looking defeated, McCoy sat down heavily in the chair across from her.

“You make me sound like a bully,” he grimaced, “when I’m really just trying to look out for you.”

“I know that, too, Doctor, and I’m sorry.”

Hope smiled at him ruefully, and McCoy had to laugh at her puppy-dog face.

“All right. Maybe we can think of something tastier, less healthy. There’s got to be something you actually like! What about chocolate?”

Hope looked at him, frowning and shaking her head.

“No. Chocolate’s not the same anymore, either,” she began and then stopped abruptly, as if realising she’d just said something wrong.

“Not the same anymore?” McCoy and Chekov echoed in unison.

But seeing her face fall and not wanting to upset her any further, the doctor decided to let it go for the moment, got up again and left her and Chekov to finish their dinner in peace.

 


 

Running into her again on the observation deck later that evening, he knew he’d been forgiven when she came up to him carrying two mugs of coffee and settled down comfortably on the couch next to him without even asking. Kicking off her boots and curling her legs underneath her, she turned to face him and proudly pulled a little bag of nuts out of her pocket.

“See, Doctor?” she grinned impishly, opening the bag and putting it down on the little table between them. “I’m really going out of my way here to make you happy.”

“Atta girl,” he chuckled his approval, grateful for the opportunity to take up their earlier conversation again.

“Talking about food, what was that about chocolate not being the same anymore?” he asked casually, watching her closely over the rim of his coffee mug.

It was an innocent enough question, and he was surprised to see Hope hesitating, almost looking cornered.

"I just meant I used to like it, but now I'm not that keen on it anymore," she said cagily, making it sound more like a question.

With a pang of conscience, McCoy realised that, apart from what was written in her file, he really knew very little about her. Sure, he knew what music, films or literature she liked, that she was a gifted singer and dancer, what sports she was into, little things like that. And, of course, he knew what a thoughtful, caring person she was.

But after all their time working together, all their cosy chats over coffee in the evenings, he still had no idea where she came from, how she’d grown up, or what her family was like. She just never talked about herself or her past, and to his great shame, he’d never even really noticed before.

"I'm curious,” he tried the direct approach. “You know practically everything there is to know about me, while I know hardly anything about you. Tell me a little about yourself, Hope. Why did you become a linguist? What made you join Starfleet? What about your family? They must be awfully proud of you!"

Her reaction caught him completely off guard. Her eyes filling with sudden tears, Hope quickly turned away, on the verge of losing her composure for a moment.

McCoy was stumped. Wishing he could take back the words that had so obviously hurt her, all he could do was run a comforting hand gently up and down her arm.

"I'm so sorry, dear, I didn’t mean to upset you. You don't have to talk about any of this, if you don't want to."

Recovering almost instantly, Hope turned back towards him, smiling and blinking away a few unshed tears.

"It's all right, Doctor, I’m sorry. It's just, I don't have a family," she explained almost matter-of-factly, then quickly changed the subject before McCoy, who was still processing what he’d just heard, could say or ask anything else.

And recognising the hurt still clearly visible in her eyes, the doctor just went along.  

Chapter Text

After Hope had dropped the bombshell about not having a family, she started babbling, chatting away merrily about all sorts of things from Scotty’s latest invention to Sulu’s newest floral experiment. As if she hadn’t just revealed one of the probably saddest aspects of her life.

And while McCoy could see what she was doing, he was only half listening to her chitchat. Still reeling from the news, his mind was working overtime connecting the dots, as a lot of things suddenly fell into place. 

Like why her medical issues had not been treated properly. Or why contributing to the tight-knit community that constituted the crew of the Enterprise was so important to her.

Maybe it was also the reason why she seemed so mature for her age. The way she talked, the way she treated people, her sense of duty, her thoughtfulness, her empathy. If it weren’t for her young face and endless vitality, he could easily forget about their age difference when they were together.

It certainly explained why bringing Joanna back into his life had mattered so much to her, and why she’d put her heart in making the ambassadors’ children feel loved and cared for. Not to forget about why she relished every act of kindness, every little touch, every physical contact so much. Even though she tried so hard to conceal it.

His heart broke a little at the thought, and he had a hard time refraining from taking her in his arms or even just touching her cheek. Normally, he would have grabbed the chance, any excuse for a gentle touch. But seeing her determination to keep up her happy façade, and guessing that inside she was just hanging on by a thread, he was afraid that any expression of kindness right now might undo her.

 


 

Even later, when he was already lying in bed, his mind was still whirring, his thoughts circling around Hope incessantly. He looked at her with different eyes now. The cheerfulness, the happiness, were certainly in her nature, which was a good thing as it helped her cope where others might despair.

Yet, it also helped her prevent others from discovering that she, too, had issues. She’d even tricked him! And she’d made a good job of it, too. He was ashamed to admit that he'd never really considered the possibility of her being unhappy or facing problems of her own up till now.

Today, however, he’d seen another, troubled side of her. A side he’d already seen glimpses of during her physical when she’d first come aboard the Enterprise, but which he’d mistakenly attributed to her simply being nervous about being on a starship for the first time.

But the way she’d reacted to his simply mentioning her family today, if only for one careless moment, had convinced him that there was more to it than just that. And he was going to find out what it was. Even though she obviously didn’t want him to. But right now, he felt like he’d somehow failed her, and he wouldn’t let that happen again. He’d pay closer attention from now on.

 


 

Jenny was pacing the tiny space of her quarters, trying to calm her nerves. Her mind replaying the day’s conversations with the doctor over and over again, as she tried to remember her exact words.

She’d slipped up before, but never that badly. Usually, she managed to cover up her mistakes as jokes or slips of the tongue. It always worked with Chekov and the others. Even with Uhura, who wasn’t easily fooled.

But today she’d blown it, she was sure of that. The doctor hadn’t bought her feeble excuse about chocolate. He’d become suspicious. Or rather worried. Especially after her accidentally giving away that she had no family. She’d really tried hard to avoid situations like that. But his mentioning her family had been so unexpected, the pain of missing them too intense.

Of course, they’d be proud of her! And so glad to see how far she’d come, how happy she was.

She’d seen the shock in the doctor’s face, the compassion, the kindness. And it had taken every ounce of her strength to keep from just throwing herself in his arms and letting him comfort her, as she knew he would have. But then he’d have asked questions, would have wanted to know every little detail, and she couldn’t have that.

All she could do was pretend that she was fine, and hope that he’d let the matter drop. She was under no illusion that he might not have noticed her distress, but she sincerely hoped that he would respect her wish not to talk about it.

It had been so much easier with her friends at the Academy. She hadn’t been as close to them as she was to her friends here on the Enterprise. It was getting increasingly harder to keep her secret from the people she cared about and who cared about her.

But Starfleet had been very clear about the dangers of people finding out and had prohibited her from telling anyone. She’d agreed to those orders. Only now she wasn’t so sure she could do it much longer.

 


 

Desperate for some caffeine and conversation after a long morning of deskwork in his office, McCoy grabbed a coffee in the mess and went over to join Uhura and Hope for lunch at their table.

However, seeing that they were deep in conversation, he decided not to intrude and quietly sat down at the table next to them. They were discussing linguistics, totally engrossed in the topic, and McCoy could not but smile as he overheard them talking so passionately.

“Intuitive enhancement is such an interesting area of linguistics,” Uhura enthused, “and so important, too! All the misunderstandings that can be avoided if the translator gets the meaning across rather than the wording.”

“Oh yes, Nyota, and think of all the words that are just impossible to translate, because they don’t have an equivalent in other languages,” Hope agreed. “And I’m not even talking about xeno-linguistics. There are plenty of examples just looking at different Earth tongues.”

Uhura nodded thoughtfully as Hope went on, “Take the German word ‘geborgen’, for example. There’s a myriad of nuances to this word, impossible to translate into just one single word of standard.”

“It basically means ‘secure’, doesn’t it?” Uhura asked, intrigued, taking a sip of her coffee.

“Basically, yes. But that’s just a little part of it, really. It’s more of a feeling, actually. It means to feel secure, sure, but also loved and accepted, safe and protected, comfortable and at home. It’s the feeling children have when they are in their parents’ arms. Or what partners feel, when they are in a stable and loving relationship.”

“I never knew your native language was German,” Uhura looked at Hope in surprise.

“Well, I have Austrian ancestry,” Hope quickly explained.

By now, McCoy was listening intently, slowly spinning his coffee mug around in his hands. He was extremely touched by Hope’s passionate explanation of everything the word ‘geborgen’ embraced. And he knew it wasn’t just a random example, either. It held deep meaning for her. Something she really long for.

What a beautiful word! he thought, and found that he absolutely wanted her to feel that way.

Chapter Text

Still glowing from his ‘linguistic lunchbreak’, and hoping to squeeze in a quiet word about Hope with Kirk, McCoy went up to the bridge for a look at a huge, unknown rocklike something that Spock had just recently discovered in their path and was currently drooling over. In his restrained, Vulcan way, of course. But having known him for years, McCoy could always tell when Spock was really giddy with excitement.

So, obviously, could Jim, judging from the fond grin on his face, as he looked at his first officer’s back, hunched over his station, and listened to the constant stream of precisely expressed information.

McCoy’s amusement was short-lived though, as the rock suddenly started to glow, then expand, and finally simply vanished in a massive explosion, shaking the Enterprise like a tin can in its wake.

As soon as the doctor had picked himself up off the floor and made sure that the bridge crew was unharmed, he hurried back to sickbay for a busy afternoon, all thoughts of Hope and her sorrows gone from his mind.

There were plenty of casualties, but luckily no really severe injuries. It still took three whole days to get all the patients out of sickbay again, and even longer for Scotty to restore the ship to its full functioning glory.

Three days of nothing but working at full stretch and then falling into bed, exhausted, for a couple of hours. Three days of working closely with Hope, grateful for her efficiency, and no time to exchange a single private word. Three days of quietly wondering, if she was all right.

When the pressure finally abated and the sickbay staff could relax again, the first thing McCoy did was ask her how she was, gazing at her long and meaningfully. But Hope just smiled at him and simply replied that all she needed was an extended yoga session and a good night’s sleep, deliberately referring only to the mad rush of the past few days. She was clearly not planning on opening up to him anytime soon.

After how their last evening on the observation deck had gone, and her obvious reluctance to acknowledge her unresolved hurt, McCoy was a little afraid that Hope might start to avoid him altogether. But between all her dancing and singing, he was happy to see that she still frequently made time for their evening chats.

And although he was certainly looking more closely now, he had to admit that she appeared to be perfectly all right. Vivacious, charming, happy to be alive. And brightening his and everybody else’s life simply by being there.

 


 

“Are you even listening to a word I’m saying?” Kirk asked, his tone amused, following McCoy’s gaze to where Chapel, Hope and Uhura were having breakfast together.

“Sorry, Jim,” McCoy returned his attention to him, “you were saying?”

“Actually, I wasn’t saying anything,” Kirk laughed. “There’d have been no use, anyway, seeing as our lovely Hope has you hypnotised once again. I could have choked and died right here in front of you, for all I know. You certainly wouldn’t have noticed.”

“Oh, cut the crap, Jim,” McCoy grumbled. “I was just checking on her diet. She isn’t very good at sticking to the plan, as we know.”

‘Keep your hair on, Bones!” Kirk grinned. “I’m just kidding. You’re entitled to a little romance in your life. Or a little heartache, as it seems you prefer that. You always put up with mine, after all.”

McCoy rolled his eyes at the captain and was just about to come up with a snarky reply, when he was momentarily distracted by Sulu approaching the ladies’ table holding some kind of flower that looked like a mixture between a lollipop and a giant pussy willow in a lovely shade of purple. Presumably a new breed, judging from his proud face and his long, excited speech before finally giving the flower to Hope with a gallant little bow.

Kirk, who’d been watching the little scene, too, saw Hope beaming at Sulu delightedly, as she reverently took the flower from him, her eyes lighting up as she admired its beauty.

“I can certainly see, why you have a soft spot for her, Bones,” Kirk smiled at his friend. “Just watching her is heart-warming. She can be so happy about little things like this flower. And she always has a friendly smile, a word of comfort for everyone. Come to think of it, I’ve never seen her in a bad mood!”

“OK, now you’re exaggerating a little, Jim,” McCoy chuckled. “Like everybody else, Hope has her problems, too. She’s only more skilled in hiding them than most of us.”

“Well, nobody can be happy all the time, can they?” Kirk shrugged his shoulders. “We all have our bad days.”

“It’s more than that in her case,” McCoy was suddenly serious, “I’ve seen a sadness that goes deeper, something to do with her past.”

“What are you talking about, Bones?” Kirk was surprised. “Do you know something I don’t?”

“Well,” the doctor began. “I was actually about to tell you just before that rock of Spock’s exploded.”

McCoy quickly filled Kirk in on what he’d found out and told him of his determination to get to the bottom of this.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” the captain said, “but don’t you think that you’re exaggerating a little now? I mean, just look at her, she seems genuinely happy. In fact, thinking back to her first day aboard and how shy she was then, I’d say, if anything, she’s become more confident and happier since then.”

McCoy couldn’t object to that. Now that Kirk had mentioned it, he could definitely see how Hope had blossomed over the past few months.

Chapter Text

It was only two days later, that Kirk got to see for himself what the doctor had been talking about.

Unable to relax in his quarters, and hoping to unwind in more beautiful surroundings, he’d come to the arboretum late at night, fully expecting to be alone, when he saw Hope standing there. And for the short moment before she realised his presence, he saw this heartbreakingly sad and lost expression on her face.

But when he stepped to her side, and she turned around to face him, her trademark beaming smile was back in place.

“Hello, Captain,” she said softly, “I didn’t expect to meet another insomniac here.”

“Neither did I, Hope,” Kirk smiled at her. “I like to come here for some peace and quiet when I need to clear my mind.”

“I can leave,” she began, but Kirk quickly cut her off, shaking his head.

“Not at all, please stay!” he assured her, sitting down on an old-fashioned park bench and motioning for her to join him. “I’d like a little company.”

After sitting there in companionable silence for some time, Hope started to talk.

“Thank you for allowing me to come on the Enterprise, Captain. I really love to be on this ship. The legends about it are certainly true.”

“What legends?” Kirk wanted to know, always eager to hear his ship being praised.

“You know, about the crew, how skilled and competent everyone is, the team spirit, the respect you have for each other.”

“Why do you say ‘you’?” the captain interjected. “Don’t you feel part of our crew?”

“Well, I do feel very welcome here, Captain,” Hope replied, her eyes radiating nothing but happiness, “but I’m not really part of the crew, am I? I still have a lot to learn before being allowed to serve under a captain like you.”

“A captain like me?” he chuckled.

“You know what I mean,” she grinned, “famous, successful, legendary.”

Kirk just raised an amused eyebrow at her.

“Seriously! I always imagined a starship captain to be sort of aloof, distant. But you’re so approachable, so,” she tried to find the right word, “human. Everybody aboard adores you. They all trust you implicitly, like children would trust their father.”

Kirk was deeply touched by her words.

“And that’s exactly what makes the Enterprise so special,” he said, eyes shining with pride. “I appreciate and respect my crew, they appreciate and respect me. And I’m glad every time I’m reminded of it.”

Then, looking kindly at Hope, he continued, “But there’s no reason for you to feel like an outsider, Hope. No one on this ship is more or less important than everybody else. That’s the actual charm of the Enterprise, really. Everybody contributes in their own way, according to their strengths and abilities. Everyone has a special talent. I may be the captain, but I certainly couldn’t run the ship on my own.”

Hope looked at him, captivated, seeing that he really believed in everything he’d just said, and understanding that loyalty and respect were the key to the Enterprise’s success.

“You’re very kind to say that, Captain,” she smiled, “but seriously, what do I do to help run the ship? What’s my special talent?”

“You mean apart from being kind and caring and spreading happiness wherever you go?”

Hope’s eyes grew wide at his words, a slight blush colouring her cheeks.

“Err, yes, actually,” she chuckled self-consciously, “I was thinking more in terms of things they teach at the Academy.”

“Just teasing,” Kirk grinned, “but I certainly don’t have to remind you that you’re a highly qualified linguist, do I?”

“No,” hope blushed again, “but that’s not been of much use on this mission, so far.”

“Maybe not yet,” Kirk admitted, “but then, we never know what we’re going to encounter out here in space. We need to be ready for anything. But let me tell you about your special talent now.”

Hope looked at him expectantly.

“You’ve repeatedly proven yourself capable of working outside your field of expertise. From helping out in engineering to actually working in sickbay.”

“My dabbling in engineering with Scotty kindly teaching me some basics hardly counts as work, Captain,” she made light of his praise. “That’s just me being curious.”

“Exactly,” Kirk laughed, satisfied to see her catching on to what he was saying. “You’re not only capable of doing various jobs, even more importantly, you're willing to do them. You've completed your Ph.D. in linguistics, and yet you work as an orderly in sickbay without complaining, because we need you there. And you don't always point out that you are actually overqualified, either. You’re not ashamed of doing something you’re still new at."

“But everybody would do this,” Hope was astonished.

“And that’s where you’re wrong,” the captain countered. “Not everybody would. But McCoy keeps telling me what a quick study you are, what an asset to his team. Besides, you really have this special gift to make people feel good. Even Mr. Spock has repeatedly stated that the general mood aboard has improved noticeably since your arrival. You’re a breath of fresh air on the Enterprise, Hope. So, you see, you're all but dispensable."

Hope lowered her eyes bashfully at that.

"Your officers are shamelessly exaggerating, Captain! Especially Dr. McCoy has a far too high opinion of me. "

"McCoy is usually a really good judge of character."

Kirk tilted his head, then, remembering the doctor’s words, tried to find out more about her past, carefully avoiding any mention of her family in the process.

“But tell me, what’s your fascination with linguistics? What made you choose this field in the first place?”

“I think it started when I was still really young and impressed my English teacher with my glottal stop,” Hope began passionately, then broke off mid-sentence, a hint of alarm crossing her face.

“Your glottal stop?” Kirk echoed in bewilderment, failing to see the connection there.

“I’m so sorry, Captain, I’m not making sense anymore, I think I really need to get some sleep now.”

And just like that, Hope ended their conversation, and with a murmured, “Good night, Captain, it was really nice talking to you,” hurriedly left the arboretum. 

Baffled, Kirk stared after her for a few moments, then decided that Bones hadn’t been wrong, after all. There was definitely something in Hope’s past that she was embarrassed about. He’d talk to McCoy about it in the morning.

 


 

“Have you got a minute, Jenny?” the harried-looking young ensign from engineering asked, looking first pleadingly at Hope, then apologetically at McCoy, who was frowning at her, pointedly looking at Hope’s still untouched lunch.

“Of course, Rita,” Hope said cordially, pushing back her chair to stand up and throwing the doctor an intense glance. “Anytime, like I said.”

McCoy subtly nodded his understanding, then followed the two women with his eyes, as Rita pulled Hope into the far corner of the mess for some privacy.

Looking at Hope’s abandoned meal slowly cooling down in front of him, he fondly thought about how she never hesitated for an instant, if someone asked for her help. He might have frowned at the interruption, but it was actually one of the things he liked most about her.

Watching her now, calmly talking to the agitated young woman, then giving her an encouraging hug before sending her on her way again, he felt a warmth spreading through his body that only ever Hope could evoke in him.

“You have advice and comfort for everyone, don’t you?” McCoy said fondly, when Hope returned and started on her lunch at last.

“Everyone but myself, it seems,” she sighed almost inaudibly and McCoy’s heart sank when he saw her face fall ever so slightly.

“What is it?” he asked concernedly, touching a gentle hand to her cheek.

She just shook her head, looking away.

“Something you’d like to talk over with someone?” he persisted, gently turning her face back towards him, only to feel his heart breaking as her lips decidedly said, “No,” even as her eyes clearly said, “Yes!”

Swallowing hard, and looking into her eyes intensely, he let his hand slide off her cheek and dropped it to her hand on the table, giving it a tight squeeze.

“If you ever want to talk, I’ll be there.”

Hope nodded her thanks almost imperceptibly, then pull her hand away to finally finish her lunch.

 


 

Knowing perfectly well how dangerously close she’d come to revealing too much to McCoy again over lunch, Jenny just couldn’t find the strength to keep away from him. With her emotions all over the place lately, she needed to be near him, longed for his soothing presence so badly.

Maybe it had to do with the anniversary of her grandmother’s death coming up, that had her feeling so melancholy recently. She’d absolutely adored her grandmother, who had died shortly after her 20th birthday, and she missed her cheerful personality and perceptive advice dearly.

Maybe she could talk to the doctor about her? That would be harmless enough, maybe even keep him off her back with other questions for a while. But then again, every mention of her past could lead to trouble. It was too risky, just not worth it.

So, having recovered at least some of her balance after a couple of relaxing yoga exercises, she made her way to the observation deck, counting on finding McCoy there and hoping to draw strength from his endless kindness towards her. And thankfully, he was already there when she entered, spotting her immediately and delightedly waving her over to where he was sitting.

Jenny got herself a coffee, then slumped onto the couch beside the doctor, seeing his affectionate smile and thinking there was no place she’d rather be at that moment.

Looking out at the stars, her thoughts returning to her granny, while she enjoyed the quiet and her coffee, Jenny suddenly became aware of McCoy studying her. Really studying her.

She was used to him checking up on her all the time. Had she eaten enough? Had she got enough sleep? That sort of thing. But this was different.

“What is it, Doctor?” she asked curiously.

McCoy exhaled noisily, then blinked, obviously thinking about how to phrase his next words.

“I wish I could just ease away your sorrows,” he said softly.

“What sorrows?” Hope asked, seemingly perplexed. “I couldn’t be happier!”

McCoy just kept looking her, his gaze gentle and kind.

“I don’t know where this is coming from, Doctor,” she became flustered, “but I can assure you, there’s really no need to worry. Sometimes you worry too much.”

“I don’t worry, I observe,” was McCoy’s quiet reply, but, seeing that she wasn’t taking the bait, he let it go.

He didn’t want to spoil a cosy evening, and he felt that he had accomplished what he’d intended to. That’s to let her know that he didn’t buy her ‘I’m always happy’ act anymore and would be there, if she wanted to talk.

Chapter Text

Hope was very quiet that evening, McCoy noticed. Not necessarily sad, but her thoughts were clearly elsewhere. After she’d told him not to worry so much, she’d mostly been staring out into space, slowly sipping her coffee, and he was content to just sit back and watch her.

Knowing that he’d be here, she’d obviously come looking for him, and he was glad that, after the emotional rollercoaster he’d put her on by stupidly mentioning her family, she still felt comfortable around him. If just sitting here, next to him, quietly enjoying her coffee was what she needed, that was all right with him. Whatever helped her find back to her cheerful self, quite obviously her most pressing issue, again.

Moping about was just not in her nature, and he could almost see her fight the ‘negative vibes’, as she’d probably call them, that stood between her and her natural state of happiness.

Looking at her beautiful face, so deep in thought, softly lit by the observation deck’s dim lighting, he couldn’t help thinking how a single person had changed his life so much for the better in so short a time.

Despite his reputation as a curmudgeon, which he rather enjoyed, McCoy was actually an affable person, always good for a laugh. But he had to admit that he hadn’t laughed as much as he had since Hope arrived in a long time. She could be hilarious, her wit and cheerfulness infectious.

When she was there, she was the heart and soul of the rec room. And when it was just the two of them in his office or over coffee, she could always make him smile over something or other, even after a hard and frustrating day.

Like with the patients, she always seemed to know what he needed. Be it a deep conversation to help him get closure over something or just playful banter to cheer him up. Belying her youth or the fact that he’d always assumed that was what buddies – male buddies – were for, she was the perfect friend for both.

And if, at times, she read him wrong, he could simply tell her. He could always speak his mind with her, it was refreshing. He could even ask her to leave him alone without her taking offence. Theoretically. Since this had yet to happen.

Jim was and would always be his closest friend. He trusted him completely and knew he could tell him anything. And there was Scotty, of course. But there were things that you just didn’t discuss with a mate.

Uhura was lovely, too. He knew he could always count on her where it mattered. But their relationship was a flirty one. They’d never had a deep or really personal conversation.

Christine, on the other hand, was anything but flirty. Always calm and professional. And he admired and appreciated her for it. He knew he could totally rely on her and her confidentiality. She was great to discuss medical matters with. But she somehow lacked the warmth that encouraged more personal, intimate conversations.

Well, thank God for Dr. Hope, he thought with a dreamy smile, taking a sip from his coffee.

Maybe it was because they were not too different in some ways. They were both people who others came to for help, or advice, or an open ear. And they were good listeners. But even though they appeared very chatty and open, they were, in fact, both rather private people who didn’t easily share personal matters.

Most people didn’t seem to notice, of course. They were happy to unburden themselves, and that was enough. Come to think about it, he’d already shared a lot more personal matters with Hope than with anybody else. Joanna, for example. Because Hope genuinely cared. And because she didn’t judge.

He briefly thought about how his and Joanna’s life would have turned out with a different wife at his side. Someone warm and caring like Hope.

Don’t even go there, Leonard, he scolded himself, pushing the thought to the farthest reaches of his mind.

At any rate, it had really done him good to open up to Hope about Joanna. And he genuinely hoped she’d let him return the favour soon and share her sorrows with him, too.

 


 

With a sinking feeling in his heart, Chekov watched Jenny and McCoy from the other side of the observation deck. No matter what he did, they seemed to be growing closer every day. Huddled together on that couch, they seemed so intimate, so familiar with each other, it made him cringe. At least they weren’t touching.

Perhaps he was imagining things, maybe Jenny and the doctor were really nothing more than friends after all. Like she was friends with her buddies from the band. But then again, lovely as Jenny was when they danced or worked out together, their relationship was definitely not evolving the way he’d like it to. Whenever he tried to tell her of his feelings, she’d just laugh it off and change the subject, talking about her career being her number one priority. Or worse, rattle on about this ‘brotherly/sisterly’ feeling between them.

For the past couple of weeks, Chekov had taken to joining Jenny and McCoy over breakfast or dinner, whenever he could, the latter seeming to ‘supervise’ every single one of her meals as of lately. If he couldn’t have Jenny, he figured, at least he wouldn’t leave her to the doctor without a fight.

But strangely, they didn’t seem to mind and even asked him to join them at their table whenever they saw him. The thought struck him that they might just want him around to divert from their own budding relationship. And fond as he was of the doctor, the idea was killing him.

He’d tried talking to his friends about it several times, but they’d just smiled and said variations of ‘What will be will be’. Only Uhura had sometimes gently suggested that, doctor or no doctor, he would surely notice if Jenny felt more than friendship for him.

 


 

Uhura sometimes tried to get Jenny to talk about her feelings. But while she quite openly admitted that she was not in love with Chekov, she always avoided talking about her feelings for the doctor. She’d say things like what a great physician he was, or how kind or fun to be around, but that was it.

“Right, you’re definitely not in love with poor Pavel,” Uhura said to Jenny as they were jogging side by side on the treadmills in the gym. “But what about the doctor?”

“What about him?” Jenny glanced at Uhura, grimacing at her impish smirk. “What do you want to hear? I just like being around him. I find his presence incredibly soothing.”

“Soothing?” Uhura chortled, surprise making her lose her rhythm and nearly slide off the treadmill. “We’re talking about Dr. McCoy here, right?”

“The one and only.”

“Don’t get me wrong, Jenny, I like him a lot, I really do. But soothing is about the last word that comes to mind when I think of him. He’s so hyper and bouncy and irascible and talkative, always good for discussions and confrontations.”

“That’s how you see him?” Jenny looked at Uhura pensively. “I mean, yes he can be rather restless. And passionate. Especially in his capacity as a physician. But he is also really kind and caring, a very good listener and observer. Which means he can be calm and quiet, too. Maybe you just don’t notice how often he takes a backseat and just watches?”

“You might have a point there. He’s certainly one of the good guys. Fun and sweet, too. Maybe I just see what he wants us to see.”

“Yes, maybe. He certainly likes to cultivate his image as curmudgeon,” Jenny giggled. “But just think of how calm he is in emergencies. So focused, so in control, every move executed precisely and expertly. I find that immensely reassuring. Simply watching him makes me feel safe.”

“I get what you mean. You’re right. He’s incredible in crises,” Uhura admitted. “I always feel safer on missions when he’s part of the landing party. Like whatever injuries you might incur, he’ll fix them.”

“Exactly.”

“So, to get back to our actual topic,” Uhura grinned at Jenny, “apart from ‘soothing’, do you find him anything else?”

“Uh, leave me alone, Nyota, will you?” Jenny shook her head and increased the pace on her treadmill a little. “How many times do I have to tell you that I’m not looking for a man? I’m perfectly fine building my career and living the dream of being a starship officer.”

Uhura fell silent. She still had her suspicions, of course, but it could well be that Jenny really just wanted a career and was in no hurry to hitch up with a man. The doctor, on the other hand, was another matter. Even though he’d probably never act on it, he was clearly as smitten with Jenny as Chekov. That was plain for everyone to see. Even poor Pavel.

Chapter Text

“Captain, I’m receiving a subspace signal,” Uhura’s voice startled Kirk out of the report he was reading and he looked up excitedly.

Even though it had only been a few days since Scotty had given the all clear after the rock exploding incident, the captain was already getting bored again, as uneventful shifts seemed to drag on.

“Who’s it from? What does it say?” he asked eagerly.

“Unknown, Captain,” came Spock’s immediate answer.

“Come again?” Kirk spun round to the science station, frowning.

“Unknown, Sir,” Spock repeated, unruffled. “The planet it originates from is uninhabited. No intelligent life found there, no animal life at all, more precisely.”

“And the message is just gibberish,” Uhura added, sounding mystified and a little miffed.

“A code of some kind?” Kirk asked, knowing quite well that Uhura would already have checked every possibility.

“No, Sir,” came her crisp reply, “there is no pattern to the signal whatsoever.”

“Spock? Anything?” the captain turned back to his science officer.

“Negative, Captain.”

“Maybe we should consult Dr. Hope?” Chekov piped up.

“Excellent idea, Ensign,” Kirk readily agreed. “Maybe her ‘intuition’ can shed some light on this. Call her to the bridge, please, Uhura.”

 


 

Down in sickbay, an excited Hope asked McCoy for permission to leave for the bridge.

“Of course, Hope, you go, girl!” he smiled, taking a stack of vaccines off her hands and waving her off with a friendly pat on the back.

This will do her good, he thought.

Happy as she seemed here in sickbay, she was certainly thrilled at the chance to put her qualifications to good use, the thought of working in her actual field of expertise again for a change, definitely appealing.

Maybe that was exactly what she needed. Her mind taken off whatever was bothering her by a challenging task in her area of competence. The area she was so passionate about.

McCoy was, of course, still determined to get to the bottom of the mystery surrounding her, but dwelling on it was certainly not the right way to do so. He’d learned long ago, that you couldn’t force anyone to open up. Not if you wanted to get to the truth, anyway. No, he’d let her know that he’d be there, if she wanted to talk. Now it was up to her.

He needed her to trust him, not to scare her off by constantly nagging and prying. And he certainly didn’t want her to be continuously reminded of her sorrows. Not if she just wanted to be happy.

Less than an hour later, after Hope hadn’t managed to gain any more information from the signal than Uhura and Spock had, explaining to Kirk that all of the intuitive equipment needed to be close to the source to function properly, McCoy and Kirk were having a heated discussion in the captain’s quarters over whether or not Hope was ready to be included in a landing party.

“I simply don’t think it’s a good idea, Jim!”

“Why not? She’s proven herself more than capable over the past few months. And I have orders to give her a full all-round training, remember?”

“Since when do you give a damn about orders, Jim?” McCoy groused.

Kirk just gave him a wry look.

“But then I’ll come, too. I have a bad feeling about this,” the doctor insisted.

“You have a bad feeling about every mission, Bones,” the captain chuckled, and then, giving his friend a sly grin, continued, “or do you have more personal reasons this time?”

“Oh, please, leave me alone, Jim,” McCoy groaned.

“Well, you do spend an awful lot of time with her.”

“So what? So does Chekov. And Scotty. And Uhura. Even Spock for that matter. And by the way, so do you!”

“Well, she is delightful to be around!” Kirk snorted with laughter.

McCoy chose to ignore the silly teasing and, giving a resigned shrug, resumed their original discussion.

“I’m just saying, I’m her doctor, and I’ve only just begun to understand her medical issues.”

“I thought they were only minor?” Kirk shot him a hard glance, all teasing gone from his voice.

“Yes, they are,” the doctor conceded, “but not very common these days and I don’t have any experience with them at all.”

“Will her performance be impaired?” Kirk was being serious now.

“No, not in a crucial way.”

“So that’s settled then,” the captain said impatiently. “She’s coming. And so are you.”

McCoy’s head shot up at that last sentence, and he gave Kirk a grateful nod.

 


 

When McCoy entered the transporter room, medikit slung over his shoulder, fully prepared for every eventuality, Hope was already there, nervously checking her utility and weapons belt.

She looked up at the hiss of the doors and smiled at him, trying to radiate confidence and professionalism like she always did. And, of course, he didn’t let on that he saw right through her. That he clearly - and fondly - saw the apprehension and insecurity beneath that confident and cheerful smile. 

He wanted to say something reassuring, but before he could even open his mouth, the doors hissed open again, and Kirk entered in his usual energetic stride, avidly awaiting the next adventure. 

“Welcome to your first landing party, Hope!” he grinned at her. “Ready for some excitement planetside?”

McCoy knew, of course, that Jim didn’t know Hope as well as he did, didn’t recognise the slight tremor in her eyes giving away that she feared the new experience as much as she looked forward to it. Had never seen the timid and vulnerable side to the confident and sassy personality she wanted the world to see. But he still could have punched the captain for his thoughtlessness, when he saw Hope slightly wince and pale before rearranging her features into a dazzling smile. 

“Can’t wait, Sir,” she beamed at him, “thank you, Sir!”

Jenny felt her heart hammering against her chest as she watched Peterson from Security calmly arranging his belt. She’d known this day would come and been looking forward to it immensely, but suddenly wasn’t so sure she was ready anymore.

Nothing hostile on the planet, the captain had said. No animal or intelligent life, only lush and abundant flora, a nice, breathable atmosphere, and a little linguistic mystery. The perfect setup for her first landing party. They’d be back before dinnertime.

Spock had wanted to come, too. But the captain had told him to stay on the ship. Just in case, he’d said. And it was then that Jenny had realised this was it, this was real.

She’d been tremendously relieved to hear that McCoy was coming with them, his mere presence making her feel safe. When they stepped onto the transporter platform, and she felt his reassuring hand resting briefly on her shoulder, she could have kissed him.

The last thing she saw before fading out in the tingling transporter beam, was the doctor’s kind smile as he mouthed, “You’ll be fine!”

Chapter Text

As soon as they materialised, they quickly looked around and took a few scans to secure the area. Kirk was amused to see Hope following protocol down to a T, probably having rehearsed it like one of her dance choreographies. But he was also satisfied to see that she’d clearly done her homework.

While she was focused on her purpose-built linguistic tricorder, the captain took out his communicator to check in with Spock.

“Impressive scenery here, Spock,” he said, taking in his surroundings. “Everything’s just huge!”

“I did inform you about the flora of this planet being superior to most, Captain. In scale, colour and scent,” sounded his first officer’s unimpressed voice from the communicator.

“Of course you have, Mr. Spock,” Kirk smiled, “but it’s even more gigantic when you’re standing right in the middle of it.”

“Captain, I don’t see how …”

“Thank you, Mr. Spock,” the captain quickly cut in, before Spock could start to dissect his last statement in earnest. “I’ll check in with you again in one hour. Kirk out!”

Then, still grinning, he turned to Hope.

“Found anything yet, Hope? Where do we get our answers? Lead the way!”

But Hope just shook her head, looking somewhat dismayed.

“I’m sorry, Captain, I can’t get anything. There’s just no signal.”

Frowning, Kirk pulled his communicator out again.

“Uhura, we’re not getting any readings down here. What’s your status on the signal?”

“It stopped while you were talking to Mr. Spock, Sir,” the communications officer replied. “I’m trying everything to get it back, unsuccessfully so far.”

“Keep trying, Uhura, and let us know of any progress. Kirk out!” he shut his communicator a little too forcefully, and Hope winced at his obvious displeasure.

McCoy’s heart went out to her. She was clearly taking the sudden absence of the signal as a personal failure. Taking a step closer to where she was standing, he surveyed the enormous trees and man-sized flowers. A giant redwood wouldn’t look giant here at all.

“This is like out of a storybook,” he said reverently, drawing Kirk’s attention away from Hope. “The trees and twines seem to go on forever. It looks like even the sky is higher up here.”

“Good thing, Spock couldn’t hear you, Bones,” the captain laughed. “He might have to say a thing or two about the sky being higher or lower.”

“I see what you mean, Doctor,” Peterson chuckled. “I’m just waiting for Jack to climb down his beanstalk.”

Looking up from her tricorder, Hope added, “You’re right, this landscape looks so unreal, maybe we’ll even come across some oversized teacups or the big white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland!”

She was quite taken aback, when that earned her a disgruntled look from McCoy and an exaggerated chortle from Kirk, who obviously found this hilarious.

“Better not talk to Bones about Alice or the rabbit, Hope,” the captain warned, still chuckling, as she just looked on in bewilderment. “He holds a personal grudge against them, against all of Wonderland, actually. But that’s a story for another day. I’m sure the good doctor will be happy to tell you all about it.”

McCoy snorted, then returned his gaze to his tricorder and mumbled, “Let’s just focus on the task at hand here, shall we?”

Kirk had Peterson and McCoy scout out wider parts of the area to one side of where Hope was still busy with her tricorder, while he made his way to the other side. Just when he was starting to get really impatient, his communicator beeped and an audibly relieved Hope reported that the signal was back. So did Uhura mere seconds later.

The captain quickly contacted McCoy and Peterson, and by the time they arrived back at Hope’s location, they saw her standing in the middle of the small clearing, her phaser drawn and pointed at what could only be described as a giant beetroot, moving slowly, but threateningly towards her, secreting some kind of acid and burning everything in its path.

“Shoot!” Kirk shouted, realising that she was just standing there, frozen, and drew his own phaser.

He hit the ‘creature' an instant before Hope’s phaser beam had the already staggering beetroot drop to the ground, where it lay motionless.

“Why didn’t you shoot sooner? It could have killed you!” Kirk snapped, evidently unhappy with her poor performance, while McCoy and Peterson cautiously approached the ‘thing’ on the ground.

“It’s dead, Jim,” McCoy called out. “Assuming it was ever alive. It’s got some sort of roots that look like they’ve been ripped out of the ground. Presumably that’s how it moved. We can’t touch it, though, it’s highly corrosive.”

And straightening up again, he added a grumbling, “So much for ‘nothing hostile’ on this planet.”

Turning back to Kirk, who had already flipped open his communicator and was talking to Spock, McCoy saw that Hope hadn’t moved an inch. Phaser still in hand, she was standing in the same spot, staring unseeingly at the downed creature.

Realising that she was in a state of shock, he hurried to her side, put an arm around her shoulders and gently took the phaser from her, all the time talking soothingly to her.

“The Captain’s just scared for you, dear,” he murmured, “that’s why he snapped at you like that.”

He held her a little tighter and gently shook her, until she finally came round and immediately broke away from him to throw up behind a bush.

“I’ve never killed before in my life,” she whispered, when she heard him come up behind her.

Crouching down in front of her, McCoy gently cupped her face in his hand to get her attention, and when he caught her eye, looked at her intensely. He needed to pull her out of her shock. And quickly. Kirk expected nothing but efficiency from his crew. He had no patience for insecurities on a mission. Hope would have to deal with the emotional fallout of her first kill later. And he’d help her with it, like he’d helped many a rookie before. But now was not the time. 

The touch of a gentle hand roused Jenny from her dizzy thoughts, and she looked up to find the doctor’s kind blue eyes only inches from her face. Her first instinct was to lean into him for comfort, but his piercing gaze brought her back to reality and she pulled herself together. 

“You’re going to be alright, Hope, I promise,” he said softly, standing up and pulling her to her feet. “We’ll talk about all of this back on the Enterprise, but now we just need to move on, ok? Can you do that?”

“Of course, Doctor, thank you,” she whispered and gratefully wiped her face with a tissue he handed her while putting his arm around her shoulders to give her a quick hug and a reassuring rub. 

This little gesture was all she needed to get her moving again. The doctor certainly knew how to comfort and reassure. Jenny felt an intense surge of affection and gratitude as she straightened both her uniform and her posture, and gave him a nod to say she was ready to move on. 

Following McCoy back to Kirk and Peterson, she could hear the captain’s angry voice.

“What? You mean we’re stuck here?”

“Afraid so, Captain,” Scotty’s apologetic voice sounded from his communicator. “A delayed aftereffect of that blasted rock exploding in our face, Sir.”

“How long?” Kirk barked.

“Couple of hours, Sir, if there’s no further surprises.”

“Right. Get on it then, Mr. Scott!” the captain sighed, and, snapping his communicator shut, informed the others, “Guess we’ll get to follow that signal’s trail after all. Everybody, watch out for hostile vegetable!”

Kirk allowed Hope a couple more minutes to recover and adjust the settings on her tricorder. As soon as McCoy indicated that she was good to go, the small party set off, following traces of unintelligible babble.

It was her very first landing party and everything was going sideways. She should really be afraid, scared even. But strangely enough, she wasn’t. Looking from the captain to Peterson, and then on to McCoy, she was suddenly, inexplicably certain that everything would be all right in the end.

Chapter Text

They moved along at a steady pace, with Peterson leading the way and Kirk bringing up the rear, and Jenny thought how nice it was to actually walk on soft ground and breathe unfiltered air again for a change. It didn’t matter that it was nothing like Earth, that the smell was not entirely pleasant, or that you constantly had to watch your back. She could fully understand why people scrambled for every chance to be included in a landing party, never mind the dangers that came with it.

The captain filled them in on his conversation with Spock, who had already investigated why there were no recordings of hostile or dangerous species. The First Officer had found out that most of the existing data was just the result of a number of simple scans from a distance, while the first and only team of explorers to ever actually set foot on the planet had spent less than three hours here. Since it had no valuable mineral resources to offer, the uninhabited planet had obviously never been of great interest.

Walking right behind her, McCoy kept a close eye on Hope. He didn't want to risk a repeat of the beetroot incident, the need to protect her stronger than ever. Neither did he want to embarrass her by being overprotective, of course, especially not in front of the others, but he needed to make sure she knew that he had her back. Although she’d probably never admit it, perhaps wasn't even aware of it, he knew how deeply engrained her longing to feel secure was.

Behind them, Kirk smiled as he watched McCoy follow Hope like a guard dog. His friend was a healer with all his heart, his prime concern to protect his patients from any harm, no matter his personal feelings towards them. But with Hope, it was definitely more than that. There was something about her that seemed to touch a special place in the doctor’s heart and made his concern for her well-being go far beyond professional duty.

Following the slowly but steadily increasing signal, they had already passed through a forest, and were now crossing a meadow, feeling like ants fighting their way through blades of bright green grass twice their size. That way, at least, they were protected from the sun that had started to really burn down on them.

But just as McCoy was starting to complain about the heat, making sure they were all drinking enough to stay hydrated, heavy rainclouds began to form in the sky, and mere minutes later, it was raining heavily. They quickly sought shelter under a giant kind of toadstool, and when Kirk was nearly hit by a hailstone the size of his fist, he brusquely pushed Hope and the doctor further towards the trunk, motioning Peterson to follow suit.

Jenny stood with her face against the trunk, feeling McCoy’s body warm against her back, a protective hand cupping the back of her head, as he tried to shield her from stray hailstones. Despite her rather uncomfortable position, she couldn’t help enjoying the unexpected bliss of the moment. A whole army of tall and beefy Petersons couldn’t have made her feel as sheltered as she felt now, pressed against the caring doctor.

No more than a couple of minutes later, however, hail turned into the softest snow, and McCoy could release her again, almost sorry to let her go, since this was definitely the closest he’d ever come to holding her in his arms. Not counting the day she’d passed out in sickbay, seemingly ages ago, of course, as she’d not even been conscious then.

 


 

Grateful for the material of their Starfleet uniforms, that protected them, at least moderately, against the heat and the cold, they continued on their hike, admiring the way the huge snowflakes drifted through the air, and at the same time hoping the sun would soon be back out to warm and dry them again.

Their wish was granted within less than ten minutes, when the cold and windy winter’s day turned back into a lovely spring day.

Kirk pulled out his communicator to check on Scotty’s progress.

“You’d better hurry, Scotty,” he urged. “The weather here’s worse than in Scotland! They may have all seasons in one day, while we, here, had all seasons in half an hour!”

Unfortunately, the chief engineer had only bad news for them. They’d had an unexpected power drain on the Enterprise, and needed several more hours to recharge the transporters.

“At that rate, you might as well send a shuttle, Mr. Scott,” Kirk suggested, starting to sound really annoyed. “It’ll be getting dark soon, and I’d rather not stay the night.”

“Err, about that, Sir,” Scotty began, then faltered.

“What now?” Kirk asked exasperatedly, his voice suspiciously quiet.

“Well, that power drain I talked about? If we recharge the shuttles, too, we’ll take away energy form the transporters.”

“I see,” the captain said wearily. “We’ll try to get comfortable for the night then. But you’d better come up with one of your miracles shortly, Mr. Scott. This is getting really tiresome.”

Concentrating on finding shelter rather than the source of the signal, the little group headed towards another forest further downhill. Luckily, they had brought enough food and water rations to last them another two or three days, thanks to McCoy’s prudence.

Less lucky, however, was the fact that Hope’s medical pouch was ripped out of her hand and carried away by a sudden, forceful gust of wind, just as she was about to take her eye medication.

Horrified, she watched the pouch being lifted ever higher into the air, while frantically holding on to the three men surrounding her, so as not to be carried away by the storm, too.

The wind died down again as quickly as it had started, and Hope stared incredulously after her pouch.

“Seriously?” she yelled angrily in the direction where it had vanished. “Can’t I do anything right? No wonder Starfleet won’t have me!”

To McCoy’s surprise, the captain was at her side before he was, and kindly but decidedly told her to stop the self-pitying, and get going again instead.

“This is only your first assignment,” he added encouragingly, “there’s still plenty of time for you to learn. You’re doing a great job so far.”

Hope looked thoughtfully at the captain for a moment, then nodded, brushed down her uniform, fixed her windswept hair – rather ineffectively – in a knot again, pulled herself up to her full height, and smiled at her three companions.

“Let’s go, gentlemen!”

Seeing Kirk give her a satisfied smile, seemingly impressed by how quickly she’d pulled herself together again, McCoy felt incredibly proud of her.

The party got moving again, the hike to the nearest forest taking much longer than Kirk had expected. The rain and snow had made the ground slippery, and walking became more difficult by the minute. Especially, since they were getting tired, too.

Falling into step beside her, McCoy told Hope not to worry. He had, of course, brought some of her eye-medication, too, although only a little quantity for emergencies. He therefore wanted to save it as long as possible and not let her have any yet.

Kirk was getting concerned about Hope, but McCoy correctly pointed out that she was probably in better shape than the two of them put together. The only sign of her getting tired, too, was her starting to slip and stumble repeatedly, as her nystagmus started to affect her eye-sight.

With McCoy still hesitating to squander the little of the medication they still had, Kirk smiled, watching the doctor hold out a helping hand towards her over and over again, which she stubbornly kept ignoring.

The two of them are certainly a perfect match in the stubbornness department, Kirk chuckled to himself.

He understood, however, why she wanted to prove that she could take care of herself. Especially after her failure to shoot that beetroot earlier. But McCoy just couldn't help himself. Tired as he certainly was, preventing her from getting hurt was still his prime concern.

His friend was a man always more concerned about others than about himself. And offering a helping hand to steady Hope when she lost her footing, was a reflex action.

After having slipped and nearly fallen three times, Hope gave in at last, and accepted the doctor’s help. Leading her by the hand, sometimes putting a steadying arm around her waist, they soon made faster progress again.

Their hike seemed to go on forever, and it was almost dark, when they finally found suitable shelter in a den formed by rocks and covered by a thick blanket of roots.

Firing at one of the rocks until it started to glow and radiate heat, Peterson asked permission to take the first watch.

“All right, Peterson. You first, then me, then McCoy,” the captain ordered, then turned to Hope almost apologetically. “Don’t take offence, Hope, I don’t doubt your ability to stay awake for a minute, but you don’t have any experience, and seeing what happened earlier, I just can’t risk it. If you freeze again, and there’s no one awake to step in, we’re all done for.”

There, he’d said it. Hope hung her head, but, of course, knew that he was right.

“Of course, Captain, I understand,” she replied quietly.

Peterson took position by the entrance to their den, while the others found a stonewall dry and smooth enough to prop themselves up against and try to find some sleep in a sitting-up position. Exchanging no more than a quick glance, Kirk and McCoy made themselves comfortable on either side of Hope.

 


 

Jenny was wide awake, half-lying between the captain and the doctor, eyes closed and trying to breathe evenly, hoping to fake sleep convincingly. She felt pleasantly protected, nestled in between the two men, yet her mind wouldn’t rest, replaying the shooting scene over and over again. She’d always known she’d get into situations like that eventually, but the reality had still hit her hard.

The captain, trained to find rest whenever possible, had fallen asleep within moments, but she knew the doctor hadn’t. She could feel his concerned eyes on her, and, after some time, his reassuring hand on her shoulder.

McCoy knew that she was afraid. Mostly of Jim sending her back to this out-of-the-way starbase. After the beetroot incident, it had been obvious that she was worried about her performance, fearing the captain would not commend her for further starship duty after all.

“Can’t sleep, can you, Hope?” he murmured.

“No,” she admitted. “Too many things on my mind.”

“Take it easy. Nobody expects you to be perfect on your first assignment with a landing party. There’s no shame in admitting to being a little nervous.”

She looked at him in the near darkness.

“It was awful, Doctor,” she whispered. “I’ve never taken a life before.”

“And you didn’t, the captain did,” he reminded her gently. “If it even was a living being in the first place. But you might have to, one day. Comes with the job. You knew that when you joined Starfleet.”

She was silent for a moment, considering his words.

“Do you ever get used to it?” she asked uneasily.

“Yes, and no,” he replied sincerely. “You’ll get used to using your weapons, to fight and defend yourself if you have to. But you’ll always be affected by hurting someone or even taking a life. That’s what makes you a decent human being.”

“I’ve always known that the real thing would be very different from training, from drills. In theory. But I never expected it to be so infinitely worse than anything I’ve ever prepared for.”

“It’ll get easier with time.”

Hope looked at him doubtfully, and he felt with her.

“We really need to sleep now,” he said softly.

She nodded and, unthinkingly, reached for his hand still lying on her shoulder, giving it a grateful squeeze. When he didn’t pull away, she held on to it, drawing comfort from the touch and his presence.

And as she drifted off to sleep, the enormity of being part of the crew of the Enterprise, of being in the middle of a dangerous adventure with the captain, no less, followed her into her dreams.

McCoy squeezed her fingers gently, comfortingly, and let her cling to his hand until she was fast asleep and he felt her grip loosen. He’d take care of her, try to give her the feeling of security she needed. Until she trusted him enough to tell him about her real issues.

Chapter Text

Hope had slept surprisingly well, more sitting than lying on the hard ground. The hike and all the excitement of the previous day had obviously worn her out more than she cared to admit. Or maybe having her favourite doctor hold her hand had helped. She hadn’t even been roused by the men changing shifts, and she felt a little guilty about it. Like she hadn’t pulled her weight.

But McCoy, who’d had the last watch and was now waking everybody up, didn’t seem to hold it against her.

“Good morning, Sleeping Beauty,” he smiled warmly, as he handed out nutrition bars, then added with a wink, “I’m not even asking you about last night’s dreams. This definitely doesn’t count as a new bed, does it?”

Jenny shook her head and laughed, touched that he still remembered their conversation from her first day aboard.

McCoy was relieved to see her well rested and cheerful again. After their whispered conversation the evening before, he’d been afraid that the beetroot incident, certainly the stuff of nightmares, might haunt her in her sleep. But when Jim had woken him to take over, Hope had been soundly asleep, looking perfectly peaceful, and he’d spent the bigger part of his watch just looking at her in the dim light of the still glowing rock.

She was so pretty. The longer he knew her, the more beautiful she became. And, if anything, her slightly dishevelled state after the hike in the wind and the rain only added to her beauty. He’d just sat there and gazed at her, enjoying that he could, for once, take his time to do so. She’d really grown on him since she’d arrived only months ago. And he’d rather not think about a time when she wouldn’t be in his life anymore.

The way she was sandwiched between Jim and Peterson made him smile. Quite obviously, he was not the only one to feel protective of her. Protectiveness just being one of the many emotions Hope evoked in him.

But the doctor didn’t want to examine his feelings too closely. Why he was so moved by her, why being near her made him feel so alive. Why she seemed to fill a place in his heart no one else could. What was the point?

He knew that he couldn’t let himself have romantic feelings for her. Not even if he were ready to be in a relationship again, which he most definitely wasn’t. No, despite all her qualifications, despite being wise and mature beyond her age, hell, probably even beyond his age, she was just a girl.

And he was not the one for her. He could see that clearly, whenever he watched her with other men, younger men. Like Chekov. He could tell that they had a lot in common, a lot of fun together, too. They made a lovely couple, and he really liked Chekov.

He’d learned to ignore, or at least live with the knot forming in his stomach, every time he watched them practice their dancing together, their bodies moving in total sync, Pavel holding her close and touching her in such an intimate way. This ridiculous feeling of jealousy, that he could never quite shake, was completely uncalled for. He had no right to feel that way, no rights regarding her in any respect.

Or was it even jealousy? He couldn’t be sure. Because what bothered him even more than the thought of Hope in someone else’s arms, was that this someone might not be gentle and considerate enough with her. But then, everything was a little different when it came to Hope, wasn't it? 

No, he was most definitely not the one for her. But he could be her friend, and he was in the lucky position to protect and mentor her. That had to be enough. That, and the hope that, whoever she’d end up with one day, she’d choose wisely and find someone who’d treat her with the utmost kindness and respect, someone who’d give her all the love and tenderness she needed and deserved.

 


 

“Bones?” Kirk’s voice startled him out of his thoughts. “Can you try your communicator? I can’t get through to the Enterprise on mine.”

McCoy pulled out his device, a frown on his face and a sense of foreboding in his guts. He couldn’t reach the ship, either. And neither could Peterson, for that matter.

All eyes were on Hope, who was fully focused on tying her communicator into her linguistic tricorder, adjusting the dials this way and that.

“You know what you’re doing?” Kirk asked impatiently. For the third time. Being stranded on a more or less unexplored planet was one thing. Not knowing what was going on with his ship, quite another.

“I certainly do, Sir,” she replied, remarkably calm and not taking her eyes off the display.

Spock would be proud, McCoy thought distractedly.

“And I can tell you two things.”

“Go on!” The captain’s patience was wearing thin.

“Firstly, that the signal we’ve been following has increased enormously, and I can now confirm with absolute certainty that the message is nothing but gibberish.”

“And secondly?”

She hesitated a moment, as if afraid to say it out loud.

“Just tell us, Hope, for heaven’s sake!” Kirk was at the end of his tether.

“Right. The reason we can’t reach the Enterprise is not some interference or shield. The Enterprise is simply not there. She’s gone.”

There was a shocked silence as they all took in the full meaning of her words, McCoy unconsciously taking a step closer to Hope. She seemed incredibly calm.

“Are you sure?” the captain finally broke the silence, and Jenny couldn’t tell whether he was doubting her abilities or simply grasping at straws.

“Positive, Captain,” she replied quietly. “Scotty has taught me some tricks, but above all, I do have a degree in linguistics, of which communications is a rather big part.”

“Of course, you do,” Kirk put an appeasing hand on her shoulder.

Then he looked at McCoy and Peterson.

“There could be a million reasons, let’s not expect the worst. They could be under attack, or have left for an emergency.”

“Or a parallel universe,” McCoy threw in unhelpfully, earning a glare from the captain.

“There will be a perfectly plausible explanation. I’m sure Spock has everything under control. We just need to make sure we’re still here when they come back for us.”

Kirk, never one to lose heart, gave each of his three companions an encouraging look. There was no doubt in his mind that they’d make it out of there safely. They always did.

“Come on, everyone, let’s go find the source of this blasted signal. I have a strong feeling we’re going to get some answers there.”

Chapter Text

Jenny walked behind Peterson, following the narrow trail of his footsteps, her mind racing. Behind her, she could hear snippets of the murmured conversation Kirk had with McCoy, exchanging ideas, discussing the best course of action, drawing on each other’s experience. She’d never realised before, quite how well attuned the two men really were to each other. It was greatly reassuring and made her feel cautiously optimistic in their current situation.

The general atmosphere was tense, but not at all hopeless. Jenny was surprised at how calm she felt in the face of having been abandoned on a strange planet with three men. By rights, the thought should be terrifying, but strangely enough, she wasn’t afraid. Probably because it just didn’t feel real. Yet.

Besides, she was with Captain Kirk, the man who beat all the odds. Surely, he’d find a way out of this one, too. And they had Dr. McCoy. He’d take good care of them all.

She had a sudden vision of the four of them living together in Robinson fashion, makeshift huts, tools and weapons, living on fruits and berries. At least her companions were interesting, decent people with considerable knowledge between them, and lots of stories to tell. It could certainly be worse.

“What are you smiling at?” McCoy was suddenly at her side, gentle eyes searching her face. “Are you all right?”

“Yes, Doctor, I’m all right,” Jenny assured him, feeling like throwing herself in his arms and just staying there forever. “I just had this funny vision of us as savages in grass skirts, collecting roots and berries.”

“Now there’s a prospect,” he chuckled, winking at her.

Then he turned serious again, breaking his stride to put gentle hands on her shoulders and look her straight in the eye.

“You know it won’t come to that, right? Jim and I have been in lots of similar situations and always found our way back home. The Enterprise had a perfectly good reason to disappear, and she will be back. It’s happened before.”

Jenny nodded, touched by his need to comfort and reassure her, when he was surely at least a little scared, too, and found that she actually believed him.

Kirk waited for his friend to finish his little pep talk, before joining them.

“How far to the origin of the signal, Hope?”

“We’re really close, Captain,” Hope looked at her tricorder to check the readings. “Five kilometres as the crow flies.”

“Right, close enough,” the captain murmured pensively, then, feeling the expectant eyes of his crew on him, added, “I don’t know, something just doesn’t feel right. I mean, who would go to the trouble of setting up a signal that sends out nothing but gibberish?”

“A trap?” volunteered Peterson.

Kirk look at him, nodding slowly. “My thoughts exactly. But who? And why?”

“You mean, why would anyone lure us here, on an uninhabited planet of no interest?” McCoy wondered.

“Well, only one way to find out!” Kirk clapped his hands and got going again.

“I was afraid you’d say that,” McCoy sighed, following right behind the captain.

 


 

They walked in silence for a while, closely watching their surroundings, ready to draw their weapons at the first sign of danger. As the wind picked up and the temperature dropped, it got harder to keep up their pace.

Fighting their way through the increasing storm, McCoy saw Hope being almost lifted off the ground with every gust, thrown back every other step. He hurried to her side and resolutely grabbed her by the hand, allowing no argument, and pulled her along. But this time, she didn’t even hesitate and, gratefully accepting his help, let him walk right in front of her to shelter her from the full impact of the storm.

Less than ten minutes later, the wind had ebbed away again.

“Thank God,” Hope laughed, shaking her hair out and trying to tame it back into a knot. “It’s even harder to walk, when you can’t see!”

Kirk watched the doctor staring at Hope for a moment, mesmerised, before pulling a little box from his medikit and handing her her eye medication.

“Thank you, Doctor,” she smiled, taking the box from him. “I was actually talking about the hair in my face, but I’d really appreciate a little of the medication right now. When we get to the source, I’ll want all my senses operating at full capacity.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” McCoy nodded, and as they walked on, tried to cautiously broach the subject of accepting help with her. “And I’m really proud of you, Hope, for letting me help you through the storm and not putting up a fight today.”

“I guess, I’m making progress, accepting that I’m not the perfect officer, then,” she snorted, visibly embarrassed. 

The doctor was just about to reply, when Kirk, having overheard the last of their conversation, beat him to it.

“There is no such thing as a perfect officer, Hope,” he said emphatically. “The important thing is to be part of a team. That means doing your best, of course, but it also includes accepting help from the others. Everybody has their weaknesses, and knowing each other’s makes a good team. Hiding your inefficiencies could put yourself and your team in danger, because, if the others don't realise you're in trouble and trust you to do what you're expected to do, they may not be able to compensate quickly enough."

Kirk and McCoy exchanged a quick glance, knowing only too well that both of them, just like Spock or Scotty, had more than once hidden their fears in order to save their friends' lives. But then, that was the difference between high ranking officers and young, less experienced crew members.

Hope lowered her head self-consciously, murmuring, "I'm sorry, Sir. I just didn't want to be a hindrance."

McCoy could see Hope feeling she’d been put firmly in her place, and shot Kirk an angry look.

"I’m sorry, I didn't mean this to sound reproachful,” the captain relented. “I actually wanted you to realise that you don't have to pretend to be stronger or better than you are. Just be yourself - you're perfectly all right. And you'll become even better with experience.”

Their conversation was cut short, when Peterson pointed out fast approaching rainclouds, and they ran for shelter under the branches of one of the smaller trees, just as the first raindrops fell.

“Let’s hope that’ll be over quickly, too!” Hope exclaimed, thinking that their snuggling up under that toadstool only yesterday seemed like ages ago.

There were no hailstones today, but the snow that followed was much heavier and covered everything within minutes, the ground underneath frozen and slippery, the temperature dropping uncomfortably.

Not wasting a single word on it, the little group huddled together for warmth, and as soon as they could see their hands in front of their faces again, continued on their way, hoping to get out of the cold again soon.

Less than one kilometre, Jenny thought as they made their way across the slippery ground, anticipation intermingling with dread.

And then, everything happened so fast.

An enormous, falling branch hit Peterson hard on the head, sending him crashing to his knees, when he suddenly vanished through a hole in the ground. He’d obviously stepped on a thin layer of ice covering some kind of lake or pond.

In a flash, Kirk threw himself after Peterson, but when the ice cracked under his weight, McCoy was just in time to pull him back, before the captain fell through the ice, too.

“I can do it!” Hope shouted, dropping to the ground, flat on her stomach, slowly and carefully crawling towards the edge of the hole. Now it was Kirk’s turn to pull back a frantic McCoy.

The captain and his CMO were holding their breath, as they watched Hope reach the edge and plunge her arms, and then her head into the ice-cold water looking for Peterson.

"Don’t worry, Bones, she's a tough one, she’s going to make it,” Kirk tried to calm down his friend as much as himself.

“She’s just pretending, she’s not that tough at all, and you know that very well!" McCoy muttered under his breath, holding on tight to Kirk’s arm in order to restrain himself from going after Hope, not taking his eyes off her for a second.

“Trust me. She wants to be a good officer, and being prepared to risk her life for others, certainly makes her one.”

Just when McCoy thought his heart couldn’t take the strain any longer, he saw Hope come back up for air, holding on to a red-sleeved arm, trying hard to pull an unconscious Peterson back onto the ice.

And for what he thought were the longest moments of his life, he watched her struggle and strive, and finally manage to pull the much bigger man out of the water and then drag him, excruciatingly slowly, back to safety.

Immediately dropping to his knees beside Peterson, the doctor looked at Kirk and indicated Hope with his head, trusting the captain to take care of the exhausted, shivering young woman.

“Thank you for saving Peterson’s life,” the captain said with heartfelt gratitude, as he used his sleeves to rub her hair dry and ran his hands up and down her arms in an attempt to warm her up. “I am awfully proud of you.”

When McCoy had cleaned and closed the gash in Peterson’s head and made sure there were no further injuries, especially to his spine, or internal bleeding, he quickly got up to check on Hope, his heart aching as he saw her standing there, so frail and delicate, shivering as the captain rapidly rubbed his hands up and down her arms and back.

Kirk let go of her, letting the doctor take over, and McCoy just had to pull her close for a moment, overwhelmed by the relief of seeing her unharmed.

“Silly girl! Don’t you ever do that to me again,” he murmured affectionately in her ear, and it sounded almost like a sob. “I’ve been worried sick. Next time you want to impress the captain, find something less dangerous to do, please!”

Hope, still trembling, looked up at him fondly, and he saw a familiar glint in her eye.

“All this just to prove to you that being underweight has its advantages, after all,” she chuckled.

McCoy shook his head, exasperated, and then, hearing her teeth clattering looked over at Kirk.

“We’ll have to get them to a warmer place, Jim. And quickly, if we want Peterson to even have a chance.”

So, carrying the still unconscious Peterson between them, Kirk and McCoy followed Hope, tricorder in hand, leading the way to the source of the signal.

Luckily, it had stopped snowing, but the temperature was still low, and not a hint of sun in the sky. Jenny was just wondering where to find a warm place, when she suddenly spotted a bunker in the midst of all the greenery.

“Look, Captain!” she called out, but her companions had already spotted the bunker, too.

“Damn! How did a man-made building end up here?” Kirk cursed, while McCoy headed straight for the entrance.

“Stop, Bones!” Kirk hissed. “We can’t just go in there! We have no idea how it got here, or who or what to expect in there!”

“I don’t care, Jim!” the doctor snapped back. “If we don’t get Peterson out of the cold this very instant, we’re going to lose him. And Hope needs to warm up soon, too, or whatever we’ll find or not find in there, won’t matter anymore.”

Jim could see the anguish in his friend’s eyes, and relented.

“All right, Bones. But at least let me go in first and secure the place.”

Bones nodded, shifting Peterson’s weight so that Kirk could step away, grateful for Hope instantly taking the captain’s place, and a minute later, they were inside the windowless building, grateful to be out of the icy wind.

Hope was sitting on the floor with Peterson’s head cradled in her lap, holding a flashlight while McCoy gave him a heavy sedative and ran his tricorder thoroughly over the security officer’s body. And Kirk searched the apparently empty room for any clues to what they were up against.

Chapter Text

On the Enterprise, Spock and Uhura were listening intently to Klingon communication channels, as they had done incessantly for the past five hours.

With the riddle of the mysterious signal still unsolved, Uhura hadn’t been able to sleep, and had been working all through the night, trying to determine the source or find a code that would finally give the message some meaning.

She hadn’t succeeded in either, but in the early morning hours had picked up on inter Klingon communications instead. Being quite the expert on decoding Klingon channels, she’d soon been able to listen in on more than just snippets, and, putting two and two together, had run to the bridge, where she was sure to find Spock.

The First Officer had listened attentively, as she’d told him that there was obviously a rumour about a new human super weapon going round the Klingon Empire. A human named Jennifer Hope, no less. Somehow word had got out that Hope, to whose Starfleet file there might or might not exist a sealed supplement, had been assigned to the Enterprise on what they mistakenly thought was a secret mission.

Always trying to stay ahead of the Federation, the Klingons had come up with a plan to not only get rid of Hope before she could become a danger to the Empire, but to get rid of the greatly feared and unpopular Captain Kirk at the same time.

Obviously, the Klingons knew about the dangers that the planet’s flora held, and counted on whoever was setting foot on the surface to be killed within the first couple of hours. Choosing a remote, insignificant planet and using a seemingly harmless linguistic mystery as bait to ensure Hope’s participation, had been a stroke of genius, Spock had to admit.

It was only when he heard that, apparently, a Klingon ship was currently on its way to check if the Enterprise was still in orbit, that he’d been galvanised into action.

With the transporters still down, there was no way of bringing the landing party back aboard safely in time. So, Spock decided on a bold move that would have made Kirk proud.

Not even risking to open a channel to inform the captain, he had Uhura break off all communication between them and the landing party, and Sulu warp out of orbit immediately, certain that this would trick the Klingons into believing they had everybody safely back aboard already. Surely, they wouldn’t assume the Enterprise left orbit without their captain, abandoning him on a remote and dangerous planet.

What Spock had failed to take into account, however, as he learned now, listening to the ongoing communications between the nearby Klingon ship and some Klingon base, was that they also had a plan B in place, in case the planet’s flora failed to do its part.

They seemed to have built some sort of trap around the source of their fabricated signal, armed with explosives that could be activated remotely.

As the last piece of information sank in, Uhura looked at Spock, aghast, but the First Officer was already having Chekov set course back to the planet, Warp 8, then reminded Scotty that his priority was to have the transporters fully functional on arrival, and finally ordered Sulu to get the Galileo ready as backup, just in case.

 


 

Having found no clues whatsoever, unable to determine even what strange material the bunker was built from, Kirk went back to the door. Certain that the daily hour of winter should be over by now, he wanted to have a closer look around outside.

He soon found, however, that the door, which the storm had slammed shut right behind them, didn’t open from the inside. They were locked in. Quelling the rising panic in his chest at the realisation, he first tried to kick it open, then used his phaser on it. But the door wouldn’t budge.

Kirk tried to burn a hole through it, then through the wall and even through the ceiling with his phaser. To no avail, since the phaser didn’t have the slightest impact on the material, even though it seemed to be permeable to air. He could definitely feel a breeze coming through the walls. At least, they wouldn’t suffocate in here.

Wanting McCoy and Hope to focus on Peterson and not worry them even more, Kirk turned around with a confident smile on his face.

“Only a matter of time until I’ve figured this out,” he said more to himself than to the others, earning him a trusting look from Hope and a rather sceptical one from the doctor.

Having suffered a severe concussion, Peterson was fading in and out of consciousness, and McCoy kept a close watch on his readings, hoping to God that he wouldn’t have to do any kind of field surgery with nothing but his medikit at hand, and praying that the Enterprise would just pop up out of nowhere, providing him with all the comforts of his well-equipped sickbay. He even vowed to never, ever again complain about the shortcomings of the ship’s sickbay, if only he could be back there again.

Looking at Hope, who made every effort to make Peterson comfortable, stroking his face and softly singing to him, the doctor knew they just had to get back to the Enterprise. This extraordinary young woman deserved so much better than going missing on her first assignment. There was so much potential in her. The brilliance, the resourcefulness, the creativity, the kindness, the love, just couldn’t be lost to the world. Not like this. Not, when they didn’t even know the reason.

Jenny looked down at Peterson’s pale face. She hadn’t known him very well before this assignment. But they had talked quite a bit during their hike, and she’d found him to be a really bright guy with very high expectations in life. She knew him in the best of hands with Dr. McCoy, of course, quite sure that his life was not in danger any longer. But what would happen to him, if they didn’t get back to the Enterprise? What would happen to all of them? Would this be the end? She’d come such a long way. And just for this?

Kirk was still relentlessly examining the room, scanning and patting down every inch of the walls, floor and ceiling to find some way to escape. He was worried about Peterson. About Hope and McCoy, too. But what was really driving him mad was the uncertainty of his ship’s fate. Where had they gone? Why hadn’t they informed him? Were they even still alive?

Feeling completely helpless, he kicked the floor hard in frustration, and suddenly heard the faintest echo, a sign that there was a hollow space underneath where he stood. Getting down on his knees, he groped around, hoping his fingers would find some sort of gap or crack, any proof that there was a door, an opening. When he didn’t have any luck, he tried his phaser again, and was immensely relieved, when he managed to burn a hole, and finally a bigger opening in the floor, revealing what seemed to be a narrow air shaft leading under the wall and outside or into another room.

McCoy was sitting on the floor next to Hope, her head resting on his shoulder, exhaustion finally having got the better of her, when Kirk gave them the good news. The captain had cleared the opening to an air shaft, which was, unfortunately, too narrow for him to squeeze through. Now he was searching their equipment for anything he could attach his tricorder to, in order to find out where the tunnel was leading.

“I could try,” Hope offered, suddenly wide awake again. “Maybe I can fit through?”

“Definitely not!” McCoy was appalled. “One heroic deed per day is certainly enough. We have no idea where this tunnel leads, how long it is, or what awaits on the other side.”

“Would you rather stay locked up in here?” Hope asked softly, then turned to Kirk, who didn’t look very happy with the idea, either.

“Please, Captain, let me try. I really want to get out of this place.”

 Kirk nodded slowly, shrugging apologetically at McCoy.

“Sorry, Bones, but Hope is right. We can’t just sit around here, doing nothing.”

Jenny got up, gently turning Peterson over to McCoy, glad for the chance to stretch her tingling legs. But before she could follow the captain to the air shaft, the doctor grabbed her hand and pulled her back down towards him.

“Be safe!” he whispered, and she saw his eyes well up as he looked at her imploringly, his other hand softly caressing her hair and her face.

Just two little words, but seeing how much he cared gave her the courage she needed.

“Don’t worry, Doctor,” she smiled at him reassuringly. “I’ll be back in a jiffy!”

And surprising herself, she gave him an impulsive peck on the cheek, before turning away again, the ghost of his stubble still lingering on her lips as she squeezed through the narrow opening and slowly crawled through the tunnel, fighting the slightly claustrophobic feeling.

Gazing after her, McCoy distractedly touched his cheek, where Hope’s lips had just brushed it. Letting go of her hand had been a real physical challenge. He needed her here, safely by his side, where he could protect her. He would certainly never forgive himself, or Jim for that matter, if something happened to her now.

And what a great job of protecting her you’ve done so far, Leonard! he thought sadly, the image of Hope almost being pulled into the water after Peterson still fresh in his mind.

Was he proud of her? Of course, he was! She was awesome. But the thought of something happening to her was simply unbearable.

Their cosy evening chats over coffee seemed like ages ago, and he’d give anything to see her dance with Chekov or sing with Uhura again. The thought struck him that Jim nearly hadn’t let him come on this mission, and he was filled with a sudden sense of gratitude, to fate, or whoever else had changed the captain’s mind at the last minute.

 


 

Hardly able to move in the narrow tunnel, Jenny was making slow progress, Kirk’s encouraging words the only thing to keep her from panicking. Luckily, the air shaft was just connecting the room they’d been in to another, smaller one behind the wall, and once she’d managed to push open the flap at the other end, and crawled out, she could breathe easy again.

Even though she knew he couldn’t come to her rescue, should she need help, she was glad that the captain was still within earshot, feeling less alone talking to him directly than on the communicator.

Taking in the small room, that was just as empty as the other one, the only thing that stood out was a sort of small device or computer, wires all over, leading in all directions, reminding her a little of the bombs found in almost every classic spy movie.

She froze.

“What is it, Hope?” Kirks concerned voice sounded from the air shaft.

“I think it’s some kind of explosive device, Captain,” she tried to report as calmly as possible.

There was a short silence, then Kirk asked, “Anything specific? Anything you can find out about its origin or how it works?”

Jenny circled the device slowly, careful not to touch it, and started to give a running commentary as she moved along.

“It doesn’t seem to be activated,” she observed, listening closely. “No lights, no noise, not even a hum. And it appears to be rather new. Very clean, anyway.”

Then she saw it, the tiniest plate, almost hidden by a bunch of wires. Angling the flashlight so she could see what was written on the plate, she gasped.

“Captain,” she swallowed hard, “it’s Klingon.”

“All right,” Kirk replied after a moment. “Save everything to your tricorder, and come back now.”

Jenny didn’t have to be told twice, even though she shuddered at the thought of having to crawl through that tunnel again, and made her way back in record time.

The first thing she saw, after the captain had pulled her out, were McCoy’s eyes lighting up, the immense relief written in his face, just like the worry had been earlier, and she felt his affection enwrapping her like a soft, warm blanket.

Just as Kirk started to wonder out loud, what in heaven’s name the Klingons had to do with anything, his communicator started to beep.

They all just stared at it in disbelief for a second, before the captain flipped it open and Spock’s beautiful voice filled the room.

Not even listening to what he was saying, Jenny first flung her arms around Kirk’s neck, squeezing him tight in a brief hug, then skipped over to where McCoy was sitting, and dropping to her knees, hugged him so tightly, he could hardly breathe.

Hugging her back and laughing with her, McCoy wanted nothing more than to hold her and never let go. But the doctor in him, of course, knew that Peterson had to be his priority right now. So, when Spock told them that two of the transporters were fully functional again, and asked them to return to the Enterprise immediately, he was more than happy to have Scotty beam him and a half-conscious Peterson up.

His happiness was brought to a sudden end, when the Chief Engineer cursed loudly on their arrival, and he could hear Spock tell the captain that, unfortunately, the transporter had just broken down again.

Feeling like the rug had been pulled from under his feet, McCoy had to draw on every ounce of professionalism he had, to stay focused on Peterson’s treatment, while his heart was filled with dismay at having left Hope behind.

Chapter Text

Hurrying along as Peterson was rushed to sickbay, McCoy felt sick to his stomach, his loathing of transporters at an all-time high. And as soon as the security officer was settled safely in sickbay and could be entrusted into Chapel’s care, the doctor left for the bridge to find out what was happening.

He arrived just in time to hear Spock tell the captain that it was imperative for him and Hope to either find a way to get out of that bunker, or defuse the device. Either way, they needed to hurry, since the Klingon ship was estimated to reach orbit in 1.8 hours.

Exchanging worried glances with Uhura, the doctor listened tensely, as Kirk discussed this with Hope and, for lack of escape routes, agreed to her going back through the air-shaft once more, in order to try and defuse the bomb.

“Are you insane?” McCoy exploded. “Hope is not a bomb disposal expert!”

Spock turned around and calmly looked at the doctor.

“I will guide her through every step, of course,” he said, then added almost as an afterthought, “Mr. Sulu is taking the Galileo to pick up Captain Kirk and Dr. Hope, Doctor. He is leaving in 7.3 minutes. I recommend you accompany him.”

McCoy didn’t care whether it was just to get him off the bridge, or because Spock thought his medical services might actually be needed. He gratefully grabbed the chance to have a part in getting the two of them home. And as he hurriedly left for the shuttle bay, picking up his medikit on the way, he was pretty convinced to have seen concern in the otherwise impassive Vulcan face, too.

With McCoy out of the way, Spock returned his full attention to Kirk and the matter at hand. He had to shield himself more than usual from the overflowing emotions of the bridge crew, sensing extreme distress, especially coming from Uhura and Chekov, his sensitivity probably heightened by his own burgeoning reservations.

Chekov was almost frozen with fear, working hard to keep his mind on his duties as navigator, while listening to Spock first talking to the captain, then to Jenny. He’d seen the terror in McCoy’s face, and although he didn’t have a clear picture of what had happened on the planet yet, he knew that Peterson had returned severely wounded, and that Jenny and Kirk were in immediate danger.

Jenny, his kind and sweet Jenny, having to defuse a bomb. It didn’t bear thinking about.

Hanging on every word that was exchanged between Spock and the two remaining members of the landing party, he could hear Kirk and Jenny having another hushed discussion about whether she should really take the risk, and pictured his brave friend singlehandedly disarm an unknown Klingon weapon.

 


 

In the bunker, Kirk tried to stay calm, wanting to radiate nothing but confidence, as he gently rested his hands on Hope’s shoulders and gazed deeply into her eyes.

“Be careful, Hope,” he said softly, “You’ve proven yourself an impressive Starfleet officer these past two days. I couldn’t be prouder. And I have complete confidence in you getting us out of here.”

Hope smiled up at him, touched by his praise and faith in her.

“I can do this, Captain,” she said in a steady voice, then turned around determinedly and slid into the tunnel.

Kirk stared after her, wishing it would be him rather than her, facing the danger behind the wall, and trying not to think about what McCoy must be going through right now. Knowing him, the poor doctor was certainly overcome with guilt at having left his friends behind.

When Hope had reached the other side, Spock had her carefully check the whole room for any other way to escape, wanting to leave the defusing of the bomb as their last resort. But when she was positive that there was no other exit, he knew there could be no further delay.

Before he let her touch any of the wires, however, Kirk heard Spock go through a couple of meditation exercises with Hope. They’d obviously done these exercises before, and Kirk was touched by his first officer’s thoughtfulness.

After taking one last deep breath, Hope started on her task. With Spock monitoring her every move via tricorder, she followed his directions to the letter, untangling, bending and cutting wires with the nimble fingers of a keyboard player. Even so, it took her longer than Spock had calculated, and if he’d been prone to nervousness, he might certainly have begun to feel that way.

Hope was so focused on her task, that she’d almost failed to notice a rectangular shape in the far wall starting to glow, then open like a door. It was only the sudden cool breeze that made her look up in surprise.

“Take your hands slowly off the wires,” she heard Spock say, audibly struggling to stay calm. “Get out at once, see if you can free the captain, and then run as fast and as far as you can. It appears the Klingons have joined us and are now activating their device.”

Fighting the urge to simply freak out and be done with it, Jenny grabbed her tricorder and sprinted through the opening. She ran around the building to the door through which they’d initially entered, and found it opening easily.

The captain was out in a flash, momentarily squinting against the sun as he mouthed a quick ‘Thank you’, then, breaking into a run, grabbed her by the hand and pulled her along.

They were less than a minute away, when they heard, and felt, the explosion behind them, throwing them to the ground. Scrambling to his feet as fast as he could, Kirk pulled Hope up with him and told her to just keep running.

The explosion had started a fire that seemed to be spreading extremely fast, setting off a number of smaller explosions all around the area. Not breaking his stride, Kirk pulled out his communicator.

“Spock! We got away, but we need to keep moving,” he panted. “The fire’s spreading fast. Any chance for a beam-up?”

“I’m sorry, no, Sir,” came the instant reply, and the captain could clearly hear the relief of knowing they made it out in Spock’s voice. “But Mr. Sulu and Dr. McCoy have taken the Galileo and are already close. They are scheduled to land in 20 minutes. Keep going in this direction, I’ll give them your coordinates.”

Looking back and seeing the flames and smoke approaching fast, Kirk shouted at Hope to pick up speed. He could see she was doing her best already, but he feared it was just not good enough. Then, distracted only for a second by the crackling flames gaining on them, she tripped and fell, her boot stuck under a root, and the captain could see her leg twisted at an awkward angle.

He hurried to her side, trying to help her up, but her agonised cry as she fell back to the ground told him that she was badly hurt. Not thinking twice, he removed her leg from under the root, trying not to look at her tear streaked face, scrunched up in pain, as he did so. Then he hoisted her inelegantly over his shoulder and set off running again.

Kirk tried to ignore the burning ache in his chest, focusing on keeping ahead of the flames, but after a few minutes had to stop and set her down for a moment. Hope was certainly anything but heavy, but still quite a weight to carry, if you were running for your life.

Seeing that the captain had reached his limits, Hope pleaded with him to continue without her.

Maybe this was it, she thought, maybe she’d beaten death once too often.

“Please, go, Captain!” she cried. “I’m just slowing you down. You need to get back to the Enterprise!”

Shaking his head vehemently, Kirk bent down to pick her up again, and she realised that he was never going to just leave her there. So she did the only thing she could do. She reached for his hand to pull herself up, and started to hobble as best she could, fear and shock pushing her beyond her limits.

Drawing on everything she’d ever learned from Spock regarding self-control, she managed to convince the captain that she was good to run on her own again. And whispering Dr. McCoy’s name like a mantra, visualising his kind face as he treated her injured leg, she somehow made her way to the shuttle, not quite sure if the Sulu and McCoy she saw there were real or just figments of her imagination.

 


 

When Spock informed Sulu and McCoy about the circumstances of Kirk and Hope’s escape, McCoy nearly had a heart-attack, not knowing if he was dying from fright or relief.

“My God, I should never have left without them!” he lamented, not even listening to Spock pointing out that his wish was illogical, since he couldn’t have helped them, anyway.

Sulu landed the Galileo at the coordinates the First Officer had given them, and McCoy could have cried with happiness, when he spotted Kirk and Hope come racing towards the shuttle.

Panting heavily, her face twisted in pain, Hope looked at him strangely as she reached for his outstretched hand and let him pull her up into the shuttle. The moment she was inside, she fell into his arms and promptly passed out, taking him completely by surprise, once again.

Cradling her limp form in his arms, he carried her further inside, throwing Kirk a questioning glance over his shoulder. The captain, who’d been hauled in by Sulu right behind Hope, shouted, “It’s her right leg, Bones,” then joined Sulu in the cockpit for immediate take-off.

McCoy eased her gently into a seat, reclining it as far as it would go. He was just about to give her a stimulant to wake her up, but thought better of it and carefully pried the boot off her right leg. What he saw there made him wince. This ankle was not just broken but shattered. He switched the hypo from stimulant to heavy sedative and got to work immediately. Beads of sweat forming on his forehead as he concentrated on his bone knitter, his mood alternated between rage with Jim, admiration for Hope‘s toughness and frustration with her silly recklessness.

As soon as the shuttle was safely on its way, Kirk left Sulu to it and joined McCoy at the back of the shuttle where the doctor was working on a still unconscious Hope’s ankle, muttering under his breath, a fierce look on his face.

When the captain approached, McCoy turned on him with accusing eyes.

“What happened, Jim?” he ranted. “How could you let her run on a broken ankle? How did she even manage to? No wonder she passed out from the pain. I can’t even begin to imagine how much it must have hurt.”

Kirk felt terrible, even without McCoy shouting at him. He should have realised the pain she was in. He should have insisted on carrying her.

“I did carry her for quite a bit,” he tried to explain quietly. “But we were going too slow, and she convinced me that she was all right running on her own, again. I’m not a doctor, Bones, and we’d probably both have died in the flames. You can’t outrun fire carrying someone even as light as Hope.”

“But you can, of course, run on a shattered ankle,” the doctor grumbled surlily, relenting a little when he saw Jim tenderly brush Hope’s hair from her face, looking genuinely remorseful.

When Jenny came to, she felt two things: pain and gentle hands combing through her hair and squeezing her shoulder. She opened her eyes and was surprised to see the captain’s worried face smiling down on her instead of the doctor’s.

“I‘m so sorry, Hope,” he said guiltily, “if I’d known how seriously injured you were, I’d never have allowed you to run.”

“There was no other way, Captain,” she whispered, her voice still hoarse from the smoke. “You wouldn’t have left me behind, and we’d both be dead now.”

Then she swallowed hard, worried, as Kirk’s words about her being seriously injured sank in.

“How serious are my injuries, anyway?” she asked hesitantly.

But the captain didn’t get a chance to answer, as a familiar grumpy voice told him to stop worrying his patient, and a disgruntled McCoy shoved him out of the way. Kirk’s friendly face was replaced by the reassuringly disapproving one of Dr. McCoy, who promptly started to rant at her.

“How could you do this to yourself? Torturing your ankle like that? Don’t you know there’s a reason why we feel pain? To stop us from hurting ourselves even more when we’re already injured? And with your bone material, too! You really should have known better!”

Jenny closed her eyes and let his words wash over her, taking comfort in the knowledge that the doctor would never rant at a patient like that, if it was really serious. He was just venting, pouring out all the pent-up fears and worries she’d caused him.

When he was done, she opened her eyes again, smiling up at him apologetically.

“You fixed my ankle, I take it?”

“Well,” he admitted grudgingly, “it took all of my surgical skills and then some, and we’ll still have to make improvements when we get to sickbay, but basically, yes, your ankle will be fine.”

With time,” he added after a moment, emphasising those last two words.

“Thank you, Doctor,” she smiled fondly, feeling wonderfully cared for and happy despite the pain.

McCoy sat down in the seat next to her and studied her face for a minute.

“Torturing your ankle like that!” he frowned, shaking his head. “Has it never occurred to you that I might not be able to fix it?”

Jenny pretended to think for a second or two, then grinned widely at him.

“No, Doctor, it hasn’t.”

“You’re as bad as Jim,” he grumbled, sighing exaggeratedly, his eyes betraying the strong affection he felt for both her and the captain.

Chapter Text

When they’d transferred Hope from the shuttle to sickbay, and he was finally satisfied with his work on her ankle, McCoy gave her a stronger sedative to ease the pain and let her rest.

Thank god for biobeds, he thought, as she kept trying to play down the pain that was so clearly visible from the readings above her head.

Watching her features slowly relax as the sedative took effect, he thought what an admirable, brave young woman she was. Trying to imagine what pain running all the way to the Galileo must have caused her, made him shudder. It had certainly done some major damage to her nerves and sinews and given him and his bone knitter a run for their credits.

He was relieved to see Hope slipping further into restful drowsiness, her eyes becoming more unfocused, and her breathing slowing down.

“So lucky, living on borrowed time,” she mumbled sleepily.

Or at least that’s what he heard.

“Sorry, what was that, my dear?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.

But she’d already dozed off.

Shaking his head fondly, he gently brushed a strand of sweaty, sooty hair from her forehead. She’d want to clean up properly, when she woke up again. And so might he, for that matter. With everything going on, he hadn’t had a minute to shower or change since he’d beamed up with Peterson. He’d do that as soon as he was sure that Hope was fast asleep and would be for some time.

Feeling a wave of affection washing over him, he let his hand linger a little on her cheek, smiling when she nestled comfortably into his touch.

“Sleep tight, love,” he whispered softly.

And just as he turned to leave, she murmured something that sounded suspiciously like, “Love you, too!”

So typically Hope. So sweet, it put a wide grin on his face while his heart skipped a beat. He was just glad no one else was close enough to overhear. He’d never hear the end of it, and she’d be mortified if she ever found out what she’d just said in her sleep.

Unable to leave her side just yet, McCoy sat down on the edge of her bed, tenderly caressing her face. But this time, she didn’t lean into his touch. She was truly out cold. And suddenly he realised that he missed it. That he wanted it, needed it, her response to his touch.

Uh oh, he thought, pulling his hand away quickly, tread carefully there, Leonard, there’s a very fine line between caring for a patient, a friend even, and ... this, whatever this is. But you definitely don’t want to cross that line.

He left sickbay without another glance at Hope, trying to think of anything but her. But, of course, every other thought was soon replaced again by the image of her trusting face and the memory of her small form snuggled so unreservedly into his arms as he carried her out of the shuttle.

 


 

Jenny woke up to a bustling crowd around her bed, making her smile even before she was quite awake. There were Uhura and Chekov, and the guys from the band, all chatting animatedly, obviously having a good time.

Somewhere further away, she could hear McCoy grumbling.

“This is still sickbay!” he blustered. “If you lot can’t behave, I’ll have you removed!”

Everyone just laughed, confident that he wouldn’t do so, and Jenny couldn’t help joining in.

Hearing her chuckle, there was a collective intake of breath as all eyes turned on her. Jenny was overwhelmed by all the affection she felt coming her way.

Uhura was the first to spring into action. Bending down to press a smacking kiss on her cheek and envelop her in a bear hug, she squeezed her so tightly that Jenny let out a squeak.

“Oh don’t be a wuss!” Uhura laughed, “I’m nowhere near your leg, and there’s nothing else wrong with you, is there?”

Chekov was next. Unlike Uhura, he bent down carefully, pecking her lightly on the cheek, treating her as if she were made of glass, and Jenny couldn’t resist reaching up to tousle his full shock of hair.

“Missed me?” she asked no one in particular.

“You scared the shit out of us, Jen!” Ben, their lead guitarist blurted out, earning a withering look from Uhura.

“Don’t mind him, love,” she turned back to Jenny. “Maybe when he grows up, he’ll remember his manners.”

Jenny looked around. She’d missed that. The easy banter with her friends. Even though she’d only been gone for a couple of days.

A big, grateful smile spread across her face as she realised that she’d found a new home, a new family on the Enterprise. And when she spotted McCoy through the doorway and their eyes met, she had a feeling he might just have thought the same thing.

 


 

McCoy enjoyed having her in sickbay, where he could keep a close eye on her, immensely. After the recent events, he felt he deserved a break from the constant worrying. And seeing her happily surrounded by her friends warmed his heart. Exactly what she needed. Although, being as popular as she was, the constant stream of visitors never stopped, and he had to intervene sometimes. She was still on painkillers and needed to rest.

Jenny was amazed by how many people came to see her, enjoying the visits that made her days confined to bed seem to go faster. But lovely as everyone was, sometimes she just wanted to sleep and was grateful that McCoy turned her visitors away, when it got too much for her. He knew that she didn’t have the heart to do it herself. One of the many little things he did for her, she thought affectionately.

Thinking of McCoy made her smile. He seemed to spend even more time than usual in sickbay now, which she’d noticed with a mixture of amusement and gratitude. He had no idea, of course, how much his care meant to her. And sometimes, she felt sorry for him being such a worrywart, since he was never able to relax. But knowing that he cared so much, that he was always looking out for her, filled her with a blissful sense of security, she’d never dreamed of finding.  

Like right now, late into Beta shift, when she saw him coming in, carrying two mugs of coffee. Having decided that sickbay was as good a place as any to have coffee, the doctor had suggested they resume their evening routine, and Jenny enjoyed the continuation of their cosy chats immensely.

Setting the mugs down on her bedside table, he searched her face in this kind but earnest way that was so typical of him, while gently helping her to a comfortable position.

“Beetroot on your mind?” he asked softly, his face full of compassion.

“How did you know?” she asked, genuinely surprised.

The doctor just smiled.

“I’m a mind reader.”

“Sure,” Jenny laughed, feeling a little uneasy. But maybe that was exactly what he wanted. He was a pretty good psychologist. She knew that he would bring up her ‘troubles’ again, too, sometime, and just hoped that it would be later rather than sooner.

“Maybe you’re not as unfathomable as you think you are,” he went on, his twinkling eyes never leaving her face. “I’ve known you for a while now, Hope. And just as I can see when you’re in pain, I can see when something is bothering you. You’re usually such a cheerful person, it’s not difficult to spot the difference when you’re not.”

“Can’t fool you, can I?” she asked, hoping to sound flirtatious rather than worried.

McCoy just tilted his head a little to the side and shrugged.

Damn, if he didn’t know how to coax someone into opening up.

Chapter Text

Hope’s ankle was healing very slowly, which she bore with badly concealed impatience, but which was to be expected, as McCoy kept reminding her, considering her bone structure.

At least Hope never lacked entertainment, as visitors kept coming and going at all times. Some coming just to keep her company, others coming for a talk with the ‘agony aunt‘, as the doctor often affectionately called her. They kept her busy, and she obviously didn’t mind. And neither did he, as long as she got enough rest as well.

“You’re certainly my most popular patient,” McCoy smiled, pleased to see her returning to her happy, untroubled self a little more with every day.

“How can you even walk on those tiny feet of yours?” the doctor joked, standing at the foot of her bed, gently checking her ankle and watching her face intently for signs of pain as he carefully tilted her foot this way and that.

Then he put on a stern face, and Jenny knew she was in for another lecture.

“You’ll want to be more careful in the future, my dear. If you torture your ankle like that again, next time, I might not be able to fix it,” he grumbled good-naturedly, then added with a wry grin,” At least your nail polish hardly got scratched.”

“Thank God for small mercies!” Jenny laughed, McCoy’s sense of humour never failing to cheer her up, and thinking how much she enjoyed the delicate touch of his hands on her foot.

 


 

Hope’s next visitor was a very subdued Scotty, gingerly slinking into her room, then, after the slightest hesitation, surprising her with a brief but very tight hug.

“Ach, lassie,” he sighed, “I’m so sorry I put you through all of this! I’d have come to see you sooner, too, but that bloody excuse for a transporter just wouldn’t give me a break.”

“Don’t apologise, Scotty,” Hope smiled at the dismayed man. “It’s hardly your fault! You did everything you could. You always do.”

Shrugging helplessly, Scotty smiled at her apologetically.

“If there ever was a time for me to pull off a miracle, it would surely have been when the Enterprise’s queen of hearts was in danger.”

“Enough already!” Hope laughed, blushing a little and slapping Scotty’s arm playfully.

“Seriously, lassie,” the chief engineer went on, “I was dying a little every time I had to give you lot the bad news of yet another problem with the transporter. Turns out Spock’s blasted rock left little souvenirs all over the ship when it exploded. You never know where the next one will pop up. Spock and my lads are still trying to figure it all out.”

“I won’t keep you long, then, Scotty,” Hope smiled, sensing his restlessness. “Thanks for coming by! Now get back to your lads. I feel a lot safer knowing that you’re taking care of the ship.”

 


 

“How’s my favourite human super weapon?” Uhura bounced on the edge of Jenny’s bed.

“Almost as good as new,” Jenny beamed at her bubbly friend, chuckling at yet another one of the strange terms of endearment Uhura always came up with. “The doctor says, I can go back to my quarters by the end of next week.”

Uhura didn’t miss a certain lack of enthusiasm at the prospect, questioning, not for the first time, Jenny’s true feelings for McCoy. But right now, there was a more pressing mystery on her mind.

“Sounds great, sugar! And now I want to know everything about the real Jennifer Hope.”

“What do you mean?” Jenny frowned, not sure where this was going.  

“No need to be coy, darling, this is just between us,” Uhura assured her with a conspiratorial wink. “That’s why I didn’t bring any of the gang! You can tell me, I’m your friend, and I’m just dying to know!”

“Know what exactly?” Jenny was getting really confused and a little worried now.

“About you being a human super weapon, silly!” Uhura exclaimed, getting impatient.  

“A what? I thought this was just another of your weird nicknames for me.”

“You mean you don’t have a secret sealed Starfleet file?”

“What? You tell me, since you seem to know so much about me, anyway! Or ask Starfleet, I’m sure they’ll be happy to help you out.”

Jenny was getting a little annoyed now. She knew and adored Uhura’s nosiness, but this was starting to sound like an interrogation.

“So, you’re saying the Klingons have no reason to believe you’re this super weapon?”

“The Klingons?” This was getting really peculiar now. “Why would the Klingons think that? 

“Well, it’s why they tried to kill you and the captain in the first place!”

Jenny was shocked.

“This was about me? What are you even saying, Nyota?”

“They thought you were here on a secret mission,” Uhura admitted, realising that no one had obviously bothered to fill Jenny in on the details, and beginning to wonder if she might be barking up the wrong tree. She was certainly sorry for having upset her friend.

Jenny had to laugh at the very idea of a secret mission.

“Nyota, I’m far from being a human super anything!” she assured Uhura. “Starfleet agreed to give me a chance to serve on a starship despite my handicaps. And Captain Kirk is the one to make the final decision after my trial period on the Enterprise is over. Maybe that’s not something I like to advertise, but it’s certainly not a secret mission!” 

Before Uhura got the chance to say anything else, McCoy came barging into the room, shooing the communications officer away under some medical pretext. The two women had been talking loudly enough for him to hear in the next room, and he couldn’t listen to Hope being badgered another minute. Her referring to her medical issues as handicaps had especially upset him. After all she’d achieved on her first mission with a landing party, they hardly seemed to matter at all. She should be so proud of herself!

He hadn’t forgotten about Hope’s other issues, of course, and he still wanted to find out everything about her. But not Uhura’s way. Not by interrogating her like this. That would only serve to make her clam up again. 

Besides, Hope needed to come to terms with the beetroot incident first. Helping her with that had to take precedence over everything else. He certainly didn’t want to lose her trust by excessive prying.

 


 

Jenny was getting fed up with having to ask for help for every little thing. So, when Chekov came to see her the next time, and knowing that he wouldn’t refuse her any request, she talked him into helping her get up to try how far she could walk on her own.

Not very far, as it turned out when she went crashing to the floor after only her second step, with Chekov barely able to catch her in time, and McCoy coming running at the noise.

The doctor stood there, hands on hips, his face thunderous, as he watched Chekov clumsily lifting Hope back into bed.

“What do you think you’re doing, young lady?” he roared, picking up a tricorder and hurrying to her side to scan her ankle.

Jenny had rarely seen the doctor so furious, feeling really bad about having caused this. She looked sheepishly at Pavel, who’d turned a deep shade of red at McCoy’s outburst, quite obviously intimidated.

When the doctor had finished his scan with an angry grunt, he turned on Chekov, eyes blazing.

“And you, young man,” he told the navigator in his best no-nonsense voice, “don’t give her any more stupid ideas! She doesn’t even wiggle a toe without my say-so!”

Jenny’s heart went out to Chekov, when she saw him visibly shrink in the face of the doctor’s wrath. She’d have to make this up to him somehow.

“I’m so sorry, Doctor!” she tried to sooth McCoy’s anger. “It was my idea, not Chekov’s. And I promise to be a model patient from now on!”

How could he stay angry with her, when she looked at him with those puppy eyes?

Heaving a sigh, he made for the door, and with another grunt and a glare over his shoulder, told them, “Chekov, out! And Hope, you’ll need to rest for a while now, but I might just give you the sedative after I’ve fixed the damage you’ve just inflicted on your ankle. Some people need to be taught a lesson.”

Returning a minute later, hypo in hand, he let Hope worry for another moment, before smiling mildly at her.

“You didn’t really think I’d be so cruel?” McCoy asked, eyes twinkling with mischief.

Hope just shrugged, looking a little doubtful.

“Lesson learned?” he asked, grinning at his clearly remorseful patient.

“Yes, Doctor,” Hope nodded eagerly, then added with the most heart-warming smile, “and I’m really sorry. This was terribly stupid of me.”

And just like that, McCoy’s anger was gone.

 


 

Even with the sedative he’d given her, Hope was in enough pain when McCoy was done with her ankle for him to give her another, stronger dose for the night. It would make her drowsy and a little woozy, but also help her find much needed restful sleep.

When she’d stopped fidgeting and started drifting off, he perched on the edge of her bed and couldn’t resist caressing her cheek soothingly, smiling as he felt her snuggle into his hand, as he’d thought she would. In her dazed state, she didn’t even try to hide how comfortable it made her feel.

She was such an incredibly strong woman, he thought, and yet, looking at her lying here, she was just a little girl in need of security and protection.

When he thought she’d finally dozed off, she opened her eyes again and sleepily murmured, “Thank you, Doctor, for always taking care of me. I haven’t had that before.”

“Oh, I find that hard to believe,” he replied softly, continuing to gently run his thumb over her cheek, and thinking that most everybody would gladly take care of a lovely and brilliant girl like her.

“How can I ever repay your kindness?” she asked quietly, lifting blurry eyes to his, her words slow and a little slurred under the effect of the sedative.

McCoy’s chest tightened a little at that.

“Why would you even think you’d have to repay anything?” he asked, hoping that it had just been her clouded mind speaking and instinctively cradling her head protectively in his hand. “We care about each other here on the Enterprise. You of all people should know that. And you surely have shown enough kindness of your own since you came aboard.”

“I haven’t had that before,” she repeated drowsily before finally succumbing to sleep.

McCoy regarded her sleeping face thoughtfully, his hand continuing to caress her of its own accord, his heart breaking at the thought that she might really be so unaccustomed to being cared for.

How could a warm and beautiful woman, who everybody adored, have felt so alone?

Chapter Text

It was late. McCoy’s shift had ended hours ago, but there’d been so much desk work to catch up on, it had kept him in sickbay until now. That and the fact that Hope’s ankle was still too weak for her to return to her quarters, which meant that she had to stay in sickbay for the time being. Which, again, meant that McCoy spent as much time as he could there to keep an eye on her.

Or maybe he just liked to be near her, since there was no real medical problem for him to worry about, as Christine had pointed out to him several times recently, always with that annoying, knowing smile on her lips.

Before he left sickbay for his quarters, he went to check on Hope one last time. She was fast asleep, her face calm and relaxed, and McCoy just stood there, studying her lovely features and feeling the by now familiar surge of affection he always felt when he looked at her small form, so vulnerable in sleep.

He’d been rather fond of her from the start, if he was honest with himself. But this last mission had brought them closer together, as going through danger together does. He’d only realised how much she really meant to him, when she’d been alone and in jeopardy, saving the mission all by herself. He’d been worried sick. Couldn’t have been more so, if Scotty or someone else he’d known far longer had been in her place. And when he’d abandoned her and Jim on that planet he’d thought he’d die from worry and guilt.

No use denying it, she was incredibly important to him. He needed her to be safe and happy. Therefore, he’d have to find out more about her. About if and what was really troubling her. While she was like an open book to him in many ways - he could always tell if she was genuinely happy or just pretending, if she was upset, a little nervous, scared or pissed off, he still knew next to nothing about her past, her circumstances. 

As her friend, he wanted to know everything about her. But as her doctor, he needed to know more, at least. That would be his next project.

While all those thoughts were playing around in his head, Hope’s expression changed. Her face crumpled, she got agitated and started to moan and toss her head from side to side, struggling against invisible restraints, and whimpering unintelligible words that didn’t even sound English.

McCoy was at her side in an instant, just as she sat bolt upright, staring at him confusedly and fearfully. He grabbed her by the shoulders, shaking her lightly and calling her name, trying to extract her from her nightmare. When she didn’t wake up and started to fight him instead, struggling to break away from his grip, he put his arms tightly around her, clutching her to him, in an attempt to calm and soothe her.

 


 

Jenny woke up with a start, glad to have escaped this nightmare, trying to get her head around where she was and what had happened. It slowly came back to her that she was on the Enterprise, still in sickbay, and surprisingly found herself in Dr. McCoy’s arms, struggling hard against his strong embrace.

She stopped fighting him at once, her body going rigid with embarrassment. But when she heard his gentle voice close to her ear, murmuring, “Easy, I’m here, I’ve got you,” she slumped against his chest, letting exhaustion take over, actually quite enjoying the safety of his arms around her.

Feeling her giving up the fight and melting into his embrace, McCoy loosened his grip but didn’t let go, continuing to murmur soothing words and gently rubbing her back. When Hope’s breathing had evened out and her trembling had stopped, he withdrew a little and held her at arm’s length to look at her.

“Bad dream, eh?” he enquired softly.

“Yes, sorry about that,” she smiled self-consciously at him. “Did I hurt you?”

“Don’t worry, you didn’t,” he replied kindly. “Want to talk about it?”

“No, Doctor, I’m good, thank you. In fact, I don’t even remember what the dream was about.”

McCoy examined her face closely, trying to catch her eye while she obviously avoided looking at him.

“You know, I don’t believe that for a minute. But you don’t have to tell me, if you don’t want to.”

He put a gentle hand to her chin, lifting her face up so that she had to look at him properly.

“Just know that I’ll be there if you change your mind. You’ve been through a lot lately, quite a lot to deal with. And I’ll be there for you whenever you’re ready, okay?”

“Thank you, Doctor, but I’ll be fine. It was just a bad dream,” she mumbled shyly, looking away again, her eyes welling up the tiniest bit.

Kindness always got to her, he’d noticed before. Another peculiarity, not fitting in with the rest of her personality at all. She always seemed kind of embarrassed, almost as if she didn’t feel worthy of it. He’d have to follow that up another time.

“All right. But if there’s anything I can do, just ask, okay?”

“Okay, but there’s nothing I need, Doctor, honestly,” she assured him after the shortest pause, and, of course, McCoy picked up on it instantly.

“There is something, after all, isn’t there?” he urged gently. “Why don’t you just ask? You’re the kindest person I know, and yet you have problems accepting kindness from others. You really have to learn to ask for what you need!”

Hope returned her gaze towards him, and he could see her weighing her options. He knew she wanted to ask for something and hoped she could bring herself to do so.

Finally, she almost whispered, “Well, maybe you could…”

Her voice trailed off again.

“Could what?” McCoy asked encouragingly.

Hope hesitated a little more before continuing, “Maybe you could hold me a little longer? Like you did before? To help me go back to sleep?”

McCoy was surprised, but not unpleasantly so.

“I’d love to,” he smiled, wrapping her in a bear hug and pulling her close, as Hope buried her face in his chest.

“That wasn’t so hard, now, was it?” he chuckled, “Told you, all you need to do is ask.”

Hope shook her head, snuggling a little closer.

“Long time since someone held you?” McCoy asked softly, his heart going out to the little girl without family in her.

“You have no idea,” Hope sighed, as another wave of affection washed over him, feeling her slight figure nestled so trustingly into his arms, grateful for the chance to give her what she so desperately needed.

Suddenly the memory of her explaining the German word ‘geborgen’ to Uhura flashed through his mind, and he wondered if she was feeling that now. He’d like to think so, the thought making him smile and sending a warm tingle down his spine.

 


 

Jenny had no idea how long they stayed like that. She knew she should draw out of his embrace, it had been a childish thing to ask in the first place. But it just felt so good. She felt safe and cared for in his arms like she couldn’t remember ever having felt before. And she wanted to hold on to the feeling for as long as she could.

She was immensely tired, and the warmth of McCoy’s embrace along with his gently rubbing her back and his soothing voice soon started to lull her back to sleep.

When she got drowsy, her body and eyelids growing heavy, she felt the doctor gently lowering her back on the bed, tucking the blanket around her. Jenny wanted to thank him, but fell asleep before she could even open her mouth, the last thing she felt before nodding off being him tenderly running his fingers through her hair.

McCoy kept stroking her head a little longer, until he was sure she was fast asleep again. Her hair felt soft and silky between his fingers. Pleasantly natural, not stiff from being sprayed into submission like most other women's he knew. 

Standing up, he smiled down at her lovely face, now relaxed and serene in sleep again, wondering about so many things at once. On the one hand, she was such an easy-going, upfront person, an open book to him in many respects. But on the other hand, she was a complete mystery to him. There were so many things about her that just didn’t add up.

He thought about finally going to his quarters, his bed calling to him invitingly, but just couldn’t bring himself to leave her. Whatever nightmare had haunted her, might come back any time. And he’d want to be there for her. After all she’d gone through recently, it was not entirely surprising that she should have nightmares, but he somehow sensed that this had been about something else, something deeper. More than just processing the events of their recent mission.

Where was it all coming from, though? Being such a cheerful, happy girl, always thoughtful of others, it was hard to imagine that deep down she could be so troubled. She was only young, what in God's name could she already have gone through? Hope might not even remember the whole thing in the morning. But he would. And if there was anything to find out, he was determined to do so.

With a small sigh, giving up the thought of a good night’s sleep, he pulled up a chair beside Hope’s bed and sat down, getting settled for a long night watching over his favourite patient.

Looking at her familiar face, he tried not to think about why he cared so much, or why she occupied such a big part of his thoughts, focusing on finding out what was really bothering her and how to help her instead.

He made a mental list of everything he knew about her, which didn’t amount to much, he had to admit. Even the Starfleet file he had on her was sketchy at best. He’d have to get her to talk about herself, if he wanted to find out more.

 


 

McCoy had no idea how long he’d been sitting there, and he must have nodded off at some point, because the next thing he knew was Christine gently shaking him awake and Hope smiling at him guiltily.

Jenny had woken up feeling rested and happy, to find the good doctor slumped in a chair next to her bed, snoring gently. She’d immediately felt bad for having caused him an uncomfortable night, but at the same time found it immensely heart-warming that he should care so much about her. Since she was quite sure that her medical condition was in no way alarming, she could only presume that he hadn’t wanted to leave her alone at the prospect of another nightmare.

“Good morning, Doctor! I’m so sorry to have caused you an unnecessary sleepless night,” she said ruefully.

“Not at all, my dear,” he drawled, his voice still rough from sleep. “Firstly, I did get some sleep, obviously, and, secondly, I’ve had many a sleepless night before. But it’s never been because of anything nearly as pleasant as holding a beautiful lady and watching over her that’s kept me awake. Let me get us some breakfast now.”

With that he got up and went to get them coffee and something to eat, with Hope calling after him not to bother and, please, get some proper sleep.

He returned with two trays, setting them down carefully on her bedside table, and sat back down in his chair, grinning.

“Since we’ve spent the night together, it’s only fair that we have breakfast together, too.”

Chapel snorted behind them, and Hope’s cheeks flushed adorably, which he noted with a satisfied glint in his eye. It was just too much fun to make her blush like that. She was the sweetest thing.

Chapter Text

After two long weeks confined to bed, McCoy finally declared Jenny fit to return to her quarters, if not to duty. No matter how much she pleaded with him, he remained firm. Absolutely no strain on her ankle until it was fully healed. That meant she was allowed to hobble around her quarters, but that was about it. Wherever else she wanted to go, she’d still have to ask for help.

While she didn’t mind asking one of her friends to take her to the mess for a meal or to sickbay to at least help with some tasks she could easily carry out sitting down, which McCoy grudgingly agreed to, she really missed the dancing, the yoga and the workout. At least she could go back to practicing with the band, something she was immensely grateful for.

Her friendship with Uhura had been a little awkward for a couple of days after their heated discussion about her alleged secret life, but Uhura had been really sorry for more or less accusing her of being an impostor and apologised over and over again.

Jenny wasn’t one to hold a grudge, so she’d asked her friend to tell her everything she’d found out from the Klingon communications, and to be blunt about it, not wanting any unspoken questions lingering between them, and they ended up having quite a good laugh at the Klingons’ expense.

Leaving sickbay felt a little like moving house, with all the little presents from her many visitors that had piled up around her bed. But Christine and Peterson, who’d fully recovered long before Jenny and wouldn’t stop thanking her for saving his life, offered to help her get everything back to her quarters.

And McCoy, who she thought looked as unhappy at her leaving as she felt, promised to check up on her in her quarters later that evening, wanting to make sure that she could easily manage to be on her own. The doctor had been kind to her and looked after her from the start, but ever since the night of her nightmare, he’d become almost overprotective. And pathetic as she probably was, she revelled in his solicitude.

 


 

McCoy kept glancing at the chronometer in sickbay, willing it to move faster. He’d said he’d be at Hope’s quarters in the evening, and he couldn’t be early, that would look too eager. But even though he was quite sure that she was fine on her own, having promised to keep a communicator on her at all times just to keep him off her back, the image of her lying on the floor of her quarters, hurt after a fall, kept popping into his worried mind.

He knew he was completely overreacting, but he’d become so used to making sure she was okay at all times over the past two weeks, he found going back to a normal routine extremely hard. Of course, he was aware of being prone to excessive worrying and overprotectiveness. It had often been an issue between him and an exasperated Jim, who, due to his recklessness, was usually the cause of his concern. But he definitely had to get a grip on his obsession with Hope’s safety ever since he’d abandoned her in that bunker. She needed a friend, not a guardian.

When it was finally time to go and see her, and he found her perfectly well and unharmed, he relaxed. He’d never been to her quarters before, and took the chance to have a good look around. Maybe he’d find some answers, some clues among her personal effects.

Contrary to what he’d expected, Hope’s quarters were rather plain. Brimming with creativity, he’d somehow imagined her to have lots of junk, souvenirs, knick-knack. But apart from a few drawings that Ella and the other children had made for her, the walls were bare. There were no ornaments, not even holographs, aside from a retro-style photo frame holding a two-dimensional picture of two little girls, grinning toothily at him.

Following his gaze, Hope went to pick up the picture, lovingly running a finger over the girls’ faces.

“Who are these two beauties?” McCoy asked, registering the tenderness with which she looked at the girls.

“The daughters of a friend, who I used to babysit when I was still at …” she faltered for a second, her eyes starting to tremble faintly, then continued, “at the Academy.”

McCoy regarded her intently, wondering what it had been that she’d actually wanted to say before thinking better of it.

“Do you miss them?”

It was a simple enough question, but Hope looked at him, as if she hadn’t understood it, or, at least, as if she had to think long and hard about the answer.

“I do, yes, of course I do,” she said at last, looking flustered.

“You’ve never mentioned them. How are they?”

The only picture she had in her quarters was of them, they had to be pretty special to her. 

“I…, we haven’t talked in a long time,” she stammered, clearly uneasy discussing this, but McCoy couldn’t let it go.

He hated to do this to her, but now that he’d finally found something personal, something from her past, he just had to pursue it.

“Don’t you talk via subspace? Or at least send messages?” he tried to dig a little deeper.

“No, we can’t, they can’t, we had a falling-out,” she finished lamely, looking anywhere but him.

It was an outright lie, and she knew that he knew. It made him incredibly sad. He’d really thought she trusted him.

“Drop it, Hope,” he said quietly. “Please don’t lie to me.”

Her face falling at his last words, she sat down heavily in the chair by her desk, looking so miserable, he wanted nothing more than to tell her it was all right. But it wasn’t.

Sinking into her couch, he gazed at her for a long minute, the hurt, the worry, the disappointment, the affection, all fighting for predominance in his chest.

“I’m so sorry, Doctor,” she whispered, and he could see that she was close to tears.

“Don’t you think it’s about time you told me the truth?” he asked as gently as he could, affection clearly having won the fight, his wish to help her stronger than ever. “Talk to me, Hope!”

She looked like a deer caught in the headlights.

“You’ve lost weight again, you’re having nightmares, you get upset by the most unexpected things. Whatever is bothering you, I really need to know. As CMO I need to know everything about the crew. It might be of utmost importance in an emergency.”

Hope just looked at him imploringly.

“What about honesty among friends?” McCoy went on, looking her straight in the eye. “I thought we were friends. Do you know how much it hurts that you feel the need to lie to me?”

It was blackmail, he was quite aware of that, but he was beyond caring. Whatever it took to get to the truth. Judging from her pained expression, she was dying to pour her heart out to him. So why didn’t she?

Taking a deep breath, he got up and went over to where she was sitting, crouching down beside her and gently taking her hand in his, turning her chair around to face him.

“Whatever it is, I can help. Let me help.”

“But you can’t,” she whispered, choking back the tears that were forming in her eyes. “Nobody can.”

“But that's what friends are for,” he insisted.

“If you really want to help, stop asking questions, Doctor. Please! There's nothing I can tell you.”

She was getting desperate now, and it broke his heart to see her so distraught.

“All right,” the doctor relented, standing up and starting to pull his hands away, but Hope wouldn’t let go. “If you change your mind, I’ll still be here. I’m not going anywhere.”

Still clinging to his hand, she raised her eyes, and he could see the relief and gratitude shining from them.

“Thank you, Doctor. I promise it’s just something personal, concerning no one but myself, nothing serious, nothing dangerous, nothing to worry about, and certainly nothing you or anybody could help me with.”

The words were tumbling out of her now.

“I’ve got to get through this on my own. Starfleet made me sign a confidentiality agreement. So, if you’re my friend, please leave well alone. And if you really want to help, let’s not talk about this anymore. Help me keep my mind off it, make me laugh, don’t question me, just take me as I am.”

McCoy was flabbergasted. Had she just said Starfleet knew all about her issues, but wouldn’t let her talk about them? It would certainly explain why her file was so sketchy, her background so obscure. And why the Klingons had made such a big deal out of it. But why would they do this?  

It could only mean that whatever had happened to her family wasn’t supposed to leak to the public. Starfleet was trying to cover something up. And burdening a young, defenceless woman with keeping their secret in the process.

“Right, no more questions,” he promised, gently squeezing her hand that was still holding on tightly to his. And knowing he had to get out before his anger at Starfleet, that was building up inside him, got the better of him, he went on, “I’m going to get us some coffee, my dear. I think we need it. I’ll be back in a minute.”

Hope nodded and let go of his hand, surprising him with a fierce hug and a kiss on the cheek, then, her own cheeks blushing a bright red, apologised with a startled smile.

“Don’t worry, darling,” he grinned, “I get that all the time. Women just can’t resist my charm.”

And with a wink, he quickly stepped out of her quarters, feeling his own blush creeping up his neck, and exhaled deeply when the doors swished shut behind him.

Hope’s emotions were all over the place, her reactions more than slightly over the top. But for the moment, the doctor thought it best to do what she’d asked him to. He didn’t want to lose her trust, and he needed some time to process what he’d just learned and to verify whatever he could with Starfleet.

Although, strangely, contrived and made up as it all sounded, he believed her. And he was convinced that she’d reached an emotional state in which she’d soon confide in someone anyway. And that someone should be him.

 


 

Jenny was mortified. Had she really just done that? What was wrong with her? She’d really have to get a grip on herself. Embarrassing the man who did everything to help her, who could take away her fears with just a comforting touch of his hand, was certainly a bad idea.

Ever since McCoy had found out about her not having a family, she’d been on tenterhooks, almost paranoid about saying something wrong, about giving anything else away. She’d tried to be so careful. And now she’d gone and told him way too much, anyway.

But she couldn’t help it, she was falling for this gentle, kind-hearted man who had taken her under his wing when she’d first arrived on the Enterprise and had so caringly looked after her ever since.

If only he knew. If only I could tell him.

 


 

When McCoy returned with the coffee, there were also a couple of sandwiches on the tray.

“Don’t argue!” he said firmly, when he saw her eyeing the food warily. “If you want that coffee, you’ll have to take the sandwich, too.”

Setting the tray down on her desk, he suddenly turned on her and lifted her up, bridal style, making her squeal in surprise, and grinning wickedly at her, as she struggled to hold on to him.

“See?” he asked mischievously, as he gently eased her down in her chair. “Bad things can happen, when you’re too light.”

“Oh, Doctor,” she laughed, obediently reaching for a sandwich now, “you nearly gave me a heart attack! Did they not teach you not to scare your patients?”

McCoy smiled at her, his heart swelling with affection at the enjoyment in her eyes.

“That’s better,” he said quietly, “I’ve really missed your laugh.”

“Thank you, Doctor,” Hope smiled at him fondly, “I’m so lucky to have you.”

Then she added, looking earnestly into his eyes, “I just wish everybody had a Dr. McCoy in their life.”

The doctor was so touched by her words, he didn’t know what to say. Coming from anybody else, he would have been flattered by the nice compliment. But the way she’d said it, so sincere and heartfelt, it had almost sounded like a declaration of love to him.

His voice failing him, he just smiled at her, letting his eyes do the talking, as he sat down on the couch and reached for his coffee.

Desperate to change the subject, McCoy looked around the room for inspiration, and his eyes fell on a stuffed pink elephant sitting on her bed.

“That one looks pretty well loved,” he smiled. “I like it, it’s sweet.”

Hope laughed.

It is a she, and she’s been with me forever. She never disagrees with me, and she never tells me to eat more, either!” she added teasingly. “A friend gave her to me.”

“A boyfriend?” McCoy asked, immediately cursing himself and wishing he could eat his words when he saw her eyes fill with tears.

You really need to think before you open your big mouth, you idiot!

But something had compelled him to ask. Was he jealous of somebody else who might mean something to her? For some reason, he’d never even considered her being involved with someone away from the Enterprise. Until now.

Hating himself for having been so insensitive, he leant forward to touch her cheek and gently cup it in his hand, desperately searching for words of comfort. But Hope beat him to it.

"He was going to be a doctor," she smiled at the memory, "He might have been a bit like you, actually. "

"Didn't he finish medical school?"

He just couldn’t help himself. It must have been jealousy.

Hope looked away.

“I’m not sure if he did, he's dead now, anyway," she broke off.

Damn! He was such a fool.

Hearing the pain in her voice, McCoy felt his own eyes well up, too. What had he done? He was a terrible friend. A terrible doctor.

“Want to talk about it?” he asked quietly.

But Hope shook her head, unable to keep the tears from falling anymore.

So he got up and went to her side of the desk, wordlessly pulling her to her feet and into his arms, where he held her for the longest time, as she silently wept into his chest.

Chapter Text

Jenny’s ankle was healing nicely, and so, it seemed, was her soul.

The other evening in her quarters, McCoy had held her until she’d had no tears left. It had been a cathartic experience, and she’d felt so much better afterwards.

When she’d finally pulled away, he’d seemed almost reluctant to let her go, and, for a moment, she’d even thought he was going to kiss her. Or something. But then he’d turned away abruptly, obviously thinking better of it – whatever it was.

He’d sat back down on her couch, reached for his coffee, and gruffly told her to get on with that sandwich already. True to his word, he hadn’t asked a single question after that, other than what she was going to do first, when her ankle was fully healed.

The following days, he’d kept his promise and tried to make her laugh as often as he could, the unusual role reversal alone enough to cheer her up.

In only a few days, especially after being cleared for duty again, she felt happy and almost carefree once more, grateful for the doctor’s support. Knowing that it would cheer her up the most, he’d even allowed her a few slow dances with Chekov, watching them like a hawk, in case they dared to slip in a few bold Salsa, or – God forbid – even Rock’n’Roll moves.

 


 

Kirk was getting bored. After the excitement of their last mission, the uneventful weeks that followed seemed to drag on. You could only play so many games of chess. And even though he was fitter than he’d been in a long time, having spent hours in the gym every day, he felt tired and worn down.

Therefore, he was almost glad when they received a distress signal from a small outpost in their sector of the galaxy that stationed only six men. They had been exploring and studying some natural phenomena, unique to the small star system, when the equivalent of a volcano had erupted right next to them on the planetoid their outpost was stationed on.

Even though the Enterprise had been relatively close by when the distress call had come in, it still took them more than a solar day to reach the outpost. And they were even further delayed, when extremely erratic radiation readings following the eruption made beaming impossible, and they had to use a shuttle instead.

Communication with the outpost had broken down several hours ago, but they still hoped to be able to save all six of the men. Kirk limited the shuttle crew to McCoy, Sulu for the challenging navigation, and Hope for both medical assistance and communications, in order to have enough room for the men they intended to rescue.

When they arrived, to McCoy’s dismay two of the men were already dead, and the other four barely alive. He set to work with his usual calm professionalism that Jenny admired so much, but she could sense that underneath his composed demeanour, he was considerably shaken by what they’d found.

“Blasted transporters,” he muttered under his breath, as Jenny worked hard to anticipate whatever tools or assistance he needed even before he asked for it. “How am I supposed to treat them properly outside of sickbay?”

Sulu launched the shuttle the moment the doors closed behind them, after they had brought the men and the bodies on board, hoping to evade any further blasts of eruption that could incapacitate the shuttle, and McCoy was able to stabilise three of the men quickly.

The fourth, however, was already too far gone, and Jenny watched with a sinking heart as McCoy desperately tried to keep him alive until they reached the Enterprise, and he had the full equipment of sickbay at his disposal. While she tended to the other patients, out of the corner of her eye, she saw how the doctor, after a while, resigned himself to just making the dying man as comfortable as possible.

Jenny watched McCoy tenderly taking care of him, administering a hypo to ease the pain, gently wiping his face with a cooling cloth, talking soothingly to him all the time. She saw the man gratefully smile up at the doctor, his eyes full of hope. And then, just as they arrived in the docking bay, McCoy gently closed the man’s eyes and murmured a quiet prayer.

She was incredibly moved by the doctor’s deep respect and compassion for a complete stranger. And seeing his grief-stricken face tore at her heartstrings. But before she could say anything, McCoy took a deep breath, straightened up, and with one final sad look at Jenny composed his features. Then he busied himself giving orders regarding the three other men to the orderlies who were already waiting for them when the shuttle doors opened.

When the survivors were settled in sickbay, McCoy turned to Jenny and put a gentle hand on her shoulder.

“Thank you for your good work, Hope. You were great today, a model assistant.”

He smiled tiredly at her, the strain of the past hours visible in his features.

Then his face took on a concerned look and he asked softly, “Are you all right? Have you ever watched a person die before?”

“Not like this, no,” Jenny admitted quietly, “but I’m all right. Don’t worry about me, Doctor. Go get some rest now. You look exhausted.”

McCoy nodded, feeling guilty, yet grateful for not having to deal with any other but his own emotional distress right away.

“All right, let’s debrief and talk about everything tomorrow. Go get some rest yourself now, you’ve had a rough day, too.”

And with that, he gently shoved her out of sickbay, wanting nothing more than to be alone in his office to indulge in his grief and wash his misery down with a bourbon.

In all his years as a physician, he’d never quite come to terms with losing a patient. Of course, he knew he’d done everything in his power. He also knew that, without the equipment in sickbay, he couldn’t have saved the man. Probably not even then. He was confident enough to know that he was a skilled physician, but, unfortunately, not a miracle-worker. He knew all of that in his head. But in his heart, he still felt like he had failed the man. Remembering those hopeful eyes almost tore his heart out.

He filled a glass with bourbon and sank into the chair at his desk. Strangely, he didn’t even feel like drinking. Having sent Hope away to deal with today’s events all by herself, weighed heavily on his mind on top of everything else. He briefly considered going after her, but just couldn’t work up the energy. In the end, he just stayed at his desk, staring bleakly at his untouched bourbon, feeling completely drained and sorry for himself.

 


 

Jenny had just arrived at her quarters, when she remembered that she hadn’t returned her communicator. It was still lying in sickbay. So she turned around and headed back the way she’d just come.

Sickbay was deserted and quiet when she entered, the lights already dimmed for the night. She quickly went past McCoy’s office to retrieve the communicator, when she saw that the door was open and he was sitting at his desk, motionless, his head resting on his hands, a still full glass of whiskey or the like in front of him.

Just as she was going in to see if he was alright, Christine, who’d been checking on the patients for the night, came up to her.

“He’s always like that when he loses a patient,” she whispered. “Wants to be alone to wallow in his grief and guilt, but he’ll be all right again tomorrow. Better leave him alone. He gets really grumpy if someone tries to talk to him in this state.”

Jenny nodded, and they left for the turbolift together.

“Want to join me for a quick bed-time coffee?” Christine asked kindly, seeing that the day’s events hadn’t left her friend unaffected, either. 

But Jenny wasn’t in the mood for a chat and gratefully declined. On her way back to her quarters, she let the day pass through her mind once more. The injuries, the bodies, McCoy’s immense humanity and compassion, the tender care he’d shown this stranger. The respectful way he’d dealt with his death.

She’d been especially moved by the prayer. The doctor had never struck her as particularly religious, and yet it was so quintessentially him. Why she admired and adored him so much. He really was the most extraordinary man, she thought, as she felt her heart glowing with affection.

Then it hit her. He was always there for her. Talking to her, even if she hadn’t asked him to, or just holding her, if she didn’t want to talk. She just couldn’t turn her back on him now. So she turned around for the second time that night and hurried back to sickbay. Again. She needed to be there for him. He could tell her, if he’d rather be alone.

When she arrived, McCoy hadn’t moved an inch. His back to her, the glass still untouched, he was sitting in the exact same position, and her heart went out to him.

She knocked politely, not wanting to startle him, and waited a little. When he didn’t react, she stepped into his office. For some time, she stood quietly behind him, waiting for him to acknowledge her. Or ask her to leave. When he did neither, she tried to think of something to say, some words of comfort, but nothing but platitudes came to mind.

So she resolved to remain silent and, on impulse, took another step forward, put her arms around him from behind and held him tight. She heard a little surprised gasp and felt his body stiffen in her embrace. But he didn’t try to shake her off, just stayed very still.

Emboldened by that, Jenny gently rested her cheek on the back of his head and tried to let all her affection flow into her embrace, hoping to give him solace.

After a while, his shoulders started to quake, and a little later, his body relaxed into her embrace with a deep sigh. Maybe he’d been crying. Or maybe his body had just released the tension. She didn’t know, and that was fine with her. She didn’t need to see his tears, she just wanted to comfort him.

She held him like this for a long time, feeling that he did, indeed, draw strength from her touch, more than happy to return some of the kindness he’d shown her so often since she first came aboard. Jenny knew how it felt to be in his arms, but to hold him like this was a completely new sensation.

Finally, he covered her hands with his, squeezing gently to let her know that he was alright again. But before she let go, she needed to tell him something.

So, holding on to him a little longer, she murmured into his ear, “You were amazing today. Your kindness, the gentleness with which you helped him pass on. You soothed his fears and eased his pains like only you can. I saw his face. You gave him peace. You made sure that he was not alone. And neither are you.”

With that, she squeezed him tightly one more time, then released him, turned around and left sickbay without another glance, as quietly as she had entered.

McCoy stayed in his chair long after she’d left. Her gentle voice still echoing in his ear, her warmth still engulfing him, he let her kind words wash over him, soothe him, again and again.

When she’d first entered his office, he’d immediately known it was her. He’d actually hoped she’d leave again, if he didn’t acknowledge her, but hadn’t had the heart to tell her so. And having half expected her to deliver the usual platitudes, he’d been pleasantly surprised, when she’d just stayed silent.

Her impulsive hug had startled him, but after his initial embarrassment he’d found that it was just what he’d needed. Her touch had been incredibly soothing, her embrace wonderfully warm and comforting, her breath in his hair pleasantly familiar.

He shouldn’t have taken advantage of her kindness, of course, should have been the one to take care of her, instead. But just this once it had felt so good to be taken care of. To let someone else be strong. To have his pain taken away by those tender arms. To be filled with warmth and well-being. It reminded him of the first time she’d taken his headache away, just like that.

He’d so often delighted in watching her interact with his patients, and today he’d been on the receiving end of her kindness himself. He must have done something right, after all, he thought, to deserve her in his life.

Chapter Text

McCoy had to perform routine medical examinations at a researchers’ base on Paradise Earth, as the planet was unofficially called by Terran scientists for being extremely beautiful and Earth-like. So much like Earth, in fact, that whole legions of scientists had devoted their research to finding out why so many of Earth’s fauna and flora were found there, even though the natives were not even humanoid. They were bipeds, but all similarity ended there.

Hoping that she might reveal a little more about herself in a different environment, the doctor asked Kirk to let him take Hope with him. And since the assignment was definitely not dangerous, the planet a member of the Federation and thoroughly explored, the natives friendly and cooperative without exception, Kirk agreed. It was also an opportunity for her to collect new data for the universal translator, and generally, the captain thought, just what she needed after the terrors of her first landing party assignment.

The only difficulty with Paradise EarthWhen was there ever no difficulty at all? Kirk thought – was that, due to atmospheric disturbances, direct transport to or communication with the settlement, where the scientists worked among the natives, wasn’t possible. McCoy and Hope would have to hike for almost six hours from their beam-down location to get there, and the captain was a bit worried about Hope’s ankle.

“She’ll be perfectly all right, Jim,” McCoy assured him. “It’s not a difficult hike, and we’ll be walking on soft ground, through forests and across meadows. The best physical therapy there is for her ankle.”

Kirk nodded thoughtfully.

“Remember what I told you about her dealing with some kind of past trauma? I think this is just what I need to get her to open up. With the planet’s agreeable climate and its beautiful, soothing nature, it will be like a mini shore leave. Hope’s Starfleet file is very patchy for some reason, and I really need to get to the bottom of what’s bothering her.”

“I see,” Kirk said with the slightest smirk. Was his friend ever going to admit that his concern for Hope’s wellbeing was not entirely professional?

 


 

When McCoy and Hope materialised on the planet’s surface, they took in their surroundings and smiled at each other.

“Wow!” Hope exclaimed. “It really is beautiful here. This feels more like a holiday than an assignment!”

“I did promise you a mini shore leave, didn’t I?” McCoy grinned. “This is going to do your ankle the world of good. Gentle walking on soft ground is so much better than all the therapeutic exercises the Enterprise can offer.”

“Thank you for bringing me here, Doctor!” she beamed at him.

“My pleasure,” he smiled, and found that it was.

They set off at a leisurely pace, enjoying the fresh air and the warm sunshine. While Hope was busy taking in the smells of the different flowers and trees, and listening to the birds’ song, McCoy observed her closely.

Her face was aglow with delight at all the beauty surrounding them, and there was not a trace of sadness or sorrow. In fact, she seemed to him quite like the Hope of old. The happy and carefree girl that had beamed aboard the Enterprise all those months ago, sweeping him off his feet and capturing the hearts of all the crew with her kind and amiable personality.

She seemed to have left all her worries behind, and he was glad he’d taken her on this assignment. Watching her flit from flower to flower like an excited butterfly made his heart swell with tender affection. Maybe this was what she needed in more ways than one. Maybe with only the two of them here, in this relaxed atmosphere, he could get to the bottom of her troubles and help her revert to her old self for good. Oh, how he wished to be able to help her! She was far too young and lovely to be weighed down by some secret that Starfleet had imposed on her.

He was roused from his thoughts by Hope calling to him from the edge of a forest.

“Look, Doctor, I’ve just found a penny bun!”

He joined her where she stood and admired the mushroom.

“This really is like Earth, only better,” she giggled. “I was never very good at picking mushrooms. In fact, I would walk ahead of my dad finding nothing while he would pick up loads behind me.”

At that, a shadow crossed her face but was gone again before McCoy could react. And when he saw her eagerly racing towards some other plant that had caught her interest, he thought it best to leave it at that for the moment and let her enjoy the hike and countryside rather than draw her attention back to what was bothering her.

They still had plenty of time for talking and, frankly, he was enjoying the hike with her happily running wild at his side far too much. Besides, he’d already learned something new about her. As a child, she’d obviously had a father, and her memory of him had seemed like a happy one.

What could have happened? he wondered.

He was more determined than ever to find out. But for now, he decided, he would just let her enjoy herself.

Hope turned out to be quite the botanist. She really was a never ending well of surprises. Every couple of steps she would point out some herb or flower to him, and McCoy was impressed by how much she knew about their medicinal benefits.

Sulu would be impressed, too, McCoy thought, smiling to himself as he imagined Sulu and Chekov fighting over Hope’s affections.

“How come you know so much about botany?” he asked when she explained how to use one particular grass to ease the pain of insect stings.

“I don’t know, really,” she smiled. “Just picked it up along the way, I guess. I was really an outdoors kind of girl when I was little. We used to collect and dry herbs and flowers to make our own tea or ointments. My mother worked for the pharmaceutical industry, but she taught me to prefer natural remedies to artificial ones.”

That’s where she got her dislike for ‘drugs’ from, he surmised, fondly thinking about her wonderful head massages that he just couldn’t get enough of.

However, at the mention of her mother, another shadow crossed her lovely face, staying a little longer this time, and making McCoy wonder what had happened to her family and why she wasn’t allowed to talk about how she lost them all over again. Maybe now was the time to start digging a little.

“So, you were an outdoor kind of girl,” he smiled. “I can just picture you running around, picking flowers and herbs. Did you have any brothers or sisters to take along?”

“No,” she answered, her face shutting down immediately. “I was an only child.”

McCoy winced at her sudden change of mood. And he hadn’t missed her use of the past tense rather than the present tense, either. I was an only child, when she could have said I am.

“Now, Doctor, please stop. You promised you wouldn’t ask any more questions,” Hope frowned at him.

“I’m sorry,” he said ruefully, “it’s just that I so badly want to help you. And I truly believe that I’d be able to, if only I knew more about you, knew what’s really troubling you.”

She stopped walking and turned to face him.

“But you do help me, Doctor. More than you’ll ever know! Don’t you see?”

Hope looked at him intensely, her voice softer again.

“It was so thoughtful of you to take me on this assignment. I really needed to get off the Enterprise for a little while. And this,” she swept her arm around, indicating the countryside, “is more than I could have wished for to sooth my mind and lift my spirits. Thank you so much. I’ll feel much better when we return to the ship.”

McCoy decided not to push it anymore. After all, he didn’t want to lose her trust. So he took her hand, squeezed it reassuringly, and set off walking again. He was sorry to have spoiled the mood, but then, he really wanted – no, needed – to get to the bottom of all this. For the moment, however, he contented himself with what he’d learned about her family so far.

Hope seemed relieved that he didn’t pursue the matter any further, and, leaving her hand in his, pulled him further along. They continued in companionable silence for some time and were surprised to reach their destination almost 30 minutes ahead of time.

 


 

Hiking hand in hand with her favourite person in this gorgeous place, felt like heaven to Jenny. She could sense the doctor’s affection and concern in every glance, every word, every touch. The way his fingers gently squeezed hers sent waves of happiness through her body. 

She was very grateful he'd stopped questioning her. Yet, she really longed to be able to tell him everything. To confide in him. He would know what to do, help her deal with it and leave it behind. Then she'd be free to focus on her future rather than her past. 

More than anything, she wanted to be the happy and cheerful girl she was at heart. No secrets, no watching every word for fear of saying something that would give her away. 

Having the doctor all to herself was wonderfully exciting and immensely reassuring at the same time. She didn't mind sharing him with his work, his patients. But being with him like this was something to be relished. His gentle, affectionate way, when he let down his guard, totally forgetting about being sarcastic, was balm to her soul. 

Of course she knew that she was far too young for him to consider her as anything other than a friend, a protégé. But a girl could dream. She was okay with the way it was between them. It was enough. It had to be. And yet, thinking about it, she was rather grateful that he didn't entertain any romantic relationships on the Enterprise. At least none that she knew of. 

 


 

After McCoy had finished his check-ups, and Hope was done with exchanging all the linguistic data, they were invited to dinner with the natives before being shown to their quarters for the night. They would be heading back early the next morning and were already looking forward to the hike again.

Dinner with the natives was delicious and interesting. McCoy watched Hope absorb every little detail of the alien culture, asking numerous questions demonstrating her genuine interest, impressing him once again with her ability to win everyone over with her kind personality, no matter the species.

When they were shown to the guest quarters after dinner, McCoy was as surprised as Hope to find that they had been allocated only one room together. But before either of them could say anything, one of the scientists quickly explained that the natives didn’t understand the human concept of modesty and were, in fact, demonstrating hospitality by letting friends sleep in the same room.

“You mean it would be impolite to ask for separate rooms?” Hope asked, seeming rather upset.

“Don’t worry, we’ll manage,” McCoy was quick to assure the scientist, and shut the door behind them.

Looking at Hope’s stricken face, he burst out laughing.

“Oh my dear girl, don’t look so distraught,” he chuckled. “Just look at the size of that bed. It could easily fit five people! You won’t even know I’m there.”

But when he realised that she was, indeed, quite anxious, he was immediately serious again.

“Don’t you trust me?” he asked, looking earnestly into her eyes.

“Of course, I do, Doctor. You know that. But still, it’s strange to …”

“No problem. If you don’t feel comfortable, I’ll just sleep in the chair over there.”

“Oh no, there’s no need for that, Doctor. I’m sure the bed is big enough.”

 


 

A few minutes later, they were lying in bed, side by side, talking in the dark. McCoy had even convinced her to take off her uniform, and so had he. After all, he was a doctor and not unused to seeing both men and women in all states of dressed and undressed.

Uhura probably wouldn’t have thought twice before sharing this huge bed with a male colleague on a mission. And she did trust McCoy. Completely. Yet, she couldn’t shake that uneasy feeling that always crept up on her in certain situations, no matter how hard she tried.

The last thing she wanted was to come across as a drama queen, but after having acted so strangely, she didn’t know how to get out of this one with her dignity intact. Should she tell him what she thought caused this reaction in her? Would he understand? Or would he consider her even more prudish and odd?

Chapter Text

McCoy had never noticed Hope being shy before, but maybe it was different for her here, alone with him among strangers. His heart grew heavy. He’d done everything to make her feel safe and protected, and now his presence seemed to make her feel uneasy.

Great! he thought. Instead of being the friend she felt comfortable with, he was now a man she was afraid to be alone with.

He would have liked to talk to her about it, but didn’t want to embarrass her even more. So he was pleasantly surprised, when she broached the subject herself.

“I’m so sorry, Doctor. I didn’t mean to be weird and difficult,” she chuckled self-deprecatingly. “I’m not, really. It’s just that…”

Her voice trailed off.

“Just what?” McCoy prompted gently.

“Just that sometimes I don’t feel too comfortable being alone in a room with a man since a certain incident when I was fifteen.”

Her voice was barely more than a whisper now.

McCoy was silent, waiting patiently for her to go on, not liking at all where this was going. He felt a knot forming in his stomach and longed to take her in his arms to reassure her, but of course knew better than that.

When she spoke again, her voice was surprisingly strong. Detached, almost as if she was merely telling some other girl’s story.

“He was my best friend’s father, and I liked him very much. The way you like your friend’s family. I had known him for years, since I was a toddler, really. And I trusted him completely. But then, one evening when I was staying over, like I had so many times before, we were watching the telly… “

“The telly?” McCoy interjected, slightly confused.

She paused a moment, distracted, then went on, “A film, I mean. My friend and her mother had already gone to bed, but I wanted to watch it till the end. So I stayed up with her dad.”

McCoy lay completely still in the dark, his body tense with foreboding, hands coiled into fists with impotent rage for what he knew was coming, picturing a beautiful, guileless 15-year-old Hope in a room with some dirty old man.

“Towards the end of the film, he went to the bathroom and cleaned his teeth. I thought nothing of it at the time. And when I got up to join my friend in her room, he said something about kissing me good night. I still didn’t get it and proffered my cheek for him to kiss.”

Again, she chuckled, but there was no mirth in it.

“When he kissed me fully on the lips, I was so shocked that I just couldn’t react. I simply stood there, stunned. Obviously, he took that as encouragement and kissed me again. I think he kissed me at least three times before I finally found my feet and fled upstairs.”

McCoy swallowed hard, fighting to keep his anger under control.

When she didn’t go on for some time, he softly asked, “Did he…”

“No, he didn’t,” she said quietly and then fell silent.

McCoy breathed a sigh of relief at that, but was nevertheless quite aware how traumatising this incident must have been for an innocent 15-year-old. He just hoped he was never going to meet the man, because he honestly didn’t know what he might do to him.

He ached to put his arms around Hope, to pull her into a protective embrace, to make her feel safe, but, of course, he knew it was not the right time to do any such thing. So he contented himself with very slowly and tentatively reaching for her hand. When she didn’t pull away, he gently laced his fingers through hers, squeezing tenderly, comfortingly.

“Thank you for telling me,” he murmured, his voice rough with emotion.

“Thank you for listening,” she replied. “You know I’ve never told anyone before?”

“Not even your…” he stopped just in time, angry with himself for this foolish slip.

She’d just confided one of her most private memories to him, and he’d almost used it to bring up her family again.

“No, not even my parents,” she finished for him. “It’s all right, Doctor, don’t worry. This is not a story Starfleet would restrain me from sharing.”

McCoy was more than relieved to hear a faint smile in her voice. Now it was her turn to squeeze his hand reassuringly, and McCoy heard her stifle a yawn.

“Seems I always need you to hold my hand to go to sleep on an assignment,” she chuckled.

“I can think of worse things,” he returned good-naturedly.

“So can I,” she sighed sleepily. “It always makes me feel safe. Thank you, Doctor. For everything.”

With that, she drifted off to sleep, leaving McCoy lying awake a little longer, processing everything she’d just told him. What kind of man would do such a thing to a girl? It certainly explained why realising they were going to share a bed tonight had made her so uneasy. He felt terrible for having forced this on her. But how could he have known?

He was, however, glad and deeply touched that she’d chosen to tell him. It was a great vote of confidence. And he felt that it had also brought them a little closer, again. There was a good side to everything, after all. And who knew? Maybe it would not be long now, before she opened up to him completely and let him help with whatever Starfleet had inflicted on her.

Plus, he’d found out that her family had obviously still been intact when she was fifteen. Not too long ago, then. Whatever happened to them, must have happened within the past eight years. No wonder, she was still so upset about it.

Once again, his heart went out to her, trying and failing to imagine what she was going through. Somehow, nothing fit or made sense. It was especially hard to reconcile the way she’d talked about her family with the kind of parents he imagined would neglect to correct medical issues.

 


 

When McCoy woke up the next morning, he was not surprised to see Hope already dressed and ready to go. He, too, got ready quickly, and after a small breakfast they said their goodbyes to the scientists and natives, and set off.

It was another beautiful day for a hike, but this time they walked a little faster, since they’d been told that a weather change was expected for later that day, and that they wouldn’t want to still be on their way when the rain started. For rain in this area, they’d been warned, meant they would be drenched within seconds and washed away by the flood.

They’d also been instructed to seek shelter the moment the first clouds appeared, and not venture out again until the sun was back in a clear sky. Which could be anytime between two and twelve hours. Even though McCoy and Hope were quite convinced they would make it back to the beam-up location in time, they had politely accepted the natives’ kindly offered emergency provisions – just in case.

Hope was doing her best to appear as cheerful and carefree as she’d been the day before. But she avoided McCoy’s eyes, and he saw right through her act. To keep the mood light, he regaled her with tales of his more entertaining adventures with Kirk, Spock and the others. 

For a while he successfully kept Hope’s mind off what was troubling her. But when he paused briefly, she turned to face him and blurted, “I’m so sorry about last night, Doctor. I guess I really embarrassed myself there…”

McCoy, who’d actually been waiting for her to bring up the subject of last night, regarded her kindly.

“What would you be sorry or embarrassed about?”

“Oh, you know what I’m talking about, Doctor. I’m sorry for being such a drama queen and for bothering you with my drastic account of a harmless childhood memory. I don’t know what came over me.”

“You call that a harmless childhood memory?” McCoy asked incredulously. “It seemed a bit more serious to me than that, if you don’t mind.”

“I’m sorry, but I think at the age of fifteen, I might have blown the whole thing a bit out of proportion. It certainly doesn’t excuse my overreacting yesterday. I really should have moved on from being this ingénue. After all, no real harm was done.”

“No real harm done?” McCoy stopped walking and whipped around to face her.

He felt hot anger rise up inside him. Anger that had been simmering since last night.

“Would you please stop making light of it?” he fumed, his temper flaring up. “You were violated! Physically and emotionally. You were badly hurt! By a man who should have known better. Who, in fact, should have been the one to protect and take care of you. You were only a girl, and he had no right whatsoever to take advantage of you!”

McCoy’s voice was shaking with rage and frustration, and Hope winced at his outburst.

“You’re right,” she conceded, “he acted unseemly. But I was not a little girl anymore, I was fifteen, after all. Maybe I did or said something that gave him ideas…”

“Now don’t you start blaming yourself!” McCoy was outraged, hardly able to keep his temper in check and refrain from shouting at her. “My God! You were a girl, he was a grown man! A husband! A father! With a daughter the same age! You trusted him!”

“Yes, I did,” she whispered. “Implicitly.”

Suddenly the penny dropped.

“That’s it!” McCoy exclaimed. “That’s what triggered your reaction yesterday. You trusted him completely. Like I hope you trust me. And then he let you down so badly.”

Understanding dawned on Jenny.

“Oh Doctor, you don’t think I was afraid you could let me down in the same way, given the opportunity? I know with all my heart that you’d never do anything like that!”

“Yes, you know that,” McCoy said gently, smiling down at her sadly. “But your subconscious doesn’t. He harmed you more than you realise that night. He took away your faith in the decency of men.”

When he saw tears well up in her eyes, McCoy gently put his hands on Hope’s shoulders.

“But now that you’re aware of it, you can consciously deal with it and put it behind you. You really should have talked about this to someone long ago.”

“Well, now I’m glad I told you after all,” she said, gratefully smiling up at him, her unfailing trust in him tugging at his heartstrings.

He squeezed her shoulders gently.

“I’m glad I could help,” he said, and then softly added, “I just wish I could ease your other troubles, too.”

At his last words, Hope rested her forehead against his chest in a manner of tired resignation, and, putting her hands flat against his uniform shirt next to her head, she sighed, “So do I, Doctor, so do I.”

McCoy’s heart was breaking for her, as he realised just how badly she longed to confide in him, and he cautiously put his arms around her, careful not to hold her too tight. Desperately wanting to comfort her, but at the same time still a little wary of triggering her old fears again. Judging from the detailed way she’d recounted the incident last night, the memory was clearly still fresh in her mind.

But when he felt her snuggle closer, seeing how badly she wanted to be held, how urgent her need for security was, he pulled her close, wondering, once again, quite how she’d captured his heart like no one else ever had. It would not be long now, before she confided everything in him and finally let him help her.

 


 

Jenny melted into McCoy’s arms, savouring this kind and gentle man’s warm and protective embrace. He always made her feel so wonderfully safe and cared for. For all the irritable and cranky faces he liked to hide behind, he was the most caring and giving person she’d ever met.

Of course, she was aware that he cared no less about the rest of the crew. In fact, compared to the captain and the other officers he’d known for years, she was probably way down on his list of affections. But right now, she didn’t care. He made her feel special and, yes, almost loved. The way he’d taken what she’d told him last night personally was just so typical of him.

She would have liked to stay in his arms forever, but knew that they had to get moving again, if they wanted to arrive at the beam-up location before the weather changed.

Chapter Text

When Hope pulled out of his embrace, McCoy let her go instantly, albeit a little reluctantly. He, too, knew only too well that they had to get moving again. Picking up their pace, they kept monitoring the sky carefully, watching out for any signs of the oncoming rain.

They were less than an hour away from their destination, when Jenny suddenly detected the first clouds. They were unlike any clouds on Earth, black and threatening. And fast growing. In a matter of minutes, they were covering half the sky, and she realised that the natives hadn’t been exaggerating. She looked enquiringly at the doctor, who was quick to answer her unspoken question.

“Yes, I think it’s time we started looking for shelter. And we’d better hurry, too!”

Breaking into a run, they entered the forest, along which they’d been walking, and, going uphill, looked for some kind of rock shelter or cavern. They’d barely found and slipped into what looked like quite a spacious cave, when the heaviest rain Jenny had ever seen started to pelt down only a few feet from them.

From inside the cave’s entrance, they watched in awe, as in a matter of seconds, torrents of water formed where there had only been narrow paths before. 

“Fascinating to watch, but we’d better retreat a little deeper into the cave,” McCoy suggested.

Jenny tore her eyes away from the pelting rain and, taking the hand he held out for her, followed him further inside.

“You’re right, Doctor. Preferably a bit further up, too. I wouldn’t want to get washed away by this flood.”

A little higher up, they found a big enough platform to put up their improvised camp and were immensely grateful for the flashlights and provisions the natives had equipped them with.

“Did you get wet? Are you cold?” McCoy asked, ever the concerned doctor.

“No, Doctor, I’m all right. We were lucky to find this cave. And not a second too soon,” Jenny said, smiling at how McCoy could never stop worrying. He was like a mother hen, and she loved the way that made her feel.

They put down their gear, found some rocks to sit on, and made themselves comfortable for the wait, chatting amicably all the time. McCoy would never have said so, of course, but he was secretly grateful for the extension of their assignment. Apart from the joy of having her all to himself, it was another chance to find out more about her.

Working their way through innocuous topics such as music or literature, they eventually moved on to more personal subjects, talking about their crewmates and what they liked about each of them.

Uhura with her gentle artistic ways was ranking way up high in both their approval ratings. So was witty and reliable Christine. Closely followed by eccentric, lovable Scotty, athletic and spontaneous Sulu, and eager and funny Chekov. And when Hope told him how much she appreciated Spock’s calm intellect and polite manners, not to speak of his vast knowledge of pretty much everything, McCoy had to admit that he, too, was quite fond of the Vulcan, was always grateful for his reassuring presence in times of crisis and would trust him with his life.

“Isn’t that the secret of the Enterprise,” Hope asked, “that everyone trusts one another with their lives?”

“You’re right,” McCoy agreed, fondly thinking about Jim and his crew. “I have yet to meet a crew member who isn’t loyal and committed to their crewmates and to Jim.”

“Well, the captain is certainly one of a kind. He’s so clever and resourceful, you just know that he’ll get you and the ship out of every precarious situation, no matter what. And, of course, being charming and handsome helps, too,” she added with a twinkle in her eye. “I imagine he’s quite a hit with the ladies all over the galaxy.”

“Tell me about it,” McCoy chuckled.

“Can’t say I blame them,” she smiled, “even though I, for my part, couldn’t imagine falling for him.”

“Oh? And why’s that?” McCoy was genuinely surprised. “You’re certainly the only woman I’ve ever heard saying this.”

“Well, don’t get me wrong, Doctor,” she chuckled, looking for the right words, obviously not wanting to slight his friend. “I admire him greatly. Both as a captain and as a person. It’s just that… I don’t know … I just don’t think he’d be the type to commit to one woman, the type for a relationship. And I’ve never been interested in flings or fleeting affairs.”

Hope stopped short, blushing adorably at the intimate direction their conversation was taking. McCoy had never taken her for the type of woman to go for one-night-stands or quick flings anyway, but somehow, it was still good to hear her confirm it. And he was also – admittedly not only professionally – thrilled that this conversation provided another chance for him to gain deeper insight into her personality.

“So, who’d you fall for, then?” he asked casually.

“Oh, I’m not interested in a relationship at the moment, Doctor,” Hope chuckled, shaking her head vigorously. “I’m focusing on my career, and that means I just don’t have time for a man.”

“What a shame for the members of the male sex, my dear,” McCoy drawled, oozing his Southern charm, not quite sure whether to feel relief or regret at her statement. “But just to pass the time, and because I’m really curious to know, please humour me. What would you look for in a partner, if you actually were interested in a relationship?”

Hope laughed. “All right, Doctor. Let’s play truth or dare. I’ll go first. But you’ll have to play, too, afterwards!”

McCoy nodded, smiling. “Okay, truth or dare it is. Deal.”

She thought for a moment, then started to explain, warming to the subject the longer she talked.

“Well, my partner would have to be intelligent and educated, I guess, and good at what he does. Gentle, kind and generous. Fun, yet thoughtful and considerate. Not the jealous type, and definitely not clingy. I can’t stand clingy, I need my space. Not to cheat, or anything, but to do my own thing. Someone who’d never discourage me, even if he thought I was on the wrong track. Who’d let me learn from my mistakes. Someone who’d acclaim my successes, but who’d also be there to help me pick up the pieces, if something went wrong. Someone who’d be proud of me rather than jealous, even if, at times, I were more successful than him. Oh, I’m getting carried away here, Doctor.”

You sure are, my dear, McCoy thought amusedly, for someone who doesn’t have time for a relationship.

But he had to smile at her words, nevertheless. Well able to imagine Hope stubbornly sticking to whatever she believed in, never faltering in her optimism. He would always be proud of her. And he’d certainly love to be there to comfort her and help her pick up the pieces, if something actually did go wrong.

“What about looks?” he asked quickly, if only to get these last thoughts out of his head.

“Oh, I don’t know, Doctor. I’ve never really thought about looks. I don’t seem to be attracted to a certain type of man. Not repulsive, obviously,” she chuckled, “but other than that I don’t have any preferences.”

And after a short pause, while McCoy was still trying to process everything those few sentences had told him about her, she continued brightly, “All right, Doctor. I’ve shared my most intimate thoughts with you. Now it’s your turn to spill!”

“I’m surprised, your generation even still knows this game,” he tried to deflect. “It’s something we played when I was young.”

For some reason, Hope seemed to find this hilarious.

“Well, people have played it for centuries. So why should they suddenly stop?” she giggled.

“What’s so funny, now?” McCoy asked, affecting a frown, but really happy to see her so cheerful again.

“Oh, it’s just you asking me, if I still know this game,” she snorted, getting the giggles again.

He didn’t follow, but that was okay as long as she was enjoying herself. He’d only just realised how long it had been since he’d last seen her fooling around like this, completely relaxed.

“Sorry, Doctor,” she tried to pull herself together again, “but hearing you talk like this, one might think you’re at least a hundred years old.”

She wiped tears of laughter from her face, as he just raised an indulgent eyebrow.

“But no more changing the subject now,” she continued, putting on a serious face, her eyes still shining with mirth. “Don’t think I haven’t realised what you’ve been trying to do here.”

“Well, all right then,” he grumbled, uneasy at the prospect of having to share intimate details of his love life with anyone. “A deal is a deal, I guess. But there’s really not much I can tell you.”

“Oh, come on, Doctor! Don’t chicken out now! You must have lots to say on the subject. You don’t strike me as someone who doesn’t know what he wants. And you’ve surely had your fair share of romance yet. The ladies must be fighting over you wherever you go, what with your Southern charm and being a renowned Starfleet physician.”

McCoy chuckled sheepishly. Where on earth had she got the notion that women were fighting over him?

“Well, like you, I guess, I appreciate intelligence and education,” he began hesitantly, “and a strong personality, you know I like a challenge.”

He chuckled, then got serious again, taking a few moments to think.

“Warmth is important to me, I suppose, and a good sense of humour. Oh, forget it, who am I kidding? I’d be lucky to find anyone who’d put up with me. My moods, my temper, all the downs that come with my job.”

“You’re joking, right?” Hope seemed genuinely surprised.

“Not really,” he murmured, suddenly feeling silly talking about this, but realising that Hope wasn’t just going to let it go.

“What moods? What temper?” she asked indignantly. “You worry, because you care, you’re cautious, because that comes with the job, and you’re not afraid to voice your concerns. That’s why people listen to you, trust you, rely on you. Not least the captain. And I imagine there are quite a number of people who are very grateful to you for voicing the doubts and fears that they themselves are too shy or scared to say out loud. And as for your temper, you’re the gentlest man I know, but you’re passionate. About many things, but mostly about your patients, your friends and justice.”

She fell silent, and they just looked at each other for a moment. Hope obviously embarrassed by her outrage on his behalf, McCoy deeply touched by her words. Was that really how she saw him? Did she really get him like this? His heart skipped a beat at the thought.

Before the silence got uncomfortable, however, he picked up the threads of their conversation.

“Thank you, my dear. I appreciate your kind words,” he smiled at her. “But I still think that finding someone who’d take me as I am would be hard. I’m not very good at relationships, I’m too dedicated to my job, too selfish.”

Hope did a double take.

“Excuse me?” she snorted. “There must be something wrong with my ears, Doctor. Could you please check them out? I just heard you say you were selfish.”

McCoy found her reaction endearing. Even more so, when he saw that her incredulity was genuine.

“I can’t believe you’re being serious, Doctor,” she said, realising that he had, indeed, not been joking.

“Sadly, I am,” he chuckled. “Believe me, I’m just not cut out for relationships. I’ve proved myself rather deficient in the past, and I wouldn’t want to inflict disappointment and heartache on any more women than I already have.”

He couldn’t believe he’d just said that, but something in her manner, her genuine interest in him as a person, had compelled him to speak openly with her.

“Quite obviously, you’ve just not met the right woman yet,” Hope concluded. “I’ve heard people talk like you before. But I strongly believe that when true love comes along, you’ll be just as powerless to resist as anyone else.”

“Who knows,” he conceded, smiling, “maybe you’re right. Maybe there’s still hope for this old country doctor after all.”

Hope regarded him intently for some time, but then averted her eyes with an indulgent shake of her head and let the subject drop.

Apparently, she’s decided not to embarrass me any further, McCoy thought gratefully.

A long silence fell between them, each of them lost in their own thoughts, but not at all uncomfortable.

After a while Hope looked at him and softly said, “Penny for them?”

“Sorry?” he asked, startled out of his reverie.

“Your thoughts, I mean,” she explained, then stopped abruptly, as if she’d just said something she wasn’t supposed to, and mumbled, “Don’t mind me.”

“No, no, sorry, I was just lightyears away. What was that about a penny and my thoughts?”

“Just an old saying,” she laughed embarrassedly. “My folks were always good for old sayings. And ‘a penny for your thoughts’ was one of them.”

“I think I’ve read that expression in an old book once. I quite like it, though,” McCoy said, smiling. “It means you’d like to know what I was thinking about, doesn’t it?”

“Quite right, Doctor. You had such a sad look on your face, I’m sorry if our little truth or dare game upset you. That wasn’t my intention.”

She looked so conscience-stricken that he had to laugh.

“Oh, my der Hope, don’t you worry,” he chuckled, “I’m not that easily upset. “It’s always a pleasure talking to you, I enjoy every one of our conversations immensely. Even the ‘daring’ ones.”

And just like that, they were back to their easy and friendly chatter again, both feeling surprisingly at ease having shared some of their more intimate feelings and beliefs with each other.

Chapter Text

They were sitting in a damp, dark cave, on prickly, uncomfortable rocks, and yet, Jenny enjoyed herself tremendously. It had been five hours already, with the rain continuously pelting down outside, and they’d still not run out of things to talk about.

It was amazing, she thought, how comfortable she felt with just the two of them here. How could she have been afraid to be alone with the doctor for even a minute last night?

Feeling completely relaxed, she absentmindedly started humming the chorus of an old country song that came to mind.

“Great idea! Can I have one?” McCoy smiled.

“Sorry?” Jenny had no clue what he was talking about. 

“One of your two piña coladas,” he grinned. “I wouldn’t mind one now, sitting here with you, chatting.”

“You know that song?” Jenny was impressed.  

“Told you, I was an old hand at classic country music,” the doctor smiled proudly.

“Okay, try this one then,” she told him, starting to hum another song, which he guessed correctly again.

“Not bad, Doctor. My turn now!”

McCoy hesitated a little, and Jenny was amused to see the doctor acting shyly. So very unlike him. But then he started to hum, perfectly in tune, and she recognised the song immediately.

It had started out as a guessing game, but they soon found themselves singing longer passages, their voices harmonising beautifully, sending pleasant shivers up her spine and giving her goose bumps. She’d always found musicality a very attractive trait in a man, and discovering that it was obviously one of McCoy’s hidden talents, made her heart beat a little faster.

They passed some more time singing, McCoy’s voice getting stronger as he got more confident, complementing hers perfectly, and she could see the doctor enjoying himself as much as she was. Maybe she could win him over to join the band for a few songs, after all.

 


 

When the rain hadn’t stopped after more than six hours, and it didn’t look like it would anytime soon, either, they decided it was time to make arrangements for the night. They hadn’t got much sleep the night before, and all that sitting around in the semi-darkness had made them sleepy.

“Won’t they be getting worried, wondering why we haven’t returned yet?” Hope asked concernedly.

“Not much we can do about it, is there?” McCoy replied. “But I’m confident that Spock has figured it out by now. I’m sure he’s been monitoring the area and knows that we can’t keep going in the rain.”

They found two insulation blankets in their equipment, one of which they’d need to use as a mat on the cold and wet ground, leaving the other one to use as a cover.

“We can take shifts,” McCoy suggested, realising that there would only be room enough for one person to sleep at a time.

“Or we could try to squeeze up,” Hope countered. “Do you think taking shifts is necessary, Doctor? It seems really quite safe around here. Plus, it would help us keep warm. It’s getting rather chilly in here.”

She was right, of course. There were no poisonous or otherwise dangerous creatures on Paradise Earth. No reason why they wouldn’t be safe. But he saw that she was still looking doubtfully at the narrow space in the corner they’d chosen as their crash pad for the night.

Not that he’d mind holding her close, of course. He always enjoyed having her in his arms. More so, than he cared to admit. But considering what she’d told him last night, he was afraid it might make her uneasy again.

Since joining Starfleet, he’d encountered numerous awkward situations with crewmates. He’d lost count of the places they’d found themselves imprisoned in, forced to spend time in close proximity with each other, huddled together for warmth, sometimes not even granted the luxury of any sort of toilet. But Hope hadn’t had any such experiences yet. Even their time in the bunker had been short and comfortable in comparison.

“All right,” he said, trying to sound non-committal, “let’s try and see if there’s enough room for the both of us.”

“Okay, let’s,” Hope replied stifling a yawn, then giggled. “Come on, Doctor, we’ve spent last night in bed together, surely we can do this.”

“You’re certainly right,” McCoy grinned, but after they’d packed their gear and neatly stowed it away, they still found themselves standing a little awkwardly in front of the blanket.

“All right, Doctor, what’s your plan?” Jenny chuckled, trying to keep up a laid-back atmosphere.

“Well,” McCoy scratched his nose, “how about I go first?”

It had seemed like a good idea when she’d first suggested it, but she wasn’t so sure anymore. And neither was the doctor, judging from his doubtful expression.

Taking a deep breath, Jenny finally said, “Go on then, Doctor, let’s go get some sleep.”

Without further ado, McCoy lay down, covering himself with the second blanket and lifting it invitingly. Jenny quickly followed, slipped into his arms and backed up against his chest, feeling his breath in her hair and the warmth of his body engulfing her.

The moment his arm closed around her waist, his hand resting lightly on her stomach, she felt like she’d come home. The feeling was bliss. Sheer bliss. It hit her with absolute clarity that she was exactly where she’d always longed to be. Never before had she felt so safe, so comfortable, so like she belonged. She was overwhelmed by the intensity of her feelings, unable to lie still, trying hard to refrain from fidgeting, and trembling with what she hoped McCoy would take for cold.

I’m just starved of affection and tenderness, she mused. I’d probably find the captain’s or Pavel’s, or even Nyota’s touch just as comforting as the doctor’s.

Just before she finally drifted off to sleep, she felt the gentlest kiss brushing her hair. Or maybe she was already dreaming.

 


 

McCoy was completely unprepared for the intensity of his feelings, too. When Hope slid into his arms so trustingly, yet shaking with nerves, he could hardly keep himself from squeezing her tight and caressing her arm and shoulder comfortingly.

And when she snuggled closer, trying to get comfortable, wiggling her pert little bottom against him, it was almost more than he could take. He was just a man, after all. And he had to bite his lip hard in order to suppress the moan that was building in his throat.

What the blazes have I got myself into?

When Hope’s breathing had slowed down, and he was sure she was fast asleep, he couldn’t contain himself any longer and gently kissed the back of her head, burying his face in her soft hair.

Good night, sweetheart!

But what exactly was he feeling? This overpowering tenderness whenever he looked at her or even just thought of her. Apparently, his plan had backfired. He’d wanted to make her trust him enough to confide in him. And now he’d gone and fallen in love.

What am I thinking? he chided himself. This is ridiculous, this isn’t love!

And it couldn’t be. He didn’t want it to be. Love was too complicated and hurtful. He was very happy on his own. He had his friends, he could do whatever he felt like. Whenever. Of course, he liked an attractive woman just as much as the next man, but he enjoyed his shore leaves with no strings attached. This life suited him just fine.

And yet…

When they’d been talking about what they were looking for in a partner, it had been on the tip of his tongue to say, Just like you. Only maybe a little older.

Damn! Who was he kidding? Exactly like her, youth and all.

And when she’d described what she wanted from a relationship, it had felt as if she were talking straight from his heart. Just what he’d always wanted to be for a partner, what he’d always imagined it should be like. Before his marriage had put him right.

Stop it! Even if he were interested, she’d never even consider him.

 


 

Jenny woke up in total darkness, completely disoriented at first, but feeling unaccountably happy. She blinked a couple of times, and when she shifted slightly and felt strong arms around her, it all came rushing back to her.

She'd been sleeping, safe and sound, in Dr. McCoy's arms. The realisation made her heart skip a beat, and she felt the need to memorise every little detail. This might well be her only night in his arms, and she wanted to make the most of it. It just felt so right, she wished the night would never end. 

When she shifted again, his arm tightened around her waist, and she felt her heart melt. How very like him to look after her even in his sleep. Jenny wiggled around a little more, wanting to feel every inch of his body wrapped so protectively around hers, savouring the warmth and comfort he offered.

If only he knew how much he meant to her. But then again, it was probably for the best that he didn't. If he did, he might try to stay his distance, so as not to lead her on. And she wouldn't want that. Much rather keep him as a friend and enjoy their closeness in secret.  

She tried hard to stay awake, not wanting to miss a single moment of this bliss, shifting a little every so often just to feel his arm tighten around her reflexively. But in the end, she lost her fight against the sleepiness and drifted back off. 

 


 

McCoy woke up with a start, when Hope shifted around in his arms, and reflexively pulled her a little tighter. When he felt her snuggle closer in her sleep, his heart filled with tenderness. He could hardly believe that he was really lying here with this lovely woman in his arms, her lithe body nestled so trustingly into his embrace.

I’d do anything for her, shot through his mind, surprising him anew with how deeply he cared for her.

No matter how hard he tried to compare his feelings for Hope to those for Joanna, he couldn't ignore a distinct difference every time his body reacted to her wriggling against him. He was just glad she was completely unaware of his true feelings for her. That would only scare her off, especially after what she'd told him the night before. He wanted her to be able to trust him completely. 

But he could still savour every minute of holding her like this. It would turn into one of his most treasured memories. Along with so many others. Like when she'd held him after the volcano mission. Or when she'd told him how she wished everybody had a Dr. McCoy in their life. 

She'd given him so many wonderful memories already. And with his mind full of tender Hope moments, he finally went back to sleep. 

 


 

When Jenny woke up the next morning, stirring slightly, she was greeted by a soft “Good morning, Hope,” whispered in her ear. There was a new note of warmth and tenderness in McCoy’s voice, she thought, but maybe it was just wishful thinking.

She sat up, blinking her eyes several times, trying to free her mind from the cobwebs of sleep. Next to her, McCoy sat up, too, gently rubbing the arm she’d been lying on and pumping his hand to get the circulation back.

Afraid that her face might give her away, she jumped up and went to check the weather outside. The sun was just rising in an almost clear sky, the last of the clouds dissolving as quickly as they had appeared. Suspecting that the doctor had already been awake for some time, and had only woken her up when the first rays of light filtered in through the entrance, a pleasant shiver ran down her spine.

“How long have you been awake yet, Doctor?”

“Only a little while,” he smiled, and the tenderness in his voice made her knees go weak. “But you were fast asleep, and since it was still dark outside, I didn’t have the heart to wake you sooner.”

Jenny’s whole body was glowing, when she pictured him lying there, quietly holding her and watching over her sleep.

 


 

On their way to the beam-up location, they talked nineteen to the dozen, about anything and everything. Anxious to get their friendship back on track. Embarrassed by the way their feelings for each other had transformed overnight, yet secretly being warmed by those very same feelings. Each of them afraid the other might notice the change.

Back on the ship, the next night, McCoy was unable to go to sleep. Lying in bed in his quarters, everything that had happened in the past two days was playing on a repeat loop in his mind.

Hope’s predicament as a 15-year-old still made his skin crawl whenever he thought about it. And their intimate talk about what they were looking for in a partner still warmed his heart. Not to speak of having held her in his arms for a whole night. Never mind the cold and hard floor. He’d sleep under the most uncomfortable conditions at the drop of a hat, if that meant he could hold her like that again.

With a shiver of amused excitement, he realised that he’d effectively spent two nights in a row with her. The thought made him smile. What he wouldn’t give to spend more nights with her, even if they were as innocent as the last two had been. He remembered lying next to her in this huge bed, amazed by how much feeling you could convey just by holding hands.

Love, it hit him, simply love.

And unable to deceive himself any longer, he gave up the fight and let the love he felt for her wash over him, warming his heart and his soul. But it was a different kind of love than he’d ever felt before. Not the kind that expected to be loved in return. In fact, he realised, he didn’t expect anything from Hope.

Maybe this is what they call ‘unconditional’?

He just wanted her to be happy. He wanted her to be safe. He wanted to be there for her. Even if she didn’t love him back. As long as he could be near her, talk to her, be her friend, that would be enough to make him happy. And it would have to be, for he would never allow her to waste her youth and love on an old man like him.

She needed a fatherly friend, and he would be more than happy to fill that role. How he’d feel, when she fell in love with someone else one day, he had no idea. He’d cross that bridge when he got there. For now, he just wanted to revel in his warm and tender feelings for her. And in the fact that, for the time being, he could work and spend time with her on a daily basis.

And, of course, he wasn’t giving up on trying to find out what past trauma she was dealing with, hoping to be able to help her cope with whatever it was, when he did.

Chapter Text

McCoy was glad to see that since their ‘trip’ to Paradise Earth, Hope was back to her smiling, happy self. The time away from the Enterprise, the beautiful nature, the feeling of sun on her skin, had obviously had the desired effect on her.

Kirk saw it, too, and couldn’t resist teasing his friend about it over lunch. The doctor and Hope had been positively glowing on their return, and he was extremely curious as to what had happened between them. He had his suspicions, of course, but Bones had been uncharacteristically non-committal about it. Quite different from how they usually discussed their shore-leave affairs at great length. Unless he was completely wrong, Hope must be really special to the doctor. Hopefully, he was right. He’d really love to see Bones lucky in love for a change.

“Whatever happened down there in the rain, Bones,” he smiled, “it sure did the trick. It certainly seems to have done her the world of good.”

McCoy had to turn away, not wanting Jim to see him blush, remembering all the emotions he’d gone through that night, holding her, feeling her, so intimately, so close. The tenderness of the night, their closeness in the cave even before, the talking, the singing, had had him walking on air, and it had taken him days to come down to earth afterwards.

But could Jim be right? he wondered. He knew, of course, how much Hope relished being held. Had being in his arms that night helped her recovery?

Just the thought made his heart race, and he was grateful when the captain turned his attention back to Spock, who, unlike the doctor, hadn’t missed the knowing grin on Kirk’s face.

But although McCoy was certainly happy to see Hope so cheerful and carefree again, he didn’t quite trust this seemingly total recovery and stayed alert. Whatever was bothering her, hadn't just gone away, but was bound to return to haunt her. And he could tell that her happiness was sometimes a little forced. That she was trying hard to keep it together for her own sake as much as everybody else's.

So he kept a close eye on her, trying to keep track of her whereabouts, and discovered that she seemed to suffer from insomnia, judging by the increasing number of times he found her curled up on a couch on the observation deck late at night or early in the morning, reading or simply looking out at the stars.

She seemed to be all right as long as she was on duty or with friends, taking her band and dancing practice to extremes, now that her ankle was up to the strain again. Knowing how much it meant to her, McCoy had even learned to look the other way, whenever he heard the first chords of a Rock’n’Roll track, and just left her and Chekov to it.

But in spite of all the action that filled her days, the lonely nights were obviously hard on her. Being used to getting by on little sleep himself, McCoy made sure to join her on her nightly outings as often as he could. And she let him. 

One night, he found her standing all by herself on the deserted observation deck again, completely lost in thought. Chekov had made them watch a historical documentary on communism and the fall of the Berlin wall earlier that evening, and she’d been acting strangely ever since. Seemingly distracted, she’d been unusually quiet over dinner, not really paying attention to their conversation with Chekov and Uhura.

Therefore, he’d come looking for her right after he’d finished up in sickbay, fully expecting her to be here, and saddened to be proven right. He stopped at a distance to observe her a little, and when she didn’t move at all for several minutes, he quietly stepped to her side.

When she became aware of his presence, she turned towards him, smiling in greeting. But her smile didn’t reach her eyes. She opened her mouth to say something, but then closed it again without a single sound leaving her lips. Unable to speak, her mouth started to quiver, and he could tell how desperately she tried to hold back the tears that were beginning to well in her eyes.

He felt his heart breaking, and, his eyes full of compassion, wordlessly opened his arms for her. That's when her face crumpled and, stepping into his embrace, she whispered, "Can you please hold me?" 

"Anytime, my dear, for as long as you need me to," he murmured into her hair, closing his arms tightly around her slight frame, feeling her tremble against his chest with silent tears. 

"I'm here, Jenny. Always," he added softly, making a point of using her first name.

That did it. She started to sob more loudly, not bothering to hide it anymore. The kindness, as always, got to her. He'd observed it time and time again. Although she was the most kind-hearted person herself, she didn't know how to deal with receiving kindness from others. Once more, he wondered about all the things that had shaped her in the past. 

"Easy now," he crooned, tenderly rubbing her back, "I've got you." 

At which her sobs turned into hiccups, and she wrapped her arms around his waist, clinging on to him for dear life. It almost tore him apart to see her so distraught, and he desperately wanted to know what this was all about. But he'd promised to be there for her, no questions asked. 

After a while, her grip on him loosened and she slid to the floor, her back against the bulkhead, hugging her knees to her chest and ducking her head, hiding her face between her arms. McCoy sat down next to her and put a comforting arm around her shoulders. 

"That's good, let it all out."

But after some more time, he decided that enough was enough. He was her friend, but he was also her doctor. And this was getting extremely unhealthy. To hell with Starfleet confidentiality. 

"Jenny," he began carefully, "you've been an exemplary officer. Strong, loyal and dutiful. But now you've reached your limit. This is tearing you apart. And I can't just stand by and watch that happen. I think it's time for you to talk."

"I can't!" she whispered, lifting pleading eyes to his. 

"Because you don't want to, or because Starfleet won't let you?"

He'd adopted a sterner tone, making it clear that he was taking charge now. 

Hope didn't answer and just looked away. 

"Wouldn’t you like to tell me?" he asked, his voice softer again. "Wouldn't it be a relief to confide in me? To let me share the burden of whatever is eating you?"

Hope still didn't answer, but returned her gaze to him, her eyes betraying just how much she longed to tell him.

"Hope," he continued, "I could order you to let me in on your secret. You'd have no choice, and Starfleet would have to accept my decision as your physician." 

McCoy had never seen anyone look more relieved or hopeful. 

"Really, Doctor? You could do that?" 

"Yes, I could. And I will. You've suffered enough. Starfleet sent us a promising officer, and we want her back. That means we need you to be able to concentrate on the tasks at hand. No more distracting secrets."

"You wouldn't believe me anyway," she sighed, sounding defeated.

"Try me!"

She looked at him appraisingly.

“The documentary we watched today? I was right there when it happened.”

McCoy gazed at her, perplexed.

What did the documentary have to do with anything?

He’d been expecting a lot of things, having come up with various scenarios in his mind over the past few weeks and months, but this was definitely not part of any of them.

Hope saw the confusion in his face and looked at him challengingly.

“See?”

“No, I’m afraid I don’t see,” he replied calmly, trying not to sound indignant. “But I’d very much like to understand. Maybe you could be a little more specific? Start from the beginning?”

Jenny could see that he was serious. And just thinking of finally confiding in someone felt like a huge load off her shoulders.

"All right, Doctor,” she sighed, “let’s talk. But not here. Let's go somewhere more private."

"Wherever you feel comfortable. Your quarters maybe?"

McCoy got up, pulled her to her feet, and gently guided her towards the turbolift. 

 


 

They walked in silence along the dimly lit corridors of the Enterprise in night-mode. Hope staring straight ahead, probably figuring out what to say once they’d reached her quarters, and McCoy watching her out of the corner of his eye, concerned, but also more than a little curious. 

Thinking back to her uneasy reaction when they’d been forced to share a room on Paradise Earth, he briefly worried if going to her quarters had been such a good idea. But then again, he felt they’d come a long way since then, her trust in him deeply engrained in her head and her heart.

As soon as the doors had swished shut behind them, she turned towards him, a determined look on her face.

“All right, if we’re going to do this, we need booze.”

“Booze?” McCoy repeated, trying to figure out what she was talking about.

“Yes, booze,” she confirmed, “Lots of it.”

“And what, exactly, is ‘booze’?” he asked, raising an inquisitive eyebrow at her.

“Booze?”

She looked bewildered for a moment.

“Well, alcohol, of course!” she exclaimed as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. “Oh my God, I can’t wait to be able to talk like myself again, to be myself again. Not to have to watch every word I say. All. The. Fecking. Time!”

She flopped down on her couch, sniggering when she saw McCoy gaping at her. He’d never, ever heard her swear before.

“And talking like yourself includes foul language, I take it?” he asked incredulously.

This was getting more bizarre by the minute.

“No,” she said, embarrassed, blushing a deep red, “of course not. Sorry, Doctor!”

Suddenly, her shoulders slumped and she seemed to deflate. Looking up at him uncertainly, she asked in a small voice, “You’ll know what to do once I tell you, Doctor, won’t you?”

There she was again, the shy little girl, putting all her trust in him, tugging at his heartstrings. He crouched down in front of her and gently took her face between his hands, waiting for her to make eye contact.

“Whatever you’re going to tell me, I promise I’ll be there for you. We’ll get through this together.”

“Thank you, Doctor,” she whispered, studying his face for a few moments and seeming to draw strength from his presence. Then she took his hands in hers and stood up, pulling him up with her.

“Right,” she said, her voice determined again. “Booze it is.”

“You don’t even like alcohol,” he reminded her gently.

“You’re right, Doctor, I don’t. Usually. Especially the stronger stuff. But I think I’d like some wine tonight.”

With that, she went over to her cabinet and foraged around until she held out a bottle of merlot.

“If you’d rather have a bourbon or something, I’m afraid you’ll have to go get your own. This is the only booze I’ve got.”

She was really hung up on the word.

“Merlot is fine,” he smiled, thinking he’d better share her bottle.

He’d never seen her drink alcohol before, and he doubted that she could tolerate bigger quantities. Motioning for him to sit down on her little couch, she went to fetch two glasses and sat down in the chair at her desk opposite him.

“Sorry, no stemware,” she chuckled.

McCoy saw that she was uncharacteristically uncoordinated and quickly took the glasses from her, then busied himself opening the bottle with a corkscrew she’d handed him along with the merlot, and poured them some wine. She was quite obviously stalling for time, and his heart went out to her. Well, whatever it took for her to sum up the courage to talk.

He let her nip on her wine and fidget around in her chair for a while, then couldn’t watch it any longer. Getting up from the couch, he gently took the glass from her hand and put it down on her desk. Then he guided her over to the couch and sat her down right beside him.

“You don’t need the booze,” he told her, his voice warm and kind, “you can just talk to me. You’ve done it before.”

Shaking her head, Hope smiled at him ruefully.

“Sorry, Doctor. This is more difficult than I thought.”

“So I gathered” he replied kindly. “It’s all right, take your time.”

He tentatively put an arm around her shoulders, and when she didn’t pull away, drew her closer, ordered the lights on low, and waited.

Chapter Text

Being so close to the doctor in the almost-dark, Jenny was reminded of their first night on Paradise Earth. He’d held her hand so tenderly then, and she’d felt unspeakably relieved after having told him the whole story about her friend’s father. She wanted to feel like that again. All she needed to do was talk.

So, grateful for the dim light and his warm presence, she leaned back into his arm and started to speak. She had no plan, hadn’t mapped out where to start or how to explain. She just let the words tumble out, hoping to make sense, safe in the knowledge that he’d be listening patiently and attentively.

“I was born in 1971. So, when I said I was there, when the Berlin Wall fell, I really meant it. I was 18 at the time. And I was actually there. Well, not there there, but close enough, watching it on the telly, the TV. Now, don’t ask me what the telly is, I’ve already slipped up on that word with you. Okay, it was a broadcasting device where you could… er, never mind.”

Realising that she was rambling, she paused for a moment and tried to focus. Taking a calming breath, she let McCoy’s hand, that was gently rubbing up and down her arm, ground her.

“Anyway, long story short,” she continued, feeling almost giddy with the relief of finally saying all of this out loud, “apparently, I fell ill with leukaemia not long after my 20th birthday, a rare and devious kind of leukaemia, obviously, and let some American science freak put my body into a freezer until mankind found a cure.”

At the mention of her illness, Jenny felt the doctor’s hand on her arm coming to a halt, his grip tightening as he pulled her closer.

“I say ‘apparently’,” she quickly went on, “because it’s all a bit of a blur to me, I can’t really remember any of it. To me it was more like, one day I’m still at uni, the next day I wake up in the 23rd century.”

She halted again, turning her head to look at him.

“But it seems to have worked,” she finished with a wry smile, “because here I am, still young with a few ‘minor health issues’ like brittle bones, but otherwise healthy and happy in a brave new world.”

Having run out of words, she exhaled deeply, and looked expectantly at the doctor, waiting for him to say something, as his fingers absentmindedly drew circles on her back, gently tracing her shoulder blades, a multitude of emotions crossing his face.

 


 

McCoy was shell-shocked, having a hard time processing what he heard. It all seemed so surreal. His head was spinning from her erratic story, his astonishment growing with every word she said. Trying hard to follow her account, he once or twice felt she’d lost him completely.

After she’d finished, his mind went into overdrive, as he tried to get his head around everything she’d just told him. Whatever he’d anticipated was something to do with her family. An accident, maybe, that Starfleet wanted to cover up, or even some crime, but nothing like this.

Her story sounded implausible, but why would she make something like that up? No, she was telling the truth, there was no doubt in his mind. Or at least what she believed to be the truth.

But why would Starfleet want to keep it secret? Khan and his people immediately came to mind. Were they afraid she might be dangerous, too? No, certainly not. 1971 was way before the Augments, and, anyway, Starfleet would hardly have admitted her to the Academy and even assigned her to their flagship, if they thought her to be a threat.

He shook his head in an attempt to clear his mind, feeling another emotion build up inside him. Anger. Hope’s story had taken him completely by surprise, for sure, but the surprise he could deal with. What really got to him, looking at her artless face, was what Starfleet had imposed on her. It was a disgrace!

Those idiotic paper-shufflers obviously had no heart, no empathy at all! Had they no clue what this did to her? To have to fake and pretend her way through life? All alone, with no help? Or did they simply not care? Just the thought of what they’d put her through brought angry tears to his eyes. He was definitely going to haul them over the coals for this in his report. That much was certain.

 


 

Jenny was sitting stock-still, anxious for the doctor’s reaction. Any reaction. But she understood, of course, that he needed time to take it all in, maybe even to decide whether to believe her at all. That last thought sent an uneasy shiver down her spine.

After a while, she couldn’t take the suspense any longer and timidly asked, “You don’t believe a word I said, Doctor, do you?”

McCoy was startled out of his thoughts by her voice and turned his eyes to her.

“Sorry, my dear, I didn’t mean to keep you guessing. Of course, I believe you.”

His face was creased with all kinds of emotion, and Jenny was immensely relieved when he reached out a gentle hand to cup her face. It was such a familiar, reassuring gesture.

“Of course, I believe you,” he repeated emphatically, gazing deeply into her eyes, his voice as soft as she’d ever heard him.

Slowly running his hand down her cheek, over her shoulder and down her arm, his touch so delicate as if he were afraid to break her, he went on, “It certainly explains your bones, your hip, your eyes.”

His hand went back to her face, his fingers barely touching her skin.

“To think I was mad at your parents for being so negligent. I really feel like I should apologise.”

“They were anything but,” Jenny said, touched by how much thought the doctor had obviously given her health issues. “They were great parents.”

Her voice broke a little, and McCoy must have seen the grief in her eyes, because he impulsively put his arms around her and pulled her into a tight hug.

When he released her again, he was frowning.

“You know what’s strange?” he said thoughtfully, “Whatever kind of leukaemia you were suffering from, there should have been some indicators, some remnants in your blood tests. But there was nothing. As if it’s never been there. I’d never have guessed. Do you know who cured you, and how?”

Jenny was taken aback. She’d never thought about that. But then, she wasn’t a doctor.

“I have no idea,” she admitted, “they did it before they woke me.”

McCoy nodded and patted her arm comfortingly, but she could see that his mind was still racing.

“You don’t believe me, after all, do you?”

She was suddenly scared. But the doctor smiled at her reassuringly.

“Oh no, Hope, I do believe you. I’m just not sure I believe Starfleet. But it’s a lot to take in, a lot to get my head around. I’ve got so many questions, I don’t even know where to start.”

Jenny looked at him, feeling a mixture of relief and apprehension.

“Go ahead, then, ask me anything you want, and I’ll answer your questions the best I can.” 

McCoy held her eyes for a moment longer, compassion written all over his face, then reached for their wine glasses and said, “All right, but first I think we both need a little of that booze.”

Jenny chuckled, taking a glass from him, grateful for his efforts to put her at ease.

“You’re right, Doctor, if there ever was a time for booze, it’s now,” she giggled.

She took a sip of her wine, not really tasting it, then put her glass down again and smiled nervously at him.

“You’re obviously bursting with questions, Doctor. So, ask away!”

“All right then,” he drawled, setting his own glass down, and put a gentle finger under her chin to make sure he had her full attention.

“First of all, are you okay?”

Jenny couldn’t suppress a few emotional tears running down her face at the unexpected question, although, knowing him as she did, the question shouldn’t really have surprised her, and McCoy gently wiped them away with his thumb.

“I’m fine, Doctor, really,” she sniffed, smiling through her tears, “relieved most of all. And grateful that you made me talk. I feel so much lighter now.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” he replied softly, his thumb still caressing her face.

“Any other questions?” she asked, giving in to the urge to nestle her cheek into his hand.

“Plenty,” he chuckled, his eyes shining with affection, “the first one being why the hell you weren’t allowed to tell anyone? I mean it’s not like this is some big mystery, or something you’d have to be ashamed of? We’ve come across far stranger things out here in space. So why the secrecy?”

Jenny looked at him pensively. In fact, she’d wondered the same thing often enough.

Why did Starfleet insist on keeping this secret?

“Officially, they did it to protect me,” Hope began, but was cut off by an incredulous McCoy.

“Protect you my foot! From what? From leading a normal life?” he exploded, getting up from the couch and pacing as much as the limited space allowed him to. “Did they even consult a psychologist?”

His eyes were blazing with badly disguised rage now.

“But unofficially,” she went on, “I suspect they just didn’t want me to go and find someone to help me get back to my time. They said they had the means to do it, but couldn’t risk it, because it might alter the future.”

“What an awkward position to put you in! If we’d all just known from the beginning, you’d have had so much help and support. Talking freely with the people close to you, sharing memories and experiences is vital to a person’s mental health,” McCoy ranted. “But they just didn’t care, did they?”

“They said there was no use sticking to the past. Told me to focus on the present and the future instead. And frankly, I had so much catch up learning to do that I didn't have the time to give it much thought, anyway. I wanted to make the best of my situation. And to be honest, it wasn’t all bad, it was exciting, too! But here on the Enterprise, with more time on my hands, time to make friends, not just acquaintances, people wanting to get to know me, asking all those questions about me, it just got harder to stay in character all the time.”

McCoy sat back down next to her, heaving a sigh.

“I’m so terribly sorry, Hope,” he told her, his eyes dark with sorrow, “to have added to that. I never meant to hurt you, I only wanted to help.”

“I know,” Jenny said soothingly, her heart tightening at the guilt and regret on his face. “You were there for me, and I feel so much better now, I couldn't have gone on coping alone forever. I’m so glad I told you.” And smiling brightly at him, she added, “I guess honesty among friends is pretty important to me, too.”

Clearly remembering the conversation she was referring to, McCoy took both her hands in his and gently held them to his heart, the tenderness in his eyes almost bringing her tears back on.

“And you've got friends, Hope. It’s a load off my mind, too, believe me. We’ll get through this together, just like I promised. I can’t wait to hear all about your past!”

His eyes turned hard again.

“But I swear, if I get my hands on whoever’s responsible for all you’ve been through at Starfleet, they won’t know what hit them. When they read what I have to say in my report, they’ll wish they’d never been born.”

Jenny put an appeasing hand on his arm. She knew how passionate McCoy could get, where his friends or patients were concerned, and she was deeply moved to see him so outraged on her behalf, but she didn’t want him to get into trouble over it.

“It’s all right, Doctor, I’m fine,” she said soothingly. “You made sure of that.”

McCoy relented, his gaze softening again, as he regarded her closely for another long moment, and Jenny squeezed his arm affectionately. He really was the kindest man she knew.

Although she could easily see, of course, how watching him go from tender compassion to hot rage and back in the blink of an eye, might seem disconcerting to someone who didn’t know him well, didn’t know how deeply he cared, mistaking for uncontrolled mood swings what was really just two sides of the same coin.

“Before I ask any more questions,” the doctor interrupted her train of thought, “I think we should call the captain and Mr. Spock to join us, so you won’t have to go through all of this twice. That all right with you? We could relocate to my quarters for this, if you want to?”

Jenny nodded, and McCoy went over to the comm, asking Kirk and Spock to meet them in his quarters in 15 minutes. Then he returned to her side and gently rested his hands on her shoulders, his eyes tenderly searching her face.

“Are you really all right?” he asked softly. “If you don’t feel like answering any more questions tonight, I can meet Jim and Spock on my own, and we can meet up with them again tomorrow.”

His concern for her was heart-warming.

“I’m fine, Doctor. Honestly. Let’s get this over with right away.” And feeling her heart brim over with affection and gratitude, she added in a low voice, “Thank you for doing all this for me, for being my rock. I don’t know what I’d do without you. Thank you so much for caring.”

“Always, Hope,” he smiled, briefly hugging her to him, then reached for her hand and pulled her to her feet to go and meet the others in his quarters.

Chapter Text

When Kirk and Spock arrived, they were more than surprised to find the doctor sitting on the couch with his arm around a rather flustered Hope. Or at least Kirk was, because Spock barely raised an eyebrow.

“So, what’s this urgent matter you need to see us in the middle of the night about, Bones?” the captain asked, glancing questioningly from his friend to the woman in his arms and back.

“Sit down, Jim,” McCoy said quickly, before Kirk could make any further suggestive comments that would be really out of place right now.

As soon as Spock and Kirk had sat down at McCoy’s desk, he started to explain that Hope had signed a confidentiality agreement with Starfleet regarding a delicate matter concerning herself, but that, in his capacity as CMO, and in order to avoid further harm to her mental health, he’d relieved her of this obligation.

“I thought you’d want to know about this right away. And I wanted to save her from having to relate all the details more than once. That’s why I asked you to come over at this ungodly hour.”

“How can any hour be ‘godly’ or ‘ungodly’, Doctor?” Spock enquired, tilting his head a little to the side. “But then, I assume, this is one of your many colloquialisms and not at all related to the matter at hand?”

“You assume correctly, Mr. Spock,” McCoy grumbled, rolling his eyes at Kirk, “so let’s just stick to the point here.”

“Very well, Doctor,” Spock replied with the slightest shake of his head. “I suggest that Dr. Hope herself tell us what this is all about.”

“Yes, please,” Kirk jumped in, impatient to learn what secret Hope could possibly have kept for Starfleet, “go ahead Hope, we are listening.”

Jenny was a little intimidated. Although she’d come to know the captain and Mr. Spock quite well on a personal level by now, sitting here with them in this official set-up felt a little like being cross-examined.

She swallowed hard, then, feeling the doctor reassuringly squeeze her shoulder, began her report. This time, she managed to keep it mostly matter-of-factly and chronological, McCoy supportively hugging her a little to him every time she halted.

She could tell that the captain was flabbergasted. And also furious with Starfleet, although maybe not as much on her behalf as the doctor had been, but more because he felt he’d been played.

Spock, on the other hand, didn’t seem surprised at all. Not even in his Vulcan understated way. Had he been suspecting something like this all along? She wouldn’t put it past him, he was very perceptive and very good at coming to logical conclusions. And he was also extremely good at keeping his suspicions to himself, she thought.

Hearing her story for the second time, McCoy’s initial shock and surprise slowly gave way to realisation, as the enormity of it all started to sink in. He suddenly saw Hope in a different light. She was still the same woman, of course, but she seemed even more delicate to him now. For a strong woman, that was.

He’d always admired her strength, but now there was a whole new dimension to it. No wonder she’d broken down eventually, although it hadn’t even been that - a breakdown. She’d merely given in to her sadness and a friend’s urging. How she could still have been so cheerful and upbeat most of the time, so positive and giving, was beyond him.

To think that she’d been born 300 years ago, that she’d seen a world he never would. Surely one of the reasons she seemed so mature for her age. And how well she’d adapted! Apart from the physical peculiarities, which were making perfect sense now, she could have fooled him. Now that he knew, of course, a multitude of occasions came to mind, where she’d said or done things that didn’t quite add up at the time, but nothing that would really have given her away. Her slightly dated accent and way of speaking were also less of a mystery now, if no less attractive. Looking at her sitting here beside him, as she dutifully answered all of Kirk’s and Spock’s questions, she was more adorable than ever. 

Spock saw McCoy monitoring Hope closely, ever the protective doctor, but his concern for her was obviously going far deeper than professional duty. The first officer was fascinated by her story, although really not as surprised as McCoy or the captain had been. He’d always known that she was different, even felt a special connection due to them somehow being the two outsiders on the Enterprise.

Now it all made sense. He felt relief that Dr. Hope didn’t have to keep a secret of this dimension any longer, and was positive that she would recover from whatever emotional damage she’d suffered with the help of her friends, especially McCoy’s. For all his annoying qualities, he was the most devoted healer - and loyal friend - one could wish for. And although Spock would also do everything in his power to help her cope, he was grateful to know her in the best of hands with the doctor.

When she’d finished, Kirk exhaled sharply, leaning back in his chair and scratching his chin thoughtfully.

“Phew, this is quite a story, Hope!”

He looked at her kindly.

“Even though, just like Bones, I can’t think of any reason why Starfleet would want to keep this secret.”

His friend had more than once commented on Hope’s story with cutting remarks about Starfleet and how he was not happy at all with the way they’d handled this.

“Well, I can only repeat what I’ve already told Dr. McCoy. The official version was that it was for my protection. But I rather suspect that they were afraid I’d find someone who’d help me go back in time, if I were free to talk about it.”

Kirk nodded thoughtfully, thinking back to their encounter with Captain John Christopher. They’d certainly found a way for him to go back. But he didn’t know all the details surrounding Hope’s case, and he really wanted to believe that Starfleet had a reason for their decision and knew what they were doing. Unlike Bones, obviously, who’s expression right now was thunderous.

“They explained to me why I couldn’t go back, and I accepted that. Frankly, I was just happy to be alive. I wouldn’t want to alter history – or the future, however you look at it – just by existing,” she tried to lighten the atmosphere with a little humour.

“After I’d signed the confidentiality agreement, they asked me if I wanted to start a new life on Earth, but without family or a single friend, anyone to help me adapt to this whole new world, the thought seemed rather scary. And they kept almost all my private things, too. I wasn’t allowed to take anything with me that might betray me.”

Kirk could see McCoy pull her closer, his face lined with pain and compassion, and he had to admit that the thought of how alone she must have felt, didn’t leave him cold either.

“So they did some tests on me,” Hope went on to explain, “you know, my physical and cognitive abilities, and then offered me a career in Starfleet. Obviously I had the qualifications to join the Academy, even if I didn’t meet all the requirements for a starship officer.”

“Which your performance during your first landing party assignment has definitely remedied,” the captain cut in, wanting to cheer her up and remind her of her own worth.

“Thank you, Captain,” Hope’s face lit up at his words. “I’ve really come to like living in this time. It’s far better than the late 1900s in so many ways. But there is still so much I don’t know, I keep discovering new things almost every day, ranging from food to music to language, the list is endless. And not being able to ask anyone about it, I had to find out everything on my own. It was kind of hard, especially since I also had to find excuses for everything I did or said wrong. If it hadn’t been so exhausting, it might actually have been funny.”

Kirk admired her sense of humour. It was probably the one thing that had kept her going and helped her cope through it all. She really was a fighter.

“That’s over now. You can ask us anything you want,” he smiled at her. “But you did a really good job! I never had the impression that you were unfamiliar with anything, that you were any different from the rest of us.”

Spock just raised an eyebrow at that.

McCoy shook his head in wonder. For the umpteenth time.

“It’s really a lot to take in,” the doctor drawled, gentle eyes on Hope’s face, his arm ever tighter around her, his hand never ceasing its caressing motions. “And I’m just talking about me, I can’t begin to imagine what it must have been like for you, to wake up to a different world.”

“Don’t feel sorry for me, Doctor,” she said, taking his hand and squeezing it affectionately. “Even if it was a little difficult at times, it’s really a great experience. Certainly, the dream of many of my friends back then. I’m really happy where I am right now.”

I bet you are, Kirk thought, watching the interaction between Hope and McCoy with growing interest, trying to hide his smile behind a cough when she didn’t let go of his friend’s hand for the longest time, their fingers entwined.

Even Spock arched a knowing eyebrow at their obvious closeness.

“What did you do in your time?” Kirk asked, curious to know more about her.

“I was at university, studying – take a guess – linguistics. Not xeno-linguistics, obviously,” she added with a chuckle, and McCoy could hear that she was starting to sound all keyed up.

“Does Admiral Dakunia know?” Spock asked, and Kirk felt new anger rise in his chest at the thought.

All eyes turned to Hope.

“I don’t think so,” she replied uncertainly. “He never said a word. But then, maybe he knew more than he let on.”

“Let’s call it a night, gentlemen,” McCoy turned to Kirk and Spock. “I think that’s enough for now, let’s give Hope a rest.”

Kirk could see the exhaustion in Hope’s eyes, and quickly agreed. Motioning for Spock to follow him, he bid her and Bones good night, and left her in the doctor’s capable hands.

 


 

When Kirk and Spock were gone, Hope turned questioning eyes to McCoy.

“That went quite well, didn’t it?” she asked.

“Perfectly well,” he agreed, getting up from the couch and examining her face closely.

Touching the back of his hand to her forehead, he murmured, “I think you’re running a temperature from all the excitement. You really need to rest now. But I don’t want you to be alone. We could take you back to sickbay, or you could just stay here, have the bed. I don’t think I could sleep tonight, anyway.”

“Oh I’ll be all right in my quarters, Doctor,” she was quick to assure him, shuddering a little, “I’m not ill, and I don’t need a babysitter.”

“You’re shivering, Hope,” he admonished her gently, “and there’s no way I’m going to leave you alone tonight. Why don’t you lie down, while I go and get a mild tranquilizer?”

“Okay,” she caved in, smiling tiredly at him. “I don’t have the energy to fight you on this right now. But, please, no tranquilizer.”

“Deal! No tranquilizer, at least for now,” the doctor grinned, happy to have got his way, knowing that what she needed most now was the comforting presence of someone who cared.

 


 

She was exhausted, completely knackered, as she gratefully lay down on McCoy’s bed. It smelled of him, so familiar yet somehow exciting, and she immediately felt cosy and safe. Her mind was racing. She felt very relieved, yet couldn’t help questioning the wisdom of her decision to spill her secret. She hadn’t really thought it through, had she? All the consequences.

So when the doctor sat down on the edge of the bed to feel her pulse and gently tuck her in, she burst out, “Maybe they were right after all, maybe they really just wanted to protect me. Maybe I should have kept it secret.”

“Why do you think that now?” he asked, looking at her enquiringly.

“I don’t know. I guess I’m not sure of anything right now. I feel a little dizzy.”

“You’ve had a very intense couple of hours, Hope. You just need to rest. Everything will be fine again tomorrow, I promise.”

“I’m sure, you’re right, Doctor,” she smiled and snuggled deeper into his bed, when another thought struck her.

“Am I a freak to you now?” she asked in a small voice.

McCoy’s brows furrowed in disapproval, and he shook his head, smiling indulgently.

“What are you saying! If anything, you’re even more special now!” he sounded almost annoyed, but then a wide grin spread across his face. “To think that you actually knew Faith Hill and Tim McGraw!”

Jenny felt a gentle hand touching her forehead again, ostensibly to check her temperature, but lingering to play with her hair.

“Well, I didn’t actually know them,” she chuckled, “but yes, I’ve seen them live on stage.”

“Now I’m jealous,” the doctor grumbled good-naturedly, then looked straight into her eyes.

“Want me to hold your hand?”

“And continue an old tradition of helping me go to sleep?”

She was amused.

“Would you like that?” he asked softly, and she felt herself melting away under his tender gaze.

“Yes, in fact, I would,” she whispered, her voice choked with emotion. “Thank you so much, Doctor. For everything.”

And smiling up at him sleepily, she took his hand in both of hers and raised it to her face to nestle into it.

 


 

His hand cradling her lovely face, McCoy started to softly caress her cheek with his thumb, not stopping until long after her breathing had slowed down and she’d drifted off.

Looking at her, so peacefully asleep in his bed, he was overwhelmed by the enormity of his emotions, as it hit him how her having no family had taken on a completely new meaning. How really and truly alone in the world she was. His heart ached just trying to imagine what that would be like.

No wonder she lapped up every tender touch, every embrace, every opportunity of closeness. But he’d be there, whenever she needed him. He’d be her family. They all would. Jim, Chekov, Uhura, Christine, and all the others, they’d all want to be this sweet woman’s family. Even Spock, the thought making him smile.

He gently extracted his hand from under her cheek. What he wouldn’t give to lie down beside her now, to let her curl up in his arms and hold her tight all night. It felt a bit like loving a daughter. Except that it didn’t. Just holding her would be enough. Or would it? He didn’t trust himself completely around her anymore. But she did. She had complete trust in him, and he’d never do anything to risk losing that.

She needed a father figure more than ever now. In her current state of mind, she was extremely vulnerable. He would never take advantage of that. They were not in some cave in the middle of nowhere, there was no excuse for ‘squeezing up’ as she’d called it. They were in his quarters, she was lying in his bed. He really had to be careful here.

So he decided to do the next best thing for her. And that was giving Starfleet a piece of his mind and reading up on diseases and any other medical peculiarities of her time. He spent the night deeply engrossed in research over his screen, but every so often, his mind would drift off to the late 20th century, imagining what she and her life there might have been like. He’d certainly come across far crazier stuff in his time, but he found it especially hard to get his head around this one.

Chapter Text

When Jenny woke up the next morning, feeling wonderfully rested and perfectly well again, the doctor was in the shower. It felt strangely intimate to lie in his bed and hear him clean his teeth and get ready next door. She loved it.

Stepping out of the bathroom, fully dressed and ready for duty, a bright smile spread across his face at seeing her awake.

“Good morning, sunshine!” he said and came to stand beside the bed. “How are you feeling today?”

“Much better,” she smiled, sitting up, “really great, actually! Is there a sedative incorporated in your sheets? I haven’t slept this well since, well, forever!”

The doctor chuckled, sitting down on the edge of the bed to pull on his boots, and she thought that she could easily get used to such a morning routine.

“That’s the load off your mind, my dear,” he said affectionately. “Nothing like getting a secret off your chest to make you sleep like a baby.”

Jenny smiled at him, then remembered that she’d robbed him of his bed.

“Thank you for giving up your bed, Doctor! Where did you sleep? Or did you sleep at all?”

She felt really guilty now, but the doctor just smiled at her.

“I had a ton of research to do last night. Don’t worry, Hope, I don’t need much sleep.”

He got up and headed towards the door, turning around again before it opened.

“I took you off shift for today. Make yourself at home, stay as long as you want. Then have something to eat and come to see me in sickbay for a quick check-up.”

“Yes, Sir!” she grinned, saluting.

“I mean it,” he laughed. “Enjoy a day off-duty, meet up with friends, chat with them. And tell them as little or as much as you want to. It’s completely up to you. Jim, Spock and I will not discuss it with anyone else aboard. It’s your decision alone. And in your own time, too. Just know that I informed Starfleet about the situation and that you’re free to talk about anything to anyone.”

“Thank you, Doctor,” she said quietly, hoping he could tell how deeply grateful she was, and after he’d left, fell back on his bed, basking in the feeling of his blanket wrapped tightly around her.

 


 

McCoy went to meet Kirk and Spock in the briefing room. Wanting to discuss last night’s revelations as soon as possible, the captain had arranged for them to have breakfast there.

When he entered, Kirk looked up and asked, “How is she?”

“And a good morning to you, too, Jim!” the doctor grinned, secretly pleased to see his friend so concerned for Hope. “She’s going to be all right. Feeling great this morning. At least that’s what she said. Although she did have second thoughts last night.”

Sitting down, grabbing some much-needed coffee, he asked, “So, what are we going to do?”

“I already took the liberty to do some research,” Spock offered.

McCoy raised an eyebrow. So Spock hadn’t been sleeping much, either. He’d always known that the Vulcan had a soft spot for Hope, too.

“Jennifer Hope appears to have been a rather common name at the time. I found 17 bearers of that name who were born in the year 1971, old Earth Calendar. Only three of them, however, went to university.”

“And?” McCoy urged, getting impatient.

“And, interestingly, they all lived to be mothers, two of them even grandmothers, well past the age of 20.”

“What about the others?” Kirk wanted to know. “The ones that didn’t go to university?”

“I have investigated those, too, of course, but apart from one sudden infant death and one girl getting killed in a traffic accident at age 9, all of them also lived well into the 21st century.”

“Curious,” the captain said thoughtfully. “What do you make of it?”

“Unless Dr. Hope has been lying about her name, I have not logical explanation, Captain.”

McCoy threw him an outraged glance. “Why should she be lying about her name? I’m telling you, there’s something shady going on that Starfleet’s trying to cover up.”

“Easy, Bones,” Kirk said placatingly, “let’s stick to the facts. I’m waiting to hear back from a contact of mine. If there’s something strange going on with Hope’s files at Headquarters, she’ll let me know.”

At that moment, Uhura announced an incoming subspace call for the captain, which Kirk had her put through to the briefing room, and the smiling face of Lt. Areel Shaw appeared on the screen.

“Good morning, gentlemen,” she said pleasantly, “I got your message, Jim.”

“Good to see you again, Areel,” the captain smiled. “Got any news for me?”

“Actually, yes, I have,” she went on. “After Starfleet received Dr. McCoy’s report, they scheduled a meeting right away. They are really sorry for Dr. Hope’s inconvenience and are going to issue and official apology later today. As for her story, they’ve confirmed everything she’s told you. The awkward position Dr. Hope has found herself in, really seems to be the product of Starfleet officials’ poor judgment and people skills rather than some conspiracy or whatever you were suspecting.”

“Thank you, Areel,” Kirk smiled, watching McCoy out of the corner of his eye. “Sorry to have bothered you.”

“Don’t mention it, Jim,” she beamed at the captain. “I have to go now, gentlemen, I’ve got another meeting scheduled in five. Be safe!”

And before the captain could say good bye, her face had disappeared from the screen again.

“Well, what do you make of that?” Kirk asked no one in particular.

Inconvenience? Did you hear that?” McCoy was beside himself. “This is absurd. I don’t believe a word they’re saying. Starfleet are lying through their teeth.”

“I tend to agree with the doctor,” came Spock’s unexpected response, “but I don’t see anything we can do about it at the moment. At this point, we can hardly call Starfleet’s word into question.”

“I wouldn’t mind taking it up with all of Starfleet, if they hurt Hope any more,” the doctor grumbled. “This whole apology business came about far too quickly not to be suspicious.”

“I see where you’re coming from, Bones,” Kirk assured him, “but Spock’s right. We have to accept Starfleet’s word for now. Especially, since I don’t see how making a big fuss about it would help Hope. Don’t you think?”

McCoy grudgingly agreed. He’d drop it, for now. Hope was feeling great, that was all that really mattered. Jim was right. Since Hope seemed to believe her story, had even come to terms with it, he’d better not let on that he thought there was more to it. Putting doubt in her mind would serve no one. Things were hard enough for her as they were.

Before they concluded the meeting, Spock turned to McCoy.

“From what I see, you have begun to research 20th century illnesses and medical procedures, Doctor. If there is anything I can help you with, please don’t hesitate to let me know.”

“Thank you, Spock, I might even take you up on that,” the doctor smiled at him, a rare occasion, the Vulcan noted with a certain degree of satisfaction.

Having been up all night, working his way through various computer files, Spock had seen that McCoy had drawn all available information on diseases of the late 20th century from the data bank and requested even more data from the Terran Ministry of Health.

Although he’d never say it out loud, this was one of the things he secretly admired about the doctor. To meticulously prepare for every eventuality. It gave Spock a pleasant sense of security to know that, just like he was now trying to read up on everything regarding Dr. Hope’s background, he always kept up-to-date on Vulcan medical standards.

For reasons that continued to elude him, Dr. McCoy enjoyed affecting stubborn and annoying thick-headedness. But if one had ever worked with him scientifically, one knew better. For a human, he had an exceptionally brilliant mind and was an outstanding expert in all matters medical.

After Spock had excused himself from the briefing room, Kirk asked McCoy to stay on for another minute.

“What can we do to help her, Bones?” he came straight to the point.

“We’ve already helped her a lot, Jim,” the doctor replied, touched that the captain cared so much about Hope. “Telling us, sharing her secret and talking about it was a great relief. That was the first step. Now we need to keep reminding her that she’s not alone in this anymore. That she can ask us anything, come for advice anytime. She needs to know that we care for her. We can give her a sense of belonging, even if we can’t get her family back for her. And we can show interest in her past. She can’t take a stroll down memory lane with someone who was actually there, but telling us all about her former life will be the next best thing.”

He paused for a moment, taking a deep breath.

“Can you imagine what she’s gone through? What it must have been like for her? To be all alone? Really alone? All her family gone, all her friends, even her acquaintances? No one to turn to? A 20-year old girl stranded among strangers in a world, where nothing is familiar and everything is different?”

His voice grew ever softer.

“Not even Spock with his unique heritage is that alone,” he murmured, seeing the compassion in Jim’s eyes.

“She’s a really remarkable woman, Bones.  Anyone else might have been crushed by the circumstances, but she bravely coped with it all. And even with a smile on her face. She’s truly admirable.”

“She certainly is,” McCoy agreed. “All she needs now, is a little affection and TLC, and she’ll be all right.”

“Duly noted,” Kirk smirked, “although I think I’ll leave the physical side of things to you, Bones.”

“You just can’t help it, Jim, can you?” the doctor groaned. “And just when I was getting impressed with your compassion and sensitivity.”

 


 

Not feeling like talking to anyone just yet, Jenny stayed in McCoy’s quarters until almost lunchtime, enjoying being surrounded by his things, sensing his comforting presence, even though he wasn’t there. She studied the holo of Joanna as a little girl next to a more recent one on his desk, thinking how she had her father’s beautiful eyes and kind smile. She’d really like to meet her in person one day.

Snuggling back into the doctor’s bed, she tried to imagine what life would be like, with everybody knowing where she came from. Would she really want everybody to know? Would they treat her differently? Would they think her to be inferior? Would the relief of not having to lie and pretend outweigh the fear of being snubbed?

Weary of her thoughts going round in circles in her head without finding any answers, Jenny decided to go to sickbay for the check-up she’d promised McCoy. Much as she’d love to, she couldn’t hide in his quarters forever.

 


 

McCoy was relieved to see Hope coming through the doors to sickbay. He’d been a bit worried already. She wasn’t usually one to hole up somewhere rather than be around people.

“How are you doing, my dear?” he asked, guiding her towards the nearest biobed for a brief examination.

“Great, Doctor,” she smiled, but her eyes, that followed every move of his hand running the scanner over her body, lacked the happy gleam of this morning.

McCoy finished the check-up, satisfied with the readings, and put the scanner away. Then he perched on the edge of another biobed and gazed at her contemplatively.

“We’re done here. Temperature’s back to normal, your readings are perfect. Why do I still get the impression that you’re not feeling well?”

“But I am, Doctor!” she exclaimed. “Honestly. Just maybe still a little dazed from last night, still getting used to people knowing the truth about me.”

“Is that a bad thing?” McCoy wanted to know, seeing the uncertainty in her face.

“No, not at all, it’s just,” she hesitated a moment, “I’m afraid I must seem like a cave woman to you now.”

The sigh that followed her words went straight to his heart.

“Why would you think that?” he leaned a little forward, holding her gaze. “It’s not at all like you to be so insecure. You’re still you, you still have all the same qualifications, the same qualities, the same abilities. If anything, you’re even more admirable now that we know you had to catch up on 20 years, no, make that 300 years’ worth of knowledge on top of everything else you had to study for at the Academy. To me, you’re still the strongest, most beautiful, most amazing woman I’ve ever met.”

McCoy stopped short, embarrassed by letting himself go like that, and Jenny blushed, smiling up at him bashfully.

“Sweet of you to say this, Doctor, even though you’re quite obviously biased. You’re my friend.”

“That I am,” he replied, regarding her fondly. “And please remember that you can talk to me about everything. You don’t have to pretend anymore, you can just be yourself. Whatever you need or need to know, I’ll be there for you.”

“And I’m so grateful for that, Doctor. For everything. You’re simply the best.”

She hopped off the biobed, pressed a smacking kiss on his cheek and ran rather than walked out of sickbay.

McCoy just stood there, waiting for the beating of his heart to subside. What had he been thinking? Letting himself be carried away like this. He was lucky she’d taken his words as the friendly attempt to make her feel better.

Yes, they were friends, no more, no less. He’d have to let go, now that he’d reached his goal. Getting close to her to gain her trust was no longer an excuse. He had her trust. They were close. As friends. And she’d confided in him. Just as he’d hoped she would. Now it was time to back off again, to let her get on with her life. He’d always be there for her, of course, but he needed to try to keep his distance now, for both their sakes.

 


 

Hearing him say those things had filled her stomach with butterflies. She knew, of course, that he’d said it as her friend, her doctor, even, because he wanted her to feel good. But still.

She’d really have to stop this silly infatuation. The doctor had simply wanted to help her. He was kind and caring like that. As a doctor, and as a man. And he certainly cared for her. A lot. But he was this famous, high-ranking Starfleet physician, and she was just a nobody. There was no way, he would consider her as anything else. His friendship was certainly more than she could ever have hoped for. She would relish it and not ruin it with some misled romantic fantasies.

Chapter Text

Even two nights later, McCoy could still get a whiff of Hope in his bed. Enough to keep him awake, tenderly burying his face in the blanket, his thoughts circling around the lovely young woman.

She’d spent the last two days mostly answering questions, and the doctor had been relieved to see how much she’d seemed to enjoy it. He knew she’d been afraid that people might lose their respect for her, but learning that quite the contrary was true, she’d soon found her confidence again. It was wonderful to see her truly happy once more. And it was great to watch the role reversal, since now it was mainly Hope doing the talking and the others listening attentively.

While McCoy wanted to know all about her personal life, Scotty couldn’t get enough of her first-hand stories about engines and how they were fuelled. He was disgusted at the waste of energy and resources, in addition to the pollution they caused, and dismayed, when Hope didn’t know how everything worked to the last detail, his brogue clearly audible throughout the rec room.

So was Chekov’s distinct accent, as he was equally fascinated and appalled by her tales of the USSR and the Cold War. Spock, of course, was less noisy in his reactions, but nevertheless totally involved, if the light green hue to his cheeks was anything to go by. Vulcans had already been observing Earth from afar at the time of Hope’s ‘first life’, as she’d taken to calling it. And Spock seemed to take immense pleasure in finding discrepancies between the official recordings at the Vulcan Science Academy and the memories of a contemporary witness.

As it turned out, Hope’s actual mother tongue was German, and Kirk had wanted to know why she’d had to pretend it was English. Apparently, she had a very specific German accent that wasn't spoken any longer, and, since her dad had been born and raised near London, and they’d often spoken English at home, it had just been easier to stick to English, which seemed to have morphed more or less unchanged into Standard.

Uhura had made them all listen to Hope talk in various old Earth tongues, cracking up at the obviously funny accents. But what the communications officer had found hilarious, McCoy had found doing strange things to his groins.

Don’t even go there, Leonard! he groaned, deciding to give sleep another shot instead.

 


 

When Hope asked him to let her return to duty, McCoy was against it at first, thinking she needed a little more time to herself. But he quickly changed his mind, when he realised that a normal routine was actually exactly what she needed.

It had been the right decision, he thought, when he and Jim watched her talk to Uhura over lunch a few tables away. The two women were giggling and laughing all through their meal, not a care in the world, and McCoy’s heart filled with happiness at seeing Hope having such a good time.

“It’s good to see her like this again, isn’t it, Bones?” Kirk smiled, when his friend couldn’t tear his eyes away from Hope for the longest time. “She’s such a positive person. It’s only been two days since she’s told us. And now, looking at her, you’d think nothing could upset her.”

“Yes, she’s incredibly strong,” the doctor agreed, his eyes still on Hope. “It’s in her nature, just like being positive and kind. It probably helps that she usually doesn’t take the time to dwell on her problems, always more concerned about the others' well-being than her own. Just think about what she did when she broke her ankle! She was so concerned about you reaching the ship, that she somehow managed to block out the pain.”

Kirk had to smile at that, because it was exactly what his friend was like, too. Always more concerned about everybody else than about himself. The two of them were really made for each other.

When Hope and Uhura went to get some coffee, the captain asked them to join him and the doctor at their table, enjoying the cheerfulness and easy banter that came with them.

“What is it, Captain?” Hope asked after a while, looking enquiringly at him, and Kirk realised that he’d been staring.

“I’m sorry, Hope,” he said, “I was just wondering how you do it.”

“Do what?” she laughed, her eyes twinkling with amusement.

“Enjoy life, no matter what. You seem to see only the good things in life.”

Hope turned serious, and Kirk was almost afraid he’d said something wrong.

“I've not always been like this,” she finally said. “I used to be irritated by little things. I wanted everything exactly as I’d planned it, taking myself much too seriously. But then I woke up here, and they told me about my illness and what had happened to me. That was quite a shock, believe me. Can you imagine what it’s like to learn that your life as you know it is over, and nothing can be done about it?”

Kirk shook his head. So far, he’d always managed to find a way out of everything. But he saw McCoy nod and briefly rest a reassuring hand on top of Hope’s.

“You realise how unimportant you really are,” she continued. “Life will go on without you just the same. And then you start to take every day as a gift, you want to enjoy every single moment. And you begin to focus on all the good things life has to offer.”

She smiled at them, her eyes coming to rest on McCoy.  

“I was lucky, I was given another life, a second chance. And I’m ever so grateful for that. This time, I won't waste a moment with trivialities. I want to make as much out of it as I can. Learn as much as I can. I believe that everything happens for a reason. If not for my illness, I'd never have met you, I'd never have known how wonderful the future would be.”

There were a few moments of silence, as they all considered her words. Then Uhura jumped up, stepped around the table and impulsively hugged her.

“I know it’s not been easy for you, but I, for my part, am so happy you’re here,” she gushed. “In fact, I can hardly remember a time when you were not part of our crew.”

Kirk looked at McCoy, who was watching the two women with a fond smile on his face, and realised how much happier Bones seemed since Hope had come aboard. He wouldn’t say that she’d wiped the habitual frown off the doctor’s face completely. That would be taking it too far. But he definitely seemed to smile more than frown these days.

She was really a remarkable woman, and he felt a sudden urge to do something nice for her. Remembering what Bones had said about her needing closeness, the emotional just as much as the physical kind, he thought that a combat training session might be something she’d enjoy.

McCoy had this theory that even in stasis, humans needed physical contact, touch. He always made a point of holding unconscious or comatose patients’ hands or stroking their faces, instructing the nurses and orderlies to do the same. 300 years in stasis would definitely leave you touch-starved.

“How’s your combat training with Sulu getting along?” he asked casually.

“He says I’m making progress,” she smiled, “but I have a feeling, he’s just being kind.”

“How about you give me a chance to form my own opinion?” he suggested. “Are you still free for a little training session tonight?”

Hope was obviously surprised, but quickly agreed, and the captain found that he was actually looking forward to it.

 


 

When Kirk arrived at the gym that evening, Hope was already there, looking gorgeous in her combat trousers, as usual.

She was a bit shy at first, attacking the captain clearly requiring a little getting used to. But with time, she grew more confident, and he was rather impressed by her skill. She was certainly fast and strong for her size, although, at the end of the day, no match for him. Therefore, they'd always end up with Hope lying on the mat, him holding her down, and her ensuing struggle to break free again.

She was ambitious, fighting tooth and nail, and yet, he felt that she didn’t really mind admitting defeat. She just seemed to enjoy the closeness of their struggle, safe in the knowledge that he'd never hurt her. The joy in her eyes, although definitely not helpful against a real attacker who’d most probably be immune to her charms, was just what Bones had been talking about.

Except that Kirk was enjoying himself quite a lot, too. Maybe even a little too much. He had to be careful there. It would be so easy to fall in love with her. But she was the one woman he couldn't have. Because his best friend was already in love with her. Even though McCoy didn't know – or admit it – yet.

He'd never seen his friend in love before. Really in love. Not like this, anyway. Sure, McCoy had been attracted to the odd girl on shore leave. They'd spent good times together. But it had always been very superficial and mainly with the purpose to meet any physical needs. But this was different. Even though McCoy hadn't changed, was still as focused on and dedicated to his work as ever, still making plenty of time for chats and drinks with him, the captain could see that Hope was becoming the centre of his universe.

There was a gentleness in the way the doctor talked to and about her. A tenderness in his eyes, when she was around or even when only her name came up. Kirk saw all the signs, even if McCoy didn't see them himself. He regarded Hope almost as a daughter, much too young for him to have a romantic interest in. At least that's what he'd told him when Kirk had tried to open his eyes to what was going on. And maybe he was right. Maybe he was too old for her.

Only that Kirk could see the same signs in Hope where the doctor was concerned. Maybe they'd find out by themselves sooner or later. They certainly both deserved all the love and devotion they could find in their lives. And it would make him very happy to finally see Bones in a stable and fulfilling relationship with a loving and loyal partner. Maybe he really wasn't aware of it, or maybe he'd just given up hope, but Kirk knew that, deep down, that was exactly what his friend craved. Unlike himself, who was certainly capable of very deep and loving feelings, but could never commit in the long term, always putting the Enterprise first, if he had to choose. 

 


 

Their training session, was cut short, when Kirk was called to the bridge to respond to an urgent call from a nearby science vessel.

“Maybe we can do this again some time,” he said, as he swung a towel around his neck and made for the exit.

“I’d like that!” Hope called after him, her eyes beaming, making the captain smile all the way to the bridge.

The emergency was a probe gone missing, or, more accurately, stuck in a place it wasn’t supposed to be. The science vessel had been collecting data from a planet whose population was still a long way from space travel, and therefore strictly protected from any alien contact by the Prime Directive.

The probe in question had crashed and stopped transmitting close to one of the bigger settlements, and had to be retrieved quickly, before the natives discovered it. Since the crew of the science vessel had not been trained for delicate military operations, they asked for help, which Kirk was only too happy to offer. Any excuse for a little excitement planetside.

Promising to take care of the matter, the captain had the scientists transmit all data on the probe and their mission to Spock’s computer, and called an emergency meeting with Scotty, Chekov, and McCoy, to devise a plan of action.

Less than an hour later, Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Chekov, and an excited Hope materialised at a safe distance from the settlement.

 

Chapter Text

Equipped with nothing but their communicators and the smallest of medikits, to avoid bringing even more advanced technology to this planet, the landing party moved carefully and quietly along a little creek towards the last known location of the probe.

Since the scientists had found out that the natives never ventured farther than three hours walking distance from their settlements, they’d beamed down to a remote area almost four hours away, and were now approaching the settlement from the side where they hoped to find what they’d come for.

Kirk had great confidence in Spock’s sense of direction, as well as Chekov’s navigational and McCoy’s medical skills, even without their tricorders. What really bothered him though, was how vulnerable he felt without a phaser.

“Why am I here again?” he heard Hope whisper to the doctor, who was, predictably, walking so close behind her, he had to be careful not to step on her heels.

“Haven’t you heard yet?” McCoy grumbled in a low voice. “Jim has his mind set on making you the Fleet’s best officer before you’re even grown up. I sure as hell wanted to leave you safely with Scotty.”

Hearing Hope chuckling softly, the captain cut in, “Thanks for explaining my intentions so clearly, Bones. But apart from that, and since we couldn’t bring the universal translator, I actually thought it was a clever idea to bring someone who’s good at communication and picking up new languages.”

Hope chuckled again, and Spock turned around abruptly, shooting them a warning glance and holding a silencing finger to his mouth. Apparently, his Vulcan ears had picked up something.

They stopped immediately and stayed motionless, hardly daring to breathe. Kirk heard nothing, but he suddenly felt a sharp pain in his shoulder, and, seeing the others tumble and fall, too, sank to the ground. Then everything around him went black.

 


 

When he came to, Kirk was sitting with his back propped up against a stone wall. Realising that he wasn’t shackled or bound, he quickly reached for his communicator. But that, of course, was gone.

Looking around, he saw that McCoy, Hope and Chekov were still out cold, all of them sitting in a similar position. Only Spock was already up and about, thoroughly checking the solid metal bars, that divided what looked like a huge barn into several ‘cages’, for any weakness. He got up to join his first officer and saw a bowl of water in a corner, feeling extremely thirsty, yet not daring to drink from it.

Spock acknowledged his presence with a curt nod, but kept focused on his task.

“You were out 28 minutes longer than I was, Captain,” he stated calmly. “Unfortunately, I don’t have enough data to calculate how much longer it will take for the others to wake up.”

“Found out anything yet?” Kirk asked, hoping to get some clues as to where they were, and why they were here.

“We seem to have been sedated by some kind of tranquilizer dart. But I haven’t seen any of our captors yet.”

Almost as if on cue, a door on the far side of the barn opened, and two humanoids came in, carrying trays of what was probably food. Looking at Kirk and Spock with scowls that could mean anything from fear to anger to curiosity, they set the trays down on the floor and pushed them through a little hatch into their cage, then turned to leave again.

The captain called after them, trying to establish some sort of communication, but they didn’t show any reaction to his words at all, and simply left again. Hitting the bars hard in frustration, he heard movement behind him, and saw that McCoy had already woken up, too. The doctor was busy examining Hope and Chekov, asking over his shoulder, if he and Spock were all right.

Kirk eyed the ‘food’ suspiciously. Looking like some kind of fruit, it seemed harmless enough, but without a tricorder to verify its edibility, there was, of course, no way he’d try it. As soon as Hope and Chekov had come around, too, the door opened again to reveal the same guards as before, this time accompanied by a taller humanoid. Pointing what looked like a small harpoon at them, he walked along the side of their cage, eyeing them up and down and completely ignoring Kirk’s demands to be heard.

The tall one’s eyes finally fell on Hope, and he unlocked a latch near where she stood, pulling her out of the cage in one swift move and roughly shoving McCoy and Chekov aside, who’d tried to throw themselves between Hope and her attacker. Kirk and the others could only watch in dismay, as the latch was being safely locked again, and a struggling and kicking Hope was being dragged towards the door and outside.

“Do something, Jim!” McCoy cried, panicking, as he felt his heart stop, trapped in a nightmare.

Why her? Why not me? was all he could think, his brain refusing to come up with a single coherent thought.

He saw Spock hurrying to the latch, pulling and rattling rather than checking now, but there was no way out. Even with his Vulcan strength Spock couldn’t get it to give.

McCoy started to pace, desperately trying to calm down. He couldn’t fall to pieces now. He had to keep it together for her sake. She’d need him, when she came back. And she would come back. She had to.

The wait was agonising. Kirk and Spock were alternately discussing weird ideas and examining the bars with ever growing force, and Chekov was lost in guilt and self-reproach at not having been able to protect Hope.

Almost half an hour passed, before the door opened again, and the three natives were back, approaching the latch, seemingly to choose who to take next.

Hope was not with them. They’d returned without her. And the doctor just lost it.

“What did you do to her, you bastards?” he yelled at them, rattling at the bars like a deranged man, not even noticing how, behind him, Kirk and Spock were kept in check by the harpoon-like weapon while Chekov was being dragged away.

Almost as soon as the door had closed behind Chekov, it opened again, and a pale-faced Hope was brought in and pushed into the cage next to theirs. Her uniform looked crumpled, but apart from that she seemed unharmed. McCoy was at her side in a flash, or at least as close as he could get with the bars between them, trying to determine her condition, as she sagged against the metal.

 


 

Jenny had never been happier to see anyone. She hadn’t been harmed, and she knew she needed to let the captain and the doctor know right away, but her body was failing her. All she could do was cower on the floor, shaking like a leaf. Facing danger with the others by her side was one thing. Being taken by aliens to who knows where on her own was something else entirely. Maybe McCoy had been right, maybe she really wasn’t grown up yet. But that experience had definitely taken her a step closer to adulthood.

The doctor’s quavering voice calling her name over and over again finally registering, she wrapped her hands around his fingers, which were clamped around the bars separating them, and lifted her face, almost drowning in the emotions she could see in his eyes.

“It’s okay, I’m all right,” she croaked, trying to smile reassuringly, when she saw a tear of relief trickling down the doctor’s face.

“Did they hurt you?” he asked softly.

Jenny just shook her head. Then she saw the captain squatting beside McCoy.

“What did they want from you?”

“I think they chose me because they thought I was the easiest target,” she said, her voice clearer and stronger again. “They have the probe, Captain. But they have no idea what it is or what to do with it. I don’t think they want to harm us. They’re just afraid of us and – correctly – assume that there is a connection between us and the probe.”

“Could you communicate with them?” Kirk asked.

“Not with words, no. But it was pretty clear what they wanted. That was for me to show them how to open or activate the probe.”

“And did you?” the captain wanted to know.

“Of course not!” she said indignantly, then added. “I probably couldn’t have, even if I’d wanted to, anyway. I think I could successfully convince them that I had no idea what that thing was.”

Before Kirk could respond, the door to the barn opened again, and the guards returned with Chekov slung limply over the taller one’s shoulder. Jenny gasped as they more or less just dropped him in her cage, and McCoy was all but squeezing through the bars, desperately needing to get to the Russian.

She hurried to Pavel’s side, relieved to see him still breathing, checking his pulse, temperature and reflexes just as McCoy had taught her to, and answering all the doctor’s questions, grateful that he was at least close enough to tell her what to do.

Pavel’s face was turned away from McCoy, but when Jenny told him about his sallow complexion, McCoy cursed under his breath. Without his medikit this was going to be difficult. Just then, the door opened again, and a smaller native, maybe a child or a female, slid inside, timidly looking around before quietly darting over and pushing McCoy’s medikit through the hatch into Jenny’s cage, making a silencing gesture.

“Thank you,” Jenny mouthed, hoping that the little alien understood her meaning, before it was gone as quickly and quietly as it had come.

“Right,” McCoy said, all business now, “we all got shot somewhere around the shoulders. You need to check there for any signs of infection.”

Jenny did as she was told, trying to be as gentle as she could, when Chekov started to moan and wince at her touch. She carefully peeled off all layers of shirts, revealing an ugly, festering wound.

“This is bad,” the doctor said, “I guess the tip of whatever dart they shot at us is still in there. You’ll have to cut it out with the scalpel from my medikit, Hope, do a little field surgery here. And fast.”

Jenny looked at him aghast, trying hard not to panic at the mere sight of the wound, almost feeling the pain it must cause.

“I can’t!” she whispered, shuddering at the thought.

“Don’t go all squeamish on me now, Hope,” McCoy said sternly, his tone allowing no argument. “You can do it, and you will.”

Jenny just froze. Through the haze of agitation, she heard Kirk shout something at her, but couldn’t make out the words. She clearly heard the doctor, though.

“Shut up, Jim, you’re not helping. I’ve got this covered.”

And then, directed at her, “Come here, Hope, look at me.”

Like in trance, she went to where McCoy stood, grabbing the fingers held out to her through the bars.

“That’s good,” he said, as calmly and soothingly as she’d ever heard him, “deep breaths. I’m right here with you, you can do this. I’ll talk you through, you’ll just be my hands.”

“I can’t! Please don’t make me do this! I can’t just cut into him, I’ll kill him!”

“No, you won’t. But he might die, if you don’t do it. Sepsis is serious. You don’t want to let him die. I’ve got complete confidence in you. It’s easy, like fixing one of Scotty’s precious engines.”

“But this is a living being!” she wailed. “This is Pavel, for heaven’s sake!”

When McCoy saw her getting hysterical again, he changes tactics. 

“Exactly. That’s why you need to go over there and do it. Now!”

Hearing the authority in his voice, she somehow managed to switch to autopilot, just following his orders as he talked her through every single movement from injecting Chekov with a sedative and sterilising her hands and instruments to getting the offending piece of needle out to dressing the wound and dosing the painkiller.  

When she was done, her whole body started to shake, and she had to sit down, slumped against the bars.

McCoy exhaled audibly, exhausted from having to voice every little detail that his own hands would normally do without any conscious effort. And only now allowing himself to feel angry for not having discovered Chekov’s wound sooner. But Pavel was out of danger now, they just needed to get him back to the Enterprise, where the infection could be treated properly, as soon as possible.

Seeing Hope leaning against the bars, her nerves at breaking point after all she’d been through these past couple of hours, he felt immensely proud of her. Much as she liked working in sickbay, he knew that she wasn’t really cut out for the more gruesome parts of medicine. And yet, she’d gone and done it.

His heart going out to her, he wanted nothing more than to gather her in his arms and hold her forever. But all he could do right now was sit down next to her and squeeze his fingers through the bars to touch her, to comfort her. She smiled at him, bleary-eyed, leaning her head against the bars, and he stroked her cheek and her hair with all the affection and admiration he felt for her. Until Chekov started to move, and Hope hurried back to his side, as he sat up and looked around confusedly.

Kirk and Spock, in the meantime, had come up with a plan, now that they had the tools from McCoy’s medikit at their disposal, and with Chekov back among the living, shared their idea with the others.

So now, with the plan internalised and prepared, they all waited eagerly for the guards to return.

Chapter Text

Pavel was feeling better, although his mind was still a little fuzzy, and his legs wouldn’t carry his weight. He’d had to lean hard on Jenny, just walking the few steps over to where Kirk, Spock and McCoy were standing behind the bars, whispering.

The captain had decided that, once they made it out of here, he and Spock would go to retrieve the probe and their communicators, while the doctor was to take him and Hope straight back to the beam-up location. Chekov would have liked to help with the mission, of course, but had had to accept that he was currently in no fit state to do so. As it was, walking without needing too much support would be helpful enough. 

McCoy had been really angry with him for not having mentioned the pain in his shoulder sooner. Although, knowing the doctor, he was mainly angry with himself for not having spotted it, and, of course, with them both for having put Jenny in the terrible position of having to perform field surgery on him. He’d felt a little throb in his shoulder, yes, but how could he have known it was this serious? And with Jenny being abducted and everything, he’d had more important things to worry about. Nevertheless, he felt really bad for having caused so much trouble.

The only thing cheering him up, however, was the captain’s plan. Because it revolved around him kissing Jenny. Well, at least the way he saw it. He’d noticed one of the smaller two guards practically leering at her, whenever he was around, and while he might, admittedly, have been a little oversensitive on the subject, Kirk, McCoy and even Spock had apparently had the same impression. Therefore, convinced that the natives would soon return to take another one of them to the probe, the captain had told Jenny and Pavel to divert the guard’s attention, thus giving the other three men a better chance at overpowering the remaining two guards.

They didn’t have to wait long, McCoy with a hypo hidden behind his back, Kirk with a scalpel literally up his sleeve, and Spock relying on the Vulcan nerve pinch. Soon enough, the door opened again, and in came the three guards heading straight to the captain’s cage. When they passed Jenny, said guard rudely ogling her, Pavel was more than ready to pull his surprised friend in for a kiss.

Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the tall guard sinking to his knees at McCoy’s feet after a well-placed hypo, while Kirk and Spock brought the other one down in a struggle, the nerve pinch obviously not having had the expected effect. Jenny’s ‘admirer’, seemingly oblivious to his colleagues’ predicament, had meanwhile opened the latch to their cage and came charging in, aiming straight for Jenny, thankfully being downed by another of the doctor’s hypos, before they found out if Jenny’s kick to where she suspected his private parts would have been effective at all.

 


 

Wishing there was time for a grateful and relieved hug, Jenny let McCoy pull her to her feet, and then helped him support Chekov’s weight, as they hurried after Kirk and Spock to the exit.  Before they could reach it, however, the door burst open and five more guards came barging in, obviously responding to whatever alarm the others had triggered before being knocked out.

Kirk and Spock charged straight at the tallest guards, the captain finally making good use of the scalpel, while McCoy let go of Chekov to tackle a smaller one. This time minus the hypo, but with a rage, releasing all his pent-up fears and worries, that more than made up for it. Jenny let Chekov slide to the floor as gently as she could, then joined in the fight, desperation giving her strength she’d not known she possessed. Sulu would definitely be proud of his disciple.

After what seemed like an eternity, all of the guards were down, a heavily breathing landing party standing over them, as McCoy pulled his hypo back out to make sure they stayed under for long enough. Looking at the doctor’s determined face, Jenny was impressed with how fearlessly and fiercely McCoy had just fought.

“I never knew you were such a skilled fighter, Doctor!” she said admiringly.

“Well, I certainly don't like to fight, but I do know how to defend myself, if I have to,” he grumbled as he went back to the cages to inject the guards there with a stronger dose, too.

“And most of all defend those you care for,” Jenny muttered so low that only Spock heard her.

Yes, he thought, she's right. The doctor can fight surprisingly hard, if someone threatens his friends or patients.

No one but Jenny saw the almost tender look he cast McCoy.

“And I do have a certain advantage knowing the most vulnerable spots in most species' anatomies,” McCoy went on, oblivious to the affectionate thoughts coming his way.

“Make no mistake, Hope,” the captain chimed in with a sly grin on his face. “The doctor has a myriad of hidden qualities. You'd be surprised!”

“I'm sure I would be,” Jenny smiled, adoring the way McCoy blushed at Kirk's words. The doctor was truly the humblest hero.

 


 

Once they’d made their way safely out into the fading daylight and found a place to hide in a dark corner close to the edge of the settlement, Kirk had Jenny describe the way to where the probe was hidden, and Spock and the captain set off to retrieve the probe as well as their communicators.

“Take Hope and Chekov straight back to the beam-up location, Bones, and make sure you’re on time. We’ll see you there!” were his parting words, before McCoy took command of his little party.

The doctor, Jenny thought, had been her superior even before. And working in his department, he’d always been an authority to her. But seeing him like this, in full command mode, was still strange. It just wasn’t him. And yet he’d slipped into that role with the ease of years of experience. He was certainly an extraordinary physician, but with his habitual ‘I’m just an old country doctor’ act, you could easily forget what a brilliant and multi-talented man he really was.

That was probably his intention in the first place, she mused. He was modest like that, he didn’t like to be the centre of attention. But he was awesome. No doubt about that. And as always, he made her feel safe. Even in this situation. Even without Kirk or Spock to guide them. 

They walked as far as they could with Chekov leaning on them, McCoy granting them short breaks, but determined not to set up camp for the night before reaching the ‘outside of three hours walking distance” safety zone. The hike was getting increasingly difficult, with Pavel’s infection worsening, his temperature rising with every hour, and Jenny was incredibly relieved when the doctor finally found a suitable place for them to rest for the night.

 


 

He opened out a thin insulation blanket from his medikit, made Chekov lie down on it, and began to examine him closely, checking and redressing his wound and administering several hypos for good measure.

When he was done, Chekov had already fallen asleep, and the doctor made Hope lie down and nestle closely against the shivering navigator on one side, while he did the same on the other side, explaining they needed to keep him warm, as his temperature kept rising.

“You’re a hell of a Starfleet officer, Hope,” McCoy smiled, lying down and feeling ridiculously proud of her. “You’ve certainly more than earned your stripes today. I’ll make sure to mention that in my report.”

Then, seeing exhaustion and fear eating away at her forced display of confidence, he reached for her hand on Chekov’s chest and gently covered it with his own.

“Don’t worry, my dear, we’ll make it back safely. We always do.”

She smiled weakly at him, putting on a brave face, but still holding on tightly to his hand. 

“Go to sleep now, quickly. You need to rest. I’ll watch over the two of you.”

It sounded cheesy even as he said it, but it seemed to reassure her nevertheless. 

“Wake me up for my shift in a couple of hours, Doctor, she murmured sleepily, snuggling even closer to Chekov, then gave him a genuine smile and chuckled. “And maybe don’t mention holding my hand for me to go to sleep in your report.”

“Not a word,” he promised, eyes twinkling, “but we don’t want to break with tradition, do we?”

“Never,” she breathed, closing her eyes and starting to drift off.

Feeling the warmest wave of tenderness washing over him, McCoy couldn’t stop himself from reaching over to touch her face and gently caress her cheek with his thumb until she was fast asleep. 

Then he felt Chekov’s pulse again, listened to his breathing, and prepared to watch out for any sign of danger while the other two rested up for the new day. The night was warm and not as dark as nights on earth usually were, the two moons giving off much more light. He looked from Chekov’s pale face to Hope’s dirt-streaked one. She’d really impressed him today. First going beyond her limits with that stunt at field surgery, then fighting like a tigress, and finally pulling her weight supporting Chekov.

And even though her curt “Yes, Sir!” and “No, Sir!” had sounded strange to his ears compared to the cordial “Right on it, Doctor!” he’d got used to, he’d been very grateful for her switching to professional military mode in the blink of an eye, when the captain had sent the three of them on their way, thus making command really easy for him. They’d never been in a situation like this before. There’d always been Jim or Spock or Sulu in charge.

He looked at his two sleeping crew mates again, lying so close together, huddled against him. Both so young and yet so successful already. The memory of their passionate kiss to distract the guards flashed up before his eyes, unbidden, again. They’d been very convincing, indeed. It had looked pretty real, and he was ashamed to admit that it hadn’t been easy for him to watch. But it had done the trick. And now it was up to him to get them back to safety. The kid and the girl, as he secretly thought of them. And he would. 

He really didn’t want to wake her up, but he knew he needed at least two hours of sleep if he were to function properly the next day. So he gently stroked Hope’s face, softly calling her name, until she sat up groggily. Then he quickly checked on Chekov one more time. They really needed to get him back, he was starting to burn up. 

Finally, after telling Hope to wake him up at the first sign of dawn, or sooner, if Chekov got worse, he nestled down against the kid again, shut his eyes and was out cold in mere seconds. 

 


 

Certain that the doctor was fast asleep, his arm lying protectively across Chekov’s chest, Jenny hesitantly rested her arm alongside his. Looking at his handsome face, relaxed and less worried now in sleep, she felt weirdly protective of the man she usually felt protected by. 

Apart from the night of her nightmare, when she’d found him asleep in a chair next to her bed in the morning, she’d never actually seen him sleep before. It felt very intimate, and she enjoyed it immensely. Being able to study the face she was so fond of closely, was exciting. There were little wrinkles around his eyes, from laughing and frowning and life, and lines all over his face that gave away his age. Although he wasn’t really that old. But old enough to have seen a lot.

She wondered what he’d already been through, what had made him the wonderful man she so deeply respected and admired. He was lying so close to her, and yet, he was so out of reach. The temptation to touch his face or run her fingers through his hair was almost too hard to resist. She traced his face with her eyes. Wondering about all the things those deep blue eyes had seen, who those soft lips had kissed, if he was a good kisser.

Jesus! Get a grip, Jenny! He’s way out of your league. He’s your boss, and your commanding officer.

But he cared for her, treated her with nothing but respect and kindness, even made her feel special. He was always there for her, the best friend one could wish for. She should really be grateful for that. It was more than she could ever have hoped for. 

The doctor slept soundly until morning, and Jenny felt strangely proud that he obviously trusted her to watch over him as he’d put it earlier. At the break of dawn, she wondered how best to wake him. She briefly thought about gently stroking his face like he’d done to her, but even though she always enjoyed him touching her like that immensely, it felt somehow inappropriate for her to do the same. She needn’t have worried though, because he was wide awake with her first gentle touch to his shoulder.

Of course, she thought, as a doctor he’s been trained to be fully alert, even in sleep. 

McCoy sat up at once, rubbing a quick hand over his face and, greeting her with a soft ‘hey’, went straight to check on Chekov.

Chapter Text

Kirk and Spock had followed Hope’s directions and were now hiding in the bushes across the road from a large building, not far from where they’d been held prisoners. A kind of City Hall? Or a museum? Maybe the equivalent of a university even? Spock didn’t know, but he was convinced that it was a public place, judging from the constant stream of people entering and leaving.

His legs were beginning to go numb, his position getting more and more uncomfortable, but moving was too risky. He’d gone through seven different meditative exercises already, and had great admiration for the captain, who endured the wait without complaining, a very common human tendency.

They’d been sitting here for hours, watching the entrance and waiting for night to fall. But so far, there was no end of visitors in sight. According to his calculations, it would take another half hour until sunset, and the logical consequence would be for a public building to close down for the night.

Exactly 26 minutes later, he was proven right, as darkness set and the doors to the building were closed and locked. That was also the moment he heard Kirk exhale deeply next to him, obviously more than ready to get going.

Noticing that, due to the two moons, visibility during night time was still quite high, he put a restraining hand on the captain’s arm.

“I suggest that we don’t go yet, Captain,” he whispered. “There are still too many people around.”

Kirk exhaled again. This time it had an impatient note to it, Spock thought, having come to recognise the captain’s emotional noises quite well over the years.

“All right then,” Kirk whispered back. “In the meantime, let’s decide on where best to sneak in. A scalpel doesn’t seem like the right tool to open the lock on this heavy door to me.”

“Very well, Captain,” Spock replied, his mind already mapping out possible other points of entry.

“Do you think they’ll be all right?” Kirk interrupted his calculations.

And even though the captain, as per usual, was very vague in his choice of words, he’d learned to fill in the blanks with Vulcan precision, and knew immediately that he was talking about the doctor and his party.

Kirk, of course, had to be quite aware that Spock didn’t have any more information about the others’ circumstances than the captain himself did, but he’d only recently learned from Hope that illogical questions of the kind mainly served the human need to voice their fears. Meaning that the captain didn’t actually expect an answer, but just needed to talk about his worries concerning McCoy, Hope and Chekov.

“You know I don’t have an answer to that, Jim,” he murmured softly. “But if you’re asking if I think the doctor and the others capable of looking after themselves and finding their way back, I’m positive.”

Kirk nodded and grinned at him, and Spock deducted that he had managed to give an acceptable answer.

Only twelve minutes later, the streets were almost clear of people, and after exchanging a quick glance, the two men carefully crawled out of the bushes. Spock, who’d already determined the best place of entry, lead the way, with the captain following closely behind.

They reached a small backdoor a few steps up from the road, but picking the lock turned out more difficult than anticipated. Fully focused on the task at hand, they noticed the small native appearing at their side, seemingly out of nowhere, too late. Kirk was just about to throw a punch, but the alien lifted its arms in defence and put a silencing finger to its mouth. Spock was quite sure it was the same alien who had returned the doctor’s medikit earlier.

The captain let his raised hand drop to his side and nodded at the native, who had already unlocked the door with a series of movements of its hand, some kind of code, apparently, and was beckoning them to follow it inside. Glancing quickly at Kirk for confirmation, Spock held the door open for him, and they both slipped inside.

They followed a long corridor to a small room, and Spock spotted the probe displayed in a transparent case on a low podium, presumably for protection. Although whether to protect the probe or from it, he couldn’t be sure. Kirk went up to the case immediately, but Spock signalled for him not to rush. He was convinced, the alien hadn’t just brought them here to let them take the probe and leave with it.

As if to prove him right, the native unrolled what reminded Spock of a star chart hanging from the ceiling, and pointed at it, questioningly.

“Is it asking us where we came from?” Kirk whispered.

“It would seem so, Captain,” Spock answered, “although it might just want to know if we came from the stars in the first place.”

Spock took a step closer to the chart.

“It is, however, quite an accurate chart, if I’m not mistaken. Maybe they are more advanced than we were led to believe.”

“Be that as it may, Spock, we’re still bound by the Prime Directive.”

“Of course, we are, Captain,” Spock replied, definitely not annoyed by the insinuation that he might think otherwise.

Kirk approached the case holding the probe, but the alien blocked his way, pointing vigorously at the star chart.

“I’m sorry, we can’t tell you anything,” the captain addressed the native directly, who tilted its head and looked at him with the approximation of a frown.

“Captain,” Spock interjected, “I sense strong curiosity and fascination, but no hostility or aggression whatsoever. Would you agree to the attempt at a mind meld?”

Kirk hesitated, and Spock appreciated his concern, knowing that the captain was always wary of him opening his mind to an unknown entity.

“I think it would speed things up, if we had the chance to communicate more efficiently,” he pointed out.

“All right then, go ahead,” Kirk gave permission, then added, “but be careful, Spock!”

The Vulcan nodded, then slowly approached the alien with outstretched arms, pointing a hand first to his own mouth, then to the other one’s, raising an enquiring brow, and finally touching his own forehead then pointing towards the alien’s.

The native seemed to understand, because it stepped directly in front of Spock, nodded curtly and reached for his hand, guiding it towards its forehead. Spock searched for pressure points, and was surprised how easily the alien welcomed him into its mind, curiosity obviously far outweighing any fears.

Probing a little deeper, he found the alien to be a female scientist. More accurately, the head of the university’s department of astronomy. Apparently, she’d long suspected life outside of her planet, but had only been ridiculed for this idea. She’d discovered the probe by chance weeks before, and admitted to having interfered with it, thus causing its crash. She’d seen it as the ultimate proof of alien life and had hoped for Spock and his team to teach her and her people about the mysteries of the skies.

Spock, in return, explained about several worlds having united in a federation, highly valuing the freedom of each member as well as that of all other worlds, including the freedom to evolve unfettered by any outside influence. He could sense the scientist’s fascination and delight at the existence of sentient life outside her world, as well as her eagerness to start exploring the vastness of the universe.

But he saw that she also understood the reasons for the Federation’s no interference rule, and that they had to take the probe away again, leaving her people to develop their own spacefaring technology, when they were ready to reach out to other worlds.

“Will you let us take the probe?” he asked in his mind. “And our communication devices, too?”

“Yes, although it makes me sad,” she answered.

“We will have to put you to sleep for a while, and I will have to see to it that you won’t remember us when you wake up.”

“But I want to remember, that there is a wonderful world out there,” she pleaded, and he could sense her dismay at being deprived of that knowledge again so soon after having gained it. “Everybody thinks I am crazy to want to explore the stars. But I have always felt there was more to the universe than just our world. I need to keep believing, so I can continue my scientific work. Please don’t take that away from me.”

Spock hesitated, considering her wish and understanding her need to believe in the significance of her research.

“I might be able to let you keep a vague memory, like a dream,” he offered, and she gratefully agreed, comprehending that this was the most she could hope for.

“Thank you,” she smiled in her mind, filling Spock with a most agreeable warmth. “Your species is very kind. It was an honour to meet you. I hope our paths will cross again, some time, and that I will be allowed to remember you then.”

“So do I,” he replied, “and I will certainly keep track of your world’s progress. Live long and prosper!”

When Spock pulled his hands off her face, the sudden cold after the comfortable warmth of her mind made him shudder. He saw Kirk’s concerned look, but quickly assured the captain that he was all right.

The scientist went to open the case for them to take out the probe, then took the lid off a little box and handed them their communicators. With a smile she stepped first towards Kirk, and then towards Spock, briefly rubbing her forehead against their chests, obviously her way of saying good bye, then sat down on the floor, nodding at Spock to do whatever he had to.

“Can I have the sedative you borrowed from Dr. McCoy’s medikit, Captain?” Spock turned towards Kirk, holding out his hand.

He then proceeded to administer the hypo, gently easing the fainting scientist to the ground, and finding her pressure spots once more to finish what he’d promised to do.

 


 

While Kirk and Spock, in possession of their communicators again, had decided to have Scotty beam them up straight from inside the university building, McCoy, Hope and Chekov had had to cover the remaining distance to the beam-up location on foot, and the doctor had rarely been so happy to feel a transporter beam scattering his atoms across the universe.

Back on the Enterprise, he’d sent Hope straight to her quarters to clean up and rest, while he’d taken a delirious Chekov to sickbay, getting him settled and finally able to treat him with the appropriate medication. And when he’d briefed the nurses on everything Chekov might need, he’d made a beeline for his own quarters, where he barely managed to take off his boots before collapsing onto his bed.

But despite being totally exhausted, his brain wouldn’t let him rest, still feeling the terror of Hope being taken away by the guards in his bones. He’d come this close to losing her. Again. He’d failed to protect her. Again. And what was worst, his obsession with Hope had also caused him to neglect his duties as a healer. He should have seen Chekov’s symptoms sooner, he’d failed him, too.

Between that and the memory of how he’d felt watching her kiss Chekov, he knew with absolute certainty that it was time to put some emotional distance between them. Even though it had been staged, and it had only been Chekov, who he genuinely liked, the sight of them had almost physically hurt. What it would feel like to see her kiss someone out of love, he was afraid to find out.

Maybe the whole plan had been Jim’s misguided idea of pointing out his feelings for Hope, to provoke him into action, in the first place. He wouldn’t put it past him, the captain had been making silly remarks on the subject for some time now. Although the kiss hadn’t actually been part of Jim’s original plan. That had just been Chekov’s interpretation. Unlike him, Pavel definitely had no qualms about showing his feelings for Hope. And why should he? They were a perfect match.

Anyway, whatever Jim’s intentions, it had worked. Although probably not the way he’d had in mind. The doctor was getting too attached and he knew exactly what he had to do. That was to cut down on his private time with Hope. Although he’d certainly always be there, when she needed him, still try to protect her, and help her when she asked him to, things like their cosy coffee evenings had to stop. She needed to be free to get on with her life, and so did he.

Luckily, a new research project that was to start the next day, would take up all of his time for the next two weeks, anyway. That would hopefully help alleviate any withdrawal symptoms.

Chapter Text

Dr. Irene Sloane had been aboard the Enterprise for less than a week, and already Jenny disliked her. Which was unusual in itself, since Jenny hardly ever actively disliked anyone, let alone so quickly. 

But this woman, beautiful and brilliant as she was, somehow rubbed her up the wrong way. She had this arrogant, condescending way with everybody in sickbay and the medical labs, and - what was worst - McCoy just didn’t see it. On the contrary, he was visibly impressed by Irene, as he was allowed to call her, and kept looking at her like a love-struck teenager. 

The only saving grace was that she’d only have to put up with this atrocious woman for another week or so, since she’d come aboard to help with a very specific project, and would be gone right after it was finished. Off to regale some other crew or lab with her questionably delightful presence. 

 


 

McCoy was sitting across from Dr. Sloane in a cosy corner of the observation deck, nursing a bourbon while she enjoyed a gin and tonic. They had discussed the results of today’s experiments over dinner, and had now moved on to other topics. 

Irene had a brilliant mind. He’d admired her research and achievements for years, and had been delighted and excited to get to meet her and even work with her in person. Even more so, when he’d seen how beautiful and charming she was on top of everything else. 

He knew he could be charming, too, if he set his mind to it. Attracting or even seducing women had never been difficult for him. The problem was keeping them happy and interested in the long term, as the daily grind set in and they had to live with his devotion to his profession, feeling they had to compete with it.

Relationships were not his forte. So, over the years he’d learned to enjoy what he called ‘short-term relationships’, because he’d never felt comfortable with the term ‘affair’ or ‘one-night-stand’. That had something so purely physical about it, totally lacking affection or respect for the partner. And he liked to think of himself as deeper than that. 

Irene, however, was a perfect choice. He admired her, professionally as well as privately. She was interesting to talk to, delightful to look at. She was confident, not a pushover, knew what she wanted and how to get it, and would be gone again in a few days, certainly not looking for a long-term relationship. 

And there was definitely attraction between them, he could feel her eyes on him, when he wasn’t looking. So, their business lunches had turned into dinners, then coffee after dinner, and now drinks on the observation deck, which he sensed she was open to move to her quarters later. 

Right now, she was telling him about one of her earlier research projects gone wrong, and laughing heartily at something. Looking at her beautifully curved mouth, he absentmindedly thought that her laughter was rather loud and shrill. The sort that could get on your nerves after a while. Not soft and tinkling like Hope’s. Irene’s voice was generally more high-pitched than what he perceived as pleasant. He preferred deeper voices, soothing like Hope’s.  

What are you doing? he scolded himself. Thinking of Hope when you’re sitting next to a gorgeous woman who’s clearly got the hots for you? Even comparing her to Hope? Don’t ruin this. Don’t let your feelings for a girl who thinks of you as a father get in the way of what you could have with this woman, who clearly doesn’t see anything paternal in you and is very much prepared to take drinks on the observation deck a lot further than just coy conversation and a friendly cuddle. 

He tuned back into her monologue just in time to hear her suggesting a nightcap in her quarters, batting her eyelashes at him seductively. A presumptuous gesture that briefly annoyed him, before thoughts of how that sensuous mouth or those shapely legs would feel against his skin took over. He was more than ready for a little adult action, it had been far too long. He was a man after all, he had his needs. 

“It would be my honour to accompany you to your quarters, Irene,” he said, getting up and politely offering his arm. 

“Always the gentleman,” she chuckled, taking his arm, “I like that very much, Leonard.”

And clinging to him tightly all the way, her ample bust bouncing against his arm with every step, she had him forget all about Hope by the time they arrived at her cabin. 

Inside, she poured them both a glass of wine, only to take it from him again after the first sip. Smilingly, she placed herself in his arms, initiating a deep kiss while lifting his shirt a little and running her hands slowly up his back. 

Closing his eyes, he hungrily kissed her back, only to have Hope’s face appear before him. Her twinkling eyes, her smiling lips. His eyes snapped open again, and he looked straight into Irene’s beautiful face, her whole body melting into his embrace, her hands now roaming his chest, then downwards to play with the waistband of his trousers, her intentions clear. 

McCoy closed his eyes again, trying to get back in the mood. Why would he think of a girl who felt like a daughter to him, when he had the most desirable woman, who clearly wanted him, in his arms. He knew he wanted it, too. But it was no use. Hope’s face kept popping up in his mind every time he closed his eyes. 

Eventually, he broke away from the kiss, straightening his shirt and stepping away from Irene. 

“I’m sorry,” he began awkwardly, “I...”

“You’ve got someone else on your mind?”

It was a statement rather than a question. He was mortified. 

“No, Irene, I just...”

He didn’t know what to say or where to look. This was a new low for him. He knew he was a disappointment in the long run, but he’d never before let a woman down like this, on a first date. 

Surprisingly, Irene put a reassuring hand on his arm, making him look at her. She was actually smiling, if a little sadly. 

“She’s a very lucky woman,” Irene said, her voice kind, not reproachful at all. “And it just confirms my impression of you. You’re not an easy flirt, you’re a keeper.”

McCoy couldn’t hold back a snort at that. It was just too funny how she, brilliant scientist that she was, had him down so completely wrong. Exactly what he wasn’t - a keeper. But maybe she’d got something else right. Maybe he was getting too old for quick, superficial lays. Maybe he did crave something more committed, more long-term. Pity, that wasn’t what he could have. 

Irene watched him for a few moments, giving him time to sort out his thoughts, and thinking what a shame it was that she couldn’t commit long-term, couldn’t be the one for him, for he was certainly a desirable man, interesting, brilliant, kind and attractive. She’d have liked to find out about his qualities as a lover, the combination of skilled hands and passion sending a new wave of longing to her innards.

But she had enough class not to force herself on someone who clearly had doubts about getting intimate with her. So, she put on the warmest smile she could muster. 

“Maybe, Leonard,” she purred, “you should leave now, no hard feelings. I’ll see you in the lab tomorrow.”

He flashed her a grateful smile and, wishing her a good night, turned on his heel and hurried out the door. 

As soon as the doors had closed behind him, he slumped against the bulkhead and put an unsteady hand to his face. He felt like an oaf, totally embarrassed and humiliated. Especially at the way Irene had handled the situation, with such class and dignity. 

Certain that he wouldn’t be able to sleep anytime soon, and wanting to clear his head with coffee, he made his way to the mess, hoping to find it mostly deserted that late at night. 

The first thing he saw on entering, however, was Hope’s animated face, as she was deep in conversation with Scotty and Sulu. His heart was lifted immediately at the sight of her cheerful smile, only to sag again, as he noticed Chekov sitting conspicuously close to her, his arm casually around the back of her chair. He was such a moron for letting Irene slip through his fingers, while Hope was obviously having a great time without him, enjoying the attentions of someone much closer to her in age. 

Get a grip! he thought angrily. It’s not Hope’s fault that your feelings are all over the place

But just when he turned around, hoping to slip out of the mess again unnoticed, Hope spotted him and happily waved him over, giving him no choice but to join the little group at their table. Sitting down, he noticed with amused satisfaction how Chekov straightened up and took his arm off Hope’s chair at his arrival. 

“What happened, laddie? Pretty scientist throw you out of bed?” Scotty snorted, oblivious to the others’ horrified glances. 

McCoy, blushing furiously and not quite sure how to react to this, was saved by Hope laughingly slapping Scotty’s arm. 

“Aww Scotty, you’re such a twerp sometimes!” she grinned. “You’re not in the engine room with your lads, there’s a lady sitting at your table!”

And just like that, the awkwardness of the moment dispersed, with Scotty looking contrite, and Hope rolling her eyes in mock despair at a grateful McCoy. 

She’s wonderful, McCoy thought. How could I ever have thought of staying away from her?

It suddenly occurred to him how comfortable they’d grown with each other over the months he’d known her. How easy their relationship was, leaving no room for embarrassment.

Maybe he’d missed out on an exciting experience tonight, but this was where he really wanted to be right now. With his friends and close to Hope. Even if she’d never see more than a friend, a father in him. Not being intimate with Hope was infinitely preferable to being intimate with any woman who wasn’t Hope. 

And with a warm glow in his chest, he settled back in his chair and joined in the conversation. 

 


 

Jenny could hardly concentrate on what Scotty was saying. McCoy joining them without Dr. Sloane at his side had made her unaccountably happy. Even though she felt a little bad for the doctor, too. She didn’t begrudge him enjoying himself. Not really. But it had been strange to see him so intimate with another woman.

And while she was having a lovely evening with her other friends, her mind had repeatedly come up with unbidden images of what the doctor and Irene might be up to. And of course, Scotty’s less than subtle comments on the matter throughout the evening hadn’t been helpful, either. 

Now she was just happy to have the doctor back where he belonged. At least in her opinion. 

Later, in bed, she tried to figure out her feelings and emotions. She hadn’t been aware of how much the thought of McCoy being with another woman really irked her, until she’d felt ridiculously relieved, when he’d shown up in the mess alone. Somehow, she realised, she’d begun to take him for granted, his affection, him always being around. She revelled in his friendship, his company. Enjoyed his touch, his tenderness. The way he made her feel so safe and cared for. 

She’d always seen him as an attractive man, of course, but knowing that his feelings for her were purely platonic and paternal, she’d tried hard not to think of him that way. He was the father she longed for, her rock, her safe haven. Watching him with Dr. Sloane had, however, opened her eyes to this other side to him again. Had made her see how attractive he really was. How charming and handsome and desirable. 

She thought back to all the times he’d smiled at her, touched her, hugged her, and suddenly wondered if he’d really never felt anything more than friendly affection. Wondered what his lips would feel like, if he kissed her. Wondered what his touch would feel like on other parts of her body. Wondered how she could ever have been in his arms or have felt his hands on her face, her hair, her body, without feeling butterflies in her stomach like now, just remembering those times.

And what’s more, would she ever be able to have him hold and touch her like that again and not want more? Because she’d have to. No matter how deeply he cared for her, he didn’t think of her that way. She’d have to live with that. Just as she’d have to live with the next Irene who came along, maybe more successful at winning the doctor’s heart.

Whatever had gone wrong between Irene and McCoy tonight, she’d never know, and it was certainly none of her business. But there was no way of going back to seeing the doctor like she had before. She’d have to find a way to deal with her newly discovered feelings for him. Funny, how only days ago her life had been perfect, and just like that, it had become complicated.

Chapter Text

When McCoy had declared Pavel’s shoulder fully healed and given him permission to take up dancing again, Jenny suggested celebrating that with a proper performance, ballgown and all. Chekov, of course, readily agreed. He loved seeing Jenny in one of those gorgeous gowns she borrowed from costumes.

“Are you angry with me for kissing you?” he asked bluntly, when they were sitting together over coffee, deciding on what to include in their little show.

They’d never talked about it, but Pavel had a feeling she’d not been too happy about the kiss.

“I was a bit taken aback at first,” she admitted, looking at him over the rim of her coffee cup, “but it worked, so it was all right, I guess.”

Not exactly the answer he’d hoped for, but certainly the one he’d expected. It was official. His kiss hadn’t swept her off her feet.

Seeing his crestfallen face, Jenny took pity on him.

“Pavel, we’ve talked about this before,” she said softly. “I really, really like you. But not in that way. You’re like a brother to me. A dear friend. And that’s not going to change. If you’d rather not dance with me anymore, I’ll understand.”

“Is there someone else?” he asked, looking straight into her eyes.

If they were talking openly, he might as well know it all, get it over with.

“Please, be candid with me, Jenny!”

“I don’t know where this is coming from, Pavel,” she answered, heaving a sigh, “but, no, there is no one else. I don’t have a secret boyfriend, lover, husband, whatever you’re thinking. I’m very happy on my own, being around my friends. And I absolutely appreciate your friendship.”

Pavel looked at her for a few moments, unconvinced. But he just couldn’t bring himself to ask about the doctor specifically. Maybe there was really nothing going on between them. But if there was, he suddenly decided, he didn’t want to know after all. Perhaps what they said was true, perhaps ignorance really was bliss. And he most definitely didn’t want to give up dancing with her. As long as they were dancing together, there was still hope, wasn’t there?

“Come on, Pavel,” Jenny smiled at him, finished her coffee and pulled him to his feet. “Let’s go down to costumes, and you can choose a ballgown for me.”

Chekov’s eyes lit up at that, and following her to the turbolift, he burst out, “Thanks, Jenny, for being honest. And who knows? I might even have a little surprise for you later!”

He’d never been good at keeping secrets, which she obviously knew, too.

“Really?” she grinned. “And what would that be?”

Pavel bit his lip.

“Sorry, can’t tell you yet,” he pushed out between gritted teeth. “I’ll have to check with the captain first.”

That sounded mysterious, but she let it go, knowing fully well that Pavel would spill the beans, if she so much as raised an enquiring eyebrow at him. But she loved surprises and didn’t want to spoil this one.

 


 

McCoy loved to watch Hope dance, he just couldn’t take his eyes off her moving so gracefully. The little show had just started, with Hope looking stunning in a red dress with a plunging back and a rather exciting slit up the side, when Kirk joined him. For some time, they stood side by side, watching in silence.

“She’s one of a kind, Bones, don’t you think?” the captain whispered. “Certainly knows how to attract every single male’s attention on this ship.”

“You attracted to her?” McCoy wanted to know, looking askance at his friend, finding the idea of Kirk making a move on Hope extremely unsettling.

“How could I not be? She’s all a man could ask for, and more,” he mused wistfully, and McCoy didn’t like it one bit. “Chekov, sure as hell is head over heels in love with her. Has been from the very beginning.”

“Would you like to see them together?” McCoy asked. “Or have you got intentions of your own?”

Now, where had that come from? Jim’s amorous adventures had never bothered him before. But this was Hope, they were talking about.

Kirk had to look away to hide his smile. Teasing his friend was sometimes too easy.

“Well, what do you think? Should I go for it? Do you think I’m in with a chance?”

“You’re always in with a chance, Jim,” McCoy grumbled, blissfully ignoring the fact that Hope had explicitly told him, she’d never fall for the captain. “I should know. I’ve seen them fall for you by the dozen. But Hope’s straightforward and sincere, she doesn’t play games. That makes her vulnerable. Whatever you do, Jim, please don’t hurt her!”

Kirk turned to face McCoy and looked at him intensely.

“When it comes to Hope, you don’t even get it when I’m kidding, do you?”

And when the doctor just looked at him blankly, he continued, “Bones! I’d never set my eyes on a woman who means so much to you. You should know me better than that!”

“I…” McCoy started, totally gobsmacked, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Jim!”

Kirk just grinned at him, which seemed to annoy his friend even more.

“Oh come on, Bones, we both know that you have a soft spot for her. And why wouldn’t you? But anyway, what I meant to say is that in this particular case, even if I tried to make a pass at her, it wouldn’t matter, because she simply wouldn’t notice. Just as she can’t see Chekov’s infatuation, or anyone else’s for that matter. Her heart already belongs to someone else. Someone very deserving.”

McCoy stared at him, as realisation dawned.

“Oh, no, Jim, you’ve got it all wrong! She’s completely focused on her career. A relationship’s the last thing on her mind.”

“If you say so,” Kirk smirked. “You certainly know her better than anyone else does.”

“Don’t give me that look! There’s nothing going on here. And nor will there be, as far as I’m concerned. Get that stupid grin off your face! I mean it. She’s only a girl, I could easily be her father.”

“Which you are not, by the way,” Kirk interjected, his eyes glinting with mischief.

McCoy gave him a stern look.

“Even if I thought of her in that way – which I don’t – I wouldn’t act on it. What she needs from me is fatherly friendship. Nothing more.”

“Sure, Bones,” Kirk winked at him, turned on his heel and left him standing there, brooding.

“Don’t you ‘Sure, Bones’ me,” McCoy muttered under his breath, but, turning back to watch Hope and Chekov dance, found himself mulling over Kirk’s words. He was glad that Jim had no hidden agenda regarding Hope, but could the captain be right? Could she really harbour feelings other than affection and friendship for him? He’d never even considered that, it was so far-fetched.

She was such a young thing, beautiful and brilliant, with all her life and a great career ahead of her. Surely, she had higher ambitions than a life with an old country doctor. Granted, they got along well. And if he stopped to think about it, there was a certain chemistry between them. But even if it weren’t for the age difference, with his terrible track record, he still couldn’t be with her. She deserved so much better.

Sure, he'd been the one she'd shared her secret with, who she’d trusted most. Probably still did. The fact could not be denied. But that was exactly why he had to be so careful here. He didn't want her to take his affection for anything he couldn't give. And he didn't want to arouse false hopes in himself, either. He’d made his choice years ago. His skills were needed here. He was responsible for the crew - and Jim. He couldn't return to family life. He'd already failed once.

Besides, he’d never take advantage of a young girl’s crush – if Jim was right, and it even was that – no matter his own feelings. And he did have feelings for her. Of course, he did. She was lovely. She was warm, and brilliant, and funny and beautiful, generous and courageous, strong, yet vulnerable. She was perfect. And he already dreaded the day she’d leave for another assignment, robbing him of her delightful company. But he’d never dream of holding her back for selfish reasons.

And yet, the thought that her feelings for him might be stronger than he’d assumed brought a warm glow to his heart. He allowed himself a few moments of indulgence, while he watched Hope gracefully twirl around the makeshift dancefloor, and then gave himself a stern talking to. She needed him as a friend and a mentor, and he had very affectionate and protective feelings for her. Nothing more.

He was definitely not going to risk their friendship by losing himself in some foolish old man’s fantasy.

 


 

“Can I talk to you for a minute, Captain?”

“Sure, Chekov, sit down!” Kirk smiled, pulling out a chair for him at their table.

“I need to get back to sickbay, anyway,” McCoy said, draining his coffee and getting up.

“No, no, Doctor, please stay!” Chekov put a hand on the doctor’s arm. “I’ll need your help, too!”

“Okay,” McCoy sat down again, “that sounds ominous. Shoot!”

Chekov turned towards Kirk.

“You know the Robinson Colony we’ll be passing soon? Well, I know this family there,” Chekov began.

Passing stretches it a bit, Chekov, but we’ll get pretty close, I guess. Why?”

“Well, I’ve already made calculations. If we go to warp 6 for only four days, we could make the little detour, spend almost two days there, and still arrive at our next rendezvous in time.”

“What’s this about, Pavel? Have you got family there?” Kirk asked, surprised by Chekov’s urgency.

“No, Sir,” Chekov replied, blushing a little. “I was actually thinking of Jenny.”

Realisation was showing on the captain’s face, as McCoy just looked blankly from one to the other.

“Can someone please explain to me, what this is all about, and what it’s got to do with Hope?” he grumbled.

Kirk turned to his friend, smiling at seeing him get all worked up over the simple mention of Hope.

“It’s a colony, dedicated to a simple life without too much technology. They try to replicate the living conditions of the early 21st century, while attempting to avoid the mistakes that were made on Earth then. Like nuclear and environmental pollution, for example. Quite an interesting project, actually.”

“It’ll still seem a little futuristic to Jenny, compared to her childhood, but I thought she might really enjoy it,” Chekov chimed in.

McCoy was touched to see how much Chekov obviously cared about Hope. Maybe he should get over this pathetic jealousy and actually encourage her to give Pavel a chance. He was certainly good for her, always thinking about her first.

“She actually might,” the doctor agreed. “So, what would you need my help for?”

“Well, I thought,” Chekov grinned, “if I got them to ask for medical assistance, we might even have an official reason to go there. I told you, I know a family there.”

“All right, I’ll discuss this with Spock and Scotty first, and then, I think, we’ll figure something out,” the captain told a beaming Chekov, then looked at McCoy, who was nodding, obviously pleased with the idea.

 


 

“Pavel!” Jenny squealed, throwing her arms around him. “This was the loveliest idea ever!”

They had just materialised in the middle of what looked like a small country town. Just as she remembered them from her childhood.

Only a few days ago, the captain had surprised the crew, with the prospect of two unexpected days of shore leave, thanks to a little ‘creative navigating” from Chekov, and McCoy offering the colonists a day of ‘free medical services’. Jenny was well aware that all of this was primarily for her benefit, and she was overwhelmed by what lengths they all went to, just to make her happy.

“Chekov had this great idea,” McCoy had told her, “and maybe this will go a little way towards making up for how Starfleet has messed up your life.”

The colonists had been more than excited to learn that someone, who’d actually lived around the time they were endeavouring to reconstruct, was coming to visit, and had already planned out the whole two days. They wanted to show her, and learn from her, as much as they could in so short a time.

 


 

Hope seemed to be having the time of her life. With Chekov never leaving her side, she was answering questions, watching the colonists cook from scratch and teaching them new recipes, explaining old tools and equipment to them, which they obviously used not quite the way they were supposed to, and generally telling stories about whatever they wanted to know.

To McCoy’s horror, she also took a ride on an old motorbike, complaining a little about how this electric version could not compare to the sound of a petrol fuelled one, but speeding around on it without so much as a helmet for protection nevertheless. And with Kirk, Sulu and Chekov cheering her on to boot, before each of them, of course, had to take a ride, too.

Idiots! Why am I surrounded by reckless idiots?

But apart from little hiccups like that, McCoy was very happy to see her enjoying herself immensely. No therapist could do for her what these colonists did in only two days. He’d have liked to be with her all the time, of course, but he’d promised to offer his services, and thus found himself treating a constant stream of patients suffering from hangnails, insect stings or the sniffles, with the odd allergic rash thrown in. He was impressed by how healthy they all really seemed to be, realising that they were mainly coming to see him out of curiosity, enjoying the welcome change to their usual routine.

Sitting around a campfire in the evening, which reminded McCoy of outings with his dad when he was little, and listening to yet more of Hope’s stories, someone suggested she should write down all her memories, thus making them available to a much wider audience. The doctor found that a great idea, also from a therapeutic point of view, and had to smile at Spock’s almost enthusiastic reaction to the suggestion. For some reason, the Vulcan was obviously still trying to prove the VSA’s records wrong, and enjoying it, too.

The next suggestion, however, made McCoy’s heart skip a beat, as Hope was asked to stay at the colony, at least for some time. And maybe that wasn’t such a bad idea at all. He could certainly see the appeal it must have for her. She’d been in great form all day, taking to colony life like a duck to water.

With her positive attitude, it was so easy to forget how out of place she probably still sometimes felt in the 23rdcentury. The thought pained him. There were probably a million little things that he just took for granted, but which she still had to come to terms with, or was even unaware of. He made a mental note to make more of an effort to spot these things and help her get familiar and comfortable with all the little details of their time.  

When almost everybody had gone to sleep, and Chekov was happily talking in Russian to one of the older colonists, Hope came to sit at McCoy’s side. After all the excitement of the day, he could see that she craved a bit of peace and quiet. A little time to take it all in. And he was, of course, happy to offer her a break from the incessant chatter, quietly smiling at her, touched that it was still him, she sought out, when she needed to calm her mind.

Silently offering her a sip from his drink, which she gratefully accepted, he felt his heart melt when she leaned her head on his shoulder, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, and started to talk.

“I can’t remember the last time I’ve enjoyed myself this much, Doctor,” she said softly. “Thank you so much for helping to make it happen.”

“My pleasure,” he smiled, putting an arm around her shoulders and savouring the feeling of her nestled against him so closely.

“Have you thought about the offer to stay?” he asked quietly. “If you’d feel comfortable here, if it feels like the right thing to do, you should definitely consider it. No one would have the right to hold it against you. Least of all Starfleet.”

He felt his heart breaking even as he said it, the thought of having to say good bye so unexpectedly making him sick.

Hope turned her face towards him, her eyes gleaming brightly in the soft light of the fire. He could see that she was thinking hard about it, his heart hammering faster against his ribs with every minute that passed.

“No, Doctor,” she said after a while, and he had a hard time keeping from punching the air with relief. “It’s nice here, and I’ve really enjoyed today, but it’s not the real thing, it feels more like a stage play. And, frankly, I love the 23rdcentury way too much to want to miss out on anything the present has to offer. I’ve been given the chance to see and even live in the future. I really want to make the most of it. Besides, I’ve found a new home on the Enterprise. I’d never want to leave you.”

Whether she’d meant just him, or them all, didn’t matter. McCoy had to turn away to hide the emotional tears welling up in his eyes, and, grateful for the dim light, pulled her a little closer, as an unfamiliar feeling washed over him.

Because at this very moment, sitting here, gazing into the fire with Hope in his arms, her head resting so naturally on his shoulder and his face buried in her hair, Leonard McCoy, maybe for the first time in his adult life, felt completely at peace, thinking that God really was in his heaven, and all’s right with the world.

Chapter Text

The Enterprise was on her way back to Earth for an extended shore leave, while the warp engines were fitted with the latest improvements. The mood aboard was great, as everybody was enthusiastically making plans for the almost three weeks at their disposal.

McCoy hadn’t seen Hope all day, which was rather unusual, since she always made time for a little chat during her breaks. Especially, when he was holed up in his office, catching up on the bureaucratic stuff, like today. Come to think of it, he hadn’t seen a lot of her at all in the past few days. And that was even more unusual, since he was used to seeing her at meals and off-duty activities almost every day.

Getting a little worried, his natural state of mind, but even more so where Hope was concerned, he went in search of her, to find out what was up. Knowing her usual hideouts, he soon found her in the arboretum, sitting on her favourite bench between the rose bushes, staring into space, completely lost to the world.

Sitting down quietly beside her, he waited for her to notice his presence.

“Doctor,” she said with a start, “what a nice surprise! I didn’t see you come in.”

“You were lightyears away,” he smiled. “Sorry for breaking into your daydreams. But I got a little worried, when I didn’t see you all day. Everything all right? Why the sad face?”

“I’m not sad at all,” she was a little too quick to assure him. “This is just the most beautiful place on the Enterprise.”

McCoy gazed at her for a long moment.

“Nice try. But I know you better than that. Won’t you tell me?” he urged gently.

“Really, it’s nothing,” she replied. “Can’t a girl just have a quiet moment to herself?”

McCoy didn’t answer, but tilted his head a little to the side and just kept looking at her.

“Oh, Doctor, don’t do that!” Hope exclaimed, laughing.

“Do what?” he asked innocently, blue eyes wide, a gentle smile playing around his lips.

“You know perfectly well what I’m talking about!” Hope smirked at him. “Just as you know that I can’t help pouring my heart out to you, when you look at me with this kindly doctor gaze of yours.”

McCoy couldn’t suppress a grin, amusement dancing in his eyes.

“Works every time. But I think I can even go one better,” he said winking at her, then gently cupped her face in his hand, caressing her cheek with his thumb.

Hope closed her eyes and, trying to stifle a sigh of pleasure, leaned into his hand, just as he’d known she would.

“I hate being manipulated, Doctor,” she murmured.

“Funny, for a moment there, I could have sworn you quite liked it!”

And with a chuckle he put his other arm around her shoulders and hugged her to him.

It was just friendly banter among crewmates. Or at least that’s what McCoy tried to make Hope – and himself – believe. But in his heart, he knew it was much more than that. He told himself that he was just trying to give her the warmth and affection she needed and longed for, yet was grateful that she had no idea how much he enjoyed these moments, too. How deeply he cared for her, how much she really meant to him.

“OK, my dear, are you going to tell your kindly family doctor why you’re sad?”

“No, actually I’d rather not, Doctor,” Hope chuckled, savouring the comforting warmth of his embrace. “But I can assure you that it’s nothing to worry about. Just some harmless, private thoughts.”

The way she put a lot of emphasis on the word ‘private’ amused McCoy, but did nothing to put him off. He just kept gazing at her in his kind and caring way.

“But then,” she sighed eventually, smiling wryly, “I guess you could out-stubborn even me.”

McCoy chortled. Oh how he enjoyed the gentle teasing between them. So affectionate, always respectful, never abusive. Their easy banter never failed to refresh and relax him. Hope understood and even shared his sense of humour. With her, he didn't have to double check every word he said. 

Despite herself, Jenny couldn’t keep the smile off her face. However annoyingly persistent McCoy could be, she knew he meant well and just couldn’t be cross with him.

So, encouraged by the sincere concern in his eyes, and his arm still resting reassuringly around her shoulders, she looked at him and self-consciously said, “It’s nothing big, just that everybody’s going to visit their families on shore leave. Even Mr. Spock’s probably got relatives somewhere on Earth. And I don’t have anywhere to go. I don’t belong anywhere.”

Jenny fell silent, embarrassed to see the look of concern on the doctor’s face turn to compassion. And more than a little angry with herself for once again having blabbed her sorrows to him. She didn’t want his pity. And she didn’t want to trouble him with her petty griefs. Yet, she always seemed to do exactly that. He was always so kind to her, forever coaxing her into letting her vulnerability show, when she really just wanted him to see her sunny, cheerful side.

Damn, McCoy could have kicked himself. How could I not have seen this coming? Of course, she’d be upset about everyone else going home to their families.

In fact, he’d briefly thought about inviting her to join him for shore leave, but had quickly dismissed the idea again, thinking that she’d much rather spend the time with Uhura or Chapel. He really should have checked with them, and now cursed himself for being so negligent. His heart going out to her, he hugged Hope a little tighter to him.

“Not everyone has family on Earth, Jenny,” he said softly, deliberately using her first name to show that he was talking to her as a friend and not as the ship’s doctor. “I don’t. And neither do Jim or Spock. We usually stay in San Francisco. Jim, especially, likes to stay close to his ship when she’s being overhauled. But I’d love for you and me to go somewhere together, to show you around my Earth, if you’d like that.”

Hope looked into his kind face and flushed a deep red.

“I knew you’d say that,” she sighed. “That’s exactly why I didn’t want to tell you. I don’t want to impose myself on anyone. And I certainly don’t want to mess up your plans.”

“Oh my,” he chuckled, “look at us! The only reason I haven’t asked you before, is that I didn’t want you to feel obliged to spend your shore leave with an old man.”

Hope rolled her eyes at him.

“You’re right,” she laughed, “I wouldn’t want to spend it with an old man. But I’d very much enjoy your company, Doctor. Even though it’s really beneath you to be fishing for compliments.”

Looking a little abashed, McCoy replied, “I wasn’t, actually. But never mind. I’d really enjoy your company, too. Having such a lovely girl around would definitely make my shore leave. And make me feel significantly younger, too!” he added with an impish grin.

Hope snickered, rolling her eyes once more, but her face quickly turned serious again, her intent gaze unsettling him a little. The doctor was usually quite good at reading her moods. Most of the time, she was an open book to him. But right now, he couldn't read her at all. Was she happy? Sad? Angry? Had he hurt or insulted her somehow? Had he come on too strong? She looked mildly curious, he thought. But about what? 

“Penny for them?” he asked softly.

That made her smile, obviously touched that he remembered the expression she’d used that time in the cave on Paradise Earth.

“I was just thinking, you know, how even though I’m really happy on my own, focusing on my career, I still sometimes long to be held and cared for. And how you’re always there.”

Her voice took on a wondering tone, her eyes shining with affection and gratitude.

“You help me, you hold me, you protect me, you catch me when I fall, in every sense of the word.”

She paused a little, then looked him straight in the eye and asked, “Why?”

The question took McCoy completely by surprise. 

Because I love you, silly! was what he really wanted to say, he realised with a start, feeling the blood rushing to his cheeks and butterflies fluttering around in his stomach. 

But just as he always did, he immediately pushed the thought firmly to the back of his mind. And, of course, he didn't say it out loud. Instead, he took both of her hands in his, squeezed them gently, and lost himself in her beautiful, big, dark eyes. 

“Maybe every man needs a lady to fight dragons for,” he mused wistfully, then, smiling kindly at her, continued, “You’re one remarkable woman, Jennifer Hope, and I care for you deeply. You hold a very special place in my heart.”

Jenny held her breath, feeling his tender gaze and the touch of his hands keenly. Had he just told her that he felt more than friendship for her? 

“You give so much,” he went on, “and take so little in return. But sometimes, just like everybody else, you need a shoulder to cry on. Or a little help. Or simply to be held.” 

He gazed at her affectionately, gently stroking his thumbs over the backs of her hands, his beaming smile lighting up his whole face - and her heart. 

“That's where I come in,” he explained. “Whatever you need, just ask. I want you to feel safe and cared for on the Enterprise. We're like a big family.” 

Jenny didn't know whether to feel overjoyed by all the love she felt pouring from him, or disappointed, because with that last sentence, he'd gone and spoiled it all again. Were his feelings really just platonic and fatherly? Why couldn't he just pull her close and kiss her? Oh how she longed to feel those lips on hers! 

Just then, he leaned closer and whispered softly in her ear, “And maybe, sometimes, I just need a hug, too.” 

Taken aback, she stared at him for a moment, then put her arms around him and squeezed really tight. 

“Oh, Doctor, as many as you need!” she laughed delightedly. “I'm a very good hugger!” 

“And don't I know it,” he murmured, smiling at her unmatched affectionateness, as he returned the hug and nestled his cheek against her soft hair.

He hadn't actually meant to say that. But now that he had, he realised it was true, He craved this closeness, the touch, the tenderness, too. He kept telling himself that he was doing this just for her. To make her feel protected and secure, even loved. But if he was honest with himself, he needed her and her affections, too. More than he cared to admit. Sure, he had his friends, Kirk and Scotty and all the others, even Spock. But he’d always felt this distinct loneliness in his life, that no one could fill. Until Hope came along. 

Jenny was ashamed to admit that she'd never considered the doctor longing to be held, too. He seemed so content and settled in his life, with all his friends around who respected and adored him. But she'd love to give him all the affection he needed, if he let her. And more.

There was no place she’d rather be than in his arms. And right now, inhaling his familiar scent, his chin resting lightly on her head and his hands gently rubbing her back, she was in seventh heaven. And it was only the prospect of going on shore leave together, and practically having been given permission to hug him more often, that she managed to finally pull out of his embrace at all.

That night, McCoy couldn’t sleep. The thought of going on shore leave with Hope – the joy, the excitement, the challenge – was overwhelming. He’d been holding her far longer than was appropriate in the arboretum, and yet, it had felt so right. Images of her kind face, her tender eyes, her warm smile, filled his mind, and his emotions were in turmoil. His feelings for her went so deep, yet he knew he had to keep them in check. He wished he could take a leaf out of Spock’s book.

At least, after their conversation that afternoon, he was glad that she seemed happy with the way it was between them. That she didn’t take his affection for something he couldn’t give. He also found he was quite relieved to know that she was still focused on her career and not looking for a man in her life, while at the same time doing his level best to ignore how desperately he wanted to be the one to catch her, should she ever fall.

Chapter Text

“You can stop worrying about me, Doctor!” Hope smiled at McCoy, and he realised that he’d been staring.

“Oh, I’m not worried at all,” he assured her. “It’s just so good to see you like this. You seem so happy.”

He didn’t mention how his heart was beating faster with every smile she gave him, or that it seemed physically impossible for him to take his eyes off her.

“That’s because I am!” she exclaimed, her beaming smile even wider than before. “My life is perfect. I’m living a dream, adventures, excitement, and the best friends I could wish for. And now a long holiday to look forward to on top of it all.”

“Speaking of which,” he replied, grinning at her joyful exuberance, and forcing his eyes back to the screen they were sitting in front of, “let’s get on with the planning. I want you to get the most out of it, seeing as they didn’t let you travel a lot, when you first … er … arrived.”

Hope nodded eagerly, also returning her gaze to the screen.

“Would you like to go to your hometown?” he asked. “Have a look around, see what it’s like now?”

The doctor wouldn't have minded going there with her. In fact, he would have found it quite interesting. But she shook her head.

“It’s a nice idea, Doctor,” she replied, “but I’m not sure I’m ready for that. I’ve thought and talked so much about my past recently. And after all the excitement of the last few months, what I’d really like is a proper holiday, if that’s all right with you.”

“Whatever makes you happy, my dear,” he smiled, understanding that she might just want to take a break from it all. “So, tell me, what is a ‘proper holiday’?”

“Oh, you know, no schedule, no big trips, at least for the first week. Just beach and fun. Fresh air and sun. Real earth under my feet, and real food to eat. Long beach walks, cocktails at the pool, maybe a show or a concert thrown in,” her voice took on a dreamy note.

“That sounds about perfect to me,” he smiled, images of them splashing around in the water and walking hand in hand along the beach under the moon sending shivers of excitement down his spine.

He’d support whatever she felt was good for her. If she just wanted to leave the past behind, fine by him. And if she found she needed to deal with it after all, he'd be there to listen and talk to her about it. They'd have a lot of time for talking. She could visit her hometown some other time. Maybe a relaxing vacation was really the best therapy for now. 

 


 

When they arrived at the hotel McCoy had chosen for them, he could hardly hide his amusement at how awed Hope was by everything, not least the size and facilities of her room. 

"Are you sure we can afford this?" she asked again and again, as she inspected her bedroom, her bathroom, and her balcony. "This is so luxurious!" 

"Yes, my dear, I'm quite sure," he kept reassuring her, trying hard to keep a straight face. "What did you expect? Cramped quarters like on the Enterprise? Hotels are supposed to be pleasant and comfortable, aren't they?" 

"Yes, of course, Doctor, but surely this kind of luxury has its price and not everyone can afford it?" 

"Well, we definitely can," he answered, serious now, understanding where she came from. "Hotels like this are for everyone. The seriously rich stay in their stately homes and just beam wherever they want to go directly from their private beaming pads," he explained patiently.

It was too easy to forget how unfamiliar she still was with so many things. Between Starfleet Academy and living on the Enterprise, she hadn't had too many opportunities to adapt to 23rd century life on Earth. He'd have to keep that in mind. 

"Thank you for not making fun of me, Doctor," Jenny chuckled, fondly looking up at him.

She had of course noticed the gleam of amusement in his eyes, but didn't mind at all. In fact, she quite enjoyed making him laugh and entertaining him with her ignorance of so many things that were completely common to him. Because he was always understanding, never patronising. And because she knew how much he liked to guide and teach her, for which she was very grateful.

She was so curious about everything regarding the present she now lived in, but hadn't had much spare time while still at the Academy. Besides, they hadn't liked her to socialise too much, always afraid she could give away her secret.

But now she was going to make up for lost time, ready to face ‘the unknown’ with McCoy at her side. She’d gladly taken him up on his offer to go on shore leave together, hoping he really didn’t mind missing out on his usual bar trips and outings with Kirk and Scotty. But he’d seemed sincere in his eagerness to show her around his Earth, probably also wanting to keep an eye on her, she suspected.

He was such a dear, she thought, always wanting to keep her safe, always being there for her, trying to be the family she’d lost. Just thinking about what a kind-hearted man he was sent a by now familiar tingling to her stomach. She really enjoyed being around him, liked how cared for he made her feel.

But another feeling had been growing inside her for some time now, too, and more recently she'd started to daydream about the doctor not just holding her in his fatherly and protective way, but in a more romantic manner. Imagining him gazing deeply into her eyes and kissing her tenderly, yet passionately. He had this way of making her feel beautiful just by looking at her.

Stop right there! she admonished herself. He cares for you. He wants you to feel good about yourself. That’s all.

And yet, when she thought about being in his arms that night in the cave on Paradise Earth

All right, no more dwelling on that!

She mentally shook herself, then grabbed his hand and led him out of the hotel to find out more about 23rd century Earth.

 


 

McCoy had wanted to take her somewhere to eat first, but she’d only laughed and stared at him incredulously.

“Eat? Now? When there’s so little time and so much to discover?”

Looking at her eager face, he’d had to laugh, too. And in spite of himself and his rumbling stomach he’d agreed to just get changed and leave for a first tour of the vicinity.

Even with her hold-all slung over her shoulder, on their way to the hotel when they’d first arrived, Hope had been running around like an overexcited puppy. But now, without so much as a handbag weighing her down, she was positively bouncing. Like a toddler on a sugar high. McCoy couldn't keep the grin off his face, watching her having such a great time, just feeling the sun on her face and taking in every little detail of her surroundings.

Her eagerness was infectious. And quite exhausting, too. He got tired just watching her. But his heart was light and filled with gratitude at seeing her so exhilarated. She really deserved every moment of happiness. And how beautiful she looked in her sundress! Ever since they’d got changed at the hotel, he couldn’t take his eyes off her. He’d thought her beautiful before, but today she looked simply gorgeous.

The dress was swinging around her legs with every move and clinging to her body in all the right places. And her hair, now worn loosely around her shoulders, made her look much softer, he thought, and also a little mischievous. Gone was the academic and Starfleet officer, leaving only this beautiful, charming, carefree girl. He couldn’t help feeling a little proud to be seen with this beauty by his side.

Discovering new things at every corner, enjoying the street life and looking at all the shop windows, McCoy could hardly keep her pace. Hope was absolutely delightful to be with. Going on shore leave together had been the best decision ever. He couldn't remember when he’d last enjoyed himself that much. Who needed bars full of beautiful women when he could be with the most charming and beautiful of all?

The only challenge for him on this vacation would be to remember that he was just a fatherly friend to her. The way she made him see the world through her eyes, making him remember how beautiful Earth was, how wonderful life was, he could see how easy it would be to give in to his feelings for her.

Crossing one of the plazas, Hope hopped onto a low stonewall and ran along it like little girls do. And when she reached the end of the wall, about to jump down again, McCoy unthinkingly opened his arms to catch her and lift her down, like it was the most natural thing between them.

Hope finally stopped in front of a jeweller’s shop.

“Ah, no woman can resist jewellery. That’s certainly one thing that hasn’t changed throughout the centuries,” McCoy laughed, but fell silent when he saw the expression on her face, her gaze locked on one particular ring.

Quite a lovely gold ring in the shape of a dolphin, but nothing extraordinary as far as he could tell. And yet she looked as if she’d never seen a lovelier ring in her life.

“You like it?” he asked quietly.

Hope didn’t answer right away, but when she did, she had a faraway look on her face.

“I used to have one just like this,” she almost whispered.

“Why don’t you go in and buy it?” he suggested.

Assuming a more realistic expression, she smiled, “Aww, it’s too expensive. There are more important things. They don’t pay space recruits very well.”

“They don’t pay veterans too well, either,” McCoy chuckled, and decided that it was finally time for food.

“Nothing fancy, just a quick bite to eat. I’m starving,” he pleaded.

“All right, Doctor,” she laughed, taking pity on him. “We can’t have you starving on your first day of shore leave, now, can we?”

While they ate their salads and sandwiches, relishing the taste of non-reconstituted food on their tongues, Hope’s gaze drifted off again, and McCoy gently touched her hand across the table.

“You can’t get that ring off your mind.”

It was a statement, not a question, his voice indicating that he knew there was more to that ring than she’d let on earlier, inviting her to talk about it. And she did.

“Actually, I had two rings like that. The first was only a cheap silver one which my best friend bought for me in Delphi on a school trip around Greece. We were only 12 then. Over the years it got broken and ended up in a place I don’t remember. The second one, Tom gave me for my 20th birthday…”

Her voice failed her, and her eyes welled up. McCoy squeezed her hand and looked at her compassionately, thinking how he kept forgetting how young she really was. She looked very young, of course, but when they talked, she was so mature and sophisticated, it was really easy to forget about their age difference.

“Tom, who was going to be a doctor?” he asked quietly.

She just nodded once and looked away.

There was no room for jealousy in the face of her grief, or was there?

“You see, I associate very special people with this ring,” she concluded, blinking back her tears, her face lighting up again. “But let’s talk about something else. Can we go to the seaside, when we’re done here?”

“Of course, we can,” he smiled, glad to see the sadness disappear from her face. “Now that you’ve granted me something to eat, I’m right at your service again, Ma’am.”

On their way back to the hotel, to fetch their swimming gear, they passed a small park. Lured by the lush greens and the brightly coloured flower beds, Hope slipped off her sandals. And relishing the feel of soft grass under her bare feet, sandals dangling from her fingers, she started to run, beckoning McCoy to follow her. He took a few steps, but quickly gave up again, realising that he couldn’t keep up with her, anyway, and just enjoyed watching her romp around.  

When she finally came bounding back towards him, beaming and breathless, his arms just spread and caught her of their own accord, holding her tight and spinning her around. She laughed with glee, her eyes sparkling with delight, and he kept her in his arms for another moment, until her eyes met his, reflecting the tenderness he felt for her.

Coming to his senses, he quickly set her down again.

“Come on, Hope,” he said more gruffly than he’d intended, “time’s a-wastin’! Let’s get to the beach!”

And hardly waiting for her to put her sandals back on, he turned around and walked briskly out of the park.

Chapter Text

When they’d spent a couple of hours at the seaside and indulged in a long beach walk, enjoying the salty air and the soft breeze, Hope asked McCoy to take her out to a ‘proper’ restaurant, as she called it, in the evening. After all, with the food synthesiser waiting for them on the Enterprise, they had to enjoy non-reconstituted meals while they could. And, lovely as the sandwiches earlier had been, it would be nice to have something more elaborate for dinner, along with the sophisticated atmosphere of a first-rate restaurant.

Never one to turn down an opportunity to wine and dine on shore leave, McCoy was happy to oblige. They returned to the hotel to freshen up for their evening out, and half an hour later, McCoy took a very happy and very excited Hope out to dinner.

She had changed into another sundress, and with her freshly done hair and makeup looked breathtakingly beautiful. McCoy had never seen her in full makeup before, and, to be honest, thought she didn’t really need it. But even so, he had to admit that she looked dazzling. Walking along the pier with her by his side, he revelled in the other men’s envious looks. And he felt the warmest affection for her, when he saw how genuinely unaware she was of her own beauty and all the admiring glances she attracted.

They enjoyed a delicious meal in a fancy restaurant with a magnificent view, and he was amazed by how they never seemed to run out of topics of conversation, even after having spent all day together, talking. In fact, time seemed to just slip away as they lingered over coffee, sharing childhood memories and stories about their families.

 


 

It was almost midnight, when they returned to the hotel, and McCoy would have been happy to just go to bed, or, before that, to the bar for a 'wee nightcap' as Scotty might have put it. But Hope was having none of it. Rather than sit in a crowded and noisy bar, she wanted to get some more fresh air in a quiet place, and persuaded him to take their drinks out to the pool. Of course, it only took one of her puppy-eyed looks to persuade him. He couldn’t refuse her anything, when she looked at him that way. And he had a feeling she knew it, too.

They went to stand on a little patio overlooking the deserted pool, and Hope leaned on the railing, looking across the pool at the sea. Listening to the rhythmic sound of the waves lapping against the beach, she shivered slightly in the cool summer night’s breeze.

McCoy was standing close to her, and had just put an arm around her shoulders to keep her warm, enjoying the peace and quiet of the night and the feel of her skin against his arm as she snuggled closer, when two children, a boy and a girl of about four or five years, came running towards them, playing with a softball. Despite the late hour, they were giggling and enjoying themselves as if it were the most natural thing for young kids to be up and about this late. McCoy felt Hope stiffen in his embrace.

“What on earth are they doing here this late at night?” she asked. “And alone, too, so close to the pool?”

But before the doctor could answer, the inevitable happened. The ball bounced into the pool, and the little girl, trying to retrieve it, fell in after it.

Quick as a flash, Hope set down her glass, hitched up her dress and jumped over the railing. Slipping off her sandals as she ran, she shouted, “Look after the boy, Doctor!” over her shoulder and took a header into the pool.

McCoy was only a second behind her, stopping the screaming little boy from going in after the girl and trying to soothe him while watching Hope bringing the little girl back to the surface. He helped her lift the small body out of the water and, like the trained medical team they were, they smoothly swapped places. the doctor tending to the girl’s still body, while Hope took over holding and soothing the boy

Just as McCoy had managed to get the little girl to cough up the water and breathe again, gently cradling the small child in his arms, the frantic mother came racing around the corner, giving a panicked yelp as she took in the scene.

Relieved, Jenny heard McCoy tell the mother that her little girl was all right, when the woman suddenly turned on her son, shouting at him at the top of her lungs, “How could you do this? How could you run off like that and let your sister nearly drown?”

At that, the boy, who hadn’t moved or uttered a sound since his mother arrived, started to cry, sobbing his little heart out in Jenny’s arms. She shot the mother an angry look, but McCoy was already there taking over with professional calm.

He gently placed the little girl in her mother’s arms, resting a reassuring hand on the agitated woman’s shoulder.

“You’d better get her warm and dry quickly. And please, don’t take your guilt out on your son. He’s not responsible, he’s only little. You’re the adult. But you were very lucky we were here.”

The doctor then turned towards Hope and the little boy, looking fondly at her holding the child so tenderly while murmuring soothing words to him. He crouched down next to the boy and, motioning Hope to let him take over, took the boy’s shoulders between his hands and gently turned him around.

He waited until the boy met his gaze and then, looking kindly into his eyes, told him, “You were very good to scream for help when your sister fell into the pool. You might have saved her life. But it was wrong of you to go to the pool on your own without an adult in the first place, I’m sure you know that?”

The boy nodded seriously, and McCoy had a feeling, he’d learned his lesson.

“But you did everything right when your sister fell in,” he continued. “Your mommy’s very upset, because she was so scared for you and your sister. That’s why she was shouting at you just now. But you are not responsible for your sister. And you did everything right to save her. You’re a good boy. Your mommy can be very proud of you."

He shot the mother a pointed look, as the boy threw his arms around the doctor’s neck, starting to sob quietly again. Jenny watched McCoy gently rub the boy’s back and felt her heart overflow with affection for this wonderful man who’d just saved a little girl’s life and a little boy’s tender soul.

When the mother had thanked McCoy and Hope profusely and taken her children back inside, the doctor looked at Hope and felt his heart brimming over. As she stood there, dripping wet and dishevelled, her hair a mess, her dress rumpled and clinging to her wet body, her eyes smudged and mascara running down her cheeks in black rivulets, he thought he’d never seen a more beautiful woman in his life.

Now that the surge of adrenaline was wearing off, she was shaking with cold and shock, laughing and crying with relief all at once. McCoy tenderly gathered her in his arms and held her tight until her trembling subsided.

“You’ll get wet, with mascara stains all over your shirt,” she mumbled into his chest.

He didn’t even comment on that, but told her instead, “You were amazing, Hope. You saved this girl’s life.”

“Oh no, I just got her out of the pool. It was you who reanimated her. Thank God you’re a doctor!”

At that, she started to cry again, and he pulled her tighter, softly rocking her, and smilingly conceded, “Okay, let’s just say we’re a good team, right?”

“All right,” she snuffled, nestling deeper into his arms, “the very best.”

And after a while, she added with a half-grin, “What is it about us, anyway, that we can’t even have one day of shore leave without getting involved in some sort of crisis?”

McCoy chuckled, glad to see her cheering up again, and, releasing her from his embrace, handed her a tissue to wipe her eyes and blow her nose.

“Well, I, for one, am glad that we were at the right place at the right time. This little girl was very lucky you persuaded me to come outside.”

“Yes,” Hope agreed, serious again, “it doesn’t bear thinking about what would have happened if we’d stayed in the bar.”

“So let’s not think about it. Everything turned out alright.”

McCoy was anxious to keep the mood light.

“And now I’d better take you to your room to have a long, hot shower. We don’t want you suffering from a cold for the rest of our shore leave, do we?”

“Definitely not,” she said. “A hot shower it is. And then let’s call it a day. I think I’m quite ready for bed now.”

“Hear, hear,” McCoy chuckled, “I never thought I’d hear you say those words. I think I’ve been ready for bed ever since we first arrived at the hotel.”

“All right. Let’s take it a little easier tomorrow,” she laughed as they walked back into the hotel, his arm still tightly around her to keep her warm. “We are on shore leave, after all. And I wouldn’t dare bring the captain a completely exhausted CMO back aboard. That could probably get me fired.”

McCoy walked her to her room and reluctantly left her there, when she assured him that she was quite all right again and promised to take a really long, hot shower before going straight to bed.

“If you need something, just holler,” he told her. “I’ll be right next door.”

“I know, Doctor,” she chuckled affectionately. “Thank you. Now go get some rest, too. Good night!”

And with a gentle kiss on his cheek, she shut the door on him.

 


 

Alone in her room, Jenny made a beeline for the bathroom, peeled off her wet dress and stepped into the shower to let the warm jets of water soothe her emotional turmoil. The doctor had just wanted to make sure she was all right, and she trusted him completely, of course. But she was afraid of what she might have done, if she’d invited him into her room.

She didn’t want to make a complete fool of herself. She’d already come this close to kissing him once today, and surely would have, if he hadn’t set her back down when he had in the park.

Their first day of shore leave had been nothing short of perfect, down to them saving a little life together. He was perfect. At least to her. Grumpy, sarcastic, overprotective perfection. Kindness personified. What she felt for him, she’d definitely never felt for anyone before. All she had to do now was enjoy what they had, and not ungratefully want more.

 


 

McCoy knew, of course, that she was perfectly able to look after herself. But as he went into his room, he thought how much he would have preferred to stay with her until she was in bed, to make sure she was alright and tucked in properly. He kept listening for any sounds from her room while he took his clothes off and got ready for bed. He just couldn’t help himself, even though he was quite aware that he was overreacting. Again.

Later in bed, McCoy thought about all the things they had been through together, ever since Hope had first come aboard the Enterprise. How many times had he held her? Comforting her, warming her, trying to take away her pains or fears. But he also remembered the fun times they’d had. What good company she was. How caring and entertaining. What a good friend. Or was she more?

He stopped there. This was leading him to a place he didn’t want to go, making him long for something he couldn’t have. Wouldn’t have. But even so, before he drifted off to sleep, a tiny part of his brain – and heart – wondered, if Hope was thinking about him too. And if she did, in what way.

Well, a man could dream. And with a smile on his face, he fell into a deep and exhausted sleep, recharging for another action-packed day with the loveliest girl in the galaxy.

Chapter Text

When McCoy woke up the next morning, he went out on the balcony to enjoy the sun and the view. Hope was already on the beach, doing some yoga exercises, and he watched her for a while, mesmerised. She was doing the sun salutation, he dimly remembered her explaining this particular combination of moves, supposed to recharge body and soul with energy. But by golly, were those moves hot.

Stop thinking like that, Leonard!

He’d often enough watched her doing yoga on the Enterprise before, admiring how flexible she was, how she could twist and bend her body. But he’d never before realised quite what a turn-on those moves were. Now she was doing the tree. He recognised the pose from the times he’d watched her doing yoga with Christine in sickbay, apparently to find peace and calm in the middle of a busy day.

The calm way she stood there, unwavering and totally in control of her body, was fascinating. He tried to copy her, but gave up again right away, realising that standing on one leg just wasn’t for him. Shaking his head, he smiled to himself. The things he did because of her.

He briefly thought about going to join her on the beach, but when he glanced down at the fly of his shorts, he realised that he’d better stay where no one else could see his reaction to watching Hope move her delicate body in those alluring yoga poses.

It was getting more and more difficult to keep his feelings fatherly and platonic. But all he really wanted was for her to be happy, to be there for her, to be her friend, to be near her, to touch her, to kiss her…

Stop! She doesn’t want a relationship. Not with anyone, and especially not with an old fool like you, he reminded himself.

He really needed to get a grip. But truth was, it was much more than just her body moving enticingly, that attracted him so incredibly to her. It was her whole being, her personality. Not taking his eyes off her, he thought about everything she'd already been through at her young age. Things that would have left a lesser person complaining and unhappy with her life. But Hope had taken everything in her stride and come out the other side stronger. She was so in tune with herself and her life, and seemed to have endless energy and love to give and share. She was truly admirable. 

The positive energy that she emanated, this joy of life, this humble gratitude for all the good things in her life, this infectious happiness, like right now, as if she were embracing the whole world with her yoga moves. He’d often wondered how she made everybody around her feel good, where she drew all that energy and love and joy from.

She’d told him before, that it was all about yoga and trying to keep in a positive vibration, and he’d smiled at that. But now, watching her on the beach, inviting all the energy of the universe into her body and soul with those thrilling moves, he suddenly thought he understood.

Life was wonderful. The universe was wonderful. Looking out at the sea on this beautiful morning, watching this incredible woman, he felt a peace and happiness inside him, like he’d never felt before. This must be what she called ‘being in good vibration’. It most certainly didn’t mean he was in love.

When she was done with her yoga exercises, and, looking up, spotted him standing on the balcony, her whole face lit up, making his heart skip a beat and flooding his whole body with warmth. Right then, he felt like the happiest man in the world, admittedly not a familiar feeling for him. There was just no way he could be grumpy when she beamed at him like that.

“Are you coming down for breakfast, Dr. Sleepyhead?” she called, breaking into a run. “I’m ravenous!”

He laughed out loud, letting her happy mood wash over him and fill his heart with the same joy of life she radiated.

“I’ll be down in a minute, Ms. Bendybody,” he replied, shaking his head indulgently. 

And stepping back inside, looking forward to another wonderful Hope-filled day of shore leave, he chose a rather long shirt that he kept untucked over his shorts, just to be on the safe side.

 


 

After breakfast, they went back to the beach. Ever the concerned doctor, he asked her, if she’d remembered to take her sun protection pill, as they stripped down to their swimsuits and made themselves comfortable on their towels.

“Yes, Doctor, don’t worry,” she replied, then added wistfully, “although I quite liked the sun lotion we used in my time. It was nice to have someone rub it into your back for you. A little massage, just like that.”

And to demonstrate, she knelt behind him and started spreading imaginary sun lotion across his shoulders and back. Her touch shot through him like electricity, and he wondered if she felt it, too. They’d touched hundreds of times before, and even though he’d always enjoyed their closeness immensely, something had changed. Every little touch thrilled him to the bone. He could hardly refrain from turning around to grab and kiss her, tasting her full lips on his.

Get a grip, Leonard!

It didn’t get any easier once they were in the water. She dived and swam around him, trying to pull him under water, sensuously sliding her smooth body along his skin. Did she not realise what she was doing to him? He was immensely grateful that the water was rather cold, or else everybody on the beach would have seen what he felt for Hope.

Everybody but the woman herself, he thought, smiling wryly to himself. For Hope, bless her, seemed completely oblivious. But then again, if the alternative was for her to stop doing all those things to him, he’d rather keep enduring the sweet torture and for her to stay blissfully ignorant of her effect on him.

 


 

Jenny was lying next to McCoy on her beach towel, reading. Or pretending to read. She couldn’t really concentrate on anything other than him lying so close to her that she could feel the heat radiating from his body. She’d only have to reach out her hand a little to touch him, to feel his skin. Or move her head slightly and kiss him. Heavens! She was totally lost. More in love than she’d ever have thought possible. She wanted him. Badly. And in every sense of the word.

She still cherished his friendship, of course. His kindness, his caring manner, the feeling of being safe and protected whenever he was near. But she realised that she wanted, no, needed, more than that. She wanted to make him happy. As a man, not just as her mentor. She wanted him to see the woman she was rather than the girl, the friend. She wanted him to want her just as badly. Forget about their difference in age or rank.

What did she have to do to make him react? She'd tried all the seductive things she could think of. Granted, maybe she was too subtle, too innocent and inexperienced. But still, his emotional control must be at least as good as Spock's! Or was she just imagining that he seemed to more than like her? Had she got it all terribly wrong? Were his feelings for her really nothing more than paternal affection and friendship? Was she making a complete fool of herself?

But then he would have told her. She knew him that well. If he realised that she harboured such deep feelings for him, and he didn't reciprocate, he’d tell her right away. He'd find the right words. Kind words, but frank and unequivocal. He'd never want to hurt her, and he'd nip things right in the bud, before she'd get in too deep. He was kind and thoughtful like that. And he loved her enough to want her to keep her dignity. She was quite sure of that.

So, what was keeping him? Did he not realise? Did he not see how she felt about him? Was he that immune to her charms? 

 


 

That evening, McCoy and Hope took the first of many moonlit strolls along the beach, with long, quiet conversations they both enjoyed immensely. They could talk for hours on end, and yet there was still so much to be told and learned about the other's life and time. 

Possibly the happiest he’d ever been, McCoy wished for this shore leave to never end, as he was again and again overcome with gratefulness to the powers that be for bringing this wonderful woman into his life. 

Quite naturally weaving her fingers through his, as they were walking side by side, Hope asked him to tell her more about life on earth as it was now.

“Are there really no more starving and homeless people?” she wanted to know, her face incredulous.

The doctor’s heart melted, when he saw the tears of joy in her eyes, as he explained that everybody was being cared for. The sick, the poor, the elderly, orphans, everyone. 

“I'm so glad, I get to see this,” she smiled happily. “To know what the future holds. That it’s truly marvellous. Mankind has obviously learned its lesson. To think that all the hardship and pain, that were still so common in my time, have been eliminated!”

Hope went on to tell McCoy all about it. Families not having enough to feed their children or heat their homes. People living on the streets, sleeping rough, even in winter. People, children, starving all over the world. Refugees, trying to escape cruel and brutal wars after having lost everything, not welcome in the richer countries. Victims of nuclear fallouts receiving no help, because the authorities denied there even were accidents. Animal species becoming extinct because of people’s greed.

Her list was endless and now brought tears to McCoy's eyes. Tears of compassion, revulsion, horror and rage. And great sorrow that she'd had to live in those barbaric times, mixed with wonder at how she could even have survived twenty years of that. 

But when she started to tell him about her life, he found that it hadn’t been barbaric and horrible at all. Quite the contrary, from what he heard, it had been a really beautiful life. And as he lay in bed, later that night, he found himself wishing he could go back in time with her, if only for a day, to see for himself, what her life, her family, her friends, had been like.

 


 

The next morning, McCoy joined Hope on the beach. A few other people were already there, and he could see them watching Hope with fascination. Especially the men. And who could blame them? She really was a sight for sore eyes. Delightful.

Someday, she was going to make a young man very happy. He only hoped that this young man would fully appreciate how lucky and blessed he was, that he would treat her with all the love, respect and consideration she deserved. And that it would be a long time before he’d have to see her with another man.

Oh my, what a selfish piece of work I am! he thought, ashamed of himself.

Just then, she finished one of her yoga exercises, opened her eyes, and beamed at him. And the sun rose for the second time that day.

“I wish everybody could feel this joy of life as you do. This love of life,” he smiled at her.

It certainly rubbed off on him, McCoy thought fondly.

“Well, at the end of the day, it’s all about love, isn't it?” she replied softly. “Love of life, love of the beauty surrounding us, love of the people around us.”

“Oh yes,” he said, trying to keep his voice from trembling with emotion, “it's all about love.”

He could do this. He could love her without compromising her. Without needing her to love him back the way he longed for. 

 


 

Just hearing him say the word sent a shiver down Jenny’s spine and butterflies to her stomach. The way he’d said it. Reverently and almost wistfully. Maybe she could still hope. Or was it just wishful thinking? He certainly had more than enough love to give. It showed in the way he treated people. In the way he treated her. How loving and caring he was in his friendship.

How much more would he give as a lover? She'd better not follow this train of thought, or she'd end up weak-kneed and talking gibberish. She really needed to be content with what he so generously gave her, with everything he did for her. As it was, he made her feel more loved than she could ever have hoped for, even if their relationship remained as platonic and innocent as it was now. 

Chapter Text

When a gentle tap on his shoulder startled him out of the article he’d been engrossed in, McCoy looked up from his medical journal, straight into Hope’s twinkling eyes.

“Sorry, my dear, did you need something?” he asked, immediately feeling guilty for neglecting her over the latest findings on Andorian brain research, something his ex-wife would definitely have given him hell for.

But Hope just smiled at him, giving his shoulder another pat.

“Relax, Doctor, you can go straight back to your journal. I’m just getting a bottle of orange juice from the beach bar and was wondering if you’d like something, too?”

“Orange juice would be nice,” he smiled, amazed that she didn’t seem to mind him reading up on medical stuff on vacation at all. “Do you want me to come?”

“You just get back to your read,” she chuckled, shaking her head. “I’m pretty sure I can manage to carry two bottles on my own.”

And turning around, she sprinted off towards the beach bar, leaving him staring after her, the sight of her tanned, slender figure in her swimsuit, moving so gracefully, her dark hair falling softly about her shoulders, going straight to his groins.

Forgotten was the Andorian brain research, as his eyes were glued to her ordering their drinks at the bar and immediately being surrounded by a group of men. Handsome men, young men. The kind of men she should be spending her time with.

Don’t go there, again! he thought, angry with himself. You’re not holding her back, she’s free to do as she pleases. If she chooses to hang out with you, just enjoy it!

But in his heart of hearts he knew that it was wrong for her to spend so much time with him, a man old enough to be her father. And that hogging her all to himself was selfish, no matter how delightful she was to have around.

Just then, he saw her talking animatedly to one of the young men at the bar, laughing out loud at something he said. She really seemed to enjoy herself, their drinks completely forgotten, and he was glad to see her so happy. Hope deserved to enjoy every single minute of her shore leave. And yet, it hurt. The young man was tall, blond, and built like an athlete.

They say dark girls go for blond men, shot through his mind, immediately followed by, This is just stupid, now you’ve lost it completely! and mentally rolling his eyes at himself.

When Hope finally grabbed the two bottles of juice, and started walking back towards him, the young man remained at her side. She waved a hand in the doctor’s direction, presumably to show her new friend where she’d left her things, and McCoy wondered, if the blonde took him to be her father.

He quickly abandoned that thought again, however, and pulled himself together, putting on a cheery smile. He didn't want to spoil Hope’s good mood, nor did he want her to find out about his silly jealous feelings. She’d just laugh at his foolishness.

Only a few steps away, he heard her say, "See you around!"

And leaving the young man just standing there, she skipped the last few steps towards McCoy. Setting the bottles down in the sand, she brushed a very quick and shy kiss on the surprised doctor’s lips and swiftly lay down beside him.

McCoy was left momentarily speechless. He had no idea why she’d done this, but watching the young man's face fall as he slunk away, filled him with a pathetic, yet most satisfying sense of victory.

When he found his voice again, the doctor turned towards Hope and quietly asked, “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

She blushed deeply and kept her eyes closed.

“Please forgive me, Doctor,” she replied, her voice a little squeaky, “I just couldn’t think of another way to get rid of him.”

Somehow that sounded like a weak excuse.

“Why did you want to get rid of him?” he asked, genuinely confused. “I had the impression that you were enjoying yourself!”

“He's not my type,” was the curt answer.

“But maybe you could have come to know other people of your age that way,” he just couldn’t leave it.

Hope finally opened her eyes and shot him an almost angry look. Then her expression softened, and she gazed at him intensely for a few seconds.

“I just wasn’t interested, okay? He was nice, but certainly nothing to write home about. Or get jealous over,” she added, almost as an afterthought.

This time, it was McCoy, who averted his eyes. He'd been so sure that she hadn't noticed. A comforting warmth engulfed him. She was such a dear. Of course, she’d noticed, she’d always been very perceptive. But she was much too tactful to let on that she knew. So, she’d just acted, even though they both knew that he had absolutely no right to be jealous. And she'd even tried to disguise it, to save him the embarrassment. He was ashamed that he’d actually considered her laughing at him. He should really know her better by now.

When he looked back at her, she’d already closed her eyes again. He leaned towards her, kissed her on the cheek and whispered, “Thank you!”

 


 

Jenny was lying on her back, feeling the hot sun on her skin, but her body burning even hotter. She could hardly lie still and keep from shouting out with glee. She’d just kissed him. Kissed him! A real kiss, on his lips, if only a very short and light one that she couldn’t even properly recall. And he hadn’t told her off right away, either. He’d been surprised, sure, but not shocked or appalled.

And what’s more, the reason for her boldness was that he’d shown definite signs of jealousy, when she’d talked to that yummy young man. If she hadn’t been sure about his slightly jealous behaviour, where other men were concerned, before, she most certainly was now. The look on his face, when he’d seen her and that guy approaching, had been unmistakably jealous. Oh what a joy! He did care for her as a woman after all.

This changed everything. Safe in the knowledge that he cared more for her than he wanted to admit, Jenny was content to just leave things to take care of themselves. If only this shore leave would never end! She’d be happy to go on like that forever. 

Unable to keep still any longer, Jenny asked McCoy to come for another swim with her, and he happily obliged. They engaged in their usual swimming competitions and water fights, trying to pull each other under water, but this time, Jenny felt a new level of tenderness between them, as they chased each other around, laughing and spluttering, every now and then pausing for a moment, just to quietly enjoy being close to each other.

 


 

When they were getting cold, they decided to go for a coffee and a little snack. McCoy’s stomach was rumbling and Hope also felt a little peckish. But on the way back to their towels and parasol, she stopped short and grabbed the doctor’s arm, when she spotted a rather old woman trying desperately to help an even older man, who had obviously taken a fall, back onto his sun-lounger.

McCoy followed her gaze and instantly started to run, only a step behind Hope.

How typical of her, he thought affectionately, always watching out for other people.

When they reached the couple, he knelt down to check on the man, while Hope told the agitated woman, “It’s all right, we’re here to help.”

Together, they carefully lifted the old man up and gently eased him back onto the lounger. He seemed a bit dazed and gave a little moan, while the woman looked on, her face edged with concern. McCoy quickly felt the man’s pulse and checked for bruises or other injuries, while Hope put a hand on the old lady’s shoulder and gave her another encouraging smile.

“Don’t worry, he’s a doctor.”

“Oh thank God, you’re too kind!” the woman exclaimed gratefully. “My husband’s a little shaky on his legs, and, unfortunately I’m also past my prime and not as much help to him as I’d like to be.”

She chuckled ruefully.

“Your husband’s fine, Ma’am, no harm done,” McCoy said, straightening up and smiling reassuringly at her.

“Thank you so much!” The old lady was relieved. “It’s our last day at the seaside, you see, and my husband so desperately wanted to be in the water and feel the waves at least once before we go home, didn’t you, honey?” she looked at him lovingly, then added sadly, “He feels it might be his last chance. But it’s just too far, and the sand’s too uneven. Thanks again for helping us out!”

McCoy gave her a friendly nod and was just about to take Hope’s hand and politely say goodbye, when Hope looked at him pleadingly.  

“What do you think, Doctor? Can we help this lovely lady and her husband across the beach into the water and back?”

He’d known what she was going to suggest even before she’d said it out loud and nodded good-naturedly.

“Of course, we can,” he smiled at the couple.

His coffee and snack would have to wait.

The old man, who’d finally recovered from the scare of his fall, spoke up.

“Oh no, we couldn’t ask that of you. You’ve already been kind enough. Thank you once more for your help. Now go and enjoy your afternoon!”

McCoy and the old lady looked hesitant, but Hope was having none of it.

“Oh, but we’d be happy to take you, in fact, we were just heading back in the water ourselves, weren’t we, Doctor?”

She shot him a quick glance, defying him to say anything different.

“Yes, we were,” he said, sounding very convincing, even to himself. “It’s no bother at all. Come on, let’s get you there!”

And with that, he started to help the man get up from his sun-lounger again.

Hope smiled gratefully at him, and with a fresh pang of affection for her, he realised that he really didn’t mind. On the contrary, he felt strangely proud of this woman who would so willingly dedicate her time – and his – to making two complete strangers happy. And it made him feel good to be able to share in her endeavours.

The four of them made their way slowly across the sand. McCoy easily supporting the old man who probably didn’t weigh much more than Hope, and Hope guiding the old lady who, as he realised now, was almost as unsteady on her feet as her husband.

When they were up to their chests in the water, Hope and McCoy let go of their charges, and left them to their own devices. Hope smiled broadly at the doctor, as they watched the old couple fooling around in the sea like teenagers, and he thought his heart would spill over with emotion. She really was an extraordinary woman.

“Thank you, Doctor,” she beamed, swimming over to where he was standing and giving him a fierce hug. “And I’m sorry. I know you were looking forward to that coffee, but we’ll have one right after. I’ll even buy you some cake to go with it.”

“Why, thank you, how very generous of you,” he quipped, returning her hug and feeling stupidly pleased.

“When it’s that easy to make someone happy, you simply have to do it, don’t you?” she asked, smiling up at him. “And I knew you wouldn’t mind, really. For all your grumbling and grouching, you’re such a softie at heart.”

She kissed him on the cheek impulsively, sending a little shiver down his spine.

“It’s no big deal for us, but I think we made their day,” she gestured in the direction of the laughing couple, her eyes moist and her face aglow with happy delight.

“Yes, we most certainly did,” McCoy smiled, squeezing her a little tighter, “and I’m glad of it, too. Thank you for doing this. For being you. For making the world a better place. You’re the most generous and caring person I know.”

Jenny heard the warmth and affection in his words, blushed a little and looked down bashfully.

“Strange,” she said softly, “I’ve always thought the exact same thing about you.”

Still with one arm around each other, they went back to watching the couple in companionable silence. As they stood there, enjoying the skin-to-skin feeling they had come to cherish on this shore leave, they both thought how terribly they were going to miss this intimate connection once they were back on the Enterprise.

When the old lady signalled that it was time to get out again, they swam over to their respective charges and helped them return to their sun-loungers, graciously accepting their effusive thanks.

And when they’d said goodbye and were already a few of steps away, they heard the old lady say to her husband, “Such sweet people! Aren’t they a lovely couple?”

Hope and McCoy glanced at each other, chuckling sheepishly, but each of them secretly thinking that, yes, they did make a lovely couple.

Chapter Text

With his much longed for coffee finally in sight, McCoy decided that they deserved more than just a quick cup and biscuit at the beach bar, and suggested going to one of the nice cafes in the main shopping street instead. Jenny readily agreed, even though she didn’t care either way. As long as they were together, bread and water would be fine by her.

They got dressed, dropped their swimming gear off at the hotel, and headed towards the shops. The doctor found a nice little restaurant off the main street, and they sat down at a cosy corner table in the lovely garden.

Their waiter happened to be one of the group of young men from earlier at the beach bar. Beaming at Jenny as he took their order, he pointed out a sign next to the door advertising a summer ball.

“That’s the ball we were talking about. Townhall’s right over there,” he said, vaguely indicating the direction with a wave of his hand. “It would be great, if you’d come! I could take you!”

His invitation clearly directed only at Jenny, he looked uncertainly at McCoy, who regarded him impassively, and Jenny was quick to reply, “Thanks for the offer, but I don’t think we’ll be able to make it.”

They went on to order, the doctor treating himself to a cappuccino and chocolate cake, while Jenny went for an Americano and apple pie.

“A ball, huh?” McCoy raised an eyebrow at Jenny, when the waiter was gone. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because I’m not going.”

“Why not?” he wanted to know. “You love dancing!”

“I don’t know, I just didn’t think you’d enjoy it,” she shrugged. “Or would you?”

“I actually would,” McCoy smiled. “I’d be happy to take you. Unless you’d rather go with someone else.”

Jenny just rolled her eyes at him.

“All right, Doctor, summer ball, Saturday night. It’s a date!” she beamed at him, just as their coffees arrived, McCoy’s chocolate cake turning out to be an extraordinarily huge piece that would probably last him until the next morning.

The doctor had just taken his first forkful of cake, savouring the flavour on his tongue with closed eyes and an exaggerated grin that made Jenny laugh, when a teenage boy sidled up next to him.

“Hi! I'm Stuey!” the boy shouted, as if he weren’t standing right next to them, his smile a mile wide, and Jenny realised that he had some sort of mental disability.

McCoy, although startled by the sudden noise close to his ear, didn’t miss a beat. 

“Hi Stuey! How’re you doing, son? My name's Leonard.”

Jenny watched him raptly, as he took the boy’s extended hand and shook it in greeting, then patted his shoulder in a chummy manner. There was no hint that the doctor had even registered the boy's handicap, and Jenny could have kissed him for his kindness. 

Right then, Stuey's embarrassed mother came over, apologised for her son’s intrusion, and quickly steered the boy away again, guiding him back to their own table. 

“Didn’t you say that mental disabilities were all but gone, Doctor?” Jenny asked, as McCoy looked over at Stuey’s table, returning his friendly wave.

“I said that we can cure a lot of things prenatally, including some chromosomal defects,” he corrected her, returning his gaze to her face, “but the human brain still holds a lot of mysteries.”

“That’s sad,” she said quietly, feeling a little disappointed with the 23rd century. “I’ve somehow imagined that everybody’s living a happy healthy life now.”

“Why would you think that Stuey’s not happy and healthy?” McCoy asked softly, searching Jenny’s face with kind eyes, but she still felt the gentle reprimand in his words. “He’s just different. And I think he might be happier than a lot of people I know.”

“You’re right, of course,” Jenny admitted, feeling ashamed of her ill-considered comment.

“I’m sorry, Hope, I didn’t mean to be patronising,” the doctor apologised. “I just don’t like people assuming that someone who’s different is also inferior and needs to be pitied. Although it’s probably often quite a challenge for his mother, mind you. Even in the 23rd century, society doesn’t always treat people who don’t fit in kindly.”

Jenny nodded, touched as always by his deep respect for life and all living beings.

It took maybe five minutes, until Stuey reappeared at McCoy's side, and Jenny could see – and easily empathise – how drawn he was to the gentle-hearted doctor. 

“What are you eating?” the boy asked, peering curiously at McCoy’s plate.

“Chocolate cake,” the doctor smiled, leaning back in his chair to give Stuey a better view.

“Stuey loves chocolate cake!” the boy grinned widely, his eyes lighting up.

“Would you like some?” the doctor chuckled and pushed his plate a bit towards Stuey, who nodded eagerly.

And just like that McCoy speared a little piece up on his fork and offered it to the boy.

Stuey ate it greedily, the delight clearly visible on his face, and Jenny's heart, once again, melted as she witnessed the doctor's generosity and kindheartedness. 

Stuey’s mother came running, terribly embarrassed, telling Stuey off and trying to prise him away. 

“I’m so sorry he keeps bothering you!” she apologised.

McCoy put a soothing hand on her arm, telling her not to worry, and then surprised both Jenny and the mother by suggesting, “Why don't you just leave him with us while you go back and enjoy your meal? We'll be fine, chatting a little and sharing this delicious cake, won’t we, Stuey?”

The boy nodded eagerly, and his mother’s eyes grew wide in astonishment. Jenny could almost see her inner struggle, the idea of having a relaxed meal out obviously very appealing.

“Are you sure?” she asked uncertainly.

“Quite sure, Ma'am. We’d be delighted.”

When Stuey’s mother had told him to be a good boy and returned to her table, McCoy looked at Jenny, doubt crossing his face. 

“You're alright with this, aren't you?”

“More than alright, Doctor,” she assured him, smiling warmly at him. “I think you're terrific!”

McCoy blushed a little at that, his skin glowing under her approving gaze. 

“I just thought, well, how many undisturbed meals can she have?”

“Not many, probably,” Hope sighed. 

While they talked, McCoy was lovingly feeding Stuey forkfuls of cake. 

“Now Stuey, tell me, what else do you like?”

Stuey didn't need any more prompting, and happily launched into a detailed account of all the things he liked to have or do, McCoy listening attentively while Jenny watched them both, her heart brimming over with affection and admiration for the sweet-natured doctor.

She observed Stuey trustingly drawing ever closer to McCoy, fully understanding his desire to be close to this kind-hearted man. The doctor, eventually, put his arm around the boy’s shoulders, and the three of them chatted away comfortably. 

When Stuey’s mother finally returned and told him that it was time to go, thanking McCoy and Jenny again for their kindness, the boy said goodbye to both of them with a sloppy wet kiss on the cheek.

As soon as mother and son were out of sight, they both grabbed a napkin to wipe their faces, laughing at the simultaneity of their action and looking fondly at each other, as they finished their coffees in companionable silence.

 


 

On their way back, they passed the jeweller’s shop again, and Hope stopped to look at the ring once more, her face taking on a wistful expression that tugged at the doctor’s heartstrings.

“Do you wish you could go back to your time?” McCoy asked quietly.

Hope didn’t even take a moment to consider the question before turning to look at the doctor and shaking her head.

“No, I wouldn’t want to go back,” she said very decidedly.

“Not even to be with Tom again?” he inquired softly.

This time, Hope took a little longer to answer, and he could hardly believe how much the thought of her longing to be with someone else hurt. He’d definitely have to get over this uncalled-for jealousy.

Her face towards him, Hope was looking right through him, her mind cast back to a place and time he couldn’t see, nor would he ever be able to. Watching her like this and waiting for her answer was unbearably hard. But he’d asked her, so he obviously needed to know.

After what seemed like an eternity to him, but had probably been no more than half a minute, Hope’s eyes focused again, and, smiling fondly at him, she shook her head once again.

“No, I wouldn't want to miss this life here and now. Tom and I probably wouldn't have lasted anyway. We were so young, we didn’t even know what love really was, then.” 

“But now, three years on, you know?” McCoy asked, lifting a mocking eyebrow, but really only half-teasing.  

Her gaze didn’t falter as she slowly nodded.

“It’s more like 300 years on, but, yes, I think I do,” she smiled.

He knew it was a bad idea to pursue this thread of conversation, but he couldn’t help himself, curiosity and, of course, jealousy, getting the better of him.

“Who’s the lucky guy then, my dear?” he asked, trying to sound casual and cheerful, only to see Hope blush a deep crimson.

Great! Well done, Leonard, you’ve managed to embarrass her.

“Uh, no one in particular,” she chuckled, trying to cover her uneasiness with a dismissive shrug. “The men I’m in love with are usually not interested in me.”

“That’s impossible,” McCoy exclaimed indignantly, “you’re every man's dream!”

“Thank you, Doctor,” Hope laughed, seemingly flattered by his outrage, “but you're my friend, you're biased. And anyway, you're not interested either.” 

“Don't be so sure! If I were a little younger...” 

“Oh please! Don't give me that rubbish about age difference!” she bristled. “People always say that. And it’s total nonsense. What's age got to do with love anyway?”

McCoy was glad she was so focused on her rant about age difference, that she'd completely missed the implication of his last words. They'd been out of his mouth before his brain had caught up with his tongue. But Hope was really angry and raged on.

“How is it possible, I ask you, that in a world where everything from gay to interracial love is completely normal, age difference is still an issue? I mean, please, you haven't moved on from my time at all in that respect!”

“Well, maybe it’s not an issue when both partners are still relatively young. But what about when one gets old and the other is still in their prime?” he let himself be drawn into a discussion.

“So what? Do you stop loving someone, because they can’t pull off acrobatics in bed anymore?” 

She was on a roll now, and, in her fervour, he found her more attractive than ever. Even more so, when she realised what she'd just said and blushed furiously, a mortified grin on her face. 

McCoy smiled at her, his eyes crinkling at the corners. 

“No, of course you don't stop loving them,” he continued appeasingly. “But if I were in love with someone younger, I'd be afraid to burden them with my aging. Not to be able to offer them the life they deserve, or be there for them when they need me.”

“You've had that problem before, even though you were the same age,” she accused him bluntly, then cringed immediately realising her lack of tact.

“Oh, shoot, I’m sorry! That came out all wrong!” she apologised sheepishly. “Please forgive me, I was way out of line.”

McCoy just smiled at her good-naturedly, yet again glad that she hadn’t made the connection.

“Well, what can I say?” he grinned, lifting his hands in defeat. “You're right. Who am I to contradict you?”

Hope chuckled at the gesture, then went on, still passionately trying to make her point.

“Really, though, with all due respect, in your line of work you could die any day and leave them alone. Regardless of your age. So could I, by the way, no matter my youth,” she added as an afterthought.

Stopping short, as she realised what she'd just implied, she turned an adorable shade of pink again. It was a shame that he didn't know if it was because she hadn’t meant it or because she had. 

Anyway, his jealous heart was immensely relieved to learn that maybe Tom hadn't been the love of her life after all. But then, remembering what she’d just said before, who else could have shown her the real meaning of love? Someone from her past life? Or someone in the here and now? But if it was someone still alive, who the blazes could be stupid enough to let this wonderful woman slip through his fingers? 

Chapter Text

Ever since he’d learned about her past, McCoy had made a point of introducing Hope to some new characteristic of 23rd century life every day. Mostly just little things, whatever came to mind. Because he knew how important it was to her to acquaint herself with every aspect of modern life. How, even more than being respected as the brilliant linguist she was, she wanted to simply fit in. And he also knew how much she appreciated his support.

Confident and carefree as she might appear to the rest of the world, it was quite obvious to him that she still felt a little insecure in everyday life. Having someone by her side who knew her well enough to answer many of her questions before she even had to ask them, gave her security. And making her feel secure had become one of his greatest joys.

That morning, when he’d suggested visiting a state-of-the-art entertainment centre that would make everything the Enterprise had to offer seem outdated, Hope’s eyes had instantly lit up like fireworks, and he’d had to put on his sternest doctor’s voice to make her finish her breakfast. In her enthusiasm, she was really like a child sometimes. One more thing that he adored about her.

So, here they were, in the middle of a crowded VR standing-up holo-arena, with Hope frantically clinging to him. Not that he minded feeling her body tightly pressed against his, of course, but he cursed himself for not having anticipated the effect the holo-arena would have on her eyes and, consequently, her balance. What kind of doctor did that make him? Granted, she was the first – and probably last – nystagmus patient he’d ever come across, but he should still have seen it coming.

The show had only just started, when she’d lost her balance, completely taken by surprise. She’d blindly reached for his arm for support, and thankfully he’d had the presence of mind to grab her waist and catch her before she’d fallen to the floor, to be swallowed up by noisy darkness and stamping feet.

“I’m so sorry, my dear,” he’d shouted into her ear, realising his mistake and trying not to show his alarm, “just hold on tight and I’ll get us out of here.”

But Hope, being Hope, wouldn’t hear of it and shook her head vehemently in the almost dark.

“Can we please stay, Doctor?” she shouted back at him. “I was merely caught unawares. Just don’t let go of me!”

Heaving an uneasy sigh, he reluctantly nodded and tightened his grip around her waist. It took some time for him to lose his worried frown, but hearing her whoop and laugh, with her back safely against his chest and holding on tightly to his arms around her waist, he finally relaxed and even enjoyed himself.

Back outside after the show, he tried to apologise once more for his oversight as her physician, but she just laughed it off.

“Oh Doctor, stop worrying! That was the highlight of our shore leave so far. Thank you so much for bringing me here!” she beamed at him.

“And for keeping me safe,” she added softly, taking both of his hands in hers and squeezing them affectionately.

McCoy swallowed hard, wondering if she even knew, what little gestures and words like this did to him.

But before he could think of a response, she’d already let go again, clapped her hands together excitedly, and asked, “So, what’s next? With my own personal hero by my side, I’m ready to take on anything!”

Another shiver went down McCoy’s spine. The way she kept stirring up his feelings for her, truly took his breath away.

Just don’t let on how much she affects you, Leonard, and everything will be all right. You want to keep things as they are, not see her running off scared.

“Well, there’s this other holo-theatre I thought you might enjoy,” he tried to sound casual. “A sitting down one this time,” he added quickly, probably more for his own benefit than hers.

“Perfect, let’s go!” she almost squealed with delight.

“I’m not sure about today’s show, though,” he warned. “Might be a little scary, it’s a thriller.”

“I’ll only be scared if you are, Doctor,” she laughed. “So?”

“Well, there’s a challenge if ever I’ve heard one. Let’s go!” he grinned.

 



Jenny was absolutely excited to go to the next show. Even though it had been a little taxing, what with her eyes and balance, she’d immensely enjoyed the first arena. After her initial moment of terror, she’d had the time of her life. Being safely ensconced in the doctor’s arms throughout, of course, adding more than a little to the pleasure of the experience.

How he managed to be so close to her, so caring and affectionate, and yet stay so calm and undisturbed was beyond her. She was constantly fighting the urge to just fall into his arms and never let go. She’d never really cared for scary movies, either, but here was another perfect opportunity to snuggle up in his arms, and she was determined to make the most of it.

She loved him. Simple as that. How she was going to survive another day back on the Enterprise, not being allowed to touch him or be this close to him anymore, she didn’t know. She’d cross that bridge when she got to it. But for now, she was going to lap up every morsel of tender love that the doctor was willing to give her.

The show was scarier than McCoy had expected. But again, Hope was determined to stay. They were more or less huddled together, laughing and screaming, throughout the show, and he was amazed by how enjoyable being terrified could be. Hope, of course, was the one thriving on all this cuddling and hugging. And yet, he knew he’d miss it too, back on the Enterprise, with all the restrictions that starship duty entailed.

 


 

It was late afternoon by the time they left the entertainment centre, and to McCoy’s delight, Hope was ravenous and suggested an early dinner. They found a cosy French restaurant, and, since it wasn’t actually dinner time yet, were seated at a table with an incredible view without having a reservation.

The doctor’s body was still aglow with the warmth of holding her, and he felt like embracing the whole world. In his celebratory mood, he even convinced Hope to share a bottle of exquisite French wine, and by the time they left the restaurant after a really delicious dinner, she had a joyful sparkle in her eyes and a rosy glow to her cheeks.

Enjoying the last rays of the warm evening sun, they took their habitual evening stroll along the beach, comfortably walking hand in hand, as they’d got used to. They were always holding hands or having an arm around each other these days, and McCoy enjoyed it immensely, knowing it was all right to be more intimate on shore leave, and that it was his chance to give Hope the tenderness she craved. There would be no more public handholding back on the Enterprise.

They chatted away cheerfully, marvelling at the beauty of the scenery, and he revelled in Hope’s boisterousness. She was beaming from ear to ear, more skipping than walking, when she suddenly stopped and turned to face him, taking his other hand in hers, too, and intertwining their fingers.

Looking up at him, her eyes brimming over with emotion, she prepared to say something. Something important to her, he guessed, and was dreading her next words as much as he wanted to hear her say them.

“Doctor, I…” she began hesitantly, then cast her eyes down for a moment while his gaze was glued to her beautiful face. “I want to thank you. For taking me on this incredible shore leave. I feel like shouting my happiness out to the world. In fact, I don’t remember ever being happier.”

McCoy went week at the knees, and his heart soared at seeing her so overjoyed. No one could express happiness more vividly than Hope, and he was immensely relieved, if also a little disappointed, that she’d just wanted to thank him.

“And it’s all thanks to you,” she went on. “There I was, only weeks ago, dreading this shore leave, and now here I am, having the time of my life. You’re simply the best. Don’t ever think that I take you for granted.”

She stood on tiptoe to put a lingering kiss on his cheek, then quickly turned away again and pulled him further along the beach.

Of course, that wasn’t what she’d meant to say, at least not all of it. But she’d lost her nerve. Probably a good thing, too, Jenny thought. No matter how fervently she loved him, he could never know. She’d have to come to terms with that. She certainly didn’t want to risk losing him, because she couldn’t keep her feelings to herself.

But later, sitting in the warm sand, looking out to sea and watching the most beautiful sunset, she couldn’t help but try again.

Leaning against him and resting her head on his shoulder, she dreamily said, “Isn’t this the most romantic view? Feels like paradise. I wish, we could stay here forever. Do you think one could die from too much happiness?”

“I hope not!” he laughed, his own heart swelling with the beauty of the moment and her contagious joyfulness.

McCoy put his arm around her shoulders, pulling her close and tenderly burying his face in her hair that smelled of sea and vacation, sighing contentedly.

Melting into his tender embrace, she smiled to herself, then boldly asked, “Have you ever been in love, Doctor? So in love that you think your heart might explode? So in love that it just takes your breath away? I mean really in love, not just a crush. When you’ve known someone for a long time, and every day they seem even more special to you? When your heart is filled with happiness just being near them? When you know you’d do anything for them? When you’re grateful for every single day they’re in your life?”

McCoy froze, hearing her put all the things he felt for her into words. This was a very delicate topic. He didn’t feel comfortable at all, discussing love with her. And yet, he just couldn’t help himself. He had to be honest. He needed to say it.

“Actually, yes,” he replied quietly, his voice muffled by her hair.

And in his mind, he added, I feel all of that for you. And so much more.

“Of course, you have, Doctor,” she chuckled sheepishly. “How silly of me to ask. You’ve been married after all.”

“Funnily enough, I wasn’t thinking of my ex-wife,” he murmured softly. “Much as I thought I loved her when we got married, I didn’t discover real love until much later.”

Dangerous territory, Leonard!  

“Really?” Hope asked, gazing at him intently.

Was there a flash of ... something in her eyes? Disappointment? Curiosity? Jealousy even? Or was that just wishful thinking on his part? Why had she started on this topic anyway? Sometimes she was so incredibly naive. Or wasn’t she? Was she trying to tell him something? His heart skipped a beat at the thought, but he quickly dismissed the idea again.

“Why didn’t it work out?” she wanted to know, breaking into his thoughts.

“It...” What could he say? “She’s out of my league.”

“Did she say that?”

Now Hope was outraged on his behalf, it was almost funny.

“No, she didn’t have to,” he mumbled. “It’s perfectly clear. I haven’t even told her of my feelings for her.”

“Oh, that’s so sad!” Hope exclaimed, hugging him spontaneously, nearly making him lose his cool. “But no one’s out of your league, Doctor! And if she didn’t even realise what she was missing, she didn’t deserve you anyway!”

McCoy couldn’t suppress a snort, this was getting too bizarre.

“Thank you, my dear, for being such a loyal friend,” he murmured, giving in to his urge to nuzzle her hair and feeling her snuggle closer.

“You’re welcome,” she replied softly, looking up at him quizzically, a strange, inscrutable expression crossing her face. But whatever else she was going to say, she bit it back. Maybe this conversation had turned out too touchy for her, too?

If he didn’t know better, he could almost think she was making fun of him and his feelings. But she didn’t have a single cruel streak in her and would never ridicule his feelings. Maybe the romantic setting had got to her. Or, more probably, it was simply the wine they’d had with their dinner, that had gone to her head.

Whatever. He did the only sensible thing he could think of. Getting to his feet, he pulled her up with him. Time to get moving again before either of them said something from which there was no turning back. Time to get back to safety.

Jenny let herself be pulled back to her feet and to reality. What had she been thinking? 

No more wine for me! Ever! she vowed, and was grateful for McCoy once again taking charge and saving their precious friendship.

They walked quietly side by side, arms lightly brushing against each other with every step, but not holding hands. It was as if they needed to put some distance between them, but it made Jenny feel uneasy. Had she made a fool of herself? What was he thinking of her now? She had obviously overstepped a line, and she desperately needed to make it right again.

“I’m sorry, Doctor, for getting maudlin back there,” she said self-consciously. “No more wine for me. Promise! Please tell me I didn’t say anything to offend you. Tell me that we’re all right.”

Her voice sounded desperate and whiny, even to her own ears. She bit her lip. Could she dig this hole any deeper?

But McCoy turned towards her and, gently taking her hand in his again, let his adorable smile slowly spread across his face, assuring her with the kindest look in his eyes, “Of course we’re all right, Hope. How could we not be?”

And just like that, Jenny’s world was whole again.

 



Later, alone in his room, McCoy thought about everything Hope had said that evening. From thanking him for this wonderful shore leave – Yes, it really is wonderful, but why would a young girl like her be this happy on shore leave with an old man like me? – to describing what crazy in love felt like.

Sure, he felt everything she’d mentioned, and more, for her, but he didn’t dare to think that she could feel anything like that for him, too. Or could she? Just the thought gave him goose bumps, and he indulged in a few wonderful moments of daydreaming. But in the real world, of course, it would be foolish of him to assume that her feelings for him could be anything of that kind.

 

Chapter Text

Early Saturday evening, Jenny put on her favourite flower print sun dress, which she knew would swing nicely around her legs when she danced, and slipped into her high-heeled sandals, the perfect dancing shoes. She was looking forward to the ball immensely.

Just thinking about how close she and McCoy had grown over their shore leave made her feel so happy and alive that she had to take care not to grin like a lunatic, or romp about like an overexcited puppy all the time. Jenny could hardly wait to be swept into the doctor’s arms for a dance or two – and hopefully more.

Life can’t get any better than this, she thought happily, her whole body tingling with joy and excitement.

She quickly brushed her hair and put on some light make-up. Not too much, since she felt that the doctor preferred her natural look, and the make-up wouldn’t last long when she danced, anyway. Then she stepped out into the hallway, where McCoy was already waiting for her with a relaxed smile on his face, and her breath hitched in her chest at the sight of him.

She’d always found him good-looking, liked him in uniform where the blue of the medic tunic brought out the beautiful blue of his eyes. And seeing him in his civvies on shore leave, paired with him being much more laid-back, not as tightly wound and keyed up as on the Enterprise, she’d thought him even more attractive. But tonight, dressed up for the occasion in a sand-coloured linen suit and pale blue shirt that perfectly complemented the colour of his eyes, he was breathtakingly handsome.

“Wow, Dr. McCoy, I say,” she grinned, fluttering her eyelashes at him, “with you at my side, I’ll be the envy of every girl at the ball!”

The doctor blushed endearingly at that and, looking appraisingly at her, said, “Well, you look pretty amazing yourself tonight, Dr. Hope. But then, you always look beautiful.”

He smiled tenderly at her, thinking that she looked absolutely stunning, and that he couldn’t ever get used to her beauty. Then he gallantly offered her his arm and led her out of the hotel into the busy streets full of happy tourists on their way to their evening entertainment.

“Shall we get a lift, or can you walk all the way in your dancing shoes?” he asked, looking doubtfully at her footwear which made her small feet look even more delicate.

‘If I can dance in them, I can walk in them,” she declared, squeezing his arm affectionately. “And it’s such a lovely evening for a little stroll.”

“All right,” he chuckled, protectively putting his free hand over her smaller one resting on their linked arms, “You just hold on tight, and I’ll get you there safely.”

McCoy took a deep breath, absorbing her infectious happiness, her closeness as she clung to his arm making him giddy and lightheaded. So far, their shore leave had been amazing, each day better than the last.

With Hope, everything was so straightforward and uncomplicated. She simply told him what she wanted and what she didn’t want. No wearisome guessing games with her. No unspoken expectations he felt he had to live up to, no capricious demands. He could just be himself, knowing that she was happy and enjoying herself.

The only downside was, that he was constantly playing with fire, in permanent danger of getting carried away by romantic feelings that came up so easily in a picturesque setting like this.

 


 

When they arrived at the ball, McCoy was not surprised to see that all the men’s eyes were on them. And, once again, he took enormous pride in being the man at Hope’s side, secretly pleased that she didn’t even seem to notice how many heads she turned.

While he was busy showing her off, she found and secured a table for them. And as soon as they were seated and had ordered their drinks, the waiter from the cafe the other day appeared at her side, looking handsome in a summer suit, thrilled that she had come. When the young man asked her to dance, Hope shot the doctor a hesitant glance, but McCoy insisted that she go and have fun.

“Go and enjoy yourself, dear!” he encouraged her, raising his glass. “I’ll be happy to sip my drink and watch you dance.”

“All right, then,” she smiled, getting up and resting her hand on the doctor’s shoulder for a long moment, before following the young man to the dance floor.

Savouring the lingering ghost of her touch on his shoulder, he couldn’t tear his eyes away from her, hypnotised by her graceful movements. The happiness she radiated filled his heart with an overwhelming sense of gratitude. No one deserved to be happy more than Hope.

Right now, he didn’t even feel jealous watching her dance with another man. Nobody could ever take away what they had, what they’d shared. And seeing her dancing partner’s amorous look, knowing that man didn't mean half as much to her as he did, actually made him smile. So did Hope, who took every chance to fondly glance at him, thus confirming his thoughts.

When the last in a row of young men brought her back to the table, McCoy decided it was time for him to take her to the dance floor himself. It had occurred to him that, despite all the times he’d watched her dance with others, they’d never really danced together before. Not properly, anyway, if you counted that time in sickbay.

Holding her in his arms like that was the strangest feeling. So familiar, and yet so new. He’d held her on so many occasions before, to comfort her, to soothe her, to protect her, to keep her warm, even in their pretend fights in the water. But never like this, just for the sake of it, although dancing was as good an excuse as any. And it felt so right.

Their eyes were locked on each other’s. They were not talking, just smiling at each other and enjoying the moment. And while they danced, they unconsciously moved closer together, McCoy enjoying the feel of their bodies touching, fitting together so perfectly, her lovely form nestled tightly against him.

He told himself it was wrong, but he was powerless to resist his feelings. Feelings that he thought he’d lost with his marriage, but which, in fact, he felt more keenly with Hope in his arms than he could ever remember feeling before. Being close to someone physically and emotionally and never wanting to let go again.

When the music stopped, he released her, but left his hands resting gently on her shoulders. She looked up at him fondly, and the utter happiness in her eyes moved him so deeply, it made him wonder, if all this was really as wrong as he believed.

And when she dreamily said, “Oh Leonard, I want this evening to go on forever,” he thought that was exactly what he wanted, too.

Hearing her say his name for the first time almost made him gasp out loud. He’d offered to call him by his first name when they were off-duty a long time ago, but she’d somehow always stuck to ‘doctor’ and he’d given up on correcting her. In fact, he’d often thought that her calling him ‘doctor’ sounded far more intimate than most other people calling him Leonard.

The music started again, the band playing a very slow and beautiful love song, and without thinking their bodies moved back together in a tight lovers’ embrace. Hope rested her forehead against his chest, and when he inhaled the lovely scent of her soft hair, his heart was fit to burst with love for her. Love that he now, for the first time, didn’t try to push away and ignore. Yes, he felt responsible for her, and protective, and affectionate, but most of all, and he could no longer deny it, even to himself, he felt love. Purest, deepest love. Adult love. And the realisation equally exhilarated and scared him.

He briefly wondered if Chekov felt like that when he held Hope in his arms dancing. Probably. Not a nice thought, though. In fact, the thought hit his chest like a blazing ball of fire, making his stomach flip. And even worse, did Hope snuggle up to Chekov and look at him that way? Mentally shaking off the notion, he ordered himself to stop thinking along those lines. Here it was again, this jealousy he felt when it came to Hope. So pathetic. And so uncalled for. He just didn’t have any right to feel jealous. Hope was free to do as she pleased. They were only friends. Somehow, he kept forgetting that.

Holding her so close, another realisation hit him. No matter how intimately he knew her body, how familiar, as her doctor and as her friend, he was with every curve, every dimple, the texture of her skin, the scent of her hair, right now, he felt like touching her for the very first time. As if he’d never touched her before. As if he hadn’t held her for a whole night in that cave. As if he hadn’t spent the better part of an afternoon with her tightly ensconced in his arms in the holo-arena just the other day. As if he hadn’t checked and treated her as his patient a million times before. He knew her so well, and yet, this was totally different.

Halfway through the song, Hope raised her head to look up at him, a strange expression on her face that he hadn’t seen before and couldn’t quite read, but so full of love and trust, that his heart melted and he felt the last of his reticence dissolving. And when she closed her eyes and tilted her face up towards his, his lips found hers, and he lost himself in the most tender kiss.

As soon as McCoy realised what he was doing, he pulled back, only to miss the feeling of her lips against his immediately.

“I’m so sorry,” he stammered, completely at a loss for words, not sure what to feel or think, appalled and wistful at the same time, “I had no idea how much I’ve longed to do this.”

Jenny looked at him, dazed. Lost in her own emotional turmoil, because she, too, was overwhelmed by the strength of her feelings for him. Of course, she’d been in love with him for a long time now. First as her friend and mentor, and more recently in a rather romantic way. She’d dreamed of situations just like this, but she’d always been unsure of his exact feelings for her.

She knew, of course, that he felt affection and friendship for her. That he liked her company and cared for her very deeply. And here on shore leave, particularly, she’d often felt that it was more than just that on his part. Especially when he’d started showing signs of jealousy, which she’d found really endearing.

But still, she hadn’t been sure. Not until this kiss, the intensity and tenderness of which had just blown her away. It was all she’d ever hoped for, all she’d ever dreamed of, and more. The way he looked at her, held her, was like a dream come true. And then his words registered.

“What do you mean, you’re sorry? You’ve longed for this, but didn’t know it?”

Her face was a picture of confusion and McCoy had to smile in spite of himself.

“Doesn’t make any sense, does it?” he laughed ruefully.

“Not really, no,” Hope agreed.

McCoy looked into her hopeful, yet apprehensive eyes, and his deep feelings for her hit him anew with full force. She was the sweetest, most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. He could not but smile and draw her close again. He needed to hold her, to feel her. His desire for her, and, yes, his need to be close to her frightened him. And yet, it was the most heavenly feeling.

“Let’s go for a little walk and talk, all right?” he said, his voice a bit shaky, and put a hand to the small of her back, gently steering her in the direction of the door.

Hope was more than happy to follow him outside, still looking at him expectantly. 

 


 

Away from the crowd and the music, in the quiet of the night with only the sound of the waves lapping softly against the shore, the doctor gently took her hand in his and led her towards a bench facing the sea. Hope sat down quietly beside him, recognising his need to collect his thoughts and find the right words.

McCoy put his arm around her shoulders, rubbing them a little, ostensibly in an attempt to keep her warm, and drew her close, burying his face in the familiar scent of her hair, glad that she couldn’t see his face right now.

His thoughts were racing, exhilaration and dread fighting for predominance in his knotted stomach. The kiss had been incredible beyond words. It had felt so right, and yet, it was so very, very wrong. He wasn’t ready for a relationship. And she was way too young.

Suddenly, it hit him that she’d been kissed by an older man before, and that had scarred her for life.

My God! What have I done?

Chapter Text

Jenny felt close to tears, wishing the doctor would finally say something, and at the same time dreading what that would be. They’d just shared the most divine kiss, they should both be walking on air! Instead she was sitting here, feeling as if she’d done something wrong. She loved him with all her heart. Why did this have to be so complicated? Why couldn’t he just love her back?

The way he had his arm around her, holding her tight, his hand absentmindedly rubbing up and down her arm, was so familiar and felt so right. She couldn’t help snuggling a little closer. This was where she felt safe and at home, where she belonged. Couldn’t he see that? These arms and these hands, along with his eyes and smile and voice, had taken away every sorrow, every fear, since her very first day on the Enterprise. She was overwhelmed by a painful sense of loss and loneliness just thinking of him pushing her away.

McCoy felt Hope nestling deeper into his arms, his instincts telling him to pull her even tighter. But he had to keep a clear head. She certainly thought she wanted to be close to him now, but he had to keep her from putting herself in a position that she would, eventually, regret. She was only a girl. But then again, she wasn’t, was she? She was a woman. And an extraordinary, beautiful, brilliant one at that. When he was with her, talked to her, she was so incredibly mature, it was too easy to forget how young she really was.

But at the end of the day, she was just a girl. And he was a foolish old man to be so attracted to her in this completely non-paternal way. He had to try and find a way out of this to save her dignity. His dignity. And maybe even recover some of their friendship. The thought of losing her as a friend was so unbearable, it made him feel physically sick. He had to fix this terrible mess he’d got them into. He had to find the right words. Now.

“I knew you were special from the moment I first saw you,” he began, his voice gentle and much calmer than he felt. “I don’t know what it was or how you did it, but you stole my heart within moments of our first meeting. You radiated such warmth and kindness, and I just wanted to be near you. When you volunteered to work in sickbay, I thought I was the luckiest man in the universe.

“Then I watched you with my staff and my patients, the way you could bring colour to exhausted faces, smiles to people in severe pain. And I knew there and then that you were the most beautiful person I’d ever met – inside and out.”

The doctor paused for a moment, and Hope gazed up at him, her eyes moist with emotion. But she remained silent, waiting patiently for him to continue.

“I’ve grown fonder of you by the day,” he went on, smiling tenderly down at her, “getting used to having you around rather too quickly, enjoying your presence and your company in and out of sickbay. I laughed with you, I flirted with you, I worried about you, I enjoyed our playful banter as much as our in-depth conversations. But all this time I told myself that my feelings were purely those of a fatherly friend, a mentor, because that’s what you saw in me.”

Hope looked as if she wanted to say something, but thought better of it and just shook her head gently, briefly touching a hand to his cheek. Then she rested her head back against his chest, sensing that he wanted to say more and found it easier to talk not looking at her.

After a while he continued, his voice even softer than before.

“I’ve never felt for anyone what I feel for you.”

Oh great, he thought as soon as the words were out, this is going in the exactly wrong direction.

And sure enough, Hope turned towards him again, raised her face up to his, and before he even knew what he was doing, they kissed again. Just as tenderly as the first time, but even more deeply. All his self-restraint was gone, he couldn’t help but give in to his yearning, feeling that she wanted it just as much as he did.

Jenny had never kissed like this before. Never felt like this before. Never heard words of love like these before. She trusted McCoy from the bottom of her heart, knew without a shadow of a doubt that he would never intentionally hurt her. The kiss was perfect. The moment was perfect. There was no place she’d rather be than in the doctor’s arms. And yet, she was somehow waiting for the ifs and buts.

So she pulled back a little and, unable to help herself, asked, “So what’s the catch?”

McCoy was brought back down to earth but not really surprised by her question. She wasn’t one to play games, but would always get straight to the point. Another trait that he cherished and loved in her, calling for him not to beat around the bush any longer.

Taking a shuddering breath, he looked deeply into her eyes.

“We mustn’t, Jenny. It’s simply not right.”

A million emotions flashed across her face in an instant, settling on incomprehension, and McCoy fought the impulse to kiss them all away.

Only one word escaped her lips.

“Why?”

There was no anger in her voice, no reproach, only sadness and confusion. And it broke his heart. Yet he went on explaining, because it was what he felt was right.

“Because I’m not the one for you, Jenny,” he said as gently as he could, while his heart screamed, Just kiss her again, you idiot! “I’m not what you want, and most certainly not what you deserve.”

“And you know that how?” she asked, her face pale, her voice barely a whisper.

“I just do, Jenny. And you know it, too. You have feelings for me, because I was kind to you, when you needed it. Because I was there for you, when you felt lost and alone. Because I helped you through a difficult time.”

Jenny suddenly tore away from him, shaking his hands off as if they’d singed her, then set her jaw angrily, piercing him with fiery eyes.

“I have feelings for you, Leonard, because you are a wonderful person, an amazing man. Yes, you are kind, you help people, you’re a doctor with all your heart. And of course, that’s part of why I feel for you like I do. But why is that a bad thing? Why would you belittle my feelings like that?”

“I don’t mean to belittle your feelings, Jenny, but maybe your feelings are a little misguided?” McCoy ventured. “You’re a beautiful and brilliant young woman. You can have every man in the universe!”

“There’s only one man in the universe I want!” Jenny said petulantly.

He almost had to smile at her childlike stubbornness, only to be completely taken aback the next moment, when she threw her arms around his neck, pressing hot lips to his and her body against him. There was no innocence in her kiss, only need and desire, and it took his breath away. Along with all rational thought, it seemed, as his body responded on its own accord. He had to sum up all his willpower to finally drag himself away from her again.

“Jesus! Jenny, we need to stop right there!”

He pulled away a little more forcefully than he’d intended, and it broke his heart to see her shrinking back, embarrassed and tearful.

Trying to compose himself and get his own feelings under control, he gently put his hands on her shoulders and held her at arm’s length, his eyes boring into hers.

“Don’t, Jenny! Please don’t! You’ve already had an older man take advantage of you. You don’t want to repeat the experience. And I can only apologise. I don’t know how I could do this to you after what you told me that night on Paradise Earth.”

“What are you talking about?” she asked, looking at him in dismay as realisation dawned. “I was only 15 then, I’m a woman now! This is something else entirely!”

A flicker of desolation crossed her face, as another thought hit her.

“Tell me, Doctor, is that what I am to you? Just a little girl?”

Her calling him ‘doctor’ again was like a punch to his gut, and he had to fight for breath before he could answer.

“No, Jenny, you’re a woman alright. You’ve got no idea how hard I’ve had to fight my feelings for you.”

“Why fight them at all?”

“Oh, Jenny, please, don’t make this so hard,” he pleaded, shaking his head in exhaustion, then added, “Never in a million years would I have dreamed that you might think of me in that way.”

He waved a hand around in a gesture to indicate intimacy between them.

“You even told me how happy you were on your own, and that you were grateful that I was there for you when you needed some warmth and affection.”

Exhaling deeply, he tenderly cupped her face in his hand, like he’d done a million times before, and held her gaze with moist, sorrowful eyes.

“Oh Jenny,” he sighed, his boundless love for her once again getting the better of him, “you need and deserve so much love, and I’m more than happy to give you all I have, but I’m not the one for you, believe me.”

Jenny was dumbstruck. She felt as if she were on a rollercoaster ride, but not a fun and pleasant one. Dropping from an ecstatic high to rock bottom in seconds, rising and falling again with a speed that made her head spin. One moment she was in heaven, immersed in the deepest kiss, feeling the doctor’s love enveloping her like a soft blanket, and the next moment he pushed her away, angrily telling her to stop and get a grip on her misguided feelings.

From deliriously happy to utterly mortified in the blink of an eye. Why did this have to be so difficult? He did love her, she was certain of that. If he really didn’t, why would he get so riled up? She’d seen him livid before, he was a very passionate man, but never directed at her. It was not like him at all.

He was scared, she concluded. But of what? Of her? Of his own feelings? Of not being good enough? Her for him or him for her? Or of commitment? But then she hadn’t even demanded anything of him.

She just loved him. No more, no less. Why couldn’t he simply accept that? Was he really this insecure, this damaged when it came to his private life? Because as a doctor and Starfleet officer he was always so confident and sure of himself.

Having calmed down a little, she decided she’d have to convince him, show him what a wonderful person he was. What an attractive, brilliant, desirable man. How proud she’d be to be his partner.

“Maybe it’s not my feelings that are misguided, but yours?” Jenny asked, her eyes still sad, but her voice calm and reasonable again. “Why is it that you are so incredibly confident as a doctor, and yet seem to have no idea how wonderful you are as a person?”

McCoy swallowed hard, Jenny’s words, once again, going straight to his heart. What was she doing to him? What was she seeing in him?

She was offering him happiness on a silver platter, but he couldn’t take her up on it. She didn’t know him, not really. Didn’t know what she was getting herself into, didn’t know the hurt and disappointment that a relationship with him inevitably ensued. He owed it to her to save her from all that, to save her from herself.

“Jenny, be realistic,” he said gently. “I’m too old, too set in my ways, not likely to change.”

“Not nearly as old as I am,” she smiled wryly, attempting a joke.

McCoy gave her a half-smile and sighed indulgently but went on undeterred.

“I have my quirky ways…”

“Every one of which I love,” she interjected with a gentle smile.

But McCoy continued undisturbed.

“You are so young, so inexperienced in many ways, it would be very wrong of me to take advantage of you.”

She opened her mouth to protest, but he silenced her with a pleading glance and went on, “You have your whole life ahead of you, a brilliant career, so many experiences to make, so many people to meet yet. Men much more suitable for you than I could ever be.”

Jenny couldn’t hold back any longer.

“And with ‘more suitable’ you mean younger? Why would you think that someone younger could make me happier than you already have? Why would any other man make me happier? Or is this just your way of letting me down gently? Of letting me know that I’ve got it all wrong, that your feelings for me are, after all, only friendship and affection?”

Her voice grew more urgent with every sentence, and it cut McCoy to the core.

“No, that’s not it at all,” he cried in frustration, desperately wanting to make her see his point. “I just don’t want to be in your way. I know you, Jenny. If I accept your feelings, you’ll feel committed to me. And when you go out into the world and find someone more suitable, you’ll feel obliged to stay with me. And I couldn’t bear to be a burden to you.”

Jenny was outraged.

“So, basically, you’re saying that just because something could go wrong between us – just like it could go wrong between people of similar age, by the way – you’d rather shy away from what we have, or could have?”

Put like this, he had to admit, it did sound silly. He just wanted what was best for her, but was he wrong?

Seeming to read his thoughts, she said, “I know you just want what’s best for me. But I find it rather patronising of you to think that you know what that is better than I do. I know I’m young, but give me some credit, please!”

Maybe she was acting more mature than he was at the moment. He’d give her that.

“Jenny, you’re so full of youthful vitality,” he tried again. “You’re ready to take on anything. You’re going to change the world. I know you will. You’ve got it in you. And I just couldn’t keep up with you. I’ve seen you with other men, younger men, men who can offer you the life you deserve, who can make you happy. And believe me, it hurt to watch you with them, but I’ll gladly step back if that means you are free to lead the life you deserve. Take Chekov, for example, I’ve seen how well you two get along, you speak the same language, the language of the young.”

Jenny couldn’t help laughing at that.

Shaking her head, she asked incredulously, “So this is about Chekov, is it? Do you really consider him ‘suitable’? No, don’t answer this one!”

She sat up straight, putting a finger to McCoy’s lips, back to her usual confidence and determination, all confusion and fear gone from her eyes.

“Hear me out. I’ve listened to you, now it’s your turn to listen.”

McCoy gave a quick nod, she was right, it was her turn to say her piece.

“Yes, I love Pavel dearly.”

The words didn’t fail their intended effect. McCoy felt a hot stab of pain at her declaration but let her continue uninterrupted.

“I love him like a brother, a friend. I also love Captain Kirk, or Scotty, or Mr. Spock. They are my heroes, my role models. I trust them with my life, just as I hope they’d trust me with theirs. I want to make them proud, I want them to think highly of me. And there are other people I deeply care for, too. But I have no desire whatsoever to hold them, or kiss them, not Pavel, not the captain, not Scotty, nor anybody else.

“There’s only one man I want to be close to. Only one man I see in my dreams. Who can make me go weak at the knees just by looking at me. Who can make my heart leap just by saying my name. Who I can just be myself with, knowing that he's seen all my flaws and still likes me, and that I don't have to try to be more than I am just to impress him. 

“You. Are. Amazing. Leonard! You make me happy! Being near you makes me feel alive. This shore leave has been the most wonderful time of my life. Both my lives,” she added softly.

McCoy was stunned into silence. And incredibly relieved that she’d used his name again. But could she be right? Could he really be the one to make her happy? Could he give her what she needed? Just the thought of a life with her by his side made his heart leap with joy and longing.

Oh boy! he thought. Looks like I’m ready for a new relationship after all!

Jenny seemed to guess his train of thought. Sitting on his lap, she wrapped her arms around his neck, and searched his eyes intently.

“Can’t you see how much you mean to me?” she asked. “How deeply I care for you, how much I enjoy every moment with you?”

With that, she put her lips to his and kissed him with a passion that matched his desire for her. McCoy gave up all resistance and lost himself in their kiss.

Of course, she deserved better, and he definitely didn’t deserve her, but this was more than he’d ever dreamed of. He was just a man after all, there was only so much resistance he could put up. Her lips were soft and demanding, her body pressing against his so sensually. And when her tongue started to explore his mouth, McCoy just let go and abandoned himself to their kiss.

He lost track of time and his surroundings, as his whole world was filled with the sweet taste and scent that was Jenny. His Jenny.

Finally! Jenny thought, feeling tremendously relieved, as she let herself be swept away by his kiss, his touch.

He was everything she’d ever imagined him to be. Passionate, yet gentle, strong but tender, his mouth demanding, yet so giving. She wanted this moment to go on forever. The bliss of finally being where she belonged!

Shivering with desire and excitement, she thought back to all the occasions she’d already got a taste of what it could be like. All the times he’d held her, caressed her before. His kind eyes, his soothing voice. He was one in a million. And now he was hers. And she was all his.

Chapter Text

McCoy could have stayed on that bench, holding and kissing her, forever. But when it was getting chilly, and he felt Hope starting to shiver, he got up and wrapped his arms around her.

“Shall we go back to the hotel?” he asked, his voice thick with emotions he had yet to sort out.

Hope just silently nodded. She was all talked out and, like him, probably still trying to get her head around what had just happened.

Holding hands as they walked had become quite natural to them over the past few days, but now it was so much more than just a connection between two, admittedly very good, friends. They just couldn’t let go of each other. And every couple of steps they had to stop to embrace and kiss, getting ever more urgent in their need to touch and be close to each other.

When they finally arrived back at the hotel, Jenny saw McCoy hesitate, and was quick to voice what had been on both their minds for the whole walk home.

“My room or yours?” she smiled, and gave the answer before he could even open his mouth. “I think my room has the nicer view.”

McCoy chortled at that.

“Because the view is definitely foremost on my mind right now!” he chuckled.

But when he saw Hope blush, the doctor instantly regretted his quip. Of course, she’d be nervous. Why did he keep forgetting how young and green she really was? The last thing he wanted to do was to embarrass her.

There was no need for him to worry, though, because Hope, typically, had already recovered and said determinedly, if a tad shyly, “My room it is!” 

Then she quickly opened the door and pulled him inside.

 


 

As soon as the door had closed behind them, she started to kiss him hungrily again, and they stumbled blindly towards the bed, as she hastily removed his jacket, while he fumbled with the unfamiliar, old-fangled contraption of hook and zipper at the back of her dress.

She flopped down on her bed, pulling him down with her, and, chuckling at his futile attempts, put her hands to the back of her neck to help with the hook.

“Here, let me help,” she laughed, her eyes twinkling with mirth. “The great Dr. McCoy’s skilled fingers beaten by a simple old-fashioned zipper.”

McCoy had to laugh, too, delighting in her high spirits. And at the same time grateful that she had unwittingly roused him from his haze of lust. There were definitely things they should talk about before engaging in something that could never be undone.

So, when she swiftly began to undo the buttons of his shirt, he took both of her hands between his and caught her attention with a deep, soulful look.

“Are you sure you’re ready for this, love?” he asked, his voice husky. “Because we don’t have to do this, if you’re not. There’s no hurry. We can wait. I can wait. We’ve got all the time in the world.”

Hope’s eyes softened at his attempt at restraint, giving away how much she appreciated and relied on his chivalry and consideration.

“Ready as I’ll ever be,” she smiled at him, then added a little shyly, “although you’ll have to bear with me, Leonard. It’s been ages, literally. But then, I didn’t exactly have a lot of experience to begin with.”

McCoy felt a fresh surge of tenderness towards her, her insecurities tugging at his heart. He found her shyness most endearing, but at the same time realised that he, too, was rather apprehensive. He might be more experienced than she was, but this was special. She was special. And he wanted to do everything right by her, wanted to make her feel how much she really meant to him.

The next few hours passed in a blur for McCoy. Everything was new, and yet so familiar. And although he’d seen her many times in nothing but her skimpy bathing suit before, he realised that she’d suddenly become quite self-conscious.

So, before gently sliding her dress off her shoulders, he dimmed the lights, then gave her all the time she needed, assuring her of the flawless beauty of her body in words that he couldn’t remember ever having flowed from his lips so freely. And she was beautiful, incredibly so. Glowing from inside, her smooth skin like velvet to his touch.

They took their time, slowly and gently exploring and savouring the feel of each other, and McCoy paused repeatedly, making sure she really wanted this, assuring her over and over again that, if she wasn’t ready yet, he could wait. Once again, he was taken aback by the overwhelming tenderness he felt towards her. A tenderness like he’d never felt before.

Jenny was extremely nervous and anxious at first. She wanted nothing more than to be close to McCoy, to be intimate with him, but at the same time was afraid he might find her cluelessness a turn-off.

She hadn’t asked, and he hadn’t volunteered, but seeing how charming and attractive he was, how even haughty women like Irene Sloane fell under his spell, she was pretty sure the doctor had had more than a little ‘action’ since his divorce. And she’d only ever had Tom. Tom, who’d only ever had her. And even that had been centuries ago.

Silly, she realised as soon as she looked into his kind and understanding face, knowing that he would patiently and tenderly teach and guide her. She trusted him implicitly. And the way he kept asking if she was really ready for this, made her feel absolutely safe.

His loving eyes were continually searching her face for clues, ready to stop whatever he was doing at the smallest sign of discomfort. He needn’t have worried, though. His gentle hands set her body on fire, touching her in ways and places she’d never thought could feel so good.

Soon she forgot all about her insecurities and gave herself to him completely. His nimble fingers, lips and tongue sending her to unknown heights, doing things to her she hadn’t thought possible before.

He only stopped when she was completely exhausted. Cradling her tenderly in his arms, and covering her face in gentle kisses, he smiled down at her with the content look of someone who knew exactly how much pleasure he’d just given.

It was then, that she decided to return the favour, and found that, from some unknown depths of her unconscious, elaborate ways of pleasuring him came to her quite naturally. She had no idea where it all came from, and was amused to see her own surprise mirrored in his eyes, as she did things to him that she’d never done to anyone before, but which obviously surpassed his expectations by far.

It gave her immense pleasure to see him gradually lose control, to hear him gasp, moan, and sometimes even cry out with lust. And by the time their bodies joined for a phenomenal finale, she felt powerful, a skilled lover, the hesitant and shy girl gone completely.

It was an incredible experience. And all because of the gentle and considerate man he was. And the best teacher to boot.

 


 

Afterwards, totally spent and happier than he’d ever felt, McCoy lay awake for some time, tenderly holding her sleeping form in his arms. Hope had fallen into an exhausted sleep within moments, but he was far too agitated. He lovingly watched her beautiful face, completely relaxed in sleep, with the smallest smile playing around her lips, and he thought he’d never seen anything sweeter in his life.

It had all happened so suddenly. His whole life had been turned upside down in only one evening. He could – and would – never go back from that. Their bodies had fit together perfectly, almost as if they’d known each other intimately before. He could hardly believe the incredible sensations Hope had evoked in him, showing no trace of inexperience at all.

She was a natural, he thought fondly. Or, maybe, they were just in total accord with each other. Because the pleasure had been much more than merely physical. It was as if their souls had touched, too. He’d never experienced anything like it before. So tender, so pure, and yet more fulfilling than he’d ever known.

Now, almost 50 years into his life, he finally understood the real meaning of ‘making love’, because that’s exactly what they had done. No, even more than that. It had taken him almost 50 years until someone had shown him the real meaning of love.

He’d been in love before, of course, but like everything else with Hope, this was different. A different level of ‘in love’. He couldn’t even pinpoint what it was, he only knew that he’d never felt this good before. Higher than on top of the world. Completely at peace with the universe and himself. And whole. Yes, that was exactly the word he was looking for. For the first time in his life he felt whole. Complete. As if a part of him had been missing, and now Jenny’s love made him complete.

He must have done something right after all, he mused, maybe in one of his former lives, to deserve this kind of happiness, of completeness. And with those thoughts warming his heart, he finally drifted off to sleep.

 


 

When Jenny woke up in the morning, it took her a second or two to realise that she wasn’t still dreaming. She’d had some rather vivid dreams about the doctor before, but this was the real thing. The warm skin of his arms enfolding her, his soft breath caressing her face as he peacefully slept so close to her.

Jenny slowly propped herself up on one elbow, careful not to wake him, and studied his dear face, so relaxed and serene in sleep. Her thoughts went back to last night, and the memory sent pleasant shivers down her spine. She could hardly believe that they’d really done it. It had been amazing. More so than she could ever have imagined. On top of everything else, he was obviously also an incredible lover.

Nevertheless, she couldn’t help a little soul-searching. Was this really what she wanted? Or did she feel remorseful in any way? They had crossed a line, from which there was no going back.

She’d known the doctor for almost a year, now. A year in which her fondness of him, her trust in him, her respect and admiration for him had constantly grown. A year in which he’d not once said or done anything to make her question this trust and respect, but had unfailingly been there for her, giving her countless treasured memories.

No, it had been the right choice. There was nothing she wanted more than to be with this wonderful man. For better or worse.

But what about him? That was the real fear that was nagging at the back of her mind. Would he have second thoughts? Had she roped him into something he wasn’t ready for? Had she seduced him? Had she lured his body into giving in before his mind could catch up? Had she made him cross this line without really thinking it through? And if so, would he resent her for it? Even worse, could they ever recover from that? Or had she lost the best friend she ever had?

The longer she thought about it, the more uneasy she got. He’d told her time and time again, how he felt about relationships. What he thought of age difference. How could she have been stupid enough to persuade him? And yet, when he’d told her what he felt for her, it had sounded very much like love.

Whatever, she’d know soon enough. No use getting all riled up over something she couldn’t change anymore. With that in mind, she went back to studying his beloved, familiar features, letting the incredible memories of the things they’d done only hours before fill her with love and happiness.

And when McCoy finally opened his eyes, and she saw them light up instantly at the sight of her, she let herself be drawn into the warm sea of blue and knew that everything was going to be all right.

Chapter Text

When McCoy woke up again, Hope was already awake, propped up on one elbow, gazing at him with tender eyes and a broad smile. She looked so happy. Positively radiant. Had he done this to her? Had he made her this happy? She’d most certainly made him happy, he thought lovingly, and was rewarded with a gentle kiss.

“Good morning, Leonard!” she beamed at him, and he could hear the love in her voice.

“And a good morning to you, too, my love!” he smiled, then added with a playful twinkle in his eye, “You’re practically glowing. Had fun last night?”

Was that how it was going to be? Him waking up to this wonderful woman’s smiling face every morning? Could he really be so lucky? Was that what he wanted, what he needed, what she needed?

But before he could continue this train of thought, she softly said, “Oh, Leonard, I never thought it could be like this. Thank you so much for showing me!”

Deeply touched by her words, he tenderly tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear.

“Well, I can assure you, love, I never knew it could be like this, either. So I guess I’ll have to thank you for showing me, too!”

Her answer to that was a little blush, and then, with a, wondering shake of her head, she murmured quietly, almost as if to herself, “And there I thought, if it doesn’t hurt, that’s as good as it gets.”

The words were uttered airily, yet a tiny tear ran down her cheek. It took McCoy a second or two, but when her words sank in, they shocked him to the core. He didn’t trust his voice to speak, so all he could do was tenderly kiss away the tear and pull her into a tight, protective embrace.

His thoughts were racing. Who had hurt her? What had she experienced? How could anyone be anything but gentle and considerate with this woman? Did they not see how precious and delicate she was? Never before had she seemed more vulnerable and fragile to him.

And then he realised with a jolt, that what he had mistaken for shyness the evening before, might, in fact, have been actual fear. Fear of him hurting her. The thought nearly tore him apart.

His voice was barely a whisper when he asked, “Did I hurt you last night?”

But Hope had already bounced right back to her cheerful self, like she always did.

“Of course not, Leonard! You could never hurt me. You were – you are wonderful!”  

She sounded genuinely surprised at the question, and if it hadn’t been for the lonely tear, he might have thought he’d misheard. But he hadn’t. And he desperately needed to find out what this was about. But he also knew her well enough to realise that he couldn’t push it. He’d have to wait until she was ready to tell him. Like with her other ‘secrets’, she would eventually, he was sure of that. In the meantime, he’d have to be patient, and just be there for her.

At least, he wouldn’t have to find excuses to hold or touch her anymore. He could just pull her close, kiss and caress her, whenever he felt that she needed him to. Like now, curled up in his arms again and nestling ever closer, triggering every protective instinct in him.

Suddenly, another thought struck him. Maybe fate had brought them together for a reason. Maybe, despite all his misgivings, he was just the one for her, just what she needed, after all. Maybe his many flaws, that were the reason why he’d fought his feelings for her so hard, were, in fact, the very reason why she’d been drawn to him in the first place.

Given her circumstances, perhaps she needed someone older, not only to match her mature personality, but also to give her security. Someone overprotective, who’d worry enough for the both of them. Someone past youthful impetuosity, who knew how to be gentle and considerate, and caring enough to put her needs before his own, in and out of the bedroom. Someone dealing with his own fair share of insecurities, who could see how perfect she was and admire her strength, while still recognising the vulnerability underneath. Someone who’d been hurt enough to appreciate how thoughtful and giving she was, without taking advantage of her kindness. Maybe giving in to his feelings for her had been the right thing to do after all.

 


 

Jenny had found paradise. Cuddled up with the doctor here in bed, feeling his warm skin against hers, being allowed to touch him, kiss him, the happiness she felt was almost too much to take. She was only sorry, she’d got him worried again. Why on earth had she said that?

Granted, her love life with Tom hadn’t been overly exciting. In fact, until last night, she’d often wondered why people made such a fuss about it. But Tom had been a sweet and gentle boy, who’d definitely never hurt her.

Even though McCoy had let it slide for the moment, for which she was immensely grateful, she knew that he’d bring it up again. She’d seen the concern in his eyes. The last thing she wanted was to give him reason to worry even more about her than he already did anyway.

But there was nothing she could do about it now. If she told him that she had no idea why she’d said that, he wouldn’t believe her, and still worry. And if she told him that this wasn’t the first time she’d had strange thoughts hitting her out of nowhere, thoughts that felt like memories, only somehow not hers, he’d be even more concerned.

Not wanting to spoil the mood after their heavenly night any further, she decided to try and divert his thoughts to something more pleasant.

So, feeling his hands tenderly caressing her skin, she slid her leg over his, let her fingers gently trail across his chest, and whispered, “Please, Leonard, can you show me again?”

 


 

When they finally left their room, it was almost lunchtime. And with breakfast long over, they decided to find a place for coffee and a light lunch. After their ‘workout’ they were both ravenous. Strolling hand in hand, which felt so very different and exciting today, they found a nice bistro and were seated at a small corner table.

McCoy couldn’t take his eyes off Hope, her face aglow with love and happiness. And he just couldn’t get his head around the fact that he was the reason for that. They ordered coffee and sandwiches, and McCoy was amused to see Hope tuck in as if she hadn’t eaten in weeks.

“After all this time, I finally seem to have found a way to boost your appetite,” he chuckled. “And I’d definitely like to continue with the therapy.”

Hope stopped mid-bite and blushed.

“Well, Doctor,” she laughed, fluttering her eyelashes at him, “if we continue this exceptionally effective and pleasant therapy at this rate, I’ll grow fat within a month!”

“No great danger of you ever growing fat, my dear,” he smiled, “but it sure is good to hear that you’re enjoying the therapy.”

“Oh, Leonard, you have no idea how happy I am,” she beamed. “I feel like jumping for joy and doing somersaults right here in front of everyone.”

“That I’d like to see,” McCoy chuckled, and couldn’t resist teasing her a little. “And there I thought you didn’t want a man in your life.”

“I said I wasn’t looking for one,” Hope corrected him with a smirk, then went on, gazing lovingly into his eyes, “And now I know why. Because, all this time, you were already right there.”

McCoy reached across the table to take her hand and gently squeezed it, amazed by how she could always touch him so deeply with her words.

“And no one could be more grateful for that than I am,” he said quietly, holding her gaze with his eyes, hoping she understood how serious he was about her.

Hope closed her eyes for a moment, and he could see how truly happy she was.

“I won’t always make you happy, though, you know,” he added softly.

Great! Just like me to spoil the mood. Clearly, I can’t deal with being happy.

But Hope just looked at him affectionately.

“Of course you won’t, Leonard,” she smiled. “We’ll both do and say things we’ll regret. We’re only human. With strong opinions and personalities at that.”

That made him chuckle.

“We’ll both screw up, there will be fights. You do love a good fight, don’t you? And there will be anger and hurt and disappointment. And maybe sometimes I won’t even like you very much.”

She looked at him intently.

“But I’ll always...” she stopped short, blushing a little and averting her eyes, quite obviously not yet confident enough to say it out loud. “... respect you,” she finished lamely.

Then, meeting his eyes again, she went on, “What I’m trying to say is, we both share the same values, we’ll always respect each other.”

My incredibly wise Jenny, always surprising me, although I shouldn’t really be surprised anymore, he thought fondly.

A naughty smile spread across her face.

“And anyway,” she grinned, “don’t they say that makeup sex is the best?”

McCoy nearly choked on his sandwich. Now it was his turn to blush. And fight the urge to take her right there. Hope talking dirty was an incredible turn-on. Not really dirty-dirty, but Hope-dirty. In any case, enough to considerably speed up his heart rate and his breathing.

Jenny observed him closely, amusement dancing in her eyes.

What a delight to be able to talk to him in such a way!

“Now that we’ve discussed real life, can we please go back to just being blissfully happy?” she pleaded.

“Of course, love, sorry for being such a killjoy,” he chuckled, the tenderness in his eyes nearly taking her breath away.

“You’re not, Leonard, you’re just you. Wonderful, perfect, worried you.”

With that, she leaned across the table, and stopped him from whatever else he might have wanted to say with a warm and sensuous kiss.

 


 

After lunch, they made plans to spend the afternoon at the beach, wanting to enjoy as much sun, sea and fresh air as they could, before returning to the Enterprise all too soon.

When they passed the park on their way back to the hotel, Hope decided that she needed to feel the grass under her feet again and pulled the doctor towards a bench while taking off her sandals like she had on their first day of shore leave. Even though they’d only arrived here a little over a week ago, it seemed like an eternity to McCoy.

So much had changed since then. And so much for the better. He couldn’t remember ever being happier in his life. Everything he could ever have wished for had come true. He’d given up hope long ago, but now, possibly for the first time in his life, he felt comfortable in his skin, happy to be exactly where, and what, and who he was. Perfectly content with his life.

This won’t last! shot through his mind, and he immediately tried to push the negative thought away again.

Of course, it would last. And if not for him, then at least for Hope. She needed and deserved to be loved like he felt only he could.

Hope, blissfully unaware of the doctor’s dark thoughts, had been racing around the green again, and came jogging back towards him, dropping down next to him on the bench. Catching her breath, she snuggled up to him, wrapped her arms around his waist and rested her head on his chest. McCoy hugged her tightly to him and tenderly kissed the top of her head.

“I’ve never known anyone more affectionate or with a more pronounced need for touch and tenderness than you,” he murmured into her hair, his eyes soft and smiling. “You need hugs like other people need air to breathe.”

“Said the pot to the kettle,” she chuckled, fondly looking up at him from under her lashes, then teasingly asked, “or is your need for touch and tenderness less pronounced?”

“Touché, you’re probably right,” he conceded, “although I never knew until you came into my life. And even then, I still thought that I did it only for you, to give you what you needed.”

“Did what?” she asked, sitting up straight and frowning at him quizzically. “What are you talking about? Are you saying that all your little affectionate gestures were intentional? Some doctor-patient thing? You’re not really this particularly touchy-feely kind of doctor?”

“Well, I am a doctor, and I do touch my patients occasionally,” he laughed, “but I don’t usually hug or squeeze or touch them on a regular basis, no.”

“Blimey! I should have realised,” Hope chuckled self-deprecatingly. “But you were good, I never noticed. It always felt pretty real to me.”

“Well, that was the point, wasn’t it?” he smiled softly, tenderly running his fingers through her hair and pulling her back into his arms, then, wanting to ease her discomfort, added, “But believe me, it was real. As much as I told myself that I was just trying to be kind, giving you what you so obviously needed, I very much enjoyed it, too. Even needed it, too.”

Hope smiled at that and kissed his cheek, but was still preoccupied with what he’d said before.

“Oh my,” she said in a small voice, grinning wryly, “was I that obvious?”

“You were to me, love,” he answered quietly, rubbing her back tenderly.

“What gave me away, then? When did you notice my ‘pronounced need’?” she asked, curious now.

“Oh, I’ve known since your very first physical,” he smiled indulgently, fondly remembering the day. “The moment you leaned into my hand when I touched you to check your eyes and tonsils.”

“Oh my God! You noticed that?” she exclaimed, sitting bolt upright again and putting a hand over her mouth, embarrassment written all over her face. “I so hoped you hadn’t! I was so embarrassed at the time.”

“Of course, I noticed, love,” he chuckled. “What kind of doctor would I be if I hadn’t?”

“Certainly not the wonderful kind of doctor you are,” she conceded, sinking back into his embrace. “But I’m still embarrassed after all this time.”

“Don’t be, honey,” he said quietly, brushing a gentle kiss on her hair. “I thought it was sweet at the time, but grew to understand where you came from the more I learned about you. You were all alone in a strange new world, no family, no one to care about you.”

He paused, his voice faltering, still pained by the very thought of her predicament.

And clutching her to him tightly, he murmured, “I just wish I’d known sooner. I could have spared you so much hurt and sadness.”

“But you did, Leonard!” Jenny said emphatically, wanting to take away his needless feeling of guilt. “Even without knowing. Because that’s the compassionate man you are. You saw what I needed, even though you didn’t know why, and gave it to me with all your heart.”

She turned around in his arms, her lips almost touching his, and softly added, “I’ve been grateful to have you in my life ever since my first day on the Enterprise!”

And his heart swelling with tender love, McCoy found himself immersed in yet another breathtakingly delicious kiss. Perfect. Blissful. Almost enough to make him relax and give up worrying.

Chapter Text

The door to Admiral Dakunia’s office closing behind him, Kirk took a deep breath. He’d had a long meeting with the admiral and two other Starfleet officials, in which they’d discussed Hope’s future in Starfleet at length. To Dakunia’s obvious dismay, even though they’d studied Kirk’s reports thoroughly, his two superiors had still had concerns about her medical issues.

But Kirk’s recounting her impeccable performance and commitment one more time in person, had obviously tipped the vote in Hope’s favour. It was official. She was permitted to serve on starships as a Starfleet officer, effective immediately.

Dakunia had wanted to contact Hope right away, but fortunately Kirk had been able to convince him, that such good news should really be delivered in person. And, seeing how proud the captain was of her, Dakunia had agreed that he should be the one to pass on that information.

All he had to do now, was find the hotel that Bones and Hope were staying in, and tell them. Luckily, Bones had left the contact details with him for emergencies. So, with mixed feelings, Kirk got on his way.

Having watched the doctor and the lovely linguist making eyes at each other for almost a year, he was pretty sure they’d got it together by now. In a romantic location like the one Bones had chosen, there was no other way, was there? Even those two knuckleheads couldn’t be that dense!

Clearly, Uhura and Chapel had thought so, too, when neither of them had invited Hope to come on shore leave with her, he realised, smiling to himself.

 


 

McCoy couldn’t remember ever having felt so carefree and light-hearted before. Lying here in the sand with the love of his life in his arms, the sun warming his skin, the sound of the waves soothing his soul, he felt ready to take on anything. Although he had to admit, he could easily live without worries for a little longer.

No hurry for the next emergency to arise! he thought, chuckling to himself.

“What’s so funny, Leonard?” Hope asked, her lips moving against his neck.

“Just happy, love,” he replied, turning his head and lightly kissing her forehead.

With her by his side, the rest of his life suddenly seemed too short.

Contentedly closing his eyes again, his thoughts turned to Joanna, the other love of his life, and he found that he couldn’t wait to tell her. Now that he thought about it, his daughter had already dropped the occasional hint about him and Hope. His feelings must have been obvious even on screen.

Joanna would certainly want to meet Hope as soon as possible. They’d get along well, he was sure of that. And just thinking about spending time with his two favourite girls made his heart ache in the best of ways.

Delighted to see the doctor so relaxed for a change, Jenny snuggled closer. She just couldn’t get enough of him. Of feeling him, touching him. It still amazed her to think that she didn’t have to hide her love for him anymore.

They were so good for each other, she thought affectionately. She loved his protective side and didn’t even mind him being passionately overprotective from time to time. It gave her an immense sense of security. Just as she knew that he loved her positive mindset and cheerful demeanour, and even found her sometimes over-excited, happy-go-lucky attitude refreshing. She could help him lighten up a bit, while he would ground her whenever she was in danger of taking her exuberance too far.

He was her family. And so was Joanna, it suddenly occurred to her. She couldn’t wait to finally meet Leonard’s daughter. Judging from the little she knew about her, she was a lot like her father. Kind, gentle and fun. And, of course, in the healing business, just like him. Jenny was sure, they’d get along really well.

Fondly remembering the note Joanna had left her, thanking her for looking after her father, but really meaning to thank her for bringing the doctor back into his daughter’s life, she was immensely looking forward to seeing the two of them together. Hopefully some time soon.

Thinking about all the wonderful things that life still had in store for her, especially now that she and McCoy were together, she couldn’t help but nestle even closer into his arms.

“You know what’s strange, Leonard?” Jenny asked, nuzzling his neck and putting her arm across his chest.

“What is, love?” he asked drowsily, turning towards her.

“Somehow, nothing’s really changed, and yet everything has,” she murmured.

McCoy raised his head a little and looked at her quizzically.

“I mean, my feelings for you haven’t really changed. They were as strong before as they are now.”

At that, the doctor kissed her.

“But what has changed,” she continued smilingly, “is that I don’t have to hide them anymore. I can just reach over and touch you. Kiss you. Tell you that you mean the world to me. It’s bliss.”

“I know what you mean, love. And I agree. The feeling’s been there for a long time. Even if I didn’t admit it. But to be able to pull you close whenever I feel like it, to tell you how wonderful you are, to feel you lean into my embrace when I so much as put my hands on your shoulders, all those little things make me blissfully happy, too. No more holding back when all I really want is to hold you, kiss you and never let you go.”

“Although I’d say we’re still being pretty coy compared to others around here!” she chuckled, then naughtily added, “Outside the bedroom, at least.”

He laughed at that, hugging her to him.

“I guess, even three hundred years apart, we were both raised to behave decently in public.”

“Or on the ship,” she added, making it sound like a question.

“Ah, yes, on the ship,” McCoy sighed. “We still have a few days until then. Let’s talk about this later.”

 


 

When they returned to their hotel a few hours and a light dinner later, looking forward to some privacy, in McCoy’s room this time, they were surprised to find Kirk waiting for them in the lobby.

Hope immediately went to greet him, happy to see him again, but the doctor instantly knew that something was up. For Jim to come here in the middle of their shore leave, it had to be serious.

He found his suspicions confirmed, when Kirk shot him an apologetic, almost pitying look over Hope’s head, as he hugged her in greeting. Obviously, his friend hadn’t missed them entering the hotel with their arms tightly around each other, giving away the fact that they were now more than just friends.

“Hey,” Kirk smiled, releasing Hope from his embrace. “Good to see you, too! Shore leave suits you, you both look radiant!”

“Oh, yes, we’re enjoying it immensely!” Hope grinned, unable to keep her happiness to herself.

“What brings you here, Jim?” McCoy asked suspiciously, dread and fear loud and clear in his voice.

Jim sighed, and the doctor felt his chest tighten. Then the captain put on a cheerful smile and turned back towards Hope.

Extending a hand to her, he solemnly said, “Congratulations, Ensign Hope! Admiral Dakunia sends his regards. You’ve been officially cleared for starship duty.”

Hope was completely taken aback, and first shook Kirk’s hand, then impulsively hugged him again, as a beaming grin spread across her face.

“Woohoo!” she cheered, drawing the attention of everyone in the lobby. “Thank you so much, Captain! I’m sure you had a big part in that. I don’t know what to say!”

Then she turned around and fell into McCoy’s arms, hugging him so tightly that it literally took his breath away.

“Congratulations, love,” he murmured into her hair, tenderly hugging her back. “You’ve more than earned it.”

He so wanted to be happy for her. And he was! Of course, he was. This was her dream come true. What she’d been working for so hard. Only, this sinking feeling in his gut wouldn’t go away. And looking back at Jim, he just knew that something wasn’t right.

“What is it, Jim?” McCoy wanted to know. “There’s more, isn’t there?”

“Well,” Kirk cleared his throat, “why don’t we go sit down and have a drink?”

“Or maybe we could go out, the three of us, and celebrate?” Hope chimed in, completely oblivious to the glances that were exchanged between McCoy and the captain.

“I’m sorry, Hope, I don’t think there’s enough time,” Kirk said softly, starting in the direction of the bar and motioning for Bones to follow him with Hope.

Sitting down in one of the bar’s comfortable chairs, and glad to see that the doctor had chosen a sofa, and already had a protective arm around Hope, the captain came straight to the point.

“You see, Hope, your new assignment starts today.”

“Today?” Hope was confused. “But what about the refitting of the warp drive? Are they done already? Is everybody else back, too?”

“No, Hope,” Kirk said gently, his eyes moving to Bones’ pale face. He already knew.  “Your new assignment is not with the Enterprise. It’s six months aboard the Lexington. And it starts tomorrow. Your personal effects have already been packed and sent to the Lexington. All you need to do is beam up and report to the captain by midnight.”

 


 

Jenny felt numb. She had heard Kirk’s words, but somehow couldn’t make sense of them. Of course, she’d known that she might be transferred to other ships. Eventually. Sometime. Theoretically. But surely not now? Not today, when she’d only just found paradise in Leonard? She couldn’t believe that fate would be so cruel. No, she had to stay positive. Surely, there was another way.

Kirk was still talking. Something about continuing with her intuitive enhancement project, about even having her own team. She could feel McCoy’s arm tightening around her, pulling her close, his gentle hand in her hair. But she couldn’t bring herself to look at him.

Instead, her brain switched to autopilot, and she found herself chatting to Kirk. Asking for specifics, taking note of the names, times and coordinates he gave her. Thanking him as he told her how proud he was of her, and that he thought that this was the start to a great career. It was a bit like watching herself from the sidelines.

 


 

Kirk was still talking, but McCoy couldn’t make out the words anymore. This couldn’t be happening. Not now. His heart was being ripped apart, but all he could think was how Hope would cope. He watched her intently. Monitoring every little expression on her face. Waiting for any emotion. But there was nothing. She was completely calm. Listening to Kirk, even thanking him politely. It was scary. Like waiting for a time bomb to explode.

He could hardly keep himself from howling, from breaking down in front of Jim, and yet, here she was, smiling at the captain and making small talk. He needed Jim to be done. To go away and leave them alone. To give Hope space to process what she’d just heard. They had only a few hours left, and he needed her to show a reaction, any reaction. 

Luckily, when he glared at Jim, the captain took the hint and got up. Hugging Hope one more time, he wished her all the best, and promised to try and get her transferred back to the Enterprise as soon as possible. Then, letting Bones know that he’d taken a room in the hotel and would be there for breakfast, or sooner, if he needed him, he made his way out of the bar.

The moment Kirk was gone, Hope burst into tears. Pulling out of the doctor’s embrace, she stood up and raced out the door towards the pool.

McCoy was both shocked and relieved at the same time. Thinking that, at least, she showed some emotion, he quickly started after her. She’d already passed the pool and was heading down to the beach, where he finally caught up with her, panting heavily.

“Leave me alone, please, Leonard,” she pleaded, shaking him off, when he tried to put his arms around her.

“No, you don't want to be alone now, love,” he shook his head, his voice gentle, his hands on her shoulders firm.

“How would you know?” she asked angrily, lashing out at him in her pain, something he was only too aware he did all the time, and therefore understood and tried not to let it get to him.

His hands still resting firmly on her shoulders, the doctor just looked her in the eye. He knew her well enough.

Her whole body deflating, Hope let herself be drawn into his arms, at last, and started to quietly sob against his chest. McCoy held her close, feeling awful and frustrated, because he just couldn’t find the words to comfort her. How could he, when the hurt almost tore his own heart apart?

Chapter Text

After a while, Hope stepped back and determinedly wiped a hand across her face to dry her tears.

“This is actually a good thing, right? I mean, it’s what I’ve worked so hard for,” she sniffled, the look in her eyes as she desperately tried to find a silver lining, almost breaking his heart.  

“It is, love,” he replied quietly, his voice rough with emotion.

“Then why does it feel like the end of the world to me?”

She fell back into his arms, as the tears started to flow again, and he suddenly felt so terribly helpless. How was he supposed to not lose heart, when even Hope struggled to stay positive? He realised only now, quite how much he’d come to rely on her optimism. To see her so hopeless, was almost too much for him to bear.

They just stood there for the longest time, clinging to each other for comfort, and he desperately tried to keep it together for her sake. He could, and certainly would, break down when she was gone, but until then, he needed to be strong for her. She was starting on a new and important chapter in her life tomorrow and needed to fully focus on that.

More than that. By rights, she should be in high spirits now, celebrating her success and looking forward to working on her project again. That’s what he should be telling her. That, and how much he loved her, no matter what. Suddenly, it struck him that he’d told her in so many ways already, but never in those exact three words.

“I love you!”

The words burst out of him, almost at the same time as he heard her say them, too.

Hope pulled back, and they stared at each other for a long moment, before she started to giggle.

“Look at the pair of us!” she chuckled through her tears. “Did it really take this for us to finally say it out loud?”

It was so good to see a glimpse of her inherent cheerfulness again, even if it was really more like gallows humour.

“That’s because those words mean something to us,” he murmured softly, resting his forehead against hers. “We don’t say them lightly.”

“No, we don’t,” she agreed, then fell silent again, and he felt her hands gently running up and down his back as she pressed against him, desperate to feel him, almost as if to assure herself that he was still there.

“Talk to me, Jenny,” McCoy urged, knowing that he needed to help her cope, and they were running out of time. “Don’t go all quiet on me, please.”

“I just can’t imagine you not being there anymore,” she whispered after a while, raising tearful eyes to his. “Leonard, I’m scared.”

That did it. He couldn’t suppress the sob that made its way up his throat. And before she could see the tears streaming down his face, he hugged her so tight, he nearly crushed her. He could deal with almost anything, but not being there for her when she was scared was an unbearable thought. 

 


 

Jenny clung to him, overcome with a vague and indefinable fear that had suddenly taken hold of her. Too late she realised what she’d just done. Of all the things she could have said, she’d probably just said the cruellest. Even with her mind roiling, she should have thought before speaking. She knew how strongly he felt about protecting her. That his greatest need was to keep her safe, his greatest fear to leave her in the lurch when she needed him most.

She had to fix this. It was okay for him to know how heartbroken she was. How terribly she was going to miss him. But she needed him to know that she’d be all right. That he didn’t have to worry about her. 

The thought gave her strength, and she straightened up again, disentangling herself a little from his embrace.

“I’m scared of what will become of you, when I’m not there to take care of you, Leonard,” she smiled, reaching up to touch his cheeks and gently wipe away his tears. “Who’s going to cheer you up and rub your headaches away? Please, promise me, you’ll take care of yourself!”

McCoy nodded, smiling too, his eyes shining with love.

“I’ll promise, if you do!”

“Of course, Leonard,” she said, covering his still wet cheeks with little kisses. “I’ll be fine. I’ll just make the most of my time on the Lexington. It’s only six months, anyway. And by then, I’m sure, Captain Kirk will have figured something out.”

“Yes,” the doctor agreed, seeming to draw strength from her words, “if Jim wants something, he usually gets it. Maybe it won’t be long before we see each other again.”

Jenny was relieved to see him more composed again. Usually, McCoy was her rock, and watching him fall to pieces right in front of her had torn her apart.

“We still have a little time,” she smiled. “Can we go for a walk?”

“Yes, let’s!” the doctor answered, taking her hand. “It’ll help us calm down and clear our minds.”

 


 

McCoy was grateful for the idea. And for the emotional strength she’d just demonstrated. He really needed to get his act together again. He was supposed to make this easier on her, not harder. Right now, he had to be there for her, not the other way round.

Without thinking about where they were going, they headed towards the shops and restaurants.

“It’s strange,” Hope said, “we’ve talked so much, and yet, I feel like there’s still so much left I’d like to know and tell you before I leave.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” McCoy looked deeply into her eyes. “But it’s not like one of us is dying, love. We’ll still have plenty of opportunity to talk. There’s always subspace communication, and I’ll be expecting regular updates from you, young lady!”

He wagged a warning finger at her, then stopped to take her in his arms again, and softly added, “I’ll still be there for you, love. Always.”

 


 

Jenny smiled gratefully up at him and kissed him tenderly. There was no sweeter man. Then she wrapped her arm around his waist, and pulled him further along. After a few more minutes of walking in silence, they found themselves in front of the jeweller’s shop.

When she looked into the shop window, she found the ring gone and couldn’t help but gasp in shock, the fragile equilibrium she’d only just regained instantly upset again. She felt as if everything that meant something to her was somehow slipping away from her.

Nestling closer into the doctor’s arm, she quickly asked him to take her back to the beach, before her tears started falling again. It wasn’t fair, she was really trying hard here. Maybe he hadn’t noticed?

Poppycock! Of course, he had!

“Jenny,” he said softly, trying to pull away a little, probably to make her look at him, but she didn’t want him to see her crying again.

So she just kept on walking, and felt him draw her closer again, sighing softly as he silently took her back to the beach. His hands were constantly caressing her now, wrapping her in his endless love, and his tenderness, as always, got to her most.

Back at the beach, she slumped down in the sand and covered her face with her hands.

“Jenny,” she heard McCoy begin again, as he gently tried to prise her hands off her face.

“I’m sorry, Leonard,” she ground out between sobs, “I know it’s silly, but to see the ring gone was just the last straw.”

“Jenny,” he tried for the third time, and she could hear the urgency in his voice. “Please, look at me!”

When she looked up, she saw him squatting right in front of her, holding out a little box to her.

“It’s not gone, love,” he smiled warmly, opening the box, “I only had it delivered to the hotel.”

Jenny just looked at him, speechless.

“It’s not how I planned this,” he chuckled, his eyes as soft as she’d ever seen them. “In fact, I hadn’t planned on doing this so soon at all, but sometimes you just have to play it by ear, right?”

He gently took her hand, placed the box in her palm and closed her fingers around it.

“You said you associate only special people with this ring, and I hope I’m special enough to give it to you. Whenever you need me, and I can’t be there, the ring will remind you that I’m thinking of you. Every moment of every day. I love you so much, Jenny.”

Hardly able to get out the words to thank him, she burst into yet more tears. And wrapping her arms tightly around his neck, she kissed him as if there was no tomorrow.

 


 

McCoy was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of his emotions, ranging from exhilaration to despair. The psychologist in him, of course, knew that the feeling of being in love was usually at an all-time high after spending the first night together. Combined with the pain of separation, it was the perfect recipe for emotional overload. But all the scientific knowledge in the world wasn’t helping, when you were right in the eye of an emotional hurricane.

“I love you too, Leonard! More than you’ll ever know.”

The words went straight to his heart, and as Hope disengaged from their embrace and reached for his hand, he let himself be pulled to his feet.

“Dance with me, Leonard,” she smiled, holding out her arms.

And when she started to hum ‘It’s Your Love’, their song, the first one they’d sung together in sickbay, and later again in the cave on Paradise Earth, he softly joined in and gently swept her into his arms for a last dance.

Holding her like this, swaying to the sound of their own voices, here on the beach where they’d been so unbelievably happy, he knew with absolute certainty that he’d never again love anyone else.

 


 

After their dance on the beach, they spent the rest of the evening sitting in the sand, holding each other tight, kissing and assuring each other that they would be all right. They agreed not to dwell on their misery any longer, but to enjoy these last precious moments, remembering all the wonderful things they’d shared already.

“Thank you for an incredible shore leave, Leonard,” Jenny said, almost drowning in his tender eyes.

McCoy smiled at her, gently touching her cheek and slightly shaking his head.

“Thank you for a wonderful year, sweetheart,” he murmured, before pulling her in for another breathtaking kiss, her heart melting at his words.

She appreciated how positive he tried to be. For her. Because she knew him well. If it wasn’t for her, he’d be devastated by now, ranting and raving continuously. Instead, he tried to convince them both that they would sort this out, and even told her that love would always find a way.

When it was time, he helped her pack in her room, and then accompanied her to Starfleet HQ. She made him memorise several messages to deliver to her friends on the Enterprise, while he repeatedly made her promise to eat enough and generally take good care of herself. Determined to come with her all the way to the transporter platforms, he uncharacteristically made use of his well-known name, and, being the Dr. McCoy, really managed to wheedle his way in.

They kissed and held each other until the very last moment, and she was immensely touched when, even as she was standing on the platform, he still managed to put his fears and worries aside, and, telling her how proud he was of her, reminded her to enjoy her time aboard the Lexington and to make the most of the experience.

The last thing she saw, as everything around her dissolved into tingling sparkles, was the bravely smiling face of the man she loved more than life. And suddenly, she found that part of her was even looking forward to her exciting first assignment as Ensign Hope.

 


 

As soon as she was gone, McCoy headed back to the hotel. Never before had he felt so lonely. It was as if his life had lost its purpose. He knew and appreciated that Jim was there, ready to join him for a drunken night at the bar and listen to him pouring his heart out. But he needed to be alone now.

His divorce had probably been as bad, possibly even worse, but by now, it was no more than a blur in his memory. And there was a big difference. He’d had lots of fights with his ex-wife. Ugly scenes. The end of his marriage had been hell. Nasty and dirty. But Hope hadn’t wanted to part with him. She even needed him. And leaving someone who he felt responsible for, who needed and relied on him, was a new experience for him.

From an objective point of view, he ought to be happy. On top of the world, really. He was in love with the most wonderful woman in the universe, and she’d just told him that she loved him, too.

They’d spent the most amazing shore leave together. No, strike that. They’d spent the most amazing year of his life together. And less then 24 hours ago, they’d spent the most incredible, fulfilling night together. He and this woman who he’d been crazy about since he’d first laid eyes on her, almost a year ago. She wanted him. Wanted to be with him. As his partner. Loved him exactly as he was. Unconditionally.

And he ought to be happy for her, too. Because her greatest dream had just come true. Starfleet had cleared her for starship duty. Her career was taking off. She was being rewarded for all the hard work she’d put in.

So why was he feeling as if his world had just been shattered? Why was he hurting so much, he could hardly get his feet to walk back to the hotel? Why was he feeling lonelier than he'd ever felt before? It wasn't as if Hope had left him. She wanted to be with him just as much as he wanted to be with her. Their separation was only temporary. They'd find a way to be together. He had to believe that.

He missed her like crazy already, was he being selfish? Maybe. But most of all, he was terribly worried about her. She was on her own now. All alone among strangers. Again. Would she cope? Of course, she would. She was a fighter. And she'd make new friends in no time, he was sure of that. But the thought of not being there for her when she needed him, was intolerable. That was probably the worst part of it all, he realised glumly.

Opening himself up to love and making himself vulnerable like this again, had been a mistake. He should have known better. Love always came with pain. Especially to him. Not even a day into their relationship, and already it had caused so much hurt.

And yet, he couldn’t have acted differently. Couldn’t have resisted Hope any longer. His trust in her sincere love for him was still unwavering, he knew she’d never want to hurt or leave him. But then, it hadn’t been her choice to make, had it? And to know that she was hurting just as much right now, made his own pain even more unbearable. 

By the time he walked into the hotel again, almost crushed by having to go up to his room without her now, he felt as if he'd failed her. Failed yet again in a relationship. Tears sprang to his eyes at the thought, and he let them run down his cheeks unashamedly.

 

Chapter Text

“Care to join me and Scotty for a drink?” Kirk asked, sticking his head in the CMO’s office.

He didn’t really expect Bones to join them, the doctor rarely did these days, but kept asking him anyway. An answer, any answer, would have been nice, though.

It had been two months since Hope had left for the Lexington. Two months of McCoy doing nothing but work and worry. And snap at people who tried to get him to have some fun, or at least socialise again. Two months without telling Kirk anything about what had happened between him and Hope during their shore leave. Or if anything had happened at all.

Ironically, the person Bones seemed to spend most of his time outside of sickbay with, was Spock. Because the Vulcan did not urge him to engage in any recreational activities, but was prepared to join and support him in his research. The two of them spent hours in the lab together, and Kirk suspected strongly, that Spock was not doing this entirely out of genuine interest, but because, in his way, he was being a really good friend.

All this studying and researching might further the doctor’s career, no doubt, but it certainly did nothing for his personal well-being. And while Kirk could understand that it was still hard for Bones to attend gigs of Uhura’s band, or watch Chekov dance with anyone other than Hope, McCoy couldn’t go on hiding behind his work forever.

Apart from that, the captain wanted his friend back. His caring, witty, sarcastic, irritable but fun friend. Grumpy and permanently complaining? Definitely. But not seriously depressed like this.

No longer able to just stand by and watch, Kirk heaved a long-suffering sigh and plonked himself down in the chair opposite McCoy’s desk.

“I miss her too, you know!”

“Who?” the doctor asked absentmindedly, barely looking up from his reading.

“Oh don’t give me that, Bones. You know who!” Kirk exclaimed exasperatedly.

This had to stop. Now.

“So far, I’ve respected your wish to shut yourself away. I’ve given you time. But it’s enough now. We need to talk.”

“All right, Jim, keep your hair on,” McCoy muttered under his breath, leaning back in his chair and looking challengingly at the captain.

Kirk thought about where to start, how to put it, then simply asked, “Do you love her?”

“More than I love my own life,” the doctor answered quietly, meeting the captain’s gaze squarely. “And don’t even start on your I’ve always known it lecture.”

“I wasn’t going to, Bones,” Kirk said softly. “Did you get it together on shore leave?” 

“Only just the day before... you know,” McCoy sighed, then looked miserably at his friend. “I tried so hard to fight it, Jim. Dissuade her from even thinking about a relationship with me.”

“Why would you do that?” Kirk exclaimed, taken aback.

“How can you even ask? See where it got us!” 

“Where?”

“Just look!” McCoy started gesticulating wildly, and the captain could only guess what exactly he meant, although definitely getting his drift. “I should have been stronger, I should never have given in!”

“Why?” Kirk persisted.

“Oh Jim, stop it, you’re doing my head in!” McCoy huffed, but then the words started pouring out.

“Can’t you see? We’d only just got together. We’d spent this incredible night together. It was out of this world, I tell you. I’ve never experienced anything like it, never felt like this before. Dammit, Jim, I’ve loved her from the moment I met her. But you know that, of course,” he chuckled morosely.

“That day we were on top of the world. I’ve never been this happy before, never felt so comfortable in my own skin, never so at peace with the universe and my life. It was like I’d finally found my place in the world. And I could tell that she felt pretty much the same. Until you came.”

The doctor visibly deflated.  

“She was so brave, Jim. Tried to put on her happy face. For me. Said how this was what she’d worked so hard for, how you’d made her dream come true. And then she broke down. Cried until she had no tears left. All I ever wanted was for her to be happy. And safe,” he added softly. “Letting her go that evening was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.” 

Kirk took a few moments to let it all sink in, then asked, “Are you two still in touch?”

“Of course, we exchange messages at least once a week.”

“So, she still loves you.”

“I guess so.”

McCoy shrugged his shoulders.

“You guess so?”

Kirk was flabbergasted.

“Well, she’s been putting on her brave face ever since we parted, mostly telling funny stories about her new assignment and crew mates. She doesn’t want me to worry about her.”

“And who could blame her?” the captain mumbled, taking in the haggard look on his friend’s face and trying to stay patient. “Does she tell you that she misses you?”

“Every time.”

“So?”

“Uh, I don’t know, Jim. Maybe I just wish she’d move on.”

“Bones, you’re a difficult man to understand.”

“Well, it was too good to be true, wasn’t it? And I want her to be happy, not pining for an old man, who’s lightyears away and can’t give her what she needs. Maybe it was for the best.”

The doctor’s eyes were hard.

“You don’t mean that, Bones!” Kirk protested, even though it was perfectly clear that he did.

“Oh, I don’t know what I mean, anymore, Jim,” McCoy backpedalled, all the fight gone out of him.

“Would you like her to return to the Enterprise?” the captain wanted to know.

“Of course, I’d like that! What kind of question is that, anyway?”

Kirk was happy to see the doctor perk up a little.

“Even if she had, in fact, moved on, as you call it?” Kirk asked carefully.

“Even then,” McCoy said without a moment’s hesitation. “I could live with that, if only I’d have her near again. To know how she is. To be there for her. To make sure she’s well and safe. That’d be all I’d ever ask for.”

Kirk’s heart went out to his friend at hearing the longing in his voice, and he knew what he had to do.

“You really do love her, Bones,” he said gently, as he made to leave the doctor’s office. “I’ve never seen you like this before. What you two have is special. Don’t throw it away!”

 


 

Epilogue

“Dakunia, I took this girl aboard the Fleet’s flagship for a training flight without putting up a fight. So now, that she’s one of the Fleet’s most promising officers, I want her back on my ship ASAP! Six months altogether, no more! You owe me.”

“Right, Kirk, I’ll see what I can do. But then you’ll owe me. Big time.”

“Fair’s fair. I always pay my debts.”

Kirk switched his screen off with a satisfied grin. He’d have this great officer back, and his best friend would finally be smiling again. Win-win.