"Ow!" Christine Chapel cried as her boot skidded on yet another pebble. She twisted her left ankle painfully as strained muscles protested at her mercifully successful effort to keep from falling to the rock-strewn, broken concrete sidewalk.
"Let me check that." Leonard McCoy was already crouching at her side to examine the abused ankle. He ran the mediscanner along her foot and lower leg, then replaced it in the pouch attached to the waistband of his pants. Not willing to trust the device's reading, he proceeded to remove her boot and feel the muscles with his bare hands. He carefully manipulated her foot to reassure himself that she hadn't suffered any real damage.
"I'm all right, Leonard," Chapel protested, one hand resting on his shoulder to maintain her balance in the awkward, one-legged stance. "If you'll just put my boot back on, we can continue our search for this mysterious shop. Why I let you talk me into this wild-goose chase, I'll never--" She stopped talking abruptly when she saw the delighted grin spread across McCoy's face.
"You're beginnin' to sound like me," he teased. "You'd better watch that. It's okay for a crotchety, old, country doctor like me, darlin', but not very becomin' to a pretty young nurse like you."
Chapel glared at him for a second, but couldn't hold the expression long and broke into laughter.
"C'mon," she told him as she carefully tested her weight on the re-booted foot and felt only a slight twinge of discomfort. "Let's find that shop and finish this errand so we can join the others for dinner. I still don't understand why you wanted me to come with you." They were already walking down the street again, Chapel watching each step cautiously to ensure she didn't step on another rock.
"I told you. I need your advice on a very special present."
"But why do you need my advice? Who's the present for?"
"It's for Joanna."
"Of course. Who else?" McCoy asked indignantly.
Chapel grinned. "There are plenty of possibilities." She stopped teasing when he just glared at her. "What's the occasion? And why this particular shop?"
"She'll be graduating from nursing school next year, and I want something really special to show her how proud of her I am."
"I'm sure she knows that."
"Yeah, sure," he sulked. "I haven't seen her in three years, and I probably won't even be there for her graduation."
"I'm certain the captain will arrange leave for you if it's possible."
McCoy smiled then, a little wistfully. "That's what he said, and that's why I'm looking for this shop. If I do get to go, I want to take her something really special. I know it's a long time away, but I heard about this shop. I don't want to chance not getting back here again." His smile faded a bit. "I just hope nothing happens to keep me from goin'. If I can find what I want, I don't dare trust it to 'fleet shipping. I have to deliver this personally."
"Exactly what is it we're looking for that's so fragile--or so valuable--you won't ship it to her?"
He gave her a smug look. "A music box."
"Music box? What's so special about that? I have several..."
"I'm not talkin' about those modern, computerized monstrosities you can buy on every starbase in the galaxy, all playin' some electronically reproduced arrangement of the latest hit song." McCoy shook his head slowly as his gaze focused longingly on some point above and behind Chapel's head. He shifted his head to meet her look again, once more shaking his head. "No, Chris, this shop has the real thing. Genuine antiques like they made on Earth a couple of centuries ago. You know the kind I mean." He lifted his hands as though cradling something both fragile and precious in them. "They were handmade out of lacquered wood or silver or sometimes even gold. You had to wind 'em up to play them. And the music..." He smiled reminiscently. "The music wasn't as perfectly reproduced as in those modern, assembly-line versions, but somehow I think it's prettier."
"Why, Leonard, you old softy," Chapel teased gently, and he responded with a sheepish grin.
"There it is!" McCoy pointed across the street at a tiny shop with dusty windows and worn lettering. "Music Hath Charm" read the sign. McCoy and Chapel crossed the road, and the doctor pushed open the old-fashioned wood and glass door. He moved to one side, half bowing gallantly to allow Chapel to laughingly precede him into the shop. The nurse came to a full stop exactly three steps inside. She turned in a slow circle, blue eyes wide in awe as she stared at the amazing array of music boxes on display. McCoy's expression was just as incredulous as he joined her.
They came in all shapes, sizes and designs. There were simple wooden rectangles with colorful lacquer paintings on top and life-like carved replicas of every imaginable animal. There were intricately worked specimens of precious metals and elaborate miniature carousels, cathedrals and other structures that had been put together piece by piece with obviously loving hands. Whatever the design, workmanship or material, however, they all had two things in common. Each and every one of them was an exquisite work of art, and they were all at least two hundred years old.
"My God!" McCoy breathed the exclamation. "I had no idea." He turned to Chapel with a horrified expression on his face. "How am I ever going to pick out the right one for Jo?"
She shrugged. "Start looking. You'll know it when you see it."
"Yeah, maybe." He sounded skeptical, but he started looking anyway, beginning with the shelf immediately to the left of the door. "You start there." He gestured to the other side of the room. With a resigned sigh, Chapel began to examine each of the boxes on the display table.
Two hours later, they were still looking. Chapel was beginning to think they'd never find the right box. In desperation, she reached for a tiny golden one that was half-hidden behind a larger, gaudier creation. Carved into the lid was a stately, columned building surrounded by rioting flowers. Chapel lifted the lid and heard a soft, vaguely familiar melody. She couldn't quite place it, though, and began to hum, trying to remember the words that went with the music.
"Christine!" McCoy was suddenly at her side. "What are you humming?" His voice was harsh, filled with an emotion as elusive as the title of the song Chapel was trying to recall.
"What?" she asked in confusion.
"That song. What is it?" he demanded.
"Oh...I don't know. I was trying to remember it." She held the tiny box out to him.
McCoy took it from her almost reverently and turned it over, reading the legend on the bottom. A broad grin appeared. "I thought so!" he exclaimed, then grabbed Chapel in a big bear hug and soundly kissed her. "You're an angel, Chris. This is it. It's perfect!"
"It's certainly beautiful," she agreed breathlessly. "But what is it?"
"A very old song," he answered. "'Georgia on My Mind.' Jo's back home, studying in Atlanta. It's perfect," he repeated, his voce breaking a little on the final word.
Chapel squeezed his arm affectionately. "Yes, Leonard, it is. Perfect."
McCoy sat alone in his office, arms resting on the top of his desk as he stared unseeingly at the opposite wall. A movement in the doorway caught his attention, and he turned to find Chapel standing there, watching him with reddened eyes. He looked away, unable to bear the sympathy he read on her face.
"You have to tell the captain," she insisted.
"I said I'll tell him, Nurse...tonight. Just give me a little time to myself first." He still refused to look at her.
"All right," she agreed reluctantly, hesitated a moment longer, then finally left him.
Alone again, McCoy stood and crossed the room. He took a bottle and glass from a cabinet, poured a drink and downed it in a single swallow. He followed it with a second, more leisurely one. Replacing the stopper in the bottle, he started to return it to the cabinet, but changed his mind. Bottle in hand, he stormed out of the office, pausing only to glare at Chapel briefly before exiting Sickbay.
"In case anyone wants me, I'll be in my quarters."
"Leonard...please...Doc--" Chapel broke off when he
departed without a backward glance. She blew her nose again and straightened her
shoulders. "He has to know," she told the closed doors. "Whatever you think
right now, you know I'm right." She returned to work, still mumbling to herself.
"I'll give you until tomorrow morning. If you don't tell him by then, I'll
McCoy collapsed on his bed, bottle and glass still in hand. He poured yet another drink, sipping this one slowly, savoring every drop. He'd keep this to himself as long as possible and continue working as though nothing were wrong. If he could remain on active duty, it would make more bearable the difficult months ahead--whether they were long and dragging or short and all-too-swift. He would do whatever it took to stay busy and useful for the time he had left. He had to convince Kirk to allow him that, somehow. He'd talk to him about it later that night, or the following day. But, first, he planned to get rip-roaring drunk, and indulge himself in a binge of wallowing self-pity. He'd drown his sorrows in an alcoholic haze that would let him forget for just a little while about his own impending death. Then he would pick up the pieces and get on with whatever was left of his life.
It could have been mere minutes later, or it might have been an hour or more. McCoy wasn't sure. He had lost track of the time as he downed one glassful after another of the liquor, with no apparent effects.
McCoy reached for the bottle again and upended it over his glass. "Damn!" It was empty, and he still wasn't drunk. He stared at the bottle for a moment, willing it to produce more intoxicating liquid. When nothing more appeared, he tossed the empty container to one side, shattering it against the bulkhead. He rose to his feet and crossed the room to a cabinet. Opening it, he searched inside.
McCoy swayed suddenly, then blinked his eyes as the room seemed to shift around him. His reaction to the alcohol had been delayed by the effects of his illness, but had finally struck him full-force. Shaking his head in an unsuccessful effort to clear it, he knew instantly that the movement had been a mistake. He squeezed his eyes shut and swallowed, then opened his eyes again and fumbled inside the cabinet.
"God damn it," he muttered. "I know there's another bottle in here." He shoved first one object, then another out of his way. His hand closed over a cold metal rectangular shape, and he froze.
He withdrew the object and stared at it blankly for a minute. "Damn!" he whispered again and stumbled back to his chair. He dropped heavily into the seat, the small box still clutched in his hand. Staring at the box with unblinking eyes, he gently raised the lid and listened to the twinkling melody a moment. The music slowed, and McCoy turned the box over to rewind the key. He turned it back over and raised the lid to play the melody again. Voice raspy with emotion, he slowly, haltingly added the words to the music. "Georgia...Georgia...that old sweet song..." His voice broke. "God damn it!" he shouted and threw the box against the bulkhead just as he had the bottle a few minutes earlier. This time, however, the force was even greater.
The box bounced off the bulkhead and fell to the deck, its hinges coming loose to release the lid. The box bounced once more, on the floor, and then came to rest, its fragile inner mechanism falling out in tiny pieces.
The doors slid open, and Chapel stood on the threshold. "Leonard, what happened? I heard a noise..." Her voice trailed off as she caught sight of the broken music box. "What happened?" she asked again, gently.
"I broke it." His voice held the defiance of a small boy in trouble with his mother.
"Why?" She was incredulous.
"Because I won't be there to deliver it. That's why!" he shouted at her.
"You could send--"
"I told you. You can't trust something like this to 'fleet shipping."
"So you decided to break it yourself."
"Yes!" His voice broke again, and he buried his face in his hands. "Yes," he repeated in a whisper.
"No! Just...get out of here. Leave me alone, Nurse."
Chapel began to withdraw strategically, then paused a moment to kneel on the floor. She scooped up the damaged music box and as many of its components as she could. When McCoy refrained from commenting, she left.
When Chapel arrived in Sickbay the next morning, McCoy was already in his office, going over the medical records of the few remaining crewmen scheduled for physicals that day.
"Leonard..." Chapel spoke hesitantly, unable to hide the compassion in her voice and eyes.
"Good morning, Nurse," McCoy responded briskly. "Leslie is due here in another five minutes. Let's get this over with." He stood up and started to leave the office, but Chapel blocked his way.
"Did you tell--" she started, but McCoy interrupted.
"We need to check that left knee. It seemed to heal well, but I noticed he was favoring it at dinner the other night."
"I want to be certain ther are no residual problems. The captai wi'll have my head if it gives out on Leslie one day while he's on a landing party."
Chapel opened her mouth to attempt once more to speak. Before she could get a word out, however, the doors slid open, and Leslie entered. Reluctant to discuss the matter in front of him, Chapel postponed the confrontation until the last of the physicals were completed.
"Well, that's it." McCoy initialed the final report and looked up at his head nurse. "All finished, and all in top physical condition."
"All but one," she said softly.
"Did you tell him?"
"I will...when I'm ready."
"He has to know."
"When I'm ready, Nurse!" He turned and started for the door, then swung back to face Chapel when she pressed the intercom button.
"Sickbay to Captain Kirk."
"Kirk here," said the disembodied voice.
"Chris--" McCoy started.
"Nurse Chapel, sir." She ignored the doctor. "You're needed in Sickbay--right away."
"On my way." Kirk broke the connection, and Chapel sagged against a table.
McCoy stalked across the room to glare at here. "You had no right to do that. I am your superior officer, and you are bound by Starfleet regulations to obey my orders and not go over my head. I told you I would tell him, and I will--when I'm ready."
"I am a nurse first, Doctor McCoy, and a member of the crew of the Enterprise second." Christine Chapel continued to lean against the table, unable to face the rage on the doctor's face.
"You're excused. You may return to your quarters," McCoy ordered.
"No. I'm sorry, Doctor, I have called the captain, and I'll wait until he comes."
The door opened suddenly, and Captain James T. Kirk entered the room.
"What's the emergency?" he demanded, looking from one of them to the other.
"I said you were excused, Nurse." McCoy repeated his order angrily, then added in a gentler tone, "Please, Christine. I promise you, I'll give the captain a full report."
Chapel gave up and left the sickbay.
Kirk crossed the room. "That was quite a scene."
McCoy ignored the implied question and hid behind the protocol of an official report. "I've just completed the standard physical examinations for the entire crew."
"Excellent," the captain responded, but he refused to be distracted. "What's the emergency?"
"The crew's fit. I found nothing unusual, with one exception," McCoy continued in his matter-of-fact report.
"Serious?" Kirk didn't know the reason for the sudden knot in his stomach, but McCoy's entire attitude worried him.
The knot tightened. "What is it?"
"Xenopolycythemia. It has no cure."
"He has one year to live at the most."
"Who is it?" The captain's patience was wearing thin.
"The ship's chief medical officer."
Kirk felt as thought someone had hit him in the stomach. "You?" he whispered.
"I'll be most effective in the time left if you'll keep this to yourself."
Once more, McCoy was hiding behind a brusque, professional attitude. This time, the captain allowed it.
Chapel was startled out of a light sleep by the sound of her door buzzer. A medical emergency would have brought a summons via the intercom, and she couldn't imagine any other reason for someone to seek her out this late. The door buzzed again, and she rose from the bed, pushing her hair out of her eyes with one hand while she reached for a robe with the other.
"Come," she called, tying the belt of the robe at the same time.
"Christine, I--" McCoy stopped suddenly, as though he only then realized the late hour. "Oh," he continued with a sheepish grin. "I'm sorry. I didn't realize you were asleep." He began to back out of the room. "I'll talk to you tomorrow."
"No, stay." She shoved a stray lock of hair out of her face again. "I'm awake now. What did you want?"
McCoy watched her a few seconds, as though trying to decide whether to continue. He shrugged.
"It's about the music box."
"The music box?"
"The one I broke," he explained unnecessarily.
Chapel smiled. "I figured that. What about it?"
"Did you keep the pieces?"
She narrowed her eyes. "Why?"
His gaze dropped to the floor. "I want to see if it can be fixed," he mumbled.
Chapel crossed the room to place a hand on his arm in sympathy. She shook her head. "I'm sorry, Leonard. I took it to Scotty. He tried, but..." She shrugged. "I'm sorry," she said again.
McCoy's shoulders sagged. "That was a damned, foolish, stupid stunt."
"You don't have to agree with me!" he protested.
She bit back a laugh, then sobered. "I wish I could help you."
He settled into a chair, slumped in dejection. "Sorry. I shouldn't have said that. I shouldn't have broken the damned thing either. Don't know what got into me."
Chapel stooped at his side and looked up into his face. "We both know the answer to that," she said gently.
"You were right," he whispered. "Even if Spock hadn't found the cure in the Fabrini material, I could have sent the box to Jo. Jim would've taken it for me...or you."
"Yes," she said simply.
"But I had to go and break the blasted thing. Like some kid having a temper tantrum."
"True," she agreed again. "But you had good reason for a tantrum."
"Doesn't excuse it."
"No, but I understand...and I'm sure Joanna will, too."
He shook his head. "She's not going to know."
He shrugged. "I don't want to scare her. I'm okay now, so she's better off not knowing about this."
Chapel shook her head slowly, but McCoy ignored the movement. "I have to find another present for her, though." He smiled at Chapel coaxingly. "Will you help me look...next shore leave?"
"Maybe we can find another music..." Chapel let the sentence trail off when McCoy shook his head.
"No. I'll never find another like that one, and I won't settle for second best. It'll have to be something else...jewelry maybe." He stood up. "I'll go now and let you get your sleep." He grinned. "I have so much energy these days; I forget other people aren't as high on life as I am."
Chapel grinned back. "It's good to see you like this again."
"Yeah, it's good to be like this." McCoy started for the door, then stopped at the sound of his name. He turned, one eyebrow lifted in inquiry.
"Don't give up," she urged. "We might find another like it some day."
"Yeah, sure, just like the Klingons are going to be our best buddies."
"You never know," she teased.
"In a pig's eye!"
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