Chapter One

"So, you're fairly healthy and fit for duty, ensign," McCoy told the young crewmember who sat on the exam table, pulling his shirt back on. "Just be sure to duck the next time you find yourself climbing around in tight quarters, all right? Less chance of cracking your noggin that way."

The ensign, Callahan, nodded sheepishly. "Yeah, I'll keep that in mind. I was a little sleepy when I went on duty so I wasn't at one hundred percent."  He rubbed his forehead a little as he spoke, and McCoy tried not to smile.

"Getting enough rest?"

"Oh yeah. Had a . . . dream," the ensign gulped, going red. That was enough to make McCoy arch an eyebrow knowingly.

"Must have been a good one," he replied gently. The ensign's mouth twisted wryly and he nodded, slipping from the table.

"Yeahhh," came his sigh. "I know it was just a dream, but it felt so real and I'm telling you, if I could have one like that every night, life would be . . . perfect."

McCoy crossed his arms and gave Callahan an amused look. "Now I know you're going to be fine. Here's hoping you get a repeat at some point, and do me a favor--watch your head, okay?"

The ensign nodded and blushed, scurrying out of Sickbay, leaving McCoy to watch his retreating back and grin. The kid's youth and libido amused him; it had been a long time since his own last erotic dream.

It had been a long time since his last erotic anything, he admitted to himself, slightly disconcerted at the fact. Not that he lacked interest; McCoy knew he was as a prone to a surge of testosterone as any other male on the ship. No, it was simply that he was wary about getting involved again. The occasional shore leave romance was all well and good, but actually getting close to someone, particularly here on the Enterprise . . .

He wasn't going to let that happen. The anger, frustration and pain of one divorce were enough, as far as McCoy was concerned. End of story. Let Jim sleep his way through the crew--discreetly, McCoy hoped--and handle what romance was going to happen on the ship. As for him, there were better things to consider.

At least, that was what he told himself with a wry snort. Life had a way of mocking ultimatums, and as a doctor, he knew that fact all too well, so he contented himself with filing the accident report and checking the duty roster, putting the entire notion of erotic dreams away for another, more private time.

As McCoy entered the last notation on Callahan's file, he heard the Sickbay doors open and a slightly desperate voice call out, "Oh God is there anyone here who can help us?"

"Ilda, it's a cut, not a sucking chest wound; calm down!" came another, more exasperated voice. Both of them were feminine, and McCoy looked up as one of the on-duty nurses--Tsan--came out of the pharmacy, heading for the door.

Two women stood in the doorway, a tall blonde and a shorter redhead. The blonde had her arm around the redhead and seemed to be supporting her. McCoy rose up, scanning them both as Tsan spoke quickly. "What seems to be the problem?"

"There was blood!" the redhead announced fearfully. "First she says it's nothing, but when I saw how deep it was, and the gushing and ohGodI'mgoing tofaaaa----" Fading off, the little redhead keeled over in dramatic fashion, nearly dragging the blonde down as she did so. Nurse Tsan glanced over at McCoy who helped to scoop the girl up and set her on one of the med tables. He looked her over quickly and frowned. "I don't see any blood . . ."

"Over here," the blonde called with a sigh, holding up her other arm, where a section of red bandage was peeking out from her sleeve. "Ilda there was, um, helping me to Sickbay."

Shooting Tsan an amused look that was returned, McCoy left the redhead to the nurse and returned to the blonde, reaching for her arm. "What happened?"

"Got a little careless with a pruning hook," the blonde admitted. "It's not that bad, really."

"Let me be the judge of that," McCoy murmured, steering her over to another table and pushing her sleeve up. The gauze pad was already soaked through, and blood was running down her forearm, the scarlet strands standing out against her pale skin. "How long ago was this?"

"Ten minutes or so," came the calm confession. "I didn't want to stop in the middle of the job so I just slapped a bandage on it."

"So this isn't your first bandage on this," he muttered in testy realization, "because you've nicked your cephalic vein. Not that you would have bled to death, but without direct pressure and some cell-sealant, in a few more minutes, you'd be sprawled out like the little Missy over there."

"I don't faint," the woman protested, letting McCoy peel the gauze away and clamp his fingers around her arm just under the elbow. He moved quickly, reaching in the table drawer for a hypo and spraying it across the wound; the blood vanished, leaving the pink edges of the gash exposed. The second hypo probed gently into the wound and the hiss seemed louder. He spoke. "All right, that should seal the vein, and we'll get some dermal glue for this incision. A pruning hook?"

"I was trimming the topiary in the corner of the botany lab and got startled. The job was nearly done, and owwww---" the woman murmured faintly as he wiped an antibiotic along her arm. "That stings," she added with a slight pout.

McCoy grunted a little. "Normally I'd use the regular stuff, but since the blade edge might have been harboring any number of exotic germs, you get the concentrated form."

At that moment, the little redhead on the other table sighed and began to sit up. "Oh damn. I'm sorry about this, Lieutenant, I really am."

McCoy nodded to Tsan, who returned to the pharmacy.

"Don't worry about it, Ilda--you meant well," the blonde told her with a wry smile. "And both of us made it here, so we're good."

"Yeah," the girl sighed, batting her eyes at McCoy. "Are you the doctor?"

It was a patently dumb question, but McCoy refrained from snapping, and managed a smile. "Yes indeed, Leonard McCoy at your service," he replied, and felt the flinch under his fingertips as the blonde reacted.

"Really?" she murmured. The redhead was up now, sliding off the table and smoothing her skirt down with a great deal of show. "I like doctors."

"I don't think he gives out lollipops, Ilda," the blonde muttered softly, but the redhead merely looked puzzled as she came over and smiled at McCoy more directly.

"I appreciate you lifting me on the table like that. You're very strong."

McCoy blinked a little. "Not particularly. It's not advised to leave bodies lying on the floor, especially in Sickbay. Gives the wrong sort of impression."

The blonde bit back a laugh; the redhead blinked a little and chose to ignore what she didn't get. "Is the lieutenant going to be all right? It was a lot of blood."

"She'll be fine," McCoy assured Ilda, who had sidled closer and was smiling up at him. "I'd appreciate your help though--" Thinking quickly, he rose and moved to the recording computer, pulling out a small disk. "Would you please take this down to Engineering, to an Ensign Callahan there? Jeffries Tube squad?"

"Oh sure," Ilda dimpled, taking the disk from McCoy. "I always love to help!"

She sauntered out of Sickbay; when the doors closed behind her, McCoy sighed. He turned back to the blonde, who was hopping off the exam table. The woman sighed. "That's our Ilda. She means well, you know."

"I suppose," McCoy muttered, not looking convinced. "Good thing I duplicated that record. Just to be on the safe side."

The blonde laughed; a husky sound full of amusement. "Yes, a very good thing. I'll just be getting back to botany, so thanks for the repair job. I appreciate it, even from a McCoy."

"Hold on," McCoy told her firmly. "You're not out of here until I say so, lieutenant. While I have you here I'll upload your file and see when your next physical is due."

The blonde shot him a dry look. "Drumming up business?"

"Getting the records up to date," he shot back. "Necessary evil in this job. Trust me--the plants can wait."

"Not mine," the blonde commented seriously. "The cobra vines are due for a feeding, and if I don't oil down the Xxilligan hedge, the stench will permeate the entire deck. Please, whatever you need, make it quick and let me go?"

McCoy grudgingly nodded; he understood the dedication to duty, admired it generally, but the woman's slight curtness was intriguing since it was clear that she didn't seem to mind pain. Certainly not as much as the ensign who'd helped her into Sickbay.

"Fair enough," he conceded, and moved to the computer, "Name?"

"Lieutenant Jessamyn H. Hutchinson," she replied quietly. "Exobiologist; specialty, exo and ethnobotany."

"Ah," McCoy acknowledged, pulling up the record. "Right here. Inoculated, last check-up . . ."

"Yes, okay, I'm . . . overdue," she admitted grumpily.

McCoy snorted. "Two years. I thought Scotty was the only one dodging me on a regular basis."

"I'm not sick," Lieutenant Hutchinson pointed out. "And the pruning hook incident was an accident."

"Which brought you to my attention, so you'll be coming back here in a week," McCoy told her firmly. "I've notified your CO, so there shouldn't be a conflict in scheduling, either."

"Fine," Hutchinson grumbled rubbing lightly at her bandage. "I'm healthy as a horse and just as prone to kicking so if there aren't any other stipulations, may I return to duty now?"

McCoy came over and gave her a sharp look; she was only an inch or so shorter than he was, and held his gaze directly. "Only one of us is allowed to be cantankerous in Sickbay."

"Then I yield to your vast expertise in that, Doctor McCoy," she replied dryly, and strode off without looking back. McCoy crossed his arms and absently watched her, his gaze lingering on her backside a moment longer than strictly necessary, in any medical or professional sense.

Catching himself, McCoy gave a grunt and turned back to the computer, intent on closing the appointment listing and getting back to other matters. However, he hesitated, glancing at the screen. Softly, McCoy murmured to it, "Computer, full records on current crewmember Hutchinson."

"Hutchinson, Jessamyn, nee Hatfield," the computer replied promptly. "Terran human, female. Born in twenty two thirty-three, Old Virginia territory. Parents Asa and Nori Hatfield, Colony Corps, Botanical division. Siblings Aaron James and Robert Lanier. Husband, Edward Ti-Bokar, deceased--"

"--Cause of death?" McCoy broke in, curious now.

The computer spoke up again. "Starfleet Academy training accident, Stardate"

"Doctor, did you send someone down to Engineering?" Nurse Tsan broke in, "I have Ensign Callahan asking--"

"Yes. I sent a copy of his record with that little redhead who was here with our pruning accident," McCoy sighed, shutting off the computer. "Seemed like a good idea at the time. Why? What's wrong?"

"Nothing . . . he simply said to say thanks, and that they have a date for tonight," Tsan laughed.

McCoy arched an eyebrow at her, a faint smirk on his own face. "Don't look at me--it wasn't a prescription. . . per se."

"Oh of course not," Tsan dimpled. "And I won't even say a word about two birds and one stone. Not at all."

"See that you don't," McCoy growled playfully. "I have a reputation to maintain."

*** *** ***

Three days went by filled with the usual caseload; a few colds, one spectacular rash, and three minor accidents--two from Engineering and one from the Transporter room were all that occupied the staff of Sickbay in terms of practical care. McCoy spent most of the time by reading up on journals and updates from Starfleet as well as monitoring a few experiments in the biolabs.

He knew the Enterprise was due for a rendezvous with a supply freighter out of Deneb V, and further, that Kirk would probably arrange for some social get-together with the Freighter captain as a courtesy. Dinners could be interesting, depending on the company, McCoy knew from past experience, and he was looking forward to a night of good food, stories and a good bottle or two shared at the table.

Occasionally he thought back to his encounter with Lieutenant Hutchinson, and puzzled over her name, wondering why she hadn't either kept that of her deceased husband, or reverted to her legendary maiden name. It was a small issue, but McCoy had a streak of curiosity about foibles, and he made at note to ask the woman when she came for her physical.

*** *** ***

The dinner went well. Solly Diltomok was a salty, funny round little captain with an endless supply of amusing stories and more than capable of matching Kirk drink per drink; McCoy would have enjoyed the dinner more though, if he wasn't slightly distracted by unconnected thoughts that kept intruding on his evening.

Earlier, he'd treated two young crewmembers for minor matters, and both had mentioned being fatigued. Both had also, upon questioning, admitted to vivid dreams. Normally McCoy put no particular stock on such a revelation, but it piqued his interest that the two men were cabin mates, and seemed to have had the exact same dream on consecutive nights, identical down to the details of particular partner and position.

Two instances, especially between roommates might be explained away as nothing more than conversations or fantasies remembered later, McCoy knew. But out of curiosity, he'd checked with Callahan, and blushing, the Ensign admitted the details of his dream, bringing the phenomenon to three.

Three was a number worth watching, McCoy knew. Three was the tipping point, and in this case--

"Bones, woolgathering?" Kirk gently prodded, smiling. McCoy pulled himself back and shot the captain a wry expression. Solly Diltomok was holding out the bottle of Saurian brandy, which only had a few inches left in it.

"Sorry, Jim--it's nothing," McCoy sighed. Yet, he added mentally. "Just puzzling over the mysteries of the universe."

"Like why Vulcans make the best beer but never drink it?" Solly offered. "Seriously, they use it to bait garden slugs."

"There's a waste of good malt," Kirk chuckled. "Although given the brewmasters, I'm not sure I'd want to taste it."

"Oh it's good," Solly assured him. "But you can only get it at the gardening shops, and in logically proportioned amounts."

"Of course," Kirk nodded, grinning. "Since it's a, um, hazardous substance, sure."

"Hazardous only to the slugs who get caught," Solly laughed back.

McCoy managed a grin and rose, feeling a little stiff as he did so. "And on that note, gents, I think I'll mosey on out of here. Sol, it's been a pleasure, and I hope we rendezvous with you again." He held out a hand and the freighter captain shook it warmly.

"Same here, Doc--jawing with you two has been the highlight of the week! Rest easy, fly light," he added jovially. McCoy gave Kirk a passing pat on the shoulder and left, sure that both men would finish off the last of the bottle and share at least two more stories before calling it a night.

The lifts were quiet, and the halls empty. On impulse, McCoy chose to check in at the mess hall and pick up some orange juice to counteract the brandy in his system. He walked slowly, listening to the sounds of the ship around him, soothed a little by the faintest hum of the engines around him. It was a good ship, he acknowledged. McCoy didn't love it with the fierce devotion of Montgomery Scott, but then again, few people did--or could.

The mess hall was nearly empty; a few third shift yeomen were finishing up a meal together in one corner, and a harried-looking ensign was reading a repair manual on phaser cannons at another table. McCoy collected his orange juice and sauntered out again, passing through the doors at just the wrong moment to bump into someone coming in.

He fumbled the orange juice bottle but didn't drop it; the other person moved to catch what didn't fall and they both tried to apologize at the same time when McCoy realized he was looking at Lieutenant Hutchinson, and she looked . . . a mess.

Her hair was tied back, but spattered with multicolored specks, and her long hands were stained with the same stuff, all the way up to the cuffs of her uniform sleeves. She smelled wonderful, however; a combination of carnations and sugar. McCoy blinked at her, the corner of his mouth quirked up. "We meet again, Jessamyn H. Hutchinson. You smell like a bridal bouquet."

"Figured it out, huh? I suppose we're well beyond something as silly as a historical disagreement," she replied, rubbing one hand along her nose. "And the perfume is not by choice--I just helped a Chivill disperse her seeds."

McCoy arched an eyebrow at her, and she gave a half-smile, leading the way back into the mess hall. "Chivills are like . . . well, like big eggplants, for lack of a better way to describe them. They're nutrient dense, and tolerate space travel better than most plants. Ours was fertilized before we left Earth, and I've been tracking her growth. She was having trouble ejecting the seeds, though, so I had to um, squeeze her."

"Ah," McCoy nodded. "That explains the paint job."

Hutchinson glanced down at her hands, making a small moue. "It should wear off in a few days . . . I hope."

"Non-toxic?" he asked out of habit. She nodded, and reached for a plate with a few slices of toast on it.

"This particular Chivill is about six feet long, so it wasn't so much squeezing as full body wrestling. Six seeds, all about the size of a softball, planted in pots of nutrient-gel and clustered around the parent plant. I'm pretty sure I earned my paycheck today," Hutchinson sighed.

McCoy gave an amused shake of his head and guided her to a table before speaking. "So technically, you're a plant midwife."

She paused, a startled look crossing her face, and then laughed. "Damn, I never thought of it that way, but I suppose you're right."

McCoy liked her laugh; it was just as he remembered it--husky. He opened his orange juice and saluted her with the container, his manner slightly sardonic. "Congratulations on your successful multiple delivery, then."

"Thank you," Hutchinson nodded, and buttered her toast. "Here's hoping I can shower and at least try to sleep in tomorrow."

McCoy hesitated, setting his juice down. "Trouble sleeping?"

"Don't look at me like that," Hutchinson sighed, waving her toast at him. "Just when we were getting along so well. Get off the clock, McCoy. Stop being such a doctor."

"Don't get your hackles up, Lieutenant," he murmured back. "I've just noted a few cases of sleep disturbances recently-- no need to get feisty."

She scowled and took a bite of her toast, chewing it slowly before answering. McCoy watched her, biding his time, and when she spoke, her tone was resigned. "Fine. Yeah, I have trouble sleeping most nights. And before you prescribe me anything, I've already seen a few doctors about it, had all the usual medications, but it doesn't help. I'll toss and turn for a few hours and eventually get a few of shut-eye most nights."

"What about," McCoy asked lightly, "other nights?"

Hutchinson blushed. The flare of pink started along each of her cheekbones and met over the bridge of her nose, he noted with amusement. "Other nights I sleep . . . fine."

"Have erotic dreams do you?" McCoy drawled, not daring to make eye contact. It was a shot in the dark, but he suspected he was right. Her little flinch confirmed it.

"I don't see how that's relevant to the conversation," came Hutchinson's huffy answer. She looked away, eyeing another table, and McCoy watched her debate about moving. Before she could, he gave a small, disinterested hum. That piqued her interest, and she returned her gaze to McCoy, expression sharp. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Now I know you're a Hatfield; prickly as a porcupine and always on the defensive," he countered. "You're the one insisting it's not relevant to the conversation, so I'm merely being polite and not mentioning that those too, have been a common element in the sleeplessness cases I've been seeing."

Hutchinson hesitated a long moment, looking at McCoy with a mix of distrust and intrigue. She abruptly turned her gaze down to her stained hands, as if looking at him was too difficult to keep doing. "Doctor, I've been like this since before being assigned to the Enterprise, so whatever's going around, I'm not part of it, trust me. I know you mean well, but I'm not in the market for help. Are we straight?"

"If by that you mean that you're still planning to show up for your physical in forty-eight hours, then yes, we are," McCoy replied evenly. "Prying isn't my job, Jessamyn, but healing is."

She rose up and shot him a bleak stare. "And I thought I was going to like you," Hutchinson muttered before turning and heading out the mess hall doors. McCoy didn't watch her this time. Instead, he looked at the half-finished toast, frowning as the warmth of the brandy in his stomach began to cool.

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