Leonard McCoy was a hot mess. He knew he was a hot mess. But he figured, To hell with it. It was just him out in the big bad world now—what did he care if he drank a little too much or worked a little too long or was a little too cynical or any of that other crap? He could live with himself and that was all that mattered. (That sense of, if not contentment, at least reluctant acceptance of his life as it was should've been his first clue shit was about to get stirred something fierce.)
Enter Christine Chapel.
She was a nurse—one of the best, to be sure, and his favorite to work with for reasons he didn't care to dissect too deeply. She was also a cadet at Starfleet Academy with him and, as such, they shared a number of the same classes on the medical track. Chapel was unfailingly professional, collected, intelligent and as unflappable a person as he'd ever met. In short, just the sort of woman he hadn't expected to meet at a school filled with fresh-faced kids and losers at life like, well, himself.
Truth be told, it was annoying. Not that Leonard was measuring himself against her or anything but just knowing a woman like her was out there made him feel his own shortcomings more acutely. And hadn't he come to this wretched place as part of his quest for self-acceptance? (Okay, so he'd really come for lack of any other place to go but still.) In doing so he'd also made peace with the fact that he held a giant chip on his shoulder and enough baggage to fill a shuttle compartment up tight. And if being friends with Jim Kirk was assurance that, hey, it could be worse, then being colleagues with Chapel was an annoying reminder that he was still seriously fucked.
There was also the part where she was ruining all his delusions. See, Leonard had spent a good chunk of time convincing himself that his ex-wife had killed any need he had to share a deep emotional bond with another person. He'd come to the Academy fully expecting the carnal part of his person would be satisfied with whatever casual liaisons he managed and that that would be enough. Chapel with her beauty and brains reminded him that was a load of bullshit with every sweet smile she sent his way.
She was too good for him, obviously. (SEE: Leonard McCoy, real fucking hot mess) He'd never doubted she or any other woman like her would be. It was just that he hadn't thought he'd ever feel that stirring inside of him—that want of more, that desire for something real. And he didn't deserve it, didn't deserve her. Not as he was. Which meant one of two things: he either had to ignore it or he had to start putting his shit back in order.
For three years Leonard chose the first option.
Somehow things looked different on the other side of Vulcan's destruction and Jim fucking Kirk saving the whole damn planet. (It helped that Chapel had given him this long, warm hug after Pike had stabilized and things finally slowed that made him think if he stopped failing so hard at life there might actually be something there. Hope, go figure.) If that kid could manage that, Leonard could deal with his own demons and whatever other shit he'd let bury him, right?
Well, he wouldn't know until he tried. So he drank a little less, worked a little harder to keep himself healthy, made a point to sleep in his quarters and not Sickbay, even talked with the ex who was surprisingly relieved he hadn't died in silent agony like so many of his classmates. (The way Leonard remembered it, she'd been hoping he'd choke on his own vomit as he left Georgia with his tail between his legs.) It wasn't much, he knew that, but it was something. A beginning.
Which meant that, when Chapel cornered him four months into their five year mission, Leonard actually felt he had a little ground to stand on. Not much, mind, but a little.
"What's up with you?" Her tone was accusing and completely contradicted her next statement. "You're keeping up on logs and charts, you've been visiting the gym some and even keeping reasonable work hours." Her eyes narrowed. "Are you sick?"
Leonard rolled his eyes. "You do realize none of those are bad things, right?"
Chapel crossed her arms. "But they aren't you, either," she pointed out.
(She had a point there.) "Well, maybe I've found a reason to pull my shit together."
The woman was like a bloodhound when it came to sniffing out bullshit. "What reason?"
Made her impossible to lie to and exasperated Leonard to no end. "You, all right? You're the reason." It was probably the least romantic way to say what he meant. Typical.
That took the wind from Chapel's sails. "What? Me?" Her brows furrowed. "Why?"
"Because you're—" he waved a hand toward her person—"you." (Master communicator he was not; thankfully, Chapel was well-versed in McCoy-speak.)
She stared at him for a moment then shook her head. "You're an idiot." She grabbed both sides of his face and pulled his lips to hers, kissing him soundly. He was still stunned and staring at her when she released him. "Everyone has their shit, McCoy."
Another good point. "Yeah, well." Leonard rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly. "You shouldn't have to deal with mine."
"Eh." Chapel shrugged, twining her arms around his neck. "I think the tradeoff might be worth it."
He leaned down but kept a few centimeters distance between their lips. "Might be?"
She grinned up at him. "Feel free to try and convince me." Chapel didn't wait for him to act, though—she pulled his head down to her.
Oddly enough (or maybe not), McCoy found he didn't mind.