Sticks and Scones
A/N: While I am the keeper of a pretty solid scone recipe, regrettably, I do not own Star Trek.
T essentially for language-I've been ladling out the angst lately in my other stories and wanted something a little more lighthearted.
Part 1: The Brownie Incident
Christine Chapel was a goddamn professional.
Leonard McCoy accepted the mug she was offering him and mumbled something tired and grateful. He'd already forgotten what kind of tea she'd said it was, but it hardly mattered. He took a sip and promptly burned his tongue as Chapel turned her attention to Jim.
Overhead, the lights of the observation post's tiny medical clinic flickered dangerously. McCoy glanced up, then back to find Chapel looking at him. "That's normal," she said with an amused smile. "The generators get finicky during the storm season."
McCoy took another, more careful sip of his tea—something light and herbal, he decided. "Uh huh," he replied, unconvinced.
He'd heard horror stories about the poor state of medical affairs on the outer rim planets. He couldn't decide if they were rumor, or if Chapel had just busted her ass to get this particular clinic up to scratch. The latter wouldn't have surprised him. During the eighteen months they'd worked together before her transfer, she had disagreed with him loudly and often, and she'd proven herself plenty capable of standing her ground.
Outside the wind howled through the trees and a torrent of rain slammed against the clinic's thin windows. McCoy took another sip of his tea, refusing to let the phrase I told you so bring a smile to his lips. He was still plenty pissed.
Having set Jim's wrist, Chapel was now numbing his arm from the elbow down and stuffing him into a seat next to the regen unit. "This is gonna hurt like all hell when the anesthetic wears off," she said, "so get Leonard here to prescribe you painkillers when you get back to the Enterprise."
Jim glanced back at McCoy with a rueful grin. "See, Bones? Right as rain."
McCoy crossed his arms. "You look like hell, kid."
It was true. Jim had a fine layer of dirt and mud worked into his hair and skin. He'd swapped out his gold command shirt—dripping and torn—for one of the medical station's spare uniforms. Of course, McCoy could only imagine what he looked like. Minutes ago he'd run a hand through his still-damp hair and found a leaf stuck to the back of his head.
Chapel activated the regen unit and handed a second mug of tea to Jim, who accepted it with his uninjured hand.
"Either of you want to explain to me how you ended up all the way out here," Chapel asked, seating herself across from them, "if the Enterprise is parked in orbit?"
McCoy felt Jim's eyes on him again, and shook his head. "You got us into this," he growled.
"But—" Jim gestured indignantly at his broken wrist.
McCoy shot him a glare that could've melted glass.
For a moment Jim's mouth gaped open and shut like a fish. Then he let out a resigned sigh. "Fine." He rolled his eyes for good measure as he turned to Chapel, and McCoy afforded himself a brief smirk at Jim's expense.
"Look," Jim said, "all I wanted was to make brownies, ok?"
The nurse's eyebrows shot to her hairline. "Come again?"
Jim raised his good hand in protest. "I swear it's not what you think."
Twelve hours earlier:
"Bones, I've never asked you for anything in my life."
"That is far from true."
"Early Christmas present?"
"Jim, I'm a doctor, not an idiot." McCoy let out a long sigh through his nose. In his right hand he held a cup of rapidly cooling coffee, in his left, a PADD loaded with the last round of crew physical stats. Jim was standing in front of him, blocking his path out of the ship's mess and giving him the look. The one that said: I found us a new bar. It's kind of a dive and it doesn't really have a name, but I was there the other night and it's great.
Or: I'm taking the test again and I want you there.
Or: I'm sending Dr. Marcus down planetside to crack open a torpedo and she asked for the steadiest hands on the ship, so...
The look that meant no end of trouble for him or anybody else involved.
Well, today he was having none of it.
"Please?" Jim asked, and it was less a plea and more a question of when McCoy's resolve was going to crack.
McCoy shot his captain a disbelieving stare. "This is ridiculous. I am not getting yanked into another one of your goddamn schemes, much less a food-related one."
"No, Jim. You have a problem. Do you remember wasabi roulette?"
Jim actually had the nerve to roll his eyes.
Careful not to spill his coffee, McCoy pushed past him, adding darkly, "I remember wasabi roulette."
He heard Jim's footsteps behind him in the corridor.
"All I'm talking about is a couple of hours."
"I've got better things to do than babysit you while you run wild on the surface of an unknown planet." He reached the turbolift, pressing Deck Five on the console, unsurprised when Jim slipped through the doors just as they were closing.
"First of all, I happen to know you don't," he said.
McCoy glared at him. "Oh you do, do you?"
"Graham was practically skipping to the botany lab which means you've been hunkered down in your office with nothing to do and no one to grumble at."
Well. It was hard to argue with the truth.
"Second," Jim continued, "it's not an unknown planet. There's a Federation research encampment with a commissary."
"That probably sells protein nibs, powdered milk, and off-the-books Romulan ale," McCoy replied dryly as the turbolift came to a halt and the doors whirred open.
As he stepped into the corridor leading to the Medbay, he heard Jim after him, drawing the confused looks of the handful of crewmembers passing by:
"There is a dearth of chocolate on this ship, Bones, and I will not have that this close to the holidays!"
McCoy smirked. "Still October!" he called over his shoulder, as the turbolift doors slid shut.
The on-duty medic gave McCoy a confused glance as he entered Medbay—technically it was now beta shift, and he didn't need to be there—but McCoy ignored him, heading straight for his office. It was a mess, but his quarters were more so, and for once the Medbay was quiet.
No sooner had he'd sat down that a message dinged on his PADD.
Jim Kirk: Fine. I'm going anyways. No brownies for you.
McCoy stared at the message for a moment. Then he glanced at the computer console, at the to-do list detailing the notes and paperwork he needed to complete for the ship-wide quarterly physicals. Negligible, since he'd spent the last week and a half busting his ass to get it done. He felt his shoulders sag with inevitability.
He sat staring for a few moments more before getting to his feet, his coffee untouched.
"God dammit, Jim."
"What do you mean you're out?"
McCoy sighed, a few steps back from where Jim was getting into it with the commissary clerk.
With the promise of brownies in his future, Scotty had agreed to keep silent about their mini-jaunt to the planet's surface while the Enterprise made a pit stop to complete engine repairs. He'd beamed them down to the research encampment on the planet's surface, settled in a leaf-litter strewn clearing in the middle of a damp, tropical forest.
To say the encampment was sparse would be putting it mildly. The commissary appeared to be the only permanent building in the area. The rest were pop-up research tents, covered in a reflective material that blocked any sunlight that filtered down through the trees and kept out the oppressive heat. Outside, the air was soupy with humidity. McCoy crossed his arms, feeling rivulets of sweat drip down his back and willing himself not to dwell on the fact that he had a pile of dirty laundry waiting for him in his quarters.
The commissary clerk was a portly man with a thick moustache and a glare to rival McCoy's. He crossed his arms. "I mean," he growled, "we're out. Last shipment sold out last week."
"But that doesn't make any sense," Jim insisted. "Listen, I happen to know the last supply ship that made it through here a week ago. How do you run out of a standard shipment of baking chocolate in three days? At an encampment of twenty people?"
"Last supply ship had a problem with the manifest."
To McCoy's ears that sounded like a load of horseshit, but he was happy enough to let Jim do the arguing. He glanced at his comm. On the ship it was now 1400 hours. If it didn't work out, he thought, maybe—just maybe—he could get back to his quarters and actually enjoy his afternoon off. Get the laundry out of the way, and then try to get back into the mystery novel he'd been reading on and off for the last four months. And hope Jim would be at least somewhat content with replicated cocoa.
"So…nothing? You guys have nothing," he heard Jim say in frustration.
"Look, if it really means that much to you, you can check yourself. The ship made another stop at the observation post. They keep the manifest records on hand there." The clerk pointed across the clearing to where the trees swallowed up a narrow foot path. "About four kilometers thataway."
Jim glanced back at him, and McCoy let out a long sigh.
Four hours later:
"Don't tell me you're gonna quit just because of an ominous breeze, Bones," McCoy repeated, holding his communicator high over his head, trying to get a signal. Nothing. He turned back to Jim with a glare. "There's absolutely no chance it could be an indication of potentially unsafe weather changes!"
Jim scowled back at him. Like McCoy he was drenched from head to toe, his light hair dripping into his eyes. He shouted over the storm: "For God's sake, Bones, it's just rain!"
"Yeah," McCoy snapped, "and I wouldn't have a problem with that if the damn comm was working!"
Lightning flashed overhead, illuminating the surrounding trees, and seconds later came the inevitable thunderclap. McCoy didn't move. After the first three or so strikes, he'd stopped getting spooked by the near-immediate boom that followed.
The rain had started as a mild drizzle. Shortly after that, the wind. Nothing to be worried about that, Jim had said—they were on the right track, still following the footpath through the dense trees. Then, without warning, the sky was crushed with clouds that made the forest dark as night, and they were caught in a downpour that sent leaves and small rivers of mud through the footpath, lowering visibility to almost nothing. At that point, Jim had agreed that maybe it was time to turn back. Ten minutes later the comms and tricorder had stopped working, and an hour after that they were lost.
Twenty minutes ago, the storm had reached what McCoy felt he could rightly call Biblical proportions.
"Did you even bother to check the weather before beaming us down here?" he shouted.
Jim wasn't looking at him. He was messing with the tricorder again, directing it at the forest floor.
Another flash of lightning drew McCoy's attention away from Jim. He turned, just as the lightning strike was followed by another thunderclap, this time so loud it shook his ribcage, making him jump. So much for not getting spooked.
Over the roar of the wind, he heard Jim yell behind him: "Listen—if we can configure the tricorder to identify our tracks—"
Jim's voice cut off abruptly.
McCoy whipped around, and blinked. "Jim?"
No answer, and no Jim. As if he'd vanished out of thin air.
McCoy felt his heart rate tick up a notch. "Jim?" he repeated.
He took a step toward where Jim had just been standing—
—and fell straight down through a slurry of vines and leaves, landing hard and pitching forward as his knees buckled under him. Then he was lying on his side on damp, muddy rock, the wind knocked out of him, the adrenaline draining slowly from his system.
He tilted his head back and could see, far above, the broken vines that had concealed the hole—the cave, he now realized—he'd just fallen into like a messy lattice, the shower of damp leaf litter now falling through the branches.
To his left, a rustle of movement, a flash of command gold.
McCoy pushed himself upright with a groan. "Dammit, Jim—"
He broke off.
Jim was crouched over in the gloom, leaning against the cave wall, cradling his right wrist, his face white.
"Oh, hell," McCoy breathed. In a moment he was at Jim's side.
"I'm ok," Jim said immediately, his voice strained.
"In a pig's eye," McCoy muttered. He turned to where he'd fallen. "Where's the tricorder?" There was obviously a fracture but he needed to know how bad it was, and without the scanner there was no way to properly tell.
"I don't know," Jim said, "I don't have it. I dropped it when I—" he slipped against the cave wall and grimaced as he jostled his right arm.
Heart pounding, McCoy looked up at the hole in the cave ceiling. A flash of lightning briefly illuminated the cave—long enough for him to see that it was much deeper than he'd initially realized.
He stood, pulling his otherwise useless comm out of his pocket and flicking on the flashlight function. He walked a few meters away from the hole in the ceiling, the cave walls narrowing until he came to a narrow crevasse in the rock, on the other side of it a long, dark tunnel. McCoy frowned, squinted ahead. Beyond the reach of the flashlight's beam he could see nothing but blackness. He swallowed. The smart thing would be to wait out the storm.
"See anything?" he heard Jim call.
McCoy glanced back to see Jim already struggling to his feet. He opened his mouth, some variation of dammit, Jim, I told you to stay put on the tip of his tongue—
—and then he heard it.
Faint beneath the roar of the wind and rain above, so faint he could barely hear it, but perceptible nonetheless: a low growl, echoing towards him from deep in the tunnel.
McCoy felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up. He stood stock still, paralyzed, staring into the yawning darkness, straining his ears, praying he was just hearing things.
Another growl—distant, but this time undeniable. McCoy cursed and flicked off his flashlight, his imagination warping into overdrive. His mind jumped from away missions gone wrong to the ghost stories his father had told him back in Georgia, to the handful of nightmare-inducing xenozoology papers he'd read over for his second-year roommate at the Academy. He remembered running for his life on Nibiru, spears flying past his head with inches to spare. He recalled every broken, mangled body that had lain on his operating table in the Medbay.
No tricorder, no communications, Jim injured, and neither of them armed.
McCoy jumped, stifling a yelp as he whirled around to find Jim at his elbow.
Jim stared at him. "Bones, what—"
A second growl, low and deep, and much louder this time.
Jim's eyes grew wide.
Simultaneously they flattened themselves against the cold rock on either side of the tunnel entrance.
"Did you see anything?" Jim hissed.
McCoy shook his head.
"Maybe we can catch it off-guard."
Jim turned back to the rest of the cave, casting about for a weapon, and McCoy followed his lead, heart pounding. He came up with a sharp rock. Jim reappeared with a short piece of branch, and they repositioned themselves against the cave wall, waiting as the growling in the tunnel grew louder and louder.
"Bones. Hey, Bones." Jim's voice was hardly a whisper, but it drew McCoy's attention anyways. The kid's eyes were bright with adrenaline, his lips tugged into a determined smile. "I am not left-handed," he mouthed.
McCoy blinked in disbelief, and for a moment the hot, dark fear that clung to his spine dissipated. He managed a small smile back and shook his head.
That was the thing about Jim. He didn't just live—he lived in defiance of death. Hell, even after the warp core, he'd come back with bad jokes about only being mostly dead. The chutzpah, the crazy harebrained schemes, the stubborn, relentless I-don't-believe-in-no-win-scenarios—for better or worse it was contagious.
They were going to take out a cave monster with a rock and a stick. They were going to find a way back to the surface. The storm would let up, the comms would work again, they would make contact with the Enterprise. Within a few hours they'd be back on board. Jim would make his damn brownies, and McCoy would stumble into his quarters, never so grateful to see the pile of dirty laundry waiting for him.
Then the comm at his side chirped, and McCoy felt his heart sink.
It was barely a blip, really. Just a split second of static before the damn thing fizzled out again. But in the enclosed space, it was deafening. Across the tunnel entrance, Jim's eyes were blue saucers, his face stricken.
So this was it. This was how they were going to die. On a goddamn brownie expedition.
As McCoy's eyes slid shut, he could almost see the idiotic regrets, the things left unsaid, undone, floating through the forefront of his mind. He could count them like sheep.
Then suddenly the growling stopped. McCoy's eyes snapped open.
All was silent but for pouring rain and howling wind. He darted a glance at Jim, then up at the tunnel entrance. They waited.
Through the fog of animal fear blanketing his brain, McCoy felt a glimmer of rationality. He frowned in the gloom.
Across the tunnel entrance, Jim blinked in surprise.
"Hello?" the voice repeated.
The voice was muffled, but McCoy was almost certain they were talking to a human, and a native Standard-speaker to boot.
Jim glanced up at the tunnel entrance. "Hello?" he called back.
"…To whom am I speaking?" the voice asked.
Jim paused before answering. "This is Captain James T. Kirk of the USS Enterprise."
For a moment, there was no response. Then—
McCoy shot Jim a frown.
Jim stared right back, his face pinched in confusion. Whoever was on the other side of the wall was now laughing uproariously.
Jim stood and moved to the tunnel entrance and McCoy followed him. Not ten feet away, stood a humanoid figure in a jumpsuit, draped in a heavy-looking poncho, its face obscured by a plastic faceplate and a dark hood. Doubled over in hysterics.
McCoy felt a flash of anger. "Dammit, this man needs medical attention!" he shouted, gesturing roughly at Jim.
The figure straightened up and moved forward, clambering through the tunnel entrance. McCoy shot a sidelong glance at Jim and they stepped back in unison, keeping the figure between them and the cave wall. As it emerged into the dim light, McCoy could make out the plastic sheen of a faceplate under the low hood. Then a flash of lightning illuminated the ravine above, and through the faceplate McCoy saw a flash of blue eyes—and his mouth gaped open.
The figure pulled back its—her—hood, and removed her mask. Her light blonde hair was no longer cut in a short bob, as McCoy remembered it, but grown out and pulled away from her face, plastered to her scalp from the driving rain.
Still laughing gently to herself, Christine Chapel put her hands on her hips. "Leonard McCoy, as I live and breathe."
"And that's when you found us," Jim finished.
McCoy's tea had gone cold. His shoulders were sore, his left leg full of pins and needles. He shifted in his chair, watching as Jim fell silent and Chapel raised her eyebrows at them both. For a moment, no one said anything, and the only sound was the drumming of rain on the windows and the hum of the bone knitter.
Then Chapel's mouth quirked into an amused smile. "You're right," she said.
Jim blinked at her. "What about?"
"It's not what I was expecting." She stood, moving to an ancient-looking console on the other side of the room. "Although to be fair, I don't know what I was expecting. You two just about gave me a heart attack when you tripped the motion sensors in the cave."
"You have motion sensors in the cave?" McCoy asked.
"It's one of the research sites. This planet used to be home to an extinct race of humanoids. Our resident xenoarchaeologist has been studying the cave drawings."
"So you thought one of your colleagues was in trouble and got us instead," Jim concluded.
"Uh-huh." Chapel flipped a switch on the console and picked up a small, silver earpiece. "Although generally they don't conduct research in the caves during the storms. That's when the ylit-katur hunts."
The rational part of his brain knew he was safe and out of danger, but McCoy felt a frisson of residual fear all the same. "The what?" he asked.
Chapel looked back over her shoulder at them. "Burrowing serpent," she said dryly, "about two meters long. Fangs as thick as your index finger. They're most active during the rainy season."
"So," Jim said cautiously, darting a glance in his direction, "that's the reason for the, uh…"
"Freaky apex predator recording?" Chapel smirked. "Yes."
Jim's eyes were on him again, now repentant. "Bones—"
"Don't even try, Jim."
"Looks like the storm's beginning to let up," Chapel interrupted. "I can try to contact the Enterprise."
As if on cue, McCoy's comm crackled to life:
"—are able please respond. Repeat, Enterprise to Doctor McCoy—"
Uhura sounded the way she always sounded in a crisis. Contained and professional, an undeniable note of concern hovering under her words. McCoy snatched the comm off the table behind him.
"McCoy here," he said, then, to preempt the inevitable interrogation: "We're ok. Jim broke his damn wrist but he'll patch up fine."
Over the comm he heard an audible sigh of relief. "Where on earth are you two?" Uhura asked. "Scotty said you beamed down to the planet to go to the outpost commissary."
McCoy winced. At least Scotty hadn't mentioned why they'd beamed down.
"Medical clinic at the observation post. We'll send you the coordinates."
"We'll await your transmission." Uhura paused, then added, "Commander Spock would like a word upon your return. Just so you're…prepared."
McCoy turned to Jim before he could say a word. "I blame you."
Chapel was suddenly at his elbow, motioning for him give her the comm. Exhausted and grateful, he handed it over.
"Lieutenant!" Chapel said, grinning. "It's good to hear your voice again."
After the bone knitter finished its course on Jim's arm, McCoy exchanged the borrowed uniform shirt for his own still-damp science blues (Jim's command gold was beyond salvaging), and Chapel led them to a small transport pad.
"You'll be fine, Leonard," she added, patting McCoy's shoulder at his grimace. "It works better than the lights, at any rate."
"Chapel," Jim said. "Thank you. As always, you're sorely missed."
"Captain, wait a moment," Chapel said suddenly. She disappeared from the transport room, and returned moments later, holding a slim rectangle wrapped in black, shiny paper. She handed it to Jim, whose eyes went huge.
McCoy didn't have to read the label to know what it was. "Aw hell, Christine, you're just encouraging him," he said.
To his left, Jim's voice, uncharacteristically humbled: "I don't know what to say."
Chapel sent him a smile in return before stepping onto the transporter pad and giving them each a hug.
"Take care of him, Leonard," she said to McCoy, before stepping back.
"Take care of yourself," McCoy shot back, smiling despite himself.
"Enterprise to observation post. You ready there, lass?" came Scotty's voice over the comm.
"Ready Mr. Scott," Christine replied. "On your command, Captain."
"Energize," Jim said.
Later McCoy would swear he'd heard just the faintest crack in Jim's voice.
At 0200 hours, after Spock had raked them thoroughly over the coals—as senior officers aboard a Federation starship I find myself surprised that I must remind you both of the consequences of such irresponsibility—McCoy stood at the counter in one of the vacant mess kitchens, his eyes shut.
Next to him, he knew, Jim was dipping a steaming brownie into a glass of milk. "Worth it," he said.
McCoy didn't have to open his eyes to know Jim was grinning like an idiot. He didn't bother to argue. He didn't reply at all, in fact. His mouth, as it happened, was full.