The Logical Solution
Jim's index finger hovered over the "view" button for at least thirty seconds, before he balled his fists, leaned back in his chair and sighed. "What's the matter with me?" he muttered. When he'd asked Bones to go through with this along with him, he'd just come right out and asked him. No social dance, no shyness, no real anxiety. Just... "I've been thinking about expanding our family. What are your thoughts?" They'd talked it out like the mature adults they were - comfortable with each other after knowing one another for the past nine years, being committed to one another for the past eight, and married for the past six.
Male pregnancy was an option, but risky and unnecessary in Jim's mind. He didn't want to have to give up command for however long he would be off his feet, and Bones didn't want to leave his position either. They'd settled on adoption fairly quickly. The decision on where to adopt was a given to Jim. Bones had needed some convincing, but he knew the need just as much as Jim did, and it wasn't that hard to talk him into it.
They'd already submitted their Request for Admission of Under-Aged Family Passenger(s) Aboard a Starfleet Deep-Space Exploration Vessel, and the associated waivers that had reminded them of the dangers involved with raising children aboard ships. It had been done, though, and he and Bones had decided they were up to the challenge. Additional space had been allocated for them to house their potential new family member.
When he'd received the response from Starfleet Command, he hadn't been nearly as anxious as he was now. He'd had a flash of "what if they don't approve us", but it was such a far-fetched notion that he'd brushed it aside immediately. There were at least twelve family units aboard the Enterprise - civilian spouses, with or without children, and commissioned pairs who'd given birth during their tour of duty, including little Amanda T. Unpronounceable Vulcan Family Name (as Jim insisted on calling her around Spock). But this was different. Despite the great number of orphans still living in group homes, being approved for candidacy wasn't easy by any means. The amount of paperwork that had been filled, witnessed, signed in triplicate (yes, triplicate on digital documents), the cultural proficiency exams, and the extensive background checks of even someone as highly respected and almost revered as Captain James T. Kirk of the U.S.S. Enterprise had been so daunting that the thought of being denied now was just damned depressing.
Jim looked back at the message screen. just do it already! He practically attacked the "view" button, so that he couldn't chicken out again. He skimmed the official-looking language searching for one word - and found it.
Bones couldn't make himself stop adjusting and re-adjusting the collar on his civilian dress tunic. He'd been thrilled beyond belief that all the bureaucratic hoop-jumping had paid off, even though he still wasn't sure how he'd let Jim talk him into adopting a child that he was never allowed to hug. He had no idea how he was supposed to relate to their potential charge, and part of him rebelled at the idea that there would be none of the things he associated with parenting - no laughing, crying, rough-housing, tickling, and especially no hugs.
One of the things he missed most about his father was his powerful embrace. They weren't frequent, but when he got one, he always felt like the most loved person in all the world. His dad always hugged like it would be the last time he would ever get to touch his son again. Bones still remembered when he'd come back from med school, and his father - who was only half an inch taller than Leonard by then - had embraced him with such strength that he'd nearly lifted him off the ground. It was hard to imagine not being able to share something so simple, but so powerful, with his own child. But Jim had convinced him that everything would turn out right, and they would learn new ways of interacting. He'd been convinced, and he'd even decided he was eager to embark on the new challenge. He'd been so impatient to get through all the rigamarole, get to the approval status, and finally pick up their new son, but now that the day had arrived he found he was a bundle of nerves.
Jim jolted him out of his reverie, patting him on the shoulder and giving him that oh-so-confident smile. "It's fine, Bones."
"Your shirt. It looks fine. You're fine."
He let out a nervous chuckle. "Am I that obvious?"
Jim laughed. "Are you kidding? Look, he'll like us. Don't worry."
Leonard let out a grunt of disbelief. "Don't worry, my ass," he muttered.
They'd talked a long time about who they wanted. The agency sent pictures, descriptions, and (bizarrely, Len thought) academic test scores for all of their available children. Jim had also requested information about how long the orphans had been waiting for a home, and which had the most trouble being chosen for adoption. Naturally, he'd gravitated toward the older children. Just like with human adoptions (perhaps even moreso) babies and smaller children were more desirable for most potential parents. They were too small to remember the tragedy - too young to have been traumatized by the disaster, and turned into "trouble" children.
They'd scanned and scanned through the pictures of the children aged ten and older, until Jim found one that stood out. He'd been so excited by his "hunch" that this was the right one that he could barely contain himself. He gave Leonard the final say, but of course, Leonard had naturally agreed with Jim's choice.
The boy's name was Sekar, son of Sekan. He was sixteen years old - making him just young enough for Jim to meet the eighteen year minimum age difference required to adopt him. He'd been on a junior science expedition at the time of the planet's destruction. His father had died when he was small, but his mother and all his extended family had been killed on Vulcan. He had been in five different foster homes since then, but was always returned to the adoption agency (often after less than a month), with notes regarding his "disruptive", and "overly emotional" behavior. Exceptions were made for young survivors, of course, but it seemed that Sekar's behavior was beyond the limits of what Vulcan propriety would allow, even considering the circumstances. Leonard still thought it seemed a bit harsh to send the kid back again and again for being "disruptive".
At the meeting with Sekar's primary caseworker, Jim and Leonard were provided a full report on Sekar's actions, and his educational record. His intelligence ratings were high, but during his stay in the foster homes, his grades had declined, and he'd been accused of disrespecting his foster parents, running away, and "causing damage to personal property". It all seemed a natural result of stress to Leonard, but the caseworker literally frowned upon the record. "Our agency asks that you carefully consider these facts prior to making your final decision," T'Perran said. "We feel that it is detrimental to the psychological health of the child to be removed from the structure of this establishment, then returned to it as Sekar has been. Unfortunately, it has been unavoidable in the past, but..."
"I understand, ma'am," Jim said. "We won't make any final judgments until we're completely sure."
She nodded. "It is my hope, Captain Kirk, that yours and the doctor's increased capacity for sympathy with Sekar's... emotional needs will make this a successful match."
"That's our hope, too," Leonard said.
After the meeting, they were allowed to watch the children interacting with one another. The adoption process was a very private one to Vulcans, so they were not joined by any other prospective parents. They were shown to a viewing area, slightly elevated above a large room. To one side, young children were guided by a teacher in what Leonard had read was a popular game for the formative years - some elaborate counting, color, teamwork, hand-eye coordinating... thing with multi-shaped blocks that dated back thousands of years. Leonard reflected, with a fair amount of amusement, that he was relieved they weren't trying to adopt a younger child. Watching the game, he was pretty certain he would lose against a four-year-old, and that wouldn't exactly be great for his ego.
On the side closer to them, older children and teens had been left to their own devices. T'Perran explained that this was their rest period between classes - something like "recess". There were long shelves filled with other items that they could use during the break, and there were tables with various board games already set up, including three dimensional chess.
"There he is," Jim said, speaking softly even though they couldn't be heard or seen through the barrier. Len looked to where Jim had pointed, and saw a tall, thin boy standing close to one wall, apart from the others his own age. Leonard recognized him from the image they'd sent during the selection process - chocolate brown, bone straight hair, cut in the quintessential Vulcan style, light brown eyes, angular, but handsome features that looked much softer in person than they had in his grim-faced photograph. He looked healthy enough, but there was an air about him that Leonard had seen in children who'd had hard lives - a feeling that they were older than their age claimed. He was also even paler than most other Vulcans - in fact, he was paler even than the other orphans, whom, Len assumed, must have had the same amount of sun as he. Being shunted back and forth between foster homes and the orphanage had certainly taken a toll on him.
At the moment, Sekar was in deep conversation with a girl Leonard thought he recognized from the various files. He couldn't remember much about her, since they'd focused only on Sekar once Jim had made his choice, but she looked to be about twelve years old, and probably hailed from the mountainous region of Vulcan. He'd learned during his months of cultural literacy studies that this area was where most of the dark-skinned Vulcans were originally from. She was a shade lighter than Lieutenant Uhura, and had long, jet black curly hair that she'd pulled into a tight ponytail. They talked for several minutes, then Sekar led her to an empty chess board, and they began to play together.
Jim smiled at Leonard. "I like him," he said softly.
Len smiled back, amused that Jim had once again made a judgment about the boy without ever having spoken to him. But, strangely enough, Leonard found that he felt the same way. He liked Sekar, and he wasn't even really sure why. Maybe it was the easy way he kept the girl company, even though he was a good five years older than she, and most of the other children stayed within their own age groups. Or it could have been the patience with which he paused from their playing to answer questions from some of the other children. Hell, maybe it was just another hunch - he was sure Jim would have seen it that way.
"When can we meet him?" Leonard asked.
"Within the hour," T'Perran replied. "Please come with me."
They were taken to a small "lounge" if one could call it that. Leonard had come to know that Vulcan "comfort" concerned itself with promoting proper posture far too much. The room was arranged something like a traditional family counseling room. There were five seats in all - two on one side, and two facing them (with several feet between them), and with T'Perran's chair at the "head" of the set-up. Leonard sat beside Jim on one side, and T'Perran took a few minutes to explain some things they already knew about the remainder of the process. They were informed that they could withdraw their application, or change their choice to a different child if they were not pleased with the meeting. If they decided to take Sekar, they would be required to reply to periodic requests for his status for up to twelve months, during which time, the agency would have the power to remove Sekar from the home if they believed it would be in his best interest. Len wasn't worried about that. They took academic progress into account, but they wouldn't take a child back out of the home unless he was being neglected or abused, and there was no chance of that happening.
He joined Jim in assuring T'Perran that they understood all of the final rules and regulations, but he could tell Jim was getting impatient, and Leonard couldn't blame him. Finally, T'Perran went to a comm unit and called someone to pull Sekar from class. After a few minutes, Leonard heard the entry chime. He edged forward in his seat, looking eagerly toward the door as T'Perran told him to enter.
Sekar was taller than Len had expected. He was about 5'9" already, and his slenderness made him seem even taller. He stepped slowly into the room, hands stiffly at his sides. His eyes naturally gravitated to the strangers in the room, and when he saw Jim and Len, he actually gasped. A smile lit his face for the briefest second, before he managed to control himself. Leonard was fairly shocked, but he fought not to show it. Jim, Spock, and most of the Enterprise crew were regarded as heroes throughout the Federation, but nowhere were they more revered than on New Vulcan. At first, Bones had thought it was a little odd, since they hadn't actually managed to keep Vulcan from being destroyed. But when he learned more about Vulcans, and discovered just how vital the Elders were, he understood. Putting a stop to Nero at last, and saving the very essence of their culture had elevated them almost immeasurably. Leonard couldn't blame the boy for "losing control" and reacting to their presence.
Bones and Jim stood up almost at the same time. "Live long and prosper, Sekar," Jim said, making the ritual sign. Leonard did the same, nodding at the boy.
Sekar raised his hand and bowed his head slightly. "Thank you, Ca-" his soft tenor cracked slightly, and he cleared his throat. "Thank you, Captain Kirk. Thank you, Dr. McCoy. It is a pleasure to meet you, sirs."
"It's good to meet you," Jim said.
"We've been very eager to finally speak to you," Len said.
"Me? I..." His voice was breathless, and he glanced at T'Perran for an explanation. "I do not understand why I..."
"Take a seat, Sekar," T'Perran said, her voice not quite stern, but not kind either. Len felt as though the bright moment of their first meeting had dimmed a little, but Sekar didn't seem to notice. He sat across from Len as they all took their seats again, and kept his eyes on the two of them as if he couldn't believe they were really there. "Captain Kirk and Doctor McCoy have come here to meet you, and to find out if you would like to go aboard the Enterprise with them."
Sekar's eyes widened, and he let out a breathless "Oh." He looked back at them, eyes still wide. "I would be very pleased to visit the Enterprise," he said. "But... I still do not understand why I have been chosen for this honor. Sorkan's scores in astrophysics and mathematics were higher than mine last term." Len frowned, confused by the apparent non-sequitur.
"I must apologize, Sekar," T'Perran said. "My words were not clear. This is not a reward for the Exceptional Scholars Program. These gentlemen plan to adopt you."
Sekar gasped again, and he looked from T'Perran to the two of them with open horror on his face. "I... you..." He turned to T'Perran and scowled. "How can you do this to me!?" he cried in Vulcan. Leonard jumped in his seat, shocked by the boy's sudden switch from open happiness to hurt and outrage.
T'Perran gave him a barely perceptible frown. "Sekar, you will control yourself," she said calmly in English.
"No!" he cried, jumping to his feet. He launched into a stream of angry Vulcan phrases, speaking so fast that Leonard, with his intermediate understanding of the language, had to struggle to keep up. "I requested that we be taken off the list of candidates! Why have I -"
"Your request was not logical. Remaining in the care of this institution when there are individuals both able and willing to care for you is-"
"I'll be a legal adult in only a few years!" he cried. "Then I can take care of both of us!"
"Five years are hardly 'a few'," T'Perran said. "We are doing what is in your best interests."
"The hell you are, you... liar!" he shouted.
"You LIED to us! You said we could stay off the list until-"
"It was illogical to upset you unnecessarily by explaining that-"
"Sekar, you will-"
"I won't leave her! I won't, not even for them," he cried, chest heaving. "You can't force me!"
"Whoa, whoa," Jim said, standing up and stepping forward. "Let's just calm down and-"
"You will go where this agency feels is best for you to go," T'Perran snapped, also rising to her feet.
"I WILL NOT!"
"Sekar! Control yourself immediately, or you will be caned!"
Sekar clenched his fists tightly and gritted his teeth. His body vibrated and he looked like he might be fighting tears. Before anyone could say a word, he let out an enraged scream and violently kicked over one of the arm chairs. The action so startled Len that he jumped to his feet as well. Sekar tossed the other chair over next, then grabbed the glass lamp from the coffee table and hurled it against the wall with a yell. It had hardly shattered before the end table followed it, crashing against the wall so hard one of the legs broke.
He looked around wildly, breathing hard, clearly searching for something else to destroy. His eyes rested on Leonard, and Len felt his heart start to pound. Vulcan rage was so extraordinarily rare that it set him on edge much faster than any Human, or even Klingon tirade ever could. The first time he'd ever seen it, Jim had nearly been killed right in front of him. He held his breath, but Sekar turned back to T'Perran and glared balefully at her. "See if you can get them to take your defective, unruly, un-Vulcan child off your hands now!" he shouted, before turning and running toward the door.
Leonard was stunned, frozen to the spot, but Jim sprang into action instantly. "Wait!" He ran after Sekar and caught him by the arm before he could get out. Sekar jerked back, fists clenched, but Jim backed off and raised his hands immediately. "Give me a chance to talk to you, Sekar," he said. Sekar was startled, no doubt by Jim's complete, almost accent-free mastery of Vulcan. His face flushed a dark green, and he glanced first at Leonard, then at T'Perran, still shaking hard. "I-"
"Don't worry about her right now," he said softly, moving slightly so that he blocked Sekar's view of the caseworker. "Look at me," he said. Sekar swallowed, and looked up into Jim's face. "I want to know who it is you're worried about leaving behind."
Sekar looked down for a moment, then lifted his face again. "It's my sister, sir," he said.
"Sister?" Len cried.
"We didn't see anyone else in the files with your family name," Jim said.
"T'Laria and I are of different fathers," he said.
The name sounded familiar to Leonard, but Jim apparently recognized it right away. "T'Laria's the one you were playing chess with earlier, right? She's your sister?" He nodded.
"Wait, I don't understand this," Leonard said, looking at T'Perran accusingly. "Why wasn't that noted in their files? We never would have tried to separate siblings if we'd known!"
T'Perran looked affronted. "Vulcan documents record the paternal lineage," she said stiffly. "This should be known to you already."
Jim glared at the woman. "Ma'am, that really is immaterial," he said. "Maybe if there was a secondary note somewhere showing that they have the same mother, someone would have offered to adopt them together."
"With all due respect, Captain," T'Perran said coldly. "Most prospective parents are unwilling to adopt even one child Sekar or T'Laria's age. They are certainly unwilling to take two - especially when one has been completely listless and unresponsive in the care of her foster parents, and the other has exhibited violent outbursts of the kind you have just seen."
"But it's because-" Jim stopped himself, and made a visible effort to calm down. "The outburst wasn't entirely invalid," he said more calmly. "I'm certain the fact that they've both been adopted separately has something to do with their... unconventional behavior."
T'Perran allowed herself a slight pursing of the lips, no doubt disapproving of the idea of a "valid" emotional outburst. "That may well be, Captain," she said, her voice still stern and hard. "But he is Vulcan, and such behavior is unheard of, regardless of the situation." She glared openly at Sekar for a moment. "The negative marks on their records stand, and they are a strong deterrent to prospective parents. No one has shown any interest in either of them for nearly two years because of the way they each behaved in their last homes. After this outrageous display," she said, with a disapproving glare at the boy. "I have no doubt that Sekar at least, will have his wish - to remain here until he reaches majority."
"Now hold on," Leonard said. "We never said anything about withdrawing our application."
Jim fixed Len with a brilliant smile. Then, he raised his eyebrows and looked questioningly at him. Leonard nodded once, and the decision was made - right there in half a second of silent communication. Then, Jim turned back to Sekar, who's face had flushed an even deeper green through T'Perran's Vulcan-esque tirade.
"Here's the plan," Jim said. "Go to your room, or to somewhere else where you can be alone. Take a few minutes to calm down, and we'll have T'Laria pulled from class. I want you to talk to her. Find out how she feels about being adopted by the two of us. Explain that we'll be living aboard the Enterprise, and that means both of you will have to obey ship's rules for families. You won't be able to go down on the planet surfaces except on shoreleave. I want you to think about that aspect of it, too. We won't force the two of you to go anywhere, but if you both agree, we'll bring the two of you home with us."
While Jim spoke, Sekar's shaking slowly abated, and he stood still in front of Jim, listening intently. When he finished, Sekar said, "I... thank you, Captain. But... what about..." He glanced toward the broken furniture, then looked back at Jim, eyes intense and filled with a desperate need to believe. "You would still take me after what I did?"
Jim smiled. "Of course I will," he said. "You do know about humans, don't you?" Sekar looked confused. "We're craaaazy!" Jim cried, waving his arms and crossing his eyes as he said it. Leonard couldn't help but laugh, and he was pleased to see Sekar working to suppress a giggle as well. "We're subject to zany emotional outbreaks all the time, right Bones?"
"Right," he answered, still grinning. "Especially you, Jim." Sekar gave him the shadow of a smile. "Besides," Len said seriously. "I'm damned if I know what I'd do if someone tried to take me away from my only living relative."
Sekar lowered his head, and Jim touched his shoulder. "Go on," he said. "Talk it over."
"What about... my punishment?" he asked softly, glancing toward T'Perran.
"We'll take care of everything," Jim said. "Just do as I say, and don't worry about anything else right now." Sekar's face was brightened by a full-on (though brief) grin, before he trained his features back to their "normal" state. "I will, sir." He bowed his head and left the room. Leonard couldn't help but give his husband a proud smile, literally amazed by how he'd managed to transform Sekar's wildly furious behavior into respectful obedience in under five minutes. He was going to make an excellent father.
As a unit, they turned to T'Perran, who stood looking as openly stunned as any adult Vulcan could possibly look. She returned to impassivity almost instantly, and stood with her hands folded beneath the sleeves of her robe. "All right," Jim said. "We want them both."
She shook her head. "Unacceptable. You have only been approved for one child."
"What?" Bones cried.
"You're telling me that can't be amended?" Jim asked.
"It can, but the process will take an additional three weeks," T'Perran said.
"That's absolutely ridiculous!" Leonard snapped.
"Agreed, this needs to be adjusted today. Now!"
T'Perran almost looked flustered. "This... is a most unconventional situation," she said. Leonard couldn't help but think that she sounded more deadpan than usual - as if she were making a strong effort not to sound upset.
"You'll get over it," Jim said. "And Sekar's strong - I'm sure he'll get over being ripped from his own flesh and blood five times, too. Eventually."
Len found himself scowling at the thought. "You talked about detrimental psychological effects of being shunted back and forth, but you never mentioned the trauma this agency's been putting him through!"
"Doctor, this agency does its best to provide a stable environment for our children until-"
"Stable environment!" he scoffed. "Is caning part of that?" Leonard knew very well that many Vulcan families practiced corporal punishment, but it had still enraged him when she'd threatened Sekar with a beating for expressing anger, cultural norms be damned.
T'Perran seethed. "Our methods of discipline are-"
"Enough!" Jim snapped, looking directly at T'Perran. "Enough. We aren't here to pass judgment on the agency." He glanced very briefly, but somewhat sternly at Leonard before turning back to the caseworker. Properly chastised, McCoy made the effort to calm down before he blew up again. "Most of the children here seem healthy and... well-adjusted." Len could tell he'd been about to say "happy", but these were Vulcans, after all.
"Thank you, Captain," she said, just a little bit mollified.
"But I think we can all agree that Sekar and T'Laria are... challenging for you." Her curt nod was the only response. "Well, it seems to me that we have two problems that need solving. You need to find homes for two hard-to-place children. We want to adopt two children. There's a very simple solution to both problems."
"It seems to me, ma'am," Leonard said, putting on the most charming expression he could manage. "Logically speaking, if we are eligible to adopt one child, we should be eligible to adopt two."
"Re-evaluating the financial stability of potential parents requires additional processing, and the authorizations of..."
"T'Perran, it's a simple mathematical calculation. I could do it in my head right now," Jim said. "If we need to sign documents, we will. But we can't wait weeks. We leave spacedock in under one week, and we can't stay planetside for more than a couple of days. Surely there is a way this process can be expedited. If we wait over a week, we'll have to wait over six months before we can divert to the colony again. I can't imagine that the prospect of keeping them for six more months unnecessarily is appealing."
"It certainly couldn't be good for the furniture around here," Leonard said.
T'Perran looked mildly annoyed at the quip, but they were undaunted. Jim smiled. "Think about it, ma'am," he said. "The best option for everyone involved is to expedite this so we can adopt them as soon as possible. It's better for us. It's better for you. It's better for them."
She looked down at her data padd for a moment, though Leonard could swear there was nothing on it. Finally, she looked up. "I will speak with the director."
Two hours, and a ridiculous amount of document signing later, Jim sat in another lounge-like room, Bones beside him, waiting for the arrival of his potential charges. Jim was tense, anxious about the coming meeting. True to her word, T'Perran had spoken to the director and he'd met with Jim and Bones regarding their request. Jim had been far less nervous about that meeting than he was now. They'd were ranking Starfleet officers, and while they weren't rich by any stretch of the imagination, they were certainly financially able to maintain a stable home for two children. Naturally, they had been approved. In fact, Director Selek had nearly shown open relief at the prospect of finally placing his most difficult charge, and seemed positively eager to sign the approval documents.
Jim figured that the two hours of red tape (drastically reduced from three weeks) were enough for Sekar and T'Laria to come to a decision. Even though he was fairly certain they would choose to come with him, he wouldn't be satisfied until he knew for sure. The tiny amount of uncertainty was enough to make him edgy. They'd come so far, and he liked Sekar. But life aboard a Starship wasn't for everyone. What if-
Bones patted him on the leg, reading his mind like no one else could. He gave Len a brief smile, before going back to staring at the door. His nervousness mounted as they waited, and he edged forward when he finally heard the entry chime.
"Enter," T'Perran called.
The door opened, and Sekar entered, followed closely by T'Laria. Jim recalled the things he'd read about her before he'd chosen Sekar. Twelve years old, excellent in mathematics and linguistics, but excessively withdrawn - she was not developing socially as was expected, even of young survivors. Considering the fact that she'd been separated from her older brother and re-traumatized repeatedly since the tragedy, Jim wasn't surprised by reports that she was so withdrawn she rarely spoke, except when it was necessary for her classes.
If any attempt was being made to shield her emotions, T'Laria was certainly not succeeding. She clutched her brother's hand tightly, her arms were trembling, and she looked three times as nervous as Jim felt. Sekar, on the other hand, looked better. He was calm, though his grip on T'Laria's hand was equally tight, and his other arm was wrapped protectively around her shoulders.
Now that he knew they were siblings and he could see them together close up, Jim could see the resemblance despite the obvious difference in skin tone. Their eyes were the same shape, though T'Laria's were much darker. Their faces were shaped the same as well, with the same pointed chins and fairly prominent jaw lines. Jim couldn't help but smile at the thought that the wide jaws and pointed chins were similar to his and Bones' own.
"Sit," T'Perran said, the moment the door closed. "Sekar, your outburst this morning was rude and absolutely inexcusable. I expect you to apologize to our guests." Jim frowned slightly, and he felt Bones shift, but he made a small "no" motion with his hand, and Leonard didn't try to argue. "You should know," T'Perran continued, "that the Director's original plan was to have you caned in the presence of the Captain and the Doctor as punishment for your outburst, and the destruction of agency property." Sekar's face turned a dark shade of green, and he lowered his head, unable to face them. T'Laria drew closer to him, gripping his hand even more tightly. "Captain Kirk and Doctor McCoy have interceded on your behalf, and the Director has agreed that your apology will suffice."
Sekar looked up again, surprised, but no doubt relieved at having been spared the humiliation of being punished in front of them. "I... I apologize, sirs, for behaving poorly in the presence of honored guests."
"I appreciate that, Sekar," Jim said.
"Accepted," Len said.
"Thank you. And... thank you very much for your intercession."
"You're welcome," Bones said. "As I said before, we do understand why you were so upset."
"Now," Jim said. "Did you do as I asked you?"
"Yes, Captain," Sekar said, lowering his eyes again.
"Well?" Leonard asked, tone matching Jim's own state of eagerness and anxiety. "T'Laria, did you think about everything?" The young girl seemed almost startled to have been addressed directly. She nodded, edging closer to her brother. "So, what do you think? Would you like to come and live with us?"
She clutched the arm of the chair, very much as if she were afraid to be the one to announce their decision. Jim smiled at her. "You don't have to be afraid, T'Laria," he said. She looked up at that. Apparently, even if Sekar had told her Jim was fluent in Vulcan, it was still surprising to hear a human speak it so well. "Whatever you decide, we will honor. But would you feel more comfortable if Sekar tells us?"
Sekar glanced up as T'Laria nodded. He looked from Leonard to Jim and said, "We... we would like to come with you, sirs. If you will have us."
"That's wonderful!" Bones said, excitedly.
"I'm thrilled to hear it," Jim said. "And of course we'll have you. We've been waiting months to finally get you home. And we're just as excited to have you coming with us, T'Laria," he said. "We've worked everything out with the Director, and now that we have your consent, we can finish up the paperwork and head out of here."
"Our consent?" T'Laria asked, her soft voice barely above a whisper.
"That's right," Bones replied. "We said we weren't going to force you into anything you didn't want, and we meant that."
"Gentlemen." Jim looked toward T'Perran, who held a stylus out toward them. "If you will both sign here, we can complete the process." Jim stood and glanced over the document. He smiled at the long-winded legal phrases transferring joint custody of both children from the adoption agency to himself and Bones. He initialed in the eight required spaces, and signed at the bottom. Leonard did the same, not even bothering to read anything. T'Perran looked over the document, then looked up at them. "Congratulations gentlemen. Sekar and T'Laria are yours. Information regarding the mandatory probationary period has been sent to the communication code on file."
"Thank you, ma'am," Leonard said.
"And thank you for your help with T'Laria," Jim said, feeing gracious despite his earlier anger.
T'Perran nodded, and beckoned to the children. They stood and approached the desk, where a second stylus was presented to them. "I know you are familiar with this document, but procedures require that I instruct you to read it carefully. This signifies your understanding that Captain Kirk and Doctor McCoy will now have legal custody over you, as ordained by both the United Federation of Planets, and the Vulcan High Council. It also signifies your commitment to treat them with the same level of respect and obedience you would show to your biological parents. Is this understood?"
"Yes, ma'am," they said.
"You may sign here." They did, and T'Perran looked at them with what might almost have been called kindness. "Sekar. T'Laria. Your time with us has most likely not been as pleasant as you would have wished. But I trust that you will now find stability and contentment in your new placement." She stood, and gave them the traditional salute. "Live long and prosper, children."
They returned the parting, and Jim led the way out of the room with a parting nod of thanks to T'Perran. In less than thirty minutes, the children had packed their meager belongings and said goodbye to their friends, while Jim notified the ship that they would be coming back with two charges instead of one. "Two, sir?" had been Scotty's shocked reply.
"That's right," Jim said. "Long story, but the boy we picked had a sister, believe it or not."
"Really? No kiddin'! What's her name?"
"T'Laria, daughter of Sobek. I'll fill you in over drinks, Scotty. We'll be up in a while."
Scotty laughed nervously. "Ahh, ok, sir! Congratulations again."
Jim thanked him and closed the channel. "Weird," Jim muttered.
"What?" Leonard asked, looking over T'Laria's profile again. "Wow, did you know she was part of one of the last evacuation teams?"
"Scotty. He sounded kind of nervous." He shook his head. "And yeah, I saw that. Kind of explains why she'd drop into depression every time they separated her from Sekar." He looked over the file with Bones in silence, beginning to feel distinctly nervous about the prospect of raising children who'd gone through so much horror.
Bones suddenly flipped off the PADD, and turned to Jim. "You're going to be such an excellent father," he said with a smile.
Jim laughed. "When did you learn to read minds?"
"I didn't. That's for our kids to do, remember? I was just thinking about how you were in there."
"Well, you have pretty good timing, because I was just going through a minor freak-out, thinking maybe I would fail horribly at it."
It was Bones' turn to laugh. "If it wouldn't get me stared at by every Vulcan in this place, I'd smack you across the head," he said. "Don't be ridiculous."
"But they've been through so much, and-"
"And so have you. So have all of us. I'm not saying the trials in my life can hold a candle to what they've been through, but Jim, your career puts you in the path of crisis after crisis. This is an adventure, and a challenge, right? And facing challenges head on is what being a Starfleet officer is all about, right? Isn't that what you told me?"
"Yeah, I might have said that. Still..."
"You'll be fine." Jim smiled, slowly allowing himself to be convinced. He gave Bones a brief hug, and kissed him. "Besides," he said, kissing him again. "You've got me, remember? I'll put a nice big band-aid over all your screw-ups."
Jim shoved him away, but there was a playful smile on his face. "Of course, how could I forget?" Before he could say more, Sekar approached them, followed closely by T'Laria. Each carried a small case, barely large enough for a week's worth of clothes. "Is that everything?" Jim asked.
"Yes, sir," Sekar replied. "We have taken leave of our friends here, and we are prepared to go with you."
"We won't be able to come back to the colony again for at least six months," Leonard said. "Is there anything you'd like us to pick up before we go?"
"We have a few things for you already," Jim said. "And we have a meditation area set up for you, but it's pretty sparse. If you need anything that can't be replicated, we should get it now."
Sekar glanced at T'Laria, but she stayed quiet. "Yes, there are some things we would like," he said. "There is a shop not far from here."
They took the children to the shop Sekar directed them to, and told the children to pick whatever they wanted. Jim watched them carefully as they made their way through the store. T'Laria did not move even one foot away from Sekar throughout the trip, and she refused to touch anything herself. If she wanted something, she asked Sekar what he thought first, and deferred to his opinion. In the end, their selections were modest. They picked out two incense holders, and a few other artifacts for the meditation area. T'Laria suggested a chess set, and with a questioning look at Jim, Sekar included it in their basket. They showed interest in a few other quiet, two to four-person games, but only picked up one of them - a traditional Vulcan game that reminded him of a rubix cube, but which had seven sides, seemed to be for two players, and looked like it would frustrate the hell out of him. Bones seemed to be shocked at the minimalist purchases, but Jim didn't press them to choose more - wanting to put as little pressure on them as possible. When they finished at the store, Jim took the rented car back to the nearest public transporter site and signaled to the Enterprise that they were ready to come back up.
When they materialized aboard the ship, Scotty was there to greet them. He smiled broadly. "Welcome back, Captain. Doctor. And these must be the bairns!"
Jim chuckled. "Sekar, T'Laria, this is Commander Scott."
"Welcome aboard," he said. "Here, Mr. Leslie, will you take their things to their quarters, please?"
The security officer took their bags, and Scotty beckoned to them. "Come along, and we'll give you the grand tour of the ship."
"Is that all right with you two," Bones asked. "I know you've had kind of a long day."
"Yes?" Sekar asked his sister. She nodded, and Sekar said, "We would very much like to see the ship now, sir."
"Perfect! Come along then." Scotty led the way, and Jim followed behind while the children looked about them in wonder. He explained where certain major departments were as they walked, but didn't actually enter any of them. Eventually, Jim noticed that they were headed to the recreation rooms. "Here's where we have all our fun," he said, as they headed toward the first door. "We've got table games, holovids, even a few group sport teams. In you go," he said allowing the children to go in first.
The doors opened, and the children stepped in, followed by Bones and Jim. "SURPRISE!!!"
Jim jumped, and looked around in... well, surprise at the group of people grinning at them from inside the rec room. The children were looking up, and Jim followed their gaze. There was a large banner hanging from the ceiling that read "Welcome aboard, Sekar and T'Laria!!" Jim suddenly understood why Scotty had seemed nervous when he mentioned the extra addition to the family.
"What in the name of-" Bones was clearly stunned.
"You sneaky bastard," Jim whispered, grinning.
"Aye, sir, if you say so," Scotty said with a laugh.
Uhura was the first to break away from the small group. She smiled at the two teens. "Welcome to the Enterprise," she said. "I'm-"
"Lieutenant Uhura," Sekar said breathlessly. "I... it is a pleasure to meet you, ma'am."
Her smile brightened. "The pleasure's mine," she said. She glanced at T'Laria, who had again moved close to her brother. "We know Vulcans aren't usually big on surprise parties," she said. "But we thought you might like to meet the people your new parents spend most of their time with." She winked conspiratorially and leaned just a little closer to them. "And we knew it would frustrate Dr. McCoy," she said in a stage whisper.
Bones grunted and Jim couldn't help but laugh. "All right, Lieutenant," he said. "You got us."
She smiled and gave him a tight hug. "Congratulations, Jim."
"Thank you so much," he said. While she gave Bones his congratulatory hug, and he began a good natured tirade, Jim beckoned to the wide-eyed children and introduced them to the crew who'd been invited. They'd wisely kept the party fairly small, inviting only those closest to them - Chekov, Sulu, Keenser, a few other members of the regular Alpha shift, and of course, Spock and Amanda. Jim noted that, though the children seemed fairly nervous during the introductions, they were almost petrified when they met Spock. They greeted him with utmost deference, which Jim knew to expect. Even if he had not been named one of the Heroes of the Destruction, Spock was a member of an extremely powerful and respected household, and most Vulcans would have been expected to greet him in the same way.
"It is my hope that your journey was free of incident," Spock said.
"It was, thank you, sir. I... ask forgiveness for our emotional-"
"Please do not mention it, Sekar," Spock said. "It is the nature of the 'surprise party' to elicit emotional response from the intended victims."
Spock closed his eyes briefly, in his closest approximation of a long-suffering expression. Jim suppressed a grin as Spock gestured toward her. "I present you my daughter, Amanda."
The eight-year-old bowed slightly, then smiled up at them with an ease that spoke more of Nyota's influence than her caramel skin and curved eyebrows ever could. "Nice meeting you. C'mon, I'll show you where the best games are."
Sekar and his sister looked questioningly at Jim, and he nodded. "Go ahead, enjoy yourselves."
They followed the exuberant child toward "the best games", and Jim watched them walk away, noting that they seemed less tense already. He kept an eye on them while he chatted with his friends over drinks and a vegetarian party spread. By the time the gathering was over, they'd become comfortable enough to separate briefly. Sekar returned to the table, and was soon in deep conversation with Spock and Chekov about whatever it was scientists liked to talk about, while T'Laria and Amanda played 3-D checkers.
Eventually, Jim decided it was time to let his charges get some rest. He thanked everyone again for the party, and lead Sekar and T'Laria toward their quarters. He smiled warmly at Bones when he heard T'Laria whisper to her brother, "I like it here."
Leonard opened his eyes and looked at the chronometer automatically. It was just past one in the morning. Why the hell was he awake? Then he heard it. A soft sound, coming from the adjoining room. He looked at Jim, but his husband was dead asleep, breathing heavily. He slipped out of the bed, threw on a shirt and walked softly to the door that led to the kids' rooms. He stepped inside and stood still, listening carefully. He heard it again - a sound like a small gasp.
He walked in slowly, finding it easy enough to navigate the spartan rooms. The sounds lead him to T'Laria's room, which had been swiftly converted from an auxiliary room when they realized they would be housing two children. She was sitting up in bed, clutching her pillow to her chest, rocking slightly. Leonard moved toward her, and she gasped when she caught sight of him. Her face was streaked with tears, and she looked away from him, embarrassed.
Len approached the bed. "May I sit down?" he said, voice barely above a whisper. She nodded slightly, and he sat at the foot of her bed. "Nightmare?" She nodded again. "Want to tell me about it?" She shuddered and shook her head, swallowing past a whimper. "When I was young, and I used to have nightmares, my mother would always tell me the nicest, happiest story she could think of. Then she'd make me a cup of warm milk and stay with me until I fell asleep." T'Laria frowned slightly and Leonard recalled that Vulcans weren't too fond of dairy products. "What do you say to a cup of spiced apple cider?"
"Yes, please, sir," she whispered.
"Okay, you set tight." He replicated the drink, making sure it wasn't too hot to drink, and came back to T'Laria's room. She'd dried her eyes, but still clutched the pillow tightly. She let it go reluctantly so that she could take the drink. While she sipped at it, Len told one of the many stories his mother had made up - he remembered each one in vivid detail. He chose one that featured some cheery scenery, and replaced the handsome prince with a beautiful princess. Slowly, she began to calm down, and she looked just a bit drowsy.
When her hand fell slack, Len took the cup from her and set it on her nightstand. He reached for the blankets to tuck her in, and was surprised to see her looking calmly up at him. She bit her lip slightly, as if she were undecided about something. Then suddenly, she stood up and wrapped her arms tightly around his chest. Leonard gasped, then smiled brightly as he wrapped his arms around her and squeezed her tight. He felt a warm glow filling him, and he could feel the sting of tears reaching his eyes. He released her when he felt her loosening her grip. There were tears in her eyes again, and she looked at him with something like pleading in her eyes. Leonard didn't need words to understand her. He sat down at the head of her bed and patted the mattress. She got in, somehow managing to lie beside him and snuggle into his chest in the tiny bed. Len pulled the covers up around her, draped his arm over her, and picked up the story where he'd left off, until he felt her breathing get slow and regular.
He talked for a few minutes more, just to be sure she didn't wake up, then stopped, and considered getting some sleep himself. Before he could figure out how to get more comfortable without disturbing T'Laria, he sensed movement, and looked toward the doorway. Jim was there, smiling at the two of them. Len smiled back, and Jim gave him a thumbs up. Leonard rolled his eyes, but his smile never faltered. Jim crept in, picked up the cider cup, and quietly kissed him. "Good night, Papa," he said softly.
"Night, Daddy," he whispered.
He watched Jim walk softly out of the room, then looked back down at T'Laria. His daughter. The thought filled him with joy, and he rested his hand on her mass of curly black hair and smiled. He leaned awkwardly against the bulkhead and closed his eyes, reflecting on the fact that that private little ten-second embrace was worth so much more than the back ache and sore muscles he knew he was going to wake up with. He'd convinced himself that he would never experience such an embrace with either of them, and it meant the world to him that he'd been wrong. He hoped all his other fears would be as easily erased. Still, even if they weren't, he knew he was up to the challenge. After all, facing challenges head on was what being a Starfleet officer was all about.