Dedication II: The Wrath of Khan
The hand that gripped Leonard's throat was large and strong. He felt the touch of a blade against his skin, pressing almost hard enough to cut. His fear spiked, but his outrage overrode any sense of danger to himself. How dare this man attack him? How dare he repay the rescue of a drifting ship, and the restoration of life by stealing one of Leonard's antique scalpels and threatening him with it?
He scowled down at the serious, tan-skinned titan. "Move it up a little, just under the left ear," he hissed through his partially constricted airway. "It'll be more effective."
The man laughed and released him. "A healer with no fear," he said, still smiling. "I have arisen to a pleasing future. Did you say... two hundred years have passed?"
McCoy pursed his lips and all but snatched the scalpel from the man's hand. "I'm so pleased you approve," he said.
The man didn't respond to his sarcasm. He simply smiled and relaxed against the pillow, hands resting behind his head. "Please answer my question, Doctor," he said, his tone casual and friendly.
Leonard gritted his teeth. "Yes, you've been in stasis in your ship for around two centuries. We believe-"
"Bring your commander to me," he said, turning his eyes to the ceiling. "I have many questions."
McCoy clenched his fists and resisted the urge to throw something at the man. Do no harm. Do no harm. Do no harm. He chanted to himself while he carefully removed the display case of antique surgical tools, placed the scalpel back and locked the case in a compartment in his office. Once he felt secure again, he made a call to the bridge. "Captain, could you come to Sickbay, please? You've got a patient here with many questions."
"He's up?" Jim's excitement would have been infectious except for the fact that Leonard's throat was still throbbing. "Great, Bones, I'll be right down."
The connection closed, and Bones glanced out at their patient, still relaxed and confident like a king on a damned reclining throne. He sighed. This is not gonna end well.
Sometimes, Leonard wished his first impressions weren't right so damned often. Now, seated at a conference table with one of Khan's genius level meatheads behind him, forced to watch while they dragged Jim in from wherever they'd been holding him, McCoy fervently wished he'd shot his oath to hell and killed the man where he lay that first day. Khan smiled his charismatic smile, and he looked like he could have charmed the devil himself. The man had such a striking bearing and countenance that he could almost see why Lieutenant McGivers had been convinced to betray them. Almost.
Khan's men lifted a struggling Jim, and slammed him down on a low bench that had been placed at the front of the room, just below the main viewscreen. McCoy, Spock and Scotty jumped to their feet, but were immediately shoved back into their seats - though it did take two of them to force Spock down. Two men restrained Jim, binding his hands and feet to the legs of the bench. McCoy felt his heart start to pound as Jim struggled futilely against the bonds.
Khan's smile seemed to grow brighter. "I see that I have gone about this the wrong way," he said. "Suffocating together on the bridge has created a sort of heroic commaraderie among you. But you are loyal to your captain, and you will not want him to suffer."
"You'll never get my crew to give up this ship, Khan," Jim snapped, sounding as confident and commanding as ever, even from his prostrate position on the bench.
"But you are wrong, Captain," Khan said. "I have already won your ship's historian. More will follow." He looked at Spock. "You for example, Mister Spock. You are strong - stronger even than we - and your intelligence is impressive. Join me, and I will release your captain."
Spock stiffened. "Even if I believed you, I would not join you. I have no desire to assist you in conquering a populated world."
Khan's glare was nearly as effective as his smile, but Spock, of course, was unaffected. Jim, who'd craned his neck to watch the exchange, smiled broadly. Khan approached him, and untied his right leg. Jim tried to kick, but he was about as effective as the average ten year old against Khan's super-human strength. Khan lifted Jim's leg as high as he could, then slammed it down onto the bench. Even Jim's scream and the cries of the bridge crew couldn't drown out the sound of breaking bone. Leonard was shoved back into his seat again, and he hadn't even been conscious of standing. Jim gritted his teeth, and made no more sound after the initial cry of shock.
"Your captain is strong," Khan said, turning back to the assembled crew. "But no man is invincible. I have broken his ankle. His shin will be next, then his knee, and so on, until you relent. I cannot accept that you would watch the torture of your own commander and do nothing to help him." He looked around at the table - making eye contact with each of them in turn. "I ask you again. Which of you will join me?" No one answered, and Khan shook his head. "Pity."
He walked slowly back to where Jim lay. McGivers lowered her eyes, but the rest of the crew seemed riveted to the scene. Khan deliberately took hold of Jim's swelling ankle. Jim gasped, but clamped down on any further sound. He couldn't stop the agonized cry when Khan stomped down on Jim's shin, cracking the bone at the halfway point between his knee and ankle. Khan dropped his leg again, and Leonard shuddered. Now, Uhura and Chekov were both staring down at the table, jaws tensed. Spock, Sulu and Scotty both stared at Khan, and there was murder in their eyes.
Leonard turned his eyes to Jim. He was panting now, fists clenched tight, staring at the ceiling. "Will none among you take pity on your commander?" Khan asked.
"Don't... give in," Jim said, through gasps of pain. "I... kn-now it's hard, but... you... you're doing.... great."
Leonard struggled against tears at the sound of Jim encouraging them, when he was the one being broken piece by piece. Khan watched them all for a few more seconds. His gaze settled on McCoy. Perhaps his emotions were showing through too clearly. "What about you?" the man asked. "A man of medicine, willing to allow such torture? Will you not spare your captain further pain? Join me."
Leonard clenched his teeth and glared. He could feel the others looking at him - they knew more than Khan ever could, how hard this was for him. But he'd never betray Jim - never. Even if that meant watching... His stomach clenched. He shook his head slowly. "Never."
Jim let out a sound that might have been relief, or triumph, and Leonard smiled. That seemed to enrage Khan. "This is futile!" he cried, slamming his fist against the desk. "You will succumb!"
"Logic dictates that the contrary is true, Khan," Spock said calmly. "It is clear that you have recognized our loyalty to Captain Kirk. To join you and relinquish this ship to your uses would be to betray that very loyalty."
"We will see," he shouted, face a mask of pure fury. He turned back to Jim, but this time, he was clearly infuriated and out of control. Khan slammed his foot down on Jim's knee, and Leonard again heard the sickening crack of breaking bone, and the heart-wrenching cry from Jim. But Khan didn't stop there - he kicked at Jim's leg again and again, actually knocking over the bench in his rage. He yanked away the restraints, shoving the bench out of his way and continuing his assault on Jim's leg. Jim pulled himself back, but it was useless - Khan followed relentlessly until every crewman at the table was straining against the guards, trying to come to his aide.
"Stop, please stop!" The frantic cry had come from McGivers herself, after Khan slammed his foot down with all his force on Jim's hip.
Khan did stop then, and turned a baleful eye on the woman. Jim collapsed against the floor, groaning and clenching his fists tightly together. "Just hold on, Jim," Leonard said.
"Silence!" Khan glared at them. "Why are they not seated?" Leonard and the others were unceremoniously shoved back down, and Khan looked again at McGivers. "Marla. You have chosen me. If you are to be with me, you must be loyal, is that clear?"
She looked from Khan to Jim, then back again. "I... of... of course."
"Good. You men, take him to the chamber."
The two who'd brought Jim in grabbed him by his arms and legs and lifted him. He cried out at the rough treatment, but managed to turn his face to the crew. "Don't give... no matter what he... the ship... first."
He could barely speak, but Leonard understood him clearly - no matter what he does to me, the ship comes first. His stomach churned, and he could feel the blood rushing, pounding in his head. They were going to kill Jim. They were going to kill him, and saving him would be to betray everything Jim - everything they all believed in. Oh God.
Khan waited, arms folded, staring down at the overturned bench until one of the men came back in. "He's ready, sir." Khan nodded, and the guard looked toward Uhura. "You're the communications officer?" She didn't answer, but he didn't seem to care. "Activate the viewscreen," he commanded.
Uhura scowled, clenched her fists, and stayed where she was. The guard smacked her hard across the face. Eyes flashed between her and Spock - but he sat still, hands folded carefully in front of him. Leonard knew Spock well enough to catch the deep-seeded rage that flashed in his eyes before he managed to eradicate even that subtle display of emotion. Uhura stood up slowly and spat at her attacker, leaving a bloody splotch on his shirt. He growled and reached back to slap her again, and Uhura glared at him, almost daring him to strike. Before he could hit her again, McGivers stood up suddenly.
"Stop! I'll do it."
Khan made a sign for the guard to stop, and Uhura sat down again, fury still shining in her eyes. McGivers turned on the main viewscreen, and they were shown the emergency decompression chamber. Leonard's stomach did another flip-flop. Jim was inside, leaning heavily against the wall, struggling with the door's inner latch. He watched in horror as Jim slowly exhausted himself, and the oxygen level in the chamber depleted.
McGivers tensed, and turned away from the screen. "Must I be forced to watch this?"
"You may go," Khan said, frowning at her. "Though I'd hoped you would be stronger."
McGivers glanced at him, then hurried out of the room. Coward, Leonard thought. His eyes turned back to the screen, almost against his will. He felt like a coward himself. He didn't want to watch. Didn't want to see the end of this life - the life he loved with all his heart and soul. But he couldn't turn away. He owed it to Jim to watch, just as Jim had watched him die a painful, tortured death without ever turning his eyes away.
Khan was talking - still trying to convince them to join his cause. "It will only take one of you," he said. "Just ONE, and I will let him live."
No one responded. They stared at the viewscreen. Leonard could feel his hands starting to shake. Jim was on the verge of losing consciousness, and after that, it would only be a few seconds - a minute at most. Then, suddenly, the screen grayed out. Khan frowned, and the guard pressed a few random buttons on the control panel, to no avail. "We've lost picture," he said nervously. He looked at Uhura. "How do I get it back?"
She ignored him, but Khan intervened before the man could strike her again. "It doesn't matter. Kirk is dead." Leonard shuddered and gripped the desk tightly to keep from vaulting at Khan, or passing out, or crying, or some combination of the three. Khan looked at all of them again, then nodded his head toward Spock. "Take him next."
Uhura watched him intently as they took him away, but didn't make a move. They waited in silence for what seemed like ages. Leonard struggled to hold onto himself, while the others were deep within their own thoughts. After a while, Khan frowned. "Where are they," he whispered. He toggled the communications board. "Armory, this is Khan. Report." There was no answer. He frowned. "Rodriguez. Ling! McPherson. Anyone, report status!"
A hissing noise interrupted Khan, and Leonard looked up. Smoke flowed in through the vents, and Leonard smiled, even as the smell began to affect him. Jim! He caught sight of Khan running out the door. He took a deep breath, held it, and followed, slipping away from his guard in the resulting chaos.
The smoke was clearer in the halls, and Leonard was able to breathe without feeling drowsy. He caught sight of Khan running in the direction of Engineering. Leonard ran in the opposite direction, knowing that he couldn't hope to stop Khan alone, and that he had a higher priority in the decompression room. He ran as fast as he could, making it to Auxiliary Medical in half the time it usually took. He could have cried when he saw Jim, laying on the floor outside the chamber, with Spock kneeling over him.
"How is he? Is he..."
"I'm alive, Bones," Jim said, voice soft and strained.
"Oh, thank God!" Spock moved out of the way, and Bones dropped to his knees beside Jim. Sweating, in obvious pain, breathing relatively normal. His mind cataloged Jim's symptoms, even in the midst of his internal thank you, thank you, thank you mantra. "What happened?"
"We..." Jim winced.
"We attempted to flood the upper decks with anesthetic gas," Spock supplied. "But your presence here seems to suggest that we were not successful."
Bones shook his head, checking Jim's vitals manually. "It worked." Heart rate elevated. "Khan got out and so did I." Trembling in upper extremities. He tore his eyes away from Jim and looked up at Spock. "He went toward Engineering."
Spock's eyes widened almost imperceptibly. "Captain, he could-"
"Go, Spock," Jim said, reaching for him, and grunting in pain for his effort. "Save her… save..."
Spock was already gone, speeding down the hall at a pace Leonard had never before seen him take. He focused his full attention back on Jim. "He's got it, Jim," Leonard said, speaking calmly, but with enough force to draw Jim's attention away from the hall.
Jim smiled at him. "I'm s-so… p-roud of you."
"I'm proud of you," he said. "We all are." He glanced down, finally daring to look at Jim's leg. He managed, somehow, not to let the horror show on his face. Jim's leg was misshapen, mangled almost beyond recognition, except for the shape given to it by the Starfleet issue slacks. He clamped down on nausea. He hadn't seen an injury so severe in a long time, and the fact that it was Jim made it feel ten times worse. "Jim, I have to get you something for the pain, and to keep you from going into shock, all right?"
"Okay," Jim said tightly.
"I'll be less than a minute." He squeezed Jim's arm and moved quickly to the appropriate cabinets in Aux Medical. Everything he needed for emergency triage was available, and he gathered his tools quickly and raced back to Jim's side.
The trembling had increased, and Jim was staring down at his leg, eyes wide. Leonard gently touched his face and guided his gaze up away from the injury. His eyes were filled with fear. "Bones?"
"I will take care of you, Jim," he replied, speaking gently, but with the confidence he'd learned to inject into his voice though years of medical training and practice - the confidence that made men believe they would be just fine, whether they would or not. Leonard dosed Jim with an anti-shock compound, followed immediately by a powerful analgesic. He placed an automatic oxygen mask over Jim's mouth and nose to help reverse the damage from the decompression chamber. "Just try to relax," he said, speaking slowly. "Spock will take care of the ship, and I'll take care of you. You've done all you can do now. Now you just lie still and relax. I'll get you fixed up as soon as I can." He continued to speak slowly and softly to Jim about nothing in particular, until the shots took effect, and Jim finally lost consciousness.
Leonard sat with him and waited. He hoped like hell that Spock was the victor, but there wasn't much he could do without first knowing whether the other decks were still filled with gas, or where anyone was. It seemed an eternity before Spock finally appeared, a medical team complete with anti-grav gurney in tow. "God bless you, Spock, I don't think I've ever been happier to see you!"
"Likewise, Doctor," Spock said, surprising Leonard with the uncharacteristic admission of emotion. "We were not certain that all of Khan's men had been accounted for until a few moments ago."
"Thank God," he said. "It's the right leg," Leonard said needlessly, as his staff members carefully transferred Jim onto the stretcher. "I need him prepped for surgery immediately."
He walked after them, Spock beside him. "What happened?"
"He attempted to destroy the ship," Spock said calmly. "I intervened, and he has been detained, along with his followers."
"I'd like to shoot the whole lot of them through an airlock," McCoy muttered.
"Although I do not necessarily agree with your suggestion, I share your sentiment, Doctor. However, Captain Kirk has promised Lieutenant McGivers that he will not kill Khan."
"What? That traitorous-"
"She engineered the malfunction of the viewscreen in order to rescue the captain."
"And if she hadn't betrayed him in the first place-" He sighed. "Forget it, it's a moot point anyway." They entered Medical bay, and Leonard stopped, letting the nurses take Jim to a surgery room without him. He looked at Spock, seeing the unspoken question in the First Officer's eyes. "I checked him over while you were dealing with Khan," he said softly. "It isn't good."
"Will he live?" Spock asked, his eyes bright with a piercing intensity.
"Yes, I don't think he's in danger of death. He was freed from the chamber before he lost too much oxygen. But his leg…"
Nurse Smith stepped out of the operation room. "He's ready, sir."
Leonard nodded and looked back at Spock's terse expression. "I'll keep you informed."
~ ~ ~
Jim opened his eyes slowly, and Leonard smiled. "How you feeling?"
"The ship," Jim said. "Are we-"
"Out of danger, Jim," Leonard said. "They're in the brig. Spock's awaiting word from you, but I wanted to talk to you first."
Jim frowned slightly. "What is it? You have a look."
"You haven't told me how you feel, Jim. Are you experiencing any nausea? Any-"
"I feel fine, Bones. Which means I must be on some serious pain killers."
"You are," he replied. He looked at Jim for a long moment, trying to find the right words for what he had to say next,
Finally, Jim shook his head. "Maybe you should sit down, Bones," he said softly. "You have something to say that I'm not going to like."
Bones couldn't help but smile at the odd role reversal, but he did take a seat. "You're right, Jim," he said. "And I... I'm sorry there's not an easy way to say this."
Jim rubbed Len's hand. "It's all right. Just say it."
The doctor glanced down for a moment, dredging up a few more ounces of courage, then looked Jim in the eye. "Your leg was completely crushed, Jim. I was able to restore some of the bone, but there are places where… well..."
"Tell me," Jim said softly.
Bones swallowed, and forced himself to pretend that Jim wasn't his partner of over ten years, but any patient. Empathy and professionalism. "There are places along the breaks that can't be restored."
"Not… not even with the osteo-regen machine?"
"I'm afraid not, Jim. Those machines have to have something to work with, and there are places that are simply void of any bone material at all now. We can insert synthetic replacements, but..." Leonard paused again, but gritted his teeth and forced himself to continue. "Your mobility will be permanently reduced by these injuries, Jim. I'm very sorry."
Jim swallowed, and his face grew pale. "When you say mobility… I… I won't be able to walk again?"
"With therapy, you will," Bones replied. "But you will have stiffness, you may have a limp, and the… you may not be able to run anymore, and certain oth-"
"In other words, I'm not fit to captain this ship anymore," Jim said.
Leonard felt the corners of his mouth turn down slowly, and his vision blurred with tears despite himself. "I'm sorry, Jim." Jim exhaled slowly, and he gazed at his own hands for a few moments. "I… I won't be upset if you want a second opinion."
Jim looked at him, and smiled his lopsided smile, though tears had filled his eyes, too. "I don't need someone else to tell me the truth, Bones. I trust you more than anyone else in this universe." He looked down again, then reached for Bones. Leonard came immediately, and embraced him, holding him as tightly as he dared. "I love you, Bones. I've had eight good years with this ship. Ten if you count the..." Leonard nodded. They hadn't really found words for the years Jim spent living and grieving after Leonard had been killed on Veris III.
"I know, but I… I just, if I could-"
"I know, Bones," he said. "But this isn't your fault. And I'll be fine." He pulled Len away from him so he could look him in the eye. "I've got my second chance with you, and that's all that really matters to me."
Leonard smiled through his tears. "You're the strongest man I've ever known," he said softly. "But I know how much you love this ship. If… don't feel like you aren't allowed to grieve, Jim."
Jim nodded, and the few tears that had been shining in his eyes finally fell. "I'm tired, Bones," he said. "Can I-"
"Sure. I'll see that you aren't disturbed. Can I just ask you one more thing?"
"It's about the prisoners. This may not be the best time to ask, but Spock's been waiting for you to wake up. He's found an uninhabited planet that can support human life. He wants to know if you approve of sending them there to begin a colony - with Starfleet's consent, of course."
He frowned, and clenched his fists. After a moment, he seemed to relax, and looked at Bones again. "That's fine, just get them the hell off this ship. And McGiver goes with him. I'm suggesting we quarantine the planet, too. Obviously, they're dangerous. There's no guarantee they won't try to travel off that planet and take over an inhabited planet if they get their hands on a ship again."
"I'll give Spock the message, Jim," Leonard said. He stroked Jim's arm, and pulled the covers up higher. "Rest now, okay?"
Jim chuckled. "You're tucking me in?"
"Somebody's got to take care of you," he said softly.
"Of course," Jim replied. He leaned back and allowed himself to be tucked. Leonard stood by the bedside until Jim's breathing regulated, and the readouts on the biobed told him Jim was asleep.
He left the room, and prepared to write the one medical report he'd hoped never to have to make.
"…saying you don't want to-"
"I'm sorry," Leonard said, glancing from Jim to Spock. "I can come back."
"No, it's okay," Jim said. "Spock?"
"Your presence would not be adverse to me, Doctor," Spock said.
Leonard nodded, and proceeded to check Jim's readings, and the osteo-regenerator's status while they talked.
"I don't understand your reticence," Jim said, more calmly this time.
"Captain. The last time I acted as captain aboard this ship for more than a few hours, I..." He glanced at Leonard, but Len focused his attention back on the regen machine. "My performance left much to be desired," he said.
"What, are you talking about the Nero incident?"
"Spock, that was over fourteen years ago! You were captain for four years when..." Jim frowned, and Leonard looked up at him. This was the second time today that Jim had slipped and referred to the Veris III years.
"Jim," Spock said softly. "It was only eight years ago, and..."
"I know," Jim said. He shook his head and waved his hands dismissively. "Look, that's not the point. I know you have it in you to command. You've done it lots of times after Nero, and come on! You're judging your fitness based on an event that happened eight years ago, and on a command that was thrust on you at the same time your planet was destroyed, and your mother was killed! You're not being fair to yourself, Spock. If another crew member had your references, and he had proven himself far more than competent time and time again, but he'd made one error almost a decade ago under highly unusual circumstances, would you hold that one thing against him?"
Spock seemed to consider this for a few moments. "I… do not think that would be a logical thing to do," he said at last.
"But, Jim, I enjoy the freedom that I currently have to work on my scientific research. If-"
"Delegate, Spock! There are lots of tasks I do that I don't have to, because I just want to do them. Use your yeoman - get an extra one, you're entitled to that. Then you can spend about as much time on science as you do now."
"Spock, please. Just… all I'm asking you to do is to consider it. I trust you with this ship. I don't want to have to hand her over to anyone else. You're fully capable of command, and you deserve this position. Will you at least think about it?"
Spock nodded once. "I will consider it, Captain."
"Thank you, Spock." There was relief in Jim's voice, as if the decision had been made already. Spock nodded to McCoy and left the room.
"Think he'll do it?" Leonard asked.
"I hope so," Jim replied. He looked down at the regen cast. "How's that coming?"
"Not bad," Leonard replied. "You should be able to start physical therapy as soon as the swelling goes down completely - maybe a few days more."
"Good." Jim leaned back and sighed. "I got a communication from Command today."
"Oh?" Leonard stopped what he was doing and looked at Jim. "What did they tell you?"
"I've received a commendation for valor," he said. "And…" He let out a mirthless chuckle. "They've recommended I be promoted to Admiral, believe it or not."
Leonard's eyes widened. "Wow."
"Mmhmm. They're willing to give me a posting on Earth. Extended medical leave at first, of course, but when I'm ready, they basically said that whatever I want to do, I can do."
Len smiled. "They love you, Jim - you could tell them you want to yodel all day and they'd probably pay you for it."
Jim laughed, and Leonard was pleased to see him feeling genuinely happy, if only for a moment. And, indeed, it lasted only that brief moment, and Jim was somber again. He looked at Bones for several seconds. Finally, he said, "We'll be at Starbase Two in a couple of days," he said.
"I know," Leonard replied.
"I… I guess that's..." He cleared his throat. "I mean… they're going to drop me off, and another ship will take me home."
"I know, Jim," Leonard said. "I've already started packing our things up. Kind of sad, really, but..."
"Yeah. I..." Jim snapped his head up suddenly. "Wait, did you say our things?"
"Of course," he said. "What? Did you think you were going back by yourself?"
Jim gaped at him, somewhere between smiling and crying. "But Bones, what about… this is a prestigious position! You… I'll be okay if you want to finish the mission."
"What the hell makes you think I want to go traipsing around the galaxy for two more years without you? Yeah, this a great position, and I love my staff, but it's all nothing if I can't be with you, Jim. I applied for a transfer the same day I sent Starfleet Command your medical report."
Jim's stunned expression melded into a beaming smile. "You're a sneaky little bastard, you know that?"
Leonard just laughed.
Getting settled in didn't take long. Jim was given housing near Starfleet Academy - a large, single-story, four-bedroom affair, with a front and back yard, and completely outfitted for wheelchair access. Leonard was offered housing as well, but declined, notifying Starfleet that he'd been offered a room in Jim's new house. Since he would remain Jim's attending physician, and he was officially "on leave" as far as everyone else was concerned, it made sense for him to stay close.
Starfleet promoted Leonard to a full Commander, and held a ceremony for his promotion, as well as that of six other ranking officers, and for Jim's advancement to Admiral. Leonard was surprised and pleased to see that Admiral Pike had been chosen to preside over the ceremony, and to present Jim's medal of honor. Pike had long since recovered from his own injuries, and had advanced to Fleet Admiral just a few years ago.
Leonard swelled with pride at the sight of Jim, wearing the white and gray uniform, sitting up at attention in his chair as his many accomplishments were listed. Leonard's mother, Lenora, was in the audience, sitting right next to Winona. He wished his father were alive to see them both, but in the three years since he'd passed away, Leonard had finally come to acceptance - mostly through the stalwart support of his partner. It had been a surprise, since Jim had seemed almost more stricken than Bones had been when he'd first broken the news.
Both of their remaining parents were practically vibrating with excitement, and Leonard couldn't blame them. He was proud to be promoted to Commander, but he was even more excited for Jim. Even though he knew that Jim would have taken the Enterprise and the full use of his leg over a promotion any day, he was still proud of all Jim had done in his relatively short time out in space. He applauded when Pike pinned the medal of valor on Jim's chest, next to the four others he'd earned throughout his career.
"Congratulations, Admiral Kirk," Pike said. "Starfleet and the Federation are honored by your dedicated service, and we're glad to have you home."
"Thank you, sir."
There was thunderous applause, and Leonard was strongly reminded of their first triumphant return after the Nerada incident. After the ceremony, there was a celebratory dinner with the parents, and there was even a message from Spock (Captain Spock, Leonard thought with a smile), timed to arrive on just the right day, congratulating Jim and promising that the entire ship would watch the broadcast when it reached them.
For Leonard, the day couldn't have been more perfect. Jim was feeling positive, their mothers were chattering away and full of praise for both of them, and they were in good spirits all around. Lenora and Winona came home with them and spent several more hours talking, before Jim seemed to grow tired, and the women said their goodbyes and went home.
Jim yawned, and smiled at Leonard. "Gonna carry me to bed?" he asked.
Leonard shook his head and pulled Jim close, kissing him deeply. "You taste like wine."
"You taste like bourbon," Jim countered.
Leonard kissed him again, and stood up. "You're lucky I'm feeling generous, kid," he said, sliding his arm behind Jim's back. Jim wrapped his arm around Leonard's neck and settled next to him, laughing softly.
"I'm thirty-four years old, Bones. When are you going to stop calling me 'kid'?"
"Not sure. When are you going to stop being younger than me?" Jim laughed again and kissed Bones' neck as he lifted him off the couch. "Physical bribery will get you nowhere, Jim," he said with a smile. "When we start up physical therapy again tomorrow, I'm not gonna give any quarter, y'hear?"
"Sir, yes, sir," he said with a laugh. "I wouldn't expect anything less, Doctor."
"Good," Leonard said sternly. They reached the bedroom, and the movement sensor activated and swished the door open so that Leonard didn't have to let go of Jim. He laid Jim gently on the bed and helped him out of his boots, while Jim got the jumpsuit unfastened. While Leonard removed his own uniform, Jim wriggled out of his jumpsuit and grinned at Bones.
"So. Sure you don't want any physical bribery?" He winked playfully, and Len couldn't help but smile. "I'll bet you twenty credits I'll have you screaming my name in fifteen minutes or less, titanium implants be damned."
Leonard shook his head. "Okay, kid, you're on. I'm gonna enjoy spending your money."
Needless to say, Leonard was twenty credits poorer, and glowing from the lost bet, by the end of the night.
Leonard woke suddenly and looked around the room. Jim was nowhere to be found, and Len bolted from the bed. "Jim?" No answer. He left the bedroom, and began searching. In the four months that had passed since their advancement ceremony, Jim had grown increasingly restless. He'd awakened Leonard several times in the night with unintelligible screams from nightmares he refused to talk about. Leonard was concerned, and he'd suggested counseling services, but Jim was adamant that he was fine. He was with the man he loved, and he was working to get his body back. He just needed time. Leonard had chosen not to press the issue - time could help heal the psychological damage of debilitating injury, and forcing the therapy issue could hurt things more than heal at times. Still, this was the first time he'd awakened and Jim hadn't been right by his side.
Leonard walked quickly through the house, struggling not to panic. But what if Jim had fallen and hurt himself? "Jim? Jim." He searched the entire house, but it was empty. Heart pounding, he looked out into the backyard, still calling Jim's name. He heaved a shaky sigh of relief when he heard a responding call.
"I'm here, Bones."
Leonard rushed to the sound of Jim's voice. He saw Jim's wheelchair at the edge of the ramp leading down from their deck. Then he saw Jim, prostrate on the grass about a three and a half feet from the chair. He was on his back, brow glistening with sweat, and eyes red with tears. Leonard dropped to his knees beside Jim, automatically taking his wrist and checking his vital signs. "Jim, you scared me half to death! What's wrong? What the hell are you doing out here?"
"I'm sorry I scared you, Bones," he said, squeezing Leonard's hand. Then, he turned his face to the sky, and tears filling his eyes again. "I tried to walk to the fence," he said.
"I wanted to. I... I can do anything, Bones," he whispered. "No such thing as a no-win scenario. I stood up, and it was fine, just like every day for the last week. But I took three steps on my own, and... it... it hurt so bad I couldn't stand up anymore. I saved this planet, but I can't walk to our back gate."
Len frowned. He stopped his examination, and gently stroked Jim's hair. "I'm sorry, Jim," he said softly. "I know you're frustrated. But you will get that mobility back, I promise you. Hell, you're more of a slave driver than I am in therapy. You will do this. But you've got to give yourself time, sugar."
Jim closed his eyes. "I know," he whispered. He took a deep breath, and looked up at the stars again. "I miss her, Bones. It's... it makes me feel like shit, because I should be grateful. I lost you, and I have you now, and I am grateful. But I... I miss her. I miss her so much it hurts."
Leonard looked down at the naked pain in Jim's eyes, and his own chest began to tighten. He slid down on the grass and lay as close to Jim as he could, so that even their bare feet touched. He laid one hand gently on Jim's chest, and stroked his hair silently for a few minutes with the other. When he felt he could speak, he did so quietly. Tenderly. "Jim. I know how much you love me. I'd never, ever doubt it - no one could. But it doesn't mean it's wrong to miss your ship, or your old life. You had them both ripped from you, forcefully. It's only natural to feel cheated." Jim sucked in a breath, but didn't speak. "It doesn't mean you aren't grateful for what you do have, Jim. Remember what I said back in Medical. It's all right to grieve."
Jim shuddered, and his chest heaved. A sob finally broke through, and Leonard pulled him closer. Jim clutched his arm, buried his face in Leonard's shoulder and let the sobs come. Leonard held him tight through the flood of emotions, murmuring gentle understanding and encouragement - "I know. Just let it out, Jim."
After a while, Jim settled down, and his vicelike grip on Leonard's arm relaxed slightly. Jim chuckled. "Must seem pretty pathetic. Bawling like a baby in the damn grass."
"You're not, Jim," he said, squeezing him once more. "You needed it."
Jim looked up at him and smiled. "Guess so. I do feel better." He laughed. "Gonna feel like toasted shit tomorrow, though."
Leonard laughed. "Yeah, laying in this damp grass isn't doing you any favors. C'mon, lets-"
"MmmMmm." He shook his head and clutched Leonard to him. "Let's just sleep here."
"C'mon, Bones, where's your sense of adventure?"
"Is that a trick question?" Jim shoved him playfully without letting him go. Bones relented. "All right, Jim. I'll lie here in the grass like some kind of tree-huggin' hippie, just for you."
Jim smiled. "I knew you loved me."
Leonard rolled his eyes, pulled Jim close and watched the top of his head until he fell asleep. The next morning, Leonard was stiff and achy, as was Jim, judging by the wincing and groaning as Leonard helped him up. Even so, Jim didn't utter a word of complaint, and he was genuinely happy all day. Stiff as he was, Leonard didn't complain, either.
For the next six months, Leonard worked intensively with Jim on rebuilding his strength. They spent at least two hours each day working on his legs and his back, and although Jim refused to admit it, Leonard was fairly certain that he worked himself more when Leonard was sleeping. Jim still had his bouts with discouragement, and impatience with his own progress, but he was positive more often than not, which was an excellent sign. He seemed to progress normally, and eventually he was able to stand for brief periods, and walk with the aid of the double bars Leonard had set up in one of the spare rooms (which Jim insisted on calling the rec room), but he still had trouble walking on his own.
Just two months shy of a year after Khan's attack, Jim surprised Leonard by inviting him on a "date". They'd been out now and again, of course, but this was different. Rather than saying, "Hey, wanna go out?", Jim wheeled into the study while Leonard was taking some time to catch up on his Medical journals, and approached him with a bright smile. "Got any plans tonight?" he asked.
Leonard gave him a bemused smile. "Nothing specific," he said. "Why, do you?"
"As a matter of fact, I do. I'd like to take you out tonight."
"What's the occasion?"
Jim shrugged. "No occasion. Just want to."
"Well, sure, where we going?"
Jim just smiled. "Not telling."
"You little devil," Leonard said, smile widening. "Okay, when do I need to be ready?"
"Seven thirty should do," Jim replied.
"Okay, you're the boss," Leonard said, which earned him an eye-roll.
Leonard tried to go back to his journals, but his curiosity was piqued, and he couldn't focus. He got up and tried to sneak up on Jim, but only managed to "catch" him doing pull-ups in the rec room. He tried to feign a casual attitude, but Jim's snicker told him it wasn't quite successful. He somehow managed to get through the rest of the day without begging Jim for a clue about where they were going (knowing he'd just earn a grin, or a shake of the head). He did, much to his own embarrassment, attempt to peek at the outgoing call records to check for any suspicious, fancy restaurant listings, but he found nothing out of the ordinary - not even a deleted number. Of course, Jim was so damned good with computers, he probably could have made the call right from home and hidden it so that even the computer didn't know it had happened.
Finally, it came time to get dressed, and Len could barely contain his excitement. He felt a little silly - a forty-six year old man with butterflies in his stomach after being invited on a date by the man he'd been committed to for ten years. But something about the whole thing made him feel like tonight was going to be special. He struggled to think about all the anniversaries they'd chosen to commemorate over the years. Day they'd met? Nope, that wasn't until May. Wasn't the first date, either, and it certainly wasn't the anniversary of the day they'd decided they were "exclusive". First day of their first five-year-mission wasn't for another six weeks. And of course, they'd already celebrated their return from death on Veris III (a day Spock had always celebrated with them as well, and even now that they were no longer aboard the Enterprise, he'd called and shared a long conversation with them).
Leonard was at a loss. He gave up trying to guess, and got dressed. He chose one of Jim's favorite shirts - a dark green, silk button-down, with black slacks and blazer. He shaved again to avoid even the whisper of an afternoon shadow, combed his hair, and went in search of Jim. Leonard found him, dressed similarly in black slacks and jacket, but the shirt was in Bones' favorite color for Jim, powder blue. (There seemed to be an unspoken agreement that Jim's blue turtleneck would only be worn on their "second birthday".)
There was a taxi waiting outside, and Len smiled. They were allowed to drink tonight, apparently. Jim got in the back, and Leonard collapsed the chair and stowed it in the trunk before joining him. Jim rested his hand on Leonard's leg, and they rode in companionable silence. The driver had clearly been briefed beforehand, or while Leonard had been putting the chair away, because Jim didn't say a word to him.
Len was already excited, but he felt his eagerness jump up a notch when he saw the direction the cab took. "Wh- are we going to Claire's?"
Jim smiled. "I don't know. Maybe?"
"Oh my God, Jim! Really?" He couldn't keep the huge smile off his face. He stared out the window, watching as the cab drew nearer and nearer to one of the most exclusive restaurants in San Francisco. "How in the world… I've heard you have to make reservations months in advance!"
"True," Jim said, still smiling. "But I only had to do it one month in advance." Len was shocked. "Hey, if being a war hero can't get me into Claire's, a little faster, what good is it?"
Leonard laughed and resisted the urge to bounce in his seat like a kid. He squeezed Jim's hand, and watched the bay draw closer and closer. They drove right down to the water, along the lines of restaurants and shops, until they reached Claire's. He kissed Jim vigorously before hopping out and pulling out his chair.
The restaurant was beautiful, with broad windowed walls that afforded a stunning view of the harbor. The view was one of the reasons that reservations were so highly coveted - Claire's had purchased all the land from their restaurant to the ocean, and refused to build anything on it. Of course, the food didn't hurt, either. Claire's was supposed to have the freshest, most delicious selection of seafood in the city (maybe in the whole of central California), and everything else on the menu was supposed to be equally amazing.
Len and Jim entered the restaurant, and were immediately greeted by the hostess. "Admiral Kirk?" she asked, smiling at him.
"That's me," Jim replied.
"Welcome to Claire's, sir. And you must be Doctor McCoy?" Len nodded, hoping his grin didn't look as goofy as it felt. "It's an honor to meet both of you. We have your table ready, if you'll follow me?"
They did, and Leonard was again stunned when they were shown to one of the private alcoves. There were only two in the restaurant, and they were, essentially, oval-shaped bubbles jutting out at the sea-side corners of the restaurant - completely surrounded by windows (including the ceiling) , except on the wall that accessed the restaurant. These rooms were the most highly sought-after areas in the restaurant, and the waiting list for seating here was of astronomical proportions.
"Oh my God, Jim, how did you manage this?" Leonard whispered.
"I told you," he said, smile just as broad as ever. "Benefits."
The hostess turned, smiling in a knowing way at Leonard's shell-shocked expression. She gestured toward a seat, and Leonard realized that there was only one chair at the table - they had already completely prepared the room for them. Jim wheeled to his seat, and Len took his own seat. "Your server will be with you shortly. Enjoy your evening, gentlemen."
Leonard had every intention of doing just that. He reviewed the menu with an eagerness he hadn't felt in ages. Jim announced that he should order whatever he wanted - "I feel like splurging tonight" - and the freedom made the decisions even more difficult. Eventually, he settled on the fresh catch of the day, with a garlic butter sauce and side of mashed potatoes. Jim went with shrimp scampi and pasta and they ordered a moderately expensive, delicious bottle of wine.
After a decadent dessert of warm bread pudding with a glaze made from Jack Daniels of all damned things, Leonard sat back in his seat and looked over at Jim. He felt an almost overpowering sense of love and affection for him, along with gratitude for the wonderful surprise. "This has been amazing, Jim," he said aloud.
"I'll say," Jim said with a laugh. "I don't think I've seen you pack away so much in one sitting in years."
Leonard chuckled, but his wave of sappiness wasn't done with him yet. "I mean it, Jim. Thank you."
Jim smiled, and reached for him. "You're welcome," he said. "I'm glad you're enjoying it. I... I wanted tonight to be something special."
"Well it certainly has been," Leonard said.
"Not over yet," Jim said.
"You expect to top Claire's?" he asked with wide eyes. "What, are we going home now?"
Jim laughed. "No, not yet." He nodded toward the glass wall. "You haven't even gone over to check out the view yet."
"That's the whole point of getting the Stargazer," he insisted.
Len shook his head and left the table, heading over to the wall across from them to take in the truly awesome view of the open ocean, spreading out before them with the lights of a few boats mingling with starlight. Standing there, at what seemed like the edge of the world, he felt himself actually missing space travel, which he'd never imagined possible. This room, he suddenly realized, was very much like the observation deck.
He turned, planning to bring up his sudden realization to Jim, but cut himself off mid-sentence. Jim wasn't just behind him, as he'd thought. He was still at the table, and their server was on his way out of the room. Leonard hadn't even heard him come in. Jim looked up and smiled at him. "I'm coming," he said.
Leonard's jaw dropped when Jim stood up, holding onto a cane Leonard never knew he had. "Wha…where'd you..."
"I had it sent here ahead of time," he said with a smile. He took a step forward, and Leonard automatically moved toward him, but Jim raised his hand. "It's okay, Bones," he said, taking another, remarkably steady step forward. Leonard watched, completely stunned, as Jim walked toward him. He leaned heavily on the cane, and there was a pronounced limp, but he moved steadily, and didn't appear to be in any pain.
By the time he reached the window and stood next to Leonard, he was smiling triumphantly, sweating just a little from the strain, and Leonard was grinning like a damned fool. He laughed, and grabbed Jim into a tight embrace. "I can't believe it! How… when…"
Jim laughed and hugged him back before Len pulled him away so he could stare at him in disbelief. "I worked in the hours when I couldn't sleep," he said. "And I started doing those abdominal strength exercises you taught me every time I thought about it. I would have told you before, but I wanted to save it for tonight. I hope you aren't-"
"Jim, this is great!" He couldn't keep from laughing again. "And I know you, you can't resist giving someone a pleasant surprise. My God! Congratulations, you sneaky little bastard!"
Jim beamed at him. "Thanks, Bones. I couldn't have done it without you." Leonard shook his head, but before he could say anything, Jim kissed him vigorously. It felt so good to be face to face with him, and standing at the same time.
"Jim, this… I'm so happy for you! And you were right, you certainly found something that topped this restaurant."
He chuckled, then glanced down. "I'm gonna top myself," he said softly.
"How's that?" Len asked.
He smiled, and looked up into Leonard's eyes. "Remember when we got back to the ship after I… came back on Veris III?"
"Of course," Leonard said.
"And remember the talk we had? Where we said we were going to live for each other from then on, and we didn't need any ceremonies or documents to make that decision real?"
"I remember," he replied, suddenly feeling light-headed.
Jim reached into his pocket and pulled out a small, black velvet box. "I want a ceremony, Bones. Everything we have together is as real as it always has been, but… I want everything. I want the ceremony and the documents and the public record, and…" He paused, his cheeks reddening ever so slightly, and held out the little box. "Will you marry me?"
Leonard blinked past the tears that had begun to fill his eyes. "Yes," he breathed. "Yes, yes!" He squeezed Jim into a tight hug, lifting him off the floor. Jim laughed, and Leonard set him down, and watched while Jim opened the box. Inside was a simple silver band with a small diamond set in the center. "It's beautiful, Jim," he said.
Jim smiled at him, and hooked the cane on his arm long enough to take Leonard's hand and slide the ring on. Leonard couldn't help but hold out his hand to admire the smooth, simple band with its tiny stone. "I know the date I want, too," Jim said.
"Sixty days from today."
Leonard thought about the date, trying to guess the significance. Then he felt his eyes widen. "Are… are you sure, Jim?"
"Absolutely," he said. "He took so much from me that day, Bones. My ship. My health. My future - the future I thought I'd have. I'm going to erase all that. That date is going to mean so much more from now on. If it's all right with you, that is."
"Of course it is, Jim," Len replied. "I can't imagine a better way to make that day brighter. For both of us."
Jim smiled, and they embraced once more. Leonard found he couldn't seem to let go. They stood together, arms around each other, staring out at the endless ocean and sparkling sky, and Leonard thought about forever with James Tiberius Kirk.
The wedding took place on the day Jim wanted, despite the fact that Lenora complained two months was not nearly enough time to plan a wedding. Jim and Leonard both insisted they didn't want anything fancy, but according to Lenora, even simple weddings took more than "two damn months". But when they explained the significance of the date, she promised that everything would be just fine, and resigned herself to the situation. "At least I haven't got to worry about a dress," she'd muttered.
Winona was on a simple follow-up assignment to a planet recently added to the Federation, and she was excused from the mission and granted leave to come back to Earth to attend the wedding. The Enterprise, however, was still one year shy of the completion of their second mission. Lenora promised that the recording of their wedding would be sent to the ship, and (as usual), Spock managed to time his transmission so that they received his, and the rest of the crew's, well wishes right on time.
They were married in dress uniform, at a beautiful hall near the sea. There was a reception in view of the ocean where family and friends, and a large number of Starfleet officers, were in attendance. Jim had regained so much of his strength that he was able to stand through the entire ceremony, and they even had a (very slow) dance at the reception.
They felt no need to have a traditional honeymoon, since they had been married in spirit and practice for years now. In fact, barely a week after the wedding, Jim was ready to start work.
"I'm thinking of taking a teaching position," he said one evening.
"That's a great idea, Jim."
He smiled. "I think I'd do better there than in the admin positions they've offered me."
"No, I don't think administration is for you," Len replied. "It's not really for me, either. But if you're going to be at the Academy, I'll ask for a position at the Academy clinic."
"That crazy place? You used to complain about that place all the time!"
"That was before I got assigned to the Enterprise," he said. Jim rolled his eyes. "What? Are you kidding me? Compared to the Enterprise, looking after a campus full of clumsy, reckless cadets will be a walk in the park."
Their requests were granted without reservations. Leonard was placed in charge of Neural Surgery, and he agreed to teach a class in Xenobiological studies and Psychological Effects of Deep Space Travel. He even made the occasional appearance at the old group he'd pioneered back in his own academy days - the Starfleet Academy Aviophobia support group was still going strong.
Jim taught classes in Advanced Tactical Analysis and Command Diplomacy, and he was constantly being asked to other classes and events off campus as a guest speaker. Their schedules kept them busy, and Leonard could tell that Jim loved it. The activity was a welcome change from the months upon months spent rebuilding his muscles and working toward better mobility.
Still, even with the active days, and lively evenings they now shared, Leonard began to see a subtle restlessness in Jim every once in a while. He hesitated to ask about it, wondering if Jim might not still be missing the Enterprise and life in deep space. Then, one evening, he made the decision to ask about it, but Jim beat him to it, and he got his explanation without ever having to ask.
"Bones? What do you think about having kids?"
A few short months later, Leonard and Jim welcomed their first child together to their home. T'Paola was a ten year old Vulcan girl who'd lost her parents in the disaster almost a decade before. She'd been an infant at the time, evacuated in one of the few shuttles that made it off planet before the implosion. She had no memory of her parents, but she had been recorded as being "overly imaginative", and apparently had created elaborate stories of how her parents had been rescued from the planet, and were living in a far-off quadrant of the galaxy, sadly unable to retrieve their daughter. She'd been in and out of foster care a few times, but none of the families had kept her, citing a staunch refusal to accept the Surakian principles of truth and logic as the reason for her return to the group home.
Certainly, insisting that something impossible was true was an illogical thing to do, but it was also an effect of grief and loneliness. Leonard saw no reason to put a child out of a home for it, but he wasn't Vulcan, either. He and Jim had agreed to bring her home, and the Vulcan Organization for the Care of Orphaned Minors had agreed to let them.
T'Paola, daughter of Soken, was small for her age - ten years old, she was thin, pale, and about the same height as the average eight year-old. They'd gone to the Vulcan colony to pick her up, and her drab, gray, floor-length shift looked strange against the bright colors of Earth's afternoon. After the wide-eyed exclamation that Jim was "one of the men from the statue", T'Paola had been completely silent on the trip back. When they got her home, she stepped inside, but stood just inches inside the threshold, looking down at the small bag she carried.
"Welcome to our home," Jim said.
"Thank you, sir," she replied, still looking down.
"We'd like to show you around," Leonard said.
She dutifully followed them around the house, but mostly kept her head down, merely nodding when Leonard let her know that she was allowed to go anywhere in the house, but to knock at their bedroom door, or at their office doors before coming in. They showed her to her room, which had a bright sign on the door that read "T'Paola's Room". She gasped at that, and her face turned a shade greener. Leonard couldn't resist smiling at Jim, but otherwise, pretended not to notice, and opened the door for her.
She looked around at the plainly decorated room with wide eyes. They'd kept things simple, but there was a bed, a personal computer unit, and a book case with a few books on it, as well as various Vulcan and Human board games, and a toy box they'd filled with whatever came to mind. "We'll take you shopping once you're settled in, and you can choose what you want to decorate with," Leonard said.
"Thank you, sir," she said, her eyes wide. "I... m-my..." She looked around at the room, then looked up at them. "My parents would say that this room is highly acceptable."
Len smiled, and Jim looked seriously at her. "Thank you. That's a pretty big compliment, T'Paola," Jim said. "I'm sure your parents had exacting standards."
T'Paola nodded vigorously. "They do. They are very demanding."
Len found his smile faltering slightly at her use of the present tense to refer to her parents, but he didn't say anything. This had been her defense mechanism since she was at least five years old - it would take time to help her heal. "How does this sound," Leonard asked. "Why don't you put your things away, then make yourself comfortable here - check out the toys and things, explore if you like. We're going to have lunch in about an hour, okay? You can use the computer to let your friends at the group home know you arrived safely if you like."
"I don't have any... I mean... m-my parents would say that it isn't logical to communicate with people you will never see again," she said.
Leonard frowned at the admission she'd almost made. "Well, you'll have plenty of time to make new friends here," he said. "We'll be in the living area if you need anything."
Leonard and Jim went back to the living room and spoke quietly, both excited about their new charge. "At least she likes it," Jim said.
Len nodded. "I'm sure once she gets comfortable with us, we'll be able to work on the stories."
They chatted for a while longer, then Leonard went into the kitchen to prepare lunch. He made a simple salad, using some Vulcan vegetables mingled with some he was more familiar with. Jim had done hours of research on appropriate foods for growing Vulcan children, and had minimized his meat intake in preparation for T'Paola's arrival.
T'Paola emerged from her room precisely an hour after they'd left her, wearing a brightly colored bracelet that looked like it had been made from the bead-making kit Jim had found for her. Leonard smiled. "That's beautiful," he said as she took a seat at the table.
"Yeah, you've got a good eye for color, T'Paola," Jim said.
"Thank you, sir," she said, her pleasure at the compliment quite obvious.
"You can call me Jim," he said.
She blushed again, and said nothing. Jim didn't press the issue. Leonard served the salad, and T'Paola looked at it in surprise. "This is ke'ectara root," she announced.
"Yes, it is," Leonard said. "We found a Vulcan market that grows these."
"These are my mother's favorite." She took a bite, and nodded her appreciation.
"I'm glad you like it," Len said.
She sighed, suddenly sad. "I hope Mother has access to these."
Jim glanced at Leonard briefly, before replying, "I'm sure wherever she is, there are plenty of ke'ectara plants."
T' Paola's eyes grew wide and she gaped at Jim. "You really think so?"
"I'm sure of it," he said.
She flashed him a brilliant smile. "I like you."
Len smiled. That was the first time she'd expressed an opinion that wasn't qualified by her "parents". "Thanks, kiddo," Jim said. "I like you, too."
The rest of the day went well. They let T'Paola be alone for a few more hours, then they called her out of her room, and the three of them played a board game together before dinner. They continued with this basic pattern for several weeks. Leonard grew more and more fond of her as time went on. He noticed that when she seemed to be feeling secure, or particularly happy, she allowed herself to express opinions without depending on the approval of her parents. When she was unhappy, doubtful, or nervous about anything, she fell back on her "parents'" advice.
Neither Leonard nor Jim ever chastised her for talking about her parents or making up stories about them. Leonard didn't see the need to cause her undue stress, when she still seemed concerned that she might be thrown back to the orphanage at any moment. Jim agreed with him, and continued with his non-confrontational attitude regarding Soken and T'Perla. They agreed that when she got older, if she continued using them as a security blanket, they would consider counseling services for her.
In the meantime, the new parents got to know their daughter, and she them. She seemed to grow more affectionate toward them as well, even though she did attempt to maintain her Vulcan reserve some of the time. She was solicitous toward them, she asked their opinions of almost everything, and she was constantly eager to hear stories about their students, their travels when aboard the Enterprise, and the other crew members. Leonard was a little worried that Jim would be upset about having to talk about the ship so much, but he took it in his stride, and actually seemed happy to share with her.
Even though their little family unit seemed to be growing tighter day by day, Leonard couldn't contain his surprise when, after dinner one evening, T'Paola asked to speak with them about something "serious". They agreed, of course, but it took her some time to divulge what she wanted to talk about. She fidgeted, stared at her own hands, and hedged for several minutes, but they waited patiently. Finally, she said, "I… I think my parents might not mind if I started referring to you by a parental honorific. Do… do you agree with this?"
Jim smiled. "I think your parents would want you to do what makes you happiest," he said. "And that's what we want, right Bones?"
"That's right," Leonard said, beaming at her.
She gave them the ghost of a smile. "Thank you. I did not mean to eavesdrop, but I did overhear you referring to one another by certain names. I hope you will not mind if I use them, since they seem to be your preference?"
Len was shocked, and not a little bit embarrassed. He had assumed she'd been out of earshot every time he'd playfully called Jim "Daddy" now that they were parents together. "Um… I… it's fine with me."
"Thank you, Papa," she said. "Daddy. May I play in my room now?"
"You go right ahead," Jim said.
She nodded, and left the room, walking more quickly than usual, and with a jaunty step that was the "Vulcan minor" equivalent of skipping out of the room. They sat in silence for a few minutes, just staring after her. Finally, they looked at each other and smiled. Leonard wasn't sure which pair of eyes was the first to fill with tears.
Over the next two years, they adopted two more children. First came Daniel - a blond-haired, frail looking five year old who had been abandoned at a grocery store in southern San Francisco about a year before they adopted him. He was quiet, shy and nervous at first, and it took the family a while to get him to come out if his shell. It was a few months before they were able to convince him that the food supply was in no danger of depletion, so he could finish his meals and stop squirreling cookies, bread and other food items under his bed, in his closets, and in other odd places around the house.
To Leonard's dismay, it took quite a bit longer to rid him of his abject terror of grocery stores. Whenever they went shopping as a family, Leonard had to leave Jim and T'Paola to handle the shopping, while he carried little Daniel tightly in his arms, assuring him repeatedly that he wasn't going to let go. Eventually, Daniel "graduated" to hand-holding, which was a duty that could be transferred to Jim if need be, but it wasn't until well after their third child was adopted that Daniel felt secure enough to be in a grocery store without constant physical contact.
Their third child was adopted from Georgia - a small, dark-skinned, black-haired toddler who'd been orphaned at 14 months by a flood. Savannah had been well cared for by grandparents for a year, when they, too passed away, and there were no relatives left alive to care for her. When they adopted her, she was happy, active and healthy (or, as Jim called her, a butterball) - quite the handful for the two of them. They were all too happy to introduce her to Joanna when she came for her summer stay. Jocelyn and Leonard had stamped out a joint custody agreement during the first year of their return home, giving Len and Jim summers with Joanna, and alternating winter breaks. Leonard's greeting to her in Savannah's first summer had been, "Hallelujah! You can run after y'new sister now!" followed by giggling and the patter of bare feet running full speed across the living room.
It was during another summer, five years after Jim's forced retirement from the Enterprise, that Leonard was approached by Starfleet Command to take on a brief off-planet assignment. He was in his office at the Academy, finishing up the grade postings for his two Spring classes, when Admiral Pike requested entry to his office.
"This is a surprise," Len said. Chris rarely had time to come to the Academy campus anymore, except as a guest speaker, and certainly he could have dropped by the house any time if he had something personal to discuss. Chris' brow was furrowed, and he seemed tense. Leonard gestured to a chair. "How can I help you, Chris?"
"We have a situation, Doctor," he said, taking a seat. Leonard pushed the computer screen aside and sat up straighter. Doctor from Chris meant this definitely wasn't a social call. "Are you aware of the situation on the Theta IV colony?"
"I'd heard there was a bad flu outbreak," Leonard said. "But no, I hadn't heard anything beyond that."
Chris nodded. "It's developed well beyond that now, Len," he said. "I'd like you to take a look at this."
He passed a data pad to him, and Leonard's eyes widened when he saw it. "That's incredible! These regeneration rates are..."
"Exactly. That colony will not survive unless we get someone with an immense wealth of knowledge and skill to work on this."
Leonard snapped his head up. "If you mean me, I can't do that, Admiral," he said. "I'd need to be there to keep pace with something like this, and you know I've got Joanna."
"I know that, Len." He gave him a rueful smile. "Why do you think they asked me to make this request personally? They need you out there."
"What about Hicks? M'Benga? They-"
"Hicks has the technical knowledge, but not enough experience. M' Benga's aboard the Enterprise, and Command doesn't think it would be an appropriate use of resources to call him back from the mission."
"Chris, that's- we're talking about my daughter. There has to be-"
"Leonard, I've tried, I really have. We're closer to Theta IV than the Enterprise is. And before you ask, Henderson and Day are already assigned and they're scrambling."
Leonard frowned and stared down at the disturbingly high rate of mutation that the "flu bug" had taken on Theta IV. "I'd like to bring my family along."
"To an epidemic, Leonard?"
"There's a nearby planet where they'd be safe, and I'd be able to see them every day."
"You know I can't authorize that," Chris said. "First of all, we've quarantined the planet, but there's a chance that Theta III will be affected as well. We can't know for sure until someone figures out the root, and the cure. And besides that, you know civilian family members aren't allowed aboard active vessels."
"Dammit, Chris, you're Fleet Admiral! Surely you can make an exception. And it's damned rare for a colony's problem to spread to another planet in the system when they're already quarantined. I need to-"
"Len, I'm sorry," he said. "I'll try my best to get this authorized for you. But if I can't... I know it's asking a lot. But I'm asking you to make this sacrifice." Leonard felt a chill pass through him at the word 'sacrifice', but he gritted his teeth and Chris never noticed. "We'll be speeding the medical team out there as quickly as possible, and once you get there, it may not take very long for a cure to be found. You're looking at a month - six weeks at the outside."
"If everything goes well," Len replied.
"Granted," Chris said. "But if it does go well, you'll be back in time to enjoy the rest of the summer with your kids, and a lot of people will be alive who'll probably die without some serious help."
Leonard took a deep breath and looked down at the numbers once again. "Let me talk it over with Jim," he said. "I'll let you know first thing tomorrow, all right?"
Chris nodded. "Thank you, Leonard. Call any time, and I'll keep you posted about bringing them along."
"Thanks, Chris." The admiral left the office, and Leonard finished his postings. His mind was now on the Theta IV colony, and the prospect of being away from his family for weeks - possibly months. When his work was complete, he left the lab, and went home to have his talk with Jim.
Of course, he knew what Jim would say without asking his opinion, but he had to ask all the same. He explained the situation to Jim, and described the entire conversation, including the petition to have them come along. "I mean, you don't have to, if-"
"Don't be silly, Bones," Jim said softly. "If Chris can get Starfleet to approve, then we'll go with you. We'll have to talk to Jocelyn, but I'm sure she'll be okay with it."
Leonard smiled. "Alright."
"And if the petition isn't approved..." He frowned, but there was only the slightest hesitation before he said, "Go ahead, Bones. Save some lives. We'll be here when you get home. And Jo's graduated. If it takes longer than the summer, maybe Jocelyn will just let her stay for another month or so, you never know."
Len smiled, and gave Jim a kiss. "You always know just what to say. I hadn't thought of that."
Jim laughed. "It's those amazing tactical skills that got me where I am today, Doctor."
Three days later, Leonard said goodbye to Jim and their children. Chris had explained that Starfleet was willing to make no exceptions to the rule against civilians, and Leonard had decided he was willing to make the sacrifice they'd asked of him. Joanna had chosen to stay with Jim, rather than going home and waiting for Leonard to come back. Her visit was for the other children and Jim as well, and it pleased Len that she had such a good relationship with her adoptive siblings. The younger children were disappointed to see him go, but they bore it well enough. "Remember," he told them. "I'm gonna call as often as I can, but I'll never miss our weekly appointment, okay?"
"Okay, Papa," several voices chorused.
"We'll be waiting by the comm every Wednesday afternoon," Jim said, with a smile.
Leonard kissed his children again, then gave Jim a deep, tender kiss that had Joanna and Daniel "eeeeew-ing" before long. "Love you," he said. "See you soon, kids. Stay out of trouble, and don't give your daddy a hard time."
"We won't," Savannah said, probably knowing she was just who Leonard was referring to. She hadn't lost any of her rambunctiousness (nor her "baby" fat) in the last two years.
"Don't worry, Papa," Joanna said. "If the cripple here can't hack it, I'll pick up the slack."
"Jo!" he cried, feigning shock, even though he knew how the two of them played.
Jim just laughed and grabbed Joanna, giving her a vigorous noogie. He didn't stop until she was laughing and windmilling her arms in an attempt to get away. "What'd you say?" he asked. "Say what??"
"Ahhh, stop it!" she laughed.
"Huh, can't hear you Jo, what was that?"
"I'm sorry, Admiral, now lemme go! You're screwing up my hair!"
He mussed it further, just for fun, then let her go. Len shook his head. "Just don't kill each other before I get back, that's all I ask."
"I'll do my best," Jim said. They embraced, and Leonard left the house, and trotted down to where the taxi was waiting. He turned back as he got in, and watched his family wave him off.
Too soon, he felt the joy of them seeing him off fade as the daunting task ahead of him loomed nearer. He reached the departure station, and was introduced to the team of doctors and other pathogen specialists he'd been chosen to lead. There were five of them in all, each eager to hear his thoughts on the progression of the disease, and already wanting to talk strategy before they even left the ground.
The work on Theta IV was intense, and Leonard was hard pressed to find time to call home most days. His meal breaks were sporadic, and some days, he worked straight through without stopping, following a lead in the pathology of the disease. The time difference was something of a problem, too. Leonard never could get a sense of how things were supposed to work between different solar systems, but in this particular system, Pacific Standard Time worked out to about eleven hours behind. Despite the fact that it meant interrupting his much-needed sleep, Leonard set his alarm for 1:30AM, religiously, each and every Thursday morning, grabbed a cup of strong coffee, and made sure he was bright eyed and bushy-tailed for his comm with his family.
Over the course of the next five weeks, Leonard learned about each and every activity the kids did with Jim. He learned that Daniel had climbed his first tree, Savannah had beat Kamara-Lee in a sac-race, T'Paola had made six new pairs of earrings, and promised them all to Jo, who was enjoying getting free jewelry from her "favorite Vulcan sister". He also learned the particular cell growth pattern of the Theta IV virus.
Once he'd made that crucial discovery, coming up with a treatment program and a vaccine was relatively simple. They programmed the computer banks to account for the rapid mutation based on the pattern Leonard had discovered, and within a matter of days, the virus was under control. He was nearly giddy when he called home that evening and told them the good news.
"I'll be home in about a week," he said brightly.
"What? Wow, really?"
"Yup, we're shipping out in the morning."
There were cheers from the kids, and Jim laughed. "That's great, Bones! What did I tell you, all they needed was a medical genius!"
Leonard waved a hand. "You hush," he said. "A lot of good people worked on this."
"Yeah, but you made it happen. Here," he said, not waiting for Leonard to answer. He lifted Daniel into his lap. "Talk to your son."
Leonard did just that, and he talked to everyone else for about an hour. Eventually, Jim announced that Papa was probably tired and had to get to bed, so he could make the ship-out tomorrow. Jim shooed the kids away, and smiled at Bones. "Get some sleep, Bones," he said. "We'll meet you at the docks."
"Sounds good," he replied. "Love you, Jim."
"Love you, too. See you soon."
Leonard snapped his head up at the sound of the red alert siren. "Red alert, Red alert," came the communications officer's voice. "All hands, battle stations."
"Shit!" he hissed. He was on the move immediately. There weren't many patients in the small craft's medical bay, but those who could walk reasonably well were ushered out of the medical bay, and the others were strapped down carefully to avoid jostling during any potential bucking of the ship. "Secure here," he called out.
"Secure on our side," Dr. Day replied.
Leonard joined her in the center of the room, and they looked around their temporary domain, double checking the patients just in case. "Any idea what's happening?" Leonard asked.
"Weston in Communications told me there's a ship on intercept with us," she replied. "Won't identify and won't back off."
Len nodded. "That explains the yellow alert earlier, but-"
"All hands, brace for impact!" Captain Smith's voice cut sharp through the ship. Leonard pulled the small, stunned woman to the wall and gripped one of the biobed handles. The ship lurched, and Day cringed. She'd spent her entire career on science vessels and long term planet-side postings, and he doubted she'd ever seen combat.
"Medical team to the bridge!"
Day looked at Leonard with wide eyes. "I'll go," he said. She gave him a grateful smile. Leonard got to his feet and grabbed a medkit. "Paulsen! Sebok! Come with me."
The two nurses fell in step with him, and they sped to the bridge. The room was in a state of bustling chaos that was familiar to Leonard. The captain was giving tense orders to Communications and Helm. "There," Leonard said, approaching the fallen navigation officer. The young man was already going into shock, shaking and staring at his badly burned hands. The console still smoked and sparked.
Len snapped a finger at the shocked Paulsen. "Anti-shock."
Len knelt beside the young man. "All right, son. Look at me." A hypo came into Leonard's field of vision, and he took it and injected the young man. "That's nothing dermal regeneration can't fix," he said calmly. Sebok was already spraying the navigator's hands with a salve to stop the pain.
"Captain! They're charging weapons again!"
"What's our shield strength?"
"Seventy percent, sir. I-"
"Evasive- Abrams are you patched into the helm yet?"
"Not yet, sir, I-"
Leonard saw the flash of light from the curiously familiar ship, and a moment before the ship rocked beneath him. He tried to stabilize the patient, but didn't have much success. When the shaking stopped, Leonard checked to see if anyone else was hurt. The woman at tactical engineering was bleeding from a head wound. She was already typing on her console, despite the wound.
"I'm trying, sir," the wounded woman announced. "The circuits are fried, I may not-"
"Sir! We're being hailed."
"Stay with him," Leonard said to the nurses. He quickly moved to Tactical, and scanned Abrams' wound while she worked frantically with the controls.
"On screen," Smith said. The light changed subtly, but Leonard focused his attention on cleaning the lieutenant's cut forehead.
Leonard froze, and snapped his head in the direction of the viewscreen. Oh, God.
"This is Captain Kevin Smith of the U.S.S. Osler. We are a medical transport vehicle on a peaceful mission. Identify yourself. What is the meaning of this unprovoked attack?"
"A pleasure to meet you, Captain Smith," the man said, his smooth, pleasant tone sending a chill down Leonard's spine. The tactical officer looked at him quizzically, but he pointed at the console as if to say get busy. "My communications officer tells me you've been trying to contact me. I see no harm in this - it is only fair to allow you to see the agent of your death. I am Khan, ruler of the U.S.S. Reliant."
"What?! That..." The captain looked at his science officer. "Verify."
"You won't be able to," Khan said. "I had a few friends of mine remove all identifiers from this vessel. It helps us maintain an air of mystery, don't you agree?"
"He's right, sir, scanners are blocked. Didn't the Reliant go missing three-"
Smith cut him off with a negative motion of his hand. "Listen to me, Khan. I don't know how you got hold of a Federation ship, but I repeat, this is a peaceful mission. We are-"
"I am not concerned with the nature of your mission," Khan said dismissively. "You are a Federation vessel, and your destruction will prove our loyalty to our new friends."
"It would be better if your vessel was not so puny," he said. "But your defenses are reasonable, and the fact that you were intercepted so deep within Federation space will work to our advantage."
"You're planning on killing an entire crew to... to prove a point?" The captain was outraged, so much so that he could barely speak. "We have... there are almost two hundred people aboard this vessel - many of them prominent doctors and scientists. You can't-"
"I can, and I will. Joaquin. Give them another taste."
Smith made a "kill" gesture to the communications officer. "They're off now, sir," he said.
"Abrams, I need you to get control of that helm. We're dead in the water without it."
"Captain Smith," Leonard said.
"I suggest we begin evacuation procedures immediately, sir. I've encountered-"
"Sir, they're charging weapons."
"All power to our forward shi-" The ship shuddered, as a searing bolt of energy ripped through the bridge.
Leonard was knocked off his feet. His head slammed into a control panel, and soon felt a warm trail down his face. "Damn!" This is not happening. This is not happening. After a moment, the ship settled, and the emergency lights kicked in. Leonard struggled to his feet. The bridge was in absolute chaos. The helm and nagivation boards were both smoking now, and most people had been thrown from their seats, and were hurrying to get up and check their posts. His nurses were making their way back to the burned officer, trying to get him to a sheltered location. Part of the ceiling had collapsed, and although (thank God), the hull hadn't been breached, the helmsman had been hit, and seemed to have dislocated his shoulder.
Leonard rushed to him to check how bad the damage was, and heard Smith order communications to be reopened. "Khan! You can't-"
"How are you faring, Captain?" Khan asked cheerfully. "Do you doubt my sincerity now? My gunman is quite precise, isn't he?"
"Khan, damn you, you can't murder an entire crew! You haven't even offered us terms for surrender!"
"I don't want your surrender, Captain. I thought I made myself clear."
Leonard felt his gut twisting inside him. This is not happening. With the helm officer stabilized, he automatically turned to try to help someone else. The science officer looked like he needed assistance. He crossed the bridge behind the captain, moving quickly to avoid distracting him while he tried, futilely, to negotiate. A man who had coldly and casually snapped another man's leg in two wouldn't be swayed by this kind of reasoning. God, please let this not be happening.
"Stop!" Khan's voice was sharp this time, and he froze automatically before starting to walk again. "Stop, stop!" Leonard froze again, looking at Khan's eager face with confusion. "Who is that behind you, Captain?"
Leonard shuddered, and Captain Smith looked back at him with a bemused expression. Leonard gritted his teeth and stepped down into view beside the captain. Khan smiled broadly, his perfectly handsome features looking more sinister than ever before. "This is one of our doctors," Smith replied. "Why do you-"
"Hello, Doctor McCoy," Khan said, rubbing his hands together. "What a pleasant surprise." Leonard kept his hands clasped tightly behind him and scowled at Khan, letting his rage for everything the man had stolen from Jim push his own fears aside for the moment. He could feel the eyes of the crew on him.
"You know this man?" Smith asked him.
"Yes, Captain. We-"
"Doctor McCoy and I are old friends," Khan supplied. "He was the first face I saw when I awoke from centuries of slumber. I'm so pleased you're still wearing your ring, Doctor. I might not have recognized you otherwise."
Leonard touched his pinky ring with his right hand, then clenched his fists. "What do you want with me, Khan?"
Khan smiled - a slow, evil grin. "Your captain left me and my people to die on a deserted planet."
"My captain gave you a chance at life that you didn't deserve!"
"Still as loyal as ever." Khan's smile widened. "Captain Kirk cares a great deal about you, Doctor. I saw it in his triumph when you refused to join me." A flash of anger crossed his face, but he smiled again almost immediately. "You will soon learn that your decision was unwise. It will be a pleasure destroying you, Doctor." He raised his hand, and the screen went dark.
"Sir, please initiate General Order Thirteen," Leonard cried. "Khan is ruthless, Jim's report is in Starfleet records. We need to-"
The ship bucked. Unprepared, Leonard was thrown again. He clutched something stable - he wasn't sure what. Lights were out except for the red glare of the alert. Leonard held tight under the repeated rocking, feeling his insides turn cold. This kind of a ship couldn't handle such a barrage for long, and there were obviously no negotiations taking place. Tears filled his eyes, and he sent up a fervent prayer and thought about his family.
Their smiling faces were the last thing he saw before a sudden flash of white blinded him, and then - utter darkness.
Chris stood at the door for a full three minutes before finally raising his hand to press the entry chime. The old-fashioned bell reminded him strongly of Leonard. Chris remembered him proudly announcing that he'd gotten the old ringer installed at last at a barbecue one afternoon, a couple of years ago.
He felt himself starting to crumble just a little, but he gritted his teeth and steeled himself for what was to come. After a moment, Chris heard quick footsteps. "I'll get it!" a small voice called - probably Savannah.
"Oh no you don't little girl." Definitely Savannah. The door opened, and Joanna stood there, looking for all the world like a copy of her father, with the five year-old resting against her hip. Oh, God. Joanna smiled. "Hi Admiral Pike, how are you?"
"Doing okay," he replied, forcing a smile. "Is Jim home?"
"Hi, Mr. Chris!"
"Hi, Savannah," he said, managing a smile for her.
"Come on in, sir." Joanna stepped aside and gestured toward an arm chair. "I'll let him know you're here."
"Thanks, Jo," he said, though he didn't take a seat.
She carried Savannah away, and Chris' fake smile faded the moment she was out of sight. In a few moments, Jim came to the living room, moving fairly quickly despite the fact that he was still dependant on the cane. "Hi Chris," he said, smiling brightly.
The young admiral's face fell immediately. "What happened?" he asked sharply. "Is it Bones?" Chris' lips tightened, and he nodded once. Jim's face took on an ashen hue, and he advanced more slowly, now gripping the cane tightly in a white-knuckled grip. He sat slowly in the seat across from Christopher, waving Chris into a seat. "What happened," he whispered.
"The medical transport was attacked two days out from the colony," Chris said, trying to keep his voice steady.
"What?" He looked toward the hall, apparently checking for the presence of any children, then turned back to Chris. "Who the hell attacks a medical vessel?!" he hissed.
"We don't know, Jim," he said. "The ship's final records stated that the enemy vessel was unidentified, and never did identify itself. Hull design was inconclusive."
Jim's face turned a shade paler. "Final records?"
Chris sighed and lowered his head for a moment, before forcing himself to face his friend. He felt a wrenching in his gut at the almost pleading look on Jim's face. "The ship was destroyed, Jim. We sent a starship to the area, and... there were no survivors - just debris. No contact has been made regarding the taking of prisoners. Since there were no negotiations in the first place..." He trailed off, and Jim's face turned a deathly white. "I'm sorry, Jim. I... if you need anything..."
Jim bent his head down, and his hands clutched the arms of his chair. He took several deep breaths, and his arms began to shake. Chris waited, cursing the day he'd stepped into Leonard's office and asked him to go to Theta IV. Finally, Jim raised his head. His eyes shone, and his hands still gripped the chair tightly. "I need… c-can you stay with me when I tell the kids," he asked in a hoarse whisper.
"Of course I-" Chris stopped short, startled by the appearance of Joanna. She had two glasses of iced tea, but her face was serious.
"While you tell the kids what?" she asked.
Jim started, then stood up to face her. "Jo."
"Oh my God," she cried, clearly seeing the pallor of his face, and the tears in his eyes. "Jim, what's wrong?"
"Joanna," Jim said, voice quavering. He cleared his throat, and started again, more steadily. "Joanna, why don't you sit down, honey?"
She frowned, and looked from Jim to Pike. "Why?" she asked. "Why do you look so-" Her eyes widened, and she looked at Chris again. "Did something happen to Papa?" she asked, her voice suddenly much less feisty teenager, and much more frightened little girl.
"I'm afraid so, honey," Jim said. "He…" Jim swallowed. "The Osler was attacked, and… th-there were no survivors." She gasped, and the tea slipped from her hands and crashed noisily onto the wood floor. "Jo, I'm so sorry."
She seemed frozen for a moment, staring at Jim, eyes widening more and more. Finally, she screamed. Eyes shut tight, and fists clenched, she screamed out in rage and grief. Chris stepped toward her, but Jim made it faster, unconscious of the broken glass. He pulled her to him and held her tight until the screams finally dissolved into helpless tears.
It was a few moments before Chris could pull his eyes away from the heart-wrenching scene. When he did, he saw their three other children, standing a few feet away from Jim and Jo. T'Paola looked stunned, and the younger two were clearly frightened by the scene. Chris edged forward, and put a hand on Joanna's shaking back. "Jim," he said softly.
Jim looked up, then followed the direction of Chris' gaze. His face fell, and he looked at Jo. "Honey, I have to tell the others," he said softly. She wailed louder, and Jim squeezed her once more. "Can you stay with Chris?" She nodded, and Chris took hold of her. She clung to him, and he stroked her back, keeping his eye on Jim.
"Come here, babies," he said. T'Paola approached him, followed hesitantly by Daniel and Savannah. "Careful of the glass," he said.
"What is wrong with Jo?" T'Paola asked softly.
"She's sad, sweetheart," Jim said. "We... we found out some very bad news." Her jaw tightened, and she glanced at her younger siblings. "Papa… there was an atta… a… a bad accident," he said, glancing at the younger children. "Papa's ship was destroyed. I'm sorry, but Papa… he's g-gone." T'Paola's eyes widened, but the younger two seemed confused.
"Gone where, Daddy?" Daniel asked.
"Gone… gone to Heaven, baby." Joanna shuddered, and Chris squeezed her a bit tighter.
Savannah frowned. "When's he coming back? Is he gonna make it to the welcome home party?"
Jim lowered his head, and took a deep breath. "No, honey. He isn't coming back. He-"
"Why?" T'Paola snapped suddenly. Chris was surprised by the anger in her voice, and the fury on her face. He'd learned that Vulcans could be emotional, but he'd never actually seen such open feeling from any Vulcan before. "WHY?!" She stepped away from Jim and looked accusingly at Chris. "Why has this been allowed to happen?" she shouted.
"WHY?!" she screamed. "WHERE was the escort? Starships don't have accidents! They don't just EXPLODE! Medical transports are not equipped for battle scenarios! WHY were they unprotected?"
Chris frowned. "They were deep inside Federation space, T'Paola," he said. "They did have an armed escort, but they were called away to a distress call. I-"
"Distress call?? My father is dead because of someone else's distress call?? Why?! Why, why, WHY?!" She slammed her fist down on the oak-wood end table near Chris' armchair, and it broke in two. Daniel and Savannah squeaked in alarm, and Chris found himself edging slightly back under the accusatory glare.
"I wish I could answer you," he said softly. "But I don't have a reason."
She looked stricken. Jim approached her, nothing but sympathy in his eyes. "Sweetheart," he said. "Come here." He reached for her, and she vaulted into his arms, squeezing him so tight that the winced. He led her to the sofa and sat down, still holding her tight. He beckoned to Daniel and Savannah, who were beginning to cry now, though whether from an understanding of what was happening, or from nervousness at the raw emotion being displayed by their older siblings, Chris wasn't sure. T'Paola made room, and Savannah climbed into Jim's lap. Daniel settled on the opposite side from T'Paola, and Jim wrapped his arms around them both.
Christopher guided Joanna to their loveseat, and she rested her head on his shoulder, now much calmer, but still weeping quietly. He looked at Jim and knew the younger man could see the sorrow - the regret in his eyes. Jim seemed to wipe it away with the briefest ghost of a smile.
"I didn't tell him I loved him," T'Paola whispered suddenly. "I can't remember… I never..." She buried her face in Jim's shoulder and sobbed.
"Don't worry, baby," Jim said, stroking her. "He knew. I promise you. He knew."
Loss. A sudden sense of loss - sharp and terrifying. He sat up, eyes wide. "They're gone!"
The First King's voice was calm, but full of sadness. "I know."
Fear. He was aware of fear, first and foremost. Then there was pain, followed swiftly by deep confusion. He didn't recognize the sound of his voice, but he knew it was his - the scratching vibration came from his own throat.
To Be Continued...