Dedication III: The Search for Bones
"Call me if you need anything, sweetheart."
"I will, Ma."
"That goes for me, too," Lenora said.
"Lenora, you've done too much already," he said. "We'll eat for a month from all the food you made."
"Winona helped," she said, as if that explained everything. "And I mean it, Jim, I don't want you shouldering this all alone."
"Yes, ma'am," he said, though he had no intention of imposing on a woman who'd just lost her son. "Is someone staying with you?"
"My niece, Clara. You remember Clara?"
"I think we met once," Jim said.
Lenora nodded. "I won't be alone. Leonard's sure to pitch a fit if-" Her face fell, and she lowered her eyes. Jim pulled her into his arms, and she rested against him for a few moments, while Winona patted her back lightly. She pulled back after a few minutes, sniffing and drying her eyes. She chuckled. "Silly," she whispered.
"Hang in there, Leo," Jim said.
"I will. Come by any time, hear? Bring the kids along."
Lenora was one of the last to say her goodbyes. Jim's mother left next, reiterating her offer for help and support. Chris stayed behind a little longer, and helped carry the younger children to bed from the couch where they'd finally given in to exhaustion.
Surprisingly, Jocelyn was the last to leave. Jim walked in on her, deep in conversation with Joanna. "-absolutely sure about this? I-"
"Sorry," Jim said when Jocelyn caught his eye. "I can-"
"No, no, this concerns you," she said, beckoning him to a seat.
Jim sat down and looked from Joanna to Jocelyn. Both looked tired, and Jocelyn's face was nearly as ashen as her daughter's. "What is it?"
"Jo tells me she wants to finish out the summer here with you."
A bright smile lit his face, and he looked at Jo. "Really?" Jo nodded, returning the smile, and Jim turned back to Jocelyn. "Is that okay with you?"
"I was going to ask you the same thing," she said. "She'll be eighteen in a few months, and I won't stop her from staying if that's really what she wants. I just... I know you've got a lot on your plate right now. Dealing with grief and kids at the same time is difficult at best. Adding one more-"
"Joanna," Jocelyn said in a warning tone.
"Sorry, Mama," she said. "Sorry for interrupting, Jim."
Jim shook his head slightly, and Jocelyn continued. "I wouldn't want you to feel strained by the addition of one more child at a time like this."
"Rest assured, Joanna wouldn't be any strain on me," Jim said. "She's excellent with the kids, and she's always a great help during the summertime. I'd be ecstatic to have her stay with us."
Jocelyn smiled, and patted her daughter's knee. "All right, honey, there you go. You stay as long as you like, all right? As long as Jim will let you stay."
"Thanks, Mama," Jo said with a smile. She hugged her mother, then hugged Jim tight. "Thanks, Jim."
"Of course, kiddo." She excused herself and Jim sat with Jocelyn.
They sat in silence for several minutes. Finally, Jocelyn sighed and closed her eyes as a few tears fell. "He was a good man, Jim," she said softly. "We had our differences, to be sure, but… he was a good man, and a good father. I'd never have wished something like this on him. Or on you."
"That means a lot to me," Jim said.
They were silent again, until finally, Jocelyn stood. Jim showed her to the door and thanked her for coming. She smiled at him, and gave him a brief hug. "Take care of my little girl, Jim."
"Yes, ma'am, you know I will."
She nodded. "You take care of yourself, too."
Grief was different this time. Before, Jim had only had himself to live for. Oh, he'd had his crewmates, and his ship, and his mother. But they didn't depend on him for food and shelter, and emotional support. And, honestly, the truly sharp downward turn had happened only after Leonard's father had passed away, and there was no one left to be strong for.
Now, he had four excellent reasons to keep himself together, and he did his level best. He ate regular meals, he got as much rest as he could at night, and he even gave a call to a grief counselor when the strain of being without Leonard, and seeing the hurt and sadness in his children's eyes, threatened to make him crack.
He was doing well. As well as could be expected for a man who'd been forced to go through the death of the love of his life twice. But he was holding up. Which was why, the first time Leonard showed up in their house, he was so shocked he nearly passed out.
It was a Wednesday - a week and a few days after Leonard's funeral. Those first couple of Wednesdays had been tough - the Wednesday after they heard the news, and the Wednesday before the funeral. Wednesday was Papa's day. Even though Leonard had been on his way home when he was killed, so they weren't expecting to have any more Wednesday calls, there was still a dip in the Kirk/McCoy crew's overall morale when Leonard's special time to call them came around. But they'd got through it. They had done it. Which was why Jim was absolutely stunned to see Leonard, smiling and alive, standing in the center of the living room.
A surge of pure joy welled up in him at first, followed immediately by terror. God, no, am I going crazy? When he'd seen Leonard before, it had been strange - sometimes nightmarish. This Leonard was just... Len. He seemed solid, and real, and simply happy to see Jim. Jim just breathed, and stared at the smiling apparition. A moment later, Jim heard an excited squeal.
Jim gasped. Leonard turned and opened his arms wide. "Hey, there's my littlest girl!!" he said happily.
Savannah ran to him and leaped into his arms. Jim reached for her, not wanting her to fall through the apparition, but Leonard caught her and twirled her in the air with a laugh. "Papa, Papa, Papa!!"
Jim felt the blood drain from his face. "Oh my God."
"Oh my GOD!" It was Joanna. She looked at Jim, confusion, hope, and fear in her eyes.
"I don't know," Jim said. "I… I don't-"
"What's to know?" Leonard asked, setting Savannah down. "Why's everybody lookin' so upset? Aren't you happy to see me?"
After only a second's hesitation, Joanna ran to her father and hugged him tight. Soon, T'Paola and Daniel entered the room. They were frightened at first, but then they, too, ran to hug Leonard. Jim couldn't take it. He approached Len and touched him lightly on the arm. Solid. Warm. REAL. Oh God. He gripped Leonard in a vice-like embrace and wept.
Leonard laughed - his normal, real laugh. "I know it's been a few weeks, but you're acting like you thought you'd never see me again," he said.
Leonard kissed him, smiled, then turned to the kids. "Come on, y'all. Who wants ice cream?"
"Well, go on and get your bowls, all right?"
The younger children ran to the kitchen, but T'Paola and Joanna refused to leave. They seemed reluctant to take their eyes off of Leonard, and only moved toward the kitchen when he started walking. In a daze, Jim followed his husband to the kitchen and watched him serve real ice cream out of their real refrigerator to their excited children. He even ate a bowl himself, talking and laughing as if he didn't know he was supposed to be dead.
"Okay, y'all, hang tight. I'll be back."
"Where you going, Papa," Joanna asked sharply.
"Nature calls, if you must know," he said with a smile. He pinched her cheek, patted the heads of the other children, and stepped out of the room.
Jim stared after him, then glanced back at the kids. Savannah and Daniel were talking excitedly about how great it was to have ice cream with Papa again. T'Paola and Joanna were back to looking nervous. "I… I'll be back," Jim whispered. The girls nodded, and he went as quickly as he could toward the bathroom. When he reached it, Leonard was not there. Jim felt a pang of loss, almost as harsh as he had when Chris first told him the news. He searched the entire house, to no avail. Bones was gone.
Breaking the news to the children was difficult. Horrible. Savannah and Daniel searched the house, calling and calling for Leonard. They were devastated when he couldn't be found, and Jim had to promise he would figure out what happened, and that everything would be okay.
After he'd put the younger children to bed for a nap, he sat down to have a talk with Jo and T' Paola. "Jim, I'm scared," Jo said. Indeed, her hands shook, and she looked nauseous.
"I'm a little scared, too, Jo," he said.
"Can we have imagined him?" T'Paola whispered.
Jim shuddered, but shook his head. "I was afraid of that at first, too," he said. "But I don't think so. It's very unlikely that all five of us could have imagined something like this at exactly the same time. And he picked up Savannah." T'Paola moved closer to Jim on the couch and he put his arm around her. She was shaking, and Jim frowned and held her tighter. "Listen to me," he said firmly. "I will figure out what's going on. But I don't want you girls to be afraid, okay? If... if it was something that looked like Papa, then it didn't hurt us, and I don't think we should be afraid of it. It may have just been a fluke, and it may never happen again, but let's just try to be happy that we got to see him again this one time. Okay?"
The girls nodded, and T'Paola reached up and kissed his cheek. "Thanks, Daddy."
"You feel better?" She nodded. "Good. I'll let you both know what I find out, okay?"
"Thanks, Jim." Jo sounded steadier, which was a relief.
The girls left, talking quietly to each other, and Jim closed himself in his office. He flipped on his computer screen, logged into his Starfleet Library account, and typed in corporeal ghost.