Dedication III: The Search for Bones
Jim left Command headquarters and went back home, where Lenora had been watching the children for him. She stayed for about thirty minutes after Jim got home, just to help put the kids to bed. When the younger children had been tucked in, Lenora asked to talk to Jim alone. Joanna looked nervous, but she did as her grandmother asked and made herself scarce.
"Jim," she said seriously when they were alone. "I'm a little bit concerned about the kids."
"Oh?" He was surprised. "Did they misbehave?"
"Oh no," Lenora said. "Nothing like that, but..." She hesitated, and Jim waited patiently. "Jim... are... have they been to grief counseling?"
Jim frowned. "Of course, why do you ask?"
"Well... it's just that I heard Daniel and Savannah talking about having ice cream with Leonard." Jim could feel the blood draining from his face, but he tried to keep his expression neutral. "I thought it was strange, and I asked them about it, and they told me it was just last week."
Jim tried to smile. "Well, Lenora, you... you know how children are. I've just humored them so far, and I'm hoping... I'm hoping they'll grow out of it."
She sighed. "I know you're doing your best, Jim. But I'm not sure if it's healthy to let them talk like that. I didn't want to stress them out, so I didn't make a big deal about it, but... maybe..." She faltered, clearly uncomfortable. "I don't want you to think I'm telling you how to raise-"
"Lenora, please," he said, giving his mother-in-law a hug. "Don't ever think that way. I know what you mean. What either one of would us have done without you while raising these kids, I just don't know." Lenora smiled, and her cheeks flushed. "Listen, hon, I'm so sorry if they upset you. I promise you, I'll take the little ones to a session this week, okay? I'm sure it's just part of the grieving process or something, but I'll check into it, just to be on the safe side."
Lenora was relieved. She touched his face gently and said, "I love you, dear. You just hang in there, and... remember, if you need my help, I'm not far away."
Jim hugged her once again, and saw her to the door. "I won't forget, Leo." He watched her go, feeling slightly guilty for not telling her the truth. He didn't want to get her hopes up before he was sure that he could get Leonard back safely. It hurt too much to have to mourn someone's death more than once - he should know.
When he turned back, he saw Joanna standing just inside the living room, frowning slightly. "I'm sorry, Jim," she said as he approached her. "I... I didn't know how to... I didn't want to tell them to lie to Nana, but..."
"Shhh," Jim said, pulling her into a brief hug. "Don't worry about it, Jo. I don't want to teach them to lie, either. We may have to let them know that it's a secret, though. Something that we should only talk about when we're at home by ourselves. Maybe we can make them understand that." Jo nodded, and headed off to bed.
Jim stayed up well into the night, looking for no-questions-asked, warp-capable shuttlecraft charters.
Despite his heart-to-heart with the children about topics best left discussed in the home, only two days after his near-miss with Lenora, Jim received a call from the social worker who had assisted with their adoption of Savannah. There were some social-work type pleasantries, followed by a serious conversation about the children. "We've received disturbing news from the director at Stevenson's," she said, mentioning the day camp Savannah and Daniel attended. She described another over-heard conversation in which the children had discussed blowing out the candles with their Papa and Daddy on Joanna's birthday.
"One of the camp aides apparently tried to get the children to admit that they'd imagined the doctor's presence, but they refused to do so," the woman said.
Jim frowned. "I'm not sure it's healthy for camp directors to try to force my children to admit anything, Diana," he said sternly.
The younger woman sighed, and shook her head. "It probably wasn't the wisest thing to do, you're right, sir," she said. "But they've alerted me to the issue, and I do think it needs to be addressed. Are you-"
"I'm aware of what's happening," Jim said. "I'll be taking the children back to their grief counselor this week for a session."
Diana smiled. "Thank you, Admiral," she said. "I'll be in touch, if that's all right. Just to follow up on their progress."
Jim struggled not to scowl. "The children are fine, Diana," he said. "But you're welcome to check on them whenever you like, of course."
She thanked him again, and Jim stared balefully at the communication screen after the call ended. He didn't like the situation - not at all. He hadn't really intended to take the kids to the counselor, but now he would have to - the social worker would be expecting a report, and if he didn't take them, it would be grounds for a more official investigation.
While he was still trying to puzzle out what to do, Jim received another call. He opened the connection, and smiled when he saw Spock's face. "Good afternoon, Admiral."
"Hello, Spock," Jim replied. "Doing all right?"
"I am well, sir, and you?"
"Could be better," he said softly.
Spock's face grew grim. "Am I to assume that Admiral Barnett did not authorize you to enter the Verisian system?"
Jim shook his head, and Spock looked disappointed. "I confess that I am not surprised, Jim," he said. "I have discovered another piece of information that may be of interest to you."
"Oh?" Jim leaned forward. "What is it, Spock?"
"You are aware that the Federation is engaged in peace talks with the Klingon Empire?"
Jim nodded slowly. "Yes, I know they started the process last year. Why?"
"We were recently engaged in a small skirmish with a Klingon battle cruiser that refused to identify itself, and claimed no allegiance to the Empire," Spock continued. Jim's brows knitted, and he clenched his fists tightly at the thought of his... Spock's ship being attacked by Klingons. "We were ordered to keep the nature of the confrontation confidential, Jim," Spock said. "In fact, I was given a direct order from Admiral Komak to remove my notation that the visual design of the ship was clearly Klingon from my written report. Starfleet Command made it clear that under no circumstances were we to let others know that a Klingon vessel had been in a conflict with us. Our viewscreens recorded the event, but they have been sealed at a level that even I, as ship's captain, cannot access. It seems that Starfleet Command is reluctant to let anything jeopardize these delicate negotiations."
Jim slammed his fist on the desk, and Spock jumped slightly. "Sorry," Jim said. "Fuck! Bones could be out there somewhere, and I'm being stifled by goddamn POLITICS!"
Spock nodded slowly. "I am still unsure what connection Veris III could have to this, Jim, but any investigation into the attack on the Osler is being turned aside because of the volatile situation with the Klingons. They do not want any speculation regarding the origin of the unidentified ship to hamper the negotiations. This, and the inherent danger of Veris III, make it highly unlikely that another Admiral will be able to help you, either."
Jim lowered his head and tried to think. Command wouldn't help him, but he had to go and find Bones. He didn't give a damn about Klingons at the moment even if they did have something to do with the "unidentified ship" that had attacked the Osler, there was more to this than a simple attack. A skirmish with a Constitution Class vessel was one thing - any defeat would be covered up by the Klingons. But if they'd destroyed an entire crew, he doubted they would be secretive about it, regardless of any peace talks. But it wasn't just that. Bones had directed him to Veris III - that meant there was much more to the situation than a random attack.
When Jim looked up at him, Spock was still watching him, concern in his eyes. "Thank you, Spock. I appreciate your help with this. I..." He hesitated before continuing. "I may be unavailable for-"
"Admiral, if you plan to-"
"Spock," Jim said, holding up his hand. "You're my friend. You're more than that. You're like my flesh and blood, Spock. I'm grateful for what you've done for me, but I can't ask you to go any further."
"No, Spock," Jim said, and there was finality in his tone. "Thank you, but..."
Spock nodded his acquiescence, but Jim could tell he was upset. "Understood, Jim," he said, his voice flat, despite the frustration Jim could see in his eyes. Spock raised his hand in the Vulcan salutation. "I have no doubt that you will be unavailable via subspace communications for some time. Be careful, Jim."
Jim returned the sign. "I will."
Jim stood still, heart pounding so hard he thought it must be audible to the caseworker in front of him. "Admiral Kirk? Did you hear me, sir?"
He looked at the woman and nodded slowly. "I... I heard, Diana."
The woman looked sympathetic the same look Barnett had given him, but coming from large brown eyes beneath wavy black bangs. "I'm sorry, sir, but with the reports we've received, and the grief counselor's statement, we have no choice but to-"
"Split up my family during a time of mourning?" Jim asked darkly, feeling some of the shock begin to morph into anger.
Diana frowned, looking guilty. "Admiral, I... I'm very sorry. But the counselor's report shows that this is not the normal pattern for-"
"I know what the report says!" Jim snapped. "But these kids have been through hell, and now you want to toss them back in the system?! What the hell kind of sense does that make? How will re-traumatizing my children help them to be healthier?! Can you answer that??"
The caseworker cleared her throat, and edged back slightly. "S-sir, I... th-there's... we're trying to do what's best for-"
"By ripping them from their FATHER?! From each other??" Jim's rage boiled over and he advanced on the woman, pointing at her with his free hand. "You answer me!" he yelled. "You tell me who the HELL is going to adopt an emotional teenaged Vulcan, and two young children TOGETHER?! You'll be destroying them! You want to destroy my children!!"
"Please," Diana cried, jumping back. "Please, s-sir, I..."
Jim forced himself to stop, seeing real fear in the woman's eyes through his own near-blinding rage. "I'm sorry," he said softly. His anger dissipated suddenly, leaving only despondency in its wake. "I'm sorry, Diana." He backed away, sat down heavily on the couch and lowered his head, fighting a losing battle against tears. "I... what..." This can't be happening. "Can..." He looked up, not caring that Diana would see the stream of tears trailing down his cheeks. "Can you arrange it so that I can... r-release them into someone else's care?" he asked, practically choking on the words. "Their grandmother lives around the corner, and... s-she..." He swallowed hard. He hadn't felt so vulnerable and afraid since he'd held Leonard in his arms and pleaded with the Verisian gods to let him live. "Please help me, Diana. I'll sign them over to her, I'll get counseling, I'll do whatever you need me to do. Please don't separate my children."
The young woman sighed, and lowered her eyes, which were red and glistening with tears of her own. After a moment, she looked up at him again. "Admiral Kirk, you... you've done so much for us, and I h-hate having to... " Her voice cracked, and she cleared her throat, and tried to calm herself. "I'm sorry, sir," she said. Jim felt as if the wind had been knocked out of him, and he froze, clutching his cane tightly in both hands. "I'm sorry to have to take them away from you at all. But I will fix this, so that they can be released to their grandmother, and-"
Jim let out a heaving sob, stood up, and grabbed the social worker in a tight embrace. "Thank you," he said, when he felt like he could speak again. "Thank you so much." He released her and brushed at his tears. "I'm sorry about... s-sorry I got so angry, I-"
"Please don't mention it, sir," she said. "I'll get this straightened out, and we'll go from there, okay?"
Jim nodded, and Diana excused herself and used her personal communicator to contact the main office. In a very short time, arrangements had been made to transfer custody of the children to Lenora McCoy. Supervised visits from Jim would be allowed, followed by a return of custody pending a complete psychiatric evaluation and mandatory counseling. The agency contacted Lenora to ask her permission before Jim had a chance to speak to her, and while Diana was explaining the process, Lenora called him, almost frantic.
He took the call in private, smiling wanly at Lenora's pale face. "Oh, Jim," she breathed. "Are you... are they sure? How can they do this to you?"
Jim only shook his head, fighting against a replay of the crying fit he'd had earlier. "I'm... I'm sorry to burden you with this, Leo," he said shakily. "I-"
"God, Jim, it's no burden! I just..." Her eyes filled with tears. "You've been through so much, and now... I just hate that they're doing this! I never made any report to any agency, I want you to know that."
Jim smiled again. "I know, sweetheart," he said. "Just... thank you so much for doing this. I'll give you money for their food and-"
"You hush," she snapped, scowling at him. "Just hush that up right now! You tell me what I need to do to make this easier on you, and I..." she glanced around as if she hoped to see if Jim was alone in the room. "Well, we'll talk more when I see you again."
"Yes, ma'am," Jim said, relieved that he could be sure the children would be with family. "Thank you so much, I... I can't tell you-"
"Hush, Jim! Those are my grandkids, and they're welcome here for as long as it takes you to get them back."
Jim nodded, and they said goodbye. He elected to keep the truth from the children he didn't want them to worry, or feel guilty for having told the truth to the grief counselor. Diana stood off to one side, while Jim sat down with the kids to explain that they'd be staying with grandma for a while. The three of them looked disappointed, and T'Paola began to ask, "But how will we-" She cut herself off with a glance at Diana, and frowned.
"Don't worry about anything," Jim said. "It'll just be for a while, until I can fix up some things here, and then you'll be right back home, okay?"
They nodded, though Jim could tell T'Paola wasn't satisfied. Joanna didn't look too pleased, either. "Do I have to go, too?" she asked. "I'm eighteen, and-"
"Jo, I really think it would be better if you stayed to help Nana with the kids, dont you?"
Jo scowled darkly at the social worker, but nodded. "Okay, Jim, I will."
Jim smiled at her. "Thanks, Jo, that really means a lot to me."
By the evening, the kids had packed overnight bags, and Jim promised that he would bring more things over the next day. He drove them the five miles to Lenora's house, and they greeted each other with big hugs and big smiles that no one really felt. The younger children were sent off to put their things away in their room (Lenora had prepared rooms for each of them the moment they were brought into the family), and Lenora sat down with Jim, Diana, Joanna and T'Paola.
Diana explained the rules of the arrangement she'd made Lenora had temporary custody of the children until such time as Jim was able to take and pass a psychiatric evaluation. Then, if all went well, the children would be returned to him. If not, he would be allowed supervised visits, as long as it was deemed that his presence was not harmful to their emotional and mental health. T'Paola and Joanna protested, but Jim asked them to be patient with the situation.
"Girls, you know there's nothing wrong with me," he said. "And I promise you, this won't be forever. Just, please help make this as easy as you can for the little ones, and we'll be back together very soon, okay?" The girls nodded, and Jim turned to Diana. "Thank you again for helping me with this," he said.
She reddened, and glanced at the scowling girls. "It was no trouble, sir," she said. "I'm just... I know this is difficult for everyone, and I'm sorry. I'm sure everything will be straightened out soon."
"Thank you." There was an awkward pause, and Jim looked from Lenora to Diana. "Do you... will it be all right if I stay here a while? Do you have to supervise?"
"I'm afraid so, sir. It's part of the agreement. I won't be the one assigned to supervise future visits, but I can do it now, so you can..."
"How long can you stay?" he asked.
Diana checked her PADD, and said, "I'm supposed to have lunch now, and I have another meeting about three hours. I-"
"If you have to go to lunch-"
"No, I can wait, I'll-"
"You'll have your lunch right here," Lenora said, walking up to Diana and patting her on the shoulder. "Come on, honey, I'm sure we've got something you'd like."
Without waiting for a response, Lenora swept the caseworker off to the kitchen. Joanna giggled, and Jim grinned at her. He called the other kids out, and the five of them played games while Lenora occupied Diana in the kitchen. After their lunch, the two women came into the living room and talked while Jim continued to play with the kids.
When Diana reluctantly told Jim that she had to leave to make her next appointment, he tried to be graceful. The children's pleas for Jim to stay didn't help. He shook his head and told them he'd be back soon. Lenora saw Jim and Diana too the door. The social worker apologized for the situation again, and got into her car. Lenora gave Jim a tight hug. "Now, you listen to me, Jim," she said softly. "I don't give a good god damn about any supervised visits. When you want to see these kids, you come right over here and see them, you hear me?"
Jim smiled, feeling his eyes starting to mist. "You're a jewel, Leo," he said. "We... we'll play it safe for now, but if I don't..." He shook his head, unwilling to acknowledge the possibility that this might be permanent. "It'll be okay." She nodded, and Jim said goodbye to the children again. Thankfully, Daniel and Savannah didn't seem upset he'd left them at Nana's overnight before, so they weren't as troubled as T'Paola and Joanna clearly were. With a supreme effort, he managed to wave goodbye and get into his transport without shedding fresh tears.
Jim drove slowly home, trying to block out all thought. When he stepped inside, and the door closed him into the empty, unnaturally quiet house, Jim felt something within him crumble. The enormity of everything he had lost crashed down on him, and he stumbled into his chair, trying not to vomit. The sofa beside him was empty. The chair across from him Leonard's chair empty. There were no sounds but his own ragged breathing. Even though he knew Lenora would be true to her word, he was still alone now. Now, not only would there be no strong, gentle arms to encircle him, but even the reassurance of a small, hesitant hand on his arm, silently telling Daddy that everything would be okay, had been taken from him. Jim's hands shook, and before he could shove them down, his sobs broke forth.