Dedication III: The Search for Bones
Chapter 7 - On the Right Track

"Do you have to go, Daddy?"

"Yes, I do, sweetheart."

Her lip trembles, and you want to scoop her into your arms. You wait. "But... what... what if you d-don't-" The tears spill out, and you pull her gently to you and hold her tight. She squeezes you back, and your breath catches - at fourteen, your little Vulcan daughter is not so little anymore. She's still short - only 5'5" - and slight for her age, but still much stronger than a human of the same size.

"I will be back," you tell her.

She sobs and holds you tighter. "Th-that's what Papa s-said."

You hold her tighter, but you have no idea what to say. She's right. And even if you survive, you're about to violate an unknown number of Starfleet regulations. You may end up in prison for the rest of your life. But it's a risk you'll have to take, and one you can't explain to her. Not yet.

After a moment, you pull away from her, and look into her shining brown eyes. "I know you have lost much, First-Child," you say in Vulcan. "But you will never lose me. Even if you never see me again." She swallows, and you wipe away a tear from her cheek. "You are my katra, T'Paola. Do you understand that?"

"Yes, Father," she answers. Vulcan has no diminutive form of the "parental honorific".

You hold her to you again. "I know you're afraid, sweetheart," you say, returning to Standard. "But I know how strong you are, too. I know you'll be brave for me. And for Papa." Her arms tighten reflexively around you. "You'll be strong for Daniel and Savannah. You can do that for me, right?"

"Yes, Daddy." Her words are muffled because her face is buried in your chest. You hold her until she's calmed down, then ask her to go and get Joanna.

By the day's end, your shirt is wet with the tears of your four children and your mother-in-law. By the end of your subspace communication with your mother, your own tears have mingled with theirs.

Jim sat up suddenly, jarred from the memory of his last visit with his family by a warning beep from his console. He shook himself and glanced at the control board, making a course change to adjust for some abnormal gravitational activity nearby. He took a long-range sensor sweep of the area, confirming that there were no Federation vessels nearby. He'd checked the published information already, but he felt the need to double check every now and then, just to be on the safe side.

There had been no pursuit from Earth. Of course, if they'd reported the theft to Command, and Barnett had found out about it, they almost certainly knew where he was headed anyway. If they attempted to pursue him, or cut him off, he would cross that bridge when he came to it, but in the meantime, he kept a close watch of his surroundings via repeated scans.

Time worried him. The Armstrong was an excellent craft for its type - capable of quick maneuvering, and able to make speeds up to warp five for short periods. But it was a shuttlecraft, and they were not designed for extended space travel. Keeping the craft running at warp five indefinitely would destroy the engines eventually, and Veris III was quite some distance from Earth. He planned to travel at warp three for most of the trip, with daily bursts at warp five. Even then, the course he'd plotted would take him almost four weeks to complete. He'd plotted a round-about course that wouldn't take him directly to Veris III, knowing that Starfleet would expect him to do just that. It galled him to have to play cat and mouse games while Leonard was in danger, but he'd never reach his husband if he was arrested before he could make it to the Verisian system.

The first few days of travel were both tense and exciting to him. He was in space again! He was finally on his way to find Bones, and he felt good about being on some kind of space mission again - unsanctioned though this particular mission might be. By the fourth day, he was more edgy than excited. The detours that he'd planned for himself began to agitate him, and he longed to change to a more direct course.

The loneliness began to work against him as well. He'd never felt so isolated before. For one thing, the bulk of his space travel had taken place aboard a ship populated with over eight hundred people. The few times Jim had traveled off planet since his injury had been short trips to near-by systems, and Leonard had almost always come with him. This time, he was completely alone - he couldn't even contact his family for fear of revealing his position to Starfleet. He had nothing to keep him company but the warped view of space-time in the small viewscreen, and the twills of his various console programs.

Jim kept himself sane by playing music programs from the computer banks, and challenging the computer to chess games. Even then, he wished he had Spock to play with. Eventually, the computer grated on his nerves - there was no one to care about his smug looks, or make quips at him while pretending to have no sense of humor. Playing with Bones was pretty entertaining, too, as was teaching T'Paola how to play, but the computer was an unsatisfactory opponent. Besides, he missed being able to hold onto the pieces.

After losing to the computer for the sixth time in a row on his ninth day out, Jim punched the button to close the program with more force than necessary and glared out at the warping of space. "Didn't go the way you planned?"

"Shit!" Jim sprang away from the voice so fast that he lost his balance and fell hard to the floor of the shuttle. He landed on his bad hip and let out a sharp hiss of pain.

A second later, Bones was crouched beside him, concern in his eyes. "I'm so sorry, sugar, I didn't mean to scare you!"

Jim chuckled, though he was still in pain. "It's okay, Bones," he said. "Guess I lost track of the days."

Leonard stood up and extended a hand. "C'mon, I'll help you up." Jim eyed the hand warily, even though he'd touched Len before, and he'd seen Len pick up the kids, and knew he was solid. "C'mon, Jim, I'm not getting any younger." He winked, and Jim grasped his hand and let Leonard help him to his feet. Len supported Jim until he could get seated again, then placed a hand on his own hip. He frowned. "Dammit, I thought I had my medikit with me. Some doctor I am."

"Don't worry, Bones," Jim said. "I feel better already. Here, have a seat. I... I'm surprised to see you. I had no idea you could find me out here," he said honestly.

Leonard sat down and smiled at Jim. "Oh? We always fly together, don't we?"

Jim nodded. "Sure, Bones. So... how are you feeling?"

"Never better," he said brightly. "You're on the right track, Jim." Jim gasped, and Leonard looked quizzically at him. "What's wrong?"

"I... n-nothing. Do you know where we're going, Bones?"

Leonard frowned slightly, and thought for a moment. "I think we're going to help someone," he answered. He looked at Jim, still frowning slightly. "Is that right?" Jim swallowed and nodded, eliciting a bright smile from the doctor. "That's good. You're on the right track. I can feel it in my bones." He laughed at his own pun, and Jim smiled.

"Bones, where are you?" he asked, trying to sound casual. "Are... are you alive? Are you safe?"

Bones' smile disappeared, and he looked at Jim with a serious expression. "Yes and no," he said, voice completely deadpan.

Jim gripped the arms of the chair tightly, trying to control his breathing. The answer was simple, but the phrase Leonard chose made his stomach twist inside him. He remembered the Third Queen's sympathetic eyes as she used those very words to tell him that Bones would not be allowed to live. "So, you'll release my other officers? You'll let Bones go?" "Yes, and no."

"Bones," his voice cracked, and he cleared his throat. "Why... why aren't you safe?"

Len looked sadly at him. "Because he wants to hurt you, Jim."

"Who, who wants to hurt me? Can you tell me where you are?"

Leonard thought for a moment, frowning hard. Finally, he looked up and smiled. "I'm here, Jim. I'm with you, where I belong. The children are with Mama, and we're going to help people. We're on the right track."

Jim forced a smile, but he could feel tears welling in his eyes. "Bones," he asked, not bothering to try to hide the shakiness of his voice.

"Yeah, sugar?"

"Can we... could you do me a favor?"

"Anything for you, Jim, you know that."

Jim smiled and jerked his head in the direction of the back of the shuttle. "C'mere." The two men got up and Leonard followed Jim to the back of the shuttle. Jim sat down on the single long bench that was meant for emergency medical treatment, and that he had been using as his bed. He patted the cot beside him. Bones smiled and sat down next to Jim. "Could... could you just hold me, Bones?"

"Of course, honey. We haven't had much time to ourselves lately, have we?" Jim shook his head. All Leonard's other visits had been spent interacting with the kids, and it wasn't until this very moment that Jim realized he hadn't had a chance to just sit and be held by his husband, despite the miracle of his weekly appearances. Leonard leaned against the bulkhead and beckoned to Jim. Jim leaned heavily against Leonard's chest, lifting his legs onto the cot. He shuddered, and squeezed his eyes shut against stinging tears when Leonard wrapped his arms around him and squeezed tight. He could feel his own body shaking, and Leonard tightened his hold and rocked him slightly. "Shhhh. It's all right, Jim. Everything's all right. Just rest."

Jim wrapped his arms around Leonard's waist, buried his face in Len's chest and just breathed.

Chapter 6
Chapter 8

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