Part 1: Revelations
The Enterprise hummed quietly around him with the muted sounds of gamma shift as Bones strolled down the corridor. Once upon a time—ok five years ago, for sure—Bones would have found the sounds of the ship and the silence of space to be anxiety-inducing at best. Now, two years into the Enterprise’s first five-year mission, after the academy and the Narada incident and losing Vulcan and almost losing Earth, Bones found the sounds peaceful, soothing. Of course, five years ago, he wasn’t Bones, he was still Leonard—Leo—McCoy, and he’d never dreamed he could be comfortable—happy even—in space. But Leo had never been happy or comfortable anywhere, not genuinely and without reservation; in fact, Leo had never been real—he’d been a construct, a facade, a persona and illusion Bones tried to slip into to make himself fit... to make himself live up to the expectations of family, culture, and community. But when all that fell apart, Bones had finally found himself, and shed Leo for good.
And he had one wonderful (infuriating, stubborn, childish, obnoxious) and brave man to thank for it. The man who’d named him and showed him how not to be afraid. The man Bones had risked everything to drag into space with him. The man whose quarters he’d just left... James Tiberius Kirk.
Bones smiled as he passed a young science ensign in the hall, tipping his head in greeting as he was lost in thought. It was late, and he was heading back to his quarters. But soon, maybe he wouldn’t have to walk along these halls each night leaving Jim behind.
They hadn’t committed to anything, not yet anyway, but their relationship had been slowly, inexorably drawing them closer and closer together, towards what felt like the inevitable conclusion. The Enterprise was going to be in spacedock for repairs and resupplying for the next two months, and in a week or so, he and Jim would be free—together—on shore leave, on Earth for the first time since joining Starfleet. If everything went according to plans, they should have at least a month of vacationing alone together to sort out their relationship and —maybe, hopefully, definitely—take things to the next level. Bones was looking forward to it.
Only, Bones really should have known that nothing ever goes according to plans. Not in Starfleet, and definitely not where he or Jim Kirk were concerned.
Bones awoke early the next morning. He had paperwork to get through—mountains and mountains of paperwork, it seemed—before they arrived at spacedock. He got up, stretched, and went through his usual morning routine: pushups, sit-ups, and a couple hundred jumping jacks in his quarters; then hitting the head to relieve himself, brush his teeth, and shave; before finishing off with a nice, relaxing sonic shower. The sequence was familiar and comforting, and he hummed tunelessly and smiled as he dressed for the day. He was catching breakfast with Jim in the mess before alpha shift, and then they’d part and go their separate ways… Jim to the bridge to do Captainy things and then off to his ready room to wade through his own Everest of paperwork, and Bones to sickbay to get through appointments with a dozen or so crewpersons and officers whose vaccinations or physicals were overdue and then off to his office to tackle the paperwork.
Breakfast went swimmingly; he and Jim flirted and maybe even kind of played footsie under the table, even though they were right there in the middle of the mess where anyone could see them. Bones was pretty sure Scotty was shooting approving glances at them, and once when he dropped his napkin, he caught Uhura shaking he head in a sort of exasperated knowingness that made him feel even more—giddy. Ok, so maybe he—maybe they both—were acting like love-struck teenagers, but that was just it. A few years ago, Bones could never have done this—indulged his feelings for Jim or even allowed himself to conceive of the possibility their friendship could develop into something more. Hell, when he was in med school, he’d probably have run the other way and not even let himself befriend Jim for fear of what could happen. The temptation would have terrified Leo, and he would have made himself sick trying to deny his heart’s desire. But he wasn’t Leo anymore.
He was Bones now, thanks to Jim. And Bones was pretty sure that five years ago, Jim would never have been secure enough in himself to even entertain the idea of a relationship, let alone the possibility of a serious relationship with his best friend. For that matter, back then Jim didn’t even have friends.
Bones’s pleasant morning turned into a tedious, but still happy, afternoon as he finished the last of the physicals and started in on paperwork. Really, he would never understand why so many people insisted on putting off a routine physical until the last minute; exams weren’t even invasive anymore. It’s not like we’re living in the dark ages, or even the twenty-first century, when exams involved lots of uncomfortable poking and prodding and things that were down right… violations… of individual autonomy and bodily integrity, Bones shuddered at the thought. Yet still, many members of the crew squirmed and ducked away from allowing a doctor to run a medical tricorder over them, shied away from having a biobed read their vitals, and even dodged the completely painless touch of a hypospray. Of course, Jim was the worst in that department. Bones chuckled at the mental image. Jim acted like hypos stung and biobeds burned, and he screamed and fussed and hated anything associated with medical treatment or even anything vaguely clinical.
But Jim had his reasons. Good reasons that made Bones shudder and feel sick when they came to mind. Jim’s behavior had completely understandable—predictable, even—psychological bases, and Bones was slowly trying to accept and understand and help his best friend (and maybe more) work his way through… to overcome. And Jim was better; he was getting better. He didn’t act like Bones had stabbed him every time he needed a hypo (which, thanks to Jim’s haywire immune system, was at least once a week), and Jim was more accepting of medical care—at least if Bones was the treating physician.
That still didn’t explain the other yahoos who insisted on avoiding the doctor, and whose procrastination left Bones eating a chicken salad sandwich and his third (fourth?) cup of coffee at his desk instead of taking a proper lunch break that day. At the time, he thought nothing of it, because he and Jim had just commed back and forth sharing anecdotes (without violation confidentiality of course) about their common predicament—stuck in their offices with no time and too much paperwork. He’d verified that Jim was eating (Yes, mother, I’ve got a bowl of vegan chili and a glass of iced green tea, are you happy?), which was a constant source of concern. He’d then followed up by sending Spock a message to check on Jim in a half hour’s time to make sure the food was really gone. (He was grateful that Jim and Spock were actually becoming friends now because two years ago, Spock would never have understood the logic in needing to ‘verify the gastronomical behaviors and activity of the Captain,’ whereas now he acknowledged Bones’s request without any bickering.)
Later on, however, Bones would wonder what would have happened if he hadn’t been at his desk when the message came through. What if he’d gone to the mess? Or taken a break in the rec room? Or gone for a jog in the gym?
Beep. The alarm on the comm startled Bones enough to make him drop the PADD he’d been absorbed in, his vision starting to blur as he went over Lt. Peel’s records for the third time, trying to figure out why her personnel file contained one fewer record of medical treatment than her medical file. The PADD clattered to the floor as Bones jerked with a start, almost knocking the shatterproof plate with the remains of his half-eaten sandwich on it to the ground.
The screen told him he had an incoming priority one subspace message from Earth, but not on an official Starfleet channel. Bones scratched his head in confusion for a moment, rubbing his fingers across bleary eyes as if maybe the message would resolve itself into something more… understandable? He could make sense of receiving a priority one message from the Admiralty or Starfleet Medical. He could understand having a priority one message from New Vulcan routed through Starfleet Headquarters on its way to him. But outside of Starfleet and the colleagues—friends—he’d made in the Vulcan refugee community, Bones couldn’t really think of anyone who’d contact him from Earth. He hadn’t spoken to his mother since the aftermath of the Narada incident and he hadn’t spoken to any of his sisters since he’d left Savannah. Things were still somewhat awkward between him and his family, to put it lightly. Other than that… well, there was Jocelyn and, his heart clenched at the thought Joanna…
Bones tried to clamp down on the flood of emotion that threatened to overwhelm him every time he thought of his daughter growing up without him. She was eleven now, her birthday had been a month ago. He’d sent the same recorded subspace message he did every year and made sure a gift—books, Vulcan classics this year, literature always seemed like a safe bet for someone he didn’t really know anymore—and as usual received no response, no indication or confirmation she’d the message or gift had even arrived. Jocelyn’s policy of radio silence in action, as usual. It didn’t hurt as much as it used to. She had every reason and every right to hate him, and while he was finally strong enough to admit (and believe it—again, thanks mostly to Jim’s influence) he didn’t agree, he certainly understood where she was coming from in wanting to keep Jo away from him and his… influence. So, certainly it couldn’t be Jocelyn (or Jo) contacting him now, could it?
Unless… Unless something happened. Jo got sick, or hurt? Joce would tell me then, wouldn’t she? Would she? His heart leapt in his throat as his hands skittered across his desk to the controls, pressing the button that would accept the incoming transmission. But then he hesitated, took a deep breath, and steadied himself. He was working on his aviaphobia, had been for the last five years, and that was exactly the same kind of irrational panic thinking that had him calculating the odds of dying from explosive decompression due to micrometeorite strike. Someone was contacting him, it was important, he had no reason to know who or why.
Feeling his heart rate slowing a little, he reached forward the rest of the way and pressed the button… only to suck in a startled gasp, gulping it back in another frenzied attempt to retain composure, when he saw his ex-wife’s image filling the screen.
“Hi Leo,” Jocelyn said, her tone and expression unreadable. She was sitting in front of the comm in what he thought he recognized as the living room of his—their—her house in Savannah. There was no desk or table between her and the screen—which came as a little bit of a surprise to Bones, since he couldn’t remember the last time he’d gotten a call from someone who wasn’t a Starfleet officer calling from their office or on-ship quarters. She was wearing a baby blue, boat neck sweater and knee length tweed skirt, and would have looked like perfect example of a modern Southern Belle if not for the unladylike crossed legs and her somewhat messy hair—strawberry blonde flyaways escaping from her hairdo and surrounding her head like a messy halo. Only there was nothing angelic about Jocelyn Darnell, and right now she looked more haggard than ethereal.
Bones cringed at the use of his old name. He entertained telling her that no one had really called him “Leo” or “Len” or even “Leonard” since his “Introduction to Astrophysics for Non-Tactical Cadets” course his first semester at the Academy, but decided against it. After all, he didn’t know why Jocelyn was calling, and launching an in-depth explanation of his personal development and self-identity over the past five years, would be overkill if she was never going to talk to him beyond this subspace chat. “Hi, Joce,” he answered instead, keeping his tone light and noncommittal and using the same degree of annoying familiarity she had used.
Jocelyn seemed to blanch at the nickname. She shifted in front of the comm, seeming almost twitchy, definitely uncomfortable—which was really unlike Jocelyn.
The only other time he’d seen her shift in her seat like that was the day she made him tell her parents why they were getting a divorce. Bones felt his expression sour at the recollection. Apparently she felt his—failings had reflected poorly on her, at least as far as her parents were concerned. Bones pushed the memory to the back of his mind, shoving it down in the cramped space he had back there for all the thoughts and feelings and worries that threatened to overwhelm him and needed to be dealt with later when he had more control and perspective on the situation.
“Look, Leo, I’m sorry to be contacting you out of the blue, like this, but…” She trailed off, clearly struggling with what to say. “I know the Enterprise is scheduled for shore leave on Earth for a couple of months. And I… I don’t know…” she stuttered, uncrossing and re-crossing her legs and twisting at the hem of her skirt with her hands. “I don’t know when you’re going to be down here, or if you’re coming, but…”
When her voice trailed off again, Bones couldn’t take it anymore. This—awkwardness—painful, miserable, uncomfortable inability to communicate with a woman he’d once shared (tried to share) his life with made his stomach churn and his palms sweat and generally threatened to undo all the personal development and confidence he’d regained over the past five years. He just felt so judged and guilty. “What, Jocelyn,” he said, cutting the faux familiarity, “are you going to ask me not to come to Earth? Or reminding me to stay away from Georgia? I haven’t forgotten about the restraining order, even if I do think it’s unenforceable under Federation law.” Ok, that sounded far more bitter than he would have liked, but Bones was unprepared. He’d been having a good day, and honestly, while he’d daydreamed wistfully about seeing Jo while he was in the Sol system and had fretted over not being able to, he certainly hadn’t thought about actually confronting Jocelyn.
“Jesus Christ, Leonard! Do you have to make this so damn hard?” Jocelyn exclaimed, swiping angrily at her cheek. The way she said it, ‘Jesus Christ’ and ‘damn,’ was like he was tearing the words out of her, making her take the lord’s name in vain, cuss, with his obstinate, disagreeable, maddening behavior. She probably thought that too, probably wouldn’t swear if not for him, and Bones hated himself for it. Jocelyn had always been a good Southern girl—a genuinely nice woman—a person who never swore nor resorted to hyperbole nor spoke ill of others... unless she was really, really upset or felt betrayed by someone. And Bones knew he fit that category, that teeny tiny category of people who had wronged Jocelyn Darnell enough to bring out the worst in her. In all the hundreds of years of cultural evolution and enlightenment and the institution of an egalitarian world government and changing prejudices and stereotypes and new sources of xenophobia and racism Terrans developed as they’d been exposed to more alien species, a lot of things about good old Southern culture remained unchanged. Loyalty was first and foremost to the family, which was usually big and extended, and that loyalty included maintaining family reputation and status. Bones—or rather Leo—had failed rather miserably in that regard, one failing in a series that had earned him Jocelyn’s undying disgust and disapproval.
Unfortunately that cut both ways. “Could you just get to the point?” he burst out trying not to explode or regress five years. “I’m sorry, Jocelyn,” he tried, his tone pleading as he tugged at his blue uniform shirt and tried to compose himself. Maybe if he looked the part, he’d start feeling the confidence and self-acceptance he’d cultured during his time in Starfleet, his time knowing Jim. “Pardon me, but I wasn’t expecting your call. You came through with priority one importance, so whatever it is, why don’t we cut to the chase, so we can get out of each other’s hair and stop making ourselves so miserable.” He smiled, or at least it was supposed to be a smile; he had a feeling it came off more as a grimace.
Jocelyn swiped at her cheek again, only this time he could actually see tears rolling down her cheek, and the knot in his stomach started to tighten again, the fear and dread that something was really, terribly wrong ratcheting up, shoving aside the annoyance and anger that had temporarily taken its place. Jocelyn didn’t cry, not in public, not even when it was just family around. Well, not unless her entire personality had changed drastically since they’d last talked. Joce only cried by herself and only then when something life-altering was happening. The last time he’d seen her cry had been right after their big fight, the one in which everything had come out and torpedoed their marriage. So, if she was crying now…
“Joce, what is it? What’s wrong?” he asked, voice more hesitant, filling with concern and trepidation.
Onscreen Jocelyn sniffed, and tugged at her skirt a little more, but her demeanor still seemed more angry—pissed—than just outright sad. Rather than acknowledging Bones’s olive branch, her jaw set in a hard line.
Bones tensed, bracing himself in anticipation of Jocelyn’s tirade.
“You see, this is why I almost didn’t tell you. Why… why I didn’t say anything before now!” She was livid, her eyes and face turning red as her hands gesticulated in frustration.
“Why you didn’t tell me what, Jocelyn? What are you talking abo—” he shot back, but his words died on his lips as she cut him off.
“You always think you can fix things. Just make it work. Gloss over the edges, and if you convince yourself, then it must be true. Hah!” she sniffed, her breath hitching in a heaving sigh. “Only there’s some things that don’t…. don’t fix! That can’t be made right or changed. Like… Like you! And our marriage. And now…” Jocelyn shook her head staring down at her hands which were once again clenching in her skirt.
He noticed she had a ring—an engagement ring by the looks of it—on her left hand, but she wasn’t looking at it… seemed almost to be ignoring it. Her nails, usually freshly manicured, were broken short, ragged almost as if she’d been biting them and the polish was chipped and scratched and plum-colored, which didn’t match anything she was wearing… The Jocelyn he knew had used nail lacquer like armor. Even on the day of the custody hearing—the day she’d taken Jo from him (maybe for the better, maybe not)—her nails had been polished a chip-free, sea foam green with a pearlescent top coat that had matched her retro-styled chenille suit perfectly. Bones remembered because he—Leo—had fixated on them. Their perfection and control had been so contrary to how he’d felt, and they’d symbolized everything that Jocelyn was that he wasn’t—could never—be (in control, polished, proper, a good Southern child). The contrast between then and now sent shivers racing up and down his spine. “What is it? Jocelyn, what can’t be fixed? What’s wrong?” he pleaded, sliding forward on his chair and knocking the now-forgotten remains of the chicken salad sandwich onto the floor, the plate making a muted thump on the standard-issue Starfleet carpeting.
“You’re going to be angry with me. You’re going to get mad and rage and be furious because I didn’t tell you before. Didn’t tell you sooner and…” Jocelyn sighed, her chest heaving, “and you’d be right. I should have. You deserved to know. But I—I just wanted some time together, to work through it. You weren’t there, you aren’t ever going to be there, so it didn’t feel right to drag you back in, or lay this on you when you were somewhere in deep space on some top-secret mission and wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. I was protecting you as much as me and…” her voice trailed off again.
It was clear there was something—someone—she wasn’t mentioning, and Bones could feel himself sliding closer and closer to the edge of his chair, closer and closer to the screen; his ears were ringing, his face was numb, and he could feel the sandwich turning to lead in his stomach. He wanted to plead again, to just get the answer, to short-circuit the growing tide of dread and disbelief inside him. But she had started talking again, and he couldn’t—wouldn’t—interrupt. Not now. Not when he was pretty sure he didn’t want to hear.
“And I’ll be honest, I’m only telling you now because you’re here and she asked me to tell you,” Jocelyn finished, wiping her eyes again, the backs of both hands smearing across her tear-streaked face, no match for the dampness she found there.
“Who asked, Joce?” Bones whispered, his voice cracking. “What aren’t you telling me?”
“Jo. Joanna asked me to tell you… because she’s sick,” Jocelyn said her voice coming through in a shaky version of its familiar controlled, commanding tone.
“Sick, sick how?” he asked, his hand gripping the desk in a vise-grip, this time knocking the coffee cup to the side, it sloshed over his hand, dribbling onto the floor, but he ignored it.
“Vespasian-Telos Lymphoma, Leonard!” He voice rang out, accusatory, blaming, hateful. “I… I’m sorry,” she retreated, looking chagrined.
It was Bones’ turn to look down at his hands. They were shaking. He understood the accusation, he was the carrier after all… or rather they both were, but… it was a rare genetic disease that only manifested when an individual had both copies of the recessive allele of one gene and specific allele of another related gene of which there were roughly a dozen common variations among the human population. Leo—Bones—was the carrier of one recessive and the specific allele of the second gene. Jocelyn had just contributed her recessive, but… “But, we fixed that!” Bones stammered in disbelief. “She had the gene therapy in utero, they repaired my defective allele and she was supposed to be fine… she was fine!” He couldn’t keep the accusation out of his voice.
“See, I told you, always trying to fix everything! You of all people could know you can’t just fix things. Look at how you tried to fix yourself, huh? How’d that work out?” Jocelyn spat back.
Bones was taken aback at the outburst, but he could see Joce was crying again… really crying. Tears streaming down her face. But still, that cut to the bone. He had tried to be someone he wasn’t, and he’d married Jocelyn, and Joanna was the result. And he’d always felt like Jo was the one good thing Leo McCoy had done, even if he fucked everything else up, even if he failed the people he loved again and again—from ruining Joce’s dreams for the future to failing his father… At least Jo was someone good and pure and full of potential, and he’d helped bring her into the world. Only now, if what Joce was saying was true, had his misguided attempts to fix himself created Jo only to condemn her to a brief, miserable life of suffering? He shook himself mentally and physically. He couldn’t—wouldn’t—think that way. No. That was the same kind of bullshit that led to the Eugenics wars, people making value judgments about what life was worth living and trying to be ‘better’ more ‘perfect’… whatever that meant. It was why gene therapy and modification was so tightly restricted. Restricted, but not prohibited altogether, and Vespasian-Telos was on the list of approved ‘genetic defects’ for which gene resequencing was permitted. They’d gotten Jo the treatment. She’d been fine—healthy and happy the last time he’d seen her.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Jocelyn was murmuring over and over, rocking in her seat. “I… That’s not why I called. I didn’t call to blame you. This… you couldn’t have done anything.”
“I—I don’t understand, Jocelyn, how is Jo sick? She got the treatment, it worked?” he asked.
“She has a rare form. They said it’s tertiary gene involvement. It’s something the geneticists and the oncologists have only begun to study recently, so the doctors haven’t been all that clear. Apparently there’s another… gene; another gene that can have the same interaction to produce the same faulty proteins that lead to abnormal cell growth and formation. Only it… there’s not just one specific allele… there’s a few. Really rare. Different ones, which is why they didn’t catch it. They only cause problems when puberty starts and the hormone levels…” Jocelyn’s voice broke and she hiccoughed.
Bones waited, not patiently, but too stunned to speak, his hands shaking, as Jocelyn gathered herself, wiping at her cheeks again and straightening in her chair. He recognized this. She was composing herself. Pulling back in, putting on the face she showed the world to say ‘everything’s just fine’ even when the universe was crashing down around their ears. He’d seen it before. Hoped he’d never see it again.
“They’ve saved a few kids by giving treatment to delay puberty,” Jocelyn started looking pointedly at Bones as if expecting a response.
He nodded in acknowledgment, hoping it would prompt her to continue.
“But those are only the kids who… who have the bad genes they’ve already mapped. So they knew to test. Jo… was the first case with this specific tertiary gene interaction, so they didn’t know… didn’t know until she’d started puberty and it was too late and…” Jocelyn looked down at her hands, silent.
The silence stretched between them over the impossible distance of space. Only the dull hum of the Enterprise’s electronics and the thrum of the warp drive made any noise. They were sounds Bones had come to find familiar, comforting, over the past two years, but right now, they made him sick, claustrophobic. It was his aviaphobia rearing its ugly head again. Suddenly he felt like he couldn’t breathe, the walls were either closing in or flying apart, leaving him naked and alone in space without protection, ready for every single molecule of his body to burst as he succumbed to explosive decompression. Space—all that empty nothingness, still too much of it between him and his daughter, who needed him. “How—how long has Jo been sick?” Bones managed at last.
Jocelyn hiccoughed again, “A—a year—a little more,” she sighed, “at first… it took about a month to figure out what was going on, but about a month before Jo turned ten, they had a diagnosis. We… we tried to see if we could get her on a list for follow-up treatment. But… they don’t have a gene therapy for her strain yet, because it was brand new, and besides, the waiting list and applications for getting approved for a second genetic intervention are… well, it’s almost impossible. They have to review each case through a three-tiered process, and it can take three years, and they look at the likelihood of success and how proven the treatment. They’re scared, Leo. Scared that someone’s going to try to use some sick person as a guinea pig and build another Khan Singh.” She shuddered. Jocelyn was a historian; and Bones knew she understood better than most people where that fear came from. “They’re scared, but it’s killing my little girl,” she whispered.
“Joce,” Bones croaked, his voice seeming to evaporate as the lump in his throat swelled, “how is she? Isn’t there another treatment, something else they’re trying?” He felt foolish as he spoke, after all he was the doctor, he was the one who knew how… pessimistic the prognosis could be for cancers (human and otherwise) that didn’t respond to the usual treatments modern medical science had spent roughly the last 300 years perfecting. And here he was asking—demanding, begging—Jocelyn to provide answers he didn’t have.
How didn’t I know? he asked himself. Wouldn’t I have heard something about rare strains of childhood cancer? Wouldn’t I have sensed that there was something wrong with my daughter? But even as he wondered he knew the answers. No. Bones specialized in xenomedicine, not pediatrics or oncology, and while he had experience working with gene resequencing in limited, approved contexts, it wasn’t his primary focus. Besides, he’d spent the last two years as CMO of the Federation’s flagship, much of that time far, far from Earth. He’d had no contact with Joanna, and while he loved her very deeply he wasn’t a telepath—his esper rating was pretty much nil. So, it was unsurprising he hadn’t heard anything. And like it or not, Joce was right, if she’d commed him and told him what was going on while he was busy treating an outbreak on some distant planet or patching up war wounds from hostilities along the neutral zone... it would have tortured him, because there would be know way for him to help or even respond, at least not without abandoning his mission.... and he wasn’t going to do that. Joce might think bad things about his ability to follow the Hippocratic Oath, but apparently even she didn’t think he could abandon his post in a crisis.
After what was probably another long silence—Bones was too lost in thought to know for sure—he collected himself enough to ask the questions to which he was pretty sure he wasn’t going to like the answers. “How… how’s she doing?” he asked.
“Not well.” Jocelyn’s reply was terse, but she seemed to reconsider as wave of something, maybe compassion, possibly weariness, washing over her face. “She’s been resilient, hanging in there, she’d probably say. Kept a positive attitude, and I think she’s been trying to enjoy herself as much as possible.” Jocelyn smiled her features filled with pride even as her tears welled up in her eyes again.
Bones knew it was pride because he could feel the same fire burning fiercely within him. That’s my girl, he thought, even as the voice in the back of his mind reminded him he hadn’t really had much influence over Joanna’s life, at least not since she was six, and maybe even before.
“We don’t know how long she has. It’s been difficult... watching her get sicker.” It could have been accusatory, but Jocelyn’s voice held no anger.
“Isn’t there something else... some other treatment... they could do? There must be something—” Bones could hear himself speaking the words, but he wasn’t really thinking. The words were just coming. Here he was, CMO of the Federation flagship, and he was spluttering on about treatments and something like any other, ignorant parent faced with disbelief at the impossibility his child could be dying. In the back of his mind, he was already running through possible alternatives, other types of therapies, theories, rejecting them as he went.
“They’ve had her on a... more primitive treatment for the last year,” Jocelyn shuddered.
A cold shiver ran up and down Bones’s spine, knowing Jocelyn’s forthcoming words would sicken both as a parent and a doctor.
“It’s a form of targeted che... chemical therapy,” Jocelyn continued. “Apparently it’s what they used in the 20th and 21st centuries before they had some of the gene therapies worked out and after the Eugenics Wars when all resequencing was banned, but I guess you would know that.” Jocelyn sounded weary.
Bones sat there dumbly, staring at the screen, his mind struggling to catch up with the quickly listing, twisted worldview that had just snuck up and consumed his live. “Chemical therapy?” he stammered, “But that will actually make her sick...” Bones shuddered at the thought of reckless doctors pumping poison into his little girl’s veins. They taught about twentieth century chemotherapy treatments in his medical history classes; he’d studied all about the barbarism the untargeted therapies, the harm they caused, and the relative infrequency of their success.
“It has!” Jocelyn shot back with frustration Bones knew—for once—wasn’t directed at him. “She’s been nauseous and tired and lost her hair... and she’s been in pain—achy like the flu, but I don’t know if that’s the Vespasian-Telos or the medication.” Jocelyn’s expression sobered further, “She was ok, for a while, but now she’s just so tired... and the kids at school are teasing her. And her doctor said the drugs are starting to do more harm than good...” Jocelyn’s lip quivered, and for a moment, Bones actually thought she was going to break down and start sobbing, but that steely line came back to her jaw, and Jocelyn regained control.
“What, what do you want me to do?” he asked. He already had ideas—theories—about treatments to try, people to contact, ways to help. He could get around the gene therapy restrictions; he could make the Federation government see; he could help Jo and all the other children like her... But only if Jocelyn let him. Bones knew, if Joce wanted to, she could torpedo his career, shame and embarrass him in front of his family and colleagues, and still keep him from seeing Jo. Jo who now might never grow up. Damnit! he cursed inwardly. He couldn’t sit idly by while his daughter suffered and maybe died. He’d been traipsing around the galaxy for the last year while she was sick, and he didn’t know. Well that stopped now. He’d give Jo her life back—even if it cost him his career and his reputation, if he had to call in every last favor and owe a few more, even if it took him away from the Enterprise and the life and identity he’d built for himself, he had to do it. She was his kid. The best thing Bones—or Leo—had ever done.
“Part of me wants you to stay away, just let us handle this. You’re not a part of our lives anymore,” Jocelyn admitted, drawing Bones’s attention back. “But Jo wants to see you,” she sniffed and swatted at a wayward tear, “and I want to make her happy. And maybe... maybe Leonard, you can fix this?”
Bones felt himself shaking with tension, part of him furious she still didn’t want him involved, that she’d kept this from him for so long; the rest of him anxious and desperate—needing to get down there so he could see Jo, figure out how to make this right. He’d failed his father. He wasn’t going to fail his daughter too.
“I’ll come,” he whispered. Then, stronger, “I’m coming. I’m going to figure it out right now. Get on the first shuttle down when we reach spacedock tonight. I’ll be there. Tell Jo I’ll see her soon.”
Jocelyn nodded, “O… Okay.” She reached forward to turn off the comm.
“Wait,” Bones spluttered, “where—where should I meet you?”
“I’ll pick you up at the shuttleport in Savannah. Comm me with the details. I—I’ve got to go. Jo will be home soon and she’ll be tired.”
The comm clicked off, and Bones was alone. He sat there, stunned, staring blankly at the screen. His heart was racing. He wanted so badly to go to Jim, talk to him, just vent or get some moral support, or maybe advice... But he couldn’t. No, they were best friends, but that was all, at least for now. Their relationship hadn’t yet moved to the next level. He thought they might soon... that was more or less the unspoken purpose of their upcoming shore leave, their vacation together. Jim cared about him, he knew, and he’d almost definitely be supportive. But while Bones might be able to finagle a way to start his shore leave now, Jim, as captain, definitely could not. Besides, he didn’t want to burden Jim, or worse, poke at the still-open wounds of Jim’s fatherless, abandoned childhood full of tragedy and illness in its own right.
Bones often felt like his absent fatherhood (his words not Jim’s) was the proverbial ‘elephant in the living room.’ Jim understood why Bones had to leave Savannah. Or at least Bones thought he did. They didn’t really talk about it. They talked about everything else—Leo and Jocelyn’s relationship, their divorce, David McCoy’s death, why Leo felt compelled to make the decisions he had… why Bones couldn’t stay there, couldn’t keep playing the role of the good, upstanding, Southern son with the wife and child and respectable job, couldn’t be Leo anymore and everything that entailed. But Bones still felt like that was an excuse and a pretty weak one at that.
He needed... He needed Jim, but he also needed to do the right thing—help Jo without burdening Jim.
At last, Bones stood with a shaky sigh, his body on autopilot. He wasn’t thinking clearly—he couldn’t. He needed to gather his files and... and...
Pavel’s—Ensign Chekov’s—voice (he still hadn’t lost his accent and still sounded like a baby) came over the ship-wide comm. “Attention all hands. We’ve entered the Sol system and are passing Pluto now. The Enterprise will be dropping to impulse shortly. We will be arriving at spacedock in approximately three hours.”
Bones started at the sudden noise, the intrusion of sound on his stone silent office. Three hours... He could arrange to be on the first shuttle. The unfinished, half-processed files stared up at him, their respective pads mocking with their incompleteness. “Right,” he murmured, his fingers scrabbling over the desk to gather the PADDs into some semblance of order. He could take them, take them with him and finish. As long as he followed Starfleet confidentiality protocols, he could work on them in the shuttle, or in the long hours of waiting that were sure to come. That’s how it was when a loved one was sick, dying; hours and hours of silent hoping, dreading, building and building until the unbearable need for it to be over—somehow took over, dominating the mind like an unrepentant sinner.
He had a stack of files in his hands. Huh. He didn’t realize he’d gathered them all.
One of the PADDs slipped from his hands and landed on the remains of his sandwich. Bones stooped to pick it up, but more PADDs spilled from the stack and tumbled to the floor. Or I could just leave these here, except for the PADDs with my notes, he realized, setting the stack down on his desk and running a trembling hand through his hair. He could access the personnel and medical files through his personal account as long as he was patched through to the Enterprise’s computer. Taking a deep breath, he pawed through the array of PADDs until he found the two that held his as-yet un-merged notes and the logs from today’s appointments.
He tucked those under his arm, after first brushing off the one covered in bits of chicken salad. Great, his travel bag was probably going to reek.
What now... what now? Think, Bones, think! He needed to pack, and arrange to take his leave early, and... and... and let Jim know he probably wouldn’t be able to spend shore leave with him. Well, that last one went hand-in-hand with arranging to take his leave early.
He bent forward, swatting again at the controls for the comm, punching in Jim’s account.
After a second’s delay, Jim’s smiling face filled the screen. He was still sitting at his desk in the Captain’s ready room. “To what do I owe the pleasure of a visual comm, Bones? You can’t wait ‘til dinner to see me?” he chuckled.
Bones leaned closer, opening his mouth to speak.
Jim’s features fell, smile fading and brow furrowing into a mask of concern, his normally youthful appearance seeming to age instantly. “Bones? What’s wrong?”
“I…” Bones stammered, unsure of how to begin… “I don’t think I’m going to make our dinner tonight.”
“What happened? You were fine—everything was okay—when we talked at lunch,” Jim added talking half-to himself. He was punching at something off-screen. “But you got a Priority 1 message from Ear—Oh god, something’s wrong with Jo!” Jim concluded with startling certainty.
Bones felt the blood draining from his face at hearing Jim proclaim the truth. The reality of Jo’s illness had slowly been sinking in, but somehow it hadn’t felt real until Jim said it. His legs wobbled, and he almost fell backwards into his chair, but he caught and steadied himself by dropping his hand to the desk, scattering the PADDs further. “Jocelyn called,” he managed at last. “She’s going to let me see Jo, because Jo asked, but… Jo’s really sick.”
“I’m so sorry, Bones,” Jim whispered, his eyes unfocused and lost somewhere, no doubt in memories of his own troubled childhood. He snapped his attention back to Bones, his face flushed pink, “I mean, I’m not sorry you get to see Jo, but I… I… it shouldn’t be like this. It shouldn’t be because she’s sick. I’m sorry she’s sick,” he babbled. “Is she gonna be okay?”
“I—” Bones started, “I don’t know.” He swallowed around the lump in his throat. He considered telling Jim more, but decided against it. Not now. He’d tell Jim later, when he’d had a chance to actually go over Jo’s files himself. Make some calls. “I’m going to do everything I can to help her. I’m going to help her,” he said more strongly. His jaw clenched as his thoughts drifted to the last time he’d made that promise to a family member.
“Hey, hey,” Jim pleaded, “don’t go there. This isn’t like it was with your dad. You’re a different person now—stronger—so no matter what happens, you’re going to be okay.” He leaned towards the screen as he spoke, his tone steady and reassuring.
Bones had heard Jim talk to frightened children that way, but he knew Jim’s words were meant without any pity or condescension.
Bones could almost feel the warmth and solidity of Jim’s touch, as if he’d actually wrapped a friendly arm around Bones. Bones leaned into the screen. “I hope so,” he agreed, the lump in his throat seemed to have grown larger making it hard to talk, the words coming out cracked and broken.
“What can I do to help?” Jim asked.
“Contact Starfleet and get me approved to go on leave now,” Bones answered. “I promised Jocelyn I’d be on the first shuttle out,” he explained. “I’m taking paperwork with me—I can finish that; I’m not going to pawn it off on Chapel or M’Benga.” He hoped that would make Starfleet happy. He had to go. Jo was more important than everything. If Starfleet didn’t like it, well, as much as Bones loved his career, as much as it had become who he was Starfleet could suck on his resignation letter if it came to that.
“It’ll be fine, Bones,” Jim reassured, his voice ringing true with genuine confidence. “Sick kid, family emergency, and we’re already in-system with leave coming—they can’t say no. Besides,” Jim shrugged with a hint of his usual devious smirk, “You and me, we’re heroes; that’s got to buy us a little leeway.”
“Right,” Bones sighed. And for a moment, he almost believed it, loosing himself in the warmth of Jim’s eyes. Everything would be alright. Only then reality and all his fears and doubts came crashing back. He wanted Jim with him, here now, to support him, have his back, make everything okay. Just like Jim had been doing every day since they met on a shaky shuttle from Iowa to San Francisco. Jim was his rock. His anchor. A little piece of Earth, of solid ground, by Bones’s side even in the empty nothingness of deep space. But Bones needed to solve this. He needed to be a man, grow up, stop running, and stand on his own. He couldn’t rely on Jim for ever, count on Jim to hold him up at every turn. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair to Jim for Bones to keep taking from him; always taking; never giving.
And Jo needed him. Bones had a chance—to save her life and maybe be a good father. He’d run from his past, tried to leave Leo and all his delusions and lies and failings behind. But Bones was Leo (or maybe it was the other way around), and the detritus and wreckage of his past—of Leo’s life—was Bones’s mess to fix. And—thanks to Jim—he was resilient enough, sure enough, to do it now. He’d stay however long it took to help Jo… make her healthy. And if he couldn’t? Then he’d spend as much time with her as she had. Maybe convince Jo her father wasn’t such a useless, abandoning, deadbeat after all—lord knew he had no clue (but too many ideas) what Jo must think of him. And if she wound up okay—then he’d have to see how things went with Jocelyn. If she was willing to let him back in Jo’s life for the long haul—then maybe he’d just have to stay…
“Bones… Bones!” Jim was calling to him, voice once again filled with concern.
Bones looked back at the screen; smiled as best he could. “Thanks, Jim… thanks for everything. I—I really appreciate it.” He could feel the prickle of tears behind his eyes, but he stared ahead unblinking and didn’t give in. If he wasn’t entirely sure what everything encompassed? Well, he’d keep that his little secret for now.
“Don’t mention it. You know I’d do anything for you—whatever you need,” Jim replied. His words were familiar, the kind of thing they’d told each other a million times before, but Bones thought Jim’s smile looked a little haunted and his tone was a little—off. Like maybe Jim understood something Bones didn’t. “You should be packing. We’re going to arrive at spacedock soon, and I’ll make sure they’ve got a shuttle waiting for you—where to? You going directly to Georgia?” Jim continued, his tone a little lighter.
Bones blinked. “Yeah, uh, Savannah. Jocelyn’s meeting me,” he added. Normally he’d shudder at the thought of being in the same region as his ex-wife, but right now his anxiety for Jo overrode even that longstanding dread.
“Good, now go pack!” Jim commanded. He leaned forward. Bones could see Jim’s hand moving as if he was going to hit the switch to disconnect the comm, but he hesitated. Lingering, looking, waiting, for more…
“I’m probably not going to be able to spend shore leave with you,” Bones added, the thought drifting to him, itching at his chest, the words needing to come out.
“We’ll just have to see,” Jim answered, lips twitching towards a smile he couldn’t quite force. “Got at least two weeks before I’m free—maybe more without you here… but that’s not your fault; don’t feel bad—it could be longer. Maybe by then you’ll have things sorted out? Jo will be better?” he babbled.
Jim’s tone was so hopeful and eager; Bones couldn’t bring himself to dash his best friend’s hopes.
“Maybe,” he shrugged, “we’ll see. Jo isn’t doing too well right now—I—I’ve got a lot to sort out.” He smiled, a real smile, but full of regret. “I would have loved to spend shore leave with you.” The happy plans he’d had only—an hour?—ago were already taking the form of wistful, shattered dreams.
“Hey, maybe you still will,” Jim added with an encouraging wink. “Now go pack. Comm me when you know more and—” Jim’s features sobered, showing real fear for the first time, “Send Jo my love. I hope she’s okay. Fly safe.”
“I will. Thanks Jim,” Bones answered. He tipped his head towards the screen and flipped off the comm.
Suddenly, he was alone. Alone with his thoughts, and he’d just acted like he was saying ‘goodbye and have a nice life’ to—Jim. How, how could he even dream of functioning in the long term without Jim? What was he thinking? But he had to. The cogs had been clicking into place over the course of the conversation, and Bones was gradually coming to a realization. Jo needed him. He needed to make things right. This was his one—only—chance to try to clean up the mess Leo had made five years ago. He couldn’t blow it.
His hands shot up to tug at his hair, the pads he’d tucked under his arm falling to the floor with a muted thud. Another one landed smack, dab in the middle of his scattered sandwich. Fuck!
He needed to pack. He needed to clean the mess he’d made in his office—Fuck it—he’d leave an apologetic note, and maintenance could clean it up while they were doing… everything else they had to do on the ship. He stopped to pick up the pads he needed and strode from the room, leaving a piece of his heart—and his sanity—in his wake.
Three hours later, the Enterprise was at spacedock, and Bones was on a shuttle—a tin can death trap ferrying him across the black expanse from the ship’s familiar white curves through the glowing fire and danger of reentry, and down onto the perversely shimmering blue-green gem that was the Earth. All his belongings—no, not all, but everything he needed to survive—were shoved unceremoniously in a ridiculous small shoulder bag. He’d stuffed it full of PADDs holding crew records, medical journals, and his own research. Alongside was his away-mission medkit, a few spare duty uniforms, his dress uniform (who knew if he’d need to go beg from some admiral), and a handful of randomly chosen civvies that probably didn’t match. In contrast to the haphazard jumble at the bottom of the bag, on top he’d reverently packed the really important stuff: his framed picture of Jo taken the last Christmas they were a family, his favorite battered copy of Virgil’s Aeneid in the original Latin, and a holo of him and Jim taken on the first day of the Enterprise’s five-year mission. Jim had scribbled a simple message on the back of the frame—Bones, I’m with you to the stars and back. Yours, Jim. It was probably Bones’s single most treasured possession, not that he’d ever told Jim that (and not that he would, considering what it would do to Jim’s sizeable ego). He was hoping it would fill the aching empty space by his side (in his heart) where Jim should be, but wasn’t.
The bag was the one Jim had given him when they’d stopped at New Vulcan for a conference on transspecies blood pathogen communication and mutation last year. He gazed at it fondly while struggling to tamp down the growing nausea. His knees and hands were shaking, breath coming in shallow pants. He hadn’t been this sick on a shuttle since that ride to the Academy. He wanted a drink—he needed Jim.
The shuttle bumped and lurched as it entered the atmosphere. Bones gripped the armrests, knuckles turning white, gulping around the sudden flood of saliva in his mouth, trying to breathe through his nose and keep the nausea at bay. Shuttles still freaked him out in a way being on the Enterprise didn’t. He was pretty sure some of that had to do with the Enterprise’s size and how she’d taken all that damage—holes blown through her, huge chunks of decks just gone—and yet she’d still held together ‘floating’ in space, and had kept Bones—and Jim—alive despite all odds. By comparison, shuttles were creaky, shaky things, always getting beat up and put through the strain of reentry, and they felt fragile and weak by comparison. There just wasn’t as much between him and the void as there was on a Constitution-class Starship. But if Bones was honest with himself, this was worse than any of the shuttle rides he’d taken in the last two years… He felt empty, lonely without Jim by his side for reassurance. It was hard not to think back on that shuttle ride to the Academy. In fact, Bones was pretty sure this was the worst—the sickest, wooziest, most irrationally panicked he’d felt since. Flying away from the Enterprise away from Jim hurt. He felt like he’d left something irreplaceable, maybe the best thing he’s ever had, an important part of himself, behind. But he didn’t really have a choice.
He needed to leave now. Not just because he promised Jocelyn, or because he was desperate to see Jo after so long, but because medically, every day, every hour could mean the difference between saving his daughter’s life and watching her slip way, painfully, like his father. Besides, Jim had to spend the next two weeks overseeing repairs and working out crew duty schedules and figuring out the shore leave rotation and filing reports with Starfleet and even probably making a trip out to San Francisco to meet with the brass. Bones would be doing similar duties in sickbay, if not for Joanna’s emergency. So there was no way he could take Jim with him this time, no matter how much he felt like he was missing a limb without Jim there.
At least he’d worked out a few more details in the few hours he’d had to pack. He knew M’Benga’s was covering all the stuff he hadn’t been able to finish (aside from the stack of reports he’d taken with him). Jim had okayed M’Benga filling in since Bones needed to go on emergency family leave, and managed to smooth it over with the Admiralty. It was probably for the best, Bones found himself thinking M’Benga would make a fine CMO. It might take Jim a little while to adjust and Bones might worry constantly about something happening to Jim without him there, but he’d survive. If it came down to that. He took pride in the skill of his medical staff, even without him, they were the best and brightest Starfleet had to offer. He wanted to be back on the Enterprise so badly it hurt, yet he also ached for Jo, needed to know his daughter was alive, whole, still here. He needed her to get better.
He’d also managed to fill out an application for Indefinite Personal Leave and left a copy of it in Jim’s private inbox. Jim might take it the wrong way, but Bones was trying to do things right, cover his ass, ‘cause the truth was he had no idea how long he’d be down in Georgia. He needed to step up and be a good father, be an adult, clean up Leo’s mess. He couldn’t expect the Enterprise to wait for him if that took longer than the time she’d be in-system. Still, he really did owe Jim an explanation for that. It’d have to be one of those things he covered via comm. Jim would understand. He’d have to. He’d want Bones to be a good father, right?
There was also a box he’d packed up and left in his quarters with instructions to ship to his mother’s house on the first available transport. It was filled with a lot more of his stuff than he would take for shore leave, but not everything in his quarters. There wasn’t enough time. This way he’d have to go back to the Enterprise even if it was only to collect the rest of his belongings and say ‘good-bye.’
The shuttle lurched again. “I may throw up on you,” Bones muttered to no one in particular. There were only three other passengers on the shuttle, and none of them were sitting hear him. He chuckled bitterly to himself, torn between memories of that first shuttle ride with Jim, the constant ache of separation from Jim, and the gnawing terror of Jo’s illness. He knew each bump and lurch of the shuttle was caused by air pockets of different densities as they entered the atmosphere and hurtled in controlled descent down to the surface. He even knew old-fashioned airplanes—the kind that didn’t leave the atmosphere—had dealt with this stuff all the time and, for the most part, been just fine, but to his keyed-up state each and every bump felt like torture, and the next one might promise death.
Bones’ nerves settled a little as the shuttle ride smoothed out in as they passed from the thermosphere into the mesosphere, but ratcheted up again as the passed through the bumpy, stratosphere and then troposphere, which were both full of air pockets.
Finally, after both far too long and far too soon, they were coming to a graceful landing. Bones used courtesy as an excuse and waited until the other three passengers had disembarked to exit himself. Truthfully, he was using the extra time to gather his wits about him. By the time they were finally landing at the Savannah space port Bones was green and shaking, and confident he wanted to avoid travel by shuttlecraft ever again if he could manage it.