Part 3: Reunions
A familiar voice pulled Bones back to consciousness. He hadn’t realized it, but somewhere in his reflections about David’s death and losing Jo he must have fallen asleep. He hadn’t heard the door open or approaching footsteps or anything.
Bones looked up, startled, to see Jo smiling back at him. “Jo?” he asked, voice wavering with emotion and near disbelief. It had been five years. Five very long, eventful years since he’d last seen her. That was almost half her lifetime. She’d grown, grown so much. She was tall, over five feet already, and her figure was no longer that of a little girl, she wasn’t yet mature, but the signs of puberty were definitely there... Puberty, he recalled, had signed her death warrant, and unless he came up with a solution—because it was clear none of the doctors she was currently seeing were getting anywhere—growing up was going to kill her. She looked better than he feared... her cheeks were a little puffy and her hair was gone—a silk scarf was wrapped around her head instead—and she looked thin and frail, but she was still obviously his Jo. “God I’ve —missed you, honey, come here!” He stood, holding his arms wide and welcoming her to him.
Jo hesitated at first, but then stepped close, wrapping herself tight around Bones’s waist. “I missed you daddy. So glad you’re here,” she sighed.
“I can’t believe I missed so much,” he murmured, leaning over and kissing the top of her head. He could feel how warm she was, probably a little over 37 degrees, and she felt almost fragile to the touch, like she’d grown big and then been hollowed out from the inside, slowly shrinking and collapsing in on herself. Her scarf smelled familiar though... like... the sandalwood soap he used when he lived here. Is she using it because it reminds her of me? he wondered. “I’m going to be around now, I’ll stay… sorry I missed so much,” he murmured aloud.
She pulled back slightly, looking up at him. She looked—upset? Maybe worried or concerned or disappointed? It wasn’t clear, and the expression didn’t linger, it was transient, flashing over her features and clearing into a smile. Doesn’t she want me here? he wondered, but no, she’d just said how happy she was he’d come... he’d just have to worry about it later. Maybe she just wasn’t feeling well; it could be a momentary flash of pain.
“Where’s Mom?” Jo asked tired eyes flitting around the room, as if genuinely surprised her mother wasn’t there.
“I think she went upstairs to take a nap,” Bones answered, uncertainty creeping into his voice. He hadn’t seen Jocelyn since she’d gone upstairs about three and a half hours ago, but then again, he’d dosed off.
Jo looked over Bones’s shoulder, and for the first time he was aware of someone else in the room. He stepped back, turning, and saw a tall, attractive man leaning against the molding framing the entryway between the living room and dining room. Clay Treadway. A little older, a little more world weary, but still the same guy he and Jocelyn had known since high school. “Hi Clay,” he acknowledged.
“Leo,” Clay answered with a nod.
“Actually, I go by Bones, now,” he clarified.
Clay raised an eyebrow. “Bones?” He straightened up and pulled himself away from the wall.
“Yeah,” Bones reached up and scratched the back of his neck. “It’s ah, something, I said and a pun and, Jim came up with it and it kind of stuck.” He shrugged. “I like it. It fits me.”
“Jim, is he…” Clay started, trailing off.
Bones could understand the unstated question, plain as day. Is he your partner? There was no heat or judgment behind it though, and for that he was grateful. Clay really wasn’t a bad guy. Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, Leo had felt the need to woo Jocelyn away from Clay, show her how impressive he was. But, that had more to do with Leo’s need to prove to himself that he could attract a desirable woman, someone who would make a good, respectable wife, and help him to fulfill his family’s expectations.
“Uhh… that. It’s complicated,” Bones admitted with a sigh.
“Jim?” Jo asked, echoing Clay.
Bones turned back towards his daughter; she’d crossed her arms in front of her, her stance both contemplative and amused—it reminded a bit of himself, and a lot of Jim, actually. He wondered what she was asking exactly, if maybe she’d seen newsvids of Jim and the rest of the Enterprise crew?
“Is Jim, Captain James T. Kirk? Captain Kirk gave you a nickname and you’re Bones now?” Jo asked.
“Uh, yeah,” Bones answered stuttering so much he felt more like Jim when he got caught doing something he wasn’t supposed to and had to back pedal frantically to get on even ground. Jim was smoother about it though. “Jim is Captain Kirk. And he… it’s a long story, but we met on a shuttle to the academy and that’s how I became Bones.” He looked back and forth between Jo and Clay, noticing as his daughter and Jocelyn’s fiancé exchanged an amused look. He wasn’t sure what to make of it, but it reassured him. Joanna really did like Clay. He could tell that much. They respected each other and cared about each other and maybe it hadn’t been so bad for her this last year while he was away and she was sick and he didn’t know…
“I’m sure Jo would love to hear all about it,” Clay offered. “Now, I’m going to go check on Joce, see if she’s still sleeping. Let you two have some time to yourselves.” He winked at Jo. “If Jo here’s feeling up to it later, I’ll make some of my momma’s fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and collards from scratch for dinner a little later. You’re welcome to join us, of course, L—Bones.”
“O-okay, sounds good to me,” Bones agreed, as he saw Jo nod.
Clay shot another wink at Jo and strode across the room towards the stairway, bounding up it two steps at a time.
Bones was thankful, grateful, to have the time alone with Jo. He needed it. They needed to… catch up. Try to get on the same page after spending so long apart. And on a more professional level, Bones needed a chance to find out more first-hand information about her health. He just hoped she’d be willing to let him try to help.
“So, Bones, I mean Dad,” Jo said, drawing his attention back. “I—I need to sit down and it’s time for my afternoon meds, but maybe…” she bit her lip, “maybe you can tell me a little about Captain Kirk and Starfleet and what it’s really like.”
“Sure, kiddo,” he replied, the name slipping easily from his lips as if it hadn’t been five years since the last time he’d said it. I call Jim kid and Jo kiddo, he realized. It was unsurprising really, as they were, without a doubt, his two most important people in the universe and he felt an overwhelming need to protect, heal, and care for them both… and they needed it.
“I like it when you call me that. I’d almost forgot. I missed it,” Jo admitted as she walked, slowly, and a bit stiffly, towards the chaise lounge, sinking into it with the grace of an exhausted old woman. “Can… can you help me with the blanket?” she asked, indicating the throw he’d seen earlier that was stuffed in the chair’s crease. “I… my fingers ache and they’re really stiff, and I get cold and…”
“Sure, of course,” he reassured, crossing to her in two strides, and plucking the blanket from where it was stuck.
Jo slid to the back of the chair, reclining on her right side. “I wanna see you when you talk. You have to tell me… everything.”
Bones carefully spread out the blanket, and draped it over Jo, resting a hand against her forehead. “You’re warmer than you were a little while ago,” he murmured. “I can give you something to help with the fever. Make your chills go away.”
She looked hesitant.
“It won’t interact with your other meds.” He guessed that was the source of her hesitation. He’d seen the long list of warnings and contraindications, figured her doctors had been reluctant to put her on anything else and just left her to deal with low-grade fevers and nausea and aches and stiffness rather than risk treating any of them and either trigger a drug interaction or reduce the ‘effectiveness’ of the chemicals they were pumping into her. Damn! He couldn’t believe this was how they used to treat cancers, all cancers. What a mess. “I checked,” he added.
“Okay, if you’re sure.” She yawned. Then a huge smile broke over her face. “Of course you’re sure. You know, they say you’re the best doctor in the entire Federation, maybe the galaxy. You’ve saved more lives and people and… I’m so proud that you’re my daddy. No one else in the entire universe can say that.”
“Oh, kiddo,” Bones felt tears spring to his eyes as he sank to his knees beside her. “I… I’m going to do everything I can to make you better…”
“Dad,” she shook her head. “No, that wasn’t supposed to make you feel bad or like I’m expecting anything. I know you care about me. I’ve always known. I just. You’re kinda famous. And sometimes it feels like it can’t possibly all be real. But you’re really my dad. And you’re here. And that’s just totally awesome.” She gave an even bigger yawn.
“Ok,” he wasn’t sure he believed her… how could she not expect him to save her or feel like she was getting lesser treatment than strangers if she knew about all the people he’d saved? But he wasn’t going to argue with her, not now. Not when she needed to be cooler and take her meds and be comfortable, and they needed to get to know each other again. He knee-walked over to where his bag lay, and pulled it back.
“That’s a cool bag,” she murmured.
He chuckled. “You think so? I’m kind of fond of it too. Jim gave it to me.”
“You like him,” she said, eyes knowing. It was a statement. Not a question. “He’s very important to you and he cares about you a lot too.”
Bones was floored at the display of emotional maturity coming from his baby girl… only she wasn’t such a baby anymore. She was eleven and wise beyond her years, because she’d had to grow up far, far too fast. “Yeah, that’s right.” He glanced down at his hands, which had already pulled his medkit from its place inside. “Ok this is hydrocortilene. It’s going to help with your fever, and it shouldn’t have any bad interactions with your other meds.” He slapped the canister into the hypo and held it up, moving his hands towards Jo’s neck.
She tilted her head to the side, giving him access, but when he pressed the hypospray to her skin, she yelped in time with the snap-hiss of the canister dispensing. “Ouch! I hate hypos.” She positively sounded like she was pouting. “I’ve had way too many of them.”
His stomach knotted, the tug of emotion in his chest, almost overwhelming. “You know,” he managed, voice remarkably steady. “They’re not supposed to hurt. But Jim has the same reaction.” He chuckled, images of Jim flinching and helping and swatting his hands away—even running across sickbay to try to avoid getting a hypo—played out before his mind’s eye.
“Does Jim get a lot of hypos?” she asked, sounding a little surprised.
“Actually, yeah,” Bones shrugged. His mind drifted to thoughts of doctor-patient privilege and confidentiality, but truth be told, since Jim was the Captain of a Federation starship, his annual physical report was public record anyway. Besides, Bones knew Jim would probably actively encourage him to tell Jo stories about him if it would encourage her, make her feel safer. Rules be damned. This was his kid and his best friend he was talking about. “Some of it’s confidential,” he started, “but if you read his medical report, you’d see he gets a lot of hypos. Starfleet Captains have to have a lot of vaccinations, and they—or at least Jim does—tend to get exposed to strange alien diseases that need treatment. And Jim gets himself hurt a lot too… not ‘cause he’s not good at his job, mind you, but ‘cause he’s one of those people who’s always putting everyone else before him. Throwing himself in harm’s way to protect them, and he gets hurt a lot in the process.” He hesitated, unsure if he should continue. Some of the other stuff, the real reasons Jim had so many hypos, he wasn’t comfortable sharing without an explicit okay.
“He sounds a lot like you,” Jo observed, her tone suggesting I know there’s more you’re not telling me, but that’s okay.
“I don’t know about that,” Bones said, stroking a hand over her face. “I don’t tend to jump in front of phasers and strange projectile weapons.”
“But you take care of everyone else before you. That’s why you went into space even though you’ve got… av—aviaphobia. That’s why you went away, because you thought I’d be better with a dad who’s straight.” Jo said, far too knowingly.
“Jo, did… did your mother—did you overhear us fighting or… I….” Bones didn’t know what to say. He hadn’t expected Jo to know. He’d thought maybe, if Jocelyn had been particularly upset and angry at Bones, felt the need to explain to Joanna why her father wasn’t there, but… but… He could feel the dread building inside him.
“Daddy, I knew you were gay when I was little. Like five. I figured it out ‘cause I saw how you and mamma were together and how you looked at other people, and then when you left… yeah, mom said some stuff, but I knew. ‘S’why I know Jim’s so important to you.” She smiled. “I need my meds now.”
“Okay,” Bones replied dumbly as he fumbled through the bag for the rest of the drugs she needed. While he’d been pouring through her medical records earlier that afternoon, he’d found out she was on a break from the heavy duty chemicals this week, scheduled to resume those treatments in about three days, though, from the looks of her blood cell counts and other bioreadings, she wouldn’t be able to tolerate the chemical therapy much longer. It was just too toxic on her body. Instead she had a bunch of other drugs—immuneboosters and lighter-weight chemical antagonists that her system was strong enough to handle even on a ‘break.’ It involved a series of four different hypos, and he readied the vials. He also prepped a fifth canister.
“What’s that one for?” Jo asked, pointing.
“That’s an anti-nausea drug,” he explained. “It’s one… it’s one I actually developed specially for Jim,” he smiled, “and I think it should be safe with your other meds and make it a little easier for you to eat and keep food down. Maybe you’ll be able to enjoy some of Clay’s cooking tonight.”
Jo’s eyes looked eager and hopeful, and she nodded acceptingly. “Okay.”
Bones pressed the hypos to her neck one after the other until they were all done.
Jo winced after each one, but when he’d administered the final drug, she made a funny face.
“Something wrong? You feeling…”
“I feel better,” she whispered. “Like, not so sick. Does it work that fast?” she wondered aloud.
“Yeah,” he nodded enthusiastically. “Sorry, I should have warned you, but yeah, it kicks in right way.”
Now that the drugs were all administered, and Jo was safely settled into her chair, they talked. She told him about school and life and how much the treatments sucked. How tired she was all the time and how she missed playing soccer, and how she was worried about not growing up... how kids teased her and shoved her for not having hair, but how she always told them who her father is, and how they all owe their lives and the lives of the planet to him.
He told her about Starfleet and the Enterprise and the crew and space and being a doctor, and Jim. He added in as many stories as he could about Jim without betraying any confidences, and resolved to ask Jim for permission to tell Jo more. He needed to do that; Jim had a rough childhood. He’d been sick, not sick like Jo was now, but Jim had—still had allergies and a misfiring immune system of his own that by all rights should have killed him years ago... and he was an abused child, and thanks first to his stepfather and then Tarsus IV, he’d had both PTSD and an eating disorder. And he could face Jim to get his permission, even if the things he was contemplating right now, like maybe leaving the ship or Starfleet altogether, had him getting knots and butterflies at the mere thought of seeing Jim or hearing his voice. But he’d put aside that discomfort and the tug-pull-need he felt each time he interacted with Jim if there was any chance it would help Jo.
“Daddy,” Jo yawned eventually. “What did you mean when you said you’re going to stay?”
“I... well, if we can get you better—and sweetheart, I’m going to do everything I possibly can to make that happen—and if your mom will still let me see you, I’m going to try to stick around, maybe stay in Georgia so I can see you all the time.
Jo’s brow furrowed in an expression that reminded Bones way too much of himself. “Wait, if you stay here… won’t you have to leave the Enterprise?” The way she said it, she sounded positively devastated.
It reminded Bones of the strange face she’d made earlier, but he was no closer to understanding now than he was earlier. “Well… yes, probably, I might be able to stay with Starfleet though. They have medical personnel who work on Earth. I might be able to take shuttles or transport to San Francisco or stay there and come here on weekends, but I’d be here for you more.” It was the first time he’d said it aloud, the plans he’d started to make over the last… was it less than twelve hours? He didn’t know if he could do it… leave the life he’d been building, leave Jim, but if he could have Jo—
“But then you wouldn’t be with Jim, or your crew. You wouldn’t be there—up there in space to save people if you were here.” Jo sounded sad, tears starting to glisten in her eyes.
Bones was even more confused, he could try to blame it on the medication, but that was very disingenuous to his daughter. Something about the idea of him returning made her upset, and he needed to find out what it was. “Yeah, I wouldn’t be with them, but I’d get to see you. I’d get to be your dad, see your soccer games, meet your friends, wouldn’t you like that? It would be like old—” he started to say it would be ‘like old times,’ when she was a kid, but he realized it wouldn’t. He and Jocelyn weren’t together, Jo was growing up, and Bones wasn’t Leo anymore. He would never want to go back to being that repressed, self-denying, or miserable. Instead he said, “Wouldn’t it be great to get to spend more time together?”
“Yeah, I’d love to see you more, but… I feel safe knowing you’re up there, looking out for us, for people everywhere, keeping Earth and the whole Federation safe, researching. If you were here, then I wouldn’t have that, I wouldn’t be able to talk about you to the kids at school that make fun of me or… just to be proud of you. I mean… I’d still be proud of you, ‘cause you’re my dad, and you’re awesome… but I like knowing you’re on the Enterprise.” She looked up at him from the chaise lounge, shifting under the blanket, eyes big and round, almost pleading. “And Jim makes you happy. I don’t want you to be unhappy again Daddy. I remember when I was little, you were so sad, so lonely all the time. I used to think I was the only one who could make you smile, especially once Grandpa was sick. But you’re different now. You smile. When you talk about Jim your eyes crinkle up, and I don’t want you to go back the way you were.” Saying so much left her panting a little, almost winded from the sudden exertion.
Bones really didn’t know what to say. Here he was, trying to prove to his kid he could be a better father. He could save her life. Give her back her childhood, and be there, and she was telling him she didn’t want him to be sad, worried he’d be sad if he stayed, did the right thing as a father? “Jo,” he began carefully, “you’re the most important thing in the world. Yes, I care about Jim, but he’s an adult and I’m an adult, and you’re my daughter, my responsibility. I love you, and he’ll understand.” He hoped Jim would; figured he would.
“But what about your responsibility to all those people out there? If you’d been here, in Savannah? If you’d stayed here instead of going to Starfleet? What would have happened to the Enterprise? What would have happened to Jim and Earth and all of us?” Jo demanded.
“Then someone else would have been the doctor, and I’d have been your dad—”
“Bullcrap!” Jo exclaimed, coughing a little with her raised voice. She swung her hand down in a fist, thumping it against the chair’s cushion, making Bones jump. “I heard the news reports. Captain Kirk—Jim—wouldn’t have been on the Enterprise without you. If he wasn’t there, we’d probably all be dead! And you’re always my daddy, no matter where you are.” She sniffed. “I want to see you, but I don’t want you to leave.” Her lip wobbled, and a few tears rolled down her cheek. “Please, Daddy, that’s not what I want; promise me you won’t leave!”
“Look Jo, Joanna, shhh,” he soothed, petting the scarf on her head, and running his hand in long, soothing strokes down her arm. Maybe she’d romanticized the idea of him as a big Starfleet hero? Maybe that was something he’d have to work on sooner. But first she needed to be calm and happy and he needed to figure out a way to stop the disease that was trying to claim her life. He could figure this out later. He wasn’t ready to make any decisions to leave Starfleet, or the Enterprise, anyway. Not yet. “I’ll promise you I won’t decide anything right now. I just want to help you get better. And I want to get to see you more. I’m… touched, really, really touched, that you’re worried about me being happy, and incredibly proud that you’re such a kind, considerate person, that you worry about how I feel. That’s very mature of you. But I’ll be okay, I promise you whatever we work out, I’ll be okay. I just don’t want you to have to miss out on spending time with me, or to miss you growing up. I mean… you’ve been sick for a year and I didn’t know, and I don’t ever want to not know something like that again.” He let out a long breath. “So, how ‘bout we make a deal?”
“What?” Jo asked, sniffling.
He smiled, tapping the tip of her nose with his index finger like he used to do when she was a little girl, “We’ll focus on getting you well first, and we’ll figure out if I’m staying or how much we’re going to see each other, after.”
Jo’s forehead scrunched up again and she seemed to be considering his offer from all angles, as if looking for something objectionable, hidden, any unforeseen circumstances. It really reminded him of how Jim approached, well—everything—and that made the pang of missing him rise to a throbbing ache, but at last, Jo’s face smoothed into a smile, and she spoke. “Okay, deal.”
Bones’s promise to think about it seemed to set Joanna at ease, but it unsettled Bones. Was she acting worried about him potentially leaving the Enterprise because she thought she wasn’t worthy of his attention? Or worse, felt she had to test him because he wasn’t the kind of father—in her mind—who would seriously place spending time with his daughter over everything else? Or did she, maybe, really feel safer with him out there, in space? And if that was true, what did it say about him… or her? Part of Bones was still surprised Jocelyn had allowed Jo to talk about him, considering how frank she’d been with emphasizing her wish that he’d stayed out of their lives.
But he’d been telling the truth when he told Jo they needed to focus on getting her well. Bones had to figure out how to maintain the tenuous balance between doctor-patient and familial relationships that he’d cultivated on the Enterprise and at the Academy while he was back here in Georgia, surrounded by the ghosts of Leo’s failures and haunted by the memory of his father’s death.
Later, they enjoyed the delicious dinner of fried chicken and traditional southern sides that Clay had promised. They ate together—him and Jo and Clay and Jocelyn all at one table—and it was remarkably low on awkwardness. Jocelyn looked, well not rested, but better, a bit less like someone who hadn’t slept in days and was teetering on the edge. She’d showered and changed and had done up her hair again, even coordinating her outfit to a sort of deep plum color, which more-or-less matched her nails.
Jo managed to eat the portion of a healthy, growing girl. She ate—ate and enjoyed it—savoring each bite as if she’d thought she might never taste food again. Bones wasn’t sure how bad her anorexia (in the sense of loss of appetite) and nausea had been—although he could guess it wasn’t good, judging by how frail she’d seemed—but catching the elation, relief, and near disbelief on Jocelyn’s and Clay’s faces, he realized it was probably much worse than he’d thought.
Bones had seen that look before, on Winona Kirk when they’d been back on Earth after the Narada debacle. Jim hadn’t been eating, and Bones had figured it out, picked up on the signs pretty quickly—lots of Jim insisting on eating meals in his room, turning down invitations to dinner or drinks or coffee, shoving his food around his plate when he couldn’t avoid an invitation, trips to the head after eating anything.
It was a pattern Bones recognized. One he’d seen many times before at the academy any time Jim felt he ‘failed’ in some way. The behavior was worse—more extreme—both with the not eating and the obsessive purging, but Bones had pulled Jim aside, gave him the spiel they’d long ago worked out. He walked Jim through the psychological minefield while keeping his strength up with vitamin and protein hypos and counteracting the nausea and anxiety with a handful of carefully selected medications that would actually help Jim rather than send him into anaphylactic shock. It took a little talk therapy and a few more doses before Jim had been able to keep food down, but he managed—within three days of setting foot on Earth.
Winona had been there, and she’d seen Jim eat with Bones watching, Jim smiling with gratitude and relief when the food didn’t rebel the moment he’d swallowed it. Winona had gotten that look, and afterwards, when Jim had excused himself to take a comm from Admiral Archer and he still hadn’t excused himself to the bathroom, Winona had pulled Bones aside, thanked him for taking care of her boy, and asked him how he’d done it.
That’s when Bones had found out that after Tarsus IV, it had taken over a year, an enormous amount of therapy, and even more ‘near misses’ that landed Jim in the hospital when the latest drug or easy-to-digest food supplement his doctors had tried wound up triggering a potentially fatal or merely intolerable allergic reaction before Jim had been able to eat fairly regularly. Another few months to coax his metabolism into cooperation. Winona had been amazed and overjoyed, and Bones had learned a new appreciation for Jim he’d not had before.
Now Jocelyn and Clay bore that same expression, so he pulled Jocelyn aside and explained what he’d given Jo, how it should work, and how often she’d need it to maintain the same effect.
She thanked him, a genuine, joyous, no-strings-attached thanks. And the small amount of lingering awkwardness seemed to lift.
Before she could go back over to Clay and rejoice in the news that now Jo would be able to enjoy real food, he asked her why—or if—she’d started talking to Jo about him.
Jocelyn smiled—a little annoyed, but mostly amused. She said, “I think Jo always understood why you had to leave more than I did, and I was the one who sent you away. I told her you’d joined Starfleet, and she read and digested every birthday card you sent her. I tried hiding them once, but she found them…” Jocelyn looked away, “Then she saw the newsvid coverage two years ago—it started with the news of the ‘tectonic disturbance’ on Vulcan, and then they reported on the loss of news feeds from Vulcan, and then there were tremors in San Francisco and reports of a massive unidentified ship. Someone mentioned Starfleet casualties cadets being called up for action and the Enterprise being in system and the disappearing again, and she came to me demanding answers.”
“Demanding answers?” Bones asked, unsure what Jocelyn meant.
Her smile grew and she shook her head, making a little chuckle. “You should have seen her. She stormed into my bedroom at four in the morning, I wasn’t even awake, and she wanted to know if I’d heard the rumors about Vulcan and destroyed Federation ships, and were you on one of them. By the time we actually started getting information from Starfleet—they had us under comm blackout more or less, wouldn’t give information to any family members without having information to give to all or almost all… Anyway, by then she had me talking about you and why you’d left and what you were doing. I said I didn’t know how you managed to go into space seeing as how you were terrified of even taking a shuttle cross-continent for a conference, and she just blinked at me and told me flying meant you were finally being honest with yourself. That you were only scared of it because you felt out of control when you were flying, and that was a big problem when you were trying to make yourself someone else.”
The exactitude with which Jo at, he did the math, nine? had figured him out, after not having spoken to him for the three prior years, was humbling. Cleary he shouldn’t underestimate his daughter. She was already an impressively sophisticated kid. Which brought him back to the primary reason he was here, wandering around in his old life.
“I, can I…”
“You can stay here as long as you need to, to help Jo,” Jocelyn replied, anticipating his question. It was clear she wasn’t particularly pleased at having him around, but knew he could help Jo and was genuinely willing to give him a place to stay for the duration. “You’re welcome to stay in one of the guest rooms on the second floor, or take the Garden Floor, whichever works better for you. Clay and I are on the first floor with Jo,” she added.
The ‘second’ floor, was actually the building’s fourth, the first was the third, and the ‘Garden’ floor the first. The main, public living area of the house were located on what was called the ‘Parlor Floor’—the floor naming was one of the relics of the home’s history dating back to the nineteenth century of which Jocelyn was particularly fond.
Bones thought briefly about it and knew space where he could focus without being disturbed or disturbing anyone was what he most needed. “The Garden Floor will be fine.” It was an added bonus that the separate apartment would create a little extra barrier between him and Jocelyn. He ran a weary hand through his hair. He’d already been up for far too long, and the brief ‘nap,’ if he could call it that, when he’d been recalling his father’s death and the implosion of his marriage, had been anything but restful. Besides, he knew he wouldn’t be sleeping any time soon. “I have some extra boxes being delivered to my mother’s,” he caught himself before he slipped up and said ‘parents,’ “Should I have them sent here instead?”
Jocelyn contemplated the question for a moment. “Jo has a vacation starting in about a week… Jocelyn let her voice trail off, clearly battling with some conflict of ideas. “She hasn’t visited your mother since her birthday last year… She loves horses.” Jocelyn looked nervously at Bones.
He got what she was suggesting. Let Jo visit her Memaw, ride some horses, and get some fresh air—let Memaw see her—all while Jo’s still feeling up to it, just in case. Only Jocelyn wasn’t demanding it out of a sense of propriety or entitlement as she once might have, instead she understood this was Bones’s mom and Bones’s childhood home and, well, touched on Bones’s issues too… He’d helped his father die in that house, suffered his greatest medical and personal—it was a catalyst for the extended mess with Jocelyn that followed—failure there. Would he be able to work, cope, function, in that setting? He wasn’t sure. But she was giving him—and Jo—the option, and he had a week to figure it out. He’d just have to see how far his research got before the week was up. “Will that work with her treatments?” he hedged.
“Do you really think you’ll have her on the same treatments in a week’s time?” Jocelyn countered, her eyes flashing with a fire he hadn’t seen since they were first married—she believed in him.
“No,” he admitted. “I’ll see how this week goes, then decide whether it makes sense to go. Do you and Clay want to come?” he offered.
Jocelyn’s forehead scrunched up, clearly surprised at the offer and struggling to decide. “I’ll get back to you on that,” she murmured.
His curiosity sated, his mind consumed with the task looming ahead of him, he resolved to say goodnight to Jo and retreat to the relative privacy and solitude of the Garden Floor.
It physically hurt pulling himself away from Jo. He picked up his bag and the PADD Jocelyn had given him and made his exit through the kitchen door, stepping out into the muggy, late spring night. Standing on the back deck brought back memories of family picnics and watching the stars and one awful time when Jo was about two and she ran across the wood in bare feet and gave herself a horrible case of splinters… they’d resurfaced the deck again after that. Pushing aside the wave of nostalgia, he crossed the deck and carefully descended the spiral wrought-iron staircase. The garden was spread out around him—dozens of Terran plants and an ancient, bubbling, cascading fountain shaped like a cherub filled the space. The landscaping was designed to spread tranquility and positive thought, or at least that’s what the brochure on the property had said when he’d bought it.
Now he was aware of the rustling of leaves and the burbling of water, separate and distinct, audible over the sounds of the cicadas and the noises of the city that blew in on the breeze.
It was like a self-contained world back here, a microcosm of the universe, a tiny speck of space that was like so many others, yet so unique… much like each humanoid, each human was alike yet unique… his mind started racing—ideas, theories, possibilities about Jo’s disease and how to treat it, cure it, approach it, started flowing into his mind. The floodgates opened and the thoughts tumbled in a torrent. He needed to work now. With a last, lingering look on the garden, he turned, stepping into the shadows of the covered patio created in the space underneath the deck above, and slipped inside the old-fashioned swinging door.
Once inside the separate garden apartment, he paused only to hastily remove his non-research-related items from his bag, and place them carefully in the parlor, a room decorated in shades of blue that he’d always found to be a more inviting place to sleep than the floor’s proper bedroom. Its white wicker furniture was old, comfortable, and soothing in its interwoven simplicity, while the unassuming door that led from it to the gated outdoor space under the elaborate brick staircase to the house’s main entrance on the ‘Parlor Floor’ above provided an escape and ample opportunity for him to pace, mutter, and think aloud without bothering anyone.
He hauled the bag and the rest of its contents into the sitting area of the proper bedroom and set up. First, he placed a quick call to his mother—let Eleanora know he was in town, that he and Jo might be coming, and yes Jo was still really sick and Jocelyn finally told him, but please don’t be mad at her, ‘cause Joce was trying, and he was going to sort it all out.
Next came the call he’d been dreading, a comm to Jim. He sent it voice only, puttering around the room and spreading out his paper journals and pulling up the right programs and analytics on the computer as he spoke, so he had an excuse to be distracted.
To his surprise, Jim didn’t seem offended by the lack of visual, and he didn’t mention the request for indefinite leave Bones had left for him. Bones thought Jim might be—well, cagey—about it, maybe upset Bones was thinking of possibly leaving him—the crew—and hadn’t made time to discuss it to his face, but Jim sounded warm, friendly, and supportive. Jim was worried about Jo and about Bones, and insisted Bones should feel free to share any and all stories about him with Jo, as long as they were true. “Anything to help her feel more comfortable or distract her, Bones.”
Jim agreed to place a few queries to Starfleet Command about the best way to get a message to the Federation Genomics Commission, or FGC, the regulatory body responsible for overseeing and controlling the availability of gene therapy and genetic interventions. He and Jim said their ‘goodnights,’ not goodbyes, and then Bones was alone again with his thoughts.
For a moment he let himself imagine he was still on the Enterprise, closed his eyes, pretended he could feel the subtle vibrations of her engines underfoot, let himself believe Jim was just a short jaunt down the corridor away. He stilled, breathed, and drew strength from the illusion.
Then it was back to work.
“Lights, fifty percent.” The environmental controls responded and the lights dimmed. “Computer,” he said addressing the terminal and not the environmental control system, “open Lt. Cmdr. McCoy personal log, subfolder Joanna.” He waited for the computer’s affirmative response as he flipped through some of the most recent research from New Vulcan looking for the contact information for a particular scientist and diplomat he’d met at that conference last year.
The computer chimed and “subfolder open,” appeared onscreen. The monitor and primary work station was set up above the room’s ancient fireplace. He’d modified it back when he and Jocelyn were in the process of imploding. When they were at the point of being too cold around each other to spend much time in the same living space, but she hadn’t yet kicked him out, he’d retreated down here and set up shop. It had only been for about two months, before his father’s illness had gotten bad enough he spent many nights at his parents’ home, but that was long enough for him to have made the necessary medical and research modifications to the computer and to have discovered the bedroom-furnished parlor was so much more comfortable than this room.
“Begin recording,” he said aloud as he picked up the article—contact info included—that he’d been searching for. “Stardate 2260.135, Lt. Cmdr. Leonard Horatio McCoy recording. I need to find a way to cure Joanna’s recurrent Vespasian-Telos Lymphoma with tertiary gene involvement…” he rattled through the basics and history of her case, making sure he had a synthesized narrative record of her medical history and treatments. When he was done, he had the computer pause and playback, confirming he’d gotten his thoughts out in a manner that made sense.
Satisfied, he began a series of subspace calls—messages mostly, because he was too tired to do the math and figure out the local time in any o the dozen or so places he needed to contact, and waking people up in the middle of their sleep cycle wasn’t going to help him win any favors. First, he left messages for his virology and oncology professors at the Academy. Well, they weren’t his professors per se, seeing as he’d already been through med school by the time he got to the Academy, his contact with them had been minimal. He’d only had one class with Professor Ankhor, the oncologist, it was a mandatory xeno-oncology lecture, and he’d had two small seminars with Professor Tuval, the virologist, who was one of the few Vulcans still involved with Starfleet—he’d retired from the Vulcan Science Academy and had stayed on earth in his teaching capacity at the request of Ambassadors Spock and Sarek.
Next, he sent recorded messages to the half dozen or so civilian and military doctors who’d worked on the other cases of tertiary gene involvement Vespasian-Telos. He knew a few would probably balk at helping him if they knew who else he was talking to—they were fairly proprietary about their research and all had strong opinions about their colleagues—but he needed to get access to their research on the different cases of tertiary gene involvement Vespasian-Telos that had been cured so far. Then he sent another message to the doctor who specifically worked the hormone interaction side of the condition.
Next, he rattled off messages to another two dozen doctors and researchers—geneticists, oncologists, virologists, immunologists—anyone he’d ever crossed paths with who had a reputation for excellence, innovation, or plain ol’ ‘thinking outside the box,’ whose specialty was even remotely linked to Jo’s condition or could theoretically help. He tailored each message specially to try to appeal to the individual’s interests and personalities. For some, like his immunology professor at Ol’ Miss; the head of human genetics at Atlanta General, where he’d commuted to do his residency; Dr. Sykal at Savannah Memorial, his former boss; Dr Keating at Starfleet medical; and Dr April Winters, CMO of the U.S.S. Constitution, the messages were based on his personal knowledge. For others, most of whom he’d either met or heard give talks at conferences, and others whom he knew only by reputation, he based his appeals on whatever information he’d been able to glean online or through their personal sites, CVs, students’ ramblings—whatever he could find, he used it. He resorted to flattery, appealed to doctors’ desires for immortality, stressed the cutting-edge aspects of the research to some, and emphasized the humanitarian aspects to others. He stroked egos, made emotional appeals to fellow parents, and on one occasion—his message for Dr. Kian Strauss, a geneticist (and possibly closet eugenicist) with no love for the Federation’s ban on nearly all gene resequencing—he suggested he might be able to provide a way around some of those regulations if only the good doctor would help Bones out. He was talking out of his ass, risking the ire of the Brass, and grasping at straws, but he really didn’t care
Joanna’s life was at stake. His little girl. And if what Jocelyn had said was right, other kids—kids whose parents had thought everything was okay after getting the first gene therapy, kids who were just starting to grow up—were staring down similar death sentences with boatloads of red tape and almost no resources to help them along their way. If he could help Jo, perhaps he could help all of them. It wouldn’t be easy, what with different genes and possibly even unique mutations in each kids’ genetic code being responsible, but if he could devise a mechanism that could be modified for each case… maybe it could be also be modified to work for other diseases that still plagued the children of other sentient species. For as far as medicine had come, there were still plenty of types of childhood illness that hadn’t quite been eradicated. They were so few and far between the victims and families were looked at with sympathy, as the extraordinarily unlucky. Maybe he could change that. He was willing to plead, beg, cajole, and threaten if that was what it took.
But first… first he had to give Joanna back her future.
When he’d finished with the second round of messages, he sat down on the room’s antique upholstered couch and began drafting what was perhaps the most important message of all… it was related to the brainwave he’d had in the garden.
Dr. Stobann was a Vulcan scientists who’d had the fortune to be in transit to Vulcan when Nero showed up. The Enterprise had picked him up with the rest of the survivors strewn around the area as they sped away from the system. His ship had been tiny, damaged, and in great danger of being sucked into the gaping maw of the black hole where his home planet had been just moments before. Bones had met him, this quiet, unassuming man, not in treatment in sick bay, where he’d met so many of the Vulcan refugees he knew, but on the long, slow voyage back to Earth after the Narada had been destroyed and the Enterprise’s warp core jettisoned and detonated. They’d talked, shared stories of loss, and somehow struck up a tentative friendship based on mutual respect and fascination with each other’s work.
Stobann was a geneticist, but he worked mostly with plants, since there were fewer restrictions and ethical quandaries. In particular, Dr. Stobann was developing genotype-specific viral vector delivery of hyper-focused genetic repairs—in other words, he designed viruses that would only go active if introduced to a specific individual and contained RNA that would specifically rewrite only the damaged or problematic portion of a particular gene in that individual, without making any other changes to the organism’s genome. The idea was simplicity and safety. If you had a virus that was essentially an inert substance for everything in the universe but one individual of one species, and it contained only the genetic information and capabilities necessary to modify one potentially lethal defect in that organism, the risk of unintended consequences—both to the outside world and to the target organism—was miniscule.
At the time of Vulcan’s destruction, Stobann had been exploring the science more as a potentially useful hobby. Since the establishment of New Vulcan, he’d focused on using the technology to adapt key proteins in Vulcan food staple crops—like plomeeks—to enable them to survive in the environmental particularities of the new planet, which would in turn allow Vulcans to continue their sustainable agricultural practices without drastically altering their diets or the ecosystem.
Of course, Bones was hoping that with a little luck and insight—and with the other samples and studies he’d requested—he and Stobann could modify the concept to target a specially engineered virus specifically to Joanna’s DNA and rewrite the tertiarily involved gene with an alternative version of the allele that would be non-reactive with the primary gene’s proteins and the presence of adolescent hormones.
If they could do that, Jo’s immune system should reset itself without the need to destroy any more of her cells or subject her to any more crazy, destructive chemical treatments or unproven transplants like some of her doctors had suggested. It also had the benefit of being a treatment mechanism the Federation might approve and even fast-track. Given Joanna’s current condition, the Commission would need to move with warp speed, not its more customary months- or years-long foot dragging. There wasn’t any risk of widespread mutation or contagion as had happened with the Klingon Augment Virus… Bones shuddered at the thought—that was one of those secret super-specialized things Starfleet doctors got to learn about. And unlike other forms of gene resequencing, it wasn’t particularly invasive and didn’t give geneticists room or opportunity to further tinker with the patients’ DNA. Plus, the low risk of unintended side-effects minimized any fear of accidentally creating another Khan Singh.
Still, he’d need to determine the precise mechanism of interaction that had triggered Jo’s strain of the disease. But if he could, he’d also likely be able to pinpoint which other genes or maybe even specific alleles were likely to cause tertiary gene involvement Vespasian-Telos, and what hormone levels would likely trigger the disease. That would help create a screening tool for other kids and maybe give their doctors a head start in treating the condition if it was triggered.
Of course, that was if everything could come together… He was getting ahead of himself again. First he needed Stobann’s assistance.
This was a call he made live—he checked the chronometer, determined it was roughly 2300 local time on New Vulcan—he said roughly since the colony had a 25-hour day which always led to some wonky synching of local time to stardates and the like.
He held his breath, rapping his fingertips nervously on his knees as he waited for the call to connect. He looked down at his pants. He was still in his uniform… he really should have put on civvies for this, considering he was on personal leave, at least assuming Jim had processed his application, and he was making the request as an individual, a private citizen, not a member of Starfleet. He could get in a lot of trouble for abusing his position, and while he was grudgingly willing to abuse it if he had to—to get things done, but only as a prelude to exposing what a crock of shit the present system was that he had to abuse his position to make it work—he would only do that if the situation absolutely demanded it. Contacting Dr. Stobann was not such a situation. So, Bones would have to be very careful to convey his private status during this conversation.
The comm screen flickered to life, the bland UFP logo giving way to the image of Dr. Stobann. He was an olive-skinned man with warm features and eyes that some Vulcans would have accused of being human for their roundness and apparent warmth and hint of emotion. He looked to be about fifty by human terms, which probably meant he was somewhere around 100 or so? Bones didn’t know; it didn’t matter, and he certainly wasn’t going to ask. Even in his somewhat rebellious ‘old’ age, he still had too many ingrained behaviors of a ‘good southern gentleman.’ Stobann’s dark hair was cut in the ubiquitous, slightly pointed Vulcan bowl cut, and he wore a utility-style jumpsuit similar to the exam uniforms for Starfleet cadets, but in a soothing neutral grey, rather than the more traditional, cumbersome Vulcan robes.
“Bones, my friend,” Stobann greeted—that was another thing, Stobann was highly eccentric by Vulcan Standards and had lived among humans and various other Federation (and some non-Federation species) for much of his adult life. He was far more declaratory in his interpersonal relationships and endlessly fascinated with other cultures, yet not conflicted by such potential emotional influences the way, say, Commander Spock was. It meant Bones had an easier time relating—and definitely meant he never thought of Stobann as a ‘green-blooded hobgoblin’—but then again that comfort probably came more easily to Stobann than it did to Spock, because Stobann was a ‘pure-blooded’ Vulcan and likely didn’t feel the same pressure (external or self-imposed) to ‘prove’ anything. And okay, Bones knew all about that, so he wasn’t going to get on Spock’s case. But the fact of the matter was Stobann called him ‘friend,’ and that went a long way to putting Bones at ease.
“Greetings Doctor,” Bones replied, hoping his ruminations hadn’t led to too awkward a pause. “P-pardon,” he tripped a little on the unfamiliar formality of the exchange he always felt drawn to when conversing with Vulcans, “my intrusion at so late an hour.” He glanced down at his tunic. “I am contacting you as a private citizen in my individual capacity, not as a Starfleet officer or CMO of the Enterprise I am technically on personal leave right now, and in my haste neglected to change.”
“It is logical that you would wear that in which you are most—comfortable—at a time of personal distress or need, and it has been my observation you are most comfortable in your role as Chief Medical Officer of the Enterprise, so I understand and accept your appearance and acknowledge that you speak as Bones and not as Lt. Cmdr. Leonard Horatio McCoy.” Stobann’s inflection was very, well Vulcan, a somewhat cultured blandness backed by an edge of sincere-yet-eager urgency, yet it seemed more friendly than most, almost like there was a layer of tongue-in-cheek humor, but not quite, lurking underneath the other layers of Vulcan formality. Stobann steepled his fingers and raised and angled eyebrow in clear indication that Bones should continue.
“I am sorry again for the lateness of the hour. It is late here too… you see,” he sighed, “I’m in Georgia on Earth—the North American Georgia, not the Asian Georgia—and my ex-wife is letting me see my daughter, because she’s sick…” He let his voice fade out, trying to come up with the least awkward way to ask this busy Vulcan scientist for a favor.
“I am sorry to hear of your daughter’s illness. That must be most—distressing—for you. I believe she is quite young?” Stobann didn’t sound, and clearly wasn’t, annoyed in the way some Vulcans got when they encountered non-Vulcans making illogical conversation.
Bones knew Stobann would be content to let him explain himself in the way that made the most ‘sense’ from his perspective. That made explaining fractionally easier, and for that Bones was grateful. “My daughter has a rare form of tertiary gene involvement Vespasian-Telos lymphoma. She’s the first child diagnosed with this particular allele involved, so her prospects are not good. Her mother has tried to get a second genetic intervention approved—she had the first before she was born, but…” Bones scrunched up his face to try to keep the tears—of exhaustion, frustration, and pure emotional overload at bay. He swallowed hard and looked up at the comm, his posture deflating as he sunk further into the couch. “But they don’t have an intervention tested or designed for her case, so the application’s stalled, and the doctors have resorted to barbaric chemical treatments.” He looked Stobann directly in the eye, “I need your help.”
Stobann just sat there, taking it in, politely pondering.
Bones could see that Stobann was putting the pieces together, forming his own conclusions. But Bones also knew once Stobann figured it out, he’d ask Bones to explain himself in his own words.
Sure enough, a moment later, Stobann asked, “And what is it I can do to help you?”
And like that, they were down to business. Bones explained his plan, and Stobann asked questions for clarification as the need arose.
When Bones had reached the end of his explanation, Stobann asked, “Do you need me to come to Earth, or will my work from New Vulcan suffice? I ask because I have many inquisitive and dedicated students here at the New Science Academy, and it is logical that the combined intellect of our minds and experiences would be more valuable than mine alone.”
“Tha—that would be, ‘sufficient,’ like you said,” Bones agreed with a nod and an amused smile. Stobann’s agreement was great; procuring his agreement and getting the combined intellect and efforts of Stobann’s students was more than Bones could have hoped. But he’d take it. “I do not yet have all of the data we will need, but that should be coming soon.”
“That will be most satisfactory. Please let me know as information becomes available,” Stobann replied. He hesitated, then added, “I sense you are troubled—by more than your daughter’s prognosis. I surmise, based on our past interactions, it is likely that you are conflicted about a system that would deny your daughter treatment as an individual child with no special background, but possibly allow her to receive treatment and indeed recover because she is your daughter. The illogic and injustice of the situation is also emotionally distressing to you, and you are uncomfortable using your name and position to solve the problem.”
Bones blanched, flinched… Stobann’s assessment was a little too accurate for comfort. He blinked, gulped, and responded, “That’s correct.”
Bones braced for the ‘fascinating’ he was sure would come, but it didn’t. He should have known not to expect typical Vulcan behavior from Dr. Stobann.
Instead, Stobann said, “The illogic unsettles me as well. You could say it offends a Vulcan sense of justice. And while I understand the motivation behind the Federation’s restrictions on humanoid genetic engineering, the inequities in its application are most illogical as they undermine and defeat the purpose. Therefore, my students and I will endeavor to help you resolve this problem and ensure all sentient beings in similar circumstances have access to the treatments they require. I will put my political clout behind the effort as well, if doing so now will help balance the inequity in the future. I ask only one thing in return, a… favor, I believe humans call it.”
“Anything,” Bones said, riveted. He really didn’t care what it was, even if it was grossly illogical by human standards. If this worked, he’d owe Stobann so much … Hell, even if it didn’t work, he still owed Stobann for trying.
“If we should come across a similar medical situation with Vulcans, you will assist me in return,” Stobann explained.
“Certainly,” Bones agreed.
“Then it is settled. I shall await your next transmission. Stobann out.” On screen the Vulcan geneticist leaned forward and pressed a button ending the transmission.
Great. Now all Bones had to do was pull off a miracle.