Part 6: Rebirth and Epilogue
Bones drifted back to consciousness slowly the next morning, a multitude of aches and soreness making their presence known to remind him of the night before. Of being with Jim. Morning light was streaming in through the window, diffused slightly as it passed through the partly open, faded blue drapes that hung across the window. Bones had the feeling of being watched, and as he stretched, turned, and focused, blinking a few times to clear the grit from his eyes, he found Jim, laying on his side, propped up on one elbow, watching him. Bones smiled up at him. “Good morning.”
“Good morning,” Jim murmured back, expression breaking into a huge smile and swooping in to steal a kiss.
“What are you doing?” Bones asked around a yawn, as he took in Jim’s appearance.
Jim was still naked, as was Bones, but where Bones was still sticky and sweaty and could feel his hair was sticking up in places and plastered to his skin in others, Jim was clean, almost glistening, his skin lightly scented with Bones’s sandalwood soap and his hair just a little damp, like it was drying after a shower. He also had minty-fresh breath, which made Bones feel a little guilty about the kiss they’d just shared, because he knew his breath was anything but.
Jim seemed to know exactly what he’d meant. “I woke up early and showered,” he shrugged, “So, I was just watching you sleep. Did y’know when you sleep the permanent furrow between your eyebrows actually smooth out, and you look almost... happy?” He caressed Bones’s forehead, lovingly. “I’d say sleeping with me is good for your health because you still look more relaxed than usual.”
Bones couldn’t help but chuckle at that. “Stop it,” he teased as he reached out to smack at Jim’s hip with his left hand, the playful swat turning to more of a massage as he felt the firm muscle of Jim’s ass under his palm.
Jim’s expression turned positively devilish before he let out a resigned sigh. “As much as I would love to explore you some more, it is almost 0900, and I heard your mother get up and start puttering around a while ago, and then Jo was talking about breakfast...”
Bones’s stomach chose that moment to rumble.
Jim chuckled. “Exactly as I thought.” He leaned in again kissing Bones’s forehead gently. “Why don’t you,” he said when he’d pulled back, “go hop in the shower, get cleaned up and presentable, and then I’ll see you downstairs.” He grinned and slipped out of bed, tugging Bones by the hand to pull him up.
Bones felt his eyes linger longingly over Jim’s body.
“Don’t worry, this is all for you. I’m gonna put on some proper clothes before I head down stairs,” Jim reassured.
When Bones still hadn’t moved beyond standing beside his bed, Bones took him by the hand and tugged, leading him into the en suite bathroom.
“Now why don’t you enjoy a real, water shower, and come downstairs when you’re a little more awake?” Jim encouraged. “Don’t forget, we’re properly on shore leave now, so you’re allowed to wear civvies without making us nervous. With that, Jim swatted his ass and closed the door.
A nice, warm water shower was good. It waked him up, gave him ample opportunity to relieve some of the excitement he’d had at waking up next to Jim naked. When he was thoroughly clean and his mouth no longer tasted like something had died in it, he exited the bathroom to find honest-to-god cargo shorts and a floral print shirt waiting for him on his bed. Beside them was a note scrawled in Jim’s messy handwriting.
When I said we were on shore leave now, I meant it. I saw you brought the bag I gave you and the pictures. :)
Bones smiled and dressed quickly. He wasn’t relaxed really, not quite. There was still some part of him that was looking for permission, for someone—his father maybe—to tell him it was okay to go back to the Enterprise in a few months’ time, to be Jo’s father from afar. He also couldn’t shed the stress and worry of the past two weeks that quickly. He had to monitor Jo’s condition and submit reports and likely deal with more red tape... But he felt eased, at peace, because Jim was here with him now, and Jim would help shoulder the burden because that was who he was. And he loved Bones, and Bones loved Jim.
He emerged from his bedroom fully dressed, he had even slipped into the ridiculously unprotective woven sandals Jim had left for him, he tromped sleepily down the stairs, stifling a series of yawns with his hand as he walked. He reached the bottom of the stairs and was going to shuffle into the kitchen when he heard voices, Jim’s and Jo’s voices to be specific.
“And then crack the eggs in here.”
“Yeah, Jo, just like that. Now whisk.”
Bones poked his head around the corner and watched Jim holding the so-named kitchen implement upright by it’s handle, arm extended for Jo to take it. She did. Jo was standing on a step stool to make the high kitchen island more usable for her height. She began wisking, a little choppily at first, but then Jim showed her and she quickly got the hang of it.
Bones smiled. They were adorable together. If he was a different person he might see this as an excellent opportunity to get “dirt” on his captain to embarrass him with in front of the rest of the crew. But that wasn’t him. Bones wanted nothing more than to capture this on a holo and have it preserved forever to look at when things were bad, when he needed a reminder that there was good in the universe.
He leaned against the doorway, letting his right shoulder take some of his weight and crossing his arms in front of his chest. He was going to say something, open his mouth and let then know he was there, but then Jim started to speak.
“You know, if you want to talk about it, I’m here to listen. Anything you wanna say. I... I know a thing or two about being sick as a kid.” Jim’s voice was soft and quiet, so quiet Bones almost didn’t make out the words. Jim was staring intently at the vegetables he was chopping—green pepper, summer squash and broccoli, all vegetables Jim could eat and Jo liked—for the omelets they were obviously making. He wasn’t looking at Jo.
Silence filled the room for a moment, and then Jo spoke, looking intently at the eggs she was whisking. “It’s... difficult sometimes. Frustrating. Adults—Mom and Clay and my teachers and the doctors especially—are afraid to talk to me about stuff. They see me as a kid and they whisper. They go silent when I walk in the room. They try to talk about stuff, important stuff, about me when I’m not there.” Her voice was small, but had an edge to it, a wisdom Bones wasn’t accustomed to hearing. “They think that ‘cause I’m a kid, I shouldn’t hear some things, because it would scare me, or be too much. It’s inappropriate, or something, and it scares them so they think I can’t handle it. But it’s my life. I’ve been living that, I’ve been dying...” She paused, letting the words hang there, as if waiting... She was waiting to see if they would shock Jim or prompt some sort of dismissive or comforting reaction. When Jim did nothing more than listen and keep chopping, she continued. “But, they were scared, so they tried to protect me from it, like I didn’t know it better than any of them. So instead I just had to act like I was oblivious, to protect them, to keep from shattering their illusion. But that meant I had no one to talk to, couldn’t talk about it.” She paused and wiped at her face.
Bones wanted to intervene, but he held back, felt like he was intruding on something incredibly private.
“Just because I’m better now, at least hopefully,” she shrugged, “it’s not like I can unlearn that. What it’s like. To be dying; to know it. Feel it. Accept it. It’s like I know more about myself and what life means...” She trailed off, stopping her whisking. “I think the adults might think I’ll go back to being who I was.”
Jim said nothing for a moment. Just kept chopping. He nodded to himself. “When I was thirteen my mom sent me to live with her sister on Tarsus IV.” It was Jim’s turn to pause, waiting to see if Jo had any sort of reaction.
She stilled for a moment, then reached for the block of non-dairy cheese and the grater, but said nothing.
Jim nodded again, a mixture of respect and understanding on his face. “My mom had just found out why I was acting out, what Frank, my stepfather, was doing, and she wanted to send me someplace I’d be safe, not get into trouble.” He gave a bitter sort of laugh. “When the famine came and Governor Kodos divided the eight thousand of us into those who deserved to live and those who were unworthy, who he would have to kill to save the worthy... I was on the kill list.” He looked down at his hands resting the knife carefully on the cutting board next to the precise cubes of green pepper he’d just created.
His hands were shaking.
“In the six months between when I escaped the first death squads and when Starfleet arrived, I lived knowing that even if I survived another day, even if I didn’t starve to death today, I was still condemned, still gonna die. And every day I escaped Kodos, I still knew I had no food, and sooner or later I was either gonna get sick or too weak to live, and I was gonna die.” He gripped the counter squeezing so hard Bones could see his knuckles turn white from across the room. “And when Starfleet came, it didn’t make me better; I was still sick, malnourished, almost starved to death. Even when the feeding tubes and hypos and nutritional supplements got me up to a high enough weight they thought I was gonna make it, that didn’t take away the knowledge... the things I’d seen, what people had done, what I’d done... that understanding, acceptance, that I was dying. And there was no one to talk to except the other survivors... and there were only nine of us, mostly kids, from the kill list that made it out alive. The therapists tried, but...” Jim let his voice trail off. He was staring at nothing, eyes unseeing lost in some memory.
Bones wanted to put a stop to him, comfort Jim, but he wasn’t sure... He wasn’t sure he understood.
“They didn’t really understand, the therapists,” Jo said knowingly, reaching out and squeezing Jim’s wrist.
He relaxed his death grip on the counter in response, shuddering and letting out a small sigh, coming back to himself.
“‘Cause they only knew from textbooks and training, most of them had never been dying,” Jo finished.
“Yeah,” Jim agreed, turning to meet her eyes for the first time. “Yeah.”
Jo bit her lip nervously. “Can I ask... why were you, do you know...”
“Why was I on the kill list?” Jim asked, his voice much lighter, more present than it had been even moments before.
Jo nodded. “Yes.”
“Well, I don’t know what algorithms Kodos was using, not for sure, but part of it was because I was a trouble-maker. Even if I had a good reason to be self-destructive, I was still, well, self-destructive, and a juvenile delinquent, which meant no matter what, I’d be a pain to have around.” He gave a rueful snort. “But mostly I think it’s ‘cause I was always a sick kid. I have... well I’m allergic to almost everything—food, meds, plants, just ask your dad sometime what a nightmare it is to take care of me.”
They shared a smile.
“And kind of related to that, it means my immune system doesn’t work right. Sometimes it gets so distracted fighting off strawberries, it forgets to see if I’m really sick.” He looked away again, but Jo’s hand was still resting on his wrist. “The doctors, when I was a kid, they were pretty sure it was a combination of the stress and... grief... my mom was under when she had me, and the radiation—both from being born in space in a shuttle with relatively minimal shielding, and from being born so close to the singularity and Nero’s ship... It just kind of... scrambled some stuff. So, I was genetically inferior as far as Kodos was concerned. Only thing was, since there was almost nothing to eat and no medical care, there was less for me to react to.” He looked back to Jo.
“Thanks,” she said. “For understanding.”
“Thank you for the same,” he replied, barely above a whisper. He stepped back and squeezed her hand. “Now, what do you say we actually cook these omelets before your dad complains?”
“Sounds good,” Jo agreed, turning back to her bowls of whisked eggs and shredded non-dairy cheese.
“Bones,” Jim called, turning to smile at him.
Bones jumped, feeling ashamed and guilty. He flushed pink and was gearing up to try some scowly comeback, but Jim held up his hand in the universal gesture for ‘stop.’
“Thanks for giving us the time, now get over here.” He flipped his hand around beckoning in a come hither motion.
Bones walked, somewhat unsurely across the kitchen, stopping only when he’d reached Jim’s side.
Jim was wearing the same ridiculous shorts and an even more garishly patterned Hawaiian shirt. He opened his arms to Bones and pulled him in close, snug against his side.
Bones felt suddenly overwhelmed, struck with the full knowledge of how close he’d come to not ever knowing Jim, to losing Jo, to being almost all alone in the universe, without the two people who mattered more to him than life itself. Hell, if fucking Kodos the Executioner had gotten his way, they’d probably all be dead, because Jim would never have been around to stop Nero. In that moment, the universe felt impossibly vast and hostile, and Bones knew that even if he could survive without Jim, he didn’t want too. He burrowed his head into Jim’s shoulder and held on, not realizing for a moment that the sobs he heard were his own. A moment later he felt Jo slam into him, wrapping herself tight around him and Jim and holding on. He could tell by the dampness against his side that she was crying too, and the moisture in his hair meant Jim had teared up too.
A few minutes later, when Bones was settling down, finding some of the last vestiges of tension leave him so he was boneless and exhausted, Jo pulled back a little and popped her head up. He turned his head to look at her, still tucked as close as could be to Jim.
“Do you understand now, Daddy?” she asked, voice a little hoarse and wobbly. “Why you have to go back to the Enterprise with Uncle Jim?”
He smiled at hearing her call Jim that; it just felt right.
“You two need to be there to take care of each other and watch out for everyone, keep Earth safe. I need... I need that to feel safe, do you understand? I know that you love me, but I need to know you’re okay. And you wouldn’t be okay here by yourself, and Uncle Jim wouldn’t be okay here, and we need you both in space.”
She looked at him with such sincerity, maturity, understanding, that Bones knew she was telling the truth and meaning it... She wasn’t saying it because she thought it was what he needed to hear, but because it was what she truly wanted. And he couldn’t deny her that. “Okay honey, okay. I’ll stay on the Enterprise,” he agreed at last.
Jim and Jo both cheered, and actually gave each other a kind of sloppy high five.
Bones still couldn’t figure out how he’d gotten so lucky, but he was starting to realize that he could be himself and have what he wanted out of life, and that was okay. “Now, how about those omelets,” he asked.
Jim and Jo both giggled, but they went back to cooking.
And the omelets were delicious. Even his mom thought so when she came back from where she’d been hiding to give them space.
After that morning, the next six weeks passed in a blur. Bones and Jim had the shore leave they’d planned only better because they got to spend time with Jo and she was healthy and Bones got to show Jim places from his childhood without the distance and regret. They rode Peaches and Buttercup around the McCoy farm, and Jim impressed Bones with his riding skills. Long days riding led to literal rolls in the hay, or at least the tall grasses that would become hay once cut. They also shared picnics with Joanna under Eleanora’s prized peach trees. They were opportunities Bones never thought he’d have.
When Jo’s vacation was done, and she had to return home for school exams, they accompanied her back to Savannah and spent a few days there, staying in the garden apartment and seeing the old city. Jim meeting Jocelyn was a bit… awkward… but they managed to stay civil, Jim guarding Bones protectively, ready to defend him against any hint of a slight from Jocelyn, while Jocelyn regarded Jim with something like grudging approval. She might not be happy or comfortable that Bones was gay, but she seemed to be genuinely pleased that he was happy and recognized that Jim was a good man and a better-suited partner for Bones than she could have ever been.
After that they spent a few weeks traveling going to Hawaii so Jim could expend some of his recklessness surfing (and getting sunburned, much to Bones’s consternation) and Bones could ‘relax’ in the sun. “Why do you think I brought Hawaiian shirts, Bones?” Jim teased.
They avoided Iowa though. Winona was offplanet as she so often was, Sam had never returned, and without them, Iowa held nothing but bad memories and personal trauma for Jim. Bones wished he could give a sense of home and family back to Jim the way Jim had done for him, but Jim just shook his head, and Bones knew it was different for Jim. His history wasn’t the same as Bones’s, couldn’t be mended in the same ways. He wished he could fix things for Jim, the doctor in him itched to make it alright… but he was starting to understand that a big part of who Jim was, of what made him so great was his own pain, his past, the wisdom he’d gained by growing through adversity. It had given Jim and Jo a bond, a common experience, Bones didn’t have. And while he’d give anything to have spared them both the trials they’d been through, he was grateful they’d found understanding in each other.
Their travels provided real time off, away from the stress and pressures of Starfleet and the anxiety of Joanna’s illness. Bones had showed Jo how to use a medical tricorder so she could take readings on her self and send them to him so he could submit them to the FGC. She was healthy and doing well, and aside from the daily and (and then every-other-day) reports Bones didn’t have to dwell on the tragedy that had almost been.
Five weeks into their six-week shore leave, they retuned to Georgia, staying again with Eleanora with Jo visiting. That feeling of family swelled inside Bones again—the realization that this—Jo, Eleanora, and Jim were here for him weren’t going to leave him because of who he was, and he didn’t have to be someone else to have them, to have that.
The day they were due to take the shuttle back to the Enterprise Jo came with them to the spaceport. The mood upon Bones’s departure was as far removed from the somber, hostile, dread-filled atmosphere of his arrival as conceivable.
As they stood by the large windows of the terminal building looking out at the tarmac and the waiting shuttle, Jo reached up and hugged first Jim and then Bones. “Uncle Jim… Daddy,” she said, smiling up at them. “You two are gonna take care of each other, aren’t you? I’m not going to have to worry extra about you being silly and thinking you have to do everything on your own, am I?” Her voice was teasing, but her smile was serious.
“Don’t worry, Jo,” Jim said, squeezing her shoulder. “I’m not going to let your dad do anything stupid. At least, not anything I wouldn’t do,” he added innocently.
Bones elbowed him in the ribs.
“Ow,” Jim protested, jerking away with excessive emphasis.
“Oh don’t be a baby,” Bones said with a chuckle.
Jim shot him a devious glare.
“I’ll try to keep him from getting himself killed. Don’t worry, Jo,” he said, smiling down at his daughter.
She’d grown over the two months he’d been on Earth, and she was no longer frail or haggard looking but strong, vibrant. She was even planning to return to her soccer team for the first time in over a year.
“Okay,” she said. “Now, I’m going to come and visit you next winter… or what’s winter for me, if you’re back in system on schedule, right?”
“Right,” Bones answered, leaning over to hug her. He still hadn’t gotten over not needing to drop to his knee to hug her as he had when he’d left Georgia the first time. “I’m gonna miss you until then. But we’re going to comm twice a month, right?”
“And letters every week,” she added, laying her head against his shoulder. “Thank you, Dad.”
He patted her back, not wanting to pull away.
“Captain, Doctor,” a voice said from somewhere behind them.
Bones reluctantly let go, catching onto Jo’s hand as he straightened up. He and Jim turned in sync and saw a Starfleet Ensign waiting for them expectantly.
“Your shuttle is ready to depart,” she said.
“We’ll be right there,” Jim assured. He gave Jo another hug.
Then Bones hugged Jo again, and finally, reluctantly, Jim led him from the terminal building. Bones looked back, waving at Jo and her waving back until finally they were boarding the shuttle, and she was a distant speck in the terminal window.
As they took their seats, and the shuttle went through its preflight sequence, Bones felt secure, happy, excited to see the Enterprise again. He had the bag Jim had given him, filled with his most treasured belongings and a new set of souvenirs from new memories they’d formed together, and more importantly, he had Jim. And all of the dread and longing and loneliness that had plagued him on his trip down to Earth was gone. With Jim by his side, Bones felt anything was possible.
“So,” Jim said casually, about midway through their flight. “I hope you won’t mind, but I changed the shipping order on the boxes you sent to your mother’s.”
“You did?” Bones queried turning away from the window and its view of the Spacedock to look at Jim.
“Yeah, I figured you’d gone through all the trouble of packing up half the stuff in your quarters rather than shipping it back there and then having to pack it up all over again, it might make sense if I shipped it to our quarters.” Jim bit his lip, eyes wide as he waited for Bones’s reaction.
“Our quarters?” Bones asked, his eyebrow shooting up along with his voice. “Jim, is that your way of asking me to move in with you?”
“Um, yes?” Jim answered.
“Is that a yes?”
“Yes,” Bones answered in exasperation.
Jim sighed. “Good, because I already processed the paperwork for the change in living quarters assignment. It would have been… awkward, and a lot of paperwork to change it back.”
Bones felt a hint of annoyance, and tried to look angry for a moment, but he couldn’t. It was so very like Jim, and exactly the sort of endearing presumption about him that made Bones love him so much. He broke into a smile and laughed instead. “Well, I wouldn’t want you to have to process the paperwork. What’s next, a marriage proposal?”
“Um, I left the ring onboard the Enterprise?” Jim blushed.
“You’re serious,” Bones realized. “Well, I’ll just have to save my answer for when you ask me for real.” He was Bones McCoy, and Jim was in his future, and Jo was in his future, and maybe he would get to have the life he’d always wanted—all of it—after all.