A/N: Well, here's the final chapter! I hope you've enjoyed the expanded (and more polished) version. Thanks to all who've read and commented--I greatly appreciate all reviews.
McCoy was startled out of a light doze to find Jim striding purposefully out of the reception room without sparing him a glance. McCoy stumbled to his feet, nodded farewell to Ellie and raced to catch up to Jim, who was stepping into the lift. He touched his arm gently. "Hang on, kid." Jim barely acknowledged McCoy's presence; he looked subdued, even shaken. "How'd it go?" The eval had taken almost three hours.
"It wasn't…what I expected," Jim said slowly, as the lift began taken them swiftly down to the ground floor. He seemed distracted and preoccupied, but not angry. McCoy took that as a good sign.
"Well," he said, "I told you it would be nothing like the last time. How do you feel?"
"Tired…a little dizzy."
"That's a normal aftereffect of the drugs. You need to eat something and then sleep."
"Shit. I hate drugs."
McCoy nodded sympathetically, and then, unable to contain his curiosity, asked, "What did Ellie—"
"Not now, Bones. I don't want to talk about it. I just want to sleep." But catching McCoy's concerned look, he gave him a half-smile. "Don't worry. It was all right. I just need to think a bit, that's all."
Jim crashed on the couch in McCoy's dorm room and slept through the evening until late the next morning. McCoy blamed his exhaustion partly on the psychotropics, but also on the tension of the homecoming and Jim's endless Starfleet debriefings. And the memorial services, which he insisted on attending obsessively.
Ellie called him that evening at the hospital. "I have not finished writing my report yet," she apologized in her melodic accent, "but I'm sure that as his CMO"—and his friend, she implied with a warm look—"you'd like to hear my recommendations as soon as possible. And I have been told that Fleet Command has an interest in the results."
"That's putting it mildly. Thanks, Ellie. It's good of you to call. He wouldn't say a word to me…He just said that he wanted time to think, and went to sleep."
"That is not surprising. He does indeed have much to consider. He has begun what I call 'a new narrative' of his life and it has given him access to many important memories and different aspects of his identity. It will take time for him to integrate them."
"So he cooperated with you. Well, that's a relief. I thought he might refuse."
"Yes, despite his initial fears, he did. When the patient feels a sense of control over the process, the resistance is lessened."
"What did he tell you, Ellie?"
She hesitated, considering. "It is not necessary for you to know the details of his conversation with me. Even though you are his primary physician, the boundaries of doctor-patient confidentiality must be respected. He will tell you himself, perhaps, when he is ready. But I can give you a summary of the findings which will be covered in my report."
"Fine, then," McCoy nodded. He'd expected an answer of this sort.
"He is a remarkably intelligent and strong individual. Despite the extreme difficulties with which he was faced from a very young age--neglect and even abuse--he is resourceful, tenacious, and resilient. He is determined to succeed in the face of adversity, and I will emphasize his capacity for change and growth. Most importantly from his perspective, I see no reason to challenge his command aspirations."
McCoy sighed with relief.
"However, his work is not finished. He is uncomfortable relying on others except for a select few whom he trusts. He still has sensitivities and unresolved issues around authority figures and the abuse of power. My guess is," she said with a cynical laugh, "that he will rebel against certain aspects of Starfleet's bureaucracy. He will feel uncomfortable within a military structure as long as he is in a subordinate position, but that does not preclude his success as he moves up the ranks."
"Thank you, Ellie. Your insights are spot on, as far as I can see."
She beamed. "Thank you for the referral. He's a truly extraordinary man. And you are more important to him than you know."
They were nearing the halfway point in the cross-country hop. Jim had spent the first half hour trying to distract McCoy from the shuttle's occasional creaks and accelerations by plying him with questions about his cousin Jared and his family, his other relatives, and his grandmother. "Do they know we're coming?" he asked, suddenly concerned.
McCoy laughed. "Kid, the south invented hospitality. We're not like you northern introverts. Jared told me that if I didn't bring you I'd be sleeping in the barn."
"I thought you said that you lived in a suburb. You really have a barn?"
"It's just an expression." The shuttle made a sudden ominous dip, and McCoy swore. "This is a really bad idea."
"Bones, it's a great idea. Timing is everything. It'll work, believe me."
McCoy groaned. "I don't know why I listen to you."
Jim grinned. "I have a good feeling about this. I know what I'm doing."
McCoy fixed him with a cynical stare. "I admit that you occasionally seem to be in possession of an astonishing amount of random and archaic knowledge, but in the realm of family affairs, Jim, you're no authority."
Jim changed the subject. "Did you know that hundreds of years ago, people used to pay money in order to simulate free fall and experience sudden acceleration and deceleration? Roller coasters, they called them. They rode them for fun."
"See what I mean about the miscellaneous bits of junk you have stored up in your brain? How do you know so much about roller coasters anyway?"
"I read, Bones. You never know when something you've read will be useful."
"And how is knowing about roller coasters useful to me now?"
"A shuttle ride is based on the same principles. It's all a matter of manipulating gravitational, inertial, and centripetal forces, except that in this case, there's a little more ground covered. It's just elementary physics. You're not really in any danger."
"Listen, Jim, why don't you just shut up for a while and let me suffer in silence?"
Jim sighed. "We'll be there in about twenty minutes."
"Thank the Lord for small mercies. Where the hell are we, anyway?"
Jim leaned forward, peering down through the small observation window. "Hard to see anything, but it looks pretty flat down there. Probably goddam Iowa. Absolutely nothing to see."
He leaned back again. "At least we can hop over it in a few minutes."
As long as McCoy had known him, Jim had never gone back to Iowa. He had stayed at the Academy during all the holidays and breaks over the past three years, working or signing up for whatever advanced seminars he was allowed to take. The one time McCoy had asked Jim why he never went home for the holidays, Jim had brushed him off with a laugh: "Fucking boring in Iowa, Bones, why would I go back?"
But after the intense events of the Narada and the new psych eval, McCoy thought he might be more willing to give him an honest answer. "Got any people there anymore, Jim?" McCoy asked, keeping his voice neutral.
"Nobody there I want to see," he said slowly. "Not in Iowa…" His voice trailed off.
"But…?" McCoy prodded.
"My brother Sam's at the CDC."
McCoy stared at him. "The Centers for Disease Control? In Atlanta?"
"He's a biologist. An epidemiologist, actually."
"Shit, Jim. Why the hell didn't you say something before now?"
Jim scowled defensively. "Because this trip isn't about me. It's about you, and your kid, and—"
"You have a brother in Atlanta?" McCoy repeated. "Does he know that you're coming?"
"No," Jim said, tight-lipped. "And he's not going to know, because I sure as hell am not going to tell him, and neither are you."
"I thought you two were out of touch! How long have you known that he's here?"
"Since just after we got back."
McCoy shook his head in frustration. So why the hell didn't he meet the ship like the other relatives, he thought.
Two weeks ago, when the Enterprise had finally limped into spacedock, he had taken the last shuttle planetside with Jim and the other senior officers. Jim had been tense and withdrawn on the short ride, smiling but not saying much, which McCoy attributed to an understandable nervousness in meeting the Admiralty.
"Time to pay for the ride," he'd told Jim. "Lighten up, nobody's gonna arrest you for mutiny. You saved the planet."
"Not worried about that," he'd said quietly. "It's the reporters. I know they're waiting. I just don't want to be the main meal at a media feeding frenzy."
McCoy had laughed. "Just give 'em your name, rank, and Fleet number, Jim. That's all you're required to say."
"It's not a joke," he said. "Pike promised I wouldn't have to give any interviews, but I don't know if the Admiralty will agree. And anyway, he's got his mind on other things now."
McCoy nodded. Like the other wounded crewmembers and the Vulcan refugees, Captain Pike had already been transferred to the Academy hospital. "I'll stick with you, Jim," he promised, not understanding why his friend was so media-shy, but not wanting to press him on it. "Smile for one picture, and then we'll make a quick exit."
Jim had laughed, but his eyes were unamused. "If they're out there like I think they're going to be, I'm going to throw myself on Admiral Archer's mercy and beg him to throw me in the brig."
McCoy had been unprepared for what Starfleet had actually organized for their reception: not hordes of reporters—although as Jim had predicted, they were waiting impatiently at the press conference that followed the general debriefing—but families and friends. McCoy was surprised and touched, grateful that someone at Starfleet had thought about the needs of the Enterprise crew and allowed them this brief moment of support. Jim had hung back in the shuttle, watching the civilians surge forward, and McCoy waited with him, letting the others go first. From his vantage point, he could see Uhura being welcomed ecstatically by a group of robust, colorfully-dressed, smiling women who had to be her sisters. Chekov was hailed in worried Russian by his mother and grandmother. Scotty and Sulu were happily claimed in turn by their own families. His gaze fell on Spock, aloof and expressionless and standing apart, but Uhura broke away momentarily from her sisters to appear by his side, gently guiding him forward to join her.
He felt a sudden pang of apprehension, of what-if-no-one's-waiting-for-me, thinking of Jocelyn who wouldn't want to see him even in these circumstances, of his grandmother who was ill and certainly wasn't in any condition for a shuttle ride… "Len!" he heard someone call. He looked up in surprise, trying to locate a familiar face in the crowd, then stepped forward with relief into a bear hug from Jared. "How've you been, man? God, we were worried!" he said into his ear. The shuttle bay was noisy and crowded with the bustle of technicians and the cries of reunited families, and he'd almost had to shout to be heard. Jared had updated him on the family's reactions to discovering that he'd been on the one surviving ship—"It's all over the news, Len, you're the goddam Medical Chief or something, how 'bout that?"—and bombarded him with questions.
Several minutes went by before he remembered belatedly about Jim, and he whirled around, searching for him in the crowd, finally catching a glimpse of him off to the side, standing alone and seemingly forgotten. He was watching the family reunions intently, a bland smile plastered on his face. His expression betrayed no hint of disappointment or envy, but his body language conveyed it all: his hands were shoved into his pockets, his head bowed slightly, his shoulders bunched and tight.
McCoy cursed and disentangled himself from Jared's arm, taking a step toward him. But he was too late; by the time he'd reached the spot where Jim had been standing, Jim was headed out of the shuttle bay, moving toward an officer who was beckoning to him.
"Your brother didn't meet the shuttle," he said now, resentful on Jim's behalf. He'd assumed that Jim had no living relatives on Earth, but the revelation that his brother was alive and well and working nearby was infuriating.
"He commed me," Jim said. "I didn't tell you. Later that night…He didn't even know I was in Starfleet, until they contacted him. He told me…He said that he was proud of me. He's married. He told me about his wife…" His voice was hesitant, as if he wasn't sure what to make of the information.
"So why didn't he come?"
Jim turned his head away, looking out the window. McCoy couldn't see his expression, but he could hear the pain in his voice. "I haven't seen him since I was ten, Bones. He left me there, with... He left me by myself and never came back. He said that he didn't know if I really wanted to see him, after all this time."
Good question, McCoy thought. And in retrospect, Sam had been right not to come; with all the stress of the arrival and Jim's debriefings and meetings with Fleet Command, the last thing he needed was the sudden reappearance of a long-lost brother. "Do you, Jim? Want to see him, I mean?"
"God, I wish I knew," he whispered, so low that McCoy could barely hear him.
"Landing in three minutes at Atlanta Hub," a pleasant female voice announced over the shuttle speaker. "Please be seated and attach restraining belts."
"There, see?" Jim said, looking grateful for the interruption. He patted McCoy's shoulder. "Almost over."
McCoy nodded and looked away. The shuttle was dipping and turning alarmingly. He closed his eyes and gripped the arm rests of the seat. As his attention refocused on his physical sensations, he felt nausea building up in his stomach, threatening to rise up into his throat. He made himself take shallow, measured breaths, hoping to forestall the inevitable bout of vomiting that overtook him during almost every landing. As always, he had a bag ready under the seat.
"The shuttle is the easy part," McCoy said. "Remind me again why I'm doing this."
"Because you promised me."
"Yes, but you took advantage of my pity. You looked so damned pathetic on your way to the eval." I'll make you a deal, Jim had said. I'll go through with this, and then you'll come with me on a little shuttle ride. There's someone you need to talk to.
"She'll be glad to see you. She responded to your message, didn't she?"
"Yeah, she said, 'Glad you're safe. Now go back into space and don't bother me.'"
"Naw, she didn't. She said that she'd been worried and that she heard about what you did for Captain Pike."
McCoy looked at him suspiciously. "How the hell would you know what she said?" Jim reddened. "Hell, Jim, can't you respect my privacy?"
"You were in the shower when the message came through. I just happened to be there. Besides," he said quickly, "I can read between the lines. She's been obsessing over the news reports, I can tell. She'll talk to you. Anyway, it's the right thing to do, and you know it."
"She doesn't know I'm coming."
"Actually," he paused, looking at his boots, "she kind of does know. I talked to her a little."
"Goddamit, Jim!" he groaned. "You called Jocelyn? That wasn't your place! What gives you the right to interfere?"
"Look, we couldn't come all this way if she wasn't around, right? She needs to be home. I told her that we were planning a little trip to Atlanta and you'd like to speak to her."
"And what did she say?" he asked bitterly. "Come right out, so I can humiliate my ex face to face?"
"Of course not, Bones." He grinned. "She said she'd be thrilled to meet a hero of the Federation, and if you wanted to tag along, she wasn't going to stop you."
"Come on, Bones, this isn't about your ex. It's about your daughter."
The building looked the same as it always had. A clean, tall, glass-and-metal structure, with a pleasant garden in front. Jim walked forward determinedly, while McCoy found himself lagging behind by several steps. He recalled the last time he'd been here; he'd come by for the last of his personal possessions. Joss had stuffed them in a large plastic bag and left it on the kitchen table, along with a note that said: Don't leave anything behind. For weeks afterward, he'd obsessed over the cryptic message, convinced she was trying to tell him something but unsure what it was—Don't leave me behind? Don't leave? Don't come back? Move on with your life? In the end, he'd decided it was just what it seemed on the surface, an unpleasant reminder of the way their relationship had deteriorated into a cold lack of communication.
"Would you pick up the pace a little?" Jim said impatiently. "Stop acting like I'm dragging you to your own funeral and get that guilty look off your face. You'll scare off your own kid."
"This is crazy. What will I say to a three-year-old I've never met before?"
Jim rolled his eyes. "You'll say, 'Hi, sweetie, my name is Leonard.' She's your daughter, for God's sake."
He lowered his voice and stepped closer, placing one arm casually around McCoy's shoulders and speaking quietly into his ear. "Look, this isn't going to be a one-time thing. You're going to talk to Jocelyn and then you're going to go together to a lawyer. You'll work out something about visiting rights. You'll have a chance to get to know her and watch her grow up. And of course she'll love you, Bones. You're her father."
McCoy looked at Jim. A sense of shame threatened to overwhelm him. Here was a man whose entire childhood had been scarred by the fact that his father hadn't been there. Yet even in his worst moments, Jim could at least derive some comfort from the fact that his father had given his life to save his family. What would Joanna be able to say about him? That he'd chickened out and run away?
Jim would get his wish, McCoy was sure. With the main impediment to his achieving command removed, the Admiralty would cooperate with the inevitable and hand over its flagship to its young hero, Pike's protégé. And if he had anything to say about it, he'd be at Jim's side. Jim needed him, and he could see himself there on the Enterprise, building a life of meaning and purpose.
McCoy paused, looking at Jim. He's changed, he thought. He's not a scared kid anymore.
"Quid pro quo, Jim," he said. "I'll make a deal with you. I'll talk to Joss and see Joanna, and then we'll go have something to eat. And then…we're going to see some of the sights of Atlanta."
"Whatever, Bones, just do it."
"We're going to visit the CDC." Jim stiffened and shook his head, but McCoy's voice was firm. "And you're going to talk to Sam. He's your brother, Jim, and before you go off for a five-year tour, you need to do this. Don't turn your back on him. He was just a kid when he left, you know. Give him another chance."
Jim nodded slowly. "You sound like Ellie. Build another story."
"It's good advice, Jim."
He sighed. "All right. But you owe me big time. Now go. I'll wait for you here."
McCoy entered the building, easily found the apartment door, and pressed the button firmly. He could hear movements coming from inside, a woman's voice and the high-pitched answer of a small child.
The door opened, and McCoy found himself face to face with a solemn, dark-haired girl wearing a blue dress. She looked up at him curiously.
"Who is it, Jo?" called the woman from an inside room.
"Hi, sweetie. I'm Leonard," he said. "Tell your mother that I'm here."