Joanna had been throwing a fit all morning since Leonard had been called in to work. He was honestly surprised by it, even though it was Christmas Eve and he'd had to cancel his "dinner" with Joanna and Jim that evening. It wasn't something new, however; it wasn't the first time he'd been called away on a holiday but it was the first time since Joanna was six that such a fit had been thrown. She'd refused to speak to him or say goodbye before he left, holed up in her room. Jim didn't look worried though, his bright eyes determined.
"Jim--" Leonard began weakly. He felt exhausted, stuck between his daughter and the growing queue of patients at the clinic. Outside, the weather was steadily taking a turn for the worse.
"I got it, Bones,"Jim hedged, handing Leonard his coat and making shooing motions. Bones gave him a scolding look as he shrugged on his jacket but patted Jim's shoulder on his way past to the door. He turned to give Jim a significant look before disappearing out the door.
Jim watched Bones rush across the yard to his truck and frowned with every icy gust of wind battering Bones. The sky overhead looked ominous, a dark slate grey with clouds that seemed to boil. He sighed against the window glass and stepped back, drawing a small frowning face in the condensation. Upstairs he heard a door open and then the light footfalls of feet on the stairs. "Jim?" Joanna called from the bottom step. She was wrapped in a large green quilt, her face barely visible through a small opening in the folds of the quilt. "Did papa leave?"
"Yeah, Jannie," he said and walked over to her. The quilt was something new because he was sure he'd never seen it before. Joanna didn't give him any time to ask her about it before she was heading back up the stairs. Without a word, Jim followed. She headed, not back into her room, but Bones'. Bones had the biggest bed of them all, for some reason Jim still wasn't sure of and had to do with Bones' room being a master, and Joanna crawled up onto the bed. She fell over flat in the exact center of the bed and the quilt camouflaged her from sight, becoming more a haphazard pile of blanket than an actual whole girl.
He climbed up beside her. "I've never seen that quilt before," Jim began conversationally as he watched the steady rise and fall of the quilt, the only hint Joanna was even there. Her reply was too muffled for him to understand. "What?"
She surged upward, flinging the quilt up over his head. He blinked in the drastically dimmer light, barely making out her features at first. "I said my momma made it," she told him impatiently. "I got it out of my closet because..." she sniffed mid sentence and wiped her nose on the heel of her hand, "I miss her a lot, Jim." Joanna sniffed again. "It isn't fair."
"Why not?" Jim asked and reached up to brush away the tears leaking from the corner of her eyes.
"Momma doesn't want me," she said softly, her hands fisting on her knees. "She left me n' papa because she didn't want me no more. But then papa goes and he leaves all the time and it...I hate it!" She yelled this and slammed her hands hard against her knees.
"Your papa didn't leave you," Jim corrected. "Your papa is coming home tonight and he will be here tomorrow for Christmas and then the day after that and then the day after that." She didn't seem to believe him or refused to, so he continued on. "He had to leave, Joanna."
"Just because of his stupid job," Joanna spat.
"No, it's more than that," he argued vehemently. Joanna looked at him hopeful, almost expectant. His heart tightened as realization struck him and then, as the words left his mouth his heart seemed to grow, "You're father is one of a kind, Joanna, and people need him because he's so special." Carefully, Jim took her small hand between his and pressed it between his palms. "You'll see, one day, when you're just as special." She suddenly tossed the quilt off, sending it flying across the room. He blinked in the sudden bright light but then caught sight of her face, wet with tears but split by a tentative smile.
"Thanks, Jim," she enthused, childlike tenacity to bounce back from any heartache working tenfold. Joanna suddenly scrambled off the bed and balked at the clock beside the bed. "Oh no! We're gonna miss the Christmas special on TV, Jim!" Jim hopped up immediately and began to race her down the stairs, winning only because he cheated by picking her up by her waist and tossing her over his shoulder. She squealed and squirmed until he deposited her on the sofa in the living room with an 'oof.'
"Quickly!" Jim cried as she grabbed the remote and turned the TV on. They thrummed with impatience as she went through each channel until the right one finally came up. Joanna snuggled against his side as the screen filled with the cartoon face of Santa Claus, who was with some sort of skeleton man. He smiled down at her brown head.
He opened his mouth to mention the oddity of this when the sound of the front door opening interrupted him. Joanna was off the couch and into the foyer within seconds and straight into Bones' welcoming arms.
Jim followed at a much more sedate pace, watching. When Bones' head lifted from Joanna's attention and he looked straight a Jim with a wide, grateful smile, all thoughts of television flew from Jim's mind. "I got someone to cover for me," Bones said, standing up with a huff under the weight of Joanna in his arms. She was too big but he still sometimes indulged her under such circumstances. "Figured we could still have an impromptu Eve dinner."
Christmas was new for Jim. Admittedly, a lot of things were new for Jim but Christmas especially so. He had seen, many times, the effects of Christmas. Trees being cut down only to be carried into houses, glittering lights strung through trees and around tree trunks or in the whimsical form of fawn on the lawn. Celebrations in the Winter Kingdom did not include Christmas. The only thing that deserved anything like a party was the winter solstice, a critical time each year during the winter season. Nothing about this celebration included electric lights or presents. Mostly it was a lot of work and little pay off. If the day went well, Father Winter often threw a celebratory blizzard but that was the extent of it.
Human traditions, Jim marveled, were far superior to any that the winter gypsies had. Christmas was more than just a time for presents and tinsel and trees indoors. It was about family and celebrating each other through gift giving. Jim loved it, especially since in the face of yesterday's turmoil, the McCoys seemed intent on celebrating all that much harder. The morning was spent with presents, something Jim had learned of just in the nick of time to get his friends gifts. Presents weren't an entirely foreign concept to him. The winter gypsies were a generous people, after all, and he had often received small trinkets or charms to protect him from harmful spirits or to hang from branches of trees. Spock was especially fond of giving Jim some of his best snowflakes which he used with due discretion on the most beautiful days of winter. Uhura, a gypsy who helped sort Spock's finished snowflakes, had once given him a crystal prism. Jim sometimes put it out on the first of January to cast a brilliant rainbow across the land.
Human gift giving was much the same but, as he found, were not such practical things. They included toys for children or jewelry for women or sporting goods for men. This, Jim found, was what separated a gift from a present. Also, presents weren't just handed over as is but instead wrapped in brightly coloured paper with bows or tinsel. Wrapping the gift made it so much more exciting. Jim thrummed with anticipation to know what every single box contained, even though not one was addressed to him. The lack of gifts for himself bummed Jim out for a good few minutes until he strictly reminded himself that it was a gift he was even here in the McCoy house in the first place.
Jim was the first one down in the morning, sitting curled on the end of the couch closest to the Christmas tree. His gaze moved from the window to the gifts under the tree was he waited for the sun to finally rise. Just as the grey sky outside began to light with the telltale sings of the sunrise, Joanna's feet thundered down the stairs. Behind her a sleepy Bones followed, hair mussed and pajamas askew. They both paused in the hallway when they spotted Jim.
"You're way too early!" Joanna cried and rushed into the living room. Jim grinned shamelessly. "Presents can't be opened until after sunrise!"
"And after papa gets his coffee," Bones grumbled, continuing on into the kitchen. Joanna groaned loudly in protest. "Joanna Lanier McCoy," came the stern voice from the living room that ended her drone immediately. She jumped over the threshold into the living room and slid across the rug and onto her butt in front of the tree.
"I'm not allowed to pick out which one I wanna open first, either," Joanna huffed.
Joanna opened each of her gifts carefully, much to Jim's dismay. She pulled the tape off and then pulled back the colourful paper to reveal each gift in her lap. Her beaming smile made it all worth it, even if it was just for some frilly pink shirt her aunt had gotten her or a book. When Jim's gift was finally sitting on her knees he sat forward in his seat in anticipation, beside him Bones snorted in amusement. Without looking Jim punched him in the thigh and earned another snort. Joanna looked up from the plain brown paper, the only thing had been able to get in time, at Jim with a brilliant smile. He was confused, for a second, as to why she was happy before she had even opened the gift.
"Thank you, Jim," she said her fingers painstakingly picking each piece of tape off. "You didn't have to get me anything."
"Of course I did," Jim corrected with a scoff, appalled by the very idea. "What kind of friend would I be if I didn't?"
This earned him another view of the beaming smile. When the brown paper was ready to be pushed aside, Jim held his breath as she pushed aside the paper and pulled off the shoebox lid. Inside, nestled in newspaper, was a delicate but simple wooden carving of an angel. Joanna gasped, her small shoulders slumping and wide eyes welling up with tears. Shock hit Jim in the gut, sharp and unforgiving before it was suddenly replaced with an armful of ten year old girl. Joanna hugged him tight, her face pressing into the fabric of his t-shirt. He stared down at her auburn head before looking up into Bones' face. He didn't look angry or sad, but happy.
"I'm sorry, Joanna," Jim said weakly, wrapping his arms around her slight frame. "Your papa said you thought I was an angel but I'm not so I thought that I'd..."
She drew back, eyebrows drawn over her wet eyes, and stared up at him. "It's perfect, Jim," Joanna insisted, fisting her hands in his shirt. "I'm crying because I'm happy, silly."
Relief flooded through him and he relaxed a smile tugging at his lips. After that, in Jim's humble opinion, every other gift Joanna got was pale in comparison. She paid each one the same diligence though. Bones' pile of gifts was smaller in comparison and had things like bourbon and more books. He seemed pleased anyway and, when there were no more presents left, rose to stand. Jim stopped him with a hand on his wrist. Bones stopped and dropped back onto the couch, eyeing Jim curiously.
"You forgot one," Jim said, pulling another haphazardly wrapped present from behind him. He handed it to Bones and bit his lip, eyes darting off to stare at the tree. Bones considered Jim for a beat before opening his present. He shakily exhaled when all the paper was gone, falling forgotten to the floor. In his hand was the picture of him and his father from so many years ago but this time in a new frame, carved from wood in swirling knotted patterns and twisting bark.
"I thought it needed a better frame," said Jim quietly around the lump in his throat that had returned tenfold.
"Did you carve this?" Bones asked, voice thick. Jim nodded, confused by this question. He was very good at carving ice so wood was no big deal. From the look in Bones' eyes it was a huge deal and Jim's heart sped up under the intensity of the stare. Across the room, Joanna marveled at her angel, breathing a quiet 'wow.' "Thank you." Bones held out his hand which Jim took and was immediately pulled into Bones' arms. He melted into the hug, spellbound by Bones' scent filling his senses. He jumped when smaller, bonier arms joined the mix.
"Thank you, Jim!" Joanna crowed, squeezing what little of Jim she could get at. Jim's heart jumped and then soared when he felt the two McCoys press a kiss into his hair.
Joanna was curled on the couch under the green quilt surrounded by some new stuffed animals and a lovely little doll. Leonard was watching her from the threshold between the kitchen and living room. He sighed, a quiet content sound, and turned at the slight sound behind him. Jim sat at the kitchen table, a shock in itself, and was looking over one of the books Joanna had gotten for Christmas. Leonard walked over to look over Jim's shoulder, surprised to find the book was a collection of Christmas poetry and that the one Jim was reading was about Jack Frost.
Jim looked up at him a small, almost nostalgic smile on his face. "A familiar poem?" Leonard asked, thinking it must be from Jim's childhood. Jim's eyes dropped away and down back to the pages of the book, which he shut carefully.
"Something like that," he answered quietly. Leonard frowned, not at all liking the tone of Jim's voice when he said that. It wasn't a mood suited for Christmas. He stepped away and moved out into the living room, picking up the large paper bag that had sat, untouched, in the corner all day. He returned to the kitchen, gave Jim a smile and sat the bag in front of him.
"Sorry it's late,"he said sheepishly. "We had a horrible time deciding what to get you and," he gave Jim a dry look, "had a horrible time getting away from you to talk about deciding." Jim's expression was shocked, much to Leonard's chagrin, and he stood slowly and pulled the bag open. Out he pulled some new clothes, a small envelope and a wrapped package. "In the envelope is a gift card to get yourself some clothes," Leonard explained as Jim opened it up. "So you don't have to wear my old hand-me-downs any more." He tugged pointedly on the slightly too long sleeve of the shirt Jim was wearing.
As Jim unwrapped the package, Leonard shut his mouth. Inside was a picture of Jim and Joanna. He had figured it a good gift even though the picture had been on a whim. The two were standing under the very tree that Jim had fallen out of, heads bent over a half-formed snowman. Jim held a carrot in one hand that he was gesturing with and Joanna had smudges of black on her cheeks from the coal she held, her expression one of delight. Jim sat down heavily and stared at the picture in silence, thumb rubbing gently over the edge of the frame.
He looked up suddenly, eyes watery, and gave Leonard an honest smile. Leonard's heart fluttered at the sight of it directed so openly at him. "I love it," Jim said, voice thick with emotion. Leonard could only nod dumbly and step closer to Jim, leaning over to press a kiss against his forehead. Jim sat back, stunned, and stared up at Bones' bright red face. "Thank you, Bones." It was then, as Bones face grew even redder at his mischievous smile, that Jim knew he was in love.
After Christmas things slowed down and quieted at the McCoy household. A lull overtook them as they basked in the warmth of the good cheer left over from Christmas. Joanna spent the first few days afterward at her new friends' houses, playing with the new toys they'd all gotten. Jim was a little disheartened when there were a few times he was left at the house alone but Bones was always sure to call frequently on these occasions, making the instances anything but lonely. They were both distinctly aware of the subject they constantly skirted around as Jim got better and better on his feet everyday, neither one mentioning how his time limit in the McCoy house had come and gone many days ago.
Jim really didn't like to think about it and welcomed any distraction that could keep his mind from it. The most common distraction came from his clothes-shopping plight. It wasn't something he'd actually ever had to do before. Most of his clothes as a nymph had been made by the gypsies and weren't any different than a simple tunic and pants spun from polar bear hair dyed a rich blue. Never before had he ever had options for what to wear and now found himself a little lost. Bones was a good resource on what not to wear and what to wear but Jim tried not to rely on the man too much considering that Jim's clothes already literally were what Bones wore. He quickly learned that what he had been used to wearing as a nymph wasn't in fashion for anyone but women and had abandoned those ill conceived notions immediately.
Jeans were nice and easy, he found, and gold was a rich colour he'd never really gotten to experience before. Any kind of yellow, really, often found its way into this wardrobe now. Argyle seemed too pretentious, even to him, but a subtle plaid pattern was acceptable and also, apparently, in fashion. He got a lot of blue shirts, too, but only under Bones' suggestion. Something to do with matching his eyes, a ridiculous notion to Jim, but the clerk behind the counter had swooned and gave him her phone number when he'd worn a blue shirt once.
In fact, the more and more he went into town, the more and more female attention he got. Joanna found endless amusement in this mostly from Jim's obvious confusion. Bones wasn't as fond, often rolling his eyes whenever Jim sent a charming grin towards a lady or giving him a curt telling off whenever Jim brought up what sort of pretty girl he had seen today. "I don't give a shit that you think you're pretty, Jim," he'd snapped at him in the dressing room one day after they'd caught the cashier trying to get a peek at Jim. He'd only grinned and winked at Bones, which had earned him a blush much to his satisfaction.
Before they knew it, Christmas was already nearly a week in the past and New Years was fast approaching. By this time in the Winter Kingdom, Jim would have been preparing to put in overtime. January was the worst of the winter months in terms of work. He often was caught by Joanna staring up at the clouds overhead with a sympathetic expression, and she never believed him when he told her he was just daydreaming. She had gotten the idea in her head, after a few times catching Jim at the sky staring, that Jim was homesick. Joanna never did ask where home was or pry, just told her father whenever she had caught Jim about it. Bones would glance at him questioningly and Jim couldn't lie, so he would nod but shrug it off with a grin. Occasionally, however, he'd see Bones get ready to ask him about it but whatever Bones was going to say never came out and the moment passed.
Guilt about lying grew and grew in Jim as the days passed. He desperately wished to tell them about what he really was, who he really was but knew it was forbidden. Lying to them hurt because, though he wasn't much surprised by this revelation, the McCoys had become his family. Before this he hadn't had anything much like a family. What little he knew about where he'd come from had been told to him in hushed, hurried tones from gypsies whenever he'd gotten the nerve to ask. His mother was the Snow Queen, a tragic nymph who had not been seen for centuries. She was ruler of the North Pole, married to the Snow King who resided on the opposite pole. He was not their son, but only hers from a human. Little which was known about this human beyond a name he had heard many different forms of but in the end, came down to something like George Kirk.
Such a birth was unheard of, and at any rate he didn't believe this story very much because if he was only half nymph it was expected that his magic would be tainted and weaker. This wasn't the case and his magic was quite strong, rivaling that of Father Winter. He knew, however, he was not born like winter gypsies, carved from blocks of Arctic glaciers. Jim would probably never know the truth of his origins. The only way he could ever learn would be if he asked Father Winter, who would not take to such inquiry kindly. And, if he was honest with himself, Jim really didn't want to know where it was that he came from. It hurt enough that wherever he did come from or, more likely, whoever, their absence spoke enough for how important he was to them.
Being with Bones or Joanna was not to be compared to any vague stories he knew about his "real" family. Nor were they to be compared to the winter gypsies, who were more like his crew than family. He was never lonely with Bones and Joanna and Jim took that as answer enough to how much they really meant to him.
Almost as if fate could sense the contentment Jim had settled into, it dropped it all around his ears just four days before New Years. Bones had graciously gotten him out of the house that Monday, offering to take Jim along for a much needed trip to the grocery store. Jim loved the grocery store more than any other store. There was so much food, all with the potential to be delicious and eaten by Jim. Not to mention if you asked for a cookie at the bakery they gave you one for free. He had just gotten one of these aforementioned cookies (and one for Bones, which he knew would be rejected and meant two for him) when he wandered over to where Bones was looking over tomatoes. Jim opened his mouth to offer the cookie when he stopped, mouth hanging open, and stared wide eyed at the man who stood just a few feet away.
"Jim," Father Winter greeted with a slight incline of his head. He looked drastically different as a human, far less severe with his sandy-peppery hair and golden tan. Even his eyes, normally a foreboding and harsh grey, seemed kinder with the slightest hint of blue. Gone were the white robes in favor of a dark turtleneck sweater. "What a pleasure seeing you so soon." Jim nearly dropped his cookie, feeling suddenly foolish and reprimanded for it all at once.
A few feet away, Leonard turned to look in surprise. He had never thought anyone from town would know Jim, at least no one had in the month he'd been staying with Leonard. Jim looked anything but happy about it as the older gentlemen walked over to Jim but looked at Leonard. "I'm Christopher Pike," he greeted, holding out a hand that Leonard found to have the same overly intense warmth that Jim seemed to exude. The wry smile on his face, especially when directed towards Jim, made Leonard's hackles rise in sudden defense.
"Leonard McCoy," Leonard said and glanced at Jim. Jim was looking everywhere but at Leonard, his hands stuck in his pockets and his head ducked like a child who'd been scolded for spilling milk. He tried desperately to catch Jim's eye, offer his support against whoever this Christopher Pike was but was met with stony silence. Leonard sighed, "I'm gonna go get the milk, Jim, if you need me." He sent an unabashed glare towards Pike and turned on his heel and walked away.
"'Christopher Pike?'" Jim asked, almost mocked, with a quirk of his eyebrow.
"Better than Jim Kirk, nymph," Father Winter replied with none of the same discretion, completely pointed and barbed. Jim winced, knowing full well that Father Winter would of course know of any incarnation for Jim's mythical human father. When he met Pike's' eyes however, there wasn't reprimand there but an undiscernable look that worried Jim even more. He didn't have time to make excuses before their duo earned two more familiar faces. Spock and Uhura stepped up beside Pike and Jim couldn't help the grin that overtook his face.
"Salutations, Jim," Uhura greeted with a small mischievous smile. Beside her Spock gave Jim a rare quirk of his lips along with the smooth elegant raise of his eyebrow as he took in Jim's golden sweater. The two of them made a very interesting pair as humans. He knew they were romantically involved, a term used lightly when it came to winter gypsies, but it wasn't something they were open about. Here, amongst humans, Uhura was unabashedly holding Spock's hand--even in front of Father Winter. Jim marveled at the very idea of this, wondering what sort of changes had been going on while he'd been away.
Before Jim could exchange any greetings of his own with his friends, Father Winter--Pike--interrupted. "I am not here to merely visit you," he said with a grim look, holding out his hand towards Jim and gesturing towards a more deserted area of the grocery store. "We have urgent matters to discuss." Jim frowned and caught sight of Uhura's worried look and Spock's carefully blank one, and felt his heart sink. He moved past Pike and into the freezer sections. He was shocked when Pike, without any hesitation or even a surreptitious glance around, pulled open one of the heavy metal doors that led into the actual freezers. Jim stepped inside anyway and Pike followed after, turning on the light that they were lucky enough was inside.
"I don't know if you've noticed on your vacation," Pike began, arms crossed over his chest. "But an unwanted and unplanned blizzard has formed in your absence. We're not sure what happened or why it did, but I am incapable of ridding it." He paused and frowned, looking almost guilty. "I asked the Snow Queen--" Jim inhaled sharply, earning a glare from Pike "--as to why it was happening. She said that Winter missed you and some nonsense about you having not properly said goodbye."
Jim felt his heart sink, far from his chest and deep into the Earth. He kept silent as Father Winter continued on without pause or even acknowledging the turmoil that was apparent on Jim's face. "That's why you need to come back," Pike concluded. "Immediately." He didn't give Jim any time to argue, holding up a hand to stop any protest that might come from Jim, not noticing Jim was too shell-shocked to even formulate one. "I'll give you some time to say your goodbyes but no more than a day, Jim." Pike nodded curtly to Jim as if his silence were an agreement and left the freezer without another word.
By the time Jim recovered from this, he was still dumbstruck by it all and wandered out of the freezer and through the store in a daze. A voice called his name and stopped him and he turned to Uhura, who was standing beside the display of flowers and looking devastated herself. She walked over to him and tugged him out of the way of people into the alcove she and Spock had retreated to. "Are you gonna be okay?" she asked. He scowled at her because it was a stupid question.
"No," he answered and was embarrassed by how broken it sounded. Spock touched his arm gently, head bowed.
"I understand how attached you've become to this world," he said softly but his voice was firm. "And to these humans. If you truly desire Uhura and I, along with the assistance of many of the gypsies, will gladly argue for you to stay." Jim's heart fluttered with hope at this idea.
"Jim!" Bones called and nearly ran into Jim as he rushed up. He looked haggard suddenly, much different from the light-hearted Bones that had offered to take Jim to the grocery store. "I have to go, there's a blizzard coming and Joanna's collapsed at the daycare, she has a fever. I'm going to the clinic." He glanced at Spock and Uhura before looking back at Jim, expression almost angry. "It's this fucking weather, Jim, I should have known her immune system wouldn't be able to take it."
Bones was gone before Jim could say anything, out the door of the grocery store and running down the street to his car. Uhura was looking even worse now, almost visibly deflated.
"Jim, I'm sure that the girl is more than capable of recovering without your assistance," Spock began to protest. Uhura hovered anxiously behind him, her expression lined with worry. Jim shook his head sharply, waving both of them off with a smooth jerk of his hand through the air.
"I told Jo that when someone is one of a kind," he ground out, shoulders tense as he glared down at the window at the building storm. "What makes them so special is how they help people." He whipped his head around to turn the bright, burning glare on his friends. "I won't let her down." Jim didn't waste any more time arguing and ran out the door of the shop into the thick snow. Outside, it was easier to survey the blizzard and how severe it had become. Pike stood at the end of the street, the only solid figure visible in the white out.
"You've made the right choice." Just as suddenly as he had become human, Jim was transformed back into a nymph. The sensation was drastically different than being human, as if his soul has been freed from a box and spread far, erratically moving everywhere. Jim didn't take any time to adjust or assess the difference beyond that, soaring high into the atmosphere without a second glance to the town quickly receding below him. It was almost too easy to let go of the human side of him and forget that he had ever even been one.
The Riverside clinic was a madhouse when Leonard arrived. They were understaffed and over-stuffed with patients. Leonard pushed through the crowded lobby into the ER and straight to the first patient dossier he could find. Joanna had already been there for nearly three hours, arrived around eleven in the morning, and has tested positive for streptococcus. As if strep throat wasn't bad news enough, his heart sunk further as he stared at the notes below the test results: J. McCoy has been moved to ICU under critical condition, adverse allergic reaction to penicillin w/ immediate tongue swelling symptoms. Angioedema contained however streptococcus remains untreated due to shortage of cephalosporin. Shipments delayed by severe weather conditions.
He reshelved the chart and moved through the ER, to the small ICU ward that took up the far west wing of the clinic. Outside stood a familiar nurse, Christine Chapel, who spotted him immediately. Her expression was determined but he could see the carefully hidden tension in her shoulders. "Doctor McCoy," she greeted and handed him Joanna's full chart. He took it and tucked it under his arm, moving past her into the ICU. She fell into step beside him, continuing to speak. "Joanna has been here for three hours and came down with symptoms four and half hours ago." They stopped just a few feet from Joanna's bed. Leonard stared hard at his daughter who looked frail contrast to the massive navy hospital bed she lay on. "We would have had you in sooner but the blizzard conditions worsened so immediately that our communication went down sooner than any other part of the town."
"I saw the shortage," Leonard said and turned to her and didn't like what he saw in her expression. "What is the likelihood of the delivery making it here by tomorrow?" Chapel didn't often fidget or show any outward signs of weakness often but she did then, under McCoy's hard gaze, and smoothed her hands down the front of her scrubs. "Is there even a chance?"
"Last time we heard anything about the shipment," she said quietly, eyes downcast. "The truck had just arrived in Montrose." Chapel winced at his sudden blanch, his fist barely on the side of slamming when it connected with the supply cart next to them.
"Damnit, woman," Leonard hissed under his breath and tried desperately to reign in his emotions. "That's damn near a hundred miles from here." She nodded but looked up at him, her slim shoulders squaring.
"There is another way we can get supplies," Chapel insisted as she reached up to touch his shoulder. Her hand was warm through his thin t-shirt and vaguely, in the back of his mind, he wondered when and where he had lost his coat. "Muscatine General can send us some as soon as conditions clear up. We've already made the order, just before the lines went out for good." Her hand slided down his arm and squeezed tightly at his bicep before falling away and there's hope in her eyes again. "Blizzards like this usually blow themselves out within a day, trust me."
Trust her was all Leonard really could do for he had no knowledge of these things. Blizzards were a foreign entity in Georgia, the sort of thing pondered over and sympathized for the poor suckers who had to deal with them. Funny now that Leonard was one of those poor suckers. Chapel eventually moved off to other patients who could actually be treated and Leonard, in a daze, wandered over to Joanna's bedside. He stared at her pale, almost waxy complexion and tried desperately not to cry. Tears stuck themselves in his throat instead, unable to escape his eyes and bitter for it.
Jim first stopped at the Riverside clinic. Leonard was easy to find even if the place was crowded with haggard patients, all in various states of windblown and generously powdered with snow. As he passed each person they shivered violently and sent startled looks around the clinic. He dodged through the crowd, careful not to stir up too much of a chill, and spotted Leonard at a phone, repeatedly making attempts at dialing a number. Jim hovered over, resisting the urge to reach out and touch Bones' shoulder, as he watched worriedly. Bones cussed and slammed the receiver back into the cradle, eyes snapping up as a nurse approached. "Phones are still down, has there been any radio contact from Muscatine?" The nurse shook his head, handing a chart to Bones as they started to walk away, "No, Doctor, the medical supplies haven't arrived. Joanna's been stabilized for now." Bones nodded jerkily in reply, "She's strong enough to wait until tomorrow, at the most, but I'd rather not push it. Do we..." Whatever else Bones had to say was lost to the rush in Jim's ears as he surged up through the clinic roof and out into the sky above.
Quelling a raging blizzard was as easy as it sounds: equal to that of quelling a raging bull. Jim had never actually done it before. Any blizzard before had been made by Jim and directed by Jim and loved by Jim. This one was unlike any he had ever created and it was fighting back against him as much as it could. In the end, Jim was still the nymph and armed with winter magic and the blizzard was still a blizzard that, while angry and stubborn, had no actual defense against him. Jim grappled with it for nearly two nights and, blissfully, on the morning of the second, the blizzard crippled and broke.
He floated, panting and weary, high above the Earth where the stars glimmered brighter in the thin atmosphere. The sun broke over the horizon, pale gold light reaching high enough to tickle against the undersides of his feet. Jim almost didn't see the woman, standing rather than floating as he was, mere feet away. She looked very solemn, her beautiful face glowing in the sunlight and white hair turning golden in the light. She turned and looked at him, crown glimmering enough to nearly blind Jim. He knew, in an instance, who the woman was and his heart--what remained of his human self--sped up.
"Jim," the Snow Queen said and her voice is like the snow, soft and subtle. "I'm sorry for the pain you've suffered, that you ever had to be alone." She was beside him now, even though Jim hadn't seen her move. She pressed her hand into his and he was shocked to find it warm. "You are not any longer, though, are you?" Her smile was as bright as the sun that was nearly fully above the horizon, its light casting her face into hard shadow. Words failed Jim, for he had nothing to say to her, but she seemed unfazed and continued on, "You belong on Earth, I see this now. I will speak to Father Winter, make him understand so you can return where you belong."
Denial surged in Jim. "No, I can't," he protested, hand gripping hers tight. "Who will prevent destruction like this if I'm not there? I have to," he swallowed thickly and dropped her hand, letting himself fall backward to Earth. He fell away and missed her small chuckle as she held up a small, blue gem in her fingers and stared at it with eyes the same stark blue as Jim's.
"Don't worry, my son," she said to the jewel, "there is another to take your place."
When the shipment from the closest hospital finally arrived at Riverside, Leonard finally felt himself breathe for the first time in two days. Joanna had held on merely through her own defenses and sheer luck for the past forty-eight hours, something that Leonard's heart could barely take. He made sure to get the cephalosporin and administer it to Joanna himself. After that, worry sloughed itself from his shoulders and he made himself busy with work around the clinic again. The people of Riverside were a sturdy sort, and bounced back from the savage blizzard with a pep in their step.
Barely any actual injuries had happened, much to Leonard's infinite relief. He spent most of the time treating the few others who'd caught the same strain of strep throat that Joanna had. It was a vindictive and stubborn strain of the bacteria but through his and Nurse Chapel's own stubborn determination, they managed to cure most cases. By the second day Joanna was on the antibiotics, and she was already conscious and lucid, ordering around nurses and orderlies alike in a stunning rendition of her father. All Leonard's worry drained from him and he finally was able to sleep for a good five hours that night.
The next morning would have gone as smoothly if Joanna hadn't asked: "Where's Jim?" Leonard was in motion immediately, finding the closest phone and dialing for home. He learned pretty quickly that many of the residential phones were down, meaning his own, and the only way the clinic had been able to get contact outside was through cell phones. Jim definitely didn't have a cellphone and didn't have a car and could very well be frozen to death out in a ditch somewhere. This panicked idea gripped Leonard until his mind caught up and helpfully reminded him that Jim had just reconnected with old friends. He remembered pretty quickly then, the older gentleman and strange couple that he'd seen Jim with. He drifted back to Joanna's room and told her, quite certainly, that Jim was safe with friends. "How can he be?" Joanna argued anyway, her fists pulling at the blanket. "He's not here with us!"
After that she constantly asked for him, insisted that Jim wasn't safe wherever he was and that she would start screaming if Leonard didn't leave immediately to find Jim. She never did get around to screaming but instead dissolved into quiet sobbing, her face pressed hard into her pillow and away from her father. Joanna often refused to speak to him for hours afterwards. It was just after one of these incidents that Leonard had left to give her time to calm down. When he did return, an hour or so later, he was shocked to find two strangers there.
Well, no, he corrected himself as he approached at a careful pace, not strangers. They were the couple who had been with Jim when Leonard last saw him and delivered the bad news about Joanna. They looked very much the same, completely unaffected by their surroundings as they stood around Joanna's bed and laughed with her. Leonard hung back a second to look the strange pair over. The woman was beautiful and petite with warm caramel skin. Her brown hair spilled free over her shoulders and bright red coat. The man was a stark contrast, pale and stoic. He stood with perfect posture, hands behind his back as he observed Joanna and his companion with an utter lack of expression.
Leonard was unsure why he hesitated to greet them. It wasn't as if he was unwary of two dangerous people but more of unwary of the unknown. These two were very odd and he hadn't ever encountered such a...presence before. Leonard blinked when something in him protested and Jim came to mind. Jim did have a different presence, akin to the sun that cloyed and warmed you to your very core. These two were icy, more like the moon than the sun, and rigid where Jim was yielding.
"Papa!" Joanna called, finally having caught sight of him. The man turned to look at him, a single angled eyebrow rising in silent question. Leonard didn't hesitate any longer, knowing he'd been caught, and walked over to them. Joanna didn't seem worried and she had always been a better judge of character than him. "I met Jim's friends!" Leonard carefully didn't mention Joanna's early insistence that Jim had no other friends besides them and turned a pleasant look on the pair.
"Greetings, Doctor McCoy," the man said with a slight bow of his dark head. "I am Spock and this is Uhura." The woman smiled at him, honey-brown eyes dancing with hidden mirth. "We've come to ensure that your daughter, Ms. Joanna," Joanna giggled at this, which prompted another eyebrow raise from Spock, " was in good health as we heard she had been ill."
"Yes, as I am sure she's told you," Leonard said with an eyebrow raise of his own. "Nice of you two to come. Where's Jim?" As soon as the question left his mouth, Leonard wanted to take it back. Uhura's expression minutely shifted from open happiness to shuttered worry. Spock didn't change beyond the slight stiffening in his shoulders as if he had tried to stand up even straighter and failed. Worry from the early days flooded back into Leonard, tenfold.
"Perhaps we should speak in private," Spock said carefully and held a hand out to the open door of Joanna's room. Joanna began to protest but was immediately silenced by Leonard's quick 'Not now, baby,' before he followed Spock out the door. In the hall, Spock looked even more out of place against the brightly painted happy critters that danced along the walls of the pediatrics ward. He shifted on his feet and stared Leonard down. "I'm afraid that Jim will not be returning to Riverside. Urgent business has brought him elsewhere."
Leonard searched Spock's face desperate to find some hint of dishonesty. It was in vain because all he found was quiet sorrow but it wasn't for him, he realized almost in horror, it was for Jim. "He wouldn't leave without saying goodbye," Leonard breathed and irrational disbelief surged in him, over taking him in one massive upsurge of emotion. He stepped away from Spock and then hurried past, through the halls of the clinic and out into Riverside.
"Jim?" Leonard called from the front door. Silence and a dark house greeted him. The place didn't seem much like a home today, lacking both his daughter and...friend. Leonard wasn't surprised by this revelation. He was fully aware that people made the home and not the places.
He mounted the bottom stair and looked worriedly up into the dark floor above, tentatively calling, "Jim?" again. There was no answer besides the silent creak of a settling house. Everything remained still but Leonard still fooled himself into thinking Jim was still here. His feet flew up the stairs, nearly tripping over the last one, and he stomped over to Jim's door. "Jim, you've got to come see Joanna she's--" The bedroom door swung open easily. "...asking for you." He finished slowly, throat suddenly thick around the words.
Jim's room was empty. There were still clothes, the bed unmade and if Leonard fooled himself enough, he could see the indent of where Jim had been sitting just that morning. He walked to the window, the curtains pulled wide. Out the backyard stretched an endless white canopy, undisturbed since the last vestiges of the blizzard had blown itself apart that afternoon. The floor behind him creaked and he whirled around, aware of the expectant probably hopeful smile on his face. Aware, all that much greater, when his heart sank and there was no one there to greet him.
He sighed, eyes drifting shut until white filled his vision and his breath caught. Leonard's eyes snapped back open and he breathed out again, long and slow. A white cloud drifted from his mouth, the water vapor lasting a good few seconds before disappearing into the air. His mind reeled. It hadn't been cold in the room, not the least until—along his arm, cold air trailed delicately up his hand and over his forearm, into the joint of his elbow and then up his shoulder.
Leonard's eyes fluttered as the chill air lingered on his cheek. Inconceivably, improbably, impossibly he breathed out again, a single quiet name falling from his lips, "Jim?" He gasped when the air surged all over him now, under his shirt and through his hair, causing him to nearly fall back with the force of it.
Jim—he could never be a human again, how could he—stood a mere feet away, invisible and unseen by Leonard. He wasn't human any longer, hadn't been for nearly a week now, and yet in his chest he could feel his heart breaking. It was a strange sensation, like the tinkling of ice crystals in his chest. Had his heart always been this fragile? He wondered, perhaps it had, he had given it away so easily. Leonard stepped towards him, hazel eyes searching frantically.
"Jim, please?" Leonard said, swallowing hard. He seemed to be working up courage. "Come back, Jim?"
The pain in Jim's chest exploded now. He surged upward, up through the house and out into the sky. Flying didn't feel the same when the leaden weight of his heart struggled to pull him downward; inexorably towards the Earth he could no longer bear.
Above Jim, the winter kingdom loomed. No longer was it beautiful as he had once seen it but now it seemed a prison all that much more. His feet hit the clouds and he stumbled under weight of his heart. Hands caught him, on his shoulders and on his arms. All around him the gypsies stood their eyes sad and solemn, mouths moving in quiet reassurances. He sneered at them, wrenching away from their grasp—grasps that had never known warmth.
"Nymph," the even tone of Father Winter broke through and the crowd parted around him. Pike looked as stern as always. Jim found no comfort in his calculating gaze. How could he have ever? "I told you that you should not have gone to their world." Jim glared at Father Winter with all his worth, his pain and hoped that his broken heart was laid bare for all to see. Without another word he marched off, past Pike and the gypsies and deep into the Winter Kingdom. Pike watched him go with a scowl, and unbeknownst to Jim, a second pair of eyes joined Father Winter. "He is every bit your son, Winona," Pike accused the Snow Queen who's pale face broke into a small, mischievous smile, immediately recognizable from Jim's identical smirk.
"I can say the same to you, Christopher," Winona replied calmly and handed him the small, glimmering jewel. With one last mischievous look, the Snow Queen pressed a chaste kiss to Father Winter's cheek and vanished from sight. The winter gypsies stared in open amazement as their leader's cheeks turned brilliant cobalt and he glared at them and began barking orders as if nothing had ever happened.
Things in the Winter Kingdom did return to a semblance of normal after that day. Winter gypsies worked as hard as always and Jim returned to Earth but stringently avoided most of the North American continent, primarily moping around Europe, making things colder than ever.
Jim's every thought, as he drifted amongst the humans, was of all the things he would never be able to do with Leonard. Never would he ever be able to see a movie or laugh with him or hug him. Every one of these thoughts made him heavier and heavier, filling him up until there was nothing else in him. Winter conditions grew colder and colder until finally, on New Years eve, Father Winter could no longer bear it.
"I have had enough of this," he said as he caught Jim just about to dive off the eastern edge of the Winter Kingdom. Jim turned, blue eyes startling bright.
"I don't want to hear it," Jim hissed, hands pressing into his chest. He could not contain the emotion inside him, burning through him unlike any other. It only served to melt what remained of his heart, spread all the pieces all the way to his fingers and toes and make everything hurt. "You were right, what more do you want?"
Pike's head dipped. "I'm afraid not," he said in a voice that Jim had never heard before. Uncertainty ebbed back the anger, it had to be anger, as he took in Father Winter. The older man looked almost sheepish. "I apologize. I did not realize what it really took to be human." Pike walked up to Jim, his hand falling heavy on Jim's shoulder. "Perhaps it is more to be human, more than a house or a bag of gold."
Jim felt something burst in him again, but this time the sensation of it was different. There was warmth, like the anger, but so much gentler and so much more exhilarating. He was sure, almost, that he must be glowing with it. "What does that mean?" he breathed, he could still feel the heart he'd had as a human fluttering in his chest.
"It means that you get to go back," Pike announced, and then, almost affectionately, "Jim."
Relief flooded through Jim, extinguishing the painful fire that consumed his heart even as uncertainly still rose in his throat. "What about Winter?" he barely managed around his tight throat and the water prickling in his eyes. "Who will...?
Pike sighed, almost as if exasperated even as a smile pulled at his lips. "Well, son," he added the endearment almost as if it were some sort of clarification, "your mother has taken care of that for us. Perhaps I will get someone who will listen to me." He held out his fist as he spoke, opening it to Jim. A brilliant jewel sat in his palm, glittering in the bright sun almost blindingly. Looking at it too long hurt Jim's eyes and tears finally did fall from his eyes, forming into heavy beads of ice on his cheeks. "Now go, you've got somebody waiting for you." Father Winter's expression was compassionate and reached up, tapping Jim's nose in a manner so familiar that Jim's eyes widened in shock. He didn't get time to ask, even though Pike's smile was answer enough, before his cheeks burned icy and he was falling back to Earth again.
The second time Jim fell from the Winter Kingdom, the descent was much slower. He was falling not into the unknown anymore but into his home. Neither did he hit anything on the way down but instead landed in a massive pile of shoveled snow that was sitting outside the McCoy house. Leonard's shocked yell was even audible through the thick snow Jim was under. He surged up and out, flinging snow everywhere and grinned for all he was worth. Joanna and Bones stared at him, each with a shovel in hand, both in utter disbelief.
Joanna was the first to snap out of the shock, dropping her shovel and turning to her father. "I told you that he fell from the sky," she said in a sing-song voice. Leonard was in motion then, climbing over the snow to get at Jim.
Jim opened his arms to accept the hug but was shocked, perhaps as much as Joanna and Bones had been, when there were hands not around his waist but on his cheeks and Leonard was suddenly pulling his face in. And they were kissing. Jim melted into it, arms wrapped around Bones' neck as he pressed close. Joanna's gagging noises barely registered until she was pushing between them. "Gross, gross!" she crowed as they broke apart. Jim retaliated by dumping a handful of snow on her auburn head. She ran off and onto the porch, protesting the whole way.
Leonard and Jim watched her until she disappeared into the house before Bones turned to Jim, a wry smile tugging at his lips as he fought against it. "Not Jack Frost, huh?"
"No," Jim said with a lighthearted sigh. "Just Jim."