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Observing the Traditions

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::=/\=::

 

“David! You ready to go see your sister and niece?” Jim calls out.

“Coming, Daddy.”

David Kirk-McCoy, aged four years, three hundred and fifty-eight days appears in the doorway of his bedroom. The Enterprise designers had sent plans to reconfigure the living spaces on their deck. It meant several quarters were going to lose a few square meters, but then Jim had come up with the idea to turn those three spaces into singles and then held a lottery, complete with games, feats of strength, babysitting skills, and crafty projects. Unsurprisingly, Christine Chapel had come in first (much to David’s delight and Jim and Leo’s great relief; Chris had become a true surrogate mom to their little boy), even though it meant her giving up larger single quarters. The other two went to crew people who would’ve never been eligible for singles, but Jim approved them anyway. The competition had been fierce (and friendly), and inspired Jim to ask for another round of redesigned bunks in the next re-fit cycle. But now David had a real bedroom, and Jim and Leo had theirs to themselves, even though most of those nights David still crawled into their bed with them. Not that they minded too much.

Now, as Jim watches his son emerge from his clothes-and-toys-strewn space, he smiles. “Can you help me, Daddy?”

David is dragging a large duffel bag behind him. “Whoa, boy! What is all this?”

“My toys and books. I want Leah to see them. I want to play with them.”

Jim chuckles. “I’m really happy you want to share all your toys with your niece, but she has some, too, that she’ll want to share with you. Not sure you’re going to have enough time to play with all of these.”

“Trust me,” David says with a serious look on his face, “we will.”

Jim laughs and gathers his child into his arms. He inhales his clean hair, hair that last night had been sticky with honey and sweat. They had celebrated the first night of Chanukah with many of their Enterprise family; some of the younger crew members had played “dreidel tag” with David and Garrod, which had made them hot and sweaty. “I’m sure Leah is going to love seeing your books and toys, but you know, it’ll be Christmas and your birthday soon, and I know you’ll be receiving some new ones, right?”

David considers this for a few seconds. “And,” Jim tells him, “Leah will have new ones, too. So, all in all, you two will barely have time for anything else, like eating or playing on the station’s playground or--”

“Okay, Daddy,” David squats and opens the big duffel. He tosses out a large dump truck, three starships, two dolls--a Klingon and a Bajoran--four balls, and a puzzle. He stands and points. “I have to have these.”

Jim looks in the bag at a pile of Legos, a stack of books, and three small cars. “Clothes?” Jim prompts.

David moves the books to show him several t-shirts jammed into one side of the bag; Jim moves them aside to find a pair of socks and no underwear.

“Okay, we need to re-prioritize,” he says, laughing.

::=/\=::

“Dad! Jim!”

Leo smiles at the familiar voice calling to him. He’s still caught in the thick crush of Enterprise personnel walking through the narrow access tunnel that spills into the promenade of Space Station 5.

“Grandpa!”

Now he spies a darling dark-haired girl, the granddaughter whom he has seen grow and change only through subspace vid-communications. It’s been almost five years since he’d seen her, held her along with his newborn son in both his arms. Despite being in the Beta Quadrant for most of this part of their mission, Enterprise had not made it back to the space station where Joanna McCoy and her husband, astrophysicist Daniel Murray, lived. Subspace comms had kept them in touch; Leah’s growth had been well documented in weekly video messages, just as Joanna had seen her small half-brother develop into a smart, caring boy. It had helped ease the ache of not being able to hold Leah, having David. Born on the same Christmas Day, a mere twenty minutes apart, Leah and David had brought incalculable joy to his life. He’d always shared Joanna with Jim, and it had been sweet to have him advise him as she grew into a smart, ambitious adult. But having another child? It had been a shock, for sure. But when he’d recovered, it had been the most significant challenge of his medical career to care for his beloved, pregnant husband.

And then, she’s in his arms, this little human who looks so much like her mama. Leo finds himself becoming light-headed and emotional as Leah squeezes his neck too hard. Being choked to death by an almost-5-year-old angel wouldn’t be the worst way to go. He buries his face in her long brown hair and hangs on.

“Okay, sweetie, I think you need to let go of your grandfather now,” Joanna says.

“No! He’s mine!”

It’s just the thing to break the moment, and Leo snorts and laughs and pulls his face out, spitting the fine strands of her hair plastered to his lips. “Bleh! Hair in my mouth!” he says.

Leah pulls on her hair and then the strands are gone. “Silly grampa shouldn’t eat my hair!”

“Why not? I hear it’s very good for you, hair from a pretty little girl.” He knows it’s a silly thing to say but he’s still a little too enamored of this child to put together a coherent sentence.

Joanna hugs him too, and he frees one arm to wrap it around his daughter. “Hello, darlin’. How are you?” he says in a low voice.

“I’m doing all right, now that a certain someone is finally sleeping through the night again,” she replies.

“Growing pains, no doubt,” Leo says. “David hasn’t jumped in bed with us in ages, thank god. I really like my kidneys the way they are.”

“Well, I’m sending her to your quarters then. Maybe your magic will rub off on her,” Joanna says. “Dan and I could use a couple of good nights’ sleep.”

“You do that. We’ll be happy to take her, every night if you want.”

Joanna sighs. “I don’t think even she’ll agree to that. But we’ll leave it up to her.”

“That’ll be just fine.” Leo hugs his daughter again, kissing her temple. “Where’s Dan, and how is he?”

“Fine. He’s finishing up teaching a session in his seminar. He’ll be along in a while. Fortunately, I scheduled this day off weeks ago so I could spend time with you, Jim, and of course, my baby brother. But until Christmas, I’m on duty every day.” She takes Leo’s arm. “If you’d like, David can attend Leah’s pre-school. Due to the rise in the number of visitors, they’ve pretty much shut down the formal curriculum and are concentrating on reading skills.”

“You mean, David can go to school with me?” Leah asks.

“I’m sure he will because he loves school,” Leo says, surprised. “That would be wonderful. And it would give Jim and me a chance to do some much needed work before we take a few days off for the holidays ourselves.”

“Then I’ll let the staff know,” Joanna says. “Hey, here they come! Jim!!” She waves excitedly.

Leah wriggles, so Leo puts her down. She runs towards Jim and David.

“Leah!” David shouts, running towards his niece.

“Oh my god, I think I’m gonna die of the cute,” Joanna says, laughing and wiping her eyes, as the two children meet and hug.

Leo hangs back to watch the kids as his daughter and her step-father hug and kiss. It’s sweet and satisfying; he hasn’t felt this settled, this whole in a while. He has everyone he needs in one place. It’s good.

 

::=/\=::

Two days later

Jim returns to their quarters just as Leo is picking up a duffle and his medical kit. “Where are you going?”

“Got an emergency call from Aldebaran III,” Leo says, shouldering the duffle. “A cholera-type outbreak. Since we’re within a day’s journey, I’m leading a team there for support.”

Jim’s stomach plummets. “You think you’ll be back in time for Christmas?”

He shakes his head sadly. “I have no idea. Details were sketchy, which is why we’re all going. The quicker we get there to assess the situation, the quicker we can get out.”

Jim couldn’t argue with that logic. “Well, be safe,” he says, not even disguising the disappointment in his voice.

Leo steps closely to him and rubs his nose along the shell of Jim’s ear. “I will not play the hero, and neither will my team. We’re all pretty damned tired, and in desperate need of this time here. We’ll do what it takes to get the native medical folks situated and then we’ll leave. I promise.” He seals his words with a kiss to Jim’s cheek.

Jim slides his arm around Leo’s waist. “I know you better than that. You’ll get the program going and make sure it won’t break down. But that’s what you do. Do what you have to.”

Leo makes a small noise in the back of his throat. “Not this time. I want to be with my family for as long as I can. I’m not passin’ that up for anything.” He leans in and kisses Jim, this time with force.

Jim opens to him and feels the determination. Leo is the consummate medical professional, but he also puts family first. The thought of being away from Joanna and his granddaughter will prompt him to work efficiently and quickly. Their kiss ends with several small kisses and a hard hug. “I already said my goodbyes to the kids and Jo. You need to go to David as soon as you can. He was upset.”

“I’ll go to Jo and Dan’s right now,” Jim promises. Then he remembers what he’d intended to ask for weeks now. “What do you want for Christmas?”

Leo smiles. “Just you and our boys and girls, all together.” He gives Jim another kiss, and then turns and walks through the door.

A part of Jim goes with him. Like it always does.

*

Jim signals entrance to Joanna and Dan’s living quarters, and steps through. The floor of the main room is littered with toys and books. Jim has to chuckle. “The David cyclone has hit hard.”

He bends over to pick up several trucks and starships and puts them aside; a considerable library of books covers the sofa and the surrounding floor, including a dictionary. Jim had tried to get his son to read books on the PADD: digital books are interactive and include music and moving images and characters that can respond to questions. But no, his child, like his Papa, prefers old fashioned analog paper ones, insisting that the reader to sing to him instead. He curses the day the box of books arrived from Leo’s mother.

He picks up a couple of books he’d never seen. “Apparently, the McCoy preference runs deep in Leah,” he muses out loud.

“Jim, thank all the gods!”

Joanna had pulled her long brown hair back into a ponytail and changed into comfortable sweatpants and a Starfleet Phoenix t-shirt. “Can you believe this? How can two children make such a mess?”

“How do two children have so much stuff?” Jim asked, picking up more books and stacking them on the low table in front of the sofa and chairs.

“I had to laugh at the number of books these kids have,” Joanna says. “I mean some of these are mine from my childhood, but I couldn’t believe how many titles are in print, literally. When I got my first PADD I thought it was so cool I could talk to the characters! What is wrong with our kids, Jim?” she asks in mock horror.

“Some prefer the tactile stimulation of paper and turning the pages rather than swiping a cold, hard screen.”

They pick up and deposit the toys into packing cubes and the books into neat stacks on the floor beside them. Then, they fall onto the sofa. “Why do I feel like I just ran a couple of miles?” Jim asks, laughing.

“Because it took just as much time.” She reaches for his hand and gives it a squeeze. “I’m sorry Dad had to go off on a mission.”

Jim shrugs, and gives her knuckles a kiss. “I’m used to it. Being married to the most boss doctor in the sector means he’s called away a lot.”

“Really?”

He nods. “More than I realized, until I tallied up all his medical away missions for the annual report last year. It’s amazing he’s ever on the ship.”

Joanna gives his hand a squeeze, then turns to him. “When are you guys going to retire?”

Jim shrugs and hedges, since their plans aren’t official yet. “When Starfleet takes the Enterprise away from me, I guess.”

She snorts. “You know they’ll never do that. You’re too damn good at what you do. Besides, even way out here in the Beta Quadrant I hear the scuttlebutt. You keep turning down the admiralty.”

“So does your dad. And the request for him to become Surgeon General gets more and more insistent every month. I don’t know how much longer he can demure,” Jim says honestly. “I think they’re gonna have to charge him with insubordination to get him to go back to Federation HQ.”

Joanna laughs, then sobers. “What about you? I know you’re not thrilled to take a desk job, or even a teaching position.”

“Hey! I would make a great teacher.”

“Oh, I didn’t mean to imply--I’m sorry, Jim. But I know--”

“Jo, I’m yanking your chain,” Jim says, shushing her protest. “I’m not thrilled with a desk job at all, but I think I would like to teach. Maybe write that book on tactical decision-making I keep thinking about.” He sighs. “What I’d really miss is my crew,” he says softly. “Even though most of the original one have gone off to bigger and better posts. Still, I would miss the interaction with bright minds, the opportunity to work on solutions to complex problems, the discovery and exploration.”

Joanna lays her head on his shoulder. “You have a couple of more years in this mission cycle. Maybe if you retire, Dan and I will consider heading back to the Alpha Quadrant. I don’t want to be so far away from you and Dad.”

“Me, too,” Jim says, grateful for this sweet woman in his life.

::=/\=::

Five days later

“Thank you, Granddaddy!” Leah shouts, as she unwraps a set of books about the species and planets that make up the Federation, written especially for young children. Jim had had to finagle the replicator to produce them in paper form all morning. She jumps up from the floor and goes to clamber into Jim’s lap.

“You are very welcome,” Jim says, giving her a hug. “These are from your Grandpa.”

“When is he coming home?” Leah asks. She’s already turning the pages in the book on other beings, and points at a Tellarite. “She looks like Gera. I like Gera. She teaches us math in school.”

Jim’s eyebrows rise as he takes in this information. Jo mouths, “Tell you later,” at him.

It’s the last night of Chanukah, and the candles in the menorah have burned low. Jim is stuffed, overly stuffed with good food and a generous amount of red wine, the real stuff, from nearby Aldebaran III. It makes him miss Leo even more.

“So, Jim, have you heard from Leo lately?” Dan Murray asks. “Is it unusual for him to be gone this long?”

“I have, briefly,” Jim says. The pang in his heart hurts. It’s been far too long for his husband to be away from his family. “He stays until the job is done, but assured me it should be a day or two more. They’ve identified the mutation of the bacterium that caused the outbreak of this variation of cholera, and have formulated a new antibiotic. It’s just taking longer because they have to replicate one of the key components.”

“DON’T!”

Jim turns away from Dan to find Leah and David in a stand-off over a book. “It’s MINE and you can’t HAVE it,” David shouts.

“Whoa, hey, son!” Jim gets up to intervene when David shoves Leah. She falls and then wails.

Jim snatches David up, while Leah cries. Dan comes around the table to pick up his daughter. “David George, you will apologize for pushing your niece. Right now,” Jim says sternly.

“Sorry,” David mutters, clearly not sorry at all.

“David, you could have hurt her by doing that,” Jim remonstrates. “You do not shove other people, especially Leah, do you?”

“No, sir.”

“You understand that you have hurt Leah’s feelings? Look at me, son.”

David lifts his eyes. Jim can see the anger and confusion and remorse in them. He’ll deal with the first two later, but for now, he impresses on his little boy the seriousness of his actions. “David, I know you didn’t mean to hurt Leah, or her feelings. You are family.”

David nods.

“Now, will you try your apology again?”

David nods, and struggles to be let free. He goes over to Dan and looks up at his niece. He grabs her foot since that’s the only part of her he can reach. “I’m sorry, Leah. I love you.”

Leah stares at him. “What do you say?” her father prompts.

“Okay,” she says. Then, she too asks to be put down. She puts her arms around David.

The children hug. It’s apparent both are tired and overly stimulated. They’d napped for a brief time earlier, but it’s been a long week, particularly without his papa. Papa can get David to sleep better than anyone else.

“Tell you what,” Jim says to his son. “Let’s help clean up here and then we’ll go back to our quarters. Take a bath, and you can sleep in my bed tonight.”

David wordlessly reaches over and hugs him. “Okay.”

Joanna comes into the dining room and together, everyone takes dishes and glasses to the reclamation slots. The candles have gone out on the menorah, so Jim cleans up the hardened wax, picking at the drips that escaped onto the tablecloth. David picks up his Chanukah gift, a puzzle with Earth animals, and several books he’d brought with him. “G’night, Jo-jo.”

Joanna takes her little brother in her arms. “Good night, my sweet baby bro. I hope you sleep well. We’ll go to the playground tomorrow, how about that?”

David nods and puts his head on her shoulder. “I’d like that. ‘M sorry I pushed Leah.”

She hugs him tighter. “It’s not okay to push people, but I liked your apology. I love you.”

“Love you, too.”

Jim bids them all good night, and carries David and all his stuff in his arms to their quarters. David sags heavily. “I miss Papa,” he says.

“I do, too. Very much,” Jim replies. “He’ll be back soon.”

Several moments later, they arrive, and Jim enters his code. David has fallen asleep, and he knows it’s going to be a struggle to get through the evening routine, and the delicate balance of awakening him enough to brush his teeth and change into pajamas or run the risk of him finding a second wind. Fortunately, this night, the small boy complies sleepily with all of Jim’s requests and he crawls into bed and rolls over once Jim has kissed him goodnight.

Jim makes his way to his bedroom, and is struck, for the first time since Leo’s been gone, by a wave of intense loneliness. It’s been a very long time since he’s felt this way; when Leo goes off on a medical mission, Jim’s usually so busy with ship’s business he doesn’t really notice and falls into bed, exhausted. As a parent, he misses the back-up, though he could easily ask a crew member to watch David for a short time. Tonight, he missed his husband’s presence at the celebration of Chanukah; he missed Leo’s sweet baritone to lead them in singing the traditional songs (not that he can’t, but Leo does it so much better.) More than that, he’d been acutely aware that there was a huge Leo-shaped hole in their family. It just didn’t feel right without him.

Jim completes his evening routine, and settles into bed with a PADD to read updates from his crew and to write to Leo when David appears, clutching his stuffed tiger. “Can I sleep with you?”

“Of course,” Jim says, and David climbs up the foot of the bed and crawls the length to snuggle in next to him. “It’s been awhile since you’ve slept here.”

“I miss Papa,” David says into his tiger. “Miss you.”

“I’m right here, sweetie.” Jim smoothes his son’s bright blond hair with his hand.

“You’re different without Papa.”

Jim is taken aback by the statement, and that David would notice something as subtle as Jim’s mostly subconscious discomfort when Leo is away. He’s noticed it himself--he’s more subdued, quieter, perhaps a little more short. Maybe it’s that I’m concerned I haven’t heard from the away team that much. Usually Bones checks in, but it’s been M’Benga and Chapel that have been giving the daily mission reports. Realizing that he hasn’t talked to his husband in several days makes Jim worried. It’s not like his husband to not speak to him for days on end; and he’s even more disturbed he is just now noticing.

Jim fires up the PADD and begins to write.

*
“Jim.”

Jim jerks awake. He’d been dreaming about a visit he and Leo had made to Arken II, years ago, where he’d encountered a wadji, a small, furry, incredibly cute mammal species that was very much like Earth’s river otter. He’d spent a great deal of time just watching the animals’ antics and graceful swimming. He thought David would enjoy watching them, too.

“Jim. I’m sorry to wake you.”

He realizes now that it’s Leo’s voice calling him through the comm unit by his bed. “Bones! Where are you?” He rolls over, cognizant of the sleeping lump that is his son beside him.

”We just got back. I’m...I’m in the clinic.”

“That’s fantastic. So that means the crisis is over on Aldebaran III, and you’re all back?” Jim rubs his eyes, and scratches his head, trying to wake up.

”We’re all back.

“When you’re finished, come to our quarters. I’ll have some breakfast waiting.”

”Jim. I-I can’t come just yet.”

Jim wakes up fully. “Why not?”

There’s an explosive sigh. ”Because I caught that damned bug, that’s why. I need to remain in the clinic with an IV.”

“I’m coming down right now.”

*

After securing Spock and Uhura to watch David, Jim takes off for the starbase clinic at a trot. It’s the same facility where David had been born. He doesn’t remember much about that day; he’d been in and out of consciousness due to having emergency surgery to remove his son and to repair damage to his intestinal tract, and deal with the resulting serious infection afterwards.

He arrives at the door of the clinic and steps in as it opens. It’s busy, personnel walking quickly between diagnostic stations and small rooms. He doesn’t immediately see his husband.

“Captain!”

Jim turns to find Geoffrey M’Benga striding towards him. “Thought you might be here early. I’ll take you to Leonard.”

“What happened?”

Dr. M’Benga shook his head. “Silly fool caught a full-face sneeze from a kid who was infected. Apparently, he hadn’t had an immuno-booster in a while.”

“And he’s always on the crew to get their shots,” Jim says, growing angry. “Dammit! What the hell was he thinking?”

M’Benga sighs. “What’s done is done. He’s...he’s not responding as well to the treatment as I’d like. I don’t know if it’s his age or if he’s just really unlucky, so I’d like for him to stay here at least for another thirty-six hours.”

Jim nods. “Of course. Is he contagious?”

“Not anymore. I’d prefer if you didn’t bring David in, though. Never know what germs kids are carrying around.”

“Neither of them are gonna like that,” Jim replies. “But I understand.”

They stop in front of one of the small patient rooms. “I’m going to get him ship-shape, Captain. I don’t want him to be away from you and David any longer than he has to.”

“Thank you, M’Benga. Really appreciate your concern.”

Jim watches the doctor turn and return to the main part of the medbay. He knows Leo is going to be grumpy and hard to deal with because this whole situation is his own damn fault. He can hear the griping already in his head.

He opens the door to find his husband, surprisingly, asleep. He must be feeling crummy if he’s asleep. The biobed beeps and sighs softly; Jim knows enough to read the display overhead: Leo is dehydrated, having thrown up several times; he’s receiving an antibiotic and running a low-grade fever; and he’s lost a few pounds. Jim runs his fingers lightly through his beloved’s dark hair that’s shot through liberally with silver strands. His heart fills with compassion.

He pulls up a chair close to the bed and takes Leo’s warm hand in his. It’s rare that they’re alone like this, quiet, not talking, not doing anything. They’re always on duty or with David or with David and friends. Usually when they’re alone, they’re writing reports or discussing their day or crew issues or David’s progress or any number of things that come with running a large starship. Jim values his husband’s insight into command as much as he does Spock’s or Scotty’s on their respective issues. Leo leads with his heart and his humanity, and reminds Jim, always, that life is precious.

After several minutes, Leo stirs and groans. Jim stands. “Bones?” Jim kisses his forehead.

Leo’s eyes flutter open. “Jim, what’re you doing here?”

“Uh, you asked me to come, you idiot,” Jim says fondly.

“Oh, right.” He blinks. “How long have I been out?”

“Not too long, but you need the sleep. You’re on a fairly powerful antibiotic.”

“And a sedative, too, I’m sure,” Leo says, grousing. “Wouldn’t put it past them.”

“Nope. Nothing on the read-out about that,” Jim says, looking up. “Just an IV and a drug with a name so long I have no idea how to pronounce it.”

Leo yawns. “Well, I was throwing up on the way back.”

“All the way back, from what I hear,” Jim says. “I will spare you the rant about your not getting the proper shots now, and save it for your performance review, Dr. McCoy.”

“Yeah, it was monumentally stupid of me. I thought I had had one recently.”

“Well, with all that record keeping you do, you’d think you’d know how to check to see if you’d had.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

Jim sighs. “I’m not going to kick you while you’re down, but this isn’t over, Bones. I’m going to go all-captain on you when you’re better.”

“I deserve it.” Leo closes his eyes, and grimaces.

Jim, seeing that he’s not feeling well, drops the argumentative tone. “Can I get you anything?” he asks, squeezing Leo’s hand.

“Nah. Just let me suffer in peace.” He opens his eyes again. “Where’s David?”

“Spock is watching him; he was still asleep when I left.”

“No kidding?”

“He’s missed you a lot, as have I. He had kind of a rough night last night, which I won’t get into. Which reminds me, it was the last night of Chanukah and I didn’t have a gift for you. What would you like for Christmas, since it’s coming up in a few days?”

“To not throw up ever again.”

Jim chuckles. “I hear ya. No, seriously. What would you like for Christmas?”

“Darlin’, not a damn thing. Just want to be with my family. And not be sick.”

“Well, M’Benga is taking care of that. And as soon as that happens, the other will happen. Hmm. I smell a challenge.” Jim laughs.

“You know what makes me happy, probably even more so than I do.”

An idea pops into Jim’s head at that second. “You know, I do.”

“Yep.”

Jim leans over and kisses Leo’s forehead, this time with determination. “I know exactly what you’ll want.”

“Uh-oh?”

Jim grins. “Go back to sleep and get better, dammit. Your son wants his papa.”

“Okay.” Leo rolls over onto his other side with a sigh. “Bossy bastard.”

Jim pats Leo’s backside fondly. “Not as bossy as you, you old dog.”

::=/\=::

“I know what I want to do for your dad for Christmas,” Jim says.

“Oh, yeah?” Joanna hands him a couple of towels to fold.

“Yeah. Do you have that recipe for the cake his grandma made? The one with all the candied fruit in it?”

“The Irish Christmas cake?”

“That’s the one.”

Joanna thinks, and hands Jim a pile of Leah’s shirts and pants to fold. “I think I have it in my recipe book.”

“Great. Can I borrow it?”

“I gotta think about where it is.” She gets up and walks over to the book case. “Not here. Hang on.”

She goes into another room of the quarters, and is gone for a while. Jim looks into the laundry basket, pulls out a large handful of small socks, and sorts and rolls them.

“Here it is!” Joanna says, triumphant. She hands Jim an old fashioned paper index card; “Irish Christmas Cake” is written across the top of the card in neat penmanship. In blue ink. There’s several brown stains on it.

“Wow. I haven’t seen an index card in forever,” Jim says, turning it over. The instructions cover the back of the card as well. “There are a lot of parts to this.”

“Yes, and you won’t have time to do the most important part, which is to soak it in brandy for a month.”

“Oh, that’s too bad. I guess I forgot about that.” Jim’s face falls.

Joanna takes the recipe card from him and looks at it. “You know, I think my grandma would make a frosting with the brandy in it. I’ll bet that’ll be all it takes.”

“Because enough frosting makes any cake taste great.”

Jo laughs. “You got it.”

Jim jumps up, little balls of white, pink, red, and purple socks scattering as he does. “So can I get time in the dining hall kitchen to make this?”

“Let’s go see.”

*

“Okay, I think I have everything I need,” Jim says. “Except the brandy, but Scotty is working on that for me.”

Joanna hands him a bowl from the cabinet underneath the counter, and opens a drawer to find a knife. “I’m afraid I can’t help you with this. I need to run to my lab to check on an experiment I’ve been running. And then I’ll have to pick the kids up from school. And then I’ll have to go back to the lab.”

“No problem. I’ll get the kids so don’t bother leaving the lab,” Jim says, consulting the recipe. “I’ll take care of them.”

“Great! Thanks, Jim.” She leaves.

“Okay, ‘Sift three cups of flour.’” Jim looks around the large communal kitchen. “What does ‘sift’ mean?”

*

Joanna McCoy-Murray runs down the corridor of Starbase 5. “Get out of my way!” she cries as she rounds a corner and nearly plows into three beings walking rapidly away from the loud claxon sound and smoke billowing out into the hall. “Jim! Are you all right?”

She enters the common kitchen just off of the main dining hall of Section 2. A whooshing blows her hair back.

“All clear!” comes a shout through the smoke. The whooshing reverses and the smoke is sucked up through the vent in the ceiling. “Dr. McCoy, do you know this man?”

It’s Jakar D’Orton, head of Security for the station, a tall Andorian who runs the best martial arts training class anywhere, including Starfleet Academy.

“Yeah, this is Jim Kirk, my step-father, and captain of the Enterprise,” she says. “What happened?”

Jim is standing over by the ovens against the opposite wall; a blackened, still smoking rock in a dark baking pan before him. “I fell asleep,” he says.

“What?”

Jim sighs. “I picked up the kids right after I put the cake in the oven. Set the timer on my comm. Took them back to our place. They were both cranky as hell, so I laid down with them for a nap. Woke up when the Chief here came to get me.” He waves his hand. “And this happened.”

“Should take a few more minutes for the smell to dissipate,” the security chief says, adjusting the environmental controls. “Food burns all the time around here.” He walks out of the kitchen.

Joanna gives Jim a hug. “I’m sorry. This is quite a mess.”

“You think we have time to make another?”

She checks her watch. “Maybe. We’ll have to replicate the raisins, though. I gave you everything I had in my real-food stash. But we have the party for the kids’ birthdays in about two hours.”

“Well, shit,” Jim says. “I don’t want anything to get in the way of that, and I want to check in with your dad again. I’m sure he’s getting antsy.”

“Oh, I just visited him,” Joanna says. “You do not want to see him right now. Antsy doesn’t even begin to cover the level of his crankiness.”

“That’s just great,” Jim mutters.

“I think the doctor on duty was going to let him come to the party, but he has to wear an environmental hood.” Joanna grabs two insulated pot holders and picks up the still hot baking pan. “No need for this any more.” She tosses the pan and lump of black cake into the recycling unit.

“Oh no.”

“What?”

Jim picks up a browned, half index card. “I think I put the cake pan on top of the recipe card.”

Joanna looks at it. “Yep, that’s what you did.”

Jim turns and slumps against the counter. “Can this day get any worse?”

Joanna can’t think of anything to say, so she hugs him.

*

“I’m really glad you’re home,” Jim says, as he deposits Leo into their bed.

“Me, too.”

“You will tell me if you need to throw up, right?” Jim asks. He gently pulls the fiber mask from Leo’s face, then stoops to pull off the boots from his feet.

“I think I’m over that,” Leo says wearily. “Just feeling really worn out.”

“Well, you were a trooper to deal with eight kids of various species and levels of screaming,” Jim says, chuckling. “Man, some of those kiddos can really shriek. My ears are still ringing.”

“And the barking dogs. Who brings a dog to a kid’s birthday party?”

“They were better behaved,” Jim says. “Would you have it any other way?”

“Not a chance.”

Jim rises up on his knees. “Neither would I. That was so much fun.”

Leo enfolds him in his arms. “Kind of like it’ll be when we get back to Earth. Loads of kids. A proper school. Playgrounds in real air.”

Jim takes a deep breath in, inhaling the slightly medical smell of his now-sort-of-well husband. “I guess.”

Leo pushes him back to look into his eyes. “Jim, we’ve talked about this.”

“I know. We’re on track to retire next year. I know,” he insists.

“I know you know,” Leo insists. “Not doubting your commitment to this plan.”

“I’m not. Just....” Jim hangs his head. “You know how I am about accepting change.”

“You’re better than I am. I’m depending on you to keep me from going off the ledge about it.”

They laugh. It’s an old, old discussion. Leo hates change, even when it comes to retiring from active space duty and planting himself on Terra Firma.

“You got it.”

Leo is sighing in a way that Jim knows he’s ready for sleep. This recent bout with a disease has really taken it out of him, and Jim wonders if M’Benga might be correct: Leo’s in great health, but he’s in his mid 50’s. He’s faced some medical challenges over the decades they’ve been in space, the worst being developing xenopolycythemia. It’s been over a decade since he beat it, but Jim can tell his husband never quite recovered his stamina from it, despite his best efforts.

“Okay, Bones, time for bed,” Jim says, taking the lead. “Let’s brush your teeth.”

“I’m not five, you know.”

“You act like it sometimes.” He holds out his hand for Leo to take, and pulls him up off the bed. “And right now, you’re just not feeling great, so I’m gonna take over your life for you.”

Leo doesn’t respond but he shuffles to the loo, just like David does when he’s grumpy and tired.

Jim smiles.

::=/\=::

“Oh, thank you, Papa!” David shouts, and jumps up from the floor to tackle-hug Leo. “I love it!”

“A chemistry set for a five-year-old,” Dan Murray murmurs in amazement to Jim. “Whoever thought that would be a good--”

“I got one, too!” Leah shrieks. She also leaps into Leo’s arms.

“--idea needs to be shot,” Dan finishes. “Great, just great.”

“Get ready,” Jim says, snickering. “Good thing your wife knows a lot about it, and that it probably doesn’t go beyond pouring vinegar on top of a mound of baking soda.”

“Please, god, please,” Dan says.

Joanna slaps her husband. “Be nice. It’s got some cool stuff, and has in big letters USE WITH ADULT SUPERVISION.”

“Do they know what that means?”

“Yes,” Joanna and Jim answer together.

Christmas morning has been filled with happy cries and ‘Thank you’s’ and laughter. Jim is into his second cup of hot cocoa, and is craving coffee at this moment to cut the sugar buzz, but he couldn’t deny his son’s happiness at offering him that second cup. Leo is holding up well, having gotten a solid sleep in. He, however, has skipped the cocoa and is looking refreshed and fully caffeinated.

“This one is for you, Papa,” David says, pointing to a gaily wrapped box under the small Christmas tree. “But it’s heavy.”

“It is?” Leo asks.

“Oh, let me get it,” Joanna says. “It’s a little fragile.”

She picks up the box and hands it to Leo, who looks at the card. “‘To Bones from Jim.’ Aw, Jim, you didn’t.”

“I didn’t,” Jim admits, surprised. He turns to Joanna with a quizzical look.

The children surround Leo and wait for him to unwrap, then carefully untape the box. “Just rip it, Papa,” David says, bouncing on his toes.

“Just wait a minute. Oh look! Look.” Leo carefully lifts out a beautiful, white frosting covered cake. “It smells so good.” His eyes widen. “It’s the Irish cake!”

Jim can’t speak. He looks at Joanna. “You made it, didn’t you?”

She tries to look innocent, but fails spectacularly. “Yeah, I did. I replicated everything before the party yesterday, and made it last night.”

“Jo, you didn’t need to do that!” Jim says, hugging her. “But thank you.”

Leo is confused. “Wait, what?”

Jim and Joanna relate the story of the failed cake to him, ending with, “And I burned up the recipe card.” He looks at her. “So how did you make it?”

“Lucky for you, Daddy Jim, I have a very good memory,” Joanna says. “I immediately wrote down everything I could remember from making the cake last year. I think the only thing I missed was how much raisins to put in it. I overshot it by half a cup; it’s very raisin-y.”

“But that’s good, Mommy, because I love raisins,” Leah says.

Joanna holds out a white index card to Jim. “There’s also a digital file in the Starfleet replicator. So no more burned recipe cards.”

“You wrote it in blue ink, even.” Jim’s so happy he’s about to cry.

“We must observe the traditions.”

He kisses the wonderful daughter of his heart, then his sweet and wonderful granddaughter and of course, his happy, wonderful son.

“Uh, that’s okay, Jim,” Dan says, holding up his hands. “We’re good.”

Jim kisses his son-in-law anyway, because he’s like that, but saves the sweetest kiss for his beloved. “Merry Christmas, Bones,” he says, rubbing his nose along Leo’s ear.

“Same to you, darlin’.”

“Now, who’s ready for cake??” Jim asks, as he lifts the box from Leo’s hands.

*~*