sternel: (space is disease and danger)
[personal profile] sternel
Title: Comfort and Joy
Author[personal profile] sternel 
Rating: PG
Warnings: abuse of Dickens, ghosts, character death (after a fashion)
Word Count: 12,500ish
Disclaimer: All hail Roddenberry, Paramount, and the various people & corporate bodies who aren't me.
Summary“What are you going to measure your life in, Leonard?  Surgeries performed?  Eviscerating letters to the editor drafted?  The number of times you’ve snapped at Chapel in an afternoon?  All the chances you missed seeing your daughter?  The number of times you’ve pushed Kirk away when all he wanted was to make sure you’re all right?”  This is the story of a Christmas Eve.

A/N:  For [community profile] space_wrapped’s 2010’s2010 prompt #54:  A Christmas Carol-Trek style.  I’m glad somebody beat me to this prompt, because I was going to suggest it and instead I was able to write it. 
 Massive thank-yous to [livejournal.com profile] athena4lynn , [livejournal.com profile] seanchaidh , & [livejournal.com profile] hetrez  for reading, thoughtful discussion, and being awesome, and [livejournal.com profile] nnaylime  for the best LOC beta job in the Alpha Quadrant..  “A Christmas Carol” was originally written by Charles Dickens, whom I hope does not mind all the liberties I took with his plot, or that I borrowed some of his words for my Marley.    Christmas carol lyrics quoted include “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen,” a traditional carol; & “Sleep Well, Little Children,” by A. Bergman, L. Klatzkin, c 1956.  “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” is by Clement Clarke Moore, first published in 1823.

I ended up  with a mix of songs that I played during the writing of this story, which you can find here.


COMFORT AND JOY

The only thing worse than being in Georgia for Christmas was being trapped on a tin can millions of light-years away, surrounded by hundreds of homesick humans going overboard on holiday traditions as a means of compensating for the distance from family and festivities.  It seemed like every department on the ship was having some sort of holiday party, and there was a ship-wide three-shift extravaganza being planned for the 25th—three shifts, so everybody could go.  McCoy knew perfectly well what that meant:  hangovers, paper cuts and burned fingers, crewmembers behind on their BC injections coming in looking for emergency shots, the occasional bedroom injury, and watching Jim like a hawk to make sure he didn’t accidentally eat something with cranberries or start trying to capture all the ensigns under mistletoe.

Mistletoe.  The damned parasitic weed was everywhere.  Some smartass had hung it in the entrance to the mess hall and nobody would take it down.  McCoy had tried, and it was replaced before the end of shift. 

It all   was ridiculous.  He hated it, and the only clear solution was to stay here in his office, where it was peaceful and quiet and he could read the latest edition of the Journal of the Federation Medical Association, because Jackson Dooney apparently still thought he was capable of practicing research medicine, and had a publication credit in here that he was looking forward to skewering holes in.  While he drank a finger of bourbon.  And put his feet up on his desk.  Perfect.

“Doctor?”

McCoy let his head fall back against his chair, and swung his legs back to the floor, letting each foot fall with a good, hearty thump.  He spun in the chair to face the door.  “Nurse Chapel.  Is anybody bleeding?”

“Uh, no, sir.”  Chapel straightened her shoulders and met his glare.

“Vomiting?  Fainting?  Suffering from a transporter accident that made their internal organs external?  Having an allergic reaction to something they know damn well not to touch?”

Chapel glared at him. “No, no, no, and no.  The Science division holiday mixer is starting in a few minutes.  You’re expected.” 

“Like hell,” McCoy said rudely, and put his feet back up on the desk.  He took an ostentatious sip of his bourbon.  “You go on ahead, Christine, but don’t drag me into it.” 

“It’s a division function, Doctor,” Chapel said sternly, and crossed her arms over her chest.  “I know this isn’t your favorite time of year, Leonard, but it wouldn’t kill you to fake a smile and show up for a half an hour.”

“I’m allergic to parties,” McCoy shot back, and lifted his padd again to start reading.  There was an obvious failure to adhere to the scientific method in the first line.  God, Dooney was the same idiot incompetent he had been in med school.

“Doctor,” Chapel said, coming further into the office.  “There is no such thing as an allergy to parties.”

“Social phobia,” McCoy said dryly.

“You have aviophobia, not social phobia, as your many shore leaves have ably demonstrated.  Just come stick your face in the door for a few minutes.  You’re a department head.”  She crossed over to his desk and leaned her hip against it, angling her head to try to catch his eye.  “It’s just a party.  You show up for everybody’s birthday; this isn’t any different.”

“It’s a useless, outdated holiday that does nothing but encourage people to waste their money and get wasted, and I can do both of those on my own time just fine,” McCoy said, hearing his voice sour.  “I don’t celebrate it, and I resent being dragged off to everybody else’s parties year after year to be forced into something that has absolutely no meaning for me.”

“Maybe some of us want to celebrate a special day with our friends,” Chapel snapped. 

“I’m sure they’re all down in Rec 3 waiting for you,” McCoy said calmly, taking another sip of his bourbon.  “Better get going, they’re gonna wonder what happened to you.  You celebrate it however you want, and I’ll do the same.”

Chapel stared at him for a long moment, and shook her head. “I don’t know what’s gotten into you, Leonard, but if that’s how you feel, fine.  See you later.”  She left without another word, and McCoy sighed in relief, leaned back in his chair, and took up another padd to start taking notes on.  He could already envision the letter he was going to send in ripping Dooney to shreds.  It was going to be beautiful.

::

He finally left sickbay around 2200.  It was long enough between shift changes that nobody bothered him.  He slipped into his quarters, slipped into pajamas, slipped into bed, and closed his eyes.  It was almost midnight, which made it almost Christmas Eve, and then there was just that and Christmas Day to get through and everything could get back to normal and he could stop worrying about all this crap and just focus on doctoring.  Actual doctoring, not treating wrapping paper injuries and counseling over-amorous crewmembers who couldn’t figure out the eggnog had been spiked.

With a grunt, he rolled over, curled up under the blankets, and let himself start to drift off to sleep with a happy sigh. 

“Bones?”

So much for that.  He rolled back over and squinted across his quarters into the rectangle of light at the door, and the figure standing in it. 

“Why are you in bed already?  You not feeling well?”

“Whatever, kid.  Come in or get out, but shut the door,” McCoy groused, and rolled back over, pulling the blanket up. 

“Boooooooones. You missed the party.”  Jim crossed the room and dropped onto McCoy’s feet.  “Computer, lights fifteen percent.  Your own division, Bones!  Lieutenant Thorvaldson had a bottle of bourbon there just for you.  She was so disappointed; she picked that up months ago just to surprise you!”  He prattled on, telling McCoy everything that had happened while McCoy contemplated kicking Jim in the balls.  “But it’s all right,” he concluded.  “I made excuses for you, told them you weren’t feeling well, which Chapel didn’t believe but she let me lie for you.”  He leaned over, squinting at McCoy in the dim light.  “You gonna tell me what’s up?”

“What’s up is I wanted to go to bed early,” McCoy grumbled. 

Jim sighed.  “Yeah. Look, I know perfectly well this isn’t your favorite time of year, but it wouldn’t have killed you to have stuck your head in for ten minutes.  You’re CMO, this shit is just as important as sticking me with hyposprays.”

“I’m gonna stick you with a hypospray in about five seconds.”  McCoy rolled over and if he accidentally kicked Jim’s ribs in the process, well – it wasn’t hard enough to injure him, and the surprised oof Jim let out was a little gratifying. 

“Even Spock missed you,” Jim said quietly.  “He asked me where you were.”  McCoy felt the scowl cross his face.

“Jim.  I want to sleep.  Go away.” 

Frowning, Jim stood up.  “Physician, heal thyself,” he said shortly.  “Ship-wide party is tomorrow night, and I know I don’t need to tell you that.  Show up for at least a half an hour, drink some of Thorvaldson’s booze, let Scotty slap you on the back a few times, and nod at Spock.  And then you can hide in your quarters for the rest of the holiday, for all I care.”

McCoy shrugged and rolled back over.  “Fine.  Whatever makes you happy, Captain.  I’d like to get back to sleep now, if that’s all right with you.”

Jim didn’t leave, though.  He stood there for a long moment, and McCoy could feel his stare drilling into his back, right between his shoulder blades.  “Bones.  Seriously.  What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong, unless you count the pain-in-the-ass keeping me from my sleep!” McCoy burst out. “Go home, Jim.” 

“Yeah,” Jim whispered, voice resigned.  “Sweet dreams, Doctor.” 

McCoy waited until he heard the door swish open and closed before he closed his eyes, but sleep had fled too far to find easily.

::

When he reported for alpha shift, Sickbay was full of people seeing hangover cures.  McCoy took out his annoyance by stabbing extra-hard with the hypos, and he treasured each and every wince.  “Try going a little easier on the metabolic poison,” he snapped at one woozy-looking ensign from Engineering.  “Just because Scotty mixes it, doesn’t mean it’s safe to drink.”

He was pretty sure he heard somebody hiss something about pots and kettles, but when he turned around and glared across the ward everybody fell silent, and there were no further smart aleck remarks. 

First, he filled out the reports on the day’s dramatics, which took all morning. Then, he crept down to the mess hall to get a salad and crept back to eat it in the peace and undecorated sanctuary of his office.  The afternoon was blissfully silent, and he started writing up his letter on Dooney’s atrocity of an article.  The time sped by as he gleefully made his points and polished the letter up.  “Send that tomorrow,” he told himself as he glanced at the chrono.  Beta shift; time to make a run for it. 

He had to duck down three wrong corridors and wait for three lifts before he safely made it back to his quarters, and they were just as he had left them:  unadorned and soothing.  He pulled out his bottle of Saurian and poured four fingers of liquor, sipping slowly as he relaxed onto the couch.  Saurian was not something to drink carelessly; it was a fine liquor and deserved respect.  He toasted it, raising his glass aloft, and opened his mouth.  “Here’s to me,” he finally said, “and getting through another year.”

“What’s the point, though?”

McCoy put the glass down very carefully before he spun to look around the room.  “What?”

“I said: what’s the point?  So you got through another year.  What did you do with it?”

The glass still was more than half full, and the door hadn’t been triggered.  The room had been empty when McCoy came in.  There was nobody there.  “I’m hearing things,” he growled to himself, and settled back on the couch.

“Yes.  You are hearing me.”  The voice was closer that time, and McCoy sat up straight.

“Who’s there?”

“Me.”  The air in front of him shivered, and coalesced, and formed into a transparent shape:   Doctor Puri, eyes squinting.  “Leonard McCoy.”

“Doc – doctor,” McCoy stammered. 

“So, you do remember me, for all you spent ten minutes in my presence before you went haring off to save the universe?”  Puri waved a hand in the air.  “Well done, by the way.  You stepped up.  You saved who you could, and a few I thought couldn’t be.  I’m not sure I’d have done as good a job on Pike, if that had been my table.” 

McCoy shut his mouth.  “I’m – thank you?”

“You don’t believe your eyes, do you,” Puri went on pleasantly, pulling the desk chair over and settling himself down into it.  “Man of science, you want hypotheses and proofs, and you distrust your own senses because you can’t compare them to a double-blind.  And yet, here I am, and here you are: Christmas Eve in the middle of deep space.” 

McCoy stared at him for another long moment, lifted his glass, and downed it.  He coughed a little as it burned a path into his stomach and rubbed his hands against his eyes.  “Space psychosis.  I knew it would happen sooner or later.” 

Puri leaned forward and rapped the table.  “Get a grip, McCoy.  You can deliver in a crisis, but present you with a holiday and the chance to build ties with a few people and you melt down faster than a chocolate orange left on a hearthstone.”  He looked wistful for a moment.  “Christmas wasn’t my thing, you know – wrong cultural heritage – but I really did love those chocolate oranges.” 

McCoy just stared at him.  “I – what are you doing here?” he finally managed.

“I’m here because you’re an idiot,” Puri said firmly.  “You have the opportunity here to build an incredible life for yourself, McCoy, and you’re blowing it.  Your heart is made of stone, and it’s hardening the rest of you to death.  And once you die, it’s too late.  There’s no fixing things after that.”  He looked away for a moment, sadness crossing his ghostly features.  “You’re going to be a very lonely, bitter old man, McCoy.”

“I’ve got a ghost in my quarters telling me I’ve got a heart of stone,” McCoy said slowly, rolling the words around in his mouth. 

“My quarters, actually.  Thanks for packing my stuff up, by the way.”  Puri gave him a white-toothed grin.   “My wife appreciated it.”

“Uh.  Sure.”  McCoy poured himself another glass.

“Too bad you didn’t manage to keep that spark of decency going,” Puri went on, leaning back in the chair again.  “Your bedside manner’s turned into your all-the-time manner; nobody wants to come within ten feet of you anymore, and you can’t even see it.”

“I don’t have to sit here and listen to this,” McCoy growled, and took a large drink of his brandy.

Puri watched him finish the glass and refill it. “Oh, and you drink way too much, too.  That might be connected, you know.  Trust me on that, I’m a doctor.”

“A dead doctor, haunting someone, on a starship, on Christmas,” McCoy moaned, and filled the glass again. 

“Oh, I’m just the opening act,” Puri said dryly.  “Listen well, Leonard McCoy.  I hired you because I saw a kindred spirit in you, but clearly was more right than I realized.  I died with too much unsaid and too much undone, and I can never fix it now.   For all the space I traveled, no space of regret can make amends for the opportunities I misused.”

“You were a fine doctor, Puri,” McCoy said slowly.  “My regret is having lost the chance to work under you.  There’s a lot I could have learned.”

“There’s a lot I learned too late,” Puri said, just as slowly.  “But you’re luckier than I am.  You’re young, and so far you’ve been blessed with a luck I lacked.  There’s a chance and a hope you can learn what I did not.”

McCoy squinted at him.  “What?”

Puri sighed, looking pityingly at him.  “Tonight, you will be visited, by three Spirits.”

“What?”  McCoy put the glass down again.  “I – this is ridiculous.  Now I know I’m hallucinating.”

“You’re not, and there will be three Spirits.  Don’t argue with them.  Listen to what they have to say.” 

McCoy shook his head and poured another glass.  “I am getting drunk, and I am going to bed.  I’m off tomorrow, so I can sleep through this whole bullshit spectacle, and when I wake up it’ll be over and done with for another year.”

“And when you look back, after another year, what are you going to see?” Puri said softly.  “What are you going to measure your life in, Leonard?  Surgeries performed?  Eviscerating letters to the editor drafted?  The number of times you’ve snapped at Chapel in an afternoon?  All the chances you missed seeing your daughter?  The number of times you’ve pushed Kirk away when all he wanted was to make sure you’re all right?”  Puri stood and looked down at him.  “The bottles of Saurian you drink, alone, because there’s nobody to share it with?”

McCoy stared down at the glass, and back up at the apparition, but it had faded into near-invisibility.  “Three spirits,” Puri’s voice called.  “Listen well to them, McCoy.  Listen well.” 

In the quiet that followed, McCoy got up and checked under the bed, around the corners, and in the head to make sure there was nobody there.  He double-checked his door lock.  And then he sat back down, and drank until the room was spinning, and stumbled into bed, and let sleep and the haze of brandy pull him down.

::

He awoke to the soft chiming of his father’s clock, carefully perched on the shelf behind his bed.  It was scratched from being thrown around during engagements and dull from a lack of polishing, but it kept time as well as it ever had.  Fuzzy, McCoy counted the chimes around his spinning head.  “Ten…eleven…twelve,” he muttered, and dropped his head back into his pillow.  “Goddamn.”

“Get up, son.”

Squinting, Leonard pressed his face into the pillow.  On top of everything else, his brain was playing tricks on him, pulling up the memory of voices he hadn’t heard in years. 

“I said, get up.”  A strong hand clasped his ankle and pulled, and McCoy found himself on the floor.

“What the devil –” Leonard looked up, and for the second time that night, his mouth dropped open as he sat speechless.  “Dad?”

Standing in front of him, stance wide and arms crossed, David McCoy scowled down at his son.  He looked hale and hearty, his eyes clear.  “Get up, son.”

“This is – I’m drunk.  I’m hallucinating things.  Space psychosis,” Leonard babbled, as he scrambled to his feet.  It took several tries to hold himself vertical, and he stood for a long moment before stumbling forward.  When David held out his arms and caught him in an embrace, he let out a loud cry.  “Oh, god.  Oh, god, this is real.  Dad.”  His voice cracked.  “Daddy.” 

“Easy, son,” David murmured, rubbing Leonard’s back roughly.  “Bit of a shock, I know.” 

“I don’t understand,” Leonard whispered, fists grabbing at the back of David’s shirt.  “You’re dead.  I killed you.   Dad, how can you be here?  This has to be a dream, but I can feel you.” 

David pulled back and cupped Leonard’s face between his hands.  “You didn’t kill me, son, and you know it.  I’m here because you needed me to be here.  And we have a lot to see, and very little time.  Come on.”

Leonard grabbed at his arms.  “Wait.  I don’t know what’s going on.” 

“You’ll figure it out, son,” David said soothingly, and wrapped a companionable arm around Leonard’s waist, leading him to the door.  It didn’t open as they approached, and Leonard nearly froze, but David tugged him on, walking right up to the door and through it and –

– the  air was crisper, suddenly, and smelled of wood smoke and dead leaves.  Leonard looked around in confusion.  “We’re – home,” he said, eyes wide; he stumbled as he turned to look around.  “How did–”
 
“Come on,” David said, and pulled at his son’s elbow until Leonard had taken a step back with him.  “Look, over there.” He pointed, and Leonard turned, to see figures coming slowly down the dirt path, old-fashioned candles in their hands.  He took another step back, into the trees, and David shook his head. “It’s all right.  They can’t see us.  Do you remember?”

The sounds of caroling were growing louder now, and Leonard wrapped his arms around himself.  “I do.  I do.” He cleared his throat, and mouthed the words as the group came down the road, passing them in a swirl of candlelight and song.  In the middle of the crowd was David, young and laughing, with a small boy perched on his shoulders, arms wrapped around his father’s forehead for balance as David held onto his legs.  They were both singing at the top of their lungs. 

“Remember Christ our Savior was born upon this day,” David murmured with the singers, and Leonard closed his eyes.  “To save poor souls from Satan’s pow’r, when they had gone astray.  Oh, tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy…”  He turned, and slung his arm over Leonard’s shoulder.  “I loved caroling with you, son.  It was my favorite part of Christmas.”  Leonard leaned into his arm, breathing deeply, and they watched the carolers gather on a porch, launching into a new song.  He remembered this moment, carefully wrapping his arms around his father’s head so he wouldn’t fall, feeling Dad’s shoulders move with each breath beneath him. 

David tightened his arm around Leonard’s shoulders.  “It’s a good memory; isn’t it?” 

“Yeah,” Leonard said, finally.  “It is.  One of the best.”

“That’s why we did it,” David said, turning to watch the carolers cheer the end of the song.  “To make good memories. Come on.”  He took one step, and another, and Leonard followed, closing his eyes.  The air changed, becoming warmer, but the smell of wood smoke lingered.  Leonard opened his eyes. 

“It’s the house!” he hissed, in the dim light.  The room was lit only by the fire and the glowing Christmas tree in one corner, trimmed with antiques and family heirlooms.  David was sitting in a window seat, young Leonard on his lap, and they were reading 'Twas The Night Before Christmas together.  It was slow going, as Leonard kept starting to giggle and David would have to wait for him to calm down before they could turn the page. 

“You done, boys?”  Eleanor leaned into the room, a mug of tea in her hands.

“Almost,” David said, and tilted his head.  “Come; join us.” 

She set her tea down on a table and crossed the room.  As soon as she was seated Leonard clambered from David’s lap to his mother’s, and David shifted to hold the book so they could all see it. 

“Start from the beginning, Daddy; Momma missed the first part,” young Leonard said, and his parents laughed. Eleanor kissed his forehead while David flipped back to the first page.  “I’ll read it, Momma!  You listen!”  He started with great deliberation. 

Across the room, David grinned and nudged Leonard.  “You were the most damned adorable kid.  Shame you grew up into such a grump.”

“Came by it honestly,” Leonard groused, and felt a grin cross his own face.  The old banter was as comforting as the fire’s heat, and he let it warm him as he listened to himself read.  He remembered this, too – it was the first year he’d managed to read the whole thing on his own from beginning to end.  His parents let him stay up to watch for Santa, and he’d fallen asleep on the window seat and woken up in his bed.

“You were too heavy to carry up the stairs,” David murmured.  “Almost threw my back out, but we couldn’t risk you waking up and finding us putting the presents out.  You realize how exhausted your mother was the next morning?”

Leonard huffed out a chuckle. “No idea.  I was too busy being excited.”

“As it should be,” David murmured, and watched young Leonard close the book.  “All right, time to move on.”  He pulled Leonard into a few steps, and the room shimmered but did not disappear.  This time, there was a young woman sitting in the window seat, staring out, but at a sound she turned, and smiled widely.  “Leo!” 

Leonard took a step back, knowing with a sick certainty where he was, but David held his elbow tightly.  “No, son. Watch.”

“Jocelyn,” said Leo, stepping into the room, one hand in his pocket.  He was only just past the awkwardness of adolescence, and even though he moved comfortably, Leonard could still see the gangliness of his teenage years in him.  Leo cleared his throat nervously.  “I know it’s early still, and you’re not supposed to open presents until morning, but – I have something for you, and I wanted to give it to you now.” 

Jocelyn, was still smiling when she gave him a searching look that Leonard realized he didn’t even remember.  “I was so nervous,” he murmured to David.  “I barely remember this at all.  I was afraid I was going to throw up on her.” 

“You practiced on every cat in the house,” David reminded him with a grin.  “Watch.”

Leo crossed the room, one hand in his pocket, and stopped just out of reach of Jocelyn’s hand.  “Jocelyn.  I – I wanted to find the perfect gift for you, and, well – I hope you won’t think I’m being too presumptuous, or anything, but I wanted to give you something that would make you happy and I hope I’m not –”

“Leo,” Jocelyn said gently.  “Sit down.” 

“Real smooth, Casanova,” David murmured, and Leonard elbowed him.  David elbowed him back and laughed.

“I will in a minute, but before I do that, I have to do this,” Leo said, and pulled the box out of his pocked and got down on one knee.  “Jocelyn, I love you.  You’re the most beautiful, talented, amazing woman I know, and I want to meet you under the mistletoe every Christmas for the rest of our lives.  Please, marry me?”

Jocelyn squealed and threw herself at Leo, chanting “Yes, yes, yes,” repeatedly, and Leonard turned his face away, knowing he hadn’t done it fast enough to keep David from seeing his tears.  He didn’t look back as Leo slid the ring onto her finger and kissed her soundly, just kept his eyes squeezed tightly shut.

“That was quite a night,” David murmured.  “Your mother and I could hear Jocelyn squealing all the way across the house.”  He was watching with a fond smile on his face.  “Was that the speech you wrote?”

“Forgot every word of it.  That was all off the top of my head,” Leonard murmured, and David chuckled. 

“You got your point across,” he said, and pulled Leonard forward. “Few more stops.”  The room swirled about them again, the fire shifting and growing dimmer, the tree smaller and less decorated.  Leo sat alone in the window seat – no, Leonard realized.  Not alone.  He held a small bundle in his arms, and as Leonard watched, he stroked Joanna’s cheek gently with one finger. 

“And then in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.” 

Leo carefully tucked the blanket around Joanna and kept going.  “As I drew in my head and was turning around…” 

“You remember this too,” David said softly, and Leonard nodded, and echoed the words as his younger self recited them to his baby daughter. 

“Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night,” he finished, and with a glance at David, crept across the room to get a better look at his baby girl.  She was smacking her lips together in her sleep, and Leo was gazing down at her like he’d never seen a more beautiful thing.  It was all too much, suddenly, and Leonard turned away.  “Enough, Dad,” he whispered. 

David shook his head.  “No, not quite yet, I think,” he said, “because you went from here, to this,” and he grabbed Leonard’s hand.  Two steps brought them forward, into a dim, empty dormitory room that smelled of cookies, athletic gear, and disinfectant.  Leonard took a deep breath. 

“I’d know that smell anywhere,” he muttered, and sure enough the door slid open and Jim walked in. 

“Bones, you here?   Bones!”  He looked around and smirked.  “Excellent.”  And he dropped his shopping bags on his bed and dropped his coat on the floor.  Leonard was pretty sure he’d been aiming for the chair, missed, and just didn’t care.  Jim was too busy ripping into packages, pulling out strings of lights and tape to attach to the walls.  He quickly had the room outlined with the little lights and proceeded to hang candy canes everywhere he could find a spot for them.  With a smile a mile wide, he pulled out two stockings, labeled with “Jim” and “Bones” in obnoxious sparkly glitter, and hung those up too. 

Jim’s was old and worn, creased from being folded.  The glitter was missing in spots.  But the other stocking was brand new, the glitter flaking off fresh glue every time Jim moved it. 

Stepping back, he brushed his hands together in obvious satisfaction, and settled into his chair, taking up a padd and grinning like a fool as he took a picture of his work. 

Leonard looked around at the garish decorations, and his heart sank. 

“It’s all right, son,” David said quietly.  “How was Jim supposed to know that Jocelyn kicked you out right before Christmas?  Or that you’d spent the Christmas prior to that nursing me through my last days?”

“He had no way of knowing,” Leonard said, voice bitter.  “I didn’t tell him.”

David fixed him with a stern look, eyebrow climbing, and Leonard’s shoulders slumped.  “Dammit.”

“Jim, you would not believe the stupidity passing through that ER today.”  Cadet McCoy strode into the room and stopped short.  “What the hell is this? It looks like Christmas threw up in here.”  He crossed to his bed, dropping his uniform jacket on it and kicking his boots off before heading for the bathroom.  “Turn that blinking shit off, Jim; we’ll both end up with migraines.” 

Standing in the middle of the room, Leonard could clearly see Jim’s face fall, but he recovered quickly.  “Think of how awesome it’ll look once you’re drunk, Bones!” 

“Bah, humbug!” Bones shouted back, and turned the shower on. 

Jim looked around the room, and sighed, and reached out and flicked the lights off. 

“Come on, son,” David said into the sudden dim, and took Leonard’s hand, tugging him along back to the ship.

“I – I thought he was just playing a joke,” Leonard whispered.  “I thought he understood.”

“And now you know.”  David rested his hands on Leonard’s shoulder for a moment.  “Go back to bed, son, and try not to forget that you had some very good Christmases.  I think about them all the time, the Christmases I had with you.”

“You’re going?”  Leonard grabbed David’s arms.  “Wait, Dad, just a little longer.  Just –”

David leaned forward and kissed Leonard’s forehead.  “You’ll be all right, son.  You’ve done amazing things.  You’re a good man.  You did a hard, hard thing for me, and I will always be grateful for your strength.  Stop beating yourself up for doing something out of love.  The cure came too late to help me, even if I’d lived those few more weeks.  I’d been sick for too long.  You helped me find peace, and I love you.”  He pushed Leonard towards his bed.  “Sleep, Leonard.  Tomorrow is Christmas, and Santa will never come if you don’t go to bed.” 

“Sing, Dad?” Leonard begged.  “Just one song, for old time’s sake.”  He grabbed David’s hand, squeezing it.  David gave him a fond smile, and stepped closer as Leonard settled onto his bed, pulling the blankets up over Leonard’s shoulders, and sitting next to him.

“Just one song, son.”  He cleared his throat, and in a cracking baritone, he sang.

Sleep well, little children
Wherever you are
Tomorrow is Christmas
Beneath every star…


The clock chimed the quarter hour, and Leonard closed his eyes.

::

“Well, this isn’t at all the sexy party I was hoping for.”

Leonard’s eyes snapped open just as the clock started to chime twice.  “What the hell?”

“Shouldn’t you be shacked up with somebody hot?  Do you have any idea what anybody on this ship would do for ten minutes where I’m sitting?”

Blinking furiously, Leonard stared at the foot of his bed.  “This is impossible.  You’re atoms; you died.  You’re molecules floating inside an event horizon somewhere near Vulcan That Was.”

“When you put it like that it sounds almost poetic,” Gaila said cheerfully and leaned forward.  She was dressed in a red Santa outfit, but not only was it the most inappropriately tailored Santa outfit Leonard had ever seen, but the hat also clashed with her copper hair.  “And maybe that‘s true, but tonight I’m here, because you, my dear doctor, need me.”

“I think I’m still drunk,” Leonard grumbled, and scrubbed at his eyes with the heels of his hands.  Gaila laughed and rolled herself off the bed, jumping up and down on her toes a few times. 

“I had been hoping you slept naked.  I never got a chance to see before I died.”  She leered at him, and Leonard laughed in spite of himself.

“Universal constants, I take it?”

“Sure!” Gaila agreed.  “Speed of light, parallel planetary development, and I want to get in your pants.  Sadly, there’s no time for that.”  She crossed her arms, which made the Santa costume strain alarmingly.  “Come on, up.”

Leonard climbed out of bed and regarded her.  “So what memories are you taking me on a tour of?”

“Hmmm?”  Gaila looked confused for a moment.  “Oh, no.  That was the past.  I’m here to show you the present.”

“I’m in the present,” Leonard pointed out, and Gaila pouted.
 
“Sure you are.  In your room, half drunk and all by yourself.  Come on!”  She grabbed his arm, and the now-familiar two steps brought him – to the rec room.

“Oh, no,” Leonard groaned, and Gaila tugged on his hand. 

“Relax.  They can’t see you.”  She waved an arm.  “I’m so sorry I’m missing this!  Look, mistletoe.  There’re some Terran traditions that I just adore.  Mistletoe could be Orion, you know.”  She spun in place, looking around with a grin on her face, and Leonard followed her gaze.

The party was in full swing, beta-shifters and hardy alpha-shift crew happily dancing and eating and making merry.  Carols blasted over the PA and Scotty could be seen at a table covered in bottles, happily mixing drinks for all and sundry. 

“I’ll be,” said Leonard softly, as he spied Spock across the room.  “What is he doing here?”

“He is remembering,” Gaila said quietly, and when Uhura spun off the dance floor a moment later, Spock looked up and greeted her with a look that, for him, was a smile.  Uhura held out her hands, and Spock let her draw him away from the wall and onto the dance floor.  They turned one rather dignified waltz before Spock reclaimed his position watching the room, but he looked more relaxed.  As Uhura returned to the crush on the dance floor he picked a jingle bell up off the table next to him, shaking it once and listening to the pure note that rose above the music.  Gaila pressed a hand to her chest for a moment, and bowed her head before she turned away.
 
Leonard harrumphed and followed Gaila as she wove through the room, pausing sometimes to stop and look someone over, smiling and nodding as if she approved.  “It’s been a long time, and I’m just so glad to see everybody so happy,” she explained when she saw Leonard watching her.  “Look at how Nyota’s laughing,” she said, pointing.  Chekov was trying to teach Uhura some ridiculous Russian dance step, only they were both laughing too hard to stand.   Sulu was standing behind them, surreptitiously taking pictures that Leonard was pretty sure would end up on the shipwide before the night was out.  “This is good.  I didn’t want her to be sad.  She has her whole life ahead of her.”  She turned to look back at Spock, who was watching them with ever-so-slightly upturned lips.  “They’re good together.  I’m glad they have each other.  Even if she would never tell me what he was like in bed.”

Leonard choked on thin air, and sputtered for a moment.  “Gaila!”

“Well, she wouldn’t!  Some Terran nonsense about not kissing and telling—whatever that’s supposed to mean.”  Gaila dismissed it with a wave of her hand and kept moving, pulling Leonard onto the dance floor.  “Dance with me, doctor!” 

“Oh, what the hell,” Leonard grumbled and turned her pull into a swing, a hand on her waist as he lead her into the dance.  It was ridiculous—him in plaid pajamas bottoms and a faded Ole Miss tee shirt and Gaila in her absurd Santa costume – but she tilted her head back and laughed, and Leonard grinned as he pulled her a little closer. 

“Spin me again,” Gaila demanded, and Leonard complied, feeling the speed and rotation bring a rush to his head that was better than alcohol.  He hadn’t been dancing in a long time, and he said so.  Gaila looked at him knowingly, and tapped a finger against his chest. 

When they finally stopped, Leonard’s legs burned from the exercise, and he leaned against Gaila as they retreated to the edge of the floor.  “You’re quite a dancer, Miss Gaila.”

“Why thank you, Doctor,” Gaila said, and looked around.  “It’s a very good party, don’t you think?”

Leonard looked around, at the laughing faces, and he had to nod.  “It is.” 

“Too bad we can’t stay longer,” Gaila said, and she pulled on Leonard’s hand.  “Come on.” 

Leonard turned his head to look back at the room, at Spock watching Nyota dance and laugh, at Scotty arguing with Keenser on the proper way to mix a Warp Core Breach, at Chapel slipping out the door with a tired smile on her face and a plate full of cookies in her hand, and he was surprised to turn his head and find himself in Georgia again.

“I thought you said we weren’t going back,” he said to Gaila, confused.

“We haven’t,” Gaila said calmly, and started up the stairs. Leonard looked around the old farmhouse – the tree was still exactly where it should be, and the fire had burned down to embers.  He followed Gaila, automatically avoiding the creaky fourth step, and paused in the hallway. 

“In here,” Gaila murmured, and walked into Joanna’s bedroom.  Jocelyn was sitting in the rocking chair, the one he’d made in fits and starts out in the barn when they’d found out she was pregnant, and Joanna was in her lap, wearing a red flannel nightgown and fuzzy slippers.   Jocelyn had a book in her hands, reading from it in a soft voice, and as Leonard came closer, he realized what it was.

“His eyes -- how they twinkled! His dimples, how merry, His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry,  His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow, and the beard on his chin was as white as the snow.”  Joanna was mouthing the words along with her, and Leonard joined in, eyes never leaving his beautiful little girl.  She said the last lines out loud with Jocelyn:  “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”  Jocelyn closed the book, and hugged Jo tight. 

“Merry Christmas, Jo-girl.  Now into bed with you, so Santa can come.” 

Joanna hugged her tightly, and let Jocelyn help her into bed and tuck her in.  “Mommy?”

“Mmhmm, sweetheart?”

“Do you think Santa knows how to find Daddy’s ship?” 

Leonard felt Gaila’s eyes on him from across the room, but he couldn’t look away. 

Jocelyn was clearly taken by surprise; she cleared her throat and smoothed a hand over the comforter for a long moment.  “Santa’s magic, sweetie.  He knows where everybody is, and he makes sure everybody gets remembered on Christmas.” 

“Oh good,” Joanna whispered, sleepily.  “I asked Santa to visit Daddy for Christmas this year, so he wouldn’t have to have Christmas alone in space.  It’s awfully big.” 

Jocelyn closed her eyes for a moment.  “You’re a good girl, Joanna.  Go to sleep, and when you wake up it’ll be Christmas.”

Joanna nodded, curling up under the blankets, and Jocelyn leaned forward to kiss her forehead gently.  She didn’t leave the room right away, crossing back to the window to stare out at the sky for a moment.  She tucked Joanna’s blankets in once more before slipping out of the room, leaving Leonard alone with his daughter.

“You can’t touch her,” Gaila said apologetically, when he stretched out a hand.  Leonard  shook his head angrily and sat in the rocking chair instead and watched Joanna sleep, trying to memorize the slow rhythm of her breathing.

“Time to go,” Gaila finally said.  “One more stop.”

Leonard raised an eyebrow at her, and she shrugged.  “You’ll see.  Say goodnight.  She’s so beautiful.”

“She takes after her mother,” Leonard said softly, but he tiptoed across the room and knelt next to Joanna’s bed, watching her breathe.  “I love you, baby girl.  Merry Christmas.” 

He didn’t get up until he felt Gaila’s hand on his shoulder, and he turned so fast he almost knocked them both over.  Gaila chuckled, and wrapped her arms around him, and pulled him along.

The familiar bulkheads of the ship surrounded him, and he let out a slow breath, before he realized he wasn’t in his own quarters.  He was in Jim’s. 

“You didn’t realize we missed him at the party?” Gaila said, and pointed to the couch.  Jim was asleep there, tangled in a blanket.  The table in front of it was a mess, covered in piles.  Leonard tiptoed closer to see what was there:  a plate of cookies absconded from the party, a half-finished glass of eggnog that Leonard could tell with a sniff hadn’t been spiked in the slightest, fake mistletoe, holo solids labeled George and Winona, and some old-fashioned pictures in hard copy.  Leonard tilted his head and looked at them – Jim’s mom and dad, Jim under a Christmas tree grinning gap-toothed as he held up a model starship, and – him.  He reached out and was relieved to find he could lift the picture, holding it up.  He and Jim, standing together on a camping trip to Yellowstone underneath a canopy of evergreens. 

Gaila crept closer.  “What is he holding?”

Bones leaned over, and closed his eyes.  “Oh, Jim.” 

“What are those?”

“A stocking,” Leonard explained.  “It’s a tradition, you hang it up on Christmas Eve and Santa comes and fills it with presents overnight.” 

“Oh, part of the whole religious mythology?” Gaila asked, and Leonard shrugged. 

“Something like that.”  He could just barely see Jim’s name on the ragged old stocking, and he looked around – there was a box on the floor next to the sofa, and he could just see the light reflecting off the glitter on another stocking.  “He kept it.”

“Kept what?”  Gaila leaned to follow his gaze and grinned.  “Oh, Doctor, he has one for you too.  That is so typical.  He has such a huge heart, but nobody ever believes it.” 

Leonard reached down and carefully tugged the blanket over Jim’s legs again, covering his bare feet.  “You’re right.  He does.” 

Gaila drifted closer, and looked down at Jim with an indescribable look on her face.  “I should have told him.”

Confused, Leonard squinted at her, and she shook her head. “I told him I loved him, but – he said it was weird.  Which was true – he is human and famous and all these things I am not.  But I meant it, and I didn’t say so, I let him laugh it off.  The day after that was his third Kobiyashi Maru, and…”  And then Vulcan.  And then she died.   She leaned against Leonard when he put an arm around her.  “Stop hiding from it.  You don’t want to die and realize you didn’t say what you should have.” 

Leonard turned and looked at her, face serious.  “You were a good friend.  You have no idea how much I needed that when I got to San Francisco.  Thank you.  I miss you every day.”

Laughing, Gaila threw her arms around him.  “See? That wasn’t so hard.  Come on, now, my time is up, and you need to go back to bed.”  She tugged him along, but he pulled back and turned to look again at Jim, stretched out across the couch.

“Don’t stay silent forever,” Gaila insisted, and pulled harder on his arm.  He felt himself falling into his bed, and hair tickling his face as soft lips brushed his cheek, and then sleep took him again. 

::

When the clock chimed four, he started awake, heart pounding.  Somebody was there.  He couldn’t see them but he could feel it.  “Computer, lights thirty percent.”

He had to blink a few times before his eyes adjusted.  A figure dressed in black, ancient and wizened, was hunched over the desk, looking at something.  Leonard frowned. “Hello?”

The figure turned, leaning heavily on a cane, and fixed watery blue eyes on him.  Leonard swallowed. “Hello.”

He did not answer.  Leonard cleared his throat awkwardly.  “Uh.  I guess you’re the last spirit?  Since we’ve already done past and present the logical guess is you’re here to show me the future, right?”

The old man let out a rude-sounding snort, and hobbled over to the bed, looking around the room.  Unexpectedly, a small grin appeared amidst the wrinkles, and he walked around the bed to pick up the model from Azeti Prime that Leonard kept on the shelf behind his head.  He looked at it for a moment, chuckled, and put it down.  His hand lingered on David’s clock for a moment before he turned to Leonard, gesturing for him to follow. 

Two steps, and he had no idea where he was.  The old man pointed to a desk, and when Leonard didn’t move fast enough, waved his hand imperiously.  Leonard raised an eyebrow at him and inched closer to the desk.  It was covered with padds, several paper notebooks covered in familiar-looking scribble, and a terminal screen.  Leonard leaned over and squinted at it.  “Comparative Alien Physiology,” he read out loud, and then his eyes fell on the name underneath it.  “By Leonard H. McCoy, MD.  Wait a minute.”  He turned and looked around the room – the study.  He recognized it now, it was the study in the family house.  Diplomas on the wall bore his name under Ole Miss and Starfleet Academy, proudly displayed over a model of an Enterprise that looked leaner and trimmer.  Pictures were everywhere, faces that seemed almost familiar, and once he recognized the Vulcan everything fell into place.

He whirled to face the ancient old man.  “You’re me, aren’t you.  You’re my future – no.  You’re not my future.  You’re from that other timeline.  What are you here to show me?” 

The old man simply lifted his chin and shrugged.  His jaw worked for a moment like he wanted to say something, but finally he clamped his mouth firmly shut.

“What year is it?” Leonard demanded, and the old man waved a hand at the wall, where an antique-style calendar hung by the desk.  “December 2298.”  He did the math in his head.  “Seventy-one, huh?”  He turned back to – himself?  “I don’t know what to call you.”

The old man shrugged again, and Leonard huffed.  “What am I doing here?” 

“Goddamned Vulcans,” came a voice, and Leonard scuttled out of the way as the door swung open and a grumbling figure walked in, a tumbler that reeked of bourbon in his hand.  “No, I’m not going to some wretched conference on furthering diplomatic ties with anybody.  Last time I got invited to a diplomatic conference I ended up in prison.  I’m pretty sure you remember that, Spock.” 

Startled, Leonard looked up, but there was nobody else there.  McCoy was talking to himself. 

“I am going to stay right here, and finish these edits,” McCoy rasped, and he pulled up a chair and did just that, frowning as he looked over a diagram of Andorian rib structure.  Leonard crept behind him, and peered at the date on the screen – 24 December, 2298.   “Goddamn publisher’s gonna have my head if I don’t have a draft to him soon, and I told you that last week.”

“Why isn’t he with his family?” he hissed at the old man.  “Where’s Joanna?” 

The old man gave him a sour look, lips pulled in, and jerked his chin at a holo on the far side of the room.  He crossed to look at it.  Joanna was perched on a rock, surrounded by a tall man with the wide-eyed face of a native Denevan colonist, two children sitting beside them.  They were clearly not on Earth.  “She’s alive, at least?”  The old man tilted his head in a way that clearly expressed his opinion that Leonard was an idiot. 

He turned back, and watched as McCoy pushed away from his chair and crossed the room to lean against the window, looking out.  “Well, I’ll be.  It’s snowing.”  He stared out at it for a long time.  “Looks like the view from that tin can,” he finally whispered to nobody in particular.  “God’s idea of a joke, I swear.  I never would have expected to miss it this much.” 

Leonard watched him sip his drink, and cross back to the desk, settling into his work.  For a long time he stood, watching as McCoy carefully explained the differences in the anterior and posterior ribcage functions.  “Where is everybody?” he finally asked, and the old man laughed silently, reaching out to take his arm with a surprisingly firm grip. 

Two steps, and he looked around the dark room he was in.  A club?  He squinted until his eyes adjusted, taking in the noise and smell of alcohol, the soft sound of jazz being piped in.  The crest behind the bar was the final clue.  “The OC at HQ,” he muttered, turning to face the old man.  “What on earth?”

His other self flicked a finger at a small table in the corner, where a few figures hunched over their drinks.  Leonard glared at him for a moment and inched close enough to eavesdrop.

“Why didn’t you go home?”  The voice sounded familiar, low and melodic, and after a moment he recognized it as Uhura.  He crept closer, peering in fascination at the elegant crown of silver hair and the elegant hand waving a drink to emphasize her words. 

“Nobody there,” came the morose answer, the clinking of shot glasses being lined up forming a counterpoint.  “And Hikaru is back out in the Beta Quadrant.  Stupid gaseous anomalies.  I vould rather be here vhere there are people.”   Chekov, McCoy thought with dim amusement.  Universal constants:  the speed of light, Gaila wants in my pants even after she’s dead, and Chekov will never lose that stupid accent.

Uhura took a sip from her drink.  “At this rotten party?  We really are desperate.” 

“At least ve are vit friends,” Chekov countered, waving a finger at her.

“And Hikaru’s on his ship, there’s nowhere else he’d rather be,” Uhura said, and blanched when Chekov shot her a dark look. 

“And Scotty is vit his family, and Spock is off doing more diplomacy – because that ended so vell last time – and here ve are.”

Leonard frowned. 

“Could have ended much worse.”  Uhura leaned her head down and muttered, “Did you call him?”

Chekov shrugged again, more exaggerated this time.  “He did not take the calls.  I left messages, told him to call me, to come here if he vanted and I vould give him my guest room.  I told him ve vould come visit him in Georgia.”  He looked away, picked up a shot glass from the neat row in front of him, and held it up in salute.  “To the most cantankerous bastard ever to save my life, and I hope he’s having more fun than us.”

Uhura pressed her lips together, and stole a shot, echoing Chekov.  “To our absent friends.”  They clinked their glasses and tossed the shots back. 

Leonard ran through the list of names in his head.  “What about Jim?” he muttered.  Just as he started to turn to find his shadow and ask, Chekov raised another glass.

“To our late Keptin,” he said quietly, and Uhura closed her eyes before she took another shot and held it up.  “To the most heroic man ever to save my life.” 

“More than once,” Uhura said, impishly, but her face was sober.  “To James Kirk, gone too soon,” she whispered, and swallowed the shot without waiting for Chekov.  He swiftly drank his, and covered her hand with his own.  Leonard took an involuntary step back, mind instantly conjuring all the possibilities – an away mission gone bad, an explosion, an accident, a goddamn allergy attack –  if he was 71 Jim should have been – his brain stuttered to a halt.  Too goddamn young.  Goddamn.  Goddamn.

“Ve are getting as bad as the Doctor,” he said, with a bright fake cheerfulness.  “Ve should dance.”

Uhura gave him a sideways glance.  “Or, we should go see if the bartender still has those secret bottles of Romulan Ale.”

“We svore that off after Khitomer,” Chekov said, holding out his hand.  “I did, at least.”  When she took his hand he tugged her out to the floor, abandoning the rest of the shots.  Leonard watched him lead her out into a dance, and jumped when the claw-like hand closed around his elbow.

“What?” 

His other self jerked his head.

“What happened to Jim?”

The old man closed his eyes for a long minute, shoulders slumping.  Then he shook his head, pulling him along.  Leonard pulled his arm back as soon as the room stopped shifting.  “I asked you a question, dammit!”

The man shrugged.  Leonard turned away, muttering to himself.  “Useless.  Why drag me all over the galaxy if you’re not going to tell me why?” 

“Mom, I can’t find any cranberry sauce.”  The unfamiliar voice brought him up short.

“Did you check the bottom shelf?”  An older woman wearing a familiar face, her dark hair streaked with gray, leaned around a doorway.  “I could have sworn I bought extra.” 

“I checked every shelf.  It’s all gone.  Ask David,” said the young woman, kneeling and shifting through shelves of stasis paks.  “He always steals it all for turkey sandwiches.”

“David McCoy Illiru!” The woman planted her hands on her hips and Leonard sucked in a breath, because she looked so much like Jocelyn that it hurt.  “I had three paks of cranberry sauce in here.  What did you do with them?”

A sheepish looking young man appeared, and the girl laughed.  “Busted!”

“Shut up, Jamie.  Uh, sorry, Mom? I thought there was another one!  I did!”

The woman – Joanna – reached over and ruffled David’s hair.  “I don’t want to hear one word of complaint when you’re stuck with replicated cranberries, mister.”

“Man.”  David sighed.  “I could have sworn there were four pacs.”

“Four paks of what?”  An older man with the wide-set Denevan eyes, an older version of the man in the picture, came to stand behind David in the doorway.  “Tree’s up.”

“Cranberry sauce,” Joanna said, pointing to the pantry shelves.  “Jamie’s been in here digging around for the last ten minutes.”  She crossed her arms when a guilty look crossed the man’s face.  “Nicholas!”

“David, I think I’m going to need some help getting the lights strung,” Nicholas said quickly, dodging when Joanna waved a towel at him half-heartedly. 

“Replicated sauce!” she called after them as they ran, ignoring their groans.  “Grab some green beans while you’re in there, darling,” and she took the paks from Jamie as they returned to their cooking.

“I can’t decide if we’re traditional or stereotypical,” Jamie told her mother.  “The boys are off playing with electronics and we’re in here doing all the food.” 

Joanna laughed.  “You sound like your grandfather,” she said, dropping a kiss on her forehead. 

Jamie grinned, assembling casserole, but the smile fell away a moment later.  “You never talk about him anymore,” she said quietly.

Joanna was silent as she crossed the room.  “I know.  I guess there isn’t much to say, anymore.” 

“You invited him, right?”  Jamie didn’t look up, dumping green beans into a pan with a little too much force. 

One hand froze over the replicator controls, and when Joanna turned around her lips were pressed into a thin line.    “I invite him every year, darling.  He just isn’t up to the trip, I guess.”  It was clear from her voice that she didn’t believe the white lie even as she spoke it.

“His loss,” Jamie said, her voice flat.

“That’s not fair, Jamie-girl.  His last mission on the Enterprise took a lot out of him, and losing Captain Kirk so soon after that…”  Joanna shook her head.  “Even when I was a child, Jamie, he was a very solitary man.  That’s always been a constant with him.  I think the Captain was the only person he really ever let in.” 

“No, he was the only person Grandpa wanted to let in,” Jamie said stubbornly, and Leonard’s heart squeezed tight again, because he could see where the name came from – she was as stubborn as her namesake, this granddaughter of his.  “I just wish he’d answer you,” she went on softly, and turned back to the pan in front of her.  “And stop making you miserable.” 

Joanna flicked an oven control, and reached over the stove to lift a lid, stirring something that let out the smell of yams.  “I’m not miserable, darling,” she said after a moment, and when she looked at her daughter the smile lit up her eyes.  “I have a good career and I love what I do; I have a beautiful family and I’m preparing my favorite dinner of the year with my daughter.  I miss Daddy, but there’s too much good in my life to dwell on it.” 

“Best damn nurse at Archer City Medical,” Jamie agreed, and wrapped an arm around her mother’s waist, head resting on her shoulder.  “And we are pretty awesome, aren’t we?  I think the ham smells done.”

“Another minute,” Joanna said, accepting the change in topic without a blink, and kissed Jamie’s head before going to find oven mitts.  “How’s that casserole coming?”  The conversation turned to the meal preparations and stayed there, and Leonard could only stand and watch them bustle.

“I’m sorry, baby girl,” he said softly, looking from her to Jamie.  “I’m glad to know you’re happy, but I’m sorry.”    He turned to look for the old man, and found him leaning against the wall, one hand over his eyes.  “You don’t want to see her?” 

The old man turned his face away, and gestured sharply.  His eyes were glistening.  Leonard watched as Joanna pulled the ham out of the oven, and her husband wandered back in to steal a biscuit while she pretended not to notice.  Grandmother Nora’s recipe – Leonard would know that smell anywhere.  He closed his own eyes, letting the conversation and scents of home wash over him, and when the old man took his hand and pulled him along, he let him.

The smells of cooking were replaced by antiseptic, the familiar smell of a hospital.  Leonard looked around but he had no idea where he was.  A hospital corridor looked the same no matter what planet you were on.  “Who are we here for?” he asked, and the old man glared at him with his watery eyes. 

“He’s sleeping finally.”  Leonard whirled around, and watched as a nurse in an unfamiliar uniform and a lab coat walked into a duty station. 

“He’s not talking in his sleep again, I hope,” said another nurse, looking up from his terminal.  “I’m pretty sure he was calling out for somebody before.”

“His daughter, maybe?”  The first nurse shrugged, pulling a chair to the other terminal and falling into it.  “She won’t make it in time, all the way from Deneva.”  She dumped the contents of her padd to the terminal and leaned back, staring at the ceiling.  “Poor old thing.”

“Don’t let anybody hear you calling him that, Jules,” the other nurse said dryly.  “He’s not an old thing, he’s a living legend.”

“I hate that.  He’s a person, not an entry in a history book.  You heard him talking to himself.”  The other nurse shrugged, half-ignoring her as he filled in a form, and Leonard slipped closer to peek over his shoulder at the screen header:  Starfleet Medical, Department of Xenogeriatrics.  “He’s regressing in his head, and – Mike, those were his friends.  We read about it, but he lived it.”  Jules shook her head, filing her reports as she talked.  “It never takes very long, once they start losing hold of their sense of place like that, but – for his sake, I hope it goes fast.”

“You’re too involved,” Mike said darkly, pushing back in his chair and reaching for his coffee.  “He’s just a patient, Jules.  You always get too worked up over the really old ones.”

Leonard leaned over to her screen, even as the old man stared at him from the other side of the counter. 

Patient name:  McCoy, Leonard H, Br Adm (ret)
Room:  1409


“Right,” he breathed out, and kicked at Mike’s chair as he went by.  The chair slid a bit on its wheels and Mike frowned and sat up a little straighter, looking down at the chair and scooting it left and right a few times, like he was testing it.  Leonard chuckled to himself.  “You’re a sorry excuse for a caregiver, jackass,” he muttered, and started walking down the hall, counting off as he went.  1409 was down at the end, and he hesitated in the doorway.

It was a single room, with the curtains drawn around the bed.  Leonard took a deep breath, glancing at the old man, who simply stared back at him, face wrinkled and still.  He ducked around the curtains and stopped at the foot of the bed and looked at the still figure curled up on the bed, blankets gently tucked around him.  He was sleeping, but only just, paper-thin eyelids fluttering with each shallow breath.  Leonard had to look away, at anything else – but the room was empty.  It was a generic hospital room, with a framed picture of Andorian ice caverns on the far wall, and a powered-down holoscreen above it.  The only sound was the soft beeping of the biobed.

He turned back to the bed, eyes falling on the nighttable.  There was a small vase filled with sweetpeas, and two pictures.  Leonard tilted his head to look closer – one of Joanna and her family, and one of him and Spock and Jim, and what looked like camping gear.  He leaned down and picked it up, Jim with his arm slung over Spock’s shoulders and leaning back against McCoy, both humans wearing big grins and Spock with that look on his face that Leonard had learned meant I would smile if I were not Vulcan and therefore above such pointless displays of emotion, the one he’d seen him wearing while he watched Uhura dance, just a few hours ago – years ago?  A universe ago?  He had no idea.

“Spock?” 

Leonard started and quickly put the picture down before turning, but the old man simply stared at him and flicked his finger at the bed.  He turned back, and met open blue eyes.

 “Spock.  Don’t make me do this alone.”  McCoy took a slow breath, and it rattled.  Only hours, now.  Or maybe even less than that.

Leonard closed his eyes.  “I can’t watch this,” he whispered. 

“You promised me,” McCoy rasped from the bed.  “For him.”  He had to wheeze another breath.  “For him.  Dammit.  You promised.”

“Did he make it?” Leonard whispered.  The old man shook his head, eyes bright.  “Did he try?”  The man looked away.  “He – you – you died alone?”  

The old man lifted his face and stared at Leonard.  He pointed a finger at Leonard’s chest, and pressed his lips together.  It was a look Leonard knew he wore daily, an accusation that he didn’t understand.  Somewhere, distantly, he was aware of his hands shaking. 

“This isn’t right.”  He sank down onto the bed, watching McCoy’s harsh breaths.  “Why isn’t there anybody here?” 

The old man lifted his eyebrow, and finally spoke in a voice that wavered and cracked. 

“He who lives alone, dies alone.”  And he turned and slowly, painfully, made his way out of the room. 

On the bed, McCoy took one last, rattling breath, and was still. 

::

“Oh god, no.”  Leonard sat up so fast his head spun, and he flailed for a moment until his surroundings asserted themselves.  “Oh god, I’m not dead.  I’m home, I’m not dead.” 

His quarters were exactly as he’d left them – uniform pants on the floor next to the wardrobe compartment, bottle of Saurian and empty glass on the table.   Grabbing at his robe, he threw it over his pajamas and dove for the door, heedless of his bare feet. 

Down the hall, Spock and Uhura were exiting the turbolift and Leonard gaped at them. “Spock!  You’re – look at you, man.” 

“Doctor.”  Spock traded a concerned glance with Uhura.  “Are you quite well?”

“What’s the date?  Not the stardate, the actual date.” 

“It’s December 25th,” Uhura said, voice worried.  “Christmas Day, just about 0600.  Doctor, are you all right?”

Leonard took a shaking breath.  “I’m not too late then.  Yes, I’m all right.  I’m – I’m good.  I’m better than I’ve been in a long time.”  Impulsively, he reached out and pulled Uhura into a hug. “Merry Christmas, Nyota.”  He let her go and then did the same to Spock, and it was worth it for how stiff Spock immediately went. “Merry Christmas, you green-blooded hobgoblin.”

“Vulcans do not celebrate Christmas, Doctor,” Spock said, voice flat, and Leonard shook his head. 

“No, Vulcans don’t. But your mom did.  Merry Christmas, Spock.”

The astonishment was obvious on Spock’s face. Uhura took Spock’s hand, and after a moment Spock looked down at their linked fingers.  “Indeed.  Merry Christmas, Doctor.” 

Leonard grinned at them both, and kissed Uhura’s cheek, and stepped into the empty lift.  “Sickbay.”

He got a few strange looks, striding down the hall in bare feet and his bathrobe, but getting called out of bed at all hours over some emergency was hardly unusual, and the entire ship knew it.  So strange looks were all that happened, and he walked into Sickbay and headed straight to his office, and his terminal.  He told the computer to turn the lights off, and settled in his chair, and started a voice recording, and recited “The Night Before Christmas” to the computer.  And then he had to pause while he stared at the ceiling for a moment. 

“Computer, resume.  I’m sorry I’m not there with you, Jo-girl, but I think about you all the time.  I want you to know Santa found me out here in the black, and he brought me a real good present, and I’m gonna share it with my friends.  So I’m not lonely out here, but I do miss you, baby girl.  You make me a message and tell me all about what Santa brought you, all right?”  He had to stop and clear his throat.  “I love you, darling.”

He took shameless advantage of his CMO’s clearance and set it to jump the queue and send immediately.  It would take a few hours to bounce around subspace, but Jo would get it before the end of the day.  Then he found the unopened bottle of Woodford Reserve he’d been saving, and hefted it under his arm.

He nearly ran into Christine in the doorway.  She was in her uniform, ready to start her shift, holding a plate of cookies.  “Doctor!  I’m sorry, I didn’t – are you all right?”  she asked, eyes going from bare feet to bathrobe to bottle.

“Never better,” Leonard replied, sincerely, and put the bottle back on his desk.  “Look, Christine, I –”

“I just was leaving some cookies, I won’t impose,” Christine interrupted, and Leonard frowned.

“Nurse, I was talking!”

“Yes, Doctor, I’m sorry, go ahead,” Christine said wearily, and Leonard laughed, and wrapped his arms around her.

“I’m sorry, Chris, I’m a bullheaded jackass sometimes,” he whispered in her ear.  “Forgive me for taking it out on you?”

She hugged him back and pulled away, eyeing him with concern.  “Leonard, what on earth?”

“What in space, is more like it,” he countered.  “I needed to grab Jim’s Christmas present from the store.”  Christine was still looking at him suspiciously, and he laughed, shaking his head.  “Don’t you have rounds or something?  Go get started, you’ve only got half a shift to get them done in.”

“Now I know you’re not in your right mind, you know perfectly well I’ve got alpha today,” Christine said, putting the plate of cookies on his desk and crossing her arms.

“Not when I’m picking up the second half of it,” Leonard said, and grabbed a cookie.  “Hm, shortbread.”  He took a bite. “You know, this isn’t half bad.”  He picked up the bottle again, cradling it in his arm.  “I’ll finish those when I relieve you.”

Christine was shaking her head, but she couldn’t stop the grin that was spreading across her face.  “If I didn’t know you any better, Leonard, I’d say you’d been infected with Christmas spirit.” 

“Horrible disease,” Leonard agreed.  “No cure.  Only solution is to eat overly rich food and sing carols that you can only remember the first verses of.”  He leaned over and kissed her cheek.  “Merry Christmas, Christine.  See you in a few hours.”

“Merry Christmas, Leonard,” Christine said quietly, and she watched him make his way out of Sickbay, whistling softly.

Tidings of comfort and joy
Tidings of comfort and joy


::

He keyed his medical override into Jim’s quarters, and paused just inside the doorway.  Jim hadn’t budged from the couch, a tangled drooling mess with glitter stuck to his cheek.  The blanket was still tucked around his feet.  Leonard crossed the room, and took his stocking out of the box.  It had a line creased into it from being folded but the glitter still looked fresh. 

There were magnetic miniclamps in the box.  He pulled one out and hung the stocking up on the bulkhead.  Jim let out a breath at the miniclamp’s soft clink, and Leonard froze. 

“Come on, Casanova,” he muttered to himself, and dropped to his knees next to the couch, reaching over to gently wipe the glitter off Jim’s cheek.  “Hey.  Sleeping Beauty.”

“Hmmm.”  Jim pulled his face away from Leonard’s hand, and his eyes blinked open slowly.   “Bones?”

“Yeah.”  McCoy leaned back a little and pulled his hand away.  “It’s me, Jim.”

“What’re you doing – what time’zit?”  Jim sat up a little, blinking the sleep away. 

Leonard gently took the worn stocking from his arms.  “Just before 0700.  It’s Christmas morning.”  He found another miniclamp and hung Jim’s stocking next to his on the wall.

Jim stared at him, mouth slightly open.  “What are you doing?”

“Hanging up the stockings.  Should’ve done it last night.”  Leonard turned around and looked at Jim for a long moment, watching Jim hide a yawn behind his hand as he pulled the blanket closer to himself, making it hitch up and reveal his bare feet.  Suddenly Leonard couldn’t move fast enough; he almost tripped over the table in his rush to fall to his knees next to the couch and cup Jim’s face in his hands. “God.  Jim. Jim, I’m sorry.  I didn’t understand.  I didn’t understand.”  His hands were trembling against Jim’s cheeks, and he wrapped his arms around him instead, pulling them together and burying his face against Jim’s neck. 

He half expected Jim to be angry, to push him away, to shout; but instead he just returned the embrace, pressing his cheek against the side of Leonard’s head. “Bones.  What happened?  Talk to me.”

“You kept the stocking,” Leonard whispered, and even with his face mashed against Jim’s neck, Jim understood him perfectly.  He pushed Leonard back to arm’s length, hands warm on his shoulders, and Leonard too a deep breath and tried again.  “You kept that stocking even after I was an asshole to you.”

“You’re an asshole to everyone, Bones,” Jim pointed out, a tiny smile tilting his lips upwards, and Leonard couldn’t have stopped himself even if he wanted to, he just leaned in and pressed his own lips to that smile.  Jim’s startled inhalation made him pull back, but Jim smiled even more and leaned in to return the kiss, and Leonard’s relief was so strong it made him dizzy. 

He finally pulled back, a hand on Jim’s cheek again.  “I am an asshole, and – I need to stop.  I need – Jim, you’re the best thing in my life.  You need to know that.  I need you to know that.”

Jim stared at him with sleepy eyes for a moment, one hand reaching up to cover the hand against his cheek.  “Bones.  Seriously, are you all right?” 

Leonard took a deep breath and let it out slowly.  “I had the craziest dreams last night, Jim.  I think they were dreams, anyway.  About Dr. Puri visiting me in my quarters, and  my dad, and Christmases when I was a kid, and growing up, and Jocelyn – I proposed to her on Christmas, I never told you that – and Joanna and then I saw Gaila – Jim, she loved you.  You know that, right?”

Jim turned red, and he looked away for a moment, swallowing hard.  “Yeah.  Yeah, I know.”

Leonard cradled Jim’s jaw in his hand, gently.  “I dreamed about you, and I dreamed about me, and – Jim, I don’t want to die like a lonely old man.  I don’t wanna die with everything unsaid.  I want every memory I can make, and I want to make them with you.” 

When Jim turned his head back to look at him his eyes were bright.  “You trying to tell me something, Bones?”

“Yeah, kid.  I love you, and next year I want to do Christmas with you properly, and write over all my shitty memories with good ones worth having.”  Leonard leaned forward and kissed Jim again, deep and slow, and Jim slid a hand around to the back of his neck and pulled him closer.  When they broke the kiss off he rested his forehead against Leonard’s. 

“Was that really so hard?”  Leonard let out a shaking breath, and started to laugh, because no.  It wasn’t.  Jim grinned at him.  “And you don’t have to wait until next year.  How about cookies and cocoa for breakfast?”

“What are we, five?” Leonard asked him.  Jim laughed, the sound pealing out like bells, and leaned around him to pick up a cookie and shove it in Leonard’s mouth, laughing harder as Leonard scowled and bit the cookie in half and brushed crumbs off his face.  He shoved the other half of the cookie into Jim’s mouth and smirked when Jim had to stop laughing in order to eat the damn thing, and then Jim’s arms were around him again and all he could taste was butter and sugar and Jim.

“I should have said something,” he finally murmured against Jim’s cheek. 

“You just did,” Jim murmured, and ran his hands through Leonard’s hair before he kissed him again.  “Merry Christmas, Bones.”

“Yeah.”  Leonard rested his cheek against Jim’s head and closed his eyes, breathing in the scents of the ship overlaid with cookies and the sharp clean smell of greens.  “Hey, Jim.” 

Picking his head up, Jim looked curious, and Leonard reached behind him to grab the mistletoe off the table and hold it over their heads.  He looked up, and Jim’s eyes followed.  “Mistletoe,” he said and watched the smirk spread over Jim’s face before he leaned forward to kiss it away.

::

If you'd like to cross-comment back to space_wrapped, the fic post can be found here.











 
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