“Bones, are you in here?” Jim called as he passed through the doors into sickbay. Spock followed closely behind, hands clasped patiently behind his back as he went.
The main room was empty, lights dimmed. The only illumination was a faint light coming from the CMO’s office around the corner. “Captain,” Spock began, indicating toward the office with a nod of his head.
“Oh, right,” Jim said, catching sight of the dimly lit office. He headed toward it, chuckling as he went. “Shift’s over, you old workaholic. We’ve got a dinner date, or did you forget?”
He stopped in the doorway, the warm, welcoming smile falling from his face in shock.
McCoy was at his desk, head in his hands, a half empty bottle of brandy open beside him. Even from where he stood, Jim could see the tears streaming through trembling fingers.
“Bones…” Jim trailed off.
The doctor flinched in surprise. He immediately sat up straight, running a sleeve across bloodshot eyes in a failed attempt to hide the tears. “Oh,” he muttered, “Hiya Jim. I, uh… sorry, I…”
His eyes locked in horror at a point over Jim’s shoulder, and Jim turned to find Spock standing there. They shared a questioning glance before Jim turned back to McCoy.
“Bones, what’s wrong?” he asked, moving to the side of the desk.
Bones shook his head, running another hand over his face to dry the tears. “Oh, it’s nothin’. Don’t worry about me… I… I’m sorry Jim, I did forget all about dinner. I didn’t mean…”
Jim pulled up a chair, sat down and leaned against the desk closer to McCoy. “Forget that, Bones. It’s fine. What happened?”
McCoy glanced up at Spock, who was still hovering uncertainly in the doorway. The Vulcan hesitated only a moment before moving the opposite end of the desk, taking a chair for himself as well.
“Oh, it’s just… it’s Joanna’s birthday today. We’re close enough for long range comms for once, and I thought…” He paused to sniffle, wiping his face again. Spock rose from his chair, suddenly, leaving the room without a word.
Bones’ breath caught in his throat, on the verge of making a comment about inconsiderate Vulcans who just couldn’t tolerate any expression of Human emotion… when Spock reappeared in the doorway, a box of tissues in hand. He offered one to McCoy. The doctor took it with a rueful smile. Spock sat the box on the desk next to McCoy, and retook his seat.
Bones blew his nose and dried his eyes. “I sent her a video message yesterday, so it would get there in time for her to see it today… and I just got the reply…”
Jim looked perplexed, resting a comforting hand on Bones’ shoulder when he looked like he might cry again. “Bones, I don’t understa—“
“It was from Jocelyn! She intercepted the message so Jo didn’t even see it! She was going on about how if I didn’t care enough to be there in person, then I didn’t have any right to talk to Jo, that I was just trying to make myself feel less guilty for not being there, for not being a real father! Said she was going out with her friends anyway, and wouldn’t have time to worry with me. She said—“ he fell into sobs before he could finish his sentence and covered his face in his hands again, hopelessly beyond consolation.
Jim looked at Spock, pursing his lips in suppressed anger. He stood, taking Bones by the shoulders and lifting him to his feet as well.
“Hey,” he said. McCoy looked up at him, tears streaming thoughtlessly down his face now. “It’s all right.”
Jim reached up, placing a hand on each cheek, and looked deep into his friends’ eyes. “It’s going to be all right.”
Spock stirred, rising to stand next to them. “From what I understand, Doctor, your daughter is a highly intelligent individual.”
McCoy turned toward him, confusion written on his face. “Yeah, what’s your point?”
“One day, very soon, I would imagine, she is going to grow up. And I find it highly unlikely that at such time, she will continue to be controlled by her mother. If she is anything like you, Doctor, she will become an extremely strong-willed and independent individual.”
Bones huffed. “She already is…”
“In that case—” Spock said, shifting closer, “—you need not be concerned. For surely she is already aware of the love and support offered by her father. There will come a time when Joanna will be free to do as she wills. I find it doubtful that she will fail to pursue a closer relationship with you then, regardless of what Jocelyn says or thinks. It is surely difficult now, and we grieve with thee, but this time will pass, and your daughter will be with you then.”
McCoy paused, amazed by Spock’s words. He was still trying to think of an appropriate response when the Vulcan astonished him further by pulling him forward, wrapping his long arms around the Human in a firm hug. The next thing Bones knew, Jim’s chest nestled against his back and the two of them wrapped him in their interlocked arms, making a weepy Bones sandwich.
It was enough to make him lose it all over again, and he hugged Spock, crying like a sentimental idiot against his uniform tunic. He felt Jim’s cheek rest against the top of his head, and the two of them just stood there, holding him, until he had no more tears left.