No More Goddamn Furniture
Disclaimer: The characters belong to Roddenberry but the plot's all mine.
T mainly for language.
The divorce proceedings had been surreal.
Now that they'd actually taken place, however, the whole thing felt depressingly inevitable, right down to the cramped, one-bedroom apartment he now occupied, the tiny screws he was storing in three different coffee cups, and the assembly instructions for the table he'd ordered, which were entirely in Swedish.
For the moment, the screws and assembly instructions lay discarded on the floor.
It had taken him three days to get the internet connection in the apartment to work. As a result, he'd only just seen Jocelyn's message come in on his PADD, a good twelve hours too late. He was standing, pacing the room under the harsh overhead light, his phone to his ear. The tone of the message had been curt, but it was the subject matter that had pissed him off. He took a deep breath. His lawyer had advised him to avoid contact with Jocelyn, but there was no dodging this particular conversation. In lieu of distance, he could at least shoot for civility.
He wasn't expecting her to pick up, but she did after the third ring: "Leonard."
There it was, the accusation, the upswing in her voice that said all of it was his fault, as if he'd been the one who'd called the attorney and had papers drawn up in the first place, as if he had been the one to back her into a corner.
"You think maybe you could have told me you were taking our daughter to Houston for the next two weeks?" he asked, flatly.
"I'm sorry, I didn't think you'd notice. I thought you worked overtime during Christmas."
Leonard blinked. Jocelyn had only ever implied that particular sentiment; she'd never actually said it out loud. Clearly she was spoiling for a fight. Well, then she'd damn well get one. "That is so amazingly selfish of you I don't even know where to begin," he said.
"Spare me the self-righteous crap," Jocelyn fired back. "I'm a doctor; I'm saving lives—you're sitting there filling out forms and writing prescriptions."
They were off to the races.
"I'm really not interested in going over the finer points of my workday with you." Leonard could feel Jocelyn's condescension creeping into his tone. He was wading into the mud now, not that knowing it was going to stop him. They had always been competitive—over board games, on the tennis court, in bed—and after eight years, Leonard knew the pattern of their fights like clockwork. There was no denouement, only escalation. Whoever got the last word won the privilege of hanging up on the other. "She's my kid too," he added, "ya know, in case you'd forgotten."
"You could sure start acting like it."
"You're not letting me by pulling stunts like this."
"Well maybe if you were around more I wouldn't have pulled a 'stunt like this.'"
"I have been around."
"The fact that you think dropping by on a Sunday afternoon for a couple of hours constitutes being present in your child's life is hilarious."
"I'm sorry the old woman who needed her liver replaced couldn't have waited a couple days. Was that inconvenient for you?"
"Let me ask you something seriously. Thinking long-term here. Who's gonna plan Jojo's birthday parties?"
"Who's gonna answer her letters from summer camp? Who's gonna go sit their ass down and participate in all her parent-teacher conferences? Because you don't seem capable of making that happen."
"I really don't know when you think I made the leap from 'busy' to 'incompetent.'"
"You are so unbelievably full of yourself!"
There was real venom in Jocelyn's voice now, a glimmer of the constant, simmering rage Leonard had come to recognize in her over the last year. Knowing it gave him a grim sense of satisfaction he knew vaguely he would regret later. He could imagine her pacing the expensive rug in the dark front hallway of her parents' house, shoulders up to her ears, hissing into the phone.
She kept going, her voice rising angrily: "You have no idea what it takes to be there day in and day out, changing diapers, vacuuming every two days so she doesn't swallow a piece of loose change, driving her around in the middle of the night to get her to stop bawling, freaking out every time she sneezes funny! You think you could handle this? Jesus Christ, Leonard, you couldn't even handle a shuttle ride to Chicago!"
All at once, the bitterness that had been energizing him, driving his condescension, keeping him going taunt-for-taunt, blow-for-blow, condensed in his stomach and dissipated.
He remembered that shuttle ride. Specifically, the turbulence. He remembered his heart beating so fast he wondered if he might actually be having a heart attack, and then hoping that was the case, because at least then they could do something about it. He remembered kneeling on the cold, metal bathroom floor for the better part of three miserable hours, getting well acquainted with the taste of bile in his throat and the shrieking alarms in his head.
But more than that, he remembered getting to the hotel afterwards and sitting down on the bed, feeling like he'd just gotten out of a fifteen-hour surgery. He'd known the moment they stepped off the shuttle at O'Hare that there was no way he was going to be able to function socially that night. Not out on the street, not in a fancy restaurant, and definitely not in a crowded theater. He'd avoided telling Jocelyn until the last possible minute, delaying the inevitable.
Are you serious? Jesus, Leonard, you think maybe you could have anticipated this and helped me plan around it? You left me hanging with the shuttle tickets! Why am I always the one who has to take care of this shit?
Jesus, Joce, you were the one who wanted to come here in the first place.
Because you never asked me if I'd rather be doing something else!
In the end, she had been the one to leave him hanging. She'd stalked out of the room, snapping something about having to scalp his ticket at the bar in order to get the money back. She'd returned hours later, guilt-ridden and sloppy-drunk. He'd awoken to find her crawling over him into bed, still in her dress and earrings, crying softly and apologizing over and over. She'd been asleep in minutes, and Leonard had folded her into his arms, too exhausted to acknowledge how utterly not-OK everything was. The next day they had slept in until noon, exchanged heartfelt apologies, and moved on. They hadn't spoken about it since.
When Leonard managed to get his voice back, he realized the fight no longer felt like a game. Even loaded with this much bitterness, on some level arguing with Jocelyn—as opinionated as she was ruthless—had always been fun. But this no longer felt like something you could win.
"Fuck you," he snarled, low and angry.
Jocelyn pressed on, every word now needle-sharp: "You know you couldn't have left a child sitting around alone while you were off hiding in the bathroom!"
"What, so now having a goddamn phobia disqualifies me from being a good parent? What about being a hateful fucking bitch?"
He was faintly aware that he was yelling, probably scaring his new neighbors. And he'd started the name-calling, which automatically made him the abusive jerk. Great.
"Oh, that's right, play the bitch card!" Jocelyn shouted back, her voice breaking. Doubtless after this she would retreat to her childhood bedroom, to curl up in her old twin bed and sit alone with her grief. But not without one last scathing retort: "I'm a bitch because I'm finally asserting a little control over my life. Get a fucking clue, Leonard!"
The line went dead.
It took all of his self-control not to hurl his phone at the wall. Strewn with unpacked boxes and disassembled furniture, the tiny apartment felt oppressive, claustrophobic. He could hear someone moving around upstairs, pacing the ceiling above his head. Breathing hard, Leonard snatched up his coat, sidestepped the mess of wood slats, bolts, and Allen wrenches, and flung himself out the door, slamming it behind him.
More than anything, Peter Accum was sick of the weather. It had rained—a miserable, freezing rain—for the last six days straight. He wasn't built for this. He'd grown up in Phoenix, for God's sake.
He was sitting outside at a recruitment booth, wrapped in a standard-issue overcoat that was supposed to be able to insulate body heat from temperatures of up to minus 100 degrees Celsius. (Of course, if you were caught outside in that kind of weather, you probably wouldn't last very long regardless.) Beside him, his fellow civilian liaison, Meredith Locatis, was untroubled by the chill. She had been reared on ice-fishing and the kind of hunting that involved sitting around at the crack of dawn, stock-still for hours, waiting for a deer to cross your path.
Accum checked his watch. 22:30, half an hour until they could go home. He was a little pissed to have been assigned such a late shift, but he understood the rationale for having one. Atlanta was a college town and it was the weekend; potential recruits were out in force. In theory, anyways.
He caught sight of a huddled figure about fifty feet down the sidewalk, arms crossed and head bent against the cold. "Hey, wanna enlist in Starfleet?" he called, half-jokingly.
To his surprise, the figure stopped in its tracks, and looked at them. In the gloom, Accum was able to make out an unshaven face, in a deep frown. The man stared at them for a moment, then turned to the table and walked over.
"Know what? Why the fuck not," he said.
Accum eyed him warily. The man was muttering under his breath, something about can't even handle a shuttle to Chicago, my ass.
Accum glanced at Locatis, whose eyebrows had shot up to her hairline.
"Uh. Ok. Well…" Accum turned back to the man. He couldn't think of much else to say but recite the spiel they gave to enlisted crew, the ones with fewer options, unlike the eager Command-track kids who applied for the Academy out of high school. "…as a member of Starfleet you'd be part of the exploratory arm of the United Federation—"
"I know what Starfleet is, just give me a goddamn form," the man snapped. His hand slipped on the edge of the table and he stumbled forward briefly before catching himself. Accum caught a thick whiff of bourbon.
Locatis cleared her throat, reaching for the PADD, but Accum beat her to it, speaking and acting quickly: "Listen, the PADD just crapped out on us, so you're gonna have to do a paper form, OK?" Out of the corner of his eye he saw Locatis pause, then sit up slowly.
Accum tugged a sheet out of the thin stack of paper enlistment forms and held it out, as well as an ink stylus. The man grabbed both roughly and started scratching out his contact information. After a long, uncomfortable silence he finished, pushing the paper back across the table.
"Ok. Great. We keep the white, you keep the yellow," Accum said, folding the yellow copy into a pamphlet and handing it to the man. Then he lied, easily: "You'll get a call from your recruitment officer in the next couple of days or so about uniforms and medical clearance."
The man said nothing, but slipped the pamphlet into his pocket and shuffled off.
When he'd disappeared around the corner, Locatis looked archly at him. "'You'll get a call from your recruitment officer?'" she repeated.
Accum shrugged. "Guy deserves to know what he's getting into. I'll call him in the morning, talk him down."
"And if you can't reach him?"
"Well, sometimes the system glitches. Applications get lost. You know how it is."
In the morning, Leonard quickly discovered he needed new blinds. The bedcovers firmly tugged over his head, he managed to stick out an arm and grab a small bottle of aspirin off the chair he was using as a nightstand. He lay there on his stomach, eyes shut against the bright winter sun, willing the painkillers to kick in as the night before came back to him.
He hadn't meant to get wasted. He'd meant to take a walk, to let the cold air clear his head while he tried to get his mind off the fight. After half an hour without a hat or gloves he was freezing, and the small, hole-in-the-wall bar at the end of the street had drawn him in easily. Once inside, one beer demanded another. (It didn't help that he'd felt like a walking cliché. Whoever had chosen the music was on an Elvis kick, and when "Heartbreak Hotel" had come on, he'd switched to bourbon out of sheer embarrassment.)
He tried to remember the last time he'd felt this trashed, and the answer came to him easily: New Year's Day two years ago. Except then he'd woken up in his own bed, in his own house, with more effective curtains and a wife who would never in a million years feel sorry for him, but had left him with a pat on the shoulder and a glass of water all the same.
No—stop it. He'd already done that last night, the sad-sap-wallowing-in-a-bar thing. Morning was for recovery, for getting your feet back on solid ground.
Leonard gingerly pushed back the covers and shifted himself into a sitting position, rubbing his temples and breathing deliberately. When he opened his eyes, the first thing he saw was a crumpled-up pamphlet on the floor. Paper. Bending to pick it up, a small, silver logo jumped out at him, with a tiny, red-orange bridge motif, and the following words: Ex Astris, Scientia.
Another piece of paper tumbled out of the pamphlet: a folded-up, faded copy of some kind of form. Leonard scanned it, frowning.
Name: Leonard Horatio McCoy. Birthdate: 2227.05.08. Birthplace: Garden City, GA.
He read further.
Education: BS, Biochemistry, UMiss; MD, Exobiology, Emory University
Medical History: panic disorder, aviophobia.
Emergency Contact: Tom Singh. One of his poker buddies from oncology.
Heart pounding as he realized he was looking at, Leonard scanned through the form, past the little box at the end with the messy scrawl he recognized as his signature, to the words printed at the bottom of the page:
CONGRATULATIONS. YOU HAVE SUCCESSFULLY COMPLETED YOUR REGISTRATION FOR STARFLEET ENLISTED CREW.
Then his phone buzzed, and Leonard jumped, the pamphlet and form slipping out of his hands. It was an unknown number, and something from the night before flashed through his mind, something about getting a call from a recruitment officer in the next couple days.
The phone buzzed again, and Leonard stared at it like it had grown teeth and claws. There had to be some way to fix this—some grace period when they could shred your forms, when you could still back out. Or maybe they just snapped you up. He'd been under the influence; that had to count for something. Hell, the state he'd been in, you couldn't so much as consent to borrow a bicycle, much less enlist in Starfleet.
After the third buzz, he snatched up the phone and accepted the call.
"Hello?" he croaked.
A male voice on the other end: "Hi. Is this Leonard McCoy?"
"Yes. Um—listen, I—I made a huge mistake last night; I don't remember who I talked to but I was really, really drunk and I really shouldn't have been making any decisions…" He was babbling. He was babbling, and any second now the man on the other end was going to say something like, Well, son, you should've thought of that before you signed your name. Guess we own your soul now; shouldn't have yelled at your ex-wife and gotten shitfaced near a recruiting booth—
"Calm down, man, I'm not an officer."
Leonard's train of thought derailed. "What?" he asked.
"I'm not an officer," the man on the other end repeated. "And I didn't process your form."
"…Oh." Leonard blinked, and sat back down on the bed.
"I figured you were having a bit of a rough night," the man continued. "Didn't want you to get into anything you really didn't wanna get into."
"Thanks…I appreciate it."
"Can I assume it's safe to go ahead and shred your paperwork?"
Leonard nodded to no one in particular. "Yeah—thank you. Thanks."
"Ok. Hope things get better. Good luck to you."
The man hung up.
Leonard lay back on the bed and let the phone slip out of his hand, draping his arm over his eyes to block out the light, his memory of the night before starting to bleed back into him.
God dammit he had been stupid. Stupid to call Joce, stupid to expect her to engage in a halfway-civil conversation, stupid to let himself get drunk, stupid to walk past a Starfleet recruitment booth and turn some guy's passing comment into a challenge. He let out a long breath and lay there until the painkillers started to kick in. When they did, he got up and shuffled to the kitchen to make coffee.
The living room was still a disaster. Apparently last night he'd knocked over one of the cups, spilling tiny screws everywhere amidst the wrenches and wood slats. His coat and shoes were discarded in front of the door to the bathroom, and his toothbrush was teetering dangerously on the edge of a cardboard box. He passed by all this without a second glance, and he did the same thing on the way back from the kitchen.
He sat on the edge of the bed, coffee in hand, trying to remember the list of things he needed to do that didn't involve assembling furniture. There were tax forms he still hadn't filled out and a host of accounts with passwords he needed to change, and then there was the whole thing about changing Jojo's last name to McCoy-Darnell—which sounded terrible, as far as he was concerned.
The tasks ran together in his mind until he wasn't thinking about them at all, but staring at a point on the floor a little to the left of the crumpled-up Starfleet pamphlet. The little silver logo caught his eye again, along with the tiny motif of what he realized must be the Golden Gate Bridge.
Ex Astris, Scientia.
From the stars, knowledge.
He'd never been to San Francisco.
The thought made him let out a short, humorless laugh. He'd never been much of anywhere. He'd done his fair share of traveling on Earth—as much shuttle transit as he could handle, anyways, which wasn't much. But he'd never been off-planet. Hell, he'd never even been to the moon.
Another thought flitted through his mind: something a well-meaning friend had said a few weeks ago, suggesting that he look for a new place outside Atlanta (as if he was going to give himself a fucking commute on top of everything else). Something about physical distance encouraging emotional distance.
Leonard sat there for a long time, staring at the same point on the floor, no longer quite as blank and exhausted. Then he picked up his phone, scrolled to the call history, and redialed the most recent number. After two rings, the man from the recruiting booth picked up.
"Hi," Leonard said, "we just spoke. Just out of curiosity—how long are you guys in town?"
He was in a temporary office building, one-story and flat on the ground, sitting in an uncomfortable chair and waiting while the yeoman at the desk across from him tapped away at a file on his PADD. Outside there were voices and the sounds of construction. They were building a starship: the newest in the fleet and the first of its kind. (Apparently you were only supposed to call a ship "her" after it had left orbit for the first time.)
He'd been summoned there, to middle-of-nowhere, Iowa, three weeks after showing up at the recruitment booth again where he'd had to explain, no, really, I'm not drunk this time; where do I sign up? Apparently now an actualrecruiting officer had some questions for him that hadn't been covered by the enlistment forms.
Leonard shifted in his seat. He needed to be back in Atlanta by the end of the day. He had a date with a ream of paperwork for the hospital to explain why he was throwing away a perfectly respectable career to fly around in a tin can in outer space, without the sound of real rain or the feeling of solid ground under his feet.
A few restless minutes passed, and then a message dinged on the yeoman's PADD and he looked up, gesturing to the door behind him. "You can go in now."
On the other side of the door was a cramped room containing another desk, a dry-erase board, and a man in a gray uniform. He was neither tall nor short, and fell somewhere in the lower range of middle age. Leonard knew he was a captain from the summons he'd received, but if he hadn't it would have been easy to guess. The man moved with an authority that betrayed his rank.
"McCoy, right?" he asked, offering his hand.
Leonard nodded and shook it.
The man gestured to the chair in front of him. "Christopher Pike. Have a seat."
Not harsh, but also not a request. Leonard paused, unaccustomed to being on the receiving end of such a direct order. After a moment's hesitation he pulled out the chair, as Pike turned to a small end table with disposable cups, sugar packets, and creamer.
"Coffee? It's replicated crap, but it'll do the job."
"…Sure," Leonard said.
"Can I ask you something?"
He was trying to be conversational, which, in Leonard's experience, usually led to invasive questions. "Sounds like you're going to regardless."
Pike glanced at him archly, though not unkindly. "You'd be right. What's an up-and-coming Atlanta General surgeon doing signing up for Starfleet as enlisted crew?"
Pike laughed. "You're much too young for that."
Leonard bristled. "Due respect, Captain, but try me."
Setting aside his PADD, Pike raised his eyebrows at Leonard and said nothing. The silence stretched out between them.
"There may have been some drink involved," Leonard admitted, finally.
"So I'm told. Accum did you a favor."
"Well, I appreciate that."
"And yet here you are."
Leonard said nothing, while Pike stared at him.
"Listen, McCoy, you're not the only person to enlist trying to leave something behind. Normally I'd say give yourself time to think about what you're signing on for. But if you're mind's already made up, then you should at least do it right."
"What do you mean?"
"Apply for the Academy medical track. We need good doctors as much as we need good commanding officers."
Leonard frowned. "I already have a medical degree."
"So we'll put you to work in Academy Sickbay while you complete general training. You'll be on track for a commission, you'll most likely have a much more interesting time, and Starfleet will be able to make better use of your skills."
Leonard stared at him. He hadn't yet worked out how he was going to explain himself to the people in his life who mattered. Really, when it came down to it, there were only three of them: his mother, the hospital director, and yes, Jocelyn, because he still gave a damn about seeing his little girl. I'm leaving Atlanta to become a Starfleet officer sounded a hell of a lot better than I'm leaving Atlanta to become enlisted crew.
"You'll join the incoming freshman class in the fall," Pike continued, "and in the meantime you'll come work for me on the recruiting tour."
"Running physicals. Breaking up bar fights. Giving yourself time to square things away Earthside. Our attending physician had to leave on short notice, family emergency. I'd rather not fill out the paperwork to request a new one." Pike paused. "You got a family, McCoy?"
"Not one that needs me around."
"You sure about that?"
He hesitated for only a moment before answering. "Pretty sure."
"All right then."
Leonard threw himself resentfully into a seat in the main passenger compartment. The commander who'd ordered him out of the bathroom had disappeared from view. He hadn't quite managed to explain to her that either he was going to be sick in there or he was going to be sick out here, and the former option was the more pleasant one for their fellow passengers.
It was ridiculous. By shuttle the flight to San Francisco was nothing but a puddle-jump, and yet his heart was racing and his mutinous stomach was having a goddamn field day. And not just because he was willingly strapping himself into a flying death trap. Despite the past eight months of running physicals and patching up drunk eighteen-year-olds who got a little too fresh with the locals, Starfleet hadn't felt real. Not when he was defending himself to Jocelyn, not when his mother was handing him a cup of coffee and saying, "Well, hon, maybe it's what you need," not when most of his friends and half of Atlanta General were staring at him and giving him some version of what the hell are you doing, McCoy? More and more it had felt like he was enlisting out of spite. Starfleet was an escape and a fuck you to everything that was wrong with his life, wrapped up in pretty paper and a bow.
Except now it was real.
Or at least it was about to be. Leonard glanced briefly to the seat next to him as he struggled with the safety restraints, and caught a flash of blond hair and a face that had pretty clearly just been in a fight. A kid like the rest of the other passengers, but as far as Leonard could see, the only other person out of uniform.
The kid was staring at him.
"I may throw up on you," he said.
The kid looked at him sidelong and replied warily: "I think these things are pretty safe."
Safe, his ass.
"Don't pander to me, kid," he growled, "One tiny crack in the hull and our blood boils in thirteen seconds. Solar flare might crop up, cook us in our seats. And wait 'till you're sitting pretty with a case of Andorian shingles-see if you're so relaxed when your eyeballs are bleeding." He knew he was rambling, but the kid was already staring at him like he was crazy. (Why stop now?) "Space is disease and danger wrapped in darkness and silence," he concluded, before finally getting the safety restraints loose and buckling himself in.
"Well, I hate to break this to you, but Starfleet operates in space."
At least the kid had a sense of humor.
There wasn't much else Leonard could do at that point. That was what the whiskey was for. Already digging the flask out of his inner jacket pocket, he muttered a reply: "Yeah, well, got nowhere else to go, ex-wife took the whole damn planet in the divorce. All I got left is my bones." He took a short, burning gulp.
The kid was still looking at him. Not sure what else to do, Leonard held out the flask, and the kid accepted it.
"Jim Kirk," he said.
"McCoy," he replied, "Leonard McCoy."
Then Captain Pike was clearing them for takeoff and Leonard's knuckles were going white on the edge of his seat. He was definitely going to throw up.
At least there was no more goddamn furniture to assemble.