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Author's Note: Huge thanks to my beta boosette, for whacking me with the tense-stick, and also helly_uk, for prompting me in the first place, and cards_slash for gleeing at the prospect of fic exploring McCoy's failed marriage.
Force of Habit
The second Enterprise hit orbit, and the last report had been filed and he had clearance from Command, McCoy asked Kyle to beam him directly to the house.
The lawn was dotted with dandelions and overgrown, and Jo's bike was on the porch, next to the swing swaying back and forth in the warm breeze. McCoy stared at it, his throat dry and tight, before he climbed the steps.
He was reaching for the bell when the heavy wood door behind the screen opened and Joanna came barrelling at him.
"Hey baby," he said as he wrapped his arms around her like he never intended to let her go.
She was taller than he remembered, all legs and elbows, and her dark hair was held back from her face with plastic barrettes. With a pang he realised she was nearly eleven. He'd been on a training cruise on her last birthday. In his head, she was still six, with tiny milk teeth and freckles. In his head, she was still wrinkled and pink and wrapped in the blue and green striped hospital blanket.
"Me and Mom saw you on the vid," she said into his shirt. He dropped to his knees so he could cradle her face in his hands. Her blue eyes were rimmed with red, and he brushed her tears away with the balls of his thumbs.
"It's okay, honey. I'm okay."
She buried her face in his neck, and he looked up to see Jocelyn standing behind the screen door. Her dark blonde hair was cut shorter than the last time he saw her, and it wasn't flattering. She'd gone ashen, lips compressed in a tight line.
Her hand shook a little on the doorframe. "Len."
"Jocelyn," he replied, his voice still rough with emotion. Jo lifted her head off his shoulder and he got to his feet slowly, her hot little hand wrapped in his large one. She tugged experimentally as Jocelyn opened the screen door.
"Come inside, Dad."
"Just a sec," he said, letting go. She ran in, her bare feet slapping the hardwood floor, sunlight streaming through the windows tingeing her hair gold.
"Len—" Jocelyn began again, and stops.
He folded her into his arms without even thinking about it. It didn't matter that the last time they'd seen each other they'd been screaming. Or that the time before that, she'd threatened to take Jo off-world. Or the time before that he'd been six kinds of hung-over and showed up four months late for Jo's school play.
What matters in this moment for both of them is that he's alive.
They stood there, cool air from the house's environmental controls washing over them, his nose buried in his ex-wife's hair and her fingers clenching and unclenching spasmodically against his back, for a long moment until Jo called to them from the kitchen. Jocelyn pulled back first, and he could hear cicadas in the distance.
"C'mon in. No need to heat up the whole damn house, standing here."
Her blue eyes were red-rimmed too. McCoy followed her in, the screen door slamming against the wood doorframe behind him.
That night, after Joanna had been put to bed—all the while claming between jaw-creaking yawns that she's not tired, dammit until both of them tell her she'd best get her teeth brushed and under the covers if she knows what's good for her because she is not too big to be turned over a knee—they did the dishes.
It was ridiculous to still live in a house with the old-fashioned stove and sink. Never mind the house's water reclamation system is 100% efficient, and it's just as practical and environmentally sound as using a recycling unit. It was more about time-management. Most folks don't want to spend their nights scrubbing pots, and when he looked down at Jocelyn's hands chapped red by the hot, soapy water, he could see why. But there was something blessedly simple about standing next to her, towel slung over his shoulder, rubbing the old chipped china plates dry before stacking them in the cupboard.
He closed his eyes, feeling the ship shuddering beneath his feet, wide dark cracks appearing overhead. He opened his eyes again, and he was back in Georgia, standing next to Jocelyn.
She shut off the tap, turned and leaned against the sink. Her sleeves were damp, and she pushed them back up to her elbows with a grimace of annoyance.
"How long are you staying?" she asked as he tossed the towel into the wash.
"A few days. I've got a room at Peachtree—"
"Annie didn't sleep, the last two nights. Not since we got word that you were on Enterprise."
No-one else called Joanna "Annie". It was because Jocelyn's father used to call her "Jo" as a kid, and she claimed it was just too spooky, especially after her dad died. McCoy called his daughter "Jo" anyway. One more thing they fought about over the last decade.
"It'd be better if you stayed here," she said, not meeting his eyes.
"Okay," he said, not putting up a fight. Jocelyn's shoulders dropped just a little, and he realised she'd been braced for one. It makes him think about the fact that he's been waiting for one, too, ever since he stepped through the door.
He followed her out into the living room where Joanna's school things are spread out in a wide circle on the braided rug covering the floor. He leant down and picked them up, stacking the PADD, data solids, and stylus on the edge of the coffee table.
"She'll only have them everywhere again the second your back is turned." Jocelyn smiles then—the smile he remembered. "Takes after her old man."
"Military discipline's been good to me. I hang up my clothes on hangers and everything."
She laughed at that, a warm rich sound he hadn't realised he'd missed. It had been years since he'd made her laugh.
"I'll believe it when I see it," she said as they settled onto the sofa.
He thought about how much he wanted a bourbon. Or perhaps a cup of coffee, though he hasn't slept much in days and it would make more sense not to further fuck with his already seriously damaged circadian rhythms. But she doesn't offer, and he doesn't ask.
They sat in silence, the space of a couch cushion between them. He felt like he was underwater. Every movement was slow, like he fought his way through the air thick as molasses.
The clinical part of his brain knows it's exhaustion creeping up on him, after five solid days fuelled by adrenaline, fear, anger and purpose. The former husband part of him hates that she's right, once again. There was no way he'd make it to the hotel tonight. And truth be told, he didn't want to go. Not really. This may not have been his house any longer, but it was still the closest thing he has to home on Earth, and he needed to come home, after Vulcan.
He leaned back, stretching his arm out along the back of the sofa. "Are you seeing anybody?"
"Tom, off and on. Mostly off."
McCoy did a classic double-take, his mouth hanging open before he shut it, teeth clicking. "Jesus—Carson? Seriously?"
Jocelyn raised a brow. "What?"
"You couldn't stand him, back when we were doing our residency."
She shrugged. "A lot of things have changed, the last three years."
"I'll say. Were you and Carson—"
She didn't even let him finish. "No. You know that. Don't be an asshole."
He flushed guiltily. "Sorry—force of habit."
"What about you?"
He thought about Christine, and what they were and weren't. "Sort of. It's complicated."
"It always is, with you."
His lips twitched. "Just because I'm an asshole doesn't mean you need to get bitchy."
"Force of habit," she parroted his words back at him.
"Dammit, Josie—you're the one who divorced me, remember?"
"Somebody had to call it quits, Len." Her sigh was drawn out from the depths, and echoed the weariness that pulled at his limbs. "I didn't want Annie to grow up listening to us tearing chunks out of each other's hides in the next room. That's no way for a kid to grow up. I knew it then, and you know it now. So don't even start with me."
His gut twisted at the truth buried beneath the bitterness.
"I just want to be a part of my kid's life again. I could have died out there—nearly did, and all she'd have to remember me by are some old holos and letters."
"You're the one who went and joined Starfleet."
"Yeah. Yeah, I did."
She had her lips pressed tightly together, but he could still see her chin shake, and her blue eyes shone.
"Why?" It came out a rasp.
"You didn't leave me a whole lot of options, Jo-jo." His voice was lowered to a harsh whisper so they wouldn't wake their sleeping daughter. "Is this really what you want to do right now?"
"You tell me, Len. You show up here out of the blue for the first time in three years—"
"I watched an entire planet shake apart because of a crazy Romulan. Billions of people, Josie. Billions." He wanted to reach out a shake her. Instead, he kept his hands loose at his sides. "And you know what I thought, while my hands were elbow-deep inside some poor cadet barely out of diapers who was torn to shreds by shrapnel from weapons that won't exist for a hundred years? That all I wanted in this world was to hold my little girl again. That's all I've been able to think, since the whole mess began."
He raked his fingers through his dark hair, and leaned forward, forearms resting on his thighs. "Of course I came here. Where else was I gonna go?"
She pressed her hand to her mouth, squeezing her eyes shut and the tears slid down her cheeks. Honest to God tears from Jocelyn Darnell. That was new.
All the anger drained away as he realised that she had been scared. Not just for the father of her kid, but for him.
He'd been terrified that the fate of Vulcan would be Earth's. His ex-wife and daughter's deaths had been a real, tangible fear. But to them, he'd been the one at risk. Vulcan was just news on the Wire. Even the quakes in California, that was a long way away even on a planet made tiny by Transporter technology.
As much as he'd needed to hug his baby girl, Jocelyn had needed him, and he'd never once thought of that.
She flinched as he reached out and hauled her up against him, resting his chin on the top of her head just like he used to, before.
"Jesus, we sat there watching the vid, and all I could think was that was you out there and you could have died, Len. Did you ever think of that? You could have died, you stupid, selfish bastard."
She started shaking and couldn't tell if it was with anger or relief. He just held on tighter, stroking her back.
"I didn't, Josie. I came back," he said into her hair. "Doesn't that count for anything?"
She lifted her head. "You came back for Joanna."
He brushed tears away from her cheek just as he had for his daughter hours before. "I came back."
He hadn't meant to kiss her. It had just been force of habit. Her lips were hot and edged with salt. She shifted in his arms until she straddled his lap, and what began with comfort slid into need. It was familiar and comfortable while at the same time different and disconcerting.
"This is a bad idea," he said as he pulled back to catch his breath, his forehead resting against hers.
"Worst one I've had in a while," she admitted, and leaned forward to kiss him again. He leaned back against the sofa cushions, and she followed him, fingers coming up to tangle in his hair as her tongue slid against his.
She made a needy sound deep in her throat as he shifted his hips, and slid his hands beneath the hem of her shirt to skim her sides. He could feel the damp cuffs of her sleeves against his neck as she hooked her thumbs behind his ears.
She arched her back, rocking against him, and he'd forgot how very bad an idea this was in the wash of heat. She slid off his lap, and he followed her up the stairs without another word of protest.
They stopped in front of Jo's room. Her door was open partway, showing she'd fallen asleep with the beside light still on, a PADD still clutched in her fingers. Jocelyn took it and placed it on the side table while McCoy clicked off the light. He pressed a kiss to his daughter's forehead, thanking God for the millionth time that day that he was alive to do so.
Jocelyn closed Jo's door with barely a sound, but the click of the latch registered as one last line he was crossing.
He made whispered noises about sleeping in the guestroom, but Jocelyn only rolled her eyes. "Don't be an idiot," she snapped as she dragged him into the bedroom, and McCoy bit back a smile because only Josie.
They made love slowly, reacquainting themselves with each other's bodies. The swells of her breasts and the curves of her hips were rounder, softer, more lush. The planes of his stomach and back were sharper, hollowed, more defined.
He was a little bit rougher with her than he used to be. She was that bit more vocal about what she needed, how and where. They were as quiet as they could be, with Joanna sleeping on the other side of the wall. Afterwards, McCoy rolled away from her, staring up at the ceiling.
"Better than I remembered. And I remember it being really good."
Jocelyn laughed, and rolled over onto her stomach, cheek pillowed on her outstretched arm. "This was never our problem, remember? It was everything else."
He stroked her cheek with the back of his hand. "Yeah."
Everything they did, they did big. Screaming fights, insanely good sex, all of it loud enough to raise the dead. But the little day-to-day that made up a real marriage—that had been beyond them.
They'd tried for Joanna's sake, and that had made it worse when it had all fallen apart. Because it hadn't just been a marriage that had failed. It had been a family. And that was as much on him as it had been her.
"For what it's worth, I'm sorry."
She swallowed, eyes going bright again in the dim light of the moon through the open window. "It's worth a lot, hearing you say it. I'm not gonna lie about that. I never thought you would."
"You said it yourself—a lot has changed, these last few years. I stopped hating you for the way it went down, and I stopped hating myself. Well, mostly." He chuckled. "So now what?"
"Now you get some sleep." She poked him in the side with a stiff finger. "And if you snore, you move to the guestroom."
"Shut up. And then tomorrow before Annie goes off to school, I make pancakes."
"Burn pancakes, you mean."
"You're still a sonofabitch, sometimes, Len."
"So we sit down to breakfast like a family?"
"We may not be husband and wife anymore, but we're still a family. She's the best thing we ever made, you know. She's the best thing I've ever—"
"I know." He pressed a sleepy kiss to Jocelyn's forehead. "She's a good kid, even with us as parents. You did good, kid."
His eyes drift shut before he can hear her answer, and he sleeps—really sleeps—for the first time in a week.