Notes: Five times McCoy could see the benefits in having a cat, five times he regretted letting Jim keep the little bastard, and one time that he actually liked the damn thing.
Disclaimer: I do not own Star Trek 2009, and I make no profit from this story.
McCoy wasn't an idiot. He knew why his marriage had failed. Oh, yes, there was the obvious cause - namely, Jocelyn's bit on the side (now ironically an ex bit on the side, much like her now ex-husband) - but then there was why she'd gone after Andrew Martinez even when she was married.
Doctors are not wise people to get into relationships with.
The long hours, the stress, the unpredictable hours, the permanent case of the doctor having half-a-mind (if not more) or whatever was going on in the hospital, the chance of them being called to another hospital to assist with a particular patient...
Jocelyn had gotten miserable without him. She had, after all, married him to be with him.
McCoy had been wary of repeating the process with Jim. Oh, sure, Jim claimed independence and kept himself busier than Jocelyn ever had - but Jim was every bit as sociable as she was, and McCoy could see it happening. Maybe not an affair, but Jim getting fed up with being lonely and left behind? Yeah, he could see that.
Then there were days like today: Jim had come down with a bad cold, and while he wasn't really all that ill, Jim usually reacted badly to being ill at all. He'd whine and whinge and moan and generally demand attention and affection in triplicate.
Usually, no problem. Copious amounts of mucus aside, that was hardly a strain on McCoy's life. No, it was the fact that he'd been called out, after a fourteen-hour shift, to perform an emergency surgery on a ten-year-old that had been in a car accident.
What kind of doctor would say no to that?
He'd gotten the kid through it, and come home expecting a dark house, a sleeping partner and (as a throwback to his marriage) frosty silences in the morning.
Instead, he found Jim sitting up in bed, watching some film on the television, and ignoring it in favour of rolling a plastic ball, complete with bell, across the bedspread for the cat to hunt.
And when Jim looked up at him, standing in the doorway, and smiled, McCoy felt something crack in the middle of his chest.
"Hey," Jim said thickly around his thoroughly blocked nose. "How did it go?"
McCoy said nothing, crossing to sink down onto the bed and wrap his arms around Jim, squeezing tightly.
"Hey," Jim said, startled, and brought his hands up to return the hug. "You okay?"
"Yeah," McCoy said gruffly. "Just...thought you'd be asleep by now, and..."
Jim snorted. "Give me some credit. I don't mind you working long hours. I knew you would."
"Yeah, well, so did Joss."
"Joss is an idiot," Jim said firmly, pulling back to give McCoy one of those soft smiles. How a man who would kick up a screaming argument about his goddamn diet could be so understanding when it came to McCoy's job was...well, it just didn't make sense. "I get to have a boyfriend who does everything he can to save lives. Why in the hell wouldn't I be proud of that?"
"How about because I'm never damn well here?" McCoy groused, glowering at the cat (blissfully ignoring the pair of them) as if he could blame Spock.
Jim shrugged, and reached to retrieve the ball and throw it across the room. (Spock immediately decided that it was far more interesting than them, and dived off the bed after it.) "Meh. I have Spock to keep me company."
Watching the cat hunt the ball across the carpet, McCoy wondered if that wouldn't make all the difference - or whether it simply wouldn't be enough.
If one had to have a pet, McCoy supposed, then a cat was the best kind of pet.
For all that Jim would fuss over the animal, and insist on just about eighteen different varieties of cat food, and would always go looking for new cat toys (no matter how studiously Spock ignored ninety-five percent of them), Spock was really an incredibly low-maintenance animal.
In his average day, McCoy would see the cat for all of fifteen minutes before work (and only then if he had the early shift), and then wouldn't see him again until nine o'clock that evening, when he would put in an appearance on Jim's lap. And when he did that, of course, McCoy was required to do absolutely nothing.
Even when one counted Jim's contributions - brushing the cat, playing with it, cleaning out the litter tray and replenishing the food dishes - there was really very little to be done. If McCoy had a series of shifts on the A&E wards, he could go up to a week without seeing the cat at all.
So, really, there was a plus side. If Jim had to have a pet (and he had made it very clear from the beginning of their relationship that the cat wasn't going anywhere) then to have one so well-suited to being ignored was just about perfect.
There was another benefit in terms of the self-sufficiency of cats: when they had to go away, the cat-sitter cost less than a dog-sitter would have done, and there were plenty of them around.
The fact was that McCoy's neighbourhood was crawling with cats. His elderly neighbour on the left (some woman from the Far East with a bizarre name and an unbelievable, triple-figure age) had four cats of her own (with names that made 'Spock' sound downright sensible). His neighbour on the right, a young man around Jim's age called Kevin, had a fluffy ginger monstrosity that was probably the ugliest cat in the universe. The woman across the road with the begonias in the garden, Miss Kalomi, had a couple of kittens that liked to sunbathe on the hood of McCoy's car. And this was all ignoring the elderly widower, Mr. Barnett, from up the road, who had at least seven or eight cats crawling all over his place.
In short: there was a list of people that McCoy could call on to look after their cat (as much as one ever did have to look after Spock) without so much as leaving the street.
Which, as Jim would point-blank have refused to go on that weekend trip to Dublin if Kevin hadn't offered to feed and brush the cat in their absence, was definitely in McCoy's favour.
So essentially, it could have been worse.
"I take back everything I ever said about Spock," McCoy said, striding into the kitchen in a shockingly good mood - particularly as he'd been to dinner with his ex-wife over juggling Joanna in the afternoons once she started school. (Needless to say, Jocelyn had preferred calling on expensive babysitters rather than Joanna's father.)
"Er, what? Why?" Jim asked, bemused.
"He got cat hair all over my suit," McCoy said, tossing said suit jacket onto the back of one of the kitchen chairs and leaning in for a quick kiss. "And I mean all over it. You'd think I worked at a cat shelter."
"Um. And that's good...why?" Jim asked, staring. McCoy usually went absolutely beserk if Spock got into the wardrobe. He'd gone mad the last time he'd found his suit with even a hint of cat hair, and had threatened to shave Spock completely bald and make sure he stayed that way.
"Where do you think Joanna's got her allergies from?" McCoy asked cheerfully. "Jocelyn's almost as bad. Kept sneezin' and coughin' all the way through dinner. Sounded like she had tuberculosis."
Jim snickered at the image of McCoy's chilly, composed, frozen ice-queen of an ex-wife doing something so embarrassingly human as to sneeze.
"I should have gotten a cat years ago," McCoy mused, still grinning. "She was so annoyed about it, she agreed to split the afternoons fairly with me. I get Jo Mondays, Wednesdays and the Fridays that I'll have her for the weekend."
"Seriously? Wow," Jim whistled.
"Uh-huh," McCoy said, and grinned. "So I take back everything I ever said about Spock. The cat does have his uses."
They had caught Bones' eye the moment he stepped inside the door. It wasn't really that they were new, or even that they weren't in the closet where all the shoes belonged, and it wasn't that Spock was destroying them, because he wasn't. It was much more simple than that.
They were a neon orange pair of sneakers.
Even Bones, the man who had been persistently bumped to the couch for the entirety of his marriage for the persistent failure to notice Jocelyn's new haircuts (or outfits, or handbags, or nail polish colours) was going to notice a pair of neon orange sneakers in the middle of his hallway.
"Jim!" he yelled. "What the hell are these?"
"Huh?" Jim appeared in the kitchen doorway, blinked down at the shoes, and grinned. "Er, yeah. They arrived this morning, from Sam. Uh, apparently they're all the rage in Melbourne."
Bones couldn't imagine that even the Australians would have a sense of fashion that was that offensive.
"Hey, it's the thought that counts," Jim shrugged. "At least he's trying to be nice now."
Sam, Jim's older brother, was a more-or-less permanent absence in Jim's life, ever since he'd up and left when he was sixteen. Bones was surprised he'd known where to send them - or maybe he'd had to ask. But even in the admittedly more positive light of Sam trying to mend whatever fragile relationship was left between the brothers...this was too much.
Bones could accept a highly-strung cat, and its even more highly-strung owner, but neon orange sneakers in the middle of his hallway? That might be going too far.
"They're kinda cool," Jim shrugged, and grinned when Spock came padding down the stairs. "Hey, buddy. Yep, six o'clock, bang on time."
Spock meowed, rubbing around Jim's ankles and thoroughly ignoring Bones. He did, to Bones' intense amusement, give the sneakers a wide berth, and made no attempt to investigate them. Which was weird - Spock investigated absolutely everything that came into the house, no matter how dull or uneventful it was. But the sneakers were apparently, even for the cat, a step too far.
"See, he agrees with me. They're...not right."
Jim snorted. "He's a cat, Bones. He doesn't care what I wear on my feet."
"Sure," Bones drawled. "Unlike those drainpipe jeans of yours that he put an end to."
"Shut up," Jim sniffed, picking the cat up and hugging him, glaring over the top of the furry - and uninterested - head at Bones. "Spock likes them too, don't you?"
Spock meowed and attempted to climb over Jim's shoulder and into the kitchen.
"Fine, Jesus. Can't delay a meal for five minutes, can you?" Jim grumbled, and shot a look over his shoulder at Bones. "Touch those sneakers and die, doctor-man."
In the end, it transpired that Bones didn't have to, when they came downstairs the next morning to find the neon orange pile of foam, rubber and tattered shoelace waiting for them in the middle of the floor - and Spock, curled on the bottom stair, washing his paws.
"Jim, admit it," Bones drawled when Jim's face did an odd, spastic kind of twitch. "Sometimes, that cat's got more sense than you."
And sometimes, Bones had to admit - the cat had its sense as well as its uses.
Jim appeared at the top of the stairs, ruffled and sleep-warm and so ridiculously hot in just his pyjama pants that McCoy struggled - for just a second - to hold onto his anger. Then the cat shot up the stairs to wind around Jim's ankles, and the fury rose again.
"Wha'?" Jim mumbled, bending to ruffle Spock's fur sleepily.
"What is that?"
Jim came halfway down the stairs to squint at the patch of carpet between McCoy's feet, then grimaced. "Well, it's a bit dead."
"Yes. Because your cat bit its goddamn head off."
'It' was the back half of a mouse: tail, two legs, and some fur. It had been quite cleanly split in half, with a tiny streak of entrails and what looked like a kidney tastefully decorating the carpet.
"Well. Um. He's a cat! He's bound to hunt!"
"I don't give a shit if he's hunting, Jim. Hunting is good - keeps the vermin down. What I am objecting to is the dead animal in my hall!"
"He's just trying to contribute to the family larder!"
"He's what?" McCoy's voice rose alarmingly.
"Yeah! I read about it," Jim said enthusiastically. "When cats bring presents! In the toms, it's trying to contribute to the family food supply, and in the females, it's to teach other members of the family to hunt. So they leave it kind of alive. So...yeah. Be glad Spock's not a girl!"
McCoy pinched the bridge of his nose and exhaled heavily. "Clean. It. Up."
"And I swear to God, Jim, if I have to find one more dead mouse at the ass-crack of dawn in my house, I'm going to skin that cat. Alive."
If anything, the next incident was worse.
Largely because he didn't even notice it until he was heel-down in it - and it was cold and hairy and slimy and it squished under his foot.
Being a doctor immunised you to a lot of pretty disgusting things, but treading in a hairball was not one of them, and McCoy quelled the urge to vomit as he worked out - without looking down - exactly what had just happened.
"Jim," he called, very calmly.
"Huh?" the rattling in the kitchen stopped, and Jim emerged. He took one look at McCoy's bare foot, and paled. "Um. Oh."
"I'll, er, get the, um, cleaning products and you, er, go shower, 'kay?"
"Yes," McCoy said, very calmly. "And then, I will find my shaver."
"Why?" Jim asked suspiciously.
"Because I'm going to shave that cat bald."
Then there was the fact that the cat, whatever Jim said to the contrary, was cock-blocking them.
Spock paid absolutely no attention to McCoy in the normal course of things, but the minute he tried getting anywhere with Jim, the cat would be watching.
It didn't matter if Spock wasn't even in the room to begin with: he would eventually show up and watch, with that unblinking, fucking judgemental cat stare. It was like having someone scoring you on your goddamn performance, and looking supremely unimpressed throughout the entire show!
Not to mention that it was downright creepy.
Jim laughed off his concerns - "he's a cat, Bones!" - at first, and grew irritated when McCoy persisted in complaining about it. They tried shutting the cat out of the bedroom, but he destroyed the paintwork on the bottom half of the drawer, and plaintive meowing and scratching proved to be impossible to resist for Jim, and gave him massive guilt-trips. Which, as they both more or less passed out after sex, meant the door couldn't be shut properly.
So the damn thing would watch.
It would just sit there, unmoving, unblinking, and...watch.
And then, to top it all off, once they were done (on the rare occasion McCoy would agree to just go ahead with it despite the cat) he would fuck off. The thing was a voyeur!
Needless to say, Jim laughed that off, too.
All McCoy knew was that if he didn't start getting some without the cat in the room, it was going to get locked in the goddamn cellar.
For the first three weeks, McCoy was sleep-deprived, stressed and tetchy.
It was nothing to do with Jim. In fact, having Jim around meant he hadn't blown his gasket and killed the damn animal by the three-week mark. No, it was Jim's cat.
McCoy had never had a pet, even as a child. His father thought them unclean, and while most of his aunts, grandparents, cousins and so on had cats or dogs or even horses, he didn't. And he hadn't cared - he wasn't an animal lover at the best of times.
But the consequence was this: Jim was used to the sounds a cat made in a house at night, and blissfully slept through every thump, every creak, every whisper. He slept through the sounds of padding up and down the stairs, or the rustle of the blinds at the front windows, or the squeak of the kitchen door. He didn't stir if something crashed from falling off the counter, and only mumbled incoherently and resettled if the bedroom door itself open and Spock jumped up onto the windowsill to observe the dark garden.
McCoy was not so lucky.
It took a week before he stopped jumping out of bed and getting the bat in the bottom of the wardrobe every time something moved in the house. It took three weeks before he wasn't jerking awake at every sound.
But he never, ever, got used to the damned thing coming into the bedroom at night.
And worst of all: Spock knew it.
Spock and McCoy...did not get along.
This was not, ordinarily, a bad thing. They tended to ignore each other, for the most part. But sometimes, necessities meant that they had to pay attention to each other - and McCoy usually lost the altercation.
Picking Spock up was always hit and miss. Sometimes, he didn't seem to care; other times, McCoy had to don gardening gloves before he could even give it a shot. And then Jim broke his hand at work and McCoy had to take over brushing the cat - which tried to, not gently, remove both of his hands. At the elbow. And then there was the time that he came home late from work, and fell over a black cat in a black room, and got both legs attacked to add to the pain of his twisted ankle. (And Jim dared to laugh.)
Frankly, McCoy was collecting scars.
To the point where one of his regular patients, an elderly woman with a heart murmur called Aggie, decided to inform him that her five-year-old grandson recognised McCoy via the permanent plasters on his hands, rather than his name, or his accent, or his looks, or even the fact that he was the only doctor in the hospital that would happily wear a t-shirt instead of a buttoned shirt and a boring tie.
No, the plasters.
"He scratches me too," Jim had pointed out, when McCoy complained. "He was feral."
"He is feral."
"He is. You're just as feral; that's why he doesn't go for you as much."
"Yeah, but you like me feral," Jim grinned.
McCoy snorted. "Uh-huh. Doesn't meant the same goes for the cat. Seriously, Jim. I mean it. Vets can declaw the little buggers these days."
It had been a bad day.
No, it had been a...godawful day.
For a start, Jim had gone to an airshow with a couple of friends for the weekend, one of whom was an ex-boyfriend of Jim's. And McCoy didn't want to be that kind of partner, but that just didn't sit well with him. Even if they hadn't lasted three months, and it had been over two and a half years ago, and the ex - some weird name like Lulu, God knows - had someone new. It didn't make sense, and McCoy knew he was being stupid about it, but he didn't like it.
Thanks a fucking lot, Jocelyn.
So he'd woken up alone and already in a pretty bad mood. Then there had been a bunch of little things - nearly tripped over Spock on the stairs, couldn't find his car keys, had to dispose of another dead mouse in the hall, and then run late enough to hit the rush-hour traffic. Just little things, but enough to make him irritable.
He'd had to go straight into surgery as well, and had spent most of the morning there trying to stop some teenager - fifteen-year-olds should not have heart failure, damnit! - from crashing on the table. He had succeeded, but barely, and then had had to go straight into a second surgery, from which the patient went to the morgue.
And damn it, the patient was sixty-eight and had had eight heart surgeries in the past, and they all knew the outlook hadn't been good, but...but...
But a man had died under his hands. A man with a wife, and a couple of kids, and this little granddaughter that was just like Jo. McCoy had spoken to him not three days earlier about the procedure, and the guy had shown him pictures.
"That's my Annie," he'd said, proud as punch, just the way McCoy knew he sounded when talking about his little girl, and the way he would sound if he had grandkids to brag about. "She's special, my Annie. She's going to be Mary in the Christmas play. She's going to be a star one day."
And maybe she would, but her grandfather wouldn't be there to see it. And it hadn't been McCoy's fault, but that didn't make it any damn easier.
And so he hit mid-afternoon with a headache and the weight of a dead man hanging off his soul, and a widow to call and console and apologise to, and the knowledge that a little girl was going to be Mary in a Christmas play in two months and her granddaddy wouldn't be there to see her.
From there, things hadn't gotten any better. Another round of small things had heightened things - broken coffee machine in the staffroom, an idiotic trainee nurse under his feet, the sudden rush of activity in A&E after a fire broke out in an apartment block downtown...
He'd been an hour away from the end of his shift when his pager had gone off, and he'd been called back into the operating theatres - thankfully to assist, rather than wholly perform - when the kid from the morning had suffered further complications.
And then he had died too.
A fifteen-year-old kid had died, from heart disease he should never have had, and McCoy had watched a life get snuffed out before it even really began. Fifteen years old. Fifteen. The kid probably hadn't had a serious girlfriend yet. He'd never go to college, or get a shitty job, or get fired and get a better job, or figure out what love was, or have his own kids.
And his parents would have to bury their fifteen-year-old son and never know what he would have looked like at twenty.
McCoy got home, drained and shaking and tired down to the core of his soul, never mind his bones, to a dark house and an empty bed. He tried to call, but he didn't know the time where Jim was, and in any case, Jim's phone was switched off. He didn't even have a recorded message for McCoy to listen to.
It was rare that the job got to him so bad that he wanted to break down and scream, throw things, rage and cry - God, cry, like he could drown himself if he tried hard enough - but after today, after such a goddamn day of loss and loneliness and sheer impotence in the face of death...
The bed dipped momentarily, and suddenly Jim's cat was in his lap.
Spock had never climbed willingly into McCoy's lap, but suddenly he was there, settling on McCoy's thighs like he belonged and rubbing his head against the back of the doctor's fingers, purring lightly.
And McCoy had never really voluntarily held the cat - not really - but he found himself hugging it close and burying his face in the warm, warm fur and feeling the rumble of a deep purr all around him, and...
God, it was soothing. Spock didn't care that he wasn't good enough to save those people. Spock didn't care if he wasn't putting on a brave face, and he didn't care if McCoy didn't want to talk about it. He just sat and purred, the warmth soaking into McCoy's skin from both the physical heat of the cat in his arms, and the soul-soothing warmth of a trusting purr, from a cat that didn't even like him, but was, it seemed, happy to be held and even cried on, just a little.
Maybe there was something to the damn cat after all.