Notes: Where'd everybody go?

Arc Two, Part Five

Some supposedly morale-boosting tannoy was ironically bleating some song about the wonders of New York as Spock plucked his bag from the conveyer and turned seamlessly towards the exit. Thanks to Dr. Noel's maternity leave, April had sent him to the annual conference in her stead, and Spock was in two minds about it. Drug manufacturing was not only not his specialism, but actively bored him, and so he was not looking forward to a week of talks on a supremely dull subject. But on the other hand, in New York was...

He passed into the arrivals area, and her smile lit up the lobby.

She hadn't changed much, to look at; she swept across the gleaming tiles with all the fluid grace of a dancer, flowing rather than walking, and she smelled of lemon shower gel and the faint scent of the rose that had always adorned her dorm room at college. One of her earrings, a cool hard thing, pressed into his cheek when she reached to embrace him, her hands still that odd dichotomy of smooth and elegant, yet firm and unyielding when she held on. And he could feel her smile where their faces touched, and felt the sharp pain of having missed her terribly.

"I'm surprised your Leonard let you get away for a whole week," she teased when she released him.

"He may not be aware of our former status."

She smiled and shook her head, tucking her arm through his as they passed into the encroaching night. She had brought her beaten-up old car to collect him; she had had the same car in college, although it had been in a far better condition, and it took three attempts to get the passenger door to close.

"You need to replace this."

"I can't replace Jenny," she sniffed. "This car's seen me through everything. Enough small talk. I want to hear all about this Len of yours."

"You have heard..."

"No," she interrupted firmly. "I've heard over the phone and in your emails, where you can keep your secrets. I've made some chilli, and I'm going to lock you in my apartment and force all the juicy details out of you."

"Such as?" she ran a red light, and Spock winced.

"Everything," she said offhandedly. "I have to make sure you've made the right decision."

"Why does everyone seem to think I am incapable?" he asked peevishly, and Nyota tutted.

"Because your taste in women might be second to none," she preened briefly, "but your taste in men is terrible."

"Not in this instance."

"I'll be the judge of that," she said, running another light. Spock sifted through his memory to see if he could recall who'd taught Nyota to drive. "A girl always knows best when it comes to these things, Spock."

"I seem to recall a girlfriend who firmly believed she knew best."

"Because I always do," she shrugged. "One day you'll learn, Spock. I always know best."

Perhaps, but she was still speeding.

The party was winding down by the time McCoy pulled up outside the community centre. Harried mothers were collecting their chocolate-covered offspring, and McCoy's former brother-in-law gave him a tired grunt around a cigarette and said, "I'm never having kids, man."

The world would thank him for it, McCoy thought, and slithered his way past a thirty-something mother being thoroughly taken in hand by her screaming six-year-old son. The remnants of the party looked like a bomb had exploded in the pink section of a major stationary company, and McCoy hadn't seen so many party hats since his first Christmas at college. He stole an abandoned slice of cake - Joss always baked Jo's birthday cake herself, and even if Joss didn't like cooking, she made a mean chocolate sponge - on his amble through the hired hall and out into the sunlit back yard, where the bouncy castle stood, its owners waiting for the last of the littlies to be shepherded off to their own homes, and his own six-year-old stood in her favourite lemon-yellow party dress that made her look like a stunted scarecrow.

"Daddy!" she shrieked, and launched off the castle like a cannonball; he lunged and caught her mid-air, swinging her around in a full circle once before letting her attach herself to his neck and squeal her delight into his ear.

"Good God, you're a lump. And huge. What's Mommy been feeding you?"

"Cake!" she clung, giggling, and locked her legs around his waist. "Gramma said you wouldn't come 'cause you're irre- irry- not respons'ble, but I told her you would 'cause you always do and you're my Daddy and it's not allowed for you not to come."

"And what's Gramma?"

"An old bat!"

"That's my girl," he grinned, tossing her quite literally onto the bouncy castle again. She squealed, bounced twice, and relaunched for a second cuddle. This time, he hefted her up onto his hip properly and said, "I found this box in my car this morning all wrapped up in paper with your name on it."

"Issit for me?"

"Well, do you know other Joannas?"


"Maybe it said Josephine, the handwriting was awful," he teased.

"No, it said Jo!"

"What? Joss? No, it can't be for Joss, it's not her birthday until October."

"It said Jo!" she hollered, and pulled his hair. "Daddy, you're being silly."

"Am I?"

"As always," Joss's voice drifted from the doorway to the hall, and he turned to her tired smile. "Thirty kids, Len. Thirty. Thank God we only had the one. I need a drink."

"Daddy brought me a present!" Jo informed her ignorant mother. It was important that everyone be told, obviously. "And he said Gramma's an old bat!"

"Well, as long as you don't call Grandma an old bat to her face again."

"She didn't," McCoy fought the grin, and lost.

"Oh, she did," Joss confirmed, and chuckled wearily. "I still haven't heard the last of that. I'll just be another fifteen minutes getting this cleared and then we'll be ready to go."

It was the same way each birthday since the divorce: Joss would handle the birthday party itself, and McCoy would arrive near the end to take the two of them out wherever they had decided to go, and they could play at being a proper family for an evening. Jo loved getting both of them to herself for a while, and McCoy relished the opportunity to feel like a proper, normal father just out for the evening with his wife and kid. The way he'd intended to be, in the beginning.

Still, getting to miss the actual nightmare of hosting a children's birthday party was good too. Jo insisted on digging out the bright purple glittery soccer ball that Aunt Jodie had sent from Portland and having a kick-about in the hall, the oddest soccer player in the world in her socks and yellow dress. The chaos was dwindling: the woman by the door still hadn't wrested control from her six-year-old, a pair of identical twins were howling at their own mother's attempts to get them to put their shoes on, and one tiny stick of a mother was struggling under the weight of her obese, obliviously asleep offspring as she tottered towards the door in her fashionable heels. And McCoy's contribution was to keep Jo happy while Joss dealt with the aftermath. He could do that.

"Why isn't Jim here?" Jo pouted when McCoy blocked her attempt at 'goal' (an upturned table). "He'd let me win!"

"He doesn't let you win, Jo, he's just awful."

She giggled, and prodded his thigh. "That's mean. Why didn't he come?"

"He had to work today, honey," McCoy retrieved the ball and passed it to her lightly. "But he's promised to come out with us next weekend and you can kick his backside back to Iowa then. What's Iowa?"

"Idiots out walking around," she recited gleefully. "Is Jim an idiot?"

"He sure is."

"Does he know?"

"Why wouldn't he know?"

"'Cause idiots are stupid, Mommy said so, so if he's stupid, he might not know he's stupid."

McCoy blinked. That was impressive logic for a six-year-old. Maybe he should think about paying more into her trust fund.

"I'm pretty sure he knows, JoJo," he said, trapping the ball and amusing himself by watching her try to free it from between his feet for five minutes. "Everyone makes sure he knows."

"It's not nice to call people stupid, Jo," Joss said, breezing her way over with Jo's sneakers and her own handbag and jacket.

"Daddy does it!"

"And Daddy's mean, as you're so fond of pointing out. You ready to go out for dinner?"

"Pizza!" she crowed gleefully, and graciously allowed her mother to work her feet into those shapeless shoes. The minute she was ready, she whirled and reached for McCoy to pick her up. McCoy privately thought Joss's old bat of a mother must have had her semi-convinced he wouldn't show up; she wasn't usually this clingy anymore. Still, he hefted her up and received a customary Eskimo kiss before she settled in pulling on his ear and trying to work out where 'the hearing bit' was. He left her to it; she'd always been a ridiculously curious kid.

"Never again," Joss swore as they stepped out to the parking lot. "I'm never doing it again."

She said it every year, but she always did it again.

"Daddy," Jo said as McCoy dumped her in the back seat. "Mommy has a date next week."

Joss flushed. She always looked like she'd caught fire when she blushed, and she didn't so much go pink as go magenta.

"It's just dinner," she said defensively, getting gracefully into the passenger seat. "Jo doesn't like him," she added under her breath as McCoy put the car in gear, and he smirked.

"I know the feeling," he said. "I don't think she's going to like Spock very much either."

"She hasn't met him yet?" Jo was thankfully preoccupied with the new picture book that Jack had given her, full of gorily-drawn pictures of human insides, and ignored her gossiping parents blissfully.

"Not yet," McCoy said. "Didn't want her getting attached to transients, wasn't that it?"

Joss went red again. "Len. I just..."

"I know," McCoy interrupted. He didn't want to start an argument on Jo's birthday.

"You're still serious, then?" Joss asked after a pause.

"Yeah. He's moving in with me at the end of the summer," McCoy confessed, glancing at the still-obsessed Jo in the rear view mirror. "I'll probably introduce them in the next couple of weekends. Hey. Joanna."

"Mommy, tell Daddy to shut up."

"Jo!" Joss scolded.

Jo scowled and said, "What?" in a manner that sounded more like a sixteen-year-old than a six-year-old.

"I was gonna ask if you wanted to go through the park to Pizza Palace, but if you're going to..."

"Park!" she squealed, abandoning her book in glee. "Park, Daddy, park! Y'gotta turn!"

"Apologise," Joss insisted.

"M'sorry." Joss could scold, but McCoy remembered her at seventeen uttering exactly the same begrudging apology to her old man when she'd said something rude again. Jo wouldn't grow out of it so long as Joss was her mother, and McCoy refused to get involved in that hopeless battle. He turned into the parking lot for the park, and winced when Jo squealed in jubilant victory.

"Where is he, then? Don't you usually spend your free weekends with him?" Joss prodded as they got out, and she released Jo from the child locked door.

"Usually, but he's in New York until next Thursday," McCoy shrugged. "Anyway, we're not joined at the hip. We go our own ways."

"Like you and I, then."

"Couples joined at the hip are creepy," McCoy grumbled, and Joss actually laughed as Jo bounded ahead of them and tried to catch a squirrel. It was like having a dog, not a daughter, and McCoy suddenly felt simultaneously very young, walking through a darkening park with a beautiful woman, and very old, that the squalling baby who woke them up at three in the morning was suddenly reading and wearing sneakers on the wrong feet and telling her carers to shut up.

Things had changed; he stuck his hands in the pockets of his jeans, and found that he didn't mind so much as he used to any more.