Fandom: Star Trek AOS
Disclaimer: Do not own so do not sue.
Summary: Strange little one-shot about McCoy, up to Academy days.
It starts with the steady ticking of the antique grandfather clock in his childhood home. Little toddler Lenny is on his stomach pushing a (palm-sized) toy truck from the rug to the glossy wooden floor and back again. It’s then that his brain subconsciously picks up the tick-tick-tick and just as easily his leg begins to pantomime the intervals through the air like a metronome.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
He stops only when big hands lift up his body from the floor with “Lunchtime, little man” and the slow sound becomes irrelevant, scattered among the firing neurons of his brain, as long fingers begin tickling his sides.
When Len is five years old, he gets his first watch—a plastic piece of blue and red; it’s from the big supermarket his Momma carries him to every Thursday. He gets a watch but it makes no sound. Little numbers flash monotonously on a tiny screen, and that’s just no fun. It is lost three days later somewhere in the wide wilderness of Georgia (that is, in a big backyard) between scratchy bushes—which Len pretends is his new house—and that innocuous old stump favored by squirrels.
By the time Leonard is in his early teens, he has his deceased granddaddy’s pocket-watch (after much wheedling) on a short chain that stays with him all day in one pocket or another. Occasionally, when he’s nervous—there’s a pretty dark-eyed girl in his reading class—or terribly bored, he pulls out the pocket-watch, doesn’t bother flipping open the lid, and holds the back of it up to his ear, listening to the quiet ticking of its gears.
People ask, “What are you doing, son?”
He replies, “Countin’ time.”
It becomes Leonard McCoy’s best friend, that dull gold pocket-watch. It lets him know how much longer he can sleep on a Saturday morning; it is the harsh reminder that school days are very long, indeed, and slow to end. The watch tells him that he’ll be late to pick up his first girlfriend for the movies if he doesn’t stop agonizing over a button-down shirt (with/without a tie, Len?) or if his mother doesn’t stop smoothing down his hair, her eyes teary and proud.
Then the unthinkable happens.
It’s lost, destroyed—any and all manner of things. Not the kind of slowing-down that requires a day or so at the local repair shop; not the kind where he accidentally drops it or leaves it in a pants’ pocket in the dirty laundry basket (Mother makes a habit of checking; there were some close calls).
No, it happens in a bad kind of way—like the final nail in the coffin of a terrible series of events.
Leonard takes out his father’s car on a late night when the moon is visible and the roads seem clear. He and the car end up overturned on an old country lane. (Where the Hell did that other speeding truck come from? Where did it vanish to?) He comes to consciousness with pain everywhere, and his first blurred sight is a moonlit tire wobbling in the air. Then the boy/not-quite-man realizes where he is, what’s happened (with a pounding heart). His upper body is lying where a window should be, legs tangled in straps and his back aching. There is a night sky full of stars looming overhead of him and the exposed undercarriage of the car; the engine hisses and spits madly. His ears begin to ring with the aftershocks of screeching brakes, crunching metal and that scream that never made it past his throat.
He cannot think, then, only shiver on the ground—shock building—and an unheard sob heavy in him like the blood in his mouth. There is loud buzzing when all should be silent. Not long after, though it seems like forever, the rattling, rapid-fire zinging in his ears quiets to the new sound of other engines, people and comforting words.
Leonard spends much time in the hospital, kissed by family, hands held by friends. He learns for the first time how a bone-regenerator works, is fascinated through his half-daze by the toss of medical jargon over his head between nurses and doctors. Watches his father—his doctor of a father—work with diligence and no small amount of love in his caring, until Leonard is released home. It’s then that he realizes two things: he might want to be a doctor someday, to be the kind of person that can piece together what’s broken; and his granddad’s watch is gone.
That ancient, well-loved pocket-watch, which he’d placed on the dashboard to keep an eye out for the impending curfew, is lost. Maybe it ended up inside the twisted hulk of metal sent away for scrap and parts; maybe it was tossed clear (almost like Leonard) into the weeds. Len never goes back to that place to look (cannot); he thinks long about his loss—and of what he didn’t lose—and lets it go. He does not look for a replacement.
Leonard grows up, his dreams taking root. On the heels of fresh adulthood comes the long years of hardcore medical education and, surprisingly, a whirlwind romance with a beautiful woman named Jocelyn. She’s not old-school like Leonard is (at heart), loves only the things which are the latest models and most expensive brands. Joce is always late to arrive (fashionable, she calls it) and plans only one hour of her life in advance at a time. In some ways, her personality balances Leonard’s more methodical one. In other ways, they do not quite fit, though they learn to adjust.
The day that they move in together, she wrinkles her nose at the old clock by his bedside, says “I can’t stand that noise,” and drops it into the trash bin. Leonard makes do with the digital replacement that wails the most atrocious alarm in pre-dawn hours, and Leonard gets used to waking up to the sound of it rather than slowly on his own (or to a quiet tick-tock-tick-tock).
For those span of years, he only catches the faint ticking of the city hall’s historical clock tower in a square two blocks from his medical university. When Len and Jocelyn go back to his home for family visits, he steps in that house, his ears noting the steady beat of the grandfather clock (still works, never stopped) and feels at ease. Jocelyn complains at night, in his old bedroom, that she cannot sleep for the awful sound it makes, amplified in the wooden house like a note inside a musical instrument. Leonard smiles to himself, sometimes, but is wise enough to let her vent without commentary.
Joanna’s born three years into their marriage and it’s the best thing that has ever happened to Leonard McCoy. He watches in amazement as she grows from tiny to less tiny; gains cute blond tuffs of hair and a personality that he thinks is adorable (until the tantrums start). When they visit Joanna’s grandparents, he finds her more often than not in the same den he frequented as a child. Len will pick her up, cradling her, and together they stand still for a mere moment to listen to the tick-tick count out the minutes of their lives. When Joanna is old enough to shop a little on her own—still under supervision of a nearby parent—one day she pulls her father over to a display counter in Jocelyn’s favorite clothing store and excitedly points out a pair of watches. Leonard only stares at them, a man’s watch and a woman’s watch, plainly decorated and ticking quietly to the Human ear; it’s easy enough (too easy) to decide that she’s not too young for one and buys both watches. Jocelyn just shakes her head when Joanna wants her Mama to admire the new accessory. So Leonard starts wearing a watch again (the proper kind) and whenever he glances at it, no matter the place, he thinks of his little girl and how lucky he is to share Time with her.
Those years are good but they do not last. Maybe there was a countdown that Len should have been paying attention to, but he had gone so long without measuring the moments of his life, before the new watch (him and his sweet Joanna), that he forgot how to listen for it.
When the divorce is final, all Leonard has is his bones, a bottle of bourbon and the wristwatch that reminds him of a daughter much too far away. Then life turns for the unexpected, he enlists in the ‘Fleet and meets a foolish kid named James Tiberius Kirk. That blasted idiot declares himself as Leonard’s roommate (officially too, in the system, somehow) and the days are a mesh of study, regulations to follow (breaking ’em too) and listening to Jim natter on about the rockin’ parties, the better babes, so on and so forth. It’s education all over again and time moving forward with him unable to say Stop!
Jim laughs at McCoy’s quirks, just as Len bitches about Kirk’s lack of civilized living. But Jim never questions why Len keeps a ratty old watch (the strap coming undone) close by or on his person, only smiles with soft blue (understanding?) eyes when Leonard fumbles for it in the morning after a long night of numbing the world with a liquor bottle. In truth, no matter how tired or drunk Leonard is, he always has the presence of mind to take off that watch and place it in the same spot before he falls asleep. It’s the final dance in his morning routine, strapping it back into place on his left wrist. Len may forget his satchel of PADDs on occasion, forgets why he needs to get up (to live) until Jim prods him, but never the watch. He needs to know where it is, that she’s with him in this small way even when all else is gone.
One time, as Len obligingly dragged that sorry-ass, blond-haired punk back to their room after a late-night brawl on the seedier side of San Fran, Jim gurgled a “thank you” and rather sloppily tried to kiss McCoy’s hand; Jim missed by a mile and nailed the wristwatch instead, which Leonard had to spend the next thirty minutes or so disinfecting along with the cuts on Kirk’s knuckles. So the watch gets older, more meaningful to Leonard after every missed moment of Joanna’s life, and unfortunately christened by Jim’s spit. Some days, when the studying is too much or his shift at the hospital too long, he’ll put his head down as if napping. But Leonard positions his ear against the cold glass of the watch and listens to it. (Time goes on, never affected, not a moment unmarked.)
Once Jim called him out on this behavior. “What’re you doing, Bones?”
“Countin’ the minutes away, kid,” he mumbled in return.
Because it won’t stop, he never replied. Jim let him alone, for a little while.
Inevitably, the watch burns out but Leonard is not the first one to notice. It’s Jim—always Jim, of course—who’s rather more vigilant on all things Bones than Leonard would ever admit. There is a day (the same, like any other) when Jim says “Hey, you need to get a new watch, Bones. It’s been stuck on one-thirty since yesterday.” Leonard stops scowling at the mush on his tray and blinks at the watch, as if seeing it for the first time. He shrugs and switches the subject to why Jim ought to eat his peas.
After two weeks of wearing it (non-functional)—and possibly being a little grumpier, Jim informs him—Leonard wakes up from a quick afternoon nap, gropes for the watch and winds up staring at a trail of ribbons in his hand. The watch is the same (old, worn and sad) but for its bright packaging and…
Len sits up and listens.
…the sound of tick-tick-tick.
He tries to thank Jim later but the kid just smiles, winks and says “No problem, Bones.”
They never do discuss why the watch is so important to Leonard McCoy; they never need to.
The end happens quickly. Leonard is dressed appropriately for Jim’s hearing, minus the watch per regulations, though it makes him rub at his wrist in loss. Then all Hell breaks loose, he and Jim both end up facing down a maniac (and subsequent disaster) and Jim’s in charge of an entire starship while Leonard is elbow-deep in dying cadets and internally compromised captains. He completely loses his sense of time in space, and without that comfort on his wrist feels that he cannot regain his balance. It’s as if the starship hurtles through a void, tossing natural laws aside, and Leonard cannot stop his forward momentum. (Never again.) There is only death, dying and grief-shocked people within an arm’s reach at all times. He fervently wishes for home, even for that meager little dorm room bed, and curses in lieu of actual wishing.
When they finally make it back to Earth—physically in one piece but emotionally devastated—Leonard manages to drag himself and that swaying imbecile (thank God, he’s alive) Kirk back to the familiar old room of theirs where they both collapse. When Len comes to some hours later (it’s dark, always dark now, it seems), he reaches for his watch and holds it up in trembling hands. (Everything is exhausted; everything aches.)
And he knows, quite suddenly, that he still has time on his side.
Years of fascination, then apathy and bitterness; all of it blown to fragments like Commander Spock’s home planet. A mere heartbeat or two and just gone, coalesced from a nameless thing to something more.
The subtle ticking that has followed Leonard most of his life, that he has come to appreciate (later despair of, into a bottle), is more than just the monotonous marking of seconds. When he listens, it is the sound of being alive. It is inescapable as long as he continues to breathe, think and feel.
Leonard quietly rises in the dark. Jim is still out, infused with enough pain medication and sedatives to ensure that the fallout of Nero’s attack is postponed just a moment longer. They can gather strength into their weary bodies now, when possible, and prepare. (Time is moving forward but tomorrow has not yet come.)
He takes a random PADD (turns out to be Jim’s) into the hallway and punches in a number he’s only used a few times since the separation. Jocelyn picks up immediately, says with a face pale and lined, “She’s been waiting.”
When Joanna comes on screen, crying (which makes Leonard’s eyes fill too), she has in her hands a scratch-faced (well-used) and broken watch, the mate to his own. He tells her, “Jo, darlin’, I’m a’right. Everything’s gonna be alright.” She believes him.
He believes, too.