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Jim doesn't really think about Bones, not really. Well, it's more like he doesn't let himself, because he doesn't want to examine what leads him to just pursue the company of the crabby bastard even when said crabby bastard just wants to wallow in his own alcoholic decadence. The past year has given Jim a newfound appreciation of the effects of whiskey on his person.

Which is to say that if it's not watered down, he can't drink it.

He sighs minutely as he continues trudging towards the dorms. Their second year is worse than their first: Jim's workload has increased exponentially, and if it wasn't for Pike's challenge—no, the least he could be is honest with himself when actually thinking about this: he thought he'd give this better-than-my-dad-at-Starfleet thing a go for a few months instead of drifting South, but Starfleet itself has been surprisingly challenging: intellectually, physically... Emotionally, because of Bones.

Really, he isn't going there: now is not the time.

Command track is ruthless, and Jim is pathetically glad it's Friday. He just hopes Bones' mood is as sour as it was during this rainy December week: all he wants is to go to the shabby bar Bones unearthed on his own time when he first arrived and before Jim decided sticking to Bones just to see how annoyed he could get was the best idea since fried chicken. It's tucked in a seedy part of San Francisco and there is no way for Jim to run into any of the dickheads that have peppered his courses today. Just... Some good and solid alcohol, a grumpy barman, bad lighting, and Bones. He's too tired for anything else. He just hopes Bones is at the end of his rope as well so Jim can follow to the bar with his reputation intact. Not that Bones' eyebrow doesn't know better: it's like Bones knows Jim isn't indulging him but needs the seedy bar and the quiet just as bad, and his eyebrow is a testament to that.

God, double negatives and obfuscation. Next thing you know Jim will be turning Vulcan.

Damn doctors. Or it might just be Bones, with that eyebrow. None of the other doctor eyebrows are as potent. Might be that it's coupled with the foulest mouth Jim has ever had the pleasure of meeting on a medical practitioner.

Just the thought of Bones and their prospective evening and Jim can feel a smile tug at his lips, and he snorts in disgust. He's too tired to argue with himself, however, and fumbles on his way up the stairs to Bones' room. That bastard is in the medic dorms, which are much nicer with bigger rooms and better cleaning services. Jim sleeps on Bones' couch just as often as his own bed sees him. Come to think of it, his sheets definitely smell suspicious. Bones' couch it is tonight, then.

He's practically grinning as Bones' door slides open. "Honey, I'm home!" If Bones isn't already pissed off, he'll definitely be right now. Cue the Jim Beam! Jim is definitely a genius.

"Daddy doesn't like being called 'Honey', mister." A pair of blue eyes glares at him from beneath the worst cut fringe in history, and that's counting those crazy hairdos of the twentieth century. The eighties, Jim dimly recalls.

Fuck, it feels like he's having a heart attack.

"Daddy?" he says weakly. Something is tight and heavy in his chest, and he can't take her eyes off her, foreign and colorful in Bones' drab excuse for a living room. Jim takes in the gutted duffel on the floor with cotton t-shirts strewn all over the place, the pair of little boots discarded by the unmade cot beside the couch; she must have arrived a few hours ago and slept. Maybe he's roused her. Maybe she'd been waiting to ambush the only poor and hapless soul ready to pay her father a real and heartfelt visit. Maybe she's here to stay.

Maybe his brain is being a drama queen. His heart still wants to beat out of his chest and he's feeling cold and clammy all over, but the shock is wearing off.

She's tiny. Jim doesn't know much about kids, but this one barely reaches the middle of his thigh. Not that he can be sure as she's staring very familiar daggers into him warily and biting her bruised lip with increasing intensity. Her butchered hair makes her look like one of those demented pixies Jim recalls from Sam's books from when he had been three. He tries to clear his voice, but there's something stuck right in the middle of his throat and the only thing he can think of is that this is a little Bones, with the same glare and the same face.

Jim feels he's been punched in the gut. Again.

Theoretically, Jim knows all about Bones' little Joanna. He especially knows that she is far away somewhere in Atlanta and that Bones gets increasingly cranky the days before Thanksgiving, then he caves in and takes a shuttle. That had happened last year; Bones had taken a week off and returned bitter and sad. Mostly sad. It had shaken him out of his funk, though, and the moodiness from the weeks before had faded back to normal Bones grumpiness times a hundred because of the holiday season.

He's only ever seen a picture from when she was a few weeks old; he'd privately thought she was quite ugly, all wrinkly and red and scrunch-faced. He hasn't ever been around any babies, and his mother doesn't have any pictures of him, but he remembers stumbling upon Sam's when he'd been ten. Sam had also looked like a ripened prune wrapped up like a burrito, so he'd figured it was a common baby look. Bones had snorted when Jim had said, "Oh. She definitely looks like you, Bones."

She very much is the spitting image of him, down to the very long eyelashes he can spy framing her blue eyes. Her mouth is set in a downturn that wants to be a pout but isn't, and she's standing there, arms akimbo and eyes narrowed.

"Well, Mister?" she demands. She lisps, but it's almost unnoticeable.

Jim grapples for words and, for the first time in quite a while, can't seem to find any.

*

"Don't ask," Bones says. They're sitting at Bones' sorry excuse for a table in the dark, because Joanna's finally dozed off a few meters away. "I got this call, and... And." He sighs bitterly. "And. It turns out something's gone wrong somewhere and I have her till after tomorrow."

"But what could have—"

"I don't really give a shit, Jim," Bones says. "She's here. Here. With me."

And yeah, Jim gets it. Bones goes all rigid when he says it, when he says Joanna's name, like if he does it'll all go up in smoke and he'll discover it was a sham all along.

"God, Jim," Bones is saying, and Jim comes back and struggles a little before slinging his arm around Bones' slumped shoulders.

"Hey man, it's all good. We're not drunk and your daughter's in your living room. Could you ask or more?" Jim says, trying for lighter.

"A shot of bourbon would be nice," Bones says, taking the olive branch. "And maybe a real hairdresser. No idea why she thought cutting her own hair wouldn't have her Mama in hysterics."

Bones says 'her Mama' and there's a big door right there behind which is a long stretch of life and a long time of Bones that Jim can't even imagine. "Screw that," he says. "Aren't you glad Joey knows how piss off the higher ups just as much as you do?"

"She'll hate you if you call her that. And fuck you, kid," Bones whispers, and Jim knows there's a smile just trying to tug at the corner of Bones' lips.

"Yeah," Jim says, seemingly ignoring Bones' jibe when he really isn't. "She's a natural at it, just like her Daddy."

*

Bones' kid is from the devil.

They take her to the hairdresser on campus and have to wait half an hour for Joanna to be seated. She refuses to let go of Bones' hand and Jim just stares from the waiting area as she glowers and kicks her feet and Bones negotiates pleadingly with the unamused hairdresser waving her scissors and growth-hood-on-wheels around. There's ten minutes of that before Jim gets up and makes his way over there to try and sort it out. He's seen the hairdresser before, pretty and willing most nights at one of the campus bars, and she sometimes makes eyes at him. Maybe he can convince her to just ignore Joanna's demands and make her hair look decent again.

"But Daddy!" Jim hears as he comes within earshot.

"Darlin'," Bones says, and heat simmers in Jim's belly at hearing the endearment slip off Bones' tongue as easy and sweet as honey. "We gotta cut that hair of yours. You've chopped it off well and good."

"I hate long hair," she sulks, glaring at the hairdresser all the while. "Mama always wants me to brush it and braid it and I look like a girl!" she says with heartfelt disgust. "So I took the scissors from where she put them on the counter so I can' reach them and cut them like the picture of you I hide in my drawer under the Sunday shirt I never wear."

There's a small smile tugging at Bones' lips, and he smooths his hand over the whole of her hair before stepping away and gesturing to the girl still standing next to them with her scissors. Her face definitely says she's not paid enough for this. "Well, we're gonna make them all the same length, sweetheart," Bones says, shooting her a warning look. "That way your hair can be short, but your Mama won't give you grief over it."

Joanna looks suspiciously at Bones and that's definitely where Jim should step in, so he does. "Ah, Joanna," he says, because Bones was right, she kicked him this morning when he attempted to call her Joey. "Miss Mary here is very much the expert on making anyone look good, right?" he winks at the hairdresser, who swoons, and thank goodness for old-fashioned nametags.

"Mister Jim," the little slip of Bones says to him icily. "It's not v'ry nice to interr- interrup other people's conversations." She stutters a little but the frown marring her brow is very clear. "Miss Mary said she can make it grow back, but I dun' wanna! I want hair like my Daddy."

Mary looks at Bones, then at Jim. "But it's not very flattering," she finally says with a small voice. "Sir," she tells Bones, "she'd look so much better with just—"

"Mary," Jim interrupts with a smile. He's seen Bones' shoulder tighten and his cheek twitch, and he guesses all the flailing earlier was about that. He gets that Jo's cute, that he does. All the ladies in the waiting area had been taken with her at first until she sneezed on one woman's polished boots and rubbed her snot on another one's bag. Bones had tried scolding her, had even resorted to the look that made all his medical interns (and—only occasionally, though—a battered Jim) freeze in their tracks but it just slid over her like water. Jim doesn't need any other sign to know she's been sent to make early December as miserable as possible. And he can't even get drunk. "Please, Mary," he finally says, batting his eyelashes just for good measure.

Bones snorts and Joanna just looks at Jim, a small eyebrow raised, and Jim just can't help it. He breaks eye-swooning contact with Mary, whose bosom is now heaving, and leans close to Joanna. "I convinced her, you little brat," he whispers. "Now sit tight and stop making your dad's day difficult."

She cranes her neck up to stare at him, eyes boring into his, and it's like he's stripped and laid bare and she can see all of him, all of what he thinks, all of what he feels. It's like an icy hand over his heart, but then she turns away and agrees agreeably with a nod and a smile and closes her eyes. The hairdresser—Mary—gets to work, still grumbling a little but brushing up against Jim as much as possible. Jim doesn't really notice, not when Bones is either looking at him with something perilously close to gratitude, or gazing at Joanna with something like worship. Something more than worship.

Jim doesn't know where Bones' kid comes from. With Bones' face so open

—not towards him—

and glowing so much it hurts

—not because of him—

He's ashamed to think he can't wait for her to leave again.

*

"Are you a doctor like my Daddy, Mister Jim?"

"Just Jim, Joanna. And no, I'm not a doctor."

"What d'you do then, Jus' Jim?"

It's Twenty Questions. Jim sighs and just continues surfing Bones' holovid collection, trying to find something suitable for a four-year-old kid to watch.

"I'm not a kid," she mumbles, hair twisting in her newly shorn locks, and Jim realizes he's been muttering out loud. "I'm five! Are you a Starfleet captain?"

"Not yet. Right now, I'm a Cadet at Starfleet, just like your Daddy."

She looks disappointed, and Jim can't wait for Bones to get back from wherever he's disappeared to after Joanna had complained about the lack of holiday cheer in his poor excuse of an apartment. Bones has probably gone to the hospital because it's Saturday afternoon and that's when he's usually on shift, but Jim thinks he'd have at least been warned if he were currently baby-sitting. He doesn't actually think Bones would leave him alone with his only kid, not really, even if it seems like she drives every adult in a three mile radius up the wall.

"Mister Jim! That one! Are you listening, Mister Jim!"

"Okay okay, kiddo. Jeez," Jim says, and then, horrified, looks at the program she's picked. "Joanna, hey, I don't really think this is for you."

"Ssh, Mister Jim!" Joanna whispers excitedly. "The doctor's about to pull the skin back! There's the femoral artery in the thigh. Joel Fulton cut his when he climbed up our apple tree to lick a branch and then fell. An’ ‘mnot a kiddo."

"Uh, Joanna—"

Her eyes go impossibly wide as the bits of the autopsy are shown on the screen. It's an old case from the twenty-first century and the footage is still flat and two-dimensional but utterly grotesque nonetheless, and Jim winces as the off-voice points at poisoned organs and Joanna watches, transfixed.

Bones comes back a few minutes later. He takes in Jim's face, the screen, and Joanna's glee, and just sighs. "Darlin', really now—"

"But Daddy! There was blood! Just like when Joel licked the tree!"

"Joel Fulton?" Bones says, turning the holovid off and throwing a reproachful glance at Jim. What the fuck, Jim thinks, it's not his fault he doesn't know how to appease this little Bones demon! "What did you tell him, Jo darlin'?"

"I dared him because it was Mama's birthday and he came with his mama and she told me my dress was real pretty and stupid Joel was wearing a cowboy costume! Stupid Joel," Joanna mutters, black head shaking with emphasis. "I din' know he was gonna fall, Daddy! Well, I didn' act'lly think he could climb the tree," she mutters. "Hey Daddy, Mister Jim said his name is Jus' Jim! And he isn' a Doctor like you! You're stronger than Mister Jim, aren't you, Daddy?"

She's the devil, Jim's sure of it. Awfully cute, though.

Damn it.

*

"Mister Jim! Not here!"

"All right, all right, jeez kiddo! Where do you want them?" Jim says, not even bothering anymore.

"On this side, Mister Jim," Joanna says. "And I'm not a kiddo, you hafta listen already!"

Bones is too busy laughing in the corner to help Jim out, but Joanna puts a stop to that real quick. "Daddy! You gotta help like Mister Jim!"

"Sweetheart, I bought you the decorations you wanted and did my bit. Now it's up to you and Jim to make the tree," Bones says, eyes twinkling.

"Maybe if you had bringed—"

"Brought," her dad corrects her.

"Bringed—brought a real tree, Daddy. But you didn't," Joanna struggles with her sentence, stopping her movements and holding the cheap tinsel in her chubby hands as she concentrates to keep track. "This is your plant, Daddy. It's here from before!"

"Was here," he tells her, then makes his way to the tall weeping fig in the corner of the living room. It's too high for her to reach so she's been perched on a chair for the past half an hour, one of Jim's arms steadying her or the chair at regular intervals of thirty seconds. "Here, I'm armed." Bones grabs four colored baubles and waits for instructions.

Jim feels totally vindicated before he's being ordered around again and chastised for placing the glittery penguin pegs she'd loudly requested too close together.

It's awesomely worth it, though, just for the expression on Bones' face. If he were asked, Jim doesn't actually think he'd have words—doesn't think there are words—to adequately describe it. Unadulterated joy and adoration might come close, maybe.

No, not even.

The sun is shining and it's three degrees Celsius outside and their glass baubles throw a jumble of colors all over the walls, and Jim realizes he's smiling as much as he humanly can.

*

It's been only fourteen hours but already both Bones and Jim are exhausted. They've convinced Joanna not to throw all the wrapping paper all over the floor, but getting her to pick up her strewn-over clothes was harder, and they stopped trying to teach her how to fold them. She's busy clinging to Bones' calf as he goes through what seems to be an enormous amount of shirts and pants that have to go to the wash while Jim folds the clean ones.

"What the—" he says.

"They're dinosaur pajamas Mister Jim," Joanna says patiently. "Daddy has the same ones."

Jim just raises an eyebrow, and he doesn't know if it's the light or if Bones has really turned a little pink.

"Daddy! Fish!"

It's a non sequitur if Jim's ever heard one. But Bones says, "Sure, darlin'," and proceeds to scoop the little devil up, walking towards the bathroom. "Could you get me the PJs, Jim, please?"

Half an hour and three almost-floods later, Joanna is still in the shower, happily dancing along the slippery tiles with Bones holding her steady and sighing.

Jim's never been so glad he uses contraception, even if there's this never-leaving satisfied little smile continuously tugging at Bones' lips since Joanna's arrival.

Jim's heart won't stop thudding erratically in his chest either, and it's really getting a little painful. Maybe it's due to the pretzels Joanna insisted on buying.

It would be her fault. Damn that little imp, even if she does look like a drowned rat dancing like a loon and is making Jim smile with an idiotic expression. And he knows he looks like an idiot because the bathroom mirror hasn't fogged up, and Joanna has just poked her tongue out at him.

*

"But why can't I call him Bones? You call him Daddy," Jim argues. They're sitting at the dinner table with some cooked chicken and greens picked up at the local take-away. Bones doesn't have the necessary resources to cook, not when neither of them had planned on being sober this weekend.

Joanna frowns hard and scrunches up her nose. "Because," she says. "It's not his name, Mister Jim. And you can't call him Daddy," she adds, almost as an afterthought.

"Why not?" Jim challenges her.

"Because he's my Daddy," she says, and it's as simple as that.

Bones rolls his eyes, and Jim cannot, not for the life of him, picture calling him Leonard. Len, maybe? Lenny? Leo?

"'Bones' is good enough for me, darlin'," Bones says, and Jim's heart jumps like it thinks it's a horse with a fence in front of it. It's been doing that for the past twenty-four hours and scaring the crap out of him, but at least this time he knows why. It's because Bones has said that to Joanna, but he's looking straight at Jim. And the drawl is going straight to Jim's groin.

"If you say so, Daddy," Jo tells them, dubious and insensitive to the heavy undercurrent in the room.

"I do," Bones says, and his time his lips aren't smiling; his eyes are, and Jim feels warm. "Now Jo, stop baiting Jim. And Jim, for the love of Christ, don't enable her. Kids, eat your dinner. Or else."

Chastised, Joanna and Jim both look down at their plates, but then Jo steals a quick glance Jim's way.

"Jim isn't eating his greens," she says.

"You little tattletale." Jim can't believe it.

She just smiles at him while Bones guffaws.

That little devil.

*

"But I want Mister Jim to tell me a story too, Daddy," Joanna whimpers. It's a little pathetic, the way she snuffles into Bones' side and looks up to him through his eyelashes.

And Bones just smiles back at her and looks toward the table where he and Jim were sitting last night and where Jim is now nursing a mug of tea. Unlaced with anything good, unfortunately, and totally harmless. Damn Bones for wanting him sober anyways. He wants to bail, he does, but he just can't up and leave. Not when Bones' eyes stray to him every few minutes, as if he wants to make sure he isn't in a dream or something.

Which doesn't say much with regards to Jim's future prospects with Bones, that he doesn't usually appear in his dreams. Or maybe it's only dreams with Joanna.

Or maybe he shouldn’t fucking speculate.

"Jim?" Bones asks, his voice quiet as he bends down and hovers over Jo and just inhales, one deep breath before kissing her brow and getting up. "Sit down," he says once Jim nods his assent to him. As if Jim had any other choice.

So Jim sits on the warm spot Bones has just vacated and an even warmer weight shuffles and molds itself to his side right away.

Joanna smells of Bones.

Jim clears his throat, and he doesn't really say anything until Joanna sighs as if she were incredibly put upon. "Mister Jim," she whispers as if he were particularly trying, "tell me a story, please?"

Jim has no clue as to what's appropriate. So he makes it up. By the end of it there are angels and demons and a vintage car but Jo's already asleep when he gets to the exciting bits, and he can't really extract himself from where he is because her tiny fists have grabbed his shirt and don't want to let go. Also, Bones has fallen asleep, head first on the unyielding wooden table.

He tries to whisper but Bones is out of it, so he just dozes in the dark, easy and warm until Bones comes to free him a few hours later. They both commandeer Bones' bed till morning because the couch still has all the laundry on it.

*

Jim takes pride in realizing he's not the only one who chokes on his bit of pancake, even if he is wolfing them down as opposed to eating them like a decent and polite human being. Screw having only chicken and greens for dinner, seriously. It's a good thing Bones keeps eggs and pancake mix.

"No, darlin'," Bones says after swallowing audibly. "Jim isn't going to be your new mama."

"But he was in your bed," Joanna accuses. "And I had to push him away so I could sleep next to you, Daddy!"

And it's score one for the kid, and score zero for his embarrassing tendency to sprawl, Jim thinks wryly. He'd woken up to a kick in the shins and a burrowing mole trying to separate him from the furnace that was Bones. Jim usually can't sleep next to anyone, but they've gotten blindingly drunk so many times it was only a matter of when they were going to share a mattress. And after a few times, it was okay: Jim stopped being so restless and Bones stopped trying to trap him with his limbs, and now they share very civilly every few months or so when they get so drunk it becomes dangerous, with Bones underneath whatever limb Jim decides to fling out.

"That's because the couch is too small for Jim, sweetheart," Bones says. He doesn’t mention the laundry.

"He doesn' have a bed?" Joanna asks.

"I don't have clean sheets," Jim interjects. "So I asked your Daddy and he said I could borrow half his bed yesterday night."

Joanna just narrows her eyes at them, and Jim feels the very strange urge to squirm in his seat.

Really, her eyes are as potent as Bones', and that's saying something.

"Right," Bones says. "It's the park for you today, young lady."

"M'not a lady, Daddy!" Jo says. "And I don' wanna go to the park! I dunno know anyone here," she scowls.

"But we're not just going to the park," Jim says on a whim, and he has no idea what's gotten into him. "We're actually going on a picnic and then going to the swings! They just happen to be in the park."

"Hm," Joanna says suspiciously. "You know you hafta tell the truth, Mister Jim."

"I am, Joey, I am!"

"M'not Joey, Mister Jim, don't you listen? And because you said it, you're going to have to push me on the swing."

"Pushy," Jim mutters. Bones just smirks at them and busies himself with taking out bread and peanut butter the jelly. He knows Jim hates PB and J.

Damn it.

*

"Higher, Mister Jim!" Jo is screaming in delight, her knuckles almost white against the metal of the swing. Bones is scowling under a tree, bundled up and grumbling as his eyes never leave his daughter. Jim stopped the rant about potential swing hazards by swearing he'd be careful, and he's being held accountable even as Uhura strolls by the swings.

"You're radiant today," Jim tells her in Orion.

"Piss off," she replies in Andorian, and the insult sounds sexy off her lips and Jim misses the next swing push, and the next he misses because he's too busy arguing with Uhura about Tellarite etymology.

"Mister Jim!" Joanna is fuming as she clambers off the swing and stomps towards them. "You got distracted!"

"Sorry, kiddo." Jim isn't apologetic at all.

"Is bad to say things you don' mean, Mister Jim," Joanna says solemnly.

"Yeah, Mister Jim," Uhura agrees with a sunny smile. "And who might you be?" she asks Jo, crouching to be at her level.

"I'm Joanna Leonard McCoy. My Daddy is sittin' under that tree there, and my neighbor Joel licked a tree. And Mister Jim can't push my swing like he said he could," Jo says, then stretches out her small hand so Uhura can shake it.

"I'm Uhura." They shake hands, to Jim's astonishment. "Do you want me to push your swing myself, since Jim here can't do it properly?"

Jim splutters but Joanna's quick to reply. "Only if my Daddy says 'yes'," she says. She runs to ask him, as Jim just stands there gawping as Uhura just smirks at him. "He said okay!" Joanna's breathless from running back and already turning towards the swing. "Mister Jim, it's not nice not to keep your word. You should go sit next to my Daddy and think about what you did."

Jim's still standing there when Uhura starts pushing the little devil on the swing.

"I've been grounded." Jim is still surprised when he flops down next to Bones.

"You don't say," Bones drawls. "Here, have a sandwich."

"I hate PB and J," Jim mutters. He still bites into the mushy bread, though. He smirks when he realizes it’s plain cheese.

God, Bones' kid isn't from the devil, she's the devil herself. But at least Jim has a decent sandwich and doesn’t need to suffer through PB and J.

*

"But it's Christmas, Daddy!" Joanna looks at Bones pointedly.

"Jo, darlin'—"

"You said this is our Christmas even if it's not the right day, so you need to sing, Daddy," Jo admonishes him. "What do you do when I'm not here?"

She doesn't recognize the stricken look on her father's face, which is a good thing. Jim remembers last Christmas, where he had to battle his desire to flee every single minute of the sterile outdated Terran songs playing continuously on the holoprojector in Bones' room. Jim knows it only became bearable once a grim-looking Bones filled the tumbler in his hand and they emptied two whole bottles of their very expensive brew.

"Oh Daddy," Joanna says, and it's as if she knows. "Oh I know! I'll sing for you!"

She jumps to her feet and goes to stand next to the pitiful houseplant they've spent all of yesterday afternoon decking in gaudy baubles and penguins and red ribbon. Bones' little slip of a girl then takes a breath—and proceeds to knock both Bones and him out of theirs.

Her voice rises, crisp and clear, above their sorry Christmas tree and Bones' drab room. 'Ave Maria' drifts over them, and Jim's breath completely leaves him. He's stunned; gone is the little brat. There's an angel instead singing from an invisible partition, each pitch carefully crafted and divine.

There's some serious training here, he thinks dimly.

It doesn't last long, and Jo's voice dies with the last colors of dusk. It's still early afternoon but it feels as if time is standing still; there's a silent moment after she's finished where it feels like she expects to wait till they've gathered their bearings.

"That's a good Christmas song," Jo finally says. "Say thank you, Daddy. You too, Mister Jim. Singing is so annoying." She scrunches up her nose, and everything goes back to normal.

"Thank you, sweetheart," Bones says, still a little shell-shocked. "What do you mean, singing annoys you?"

"It's 'cos I hate dresses!" Jo explodes. "I hate dresses and I hafta go to church in a dress. i weared—"

"—wore," Bones corrects her offhandedly.

Jo just rolls her eyes. "—wore jeans, and I got punished for ever! It was two whole weekends," she says, wide-eyed.

"You sing very well, darlin'," Bones says, his throat a bit clearer. "I'm sure your Mama just wants you to enjoy something you do so well."

"No she doesn't," Jo yells, bounding across the room and making more noise than a herd of twentieth-century extinct elephants. It's like she wants them to forget she could ever make these beautiful sounds, and frankly, Jim doesn't mind too much. He'd rather have the little imp climb all over him for no discernible reason, as she's doing now, than standing ramrod straight and singing like she's not in her correct plane of existence.

"Careful with the hair, Joey!"

Jo scoffs as she uses Jim's mop to scale his back. "I always have to remind Mama to sign me up for climbing classes. The woman at Touchstone says I'm too little, and Mama says it ain’ for the ladies. I don' wanna be a lady, Daddy! What's a lady anyways? I don't wanna wear Mrs. Fulton's skirt! She always says she's a lady," Jo says, her face all twisted. "And it has all these ruffles! I put a toad in it this Easter," she beams, finally taking a breath.

"Darlin', I love you," Bones tells her, and Jim has to turn his face away as he's definitely choking with her arms around his neck. That must be why his eyes sting. Again.

"Duh, Daddy," Jo says. "That doesn't tell me if you're gonna stop Mama from puttin' me in a dress like Mrs. Fulton! And don't call me Joey, Mister Jim." Her fists drum against his back, and she's a warm package, with her nose tickling his nape. He pushes forward a little, and she squeals as he lifts her up and piggybacks her across the room.

"Mister Jim!" She's laughing and Bones is laughing and Jim ends up laughing too when he dumps Jo on her cot and she burrows against him, waiting for her dad to announce bath time.

*

It's a social worker who comes to pick up Joanna the next morning. She speaks to her at length, with Bones and Jim anxiously waiting in Bones' bedroom; well, Bones is anxiously waiting. Jim, for his part, thinks it's clear how awesomely fantastic his best friend is with a daughter he's been restricted from seeing as often as he should. Plus, he winked and worked the social worker a bit as he took her from campus security to Bones' en-suite, so the chances should be stacked in their favor.

When she finally calls them out, Joanna's scowling next to her packed bag. "Doctor McCoy. Mr. and Mrs. Treadway have been checked out and cleared," she smiles at Bones. "It definitely was a mistake, but we couldn't risk it, as they were close to the actual culprit. Your daughter was lucky to have you."

Bones tries to smile but it's pathetic and everyone knows it. Joanna bursts into tears and shoots out from next to the social worker into her father's legs. "I don't wanna go!"

"Oh, Jo darlin'..." Bones breathes, crouching down and engulfing her in his arms. Her thin shoulders are heaving and she's grasping at his shirt with all the strength of a distraught five-year-old, so he just holds her until she quiets down and then pushes her far enough so he can see her face. "Darlin'," he says again. "You have to go back to your house now, to your Mama, to your school. Your Mama'll take real good care of you, sweetheart, just like she's always done. And I'll write. You know your letters already, so I'll write to you and very soon you'll be able to write to me too."

"B-But you always leave," she heaves. "And I-I already c-can write!"

Bones just smiles at her and plops two big kisses on each of her damp cheeks. "Say goodbye to Jim, darlin'."

Joanna waves shyly at him, and Jim just can't, he has to swoop down and hug her, lifting her off her feet, and his eyes water when she shrieks. "Go on, kiddo," he says when he finally puts her down after she's half-strangled him with her tiny arms.

"Bye, Unc’ Jim." And she slobbers a kiss all over him.

That little devil.

Jim is still wiping his cheek when Joanna and the social worker leave, but not before overhearing her last words to Bones. "Your visitation rights and custody are being reviewed," she tells him, and Jim swears he'd be able to see Bones' shoulders jerk in surprise two hundred feet away. When he comes back alone, there's a dazed look on his face and Jim knows exactly what to do.

"Bourbon?" he asks.

"Hell yes," Bones says fervently, and they break the new Jim Beam that's been waiting over the weekend.

It tastes good. Warm, calm, tranquil. A little empty. Jim sees Bones' fingers drum his glass, and he's feeling restless too. He wants to get up, pace around, make some noise. He's never realized how quiet it is in here.

So he does get up, goes rummaging in the cupboard for something to eat, then in the fridge for something colder to drink, and that's when he sees it.

"Bones?" Jim calls out, and they both crowd the inside of the fridge, looking at a crude paper with scribbles on it stuck between the cheese and the meat they're supposed to cook today.

GOODBYE PAPA AND UNCL JIM

And there's a smaller bit of napkin glued to the orange juice carton.

THER AR MOR NOTES

"Un-fuckin'-believable," Jim breathes. "Your kid, Bones. Man, your kid." Jim has no words.

Bones just shakes his head and stares at the bit of paper for what seems like forever. Jim then sends the cot away and reclaims Bones’ couch and they spend the next three weeks finding random bits of paper around the house. In Bones' jeans, in between Bones' PADDs, under the sink.

In between the sheets on Jim’s side when they decide to share the bed for no reason at all other than they can.

They’re still clothed, though, and Jim really hates it. But he takes what he can. Maybe one day he’ll say something, when he’s finally Captain at thirty and he can order Bones to become his CMO, if the man isn’t already. Maybe he’ll save the world and then Bones will say something.

“Maybe y’shou’ shaddap, moron,” Bones mumbles from the pillow, almost asleep, his back warming Jim’s chest.

Well shit, Jim was talking out loud.

And Bones, being Bones, refuses to ignore it, even as he’s edging on the first thing resembling real sleep since three days. “Still sleepin’ ‘roun’, ain’t ya? Yer not gettin' me yet. Now fuckin’ doze, kid. ‘r els’.”

When Joanna officially calls for Christmas, both Bones and Jim have received holiday cards: one for 'Daddy', one for 'Uncle Jim'.

Joanna has the correct spelling this time, but Jim makes sure to poke fun at her anyways. In retaliation, she tells him she can't wait to visit and show him the make-up box her Mama has given her.

That little devil.

 

the end.