It was a night spent like any number of nights during their time at Starfleet Academy: lying top-to-toes in a bed, Leonard propped on pillows that Jim's feet kept sneaking under, talking about their days and their existential dread.
Leonard's existential dread was the current special feature, and was doing double-time as Jim's amusing joke - often the case. At least by this point in their lives things were improved by having lazily fooled around some beforehand, and the bed in the Captain's quarter's being of a size to fit two people comfortably.
"I can't believe this is bothering you," said Jim. "I told you about 'remembering' the name Joanna McCoy because I thought you'd find it kinda interesting to know about a daughter in the other timeline. Didn't think it would turn out to be a crisis, Bones."
"And yet you seem more entertained the more it bothers me."
Jim proved it by getting up onto his elbows to properly show off his grin - well, there was a definite grinning jackass feel about him, though Leonard refused to shift his gaze from the ceiling and look. Jim said, "You can't possibly feel guilty about not having little ol' Jo running around."
"Oh, great, go ahead and throw out a pet name. Now my mental image of her is a tomboy and happy to get all muddy in the face. It's adorable." Jim lay back down and laughed like he didn't think Leonard was really picturing it - more fool him. Leonard sighed sharply. "We're supposed to be carting around all this destiny on this ship. And it's like there was a specific little soul depending on me, and I didn't get it right for her."
"No, come on," Jim said, sounding tickled pink. On what goddamned level was this conversation so satisfying? "That timeline, you have a kid. This timeline, you don't. Both are equally valid..." There was a wiggle of fingers at the edge of Leonard's vision as Jim waved a hand. "Happenstances."
"That starts feeling less convincing when you look at the command crew, living up to exactly what Old Spock predicted." Him as much as any of the others, gallivanting around space as boldly as the other Leonard McCoy was supposed to have done, even with a kid to consider. Had he let Joanna down even in the universe where she got to live in the first place?
Despite the weird knot of regret and loss in him, the evening was a decent one, and Leonard wasn't going to voice the topic of familial abandonment while Jim was in a good mood. "Look at Chekov, too," he went on. "His parents got it right and popped him out after the timeline got disrupted."
"There could be significant differences between the two Chekovs! They could be different, genetically, so that ours is essentially a brother to the other timeline's guy - while still belonging right here, don't get me wrong. I'm not ragging on somebody who's personally saved my life, twice."
Then Jim gave Leonard's shoulder a nudge with a heel. "Hey," he said, tone changed.
He grabbed Jim's foot so there wouldn't be any more bright ideas about prodding to drive a point home. "What?"
"Quit being ridiculous. You have no reason to be guilty. Joanna has a whole life where she's a daughter. And maybe a, who knows - wrestler, or dancer, a lawyer, a doctor. A wife or a confirmed bachelorette, mountain climber, dog-lover, whatever. That life is ... a variable that couldn't be accounted for here. Other choices were made. You fell in love another way. Like that's easy to predict or control?"
He certainly could not claim that it was. Even with the death of the marriage, Leonard couldn't deny what he and Pamela had first chosen in each other, and here was Jim, too. He started rubbing circles around Jim's ankle with his thumb.
Chance, not choice. Other loves and other paths, ones that were damn difficult for him to imagine picking differently.
"It's not that you went out of your way to nullify a kid, for god's sake. The opportunity was out of reach here, and that doesn't do a thing to the Joanna who actually exists."
"Obvious enough ... but I needed to hear it out loud." Leonard kissed the ankle he was rubbing. "Thanks, Jim. And I'm glad you told me about 'remembering' Joanna's name when it popped out of your subconscious."
Like he'd been waiting for a signal that the solemnities were over, Jim jumped onto his haunches. He shuffled forwards with his legs on either side of Leonard's, which seemed promising. They'd lazed out of sex earlier in favour of a couple of drinks each, but the buzz of that physicality was still present.
"This has been on my mind too." Jim cocked his head, studying Leonard. "You know, I can't imagine you having a kid?"
"Tell me about it," he replied with the reverent terror the idea gave him, but Jim shook his head.
"What tripped me up about the idea was you being here at the edge of known space - like you said, the other Bones was on the Enterprise too, and he'd been shipping out for years before he got there - while there's Jo on Earth?"
"I wasn't going to mention that." Leonard was surprised that Jim had, and so cheerfully. "That was a whole other issue messing me up when I thought about it. But I didn't want..."
Jim shrugged away the implications. "I can't imagine you, this you, leaving someone who needs you. Literally can't picture it. So you're not to worry about that either, Bones. No offense meant to the other Leonard McCoy, whatever his choices actually were and whatever reasons he had for them, but I can say for sure that this model..." Jim swallowed, and Leonard wondered in what ways this was difficult for him. Nothing in his unwavering stare gave it away. "Loyal and good. You go ahead and doubt, but I don't."
Instinct and contrariness kicked in, and Leonard promptly went ahead and doubted in a fretful fry-up of brain cells: Maybe he held on too tight, maybe the Leonard McCoy known to old Spock had learned important things in his time and letting go was something he'd needed to do, maybe leaving was what his own broken family had wanted...
The thoughts didn't take hold. Jim's hand dragged lower, heel digging a hard stripe of pressure from his sternum on, and his eyes stayed fixed on Leonard in assessment and desire.
It seemed Jim was determined to feel him out firmly - possessively, if Leonard wanted to give his ego a workout. Hands up and down his sides and nails digging in ever so slightly, at random.
"Worrying about a name from a universe away." Jim laughed, all warmth. "Of course you did, Bones."
He got another firm grip going on Leonard's hair, brushed a kiss over the gasp that followed, and finally started to leave a mark. His mouth settled on the corner of Leonard's shoulder and neck, over the pulse, and he kissed and sucked. After a few seconds of going at that he got a hand between them and into Leonard's trousers, grasping his cock to squeeze in time with his mouth working. It was just shy of punishing, and strange when Jim's mood was light, but Leonard's cock filled up anyway and he didn't introduce any fighting-back into the proceedings. If Jim wanted to lay a claim, and if he saw so much that was worth laying a claim to, then it fit real well with Leonard finally being done with a few days' worth of self-doubt.
Jim growled hungrily when Leonard took hold of his ass and stroked down the cleft. Was he speeding up the rhythm of his kissing and sucking? "You trying to go at the same pace as my pulse?" Leonard asked. "It's going to be a race pretty soon, I warn you. Hundred-metre dash."
"That's right." His mouth lifted only millimetres from the hot, wet patch on Leonard's neck. "That's what I'm doing to you." Then Jim sighed - the breath surprisingly cold, making his neck tingle - and stopped squeezing at Leonard's cock, just keeping that tight grip. "Much as I like your hands where they are, though, I've got no choice but to ask you to turn over."
"Is that right?"
"I'm in-" kiss "-the mood-" kiss "-for it." He let Leonard pull his head away from the hickey to let them look at each other, and he looked so happy in his open desire. "Pretty please."
Leonard shrugged, starting to remove a shirt. "Can always finger you 'til you come at some other time, I suppose."
"Tell me about it while I'm fucking you. Best of both worlds."
They stayed close, Jim seeming to find it vital to hover low enough over his back to keep going back to the spot on his neck when he felt like it. There was paltry leverage added with the pillows pushed under Leonard's hips, but Jim was uncharacteristically unworried about finding the right angles. He let the sex draw out to a point where Leonard was hoarse simply from grabbing up breaths, with the saving grace being the damn rhythm that Jim managed to keep so steady. He might have been trying to usurp the pace at which Leonard's heart beat rather than matching it, convincing it to beat at his measured pace through aggravated desire. Medically improbable, if that was the case, but Leonard sure could live with the attempt. His system wound up as steady as the in-out of Jim's cock and he flexed his whole body into the movement, into his own fist round his cock, and jacked himself just another three, four times after Jim's drawn-in gasp, his last thrusts.
Tonight was a night for sleeping over, and Leonard didn't bother to ask. He went to take care of clean-up and then lay back down in bed, and Jim immediately welcomed him by putting an arm around him. For a few moments he wondered if he had any uniforms left in these quarters or if they were all being laundered - not that he'd do anything like get up to go take a look. He could always pull on civvies in the morning and get properly dressed in his own quarters.
"Loyal and good," Jim said, the repetition abrupt enough to have Leonard confused before he realised Jim was picking up the previous conversation. "Loving. Indulgent. I really mean it, you are. If you stopped worrying about bullshit all the time you'd be a great dad. And if you didn't you'd just be a great dad who dies of about a hundred heart attacks."
Leonard got chewed out on the regular (thank you ever so, Mr Spock) for thinking in ideals. It was nice to have someone else do the same, and do it with regards to him. More than nice.
Would Jim want to hear he'd be a good father too? Leonard didn't want to do a thing that could ruin the ease of Jim's smile. "Hey, I'm tougher than I look. I could make it even with all the worrying," he said. "But I'll be a great CMO, meanwhile."
"Mine," Jim said with satisfaction.
"If you take that statement as it was meant, definitely."
Now they lay contented in their quiet. It was a relief to Leonard to find his thoughts running so much lighter than they had over the past few days, for so little reason, even when they turned back to Joanna. Little old Jo. Tomboy or not, she'd be cute.
Maybe she was let down over there, maybe not. Even if it was true, she'd been important enough for the the factoid of Joanna McCoy's existence to have nestled in Old Spock's mind, and then passed in a flood of urgency and facts, wild hope and unspeakable tragedy to Jim's. It couldn't have been something Spock would have meant to do in that limited mind meld, but as he'd been faced with the sight of Jim and thoughts of their closest mutual friends, her name might have been something that he'd associated with Leonard McCoy strongly enough that the memory slipped through naturally. Joanna was living her life there, he was sure she was loved, and here ... choices and chance, chances and choice. There were good things that could happen right where he was; as many here as anywhere else.