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the thread of my skin

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“Jim.”

Jim shifts a little, snuggling up even closer in his drink-sleepy stupor against Leonard’s back.

Jim.”

“Hrm,” Jim says, in what could generously be interpreted as some form of answer.

Luckily for him, Leonard’s inclined to be generous tonight. But he does still need help in this final stretch of getting Jim home. “What’s your door code?”

Jim shifts again, leaden arms tightening into a more secure stranglehold around Leonard’s neck, and muffles what feels like a jaw-unhinging yawn against Leonard’s shoulder. If the accompanying sound is meant to be numbers, it’s not in any language Leonard’s familiar with.

“Jim. Door code.”

“I ’unno,” Jim mumbles, a touch petulantly - aggrieved, it would seem, at being disturbed from His Majesty’s beauty rest by the lowly peon carting his noodle-boned ass home.

“Yes, you do. And if you don’t want to end up sleeping on the floor tonight, you gotta tell me.” He loves the kid, but he’s not giving up his own bed to him, even on his birthday. And sharing is even more out of the question. Jim clings in his sleep, burrows and clutches and digs sharp elbows and knees into all manner of places they don’t belong, and Leonard’s got no burning desire to spend the night suffocating and getting drooled on when he doesn’t have to. Call him crazy.

Jim whines, more than a touch pathetic. (The hero of Yorktown, ladies and gentlemen, Leonard thinks, more fondly than he’d care to admit.) He wriggles once more in Leonard’s hold, his dangling booted feet knocking carelessly against Leonard’s thighs, and finally flails a hand out in front of them. “Gimme.”

Leonard rolls his eyes, but obligingly tips them both closer to the keypad, where Jim clumsily punches in the code. “And that was easier than just telling me?”

Jim hums in the affirmative, the sound quickly sharpening into dismay as the door hisses open and the cooler air inside the suite hits them. He huddles down against Leonard’s back like a turtle retreating into its shell, his arm snapping back to clamp around Leonard’s neck.

“Infant,” Leonard mutters, and trudges into the suite, suddenly feeling Jim’s weight more than he had been as he gets closer to being able to let him down.

He has half a mind to leave the kid on the couch - would serve his sulky, spoiled ass right - but apparently he’s Mr. fucking Sensitive tonight, so he decides to add one final favor to Jim’s tab and haul him all the way into the bedroom. There’s a a nice-looking bed waiting for him there, so neatly made up that Jim can’t have come anywhere near it yet. It’s a bit bigger than his own, if he’s not mistaken, because God forbid a commanding officer not enjoy every last privilege of their rank. But Leonard won’t begrudge Jim that petty comfort, or any other. Lord knows he’s more than earned it, with everything he’s put himself through to save this distorted dreamscape of a station since they first arrived.

With that in mind, Leonard elects to lower Jim onto the bed carefully; with his luck, he’d probably bounce if Leonard dropped him, crack his head on the nightstand or land wrong on the floor and break his damn neck, and Leonard’s had a long enough day without tacking on a bonus trauma surgery to the end of it. So he crouches down close to the mattress, tries to gently shake Jim off, but Jim just clings tighter, letting out another pitiful sound against Leonard’s shoulder.

“Jim,” Leonard says with a sigh, reminding himself as his thighs start to ache from the strain that it is Jim’s birthday and he has had a rough time of things recently, “c’mon, it’s bedtime, kid. You gotta get down now. You’ve got this big fine bed right here - can’t make much use of it if you won’t let go of me.”

“Cold,” Jim complains.

Leonard could argue that he’ll be warmer under the covers, or that turning up the ambient temp is as simple as a short voice command, or that it’s not actually in the CMO’s job description to serve as the captain’s personal heating device, but his legs are tired and his brain is tired and so in the end he just thunks them both down on the bed, mostly managing to keep from crushing Jim’s legs under him in the process.

Free of Jim’s weight and no longer in any danger of dropping the idiot, he sets about extracting himself from the cage of Jim’s limbs. Jim is somewhat more compliant now, probably because he can feel the bed under him, but he still makes a sad little noise as Leonard peels away the last scrabbling hand and nudges him back to land in a sprawl of long limbs at the center of the bed.

Leonard wrestles Jim’s boots and jacket off him before deciding that’s good enough - a night in his street clothes won’t kill him.

“There,” he says, with a pat to Jim’s calf. “All set. I’ll leave you some water on the nightstand. Give me a holler in the morning if you need something for the - ”

“Bones.”

Leonard is already bracing himself to stand, but Jim’s voice snaps his attention back. He’s surprised to find that Jim’s eyes are open now, fixed on him with startling focus. Newly minted thirty-year-old though he may be, he looks awful young all of a sudden, tousle-headed and sleepy, his still boyish face and big blue eyes filled with some emotion Leonard doesn’t know how to name, something he’d almost call uncertainty if that didn’t go against everything he knows about Jim Kirk.

“Jim?” he says, concerned. He turns more toward Jim, pulling his knee up on the bed so he can edge a little closer. “What’s the matter? You feeling okay?” He didn’t think Jim had that much to drink, but it’s been a while since they really made a night of it; maybe his tolerance is down. Or maybe it’s something else. He reaches over to put his hand to Jim’s forehead, instinctively checking his temperature - silly of him, maybe, but then Jim’s immune system does have a real taste for irony. It would be just like Jim to get sick at the start of leave, and on his birthday at that. And of course chances are high he could have picked something up on Altamid, some nasty alien monster of a virus or bacterial infection that’ll ravage his circulatory system or turn his brain to mush or melt his goddamn teeth right out of his head. Leonard’s always telling him -

“I want you to stay.”

Leonard - well, he doesn’t falter, he’s got the steadiest hands in the Fleet and it’d take a lot more than a little non sequitur to rattle that, thank you - but he does take a moment or two to digest that, Jim’s words and the unexpected hesitancy in them, that strange something lingering in his eyes like a riddle Leonard’s meant to know the answer to.

This could be worse than Leonard even feared. Jim only asks him to stick around when he’s seriously bad off.

“What’s going on, kid?” he says, real calm, gentling in the way he only brings out when Jim’s fucked up enough one way or another to require careful handling. Jim doesn’t have a fever or the shakes, and his respiration seems normal enough, not strained or too shallow or quickening toward a panic attack. Leonard needs more data to make a diagnosis, to fix it, whatever it is. “Talk to me.”

The backs of his fingers are still awkwardly curled mid-fever check against Jim’s temple, and he caresses him there without thinking too much about it, only wanting to soothe, to comfort and reassure while he figures out how to make it better, and Jim -

Jim turns into the touch, closes his eyes with a breathy little sigh and tilts his face into the absent graze of Leonard’s knuckles.

Leonard feels it like an electric charge, like he’s accidentally made contact with faulty wiring or a misaligned defibrillator paddle and the current is pulsing through him, heart-stopping, lung-seizing, shocking him free of some automatic pattern he’s been holding. He snatches his hand back, reflexive, and Jim’s eyes fly open again but now the something in them is hurt and fear and Leonard’s heart is rattling off-beat and he still can’t draw a breath and he doesn’t understand what’s happening, what he’s done, how to fix it.

“I’m sorry,” Jim says, and there’s a smallness in his voice and his eyes and his whole shrinking-away body that feels wrong, terrible and unnatural and sending Leonard’s heart lurching even more wildly off-course. “Forget it. It doesn’t - I mean, I just - I just had a lot to drink. You know me.”

He does. Hell, he knows as many different versions of drunk Jim as he has fingers and toes, gossipy and troublemaking and flirty and hot-tempered and tail-chasing and melancholy and navel-gazing and everything in between, and not one of them are anything like this - this cringing, clear-eyed, wounded rawness that’s making his heart trip over itself in his chest.

Jim curls in on himself, long legs drawing up to fold into his middle, pale hurt-drawn face dipping down toward his chest. “I’m just gonna sleep,” he says, eyes screwed shut like he can force himself to lose consciousness if he just tries hard enough, “thanks for - for everything,” and his voice shivers over the last word and Leonard is reaching for him again before he can think about why he should or shouldn’t.

He doesn’t realize his hand is trembling until it connects with Jim’s bare skin, the tense muscle of his arm where it’s wrapped around his knees. “Jim,” he says. “Kid.” He doesn’t know what more to say, but when he rubs Jim’s arm he feels something loosen in him, in them both. He’s never had to think before about the hows and whys of loving Jim. He just did; he just does. It comes as naturally to him as breathing, and he may have had the wind knocked out of him for a minute there but he’ll find his rhythm again soon enough. How could he not?

Jim’s eyes drift open again, cautiously, slow and blinking as if acclimating to a bright light. He has beautiful eyes. A beautiful face. Leonard brings his other hand up to touch it, tracing down the curve of Jim’s jaw with his fingertips. Jim’s lips part on an sharp inhale, and that’s beautiful too, the shape of his mouth and the sound of his breath. His pulse is quick and strong under his jaw, under the pads of Leonard’s fingers.

Leonard’s heart beats along with it, learning its new cadence.

“How long?”

Jim shakes his head, and Leonard follows the turn of his neck - chasing the thud of his pulse, measuring its tempo. “I don’t know. Now, I guess. But it feels like longer.” He worries his bottom lip, a nervous habit Leonard’s been acquainted with for years but never paid much attention to before. “Does that make sense?”

Now. Leonard thinks it over: this room, this moment, the dizzying funhouse lights of the snow globe framed in the window, the dip of the mattress beneath their combined weight. Jim’s beautiful eyes, his fast pulse, his long legs and clinging arms that never seem to want to let go once they’ve ensnared him.

Jim’s smile when they walked into the party earlier, wide and true, and how his whole body thrilled to see it, everything dull and dark and fretful inside him forever craving the warming light of Jim’s happiness.

Jim, wanting him to stay.

“Yeah, kid,” he says, and with a stroke down Jim’s throat and a squeeze to his arm he draws his hands back so he can take off his boots before lying down. “Reckon it does.”