The Hands On Approach
He can't even remember the first time Jim touched his hair - the kid touches everyone, everything, everywhere, all the time. The first Christmas in the academy, the kid even kissed him - caught him with a sprig of mistletoe and planted one on him, never mind that Leonard had been trying to rebuild something resembling a love life with Nancy.
But he didn't...
He didn't stroke.
That was the only way to describe it, what he did that first time after. Not long after, but after. Three days later, coming back to the dorm to find Jim actually there for once, and being ambushed at the doorway. It was like having a puppy; he'd said as much, and Jim had laughed, and hesitated, and kissed him. The hesitation had been enough to catch Leonard's attention, even back then.
"S'matter with you?" he'd asked, and Jim had done that weird nervous laugh thing he did and said,
"Well, since we're gonna do this, I guess...I guess, you know, we ought to, go out or something."
Leonard distinctly remembered the look he gave Jim, and the smack on the arm Jim gave him, going bright red.
"Are you askin' me out on a date?"
Jim had shrugged. "That's what people do, isn't it?"
"You don't," Leonard had pointed out. He'd watched enough times. He'd watched the pattern unfolding itself again and again, over and over. Jim didn't date. Maybe he loved fleetingly, but eventually the pattern was the same: fuck and flee.
"You do," Jim had countered, and he'd gone red again. "Bones, if...if we're...look, we just should, okay?"
Jim isn't one for words now, and he wasn't one for them then - but even back then, Leonard could hear him, and he'd simply shrugged and grumbled and asked what in the hell he'd let himself in for.
"I should have kicked your ass, not kissed you," he'd muttered, and Jim had sealed the deal by kissing him again, taking his head in his hands and kissing him hard and fast. He'd held him there even after the kiss, grinning at him like a loon from close range.
"I'm lucky, Bones," he'd said, and rubbed his hands up to scrub through Leonard's hair and pull on random clumps of it. "I'm lucky, you know?"
"You won't be so damn lucky if you don't cut that out," Leonard had grumbled, and shook him off - and at the time, hadn't really noticed it.
He's noticing it now, damnit.
It's maybe the...sixth, seventh time they have sex that he notices? Okay, he isn't counting properly, but that period between 'this is too new to be really any good' and 'one of us has to have a kink to liven this up, right?' That bit where they know what they're doing, but there's still more to be found.
Whatever specific time it is after the first drunk fumble, they're crushed together in his bed because while Jim was always a pro at the 'wham, bam, thank you ma'am', he apparently likes to stick around a bit longer after they fuck. And Leonard's not gonna say no to that - the best part of gettin' married had been the double bed and no guilt at staying in bed all day Sunday.
So they're crushed together in his bed, because neither of them really want Jim to relocate just yet, and Jim's lying on his arm and he can't feel his fingers, but it's okay because Jim's gone and burrowed his face into Leonard's neck and he's real warm and keeps nipping at the bruise he's left behind on Leonard's jaw. If he keeps it up, Leonard'll get it up again. Which is fine by him, and most probably fine by Jim as well, judging by the fact he ain't droppin' off like he usually does.
And then he does it again.
His other arm's been dumped on Leonard's chest like so much spare trash; he always does that. But this time it crawls up over his shoulder, rubs past his ear, and buries itself in his hair, and then he's tugging on it again, like when he decided they should date like a proper...whatever they are. It feels weird. Scratch that, it feels bizarre, and Leonard grunts, twitching away from the hold jerkily. Jim's hands drops back to his jaw, and then he's shifting and burrowing in for a proper kiss in that weird, clingy way he has sometimes, like ivy crawling up the side of a house in the fall.
But Leonard's guard is up, because he knows this. Jim doesn't talk much about what he's up to, but Leonard's no fool. He knows a distraction when he sees it.
He just can't figure out the why yet.
When Jim - Leonard isn't sure, but he thinks it's roughly when Jim figures they're in this thing for the long haul...well, then, he starts touching a lot. And not like usual.
Jim's a touchy kinda guy. He's always clapping people on the back and shoulders, hugging, shaking hands, high-fiving, the whole nine yards. He was touchy enough before they started dating and fucking. He used to sling himself all over Leonard even before the first warm whispers of an infatuation started up. He's been doing it from day one.
So Leonard isn't surprised when, on the heels of figuring out that he's somehow become monogamous, Jim does that whole touch-and-remember routine.
Pretty much everyone does it, in Leonard's opinion. They commit the people they love to memory - sight, sound, and touch. The honeymoon period, the newlyweds, whatever you want to call them. They get all handsy, and most of the time, they're not even running up to a decent screw. And Jim starts, just after the start of their mission, when Leonard invites him back to his cabin for a drink and a quick fuck against the room divider.
He starts it in bed later, running the pads of his fingers over Leonard's jaw and ears and hair (goddamn hair thing again) like he's reading them, and Leonard leaves him to it. This bit he knows. He was married, for God's sake. He knows this bit.
He doesn't catch on immediately, then, that every little memory-routine ends up at that hair thing.
He figures out the why - or he thinks he does - after the first time he leaves the ship since the start of the mission. He's a doctor. He doesn't leave the ship often, and when he does, it's by that goddamn, hell-cursed transporter.
His first shuttle ride comes five months in, and it makes a flight path through a tornado look peaceful. They scrape outta there with half an engine, no navigation, and a concussed pilot. By the time they clang down in the hangar and the medical team are wrestling the doors open, Leonard's hands won't stop shaking.
He can't stop shaking.
He's not breathin' right either, and he knows it. Little gasps, and it's makin' him dizzy, but he doesn't damn well care. Doesn't even damn well notice, because he's gotta get off this damn thing, and...
Vaguely, somewhere in the back of his head, he thinks maybe he should call up that jumped-up 'Fleet psychologist and tell her you don't just wish a phobia away, damnit!
Then the rest of his brain carries right on panicking.
He ends up sitting by that blown-out engine. It's cold, because space is cold, and Spock's hand on the back of his neck, pressing his head to his knees, is sharply cool. He'd snap at him, but goddamnit, he needs this. He needs to not be the damn doctor right now, needs...
"I got it, Spock, get out of here. Clear the area, man, we're gonna - yeah. Thanks. Thanks."
He gets his first lungful when Jim hangs on. The kid smells like he always does - warm and clear, like salt spray off the ocean. A good, clean ocean, not that muck swimming around in the bay back in San Francisco.
"'Kay, Bones, s'okay," Jim's muttering, and then he's doing that thing to Leonard's hair again, and it's...it feels funny, over everything else, but it's something to pay attention to, something to claw away the panic attack, and the more Jim tugs and strokes at his hair, the more his lungs open up until he can breathe properly. Until he can untwist and shrug Jim off and grumble a thanks and pretend it wasn't so bad.
He'll never admit the hair thing helped, though.
They're kissing up against the wall of Jim's bathroom, and his hands are in Leonard's goddamn hair.
It's just sadistic. He's pulling on it in handfuls, and it hurts, and it doesn't help in getting his tunic off - and really, with the pressure in his boxers about to hit critical, that's all Leonard wants right now. Skin. And lots of it.
He tries to tell Jim to leave him alone, but it comes out around Jim's tongue as something closer to "Gerrahdavit!" and Jim just laughs breathlessly and shoves that tongue back in his mouth. He won't let go. He won't let go, and as it transpires, yanks real hard when he's coming.
Leonard's own orgasm is just a little sharper than usual, and he glowers at Jim suspiciously through the afterglow, and says, "You planned that," as soon as he's got the facial coordination to talk.
Jim looks innocent.
Which means he did.
He should have known. The look that Jim had given him down there; he should have known the minute he saw it.
Maybe he did.
He doesn't move. He's tired. Goddamn, he's tired. If he never moved again, it wouldn't be so bad. He could just rest here forever and ever amen, let all this weight and lethargy just sink him into the deck.
He doesn't open his eyes. He has ears too. They might not be pointy, but he's got 'em, and they work just fine. They can hear that hesitant thread in the middle of Jim's voice. That shivery little tone, the one that makes his nickname a question instead of a quiet summons.
The one he hates.
He should have picked a smaller corner; he hears the creases in Jim's pants when he folds himself up until they're pressed shoulder-to-shoulder. Jim's warm. He's always warm; the kid's like a damn furnace most of the time, and after today...
It's not a question anymore, but Leonard's just too damn tired to work out what it's become. He wants to sleep. Well, no. He wants to drink - what he wants is to down an entire hospital's supply of alcohol, and make sure it's all as close to one hundred percent proof as he can. Drink himself into an early grave, or an immediate one. He'd feel better for it. Shame he's too damn tired even for that.
"Stop it," Jim says, and his mouth can't be an inch from Leonard's ear. His arms drop a minute later, heavy and warm, wrapping them together in an awkward hug. It's awkward because he refuses to turn into it, but that's never stopped Jim before. The kid's persistent. "Stop it," he insists, squeezing until something creaks. "Stop it. You did everything you could."
Leonard grunts. He doesn't want this right now. He wants to sleep; he doesn't want a goddamn pep talk from a man who hasn't got the last damn clue...
"Without you," Jim says, "we would have...we would have lost everyone. Nobody would have..."
"I didn't sign up to send ten-man teams to their deaths, Jim," he says hoarsely.
It's the first thing Leonard's said since Jim stood him down. Twelve hours in surgery after a six-hour shift, Jim had had to stand him down. Loudly. Between two patients' beds, both critical.
By now, he has no idea whether either one is still alive.
"Nobody did," Jim mumbles into the top of his shoulder, and kisses it through the tunic. He's probably tired enough himself - but, Leonard thinks uncharitably, he didn't put that team together. Jim has no interest in scientific research missions. That had been him and Spock - and it had been him, and him alone, when it all went wrong.
"How many now?" he asks.
"Still seven," Jim says, and squeezes again. "Stop it, Bones. Stop it. Just...let's go to bed, okay?"
"Why not?" Jim presses.
"Won't sleep." He knows he won't; he knows he won't self-medicate for it. He can regrow a man's kidneys, given enough time, but there aren't drugs for dreams.
Jim hums; his hand is scratchy with the growth plaster Christine's slapped on the burn, but he slides it up Leonard's neck and pulls like it doesn't hurt. It must hurt. Leonard knows it must, so he goes with the motion, and drops his head heavily onto Jim's shoulder. It's even more uncomfortable, but the kid's like a leech or a tic sometimes - easier to go with than fight against.
"C'mere," he says, and Leonard settles into him. It might be uncomfortable - the angle's all wrong, and the top of Jim's shoulder has always been surprisingly bony - but the kid is warm, and he's in his undershirt rather than his tunic. He doesn't smell of phaser discharge and death; he doesn't smell of Sickbay and blood. He smells of that aftershave he slaps on after a wet shave instead of a dry skimming job with the electric.
He isn't surprised when Jim rakes his fingers through his hair in that first heavy sweep, and he's too tired to protest the treatment. If Jim wants to do...whatever it is he's doing, then he can knock himself out. Leonard's too exhausted to figure it out this time.
"Just relax," Jim murmurs, and shifts around him like some of kind of living blanket. He rearranges them, and the second stroke is as heavy as the first. The bandage is scratchy, he's holding too tightly, the stroking is more than a little weird...
Against his better judgement, against his instincts, against all of it, Leonard can finally let go.
Jim gets weird when he gets feverish.
He's gone down with the Almarian pox, just as Leonard had predicted, and while he's not that sick, he's too hot and it's making his brain fuzzy. Real fuzzy.
And when Jim's brain gets fuzzy, he gets clingy.
It's a pattern Leonard's used to. When he gets drunk, he gets clingy. When he gets a head injury, he gets clingy. When he gets drugged, he gets clingy. When he has a temperature, he gets clingy. He isn't too surprised, and given that the Almarian pox can cause hallucinations in humanoids, he finds himself with a bit more patience than usual. At least Jim's just seeing butterflies the size of dinner plates. Spock had punched one of his hallucinations so hard that his fist had gone into the hull padding and set off four different alarms, and broken two knuckles. You try treating a delirious Vulcan - it ain't pretty.
So Jim? Jim's a piece of cake.
A piece of clingy, fuzzy cake, but cake all the same.
He's been confined to quarters, and Leonard comes to see him every couple of hours, and stays with him off-shift, but it's not enough. Every time he shows up, Jim looks painfully happy about it, and reaches for him like a scared kid, and it just about breaks his grouchy heart.
"Di'n't think y'were comin' back," Jim slurs the fifth time, and Leonard can't even bring himself to laugh at the idiot. He's off-shift, and he can take his time now, so he toes off his boots and sits on the edge of the bunk, taking Jim's hot hands when they reach for him.
"And why wouldn't I come back, darlin'?" he asks, checking the readout. It's climbing down. He'll be over it in two days, and thoroughly embarrassed about all this mushy outpouring.
Jim shrugs. "'Cause you're perfect and I'm not, and..." His mind wanders, and his eyes slid sideways. "Bones," he whispers. "They're back."
"Uh-huh?" Leonard says, swallowing the lump in his throat. "What colour this time?"
Jim eyes the visions warily. "Blue," he decides.
"Well, that's alright then," Leonard says, even though it really doesn't matter. "Can I grab a shower, or you feelin'...?"
He doesn't get to finish; Jim's hands are tight around his instantly.
"Come in?" Jim pleads.
"Alright," Leonard capitulates easily. Jim's got those eyes that can make a guy do anything, and he uses them to maximum effect when he's down with something. He shrugs out of his uniform and drops onto the sheets. It's too hot to get under them with the furnace of a captain, but Jim doesn't seem to mind, wriggling up under his arm and winding his hands up into Leonard's hair like it's second nature.
And then he actually brings them back.
"Sorry," he mumbles, and burrows his too-hot face into Leonard's neck. "Y'don't like it."
"Hasn't stopped you before."
"Yeah, but," Jim's brain struggles to process this. "I can't be less perfect, or you won't be back next time."
"That's stupid," Leonard says.
Jim peers at him, narrow-eyed. He looks almost lucid for a second.
"You're an annoying son of a bitch twenty-four hours a day, and I still keep comin' back," Leonard grumbles, and Jim's right hand inches back up into his hair to begin stroking. "Anyway, who else is gonna pull my hair?"
Judging by the beaming smile, and the sudden wriggle of Jim planting himself firmly into his preferred cuddling spot, Leonard's said the right thing, illness or no illness.
But he still can't figure out for the life of him why it's the right thing.
New Year. He's survived - they've survived, or most of 'em, and they'd celebrated like if they were only loud enough, the dead could come back to join in too. He can remember Chekov dancing with Lieutenant Schlette from the engineering department, even though she was a foot taller than him and not the most graceful young lady in the quadrant. He can remember some Irish drinking song being bellowed at the top of his lungs, and that was before most of the damn booze. Everyone got completely trashed.
It's the first time since that mission.
Two months and Spock's still got that gleaming green burn scarring over on his wrist. Nyota'd got her dainty little hands around it when they'd danced, but it's there all the same. Two months, and Commander Maklakov isn't coming back. Two months - and he'd let himself go.
He's paying for it.
They're in Jim's cabin, not his. Jim's is closer to the recreation rooms; anyway, Leonard's is next to Spock's, and Nyota makes this little gasping groan during sex that turns him on, and it's just not done to get turned on by the sound of your XO and your (hot) communications officer getting it on. Especially when the former's a telepath.
He's digressing. Usually happens when he's drunk. And he is drunk; he's heading for the hangover, sure, can feel it building, but he's still just about drunk. He smells of beer. Jim smells of beer and sex, and he's wedged into Leonard's side like a puzzle piece that won't fit, no matter how many times you try and bash it into place.
"St'p thinking," Jim complains, wriggling until (mercifully) his collarbone leaves Leonard's bicep.
Leonard settles to sleep it off. If Jim is passed out here with him, then there can't be duty. He has to give the kid his credit, he does his j-
That hand is back.
He unglues an eye, and Jim blinks innocently at him from less than two inches away. His fingers are scratching away in Leonard's hair, rubbing over his scalp, and it - hell, it almost hurts over the booze-induced sensitivity. His head hurts. That hangover's gonna be a bitch.
"No," Jim says flatly.
"Yes," Leonard dislodges the hand and traps it under his armpit. "Leave it off, Jim. My head's already killin' me."
Jim's mouth squirms for a moment, then he subsides and noses Leonard's stubble instead. Maybe the sympathy card worked, or - most likely - he'll just wait for him to doze off before doing it again.
"You're a freak, you know that?"
"Yeah," Jim says, and Leonard's lost.
"Why do you do that?"
It's some nameless day when he finally asks. They're in his cabin, and it's late, and he's scrolling through the latest issue of The Journal of Xenohaematology with Jim curled up against his arm and half-asleep, fingers skrit-skrit-skrit-ting away in his hair like's the habit now. He's given up trying to shake the clingy son of a bitch off, and begrudgingly lets him get on with it.
Doesn't mean he likes it.
Certainly doesn't mean he doesn't wonder.
And it's some nameless day when he finally asks. He doesn't know why the thought strikes him then and there, but it does, and out pops the question, and Jim stirs sleepily against his shoulder.
"Scratch my head."
Jim snorts. "I'm stroking your hair."
"Fine, I'm petting."
"I'm not a cat."
"Yeah? You're grumpy like one," Jim says, but the rhythm never falters. "I don't know. Feels nice. You like it."
"Uh-huh," Jim says.
"You seriously have no reason for that?"
Jim shrugs. "You have nice hair? C'mon, Bones. I'm just touchy."
"You're a goddamn octopus," Leonard allows, and he doesn't mind that. Just the rest of Jim's touching isn't so...odd.
"Why don't you like it, then?" Jim challenges.
It takes a while for Leonard to figure out that that's Jim's game, all-a-fucking-long.
They're almost three years of whatever-they-are old when Leonard finds himself turning his head into Jim's scratching hand, and Jim grins at him, grins and lights up the room with it, and Leonard scowls.
"This doesn't mean I like it!" he defends himself, but the grin is that big shit-eating one Jim has sometimes, and he knows he's lost. He knows he's fucked when Jim digs his thumbnail into the soft spot behind his ear, and there's that warm burst of feeling that runs into his spine and makes him shiver.
"Course not, Bones," Jim says, and he can hear the smug, self-satisfied smirk. "You're just putting up with it, yeah?"
He's lost, he's fucked, and he knows it.
Maybe he just doesn't mind anymore.