A/N: Much thanks to the guys at SentinelWorkshop - Crowswork for correcting my confused tenses, Caro Dee for nitpicking and word-usage and StarWatcher for contesting a point. You all rock.
The craving always hits him when he least expects it. In the evening, when he's sitting on the couch with a beer in his hand and peace in his mind; in the middle of a chase, when his lungs finally give up and force him to stop and breathe; first thing in the morning, before he has a chance to do so much as take a piss.
He's gotten used to it, almost. It's only when it wakes him up in the middle of the night that he passionately, completely hates it. He doesn't get enough sleep anyway, and he doesn't appreciate losing it to something that combines nausea, a headache and a gut-clenching hunger.
It makes his eyes snap open and his jaw snap closed, and all his senses spread out of his reach and out of his control. It's like going without food for days and feeling fine, only to have all that concentrated need dumped on him in a single second. It fucking freaks him out, even now that he knows it's harmless. Almost harmless, anyway. Close to it.
He knows one thing; he won't be getting back to sleep tonight.
He curses not-quite-silently as he goes down the stairs, almost hoping he'll wake Sandburg up. He stops by the doors to Sandburg's room, just for a minute, and takes a moment to listen. Heartbeat says the kid is still asleep. This is probably better, better that at least one of them will be on his feet tomorrow - today. But Jim is pissed that it's not going to be him.
The glass of water he pours for himself tastes of metal pipes. The entire kitchen stinks of the dishes Sandburg promised to wash before going to sleep. Jim watches the water run into the sink, and mentally rolls his sleeves back with some satisfaction. When Sandburg wakes up, Jim will have the pleasure of pretending to have forgotten the whole thing, and will be able to feel justifiably superior for the rest of the day.
It is a poor substitute for sleep, but it's better than nothing.
The water dampens - hah - the craving, if only very slightly. The human body, Jim knows, often mistakes one hunger for another. Maybe he's just gotten dehydrated. Maybe that's the reason the water feels so good, so smooth and cool trickling down his hands. He's hot all over, too. It has to be dehydration. He was a fool to ever think otherwise.
He hears Sandburg's breath pause, snuffle, and change rhythm. The headache flares and Jim sighs. He closes his eyes, then opens them and looks at his watch. Three-forty. Jesus. Two hours before Sandburg wakes up. Jim's not sure if this pleases him or irritates him.
The dishes are done by four-thirteen, and Jim has been careful to scrub away every tiny spot.
He sits in the living room. It smells like popcorn from last night. They had watched a DVD, and Sandburg insisted on turning the English captions on so he could crack up whenever there was music and the cheerful little notes appeared. It wasn't a great movie, but it was fun nonetheless.
Sandburg had left his coat on the couch.
It seems like an innocuous thing, nothing more than a mild obstacle in Jim's path to neatness. Nothing earth-shattering.
Sandburg should know better than this, Jim thinks as he picks it up. His hands are cautious, as though the coat might burn them. Typical of Sandburg, leaving his stuff out here -- stuff that had spent the last day rubbing up against the guy, no less. It's probably shedding invisible skin cells on Jim's couch at this very moment, leaving behind stealthy molecules of scent.
The loft's air is thick with Sandburg's scent by now, but what's left on the coat isn't quite like that. Focused, concentrated… pure, in a way. Undiluted. Straight from the source….
Jim grinds his teeth and holds the coat away from his body, as though it's a dead rat. He walks to the coat hanger with slow, measured steps and hangs it there, carefully straightening it. There. Another thing to make him secretly smug in the morning. Isn't that nice?
He stares the coat down and slowly turns away.
Just as slowly, he turns back. He holds the coat up and buries his face in its collar.
It isn't so much that it smells good. The scent is a mixture of detergent and sweat and shampoo, nothing out of the ordinary. But something about that sweat, that shampoo makes the knot in his chest loosen and the throb in his head abate. His fingers are clutching the sleeves. Slowly, so very slowly, he releases his grip.
He straightens the coat again and returns to the couch. The popcorn smell is less overwhelming now.
It's not so much that he's ashamed of molesting Sandburg's clothes. Sandburg, should he find out, would probably stare at him; then it would be a coin's toss whether he would spout some mad theory or make a crack about Jim's love life. Jim would suffer some mild humiliation and annoyance, but that's what Sandburg is for, isn't it?
But Sandburg isn't the one with the itch here, is he? He isn't the one who gets sudden cravings for something, anything, of his best friend. A trace of scent, the touch of a hand... even the sound of his voice helped, in a pinch. He isn't the one who might find himself crawling into someone's bedroom at midnight because he's desperate.
Which Jim isn't, of course.
But the thirst is gone, and he still has an hour or so he can use to sleep in. Next time, he tells himself, he will just stay in bed. He has resolve, and it will do.
Almost do, anyway.
Close to it.
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