Tea and Empathy

by sharilyn

rating: pg
summary: a little morning-after-the-stakeout fic

Well, aren't we a pair? Blair thought wryly to himself as he slumped at the breakfast table and squinted across its surface into the face of his partner, best friend, and roommate, Jim Ellison. Just call us the Trauma Twins.

"What? Looking for the one micrometer of unmarked skin on my face that Perez's goons DIDN'T work over last night, Sandburg?"

Jim's voice, still rough with morning sleepiness and the leftover vestiges of all the enraged growling he'd done the night before, meandered lethargically across the space between them to settle in Blair's ears, auditory signals firing sluggishly and then waiting patiently for the exhausted anthro student's still-muzzy brain to catch up and get with the program of decoding sound waves into recognizable speech. Which was harder than it might seem, Blair grimaced ruefully to himself, when one's brain felt like it was still sloshing wetly around inside one's cranium from the force of all the blows he'd received to the head last night. It's a miracle we're both sitting here at home instead of laid up in ICU this morning, he pondered dimly as his eyes remained stubbornly fixated on Jim's battered face, the blurry collage of blacks, blues, and yellowish purples that made up his partner's nightmarish new complexion wavering unsteadily before Blair's woozy gaze.

"Cut it out, Chief; believe me, you don't look any better," Jim snorted softly now, the initial flare of grumpy ire in his blue eyes softening into reluctant sympathy as he watched Blair lift one slightly shaky hand to poke and prod gingerly at his own kaleidoscopic-hued face and the spectacular black eye he'd sported upon awakening this morn.

"I guess this is the part where I'm supposed to say 'Hey, I resent that, Jim!' or 'Ha, on my WORST day I still look better than you do right now, bro.' But my brain hurts too much to rise to my usual level of witty repartee," Blair groaned quietly, cradling his throbbing head oh so carefully in one palm.

"The brain feels no pain, Sandburg," Jim retorted drily, and Blair squinted balefully back at him from between his light-shielding fingers before rasping snippily,

"Well, mine does. On the Jim Ellison Sentinel Scale from 1-10, this modestly genius-level bit of Sandburgian gray matter has got to be registering a whopping 13 right now."

"And yet, even through the excruciating agony, you're able to enunciate at least two dozen words when a couple would do just as well. C'mon, say it with me, Chief; IT...HURTS. Two words. Not twenty, or even thirty. So your verbosity alone tells me that even if your marbles ARE rolling around a bit in there this morn, at least you still have all of them."

Jim couldn't help the small, half-pained grin that flickered across his split lip at the drop-dead glare his best friend gave him in reply, and as Blair sputtered futiley for a moment, unable to frame a sarcastic enough rejoinder, Jim merely shrugged in feigned disappointment and reached rather stiffly to pick up the piece of dry toast lying on the plate in front of him.

"Your solicitude warms my heart, man," Blair finally grunted out as he settled back so very, very slowly and deliberately in his chair and then eyed the untouched and still-steaming mug of tea that now sat just out of his hand's reach, thanks to his own careful manuevering. "Damn," he muttered fretfully to himself as his brutalized arm and shoulder muscles screamed a warning protest at the very idea of reaching for the soothing herbal drink.

Almost furtively his pained blue eyes flicked across the table to gauge whether or not Jim had caught his lack of foresight; with the mood the older man was in, it would be just like him to rib his partner over this little faux pas, as well. With a silent sigh of disgust Blair read full awareness of the situation in Jim's steady blue gaze and readied himself for some teasing little comment, something to the effect of 'Hey, too bad your arms didn't get longer when they stretched them behind your back last night...' Yeah, right before they punched me in the gut over and over, Blair added snidely to himself and then suddenly sat up straighter, biting back a cry of surprised discomfort as his attention zeroed in on the look of genuine compassion now gleaming back at him from Jim's blue gaze.

Without a word Jim reached out, his uncharacteristically slow and overly cautious movements a sure indication of his own sorely abused muscles, and gently, silently, pushed Blair's mug close enough so that his roommate could reach it with a minimum of fuss and effort. A brief surge of warm affection mingled with concern flared to life in Jim's quiet stare as he watched Blair fumble for the mug and awkwardly curl his palms around its blessed heat, and Blair found his own gaze welded to Jim's as he murmured a heartfelt, "Thanks, man" and sipped absently at the soothing tea.

"Well, appearances to the contrary," Jim murmured ruefully now as he reached to finger his own impressive shiner, "we did good last night, Chief."

"Yeah--we're still alive," Blair snorted inelegantly into his mug and looked back up to catch a flash of amusement in his sentinel's shrewd perusal.

"There's that, too, of course, " Jim agreed blandly before biting off a corner of his toast and chewing reflectively. Blair watched impatiently as the other man swallowed and took a leisurely sip of his coffee before continuing. "But what I was trying to get across was the point that we went up against seven of Perez's muscle men with nothing more than our wits and our fists, basically, and we did okay. We were able to hold our own till Simon got there with backup, and YOU--you really held up your end of the deal, partner. I guess all that extra practice we've been putting in on the mats really came to fruition last night. I was proud of the way you handled yourself out there, Chief."

Jim's tone was unmistakably sincere, the pride in his eyes backing up his assertion that Blair had made a good accounting of himself in a very dangerous situation, and Blair felt his cheeks heat with the rush of embarrassed gratification that Jim's heartfelt praise stirred within him. For a moment he revelled in the warm realization that he was truly becoming the skilled and dependable partner Jim needed in his line of work rather than just a long-haired liability who had to be told tersely to stay in the truck while Jim went off alone to face God only knew what peril. As he sat here in their sunny morning kitchen it came to Blair's attention more than ever before that he very rarely stayed in the truck anymore; and the affectionate, mildly amused smile Jim directed his way now told him more than words ever could that his roommate was aware of it too and was just fine with Blair watching his back up close and personal, so to speak, rather than from a frustrated huddle in
the passenger seat of Jim's truck as he radioed in for the police assistance he'd long felt he himself should be providing.

"Well, maybe YOU were holding your own, Jim, but I gotta tell you--I was never so glad in my life to hear those sirens and see Simon and the rest of the cavalry show up at the eleventh hour," Blair admitted now as he reached a somewhat shaky hand to snag a strip of bacon from his plate. "I knew once those thugs got past YOU they'd be able to get to their cache of weapons and then..."

"And then nothing, Sandburg; you kept those three idiots busy enough so that I could take out three more, and I was working on my fourth when Simon showed. No way was I gonna let any of them past me to get to those guns and--" And shoot you, partner, came the unspoken conclusion to that particular dismal thought as Jim's eyes darkened suddenly with some deep emotion before resting on Blair's battered face with an undisguised measure of simple, straightforward love. The expression on Jim's face described a frankly honest sentiment that Blair's heart returned with equal force, and for a moment an almost hushed and reverant silence reigned in the loft as each man processed the inestimable value of their relationship as friends and partners.

"Um, Jim..." Blair began uncertainly after a bit, chagrined to find himself flushing again with the warmth of his emotions; but Jim, looking the slightest bit discomfited now by this fleeting episode of joint sentiment, merely huffed out a gentle sigh and gave Blair the smallest, dissenting shake of his head to draw a halt to whatever it was that Blair had been about to confess.

"Any situation loaded with drugs, guns, and an overabundance of walking muscle that we can ultimately walk away from still in one piece is a definite success story in my book, Chief," Jim murmured wryly now and forked some scrambled eggs into his mouth as Blair shrugged and took an unenthusiastic sip of his now-tepid tea. "Besides which, I really enjoyed all that fancy foot work you displayed last night to keep those goons confused and off-kilter. I've said it before and I'll say it again; you've got all the moves, babe."

Jim grinned unrepentently through the painful swelling of his upper lip at the amused snort Blair let loose in reply; and as his wild-haired roomie began a halting but increasingly enthusiastic rehash of every bob and weave and misstep that had led him to sport such a colorful array of bruises and contusions this morn, the great sentinel of Cascade settled gingerly back to nurse his own battle-stiffened muscles as he sipped his coffee and listened with one slightly raised eyebrow and a grateful heart to the valiant tale of Cascade's one-of-a-kind, completely irreplaceable, fancy-footed shaman. Jim knew that the physical pain and bruising they both shared right now would soon pass; but he prayed that the ever-deepening bond of affection, empathy, and intuitive understanding growing daily between them would become the strong and permanent bedrock of a friendship that would enable them both to withstand any foes or obstructions that might try to rise against them.

You and me, Chief, all the way, Jim mused, quietly overtaken with an inner sense of thankful serenity; and almost as if reading his thoughts, Blair paused in the midst of his animated account of ducking when he should have weaved to gift Jim with one of those radiant, fully-involved Sandburg smiles that said right back, loud and clear: You and me, Jim, partners all the way. And as both men finished their breakfasts over increasingly silly and exaggerated anecdotes concerning last night's near-disastrous stakeout, the sun rose fully and cast its golden light over the angry palette of bruises liberally covering their faces, softening their intensity and rendering them negligible in the face of the healing, life-affirming energy crackling between sentinel and guide.

The End~