Jim fought back panic as his hearing failed, the sounds around him dimming to muffled silence. A rough jostle from a passing shopper made him jerk in shock and he felt distanced and clumsy.
A hand slipped into his, halting him with a gentle tug and he spun around to meet Sandburg's concerned eyes, relaxing a little as Blair led him to an empty bench
"I was calling your name and you didn't even look at me. That's just not--" Blair flushed and Jim raised his eyebrows inquiringly, concentrating on reading Blair's lips. "I'm not used to that. I knew something was wrong. What is it?"
Jim missed hearing the cadences of Blair's voice but his earlier panic had gone now that he wasn't alone. "I can't hear," he said simply, knowing by the tiny wince Blair gave that he'd spoken too loudly.
"Okay, man, you have to think. Give me more than that. What happened just before you --" Blair glanced away, his attention distracted by a toddler, tumbling forward, his face contorting in a howl Jim was glad he'd been spared. Unfortunately, with Blair's face averted, Jim didn't know what he was saying. Frustrated, he cupped Blair's cheek and turned Blair back to face him.
The cool skin warmed against his palm and he couldn't help letting his thumb move across Blair's lips in a caress he hoped came across as accidental; friendly, no more. That might have happened if he'd let his hand drop away, but he couldn't, and his thumb was mapping every roughness on the soft, full lip.
Blair pushed Jim's hand away gently, wrapping his fingers around it and not letting go. "That's… God, that's nice, Jim, but I need to be able to talk and --"
Jim mouthed an apology that got his captured hand squeezed reassuringly as Blair looked around. He brightened. "Jim! The band over there playing carols. The feedback from the speakers is fierce; did you walk by them?"
Jim shook his head. "It’s the last thing I remember hearing but they were just playing."
"But maybe the acoustic vibrations affected you if they've got it set up wrong."
Jim shrugged again. He didn't care. He just wanted to hear.
"You've got to tune it out until we get far enough away," Blair said firmly. "Come on, Jim. This is Sentinel 101."
Jim rolled his eyes and concentrated, Blair's hand still locked in his. Between one breath and the next, Blair's encouragement went from being visual to audible and he sighed with relief.
"Knew you could do it, Jim."
Jim eased his hand free and lifted it to Blair's face again, patting his cheek gently. "Thanks, Chief."
It wasn't enough but it seemed to be enough for Blair who smiled, his fingers touching his mouth briefly, his eyes knowing, loving.
Blair laughed. "They're playing 'Silent Night' now."
Gratitude only went so far.
"Only you would think that was funny, Sandburg."
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