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Of Sympathy and Gin

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The light from the lamp is very warm and comforting, an orange glow, and Jim scoots closer to George on their couch. "When will she be here?" he asks softly.

George glances at the clock. "Five minutes. She's very punctual; you know how Charly is. I wouldn't be surprised should she be outside waiting for the clock to strike seven before knocking."

Jim looks at the window, as though he could see her waiting there. George chuckles. "Neither would I. She's always very.. eager to spend time with you. As though you don't live right around the bend from her house," Jim comments lightly.

"I'm sure it's much farther in Charly's mind," George says dismissively, flipping a page in his book. When Jim says nothing, he peeks over the top of the cover to find him staring at him, almost examining him, looking for something. "Something the matter?" he prompts.

Jim stays silent a few moments more, then shakes his head, like he's coming out of a daze. "Nothing." Before George can respond, probe and get an answer, knocking can be heard from the front door, Charly's voice calling, asking to be let in, and would George be a darling and open the door for her? Jim checks the clock: precisely seven.

Rising from the small couch, gently maneuovering Jim, so as to get up, George speaks, "I'll let her in, then. Restart the fire, will you?" Jim rises, and follows George to the living room to poke the dying embers. By the time they're kindled, Charly is already inside, jacket pulled off and hung on the rack by the ever-polite-host George, George already making teasing comments and Charly bantering back. Neither mentions Jim until he steps away from the fire, patting his hands against his pants to get the small dusting of ash off. George extends a welcoming arm towards him. Jim smiles and goes obligingly before gently directing everyone to the seats in front of the fire. George gestures for them to sit, while offering to get drinks. Jim asks for a beer, while Charly requests a gin and tonic be brought for her. George smiles graciously, and goes off to fetch them, leaving Charly and Jim in the living room.

"How are you?" Jim asks politely.

"I've been well," she replies warmly. "How have you been, darling?"

"I've been fine," he says. He and Charly got on much better than when the first met, but he felt uncomfortable in her presence sometimes, like the odd person out, which was ridiculous, of course. Still.

"That's well.. And Geo?" she whispers, looking concerned. She was talking about the miniature heart attack George had had not a month ago.

Jim frowns. Hadn't George and she talked about this already in one of their many visits to each other's houses? "He's doing well. No signs of a returning attack. The doctor says that just because there are no signs that it doesn't mean the danger is gone, but," Jim pauses, as he recalls Charly quite fancies dramatics,"he said the fact that there are no lingering effects is a good sign, all things considered."

"A doctor's appointment?" She seems surprised, really surprised since she ignores his half-hearted attempt at drama. Jim supposes it wasn't so good attempt to be excited over, in any case. "When?" she queries, when he remains silent for a second more than to her liking. That was a better, albeit unplanned, attempt, he thinks, from the way her eyes brighten impatiently and her foot taps the floor.

"We went last week." The tapping stops.

"He didn't mention anything," she murmurs distractedly, softly rubbing her cheek in thought, no doubt wondering why he would keep such a thing from her. She even asks him if George discussed it with him, his not telling her.

Jim thinks that's an awfully personal and intrusive thing to ask; if George wanted to tell her, he would have told her. He, having told her about the doctor's appointment moments before, had done so under the impression she'd already been informed. Knowing now that she had not, he became much more tight lipped. Her implications-the unspoken accusation, you're making George keep secrets from me-were not missed by Jim. Tersely, he says, "We've discussed nothing of the sort. I thought he told you." And that was all he said on the matter before moving the discussion further along, anxious to get the pleasantries over with, so George could return.

George enters the room with their drinks a few minutes after they finish 'catching up', effectively breaking the tension. Jim suspects he was listening in; he had a knack for arriving precisely when needed. Jim and Charly had been sitting in a uncomfortable silence. Charly recognized her prodding into personal things was unwelcome, and Jim was just as pleased to have nothing to say, and have her say nothing. "Your gin and tonic," George announces grandly, placing the glass cup on a light brown coaster, "and our beers." There were no coasters for their beers; they generally held them precariously in their laps, between their legs. George sits himself comfortably in an armchair next to Jim, reaching out to hold his hand, interlacing their fingers.

"Jim tells me that you had a doctor's appointment last week," Charly begins, almost conversationally. Except she's eying George like he's betrayed her, and George's fingers tighten minutely on Jim's, causing Jim to gasp a little breath, almost inaudibly. It's ignored.

"Does he, now?" George asks, even though she's just stated that. He's buying a moment of time to think.

"She asked how you were doing," Jim adds in, feeling like he should defend himself when he's done nothing wrong, at least, not knowingly.

"Not in so many words," Charly agrees. George looks at her curiously.

"I did have a doctor's appointment," George confirms. He glances at Jim, eyes full of love, to say, I'm not angry. Jim nods, imperceptible, almost.

"So Jim said," she says.

George nods. "I assume he told you what the doctor said?" She nods. "That sums it up, then."

Charly exhales sharply, impatiently. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"Why should I? I was doing fine; I am doing fine," George reiterates.

Charly huffs. "I'm sure," she mutters. Jim shoots Charly an indecipherable look, slightly offended by the implication.

"And that means..?" he trails off questioningly.

"It means that he needs more than one person to monitor him. I can look after him when you're not around." She was very calm now, as she said it, very collected.

"He doesn't need to be monitored. He's a big boy; he can take care of himself. I trust him to, but I'm here for anything extra."

"What you mean to say is his physical exercise," she says bitterly. Charly's eyes widen as she realizes what she's just said. Turning pleading eyes to Jim, she apologizes, "That was inappropriate. I'm sorry, I just-" and so forth. Jim tunes her out as he looks at George. George appears stunned that she would say something so forward and spiteful after all this time.

Jim watches George carefully from the corner of his eye. He seems really upset by what Charlotte has said, but he has yet to comment. Jim wonders if it's because he's reigning in his temper, or if it's because he's watching him as well.

"You can stop with your apologies. You meant what you said when you said it." Jim sounds weary, even to George's ears. Charly takes a lot of energy out of him, apparently; Richard wasn't joking when he said she was a piece of work, then. Charly stops apologizing immediately. She looks properly chatised, and desperate to be forgiven. George doesn't understand how Jim hasn't forgiven her yet; he would've caved.

George lets out a world weary sigh. "Why did you say it, kiddo?" he asks, the affectionate nickname was added to coax the truth out of her without fear of reproach. Even if reproach seemed a definite outcome.

She lowers her eyes, avoiding the question, yet answering it indirectly. "I want to help."

Jim feels himself soften towards Charly. Her disposition is pitifully sad. While he's always known of Charly's love for George, the one that hadn't died down, apparently, since their days as teenagers in London, he always resented her for it. Here she was, still connected to George with their friendship, but intimate, or once intimate, with him like he was. She knew his body, too, had felt it, had received it, and damn it all if Jim couldn't pat out the burn of jealousy that seethed through his body like fiery red tendrils at the thought.

But, he was always brought out of any bad thought towards her because George was undoubtably and irrevocably his; she was just the once girl who had been with him once or twice, the young woman who had to accept friendship even though she wanted more. The woman who was rejected by a man because he wasn't attracted to her. Then, every day, she had to see him with a man, happy and joyful, while her own marriage was deteriorating and her child was becoming independent. Jim, although displeased she couldn't move on even after all this time, felt sympathy. He wanted to begrudge her this, this crush she had on his partner, but he couldn't because she was so pathetic in this state, so sad and lonely.

So, reaching a hand to tenderly grasp hers, stretching forward over the coffee table in order to do so, he smiled a wilted and genuine smile. His eyes reflected the forgiveness he felt, and she gasped before clutching his hand. A small tear ran down her cheek, and, before he could wipe it off, George caught it. Jim hadn't realized that he had been behind him. George's hand squeezed his fingers affectionately.

"I'm sorry," Charlie murmured, remorseful. Jim smiled widely at Charly, deciding to forgive and forget.

"For what?" he questioned.

Her brows furrowed, and she looked like she was about to speak before comprehension dawned on her features. "Nothing," she says looking at him. Flicking her eyes to George, with a quick pat to Jim's retracting hand in thanks, she comments, "I'm so glad you stopped smoking, Geo." I'm so glad Jim came into your life, Geo. It was tacitly placed, and well-received.

Jim understood, and it appeared George did, too, because he smiled, and turned towards Jim, all warmth and love and adoration, a thankful and grateful light shining brightly in his eyes. It made Jim think of their lamp, how its glow warmed them and intensified them, and he felt a small ball of pleasure unfurl in his stomach. "Yes," George replies warmly. "As am I."