by Ice Bear
Summary: When Jim turns down a lunch of burgers and fries at this favorite place, for hot dogs in the park, Blair wants to know why.
Disclaimer: All things Sentinel belong to Pet Fly and Paramount.
"You go ahead, Chief, I'm going to the park," Jim said, jacket in hand. Blair looked up into the ice blue eyes of his partner.
"But you love the burgers at Wolfe’s."
"Just not in the mood today. You go on. But make sure Brown has his wallet before you go," he added, with a smile, when his words earned him a muttered threat from Henry.
"If you're sure?" Blair's mind was racing. Something was off. His partner had often waxed poetic about the burgers at Wolfe’s, and he'd never turned down an offer to go - especially when someone else was buying. The blue eyes smiling gently at him were warm as were the slender fingers that grasped his neck for a moment in passing. He watched the older man skip the elevator and opt for the stairs before turning his attention back to his lunch partners.
They were headed for Brown's car when he stopped short in the middle of the garage. "You guys go ahead," he said turning back to the door.
"Hairboy! Our company not good enough all of a sudden?" Brown groused gently.
"No, H...it's just," he looked back, his concern clear on his face.
"Okay, weird Ellison-Sandburg episode 143 - go get him. I'll bring you a salad," Rafe said with a smile.
He found his partner on his favorite bench in the far corner of the park a couple of blocks from the station, two hot dogs, still in their wrappers, on his lap. He smiled to himself when his saw the head come up and look at him, despite the fact he was too far away for the normal person to recognize him. "Hey, Big Guy, mind if I join you?" He whispered and smiled as the head across the way nodded in the affirmative.
He settled down next to him and politely turned down the offered hot dog, "No thanks, Jim. I want my artery’s to still be working when I hit 35," he smiled to take the sting out of the words, "besides Rafe's bringing me back a salad."
They sat enjoying the quiet of the park and the slight warmth offered by the early spring sun. Blair watched his partner from the corner of his eye. His mind was pondering the reason Jim was in the park today. He knew he came here sometimes when they were in the middle of a tough case and needed the peace and quiet of the outdoors to reset his senses; but today they were mostly doing paperwork. He came here when he was frustrated and needed to vent; but again things were going pretty well, and he'd been fine this morning. He caught the solemn look that appeared as his partner took a bite of the first hot dog.
Jim, as a rule, was not a hot dog guy - steak, burgers, prime rib, sure - but somehow hot dogs just weren't substantial enough for the big man. In fact, if he thought about it, this was the only place he'd ever seen Jim eat a hot dog. They didn't have them at home; and he couldn’t recall him eating them ball games, now that he thought about it. So just what was it with his partner and hot dogs?
"Something on your mind, Junior?" Jim cocked his head slightly, his grin engaging. "I can almost smell the smoke."
"Why is it you only eat hot dogs here? I mean, I'm not sure, if someone asked me that I'd say you liked hot dogs - you don't even eat them at the Jags games…I was just wondering, that’s all." Now he'd either get an answer to his question or Jim would storm off. He still had difficulty straddling the fine line between getting his partner to share pieces of his complicated soul and pissing him off.
The blue eyes closed, followed by the entire face, and when the tell tale muscle in the jaw started jumping, he was pretty sure he was about to get his head taken off. But when the blue eyes opened, they were softer, sad even, so he leaned forward, trying to offer comfort through proximity.
"When I was a kid...you know my mother left when I was little, right?" Blair nodded, remembering the night a couple of weeks ago when that little bombshell had been dropped during a stake out. "I thought I’d mentioned that," Jim said nodding his own head in confirmation. "Anyway, when I was around 5, before Stevie was born I think, I hadn't seen much of Mom because she was busy with her job and getting the nursery ready.”
“I was trying to be a 'little man' - my father's words, not mine - and stay out of the way. Well, one day, let's see it was probably sometime in March, cause Stevie was born in early May, I was sick and couldn’t go to school. Sally stayed with me during the day but her own kid was sick and she had to leave so Mom came home early. She and Dad were going out that night to some charity thing.”
“She wasn’t much of a cook – married to Dad she didn’t need to be. But she knew she had to get me dinner, cause the baby sitter didn’t cook. She found some hot dogs and boiled them. Then she wrapped me in a blanket and tucked me into her chair in the den. She let me eat in there – a serious violation of my father’s rules by the way - said it would be our secret. She sat with me while I ate, gave me a bath and tucked me into bed.”
Jim’s eyes were cloudy, his thoughts turned inward. “I remember she went to get changed and came back to kiss me goodnight. She was beautiful in a long, silk grey dress and she smelled like wild roses…”
Blair slipped a hand onto the broad shoulder, and Jim turned toward him with a crooked smile. “That was the last time I really remember being with my mother. There was her work, the baby, and then she, well over time she just sort of disappeared.”
"So hot dogs are your comfort food," Blair said softly, "that's cool. Mac and cheese is mine. Naomi had a friend we stayed with when I was about 8. She always made mac and cheese when I had a tough day at school - said it reminded her of when she was little and safe at home with her folks. Mom complained that it was the only thing Cindy really knew how to make!”
Jim’s long arm pulled him close for a long moment. “Why today, Jim? Is something wrong?” It was asked quietly. The story explained the hot dog issue, but not the reason for passing up Wolfe’s burgers today.
He felt rather then saw the shrug, “I…I found a wedding invitation today in one of my old notebooks. It was my friend, John-John’s. He was a good guy. You would have really liked him, Junior – smart, wicked sense of humor, would give you the shirt off his back, no questions asked.”
“He had cancer, been fighting it for a couple of years. Got married one August, and he was so happy… He died the next May. He couldn’t work for the last two and a half months, but we talked every day. Never about anything really important that I can remember; we just talked. I saw him once before, the end. And I talked to him every day until two days before he died. I guess finding that invitation reminded me about, well, about John-John.”
For his oh so not touchy feely partner, this was the equivalent of a 40 minute public declaration of his feelings, and Blair was moved that he’d felt comfortable enough to share it with him. He also felt that familiar mixture of rage and sadness that often hit when he thought about Jim’s childhood. His father had only focused attention on him when it was negative, and his mother had abandoned him. While his own mother was a bit of a flake, he’d always known he was loved. His partner did not have that foundation.
“Next time you feel the need for some comfort food, let me know. I have a secret passion for hot dogs – just don’t tell the guys, it’ll ruin my image!” He smiled softly at his partner.
“Yeah, about your image,” the older man gave him a gentle noogie as they headed back to work.
Two weeks later, Blair spent the day being hassled by student after student with the most amazing excuses he’d ever heard – and that was saying something when you consider the source – about why their papers weren’t finished and why they couldn’t take the test next week. He had begged out of going to the station earlier in the day but figured, despite his headache, that it was his night to cook and with his wallet was almost empty, he needed to figure out something he could make with the leftovers in the frig. He was so engrossed in the possibilities that he didn’t notice the delicious smell wafting through the loft as he entered. He hung up his jacket and dumped his back pack before stepping into the kitchen, only to bump into the immovable form of his partner.
“Hey, Jim. Sorry I’m late. I’ll have something on the table within half an hour.”
“Easy there, Sandburg,” the bigger man said gently pushing his partner back a step so he could look at him. “Dinner’s in the oven, and you have time for a shower – I’ve taken mine so feel free to use as much hot water as you want. You have about 20 minutes. Get going!”
Blair followed the order, his mind still on his whinny students. He was feeling much better when he exited the bathroom, hair still damp. He put on his favorite ratty sweats and his most comfortable flannel shirt before settling into his chair at the table.
“What’s wrong?” His roommate asked, as he took his seat.
“You made mac and cheese?”
“Guess we’ll make a detective out of you, yet.”
“No, I mean…how’d you know?”
Jim shrugged, a shy smile flitting across his face. “When you called this afternoon, it just sounded…it just seemed like the right thing to do. Not sure it’s as good as Naomi’s friend’s…”
Blair took a big bite, “Ummm, you used cream didn’t you? And two kinds of cheese!” He took a bigger bite.
“You’ve been holding out on me, man! This is amazing. When did you suddenly learn to cook?”
“Didn’t want you to love me just for my culinary skills,” Jim teased back.
“Oh never fear, Big Guy, that won’t ever happen, but I must admit, you look damn sexy in that apron.”
The mouthful of beer Jim had just taken went flying and the accompanying look of outrage sent Blair into a serious bout of the giggles. Once they got themselves back under control, they finished dinner, reveling in the comfort of their friendship.