Crumb of Comfort

by Jane Davitt




A/N Many thanks to Wesleysgirl for beta reading.

"The 'cops are your friends' talk at the youth club is on Thursday?"

Jim shrugged. "Yeah, so?"

"So...if the talk's at seven, by the time it's over..." Blair let his words trail off, not sure where he was going with this. Birthdays meant more to him from an anthropological point of view than a personal one. He could appreciate their significance and reel off a dozen different traditions connected with the day without truly caring if his own was commemorated.

Birthday. Birth day. The day of one's birth. The time when a baby was expelled from Eden, warm and dark, pushed out, wet and howling into a cold, bright world, air sucked into expanding lungs for that first shaky, indignant breath.

Worth remembering, Blair guessed, (even if no one did, not really) although the connection to cake, balloons, and cards was on the tenuous side. Blair sometimes slid under the bathwater and closed his eyes, rocked in the close confines of the tub, the lub-dub of his heartbeat loud in his ears, and tried to forge a link with that earlier Blair, first-Blair. He'd gotten water in his ears and not much else in the way of enlightenment. Maybe it was for the best. Birth was painful for just about everyone involved.

Jim cleared his throat, bringing Blair out of his introspective haze. "If you're wondering what to get me, I could use some new socks," he offered.

There was so much wrong with that idea that Blair wasn't sure where to begin. He chose a flat refusal. "I'm not going to buy you socks."

Jim raised his eyebrows. "Why not?" he asked, all polite perplexity.

"They're boring," Blair said, going for a reason off the 'less likely to get awkward' column. "Socks define boring, Jim. Especially yours. Do you even own any that aren't white and white and oh, maybe white? Boring."

Jim sniffed and managed to convey volumes with it. "I wear them; I don't date them. And it's my birthday, and if I want socks -- white socks --"

"Get them yourself," Blair said. "I'm not getting a reputation as the desperate for ideas man who buys socks, thank you very much."

"Carolyn used to buy me socks," Jim said, with enough meaning behind the words that it took Blair a moment to untangle all the disparate threads of reproof, hint, and suggestion.

While he was doing that, his mouth, on automatic pilot, snapped out a terse, "Yeah, well, she was your wife, Jim."

And now he'd poured honey, sticky, thick, over the tangle and made it that much worse. Because if Carolyn had gotten Jim socks and she was Jim's wife, and Jim clearly, obviously, wanted Blair to buy him...oh, fuck, had he just blown a chance to end months of flirt and run away?

Time to cut the Gordian Knot while ignoring the fact that he had Carolyn beaten hands down on every aspect of being a wife, because she'd left Jim (having fun in San Francisco, Carolyn?) and he would never, ever -- and okay, he wasn't sleeping with Jim (yet), but toward the end, which had begun pretty soon after the honeymoon, neither was Carolyn from something Jim had said when he was drunk and garrulous one night. Blair cooked for Jim, he cleaned for him, he greeted him with a smile at the end of the day. He took care of him when he was sick, and obsessed and fussed over Jim's diet. When it came to the big stuff; love, honor, and obey... Well, two out of three wasn't bad.

Jim seemed to be stunned to silence, which gave Blair time to add, "Who said I was buying you something anyway?"

Blair took a deep breath, readying himself to continue, and then saw the hurt darken Jim's eyes as his words were taken the wrong way -- not that he could blame Jim, because, really, what else could they mean apart from a declaration of indifference? Not that Jim was the kind of man who cared much about birthdays, either, but Blair remembered how Jim had gone out of his way to make Blair's last birthday a good day, little things said and done that made the whole day flow smoothly, with Blair wrapped in a sense of well-being from the moment he'd woken to find breakfast waiting for him to when he'd gone to bed, pleasantly buzzed on his share of the bottle of wine that Jim had insisted on ordering to go with their meal at one of Blair's -- not Jim's -- favorite restaurants.

"I didn't mean it like that," he blurted out.

Jim shrugged. "It doesn't matter," he said, his tone elaborately casual. "I don't want anything. That's why I asked for socks; they're cheap and they're easy."

Like you hung unspoken in the silence, as unpleasant as a whiff of air from the morgue.

Blair swallowed down a retort that would do nothing to ease the tension. "I meant that I was making you something, not buying a gift," he clarified. It was a fabrication and a lie, but the hurt in Jim's eyes vanished, replaced by a not entirely unsatisfactory panic. Jim was, quite clearly, already planning to defend his power tools with his life.

"You really don't need to --"

"A cake," Blair finished, flushed with victory because that was so completely beyond anything he'd ever done for anyone that, really, it left Jim with nothing to say. "It was going to be a surprise, but..."

Jim didn't fall for it quite far enough to apologize; Blair found himself on the receiving end of a steady stare and then a measured nod. "A cake. Huh. Well, thanks, Chief." Jim stood and gave Blair's hair a passing ruffle. "Sally used to always make me --"

"It's going to be chocolate," Blair said flatly before he could get intimidated by a drooling description of something with five layers and piped frosting. Sally, if the little Jim had said about her was to be believed, was the source of all gastronomic delights. How much of that was accurate and how much nostalgia, Blair didn't know.

"Chocolate's good," Jim said, already looking hungry. "I like chocolate."

"Everybody likes chocolate," Blair said, putting Jim firmly in his place.

***

Cake making involved way more than flour and eggs and such stirred together and heated up. It took Blair no time at all to discover that. He visited the local library on the morning of Jim's birthday and wandered bemused around the bright, open space, so different than Rainier's dimmer, denser stacks. Children, muted a little because of their location, but far from quiet, scampered around freely and the walls were covered with artwork and posters.

He found a section devoted to cakes and a moment later, aided and abetted by Dewey, narrowed his results to three books specifically about birthday cakes.

Whoa. The illustrations terrified him; the instructions beneath them swirled dizzyingly, incomprehensibly before his eyes. Train-shaped cakes, cakes covered in roses, cakes like numbers, like animals, like Winnie-the-Pooh...

He re-shelved two of the books and opened one with the reassuring title of 'Birthday Cakes for Beginners'.

Okay. It still had a section of cakes for children but it also had some sober, mature cakes and surely one would be suitable for a late-thirties cop with a white sock fetish.

Blair paged through it and found one that would do nicely; a modest three layers, with two kinds of frosting, some fancy piped decorations that he intended to personalize, and although none of the cake was actually visible, the recipe said that it could be made in chocolate if some of the flour was replaced by cocoa powder.

Easy.

He used the library photocopier to run off the relevant pages and then glanced at them, checking off items in his head. Discovering that the only ingredients they possessed back at the loft were milk, eggs, and butter wasn't the disconcerting part; he'd resigned himself to a trip to the supermarket. Discovering that in addition to cake tins, he was also going to have to buy a cooling rack and waxed paper, plus bags and nozzles for the frosting was more of a shock; this was going to get expensive.

There was a bakery nearby with a cake section full of luscious fresh cream and fruit laden confections with chocolate applied lavishly. Jim would love one of -- no. He couldn't go the easy route. Homemade. It was Blair's self-imposed penance for hurting Jim's feelings, and if Jim suffered too (Blair was capable of self-delusion, but not to the extent of believing that he could produce anything more than passably edible) well, that was life.

The supermarket obligingly provided everything he would need in one aisle, which gave him a confidence that, looked at later, was a snare and a delusion.

Back at the loft, Blair spread out his purchases and discovered that they took up a lot of counter space. Clearly, organization was key. He was a man who'd once packed for a three-month long expedition to the jungle in half an hour, and if three months with only two pairs of shorts had sometimes proved challenging, well, the fact remained that he could work quickly and efficiently under pressure.

And with the day ticking away, pressure was starting to build. Cakes had to bake after all; the mixing was only the first step.

After ten minutes, his mental list of lessons learned featured topics such as 'size matters; when it comes to bowls, bigger is better' and a bitter 'crack the eggs into a separate bowl, if there's ever a next time, because eggshell is a bitch to get out of the mixture and thank God none of them were bad, because that would have just sucked'.

The air was soon dusty with flour and slickly greasy with butter, making breathing oddly difficult; he was going to need to clean before Jim got home and started choking. The vanilla smelled good, though, and there was something nicely primal about the ache in his arm after whipping the pale brown mixture to a glossy smoothness.

He poured and scraped and coaxed the mix into two pans (he'd decided three layers were beyond him and scaled back, feeling sensible and prudent) and slid them into the oven (pre-heated) with a flourish.

Nothing to it. Wait; he had to set the timer...there, done. He could sit down and -- Blair glanced at the chaos. Okay, he could clean...but he still had to make the frosting (two kinds, one for the filling and one for the top and sides; the decorations, like the third layer had been discarded as overly ambitious) and there wasn't much point in cleaning a workspace that would just get messy again.

He grabbed a beer and sprawled out on the couch. Time to chill.

After a while, the cake started to smell really good, but he virtuously resisted the urge to peek, and even when the smell changed to something vaguely scorched, he stayed where he was. It had said thirty-five minutes in the recipe, and that's what the cakes would get.

It turned out that the recipe didn't know what the hell it was talking about; the cakes emerged with a frill of black around the edges and were the consistency of leather judging by the way they landed on the cooling rack when he'd prized them out of their tins. They were also a scant two inches thick, a far cry from the fluffy tower of cake in the photograph.

Blair sucked air through his teeth and contemplated starting over with a sick distaste for the idea that soon beat out guilt. He'd scrape away the blackened bits and really layer the frosting on thickly; it'd work.

Frosting turned out to be a sticky, messy job, not helped by the fact that he didn't wait for the cakes to cool, so the first application promptly melted and soaked in. Patience had ceased to be a virtue; he wanted this damned thing done and looked forward to plunging a single, symbolic candle into its charred heart. Pride made him finish the job, but the bright green (mint frosting) lopsided mess on the plate was nothing to be proud of, which left him annoyed and twitchy as he pictured Jim's reaction. Amusement? Scorn? Pity? They all sounded equally unbearable.

Before he gave in completely to self pity, he began the clean-up operation, gloomily returning the kitchen to something approaching its usual state of order, that was pretty impressive for two guys, or so most of his dates told him.

The patina of flour and fine sugar was difficult to erase from the work surface and when he'd finished, he realized that he'd need to mop the floor. White socks were starting to look more and more attractive as a gift option. He knew where to buy them, he knew the brand Jim liked...why had he been so snobbish, so quick to label them as dull? Dull was scrubbing sticky stuff off flat surfaces. Boring was waiting hours for an oven to spit out inedible garbage.

Socks were so elegant by comparison, so...clean.

Blair placed the cake in the middle of the table, mute testimony to his efforts, and left the loft, a man on a mission.

***

Jim walked into the loft, his head still buzzing from the sound of forty teenaged voices reverberating around a small room. The talk had gone okay, he guessed; public speaking wasn't usually part of his duties, so he didn't have much to compare it to, but the kids had been reasonably attentive -- his visible, if holstered gun might have helped there -- and they'd asked some intelligent questions among the predictable cheekiness. If what he'd said had stuck enough to make at least one kid turn to the police for help instead of choosing a gun to solve a problem with then it'd been worth it. He was well aware that voicing a thought that banal would have gotten derisive laughter in most circles, but he meant it. He had to; if he couldn't think of himself as a force for good, then what the hell was he doing busting his ass 365 days a year?

The buzz increased to a roar when he saw Blair.

Blair was sprawled on the couch, one foot on the floor, the other idly toeing a cushion, a position that, given what Blair was wearing, which wasn't much, exposed a lot of skin, lightly tanned, dusted with hair that clustered thickly in places. Jim frowned at the bowl of green goop on the table beside the couch and then found his gaze drawn back to Blair, wearing shorts, a hard-on, a pensive half-smile, and --

"Are those my socks?" Jim demanded.

Blair craned his neck, and sat up a little, which did interesting things to the drape of his thin shorts across the point and swell of his dick. He studied the socks on his feet gravely. "Nope. These are mine. Yours are on the table by your cake. Happy Birthday, man."

"They look like my socks," Jim said stubbornly. Why the hell was he harping on the socks when Blair was tripping every fuse he had? Why wasn't he going over there and touching what Blair was showing him, tasting what was blatantly -- finally -- on offer? Jim didn't know, but he was sure of one thing; the shorts might need to come off later, depending on how all this played out, but if he had any say in it, the socks were staying on. The sight of them, white, thick, soft, on Blair's feet was as arousing as anything his fevered mind had conjured in the night, his hand tight and merciless around his straining erection.

His birthday. Years -- years of circling around this, this thing they had going, and Blair picked his birthday to go to Def Con whatever the fuck this was.

Jim felt his mouth tighten with pique. He'd always pictured it being his hand at the helm, steering them bedward. His place, his partner, helper -- whatever the hell Blair was -- his decision to permit Blair's advance past the final barrier Jim had defended for so long...

He spared the kitchen table a glance and winced when he saw the precariously balanced pile of white socks next to a disaster of a cake smeared with lurid green frosting. If they fell into it...

"Why don't you run some things by me, Chief?" he asked, his annoyance dying back. The cake must have taken Blair a while to bake, after all, and the socks were exactly what he'd asked for. "Start with why you're --"

"Wearing white socks?" Blair interrupted. "I'm bonding with you, Jim. Monkey see, monkey do." Blair wiggled his toes. "Dorky, but cozy; I can see why you like them, though I'm not sure I see myself wearing them outside, you know?"

"The day I take fashion advice from you is the day I..." Jim shook his head. "No. You're trying to distract me. Forget the socks; why the seduction -- " He broke off to sniff the air. "Are you drunk?"

When he'd walked in, the stink of scorch and sugar had made him automatically dull his sense of smell to the point where breathing wasn't something to endure, but he'd drifted inexorably closer to Blair and a tendril, a whiff of scotch had worked its way past his blocks.

"Drunk enough to be honest, sober enough to drive," Blair said. Jim arched his eyebrows. "In an emergency." Jim remained silent. "Life and death only."

"If you got behind the wheel like this, that'd be exactly what it was."

"Fine, I'm too drunk to drive, but I'm not so drunk that you have to be noble and wait for me to sober up so that we can discuss this calmly."

Jim considered that as he went to the balcony doors and threw them open, allowing the humid summer air to wash into the room. Blair did sound reasonably clear of tongue and head. "Fair enough."

"Thank you."

Jim decided to sit down; looming over Blair never intimidated him and he felt the need to be close to Blair, as if that would make it easier to decipher Blair's words -- because there were going to be words spoken, a flood of Sandburgian eloquence; Jim was certain of that. He chose the end of the couch, by Blair's feet, and unceremoniously grabbed Blair's ankles to make room for his ass.

Mistake.

His hands closed around the sock-covered ankles and he froze. Not a zone, just a thrill of discovery that his hands looked like that, cuffing Blair, holding him; that thick, soft cotton over warm skin and bone could feel luxurious, sensual -- that Blair, once touched, would purr and shift and squirm, tiny movements, small, throat-caught sounds, but Jim was at the stage where he could hear the beat and scrape of Blair's eyelashes against the air.

Maybe he was zoning...

His world narrowed to what he held, his hands still, not caressing, just...encompassing. Soft and warm and warm and soft and soft and --

Pain flared and the gestalt of 'softandwarm' became a flash of discomfort radiating out from his arm. Blair was pinching it, hard enough that Jim could feel a bruise begin to form, clouding his skin purple and red.

"You back with me?"

Jim nodded, helplessly clinging to Blair's ankles, unable to release them, feeling ridiculous and aroused, two emotions that went side by side in his nightmares.

"Let go, Jim," Blair said gently and when he was told to by Blair, Jim could. He folded his empty hands together and swallowed dryly. "Yeah..." Blair said. "That's it."

Blair put his arms around Jim, a hug that he hadn't expected. "I baked you a cake," Blair murmured into the side of Jim's neck, his words a tickle. "I got you socks. I did all the hard work, always do for you, and I don't get to do the fun stuff. Halfway down the second glass, that started to seem really unfair."

"'Fun stuff'?"

"Like this," Blair said and slipped his tongue past Jim's parted lips and sealed his mouth to Jim's. Blair tasted of whiskey and sugar, hope and determination, but the kiss wasn't fun. Fun implied light-hearted, amusing, entertaining; the kiss was only seconds old when it became clear to Jim that this was serious.

It was one of those moments. Blair was changing his life again, like he'd done before with a calm, persuasive (insane) certainty, knocking it askew, from one track to the next, so that Jim's ultimate destination (a hole in the ground and a few sad faces) didn't change, but moved away or got closer, depending.

He peeled his mouth away from Blair's. "Are you sure about this?"

Blair blinked at him, blue eyes left half-closed. "Fuck, yes."

"I don't share," Jim said, an advance warning of his reaction the next time Blair decided to flirt with someone. "And we don't have good track records when it comes to lasting and permanent."

"We do when it's us," Blair replied and went back to kissing Jim with a fervor that was flattering and contagious.

Hard to argue with that; Blair had been around for a long time now without showing any signs of restlessness and Jim had never, not once, wished him gone.

Blair's back was all muscle and smooth skin, planes and slopes divided by the clean sweep of his spine. Jim ran his hands over it, learning it, and felt Blair press closer.

"I was going to wait for you naked," Blair murmured, the words soaking into Jim's skin, "with parts of me covered in frosting. Be your cake. Changed my mind. You'd hate it if I got frosting on the couch."

"Where would I have put the candle?" Jim asked, nuzzling at Blair's ear and biting the lobe as gently as his rising lust would allow.

"Oh, I can think of a few places," Blair said, flirtatious, dirty, deliberately cheesy, his hand kneading the swell of Jim's dick through his pants. "And I know just how to light your fire, baby."

Jim snorted with laughter even as he moved against Blair's palm, grinding against it shamelessly. "I bet you do." His mind filled with images of what Blair might be willing to do with him, to him, and he groaned, amusement lost. "God, I know you do."

Blair pulled back and gave him a direct look. "Yeah, I do. Trust me on this; I've thought about how to make it good for you -- no, forget good; you've earned spectacular. I'm going to blow your fucking mind, Jim. I'm going to let you do anything you want and if you run out of ideas, I've got plenty."

"I don't need ideas," Jim said. "I need you naked -- keep the socks on -- and upstairs in my bed. I can take it from there."

Blair didn't move.

"Our bed," Jim said, getting it finally, belatedly, as Blair's frown became a glare. "Give me a break, okay? I'm still adjusting."

"To the best birthday present ever?"

"You mean you, don't you?" Jim shook his head and patted Blair's cheek fondly. "You are so full of shit, you know that?"

"I meant the socks. And the cake," Blair said loftily. "And until you eat a slice, I'm not nibbling on you, so go and get a plate."

It tasted better than it looked, but that was no surprise. Sally always said that hunger was the best sauce -- and when it came to Blair, Jim was starving.



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