Cock Tease

Summary: Blair's in love with the world, and Jim's losing control.

Warnings: Rated NC-17. m/m

Notes: This is the story I like that no one else does. Every writer has one. Honest. It's not just me. Also, the poem Jim's thinking of is "My Last Duchess" by Robert Browning.

Jim frowned at the report he was trying to type. It was the very same form he'd filled out, oh, about three million times in his career as a cop. But today, his head felt like somebody was prying it open with a crowbar, and not surprisingly, that made the paperwork rather tough going. The neat little boxes swam on the page and blurred together. Questions he usually answered on auto-pilot suddenly made no sense whatsoever. He pinched the bridge of his nose, as if that was some kind of voodoo that could ward off a headache.

It wasn't.

He tried very hard to ignore the source of the throbbing in his temples. But Blair was sitting only a few feet away, balanced on the edge of Rafe's desk, regaling him with some anthropological exploit from an expedition he'd gone on as an undergrad. It was something about people in Indonesia who lived in trees. Jim tried not to listen. He tried just to focus on his work and block out Blair's presence. But Blair was right there, and when had ignoring him ever worked anyway? There was something in Jim, some damned sentinel impulse, that associated Blair with the necessities of life, one of the things you had to keep tabs on, like your food rations or the water supply.

Fucking sentinel shit, he thought.

This was what Jim was always trying to make Blair understand whenever he started going on about what a gift this thing was. There were reasons why people weren't meant to have heightened senses. Jim ended up knowing all kinds of things he shouldn't. It made him feel like some kind of sick ass voyeur--except, of course, that voyeurs got off on spying on people. And Jim really didn't. He never so much as glanced at those tabloids in the racks by the grocery store check out. It didn't matter how long the line was at the Thrifty Shop. Because knowing other people's secrets was a burden, and Jim just wasn't interested.

It wasn't fair, damn it. If he could have flipped a switch to make it stop, he would have, in an instant. He got no enjoyment out of knowing that Hendricks on the night shift had a drinking problem or that the people who lived downstairs from him were contemplating divorce.

Or that Blair was a total cock tease.

Of course, that was only metaphorically speaking, because it wasn't just men Blair got his antenna up for, but women, too. Could you call someone a pussy tease, though? It just didn't sound right. Maybe there was some non-gender-specific, politically correct term for it these days? Like a genital tease, maybe. Although could you actually find a PC way to talk about something that was so incredibly un-PC-ish? Blair might have known the answer to that. It beat the hell out of Jim.

"They built watch towers so high you could see all the way to the coast," Blair was telling Rafe with his usual enthusiasm. "It was amazing to climb up there and look out."

Jim tried to keep his head down, tried not to pay attention. But he couldn't help it. It was right there, in the middle of the squad room, the vibe, the musk, the heat. And it was freakin' distracting. After the Laura debacle, Jim had learned how to filter out pheromones as a matter of self-preservation, to keep himself from becoming the hapless pawn of every stray person's biochemistry. But this thing with Blair was different. It was more overt, more intrusive, and a hell of a lot more annoying.

Jim shook his head. What was with Sandburg, anyway? He was talking about trees, for God's sake. What was there to get all worked up over? How could anyone find the energy to react to absolutely everything with sex? Jim was sure he'd never had that much juice, ever, in his whole life, not even as a dick-happy teenager.

But Blair, well, Blair was so turned on to the world that it wasn't quite human.

Jim had started noticing it the first month or so they lived together, the rush of heat and scent from Blair's body whenever he had even the most casual interaction with anyone. Jim had made any number of excuses to try to explain it away. Everyone was different. Everyone gave off energy in unique ways. Maybe it was just Blair's open, friendly personality he was picking up on. Or some physical manifestation of the empathy Blair always seemed to feel for people.

But after a while, Jim realized that he never sensed anything even remotely like it from anyone else. It was just Blair. And it was sex. And it never stopped. Blair was a veritable affront to the laws of physics. Jim had been putting up with it for years, and his patience had finally run out.

"Okay, man, I'm going to let you get back to work," Blair told Rafe. "Sorry to talk your ear off."

"Catch you later, Blair."

Rafe went back to the case file he was perusing, smiling to himself, not even realizing why. But Jim knew. He'd seen it over and again, how contagious Blair's, well-- enthusiasm could be. He always left people smiling, suddenly in a fantastic mood. Jim imagined Rafe would go home humming cheerfully under his breath, very eager to see his girlfriend. Jim didn't know why, but it irked the hell out of him.

Blair drifted his way. "Hey, man."

"Sandburg." He went right on typing.

"So, uh--" Blair shifted restlessly from foot to foot.

Jim looked up. "What?"

And that's when it hit him, a tidal wave of Blair-sex. Great, just great. Now he was getting Rafe's leftovers.

"Jim? Are you okay, man?" Blair asked.

Jim scowled. Of course, he wasn't okay. He was under hormonal assault. And unlike everyone else, it did not put him in a good mood. In fact, it made him downright bitter. He and Blair were friends, right? Best friends even. They worked together, lived together. They shared the sentinel thing. So why was he just one more pit stop in Blair Sandburg's daily love fest with life, no more special than the doughnut girl or that bouffant waitress at the diner they always went to?

It wasn't right, damn it.

A snippet of a poem floated through his head, Victorian and a little fussy for his tastes, something he'd been forced to memorize in high school. She had a shall I say?...too soon made glad, too easily impressed; she liked whate'er she looked on, and her looks went everywhere.

Yes, that was Sandburg exactly. And it was really getting to be a problem.

"I'm fine, Sandburg," he said, irritably. "What do you want?"

"I, uh, just wondered if you were going to be done soon. I thought maybe we could grab some dinner. There's that new Tibetan place I've been wanting to check out."

"I have a headache," Jim said, hoping Blair would just go away and leave him alone.

Surely, there was a whole city out there to explore with orgasmic delight. What did he need Jim for anyway?

"Oh," Blair said. "All right then."

But he didn't go away. In fact, he was starting to look concerned.

"Are you sure you're okay, man?" he asked.

"Of course, I am," Jim snapped. "Didn't you hear what I just said?"

He rubbed his temples. God, his head was pounding. If only Sandburg would just go away.

"Is it your senses?" Blair asked. He had gone from concerned to downright worried.

"Just back off, Sandburg, okay?" Jim said, his voice rising testily.

"Problem, detective?" Simon approached his desk.

"Uh, no, sir," Jim said.

"There's something wrong with his senses," Blair whispered.

"Jim?" Simon said.

"No, there's not," Jim said, indignantly. "I just have a fucking headache, okay?"

Simon frowned. Now, he looked worried, too.

"Maybe Blair should take you home," Simon said.

"It's just a headache. And I have work to do," Jim insisted.

"Not any more you don't," Simon said. "I'm sending you home."

"Good idea," Blair said.

"Will the two of you just leave me alone?" Jim said.

Simon stood up to his full height. "I'm your commanding officer, Jim. If I say go home, you go home. Got it?"

Jim let out his breath in exasperation. "Yes, sir."

"Good then. I'll expect to see you rested and headache-free first thing in the morning. Sandburg, make sure that happens."

"Sure, Simon. No problem," Blair said.

"I am still here, you know," Jim said.

It made him crabby to be talked about as if he were invisible. And he didn't appreciate Simon's implying that his headache was somehow Sandburg's responsibility. That would only encourage Blair to be after him with that foul-smelling weed tea and those silly breathing exercises where he was somehow supposed to concentrate on the insides of his eyelids. If that happened, it would be all Simon's fault.

"That's right, detective," Simon said, frostily. "You are still here. Didn't you hear me give you an order?"

Jim sighed. Clearly, there was no winning this one. Sandburg handed him his coat. Jim had planned to clear up the last of the paperwork on at least three more cases before he left for the day. Now, he would be behind when he came in the next morning. This was all Sandburg's fault.

He trudged out of the squad room, Blair close on his heels. They got into the elevator. The new woman in administration was riding down to the personnel office. Jim crossed his arms over his chest, feeling sour. He really tried not to pay any attention, but he just couldn't help himself. And there it was, the familiar atom blast of Sandburgian lust.

"Hi, Cindy. How's it going?" Blair said to her.

She smiled. "Good, Blair. How are things with you?"

"Can't complain," Blair said.

The elevator stopped at the third floor.

She flashed Blair another smile. "See you 'round," she said.

"See you," he said.

The doors closed.

"She's really nice," Blair said. "And helpful. If I need something from personnel, I try to go when she's there and Vera's out to lunch. I don't think Vera likes me too much."

Jim set his jaw and said nothing. The elevator stopped at the parking garage. They both got out. Blair followed him to the truck.

"Don't you have your car?" Jim asked.

Blair shook his head. "It's acting up again. I caught a ride with Kelly."

Kelly was one of Blair's many blond-haired, blue-eyed, big-breasted, so-called friends. He was a veritable lust-o-rama whenever she was around.

Jim headed for the driver's side. Blair hesitated.

"Um, do you maybe want me to drive?" he asked.

"No," Jim said, grumpily.

"But, your head--"

"It's a headache, Sandburg, not a damned tumor. Why can't I get you to understand that not every little ache or pain I have is some sentinel problem you have to save me from? And now, thanks to you, I can't make Simon believe that, either. That's why I'm being sent home early when I have a lot of work to do and there's nothing the fuck wrong with me. So just lay off, okay?"

"Okay," Blair mumbled.

Jim opened the truck, got in, and leaned across the seat to let Sandburg in. He was determined not to feel like a shit for snapping Blair's head off when he was obviously just trying to help. Jim had been patient with the whole sex factory thing for three years now, and his tolerance had finally worn out. So, it wasn't fair that Blair had no idea what he was doing to tick Jim off. So what? Was it fair that Jim was privy to every little flare of Sandburg's libido? No, but then life just sucked that way sometimes. If he had to put up with the injustice of it all, well then so did Sandburg.

The ride home was silent and rather tense. By the time Jim finally turned onto Prospect, he was actively grateful to see the apartment building. He parked the truck. They both got out, went inside and took the elevator up to the third floor. Jim unlocked the door. Down the hall, old Mrs. Tannenbaum struggled with two large grocery bags as she tried to get into her apartment.

"Hey, let me get those," Blair said.

He hurried to take the bags from her, so she could unlock the door.

"Thank you, Blair," she said. "You're such a nice boy to help."

"No problem, Mrs. T. Anytime."

The elderly lady practically beamed at him. Jim sighed. There was just no fighting it. Even old ladies had a thing for Sandburg.

Blair asked Mrs. Tannenbaum about the jade plant she was growing and carried the bags inside for her. Jim left the door to the loft open for him and went to throw some cold water on his face.

He knew he had to calm down and let this thing go. So Sandburg was a human passion mill? So what? It wasn't like he was out molesting kids or anything. There was no law against being hyperactively hormonal, and it really wasn't any of Jim's business. If it didn't bother Blair, then why should he let it bother him? The last thing he wanted was to waste the evening in hostility. Leaving work early might not have been his choice, but it was done now. He was home, and he might as well make the most of it. He just wanted to flop down on the couch and eat something really disgusting and watch the Mariners destroy the Yankees. He didn't want to think about anything but double plays and RBIs and the possibility of Edgar Martinez hitting a grand slam.

By the time he finished in the bathroom, Blair was sitting on the sofa, flipping channels.

"I thought I'd check the listings to see what time the game comes on," Blair said.

"Home games always start at seven," Jim said.

"I know. But just to make sure."

"Whatever. Knock yourself out. So you get Mrs. Tannenbaum settled?"

Blair nodded.

"You're such a nice boy," Jim told him.

Blair flipped him off, and Jim laughed. Blair laughed too and looked relieved. No doubt, he didn't look forward to an evening of squabbling, either. Mellowing out about Blair's ubiquitous libido was definitely the right thing to do. There really was no point in getting all riled up over something Blair didn't even seem to be aware of. People couldn't help their unconscious responses, after all. They could only control what they did about them.

And Blair was a pretty decent guy when you got right down to it. The cops down at the station might tease him about his prolific woman-chasing, but really, Blair wasn't the bedpost-notching sort. He didn't sleep with just anybody who came along. He was never mean to the women he dated. And most importantly, he respected Jim's rule about no sex in the loft. That was really all Jim could possibly ask. Blair was a grown man, after all. He did have a right to a sex life.

"You want a beer?" he asked Blair.

"Yeah, man."

Jim went to the kitchen. The doorbell rang. Blair answered it.

"Mrs. Tannenbaum," Blair said. "Is anything wrong?"

"Oh, no, dear," she said. "You just dropped your wallet when you were helping me. I came to return it."

"Hey, thanks," Blair said. "I definitely need that."

He laughed, and so did Mrs. Tannenbaum.

"Well, have a nice evening, dear," the elderly lady said.

"You too, Mrs. T.," Blair said.

He closed the door. Jim headed over to give him his beer. Blair turned around, still smiling, and the deep, heated surge swamped Jim. His grip tightened dangerously on the bottle. He stared at Blair. He could not believe him.

"What?" Blair asked.

Mrs. Tannenbaum, for god's sake! Now that was going way too far. She had to be at least eighty years old. Forget the whole peace and tolerance thing. What the fuck was wrong with Sandburg?

"Is something the matter? Is it your senses?" Blair started toward him.

"Stay the fuck away from me, Sandburg."

"Jim, I'm just trying to help."

"Well, who said I need your damned help?"

Blair gritted his teeth, obviously trying to be patient. "Look, man, if there's some problem, let's deal with it. But if you just feel like being an asshole, take it out on somebody else. 'Cause I'm not interested."

"What if you're the problem? Huh? Then do I get to take it out on you?" Jim asked.

"What did I do?"

"Do you have just no shame or what?"

"What the hell are you talking about?"

"Mrs. Tannenbaum, of all people," Jim said, with disgust.

"What about Mrs. Tannenbaum?" Blair asked.

"Of course, it's not just her. There was that girl in the elevator today. She is married, you know."


"And Rafe. I saw the way you were hanging all over his desk. Don't think I didn't."

"You know what's amazing? You are making zero sense here, and yet, you're still managing to piss me off."

"And then there's Simon and Brown and Joel and the doughnut girl and every last person at the university, not to mention the whole fucking rest of Cascade, and everywhere else on the entire goddamned planet."

"Okay, Jim, I give up. You're going to have to spell it out for me. Just what asshole thing are you saying to me?"

"I'm saying you're a fucking cock tease, Sandburg," Jim said, through gritted teeth.

There, Jim thought. I said it. Good, old-fashioned honesty. Time-honored bluntness. Fuck that PC shit anyway.

Blair's face darkened. "What did you just say to me?"

"You heard me. I said you're a--"

And then it hit him. The full, heated rush coming from Blair's body, sharp and sweet at the same time, like burned sugar. The little bastard was-- Shit, he was getting off on the idea. He liked being a goddamned cock tease.

Jim's heart pounded, and something tightened in his belly. His senses zeroed in on Blair so quickly and so completely it nearly knocked him on his ass. He had no idea what was happening to him. One moment the world was the world. And the next, it was dark, silent, without scent or texture--except for Blair, who was everywhere and everything.

Fucking sentinel shit.

It was his last rational thought before the primal veil descended.

Blair gaped at Jim. What could you possibly say to your best friend when he called you, completely out of the blue, something as unwarranted, as un-PC, not to mention just generally screwed up, as a cock tease? Where the hell had that come from? Was that what he'd meant about poor old Mrs. Tannenbaum? Eeew! What was wrong with Jim?

And not to be nitpicky or sexist or anything, but wasn't that something you said to a woman? Had Jim just somehow failed to notice in all the years they'd known each that he was a man? A man who liked women, thank you very much, who liked women quite a lot, actually. Blair was hardly someone you'd call a cock tease, even if you were 1950s enough to still be using the term.

"Look," he said, in his most seriously pissed off voice. "Just because we're friends, doesn't mean you can throw any old fucked up shit at me, and I'm just going to take it--"

The impact with the wall, while not painful, did knock the breath out of him and completely derailed his train of thought.

Jim yanked his arms above his head and held them there, his wrists clutched tightly in one hand. Jim's long body pressed against him, forcing him back against the sheetrock. Jim leaned in to him until they were practically nose-to-nose. He stared at Blair so intently, his face so grim, that it was like looking at a stranger, a scary, unpredictable, cave-stranger.

"Stop it," Blair said.

He wanted it to sound like a protest, a threat. But it came out high-pitched and a little squeaky. He swallowed hard. The cold sweat beaded on the back of his neck. There was something seriously fucked up going on here.

Well, duh, he thought to himself.

Jim sniffed him, deliberately, extravagantly, his nose moving along the curve of his neck, behind his ear, into his hair. When Jim pulled back, his expression was pre-civilized in its determination. Blair tried to squirm away, but Jim blocked him with his pelvis. Blair felt the hard heat of Jim's erection against his hip, and that sent him into a total panic.

He thrashed and kicked and struggled to pull himself free. "No!" he kept shouting.

Jim growled, not sounding anything like himself, or particularly human, for that matter.

"Please," Blair begged, even though he knew Jim was not rational enough to reason with right now. "Let's just--"

Jim set on him before he could finish the sentence. He licked Blair's neck in broad swipes and made little humming noises of appreciation under his breath, a sound that left Blair shuddering.

He kept right on shaking as Jim moved to his ear, kissed him there, sucked the lobe, mouthed the earrings; as he pulled his flannel shirt open and sent the buttons flying; as he ripped his T-shirt from his body in a frenzied desperation to reach bare flesh; as he stopped a moment to stare at Blair's naked chest with glittering eyes; as he started to kiss everywhere, beneath Blair's collar bone, in the hollow of his throat, teasingly beside one nipple, wetly against his belly.

Blair had every intention of resisting, really he did. It's just that he was so-- afraid. Yes, that was it. He was frightened, even though this was Jim and Jim wasn't supposed to scare him. But this was some alarming new level of bizarreness in a sentinel career chocked full of the strange and the inexplicable. That was scary. Truly.

And the thing about fear was that it was so enervating. It left your knees feeling like quicksand and your arms as slack as a rag doll's. It weakened you so much that your only choice was to lean heavily against the wall and gasp for breath and try your best not to moan out loud as Jim found the inside of your wrist and that sweet place behind your ear and a few erotic trip wires even you didn't know you had.

The fear. Yes, that was it.

It had to be why Blair couldn't muster the strength to pull away, not even when Jim finally let go of his wrists. There was a split second of opportunity before Jim wrapped both arms around him and started to consume his mouth in earnest. But somehow he just couldn't make himself move. That could happen in an emergency. Sometimes, you froze. Hey, he was only human.

That he kissed Jim back-- well, there was such a thing as the Stockholm syndrome, wasn't there? Hell, Patty Hearst had robbed a damned bank to appease her captors. At least he wasn't committing a crime, wasn't hurting anybody, except maybe leaving a few bruises where his fingers gripped Jim's biceps. It didn't mean anything. Any psychologist would tell you that. They'd tell you hostages weren't responsible for their actions, not Blair, not Patty. It was simply the fear driving them. It was all a matter of survival.

Plus, he was getting seriously oxygen deprived from sucking on Jim's tongue. Who could make clear decisions under those conditions?

Blair felt teeth against his shoulder and jumped. The teeth sank in, and this time he couldn't contain his reaction. He groaned out loud. But only because he wasn't expecting it. Surprise could make a person sound like that, like every forbidden wet dream you'd ever had just magically sprang to life.

Surprise. That was his story, and he was sticking with it.

And he was genuinely surprised by Jim's roughness. This was not how he had imagined it. Not that he'd pictured himself as the object of Jim's advances. No way. He was a guy, after all, and guys didn't do that. They didn't lie in bed at night and touch themselves and make believe it was their partner's grip that was pulling the orgasm out of them. Of course, they didn't.

It was just that he would see Jim with women--with Carolyn and Laura and all those nameless one-date-wonders--and he couldn't help speculating. What was Jim like with them? What did he talk about? How did he kiss? How did he touch them? How did he make them feel?

His interest was purely scholarly, of course. Sensory experience was never more intense than it was during sex, so it was natural to wonder what lovemaking would be like with-- uh, for a sentinel. Not, of course, that he thought this kind of information was ever going to make it into his dissertation. Jim would sooner kill him than let him write about his sex life. But there was still Blair's intellectual curiosity, so he would occasionally find himself wondering, picturing. How did Jim make love?

The most unexpected thing Blair had discovered about Jim-the-friend was how oddly tender he could be if you made it far enough inside his granite defenses. So that's how he had always imagined Jim-the-lover.

But this-- he never would have guessed this-- well, possession, quite frankly. Persistent fingers pinched his nipples. The fine edge of teeth worried the place at the base of his throat where his pulse pounded, making it sound like thunder in his ears. Maybe it was because he was a man. There was no way Jim would be so rough with a woman. Blair felt sure of that.

Or maybe Jim had simply lost his mind. There was certainly some evidence to support that hypothesis. For one, Jim had never shown any interest in men before, none that Blair could discern anyway. Jim had certainly never shown any hint of being attracted to him. Not that Blair had been consciously looking for it. Honestly. It's just that he was a trained observer, and he would have noted such information for the record, purely in the name of science. But there had never been anything to note. And now Jim had just snapped, suddenly hurling around outmoded insults and practically mauling him. Clearly, he was not himself.

Jim stroked a hand down Blair's chest, as if he owned him. Blair shivered, not in excitement, of course, but-- outrage. Yes, that was it. He was outraged to be treated like Jim's personal property, as any self-respecting person would be. That's why he shuddered as Jim snaked a hand into the waistband of his jeans, as Jim struggled with the stubborn denim, snarling, apparently not appreciating a barrier separating him from what he clearly viewed as his territory. It was why Blair gasped for breath as Jim opened his pants, unable to say "stop" or "no." Outrage could leave a person speechless.

Never mind the little "oh" that came out of him as Jim slid his hand into his underwear. People just made sounds sometimes. It didn't have to mean anything.

Jim wrapped his fingers around Blair's cock, and then Blair couldn't make any sound at all. He could barely breathe as he instinctively pushed his hips forward. Pre-verbal Jim understood that perfectly well. He stroked and squeezed and played Blair like a master. Blair slumped back against the wall, his eyes tightly shut, his dick the center of his universe.

Blair knew it shouldn't seem so bone-jarring and new. How many times had someone touched him like that? How many times had his dick hardened in someone's hand? Too many to count. But it had never been like this. Never. And he didn't know if it was because it was a man's hand or because it was Jim's. Really, he didn't seem to know much of anything anymore.

Only that the way Jim was looking at him, with his eyes wide and dilated, made him shiver. The way Jim bent his head to lap at a nipple made him moan. Blair moaned even louder as Jim's clever fingers found the one spot on the underside of his penis that always did him in. He shook so hard he thought he was going to fly apart, unfurling at some critical molecular level, the bonds dissolved by the inferno of his pleasure.

He tried to fight his own responses. He tried to tell himself that this was just Jim. Jim. His friend, his best friend. It was just Jim's hand on him. And Jim's hand had been on him so many times before--bandaging his ribs, cupping his forehead to check for fever when he was sick, resting on the small of his back like an anchor. But, God, it had never felt like this before. How could it feel like this? How could Jim's hand be on him, doing something so devastatingly sensual?

But it was. Jim was. And Blair really couldn't breathe.

Jim kissed along his throat until he found a spot, the spot. What was it with all these spots anyway? Jim found them so unerringly it was as if someone had drawn him a map. Jim licked and sucked and worried the place he'd found. And, God, how had Blair not realized that was there before? Every touch of Jim's lips felt like it was lighting a fuse that went straight to his dick. Blair gasped and let his head fall back. He didn't begin to recognize himself in this creature of surrender, but there it was just the same. No stopping it.

Except that Jim stopped. Stopped kissing him, stopped touching his cock, pulled his hand back. Blair was startled to hear a wild animal sound of disappointment in the room. He was appalled to realize a fraction of a second later that it had come from him.

It was just that he was so afraid, he told himself. He was afraid because he didn't know what Jim might do next, and he didn't know how to stop it.

(Why the hell had Jim stopped, anyway?)

It was the pesky fear once again that kept him from resisting as Jim pushed his jeans and underwear down to his ankles. If there was nothing you could do about a situation, then there was nothing you could do. He was just being practical. No point in dwelling on the impossible.

And it really was impossible to push Jim away when he was so much stronger. Or to try to cover himself when Jim was intent on seeing him naked. He couldn't bother feeling embarrassed that Jim had a clear view of his cock, straining and needy, his thighs trembling with want. He wasn't going to turn away, not when Jim's gaze was raking so feverishly over his body that he could practically feel the caress on his skin. How could Blair possibly turn away when just the sight of him naked and wanting was enough to turn Jim's eyes black with an answering heat of his own?

So there was really no reason to hold back when Jim wrapped his arms around him, pulled him against his body and kissed him hard. Jim sucked on his tongue and kneaded his butt cheeks, and there just seemed no point at all in protesting, not when his cock had found the perfect home, rubbing erotically against the soft cotton shirt that covered Jim's rock hard belly.

Jim raised a hand to his face, stroked his cheek, and trailed a finger across his lips. It seemed only natural somehow to open his mouth, take in that finger, suck greedily, with loud, shameless abandon. Jim made some expression, something that might have passed for a smile back in the cave days where his mind seemed to have retreated. He pulled his finger away and kissed Blair again.

Blair got so caught up in the feel of Jim's mouth that it took a moment to realize that the finger in his mouth had not just been some throwaway erotic gesture. It was only when he felt Jim's spit-slicked finger gently slide into his crack and begin to circle his entrance that he understood its real purpose.

If ever there was a time to take back control of a situation, clearly this was it. And yet, Blair's arms just would not untangle from around Jim's neck. His greedy cock was not ready to give up contact with Jim's heated, welcoming body. The most Blair could manage was the dazed thought that Jim was touching his butt. It wasn't something he exactly encouraged his lovers to do. Not that he was a prude or anything. It's just that it had always struck him as-- well, unhygienic. And not particularly sexy. But here was Jim stroking him back there as if it was the most natural thing in the world, as if it was something Blair did every day.

Blair wondered, a little belatedly, if perhaps he should confess to Jim that some of those stories he'd told about his sensual exploits were-- well, just that, stories. Because Jim seemed to think he was way more experienced than he actually was.

But then, Jim didn't really appear all that interested in confessions right now. He didn't appear to care about much of anything beyond Blair's body and the responses he could elicit from it. He had gone back to that spot he'd discovered on Blair's neck, the licking and sucking now punctuated by the occasional application of teeth, light little nips at first, growing steadily harder, until Blair's skin buzzed and tingled. The fingers between his cheeks were also growing more aggressive, not just flirting any more, but pressing forward, dipping in ever so slightly. It was careful, slow, but determined. It reminded Blair of the way you would touch a nervous virgin, gentle enough to keep her from spooking, insistent enough to keep things moving forward.

Blair blushed ferociously as he realized that he was the virgin in this scenario.

That little jolt of reality should have been motivation enough for him to make Jim stop. And he really might have said something if Jim's tongue wasn't having such an adventure getting to know his mouth. Plus, there was what Jim's hand was doing to his cock. It was-- well, distracting, in all honesty. And distraction made it difficult to work up the momentum to pull away. It was easier, really, just to accept that Jim was fingering him and that maybe he kind of liked it.

It didn't have to mean anything. Blair had nothing to prove by pushing Jim away.

But then Jim was pushing him away. Jim's hands were firm on his shoulders as he peeled Blair off his chest. Blair stared at Jim, wildly confused. His chest heaved as he struggled to breathe. Why? Why had it stopped? But then he realized that Jim had only pulled away to open his own fly. Jim pushed his jeans down over his hips, and his cock sprang free from his underwear.

Now Blair really couldn't breathe. He could feel the torch of Jim's arousal against his skin, and he didn't know what he was supposed to do about it. He'd never been in such close proximity to another guy's cock before. Should he touch it? How? Did he even want to? Did Jim want him to?

But then Jim made the decision for him. He spun Blair around to face the wall. Blair had to brace his hands to keep from losing his balance. Jim worked his thigh between Blair's legs and spread them as far as they would go with the pants still trapped around his ankles. Jim put his hands on either side of Blair's shoulders and leaned in to kiss his neck beneath his hair. Jim's breath was hot, and the tickle of it went straight to his groin. He moaned. Jim kissed his ear. It was all so, so good.

Until he felt Jim's hardness against his butt, rubbing hotly against his cleft. And then he snapped back to reality so quickly he practically gave himself whiplash.

"No!" he yelled.

This time he meant it, damn it. There were things you could pretend never happened and things you could never forget. And Jim, caught up in this primal break of his, seemed intent on crossing that line. But Blair had recovered enough of his own good sense to understand what the cost would be. He struggled as hard as he could to turn back around, to pull away, to do anything to keep Jim from fucking him right there against the wall.

Apparently, Jim did not appreciate this unexpected resistance, because he snarled and tightened his hold. Blair stamped Jim's foot and elbowed him hard in the ribs. Jim howled, enraged and frustrated. Blair shoved him hard. Jim was caught off balance and hit the floor with a thud. Blair frantically pulled his pants back up, not bothering to zip them, not wasting a second. He didn't spare Jim a backwards glance. He just grabbed his jacket and ran.

Jim sat on the floor where he'd landed, his back against the wall. His perceptions were fragmented, his thoughts scattered and unfocused. The polished wood floor was hard and cold beneath him. His arms felt too heavy to move. His shirt was unbuttoned, half hanging off one shoulder. His fly gaped open. The loft was drafty, and he could feel the chilliness on his skin, settling into his bones. His head pounded wildly, and it hurt too much to open his eyes or to think too hard about what happened.

There was just one thing that kept flashing over and over again through his head like a disgruntled mantra.

Fucking sentinel shit.

Blair sat at the desk in his office and stared into space. It was really all he could manage. Oh, sure, the guide part of him wanted to function, wanted to figure out what the hell that had all been about back at the loft. This part of him tried to remember what had triggered Jim to-- do what he'd done. It struggled to conjure up the look on Jim's face just before he'd gone all unhinged, in that split second before he'd thrown Blair up against the wall. But for the life of him, he couldn't recall the sequence of events in any detail. It was as if the intensity of it had blown out the picture tube in his mind. There was no play-by-play to rewind and analyze and perhaps understand.

But his tactile memory-- shit! That was in perfect working order. The place on his shoulder where Jim had bitten him (God! Jim had bitten him!) didn't exactly hurt, but it would occasionally throb for no discernible reason, just to remind him, he supposed. His nipples, too, would suddenly stand at attention as they had when Jim was touching them. Worst of all, he kept getting this weird sensation, drafty on the outside, too hot on the inside, the way he'd felt when he was pressed there against the wall, shirt off, fly open, Jim's hand in his underwear, making him hard, stoking his heat.

He shook his head to push that recollection away and quickly returned to his outrage. The bastard fucking bit me! He rubbed the back of his neck, a nervous gesture of his, something he only did when he was truly at a loss.

The guide voice was quickly drowned out by fury.

He threw me up against the wall--not for the first time, I might add--and called me a cock tease, like the uptight, repressed throwback that he is, and half tore my clothes off and fucking bit me and-- and-- practically--

"Bastard! What right did he have? What right at all?" Blair asked out loud.

He grabbed his mug defiantly, as if that might somehow prove something to Jim. The coffee sloshed over the rim and burned his knuckles. But he didn't mind. It felt bizarrely comforting, the scalding touch of righteousness on his skin, blotting out the memory of those other, more dangerous sensations.

Jim was a complete and total prick. And I'm not going to stand for it. Not! Because he went way too far this time.

Blair took a long sip and slurped loudly. It burned his tongue a little, but that was okay, too. This was an old habit of his that he'd untaught himself so he didn't set Jim on edge. He was always trying to be so damned considerate of Jim's senses and his needs and his comfort. And what did he get in return? Jim acting like a grade-A, no-holds-barred prick. Jim didn't deserve such thoughtfulness. He slurped again, more loudly this time, practically clearing his sinuses. Take that, you asshole.

Blair smiled cheerfully. The slurping was almost as satisfying as flipping Jim the finger, as telling him where to go. It was like sticking out his tongue and saying nah-nya-nah-nya-nah-nah, even if Jim wasn't there to see it. Because it was the principle of the thing.

Because Jim deserved it.

Except-- a soft voice in his head said.

His hand shook, only a little, but it was enough to spill his coffee again. This time, the burn felt like-- well, a burn. He set the cup down.

"Just shut up!" he yelled at the traitor in his own mind. "I don't want to hear any of your excuses for what that bastard did."

But something was obviously wrong with him, the voice said. Shouldn't his guide try to figure out what it was?

"Hey! Don't you dare call me a bad guide. That bastard attacked me!"

He was overwhelmed.

"He bit me!"

He wasn't himself.

"He was going to fuck me!" he screamed.

Yes, the voice retorted. But you really didn't seem to mind all that much.

He was about to order the rebel voice to shut the hell up when the phone rang, loudly, and he nearly leaped out of his own skin.

"What?" he yelled into the receiver.

There was silence on the other end of the line. Blair took a deep breath.

"What do you want, Jim?" he asked.

"I, uh-- I just--"


"I'm sorry."

And he was, no doubt about it. Blair had never heard him sound so contrite. In that moment, he'd never hated anyone more than he hated Jim Ellison.

"Do you think that's supposed to make everything better? After what you did?" he asked.

There was more silence.

Blair bristled with annoyance. "If you just called to say nothing, then I'm hanging up."

"No! Wait. You're right. Sorry doesn't make it okay. Maybe if you'd just come home, I could--"

"What? Attack me again?"

"God." Jim's voice was soft, half strangled, and something twisted inside Blair.

The quiet voice in him protested: You know something's going on with him, some sentinel thing. He had that headache, and he's been moody lately. And you know Jim would never try to hurt you if he was in anything resembling his right mind.

God, it wasn't fair. Jim had snapped and practically-- So why did he feel so bad that Jim sounded guilty? Jim deserved to feel a little guilt, didn't he?

Fucking sentinels, he thought.

"I can't come home. Not right now."


"Yeah," Blair said. "I will. Eventually. Later tonight. Probably. Just-- Try to back off a little, huh? I need some time to think this through."

"Sure, Chief. Whatever you need. Anything."

Blair could feel Jim's relief, even over the telephone line, and that made his chest hurt.

"All right then," he said.

"Okay," Jim said.

"So good-bye."

"Bye, Chief."

Blair hung up and sighed. He had to be the biggest doormat in the state of Washington, if not the whole damned country. Hell, the world!

Oh, yes, the voice said, sarcastically. Poor Blair Sandburg. You're so put upon.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

It means Jim wasn't the only one who got carried away tonight. You're just afraid to admit that you liked it.

"Shut up!"

You know it's true. And what was your excuse, Blair? Oh, wait. You don't have one, do you?

"I was surprised. I was outraged. I was scared!"

"You were totally turned on. You've been waiting for-- what? Forever? For Jim to want to fuck you."

Blair stuck his fingers in his ears. "MARY HAD A LITTLE LAMB! LITTLE LAMB, LITTLE LAMB..."

You can run, but you can't hide, Blair-my-boy, the annoying voice said. Just ask yourself this. Who are you really mad at? Jim or yourself?

"Fucking super egos!" Blair shouted.

Today, Jim had the kind of headache that made him feel as if his brain was being very slowly squeezed out his ears. Yesterday, it had been more like someone pitchforking him behind the eyes. The day before that, like his scalp was being slowly retracted until it was too small to fit his skull.

The cause of these serial headaches was sitting only a few feet away, far too close to ignore. Blair stared so hard at the report he was proofreading Jim was surprised he didn't wear a hole in the paper. People walked by the desk, and Blair didn't look up. They tried to strike up a conversation with him, and he mumbled something about really needing to finish this paperwork. There was not the slightest little shimmer of reaction to anyone. Gone, too, was the fresh dough scent of sex. Now, Blair smelled like a room that had been closed up too long, sad and stagnant. This had gone on all week.

Megan stared coldly at Jim from her desk. She wasn't the only one. Whenever he caught anybody's eye in the bullpen, they gave him a hard, accusatory look. His co-workers weren't stupid. They knew perfectly well who was the cause of Sandburg's distress. Clearly, they didn't appreciate having Blair's usual effervescence replaced by this week-long dejection. Jim certainly knew that feeling.

During his time on the force, Jim had learned a great deal about human nature, the vast majority of it totally dispiriting. He had seen how easily people's passions could go awry, transmute into something destructive, how lust and greed and even love could lead, with one careless or clueless misstep after another, to a sadly inevitable conclusion. But the biggest surprise by far had been envy, how powerful it was, how it pushed people in distorted ways, to do desperate and ugly things. A girl's beautiful face slashed. A work of art vandalized. How often had Jim arrested someone for destroying what they couldn't have or couldn't be?

Jim had always despised these people. And now, somehow, he had become one of them. Knowing that left a queasy feeling in the pit of his stomach. It made his headache even worse. He gripped his aching temples tighter.

That same damned poem floated through his head again. I gave commands. Then all smiles stopped. Jim's eyes darted guiltily over to Blair. He was editing his report, marking it up with a red pen, but somehow he gave off the sense of a caved-in mine. That was Jim's doing, as if he had given an order.

He wished Blair would just scream at him or punch him in the nose. He could take that better than the chilly civility they'd shown each other since Blair had returned to the loft that night. Blair had asked for space, and Jim had been careful to give it to him. He'd honestly believed he was doing the right thing. He'd thought Blair would let him know when it was time to talk. But Blair didn't seem to have much to say about anything lately. So they'd just gone mutely on with their lives. Jim felt drained all the time, and Blair went around smelling unhappy. It really sucked.


Simon stopped in front of his desk and stared at him. Jim froze. Had he actually said that out loud?

"Ellison? Anything wrong?" Simon asked.

"Uh-- Well--"

He wasn't quite sure how to phrase it. Well, you see, Simon, I've been having some control problems. I say things out loud that I don't mean to. I can't get rid of this headache. And I practically raped Sandburg because-- well, he's just a little too happy to stand sometimes. Hopefully, it's just some temporary insanity that's going around.

"I think Jim's senses might still be acting up a little," Blair said, careful to keep his voice down.

Simon's forehead wrinkled with concern. Jim stared at Blair, and Blair didn't look away. It was the first time they'd made eye contact all week. He couldn't read Blair's expression, but just being able to look him in the face was a tremendous relief.

"Do you need some more time off to deal with the problem?" Simon asked.

"No, I don't think--" Jim foolishly started to say.

Blair sensibly interrupted him. "Yes, that's probably a good idea."

"All right," Simon said. "Go. But if this looks like it's going to be some long-term thing--"

Blair shook his head. "I feel certain we'll get it sorted out."

"Good," Simon said. "That's what I like to hear. And you've been looking a little ragged around the edges, Sandburg. While you're busy fixing things, do something about that, too, okay?"

Blair actually smiled. Jim blinked, feeling a little emotional. A week could be a long time. He'd really missed that smile.

"I'll be sure and do that, Simon," Blair said.

He got up to retrieve their coats. Jim watched him, rather confused. Did this mean they weren't fighting anymore?

Blair handed him his jacket. "Come on," he said. And then more quietly, he added, "An evening at home watching the game and ordering pizza will do us both some good, don't you think?"

Blair's face was still very serious, but in a determined kind of way. Jim wondered if this was Blair's way of proving that he wasn't afraid of him. That notion left a strange, tight feeling in Jim's throat. He could only nod his agreement.

"Good," Blair said.

Jim took his coat and followed Blair out to the elevator. They waited without speaking. Jim snuck little peeks out of the corner of his eye. Blair still had an overcast look to him, but at least, he didn't seem to hate Jim's guts. That was something.

In the truck, Blair closed his eyes, stretched his legs out, and rested his head against the back of the seat. He wasn't used to staying mad at Jim; it was seriously draining. This whole week had really sucked. He would turn around to tell Jim something, and then suddenly remember he wasn't speaking to him. Jim would instinctively reach out to touch him the way he always did, and Blair would involuntarily flinch. Then, of course, Jim would yank his hand back and look like he'd just been punched in the gut.

And some people might have taken a spiteful enjoyment in that, might have felt it was Jim's rightful comeuppance. Just a week ago, maybe Blair kind of thought so, too. But now, he was sick to death of the whole thing. And today, with Jim going into a mini, mumbling quasi zone out right in the middle of the bullpen, when he hadn't done anything remotely like that in years-- well, that was the final straw.

He figured spending a quiet evening at home, doing the same thing they had been planning the night Jim went all cave-sentinel on him, was a good place to start. They could have-- what did they call it in kids' games?-- a do-over. Yeah, that's exactly what they needed. They could calm down, veg out, and get their equilibrium back. And then start figuring out exactly what had happened and how they could prevent it the next time.

At the loft, Jim parked, and they went upstairs. Jim phoned for the pizza. Blair went to his room and changed into sweats. Then he headed to the kitchen for a couple of beers. He joined Jim on the sofa and handed him one of the bottles. Blair flipped on the set and tuned in the TV Guide channel. Jim rolled his eyes.

"It's just--" Blair started to say.

Jim held up a hand. "I know. To make sure."

Blair smiled. "Right."

Jim smiled back at him. But then neither of them seemed to know what to say next. Jim sipped his beer thoughtfully, staring into space. Blair drank too, in awkward gulps. The quiet sounded strangely large and a little ominous. It made him jumpy. Blair's palms felt clammy, and his heart was beating too fast. He knew Jim would hear it, and that just made him more nervous. He hated that. He'd never felt this uncomfortable with Jim, ever, not even that first day when Jim had been so scared and cornered that he'd slammed Blair up against the wall. But Blair had understood that, and he didn't get this at all. It scared the shit out of him.

"I don't know why," Jim said quietly, as if he'd been reading Blair's thoughts. "But I am sorry."

Blair nodded. "I know you are. I'm sorry, too."

Jim frowned. "For what?"

"I knew it must be some sentinel thing. I should have--" He shook his head.

"I just want you to know. I wouldn't--" Jim said, earnestly. "Not in my right mind. Ever. I swear to God."

"I know that, Jim." Blair held Jim's eye, so he would believe it. "But do you have any idea-- You know, what the trigger might have been?"

Jim's gaze slid away from his. "Uh, no. No, I don't."

"You called me a cock tease."

Jim turned red. "Yeah, I know. Look, Blair. I'm sorry about that. Really. I just-- I don't know. I guess I'm kind of fucked up, you know?"

It didn't take a genius to see that Jim knew more than he was saying, and Blair's generousness of spirit started to fade.

"You're fucked up?" he said. "That's the best you can do?"

Jim shifted uncomfortably. "Well, yeah."

"Jim, here's a news flash. You've been fucked up since the day I first met you. And you never once, before last Thursday, tried to get into my pants because of it. So, clearly, there's something more going on with this than the simple fact that you are fucked up."

Jim's jaw tightened. "And you think you're not fucked up, Sandburg?"

"We weren't talking about me."

"Because you are," Jim said. "Trust me. I should know."

"Oh, yeah?" Blair said. "You mean because of all that nonsense they like to dish out down at the station about my track record with women? Is that how you came up with that flattering little table leg comment? Or that I'm a cock tease? Hmm? Well, you should know by now not to take that kind of bullshit seriously."

Jim's face flushed with anger. "I don't need anybody to tell me anything. I know all about you, Sandburg. All about your-- your-- proclivities."

"Proclivities? What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Blair demanded.

"It means you don't have any secrets from me."

Blair blinked. Jim really couldn't mean--

"Are you saying you've been using your senses on me like some kind of voyeuristic asshole?"

Jim did at least have the good grace to blush.

"I can not believe you, man. That's just-- Hell, I don't even know what to call it. Fucked up, I guess is really the only thing that describes it. Seems you had it right, Jim. You are one sick ass mother fucker."

Jim stood up, enraged. "Yeah? Well, at least I don't want to fuck absolutely everybody I come into contact with, including my eighty year old next door neighbor!"

Blair scrambled off the sofa. "What?"

"You heard me."

"Are you just being an insulting asshole? Or have you lost your mind completely?"

"Go on. Lie to yourself, Sandburg, like you always do. But you can't lie to a sentinel. You should know that by now."

"I cannot believe--"

The doorbell rang.

"Shit!" Blair said. "That's the damned food."


"Okay. Coming," Blair yelled to the delivery boy.

He turned to Jim. "Let's just--" He waved his hand. "Chill out, man. Okay? We said we were going to eat dinner and watch the game. So let's just do that. We can talk about this later when we're calmer. All right?"

Jim nodded grimly. "Yeah. Okay."

"Right. So I got this." He fished for his wallet in his backpack.

"I can get it," Jim offered.

Blair held up his hand. "I said I would."

"Fine," Jim said, tightly.


Blair dug out his wallet. He opened the door for the delivery boy.

"Ellison?" the boy asked.

"Yeah," Blair said. "What do we owe you?"

"Twelve dollars," the kid said.

Blair pulled out of some cash. A weird buzz went up his spine. He realized it was Jim, watching him, using his senses. Blair wondered how the hell he could have missed that. It wasn't exactly subtle. But then, as he thought about it, it seemed like maybe he had felt something like this before, quite a lot actually, only it was such an underlying part of his day that he'd never stopped to examine it. And then--he blushed to realize--he hadn't exactly found it unpleasant, so there had been no real impetus to analyze it too closely.

"Okay, here you--"

Jim abruptly snatched the money out of his hand, threw it into the hallway and grabbed the pizza.

"What the--" the delivery boy started to say.

Jim slammed the door in his face and locked it. He threw the pizza box on the floor and took a step toward Blair.

Blair backed away. "Hey, Jim, man, we just said we were going to chill. Let's not start anything--"

His sentence ended with a squeak as Jim lunged for him, put a death grip on his shoulders, and stuck his tongue into his mouth. So much for pizza and baseball, Blair thought.

At least it was less disconcerting this time--the groping, the neck biting, the speed with which he was completely divested of his clothes. Blair landed on his back on the sofa, and Jim quickly straddled him. Jim kissed him, put his hands all over him, humped frantically against his thigh. And again, Blair just couldn't help himself. He kissed Jim back. He couldn't seem to touch him enough. His hard-on throbbed eagerly, leaving a slick trail on Jim's hip.

And this, Blair finally understood, was the maddening part. The voice inside him had been right all along. It wasn't Jim he was angry with. Who could be angry with Jim under the circumstances? This wasn't his fault. Oh, no. The Sentinel of the Great City had conveniently lost his mind while all the shit was going down, and Blair was left alone to take the fall. He resented it, bitterly, because he had no easy excuse, no primal dementia to blame for his part in this.

No, he was just a horny bastard--a selfish, thoughtless, irresponsible horny bastard, making a mess out of the most important thing in his life.

And he fucking hated that. He'd always hated it, he realized. He'd spent his entire adult life--and really, a good enough part of his childhood--trying to set boundaries and keep them. For as long as he could remember, he'd been formulating who he wanted to be and how he wanted to live. It wasn't an inflexible life plan. He believed in change the way some people believed in religion. His code of honor was always being revised, from week to week, even moment to moment. It was just really important to him to make sure he ended up the person he intended to be, not some accident of chaos.

This was why he had lived in the same city for fourteen years, instead of gadding about like a hapless moth. He wanted to be able to point to a circle on a map and say: I am a citizen of Cascade, Washington. It was why he had devoted himself so whole-heartedly to his studies. So he could say: I am a student, a teacher, a scholar. And most all, it was why he had stuck so stubbornly with Jim, even when Jim was less than enthused about it. Because he was Jim's guide, his friend, his partner. It defined him, made him accountable, and he liked that. He needed it. Because the last thing he wanted to be was a train wreck barreling through people's lives, leaving behind one disaster after another, without slowing down long enough even to notice.

The last thing he wanted to be was Naomi.

Shit! He balled his fists into Jim's shirt. Where the hell had that come from? He'd spent years on the analyst's couch waiting for a breakthrough on his conflicted feelings about his mother. Well, screw therapy. Groping Jim was clearly a lot more beneficial.

Because suddenly it was all rushing back to him. The time in Las Cruces when Naomi had the idea to start a meditation center and talked a local women's group into helping with the project. The day after it opened, she declared her work done. There was some yogi visiting an ashram in upstate New York and she just had to meet him. Blair could still remember the look on those other women's faces, left in the lurch to manage Naomi's dream.

It was not much different with the feminist bookstore in San Diego or the organic food co-op in Greensboro or that paint-your-own-pottery place in Duluth.

But the people. God. Each one left a separate pain.

There was Blair's fifth grade science teacher in that little town in Ohio. He'd stayed after school almost every day, helping Blair with a study of the communal structures of an ant colony, his project for the end-of-year science fair. Blair made the mistake of talking about it just a little too much, and Naomi got it into her head that she had to meet the man who was being so kind to her son. Soon, the teacher was coming to their house in the afternoons, and Blair started to look at his experiment with approaching regret. When Naomi decided it was over and time to go, the teacher patted Blair on the head, a sad look in his eyes. Blair's project was left in a corner of the classroom, so the other kids could look after his ants for him. Two more weeks, and he might actually have won that damned science fair.

He remembered a woman too, although he couldn't recall her name anymore. She was Naomi's best friend. Blair had called her his aunt. He could still picture her long dark hair and the way her smile lit up her face. Whenever Naomi talked about her, she said things about sisterhood and kindred spirits and pure connections, and Blair had thought maybe this was something, at last.

But then he began to realize that his aunt's bed was never rumpled in the mornings, and Naomi started going on about experimentation and opening up new chakras and how personal orientation could be a powerful political stand against the establishment. She always said it with a dreamy smile, but Blair knew better. He knew. And soon enough, there were the familiar raised voices in the middle of the night and the dark looks over the breakfast table. He remembered the woman, his lost aunt, watching out the window as he and Naomi got into a taxi and drove away. Her long hair hung in her face, but it couldn't hide that she was crying.

And there were so very, very many more that they had all blurred together until they weren't even memories anymore. Until now. Until this.

Blair understood everything so much better. No wonder he'd tried to be so damned careful. No wonder he had his rules. Don't let yourself be important to people if you're not going to let them be important to you. It's why he never went on a fifth date with any of the women he chased. Four dates, and you were still getting to know one another, still taking a test drive. You could go on four dates with someone in good conscience, even if you had no intention of ever loving them. Just never that fifth. He'd been absolutely scrupulous about it.

About so many things. He followed his own rules to the last letter. Don't experiment with what's important to you. Don't risk what you prize. Don't cross those invisible lines. Don't make a mess. Don't start what you can't finish.

He'd been so very cautious, ever since that first day when Jim had come to see him, when he realized how utterly enormous the whole sentinel thing was, how lost and vulnerable Jim was. Blair knew he was the only person who would ever really understand what Jim was or how to help him, and he took that on as a sacred responsibility, with all the ethical rectitude of an anthropologist, all the loving consideration of a friend.

He'd been so meticulous about honoring the boundaries and keeping his hands off.

But now, it was Jim who was all over him. Blair could feel all those years of vigilance slipping away. Maybe the first time could be written off as a fluke, as an accident, but the second-- well, this was clearly a choice. It was his decision not to push Jim away. It was his fault that he was moaning Jim's name, not yelling for him to stop. He was letting Jim kiss the insides of his thighs, letting him rub his cheek against his hip, letting him touch his cock. Because it might be wrong, but, God, it felt so damned good.

He'd been so careful, for so long, for nothing.

Jim flicked his tongue across the head of Blair's cock. Blair couldn't help himself--he shrieked with pleasure. Jim made a growling sound of appreciation in the back of his throat, bent his head over Blair's body, snaked his hand into his own underwear, and went to work in earnest.

Jim's great heaving gulps made it perfectly clear that he had absolutely no idea what he was doing. Blair squeezed his eyes shut as hard as he could, and the after-image was a daisy chain of fifth-grade teachers and aunts with long black hair and all the other irretrievable losses. Soon--he was certain--Jim would be added to that sad list. Because there were things you could pretend never happened and things you could never forget. And this was all going too far. Too damned far. Jim was never going to forgive him, not for this.

Blair made one last, flailing attempt to get away, one final effort to salvage everything that had ever mattered to him. But Jim held him down, his fingers digging into Blair's hip. Jim was determined, and Blair just didn't have the will. He put his hand on Jim's head, but he couldn't bring himself to push him away. Instead, he cradled him and stroked his hair. He gasped for breath, and his belly started to tremble. He was so close.

"Jim! Stop!"

Blair wanted to spare him this, at least. But Jim held tight and sucked him more desperately.

Blair thrashed his head. "No!" he wailed. "Stop! I'm coming. I can't-- Oh, God."

But it was too late. His balls tightened. His stomach lurched. His vision darkened. And he was coming. In Jim's mouth.

"Fuck!" Blair screamed.

Jim jerked back. He sputtered and coughed. Come flew out his nose. His eyes went wide. He backed away.

"Jim!" Blair reached out for him.

But Jim just stared at him, dazed and terrified.

"Please!" Blair begged.

Jim turned and lurched for the door. He threw it open on its hinges and fled. It took a while for Blair to find the strength to pull himself up from the couch and go close the door. But that was all he had the energy to do. He sank to the floor and rested his head against the cool wall.

Maybe there just wasn't enough carefulness in the world. Maybe it was simply a matter of genes, not choice. Maybe he just was Naomi, whether he wanted to be or not.

Jim drove the way drunks did, too slowly, taking each turn with exaggerated care, overcompensating because he knew he really shouldn't be behind the wheel. But he had to get away. He had to do something, and he was too shaky to walk.

This can't be happening. Not again.

The stoplight turned red. Jim braked. His head pounded, and he closed his eyes against the pain. But the image on the inside of his eyelids was a black and white photo negative of Blair the way Jim had just left him, flung onto the sofa, dark marks in the shape of fingers on his hips, where Jim had--

His eyes flew open. The light turned green. He stomped hard on the accelerator and took off with a lurch and the sharp squeal of tires.

God. What the fuck was wrong with him? Once might have been a fluke. Once might have been forgivable. But twice?

Jim had never before seriously entertained the possibility that he might be going mad. Even when the senses came roaring back, he always, somehow, believed there was an explanation, even if he had despaired of ever figuring out what it was. This ultimate belief in his sanity had impelled him to keep seeking out doctors who might be able to help him. It kept him hoping for a brain lesion or a freakish deficiency of some mysterious micronutrient he hadn't even known people needed. Something. Anything. Because he wasn't fruit loops. Really. Deep in his heart, he was certain of that.

And so, even when the would-be Dr. McCoy couldn't pronounce his own name, he'd still accepted that business card. He'd sat there on the exam room table, staring at the name on that little piece of cardstock like he was holding salvation in his hand. As soon as he could, he went searching for that person, for the one who might be able to save him. And found Blair.

Because he knew he wasn't crazy.

The cell phone rang, and it made Jim jump, even though it must have been the tenth time it had rung since he'd left the loft. He shrugged off his jacket, balled it up around the phone and tossed it into the passenger side floorboard. He hoped that might muffle the sound a little. He was already jittery enough, and the loud mechanical chirping was unraveling the last little remnant of his composure. He couldn't answer it, though. He wasn't ready to talk to Blair yet. But he couldn't bring himself to shut the phone off, either. That would be definitive in some way, and he hadn't decided anything.

God, he was just barely holding together. He couldn't have fraught, possibly life-altering conversations right now. He couldn't handle symbolic gestures that hinted of finality. He just wanted to drive and have the world mark time, as selfish as that might be, until he was ready, until he could breathe again.

Until he'd figured out if he had finally, after everything, gone loony.

Insanity wasn't even the most terrifying possibility. If he wasn't insane, then maybe these episodes were simply an excuse his subconscious had dreamed up so he could do whatever he wanted and get a free ride. Because that's exactly what Blair would ultimately give him. He would never hold him responsible for some sentinel freak out, not for long. No, Blair would do what he always did. He'd pull out every book he owned and roll up his sleeves and get down to work. He'd figure out some way that this wasn't Jim's fault. And if Jim consciously realized that, then his subconscious must know it too, his cagey, Machiavellian subconscious that he'd never given nearly enough credit.

But, God, had he really wanted that? Had he wanted to-- Just say it! Hold Blair down and leave bruises and suck him off against his will? He couldn't really want that, could he? He wasn't that fucked up, surely?

He wanted to believe it was impossible. He would have paid money for it to be impossible. But the fact was that he had wanted men before. In an Army life, you had to take your comforts where you could find them. He hadn't understood that when he first joined up. He hadn't realized he was only trading one kind of loneliness for another. He'd never imagined they'd be confined to base for such long stretches of time, weeks or even months on end, on alert for some mission that might or might not materialize.

The only way he'd made through all those endless days was to melt into the shadows out behind the barracks with one of his squad mates. The sex was very Army-like, no frills, no romance, just enough to suffice, enough to help him remember what it meant to be human. It was much more charged when they were actually sent away on missions. Then, a touch might be the last thing you could ever give someone, the last thing anyone might ever give you. There was a simple, dire urgency to every encounter.

But with Blair-- God. Everything was so confusing. Jim didn't know who he was anymore. He was driving around in circles like someone who had no idea what he was doing with his life. He could still taste Blair's come in his mouth. His whole life, he'd never once taken another man's cock in his mouth, no matter how lonely or desperate he'd been. But with Blair-- He'd wanted it so much. He'd wanted it enough to use force to get it.

And now, God help him, he didn't want to let it go. It wasn't just some oversight that kept him from going through the McDonald's drive-thru to get coffee or stopping off at the Walgreen's for Listerine. He had no intention of getting rid of the memory of Blair in his mouth. Because he liked it. He liked Blair. More than liked him. And he always had.

It had killed him that Blair seemed to want everybody--everybody but him. Was that enough to drive a person to the brink? Had he gone mad from constant, low-grade longing?

His cell phone buzzed insistently from inside the swaddling of his jacket. He couldn't take it anymore. He jerked the truck over to the side of the road and parked. He dug the phone out and answered it.


"Jim?" Blair sounded tentative and very, very far away.


"Um-- Where are you, man?"

Jim looked around. He couldn't find a street sign.

"I don't know," he said.

"Well, don't you think maybe it would be a good idea to come home now?"



"You have to go." It came out harshly. He didn't mean it that way. He just hated the idea so much. "I'm sorry," he said more gently. "It's not you. It's-- I don't know what it is. But it can't go on. I can't go on. Doing that-- To you-- God."

"Jim." Blair's voice was much firmer now, even commanding. "I'm not going anywhere. Come home. We have to talk."

"No, Blair--"

"Yes, Jim--"

"I'm a lunatic!" he blurted out.

"No, you're not!" And then more kindly, "You're not."

"How do you know?"

"I know."

"I don't know. So how could you possibly--"

Blair sighed in his ear. "Look, I just do. Okay?"

"I don't think I can trust myself."

Jim's eyes burned. His throat hurt. This might very well be the worst day of his life. And that was saying something.

"Yes, you can," Blair said. "Come home. We'll talk. It'll be okay. I swear."

"Chief, I really don't--"

"Get your ass home right this minute, Jim. Or I swear to God I'll track you the fuck down and drag you back to the loft myself."

The phone went dead in his ear. He stared at it a moment, a little flummoxed. Shouldn't a smart guy like Blair have figured out what Jim's evil mastermind of a subconscious had been up to? Shouldn't Blair hate his guts already?

Now Jim was even more confused than ever, too confused to figure out a course of action for himself. That left only one idea on the table, and listening to Blair had become something of a habit over the years. He started the truck and headed for home.

Blair could not decide where to sit or what to do while he waited for Jim. He wanted to seem non-threatening when Jim arrived home, but not like he didn't care. Because, really, when had he ever cared so much?

Nothing felt quite right. He tried sitting at the dining table, but he didn't want Jim to feel like he was being ambushed the minute he came through the door. He curled up on his bed with an anthro journal, but he thought maybe that seemed like he wasn't taking this seriously. And, God, he was. He really was. When had anything ever been more important? So that ruled out lying on the sofa. It was definitely too casual. Maybe standing by the balcony doors?

He was still pacing around the living room trying to find the perfect spot when he heard the rattle of the doorknob. He froze. The door swung open, and Jim stepped inside. When he saw Blair standing there, he froze, too.

"Are you okay, man?" Blair asked.

Jim didn't say anything. He looked ready to bolt.

Blair felt a flash of panic. "Why don't we sit down and talk, huh?" he suggested as calmly as he could.

He circled around the sofa and took a seat.

"Come on, Jim. I'm not going to bite."

"Is that supposed to be funny?" Jim asked, his face flashing with hurt.

"God. No. Sorry. Look, I'm nervous, okay? I really don't know the right thing to say. I just know it's important for us not to let this weirdness keep snowballing, all right?"

Jim studied him. "Yeah. Okay," he said.

"So sit down, huh?"

It took Jim a while to unstick himself from his place by the door, but he did finally shuffle over to the couch. He sat jammed up against the arm, as far away from Blair as he could get.

"I, uh-- " Blair twisted his hands in his lap. How exactly did you apologize to someone for coming in his mouth? "I was worried about you. The way you left--"

"I had to get out. Get some air."

Blair nodded. "Yeah. I got that. I also got that maybe this was your first-- Well, you know."

"Sandburg, I swear to God. Don't go there."

"All I'm trying to say is that I'm sorry. I shouldn't have. Really."

Jim shook his head. "No. No, I'm sorry. I'm the one who shouldn't have. Not ever. Certainly not again."

"Come on, Jim. It wasn't-- I didn't exactly fight it off."

"I don't know what's wrong with me. I just couldn't seem to help--" And then Jim stopped and stared at him. "Wait. What did you just say?"

Blair colored. "Uh-- Never mind. Look, we're both sorry about what happened. Let's just leave it at that. We need to move past the guilt and start asking ourselves some questions. So we can figure this out. Okay?"

"Yeah. Okay. So I've got a question for you. What did you mean you weren't exactly fighting it?"

"Uh-- Well-- You know-- I don't really think that's the best place to start. We need to go back to the beginning, to that first night. To what you said." He cleared his throat. "You know, about me being a cock tease."

"Oh, no, Sandburg, no you don't," Jim said. "That's bullshit. You don't have to answer my question, but I'm supposed to-- what? Just splay open a vein?"

"Hey, that is how it all started."

"Like hell it did, libido boy. It started with you going all hot and swampy over absolutely everyone you ever come into contact with. I just got sick of trying to ignore it."

"What the hell are you talking about?"

"And pungent, too. Let's not forget pungent."

"Hot, swampy, and pungent? That's what you're saying set you off?"

"Yes. It is."

"O-kay. So let's just pretend for a moment that's not the most insulting and stupid thing I've ever heard. How exactly does hot, swampy and pungent translate into your mauling me? Huh? What the hell does one thing have to do with the other?"

Jim looked down at the rug. His ears turned bright red. Blair frowned. Jim only looked like that when--

"Oh, my God," he said.

"Don't freak out," Jim said. "Okay? Just don't freak out."

"I can't believe--"

What was wrong with him? How had he managed to overlook the most glaringly obvious explanation of all?

"It doesn't have to be some big traumatic deal," Jim said. He was sweating. "I swear--"

"God damn, I'm stupid."

"Look, I'm sorry. I can't help it. But nothing has to change. Honestly--"

"And, you're really not all that bright either, Jim."

"We can just go on like before-- Hey!" Jim glared at him. "Watch it, Sandburg. I'm sorry my having a thing for you makes you uncomfortable, but that doesn't give you the right to insult me."

Blair smiled. "So you have a thing for me, huh?"

"Don't be flippant. Not about this."

"You don't think maybe I have a thing for you, too?" Blair asked.

Jim snorted. "Sandburg, you have a thing for the whole damned world."

Blair shook his head. "You're wrong."

"No, I'm not. I'm a sentinel. I know what I know."

"I'm not arguing with your observations. Just the way you're interpreting them."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means it's not the other people."

"I'm going to need a little more help than that."

Blair slid over beside Jim and took his hand. "It's not the other people I've been reacting to. All those responses you keep sensing-- Think about the situations. What's the one common denominator?"

"You're with humans?" Jim ventured.

Blair whacked him on the shoulder. "You don't be flip, either. Focus. This is important."

"Look, I really don't know what you expect me to say."

Blair sighed. "Fine. I'll tell you. It's you. You're the common denominator, Jim. I just never realized it-- Well, wouldn't let myself realize it. For kind of fucked up reasons. I see that now. Did I ever mention that Naomi wouldn't know a boundary if she fell over one?"

"Blair, what does your mother have to do with this?"

"Nothing. Everything. It involves psychotherapy. You don't really want to hear about that right now, do you?"

"Honestly? No. Not right now. Could we get back to the part where I'm the common denominator?"

"Yeah, well, you are. Always have been. Only I wasn't consciously aware of it. And then tonight I was paying the pizza boy, and I felt this-- man, like the mother of all chills go up my spine. And I realized, hey, I know this. This has happened before. It's happened a lot. So even though I don't go around actually thinking wow, Jim is scoping me out with his senses, there is some part of me that knows it's happening. And, well, kind of-- you know, gets off on it."

"Wait. So you're saying you know when I-- And that's why you--"

"Yeah. And that's why I wasn't fighting it."

Jim squeezed Blair's hand. "It's me. Not them. Me."

"Only you."

"Oh, God." Jim hugged him hard. "It's me. It's me!"

Blair smiled into the armpit where Jim had him quashed. "Yeah, man. I love you, too."

Jim buried his face in Blair's neck. "I make you all shimmery. I make you smell like this. That's just so fucking, fucking fantastic." Jim held him tightly. "And that means there's nothing wrong with me. I don't have a pathological subconscious. I just want you. And you want me. And there's nothing crazy about that."

"Told you," Blair said.

"I really didn't want to be crazy," Jim admitted. "Crazy sucks."

"I hear that."

"I didn't want you to move out, either."

Blair snorted. "Like that was ever going to happen."

"Does this mean I can take you to bed?" Jim asked. "You know, properly?"

"Yes," Blair said. "And it also means that I get to do this without having to feel guilty about it."

He put a hand on Jim's face, tilted his chin and kissed him. Jim's breath was warm, and his lips were both patient and inquisitive. Jim touched his hair, stroked the back of his neck with his thumb, and it was gentle, kind. It was the way Blair had always imagined it, the way he had always wanted it to be. It pointed out the one thing he had never taken into consideration when working out his life code. He'd quite overlooked the fact that love was the exception to pretty much every rule. It had its own urgencies, and sometimes boundaries went by the wayside. But that was okay, because if it was really love, then it had an honor all its own.

Blair pulled back from the kiss. "Okay, bed now," he said.

He stood up and tugged Jim off the couch. They held hands as they walked to the stairs.

"You don't know how much I wanted it to be me," Jim told him.

Blair smiled over his shoulder and let his shirt fall onto the steps. They both quickly ditched their clothes and ended up in a tangle on the bed. Jim rolled them over and moved on top of Blair.

"Just one more thing," Blair said.


Jim kissed his neck.

"It's about that pungent thing."


Jim licked a nipple.

Blair bucked up with pleasure. "God! Jim, wait. I just need to know. Was that pungent like 'eew!' Or was it--"

Jim nibbled his way down Blair's stomach and rimmed his belly button.

Blair's toes curled. "Shit! Hold on. It's just that you're a sentinel and--" Jim tongued his erection. "Fuck!"

"Okay." Blair panted for breath. "I hear you. Pungent is good."

Jim laughed and then set to work showing Blair just how good it could


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