Series Note: There are 65 episodes of The Sentinel, and that got me to thinking...That's 65 opportunities for two beautiful men to make love. Or, at least, to want to very badly. Hmm...
Summary: Episode one, Switchman. That first important meeting in Blair's office is a revelation to Jim, in so many ways.
Warnings: Rated PG-13. m/m
It was really not the day to call him a caveman.
Jim could see the kid realize that, a moment too late, right before his back connected with the wall and Jim got in his face, a move he'd perfected out on the street. The kid swallowed hard and looked scared, a typical reaction. Jim was really quite good at his job.
He took in a breath to yell, and that's when it hit him, a jolt, like electricity, like awareness. He reeled with a sudden sense of claustrophobia, far too conscious of the kid's physical presence. He could feel everything--his nervous breathing, the blood thrumming through his body, the mass of muscle and bone, his heat through the layers of their clothing. It wasn't the way these things were supposed to go.
His impulse was to jerk away like someone who realized a step too late he'd wandered onto a landmine. But he fought his instinct and gripped the kid's collar tighter. This-- whatever it was-- didn't mean anything, and he couldn't afford to act as if it did. That was the thing about landmines. If you hopped off them in a panic, they blew up in your face.
He leaned in a little closer. "Listen, you neo-hippie witch doctor punk, I could slap you right now with larceny and false impersonation. And you're heading real quick into harassing a police officer. What's more, your behavior is giving me probable cause to shake this place down from top to bottom for narcotics."
The kid's heart pounded. Jim didn't just feel it. He could hear it. The sound rattled around inside him, jarring his bones. Funny, they never covered this at the police academy. Because it wasn't supposed to be like this, ever. It wasn't.
Only sometimes it was, despite everything.
The first time was back in the Army when he caught a corporal under his command selling painkillers stolen from the infirmary to a couple of teenagers. He gave the kids a warning and sent them home, bagged the pills for evidence, instructed the corporal to get up against the wall for a pat down. It was procedure.
But something happened, in the middle of the search, something-- God, he still really didn't know what the hell this thing was. Everything just seemed to fall away from him, the details stopped registering, who they were, why they were there, that the corporal was a dirtbag drug dealer. Suddenly, all he was conscious of was the physical fact of their bodies, their maleness, their close proximity. He didn't do anything, thank God. Or say anything. He was just so aware, and it shocked the hell out of him.
That was his first experience with landmines, so he didn't know any better than to yank his hands away. The corporal stared at him, confused at first, but then he got this look--Jim would never forget it--like he knew something. It probably shouldn't have come as any surprise when the scumwad later accused him of conduct unbecoming an officer.
While the Army investigated the charge, they insisted Jim see the base shrink. He went in three times a week to suffer through questions like: Do you typically have sexual feelings while conducting a search? and Have you ever fantasized about men when you masturbated?
The psychiatrist wore very thick glasses and blinked a lot. He had no facial expression otherwise. Somehow, it made Jim feel as if parts of him that should have been unassailably private were being meticulously dissected, sliced into see-through bits and examined under a microscope with clinical dispassion. Do you sometimes want things you can't have, Captain Ellison? His answers grew more curt with each inquisitive assault on his dignity. The shrink scribbled away in his notebook. Part of Jim desperately wanted to know what it said. Another part really couldn't bear the thought.
Eventually, Jim got his reprieve. They dug into the corporal's record. He'd pulled the sexual harassment ploy before. Jim was excused from the psychiatric torture sessions. The corporal was sent to the stockade where he belonged. Jim went back to work as if nothing had happened, as if everything were settled.
So why was it all coming back now?
He pulled the kid up onto his tiptoes, a final dose of menace, for good measure. "So keep out of my face," he warned. "Is that clear?"
The boy had been silent up to this point, too scared to talk back, but now he gritted his teeth and leaned in, a little pissed off himself.
"Hey, Joe Friday, relax, okay?" he said. "Look, you mess with me, man, and you are never gonna figure out what's up with you. Is that clear?"
He jabbed him in the chin to punctuate his threat. Jim had to admire his spark. Maybe he wasn't such a hippy dippy fruit loop after all. He let go of his shirt and took a step back.
The kid let out his breath. "Okay, man, that's good. Calm is definitely good. Look, I got carried away before. I didn't explain things right. How about we sit down, and I'll show you what I mean?"
The boy settled at his desk and pointed Jim to an empty chair. He dusted it off and sat down. The kid held out a shabby, yellowed book to him. It smelled. The room overflowed with such dubious treasures.
"This is a monograph by Sir Richard Burton, the explorer, not the actor. It's over a hundred years old."
Jim glanced at the page. There was a picture of a warrior in native dress. He hoped this wasn't supposed to be some long-lost member of his extended family, or the kid was going to end up plastered against the wall again.
"The idea goes something like this," the kid explained. "In all tribal cultures every village had what Burton called a Sentinel. This was someone who patrolled the border, watched for approaching enemies, monitored changes in the weather, the movement of game..."
The boy unfurled his fairy tale. Jim tried to concentrate, but it was really no use. All the civilized barriers that put a sensible distance between people had given way in him. He experienced everything so intimately--the boy's clean, dried twig smell, the scrape of fabric against fabric whenever he moved, the fluttering air currents as he gestured, the tuneful rise and fall of his voice, even if Jim couldn't particularly fasten on the individual words or what they meant.
It startled him to realize he had never felt closer to anyone.
Back when Jim was in the army, there was no such thing as "don't ask, don't tell." There was only suspicion and intolerance and witch hunts that destroyed people. The prevailing wisdom was "don't do anything, don't even think about it." It was the only way to survive, and Jim had become quite adept at it. He hadn't once stopped to consider the corporal or the shrink or that unnerving moment of awareness in all these years.
Of course, it didn't mean it was gone either, far from it. There had been other moments since then, a lot of them, if he was really going to be honest. In some ways, he had never left that shrink's office. A part of him was still sitting there, on that cheap plastic couch, suffering mutely over the questions he'd been too afraid to ask himself, much less to answer.
Now, for the first time, he felt like maybe he could. Maybe, he could finally admit that, yes, he did have fantasies, feelings, wants that had never been met. He did imagine possibilities, although nothing Freudian or perverse or even particularly graphic. The shrink would have been terribly disappointed in him.
Because all he really wanted was to reach over, brush the kid's hair back, push his crisp white collar out of the way and press his lips to that spot on the neck, right at the curve, where the pulse pounded, where he could feel life against his mouth. And then move up a little higher, to the place behind the ear, to kiss along the delicate swell of bone back there, maybe even feel the hot zing of synapses against his lips, if this sensory freakishness was actually good for something.
"Don't you see, man?" the boy said. "The tribe's survival depended on the Sentinel. These guys were a serious force for good."
He blinked, confused. "So what does that have to do with me?"
"A Sentinel is chosen because of a genetic advantage. A sensory awareness that can be developed beyond normal humans. You could be the real thing. All you need is someone who understands your situation to help you get control of it."
Jim narrowed his eyes. "And what's the payoff for you?"
"My doctorate. I want to write about you. You're my thesis."
The boy watched him hopefully, the sun reflecting off his glasses. Jim felt the inner boom, as the booby trap detonated and destroyed his fragile hope. Maybe this was just his fucked up destiny or something, to be cornered and scared out of his mind, to need help and not be able to get it. For a moment, he'd really thought this kid might be his ticket to freedom, but of course, he was no different from the rest. He just wanted to pin him down and splay him open and hold him up for scrutiny, like the Army had and his uptight, disapproving old man and the PD and the wife he could never seem to please.
Who had he ever been kidding anyway? What had really changed? Being a cop wasn't all that different from being a soldier. There were still some questions best left unconsidered.
"I've had enough." He stood up and kicked away the flimsy fold-up chair.
The kid was clearly not expecting it. "Hey, wait, man," he said, flustered. "Don't freak out on me. We can talk about this--"
"Just forget it."
He slapped his open palm against the door as he stormed out.
What the hell did he need this kid for anyway? How much trouble could it be to figure out this shit with his senses for himself? He had always managed better on his own. Why should this be any different?