Simon Banks stared across his desk at his agitated detective. Jim looked tired and stressed---two states he didn't like to see any of his men in, let alone one dealing with all the extra Sentinel inspired nonsense Jim Ellison dealt with day to day. Simon took the cigar from his mouth and smiled at his friend. "Jim, you need a vacation," he announced, guessing the suggestion would be met with derision if not open hostility.
Jim just blinked at him. "Yes, sir, that's what I wanted to talk to you about."
Startled, Simon did a double take. Jim Ellison, Mr. Workaholic himself, wanted to talk about a vacation? "What?"
"I have a lot of vacation time stored up, and I'm going to lose it if I don't go, so I'm taking off for a few weeks. I've caught up on my caseload, and things have slowed down. There's no reason for me not to go now."
It was a good idea, and Simon had just suggested it himself, but still. . .it left him feeling a little bit uneasy that Jim was so anxious to take off. This had to have something to do with Sandburg. Everything that didn't make any sense had something to do with Sandburg. He took a guess.
"The kid's driving you crazy right? You just have to get away from him for a while. Let me guess, finals hit him really hard this year, and he completely wigged out on you. Trashed the loft, had a wild party, body-pierced an unmentionable and then mentioned it?"
Jim chuckled at that, but shook his head. "No, actually Blair is going to come with me."
Simon frowned. Now he knew something was wrong. "You work with kid, you live with the kid, you let him talk you into all sorts of bizarre sensory experiments, and now you're telling me the one chance you have to get away from the kid---and you're taking him with you?"
Jim Ellison had always been hard to read, his expression so controlled. Even Simon, who'd known him for years, couldn't always figure out what was going on behind those blue eyes. Now was no exception.
"Actually, the vacation was Blair's idea. And it's Sentinel related. You see he's discovered a storyteller down in Peru who might know something about Sentinels, and he wants to go question him."
"And you don't want to let the kid go alone?" Simon asked in exasperation.
Jim just shrugged. "Come on, Simon. You know what sort of trouble he gets himself into."
"He's an anthropologist, Jim," Simon exclaimed. "He's supposed to get in trouble in bizarre parts of the world. That's his job."
"And it's my job to look out for him."
Simon shook his head. "You are definitely taking that whole Blessed Protector thing too far. I think Sandburg made up all that nonsense just so you'd feel responsible for him."
Jim rolled his eyes. "Look Simon, he's doing all this Sentinel stuff to help me out. The least I can do is make certain he doesn't get himself eaten by wild animals down in Peru, or captured by some nut case."
"He's doing this Sentinel stuff for his dissertation," Simon corrected without much conviction. Even he didn't really buy that line any more. As far as he knew, Sandburg should have had enough info for ten dissertations by now. "Alright, Jim. Take your vacation. And bring yourself and kid back in one piece. I don't want to have to go down there to rescue you this time."
Jim smiled. "Thanks, Simon. See you in a few weeks."
He was gone a moment later, making good his escape through the bullpen. Simon shook his head--by now Ellison and Sandburg should have gotten sick of each other. God knew they couldn't be easy to live with. Their personalities must clash like plaid and polkadots. Still, he couldn't help thinking that both of them had changed since they'd started working together. Ellison had mellowed, become more human, more approachable--no longer the lone agent he had to practically beg to come in from the cold. And Sandburg---okay, Sandburg was still a nut, but he was a much more capable nut now.
He wondered if they'd find whatever it was they were looking for on this trip? After all, as far as he knew, they had this Sentinel thing down to a science. Ellison had little trouble with his senses any more, and the few times he did still zone out, Sandburg always seemed to know what do. What more did they have to learn?
He wondered suddenly just how long this partnership was going to continue. Granted Ellison didn't zone the way he used to--but there were still problems that no one else knew how to deal with. How long would these problems last? What happened if they lasted for the rest of his life? Sandburg wouldn't always be there for him---eventually he'd move away, go on one of those coveted Anthro trips, or simply take off for parts unknown like his crazy mother did. What happened to Detective Jim Ellison then? Maybe that was what the two of them were searching for then---a way to break the dependency between them so that they could go back to their own separate lives. A way to break the bond.
Jim smiled as he watched his Guide literally bouncing around the loft, making last minute changes to the gear the two of them had packed. Blair was glowing with excitement, his face flushed, his eyes gleaming as he searched for one more notebook, or one more reference book to take with him.
"Sandburg, you do realize that anything you pack you're going to have to carry on your back. Those books are going to get awfully heavy," Jim pointed out when Blair tried to stuff four more books into his already overstuffed backpack.
Blair looked up at him. "What was that, Jim?" He glanced at the books and then at the backpack. "Oh, yeah, right. What am I thinking? Man, I'm just so excited! This is going to be so cool, Jim! Can you imagine? An actual storyteller who's heard about Sentinels. It's like a dream come true." He set aside the books and zipped up his pack. "Not to mention it will be really nice to get away from Cascade for a while."
"Getting antsy to start wandering again, Chief?" Jim asked lightly, though inside he dreaded the answer.
Blair shook his head. "No, it's not that. It's just. . .the rain, man. I just want to get out of the rain for a few weeks, don't you?"
"It rains in Peru, Chief," Jim pointed out. "I hate to tell you."
"Yeah, Jim," Blair grinned. "But it's Peruvian rain!"
His enthusiasm was just too much and Jim had to laugh. Where in hell did the kid get the energy to get excited about Peruvian rain? "Come on, Chief. Let's get out of here. Might as well get to the airport now, while you still have room in that pack for souvenirs."
They made it to the airport in plenty of time, Blair chatting the entire way about any subject that came into his head. It always amazed Jim just how many subjects Blair could think and talk about at once. But then a lot of things about Blair amazed Jim.
Their flight was on time for a change, and before long the two of them were making their way through a crowded airplane cabin to their own seats. Jim didn't like flying much; it wasn't the actual flight that bothered him, it was all the people crowding around him, and the complete disconnection with the world. He was used to being able to hear the wind blowing even from inside a building. He was used to sounds of nature and city mingling together. In an airplane, the sights and scents weren't so different from everyday life, but the sound was all wrong. He could feel the unnaturally pressurized air in his eardrums. And when he searched for the sounds that normally soothed him, all he could hear was the air-filtration system, and the plane engines. Nothing beyond that.
He settled into his seat beside Sandburg, his mind instinctively reaching for something that would counter the bizarre sounds. The radio, he thought. He could hear the pilots' radio in the cockpit--if he listened carefully enough maybe he could pick out the sounds coming over the radio from the control tower. Those would be normal sounds, city sounds.
"Jim? Hey, Jim, come on man, don't do this. Come on back." His Guide's voice slowly reached him, pulling him back to the present, and he realized with some alarm that they were already in the air. He'd completely missed the take off of the plane.
"What?" he asked, turning uncertainly toward Blair. Two worried blue eyes gazed back at him.
"You zoned, man," Blair said quietly. "What happened? You haven't zoned in months."
Jim shook his head to clear away the last of the effects of the zone. "Sorry, Chief. It's the plane. I feel a little cut off from everything. I guess I should have mentioned it."
"What did you zone on?"
"The radio," Jim confessed. "I was trying to hear the city over the radio."
Blair looked impressed. "Wow, talk about piggy backing your senses. But we can't have you zoning all they way to South America."
"What would you suggest?" Jim asked, knowing that somehow Blair would have a good idea. He always did.
"One of the relaxation mediations," Blair said instantly. "Close your eyes and relax. Just listen to my voice."
He let Blair guide him, trusting him implicitly as they went through one of the techniques Blair had taught him months ago. He let himself go, not so much dialing down his senses as refocusing them on something that anchored him firmly in place. He listened to Blair's voice, hearing all the soft gentle cadences of tone. Deeper still he could hear Blair's heartbeat. It was a familiar rhythm, one he often listened to at night when he couldn't fall asleep. The sound soothed him, relaxed him, gave him a sense of peace.
He breathed deeply and focused only on Blair's unique scent. It was subtle and somehow wonderful, like an exotic spice he'd become addicted to over the years. He liked that scent---though he wondered in amusement what Blair would say to that. *Hey, Chief, I liked the way you smell.* Probably offer to buy him the same shampoo or soap, Jim guessed--but that wasn't it. The scent was beneath the cosmetic scents that clung to all humans in the civilized world. It was Blair himself.
And if he extended his sense of touch just slightly he could feel the heat radiating off his Guide as well. It was a welcomed sensation in the too cold airplane cabin. It relaxed the last of his tensed muscles and he smiled.
"Better?" Blair asked, his voice still soft, soothing.
Jim opened his eyes and nodded. "Yeah, thanks Chief."
"Any time," Blair grinned. "That's what I'm here for."
But for how long, a quiet voice whispered in Jim's mind. How long would he have Blair to rely on, and what would he do when he was gone?
He latched on to the scent and sound and heat of his Guide, and refused to answer his own question.
Two planes and a long, uncomfortable bus ride later, the two of them found themselves in the middle of the Peruvian Jungle. "Man, this is so great!" Blair exclaimed as he settled his backpack on his shoulders and took a deep breath of the moist, humid air. "How are you doing, Jim?"
Jim breathed deeply, recognizing the scents, sounds and sights from so long ago. He was Cascade's Sentinel now, but a part of him would always belong here. "It's like coming home, Chief," he grinned, letting his Guide's enthusiasm sweep him along on the adventure.
"Man, I bet," Blair replied, eyes twinkling. "Like Tarzan returning to the jungle after leaving the Greystoke Estate for the first time."
Jim chuckled. "Leave the comic book analysis for later, Cheetah," he suggested. "We still have a long hike ahead of us."
They began walking. "You sure you know how to find the Chopec?" Blair asked.
"Yeah," Jim nodded. "I'll find them. We just have to hope an enemy tribe doesn't find us first."
Blair looked alarmed at that suggestion, and was about say something, but Jim just smiled at him. "I'm kidding, Chief. I can hear anyone coming from miles away. We'll be fine. Trust me."
"You're the Sentinel," Blair just grinned, and Jim realized that the trust he placed in his Guide every day had always been returned in equal measure.
It took them three days of hiking to reach their destination, three days in a primitive jungle. Throughout the entire trip Jim was silently amazed at how well his Guide held up. He didn't complain--not about the heat or the bugs or the long nights sleeping under a canopy of dense leaves that constantly dripped water on the unwary. He kept up with the pace Jim set, even when Jim pushed them faster than was truly necessary. But then, he reminded himself, his Guide loved to camp, and this wasn't his first trip into parts unknown. Simon was right---he was an anthropologist, this was his job. He was bound to be suited to it.
His senses led him to his old tribe without error. He heard their scouts coming nearly an hour before they noticed them. Out of respect for their borders, Jim and Blair sat down and waited for them to approach, letting them acknowledge them when they finally identified the two of them. It was Tiachek who finally came forward to greet them---recognizing Blair from his brief trip into Cascade when Incacha had died. Not surprisingly, Tiachek said the two of them had been expected.
Through Jim's translation, Blair asked about the storyteller, and Tiachek explained that several friendly tribes were gathering nearby for a rare meeting to discuss changes in their world. The ever-encroaching world of the white man had forced these meetings to become more common--but they benefited everyone. A shaman from another tribe had foretold the coming of the Sentinel and his Guide over a week ago. The storyteller was waiting for them, willing to share his knowledge of Sentinels with both.
They followed Tiachek and his men back toward the village, and long before they reached the settlement, Jim could tell that there were several different tribal camps nearby. The scent of each tribe was subtle different, he noted. The sounds they made unique. Tiachek smiled at him when he caught the subtle way Jim turned his head from side to side when he caught hold of a new sound or scent.
"We miss having a Sentinel," Tiachek told him. "It is good that you are back, if only for a while."
"It is good to be back," Jim replied, and then quickly translated what Tiachek had said to Blair.
"Hey, Jim, asked Tiachek if there are any other Sentinels around," Blair suggested.
Jim repeated his question, but Tiachek shook his head. "There are Special Ones around--those with one or two enhanced senses, but no full Sentinels. One will come to us when our need is great enough. For now we wait."
They reached the village and were greeted by old friends of Jim's, men and women he had not seen in years. He was moved by the warmth with which they welcomed him. So much of the time he'd spent here as one of their own came back with startling clarity so that Cascade seemed more a dream now. Beside him, Blair watched it all, curiosity in his eyes and a smile on his lips, and Jim couldn't help noticing how good if felt to have his Guide there with him now.
They were eventually led to a fire-pit where several village elders from other tribes were gathered, and there they were introduced to a wrinkled old man whom Jim estimated must have been close to a hundred years old. Beneath the body paint his people wore, his skin was leathery, his hair pure white, but his eyes were still clear, still sharp. He smiled a toothless grin as Blair and Jim approached.
Tiachek introduced him as Agappa from the Kignaua tribe, and Jim greeted him as an honored elder.
"I am told you wish to hear my stories of Sentinels and Guides," Agappa smiled. "It will be good to share my knowledge." As Jim translated for Blair, Agappa studied the anthropologist intently. "You too are a man of knowledge, I see," he said directly to Blair.
Blair nodded. "I learn what I can, Agappa, and hope it is enough."
Jim translated his words, and Agappa and the other elders nodded in approval. It seemed to have been the correct thing for Blair to say, and the two of them were welcomed around the fire.
They spent most of that first day learning the names of the others and tending to several formalities of the gathering. The warriors were anxious for Jim to join them on border patrol, but they all respected Blair's limitation with the language and did not press for a separation. Blair for his part had learned a few words in their tongue, and in the course of the evening picked up several others, but he was miles away from any sense of fluency. Still despite the language barrier, there were many of the customs and ceremonies that he intuitively understood better than Jim did himself.
At nightfall the two of them were given a small hut to share--something that surprised both Blair and Jim. Both had assumed they'd stay in the men's hut with the rest of the single males of the tribe. But Tiachek shook his head. "Agappa insists that the Sentinel and Guide have their own hut."
"I did not before," Jim pointed out to his friend.
Tiachek just shrugged. "You did not have a Guide before."
The hut was small, their packs placed inside the leather-covered door. A single straw mat served as a bed for the two of them. Luckily it was large enough for both, and it wouldn't be the first time they'd been forced to share such small quarters. As it was Blair seemed quite pleased with the accommodations.
"Hey," he grinned. "It beats that tiny two man tent we camp in."
As they settled in to sleep, side by side in the darkness, Blair asked about Tiachek's words. When Jim repeated them, he could practically sense his Guide's mind working furiously. "No Guide? What about Incacha?"
"He was my Spirit Guide, Chief," Jim explained. "It's not really the same thing."
"Well, what did everyone do when you zoned? Who brought you out of it?"
"No one," Jim shrugged, trying to remember the hazy images from that time so long ago. "Usually when I zoned, they just let me drift. Someone would always watch to make certain I wasn't hurt, and if I became endangered, they'd yell at me until I snapped out of it. But there was never any talk of controlling it. I guess I just assumed that it wasn't possibly to control it."
"They let you drift?" Blair asked in horror, turning toward Jim on the mat. Jim knew the darkness was too intense for his Guide to see clearly, but Jim could see the look of shock on his friend's face as if it were as bright as day in the hut. "How long would you drift?"
"Sometimes a few minutes, sometimes a few hours, sometimes a few days."
"Days?" Blair looked stunned. "But that's. . . .my God, you could have died from zoning out for a few days!"
"Those moments were rare--and usually Incacha brought me out of those deep zones," Jim assured him. "It didn't seem that odd to anyone. A Sentinel getting lost in his senses wasn't much different than a Shaman getting lost on a spirit journey. People falling into trances is an acceptable part of life out here."
"A deadly part of life," Blair insisted.
"Guess that's why a Sentinel needs a Guide," Jim agreed.
"I wonder why they didn't try to find you one while you were here?"
"I think they did," Jim replied, noting the curiosity that flooded Blair's expressive face at that.
"I didn't respond," Jim just shrugged. He frowned, trying to piece together his memories. "It's sort of hard for me to remember, Chief," he admitted. "Truth is, I don't think I really responded to a lot of things back then. I was so caught up in the sensory overload, nothing else really seemed to matter. There was just me and the jungle, and the people I interacted with were almost secondary to everything else."
"It's a wonder you survived," Blair murmured in quiet amazement.
"No, what's a wonder is that you were able to piece any of this together," Jim said with complete honesty. He didn't tell Blair often enough how grateful he was to him for everything he had done, and he wondered sometimes if Blair thought he didn't care.
In the darkness he could feel Blair blushing as he settled back down to sleep. "Well, I had good ol' Richard Burton to guide me," he pointed out.
"Take some credit, Sandburg, you deserve it," Jim chuckled. "Now go to sleep. I think we have a long day ahead of us tomorrow."
"Good night, Jim," Blair murmured, and then rolled over on his side to go to sleep.
In the darkness, Jim reached his senses out toward Sandburg, latching on to his Guide's heartbeat and scent immediately. He extended his sense of touch slightly and could feel the heat emanating off his body, and despite the darkness he could clearly see the outline of Blair's form beside him on the mat. One silky lock of Blair's hair was only inches away from his face.
Satisfaction flared through him, some primitive instinct welling up inside him. He drifted for a moment, losing himself in the sensation of instinct. They might have been thousands of years in the past--Sentinel and Guide side by side, guarding the tribe. The Guide was safe, the Guide was protected, all was right with the world. All his senses were focused on Blair. . . .no, not all.
Jim frowned. What was missing? Sight, Scent, Touch, Hearing. That was it---Taste. He didn't know what his Guide tasted like. He didn't know what his Guide's skin or mouth or. . .
Jim caught himself in the very act of reaching for Blair, shocking himself back into twentieth century sensibilities as he shook off the bizarre call of instinct that had come over him. Of course he didn't know what Sandburg tasted like! What in hell was he thinking? He wasn't supposed to know what he tasted like!
One too many trips into the jungle, Ellison, he told himself as he rolled quickly over onto his side, back turned to Blair. It's started to get to you. Blair would freak if he knew what had been going through his mind for that instant. Best never to think of it again. Friendship only went so far.
The next few days were both exhausting and informative. Jim spent the better part of his day with Sandburg and Agappa acting as translator between the two. Agappa had many stories---most having to do with the adventures of ancient Sentinels in the days when Sentinels were more common. Blair took copious notes, every story bringing up a thousand new questions. They tended to exhaust Blair and Agappa far more than they did Jim, despite the fact that he had to speak for both of them.
They worked in the mornings and evenings, leaving the afternoons to the warriors who were anxious to get Jim to scout out the surrounding territory for them. During those times Blair remained behind, managing on his own with the language as he wandered around meeting the others. The women of the tribe took an instant liking to the young man, out-right flirting with him. But to Jim's surprise, their flirtations never went beyond the superficial. Sex between unmarried young people was treated very casually in the tribe, and it surprised Jim that the women made no effort to push their flirtation farther.
Evenings again were filled with story telling, but this time they did not limit their tales to Sentinels. The other tribes had their own stories to spread among their neighbors, and Blair for his part found the camaraderie among the tribes an anthropologist's dream.
Several days into their study, Agappa finally began touching on a subject that Blair was most interested. He began speaking more and more of a Guide's role in the Sentinel's life, touching at last upon a sacred bond that existed between the two. Ever since Incacha had died in their apartment and had passed on the duties of Spirit Guide to Blair, Jim knew his partner had been concerned about his lack of knowledge on that subject. Agappa, however, began filling in some of the blanks, speaking of the rites and rituals that went along with being a Sentinel's Guide. Jim translated dutifully, and Blair wrote furiously in his notebook.
Blair reread what he'd just scribbled into his notebook, trying to make sense of the meaning. For the hundredth time he wished he spoke Agappa's language. Jim was being great with the translation, but he was certain there was a lot he wasn't getting just because the concepts didn't translate well into English.
Several times now Agappa had spoken of the mental link between a Guide and a Sentinel, and Blair was at a loss to understand what he meant by that. Originally he thought he was referring to some sort of telepathy---but now he wasn't so certain. It seemed more spiritual in nature than that.
"Agappa," he began, knowing Jim would translate his words verbatim. "The link between the Guide and Sentinel. You've mentioned it many times, but I'm not certain I entirely understand. I know Jim responds to my voice in a way no one else does, and there are times when I have this intuitive leap in logic that seems to help me understand what sorts of problems he's having; but I can't see into his mind. I don't understand what you mean by a mental link. Does this have to do with being his Spirit Guide?"
Jim finished translating, and Agappa sat there for a moment in thoughtful silence. Finally he began speaking again in the soft lilting language. Blair tuned into Jim's voice, eager for the man's words.
"There is a bond between Sentinel and Guide. It is slow to develop, as the Sentinel's control over his senses is slow to develop. That is as it should be. But eventually as the Guide becomes the Spirit Guide, the souls unite in a more perfect understanding, so that they may better serve each other. This final bond is formed when the Guide and Sentinel . . ."
Agappa's words did not stop, but Jim stopped translating, cutting off Blair's link to the information. He glanced at Jim in surprise, but Jim was staring at Agappa in alarm.
"Jim? What did he. . ."
Jim quickly interrupted Agappa, speaking swiftly to him in his own tongue. Agappa frowned, then nodded, responding back in kind with words Jim made no effort to translate.
For a moment Jim just stared at Agappa in shock, and then shot a wary look toward Blair. Blair frowned. What in hell was going on? That Agappa had said something that surprised and alarmed Jim was obvious. But Blair couldn't for the life of him figure out what it might have been. When the Guide and the Sentinel what. . .? What could have caused this reaction?
Jim and Agappa spoke some more, Jim growing more and more agitated, while Agappa seemed to grow more and more bewildered. Finally Jim just shook his head and stood up, storming off and disappearing into the jungle overgrowth.
"Jim? What happened?" Blair called after him in alarm. He shot Agappa a confused look, and the old man just nodded at him, motioning with his hand that he should follow Jim. Nodding in understanding, Blair set down his notebook and chased after his wayward Sentinel.
He found Jim fairly easily. The man hadn't gone far as if knowing that Blair would follow him. He was sitting on a boulder, staring deep into the trees. He didn't seem zoned, much to Blair's relief. Blair sat down on another rock across from his friend.
"Jim, what happened?" Blair asked. "What did he say?"
"Drop it, Chief," Jim growled, his face set into an angry scowl. Blair was very familiar with this stubborn set to Jim's face. He'd crashed against that stubborn streak more times than he cared to count--he also knew that he was perhaps the only person in the entire world who could break through that stubbornness.
"You know I'm not going to drop it," Blair reasoned. "Look, we've played this game before. You're going to get stubborn, tell me to drop it, yell for a while. And I'm just going to keep digging until you finally give in. We both know it's going to happen, and there's nothing you can do about it---but frankly I find it quite exhausting. What say we just save us each a lot of trouble and you give in right now."
Jim glared at him, but the look of amusement shining in his eyes belied his anger. "Did anyone ever tell you that you are really a pain in the ass, Sandburg?"
"Yeah," Blair grinned. "You, all the time. So are you going to tell me what Agappa said that has you so freaked out."
"You don't want to know," Jim told him. "Trust me on this one, and just let it go."
"Jim!" Blair whined, knowing that that particularly tone of voice worked really well on his friend. Jim sighed in exasperation, and Blair sensed a victory. He pressed the question. "He said the final bond is formed when the Guide and the Sentinel. . .what? Performed some ancient ritual? Go on a spirit journey? Eat pizza together, what?"
Jim sighed heavily, and Blair thought for a moment that he saw a gleam of sadness in the man's blue eyes. "Alright, Sandburg, I'll translate for you. He said, and I quote: the final bond is formed when the Guide and the Sentinel consummate their union."
Blair nodded, thinking furiously about what might have set his friend off. "When the Guide and the Sentinel consummate their union," he repeated, and then paused, tripping over one of the words. "Consummate?" Nah, it couldn't be, he told himself. Could it? "What precisely did he mean by. . ."
"He meant exactly what you think he meant, Sandburg," Jim interrupted, his face growing stony and expressionless as he waited for Blair to catch up to him.
"Oh. . . that. . .," Blair murmured. Really? Blair's mind worked furiously to process this new bit of information. Okay, it fit with a few other things he'd observed over the years--and it definitely would explain Jim's sudden alarm when Agappa was talking.
"Sandburg?" Jim's voice broke through his thoughts. He looked up, surprised to see that Jim actually looked angry.
"Yeah?" he asked uncertainly.
"Oh, that?" Jim repeated. "That's all you have to say? Why don't you look surprised?"
"Well, probably because I'm not really all that surprised, Jim," Blair explained.
"What?" Jim shouted. "What in hell are you talking about? You mean you knew about this?"
"Well, no, not exactly."
"Not exactly. What exactly do you mean, Sandburg?" Jim demanded. "You either knew or you didn't. Now which is it?"
"It's just that," Blair began, then shook his head. This was not the way to go about explaining something like this to Jim Ellison. He sighed. "Jim have you ever read anything that Richard Burton wrote?"
Jim frowned. "No, or rather just the stuff you've given me to read on the Sentinel research. Are you saying you've read some stuff that talks about . . .about this?"
"No," Blair replied. "But that in itself is odd."
Jim was getting angry again. "Start explaining, Sandburg."
"Look, Jim," Blair began. "It's really not that hard to understand. Burton wrote a lot of stuff--and not just about Sentinels. I mean for one thing he wrote a translation of the Arabian Nights."
"Arabian Nights?" Jim asked, looking even more confused now than he had when they started. "You mean like Aladdin?"
"Not precisely," Blair smiled. "I mean yes---but the Arabian Nights are not by any stretch of the imagination children stories. Far from it. They're incredibly steamy. And so was most of the other stuff Burton wrote. His favorite field of study seemed to be the sexual practices of native tribes. And he wrote about them in a very open and frank manner."
Jim took a deep breath and stared at Blair in shock. "And now you're telling me that all this time you've had some documents that talk about the weird sexual practices of Sentinels?"
"No," Blair assured him. "Actually, just the opposite. Burton never mentioned it."
"Then what . . .?"
"Let me explain. After Burton died, his wife burned a bunch of his papers. She burned the stuff that offended her Victorian sensibilities. Now since I've come across references to papers on Sentinels that Burton wrote but no longer exist--I have to assume that they are gone because his wife burned them. The only reason she would have burned them is if there was something in them that she thought was inappropriate--like references to what the Victorian world would consider unacceptable sexual practices."
Jim stared intently at him, those laser blue eyes searching his face. "Then this really didn't surprise you?"
Blair shrugged. "Not really. Caught me a bit off guard maybe, but that's the whole point of this trip---research. To find out the things we don't know--if we can analyze just exactly what history teaches us other Sentinel. . ."
"God, Sandburg!" Jim exclaimed in anger. "Listen to yourself. Analyze--research? How can you be so casual about this?"
Blair grew still, studying his friend's face. He could see the anger in Jim's eyes, but deeper still, beyond that, was something more, something wary and uncertain. "Okay, Jim, let's talk about this. Obviously this is really bothering you."
"Bothering me?" Jim asked incredulously. "Two straight men are just told that they are supposed to be sleeping together, and you don't think this should be bothering me?"
"Okay--that part goes without saying," Blair nodded impatiently. "That's not what I'm talking about. This is something else, something that has very little to do with sex--and I need to know what it is if I'm going to be able to help you with it."
Jim cursed under his breath and stood up, moving away. He didn't go far however. He stopped, his back turned to Blair. He gazed deep into the jungle. Blair watched him carefully, searching for any sign that his friend was zoning out on him. He could practically feel the tension radiating off the Sentinel's muscular form, and he waited breathlessly for Jim to speak. He knew this could go either way--either Jim would open up to him, or he'd clam up and never say another word on this subject. He hoped Jim would choose to speak--he suspected his friend needed to talk about what ever was bothering him.
"Yeah," Jim said softly, barely loud enough for Blair to hear. "Maybe we do need to talk about this."
Relieved, Blair let his breath out slowly, waiting patiently for Jim to return to his rock and sit down. When he did, Blair noticed that his friend's face was pale, that wary look back in his eyes, joined now by a look of resignation.
"Blair, I want you to know that I appreciate everything you've ever done for me," Jim began, and Blair frowned--this wasn't what he'd been expecting. He wasn't certain what he had been expecting--but it wasn't a thank you. "You've put your entire life on hold for me, and I don't think I can ever repay you for that."
His entire life on hold? What? Blair frowned. What was Jim talking about? "Jim. . ." he began, only to be cut off.
"No, let me finish, Blair," Jim insisted. "You wanted to know what was bothering me, and this is it. You probably don't think that I'm aware of all the things you've done for me, but I am. I'm just not entirely certain that *you* are aware of all the things you've done for me. I told you about what it was like here in Peru without a Guide--how I would just drift, and how everything else became secondary to my senses. Well things were beginning to be like that back in Cascade when my senses began returning to me. I'd spend a lot of time alone, either in the loft, or on stake out, and while I wasn't exactly zoning, I was drifting. That's one of the reasons my marriage broke up. I wasn't entirely there. Some part of my humanity became lost as everything became secondary to my senses."
Blair listened in silent amazement, shocked that this was Jim Ellison opening up like this to him. And all largely without any prompting. It spoke of a trust between them, he realized, and it warmed his heart to know his friend trusted him that much to share something so personal with him.
"When my senses began returning, the drifting became even more intense. In essence I became little more than an animal---like a jungle cat with heightened senses, but lacking a connection to the real world. That might be all well and fine out here in Peru where the people accept an incarnate animal spirit walking among them---but it doesn't work in Cascade. And it's no way for a man to spend his life. When you showed up and started helping me with my senses, Blair, you didn't just save my sanity. You saved my humanity as well. You'd reconnected me with everything I lost."
The look Jim gave him was so intense, so grateful, that Blair felt himself blush. But he knew there was more here that just gratitude. Something more was driving Jim to speak.
"Jim," he said quietly. "What does this have to do with. . ."
Jim nodded. "Let me finish. The problem here, Blair, is that I can't stop being a Sentinel. Since I've met you I've gotten you shot, blown up, drugged, held hostage, dropped out of an airplane and countless other things I don't want to think about. You've given up your trip to Borneo--and don't think I don't know about the other trips you've been offered, because I do. You give up all your free time for me, and spend all the rest of your time researching my problems. I mean, hell, just recently you've admitted that you've put off finishing your dissertation so that you can help me--and let's face it, the whole point of our partnership for you was so that you could get your doctorate."
Jim shook his head and stood up. He ran his hands tiredly through his hair as he began pacing. "So you want to know what's bothering me about what Agappa said? It seems to me that every new problem that comes up in my life is just one more chain I've put on you. The most recent being when Incacha made you my Spirit Guide--it was just one more thing tying you down, tying you to me. I've put you through hell with my Sentinel problems, and when Agappa said what he said, the first thing I thought was that this was it. This was going to be the straw that broke the camel's back. You'd hear this and say, okay, enough is enough. I'm leaving. And if you leave, I go back to drifting."
There was pain in Jim's eyes, sorrow in his voice as he spoke, and Blair saw now that there was also genuine fear. How long, he wondered, had Jim been fearing this--that Blair was going to leave him? When he'd told him about his dissertation, he'd meant it to comfort him--to let him know that he wasn't going to leave. Like when he refused to go to Borneo---but somewhere things had gotten twisted around, and they had both misunderstood the other.
"Jim, that is *so* not what is going on here," Blair insisted with a firm shake of his head. "Man, you don't honestly think I'd abandon you, do you?"
"Abandon me?" Jim shook his head. "You don't owe me anything, Blair. I can't keep holding you back. Sooner or later you have to get on with your life."
"Jim, this is my life," Blair smiled at him, knowing for certainty that he meant everything he said. "Jim, sit down. I listened to you, now you listen to me."
Jim sat without protest, his eyes never leaving Blair's face. "Look, Jim, did you ever wonder why you became a cop, and before that a Ranger?"
Jim shook his head. "I just did."
"No. There's no 'just' about it. Jim, you're not a better cop because you're a Sentinel. You're a better Sentinel because you're a cop. Everything you've ever done in your life has been focused on making you a better Sentinel. Being a Sentinel is what you are--it is a genetic imperative. And all your training in the Army and the police force have been pushing you toward being a Sentinel. That is what you were called to be--that is what you have to be. Even if you weren't a cop, you'd still protect the City, still patrol the borders. Being a cop just makes it a lot easier."
He smiled as his words slowly sank in. "But it's the same for me, Jim," Blair continued. "Everything I've done has been focused on making me a better Guide. All my travels when I was younger, all the cultures I've studied, all the classes I've taken, even becoming an anthropologist--all make me suited to being a Guide. That's my calling, my genetic imperative. I can no more stop being a Guide, than you can stop being a Sentinel. I feel the same commitment to it that you do. I can't just walk away. I haven't put off my dissertation because you've been taking up too much of my time--I put it off because I was afraid Simon would revoke my observer status once I graduated. I was afraid of what would happen to you if I wasn't around to Guide you. I can't *not* worry about you. You never get me into trouble, Jim. I get myself into trouble because I know I'm supposed to be beside you to Guide you. It's as simple as that."
"Doesn't sound as if there's anything simple about it at all, Chief," Jim said quietly, but there was a gentle smile on his lips that spoke his relief.
Blair just grinned at him. "That's what you get when you take a primitive, pre-civilized breed of man and try to integrate him into twentieth century society. But you don't need to worry about me abandoning you, Jim. It's not going happen. And yeah, we're bound to run into difficulties in the future. But we'll deal with them together."
For a moment they just stared at each other, as if sizing one another up. Then finally Jim just smiled and held out his hand to Blair. Blair took it with a smile of his own, shaking his friend's hand and rising to his feet when Jim tugged him into a tight hug. He hugged Jim back, feeling safe and content, knowing this was somehow right. They needed to say these things to each other--needed to feel secure with their bond before they could proceed any farther.
Jim released him finally, and glanced back toward the village. "Look, Chief, about the rest of it. . .what Agappa said about Guides and Sentinels?"
Blair smirked impishly. "Come on, Jim!" he teased. "He also said we were supposed to tattoo our faces and live on a diet of grubs and beetles."
Jim made a face. "I think I'd rather have sex."
"Me too," Blair agreed. "I am *so* not into bugs!" Laughing, the two of them made their way back to the camp.
Neither saw the black panther that watched from the shadows, yellow eyes gleaming in approval. It was a beginning.
It was their last night in the village before they were slated to begin their hike home. Agappa had suggested that Blair participate in a local ritual to initiate him into the shamanistic studies of the tribe. He, along with a few other young apprentices, were preparing to undergo a spirit walk that night.
Blair had asked Jim privately about the ceremony, naturally nervous. And Jim had assured him it mostly consisted of drinking a mildly hallucinogenic concoction which he himself had taken on several occasions in the past. The drink was a mixture of local herbs and roots--fairly mild, and entirely harmless when properly mixed. His words seemed to assure the young anthropologist, and he regained his normally bouncing enthusiasm for the events ahead.
Jim watched him as he knelt around the fire with the other young men. He was stripped down to just his blue jeans, his shoulders lined with red paint, his face marked with sacred symbols. He looked beautiful, Jim thought, as he let the rhythm of the night and the drum beat capture him. There was a calm peace inside Jim, a relieved assurance that came with the knowledge that Blair had promised not to leave him. Nothing else mattered, not here, and not in Cascade. He felt certain that with Blair's help, he could get through anything in life.
But he couldn't help wondering what Blair would think if he knew that Jim thought he was beautiful. They hadn't discussed Agappa's words any further after that afternoon---and so Jim had never been forced to admit to Blair that while the idea of the two of them having sex together had completely caught him off guard, it hadn't repulsed him. He'd never looked at a man before this--and he knew for certain that Blair-chase-anything-in-a-skirt-Sandburg hadn't either. But somehow this was different. Blair was . . .different. Blair was his Guide. His. And he didn't know what his Guide tasted like.
Jim quickly shook the thoughts away. He wouldn't go there. Couldn't go there. Things were right the way they were, and he wasn't about to make Blair regret the things he'd said to him that day in the jungle.
The other Shaman gathered to help the young initiates on their journey, one old Shaman from a neighboring tribe bringing around the wooden bowl that contained the drug. When it came Blair's turn to drink, he paused and glanced uncertainly back at Jim. Jim smiled at him and nodded. Content, Blair lifted the bowl and drank, handing it back to the Shaman so he could take it to the next young man.
After that there was chanting and drum playing, and several of the other Shaman performed magical blessings over the young men. But by then all those who'd partaken of the drink were lost in visions, some speaking out loud about what they were seeing, others just drifting in silence. Throughout it all Jim kept his senses locked on his Guide, monitoring his breath and heart rate intently, all his instincts telling him to stay close, to watch his Guide. He was in full Blessed Protector mode.
Blair felt light-headed and groggy. But beyond that there was a clarity in his sight he'd never known before. He smiled at the brightness of the fire and the way the shadows seemed to dance all around him. But he knew there was something more he was supposed to see. There were images in the fire, flashes of memory, faces, ideas come to life that somehow made both perfect sense and yet didn't. He contemplated the color blue for a long time--feeling certain that it contained an answer he was supposed to grasp.
And then he heard a low growl deep in the jungle. He turned away from the fire, eyes on the trees surrounding them. Yellow eyes stared back at him. A voice, deep and low and filled with power, echoed through his head.
"Guide, we are together now," it growled, and from out of the woods he saw a cat, huge and black, deadly and beautiful. It stalked toward him, and his heart began trip hammering in his chest, his eyes widening in both recognition and alarm.
"You're him!" he cried silently. "I know you. I see you!" And he watched in bemused amazement as the cat gathered himself for a mighty leap. Silent and deadly, the cat flew through the air, claws outstretched, poised toward his Sentinel's heart. Jim was watching him, not the cat, and never saw the deadly threat bearing down on him. "Jim!" he cried out loud, holding out his hands toward his Sentinel.
The cat struck him, but rather than knock him down or tear open the perfect flesh of the warrior Sentinel, the cat vanished. It was as if Jim's body swallowed the cat whole. In a flash the panther entered the Sentinel's body and Blair understood at last that they were one. Tears pierced his eyes as he stared at the proud Sentinel who watched over him. So beautiful, man and beast, mingled together and unbreakable. He understood at last.
"Blair?" Jim asked softly, moving to his side and taking his outstretched hands. "Are you alright, Chief?"
"Jim," he whispered. "I see it now. I understand." He swayed drunkenly toward his friend, and Jim caught him around the waist to steady him.
"He has seen what he needs, Sentinel," Blair heard Agappa say, and he wondered in amazement that he understood the foreign words. Or maybe after all this time Agappa had at last learned English.
"I'll take him back to the hut," Jim replied in turn. "He'll need to sleep." He tugged Blair away from the fire. "Come on, Chief. Time to sleep it off." Blair leaned against him as they walked, arms around each other, supporting each other. He could feel the heat from his Sentinel's body soaking into him, and beneath all that he felt the power of the muscles beneath hard flesh. Warrior, Guardian of the Tribe, Blessed Protector--the Sentinel was all these things. And deeper still he imagined he could feel the soft purr of the panther that rested deep in the Sentinel's soul.
Jim led him back to the hut, releasing him briefly to retrieve something from outside. Blair knelt alone on the straw mat that served as their bed, waiting for his friend to return. He knew Jim could see clearly despite the darkness, and once he felt his friend at his side again, could touch him, feel his heat, he had no need for sight any longer. His mind was still groggy, still drifting on the pleasant buzz of the drink. And throughout it all he still saw flickers of images in the shadows.
Jim had returned with a bowl of water and a soft cloth. He knelt in front of Blair and carefully began washing the paint from Blair's shoulders and face. Blair smiled bemusedly, wondering if he should find it odd that Jim was bathing him. Was this part of the ritual, he wondered. Did it matter? Jim's touch was so right, so soothing. He felt the steady power in Jim's hands as they moved carefully over his skin taking the last of the paint away. That touch was doing something strange and wonderful to his insides, and his heart fluttered with a deep joy.
He swayed toward his friend again, putting his hands on Jim's shoulders. He could feel the movement of flexing muscles beneath Jim's shirt as the Sentinel continued his ministrations. The body beneath his hands was powerful and controlled---something in Blair needed to feel that power unleashed. He wanted to experience first hand the strength of his Sentinel---man and beast mingled together. It was the only way he'd ever truly understand him---and everything inside him cried out in demand for that understanding.
Needing to be closer, needing to touch and taste, he leaned forward, placing his lips against Jim's throat. It was the softest of kisses, but it set off a burning need inside Blair, and he moved closer still toward his friend.
Jim stiffened in the darkness, not moving as Blair's hands quickly undid the buttons of his shirt. "Blair?" he whispered in confusion.
"Jim," Blair murmured, placing other soft kisses along Jim's shoulders, his hands stroking the smooth skin of his friend's chest. "I understand now," he whispered, not certain in his drug clouded mind how to make it more certain than that. "I see it all. You're so beautiful, Jim."
"Blair?" Jim whispered again, his voice shaking with emotion. "Blair, you're drugged. You don't know what. . .ah, God!" His sharp intake of breath and the gasping moan of pleasure that escaped his mouth as Blair latched onto one nipple was all the encouragement Blair needed. He licked softly at the raised flesh, gently dragging his teeth over it before sucking greedily at it. Beneath his hands he could feel Jim's heart pounding, and the sheer joy of it made him want to shout in pleasure.
Somewhere deep in his mind a voice was shouting at him, telling him: *This is Jim! You're kissing Jim, your friend. A man! Remember the whole guy/girl thing?! He's going to kill you!* A part of him watched in shocked disbelief as he wrapped his arms around his friend, moving up his body and seeking out the heat of his mouth. He licked hungrily at Jim's lips even as the voice of disbelief sputtered in outrage. This was Jim. . .
Yes, the rest of him sighed in pleasure. This was Jim, his Sentinel, and he wanted so much from him.
And then Jim was kissing him back, parting his lips and thrusting his tongue deep into Blair's mouth. That voice of disbelief stuttered in shock--oh God, Jim was kissing him back! Jim was sucking on his tongue, licking greedily at his lips, groaning in pleasure and desire. And when Jim's arms slid tightly around his body, and his hands gripped firmly at his ass, that disbelieving voice stopped whispering entirely and faded away beneath the onslaught of need that overwhelmed him.
For Jim the night had taken on a surreal form. He hadn't really intended to bathe Sandburg; it had just seemed the right thing to do. Wash the paint from his body so that he could sleep in peace without smearing it. Never mind that a quiet part of his mind had only suggested it because he wanted to touch his Guide, wanted to feel those strong but slender muscles beneath his fingers. But when Blair had leaned forward and kissed his throat, all coherent thought had fled his mind.
That single act had been more seductive, more erotic, more powerful than anything he'd ever felt before. The heat of Blair's mouth against his skin, the pressure of his kiss, the moisture of his tongue--it had overloaded Jim's senses. He understood what was happening--he was rational enough to work out the sequence of events. Blair was drugged, drunk, he didn't know what he was doing. He wasn't responsible for his actions--and it was up to Jim to stop this, to salvage some sanity from this situation. But he waited too long. He let Blair kiss him again.
It had been too much. The touch of his Guide's kiss against his skin was just too much. It sent all his senses into a spin. He breathed deeply, inhaling Blair's intoxicating scent. He saw the flushed beauty of Blair's features, heard the rich cadence of his heartbeat even as he felt the pounding of his pulse and feathered touch of breath against his oversensitive flesh. But the touch was too much, the touch of Blair's hands against his body, Blair's mouth against his skin. His mind spiraled down into a desire so deep it left him moaning for more.
He tried to speak, tried to explain that Blair didn't know what he was doing. But Blair had latched onto his nipple and the burning, incredible sensations that had washed through his body had erased his thought. He'd grown hard in an instant, his cock throbbing in time with his pounding heart, every instinct screaming at him to take his Guide, make him his. And finally that last voice telling him, you can taste him. You can finally learn what your Guide tastes like. It was too much. He pulled Blair against him and ravaged his mouth, kissing the young man as if his life depended on it.
They strained against each other, swiftly shedding clothes as they stroked and caressed heated skin. Jim ripped away the last of Blair's clothes, pushing him down on to the mat and covering his body with his own. His Guide tasted like heaven, intoxicating, life affirming, addicting. Some primitive mindless need to possess him overcame all else, and he held the young man down and drank hungrily of his flesh. He could hear Blair's moans and gasps of pleasure as his mouth worked his body. Jim moved down across his shoulders to his nipples, sucking on each in turn until Blair was nearly sobbing with desire.
But Jim needed more and continued his violent journey down his Guide's perfect body, using teeth and tongue to make the young man moan. He knew he was leaving marks, but it didn't matter. He needed this--Blair needed this. When he felt Blair's hips bucking beneath him, he caught them firmly in his hands, holding him down even as Blair clawed at his shoulders, begging for release. "Please, Jim," he gasped. "Please, I need you!"
Blair's cock was swollen and throbbing, the heat scalding but vital. And with a soft growl, Jim closed his mouth over it, swallowing it whole. Blair's scent and taste overwhelmed him, driving him on, and he worked the swollen member in his mouth, milking it for more.
He could hear the sounds Blair was making, desperate, hungry sounds, gasping his name, and they fueled the fire burning white hot through Jim's body. He caught Blair's balls in one hand, caressing the heated sack even as he stroked his teeth against the throbbing shaft. It was more than Blair could take, and he cried out in release, spurting hot fluid deep into Jim's mouth. Jim drank, tasting at last the essence he'd been hungering for, tasting life, love, need, passion all wrapped up in the single sensation that said Blair.
He caught Blair's trembling body against him, his own need becoming unbearable now, and Blair wrapped his arms tightly around him, kissing him deeply, tasting himself on Jim's lips.
"Jim," he whispered, still speaking from some drugged-clouded spirit realm. "Take me. Make me yours. I need you. Possess me." His words shot through Jim, reaching the part of him that was Sentinel.
Yes, he thought. This was his Guide. His, and only his. The bond had to be forged, the ties woven. He had to take his Guide, possess him, mark him.
Without thinking, he turned Blair swiftly around, pulling him to his knees even has he forced the young man's legs apart. He wrapped one arm tightly around Blair's waist, supporting him as he knelt behind him between his legs. He wet his fingers in his own mouth, and then reached carefully between the cheeks of Blair's ass, seeking the tight opening. Blair gasped in shock as Jim forced one finger inside, and the Sentinel could hear his Guide's heartbeat racing out of control.
"I won't hurt you, Blair," Jim whispered fiercely to him, both desperate to reassure the young man and to possess him all at once.
"Oh, God, Jim!" Blair gasped, moaning as Jim worked his finger in and out of his body. "I need you, Jim, I need. . .ah, yes!" Blair squeezed his eyes shut, throwing his head back in a moan of both pleasure and pain as Jim touched a spot deep inside him. The sound only increased Jim's own need and he worked a second finger into the tight opening, frantic now to sink his throbbing cock into his Guide.
Blair sobbed at the sensation, but he pushed back against Jim's hand, urging him on, begging him with gasping whispers to take him. Jim worked in a third finger, stretch his Guide, preparing him, and the rhythmic rocking of Blair's heated body was driving him insane with want.
He withdrew his hand, and Blair cried out in desperation at the loss of sensation. Jim hesitated only a moment, using his own precum to coat his aching cock. Then he pushed against Blair's tight opening, and slowly began sinking himself into his Guide's body. He felt each delicious inch of the young man's tight entrance devouring his cock, and he gasped his pleasure against Blair's neck, barely able to control himself.
He wrapped his arms tightly around Blair's trembling body, hearing nothing but Blair's moans as he sank all the way into that burning heat. For one moment everything fell into place. They were together, they were one, joined in body, mind and spirit. Perfection. And then the need over took them both, and there was no more time for thought or gentleness.
Jim thrust hard and deep into Blair's body, his chest pressed firmly against Blair's sweat slicked back. He held his Guide tightly against him as he began a violent pounding rhythm that Blair echoed with his own backward thrusts. Jim reached down, capturing Blair's own renewed erection in his hand, and stroked him tightly in time with his thrusts. Blair hissed in pleasure at the sensation, his gasps and moans driving Jim on to new heights as they strained against each other, desperate now for release.
It seemed to go on forever, both crying their need but unwilling to let it end. Their thrusts grew harder, more violent as some power possessed both of their souls. Deep in Jim's heart he heard a voice crying out--he's mine! And the sheer force of the power that gave him drove him the final distance to the edge they were both poised on. One final thrust, a last stroke of his hand, and the two of them tumbled off the cliff together, Blair's hot essence spilling over Jim's hand, even as he shot himself deep into the young man's body.
They collapsed together on the mat, still joined together, but too spent, too drained to move. Jim wrapped his arms firmly around his Guide, anchoring him tightly to his side, the animalistic sensation of ownership refusing to let him go. He's mine, he thought again, my friend, my partner, my Guide, my . . ."Beloved," he whispered, and they both sank deep into a dreamless sleep.
Jim woke slowly, becoming aware first of the scents around him--Blair and sex. He smiled in sleepy pleasure, inhaling deeply, only then becoming aware of the warm body pressed up against him. The events of last night came back to him with startling clarity and he opened his eyes in shock.
Blair was beside him on the mat, both of them naked under a light blanket. He had his arms around his Guide, Blair's head resting on his shoulder, his silky curls tickling his chin.
*Oh, God!* he thought in shock. *What have I done? Blair--what did I do to you?* Remorse, guilt, shame at his own actions hit him hard, and he moved carefully to disentangle himself from his young Guide.
Blair sighed as he lost the warmth of Jim's body, but he did not wake. Asleep he looked so young, so innocent, his beautiful face free of any worry. Jim paused briefly before leaving his side, taking one moment to lean down and gently brush his lips against the younger man's. "I'm sorry," he whispered so softly only another Sentinel would be able to hear. Blair's lips were still kiss-swollen from the night before.
Silently, Jim pulled on his clothes and slipped outside, needing some distance to think, to figure out what he was going to say to Blair once he woke. He couldn't believe what he'd done--taken advantage of Blair like that. He knew what the effect of that drug might be--a complete loss of all inhibitions. After all the stories Agappa had been telling Blair these last weeks, Jim could have predicted the direction Blair's subconscious mind might have led him. The Guide and the Sentinel belonged together---they'd both been told that over and over again. Together to the point of mating for life. Of course Blair's visions would have led him down that path--Jim knew better---knew Blair hadn't known what he was doing.
He knew he should have stopped it the moment it began. He was supposed to protect his Guide--and instead he'd betrayed him in the worst possible way. What in hell had possessed him?
"You look troubled, Sentinel," a quiet voice murmured, and Jim turned, surprised that he hadn't heard Agappa approach. The old man was looking at him reproachfully, and Jim felt himself blush in shame.
"You know what happened?" he asked, already knowing the answer. There were few secrets in a village this size.
"Yes," Agappa replied. "But why have you left his side this morning?"
So Agappa knew--and approved of what had happened--his reproach was because it wasn't happening again.
"Agappa, it shouldn't have happened," Jim insisted. "Blair was drugged last night. He wasn't responsible for his actions. I shouldn't have taken advantage of him."
"He did what he wished to do, what his heart led him to," Agappa insisted. "The Guide and the Sentinel belong together."
"Not like this," Jim shook his head determinedly, feeling a deep fear welling up inside him. "What if he leaves me, Agappa? What will I do if he leaves me for this?"
"Why would he do that, Sentinel?" Agappa frowned. "He is yours. You are his. It can be no other way."
"He'll be angry," Jim whispered. "He'll be angry and ashamed. And he'll have every right to leave me."
"You are ashamed of loving him?"
"I am ashamed of taking advantage of him," Jim explained. "Things are different in our world, Agappa."
"Ah," Agappa nodded sagely. "Men do not love other men in your world."
"No, that's not true," Jim sighed. "Some do. But not us. Not me and Blair--we don't look at men that way--neither of us."
Agappa smiled at him in bemusement. "Now you tell me an untruth, Sentinel. You look at one man that way at least."
"Just because it's Blair," Jim insisted. "Only Blair." Who was so beautiful and so giving he made Jim's heart ache. God, what had he done! What was he going to do if Blair left him over this? They'd broken a strict taboo--Blair wouldn't be able to just shrug this off.
"Because he is your Guide," Agappa nodded in agreement as if Jim had finally come around to his way of thinking at last.
Jim shivered, fighting the fear that burned inside him. There was no way Agappa could understand. "What will I do if he leaves me?" he whispered again in despair.
"You will die," Agappa stated calmly. Jim stared at him in shock--die? Yeah, he probably would--or at least wish he were dead. He'd drift away, become like he was before, cut off from the world, alone. And he knew after living with Blair these last years that he never wanted to be alone again.
"What do I say to him, Agappa?" Jim asked. "What do I do to make him forgive me? How can I make up for this?"
Agappa shook his head in bewilderment. "He is your Guide, Sentinel. If you are lost, it is his place to guide you. Why turn to anyone else for the answers?"
He heard a sound, a quiet sigh, the stirrings of a now too familiar body, the quickening of a beloved heartbeat. "He's awakening."
"Then go to him, Sentinel," Agappa suggested. "And let him Guide you."
Consciousness returned slowly to Blair as he became aware of the fact that he was cold. Something was missing, some vital heat he'd been resting beside all night long. He stirred, turning over on his side, and strange aches and pains made themselves known through out his entire body. He frowned, shaking the cobwebs from his brain and fighting off the last lingering effects of last night's drink.
The ceremony came back into focus--the fire, the drums, the flickering images in the shadows. And the panther. Jim's panther--the animal Totem--he'd seen it at last with his own eyes. Seen it and understood what it meant. And it had leaped into his Sentinel. His breath caught in his throat at that one perfect memory that flared through his brain. Man and beast joined as one---his Sentinel looking like a god made flesh, guarding him in the firelight.
And afterwards, returning to the hut. . .and. . .Blair gasped and sat up.
My God, he thought--was that a dream? Did that happen? He pushed aside the blanket that covered him. He was naked, the paint washed from his body. But it wasn't the absence of paint that drew his gaze. There were marks on his flesh, faint and fading, but still visible. Jim had left hickeys on his body. He touched one lightly on his shoulder, his mind spinning as he remembered the overwhelming sensation of Jim's mouth on his body. He touched another-- this one faint but clear, on the sharp bone of his hip. He remembered it all now--clearly, perfectly. Jim, his grim, stoic cop, had him a blowjob that had shattered his mind---and afterwards Jim had fucked him senseless.
A wave of panic and confusion washed over him, leaving him dizzy and unstable. What had happened? Five days ago when Agappa had mentioned the possibility that Sentinel and Guide were meant to be lovers, Jim had flipped out. He'd rejected the very notion out right---like Blair would have guessed he would. So what had changed? He understood where he'd been coming from last night---he didn't as a rule have any interest in men, nor had he ever experimented. But he didn't have any prejudice against it either. And he did love Jim, had loved him for a long time now--as a friend, a brother, a partner---maybe more, though he'd never explored that thought any farther. Didn't seem any point.
Last night he'd been drugged--his inhibitions would have been gone. And he did remember starting the party as-it-were. He had kissed Jim first. But what in Hell had gotten into Jim?
Years of academia and Sentinel research came to his rescue as he began piecing together a possible scenario. Jim was hypersensitive---with his Guide defenseless he would have been in full Blessed Protector mode last night. And with Blair unable to do anything more than babble about totem animals and the mysteries of the universe, Jim had been on his own when Blair had touched him. The Sentinel followed where the Guide led him, and last night Jim's Guide had led him to a place where he would have been completely at the mercy of his senses.
Or could it be something more than that, he asked himself. Could there be more to Agappa's stories about the bond between the Sentinel and the Guide---last night he had certainly believed so. Last night he had understood things about Jim he'd never been able to grasp before. But did any of that matter in the cold light of day--especially since they were going home now, back to their own world where something like this could ruin everything between them?
The fact that Jim was gone right now did not bode well, Blair decided. It could mean only one thing, and one thing only---Jim regretted everything that had happened. He was gone, because he needed to be alone to think, and didn't know what to say to Blair. But sooner or later, Blair knew the two of them had to talk.
There was a sound outside, and Blair quickly pulled the blanket around his naked form, unwilling now to take for granted something that only yesterday had been no big deal. The leather flap lifted and Jim entered, fully dressed, his face fixed in an unreadable frown. He carried a bowl in one hand filled with assorted nuts and fruits. He stood for a moment in the center of the hut staring down at his Guide.
"I brought you some breakfast," he announced, quickly setting the bowl down, and then moving away a few paces to sit down on the ground. "I thought you might be hungry. How's your head?"
Blair frowned. "My head?" Then he remembered. "Oh, the drug--no hang over effect apparently. I'm fine." He glanced at the bowl, but he really didn't have much of an appetite. His heart was racing in his chest, and for once words failed him. The only thing he seemed able to think about was that last night Jim had fucked him--and now the dynamics between them were changed. He'd begged Jim to fuck him, or more importantly to take and possess him. And now he felt. . .he didn't know the word for it. Possessed? Owned? Bonded? It wasn't a bad sensation---but it was frightening.
"Blair, calm down," Jim said quietly. "I'm not going to do anything. I can hear your heart racing."
Startled, Blair looked up at his friend. The unreadable expression had cracked, and now Blair could clearly see regret in Jim's eyes. Blair's heart spasmed.
"Blair, I need to apologize," Jim began, breaking their gaze and looking uncomfortably toward the door. There was a faint flush in Jim's cheeks. "Last night never should have happened."
He was apologizing to him? Blair frowned. Jim hadn't started it, he wasn't to blame. "Jim, you don't have to. . ."
"Blair, please, let me finish," Jim broke in. "If I don't get it all out right now, I might never say it. I was supposed to look after you last night--and I didn't. My only excuse is. . . Hell, I don't know if I even have an excuse. I knew it was wrong--but the moment you touched me, I just seemed to lose the ability to think straight. And even more so than what I did--was how I did it. I know I was rough with you."
Jim smiled self-deprecatingly, unable still to meet Blair's gaze. "You keep saying I'm a throw back to a pre-civilized form of man--well last night was the first time I felt like a pre-civilized form of man. I seemed to have gone from Blessed Protector to Caveman. I don't know what I was thinking, but I am sorry. And I just hope you can find it in yourself to forgive me. I'll understand if you can't--if you want to leave me. . ." His steady voice broke finally, and he cursed violently under his breath, shaking his head in denial. Blair could see despair in the set of Jim's shoulders.
"Maybe you weren't thinking, Jim," Blair suggested quietly, unable to let Jim continue like this---unable to bear the pain and guilt in Jim's eyes. His soft words caught Jim's attention, and Blair continued. "I started what happened last night, and let's face it, I've spent the last several years learning how to manipulate your senses."
"Blair, you were drugged!" Jim insisted, the Blessed Protector in him unable to let Blair take the blame. "This was my fault! You didn't know what you were doing."
"Yeah, I was drugged," Blair agreed. "And I was seeing things you couldn't imagine. I saw the panther, Jim."
"The panther--your panther. The animal spirit. A whole bunch of things became clear to me last night." He smiled at his friend bewildered gaze and shrugged. "I think we both need to stop apologizing for what happened--I don't think either of us could have helped it. I think maybe Agappa was right--and this was the only way to form the final bond."
Jim frowned in confusion. "What are you talking about?"
"I understand things now, Jim, about you, that I didn't--couldn't understand before," Blair explained. He took a deep breath, trying to find the words to make Jim understand. "Last night, I saw your animal Totem---I recognized it, feared it, and understood it all at the same time. I saw it leap into you, become part of you--and for the first time I was able to understand something about you that has always alluded me. Your violence--that wild side of you that has so little to do with your humanity."
He could see now that he had Jim's full attention, and he continued on as best he could under that piercing blue gaze. "You told me that before we met you were drifting--that you had lost touch with your humanity--and that somehow I had been able to give it back to you. That's what I've studied all my life, Jim---humanity. That's what anthropology is. But that animal side of you--that pre-civilized side--is just as much a part of you as the human side of you; and I didn't really understand that."
A memory came to him and Blair latched on to it as an example. "Do you remember that guy a few months ago who started stalking you because you cut him off in traffic?"
Jim nodded, his jaw tensing even now in anger at the memory.
"You almost killed him, Jim," Blair continued. "You are one of the most decent and good people I know--and you almost killed that man in cold blood. All you would have had to do was let go of his hand and he would have dropped to his death in that sewer."
"I remember, Chief," Jim said quietly, a far away gleam in his eye. "I think I would have dropped him if you hadn't been there with me."
"I thought you were going to drop him too, Jim," Blair nodded in agreement. "I've come close many times to nearly being killed--but I don't think I've ever been so scared in my life as I was then. I didn't know what to say to you--I didn't understand what you were feeling, how you could reach that point of rage. It made no sense to me--and because of that, I was completely at a loss for how to approach you."
"You did the right thing, Chief," Jim assured him. "You talked me down, just like you always do."
Blair nodded, his hair bouncing around his shoulders. "That time, Jim. But there's been a fear inside me ever since then--what am I going to do if it happens again? But last night--it's like I saw your spirit, Jim. I saw both what makes you noble and savage all at once. And I understood it." He laughed suddenly, a thought occurring to him. "Hell, I think I even understand all your crazy house rules. Your obsessive need for order is the way you hold back the chaos."
That last, he could see, finally cracked through Jim's hard reserve. Jim smiled faintly. "I guess anything that can make Blair Sandburg understand my house rules can't be all bad."
Blair smiled at him, praying that his words had somehow eased the remorse and guilt Jim was feeling for what happened. He and Jim had to get past this, had to accept this, if they were ever going to go on.
"What do we do now, Blair?" Jim asked quietly then, and Blair was surprised to see deep sadness in his friend's eyes. "You say you understand me better--but do you still trust me? Can you trust me after what happened?"
"With my life, Jim," Blair answered with total honesty, and was rewarded by an agonizing flair of relief in the older man's eyes. Jim looked away quickly, his jaw clenching as he fought the emotions welling inside him.
"Thank you, Blair," he said. "And I promise, nothing like that. . ."
"No promises, Jim," Blair cut in, acknowledging to himself at least if not to Jim that he didn't want either of them to promise that there would never be a repeat of last night. He knew, remembering what it had felt like to be possessed so completely by his Sentinel, that he could never in all honesty make a promise like that. And he suspected something inside him would break if Jim said it.
He wasn't quite ready to deal yet with what had happened--not quite able to face what precisely it meant that he, Blair Sandburg, the man with a different woman every week, had made love to another man--and had loved every minute of it. Would that make his entire life a lie? Would that mean that all those women were just substitutes to what he'd really wanted? No, he'd deal with that later, after they got home. But he was smart enough to keep all his options open.
Jim was staring at him uncertainly, waiting for his explanation for the lack of need for promises. Blair sighed, guessing that this was probably even harder for his friend than it was for him. Jim was a cop, an ex-Ranger--he'd been married before. Waking up beside the decidedly male form of his best friend had probably done frightening things to his self-image.
"I told you that we'd probably run into troubles," Blair explained. "But I also said that no matter what, we'd get through them together. I still believe that Jim. We'll deal with this later, when we're both ready to. Agreed?" Blair held out his hand to him.
Jim studied him for a long moment. "As long as I know you're not going to leave," he said at last, and took his Guide's hand in his own. For a brief moment there was a frission of awareness, a memory of shared passion, that flared along the connection of their hands. It caught them both off guard, and they both blushed, releasing their grasp on each other quickly. Jim stood swiftly, and regret washed through Blair. That handshake should have turned into a hug---would have as recently as yesterday. It wasn't going to happen now---he wondered if it ever would again.
"We should get going as soon as possible," Jim announced. "We still have a long hike back through the jungle."
"I'll get dressed and meet you outside," Blair agreed. Realizing suddenly why his Guide was still wrapped up in a blanket, Jim flushed even deeper in embarrassment and left the hut.
It took them three days to hike back through the jungle. During that time neither of them mentioned what had happened their last night in the village. They stuck to safe topics of conversation, keeping physical contact to a minimum--which in itself was odd since Jim was normal so physical. Despite the tension between them, it didn't take them long at all to fall back into their old camaraderie, and there were moments when both of them wondered if they'd perhaps dreamed the incredible events of that night.
They were both tired by the time they made it back to civilization and were able to catch a bus to the small airport where they met their plane. Both watched with mixed emotion as they took off, leaving the jungles of Peru behind. Things had changed--they both knew that, though they had yet to see how events would play out. Blair had a huge collection of notes waiting for him to sort through, ideas to process, new tests to formulate. They had each learned something--and though they were still not ready to talk, both knew there was something new between them--a bond that went deeper than just friendship. For Blair it was humbling, knowing at last just how deeply his Sentinel needed his guidance. For Jim it was awe inspiring--to know at last the depth of Blair's commitment to him--that even after everything he'd given Jim, he wasn't going to leave him. Faced with that reality, they each quietly hoped they could work the rest of it out.
They arrived back in Cascade around noon Washington time, both of them exhausted and jet lagged. They drove home in silence, both trying to reacclimatize themselves to the city. With tired relief, they reached the loft, and then went about the business of showering, unpacking and sorting through the mail and messages that had piled up.
"Hey, Chief," Jim called as Blair was changing into clean clothing in his bedroom. "I'm going to have go into the station for a while. Do you want me to pick anything up at the store on the way home?"
"Nah, don't bother, Jim," Blair called out through the partial opened door. "I have to run over to the University. I'll go shopping myself once I'm done."
"Alright, see you later."
Blair heard the sounds of Jim grabbing his car keys and the front door shutting firmly behind him. He stopped what he was doing, sitting thoughtfully on his bed. It was the first time in almost three weeks that the two of them had been apart. It felt strange, he realized. Unnatural. For a moment he almost chased after Jim--almost called out to him not to leave. He wondered if Jim felt the same way? Probably not--he seemed to have put everything behind him. Well--not everything--he still didn't touch Blair with the same easy familiarity of old. And Blair missed the contact--now more than ever.
Now, back in Cascade, his own life came rushing back at him--his classes at the University, his students, his friends, the dissertation he was working on, his job with Jim at the police station. Peru seemed suddenly very far away, the shock of all that had happened hitting him at last.
He lay back on his bed, running his hands through his hair. He'd slept with Jim. He'd begged his best friend to fuck him and Jim had complied. Oh God, he thought. What was he going to do about this? And why did the thought of it never happening again hurt so much?
Jim entered the bullpen to the greeting of several of his fellow officers. He waved to them, chatting pleasantly with those who welcomed him back. He sorted through the messages piled on his desk, returned several phone calls, and basically did his damnedest not to think about the trip he'd returned from.
"Ellison! Get in here!" a familiar voice echoed through the room.
"Vacation's over, Jim," Taggart called good-naturedly. Jim just grinned at him, and headed toward Simon's office.
Simon smiled as Jim entered. "Hey, Jim, Good to see you. How was the trip?"
"Good, Simon," Jim nodded non-committally. "Lot's of hiking."
"Sandburg find that storyteller he was looking for?"
"Yeah," Jim replied, running a hand over his close cropped hair in an unconscious act of nervousness. The gesture wasn't lost on Simon, and his eyes narrowed suspiciously.
"Problems?" Simon asked. "Three weeks alone in the jungle with Sandburg finally get to you?"
For a moment, Jim panicked--wondering if he should read some innuendo into that statement. God, surely Simon didn't suspect something? How could he? "What?" he asked.
Simon's frown deepened. "How is the kid?"
"He's fine," Jim said quickly. "He got a lot of information, took a lot of notes. You know Sandburg--it's all pretty technical."
"Jim, is something wrong?" Simon pressed. When Jim didn't answer immediately, Simon sat down in his chair behind his desk, taking a long moment to study his detective. "He has enough information now to finish his dissertation, I assume?"
Jim frowned--hell, Blair had had enough information to finish his dissertation a year ago. "Come on, Simon--we both know why Blair hasn't finished that dissertation."
"Look, Jim," Simon sighed. "I did some investigating of my own while you were gone. Are you aware that the efficiency of the Major Crimes division has increased thirty-six percent since Sandburg became an observer/consultant here?"
Jim blinked in confusion, wondering where Simon was going with this. "Thirty-six percent?"
Simon nodded. "Yeah, Jim. That's an impressive enough increase for the department to hire Sandburg on as a permanent consultant. It's your call. I don't presume to understand what you're going through with this whole Sentinel thing, but if you're worried about Sandburg losing his observer status once his dissertation is completed, you don't have to. But if you're ready to strike out on your own--that's up to you too. What's it to be?"
He was giving him a choice, Jim realized. Without asking any questions about the nature of Sentinel and Guide, Simon was giving him a chance to make a statement explaining the importance of their working relationship. He felt a profound sense of relief. "Hire him, Simon," Jim said without hesitation. "A Sentinel is no good without a Guide."
It was late evening by the time he made it back home, several new cases already demanding his attention. The loft was empty when he arrived, but there were signs that Blair had been shopping, fresh food in the refrigerator. He grabbed a cold beer, wondering where Blair might have gone. He couldn't wait to tell him about his impending job offer---Sandburg would be thrilled at the idea of actually getting paid for what he'd been doing for free all this time. Thirty-six percent--not too shabby, Sandburg. He grinned, anticipating the kid's reaction.
There was a message blinking on the answering machine, and he hit the button on his way into the living room. Blair's voice came through clearly.
"Hi, Jim. I went shopping--and there's Chinese food in the refrigerator for dinner if you're hungry. I'm not sure when I'll be home--Sharon called, and she and I decided to catch a movie this evening. Hope everything went well at the station."
The machine switched off and Jim stood in rigid shock in the center of his living room. One thing and one thing only reached his mind, hitting him like a splash of ice water. Sharon. Blair was out with Sharon.
"Who the hell is Sharon!"
Rational thought fled his mind as instinct took over--rage, fury, a burning jealousy that he had no hope of controlling. Someone else was with his Guide. Someone else was touching him, tasting him, loving him! *He's mine!* he shouted silently as some animalistic part of his mind took over and he realized he'd never really stood a chance of putting that night behind them. He wanted Blair, desperately! And now someone else had him--and Jim wasn't about to let go without a fight.
He paced, working himself into a fury of emotion as he tried to banish images of his beautiful young Guide in the arms of some woman. He hated the thought--Blair should be here, with him. In his arms, his bed.
*Come home!* he chanted in his head over and over again. If Blair would just come home, he could make him see, make him understand. He paced downstairs for well over an hour, before finally moving upstairs to the cool darkness of his bedroom. He tried to relax on his bed, laying down across the coverlet---but the immobility simply filled him with a gut-twisting despair. What if Blair was gone for good--what if he had to spend night after night like this, alone, enduring the thought that his Guide was in someone else's arms? What if Blair came home smelling of sex and a stranger? He wanted to scream!
*He's mine! Damn you! Mine! Come home to me!* Unable to stand it, he stood again and paced, moving back and forth like an angry wild cat trapped in a hated cage.
Blair and Sharon never actually made it all the way to the movies. They had dinner in her apartment, but rather than going out afterward, they retired to the couch to talk. He hadn't intended to go out that night, but when Sharon had called, he'd jumped at the offer. It was better than waiting at home for Jim to come home--not certain if they were ever going to be able to talk about what went on between them. And even if they did talk about it, Blair wasn't certain what he expected out of it.
Jim wasn't angry--that much he knew. He didn't blame Blair for what had happened. But he'd also given him absolutely no indication that he ever wanted it to happen again. And Blair was torn on that point himself--did he want more from Jim? Did he want them to become lovers?
He loved him--he knew that--and if his memory could be believed, sex with Jim had been better than anything he'd ever experienced before. But what happened if they did get involved---would it be a casual thing? Would it be a life time commitment? What happened when the next pretty woman came along--would Blair chase after her--would Jim? There were too many questions---and with Jim not talking, it was too impossible to reason any of it out by himself.
So he'd gone out with Sharon, fully expecting to find the answers he needed in the arms of a very beautiful woman. And Sharon was definitely willing, moving eagerly into his embrace when he'd slipped his arms around her. He kissed her, deeply, using all the skill he'd learned over the years. And she responded enthusiastically, pressing hungrily against him, her soft breasts ripe for his caress.
Yeah, he remembered this--beautiful woman, sweet lips, long sleek legs, full breasts, soft skin. She was a great kisser, warm, compliant, and her small hand stroking up and down his inner thigh had definitely caught his attention. But. . . .something was missing.
She was great. She just wasn't. . .Jim. Jim's kiss had lit him on fire. Jim had claimed his soul even as he claimed his body. He wanted that strength, that passion, that all-consuming need. And deeper still, he wanted that connection. He ached for it, and Sharon became secondary to his own memories. She became a shadow, insubstantial as he quickly lost interest in all but the memory of that moment when Jim had slid inside him and they had been joined as one.
Blair sighed--a perfectly beautiful, willing woman in his arms, and he couldn't get Jim out of his mind. Didn't seem fair.
A soft growl distracted him, and he looked past Sharon's shoulder toward the shadows across the room. Yellow eyes glared back at him, white teeth flashing in a black cat face. The Panther snarled, pacing furiously back and forth, tail flicking in suppressed rage. Blair's heart leaped in his breast, a deep instinct taking over, interpreting the deeper meaning behind what he was seeing. He didn't belong here. He knew it, the panther knew it, and Jim knew it.
*Oh, God, Jim!* he called silently. *Please be waiting for me. Please don't let me be wrong about this!*
"Blair?" Sharon sat back in frustration, as she realized that Blair had lost all interest in her caresses. "What's wrong?"
He blinked at her, surprised to even see her. "What? Oh, man, I'm so sorry Sharon. I just remembered something I'm supposed to be doing."
She stared at him incredulously. "You mean now?"
He nodded vigorously, disentangling himself from her arms and standing quickly up. "Yeah, I'm really sorry. It's just, the trip and all--it had pushed it completely out of my mind." He fished around in his pocket for his car keys as he made a hasty escape toward the door. "Look, I'll call you. We'll do lunch or something really soon."
"Blair Sandburg!" Sharon yelled angrily now. "Are you dumping me?"
"What?" Blair stammered---like he couldn't have handled this a little better. "Look, Sharon. I'm really sorry. I can't talk now. I really have to go."
She called his name again, but he was out the door, racing out to the parking lot and his car. He had to get home. He had to see Jim. They had to talk--if talking was even an option. *Please, don't let me be wrong about this,* he chanted all the way back to the loft.
The lights were on in the loft when he returned home. He entered quietly, shutting the door firmly behind him, and tossing his keys in the basket as he searched for Jim. He spied him almost immediately upstairs, the too familiar pattern of his back and forth pacing drawing his eyes like a magnet. Just like the panther--pacing, angry, waiting.
Jim turned, pausing at the railing, hands locked firmly around the wooden beam. He glared down at Blair, those blue eyes of his piercing Blair's heart. Blair watched in silent amazement as Jim raised his head sharply, inhaling deeply, and Blair knew immediately what he was doing. Catching his scent--his scent, and most likely Sharon's still clinging to him.
*Oh, God!* he thought in shock. This was not Jim the friend, or Jim the cop, he was facing---this was the Sentinel, in full warrior mode. And Blair understood at last the strength of the bond between them. The Sentinel and the Guide belonged together---there was no getting away or around that simple fact. And right now the Sentinel scented a stranger on his Guide.
Anger flashed through Jim's eyes, and like a hunting wild cat he turned silently and stalked swiftly down the stairs. Blair watched him approach, fear beating in his heart even as a deep, unquestioning excitement flared through him. He knew he could stop this, knew he could snap Jim out of what ever primitive plane of existences his instincts had taken him. All it would take was one word, an acknowledgement that they were going to deal with this like two rational, civilized human beings instead some throw back to some ancient breed of man. But Blair couldn't bring himself to speak--didn't want to speak. God, he wanted this, wanted Jim! Need this desperately--needed to let his Sentinel claim him, possess him, so that there could be no doubt in the future what was going on here.
Jim stalked forward with a predatory gleam in his angry eyes. He growled low in his throat as he reached Blair. He caught his Guide's wrists in his hands and pushed him roughly back against the wall, holding him immobile, his body pressed against him, trapping him against the wall. Blair could feel the heat between them, could feel an unmistakable erection pressing into his stomach as Jim held his gaze locked in his own.
"You're mine!" Jim growled, rage and desire warring in his eyes. He claimed Blair's mouth, ravaging it with his own.
White-hot hunger flared through Blair, and he moaned into that brutal kiss, melting at the touch. *Anything!* he whispered silently in his mind. *Anything you want Jim!* The kiss went on and on, tongues straining against one another as they fought to lay claim to each other souls.
But Jim was in no mood for foreplay, still caught up in the raging instinct to stake his claim on his Guide. He stripped the younger man--ripping much of his clothes in the process. And before Blair knew it he was being forcefully turned around, facing the wall. He gasped in shock when he realized what was happening, what Jim was going to do. Fear and breathless desire warred inside of him, and he bit his lip to keep from screaming.
He tried to relax himself, afraid that this time he wasn't going to get much preparation before the final act. He braced his hands against the wall, his breath coming in deep gasps. He cried out as he felt Jim's spit-slicked fingers probing his tight opening, stretching him, reaching deep inside. One of Jim's fingers stroked across that spot deep inside him sending pleasure so sharp through his body it nearly drove him to his knees. He would have fallen if not for the strong arm wrapped firmly around his midsection holding him in place.
And then the fingers were gone, and Blair felt Jim's hot, throbbing cock entering him. He moaned, need, passion, hunger overwhelming him. He pushed back against Jim, crying out when he felt himself being filled so completely, possessed. "Jim! Oh, God, yes, please! Don't stop!" he begged with soft sobs, desperate now for release. The pressure was building, growing more and more intense. He was going to explode, die, scream.
Jim thrust deeply inside him, and once all the way in, held the young trembling body still against his own. He kissed Blair's bare shoulder, working his way up Blair's neck till he reached his ear. Gently he bit down on Blair's earlobe, tugging on the small ruby stud piercing it. He tightened his grip on Blair, refusing to allow the younger man to move, to ease the pressure building in both of them.
"Jim! Please!" Blair gasped, his whole body shaking with need.
"You're mine, Blair!" Jim hissed into his ear, his grip tightening even more as he thrust once against his Guide's body. "Say it! Tell me!"
"Yes, Jim!" Blair nodded in desperation. "I'm yours! Only yours! Please, take me. Fuck me! I need you."
His words seemed to free something inside Jim, and he kissed his neck again before beginning a deep driving rhythm of thrusts. He pounded into his Guide, driven on by mutual need.
"Harder!" Blair cried, feeling his own climax building inside him.
Jim complied, fucking his partner's body harder and deeper even as he reached down between Blair's trembling legs to ease his Guide's own throbbing cock. They came together, each screaming the other's name, releasing their seed, and exploding together into a blinding symphony of sensation.
Weak and trembling, Blair felt utterly drained, unable to stand, and he sobbed in over-sensitized sensation when Jim carefully withdrew from his body. Then he was being lifted in strong arms and carried. He wrapped his arms around his Sentinel's neck, burying his face in the crook of his shoulder as Jim carried him upstairs to bed.
Carefully Jim set him down, pulling back the covers of the bed and slipping him beneath the blankets. He crawled quickly in beside his Guide, pulling him into his arms. For a long moment they just laid there, their hearts beating together as one, their breaths slowly calming as their sex heated bodies cooled.
When some semblance of sanity finally returned to Blair, he slowly raised his head, searching Jim's face for some sign of understanding. "Jim?" he whispered.
Jim looked at him, reaching out with one hand to brush his tangled curls back from his face. There was no doubting the look in Jim's eyes--awareness, understanding of what had gone on, acceptance, and deeper still love. Blair's heart caught in his throat. "Jim, I love you," he whispered.
Jim smiled, a look of profound wonder on his handsome features. "I love you too, Blair. I guess I always have." He tugged on Blair's curls pulling his head down for a deep, soul-searching kiss. "Did I hurt you, Blair?" he whispered, concern in his eyes.
Blair shook his head, happiness swelling through his entire body. He wondered if it was possible to die from too much happiness. "No, Jim, you'd never hurt me."
"I was so angry, Blair," he confessed. "When you called and said you were going out with Sharon. When I smelled her scent on your body. I went crazy."
"Nothing happened, Jim," Blair assured him. "I wasn't interested in her. All I could think about was you."
Jim kissed him again, and this time Blair saw a need and an urgency shining in his eyes. "Blair, I know we haven't talked about this yet--about what this means for us, but I have to be honest here. I can't deny what I'm feeling. I need you. In my life, in my heart, in my bed--I know we both said some things in the heat of passion--and I know I have no right to lay some claim of ownership to you like some brutish caveman, but I have to know if you can commit to me. I can't share you, Blair. You got to tell me now--because it will kill me later, if it's not already too late."
Blair though perhaps his heart would break with the force of love burning through him. He blinked back the tears in his eyes--who would have guessed they would find this when they'd left on that trip to Peru? Who would have guessed that in seeking the purpose to their separate lives they'd find this bond together?
"I love you, Jim," Blair whispered, touching his Sentinel's beautiful, proud face. "I'll love you forever. I'm yours for as long as you want me."
"I'll want you forever, Blair," Jim told him, pulling him closer. "Think you can live with me that long?"
Blair grinned at him, shifting so that they were more intimately aligned. "I intend to do a lot more than just live with you, Jim," he teased wickedly, as he leaned down to kiss his beloved's mouth once again. Moaning against one another, they began making love again--this time more slowly, more thoroughly, and infinitely more tenderly.
Throughout it all, a black panther watched from the shadows. The Guide and the Sentinel belonged together. All was right with the world.