"Come on, Jim, time to get up!" Blair's voice had a certain degree of urgency to it that pulled Jim out of the sound sleep he'd been in.
He was surprised to see his Guide standing at his bedside, fully dressed and holding a steaming cup of coffee in his hand. "Time to get up, Jim. Today's the day."
"Today's the day?"
"Yep, today's the day. So get up, okay. We need to get this taken care of. Put it off too long as it is. Three years--long time, you know. So come on, get up. Breakfast is waiting."
Uncertain what the hell the man was talking about, Jim nonetheless found himself groggily sitting up and reaching for the cup of coffee Blair was pressing into his hands. "What in hell. . .."
"Come on, Jim," Blair sighed. "Time's a wasting. Let's go! Breakfast is getting cold and we really have put this off long enough." With that, Sandburg turned and hurried back down the stairs.
Jim, coffee in hand, simply stared after the man in confusion. He must have unknowingly entered the Sandburg-zone---definitely not the place he wanted to be at . . . he glanced at the clock. . . .six in the morning! Six in the morning on a Saturday---his first day off in over two weeks. He groaned in irritation.
"Come on, Jim!" Sandburg called from the kitchen.
Jim could smell the scent of pancakes and sausage, real sausage, not that weird imitation tofu crap Blair had been trying to get him to eat. Damn! The kid must really want him to get up.
"Sandburg, this had better be good. It's my day off, you know!" he called down the stairs as he climbed out of bed. He took a sip of the coffee--nice and hot, just the way he liked it. Then deciding that the boxers he had on were good enough for this impromptu coffee klatch, he headed down stairs to find out what in hell the strange anthropologist who shared his life was up to this time.
The sight that greeted him downstairs was one that set his teeth on edge immediately, and his heart lurched oddly in his chest. Oh, it wasn't the fact that Blair had the table set and was serving breakfast. And it wasn't the fact that there was a strange stack of papers and photos waiting beside his plate. Rather it was the large duffle bag waiting by the front door--he recognized that duffle bag, knew what it signified. It was Blair's running-away-from-home-and-I-don't-need-all-my-material-possessions duffle bag. Blair was leaving!
"Sandburg!" Jim stared at the duffle bag in shock. "What in hell is going on?"
"Today's the day, Jim," Blair simply stated. "Come on, sit down. Breakfast is going to get cold. I made sausages--your favorite."
Jim swiftly took in his Guide's appearance. Blair looked the same as he always did---clad in jeans and the requisite flannel. His hair was pulled back and he had his glasses on as if he'd been working on his papers. But there was something different--something not quite right. His scent was off--his heart rate was wrong. He smelled anxious, nervous, looked uncertain of his position here despite the seemingly confident way he was ordering Jim around.
Jim set the coffee cup down on the table and glared at his Guide. "Sandburg, what in hell is going on? What is this all about?"
"The Guide thing, Jim," Blair explained simply.
"The Guide thing?" Jim demanded.
"Or rather the lack of it," Blair amended hastily.
The lack of the Guide thing---or the lack of the Guide? Either way, Jim didn't like this. For all appearances, it looked as if the Guide was leaving---and everything inside Jim screamed at him that this was wrong. Just plain wrong!
He'd always figured it would happen eventually. Sandburg would come breezing home and tell him about a great opportunity to go on some trip to some place like Borneo, and that would be that. He'd promise to stay in touch, but then he'd head off to Egypt, or Iceland or the North-fucking-Pole, and Jim wouldn't see him again.
Either that or Blair would breeze home and tell Jim that he'd met some beautiful, brilliant young coed, and he was off to live in sin with her---or off to marry her---or some such nonsense. And that would be it---no more Blair in the house. No more weird Sandburg-zones. No more Guide.
Still, he hadn't counted on it being quite this weird.
"What are you talking about? What Guide thing?"
"Or maybe I should say the telepathy thing," Blair amended again. He frowned. "Yes, I suppose that would be more accurate. It's about the telepathy thing--and it's distinctive lack."
Jim sighed and sat down at the table. "Blair, please start making sense. Why is your duffle bag packed?"
Blair swallowed somewhat nervously and glanced at the bag. "Because I figure I'm going to need it after this conversation."
"Then let's not have it," Jim suggested.
"Not have what?" Blair stared at him uncertainly.
"The conversation," Jim explained patiently. "No conversation; no need for the duffle bag. I'll just go back to bed--you can go back to bed. And we'll both sleep in; we'll simply do this whole morning over. Without the weirdness. Okay?"
Blair stared at him for a long moment, a faint smile touching his lips as if he too were contemplating doing just that. But at the last he shook his head and sat down across from Jim at the table. "No, can't do that, Jim. Today is June 1st. Today is the day I said I would do this--so today's the day. I mean three years is a long time, Jim. I promised myself that if by June 1st things hadn't worked out--then that was it. I'd face reality, and take care of what I should have taken care of a long time ago. I really have put this off way too long."
"Put what off?"
Blair sighed. "The Guide thing. Haven't you been listening?"
Jim took a deep sip of the coffee, sparing a moment to consider the fact that he'd probably need something a lot stronger than coffee to get through the rest of this conversation. "Blair, I'm not sure what you're talking about. We've got the Guide and Sentinel thing down pretty good. I'm the Sentinel, you're the Guide, what's the problem?"
"That is the problem, Jim," Blair explained. "I'm not the Guide. I haven't been the Guide. A guide yes, but not THE Guide."
"What?" Blair was making less sense by the minute. "Does this have something to do with Alex Barnes? I thought we'd straightened all that out?"
"No," Blair frowned. "Or at least not exactly. Though when I think about it, maybe, yes, it does. Or rather it has more to do with me than with her or Sentinels in general. I mean, she didn't want me either--tried to kill me in fact--succeeded even. A 'no thank you, I'm not interested, I'll find my own Guide' would have sufficed. But she did that whole thing with the fountain instead. I guess I should have clued in then. Two Sentinels, two rejections. I thought maybe it was just the whole guy-thing, but Alex obviously didn't have that problem, so yes, it must have simply been me."
Throughout the strange monolog, Jim stared at Blair with growing alarm. He didn't know what in hell the young man was talking about, but he was liking it less and less. A Sentinel thing; a Guide thing; and now a Guy thing? "Make sense!" he ordered in his best Jim-the Special-Forces-guy-who-can-kill-you-with-a-toothpick-voice.
"Telepathy, Jim," Blair explained patiently.
"Yes, we don't have it."
Jim glared across the table. "And this would be a bad thing?"
"Yes!" Blair answered emphatically. "That's the way it's supposed to work. We're supposed to know things--you know?"
"No, I don't know!"
"Okay, I'm at Rainer, and the psycho of the week shows up to kidnap me and drag me off to hold me hostage in some weird warehouse by a duck pond. And you're at work at the station and suddenly you say 'Simon, I've got to go help Blair, he's being held hostage by the duck pond'. You show up, I don't get killed, and the psycho gets carted off to jail. Or--I'm at the station doing all your paperwork when suddenly I say 'Simon, Jim needs back up over at the First National Bank on Capital Street. There's a mad bomber threatening to blow the place up.' You see--telepathy, that's the way it's supposed to work. We're just supposed to know what's going on---that's the way Sentinels and Guides work. You get it now?"
Jim took another sip of his coffee. This was definitely not progressing well. "Sandburg, are you trying to tell me that we're supposed to be able to read each other's minds?"
"Yes," Blair nodded. "That's exactly what I'm try to tell you. In all the research I've done on Sentinels they've had that sort of link with their Guides. In case you didn't notice Jim, being your Guide is rather a dangerous job. Do you have any idea how many times I've been kidnapped, held hostage, nearly killed, blown up or maimed in a bizarre and improbable way? Without the telepathy thing a Guide's life expectancy is really very low. I gave it three years--anything more than that would just be plain stupid. For both of us--you need a Guide you can count on as well. Your life isn't exactly safe either--and without the telepathic link, you're looking at a low life expectancy as well, and I just can't let either of us take that risk any more."
"I'm not telepathic, Sandburg," Jim told the young man, wondering if reasoning with him would work at all. "I've never been telepathic. Neither are you. So why on earth would you expect there to be a telepathic bond between us?"
"I know all that, Jim," Blair sighed in annoyance. "Of course there's no telepathic bond. There can't be without the sex. And that's obviously not going to happen. So we need to just face facts and move on--I've waited long enough."
"Sex! Sex? How in hell did sex get into this conversation?" Jim exclaimed in shock. Yep, definitely the Sandburg zone. And they had apparently just jumped right into a new conversation without finishing the old one.
"There isn't any sex, Jim," Blair replied. "That's the problem. Don't get me wrong--the whole guy thing was a bit of problem for me, too. But when I first started studying about Sentinels and Guides, it was strictly from an academic point of view and I never gave it much thought from a personal point of view. And then, suddenly, there was this real, live Sentinel in my life, who needed a Guide--and yeah, the whole guy thing gave me a moments pause, but then I was thinking, okay, I can adapt, I can go with this, I'm opened minded at all. Of course I guess that was all a bit presumptuous on my part--like I was really what you wanted in a Guide and all--which obviously I'm not. But I didn't really think about that at the time. And then you let me move in with you, and I was thinking that okay this is definitely a step in the right direction. And then that was it. . . .so for a while I was thinking okay, it's definitely the guy thing--and adapting isn't quite as easy for you. So I'll just wait and be patient and all, and eventually the whole Sentinel/Guide/Telepathy thing will take care of itself. But it didn't. . . .hence the June 1st deadline. Reality time and all--especially after Alex Barnes--obviously it's not just the guy thing. It's me. I'm not right for the job. I mean when two Sentinels turn you down for completely different reasons, you have to start asking yourself why, and the answer's pretty obvious. So today is June 1st, and it's time for me to get out of the way so you can find a decent Guide."
Jim felt like jumping across the table and shaking the young man. Blair was babbling--and he could smell that odd nervous scent coming off him once again. He wasn't entirely certain, but it sounded to him like Blair expected the two of them to be having sex. Either that or Blair and Alex were supposed to be having sex. He couldn't quite figure it out. "Sandburg, you are really starting to worry me here. Will you please start making sense? Are you saying you expect me to have sex with you?"
Blair let out his breath in a long exasperated sigh and rolled his eyes. At the gesture, Jim felt his skin flush in embarrassment. Okay, so obviously he'd gotten that wrong!
"Jim, we've been living together for three years, and not once in all that time have you ever thrown a pass at me. Do you honestly think I expect you to have sex with me?"
"Well. . . no. . . you just said. . . " Jim stammered uncertainly. He was really beginning to hate this conversation.
"Which is why I have all these other potential Guides for you to choose from," Blair went on blithely, ignoring Jim's embarrassment. He motioned to the stack of papers on the table.
Blair flipped open the top folder. "Okay, I was thinking Megan Connor is the obvious choice. She already knows about Sentinels, and she's expressed an interest in learning more. She's even read Burton's book and all. And it's obvious she has a thing for you--I mean look at the way she kissed you that time. Yes, she kissed me too--but she bit me when she did it, drew blood. I guess I should have taken a clue from that as well--when a woman like Connor draws blood there really must be something wrong with you. Anyway, that's not the point--the point is, she's definitely at the top of the list, and I know you like her, even though you pretend you don't."
"Connor?" Jim's mind tried to grasp what Blair was saying. Now he wanted him to kiss Connor or have sex with her---or tell her about Sentinels?
"Yes, Connor. She'd make a great Guide."
"Guide? You want Connor to be my Guide?" It was finally starting to make some sense, and Jim wasn't liking it at all. "You're my Guide."
"No, I'm not," Blair shook his head. "We've already established that fact. So let's just move on, okay. If you don't like Connor, that's not a problem either. There are plenty of others to choose from."
Blair flipped over to the next photo in the stack--it was the young forensic pathologist who'd replaced Cassie a few months ago. "Lindsey Grant--I know you've been thinking of asking her out. I've talk to her and she's great: wonderful personality, great voice, very patient, and she's brilliant. She could make a great Guide. Or if you don't like her, another possibility is Detective Lisa Ballard." He turned the next photo over to reveal yet another familiar face from the station. "Like Connor, she's got the added bonus of being in the field with you--and she's definitely expressed an interest. Certainly has the personality and the intelligence for the job as well."
Jim just stared at Blair in flabbergasted amazement. He couldn't believe what he was hearing. Blair proceeded to flip over several more photos, all depicting women Jim knew and liked.
"And then we've got Vincent Warren," Blair announced, flipping over another photo to reveal the face of a handsome young man Jim had never met before. "And before you say anything, I know what you're thinking---it's the whole guy thing again. But I figured I better throw one in just in case it's not the guy thing and it's really utterly and completely just me. Besides, Vincent is a hell of a lot better looking than I am--and I've had a lot of straight friends tell me that for Vincent they'd make an exception. And Vincent has a lot going for him--he's a PhD candidate in psychology with minors in both criminal behaviorism and anthropology. He would be a fantastic Guide. And last but not least, this is Diana RainTree."
The last photo Blair flipped over showed a beautiful young Native American woman. "Unfortunately, she's not local, but she's got something the rest don't. She's a certified, practicing Shaman. You'd have to go to Montana to meet her, but one phone call to her, and I know she'd be willing to give it a go. She's studied Sentinels herself, and always wanted to meet one. So. . . ." Blair paused and looked expectantly at Jim. "I know it's a lot to think about, and you don't have to make a choice right now. And I can always find more candidates, but these are really are the best I could think of."
"Jesus, Sandburg!" Jim exploded. He motioned toward all the photos spread out before him. "Are you telling me that you want me to have sex with all these people?"
"Not all of them, Jim!" Blair exclaimed. "You only need one Guide for God's sake. Don't be greedy, man. And besides, it's not like that--you'll have to court them, of course."
"Yeah," Blair nodded. "They won't be easy like I was."
"You were easy?"
Blair's eyes widened as if he couldn't believe Jim was disagreeing with him. Jim couldn't believe it either--especially since he hadn't a clue what Sandburg was talking about. "Yeah, Jim, I was. The first day you met me you threw me up against a wall in my office and called me a neo-hippy witch doctor punk, and I still agreed to be your Guide. I'd say that was easy--pathetically so. Which might explain why we're having this conversation in the first place. But I wouldn't really worry about the courtship thing--just turn on the old Ellison charm and they'll be eating of your hands. Which brings me to the last bit of business. . . that's what all these other papers are."
He started leafing through the stack of papers while he talked. "Okay, these are a list of all your known allergies, and this is a list of all the typical everyday products you can't use and what to use in place of them. You know---like scentless detergents and soaps and cleaning supplies and stuff. And here are a list of stores where I get all these things."
"There's eight different stores here," Jim said somewhat incredulously. He rarely bought cleaning supplies--there never had been a need since Sandburg had moved in. He'd had no idea that Blair had to go to so many different stores to get all these things.
"Yeah, you have to do some driving and all, but it's no big deal. Now these papers will help determine what's happening when you start having sensory spikes--I've sort of developed a scientific method for determining the root cause--I've made charts and all these forms to fill out--the directions are fairly straight forward, they just need to be followed methodically."
"There must be forty pages of notes here!" Jim exclaimed as he leafed through the charts and forms Blair had printed up. "Are you telling me that you go through this method every time I have a sensory spike?"
"Of course," Blair frowned. "What did you think I do? Guess?"
"Well..." Jim stared down at the papers in amazement. Actually he *had* just sort of assumed that Blair simply guessed really well. These forms would take literally hours to fill out.
"Anyway, the rest of these notes are instructions on what to do in case of a zone-out--how to bring you out of one and all. It's different depending on what senses are involved, or if there is more than one sense involved. You'll probably have to practice these techniques with your Guide to make sure you respond properly to everything--I've left notes on various experiments you can run to straighten all that out." The stack of zone-out papers Blair handed Jim consisted of at least another eighty pages of work. Overwhelmed, Jim simply stared at his partner in shock. He'd had no idea there was so much involved in this whole Guide business.
"Well, I think that just about covers it," Blair decided as he stood up. "You're going to have to take an active roll in getting a new Guide, you realize. You need one--so look over the choices I gave you--or maybe you have someone else in mind. I don't know. And don't worry, I will be gone for a while so you don't have to worry about me interfering--that definitely seems to be the best solution. It would be too awkward if I were still here. But I left a number by the phone if you need to reach me in the event of an emergency."
"Wait a minute!" Jim exclaimed. "That's it. You're leaving?"
Blair nodded. "Yeah, I think that would be best. I'm serious about the whole courtship thing here, Jim. And just for your information, Guides tend to be nearly as territorial as Sentinels. So even though I'm not actually the other--well, you know, Guide---I'd still probably be viewed as a threat. Which would make things really awkward if I were still here when you make your choice."
Jim's mouth fell open in dumb-founded disbelief. "Blair! You can't be serious!"
Blair frowned. "Jim, don't just brush this off. You're probably thinking to yourself that you don't need a Guide--but you're wrong. And if you don't take this seriously you might be dead wrong." He lifted up the stack of papers that dealt with zone-outs. "Even putting aside your allergies and the whole shopping thing, the zone-outs alone are serious enough. And trust me, no casual acquaintance is going to go through all these procedures every time you zone. It's got to be a calling, man--you know, not just a job. Which means a Guide, Jim--a real Guide. Someone with a stake in the whole thing as well."
"You've been doing all this for three years!" Jim protested, anger churning within a panicking fear. "And if you can just walk away right now, obviously you had no stake in it--so what the hell have you been doing for the last three fucking years!"
Blair blanched at that, and Jim heard the young man's heart skip a beat. He frowned. "Trying to be your Guide, Jim," the young man explained quietly. "But I'm not. So I have to step aside."
"Because we're not having sex?" Jim demanded. "You're not my Guide, because we're not having sex. Are you gay, Sandburg?"
Blair sighed. "No, Jim. You're not listening to me. I knew you would get hung up on the sex part of this. Don't think about that, okay. That's not the issue here. And I promise, it won't be a problem when you find your real Guide. It will just work out, you know. You'll feel a connection to her. You'll probably fall in love long before the sex thing even comes up. And then it will just be natural. It will be great, Jim. You won't be alone any more."
Jim shook his head stubbornly. "No, not a chance, Sandburg."
Blair hesitated. "What do you mean?"
"I mean I'm not going to play this game. I'm not going Guide hunting. That's ridiculous!" Jim glared at the anthropologist. "Look, I can understand if you simply don't want to do all this. ." He waved at the stack of paperwork in front of him. ". . .all this any more. But if that's the case, just tell me. But don't give me some crap about picking some person out of a stack of photos, and falling in love with them."
Jim saw the deep look of sadness in Blair's eyes and didn't quite know what to make of it. "Jim, I'm sorry. I know this all seems rather clinical--but you don't seem to realize the seriousness of this. You have to focus all your attention on this. You have to have a Guide. You have to find someone. . ."
"I already have a Guide, damn you!" Jim snapped. "One who apparently doesn't give a shit about any of this and is willing to just blow off this whole Sentinel thing and walk out the door. Sentinels have been your entire life's work--you told me yourself--it's something you've been obsessed with since you were ten. If you don't want to stick around and be my Guide, what in hell makes you think any of these people will be any better?"
He saw the blood drain from Blair's face. The anthropologist shook his head in denial, his blue eyes wide. "It's not like that, Jim. You know it's not like that. I'd stay if I could--I stayed for three years. It wasn't my choice--it just didn't work. I didn't become your Guide. I didn't. . ."
"Because we're not having sex?" Jim cut in exasperatedly.
"The sex part is incidental!" Blair insisted sharply. "Don't you see that? It's the rest of the relationship that. .."
"No, I don't see it," Jim cut him off again. "Nor do I think the sex part is incidental. According to you, a Guide is someone who does all this stuff for the Sentinel." He motioned again toward the papers on the table. "And who has some sort of telepathic bond with the Sentinel, brought on by the fact that the two of them physically bond. It's that telepathic bond that you're worried about, right?"
Blair nodded reluctantly. "Without it, it's just too dangerous."
"But that can't happen unless the physical bonding happens, right?" Jim demanded.
"Right," Blair shifted uncomfortably. "Which is why we have to find you... "
"The solution is simple, Sandburg," Jim broke in again.
Blair stopped, glancing briefly at the stack of paperwork on the table. "It is?"
Jim nodded. "We have sex."
Blair stiffened at that, his mouth dropping open in shock. Jim felt a momentary flare of satisfaction at finally having completely rendered the anthropologist speechless. Served the young man right. If he was going to pull this kind of crap on Jim, then he deserved to have his bluff called.
"You heard me."
"You can't be serious!" Blair exclaimed.
"Why in hell not?" Jim demanded. "You're leaving because we don't have a telepathic bond. I don't want you to leave. So let's force this telepathic bond. I mean, how many times are we talking about here? We have sex, we read each other's minds, end of problem. I mean were not talking marriage here or something ridiculous like that. It's all about some ritualistic formality anyway, right? And you said it yourself, you're easy. Hell, we can probably get it over with in about five minutes and then I can get back to bed and forget this whole conversation ever happened!"
Blair sat down hard in the chair he'd vacated, staring at Jim in speechless disbelief. Jim briefly let his senses run over the young man once again, noting the elevated heart rate and the scent of distress on him. The distress unnerved him slightly--he knew Blair was taking this completely seriously, and he knew he was being a total ass about all of it. But he couldn't help the anger he was feeling at the thought that his Guide was just going to abandon him. Abandon him and then leave him with a stack of file folders with potential Guide candidates to go through.
"Jim, are you really listening to what you're saying?" Blair finally asked.
"Sandburg, I'm a pragmatist. And I accept the fact that you're the leading expert on Sentinels. If you say a Sentinel needs a Guide, I believe you. If you say a Sentinel and Guide need a telepathic bond, I believe you. And if you say the only way to create this telepathic bond is to fuck, fine, I'll believe that too. But I am not going to go play the dating game with a bunch of co-workers and strangers to seek out some mystical One True Guide. You're here, you've been willing to be my Guide so far, so let's just do it and get it over with."
"Do it and get it over with?" Blair looked shocked.
Jim let out an annoyed sigh. "Look, Sandburg, you've got three choices. One--we forget this conversation ever happened and we go on the way we have been. Two--you leave, in which case I go on without a Guide, because I sure as hell am not going to hold open auditions. Or three--we fuck, form the bond, and then go on with our lives, end of problem."
He knew he was being unusually difficult about this--but sometimes with Blair it didn't pay to beat around the bush. He doubted Blair would just leave--he knew the young man too well. The fact that he'd gone to all the trouble to research all these potential Guides let Jim know that he was at the least concerned. But considering the direction this conversation was taking, Jim wasn't entirely certain which of the other two choices Blair would pick. Nor was he entirely certain of what he would do if it turned out that the anthropologist was willing to call his bluff.
"You can't go on without a Guide, Jim," Blair murmured quietly.
"Then I guess we're down to two choices," Jim snapped.
Blair looked up at him uncertainly, his blue eyes radiating his worry. "Going on the way we have been without the telepathic bond might result in getting us both killed. I've already died once--not an experience I'm really anxious to repeat."
Jim blanched at that, feeling all the blood drain from his face. Shit! Is that what he'd been referring to all this time--the fact that Jim had failed him with Alex?. That somehow Jim should have known earlier that Alex was going to go after him? Was this proverbial telepathic bond really supposed to help prevent incidents like that? Under those circumstances, suddenly option number three didn't seem quite so impossible.
"Then I guess that settles it," he stated in shock.
"I guess so," Blair agreed subdued. He could hear Blair's heart beating frantically in his chest.
The two of them sat in silence for a long moment, neither knowing what to say in the face of such a decision.
Finally, Jim broke the stillness. "So what is it we're supposed to do exactly?"
Blair looked up at him incredulously.
Jim blushed. "I meant is there some sort of ritual involved? Under a full moon? Chanting? Chopec body paint. . .you know, that sort of thing. Or is there like a time limit--or a time maximum? I mean what is it precisely that initiates this bond-thing?"
Blair gave him an uncomfortable shrug. "Actually every culture has its own set of rituals--the ancient Egyptians went through this week-long festival where the entire tribe was invited to a feast provided by both the Sentinel and the Guide. The ancient Sumerians had this whole deal with killing bulls. Come to think of it, bulls actually pop up a number of times in the research--the ancient Minoans didn't kill the bulls, they jumped over them. And the. . ."
"Sandburg!" Jim interrupted what sounded like the beginnings of a lecture.
"Sorry," Blair said hastily. "The rituals were all just formalities as far as I can figure. The act itself is ritualistic enough on its own. The rest is all just window dressing."
"The act itself?" Jim prompted.
"Yeah, the act of, you know, possession/submission. The mental intent and focus involved in committing your body completely to the whole Sentinel/Guide thing coupled with the chemical changes brought on by the simultaneous endorphin release seems to be the only thing really necessary."
Despite the bizarre technical spin, Jim had to smile. "The simultaneous endorphin release? So there is a timing thing involved after all."
Blair glanced at him startled, then grinned despite everything, some humor restored. "Ah, yeah, I guess so."
Jim let the humor ride for a moment, before bringing the conversation back around to the more immediate problem. "About that whole possession/submission thing. I take it that means this involves the actual act of. . ." he found himself grasping for an appropriate word, embarrassed by all the euphemisms that sprang to mind. He was a cop for God's sake! He'd worked Vice--he shouldn't be embarrassed by this conversation, especially not if he was ever going to get through the reality of the situation.
"Penetration," Blair supplied for him at last--bailing him out of his search for an appropriate word. "Yeah, it does. Which brings up a bit of problem."
"A bit of a problem, Sandburg?" Jim demanded. "You have a gift for understatement."
Blair thought about that for a moment. "Okay, good point. I guess there are a number of problems. Might as well just get them all out in the open and deal with them then."
"Alright," Jim nodded, then waited for Blair to proceed.
When it became obvious that Jim wasn't going to venture any farther into this discussion, Blair just sighed. Jim noted the heightened colored in the young man's cheeks as he started talking.
"Okay, ritualistically speaking, condoms are out," Blair stated bluntly. "I don't know if it's an actual factor in things, but it might be. Exchanges of bodily fluids tend to be rather symbolic in ancient cultures, and in any event none of our predecessors had condoms."
"Jesus," Jim muttered uncomfortably. "Are you absolutely certain that this is necessary, Sandburg?"
Blair glared at him, his skin flushing with anger. "Jim, if you want to read all the research material on the subject go right ahead. I'll work up a bibliography for you--but I have to warn you, it involves over five thousand pages of primary source material, and it's written in over fifteen different languages!"
"Alright, fine!" Jim cut in placating. "I get the picture." Blair leaving still wasn't an option that Jim was willing to consider, and he didn't want to even think about Blair and Fountains and what had happened the last time he'd failed to know what was going on with his Guide. They didn't seem to have much choice if those were the only options. "Let's just move on from the whole condom thing--we're both regularly tested. And we're both clean. And I'm guessing pregnancy isn't an issue."
Blair shot him a withering glare.
"Sorry," Jim shrugged contritely.
"Fine, lets move on to the main issue then," Blair suggested. "Ability."
Jim's eyes widened. "Excuse me?"
"Well, Jim, I think we've already covered the fact that neither of us are gay, right," Blair pointed out.
"You did say you were easy," Jim reminded him.
Blair rolled his eyes. "I'm not the concern, Jim. I'm sort of the one on the receiving end here. All the pressure is on you. And if you're not interested, it ain't gonna work."
The sudden visual of what precisely it was that Blair was describing did something decidedly odd to Jim's stomach. Not nausea--though he'd expected that--but rather a strange fluttering sense of something he could only describe as excitement. For a moment he was horrified with himself--not by the thought that he might actually be interested in another man--but rather by the thought that maybe he really was such a territorial jerk that the idea of completely dominating his smaller friend turned him on. The very thought alarmed him.
"So Jim, we need to figure out a way for you to, you know. . . ."
"Jesus, Sandburg!" Jim snapped. "We don't need to delve into my fantasy life, alright? I'm a Sentinel for God's sake--hyper-sensitive, remember! A minor breeze can get me in the mood!"
Blair flushed deeply. "Ah, I see. Right, of course it would."
"What about you?" Jim demanded.
"Me?" Blair stared at him blankly. "I told you. All the pressure is on you, man."
"That's not what I meant," Jim shook his head. "I meant are you okay with this. . .with being. . .you know."
"Oh, that," rather than flush again, Blair paled, and Jim didn't really like the odd far-away gleam he got in his eyes. "It's not a big deal, really. I mean this isn't exactly what I had thought...well, no, never mind. You don't want to hear all that nonsense. We've already established the fact that the alternatives are not feasible. Too much death and dying involved--so in light of that, it's not a big deal, okay. I'm fine with it. If you can handle it, then I can handle it."
"This isn't a one-upmanship, Chief," Jim pointed out.
"I know!" Blair snapped, then sighed. "I know, Jim. Don't worry about it, okay. My ego can handle it, if that's what you're worried about. And it's not going to interfere with my sense of masculinity. It's not an issue, so don't worry."
"I don't want to hurt you," Jim voiced a very real concern.
"You won't," Blair insisted. "I'll. . .I'll take care of that, alright? Don't sweat it."
"If you say so," Jim nodded.
"So the only other thing we really need to figure out is...well, when," Blair stated.
"Yeah, when should we do this. I mean do you want to wait till it's dark--or maybe get drunk first or something... "
"I don't need to get drunk, Sandburg!" Jim found himself strangely angered by the suggestion. "This was your idea, remember? If you feel the need to get total wasted before..."
"No, I don't!" Blair broke in. "I was just thinking that maybe you might want to. And this isn't my idea--it's just the way things are with Sentinels and Guides. I offered you an alternative." He pointed to the stack of file folders. "You weren't interested in any of them. If you don't like the way I'm handling things, then pick someone else. I can guarantee you'd have a lot more fun with Connor or Lindsey."
Jim grabbed the file folders and flung them angrily across the room. "I told you, I don't want any of them! I'm not going 'courting'! We're talking about a quick fuck here--so stop talking about having fun or getting drunk!"
Two bright spots of red appeared on Blair's pale cheeks, and he leaped to his feet. "My God, you are such an asshole!" he shouted.
"You can still leave, you know!" Jim glared defiantly back at him.
"Yeah, I can!" Blair agreed and he stormed angrily toward the door. He snatched up his duffle bag and caught hold of the door handle. Jim stared at him in silent shock as he yanked open the door. This isn't happening, he told himself. This couldn't happen! He fought the urge to grab the young man and pull him back inside the room.
But before he acted, before he leaped to his feet and chased after Blair, the anthropologist stopped. Jim could see the tension radiating off the young man, the line of fury in the rigid way he held himself.
"Crap!" Blair hissed under his breath. He turned to glare at Jim, duffle bag still clutched in his hand. "If I leave, you're not going to find yourself another Guide, are you?" It was more an accusation than a question.
"No, I'm not," Jim stated simply, daring Blair to leave in the face of that.
Blair glared at him, and Jim could hear him grinding his teeth in frustration. But finally he seemed to reach some sort of decision. He slammed the door shut and threw his duffle bag down on the ground. "Fine, Ellison. Have it your way. Let's just do this and get it over with." And with that he headed off toward the bathroom.
"What?" Jim exclaimed, rising to his feet.
"You heard me!" Blair growled. "You said it yourself. Five minutes of ritualistic crap, and then we can get on with our lives. So let's just get it the hell over with. Talking it to death is just going to make it harder."
"Are you serious?" Jim demanded.
Blair paused in front of the bathroom door, a hard, determined look on his face. "Yes, I'm serious. Let's just get it over with. We'll do it in your room, on your bed, if you don't mind. Now go upstairs. I'll be up in a minute." And with that, he disappeared into the bathroom.
Jim had a habit of following Blair's lead, and he found himself doing what the man had asked automatically. Jim made his way back upstairs. He felt bizarrely numb--shell-shocked almost. Uncertainly, he sat down on the edge of his bed. He couldn't believe any of this had happened--he'd just wanted to spend his day off sleeping in. Instead, he'd fallen so far down the rabbit hole, he doubted he'd ever find his way back out.
Not really convinced yet that this wasn't all some big misunderstanding--that maybe he and Blair were really talking about two different things--Jim was thinking 'sex' and Blair was thinking 'origami', Jim dialed up his hearing to try and figure out what it was Blair was doing in the bathroom. No muttering--Blair wasn't talking to himself--was strangely silent, actually. But Jim could hear the sound of clothing rustling and realized that the young man was undressing. A moment later, he heard the shower going on. He felt a momentary pang of relief. He had some time then--some time to think about what it was that was really about to happen here.
But rather than think about what it was he was going to do--or even perhaps how to figure out a way around this whole weirdness--he found himself unable to dial down his senses. Unable to tune out the sounds Blair was making. Not a zone-out precisely--but he seemed utterly focused on his Guide's presence.
He heard the sound of water hitting both the tile and soft flesh, the sound of skin against skin, the scent of herbs Jim knew to be Blair's soap. Hands gliding over slick muscles--he wondered if in ten minutes Blair would be back down in that shower washing off Jim's scent from his body. That thought made him tremble.
What in hell was happening here? Was he really going to have sex with Blair? Apparently so...apparently he didn't have much of a choice. It was the only way to keep his Guide.
But what in hell was in it for Blair?
Blair had obviously been willing to leave that morning--had packed his stuff, had prepared all that paperwork to hand over to the next recruit--had even created full dossier on suitable Guide candidates. So why, when he was willing to leave one moment, would Blair willingly go through with something like this? It didn't make any sense.
He heard the water shut off then, and his heart began pounding fiercely in his chest. There was the sound of a towel rubbing against heated flesh, and then a new scent--something pleasant and almondy. It took Jim a moment to recognize it as the massage oil Blair kept in the bathroom, and he wondered briefly what his Guide was doing with that. And then he heard the sharp intake of breath coupled with skin against skin, and he felt heat flood his face with the realization of what it was Blair was doing. He'd take care of it, he'd said. He'd take care of making certain that Jim didn't hurt him. Blair was preparing himself, stretching himself, oiling himself so that Jim wouldn't hurt him. Something about that made Jim want to cry.
Why was Blair doing this? Why in hell would Blair let Jim do this to him? There had to be an explanation--an explanation that didn't focus solely on the guilt trip Jim had dropped in Blair's lap with his refusal to find any other Guide. This was going to change everything--make everything different. How were they supposed to go on like they always did with something like this between them--what if Blair hated him? How was he supposed to be able to deal with that?
And then the point became moot when Jim heard the bathroom door open. With his heart in his throat he watched as Blair made his way up the stairs, the scent of almonds lingering in the air. Despite everything, despite the fear, the shock, the confusion, with each step Blair took, Jim felt himself growing hard. Seemed the thought of sex alone was enough to do it for him.
Blair was dressed only in a bathrobe--the robe Jim kept hanging in the bathroom. His hair was down, slightly damp from the steam of the shower, and his skin was flushed. He paused at the top of the stairs to stare at Jim. "You're still dressed," he remarked quietly.
Jim couldn't quite bring himself to glance down at his shorts, knowing his erection was probably noticeable. "I'm just wearing boxers," he pointed out reasonably.
Blair's lips twitched in a wane frown. "Yeah, I guess you don't really need to disrobe much more than that." His eyes lingered briefly on Jim's lap. "A breeze, huh?"
Jim flushed and shrugged apologetically. "Sorry. Hyperactive senses, remember?"
"Expedient, at least," Blair replied. There was a clinical detachment to all of this that was really starting to upset Jim fiercely.
"So how do you want to go about..."
"Just do it, Jim," Blair sighed, and he approached the bed, climbing up onto the mattress and untying the belt of his robe.
"What?" Jim watched with something akin to awe as Blair slid the robe from his shoulders. He knew his friend tended towards a sever degree of body shyness--not as comfortable with nudity as Jim was. And he was surprised at how easily Blair disrobed in front of him. Underneath the robe Blair was completely naked, and out of a twisted sense of respect, Jim forced himself to keep his eyes on his Guide's face, despite the overwhelming urge to study the slender body in front of him. He was afraid to look down at Blair's cock--afraid to find out if it would be flaccid or erect, not certain which would be worse.
"Let's just do it and get it over with," Blair said simply, and Jim didn't quite know what to make of the sound of exhaustion in the young man's voice. He grew utterly still as he watched Blair turn his back to him, kneeling up on the bed, and bracing his hands against the headboard. "Just get behind me and do it," Blair urged.
"Just like that?"
"You said it yourself, Jim, this isn't about having fun. Foreplay isn't necessary. Just do it." Blair didn't even bother turning around to look at him as he spoke.
Jim stared at him, letting his gaze move over Blair's body finally. Finely shaped, lightly muscled, sleek lines and smooth skin, Jim's gaze was drawn irresistibly to the firm rise of Blair's ass and the muscled legs braced and parted almost defiantly. He could feel the heat radiating off Blair's body, and his own skin flushed with the sensation. His cock jumped, aching now.
"Blair, you want me to just..." Jim's voice came out hoarse.
"Yes," Blair nodded firmly. "Come on, Jim. Not to pressure you here, but five minutes--the clock is ticking."
"Just do it!"
Jim couldn't decide if the emotion in Blair's voice was anger or hurt--either way it instinctively galvanized him to move. He quickly stripped off his boxers, biting back a moan as he felt the cool air brush over his freed erection. Then uncertainly he climbed onto the bed and moved behind Blair, kneeling somewhat hesitantly between Blair's spread legs so that he would be able to pull the young man back onto his lap. His hands were shaking, and he raised them nervously to Blair's hips. He felt a shudder go through the young man's body as his fingers made contact with his heated skin. He saw Blair's hands tighten their grip on the headboard in front of him, heard his heart thundering in his chest. "Jesus," he whispered in shock, not believing this was really happening.
"Come on!" Blair hissed, and from the sound of his voice Jim knew he was clenching his teeth.
His cock was aching now, a need rising up inside him, hunger making him tremble. They hadn't done anything yet, and already he felt like he was going to shake apart. The heat from Blair's body was burning him, and he had to close his eyes tightly against the images that were filling his mind--images of just thrusting violently into the offered body before him, burying himself in that heat. This passion had completely blindsided him.
"You won't hurt me," Blair whispered. "I used plenty of oil."
And it seemed as if that was exactly what Blair intended him to do--thrust quickly, take him, possess him--five minutes and it would be over. Release, relief--and they could get on with their lives. Jim's heart ached, and he fought the mindless wave of pain and desire that warred within him. Could he really do this? Could Blair really do this? He watched in some shock as his hands seemed to tighten of their own volition on Blair's hips, watched as he pulled Blair slowly down onto his lap. The first touch of Blair's heated skin against his throbbing cock made Jim gasp in shock, biting his lip to keep back the scream that wanted to escape. The touch was like a bolt of electricity and it shot from Jim's body into Blair's, making him shake violently in Jim's hands. He heard Blair's moan, saw his head bow, his hands tightening even harder on the headboard as he fought the tremors racing through his body.
"Blair," Jim pleaded. Tell me to stop, he silently begged, unable somehow to do it on his own. Tell me to stop, tell me you want something else, some thing different.
"Don't talk!" Blair gasped out. "Just do it!" His breath was coming in desperate gasps now, and the sounds were driving Jim insane. His body was moving without his conscious will. His hands were pulling harder, his fingers digging into the smooth pale flesh of Blair's hips. His cock slid between the cheeks of Blair's ass and he nearly sobbed at the sensation--so hot, so hard, and it hurt so deep and so good he didn't think he could stand it. He felt the slickness of the oil as the blunt head of his cock touched Blair's opening. He gasped desperately for air.
Blair moaned, his legs trembling against Jim, his body shaking so hard Jim had to tighten his hands more just to keep his grip on him.
"Blair!" he begged again, unable to accept where they were, unable to stop without some word from his Guide. "Why?" The question escaped on it's own. Why was Blair doing this? Why had he brought them both here?
"Please," was all Blair whispered, and the broken, breathy word was too much for Jim. The heat was calling him, the hunger consuming him. He felt his cock breach Blair's body, and his control broke. The violent thrust was unplanned, unintentional, and completely unstoppable. Between one second and the next he buried himself deep inside his Guide's body, hearing Blair's strangled cry as something shattered inside Jim. Blair's braced arms collapsed, but it didn't matter; Jim slid his hands around his body and pulled, bringing Blair's back flush up against Jim's chest.
"Oh, God!" Jim gasped, his face buried against Blair's damp curls. He breathed in his Guide's scent, sought out the sweetness of his skin with his tongue, mouth moving against Blair's neck. The heat was incredible, so tight, so perfect--he could feel the pulse of Blair's blood coursing through his body, the pounding of his heart. Feel him on the inside as well as the outside, and he groaned with the need for so much more--the desperation to take, to thrust, to pound into him, to find release, to never stop, to stay here forever.
"Blair!" he was begging again, not even recognizing his own voice. "Don't you want..." and he wanted so much, so much that was unspeakable, unnamable, unfathomable, and he still didn't know why. "Don't you want. . .don't you want more? Don't you want me to. . ." God, the words were all gone, driven out by the mad need building in him. "... to kiss you..." that at least--he'd taken Blair without a touch, without a single caress, without anything as simple and as kind as a kiss. So brutal, so cold, so impersonal.
"This isn't about love!" Blair sobbed. "This isn't anything more..." And with that he rocked his hips back against Jim, forcing the issue. And Jim moaned in despair as the whole thing was taken out of his hands and his body took over. He felt his eyes burning, tears hot on his cheeks. He hid his face against Blair's neck as need forced him to begin a violent rhythm in and out of that sweet surrounding heat.
Too much, too much... he felt it building inside him, inside both of them. And Blair was crying now with him, and whispering, Sentinel-soft, Jim's name over and over again, his own control shattered.
And there at the end, Jim couldn't let this be nothing more, couldn't let this end with nothing else. He slid one hand up over Blair's sweat-slick chest, past his throat where his pulse was racing out of control. He caught a handful of silky hair, tangling his fingers in Blair's curls, and turned his head at an awkward angle toward him. Then he brought his mouth down over his Guide's lips, needing the kiss, needing the contact, needing something more than just the animal hunger controlling his body.
And there...so sweet, so desperately. . .Blair's mouth opened beneath his, his tongue seeking Jim's, and the kiss was like the breath of life, flooding them both with light. Body, mind and soul, Jim reached for Blair, and the blinding explosion that flared through them caught them both off-guard as they found their release together, Jim emptying himself into his Guide's body as Blair shook apart and came in Jim's arms.
They collapsed together onto the bed, slumping to their sides, Jim's arms still firmly locked around Blair's body, holding him tightly against him. He remained spooned up behind Blair, his cock still buried in Blair's body, still pulsing with the echoing force of the release, aftershocks trembling through both their bodies. "Blair," Jim whispered. "Oh, Blair. .." his lips brushed against his Guide's fevered temple.
The answers were there of course. Not telepathy exactly--merely an awareness thrumming in every cell of his body--a sixth sense tuned only to Blair Sandburg. But then, in a way, it had always been there--he saw that now. And saw the rest of it too--the why--the reason for it all.
Three years. Three years of being there every step of the way. Three years of being easy--though Jim had been too blind to see it. Three years of complete and utter devotion--working silently in the background--hours and hours of work researching out Jim's every need. Eight fucking stores just to find cleaning supplies Jim could stand. Reams of papers listing his allergies and reactions to medication. Five thousand pages and fifteen languages to figure out how to pull him out of a zone-out. Getting shot at, nearly blown up, dropped from an airplane, kidnapped, attacked--and finally, horribly, ultimately getting killed at that fountain. All the while waiting in silence for Jim to notice what should have been so obvious to a man with heightened senses.
"You love me," Jim whispered against Blair's skin, and he heard the wonder in his own voice. "You love me."
And the miracle that was Blair Sandburg sobbed quietly in his arms.
"You're mine now, Blair," Jim murmured to him, his grip tightening around the young man's trembling body. "You're mine now. Mine forever."
"I always was, you idiot," Blair whispered, and Jim could hear the pain there in his voice, and the sorrow. And he tried to imagine what it must have been like for Blair to pack his bag that morning, for Blair to pick out those others to replace him. The same pain perhaps that Jim felt at the thought of Blair leaving him. So foolish of course--and if Blair had just explained, Jim could have told him that nothing and no one could ever replace him in Jim's life.
"Yes," he agreed, pausing briefly to taste the skin below Blair's left ear. "But I'm your idiot." And he knew the connection between them went both ways--knew Blair could feel the love that burned in every corner of Jim's soul.
Blair turned his head then, and Jim could see the desperate hope there in those blue eyes--eyes that redefined his sense of beauty, redefined his entire world. "Are you, Jim?" Blair whispered. "Are you mine?"
"Yes," Jim assured him. "I love you. And you're never leaving me. And we're doing this right this time--not sex--we're making love--now, today, forever." And he kissed Blair again, addicted after the first time, and nothing had ever been so sweet, so perfect.
Against his mouth, Blair smiled, and Jim swallowed his Guide's soft laugh, grinning himself as he heard the young man's words. "God. . .I'm easy...."
And he was.