Author's disclaimer: The Sentinel characters belong to Pet Fly Productions and Paramount. Intended for adult readers only, please. Contains male/male sex and foul language. Written for pleasure, not profit.

Comments are welcomed at JBonetoo@yahoo.com

Author's notes: Although the style is similar, this story is NOT part of the Territorial Imperative series. In fact, it even contradicts a few things in that universe. So give this a try if you like, but remember, it's its own thang. ;)

Kady Mae, Kat and Melis -- Thanks for betaing in the midst of RL chaos!

Title taken from the Matchbox 20 song of the same name.


Back to Good

by Bone

God, I'm tired. Beyond tired, actually. I'm heading straight for fall-in-your-dinner-plate tired. And on top of that, I'm jet-lagged. Strung right out from the last leg of that connect-the-dots trip from Sierra Verde to Cascade -- the six hour flight from Miami -- sitting between two men who need way more leg room than United Airlines sees fit to provide. I think I'd be tired even if I hadn't just spent a few days in the jungle, getting shot at (again), kidnapped (again), and watching Jim struggle against what seems to be his basic nature (again). Yup, I'm flat-out bushed. Hell, I can still see the IV bruise on the back of my hand. Looking back on it, I'd probably have been better off taking a little vacation, going to a spa somewhere maybe, where I'd have been fed at regular intervals, had my back rubbed by someone named Ingrid, and slept in a real bed, with sheets and everything. Yeah, I'm thinking that would have been the better thing to do.

But no.

Call it what you want, but I seem to have developed a pretty permanent attachment to James Ellison. He gets out of the same time zone and I start to twitch. I can't control that any more than I can keep my heart from doing somersaults when he pops me on the side of the head, or smacks my cheeks with his palms. Given how much he touches me, that heart of mine gets a workout, that's for sure. I've learned to ignore it. I may not be able to control it entirely, but that doesn't mean I have to moon over him either.

Getting Megan to agree to make the trip with me wasn't as hard as I expected, even though I ended up trailing her down the hospital hallway with one hand pushing my IV cart and the other making a half-successful attempt to hold together the back of my hospital gown. I say half-successful because I got a lot more smiles on the return trip to my room. Ha. Like I'd flash my ass at candy stripers on purpose. I don't think so.

While the docs said there wasn't any physical reason why I couldn't go home, the implication came through loud and clear that they thought some psychiatric assistance might be useful. Note to self -- when coming back from an out-of-body experience, ixnay on the isionsvay. Wolves, panthers, explosions, animal spirits merging -- none of it went over real well with the M.D.s, although the chaplain seemed intrigued.

But Megan buddied up for me, turning on some maternal material I'd have laid bets she didn't even know she had, and promised to look after me if they'd release me into her care. Of course, we didn't think they really needed to know we were headed straight for the airport.

I'm glad we went. I wouldn't change that. And now I'm glad we're home. Yeah, that's right. Back home. Back to 852 Prospect St. Back to #307. Jim never said anything overt, like "Hey, Chief, you're moving back in, right?" Nah. Not his style. He cracked some joke about me owing him rent -- as if -- and I knew what he meant. I've been deciphering Jimspeak for three years now; I could certainly break that code without working up a sweat. Even so, we had one little awkward moment in baggage claim, when Megan offered me a ride and -- in her own Jimlike way -- a place to stay, but Jim just slapped a big hard hand on my shoulder, saluted Megan with two fingers to his forehead, and steered me towards the truck, and the loft, and my old room, and my old life. Which suited me fine since it meant I didn't have to stand there by the conveyor belt making precipitous decisions.

He said he'd get my shit up from the basement, and I think I must have fallen asleep sitting up on the couch because the next thing I knew the door slammed and all those boxes were lined up in the kitchen in neat little rows.

All my junk, resurrected, just like me.

Jim started slicing open the boxes, pulling the tape off, but the sight of that, of him starting to take out everything he'd just put in, like maybe he thought I thought he should feel obligated to do that chore, rubbed me entirely the wrong way. "I'll do it, I'll do it," I said, snapping harder than I meant to, brushing his hands away. "I'll do it." He backed off with his hands up, and I thought how strange it was to see him do that while I growled at him. Let's just say it was the Bizarro Jim and Blair.

So he left me there in the kitchen with a half-opened box and me already swaying on my feet, and he went upstairs where I know he can still hear me and I sometimes think he can read the thoughts straight off my gray matter. And I got to work. That was at least a couple of hours ago. He's still upstairs, but he's not moving around anymore, so maybe he's napping, I don't know. I'm running on an airplane snack too pitiful to even be worthy of the name, and I didn't even get all that because I had a hollow leg to the left of me and a hollow leg to the right and they actually seemed to enjoy the plastic-covered everything the flight attendant babe passed out, so it seemed churlish to bat away the hands that snitched stuff off my tray. I'll quit soon and get something to eat, maybe stretch out on the couch for a while, maybe take a shower and get rid of all this South American dust that stowed away on me, looking for a better life in the US of A.

I've still got about four boxes left to unpack and I haven't found the sheets yet. But wait, hey, cool, there's that blue shirt I lost. Wonder where he found that? Hmmm, smells like it's not from the clean pile. If the sheets aren't in the next box, fuck it; I'm sleeping on the bare mattress, wrapped up in a beach towel. I'm sweating, even though the loft is its usual 65-so-Jim's-comfortable degrees. Exertion, probably. Over-exertion, more likely. There's a drop of sweat just waiting to dribble in my right eye and I swipe at before I notice my hands are filthy. Great. One more place to wash.

Without all the clutter that's usually in here, my little room doesn't look so little anymore. I could name each dust bunny, they're so big, and there's a layer of grime on the baseboards. It's probably always been there, but when there's nothing to cover it up, it looks pretty nasty. But given the choice of unpacking sheets and sleeping or staying up and getting a dustmop, the dust bunny family is just going to have to wait its turn.

I'm getting there. The repro Anasazi bowls fit right back in the clean little circles left in the dust -- perfect placement. The books are nudging against each other like they missed the company and my bottles of shampoo and liquid Ivory are leaning together in the shower caddy again. Pretty soon, it'll be like I never left. Really, it will.

Don't ask me why it's so important that I finish this grimy little task tonight. It could wait until tomorrow, or even the day after. It's not like I've got anything else to do. Strangely enough, when you die, the university gets other people to teach your classes, even if you decide you'll stick around for awhile after all, thanks anyway. So I'm free as the proverbial bird for the next nine weeks. I could probably finish my diss in that amount of time, assuming the diss subject didn't really mean it when he dissed me. Whoa, that's a lot a disses.

Okay, I seem to be moving beyond tired and into punchy. Maybe we can work with that. It'd be easier if Jim had packed my shit in any kind of order. I've seen the way he packs when he goes on trips -- like he took a course in wrinkle-free packing and aced it. Not this time, though. No, it's all in a jumble -- books, clothes, artifacts, shaving stuff, everything thrown together like the dregs of a garage sale in the back of a station wagon on the way to Goodwill. Looks like he just tossed in whatever he found, in the order he found it, dragged it all out in the living room and gave his roomie the old heave-ho. Which is, of course, just what he did. Which is a pretty odd thing for an anal-retentive former Army dude to do, on so many levels.

It's taking me a couple of hours to undo what he probably managed in a couple of minutes. Well, maybe it took a little longer than that. I'm sort of dumbstruck at the amount of shit I've collected since I moved in here. All my stuff fit in the back of my car that night, including Larry's cage. Now we'd need a U-Haul with a trailer hitch to get me out of here. Or one freaked out cop who doesn't mind making twenty trips to the basement. Take your pick.

Wouldn't you think being greeted at the door with a pistol pointed up my left nostril would have clued me in that something had gone seriously wrong? Nope. Some observer, huh. So Jim closed up tighter than a shook-up bottle of Coke about whatever it was that had screwed up his senses. It's not like it was the first time that ever happened. I'd just figured, you know, we'd talk it out eventually. He'd calm down, or I'd figure it out, or something. That's the modus operandi -- Jim digs in his heels until I push him over. It's not that complicated.

At least, it didn't used to be. No, it was walking in to find every t-shirt, every book and every hairbrush I own waiting for me on the living room floor that did the trick. What a shock that was.

It's all back now, back where it had been. I'm still not sure I'm ready to say back where it belongs because we've still got a few Life details to work out, Jim and me. But while this started out as sort of energizing -- putting a fraction of my life back together -- now I feel a little bit like a tourist coming home from an exhausting trip, putting tacky souvenirs up on a knick-knack shelf. Like all this stuff's mementos, not lifeblood.

Souvenirs from a trip maybe I never should have taken in the first place.

"Put it behind you, man, put it behind you," I mutter to myself, feeling that tugged-under feeling that still comes over me when I'm tired like this, and a little sad, like this. Past is past. Done is done. Life goes on. The new mantra's not sitting as easily as I'd like. It lacks something. Something concrete that I can hold up in front of me and say, "Yes. I believe that." It feels more like a stop-gap measure; a plug in the leaking dam that I am when I don't stop myself. I'm still a little pissed off, and confused, and I can work myself up into a full head of righteous indignation without even straining myself, so telling myself past is past, done is done and life goes on just doesn't do the job I want it to.

But stop-gap is better than letting the dam loose and drowning. I have drowned enough. This is a conversation I've been having with myself off and on since I woke up, blessedly dry and reasonably whole, with a tube up my nose. As soon as I work up a good lather, all of it directed toward Jim, I remember that he's the one who didn't just quit when they said it was over. I could quantify some things he did to make it happen in the first place, but when you get right down to it, he's the reason I'm still walking the good earth.

So righteously indignant usually waffles its way down to merely confused.

Looking down in the bottom of the box, I see some wrinkled pieces of notebook paper, torn on the corner, under my soccer cleats. Research notes. I'd wondered where they'd gotten to. I smooth them out, running a hand over them, seeing what's salvageable.

Past is past. Done is done. Life goes on.

And the boxes won't unpack themselves.

"Get some water, wash your face, have a bit to eat." Great, now I'm talking to myself. Out loud, I mean. The internal dialogue's pretty much constant; can't do much about that. Maybe I'll feel better once all my things are put back, after I have that shower and eat something that's supposed to be green. Maybe then I can at least pretend things are going to be just fine.

I'll still have a home.

I'll still have a friend.

I'll still have a purpose.

I just don't feel like taking any of that for granted. Not again. So first things first.

Hang on. Hang on a doggone minute. First things first.

First things first.

Now that's a mantra I can see repeating.


I'm not napping. If anything, I still seem to be a little under the influence of whatever that nasty stuff was that Alex poured down my throat. My senses have been spiked ever since. 'Extra sensitive touchy-feely' doesn't even begin to describe it. I've been walking around half-hard, which I'd been putting down to the whole mating instinct thing, but I'm still that way and I'm thousands of miles away from Alex now. Tastes just explode in my mouth; sounds are off the charts. I'm constantly picturing the dial in my head, turning it down. So the physical stuff's tough enough to deal with, but my mind seems to have been jolted, too.

I've taken to staying awake as long as I can, trying hard to be completely exhausted when I go do bed, hoping I'll sleep straight through and not dream. Thank God I had my own room down in Sierra Verde. I'd hate to have inflicted myself on anyone else. I hate those fucking dreams. If they were visions, that would be one thing -- I'll never discount one of those again. But what I'm getting come in two categories, and two categories only: wet dreams so unbelievably profuse I finally learned to put a towel down on the bed so the maid wouldn't know I'd come in gushers all over her crappy hotel mattress; and good old-fashioned nightmares, full of fire and water and people I love dying.

People I love. Like Simon, and Joel. Like Alex could have been if she hadn't been wired so damn wrong. Like Blair.

Like Blair. That's one I have to think about long and hard. He crept up on me, the little guy did. At first he was like a gnat, buzzing around me, getting right up in my ear, getting too close. Then I guess I got used to him, got used to him being underfoot and got accustomed to his never-ending lip. I get no respect. The thing about Blair is that he's always looking for answers, and he's able to think outside the box. Outside the box, hell; he thinks outside the galaxy sometimes.

I couldn't do this Sentinel thing without him. I'd be like Alex, drooling in a loony bin somewhere if he hadn't come along. We had something pretty great going for awhile there. Like those pillars that lean together and make an arch -- "I learn from him; he learns from me" -- that's what he told Incacha, and it's true.

Pretty great until it got all fucked up. I think we can safely say his death was the bottom of the barrel, and that maybe we're working our way up to just bad now. I'm hoping time will take us to fair-to-middling, and eventually beyond that. But I don't know how to get it back to good.

It's all muddled up in my head. It's like I can't focus on any one thing for very long. I keep getting flashes -- Blair in the water. Alex in the water. I feel them both pulling on me, like a tug-of-war where I'm the rope, both wanting more from me than I know how to give. Alex crashed and burned. Blair died and came back to life. None of this really fits what I know about how bodies and minds work, you understand. It's all way out there, in Sandburgland. I told him I wasn't ready to make a trip to the mysterious with him, but we're going anyway, whether we're ready or not.

He told me once there are no coincidences. So there must be a reason all this shit happened. I'm sure those two paths Incacha put before me should have been about more than choosing to go dark or light, but I'm a simple man. I look for simple answers. And those paths came down to one simple choice -- Alex or Blair.

Alex.

Blair.

The two stars of my living-color dreams. Both kinds. The wet ones and the nightmares. My mind's playing dirty, dirty tricks on me, or else God has a quirkier sense of humor than I thought. I guess I should be grateful Simon's not the star of my own personal porno movie, or Joel. It always starts with Alex, and we're there on the beach, standing in cool sand, eating each other up. Then she's running away and Blair's running toward me, and then it's his mouth I'm latched onto, his back I'm running my hands down, and we're dropping to our knees and he's pushing me on my back and grabbing at me and I can't do anything but just lie there and let him have me. And while it's not quite like seeing molecules in a drop of water, I am there, tasting him with my tongue, tasting the difference between sea water and sweat, the difference between my semen and his. I can smell how the skin on his back is different from the skin on his face, how the oils aren't quite the same. I can almost hear his pupils dilate and his heartbeat is like jungle drums, overpowering everything.

Fuck. I thought maybe after we got back on home turf, all this ... all that ... might just fade away and we could go back our usual ways. But this boner I've got is as real as the boxes I hear him scraping across the floor downstairs. It's not going away. Not the boner, not the strange new craving, not the weird, everything's-screwed-up feeling.

Nothing's right.

Everything's different.

I'm more okay than I thought I would be with the idea that my subconscious apparently has a jones for Blair's body. I suppose it's been building for awhile, without my letting it register. I can't argue with the way we got him back, though. I don't have to be a genius to figure out the symbolism of the animal spirits leaping into each other. Maybe it's just one more thing to get used to, like learning to control my senses. Maybe it's just one more piece of the Sentinel puzzle.

Eventually, we'll have to talk about that, I guess. Or maybe I can learn to dial that down like I do everything else. I don't know. Blair would probably have a theory, but how do I bring that up? 'Excuse me, Chief, sorry I let you get killed and threw you out, but could you please help me understand why I suddenly want to fuck you so hard your curls go straight?' Oh well, at least that was good for a laugh.

And at least he's here. It's a start. At least he's where I can keep an eye on him for awhile, keep him in sniffing distance. I want to help him unpack, but he wants to do it himself, and I can't say I blame him. I'd been congratulating myself on the smooth move getting him to come with me in the airport. I didn't think he'd make a fuss in a public place, and he didn't. He just picked up his knapsack and followed me, like he always did. I didn't remember until we were almost home that his room was empty as a tomb.

I don't know where he's scrounged up the energy to do all that unpacking -- he looked ready to keel over when we got to the loft and he fell asleep on the couch while I was bringing all his stuff up from the basement. He's been at it for a couple of hours now, but he's starting to slow down. He's moving slower and his heartbeat's faster and he's started muttering to himself.

"Chief?" I say, loud enough that he can hear me downstairs.

He freezes, stops in mid-mutter. A beat later, there's a cautious, "Yeah?"

"Don't wear yourself out," I tell him, and wonder if I still have the right to give him advice.

There's silence for a minute, then he says, "I'm almost done."

I heave myself off the bed and do a few push-ups on the floor. Getting the blood flowing somewhere north of my navel seems like a good idea. Once I think I'm under control, I head downstairs and peek around the kitchen corner.

Blair's sitting on the floor, surrounded by empty boxes, looking at some papers in his hand. They're wrinkled, with a jagged tear on one corner, and dirt smudges on them. I know they're some of his research notes. I knew it when I put them on the bottom of the box and poured in other stuff on top of them. I'm not proud of that. His mouth looks pinched and he's got huge dark circles under his eyes. He's filthy, which makes him look young, and shaky, which makes him look old. Underneath the dirt, he's pale. Too pale. He's right on the edge.

"Want a sandwich?" I offer, and I make myself go to the fridge and open it so I won't go wrap him up and put him to bed myself.

"Sure," he says, and he puts the papers down on the floor. He stands up and sways, catching himself on the counter with one hand. He just stands there like he's not sure what to do next. He looks a little lost, but he's probably just really tired. I get that way sometimes, too. Poor kid's been through a lot in the last couple of weeks. Maybe we can call a time-out here for awhile.

"Why don't you go take a shower? You look like you've been rolling around in the garbage chute," I tell him, but I make sure he knows I'm just kidding around.

He takes that pretty well, lifting his arm and sticking his nose in his armpit with an appreciative sniff. "Yeah, smells like it, too," he says, waving his hand under his arm and grimacing. I appreciate the effort he's making.

"Go on. You've got fifteen minutes or the sandwiches'll get cold."

"Jim, they're already cold," he points out.

"Well, then they'll get warm. Go on. Git," I say, nudging him towards the bathroom.

As soon as the door closes, I peek in his room. Seeing everything back where it used to be loosens up that little knot that's been sitting under my ribs. His books are back on their shelves. He's already got a little pile of laundry going in one corner. 'Hamper?' he asked me once, when I offered him one. 'Why would I want a hamper?' A set of tan sheets is sitting in the middle of the bed, and I go put them on, lifting up the mattress and making sure there aren't any lumps in the covers. I restrain myself from making hospital corners and just tuck the edges under. Before I put the case on, I let myself smell the pillow. Shampoo, soap, some kind of incense and what's probably Blair drool sweep up in my nose and push their way into my brain.

I'd like to sleep on his pillow sometime.

I bet then I wouldn't have nightmares.


The last time I felt this awkward at a dinner table I was sitting across from Maya Carasco's father and I had a raging hard-on. So there I was, trying not to squirm, trying not to look at Maya, trying to pay attention to her dad because I just knew there was going to be a test later, and doing my level best not to use the wrong fork or spill anything.

I can't say I enjoyed the experience.

So to have that same feeling over a stupid turkey sandwich with my not-exactly-Miss-Manners roommate just sucks. I don't like feeling like a guest at my own table. Jim's treating me like one, which might be where I'm getting the feeling. He's being polite. He put the nachos in a bowl instead of tossing the bag on the table. He put out napkins instead of just folding up a paper towel. We're going through the motions of any another supper, but it feels all wrong. He's eating like he never saw food before. That's his third sandwich and he's got his nose up, like he's sniffing out more chips in the pantry. For me, eating's just another chore at this point. He put mustard on the top and bottom, just like I like, and I think it's cool that he remembered that. I just wish it tasted better to me.

He's looking at me, and he brings his thumb up to his mouth. Oh, I get it. I've got mustard somewhere. So I'm wiping my mouth with my thumb, and he goes really still all of a sudden and drops his sandwich like he forgot he was holding onto it. He's looking at the back of my hand. The one with the IV bruise on it. I go to stick it under the table, but he grabs it and lays it out flat, his fingers just brushing over the bruise. His whole attention's on me. He seems to be listening to something, and his fingers are still going back and forth across my hand. I guess maybe he's touched my hand before, but not like this. It's personal. Really personal. Like he's got a wire hooked up between his fingers on the back of my hand and my dick. He's giving me goosebumps. Deep breath time.

"I can feel it," he says.

"What, the bruise? Yeah, so can I," I tell him. He's not listening.

"I can feel it hurt," he says. He lifts his eyes up to mine and I can see that, yeah, he's got something weird going on. It's like he's looking inside himself, but still seeing me. Shit. It's like he's looking into me. All right, that's it. Let's take a twenty second time-out here. No need to go to commercial, just let me take a deep breath and start chalking out a new play.

I think we're headed into no man's land. Terra incognita. All new shit.

Couldn't he have waited until we'd slept for a day or two? No, I guess he couldn't. Jimboy's not been the most in-control person I ever met the last few weeks. I'm sure there are things he'd much rather be doing than feeling my bruise hurt. Maybe it's his way of starting a conversation. Or maybe he's just having to go with whatever this flow is. I guess I'm not the only one who's dealing with some serious shit.

"Yo, Jim, snap out of it," I say, snapping my fingers under his hand. The sound, or the feel, works because he shakes his head and his eyes clear a little bit.

"You want to tell me what's going on?" I ask, wondering if we'll set a new record here and he'll just cave and go, 'Sure, let's talk.'

"No."

Oh well, a man can dream.

"Of course you don't," I say, mostly to myself, and I push away from the table, picking up all the little pieces of sandwich I'd strewn around the plate to make it look like I ate more. "When have you ever?"

I'm expecting him to get up. I'm expecting him to leave, frankly, or at least put some space between us. But he doesn't. He just sits there, gripping the edges of the table now, like he wants to move, but can't. Or won't.

He reminds me of me at the Carascos, praying they wouldn't want to serve dessert in the living room because there was no way I could get out of the chair without Maya, her dad, the bodyguard, two serving girls, and their Chihuahua finding out just how much I liked the daughter of the household.

I drop the sandwich in the trash and put the plate in the sink. He's still just sitting there, watching me. Earth to Jim, Earth to Jim. All I want to do is go to bed. I don't want to start some big thing. I really, really don't. I go back to the table and lean on it a little.

"What are you doing?" I ask him, because the flesh may be weak, but the spirit's willing. His eyes are going over me like x-ray machines, not missing anything. I take a few more of those deep breaths because there's something damned erotic about having Jim Ellison's eyes on my thighs like that.

"You hurt anywhere else?" he asks, and his voice is deep and kind of gravelly, like he's talking through water.

I shake my head. Not hurt, not on the outside. Just tired. Just bone tired.

He nods and relaxes just a little. Deflates, actually, his shoulders drooping, his hands laying flat out on the table again. I sit back down, across from him, and prop my head in my hand. Have a Snickers; we're not going anywhere for awhile.

"Suddenly you can feel when I have a bruise?" I ask him. "I mean, I know you can't feel it without touching it, but when you touch it, you can tell how much it hurts? Because that's like a whole new thing."

If that doesn't make a whole lot of sense, please remember I've only been alive for about a week now, I just flew back from a South American country where I had to duck a tank, sleep on the ground and get tied up, and now I've unpacked a small army of boxes full of disorganized junk, so give me a break, all right?

He's looking down at the table, watching his fingers flex on the glass. "Everything's ... more."

Everything's more. Huh. Okay, okay, we can work with that. I can feel my tired brain starting to stir. Hang in there, body, you can do it. Come on, you're just the support staff for the organic CEO. Buck up.

"With your senses, you mean? Everything's amped?" I'm looking for clarification here. We left the trail I had a map for right about the time he started swapping spit with the woman who nailed my ass. So pardon me if I'm feeling my way a little.

He nods. "Food tastes better. I can hear things farther away. I feel ... " he stops, biting off whatever he was going to say. He feels ... more.

My face must give it away because he starts to turn pink, then red, then goes for brick. Not just embarrassment; no, he headed straight for mortification. I know. And he knows I know. He's not getting up for exactly the same reason I stayed at the Carasco's table for three hours.

Jim's sporting woodage.

And there's no jaguar mate in sight.

Just little old me. The wolf, if out-of-body experiences are to be believed, which I don't have any reason to doubt, not now. The idea that after all this time, he's maybe starting to have even a shadow of the same kind of feelings I've been studiously ignoring for years is downright gratifying.

Gratifying, and a little stupefying. He's had plenty of chances to go red zone on the body of Blair, so why now? Why right now?

"Any port in a storm, eh, Jim?" I ask, and if I'm a little horrified to hear that come out of my mouth, I'm still kind of proud I had the courage to say it.

He just blinks at me and shrugs. "I ... don't know," he finally answers, and I'll give him a bonus point for not shouting at me -- it was a pretty shitty thing to say. I give him extra bonus points for being honest in what's got to be a really uncomfortable situation for him.

It's not entirely comfortable on this side of the table, either, to tell you the truth.

"You think it's from that stuff she gave you? And from being in the grotto?" I ask, and he nods.

"Probably," he says, and he moves in his chair. I know that move. It means his dick's stuck on one side of his zipper and he'd really like to move it, but he doesn't want to draw attention to himself. Hey, man, I've been there.

The any-port-in-a-storm comment was uncalled for; I realize that. I'm sure he'd rather chew nails than admit his one-eyed jack's got a hankering for the XY chromosomal display sitting across from him. Was I tired? Because tired isn't the right word for how I feel right now. I'm tingling. All it took was a whiff of interest from his to get my own body to sit up and beg for attention.

Christ, I'm easy. Am I really going to be that easy?

So I give him a minute to himself (and it's a nice coincidence that I get a minute to myself, too) and I go wash the two plates and put them in the drying rack, put a chip clip on the nachos and put away all the sandwich stuff. By the time I'm done, he's faded to just this side of magenta and he's standing up, not hiding a thing from me.

He gets a bonus point for that, too.


I remember what it was like, that morning on the beach. The real thing, not my X-rated nighttime version. I remember walking with Sandburg while the sun came up, both of us trying to figure out what the hell was going on. He didn't have any answers. We'd moved beyond what he could quantify. That was a shock. Up until that moment, I firmly believed he knew it all. But that I could only take in so much at one time, and so he'd dole out the information in dribs and drabs, letting one piece soak in before he handed me another.

But he didn't know what to do about Alex. About Alex and me, and the fact that we seemed to have some subterranean pull on each other. It was just sex. It was all sex, and it was just sex.

It hadn't occurred to me that the shift might been more about things inside me than what was happening on the outside. That didn't occur to me until I started having those dreams, where Blair and Alex seemed almost interchangeable. Where I'd start with one and end up with other. Where the mouth of this one didn't taste any better, or worse, than the mouth of that one.

Alex. Or Blair. Those were always my choices.

I seem to have come to a decision. I'm standing straight up in front of him, letting him see how I feel. I know the timing stinks. We're hours off our regular clock and what we ought to do is put this, whatever it is, to bed, and put ourselves to bed while we're at it. Different beds. Him in his bed and me in mine.

But that's not going to happen. There's a change in the air, and it's him, catching up to me. He's got color in his cheeks and a light in his eyes. I can smell his energy level increasing. I don't know how far he can push it before he crashes, but I'm selfish enough to want to find out.

He walks toward me and puts his hands on his hips, stopping just out of reach. I hope to God he knows what to say, because I sure as hell don't.

"You want me?" he asks. Just like that, matter-of-fact, not a come on. Straightforward as can be. I close my eyes.

"Or do you want someone, and I'm here."

Ouch.

I open my eyes again. He looks calm. He's not calm, but he looks it and I can't imagine how hard that must be. How can I tell him it's just him? It's been him in my dreams. It was his pillow I zoned on a few minutes ago. I don't know what started this, but I know who has to end it.

"Wait, don't answer that," he says, holding one hand up, coming a little bit closer. Close enough that I can see his pulse in his neck. Close enough that I can smell him -- Ivory soap, deodorant, the laundry detergent on his t-shirt. "You know what? I don't care."

Oh God. Finally, he's here, sliding into my space, putting his feet outside mine and holding my arms for balance. In the space between us, our shirts just brush against each other, and I can nudge my erection into his stomach. I hold back as long as I can, then I lean into him.

He goes rigid. Absolutely rigid, then he leans back, nudging his hip into my thigh. Thank you, Lord. He's hard, too. I put my hands on his shoulders, which seem like a safe place, but even there I can feel how the balls of his shoulders fit perfectly in the palms of my hands, feel the muscles stretching between his shoulder and his neck. He rocks a little under my hands, in his own little rhythm, and I can feel the motion inside my fingers, beneath the skin. This close, I can't get away from the smell of him. I don't want to get away from it. I want to get closer. I want to get inside him. I want to be inside him.

I pull him closer and dig my face into his shoulder, turn into his neck. He's arching back, letting me in, letting me hold him up. I can almost smell the blood in the vein running down the side of his neck, and all those Anne Rice books suddenly make a lot more sense to me. I'd like to drink him, take him in, make him part of me. But I settle for licking, tasting from the outside, and I like feeling the groan he makes under my tongue. It vibrates right up into my mouth and slides around, and I lick a little harder so he'll do it again.

He's holding my arms so tight I'll be the one with bruises tomorrow. However awkward it felt getting here, now all I feel is relief, and I'm sorry it took such a long hard road to get us here. Because it feels like this is what I've been waiting for. This is what I've been coming in the middle of the night for.

Maybe Alex could have done this, too. Maybe if Blair hadn't come down to the beach, she could have made me feel like this, too. I don't care. He doesn't care, and I don't care. I've made my bed, and now I plan to lie in it.

"Bed," I say into his neck, and he nods, and I can feel his hair moving over my face. "Come on," I tell him, and I'm walking him backwards through the kitchen, steering him around the pile of boxes, into his little room.

"No sheets," he mutters under his breath, but then he sees the bed and his eyes open wide. "You dog," he says, but he's grinning, like he knows I didn't plan it this way. I didn't.

I don't want to let go long enough to get my shirt off, but I need my hands, so I put him away, holding onto him to make sure he doesn't fall right over. He just stands there, watching me, and I can feel my face heat up again. It's not like the movies, folks. No romantic music's going to come on, the lights aren't going to dim, and no one's in soft focus. It's almost eerily quiet. My new ears can hear the sounds the buttons make when they slide through the holes. I hear the smooth slide of his shirt against his skin as he pulls it over his head, hear the rustle of his hair as it goes through the neck of his shirt. I can even hear my own heart beating.

Blair's taking his jeans off now, pulling them off his feet, trying to be casual about it, but I'm plugged into his body now, and I can tell that he's nervous. And why wouldn't he be? I'm as surprised by it as he is. I like his gesture of faith, taking all his clothes off, so I do the same and now we're standing in front of each other, naked as babies. I'm looking him over, making sure he was telling the truth about his hand being the only place that hurt. I put a hand on his shoulder and turn him so I can see the back side. He gives me a look when I do that, but he doesn't give me a hard time about it.

He looks good. Shorter than me, hairier; his muscles more lean than mine. He's got an ass I'd like to bite chunks out of. We're different heights, but our dicks are about the same size. Different colors, but the same size. He's breathing fast and shallow, his mouth looks redder than it usually does, and from here his eyes look black because his pupils are so big. He's got all the classic signs of arousal. He's not here because he has to be. He's here because he wants to be.

Anything else, we can sort out later.

I take a deep breath and move to the bed and sit down on it, pulling him between my legs. He's surprised by that, and it takes him a second to move. Then his hands reach out and rest on my head, and his fingers are sifting through my hair, rubbing my scalp. I close my eyes and lean my head back, resting my chin on his stomach, letting him touch me however he wants. He spends minutes on end on just my head, tracing my ears with his fingers, stroking my cheeks, rubbing the tip of a finger across my eyelashes. I'm not zoning, but something close to it. I don't know why, but I didn't expect it to be tender. I didn't expect him to be tender. I'm starting to feel like the meat's coming off my bones.

Finally, I move my head, shake his hands loose, and they drop to my shoulders. It's my turn to try some of that tenderness. I lean forward and kiss his stomach, and it contracts under me, the muscles coiling under the skin, his lungs filling up with air. I reach around and pull him in closer, wrapping my arms around his hips and rubbing my face on his belly. I lick his belly button and his knees buckle for a minute. He leans on me hard, making these little catchy sounds in his breath. He's enjoying himself. I'm so glad.

I pull back a little bit, just enough so I can look at his dick, twitching up at me like it's got its own mind. His probably does. I stick my tongue out and taste him. It's better than burying my head in his pillow. It's better than licking his neck. This is all the Blair there is, right here. I put my mouth over the head of it, and slurp a little and he clenches his butt under my hands and pushes himself farther in my mouth.

"Oh my God, Jim, I don't believe this, I don't believe it," he says, and he's got his hands on my head again, holding me, guiding me, pushing and pulling where he wants me to go. You bet I'm going to follow his lead. I've been doing it for three years, about things that are nowhere near as important as this. I wrap my legs around him so I can feel the hair on his legs rub against my skin. He's covered in a really fine layer of sweat; the kind that makes it easier to slide my hands all over him. It's almost too much. I've got chills racing up my legs and down my back, centering between my legs and then starting all over again. It's like being shocked, but it feels good. I don't know which feels better, what I'm feeling or what I'm doing. It's all wrapped up together. When he groans, I feel it inside. When I drop a hand down and wrap it around my own dick and start pulling, he makes this incredible sound, like I'd touched him, too. I'm losing track of the rhythm he wants, and his hands are just holding my shoulders, his fingers holding, then releasing, then holding again, distracting me, keeping me from just coming blindly. I grab hold of my dick hard, trying to hold it in, trying, but not succeeding and I have to let go of him and just come, gushing like I do in my dreams, but it's better, because he's here.

"Better, it's better, it's better," I can hear my voice saying it over and over, and he's sliding a hand through the wet stuff on my stomach, rubbing it up on my nipples, making me spurt out even more. I can't believe I've left him hanging like this. He pushes me back on the bed and comes down on top of me, straddling my shoulders, and I grab him, bringing his dick down into my mouth again. We're at an awful angle, but I can feel him butting up against the roof of my mouth, and he leans over far enough that I can suck just below the head, and then he yells something and shoots, way back in my mouth, down my throat. I spit it right back out before I can stop myself and he's laughing at me, laughing while his dick is still jerking in my mouth.

"Oh fuck, Jim, sorry, man, didn't mean to choke you," he says, pulling out a little, but I grab his dick and bring it back in my mouth, sucking on it again, feeling the last little spasms, tasting the last little globs. He closes his eyes when I do that, and he's not laughing anymore. He's got his lip between his teeth and he's moving his hips again, real slow, real easy, staying in my mouth, letting me suck him.

Eventually, he pulls out and flops down on me, getting the stuff on my chest all over him, too. He wriggles around a little, then drops his head on my shoulder like it weighs a ton and he can't hold it up anymore.

I'm still getting some aftershocks. My fingers and toes still twitch from time to time, and I can count my pulse in my ears. 'Amped' is the word he used, and he's right, on all counts, in all ways. I can't decide which felt better, coming myself, or feeling him come. It's a draw.

"You okay?" I whisper to him and I feel his heavy head move up and down.

"I'm good," he whispers back. "We're good."

We're good.

He's nodding off already, his breath slowing, his muscles all slack and heavy against me. We're going to sleep right here, in his too-small bed in this too-small room. Maybe I won't dream. Maybe if I do dream, it won't be so bad. I'm staying right here. It doesn't even matter that we're stuck together and stinky. We'll wash. And we'll do these sheets while we're at it.

We're good.

There's still an awful lot left to say. You know that's not my favorite part of any day. But maybe it'll be easier now. Maybe I can touch him while we're talking, show him what I have a hard time telling him. I've turned into someone I don't understand; had things happen that I can't explain. And he's suffered for it. We'll have to talk about that.

But for now, we're good.

It didn't happen the way I expected, but somehow we've managed to get back to good.


Waking up in the middle of night to find someone in the bed with me is weird enough. Waking up being the wrapee instead of the wrapper is even weirder. See, I don't sleep much with people, and I don't sleep with men at all, and I sure never expected to be fighting for mattress space and blankets with Jim. He takes up way too much room, for one thing. And he's hot for another. And he's a guy, in case you forgot.

Guess that 'no sex in the loft' rule just ran screaming from the building, huh. He pitched such a fit that one time, that time my seduction of Christine ended in premature ejection, I never tried it again. Jim Ellison -- the world's biggest prophylactic.

I made do. Made it in my office, my car, the Motel 6 out on the I-5, Sam's apartment, wherever. Just not in my own bed. So this is a truly bizarre experience; unknown in the post-Jim world. Phew. I stink. I really stink. Sweat and come and unbrushed teeth breath. Gross. I suppose I ought to get up, scrub down a little, use my toothbrush. I'm running my fingers over my chest and I can feel little dried rivers of semen matting down the hair there. Jim's semen. Jesus, how strange is that?

I take a peek over my shoulder. Jim's got his head tucked between my shoulderblades and his knees are crooked up behind mine. His hand's heavy on my hip and he's sleeping the sleep of the dead, but I can feel his dick riding up hard on the back of my leg. He's in his own little dream world somewhere. Probably boffing Alex -- that's what the last dream was he told me about.

So I'm awake again. All by myself in a bed full of Jim.

I get this way sometimes. The post-coital blahs. It's a little bit like taking a test -- there's all that build-up, all that anticipation, and some anxiety thrown in to keep things interesting, and then suddenly, you're there, doing it, everything's engaged, and just as fast, it's over, done, pffffffft. Okay, maybe I've been in school too long, but that's the analogy that comes to mind. One more thing: even though you're there doing it with somebody else, when you get right down to it, everybody's on their own.

It's 3 A.M. I must be lonely.

I'm not really sure how we got from where we were to where we are. That trip went by in a blur. I'm not complaining exactly; I'm just a little confused. I thought I was the Guide. So how come I end up following Jim all the time? We probably should have talked about this more. That's what they'll put on our tombstone. They'll bury us side by side and they'll carve that on the headstone: "We probably should have talked about this more." I know, that's a pretty macabre joke for a guy who flatlined. But I'd rather laugh about it than cry, and those are pretty much the options.

So we should have talked about this before moving right into the nipple fondling and dick licking. But if the kind of magnetic pull he was exerting on me is anything like what he was feeling from Alex, the spit-swapping is a whole lot easier to understand. When Jim wants something, that's all he is; he's just a big protoplasmic pile of want. I can't resist it. Alex couldn't resist it. I'm not even sure Simon's ex-mother-in-law wouldn't drop her support hose if Jim sent those baby blues in her direction. I don't recall ever seeing that kind of intensity. Not aggression, not scary, just intense. I'm not immune to that. Hell, what we did earlier tonight is the fulfillment of some way down deep REM-time fantasies. Looking down on him, on his back underneath me, my dick going soft in his mouth. Wow. Un-fucking-believable. Cosmic in its total unbelievability.

We'll see what he has to say when we're not punch-drunk tired. When he's not randomly horny. When I make him sit down and try to describe for me what's going on in that hard head of his. I think I deserve an explanation. I think I deserve that much. And if he can't explain it, or won't, or doesn't know how, then I'm not sure what we'll do next.

I've followed Jim a lot of places. Places that I'm sure you'd say are riskier than just being naked in my own bed. I don't mind risking the corporeal; I already know the worse that can happen, and it wasn't that bad. But this time it's not my death we're fucking around with -- it's my life.

I reach down and set his hand off my hip and maneuver away from him. He must have been leaning on me, because when I move away, he just falls onto his belly, with his arm stretched out at the side. Now he's taking up the whole bed. Oh, well. Tired as my body still is, now my brain's firing on all cylinders. He can have the bed.

The mirror in the bathroom isn't kind. In fact, it's the fucker you knew in high school who was only too happy to point out when you had a booger hanging half out of your nose. I look like shit warmed over. Pale, frazzled, eyes pink, with a wrinkled pillow print on one cheek. And my mouth tastes like the back end of a bus. I hate to even think how he's going to feel when he wakes up -- his mouth was in worse places than mine.

Okay, first things first.

I brush my teeth. Twice. And rinse with Scope just for good measure. I don't feel like going through the whole shower routine, so I fill up the sink with warm water and give myself a sponge bath. The nurses did it better.

I'm feeling halfway human again. Which half, I'm not sure. I'm exhausted and wide-awake. Content and antsy. I'm a walking contradiction. Shit, I don't know how I can expect him to come up with some cogent points on our dynamic if I can't even decide whether I'm over the moon or a new ad for Prozac. You're a piece of work, Blair Sandburg. I'm ready to grill the student on material I haven't even covered. Some teacher I'll make.

Hell. I guess we're just going to have to make it up as we go.

Now if I can just manage to get him to play, we'll be in business.


Waking up in a strange bed isn't that strange for me. Spend enough time in the Army and you learn to sleep when they tell you, wherever you happen to be at the moment. It's not a gift; it's a survival tool. So I'm not too surprised to roll over and find myself staring up in the dark at another unfamiliar ceiling. But underneath the strangeness, there's a steady, warm familiar feeling. It's probably a smell, or my skin recognizing something in Blair's things, but it comes across as a feeling. It's a strange bed, but it doesn't feel strange to be in it, I guess that's what I'm saying. It feels right.

Except he's not in it with me. Of course, where would we put him? I've got feet sprawled off both sides and my back pretty much takes up the whole width of the bed. I roll and look under the bed, making sure I didn't accidentally send him into a nosedive. He's not there either. All right, Ellison, you've got five senses -- use them. So I dial up hearing first, and there he is, in the bathroom, splashing in the sink. Sighing from time to time, it sounds like, smacking his forehead. Washing me off him.

I have to say, that sounds pretty appealing. I can't remember the last time I crashed without cleaning up some. In fact, I can't ever remember doing that. Blair will tell you I'm anal-retentive, but if your nose worked like mine, you'd be anal-retentive, too. And if I don't piss soon, we are definitely going to have to wash the sheets. I fumble around on the floor for my watch and strap it on. 3:15 A.M. We've been asleep for about four hours. Not enough to make me feel rested, but enough to take the edge off. It's just a drop in the bucket for Blair, I'll bet. He looked like he could have slept for a week.

I wonder what woke him up? Besides me hogging the bed, that is.

Guess I'll go find out. Outside the bathroom door, I knock and say, "Sandburg? Want to let me in?"

"In a minute," he calls out through the door.

"Now, Chief, or I'm whizzing off the balcony."

The door opens immediately, the doorway filled with sleepy, restless, naked Blair. Clean, sleepy, restless, naked Blair. My dick, which couldn't think of anything but relief two seconds ago, starts to lunge to life and I grab it, like a kid dancing around holding the front of his pants.

"Move it, Blair," and he's gone, and the door's shut and I think I pee about a gallon before I'm done. I take the fastest shower ever, brush my teeth, towel dry the hair I've got left and I'm back in the living area by 3:22. Not bad for an old man.

There's a light on under the kitchen cabinets, but it's pretty dark over by the windows, where Blair's stationed himself. He's standing in front of a window, bare butt naked, but it's pretty dark in here and I can't imagine who'd be looking up at our place this late. So I go join him, standing vigil with him. I don't want to crowd him, but I don't feel like being too far away from him, either, so I settle for close enough to touch, but not actually doing it.

He looks over at me and an eyebrow goes up. Yes, we are standing here naked in the middle of the night. He looks down at himself, then back to me and says, "Pretty wild, huh."

I nod. He goes back to looking out the window. After a minute or two, he clears his throat and says out to the dark, "You think maybe it's out of your system now?"

That takes a minute to sink in. Out of my system? Is that what he thinks is going on? Yeah, obviously, he does. He wouldn't be asking otherwise. I'm used to questions from Blair where he's pretty sure he already knows the answer, so this genuine puzzlement throws me. I put my hand out, lay it heavy on his head, and turn him towards me. I let that hand run over the top of his head and down to the back of his neck, and I take hold there, not hard, but hard enough that he's paying attention.

"Do you mean the stuff she gave me? Is that out of my system?" I ask him, and I look straight at him, hoping he can see me in the dark. He shrugs. "I'm not under the influence or anything, if that's what you mean. I'm not drugged or drunk. I know what I'm doing."

He pushes his neck back into my hand, forcing a stronger connection. "Yeah, but do you know why?"

That's the big question, isn't it?

"I have a theory," I say, and I watch the smile light his face. It sounds so much like something he would say that I've tickled him. He nods and I feel the movement of the tendons in his neck under my fingers. I like holding his neck like this. I'll have to do it more often.

"Lay it on me, man," he says, and he pops me in the chest with the back of his hand.

I'm not sure why it's suddenly easy, why I've gone from not wanting to even think about it, let alone talk about it, to being able to use his words and start spouting it all out. Maybe this is what needs to get out of my system. Not the native gunk, not the driving sexual urge -- maybe it's the confusion that needs to be purged.

"Sit," I tell him, and I push him towards the couch. He's shivering a little, but I don't want to cover him up, so I pull the little blanket off the back of the couch and just lay it on his shoulders. He doesn't wrap it around him, doesn't hide himself, and maybe that's part of it. We're literally bare here, no walls to hide behind. Maybe it's just easier like this, sitting together in the dark, in the quiet, when we're bleary-eyed tired. Or maybe it's because he really doesn't know the answer, and it feels like it's my turn to flip the light on.

It doesn't really matter. We're here, and I'm tired of saying, 'No.'

"Remember what I told you about the visions I had in the grotto?" I ask him.

He nods. "Incacha told you to look within for the light, and asked what you feared."

"And I told you all I could see was death and destruction. The tribe being destroyed." That much I'd told him. I saw all that, and more. Chaos everywhere, pain and anger and hurt. It scared me to death.

He nods again. He's patient, waiting, not jumping in with a million questions, letting me tell it in my own way. I appreciate that.

"I did see those things; all of them," I tell him. "But when he asked what I feared, it wasn't responsibility for the tribe, like the last time. All I saw was you. You, getting beat up. Scared. Hurt. Dead. I'm supposed to protect the tribe as a whole, but it looks like my big fear is not being able to protect you."

He leans over and rests his cheek on the back of the couch, keeping his eyes on mine. I think I've said all I can. Even that much felt like pulling off a hangnail. Spitting up that much emotion isn't something I generally choose to do, but he deserves it, if I can make myself do it.

"That makes total sense to me," he finally says.

You know, just once, I'd like him to be surprised by something I tell him.

"Okay, Darwin, then explain it to me." I put my hand on his forearm under the blanket. He's warm and smooth and I can feel the play of muscle under the skin. He nudges his arm up under my hand and I wrap my hand around it, not even caring if he knows I seem to need to touch him.

"When you don't get something, I mean, something to do with your senses, you ask me. Or I notice something weird and ask you. You rely on me for that, so it makes sense that you'd worry if I weren't around," he says, as if we hadn't just gone through an awful time when I did no such thing, and when I blew him off when he tried to help.

"Worry's not the word, Chief," I tell him, thinking back to those awful minutes on my knees on the grass, willing him to come back. That earns me a little half smile and he leans closer to me, making my hand slide up his arm.

"Good to know I'm good for something," he says, and it hits me how wrong this conversation is. I don't know how it got to be about me, when I'm trying to talk about him. I start to try to turn things around, but he stops me.

"That still doesn't really explain this," he says, and he puts his hand on my arm, so we're a matched set sitting there on the couch, touching. I can feel it start, the need, burning low in my gut. Out of my system? Not by a long shot. If anything, it takes less this time to stoke the fire. I didn't hide it from him before, and I sure can't now. He can see for himself that it only took one touch from him to get me hard.

So I tell him about the dreams. The way he and Alex changed places, and how I seemed to be as content with him as I was with her. He asks a question here and there, but mostly he wants confirmation that it's not a vision, that it's just a dream. I'm not quite sure the distinction he wants to make, but maybe he'll explain it eventually. And the whole while, we're getting closer. Stroking, not just touching, moving so I can reach his chin and throat with my mouth, so his hands can slide down my back. I get to the part where I'm kissing him, and then I am. Kissing him. Taking his mouth harder than I mean to, but he lets me in and kisses me back, harder. It's a fight in our mouths, a duel with two winners.

I'm out of words. If he needs more, he's just going to have to wait.

What I can't tell him, I'll show him.


Damn it. The first time I really feel like Jim's starting to open up a little, I can't keep my hands to myself. This isn't really a complaint, you understand. More like an observation, from the miniscule part of my brain that hasn't gone south to help with the erection-erecting process. It's just that it was cool, sitting there on the couch in the dark, hearing him talk about his dreams and his worries. A splendid chance, lost forever to the stronger urges of the physical. But that's okay. Jim's always been more a man of action than words, and his actions are talking a mile a minute right now.

Sitting with him was nice. Lying down underneath him on the couch is much, much better. I'm gratified that he had the cojones to tell me about the vision, and how big a part I played in it. That salves a lot of wounds, just knowing that much. We lost each other for awhile there, but it looks like we're going to end up in a stronger place. Maybe it needed to happen so we'd appreciate each other, I don't know. So he'd recognize how much he relies on me. So I'd recognize I'm really doing something useful. It's a little hard to swallow that I had to die to get that message across, but we're two stubborn people and sometimes it takes fireworks to shed light a birthday candle could probably have provided.

I'd like to think about that a little more, but I have no brain left. I'm just a pulsing thing, melting under his hands. I can barely remember to breathe, let alone think cognitively. To hell with it. I may be going down for the third time, but this time I'm taking him with me.

He's got his nose buried in my hair, and he's licking the hairline and mumbling under his breath, "God, you smell good." Glad I took that sponge bath -- I'd hate to gross him out just when things are getting interesting. He's heavy on me, even though he's got his elbows outside my ribs and he's holding himself off me some. I twine my legs around his and bring his hips down on mine, setting off little explosions up my back when I feel his dick on me, sliding down on mine. Jesus, he feels good. Hot and hard, and smooth, not disrupted by hair, like I am. No, I could go from fingertip to hipbone without hitting a strand of hair, as long as I detour around the pubes.

But I don't feel like detouring. I feel like exploring. So I slide one hand down our middles, slip my fingers around his dick and pump him twice, tight and fast. He bucks into me then, which I like a lot, so I let him have one more pump before moving on. He slides his hands under my arms and around my shoulders and he's using my body as an anchor, rubbing up and down on me, letting me feel his chest, and his ab muscles, and his groin, all rubbing against me. I get one hand down between his legs, and I'm rolling his balls in the palm of my hand, lightly, really really lightly. Don't want to hurt him, and I don't know how sensitive he is. Pretty sensitive, if the sounds he's making are anything to go by. Oh yeah, this is good. This is very, very good.

"Jim, Jim, come here, kiss me," I whisper into his shoulder and he follows my voice and puts his mouth back on mine, sliding his tongue along the inside of my lip and then settling in, thrusting in the same tempo as the rest of him. What a charge. We're way into it now, slicked up and slobbery, licking and biting, then sealing together until we have to breathe again. When I think he's ready for something new, I let his balls go and press behind them, getting closer and closer to his backside. No, I've never done this before, but there are only so many holes in the human body, and I read. I haven't been to Spain, but I can still speak Spanish, right? Nothing heavy, we're not going anywhere we can't get back from. I just rub my hand on his ass, right there where his thigh becomes his butt, in that crease there. He likes that and he lifts himself off me a little to push back against my hand.

That's what I've been waiting for. I let my fingers trail down in the cleft between his cheeks and he shudders a little, but nothing he's doing makes me think he wants me to back off. So I go a little further and circle one finger around the outside of his hole. He lets go of my mouth abruptly, staring down at me, breathing through his mouth. Then he licks his lips, drops his forehead down on mine, and says, "Yeah, do it."

Okay, man, I'm doing it. Don't have to ask me twice, no sirree. I bring my finger up for him to suck on, and stick two in his mouth as long as I'm there, then I'm back, wet fingers searching, one fingertip stretching, nudging inside. His dick twitches hard and a string of stuff leaks out, dripping on my stomach. I wonder what it's like to be so far gone, to feel things so intensely that you can just let everything go, like he's doing. He's letting it all go, his arms shaking, his chest heaving, his eyes shut so tight he must see stars. I've got a whole finger in now, and I put my other hand on the head of his dick, rubbing it with my palm. Every muscle in him seizes up when I do that. His head goes flying back, his hips come flying forward and he's squeezing my finger inside him and pushing himself into my hand and my stomach. He's everywhere all at once, coming apart at the seams, it seems. He doesn't even wait to get his breath back, doesn't even wait for his dick to stop spitting. He just puts his hands under me and flips us over, yanking my finger out of him in the process, but he doesn't seem to mind. He spreads me out on top of him and grunts, "Move."

So I do. I brace myself on my hands, lift up so he can get to my nipples and my neck, and I start pushing. What I want to do is slide right inside him. What I'm going to do is tuck myself in the crease of his hip, drop my weight down for some friction and rub myself off on our skin and bone until my dick falls off or I come, whichever happens first. I don't know how long it takes. I'm doing my damndest not to come because I don't remember sex being this good before. I don't remember feeling attached to the other person like this, with words and hot touches and feelings. I'm not saying it's been rote or anything. I like sex. But I love sex with Jim. He's cradling me, holding my hip in one hand and my head in the other, watching me hold myself back. "I dare you," he whispers. Dare what? Jesus Christ. So much for holding back. Just the image of doing what he dared did it, and I'm breaking up, losing his face, losing his voice, a total slave to the incredible hot wet rush coming out of me. My hair's wet, I'm sweating again, my heart's trying to escape this mortal flesh and jump right into his body and I feel like crying on his shoulder and laughing in his face, all at once.

We're idiots. We should have done this years ago. Why didn't we do this years ago?

"Because we're idiots," he says, and I guess those things weren't just in my head. Please, brain, get back where you belong before I do something really stupid. Jim's taking this all pretty well, I think. Of course, he has the advantage of a few wet dreams pointing him in my direction. My wet dreams always seemed like a good way of keeping us apart.

It's good to be wrong now and then.

He pushes my hair out of my eyes and wraps his arms around me, bringing me in. I duck my head into his shoulder and let my hand fall over his heart. Thump. Thump. Thump. This is what he can hear in me day and night if he wants. It's comforting, no question about it.

"Hey Jim?" I say, real quiet in case he's gone to sleep. I can feel his answer rumble up under my fingers.

"Yeah?"

"I can't be a hundred percent sure about this, because they're in your head, but I wonder if your dreams aren't about showing you your choices."

His hand's in my hair, finger-combing it, and he stops for a minute, then keeps going. "Yeah, maybe."

"I mean, it puts everything on a more personal level, you know? Maybe that's easier to deal with," I tell him. I'm still recovering from reading between his lines when he was talking about dark and light, and who was which. Blair Sandburg, Beacon. It has a nice ring to it.

"But why use sex?" he asks. "Why not have a game of dodge ball or something, where I have to choose teams?"

"Why use sex? Come on, Jim, you're an animal. Want to get your attention? Make it about sex. Besides, the subconscious is all about primal impulses. It doesn't know any different."

He growls under my head, "An animal? I'm an animal? You are in big trouble, Sandburg."

That makes me laugh, which he knew it would. "I'm one too, don't get huffy. We respond to sex."

"Well, you certainly do," he says under his breath, and it's such a relief to be here, joshing around with him, that I lean over and kiss his cheek. Affection, not sex, but he accepts it. He even squeezes tighter for a minute. It's not like last time, when I fell asleep and drooled on him right away. I'm still awake now, enjoying the little pleasure ripples I'm still getting from time to time, enjoying not being at odds.

"Thanks for coming down there," he says after a couple of minutes. "To Sierra Verde, I mean."

"Well, I didn't think you were talking about this," I say, rubbing my hand in the collected stuff puddling on his stomach, and I get smacked on the head for my effort. I put my fingers up to his mouth and he licks them clean. I close my eyes and concentrate on what that feels like, his tongue warm and wet, the inside of his mouth hot, the ridges of his teeth sharp. I wonder what we taste like to him. When he's done, I tell him, "You know me, I pretty much follow wherever you go."

He snorts at that, and I raise up so I can see his face. "You follow me? In what world? I follow you," he says, pointing first to his chest, then to mine.

"Get out of here. You looked over your shoulder recently, Jim? Hello? Guess who's there. That's right, me."

He's shaking his head. "That's just geography, Chief. Where it counts, I follow you."

I'm starting to understand why we have difficulty communicating. This is pretty basic and we're seeing it from complete opposite ends of the spectrum. Is that how it's been all along? Each seeing the other as the leader? No wonder we fuck up from time to time. Or maybe we're getting it right. They say a well-written newspaper column is one that irritates both the liberals and the conservatives. Maybe Jim and I are balancing leadership like that -- getting it right down the middle. It'd be nice to think things work out that way.

"Maybe we're both leading and following, in different ways." That doesn't come out quite right, but it seems near enough to suit him, and he nods.

"Maybe."

"You think this'll still work in the morning?" I ask him, sliding a hand over his chest so he knows what I'm talking about. "We're pretty out of it."

"It'll work," he says. "Sometimes the only thing that seems to work at all is you."

He's drowsing already, his words muffled, and I can feel myself headed over the edge myself. Man, I'm tired. Completely, achingly, satisfyingly tired. His face is starting to blur, and I can feel sleep starting to climb up my back. Then he shakes me. Leave me alone, man, I'm drooping. But no, he's lifting up, taking me with him, pulling me along behind him, saying, "Come on, soldier, let's hose you down."

So he holds me up in the shower and washes me off. Doesn't get my head wet, which helps, then he's drying me off, and himself, too, and nudging me up the stairs.

"Up you go, Chief," he says. I guess we're bailing on my little bed. Suits me. I'd have ended up on the floor anyway. Now if I can just keep myself from sliding through the rails and taking a header from the loft, I'll be doing just fine.

"Hang onto me, okay?" I mumble, pointing to the rail above the bed.

"I will," he says, and I get the feeling he's not just talking about tonight.

I plop onto what I guess is going to be my side of the bed. I have to tell you, I like this hair-of-the-dog recipe for the post-coital blahs. So what if it's a cocktail of exhaustion and orgasm-induced endorphin rush. All I know is it's 4 A.M. and I'm not even lonely. Who'd have thought first things first would mean this? Still, I'd rather be confused about how good things are going than how bad, and the pissed-off pieces of me have mellowed dramatically since the unpacking stage of the evening.

I'm not saying he waved his magic wand -- so to speak -- and everything's fine. I'm just saying we're better than we've been. And if I'm grasping at straws -- God, I've got to stop with these phallic references -- do you blame me? Rationalization is at the heart of any good relationship. Putting it out in front of us is better than my trying to put it behind me. Hearing what he has to say about it is better than extrapolating based on just my side of the story. I'd been trying to do it all by myself, when I should know by now that anything worth doing takes two.

Jim's still standing there looking at me, and I know he can see me better than I can see him. The man has some killer night vision. He looks in the dark and picks out light.

I think maybe I'll try doing some of that myself.


I don't know why Blair's not already conked out. After the day we had, the evening he had, and the night we seem to be continuing to have, he should have passed out long ago. But he's still with me, sitting up in my bed, looking up, checking out the new point of view.

"This is beautiful," he says, pointing up to the skylight. Yes, it's beautiful. Right up until the sun comes in at 6:30 a.m. and blinds me. When I tell him that he just nods, but he's still staring up at the sky. After his claustrophobic space downstairs, the loft definitely has its good points. For one thing, the bed's twice the size. He keeps looking at the railing at the head of the bed like he's sure he's going to slide right through in his sleep. Like I would let that happen.

He almost slipped through my fingers once; I'm certainly not going to let it happen again.

So I get in beside him and turn him on his side and spoon up behind him. It's very strange not to feel a handful of breast. It's even stranger to feel a hairy chest under my palm. But however strange it is, it still feels like the right thing to do. Maybe if we keep touching, we can keep talking. Maybe the farther apart we get, the farther apart we'd be, and we've seen how bad that can turn out.

Maybe he's right; sex is just one more way to keep us together. Our own skewed mating ritual, or something. I don't know. What I do know is that I hadn't known what to say to him until after we got ... close. And then, while it wasn't exactly easy, it was easier than I expected. I don't do very well talking about personal stuff, and this is as personal as it gets. But I did it, and he took me seriously, and maybe when we're both awake and can think more clearly, he'll have some ideas about why it's working out this way.

I'm starting to think it's just how we're supposed to be. If I can accept visions from a man I know is dead, and accept that Blair and I both have animal spirits and that they've merged because we both saw it happen, and accept that just because a person has the genetic disposition to be a Sentinel, it doesn't automatically make her capable of being one -- if I can accept all of those things, loving Blair like this doesn't seem like such a big leap.

He's snuffling into the pillow and his leg twitches against mine once, then again. He's starting to let go and I lean over and whisper into his shoulder, "Sleep well, Chief."

He doesn't answer, but he leans back, letting me take some of his weight, and I can feel the instant he drops off. His breath evens out and I can feel his heartbeat, slow and steady, through his back, beating against my chest. We came so close to losing this, and we didn't even know it was here waiting for us.

What a frightening thought.

God, it's been a long day. We've come a long way, and I think the trip from South America was the least of it. We've arrived in the mysterious, together, even though I wasn't really ready to go.

We're not what I expected.

But we're better than I dreamed.

The end