Disclaimers: The Sentinel characters belong to Pet Fly and Paramount. Written for pleasure, not profit. For adult readers only, please. Contains male/male sex and some rather extreme language.

Thanks go to Kady Mae, Kat and Killa for beta-reading, and to JaC, for patiently reeling me in.

Comments are welcomed (and almost always responded to) at JBonetoo@yahoo.com

Note: This story picks up a couple of months after TI2 left off.

Territorial Imperative, Part Three (NC-17)

by Bone

Jim is wound up. I don't mean a little Blairflare, three shouts, some abusive hand gestures and it's over, I mean wound up tight. So tight that if you weren't watching closely (the way I do), and you didn't know him really well (the way I do), you might not even notice he's mad. Mad. That's putting it really mildly. I half expect steam to start coming out his ears. He's quit making eye contact with Simon. Always a bad sign. Whatever this closed-door thing is, it's not good. Simon came in this morning, just like always, puffing and strutting, barely even paused by Jim's desk, just popped him on the shoulder and said, "My office." Just like that. No "Good morning," no "Want a donut?" Just "My office." Geez. I started after him, good lap dog that I am, but Simon just pointed to my chair. Heel.

Simon's been giving us strange looks recently. Stranger than usual. I hope that discussion's not taking place. If it is, Jim's just going to have to suck it up and make up something to get him off our back. This is something on which we agree wholeheartedly, without any fuss whatsoever. We can barely believe it ourselves. Even after a couple of months getting used to it, this thing we have going on still has us both scratching our heads a little. One thing we do know, though, is that it's not ready for public consumption.

Yeah, I know. It's not like I think it would come as a big shock to Simon. Or Joel, or any of the other guys. I think what surprised them when they first met me is that I was into girls. Plural. Simultaneously. I think they suffered from a pre-conceived notion or two, based on some external factors. They got over it.

Maybe that's not it. Maybe it's something completely different. Maybe every conversation doesn't have to include a Sandburg element and they're really talking about the stock market crashing, or some felon escaping or something. I get these feelings, though, and yeah, sometimes they're off base, but more often they're on, and this one's sitting like a big fat lump of day-old tofu right under my breastbone.

It's hard to watch him and not be in there with him. I'm not sure what I think I could do to help, except maybe deflect some of Simon's anger on me. I do that really well. Duh. Take one anti-establishment mystigeek, mix in a smoking, gambling, fishing uptight bureaucrat and what do you get? All right, all right, that's not really fair. I'm having some sympathy pains, and Simon's an easy target. I understand where he's coming from, most of the time.

Simon's a general in a fraying-at-the-edges army. He's got troops that run on minimum discipline and maximum testosterone. And he's a middleman, caught between the feds on top and the less-than-law-abiding on bottom. A Simon sandwich. He's amazingly tolerant, given the social structure he's in. He gets by with a one-two combo of shoulder pats and gut punches. Simon's a man's man. A cop's cop. Jim's boss. And the only thing that stands between me being here and me being somewhere else. So staying on Simon's good side has always been sort of a personal quest.

Except now, when it's so damn obvious that whatever's going on, Simon's on one side of the river and Jim's on the other. You've got to understand, these two men usually speak in shorthand. They back each other up, usually, but now they're facing each other down, and that makes me really nervous. It's like watching your parents fight. Well, I guess it's like that. I wouldn't know. I mean, Naomi's idea of a fight is to pout and wait for the other person to say they're sorry. We're not much for conflict, we Sandburgs. I've learned, though. Had to. I learned the only way to get Jim to listen to me sometimes is to yell as loud as he does. I learned the road to Simon's respect is just around the corner from my ability to stand up to him. So I practice the old diplomacy skills, brush up on conflict resolution exercises and plow ahead with vocabulary if I'm a little short on logic or cold hard evidence. Half the time, they end up laughing. The other half I get my hair pulled or my jaw popped. Whatever, man, the fight's over and isn't that the whole point?

So I wish I were in there now, doing the talking. Jim's stopped. He's just sitting in a chair, his head down. Simon's still talking, leaning on the desk behind him, leaning in. Wait. He's looking out, looking at me. Now I get the wave, the "Come on in, Sandburg." I'm coming, I'm coming.

This is just great. Just what I needed. Like I don't have enough on my mind with work, five barely in control senses and a sudden apparent slide into homosexuality to deal with, now he wants to separate us. Not for good, not even for long. But long enough. A week. Seven whole days. Simon's sending me to Advanced Anti-Terrorism Training, which makes boot camp look like a week at a spa. Hell, I know Sandburg's not close to physically capable of taking on AATT, let alone mentally prepared, not to mention emotionally interested, but a whole week away from him? I'm lucky to make it through the work day without chewing on him in the men's room.

But this is one of those times when the word comes down from on high, the brass rewarding the officer of the year. That would be me, the sons of bitches. I didn't want the award in the first place, I didn't appreciate getting hit with it out of the blue while my so-called friends snickered in the background, and now the fucking thing's taking me away from someone I'm starting to think is sort of ... necessary ... to my sanity.

I guess I didn't handle the news very well. Simon's bringing in reinforcements.

He comes in the door so fast he probably left skidmarks. His pulse is fast, he's breathing heavy. He's worried. It shows all over his face. I try to smile at him, but judging by the look he gives me, it wasn't exactly reassuring.

"What's up, man?" he asks Simon. I guess he knows better than to ask me.

"It's a good thing. Maybe you can help Detective Ellison see that. It's an honor, not a punishment," Simon's saying.

Yeah, right. Whatever.

"Okay, okay, that's good," Blair says, his hands palms up in front of his chest, his beta-dog pose. And a pose it is. Do not underestimate Blair Sandburg just because he's a little on the short side. Have you ever seen a Jack Russell terrier defend his territory? Just look for the bloody ankles. This time he's making nice, which is smart. Wish I could be that smart. I just get pissed and my brain shorts out.

"You want to tell me what's going on?" Blair asks, hitching himself up on the desk like nothing's wrong, like it's a normal morning chat. I'm starting to be able to breathe a little better. Just having him in the room helps. It's all better when he's here. Like it's not going to be better when he's not.

Oh shit, I'm starting to sound like Sandburg.

Maybe I do need a week away.

This is the big problem? This is what's causing clenched jaws and high blood pressure? Oh, man. The relief is like, staggering. I try to keep my brain from crossing all those bridges, but our life isn't exactly stable, you know? I mean, our secrets have secrets. So when Simon gets serious, and doors get closed and James Ellison sits with his head down, I start wondering whether I should make airline reservations or pick out funeral clothes.

You know you're at a strange place in your life when anything short of death or forcible removal from the premises seems completely manageable. We can handle this. Jim'll get a merit badge, I'll catch up on some reading and we'll jack-off until our hands cramp and our dicks are raw.

It'll be just like old times.

He's really not happy about this. I think it does sound like an honor and I tell him so. Whoa, buddy, I can't say I appreciate that look. We all agree this isn't something I'm qualified for, and it's not for partners anyway. It's for solo guerrilla types. No, not gorilla, then I might qualify. Ha ha. Sorry, just trying to lighten the load here, guys. Simon makes an effort to smile at that, but Jim is in la-la land. I ask him if he's worried about zoning, but he just shakes his head, and there's not much more I can ask him while Simon's hanging over me like this. I just pat him on the shoulder and tell him it'll be all right. The Sandburg Cure-All. Better than a band-aid.

I'm not sure we've ever been apart for a whole week since we met. It was weird, how all that happened. It's like I just left my life where it was and joined his instead. I'd managed to fill my days (and nights) just fine before he came. I had more pots on the stove than the Cracker Barrel, but then he came along and I ditched it all.

You know the term "squeaking by"? That's me these days at Rainier University. Me, the kid who froshed at sixteen and never left. Ten years I spent there, lived, breathed, loved there, and all it took was one guy, five senses, and a poorly timed zoneout to change my life for good. By the time I crawled back in my skin after almost being turned into tread-filler, we were already, I don't know, connected.

I don't think about life Before Jim much anymore. Being with him makes it feel like everything else was just napping and I'm finally waking up. I'm sure this isn't going to be a big deal. It'll be over before we know it. We're grown men, we can take it.

I'll just fuck him catatonic before he goes.

Give him a little something to remember me by.

He's going to walk funny for a week.

Funnier.

I should know better than to let him talk me into trying something new when I'm this wired. I still have these weird zaps of adrenaline zinging through me and one of them led us here. Of course, it's mostly Sandburg's fault. He started talking about what he was going to do to me in the truck on the way home. By the time we got out of the garage I had a erection I could have steered with. Then he spent dinner talking about what he wanted me to do to him. The dishes are still sitting on the counter getting crusty.

We're on the couch. Nothing strange about that except that we're both naked, and sweaty, and the TV's not on for once. Who cares if the NBA's not playing? Not Sandburg. Not me. The Jags and their owners can kiss my ass. No b-ball gives us more time for doing something constructive, like practicing new ways I can get inside him and make him get shaky.

I am so far deep in Blair's ass right now that I think if I told him to open his mouth and say "Aahh," I'd see my dick in his throat. He's sitting on me, straddling me like a goddamn horse. He's in that good place now, that place you'd really like to stay if you could, for a year or two. I'm so far in him we're covering his prostate constantly and he's humming he's so happy with that.

"Oh yeah, oh yeah, right there, right there, just stay there, man," he's saying. Well, grunting. I love those grunts. I love it when he's barely verbal. It's such a change. I've seen some beautiful things in my time. Mt. Rainier, trout swimming upstream, a double-pump bank-shot, but nothing in the world beats Blair Sandburg when he's this close to coming. His mouth opens up, his eyes close, his head goes back and he shudders from head to toe. I'm going to stroke out one of these days, waiting for him to come. Once I go, it's all over, I can't pay attention to him, so I do what I can to wait. He's not making it easy. He keeps talking about how big I feel. How hard I am. Stuff I'd blush over if it didn't make me horny as hell. He's clenching muscles I'm not even sure I own, over and over.

I reach for his dick, but he grabs my hands. "Don't touch me, Jim, I'm losin' it," he says.

"So lose it," I say back to him, pulling away, thrusting up harder and grabbing his dick in both hands at the same time. Yup, there goes the mouth, there go the eyes, the head's going back and he's squirting all over me. I can feel him coming inside, and I can finally let go, coming right behind him, getting squeezed something fierce inside him.

God, he feels good.

How did I live without this for so long?

And what on earth am I going to do without it for a week?

Well, that helped. Amazing how much a truly globe-trotting orgasm can improve your mental health. Man, I liked it like that. Sitting up on him, sitting down on him, all the power and none of it, all at the same time. Sweet. I like bottoming. Do I ever. But this felt like bottoming and topping at the same time. And the face-to-face thing knocks me out every time. I can feel him in me and watch him. There is a God. There's definitely a God.

We'll have to do that again sometime. As soon as these thighs of mine stop cramping, I'm gonna get up, pull him out, clean him off, toss his parachute in the trash and head for the stash for another one. I've got a week's worth of caramba to do in one night here.

He's leaving in the morning. We're not even thinking about it, let alone talking about it. We'll go to sleep, he'll get up and he'll go. He does that a lot, when I have classes, or when he's got an early gig somewhere. No biggie. Of course, this time there's not going to be any meeting up later at the station, no quick dry hump lunch in the basement, no couch cuddling at the end of the day. Sigh.

We can do this. It's only a week. Only a week.

I better get a couple of rubbers while I'm there. I've got a feeling it's going to be a long night.

Day One

He surfaces when I first wake up and start moving around, and he grabs me and holds on with all the strength he has, which pretty much keeps me immobile for about ten minutes. The kid's strong. Really strong. His skin is all morning-hot, sleep-hot, and diving back under the covers would be way too easy to do. So eventually I pull him off me, kiss him on the neck, shower, pack a bag and force down some breakfast.

I already have this weird sort of empty feeling inside. I've got to stop thinking of this as just a week away from home. It's an opportunity. An honor. Right up my alley. Any of that sound convincing? I was afraid of that.

I check in on him one last time. He's asleep again, curled up in a ball, hair everywhere. It's a good picture to take with me. I've got this weird scratchy feeling in my throat. My eyes are hot. Hope I'm not coming down with something.

It takes about three hours to get where I'm going. Three hours that seem way too quiet after two years of constant Blair-ramble accompanying most drives anywhere. I put the radio to the station I like, but change it after half an hour or so to the one he likes. Makes it seem more like he's here.

Yes, I do understand that I have it bad. No, I don't plan to moon over him in front of a bunch of military types. But I'm not there yet, am I? Give me a break.

The camp is as familiar as the inside of my truck. I haven't been to this particular one, but they're all pretty much the same. Concrete block buildings and mud. Thousands of dollars' worth of technology housed in buildings that haven't been renovated since 1940-something. The paint's peeling, but by God the wiring's up to date.

We're a motley crew, or as motley as you can get and still look like any one of us could be a poster boy for the Marine Corps. We get a little more respect than raw recruits, but not much. The uppers pit us against each other from minute one. Everything's a competition. I guess I'm going a little soft. When it's about survival, I don't seem to mind, but this irks me. What difference does it make? If we can all do it, and do it well, and do it fast, what difference does it makes who does it first?

I guess Sandburg's rubbing off on me in more ways than I thought.

I keep looking for him, subconsciously. I keep glancing over my right shoulder, where he usually is. I don't remember getting used to that, to having a shadow. All I know is that now that he's not there, where he usually is, I miss him.

And it's only day one. I am not enjoying this.

Day Two

I hate waking up in an empty bed.

That's sort of startling.

You have to realize what a change of position this is. Ask anybody. I like their beds for recreation, and my own for sleeping. There's just something so domestic about spending the night. Morning means learning whether they pee before or after they brush their teeth. Morning means having to make small talk over coffee and the whole song-and-dance over whether it was good enough to merit doing again. Frankly, I just haven't had the patience for it.

My therapist pointed out once that maybe this is why most of my romantic liaisons last about as long as a ball off Mark McGwire's bat.

But this is my second day in a row waking up curled around a pillow instead of a nice warm living being, and it sucks. Man, it didn't take me long to get used to that everyday thing. You know, sleeping with him every night, waking up with him every day. The habit of a lifetime, cured in two months by one really possessive cop.

Last night I went in the hamper and pulled out one of his t-shirts and slept in it. How sorry is that?

It's worse this morning. Yesterday I had some place to be. Today it's just me and this big old empty loft. Me and this big old empty bed. Me and this big old morning erection looking for its usual playmate. I lick the palm of one hand and send it down. Sorry, fella, this is the best I can do for now. You used to like this, remember? Yeah, I know, that was before Jim showed how hand-eye coordination training can be extended to real life. It's better than nothing though, right? Uh-huh. Yesss, better than nothing. One warm wet hand grabs my dick and I pretend it's his mouth. I hold up my balls with the other and pretend it's his hand. My dick's not really all that particular, but it's been spoiled recently, and it takes awhile.

That's okay. I've got awhile.

Actually, I'm sort of enjoying this. Being alone in his big bed, wearing a shirt that still smells like him, that little touch of kink, jerking off on his sheets. The wet hand's getting some help now, things are slicking up. My balls are starting to ride up and I can actually feel a pulse in my dick. I press down there and it gets that much harder. Oh yeah, this is good. Really good. We're double-barreling now, both hands sliding up and down, making a tunnel that's nowhere near as tight as his ass. S'okay, it'll do. It'll do.

I get these flashes in my head. Jim's hands, so much bigger than mine, the fingers so much longer, stroking really, really lightly, right on the head. Jim's mouth opening wide to get me all in. The look on his face when he knows I'm about to come. He knows before I do sometimes. Sometimes I'm not paying close enough attention and it surprises me, but he always knows. He must smell or hear something. Just the thought of it makes that first spasm start. God, I want him back, I want him back, I want him. I want him. I want him.

Two days' worth of frustrated semen makes a desperate bid for freedom. Guess I'd been storing up stuff because I am a mess. I've got it on my chin for God's sake. The shirt's going to have to go back in the hamper, and I think I'll have to change the sheets. Not yet though. I love that smell. I'm just going to lay here in it awhile, pretend he's here, pretend his smell's in there, too.

Two mornings down. Five to go. I'm not sure we have enough sheets.

I might actually have to do laundry.

Day Three

I'm still having some withdrawal symptoms. I ate wheatgerm this morning at breakfast. Sprinkled it on yogurt and ate it. I got some funny looks for that, I can tell you. But I could just hear him -- "Hey, that's great, Jim, really, it's like the food of the gods. Revs up the old immune system, cleans you out good, too. How about some algae shake to wash that down?"

Jesus, I miss him.

I miss the strangest things. If I say the pitter-patter of little feet, he'll kill me, but it's true. I miss his distinctive step on the stairs. I miss the way he rolls up on the balls of his feet when he's excited about something. I miss that deep breath he takes that tells me he's getting ready to launch into a long drawn-out monologue that may or may not be interesting, but will surely be something I've never thought about before.

I miss going to sleep to the sound of his heartbeat.

I miss waking up smothered in Blair.

I miss that freedom I've now got to touch him whenever I want, wherever I want. An all-access pass. But as much as I miss his beautiful body, it's mostly just his presence. I'm used to him being there, where I can see him and put a hand on him if I need that extra little bit of reassurance. I don't like it when he's not on my radar.

I look around at all these guys who are just like me and think we're all a little short on hair. Cookie-cutters, the whole lot of us. I'm sure there's enough data here for a great research paper. Sandburg would have a field day with this. You can practically smell the testosterone in the air. They've barracked us, to build camaraderie, I guess. So we're living in each other's pockets day in day out. And talk about regimented. Every minute is scheduled, from shower time to calisthenics to our supposed study breaks, which end up with us crowding around cots playing poker and telling exaggerated stories of sexual conquest.

I've been pretty quiet on that front so far.

Scenes like this made up my life for a lot of years. A bunch of guys sharing everything from chowtime to group showers. Guys just like me. Only it's turning out that I'm not as much like them as I once thought.

Blair did that for me.

Or to me.

I'm not sure which.

Once upon a time I'd have been like a pig in mud in a situation like this. Not any more. I pay attention when I have to. We're learning all kinds of useful stuff, seeing the latest technology, trying the newest things. I can do what I have to when it's time to concentrate. I've dialed down. No way I'm risking a zoneout. So I'm even with the rest of the men.

Except I'm not.

Because I can pretty much guarantee that I'm the only guy here moping for a mop-topped anthropologist with a chronic case of oral diarrhea.

I've been sublimating my urges. There it is, the quarter word. I hardly ever have a chance to use it in conversation. I've been doing extra calisthenics at night, trying to wear myself out. I refuse to beat off in a barrack full of g-men. But I am a creature of habit. And my habit of late has been to get my nose practically sucked out my balls by my roommate. Or to see how many times a 38-year-old man can come between NYPD Blue and the end of SportsCenter. Or to see if I can actually do him standing up, face to face. That's not easy. If you think it sounds hard, you should try doing it. We failed the first three times, as much as you can fail when both people come damn close to passing out at the results anyway.

Turns out it's all a matter of angle and leverage. Blair put his physics classes to work and I ignored that deep pain in the back of my thighs and we managed it. I don't remember where we actually ended up putting his legs, but I do recall him hanging on to the coatrack for dear life. It was ... fun. Like so many other things that I do with him.

Fun.

Another word I don't often have a chance to use in conversation.

Day Four

I'm going with the utilitarian white sheets today. The swedey ones are folded, back in the closet, waiting for Day Seven to make their glorious return to the bed. In the meantime, I'm getting by with something that's reasonably stain-resistant and doesn't require ironing.

I'm horny as a three-toed owl and the wet hand maneuver is so not doing the job anymore.

I keep thinking if I could just talk to him. He wouldn't even have to talk dirty to me. I think he could recite what he's had breakfast, lunch and dinner all week and I'd get off without even touching myself. I'm running on fumes here.

I'm still going in to the station every day. You believe that? Like I couldn't find a hundred better things to do with my time. I've got a dissertation to finish, for one. I've got students who might enjoy an office hour with their teaching fellow once a semester. I've got journals to read, notes to transcribe, and oh yeah, more laundry to do. But no, here I go, to the station.

Because that's what we do.

Because that's what we do.

Man, I miss him. Weird stuff, too. Not just the sex, though God knows he'll be lucky if I don't trip him on his way in the door. No, it's stuff I didn't expect. Like how he wipes down the bathroom counter when he's done. Like the way he narrows his eyes a little when he's focusing on something, like me. The way he resists and resists, then capitulates.

The way he touches me all the time. It's been four days since anyone touched me. Four days after more than two years of a Jim hand here or there practically every day. You get used to that, y'know?

I'm going cold-turkey here.

I'm starting to understand why he was so pissed at the whole being away idea. He obviously knew better than I did what seven days apart would look like for a Sentinel and a Guide, not to mention two relatively new-to-this lovers. I picked the wrong side, man. The entirely wrong side. Next time the brass feels like rewarding the officer of the year, I'll tell them I'll give him a gold-plated blowjob. That should fix their little red wagon.

An awful thought occurred to me in between whack rounds last night. What if now that he's got this advanced anti-terrorism merit badge, they actually make him go, what, anti-terror? And since I didn't go to the school, there's no way they'd let me in on anything that wasn't just simulation. I know, I know, this falls into the "worry about it later" category. Trouble is that basket's getting really full.

Eventualities are starting to become realities.

I hate that.

The station feels pretty good. It's busy like always. Phones ringing, people yelling. Maybe I'll put my head down on Jim's desk and take a little nap. There's seriously good white noise going on. I'm not sleeping very well. I lived in a warehouse next to a drug lab for a couple of years and apparently slept through just about everything. Now I'm hearing weird noises all night long. That loft just wasn't meant for one person. I don't know how Jim stood it living there by himself. It's only been four days and I'm climbing the walls.

Maybe I'll just put my head down for a few minutes here, with his paper clips and post-its.

Just for a few minutes.

Just a few.

Day Five

So I'm in the shower. It's five-freaking-thirty in the morning. Six of us are showering at the same time. I'm a guy, I do what guys do, and I check out the competition. Well, if they're going to make us fight each other on everything else, a little dick-measuring has to be expected, right?

What I realize is that I'm looking at another man's bare butt, and yet another one's dick. There's nothing special about them. Nothing. If Blair Sandburg were in here, we'd have cement scratches all over us by the time we were done. These men don't do a thing for me.

I'm relieved by that, on a real gut level.

It is just Blair who makes me feel that way.

It's just Blair.

I mean, Martinez there is a fine looking man. Well-hung, and he's got great glutes, but I don't feel like putting my dick between them. Cooper looks like he just stepped out of GQ, but he doesn't make my heart beat fast, or make me want to wrap him up and hug him.

Only Blair does that.

I'm starting to think he might have been onto something with that lame-ass idea of his that I dismissed out of hand a couple of months ago. Maybe there is a biological reaction that happens between a Sentinel and a Guide.

Because Blair's fine little ass is the only one I'm interested in.

But here's the question: Let's say he's right.

Does that make it any less real?

Are we kidding ourselves that we have any choice? I'm not sure it really matters. I love the kid. He loves me, too, though try to get those three words out of his mouth. But as reassuring as it is to think maybe I didn't just suddenly switch teams at my age, it makes me wonder just a little bit. I shouldn't do that. I know better. I should leave the thinking to Sandburg.

He's the one who's good at it.

Day Six

I could think myself into a mean blue funk if I'm not careful.

I'm looking around the loft. Taking a good deep look at my life. Where it started, where it took a severe left turn, where it might end up. All the introspective crap I generally avoid when Jim's around because there's just no time for all that. We've got baddies to catch, paperwork to do, beer to drink, ballgames to watch. All kinds of stuff to do except examine what we're doing.

I'm an anthropologist. He's a cop. What's wrong with this picture? Aside from the fact that we're both, hello, men? Can we really make this work, on like a long-term level? I know we complement each other, I think that's how the Sentinel/Guide thing works. Yin and Yang, two pieces fitting together.

It's just when you look at it from the outside, the whole thing seems sort of ... improbable.

I don't know where my enthusiasm went. Probably to a training camp three hours away. It's just this little bit frightening to realize how much I've come to depend on him. For company. For stimulation. For mind-numbing orgasms. I'm used to him being there, standing in front of me and a little to the left and when he's not there, I feel a little exposed.

Not a good feeling. On the not-to-be-desired scale it's right up there with puking and getting a filling. I'd hate to think I made it through communal child-rearing, a freshmen dorm where I was two years younger not to mention several inches shorter than anyone else on my hall, being kidnapped, overdosed -- and let's not forget dangled way high up in the air from a helicopter after being, that's right, shot -- only to find that what makes me feel exposed is not having Jim Ellison standing in front of me. Because that would just suck.

Hi. My name's Blair. I'm a Jimaholic. I've been Jimfree for six days now.

I'm starting to get the shakes.

Day Seven

He's gratifyingly happy to see me. He did manage to wait until I closed the door to launch himself at me. He's got his arms locked around my neck and his legs locked around my hips and I've got my duffel bag in one hand and his butt in the other. I haven't even kissed him yet. I can't see his face. He's got it buried in my shoulder and he's yammering about something. I don't even care what. I'm just really, really happy to hear his voice.

I toss the duffel in a chair and now I can hold him up with both hands. Geez, he's heavy. I move one hand up to his back and start patting him.

"Miss me, Chief?"

"SHIT."

I'm going to take that as a yes. It's the first word I've understood since I walked in the loft.

He finally pulls his face out of my neck. He's all pink and his eyes are red. Sandburg? Teared up? Over this? Damn it, now he's making me do it. Sympathy red-eye.

"Miss you? Miss you? Jesus Christ, Jim. Do you have any idea how many freaky noises this loft makes at night?"

That makes me grin and he grins back at me, still hanging on for dear life.

"Um, Sandburg, can we move this to the couch?"

"You bet. It's that way." He points in the general direction of the couches, not budging. Okay. I can wear Blair for awhile. I think he suits me. It's not easy, but we make it to the couch without untangling. I drop down and he drops down on me. This is familiar. But we're wearing clothes this time.

Spoke too soon. He's already unbuttoning my shirt.

"Long cruise, sailor?" I ask him, reaching for his sweatshirt.

He snorts at me. "You have no idea."

The hell I don't.

Finally.

Finally.

He's back. He's in one piece. He didn't get anti-terrored or whatever. He's here, back where he belongs. And he's mine. All mine. All this, all six-foot-whatever of him. Back where it belongs. By the time I get done with him, he won't even feel like leaving the loft, let alone the city.

My hands aren't exactly steady, so his buttons are giving me trouble. He pushes my hands away finally and does it himself. I've got my thumbs on his nipples before he's even gotten his wrists out of the cuffs. He jumps under me.

I circle them, first one, then the other, real light, real soft. He loves it like that. I can feel him go hard in like an instant under me. Oh, yes. I have missed this. He puts his head back for a minute and slides his chest up so I'll rub him harder. I've never felt anything like this. It's been literally seconds and we're already too far gone to stop. Now it's just a matter of position.

He pulls his head up, like it's an effort to do that, and he puts his hands over mine on his chest.

"Blair."

"What?"

"Look at me."

He wants to talk? Now he wants to talk? How about those two years of not talking, Jim? Huh? What about those? Can we talk some other time? Like later? But he's pretty insistent, so I pull up pictures of my seventh grade history teacher and things settle down.

"It didn't work very well," he says.

"What didn't?" Pardon me if I'm having a little trouble concentrating.

"Not being with you."

Oh. Well. All right. I'm nodding at him, I get it. I can relate.

"We do better together," I tell him. I watch a light go on in the back of his eyes.

"That's it exactly. We do better together," he says, with this beautiful smile.

"So can I kiss you now?" I ask him, already leaning in.

I hope he said yes. Too late now, I'm already rummaging around in his mouth, learning it all again, like it's all new. His teeth are so straight, his tongue is strong and man it's hot in there. My mouth fits over his perfectly right. Like it was made just for that. He's got some serious stubble action going on, scrape, scrape. No, mom, that's not acne, those are whisker burns.

I'll see them for a few hours, those red marks all around my mouth, feel them tingling. A reminder of being marked.

Marked.

"Jim?" I pull back just far enough to get the word out.

"Yeah?"

"Bite me."

Oh, shit. He's growling, pushing me over, flat on my back on the couch and he's pouncing, pulling my head back by my hair and baring my throat. Oh my God. He's got the edges of his teeth on my neck and he's chewing, not hard, not enough to even scratch, let alone break the skin, but I can feel it, the blood rushing to that spot, feel how hot it gets. He's worrying it now, pulling, licking, pulling some more. I'm gonna have a hickey for a week. Maybe longer. Turtleneck time. He's groaning while he does it, and he's pushing his hips into mine. Up and back, up and back. I know this rhythm. This is his out-of-control rhythm. I'm lovin' it.

"Can't wait," he mutters.

"Wait? Wait? I've waited long enough, man, just do it."

What does he need, a written invitation?

He lets go of my neck and raises up. He's sitting on me, and I blame all that Wonder Burger weight for the fact that I'm having a little trouble breathing here. He looks wild, he's got his hand down on his crotch, rubbing himself, like he can't stand it one more minute. I'm not even sure he's seeing me anymore. I'm trying to help him out. I know that feeling. I've had it for the last six nights. At least now we can both do something about it.

He doesn't bother to take any more clothes off. I unbutton and unzip my own jeans and just push them down as far as I have to. He's doing the same, and now he's laying down on me, and where there's skin touching, it's like fire it's so hot. He's got his hands in my hair now, fistfuls of it, clench, unclench, clench, unclench. Like a cat kneading. He's going to push me right through the couch cushions before we're done. I've got his whole weight bearing down on me, I couldn't breathe if I wanted to, but I don't, so it's cool. I'll breathe later. I'm busy right now. We've got our dicks lined up side by side and we're sliding them back and forth in the grooves there. I can feel him trembling, and it's just the best feeling, doing this with him, knowing I made him feel this way.

"Blair, Blair." He gets that much out before he seizes up and I can feel him coming hard, convulsing almost he's coming so hard, shooting stuff up on my stomach, sopping up the hair there. I switch sides and tuck in the wet spot and lunge a few times under his dead weight, slipping and sliding until I come too, just a few strokes behind him, adding to the mess.

Maybe we should get that plastic for the couch after all.

I think maybe I was a little rough with the kid. He said "bite me" and it was all over. You can't just say something like that to a man who's been on zero rations for a week and not expect to get a little pummeled.

I think he liked it like that, if these murmurs of approval under me are anything to go by. At least I hope that's what they are. They could be signs of suffocation now that I think about it. I'm not exactly a lightweight. I raise up a little. Gross. We're stuck together. Literally. How long have I been laying here on him? Long enough for the stuff to get sticky. I start to pull away, but he puts both hands on my back and pulls me back down, tucking his head in my chest.

That was a close one. I'd hate to think what two weeks away might reduce us to. Maybe we'll never have to find out.

"You okay?" I ask him.

"Oh, yeah," he says. "I'm about eighteen different kinds of okay."

"Want a shower?" It seems only polite. I got him dirty, the least I can do is get him clean.

The hot water heater must need adjusting because the water's running cold long before we're ready to get out. He's damn cute when he's all wet. His hair hangs in these limp little tails on his shoulders and his skin pinks up all over. I just stand in the spray and watch him awhile, soaking him up. It's going to be awhile before I let him out of my sight. After the last two years living in spit's reach of each other, I kind of assumed that's how Sentinels and Guides are supposed to be. It took a week away to make me sure of that.

We do better together.

He said so. So it must be true.

Epilogue

In therapy, they call it a breakthrough. A more religious type than me might say it's an epiphany. I always just think of those moments as forehead- slappers. You know what I'm talking about. That singular moment of blinding clarity. Like getting a fresh set of wipers, which given the annual rainfall amounts in Cascade, is a fairly regular thing. That's what I'd been waiting for.

The forehead-slapper.

I wanted that blinding flash, that no-turning-back-now instant. I figured given how we live our lives, it would probably come after one or the other of us had been held at gun point, knocked unconscious or hospitalized. Again. I thought excursions into the nether regions of the Amazon were dangerous. <Snort>. Boa constrictors have nothing on a week in Cascade with Jim Ellison. But all that stuff kept happening, like clockwork, which is pretty funny when you think about it. I mean, danger as norm? What kind of world is this? I got punched twice, right in the Kevlar, which is an improvement over getting your innards rearranged, but still no walk in the park. He got the crap beat out of him by a macho Latino who knew, go figure, tae kwan do. We had the whole Golden thing come and go, I almost got turned into an elevator pancake, but I still didn't have a revelation.

I really kind of wanted a revelation.

That one flash where I'd know I loved him.

Obfuscation's always been one of my specialty areas, but I hadn't quite grasped that I've been doing it to myself. Self-obfuscation. Which, by the way, I can now say categorically isn't anywhere near as fun as some of the other self-things you can do.

So I have some issues with intimacy. Big fucking deal. Me and eighty percent of all men over twenty. But of course Jim Ellison falls into the other twenty percent. Who knew that underneath that buzz-cut eagle-eye square-jaw muscle man exterior there lives a marshmellow? The loyalty part I sort of get. He's a real respecter of authority these days, and I guess True Love is practically an institution, but it still surprises me, how he embraces this whole "us" thing. Hell, it took me a month just to remember to go upstairs to go to bed.

I guess I didn't trust it. I trust him, but that Cupid is a fickle son-of-a-bitch, moody, bordering on bipolar. I like to stick with what I know. So I waited. And watched. Looking for that revelatory moment.

Y'know what? It never came.

Don't freak, this ends well. You know that. Just go along for the ride, all right?

If you've been to Chicago, you've seen the Art Institute, that cool place with all those little model rooms and the big wide steps you can stretch out on if it's not thirty-fucking-below and the wind's not creeping in places even your doctor has to ask permission to get to. There's this painting there, I forget what it's called. Something about going to the park. It's by Seurat. It's just a bunch of little dots of paint, in all different colors. Pointilism, they call it. When you get nose close to it, all you can see is these little dabs of paint, thousands and thousands of them. Back up a little and this image starts to form. Stand at the back of the room and TA-DA, it's an outdoor scene, a kid in the water, a woman with an umbrella, people sitting on the grass talking. All those little bitty dots created this amazing thing.

You still with me? I'll cut to the chase. I don't want to lose you now.

I had to stand at the back of the room to see what all those dots meant to each other. I wouldn't call it a revelation, exactly. It was more like slowly dawning comprehension. Like I'd been studying for something and while I didn't get it all in a flash, it settled in somehow when I wasn't looking and when the time came for the test, I had it.

Let's say the dots are all those components of me and Jim. The Sentinel/Guide power thing. The friendship thing. The roommate factor. Oh yeah, and the sex. Let's not forget the sex.

It was there all along. I just had to step back a little to see it clearly. Had to have a few nights by myself. Had to imagine spending every night like that, and how unbelievably awful that would be. Had to sleep in his bed, eat at his table, sit on his couch, all by myself. Had to realize that they didn't seem so much like just his things anymore. Had to wonder when it started feeling like our bed. Our table. Our couch.

Had to wonder when me became we.

All those things crept up on me, this week he's been gone. All those dots merged while I wasn't looking and made this picture. This really beautiful, whole, complete, happy, peaceful, integrated picture.

Of a Sentinel and a Guide.

Of Jim and Blair.

Mano a mano.

Man to man.

Probably not what I would have pictured for my life, and sure as hell not what he imagined for his.

That's okay.

Once you connect those dots, you can't go back and undo it.

It's done.

The End.