Elizabeth looked up from her paperwork and found Jim hovering in the doorway of her office.
"Hi," she said and smiled.
"Hi," he said, shifting nervously from one foot to the other. ""Uh, Elizabeth, I just...is this a good time or are you busy?"
She'd been wondering if and when he'd come talk to her about it. She was glad he finally had. "Actually, this is a great time. I've got a light patient load today, and I'm not seeing anyone else until four."
"You're in the middle of paperwork. I don't want to interrupt."
She smiled at him. "You're not interrupting. Come in. Sit down. Please."
He looked almost dejected she didn't have anything pressing to do, but he came in anyway and sat down in the chair opposite her. She gave him a moment to settle in, to get his bearings. He looked around the room, curiously, still a little unnerved, taking it all in.
"So what do you think?" she asked.
"It's nice," he said. "Not exactly what I expected."
"That's good then. I didn't want it to feel too much like a shrink's office."
Elizabeth had decorated her new space with comfortable, overstuffed furniture, light colored and cheerful, with plenty of homey knickknacks spread throughout. She had the requisite couch, but she'd covered it in throw pillows to make it less imposing. There were two chairs as well, so her patients had a choice about where to sit, whatever would make them feel most at ease.
"I'm still nervous," Jim confessed.
"There's no need," she told him. "I'm not your psychiatrist. I'm your friend. I promise not to do therapy on you. But I'd be happy to listen if you want to tell me about it. I really would like to help."
Jim nodded. "I appreciate that. It's just kind of hard, you know?"
"I sure do, Jim. It's never easy to talk about intimate things like these, but I really do think it will help us figure out what's going on and how we can fix it. So if you're up to it, tell me what happened, whatever you feel comfortable enough to confide in me. I'll probably end up asking a lot of questions. It's kind of a hazard of the profession. But you don't have to tell me anything you don't want to."
"Okay. I think I can do that. I mean, I really do want to figure this thing out, and I know Blair already told you what happened that night."
"Yes, he did. But I'd like to hear about it from your perspective. I kind of got the feeling from him that it wasn't just about that one night. There was something more going on, wasn't there?"
He nodded. "It started out so insidiously it took me a while even to recognize that something odd was going on. But I definitely knew something was wrong...oh, a good month before that night."
"So what was happening to you?"
He smiled slightly. "It's funny to see you in shrink mode."
She smiled back at him. "I guess it's harder to get out of my professional demeanor here in this office than I thought. Maybe we should go into the living room?"
"No, that's okay. I'm just used to your being Elizabeth, another Sentinel, not Dr. Knowlton, the psychiatrist."
"So tell me, Sentinel to Sentinel, what happened?"
"I don't even know. It was like something came over me...this terrible need. I just couldn't get enough of him."
Jim blushed and nodded.
"Was it a specific kind of sexual contact you wanted?"
He nodded again. "Yes...um, intercourse. Me...ah, doing it to him."
"Was that a usual part of your sexual relationship?"
"Was it the main part?"
"Not really. We do it...have intercourse, I mean, usually a couple of times a week. We do other stuff the rest of the time."
"Oral sex, mutual masturbation?" she asked.
Elizabeth watched him carefully. If he were anyone else, someone without covert ops training, he would have flinched openly. He managed to keep his stoic demeanor in place. But she knew he was an extremely private person and answering questions about his lovemaking with his partner was about the last thing he'd ever want to do. She took it as a testament to the true depth of his love for Blair that he'd make a sacrifice like this for him.
"Yes," he finally answered. "Both...we give each other hand jobs and blow jobs whenever we don't have time or are too tired for intercourse. Or when that's just what feels good."
"But you don't normally have intercourse with Blair as the active partner?"
"Actually, we've never done it that way. I mean, we talked about it at the beginning. We both kind of assumed that we'd switch off, but somehow it just never happened. And then we stopped even talking about it. I don't know...I guess it just seemed...do you think that's significant?"
"I don't know, Jim. That's probably up to you to decide. Can you tell me more about how it felt when you couldn't control your desire for Blair? How did it differ from how you usually felt about him?"
Jim thought it over. "Before I...it used to always be about Blair. I wanted him, not just sexually. It was a complete thing, you know? I wanted to touch him, kiss him, talk to him, spend time with him, make love with him, enjoy him. That's how I eventually figured out that something was really wrong. It became less and less about him, less about our relationship, and more and more just about the sex. Am I making sense here?"
"Completely. Did you ever want other partners?"
"No. It was always Blair."
"And you always fixated on intercourse?"
"Was the sex satisfying? Did you achieve orgasm?"
Jim couldn't look at her, keeping his eyes glued to the hands resting in his lap. He went silent.
"I'm sorry to have to ask you that. I know it's extremely private, and I'd certainly understand if this was one of those questions you'd rather not answer. But if you can talk about it, I think it's important. It could really help our understanding of whatever this is."
"That's the worst part of all," Jim mumbled, and if she weren't a Sentinel, she never would have heard him.
"It was never satisfying, never enough. I mean, I always came, but I can't say I ever really enjoyed it. It didn't make us closer the way it used to. It felt...I don't know, mechanical somehow, like even though I was driven to fuck him, it wasn't by passion."
"It was a compulsion?"
"And it escalated?"
Jim nodded. "I just kept needing it worse and worse, but the more sex I had, the less satisfying it was."
"And that night?"
"I guess things just reached a crisis point. I'm not sure really. I still don't remember a lot of it. I just know what Blair told me."
"Tell me what you do recall."
"I remember coming home, eating dinner. Sitting on the sofa afterwards, talking, kissing. I dimly recall going upstairs, getting undressed, starting to make love. But that's it. After that, it's a blank, until I came to and found Blair beneath me...and his blood on me."
"He told me it wasn't serious."
"I hurt my Guide, Elizabeth. I made him bleed."
"I know, Jim. I understand."
"Do you? Do you have any idea what that feels like?"
She nodded. "I might have only thought I hurt Sam, but it was real enough to me at the time. I really believed I had his blood on my hands. I know how horrible that is."
"I'm sorry, Elizabeth. I know what you went through. I didn't mean to discount it."
"I know you didn't. I've thought about it a lot over the last two years, and I really believe that the impulse to protect the Guide runs so deep in us that we have an actual physical aversion to spilling our Guide's blood. It hurts us, quite literally."
"When I realized what I'd done to him, when I saw and smelled his blood, I...it's hard to describe."
"Did it kind of feel like you'd been electrocuted?"
He nodded. "Yeah, that's as close to it as I think you could geta kind of sick, shocked feeling all over, and the sense that I deserved the pain, that it was my punishment," he said sadly.
"You'd never had a problem with his bleeding from intercourse before?"
He shook his head. "We were always very careful. That's why we only did it when we had plenty of time. I never wanted to hurt him."
Elizabeth put her hand on his arm. He looked so full of despair it broke her heart. "Of course you didn't want to hurt him. No one doubts that, certainly not Blair."
"I don't know how he can forgive me."
"Because he loves you, and he realizes there's something more at work here."
"Does any of this sound familiar? Have you ever heard of anything like it with other Sentinels?"
"Not with any of the others. But it does kind of remind me...let me just throw out something here. I don't know if this is it, so bear with me."
"Sure. Please. I want to hear any ideas you have."
"Well, this isn't anything I learned in medical school or my Sentinel research or anything. It's just something I've talked about with friends. It seems to be something a lot of women go through in their 30s if they haven't already had children. When they're ovulating, they notice a marked increase in sex drive. It makes them restless and aggressive and....well, horny really."
"Very. It's almost compulsive, like they can't get enough no matter how much sex they have."
"Well, that sounds familiar."
"The problem is that it's not really about sex, at least not for pleasure's sake. It's a reproductive impulse."
"Elizabeth, are you suggesting I'm in heat?"
"Sort of. Maybe your body is pushing you to procreate. You know, the old biological clock thing. The drive to reproduce is the most basic instinct we have, and it's extremely powerful. That would explain why the sex was never satisfying. The women I know say the same thing. It doesn't matter how many orgasms they have. If they don't make a baby, the compulsion doesn't go away, and they don't feel satiated."
"How do women stand it?"
"Fortunately, we're not fertile all the time. We get our periods, and it goes away."
"I can't believe I'm saying this, but I wish I were that lucky."
Elizabeth lifted an eyebrow. "You wouldn't think so the first time you had cramps. Anyway, Jim, this is just a theory, one possibility. Does it resonate at all? Have you ever thought of having children?"
"Well, the way you describe how your women friends feelthat sounds familiar. In fact, it's almost exactly like what I've been going through. But honestly, I've never really given kids much thought."
"That's not especially surprising. As I said, it's a biological impulse. Your head and heart may not want kids, while your body does."
Jim hesitated, and she watched him working something out for himself. "I have...kids have been on my mind these days. I actually asked to hold Carla, and I liked it."
Elizabeth broke into a smile. "My little angel wins people over like that."
"It felt really great to hold her. And I...one of the hallucinations I had when my senses were all screwed up was of a little boy."
"So maybe this is a Sentinel-induced drive toward procreation. We may all have an especially powerful urge to pass along our genes, since they're of particular value to the tribe. You always wanted Blair and not some other partner, because as your Guide, he's the most genetically advantageous choice."
"Except, of course, that he's a man."
"But he's your mate, and your body may not quite process the fact that you can't make him pregnant. That's why you always wanted intercourse, why you kept getting more and more desperate, why you kept needing more and more sex."
"I was trying to knock him up."
"Not consciously, of course, but on some level. Maybe. I don't know. It's just a theory, Jim. It would help explain what happened that night when you lost control. Your behavior was driven by instinct, bypassing the higher cognitive processes. That would explain why you don't remember it."
"What the hell am I supposed to do about this, Elizabeth, if that's really what's going on?"
"I don't know, Jim. I mean, if you want kids, there are options. You and Blair will have to sit down together and decide how you want to proceed."
"What are we going to do if we decide against it? How am I going to get this to stop?"
"Some women decide not to have children, and they find a way to manage the drive. I feel pretty sure that being conscious of it will help. If the two of you decide not to have children, you'll have to find a way to channel that energy. Maybe meditation or martial arts discipline. I'm sure Blair can help figure something out."
"I don't want to tell him this."
Elizabeth sighed and shook her head.
"I know," Jim said. "It's how this all got so out of hand in the first place, but I know how he'll react and I don't want to hurt him."
"It doesn't have to be a bad thing. The two of you could have a family together. I really think you'd be wonderful parents."
"He'll jump to conclusions. He'll blame himself for not being able to give me what I need. He'll think I ought to be with someone else."
"He knows better than that."
"This hits on all his insecurities about us."
"I really think you're underestimating him."
"And I'm not sure if this is even it. I mean, it sounds like it, but..."
"Maybe you should take some time and think it over. Go with your gut. If you really feel this isn't it, we'll explore it further. We will figure it out, I promise."
"Yeah, okay, I'll think it over, see what I come up with."
"But don't put off talking about it with him too long. It really is only going to make it worse."
"I just don't want to hurt him any more than I already have."
"I understand that, but just from my own experience with Sam, I really do believe that what hurts our Guides the most is shutting them out."
Jim nodded sadly. "I know you're right."
"So let him in."
"I'm really trying. I swear I am. I just don't want to lose him."
Elizabeth patted his arm. "You won't, Jim. There aren't many sure things in the world, but Sentinels and Guides staying together, that's one of them."
<<<Jim was alone in the jungle, and the light was fading. This was not a good state of affairs. The last place he wanted to be was lost in the thick cover of the rain forest, without food or water, far from camp, stranded overnight. Human beings never thought of themselves as prey, but he had enough experience with the wilderness to know there were plenty of animal species that didn't share the opinion. He stopped for a moment to try and get his bearings, using his Sentinel senses, searching for any clues, something, so he would know which way to go.
There was nothing, just the predictable sounds of wind and wildlife. He headed on in the same direction, something compelling him, drawing him onward. Somehow, this path felt well worn, as if he'd traveled it before, but he couldn't quite place it. He picked up the pace, walking faster and faster, before breaking into a run. Ahead of him, he could see a clearing, maybe a mile off. He hurried. There was something there, waitingan answer, a miracle, the key to his future.
He pushed through the dense underbrush and stepped out into clear light. And there it was. The Temple of the Jaguars. At last.
Jim could never have predicted the warm rush of feeling that went through him. Home. His blood sang with that single, perfect word. At last, he had found the one place he belonged completely, the ancestral home of all Sentinels, the sacred source.
He dropped to his knees, clutching his hands together, reverently, almost prayerfully. I finally found it. Thank you. Thank you. The structure was deceptively simple in appearance, the walls formed of stone blocks, light grey, rough cut, with a large bronze door, two paneled, elaborately carved with mythic scenes that he couldn't quite decipher, but that still felt familiar somehow. A pair of jaguars, carved from pale, smooth stone, probably marble, guarded the entrance.
It was like a siren song, the temple calling to him. He had never wanted anything so badly. He approached slowly, breathing heavily, his heart racing, a thrill of excitement inside him. He stood by the door and touched it lightly, fingering the deep lines and grooves of the reliefs, studying them in detail, trying to commit them to memory, so they would always be part of him. He took a deep breath, holding it in anticipation, and prepared to go inside, finally, to discover the secrets that were the special legacy of all Sentinels.
But the door wouldn't budge. The knob didn't turn, and the heavy bronze panels sat immovable on their hinges. He tried again and again, tugging, pushing against it with his shoulder, banging and calling to anyone who might hear him. He kept at it so long that he broke into a heavy sweat from the exertion, and he cursed loudly and repeatedly, beginning to lose his temper. He had never felt more disappointed or a greater sense of desperation. Everything that could ever matter was on the other side of that door. He had to get in. He'd never needed anything so much in his life.
"Only true initiates can pass through the door," a voice spoke behind him, as spare and elusive as the wind, as old as time, filled with the wisdom of the ages.
He turned, and it was Elizabeth, or at least something that looked like her, a pale, ghostly version of the person he knew.
"To be welcome in the temple, you must open your heart fully," another voice said, stepping out of the jungle's deep shadows, a spirit in the form of Elena.
"You must have no secrets. You cannot be ruled by fear," someone said behind him, and he whirled around to find a Clare look-alike.
"Can you help me open the door?" he asked.
"Why?" the Elena spirit answered his question with one of her own.
"I want to go inside," he said.
"Why?" Elizabeth asked.
"I need what's in there," he said, irritably, his voice beginning to rise.
"What do you believe that is?" Clare urged him.
"I don't know exactly...something important, answers maybe."
"You already have all the answers inside you. All you have to do is set them free," Elena told him.
"I don't know what that means. Why can't you people, or whatever you are, speak in plain English instead of riddles?"
"Why are you here?" Elizabeth asked, ignoring his outburst.
"I don't know," he said.
"Yes, you do," Elena argued.
"It's...I'm having a problem, with my Guide."
"Your Guide is the problem?" Clare asked.
"No!" Jim said, frustrated. "I'm the problem. I...I hurt my Guide. I can't control myself around him."
"Good," Clare said, approving of him. "It's important to understand the source of one's troubles, that they do not come from outside but from within."
"What do I do?" Jim asked, feeling increasingly desperate.
"What is the problem?" Elizabeth asked.
"I just told you."
"No," Elena said. "What is the problem?"
"I want something from him. I need it. Very badly," Jim answered, lowering his eyes.
"What do you want?" Clare asked.
"Sex," he whispered.
"No," she said. "What do you want?"
"Completion?" he guessed, feeling surprised that this was what had come to mind.
"Yes," Elizabeth said. "Completion. It is natural for Sentinels and Guides to seek this from one another."
"But you can never get what you're unwilling to give," Elena explained.
"I'd give him anything he wanted, I swear I would. I'd do anything for him," Jim declared passionately.
"No," Clare said. "There is something you have not done, have not given."
"What do you withhold from your Guide?" Elena asked.
"Nothing!" he yelled, his temper flaring.
"Yes," Elizabeth said. "What do you withhold from your Guide? What have you made it impossible for him even to ask you?"
"Stop saying that!" he screamed.
"What do you refuse your Guide?" Clare asked, her voice cool and level.
Jim couldn't stop the tears; they ran down his cheeks. "Completion! There! I've said it. Are you happy?"
Elena regarded him a long moment, her unearthly eyes boring into him, as if he were the mystery and she were trying to figure him out. "Why do you refuse him?"
He closed his eyes tightly against the pain. "I'm afraid," he admitted.
"What are you afraid of?" Elizabeth asked.
"I don't know. Maybe that it will make me less of a man."
"That is a reasonable explanation. However, it is not the correct one," Elizabeth said.
"I'm trying to answer your questions," Jim protested.
"But we don't believe you," Elena said.
"You don't believe you," Clare added.
"Completion is not a single act," Elizabeth explained.
"The act of intercourse is merely a symbol of what you are actually afraid to give," Clare said.
"You have given others the gift of your body," Elena said.
"So why never to your Guide?" Elizabeth said.
"Because it is not sex that is important, but completion," Clare said.
"Why do you deny your Guide completion when it is what all Sentinels and Guides seek from one another?" Elena asked.
"What do you fear?" Elizabeth asked.
Jim hesitated, wrestling with the answer. Finally he said, his voice a mere whisper, "That if I give him everything I am, he'll finally understand that I don't deserve him, and he'll leave. " His voice shook with a repressed terror he'd never before allowed into consciousness.
The three women looked at each other with puzzled expressions, and Jim felt certain there was communication in their silence.
"We do not understand deserve in this instance," Clare said. "This Guide is for you. A Guide does not leave his Sentinel. You know this already. Deserve has no meaning here."
"He died because of me," Jim said, letting the old, unresolved guilt out into the open.
Elizabeth shook her head. "He died because he is the Shaman and must live in both worlds at once. His death created the door."
"And your love allowed him to return back through it, to be reborn," Elena said.
"In the earthly realm, the Guide anchors the Sentinel, but in the spirit land, it is the Sentinel who anchors the Guide," Clare explained.
"I don't want to hurt him ever again," Jim whispered.
"So don't," Elena said, the smallest hint of a smile lighting her face.
"How can I be sure?" he asked.
"When the need to take is overpowering, it is time to give," Clare said.
"When the urge is to dominate, it is necessary to surrender," Elizabeth said.
"Fear of loss creates an imbalance. This is always a destructive force," Elena told him.
"Sentinels and Guides must be equal partners," Elizabeth said.
"They may keep no secrets from one another," Clare said.
"They must bring each other completion," Elena said.
"Your Guide has already given himself to you without reserve," Elizabeth said.
"Now you must do the same for him," Clare said.>>>
Jim woke with a start and sat up. It took a moment to get his bearingsguest bedroom, Elizabeth's house, late afternoon, he'd lain down for a nap and had a dream. A moment later, it registered that he wasn't alone.
"Are you okay, man?" Blair asked, concerned, hovering in the doorway.
"Yeah, Chief. I'm okay."
He shook his head. "Not really. More like a dream, but kind of frustrating, you know?"
Blair sat down on the bed beside him. "Mmmm," he said, and Jim could tell he was focused on something else.
"It's okay," he reassured his lover.
"What?" Blair asked, surprise in his eyes.
"Whatever it is that's making your heart beat just a little bit too fast."
Blair smiled softly. "It's no use trying to keep anything from a Sentinel, is it?"
He shook his head. "And you never need to. It's okay, whatever you want to say, Chief. Just go ahead."
"It was something I wanted to ask you. I was just wondering if you'd talked to Elizabeth, you know, about what's going on."
Jim nodded. "Yeah, this morning, while you were out on the porch."
"So?" Blair asked, curiosity blazing across his face. "Had she heard of anything like this with other Sentinels? Did she have any ideas?"
"No other cases, but she did have a theory," Jim said.
"What, man? Tell me," Blair demanded, with barely repressed excitement.
Jim had hoped to put off talking with Blair about Elizabeth's theory as long as possible, but he should have known that would be impossible. Of course, Blair had every right to know, but he was afraid of his reaction. His lover was very sensitive, and they were still in the process of patching things up. He didn't want anything to get in the way of that. Besides, now that he'd had the dream, he wasn't entirely sure that Elizabeth's hypothesis was even right. He just needed a little more time to think it through, before trying to explain it to Blair, before he was ready to take action.
A pair of insistent blue eyes bored into him. He didn't have time for all that. Blair needed to know now. "She thinks it's my Sentinel biological clock ticking," he said.
Blair frowned, looking puzzled. "You mean..."
"Elizabeth thinks there's something about my Sentinel biology that's pushing me to reproduce. That's why I always want intercourse, why I started calling it fucking, why I could never get satisfied, because it's not about love or pleasure. It's about offspring. That's why it didn't quite feel human. It's the most primitive kind of urge driving me. Elizabeth said something about it bypassing the higher levels of processing. I'm not sure what that means exactly, but she seemed to think you'd get it."
A flash of understanding lit Blair's face. "That would explain why you couldn't remember what happened that last time. It was like a zone out, but with a purpose, like your instincts hijacked you and were completely driving your behavior. That's why it didn't register in your consciousness. That also explains why it escalated, why you kept getting more and more frustrated and desperate, because of course you couldn't actually make me pregnant. So you had to keep trying."
"It's just a theory, Chief."
Blair slid off the bed and paced back and forth. "But it makes a lot of sense, man. I mean, the desire to reproduce is one of the strongest, most primal instincts we have. There's a whole branch of biology, called socio-biology, that sees all human behavior as ultimately originating from that drive to thrive. Given how important the Sentinel is to the survival of the tribe, your instinct may be especially pronounced," he said, his hands moving expressively as he spoke, until suddenly he stopped in his tracks. "But where does this leave us, man? I mean, you can fuck me until the end of time, and you're never gonna knock me up, no matter how potent you are, big guy."
Jim appreciated his lover's attempt at levity, but he wasn't the least bit fooled by it. He recognized the very real fear in his eyes.
"All it means for us is that we have one more problem to solve with this Sentinel thing, like all the other ones we've handled together."
"Maybe this is different. Maybe you need...you should have kids, Jim."
"I mean it. I don't want to stand in your way, and the world could use more people like you, with your gift."
"I'm not saying it would be easy for me to stand by, while you...but I'd find some way to handle it. I'd have to."
Jim cocked his head and looked at his lover skeptically. "And where do you think I'm going to find a woman interested in that kind of arrangement, who'll give birth to my child but doesn't care that I'm in love with you and plan to spend the rest of my life at your side."
"Not all women are looking for husbands these days. Some women just want a baby. I mean, it is the 90s and all. We could ask around, put in a personal ad or something. You never know, there might be..."
Jim shook his head. "I don't think so, Chief. It's hard enough raising a child, without trying to do it with a stranger you don't have any feelings for."
Blair paled. "Or maybe...I don't know, man. Maybe you need a traditional family. Maybe..."
Blair was so relieved he looked like he was about to cry.
"What did you think I was going to say, baby? Thanks for the last five years, but I have to move on now so I can turn out a kid or two before the biological alarm goes off. Never gonna happen, Chief."
Jim pulled him close and hugged him hard. "We're forever, Blair. We both have to learn to trust in that, okay?"
Blair nodded and then was quiet, thinking. "We could check into other alternatives."
"Yeah. Or a donated egg carried by a surrogate. That wouldn't have the same legal and emotional issues as finding a woman to co-parent with."
"What do you think?" Jim asked.
"I don't know, man. I mean, I have to admit that I never really gave it much thought. I kind of assumed that since we were together having a child just wasn't in the cards for me, and I was, like, fine with that. But now that I'm thinking about it, there's a part of me that would really love to raise a kid with you. I mean, you'd be an awesome father, and I think I'd be pretty good, too."
Jim smiled at him fondly. "You'd be wonderful."
Blair leaned in to give Jim a quick kiss on the cheek. "Thanks, man. I appreciate that. So, yeah, on the one hand, it's kind of an exciting prospect. But then there's a part of me that wonders if we'd even be able to get a child since we're two men and if we did, I'd worry that someone could come back later and take the kid away from us because they didn't like our lifestyle or some shit like that. I can't imagine anything more devastating than losing a child you've grown to love. And finally, there's just this selfish part of me that wonders how we'd manage it all with our schedules and all the pressures we already have and the Sentinel stuff on top of everything else. Something would have to give, and it couldn't be the kid because that would be wrong. It couldn't be our jobs because we'd have, like, a family to support. So it would be us, our relationship that would suffer, and I'm greedy, man. I want my Jim-time. I know it's probably not the right time to be deciding this because I'm still not over missing you. But finally, I'm just not sure if I'm up to the challenge of raising a child. I mean, I realize that no one ever really knows, and you just do the best you can and all. I guess I'm just not sure if it's what I want."
"What?" Blair asked, completely taken aback.
"It's my body and my instincts that are hot to reproduce. My mind and my heart have serious doubts."
"So you don't think you want a child?"
Jim tried to organize his thoughts. "It's...if we could make a baby together, I don't think there would be any question. I'd want to create that with you, bring new life into the world that was a part of us both, a representation of our love. That would be just...oh God, I don't know how to even begin to describe how amazing that would be. But I don't want to make a baby with anyone else, and I don't think I want to raise somebody else's child. I'm just not that selfless. I don't want to give up my Blair-time."
Blair nodded, looking pensive. "So what do we do about that ticking Sentinel clock of yours?"
"Like I said before, it's only a theory. Elizabeth had never seen anything like this before in any of the other Sentinels, and she was just making her best guess based on what I could tell her. There could be another explanation."
"I don't know, man."
"I think it might be more specifically about us than just some biological urge gone mad, more about our connection, about how I am in our relationship, something about Sentinels and Guides that I haven't quite gotten straight. It's unbalancing how we are with one another."
"The dream. I was at the temple. There were...well, I don't know exactly what they were, some kind of spirits, I guess. They talked to me. They said a lot of things. I just need some time to think about it, to figure it out."
"I can help you."
"Not this time, Chief."
"Jim, I thought we agreed..."
"I know, I know. But I swear, it's not like that. I don't know how I know this, Chief, but this is just something I have to do on my own. It's my responsibility. Only I can figure it out."
Blair looked torn, wanting to trust him but still skittish from their recent experience.
"I promise, baby. I'm not shutting you out. I just need a little time, twenty-four hours, to figure things out, then I'll tell you everything. Can you give me that? Can you trust me?"
Blair looked at him, appraisingly, searching his face for signs. "Okay, Jim. I'm down with that, and I do trust you. Just make sure you trust me back, huh?"
Jim nodded and took his lover into his arms. "You got it, Chief, and thank you. You won't regret it. I promise."
It was like being a beggar at someone else's feast, cold and hungry while the party-goers were comfortable and well fed. That's how she felt watching the warm connection of the people inside that housecast outside the circle of happiness, invisible, uninvited, unwanted. She was so cold and alone, unloved, isolated, unseenall the things she'd struggled with since her Sentinel had died, intensified now by the painful comparison.
And angry, more angry than she could ever remember feeling in her life.
When she'd first arrived in San Francisco, she'd gone directly to Dr. Knowlton's house, only to find that the doctor and her husband had moved. In the end, it had proved only a small setback. She had been able to track them down easily enough. But somehow it had incensed her. She realized it bordered on paranoia, but she couldn't help feeling that the doctor was hiding from her, trying to deny her the second chance she needed so desperately, intending to keep this new Sentinel from her. She could not understand how the homing instinct had failed, why it had not led her directly to the doctor as it had years before. She hesitated to explore that thought too closely, afraid of what she would find, the nagging doubt that had been with her since she had decided on this course of action. She pushed the uncertainty away and settled instead on blaming the doctor, determined not to let the other woman steal this opportunity away from her.
After she found the new address, she'd jumped into a taxi and had gone straight there. She'd fully intended to knock on the door and state her demand up front. I want a new Sentinel to guide. She'd even managed to get as far as the front porch, poised to ring the bell, when something had come over her, and she just couldn't do it. She'd quickly turned back, running down the steps, walking hurriedly up the block, her heart pounding, as if she were in terrible danger. She had no idea why she'd reacted that way.
Since then, she'd come back every day and hovered near the house, across the street or down the block, like some kind of phantom, the same insubstantial feeling she'd had back at the grain warehouse. She'd not had the courage to approach the house again, but she'd had plenty of time to observe its occupants. What she had seen only served to make her more angry. She was so alone, and they were so connected to one another, a house full of Sentinels and their Guides, lovers, lifemates, friends, inseparable, now and for always. In her heart, the seeds of envy had already been planted. As she'd stood alone and miserable outside that house that was so full of life, those seeds had begun to germinate, sending their roots deep into her soul, growing, unfurling, producing a bitter harvest.
That's when she had begun to hate them, with every fiber of her being.
All of them, except for the one Sentinel she had sensed, the one she had come all the way from Cascade to find. This one she coveted. This one she already claimed as her own. The initial flash of instinct had told her that this Sentinel was not very strong, with only a very weak bond with another Guide. Now that she had arrived, she found that the connection was stronger than she had thought, but it was by no means complete. She could still have this Sentinel for herself. She could still get what she wanted. She still had a shot at regaining the extraordinary life. All she had to do was reach out and take it.
Instinct also told her they would try to stop her, all of them, all the Sentinels and Guides in that house. They would not understand. They mistakenly believed this Sentinel was destined for another. She would not try to reason with them. She would not knock on the door and ask for what she wanted. That seemed like pathetic groveling, and she hated them far too much to give them that satisfaction, to give them the opportunity to further deny her, to make her any more of an outcast than she already was.
No, she would take matters into her own hands. She would use their weaknesses against them. Her sojourn at the grain warehouse had given her all the information she needed to outmaneuver them. She'd seen into all the doctor's worst fears. She knew the other woman's guilt as if it were her own. She would use it all to her advantage.
Whatever conscience or fear or moral scruple she'd ever had was gone now. No matter what she had to do, she would not let them stop her. She would get what she wanted. She would be a Guide again.
Only then she would be complete.
Jim had taken up his spot again at the table on the terrace, his favorite place to think. He still had so much to sort out. His dream had only further confused matters, but strangely enough, he finally felt a glimmer of hope. The spirits in his dream had not given the impression that this problem was in any way permanent. He had created it with his choices, just as Sam had suggested, and so he could also remedy it, by doing things differently.
He stared out over the lawn. Everything was bathed in gold, the light heavy and lush as the sun hovered low in the sky, a last, spectacular coda to the day, before the sun began to set in earnest and twilight descended. Jim marveled over the play of color and shadow on the grass, in the trees, along the slate walkway. There were layers and layers of texture, elegant gradations of hue, so many subtle pleasures for Sentinel sight. Jim fervently hoped he'd never lose his newfound appreciation of the world's sensual wonders.
Like Blair. The thought made him smile. If there was one thing he could be certain of, it was that Blair would never fail to delight him.
A slight rustling noise by the terrace doors drew his attention. Clare stood in the doorframe, watching him, apparently wanting to talk, but not willing to disturb him.
He smiled at her, pulled out a chair and motioned her over. She hesitated a moment, watching him carefully, feeling out the situation, making sure she was truly welcome. Finally, she joined him at the table, accepting the seat he'd offered.
"Hey," he said, smiling at her. "How's it going?"
"Okay, I guess." She fiddled with her bracelet, which she hadn't taken off since Elena had given it to her.
"I see you like your surprise," he commented.
She nodded, staring down at her wrist. "It's the nicest present anyone has ever given me."
There was something so unbearably sad in her voice. It pained Jim to hear it coming from somebody so young, a child really, certainly someone who deserved to feel precious and treasured.
"It's not that my parents don't give me things," she continued. "They're very good at spending money on me. It's just that they never pay attention to what I'm really like, so the things they buy me never match who I am. And I just end up feeling ungrateful, because none of that stuff ever means anything to me. Does that make sense?"
Jim nodded. "Perfectly. My father was very much like that. It was easier for him to give his money than himself. It was preferable to him to think about who I ought to be, rather than to see me for who I truly was. So no matter what kind of things he gave me, I never really got what I wanted."
She stared at him. "You really do understand. The kids I go to school with, my friends, they just think I'm crazy. They think I should milk it for all its worth and enjoy it. But I can't. I don't. It just makes me feel more...I don't know...empty I guess."
"But the bracelet, that does make you happy?"
She smiled. "It's so beautiful, and it's just my taste. And it's even my birthstone," she said, happily, proudly. "I feel like Elena really saw me. She cared enough to go to the trouble. But..." Her face clouded.
"I've been such a bitch to her. I've been nasty to everybody, actually. I don't even know why. I just feel so mean sometimes, like I want to fight, and I take it out on whoever's around. And that's what I don't understand. Why would Elena do something so nice for me? I don't deserve it."
It was like listening to a clone of his younger self, talking about what life was like, if he ever could have managed to be so clear in understanding and so articulate in expression. He wanted to reach out and hug her, to drive all those poisonous thoughts out of her head, to show her the true value of who she was.
I don't deserve it. The sentence jarred his memory, bringing back his dream and the spirits confusion when he'd said he didn't deserve Blair. Of course. Clare deserved every wonderful thing life had to offer her, including the love and caring of her Guide. Of that he was absolutely certain. So if he applied the same logic to himself, didn't that mean...
"You know, Clare, I've been doing a lot of thinking about this lately. I've come to realize that we only hurt the people we love when we won't accept what they freely offer, what they want to give us. I mean, they have no way of knowing it's because we feel we don't deserve it. They just think we're rejecting them, that we don't love them back. I don't want to do that anymore. And maybe it really is true that we never get anything we don't deserve, that it's our sense of our own unworthiness that's out of kilter. Don't you think maybe?"
She frowned, wrestling with that idea. "I don't know," she finally said, very softly.
"It's so much easier to see in someone else. I look at you and see somebody smart and funny and caring, who just needs to let all that out a little more, somebody who deserves love and a good life. But for myself, there's a part of me that hangs on to the idea that there's nothing I can ever do that will make it so I deserve Blair."
She looked shocked. "You're kidding, right?"
He shook his head.
"But he loves you so much. He's just crazy about you. Any half blind person could see that. He wouldn't feel that way about you if you didn't deserve it, right? It doesn't make sense."
He smiled at her. "And Elena wouldn't have cared enough to pick out a gift for you that you'd really love if you didn't deserve it, would she?"
"That doesn't change the fact that I haven't been very nice to her."
Jim sighed. "Since I've known Blair, I haven't always been very nice to him either. I don't always understand why, but he's stuck with me anyway. Maybe that's just what love means, accepting someone for everything they are, both the good and the bad."
Clare nodded, light breaking through in her expression. "Yeah, I think I understand that," she said, gathering her thoughts for a moment. "It's like this conversation Elena and I had one day. She said that Dr. Knowlton reminds her a little bit of her mother, and that's why she never feels homesick. And I said that Dr. Knowlton isn't anything like my mother. Elena thought I meant that I don't like Dr. Knowlton, but that's not it at all. She doesn't remind me of my mother, because she actually cares about me. She wants to know who I am, and she doesn't give up on me, even when I'm being a big pain in the butt. I've never had that before. I like it, but it makes me feel weird, like I'm not quit sure what to do about it."
Clare said it all in a matter-of-fact voice, as if it were the most ordinary thing in the world to believe her mother didn't care about her. Love starved. God, is this what Blair saw when he first met me? Must have been. An immense wave of gratitude swept through him. It was only now that he could fully understand what Blair had rescued him from, hopefully the same way Elena would rescue Clare. He felt a flash of anger, hot and pungent, at Clare's ignorant, selfish parents, at his own mother and father. He was overcome by the most desperate need to protect her from all this pain that he understood all too well, as if by saving her he could also save the boy he'd once been.
"Elizabeth loves you, Clare," he said, very gently. "A lot of people do."
Her face twisted in pain. "I know you're right. I really do. But when I let myself feel it...I know it's supposed to be this amazing thing to be loved and I do want it, but somehow when I let it in, it just makes me hurt so bad, like I might break into a million pieces. I know that doesn't make any sense. I don't know why it feels like that to me. Why would love hurt, Jim?" she asked, desperately needing an answer from him.
"Somebody very wise once told me that fear of loss creates an imbalance, and that's always a destructive force. Maybe it hurts so much to let yourself understand how much you're loved because you're afraid once you do that you'll lose it somehow. And maybe you fear you'll lose it because there's a part of you that doesn't believe you ever deserved it in the first place."
Clare stared down at her hands. "It's hard to accept that anybody can love you when your own mother doesn't."
Jim started to say that surely her mother did actually love her, but he stopped himself. If she didn't feel loved by her mother, then however much the woman might actually care for her daughter didn't really matter. In this instance, perception was reality. "It's human nature to believe there's something wrong with us when somebody disappoints us, doesn't give us what we need, but the truth is that there's usually something wrong with the other person, some limitation that has absolutely nothing to do with us, that's not our fault in any way."
Jim had a hard time believing that these words were coming out of his mouth. He sounded more like Blair or Elizabeth. But he kept flashing on images of his father, snatches of their sad history playing in his head. These thoughts had been simmering inside him for a long time now. Somehow, it was just easier to get them out when he was trying to help Clare, than when he was trying to heal himself.
"She hates what I am. My mother, I mean. She wanted this tidy, perfect little daughter who would be pretty and sweet and no trouble at all. And I'm not that. I'm never going to be that."
"Nobody is like that. It's not humanly possibly. And even if it were, it would be boring as all hell."
"She thinks I'm a freak," Clare said, very, very softly, tears shimmering in her eyes.
"My father thought that about me too," Jim said.
"It's so horrible," she said, the tears spilling over.
He took her hand and held it. "I know."
"What did you do about?"
"Not anything too constructive. When I got old enough, I left, and I pretty much never went back. I cut off that part of my life completely, but I can see now that I was still carrying all those old, bad feelings around with me still. It's only now after all this time with Blair that I'm finally beginning to put that shit behind me. To be honest, Clare, it's really only in the past few days, after whatever this thing is that happened to me, that I've actually liked being a Sentinel, that I've allowed myself to enjoy my senses. But I do like it. It really is an amazing thing, and I finally feel lucky, instead of cursed."
He could see she was torn, like there was something she wanted to say but was afraid to.
"It's okay to tell me," he gently reassured her.
"I like it," she said, haltingly.
He smiled at her encouragingly. "That's a good thing."
"I guess. But I always feel like I'm not supposed to enjoy my senses, like there's something wrong with me if I do. You know, kind of like if you enjoyed having cancer or webbed toes or something."
"It's not a disease or a defect. It's a special ability, like having a beautiful singing voice or being good at football. You wouldn't think there was something wrong with a music prodigy liking to play the piano, would you?"
"Noooo," she said, mulling that over.
"So what's so different about enjoying your heightened senses?"
Clare's face went blank. "I guess nothing."
"Don't let what your mother feels about your Sentinel abilities poison them for you. I'm not an especially religious person or anything, but I really do believe there's a reason why we have these senses. They're a gift. We just have to figure out how to use them to do some good."
Clare nodded, trying to absorb that thought. "I really want to do that."
He smiled at her and put his hand on her shoulder. "Then you will."
She returned his smile, a little shyly. "Thanks," she whispered.
"Any time," he said.
"You know, I never really did tell Elena how much I like my bracelet. Maybe I should go do that."
He nodded. "It's easy to take our Guides for granted, but it's never a good thing."
"No," she agreed. "It's not. I don't want to do that anymore."
"So don't," he told her, passing along the advice the spirit in his dream had given him.
She laughed. "You've got a point there. Okay, so I'll be nicer to my Guide from now on. And Jim?"
"Thanks again. I mean, really, thanks."
He patted her shoulder. "You're very welcome."
She gave him one last shy smile and went inside. He could hear her running up the stairs, calling for Elena. He shook his head. It amazed him how much damage uptight, unthinking parents could do to their children. Clare deserved so much better, and maybe, just maybe, that meant he also had deserved more.
He let his mind wander again, staring out over the backyard. He blinked and did a double take. The child from his hallucinations looked up at him from the back lawn, an expression of pure despair on his face. The boy started running toward the back of the property, and then he just disappeared.
"Hey! Wait!" Jim called and raced down the back stairs after him.
The world seemed to tilt, and suddenly he was no longer in Elizabeth's neatly manicured back yard. He was in the middle of the jungle, and he could hear the boy's choking sobs coming from up ahead. A wave of panic swept over him. He tore off after the child, in the direction of the cries, using his Sentinel hearing to track him. He ran flat out, and his heart hammered in his chest, out of control with exertion and fear.
There were so many things that could happen to a little kid in the middle of the uncut rain forest, and they all took turns popping into his head. Focus, Ellison. You know better than to indulge in "what if" scenarios. Keep your mind on what you're doing.
Ahead of him, he could see the little boy stopped and seated on an overturned stump, his head buried in his arms, sobbing hysterically.
Jim ran up to him, out of breath and knelt by the boy's side. "What are you doing here? What's wrong? Are you hurt?"
The child didn't look up and continued to cry. Jim put an arm around his shoulders and pulled him close. "Please, tell me what's wrong."
"You're mad at me," the child managed to say, in between choked, heaving sobs.
Jim was taken completely aback. "Why would I be mad at you? You helped me find Blair. You saved my life."
The boy looked up at him with those huge blue eyes, tears shimmering on his face, his lower lip trembling. "But I can't get born. You want a kid that can get born. Both of you do."
"You and my other daddy. You're both sad because I can't get born. I'm sorry."
Suddenly, the light went off in his head. Five years old. The same amount of time I've known Blair. For the first time, Jim took a really good look at the kid. He gasped at what he sawBlair's beautiful eyes set in his own face, a diminutive, boyish version of it, capped with a riot of wild, dark curls, just like his lover's.
"Oh, my God!" he said, reaching for the child, his son, pulling him into his arms, holding him close, rubbing his back in comforting circles. "Please don't cry. I just didn't know. I never realized."
"So you're not mad?" the boy asked, still snuffling, but with a glimmer of hope creeping into his voice.
"Of course not," Jim said, holding his child tighter. "But how?"
The boy pulled back, wriggling out of Jim's grip, so he could look his father in the face. "Love always makes more of itself. Everybody knows that, silly," the boy said, sighing dramatically, rolling his eyes.
Jim smiled. "Forgive me for not being very bright."
The boy giggled.
"I still don't understand," Jim told him.
"That's okay. You're not 'sposed to. It's just cause you were in so much trouble that I got to come see you. Usually you don't get to until you're born. They say I might get born next time, just depends. But sooner or later. Until then, I got to wait in the temple."
"They won't let me in there," Jim said sadly.
"Yes, they will. You just have to decide it's what you really want."
"Then you know what you need to do."
Jim looked into his son's eyes, and everything became suddenly clear. He nodded. "I love you," he whispered, surprised by the strength and certainty of the feeling.
The boy launched himself at his father, wrapping thin little arms around his neck. "I love you too."
A commotion in the underbrush interrupted them. The boy slid off Jim's knee.
"I have to go now," he said.
"You know what you need to do."
"But how will I find you..."
"Jim! Jim! Listen to the sound of my voice. Follow me back, buddy. Come on, Jim. You're scaring me here."
Jim looked around in confusion. He was back at Elizabeth's house, in the yard, sprawled out on the ground.
"What happened?" Blair asked him.
"I thought I saw...ow! Why does my head hurt?"
"I don't know, man. I found you down here in the yard, at the bottom of the steps, unconscious. You must have fallen."
"I remember...I was in the jungle and I was running...and then I saw him. He said..."
"Who, Jim? What are you talking about?"
Jim shook his head. "Um...I'm not sure anymore. I don't know what happened."
"Did you zone?"
"I might have. I don't know."
"I'm going to get Elizabeth and have her take a look at you."
He put a hand on Blair's arm. "No. I'm fine."
"You were unconscious."
"Really, Chief, I'm okay now. Help me up?"
"Jim, I really think..."
Blair sighed, but held out his hand. "Don't let anyone tell you you're not stubborn."
Jim broke into a smile. "You wouldn't have it any other way."
"You mean I wouldn't recognize you any other way."
Jim got to his feet again. He still felt a little woozy, but he didn't think he was actually injured. He just didn't quite know what to make of his strange vision, the boy...his son? You know what you need to do. Waves of images came flooding back to him, the jungle, the temple, the spirits. Sentinels and Guides must be equal partners. They must bring each other completion.
Okay, so he didn't exactly understand the subtleties of his visions, but he did know what he needed to do, didn't he? Wasn't that the important thing? Wasn't it time to make things right with his Guide, once and for all?
He put a hand on Blair's arm. "Chief, give me ten minutes and meet me upstairs in our room, okay?"
"What? Are you crazy, man? I just found you nose down in the grass, completely out of it. Three days ago, you were on death's door. I think we need to spend some time on this, figure out what happened here."
He put both hands on Blair's shoulders and looked him in the eye. "I swear we'll talk about it, Chief. I want to do it upstairs, just you and me, ten minutes, okay?"
Blair started to protest, but Jim gently squeezed his shoulders. "Trust me. Please."
Blair still looked unconvinced, but he said, "Okay, man. But ten minutes. That's it. And I'll expect answers, you understand me?"
Jim bent down for a quick peck on the lips. "Yes, Chief, I understand and thanks. See you upstairs. Ten minutes. Don't be late."
He could sense Blair watching him as he went up the stairs and into the house. He could feel waves of frustration and worry coming off his Guide. Just hold on, Chief. A few more minutes, and we'll work this all out for good.
Jim stood in the kitchen, listening for Elizabeth. He heard her in the living room and followed her there. He found her curled up on the sofa, reading a book.
"Hey, Elizabeth, can I ask you a favor?" he asked.
"Sure, Jim. What's up?"
"Could I borrow some candles? Those...what do you call them?...those votive ones. Do you have any of those?"
"Sure," she said, getting up. "Let's see. I think I have some in the desk here."
He watched her rummage around in the bottom drawer. "Oh, here they are," she said. "You can take the bag, and here you go, matches. You'll need those."
"You're welcome," she said, smiling at him. He could tell she was dying of curiosity, but he also knew she wouldn't ask.
He took the candles upstairs to their room and shut the door. He closed the curtains, shutting out the sunlight, and turned back the covers. He lit the candles and spread them out on the dresser and bedside table, bathing the bed in soft, warm light. He undressed and folded his clothes neatly on a chair and found the massage oil Blair had bought the other day. He laid down on the bed, pulling his knees up to his chest, and poured some of the oil into his hand, slowly working his fingers into his ass, opening and lubing himself, in preparation for his lover. When he was finished, he stretched out on the bed, propping himself up on the pillows. Now all I have to do is wait for Blair.
He didn't have to wait long. Blair must have been watching the second hand, because he came bursting into the room precisely on the dot.
The look on Blair's face at finding Jim naked in the candlelight was priceless. "Wh-a-at?" he stammered.
"Hi, Chief. What took you so long?"
He could see the muscles in Blair's throat working as he swallowed. Jim knew his lover must think he'd really lost it or was seriously head injured.
"Come to bed, Chief."
Blair ran his hands through his hair. "Oh, man. We seriously need to talk."
"Yes, we do. Come here."
"No way, man. If I do that, the last thing I'll be doing is talking."
Jim stretched languorously, showing off for his lover. "Something else on your mind?"
"Stop teasing me, Jim. This is serious."
"I'm not teasing you. A tease doesn't deliver, and I definitely plan on delivering."
A tremor passed through Blair. "This is so not you, man. Who are you and what have you done with the Jim Ellison I know?"
Jim looked at him sadly. "I'm sorry," he said softly.
Blair came a little closer. "Why?"
"Because all I've given you up until now is the Jim Ellison who's way too rigid and an asshole on more occasions than I'd like to remember. You deserve more. You deserve everything I can give you. There is more, you know. I promise."
"Jim, what's been happening with you?"
"Take off your clothes and come here. I'll tell you everything you want to know."
Blair didn't seem to know what to say to that, but he did start to unbutton his shirt. Jim propped himself up on one elbow to get a better view. He watched his lover strip off his shirt and then his undershirt, unbuckle his belt, undo his pants and slide them down his legs, taking his boxers with them, leaving it all in a tangled heap on the floor.
"You're so beautiful," he told Blair.
Now that Blair was naked, he could see his lover's ribs moving up and down with his breath, which was getting heavier. He could smell the dark, earthy scent of his excitement, sense Blair's pheromones surging off him in waves, surrounding him in a cloud of arousal. It sparked Jim's own responses, desire racing through him like wild fire. He was hard and ready, and so was Blair, his erection bobbing out in front of him, making Jim want him just that much more.
"We still need to talk," Blair insisted, but his voice shook.
"I know. I want to tell you. Come and lie beside me."
Blair walked over to the bed smiling faintly. "It's that kind of conversation, is it?"
Jim gazed up at him longingly. "Yes. Come here, baby."
Blair sat down on the bed and then stretched out, laying his head next to Jim's on the pillow.
Jim curved an arm around him and kissed him. "I love you," he said.
Blair smiled, his face lighting up. "I love you too. Now tell me what's going on."
Jim brushed the hair back from Blair's face and stroked along his hairline. "Okay," he said and kissed his Guide again, passionately.
Blair returned the kiss, eagerly, stroking the curve of Jim's hip in loving circles. "So this is the idea, huh? Talk a little, kiss a little."
"Mmmm." His hands lingered on Blair's chest, relishing the feel of the soft hair and warm skin. "I do want to try to tell you what happened."
"Outside just now?" Blair asked, looking intently into his face.
He nodded. "Yes and the dream I had the other day and everything that's been going on."
"So tell me."
He pulled Blair closer. "I'm not sure how..."
Blair brushed his lips lightly across Jim's. "How about start with the dream?"
Jim nodded and paused for a moment, trying to pull his thoughts together, to figure out how to describe something so mysterious and confusing. "I was in the jungle, and something was calling me. I kept following it, and I found it, the temple, the Temple of the Jaguars. I can't tell you what that felt like. It was just the most amazing thing. I was finally home, like I never was before."
Blair stroked his arm and looked at him intently, following every word, his bright blue eyes filled with curiosity. "That's so wonderful, Jim. It sounds like a very moving experience."
Jim nodded. "It was. It really was. All I wanted was to go inside. I had this really strong feeling that something very important was in there. So I walked up to the door, and I turned the handle. But the door wouldn't open. I did everything I could. I beat on it and tried to force it. I screamed for whoever was inside to let me in. But none of it worked. They just weren't going to let me go inside."
Blair frowned. "Maybe it wasn't time yet."
"No, Chief. I'm not allowed in. After I gave up on the door, these three, well I don't really know what they were, presences I guess you could call them, showed up, and they told me that I'm not complete as a Sentinel. That's why I can't enter the temple. I haven't earned the right."
"I don't understand," Blair said. "You accepted your Sentinel senses. You made the commitment."
"They said I'm holding back something from my Guide, that there's something I won't give you, that I've made you unable even to ask me for. That's what's been unbalancing our relationship. At first, I argued. It seriously pissed me off, what they were saying. But when I was really honest with myself, I had to admit that it's true."
"Jim, are we talking about your not letting me make love to you?"
Blair stroked his shoulder comfortingly. "I just always assumed it bothered you, and that's why you never offered. I didn't want to push. That's why I didn't ask."
"It wasn't a problem for you that I wouldn't give you that?" he asked.
Blair wouldn't meet his eyes.
"You can tell me," Jim reassured him.
"I can't say that it never, ever bugged me. I just don't want it to sound like some kind of quid pro quo thing, like you were supposed to let me make love to you because I'd let you do it to me. Because that's not it. I just always kind of hoped that you'd trust me enough to give yourself to me, that you'd want to."
"So why didn't you ever tell me?"
"It's a sensitive kind of thing. I mean, it's not for everyone. For a lot of guys, it makes them feel...I don't know, like less of a man somehow, and I didn't want to put any pressure on you to do something that was going to seriously mess with your head or damage your sense of self."
Jim frowned and felt a cold knot of worry uncurl in the pit of his stomach. "Is that how it makes you feel, Blair? Like less of a man."
'No," Blair hastily reassured him. "But you know, man, we don't exactly...er, feel the same way about things."
"You mean I'm more hung up than you are."
"I wouldn't put it that way."
"But it's what you meant."
"Please don't get angry with me. I don't want to spoil this moment. I don't want us to stop talking now that we're both being so honest."
Jim took a deep breath and calmed himself down, realizing that he wasn't being fair to his partner. Blair had only been working with the evidence he'd given him. If he hadn't gotten things exactly right, it was because Jim had withheld important facts about his past, about who he really was, things he'd been unwilling to admit even to himself.
"No, I'm sorry, Chief. I shouldn't get angry with you for being honest about how you feel, especially when you're right. I am hung up, but not exactly the way you think."
Blair looked distinctly confused.
"I don't know how to say this. Ah, hell Chief, I haven't exactly...I'm not a virgin, you know, with guys."
"What?" Blair asked, his voice filled with disbelief and something Jim was pretty sure sounded like the beginning of fury.
"I've had sex that way before."
"I understand what 'not a virgin' means, Jim. I'm just having a little trouble processing the fact that you were willing to lay down for other guys, but not for me."
"I'm sorry. I should have told you. I shouldn't have let you believe that it disgusted me or whatever. Please, don't be angry."
"No, you're hurt. That's worse."
"How am I supposed to feel? For two years, I've just assumed that this was something you couldn't give me because it would feel unmanly to you, and I was willing to honor that, to not push you to do something you couldn't. But now I find out it was just me you weren't willing to give yourself to, and I don't know what to do with that. What? Am I not man enough for you? You couldn't let some wimp fuck you, is that it, Jim?"
"Please, don't do that, Chief. Don't say that. You know it's not true. This is about me, about my hang ups. It's nothing against you. You know I don't think you're a wimp."
"How many guys have you let fuck you?"
"I don't know, Sandburg."
"Oh, yeah, now I'm Sandburg. That's just great, man."
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean it."
"Yes, you did. You didn't like my question, you didn't want to answer it, so you pushed me away."
Jim sighed heavily and counted to ten. "You're right. I'm sorry. I don't know how many. It was a pretty long time ago, in the army mostly, and a few when I was in Vice."
"So what? 10? 20?"
"Somewhere in there."
"But definitely double digits?"
"Jesus, Jim, that's hardly hung up."
"It's not the act that's the problem for me. When the spirits asked me what I was afraid of, what I was too scared to give you, I tried to tell them it was about sex, but they told me I was full of shit. And they were right."
"It's hard to...the spirits said letting you make love to me is symbolic for what I'm really afraid to give you. That's why I could let the others...well, you know, and I couldn't let you. I never loved any of them. With them, it was fucking, and I guess that was easier for me. Before us, I never had to revise my concept of myself. I never felt gay."
"Now, I'm in love with you. Now, I feel safe enough to be who I really am, who I always was. I used to be so terrified of admitting that I'm just more comfortable with men than women, that other guys, well, that's where my real interest is. But not anymore. I'm not afraid of being with you because you're a man, Chief. I'm not afraid of being gay."
Blair just stared at him. "Jesus, Jim, sometimes you shock the hell out of me. There I am thinking I have you all figured out, but really I don't have the faintest clue. Okay, so if it's not the gay thing or the sex thing, what is it? What are you afraid to give me?"
Jim's mouth went dry and he could not remember feeling more terrified. But he had to do it. They would never have any peace until he took this step, until he came completely clean with his Guide. He opened his mouth, and the words somehow just tumbled out of him. "It's about giving myself to you completely, really and truly, all of it, nothing held back, no secrets, no omissions, the whole truth and nothing but. It scares the shit out of me. Please don't leave. I know you're angry. I know I hurt you. But please don't leave."
Blair took Jim's hand in his own. "I'm not going to leave you. Breathe, Jim. I can't lie and say I'm not still hurt that you've done stuff with other guys that you wouldn't do with me. Hell, I can't say I'm not a little upset and jealous that there have even been other guys. I am. I can't help it. I still don't understand all this, but I'm trying. I want to understand. I just need you to explain it to me, so I really get it."
Jim sighed and closed his eyes, trying to figure out how he could make his lover understand. "The other day I was sitting out on the terrace trying to figure out this weird shit that's been going on, and it struck me that you're the first person who's ever really known me. I'm almost forty years old, and this is the first time in my life that I'm not pretending about who I am. It's been so amazing, and I'm so grateful. But it's still just...I'm afraid."
"I don't want to lose you."
"You're not going to lose me. Why would you lose me?"
"If I really give myself to you, if you have everything I am, you'll know."
"Yes, I'll really know you. What could be wrong with that?"
"Because you'll know that I'm not good enough for you, that I don't deserve you."
"That's silly, Jim. I love you. I chose you. I'm your Guide. I was meant for you."
Jim clung to Blair's hand. He desperately wanted to believe him, but the nagging, doubting part of him would not be convinced.
"Whose voice is it that says you're not good enough?" Blair asked him.
"Who's voice? In your head, who is it telling you that you're not good enough? Is it mine?"
Jim shook his head. "No, baby, never you."
"Is it yours?"
"Does it sound like you?"
He shook his head again.
"So who said those things, that you're not good enough, that you don't deserve things, that if anyone really knew you they'd leave? Who told you those things?"
Jim closed his eyes and concentrated. Fragmented images formed in his head. An angry face materialized in his mind's eye. He watched as the angry presence grabbed his arm and told him never to let anyone know what a freak he was or they'd put him away somewhere and no one would ever want anything to do with him again. He watched as the angry presence ridiculed his grades, his performance on the football team, forbade him to hang out with the boy down the block whom everyone called a sissy, telling him that faggots always got what was coming to them. No matter how hard he tried to be perfect, there was always some flaw, some shortcoming, something that the angry face would pick out and demean. He could see himself as a boy, trying so hard and always failing, learning to put up a wall to protect himself, always holding something back, some little piece of himself that was his and his alone, so that there would be some part of him that wasn't judged, criticized, found wanting.
"It was my father," he said shakily.
Blair nodded, stroking Jim's arm, trying to help guide him through this painful discovery.
"He said I couldn't let anyone know the truth about me or they'd think there was something wrong with me."
"He was wrong, Jim."
Jim's shoulders shook.
"He was very, very wrong," Blair said, pulling his partner closer. "I know you better than anyone else ever has, and I love you very, very much. Not that you don't still surprise me sometimes. I mean, that thing about sleeping with other guys came as one hell of a shock. But I'm still here, aren't I?"
"Yeah, you're still here, Chief."
"And I'm never, ever going to leave. I mean, where would I go? What would I do without you? You are my life. We are each other's lives. That's just the way it is between Sentinels and Guides. Let go of your father's voice and put my voice in its place. You're a wonderful man, Jimstrong and brave and kind. You deserve all the good things in life. You can let me in all the way. I'm not going to see anything I don't like. Nothing's going to drive me away."
"I'm sorry, for hurting you, for all of it."
Blair stroked his face with his fingers. "I know. It's okay. It's not your fault. Ideas like that sink into us when we're children, so that we don't even know they're there anymore. But we still react to them just the same. I'm just glad you figured it out now, so you don't have to keep acting out on them unconsciously, in a way that you don't want to."
"How could he do that, Blair?" Jim asked, his voice shaking, finally asking the question that had been screaming inside him since he was a very young boy.
Blair shook his head, stroking Jim's arm. "I don't know. I really don't," he said, quietly. "But you need to believe that you never deserved it, not any of it."
"Earlier today, I was talking to Clare, and she wanted to know how you can ever love yourself when your own parents don't love you."
"And what did you tell her?"
"That I understood."
"You've felt that way a long time, haven't you, Jim?"
"I've been so afraid to tell you so many things," he said, his voice nearly inaudible.
Blair caressed Jim's chest, soothing him. "I can understand why you would be if every time you expressed anything about yourself to your father you were punished for it. It's conditioned response, man, and your father was a cruel teacher."
"I could never tell him anything, and finally I stopped trying. I just got silent. It seemed..."
Blair looked him deeply in the eyes, lovingly, compassionately. "That was all so wrong, Jim. It never should have happened. Who you are is a beautiful thing. When you share yourself with me, it's the most precious gift I could ever receive. No matter how angry I ever get at you or how hurt, all the stuff that just happens in relationships, I accept and honor all of you, without exception or question. You never need to hold anything back from me. Do you understand?"
"Do you believe me?"
The part of him that was habitually clenched out of self-preservation balked for a moment. He wasn't at all sure why Blair's offer of unconditional acceptance terrified him, but it did. But he looked into his lover's face and saw nothing but kindness, nothing but bright affection, tender concern, Blair's wonderful openness, the shadowless truth.
"I believe you," he finally said.
Blair smiled. "Good. Look, Jim, I know it's not possible to let go of a lifetime's experience in one day. I don't expect that. But I really meant it when I said I never want to see you struggling alone. You don't deserve that. No one does. I'm here for you, whenever you need me, just the way you're always there for me."
"Thank you," Jim said, reaching out to lightly brush Blair's face with his fingertips.
Blair caught his hand and kissed his palm. "It's my pleasure."
"I'm ready now," Jim told him.
"To give myself to you without reserve. That's what the spirits said I needed to do. It's what I want to do."
"You're sure? Because we don't have to do this right now. I can wait. I don't want to rush you."
Jim nodded and leaned in to kiss his partner. "Make love to me. Please."
He could hear his lover's heart rate accelerate and smell the rush of his arousal. "Oh yes, Jim. Yes. If it's what you want. I want you so much. Turn over for me, lover," he said, urging Jim onto his side.
"I want to see you."
Blair pressed a kiss to his temple. "You can look at me over your shoulder. Don't worry. I'm going to kiss you and talk to you while I make love to you. I'm going to fill youyour body, your senses, all of you. I know what you need, Jim, and I'm gonna take good care of you. I'm not going to do anything you don't want, that doesn't feel right. Just trust me, okay?"
Jim smiled at him. "I can do that."
Blair curled up behind him, propped up on one elbow, so he could lean over him. His Guide ran a hand down his chest, across his belly, following the line of hair down to his cock. He rubbed his erection against Jim's backside, as he stroked Jim's cock and gently teased his balls, whispering in his ear all the silly, sexy, sweet, obscene things that turned Jim on so much. Jim groaned out loud at the feeling of his lover's hard cock rubbing intimately between his ass cheeks, an arousing prelude to what would soon follow.
"Please, Blair. I need you inside me now." He could feel the puffs of Blair's excited breath against the side of his face.
"I need to get you ready first, love."
Jim shook his head. "I did it already, while I was waiting for you. I'm ready. Take me, Blair." He looked back over his shoulder at his lover, to show him that he really was ready for him.
Jim nearly jumped out of his skin when he felt Blair's fingers travel along his cleft, stroking between his cheeks.
"I'm not going to hurry this," Blair told him. "I want it to be good."
Blair leaned in for another kiss, and Jim's senses erupted with pleasure. This kiss tasted like fulfillment, long awaited, hard fought for, perfectworth the fear and old pain he'd been forced to confront in order to get there. Blair's fingers brushed his opening, very briefly, teasing, flirting. It was still nearly more than Jim's peaked senses could handle.
"Don't dial it up too far," Blair warned him.
"I want to feel it all."
Blair smiled at him wickedly. "Oh you will, Jim. I promise. You will."
Jim dialed down his touch very slightly, and Blair returned to his play, circling his entrance, caressing him. Jim could feel himself opening up even more for his lover, his body so very eager to be claimed. Blair pressed in one finger, and he groaned out loud.
"Oh my God," he said.
It felt so different to have Blair's fingers inside him than it had his own. Every nerve ending in his body tingled with sensual thrill, erotic longing, demanding more.
"Please," he begged.
Blair added a second finger, stroking and caressing him intimately. "God, Jim, do you know how amazing you are? How beautiful? Do you know what it does to me to touch you like this? To feel you so hot and slick and ready, to know that you did that to yourself, so you could give yourself to me. God, I want you so much."
"Want you too, Chief," he managed to say, panting heavily. "Take me."
Blair kissed him deeply. "I love you," he said and entered him in one smooth stroke.
It took Jim's breath away; it dizzied him, the feeling of Blair inside him, a physical part of him, as he'd long been a part of his soul. It had felt good with those other men, but had been nothing like this. Blair wasn't just filling him. He was making him exquisitely whole, something he'd never felt before, never even close.
Jim closed his eyes tightly, and colors exploded behind his eyes. The cosmos swirled away from him. The ground fell out from beneath him, and he was freefalling. He grabbed for Blair's hand and gripped it tightly. When the spinning stopped, he opened his eyes and was standing once again outside the temple door, only this time his Guide was by his side.
"Did I pass out?" he asked Blair.
Blair's face was filled with confusion and amazement. "If you did, then I did too. Which is possible, I guess. I've never felt anything so incredible, man, as being inside you."
Jim smiled tenderly at his Guide.
"When there is nothing you are afraid to give, there will be nothing you cannot gain," a voice said behind them, causing them both to start and whirl around.
It was the Clare spirit.
"Oh wow, man, is this what you were dreaming?" Blair asked.
"It's time now," the spirit told them.
"To go inside?" Jim asked.
She nodded and motioned toward the doors. "Try it again."
Jim looked from the spirit to his Guide, who nodded, encouraging him. He walked the few steps to the door, slowly, with great seriousness. He reached his hand slowly toward the knob and turned. This time, it moved easily in his hand, the door opening without difficulty, as if by magic.
He smiled at both his Guide and the spirit. "It worked!"
Blair returned his smile. "That's great, man!"
"You have learned the lesson and taught it to another, as well. You have more than earned the right to pass into the temple. Welcome home," the spirit said and turned, disappearing once more into the jungle.
Blair stood very close to him, holding his hand. "Let's go inside," he said.
"It's okay," Blair assured him. "Come on."
He let Blair lead him through the door. He followed his Guide inside, and then everything stopped. He was overwhelmed by the hushed stillness, his chest expanding with a sense of awe. The interior of the temple was simple, bare walls and floors, smooth and white as ivory, timeless, still, perfect. It sang to him. It filled him with a perfect feeling of belonging. Home. Home.
"It's so beautiful," he said to Blair, in a shaky voice.
Blair nodded. "Yes, it is."
He watched his Guide. "You've been here before?"
"Yes. The first time when I was...well, before I regained consciousness after you pulled me out of the fountain. I didn't remember it though until I went back the second time. That was the first night we made love. Since then, I've kept coming back pretty regularly."
Jim nodded. "Why do you think we came here together this time?"
"I don't know. Maybe it's a sign that whatever was wrong between us is healed now. Or maybe there's something else..."
"Daddy!" a familiar voice squealed and the child came running to him, from the depths of the temple.
Jim caught him in his arms, twirled him around and hugged him. "Hey, did you miss me?"
The boy nodded earnestly.
"Daddy?" Blair asked, staring at them, a look of both confusion and disbelief on his face. "Um...Jim, is there something else you forgot to tell me?"
"Yes. We have a son."
"I don't get it."
"Love always makes more of itself," Jim told his lover, his voice deep and husky.
Jim watched Blair taking in that information, staring at him and the boy, his eyes going back and forth from one face to the other. Jim put the child down, and the boy shyly approached Blair, who knelt down so they'd be on eye level with each other.
"My other daddy's not mad I can't get born. Are you?"
Blair stared at him, and finally shook his head. "No, of course not." He touched a curly dark strand of the boy's hair, lightly, reverently. "How could I be mad at you? You're a miracle."
The boy's face filled with pleasure. Blair gathered him up in his arms, stroking and kissing his hair. "I love you," he told his son.
"I love you too, Daddy. But you have to go now. You're not finished yet."
"I don't want to let you go."
"I'll be here."
"What's your name?" Blair thought to ask.
The boy grinned at him. "You haven't given me one yet."
Blair squeezed his shoulders, rubbed his arms, couldn't stop touching him. "We'll have to take care of that."
Their son nodded. "When you come back."
Blair frowned. "How do you know..."
The boy pulled out of his arms. "This is home. You'll always come here."
Jim and Blair both watched the boy step back, and the temple dissolved around them. They were in bed once more in Elizabeth's guest room, Blair buried deep inside Jim's body. "Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God," Blair kept saying.
Jim began moving, pushing down on Blair's erection and pulling up. "Come on, baby. Make love to me. I need you to move. Please."
Blair's breath came in short, excited pants, as he began thrusting in and out of his lover's body. "My God, Jim. Was it real?"
Jim nodded, unable to speak as Blair found his prostate and began working it with short, shallow strokes. "So good, Blair. Oh God, so good."
"I want to love you so long and hard and sweet that you'll never forget it," Blair said, beginning to pound him harder. "God, Jim, look what we made together. So good. So beautiful. Gonna make more love. Gonna make more miracles."
"More," Jim agreed mindlessly, beyond conversation, beyond rational thought.
Blair reached across Jim's body to stroke his cock and fondle his balls. Jim, who hardly ever screamed during sex, wailed like a banshee in heat. "Oh God, I love you, Blair."
"I know, baby. I love you too. Love you so much."
"Fuck me harder. Take me."
"I'm taking all of you, lover."
"Oh, yeah. Yeah. Take it. Please."
Blair sucked Jim's neck hard and bit down. "Say it, lover. Tell me."
"I'm yours. God, Blair, yours, yours, all yours."
"Mine," Blair said, biting down hard on Jim's shoulder, claiming his lover, his voice the growl of a wolf in the throes of mating.
Jim made a deep keening sound in the back of his throat, the panther lying down for its mate, Sentinel submitting to Guide. Jim could feel Blair's trembling, his muscles losing control, so close now. Blair began to stroke his cock more urgently, and Jim could feel his release gathering its forces, sending him over the edge, into mind-shattering orgasm.
At the height of ecstasy, Jim understood at last what it meant to be tamed by love. This was how it was always meant to be: Sentinel giving up control to the Guide, the Guide losing himself to his Sentinel, the way it had been since the beginning of time, so that neither would lead and neither would follow, so they would be true partners, walking alongside one another, neither in the other's shadow.
So that they would complete one another, now and forever, the way it was always intended.