It's kind of funny that a slamming door was the way I figured out something was wrong. I really might never have known otherwise. If Jim had just come home early from his date, I would have wondered. I probably would have asked. Okay, so I definitely would have asked. But I also would have accepted any number of excuses: he had one of his migraines, the movie theater burned down, his date came down with a case of 24-hour ebola that was going around. Not, of course, that I would have believed one word of Jim's bullshit, but I would have accepted it. Jim calls me pushy, but the truth is that I honor boundaries where I see them. If Jim had told me that his girlfriend had been the victim of alien abduction, I would have gotten the picture. Fine. Enough said.
But he slammed the door. You have to understand that Jim just doesn't do that, no matter how pissed off he is. It's simply not normal Sentinel behavior to cause any unnecessary loud noises. As the foremost authority on Sentinels--okay, as one of only three people who know they exist-- you can trust me on this. Slamming doors is for those of us with normal hearing.
The walls actually shook that night; that's how angry he was. And it did hurt his ears. He screwed up his face and squinted his eyes, looking completely disgusted, like he just couldn't imagine how the evening could suck any worse than it already did.
"Hey man," I called to him, as he hung up his coat.
He nodded in my general direction and headed into the kitchen. He opened the refrigerator, fished out a beer, popped the cap and drank it down, gulped it actually, as he stood there at the counter. After a while, he came out to the living room, another beer in his hand, and sat down in the chair, since I was taking up most of the couch with the exams I was grading. He picked up the remote and started flipping channels, sending the message loud and clear that he didn't want to talk about it.
But like I said, he slammed the door. There was no way I could just let that go. I watched him. Actually, I guess it was more like I observed him, being the Sentinel expert that I am, taking in the tense shoulders, the hard, set line of his mouth, that telltale muscle in his jaw that was like a neon sign, advertising just how upset he was.
"So, I'm thinking the date didn't go too well," I said, trying to sound casual, just one guy shooting the breeze with another.
Of course, that didn't fool him.
"Leave it alone," he warned me, his voice tight and strained.
He stared straight ahead at the TV, as if the Tai-bo infomercial he was watching held the secret to achieving world peace.
"Come on, Jim. Don't you think it might make you feel better to tell someone?"
"I'm not interested in giving you a big laugh at my expense."
I didn't even have to pretend to be hurt by that.
"Hey, man, do you really think that's why I'm asking?" I asked, my voice quiet and serious.
That finally made him look at me. When he did, I could see that he was sorry, that he hadn't really meant to be harsh with me. I could also see the struggle in him, as well as the moment he decided to trust me and let his guard down. And when I saw his face unmasked and filled with pain, I understood exactly how serious it was, whatever it was that was bothering him.
"Something happened?" I asked.
"You could say that," he said, sounding suddenly so tired and defeated.
"She break up with you?"
I really hoped that wasn't it. Jim had been going out with this woman, Emily Watson, for a couple of weeks, and he genuinely seemed to like her. For once, I approved of his choice. Emily had warm brown eyes and a quirky little smile. She taught fifth grade and liked to garden. Finally, Jim had chosen a women who wasn't going to be starring on next week's episode of American's Most Wanted, and it seemed to be agreeing with him. Whenever anyone mentioned her name, he'd get this crooked little smile and this tender, shy expression that was just too cute coming from a tough guy like Jim. I was glad to see him happy. He was a good man, and he deserved a little love in his life, especially after what happened with that bitch Veronica, the way she'd used him, breaking his heart so cold-bloodedly, like it was nothing of any consequence.
He shook his head. "No, but she'll call it quits soon enough."
"Why? How do you know?" I asked, increasingly puzzled.
Even though I'd lived with Jim for three years, his mating patterns still made absolutely no sense to me. I guess we just did things so differently that it made him tough to figure out. Ah, who am I kidding? We're night and day when it comes to women. By the old Sandburg chronology, the three week mark is when things start to devolve into constant bickering about leaving toothbrushes at each other's houses and other smokescreen issues that have everything to do with commitment. If Jim handled things the way I do, I would have assumed that Emily was poised to break up with him because she wanted to take things to a higher level and he wasn't ready. But this was Jim, who never took anything casually. Maybe he'd found out she was actually some criminal mastermind responsible for the international heroin trade and Middle Eastern terrorism and the Jags losing in the playoffs last season, because God knows they were robbed.
"So what did happen?" I asked.
He stared off into space a few minutes. I couldn't tell if he was gathering his thoughts or changing his mind about talking to me.
"She wanted to have sex, and I didn't," he finally said.
I'm not certain what I was expecting, but this definitely wasn't it. I'm honestly not sure I'd ever considered the possibility that a woman might want sex when a man didn't. Most guys I knew would have sex on their death beds if a woman was willing to get it on with them. I sat there for who knows how long with my mouth wide open, gaping at Jim, not exactly the most grown-up response to his confiding in me. But it was just such a fundamental reordering of how I understood the dynamics between the sexes that I lost touch with gravity there for a moment or two.
"I thought you liked her," I said.
"I do," he said, sounding frustrated.
"Then why didn't you want to sleep with her?"
His jaw clamped down tight, and he wouldn't look at me.
"Was there some...er, problem?" I asked, trying to be as delicate as possible.
"There would have been."
"Um, Jim...we are talking about a sexual problem, right?"
"Yes, Sandburg," he said, an edge in his voice, like he couldn't believe I'd picked this moment to become a dimwit.
"So what kind of problem? I mean, is it...uh, getting started or keeping it going?"
He lowered his eyes, and I swear to God he turned red. I didn't think it was biologically possible for an ex-Ranger to blush.
"Keeping it going. Let's just say that I wouldn't have left her feeling very satisfied."
"Do you know what goes wrong? Why you...uh, reach the finish line too soon?"
"The dial gets all screwy, and I can't control it. My God, you don't know how overwhelming it is, all that stimulation, all that input, what she's doing to me, what I'm doing to her. I just can't keep myself from...well, you know."
"When did this start happening? We need to isolate what's different, why you can't control your senses during sex any more."
"It's always been this way, since I got my senses."
I knew I was sounding stupid again and probably wasn't being very helpful. But I found it difficult to accept that he had a problem this damned huge, that it had been going on since we met, for God's sake, and this was the first I was hearing about it.
Jim sighed heavily. "You heard me, Chief."
"You're telling me that you've never been able to have satisfying sex since you've had your Sentinel senses."
"Yeah, I know," he said, tiredly. "Sometimes, it actually hurts too. The dial is so far up that even the slightest touch is too much. That's always fun."
"That seriously sucks, man."
"Tell me about it, Sandburg."
"And it never occurred to you to come to me about this?" I asked, more curious than angry.
"God, how was I supposed to discuss that with you?"
"Oh, come on, man. We're friends. I'm your guide. You tell me stuff all the time."
Jim gave me the look, the one that suggests all my higher education hasn't really done me much good.
"What? It was better to live with sexual dysfunction?" I asked.
"I do not have a sexual dysfunction. And this is a perfect example of why I didn't want to talk to you about it."
I held up my hands, backing off a little. I didn't want to push him so hard that he'd close off the discussion for good.
"Okay, okay," I told him. "So let's call it a lack of fulfillment. You can trust me with this, Jim. I swear that I would never purposefully do anything to make you uncomfortable or to embarrass you. And I really do want to help."
He crossed hands over his chest, still not convinced.
"Do you like Emily? Do you want to have sex with her?" I asked, changing my tact.
Jim looked down and wouldn't answer.
"Okay, so getting into that violates your sense of chivalry. Tell me this then. Do you at least want to have sex sometime with someone?"
"Okay, then. I need you to answer some questions."
Jim looked away, but nodded in agreement, which really rather surprised me. But, heck, I wasn't going to argue.
"Do you have any trouble getting an erection?"
He shook his head.
"And you ejaculate prematurely?"
He turned red again. "Anytime I'm with anybody," he said. "There's so much sensory input, and I don't have any control over it. It's okay when I'm alone, when I can pace the...uh, stimulation."
"So you can keep control while masturbating, but not when you're actually having sex?"
"Is intercourse the problem or before you get to that?"
"Pretty much as soon as she starts touching me."
"When she touches your penis?"
"Sometimes I make it that far. Not always."
"Jim, are you saying that you can come just from being touched on like your arm or leg?"
"Pretty much. If it's...you know, if I'm turned on enough."
"So you found it easier to just not have sex?" I asked him.
He sighed. "I've had some pretty humiliating experiences. I wanted to avoid any of that ever happening again."
"And that's why you never went out on more than a few dates with any one woman. You'd get to the stage of the relationship when it was time to have sex, and you'd bail, rather than risk having another...er, incident."
So many things were clicking into place. I had never been able to understand why a great guy like Jim couldn't hang on to a girlfriend. I mean, he was a bona fide catch, and Cascade was full of women who'd find him perfectly dreamy. This really explained some things.
And suddenly I just had to groan out loud. "Oh God, man, and there I was trying to push you at women, ragging you about your dismal track record with the ladies. I'm really sorry, Jim. That's probably why you didn't want to come to me about this, huh?"
He shook his head and put his hand on my shoulder. "It just embarrassed me, Chief. You know I'm not good at talking about stuff that cuts too close to home. It wasn't anything against you."
"I'm still sorry."
He cocked his head and grinned at me. "You shouldn't be. I've never been even remotely sorry for teasing you about your table-leg humping tendencies."
I rolled my eyes. That's my Jim, the comedian.
"Fine, then. I take it back. I'm not sorry."
"Good," he said, taking another sip of his beer.
He relaxed against the cushions, and I could feel his tension dissipating, the usual companionable ease returning between us. He wasn't sorry he'd told me. I was really grateful for that.
"Hey, wait," I said, something suddenly striking me. "How could you have done it with Laura? I mean, your senses were already hyped up from her pheromones. Wasn't that a problem? I mean, you were with her, right?"
He nodded. "Wasn't a problem. That's another reason it was so disappointing she turned out to be the perp. I'd finally found someone I could sleep with and not have my senses blown out."
"That's weird, man."
"Yeah, imagine that, weird shit with this Sentinel thing. Who would have thought it?"
"So does it sometimes bother you and then other times not?"
He shook his head. "It pretty much always bothers me. There have just been a few times--with Laura and Michelle Lazar and Lila. Otherwise, it's been impossible. I mean, a couple of kisses, and I can tell it's going to happen. The dial starts to inch up, and no matter how hard I try, I can't get control of it."
"Maybe it was something about those particular women. Was there anything they had in common?"
"Well, I'd say they were all criminals, except Michelle was only married to one."
"Okay, so it's not some funky immunity to bad girls. What else?"
Jim frowned, thinking it over, but finally he shrugged. "I can't think of anything."
"What about with Alex?"
Jim lowered his eyes. "You know I didn't have sex with her, Chief."
"But you wanted to. You made out with her. You got aroused. Was it okay?"
I knew talking about Alex was always last on Jim's list of things to do, but I really did need to know the answer to my question for guidely purposes. And there was a part of me, the part that picks at scabs and can't help stopping to stare at traffic accidents, that wanted to know for my own reasons.
I could see the muscles in his jaw tighten. "I wouldn't say that it was okay, but I didn't have any problems with my senses."
"What about Veronica?" I asked quietly. "You weren't having any problems, at least not that you told me, while you were with her."
It didn't make me especially happy to rake over all Jim's pain in one conversation, but I needed to know these things if I was going to help him.
He shook his head. "We never...Arthur had just died or so I thought. I didn't want to push."
"All that time you spent together? And you never did it, not even once?" I couldn't help feeling incredulous.
From the defensive look on Jim's face, I must not have been hiding it very well.
"We spent the time...you know, talking, working things through, comforting each other, trying to get past what had happened. At least, that's what I thought we were doing. And anyway, you don't have to bed a woman to enjoy her company."
I arched an eyebrow at him. He just shook his head at me, but I could see the slightest little tremor at the corner of his mouth. He didn't even have to say it. I knew what he was thinking. Teasing me about my uncontrollable libido really was one of his favorite games.
"So you really haven't had a normal sex life in three years?"
"That really does suck, man."
"Yes, it does." He sighed. "So what do we do, Chief?"
I would have been pumped that Jim was trusting me with this, that he wanted my help, but there was something in the way he asked the question that gave me pause. I looked at him, and suddenly I could see exactly how frustrated, desperate and even afraid he was. Once more, he was out of control of his body, overwhelmed by his senses, his life distorted and ruled by them. My enthusiasm clouded over.
I patted his leg to comfort him. "Give me a little time and let me think about it. I'll figure something out. Trust me."
"You know I hate it when you say that," he responded. But he was smiling that crooked little smile of his, and there was the glint of mischief in his eyes.
Translated from Jim speak, this meant he was putting his faith in me, that he was relying on me to figure this thing out and find a way to help him through it. Suddenly that realization had me swallowing hard, feeling the responsibility like a weight on my shoulders. Far too often when it came to helping Jim with his senses, I was just kind of feeling my way along, lost in the mists without a map or a clue, hoping that things would just somehow work out in the end. Who was I to be making any sort of guarantees here?
He seemed to pick up on my doubts. I never can figure out how he does that. I mean, even if he's monitoring my vital signs, how does he know what they mean?
He squeezed my shoulder. "Thanks for helping me out here, Chief. I'll be glad for whatever you can think of, whatever you can do for me."
And I go around thinking that giving encouragement and support is the guide's job. But hell, Jim's an intuitive genius at it, even in the midst of all his troubles. No wonder he's my best friend.
The next day as I was sitting at my desk at the U. mulling over Jim's problem, trying to figure out what to do about it, I kept getting stuck on the same thought over and again, namely that Jim was a far better man than I would have been in the same circumstances. I mean, I don't think I'd still be functional if I'd gone three years without any other erotic company than my right hand. I try not to be a stereotypical "guy." But at the danger of sounding like a neolithic throwback to some carnal predator, a guy really does have his needs. If I go a couple of weeks without getting any action, I start to feel edgy. It certainly recast in a whole new light Jim's little tantrums about messes in the bathroom and the snit he went into when I mentioned a possible follow-up to my study on Larry, the Barbary ape. Geezus, the man had been walking around in a constant state of sexual frustration for three years. He was my hero all over again for being able to manage so well, without even having help dealing with it, without working off his frustration by beating the shit out of the bad guys he arrested. I mean, I'm not so sure I wouldn't have acted like a lunatic if I had to go without like that.
This prompted another wave of anxiety about what would happen if I couldn't figure out how to fix the problem. Not that I wanted to shirk the commitment I'd made to Jim or anything. Hell, I love being his Guide. More than that, I covet the role. Nobody will ever know Jim Ellison the way I do. I'm the best friend this guy has ever had, and he does not enter into such arrangements lightly. Jim has allowed himself to rely on me, to trust me, to freakin' need me, and I wouldn't have it any other way. But geezus, does it ever scare the hell out of me sometimes. I mean, what exactly are my guidely qualifications? I got to Jim first?. I could put a name to what he was experiencing? I was too young and arrogant to realize I was taking someone's safety and well-being--hell, his very life--into my hands, so I volunteered for the job?
I try not to dwell on these things. I mean, it's all water under the bridge at this point anyway. I am Jim's Guide, for better or worse, and it's mostly been for the better. Oh, who am I trying to kid? It's been the wildest, most thrilling ride of my life, with only the one notable exception, when we both screwed up and almost ruined everything. But that was one time, and even with it, I wouldn't trade my life with Jim for anything. It's just that at moments like these, whenever Jim has some Sentinel crisis, it always jolts me back to reality and reminds me of the huge responsibility that comes along with the head rush of being his Guide.
Needless to say, I was freaking about how to handle Jim's most recent difficulty. I kept spinning it around in my head, trying to get a handle on it, but the truth was that I didn't have the first clue about what to do for a Sentinel with stamina troubles. I couldn't remember anything in Burton's writings or in any of the other sources on ancient Sentinels that had to do with the Sentinel sex life. So I started concocting theories of my own. I puzzled over the possibility that Sentinels experienced this response to sex as a kind of learned aversion, so they wouldn't be distracted from their duty to protect the tribe. There was some merit to the explanation. Sentinels stayed apart from the rest of the group, patrolling the perimeter of their territory or tracking game. There would have been few opportunities to engage in sex, and so a diminished sex drive would have proven valuable.
On the other hand, I wasn't really convinced that Jim's sex drive had been diminished, just his enjoyment in sex. I mean, if making love hurt or could easily turn into a humiliating experience, I'm not sure I would have been really anxious to get a woman into bed either, no matter how...uh, friendly I was feeling. And there were other problems with this theory. Human beings are as compelled as any other species to pass on their genes, and it would be of particular value to the tribe for a Sentinel to reproduce. Also, there was the whole anomaly with Laura, Lila, Alex and Michelle Lazar. His senses hadn't been in the way with them, and they had actually presented a danger. If Jim's sexual difficulties were some kind of adaptation to keep the Sentinel focused and on track, then this was a serious flaw.
In the end, it seemed to me that Jim's difficulty was simply a matter of erotic overload, the kind of thing that can happen to any guy when he's already overly excited and his partner happens to touch a particularly sensitive spot. The mind and body can only handle so much stimulation, after all. The problem for Jim was that he was always over-sensitized, and that hot button could be any place on his body, an elbow, a knee, a shoulder blade. Now that I was thinking about it, I found it hard to believe that I'd never anticipated the problem. It only made sense that a Sentinel would have to learn how to manage this sort of overwhelming stimulation, just like he'd had to learn to control his senses in other situations. Jim had attempted this on his own and failed, and he'd probably been traumatized in the process. So every subsequent attempt was doomed to failure before it even began. Whenever Jim became tense, he lost even more control over his senses.
I leaned back in my chair, beginning to feel confident that I could help Jim sort this out. All he really needed was some simple instruction and a lot of practice, with someone who would be patient and nurturing, someone who would reassure him, who would be understanding when he came before he wanted to. Jim just needed what every other man with a sexual dysfunction needed--a surrogate--someone who would do sensual exercises with him, get him used to his body's responses to the barrage of stimulation, slowly build up his stamina and his confidence. Of course, it would be preferable if it was someone who knew about his senses and could work with him to keep control of the dial. On the down side, sexual surrogacy wasn't actually recognized as a profession and was still considered prostitution, not something Jim could become involved with as a police officer. Plus, it was way too risky to let a stranger in on the secret of his senses...
And that's when it struck me. It had to be me. I was the only one who could help him. I was his Guide. I was the one who understood his needs and problems as a Sentinel. I was the only one he'd trust enough, the only one who'd persist with the right combination of kindness and bullying when he became intractable. He needed me.
I don't know how long I sat there with my mouth open, tossing that around in my head, really rather astonished that this was what I'd come up with. But the more I thought about it, the more convinced I was that it was the only way to solve this thing. The only question was whether I could do it. Maybe it was cocky of me, but I felt pretty sure I could convince Jim if it ever came to that. I can be a pretty persuasive guy when I want to be, and with Jim, it usually only took a pleading look or two to get him to do what I wanted. But could I do it? Could I have sex with Jim?
I had to think about it, not because he was a guy--been there, done that--but because he was my friend, my best friend. I didn't want to mess with the boundaries of our relationship and end up destroying it. Sure, there are people who don't seem to have a problem incorporating sex into their friendships, but I've never been one of them. I know it doesn't jibe that well with my Mr. Free-and-Easy image, but I actually do like to keep the lines firmly drawn. It screws with my head to let the waters get too muddied. So, could I sleep with Jim--even if it was for a good cause, even if it was in the capacity of a sexual surrogate--and not get freaked out?
I closed my eyes and tried to imagine what it would be like. Only pleasant images sprang to mind--Jim lying beside me, his big hands on my body, his arms around me, holding me against him. That was how I pictured it--warm and tender and intimate. I felt pretty sure that's how it would be, if I knew anything about him at all. In the past, I'd avoided big men, half out of fear and half to preserve my own sense of masculinity. I do not need to feel dainty, ever. But Jim wasn't some anonymous hunk I picked up in a bar. Jim was...well, Jim. I knew if I did act as his surrogate he'd be as concerned about my comfort as I was about his. I had no doubt that he'd be gentle and considerate with me. Hell, sex with Jim would probably rock my world.
I didn't want to linger too long on that thought, forbidden pleasure that it was. But it did bring up the issue of whether I could be professional about it. If I was going to help Jim, it had to be simply that--helping Jim. It couldn't be about me. It couldn't be about any of those steamy pictures that sometimes crept into my mind as I jacked off, even though I kept trying really hard to stay focused on a Baywatch beauty or that perky new TA in the History department. It couldn't be because I'd seen what Jim was packing, having walked in on him as he was coming out of the shower several times, accidentally, of course, and I'd always kind of wanted to get me some of that. If I was going to be Jim's surrogate, it couldn't have anything to do with me, at all, only with Jim.
So, could I have sex with Jim without liking it too much?
I thought long and hard about that, spending the better part of the day distracted, zoning out with the few stalwart students who showed up for my office hours, completely missing a meeting with my thesis advisor, for which I was royally reamed out. I couldn't get my mind off Jim, his problem, the possible solution. I kept trying to picture how it would go, how I would react. I thought about all the other times Jim had needed me, the things I'd done for him that I never would have done for anyone else--firing a gun, jumping out of an airplane, color coding leftovers. I thought about the shadows in Jim's eyes as he'd told me his story, his voice matter-of- fact, reeling off the details of the latest thing being a Sentinel had taken away from him. I remembered the fear and torment in him, just beneath the surface, slipping out despite his best attempts to hide it from me. Worst of all was the resignation, something flat and cornered in his expression, the absence of hope, the certainty that it would never get any better. That was what made the final decision for me. A Sentinel without hope can't possibly be a good thing. And a Guide who can't put his Sentinel's needs before his own is no Guide at all.
Okay, so by the time I arrived home and was actually faced with the prospect of explaining to Jim what we needed to do to take care of the problem, my sense of cockiness had been replaced by a flock of butterflies in my stomach. I let myself into the loft. Jim was in the kitchen, stirring a pot of his special spaghetti sauce on the stove.
"That smells great, man," I told him, as I hung up my coat.
"Your timing is perfect," he said. "The pasta only has a couple more minutes. You want to get the salad out of the fridge?"
"Salad?" I asked, disbelievingly.
He rolled his eyes at me. "Don't start," he said. "I have been known to eat a vegetable here and there."
"Yeah, man. Potato chips. Corn nuts. That kind of vegetable you're good with."
"Very funny, Shecky. So do you want dinner? Or would you like to fend for yourself?"
I waved my hands in the air, in mock surrender. "Hey, man, I'm just trying to keep you honest and your arteries clean."
He shook his head at me. "You should have your own cable show, Sandburg. Hippie Health Tips To Take All The Fun Out Of Life."
I flipped him off, but that only made him grin, pleased with himself over his little (and I do mean little) display of humor. All in all, it was pretty much par for our course. That seemed like a plus to me. Obviously, Jim was feeling relaxed, not seeming to regret what he'd confided in me. I thought that should make "the talk" go easier.
I slipped past him in the kitchen and started carrying things to the table, plates and silverware, glasses, the salad and dressing, butter, parmesan cheese, beers for us both. I took the garlic bread out of the oven and put it in the bread basket. Jim removed the pasta from the stove and poured it into the colander in the sink to drain. I brought over our plates, and he served us both a huge helping of spaghetti, with lots of sauce, just the way we both like it. We took our plates back to the table and started to chow down. Jim always makes the best sauce, some secret ingredient that he's never shared with me.
I kept it light over dinner. I figured it was best not to make the man choke on his garlic bread. We chatted about our day, how Jim had closed one of his cases, how well my first year anthro students had done on their mid-terms. I had second helpings, and Jim had thirds. After dinner, we cleaned up the kitchen together. I washed the dishes, while Jim put away the leftover food and cleaned the table.
When he was finished with that, he joined me at the sink. He started drying the dishes and putting them away.
"So what did you decide?" he asked, conversationally, stacking the plates in the cupboard.
I almost dropped the glass I was rinsing. "What?" I sputtered.
"Come on, Chief. Even you don't usually tell me the same story three times in the course of one meal. Something's obviously on your mind. And I figure it's probably something about...what we talked about the other night."
"Well, actually, Jim. Yeah, it is."
"Right. So what did you come up with?"
"It's just--" I started to say. "Why don't we just finish up these last few dishes, snag some beers and go talk it in the living room? Okay?"
He lifted his eyebrows. "That bad, huh? Okay, Chief. Dishes first, then talk. I can do that."
We finished cleaning up the kitchen, not saying much. From what I could sense, Jim still seemed pretty relaxed, although occasionally I would see him glance over at me and frown. Of course, now that we'd actually arrived at the main event of the evening, my heart was pounding like a jackhammer.
"It's okay, you know, Chief," he said quietly, as he returned the last of the dishes neatly to their places. "I know sometimes I put a lot on you, but I don't actually expect you to be a miracle worker. If you couldn't think of any way to fix this thing...well, it's not your fault. I just wanted you to know that. I don't want you to worry about it."
I looked into his face, so open and serious, and I nodded. "I appreciate that, Jim. I really do. But I, uh...well, I did come up with something. Let's get those beers and hit the couch, and I'll tell you what I think."
He nodded. "Fair enough, Chief."
He got the beers, and we both headed for the living room. I settled into one corner of the sofa, folding my knees under me, getting comfortable, and he sat down beside me, casually flinging an arm along the back of the couch behind my shoulders.
I centered myself and screwed up my courage. "I've thought about it a lot," I told him. "And it doesn't really seem that mysterious a problem. Actually, I'm kind of surprised that I never anticipated it."
"Really?" he asked, surprised, maybe even a little bit hopeful.
"Yeah, man. I mean, your senses are just overloading your poor brain with information all the time. You've had to learn to control it so you don't get headaches or zone out. But during sex, both your attention and your senses are heightened. It makes sense that you'd get blown away by all that sensation, and your brain and body would go crazy trying to deal with it. The premature orgasm is not that different than the headache. They're both side effects of what's actually going on. In both cases, your body is trying to lower the level of input, to bring the sensation back to a level you can handle."
Jim listened carefully, his head cocked slightly to one side. "The circuits are getting blown out, so they find a way to shut down."
"But what about the times when I could keep control of the dial?"
"In all those cases, you were already having trouble with your senses. And that's the key, I'm pretty sure."
"I don't really follow."
"It divided your attention, distracted you. How closely you're attending to something has everything to do with how strongly it registers. So when you were getting funky feedback from your senses, part of your brain was working to decipher it, to figure out what was wrong. That took some of your attention away from your sexual experience, diminishing the input just enough to keep things manageable. That's why you could keep control of the dial and go the distance."
Jim mulled that over a minute. "Yeah, actually, that does make sense. So what do we do about it, Chief? I don't want to have to be drunk on pheromones or freaking out with an allergic reaction to have sex."
"I feel pretty sure you can learn to distract yourself, to divide your sensory attention at will. It's just going to take some practice."
"More tests?" he asked, a note of weariness in his voice.
I nodded. "Yeah, man. Basically, a trial and error kind of approach. I don't actually know what will work. We'll have to figure it out as we go along."
He stared at me, trying to decide if I was suggesting what he thought I was suggesting. I sat there, with a lump in my throat, waiting for him to react.
"How are we going to do that, Chief? I mean, we'd have to--"
"It's not materially different from what other men who have trouble like this do to fix it. You need to work on it with someone."
He shook his head, beginning to look agitated. "But I already told you how humiliating it was when I couldn't... And you know I don't want to ask Emily to do that."
"No, I understand that, Jim. It should be a more professional approach, anyway, rather than anything personal. It's important to keep things scientific. No expectations or pressures. Like what a sexual surrogate does for clients."
His jaw dropped open, and he stared at me like I'd lost the last shred of whatever common sense I'd ever had. "You know I can't do that," he said, going apoplectic. "I'm a cop, for God's sake, Sandburg. What you're suggesting is prostitution. Plus, how am I supposed to explain the deal with my senses? I can't exactly go around telling people I'm a Sentinel, especially not someone who's breaking the damned law."
"Hold on, Jim. Hold on," I said, trying to calm him down. "I'm not suggesting you actually go to a surrogate. I'm only saying it should be like that. And you're right. You can't risk letting anyone else know about your senses."
"It's bad enough that Megan knows," he said, irritably.
"Hey, man! You know I didn't tell her. She just figured it out for herself. She's not exactly a dope, you know. Anyway, as I was saying...you need to acquire this skill by practicing with someone you trust who already knows about your senses, someone you can be comfortable with, who'll be there for you just because they want to help."
He blinked at me, apparently too stunned to speak. I waited him out.
"Well, I know you don't mean Simon."
I shook my head and grinned. "Megan either. You two would just end up arguing about who got to be on top. So I guess that leaves me."
He started shaking his head and wouldn't stop. "No, Sandburg. No way!"
"Would you rather it be Simon?" I asked, on the offhand chance I might be able to make him laugh, or at least get him to stop shaking his head at me.
But Jim wasn't buying. He continued to glare. "That is never going to happen. Ever. So let's start thinking of something else, because this is not the solution."
"It's all I've got, man," I told him, quietly.
"Then I guess I'm stuck with this problem."
"Oh, come on, Jim. You'd rather go your whole life without satisfying sex than let me help you work it out?"
He sighed heavily. "It's not that simple."
"Sure it is. Or at least, it can be."
"It'll change things. I can't have that. Geezus, Blair, you're my best friend. I can't go to bed with you. I can't."
My heart sank a little. I mean, I hadn't exactly expected him to jump for joy over the idea, but I couldn't help being disappointed that he didn't seem to have any of the same curiosity about me that I had about him. Still, I realized it was probably for the best. It would make keeping it professional pretty simple.
"I know it's not exactl y your idea of a good time, but this is work we're talking about, not pleasure. And I'm your Guide, so I really am the best person for the job. I'm sorry you didn't get a female Guide to make this more comfortable for you, but there's nothing we can do about that. And really, touching is just touching, regardless of who's doing it. Come on, man. It won't be so bad. I promise."
"It's not that I think it would be... It's not because you're..." he stammered. "Our friendship is important, Chief. So is our relationship as Sentinel and Guide, and I wouldn't want any other Guide than you. But this is going too far. It's outside the bounds."
"But it's not. There's some evidence to suggest that ancient Sentinels took their Guides as lovers. And I've coached you through plenty of other problems with your senses."
"The difference is that we're not ancient Sentinel and Guide, Chief."
I lowered my eyes. "No, we're not."
"And your irritating me with those tests of yours is not the same thing as us getting naked together."
"Hey, what do you mean irritating?"
Finally, he cracked a smile, but I could see in his eyes that he was still wary. "I just don't think it's a good idea."
"Do you think I'm right though? That this is what's going on with your senses, that this kind of practice is the way to fix it."
He went silent, frowning, thinking it over. Finally, he nodded. "Probably, Chief. Probably."
"Can you think of anything else it could be?"
His face flashed his exasperation. "You know that's your field, not mine."
"Then trust me on this. This is the only thing that's going to help."
"I've been handling it for three years now. There's no reason we have to--"
"Forget it, Jim. I'm not just going to let you suffer. I can't live with that. Not if I can help."
Jim rubbed his hands over his face. "I don't know, Blair."
"Don't rule anything out yet. Give it some time. Give it some thought. Can you at least do that?"
He hesitated, but finally said, "Yeah, I suppose so."
"Good, man. Good. That's all I ask."
He shook his head. "You really do have a knack for throwing me for a loop."
I smiled. "I'm pretty sure that's in the Guide's handbook somewhere. Never let the Sentinel get comfortable."
"Well, you're doing a hell of a job."
"I'm here to serve, oh mighty Protector."
He threw one of the pillows from the sofa at me. "Smart ass." And then he turned serious. "I do appreciate you, you know."
I nodded. "I know."
"Even if I can't take you up on this."
"But you will think about it?"
"I said I would."
"Just making sure."
"Just so we're clear."
"We're clear, Chief."
"Okay. Well, I think I'm going to head up to bed now. I've got an early shift in the morning. You coming into the station?"
"After lunch. I have to proctor a mid-term for Stan. He's down with the flu."
"Okay. Well, I'll see you tomorrow then."
"Okay, man. Goodnight."
For the next few days, Jim avoided any mention of my suggestion, and I allowed him to get lulled into a false sense of security, letting him think I'd dropped the subject or forgotten about it. Not that this was at all a likely possibility, mind you. I mean, when have I ever forgotten anything that had to do with my Sentinel? When have I ever let anything go where Jim is concerned? Still, that was what Jim wanted to delude himself into believing, so I played along. I figured a surprise attack would probably work in my favor, anyway.
On the day I planned to start our sessions, I knocked off early from work, went shopping and bought all Jim's favorite foods, all the heart unsmart stuff that my manly, strapping partner craves, steak and potatoes, real sour cream, crusty Italian bread with heaps of butter, cheese cake for dessert. I loaded the shopping cart with all the things that I'd usually rant and rave at him about eating. As an anthropologist, I'd figured out what every woman on the planet just knows intuitively: men really can be bribed with a home-cooked meal. It was underhanded, but to be effective, a Guide's tactics can't always be aboveboard, I'm afraid.
I hurried home, put the food away and jumped into the shower. I figured it was a good to idea to make sure all those good hygiene bases were covered, just in case I did end up getting close to my Sentinel. Over the years, I'd managed to find toiletries that didn't overwhelm Jim's super sensitive nose. One time, he'd even admitted that he liked the way my shampoo smelled. For such a butch kind of guy, he can be surprisingly unselfconscious about things that are well, kind of girly, to be honest. I mean, the man wears a flowered apron when he cooks, for God's sake. Apparently, it was a joke gift from some of his old army buddies that he felt perfectly comfortable putting to practical use. You just gotta love a guy like that.
After I washed up, I put on some comfortable clothes, jeans and a T-shirt, appropriate lounging-around-the-loft attire. I headed into the kitchen and began making dinner. I cleaned the potatoes and popped them into the oven, seasoned the steaks, covered them in plastic wrap and put them back into the refrigerator. Jim preferred his beef still mooing, so I wasn't going to start the steaks before he got home. That just left the loft to contend with. I put on some gentle, bluesy music, a CD that Jim liked a lot, letting it play softly in the background. I got out my meditation candles, lit them and scattered them around the loft, creating a relaxing atmosphere. At least, I hoped Jim would find it calming.
I had just finished the last of my preparations when I heard the key in the lock. Jim came through the door and stopped in his tracks, taking in what I'd done with open-mouthed surprise.
"Hey, man," I said, breezing past him into the kitchen to start the steaks.
"Hope you're hungry, man. Dinner's going to be ready in fifteen minutes or so."
"Yeah, sure. Fine. Great."
"You might want to go take a quick shower or something."
He stared at me, suspiciously. "Um what's this " he started to say and then just broke off with a little shake of the head. "Yeah, okay. A shower does sound good."
I watched him head off to the bathroom, and I couldn't help the little smile that broke out on my face. Sometimes Jim's avoidance strategies actually worked to my advantage. Not often, of course. Most times, they were just a big pain in the ass. But occasionally, I did get lucky, and this was one of those times. I predicted Jim wouldn't come right out and ask me what was going on until I had him right where I wanted him, sated from dinner, relaxed, and as open as he was ever going to be to this whole surrogate idea.
A little while later, Jim emerged from the bathroom wrapped in his robe and headed upstairs. I set the table, took the condiments from the refrigerator, checked on the steaks. They were nearly ready. Jim came back downstairs dressed in a comfy pair of sweats and a Cascade PD T-shirt.
"Can I help, Chief?" he asked.
"Uh, yeah, man. You can get the potatoes
out of the oven if you want."
He nodded and moved to the stove.
"Don't overcook the steaks," he said.
I rolled my eyes at him. "Don't worry. They'll be just as bloody as you like them."
He put the potatoes in a bowl and took them to the table. I pulled the steaks out of the broiler and onto a serving platter. He snagged two beers out of the refrigerator, and we sat down to eat.
Jim slathered sour cream onto his baked potato and dug into his steak. "So what's the occasion, Chief?"
I shrugged, innocently. "I thought you deserved some 'real food' for a change, as you so charmingly like to put it."
He grinned at me. "Come on, Chief. Even you can't think that tempeh stuff is actually edible."
"I'll have you know it's high in nutrients and is a staple of the Japanese diet."
"The same people who eat raw fish. Once again, I'm really happy to be an American."
"The Japanese have half the incidence of heart disease that we do, man."
"But I bet they're not nearly as happy," Jim proclaimed smugly, as he took a hearty bite of his steak, relishing it.
I rolled my eyes at him.
"And what's with the music and the candles?" he asked, suspiciously.
"I was just kind of in the mood."
He arched an eyebrow at me, not really buying the explanation, but he didn't press for more information, probably going into some fit of denial about what I had planned for the rest of the evening.
We finished our meal and cleaned up the kitchen. As I was drying the last of the dishes, I turned to him and said, "So I was wondering what you'd decided about my acting as your surrogate?"
Jim nearly choked on the beer he was drinking, spewing it everywhere. "Shit!" he said, as he coughed.
"Geezus, Sandburg, give me some warning next time," he said irritably, as he mopped up the beer from the counter.
"I was hoping we could start tonight."
His shoulders became so strained with tension they were hitched practically up to his ears. "I can't believe you."
"You did this on purpose, springing this this on me by surprise."
"We agreed you'd think about it."
"But you let me believe "
I smiled at him. "What? That I was just going to let it go? You know me better than that."
"Yeah, well " he said, staring down at the floor. "I still don't think I can do this, Chief. I don't think it's a good idea."
"How are you going to know if you don't at least give it a try? Huh? I'm not suggesting that we throw off our clothes and bone away right here on the kitchen floor. I'm talking about doing some sensual exercises together, controlled experiments, to find the key to managing your senses. We'll start small and go slow. That's the only way it's going to be effective, anyway."
"I just don't want I don't want to take advantage of you."
"Hey, you're not. I'm a big boy. I know what I'm getting into. Besides, whatever helps you, helps me. It's a Guide thing. I think."
He sighed heavily. "I don't know."
"I hate it when you do that," he said, looking terribly torn.
"Do that asking nicely thing that you do so well."
I smiled. "Pretty please."
"Geezus, Sandburg. You are just incorrigible."
"Yeah, well, that's a Guide thing, too."
"So you say."
"Yeah, I say. And I also say that we should go get more comfortable on the sofa."
I grabbed his arm. "Come on, man. We're just going to sit down, for God's sake."
He pulled his arm away.
"Okay, man. I'm going to go sit down, and I really wish you'd join me."
I headed over to the couch and curled up in one corner of it. He stood by the table, watching me warily, his whole body tense.
"Don't freak out, man. I just want you to come sit beside me on the couch. Pretend there's a Jags game on the tube, if that makes you more comfortable."
He scowled at me. "But there isn't a game on TV. That's not what you're suggesting we do together."
I sighed. "No, it's not. We're going to work on helping you get a handle on your senses so you can lead a full life again. That is what you want, isn't it?"
He stared down at the carpeting.
"And we agreed that there's really no other way to accomplish that, didn't we?"
My stubborn Sentinel still wouldn't look at me.
"Look, man, I understand if it's just too disgusting for you," I told him, softly. "Some people really are only wired one way. So I'll accept it if you just can't go there, not even for therapeutic purposes like this. But if there's any way you can manage it, will you at least try? We won't do anything you don't want or aren't ready for. We'll take it slow. But let's at least give it a shot, huh? I can't stand the thought that something this huge and important has been taken away from you because of your senses. It's just so fucking unfair. I want you to be happy. Maybe that's a Guide's reaction. I don't know. But I do want to help if I can."
Finally, he picked his gaze up from the floor and fastened it on me. What I saw in his face made me swallow hard. All the things he would never tell me were so clear in his expression--his fear and frustration and hopelessness and a bone deep vulnerability that made me ache for him.
I held out my hand. "You're my best friend, Jim. Come on, man. You know you're safe with me."
It took him another moment to decide. I could see the struggle in his face, how torn he was, wanting to be free from his problem, at the same time that he didn't want to take this risk with our friendship. I can't think of any moment in my life when I've been more touched than when he finally took that first step, a little haltingly, coming over to join me on the couch. Jim Ellison's trust was not easily earned. I felt like I'd been given the most precious gift imaginable.
Not that he wasn't still nervous. He sat on the opposite end of the couch, squeezed up against the arm, as far away from me as he could possibly get. I gave him a moment to get settled, and then I scooted over next to him. I could feel him schooling himself not to flinch.
"It's okay, Jim. I know this isn't exactly easy. But it's just touching. We've always touched each other. Let's just start where we're already comfortable and then go from there. Okay?"
He nodded. "Okay," he said, although still hesitant.
I inched even closer, until my leg was almost, but not quite, touching his. I laid my hand on his arm, like I'd done a million and one times in the past--to get his attention, to accentuate a point I was making--the normal everyday way that friends interact with one another. I wanted to show him that this was all part of the same continuum.
He started when I first touched him, his bicep tensing beneath my hand for a moment, but then he slowly began to relax. Even without Sentinel senses, I could tell he was using one of the breathing techniques I'd taught him to calm himself down.
"That's good, Jim. You're doing great," I told him.
I started moving my hand on his arm, running it lightly up and down the length of it. He tensed again, even though I could tell he was trying really hard not to.
"It's all right, Jim. Maybe it would help if you pretended I'm Emily."
He snorted. "Can't do that, Chief. You're hair's longer than hers."
I whacked him on the shoulder. "Very funny. I could tie it back if that helps."
He shook his head. "I could never mistake you for anyone else."
I raised an eyebrow. "Why is that?"
"I know you."
"You mean in a Sentinel kind of way?"
He nodded. "Your scent, the way your heart beat sounds, your body temperature--it all says 'Blair' to me. I could pick you out of a crowd of hundreds. Actually, I have picked you out in a crowd of hundreds."
"Wow, man," I said, shifting a little uncomfortably.
On the one hand, it was flattering--in a weird way--that I'd become familiar to Jim on such a primal level. On the other hand, it emphasized the absolute impossibility of my ever having any privacy around him. This wasn't exactly news to me, but still, it was unnerving to have it spelled out so bluntly.
Of course, Jim watched all these thoughts flit across my face.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I've tried to block it out, but I can't."
I shook my head and patted his leg. "Not your fault, man. Do other people register with you in the same way? Or is it just me?"
He frowned a moment, thinking it over. "There are other people who are familiar. I can pick Simon out by the scent of his cigars, Brown by that sugar-free hot chocolate he drinks. Rafe wears this expensive, imported cologne. But all of that is vague compared to the way I know you."
I nodded. "We do live together, work together. You spend more time with me than with anyone else. It would make sense that you'd know me the best."
He looked speculative. "I think it's more than that."
"Like a Sentinel and Guide thing?" I wondered aloud.
"Wow!" I said, starting to get excited. "That's so cool. Does it seem like--"
"Oh, yeah. Sorry, man. You're right. We need to stay on topic. Still, maybe this is another way of thinking about what we're doing here. It's making us closer as Sentinel and Guide. After we're done, you'll be able to find me in a crowd of millions."
He shook his head and grinned. "And given your track record, that just might come in handy some day."
"Yeah, go ahead and laugh it up, man," I said, with mock indignation, unable to keep from smiling back at him.
Now that he was more relaxed, I figured we were ready to try again. I eased a little closer, so that my leg was in contact with his. I took his arm and urged him to turn toward me.
"Why don't we try something simple like hugging? You've hugged me before."
"Yeah, but it's usually after I've dragged you into some mess and nearly gotten you killed," he said, ruefully.
"So this time you'll hug me while I'm all in one piece and can actually enjoy it."
He stared at me, a funny look on his face. "Uh...yeah, I guess I can do that."
He put his arms around me, a little stiffly at first, like he was a robot or he thought I might break. But, true to what I'd told him, this was well-travelled ground between us, and the longer he held me, the more the awkwardness faded. When I felt he could handle it, I wrapped my arms around his waist and held him back. It didn't seem to freak him out. In fact, he seemed to like it. He relaxed a little more, rested his cheek against the top of my head, and rubbed my back in warm, affectionate circles. I leaned against him, and he snuggled me closer.
I don't know the right way to describe how it felt to have Jim hold me, those strong, dependable arms of his wrapped around my shoulders, pressing me to his broad, sturdy chest. It's kind of funny that what sprang to mind was a sense of childhood, of being cradled and protected, because honestly, as good a mom as Naomi was, I don't remember her ever being cuddly like that. Maybe it was because of Naomi's free spirit, but I never thought of her as my rock, my oak tree, my shelter, all the things I so casually expect Jim to be. Maybe it was because Jim is the very soul of responsibility that I've found in him the most complete sense of safety I've ever experienced. Maybe that was why it felt like sanctuary to be in his arms.
He stroked my hair, winding the curls around his fingers. I closed my eyes, and I could hear his heart beating, steady and untroubled, as I rested my head there against his chest.
"You're a good friend," he said, out of the blue.
I smiled. "So are you."
His arms tightened around me. "I just want you to know That's why I was so hesitant about this. Not because I could never find anything about you disgusting, Chief. I just don't want your helping me to hurt our friendship. I know you said it wouldn't, but I still can't help worrying."
"Like it will violate the boundaries or something?"
I felt him nod.
"Some people have casual physical relationships with their friends," I offered, even though I personally took no comfort from the notion.
"I don't give a shit what some people do."
"Okay, so casual is no good."
"I don't do casual."
Of course, I'd known this all along. But we were travelling into unfamiliar territory, and it seemed safest not to presume anything.
"Me either," I told him.
He snorted at me.
"Not with friends, man. A casual date with some girl I met at a coffee bar and will never see again is one thing. But friends, well..."
"Yeah," Jim said, understanding what I meant without my having to say it.
"It doesn't help you to think of it as a professional relationship, like I'm your doctor or therapist or something?"
"That whole surrogate thing?" he asked.
"No," he said. "I kind of hate that."
"Because it's you, Chief."
"Can't take me that seriously, huh?"
He sighed heavily. "No. You know that's not it. I take you plenty seriously. But I can't pretend to be clinical and impersonal with you. You're my best friend."
I swallowed hard. "You're my best friend, too. The best friend I've ever had," I murmured against his shoulder, knowing he would still hear me. "Maybe that's it, that's how we should think about it, as an act of friendship."
"I still don't know if I can do it," he said and fell silent, thinking. "So why doesn't this worry you?" he finally asked. "Why are you so convinced it won't matter? Why are you so determined to go through with it?"
"Because you need it."
"It won't help me if it comes between us."
"Then we'll have to make sure it doesn't."
"How in hell are we going to do that, Chief?"
"By being completely honest with one another at every step along the way. If something feels wrong or really seems to violate the boundaries of our friendship, for either one of us, we speak up. We don't let it fester. We don't do anything that doesn't feel right. We keep the dialogue going. We always make sure to put our friendship first."
"So what you're saying is that we need to do all those things that come so naturally to me?"
I couldn't help laughing. "You can do it, man. I know you can."
He thought about it a minute before nodding. "Yeah, I guess. I usually just don't want to. But in this case So how should we proceed?"
I'd already given this a lot of thought.
"Maybe we could try kissing?" I suggested.
"Kissing, Chief?" he asked, putting on his skeptical Sentinel face.
"Yeah, you know, a little friendly lip action. You are familiar with the concept, aren't you?"
"I'm not going to kiss you if you're going to be a smart ass."
"Okay, okay, I'll try to restrain myself."
I lifted my head from his shoulder, and I was pleased to find him smiling at me, looking so much more relaxed than he had earlier. Goofing around a little had put us both more at ease, reminding us that we were just Jim and Blair, working on another Sentinel problem. And we'd still be the same people we'd always been after we solved it.
He shifted a little, turning toward me. He kept one arm around my shoulders and twined the other hand into the hair at the nape of my neck.
"You ready, Chief?"
My stomach fluttered a little as I realized Jim was really going to do it. Now that this whole surrogate thing had moved from theoretical consideration to concrete reality, I was suddenly nervous.
"Uh yeah. I think so."
"Okay," he said. "Then I'm going to kiss you now."
I was about to nod my head in agreement when he just leaned forward and did it, put his lips to mine and kissed me.
It was brief, and then he pulled back, just a little. "That okay?" he asked, his mouth hovering mere millimeters from mine, so close I could feel his breath on the sensitive skin of my lips.
"Mmm-hmm," I managed to say, too transfixed by the sight of Jim poised to kiss me again to form whole words.
"I'm going to do it some more then," he told me.
This time I was ready, and Jim must have been feeling more confident because he lingered, exploring me, the kiss close-mouthed and gentle, as he acquainted himself with the outline of my mouth, the feel of my skin, the little indentation above my upper lip, the fullness of my bottom lip. Kissing is a subtle art form, and I suppose it shouldn't have surprised me that a man as subtle as Jim would be a master at it. He knew exactly how to vary the pressure to keep my nerve endings tingling and off balance, pressing down firmly with his whole mouth only to pull away again, just barely brushing his lips against mine with soft, flirting little touches.
I was vaguely aware that he was focusing all his senses on me, not just touch, probably trying to monitor my anxiety level and make sure I wasn't turned off or anything. I'm sure he didn't really need to be a Sentinel to figure out I was about as far from turned off as a guy could get.
Jim pressed me back against the sofa cushions, gently, trying not to rest too much of his weight on me, continuing the kiss. His tongue darted out, and he flicked it delicately along the line separating my lips, announcing his intention, asking permission. My body had pretty much left my mind in the dust, and I acted on instinct, opening my mouth, welcoming him. And suddenly, there it was. I had Jim Ellison's tongue in my mouth.
It's interesting sometimes that no matter how much you've plotted the angles and done the math you can still manage to miss the picture entirely. I never even remotely considered that Jim might kiss me with tongue. But then once he'd started, it amazed me that I'd ever tongue kissed anyone but Jim. It felt so intimate to have him making himself at home in my mouth, exploring my teeth and the inside of my lip, teasing the roof of my mouth, stroking my tongue with his. He held my face between his hands as he took long, deep sips, breaking for air and then returning, learning me with every touch and taste. It suddenly made so much more sense to share this kind of intimacy with my best friend than some first date I'd spend a couple of hours with and probably never see again.
Once more, I found myself admiring Jim's technique and his restraint. He wasn't shy or reticent. He kissed me with the same determination and thoroughness he threw into the rest of his life. But he wasn't overly forceful or aggressive either, not like those people who somehow feel it's not a proper kiss unless they've given you a tonsillectomy in the process. I hung back a little, kind of observing for a while as Jim kissed me, taking it all in, learning things about my Sentinel in just those few minutes that had escaped me in three years of living with him.
But I'm not naturally passive, and it wasn't long before I was kissing him back, demandingly. And that was like setting a wildfire. I don't know if something became unleashed in Jim when I grew more aggressive or if it lit some powder keg of Sentinel/Guide chemistry between us, but suddenly we were practically consuming each other, the kisses so passionate each one left me shuddering and weak. Jim gripped my shoulder, tilted my head back and held it in place, cupping it in one big hand, to better devour me. I was holding his arm so tightly I know I must have left bruises. I pushed up against him, with my whole body, trying to get as much contact as possible.
An image suddenly flashed across my mind--me on the floor with my legs in the air, Jim's cock taking command of my ass the way his tongue was possessing my mouth. I moaned deeply in the back of my throat, desire coursing through me.
That's what finally broke the spell, what made him stop. I don't know if he thought I was protesting or if that desperate, needy sound alarmed him, made him feel we were going too far, too soon. But he pulled back from me, his face deeply flushed. He was breathless and sweaty, and he ran his hands over his face, trying to calm himself down, trying to reconnect with reality. I was completely undone. My hair was flying all over the place, and I couldn't catch my breath. My heart was pounding. My lips were swollen, and I kept licking them nervously. I was grateful--not for the first time in my life--that I favored an untucked shirt look that was great for hiding a boner. I was so hard and aching I had no idea how I'd ever get off the sofa or out of my jeans without doing damage.
I put my breathing into a calming pattern, closed my eyes and stayed quiet until I had some semblance of control over myself again. When I could finally speak, I asked him, "So uh, did things go okay?"
He stared at me, completely mystified for a moment, as if he was wondering where I'd been when we were frantically making out like horny teenagers. But then the reason for this whole thing caught up with him, and he realized I was asking an indelicate question in the name of science.
"Uh, yeah, things are okay over here. No uh, incidents to report."
"Good," I said. "That's very good then. Did we uh, was this longer than uh, you know, usual?"
He couldn't look at me. I didn't blame him. I was pretty much staring straight ahead myself, avoiding eye contact. I felt compelled to ask the questions--some Guidely imperative at work, I guess--but I couldn't look at him while he answered them.
"Um well, yeah, this was further than some times. And the dial stayed put."
"That's good," I said, repeating myself stupidly. "That's very good. We should definitely consider this a success then."
"Yeah, well, sure. A success. Definitely."
"And we should probably keep going since we're making progress, now that we know we're on the right track and all."
He stared at me in confusion. "You want to "
"Oh, no, not now. Later. Say tomorrow, after work?"
He nodded. "Yeah. I guess that would be good. I mean, since we're making progress like you said. We should keep working at it."
"Good. That's very good. So tomorrow?"
"All right, then. I think I'm just going to " I broke off, waving my hand in the general vicinity of the shower.
He nodded. "Yeah. Sure. I think I'll just go " he motioned up to the loft.
"Okay then," I said, getting up, heading toward the bathroom.
I closed the door and locked it. I nearly fell head first into the wall scrambling out of my clothes. I couldn't wait to get into the shower and jerk off. I let the hot water stream over me and began to touch myself. I didn't do any of the usual teasing things I enjoy so much. I wanted it down and dirty. I wanted to come while the sensation of Jim's mouth and tongue and body were still sharp and clear in my mind. I wanted to come knowing that Jim was upstairs lying on his bed doing exactly the same thing, with the memory of how I felt and smelled and tasted still alive in his senses.
I closed my eyes tightly, keeping back the scream that trembled on my lips as my hips jerked and the come spilled over my hand. I collapsed against the wall, using it to hold myself up, until I'd regained control of my muscles. I'm no stranger to orgasms, but I'd never come like that in my life.
After I turned off the water, dried off and tidied up the bathroom a little, I padded back to my room and changed into some sweats. I heard Jim go into the bathroom and run the water in the sink. He came out a few minutes later and headed back up to his bedroom. I wandered out to the kitchen and grabbed a beer.
"Hey, Jim," I called up to the loft. "You want a beer, man?"
"Yeah," he said, his voice drifting down to me over the railing.
I snagged another bottle out of the refrigerator and headed to the sofa, propping my feet up on the coffee table. I flipped on the set and surfed the channels, looking for some sports or an action/adventure movie, something that would be neutral and normal.
Jim came thumping down the steps and joined me on the couch. He didn't sit any closer or farther away from me than usual, and that felt reassuring.
"So what do you want to watch?" I asked him.
"Anything's fine. Except another one of those nature documentaries. I do not need to know about the domestication of the Tibetan yak."
"Hey, you enjoyed that, man. I know you did."
He rolled his eyes at me.
"You're just afraid you're gonna learn something one of these days," I told him.
He cocked his head and smiled at me. "Can't have that, Chief. It would ruin my reputation down at the station."
I shook my head and laughed. We spent the rest of the evening arguing over what to watch and fighting for control of the remote, doing our best to reassure one another that nothing had changed.