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DISCLAIMER: The characters of The Setinel are the property of Petfly and Paramount. This fanfic was written for my own and others' enjoyment. No money has been paid and no copyright infringement is intended.
Dim lighting. Music, but not too loud. An actual, honest-to-God wooden bar with
brass railing. Blair had scouted it out two nights ago and was now busy creating the
perfect sentinel tableau.
"Chief, did you just say 'tableau'?"
"Yeah," Blair grinned, which by itself was normally enough to make Jim worried, "a 'striking incidental scene,' an 'interlude during a scene when all the performers on stage freeze in position, a tableau is exactly what we're going for here."
"Do I get a beer with this ... tableau?"
"Well, sure," a wave of a square hand brought the bartender over, "that's part of it, isn't it?"
"Sandburg, you haven't made any sense whatsoever since that science magazine came. You pick out my wardrobe. You drag me out here. You're " Jim seemed flummoxed as to how to describe what his partner was currently doing.
"I'm presenting the goods." Blair urged Jim's hiking-booted foot up on the brass railing by tickling behind a sensitive sentinel knee, then stepped back to look at his handiwork.
"Look, Jim, sex is a risky business in the animal kingdom. Especially for the guys. Take the South American knife fish. The males attract a mate by emitting electrical signals, but the lower notes are such a predator-beacon that by the end of mating season there's almost no male knife fish left. Or think about fireflies. There you are flashing your firefly Morse equivalent of 'I want your sex' and you dot-dot-dash to a girl of the wrong species, you're dinner, man."
This was making no more sense than it had at the loft, but a cold beer in hand never hurt anything. Besides, it was Friday. Barring calls from Simon, they had Saturday off and, well, Jim was feeling slightly mellow as he watched his partner. It didn't matter he didn't understand exactly what Sandburg was excited about; he rarely understood Blair's more academic moods. At least this one included him and involved an amply stocked bar, and he'd learned to be grateful for whatever he could.
"So there's a lot of scenarios we could test, Jim. A lot."
Jim gave a quick glare to his partner. He hadn't really been listening, but he'd trained himself to be especially sensitive to the words "test" and "a lot" in close proximity to each other.
"This is the one I want to try tonight, though. Because you, Jim, are pretty much the flashiest Trinidadian guppy in the pond, genetics-wise. Hell, even I want to use your DNA to reproduce."
Jim choked on a swallow of brew. "If my guide wants to have my baby, I'm out of here, Sandburg."
"I don't want your baby, man. Well, a little sentinel would be nice someday, but I was thinking its mom would probably be tall and redheaded and definitely of the female variety, okay? So get back to your pose."
But a forewarned sentinel was a wary sentinel. "What is it exactly we're doing again?"
"We're bluegill sunfish."
"I thought a minute ago I was a guppy."
"That was a metaphor. I just want to see if this works see bluegill sunfish come in two kinds. There's the big guys you who defend their territories and display to females--"
"I do not display."
"Give me a break, Jim. What do you think all that pumping iron is for? Face it, you're way past the point of I-needed-to-be-in-shape-for-the-job. It's antlers, man. Anyway, there are two kinds of sunfish. The big, uh, buff guys with territories and the little guys
who (mumble mumble)."
"Sandburg, even I couldn't hear that."
"The smaller male sunfish look more like females."
Jim laughed into his beer. "You're not serious."
"Come on, Jim. Don't you think I know that by twenty-first century standards I didn't exactly win out in the genetic lottery? I'm smaller than the average American man. And, at least according to most of the, uh people I've dated, I'm 'cute'. Once or twice I've even been 'beautiful' which is not what our culture raised males to want to hear. That's why this works. You and I are the human equivalents of the bluegill and we're going to see if their mating strategy works as well on land as it does in water."
"I dread to ask, Chief, but what strategy is that?"
"Well, the little guy waits near the big guy's territory. The little guy never courts the female directly, he waits until the female swims by and releases her eggs and the little guy darts in--"
"Are we talking threesome here?"
"No, I was just" Blue eyes rounded. "Are you talking threesome here, big guy?"
"It's your concept, Sandburg."
Blair's forehead wrinkled slightly. "I wasn't thinking of taking the mating scenario literally. Not that we can't, but you never struck me as a ménage type."
"There's a type?"
"Well, yeah, you're not really into the more esoteric carnal pleasures."
Jim silently raised an eyebrow but Blair carried on unnoticing. "You know troilism, mysophilia, stigmatophilia, frottage--"
"Frottage? Are you sure those are real words there, Chief?"
"Sure, Jim. Frottage the rubbing of your body against your partner for stimulation." Blair leaned against the bar and crossed his arms knowledgeably. "Actually, you do it all the time."
Jim's bottle hit the bar top with a 'twhap'. "What?"
"Jim, you have your hands all over me."
"Sandburg, I've never assaulted you in my life!"
"Who said anything about assault? But let's face it, you can't go fifteen minutes without touching me somewhere. You ground with a hand on my back or my arm. You greet me with a pat on the shoulder. You stand so close to me that we could nearly bind at the atomic level. That's not even talking about the hair that gets tugged, or swatted or, and this one really annoys me Jim, gets tucked behind my ear. I mean what are you, my mother?"
Jim still had enough of his bearings to lower his voice. "If I touch you and I'm not saying I do - but if I do, it's got to be some kind of sentinel thing."
"I'm not denying that. That's exactly what I said frottage the rubbing of your body against your partner for stimulation. And that's what it is Jim. I didn't say it was necessarily sexual stimulation. I mean we could stand here and argue all night about
whether all sensory pleasures are by very nature, carnal. Which, by the way, is actually a moot point since carnal can mean 'physical' without meaning 'sexual.' I am, by definition, your partner. You do, whether you want to admit it or not, rub against me and you
undoubtedly do it for stimulation, of whatever nature. Frottage."
"God, Chief." Jim's eyes were disturbingly blank. "I
thought about it."
"Hey." Blair laid a hand on Jim's arm only to find it succinctly removed from his grasp. "I didn't mean I didn't like it. Okay, not the hair-tucking stuff, but the other stuff's fine. I mean I understand why you do it."
"Sure. I expected it."
"You expected it."
"Well, yeah, Burton pretty much covers the whole sentinel/guide interaction. You're going to touch me. You're going to touch me a lot. It's a given."
Jim just continued to stare myopically at the far corner of the bar, which was starting to concern Blair a bit.
"I mean you like doing it don't you, Jim? And, for the most part, I like having it done, so there's really no problem."
"Frottage," repeated Jim.
"Yeah. But you're starting to worry me a little here, big guy. I don't really like the staring, because staring tends to lead to zoning."
"I " Jim focused with difficulty. "I think you're right."
"About zoning? Of course I'm right staring, inhaling deeply, tilting your head ever so slightly, I know all the signs."
"No about frottage."
"Well, don't let it bother you. Like I said, it's not necessarily
"I don't know, Chief."
"Uh uh, you're going to have to be a little more verbose than that Jim. You don't know what?"
"It's a bit hard to explain. It's not like I can parse all the sensations out. I mean taste is tied in with smell and with touch. I think I'm a little whatdoyoucallit. You know, you told me about it that time synesthetic."
"Whoa! Whoa! You think you're a little synesthetic? And you never bothered to tell me this?"
Jim rubbed a hand across his eyes. "I didn't really want to have to describe it."
"You didn't want to have to describe something so you neglected to mention, what, that you can taste caresses or something?"
"Calm down, Sandburg. People are starting to stare."
"Well let them stare, Jim. This is important! How many times have we had this conversation? You have to tell me what you're feeling. If you don't tell me how you're feeling I'm never going to know."
"Oh, you'll know all right, Chief. You'll know. I'll probably frottage you one day and tell you that you taste like masala chai."
"When you touch me I taste like Indian spiced tea?" Blair took a deep breath. "Wait. In spite of the fact you're trying to distract me with these little tidbits you should have shared long before now, are you implying that all this touching is something sexual?"
"I don't know. I think it could be. I'm just not comfortable having this discussion. Especially not in public, okay Sandburg? Let's just go back to being trout. Let's just do that."
Blair hunched up against the cool night air and, this time, there was no friendly sentinel arm around his shoulders to keep away the chill.
"Im sorry, Chief."
Nope, all he had was a sentinel with everything, emotions included, dialed down to zero.
"Nah, man, not your fault. Its just that its hard to attract the female bluegills if the alpha bluegill looks like hes contemplating committing seppuku with the bartenders corkscrew."
Blair looked at his equally hunched partner with a frown. "Youre not really going to do it, are you?"
"Commit seppuku with a corkscrew. Cause I know weve got two at home, including that weird-ass, air-pressurized needle one, and either one is gonna take a lot of sawing before any disembowelment even starts to happen."
Jim hunched down further, his hands buried deeply in the pockets of his leather coat. "Dont do that."
"Make a joke out of it. Make it okay."
"Jim, make what okay? So I dragged you out for a little experiment I thought would be fun, but apparently it wasnt, but thats all right. I mean we put up with each others little quirks, right?"
Blair twisted to see the reassurance he hoped to find in Jims face and found hed lost him several steps back. Trudging back across the yellow striped lines, Blair put a hand on a tightly tensed arm.
"Dont touch me!"
Blairs hand snapped back. "Uh, you gotta calm down man."
"Dont you understand what I told you?"
"Not to make a joke out of it, got it. But I wasnt."
Jims pale blue eyes disappeared beneath tightly pressed lids. "I cant touch you."
"Sure you can." Blair gently laid his hand back on Jims arm. "You can always touch me."
"Its like you said."
"Ah " Blair began rubbing up and down the stiffly held muscles. "You mean its frottage. You mean you think youre synesthetic and touching me tastes like Indian spiced tea. You mean its more than just--"
"Stop it, Sandburg!" Jim stepped back, eyes still closed, face twisted in pain.
"Hey, hey Jim. Its natural, theres nothing wrong with you. Youre a sentinel. Im your guide. Besides that youre gorgeous, man, inside and out, who wouldnt want to be touched by you?"
At least Jim remained motionless when Blair stepped close again.
"And if its the gender thing youre worried about, hell, you know I dont care about the Xs and Ys. Theres a lot of people that dont want to admit it, but thats natural, too. Did you know two percent of male ostriches ignore females and court other males? They do this incredible ritual that involves running toward each other at something like thirty miles an hour, then skidding to a stop and doing this mad dance. And male flamingo pairs have been known to build nests and raise foster chicks. So its okay, Jim. If its okay for ostriches and flamingos and caribou and bottle-nosed dolphins, its okay for us."
Blair took a cool, clenched hand into his own. "I really taste like spiced tea?"
Jim nodded tightly.
"Well even you have to admit, Jim, that this calls for a test. So, it works no matter where you touch me? I mean is it stronger if you touch my shoulder than if you touch my hand?"
Another tight nod.
"What about my face? Its stronger there?"
Jims eyes opened slowly to find Blairs deep blue gaze focused on him calmly.
"Yeah," he managed to whisper.
"What about my mouth? Do you want to know what that tastes like?"
"Chief " It came out in a near sob.
"Ssh, ssh." Blair touched his fingertips to Jims lips. "Can you taste it?"
"Oh God, Blair."
"Ssh, its right, Jim. Cant you feel it? Youre meant to touch me. You were made to touch me."
Fingers still playing against the warmth of Jims mouth, Blair gently lead his sentinels head downward until he, too, caressed his own lips to his hand. Then he removed the barrier.
Jim groaned deeply in pleasure as the taste of cinnamon and green cardamom washed over his senses and Blair had a brief moment of coherence before sensation overtook him as well. Long enough to think that nightmare of his undergraduate lab days, Dr. Ostenheim, had been right. Sometimes its the tests you didnt expect to perform that work out better than the others.