"I want this one," I tell him. "Please, Jim."

He turns over a page in his book and gives the smallest shrug. "Why are you asking me?"

"You know why." I hate that he makes me do this. "She's in town for the weekend, that's all. I'll meet her at the restaurant, we'll eat, she'll tell me all about the expedition --" God, I can't keep the longing from my voice. Sarah's fresh from the Borneo study, her skin tanned by a southern sun, bitten and scratched and glowing. I want to touch it, soak up what she's experienced, take her body until, inside her, part of her, joined, I can pretend I was part of her life for the last six months.

When I was here all the time. In this country, this city, this room.

With Jim.

He closes the book and places it on the table, his page unmarked because he hasn't been reading it, just waiting for me to speak, to voice my plea for -- for what? A date. A single date with a woman I knew long before Jim Ellison became part of -- all of -- my life.

"You'll eat," he says, his voice contemplative. "And then she'll ask you if you want to come back to her room, because she'll know already that you can't bring her here."

No. Never. I tried once and I still get a sickening lurch of panic remembering what happened.

"She might, yes, but, Jim --"

"And you'll go because you want to fuck her --"

"We're really not that kind of -- " His gaze meets mine, flat and dull with anger because I'm lying, and I give in. "Yes, I do, and yes, she'd let me." Sarah. Short and giggly and soft to the touch in all the places my hands will go, sweetly ferocious, blindingly intelligent Sarah, who could tell me I'm making her come harder than anyone ever has in six languages, only three of which are living, but who will probably settle for showing me, with her mouth, her nails, her warm, welcoming, juiced-slick cunt.

In my mind, I can taste the meal we'll eat, the wine we'll drink, but I've almost forgotten what she tastes like there, the pink folds glistening, furled and waiting for my tongue to part them, my fingers to delve and slide. She'll taste of salt and sweetness and she'll leave my mouth and chin glazed with it, wet.

"You'll go," he repeats and that's when he stands and walks over to me where I'm leaning against the countertop. I can't escape and I won't even try to evade him. I wait until I'm locked in the cage of his arms, his hands palm down on the counter surface on either side of me, his exhaled breath what I inhale, the two of us out of step, in this as in so much else.

He stares at me without speaking and I try not to give him what he wants, but he's a sentinel and he can pick up a subtlety as well as a scream and in just three seconds, four, my gaze flicks down and he sighs, subdued, resigned, and he's on his knees a moment later.

I stare at the wall and count the bricks and pretend he's Sarah -- anyone -- as he noses and scents at my crotch; like a fucking dog, as I told him once, which didn't go down well. He can do this without self-consciousness now, though I sometimes wonder what Simon's reaction would be if he could see Jim working, which this is. When he's got an audience, Jim's learned to be careful about using his senses; he's all guarded glances, secretive touches, so an onlooker wouldn't really get what he was doing, but when it's just us… well, he doesn't hold back.

He's licking the thin fabric of my dress pants now, over the soft swell of my balls, lick, sniff, lick, as the wetted-down fabric yields a stronger scent. My cock, stiffening, straightening, he ignores for now. He needs to know I'm aroused, and I am, of course I am.

Jim's not. He won't be, either, not now, not later. We don't talk about that. But I've got eyes.

I keep my hands on the counter, gripping the edge and feeling it dig in. I try not to move, but I guess I arch my hips just enough to send a message, because he kneels back, his face unreadable, and his hands do what needs to be done, efficiently, deftly, drawing my pants and shorts down far enough that they won't get in his way.

Then he sucks me until I come in his mouth.

It's always like this; it keeps it simple that it's unvarying. He hates the taste; he told me so once; how the acrid flavor coats his tongue and throat for hours. He'll gag -- once he threw up -- and he'll brush his teeth until he spits out pink-tinged foam, gargle and rinse, but he'll still taste me.

He's shown me how he could pull away, catch the jolting spurt of my release neatly in a handkerchief, a towel, and come as close as he ever does to begging, but I won't give him that small mercy.

If we're doing this -- and I guess we are -- I'm coming in him and he's going to remember it for as long as it takes for the taste to fade.

He's good at this; he always is. For a man who hates what he's doing, he doesn't stint me; he could make this end in half the time; he knows what I like and he could drive me toward a climax with a ruthlessness I know he's capable of.

But he doesn't. He breathes on me, he licks, soft curled tip of his tongue delicately swirling; his hands massage and squeeze. Sometimes he kisses my cock, root to tip, slow, gentle, reverent kisses.

He's trying to break me, to get my hands in his hair, a touch, a connection. Something to make this act a joint one. I never do.

When it's over, I look down for the first time and he's wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, looking vaguely ill, his nose running, his eyes watering, because my control slipped at the end, just a little, and my hips snapped forward, driving my jerking, happily yammering cock deep.

He looks up and the anger's gone, if it was ever there and I see to the heart of him, see him laid open, gutted, laid bare. While I'm absorbing what I've seen, my heart skipping a beat painfully, blood rushing in my ears as if I'm going to pass out, he's busy. He tucks my spit-damp cock away -- he never cleans it off with anything but his tongue and I never push him on that -- and refastens, rezips, redresses me.

Then he stands, close enough that I think I can smell my spunk on his breath and I know to him it'll be skunk-strong and choking. "You'll go?" he says again.

I touch him then, the back of my knuckles to his cheek, my world steadying. He flinches, startled, and I know he's wondering what fresh hell this is and if I'll do the unthinkable and kiss him.

Not a chance.

"Yeah. She's waiting, and I'm late." I swallow. I've never given him this before, but tonight I have to. "But I'll be back, Jim. I'll always come back."

Not anger. Fear. Not possessiveness. Not jealousy. Not dog-in-the-manger, territorial imperative, not anything I'd assumed it was when Jim made my life hell for dating and we hammered out this vicious, cruel compromise.

Cruel, because we both know that Jim blowing me before I go out isn't going to stop me from fucking my date a few hours later.

But knowing that he's only doing it to get me back unfucked, unclaimed, safely his, knowing that he hates doing it, but does it anyway, keeps that zipper up.

I guess I've got lines I won't cross, like everyone, and that's one of them.

I just never realized why he was doing it. Fear and Jim… mates for life. Sometimes I'm so fucking blind.

I turn at the door, glance back to where he's standing, the back of his hand still rubbing over his used, fucked mouth. "Jim?"

His hand drops away and he meets my eyes with some of his desperation showing to my newly aware eyes. "What?"

"I'll be back early. Why don't you tape the game and we can watch it together?"

The silence between us stretches and then snaps as he snarls at me. "Just get the fuck out of here, will you?"

I go, and I tell myself that I can't do this, can't let him control my life this way, but it's hard to lie to yourself, and I'm not the one kneeling.

I'm not the one on his knees, begging.

I'm not the scared one.

I get back at ten, a single, puzzled kiss imprinted on my cheek from a disappointed Sarah.

Jim doesn't smile and the game's over. He didn't record it and he goes to bed early, coming close to me only for one careful appraisal with sight and smell that I endure patiently.

It doesn't matter. Everything's changed now. Jim's scared and I'm -- I want to -- I don't know.

I just know I'm never going to look down again and see him stare back, eyes blank with fear that this time he hadn't been good enough, this time I'll go and not come back. That ends, that's over.

We'll find another way, a better way, to make him see that I can't leave him -- no, that I don't want to leave him.

Because I don't.

He's my Sentinel. I don't love him, I don't even like him much at times, and I get the feeling it's mutual, but I'd never leave him.

I can't. I've tried.

He thinks he's dependent on me? I smother the gasping, choked hysterical laughter bubbling up behind my hands and bury my face in my pillow, hoping Jim's already asleep.

He doesn't know what he is to me, what he's done to me -- no, what's been done to us, because neither of us chose this. He's my light, air, and water. When he dies, I give myself days, if that, before I follow him.

It's not through choice, it's not through love, but it's going to look that way to just about everyone who knows us.

I wish I could hate him, but I don't and never will. I wish I could pity him, but all I have is used up on me.

I know what he wishes.

Yeah, I wish you were a woman, too, Jim.

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