Shit. Something's wrong with Sandburg.
I wince my eyes closed against the suddenly too-bright light as my senses zoom, trying to bring me as much information as possible about my home and its surroundings, trying to find out what the problem is instantly.
Nothing dangerous stands out – no toxic odors, no added heartbeats or nonusual sounds or sensations. I filter through the information one sense at a time, the way he taught me. Sound first: I focus in on his room and his body. Heartbeat slightly elevated; breath hitching lightly; the scritching of his body as he moves restlessly against the sheets. Nothing besides him moving in there.
I blink my eyes and set the coffeepot on the maker as I sort through smell, hitting the on switch and filtering out the bright sharpness of the coffee beans, again as Sandburg taught me. I can do this without zoning, because his scent, his heartbeat are my anchors, and it's him I'm investigating. That rich scent of his permeates his room, the clean clothes and his mattress and quilt as well as his sheets and laundry, so I always have a baseline from which to judge his current odor. And he's a little lemony-sour this morning – an odor I've come to associate with his dismay.
But he's only just now waking up, and there's nothing different in his room from overnight, and he was fine last night when we hit the sack. I grin as I move to get out the eggs and cheese from the fridge, moving through my breakfast routine. It must have been a dream, then. I go through another exercise that he taught me while he starts his getting-up noises. As a sentinel, I keep running track of my personal territory even when I'm asleep, and if I try, I can go back through the sensations and remember what went on.
When he first moved in, I tried to give him some privacy by not paying any attention to him when he was in the bathroom or his bedroom, but I gave up on that the second time lunatics broke into our place after him. Anymore, I listen in on him any time he's within hearing range, which these days is about a mile and a half, and keep tabs on his odor when he's within smelling range, which varies with what else is in the area. It's just easier to have the advanced warning.
Well, that last dream before waking seems to have been a nice one – anyway, the breathing and heart rate were those associated with comfort and mild pleasure, and so was the smell. Deep sleep before that; then more of the same.
Hm. My grin turns into a smirk. Must have been one of those dreams where you're doing something you wouldn't do awake, and it seems perfectly natural. I sympathize; I have a vivid memory of playing guitar on a live turtle while it harmonized.
I would dismiss the entire thing, except when he comes out to hit the can, his heartbeat rises when he sees me.
"Uh, morning, Jim."
"Morning, Chief. Breakfast's almost ready."
Now, that was interesting.
I pay more attention the rest of the day, taking care to be unobtrusive about it; he always knows when I've caught something unusual, and demands to know what it is. Sorry, buddy: not about to tell you I'm spying on you.
It's a little game I play now and then: detecting Sandburg with my senses. Even though the kid will talk for hours on every topic imaginable, he rarely gives up any information about himself, and what he does say, you can't trust. He's a real chameleon: always fitting himself into the group he finds himself in, so he says what'll do that. So I pay attention to his personal scent and how it changes, to the scents that stick to him through the day, to the way his energy levels change, to his voice and heartbeat. And I match them up with what's going on, and with what he's saying.
Sometimes I get to match up other people with their scents when I go to get him at Rainier. So far I've been able to spot librarians, study partners, some of his students and several dates. And some women who didn't become dates for whatever reason they may have thought up. I hide my amusement: some teasing is fun, but I have to watch out for the land mines. Sandburg is fragile in some unexpected places.
He's unexpectedly tough in others, though. Like anyone, he starts with a preconceived notion, like the way he thought the PD was full of a bunch of macho bigots. He wouldn't say anything of the sort, of course, but you could tell by the miniscule flinches when he was teased about his hair and his height and his earrings and such. It's a notion most civilians have of us, and really, given TV and the movies, you can hardly blame them. But I swear it wasn't more than about three weeks before he had his new vision all mapped out and ready for refining.
Now, that's not to say that there aren't bigots among us. But Sandburg located them and fit them into their place in our hierarchy really quick. It's why he laughs in my face – and in Simon's – when we roar at him.
Anyway. That's all to say that I have a habit of figuring out Sandburg. So I'm able to tell he gets back to normal really quick today. Except that every so often he flinches at me. I pretend not to notice, but I keep wondering about the content of that dream. Maybe he was entering data on my toes or something.
The next morning I wake up to a change in his breathing, and his heartbeat rising again. I run a quick check on the loft, but it's clear and safe. Backtracking through my memory, I detect another pleasant dream. Hm.
The clock says 5:30, which is a good hour and a half before I'm supposed to be up this morning. I close my eyes again and keep track of Sandburg, who goes back to sleep after a while. Just as I'm about to drift back off myself, I catch a burst of pheromones and the erratic heartbeat and breathing of a wet dream.
Yes: I've tracked those too. Believe me, it's useful to know the difference between a wet dream and a nightmare. Saves wear and tear on the stairs. Nightmares I'll wake him up from. He may be a garrulous hyperactive furball, but he's my buddy. And my Guide. And he's earned a lot of those nightmares tagging after me.
I wait through it, just to see if he'll wake up again, and he does. And his smell goes into full panic. I wait again to see if he hyperventilates, which is dangerous, but that doesn't happen. I leave him in peace.
So he's having a wet dream about an inappropriate person - or thing. I sternly resist a snicker. Wonder if it's some ancient member of his diss committee, or the lobster we saw last week in the restaurant. Go back to sleep for the few minutes before I have to get up.
When I head down the stairs for my shower, his heartbeat rockets off the scale. Holy shit! It was me!
I think about this under the hot water. Dreams are funny things: bits or characters or even actions can mean something else entirely, and it all depends on your own internal landscape. Or they can be pieces of repressed memories. Or they can be precognition, especially in our case, but still be full of symbolism. This is all stuff I heard from Sandburg, and confirmed myself later. I don't tell him I read up on his more interesting lectures. It's more fun to defy his assumptions about me.
So my presence in a wet dream of his could mean any number of things, from a problem with the dean being too demanding to a memory of something traumatic in his childhood to a serious desire to jump my bones. I'd rather it wasn't something traumatic – really, really rather not – but that's not up to me.
If it's the dean or similar, it'll work its own way out. Blair is nothing if not competent. And forceful.
As I shave, I consider the question of bones-jumping. Well, obviously the issue bothers Sandburg big-time, as witness the panic. Does it bother me? Assuming, of course, he ever gets beyond the panic.
I've turned down all previous offers, but I have to say that the idea itself never bothered me one way or the other. About the third time it happened, a week or so out of Basic, I decided to experiment and see whether men, in general, turned me on. Face it: you see a lot of hard-bodied guys in the Army, in all stages of undress, and if you're gonna get hot over 'em your best opportunity is right here.
Nothing. They left me absolutely cold. Of course the other side of the question is whether the whole idea makes your gorge rise. I used some of the mental exercises they'd given us to test that one. No: no problem that side either.
Just for the fairness of it, I tried the same thing on women. After all, you never know: I mighta been designed as a monk. But the ladies did start my motor, so I dismissed the question as straight but not narrow, and left it at that.
So: what about Blair?
Look, one thing is absolutely true: if he decided that I needed to hang upside down, naked and painted blue, from the flagpole over the Capitol, I would bitch and argue and fume and refuse even as I was finishing up the paint job and hauling myself up the pole. So he could definitely manipulate me right into the sack if he decided to do it, and there would be damned little I could do to stop him. I have no defenses against him.
It's a good thing he's as honorable as he is.
So, that question aside, what about Blair?
I muse over that the rest of the day while I ignore his jitters and spasms and such. The question has only a small chance of ever coming up, but I do like to be prepared for things when I can.
I love him, I do, and the feeling's mutual. We know that after all this time, after the things we've done for – and to – each other. Couldn't imagine my life without him. Never want him to leave: if he marries, damnit, I'm buying him a house with enough room for his wife, his kids, and me. If he decides to go on a dig, I'm taking a long-term leave of absence and getting my shots up to date.
Me marry? It is to snort. Carolyn was warning enough, and the ladies I've, err, been involved with since her have only confirmed that. Sandburg's the only person I've ever met with the balls to stand up to me and the force of will to wiggle through my barriers.
The thought itself demands a noogie, which I do not explain to him.
I keep musing over the next several weeks. I know I have the time, because Sandburg has gone full-fledged into denial – read, dating someone new every single night for three weeks straight – and it could well be I never need to … meet the challenge. Not that any of these ladies would keep his attention on a long-term basis. He's just reconfirming the plumbing. The rest of the Major Crimes crew go into total tease mode; me, I just smirk. The plumbing apparently works fine, every fourth or fifth date, though he implies more than that. Who he's trying to convince is obvious, since he has more wet dreams the while. Apparently still starring me.
The plain fact of the matter is that I like to touch him. He's … comforting, maybe. Grounding, certainly. He's no threat to me, the way all other men and a surprising number of women are: he fits right inside my personal space with no trouble. A level of physical trust, entirely apart from the other kind, that has been entirely missing in any other relationship I've ever had, bar none. He just fits.
I could definitely do the snuggle thing with no problem. Hell, we already do that sometimes. I am not letting him sit on my lap, though: that is one solid anthropologist, and I like my legs awake, thank you very much. Kissing? No problem there, either. I mean, the major issue would be taste, which is damn close to smell. I've smelled his morning breath on a regular basis, from really close up (especially camping), and though I've always felt honor-bound to complain, it doesn't bother me in the least.
That's the question, isn't it?
Okay. I do know what can go where, and how. Some of my snitches while I was in Vice were fairly explicit before they would get to the point. And I just have to say: ouch.
Okay. I'm a Ranger. I don't believe in asking anyone to do what I'm unwilling to do myself. Which already puts me a slew of blow-jobs in debt. Though I don't currently owe the other; guess neither I nor any of my own ladies were ever that adventurous.
Although I happen to know Sandburg has been. Hey, it's no skin off my nose to pretend that that whole showering thing is sufficient, but all it really does is to take things down to more-or-less background smell. And, as I said, I have a baseline for Sandburg anyway. So I know … things … about his love life that I will never tell him I know. One of those is that he's adventurous. Another is that he's good at it: whenever he's been dumped, it's never been on the basis of bad sex. Another is that he has not dated a guy since he's moved in here.
Okay, the pattern of flinches over the years has indicated that one, he has dated guys in the past and two, he's never had sex with them. I already knew that. I did. It wasn't an issue then. It isn't now, except to indicate that, should we actually take this step, we'll be each other's first, and he knows what he's doing.
Huh. That's interesting. All I worried about was the ouch factor, not the whole, you know, vulnerability thing. But I guess that goes back to our trust levels.
So I guess that would take care of the sex thing. I am also thinking that it is not actually a very good idea to bring up the whole idea of desire until the question is posed by Sandburg. I mean, if this is a flash in the pan for him, no need to start up my own motor ahead of the flag. I mean: it could still be the dean.
On to other worries. Or issues, or whatever. Would we be talking a buddies thing, scratch the itch, a night or a week and, thanks, that did it?
That causes me to stop in the middle of typing up a report. Thankfully, Sandburg is on campus today, not around to seize on this evidence of Something Wrong With Jim, so I can actually think about it.
I … don't like that idea. Really don't.
Damn. So I really am thinking about getting married again. Well, if anyone could stand me in that way, it would be Sandburg. Balls, you know, and force of will. Kids …? My mind skitters away from that one, and I file it under Stupid Things Cops Do And Shouldn't, for discussion if the idea ever comes up.
Okay, the next question is, naturally, out or in. This one is a bit tricky, but not for the obvious reasons.
Cascade PD has its share of out gay cops; the city has an anti-discrimination policy in place, and Major Crimes actually helped ferret out a nasty cadre of creeps that had been using the badge as a shield for gaybashing a couple of years ago. Not in my city, not on my watch, not with my uniform.
I suddenly realize Taggert and Brown are staring at me, and work on relaxing my jaw. Take a few deep breaths.
Okay, so the question is not one of safety, or backup, or anything like that. We've got all the diversity-training things in place – thanks, actually to Sandburg, come to think of it – and a chapter of GOAL that throws a party for the entire city several times a year. Mayor's been coming recently. Major Crimes attends as a group at Mardi Gras.
No, the tricky part is that I would feel like a bit of a fraud.
See, they keep giving this piece of nonsense Cop of the Year award to me. Like the arrest record is my doing and not Sandburg's, for Pete's sake. And then they natter about my responsibility to give speeches here and there, which, mostly, thank God, I can weasel out of on the grounds of not having any people skills to speak of. But if we go public, it'll be the same as coming out, and Sandburg will convince me that we need to upgrade our membership in GOAL from associate to professional, and the next thing – the very next thing, I can see it as clearly as my monitor – is that GOAL will send me to go speak about being a gay cop in the high schools. And I will not know a single solitary thing about it. Damn it.
Well, that, and Sam might firebomb the loft. But that's an ongoing threat anyway. Girl needs Prozac, and no mistake. This thought puts the above in context, and I let it go. Paperwork will be a bitch, but when is it ever not?
Any more issues? Well, family; Naomi's pretty much gotten over the fact that I'm a cop, and the fact that Sandburg's settled down, so I don't expect any problems there. My dad and Stephen? Frankly, I could not possibly care less about my dad's opinion about it, and he seems to be past the whole arrange things so Jimmy doesn't ruin his life attitude, which would be my real problem there. Stephen, well, it would hurt if he decided to take against us, but I have a feeling he wouldn't. Have to wait and see.
Last two questions: the office pool and weddings. Commitment ceremonies, whatever. Well, that one would have to be discussed with Sandburg, anyway. Like I said, he's fragile in some unexpected places, and he might not be into that idea at all.
Pool. Let's see. They've re-started it twice over the last two years. Brown's got a side-bet going, but since never, nuh-uh, no way is contingent on my last day at the PD, no one's really been paying attention to it. Rafe's on the last of this month, Rhonda has blocked out the second week in May, Conner's got several days picked out – including Hallowe'en, just for the laughs – and Simon has July 4th for some reason.
Damn, they're staring at me again. I work on wiping the smile off my face. More deep breaths.
I think that covers it. I can file this all under Pending, Forget Until Needed, and go back to work.
Ah. Sandburg approaching. Sounds like he's on the bus. I swear the Volvo is just going to shudder into rust piles one of these days. I'll be able to ask him about this recent set of gang fights. There's something unusual going on here, and I think he said something a few months ago that might relate.
His heart rate is steady, but up. Wonder if he just faced down a bunch of profs or football players or some such. I save the report I've been working on, grab the other file, and start laying things out to show him.
Hm. His BO precedes him as usual, and he's been turned on for a while. Must be a really hot prospect for this evening's date. Maybe that explains the heart rate.
He comes through the door at his usual bounce, flinging greetings and pieces of conversation here and there, and fetches up against the side of my desk, his backpack skidding into the corner. He has that calm smile on his face, the one that says he's come to a decision he's sure of.
"Jim, man, we need to talk."
I just smile back.