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A Day in the Life: Or, the Care and Feeding of a Modern-Day Sentinel

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A Day in the Life: Or, the Care and Feeding of a Modern-Day Sentinel

by Shadow


PART I: WAKING UP AND GETTING UP
NOT NECESSARILY IN THAT ORDER

The first (and middle, and last) fact to remember is that Sentinels, no matter how rational, trained, self-controlled or otherwise orderly, are basically creatures of their senses. Or victims of their senses. It's very easy for a Sentinel's senses to bypass the cerebral cortex entirely and move straight to the id. Or forget the id, how about a one-way ticket straight to the cock, do not pass Go? At this time a Sentinel is likely to forget all higher considerations and simply plunge right into the sensory experience.

When the sensory experience into which the Sentinel is plunging happens to be his Guide, who, less than half awake, finds himself shoved face-down into the pillows, his nether regions hoisted up and impaled repeatedly and vigorously by said Sentinel, it's important for the Guide to be understanding and realize that not only the Sentinel, but very often the Guide is the victim of the Sentinel's senses.

Since Sentinels live very close to the primal side of their nature, it's entirely conceivable that at such moments a Sentinel might simply pursue their own sensory indulgences with no consideration whatsoever for the recipient of these attentions. However, a well-trained Sentinel will have learned early that melting the Guide's brain with pleasure and reducing him to monosyllabic nonsense words and incoherent grunts and groans by manually, orally and/or internally stimulating various nerve clusters will leave the Guide not only more cooperative in the present engagement, but also more receptive to future connections. The downside of this consideration is that it necessitates, if not active participation, at least certain aspects of performance on the Guide's part.

It's important to be aware that Sentinels are very easily stimulated sexually. A scent, the texture of the sheets, hell, even a strain of music can do it. Just as there are a million stimuli in everyday life that can send a Sentinel's senses way out of whack, burn his eyes, sear his nose, irritate his skin, decimate his ears and fry his taste buds, there are conversely an amazing number of stimuli that serve as, for lack of a better word, Sentinel catnip. Therefore a Guide might indeed find himself in a situation wherein the Sentinel humping him to death at six in the morning on a Saturday has been to the well three previous times the night before (although let's be fair, two of those times it was the Sentinel's ass getting worn out), and despite grunts, groans, nonsense words and screams of pleasure a Guide has very little to show, spermatically speaking, for the sensory experience. At such times a Guide may understandably succumb to the temptation, after the sexual ritual has proceeded to its natural conclusion and afterplay and cuddling has commenced, to collapse limply in the Sentinel's arms, groan helplessly and croak, "Jesus, Jim, mercy, uncle, you're killing me here!" as a subtle hint to the Sentinel that he is outpacing his Guide's endurance.

Of course, a Guide should definitely watch the way he phrases such complaints. Sentinels are, by nature, extremely protective of their Guides, and an incautious pronouncement carrying the slightest implication of discomfort will invariably result in the Guide being suddenly and peremptorily rolled over on his stomach, probably in the admittedly minor wet spot he created, and splayed in an extremely undignified position while a panic-stricken Sentinel thoroughly inspects the premises for damage.

"Oh, God, Chief, are you okay? There's no blood - are you sore? I was too rough, wasn't I? Did I hurt you? Did you pull a muscle or something? Hold on a second, I'll get the ointment, just stay still - "

Whereupon the Guide will probably find himself being loaded up with a ridiculous quantity of soothing ointment in intimate places (as if the liberal quantities of lube and semen in those regions didn't leave him goopy enough). Unfortunately showering will only result in a repeated application, and the Guide should resign himself to squelching disgustingly all day.

Attempting to modify the incautious complaint, however, is probably a mistake.

"Jeez, Jim, you didn't hurt me, okay? I just meant I was tired, I was sound asleep, you know, man, three times last night, especially that one upside down on the stairs, you know? I could've used a little more down time, that's all, and if I can offer just a minor critique here, next time you might try waking me up and asking first."

A long silence followed by a shaking voice should be the first clue that the Guide has now fucked up royally.

"Are you saying that I - that I just raped you?"

Oh shit.

"No, no, Jim, it's not like that, man, I loved every second of it, it was earth shattering, mind-blowing, you name it - oh, man, don't look like that, it's okay, I didn't mean it - "

At such moments the Guide should abandon reason entirely and change tactics drastically. The best strategy is definitely to appeal to the protective side of the Sentinel. Vehement self-recriminations and/or a wide-eyed agonized puppy-dog look with trembling lips and, if possible, quivering chin will cause the Sentinel to cease all of his own emotional self-flagellation and immediately treat the Guide by an application of holding, cuddling, caresses and soothing endearments. After a long period of same, the relationship is repaired and the (fragrant) Sentinel can then be coaxed downstairs for a shower.

Beware, however, that oftentimes a Sentinel will decide to make an apology for any imagined wrongdoing in the form of fellatio in the shower, irrespective of the fact that the Guide's balls are not only long since drained dry, but getting sore from the repeated demands being made upon them. At this point the Guide should resign himself to not only squelching, but walking bowlegged all day. A wise Guide has realized at this point that keeping his big mouth shut is a very, very good idea. If the day in question is a day off from work, hopefully the Guide will have a few hours to recuperate before the next assault.

At this point, after showering, drying and repeated application of goop, the perky Sentinel and exhausted Guide can commence the day's preparatory rituals, including shaving, tooth brushing and dressing. A competent Guide will have stocked the residence with Sentinel-friendly products such as natural, undyed, unscented laundry detergent and fabric softener, soaps, toilet paper, hair care products, shaving lotion, toothpaste and deodorant. The last is especially important, as any Guide who has watched his ferociously glaring Sentinel storm around the bullpen of Cascade PD all day with his elbows held out from his sides like wings will tell you.

Once Sentinel and Guide have completed morning hygienic rituals and clothed themselves for public appearances, it's time to proceed to:

PART II: BREAKFAST, OR:
IF I'M NOT EMPTYING ONE TANK, I'M FILLING ANOTHER

On a day off from work, the Guide may find it preferable to provide some variety to diet and routine by taking his Sentinel out for breakfast at the local casa de pancakes. One advantage to this maneuver is that it lets the exhausted Guide sit (gingerly) and rest while food preparation and cleanup is handled by somebody else. This is a big plus, as the Sentinel will recoup his energies by stuffing appalling quantities of pancakes, eggs, bacon and other comestibles down his throat while the Guide gazes on in a sort of horrified fascination. Another advantage is that occasionally indulging his Sentinel's craving for huge amounts of grease and sugar (see above) keeps the Sentinel from griping too much about the healthy meals otherwise prepared at home. A third advantage is that eating out puts greater distance between the Sentinel and the bedroom.

There are, however, complications.

"That waitress is giving you the eye."

A wise Guide quickly learns to say something to the effect of, "Don't worry, Jim. I'm yours, all yours, always yours, only yours."

A not-so-wise Guide soon learns there's such a thing as too much honesty.

"Her? Oh, yeah, Clarice. Yeah, we dated a couple times."

Be aware that Sentinels are extremely possessive of their Guides and can become dangerous when jealous. An experienced Guide realizes that a growling sound issuing from his Sentinel's throat, accompanied by bared teeth and a narrow-eyed stare fixed on the object of impending violence, is a clear signal that emergency evacuation of the site of potential disaster is necessary.

The Sentinel's first instinct is to defend his territory (in this case, his Guide) from encroachment by The Enemy (in this case, a 22-year-old, 5'2 blonde waitress named Clarice). If the Guide slaps a random sum of money on the table and bodily drags his Sentinel out of the establishment before violence can occur, the Sentinel moves on to his next imperatives:

First, either remove the threat from the territory (no longer applicable, thank God), or remove the territory from the area of the threat, which may involve dragging his Guide into the alleyway beside the pancake house and behind a pile of empty boxes (I knew those "secret family recipe" pancakes were Aunt Jemima), eyes and nostrils dilated as the Sentinel scans the area for further danger.

Second, make sure his territory is safe and intact. This involves a long and thorough inspection of said territory, both manual (checking for injuries, or so he'd have me believe) and olfactory (probably checking for traces of Clarice-scent). If these two steps are completed successfully and without mishap, the Sentinel will almost certainly move on to the last step:

Reinforce his claim upon his territory.

When a preliminary manual inspection of the posterior region during the above step produces a hiss of pain, and groping the anterior genital region elicits a similar reaction, the Sentinel will look very perplexed and display marked frustration, anxiety and agitation, possibly preliminary to a new attack of self-recrimination and guilt. Thank God, an understanding Guide in these trying circumstances will soon discover that a display of submission, i.e. a kneeling position while tendering manual caresses and oral gestures of adoration and devotion, will satisfy the Sentinel's need to reassert his rights of ownership without necessitating further mileage on the Guide's exhausted lower anatomy. Such a display will pacify the Sentinel with gratifying rapidity, and the Sentinel will respond with embraces, cuddling and stroking, verbal reassurances of love and apologies for his insecurity. At this time the Guide should hasten to remove the Sentinel from such malodorous environs as a back alley, since about this time the odors of decaying refuse and bodily waste (animal and human), which both Sentinel and Guide failed to notice during the immediate emergency, will most likely send the Sentinel reeling into a zoneout.

Once the Sentinel and Guide return to the transport vehicle and tidy up (the Guide wishing he'd bolted down at least a little food while he had the chance), it is now time to move on to the truly challenging portion of the day's endeavors:

PART III: SHOPPING, OR:
ADVENTURES IN PUBLIC HUMILIATION

SUBPART A: CLOTHING

Clothing the Sentinel is a problem deserving of careful consideration. Natural soft-textured fabrics are a must, especially in the selection of undergarments. The natural temptation of the Guide is to go for the very softest and most supple undergarments possible, i.e., silk. A prudent Guide will quickly learn, however, that, like honesty, there is always the possibility of too much softness and suppleness. He will further learn that such new undergarments should never have been tried a few weeks ago on a work day, whereupon the following scenario might have occurred:

"Jesus, Jim! Not here! We're in the bullpen, for God's sake! Get your hand out of my pants!"

"Can't help it, Chief, I need you, I want you, gotta have you - "

"Come on, Jim, pleeeeeease, man, can't this wait till we get home? Look, Rafe's snickering, he knows something's up - oh, man, did I say that?"

"Come onnnnnnnn, Chief, can't wait, I need you - "

"Jim, please, can't we at least find someplace private? Look, what's down this hall, how about - "

"Here. This'll do."

"Jim, this is a closet."

"Yeah, yeah. It's private."

"Jim, this is a broom closet. As in, inhabited by brooms and mops and - Jesus, that's a bucket I've got my foot in, okay? Hey, just smell all those chemicals, come on, this is going to screw up your senses, can't we - what are you - careful with the buttons, okay? I can't exactly sew them back on here!"

"Need you."

"What are you - oh, man, can't I just suck you off or something? I don't suppose you'd settle for a handjob just this once? C'mon, Jim, there's no room - "

"Need you."

"Shit, shit, shit - okay, hang on a minute, let me get my leg up - yeah, that shelf - can I get my foot out of the frigging bucket first, please? Owww! Do something with the damned mop! Not that! Do something else with the damned mop! Okay, there, that's - hey, wait, Jim! Lube! Lube, okay?"

A wise (i.e. sore) Guide will quickly learn to carry lubricant on all occasions. A careful (i.e. sore) Guide will have learned from past experience to pin a safety pin to the pocket of his trousers and tie a string from said lube to said pin so that when an overeager Sentinel knocks said lube out of the Guide's hand, the lube will not fall to the floor in a dark broom closet where lengthy fumbling and the necessary bent-over position will tempt the Sentinel to bypass the lube stage entirely. The prudent Guide will have taken the safety-pin precaution and will ensure that the Sentinel's primary sexual output organ is lavishly lubed and prepared, as is his own sexual intake zone. At this juncture the Guide's only remaining concerns are (a) keeping the volume of grunts, groans and screams of ecstasy to a non-public level; (b) keeping the Guide's foot out of the bucket; (c) not knocking a million bottles and jars of cleansers, solvents, etc. off the shelves to break and spew their fumes all over your Sentinel, which would be a Bad Thing; and (d) preventing -

"Oh, Jim, yeah, man, yeah, harder, that's it, harder, yeah, yeah, YEAH, oh YEAH THAT'S IT, moremoremore - WHA - oh, heh, heh, hi, Mr. Hennessey. Looking for a mop?"

In consideration of the foregoing, the clothes shopping expedition is made with great forethought and considerable trepidation. Thank God, the Guide who has renounced academia and now has the steady, albeit modest, paycheck of a detective with Cascade PD can now afford to buy clothing from venues other than the local thrift shop, since the Sentinel's tactile sensitivity and noise level tolerances require shopping for clothing at establishments which are not, let's say, economy oriented. Which is okay, because neither is said Sentinel's taste in apparel.

Perhaps the Guide's tastes are modest and run to soft sweaters, t-shirts and flannel shirts and nice worn jeans. A Sentinel who has a big cat for a spirit animal is, predictably, somewhat finicky about his appearance. A thrifty Guide probably never had a dry cleaning bill before he shacked up with Felix Unger. Instead of flannel shirts, the Guide might find his Sentinel looking at chambray or chamois or some other soft substance starting with 'cham', as in 'champagne,' which accurately describes the budget necessary to purchase said shirts. But he looks so damned good in all those pricey shirts, jackets and sweaters that his Guide wouldn't dream of calling him vain.

And then a Guide might find his Sentinel pulling something indescribably soft over his head, enveloping the Guide in a warm thick cloud of pure cashmere, and when the Guide's head emerges from the v-neck he feels a little flutter of pride at the expression in his Sentinel's eyes.

"Oh, man, Chief, you look incredible in that," the Sentinel might say in a soft, awed voice, turning his Guide around bodily to look in the mirror. "Look at your eyes, your skin - oh, God, Chief, you're all but glowing in that."

And the Guide might look at the maroon cashmere sweater that cuddles him almost as sweetly as his Sentinel's arms, and it's true, the color brings out the blue in his eyes and the highlights in his hair and the warm tones of his skin, and who cares what the damned thing costs if his Sentinel can make him feel so beautiful in it? And of course the thick soft weave is irresistible to hypersensitive skin; even as the Guide looks in the mirror, wondering how with the switch from flannel shirt to sweater his old jeans and older sneakers have suddenly become relaxed and classy, his Sentinel might start rubbing hands, and then face over the softness, nuzzling into it, making soft sounds that definitely resemble a low purr. And it might take the Guide a minute or two before he realizes that those strokes of those long, deft fingers have definitely become caresses.

"Jim, man, wait, we can't - "

"It's private. It's a dressing room. Door's closed."

The activation of the Sentinel's mating urge can easily be recognized. When aroused, the Sentinel displays such characteristic signs as: dilated pupils and nostrils; a smooth but aggressive demeanor (evidenced perhaps by pushing his Guide up against a wall and proceeding to body-rub him into the next dimension); wandering hands; nuzzling of face, throat, hair or other regions; now obscenely tight trousers, and a particular coaxing puppy-like character to his speech.

"Come onnnnnnnnn, Blair, baby, pleeeeeeeeeeease, love you so much, you feel so gooooooooood . . . "

"Jim, these places have, like, closed circuit cameras to prevent shoplifting, okay? If you start humping me in here, we are going to get arrested."

It takes more than a little warning like that to divert a force of nature like a Sentinel, but thankfully the calvary arrives in the form of the snotty clerk, who asks if sir's pants fit properly (at the moment they're actually rather tight), and do the gentlemen need any assistance, in just a snide enough tone that both Sentinel and Guide bristle at the same time. Thankfully a pissed-off Sentinel loses most of his ardor, at least long enough to try on the rest of the clothes he's picked out and to talk his Guide into a couple of quasi-reasonable outfits - after all, if the Guide is now a detective, he does have to maintain at least some kind of professional wardrobe, like it or not. Mostly not. But thankfully the Sentinel has cooled down enough to grant the Guide a temporary reprieve, allowing them to move on to:

SUBPART B: GROCERIES

A Sentinel in a supermarket is both a blessing and a bane to his Guide. In the produce aisle, for example, the Sentinel is invaluable in picking out the least chemical-ridden specimens, the ripest pineapples, the freshest brussels sprouts.

On the other hand -

"Hey, Chief," Jim leers, yes, leers, brandishing a cucumber. "Remind you of anything?"

A tolerant Guide merely rolls his eyes and says, "Yeah, Jim. It reminds me that we're out of olive oil."

"I thought we just bought a new bottle last week."

"Yeah, and remember what we did with it?"

"Oh, yeah. Ohhhhhhhhh yeaaaaaaaah."

A Guide should be very careful of what he says to a lustful Sentinel brandishing a cucumber.

"Hey, Chief, in the mood for some zucchini? How about a big banana and a couple of oranges?"

"Jim, after last night and this morning, your Guide is already a vegetable. A very limp vegetable, if you get my meaning."

Irritated sigh.

"What happened to Blair Sandburg, the guy who'd hump a table leg?"

"First of all, Jim, I could draw a pretty apt 'wood' analogy and remind you that I humped the table leg four times already in a 16-hour period, not even counting the shower and the alley. Secondly, whatever you may think of my past sexual escapades, none of them ever took place in the produce department of a grocery store. Now, behind the dairy case, I admit there's a story there, but not in the produce department. Now put the cucumber down, or I swear to God, Jim, it's tofu for the next four days."

"Spoilsport."

One of the benefits of grocery shopping with a Sentinel is that a Guide never buys spices that have aged past their prime; a Sentinel can tell exactly how much oomph is left in the oregano. On the other hand, there's always the problem of -

"Mmmmmmmmmmm."

"Jim, that's cardamom."

"Mmmmmmmmmmm."

"Jim, what's the - "

"Smells gooooooood."

"I'm glad you like the cardamom, Jim, but what are you - "

"Smells good with you."

"Oh, Jeez, not again."

"You smell good enough to eat."

"Jesus, Jim, will you stop that?"

"Mommy, why is that man rubbing against that other man the way Lopsy does on Daddy's leg sometimes?"

"Don't look, Timmy. We're getting out of here. Some people are such perverts - "

A Guide in sheer desperation might actually consider popping open a cannister of garlic powder and shoving it under his Sentinel's nose. Or maybe cayenne pepper. One day he'll almost certainly succumb to the temptation. However, if possible he should restrain himself, pay for the fucking groceries, and drag his Sentinel hurriedly out of the store before the management asks to have a word with them.

It should be added here that a Sentinel's sex drive is a feast-or-famine phenomenon. When a Sentinel is having problems with one or more senses, when there's something in the air - or the water - or the carpet - or the soup (you get the idea), a Guide could get more response out of a bowl of Wheaties. Nada. Zilch. Sometimes for weeks on end, or at least until whatever's bothering the Sentinel goes away, or lessens, or he learns to dial it down. A mild cold can send a Sentinel into never-never land even if he doesn't drink any of the non-Sentinel-friendly green stuff. All these libido-killing factors are more prevalent (and worse in effect) in the pre-Guide Sentinel, but never entirely disappear. So a Guide should become accustomed to the hopefully occasional dry spell.

But when all's well and a Sentinel's senses are functioning as they should, a Sentinel has no business whatsoever accusing anyone else of table-leg humping, because his own desire and capacity are nothing short of phenomenal. Primal instincts coupled with incredibly acute senses coupled with the natural bond of attraction between Sentinel and Guide . . . well, I'll just say this - if we could bottle it, we could buy and sell Bill Gates. It would make Viagra look about as effective by comparison as green M&M's.

A sore and worn-out Guide might well wonder what the hell his Sentinel did about his spates of hyperactive libido in the three-year-plus interval between the re-emergence of his senses and the evening shortly after his Guide returned home from the police academy, then night when, apropos of nothing in the middle of dinner, the Sentinel looked his Guide in the eyes, sighed, said, "Oh, fuck it," leaned over and proceeded to kiss his Guide into oblivion (actually into coming in his pants like a horny teenager). Yeah, a Guide might wonder about those three years, but he'd do well not to ask. Because if he asks, his Sentinel will probably tell him in great detail, leaving the Guide somewhat awed at his Sentinel's breadth of imagination and resourcefulness. Not to mention the endurance of his wrists and forearms. Explaining a carpal tunnel injury under such circumstances could be distinctly embarrassing. It is, in fact, entirely possible that just such a question, and desires stirred in the Sentinel in delivering the answer, occasioned the repeated tests of the Guide's endurance the previous night. It's also possible, in fact, that in the years preceding the Sentinel and Guide squeaking the bedsprings together, the Sentinel racked up a lengthy bill for solitary entertainment accessories at Cornucopia, a local adult store leaning heavily toward the homosexual persuasion, where the Sentinel and Guide might in fact be headed on their day off for:

SUBPART C: MORE INTIMATE PURCHASES

In other words, lube. The lifeblood of the Sentinel/Guide sex life. All that stands between the Guide and great bodily harm. Sentinel/Guide pairs should get quantity discounts buying it by the case. Or their insurance program should cover it. Vaseline will not cut it. For one thing, unless the Sentinel and Guide are utterly committed to sexual monogamy (likely) and are absolutely certain of the state of their health via frequent and regular blood tests required by Cascade PD, condoms are definitely the order of the day and Vaseline and condoms do not mix. For another thing, petroleum by-products are not Sentinel-friendly. And for another thing, the damned stuff just will not wash off.

And don't chuckle and look wise. Lube - it ain't just for anal sex, baaaaby. There is no part of the Guide's body that won't be touched, rubbed, penetrated, probed, explored, you name it, by various parts of his Sentinel's body. And vice versa. It bears repeating: Sentinels are by nature utter sensualists, no matter how they may try to repress this tendency. An imaginative and uninhibited Guide and a willing Sentinel, both naked and armed with a bottle of lube, can have endless varieties of warm and slippery fun.

None of which address the initial problem: Finding "The Lube." Almost as difficult as finding "The One." At least when a Sentinel is involved.

A Guide must first find an adult store such as Cornucopia which offers tester bottles of lube, a rarity. The Guide next needs the Sentinel in a short-sleeved shirt for testing purposes. What, you thought maybe one of the two would pull their pants down and make a more traditional trial, maybe? Hey, this is an adult store, not the dairy case at the grocery.

One at a time, tiny squirts of various lubes are rubbed into the thin skin of the Sentinel's inner forearm, unscented hypoallergenic wipe at the ready in case of emergencies. Skin reactions are carefully observed. Any rash, reddening? Any itching, prickling, burning sensation? Most lubes drop out of the race here. If any irritation is caused to arm skin, who knows what the hell it would do to more sensitive areas? If you think the deodorant thing was bad, imagine a Sentinel with the equivalent of diaper rash. It just doesn't bear thinking about.

If a lube passes the skin test, on to an even more stringent standard: The smell test. Any irritation to eyes or nasal membranes? Does the odor vanish immediately when the lube is wiped away? Equally important, is the odor a turnoff? Next, taste. Is the taste at least acceptable?

By this time most of the competition has fallen by the wayside. If the Sentinel is lucky there may be two or three contenders remaining. At last, finally, functionality may be considered. Is it slippery enough? Will it last through a session of prolonged friction or will it dry out or become sticky? At this point the Sentinel and Guide may have to settle for what they can get, and be grateful that there's something acceptable.

But, hey, there's always the olive oil.

Thankfully, once "The Lube" is found, the selection process can be eliminated, also eliminating the prolonged period of the clerk behind the counter watching, shaking his head and chuckling while the tester bottles get their workout. The Sentinel and Guide can then fill their shopping basket quickly and get the hell out of the store before the variety of accessories and visual aids inspire the Sentinel too much. Haste is highly advisable if the Guide wants lunch before the Sentinel decides he wants nookie. Again.

PART IV: LUNCHUS INTERRUPTUS, OR:
THE BEST-LAID PLANS OF GUIDES AND SENTINELS

There is one fundamental principle upon which a Guide can bet his last penny: That no excursion with his Sentinel, no matter how mundane, will ever go exactly as planned. Witness Exhibit A: Guide and Sentinel sharing a nice luncheon at Green Earth, a lovely vegetarian caf. The Guide has appealed to his Sentinel's sense of fair play, and when that failed, to guilt - the Sentinel got his sugar-and-grease-fest at breakfast, while the Guide got barely a nibble of his toast before all hell and a jealous Sentinel broke loose. This is the Guide's reward, a tasty and healthful vegetarian lunch to be eaten peacefully on the patio at Green Earth, enjoying the sounds of the terrace fountain and the sights and smells of the rock garden.

"So, Chief . . . it's such a beautiful day, what do you say we pick up some dessert and a bottle of wine and take them to the park? There's that gorgeous spot at the back overlooking the pond, and there's a blanket in the back of the truck . . . "

Gorgeous isolated spot. Blanket. Any sentient Guide could see where this is going. It's entirely possible, summing up the evidence of the day, that the Sentinel has a hitherto unrecognized exhibitionistic streak.

"Jim, come on, man. I need a rest. All of me is tired, but the pertinent parts are exhausted."

"Oh, come onnnnnnnnn, Chief." Back to the puppy-dog eyes and tone, with a generous measure of that beautiful, rare, utterly irresistible smile thrown in. "I just want to lie on the grass in the sunshine, listen to the birds, hold you close."

Although Guides are notoriously vulnerable to their Sentinels, especially under such an assault on their romantic side, a smart Guide would definitely be getting suspicious at this point. The Guide may at this point attempt to set parameters, hoping (probably vainly) that their Sentinel will actually honor them.

"No pants removed?"

"Come on, Chief. I'm proposing sun and cuddling, not streaking here."

"No hands in pants?"

"Chief, contrary to what you might believe, I don't want to get us arrested, okay?"

Wow, he must really - waaaaaaaait a minute.

"No dryhumping?"

Telltale silence.

"Uh - pass the tahini, would you, Chief?"

"Jim. No dryhumping?"

"What kind of sprouts are these? They're actually pretty good."

"Fenugreek. No dryhumping, Jim."

"Jeez, Sandburg." He's getting pissed now. "Sometimes you're no fun at - "

Then he freezes, every muscle still, the same way a deer or a rabbit freezes when it senses danger. The same way a black jaguar freezes when it sights prey.

"What? What is it, Jim?"

"I just heard a scream."

Then he's on his feet, drawing his gun even as he vaults over the low railing surrounding the terrace. Belatedly I follow, but I don't bother with the gun until I scramble over the railing, and I mean scramble. Vaulting is for tall buff Sentinels. Short nerdy ex-anthropologist Guides scramble. Awkwardly. I hit the ground running and now I hear gunfire, a spray of bullets from the convenience store down the street; I pull out my gun as I run, and I'm already way behind Jim.

"Call for backup!" he yells back at me, but I don't pause at the truck. Instead I grab the good ol' cell phone and call the precinct as I run, reporting an armed robbery at the convenience store, gunshots fired. I keep the line open as I catch up to Jim at the corner of the convenience store. He's waiting there, covering the door.

"How many?" I ask him in a low voice.

"Eight," he says tersely. "All armed. There's at least one person down - the clerk behind the counter. He's alive, but he doesn't sound good. There's four other civilians in there. They sound like they're all right so far."

I relay Jim's information over the phone. Several units and an ambulance have been dispatched, but it's going to be at least five minutes before anyone gets here. I know Jim isn't going to wait because of the clerk. I grab his arm before he can rush right in and try to do the Rambo thing all by himself.

"Jim, wait," I say. "Think first. I heard automatic weapons fire. Have you ever heard of eight people holding up a convenience store with automatic weapons? "

Jim realizes and scowls.

"Shit. What the hell's going on?"

"Can you get a look inside without getting your head shot off?" I ask him, knowing he's been working from hearing so far.

Jim nods briefly and cranes his neck just far enough to get a peek into the store. His brow furrows and he opens his mouth to speak. A the same time I notice a car approaching, an old beat-up Dodge with what looks like a dozen teenagers in brightly colored clothes hanging out the windows. I raise my arm to wave them on, to warn them to get the hell out of the area, and just as I finally - finally - see the guns, realization hits.

We're not seeing a holdup.

We're seeing a gang turf war.

Oh, shit.

Simultaneous with this realization, a 200-some pound Sentinel plows into me just as the punks in the car open fire, and suddenly all hell breaks loose. Jim doesn't tackle me to the ground; he just bears me back further around to the side of the store and slams us both into the wall. There's a dumpster, and now neither of us gives a damn about the smell; it's the best-looking thing either of us have ever seen and we make its closer acquaintance, hunkering down behind it. There's gunfire coming from inside and outside the store now, and I watch Jim carefully, making sure he doesn't zone on the smell or all that noise, even as Jim grabs the cell phone from me and reports in to the station. His eyes fasten on mine and I can read his thoughts. Nothing short of a SWAT team is going to be able to handle this; all the arriving units will be able to do is try to keep it contained and get people out of the area. Meanwhile there are five innocent hostages in there - if they're still alive, that is - at least one of them injured, maybe dying.

Jesus Christ, he's still going in.

He glances around, and I realize he's looking for outside security cameras. There aren't any, and for once I bless the store for its carelessness.

"Back door?" I ask.

Jim shakes his head.

"It'll be locked, and they'll probably have someone in the back watching that," he said. "If we break it open from the outside it's going to set off all kinds of alarms in there. I'm going up to the roof, try to get in through the roof access and into the loading area. You move around to the back door when I make sure it's clear on the outside. If I can get in and make it to the back door, I'll let you in. Then we've got to keep that door open and unblocked while we get the hostages out."

Okay, I can see I'm not talking him out of this, but -

"Can we get back to the truck?" I suggest. "Get our vests, at least?"

Jim shakes his head again.

"Right now they don't know we're here," he said. "If we're spotted we'll never get back into position, at least not before some of those people inside die. We've got to move now."

I take a deep breath and nod. I'm with it. Okay, going out in a hail of bullets like Butch and Sundance isn't my chosen exit from this life into the next, but if I go, I'm damn well going with my Sentinel.

Checking around the dumpster again, Jim boosts himself to the top, and from there he scrambles (thank God big buff Sentinels have to do that sometimes too) to the roof. He stays low, padding to the back roof. A moment later he sticks his head back over and gestures that it's clear. I move around to the back as quietly as I can, double-checking for cameras. None. I press my ear to the door, wishing desperately that I was the one with Sentinel hearing for a change.

This is the hardest part, being separated from Jim and waiting. I swear I think I could run right into the gunfire beside him, I could do that. But waiting here, safe myself, not knowing whether he's zoning, whether he's being shot or knifed to death inside that building, is intolerable. He's going into a building with gunfire back and forth, with people screaming and shouting and cursing, with burst containers of food and cleaners and pop and beer and God knows what else, with a million billion scents flooding the air. It would be so damned easy for him to overload or zone out on all that. I know I should have gone to the roof with him. I know he'd have never let me do it. One day he may have to choose between protecting the tribe and his Guide's safety, and that choice, or the hesitance while he makes it, will probably kill him. So today he's doing the guerilla warfare bit alone. That's his job, and let's face it, he is way better trained to handle it than I am. My job is to keep that back exit open and make sure the hostages get out okay, and to stand here, my ear pressed to the door, wondering whether the few terse instructions Jim and I exchanged minutes ago were the last words we'll ever say to each other in this life. Other words should have been said, or none at all. Did he see the love in my eyes in that last look we exchanged? No, Blair, stop it. He knows. No matter what happens, he knows. Just as I know.

I've faced these thoughts a dozen times since I got my badge. It doesn't get any easier. It never will.

I still can't hear anything through the door except the gunfire and screaming from the front, which has died down a little - probably both sides regrouping, so to speak. I'm praying. There's a whole bunch of gods and goddesses and protector spirits worshipped on this earth in history and fiction, and I'm pretty much going down the list alphabetically since I'd lay odds there isn't one dedicated to gang wars. I'm into the C's and about to try Cthulhu when the door opens and Jim nods briefly at me, then ducks silently back inside.

I duck inside too, letting out the breath I didn't know I was holding. There's a scrawny boy gagged with a rag and cuffed to a water pipe in one corner. Jim isn't even breathing hard, but there's a long cut on his left arm. It doesn't look too bad, but it's bleeding freely and will probably need stitches.

"It's nothing," Jim says impatiently, following my gaze. He cocks his head, and I hear the approaching sirens too. I don't feel any relief at that comment. We're inside enemy lines and nobody's going to be getting to us anytime soon. Still, things could be worse. We're together. Whatever happens now happens to us both.

"I told them to send two units around to the street behind us and approach from the back," he says. "Right now they're just controlling the scene until more backup arrives."

All well and good, but for the moment we're still caught in the crossfire.

"Peke!" A voice calls back from the front. "Hey, man, you okay back there?"

Silent as breath Jim slips to the doorway to the front. I duck the hell out of sight, ready to cover Jim if necessary. At least back here there's plenty of cover, shelves, boxes, skids, you name it. A moment later another teenager sticks his head in the door. Jim grabs him and pulls him in, but not before the kid gets off a good yell and one shot from the machine gun in his hand. The shot goes way wild, of course, but that doesn't really matter. The jig is pretty well up, so to speak.

Jim has a grip on the kid's gun wrist, and has his own gun shoved up under the kid's chin, but that doesn't give him the greatest grip in the world and this kid isn't nearly as scrawny as the one cuffed to the pipe; he's also apparently too dumb to realize he's got a gun shoved under his chin, and he's struggling hard. Jim sweeps his feet out from under him and then it's basically over, but to subdue him Jim has to drop his own gun. Now I'm the only cop with a gun in hand back here and there's still six very well-armed gang members unaccounted for up front, as far as I know.

Okay, Sandburg, you sure can't match Jim on the muscle front or the training front or the shooting front, so compete in your own specialty.

The talking front.

Before Jim can stop me I run up beside the door, block it slightly open with my foot and yell out.

"Cascade PD!"

I'm answered by a hail of gunfire. Fortunately Jim and the kid he's subduing are out of the line of fire, but the door gets it pretty good and my foot's a narrow miss. The bullets are followed by shouts and curses, but thank God they're smart enough that nobody comes through the door. The gang outside apparently hears the gunfire and misinterprets it, and there's another hail of bullets, this time coming into the store. A hoarse scream from up front; somebody's hit. After a minute the gunfire dies down again. Dtente restored.

"What's the situation up there?" I call. "Who's hurt?"

Muttered conference. Jim, who's got the kid tied up with his own belt now, cocks his head, straining his ears, but he grimaces and shakes his head. Not too surprising after all the gunfire, and I can't talk him through the dials routine right now. At least he's got his gun again.

A rather shaky voice, female, calls back. One of the hostages?

"Officer, there's four people hurt up here, the clerk, my friend and - and two of them. I think maybe one of them's dead. I'm an LPN, I'm taking care of my friend, but they won't let me go to anybody else."

"Shut the hell up, bitch!" Smack of flesh on flesh; a muffled cry and a thump. It's all I can do to stay where I am. Jim's gaze anchors me and he nods, confirming the girl's report. Then he holds up four fingers and folds down one. Okay, three injured, one dead, either ours or theirs. That means four or possibly five armed men up front. Jim and I can't take them all, not under these conditions, not with bullets coming in from the front and civilians in the crossfire. Better to split up the conflict.

"Listen up, guys!" I call out. "You can see the police cars in front. You can't go out that way anyway or you'll be shot. If you let the hostages leave first, we'll let you go out the back. We won't try to stop you. You've got plenty of guns, you know you can get out without hostages. They'll just slow you down."

Another muttered conversation. This time the voice that calls back is male.

"How do we know you don't have a bunch of cops out back?"

Well, we do, but they don't need to know that. Let the units in back deal with these guys. We've got dying people to save.

"Look, guy, you saw the cop cars pull in," I call back. "You know exactly where every officer is. Now if you all get moving, you can get out of here before more backup arrives, either ours or your buddys' out there, and they surround the building and the back door is no longer an option. If you let the hostages go, we won't try to stop you. If you try to take even one hostage with you, you're not getting out that back door and you can take your chances with the cops and your competition with the guns."

Another conversation. This time Jim nods; they're going for it.

"We'll go out," the same voice declares. "But a couple of these birds can't walk."

"We'll take care of them," I tell him. "Send the others back here now."

A pause. A moment later the door opens slowly, slowly. Two young women and a middle-aged man edge through the door, supporting a young man with a badly bleeding leg. One of the girls has a big puffy bruise forming on the side of her face and I guess she's the LPN. Jim pulls them all out of the way of the door.

"What's the situation up there?" he asks them even as he's herding them toward the back door.

"One of them is shot in the shoulder," the girl says. "He's not too badly hurt. The other one may be dead. I couldn't get close enough to him or the clerk to check. I can't even see the clerk, he's behind the counter, but I heard him groan a few minutes ago so I think he's still alive."

Jim murmurs something to them very quietly, too quietly for me or the two bound gang members to hear, but I know he's telling them about the units out back and which direction to go when they leave. Then they're out the door and we've only got five gang members and one badly injured clerk - okay, plus a rival gang out front - to worry about.

Jim watches them until they're well away, then gives me a nod. He speaks softly into the cell phone, the nods to me again.

"Okay. You guys can go now."

"Wait a minute! Where's Peke and Hammond?"

I take a deep breath.

"They're back here in custody. Don't worry about them. Out the back now."

"We want Peke and Hammond back!"

"Do you want to stand there and argue until we're all dead?" I counter. "I'm telling you, man, get out before more units arrive or the bargain's off. This is a limited-time opportunity, no rainchecks. You've got ten seconds. Ten. Nine. Eight."

Four boys pour out the door supporting a fifth. They left their other buddy. Fine. They barely glance at Jim and me, just burst out the back. I don't give a shit. They're out of the way; now we can pick up the wounded and get out of the line of fire ourselves.

"Are they gone?" I ask Jim. He's watching out the back door. He nods, giving me the thumbs-up. Okay. Five in custody. Nothing left but cleanup for us, then let the team out front handle the shooters in the street.

Jim starts towards me and I realize what he's doing - he thinks he's going out there in the front. Uh-uh, not in this lifetime, pal. I exhausted my deity credit at the back door. Before he can reach me or stop me, I'm through the damned door and into the front store.

Somebody in the street spots me and bullets spray into the store. I go to ground and crawl toward the counter, all the way across the store. Got to get out of here fast, fast before they decide to burst in the front and see what's what with their rivals. I take a detour to the kid on the floor, reach for a wrist. No pulse. I roll him over carefully, remembering my CPR training, then freeze and nearly lose it right then and there. No need for CPR here. He's missing the front of his throat and most of his lower face.

"Blair! God damn it, Chief - "

Jim, somewhere behind me, charging out into the store. More bullets and I all but piss myself. Man am I sorry I had that damned Butch and Sundance thought earlier. I'm at the wrong fucking end of the store, Jim's between me and the counter, but I head that way anyway. Got to find the clerk, get Jim out of here -

Then something goes cold deep inside me. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Jim frozen in the middle of the room, standing in the middle of a puddle of Ajax, his eyes glazed, but that isn't what laid that cold finger on my soul, there's no gunfire now. The problem is that I saw something move from out front, something arcing slowly, slowly through the shattered front window -

No thought, no time, no choice. I'm up, I'm running, I'm flying at Jim, plowing into him, okay, 165 pounds of short hairy neo-hippie witch doctor punk doesn't measure up to the impact Jim can deal but it's more than enough to knock a zoned-out Sentinel off his feet and right over the damned counter as a pipe bomb explodes.

Sound that's no longer sound, sound that becomes a force in and of itself, a great rumbling punch of sound and I'm on top of Jim, my body over his, my hands over his ears -

And we both scream as the world explodes.

Ouch. Ouch, ouch, ouch, OUCH. I hurt. Thank God, thank God I hurt, that means I'm alive, and the warm struggling underneath me means Jim's alive too and that's all that fucking matters in this world. Something big and heavy and hard is on top of me, on top of both of us, we're both drenched in something icy cold that smells like fake blueberry, and my ears are ringing so loudly that although I can see Jim's lips moving I don't have a clue what he's saying. But he's grinning and holding me and I'm holding him and damn me to hell if that isn't a big woody grinding into my groin.

Fine, baby, right now you can have any fucking thing you want. I lean down and we share a big, sloppy blueberry syrup-flavored kiss.

Fifteen minutes later the cops and the paramedics have pulled most of the counter and part of the Slurpee machine off of us. I'm bruised in a couple dozen places, cut a few times, I have a mild concussion (believe me, I know the feeling) and my hearing is way wonky, which gives me some insight into Jim's life. Jim, like me, is drenched in blueberry Slurpee syrup and has the one knife cut but is otherwise unscathed, and damned if his hearing isn't just fine, thank you very much. The cops haul us outside and Jim gets a report while the paramedics are checking us out. I can't understand much of it, so I wait for Jim to give me the Reader's Digest version. In a few minutes, between shouted words, gestures, and the occasional note, he obliges.

The clerk is dead, died in the explosion, possibly even before the explosion; the bullet had punctured his lung. The hood on the floor is dead, no news there. The one in the back nearest the door is pretty banged up from his tussle with Jim and blowout from the bomb. The one chained to the pipe is just fine. The other hostages got out uninjured except for the one leg injury. The cops rounded up the hoods that went out the back, and they're still chasing down the last of the shooters in the car, who scattered when the additional units arrived.

Jim and I look at each other soberly. With his eyes, he tells me he understands why I did what I did by rushing into danger when he would have stopped me - he doesn't like it, but he understands it and he knows I did the right thing. With my eyes, I tell him the same. The truth of it hurts both of us and heals us too. Sometimes pain works that way.

I wish to hell we'd gone on the dessert picnic, but four innocent bystanders are alive because of Jim's senses and my insight, Jim's training and my nerve, Jim's experience and my voice. And we're alive, we're okay, we're together.

It's hard to argue with that kind of success.

PART V: RECOVERY, OR:
DINNER'S ON JIM

A Sentinel and Guide recovering from a near-death experience develop their own particular rituals of recovery and reaffirmation. For a bruised and battered and half-deafened Guide and a stitched-up Sentinel, both covered in dirt, crumbled plaster and blueberry syrup and now smelling like hospital antiseptic, the first step of this ritual is necessarily a shower. But this is no ordinary shower, oh, no.

Remember the lesson on Sentinels and threats to their territory? Well, Guides have territory too. Territory that must be examined and loved and reclaimed and, most of all, celebrated.

No shower is too small and crowded for a Sentinel and Guide inspecting their mate for injuries, washing away blood and dirt and debris, hands lingering on each other's flesh and enjoying the simple sensation of life under their hands. The very aches and pains that mean life are celebrated. This ritual necessarily involves a great deal of stroking, caressing, soapy friction, oral and manual explorations, and many and varied assurances of love and happiness and well-being. This stage of the ritual, however, cannot be lingered on too long, because there's a built-in timer in the form of a limited hot water supply.

Although neither Sentinel nor Guide have managed to finish a meal yet today, they are more hungry for each other, for life and love and togetherness, than for food. A carefully selected tray of edibles is prepared, supplemented by a particular treat the Guide ducked into a special store to procure for this very special occasion. The ritual is thereupon adjourned to a blanket in front of the fireplace, where despite the nice weather a low fire has been kindled. The bed is not suitable for this particular ritual, and the gentle warmth of the fire feels good on naked skin, for there is a cold in them both that isn't entirely physical, a remnant of the brush of cold pale fingers against their souls today.

The Sentinel will sense at such a time that while he needs to reaffirm his Guide's wellness and aliveness, at this moment the Guide's need to do the same is far greater. That today his Guide, perhaps less accustomed than the Sentinel to the ever-present nearness of death, is profoundly shaken and needs to anchor himself once more in the security of their union. A Guide should not be surprised that even if his Sentinel isn't exactly the wizard of psychological insight, he will instinctively acknowledge and honor this need, allowing the Guide to set the pace and agenda for this wondering new rediscovery of life and love.

Perhaps the ritual will begin with the Sentinel and Guide tenderly feeding each other tidbits of meat and fruit, tongue and lips lingering on each other's fingers. Perhaps they will share sips from a common cup of juice (no wine if, for example, the Guide has suffered a mild concussion), tasting each other on the rim of the cup more than the liquid contents within. This finger-food dinner will frequently be broken by pauses to savor long and loving kisses as the Guide grazes at his Sentinel's mouth, his cheeks, his chin, his eyelids, that special tender place below and behind the ear. But when the food has become almost an afterthought, perhaps the Guide will pause and they'll sit quietly in silence, speaking the truth to each other's eyes and heart without words. Perhaps the Sentinel will kiss the tears from his Guide's cheeks before he lies back, pulling his Guide on top of his muscular body.

Perhaps the Guide will then reach for the bowl of fruit salad and place a cool grape on each of the Sentinel's closed eyelids (although suddenly the similarity to coins over the eyes and the associations thereof will chill him) and then tenderly reclaim each grape with lips and tongue. Then perhaps a small square of pineapple between his lover's lips, two tongues dueling to claim the treat. A slice of kiwifruit is reverently laid over the Sentinel's adam's apple, then slowly, wetly sucked into the Guide's mouth. The cold flesh of pitted cherries make the Sentinel's nipples spring into hardness; then the Guide's lips and tongue replace coldness with moist trembling heat. Thin slices of pear are laid on each rippling muscle on the Sentinel's abdomen, then nibbled away. Another grape is sucked out of the Sentinel's navel.

Then the Guide pauses and draws out his special gift - a small dish of three chocolate-covered strawberries, one of his Sentinel's helpless addictions. The Sentinel's eyes light up and he fixes his Guide with a pleading gaze. The Guide laughs and picks up a strawberry from the dish by its stem. He teasingly traces the chocolate-covered fruit around his own lips, then rolls it over his Sentinel's lips too, pulling it away as the Sentinel tries to nip at it. Then the fruit returns for another pass, letting the Sentinel's nostrils flare as the treat teases his sense of smell. Then the Guide relents and lets the Sentinel eat the tasty bite. A second berry circles the Sentinel's nipples before being placed upon his tongue. The third berry is placed between the Guide's lips, and they share the sweet, juicy fruit between their mouths. Then the Guide plucks a section of orange from the fruit salad, traces it down the Sentinel's sternum, and resumes his sensual feast on the body of his love.

The food is important. The food is the message the Guide is sending his Sentinel without words. You are my food. You're my nourishment, my survival. Without you my soul would starve, my heart would wither and shrivel and die. You sustain me. You give me life and strength. Feed me with your love, and let me feed you.

And the Sentinel understands. He writhes and moans under the mouth of his Guide; his fingers twine and knead restlessly through his Guide's hair, but he makes no protest, no effort to reciprocate, understanding that tonight it's his Guide's hunger, his Guide's desperate need that must be fulfilled. The bowl of fruit salad is raised again and a thin trickle of juice drips down to bathe hard throbbing flesh moments before lips and tongue follow the wet trail. The Guide can taste fruit and salt sweat and the faint remnants of soap; he can feel the pulse of blood so near skin hot and taut with desire.

And although both Sentinel and Guide are achingly erect and leaking with desire, this is more than the desire to vent or receive sexual pleasure or even love. This is the need to affirm life itself in an act so primitive, so basic that even the simplest animal and insect and even plant organisms recognize that call: The irrefutable evidence of life, the mating urge, the seed of reproduction. Whether or not that seed falls on ground capable of sustaining it isn't what's important. It's that simple moment when life bursts forth that's the promise, the acknowledgement. Giving and receiving. The exchange of life force.

And that's why although the Sentinel is almost screaming with pleasure now, although the Guide would gladly stay right where he is and drink in his lover's essence straight from the source, he now moves up into the Sentinel's arms. Now he reaches for the lube (Thought I'd forgotten it, didn't you?) and squeezes a liberal quantity into his hand, gathering both hard lengths into that slippery grip, anointing both organs with the fluid before aligning the two thrusting rods against each other in a position maybe unconsciously, maybe not, mirroring that of two grimy, Slurpee-covered detectives buried in debris behind a convenience store counter, utterly astonished to find themselves still alive.

Now they move in a dance as old as love itself, two bodies moving slowly, rhythmically against each other, eyes locked, lips half open and moist with desire, breaths mingling and catching, hearts pounding. Hands clutch, stroke, caress, worship. Lashes tremble. Blood thunders through two hearts gloriously alive, alive, alive. Taut testicles strain under the effort of containing their precious store of living seed. The Sentinel soars on the freedom for once to give his senses full rein. Let him become drunk on smell and taste and sound and sight and most of all touch. He won't become overloaded, won't zone out. He is held utterly safe and secure in his Guide's eyes and arms and heart. And while his Guide doesn't share this sensory ecstasy, there's another miracle happening here, a rare oneness of heart and soul as the Sentinel gives himself over completely, as the Guide for this moment experiences the totality of not what his Sentinel is, but who he is, when all the gates are unguarded and flung open wide to welcome one who from the first second of their meeting could never be a stranger here. And in this brief moment when their gifts are wholly free, when trust is unconditional and love is eternal, for just this moment these two are gods themselves, and time and space and all of reality bow down in awe before them.

And then there is another explosion, not of light and sound and pressure and destruction but of a massive release of energy from their unity, the nuclear energy of fusion, an earth-shaking blast that doesn't blow the two selves apart but merely fuses them more closely together.

And in the wake of the explosion, silence. Only two breaths, deep and harsh but slowing. Only two hearts beating as one, pressed tight, alive, together. And in the peace of the aftermath, the Guide slowly moves down his Sentinel's body, his lips and tongue gathering in their mingled essences, the seeds of life. He and his Sentinel understand this ritual although neither could put that understanding into words. Just as the Sentinel protects, the Guide guards. Just as the Sentinel uses his senses to watch over his Guide, his Guide keeps their unity safe and warm and protected within him.

It's only now, now after they have defeated what tried to part them, now that their bond is only strengthened more, that the Guide can let down his own guards, can let his Sentinel hold him while he cries silent soul-deep tears, can let the Sentinel comfort him while he releases all the terror and the grief and the anger at the waste of it all. It's at this moment, holding his Guide and feeling the hot tears run down his chest, that the Sentinel can acknowledge his gratitude to his Guide for being strong enough to cry for them both.

After the love and the tears there is healing. They're both cleansed, purged of the poisons left by violence and death. Now there's peace, and talk, and, slowly, smiles again. Late into the night they'll talk, share more food and maybe some hot tea. No hurry; their misadventure has earned them a long weekend. The initial crazy relieved joy of survival has given way to another kind of joy, deeper and quieter: The joy of rebirth. The storm is over; the sun has risen again in their hearts.

The second shower of the evening is light, playful, full of teasing touches. The Sentinel laughs and chases the Guide around the loft, snapping his butt with a towel. The Guide unexpectedly turns and pounces and mercilessly exploits the helplessly ticklish Sentinel's weakness.

But if the Sentinel attempts to divert the Guide's attention by a different kind of play, the Guide will hurriedly retreat.

"Come on, man, please! I've come six times in less than 24 hours, man, that's got to be a new record and I am so tapped out here!"

"Come onnnnnnnn, Chief, pleeeeeeeeease, seven's always been my lucky number."

"You've been in the goddamned cardamom, haven't you? I know you have! Admit it!"

"I can't help it, even after two showers your hair still smells like blueberries. Well, okay, like fake blueberries. It's my turn to nosh."

Remember the cucumber?

"You wanna nosh, big guy? Here! Nosh on this! Be my guest!"

And once again the chase ensues around the loft, over the furniture, up the stairs. At last the participants collapse, exhausted (thank God) on the bed. Finally the day's events have taken their toll. A few last drowsy endearments, a few last sleepy caresses, and two pairs of eyes close. Twined warmly together, tangled in love and flannel sheets, tonight even dreams won't separate them.

PART VI: OUT BUT NOT DOWN, OR:
SATYRIASIS IS CONTAGIOUS, YOU CAN CATCH IT FROM YOUR SENTINEL

Four a.m. The sore, battered, bruised, contused, exhausted, wrung-out Guide rolls over and opens his eyes, watching his Sentinel sleep. The Sentinel's face is relaxed and peaceful, a slight smile gracing his lips.

At this moment the Guide may choose to ponder the law of cause and effect. Or, more aptly, supply and demand. It's a basic principle of economics that if a steady demand exists, balance and a healthy economy require that the supply must inevitably grow to meet the demand. The greater the demand, the greater the supply will grow. This law is no less applicable to Sentinels and Guides than to the rest of the world.

"Hey, Jim? Jim? Jim! You asleep, man?"

"Jesus, I was, Sandburg. What time - Jesus, it's only four a.m. Go back to sleep."

"Hey, Jim, how you feeling, huh?"

"How the hell do you think? Sore, tired. Mostly tired. Go back to sleep."

"Not even just a little bit hungry?"

"Hungry? What the hell do you mean, hungry?"

"Well, see, I've got this big juicy sausage here and all I need is a couple buns to slide it between . . . "

"Jesus Christ, Sandburg, it's four fucking a.m., are you insane?"

"Come onnnnnnnn, Jimmmmmmmmm, pleeeeeeease . . . "

World without end, Hallelujah, amen.


End