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Epiphany in a Stairwell

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I'm a guy, okay? Granted, I'm a Sentinel, too, but I'm mostly a guy. A guy who likes to think he's as good in bed as anyone. Maybe better. And, by the way, I've been with a few women in my time and haven't gotten any complaints.

Well, that's not strictly true, but the complaint came a little late. Carolyn never let on that she found me lacking in the bed department. She certainly had enough stupid names for my dick. And she always came. I made sure of that. I know, I know, women can fake orgasms, but she never did. I'd know.


Anyway, back to that one complaint. After we got divorced, just when my senses were coming back on-line, we go out for dinner. I freak because I'm convinced the chef is trying to poison me. Which, senses or no senses, I'm still not convinced he wasn't. But, back to the point, Carolyn leaves in a huff, no big surprise, and I go sprinting after her.

We share a kiss in the rain and it was a pretty nice kiss. And then she lays it on me. 'Maybe if you'd kissed me like that before, we'd still be married.' And I'm left standing there in the rain wondering what the fuck that meant.

I still don't know what she meant. Not for sure. Did she mean that I was a lousy lover and all those orgasms of hers were faked? Why would a woman do that? Why have a fucking relationship with someone and fake your orgasms? What's that about?

I hear them, you know. Women. The stuff they talk about would make a sailor blush. They talk about how many orgasms they have, or don't have. They talk about sizes of dicks, techniques, how fast--usually too fast--men come, or how goddamn long they take to come until they've been rubbed raw. They talk about blow jobs and gagging and how gross semen tastes. They talk about how men touch too hard and move too fast. They talk about how men suck at foreplay.

Mostly they just talk about how much men suck. I am relieved beyond belief that Carolyn never had too many women friends at the station. That's all I'd need, to overhear some conversation over donuts about how much I suck, in bed or out of it.

Don't get me wrong, guys talk trash, too. The difference is that it goes by in a flash. I might overhear some guy down in Vice say: 'That Ellison jerk's an asshole.' And believe me, I have heard it, several times, but once it's said, it's over. The guy's moved on. He doesn't hover over the conversation, gloating with his guy pals about all the ways in which I suck.

If men knew the stuff women said about them they'd never be able to get it up. Without the aid of pheromones, which tend to blow out my thinking circuits, I'd have a hard time myself. No pun intended. It's not much fun to find out that your fucking wife--even if she is an ex--thinks you're a lousy lover. Because that's what that crack meant, right?

I love denial. As a coping mechanism, it works for me. But even I know that's what she must have meant. I just don't get why a woman would do that. If she thought I was lousy in the sack, why the hell did she marry me?

For a while, I tried to listen to women in an attempt to pick up some tips. But, apparently, there's no pleasing them. Not without asking them right in the middle of things. Even then, based on the conversations I overhear, most of them don't tell the truth in bed anyway. Carolyn being a perfect case in point. Instead, the majority of them revel in man-bashing with their girlfriends while having one unsatisfying tumble in bed after another.

I don't get it. A man wouldn't do that. Well, first of all you know when a man's with the program. If he's got a hard dick, he's there. No guesswork involved. And when he shoots his load, you've hit paydirt. Not that I have personal experience with that, I mean, with another guy. But, I know how a man's body works. Or at least I thought I did.

Fuck. I should know better than to listen to Sandburg's conversations. It's like a trip to the Outer Limits. One-way.

Sandburg's gay. Well, bisexual. If it's moving, he's game. All right, he's not that bad. You see, I know when he comes home whether he's had sex or not. And the answer is no as often as it's yes. The thing is, Sandburg really likes women. I mean likes them, as friends. He thinks they're fascinating. Sort of a subculture all of their very own, and all his anthropologist genes get off on that.

Everything turns him on. But for him, it's not always about sex. Everything just really and truly turns him on. He gets off on life, and his dick is along for the ride. And talk about pheromones. Once I figured out what they were, after that fucking weird sex thing with Miss Convict January, I can sense them most of the time. And the kid puts them out like rice at a wedding.

He puts them out for men, for women, for a scary movie, for a great dinner, for a beautiful sunny day, for a good game of basketball, for a break in a case, it doesn't matter. Life is good. Life is sexy. That's Sandburg.

People give him grief about the bisexual thing. Not too often, but it happens. The first time it happened I offered to rip the cop a new asshole. Sandburg then offered to rip me a new one and told me to stay the fuck out of his business.

Well, fuck me for trying to stick up for the guy. Let's see if he says the same thing next time there're bullets flying. Not that I'd let it stop me. I can't help it, you know. Protecting him. I know he was full of crap when he named me his Blessed Protector, but the concept stuck. And trust me, he needs protecting. He's like a trouble magnet.

Anyway, after glaring at the cop one last time, letting him know that the threat was still good, I left Sandburg alone with the guy. Don't get me wrong; I didn't go far, just sort of hovered out of sight. Next thing I know, they're friends. How does he do that? If he ran into the Devil he'd as likely as not have the fucker over for dinner.

People like him. They feel comfortable around him. I mean, after they work through the annoyance factor, like how he just won't shut up, and how his energy level makes you feel like you're ninety years old, and how he knows everything about everything and insists on telling you so you'll know too, and how he gives you crap about eating junk food and the fact that he never picks up after himself. Once you get past all of that, the guy's pretty likeable. I actually like him more than anyone I know.

That might not sound like much but it is--people tend to grate on me. But him I like. I do. I like being with him. I like that he's chatty and energetic; I like that he's smart and concerned about my health. I don't like that he's a slob, but no one's perfect.

And women? They love him. The ones he has sex with and the ones he doesn't. It's like they've admitted him into their tribe. He's one of them.

And, Sandburg is not a member of the Men-Suck-at-Sex Club. According to the stuff I hear, he's quite the dynamo in bed. Other than Sam, who missed her true career choice as a correctional officer in some high level security prison, the woman rave about him.

Fuck. What's he got that I haven't got? Nothing. I don't mean his dick. I've never actually seen it. Well, I have in the locker room when we're showering after a case goes messy on us, but it's not like it's in action then, you know? I've never seen him hard. Seen how big he is. Not that I want to, but you can't help being curious.

He seems pretty average, maybe a bit bigger, but it's hard to tell. And he's short. And hairy. It's a good look on him, don't get me wrong, but I thought women went for big guys. I work out; I know I'm in good shape. And the women do go for me. They go for me as much as they go for Sandburg; they just don't stick around like they do for him.

So, I go out on a date with Cynthia last night. Nice date, had

dinner, saw a movie, went back to her place and we start kissing. Kissing segues into groping, and groping moves us to the bedroom, and for some goddamn reason, right in the middle of some serious bedroom maneuvers, I think of Sandburg. I start wondering what he'd be doing if he were with Cynthia. What would he do that would make her want him back in her bed? What would he be doing that I'm suddenly sure I'm not doing?

It didn't put me off my stride long. After all, pheromones were lighting up the room and all I have to do is open up the dials and they almost dance across my skin. I push all thoughts of my short, hairy partner aside and carry on. She has an orgasm, or at least makes all the right noises. I have mine--making less noise. We lie in bed enjoying a few minutes of afterglow, and then all I want is out of there.

Sandburg would probably be getting out his laptop, wanting to take a few notes while the experience was new. Interview Cynthia on how it was for her. Was her orgasm satisfactory? How could the service have been improved? Was there anything she needed at this particular moment that he would be only too happy to provide? Then he'd cuddle in and they'd sleep comfortably together, get up, have breakfast, and be friends.

I know he's a cuddler. I just know it. And I know you wouldn't think it to look at me, but I am too. And for whatever reason, now that my senses are on-line, it's like my skin gets thirsty. Like it gets lonely if it doesn't get tactile stimulation. So, I touch Sandburg a lot. I slap his cheeks, pat his stomach, grab his hand and put my arm around his shoulders. He doesn't seem to mind. He touches me too.

I know if I told him that it was a senses thing, that I needed extra touch, he'd cuddle up on the couch with me and think nothing of it. Probably be thrilled that he was able to help. I imagine ways of telling him. Ways that don't sound like I'm some pitiful piece of shit. Not that he'd look at it that way. I can do no wrong in Sandburg's eyes. I'm part of that life is good, life is sexy thing.

I know he'd go to bed with me if I wanted. I just don't swing that way. And I know I just said I wanted to cuddle with him, and no, I'm not in fucking denial about this. I just, you know, like him. And I like touching him. There's nothing more to it than that.

Anyway, I come up with some excuse as to why I can't spend the night with Cynthia, go do a cursory clean-up in the bathroom, get dressed, and leave. She doesn't even get out of bed to see me to the door. Guess she was too overwhelmed with tears at my departure. Right.

Maybe I need to buy a book. They must have books on how to be a better lover. Even if there's a part of me that just doesn't want to accept that maybe I'm not a fucking Don Juan in bed. Maybe women just can't be satisfied. Maybe Sandburg's some sort of mutant. Maybe I do just fine, thank you very much.

This morning, when Sandburg wakes up and staggers out to the kitchen for the coffee elixir of life, he smacks me on the arm and grins, assuming I got lucky last night. Apparently this gives me an instant honorary membership in his club. This mutant club of one that Sandburg is the president, vice-president, treasurer and secretary of.

I scowl at him. He grins back. What is that about? Why is it that I cannot intimidate this man? Granted, I know my bark is worse than my bite, but I've been told that it's a pretty damn scary bark. But it rolls off Sandburg like water off a duck's back. He yells at me, pushes me around, gets in my face like he was six inches taller than me instead of the other way around.

I kind of like it. That I can't push him around. That he pushes me around. Not that I'm into the dom-sub thing. And, as I've already said, I'm not into guys.

Although if I were, it would have to be with someone who could hold their own with me. I don't like wimpy people. They give me hives. And wimpy guys are the worst. I want someone who can take it and dish it out. Like Sandburg. When Incacha died, I thought Sandburg was gonna rip my head off. I know it's the only thing that kept me together, him forcing me to do what I had to do. And if you ever tell this to anyone, I'll rip your head off, but it sort of, well, let's just say I was shedding a pheromone or two myself.

Which does not mean that I'm into guys. But it's not beyond me to be like Sandburg sometimes and think life is sexy. I can think he's sexy without it having to mean anything. I can admit that and not have it affect my masculinity. Lots of guys are good-looking. Lots of guys have great bodies. It's like admiring a nice piece of art.

Besides, I know women look at other women. They think other women are sexy, they even say it to each other. And it doesn't mean anything.

Sandburg and I don't ride in together today because he's got classes this morning. So, I head into the office, leaving him to his mutant club duties, and sit at my desk staring at paperwork. I do this every day I come in alone. I stare at it and then separate it into the pile of stuff Sandburg can take care of, and the stuff I have to do. His pile is always bigger. Can I help it if he's a whiz at paperwork? Each to his talents, that's what I say. I shoot the gun, he pushes the pencil. A match made in heaven.

I get through my pile, and then make a few phone calls to follow up on some leads. After that I check with Forensics on some evidence I dropped off yesterday which ends up being pretty disappointing. Sometimes I just wish everyone knew about my senses. It's a pain in the ass to try and find physical evidence to back up what my senses are telling me. Maybe Sandburg can figure something out when he gets here.

I eat two donuts. I know Sandburg would be glaring at me or grabbing the second one and throwing it in the trash, making some charming comment about my arteries. But, he's not there, so I eat two of them, and think about a third. If I didn't think the donut girl would rat me out to Sandburg I'd do it. But she will. He has a spy network that rivals the CIA.

As I said, the women rave about him. The I-love-Sandburg men's club isn't so obvious. One reason is because it's still not cool to be gay and be a cop. Sad to say, it's not really cool to be gay and be anything, but it's worse here because we're all a bunch of macho men. Even the women. Sandburg gets away with it pretty well though. I know he's a member of the Northwest Gay and Lesbian Officers Action League. He's tried to get me to become a member, just as a show of support, but I'm not quite ready for that.

I do admire him. Sandburg is more unapologetically who he is than anyone else I know. He just doesn't care what people think. Sure, he'd like people to like him, and his feelings get hurt just like any other guy, but it's just not in him to not be who he is. It's all hanging out there. I admire that.

I'm sort of the opposite. Not that I spend all my time being something different than I am. I just don't believe it's anybody's damn business who I am or what I think. And when I do share that stuff, and someone doesn't like it, well, fuck them.

We're like Mutt and Jeff, me and Sandburg. I keep to myself but he's like a damn explosion, spraying pieces of himself like shrapnel. Why we work so well together is a mystery. And for some reason, completely beyond my understanding, I am always spilling my guts to him. I'll suddenly find myself telling him something about my life, my past, my feelings and wondering how the fuck I got there. I don't get it. Stuff I've never told anyone. Even Carolyn, and I was married to her. Yeah, Ms-Maybe-If-You'd-Kissed-Me-Like-That-BeforeWe' d-Still-Be-Married. Well, you know what? Fuck her, too.

I start listening for Sandburg when it gets close to noon. I can't help it. It's like trying to dodge sunrays. You can't do it. If he's nearby, I'm tuned in. And somehow my body just knows when he's gonna show up. All my senses start leaking, like they're going on some reconnaissance mission without my permission. Listening, sniffing, looking, like he's some damn buried treasure or something.

And, then, when they latch on to him, they all settle down, like some dog happily gnawing on a bone. I stopped fighting it a long time ago. Sandburg and me. We're a matched set. And now that I know that, it's my main reason for keeping the senses. Because with them, I get him. I'm not sure how long he'd be around if they vanished. I'd like to think he'd stick, but what the hell do I know?

I know he likes me. I know I mean more to him than a dissertation. He said that himself. That he had enough stuff to write ten dissertations. I know he likes the cop work. He said that too. That going back to academia would be like getting off the roller coaster for the merry-go-round. He likes the rush. He likes saving people; feeling like he's making a difference.

I have no doubt he's an excellent anthropologist, and just for fun one day when I was bored out of my skull, I Googled him. The kid has a ton of articles published. And his articles are referenced in a bunch more. He already has quite a rep. But I wonder, especially after that comment about the merry-go-round, what it all means to him.

I know he loves to learn and to explore. I know he likes to stretch his own boundaries. I have no doubt that there are people who read his stuff, and listen to him talk, and it gets them thinking in new ways, maybe gets them out of some narrow-minded head set. And that's all good stuff. And maybe he's had a student every now and then who tells Sandburg that he made a difference. That he doesn't hate his black brother-in-law anymore because he gets that there's a big old world out there filled with diversity.

But how often does that happen? How often, as an anthropologist, would Sandburg get tangible, hands-on proof that what he does makes a difference? Makes the world a better place? Because that's important to him. Making the world a better place. Leaving things a little bit better than how he found them.

Maybe that's why he's the president of the mutant club. Because he's giving all the time. It's like it never crosses his mind to take. To make sure that he gets his slice before anyone else. In fact, watching other people eat their slices turns him on. I don't get him, sometimes, but I admire the hell out of him. He's a genuinely good guy, and you don't run into too many of them these days. Especially in the field I'm in.

Now, before you start thinking I think he's some sort of paragon, he's not. He belches just like anybody, and stinks up the bathroom, and his room looks like a grenade went off in it. His leftovers scare me because they're one step away from becoming sentient. And let us not forget the fact that he is a slob and not exactly the most sartorial of dressers. I swear I'm going into his closet some night, steal that bowling shirt, cut it up into little pieces and stuff it down the garbage disposal.

And he gripes about it being cold. Come on, the guy's a genius. Why the fuck did he apply to Rainier if he hates the cold and wet? Did he forget to look at a map? Did he think Cascade meant Warm-FlowingWater -in-the-Tropics? Not that I'm not glad he came here to school. What are the odds our paths would have crossed if he'd gone someplace sunny and warm?

Plus, I like to think that the cold factor would make him want to cuddle more. Cuddling in triple-digit weather is not fun. Nothing in triple-digit weather is fun. I know I'm back to the cuddling-withSandburg topic again. I admit it comes up a lot. But it still doesn't have to mean anything. I just think it would be cozy to be sitting on the couch, watching a Jags game, a nice fire crackling in the hearth, and to have him close to me. You know, snuggling. Nothing sexual, just maybe a little hugging. Maybe a kiss. No tongues.

Fuck. Anyway, I'm listening out for Sandburg, just like I do at some point in every day, and sure enough I hear him enter the station. He's pretty easy to track because he knows everybody. And everybody's got stuff to tell him. About their troubles at home, about their kids, about their spouses, about that new movie, about how they aced that test, or read that book he'd told them about, or fixed that rash with some weird concoction of his. Blab, blab, blab. All the way up the stairs, or up the elevator, down the hallways, through the door to Major Crimes. Blair this, Blair that.

He should have gone into politics. He'd be a natural at the baby kissing.

I hear him stomping up the stairs, breathing heavily from the exertion. For being such a health nut, he doesn't exercise as much as he should. Part of the problem is no time. It's like he's got three full time jobs. School, me, and the rest of the world. Sometimes climbing the stairs is all the aerobic exercise he gets other than running after or away from perps.

As he rounds the corner between the third and fourth floors, my ears perk up as I hear a voice with threatening overtones. "Fucking fairy."

I stand, ready to go to Sandburg's defense, to brave his wrath for my interfering once again. You see, I've seen how bad gay bashing can get. I've seen the damage. And it can happen fast. I'm starting to move when I hear Blair laugh.

"Fucking fairy? Oh, man, you can do better than that. Fucking fairy? At least lower your voice when you say it."

There is a pause; I'm guessing a startled one. When the guy starts talking again he's still going for hostile but he's a little hesitant now.

"What the fuck are you talking about?"

"Come on, think about it. A fucking fairy?"

I hear Sandburg snigger. Just the sound lets me know his cheeks are puffed up with unexpressed amusement, his eyes all twinkly, the way he gets when life is putting on a show just for him.

I can only imagine the other guy. I know he expects Sandburg to be intimidated. The kid's short and he's got long hair and earrings. No way is he equal to the power that is macho cop incarnate. Yeah, right. I guess this guy is forgetting where Sandburg hangs out, and with whom he hangs out. Me. So, I can almost see the confusion on his face as Sandburg stands there getting a good laugh out of being insulted. The kid does not play by the rules.

While I stand there for a moment, listening, trying to decide if I need to go to his rescue, Sandburg speaks again. "Explain it to me, would you? Why does it bother you? Exactly how does who I sleep with affect your life?"

"It's just disgusting."

Another snigger. "Ah, that's an erudite answer. Thank you. That clears it up."

I let out a soft chuff of laughter and slowly head for the door so I can be a little closer, just in case.

"You got no business working here." I could hear in the guy's voice that he was trying to recapture lost ground. He was going for mean and tough but pretty much missing the mark.

"Well, actually, I don't work here. After all, I don't get a paycheck. I'm more of a volunteer."

"All I'm saying is that we don't need your kind here."

And the lines keep getting worse. I silently mimic a fighter plane going down.

"And what kind is that exactly? Because, after all, we are a sum of all our parts. So which part of me are you objecting to? The fact that I'm a student, a teacher, a volunteer, a man, another cop's partner, a bisexual, a member of the Gay and Lesbian Officers Action League? It would help me understand your fears if you elucidated your specific areas of concern."

Classic Sandburg: dazzle them with verbal footwork.

"What the hell are you talking about? I'm not afraid of any of you. Any parts. Any of your parts."

I could hear the pregnant pause as the guy realizes what it sounds like he's saying. I can practically feel the heat of his blush from where I'm standing. I sort of feel sorry for him.

"Oh, please. This is totally about fear. It's mankind's natural response to be hostile to what it fears. But what is it that I'm doing that makes you fearful? Are you afraid you're going to catch it? That you're suddenly going to start lusting after other men?"

"I don't fucking lust after other guys. I'm not a fucking fairy."

My make-believe plane hits the ground, bursts into flames. I have fun making quiet explosion noises.

Sandburg sniggered again. "Sorry, it's just the image I get in my head when you say that. Do you wanna know my theory? Because I've given it a lot of thought."

I could almost hear the indecision. I know what the guy is going through. He'd entered the conversation expecting a certain outcome. Sandburg was supposed to be intimidated, back off, be submissive. That would make this asshole feel all extra macho, his masculinity assured for another day. Then maybe he'd shove Sandburg a little, push him against the wall, do a few seconds more of posturing, like a dog peeing on his territory. Then everyone would go their own way, positions in the pecking order of life clear once again.

But see, Sandburg doesn't work that way. Not even a little bit. And now this guy's stuck without a script. Not only is the kid not intimidated, he's offering up some free diversity training. And, in my mind's eye, despite the fact that this guy thinks Sandburg's a fucking fairy, I know he's caught, like a deer in headlights, by Sandburg's smile and the light in his eyes, and the way he just fucking invites you to think the world is some wonderful smorgasbord.

The guy tries to stay tough; he's not ready to relinquish the show, thinks that if he hangs around, someone will throw him his line, get things back on track. "What's your fucking theory?"

"I think that men who are scared of gay men, or bisexual men in my case, have a bad case of vanilla sex."

"What the fuck does that mean?"

The guy's hooked now. He might as well pull up a chair and get out the popcorn. I want to get closer myself, not wanting to miss any of the show. I love it when Sandburg is confusing people, seeing as I'm in that boat a good deal of the time. I walk out of Major Crimes and sort of hang around by the door to the stairs.

"Okay, I'm betting that your sex life is a little bland. You have a little foreplay with the ladies, maybe you even go down on her, give her a little thrill, and then you move into the big act--intercourse. Am I right?"

All right, I'm confused. That sounds like my sex life. What's so

bland about that? Women love oral sex. I mean getting it. They certainly squeal enough. And put my head in a serious leg lock, as if to make sure that now that I've discovered the Holy Land, I'm not going anywhere. I've thought about wearing a neck brace.

"What's wrong with that?"

I suddenly realize that my partner might be planning on revealing secrets. Maybe the secret handshake to get into the mutant club. I quietly duck into the stairwell.

"Man, what's wrong with that? It's like having a whole playground at your disposal and all you want to play on is the swings. I mean there's the slide and the monkey bars and the merry-go-round and the sandbox, and that's just the basic stuff."

I know the guy's intrigued. Probably horrified, too, but intrigued. Shit, I know I am. The last thing he probably figured would happen is that he'd be getting sex education from the fucking fairy.

"What the hell are you talking about, Sandburg?" The guy's still trying to hold his own. I gotta give him credit for that, even if it is a lost cause.

"Bodies, man. They're a fucking playground. And just to keep you from freaking out, let's keep the subject on women. The whole body's an erogenous zone. If all you do is stick to the big guns, you're missing out on half the fun. And you're also missing out on one of the biggest guns. Your ass, man."

"Don't even fucking go there."

Sandburg let out another laugh. "Do you listen to yourself when you talk? Never mind. Listen, I think what has homophobes freaked out is the whole idea of anal sex. But, I gotta tell you, your prostate is your friend."

"I don't--"

Sandburg just cuts him off. He's on a roll now. And when the kid's on a roll, nothing short of an act of God can get him to stop. Maybe Simon when he's in a really bad mood.

"No, I mean it. And while women don't have a prostate there're a lot of them that are totally into anal stimulation. It drives them wild. And not only you doing it to them, but letting them do it to you. You want an orgasm that will blow the top of your head off, have some woman go down on your cock and have her slip her finger up your ass and give your prostate a nudge or two. Wow!"

Yup, he was on a roll. And putting out pheromones like no one's business. I could feel them wafting up the stairs. They were making me hard.

"And how about toys? Man, they're the best. Go down on a woman while you slide a vibrator inside of her, and watch her turn into a melting pile of goo. Or let her slip a toy inside of you while you're inside of her, and you've got something amazing going on. It's like having six orgasms all at once, inside you, outside you, feeling her spasm on your cock. Man!"

I can smell my own pheromones now. And my cock is hard as a rock. Not that there isn't a good reason. After all, Sandburg is describing some pretty graphic sex. With women. So, it's sort of like watching a porn flick.

And even though I'm trying to imagine myself with some woman, maybe Cynthia, what I'm hearing is Sandburg's voice and picturing his face, his eyes dilated, his skin flushed. I'm about ready to come in my pants. Fuck.

Sandburg is still talking relentlessly. "And I know it grosses some people out, but there is nothing like rimming to take sex to the next stratosphere. I gotta tell you, there are nerve endings that are not to be believed around your asshole. I mean, whoa."

I can almost see Sandburg bouncing on his toes, gesturing with his hands. I probably could see him if I tried, but I don't want them to notice me which they will if I start looking over rails. Plus I'm afraid I'll zone if I piggyback my senses. There's a little too much sensory overload going on here. If I could actually see Sandburg as he was talking about this stuff, I'd definitely cream my pants. And damned if I want to spend the rest of the day with a crusty crotch, let alone trying to explain the wet spot.

"And that's just when there's two of you. You start getting other people in the mix and the sky's the limit. I know you've thought about being with two women and probably think that's sexy as all hell. I know a lot of women think the same thing about two men. It's all sexy. We're sexy. People are sexy. Women are sexy; men are sexy. You need to lighten up and have some fun. As long as you play it safe, and it's all consensual, what the fuck does it matter what someone is doing in bed with someone else or what gender the players are?"

I really need to stop listening now. But, I can't. I'm being inexorably drawn into the Sandburg Zone which is, needless to say, a pretty fucking sexy place to be. My own sex life is looking pretty dim by comparison. Although to be honest, my life in general is pretty dim compared to Sandburg. My life is like a roman candle. It's a solid piece of entertainment. It puts out a strong light, the sparks shoot high, lasts a long time. Solid. But then Sandburg shows up, and he's like fireworks on the fucking Fourth of July. I listen in again and he's still shooting off sparks.

"I know people are different, and not everyone likes the same games. You can't just pull out the whips and chains without having a conversation about it. But women love variety. Men do too, when they can get past their caveman evolutionary framework. It's not about fucking for survival anymore. Rutting to propagate the species. It's about pleasure, man. Two people, or more, enjoying the hell out of the bodies we've been given. Give the next woman you're with a thrill and be a little adventurous. Trust me, they're not thinking that missionary intercourse with you is the best thing since sliced bread."

I wonder if the asshole cop's eyes are as glazed as mine. Whips and chains? My mind starts fixating on Sandburg pushing me around in the kitchen after Incacha died. Put him in leather. Put me in chains. I let out a groan; I can't help it.

"So, anyway, that's my theory. If guys would just go out and make friends with their prostate, homophobia would go away." There was a pause. "Hey, are you all right? You look a little flushed. Do you need a glass of water or something?"

I can't help but grin. Typical Sandburg. Trample someone with pheromones and sex talk and be absolutely clueless about it. I could smell the guy's arousal from here. Suddenly it wasn't funny at all. Someone was three floors down, alone with Sandburg, and turned on. And no one was getting on Sandburg's playground but me.

That didn't come out quite the way I meant. What I mean is that a situation like this could be dangerous. If this guy was willing to verbally attack the kid before, maybe he'd be willing to sexually accost him now. And I'm Sandburg's Blessed Protector. Damn it.

I start heading down the stairs, not hiding the noise, making sure they both know someone's coming. Sandburg looks up as I approach and, turning to me, gives me one of his blinding smiles. You know the one I'm talking about, like I'm a damn oasis in a desert. Like he hasn't seen me for years.

"Jim! I was just on my way up."

I sneak a peak at Officer Asshole and, yup, his eyes are just as glassy as I figured, and he's looking at Sandburg's ass while the kid's looking at me. I can feel my jaw clench. I snap at my partner. "Yeah, well, you're late."

Sandburg looks at his watch and twists his mouth up a little. "Man, I'm sorry. I was on time, but then Dan, here, stopped me, and we got to talking." And then, typical Sandburg, he moves on. No time to deal with me being snappy. After all, life's out there. The great fucking adventure of life. "Hey, you hungry, want to go get some lunch?"

I can feel myself start to relax. The invitation is working. He asked me to lunch. He has made it known that it is my company he prefers. He has not extended an invitation to Officer Asshole, whose eyes are wandering all over Sandburg now.

I grab Sandburg's arm. "Starved. Let's go." I start to drag him away.

"Okay." He stoops down to pick up his backpack and glances at OA, resisting my pull. "You sure you're okay? Maybe you ought to go sit down."

I masterfully hold back a snort. What the asshole needs to do is go jerk off. Someplace far away from my partner. I continue to drag him away. Sandburg may be tough, but I'm gonna win this tug-of-war on mass alone. And gravity. I got the going down the stairs thing going for me.

Sandburg stumbles after me, leaving the asshole to tend to his sexual identity crisis. I'm guessing he's going to stop on the way home and pick up a book on sex. Probably to look up what rimming is.

I'm not even going to think about my sexual identity. Not right now. I ignore how my fingers are tingling while wrapped around Sandburg's arm. I just let Sandburg's voice wrap around me. I'm not listening to what he's saying; I just like the timbre of his voice. Finally I tune in, just as we hit the pavement outside the station. I realize he's telling me about what a nice guy Dan seems to be.

I stop and look down at him. "Your prostate is your friend?"

His eyes open wide and he blushes. "Man, how much of that did you overhear?"

I can't even believe he's blushing. Not after all that shit he just said. "All of it."

Sandburg smacks me on the arm. "You have got to stop using your powers for evil, man. Your panther's gonna turn on you."

"Your prostate is your friend?"

Sandburg stops talking and stares at me. He cocks his head a little to the side as if he's studying me. Finally he lets out a little laugh and shakes his head sadly at me. "Man, you too? Another victim of vanilla sex?" He makes a fist and lightly taps me on my chest. "You know this body of yours?"

I nod.

"Have a little fun with it. Jesus."

He starts to walk away, muttering under his breath as if I can't hear him. How he doesn't understand men, and what's the point of having a body in the first place if you don't get to know it, and how the only thing worse than an unexamined life is an unexamined body.

And just for a minute I watch him walk. Watch his ass, watch how his body sways, and I'm seeing a playground. I'm seeing swings and a slide and monkey bars, and a soccer field and an ice rink, and I want to play. And I'm wondering how I can get a registration form for the Northwest Chapter of the Gay and Lesbian Officers Action League.

He stops at the corner and looks back at me, exasperation clear on his face. I grin at him. And there must be something on my face because he grins back. I walk over to him and sling my arm around his shoulder. "Chief, I think I'm sick of vanilla."

His eyes are practically twinkling. "Yeah? That's cool. What, uh, what flavor, exactly, are you in the mood for?"

I watch his eyes sparkle for a minute, thinking about how much I like him, how much I admire him, how I want to cuddle with him and do a whole lot more with him. Maybe how I want all those things for a long time, like maybe forever. "I'm in the mood for you."

I didn't think it was possible, but his eyes get even brighter and his smile combined with a raging surge of pheromones, almost bowls me over.

"That's great. That's really great. Because Jim Ellision is like my favorite flavor ever."

That is music to my ears. Then I hear something that's not music to my ears. Officer Asshole, calling Sandburg's name.


Sandburg looks around me. "Oh, hey, Dan. What's up?"

The guy flashes me a look, notices how my arm is around Sandburg's shoulder. I see him consider the possibility that it means anything, decide that it's just partners, and take the plunge. "I was just wondering if you were free tonight. I have tickets to a Jags game."

"Wow, that's really nice of you."

I can feel Sandburg hesitate to say anything more, so I decide to help him along. I glower at the asshole.

I hear Sandburg's Sentinel-soft plea. "Play nice, Jim."

Play nice. Yeah, I can play nice. After all, it's not the asshole's fault he got swept up into the Sandburg Zone. I tell Sandburg to stay, and walk the few steps until I'm right next to the guy so I can put my arm around him. He's not much shorter than I am so it's easy to whisper to him. "Do you see that playground over there?" I point toward Sandburg, ignoring the annoyed expression on my partner's face.

The guy nods. Of course he nods. How could he not nod? It's like Sandburg pushed him down the rabbit hole.

I smile at him, not very nicely. I figure what the hell. As long as I'm having a sexual identify crisis and turning my whole world view upside down, why not just out myself. "That playground's mine. Hands off. Are we clear?"

The guy's eyes open wide as he gets clear.

I've been admiring Sandburg's restraint, but he can't handle it anymore and he comes over to us. "Hey, what's going on?"

I see his eyes take in my arm around the asshole's shoulder, and I can't help a moment of fierce glee as I see his mouth tighten in what I hope is jealousy. I want Sandburg not to want anyone else touching me, because I sure as hell have no intention of letting anyone else touch him.

I'm finished with Officer Dan. My work is done. I drop my arm off his shoulder and stand next to Sandburg. Next to Blair. I tuck an errant curl behind his ear. "Let's go."

Sandburg looks back and forth between the asshole and me. Finally he gives Dan a grin. "Thanks for the invitation, but I'll have to pass. Maybe another time."

Over my dead body. I give Officer Asshole a look that gives him that message loud and clear. I look down at Blair and see that he saw the look. I watch the two sides of him fighting. The part that resents being treated as property fighting against the part of him that already knows he belongs to me. Just like I belong to him. It just took me a while to get it.

I wait to see who's gonna win. It takes a few seconds, but then Blair grins up at me. "It took you long enough."

I can't help it. I laugh. Slinging my arm around his shoulder again, I start our way down the street. "I know it. I'm a little slow. Remember, I'm a throwback."

Blair lets out his own laugh even as he shakes his head. "Man, I'm never throwing you back. You are stuck but good."

That works for me. Nothing like having an epiphany in a stairwell.

"And Jim?"

I look down at him, my eyebrows up in question. "What?"

He grins mischievously. "Your prostate is your friend."

Another laugh escapes me. My life has suddenly become a cornucopia, and I can't wait to taste it all.

The End