Jim clung to the steering wheel with a grip so tight that his knuckles were stark white lumps, checking his watch as he parked the truck in front of the diner. He was a little early okay, 15 minutes early. But he could see the Taurus with the distinctive pompom on the antenna tassel parked in the parking lot, and he let out a sigh of relief. He found Gerard in a corner booth eating a hamburger and sat down, grinning sheepishly.
"Thanks for coming, Doc."
"No problem, I left the offer open," Gerard said easily. "Great food, at least. You guys really are out in the middle of nowhere here, aren't you?"
"Yeah, that was kind of the idea." Jim ordered a coke, but didn't follow Gerard's example of ordering food. His stomach was tied in knots.
Gerard looked at Jim for a long moment, frowning.
"Well, I was going to ask you how you two were doing out here, but I guess I'd better skip right to the chase," he said. "What's the emergency, Jim? And why didn't you bring Blair along?"
Jim shook his head.
"He doesn't even know I called you," Jim admitted. "I told him I was going into town to pick up groceries. The bumpy roads make his tailbone and ribs hurt, so he didn't mind staying at the cabin. I just " He swallowed. "He doesn't understand how dangerous this is."
"What's dangerous, Jim?" Gerard asked calmly.
Jim forced the words out past bone-dry lips.
Gerard nodded to the waitress to refill their glasses, then sat back.
"I think you'd better just start at the beginning and tell me."
The beginning. What beginning? Did it begin with Peru? With his senses? Did it begin with Blair?
"There's a lot of beginnings," Jim said in a low voice.
"Okay," he said. "Start at the end, then. And we'll work our way backward as far as we need to."
Jim took a deep breath.
"I almost raped Blair," he said, closing his eyes, waiting for the axe to fall.
When only silence greeted his words, he opened his eyes again. Gerard was gazing at him steadily, with that same calm expression.
"Didn't you hear me?" Jim said helplessly. "I said, I almost raped Blair."
"I heard you." Gerard sipped his iced tea. "Do you mean you attacked him, tore his clothes off, threw him on the bed, what?"
"No!" Jim clenched his fists tightly. "I didn't I just " He didn't know how to make Gerard understand. What can I say? I rubbed my face all over him? I sniffed at him?
"You thought about it?" Gerard suggested.
Jim nodded grimly.
"I I wanted to. It was hard to stop myself."
Gerard looked at him thoughtfully for another moment; then he quietly signalled the waitress and paid their bill.
"Let's go for a walk," he said. "You have the look of a man who needs to pace."
Gratefully Jim followed Gerard outside, and they walked along the roadside. Slowly, question by question, Gerard got most of the story out of Jim, one grudging word at a time.
"So let me see if I've got this straight," Gerard said at last. "You and Blair had just had, by your description, the best sex you'd ever had in your life."
"And you were feeling really loving with him, really happy, really connected in this spiritual sort of way," Gerard continued.
"And you're cuddling together, feeling good, feeling loving, and you're exchanging wisecracks about the way you smell, and you sniff and smell all these aromas from the sex."
"And suddenly you go from feeling loving and happy to angry and violent, is that what you're telling me?"
"No," Jim protested. "I wasn't angry."
"Okay, so you're feeling loving and happy and just in the mood to cause Blair some pain, terrorize and hurt him, huh?" Gerard said gently.
"No!" Jim flushed. "I didn't think about I mean, I wanted to rape him, don't you get it?"
Gerard stopped, facing Jim squarely.
"So you were actually thinking, 'I want to hurt Blair, I want to force him to do something he doesn't want to do, that really does it for me', huh?"
"It wasn't like that."
"No, I'm sure it wasn't," Gerard said wryly. "Jim, if there's one thing I can say with pretty much absolute psychiatric certainty, it's this that you do not have, nor have you ever had, the slightest desire to rape Blair."
"I did," Jim insisted. "Weren't you listening?"
"I was, and you didn't," Gerard said firmly. "You had no desire to rape Blair; in fact, you deliberately used thoughts of Blair's rape to deter yourself, and it worked. You felt a desire, an impulse, maybe even a need, to have intercourse with Blair. A desire for a specific sexual act. I'm not hearing from you that you felt any desire to force him, to restrain him or subdue him or overpower him. You didn't want rape, you wanted intercourse."
"What's the difference?" Jim said desperately. "If he didn't want it, it was rape!"
"Let's try it from another angle," Gerard suggested. "You knew Blair was interested in you a long time before you felt or maybe acknowledged any desire for him, right? Do you think he ever fantasized about you while he masturbated?"
Jim blushed crimson.
"I guess so," he mumbled. In fact Blair had admitted it at least once that Jim could remember.
"Okay. He wanted it, you didn't," Gerard said. "Did that make it rape?"
"What, you mean him jerking off to fantasies of me?" Jim asked, momentarily confused. "No. Of course not."
"But he had a desire for you that you didn't share."
"Yeah, but it was just a fantasy." Jim shrugged. "He didn't do anything about it."
"Neither did you."
"Yeah, but I bet he imagined me being willing," he said grimly.
"What about you?" Gerard said gently. "Wouldn't you want Blair to be willing?"
"Of course!" Jim said hotly. "But that's not the point!"
"I think it is the point, Jim," Gerard said quietly. "You felt a desire for something you assumed Blair didn't want. You felt that desire was inappropriate and out of control, so you applied the mental equivalent of a hell of a cold shower to yourself and the desire went away. Which is exactly the point. If you'd wanted to rape Blair, Jim, you'd have done it. The mere fact that consideration for Blair is what stopped you is evidence enough."
"But I felt out of control," Jim said in a low voice, shaken by Gerard's words, words he couldn't refute.
"I'm sure you did," Gerard said sympathetically. "And nothing scares you worse than that feeling of being out of control, isn't that right?"
Jim sighed, confused again.
"Especially where Blair's concerned."
"Well, of course."
"And nothing in the world makes us feel more out of control than love and sex."
"And now that platonic, nurturing love is moving into the realm of sex, you're more out of control than ever."
Jim groaned, rubbing his eyes.
"But it was so good there for a while."
"And it's going to be good in the future," Gerard said quietly. "All kinds of good feelings for both of you, physically and emotionally. As soon as big bad Jim Ellison realizes that he doesn't have to be in control a hundred percent of the time."
"But I could have hurt him," Jim said, very softly.
"Yes, you could have. You could hurt him anytime you wanted to," Gerard said steadily. "He's physically and emotionally vulnerable right now and very dependent on you. You could hurt him physically if you aren't careful of your strength or respectful of his injuries or inconsiderate of his needs. You can hurt him emotionally the same way. Don't be spoiled by Blair's miracle recovery, Jim. Nobody, least of all me, ever said it would be easy.
"Now, I don't pretend to be an expert on this Sentinel deal," Gerard continued. "But I'll tell you this. Every human being at least sometime in his life experiences powerful impulses. It might be fear or lust or anger. We can write it off to instinct or that big vague carryall, human nature. What distinguishes a mentally well person from a mentally ill person is that the healthy person may not always be able to control the impulse, but they can control the action. I personally entertained fantasies of blowing my high-school algebra teacher away with a bazooka. That doesn't make me a psychopath. You controlled the action. Your desire doesn't make you a rapist or a monster or some kind of primal beast. If because of this Sentinel thing you have powerful instinctive impulses set off by some kind of sensory trigger, then that's something you and Blair probably need to work on. But that's all it is a problem that you can work on, like Blair's fears and your anger. Any emotion, any impulse only has the power you give it. When you blow the problem up in your mind to monstrous proportions, you're the one giving it power."
Jim sighed raggedly.
"So how do I take the power away from it?"
"You know the answer to that already," Gerard told him. "You're already doing it. You confront the problem to yourself, to Blair, to me. You face it and talk about it and deal with it. You acknowledge to yourself that actions have consequences as you did at the time and that there's a hell of a big difference between thought and action. You can have any thought you want, and you can keep it from becoming an action. That power is always yours."
Jim took a deep breath, slowly relaxing.
"Okay," he said. "Maybe I did kind of blow it out of proportion. Blair's usually the one who panics. I'm not used to it."
"Jim, if that's the last time it happens to either of you, I'll be amazed," he said. "You're entitled to a few panic attacks. Both of you. Okay?"
"Okay." Jim grinned sheepishly. "Thanks for the diner call, Doc."
"You're more than welcome." Gerard patted Jim's shoulder. "Now go back and tell Blair the truth about why you came out here so the two of you can talk about it."
"Yeah, I guess I should," Jim admitted. "If he hasn't already figured it out."
"I don't make sucker bets with patients," Gerard chuckled. "Go on, get out of here."
When Jim had carried the bags of groceries into the cabin, he steeled himself and walked upstairs, where he found Blair curled up in front of the fire, reading.
"Chief, I wanted to tell you something," he said awkwardly. "When I said I was going to get groceries, um "
"You really wanted to go talk to Gerard, right?" Blair said quietly. He didn't look up from his book.
"Yeah. You probably guessed before I left, huh?"
"Yeah, pretty much. You took your cell phone, that was a dead giveaway," Blair said. "I mean, leaving me without a way to call for help."
Jim sighed again.
"Are you mad at me now?"
"Not mad." Blair put his book down, but didn't look up. "Kind of disappointed. Disappointed that you lied to me, and that you couldn't just talk to me, which is dumb, I guess."
Jim sat down beside Blair.
"It's not dumb," he said quietly. "And I shouldn't have lied, and I will talk to you. It's just that I don't know which scares me worse, that I thought I might make you do something you didn't want to do, or that you'd be willing to do it for my sake even if you didn't want to. Do you have any idea how that makes me feel? That you'd do something you were afraid of, that you don't want, that might even hurt you, because you thought that somehow my want or my need was more important?" He shook his head. "How can I trust myself to respect your limits if you won't set limits?"
Blair took a deep breath.
"Okay, I can see that," he said reluctantly. "But, I mean, Jim, if you needed it that bad "
"Chief, I've got a news flash for you," Jim said wryly. "Nobody, not me, not anybody, needs sex badly enough to force or hurt somebody else. Never, nohow, no way. I don't care if my balls are about to blow up, you've been teasing me for six days in a row and you're running around stark naked shaking your ass at me, there's still no excuse. Either we both want it, or we don't do it. I have to know that, Chief." He gazed at Blair seriously. "I have to be able to know when we're making love that you really want it, that you'd stop me if you didn't."
"Okay." Blair smiled. "Okay, that's fair. But don't lie to me anymore, please? If either of us, or both of us, need to talk to Gerard, we can do that. It's not a crime. I just don't want us to start feeling like we have to lie about it or about anything else to each other."
"Deal," Jim said relievedly. He pulled Blair close, hugging him tightly. "I declare a penalty for both of us."
"Penalty?" Blair said, wrinkling his forehead as Jim eased him back to the cushions. "What did you have in mind?"
"Well . . . my penalty," Jim said, kissing his way down Blair's throat, "is that I have to slowly strip you naked, kiss every inch of your body, and give you the tongue-lashing of your life."
Blair swallowed hard.
"Oh yeah?" he said a little breathlessly. "And what's my penalty?"
Jim chuckled evilly.
"Your penalty," he said in a husky voice, "is that you have to lie perfectly still and take it. As long as it takes."
"Oh, man," Blair gasped. "And this is a penalty because?"
"Because," Jim said, pulling off Blair's sock and nipping his big toe, provoking a low groan, "it's gonna take a long, looooooooonnnnnng time."