Disclaimer: The main characters are not mine, this is an amateur effort written purely for the fun of it, and no money has exchanged hands, and it is not intended to breach the copyright of Paramount and Pet Fly Publication.

For my beta reader Susan, glad you're feeling better. For Techgirl, the founder member of the Guide Liberation Army.

All Things Come Around

There was a wistful expression on Blair Sandburg's face as looked out the window of the truck at the passing scenery. He watched as adults went about their business or pleasure; children laughed and chattered on their way to school; ordinary people just living out the ordinary life denied him by a quirk of genetics. He smiled a bit as he thought with wry humor how his life was ruled by acronyms. A slight variation in DNA made him an empath. Fate, with the connivance of the GDP, destined him to be a glorified pet or a slave to a sentinel's whims.

//Thank God that sentinel was Jim Ellison//

Blair looked across at Ellison. The stoic mask that normally hid his sentinel's emotions had been laid aside for the moment and it was clear that Jim wanted to be at the Sentinel Conference about as much as he did. Which was not at all. Ellison's face could be quite animated around people he knew, liked and trusted. Everyone else was treated to a mask-like visage, which could only belong to a cold-hearted SOB. Blair sighed just as Ellison did and shared a quick grin with the older man, before retreating back to his thoughts as Jim fought his way through Cascade traffic. He closed his eyes... it was going to be a long day.

A lot had changed since the start of the Conference; changes which required their presence where neither man wanted to be. Jim had defeated the challengers to his position as Senior Sentinel Prime. And he himself had been forced to admit that, just as there was a darker side to his sentinel, since their dark bonding there was a darker side to his sentinel's guide. He was now the acknowledged Guide Prime of Cascade but he was still processing what that meant. Deep down, he knew he had not yet completely meshed with the Dark Guide but already he could draw comfort and strength from the emotional and psychic strength of that part of his psyche. And something was telling him that soon he would be Dark Guide indeed; a small quiet part of him worried about who, or what, he would be when the process was complete. Blair was pulled out of his reverie as Jim pulled up in the car park directly opposite the front entrance to the Conference Hotel.

Ellison glanced at his guide; not that he had to look to know how the younger man was doing. After the week... hell, the month... they'd just had, every sense he possessed had been closely monitoring Sandburg's vital signs since they left the loft. Blair was leaning toward him, concern in his face and voice, "Jim, are you all right?" Ellison spared his Guide a warm smile and a quick nod and was rewarded with a relieved sigh as Sandburg settled back in his seat. "Thought you were zoning on me, man."

"Sorry, Chief, I was miles away." He gave his guide's leg a pat even as his attention was drawn across the street. "Stay put a minute, Chief."

"Jim, what's wrong?" Sandburg's voice showed his concern. He followed his sentinel's gaze and stiffened as he saw the protesters outside of the conference hotel. A score of police were holding the sign-waving, chanting crowd away from the entrance. Jim got out of the truck and moved to the passenger side where he ignored the patented Sandburg eye-rolling and gave him a hand down to the pavement. Sandburg tried to downplay his injuries but Jim knew his guide was still sore from the beatings he had taken when a deranged unbonded sentinel had grabbed him. Whether the kid was willing to admit it or not he needed the help the sentinel needed to give him. Jim hid a knowing grimace when Blair's hand tightened on his arm as pain flared through the abused muscles of his stomach and the wounds on his back. Sandburg shivered just as a strident "Free the Guides"chant pushed every atavistic threat button the Sentinel possessed. A feral growl started in the back of his throat as his attention riveted on the protesters.

Ellison's focus shifted to his guide as he felt the tug at the back of his mind. The empath had connected with him, his voice dropping to the low, soothing tones that Jim associated with Sandburg in guide mode. "It's all right, Jim, no one is trying to take me away from you. They're loud and mouthy but they're no threat to us. Okay, Jim. Jim?"

"I hear you, Chief." Jim could feel the calming emotions his guide was trying to use to settle him down. Ellison knew he was on edge; recent events had left him in Blessed Protector mode 24/7. He could do some real damage to the protesters if they pushed him the wrong way.

Blair pulled back from the linkage; his barriers were high and he would be able to tolerate a casual touch. He knew that if he remained connected to his sentinel, if Jim continued to feel the aches he couldn't quite disguise, someone would probably lose an arm at the shoulder if they so much as brushed against him.

Jim walked toward front entrance and the protesters. He could hear Blair's heart rate increase as they threaded their way though the crowd. Blair was so close to him that he was practically sharing Jim's shoes as Ellison flashed his ID and was let through the crowd control barrier.

Sergeant Connelly, a rather matronly woman in her late forties, came over. Her smile held real warmth; she had known Jim since he had fast tracked into the police force after his time in the military. She had seen a good cop under the bad attitude and, unlike some who groaned bitterly about the fast track system, she had been more than happy to help Jim reach his full potential. Connelly had been his first partner until he had made the jump to detective in vice; within a year he had moved up to Major Crime.

"Hello, Jimmy, thought I would see you here. Heard you went on- line." She leaned around him slightly, "This your guide?"

"Alice Connelly, my guide, Blair Sandburg. Chief, say hello to my training sergeant."

Ellison's gentle nudge brought his guide forward and Alice found herself smiling at him. He was a lot younger than she would have thought someone with Jim's military background and job would have. For a moment she wondered how this *kid* could hope to help the headstrong, stubborn and impatient man she knew Jim Ellison to be. Ellison was a good man but... her thoughts trailed off as she looked past the boyish face and rumpled clothes and saw intelligent and alert eyes measuring her and sensed the strength in the slender frame. Something, she could not quite put a finger on, told her that here was a man who could meet Jim Ellison on equal terms. But oh, what a mismatched pair! Longhaired neo-hippie and crew-cut Army ranger... she grinned as she shook hands; this would be fun to watch.

"How long have they been at it, Alice?" Jim nodded to the crowd.

"Since six o'clock this morning. I'm just surprised that they weren't here earlier. GDP security identified eight of them as ring leaders of groups who had picketed their headquarters before now." The chants had changed as the protesters figured out that a sentinel-guide pair was on the other side of the barriers. Shouts of "Slaver"... "Slave"... "Throw off your chains"... "Show some respect for yourself"... were accompanied by enough raw emotion that it leaked through the tightest shields Blair dared erect in such a charged atmosphere. Alice saw the shudder that briefly shook the empath before a large hand came to rest on his shoulder.

"They're noisy, for certain sure, but we'll make sure that they don't get in." Sandburg returned her smile with a dazzling one of his own that didn't quite hide his desire to be elsewhere. "By the way, I heard about the test. I told everyone you'd win it, Jimmy, and put a fifty on it to boot... don't make me out a liar."

"Jim will sweep the floor with them, Sergeant." The guide's voice was soft but rock-solid belief in his sentinel was clearly evident.

"With confidence like that I might add an extra twenty to the pot."

"Come on, Chief, before I have to arrest you for aiding and abetting gambling."

Connelly watched them walk away, the guide bouncing along next to the taller, older sentinel. Their voices drifted back.

"Did I ever tell you I financed my MA with my winnings from the track?"

"You had a system, Chief?" Amusement colored Ellison's words.

"Not a system, more a feeling."

At that point she lost them among the general babble of voices around her. She had never told any one that the reason she sympathised with Jim was because she was half sentinel herself. She only had three senses above the norm: sight, hearing and touch. Considering her non-existent cooking skills, it was lucky she didn't have enhanced taste and smell. She was also lucky that none of her senses were so enhanced that she needed a guide to function but her experience had given her the insight she had needed to help Ellison.

She had acted as his unofficial "guide" during the younger man's rookie year before he had even known he needed one. Her insights and suggestions had been enough to keep him from getting killed but she was glad that "I'm never gonna have a guide" Ellison was finally the responsibility of someone better qualified. Now his life was in the hands of some young punk dressed in multi-colored layers of clothing with a mop of curly brown hair falling into his face. She grinned as she thought of the gentle amusement with which the normally taciturn Ellison regarded Sandburg as the kid began to talk a mile a minute as soon as he thought he was out of sight, his hands flying through the air in emphasis. She was brought back to the present with a jolt as one of the women in front of her went deathly white and started shaking like a leaf in a storm. The woman was tall, around five foot ten, and willowy with short cut auburn hair framing an elfin face. She looked to be in her mid forties and, despite having apparently seen a ghost, seemed more alive than many of the younger women around her. She was hanging onto her placard as if it was the only thing keeping her upright, her gaze fixed on the back of the departing guide and sentinel. As Alice approached, the woman noticed her and melted into the crowd.

The GDP guards, inside the door, had a flip card containing sentinel and guide IDs. On each card was a potted history of each conference member. The younger of the two guards, noting the sentinel marking on Jim's badge, flipped through the cards until he found the Sentinel Prime's card. He read the notations and then the guide's details. His face hardened. The Sentinel's guide, Blair Sandburg, was neither dressed in the required correction facility overalls nor wearing a Guide badge with a Rogue designator. Instead, he was wearing a police ID badge. The guard picked up a leash and started towards them.

Hearing the footsteps and the mutters of the incensed guard, Jim turned to face him. One look from icy blue eyes stopped the guard in his tracks, his mission forgotten. The Sentinel Prime was ready to defend his Guide any way he saw fit. If that included eating a GDP guard so be it. The older guard hurried up, his hands out in a plain show of surrender. "Sentinel Prime Ellison, my apologies. Recruit Franks was not aware of the change of orders concerning your guide." He snagged the younger man's arm and pulled him back. "Enjoy your day, Sentinel Prime."

Jim gave him a nod, acknowledging the error and the apology, then with his guide tucked in behind him, moved towards the board listing the events of the day. He said, loud enough for the guards to overhear, "You can let go now, Chief, I'm not going to kill him."

"Tell the Dark Sentinel that, Jim. Your emotions... wow."

Jim's voice betrayed his concern, "You all right, Chief?"

"Sure, man, no problem." The words and tone were right, but one hand moved nervously on Jim's arm and shoulder in small quick pats and the other hand clutched the back of his jacket.

The older guard turned to his companion with a sigh of profound relief. "Do you have a death wish? Ellison's Senior Sentinel Prime of the Conference and Prime of Cascade PD, and you want to leash his guide because he's not wearing a badge?" He rapped his knuckles against the younger man's forehead. "Use your brains next time."

"And read your command memos," a new voice added to the sound advice being offered and they turned to see GDP Commander Dan Slater standing behind them.

"Y-yes, sir," the youngster stammered.

"For your information, Blair Sandburg is exempt from the dress code and is not required to wear the badge. He will be wearing his PD guide badge. Remember it and make sure the rest of the guards understand that as well." He paused, then asked, "Which way did they go?"

"Towards the main lecture rooms, sir."

As he entered the lecture hall, Dan saw the other two Clan Sentinels approach Ellison. The three sentinels moved off, leaving their guides alone, chatting. He headed in their direction and suddenly the three sentinels' heads snapped around to look at him. He smiled back at them, trying to look as unthreatening as possible. The guides immediately went down on their knees to him, except for Ellison's. Sandburg put his hands behind his back but remained standing, the look in his eyes a clear challenge. Slater knew he could order him down, but ... He exhaled slowly. If the kid *was* a Dark Guide, and Slater was pretty sure he was, then there was no way a Dark Guide would kneel. "Guides, on your feet please." Better to ignore him.

Blair's heart had spiked and he had felt his leg twitch in automatic kneel reflex when he saw Slater. Then something had kicked in, a voice at the back of his mind yelled at him to stand still. It had steadied him long enough for the old Sandburg, the man he had been before Alex and the GDP, to cut in. He was Jim's partner and his guide, but he was not a slave to kneel at anyone's feet. He found the strength to remain standing, closing his hands behind his back, he kept his eyes fixed on Slater's face. Any minute expecting to hear the Commander yell for the guards. What he was doing could result in a 48-hour stint in the correction facility but Slater was ignoring it. In fact, Slater asked all the guides to rise and reached a hand out to help the petite woman, obviously expecting a child, to her feet.

His unexpected gallantry was unrewarded as he was pushed roughly aside by her sentinel, Roger Niven, who came barrelling over to gently help her to her feet. His voice was calming, "Tina, I told you not to kneel. If anyone has a problem with that they can come to me." Her hand went out and lightly drifted across his arm to ground him as his hand touched her belly to assess her and the baby's conditions. "We're okay." She soothed as she leaned into his touch. Satisfied, he moved his hand away.

Lisa Paisa smiled. "May I?" In a clear breach of GDP protocol, she addressed her question to the guide, not to Niven. Tina glanced at her sentinel before she nodded. Lisa's hand ghosted over the other woman's abdomen. Her smile grew, "It's amazing, Roger, I can...." She trailed off, lost in the sensation.

Tina smiled, "Sentinel Prime?" she offered. For a moment Ellison hesitated, he was not in the habit of laying hands on burgeoning bellies but the Dark Sentinel reached out. One of his Clan's guides was with child. He needed to check that all was as it should be. His large hand gently went over her body.

Dan stood silent witness and admitted to himself for the first time that he was jealous. His wife was expecting. He could feel the small kicks of his baby, but sentinels could feel the smallest details of the new life and, as an empath, Tina would have a bond with her child that would surpass the normal mother-child bond. With a mental sigh, he pushed his feelings back and concentrated on the matters at hand. "Sentinel Prime?"

"You wanted something, Commander?" Jim turned back to him all business. Blair moved so that he was at his shoulder, the change in his position clearly indicating that the Dark Guide was hovering in the background but had not pushed through. He felt the tug at the back of his mind and the link was humming.

"Just wanted to chat with you about what happened the other day. When you came back to the conference hall, you seemed to be caught up in a ritual I have never witnessed or seen documented before. I... "

"We merely welcomed the Senior Sentinel Prime's Guide back to the fold, Commander." A different voice interrupted in matter of fact tones.

Dan turned and recognised Sentinel Doctor Harvey.

"Doctor, I mean no disrespect, but what I saw went beyond the norm."

"And what would the GDP know of normal, Commander?" The Sentinel Doctor slipped in the barb even as she turned slightly and caught her guide's hand. "Sorry, dear, I promised I wouldn't lose my temper, and I did." She released his hand and gave him a gentle pat before turning to Ellison. "And, Sentinel Prime Ellison, we have $70 on you winning the Murder Scene test."

"Aren't you taking part, Doctor Harvey?" Jim asked.

"No, I would do fine on the location work, but the hunting? Not my scene." She glanced at Blair approvingly, "With your guide you already have a head start. He's good."

"Ellison, about the other day..." Slater persisted.

Jim looked him up and down, clearly debating whether to answer or not. "We bonded, Commander. Claimed and Marked," he finally stated. "Now, if you will excuse us, the lecture is about to begin."

The sentinels headed into the lecture hall, their guides in tow. Dan watched the different pairings, identifying the different guide handling styles of each sentinel. Some of the younger ones kept their guides in exactly the classic working guide position. Others, like Ellison with Sandburg, had their guides more casually placed; the guide in the most comfortable position from which to work. Dan mentally shrugged and followed. It was obvious the sentinels were not going to volunteer any information. Observation was essential.

PART TWO

Jim stood at the entrance of the hotel where the scenario was being run, waiting to go up to the Murder room. He could feel Blair's hand running down his forearm with short strokes, grounding him and transmitting just a bit of test anxiety. He smiled to himself. They could handle it.

A sudden wave of emotion from his guide went through Jim and his head snapped around to identify the cause of Blair's fear. Two GDP officers, Captain Mason and an unknown Lieutenant, as well as Doctor Amy Jenson were heading in their direction.

Blair's breathing began to quicken and grow ragged. With the deep empathic pathways still raw and healing from his abduction, he could not cope with the overload of hate and contempt rolling off the GDP officers. A voice in his head yelled at him to keep on his feet but Blair could only see the leash in Mason's hand as memories rose up to drown out the defiance. He went down on his knees, suppressing a groan as pain from his abused body shot through him. He rested his shoulder against the back of Jim's legs and closed his eyes. He felt his sentinel's hand drop gently to the back of his neck, fingers carefully caressing, giving comfort and support. //Jim will handle it.// He sighed as he again realised that he didn't have to face his nightmares alone anymore.

Jim's voice was soft with understanding as his guide took refuge in conditioned response. "Oh, Blair." He soothed, "It's all right, kid. You're safe." He scanned the cause of his guide's distress with icy blue eyes.

"What do you want?" his voice arctic cold.

Doctor Jenson held out a set of papers. "I have an authorisation here, under Section 8, to collect your guide for further testing. Doctor Speke informed us that you would not permit her to test your guide when she requested it. Under the Statutes, all guides have to be accurately tested and the results posted. We also have reason to believe that he may be emotionally unbalanced after his recent ordeal. It is for his, and your, own good." She hesitated as she watched the rage grow in the Sentinel's eyes but continued with what she saw as the most damning evidence of the guide's dangerous mental instability. "It has even been reported to us that Sandburg refused to kneel to Commander Slater and has...."

Jim held onto his anger with a monumental act of will as he felt Blair's growing terror. Ignoring Jenson and her legalese, he focused on the true threat. "There is nothing wrong with my guide, Mason, you know that and I know that. All you want is an excuse to get him into your lab. Now you listen to me, and you listen good. Blair is an 8 according to the tests the GDP has on file. Copies of which are in my possession. Are you saying the tests aren't accurate?"

"He resisted the testing, he could be a lot stronger. He can't be allowed to run around until we know for sure what his rating is. It's conceivable that he can read people, that is a ..."

Commander Slater cut in, "Guide Sandburg is due for testing once the conference is over, isn't he, Doctor Speke?" His voice made it clear what he expected the answer to be as he added," As for his lack of obeisance, you must have misunderstood me, Doctor Jenson, when I said that there were new rules in effect for Guide Sandburg."

Slater moved forward to flank the sentinel and guide pairing and Doctor Speke followed his lead.

"Keep out of this, Slater, it's got nothing to do with you," Mason's tone was certainly not friendly, his resentment of this lap dog of a Director was plain.

Slater's smile was chilling. "Sorry, Captain Mason, you see, the Director of Sentinel Studies himself has ordered that this pair be left alone. He himself arranged the testing for next week. You want to talk to him personally and tell him why you want to go against a direct order?" He left the threat hanging in the air.

Mason started to bluster but soon fell quiet, "This isn't over, Slater."

Mason's contingent was not happy when they left. Silence held until they were out of sight and then Speke and Slater turned to the sentinel.

"Thanks," it was said gruffly but Slater smiled anyway.

"You're welcome, Sentinel." The GDP officer met the sentinel's laser sharp gaze, knowing that if he broke eye contact he would lose any chance of winning this man's acceptance.

For a moment, Jim just stared at him then he moved his hand to Blair's shoulder. Looking down at his young guide he said, "Come on, Chief, we have some bets to win."

Blair got smoothly to his feet, aches and pains forgotten in the adrenaline rush that still coursed through his system. He slid back into place at Jim's shoulders. He could remember the last time they tested his empathic abilities, the cold feel of the gel on his skin, the sticky leads on his head and body, the... He slammed the door on the memories. He felt ashamed; earlier he had managed to remain standing in front of Slater but confronted by the man who starred in some of his nightmares he had responded with pure instinct. He remembered the cruelly efficient touch with which he had been handled, the disgust and loathing that rolled off the man in waves, the cold impersonal decisions that continued the tests and training until he... He allowed his head to drop forward as the voice in his head softly soothed him, //Your time will come, it's early days yet. Soon... soon... soon// Instead of feeling scared by the intrusive voice, the words calmed him down. Jim's hand on his shoulder conveyed only friendship and support. If his sentinel wasn't ashamed of him... Blair turned to the task of getting his partner focused for the test.

The two GDP officers monitoring the test were off getting coffee while Jim and Blair waited to proceed to the next floor where the "murder" had been staged. Jim interrupted his gentle teasing of his Guide to tilt his head in the classic listening position. He picked up voices, loud and strident and knew that somehow the protesters had broken through the police cordon. Later, it would be argued that the protesters had been so well behaved that the police had been justified in scaling back the guards posted. Later, even the sentinels would agree that it was hard to justify the riot squad when most of the protesters were little old ladies from the suburbs.

But with protesters pouring through the hotel entrance, sweeping aside the GDP guards by sheer weight of numbers, yelling and waving their placards and heading straight for the sentinels and their guides, later didn't exist. Now, the reaction was instant and instinctive. Guides were swept behind sentinels as they tried to form a human barrier to stop these people touching the empaths who were half of their souls.

A small group targeted Jim. Blair felt the sudden surge of power through the link and bit back a cry of pain as Ellison's aggression level went straight through the roof. Dark Sentinel and Panther personas merged and swamped the logical, controlled detective. Before Blair could be lost in the maelstrom of emotion, before he could even register the pain of overloaded paths, his head snapped up as the Dark Guide came forward. It was Dark Guide who moved to Ellison's side, his hand a mere brush on the sentinel's powerful shoulder. The first man who tried to grab him went down, hard, eyes revealing his shock that an *empath* had shoved him away. The Dark Guide snarled, he would not let these unfeeling... these *feayr* touch him. Another hand reaching for him was caught, the young Guide's face mirrored his sentinel's ferocity as he efficiently dislocated his attacker's thumb. The injured man's scream was still fading when the protesters backed off. This was not a harmless guide, this was something else, and they turned away in confusion.

Sentinel Prime Doctor Harvey, the epitome of everyone's favorite kind auntie, delivered a vicious kick to the groin of one of the men trying to grab her guide as he, in turn, tried to pull a young woman off her. Roger Niven was attempting to shield Tina when Jim and Blair arrived to help him. Lisa Paisa had also seen the problem and was battling her way through the struggling mass of people. Karl, her guide, was trying to keep close to her while avoiding the clutching hands but launched himself at a woman who had grabbed Lisa around her neck. He hauled her off and pain exploded through him as his barriers fell and raw hatred of all things sentinel washed through him. His legs started to collapse as he tumbled towards the void. Lisa caught him by the collar and dragged him over to Jim.

For a moment, Dark Guide was going to ignore Karl. But Blair's compassionate nature surged through the mesh and Dark Guide hesitated. Karl was of his clan and community but a battle still raged... Then he saw the look his sentinel gave him, and two minds were on the same lines. He knelt down quickly, while sentinels formed a barrier to the chaos around them. One hand cupped Karl's face, the other held a trembling body close. The Dark Guide exhaled slowly, pushing away all the hatred and pain, and focused on the man he held in his arms. His mind locked onto the hurt and pain that was taking over Karl's mind, freezing it out.

The minds of the two Guides met and Karl felt himself being pulled from the void with a start. The power of the Dark Guide washed over him; it was like being caught in a whirlpool, he could feel himself being pulled down but was helpless to stop it. He felt the pathways hum and vibrate. There was power here, power enough to frighten any sane man except that compassion and empathy soothed the fear while healing the hurts. //Blair// Karl recognized the gentle, caring spirit of the younger guide even through the fierce resolve of the warrior healing him.

Slowly, he opened his eyes, his pain gone and found himself looking straight at the Dark Guide. Carefully, he put a hand on his healer's shoulder and softly acknowledged the Guide Prime. His barriers were back up. The Dark Guide pulled him to his feet and handed him over to Tina's care. As she pulled him close, her sentinel carefully avoided touching the two empaths. Roger understood, without quite knowing how, that he was to guard Tina and Karl while Sandburg went forward to be with the sentinels of his clan. The Dark Guide knew only that he must be with his sentinel, must protect him from these people. Blair knew he must stand with his friend.

Tina accepted a hand to help her to her feet. She linked with her sentinel, trying to calm him down. Roger Niven was in an irate state as his intense need to protect his guide warred with his duty to assist his fellow officers. Tina said calmly, "They are not worried about us while you stand guard, Roger. That is the help your clan members need most right now." Tina's other hand went out to her fellow guide as Karl made it to his feet. He was still shaking from the backlash of emotions he had channelled and he welcomed her offer of connection. Roger's support of Tina flowed into Karl as well. Roger stood guard over his guide and those of his clanswomen as the protesters were finally corralled and led away.

The protesters were being guarded all over the place by watchful sentinels and policemen when the large figure of Simon Banks came into view, trademark cigar clamped between his teeth. As he and the members of the Cascade PD tried to sort it all out, he just knew it was going to be a long day. With police reinforcement, the protesters had been rounded up except for the ones that had escaped into the hotel. He sighed, tracking them down would be a job. Banks brightened, on the other hand he had a whole conference of sentinels to do the tracking.

Commander Slater walked over to Banks, holding a coldpac to his jaw. He had waded into the melee when he had seen the terror on Tina's face and had watched Karl go down in a valiant attempt to protect his sentinel. Despite his own preoccupation with keeping himself in one piece, he had been surprised to see the normally quiet and restrained guides on the attack. As one, they radiated an almost primal need to protect their sentinels despite the fact that they were severely handicapped by their own natures. More than one guide had passed out when they got between an attacker and a sentinel. One Guide stayed on his feet, eyes blazing as he defended his sentinel's back. //There *is* something different about Ellison's guide// the thought barely had time to be filed away for further study when Slater had received a hard kick to his ribs. He would have gone down if Sandburg, correction, the Dark Guide hadn't grabbed him by the scruff and hauled him to his feet before shoving him in the direction of Sentinel Niven.

Banks raised an eyebrow when he saw the GDP Commander. "Taking a personal interest in affairs, Commander?"

Slater grimaced at him, "Yeah, Simon, but I've decided field work isn't my forte." Simon laughed as the two men returned their attention to the lobby.

The paramedics had been called to deal with the injured on both sides of the fracas. The protesters had come off worse but the medics couldn't find too much sympathy for their groaning patients. Even idiots knew better than to get between a sentinel and his guide with anger in their hearts. The sentinels had reacted with expected ferocity to protect their guides, their safety being paramount.

Jim took the stairs up by the side of the elevator. Blair walked next to him, his hand on Jim's back supporting him as he used his senses to try and locate the protesters. Ellison halted suddenly as he heard loud voices.

A woman's voice, sharp and full of loathing, snapped. "Let go of me you manipulative bastard, you took me away from my baby. I should have gone back, and ... " A mumble too soft for even sentinel hearing was followed by an angry, "You were GDP all the time. That's all I meant to you?"

A man's harsh voice responded, "And would you have been happier knowing you were nothing more than a womb? I was doing my job but I also fell in ..." There was the sharp crack of an open hand hitting flesh.

The woman protested, "Get your hands off me." Followed by a painful groan as the sound of shattering glassware and overturned furniture filled Jim's ears. Jim took off at a run, crashing through the fire doors, as he snapped over his shoulder to Blair. "There's a fight going on up there. Call for backup."

In the corridor his head whipped from side to side, trying to locate the argument. His gun was in his hand, one arm flung wide to keep his guide safely behind him.

"Jim, slow down. You might have heard the tape they use for the test."

"No, it was not a tape, there was no....." his voice trailed off.

"Oh, man. Not now!" Blair connected their bond, gently pulling his sentinel from the light zone-out he was entering. "Jim, I need you to think back to the voices, your memory is like a photograph, all you have to do is look at it." Blair's voice was firm and steady, designed to anchor a sentinel and bring him back to the present.

"There was no static under the voices. No matter how good the recording is, there is always some static. But not here." Ellison slowly checked each door in the hallway. Some rooms were empty, the rest where locked. An odor began to impinge on his sense of smell...the sour coppery smell of blood rolled over him, almost making him gag.

Blair's voice was calm and steady, "Jim, listen to me, you have to bring the dials down on your sense of smell. Bring it way down, now breathe."

Jim nodded as the soft voice brought the smell under control. "Thanks, Chief." Unconsciously, his hand came up and ruffled his guide's hair. The sharp crack of a gun brought his head up and the odor of blood freshened. He tracked it to a side corridor at the end of the hall before he heard a woman cry out, "My God! No!" There was the sound of footsteps and a door slammed.

Jim reached the room where the smell of blood and cordite was heaviest, Blair hot on his heels. He tried the door, locked. Leaning back, he gave the door a hard kick and heard the lock give way an instant before the door swung open.

A man lay sprawled on the floor near a smashed container of the blood that would have been used in the sentinel testing. But the blood that pumped from the man's chest was no prop for a fake murder scene but the all too real thing. The victim was still alive; Ellison could hear the rapid, shallow beat. He heard Blair's choked, "God! Jim!" before his attention was caught by the sound of sobbing. Footsteps, running away, galvanized him into action.

"Blair, see what you can do for him and call 911." He thrust his phone at his guide and took off after the fading footsteps.

Guard Gibb was coming along the corridor when he saw Jim Ellison come crashing out of a room in full hunting mode. He hurried his pace, Sandburg had not been with the sentinel and he felt a certain responsibility to the young guide. He had been assigned to the conference because the way he dealt with Blair Sandburg had brought him to the attention of Commander Slater. What had started out as a one-day assignment had turned into a full time posting to Doctor Speke and the Police Station under Slater's direct supervision. The unspoken but understood reason behind his reassignment was Slater's desire for a full time GDP presence at the Police Department and the possibility that the Sentinel Prime just might tolerate him.

Gibb slowed the minute he entered the room. The missing guide knelt by the side of an older man, blood covering his hands where he had tried to stop the bleeding from a chest wound. Sandburg was not moving, a red-stained cloth hanging forgotten from his hand. Gibb moved around him in a wide loop not wanting to startle the small empath. When he saw the look on Blair's face, he swore. Kneeling down, he rested his fingers against the man's neck...dead. A cell phone lay on the floor but he ignored it. Calling 911 wouldn't help the dead man and he had a guide problem to deal with.

The young guide looked stunned. The deep blue eyes that Gibb remembered as holding a quick intelligence even when they were laced with fear were dull and lifeless. //Damn. If the kid had been touching the man when he died he had an even bigger problem on his hands than he had thought. Where the hell was the sentinel?// It looked as if Sandburg had received a full dose of the dying man's emotions. A death backlash was feared by every empath with good reason. It was not unknown for an empath to follow a dying person into death or to descend into catatonia because of overloaded empathic pathways. There were many ways of bringing an empath out of this state but it had to be done fast to stop them going deeper. It was best all around if the guide's sentinel brought him out but...

Gibb took a steadying breath and then his hand lashed out and slapped Sandburg across the face. He held back on the blow; like many large men he was very careful of the amount of strength he used. Even so, Blair fell on his bottom. His eyes widened and he scooted backward. As the two monitoring GDP officials arrived, he dived into a corner and huddled against the filing cabinets. His barriers had crashed under the backlash and he was in condition to deal with anyone not his sentinel.

Gibb blocked the other GDP personnel. "His sentinel is Senior Sentinel Prime Ellison. He took off after the killer leaving his guide to look after the victim. The guide got caught in his death backlash. Call 911 and get the police. Then stay out of this room until Sentinel Ellison returns."

Gibb slowly moved up to Blair and knelt so he wouldn't loom over the guide. The young man needed to get his bearings.

"Hello, Blair." He kept his voice soft and calming.

"G...G...Guard Gibb?" Shock still widened the blue eyes, shook the slender body.

"The same." Gibb smiled. "Can you tell me about your barriers?"

"Don...don't have any... all gone. Head... hurts." That much was clearly obvious. Gibb wondered at the strength of the young man that he was even making sense this soon after a shock of that magnitude.

"It's the backlash. You should have released him before he died."

"Now... you tell meeee..." The word trailed off into a gasp.

Gibb chuckled, amused and impressed. The kid might be hurting, backlash brought on a migraine type headache for empaths at best. At worst, it could make them catatonic. But Sandburg was keeping a sense of humor even as his body was wracked with shudders and his teeth chattered.

"Can you connect to a non-sentinel's surface emotions?"

Blair pushed deeper into his corner, away from Gibb. What the guard was suggesting was totally illegal and could get him a week's hard time in the correction facility.

"No...no! Can't! Not... allowed!"

"Blair, you can. There's just me here. I grant permission." He allowed his voice to harden. He hated forcing this on a young man who had been traumatized more than enough for one day but if something weren't done soon, he'd lose the kid. Already the guide's lips were turning blue as shock set in. "Read me, Guide."

Blair reached out a trembling hand, stopping just short of touching the man. Gibb sensed, more than felt, fingers ghosting over him before Blair suddenly pulled back. He had read the guard's surface emotions and knew that he wasn't lying, was truly willing to offer this. And desperation drove him to accept.

"Yes."

"Okay, kid. Let me get set." Gibb carefully pushed all his emotions down. He could not afford to let anything leak through. Empaths, especially rogues, were good at feeding off the surface emotions of non-sentinels. It was mainly done with family members early on, before they were taken for training. It allowed the prospective guides to hold their barriers up against the every day emotions of the people around them. But the non-sentinels had to know what they were doing. If they allowed their emotions free rein, especially if they were negative, they could badly hurt the empath. Later, in Guide training, the empaths would be taught that this was unnatural behavior, a perversion, and would be encouraged to stop the practice. If they were caught doing it, it was a mandatory seven days in the correction facility.

It was because of this ability to read people that the draconian laws establishing the Guide Development Program had been passed to protect the rights of the people against empath invasion of their minds. Or so the official spin went. Gibb felt uncomfortable offering the protection, his own training screaming against it; but as he looked at the guide curling into a ball in front of him he knew it was the kid's only chance. It wouldn't be long before Sandburg would be incapable of rational thought.

"Give me your hand, guide." He demanded in a tone meant to cut through the fog of shock.

"Blair, stay put." The order was barked across the room as Jim Ellison arrived back on the scene.

Gibb got to his feet, moving back out of the way as the sentinel went to reclaim his guide. The young man moved desperately into the sentinel's offered embrace, the curly head pushed against the older man's shoulder, shaking hands clutching the back of the older man's jacket. Jim felt a hard tug in the back of his mind before his guide's panicked emotions spilled into him, pushing him into Blessed Protector mode.

"What did you do to him?" he hissed at Gibb.

The guard kept his voice level; now was not the time to be aggressive or to take to heart anything the sentinel said.

"Your guide was helping the man. I think he was in contact with him when he died. He was caught in the backlash and it put him into a type of zone-out that can be dangerous. I had to snap him out of it." // Now came the hard bit that could get him hurt.// "I had to slap your guide." // Slap sounded marginally better than hit, he hoped.// "He was sinking further into the zone-out, going into shock."

The sentinel watched him carefully. The guard's concern seemed genuine. And from the shudders that still wracked the ice-cold body plastered against him, that concern seemed warranted.

Jim nodded. "Thank you. Backup is here, could you bring them up?" Gibb knew the sentinel wanted time alone with his guide and did as he was asked. He was in no hurry

"Did you get them?" Blair's voice was shaky but the trembling had lessened and warmth was coming back into the chilled body.

"Welcome back, Chief." Those three words showed the deep concern the sentinel had for his guide.

"Can't get rid of me, Jim." There were granted a blessed fifteen minutes respite before Ellison heard the authorities heading toward the room. It was enough time to get Blair past the worst of the reaction but Jim wanted to get the kid home as soon as possible.

Blair attached himself to his sentinel physically and mentally. The grip he had on Ellison's jacket kept him on his feet until he found his balance again. The warm thrum of support over the bond kept the pain of the migraine to a bearable level. He could do this, but boy, did he want to get home.

Part Three

Jim had kept Blair away from the police filling the small room and clustering around the body. GDP personnel, who ventured too close to his guide, backed off as he snarled at them. He pulled his guide close and allowed his concern and support to help his hurting guide. He knew when the migraine had faded enough to allow clear thought when his guide reminded him, "Jim, they need you to look at the evidence. Come on, big guy, we have work to do." Blair added quickly when he didn't get a response, "Jim, don't zone on me now, man. Listen to my voice, we..."

Jim cut in quickly, "I wasn't zoning, Sandburg, just thinking. You sure you're ready for this?" Blair nodded, "Think this will take the place of the test?"

Simon Banks walked through the tape marking the crime scene in time to see Jim laugh at something his guide had said, his arm still holding him close. A couple of the police were openly staring at them, but one of the more experienced men said, "Haven't you ever seen a sentinel and guide before? That's perfectly natural, they do a lot of that. It helps ground the sentinel. Whatever you do, don't touch the guide." The advice was said with feeling.

Simon watched as they went into working mode. Blair had one hand resting on Jim's shoulder most of the time. Both he and Jim wore white latex gloves as they gathered evidence. Simon picked up on a difference in their behavior; before Blair had always been almost plastered across his sentinel and never took an active role in the finding and bagging of evidence. Now he moved more independently, a couple of times even breaking off to hand evidence bags to the forensic crew. He watched as Blair handed three small bags to one of the crew who carefully took them, making sure that he didn't make contact with the empath's hand. He had learned the hard way that Blair's barriers were down. He had accidentally touched him and got thrown against the wall for his mistake. The rest had taken heed and all of them knew the form.

"Hi, Simon." Ellison greeted him as his captain moved closer.

"Jim, Sandburg." Simon allowed his gruff professional persona to slide into place. "What have you got, gentlemen?"

"It was a woman. I heard her arguing with the deceased right before the shooting. I heard her leave and followed but lost her in the kitchen area." Ellison saved his report of the sneezing fit that lost him his quarry for later. "I've managed to find a few hairs which might have come from her but since the room was set for the murder scene test they have to be eliminated from the planted clues. The murder weapon hasn't be found yet. Looks like it might have been a .38. There was a scent..."

The sentinel suddenly began to shiver as if he had a chill. The scent was tearing through his senses but he could not hold onto it long enough to identify it. He was heading for a zone out, falling into a dark void. Blair moved very close, his arm going around Jim's waist to support him. His free hand played along the sentinel's face and chest, long caressing strokes designed to comfort and soothe the frayed senses of a sentinel.

Jim came out of the zone out with a jolt. "Mine." He snapped and caught his guide, pulling him close. Large hands hovered over his guide's body but didn't touch. It looked to Simon as if Ellison was afraid that there was something wrong with Sandburg.

"Sandburg?" Simon looked to the young guide to explain what was happening, his tone showing the Captain was unnerved by his friend's actions.

Blair shrugged. But he could feel his sentinel getting more and more distressed about something. A large hand began to heavily pet and stroke him.

"Jim, calm down man. I'm here. I've got you. Everything's okay, well, not okay maybe. I mean there's a dead body here but you and me... we're okay." The low soothing voice eased Banks' nerves, as did the settling effect it had on the sentinel. The captain moved to shield his men from the other people in the room.

The sentinel began to calm as he received the soothing emotions of his guide and the younger man allowed him to fuss over him.

Jim jerked his hand away from Blair's curls and looked around, slightly stunned.

"What happened?"

"You zoned, man. But your all right now and we need to find out what set you off."

"Okay, you two, I want you back at the bull pen now, no arguments." Banks wanted answers but wasn't willing to provide a sideshow to the GDP officers studying the young guide with speculative eyes.

It was a measure of how unsettled he was that Jim didn't argue over the order.

Part Four

The trip back to the police station had been made in silence. Jim kept glancing across at his guide. Finally, Blair rested a hand on Jim's arm, letting the warmth of the contact reach his sentinel, let him know that he was here. His migraine had returned and slowed his thoughts as he tried to work out what was happening to Jim. Something had thrown him into a spin back at the hotel; all he had to do was figure it all out.

Jim settled at his desk and then reached over and dropped a hand onto his guide's leg. He needed to know that Blair was here; it was almost as if he was frightened that his guide would leave him.

Blair swung around on his chair and leaned into his sentinel, "Mind telling me what happened there, Jim?"

"It was the killer's scent. There is something about it, Chief, I can't...." his voice trailed off.

Blair could hear the distress coming back into his sentinel's tone.

"Okay, Jim, I want you to relax and breathe nice and deep for me. Follow my voice down, you are in a safe place, and you can..."

Simon walked in as Blair talked his sentinel into a memory trance. He realised that the other officers had stopped what they were doing and were watching the sentinel and guide. Jim looked as if he was carved from stone. Blair was leaning into him, one palm resting flat against Jim's chest, physically reinforcing their link. His other hand gently stroked the sentinel's arm, his voice could not be heard; it was pitched sentinel soft.

Jim's eyes suddenly opened and fixed on his guide. In the past, he had felt somehow ashamed that he needed the contact and comfort when he went that deep, especially if other outsiders were present. This time he had accepted it. He, the stoic loner, needed this hyper hippie grad student and he was finally willing to acknowledge it. His hand moved to rest against his guide's neck, the thumb brushing the younger man's jaw, his smile gentle.

"The scent, Chief, it was yours."

"Jim, it couldn't be. No two living scents are exactly...."

Jim cut across his protest. "Not quite yours, but the base line was near enough to your scent to be a relative."

//Right he could handle this. Something was wrong. Jim had smelled a scent that was close to his. Not very likely, scent was a very personal thing and as to relatives... well, he came up short in that department. But Jim would not make that kind of mistake... So what the heck...//

Blair noticed that his sentinel was starting to get distressed again. He carefully breathed his scent over his sentinel, watching the aquiline nose flare slightly as Ellison pulled in his scent.

Jim breathed in the musky, gingery scent overlaid with the herbal bath products that Blair favored and found himself calming slowly. His guide was here now. He started to tune each sense into the man sitting opposite him. Through the hand on his arm, he felt the emotions through the link. Felt Blair's reassurance that he would never run from him. //But he already has.// Jim shook his head to clear that thought from his mind, wondering where the hell it had come from, why he had heard it so clearly. He realised that Blair was leaning into him again.

Blair took a steadying breath. Some how the sentinel had gotten confused so he tried again. "Jim, you have to listen to me. The scent of the murderer, you have it filed away. All we have to do is identify it. Compare it to the people around you at the scene."

"You."

"What?"

"It smells like you, but it isn't you, Chief."

"Jim, everyone's scent is different. Family members can have somewhat similar scents but I don't have any family. There is no way it could be that close."

"IT IS, SANDBURG," Jim snapped it out. The others in the room twisted around to look at them, including Simon.

Simon hid his smile. The kid was coming along nicely. A month ago, if Jim had yelled like that they would have been picking Blair up off the floor. He would have gone straight into the submissive position on his knees. Now, he had flinched but remained seated opposite his sentinel.

"Right, Jim, so it smells like me. How is it different?" His sentinel would not shift from the view that it was his scent so he had to understand why.

"There is a more..." He ground to a halt and took a deep steadying breath before he scented his guide again. "There is a sweeter edge to it."

"Which could be a female thing or could be perfume."

"Could be, Chief. But that doesn't explain how..." He broke off, concern colored his voice as he asked, "Chief, Blair, what's wrong?"

"Nothing, man, just thinking. Want some coffee? I'll go get a coffee for you."

Before Jim could answer he was gone, almost running out of the bullpen.

Once in the corridor and out of sight, Blair took a steadying breath and tried to calm down. Jim would be monitoring him and any undue change in his vital signs would bring him running. The meditation exercises came in handy at times like this.

He slowed when he saw some of the police turn to look at him. Most of them knew him by sight now. Some had even become something like friends. His barriers were high and he had learned to block their emotions. Sometimes it was harder than others; some were indifferent and others hated him and what he was, but mainly those people kept away from him.

Blair tugged out the cell phone that Jim had given him as he hurried to the locker room. He glanced around nervously before opening Jim's locker and pulling out a white noise generator. He thumbed it on, feeling nauseous at the risk he was taking and at Jim's likely reaction, and began to dial.

"Colin, this is Blair. I'm okay but something really strange has happened. I need you to ..."

The hand that dropped on his shoulder made him jump. Blair spun around fast and collided with the locker. "Rafe!" The name came out as a strangled gasp.

"The same. You okay, Blair?" Realising what he had done, he added quickly, "I didn't hurt you, did I?" There was concern in his voice.

"No, I'm all right, thanks."

"What's with the phone?" Rafe asked jokingly. "One up in the bullpen not to your liking?"

"Er... don't tell Jim but I've got a new girl friend. He likes to check out my dates. Puts a real crimp in my love life." Blair turned his best pleading look on the detective. He knew that the other detectives were amused by the almost big brotherly obsession Jim had with every aspect of his guide's life. More than once Joel had told the sentinel to "loosen the apron strings." //Please, please, Rafe, buy it.//

Rafe nodded, "Sure thing, Sandburg. Good luck with the date."

Blair was nearly at the bullpen when he realised he had forgotten the coffee, he doubled back.

Jim studied him critically, "Gone to Brazil for the beans?"

Blair looked at him as if he didn't understand the words, then seemed to shake himself. "Sorry, Jim, Doreen hogged all the hot water."

Jim thought he saw the hand that put the coffee down shake. For a moment he hesitated. About to say something he decided to let it go. The kid had enough demons without his sentinel pushing him too.

Out of the corner of his eye he could see Blair was on edge. His foot was tapping; he was a bundle of nervous energy. //I've got to get him home. When this day catches up with him, he's going to crash hard.// Jim's concern grew as Sandburg jumped when his cell phone went off. He almost fumbled it, digging it out of his pocket.

"Sandburg. Hi, Colin." He listened a moment. "The dig records? You found them? Great! I'll come right over and get them, no problem."

"I... er... Jim, that was Colin."

"How's the head, Chief? Migraine gone?" Ellison knew where this was heading. Sandburg had talked of nothing but the dig records since he had promised the kid his choice of vacation spot.

"Fine, Jim. I'm a little tired but I'm okay to drive." The eyes were pleading. //Lord knows, after having a man die on him the kid needs a little down time. Tonight he goes to bed early if I have to handcuff him to the night stand.//

"Go get them, Sandburg, nothing is breaking here yet. But come straight back and don't get a ticket," it was said with a grin.

"Sure, Jim."

He snagged his backpack and coat and was gone. Leaving one thoughtful Sentinel looking at his departing back. Unable to fathom the ways of anthropological grad students, he shrugged and turned back to the paper work.

Part Five

Blair looked at the computer screen. "You're sure about this, Colin? If you're wrong, man, I mean..." "No, this is correct, Blair. I did two backup checks first and..." Colin suddenly broke off as he heard loud thuds to the front door. He switched the computer screen to surveillance mode and swore at the camera picture. It was the GDP.

"Blair, get the hell out of here NOW." He gave the guide a shove as the man seemed frozen to the spot. Then he was galvanised into action, "Come on, Colin."

"No. They can't get me for anything but you're a guide." Blair was half way down the corridor when the door behind him splintered open. He heard a yell and took to his heels. The yell was followed by a woman's scream. One of the guards had grabbed hold of an older woman and was pulling her along. Blair turned back and pushed the guard away, staggering him. Blair grabbed the woman's hand and began to pull her along the corridor to the window leading onto the fire escape. He forced it open and pushed her out onto it, was just about to follow when a large hand grabbed him by the hair and pulled him backward. He hit the floor hard and pulled himself into a tight ball as boots thudded into him.

"Black! CUT THAT OUT NOW. I'll handcuff him and put him with the rest." Blair carefully unwound himself and saw the speaker was a GDP officer. The man looked tough but when he hauled Blair to his feet it was with controlled strength and the empath knew he wasn't out to cause more pain than he had to. Blair tried to control his breathing; now was not a time to have a panic attack. His skin crawled when he felt their hands on him.

"Okay, kid, give us your name and your rich papa will have you bailed out in the next hour." The officer grinned at him.

Blair shook his head.

"Always have to do it the hard way. Kids these days... Guard Black, put him in the van with the rest of them." As Blair was hauled off, he added, "And, Black, I don't want to see any more bruises on him, he's a citizen. He has rights."

Blair kept his head down. His barriers were high and he would be okay for a while. With a bit of luck they would give him GDP bail and he would pay a fine and get released. Then maybe Jim would not find out about it. If Jim had to come get him his sentinel would be royally pissed off.

Colin was waiting in the van already. When Blair was pushed inside, he quickly moved to sit next to him.

"Blair, do they?"

"No."

Blair looked around at the others. They were a real mixed bunch, some as young as he was, some older women in their forties and Colin, the perpetual grad student. All they had in common was their membership in the Guide Liberation Army and a passion to have the draconian laws lifted. None of them knew he was a guide. He slid a hand into his pocket and fingered his Police ID. Jim had given it to him with gruff apologies as he explained that by law it had to be marked with the diagonal red lines marking him as a guide and contain the name of his sentinel instead of his own name.

Under the GDP Directives, Blair was in all but name his sentinel's property. If they saw his police ID he was finished. Then he remembered his driver's licence. //Okay, it had his old address on it. But it was from his pre-guide days and if they accepted it as identification he might get out without them finding out he was a guide. He didn't want to show them his Rainier ID card even though it didn't mark him as a guide. Jim and Doctor Woodward had seen to that but if they ran his file, he shuddered. He knew that if he was recognised, he was going to be in a whole world of pain and trouble.

The whole group of them was put into a holding cell. The GDP had been busy, the one next door was already full. So far so good, he was still just one of the gang. Blair glanced at his watch, he was not overdue so his sentinel would not start hunting for him yet. Some of the prisoners in the next cell were singing a song he remembered Naomi teaching him. "We shall overcome." He felt the tears pooling at the back of his eyes. He leaned against the bars, careful to avoid physical contact with anyone else. So far he had been lucky and had not bumped into any of the GDP personnel on duty when he had reported here on his first day at the University.

"Blair." His name was said softly, almost with disbelief. He turned and all the air was knocked out of him. A woman in her mid-forties with a well-remembered, well-loved elfin face was staring at him in disbelief. A tremulous smile, at odd with the tears running down her face, tugged at her lips.

"Blair. BLAIR." She was reaching through the bars to him. He hesitated in shock, then reached out trying to get as close as he could to her. "Naomi. Oh god, Mom. You're alive."

"So are you, Sweetie. I ..." She was sobbing through her words.

A GDP Officer came in and looked down at his clipboard and then at the mass of people in front of him. "Blair Sandburg."

Reluctantly, Blair released his mother's hand and moved forward. The guards opened the door, then reached in and pulled him out. One of the guards had a leash around his waist and Blair's heart jumped into his mouth.

"Blair Sandburg, Officer Hardwick recognised you. On your belly, guide, and show your respect."

Blair looked over his shoulder. He didn't want his mother to see him like that. When he hesitated, heavy hands caught his shoulders and blows to the back of his legs brought him to his knees. The others in the cell were yelling and pounding on the bars. He struggled but a foot pressed hard in the middle of his back.

The leash collar was put around his neck. Last time he had felt the cold plastic, it had been Jim who leashed him. He had been gentle and considerate and Blair had known that it was happening against his sentinel's will. Now there was the harshness that he had known before Jim, all he could see was the uniforms. Uniforms that brought screams from his sleeping mind to wake his sentinel who pulled him from the nightmares. But there was no sentinel to wake him from this nightmare.

He was hauled up until the leash went around his waist before he was pushed down again. He couldn't even struggle, shock had stolen away his will. Too much, too much... on top of a day that had already held enough trauma for a lifetime. His feet were leashed and then his hands. He was pulled to his feet. He could barely walk, they had leashed his feet so tightly. He was shuffling slowly, head down as he was led out. He could hear his mother yelling for him. The officer turned to answer her screamed, "Where are you taking him?"

"He's a guide. His sentinel had been sent for."

Blair was pushed into a low stimuli room. The door closed and locked behind him and he sank to the floor. He pulled his knees up to his chest and rested his head against them. The bonds pulled at his wrists and ankles as he hugged himself. Tears began to spill from under his closed eyes.

"Ellison." Jim barked the one word. He had been working on the files for the last two hours and still had nothing useful.

Simon saw the look on Jim's face as he listened to the caller. Storm clouds were gathering there as he stood up and snagged his coat. He strode out of the bullpen, snarling at one of the civilian workers who had the misfortune to get in his way. The poor woman nearly dropped her files. That was the old Ellison. Only one person could snap him out of it and only one thing could snap him into it and both were the same... BLAIR SANDBURG.

//Hell if something had happened to the kid.//

Banks saw the GDP Guard come in at that point. He had heard of Gibb and so far it had all been good, including his handling of Blair at the murder scene.

"Gibb, catch up with Ellison and stay with him."

"Captain, I..."

"Do it, man, it's a sentinel thing."

Gibb caught up with Ellison in the underground garage just as the pool sedan was about to pull out. He nearly had to step in front of it to get him to stop.

"What do you want, Gibb?"

The guard had heard friendlier grizzly bears.

"Captain Banks told me to follow you." Honesty was the best policy with this sentinel.

"Huh" was followed by an impatient "get in."

"Where are we going?"

"Rainier University, the GDP station. Sandburg has been picked up."

//That made sense. No wonder the sentinel had gone from zero to Blessed Protector in one bound. The aggression was pouring off of him and Gibb pitied its eventual target. If the steering wheel was made of less strong material, it would've buckled already.//

Gibb had thought that the Major Crime detectives were putting him on when they told him about Ellison's driving. After today, he was a believer and had a tale of his own to tell. Gibb was all too aware that Jim was looking at him carefully when the guard would prefer him to keep all his attention on the road. Rainier didn't come any too soon. As the sedan slowed, Gibb answered the unspoken question. "I came into the GDP to help people. I still think I can, Sentinel."

Jim didn't respond as he parked the sedan, pocketed the keys and was heading for the building in one fluid motion.

Gibb was with him when he blew through the door and up to the reception desk.

An auburn-haired woman stood at the reception desk. She had apparently waived a hearing and paid her fine and now wanted some answers about something. She was yelling at the receptionist who was ignoring her with practised indifference.

"Can I help you sir?" The receptionist ignored the woman and turned to Jim. For a moment Jim hesitated...

"See to the lady first."

"The lady is fast approaching being arrested for obstruction, sir, how can I help you?"

"I'm Detective Ellison. You have a prisoner here, Blair Sandburg. I've come to collect him." Jim pushed his ID across the desk.

The guard took it and examined it. He turned to the computer in front of him and quickly entered the information from the badge onto the screen.

"Senior Sentinel Prime Ellison, my apologies for the delay, sir. Your guide has been placed in isolation, we were unsure of the condition of his barriers."

Naomi Sandburg looked at "Senior Sentinel Prime Ellison" and her insides grew cold. This was her baby's sentinel? A big, strong man whose short hair cut and rigid stance screamed ex-military. And then there were the icy blue eyes... she could find no warmth, no caring, no compassion in their depths. //Her gentle, loving, intelligent son bonded to this jackbooted Neanderthal? Oh, God, no!//

The guard buzzed the intercom, "Lieutenant Harris, Detective Ellison is here to collect his guide."

"Please have the Sentinel go to room 23, his guide is in isolation there."

Curled into a ball of misery, doing his best not to think because thinking led to panic, Blair heard the door open. He knew without looking up that it was Jim.

Jim knelt down and slowly put a hand out, his fingers going under his guide's chin to support his head and eased it up until he could see the young face. "Open your eyes, Chief."

The blue eyes opened and he could see the misery in them but there was no sign of concussion. Satisfied, the sentinel nodded. His fingers ghosted over the large bruise that decorated Sandburg's face..

"What the hell happened, Chief?"

"Jim. Jim, my mother is here I saw her please Jim we have to find her please Jim we have to find her."

"Slow down, Blair, your mother is dead." Ellison was worried, maybe he had misread the kid's condition.

"No. She's not, she's in the holding cell! Jim, we have to get her out of here, please, please." He tried to get up and nearly fell over, but was caught by his sentinel.

"Let me slacken the leash, Blair, but we'll need to keep this on until we are out of here. Sorry, kid." Jim frowned, the leash was too tight; he couldn't get much play in it. Then the penny dropped, they had used the wrong size leash on Blair. The standard leash would allow him to move freely because of his smaller size. The bastard had adjusted the smaller sized leash to restrict him even further. Anger flared a moment.

He felt Blair's hand rest on his shoulder, the tug on his mind and the bliss of connection with his guide. Blair was calming him down. Jim looked up as he gently stroked his guide's arm, "We will find your mother, Blair, she won't have gone far. Okay?" The grateful look pulled at his heart. But first he had to deal with the GDP.

Blair was pulled effortlessly to his feet and a strong hand on his arm supported him when he wavered. "Listen, Chief, Guard Gibb is here as well. He's not going to hurt you. He's only here to make sure you get out of here in one piece and I don't leave any stray pieces of GDP goons behind. Just stay connected and don't worry. There is no way they are keeping you here."

"Jim?"

"Yeah, Chief?"

"Sorry. I'm..."

"We'll talk about this later, and, Chief? We will talk."

Lieutenant Harris waved Jim to a seat as Blair knelt on the floor in the center of the office, away from both his sentinel and the GDP officer and guard. His head bowed, their words washed over him. Part of his mind had already gone back to the last time in correction, he had learned to tune out their voices unless they where actually talking to him, giving him commands. Harris' attention then turned to Gibb. "Guard?" he made the word a question that demanded what the man was doing there.

"I'm assigned to the police station, Lieutenant, when the call came through I was asked to accompany the Sentinel Prime to Rainier."

Lieutenant Harris leafed through the file in front of him. "Your guide, Sentinel was arrested during a raid on the home of a known member of the Guide Liberation Army. He and his conspirators were planning to smear the name of the GDP by distributing these leaflets." He tossed one down on the desk in front of him. Lurid headlines asked: DO YOU KNOW WHAT THEY DO TO YOUR SONS, YOUR DAUGHTERS, ANDYOUR FRIENDS? "Because of the conference we have had them under surveillance. When the arrest went down, your guide assaulted two members of the GDP and allowed some people to escape."

"So, what are we looking at here?" Jim kept his tone level, coldly indifferent

"Assaulting a GDP guard can get him up to two weeks in a Correction Facility. For some reason, we have been unable to access your guide's files but a telephone call to the Facility was quite enlightening. It appears that he has quite a record with us. He's a known rogue which would mean four weeks retraining minimum."

Jim's gaze was fixed on his guide. He was pretty sure that the kid wasn't even listening to the conversation. His attention lost somewhere in the brilliant, quirky mind Jim was beginning to rely on. There was no way that he was going to let them take his guide, not after the last time when he had been brutalised and sexually assaulted.

"The name of this person wasn't Colin Sharpe, was it? // Please be it. That part wasn't a lie, Chief?//

"Yes. Why?"

"Colin Sharpe is a listed informant of Major Crimes Department. Blair was there because I ordered him to be there." Jim laughed, making his tone harsh and condescending, "Do you think he would be there otherwise? He's well trained, he does as he's told. I told him to see Sharpe about some information involving the hacking of a computer. He must have panicked when he saw the GDP. Surely you know what happened to him at the Facility? He's still a bit spooked."

The Lieutenant just looked at him for a moment, processing that statement. "So he was there on your orders, Sentinel?"

"Of course. Do you really think he would dare do it off his own bat?"

The Lieutenant nodded, "If we had known about Sharpe we would not have raided the place." His tone showed he was annoyed.

"Our mistake. My Captain will inform Commander Slater, our liaison officer."

"The assault charges..." The lieutenant wasn't quite ready to give in just yet.

"He panicked. They're like children, you know that, Lieutenant. It doesn't take much to get them frightened and he was correction fodder." Jim stood up and walked over to loom over his guide. He put a hand down, fingers ghosting over the young man's neck. "Does this have to go through channels? I need him with me, what with the Conference still on. I'll discipline him myself." The last was growled. Ellison caught his guide by the collar, hauled him to his feet, and slammed him into the wall. Scared, dazed blue eyes met the detective's hard blue stare. //Sorry, Chief//

Out loud, he said, "Sometimes you're more trouble than you're worth, you know that? All you had to do was show respect to your betters, but no, you had to make it a game." He gave Sandburg a shake, hating the look of fear that was in his guide's eyes. //Shit, this was too much to throw at the kid after the day he's had. Just hold it together a little longer, Chief.//

He threw him on the floor and snapped, "Belly, guide." Blair tried to become one with the floor, his face pressed against the rough carpet. Jim looked towards Gibb and in that split second the guard knew that he had to help, so he put in quickly, "I think we should take this back to the house, Sentinel."

"You will help with the disciplining, Guard Gibb? He is a rogue."

"Of course, Sentinel."

"If that is acceptable, Lieutenant?" His tone indicated it damn well better be.

The Lieutenant nodded, "Of course, but if you do have problems..." He trailed off. The look the sentinel gave him made him go cold. There was one man that he personally would not cross. He almost felt sorry for the guide, but then, he was rogue.

"Yes, Sentinel." He pushed the sheets across for Ellison to sign. Jim signed it with an abrupt movement.

"On your feet, Guide." When Blair was slow to comply, Ellison bent down, caught him by the back of his jacket and hauled him up to his knees and then to his feet. He was about to remove the leash when the Lieutenant cut in, "No, he has to wear that. You can return it later." Jim nodded, "Of course."

The Lieutenant paused, "Your guide is at Rainier?"

"Yes, it is my pleasure that he completes his education. His dissertation is on Dark Sentinels."

"I can see how that might help you. Well, when you drop him off in the mornings, he will have to be booked in here each day for the next two weeks. I will have a copy of his schedule. When he is not teaching or going to lectures, your guide will have to report to this office. If he fails to do that and we have to collect him, it will result in one day's compulsory leash punishment. Sentinel Prime. In the evenings, he will wait here for your collection. If for any reason you are unable to collect him, inform us, and we will put him in the hostel for the night. This will start as soon as the Conference is over. I hope that is acceptable, Sentinel. While I understand that you will be punishing him yourself, I am sure that you understand that there must be official redress as well."

"Of course, Lieutenant, thank you for your understanding."

Jim kept a firm hold on his guide's arm as he loomed over him. Blair was not frightened, all he could feel was relief that Jim was here. He trusted his sentinel not to let him fall as he hobbled down the steps to the office.

The car was old with rust spots so large they almost masked the dull red paint. It was parked on the far side of the street. "Oh, God, no." The woman's voice was strangled with tears as she watched her son being taken to a police sedan; he could barely walk.

Part Six

Jim's grip on his guide was more a reassurance than a restraint the moment they were out the door of the GDP office. The sentinel helped his guide into the sedan with all the gentleness that had been missing in the Lieutenant's office. All three men were silent on the ride back to where Blair had left Jim's truck parked. Blair leaned against his sentinel and tried to ignore the leash that still restrained his movements. Finally, Jim was helping him into the old blue and white truck and stopping to talk to Gibb before coming around to the driver's side.

"Gibb. Thanks for the help back there."

"My pleasure Sentinel." He hesitated a moment, then added, "Look after him, Detective, he's had quite a day."

"I will". Only after Gibb had pulled away in the sedan, did Jim reach across the seat and pull Blair gently forward so that he could undo the leash. He heard the sigh of relief that gusted from the younger man as the last buckle was undone. Ellison caught a stubborn chin in a light grip and lifted the expressive face until he could see the deep blue eyes. He let his senses roam over the smaller man. Finally content that, apart from a few bruises, he was unhurt, he let go. "Your police ID, Chief?"

"I had it, Jim, but I was afraid to give it to them. It says I'm a guide. I didn't want them to know I was a guide."

"I understand, Chief. But they might have called me earlier... Do you have it now?"

Blair handed it to him. Hypersensitive fingers brushed the Police Guide identification badge, reading the name on it by touch. Quietly, almost absently, Jim said, "Got to get you a new one, Chief, with your name on it." He pinned it carefully to the front of Blair's jacket and for a moment lost himself in the texture of the rough wool until he felt the warm pressure of his guide's hand. Jim shook himself and then asked,

"Okay, Chief, what the hell is going on here?"

"I went to see Colin, he did have the dig plans, Jim, but that wasn't the only reason I went to see him. I asked him to see of my mother might be alive. You said the scent was mine... and I wondered, I thought that maybe... and then the GDP raided the place and I kind of freaked out. Sorry, Jim." He looked down at the floor of the truck. He knew that Jim wasn't really going to discipline him, that had been a show for the GDP officer, he realised that. Jim regarded him as an equal, not a pet, or a child or a slave to be punished at whim. He knew that. But... when he had been kneeling on the floor, the leash pulling at his wrists and ankles, chafing his neck with every motion, his mind had gone back to when Jim's head injury had changed his personality.

Without thought, he flashed back on that time again. On what his life could have been like if his sentinel had not found himself again. Jim had made him kneel for hours, had slapped him around, had... A gentle pressure on his arm brought him back to the present. He looked up at his sentinel, the smile he got was warm and all his fears dissolved in that moment. Blair shared the smile and then went on with his explanation.

"Naomi, my mother, was always into protesting. Some of my earliest memories are of holding a sign up while people were chanting around me. It looks as if she's still protesting." Ellison caught the hint of tears in his young friend's voice. "She was in there, Jim, in the cell next to mine. They must have been raiding some of the protest groups and picked her up. She's still in there, Jim, we have to go back, my mother..." Blair's tone was becoming urgent, he snagged his sentinel's jacket and tried to shake him.

"Blair, calm down, kid. Now. Okay, deep breaths, you have to breathe, Blair."

"Jim." Ellison swept his guide into a hug.

"We'll get her out of there, Blair, one thing at a time."

He fumbled for the cell phone with one hand, never releasing his comforting hold, "Simon, it's Jim. I have Sandburg." There was a pause before he went on, "Yeah, he's okay. Look, Simon, his mother's in holding there... I know she's supposed to be dead but Sandburg spoke to her. We need to get her out of there." Another pause... "No, I've seen him better... Yeah, thanks, Simon."

Blair sat there listening to Jim's side of the conversation. It sounded as if the Captain had asked how he was, might even have been worried about him. Another time, when he wasn't so worried about his mother he might have been pleased about that but now...

"Well, Jim?" Jim released him and he forward in the seat, blue eyes locked on blue.

"Simon's going to look into springing her but it might take a couple of hours and I want to check her out, Chief."

"Jim, it's my mother!"

"Returned from the dead, which is suspicious. Why didn't she come looking for you earlier?"

Blair didn't like the tone in his sentinel's voice. The guy was a cop *and* a sentinel in Blessed Protector mode; he would challenge anyone like that, even his own mother much less Blair's.

"She thought I was dead, Jim. We both each thought the other was dead," he was almost pleading, his hand clutched at Jim's arm.

"We'll get it sorted, Chief, don't worry."

Jim gave the hand a squeeze and then started the truck. He felt a slender hand rest on his hip and then the tug on the back of his mind as his guide made himself known and began to accept his shielding. //Anytime, Chief, any time.//

He was just turning towards home when the cell phone rang.

"Ellison." He listened, then swore softly. "Okay, I'm coming in."

"Sorry, Sandburg, we have one more stop, then home." It was a measure of the kid's exhaustion and trust that he didn't even ask where there were going. He was almost drowsing as he rested in Jim's protection. Ellison was just as glad that he didn't have to tell him they were headed for the Sentinel Institute.

The lift had been out of order and they had taken the stairs, Blair firmly attached to his sentinel every step of the way. They had run into the GDP officer who had called them in. Normally, Ellison dealt only with Commander Slater who understood Ellison very well. But Lieutenant Nelson was new and had not learned the basic rules of dealing with one Jim Ellison when it concerned one Blair Sandburg... don't mess with the guide.

"Sentinel Prime Ellison." Jim tried to ignore the condescending tone in the man's voice. He was coming down from an adrenaline rush and was not at his most patient for anyone who wasn't Blair Sandburg. "I got an e-mail from the Rainier office concerning your guide. You need to come into my office to discuss this now."

"Lieutenant, I came down here as requested. But there is nothing to discuss. It's a done deal, Lieutenant Nelson."

"Sorry, Sentinel Prime, but it's far from that. For one thing, your guide is not leashed and..."

"Listen to me and listen good, I have reached an understanding with the Lieutenant at Rainier and that is good enough for me."

Jim's voice was getting colder and Blair took notice. When Ellison got angry, unlike a lot of people, he didn't get louder. He became quieter, colder and then, unless he got the answers he wanted, he vented. Blair felt the pressure building and while it might be fun to watch Jim chew up and spit out the Lieutenant, Blair had made enough of an impression on the GDP for one day. He reached out and connected with Jim and felt the barely suppressed need to do damage to this person. Quickly Blair began to calm him down, channel the aggression and tension away from him. His hand kneaded at the tension in the muscles under his hand. As his concern grew, both hands stroked over the Ellison's upper arms and shoulders. In a voice only loud enough for the sentinel, he pleaded, "Come on, Jim, he's harmless. Please."

Jim's head snapped around and for a moment Blair looked up into the eyes of the Dark Sentinel and then Jim Ellison clicked back into place.

"Sure, Chief, anything you say."

Then, very stilted, he turned to Nelson. "Later, Lieutenant, now just be somewhere else."

The lieutenant looked like he was going to argue then, slowly backed away.

Sentinel and guide went back to the truck.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

//Finally// Blair sighed as he hung up his coat on the loft's rack. He took his backpack into his room and then came back into the living room. He looked at the leash that Jim had dropped on the kitchen island. Jim came back in with a beer and soft drink and handed the soda to his guide. He followed Blair's gaze and swore. "Sorry, Chief. I'll drop it off tomorrow on the way to work. I'd like to burn the thing but they'd charge us for it."

Blair grinned, "At the rate we go through them, you'd be broke in a month." Ellison didn't think that was funny but he smiled at the fact that his guide could joke about it.

He noticed how stiffly his guide was moving and frowned. //Kid never does tell me when he's hurt. On the other hand, he's probably so overloaded he doesn't know what's wrong with him.// Somewhere in the back of his mind was the memory of Blair's reaction to the necessary violence that had saved his sentinel at the Retreat. In the front of his mind was the memory of the times that Blair had pulled and pushed protesters away from his sentinel that morning.

"Okay, Chief, on the sofa. Why didn't you tell me you were hurting?"

"The leash was a little tight but I'm okay." The kid raised an earnest face to him but the deep blue eyes were shadowed and pain filled.

"You're in pain, so take a seat."

Jim," he was almost pleading.

"Do it, Chief."

Jim drained his beer and then went to the first aid box to get the herbal liniment that Sandburg favored. He'd had to use too much of this stuff recently, he made a mental note to pick up some more. Going into the living room, he sat on the coffee table in front of his guide. He gently laid his hands on the young man's knees and ducked his head so he could see Blair's face under his veil of long hair.

"You're not going to get comfortable while you're this tensed up, Junior. Let me help."

Blair lifted his head up, his eyes dark with memories of other leashing sessions. Some of the wraps used had hurt so badly and no one had been there to set him free. "That's over, Blair. Don't even think about it." Blair nodded; sometimes it seemed as if Jim was the empath in their partnership, the way he could tell him what he needed to hear.

Jim slowly reached for his shirt and peeled it off him, helped him get rid of the rest of his outer clothes. When he had finished his guide was only wearing his boxers and lying flat on the sofa. The sentinel warmed the liniment between his palms and slowly began to massage it into the slender body that still sported too many bruises for his peace of mind. Powerful fingers tuned to their ultimate sensitivity searched out painfully knotted muscles and gently eased them. Blair fell asleep under the skilled hands, his mind drowsily connecting to the warmth and strength that his friend so generously offered him. People would pay hundreds for what had just been given to him freely.

When he had finished the massage, Ellison wrapped Blair in a quilt and guided the curly head onto a pillow on his lap. He wasn't quite ready to let go of his guide. There had been too much flirting with disaster that day. While his guide slept curled up next to him on the couch, Jim telephoned the GDP. He discovered that all the protesters had been released. Naomi Sandburg had been released early when she waived a hearing and accepted an automatic fine against her bank account. But that was all he was able to tell his guide when he finally woke up. Sandburg started "what if-ing" until he was practically hyperventilating.

"Chief... Blair, calm down. We'll look until we find her. But only if you eat something and get some sleep tonight. You know she's all right. She's going to need to know that you're all right... which you won't be if you don't sleep and eat. Right, Chief?"

"How am I supposed to sleep, Jim?" Nervous energy radiated from the smaller man and Jim wondered if the massage and nap had been such a good idea after all. He'd never get the kid to bed at this rate.

"I'll make some of that weird tea you like and if that doesn't work, well, there's always sleeping pills or a knock on the head." His threat just sent his guide into peals of laughter.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

Blair followed close to his sentinel until he entered the bullpen, then moved off to their desk as Jim was called over by Simon. The door to the captain's office closed behind them. Blair sat down, powered up the computer and started on his statement regarding the riot at the Conference. Every now and then he cast a worried look at the captain's office and wished he had sentinel hearing.

Once in the office, Simon looked his detective up and down.

"All right, detective, cut the crap and tell me WHY I am receiving phone calls from the GDP about our pet guide out there."

"He's no one's pet, Simon."

"Detective." Simon barked the word, he wanted to get a reaction and knew that would do it. Now he might get an honest answer.

"Blair went to see Colin Sharpe, he said it was so that he could get some information on the archaeological dig I promised him."

"Your vacation, right?"

"Right. Only, while he was there, Colin Sharpe's place was raided and Blair took a swing at a couple of GDP guards."

"I'm surprised they didn't take him right to the Facility."

"At first they didn't know he was a guide... how many guides do you know that could or would throw a punch? When they did find out who he was, I was called. I told them I would discipline him. I didn't say how I would do it." The two men shared a smile. Ellison's "discipline" would not meet the GDP definition.

"And you knew he would be there?"

"Of course, Sir. I gave him the keys to my truck." The stoic mask has slipped into place, Jim was freezing him out.

"Okay. Well, we are not paying you to nursemaid your guide, Detective, we have a murder to solve. The victim's name is George Goodman. He was old-line GDP. He had taken early retirement but was at the conference to help man some of the tests. No enemies so far, but you, Detective, are going to find his killer. So..."

Jim threw up a hand, "I'm on it, sir."

"And, Ellison, give your guide this." Simon pushed a piece of paper across the desk. "It's his mother's address."

"Thanks, Simon." Ellison's smile conveyed everything the few words didn't. Banks waited until he'd reached the door before adding, "Oh, and Jim? Cut the reunion short, they're expecting you at the hotel at noon." //Think I didn't know you'd take the kid to see his mother first thing? I didn't make captain on my good looks.//

Ellison grinned as he approached Blair, "Your mother was released while you were in isolation. I've got an address for her. What say we go pay her a visit?" He could feel the excitement pouring off his guide, tempered with fear and worry.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

The apartment was in the lower rent end of the city. Jim was watching the people as he parked the truck. There was graffiti on the walls: FREE THE SLAVES. GLA.

For all his excitement, Blair's main concern was still his sentinel. He knew that graffiti was a threat to the sentinel. He placed a hand on Jim's arm and connected with him. Blair sent feelings of calm and reassurance flooded to his partner. "I am here, Jim, of my own free will and NO ONE is going to take me away from you." Jim's hand covered his lightly, but the gesture spoke volumes to him; what Jim couldn't say with words, he said with touch. "Come on, Chief, lets meet your mother."

Jim pushed the door open into the ageing lobby. The elevator was out of order so they took the stairs up to the fourth floor. The entire time the sentinel was sweeping the area. He felt himself getting edgy as he fed off his guide's emotions, the fear and uncertainty calling out his protective instincts.

As they neared the apartment, Blair would have gone past him but a hand snagged his jacket and the guide realised his sentinel was in Blessed Protector mode. He kept his voice calm and level as he pointed out, "Jim, it's my mother." He couldn't quite keep the plea hidden.

The blue eyes that swept over him was Dark Sentinel, he didn't know the woman and he didn't trust his guide with someone he didn't know. Period.

It was Jim that knocked on the door. An old man in his 70s finally answered the door. Sharp green eyes measured the detective, widened at sight of the guide, "Can I help you, gentlemen?"

Jim pulled his ID. "Detective Jim Ellison. I'm looking for Naomi Sandburg."

"She's gone out, Officer. Sorry, I don't know when she will be back." The old man's eyes were fixed on Blair, "Do you want to leave a message?"

Jim nodded and handed him his card. "Tell her that her son stopped in to see her." His head suddenly tilted to one side as he caught a quick intake of breath. "Mind if we come in, Mr ...?"

"Wallis, Phil Wallis, Detective. You don't really have..."

Jim was already pushing past him. Seated on the sofa was an attractive, slender woman with short auburn hair and elfin features. Ellison could see where his guide got his fashion sense; she was dressed in the same individual way that raised eyebrows daily at the precinct. "Naomi Sandburg?" He made her name a question.

Then Blair was rushing past him and throwing his arms around his mother. They clung together, eyes filled with tears as his mother rocked him in her arms. Jim pulled his sense of hearing back, trying to give the two of them some privacy. He looked at Phil and the old man shifted under his gaze, there was something un-nerving about the cop in front of him.

He could smell the salt of their tears. Blair eased back as his mother reached up to wipe the tears from his face. Then her gaze fixed on Jim Ellison and became hard. "Blair, sweetie, who is this?"

"Naomi, this is my sentinel, Jim Ellison. Jim, my mom, Naomi Sandburg."

A smile twisted Blair's lips as he watched his mother and his sentinel sizing each other up. It was obvious that whatever else they might have thought about each other, there was no denying a small spark of attraction. "Jim... this is my MOTHER. Quit it, man." Then he added, "It's all right, mom, Jim is one of the good guys."

Naomi nodded, "I hear you, Sweetie".

Jim shot his guide a puzzled look "She means she understands." "Right", Jim didn't sound too sure.

Naomi was studying her son's sentinel very carefully. This was the person to whom her baby was bonded for life, who he had to obey? He was obviously ex-military, a cop and a sentinel... her worst nightmares come to life.

Blair looked from his mother to his sentinel. His mom's feelings were written all over her face and his sentinel was practically growling. He had to do something to break the tension.

"Sheesh, you guys could be the poster children for stress." Two sets of eyes glared at his levity.

Blair moved in front of Jim, "Jim, I need you to listen to me here. You have to scent her. Please, man, this way you can relax your senses around her."

"This is important to you Chief?" Icy blue eyes warmed slightly as they took in the guide's earnest face.

"Yes. She's my mom, Jim, and you're my sentinel. It...hurts... when you're at odds like this for no reason."

"Okay, Chief. If Ms. Sand...your mom agrees."

Blair flashed a megawatt smile at him before he turned to his mother. "Naomi, Jim won't hurt you, it's just that he has to fix your scent in his memory and acknowledge you as a member of his tribe. Sorta like bookmarking in a way. Otherwise, he won't relax around you. I got him to bookmark the scent of Rafe, H and Simon at the police station. //Well the last one was a white lie, he hadn't though of a way of breaking it to the Captain yet, but he would.//

"So that's what you were doing," the Sentinel's tone of voice hardened.

"You had to do it, Jim, you were making H and Rafe nervous, man. I didn't think asking you would help, you're stubborn, Jim."

Naomi flinched as Jim's hand came out and lightly clipped Blair's head, but instead of fear, she saw him grin cheekily.

"Okay, Chief. Ms. Sandburg?" Naomi nodded mutely. She wasn't sure what this scenting thing entailed but if her son wanted it, well she could do it if the cop could.

Blair placed his hand on Jim's arm and the sentinel felt the tug as their connection deepened. Then he turned and put his hand out to his mother. She hesitated, but then took his hand and he felt the bond he had shared with her since before his birth flare into being. He glanced quickly at Jim, for a moment afraid that the sentinel would not like his guide to connect to another even on a surface level. Ellison's big hand gently stroked his back in reassuring circles and he relaxed. Blair balanced the connection, allowing his mother to feel the warmth and support Jim gave him so freely. Not an empath herself, she needed her son to channel and amplify the emotions. Then Jim put his hand out to Naomi and she took it with a shaking hand. Jim's face suddenly hardened and the stoic mask slide into place as Blair felt anger burn through the link.

"Jim, it's okay, man. Please! You're my sentinel, no one can replace what we have, Jim." Blair was panicky, this had not happened when Jim had scented H and Rafe.

The sentinel broke the link savagely. Blair bit back a cry of pain and battled a wash of dizziness. But he heard Jim's voice in all its cold clarity intone,

"Naomi Sandburg, I am arresting you for the murder of George Goodman. You have the right..."

"Jim," Blair's voice was shaky, "what are you talking about?"

"Her scent, Sandburg. Your scent but female, remember? She was in the room before he died. Mind explaining that to me, Mrs Sandburg?"

"That's Ms Sandburg, Detective. I was... Phil, NO!"

Jim spun but not in time to block the vase that Phil was swinging at his head. It connected with a thud and Jim went down hard.

Naomi grabbed her son as he caught his partner and eased him to the floor, "We have to go now, Blair, it's our only chance."

Phil cut in, "We have damper drugs, son, you'll be fine."

"NO, MOM, NO. JIM IS MY SENTINEL. I AM NOT LEAVING HIM." He pushed her away, "Get out of here, now. I'm calling for help for Jim."

Blair was tugging his cell phone out and hitting the speed dial as he shouted at his mother. When he was connected he said the two words that chilled the dispatcher, "Officer Down."

Naomi was still there, pleading with him to come with her. "Mom, they're sending back up, so get going now."

"Blair, he knows." The guide ignored his mother.

Blair turned on Phil, "You shouldn't have done that. I could have talked to him, now, just get out now."

"He's a sentinel." Wallis said as if that excused his actions.

"He's MY sentinel and a good friend. GET OUT."

Blair turned back to Jim.

"The Star Hotel, on Connor and Lincoln, tonight 11 o'clock, baby. Please."

"Okay, okay. JUST GO."

Phil caught Naomi and dragged her out as they heard sirens in the distance.

Blair exhaled slowly, trying to find some calm, as he began to check over his sentinel, his friend. The police cars screamed to a stop outside the building. Blair pulled his ID out and held it up as, scant minutes later, the police crashed into the room. Questions were fired at him too fast to answer, especially since his attention was still on his fallen sentinel. Before it could get out of hand, a voice snapped.

"Don't touch him. Guide Sandburg?" The name was a question.

"Yes, Sir." Sandburg peered at the older uniformed cop and recognised him. "Officer Lewis?" He remembered him from the visit the man had made to the hospital to see how he was after being drugged at Rainier. "One and only, kid." Lewis glared at the other patrolmen, "He's one of us. Lay off him. He's got a partner to worry about."

The paramedics arrived on the scene and another familiar face appeared. Medic Henderson shook his head, "At this rate I'm going to have to give you two a volume discount."

"Henderson," Blair nodded in recognition. This was the paramedic that had helped them before. Sandburg could never connect this kind, compassionate man with his older brother, a bigoted cop who had taken pleasure in inflicting pain on him.

Henderson and Lewis, between them, saw that there was no argument about Blair going to the hospital in the ambulance rather than to the precinct in a squad car. His statement, Lewis authoritatively announced, would be taken at the hospital. Henderson *required* his presence with his sentinel. Blair spent the ride with his hand clasped on that of his sentinel and worry for his friend and his mother in his heart.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

Doctor Norton looked into the hospital room. The guide's head came up and deep blue eyes evaluated him for threat. He backed away and closed the door. As a GDP Doctor, he'd treated many sentinels and guides. He'd never seen a guide react like this one did. He had seen guides crumble into unconsciousness when they lost the support of their sentinel; seen them go into hysterics; even seen them quietly thankful that their "owners" were dead. What he had never seen was a guide as aggressively protective as this one. Sandburg had nearly taken a nurse's head off when she hadn't done the right thing by his sentinel.

He went over to the nurses' station and picked up the phone. "Commander Slater, sorry to interrupt you, but you wanted to be contacted if Sentinel Prime Ellison was ever brought in. He's just been admitted." He quickly added, "Nothing too serious, a slight concussion, the head wound is more messy than serious. His guide is with him." There was a long pause as he received his orders, "As you wish, I will keep everyone away from them until you arrive." His voice was surprised as he responded to a question, "Yes, the guide is very aggressive, very hyper. Can't say as I've ever seen anything like it before. How did you know?" His tone of voice showed he had not gotten an answer as he snapped, "As you said." He put the phone down and went to pass on the instructions.

Jim's eyelids fluttered opened and he moaned as pain sliced through his eyes. His hands flew to his face as agony overloaded his senses. The very air he breathed was burning his lungs, he couldn't hear anything but chaotic noises, couldn't see anything but flashes that made no sense. Everything that touched him, everything he touched, hurt.

Blair's smile of relief as Jim began to regain consciousness was short lived as his sentinel moaned. Sandburg shuddered, there was too much agony in that sound. "Jim, what's wrong, man?" He caught gentle hold of Jim's arm and was thrown backward. He picked himself off the floor and watched as Jim's head thrashed against the pillows, his eyes blinking open then scrunching closed even as his hands batted at his ears and nose. Blair tried for a link and sat down hard on the floor as he felt Jim's terror. His sentinel was virtually blind and deaf except for intermittent sensory spikes that just compounded the problem. //God, this isn't going to be easy.//

Blair tried to get close to the struggling man. He pitched his voice low, hoping to break through during one of the sensory spikes. "Jim, your senses are cascading, you have to listen to me. JIM!" The last word was said with a roar designed to kick a panicked sentinel back into line.

Jim couldn't hear anything that made sense. Was it deafness when all you heard was a roar? He couldn't see, didn't know where he was. The last thing he remembered was being hurt, knocked down, his guide yelling at someone. //Blair, Blair could be hurt, his guide, can't hear him, can't smell his scent. Blair!// Jim was getting more and upset.

Hands touched him and he yelled in pain and tried to force them away but they held on. He twisted, flipping the weight over, pinning it down. One hand suddenly grabbed a fist full of ...hair? Deaf and blind, his sense of touch came into play. The texture was like raw silk, he caught the merest whiff of a scent that meant security. Then it was gone and he started to claw at the person under him, feeling the warmth of a compact body under his. He straddled the figure, bent over to bury his face into the junction of the neck and shoulder. His sense of smell suddenly came fully on line, and he overloaded on the musky, ginger scent of his guide. His guide was here, his guide was all right... or was he? //Why can't I hear him, see him?//

Blair forced himself not to struggle as his sentinel manhandled him flat on his back and straddled his thighs, big hands holding his shoulder and tangled in his hair. His breath came in harsh panicked gasps as, for a split second, all his fears from the terrible time when Jim's personality had changed crashed through him. He fought through his terror and when Jim's face came down to scent him, he wrapped his arms around the sentinel, holding him tightly. The bigger man could easily break his grip, but he didn't. Instead, he settled down on the smaller man, his body blanketing his guide. Blair gently pressed against the link and for a moment was swamped by confusion and fear. He tried to soothe his sentinel down, giving him support, calming him, sending him feelings of warmth and security.

Jim felt soothing warmth replace the coldness of fear. He felt safe enough to open his watering eyes. Slowly, still afraid that he might see nothing but chaos, he opened them and his guide's face came into focus only inches from him. As blue eyes locked on blue, he saw an incandescent look of relief on the younger man's face. Blair's mouth was moving but he couldn't hear anything. He tightened his grip on his guide and faint sounds became words, "Thank God you're back, man, you had me worried there!" There was a hint of pain in the younger man's eyes and Jim realized that the hold he had on the kid's hair was anything but comfortable. He loosened his grip but couldn't bear to lose the contact that made sense of his senses. Sandburg was speaking and Jim concentrated on that voice.

"Easy, Jim, your senses cascaded. I need you to set each of the baselines again. I know your head's hurting, but can you do that for me?"

The sentinel nodded.

"Focus on me, on my voice." Again, the tone was familiar and he felt safe. Sandburg had several different tones of *guide voice* from the supportive to the "Do it now or, sentinel or not, I'll kick your ass, defy me at your peril" deep throated roar of the Dark Guide. This was the low, soothing voice that seemed to bypass his hearing and go straight to his heart.

Each sense was carefully fixed and focused on his guide as the voice directed. Jim suddenly realised that Blair was still decidedly uncomfortable. Guilt flooded through the link as he remembered tossing the kid away from him. He sat up, still straddling the smaller man, but keeping his weight on his own legs. His hands began to fly over his guide, feeling for any damage that might have been done by an out of control sentinel. He could feel the heat of some new bruises on one slender wrist and shoulder. The mortification deepened as he saw the marks on his guide's throat. His senses started to waver again, his sense of touch suddenly becoming acute and he let go of Blair as if he was burning. He started to drift again until he was anchored by a snarled command.

"My touch can not hurt you, sentinel, listen to my voice." Sandburg's fingertips brushed the side of the sentinel's face. As Ellison flinched, he commanded in a tone that came from the Dark Guide side of his soul, "YOU WILL ACCEPT MY TOUCH, YOU ARE MY SENTINEL AND NO ONE ELSE'S." The young guide's eyes were wide and held an otherworldly quality that would have fascinated Slater had he been present. The sentinel leaned into his guide's hands as he suppressed a shudder. "See the dials in your head, counting down, 10, 9, 8. 7, 6, 5... hold on five. Now scent me." This time he rubbed his face against the hand, breathing deep.

// More. He needed more.//

When the sentinel went to grab him, to pull him closer, the Dark Guide snarled, "NO." The sentinel made a noise deep in his throat... the growl of a panther. "You are NOT going to maul me. Now, sit back." The sentinel/panther growled again as the guide settled himself so that the sentinel could easily bury his head into the warmth and comfort of his neck. When he was comfortable, he reached up and firmly pulled his sentinel down.

The sentinel snuffled against him, taking in the scent that was the baseline of his senses. It soothed and comforted him. His arms were tentative as they started to close on the smaller, younger man. Permission had to be sought of the Dark Guide by the Dark Sentinel.

"Yes, you can hold me."

The sentinel's arms closed on his guide, holding him tightly. He sat up easily, never loosing his hold on the compact body of his sanity. For a moment he looked around for danger, casting out his sensory net. Satisfied that his territory was secure, his guide safe, the sentinel/panther relaxed and Jim Ellison looked down at the curly head pressed against him.

"Sorry, Chief, am I squeezing you too hard?"

"No. But, you've got to get some rest, man. Give your senses a chance to settle down."

"You need to rest too, Chief, you've been through the wringer lately."

"Washed, rinsed, spun and fluff dried," came Blair's drowsy agreement, bringing a smile to the sentinel's lips..

Jim eased them both back on the pillows and brought his guide to rest under his arm, the curly head on his shoulder. He smiled as Blair snuggled down, fully opened the link between them, and sighed contentedly. For the first time since the attack, his guide was at peace.

During the next few hours, the sentinel's senses peaked but each time the words of his guide brought them back in line again. A nurse put her head round the door and started forward only to be stopped by a colleague with the whispered words, "Guide and Sentinel - leave them be. The guide will tell us if there is a problem."

Finally, everything had settled and the sentinel followed his guide into sleep. Jim awoke hours later and revelled in the sense of well-being that energized him. //Things to do and places to go. A crime to solve.// He frowned at that but shook his misgivings away and turned his attention to the young man lying boneless against his side. Jim gently shook his guide.

"Wake up, Chief, time to check out of here."

Blair yawned and eased away from his living pillow. For a moment their eyes met and understanding flowed between them. The thought of being out of control had frightened Ellison but, with Blair at his side, he knew he was going to be all right. He gently cupped his guide's face in his hands and stroked the fine skin with his thumbs. "Thank you," he said it softly but there was a world of feeling in those two words.

Blair's smile was everything that Jim could have hoped for, friendship and understanding given and received. The sentinel moved so the guide could carefully slide off the bed, "I'll get the doctor."

Now that everything was better, controlled, Jim became thoughtful. Next, he had to tackle the subject of Naomi Sandburg.

The doctor released Jim after issuing strict instructions that Jim promptly decided to disregard if needed. When they got back to the loft, Blair chivvied him up the stairs to bed and fussed over him with pillows and blankets and herbal teas. For once, Jim had allowed it, knowing that Blair needed to care for him, that it was part of the sentinel/guide link.

Soothed by his guide's presence, he soon fell asleep, his plans of confronting his guide forgotten. Blair had moved up to the loft and sat by the bed reading one of his anthropology books so that Jim would not have to stretch his senses. He waited quietly, concentrating on keeping his heartbeat regular even as he worried about his mother and what he was planning on doing later that night.

Blair glanced at his watch, he had 20 minutes to get to the meeting with his mother. Jim was deeply asleep, his body relaxed and his breathing slow and regular. //Good enough.// Blair carefully pulled the white noise generator out from under the bed, as far as Jim was concerned the thing had been lost. He flipped the switch and watched to see if it would disturb Ellison. Nothing. After one last careful check on Jim, he snagged his coat and closed the door to the loft behind him.

Jim's eyes opened and he swung his legs off the edge of the bed, cursing softly that the kid still didn't fully trust him. //Not fair, sentinel, he trusts you with his life and his soul. But this is his mother, whom you were going to arrest. Your young guide has his own memories of being in custody...// Jim was never comfortable when his own mind told him what he didn't want to hear. He ignored the voice and five minutes later was taking the stairs two at a time and following his guide.

He flashed his badge at the night receptionist at the hotel and she was quick to give him the information he needed. He extended his hearing outside the door and confirmed that his guess was right.

Blair's arms were wrapped round his mother; his face buried against her neck as they took strength from each other. "Mom, you have to tell me what happened at the hotel. Jim thinks you killed George Goodman."

"I didn't kill him, Sweetie. You know me better than that."

"He heard you arguing, Naomi." Blair pulled back but kept his arms around his mother.

"Yes, we argued, but I didn't kill him. I couldn't. You have to come with me, baby, now... before your sentinel can track you down."

"No. Mom, you don't understand."

"Baby, you have to come," she was pleading now.

"I can't, Mom. We're bonded. We can't be separated, one soul, two bodies, Mom. Don't you see?" Blair's eyes were bright with tears as he tried to make her understand.

"But that Neanderthal jackbooted storm trooper is no fit..."

"Jim is my sentinel, Mom, and my best friend."

Neither Sandburg heard the door opening behind them. A cold, emotionless voice made them both jump and turn.

"Now you remember it, Chief." Jim Ellison stood in the doorway, his face carved from stone.

Blair moved between them, keeping his mother behind him. "Jim, please, just listen to her. She wouldn't hurt a fly." Trust radiated from the deep blue eyes locked on his and Ellison sighed.

"Sure, Chief, I'll listen." He was rewarded by a blinding smile.

"All right, Ms Sandburg, why don't you start talking." It was a command.

Naomi bristled at his tone but her son's hopeful face calmed her down. She inched around her son, "Sentinel."

"Detective, Ms Sandburg." Still no crack in the emotionless fa‡ade, //This was her baby's sentinel? His keeper?// She shuddered and felt her son's hand close on hers.

"Detective, I didn't kill George Goodman."

"So you said. Tell me something new. Like why I should believe you." Jim's voice was ice cold, he wasn't going to give an inch on this. He carefully did not look at his partner, his guide.

"I got into the hotel with the other protesters after I saw Blair arrive. I couldn't find him in all the commotion. Then, I saw George going up the stairs and I followed him. He went into a room that looked as if it were a set for a play."

"The murder scenario room which became all too real, Ms Sandburg," Jim corrected.

"Well I... we... had an argument, and George...."

"Was that when you hit him?"

"How did you know that?" She glanced at her son.

"Jim's a sentinel, remember? He heard an argument," Bair answered the question.

Naomi looked scared. "What did you hear? Did you tell anyone?" She glanced from sentinel to guide.

"Carry on Ms Sandburg." //Oh, God. Surely he hadn't heard... and if he did, surely he didn't tell her son....//

"I stormed out of the room. I'd barely left when I heard a gun shot and rushed back in. George was on the floor, blood all over his chest. He... he looked at me and... and... smiled. Then I heard someone coming, got scared and ran."

"Who else was in the room?"

"No one, Detective." That was said firmly.

"Why did you run?" Still giving nothing away.

"Because George is GDP and I had... have a *history* with the GDP. I didn't think I would get a fair hearing." Her voice was bitter. Blair put his arms around her and she leaned back against him. Mother and son waited for the sentinel to speak.

"Sorry, Chief. Ms Sandburg, I am arresting you..."

Blair stood there in shock as he heard his sentinel, *his sentinel* reading the caution to his mother.

"Jim, you can't do this. She's innocent." Blair stepped forward, his hand extended toward the older man pleadingly.

"Keep out of this, Sandburg." There was a warning tone to his steel hard voice. Ellison was more than willing to cut his young guide as much slack as he could but this was one thing that he could not do for him.

"There is no way that you are going to arrest my mother, Jim." Shock and disbelief colored the words.

"Sandburg, back off kid, now".

"For god's sake, Jim, she had no reason to kill that guy. Motive, remember you cops are supposed to see that! Every crime has to have *guilty mind and guilty act* right, man? She didn't have that." He could see that Jim wasn't listening, he was in full cop mode. He wouldn't, couldn't allow his mother to be brought in, put in a cell. Nausea rose as he remembered his own time in a cell. He fought it down. No, she had to stay free until they could prove her innocence. But if she were in a prison cell, the cops would stop looking. //Protester kills GDP officer, media circus, no way. Not his mom! Oh, God, Jim... please forgive me. Please...//

Blair took a deep breath, if he were lucky Jim wouldn't lose total control. He had no idea how the Dark Sentinel would react to what he might see as a betrayal by his guide. He didn't think Jim would hurt him but if he did, then it was his own fault and no one else's. He would be attacking a black ops ranger who could break him like a twig. If he guessed wrong then he would be lucky to live long enough to be hospitalised.

For Blair, it was a moment of conflicting emotions. His first bond had been with his mother, enforced even more so by his empathy. But there was the link of sentinel and guide, of friend and friend, which bound him tightly mind and soul. All he could vocalise was one word.

"Sorry." He threw himself at his sentinel with all the desperation of a son protecting his mother,

"Run, get the hell out of here!" He screamed over his shoulder, his voice carrying his desperation.

Jim suddenly found himself struggling with his guide. The kid was blocking him away from his mother with his body. Ellison was hampered by the fact that he did not want to, could not, hurt his guide even with anger clawing at him. He tried to manhandle Blair to one side, duty warring with need to protect his guide.

Wild with fear for his mother, the sound of cell doors clanging in his ears, Sandburg's elbow caught the older man in the ribs, winding him. Blair ignored the detective's angry words and brought his knee up sharply, just as Jim had taught him. It connected and the ex-ranger cried out in pain, and instinctively lashed out. At the last moment he tried to pull his punch but it connected with his guide's face with enough force to poleaxe the younger man. Sandburg crumpled to the floor.

Fighting to regain his breath and to dial down the pain, it took a much too long minute before Jim could crawl to his guide. He quickly checked the younger man's vital signs, only relaxing when he was sure that he hadn't been seriously hurt. Hypersensitive fingers checked the rapidly growing bruise on Sandburg's jay, making sure that it had been dislocated or fractured. He ran knowing hands over the unconscious man's skull and neck and let out a relieved breath he hadn't known he'd been holding. Only then did Jim sit back on his heels and try and steady himself.

"Senior Sentinel Prime."

Jim's head snapped around with a growl, his gun out and pointing at the new threat with the fast reflexes of a sentinel in his prime. He identified Dan Slater but the gun didn't waver.

"Your guide, sentinel, what happened?" Slater deliberately ignored the gun. He read that as the reflexive action of a distressed sentinel with an injured guide. He kept his tone level and made sure that both his hands were in sight, clear that he was no threat to the unconscious young guide.

"He fell, Commander." The words where snarled at him.

"It can easily happen when a guide is overwrought. Clearly, that is the case here." The two professionals looked at each other, "because we both know what the sentence would be for attacking a sentinel, don't we?"

"Yes, Commander, we do." The tone, as much as the fact that the gun went back into the holster, indicated the sentinel considered there was truce between them. Jim's hand never ceased its renewed motion of running over his guide as he demanded, "Mind telling me why you're here, Commander?"

"I had the doctor notify me the minute you were released from the hospital. And, well, shall we say I though it might be prudent to put a stakeout on you? The report your guide gave to the police had as many holes in it as Swiss cheese. I got curious." He noted the concerned look that passed fleetingly over the sentinel's face, "Don't worry, Jim, I'll return the report to you for your re-write. Oh, I'm not saying that it should be changed, maybe just tightened up a bit in places." Ellison nodded, and laid his palm along his guide's face. Even unconscious, the young empath felt his sentinel's presence and turned into the warm hand. The gratitude in the icy blue eyes prompted Slater to add a warning.

"That Section 8 of Mason's is not going to go away easily and that report could be used against him."

"Is that a threat?" Gratitude shifted to wariness in a split second.

"No, Sentinel, it's just a warning. There are those in the GDP who want to get their hands on Blair and put him through the section 8 again. They suspect that there are some changes going on in your young guide. You and I both know something's happening. I can't explain it, and at the moment neither can either of you. I would like to try and learn the answers, as a friend."

The sentinel was studying the GDP officer and, for the first time in his life, Slater felt totally uncomfortable. He had been looked at by sentinels before, been the recipient of a full-scale sensory scan, but Ellison peeled back the layers to his very soul.

"If I trust you, Slater; if you ever cross us; if Blair is hurt because of something you did or didn't do, said or didn't say... you will die." Dan knew it wasn't a threat; it was a promise from the very soul of the dark sentinel.

"I understand." Dan felt as if he was making a vow and maybe he was. "As I said, I got curious and called for backup when I figured that Sandburg would be meeting his mother. I think you'll find that she is under arrest downstairs."

"Why, Slater? Why get involved at this level, and why don't I think that you're just admin?"

"I'll explain when the time is right, trust me on that. In the meantime, I think we need to talk about the murder. There are things that you should know that are off the record. The PD is content to look at it as a straightforward murder but I guess we both know it's something more than that."

"We'll talk later, Slater. I need to get him home." Jim gently scooped his guide up as if he was no more than a child. He backed away until Slater was out of reach and the officer all but saw the man bristle as he moved to the door. He just smiled levelly and watched them leave.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

Blair groaned and blinked as harsh light hurt his eyes. He looked up and was surprised to find himself on the couch in the loft and not in a holding cell or on a leash. He had attacked his own sentinel, there was no *crime* that was as bad as that one.

"Jimmmm?" //Was that him? Why wouldn't his mouth work?//

"So you're back in the land of the living again, Sandburg?" Ellison stood over him, something unreadable in the blue eyes. Blair didn't extend his empathy, if his sentinel hated him, he'd just as soon not know.

"My m...m...mother?"

"She's fine, Blair. But she will be charged in Goodman's murder. You can't change that."

He saw the horror and terror on Blair's face. Correctly guessed the mixed emotions from his mother's predicament . Jim's anger died in the face of that fear. //God knows I should have guessed what the idea of his mother being arrested would do to the kid. He's not altogether rational when it comes to jail cells. I could have handled it a bit better.// Jim had spent the time waiting for his guide to wake up, taking a hard look at himself. He wasn't happy to realize that he had been jealous of Naomi Sandburg and wanted nothing more than to get her away from his guide.

"Easy, Chief, he knows what happened but you are not in trouble with the GDP, with me, yes, but not the GDP." Jim hid a smile as his guide relaxed a little. //Yep, the kid still trusts me.// "Slater's coming here to talk things over. It appears he was shadowing us since I was released from the hospital." Jim waited until Sandburg had taken that in to hold up the white noise generator. "When he's gone, Chief, we will talk about this, in private." The wide blue eyes couldn't meet his. Jim handed Sandburg a bag of ice, "For your face, Chief." His hand went out and a hypersensitive fingertip very lightly stroked a bruised jaw.

Blair looked up and saw a look of guilt on his sentinel's face that matched what he was feeling. He reached up and caught Jim's hand. "Jim, please, it's all right. I know you had to do it. I was kind of out there, wasn't I?"

"Still no excuse, Chief." Now it was Jim who wouldn't meet his guide's eyes.

Blair squeezed his hand tightly and their connection flared between them. Blue eyes met and apologized without words. Ellison broke the silence, "Next time, Chief, let's talk. It's a hell of a lot less painful."

"Yeah." Blair winced as he grinned; he hurriedly put the ice pack on his jaw.

Jim s head turned in the classic position of listening and then he moved in long strides to the door. He yanked it open before the upraised fist of their visitor had a chance to hit the door.

"Come in, Commander Slater." The GDP Officer swallowed, it always amazed him when sentinels did things like this. It was a small reminder of the ability they had at his fingertips. After all this time, it still unnerved the GDP Officer. To cover his nervousness, he looked at Blair, "How are you feeling, Guide Sandburg?"

Blair slid off the sofa, and adopted the kneeling position of respect. He would humor Slater, anything to stop the Commander from reporting him to the Facility. He still couldn't get a fix on Slater, he seemed okay, but he could not forget the man was GDP.

"Why do I get the feeling that every time you do that to me, I should hear the words *up yours* in my head?" The GDP officer drawled.

Blair's head snapped up, eyes wide with shock at the humor in the rhetorical question.

"Maybe because that's the sentiment, Slater," Jim cut in.

Slater grinned, "Honesty is something I have always admired, Detective, as does the Director, Doctor Claydove."

Blair moved back onto the sofa and Jim waved the Commander into an armchair before positioning himself next to his guide. He handed him back the ice pack for his jaw that he had dropped when he went down on his knees. "Chief." The name was a command and Blair reluctantly put the ice back in place. Jim was in mother hen mode, mixed with a healthy dose of guilt, which might push him toward blessed protector mode.

Slater smiled.

//I've seen friendlier tigers at feeding time// Blair thought with a shiver. //I hope he is on our side.//

"Detective Ellison, Jim...The information that you got from the GDP on George Goodman was not exactly correct. They left out a large part of his history. First of all I want you to know that what he did doesn't happen these days but we're talking about 26 years ago and conditions were different then."

The GDP Commander looked from Guide to Sentinel and back again. This was not going to be easy. "The GDP did a DNA test on Goodman because one of his parents was an empath but was too old for the GDP program. George had the recessive gene but not the talent. The geneticists thought that an offspring from him and a woman also carrying the recessive gene could result in an empathic child."

Jim did not like the way this was going. He felt a tug on the back of his mind and a cold hand moving on his arm in short nervous movements. He could feel the pain and growing panic running through his guide; he wasn't the only one that could see it coming.

"George Goodman picked a young student who had been part of a college genetics study and had what the scientists thought was the empathy sequence of genes. He seduced her, impregnated her and abandoned her. She had a baby nine months later and the GDP went to pick up the child for testing. When they got to the hospital, they discovered that someone had warned the young mother and she had run, taking the child with her. Old files have identified her as Naomi Rachel Sandburg."

"You lying bastard!" Blair powered up from the couch. Before he could reach the Commander, he was caught at the waist and pulled back against his sentinel; the strong arms holding him, the big hands calming him until he could *hear* the command to reconnect.

"I am sorry, Blair, but George Goodman was your father. If it's any consolation, he refused to go under cover again..." Slater winced at his inadvertent tasteless pun..."and spent the rest of his career in administration. He did have honest feelings for your mother, in fact, he was suspected of having been the person who warned her at the hospital. Unfortunately, because of their history, because of your history, your mother has a strong motive for wanting to kill him. And from what Simon Banks said, it was her scent that Ellison picked up at the scene. Wasn't it, Detective?"

"Yes, it was. It bothered me right from the beginning because it was really close to Blair's scent."

"You don't have any proof. It's all..." Sandburg was on his feet, ice bag forgotten on the floor.

"Blair," Jim put in sharply, "There are fingerprints at the scene of the crime, and now that they have her, they might match up."

"No, she got away. We have time to prove her innocence..."

Ellison got to his feet and went as close to his partner as he dared. There was a depth of compassion on the chiselled features that shook Slater. //No, this was easy for anybody.//

"Chief... Blair. Naomi was picked up last night, remember," he put in gently.

"Nononono. She's free. She's okay. Tell me, Jim, she's okay." Deep blue eyes pleaded with the sentinel, fine boned hands were stretched out in entreaty. Ellison looked away long enough to say, "Commander, there's a fine view out on the balcony." Slater nodded and left the sentinel with his guide.

"Jim, you have to listen to me. Mom didn't, wouldn't kill anyone, not even that bastard Goodman. Please, Jim, we have to help her. She's in a cell, Jim. You know what happens there! Please, Jim." Sandburg's body was shaking. The sentinel gathered his guide into a firm embrace and instead of fighting, the kid held on as if to the last port of refuge in a storm. "Blair, listen to me. Naomi will be fine. I talked to Simon and she was booked in at Central. The Captain is taking a personal interest in this case. Nothing is going to happen to your mother. I promise, kid. You got me, Chief?"

Blair was quiet, then his shaking stopped and he pulled away from Jim. He rubbed his face with trembling hands, trying to hide the evidence of tears. Slater came back into the room as the young guide said, "Yeah, Jim. I got you. And... and Naomi's not an empath. She's a citizen. She's got rights... they won't... she won't...Right, Jim?" Ellison met Slater's gaze straight on, reading there the same rage he felt that Sandburg was finding comfort in the thought that only empaths could be routinely brutalized in what passed for a Justice system.

Slater hated to disturb the fragile peace of mind that the guide had achieved but it had to be said. "The case belongs to Major Crime but the GDP have a vested interest in its outcome. They have wanted to outlaw the Guide Liberation Army for some time now, claiming that it foments violence. This is all the opportunity they need to prove their case. Unless Naomi Sandburg can be proven innocent they will get their way."

"But if the motive was the GDP's... manufacturing... of empathic children, Commander, how do they tie that back to the GLA? That doesn't make sense." Ellison was proud of the kid. Even upset, his sharp mind had picked out the flaw in Slater's argument.

Slater shrugged, "They will admit to the affair but the rest of the information is sealed in GDP files. Nothing about the eugenics program will be made public."

"Mind telling me whose side you're on, Commander?" Ellison kept his voice level.

Slater shook his head slowly, "On the side of Justice, Detective, but not the perverted type we have on the statute books now. I want the real killer of George Goodman and not just some scapegoat the GDP seems to want to hang it on."

He paused, then asked, "You do believe her innocent, Senior Sentinel Prime?"

"Jim?" Blair prompted.

Ellison took another look at his actions and shrugged. "I heard your mother yell at Wallis before he hit me. She would not have done that if she had been guilty. There was no gun power residue on her hands when I scented her at the apartment. And, if she was lying when she said she didn't kill Goodman, she's a better actress that I give her credit for... all her vitals said she was telling the truth. Not proof enough for the Courts, but yeah, Commander, I believe she is innocent."

Blair snapped, "Then why the hell did you try to arrest her?"

"Because she is a suspect and there is enough evidence to charge her. And, given the fact that the suspect's son is my guide, I couldn't afford to give any appearance of partiality. In a case like this, we arrest them first and sort them out later, Chief. Remember that in the future. All that old guy did was let her run and make this mess twice as bad as it was. Now, if her friends stop trying to brain me, and my guide stops hindering and starts helping his sentinel, perhaps we can work this out."

He was pleased to see that said guide looked embarrassed.

Blair raised his head and looked straight at Slater, "Just tell me they don't try to breed guides and sentinels these days." He saw by the Commander's face that the addition of sentinels to the statement was correct.

"No, it's not done anymore. The Doctor in charge was severely censured and the project was disbanded, Blair. It was something that even the Director of Sentinel Studies couldn't stomach, and we're talking the old man, Richard Brittas himself. No, it doesn't happen these days."

Jim nodded as he heard the words but Blair could read the emotions behind them and knew that Slater was telling the truth.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

Naomi was brought up to the interrogation room and her heart sank when she saw the police officer seated opposite her.

"Detective Ellison...Blair...where's my son? If you hurt him..."

"Shoe's on the other foot, Ms Sandburg, he has quite a jab on him for a pacifist", Jim rubbed his ribs. "Now, you've given your statement to Detectives Rafe and Brown, so why don't you talk to me."

"I told them everything I knew."

"Not that George Goodman was Blair's father."

He watched as she went ash white, "How do you know..."

"It's in his file. You were the third woman that he impregnated and the last. It appears that he really did love you, Ms Sandburg."

He watched as that hit home. "GDP's taken over the prosecution of the case. They're going to introduce your affair as a motive. According to them, you attempted to blackmail Goodman and when he threatened to have you arrested you panicked and killed him. They are not going to tell the full story, how selected agents deliberately seduced young women in the hopes of getting empathic children. No, according to them you had loose morals, had a fling with George Goodman and wound up with Blair. Your life style is what caused Blair's perverted viewpoint and turned him into a rogue empath. Any evidence other than that will be sealed. All in all, Ms Sandburg, you're quite the enemy of the state."

"Do you believe that?" Jim saw the same passionate belief in what she stood for as he saw daily in his guide.

"No, there was no powder on your hands and I would have smelled it. You didn't fire a gun but someone is letting you take the fall for it. You have to start talking to me. For your son's sake, if for no other reason."

"Detective, I argued with George, that's true. I told him what a low life he was. No one knew Blair was an empath; his shields were strong enough to protect him until he bonded." She shot him a look of accusation. When he didn't react she went on. "He had seen Blair at Rainier University one day when he was picking his step-son up and heard his name. He recognised something of me in Blair and the odds, of course, were high that our son would be an empath. He turned him into the GDP and they picked him up. He had the nerve to apologize to me for what our son went through. He knew that Blair was still alive when we bumped into each other last year and he didn't tell me".

"I heard that part of the argument," Jim put in softly, "and Blair has had justice for what was done to him." Meeting the sentinel's eyes, Naomi knew that Ellison was telling the truth; knew that this man would protect her son not just because he was bonded to him but because he was a friend.

"I stormed out. When I heard the gunshot, I ran back into the room. I have no idea why I did that, Detective." Naomi sounded mystified.

Jim hid a smile. //Like mother, like son. Trouble magnets, the both of you.//

"Anyway, he was bleeding from a chest wound, there was blood everywhere. He was alone and...and he opened his eyes and... smiled at me. Then he passed out. I heard someone at the door and I panicked. All I could think of was what it would look like... a GDP protester in the room with a murdered GDP official who had gotten her pregnant and then abandoned her. So I ran."

Jim leaned back, this didn't get him any closer to solving the crime. He got up and nodded to the guard to open the door. "We will get you off, Ms Sandburg. The evidence is out there and we will find it." He hesitated and then dropped a hand on her shoulder before she was taken back to the holding cell.

"Sentinel Ellison." Jim turned to see Guard Gibb coming towards him. The big GDP Guard looked around before catching hold of Jim's arm and saying, "Coffee, Sentinel?" He dropped his hand quickly.

"Okay, Gibb." Ellison's tone was only marginally friendlier but Gibb took it as a sign that the sentinel might be willing to listen to him.

In the deserted break room, Gibb said, "This is strictly off the record, Sen..., sorry, Detective... Ellison."

"Slater?"

The guard gave a slight nod. "I've been chatting with a few fellow members of the GDP. It appears that George Goodman took early retirement because he was diagnosed as having cancer. He's been under doctor's care for the past six months. He offered to help out at the conference and pulled a few stings to get the job. He was in remission and... well, it was seen as a favor to put a few bucks in his pocket."

"Money?"

"He was known to be hard up. That's one of the reasons that he got the job booking in the Sentinels and their guides."

"Thanks, Gibb." A hint of warmth touched the icy blue eyes.

"How is your guide?" Gibb saw the look the sentinel gave him and added, "I mean... what with the leashing and his mother being arrested."

"He's convinced his mother is innocent. There's some trauma there but he's strong. He'll cope."

"If you ever need help with him..."

Jim's eyes flashed a warning.

"No, I mean unofficially. He's a good kid and didn't deserve any of the crap they put him through." Gibb picked up his drink and walked away.

//Another convert, Kid// the sentinel mused.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

Blair paced up and down Simon's office, the big Captain watching him, an unlit cigar in his hand. Jim had asked him to look after his guide while he spoke to Ms Sandburg and he should have expected just this much nervous energy from the kid. His face softened, but he caught himself at it and barked, "Sit down, Sandburg, before I handcuff you to the chair."

Blair turned to stare at him. The semi-serious threat sounded familiar; he vaguely remembered Simon saying that to him before. He shook his head and Simon breathed a sigh of relief as the hint of remembrance in the kid's eyes died. He didn't want the job of trying to explain that the last time he had threatened the kid with handcuffs, Sandburg had propositioned him. Nasty drugs and even nastier conditioning by rogue sentinels had the empath flying higher than a kite and completely unaware of his actions. That was an area of the Sandburg Zone he didn't want to revisit.

He sighed in relief as Jim came in. The sentinel immediately reached for his guide and pulled the younger man against him, almost pinning him to his side. He needed the contact with his guide. "Jim, what is it?"

"Please, Chief, let me..." The desperation in his detective's voice worried Simon. But the kid acted as if it was nothing out of the ordinary.

"Sure, it's all right."

Jim pulled him even closer and pressed his face into the crook of his guide's neck, immersing himself in the scent of his guide. Blair opened their bond and was nearly flooded by the raw emotion that was cascading through his sentinel.

"It's all right, Jim, I'm here."

Simon was on his feet, "Sandburg, what the hell's going on?"

"Jim, talk to me, please."

"The fear that was rolling off your mother... it..." he trailed off.

"It's okay, Jim, I'm here and safe." He guided the bigger man to a seat on the sofa, never disturbing the sentinel's hold on him.

"Sandburg, for God's sake, talk to me!" Simon demanded. He wasn't used to seeing Jim Ellison so shaken; the man was almost frantic.

"Jim's picked up on my mother's fear. She's scared, Captain, and her scent is close enough to mine to trigger him... He's reading her fear as mine. His instinct is to protect. The problem is that there is nothing he can do right now to alleviate that fear. This happened before earlier. He'll be fine." Confidence shone in the wide blue eyes that met the Captain's gaze.

A few minutes later, Jim slowly straightened up. "Sorry, Chief."

"Hey, man, are you forgetting my little crackup at the loft earlier? And I can't blame primal sentinel instincts." He grinned disarmingly. "It's perfectly natural and not something you would have experienced before. The way the training programs are set up, a sentinel doesn't often come into contact with his or her guide's family. It's not a problem that gets a lot of attention."

Jim settled down when he saw that his Captain wasn't upset and just looked intrigued by Sandburg's explanation.

Noticing Jim's sideways glance at him, Simon coughed, "So, did you manage to get anything from Ms Sandburg?"

"No. She told exactly the same story she gave Rafe and H. Although, she did confirm what Slater said." He squeezed Blair's shoulder sympathetically.

"I'm okay, Jim. He's not what I expected for a father but I can't change that."

"So it's a dead end now?" Simon asked.

Blair was looking at Jim critically. "Jim, I need you to relax while I walk you through the crime scene."

"Chief, I don't think..."

"Jim, please." The two words were heartfelt.

Jim allowed himself to be settled back on the couch. Blair knelt in front of him, his hands resting on the sentinel's knees. Jim's blue eyes looked into his, full of trust.

"Listen to my voice, Jim." This was the tone used by a guide; it needed to be obeyed. "We are back in the hotel hallway..."

Simon leaned back in his chair and watched them work. There was a level of trust being displayed by the stoic hard-nosed loner, Jim Ellison, that a few short months ago he would never have thought possible. The sentinel's eyes were distant, blank, almost like a zone out. He had to remind himself that this was normal for recall mode and was controlled by the guide. A small recorder whirred taping the sentinel's words. The memories of a sentinel in induced recall were admissible as evidence in court proceedings. It had been proved that lying was not possible in that state.

Finally, when they had reached the point where Jim had returned to the murder scene to find Blair on the verge of backlash shock, they stopped. Blair brought him up from his trance with a whispered sentence. Jim rubbed his face wearily and then dropped a hand, almost like a benediction, on the head of his guide. He gently ruffled the curly hair.

"Did we get enough?" Simon asked, looking from sentinel to guide and back again. It was at times like this that he knew he didn't exist to them; nothing existed outside their own special world of the bond.

Blair rewound the tape and hit replay. Jim sat there, disgusted with himself. "Why the hell didn't I remember hearing that before?"

"You were focused on the argument and then the gun shot. What was that other noise you heard?"

Jim's mouth twisted in a slight smile. "It just could be the key, Chief, if we can figure out what it was. Simon, I need a floor plan of the hotel. Chief, you need to get onto the computer."

"Jim," Simon decided it was time that the sentinel remembered just who was the Captain of Major Crimes, "Care to let me in on your suspicions?"

"Just a little longer, Simon, and I think we'll be able to explain just what happened there... and get Sandburg's mom off the hook."

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

Blair was merged with the computer when Jim got back from forensics. H grinned at the sentinel and said, "Hasn't looked up from that thing since you left." Ellison shook his head, amused, and took an energy bar from the desk drawer and unwrapped it. He pulled his guide's hand off the keyboard and pushed the bar into it. The protest was immediate, although the blue eyes never left the screen. "Jim, I'm..."

"Eat it, Chief, humor your sentinel."

"The thing has all the nutrition of a piece of cardboard, I...."

"Just do it, Chief."

Jim smiled as he heard his guide's comments about pushy sentinels and their idea of nutrition, muffled by a mouthful of "cardboard." Sentinel Prime Edwards came up and attracted Ellison's attention. The grin on his face showed that he, too, had heard the guide's absentminded complaints.

Ellison's grin broadened as he shared Edward's amusement over the young guide's antics, "Can I help you, Sentinel Prime?"

"A talk, Senior Prime, sentinel to sentinel, in private," he looked at Blair as he spoke. Jim hesitated, "Of course. Keep looking, Chief, it's got to be there. We can use one of the interrogation rooms. Your guide can wait with Sandburg."

Edwards scowled at the bullpen detectives and bristled. He reached back and pulled his guide to him. Jim recognized the behavior. "It's all right, Sentinel Prime, my colleagues will not harm your guide. I trust them with mine."

The visiting sentinel nodded and reluctantly released his guide's arm. He sat him next to Blair in the seat Ellison had vacated. Ellison caught the nervous look the guide gave Edwards. "It's okay, David, you're safe here," he reassured, "Blair knows how to handle these guys."

Blair reached over, eyes still locked on the screen, and put his hand on the other guide's arm. Comfort flowed into the older guide and David relaxed into the offered support. "Thank you, Senior Prime Guide." Blair, surprised by David's words, realized what he had done and glanced over at the visiting sentinel, not sure what Edward's reaction would be. He was stunned to see it was one of respect.

David's use of the title was unexpected. When Jim had reclaimed him from the unbonded renegade sentinels, they had reaffirmed their bond while in their dark personas. The sentinels and guides who had formed the hunting pack that had come to his rescue had stood witness to the ritual. The following day, when he and Jim attended the Conference, he was addressed as "Senior Guide Prime" for the first and, until today, only time.

Blair looked at his own sentinel and saw only a strong pride in him on the older man's face. The Dark Guide in him flexed under the approval of the sentinels, and he gathered David into his support.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

Commander Slater literally flew into the bullpen. He took one look at the two sentinels and without taking the time to knock went into the Captain's office.

"What the hell!" Simon snapped, then relaxed slightly when he saw who it was. "Don't tell me it's a sentinel thing, Dan," he groaned, "I'm already maxed out on that today."

"Do you know what they have done NOW?" Slater's voice was almost incoherent. "Dear God, Simon, they will be the death of me yet. Maggie is pulling her hair out by the roots, and ...."

Simon stared, amused to see the normally unflappable GDP Commander so off balance.

"Okay, Dan, calm down. What have they done now?" he soothed, hiding a grin. "And who's they?"

"All right." Slater took a deep calming breath, letting it out slowly. "Two Sentinel Clans, that's 10 sentinel and guide pairings, have requested transfer to Cascade PD. Believe me, the transfer will not be blocked."

"But I thought that Jim was Sentinel Prime of Cascade."

"Oh, he is Simon, he is. He's also unquestionably Senior Sentinel Prime. For some reason, Edwards and Harvey want to move their Clans here. I and the Director have never heard of such an action before. It's unprecedented. It's some sort of ... we... I... think it's got something to do with the Dark Guide and Sentinel pairing. It's causing them to react with behavior patterns that..." The GDP Commander spluttered to a stop as he caught sight of Simon's knowing grin.

"You don't know do you?" Simon prodded slyly.

Slater looked at Simon blankly for a moment, then returned the grin. "Simon, I have no idea, but I am going to have to be the one to investigate it. Not to mention explain it. What did you say Sandburg's dissertation topic was? Think he'd want to change it?"

Pacing, he stared out of the window and saw the two sentinels shake hands before Edwards collected his guide and left.

"Tell me I'm being paranoid but I think Ellison just agreed to let the Clans come to Cascade ..."

Simon joined him at the door and they both watched as Jim leaned over Blair. The detective gave his partner a grin and clapped him on the shoulder. Blair pulled a sheet from the printer and they left together.

"Looks that way to me, Dan. Wait a minute... to the PD, you said? Where in the PD?"

It was Dan's turn to grin.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

Jim waited, impatiently, in the lobby of the Conference Hotel.

"Why do I feel like a character from an Agatha Christie novel, Chief?"

"Gee, Hercule, I don't know. Maybe because you're waiting for the suspects to gather so you can dazzle them with your deductions?" Blair answered with a fake British accent.

Ellison dropped his hand and ruffled his guide's hair. "Couldn't have done it without you and your "little gray matter," Hastings."

The teasing ended abruptly as Banks arrived with Slater in tow. The monitoring official unlocked the door to the murder scene. Jim pushed the door open and paused until he felt Blair's hand on his shoulder. He ushered the others in and then looked round.

"I heard a rattling noise just before I came into the room. I didn't consciously remember it because I was focused on the gun shot. I didn't think it was important, I was wrong."

He moved to the side of the room and pointed. "The body was here. No weapon was found in the room so either Naomi took it with her or there was a second person here who removed it. I did not smell or see gunpowder residue on Ms. Sandburg's hands when we caught up to her. But I also didn't hear anyone else in the room."

Slater frowned, "So how was it done?"

"That's where the rattling sound comes in. I had to figure out what it could be and Blair helped me there." Ellison walked further into the room and fixed his sight on a vent halfway up the wall. Crossing to it, he ran hypersensitive fingers over the wall. "If you look closely, you can see nicks in the plaster here... and here. You'll notice the screw holes have fresh scratches on them." Jim looked around at the assembled people, most of whom wore puzzled expressions.

Blair hid a grin. //Hercule indeed//

"It was right in front of us and we missed it. You see, I heard Naomi running and went right after her. Blair stayed with Goodman and was with him when he died. He was caught by the flashback and was in shock but he would have seen another person take the gun."

"So maybe he took it himself. It was his mother." That was one of the monitoring officials. Blair grinned cheekily.

Ellison glared at the official. "Wrong." He indicated the vent. "That's where the gun went, Captain."

"Jim, the killer wouldn't have had chance to ditch the gun and escape before Ms Sandburg got back to the room. You said so yourself." Simon pointed out, playing devil's advocate.

"That's true, Captain. The killer was already here, and we all saw him, George Goodman."

Simon shook his head regretfully, "Suicide. Sorry, Jim, that doesn't track, the gun would have been by his side."

"Right, and wrong at the same time, Simon. This wasn't about Goodman accidentally setting Naomi up for a murder rap. This was about a suicide that had to look like a murder. He had it all planned to the minute. When Sandburg researched Goodman's background, it all started to fall into place. George Goodman was dying of cancer. If he lived, most of his assets would have gone for medical bills. If he died in an accident or was murdered, a double indemnity clause on his insurance policy would kick in. His wife would collect a million dollars, enough to pay off the bills and ensure his family's future.

The murder scenario gave him the perfect opportunity to set this up. He'd already have gunpowder residue on his hands from setting up the scene so we would expect to find it on his body. All he had to do was figure out a way to get rid of the weapon, which he did. He set it up and Naomi walks in on him before he could kill himself. They argue, she hits him and walks away. Goodman does the deed, and maybe because he's nervous it's not a clean kill. Naomi returns because she hears the gun go off, followed shortly by Sandburg and me. I hear Naomi leave and the suicide turns into suspected murder with Ms. Sandburg as our prime suspect. Everything hinges on the missing gun."

"So where is the gun?" Slater demanded.

"The vent." Every eye in the room went to the wall. "It's simple really if you're looking for it. Goodman tied a length of fishing line to the gun with a weight on the other end that he tossed into the opened vent. He fires the gun and as he falls it's dragged down into the vent shaft. The only risk he took was that the gun would jam in the vent opening. That's also why he shot himself in the chest, instead of in the head. He needed to be sure that his hand wouldn't get caught in a death grip. When you think about it... he went through a lot of cold-blooded calculation and a lot of pain to make sure his family was taken care of."

Simon pulled his cell phone out "I'll have Carolyn bring forensics down here, we need them to open up the vent."

Jim's hand dropped on his guide's shoulder and gave it a squeeze. "Blair found the blueprints for this place. It's a straight drop for twelve and then there's a bend in the aluminium shaft. I think we've got what we need to prove our case. Chief?"

The young guide reached into his ever-present backpack and pulled out a large round object attached to a heavy cord. Jim moved a chair over to the vent and Sandburg climbed up on it. He opened the vent and dropped the object down it. He fished for a minute or two and then smiled, "Got something."

"Don't jerk on the cord, Chief, smooth and easy," Jim prompted.

Sandburg carefully pulled on the cord, "Almost got it, Jim. Captain, do you want to do the honors?"

Simon snapped on a pair of latex gloves, "Be glad to, son. Wouldn't want your fingerprints on it. One Sandburg in my jail at a time is enough." He reached in the vent and withdrew a gun trailing yards of nylon cord and a metal bar.

Simon shook his head in disbelief, "Amazing, he did this all on his own."

"No, Simon, he had to have help. That's where his son came in. You see he married twice. His first marriage gave him a son who joined the GDP. It took some work to track down the information but we confirmed that he was working at the hotel the day of the murder scenario. We never connected him to his father because his mother remarried and he took his stepfather's name. It was only when we got a look at Goodman's will that we figured out that maybe Goodman had help. The son was in charge of the murder scene.

"We waited past our assigned starting time on the scenario because the GDP escort was late. That was because he had to make sure that his father had enough time to set the scene up and be "murdered." Now, remember the sequence. I took off after Naomi, Blair got hit by backlash and Guard Gibb was trying to talk him back. Two murder scene officials arrived and one of them took the cell phone out of the room to call 911 because the recording equipment was stopping the cell signal. That gave the son the time he needed to flip up the vent catch. There was a chance that he might be seen but with the confusion going on and a million dollars at stake, it was well worth the risk."

"Am I correct, Officer Campbell?" Jim's gaze fixed on the monitoring officer who had unlocked the door for them.

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"Campbell, you're lying, your heartbeat is all over the place, a dead give away."

"You can't arrest me. It wasn't murder."

Simon cut in, "Assisting in a suicide is a crime, Officer Campbell, as is insurance fraud and obstruction of justice."

Blair's eyes were wide with incomprehension, "You would have let my mother be charged with his murder?"

Campbell looked at Blair with disgust. "My father actually loved your mother till the day he died. The disgrace of knowing that her husband had fathered a bastard empath ruined my parents' marriage. The only peace she had was when she thought that slut was dead. So, I wasn't too concerned when the bitch got accused of murder." The bile rolled off the man's tongue. Blair just stared at his half-brother in growing dismay.

Ellison, knowing how much family meant to his young guide, cringed at the hatred this new-found half-brother broadcast. Blair had shut down their link which gave Jim a very good idea of just how much he was hurting. Even Simon could read it. Before Jim could move, Simon caught hold of Campbell, pushed him against the wall and handcuffed him as he read him his rights.

Blair was as white as a sheet, minute tremors shook his frame. He could see nothing of himself in this supposed brother. Jim came up to him and wrapped an arm around his shoulders. "It's okay, Chief, it's over now." Jim's words steadied him.

Jim heard Simon call in Carolyn and back up as he took his guide out of there.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0

Jim came out of the kitchen, a tray in his hands and held it above the coffee table. Mother and son were seated on the sofa. Blair was talking a mile a minute and his mother was holding his hand as if she was never going to let go. Jim coughed and Blair looked up and grinned as Jim said, "Make a hole, Sandburg." Blair pushed aside some of the books and exam papers that he had been working on.

Naomi studied Jim intently. "I can't say that I will ever be comfortable with Blair being a guide." She ignored her son's hissed protest. "Mom."

"But you do look after him. I spoke to Captain Banks and he speaks highly of you, Detective."

"Jim."

"Jim. My son was brought up as a free spirit and when I heard he had been forced to become a guide..." The tears started to trickle down her face, "I nearly died inside. And then I saw the video the Guide Liberation Army had and....."

Blair slid his arm around his mother, "It's all right, Mom."

"Then when I saw him leave the GDP office in that horrible..."

"Jim would never put that on me. We just had to play their game, Naomi."

"I know that now, Sweetie." She patted her son's face lightly. "Look after him, Jim."

"With my life."

She met his eyes and nodded at what she saw in them. Total commitment, he would give his life to protect her son. She would never be happy with Blair being a guide, with him working in the violent world of the police. But if this had to be his life, at least he had a sentinel who cared about him, who would protect him. She had watched the two men carefully over the past week and Jim behaved more as an older brother than as the "slaver" she had imagined. Even as she thought that, her son made some comment meant for sentinel ears. Ellison reached out and batted his guide on the back of his head and her son grinned cheekily. She looked out the window; the sun was setting and with it the past. Tomorrow would be a new day and a new life. She had her son back and her family had grown by one...her son's friend, partner, sentinel and guardian angel, Jim Ellison.

The end

The series continues in Rainier University Written by Susan Foster
stargate3001@hotmail.com
Site Map