With many thanks to my beta readers, Kathy and Lois.
This is story is for Eileen, Happy Birthday.
This story follows on from Angel of Death, I would suggest that you read this story first.
Warning. For adult language, and situations, H/C and implied unhealthy relationship between male and female.
Taken from the quote: “Truth is hidden in a bodyguard of lies”
-- Winston Churchill, WW2
Stella Riva slide the knife into the gap between the drawer and the desk, then put all her weight on it. For a second nothing happened, then the sound of wood tearing as the lock broke echoed around the room. She quickly clawed it open and began to go through the papers, desperately looking for what she needed. Her head snapped up as headlights lit up the windows of the study.
Her husband was back.
Her movements became more frantic, but calmed when she found the object of her search -- two white discs in a special carry case -- her ticket out of her abusive marriage. One hand briefly touched the heavy bruising around her neck. Her husband had told her that he worked for the Assassin Guild and that if she tried to stop him from embezzling her money he would get her hit and take it all. Next to the case she saw a dark blue envelope with her will in it. Several white papers were attached to the outside of the envelope, no doubt the letter with her signature showing that she was leaving everything to Mr. Harry Riva -- cutting out her sister and friends, leaving all two million to Harry.
Harry was going to kill her.
She grabbed the disks, her will, and the papers and rushed out of the study, pausing only long enough to grab the hand of her daughter and a suitcase. They left through the back door as Harry came in the front.
The first thing Harry noticed when he entered his home was that the door to the study was open. He dropped his briefcase and rushed into the room to find the broken drawer. The will was gone, but worse yet, the Guild disc and passwords were also missing.
Stella had finally found the courage to stand up to him. It was too late to stop her now; all he could do was report it to the Guild. Harry took a pull of double straight whiskey as he put the telephone down. The Guild official had been straight speaking. He would be sending someone over. That person would expect to find Harry home. If he ran, he would be killed.
Harry took another shot. He would give the guild official all the information they needed. Running was not an option.
The knock on the door made him jump. The whiskey slopped onto the $4,000 desk top, not that it mattered any more. Opening the door, he was surprised to find a tall, willowy blond. She smiled as he invited her in. When he turned to show her the way, he felt the kiss of cold metal against his neck.
“Unless you do what I say, you won't live to see this evening out. Tell me exactly what happened.”
Harry shook as he explained what had happened.
“Your wife has forfeited her life.” The blonde made the term 'wife' a slur. “You do realize that, don't you, Harry? But if you do exactly as I tell you, you'll probably live to get your inheritance. Now tell me how will I recognize the disks”?
Stella sat in the car outside the Central Police Station of Cascade. Her mind was made up. This was the only way she should finish it all cleanly.
Getting out of the car she collected her daughter by the hand and lead her into the building. Her face was wet with tears as she sealed the fate of her marriage. There would be no going back.
The officer at the counter looked up as she entered, immediately sensing her distress. “Can I help you, Madam?”
“My … my husband is trying to kill me. I … I have all the evidence here.”
At that point, things moved quicker than she expected. A sympathetic DA listened to her story, and immediately swore out an affidavit for her husband's arrest.
It hadn't taken long for Harry to get a message through to her -- she would never take the stand to testify against him. Stella and her daughter Nancy were immediately placed in a safe house until the case was concluded.
Three Months Later
Jim Ellison, a sentinel and detective of Major Crimes, looked at the pile of files on his desk and suppressed a moan. He was a cop. He should be out of the office tracking down the bad guys, not plowing his way through this crap.
Blair, Jim's newly acquired guide, came bouncing into the bullpen as if he didn't have a care in the world. The sentinel's nose twitched, as he smelled the metallic odor of blood. His gaze narrowed onto this guide's mouth, noticing the small smear of blood on his slightly swollen bottom lip.
As his guide came closer he began to sneeze. There was something all over the younger man, like a fine powder. It hadn't been there before. He sneezed violently. Sage. The kid was covered with sage.
“What the hell, Sandburg,” he roared as he hand went to his now streaming eyes.
“You stink, kid. What did you do? Fall in a sage patch?”
“Sorry, man, I … er … well … I'll go get changed.”
Blair hurried out of the bullpen before his sentinel could ask any more questions. What had Alex done? Would Jim realize he had been near another sentinel? His started to hyperventilate as he pushed through the door leading into the stairwell. He ran down two flights of stairs before his legs refused to support him any longer. He sank onto a step, his vision starting to gray.
Before he was able to regain his breath, a firm hand was on his shoulder. Jim Ellison held out a paper bag, encouraging him to breathe into it.
After several moments, he finally lowered the bag and shook his head. “Sorry, Jim.”
“No need. What happened”?
“I don't know. I haven't had an attack since before the … well … before my last job.” Blair started to push himself up, but the firm hand kept him in place.
Blair made a mental effort to hold himself together, then patted Jim's arm. “Thanks, man. It's been a long time since someone cared enough to come looking for me when this happens.”
Jim sneezed again, a reminder of the sage.
“I best get a shower, Jim.”
The sentinel was loathed to separate from his guide, so he escorted him down to the locker room, prowling as his guide washed.
Blair allowed the water to pound over his body. He held his head down. Even though the water was hot, he shivered.
Two cops from Vice had been working out in the gym and had dropped into a slightly stilted conversation with Jim until one of them had spied Blair and asked rather pointedly what one of Holland's hookers was doing in the locker room. His heart must have gone off the scale because Jim had immediately taken a none-too-gentle hold on the Vice cops arms and manhandled them away to have a heart to heart. Blair was pretty sure he didn't want to find out what had been said.
Jim was alone when Blair came out of the shower; a towel wrapped securely around his hips as he rubbed the excess water out of his long hair. “Do I need to ask?”
“No. It's all been sorted out. I set them straight; and yes, before you ask, they still have all their limbs.”
Blair closed the distance between them, his hand lightly brushing Jim's face with the back of his hand - a greeting from a beta guide to his sentinel. Acknowledging the need for contact, it gave the Alpha sentinel the chance to pull back or lean into it, depending on his needs at the moment.
Jim pulled back, but caught Blair's wrist. “Are we all right on this, Blair?”
“It's cool. I'm sorry you have to put up with my baggage though.”
“Baggage. What baggage? Doesn't matter. You're my guide, and I wouldn't swap you for anything.”
Blair was on edge. He knew Alex Barnes was in Cascade for a hit. The fact she had made a point of finding him meant only one thing -- she wanted to buddy up for the kill. He had promised Jim that he was retired. He couldn't go back on his word now.
“Chief, are you listening to this?” Jim's voice cut through his reverie.
“Sure, Jim,” he stuttered slightly when he found Simon looking at him with a frosty look. The captain was not happy about someone daydreaming during one of his briefings.
“If Mr. Sandburg is listening,” Simon started pointedly, “Jim told me that you're a marksman with a rifle. He has convinced me to let you back him up on the Riva court appearance. You'll be on the roof of the Mary Webb Building overlooking the main entrance to the court building. Jim will be on the south side covering the approach. We know from bitter experience with the Shackleton hit that the Webb building appears to be the favored point for our local assassins.” Simon tapped the plan to make his point. “Well, Sandburg, what, in your professional opinion, do you think of the layout?”
Blair took a steadying breath. The vibes pouring off the captain sliced through his barriers, cutting into his mind. All he wanted to do was to link with his sentinel to give him a shield against them, but to do so would be to show weakness and he couldn't afford to do that and earn the captain's respect.
“You're forgetting the police station on the corner of the Plaza. Personally, I would do the hit from there. No one would expect it, thus making it the perfect spot.” //If Alex is here for the Riva hit that is where she would be//.
It was the best he could do for them. As a guilder there was no way that he could or would give away information on another assassin. He just hoped they could put aside their prejudices about his former employment aside long enough to hear what he couldn't tell them.
Blair easily crossed the sloping roof of the Mary Webb building, only this time he was wearing a police baseball cap, flack jacket, and a sniper rifle slung over his back. He took his place, then sighted through the rifle. It was ironic to have the police department's blessings for being here and not having to worry about the cops crashing his party.
The light headset was full of Jim's voice. “Are you in place, Blair?”
“Yeah, man, no problem.”
He carefully tracked over the facing of the other buildings looking for any tell tale sign of a hostile sniper. He saw a flash of light, sun reflecting off glass. “Jim, the Orton Southall Building, top floor, right.”
Suddenly it felt as if his head had been taken apart. Unconscious, he pitched face down, his body hitting the roof then rolling off the edge.
Jim's cry of “Blair no” rang out across the intercom.
Blair fought to gain consciousness, then wished he hadn't fought so hard as he took in the blurry view four floors below him. He was hanging in space, the only thing keeping him from plummeting to his death was a thin security line. He tried to reach back but the pain of moving his head almost grayed him out again.
Then he felt a blow to his chest. The air was driven from his lungs and he fought desperately for breath. Blinded by the blood running into his eyes, he began to panic.
Jim rushed across the roof, dropping flat as a bullet plowed into the roof near him.
“The shooter's on the Orton Building. Get the bastard. I need to get to Blair.” He flinched as he saw a bullet hit near the thin safety line.
Over the intercom, he heard Rafe's voice, “Jim, you're clear. Get your guide.”
Jim scrambled down the roof, stretching down over the eaves and catching the slowly swinging rope which dangled his guide out of his reach, but was also responsible for keeping him alive. He started to pull the younger man to safety, then froze. One of the bullets had cause an ornate tile to break, its razor sharp shads were pressed firmly against the rope. Any attempt to pull his guide upward would sever the security rope, causing Blair to fall to his death
“Rafe, I'm going to have to get him another away. Get me a rope and meet me in the apartment beneath him.”
The apartment door lasted about five seconds under the foot of the sentinel. As it flew open under his kick, Jim rushed through and onto the balcony. Blair was hanging about ten feet above his head, but out of reach.
Rafe and Brown came in, huffing and puffing from the sprint up the four floors of the apartment building.
Brown gave a low whistle. “How are we going to do this?” He made sure that Jim understood that the two of them were going to help as much as humanly possible.
Jim knotted the rope round his waist. “I need you to belay that. I might have to cut Blair free and you might have to take both our weights.” For a moment he looked at them with a look of such despair. “I can't lose him now.”
The sentinel cast his senses up and over his guide, and found him barely conscience. “Blair, buddy, can your hear me?”
“Y e s,” the word was stuttered, and laced with pain.
“I'm going to get you down, so don't struggle. Okay? You have to listen to what I am going to tell you. I swear, I won't let you fall.”
“I know that, man.” The words were still a little shaky but there was strength in them, the trust of a guide in his sentinel.
Carefully, Jim stepped over the balcony and onto the ledge. Hell, it was too small to even qualify as that. The only plus was that the building was old, and there were gaps in the mortar. Slowly he edged his way to where his guide was, but Blair was still hanging two feet away from the wall. Glancing up, Jim focused his eyes on the rope. It was starting to fray.
“Blair, I need you to swing toward me buddy, nice and easy.”
The young man's arms swung back and forward in the air as he tried to gain some momentum.
Jim's gaze never left the fraying rope. Just as Blair swung close to him, it snapped. He saw the exact moment the rope gave way and, without a second thought, threw himself off the ledge, grabbing his guide as he fell. The stillborn scream died in Blair's throat as he felt strong arms wrap around him. He was soon jolted with a jaw-snapping lurch as the rope held by Rafe and Brown reached its length and stopped them midfall. Jim's grip round his guide's waist was so tight it would leave bruises. But he held on tight.
Simon reached over the balcony and with a firm grip caught the back of Blair's flack vest. He pulled the smaller man up and over the balcony rail, dropping him to the floor, then reached down and pulled his friend to safety. He swallowed hard. It had all been much too close.
As soon as he was over the rail, Jim leaned over Blair, his hands brushing long, curly hair back to examine the wound. It was more messy than serious, but it looked like he had a concussion. He then pulled open the vest checking for damage to the smaller body. A black bruise was already forming. Although Blair flinched at the touch, he laid still, knowing his sentinel needed to do this.
Blair rain his hand up Jim's arm, all the time talking softly, reassuring him that he was okay. His fingers brushed Jim's jaw. “Thanks, man, for coming after me.”
“To hell and back, Blair. I will always come for you.”
Blair sat in the truck, while Jim was talking to Simon. The cell phone rang in his backpack and, with a gasp of pain, he reached down and tugged it out. “Yeah.”
“Hi, Angel. You nearly got your wings today. I always said you had more lives than a cat. What you've got to ask yourself now is: does your precious sentinel have the same luck? I don't like it when you stand me up, Angel baby.”
“Alex, it's not going to happen. Get the hell out of my life.”
“Hope you like black, babe, because you're going to be in mourning soon. The Cascade Hilton on Thursday, or I see a funeral in your future. Oh, and babe, don't even think of bringing one of your specialties, because if I die the guild will get your file. You know the one you tried to ditch. They'll get all the details.”
Jim tapped his ear; he had heard the white nose generator go on when Blair's phone had rung. Okay, the kid needed some privacy but it still worried him. As the Alpha in their relationship, he didn't like the fact his beta had so many secrets. That was something that was going to change and change soon, he promised himself.
The last few days had been hell. Jim had been on his case all the time to talk. He knew conversation wasn't something the ex-Ranger was comfortable with, but the sentinel had shown a dogged determination to get him to open up and express whatever worries he was feeling.
Jim had been following him around like a guard dog, nearly taking a few people's throats out when he thought they had gotten too close to him. One bagel lady wasn't going to be coming round the bullpen any time in the near future. So far all attempts to try and calm the older man had failed.
They had bonded but instead of staying in his sentinel's territory, he had gone back down to his room. This way he was less likely to make a mistake that would see him thrown out of Jim's life. He couldn't afford to let his guard down just yet; he had too much to lose, especially with Alex Barnes still in the picture.
It had taken awhile for Blair to manage to get away from his sentinel, but his plea that he had work at the U had finally done the trick. Now that he was bonded to Jim, the Alpha male sentinel would not take kindly to his guide being with another sentinel. The reference books all spoke of territorial imperative, and that could get nasty real fast. Jim could do a hell of a lot more damage than Alex could ever do.
Blair glanced at his watch. He had enough time to stop by the loft and pick up a spare set of clothes before his meeting with Alex in the hotel later that day. Like a moth to the flame, he had to go. He could not afford to let Alex tell Jim a few home truths. Jim had taken the news about his section release from the Moral League well, but these home truths could be the ones to break him. He couldn't be discarded again, not now.
The Cascade Hilton
Alex Barnes was staying at the Hilton, the best hotel in Cascade. Nothing ever changed. She always liked and expected the best. Blair gave a low whistle when he saw the suite she had booked. That was Alex, first class all the way. Her idea was straightforward. No one would expect an assassin to be staying in a place like this, so the higher the profile the better.
Blair's mind was already working out the possibility of hitting her. She had the reflexes of a cat and any direct move against her would be countered, but if he could get her to lower her defenses, he could take her out.
He felt a stab of guilt. He had promised Jim that he had retired, but this was self-defense. Alex would go after Jim Ellison, and even though he was an ex-Ranger, he would not stand a chance against her. So until he got an opening, he would play her game.
The door to one of the inner rooms opened, revealing Alex in a short dressing gown, which was an inch short of being decent. She purred when she saw him. “You always come back, Angel.”
“Only to tell you, that I *have* retired, and that I *am* bonded.”
“Bonded.” Alex repeated the word, her face suddenly dark. “You bonded? You little bastard.” Her hand lashed out, slapping his face and cutting his lip open.
“Alex.” He dabbed the cut she had reopened. “That's the last time. Get it through your head. What we had is gone.” He started to turn on his heels.
“Angel, have you told your Sentinel *all* about your history? Do you really think he's going to understand?”
Blair's mouth opened and closed. “I've told him.”
“Sure you have.” Alex was purring again. “He's a cop, Angel, and he's not going to let you into his territory when he knows *all* of it. Oh, there are things that I am sure this sentinel will find interesting, very interesting indeed. What you have to ask yourself, Angel, is do you really think your can survive another break?”
“What do you want?”
“I have a contract. A big one. You help me with it and then-- who knows?” She closed the distance between them, swaying gently as she tugged the tie loose, letting the dressing gown fall open. “Let's see if you've lost any of your talent.” She reached for his jacket and pulled him closer, the sentinel ready to claim what was hers … would always be hers.
Simon Banks was concerned about his friend. Jim was edgy the moment he had returned to the bullpen alone. Rafe had asked about Blair and nearly got his head bitten off. Even as he watched, he saw the pen break under the pressure in Ellison's hands. This had to be a sentinel problem. He pressed the intercom. “Rhonda, can you come in my office please?”
Rhonda McCord had been Simon's secretary for the last two years, since he had first set up the Major Crimes Department. The tall blonde-haired woman had become the mother confessor of sorts to his detectives. She had a cool beauty that had sent more than one hormone driven young detective into fits of rapture. Rhonda always handled them gently and with an understanding smile. She had even gone head-to-head with James Ellison on his arrival in Major Crimes, and not many people could have done it and lived to tell the tale. The sentinel's reputation coming up from Vice had been one of a good cop with a lousy personality and bad attitude, which had sent more than one person running for cover upon his arrival. Yet Rhonda had always been able to walk through the storm that was James Ellison, and cut to the chase to see the man beneath the gale force clouds.
Rhonda smiled as she entered. She had a good working relationship with Simon and they got on personally. She never seemed to fall for his gruff bear with a sore head routine. “Simon.”
“Your brother is a sentinel, right?”
“How does his guide act around him?”
“Terry? He's a great guy. He keeps Gary balanced. They work well together, but Gary doesn't like Terry to go out of his sight for very long. It was especially bad after they first bonded.” She looked out through the window at the sentinel, knowing the conversation wasn't theoretical. ”If you want to know if the connection between Gary and Terry is the same as Jim and Blair, the answer is yes. When Blair is out of his sight, he's going to be worried that another sentinel will try and take Blair from him. Even after they've been bonded for years, the fear will still be there, but he will get better at controlling it.”
“Could another sentinel take Blair from him?”
”Theoretically, it's possible, but doubtful. A Sentinel and Guide bond for life. I have heard rumors about bonds being broken, but they only happen in extremely rare cases. Blair would be in a really bad way if it happened. He's online now and a break could kill him.”
“Simon, there is nothing to worry about. Blair isn't going to leave Jim.”
Jim Ellison could feel an itch that was just out of his reach. It was annoying. His gaze kept going to the empty chair -- Blair's chair - where his guide should be. He picked up the phone and dialed Blair's office at Rainier, his fingers tapping hard on the table as he waited. A woman's voice answered.
“Blair Sandburg.” No 'please' or 'thank you,' he didn't have time for such pleasantries.
“I'm sorry, he's not in his office at the moment. Can I put you in his voice mail?”
”No.” The phone went down in the cradle with a bang. //So where are you, Chief? //
A noise caused Jim to look up and he saw a spotted cat in the doorway. Sitting on its back haunches, it roared at him, igniting a primitive response within him. His own spirit guide roared back its own challenge. In the background, he heard the cry of a wolf in pain. He didn't know what it all meant, but he did know one thing for sure -- Blair was in trouble.
Blair turned slightly and looked at his back in the bathroom mirror. Four long scratches marred the skin on his shoulder, each dotted with blood. He stepped into the shower and gave a groan of pain as the water played down his body igniting the pain in the bites around his groin and inner thigh. Already some of the bruising was starting to turn black. He couldn't afford to let Jim see any of this. //How in the hell am I going to explain this to Jim? He's going to throw me out regardless of the bond.//
Even through the water was hot; he was still shivering with the effect of their lovemaking. Never lovemaking. It was purely sex. It was the only thing that would calm Alex down when she got possessive. He knew he could never allow the two sentinels to meet. Jim would never stand a chance against a trained assassin. Blair knew he would have to move against Alex by himself, but until then he had to keep her quiet … and only the submission of the beta guide to the Alpha sentinel would appease her.
Alex stood just inside the door of the bathroom, then closed the distance and stepped into the shower. Her need for Blair was just as keen as before; he was like a drug to her system. He should have bonded with her. He was her guide, only he was too stubborn to acknowledge it. Only she knew what he wanted, what he needed to keep focused. He would eventually realize that he belonged to her and not that cop.
Jim's anger was gradually building like a volcano ready to blow. Finally, when he could bear the tension no longer, he picked up his coat and headed out of the bullpen. He needed to find his guide.
He crisscrossed the campus looking for his wayward guide; but finding no sign of him, he had to give up and go back to the loft. His temper was now on a slow all-consuming burn. The Alpha Sentinel was replacing the man that was Jim Ellison.
Blair came through the door to find the loft in pitch darkness.
As soon as he shut the door behind him, a voice, barely holding back suppressed anger, hissed, “Where have you been, guide?”
“Funny, I've just been there, and they haven't seen you all day.” Jim took a deep breath, his noise flared as he caught the base line scent. Blair had had sex; the female scent was on his clothes, but it wasn't just any woman, it was a female sentinel.
In one short movement, he was on his guide. “I can smell the bitch all over you, Sandburg.”
Blair paled. Alex must have touched the fresh clothes in the bag he had brought with him.
“You think you can take her as your sentinel? What's the matter, Sandburg? I'm not good enough for you?”
Jim was gone, only the primitive sentinel remained, and Blair knew with a sickening thud that he was in for a world of pain. He had seen Alex like this, and still had the scars to prove it.
“Look at me, Blair.” It was the command tone of the alpha sentinel, and he had to obey.
The sentinel could smell blood on his guide. His hand reached out with remarkable control and pulled up the loose shirt. Blair's back had hurt too much to be able to tuck it in. The sentinel's breath caught in his throat as he saw the deep-welted scratches across the pale back. “Why would you let anyone do this to you?” he demanded.
“Can't tell you. Won't tell you.” The stubborn tone in his voice was the one he had used only once to Alex, and that had resulted in a short stay in the hospital. Jim would do a lot more damage, but he had no choice. He could live with the beating he knew was coming, but he could not live with another broken bond.
The sentinel's voice grew soft. “I thought you trusted me.”
“I do, but please don't ask me to explain this. I can't tell you this.”
For a moment Jim Ellison was drawn between pleading with his guide to talk and forcing him to tell who had hurt him. The need to rent and destroy blazed through the sentinel, but the need to look after and protect the guide took over.
Blair was startled to find himself being escorted to the sofa and gently pushed back onto it. Jim caught his feet and put them onto the cushions, despite his shoes being on. Ellison house rule #10 was effectively ignored.
Jim disappeared from sight momentarily only to return with a first aid box in hand. For a moment he looked down at Blair, knowing he had used the contents of the box too much lately on his guide for his peace of mind. “Okay, Blair, turn on your stomach.”
He pulled the layered clothes up then broke open an antiseptic wipe and cleaned the nail marks. Blair jumped, his breath coming out in a loud hiss of pain. Jim wiped his fingers on a towel before easing the layers back down again.
Blair swallowed hard as Jim gently patted his shoulder. He had lied to Jim and it had hurt, but it was for the sentinel's own safety, that knowledge, however, did not ease the pain. He moved onto his side and his hand reached up slowly so as not to upset the older man until he was stroking the sentinel's face with the back of his fingers. Jim turned slightly, inhaling the base line scent of his guide.
Reluctantly, Jim moved toward the fireplace, needing distance, but not being able to move too far away. He built a small fire, watching the flames spring to life with a soft pop. He settled with his back leaning against the side of sofa. Blair moved so, his hand resting on a broad shoulder, needing the connection between sentinel and guide, silently apologizing for not being able to give the sentinel the answers he needed.
Jim sat in silence. He knew he could try to push the issue with his young guide, but ultimately knew it would do no good. In their short time together he had learned that Blair could be as stubborn as a mule. Some sentinel bitch had got her claws into him and hurt him, yet through some misguided loyalty he would not willingly tell him who it was.
Carefully using his guide's hand on his shoulder to anchor him to the present, he cast his senses back. Sandburg had been right, he could remember past events. In his mind he followed his rival's scent until he saw Blair entering the bullpen earlier in the week. He kept himself balanced and pushed past the other scents. At first he could only catch a tantalizing trace, then it became stronger. It was the same scent which covered his guide now, the same underlying bitter twist of pheromones. She had gotten to him in the police station.
Now, at least, he had a starting point.
Simon Banks called the sentinel/guide team into his office. Jim Ellison was one of his best detectives and a personal friend, although it hadn't always been that way. He had arrived from Vice with a hard ass reputation, a good cop but a zero human being. No one, who had worked once with him, would voluntarily do so again until an older cop named Jack Pendergrast had been assigned to him. Hell, the man had been good for Ellison and had started to get results before one of the Assassin guilds had taken Jack out. So it was a surprise that Jim would even consider having Blair Sandburg, Master Assassin, as his partner. Could his also being a guide really make all that different? Personally, he didn't like the idea of the kid being with Jim. How could Ellison even think of trusting his sanity to a twenty-five-year-old killer?
Jim had always had a reputation for being bull-headed and had certainly made his wishes about Blair known. Simon had no other choice than to go along with the plot or risk losing his best friend to slow debilitating insanity. It did not mean, however, that he had to trust the ex-assassin.
Simon frowned. He didn't have a single sentinel gene in his system and yet even he could hear the kid's uncomfortable quick intake of breath as he had settled down in the chair.
“I have a protection job for you, Jim. As you know, Ms Riva's first court appearance was postponed due to the sniper attack which almost cost you your partner. Ms Riva came to us and, lord knows, most people would have backed out of a deal after an attempted assassin's attack. It appears, however, that Ms Riva is made of stronger stuff; she was strong enough to face down an abusive husband, but she also had the nerve to get some discs which refer to her husband's criminal activities. It seems that Mr. Riva has been working as an accountant for the assassin's guild. Your job is to make sure that she gets to court this time. She is currently in a safe house. Rafe and H have the first shift. You'll take the second shift with Dunn. Her court appearance is scheduled for Monday, then she and her daughter will both go into witness protection program.” Simon paused. “As you know she has already been targeted; for that reason, Sandburg is not to go to the safe house.”
Jim powered to his feet. “No way, Simon. Blair comes with me. You don't split a sentinel and guide. You know that. I could zone without him.”
“Jim, he's a member of the Assassin Guild.”
“How can you say that? He's already nearly died once trying to protect Ms Riva. Simon, he's my guide. If he says he has retired, then he has retired.”
“This is too important to risk, Jim.”
For the empathic guide, the aggression rolling off his sentinel was breathtaking. He knew he had to do something to curb it before it got out of hand.
“Captain Banks,” Blair said softly, yet drawing the attention of both men. “I swore on my bonding with Jim that I would not work again, and that I would only kill to protect him or an innocent. You have nothing to fear. You have my word.” Blair met the captain's gaze levelly, not shrinking under the intense gaze.
“All right.” Simon was not totally convinced, but he knew that he had no chance of winning this battle. “Jim, you are responsible for keeping him in line.” He glared at the young grad student, there was just something about the kid that made his skin itch. He had the overwhelming desire to slap cuffs on him and read him his rights. //Why the hell couldn't Ellison have bonded with a nice guide; like the ones in the recruiting posters, and not some low life ex-hooker?//
Simon sighed as he mentally reined himself back, knowing the thought hadn't been fair. The kid had been doing whatever he could to protect his mother, but it didn't mean he had to like the ex-assassin being so close to Major Crimes, in general, and James Ellison in particular.
Jim was about to say something when his head tilted to one side and he inhaled deeply. His face turned almost animalistic. His head whipped from one side to another as if checking for a threat only he could sense.
Blair caught his wrist, then dragged him out of the office. It was only the fact that Jim was distracted and taken by surprise which enabled the 160 pound student to manhandle the 220 pound sentinel out into the bullpen.
The tension and aggression was still rippling through the sentinel when they left. He glared at one of the office temps, who all but dropped her files. There was something dangerous about him, primal and wild, and everyone in the office could feel it. The primal sentinel was out again and flexing its claws.
Blair pulled him into the stairwell of the building, only to be caught and slammed up against the wall. “Easy, Jim. Come on, man, talk to me.”
“The bitch has been here. I smelled her in Simon's office.” The venom rolled off his tongue.
“Okay, big guy, so you had to get me out of there. You felt threatened; now work with me here.”
Blair moved his hands to the side of his sentinel's head, guiding him down to the base of his throat, where Jim could scent him, knowing that it would calm the aggression. Sentinels walked a fine line between the primal and modern. When a threat came, it was the primitive sentinel who rose to do battle.
With a shudder, Jim's body relaxed against him. “S***, sorry, kid. Why the hell does this have to happen?” The palm of his hand hit the wall by the side of Blair's head. “I don't want to be like this. You have to make it go away.”
“Sorry Jim, but you're on-line. You're an alpha sentinel, and there's no way back.”
Jim spun away from him. “Cut the alpha crap, Chief.”
“It's not crap, Jim. You have to understand it, accept it.” He caught Jim's shoulders and tried to shake him. “An alpha sentinel is who and what you are. Please, let me help you. Quit holding back. Ever since we bonded, you've deliberately ignored the needs of the alpha for the beta guide. You can't do that. You have to let go; quit trying to control it.”
“I am not treating you like some sort of … sort of...“ Jim stuttered to a halt, his hands already reaching out for his guide, the need suddenly blazing with intensity. But Jim managed to pull back, his need to get away from the younger man all-consuming. Blair's scent was so thick that he was having trouble breathing. He pushed past him, taking the stairs two at a time, ignoring Blair as he called after him. For the moment, he couldn't face his guide.
Jim took a steadying breath as he sat in his truck. He needed to look at the problem rationally, and he couldn't think clearly with Blair near him. Blair's emotions sometimes seemed to stop all logical thought, leaving him only with animal need. He rubbed his face. He couldn't let the primitive side take charge. He was a cop for god's sakes. He had to keep in control.
Why was Blair protecting the bitch? Was she blackmailing him? He knew how much their bond meant to Blair. What could be so bad that Blair would truly believe that Jim would exclude him from his life?
Only one person had the answer. He fished his notebook out and flipped it to the back page. A name, Peter Wagner, and an address.
The Morality League had money, and it showed in their real estate. Their headquarters was located in the newly developed Wharf Area of Cascade.
The receptionist had located Peter Wagner, and Jim soon found himself being ushered into a spartan office.
Peter got to his feet. “Can I help you, Detective?” Even as he shook hands, Peter felt the vibes pouring off the police officer. His father had always said he had some guide in him and in instances like this he was not going to argue. The man in front of him was dangerous, on the edge.
“You're Peter Wagner?” Jim took in the other sentinel. He was as young as Blair, and just as academic looking. The primitive part of Jim Ellison saw Peter as a threat, and in the same breath dismissed him. The worse the kid could give him was a paper cut. Wagner was a beta sentinel; physically, he could never challenge him for Blair.
“Yes.” The young man sounded puzzled, but polite.
Jim pulled himself together. “I would like to speak to you in regards to Guide Blair Jacob Sandburg. I believe you were bonded with him at one time.”
“Yes, Blair was my guide, but the bond was broken.”
“It nearly killed him.” The words were spat with barely concealed venom. Without conscious thought, Jim moved closer to the man in front of him, his hands flexing by his side.
“Er, well, I know it was hard for him. I never meant for him to be hurt, but we just couldn't remain bonded.” Pete tried to edge further back without *seeming* to do it.
“Blair's my guide now.” Jim bristled with ownership as only a pure full-blooded Alpha could.
“Then, detective you are truly blessed. Blair will look after you. If he has a fault, it is that sometimes he is too loyal for his own good.”
“Yet you rejected him?”
“I had to. My father would have taken him to the council and sited Section 124 and all subsections.”
“Section 124 isn't a crime unless he tried to …”
Peter cut in hurriedly, “NO, NEVER.” With a sigh, he sat down, looking totally miserable and waving Jim to a seat. “Please, Detective, sit down. I think I know why you're here and we need to talk.” He pressed the intercom. “Merry, no telephone calls or appointments. I'll tell you when I am out of conference.”
For a moment, Peter studied the sentinel in front of him. What he saw was a cop, ex-military, unless he missed his guess, all my way or the highway. He couldn't imagine what being bonded to a man like this was doing to a free spirit like Blair Sandburg. “Would you ever discard Blair, Detective?”
“No matter what you heard? Can you take it, Detective?”
Jim's fingers bit into the arm of the chair. “Piss or get off the pot, Wagner. What's the damn secret?”
Pete blanched slightly at the crudity but, taking a steadying breath, continued, “Blair is a clone, Detective.”
“You're lying.” Jim was on his feet and looming over the beta sentinel.
“It's the truth, Detective,” Peter stammered out. “On his shoulder there's a scar, you can probably still feel the numbers. If the council knew he was a clone he would be arrested and put down. Clones are not people. They are nothing more than very expensive exotic pets. You know the law. They're not even considered citizens. They're classified as expendables. Half the operations in hospital use organs harvested off clones. The government has outlawed medical experiments on animals, but still allows them to use clones.”
The bitterness in Peter's words surprised Jim. It appeared that Wagner had some passion in him after all and wasn't just a pasty face academic. “Blair's a B347 model, a very strong empath.”
“Then how did he get out”?
“The B347's were being experimented on to increase the empathic parts of the brain. The idea was to be able to splice the genes of citizen guides while in the womb to increase their empathic abilities so they could be of more help to the Military Alpha Sentinels.” Peter sighed. “Sorry, you wanted to know how he got out. Blair told me that his mother got him out of a lab. She was a radical, had apparently done some light jail time for protesting, that sort of thing. Somehow, she got him out of the lab. Blair had been programmed to be the companion of an anthropology professor, hence his knowledge of anthropology. Since his escape, he's gone through the University and got his BA and his MA, and has been working towards his Ph.D. “
“Didn't the lab go looking for their property?”
“The Blair model was discontinued-- too many flaws. Their circulation is poor and they get cold easily. You have noticed how much Blair hates the cold, haven't you? His eyesight is defective. The facility that Blair came from was fire-bombed and all records and patents on the Blair, along with most of the Blairs themselves, were destroyed. My father called me into his office and told me all of this. He had been tipped off by a 'concerned' citizen. He was going to call the clone agency in LA and get them to collect their property. I couldn't allow that, Detective, but my hands were effectively tied. I argued that if was discovered that Blair was a clone, our family name would be besmirched. I convinced my father that the only way to protect the family was for me to separated from Blair by claiming Section 124. It was the best I could do. I knew Blair might be injured, but better to be alive and free, than caged. I couldn't let my father turn him over like an animal.” Pete's voice dropped into a sob.
Jim realized the beta sentinel had cared and still cared deeply for Blair. “Thank you for being so honest with me.” Jim got to his feet. Now that he understood the ghosts that haunted Blair, he could do something to help his guide.
“You're not going to turn him in, are you?” There was desperation in the beta sentinel's voice. “Please, detective. He's a good man.”
“We are bonded, and nothing is going to part us. He will be protected, even against himself.”
Peter closed his eyes as the words washed over him. It was the vow of a sentinel for his guide, and he knew the big man before him would die before he let anything happen to the enigmatic bundle that was their guide.
“One more thing, Detective.” Pete paused for a moment, briefly weighing the pros and cons of divulging Blair's last secret. “Blair is very insecure. He will use a chemical suppressant, a barrier, to help prevent his need for bonding, so sure that you'll consider him unworthy. He will never voluntarily press his need upon you. However, he often waits too long to use the medicine, afraid that you'll find his stash and prevent him from using it. I nearly lost him twice. I have no proof but I think that he was abused by an un-bonded sentinel. He seemed surprised when I didn't hurt him when we bonded as if that was the way it should be. I just thought you should know. If you can, make him bond, don't let him continue to be alone.”
Blair began to follow his sentinel as he had stormed off, but pulled back. Jim would never listen to him in his current frame of mind and pursuing the issue would only push him deeper into the primal state.
Simon looked up at the knock on his door. “Sandburg, what do you want?”
“Jim thinks that someone has been in your office. If you'll let me, I'd like to do a sweep - just to be on the safe side.”
“Where's Jim?” Simon asked, feeling there was something the assassin wasn't telling him.
“He … it was a sentinel thing.” Blair pulled the scanner out of his backpack and thumbed a switch, moving it round the room. “Bingo.” Mentally he added, 'you're getting predictable in your old age, Alex'.
He picked up the photograph of Simon Banks and his son, fishing. Ignoring the captain's indignant protests, he slipped it out of the frame and exposed the wafer thin bug. “There's number one.” He dropped it onto the floor and crushed it with his heel, then moved on.
“Number two.” Blair moved to the stuffed fish. 'Typical Alex. Always one for the whimsical.' She had once bugged a widow's ashes. Again, he destroyed the bug.
He moved around the room until he was satisfied he had found all the bugs. “You're clear now, Captain.”
“Thank you,” Simon said gruffly, picking the phone off the hook and punching in the number of the safe house. “Rafe. You and H get the hell out of there and go to Location B. You may have been compromised. Do it NOW.” He put the phone down, then looked at Blair critically. “So you are playing it straight with us?”
“I told you I had retired, and I have.”
For a moment the big captain held his gaze, then nodded. “I can't say that I like what you are, or were, Sandburg”, he amended, “but you keep on playing fair with us, and maybe, I'll begin to trust you some day soon.”
“Why, thank you, Simon,” Blair said over his shoulder as he left, a smile crossing his face as he clearly heard the “huff” from the captain.
There was nothing more he could do at the station, so decided to make his way home. Jim had called and Rhonda had passed on the message that he would see Blair at home. Blair wasn't sure what that meant.
Blair paced within the loft. Jim's home had become his home. He had truly been accepted for the first time, but wondered again if Jim could accept him if he knew the full truth.
The phone rang and the answering machine cut in before Blair could reached it. Peter Wagner's voice echoed around the loft. “Detective Ellison, I've emailed the information my father was going to use against Blair. I thought it might help.”
Harsh reality crashed over him like a bucket of cold water. Peter was no doubt turning over all the papers which had allowed him to break their bond. Jim had been pressuring Blair to stay upstairs after their bonding, but would Jim really want to share his bedroom once he read over the damning documents which had already driven his first sentinel away from him.
Blair shivered, chilled to the bone. Would Jim demand a separation as Peter had? No, Jim had promised that nothing could separate them. Blair squeezed his eyes shut against the harsh truth. It was one thing to make a promise during the heat of a bond, vowing that nothing mattered, but quite another to share his bed in the cool light of day.
Although it was the last thing he wanted to do, he pushed himself away from the one place he longed to be. He would use the chemicals from now on. If Jim didn't have to see him maybe it wouldn't be rubbed in on a daily basis that he was a clone, not even a real person, just a carbon copy. Blair rubbed his hands to try and warm them. //Not even a perfect clone, simply a defective one.//
Jim's computer was password-protected to a level that would take him too long to crack before the detective returned, so he could do nothing to delete the email file. He opened up the back of the computer and removed a board, then closed it up again. Crude, but it would work until he could hack in and destroy the email.
When Jim entered the loft dinner was already on the table. The sentinel gave an appreciative sniff. Blair was a good cook and definitely knew how to make more than the four dishes Jim had been living on since his divorce. “Aren't you going to have some?”
“No, I'm going to make an early night of it, Jim,” Blair responded as he turned toward his room, only to find himself snagged and pulled back.
“I can feel your tremors, Sandburg. Your controls are deteriorating. You're going to overload.”
Blair pulled free again with as much force as he dared. He had no desire to see Jim react the way Alex did when he pulled back from her, but to his surprise, Jim's hand just fell by his side. He started to back toward his room. “I'll be okay. Just leave it, man.”
The wooden door shut firmly, stating in no uncertain terms his guide's desire for privacy. For a moment the older man hesitated, unsure if he should follow or not. He wanted his guide to come to him of his own bidding, but if Blair took too long, then he would take matters into his own hands.
It seemed strange to be eating by himself. In the short time that Blair had been with him, the young man had become a very integral part of his life. For a moment he caught himself in the mirror. What did Blair see that was so frightening? He had just turned forty earlier in the year; not a particularly big milestone, age never bothered him. It was just proof that you were good at your job, that you got to live another year.
His hair was starting to recede. What had Sandburg called him? Hair challenged. A smile twitched at his lips. He definitely smiled more now that he shared his life with an enigmatic hyperactive bundle of energy. He noted his old Cascade PD sweatshirt on the back of the sofa, one of several items of clothing the kid had rescued from the Salvation Army collection bag. Blair seemed to need to be near him, even when he was on his own.
Okay, he admitted it to himself, he wasn't exactly Mr. Congeniality. He tended not to trust someone until they had proved themselves to him. But Blair had somehow gone right under his radar. Was it just Blair or did all guides sneak into their sentinels' lives?
His father had taught him that any show of emotion or compassion was a sign of weakness and he would suffer for it. Even his relationship with his brother had been poisoned by that rhetoric. What bothered him about Blair was that he could not define what he felt for his young guide. It was buried too deep in the hardwire instincts of the sentinel, to protect and nurture.
If he had to make a call, it would be that of a younger brother, someone who needed to be protected despite his skills as a Master Assassin. There was a fragility about Blair which called to Jim and could not be ignored.
Blair sat on his bed and looked at the pressure syringe in his hand. He pressed it against his arm and sighed as the drug hit his system. All the emotions of the world around him were swiftly shut out. He was all too aware of the care he had to take with the drug. If it was administered too late, the empath could be locked into an overload. He could not allow Jim to take him into his territory. Jim would eventually find out about him, and he could not face a second rejection. He would never survive the breaking of another bond.
The cell phone on the bed beside him rang, and he scooped it up. His mind was a little sluggish from the first hit of the drug, but cleared suddenly as if he had been dosed with cold water when he heard the sugary female tone.
“Hello, Angel.” Alex purred. “All alone, baby? It's a pity, what with that nice double bed of his, nice and big. Remember Reno when you got tied up for the night, and Frank and I …” She chuckled when she heard his breath catch and his heartbeat speed up.
“Get lost, Alex.”
“Your sentinel looked really good coming out of the PD. I think the blue tie matched his eyes.”
“Leave him out of this.”
“Who, Blair? A beta guide should always be submissive, remember?”
“Mistress.” He grated the word out. She was on a power kick, and if that word would keep her from fixating on Jim, then so be it.
“We are one, Blair. You know that. You feel it. You're my property. You might have bonded with him, but you belong to me and only to me.”
Blair clicked the phone off, hanging up on the call. He laid it on the bed beside him before it rang again, and again. Finally, he answered, without speaking.
“That wasn't nice, Angel, and bad guides have to be punished.” The laugh got more off key. He clicked the phone off and threw it across the room, then curled in on himself.
The smell of the simmering stew called to the sentinel. It was rich with beef and vegetables. He dished up a large portion with the new bread he had picked up earlier and placed it on a tray with a large mug of the kid's tea, then he lightly knocked on the door. No answer. He tried again, then pushed out his senses. Blair was too still, if he was scared or angry he would pace, but the heartbeat was too slow and his breath too deep. Blair came off the bed in a panic as he opened the door, cowering back from the sentinel.
“What the hell, Blair?” Jim put the tray on the small table by the bed, and closed the distance between them iIn two short strides. The confused younger man was caught up in a strong hug as the sentinel's hands began to run over him from head to toe, the need to check on him blotting out all logical thought.
“Easy, Jim, easy.” Blair tried to calm his racing heart, but the sentinel wasn't in any condition to listen to him. “I'm all right. Come on, talk to me, big guy.”
“Your heart was too slow, you're too cold.” Jim straightened, one hand cupping the back of his guide's neck as he was staring intently into his guide's eyes.
“I was meditating, man, nothing else. You…” Blair ground to a halt. “I'm sorry, Jim. You thought I had overloaded, didn't you? I was trying to keep everything in balance.”
He was pushed suddenly to one side as Jim snatched up the pressure syringe. “Have you injected yourself with this crap, Sandburg?” The tone was icy; the sentinel had gone from mother hen to blessed protector in one stride.
“ I only use that as a last resort.”
“You heard the doctor. You can't use this stuff while you're on painkillers. Why do you prefer this stuff to a true bond with your own sentinel?” Before Blair could stop him, he dropped the syringe and brought his heel down hard, smashing it.
Blair's anger flamed. “You conceited bastard. What the fuck do you know about me? Do, I have to spell it out, Jim 'alpha male' Ellison? I am a beta guide and nothing you can say will change that. I have to rely on you for shielding. I don't have any choice in the matter. Only as long as I have that stuff do I have a say in the matter. You heard about my section, you know what that means Mister Ex-Ranger. Do you really want that near you?”
The sentinel caught his guide by the shoulders and pulled him away, giving him a hard shake.
“Cut it out, Blair, and behave. You're my guide and if you're heading for an overload, you come to me. I am not going to reject you, and as our vows say, until death we are bonded. I am in this for the long haul.” He spun the younger man around and gave him a hard clip on the bottom. “Now get up there. I will bring you up your dinner, and you're going to eat it, then we're going to bond, and tomorrow you're moving all your stuff up there. I've let this go on too long. My territory is where you're supposed to be, guide. So deal with it.”
He watched his young guide reluctantly climb the stairs, an almost scared look thrown over his shoulder before he disappeared from view.
Blair sat down on the bed, his head in his hands. He would have to remove the threat to Jim, knowing he couldn't live with himself if something happened to his sentinel because of him. He should have guessed that Alex would never let him go.
He looked up as he heard the floor creak.
Jim handed him the food tray. “I want you to eat all of that,” he said gruffly but with a wealth of emotion.
Blair had to clench his fists to stop his shaking as he reached out to take the tray. It was as if he had the DT's.
Jim sat next to him, balancing the tray, his hand rubbing the smaller man's shoulders. With words and gestures, he coaxed the food into the guide. “As soon as you're done, we will bond.”
Only when the last morsel of food had been eaten, the last sip of drink drained, did he place the tray on the floor. With great care, as if handling something of great expense and delicacy, he eased Blair backward, shushing him when he tried to speak. He carefully arranged him so that he did not put any pressure on the bruise that, for the sentinel, was a reminder of how he nearly lost his guide. For a moment the anger blazed, but he stamped on it. Anger would not help now.
His finger pressed against Blair's mouth when the young man tried to speak. “Listen to your sentinel on this, Blair. Link with me now.”
Cold hands touched his face, and Jim felt the tug on his mind as his guide entered, sliding in like liquid ice, not Blair's usual warm touch. He immediately sensed the fear that was flooding the smaller man. For just a second he touched on something else, then, as if a door was closed on him, he was stopped from going deeper. He saw the fear which had blazed for a second in the blue eyes merely inches from his. Jim had to fight against the need to push, knowing that Blair was too fragile to handle his presence exploring his depths. Instead, he let himself be pulled deeper into the bond.
Using all of his skill, Blair deepened the bond, then nudged Jim into a light zone out. The sentinel would awake from it naturally without the need of a guide. It would only deepen Jim's sleep pattern, but still the guilt gnawed at him.
He quickly and quietly slipped from the bed and went down the stairs to his room. He tugged on his shoulder holster then checked the automatic clip before he replaced it in his holster. Moments later he was out of the door, heading towards the Cascade Hilton.
Alex was already gone, but on the wall, the mirror had the message “Catch me if your can, Angel.”
He needed a decoy to flush Alex out. Knowing who he would have to use, he turned on his heels and headed toward the door.
George Taylor was working hard putting a ship in a bottle when the doorbell rang and a young man entered his shop. He pushed down the knot of fear which bubbled up within him. “Angel,” he whispered. “Long time no see, my boy. What can I get for you?”
“A tranq gun. I want one, with eight measures.”
“That little beauty has a $13,000 tag on it, but I can get it for you by tomorrow.”
“Today, George. Now.”
The man climbed down from his stool and went to the back of his shop. He came back with a black case and opened it up. “Do you have your card, Angel?” He swallowed hard, putting a plastic glove on before accepting the slither of plastic.
Angel grinned ferally at him. ”Now would I do that to you, George?”
“Not that I don't trust you, my boy, but considering you whacked Carlo with a poisoned credit card I'm not inclined to take any chances. Too many people have died by being careless. I don't intend to be one of them.”
He ran the card through the computer then punched in the amount of the purchase. The funds would come straight from the assassin's account and, since the card would be connected to the Guild bank, would be untraceable. The electronic pathway would collapse the moment the transaction was completed.
He put the card down, but when he turned back, Angel and the case were gone. Of all the assassins he had dealt with, Angel made him the most nervous. The kid never tried to chill him out with the “I am a big bad assassin” crap. Angel inspired fear naturally.
Rafe heard the knock on the door and checked through the spy hole. He was slightly surprised to see Blair, but he opened the door all the same, waving the younger man in.
“Hi, Blair, what can we…” He never finished the sentence. One moment he was looking down the barrel of a gun, then darkness before he ever hit the floor. Brown came rushing in as he heard his partner fall to the ground and was down himself before he could even fire a shot.
“Come out, Ms Riva. If I wanted to kill you, these two would be dead. We're going somewhere safe, then I am going to nail the bitch that's after you. Or do you really prefer sitting here unprotected with a sentinel assassin out there looking for you?”
Stella nodded, still worried about the police officers, but grabbed her bags. She didn't know who the man before her was, but if he had found her, then the killer could find her as well.
Jim groaned as the telephone rang near his head. He slapped at the offending machine even as he registered the missing warmth of his guide. “Ellison,” he yawned, casting out his senses, looking for Blair. “Simon? No. I am okay. Why? Damn, Blair's gone. The stupid kid's in no condition to go anywhere. Yes, I'll come in. Is Dunn waiting? Give me twenty, okay?”
The storm warning on James Ellison had already gone out by the time he had entered the PD elevator. Enough people had either been at the receiving end of his temper or had heard about it to know the signs.
Alison Dunn was a newcomer to Major Crimes. She hadn't yet been assigned a partner and had been angling to be assigned to James Ellison. She had read his file and listened to the rumor mill, and decided that he was the one she wanted. Nearly everyone had said the same thing. Ellison didn't do partners, but they had also commented on how he had mellowed since his bonding. Now was the time to act. If she could prove to him that she was good enough to watch his back, then maybe the senior detective would take her on as his official partner.
Simon did the introductions. “Detective Jim Ellison, Detective Alison Dunn. Jim, you'll be working the second shift with her.” Leaning forward, he clicked a white noise generator on, watching as Jim tapped his ears as they popped when his sentinel hearing was suddenly neutralized.
“Sorry, Jim. Precautions -- just in case the other sentinel is out there. The office has been scanned within the last hour and is clean. Did we interrupt your video viewing, Detective?” Simon drawled as he saw Jim tapping a video case.
“When I came in, I had a word with the security officer and found out a couple of interesting things.”
“Hence the storm warning?”
“Don't worry about it. Continue.”
“This tape recorded events in the bullpen between midnight and 8 a.m. yesterday, specifically around 3 a.m.” He pressed play, then moved to the side of the screen, and froze the picture. “Now this woman here,” the picture focused on a seated young woman talking to Alison Dunn. “Do you remember why she came in, Detective?”
“She crashed her car, then began stripping on the side of the road, complaining that her clothes were like sandpaper. She had a headache, so we ran a drug and alcohol screen but they came back clean. I let her go. Why?”
“Just this, the woman you just described had the classic symptoms of an un-bonded sentinel in sensory overload, complete with headache. What I want to know is why you didn't recognize that fact?”
“Not everyone is a sentinel,” Alison said, not really understanding where the discussion was heading.
“You're expected to know how to recognize both sentinel and guides,” Simon put in. “You have read the sentinel package, haven't you?”
“Well, yes. It's just we never had them in Stockport.”
“Then, Detective, you should reread the packet as soon as possible. Rainier University is the foremost sentinel study institute in the country. We have more guides and sentinels here than any other city in the country. You need to know how to act and how to handle them in emergency situation.” Simon turned back to Jim. “You think she's the one, Jim?”
Alison stood fingering the file. This wasn't quite the start she had envisioned with Ellison.
From his jacket pocket he pulled out a second tape. “I took this from the garage surveillance camera.” He sat quietly as he watched the same tall leggy blond step out of the shadows and all but seduce his partner over the hood of his car. Blair appeared far from reluctant. “Same girl, Simon.”
“Where's Sandburg?” Simon leaned forward in his seat. Despite the fact that he was watching Sandburg lip lock onto their mystery woman, he realized he was seeing all the elements of someone being set up. He just wanted to make sure that someone wasn't Jim Ellison.
“Missing. We bonded last night, but he was gone when I woke up this morning.”
“So, he has his own agenda?”
“I think … he's trying to protect me.”
“Come off it, Jim. Even I know the sentinel protects the guide.”
“The guide can also protect the sentinel, Simon. It's a two-way street.”
But the captain was far from convinced.
Joel stepped quietly and without ceremony into the office. The fact the former bomb squad captain hadn't knocked showed how important his message was. Joel was known for being a stickler for formality since he had accepted the role of a senior detective in Major Crimes, not wanting any special privileges because of his former role in the department.
“Rafe missed his last check-in call. I dispatched a uniform to check things out. He just called in. Rafe and Brown where found unconscious, and Stella and her daughter are gone.”
“Great. This is getting better and better. What is it, Rhonda?” he asked, dreading the answer. The fact his normally happy-go-lucky secretary looked pale could not be considered a good sign.
“Blair just rang in.” She paused and swallowed hard. “He said to tell you that he has Stella and Nancy, and to reassure you that you'll get them back when he's finished. Dill tried to trace the call, but he wasn't on long enough to get a fix.”
“Jim, what the hell is he playing at?”
“I have no idea.” Jim suddenly exploded. “Why that stupid little… He's trying to flush her out, the other sentinel.” He paused. “It's a long story, Simon, but this other sentinel is female and an assassin. I suspect the woman we just observed on the tape. Blair's trying to keep her away from me. I swear I'm going to wring his scrawny neck when I get my hands on him.”
“Let me handle this, Simon, please. I can get them back, but if you start issuing APB's on him, this could get ugly. I promise, I can get them all back safe and sound.”
Jim waited, knowing that everything now hung on Simon Banks. “Then I want him in holding, and the key thrown away, you get me Ellison?”
“Don't worry, Simon, he's going to regret this. He won't be out of house arrest until he's old and gray.”
“You have twenty-four hours, Ellison, and God help you if anything happens to Stella Riva.”
“Rhonda, do you have the tape of Blair's call? I need to listen to it.”
Rhonda stood beside the detective and placed her hand on his shoulder, noting the look of pure anger he flashed at her. “Jim, I have some guide genes in me, I used to focus my brother before his bonding. Please, let me help.”
“He got to you, too?”
“He's a nice kid, even if he's a real demon with the ladies. I swear, he's already worked his way though filing.”
For the first time since Jim had awoken to find his young guide missing, he smiled. He could believe that, for once, his powers would help him.
He listened intently to the tape, then replayed it again and again, each time filtering out the static and background noises. He smiled when he realized he had found what he needed and reached for the local phone directory.
Nancy sat on the camp bed and watched her mother. She was twelve years old, and regardless of what her mother thought, she knew that something very bad had happened. Her stepfather had always frightened her. There was something about him that worried her. There had been looks she couldn't understand, but knew somehow they had been threatening. She shuddered and pulled her blanket around her shoulders and looked toward the other occupant of the room. Her mother said he was a police officer, but he certainly didn't look like one, or rather didn't look like the ones she saw on TV. He had shoulder length hair and colorful clothes, and was kind of cute.
“Do you really think the guild will send someone? I mean…“ Her mother trailed off when he looked up from cleaning a handgun, the headphones still in place. She tried again. “Are you sure? I mean bringing us here, surely there should be more police officers?”
“Stella, the Raven is after you and she doesn't give up. At the moment I am the only one who can keep her off your back. So, please, let me do my job, and you might just walk away from here.”
Angel turned back to the headphones. He didn't have time to hold her hand and mutter words of support; he had to distance himself from them. He was the Angel of Death, and they were living, breathing decoys: nothing more, nothing less. Their only function was to draw Alex out; protecting Jim was the only mission objective. Alex might have had the advantage, but with his equipment he was her equal -- a technical sentinel - his listening devices and sensors were more than a match for her organic sensors.
He snapped the clip into the automatic. It was a special guild model, with a built-in silencer. Unlike other models, the silencer did not retard the power of the weapon.
Angel tipped his head to one side; the Raven had landed. Alex had found them. The final die was cast.
Alex entered the disused hotel, her pretty face a mask of distaste. She ranged out her senses and immediately pulled them back in. Blair had set up pockets of white noise, and one of them would house him and the targets. She just had to find out which one they were in.
The only heartbeats she could detect belonged to the many vermin which inhabited the crumbling structure.
She entered through the side exit, and felt as if she had stepped back into a bygone era. On one side of the lobby was a small bank of elevators. The electricity was long since cut off, so it left only the main stairway, and it would mean a floor-by-floor examination.
The first two floors had nothing, and she moved up the stairwell toward the third floor. Her foot was about to descend onto a step when she froze. The next three steps had a faint dusting of sawdust discoloring the dust near by. With great care, she moved the rubbish collected on the edge of the stairway and found a sawed-off shotgun, deadly at close range, no doubt designed to blow her ankles to pieces. Working carefully, she disarmed the weapon. Although they had both taken the same courses, she had to admit, be it reluctantly, that Blair had surpassed her with his assassin abilities. While being a sentinel gave her a genetic advantage over most of her colleagues, being a guide had taught him how to counter most of her moves. She moved forward again, albeit much slower -- where there was one trap there would surely be more.
One by one, she shut off the white noise generators. Cocking her head to one side, she realized she only had three more to locate and check out.
Angel kept up the monitoring. He hadn't really expected Alex to fall into one of his traps. It would have been a bonus if she had, but that wasn't the way he expected this game to end.
He glanced over at Stella and Nancy. They were holding up well under the pressure, but in order to survive, they were going to have to follow his instructions to the letter.
He cocked his head to one side as he heard the change in the tone from the trackers. Alex had moved to a new floor. He checked the timer; all was now ready.
The old Penthouse had at one time been the height of 30's chic. He walked over to the far wall and pulled open the slide door. The dumb waiter was ready. “This will take you down to the kitchen. As soon as you get to the main floor, get out fast and call the police.”
“What about you?” Stella did not like the idea of the young man being killed on her behalf.
“I'll be all right. It's my plan, remember?” The smile was all show.
“Are you sure it will support us?”
“Yes. Now get going.”
Stella took a deep breath to calm her hammering heart and climbed in, then guided her daughter into her lap.
Angel looked toward the timer and clicked his headphones off just before the timer kicked in. The high pitch squeal was too high for them to hear, but for Alex it would be as if a burning iron had been thrust through her head. He released the counter weight. The dump waiter moved slowly, but steadily down.
He switched off his white noise generator, allowing a disabled Alex to hear his heart beat and the synthetic heart beats of her targets, then switched it on again, knowing the small taste would bring her running to him.
The white noise generator that Stella clung to would keep her and her daughter safely hidden from Alex.
Now the sentinel would come to his killing ground.
Alex stopped dead in her tracks and pressed her ear to clear it when it had popped. She carefully cast her senses out again, and swore she could hear three heartbeats. Her sense of smell located three Blairs. The little bastard was at his smoke and mirrors again.
She edged near the door, then fell flat as two bullets punched through the wall. One hit where her head had been, but the second hit her arm. It went numb with the shock. Unwinding her scarf, she tied it around the wound, realizing how lucky she was that it had only grazed her. Blair was playing for keeps. She glanced down at the second door, knowing it was possibly a connecting door, but pushed the thought aside as soon as she had it. If she knew Blair as well as she thought she did, there would be a shotgun rigged behind the door designed to cut her in two, meaning this was the only exit onto or off the floor.
She moved to the side of the door, then dropped down and back kicked it. The shotgun blasted a hole the size of a trashcan through the door. Blair had obviously lost none of his skills. Hell, he had been the only student to ever kill a teacher during his Masters examination.
She swung around the corner of the door, and dropped to her knees as she rolled clear, coming up with her gun perfectly balanced, then froze.
It was a Mexican stand off as Angel and Alex faced each other.
With a swallow, she realized she was looking at the real Angel, the cold professional; not the forced lover, the guide frightened about losing his sentinel, but the assassin even their own guild feared. She wasn't, however, going to let him know he had her.
She took in the electronic equipment. “Missing me already, babe? Is that why you have to be a techno sentinel? Artificial never beats the real thing. Surely you know that, Angel. Why get yourself killed for a stupid woman and her brat? Why don't we kill them together, split the fee then get the hell out of Cascade before that goodie-two-shoes sentinel gets in the way?”
The Angel looked at her thoughtfully. “It's too late for that, Alex. I've already had a better offer, one you can't top.”
“Freudian slip, Angel. Is that what he gives you? I seem to remember how you like to be submissive. But then you're a beta, and a clone, and, of course, you're bred to roll over for your master.” Alex kept on taunting Angel, hoping he react emotionally. If she could discover his weakness, she could put him down, then take out the targets.
“It's not going to happen the way you think it is, Alex. You're going to have to come through me first.”
“Getting soft, Angel? There was a time when you would have blown their brains out for pocket change.”
“That was never me, Alex. I never killed anyone that didn't deserve it.”
”And that is supposed to make a difference? That was always your problem and your attraction, Angel. You had to have a cause to hide behind, so you didn't have to face up to the fact you're as much a cold-blooded killer as I am. Of course, you never turned down a fee, did you?”
“I'll admit, I enjoyed a nice bonus for doing the right thing, but I've moved on.”
She ranged out her senses then pulled them back, the bubble of white noise was grating on her nerves, but she made a guess anyway. “They're not here, are they? You don't think you can hold me here forever, do you, Angel? You're going to make a mistake and then, like it or not, lover, I am going to have to kill you. Have you thought of that?”
“You don't get it yet, do you? I don't expect to leave this place alive and neither should you.”
For the first time he smiled as he saw the flicker of fear on her face as she realized she had walked into the perfect trap. She had banked on the fact that Blair would want to survive the confrontation. But now, she realized, that he was prepared to die to save them - no, not them. His sentinel.
She was unsure what to do. For her, this was pure business, and that did not include suicide. Somehow she had to force him to make a mistake, so she could take him down. Otherwise, she would never leave the building alive.
Jim got out of the truck and moved to the side of the hotel, not wanting to advertise his presence. Once inside, he fought against sneezing, noting the thick layers of dust which coated the place and what fixtures were still left. Pushing out his senses he counted the number of heartbeats: four, one he recognized to be that his guide. The two closest seemed to be in the wall. He pushed open the door to the kitchen and ducked as a flying pan swung over his head. “Mrs. Riva, Cascade Police Department. Where's Blair?”
“Top floor. You have to help him. The assassin's up there with him.”
“Get out of the building, and call 911.” He pushed his cell phone into her hand and started up the stairwell, his hearing already locked on the voice of his guide. The white noise generator was like tissue paper and shredded at the touch of his senses, thanks to his guide's ever inventive tests.
Through the background noise he heard Blair saying, “You don't get it yet, do you? I don't expect to leave this place alive and neither should you.”
He heard the silky female response which sent him into sentinel overdrive. Another sentinel near his guide. “You won't kill me, Angel, we share too much history. Tell me your sentinel understands you like I do? Can he do you like I do? Does he know the way you like to take it, Angel? Has he heard you beg for it?”
The goading tone was heavy, acting like acid biting into his brain. He moved faster up the stairs, intent on removing the threat to his guide. She would never have Blair.
Alex heard Blair's heartbeat increase slightly, but outwardly there was no sign of his emotions. She smiled as she realized she was close to finding his trigger.
Jim slowed as he neared the room. He didn't want to barge in and break Blair's concentration, knowing he could end up getting them both killed if he did. He called out, “Okay, Chief, I'm here.”
Blair's heartbeat shot up as he heard his sentinel's voice, not a good sign. “Get out of here, Jim. I can take care of this.”
Alex cut across him. “No, come on in, Sentinel, and see just who, or rather what, your precious little guide is really like.”
Jim entered the room slowly and stepped to one side. Blair had his gun on a woman, the same tall, willowy blond seen on the videos. Her gun was pointed at Blair in a typical Mexican stand off. There was no way he could kill her without her putting a bullet into Blair.
“Isn't this just cozy? Of course, we haven't been properly introduced yet. My name is Raven.” She looked Jim up and down, liking what she saw. “There's no real reason to argue over him, Sentinel, or do you prefer Jim? Remember, Blair? Two sentinels and one guide?”
“Shut up, lady. There's nothing you can say that would make me turn away from Blair.” Jim noticed that Blair stood a little straighter. Did the kid really think she could say anything that would make any difference to him?
“Are you sure, Jim?” Her pretty face turned ugly. “He's a clone, or didn't he tell you? He's not even a real person. Why do you think he's such a strong empath?” Her grin only made her taunts worse. “He's been made submissive. How many men do you think would allow me to carve my mark on him and come back for more? Bit of advice, one sentinel to another, he likes it rough when you bond. He can't really connect deep unless he's had a taste of pain, but when he does it is so sweet.”
Ellison's expression never changed. His attention never wavered from Alex.
Blair's face was ashen as he started to hyperventilate. Looking at Jim, he was cognizant of the fact that he had lost everything. Even if Jim didn't believe all the filth she was spewing, he knew his sentinel would realize there was at least some kernel of truth to her words. His heart shattered as he realized he had lost his last hope for a life bond.
He knew what Alex was up to; she was trying to throw Jim off guard so she could kill him. He couldn't allow that to happen, even now.
Alex carried on. “So, Jim, how does it feel to know your precious guide is nothing more than a glorified lab rat? Hell, he was even too faulty for his owner to claim him. He's a clone that should have had its neck rung when they had finished with it. Or maybe I should do the world a favor and kill him for you.”
Already she could see, that for all his professionalism, Blair was inching towards his sentinel. His attention might be fixed on her, but for all his calm, cool, supposed collectiveness, he was, on some unconscious level, focused on his sentinel. It made the anger burn even more brightly within her heart as she realized this was the one thing she could never have with him. She had taken, through blackmail, what she wanted, but he had never come to her bed willingly. He had always withheld the bond from her.
She decided then and there to put a bullet in Blair. Nothing terminal, but the cop would go into shock which would easily zone him. She would then kill him and take Blair for her own. If for some reason, he didn't zone, he would still die, because instinctively he would have to move to protect his guide. It was a prime inbred directive that would get the cop killed. She would still take Blair and bond with him -- within sight of his dead sentinel. He would then be hers. She had already taken his body; all that was left was to take his soul.
She shifted her balance and in that one second her gun wavered, Jim fired, the bullet throwing her backward. One thought ran through her mind -- he was a cop and he shot her.
Jim walked over and kicked the gun out of her reach.
“You're only a cop.” She coughed on the blood that bubbled at her mouth. “You shouldn't have...”
“Been able to take you, Barnes?” Jim finished her sentence. “Do you really think you're the only one here that's from the guild?”
“Guild?” She choked and blood ran down her chin.
“The Iceman cometh, Barnes.”
“You can't be. He's dead.” Her eyes opened wide. The Iceman was a legend from the early days of the clan. Rumor had it that one day he had just vanished. Everyone had assumed he had been taken down, although no one ever claimed responsibility for the hit.
“No, I simply changed professions.” He cocked his head to one side, listening to the approaching wail of police and ambulance sirens. “Pity they'll get here too late.” He never blinked as he pulled the trigger. The threat was neutralized once and for all. Slowly he turned towards his guide.
Blair took one look at the face before him, before his flight instinct kicked in. He was good, maybe even the best in the guild, but he knew instinctively that the Iceman was better. And he had just betrayed his sentinel. Jim might have forgiven him but from the Iceman there could be only one verdict.
Jim let him go as he heard the sound of footsteps racing up the stairwell. He slipped his ID out of his pocket and held it up as they entered. “James Ellison, Cascade PD. Call it in, Sergeant.” Alex Barnes was dead; but he still had a guide to find.
The old apartment block was large, but there was nowhere a guide could run that his sentinel couldn't follow.
Sergeant Miller was an old hand, and she readily stood back. Now was not the time to get between guide and sentinel. The quicker they were united the better for everyone.
Jim carefully threw out his senses, and a smile twitched on his lips. Blair was on the roof, but the smile died as he could hear the strain in Blair's voice. The kid was now more a risk to himself than anyone else.
Blair was pacing up and down on the edge of the roof. The sentinel felt fear settle in his stomach like a lead ball, knowing he had to get the younger man away from the edge.
“You know Jim, I was always okay with heights until the Mary Webb building. Can't be a sniper anymore when you can't climb up high.” Blair looked out over the darkened city, on the edge of hyperventilation. “I … I'm not going to block the separation, Jim. I'll go quietly.”
“Blair, come here.” He pitched his voice low and soothing.
The face that turned to him was one of total despair. He knew what Jim was going to say and he had to forestall it. He didn't want to hear the words being said. “It's no good, you won't want me. They never do.”
“Blair, nothing Barnes said to me made a difference. You're still my guide.” Jim repeated the words in a louder tone of voice, trying to punch through the wall of misery surrounding his friend. “You're my guide and your place is in my territory, by my side.”
“I'M A CLONE. DON'T YOU GET IT, MAN? What part of what Alex said did you not understand?” The anger lashed out. “My mother rescued me from a cage in a lab and...” Blair's breath came in short sharp pants. He swayed, as he struggled to get air in his lungs. His knees buckled and he pitched forward, but he was caught and pulled close, sheltered in the arms of his sentinel. Together they sank to the rooftop.
“Blair, I *am* a sentinel. I can still feel the brand on your shoulder. Do you really think I care about your being a clone? Her lies were just that. I understand that you had to do things to protect yourself, protect the truth in a bodyguard of lies. I understand, Blair. Believe me, I understand.”
Jim shook his head in frustration. The kid was a mass of contradiction, a master assassin but at the same time unsure of himself, scared that he would lose his sentinel because of an accident of birth. “You said *they always do.* What did you mean?”
“Peter's father had my bonding severed.”
“Blair,” Jim caught his chin to stop the younger man looking away, “someone contacted Peter's father and told him you were a clone, that's why they severed the link. Peter came up with the Section cover story to save you. His father was going to call the authorities in LA.”
“Oh, God, no, She always said that the only sentinel I would ever bond with would be her; but I couldn't; she wasn't the one. Even with Peter, I knew that there was something missing, that he wasn't you.” The tears he had tried to hold back, rolled down his face.
Jim pulled him even closer and held even tight. Blair's arms went around Jim's chest, his face buried against his sentinel's neck. The link between them flared and Blair knew all the emotions Jim Ellison was transmitting so freely to him: aggression, adrenaline, but also love and understanding, and the most important, trust.
Pieces clicked in Jim's head. His intelligent, hyper-active guide/master assassin had, in fact, very little self worth, all stemming from his time at the gene splicing institute. Blair had slowly grown from a victim into a survivor. He had stood up to Alex time and time again, and in return the bitch had come after him again and again. The injury he had seen on his guide's back was what Blair had been endured in order to protect him, knowing she would attempt to kill his sentinel. So Blair had gone with her to give him time to come up with a plan to take her out. Jim was humbled by the devotion Blair had shown, and he made his own silent vow at that moment, that he would protect Blair from anyone trying to harm him, even if that meant protecting the kid from himself.
The anger which Jim had held back came crashing back down. “Why in the hell didn't you tell me?” The anger made Blair pull back, but he was caught and pulled even closer. “Master assassin or not, you could have been killed.”
“If I died, you could have bonded again.”
He was suddenly peeled off Jim and held away from him and shook. “Do you think that my bond with you is that fragile, Sandburg?” The anger lashed around Blair, as hard as any blow. “If you had died I would have eaten a bullet. Don't you get it? I bond once and only once. You're my guide. There is no other.” Jim shook him again. “No one can ever take your place. We live or we die, but whatever the choice, we do it together.”
Blair was shaking, not from fear but from the depth of emotion coursing through his veins. It punched through his empathic barriers and cut him deep to the core of his being. Jim, the control freak sentinel, the man who did not wear his emotions on his sleeve opened his heart to his guide and let him see the depth of his feeling for him.
Jim could finally see that he was getting through to his guide. The tension eased in the smaller man as he made his vow. It was going to be his mission in life to build up the kid's self worth, but Jim was willing to put in the time. Blair had to understand how important he was to him.
Blair's hand tentatively reached out to touch Jim's face, needing the skin-to-skin contact with his sentinel. Jim needed to hear the truth from his own lips.
“Alex got a kick out of putting a clone through its paces. It seemed like a small price to pay for her willingness to keep my secret. The guild would terminate me with extreme prejudice if they ever found out. They might tolerate other genders but not a human cultured like fungus in a test-tube.” The bitterness rolled of Blair's tongue.
“Why did you become a assassin if you knew it could be a death sentence for you?”
“I wanted to go to the University, but didn't have the paperwork. Even Naomi's cell laughed her out when she told them she wanted me to have a normal life. They wanted me to be a trophy clone, one to roll out when they needed to prove their point. You know, a sort of trained seal? But Naomi refused, saying I had to have a life. The Assassin Guild University is in Vancouver and cloning is illegal there. It's also one of the best universities around. You don't have to take up the *arts* when you graduate. I could have just taken the degrees and gone. But I was good at it, Jim. You have to understand that for the first time I was good at something. And maybe it was a flaw in the cloning but I could do it, I could kill. The moral part of my makeup meant that I had to justify it, so I only picked accepted contracts on people who had it coming, people who had somehow escaped justice. I also needed the money to pay for my education, so that I could get the degree I wanted. I love anthropology, and the guild was a means to an end.”
Blair took a steadying breath. “I was programmed to be a companion for a professor of anthropology. My creators thought I would need a working knowledge of the field. I just continued to supplement that knowledge. However, once the professor saw that I had defective eye sight and bad circulation, he said I was faulty and sent me back to the labs.” Blair shivered at the memory.
“You're safe now. Cascade outlawed clone ownership years ago and even emancipated all clones within the city limits. They are people, citizens. You're safe now, Blair. You can stop running.”
“The only way I would run is to you, my sentinel.” Blair rested his head on Jim's shoulder showing his total trust in the man who held him.
Jim smelled the cigar even before he heard the heavy footsteps climb the steps toward them. Simon Banks.
Simon wanted answers but taking one look at the sentinel and guide together he knew it would have to wait, neither was in any condition to explain much of anything. “Jim, I want both your statements tomorrow morning, and God help him if the bullet in that woman came from his gun.”
“I killed her, Simon. She would have killed Blair, and I couldn't allow him to be hurt.”
Simon shook his head in disbelief as Jim pulled Blair closer, using his hands to keep in physical contact with his guide. //His guide is a professional killer, and yet he's treating him as if he were made of glass. If this is the Sandburg Zone, I want out.//
Standing, Jim pulled the smaller body with him. Blair clung tightly to Jim, as the last of his empathic barriers crumbled away. The aggression and pent-up emotions from the captain began to penetrate his mind, causing him to moan.
Jim paused only long enough to tell his captain, “We'll be in tomorrow, real early. Thanks.”
On the way home, because that was what the loft had become to him, Blair lapsed into silence. He had pulled back from Jim, as he tried to shore up his emotions. He flinched as the sentinel reached for him, knowing that Jim's touch would be his undoing. All the words they had said on the roof suddenly seemed so distant. Jim had looked at him a bit funny as they got into the truck. Blair realized he was probably already regretting his words. Who was he to think that he deserved some happiness? He was an assassin and a clone. Isolation from mankind was his penance. He was stupid to allow himself to believe he had found or even deserved happiness. It only made things worse when it was snatched away. He would move on, and let Jim put his life back together with an unsoiled guide. The Grand Master deserved better than him. He wonder if the Iceman would put a contract on him? He wondered if he even cared? No, the Iceman wouldn't need a contract, not when he could do it himself.
Once inside the loft Jim locked the door behind them. Blair hugged himself tightly. “I'll go to my room now.”
Blair hurried into his room, closing the door behind him. He needed his injection. His barriers were trembling and he knew he was on the edge of a cascade overload. Bending down he reached under the bed and found the small white box where he had hidden the rest of the barrier drug and second syringe. Blair laid them on the multi-color comforter on his bed and just stared at them. He looked longingly at the locked door.
The sentinel had promised him that all he had to do was walk out of the door and tell him he needed to bond. But by doing so, would he be signing away his independence? The true bond was like a drug to a guide, like in a warm balm for the mind, cradled and cherished by the sentinel, making the guide feel like they were the beginning and the end, the alpha and the omega. It was a heady thought. A part of him longed for that safety. If he had that sort of bond with Jim, would he ever be able to leave? Would he ever want to?
The sentinel was strong not only physically, but emotionally as well. Blair knew that Jim wouldn't really eat a bullet. He could survive the break. He, on the other hand, might not, but he couldn't bring his baggage down on his sentinel. Jim might be the Iceman, but he had left the guild. Blair's presence would only serve to draw unwanted attention to him. For the first time since he had joined the guild he feared another assassin. //Hell, the Iceman was a Grand Master Assassin, he even had a seat on the Council at one time.// This was no ordinary sentinel. He realized he best leave Jim to his new life and a new guide. //That's what I'll do. I'll leave him tonight, clean break, it's the only way.//
Jim shot a barbed look at the door then picked up his cell phone and stalked out onto the balcony. His finger stabbing out a long remembered number.
Philip Curtain, yawned and stretched: it had been a hard day so far, but the last of his patients had canceled and left him with a blissful half hour to unwind before his rounds.
With a sigh he picked up the phone. “Philip Curtain.”
“Phil, it's James Ellison.”
“Eerie Ellison. It's been a long time.”
“I need your advice. I am … well … bonded.”
Philip paused as he took in and considered this latest tidbit. Then sitting straight up in his chair, said, “Okay, Jim, talk to me.”
Swiftly Jim outlined what had been happening with Blair since they had bonded, keeping some sections deliberately vague.
“So you have only bonded twice since you came on line.”
Jim's tone was defensive. “So?”
“So that's not normal, Jim. Most pairings bond on an average of three times a week. It keeps them in rhythm, gives them balance. Are you sleeping with him?”
“Do you sleep with him?”
“What the hell are you asking, Phil?”
Phil winced and pulled the phone away from his ear, some things never changed. The sun rose in the morning, and James Ellison vented. //Whoever his guide is must have the patience of a saint.// “Right. I can see that you have a problem; but don't worry, it's nothing we can't fix. Your guide is apparently holding back. Now it's possible, from what you said, that he's *gun shy* for want of a better word. He's been bonded before and been separated. There's no doubt he would have suffered very badly after the withdrawal. In some ways, he's very lucky. A lot of guides who go through a break don't survive. It's very possible he feels that if he holds back and uses a chemical bond, he's safe. After all, the chemical will never reject him. However, this goes against nature. Guides and sentinels are supposed to sleep together. Now before you get your panties in a wad, I mean 'sleep' in a non-sexual way. Haven't you been waking up with headaches?”
“That's because your subconscious is straining to find your guide. The sentinel needs to be able to wrap his senses around his guide, to know that he's safe, warm and protected. Once a guide is secure, the sentinel pushes out to make sure the rest of his or her territory is safe. The bonding also helps provide shielding for the guide, whose barriers are often very low or non-existent at night. You two aren't bonding, hence the need for the chemical barrier. You're going to have to admit it, Jim, you're a throwback to pre-civilized man. The sentinel needs a guide, so go on and take him. The Alpha needs the Beta.”
“That's crap.” Jim snapped back, the whole idea of Alpha and Beta disgusted him.
Phil looked across his office at his sentinel medical degree. If it hadn't have been for Captain James Ellison, he would have died in a stinking hole in a South American prison. The man was going to be stubborn over this, just as he had been when, wounded, he had carried Phil over ten miles to the extraction point.
“Jim, it's what holds the partnership together, on the most primitive of levels. Admit it, Ellison, you're the Alpha.” He let his voice lighten slightly, “In the words of a very wise man, 'Go with the flow,' man. So, Jim, go and take your guide. Alpha, go claim your Beta.”
“He's locked himself in his room.”
“First off, Jim, no guide should lock himself away from his sentinel; and secondly, if he's using the barrier drug again, he's in danger. He will eventually have to take increased dosages which can seriously do him harm if he isn't careful. Natural is always best. So, what are you going to do?”
“This ends now.” The phone clicked off.
Phil raised his coffee cup in mock salute. He would call back tomorrow, late, for an update. “Go to it, Captain.”
The first thing Blair saw as his door exploded off its hinges was a very angry Jim Ellison closing the distance between them. Blair was too stunned to react as the syringe was knocked from his hand and the sentinel's hand caught his hair near the scalp, dragging him from his room.
Once the initial shock had worn off, Blair attempted to free himself. His slammed his elbow into Jim's side but all he got was a grunt of pain. He stumbled, as they came out of the room, throwing Jim off balance. He brought his foot down hard on the instep and the sentinel released him as a blow doubled the older man up.
Blair headed for the front door. He had never seen such an intense look on Jim's face before and decided he didn't want to stick around to see what it meant. However, before he could move, a steel-like grip caught his layered shirts and he was thrown back onto the sofa beside Jim. Blair rolled onto the floor and onto all fours as he powered up. His room had the emergency exit; if he could get to it, he was free.
But the sentinel had come off the sofa with a bounce and caught his ankle and pulled him flat on the floor. Blair went face down on the carpet as strong arms caught him round the waist and pulled upright. He used everything he knew, but was hampered by the fact he didn't really want to do anything to permanently harm his sentinel. “Let me go. Fuck it. Jim, let me go.” His feet were lifted off the floor.
Blair barely registered the word. “What?”
”Never. Let. You. Go.” Four words that knocked the fight out of the smaller guide.
Silent tears fell down his face. “Jim, you don't understand.”
He was lowered so that his feet touched the floor. “Sandburg, I'm tired of your running. You've run enough. Now get upstairs, NOW!”
“Jim, I …” Blair's voice trailed away; there was an intensity in Jim's gaze which scared him.
Jim didn't allow the guide to edge away from him. Blair was caught and frog marched up to the bedroom and pushed down on the double bed, a relic left over from Jim's marriage.
Looming over him, Jim - no, the Alpha Male -- began reciting the new house rules. “First rule, Chief: This is our bonding bed. I've let you get away with being on your own for far too long. I should have moved you up here the first day you came home with me. Second rule: No shoes on the bed. You can read in bed, of course, just don't leave any books where they're going to end up sticking in my kidneys. And lastly, you will stop injecting that crap into your veins. What you need or even want you get from me.” He paused “Any questions?”
Blair recognized it was the Alpha putting something right he had neglected. An Alpha who was going to show his beta exactly to whom he belonged. And with a heart-warming jolt, Blair realized he didn't mind a bit. He reached for his sentinel, waiting for a long heartbeat before Jim took his hand as if it was a great treasure. He lowered his eyes. “Bond with me, Alpha.”
With great care, Jim's other hand tilted his head up as if he were made of the most fragile china. “My beta, my equal, my guide.”
“Jim, the beta is never equal.”
“Rule four: In our bond, we are both equal.” Kneeling down, Jim caught a trainer-covered foot, and pulled the shoe off. His hand ghosted over the foot, frowning at the iciness. He followed the process with the other foot. He moved to the thermostat and raised the temperature on the heat. His guide didn't have good circulation; he would remember that and keep the setting up higher. He would not allow him to be cold in his own home.
Watching his sentinel, Blair eased back in the center of the bed. In his head he could see how different his life was going to be now, compared to what it had been ten years ago.
9 years ago. Swann Experimental Center LA.
B346 pulled his clothes tightly around him. He was shaking from the experiments they had just conducted on him. He had heard them talking about him, *Lab Rat 23/B346.* The pain in his head was making it hard to think. He looked up at the orderly escorting him back to his cell. The man's grip was tight on his arm, and he was placed inside his cubicle as the door slide open. The orderly released his hold, and waited as Blair stripped naked. B346 made no attempt to hide himself; he was their property, just as much as the table and chair, and not worth as much to them. He had to fold his clothes but took too long. The orderly had a date, and this lab rat was going to make him late. He clipped B346 hard on the head. B346 was already off balanced from the experiments and fell face first into his cubicle, his teeth cutting open his lip as his clothing fell from his hands.
"Now look what you made me do." The orderly was angry. The doctors didn't mind what happened to their lab rats as long as the package was not damaged. He clipped him again, harder, with the flat of his hand. “Pick that up.”
B346 bent and groped for the overalls, his fingers felt numb and he couldn't co-ordinate. The orderly hit him again, then caught his long hair and pulled him up, knocking the overalls out of his hands. The orderly pushed him flat against the cage as he checked the bracelet and logged the lab rat back in. “Now get in.”
B346 climbed into the cubical, which was nothing more than a square mattress. There were no blankets. The conditions in the room were carefully monitored, the Perspex walls meant that he and the others where always under surveillance. The door was locked back into place and the orderly left him alone. B346 curled up and, for the first time, allow ed the tears to fall. His shivering was not from the cold, but from the despair which welled within him.
He had seen the other empty cubicles. Three more of them were gone, the slates outside the cubicles wiped clear. He knew that meant the moment they had finished with him, he was dead.
He woke with a start as the door to the room flew open, and several hooded people rushed in. The seal on the door was forced and they reached for him. He tried to kick them off him, but there was the sting of a needle in his leg, and his world suddenly telescoped as he blacked out.
With great care the hooded people lifted the clone out of the *hutch* and laid him on the floor. He was wrapped in a sleep bag and tossed over the shoulder of one of the larger figures, then they left.
Dr. Swann viewed the carnage with a bitter look on his face. This was the first time the Liberation Front had actually broken into a facility. And the fact they had his main lab rat was what was really burning him. He stalked out and picked up the phone, but instead of calling 911, he called the Mayor. If the man wanted another campaign fund contribution he would have to play ball.
Naomi Sandburg watched the clone as it came off the sedative, only to watch it throw up violently all over himself. When they tried to help him, he had made a terrible noise, and pulled back into the corner of the room. Whenever they came close, the noise grew louder.
Josh shook his head. "A defect, we got a bloody defect.”
"No. Mitch said that this one was being tested for empathy. They were trying to increase his ability. I think they did it. Look at him; he's reading us. We have to take this nice and easy. Now think only good thoughts."
"That's crap, Naomi."
"Goddamn it, Josh."
The man in the corner whimpered. Carefully, Naomi inched forward. This time the clone just pulled back; making a low keeling noise.
"No one is going to hurt you, sweetie. It's all right, baby. I'm right here."
This time when she moved closer, he flinched but didn't pull away. She put a hand under his chin and lifted his face to hers, with her other hand she brushed his hair out of his eyes.
"You're with friends, Blair. No one's going to hurt you again." The next moment he was in her lap, his head pressed against her, holding her tightly. She waved Josh away. "I'm here, sweetie, I'm here." She gently rocked him. Her hand brushed the brand on his shoulder, B346.
Jim pulled pillows from behind his back and coaxed his guide into his arms, supporting his body against his chest. “You have to breath for me, buddy. That's right, nice and slow, in and out.” With care, he coached his guide's breathing back to normal. When Blair struggled weakly, he held all the tighter. “Talk to me, Blair.”
“I was branded like an animal. My mother removed it.” Blair's voice dropped to sentinel soft as he told his story. His grip tightened onto Jim, hanging on for dear life, now that he finally told his story. He looked up, ready to face the revulsion on his sentinel's face.
But there was none.
Jim's voice dropped to a whisper. “Truth hidden in a bodyguard of lies, Chief. I can understand that. Would you have ever told me?”
“Would you have ever asked?” Blair turned the question back to him.
“No, I would have waited for you to come to me. It was your secret, and not my place to force you to tell me.”
“Talk about secrets, when would you have told me about you being the Iceman?”
“About the same time you would have told me you were the Angel of Death. Or maybe never. That was another life, Chief.” He released a small sigh. “When I went to bring Holland down, I reactivated my file on the guild computer, but I am who I am now. The Iceman can go back on the retired file again.”
“Why did you retire Iceman?”
Jim chuckled. “For the same reason you did, Angel. A change of profession, I became a cop. But the world had just better look out because between the Iceman and the Angel there's no one who can stand in a way.”
Blair suddenly shivered as the day began to catch up on him. He was pulled close and wrapped within a warm blanket.
When Blair had calmed, the sentinel eased his guide down, wrapping himself around the smaller man, cocooning him. Blair reached out a shaky hand and laid it on the side of his sentinel's face, amazed by the fact that Jim would allow him this privilege. The connection between them heightened as the contact blazed.
Instinct wanted this. Pathways opened and connected, the first and second bond having prepared the way. This was the merging of two souls. This time Blair didn't try to stop the sentinel from delving deep. He opened his mind fully and moaned in pleasure as the sentinel shield bathed his mind in peace, and Jim, the most private of men, opened up for his guide. There were no barriers between them. Life histories passed back and forth, nothing was held back. Seeing without seeing, Blair could watch the life of his sentinel play out.
With a gasp he opened his eyes. He had bonded with Peter, but never like this. As a member of the Morality League, bonding was viewed as decadent and unnecessary, but now he had a sentinel who embraced it fully. He rubbed his face against the side of his sentinel's neck, the typical behavior of a beta to its alpha, and this time Jim did not argue.
“Like this, man, makes me feel owned.”
“Blair,” Jim pulled back only to be caught and held down.
“It's okay, Jim. It's the way it should be. I was stupid to deny it, I can be my own man as well as a guide, ying to your yang. Right?”
“Right. Whatever you want, Blair.” Jim relaxed and with great care eased his body back down, careful to take his weight off the smaller man.
Blair's hand caught him and pulled him down. “Need to feel you.” There was a slight panic to his voice as if scared that Jim would leave him.
“Sleep. I'll be here when you wake.”
“Promise?” Blair yawned hugely.
“Promise.” Jim gave Blair a hug, making sure he understood. Sentinel and Guide were now one, and heaven help any one who tried to get in the way.
The guild computer in Vancouver opened to the hacker's code, and the name ICEMAN was tapped into the search function, then the enter key was hit. A few seconds later the words ICEMAN ACTIVE STATUS came up. The file was lost as the firewall tore through the link.
2nd June 2001