Disclaimer: The main characters are not mine, this is an amateur effort written purely for the fun of it, and no money has exchanged hands, and it is not intended to breach the copyright of Paramount and Pet Fly Publication.
With many thanks to Susie, Kathy, Olwyn ,Lois and Gail for all your help.
This story is in the GDP series, and fits the timeline around Buried in the Past.
Echoes of the Past
The day had been a long one for the Jason Evans. He had a board meeting to attend and then the photocopier had all but blown up, taking a secretary with it, which meant that he was running late, but the paperwork had had to be prepared so that he could post it tonight to the stockholders. Sometimes he wondered it if was all worth the hassle.
Jason Evans came out of his office. It was late, and he was in a hurry to get home. He lengthened his stride as he headed towards his car in the underground car park. He frowned; he couldn't remember the overhead light being smashed when he parked that morning. Juggling his briefcase and his keys, he bent down to open his car door.
Jason turned as he heard the voice, frowning, and then threw a hand up as if it could protect him from the bullet that was going to kill him.
"Long time no see, Jas." Then the man standing in the darkness caused by the smashed light fired, and Jason was thrown back against the side of his car. As he slid to the floor he left a bloody trail down its door. The killer walked over and looked down at him and then dug in his pocket. He paused for a moment to look at the badge, and then with a smile threw it to the floor by the body and walked away.
The loft was quiet, the curtains pulled and the room was in a soft light, all the better to soothe a Sentinel.
Jim Ellison was in his own personal hell, and its keeper was Blair Sandburg. He was seated with his eyes blindfold, as his Guide was running through some tests.
"Okay, Jim, now I need to you take a deep breath and then tell me exactly what you are smelling."
"Well, to start with, you."
"How do I smell? You never told me."
"Hard to describe, Chief. Like this, you're excited and you smell slightly different than normal. When you're scared, there's another note to it --"
Blair made a note in on his pad. //Jim knows when I'm scared. Puts a whole new slant on the stench of fear that could be the triggering mechanism for the Blessed Protector Mode.//
Jim continued, "-- a musky ginger scent. Now, when you're excited, there is a white chocolate edge to it. I like that, but when you're frightened, there is a sour edge to it. I don't like that."
Blair noticed the way Jim tilted his head towards him even more; his nose flared and his mouth opened.
//He's tasting the air, tasting my scent.//
"My scent marker is on you, and I can smell the scent of linkage on you, Chief. It's stronger when you want to bond." A smile twitched his lips. "You want to bond now, and the scent is getting thicker the more you want it." His voice was edged with smug satisfaction.
Blair shifted uncomfortably. He'd had a bad day, and some hostile students had battered his barriers down. Luckily he had managed to hold them up. But once the tests were completed, he was going to ask Jim for a Sentinel Night, their code word for a night of bonding and chilling out together, not just as friends but as Sentinel and Guide. His pen scratched on the pad. But it seemed that Jim already knew.
Just then the phone rang. Blair moved to answer it. "Yes, can I help you?" He put a hand across the mouthpiece. "It's Simon for you, Jim. Police business."
"I know, Chief." Jim was already on his feet, the blindfold pushed down and reaching to take the telephone away from him. Although he always checked in on phone calls coming into the loft, ever since the obscene phone calls aimed at Blair, he normally tuned them out if they were for Blair.
"Hello, Simon. ... Right, Castle and Hartman underground car park. We should be there in ten." The phone clicked down on the cradle. "Come on, Chief, we have work to do."
The crime scene had been marked off with tape, and forensics was already at work. Dr Harvey came over as soon as Jim arrived, her Guide Jon in tow. He nodded a welcome to Blair and then kept back as the two Sentinels talked.
The doctor put her hand out for the small plastic bag holding one of the few items they had found around the car. It would be collected and logged, and then examined and possibly discarded. But at this moment any small thing could mean a breakthrough. "We found this near the body. We have to identify the logo. Once we have, we might know if it's relevant, or just something someone has dropped on the way to their car." She dropped the small bag into his outstretched hand.
Jim's eyesight zoomed in on it without any conscious thought until it was all he could see. His hearing went off the board, the beating of his heart was like a drum in his head. His breath started to hurt as he breathed, and then he froze.
Blair had only the slightest of warnings. Their connection flared, and he pressed into Jim's mind, only to nearly carried away in the swirling emotions. Pressing hard he managed to splinter the zone out, and with a start Jim came round with a gasp.
"God, man, you had me worried there, what happened?"
"N-nothing, Chief." Jim sounded stunned and confused.
Blair pulled back from asking more questions. Like this, Jim would be unable to answer him, so better they do it at the loft. Bonding always mellowed Jim Ellison out, and then he was more likely to open up to him. But at the moment they had work to do.
They had just gotten into Major Crimes when the phone rang. A second murder, again short range, and this time the man had been coming out of the Cascade Shopping Mall.
The events of his day at the University had started to catch up with him, so Blair was yawning hugely as he settled into the truck, as Jim pulled out of the garage and into traffic.
The uniforms had the area roped off. Officer Kidd’s face hardened when he saw Blair Sandburg in tow. He ignored the Guide. He would never acknowledge the man. "He was found half an hour ago by a McDonalds' worker. She had just finished her shift and was on the way home. She heard what she thought was a car back-firing, and then she saw him collapse. She had first aid training and rushed over -- a regular Good Samaritan, and there aren’t that many around these days. He was dead when she got here. She had the presence of mind to call it straight in, and then locked herself in her car."
"Do we have a name on him yet?"
"The wallet says Kerry Nelson. He's a 29 year old rep for Starbucks. He called into the local store and was leaving when this happened. We're waiting for forensics."
"Okay, keep everyone back. Come on, Chief." Jim ducked under the rope, and held it up for the smaller man to duck under.
Kidd’s face darkened. He smiled as he saw the Guide flinch, as he turned all his hatred on him.
Blair moved round on the other side of his Sentinel, as far as possible away from the uniformed cop. Then he was all business again as he knelt down next to his Sentinel, his hand on the muscular forearm as he grounded him as Jim worked. They found nothing but a shell case. The last time the killer had taken it with them; this time they had missed it, possibly because it had fallen down between a split in the pavement.
"Blair, get a stick of chalk from your backpack. I want to mark this."
"Just don't start any sweeps until I get back, okay?"
"Sure, Chief." Jim looked up and his attention caught something, and then his mouth fell open as his whole body froze.
Kidd hesitated. They yelled, "Guide, get your ass back here. Your Sentinel's zoned."
Blair turned fast, and as he hurried past, Kidd snarled, "Pansy-assed little freak. You can't even do your job!" He aimed a blow, rocking Blair forward with a hard clip to the back of the head.
The young Guide did not have time for him; all that mattered now was Jim. Blair moved close to the Sentinel statue. "Jim, man, you have to come back to me now." He placed his hand on the Sentinel's shoulder and with the other he reached up and lightly stroked the side of the older man's face. Blair closed his eyes and connected through the link. He couldn't do it seeing the leering look of the uniformed cop. He was being buffeted by the negative emotions.
His mind entered that of his Sentinel for a moment. There was an icy block shutting off Jim's mind from him. Blair centred himself and pushed, at the same time using touch and voice to back up his efforts. This time it took longer; Jim had gone deeper.
Just as suddenly, it splintered, and Jim sank forward, his hands going down to brace himself. He took some deep steadying breaths. "I’m all right, Chief." His Guide's concern swept through him, heavily edged with guilt. "You did good, kid."
"What were you looking at?" Blair looked round, trying to see what could have done it.
The Sentinel shook his head. "Not now, Chief. I have work to do."
"Take him home, Sandburg, and find out what the hell’s going on."
"I am all right, Simon," Jim protested.
"You didn’t even know I was here, Jim. Go home and, have Sandburg, put it right. I expect you in the bull pen tomorrow, nine o'clock. Now get the hell out of here." Simon added gruffly, but with obvious concern.
Jim's keys hit the basket as he walked in; he was fuming. "Sent home like a kid at kindergarten. You heard the man -- fix it, Sandburg."
//Oh ho, it's back to Sandburg. Jim's certainly rattled. It's been a while since he zoned that badly, and he's going to want answers.//
"First, I need you relaxed, Jim, so we are going to meditate."
"More of that new age crap."
Blair took a steadying breath. When he was scared, his Sentinel lashed out. Blair had learned that much about Jim Ellison very quickly. Thankfully it was always verbally, never physically, whereas Alex Barnes had preferred blows to words, and in the cold weather he still had the aches to prove it.
He could feel his own barriers begin to tremble; he needed to bond, but for the moment he pushed his own needs to the back and tried again. "You might not like it, Big Guy, but it works, so do it, okay?" The last was said with the kick ass snarl of a Guide.
For a moment, Jim just looked at him and then reluctantly took a seat.
"You know the form, Jim, close your eyes, and place your hands on your knees. I am here, and you won't fall. Now breathe in and out slowly, and listen to my voice." Blair's tone changed to the coaxing tone of the Guide, the one that spoke directly to the Sentinel on the most primal of levels.
Blair finally leaned back, running a hand in frustration through his hair, pushing it back out of his eyes. It hadn't worked. Every bloody trick in the Guide book, and he had been hitting a block every time. There was something very wrong and he didn't have a clue what it was, but it had buried itself so deeply in his mind that Jim Ellison was not going to give up his secrets easily.
With a steadying breath, he brought Jim back out of the meditative state.
"Nothing, but I can…."
"Hell, Sandburg! I thought that was what you're here for. If you can't help me, who the hell can?"
"I can help you, Jim, I just need time, that's all." He tried to catch hold of the bigger man's arm as he got up, only to be shaken off as Jim stormed into the kitchen. There was a sound of the refrigerator opening and then the clink of a bottle.
The Sentinel walked back in, a beer in his hand. His face was grim. "Sandburg, I can't do my job if I keep zoning, so fix it." With that he snapped on the TV, pausing only to look at him. "Am I keeping you, Guide?"
It was clear he was dismissed; Blair collected his books and retreated back into his room. Jim was scared; that much was plain, he would never react like that unless he was. He had to find the source of it fast, otherwise the zones would get deeper. But where to start?
The Bull Pen
Blair was aware of the tension in the bullpen; they had the worst kind of killer at large -- a serial killer, two killings in one day. The bullets from both victims had confirmed that.
The incident board just seemed to mock them. Word had already gone round the office about Jim Ellison's zone outs, and Rafe's concerned enquiry to the Sentinel had resulted in the whole room being put on Storm Warning. The anger was bubbling just under the surface. It was a time to walk softly. His anger had yet to find a target, and no one wanted to be that target.
It was ten to six that evening when the call came in. A young man at the Cascade Gallery had been found dead in the Smith-Barrow display.
The guard explained in a shocked tone, "I thought he had just dropped asleep, and I went to wake him," he shuddered. "He just fell forward, dead."
Jim bent over the body, and with his gloved hands carefully peeled back the jacket, then eased out the wallet and flicked it open. There was a driving licence for James Lang. His business card was for a local clothing store; he was a buyer. His diary showed an appointment for four p.m. scrawled on the back of a card.
Blair saw a slash of colour under the low seating. He lay flat and snagged it out with a gloved hand. He turned the box slowly in his hand, puzzled, and was about to open it when a larger hand covered his.
"No, Chief, let me check it out first."
The Sentinel took it from his Guide, and then cast his senses over it. For a moment he nearly zoned and then the light pressure of his Guide's fingers pulled him back from the brink. Each sense moved over the box. Only when he was sure it was clean did he open the box.
The box fell from lifeless fingers. As it hit, a doll bounced out and across the floor, the figure of a Boy Scout. Blair bent and scooped it up. He was not up on these things but he recognised the black and white piping on the figure showing a Scout Sentinel.
"Jim," Blair caught hold of his Sentinel’s arm, "not again." He dropped the doll and caught his Sentinel, pulling him close, letting him hear his Guide’s heartbeat, scent and touch. This coupled with his voice brought him back. Blair thought back, Jim had zoned the moment he had seen the doll, but why? What power could a cheap fifteen-dollar doll have over a Sentinel?
The bullpen braced itself for the arrival of James Ellison. Rhonda had already received a heads up warning from the officer on the scene, namely one Bryn Rafe.
The argument was in full swing when they walked through the door. "You're the Guide for god's sake. I could have more help from a trained monkey. This is-- what? Three times in two days?"
Blair cut in front of him and planted himself straight in the way of his Sentinel, then prodded him hard in the chest. "Listen to me, you hard-headed, Neanderthal throwback. If you listened to me in the first place you wouldn't have this problem, so for once shut up and just listen to me."
Brown all but disappeared behind his desk. This was not good. //Nice knowing you kid.//
Jim loomed menacingly over his smaller Guide. He reached out and caught Blair by the arms and brought him slowly up so that his toes trailed on the floor, and he was looking his Guide in the face. The blue eyes were arctic cold, as they bored straight into the wide blue eyes of his Guide.
Jim shook his head. Of all the things that he had expected Blair to say, that had come straight out of the left field and right into the Sandburg Zone.
Blair pushed against Jim's chest. "Put me down, okay, Big Guy?"
The Sentinel hesitated and then lowered his Guide down carefully to his feet again.
The moment he let go, Blair ducked around him and rushed to the board. "You know what Hangman is, don't you? It's a game."
"I know it, Chief," was said with disgust.
"Sure you do, Jim, you party animal you." Blair moved to the incident board and pulled the pictures off it.
"Sandburg, what the hell are you doing?" Simon snapped as he came out of his office.
"Look at this." Blair picked up the first picture. "His name is Evans."
L Then he placed the next picture. "And his name is Lang…"
N "--okay and then our next victim is Nelson, right?"
"So if I am right, the next victim will have a name starting with either another L or an I or an S or O." He looked round at the police officers. "Don't you get it? He's spelling Jim's name. It's Ellison."
"No way, Sandburg." Jim was staring at the board.
"Well, since he's killing every eight hours we won't have long to wait, and I pray I'm wrong, because I am telling you, man, this isn't random. He's working to a pattern."
The next morning, early, Jim got the call he had been waiting for and the one had had hoped he would not get. An old woman by the name of Sally Lush.
Back in the office Jim started at the board and another face looking out sightlessly at him. E * Evans * L *Lush * L * Lang * I * no victim yet * S * no victim yet * O * Olson * N * Nelson *. But why was he being targeted by the killer? It didn't make sense.
The cool hand of his Guide touched his shoulder, and the long fingers gently squeezed. "You'll solve it, Jim."
"First I have to find a link, and there isn't one. There's a creep out there killing and he's fixated on me, and I have no idea why. Simon has Davis and Mitchell backtracking my old files, but so far all they're hitting is brick walls."
Blair was thoughtful. "Jim, if you would let me try again, I think that I might be able to talk you through this. Trust me." The last two words were almost a plea.
Jim turned slowly to look up at his young Guide. "Of course I trust you." His eyes said the one thing that Jim could not -- he was scared that he was losing control on his senses, and loss of control was the one thing the ex-Ranger/cop feared the most.
"I am here." Blair allowed his emotions to broadcast through the link with the full power of a Guide for his chosen Sentinel.
Then, as quickly as they had started, the killing stopped eight hours later. All the police could do was watch and wait.
Reluctantly the Sentinel and Guide pair left at the end of their shift. The drive home was in silence, both lost in his own thoughts.
Once in the house, Jim caught Blair's wrist, and then with a light tug, took him to bond. He felt Blair dropping away from him when they linked; the kid was exhausted. The emotions in the bullpen had been enough to drain anyone, let alone an empath. Through the bond, Jim could lose himself in his Guide's presence and offer the support the frayed barriers needed. Later he would cook, and his Guide would eat.
Careful not to disturb his sleeping Guide, Jim felt slightly guilty that he had pulled his Guide into a deep sleep. He tugged his jacket on and scooped up his keys, and making sure the door was securely locked, he headed back to the PD.
Simon was just packing up to leave when he saw Ellison entering the office. Walking to the doorway, he watched critically as the detective gathered up the files from his desk. "A Sentinel Day is just that, Jim. You stay at home and chill out with your Guide, and you don't work."
"Look, I may have to take it, but at least let me do something useful. It's the only way I'll get Blair off my back, and he needs to be in school tomorrow for that morning lecture. If I'm not working, he'll want to stay, and I can't have him lose more time because of me."
"That's his job, Jim." He did not like the look he got for that comment.
"And I'm still trying to make it up to him."
"Okay, take the files, and remember, seventy-two hours. Now get the hell out of here, before I get you thrown out." Although it was said gruffly, the big captain put a lot of feeling into it.
The trip back to the loft was uneventful. Jim took his coat off, removed his shoes, and walked back to the stairs to his bedroom. He could hear the level heartbeat of his Guide, and the gentle puff of his breath. Blair was still fast asleep. Carefully, he eased onto the bed and tugged a pillow in place. Lying on his side, he put an arm around his Guide and actively entered the bond. Then with a yawn he joined his Guide in sleep again.
Blair felt refreshed the next morning, but pulled a bit of a face. Sleeping in your clothes was highly overrated. He was more or less pushed out of the kitchen, the Sentinel needing to do something to take his mind off the case.
Blair laid the table, judging that now was the time to start the conversation up again about the killings. The killings were hitting close to Jim, partly as the Protector of the City, partly because of the personal involvement the killer seemed to need with the detective. As Ellison's Guide all he could do was keep him on an even keel and curb him when it was needed.
The Sentinel served up the scrambled eggs and turkey rashers onto their plates.
"Maybe he's like the Jack the Ripper. You know, just stops in his tracks? It's been known to happen before."
"Sure, but then he could start up in another city, kill, and then move on again. We have to nail this guy now when he's on our turf."
"Spoken like a true Sentinel," Blair said lightly. But when he met Jim's eyes there was only deadly seriousness in his eyes, which belied his lighter tone.
The Sentinel turned to break the contact and then reached for the toast.
Breakfast was finished in a pleasant, warm atmosphere much the same as other homes across Cascade. But the first surprise came when Blair realised that Jim was not getting ready to go to work.
The bemused Sentinel quickly stemmed the worried itinerary of woe that his Guide reeled off, concerning his senses, with a firm, "Everything is okay, Chief. Simon told me to take the day off, so-called 'Sentinel leave'," he grimaced, "it appears that three zones in as many days means I have to take down time, so we split the difference and I said I would work through the cases history."
"Maybe I should stay at home," //A word I never thought I would ever say in connection with me, but it sounds wonderful!// "We could work on the zones. I haven't been able to find out their cause yet."
"Blair, it wasn't your fault. I am an ass, okay, where this Sentinel business is concerned. I promise to listen to you more. Now get going." He put his hand up as if taking an oath. "I promise you, Guide--"
"Senior Guide Prime there, mister," Blair corrected.
Jim rolled his eyes. "Okay -- Senior Guide Prime Blair Jacob Sandburg -- that I will not do any Sentinel work without the presence of my trusty Guide. Now get your butt in gear, or you'll be late for your lessons."
Only then did Blair relax, allowing himself to be shepherded out of the loft to his car.
Alone, Jim settled back against the sofa and started to leaf through the reports. He looked at the small pile of files on the coffee table; each of the economy buff files was a person’s life, each one cut short at the whim of a killer.
He shook his head as an image knifed through his head. He had been in a forest, not a jungle, with a bloodied rock in his hand, and then, that quickly, it was gone. Pushing the thought away, he went back to his report. But when he knocked his coffee cup over, it was not coffee he saw, but blood. Almost by remote he got up. He headed up the stairs to his bedroom and pulled a box out from under the clothing rack. Kneeling by the army trunk, he pulled it to the centre of the floor.
He flipped the lid open and saw his life laid out in front of him. His dress uniform, sealed in plastic, he lifted out and set aside. Then he took out a battered old album and carried it over to the bed, sinking down to sit.
A small smile tugged the big man's lips as he looked at the cover, a montage of children's pictures that at one time had meant something important to him. He peeled back the first page, then the second. He stopped on the next one, a picture of a group of children with their parents. It had been the day he had been sworn in as a Scout. Only he stood alone, his father had been too busy to attend, some meeting in New York. The memories were still fresh in his mind.
He flipped to the next picture, his Scout patrol winning a trophy, the regional official handing it to him. More pictures, happy memories, then his hand stayed on one. It was of his troop, camping. The tears began to slowly roll down his face without him even knowing why. Why did the picture fill him with such incredible sadness? He had been driven to find this album, but now all he could do was look at it and feel a terrible hollow feeling in the pit of his stomach. A memory… an elusive memory that flitted through his mind and then was gone.
He slammed the album closed with a loud bang. For a minute anger blazed, directed he knew not where, and in confusion he threw the album, watching it arch through the air.
Blair decided to come home for dinner; he felt the need to check on Jim. He knew there was something wrong, but he couldn't place what. The T.A. opened the door to the loft and saw an album lying on the floor. He bent and picked it up and some pictures fell out. Blair easily recognised the photos of a young Jim, a close up, the unmistakable Sentinel flash on his uniform. Jim had been online as a child? So why had he gone latent? These were proof that something had happened, some event that had caused Jim to push his ability away. But what?
"JIM?" No answer.
The truck was still out in the car park, so Blair knew the man was in the loft. He quickly checked out the main floor, then up into his Sentinel's bedroom, taking the stairs two steps at a time. The Sentinel was seated on the edge of the bed. "JIM?"
Finally, as if his head were on rusty springs, the Sentinel turned to face his Guide. "Blair." There was such despair in that one word that in an instant his Guide was by his side. Blair was pulled close, as Jim pressed his head against the slighter man's body, needing to feel the very life force of his Guide through the shadows of danger and death that drifted over the edge of his mind. His body shuddered.
"Jim, what happened?"
"I don't know."
"What is the last thing you remember?"
"The album, I was looking at the album."
"What were you feeling?"
Blair felt Jim start to drift way from him again, "Jim!" The sharp command of the Guide pulled the Sentinel back again. "You're zoning on a memory, man. That's different. If it's connected with the pictures, then it's about a real old memory. What do you remember about that time?"
"Nothing!" There was a hint of panic in Jim's voice that touched his Guide's soul; Jim Ellison did not panic, ever.
Blair could see how shaken up he was. "Okay... don't try to push it. We need to centre you; the memories can't hurt you now. I can teach you some meditation techniques that should help you. Now, Jim, I..."
"You're needed at the University."
"I am your Guide, Jim, first and foremost." Blair sat down beside the big man. Taking one of Jim's hands, Blair rested it above his own heart. The other he placed against the side of his neck, so the palm was pressed against his face. "Listen to my heartbeat, feel my pulse, the steady beat. Now close your eyes and breathe nice and slow. Inhale my scent; wrap your senses around me. You are here with me, now, in the present. Your memories cannot hurt you any more."
Jim's hand gripped a large handful of the young man's long curly hair, and Blair was pulled close. Jim clung to him as if he was his only anchor. Blair lifted his hand and began to stroke Jim's back and neck. Anxious, the young man pushed against the link, and Jim gave a shuddered breath as he felt his Guide enter his storm-filled mind, leaving behind peace.
Finally the bigger man eased back from Blair, whose hand dropped to pat his Sentinel's chest.
"Welcome back, Jim." As he moved away, Blair collected the album, not wanting to risk Jim zoning on some picture again. This needed investigation.
The next morning Jim was surprised to see a hundred and fifty dollars neatly folded on the kitchen table. He picked them up as Blair came up behind him.
"It's the rent for my room."
He was about to protest when he saw the light in Blair's eyes. They both knew that the money wouldn't scratch the surface of what Jim paid out for him, but it was his first show of independence. This was not the money the GDP paid for his keep like a handout to keep a pet or a slave; this was his money given freely to his Sentinel for his upkeep.
"It's for the housekeeping. It's about time I paid my way." Blair's chin came up and he stood taller, ready to meet Jim head on.
"Thanks, it will help. Okay, Chief, it's your turn to cook." With a grin he started to collect the cutlery from the cupboards.
He noticed the way the tension eased out of his young Guide. He mentally applauded Blair; his Guide was coming back to himself. The money would be put separately to one side. He didn't really need it, but he would not insult Blair by refusing, knowing how important it was for Blair to be making his own way in life again. The money would be there for when that 'classic' car of his broke down again. Smoke and mirrors, all smoke and mirrors.
It was then the phone rang. Jim snatched up the handset. "Ellison." His hand tightened on the phone immediately as he recognised the voice on the other end. His gut reaction was to say no to the invitation right away, but his father made such a point of including Blair.
When he put the phone down he could see the keen look on his Guide's face. Blair wanted to know what it was all about. Now Jim knew they were going to have to talk.
All of his attempts to deflect his Guide came to naught. Blair should have been a prosecutor -- he never let anything get past him. When he had finished telling Blair why he shouldn't go, Blair had *talked*, processed it for him, at length, and finally Jim had given in and said he was prepared to go.
With an almost theatrical sigh he noticed the way Blair's eyes had lit up when he had mentioned that his father had made the point of inviting him personally. Jim could have sworn blind he could see the light come on in the academic brain.
"You sure I won't be in the way? I mean usually Sentinels don't take their Guide to family gatherings."
Jim had slowly stepped right into Blair's personal space and looked intensely at him. "What do you think I am going to do? Use you, and then push you away because the family might be uncomfortable. Forget it! You're my friend, and my Guide."
Jim refused to say anymore about the invitation while they finished breakfast. Blair had learned not to push; his Sentinel would talk when he was ready to do so.
Since they planned to leave at 11.00 am, Blair had gone in to the University to clear his student appointments. All he had had to say was that it was Sentinel Leave and Dr. Woodward had given him the time off. Instead of going home, he left a message with Jim that he was at the University Library, but had his bags with him.
The library at Rainier prided itself on having copies of the local Cascade Times dating back to its inception in the 1850's. Blair opened his journal and took out the pictures he had taken from the album. The photo he had in front of him was one of Jim in his Scout uniform, as well as the group picture. For a moment he stared at the pencil note on the back; it was hard to read all the names but once he found the article he might be able to make them out.
Looking at the photos he guessed that Jim had been about 13 or 14 years old in them. Quickly he did the math and then started to search through the newspaper back issues. Logic told him that anything that could cause a Sentinel to suppress his abilities to the extent that Jim had, must have been a major event. Perhaps a burning building, or a robbery….
Blair froze; on the front page of the paper a snapshot showed a police car, ambulance, and paramedics who were carrying a covered body. Scrutinizing the grainy image he saw William Ellison --okay, a younger version of the man, but definitely him. The headline below was lurid: "Massacre of the innocents." The look of horror on Blair's face began to grow as he read through the story.
"Hi, Chief." Blair's head snapped up as Jim appeared at his side. Anxiously the young man hit the screens off button on the computer. If an old picture zoned Jim, what would the whole story do to him? Blair gathered his books hurriedly, the pictures firmly wedged between them.
"Come on, it's time to go. Don't want to keep HIM waiting." There was an obvious strained edge to the Sentinel's voice.
"Sure, Jim, sorry. I got carried away." The young man paused, looking up into Jim's tense face. "You are looking forward to the get together, a chance to make a new start."
"Not exactly how I would put it." Jim held Blair's bag out toward him. "Change, Sandburg. You can't go dressed like that, and pull the hair back."
"Sure, Jim, sure," Blair muttered, took the bag and disappeared into the gents. Jim was never bothered about his long hair normally, but he figured that Jim was unconsciously taking his nerves out on the Guide. The Sentinel and the man both liked control, and this whole family gathering thing was something that he didn't have total control over.
The journey was in near silence; Blair could see the muscles tightening in his Sentinel's jaw, a sure sign that Jim wasn't happy. Blair fingered the tie he was wearing, squirming in the battered leather jacket that they had managed to get out of the GDP warehouse, along with an old suitcase of his clothes. It had taken over a month to get the things found and sent to Jim, but it was worth it. The coat had been a present from Naomi when he had gained his Masters.
The truck paused at a large security gate, and Jim leaned out the window. "James Ellison." Two words and the gates opened.
Blair gave a soft whistle, duly impressed. The house in front of him had the simplicity that only an expensive mansion could have, old world all the way. The old truck -- sorry, *classic* truck -- certainly looked out of place, Blair mused, seeing Porsches, Rolls Royces and Bentleys parked in a line.
"Well, looks like the family's here," Jim grated out.
When Blair climbed out of the truck and started forward, he was pulled back towards his Sentinel. A hand rested on his waist, and the other wrapped around his neck. Blair leaned forward, allowing his Sentinel to scent him. Blair's hand slowly petted and fluttered against Jim's chest as he calmed the distressed man. The link was humming between them.
After a few quiet minutes Jim straightened up. "Thanks, Chief, I needed that."
Only then with a deep breath did Jim Ellison walk towards the front door of his old home. For him it was worse than any takedown of a criminal. This was his past, and he couldn't beat it down. The difference was now walking at his side, bouncing along, not touching but keeping close, eyes bright, giving him the confidence to go forward.
When they reached the door, for a moment the Sentinel's hand hovered over the doorknocker.
With a soft sigh, "Let me do it," Blair knocked for him. A quick glance showed that the Sentinel was beginning to drift. "Stay with the program, man." The younger man's hand lightly squeezed Jim's.
"Just thinking, Chief."
"A lot of memories?"
"Yeah. Some good and some bad… a lot bad."
Just then a petite Asian woman opened the door. To Jim, she didn't seem to have aged a day in the twenty years that he had been gone; her smile was still warm and inviting.
"Jimmy! Your father will be so pleased to see you." She ushered them in.
Blair looked round the entrance hall. The ceiling reached right up to the roof where large skylights allowed the sunlight to spill down into the hallway. High on the walls family paintings looked down. Centre place went to one of a woman seated with one child standing by her side, another on her lap. She looked happy and devoted.
Before Blair could voice a question, Jim said, "Come on, Chief, into the lion's den."
Blair was standing close to his Sentinel; this was going to be soooo interesting. As an anthropologist he was already making mental notes. He was going to meet Ellison's family, up close and personal! He was all too aware that this was unusual in that he, a Guide, was being taken along to a family get together. Most Sentinels put their Guides into hostels, not wanting them to have contact with their families. Traditionally Guides were not acknowledged socially, so it was considered better that they were not even invited.
Blair had been bouncing, but now his only concern was that Jim's emotions were all over the place. He needed to calm the big man down. The Guide reached a hand out in an attempt to link, only to have it brushed away with a terse, "Don't touch me, Chief."
Blair let his hand drop away, but not before he read the other man's discomfort. Instinctively the young man knew what it was. Jim Ellison, Senior Sentinel Prime of Cascade, was embarrassed. Embarrassed about being what he was. There was old fear there also, something that Blair knew he had to get to the bottom of. Whatever it was it had marked him as a freak among his own family. And for his entire buff outward exterior, Jim Ellison had wanted, and still did want, to fit in. There were things that needed to be redressed, and when they were, Blair would be there to look after his Sentinel.
Jim was currently greeting an elderly couple. He'd extended a firm handshake to the man, who bore a strong family resemblance, though he was smaller than his Sentinel, but just as compact built.
Beside the man was a petite woman who Jim kissed and then gave a light hug to. She said, "Jimmy, dear, I am not going to break. Give me a real hug, darling." Then the woman's warm brown eyes swept over Blair, and went hard. "And who is this young man, Jimmy?"
"My Guide, Blair Sandburg, Aunty Alison. I am a Sentinel."
The older lady nodded. "Blood will out, darling," was her cryptic reply. She looked Blair up and down, this time as if he was a subject under the microscope. "Mind you look after him well, Guide, and he will look after you. Jimmy's a good boy, always looks after his property well."
Jim took a steadying breath. "Blair isn't property, Aunty Alison."
She just patted his face. "Of course he is, darling. My friend's son is a Sentinel. His Guide is a nice boy, but I would not let him in the house further than the kitchen. Now put him away, darling."
Jim let out a long, fuming breath.
His uncle quickly caught his wife's arm and aimed her at the other side of the room, "Look, Greta's in the sherry; we'd best be going." He gave a shake of his head and a muttered, "Sorry, Jimmy." And steered his wife away.
Blair moved closer to his Sentinel. "It's all right, Jim."
"It's not all right, Chief! You're a person, you..."
Before he could finish another voice cut in, the tone was bored. "I don't know who invited you, but I would suggest that you put him in the kitchen. Uncle William would not want his kind in the house."
Blair's breath caught. //Oh, this is not good.//
The Sentinel turned slowly to the newcomer, his icy blue eyes travelling up and down the man. Taking in the sharp suit and the expensive cologne that came off the man in waves, his Sentinel memory kicked in and he identified him as Cousin Stanley. He had been an obnoxious little brat when Jim had last seen him, and by the look of it, hadn't changed at all.
Jim's voice had a deadly purr to it. "Blair is my friend first, then my partner, and then my Guide. And he doesn't sit in kitchens, Cousin Stanley."
The younger man backed away, his eyes widening, "C- Cousin James!" Stanley caught the slight nod. He knew too much about Cousin Jim to want to go head to head with him. Ever.
The identity was confirmed as soon as Cousin Stephen came up. "Well said, brother," Stephen said as he walked up to flank his older brother. The younger Ellison dropped a hand onto Blair's shoulder, the touch light, showing his support.
Recognizing Stephen meant his gesture to be encouraging, Blair still immediately moved closer to his Sentinel, sliding into place, his fingertips brushing Jim's elbow. Jim was in the early stage of Blessed Protector mode, and Blair was not sure how the Sentinel would take to his brother touching his Guide.
William Ellison grinned as he greeted his son and his Guide. "Glad you could make it Jimmy, Blair. THANK YOU *BOTH* FOR COMING." He deliberately included the Guide, publicly making the point. He noticed several heads turn and knew it would be through the family in less than five minutes flat. He had heard the comments and would not have Jim's Guide -- correction -- his friend, insulted in his house.
"Sally made your old room up. Since the house is going to be full, I've had a camp bed put in for Blair." Then William gave a theatrical gesture. "Stephen, go and get Greta; she's at the sherry again."
Playing along, Stephen shook his head. "Remember last time, the rumba!" Seeing the expression on his brother's face he added, "Only problem was, there wasn't any music! See you later, brother." There was a world of emotion in that final one word.
Despite their efforts, it soon became clear that Jim was still on edge. William was growing more concerned about his eldest son. Jim had gotten Blair in a corner where he could control who was coming up to him.
Jim felt his Guide's hand latch on to his arm, the words Sentinel soft. "Why don't you show me your old room?"
For a moment Blair didn't think it was going to work, but then Jim nodded, and catching his elbow, frog-marched his Guide up the stairs. The Sentinel paused only to scoop up his over-night bag and Blair's ever-present backpack. Only when at last he had his Guide alone, in familiar territory, did he relax.
Blair felt it through the link and his brain went into overdrive. Jim watched in amusement as Blair began to circle the room, hands gliding over objects as if they were artefacts on one of his digs. The place, Jim realised, was just like a time capsule. Nothing had been changed since he had closed the door as he walked out for what could have been the last time, to join the Army.
Blair was talking a mile a minute and the Sentinel found it soothing, listening as the Guide asked questions, paused for answers, and when he didn't get them, carried on his investigations.
Jim leaned down and gave the camp bed a push. It was okay, but he didn't like the idea that his Guide would be nearest to the door. "You take the bed, Blair."
"Jim, I'm okay on the…"
"Do it." Jim snarled the words.
"Okay, man. I'm cool." Blair's hands went up to pacify his Sentinel.
Jim didn't turn, but his voice changed in tone, an edge suddenly there. "You never changed anything, Dad?"
Blair turned and saw William Ellison standing there.
"You heard me?"
"Dad, I'm a Sentinel… remember?" Jim turned to face his father.
"Sally kept it clean. I always thought you would get it all out of your system and return."
"Out of my system!" Jim snorted. "This is my life we're talking about. You made it pretty clear you didn't want me around, Dad. So who was I to argue?"
Blair put his hand out; his fingers almost touched his Sentinel when they were batted away. "Keep off me, Chief. I've told you once!" This time it was the growl of the Dark Sentinel, who didn't want to show any weakness in front of anyone.
Blair didn't have to connect to pick up the emotions coming off his Sentinel. Anger, guilt, and something else, something connected to this house and his family, something buried away. He could see the way Jim's hands were clenching and flexing, as he fought to control his emotions.
"Jim, I...." The elder Ellison trailed off, and picked up a picture of Jim and Stephen. "I was scared about you being a Sentinel."
"You didn't want a freak as a son."
"No, that wasn't it."
"Sure, Dad," Jim scoffed.
Jim's father's voice changed as he looked at the picture, becoming distant. "I had a twin, his name was James. You're named after him, Jimmy. And he died when he was ten. He was a Sentinel."
"What happened?" Jim read his father's emotions from his distressed expression, and knew this was a defining moment in their strained relationship.
"He zoned and died?" Blair breathed. He said it aloud before he even realised he had spoken.
William Ellison's head snapped up and he took a step forward, anger coming off him in waves. "Did you read me, *Guide*?"
"No! I… Jim, please…" The plea was heartfelt. Immediately Jim's hand went to rest on Blair's shoulder, and his mind pushed against that of his Guide. Distressed, Blair still tried to subdue his Sentinel's anger, stopping him before he reacted to his father's aggression.
Keeping his voice soothing, Blair risked talking directly to William Ellison. He felt the fingers flex on the back of his neck, but no censure from his Sentinel. "I didn't read you, Mr. Ellison. I didn't mean to speak out of turn. It's just that Child Sentinels are too young to have Guides, so they are prone to zone out. Their abilities do not stabilize until they become older. I am sorry, I didn't mean...."
William shook his head, letting go of a shaky breath as he centred himself. "I know you wouldn't. It was just hearing it said after all these years. I killed my brother…" He said the words and then there was a heavy silence. Jim patiently waited for his father to continue. "I was too slow! If I had run home straightaway, he would be alive today." It was as if a dam broke inside the older man and silent tears rolled down his face. "We had been told to never play with the kaleidoscope. You know, the spinning colours and all. So we snuck up to the tree house. When Jimmy zoned, I tried to break him out of it. If I had just gone…" He broke off, and when he looked up it was with such total despair. "If I had gone for help straightaway..."
Jim was suddenly aware of what he had done. He had refused his Guide, because he had allowed his fears to swamp him. He had tried to deny what he was. He was a Sentinel, and nothing could change that. "Chief, I am…" The guilt was back, in spades.
"I am all right, Jim." Blair's hands ran up and down his Sentinel's arm, in long soothing strokes, as he answered William Ellison. "It would have made no difference." Blair gambled, reached out and laid a hand on William's shoulder.
Connected now between father and son, the empath reached out with his mind to the older Ellison. Surprise showed on Blair's face as he went deeper than he normally could. He brought calm to fear, logic to guilt, soothing the flash points of despair. Then he channelled his Sentinel's emotions, amplifying them so that William could feel the son's love for his father. Hidden yes, behind self-imposed conditioning, but it was there all the same. Stunned, the elder put his hand out and stroked his son's face, as Jim's hand closed on his.
"It's all right, Dad. You couldn't have done more for him."
William knew suddenly that for god knows how many years the irrational guilt had stayed with him. It had coloured his responses, and indirectly soured his relationship with his son. "Jimmy."
Blair broke the connection and stepped back. Tears misted his eyes as he watched father and son come together in a tentative hug, which then became deeper. After a moment two very private people finally let go.
William eased back. "I am sorry, Jimmy."
The Sentinel just nodded, not trusting himself to speak for the moment. Jim needed to process it all, and with a glance at his Guide, he knew that he wouldn't have a choice in the matter.
His father suddenly on impulse turned and enfolded the small empath into a hug, pinning him tightly against him. The raw emotions breached Blair's unprepared barriers, but instead of pain, he felt a gentle shadow shielding. "He's shielding me?" Blair breathed in disbelief
Jim heard the whisper. "How can he? Dad, you're shielding Blair."
"Sorry, Jimmy, I didn't mean to hurt him. Are you all right, Blair?"
"I'm okay." Blair smiled noting William's expression; the Ellison men did guilt so well.
"How can he shield you, Chief?"
"He's your father. There must be a connection. He carried the Sentinel genes. Usually a Guide doesn't meet a Sentinel's family, nor are they allowed to touch them. At the conference nearly all the Guides said they hadn't had contact with their Sentinel's family. Jim… I'm going to drop my barriers."
"Mr. Ellison won't hurt me."
"What do I do?" William looked decidedly worried.
"Just what you're already doing now, Mr. Ellison." Blair brought his barriers down. For a moment he felt panicked, then was wrapped in a shadow shielding, nothing as strong as Jim, but he could live with it. The difference in the feeling was noticeable. This faint shielding had unique warmth to it, and it felt almost parental.
Blair Sandburg carefully pulled back himself, remembering all too clearly how Jim had accidentally hurt him when he was first learning to link. Then he turned and reached out for Jim.
This time Jim gathered him close, one arm going round his waist, the other gently touching his face and hair, petting and stroking, needing to know that he was all right.
William heard the Guide's voice, "Marked and claimed, Sentinel."
"Marked and claimed, Guide."
Blair kept his barriers down so Jim knew that he was totally open, and that it was the Sentinel who was protecting Blair, and only him. The vulnerability of the Guide called forth the protection of the Sentinel.
William didn't move. This was a side of his son that he'd thought was lost forever, the caring, nurturing side. He felt sad that instead of being centred on his brother Stephen, it was on this young man. But he pushed the thought aside. No matter how close he might have been to Stephen, the moment he bonded, this was destined to be.
He coughed rather self-consciously. "I had a bonding platform put in the basement for you. And it's sound-proofed and low stimulation." Seeing his son's expression he added, "I had hoped you would come back to see me one day. I spoke to a member of the GDP, and she said that it's best if you have one." He shifted uncomfortably.
"Mr. Ellison," Blair cut across the silence , "to bond is perfectly natural. With Sentinel and Guide there is nothing of a sexual nature in it. The bond is the same between same gender partnerships as well as opposite gender partnerships." Blair knew from Simon Banks' reactions just how hard it was for 'normals' to understand the needs of Sentinels and Guides. Banks had punched him out because he had misunderstood. And this after the captain had picked up quite a bit of knowledge over the months since they'd first bonded. So what would it seem like to Jim's father?
"Do you need to bond?" William sounded uneasy. He knew that Jim must bond with his smaller Guide, and that they did not just shake hands and retire to neutral corners.
"Dad, it's not sex! There is no need to be embarrassed." For all of Blair's attempts to explain, his father, like a lot of people, just didn't seem able to get around the physical closeness needed to achieve the bond.
Jim tipped his Guide's face up and looked into the intelligent blue eyes. He tilted his head to one side as he listened to his Guide’s soft voice. "If you're sure, Blair. Dad, Blair wants you to understand… I need you to understand. Would you come down to the bonding suite with us?"
For a moment William hesitated, then he realised how very precious this moment was. He knew from the books he had been reading that bonding was always private. Only in the case of illness and injury was the bonding ever observed. This was a unique offer.
"I am honoured by the offer."
Jim locked the door behind them and drew his Guide down beside him on the bonding platform. "No, Chief, OUR way," he chided the young man, as Blair was about to turn on to his stomach. The Sentinel lay on his side, an arm around his Guide's waist. He lowered his head over Blair's heart and slid down into the bond as Blair opened the pathways.
Jim felt his Guide's hand softly stroke his head and shoulders as they linked with each other. He could still hear Blair talking to his father; it was in the background, it was not important. The Sentinel ignored it. All he concentrated on was wrapping his senses around his Guide.
Blair spoke softly to the elder Ellison. "Bonding makes Jim really mellow, Mr. Ellison. I would like to talk to you if I may." He paused. "It's about Jim." His hand moved in slow strokes on his Sentinel's head and shoulder, calming him, increasing the connection between them. But this was important; there were answers he had to find.
"Mr. Ellison, Jim was a latent Sentinel. But it doesn't work that way." He continued slowly, "Jim would have been online as a child, not fully tooled up, but online none the less, prone to the zone out factor." Seeing the man's expression he added quickly, "I am sorry," hoping he had not stirred up the bad memories again. But then he saw the nod from the older Ellison to continue.
"On the other hand, Dark Sentinels are latent in that they don't fully come online until later in life. But they never go off line either. From what they have said, Jim only came online partly in the army. Something very traumatic must have happened to cause that. Before we came here, Jim was looking at some pictures, and he zoned! It was memory related, from his past. I did some digging. I don't have the full story, but I saw the headline 'Massacre of Innocents'. What happened, Mr. Ellison?"
William looked thoughtful, but his tone was cutting. "You are Jim's property, Mr. Sandburg. Oh, I've read the books. They dress it up in fancy words, but you're really nothing more than a legal slave to him. He can do whatever he wants. You're not even a person in your own right. So tell me, Mr. Sandburg, why should I tell you anything?"
//Oh no, it's gone from Blair to Mr. Sandburg, from a person to property!//
"Why should I talk to you about family matters?"
"Because I am the only person who can stop Jim's zoning, and to do my job I need to know what I am dealing with." He broke off; his attention fixed on his Sentinel as Jim started to stir, picking up on his Guide's anxiety. "Easy, Jim. It's all right, man." His hands moved in firm, steady strokes over the broad shoulders and arms. The touch lightened over the short-cut hair, and slowly the big man settled again. The Sentinel had realized there was no threat to his Guide, and the emotions through the link calmed him down. Content, he settled back into the bonding.
William waited until he had Blair's attention again. "A good answer, Mr. Sandburg. I am sorry. About the property remark and the others. They weren't called for. It's clear that Jim sees you as his partner and friend, not merely his Guide." He gave a slight twist of the lips. "You appear to have the ability to dig up all the Ellison family skeletons." He exhaled slowly.
For the first time in years, William Ellison put into words the events he had so desperately pushed back, not wanting to acknowledge. "You saw the headlines. Did you get a chance to read through the report?" When the curly head shook in the negative, he continued, "It was when Jim was fourteen-years-old. He was a Boy Scout. In fact he was their youngest ever Patrol Leader. He looked after his patrol very well, a natural leader."
"The Sentinel protecting his tribe," Blair put in gently.
"It was in the fall before Jim was due to return to school. The troop leader, Mr. Murphy, had promised to take them all camping. You know the kind of thing, Wilderness Skills, all nicely controlled. Mr. Murphy had a favourite camping spot. He hired a minibus and drove them all out." William paused. "Murphy knew Jimmy was a Sentinel and thought that he would get a lot out of the camping trip. Jim always liked going up into the mountains." William looked at Blair.
"He still does, Mr. Ellison."
"We didn't know it at the time, but the FBI was tracking a psychotic serial killer. The killer had been caught, but his girl friend somehow managed to break him out. I can't remember the full details, except none of us knew that his escape had taken him into the mountains.
"Somehow, they met up with the troop. The bitch was just as warped as her psycho boyfriend. His name was Howell, I think, and I don't remember hers.
"Anyway, they killed Mr. Murphy right off. He was trying to protect the boys, but he and three of the troop were hacked to death in the first moments." William was lost in the memories, his eyes re-seeing the horror of that long ago scene. "Jim took his group up into the mountains, higher than they had ever been, somehow keeping them ahead of the killers. Afterwards, the other children said that Jim was different; I think their exact words were that 'he was awesome'.
"Later, FBI search teams found the boys, but not Jim! I was…" The older man hesitated, shuddering. "I was frightened that Jim was dead, that all I would ever find was his body. The boys said Jim had decoyed Howell away from them.
"Eventually they found the body. The Federal men said that Jim was there, sitting nearby, rocking back and forth, completely lost. He was covered in blood right to his elbows. Blood was splattered on his face, his clothes, and the man had been torn open, his head pounded into pulp.
"There was a GDP doctor with the search team. He sedated Jimmy and had him taken to Cascade General Hospital. He was in a type of zone. He came around in the hospital spitting and screaming, throwing things around, vicious." William ran a hand through his grey hair. "He was uncontrollable. Then he suddenly zoned again! They brought a Guide in to try and reach him, but she couldn't. They thought the trauma had somehow brought him fully online, and so he would have to be bonded. At that early age such a thing was unheard of. But Jimmy went deeper and ended up in a zone coma.
"All I could do was sit by his side and wait." The older man lapsed into silence, and for a moment just looked at his eldest son, deep in the bond, clinging tightly to this longhaired grad student that was his link to sanity and stability.
"The police, FBI and GDP handled it all very sympathetically. But the papers had a field day: 'Sentinel Child kills Psycho', was one of the more restrained headlines. They were making Jim out to be a freak of nature even among Sentinels. The hospital had various experts come to look at him. I didn't care, all I wanted was Jimmy back whole and well. It was a very bad time for Stephen, also. He kept sitting by Jim's side, talking, all the time talking, about little league games, television programs, anything, but Jim had gone somewhere else. His vital signs began to drop away, and the doctors said they could lose him at anytime."
Blair hugged Jim closer. The idea of losing his Sentinel even before they had met frightened him. In response, Jim made a contented noise deep in his throat, almost a purr, and his grip tightened on his Guide.
William continued, "Then the woman whose lover Jim had killed came after him. She killed the police officer on duty at his door. I had stepped out for a moment to conference with the doctors in their office. When we returned we found the woman dead, with her throat cut, and Jim still in a coma. Except… his hands had blood on them.
"The doctors said Jim couldn't have done it, but there was no one else in the room, Blair. Then soon after, Jim came out of the coma, all on his own. But his Sentinel abilities had vanished, and they couldn't find out why. Truthfully, Blair, I didn't care! I had Jim back, and he was well. That was all that mattered. He could live without the Sentinel crap.
"Thankfully, he couldn't remember a thing of what had happened, in the mountains or the hospital room. So, end of story. Officially they said that the woman committed suicide, and the file was sealed. The Chief of Police owed me, Blair, and I used that favour.
"It was only in his late teens that Jim started to have spikes of enhanced senses again. I hoped that if we ignored them they would go away. They had done so once, why not do so again?"
There was a long silence as William stood looking at his son. "I spent years wondering how Jimmy could have killed those people. Later, when he went into the Army and Covert Ops, I thought I had my answer. But Jim was never a cruel child; if anything, he was too sensitive. He felt so deeply for people. That's why I did what I did. He had to be toughened up if he was going to survive in this world."
Blair had to push his own anger down. //This man had wreaked severe emotional damage on Jim, because of some outmoded concept of what men should and should not feel! // The academic's mind was spinning as William Ellison looked at him, waiting for a response.
"Jim is a Dark Sentinel, Mr. Ellison." He saw the man's puzzled look and continued, "They are very, very rare. Their abilities are more powerful than a normal Sentinel, and they are stronger, faster, and more primal. On the mountain, he must have had a surge of that come through. He was driven by the imperative to protect the tribe, to do anything to protect them. In that heightened state he couldn't logically be considered a child. He would have been a Dark Sentinel warrior, and like that… yes, he could kill. Then it was all locked away in his mind, repressing his ability, and ticking away like a time bomb. The other night he got some pictures from that time out, and then zoned on them. We will have to bring the memories out and make Jim deal with them."
"Mr. Ellison, they won't go away! Jim is a Sentinel. He has total recall, and the memories *will* come back. Better they do so with me there so I can have him in a safe place, and we can deal with them together."
"He needs a psychiatrist; I'll get him the best."
"No, all he needs is his Guide."
"And you're good enough?"
"I am his Guide, we are bonded, and together we can do this."
It was said with such certainty that William Ellison believed him. "Blair, there is one more thing… It might make sense to you. It's rather weird and it was never in the papers. At each of the sites, when they found the bodies, they also found the footprints of a large cat. The Forest Ranger said that it was a cougar in his report, but privately, he told me that it looked to him more like a *panther*. Then at the hospital they found it again, a paw print, and scratches on the paintwork. That's just not possible in the centre of Cascade… is it?"
The older man saw the awe-struck look on Blair's face; it made sense to the Guide somehow. But he could see that the younger man was not going to say anything yet, though he appeared to be filing it away for another day.
"I'll explain it later, Mr. Ellison, it's a rather interesting story." The young man's voice trailed away as he felt the pull draw him into the link. Ignoring the older Ellison, he turned his full attention to the bond, and slid down deep into it. Giving a soul deep sigh, he snuggled up to his Sentinel.
For a moment William simply stood by, but then knelt down, reached a hand out and laid it on his son's shoulder.
Jim eyes snapped open with a growl, ready to protect his Guide. Then he saw his father and relaxed.
William stroked his son's shoulder and then shifted his hand toward the Guide. He hesitated. From the little he knew, he understood that Blair would be wide open, his barriers totally down. But the small graduate student had said that William could not hurt him. The elder Ellison focused his mind on the gratitude that he felt for the empath, in bringing them closer together, and then reached up and petted him. He smiled softly as Blair turned into his hand, even as he curled around his Sentinel.
The older Ellison settled down and began to alternate his stroking from his son to the Guide, and back again. A sense of peace flooded through him. He realised he was only experiencing a fraction of what his son and Guide experienced through the bond, but it was enough for him to appreciate how special the relationship was, and how he had to protect the pair.
Blair had done more in the short time that he had known the Guide to help bring them all back together, than any other person. He was family, and William Ellison never allowed anyone to mess with family.
He spoke softly, making it official. "Welcome to the family, Blair Jacob Sandburg." He saw the younger man smile and he reached a hand out and stroked the face gently.
Blair turned and buried his face against his Sentinel. The Guide felt the contentment of his Sentinel at his father's words, then a whisper puffed against his ear, Jim's voice soft, "My brother." Blair increased his hug, and settled into the bond with a happy heart.
Jim came up from the bonding suite, his arm round his Guide's waist, not quite ready to release him, needing the physical contact still.
Blair meanwhile noticed Stephen coming towards them, and he turned in his Sentinel's embrace. He lifted one hand and laid it just over his Sentinel's heart. "You need time with him, Jim. I'm all right. I'll be with your father."
William turned to Blair. "I would be interested to see what an anthropologist thinks of my collection."
Blair was bouncing; he remembered reading that the Ellison Collection was one of the best private collections of primitive South American pottery in the county.
The collection took Blair's breath away. The young man circled one of the vases almost reverently. "Burt Shipley, he would give his eye teeth to see these. He's doing his MA on the Peruvian pottery of that region. He...." Blair suddenly trailed off, as he headed straight for a smaller brown pot.
"See something you like, Blair?" William grinned as he saw his son's own private anthropologist bouncing; the kid was actually bouncing.
"It's Chopec, Mr. Ellison!"
"William," Blair's voice reflected his nerves. "That's the area that Jim was in when his chopper crashed," Blair supplied excitedly. "When did you get this piece?"
"Ten years ago."
"Wow! The Spirit Guides must have been working overtime on this."
"Blair," Ellison smiled, "what's a Spirit Guide?"
"Well, it's kind of a long story."
"We have time, Blair." He went over and poured a drink, motioning to the Guide with the bottle. "Drink?"
"Fruit juice. Please."
"Of course." He reached down and tugged out another bottle, and then handed the younger man the juice. "Now, I always find the best way to start is at the beginning."
Jim sat on the small camp bed and watched his Guide. Blair was talking a mile a minute, about the Chopec pot, the circle of life, and the concept of destiny that some cultures believed in. The excited young man dug in his bag for his sleeping t-shirt and boxers, changing into them, and never pausing for breath as he did so.
"Your father said that I can come and look at the vases any time I wanted and he actually said that I could take any I needed for studying to the U with me; of course, I would have to make sure that the security is good -- I couldn't afford for it to be stolen. Wow! People said that William Ellison never lets outsiders see his collection. But he was great, real great."
Blair seemed to finally register that Jim was actually joining the conversation. "Jim?"
"You forget, Blair. You're family now, and family can see the collection." He got up and pulled the covers back for his Guide. "Now get in, Chief; it's lights out."
"Yes, mum," Blair muttered. As he turned, he spotted a swift clip aimed at his head and ducked. But Jim dropped the clip lower at the last moment, this time on his tartan-clad bottom. "Ouch. Sorry, Jim." But the tone of voice made it plain that he was not in the least sorry. But Blair settled down on the bed and was soon fast asleep.
Jim slid his shoes off and settled down on the camp bed. Not yet drowsy, the Sentinel plucked up a nearby magazine. With a frown he read the main story, then glanced at the date and dropped it down in disgust, fifteen years out of date. Making sure Blair was sound asleep; Jim got up and went down to the study,
William was surprised to see his oldest son. "How did you know?"
Jim tapped his ear.
"Sorry, Jim. Is Blair all right?"
"Sleeping." Stalling, Jim picked up one of the two books on his father's end table, Sentinel 101 and Sentinel 102.
"I'm trying to understand, Jim."
"I think..." Jim trailed off and his head tilted slightly as he listened in on his Guide. He was just turning over in his sleep. A moment later Blair's breathing levelled out again. "Anthony Steele, remember I told you that his son was going to try and destroy Blair. He's not backing off. I got a letter this morning. They are going to call in Blair's student loans; they wrote them off when they thought he had been killed. The money I can handle, but I don't want him bothered with this. You know he's scared to ask for anything, because he's worried that he will appear to need too much, and I'll send him to a hostel. When's the kid going to learn he's the most important thing in my life? I would cut an arm off before I would send him back!"
William had never heard such heart-felt honest emotion from his son. "How is Blair taking it?"
"What do you think?" It was snapped at him.
"Sorry, Jimmy, stupid question."
Jim took a deep breath; he could almost hear his Guide's voice telling him how to relax. "His barriers are low, and he's easily exhausted, all because of the stress."
"I thought so." He saw the puzzled look of his eldest son and said, "I spoke to Lilly Bates. She's a Doctor of Sentinel Medicine in DC. She looks after the President's Sentinel and Guide Teams. Anyway, I, er, well I got this from DC. Only the President's Sentinels' Guides…if that makes any sense, have these. They're a special new type of damper. While the patch is in contact with the skin, it works. Once removed, within ten minutes the empathic link can be rejoined. From what you said on the phone, I thought he might need it."
There was a silence between father and son for a moment. William broke it. "When I welcomed Blair to the family, James, I wasn't lying. His being at Rainier is important to you?"
"Yes." One word that spoke volumes. "The first time he saved my life was when he stopped Alex Barnes from killing me. The second time he bonded with me, even though I was barely human and hurting like hell, ready to force the bond. Blair saved my life… and my sanity. How can you thank someone who does that for you? Even though he knows that by doing so he is condemning himself to slavery."
"Leave it to me, Jimmy. Your Guide WILL be at Rainier. Steele is just going to learn that mess with one Ellison, and you mess with the family."
"The money from my trust funds, whatever…"
"Family is family, let me handle Dean Hammond and Steele. I screwed up once, Jimmy. I denied what you were. I am not going to do that again."
In the morning, with the rest of the family gone, breakfast was a relaxed affair. Jim had gotten up early and allowed Blair to sleep in. He was enjoying his second cup of coffee when he cocked his head to one side. "Blair's waking. I'd best go upstairs. I don't want him to worry." William shook his head; it was amazing what Jim could do.
Blair came down, full of apologies. He was dressed in his usual multiple layers of clothing. With the rest of the family gone, Blair could relax.
Sally put fresh melon in front of the young man and her hand gently brushed his shoulder, she had another son now to look after.
Stephen Ellison came up a little later, with a woman and two children just behind him, while Blair sat leafing through the newspaper. "Blair, can we speak to you about something?"
The Guide could see the nervousness in his Sentinel's brother. "Sure."
"Um, Jim is a Sentinel. I am not. We, er, read..." He glanced at his wife Karen, and she placed a hand on his arm as he continued, "We read that it can sometimes jump a generation. Could you, um, detect if our children are going to be Sentinels or Guides? Would you, Blair?"
"I can try, Mr. Ellison."
Mother and father watched as Blair worked. A gentle touch to the children's shoulders, a smile, as his mind, gentle as a breeze, moved across their minds.
"Neither of your children are Guides. It has been known for the genes to alternate from Sentinel to Guide. It was possibly so that a Sentinel and Guide ratio would always be kept. But they are Sentinels. The ability as this age is latent; they need to get checked and then arrange some training, to avoid zone out. For the young it can be dangerous."
"Could you help until then? Sorry, perhaps I shouldn't have asked."
"I am Jim's Guide. You will have to ask him." Blair bent down and looked at the five-year-old Casey as she tugged at his trouser leg for his attention. "I know, sweetie." He gently ruffled her hair. His voice went slightly distant. Then he straightened up "Ask Jim first. It has to be that way."
Stephen dropped a hand on Blair's shoulder. "Thank you." He'd had a chat with his father and heard about the Ellison connection with Blair Sandburg, and for the first time tried to broadcast his emotions to the young empath.
He saw the look on Blair's face and knew that he was successful.
"Still, get the children checked at the required ages, that way it's clearly documented." Blair looked towards the French windows. "I think I'll go for a walk. It looks nice out there."
"Do you need me to tell Jim?" Stephen was concerned, he didn't want the young Guide to get into trouble.
A smile twitched Blair's lips. "He already knows." And he tapped his ear.
Blair came in midmorning. He had enjoyed a long walk round the estate. The place was great, and he was pleased that maybe, just maybe, Jim was starting to replace bad memories with good ones. Finally.
The family was gathered in the main sitting room. William had noticed the way that Jim had gone on alert the moment that Blair had left the house on his walk. He could easily imagine his son tracking his Guide with his senses, pieces of Sentinel 102 jumped into his mind.
Blair started to walk past Jim, only to be caught and pulled down next to him. The Sentinel needed the connection, needing to feel his Guide, as he could for the first time relax his senses round his Guide, he gave a soft sigh. Blair glanced worriedly at Jim's immediate family, but neither William, Stephen, nor Karen had even batted an eyelid. For that Blair was thankful, not just for himself, but for Jim. The eldest son needed to be treated as normal by his family, not as a freak, and Blair could begin to believe that was going to happen.
All too quickly the weekend was over, and with an offer to use the corporate hunting lodge ringing in their ears, the pair started back towards home. Jim cast a look at his young Guide. It had been an emotionally charged weekend at times, but at the same time surprisingly restful. And for the first time, Jim had felt at home in his old home. He dropped his hand onto Blair's arm and gave it a squeeze. "Thanks, Chief."
Blair returned his smile. "Any time, man, any time."
The parting at the family home had been relaxed and Jim had not fought the hug his father and brother had given him, though Blair had blushed slightly when William had given him a hug as well.
The exuberant Guide had been bouncing all the way to the truck; he could really believe that he had done something good for his Sentinel, to help pay back all that Jim had already done for him.
Jim, meanwhile, was glad to be heading back to the loft. His old family home was no longer his territory, and he felt anxious to have his Guide safe in a place that he felt he could protect him in. As he drove he suddenly swerved, and pulled over, Blair was immediately leaning over him. "Jim, are you all right?"
The Sentinel shook his head. "I..." But Jim didn't get any further. He reached for Blair and pulled him onto his lap, clinging hold of him, his whole body shaking.
Blair reached out and began to stroke and reassure the distressed Sentinel. As he linked what he felt in the bond worried him. The emotions were of fear and guilt, and the Guide in him knew instinctively what it was. The repressed childhood memories! The visit home had started to bring them back. Now he would have to deal with them immediately; he would not have the luxury of waiting. Jim would have to face the nightmare, once and for all.
Stiffening, Jim pulled himself together and then started the truck back up, slamming it into gear, headed for home.
Blair could see the muscle jumping along the tense man's jaw. //Have it your own way, Jim, but you are going to talk to me, // the young Guide silently vowed.
The loft was quiet, both of its occupants lost in their own thoughts. They moved around, doing the chores and preparing the evening meal. Blair found himself looking at his Sentinel. Jim Ellison, human iceberg, that's what they said. But such comments were far, very far, from the truth. All Jim did was hide his feelings below a stoic front and rarely let people through.
The Sentinel stalked straight to one of the cupboards, pulled out an untouched bottle of whiskey, broke the seal and poured a large tumbler of the drink. He knocked it straight back, the first of many. Where he went, the bottle went.
Sitting opposite him at the table, Blair watched as Jim barely touched his food and took another pull at his topped up glass of whiskey, the fast emptying bottle next to his plate. Jim didn't usually drink hard liquor, the most he generally had was a beer.
"Jim, we need to talk."
"Then talk." Cold and to the point. The Guide didn't let it faze him. Jim might strike out verbally, but Blair knew that Jim would not hurt him. "You have to visualise your anger."
The Sentinel turned his head slightly to one side. "What psychobabble is that, Chief? You tired of anthro?"
"No, but you need to talk to me about the children. Come on, I saw the way the picture affected you. You…"
"Shut it, Sandburg."
"No! This isn't healthy. You have to…" Blair flinched as the whiskey bottle was slammed down loudly.
"I've done this before, I know the routine. I get drunk, and I get through it. When you're a cop, you don't have the luxury of emotions. You check them at the door, or they get you killed."
"You weren't an online Sentinel then. If you get drunk your senses will spin out of control. It can trigger a cascade."
"Then earn your keep, *Guide*. That's what you're here for, isn't it? To help me. Or is that beyond you, *Guide*?"
Jim got up, but Blair blocked him. "Jim, listen to me man, you have to let go."
"All that new age hippie crap. You're full of it."
"Jim!" Blair grabbed his Sentinel's arms and held tight.
"Get your hands off me, *Guide*."
"Jim…" Blair felt his arms knocked away, and a hand clamped on his throat, the pressure just enough to make him gasp. For a moment he worried that his Sentinel had zoned.
Jim Ellison found himself looking into the wide, frightened eyes of his Guide, then they blinked and he saw only trust in the gaze. What the hell was he playing at?
"I can't get them out of my mind, Chief. I can see them in every detail. I can smell the blood, the... the fear clinging to them. They... " Tears misted in the light blue eyes. "I have to get them out of my head."
"It's your Sentinel recall, Jim. What we need to do, what you need to do, is trust me. I can take them away."
"Promise?" It was almost a plea.
"First, Jim, no more drinking. It's only going to make it harder for you. Now sit down on the sofa." Blue eyes met blue; the large callused thumb against the Guide's windpipe slowly stroked the soft skin, and then dropped away. Blair reached for Jim's hand, gently drew the man to the sofa and pushed him down. Then the younger man knelt in front of his Sentinel and put his hand out. "Take my hand in yours, Jim, and hold tight. This is your anchor. Feel the texture of my skin, now hear my voice, and hear the beat of my heart. Now take in my scent."
"I can taste your scent."
"Oookay, Jim." That the Guide hadn't been expecting. Jim must have his senses up to their highest settings. "I need you to bring the dials down, Jim."
"It's okay, I'm here. I won't let you fall. Now I need you to remember back to when you were fourteen."
"Jim, you have to remember what happened. Can you picture it?"
"Yes." One word said with a world of heartbreak.
"Now I want you to slowly bring the dials down. Push the images away from you, one by one. It's like looking at a television without the sound. A picture without colour, without texture. Can you do that?"
"Good." Blair winced at the hard grip on his hand, his fingers going white. "Because it's just a memory, it had no power over you. You're looking at it from a distance. Now what do you see? Remember, it's a TV and we can freeze the picture."
"Mr Murphy, he was a good man, we used to call him an old woman. He still lived with his mom, but his whole life was the Scout movement. He would take us to ball games, camping, and at Halloween we would make.... " The Sentinel's voice trailed off. "A man came into the camp. He smelled of oil and blood. Why did he smell of blood? I started to tell Mr. Murphy, but he told me he would talk to the man. Maybe the guy was just lost?
"The man had greasy hair, and suddenly he pulled a machete out and just slashed Mr. Murphy."
Jim's body suddenly flinched and he tried to pull away, but Blair tightened his own grip on his Sentinel as the big man's breathing became more rapid. "Jim, I'm here! I won't allow anyone to hurt you. Freeze the picture in your head. Now deep breaths. That's it, Jim. Okay? Now press play."
"He's attacking the boys, and I can't do anything to stop him, so I grab my friends and take them into the woods. Deep into the woods. I can hear him yelling. He's got a woman with him, and they are, they're..."
"Jim, it's all right, man, easy."
"They've cut my friends' heads off, and Mr. Murphy's, and put them on the tent poles. I can see it… I have to get the others clear. But they are hunting us."
Blair watched the tears rolling down Jim's face, and it shook him to the core, his own tears threatening to fall. The despair in Jim's voice was something Blair had never heard before.
"They're hunting us now. The woman, she goes back to the car, but the man says that they have to kill us all. I can't let that happen. This is my tribe! I make my friends go away, head along the river. I will stay, and I will kill the hunter!" Suddenly Jim's voice went hard, and cold. "I cut a sturdy branch with my knife and made a spear. Then some stakes, there was a dip in the ground that he would not be able to see. Then I waited, he was there with me, and he would tell me when the one who hunted us was coming."
"Who was there, Jim?"
"The panther… he was always there. When mom left he was still there, and he would never leave me."
Blair took a deep breath, so the Spirit Guide had been a constant force in Jim's life. Only the event's trauma must have blocked the big cat out, until Jim again came fully online.
"The hunter, he was so angry that he rushed me, straight at me. He didn't see the dip until it was too late. He went down on one of the spikes. Went right through his leg. He was screaming at me to help him. I went over and put the spear straight into his chest. But he still didn't die. I lacked the strength. Then he came, the black panther, and tore the man apart."
"Okay, Jim, I guess what happened next was that your mind just couldn't deal on a conscious level with what happened and you pulled back, blocking it away. Repressing it until now. I don't think I can take the memory away completely, and I don't think it would be healthy to do so anyway. But I can make it so that you can look at the pictures without zoning. Now, it's like deleting a file on a computer, one at a time."
Over the next hour, each part of the childhood incident was taken apart and expunged from the Sentinel's mind, leaving only a general understanding of what had happened, each step done under the careful, watchful gaze of his Guide. Finally the last horrid image was gone.
"Okay, Jim… now I want you to take some deep, cleansing breaths for me. Exhale slowly, that's it, now all you can feel is my hand, all you can hear is the beat of my heart, all you can smell is my scent."
He saw the nod. //Good, Jim has reset himself on his Guide, his baseline//.
The blue eyes open, his Sentinel leaned forward and pulled Blair up onto his lap, holding the young man tightly, nearly squashing the air from his lungs. Then the Guide felt the first of a flood of tears splash on his face, as the Sentinel's stoic mask crumbled, and Jim finally allowed himself to feel for the children whose brief lives had been so brutally cut short, able to at last let go, knowing that his Guide was there to catch him.
How long they sat there, Blair didn't know. He just sat there holding his Sentinel, gently rocking him, holding his head tight to his shoulder, his hands moving along the powerful shoulders and back. Finally he heard a shuddering breath, and Jim looked up. The voice was shaky by normal standards, "Thanks, Blair, my brother." And he pulled his Guide even more tightly against him again.
"Come on, Big Guy, let's get you comfortable. Do you need to bond?"
"Not right now, later maybe."
Blair helped Jim up the stairs and pushed him down onto his bed. "You have helped me, let me help you." The Guide went over to the dresser, took out the massage oil, and took a sniff. "You know, I can get a better one than this made up, at the Sacred Lake shop. Just because you're a Sentinel, you don't have to have stuff with no scent. Okay, on your stomach, man." Blair's lips twitched, "And I think you need to lose the shirt and trousers, Big Guy. I'm good… but not that good. Right, now all you have to do is relax."
Blair kicked off his own sneakers and immediately heard the disapproving tut. "Okay. Okay. Next time I'll undo the laces! Geez, you're worse than my mother."
"Set all the dials to normal. Right?"
Blair climbed onto the bed kneeling by his Sentinel's side. The Guide warmed the oil between his hands, than began to slowly massage his Sentinel's back and shoulders. The tension in the muscles made them like iron, but gradually, under his Guide's gentle ministrations, they started to relax. Jim's body was programmed to respond to his Guide. He opened his mind and body to Blair and through the touch he felt the link open, and he basked in Blair's soothing and calm presence.
The Guide knew the very moment his Sentinel fell asleep. Blair eased back and then sat on the edge of the bed, and pulled a pillow behind his back. He leaned back and made himself comfortable. So many times his Sentinel had done this for him, now it was his turn to stand Sentinel
He put his hand down and laid it on his Sentinel's shoulder. Like that he soothed and calmed him whenever he became fretful in his sleep. Blair was pleased that he was able to help Jim bury his memories in the past were they belonged. Finally he slept.
The phone made him jump and as he reached for it a larger hand came down and snatched it off the cradle as Jim all but rolled over him to get at it.
"Ellison... Hell!" He listened for a few more minutes and then slammed the phone down. "We've another one, Chief. Keith Olson."
Ideally Blair would have preferred to let Jim come to terms with his past before he pushed him on the zone outs on the case, but it looked like time had run out. If the pattern repeated itself, then Jim would zone again at the site of the new murder and he couldn't allow that to happen.
Carefully Blair lowered himself onto his side, so that he was spooned against Jim, resting his head on Jim’s bare chest, his arm round his waist, allowing the Sentinel to wrap his senses round him. Only then did Blair drop his tone to the one the Sentinel recognised as the Guide tone, the one he had to obey, "Listen to me, Jim, I need you to relax. Now take deep breaths, slow and easy. We are going to do the same as we did with the other memories."
For a moment his young Guide thought he was going to fight it every inch of the way, just as he did last time, then to his surprise Jim said, "You're in charge, Chief."
Blair gently patted his chest, and then linked with his Sentinel, his mind acting as a balm to his fears. "I have you, and you're not going to zone, you have nothing to fear. You're at McDonalds looking down at that first body. Nothing can harm you, it's just like a picture; you can move round it but nothing can hurt you. You look up -- what do you see?"
"In the car window, a Scout sticker."
"Right, okay, so now we have a Scout doll and a Scout sticker. Now, Jim, we move on to the underground car park, you pick up a small bag. What is in it?"
"My lapel badge, taken from my Scout patrol. It was our insignia."
"That explains why you couldn't remember it; you had blanked it out. Jim, I need you to come back to me now."
Jim's eyes opened and he exhaled with a shuddering breath. "All Scout related."
Blair straightened up and sat on the edge of the bed. "That must have brought on your memories, brought them forward to the present. Someone is sending you a message, and you instinctively made the connection, even if your conscious mind couldn't do it." He dug his hand into his pocket and pulled out the picture. "Now look at it, Jim." He felt the Sentinel flinch under his steadying hand, but he didn't zone. "That's a step in the right direction, we're going to the library now and take a look at the papers, then the PD files. It's okay, Jim, just go with the flow."
Jim looked at the bedside clock. "The library will be closed by now."
"Public ones might, but the one at Rainier is open twenty-four seven. I used to sleep there sometimes when I shared a room, if my barriers got a bit frayed. Not a lot of nocturnal students around."
Blair bounced up the steps of the library, all energy and ready to go. He turned at the top to watch Jim follow him, only to be waved forward.
He pushed through the large majestic double doors of the library to find his Guide in deep conversation with an older grey haired woman. She patted Blair's arm almost maternally.
The Sentinel's eyesight picked out her name tag easily: Anne Walker. He heard her reminding Blair about the tea and coffee in staff room; it appeared that only Blair had the honour of being allowed in there.
"Anne said we can use the computer in the Fraser Room tonight, the others are down at the moment."
Jim hovered round as Blair's fingers flew over the computer keys as he pulled up the different newspaper articles. Without looking up from the screen he asked, "You okay, Big Guy?"
"Yes." The word was enough to make Blair look up, it seem to resonate with tension.
Blair pushed his glasses back up and then looked at the photo. The news article came up on the screen. The second one had pictures of the murdered children and some of the survivors. The reporters of the Cascade Times must have been busy to get that much information that fast. He started to match the faces on the photograph to the ones on the paper report.
Some of them didn't track. He felt Jim leaning over his shoulder. Puzzled, Blair tapped the picture from the album, his finger on a young boy -- the only one out of uniform. "Who was that, Jim?"
The Sentinel squinted at the picture, immediately the Guide recognised the action. It wasn't a Sentinel thing, it was a memory thing.
"That was Todd McClure, he was put in my patrol when he started. His older brother was Bruce, he was one of the other patrol leaders. It was Mr Murphy's practice to split brothers up. He thought it made for a better, you know, mixed group. Bruce had a chip a mile long, but Todd, he was a nice kid."
"Was he on the scouting trip?" Blair was searching through the list of names in the article. The first one turned up nothing, but the second, a day later, was there, complete with photographs, their names and ages marked underneath it. The largest picture was of James Ellison aged thirteen years. Blair felt Jim's hand clutch his shoulder the fingers digging into his muscles. "Easy, remember it can't hurt you."
"Yes, he had only just joined the troop, hadn't even taken his oath yet, but Mr Murphy said he could come. Bruce was left behind. He and I had fought the week before -- the usual kid thing, he thought I was a freak and well, I didn't like it. Bruce had a nasty temper."
Jim suddenly groaned, and Blair spun round and got an arm around his Sentinel, held him tightly and got him to a chair. "You have to speak to me, Jim." He lowered his voice to the Guide tone. Jim remained silent. He added, with the kick ass edge of a pissed Guide with a throw back Sentinel, "Talk to me, Sentinel! Now!"
Jim's eyes opened; the nearness of his Guide helped him. "It was a flashback. I remember I hadn't been out of hospital long when, well, when he came up to me. He began to yell that I had murdered his brother, that it was all my fault, and then nothing."
"You zoned." Blair's voice showed his concern for his Sentinel, "a zone for a child can be very dangerous."
"I didn't have any abilities, Chief, they had gone, but it was as if I froze up inside."
"PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It would have been enough to cause you a flashback. What happened next?"
"Bruce was pulled off me. He was trying to pound my head into the pavement, and I don't know what happened then. Sorry, Blair." He reached his hand up and gently petted his Guide's face, needing to connect with him.
Blair opened the link wide up between them, making sure that Jim could feel his concern and his support.
He was staring intently at the screen; slowly he heard Blair's voice. "I am okay, Blair, I wasn't zoning, just remembering." He reached a hand out and tapped the screen. "Jason Evans, he was in the troop as well. Why the hell didn't I remember him?"
"Jim, you went through a very traumatic time; your mind blanked it out."
"Jason joined the same time as Todd, transferred in from another troop. His parents had just moved into the area. I only saw him a few times."
His hand tapped the picture again. "David Olson, he survived the attack, and he was sent away, he had a younger brother, Keith. It's all connected to the original attack."
Blair gave Jim's shoulder a gentle squeeze. "I'll get you a drink, just hang in there, Jim." With one backward glance at his Sentinel, Blair headed to the staff room. He pushed the door open, and the first thing he noticed was the spilled milk pooling on the floor. He bent to pick it up, and as he straightened found himself looking down the barrel of a large gun.
The man held a pencil shaped device in his left hand, and clicked the white noise generator on. "So you're that important to him, little man, that Ellison lets you live with him? What, are you his life partner or something?"
The man had moved into the staff room and now blocked Blair's only avenue of escape. The man was Jim's height, and looked as if he worked out regularly. His eyes had a light in them that seemed to burn into Blair. His emotions seemed like razors slashing at the empath's barriers, trying to bring them down.
Blair pulled them up tighter around him. "No, I am his Guide," Blair put in levelly.
"I was wrong," the man sneered. "A legal slave. I'm surprised that god's gift Ellison allows you to work here."
"What do you have against Jim?"
"Jim? He lets you call him Jim? I'm surprised it's not Master James. You know, that was how my mother had to call him and that brother of his, Master Stephen. He was this big shot Sentinel, but that's all crap, isn't it?"
Jim Ellison sat upright in his chair. The headache that had come on so violently was nearly swamped by a loud pop in his ears. He had been trying to focus on Blair, finding his heartbeat, clinging onto that trace of his Guide.
//A white noise generator.// He pushed his hearing out. The headache came back but he pushed past it, and found the bubble of silence. The library had several rooms for Sentinel students to work in; un-bonded they risked being overloaded in the quiet of the library, but this was new.
From around it he heard the voice, "He could save the rest, but he couldn't manage to rescue my brother. No, he left him to die, while he got his rich friends out. Terry Biddlecomb told me that he sacrificed my brother, he let him die, now it's his turn."
"Come on, man, Jim would never do that." Blair was trying to reason with the man, he had dipped his empathic barriers and had nearly staggered at the hatred that was pouring off the man.
The man was a human mountain. He took one step forward and lashed out, the back of his hand caught Blair across the face. The power of the blow spun him around and into the chair, the wheels made it move under the impact, and Blair found himself on the floor looking up at the man.
"You're Bruce McClure."
"Clever little man. You know how long I have waited for this, been thinking about this? I thought Ellison had died when he was in the Army -- if there had been any justice, he would have. I came back to Cascade and saw the newspaper, and Ellison on the front page, which is when I knew that I had to do something." The gun in his hand motioned for Blair to stand up. "Now turn round, Guide, and stand still. If you do, I'll make it quick."
"No way, man. You do it, you're going to have to look me in the eyes when you pull the trigger." For a moment Blair thought that Bruce was going to do it there and then. "You don't want to do this, man. Think of it." Blair said, still trying to reason with the man.
"S for Sandburg, and my hangman is nearly complete. My brother liked to play hangman." He reached for Blair.
"Cascade PD! Freeze!"
Blair had never been so pleased to hear Jim Ellison's voice, but then he was caught and flipped round, and the gun ground against the underside of his chin.
"Drop it, Ellison or else I'll kill your Guide."
"No way, Bruce, you put the gun down. You're not going anywhere."
"Always have to have your way, Ellison. Well, not this time. I was going to wait until I had finished my hangman before I killed you, see your face when you realised that all those people died because of you, because of the freak you were then and are now."
"Put the gun down." Jim edged round slightly his eyes locked onto Bruce McClure, the gun held in hands that were rock steady.
"Even you're not that good, Ellison. I can put this little guy down before you have a chance to fire, even in death I win. Shoot me and my finger pulls the trigger."
"You don't get it, Bruce, all I have to do is hit you under the ear, and all motor functions shut down. You're dead, and the Guide doesn't even have a bad hair day. You forget, I am trained and I will kill you."
"You're a cop."
"I'm a Sentinel and no court will convict me for offing the man that threatened my Guide." Jim's tone was ice cold.
Blair shuddered. This was the side of his Sentinel he hoped he would never see. The man was going to kill to save him.
Bruce was scared now, he was looking his own death in the eyes. It wasn't supposed to go down that way.
The gun moved away from Blair's chin for a split second, and the younger man brought his elbow hard into Bruce's stomach, and stamped down on the man's instep just as Jim had trained him. Instead of trying to pull free, he just dropped down. In that instant Jim Ellison fired, he was aiming to kill, and the bullet took Bruce between the eyes, throwing him backward and away from where Blair huddled on the floor.
Jim never bothered to check his kill; the man was already dead before he hit the floor.
"Blair!" The Sentinel was immediately by his Guide's side.
Blair shuddered and pulled himself up to his knees. "Mrs. Walker, we have to check on her, now Jim, please." He put a hand out and was pulled smoothly to his feet.
The Sentinel sent out his hearing and quickly crossed over to a small cleaning cupboard and pulled it open. The Librarian was huddled in the back, apart from being scared she looked all right. Blair took her and led her away as Jim called it in.
Simon was in his office, and looking from Sentinel to Guide and back again. "We got the file on Bruce McClure, and it's not pretty reading. William Ellison confirmed that his mother worked for your family Jim, but he sacked her and her husband after the tragedy, when they became obsessed with blaming you for the killing. You survived and their son didn't." He held up a hand. "I know it's not fair, Sandburg."
"Transfer of blame, classic text book. Sorry, Captain, Anthro Major and Psych Minor."
"Bruce was taken out of their care after a neighbour reported them for abuse. It seems that the brother Todd was the apple of their eyes, and they tried to make Bruce into him. The rest is a history of mental problems."
"Revenge, all those people died because of revenge." Jim got up. "It doesn't help Simon." He turned and walked out.
Simon began to get to his feet, when Blair beat him to it. "Let me."
"If he needs help, Dr. Garfield is very good. He's helped a lot of police officers." Then Simon added, "Even I've spoken to him. He needs to get this out in the open; it's festered too long."
Blair nodded. "He will talk about it to me. You see, he doesn't have a choice." It was said with almost sadness. Then he added, "It's my job."
Simon watched the smaller man following after his partner, his Sentinel, and his friend. The Sentinel was waiting for him, perhaps without even realising he was.
The Guide's hand rested on his forearm, he leaned into his personal space and they talked, then Jim's head went down.
Blair reached up and slid a hand under his Sentinel's chin, and made him look into his eyes. "Jim, you survived. Let me tell you something that you told me. You told me that I was a victim, and when you were thirteen, you were a victim as well. And nothing that happened was your fault, just as my time with Wilson was not mine. But what we both have to realise is that we have gone past that stage now. We are no longer victims James, we are survivors. We have moved on. We will always remember what has happened to us, but we have gone past it. And it can no longer claim us."
Blair was pulled into a tight hug that threatened to bruise his ribs.
Simon Banks nodded to himself //Jim Ellison was going to be all right.//