With thanks to Lois, and Olwynm for your beta reading.
Warning for adult language, violence
This story follows on from Buried in the Past
Jim Ellison's hand caught the alarm clock at the first click, before the alarm went off. He pulled on his robe and came down the steps from his bedroom into the loft living area. Glancing down at the coffee table, he smiled fondly; it was covered with maps and photographs of the newly discovered Guide Temple. His Guide -- correction, his friend --was credited with its discovery and was going to write the paper on it. His pride in his Guide swelled. Blair was well on the way to returning to the person he had been before the GDP and Alex Barnes had steamrollered into his life.
As usual, Blair was up first and making breakfast. As Jim walked up, he noticed the young man's clothing; he was in all black, the long hair pulled back and secured by a leather tie at the nape of his neck. Blair saw Jim and smiled; the Sentinel could see the Dark Guide was back out of its box. Deep within his self, the primitive part of the Sentinel soared; the time of meshing was coming closer.
Ever since Blair came into his life, Jim had at first fought against, then accepted, the ritual each morning. The Sentinel *had* to first see his Guide, scrutinize him down to the smallest nick on his face from shaving. Then he would scent him: herbal hair shampoo, deodorant and soap over a ginger musk specific to Blair. Then the sound of the heartbeat, firm and steady. Lastly, and most important… touch, he had to make physical contact with his Guide. Only then could Jim's day start.
The Dark Sentinel reached out and lightly stroked his Guide's shoulder as he wrapped his senses around the black clad man. Jim saw the answering light in his Guide's eyes; it was as if lightning arced between them. Almost reluctantly he turned away, he had to get ready for work, knowing that while in the dark persona he would keep Blair near him, the nearness needed to keep him focused.
Dark Blair was seated at Jim's desk with one knee rested against it. He was slowly rocking back and forth, a pen in one hand that he was running backward and forwards through his fingers. The detectives of Major Crime were instinctively giving him a wide berth. This was not the Blair they knew.
Commander Daniel Slater, on entering the bullpen, was stopped by Bryn Rafe. The younger police officer looked furtively round him, as if frightened that something or someone was going to pounce on him. "Commander Slater, the GDP looks after Guides and Sentinels, right?"
"Right." Slater was puzzled. He knew the group at Major Crime all knew about him; the atmosphere in the Bullpen was even relaxing slightly. He was sure that the officers were starting to see him as a person, not an instrument of the GDP.
Rafe grinned. "Then, Commander, it's up to you to deliver this message to *Senior Sentinel Prime* Ellison, isn't it, H?"
The grunge cop nodded. "Sure, it's his job." The GQ detective perked up.
"What is it?"
"Oh, you'll find out," Rafe answered and then backed away slowly. Beside him,
H was humming the death march.
Daniel hesitated and then opened the message. Reading quickly his face froze. //This is not good. Let's just hope Ellison doesn't kill the messenger.//
The door to the captain's office was closed as Simon was trying to talk sense into one particularly stubborn Sentinel. "He is in no condition to be in the Bullpen, let alone out on the street. I did hear you wrong, didn't I? You didn't tell me that your *Guide* jumped a knife-wielding thug, and put him down. Jim, he's a Guide… they can't…"
"Blair is in the Dark Guide persona, but the time of meshing is close, so he's flipping between the two personalities. He'll settle eventually, and be stronger for it. But at the moment he's stuck in this darker persona. He will be all right. He just has to remain calm."
Simon still was not happy. How could the kid remain calm in the charged atmosphere of the police station? And wasn't he supposed to be the calming influence of the partnership? Sentinel 201, why the hell wasn't there anything in there about meshing Guides? Maybe he needed a 301 text, or maybe the book hadn't been written yet.
Commander Slater knocked once and entered. "I can't believe he said that!"
If Simon hadn't been so worried, he would have found the Commander's whole tone and shocked expression funny.
"I can't believe a Guide would say that to a member of the GDP. Do you know what he told me to--?"
"Can't do that, Commander. Physically impossible," the Sentinel remarked. Thoughtfully, he moved his hands as if picturing it, then shook his head, "At least not in a compact, you can't." It was said totally deadpan.
Simon laughed, deep and gruffly. "So, Daniel, what's the problem? More Sentinel stuff?"
"You could say that."
"And while we're discussing Sentinels, how come they all came to my precinct?"
"Just lucky that way, Simon," Jim answered for the GDP Commander.
"I have a message for you, Jim." Slater handed it across, then moved out of the way.
Jim read it through slowly. "You're serious about this?"
"Sorry. They are. You have to attend a short series of Guide Maintenance lectures, sit an exam, then it's all over with. They..."
Simon smiled. //'They', not 'us'; Daniel is learning. //
"They will leave you alone."
"Sit a test?"
//God, the man sounded too calm. // "Yes. You have to prove that you can leash your Guide, know how to deal with him if he overloads, the injection points and how much to use. That sort of thing."
"I have to leash Blair?" Jim suddenly loomed into Dan Slater's space. "Never, Slater! And certainly not now."
The GDP commander tried not to retreat back from the sheer aggression pouring off the Sentinel. He did not have to be an empath to feel it. "Sorry, Jim, this is straight from the top. You have to attend, Sentinel Prime or not. You have to be there."
"Be where, Slater?" Blair's voice unexpectedly came from behind the commander. "Be where?" the Dark Guide repeated.
Commander Slater wasn't sure how to deal with *this* Sandburg. //Try for official.// "Guide Sandburg, your Sentinel will be attending a Guide maintenance lecture. This is mandatory. The first takes place next Monday, and then each morning for that week. At the end of it, he has to pass a written test and a practical."
"To prove what? That he knows how to tie a Guide down, maybe teach him a few interesting wraps, Commander?"
There was an edge to the Dark Guide's voice, and a twist to the lips that was unsettling to Slater. It was unlike the usually… //Admit it, Slater, the Guide is improving but there is still an edge of unease to him. This persona though, has no fear. This guy knows who and what he is.// "No, to prove that he can look after you if you overload or are taken ill."
"Your concern overwhelms me, Commander." The sarcasm dripped from Blair's voice. Ignoring Slater as if he wasn't there, the Dark Guide moved to Jim's side. One hand dropped on the big man's shoulder in a light caress that was almost sensual. He curved his body against his Sentinel's as he moved into place by Jim's shoulder, keeping maximum contact with the larger man as he did it. His smile was chilling.
Jim's hand went up and covered his Guide's, giving it a squeeze.
Simon watched and shook his head. This change in Sandburg had been firmly in place since the young man had come in early this morning, and it had Banks worried. He would not admit it, of course, but he liked the bouncing, young Guide. This one was too cynical and sarcastic. It was Sandburg with a bad attitude, which thankfully hadn't yet rubbed off on his Sentinel. There was no way he wanted Jim to go back to his BS, before Sandburg, persona.
Simon shook his head, angry with Slater. He had been planning to speak to Ellison about the lessons, but they had gotten side-tracked by the Howard case and the knifeman. But now Slater and that damned message had got there first. He steeled himself; he had to bring out the big guns now.
"Jim, the reason I called you in was to tell you that I had just had Director Claydove himself on the phone. You WILL attend these lectures, Sentinel Ellison. And you will go with him, Guide Sandburg. Also, you will do all the lessons, and all the homework, and then this crap will be out of the way, once and for all."
"And if we don't?" Blair allowed a long pause before adding, "Captain." The rank wasn't said with any of the usual respect the Guide gave Banks.
Simon turned his gaze on Blair and made sure that the Guide could feel his displeasure, but the Dark Blair was not fazed by it. "Well, let me quote regulation 235 of the Guide code, or can you do that for me, Guide Sandburg? No? Well, I'm not surprised. According to Dr. Claydove, it's the one that most people don't bother with, because they are frightened to play in your Sentinel/Guide sandpit. But gentlemen… I am not! The quote is, 'If the superior of the pairing decides that discipline is needed, he or she can order it'. And I, gentlemen, am your superior. For each lecture that you do not attend, Sandburg will have one day of compulsory leash punishment, in this office."
Jim was leaning over the Captain's desk in a heartbeat, the rage radiating from him. "YOU WOULD NOT DARE!"
"Don't test me, Sentinel. Commander Slater, you can confirm the regulation?" Simon roared back. He was not going to be intimidated by his own detective.
Slater nodded. "Yes, I can. It's within Simon's rights under the new regulations."
Simon put a hand in his drawer and brought the leash down on top of the desk with a thump. He felt sick as he saw the Guide jolt back. Dark Guide or not, there was deep-rooted fear still in his mind at the sight of the leash.
Jim nodded. "All right, Captain." He slid an arm round Blair, needing to connect to his Guide. The emotions when Blair's hand had brushed Jim's arm had jolted the Sentinel. The need had sent his Blessed Protector mode into overdrive.
The Dark Guide began to reassure his Sentinel, soothing him, and slowly the adrenaline level began to fade.
"We have work to do." Jim's voice was hard.
"Don't let me keep you, Detective." Simon exhaled slowly and looked at Slater as they walked out. "Daniel, your timing could have been better. I was going to break it to Jim myself. Carefully."
"You know that regulation isn't usually used. It's not wise to get involved in their world. It's a scary place, Simon."
Simon nodded. "Don't I know it. The carrot or the whip, Daniel? If going on this course protects them, then they will go on the course." He swept the leash into his drawer in disgust and answered the unasked question. "Lieutenant Nelson brought that in yesterday. It appears that he learned that Ellison burned the last one. Don't worry, I'll speak to him. In their current state neither of them needs Nelson sniffing around. Why do I get the feeling this isn't going to be easy?" As he spoke, he looked out toward James Ellison; Sentinel and Guide would have the weekend to get their heads around attending the lectures. But like it or not, they would attend.
Outside the two lecture rooms of the Guide College, the Sentinels had started to gather. With a touch and pat, they each saw their Guides off into the room next door. The white noise generator was flipped on as the door was closed.
The GDP Trainer Chris Simms smiled warmly. "Please go in and take a seat."
The trainer looked round at the Sentinels in front of him, eleven in the class. He glanced at this notes and blanched: one Senior Sentinel Prime, two Sentinel Primes and eight Sentinels.
One look at the Senior Sentinel Prime and he felt his stomach turn to water. The man stared straight through him as if he wasn't there.
"Good..." His voice squeaked and he coughed trying to clear it. His voice never squeaked! Gathering himself, he tried again. "Good morning, Sentinels. Welcome to the first of a series of five talks on Sentinel training and Guide maintenance. You are here... Because... You are here…" He stuttered. He could see the almost evil twitch to the Sentinels' lips as they caught his increased heartbeat and smelled the fear that was starting to roll off him.
//Right! I can do this.// He turned to focus on the nice, matronly, auntie-type lady further along the first row, only to find her smile was anything but friendly.
"You are here…because you need some help in managing your Guides. Remember a well-trained Guide is a happy Guide." He heard a "huh" come floating up from the tall, striking girl in the front row.
Then he was heckled from the back row. "Remember a Guide is for life, not just for Christmas."
The trainer shifted uneasily at the satire of one of the GDP's favourite tag lines. "Er… right. I mean, no!"
By the time the dinner break came around, Christopher Simms was drained; it had been like pulling teeth all morning.
The Sentinels filed out, immediately crossing en masse to the Guide lecture room. Sliding into the back, Simms saw his equally harassed colleague closing his talk for dinner. Usually the Guide talk was a breeze; they were always well-behaved and docile.
But not this time, Will Stewart complained, all but tearing his hair out. And the main trouble was the small, young, longhaired Guide at the front of the hall.
Will and Chris had been excited when Commander Slater himself had come to the lectures. It was said on the grapevine that he was putting together his own team to be based at the Cascade PD. Everyone knew Slater was on a fast track, had the ear of the Director himself, so anyone working on his team could go places.
The stressed instructors now were watching the Sentinels collect their Guides and matching the pairs together. The tall Guide with the auntie-type woman, a solid military-looking man with a small fair-haired Guide, and so it went on. It was always interesting to match Sentinel with Guide.
Will nodded towards a tall, older man. The Senior Sentinel Prime, with the short military-type hair cut and a grim look on his face, was crossing the room to where a group of Guides were still talking. He looked a tough SOB, and Will privately pitied any Guide that was claimed by him.
Chris nudged him. "That's the Senior Sentinel Prime of Cascade." They watched, as his hand dropped on the shoulder of the darkly-dressed Guide. The young man turned with a grin, so unlike the feral smile he had given the GDP Trainer, and said something, receiving a clip across the head, which he easily avoided. The grin became broader, then a powerful arm snaked round the thin Guide's waist, and the Sentinel pulled him close.
Blair smiled; he was all too aware that under the banter was a very real need for Jim to connect with him. His hand came up and braced against his Sentinel's chest as the man openly scented him. This was the most basic of Sentinel needs, and Jim made no attempt to hide it. When Jim's head snapped up to stare at the two GDP officers, Blair reached up and pulled his head back down with only the lightest touch of his fingers. The Sentinel only then gently released his Guide.
Commander Slater walked up to the younger GDP officers. "So how is it going? I noticed you appeared to be having some trouble earlier."
"It was the young student-type over there. Something weird is going on. When I told him to show respect, he just laughed and said, to… well… I've never heard a Guide say that to a trainer before. He could… I could cite him to forty-eight hours compulsory training for that. He should be leashed and made to…"
"The new regulations… remember them, because he will -- every line and sub paragraph. But I will speak to his Sentinel on the matter." Slater hid a smile. If what he had heard about the Sentinel lecture had been duplicated in the Guide lecture room, no wonder the two men were rattled. He had heard good things about these two and wanted to see if it were true. This would be a do-or-die week for them. He had been charged with creating a 'New GDP', and some would be recruited and others rejected.
At his approach, Commander Daniel Slater noticed the way the Sentinels moved back from him. He had not really met the other members of the clans yet, and he could see a range of emotions in the Sentinels' eyes, none of them friendly.
"Hello, Dan, what can we do for you?" Jim's tone was neutral, but slightly mellow, now that he had Blair with him again, safe and unhurt.
//Dan.// It was one of the few times that Jim Ellison had actually called him by his first name; maybe he was making progress with him.
Blair's hands went to the small of his back as he remained standing, tilting his head forward slightly he acknowledged Slater. The other Guides followed suit. Slater knew it was a courtesy to him as a person, and not the uniform that he wore.
It was the first time that he had seen Blair adopt the new posture of respect. With that new directive following so fast after the other recent regulation alterations, change had thrown everyone into a tailspin.
"I know you don't want to be here, but can you give them a break, Jim? They're only trying to do their best. You keep this up for five days, and they are guaranteed to have a nervous breakdown. I don't think their medical package covers that."
"Just tell them to keep their hands off Blair. If they want to practice wraps, they can play with themselves!"
"Real tactful, Jim." Blair's comment was just audible to Slater.
Slater was hoping that Chris would not be that stupid, because if he was, it would be left up to him to pick up the pieces.
Will looked around the pairings seated in front of him, then at his partner Chris. He picked up a leash. "Now this is the standard leash. Due to the recent regulation changes, this is the only leash that you can now be issued. If you have one of the smaller leashes, if you hand it in, we will exchange it for you.
"Now normally, only rogue Guides are leashed. But in some circumstances it is important that the Sentinel keep his or her Guide restrained, and it is best that you all understand the safe and proper way to leash your Guide. An incorrect leashing can cause pain, and in extreme conditions, strangulation.”
"Now," Chris continued, "once leashed, you will be able to adjust it tighter. You need to allow for some movement of feet and hands, and take care not to overly restrict head movement. Now I need to have a.... Yes." Chris walked over to the small, longhaired student. //Good idea, make the Guide see that I am the boss.// "Sentinel, I will just borrow your Guide to demonstrate this leashing."
The group of Sentinels grinned as one, and there was an air of expectancy, as if they had heard one of the biggest jokes out.
Jim looked the man up and down slowly, and there was a threatening deep-throated growl. "Touch him, and I'll make sure you take your head home in a bag."
Chris made the mistake of moving forward, "Sentinel, I..."
Blair stepped between the men as Jim got to his feet. "He's an idiot, Jim. He's not going to hurt me OR leash me, are you?" The last was a question aimed over his shoulder at the GDP Trainer.
"No," Chris assured quickly, trying to regain control of the situation. "Er... well, I think if you all would leash your Guides, we can make sure that you understood the lecture." Chris Simms offered the leash to the Senior Sentinel Prime, who barely took it before he dropped his hand down. The leash fell to the floor.
Commander Slater came to the front in a few quick strides. "I suggest that we call a coffee break here, and you hand out the leaflets. Sentinels, please read through them and we will discuss the material in them tomorrow. In here for 9.30 am, a joint lecture. And remember, ladies and gentlemen, there will be a written test later." //It's like talking to a delinquent bunch of kids that can read your every emotion and catalogue all your physical responses, which gives them a distinct advantage.//
Why did he think that it was going to be a very long week?
The lecture the next day was only a half-day session on Guide diet and manners. It had started well, until the dark-dressed Guide had started to ask questions. From then on it had gradually gotten worse. But at least the Sentinels and Guides were listening.
Chris got the feeling that he was losing the argument. It was clearly obvious that the Senior Sentinel Prime was not going to censor his Guide; the kid, Chris mused, was too bright for his own good.
But at the end of the session, he had grudgingly realised he had actually started to think about what he was lecturing about. Somehow, looking at the dark-dressed Guide, he couldn't fit him into any of the convenient pigeonholes that he had previously been taught.
At the coffee break, the Senior Sentinel Prime had gone to get a tea for his Guide. He was just fishing out the tea bag and pushing a lid on, when he saw something that increased his speed, the tea absently pushed into Lisa's hand.
He crossed the room in long strides and then reached for and caught a shorthaired man by the collar, throwing him effortlessly away from his Guide. Blair had been backing up, away from the man. But Jim could see his Guide's eyes flashing. If words failed, Blair had been ready to put the un-bonded Sentinel down, the Dark Guide more than ready to strike back if the man tried to touch him.
An un-bonded Sentinel! Jim's anger blazed. HOW DARE HE try to touch his Guide? The un-bonded had landed heavily on his butt, and now looked up at the towering, enraged Sentinel. Jim had the Dark Sentinel to the fore, ready to fight and kill.
Will rushed up. "Senior Sentinel Prime, please! GDP Sentinel Allen meant no harm, sir; he was merely going to greet your Guide. He knows him."
Allen nodded. "Sandburg was our training Guide. I only wanted to see how he was getting on."
"He. Was. Your. WHAT?" There was an unmistakable rumble in the Sentinel's voice.
"Our Training Guide. He was given to us, to practice Guide care on. He was a handful, and we had to run several punishment sessions with him. I heard he had run, become a rogue. I am glad to see that he is back on the programme. I just wanted to check him out."
"Blair is a good Guide, and he is MINE! If you want to talk to him, then you come to me, Un-bonded." The description was growled almost like a curse.
"Sentinel Prime. ... I meant no harm."
Jim moved toward him.
Allen collected himself and began backing away. Turning, he saw that the other Sentinels had started to gather around him, and none of them looked friendly. In fact they looked like a pack of wolves ready to attack on command. The Sentinels were out to protect their Guide Prime.
Choosing the better part of valour, the young Sentinel hurried out, having to squeeze past unmoving members of Ellison's cadre. None moved out of his way. Allen was not of the Clans.
Once out of the lecture hall, the still somewhat flustered man took out his cell phone. "Sir, there's no doubt about it; Sandburg was my Training Guide. Yeah, and he's still up to his tricks by the sound of it. The way he talked down to Training Officer Simms, he needs to be corrected. I'll see you and the others tonight."
~~~ Chris Simms was given the job of starting the next talk and from what had happened before, this was the one talk he didn't want to give. "Disciplining the Guide is always an emotional area of Guide care. Some Sentinels do not want to do the punishment themselves, feeling too attached to their Guides. So the option is to allow the GDP to administer the reprimand for them. Most Sentinels however, do this themselves.
"When talking about a serious infringement, first and most important, do not administer punishment in the heat of anger. Your Guide must be allowed to understand the reason why this punishment is being administered; it must be done calmly and with a cool head. Punishment can range from ordering your Guide into the corner, on his or her knees for a pre-determined length of time -- never open-ended -- to taking the leash to them. We advise that when doing the latter, you place a telephone directory under your arm. This limits the swing of the leash and avoids serious injury."
Jim Ellison filtered out the words of the trainer, in his mind's eye he could see Blair, at a time soon after they had first bonded
Blair had dropped a framed picture of his late partner Jack Pendergast. The frame had broken and the glass cracked. Jim had been due in any minute. The new Guide had just stood there holding the picture frame in his hands, shaking. Then, bending quickly, he picked up the pieces and laid them on the kitchen counter. He looked towards his room. He had known what he had to do. Blair opened the closet and took out the leash from the box on the floor. He took a deep breath and focused himself. Jim entered the loft; he was tired and all he wanted was a beer, to put his feet up and watch the latest Jags match. Blair was in his room. The Guide's heartbeat was faster than normal and there was the edge of fear to his scent, which worried him. But he didn't want to rush in and demand to know what was going on. Blair was in his own room, and him had made it a rule that unless Blair was ill, or hurting, or distressed, he would not enter there without the younger man's invitation. Over the last few years he had had precious little privacy in his life, and with his senses, it might only be an illusion, but he deserved at least that. "Hi, Chief," Jim greeted his Guide as he shuffled into the living room. Immediately the big man could see something was wrong, but before the Sentinel could say anything, Blair had knelt down and offered him the leash. "What the hell, Blair?" He took the leash from the other's hand automatically. Blair pulled his shirt off and dropped it onto the floor. He leaned down, head resting on his hands, on all fours, a tremor running though his body. Then the penny dropped. "You think I am going to beat you?" There was total disbelief in the voice. "Talk to me, kid." "I broke your picture; my punishment is in your hands." Jim looked round and saw the broken frame and glass on the kitchen counter. He swore and threw the leash down onto the floor. The Sentinel pulled Blair onto the sofa and into his lap. "Yes, the picture is important; Jack was a good friend. But the frame and the glass can be replaced." He gave his Guide a shake when he realised that he wasn't listening, "Did you mean to break the frame, Chief? Were you angry at me?" "No! It was an accident." "Then, Chief, I would never punish you for something like that; accidents happen." He petted his Guide's head and shoulders. "I might yell, Blair, but I would never do that to you." He pulled his Guide close to him. How could Blair think he would do that for a frame worth only fifteen bucks?
Jim was pulled back to the present.
Chris faltered as he saw the look of pure venom in the Senior Sentinel Prime's eyes. There was a hatred there that chilled the soul. Without conscious thought, he moved along the platform, away from the man and the black-dressed Guide. //There must be an easier way to earn a living.//
Blair Sandburg was on his knees in the centre of the loft, a leash around his neck, then down the middle of his back, the loop around his waist.
His Sentinel was behind him, carefully measuring out the loop that would go down to his ankles. Jim halted, picked up the manual, stared at the illustration, and frowned. "I still don't think that's right, Chief." Then he growled, "For God's sake, what's wrong with the standard wrap? Why the hell do they need all of these?"
"Because I might become violent and beat you to a pulp, Jim," the Guide chuckled. "So what's the next one?"
During their practice session, Jim was carefully monitoring his Guide. When first exposed to the leash, Blair's heart had started to pound, though he had made a heroic effort to keep calm. Jim had joked around, and Blair had slowly relaxed. It was all slightly forced, but it had had the desired effect.
Carolyn Plummer sat in her car looking up at the loft, once her home. She glanced at herself in the rear-view mirror and touched up her make up. This was the hardest thing she had to do, asking Jim to accompany her to the Officer of the Year Dinner dance. She had put it off for too long; now was the time to take the bull by the horns and ask him to escort her.
Carolyn raised her hand to knock on the door of the loft when it swung open; her mouth dropped. "You can't have heard me, Jim!"
"And smelled your perfume," Jim remarked smugly as he stepped back and let her in. Carolyn went from nought to ballistic in one second flat as she saw the young Guide on the floor of the loft, a leash holding him in place.
She spun around. "You big bully! You loathsome bastard!" Fuming, she poked him in the chest. "How dare you do that to him? You ...you..."
"Lieutenant Plummer, it's okay. Jim's just doing his homework for the lecture, that's all. Please." Blair's voice verged on laughing at the sight of the big bad Sentinel back-peddling rapidly under the verbal onslaught of his ex-wife.
She turned to Blair, saw his total lack of fear, and then turned back and slapped Jim across the chest. "Idiot. Why didn't you say something?"
"Caro, you didn't give me a chance."
Jim knelt down next to Blair. "Okay, was that comfortable, Chief?"
"Jim, it's not supposed to be comfortable." Then Blair saw the muscle in his Sentinel's jaw twitch; he was taking it too personally. Jim had to pass this test, and then they would be in the clear.
And to tell the truth, working on this was taking his mind off the Dark Guide. The other aggressive persona had been popping into his mind a lot lately, making Blair feel as if he were only along for the ride. He knew the meshing was close, but it scared him. What if he wasn't him any longer?
Forcing away his worry, he pulled himself back to the present. "Jim, try leash three now. Okay?"
Jim removed the leash, tossed it across the room. Then he knelt down and helped his Guide to lay flat on the seat cushions of the sofa that were arranged on the floor. Strong yet sensitive fingers began to move over the Guide's body, helping to loosen up tense muscles. Jim's hand moved to the back of Blair's head and began to ease the tension that had built up during the session. Blair knew it was Jim that was doing it. He knew that Jim would never hurt him, but there were still moments when the Guide saw only the outline of a person from the corner of his eye, and then it would twist into Wilson.
Carolyn watched him, and pushed any jealous thoughts back down as unworthy. She had learned her lesson. Now came the hard bit, asking Jim to take her to the dance.
At the last moment she chickened out, and now Jim was looking at her waiting for her to say why she had come.
"I was going to invite you both to the Apollo Room. If you remember, I owe you both a meal, just the three of us."
For a moment she waited, and then Jim gave her a smile that warmed her right down to her toes. "Sure and this time we buy, right, Chief?"
Carolyn met Blair's eyes levelly as the younger man twisted round to face her. It was then she knew that the empath had caught her lie.
"Also, I was going to ask who you were taking to the 'Officer of the Year' Dinner Dance?"
She saw the grimace appear on Jim's face. He was going to stick his heels into the carpet over this one, she just knew it.
"The Mayor's going to be there?"
Carolyn winched, it sounded so lame. "I think I'll take a …"
"You have to go, Jim. It's duty; you're the senior Sentinel. How would it look if you didn't turn up?" Blair chipped in.
"You put him up to this, didn't you, Caro?" Jim growled but it was good-natured, and Blair just chuckled as he ducked a playful clip to his head.
"Sure, Jim, it's a conspiracy," Blair agreed.
"I'm not going to get any peace on this, am I?"
"None," Carolyn put in firmly.
"Okay, okay. I'll go." With a firm pat to Blair's back, he got up.
Leaning over, Carolyn put her hand out and shook hands with the younger man, as she grinned. "Well done, partner."
Jim shook his head. He had been trapped by a pair of masters. "Would you do the honour of attending the dance with us?" he asked with mock gallantry, or so she thought. Then she realised that Jim meant it as he added, "If I am going to go, I would prefer to have an attractive lady on my arm."
Carolyn now had her date.
Jim Ellison glanced at his watch; his Guide was running late. He had to stop himself from picking up the phone. The kid was only ten minutes late -- more than likely he ran into some traffic on the drive over. He had given Blair his life back and monitoring him day and night was not part of the deal, no matter what he wanted or needed to do. Part of him argued that Blair should be with him 24/7, that it was his place to be here, but deep down he knew that he couldn't enslave his Guide. The young man was spirited and impetuous, and he deserved a chance to reclaim his life.
"Kelly! Lost your way, or have you finally decided to leave Vice?"
"While I'm still the best decoy in the section? Eat your heart out, soldier!" She grinned. The petite woman had befriended the mean and moody ex-ranger when he had first got his shield and had somehow gotten through the tough shell. Jim had become her backup, and she had been thankful for his speed and abilities more than once: the Sentinel had been the best protector in Vice.
Her face became sober. "Sorry about this, Jim." She knew that this was going to hurt him, and she wasn't sure how he was going to react to this slur on his Guide, and how it would reflect on him.
She was clutching three gaudily coloured VCR tapes; the title "Bound Joy, Guided Passion, Trained for Pleasure" was emblazoned across their spines.
Kelly held the tapes against her body, as if shielding them away from her friend. "You have to understand, Jim, that these tapes are usually staged. You know the sort of thing, the forty-five-year-old school girl that wouldn't even fool a short-sighted man without his glasses. But the big money's in real Guide porn tapes. These tapes were recovered from a sleaze shop down the village; the owner had been making copies for select, specialist clients.
"Lieutenant Nelson, the GDP liaison, ran a check on them, since they featured a Guide. Unfortunately the tapes were playing when the raid went down; the perp was copying them. The uniforms that were doing the search -- Nelson found them watching them."
For a heartbeat, Jim closed his eyes, as if it would ward off what she was going to say.
"I am sorry, Jim. It's Sandburg." She took a steadying breath. "The tapes were filmed in the correction facility, during so-called training sessions, and they are – well, just say they leave nothing to the imagination. It's pretty sick stuff. I am sorry.”
Jim Ellison's face went cold, all expression faded and the grim mask slid into place, shutting her out. His voice had a quiet, controlled edge to it that was worse than any ranting and raving. "I want to speak to this sleazeball. I want to know where he got those tapes from."
Kelly got the feeling that if she allowed it, they would be picking pieces of the man off the floor. Perhaps Jim would settle for some details. "Name's Gary Boyle. He bought the tapes from a connection -- 'The Man', was all he called him; the guy has a finger in a lot of pies. He is known as the main Guide connection: you want an empath for a party? He's the one to see. You want a tape to spice up a evening? He's the one that has them. He's also been providing empaths for out of state and country buyers."
"Any idea who 'The Man' is? Did he give a name?"
"No, Boyle said that he has only met him once face-to-face. The rest of the time it's a dead drop. Didn't you come across him in that case when your Guide was kidnapped?”
Jim nodded. "One of them rolled over and talked to the DA. He mentioned 'The Man' in his statement."
"And the description matches the one he gave. We have to get this guy, Jim. He's like a cancer; we have to stop him. I will be following it through, but our captain asked me to give them to you since Sandburg is your prop-- your Guide."
"'Property' -- that's what she said, wasn't it?"
All the changes were nothing but cosmetic. When push came to shove, the rank and file people still saw a Guide as nothing more than an extension of their Sentinel, his or her property, like a pet dog or a slave.
"Yeah," she patted Jim's arm. "Sorry, soldier."
"If these are the masters, how many other copies are there?"
"We found ten copies of each. They are going to be destroyed once the court case is finished. But..."
"But what?" Jim got the feeling that the worst was yet to come.
"There are only nine copies in lock up now. One is missing, and that's since it's been at the station. Also, we have no idea how many copies have been shipped out around the country. When we raided his shop, he managed to release a virus in his computer which corrupted the files. It's a very specialist field, so my guess, we might be talking thirty tapes top."
"Kelly, you're going to find those lost tapes and see that no more copies get out of Vice -- and I mean none -- and no pictures. If I see any, I am coming down there, understand?"
She nodded. "I'll make sure the word gets out." The idea of Jim Ellison on the warpath was a chilling one, and one to be avoided if possible. "You have to sign for the tapes."
Jim turned one of the tapes over in his hand. Wilson had died six months ago. He pulled the cassette from the box and examined it; the actual cassette still had the black and white GDP flash, and he stared at the date. *Damn* The tapes had been put together since Wilson's death, which meant that someone was out there to destroy his Guide. That was not going to happen. As a Sentinel his job was to protect his Guide, if needs be from himself, and that he would do.
Jim scrawled a signature on the paper, and Kim's hand gently touched his arm. "I truly am sorry about this, Jim; it never ceases to amaze me the levels some people will go to for a fast buck. Are you going to tell Guide Sandburg about them?"
"On top of everything else? No, not if I can help it, Blair's putting his life together, he doesn't need this reminder of the past to come back and haunt him."
"What about the court case? He could be called if they challenge the tapes as being authentic."
"Then we face it together."
Detective Martin fingered his copy of the tapes. He had managed to get them before that bleeding heart liberal Kelly had gotten them sealed in lock up. He had already had copies made, and they were doing the rounds of the police station among certain people. The tapes were hot property.
Martin gloated; he was going to enjoy this. Everyone treats the fucking kid as if he was special, they are all going to see how special he was with his ass in the air begging for it. He chuckled. The moment was made all the sweeter as he walked past Ellison; the man did not have clue as he left with the tapes in his brief case.
The Dean of Rainier University looked at the parcel her secretary had left on her desk, the copper plate handwriting, PRIVATE. Dean Hammond was puzzled; there was no sender address. All she knew was it had been delivered this morning. Almost gingerly she opened it, then reaching in took out a videotape. It had a white paper cover and a type-written slip of paper.
You want to know just what your Guide TA's been up to? Take a look. You really want him on campus? He's the good time that's been had by all.
Dean Hammond pushed the tape into her video, the one she was going to use for a presentation later that morning, and sat back. Her face registered shock and disgust, and she quickly ejected the tape. For a moment, she stood with the tape in her hand, tapping it absentmindedly. Then reaching into the cassette, she took the black magnetic tape out with her pen and began to pull it out, ream after ream, until it was pooled on the desk. Picking up her metal waste paper basket, she dropped it in, then lit a match and let it fall.
With a whoosh it began to burn. She ignored it, crossed to the model of the new campus, and picked up the flag with the Ellison Corporation logo. She was the only one who had seen the tape, and that was the way it was going to stay. William Ellison had made it all too clear; Blair Sandburg was family. She wasn't going to endanger his patronage for the sake of getting the Guide off campus. The big picture was more important.
The days towards the Officer of the Year night began to fly past, but one thing remained the same: James Joseph Ellison was not happy. So far they had drawn a blank on the missing porn tapes, and other copies had started to appear.
Simon has been in the middle of a briefing when he had switched on the video, and the tape had cut in. Although shocked, the big captain has moved fast to snap the VCR off. Luckily, Rafe, H and Lisa had kept a vow of silence about it, and they had started to run interference to protect the young Guide from the truth. They all knew Sandburg would find out, but they just hoped it would not be soon, not before Jim had a chance to tell him.
The Evening of the Officer of the Year Dinner Dance.
Jim was on edge as he tried on his tux. He had allowed Blair to talk him into the dinner, and to take Carolyn with him, and here he was dressed up like a ... Now he was struggling to get his bow tie right. One mangled corpse of a tie was already on the bed, the strangled remains of tie number two were in his hand, and only pristine number three was left.
Blair came bouncing up the stairs. "Jim, it's time -- otherwise we'll be late meeting Carolyn. Come on, man, we can't be late!"
"Sure, Chief, sure. Once I've got this damn thing on."
"Let me do it, before you do it mortal harm. Take a seat." Blair moved around the seated man and draped the last fresh tie round his neck. He reached over his shoulders and began to tie it as if he were putting it on himself. Jim leaned back against him, luxuriating in the contact between Sentinel and Guide.
Blair gave a triumphant, "Ta dah! See? Better than any store-bought one."
Jim admired it in the mirror. "Thanks, Chief. Come on, we can't keep the lady waiting."
Carolyn was patting her dress for the third time in as many minutes. She picked up her bag as she came out of the ladies.
Standing just inside the door of the banqueting hall were Jim and Blair. Her ex looked handsome in his tux, the blue of the cummerbund picking up the blue of his eyes. She looked at Blair and then did a double take. The younger man was dressed in a black tux, with a white shirt with open collar; a very thin silver line ran through the pattern and his black waistcoat had silver embroidery on it. His long hair was pulled back. He was bouncing with excitement, and as he turned his head, she saw the flash of silver holding his hair back. She walked over to them.
Jim caught her hands and looked her up and down, and said, "You look fantastic, Caro."
"Thank you, kind sir." She gave a small curtsey.
As Jim transferred her to his arm, she caught hold of Blair's arm, too. "I am going to be the envy of the department. Not just one good-looking guy, but two!" She gave the young Guide's arm a squeeze.
The social side of the dinner was in full swing. Jim was puzzled when he saw his father and brother among the guests. He shrugged it away; his father was always being invited to functions, and since he had newly found his cop son, it made sense that he had not refused the invitation.
Simon Banks came in with his girlfriend Mary on his arm and took a steadying breath; he was sharing a table with Jim, Blair and Carolyn, and the other two Sentinel Primes and their Guides; at the next table was Lisa, Rafe, Karl and Tina, Roger and her husband.
The meal was a good one; Blair, like all the Guides, was drinking mineral water. Jim kept glancing at him; he could hear Blair's heartbeat increasing as if he were excited about something. //Have to take the kid out more if he's excited about an Officer of the Year Dinner.//
The Mayor got up, and Jim mentally switched off until he heard his name being called. For a moment he just sat there, then he saw the faces of the people around him, the pride and joy shining in the face of his Guide. Simon clapped him on the back.
"Officer of the Year, Detective James Ellison, Senior Sentinel Prime of Cascade," the Mayor repeated.
Jim's mind snapped back, and he got up, waving a warning finger at Blair. "You knew about this."
"We are going to talk about this, Blair."
Blair just laughed as he joined the applause for his Sentinel.
Jim accepted the shield and stepped back as Dr Claydove took the mike.
"I am honoured to be able to make this next award myself. This citation for bravery above and beyond that of his duty goes to Senior Guide Prime Blair Sandburg. On two occasions he risked his own life to save the life of others, and that of his SSentinel, and for that I am pleased to award this citation."
Blair's face showed an expression of total horror. Edwards gave him a push to get him to his feet.
As he approached Dr Claydove, the director closed the distance between them. His voice was soft enough for only Blair to hear. "You don't kneel, Mr Sandburg." He shook hands as he handed over the citation. The flashes went off as the official GDP photographer recorded the award. Almost shyly Blair took his place by Jim's side.
Dr Claydove smiled, and said, "And our final award is to Guide Prime David South Lander, who risked his own life to save that of his Sentinel. Please come up to receive your citation."
David was on his feet not knowing quite how he got there. He stood next to Jim and Blair holding his scroll as the pictures were taken, then together they walked back to their table, which was already celebrating.
Blair could see the barbed looks he was getting from some quarters, but he was not going to let that bother him, not tonight. He clung onto his scroll, Jim's arm around him.
David found himself pulled into a rib-creaking hug by Edwards, and there was the pop of champagne corks.
"One for family album, Jimmy!"
Jim saw his father just before he was enveloped into a big hug. "Congratulations, Jim." Then William Ellison turned and pulled Blair into a hug. "Congratulations, as well, Blair."
"Thank you, Mr Ellison." Blair was embarrassed, but he should have guessed that once he had been brought into the Ellison family clan, it was not done half-heartedly. He realised that he didn't care; it was just great to belong.
Rod Stark took a pull at his drink, as his face hardened. Ellison being Cop of the Year was a good call. The man was good -- a pain in the ass, but a good cop. But to give that citation to that cop-killing bastard was to rub it into the face of all good cops everywhere. Richard has not even been able to attend the dinner because he was so traumatized by what Barnes had done to him. This was going to change. And change now.
The dancing started, the music nice and romantic, and Jim led Carolyn onto the dance floor. She looked up at him; for a big man he was very light on his feet, and she felt so safe in his arms.
Rafe was on the floor with Lisa. Blair noticed the way Karl was looking as her, and nodded in understanding. Karl's feeling for his Sentinel had crossed the line into love, and Blair could see the way it was tearing him up. He might be able to accept, albeit bitterly, Jim and Lisa if they got together, because Sentinel-to-Sentinel relationships were volatile and short lived: mate and then retire to neutral corners, the deep seated dislike of another Sentinel in their territory always coming crashing back. But Rafe was a very real threat to him.
Blair took a sip of his drink. He was pretty sure that Lisa had feelings for Karl, but as a Sentinel she would be reluctant to act on them, because her training had pounded into her that to put sexual pressure on the Guide was one of the worst sins.
His face split into a grin. He had an idea. When Jim led Carolyn back to the table, he leaned in to her and quickly explained.
Her face lit up. "Why not? Jimmy, we can do that."
"Blair, I don't think..."
"Come on, man, where is the harm?"
Blair put his hand out and took Carolyn onto the dance floor. Immediately Jim was aware of the other Sentinels watching him, waiting to see what he would do. But all they saw was the Sentinel Prime relaxing back in his chair with his glass of champagne.
Blair did one circuit of the small dance floor and moved near his target. "Excuse me." He cut in, taking Lisa as his partner as Carolyn made off with a surprised Rafe. For a moment, Lisa froze as she found herself dancing with a Guide.
Jim leaned over to Karl. "Nice couple, aren't they? Blair and Lisa, I mean."
Karl's hand slammed his glass down, and before he knew it, he was on his feet; no other Guide was going to dance with his Sentinel -- and his love.
"Blair." The hand on the grad student's shoulder gripped hard. "Excuse me."
Blair stepped back, and Karl took Lisa into his arms for the first time. The tension between them arced and sizzled, and when he pulled her close, she made no protest. Sentinel, Guide and soon-to-be lovers. Another taboo of the GDP came tumbling down.
Blair was bouncing as he took his seat. Picking up his glass, he knocked it against Carolyn's, her grin matching his.
With a shrug, Rafe realised that he had lost his girlfriend. But when Kim from Accounts flashed him a smile, he gave a sigh. "Plenty of other fish in the sea."
The Next Morning.
Richard Travis picked up the newspaper. He had to swallow hard not to lose his breakfast. On the inside page were the photos from the Officer of the Year Awards. There was a picture of Jim Ellison, and next to him was Blair Sandburg with another Guide. Both held citations. Other pictures showed them being presented with their awards, along with five other members of the PD.
He was living a lie; what the hell could he do?
Memories rushed in on him: he had woken up in the hospital to find himself being heralded as a hero. He was a cheat, a fraud. Why hadn't they listened to him? He had tried to tell them, but no one would listen to him. They never did.
Now it was too late, he kept telling himself. It was too late. A small voice of conscience put in -- all he had to do was pick up the telephone and call his captain, explain what had really happened. But it was too late, and he found he didn't want to. Before the incident, he was the rookie cop, the geek that no one had time for; now he was the hero the other cops had all called around, and his captain had hinted that he might get his gold shield after this, once he had done the minimum time. His mind took him unbidden back through time...
His partner Marty had crashed in on the robbery in progress. He had the smaller man down on the floor, making him put down the laptop he was using to pick the lock of the safe. Then that bitch had come in; she had been on them before he knew what was happening. He had not even got a shot off; he could see her killing Marty. Then the gun had turned on him. The smaller man had thrown himself between them, and she had pointed the gun at his head, ordering the man down on his knees. He had refused, and she had hit him across the face with the automatic. Then she had smiled, and Richard had known that he was dead. The smaller man launched himself at the gun; it had gone off, hitting Richard in the leg, but the man had saved his life. She went berserk for a moment, pistol whipping the other man. All he had been able to do was draw himself into a ball.
Then the sirens had sounded and the bitch had dragged the small man away. His face had been covered in blood. The police had arrived and he had fainted and awake to being called a hero..
. He knew now the smaller man was Pet Barnes. If he was ever caught and he talked... Richard had lost nights over that, until he realised that being a cop killer, Barnes wouldn't be believed. His story was safe.
But that had all changed the moment he first saw Blair Sandburg in the police station, and realised that Jim Ellison was going in to bat for him at every opportunity. Pet Barnes they wouldn't believe, but would they believe Ellison's Guide? He had no idea how long he could keep going into work; already he could feel the bile starting to burn his throat, and he swallowed hard. He could see no way out.
Three days later
Richard Travis answered the door to his flat and was startled to see Rod Stark, Detective Evans, Officer Henderson, and three other people that he had never met before. He put a pot of coffee on and looked round at their grim faces. His heart began to do flip-flops; these ones had been his most vocal allies since Barnes/Sandburg had arrived on the scene.
//God, what if they know truth about me?//
"You know what happened at the Cop of the Year dinner? They gave that bastard Barnes a citation," Henderson fumed as they entered and took a seat without asking permission. "That little freak needs to know his place, and this time we are going to settle his hash for good."
"We can't kill him. It would kill Ellison,” Richard put in quickly. He liked the detective; the man was good at his job and would never let a uniform down.
"We don't have to," one of the newcomers put in.
"And you are?" The younger man was put out that these people would just walk into his flat as if they owned it, without even his permission or telling him who they were.
Evans cut in. "Let me do that introductions. Our *friends* here both have an interest in Sandburg, and they have the knowledge we need to do it right. This is Denis Cage, Joe French, Lee O'Brien. They're GDP."
Cage was in his mid twenties. "I've seen that Guide destroy a good man, bring him down, and start a witch hunt of the GDP. Now they have publicly given him this citation, and that's not all! A friend has just told me that they have given him the credit for finding that so-called Guide Temple. They're letting him write a report on it, as if he were a citizen. This has to stop before the rot sets in." Cage shook his head in disgust. "This conduct just confuses Guides, makes them behave beyond their station in life."
"Yeah, on their knees by the side of their Sentinels," Lee put in with a sneer.
"So how do we do it, and avoid hurting Ellison?" Richard repeated his question. He was not sure he liked the way this was going.
"You let us handle it. Sandburg needs to be taught a lesson, one that he won't forget. We break him once and for all."
Richard hesitated. "It is for the best."
"For God's sake, Rich, he killed Marty and nearly killed you! Don't go soft on the little creep," Henderson snapped. He couldn't believe that the kid was going to chicken out.
"I wasn't going to. I just don't want us to be hunted down for--"
"No need to worry. It would be treated in-house, and enough of the GDP respect the old ways to make sure that nothing comes of any investigation. We catch the Guide, take him away somewhere and then put him through a training session to end all training sessions. So our best bet would be to…?"
Blair woke early in the morning, lay in bed and heard Jim talking on the phone.
"No, Simon, I'm going to have to take a Sentinel day off. I know, I know, but it's important. Come off it, Simon, apart from bonding, I haven't had to take any! Yes, this is important, otherwise I wouldn't ask."
//A Sentinel day!// Blair quickly got out of bed. If Jim was taking one of the mandatory days off that Sentinels were allowed, there must be something wrong. It needed a freight train to stop Jim Ellison from going into work.
"Jim," Blair called to him from the doorway of his room, "you okay, man?"
"Fine, Blair. It's still early, get back to sleep."
"Jim, if you need..."
"Get to bed, Guide, NOW!" There was bite to the words but Blair was not frightened. Jim was worried. His Sentinel would get scared when there was something he couldn't control, and that was usually his senses.
"Jim, your senses -- are they all right?"
"Just get to sleep." Then with a sigh, he added, "Please, Chief."
"Okay, man, but remember I am here if you want me."
As he started to turn away, Jim caught hold of him; looking into his friend's face. Blair could see the need to bond there. "It's all right, big guy. You want me? If you do, just nod."
Jim looked down, and nodded. Blair put his hand out, and cupping his chin lifted his face up. "It's all right, you know. I would never deny you the bond."
//Something has frightened Jim, and he needs to bond.//
Blair cursed William Ellison, the man who had made his Sentinel so scared of voicing his own need. His hand dropped down, and he reached for and caught Jim's larger hand, and gave him a tug towards the stairs. Obediently the larger, older man followed him, thankful that his younger Guide understood him.
Blair climbed onto the bed. Lying on his side, he waited for his Sentinel to join him.
For a moment Jim just sat on the edge of it, running a hand over the body that lay so trustingly by him. Already the Sentinel had started to bring the slides up on his senses, heightening them so much that his touch became lighter, his hearing more keen, each senses reaching out to his Guide, the settings on their highest. Only then did Jim climb onto the bed and pulled his Guide to him, needing to feel him against him, kept safe from the zone out by the very presence of his Guide in his arms and his mind.
The Dark Guide in Blair understood it, his hands moving in firm strokes over the shoulders and the back of his Sentinel. Now the Sentinel would allow his Guide to lead. The control freak, Dark Sentinel would let the Dark Guide show him the way: the final piece of the circle was complete. Blair knew that the moment his Sentinel settled into the bond, and willingly allowed him to pull him deep into it.
Jim felt the weight of the events of the week gradually fade, holding his Guide. In his arms he was keeping him safe, this was Blair. Not the abused creature he knew was on the tapes that lay hidden in his closet, but this animated Guide who entered his mind bringing peace and tranquillity.
The academic part of Blair's brain kicked in. He had carefully documented the changing nature of their bonding since he had fully bonded. He was no longer the passive little Guide, and he took the bonding out of Jim's hands. More surprisingly, Jim allowed him to do that. All this meant something; it was a puzzle that Blair was going to crack. He was also almost sure that may of the things that the GDP used or had used on them, in particularly the kneeling, had been warped by them from its true form, and he was going to prove it.
Jim stirred in the bond, reaching for his Guide's mind, disturbed by the busy thoughts rushing through it. Blair calmed his thoughts and concentrated just on the bond, allowing himself to slide deeper into it, to find the peace they both needed.
In the morning, Jim had trouble getting his Guide out of the loft. Finally he was gone. The Sentinel made a pot of coffee and walked out to the balcony and looked down on the street below, watching as his Guide walked out to his car and tossed his bags into the passenger side of the car.
Blair glanced up, and waved. "Look after yourself, Jim."
The words were clearly audible to the Sentinel's ears. He smiled even though he knew his Guide could not see him. He glanced back towards the video, somehow that made it even worse.
He felt a cold ball of ice in his stomach. He would do the reports first. The Sentinel's fingers clicked over the keys of the laptop. He took a deep drink of the coffee, but his eyes would drift back to the pile of tapes. Each time he turned back to the computer, not yet ready to face the evidence on them.
Finally he could put them off no longer. Jim picked up the first of the cassette cases, turned it around in his hands, and pushed it into the machine. He instantly recognised Wilson's voice, although the tape had been edited to hide his and the other's identities.
Blair was drugged but fighting against it, and he was being put through an obscene version of the Guide paces. The leash was tightened a notch. The images played out in front of the Sentinel's eyes, as he watched them with a heavy heart.
Jim hit the freeze button and without thinking, moved and knelt in front of the TV. Blair's head and shoulders filled the screen. The cameraman had focused on his face, getting some perverse pleasure from the look on the young man's face. Blair was half turned looking back; there was a look of horror on his face, helplessness in his eyes. He knew that he couldn't do anything to stop what was about to happen to him.
Jim's eyesight snapped to close-up, taking in the cut lip, the bite marks on his shoulders. He could see the burns on Blair's body from the caustic wraps they were using, the skin blistering. His hand reached out fingertips, stroking the shocked features. His head went back and he screamed with all the heart felt grief of a soul-mated Sentinel. Then he swirled down into a black void.
Blair pulled into the parking space, and then started up the stairs-- the lift was out again. He never saw the car that had been shadowing him pull up in the alleyway and the four men get out; they exchanged a short few words.
Joe French was the oldest of the group, in his mid fifties. He had provided the clothing. Everything had come out of sterile bags; he was old style GDP and knew just what a Sentinel could pick up from the smallest clue, and the sterile clothing was one way of trying to prevent them getting a lead on them.
Joe looked at Kes; the man had been introduced to him by Wilde, and he had proven himself in the past to be a man with the true ideals of the GDP to heart. He studied him critically; the man looked like a student, older than the normal but well-connected. He had knocked on his door one night, with him a tape. The obscenity of it had sickened him; a rogue like that should never have been allowed out of the facility, let alone allowed to bond to a Senior Sentinel Prime. He had readily agreed to take part in the raid. The Guide needed a serious correction and since the official hands were tied, then he agreed with the younger man. It was up to them to put it right. The GDP needed to get back to its roots.
The Senior Sentinel Prime needed a GDP Guide to help him, not this rogue. If they could not part him from his Guide, they could at least make Sandburg into a dutiful Guide, and a spell in the hospital would give him time to repent.
The other members of the group were in their early thirties. Kes was loading up the dart gun, as French said, "If the Sentinel is still there, then this will put him down. We don't want to hurt him, but he's hardwired to protect the little creep."
Dennis Cage just nodded. He was keen to get on with it, the kid had brought Wilson down, and it was time for payback. He had plans for the Guide; the kid would wish he had never been born.
As they turned the corner to the hallway to the loft, Dennis grinned. The door to the loft was open. They pulled their ski masks down. They went in fast. The Guide was kneeling in front of his Sentinel, the cop half-slumped on the sofa. The Guide had his hands on his shoulder, as he leaned forward to breathe his scent over him. Then the Guide was on his feet trying to stop them from getting near his Sentinel.
O'Brien didn't slow down. He slammed the butt of his gun round and sent the Guide crashing down on the carpet. Over his shoulder he snapped, "Close that door. We don't want any gate crashers."
He reached down, catching the Guide by his long hair, and pressed the gun up against the bottom of his chin. "Do what we say, Guide, and you might just live to see tomorrow."
Blair was scared. First he had arrived home to find Jim badly zoned. His skin was ice cold; he had to have been zoned for some time. He had just managed to manhandle the larger man onto the sofa, when the others had crashed through the door. Instinct had kicked in, and he had tried to block them.
"What do you want?"
The gun dug deeper, the grip on his hair tighter. "Did I tell you you could speak, Guide?" Blair was forced down, onto his knees, "Pay your respect, Guide." A hard shove as he was released, and he slammed into the wooden floor. When he started to straighten, a kick in his side put him down.
Blair was scared, not for himself but for Jim. What if they wouldn't allow him to help his Sentinel? Jim could go too deep.
"Please, please, I must help him." He tried to edge towards his Sentinel.
He was blocked by two of them. All the men wore coloured ski masks. He knew it was going to be bad.
Jim's mind was in a void. He could hear nothing and see nothing. All he could feel was despair. He hadn't been able to protect his Guide, and he had failed him. Then he detected a scent that called to him, and he started to drag himself up from the depth, only to have that sweet scent pulled away.
Blair looked at the two men, red and blue masked, and he shuddered at what he felt coming off the blue-masked one. There was an excitement in him. Red-mask was coldly indifferent, the green mask held back, brown-mask stayed near the door.
Blue-mask was looking round the loft, and stopped at the video, his face suddenly splitting into a wide smile. "Well, lookee here. See what the Sentinel was watching." He hit the play button.
Blair felt the colour drain from his face, as he saw the tape playing.
"Now we know why he's letting you go to Rainier. What do you do for him, Guide, on your knees or on your back? These tapes a little after work entertainment?" The man's smile was leering, as he looked from the pictures moving across the screen to Blair and back again.
The eyes glinted with a hungry look, and Blair's past smashed down on him -- Wilson, the same hungry look, the need to inflict pain on him, and more. He felt the cold sinking in his stomach.
"Looks like we won't need our copy after all," Blue mask gloated.
Then an older voice--green mask, "I wonder what the Dean thinks of your performance, Guide, she got the specially edited version so I hear. So has the good doctor. Your academic career is in the crapper already. Do you think that the Doctoral Committee is going to let a filthy slut like you stay on at the University? Education is for people that have a future. Your future is already mapped out, Guide! A Guide belongs on his belly, at the feet of his Sentinel, you're nothing more than a breathing tool for their use. You're not their equal. Repeat section 12 now, Guide."
The Sentinel slowly flexed his shoulders, the movement went unseen, and the man continued.
"On your knees, Guide. Show your respect to your betters, in the extreme position." His voice hardened. It was the voice of a member of the Training Corp, one that had been drilled into Blair's head.
The blue mask cut in. "You know that position, Guide, your face on the floor, your ass in the air. Wilson taught you that one well, Guide. He had the right idea, about Guides. The only good Guide is a f***able Guide" The man was enjoying himself; this was all about power. Since Wilson's little games with Sandburg had gone public, the GDP IA had been through the facility with a fine-tooth comb. All the Guides had been moved to secure hostels, and there had been raids on some of the personnel's homes. The cases were being pursued with the utmost vigour. This kid was the start of it all. Someone had to pay and that person was Blair Sandburg.
If he was going to go down, he was going to make sure that Blair Sandburg suffered first. "Obey me and we might just leave enough of you so that you can bring him out of the zone. All depends on how good you are. So are you going to be a good little Guide?"
The voice and words burned across James Ellison nerves like acid.
Blair began to pale. There was no way he was going to meekly lay down for them. His Sentinel was the Senior Sentinel Prime of Cascade. None of these men were going to get to boast he had performed for them like a trained seal. He knew from the emotions of the others that he would not be raped. Disgust at the man's words poured off the other attackers. But he was going to be hurt; they wanted to destroy him, make him go back to being the cowering Guide, afraid of his own shadow.
He pulled himself up a little straighter. He had blamed himself at first, thinking that somehow he had made Wilson pick him as a target, then Jim had made him see that he had been the victim, and he had clung to that until now. It was as if his mind suddenly became crystal clear: he was a survivor, he had survived Wilson, and that abuse, and there was nothing these pigs could do to him that would break him. He was Blair Jacob Sandburg, BA MA, and Guide to James Joseph Ellison.
Blair saw the knife that Red-mask had embedded into the coffee table when they realised that Jim was in a zone out. They had slid the guns out of sight not thinking they would need them to take on *just* a Guide.
The last time the Dark Guide had come to his aid. This time he could feel the undercurrents of the Dark Guide, but he was not needed. This was pure Blair Sandburg. These thugs thought they could just crash into *their home* and *punish him*, and leave Jim in a zone. Didn't those idiots know what could happen to a Sentinel in a zone out?
Green-mask's anger was immediate, his words confirming what Blair had thought. "You back off him now. This is punishment, not for your pleasure. We punish him, make him see the errors of his ways, nothing more. We are not rapists. If you can't control yourself, then get the hell out of here now."
Blair opened his barriers. Blue-mask was excited, but he knew this was all about power not sex. The man wanted to hurt him, and this was the way he knew best. Whoever won this argument, he was going to be in an ocean of pain. They were here to hurt him, and nothing was going to change that.
"I still say--" Blue-mask started up again.
"No!" A new voice came from the back of the loft. It was Brown-mask. It was badly muffled. "We're here to finish his career, not to abuse him. If we do *that*, all we do is show the GDP that we are animals This is punishment in line with the GDP Guidelines, nothing more and nothing less. Follow the plan, or do you want IA after you, for debasing yourself with a Guide? Wilson was a pig. IA was already on him; his death just made it easier. Besides, do you think his Sentinel would ever stop looking for you? We are here to protect his Sentinel from his guides perverted ways, not start a Sentinel Blood Feud. Do you want a Dark Sentinel after you? Now, get on with it --as we agreed. Nothing more."
Blue turned to Red-mask. "Well?"
"We stick to the plan, put him in hospital, give him time to rethink his duty." O'Brien didn't like the way this was going, putting a foot on the Guide's neck while he was beaten was one thing, but rape was another. He would not allow this to get out of hand.
During the argument, their attention had left Blair: he was a Guide, a nothing. Blair let his head drop forward submissively, and then lashed out. The punch was thrown with perfect timing into the stomach of Blue-mask. The man folded like a puppet. As Blair brought his knee up hard into the unprotected face, he heard a scream and a sickening crack as Blue-mask's nose broke. Blood splattered all over Blair's jeans and jacket; he dived for the knife. Red-mask grabbed at him, and Blair elbowed him hard in the ribs and gained position of the knife, then kicked hard, catching him in the groin. He was turning with the knife when Green-mask pulled out of the shock of the Guide attacking them, and levelled the gun at Jim's head.
"Drop the knife, Guide, or I will kill him."
Jim pushed against the remainder of the block. At the back of his mind, he could hear a low rumbling noise, like the growl of a large cat. His senses rushed online, and he knew without conscious thought that one of them was behind him. He could smell the gun oil.
"First you move that gun away from Ji ... FROM MY SENTINEL'S HEAD! Then you can do what ever you want." There was strength in the voice. Blair knew what would happen, he could feel the anger coming off them. He had hurt two of them. There was no way that they would let a Guide get away with that, but if he could keep Jim safe, then he would endure it.
Pride soared in the Sentinel's heart: his Guide was scared, but there was strength in his Guides voice. He knew what they would do, yet he was willing to endure it to keep him safe.
Blair lowered the knife down onto the table. As Blue-mask got to his feet, he moved the mask enough to spit out the blood. "You bastard, you broke my nose.” He put all his weight into the blow to Blair's body. To his fury the Guide managed to remain standing.
Blair could taste blood; he had managed to put a few good punches and kicks but he was out-numbered. All he could do hold onto was the fact that he had marked his attackers as much as he could, so that no matter what the alibi was, there would be evidence.
Blue-mask swore, and then Blair saw the unholy look in his eyes, as he loomed over the Guide. He lashed out hard into Blair's stomach, and this time he went down. "These wimps say I can do anything except rape or kill you. Well, kiddo, there are a lot of miles between those two points and you're going to travel every mile of it."
Jim felt the cold barrel of a gun touch the back of his head, again. The Dark Sentinel came forward; the spirit panther came down the stairs from the bedroom, and it jumped and went into its Sentinel. A controlled rage took over the Sentinel's mind as the two personas joined together, the Dark Sentinel with the panther. What was James Ellison was gone, a dark Panther, and for a moment the plight of his Guide was disregarded: he was frightened but the beating would not happen. They wanted power, pure and simple, to humiliate and degrade the Guide, destroy his already traumatised mind. They would die before they could harm his Guide.
Jim felt the gun move and then with a roar, an unearthly cry echoed in the loft, like the sound of the panther protecting its cub. His eyesight came back, his reflexes, already fast for a Sentinel, snapped and flexed. His move caught the gunman unawares as he powered up, turning he caught the gun with one hand, his grip crushing the other man's finger on the trigger as he fired the gun, the bullets thudding into the chest of the man pinning his Guide's shoulders. The Sentinel's elbow smashed into the man's throat, crushing the larynx. There were no half measures in the blow; the Sentinel was out to kill.
The gun empty, he grabbed the man about to hit his Guide, pulling him backward, an arm round his throat anchoring him as his other hand came up, and he twisted sharply: breaking the neck. He let the body fall. The Panther Sentinel heard the man by the door move, fumbling with the door to the loft as he tried to escape. The knife snapped up and flew true. The only thing that had saved the man was he slipped on the wooden floor, so the knife thudded into his shoulder. The man turned and ran. The Panther Sentinel was about to power up after him, his blood screaming for the kill. His senses locked onto his Guide, and then he was all that mattered.
Blair flinched at his touch and tried to push him away when he caught hold of him, only for the Panther Sentinel to pull back leaving Jim Ellison to care for him. He reached down and pulled him tightly against him. "Blair, look at me. Please, Chief. I am here."
Blair's eyes kept drifting to the dead bodies. Jim caught his face and gently turned it back to face him. "Blair, they are nothing. You are all that matters to me."
"Jim, I..." He eyes could not meet those of his Sentinel, his mind racing.
//How much had Jim heard?// He looked at the TV. //How much had he seen?//
"Blair, I could hear you when I was zoned." Jim saw the flush of embarrassment colouring the younger man's face; his Sentinel had heard him offer himself to them.
"Then you heard me."
Jim made sure that Blair was looking straight at him, and he forced the link between them, so that Blair could not hide from him. When he spoke he allowed his full emotions to blaze through the link between them. His voice held the strength and belief in what he was saying. "Yes, I could hear you doing everything to save me. You fought for ME. You only gave in, not when they overpowered you, but because they threatened to kill me, and then you were prepared to do anything to keep me alive, my brave, resourceful brother."
Then Jim felt the cold arms come around him, and he returned the hug, not breaking it until Blair did. But even then he held Blair with one arm, not wanting to completely break the connection between the two of them. He moved the smaller, younger man away from the scene of carnage, into the kitchen area. Only then did he call 911.
Simon Banks came through the door of the loft, looking for his friend. He saw Blair seated at the breakfast counter nursing a cup of tea, a blanket laid over his shoulders, and Jim Ellison standing behind him, one hand rested on his shoulder while the other gently rubbed his forearm to reassure him. Jim's report on the incident was short, sharp and to the point. He wasn't in the mood for small talk.
The captain looked round at the three bodies and made a silent whistle.
As Dan Slater came in, he took one look and read the body language: the Sentinel had put a sensory net up round his Guide, and was in Blessed Protector mode. As he had been taught, Dan spoke in a soothing, hushed tone to the dark pair, got the information he needed and then crossed to Simon. "Self defence."
"That's the way I see it. They were going to beat Sandburg, and Jim stepped in," Simon stated levelly, but the disgust plain in his voice.
Dan Slater nodded in understanding. "Under Sentinel code 812, a Sentinel protecting his Guide, like Jim was, has nothing to answer for. I will need a full report, but on the evidence the GDP will back the self-defence call, Simon."
Simon was in agreement. "Jim, I think you should get Blair down to the station for statement on this."
"I am okay, big guy." Blair leaned into his Sentinel. "You know the captain is right."
"Sure, but I don't have to like it."
Slater stopped Jim with a light hand. "You put all of them down." There was awe in his voice.
"They were civilian, I was covert ops, Slater. The moment they touched Blair, they were all dead. They just didn't know it. Come on, Chief."
Leo Kessler sat in his small apartment; the place suited a student and was in the heart of the Campus Land, like a fat spider with his web all round him. Ready to catch fresh meat.
He peeled off his shirt and with a shaking hand, tried to see to his shoulder wound. He could not to the hospital; the police would be looking for him. He would get that bastard for that.
It was a pity he lost the opportunity to sell Blair. If he hadn't been so greedy and waited on a favourite client's bid, he would have made a cool $50,000 on his cousin. That would have been one transaction he would have been there in person to see. Watch his half-cousin's expressive face when he leaned that his own blood relative had sold him into slavery, as a high priced sex toy for the jaded pallet, a tasty morsel to be handed around.
Instead his GDP partner had moved and ordered Blair's pick-up, and when those idiots had decided to do Blair at the loft, it had gone out of control. But there was still money to be made from him; Jim Ellison was a different type of Sentinel, not just a Dark Sentinel, something else, and he knew just who would be interested in that. And *they* knew just how to treat Blair.
For the first time he smiled. When he found Richard Travis he was going to grind the wimp into the dust for running out on them. He better have a good answer.
Richard Travis looked across at the person holding him at gunpoint. They had jumped into the van, and pressed a gun to his side. Now in a quiet alleyway, they had ordered him to stop.
Finally he could turn to see them. They reached a gloved hand up and pulled away the mask. A mass of blond hair tumbled from where it had been imprisoned, and the woman shook her hair so it fell away from her face.
Richard's mouth opened and no sound came from it. Finally he croaked, "You're dead."
The face from his nightmares just smiled at him.
Cascade Police Station.
Simon Banks and Dan Slater personally took the detective Sentinel and his Guide through the statement process. Since Jim could not be in with Blair when he gave his, Sentinel Edwards readily stepped in. When Blair struggled for words, Simon stopped and gave him time to compose himself.
Finally the statements were all taken and the emotionally and physically drained pair were allowed to go.
Simon had made sure that both the police and GDP IA had full statements, that they understood the seriousness of disturbing the pair now. Given an almost cut and dried case, both of the Investigation Teams proved happy to sign the attack off, citing it as a revenge attack on Sandburg by cronies of Wilson.
Slater could detect the subtle hand of Dr Claydove in it. The man had power that he rarely flexed, but when he did it was impressive.
Three days later.
Blair had been having problems since the day of the attack. More and more, he was ending up in the dark persona, and it was with some relief that Jim got into the elevator at the underground garage level with the real Sandburg.
The elevator doors opened at one of the lower floors and Roger Niven got on, also fussing round his Guide. Tina was coming towards her time and was now looking very pregnant. For that reason, the pair were on desk duty, and then it would be maternity leave. The rules were clear on the matter: if a Guide was unable to work through illness or injury, then the Sentinel would not be able to work. In such a situation, if a Sentinel zoned then a standby Guide would be unable to pull him out, not being able to link deeply enough.
Roger had to testify in court and was reluctant to take Tina along. It was child pornography case, and it had already affected his Guide greatly.
As soon as he stepped on into the elevator car, his gaze fixed on Blair. "Jim, do you think you could keep an eye on Tina for me? Perhaps she could help Blair." His voice trailed off as he saw the Guide Prime's blood-stained clothes. For a moment, old habits resurfaced, he ignored Blair and asked Jim, "Is he all right? Does he need to see the GDP paramedic? I think Slater has...."
Before Jim could answer Blair cut in, and for a moment Roger looked confused, then he remembered just whom he was talking about. Blair pushed back his own feelings. "I'm okay, none of it's mine." He fingered some of the stiff, saturated cloth. "And of course I can look out for Tina, Roger." He put a hand out and drew Tina in next to him.
Through his touch, Tina felt Blair's emotions churning, and linked with him, sending soothing and calming vibes.
Jim pulled back from the link, knowing and trusting Tina. Later he unconsciously cast his senses out. Blair was at the computer and beside him Tina was knitting her third set of booties, or so she was telling Blair with a grin. Jim smiled, pleased to see his Guide relax. The blood-stained jacket was on the floor in a bag, out of view, but the smell of blood still hung in the air, and it unnerved Jim that it was mixed with the scent of his Guide.
Jim ignored the two Guides and snagged the jacket. "It wasn't a favourite of yours, was it Chief?"
"Good. I'll get you a new one; this one has to go." Jim held it between a finger and thumb, moving toward one of the waste bins.
Tina looked up from her knitting and smiled, waving as her husband came in the office, his face lighting up in response. The hardest thing for Tony had been the bonding, the very intimate nature of the bond, but he had learned. Either he accepted it, trusting his wife and her Sentinel, or he divorced her, and he loved her too much for that.
As he started forward, he found his path suddenly barred by Jim Ellison.
"Can I help you, Mister?" The Sentinel's head twisted slightly as he scented the man in front of him. It was done automatically, and he could detect Tina's scent on him. Instinctively he saw this as a threat to one of his Clan Sentinels' claim on the Guide.
Blair moved fast, a hand latching onto his Sentinel's shoulder. "Tony isn't it?" He received a nod. "It's okay, Jim, this is Tony, Tina's husband. Stay still, man," Blair warned the husband, as Jim slowly circled him.
"I remember Roger doing this to me," Tony remarked, slightly nervous.
"Just checking you out, man. No problem," Blair encouraged reassuringly.
"Jim Ellison, and my partner Blair Sandburg. And you are?" The Sentinel's voice was rigidly formal.
"Tony Parker, Tina's husband.”
"Roger's gone to court, so she's just waiting here for him." Jim looked between husband and wife. He could guess that private moments were a rarity between them, so he decided to give them some time together. "Come on, Chief, we have to see Maya in accounting about that coat of yours you ruined."
Tony released the breath he'd been holding. Whew... he had married into the Sentinel and Guide world. He was just thankful that Roger had allowed them to live together, sharing the house, Tony and Tina having the upstairs as their personal apartment. He knew Niven would have been within his rights to allow him only one weekend a month, under the legislation. It was sometimes hard, seeing another man running familiar hands over his wife's body. But Tony understood that it wasn't sexual; the touch was needed to maintain the vital balance between Guide and Sentinel.
And for the birth, the Sentinel would have to be there as well. There were three in this marriage; it was a case of accept it or leave, and he couldn't give up Tina. A smile suddenly split his face.
Tina reached a hand out to her husband. "What is it?"
"I was just thinking, we'd better invest in a white noise generator when the baby's born. Otherwise Roger isn't going to get single night's sleep. But then... a Sentinel babysitter could be just what we need."
It was good to hear Tina laugh. He turned and watched the Senior Sentinel Prime leave, shepherding his Guide in front of him, "So that's Jim Ellison? I..."
"Ssshh. Darling, he can hear you, remember."
Tony turned to look at the retreating back. "You know I have seen what Roger can do, but I still find it hard to really believe it." He paused thinking. "He called Sandburg his partner. Does he mean they're..."
Tina's finger pressed against his lips. "Ssssh, darling. Sandburg is the Guide Prime of Cascade. Sentinel Ellison sees him as his police partner and treats him like one, not just as a Guide. He's a good man, a bit cold, but nice." She paused. "But be careful, Tony, he's a Dark Sentinel."
Tony looked at her quizzically. "And that is *bad*?"
"Try lethal, Tony." She collected his hand in hers, allowing him to pull her to her feet.
"Okay, darling, let's take you to lunch." Tony gently wrapped his fingers around Tina's. "I have a dinner reservation for two o'clock, just the two of us." He raised her hand and gave the fingers a light kiss as she dipped her barriers, reading his surface emotions, the warmth of his love flooding through her.
"Roger is not here. He's in court. And it's not going to do any harm for me to have one lunch date with my darling wife."
"Well, I should …"
"No. Come on. You know he doesn't mind us doing, you know, husband and wife things." He gave a sexy grin and she burst out laughing.
Blair was walking along the corridor when he heard a yell, and the next minute he was caught and thrown up against the wall. Roger Niven, lost in a Sentinel rage, had caught the Guide he blamed for the loss of his own Guide. The irate man pulled the younger man up for a moment, shook him terrier-like, then threw Blair back again.
Immediately following the sickening thud Blair swore as the Dark Guide pushed out through his mind. To Niven it was like molten lava burning along the pathways. He could not even start to control the seething emotion. He threw Blair away from him, clapping his hands to his head, desperately trying to block the pain. But the searing agony spiked through his senses and he keeled over, zoned out.
The Dark Guide was breathing heavily. //How dare he lay hands on me? //
But just then, quick, rough hands caught him and he was struggling violently against the police officers that had come to the aid of one of their own. Blair was pushed face first against the wall, his hands tugged behind his back, and cuffed. Once the restraints clicked into place, he was twisted around and rammed back into the wall, hard.
Then Jim was there, hauling them off his Guide, and the Dark Sentinel flared. He barely managed to not put them down, permanently. "Get your hands off him!"
Henderson grinned a jackal smile. "He attacked Detective Niven from Vice. The kid's gone psycho."
"Blair?" Jim's hand landed on his Guide's shoulder, attempting to calm him down.
The Guide was breathing in harsh gasps. "Sentinel Niven lost control. He said I had lost Tina."
"Let him go."
"No way, Detective, he assaulted..."
"He assaulted a Sentinel. This is a Sentinel thing, concerning my Clan. Do you want to get involved in this?" Jim's tone was smooth and deadly, and his smile had all the warmth of a killer shark.
Henderson raised his hands. "I'm out of it. It's your Guide."
"Yes. My Guide."
Jim watched them leave, then turned and uncuffed Blair's hands. The young man slid past him, ducking out of the way of the Sentinel's hands that would have caught him and pulled him close.
Blair knelt quickly by Roger Niven; the Dark Sentinel snarled, not liking the Guide anywhere near another Sentinel.
He reached out his hand resting on the downed Sentinel's head and shoulder. Taking a deep breath Blair pushed against the link. It felt alien and weak compared to his Sentinel. Roger gave a groan of pain, his eyes flashed open, and he instinctively struck out at the 'not his' Guide. Blair was pulled backward, landing heavily, as the fist barely missed him, then Jim was between him and the fallen Sentinel, growling furiously.
This was the Dark Sentinel angry beyond rage that one of his clan would dare to raise a hand to HIS Guide. "You'd better have a reason for assaulting my Guide, Sentinel."
"I trusted him with Tina! She's gone, he..."
"Tina is with her husband, Sentinel. The fault is with your Guide, not mine." Jim pulled Blair to his feet, and almost slung him round his shoulder, so the smaller man was hidden from view. "Look to your OWN Guide." It was said with the snarl of the Dark Sentinel.
And he stalked away.
The argument between Sentinel and Guide was in full swing when they entered the bullpen. Jim had a tight hold on his Guide's arm, but Blair still managed to wrench free, turning, snarling something at his Sentinel, and the Sentinel snarled back.
Dark Sentinel was facing down his wayward Dark Guide.
Simon could see the other detectives stop to watch this totally unprecedented argument. Okay, the two did argue at times... who didn't? But this was way beyond anything the men of Major Crime had ever seen.
Simon was on his feet in a heartbeat, yelling out, "Detective Ellison! Get in here, now!"
The Dark Sentinel strode through the door, pulling his Guide behind him by the expedient of maintaining a firm grip on the Guide's collar. Once in the office, the Dark Sentinel threw his Guide onto the sofa. "Sit and stay, Guide."
"I am not a pet dog! I am person." Dark Blair bounced off the sofa, and went face to face with his Sentinel, one hand poking the larger man in the chest. "So you can cut out the sit and stay commands. I am not your pet. I am not your slave, Sentinel. I am your Guide, live with it!" Whirling, the smaller man stalked toward the exit.
Simon cut in. "Break it up... NOW! Ellison, put your Guide down!" Banks demanded, as Blair was plucked off the door and held only inches from his Sentinel's angry face by the scruff of his clothes.
Two heads snapped to look at him, Dark Guide and Dark Sentinel wearing matching glares. Simon was one of the few men who didn't wilt under the combined stare of the pair.
Simon's jaw tightened on his cigar. "You heard me, Sentinel. Put him down NOW."
Dark Jim slowly lowered Dark Blair to the floor.
Immediately the Guide pushed himself away from his Sentinel, eyes flashing. The air seemed to crackle between the two men. "Keep. Your. Lousy. Hands. OFF ME!" Blair spat it at Jim. "That ape Niven paws me, and you treat me as if it's my fault?"
"That is Sentinel Niven, of our Clan."
"Of your clan, Sentinel, not mine. A feeble minded fool. He can't even keep track of his own Guide."
Jim snarled, the Sentinel Prime coming to the surface. He reached out for Blair, but the Dark Guide stepped back and automatically went into one of the defensive moves that his Sentinel had taught him. It nearly worked, and would have with anyone but an ex-Covert Ops Ranger. By stepping back, Blair had to stretch, which put him off balance. Jim caught the smaller man's arm and twisted it down. Pain exploded through the Guide's shoulder, and he had to go onto his knees or he would have injured his arm. A groan of pain broke from his lips.
Simon was on his feet when Jim snarled, "Keep out of it!"
The big captain's anger flared. "Ellison!" He roared the name.
"Guide. You intentionally zoned Niven, didn't you?" Jim shifted the captured arm slightly and felt the Guide tense.
"Yes! He dared to touch ME. No Sentinel touches me without my permission. NOT EVEN YOU!"
The Dark Sentinel staggered at the explosion in his head as the Dark Guide flooded his mind. The unrestrained full power surging along the pathway tipped Jim towards his own zone out. But before he succumbed his head snapped round, forcing the power back toward his Guide. For a moment there was a tug of war through the pathways, and the Guide was winning.
Recognising this, the Dark Sentinel did the one thing his Dark Guide did not expect; he turned himself over to James Ellison. The cop severed the connection between them; the Guide shook his head as for a moment he nearly fell into the zone he had created. Pouncing, Jim flipped his Guide onto his stomach. In a long practiced move the Guide was handcuffed, leaving him on his belly on the floor, a heavy Sentinel knee in the small of his back keeping him pinned.
Simon hit the intercom. "Rhonda, get Slater in here now!"
Banks inched round and dropped the blinds along his office windows. Already too many people were watching; this was Sentinel business, and no one else's.
It was the Dark Guide that snarled back, not the grad student Simon privately liked. This was like a wild animal!
//What the hell was happening here?//
For Blair, it was as if the floor suddenly hit him hard in the face. His body arched against the pressure in his back, and he screamed.
Simon blocked the door from the police officers he knew would be crashing through any second. "Sentinel thing, no one's hurt, they need space," he blurted out to the concerned group outside his door.
Blair screamed again, as if in torment. His body shuddered with a hard spasm, then lay still.
Jim was speaking softly, giving support to his young friend, and then he smiled and lightly brushed his Guide's face. "Welcome back Blair."
Blair leaned his face into Jim's hand. Quickly the Sentinel removed the cuffs. His Guide was shivering! Jim scooped Blair up and put him on the sofa, and this time the young man didn't fight. The Sentinel knelt beside the sofa, one large hand capturing the Guide's hands that were jerking nervously. With his other hand Jim reached up and tipped the other's chin up so that he could see his Guide's face.
"I was a real bastard, wasn't I?" Blair stuttered weakly.
"Yes, but you're back now, aren't you?" Jim assured gently.
He got a small nod. "I don't want to be him." The voice tiny and unhappy.
"The Dark Guide is a part of you, Blair, just as the Dark Sentinel persona is part of me. But now you and the dark side are one; he will be there when you need him, but you'll be able to control him. You were strong enough to hold him in check and bring him to heel. He's now yours to control."
Blair's worried look slowly faded. "My puni…"
"No, Blair, you had no control on what he…you did. You were protecting yourself from an out-of-control Sentinel, that's it. Just don't try to zone me again… right, kiddo?"
He felt Blair reach for him, and Jim gladly pulled him close.
Dan Slater entered carefully, keeping his emotions level, as he had been taught. "Simon?"
"Dan, it seems to have settled down. Earlier I thought they were trying to kill each other."
The GDP Commander moved close to the Dark Pair. "Can you tell me what's happened here?"
Jim saw Blair give a tiny nod, and answered for the pair. "Blair has meshed. It was rather violent, but he's back."
"Can I talk to you, Blair?"
Slater saw the Guide shake his head as he buried his head against his Sentinel.
"His barriers are fried, Dan."
Even from where he stood, the GDP Commander could see the tremors going through the body of the Guide. Sweat-coated, the pale face and neck, and plastered dark curls against his face. Jim reached around him and carefully pulled the tie from the long hair, so it swung back into place. Jim gave a contented squeeze to his Guide. NOW his Blair was back.
Dan gave a relieved sigh. Thank God, the meshing was now over. In the pure Dark Guide persona, Blair was uncontrollable and volatile, only Jim could handle him. Now the kinder, gentler Guide was back.
He could see the still-present tension in the Sentinel and tried to defuse the situation. "By the way, Jim, how good are Blair's computer skills?"
"Nothing… just when I got into my office there was a certain limerick running on my screen, concerning the GDP. Busy little soul, isn't he?"
"It won't happen again," Jim stated firmly, but his face softened as he saw the grin on the commander's face.
"Tell him that last line was a kicker, okay?" Slater's face became more serious. "I..."
He trailed off as he saw Jim suddenly pull back and look at his Guide. "Damn! He's overloaded, Dan."
Dan knew that like this Blair needed to be in his Sentinel's territory, not in the bullpen, somewhere he knew that he was safe. "Jim, keep hold of Blair. We need to get him home. Simon, make sure that no one, and I mean *no one* approaches them. I'll take them to the loft."
"Dan?" Simon's concern was plain in his voice.
"It's all right, Simon, I'll make sure that everything is okay."
The big captain hesitated for a moment. "Are you sure it's safe? I mean Jim..."
"I need to know that the bonding is successful, and be there if there are any problems. I am not a voyeur, Simon. This is my job." He checked the bag he always carried for the emergency supplies he might need.
"Never thought you were," Simon assured trustingly. "Let me know how things go."
Dan kept his distance as they moved towards the lift. It was a short journey but he made sure that no one got in the way and punched the button to the ground floor. Blair was almost wrapped round his Sentinel, his face buried in Jim's coat. The Sentinel's attention was fixed only on the smaller man at his side, his strong arms holding him tightly. At that moment, only his Guide was important; no one else mattered.
The ride to the loft was in tense silence. Blair was curled around his Sentinel in the back seat, his arms round Jim's waist under the jacket.
Dan took the keys and moved ahead to open the door. As soon as he stepped across the threshold he was spun round, caught by the throat and slammed against the wall. Pure strength lifted the stockily built GDP Commander off the floor.
"If you attempt to interfere with the bonding I will kill you." It was said with the snarling promise of the Dark Sentinel.
Blair laid his head on his Sentinel's back and reached so that his arm was around Jim's chest. Holding tightly, Blair's other hand moved in soothing caresses down the iron ridged arm. "It's okay, big guy, he gets the message. He's not going to get in the way. Let him go."
"I'm sure. Commander Slater, whatever happens… stay out of it. See. He agrees. Let him go, Jim. Now! I need to bond."
This was not a request. Slater could see that. It was a command.
Jim let Slater down with a bang, then turned carefully not to dislodge his Guide, and pulled Blair close against his chest, running his hands over his Guide, needing to enforce the link. He carefully placed his Guide on the stairs to his bedroom. Then, and only then, he moved to lock up the loft, before collecting his Guide and taking him up the stairs.
Slater moved slowly and carefully, needing to make sure that everything was all right, but at the same time, reluctant to intrude on the bonding.
A deep rumble came from Jim's throat as he saw Dan Slater was following them up the stairs.
"I will just watch your bonding, but I honour the sanctity of the bond. I will not interfere, unless I am needed."
Blair reached up to his tall Sentinel and tugged his head down as he breathed softly, "Two hearts, one soul." The GDP officer forgotten, Blair's mind only fixed on two things, his Sentinel and the bonding. The need was running through him like wild fire.
For the Sentinel and Guide only the bond existed.
Dan Slater exhaled slowly, the bonding has been so intense that it had left him almost breathless. He had witnessed other bonds in his time as a GDP officer, but nothing he had seen has prepared him for the depth and commitment that had seen played out in front of him.
Only now did Dan realised what he had been looking at was a true bonding. Not the sterile mockery of the GDP, but one forged with the passion and commitment of the bond, re-affirming the most sacred of vows they had taken in the heat of the most intimate of bonding.
The GDP, he knew now, had mistaken the tactile nature of the bond for sex, touching for groping. They had been afraid that they would release something shameful, that the pairings would rut like animals given the chance. But that fear was as far from the reality of the truth as you could get. The body language between Sandburg and Ellison spoke volumes. The Sentinel's touch on the body of his Guide spoke of infinite respect, and a way of giving reassurance to the Guide. The fact that a man so abused as Blair had allowed that touch and even seemed to revel in the contact, spoke volumes. In fact, he was sure that the Guide imparted his strength and focus to his Sentinel through it. There was a lot here that he would have to speak to Claydove about, but later.
Blair appeared to be waking. Carefully Dan eased up a little and spoke softly. "Are you all right, Blair?"
"I'm fine, we're fine." Blair snuggled back down again and closed his eyes. His voice already sleepy again. Blair turned into Jim's embrace, "It's okay, big guy," he murmured softly as the larger man showed signs of waking. Propping himself up a bit he breathed his scent over his Sentinel's face; Jim buried his face in the long curly hair, nuzzling it. Blair yawned again, "Good night, Commander."
Blair settled himself down, quickly joining his Sentinel back in sleep.
The Dark Guide in him didn't care who saw him. This was where he belonged. In the arms of his Sentinel, bonded and marked, he felt branded clear to the bone. He was owned and possessed by his Sentinel, yet this was through the depth of the bond. It wasn't the connection of a slave to its master, it was one of equals. For as much as Jim owned him, he knew now that he owned James Ellison.
But even as he settled, he felt the stirring of something else in his Sentinel's mind, and he smiled softly as echoing through his mind he heard the cry of the panther. Tomorrow he would read back through the Chronicles of the Ancients for a clue to what was happening.
Slater slowly got to his feet and made his way down the stairs, settled onto the sofa and rubbed his face. He checked his watch, and then turning, he gave the cushions an experimental prod, kicked off his shoes and yawned. Tomorrow he would have a talk with those two; he needed to know what happened here today. He yawned again, and made himself comfortable.
Echoes of the Past: A serial killer in Cascade brings the past crashing down for Jim Ellison.