Disclaimer: This is an amateur effort written purely for the fun of it, and no money has exchanged hands. It is not intended to breach the copyright of Paramount/Pet Fly Productions or CBS Productions/Studios USA.

Many thanks to our beta readers Susie, Olwyn and Lois for your help and advice and thank you to everyone who wrote telling all about The District and Captain Hunter.

The Reflection in the Mirror: Mirror True

By Susan and Maedoc

 

The school bus rolled down the incline near Rainier University. Sarah Freeman had had a good day. At 18, she was in her final year at Cascade High School. Her grades were high and her great love was history. Rainier had one of the best departments in the state, and Sarah hoped to study there next year. Her teacher, Mrs. Morris, had suggested Sarah major in Sentinel Studies and had been puzzled why her favorite student had gone slightly pale at the idea. She had no way have knowing that Sarah had a secret: she was a guide. Young and not yet online, but a guide all the same. It was only a matter of time.

Sarah had inherited the curse of the Freeman family: she was an empath. Her grandmother had been an empath before the draconian laws of the GDP had stolen any hope of freedom for empaths. Her family had sheltered Sarah, all of them united to prevent her being taken away by the GDP and given to a Sentinel.

Sarah remembered asking questions when she was about eleven as to why she kept feeling other people’s thoughts, and her parents had frantically hushed her. They had heard the stories and seen the Guide Liberation Army (GLA) leaflets and knew all too well what happened to a young guide. Her elder sister Mandy was an active member of the GLA and Sarah had been brought up on the horror stories of sentinels raping and beating their guides. The grainy illegal video of a Guide being thrown down and leashed -- beaten nearly to death -- had given her nightmares for months. It was the only way her parents knew to impress upon her how dangerous it was to allow anyone to know her secret.

Sarah’s mother had died soon after that, and her father became even more protective. Mandy had related story after story of guides being used as sex slaves for jaded, over-sensed monsters. The very thought of it chilled Sarah to the core.

Sarah was miles away and jumped at the touch to her shoulder. It was Kyle -- handsome, charming Kyle who was the only boy who had taken the time to speak to her. Everyone else dismissed her as an intelligent wallflower- painfully shy and uninteresting. She knew her fear of discovery made her keep a distance from her classmates, but it hurt all the same to be the outsider. Better alone than dead, she thought, and tried to ignore the ache of loneliness in her chest.

Sarah had allowed herself to drop her fledgling barriers and read Kyle; he seemed to actually want to spend time with her. It felt good, especially since most of the girls in her class made it plain that she was weird and not worth their time. It was mostly sly little digs and comments, but it still hurt. Then the ever so popular Jenny Wheeler had gotten hooked on Kyle and the insults had started in earnest. Sarah was now a threat. The campaign against her had gotten worse over the last few weeks. Some of the things stuffed in her locker had been obscene, and when they brushed past her their anger and dislike was like a physical blow.

Kyle looked at the way that Jenny looked at him. She wants me -- oh, yeah. He turned back to Sarah, and then with a grin, which he knew would punch all of Jenny’s buttons, leaned over to talk to the girl. She seemed to light up at the attention.

Too bad she’s such a frump -- all prim and proper. Without the baggy clothes she’d probably look fine. And she’s actually kinda cute -- in a Meg Ryan sorta way. His attack of conscience didn’t last long. Bet she’d give it up to me. Now that would be something to tell the guys -- that he had slept with Miss Prim and Proper. He would have to start a little bet going as to how long it would take before she gave in to him.

"Well, what did you think of Rainier?" Kyle looked around him, catching Jenny’s look of jealousy and deliberately turning back to Sarah. "Did you know they have a guide teacher there, an actual guide working as a teacher? Wonder how he does it on his knees -- he couldn’t reach the blackboard." He looked round at his gang as they joined him in the laughter. He gave Sarah a nudge. "Don’t tell me you feel sorry for a Guide. They’re born second class, so why should they get an education? It’s not as if they really need one."

"Times are changing, Kyle," Sarah put in firmly.

"Sure. They’re on the top instead of the bottom now when their sentinel fucks them." Kyle grinned as the students around them hooted and catcalled.

Sarah turned away as she felt herself flush bright red. She could see them in the window of the bus -- laughing. The mean spiritedness of their humor raked across her. She wanted to say something more -- to protest this horrible attitude -- but the little voice inside her stopped her. If she got too upset -- they might figure it out. She pulled in on herself.

"What?" Kyle asked, pleased to see the way that she pulled back. Oh yes, this is going to be fun.

"Nothing, Kyle." She turned, and then the truck ploughed into them.

* * * * *

Major Crimes

H came down the corridor, and he saw Jim Ellison in the hallway, dropping coins in the vending machine. It must not have been working -- like *that* was anything new -- because Jim gave it a hard bang to the side.

"Keep it up and I’ll have to call a cop." H grinned, and then gave a whistle as he saw the suit. Ellison was usually the model of casual wear, and here he was in a dark blue suit with matching tie and white shirt. "Who’s the lucky lady, Jim? Or is it Judge Malone again?" He clapped Jim’s back warmly.

Ellison turned slowly and H’s hand dropped away as he took a step back from the taller man. His blue eyes were like chips of ice and the look on his face was far from friendly. What the hell was wrong? This was the pre-Sandburg Ellison back with a vengeance.

Ellison moved deliberately into H’s personal space. His voice was cold. "Keep your hands to yourself, or lose them at the wrist." The Sentinel glared at H for several long seconds, then he walked away, his shoulder knocking into H and sending him back on his heels. The sandwich packet arced and landed in the trash can.

H got to the doorway, but Ellison was gone. Blair’s got to know about this. He pulled the cell phone out of his pocket and hit the speed dial. By mutual agreement, he and Rafe, the captain and most of the detectives in Major Crimes had Blair’s cell number on their phones. They felt protective of the young Guide, and they knew he was the only one who could help if Jim got into trouble with his senses. Or if he loses his mind, H grimaced as he waited for Blair to answer. Ellison might be a pain, but he was *their* pain, and if he got into trouble because he was a sentinel, then they were going to get Blair down to the PD as fast as possible to fix it.

"Blair." Pause. "It’s Brown. Yeah, man, I’m fine. Look, Jim’s acting a bit strange." Another pause. "Well, strange for a Sentinel. No, kid, he hasn’t zoned. He’s just -- different."

* * * * *

Captain Simon Banks looked at the file in front of him. Bryan Rafe was the youngest cop in Major Crimes and he had only made the jump from uniform about 8 months ago. Rafe had found his feet early, and done well his partnership with Henri Brown. Simon’s first idea had been to pair Rafe with James Ellison, an idea that had died a quick and dirty death. Jim had no patience with anyone. Breaking in a new partner, and a rookie detective at that, was not Jim’s idea of fun and he made sure that everyone around him knew about it.

Simon rubbed his eyes. Thank God, Jim had finally bonded. He still wasn’t a ray of sunshine, but he was improving. Simon’s thoughts sobered. He just wished that he didn’t have to put the young detective through this. Rafe had shot a drug dealer who had turned out to be an undercover Vice cop. Two cases had overlapped and the tragic result was one police officer in hospital. Rafe was torn up enough about as it was, but now Internal Affairs was on the case. Speaking of which....

A knock on the door and Rhonda stood there. His usually vibrant secretary looked shell shocked. "Simon, Captain Hunter from IA is here to see you."

"Show him in."

Rhonda stepped back, and Simon could see what had spooked her. Hell, it made him startle. The guy looked like the spitting image of Jim Ellison. How was he connected to Jim?

He put a hand out. "Captain Hunter, I’m Captain Simon Banks. Please take a seat."

Hunter’s handshake was brief and then he settled himself into the chair across from the desk. "Captain Banks would you mind telling me why the members of this department keep looking at me as if I grew a second head -- or is this the way you always treat IA?" His tone indicated that he didn’t give a damn if it was the latter.

Simon shook his head. "Sorry, Captain, you even sound like him. The resemblance is remarkable."

"Him, who?" Hunter’s tone was edgy.

"Detective Ellison."

"Ah, James Ellison." Hunter’s disdain was plain.

"I didn’t realize that Jim was required reading in Washington IA," Simon retorted, oddly defensive of his best detective. Simon was not getting good vibes from the IA Captain. In fact, he found himself taking an instant dislike to the man. By all accounts, Hunter was an excellent cop, but his personality -- Jesus, the man was not what you’d call a summa cum laude graduate of charm school. There was something about the way the man stood and held his head that was familiar. Damn it hell, Hunter’s a Sentinel. Great. Just what I need. A Sentinel Ellison look-alike with about 50 percent more attitude.

Hunter ignored the comment. It was clear to Simon that Captain Hunter wasn’t interested in giving any information on what had to be a family connection, and whatever other questions Simon was about to ask died a quick death at the look that Hunter gave him. The man was all business. Best stay clear of personal stuff -- if Hunter was anything like Jim, it was going to be a hell of a storm.

Hunter continued. "Now, I am here to see a Bryan Rafe. You have his file." The IA captain put his hand out for the file, as if daring Simon Banks to withhold it. Simon passed it over and Hunter started to leaf through the documents. It seemed superfluous to ask for it -- Hunter would have gotten copies of everything anyway. It was a control issue, pure and simple. Hunter was a man who liked to be in charge. Simon fought to retain a civil expression. Arrogant bastard.

"So, Detective Rafe had received a warning before about discharging his weapon on the McDonald case?" It was a polite question with just a hint of condescension.

Simon picked up his cigar and clipped the end. Lighting it, he took a perverse pleasure in the annoyed twitch of Hunter’s nostrils. Sentinel, I got your number. He went through the MacDonald case with Hunter. The man was all business and never cracked a smile. By the time Hunter stood up to leave, Simon could safely say he actively disliked the man.

For a moment, Simon hesitated, and then picked up the phone and called Lieutenant Bernie Clark in IA. They had gone through the Academy together, shared the odd drink from time to time, and knew each other casually. Clark had taken over IA when Captain Bateman had retired due to medical problems. It was a long known fact the Cascade PD Internal Affairs Division had been doing downhill for some time. Bateman had been sloppy, and more than one of his investigations had been thrown out of court. The evidence had been mounting that their failures were more financial than just incompetence. The rumor mill had been working full time, and it was whispered that he had been lucky to have gotten sick when he did; retirement had saved Bateman from facing charges.

Simon had really hoped Clark would get a chance to take over, but he lacked seniority and so they had gone outside of the city. Hunter had taken over three months ago and had shaken the department from top to bottom. It would be interesting to shoot the breeze with an old friend and see what his take on Hunter was.

"Hi, Bernie. I’ve just had a visit from your new boss."

"The dark side of the Force." The weary sigh was unmistakable.

"The what?" Simon didn’t think he had heard right.

"That was his nickname in Washington, DC, but never to his face. I’ve been talking to a friend in the District, and believe me, he makes Ellison look like an angel."

"You’re kidding."

"Not even close. Wait until you hear this: he used to be in Homicide -- had a batting average of 65% clearance on his cases. Then one day he comes home and finds his wife doing the big nasty with his partner. He just takes his guide and walks out on them -- lock, stock and barrel. Anyway, he fouled up on the Sentinel thing and lost his Guide. Some sniper put him down. Turns out it was a S.W.A.T. team member on the take for the mob, and Hunter was getting too close -- so he took out the Guide. Anyway, he leaves Homicide and joins IA. No one’s sure if it’s to nail other cops or because it’s the first slot that was open. He’s a good cop -- but personality? They all say he’s bad news."

"So he’s not bonded now?" Simon chewed on his cigar furiously. If this one ends up with that Fincham Syndrome -- God help us.

"The Chief wanted to get him bonded again, but Hunter refused. Seems he doesn’t want another Guide. Personally, I don’t think any Guide would have him. He’s one cold SOB. So, Simon, why the interest?"

"He’s investigating one of my officers," Simon admitted.

"Hope the guy’s got his last will and testament in order, because by the time Hunter’s finished with him, he’s going to wish he’s dead."

"Bernie, it was an accident. Fouled up intel. He followed procedure, but it all went to hell so quickly...."

"Doesn’t matter with Hunter -- the guy’s a stone cold bastard." Bernie paused and then added; "I just wonder how he gets out of bed in the morning carrying that much hate. The guy might be good at his job, but he’s … ah, hell, he’s not exactly human."

Simon sighed. He’s a Sentinel with attitude -- and that makes him a very dangerous man.

Simon then moved the talk onto safer ground, but he still wasn’t happy. He didn’t like mysteries, and Hunter was very much that. By the time they had finished talking, Simon’s mood had soured. He was going to have to have a talk with Ellison and get to the bottom of his connection with Hunter. There was trouble brewing. He could feel it in his bones.

* * * * *

Blair pulled into the PD parking lot and was half way into the elevator before the other people could get out. He flew down the corridor; the backpack was banging against his back. When he saw Jim ahead of him turning the corner, he increased his pace. Jim was waiting for the elevator. Thank God. For a moment, Blair saw Jim’s body tense. Blair lowered his barriers and placed his hand onto the broad shoulder of his Sentinel, as his other hand latched onto his arm. It’s okay, big guy. I’m here. His hand moved in reassuring patterns over the taller man’s shoulder.

Blair all but stuttered to a halt as the emotions of the building began to crash down around him. The breath began to catch in his throat. The pain knifed through his head. He was wide open and couldn’t close the connection again. Jim! Please help me, please! Blair’s hands began to lose their strength as he tried to shake the bigger man.

Jim turned towards him, but instead of pulling him close and shielding him, Jim leaned into him. Blair looked up into the face of his Sentinel, but all he saw were icy cold eyes looking at him. Words weren't needed; the look told Blair all he needed to know. His Sentinel hated him -- reviled him. What had gone wrong?

To Blair, the man in front of him expanded and then contracted. Jim knocked his hands away as Blair tried to hold onto him. He was caught roughly and slammed against the wall -- his Sentinel was right in his face. Each word was punctuated by a thud. "Keep your hands off me, you neo-witchdoctor punk, because you’re fast approaching assaulting a police officer!" His blue eyes burned through Blair. "You drugged-out hippie freak!"

Jim let him go and Blair dropped six inches to the floor. His legs buckled, and he ended on his knees. "That’s a position you should be used to, Guide," Jim sneered as he swept past Blair, knocking him on his back.

Blair was too stunned to get his hand down in time and his head connected hard with the floor. Jim? His small cry for help went unanswered as without even a backward glance, his Sentinel walked away from him.

Blair tried to sit up, but his arms gave away. His barriers had buckled and when H reached for him, the shock through his system sent him into overload.

H leaned over the unconscious Guide and snapped at one of the stunned onlookers. "Call 911 and tell them we have an injured Guide."

* * * * *

Cascade Hospital

 

Sarah came around slowly. She raised a hand to her face and winced. Her mind began to clear as she remembered. The truck had hit the bus, and they had been forced into a brick wall. Then all she could remember was blood, and the people.

Sarah looked up at the ceiling, staring at the cracked tiles. They had placed her here while they dealt with the more urgent cases. Heather had died. Oh God, I felt them. I felt her dying.

She had to get out of here. What if someone had heard her rambling? Years of precautions by her family juggled through her mind. Sarah swung her feet off the cart and sat up. She was dizzy, but she had to get out of here. Her bloodstained clothes were under the cart and she dressed quickly. She was sore and scraped, but nothing felt broken. Not like...she closed her eyes for a moment. The screams, mental and verbal, were still in her head. Dressed in her jeans and sweatshirt, she peeked out of the cubicle. Down the corridor, she could see a nurse talking to two black-dressed GDP guards.

Her heart was pounding way too fast. She couldn’t let them take her. Even she knew the magnitude of the crime of hiding her empathy. She’d be labeled rogue -- and Mandy had told her too many horror stories about what they did to rogue Guides.

* * * * *

The ambulance pulled up to ER, and the stretcher was unloaded and rushed through. Nurse Dunlevy was waiting for them. The Guide would have to be taken to the top floor Sentinel and Guide ward. If he was in overload, he needed to be put in a low stimuli room right away. With a firm grip on the stretcher, she steered it to the elevator. Her face grew grim as she recognized the young Guide. It was Blair Sandburg, the Senior Guide Prime.

GDP Officer Rex Mitchell was coming out of his office.

"Mitch, Senior Sentinel Prime Ellison is going to be coming through here like a bat out of hell. Get him to the Sentinel Ward ASAP."

"Sure." Rex Mitchell had got in the way once between Sentinel and Guide, and had ended up on his butt looking up at the lighting. There was no way he’d foul this one up. No one messed with Ellison’s Guide.

The paramedics loaded the stretcher into the elevator and stepped back -- their job was done. Gloria Dunlevy curbed her annoyance when the elevator stopped once and a young woman got into it. The girl moved back into the corner -- she looked scared, and her clothes were stained with blood.

Dunlevy frowned. The girl had obviously been injured. "You okay?"

"I’m fine," came the soft voice.

It was enough to awaken Dark Guide. There’s another here.

Blair’s eyes opened. He was fighting to break through it -- all the negative emotions that his Sentinel had blasted him with. He hadn’t expected the hatred and bile that had swamped him. Even Dark Guide had been unable to defend himself against it. There had been a hatred of everything Guide -- his Sentinel didn’t want him. Dark Guide howled against the pain of betrayal and loss.

Blair’s hand groped and caught at the other Guide. Latching onto her, he refused to let go. His mind had found another, and he was using that mind to link and break free.

The power of the Dark Guide was too strong, and the last of Sarah’s defenses were blown away. The slender fingers wrapped around her wrist. His grip tightened and it was like a burning through her mind. Then suddenly the feelings of the nurse and the man holding her hand tumbled in on her.

Sarah twisted free, her face flushed. She swayed helplessly -she was now on line fully, and there was no turning back. She panicked, and as soon as the elevator stopped at the top floor, she bailed out, leaving an open mouthed Nurse Dunlevy behind. Sarah brushed past a GDP guard as she ran.

The way that Sarah reacted told the experienced nurse what she was looking at, especially when she noticed Blair Sandburg was slowly pushing himself upright. Only another Guide or a Sentinel could have done that, and this kid wasn’t a Sentinel.

"Guide," Nancy Dunlevy whispered, unaware that the GDP officer heard her. "She’s a rogue Guide." That was the only explanation for what had happened in the elevator.

"GDP! HALT! GDP, HALT!" The guards took after her. Any Guide hearing the order should stop immediately, but all it did was spur on her flight.

Sarah crashed through the doors of the stairway and took them two at a time. If she fell and broke her neck, it didn’t matter; anything was better than being a slave to a Sentinel. Not soon enough she reached the main entrance hall. Opening the stairwell door, she ran into the lobby and collided with an unmovable object that caught her and held her still. She was face to face with a blue suit.

"Going somewhere?" The sardonic question rumbled above her head. She looked up, way up, and then began to struggle. Everything she tried, the man countered easily. He pushed her up against the wall, his body pinning her.

Hunter had heard the yell and had crossed to intercept. When the suspect had come flying into his arms, he had surprised to see how young she was. The GDP officer had yelled that she was a rogue and that made the difference. Instinct made the Sentinel catch the Guide.

What he hadn’t expected was the jolt. It was as if he had been hit by an electric current. The moment his arms went around her and her body pushed against him, it was like mainlining lightning. Her hair brushed against his face when he had looked down at his captive. He tried to jerk his face away but all he could smell was a strong cinnamon scent. It overwhelmed him.

The itch that he had been feeling since the longhaired kid had touched him seemed to intensify until he knew what had happened. He had cut himself off from the needs of the Sentinel, and now they had come back ten-fold. He knew what he needed -- what he wanted -- and there was no turning back.

His head came up, and he glared across at the GDP officer and guards as they came across the lobby towards them. It wasn’t a police officer, but a primal Sentinel who was looking at them. They froze.

Protect the guide, was hammering through Hunter’s head. Hunter spun Sarah around and then handcuffed her. He pushed her down on her knees. His Guide had been running and would run again. She had to be restrained. She had to be protected. His hand went behind his back and he pulled his gun.

"Back off. She’s mine."

Rex took a slow breath and tried to calm his heart rate down. He knew from experience what he was looking at -- a Sentinel in full Blessed Protector mode -- and this one was armed. He waved the others back. He knew Ellison, and personally, there were times when he thought the guy was walking the edge. This time he had obviously lost it.

"Detective, you have to let us have the girl. She’s a rogue Guide."

Hunter watched the guard fingering the leash. "You try to take her, and I’ll put you down." The growl wasn’t a threat; it was a promise.

"She’s the property of the GDP. You have to hand her over." Mitchell was still trying to reason with the Senior Sentinel Prime, but he had the feeling the man wasn’t going to listen to him.

"She is MINE!"

It didn’t make any sense. Why was Ellison staking a claim on another guide? Then he saw the shaky figure come out of the elevator, using the wall for support. The last thing he needed now was an injured Blair Sandburg, especially when his Sentinel was clearly out of his head and waving a gun around.

"Jim." Blair’s voice was soothing, trying to reach his Sentinel. He was shaky and had a raging headache, but Blair knew he had to defuse the situation. For some reason Jim had a girl prisoner and was holding the GDP at bay. While he was all for the latter, the former didn’t seem like a good idea.

Hunter fixed Blair with a piercing look and then ignored him. Or at least he tried to -- but something kept drawing him back.

"Jim." Then Blair froze. This wasn’t Jim. He looked a lot like him, but this man was a couple of years older. His hair was a more reddish shade and there was more of it than on his own "hair-challenged" Sentinel. The eyes were the same, and the angular planes of the face. Blair moved a little closer. "You’re not Jim Ellison." It was a statement, not a question.

Something of Hunter returned when he heard the name 'Ellison'.

"Never said I was. So who are you? Ellison’s boy toy? No way that a flake like you would be his Guide."

It was caustic insult, and Dark Guide prepared to fight. "I’m not his plaything or his toy. I’m his Guide." Blair let Dark Guide tone come into his voice -- the one that told a Sentinel to shape up or ship out.

For a moment, Hunter seemed to sway, and then he snapped back. "Same difference."

"Not really, Hunter." The new voice was nearly the same, but different. Jim had caught up with his Guide. He swept Blair into his arms and pulled him close, then swung him behind him so that he formed a human barrier between Blair and Hunter. He had seen the pain lines on the face of his guide. Blair needed his shielding since he was fighting against overload.

One of Blair’s hands gripped the back of Jim’s jacket and the other hand was fluttering over his shoulder.

Jim kept his eyes fixed on Hunter, making sure he understood and that there was no mistake. "He’s my Guide -- claimed and marked."

The look Hunter gave them expressed very clearly that he didn’t believe that was the only thing between the two men. "You sure that’s all he does for you?" Hunter looked Blair up and down insultingly.

Jim Ellison’s voice dropped an octave. "He’s my Guide, my friend and my brother, but the one thing he is not is my lover." Jim’s lips pulled back in a parody of a smile. "You got a problem with that, Hunter? Or have you just decided to hard nose it, because if you are, then let’s take it outside -- now."

Despite the animosity between the two Sentinels, Blair couldn’t help noticing how Hunter held onto the girl, keeping her behind him. He’s still protecting her.

Jim’s eyes were flashing. The Dark Sentinel was rising up to take the challenge, his face darkening as he smelled Hunter’s scent on his Guide. He caught Blair’s hand and brought it up to his face. There was a low rumbling.

Blair caught his arm tightly. "I thought he was you, Jim. I thought you had zoned and I touched him. Believe me, I won’t do that again. No need to go primal over this, big guy. I’m yours -- Claimed and Marked." Blair leaned into his Sentinel, willing him to calm down. It was then that Blair saw the look cross Hunter’s face. It was a half smile -- and not a nice one. If he thought he was going to manipulate Jim into doing something, then he had another thing coming. Blair could feel the aggression radiating through his own Sentinel.

Blair watched the macho display: two male alpha Sentinel animals were starting to posture. It was like something on the Discovery Channel. Jim, for all his protests, was every inch the primal Sentinel. Now there was a new one in the territory and it was a blood relative. Had to be. It was the only way the likeness could be so true. And there was clearly no love lost between them. What a God-awful mess.

Blair turned his attention to the young girl. She had short blond hair, a small frame, and she looked unbelievably young and vulnerable kneeling there. She seemed to be in shock. She looked stunned, as though she had no idea of what was going on around her.

Now within the protective shield of his Sentinel, Blair cast out his empathy. This Hunter was not a Sentinel newly on line; he was established and the echoes that Blair picked up, fleeting but deep, meant that at one time Hunter had bonded and had laid claim to a Guide. As he was doing now with the young girl.

Blair’s heart suddenly went into overdrive as he remembered the girl from the elevator. He had touched her, clung to her, and his mind had brushed across her and he -- Dear God, I brought her on line. Guilt tore through him. He had condemned her, and he had to make this right. Suddenly all he could think of was being dragged away by the GDP, leashed, being stripped and forced to kneel to Wilson and his cronies. Being violated. "Please, Jim, please. We can’t let them take her."

Jim just stared, Hunter momentarily forgotten. "Blair, there’s nothing we can do. This is between Hunter and the GDP."

For a moment Blair just looked at his Sentinel. He could not believe that Jim had just said that. "Jim, I was rogue."

It was as if the old James Ellison had come back, the one that was a mean, unfeeling, son of a bitch. Then Jim blinked and the man Blair knew was back.

Blair’s hands clung tightly to Jim’s jacket. "We can’t let them hurt her. She’s too young for that. There has to be a way out for her." Blair’s brain was clicking furiously -- that amazing analytical mind searching for a solution.

Blair lit up suddenly. "Claim her. As Senior Sentinel Prime, you can claim her for your clan, and sponsor a bonding." The words came out in a rush, leaving him breathless.

"Breathe, Blair. Come on, buddy. Breathe." Jim was truly concerned for his Guide. Blair’s heart was pounding and he appeared to be heading towards an anxiety attack.

Blair pulled in a few hard breaths. "Please, Jim. You can claim her, please." He was trying to shake the much larger man. "Hunter is in your city; he’s a member of your clan whether you want it or not. He has blood ties that you can’t ignore. You can claim a Guide for him."

Jim shook his head. "Chief, she’d be better off with the GDP than with him, believe me."

Blair was exasperated. Stubborn Sentinel! "He’s already imprinting on her. Look at him. Jim, you have to do something before this gets out of hand."

Jim paused, considering. It was the longest moment of Blair’s life. "Hunter, will you swear loyalty and join the clan?" It was obvious Jim was gritting his teeth. He didn’t want Hunter in his clan any more than Hunter wanted to be. It was the only way, though, and both Sentinels knew it. Call it instinct, or racial memory, but both men knew they had done this before, in another life, another time.

"I swear loyalty, Senior Sentinel Prime," Hunter growled, not in the least happy, but surrendering to the inevitable.

At the vow, Jim intoned, "As Senior Sentinel Prime, I give this Guide to you. Claim and mark."

Hunter looked long and hard at Ellison, then the gun went back in the holster. He hauled his Guide back to her feet and dragged her toward Ellison and the hippie wannabe. When she struggled, she was shaken hard enough to make her stop. The emotions coming off this man were so intense that she could not anything to stop them battering away at her feeble barriers.

Blair’s heart sank at the rough handling of the girl. Hunter obviously was old school -- keep the Guide in line. He would have to learn to be more careful with his Guide and learn to appreciate her. Maybe Jim could teach him. Maybe.

Blair was certain that Hunter would never listen to him. In the eyes of the clan he was the Senior Guide Prime of Cascade, but to Hunter and other Sentinels like him, he was a Guide who should never rise above his knees.

Blair was trembling from the aftermath -- his headache surging back full force. He clung to Jim and wished not for the first time that they didn’t have so many responsibilities. Then Jim pulled him back against him, offering him support.

Rex came forward and twin sets of laser blue eyes locked on him. Slowly, Mitchell lifted his hands in a gesture of appeasement, and then backed away to the nurse’s station. He began to dial Commander Slater’s office. The Commander could handle this one.

Blair looked Hunter up and down and suppressed a shudder. No wonder he locked up inside when he had tried to link. The man’s mind was like a minefield -- the emotions all raw. The girl would need help if she were going to bond with him. He could destroy the fragile pathways of her mind and make her unable to ever bond -- her pathways blown apart -- with insanity and death her only release.

* * * * *

The day had gone well for Dan Slater. His workload for once had been light, and he was looking forward to actually getting home on time to his wife for dinner to celebrate their tenth wedding anniversary. So far, Blair hadn’t pulled any of his Senior Guide Prime stunts which always set the local GDP to howling for his blood.

The young Guide was the most vibrant and hyperactive person he had ever met, and Dan still found it hard to believe the difference Jim Ellison had made to the abused Guide he had taken under his wing. Even so, there were days when Blair was trouble on wheels; he was riling the Guides into emancipation. More than one Sentinel had complained when their Guide had told them bluntly to take out the trash themselves. It sure made life interesting, though.

When the phone rang, his good mood vanished. Rex Mitchell was screaming at him down the phone about some disaster at the hospital, and then the high school principal called to rant that one of her students had been kidnapped and carted off right in front of the GDP officers, who were now telling them she was a Guide, when any idiot could see she was normal.

Slater had barely put down the phone when his cell phone rang -- it was the Senior Guide Prime claiming something that although was in the rulebook, had not been invoked in God knows how many decades. Trust Blair Sandburg to remember that arcane bit of trivia.

So here he was, with an injured student who had come on-line as an empath and was rogue, a Sentinel who had involuntarily imprinted on said student and was wanting to claim her, and the Sentinel and Guide Primes going to bat for both. Add to the mix that the Sentinel in question bore a startling resemblance to the Sentinel Prime and was obviously some family connection, and he had a helluva mess. Dan resigned himself to another late, late dinner and tried not to think how badly his wife was going to hurt him for missing their anniversary -- again.

His interview with Captain Hunter proved less than enlightening. The man was an Ellison, all right, no matter what his surname was. He had prowled up and down all the time they had talked.

The girl was in the next room, curled into a chair. Slater had wanted to talk to Hunter first. He had heard about the new IA captain -- and none of it was good. Dan’s eyes kept flickering back to the young girl in the next room. She couldn’t see them through the two-way mirror, but they could observe her. She looked miserable and scared.

Objectively, it was unusual for a Sentinel to bond again on the death of their Guide. Most had such a close relationship they never bonded again, but Hunter had imprinted. That was significant, and another bit of Sentinel behavior that no one really knew much about.

The profile of Hunter’s last Guide showed that he had been in the top 10 percent of his year, since the military only selected the best for their men. All the Guides picked had to be well trained, and submissive, to their Sentinels, a wayward head strong Guide could get their Sentinel killed in a combat situation. He had followed Hunter from the military to civilian police, adapting well to the changes. Gary had been devoted to his Sentinel.

And he had died for him. How had that affected Hunter?

The record was only paper; Slater had no idea from it how the relationship had worked. From what he had read, Hunter treated his Guide in the traditional way. Now he was going to bond to an eighteen-year-old girl. Slater shook his head. Much too young and untrained. How is she going to help him? He’s going to chew her up and spit her out.

Slater knew he couldn’t stop the bonding. Blair Sandburg, quoting the Laws of Blood and GDP regulations, had him by the short hairs. Hunter would bond with the girl, and there was nothing they could do about it. The only good thing was that she would escape the GDP correction facility, but on the other hand would be sharing her life with a man that Slater could barely tolerate. Don’t know which is worse, kid. You’re going to suffer no matter what.

* * * * *

Dan put on his best smile and gentled his voice. "Sarah, I want to make sure that you understand what is happening."

She looked up at the GDP Commander with dull eyes. She had been left alone in the room for over an hour, and her barriers were almost completely gone. Hunter paced restlessly at the other end of the room.

"You are a rogue empath. You have deliberately avoided being tested and denied your place in society. That would normally mean you would be placed in the corrections facility, but someone has intervened on your behalf." Yeah, you keep saying that, Slater. Keep saying it until you believe it. God, I hate this.

She paled, trembling visibly. Dan ignored it, hardening his heart for what he must do. "Senior Sentinel Prime Ellison has claimed you for his clan. Captain Hunter needs a Guide, and it appears that he had started to imprint on you, so you are going to bond."

It was a death sentence, and Sarah caught Dan by surprise as she lurched out of the chair. She managed to scramble to her feet, but the IA captain was quicker. She was caught and pulled back. She was cuffed to the chair in seconds, Hunter standing over her. His hand dropped heavily on her shoulder, and Slater watched how she shuddered at the man’s touch. She was scared to death.

"My Guide," he rumbled. He was primitive Sentinel again, and he was only scaring the girl more.

Dan hastily interjected, "It’s not going to hurt, Sarah. The bonding is painless. You’ll feel better when your barriers are back up and you can connect." It was a meaningless platitude, and Slater knew it. He had no frigging idea what actually happened in a bonding, but Hunter sure wasn’t calming her. She looked like she was about to leap out of her own skin.

"Sentinel," he said quietly. The man looked up, growling. ‘Your Guide is afraid. Please calm yourself."

Hunter came back slowly. His hand was moving over the girl’s head and back with an edge of possessiveness that told Dan Slater that the need to bond was getting keener. Sarah just trembled harder. If she doesn’t relax, I’m going to have to sedate her. If she resists him, she could really get hurt.

The knock on the door broke the tension that was building in the room. "Senior Primes." The GDP commander had never been so happy to see them in his life. Then he cursed.

Hunter had moved round so that he was blocking the girl. Ellison had Blair behind him. Wonderful. Just what I needed: two Sentinels going head to head in my office.

* * * * *

Jim’s fingers grazed Blair’s jacket as he slipped around him and avoided the grab that would have pulled him close and pinned him against his Sentinel’s side.

Blair spoke directly to Slater, ignoring the look of disfavor on Hunter’s face for what he saw as an unruly, ill trained Guide. "Look, the girl’s scared to death. I can feel her from two floors down. Let me talk to her. Anything is better than telling her to lie back and think of England."

Blair ignored Jim and walked forward so that he was nearly toe-to-toe with Hunter. "Look, man, you don’t like me, and I don’t like you, but if you want to bond today, let me help you. Back off for a minute. It won’t help if she’s fighting you. You don’t want to hurt your Guide." The last was said in the soft, persuasive Guide voice.

Blair put a hand out to push Hunter out of the way, and was almost amused when the man pulled away from his touch. "Commander Slater, Jim, why don’t you take this gentleman out to get some coffee, and I’ll speak to our friend here." Dark Guide was in charge, and Dan and Jim pulled a reluctant Hunter out the door. Blessed silence.

Blair crouched down in front of the girl, laying a gentle hand on her arm.

She jerked, then stilled. His touch didn’t hurt. It actually felt...warm. Safe.

"My name’s Blair. What’s yours?"

"Sarah." She wouldn’t look at him. He was the one who had brought her online. He was one of them. He wasn’t going to stop the others. They all wanted the same thing -- a bonding.

She trembled uncontrollably. "I want to go home." Her voice was faint and so young that Blair’s heart ached for her. So very scared.

"I’m afraid that’s not possible, Sarah. You’re going to bond to Captain Hunter. It’s either than or the correction facility. You don’t want that, trust me." Something of the painful memory must have colored his voice, because Sarah looked up, straight into his memory haunted eyes. A brush against his mind, and she recoiled. So bad. What he had suffered, it had been so terrible. She didn’t want that to happen to her. Please, God, not that.

"We don’t always get what we want, but there is a reason for this. There’s always a reason." Blair tipped up her face, his hands very gentle. "It won’t hurt to bond. It’s a little scary, but if you just relax, it’ll be over soon."

This is like talking a toddler through getting a shot, Blair thought with morbid humor, carefully shielding his thoughts from the girl. Then he remembered how terrified he had been when he had been thrown into a room to bond with Jim. "It won’t do any good to fight. Hunter knows what to do. He’s not going to hurt you."

Sarah didn’t believe him. It showed clearly on her face.

"Ah, Sarah, there’s no way out of this. It’s going to happen no matter what. If you fight, well..." Blair trailed off. No sense scaring her more.

Sarah was exhausted, and Blair slipped neatly under her defenses. Using his empathic gifts, he calmed her -- just enough to take the hysterical edge off. The fear was blunted, but still there. Hunter would have to take care of the rest. Blair had his doubts as to how effective *that* was going to be. The man was not warm and fuzzy by any stretch of the imagination.

By the time Hunter, Jim and Slater had returned, she was about as ready as she would ever be. Hunter unlocked and removed the handcuffs, and Blair led her to the bonding room. Sarah stared at the door of Room 19, wondering if people facing execution felt the same way she did now. Sick dread knotted up her stomach, and she couldn’t stop shaking.

Jim opened the door. There was nothing in the room except a bonding mat, and the walls were padded as well. Nothing for a Guide to get hurt on.

"Go on, Sarah," Blair said softly as he pushed her gently through the door, trying to ignore the way her breath hitched in fright. Hunter handed Jim his gun, badge and jacket, and walked into the room, firmly shutting the door behind him. Jim and Blair arranged themselves against the wall, Jim tuning into the occupants of the room. Dark Sentinel was overseeing his clan. Nothing to do now but wait.

* * * * *

Dan Slater stretched slightly in the chair he occupied. All was quiet behind the door of Room 19 -- ominously so. The Sentinel Prime and his Guide standing in the hall outside the bonding room didn't seem perturbed. It was almost eerie, how they seemed to be in tune with what was happening behind the closed door.

The Sentinel slouched against the wall; head tipped slightly, no expression on his face. His Guide stood slightly behind him, almost leaning against his Sentinel's back, one hand moving over the taller man's left shoulder in a motion both reassuring and seeking comfort. The two men had come a long way in the six months since their bonding.

Unlike Jim, however, Blair's expression was imminently readable, and whatever was going on in Room 19, it was obviously affecting the younger man. Slater watched as Blair winced.

"Jim..." Dan began uneasily, "Do you really think this was the best idea? I mean, what if...."

The Sentinel turned to smile at the nervous commander. "He's not savaging her, Dan." The slightest hint of amusement colored his pale blue eyes.

Blair winced again at the wave of fear that blasted him. As Dark Guide, he could pick up on Sarah's emotions, and it brought back the terror he had suffered himself when he had been thrown into a room to bond to the Dark Sentinel -- the helplessness of being forced to bond to a person who would own him body and soul.

"Easy, Chief," Jim said softly, calming him through the link they shared. An echo of a similar calming reassurance from another Sentinel to his Guide relayed back to the two men. The spike of fear was slowly fading, and Blair breathed out and relaxed. It would be fine -- the bond was meant to be.

Slater, who had never really given thought to exactly how an empath must feel being physically and emotionally subjugated by another, shuddered.

"It's all right, Commander Slater," Blair said softly, never breaking the link with Jim. "He's not going to hurt her." The Guide now seemed certain of the fact.

"How the hell would you know?" Dan retorted, irritated at his feelings of guilt at being involved in this whole debacle.

"Because if he did, he'd answer to Jim, " Blair smiled. The big cop patted his partner's shoulder companionably and tuned into the room again. Dan gave up and hauled himself out of the chair to pace toward the lobby. As much as he wanted to learn more about Sentinel and Guide behavior, this was just too much for him to handle.

* * * * *

Sarah was curled up in the corner of the room. When the door had shut, leaving her alone with the tall, hostile man, she had panicked. But there was nowhere to run, no way to escape. Hunter had waited a few minutes as she tried to scramble away from him, and then decided enough was enough. She watched helplessly as he advanced, her stomach muscles quivering with that sick, sinking sensation. No way out.

Grabbing a hold of her, he pulled her up and then flipped her face down on the mat. Before she could struggle up, he pinned her. His weight was terrifying. She thrashed beneath him. She couldn’t breathe. Hunter simply waited until the adrenaline wore off and she eventually stilled. She had no energy to fight anymore. All she could think was now he was going to hurt her.

Sarah. The voice was actually inside her head. She could feel the presence touching her mind. Mine.

She sobbed with fright. He carefully eased his weight from her, and she didn’t move. She was afraid to. Reaching out, his hands passed over her head and through the short waves of baby-soft hair. His hands then moved over her back and sides, down her arms and legs, never hurrying as he imprinted. Echoes of what Mandy had told her were running through her mind. The terrible things that the Sentinels did to their Guides. She whimpered brokenly. The firm touch gentled almost imperceptibly. His hand went back to her hair and neck, stroking, calming.

For several long minutes, he just moved his hand along her back until her breathing and heart rate slowed, and then moved to lie over her again. He felt the flare of terror, and waited. Mine. Burying his face against her neck, the cinnamon scent imprinting on his brain. He could feel the connection sealing between them.

Another echo came through their link. Dark Sentinel soothing Dark Guide, and by turn, calming her as well.

She couldn’t fight it -- not his physical strength or his will. He moved into her mind with the same ease that he dominated her body. She went limp suddenly, exhausted. Something else was guiding her now -- some long forgotten memory. "Mark and Claim, Sentinel," she whispered, her voice barely audible.

"Claimed and Marked Guide."

It was done.

* * * * *

At that moment, a dark haired man of medium build in his mid forties crashed through the front door, startling Slater and the GDP guards manning the front desk.

"Where is she?! Where the hell is my daughter, you miserable sons-of-bitches!" The man was trembling with anger, totally out of control. He came at the guards, fists swinging.

He was grabbed by the guards and put up an impressive fight, screaming incoherently until he was subdued and then handcuffed. The guards set the man into a chair. After several minutes of furious and fluent cursing, the man settled back and stopped fighting.

"Who are you? " Slater asked, although he already knew.

"Max Freeman!" the man spat. "Who the hell are you? You have no right..."

"I have every right," Slater said calmly. "You have trespassed into a GDP facility and attempted to attack my men."

The man stared back at him, hatred burning in his eyes. "My daughter is here! The hospital called and said you tried to take her away and she ran...said they chased her and threw her to the ground...tied her like an animal...she was hurt in the bus accident, and they didn't even care..." The man lost his capacity for words, almost choking on his rage.

"Mr. Freeman, I am Commander Dan Slater. Your daughter is an empath, which you have kept from the GDP, which is a violation of Regulation 28, Section 4 -- a felony offense." The epithet thrown at Slater didn't even faze him. "Furthermore, once identified as an empath, Guide Freeman attempted to escape custody, which in addition to the fact that she was not identified, marks her as rogue and will result in her placement in the correction facility."

At that, the man deflated. He paled ghostly white, reminding Slater uncomfortably of Sandburg. Seeing Freeman' profound distress, Slater gentled his voice.

"Sarah has been claimed by the Senior Sentinel Prime of Cascade under regulation 35 -- and so will be bonded to a Sentinel of his clan."

"She's not even trained. She's just a kid! You can't do this..." the rest garbled into furious choking sounds.

"Mr. Freeman, this was actually done to protect your daughter. If she hadn't been claimed, she would have been placed in the correction facility." Dan knew that any explanation wouldn't be enough to satisfy the man whose rage was born of fear for his child.

"Where is she? I want to see her!" Freeman strained against the arms that held him, then subsided again.

"I'm afraid that won't be possible, Mr. Freeman. Effective immediately, guardianship of Sarah goes to her Sentinel. She belongs to him." Slater was sickened when the man paled.

"You can't -- she's MY daughter!"

"I'm afraid we can, and have. Sarah now belongs to her Sentinel, who has full authority over her." Slater flinched inwardly at the sound of his own voice. Have I always been so detached? He'd done this several times in the past, and while emotionally draining, he had never taken it so personally. What if that had been your child, Dan? Wouldn't you have done the same thing?

"Noooo," the man moaned, leaning forward, then rocking back in renewed rage. "You bastards, you can't do this."

Slater leaned over to look the man directly in the eyes. "Mr. Freeman, calm down. There is nothing you can do to change the situation. Sarah has already bonded..." Slater narrowly missed being head-butted in the jaw by the irate man. Dan waited, then continued, "It's over, Freeman." He stepped back and shook his head, sympathy warring with frustration

As the man moaned incoherently, Jim and Blair appeared from around the corner. Freeman watched the tall man whose companion clutched the back of his jacket. Freeman froze. A Sentinel and Guide.

"Is that him?" Freeman rasped. "Is that the bastard who took my baby?"

"This is Detective James Ellison, Senior Sentinel Prime and his Guide Blair Sandburg." Slater's attempt at civil introduction was wasted on Freeman.

‘You sonofa...." Freeman's tirade halted immediately when he looked into the man's remote blue eyes. Max felt a cold chill down his spine. This man was lethal. Anything he meant to say froze in his throat.

Ellison said nothing, scanning the irate disheveled man cuffed to the chair. Several interminable minutes passed, then Ellison moved back. He tipped his head as if listening to something.

"It's done," Ellison growled, the Dark Sentinel satisfied that all was well with his clan.

Freeman struggled again, the guards sweating to keep him in the chair. Then suddenly, the struggles ceased. Looking up, Slater saw Hunter coming around the corner, Sarah leaning against his side, his arm protectively braced around her. She looked dazed and terribly young. The Sentinel who held her was not some twenty-something college student, but a mature man in his late thirties. He was an ex-military type with the same solemn intensity as Ellison, looking so much like Ellison that they could almost be twins.

"Bastard," Freeman screamed. "Let her go! Sarah!!" The last was a desperate wail.

The girl looked up and felt the rage and terror her father projected, beating against her, burning her head, her ears, her eyes. On the other side, the aggressive possessiveness of her Sentinel warred for space in her mind, and she clutched her head, moaning in pain.

"Sarah!" Her father called out again.

"Daddy," she called back through the blinding swirl of emotion, and tried to move toward her father, only to be caught by her Sentinel. Hunter growled a warning. A few futile seconds of struggling didn't change things. She stopped eventually, physically and mentally exhausted.

You're mine now, the unfamiliar male voice whispered in her head, the primitive possessiveness overwhelming and frightening. Hunter began to lead her out, and her father's voice called out again.

"Sarah! God, Sarah!!!" His fear for her hurt like little nails, scraping and raking at her mind. She struggled one last time, only to have the Sentinel sweep her off her feet and cart her off like spoils of war, her ragged breathing echoing behind them until they disappeared from view.

Freeman collapsed, his chest heaving. "Oh God, oh God, oh God, she's just a baby. She's just a little girl." His mumbled litany stopped when he felt a gentle hand touch his shoulder, a wave of peace in its wake.

"Mr. Freeman, despite what it looks like, Sarah is safe with him. They've bonded and he's sworn to protect her with his life." Blair was trying to soothe the guilt and terror still pouring off the older man.

"He's a Sentinel," Freeman gritted out, trying to control the tears that threatened. Never had he felt so helpless. "Are you going to tell me he's not going to touch her? That's how they bond, even I know that. She's innocent, and that animal's going to...." The thought was choked off.

"Mr. Freeman." This was Jim. His calm police officer voice commanding attention. "He might not be Mister Congeniality but he's a good police officer, and I trust him not to hurt her."

As reassurances went, it was meager. Blair felt the man's disbelief, his fear, and his sorrow. He sent an other wave of reassurance to the older man, and despite everything, Freeman did calm, helpless under Blair's kind concern.

"When can I see her?" The question was plaintive.

"Not for a few months," Slater answered gently. "They must have time to work through things, and she needs to be taught how to be a Guide. There's also still the matter of the felony charge."

Freeman felt numb. What did it matter if he went to jail? He had failed to protect Sarah, and because of him, she would be a slave for the rest of her life. He had failed her. Failed her, failed her, failed her....

Blair squeezed his shoulder again. "You didn't fail her, Mr. Freeman. You did everything a parent could do to protect her. I was rogue, and ended up in the correction facility. I would never wish that on anyone. We couldn't let that happen to Sarah."

Max looked up at the young man with the long curly hair and the deep blue eyes that held many shadows. "But you're bonded?"

"Yes. Jim saved me. He's a good man." Blair felt Jim's hand smooth over his hair before patting his back, grounding him. Blair closed his eyes and smiled.

Freeman watched the display of affection between the men, mystified. The Guide wasn't kneeling, wasn't afraid of the taller man. It was almost as if they were equals -- not master and slave.

Freeman swallowed painfully. It was obvious that this was more than just an ordinary Sentinel and Guide -- much, much more. Perhaps there was some hope, if this young man who had tried to help him was treated so kindly by Ellison. Maybe the other man would show Sarah some kindness.

He looked up at Jim. "He won't...."

Shaking his head at the question, Jim waited, his very stillness calming the father. His Guide was leaning against him, worn out from handling Freeman's feelings. The tall Sentinel held his Guide close, both men basking in their connection and oblivious to their audience.

"We'll let you know how she's doing, Mr. Freeman," Blair said quietly before stepping back to latch onto Jim's jacket.

Freeman nodded miserably. He was just as exhausted as Blair. He sat quietly as Sentinel and Guide turned around and moved out the door and into the waiting darkness.

* * * * *

Sarah glanced over at the driver of the vehicle she was sitting in. Captain Vincent Hunter -- newly transferred to Cascade, and her Sentinel, whether she wanted it or not. She swallowed convulsively, her heart hammering in her ears, almost drowning out the engine noise. The imposing man glanced over, lip curled sardonically.

He could sense her fear, smell it. Her hand moved nervously near the door release. "Don’t even think about it," the man warned her. "I’m not in the mood for a chase." Now that the first instinctual bonding was over, Sarah could see that Captain Hunter was fully back, replacing the protective Sentinel who had bonded with her.

She curled up even smaller on the seat, held in place by the safety belt, the leather seat, the metal and glass, and the unspoken will of the Sentinel who now owned her, body and soul. He could do anything to her, and she wouldn’t be able to stop it. Anything at all. He was tall, and strong, and extremely angry.

The initial bond had been overwhelming, both physically and emotionally. Blair had tried to reassure her, but what did he know of this man? Hunter was a stranger to all of them. He hadn’t beaten her...yet. Who knows would happen when he got angry at her?

Her pathways had been blasted open, and even without him touching her she could feel the fury inside him. He didn’t want a Guide -- had been angry when he had started to imprint, instinct overriding will. Blair had said this was to protect her from the corrections facility -- but he didn’t know what the man truly intended -- nobody knew, because Hunter wouldn’t allow them to read him.

"We’re here," he said abruptly, startling her. He switched off the engine and got out of the car, coming around to her side and opening her door. She fumbled for a moment with the seatbelt, her fingers shaking, until he growled impatiently and reached across her to undo it. She froze from the touch and from the wave of anger. He ignored her response and grasped her arm and pulled her out of the car.

It was a nice two-storey house in a quiet neighborhood with several large shade trees and a good sized yard. It surprised her that the Sentinel would want to live in such a family style dwelling.

He unlocked the door and led her inside, switching on the lights. It was a restrained room, muted but in quiet good taste. It was also cold.

"Bathroom’s through there," he gestured, and she gratefully slipped into the half bath. She used the facilities quickly, washed her hands and spent a few seconds staring at her reflection in the small mirror. She looked the same. She had undergone a soul-shattering experience, and she looked exactly the same.

When she stepped out, Hunter had removed his jacket and was looking through the mail.

They stared at each other for several long minutes -- an uncomfortable connection.

"It’s late," he said deliberately. "The guest room is made up. We’ll discuss this in the morning." His voice was even despite his seething mood.

She stood frozen, glancing at the front door, her expressive face giving away every thought.

"Think you can outrun me?" Hunter almost sounded conversational, but his eyes were cold. "I don’t think you’d like the consequences if you tried it."

She wilted under his gaze. He was younger than her father, and he was big and menacing.

"Upstairs," he commanded.

She climbed the steps slowly, one trembling hand on the oak banister. At the landing, he pointed to the room on the left. As they entered, she saw it was a perfectly nice room, but it wasn’t her room. It wasn’t her home.

Opening the dresser, Hunter pulled out an old T-shirt and tossed it on the bed. "You can sleep in that," he said and stepped out of the room, closing the door behind him.

For a moment, she just stared. She could try to climb out the window, but she knew the Sentinel would hear it opening. Almost mechanically, she removed her outer clothes, leaving on only her panties and pulled the soft blue police T-shirt over her head. It hung down to her knees. She sat down on the bed, hands clenching, suddenly freezing. The room wasn’t cold but she felt chilled through and through. She jumped when the door opened abruptly.

Hunter strode in and she couldn’t help flinching when he reached down and grasped her right wrist. She watched in horror as he fastened the handcuff around her wrist, then attached the other cuff to the metal bed frame.

"I’m not going to lose any sleep over you trying some dumb ass stunt like climbing out the window." Despite the growl, he did pull back and sheet and comforter so that Sarah could lie down. He pulled the comforter over her. "Go to sleep."

Hunter moved to the door, switching off the overhead light.

"Captain Hunter?" The voice was small and shaky.

"What?" he barked.

"Please leave the light on?" She sounded about five -- scared of the dark.

He switched on the small lamp on the dresser and then walked out without a word. When the door closed, Sarah gave in. She turned her face into the pillow and cried.

Hunter heard the quiet sobs, but kept walking. If she thought she could manipulate him with tears, she had another thing coming. He squelched the unfamiliar sense of guilt firmly and went to his own room. God, what a night.

Kicking off his shoes, he threw himself backward on the bed, trying to make sense of the day.

Vincent Hunter had survived because he had control; his wife and his partner had betrayed him and it had hit him hard. He could have climbed into a whiskey bottle and never got out, but instead he had...sublimated. He kept his emotions under control, and only let his hard edges show. If you never let anyone close, you couldn’t get hurt. If you showed weakness, people would take advantage of you. Survival of the fittest -- and Hunter was a survivor.

He was aware of what the others in the police department thought of him. That he was a soulless bastard, and that he had only moved to IA so that he could hunt down cops to get back for what his partner and ex-wife had done to him.

Personally Hunter didn’t care what people thought. As long as they respected him as cop and obeyed him as a superior officer, it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter in the least.

On that thought, he closed his eyes and slept.

When Hunter woke up the next morning, he instinctively searched the house for the Guide. There. Her heart beat was slow and even. Still asleep.

He walked into the guest room. She was lying on her side, her arm awkwardly arched due to the handcuff binding her. She was still pale, he noted objectively. Hunter took a rare moment for inner contemplation as his eyes tracked over her. This young woman, hell, this *kid* was now his Guide and he was supposed to bond with her? Allow her into his head, just like ‘Senior Sentinel Prime Ellison’ allowed the little druggie to?

His head tilted as he scented his Guide, and then pulled back as he realized what he was doing. Hunter didn’t want this, but the Sentinel did.

Hunter’s eyes grew darker. It was that punk Sandburg’s fault, pawing him like that. Sandburg had reawakened the need Hunter had suppressed through sheer force of will and the pills, which gave more side effects than actual help. The reality was that the pills had stopped working weeks ago, but Hunter needed someone else to blame. It’s Sandburg’s fault. All of it.

Sarah woke, disturbed by something. She saw Hunter looming over her and tried to flinch away. The handcuff pulled her up short and she groaned at the pull on her wrist.

"It’s time to get up. While working, my day starts early. I expect you to be dressed and ready for work at 7:45 AM. I generally don’t eat breakfast, so if you need food, you’d better be up earlier." As Hunter spoke, he unlocked the cuff and allowed Sarah to sit up. She blinked -- still not quite comprehending.

"You haven’t been taught Guide manners, but you’ll learn. You speak only when I allow you to. You will adopt the Guide pose and do exactly as you’re told. Try to run and I’ll leash you. Try it a second time, and I’ll put you in the corrections facility myself."

She shivered, her hand unconsciously reaching out, needing to connect. Hunter moved back, eyes grim. Her hand dropped and she hugged herself for warmth.

"Now, get up and get dressed. We’re off for the mandatory week," the way he spat out ‘mandatory’ showed just how much Hunter thought of it, "and we’re going to go over the house rules."

Sarah got up and followed Hunter out of her room. "Bathroom and shower in there," he pointed to another door in the hall. She moved hesitantly around him, flinching when his hand brushed over her hair. It was a Sentinel gesture -- possessive and automatic -- and Hunter wasn’t even aware that he had done it.

"I...I don’t have any other clothes,’ she stammered, indicating the blood-stained jeans and sweatshirt neatly folded on the floor.

Hunter stifled a curse as he opened the dresser drawer and pulled out an old sweatshirt of his and a pair of sweat pant cutoffs he used as shorts. With the waist cord drawn tight, they might stay on. He handed her the clothes, eyeing her for interminable minutes, then he moved back and headed downstairs.

She fled to the bathroom, and sat on the floor. Oh, God. Ohgodohgodohgod. She sat and shivered for what seemed like forever, then got up to shower. The hot water stung on her cuts, but the bland soap he used did not. The shampoo was a mild natural scented product -- probably the mildest on the market. With Hunter’s Sentinel senses, anything stronger would provoke a bad reaction. She found clean towels in the vanity and quickly dried off. She finger combed her damp hair and hesitated when she saw his toothpaste. Her mouth felt grimy, so she carefully opened the tube and squeezed a bit of paste on her finger to scrub her teeth. She replaced the cap and hung up the damp towels. The last thing she wanted was to have Hunter come after her. Then she pulled on the clothes. They smelled like Ivory Snow, and a bit of Hunter. She shivered again.

She walked down the stairs, the large sweatshirt hanging to her knees, and the cut-off sweat pants just peeping out of the bottom edge. She was reminded again just how big this man was. He could crush her...would crush her.

Hunter was in the dining room just off the stairs. Moving toward him, she saw him look up.

"Sit." He returned to his newspaper and coffee as Sarah gingerly sat down. Mindful of what he had said earlier, Sarah didn’t utter a word.

Sarah cast guarded glances round the room. It was stark and tidy. Everything lined up just so. Through the archway, Sarah could see the living room. There was a coffee table with magazines stacked on top perfectly aligned with the inlaid pattern on the table surface. Perfectly neat and perfectly lifeless.

She ventured a quick glance up at the Sentinel, correction, her Sentinel, and shivered. His eyes were opaque. If eyes were truly windows to the soul, then he didn’t appear to have one. She had glimpsed briefly into his mind during the bonding, and it was a cold and frightening place. She didn’t want to go back there.

The man had hardly spoken to her beyond giving orders and relating rules. If only she could remember what she had read in Sentinel 101. She almost asked, but as soon as she drew in a breath to speak, Hunter looked up and froze her in her seat. He hasn’t given me permission to talk. She swallowed and looked down, breathing a sigh of relief when he returned to his paper.

Sarah could feel her stomach rumbling -- she hadn’t eaten in almost 24 hours, but she was a Guide. Guides didn’t get to eat unless their Sentinels allowed them. And she was thirsty. She wondered miserably if Hunter would allow her to have some water, but how could she ask if he wouldn’t give her permission to speak?

She shifted in her seat again, the restless movement catching the Sentinel’s attention.

"Problem?" The question had a sarcastic edge.

Sarah kept her eyes down. He was big and scary and she had no idea what kind of horrible things he would do to punish her for not following his rules. Mandy had shown her pictures of Guides brought into the hospital -- terrible photos of injuries suffered from blows, belts, whips. Her heart was racing, and it obviously annoyed the Sentinel from the way he narrowed his eyes when she sneaked another glance up at him.

He caught her gaze, and they stared at each other. Looking down at his almost empty coffee cup, he cursed and then slammed it down on the table. She jumped, then cringed as he got up. What had she done?

Hunter moved to the kitchen, then returned with a glass of orange juice and a bagel. He set the items down in front of her.

She paused, then reached eagerly for the glass. A large hand grabbed her wrist, stopping the movement.

"I didn’t give you permission to eat, Guide."

She froze, and her appetite left her completely. His anger when he touched her tore through her like a jagged knife. She got clammy even as her eyes felt hot and her throat scratchy, but she couldn’t cry in front of him. It would only make him angrier.

Hunter looked down at her as she trembled in his grip. Her barriers were almost nil. Then he abruptly released her. "Ah, Christ, forget it. Eat."

Sarah didn’t move.

"I said: eat."

She shakily took a sip of the juice, and all it did was make her nauseated despite her thirst. She tried again, and the roiling in her stomach let loose. She clapped a hand over her mouth to keep from throwing up, but it only got worse. Suddenly she flew out of her chair to the small downstairs bathroom. The Sentinel, thinking she was trying to run, chased after her.

She knelt on the floor, heaving into the toilet. He stopped at the doorway, staring at her like he had discovered an alien life form, and wasn’t too sure he was happy about the discovery.

"I certainly hope this isn’t going to be a habit." The anger had muted to irritation, but it still felt like sleet against her cold skin.

She finally stopped heaving and looked when as he handed her a glass of water to rinse her mouth. She flushed the toilet and washed her hands and face and turned to face him. Despite the fact that she looked like death warmed over, she was trying to keep it together. She had spunk, Hunter admitted to himself, and the Sentinel reached out to touch her, frowning when she shrank away.

"Come on," he said and grasped her shoulder to move her out to the living room. She moved like a broken doll.

"Kneel down," he commanded. She sank awkwardly to her knees. "Now put your hands behind your back." She complied and stared up at him, scared. "Keep your head down," he continued, his voice calm now. "This is the working Guide position. This is how you will stay until I indicate you can get up."

He moved around do that he was standing slightly in front of her. "Now lean forward and rest your shoulder against my leg."

She did so, cringing again when she touched him. He was warm, and that felt good against her chilled skin, but his anger was still simmering. Hunter swore again and pushed down his anger. Her barriers were completely gone. Protect the Guide.

As he muted the anger, she could feel him shielding her, and the nausea subsided along with the chills. She closed her eyes, allowing herself to accept the protection, relaxing for the first time. They stayed there for quite a while, her Sentinel gently stroking her head.

* * * * *

Mandy Freeman looked up to see her father entering the house. He looked tired and much older. "Sarah?" she asked hesitantly. "I thought the hospital said it was just a few bumps and bruises."

Suddenly her father pulled her into a hug. "She’s bonded."

"No. No way. It can’t be." Mandy was shaking her head in furious denial. They had managed for so long to keep the secret."

Her father just shook his head as he sank down on the couch next to her.

"How? I mean -- there hasn’t been time." She looked up at him; she needed answers.

"There was the accident, and she came online somehow. She was given to this Sentinel." His voice took on an edge of despair. "They bonded so quickly."

Mandy was shaking his arm, the tears running down her face. "They have to break it. She’s not old enough, you have to tell them. They can’t just take her like that, call the police. " She reached for the phone.

Max caught her hand. "They are the police."

"Just tell me this Sentinel is a nice lady." Mandy was desperate for reassurance.

Max’s eyes dropped.

"It’s a man," Mandy breathed, sick inside. "Young or old?" As if that made a difference, she chided herself. Sentinels were all the same. Sick raving animals with delusions of godhood.

"He’s older than she is."

"How old are we talking here?"

"Late thirties, maybe. They said he had a Guide before, but he died. He looked so cold, Mandy. They said he wouldn’t hurt her, but I don’t believe them. We have to get her away from him. There have to be people that can do this."

"I’ll find someone, and she won’t have to stay with that monster," Mandy vowed, and then held her father while he broke down and cried.

* * * * *

Commander Daniel Slater acknowledged that at this moment he hated his job. He was the one who had to face Sarah's father for the second time in twenty-four hours. Luckily, the man had been released on bond, and so wasn’t in jail awaiting trial. Dan glanced over at Senior Guard Gibb, and the big man just shook his head. The atmosphere was oppressive.

Max Freeman just stared in disbelief at the two GDP officials. "I can’t believe you have the nerve to come here after what you did. Just get the hell out of here!"

"Dad?" A young woman with light brown hair peeked out from behind him. This must be the older sister, Amanda, who was at Rainier University. "What do they want?"

Dan kept his voice professional. "Mr. Freeman, as of 10:00 pm last night, Sarah Elizabeth Freeman was bonded to her Sentinel, Vincent William Hunter. As of that moment, Sarah Elizabeth Freeman became the property of her Sentinel. They have now entered a period of adjustment after which she will start her new life as a Guide."

Max just clenched his fists. It was a repeat of the conversation last night. What? They didn’t think he heard it the first time?

Mandy asked, "When can we see her?"

This is why I hate this job. Dan pushed his thoughts away. "Access to Sarah is always at the consent of her Sentinel, but he will be advised of your request to see her, and I am sure that we will be able to arrange one day a month visitation in the future. At this time, the GDP considers it would be harmful for her to see you. She has to accept her role first and then I will see what can be done."

"Why are you here?" Max ground out.

"Mr. Freeman, we are here to collect Sarah’s things. I’m sure that she will settle better with her own things round her."

Mandy looked stricken. They were going to take everything away.

Max stepped back from the door, and Slater and Gibb entered the house.

Mandy led the two GDP men up to Sarah’s room. Glancing around, she shrugged helplessly. She didn’t even know where to begin.

"I would suggest clothes -- some of her books and CDs -- things like that."

"I don’t want you in my house," Max choked.

Dan hated having to dictate even further. "Guard Gibb has to check what you're packing. He won’t touch any thing."

Mandy slowly packed the two suitcases, and then reached for the cosmetics on the vanity.

"I’m sorry, Ms. Freeman, but no." Gibb was kind but firm.

"Why?"

"Until they have settled into the bond, any cosmetic or perfume could cause a reaction," Gibb explained. Gibb spared her sensibilities by not adding that the Sentinel would need to smell his Guide and learn her scent, and that he would need to mark her with his. It would be way too much information for them to handle.

Finally the two suitcases were full. "If you have some boxes, we can take some personal items."

With loving care, Mandy collected two photographs: a family picture of Max with his two daughters, and a smiling woman who could only be Sarah’s mother. "Can she have these?"

"Of course."

Some books were added to the box and an old teddy bear and a Winnie the Pooh. Dan had to clear his throat at that. Mandy finally added a small CD player and discs, slipping in Sarah’s diary without Gibb seeing it.

"I’ll make sure she gets them," Dan said as Gibb taped up the box. "I’ll deliver it personally."

When they left Max was seated on the bed, clutching the remaining stuffed animals and crying silently.

Dan shook his head. "Some days I really hate my work."

Gibb agreed. The first thing that he was going to do when he got home was hug his wife and children.

* * * * *

Mandy picked up the cell phone and disappeared into her bedroom. Her fingers stabbed at the keys. "Josie, it’s Mandy. Look, you know that guy you said could get a Guide out of the country? We need to talk." After several minutes of urgent conversation, she clicked the cover down over the keypad.

Just hold on, Sarah. We’re coming to get you.

* * * * *

Three Days Later

Sarah hesitated. Hunter was always up first and checking his territory. He barely spoke to her, and when he did, it was usually blunt and to the point.

She had learned not to speak. She ate after her Sentinel and knelt when he came into the room. She adopted the Guide posture on command. The first kneeling session had been scary, but through it she learned that she could be shielded just by touching her Sentinel. Small comfort, but at least he hadn’t beaten her. He didn’t need to -- his disdain and anger were more than enough to batter her. He didn’t even realize he was doing it half the time.

Her barriers were always tenuous because he had made no effort to bond with her. In fact, he avoided contact with her, and so she got overloaded whenever he blew up about something. Since she wasn’t allowed to speak, she’d just curl up in ball of misery until he noticed and stabilized her barriers. She had no way of knowing why she felt so awful all the time, thinking he did it teach her a lesson. Since she wasn’t formally trained, she didn’t know that a bonding would renew her barriers completely and feed the emotional need.

She tried to do what he wanted, but since he avoided her most of the time, and blew up when he was around her, she shrank even more into herself. This is your life, Sarah, for the rest of your life.

She had cried herself to sleep every night. That bothered Hunter more than he cared to admit. He didn’t know how to comfort her and wasn’t even sure he wanted to. Women -- all women -- were deceptive creatures. His Guide had to learn her place.

Sarah stood on the landing and looked toward his bedroom. Walking up to the door, she knocked softly. "Captain Hunter? Sir?"

No reply.

With her fingertips Sarah pushed the door open and edged into the room. He had warned her that he slept with his police weapon by his bed and that if she had a nightmare she had better learn to count sheep because bursting into his room could get her head blown off.

Not that she’d ever come to him for comfort. He had made it more than clear that she was less than a dog in his eyes.

She inched into the bedroom. "Captain?" she said a little louder, but still got no reply.

Her hand reached for the light switch, then she remembered and went to the curtain and pulled it open. He was a Sentinel and the bright light could hurt him.

The man was laying face down on the bed, still fully dressed from the night before. Gingerly she put a hand out and gave him a shake. Nothing happened. She tried again. Her hand jerked back as she realized that he was burning up with fever. Risking it, she clicked on the bedside light. He was as white as ghost. But what made her gasp was that his eyes were wide open and unseeing. He had zoned.

From her pocket she pulled out a bent card from Mr. Sandburg, and she dialed the number.

"Ellison." The name was barked across the line.

"May I speak with Blair Sandburg?"

As soon as she heard the younger man’s voice, the words tumbled out in a long ramble of fear and confusion. Hunter had zoned, and she hadn’t been able to bring him out of it. Mr. Sandburg’s voice was soothing and she felt herself calm. He was coming over to help.

After hanging up, she glanced at the door. She could run now, and Hunter would be unable to follow her. But the moment the thought formed, it dissipated. A more primitive instinct cut in. This was her Sentinel -- there was no way she would leave him.

She leaned over Hunter, touching his forehead. His skin was dry and hot under her hand. She had to get his fever down. Remembering her late mother’s advice, she went down to the kitchen and got some ice from the freezer. She placed the cubes into a bowl and then filled it with cold water. Pausing only to collect a washcloth and towel from the bathroom, she returned to his bedroom. She began to wipe his face and neck with the cold cloth. He didn’t even move.

The pounding on the front door made her jump. Running down the steps, she unlocked it and peered around the door edge. "Mr. Sandburg," she said in relief and threw the door open, and then stepped back as she saw Jim Ellison standing there.

Jim brushed past both of them and then stood, his head tilted, scanning the house.

Blair just smiled tolerantly and patted his back. "It’s okay, big guy, no threat. We’re on an errand of mercy this time." He then turned to the girl. "Okay, Sarah, lead me to him."

"This way. You have to hurry."

She kept glancing at Jim uncertainly. He was clearly in Blessed Protector mode, disliking intensely the fact that his Guide was in another hostile sentinel’s territory. And he looked so much like Hunter. Sarah wondered if Mr. Ellison hurt Mr. Sandburg, but the younger man didn’t seem to be cowed by his Sentinel’s bad mood. Ellison positioned himself at the doorway his eyes fixed on the still body in the bed.

Sarah watched as Mr. Sandburg sat down on the edge of the bed, and reached out his hand. He never actually made contact with the sick man, just hovered over his skin. It was almost if he was scanning him.

"My guess is that it’s the flu bug that’s going around, but I’m no doctor. This must have hit him pretty hard." He looked up at Sarah. "Did you get any indication in the bond that he was sick? Usually you can felt when the bond is off balance."

Sarah just looked confused. "We bonded at the police station."

Blair looked up at her. Hadn’t Hunter...? "Sarah, have you bonded since?"

"No." Her voice was very tiny. She blanched at the thought of being thrown down and pinned again.

"Why not?" Blair kept his voice soft, even though Dark Guide had surfaced and was angry that she had endangered a member of the Clan -- albeit a new and reluctant one.

"He doesn’t want me to talk. He doesn’t want me around him." Sarah was unaware of the aching loneliness in her voice. "I’ve tried to learn what a Guide does -- you know, not talking, eating after him, kneeling."

She paused and Blair thought of head-injured Jim. How he had insisted on the type of behavior that denigrated and devalued a person as a human being. Poor Sarah. Is that all he taught you? This is worse than I thought.

"Sarah, the bond is critical for both of you. Hunter needs it to keep from zoning on his senses, and you need it to maintain your barriers. You both need it to connect."

She stared at him with wide solemn eyes of a child.

"I know we need to talk openly about this. I need to know where we stand in the bond, but first we need to get him out of the zone out." Blair ran a hand over the frozen face of the stricken Sentinel.

We. There was hope in her expressive face. Maybe if Mr. Sandburg did it, she would not have to touch Captain Hunter. She was scared to touch him.

"Yes, us," Blair said softly.

Sarah gasped. How had he known what she was thinking?

Blair winked at her and gave a smile to his own Sentinel. "Now, no going primal on me, big guy. All I’m going to do is help the link. I am not bonding with him."

"You’d better not," Jim growled.

Sarah flinched and tried to hide behind Blair. The emotion in those three words was fierce.

Blair just grinned as he said, "Wouldn’t have it any other way, Jim."

Blair made himself comfortable. "Put your hands here, on his shoulder, and take a cleansing breath. He’s your Sentinel and he’s not going to hurt you. He needs your help."

Sarah’s eyes widened and her hand would have pulled back, but Blair placed his own over hers.

"Balance yourself,’ he said softly and she gave a gasp as she felt Blair’s mind brush hers, her fear began to slowly fade as she was cocooned in his. Then she felt herself eased into Hunter's mind. It was cold and bleak. "His mind has put up a block, and he’s not in a very nice place, so we have to get him out of there."

"How do you..?"

"How do *we*, Sarah." The gentle reproach was enough to focus her.

"How do we get him out?"

"Think of a hammer. The block is a glass and we’re going to break it. Picture the hammer, and we are swinging it now. Again. Again."

Suddenly the glass in Hunter’s mind shattered, and she was inside her Sentinel’s mind. She nearly panicked, but Mr. Sandburg was there, calming her fear and encouraging Hunter’s mind to open up. The connection flared and Blair pulled back, allowing the two of them to connect alone.

Hunter’s breath came in a sharp gasp with ended with a choking cough. He rolled away from them onto his side as he tried to breathe.

Without thinking about it, Sarah began to pat his back. For a moment she looked straight into his eyes, and the ice in his thawed. He shivered, and she began to pull blankets up over him. The connection between them was still humming.

Hunter looked past her, and then his eyes grew cold again as he saw Blair.

"Don’t even think about it, Hunter," Jim said softly, knowing the other Sentinel would hear him. "If it wasn’t for Blair, you’d still be playing statue."

The two Sentinels eyes each other and the aggression level rose astronomically.

Blair stepped in as peacemaker. "Look, why don’t I take Sarah downstairs, and you get him into some dry clothes, Jim."

As he walked out, he patted Jim’s arm. Then, knowing that both Sentinels would hear him, he added, "Play nicely, boys."

Hunter swung his legs of the bed and then promptly took a nosedive onto the floor. Jim made no effort to catch him.

Blair called out, "You okay in there, guys?"

"Fine," Jim answered. "Hunter is just learning how to say ‘help me’."

"Rot in hell, Ellison, and fuck your Guide."

Jim shook his head in mock shock. "And you an IA officer, Captain."

Bending, Jim caught the sick man by the front of his sweat-soaked shirt and pulled his shoulders and head off the floor. "If it wasn’t for Blair’s misguided sense of responsibility, I would let you both swing in the wind."

"Hate me, hate my Guide, eh?" Hunter grunted. He couldn’t blame Jim. After all, he had been more than vocal about what he thought of Sandburg. Still, Jim’s attitude toward Sarah stung. It must have showed on his face, because Jim backed off.

"I didn’t mean it like that," Jim said, as close to an apology as he was willing to get. "Lord knows, the kid didn’t deserve what happened to her."

Jim hauled Hunter back on the bed, and then put a hand out. The IA captain knocked the hand out of the way, and then slumped back down again as he dissolved in a fit of coughing.

"Ready now?" The sarcasm was heavy.

This time Hunter put his hand out and was pulled to his feet and supported to the bathroom, to shower off the old sweat and make him comfortable.

Jim put the toilet lid down and propped his feet up on the side of the bath tub as his Hunter showered. "So you haven’t bonded with her."

Hunter looked around the side of the shower curtain. "No." The curtain was pulled closed hard enough to pop the hanging rings.

"You must have been shielding her, though. Blair’s a strong Guide and he can only do ten hours at the most, and then I have to catch him. She’s done -- what -- seventy-two hours?"

The water was switched off with a snap. "It’s none of your fucking business, Ellison." It was hard to be indignant when you’re buck-naked but Hunter managed it, much to the amusement of the other Sentinel.

Jim handed him the towel. "So, mind telling me how she's keeping her barriers up, then? Or is it a state secret?"

Hunter just looked at him as if judging his question. If Jim reported him to the GDP, he could be brought up in front of the GDP Disciplinary Board and that could affect his career. So far, no matter what he had done he had kept a clear record with his bosses. But this would be something that would taint him if it got out. In answering Ellison, he would give the man something to hold over him.

"So how’s she doing it?

"All right." The way Hunter said those two words spoke volumes. This was like having his teeth pulled. "She's been taking some medication to prevent her overloading. And I shield her when it gets critical."

"You got a suppressant for her?" That had surprised Jim; he could not see Hunter going out on a limb for anyone.

"No, the GDP dropped off her stuff, and inside one of the boxes was a supply of suppressant. Hidden inside a God-damned teddy bear." Hunter rubbed at his wet hair and sighed. "It must have been a last resort measure by her family. I could smell the pills, so I went looking."

"And?" Jim prompted.

"You laugh, Ellison, and I’ll break every bone in your body."

"I’m not laughing." Jim looked dead serious.

"Every time I want to bond, I pull back. She’s eighteen years old, Ellison. I could have a daughter that age. Hell, so could you."

"So, if you didn’t bond, you wouldn’t have to touch her. Doesn’t work that way, and you know it. Worried what your IA cronies are going to say?" Jim all but sneered.

Hunter turned of Jim in a fury. "I don’t give a flying fuck what *anybody* thinks of me as long as I get my job done and the respect of my men."

Jim looked at Hunter with new interest. "Well, I’ll be damned. You’re worried about they’re going to say about Sarah. Older guy -- cute young thing. All that Sentinel-Guide voodoo."

Hunter walked back to the bedroom by clutching the walls for support and ignored Jim.

"Gee, Hunter, didn’t think you gave a damn about anybody but yourself."

Hunter dressed slowly, pulling on old jeans and a Jags T-shirt that looked comfortably faded. Jim almost made a comment, then decided the IA captain didn’t want a bonding moment over sports.

"You’re going to have to do it sooner or later. It’s not fair to her to keep the in the emotional wasteland you call home."

Hunter almost hunched in himself. He took the acetaminophen Ellison handed him and swallowed the pills with a large chug of water. Anything to get this damn fever down.

"Come on, Vince. Join the club. You’re a Sentinel and you need her."

"Hunter. I go by Hunter."

"Hunter," Jim agreed blandly. "Ready?"


* * * * *

Blair led Sarah to the sofa, and then sat still holding her hand and filling her mind with thoughts of protection and warmth. "You’re going to have to bond with him. If he hasn’t been pushing the point, then something else must be keeping him back."

"Him." Sarah shivered.

"Yeah, him. You know, Jim is this buff, six-foot-two Sentinel. He’s a former Black Ops Ranger and a cop, and he could break me like a twig. He could, but he’d never, ever do that. In the bond, he’s the most caring of men. He’s helped me put my life back together again. Hunter can do the same for you’re given a chance."

"Jim likes you," Sarah said quietly, and Blair could see where this was heading. "He cares about you." She stopped there. She didn’t need to say what darkened both their ambient emotions.

"I don’t think Hunter knows what he feels at this point," Blair said gently.

"I’m scared," she whispered. "My sister told me about what the GLA told her about Sentinels do to Guides. That they r..r..rape them." Sarah shuddered.

"The GLA," Blair interjected as he stood up to pace, "are idiots. They don’t understand. Well, idiots might be too strong. They misunderstand the bond and can only see it as something sexual. Any Guide will tell you it’s something totally different. It’s like..." Blair paused, trying to come up with the right description. "A merging of souls. Vibrant colors and sounds. It’s... transcendent." He then turned deadly serious. "Each day he doesn’t bond, he gets closer a major zone out that can kill him. He almost died today."

Sarah paled. No matter what the circumstances, she didn’t want to be responsible for a death.

Blair was now in his professorial mode. "Most Sentinels bond three times a week, on average. It keeps you both in balance. They need it, and we’re their base line. We need it to reaffirm the bond and stabilize our barriers. They need us just as much as we need them, maybe more."

Sarah picked at the fringe on the sofa cushion. "How do I bond, I mean, in the room," she blushed as she asked. "When you bonded with Mr. Ellison, did he...?"

"He was primal. It can be quite a ride," Blair chuckled.

She blushed even brighter and Blair took pity on her discomfort.

"We bond regularly. A Sentinel has to imprint you on his mind and his senses. He learns your scent and knows when you’re willing to bond. And yes, he does that to me. It’s not sex, Sarah, but it is very, very intimate."

She looked down nervously.

Blair sat back down next to the girl. "Sarah, it’s the bond. It’s warm, and it’s alive. You never feel so protected or cherished in your life than when you’re in the arms of your Sentinel. And he’s focused on your heartbeat. The feeling of togetherness is humbling. It’s the closest you’ll ever know another human being." He ducked his head so that he could look into her eyes. "Always remember that he would give his life for you."

"He would?" There was disbelief in her voice.

"To claim and mark, to protect and serve. These are all things that Sentinel say in the bond, and it means one thing: they would die for us. Protecting the Guide comes before protecting the tribe." Blair knew there were some things she was probably too scared to ask about, especially since he was a man. "I can arrange for you to speak with Tina Parker sometime. She’s a Guide with a male Sentinel. He’s a cop as well. I bet she could give you some pointers with dealing with a male Sentinel -- you know, the female angle."

She nodded gratefully. She just felt so...inadequate. And scared. And ignorant. She hadn’t even kissed a boy, and now she was supposed to create a life link with somebody that even she with her limited experience could recognize as all male.

"Remember, you’re not alone." Blair squeezed her hand comfortingly.

The argument could be heard all the way downstairs; it was loud and heated. She started to get up, but Blair caught her wrist. "Sentinels. You have to love them -- primal Neanderthal throwbacks that they are. I’m sure if you threw a ball, they’d track it down, kill it and drop it at your feet. But...." Blair trailed off, and his smile deepened. "Do you see them, Sarah?"

Sarah clung to Blair’s arm.

Hunter came barreling down the steps. The heartbeat of his Guide had skyrocketed. Protect the Guide.

Reaching the living room, he snarled, "Keep your hands off her, you long haired freak."

Then Hunter stopped in his tracks. Standing across from the sofa was a Siberian tiger, and next to the tiger, a small tabby cat, rubbing against the tiger’s massive shoulder.

The tiger bent down and rubbed its head on the cat’s flank, nearly knocking the little cat over. The purring was loud enough that the watching humans had no problem hearing it.

Blair’s eyes sparkled with delight. "Welcome to the world of the spirit guides. Get to know them. They have a habit of showing up when you want and sometimes don’t want them." Blair chuckled. "It means that it's destiny that you met. You were both meant to be together."

Hunter just stared. He could see the animals plain as day. The normally unflappable IA captain was at a complete loss for words.

Blair smiled at his own Sentinel. "Jim, we're still going over some things. Can you take Captain Hunter to the kitchen and get him something to eat. I just need a few more minutes with Sarah, okay?"

Jim clamped a hand on Hunter’s arm and firmly took his half brother into the kitchen, blocking him when he tried to double back into the room and to his Guide.

Hunter stopped when Jim’s hand pressed to his chest. "You heard Blair, give him a little time with her. You would rather she bond willingly than you have to force her down."

"If he puts his hands on her, I’ll..."

"You'll do nothing, Hunter, because no one touches Blair. There is no way that he would take advantage of her. Trust me on that -- he has his own demons to vanquish."

Hunter caught a glimpse of old sorrow in Ellison's eyes. He wanted to ask -- but then hardened himself. It didn't matter what had happened to the punk.

The two Sentinels locked eyes, and Hunter was the first to look away.

Blair put a hand out to the tabby cat. It came across towards him, only to have the tiger cut in front and block him.

"It’s okay, Tony the Tiger. No one is going to hurt her."

He felt Sarah tug on his jacket. "Mr. Sandburg, look."

Blair didn’t have to; he knew that the panther and the wolf had arrived. The two big cats sized each other up, while the wolf ignored them and padded over to greet the tabby.

"It’s okay Sarah, that’s my wolf and Jim’s panther. You get used to them." Blair's eyes were sparkling again. "Oh, and remember to tell Hunter -- they shed."

"They do?" Sarah was still trying to process the concept of spirit animals waltzing through the living room.

"No, I'm just kidding, but if your Sentinel is as anal as mine...." Blair gave a soft whistle. "He must use a ruler to line that magazine up like that. Must keep him occupied for hours."

Blair thought privately that Hunter and Jim must share quite a few personality quirks. Blood will tell.

"You're not scared of him, Mr. Sandburg?" she asked shyly.

"No. Jim will growl and threaten and he needs control, but he’s never raised a hand to me." Blair careful omitted the time Jim had the head injury. Sarah needed reassurance.

"When he touches you..." she blushed, hesitating on the question

"Those are good touches, Sarah, not bad touches, not sexual touches. Sentinels are very tactile; they need physical connection with us. They need to engage each of their senses on us. Now, the first thing in the morning, what does Hunter do?"

"Er ... umm...well... he stares at me. Like he wants to -- I don't know."

"Sarah, he probably wants to touch you. It's a good thing. Let me explain: Each morning, Jim comes down from his bedroom and the first thing he does is come up to me. He looks me over, then scents me."

"He smells you."

"Yeah, it’s not as bad as it sounds. I mean, I don't know what Sentinels sense, but it sure made me paranoid about toothpaste and deodorant." Blair gave her a small grin, and then patted her arm. "After that, he listens to my heartbeat. His senses are set so high that he actually tastes my scent."

Sarah looked aghast. "Really?"

"I've often wondered what flavor I am -- chocolate's good, or butter pecan." Blair's gentle teasing was finally working. She was relaxing. He continued, "Then, and only then, does he reach out for me, pulling me close and running his hands over me."

Sarah started looking distressed again.

"It's not what you're thinking, Sarah. It's not meant to hurt, or arouse, or dominate. Think of it as a sensory scan. It's the way that over the centuries Sentinels have checked over their Guides made sure that they're okay. When he does that, let your barriers go -- all of them. He needs to know that you’re his." Blair paused. "I know it’s hard, but you're going to have to learn to trust Hunter. He’s your Sentinel, and you have to connect with him ."

Jim watched as Hunter paced round the kitchen, his eyes keeping watch on his Guide.

"Okay, big guy, you can let him in."

Blair moved away from Sarah, clockwise round the sofa and Hunter prowled in counter-clockwise. Blair caught his own Sentinel's arm and tugged him back to the kitchen, were Jim brought him up to speed on the reason there had been no bonding. Blair nodded. It explained the chemical residuals in Sarah’s mind when they had linked. No sense in worrying her about it. The bond would break through what little of the drug remained.

Blair and Jim moved back into the living room where Hunter was still prowling around Sarah, who had moved over to the easy chair.

"You need to bond now." This from the Sentinel Prime, an order to his clan member.

The IA Captain shook his head. "Not in front of you."

"But will you?" Blair asked.

Hunter stared at him, then at Jim. His jaw tightened. He didn’t like feeling dependent, and he also didn’t like people messing around in his private affairs.

Blair had done what he could. "We’ll be on our way."

Jim moved toward the door and Blair latched onto him, reveling in the contact.

"Ellison."

Jim looked over at Hunter, who was clenching his teeth, another Ellison habit Jim would have to tell him about sometime.

"Thanks for your help." It obviously cost the IA Captain a lot to say it, so Jim just nodded and ushered his Guide out the front door. Blair could feel Sarah’s eyes on him, pleading with him to stay. He didn’t look back. Time for nature to take its course.

* * * * *

 

Hunter paced, watching Sarah out of the corner of his eye. She sat in the recliner, curled up, unwilling to meet his gaze. Hunter’s pacing increased. His need was burning him, blinding him, and slowly the Sentinel emerged and took control of his actions.

He stood up and looked at the thick living room throw rug. He pulled it straight, but he still wasn’t satisfied. Pulling the cushions from the couch, he laid them out, creating a padded platform. Sarah peeked and wondered what he was doing. Then she saw that he had re-created the dimensions of the bonding platform in the GDP station. He was going to bond. Now. She swallowed convulsively. The Sentinel’s head jerked up as he sensed her rapid breathing and heart rate.

He came over and easily pulled her out of the chair. She tried to pull away, but the Sentinel simply picked her up and carried her over to the cushions. This time, however, he laid her on her back so she could see him. She wanted desperately to sit up, to get away, but she knew he’d just haul her back.

He sat down next to her and stared down at her. Reaching out, he lightly touched her hair and her face. It wasn’t an intrusive touch, and it wasn’t disciplinary. She cringed slightly, and he lightened the contact but did not move his hand. Gradually, she stilled. It was almost if he were trying to memorize her by touch.

He wasn’t angry now, so his touch wasn’t painful. All she had ever sensed from him was anger, and the protective instincts of the Sentinel when he shielded her. There had to be more than that -- there just had to be.

Hunter was, in her limited view, a very private man. He was angry and controlling. He didn’t like people and his vision of Guides was regimented. He wasn’t likable and he scared her to death. It was a depressing prospect -- but he needed her. And despite everything that had happened between them, the plain truth was that he had never actually hurt her -- at least, not intentionally. He had threatened, intimidated, bellowed and commanded -- but he had never actually struck her.

Does he hate me?

She had never truly understood the concept of loneliness until she had been given to Hunter. The only attention he had paid to her was to make sure she understood her place and followed his Guide rules. He shielded her because he had to -- a Guide couldn’t function without barriers. But unlike Jim Ellison, who seemed to care for his Guide, Hunter didn’t think of her as anything more than a necessary evil. Could she live like this, day after day, year after year, withering and dying inside of emotional isolation?

As an empath, Sarah was blessed -- or cursed -- with more than her fair share of compassion. And this man needed her -- how could she deny that? A Guide wasn’t important -- it was the Sentinel who mattered. Hadn’t that been beaten in her head enough by the school, by society, even the GLA -- who propagandized the same stereotype in reverse -- save the Guides from the evil overlord Sentinels?

Doesn’t matter what I want, or feel, or need...

She swallowed again. The bitter truth of it was inescapable. She was now bonded, and couldn’t escape her duty. The GDP had seen to that, and the Senior Sentinel Prime. Just another pawn on the chessboard.

And maybe, if she were a good little Guide, Hunter would let her see her family again. Maybe he’d stop treating her like a mongrel he was stuck with and didn’t want. And maybe, while she was wishing for the impossible, she’d one day get her life back, go to university, fall in love and have a family. Maybe if I help him, he might grow to like me. As reality swamped her, she turned her head to the side and let the tears fall. It wouldn’t happen. It would never happen.

Hunter could feel the sorrow shaking his Guide. He turned her face back to him, wiping away the tears with a much gentler touch than she had ever felt from him. He wasn’t good with emotions -- never had been. He had never had children -- a deep distant regret -- and he viewed women as a backstabbing species at best. But this one wasn’t his ex-wife. She was an innocent bystander who had gotten caught in the crossfire.

Will you? It was a question, a confirmation. Hunter was asking permission instead of just taking.

Sarah, isolated and adrift, turned instinctively toward him. When you have nothing, you’ll take whatever comfort you can. Her price tag for compassion.

"What do I need to do?" she whispered. She was still scared -- but resigned. He would get what he wanted in the end. And she -- she would take what crumbs she could.

Hunter turned her over on the stomach, her head turned to face him, just as he did the first time. She squeezed her eyes shut and waited for the heavy weight of him to crush her down and cut off her breath.

Hunter didn’t pin her, and after a few minutes she opened her eyes in confusion. The Sentinel was lying on his side facing her, watching her. His senses wrapped around her, memorizing her face, her scent, her heartbeat. Reaching out, she touched his arm, then gasped at the intensity of his emotions.

Sarah. The sound was almost a growl, rumbling in his chest but not expressed as spoken word. He ran his hand over her head and back, gentling her until her heart rate was back to normal. There was nothing threatening in his touch, nothing offensive. It just...was.

When she had calmed, he moved toward her, but this time stayed on his side, laying his head on her back, over her heart. His right arm went across her waist, holding her against him. He felt warm, solid but not oppressive. He relaxed as he tuned into his Guide, and his mind opened to her. Remembering what Blair had shown her, she tiptoed into the mind that still seemed so empty.

His emotions were like raging winter storms -- ice, sleet, freezing rain. Pain. Betrayal. Loss. Isolation. Bleak. Alone, always alone.

She almost panicked, but then felt him in her head as well. The emotions whirled around her, tearing at her with their sharp silver teeth. Unsure what to do, she tried her best to balance the gale force of his emotions. The spirit animal stood in the center of the storm -- eyes burning blue, not yellow. Lost.

Tyger, Tyger, burning bright....

Hunter shuddered as she allowed him to release the pain. His senses centered, balanced, stabilized.

Sarah operated on intuition as she fought to keep the emotions from overloading her mind. It was frightening, exhilarating, exhausting. Her head began to throb with what she vaguely recognized as a migraine. The Sentinel, however, seemed to relax profoundly.

As he calmed, her headache faded back into a dull ache, and she too relaxed. Hunter curled around her like a giant cat. She felt safe again. Protected. Secure.

Leopards, tygers play, round her as she lay....

My Guide. Mine.

Yours.

* * * * *

 

Sarah had managed to get Hunter settled on the sofa. He had muttered something about not putting feet on it -- Rule 12 -- and she had surprised herself by insisting that he put his feet up to make him more comfortable. Then she moved the cushions so that he was resting propped up so that he wouldn't cough so much. He was too sick to argue. The bonding had left him peaceful, but drained. She disappeared into the kitchen and poured glass of orange juice. He needed fluids and vitamin C.

Timidly, she sat on the edge of the sofa and handed him the glass. "Please drink this, Sentinel." Without consciously realizing it, she rested her hand on his arm -- feeling the connection between them and encouraging him through touch.

He drained the glass and then settled back on the sofa as Sarah pulled the afghan over him. She noticed the way he was squinting against the light and moved to pull the curtains, sending the room into peaceful darkness. She settled herself on the floor by the side of the sofa, watching him. His eyes were closed, and she thought he might be asleep. She jumped when he reached for her and lightly touched her hair.

She had to force herself not to pull away from him. He was still scary, but in the bond she had felt something which she could not put into words. It was a connection, a merging that overwhelmed her. He was just overwhelming in general -- even for a Sentinel. If she had to be bonded, why couldn't it have been somebody younger, more flexible? Somebody like Mr. Sandburg, her inner voice said. Somebody not quite so...so...everything.

Hunter just laid there, processing. At first, he had watched as she moved round the room trying to make things better for him, and for a moment her fussing irritated him. He sighed and let it go. He was still feeling under the weather, and so he just let it ride. His ex-wife had never fussed over him with he was ill; only Gary, his guide, had cared enough to look after him. Maybe it was purely a Guide thing, but even so it was...nice.

How long they stayed like that he had no idea, but a steady pressure against his bladder told him he was going to have to move. The moment his legs came off the bed, the nausea nearly swamped him.

"Please lay back."

"Bathroom."

"Oh," She blushed, then moved back when he waved her away. He made his way unsteadily to the downstairs bathroom with Sarah hovering anxiously in the background. She heard the toilet flush, then watched as he carefully made his way back to couch and lay down with a groan. He soon fell back to sleep.

She glanced at the telephone. All she had to do was lift the telephone and she could call Pop and Mandy they would come and get her. The thought had haunted her for the last three days, but something was different now. She was responsible for her Sentinel's well being; she could not just leave him, just like she couldn't have run away this morning. Mr. Sandburg was right: it was a two way street.

In the kitchen, Sarah looked around until she found some lemons. They were sad little wrinkled fruits that had clearly seen better days, but they would serve her purpose. Grabbing a jar of honey, she began boiling water for tea. She had to get him better. If he was taken to the hospital, she would be put in a hostel -- or worse.

It was late evening when Hunter finally stirred. He was in his own bed, and only had a vague memory of pulling himself up the stairs while his Guide tried her best to support him. Since he was about a foot taller and a hundred pounds heavier, it wasn't much help. Had she fallen? Hurt herself? He was about to get up to check on her when he realized that her heart beat was too close and too loud.

He looked over the side of the bed. Sarah was on the floor curled up on her comforter, sound asleep. He calmed. His Guide was safe. He lowered his hand and petted her head, and like her spirit guide, she moved into his touch. She made a murmuring noise, then relaxed back into sleep.

Hunter eased himself onto on his side, telling himself that it was just something to help him stop coughing, but the little voice inside his head scoffed at that. He wanted, no, he *needed* to be near his Guide.

Sarah woke up slowly, then realized he still had his hand resting on her shoulder. He was sleeping quietly, and the coughing had subsided. She glanced at the clock and sat up. She carefully placed his hand back on the bed, tucking it under the covers. When he didn't wake, she hesitantly reached out and laid a hand on his forehead. He was no longer burning up -- the fever must have dropped. Her Sentinel was on the mend. She eased out of his room. With a bit of luck, he wouldn't even know that she had been there.

When the door closed behind her, Hunter's eyes opened. His senses wrapped around her, following her as she moved down to the kitchen, hearing the water running as she filled and put a kettle on. He had a Guide in his life again -- and damned if he could figure out how he felt about that.

* * * * *

Mandy Freeman picked up the bit of paper that had been left in her textbook. The railway rolls from library stack three.

She took the steps down to the basement and walked along the rows and rows of books and found stack three.

"Good to see you came alone."

"Leo." She shook her head. "You’re the contact. Do you belong to the GLA?"

"No, they’re too high profile. I can do more for rogue Guides like this than by posturing at the barriers. Now, who do you want to get out?"

"My sister. She came on line; she’s been bonded to a Sentinel. We want to get her out."

"Do you have picture of her? How old?"

"Eighteen. Does it matter?"

"No. It just gives her more years of freedom."

Leo looked at the picture and his mouth watered; he had some clients that would pay big bucks for a young virgin empath. His bank balance had been hit since Wilson’s death and the seizing of some of the master tape that the idiot had been using. With her looks and body -- at least $30,000 for the first owner that would take her. Her price would go up and down depending on how well she trained.

"Can you help her get away?"

"Sure, I can help. I just need to know where she is."

* * * * *

The Loft

 

Blair leaned on the kitchen counter and contemplated the last few hours. He smiled ruefully as he realized that he had become a father confessor to Sarah. Damn, I must be getting old. He sighed and stretched, then caught Jim out of the corner of his eye.

Jim had been twitchy since going into Hunter’s house, and now he was downright irritable. His Sentinel was jealous. He didn’t want Blair spending time with Sarah, clan or not, and he certainly didn’t like the fact that Blair had been in another Sentinel’s territory. Right now, Jim was on the couch reading the paper, and bristling.

Blair got up and walked over to the taller man. He laid a hand on Jim’s shoulder, then took the newspaper out of his hands.

"Sentinel, claim your Guide." Four words which would appease any Sentinel especially an anal retentive, hair challenged, Senior Sentinel Prime. Blair hid his smile when Jim pulled him close. Sentinels -- gotta love ‘em.

"Claimed and Marked Guide." The Sentinel pulled his Guide down, and settled him near him -- all others forgotten.

* * * * *

Sarah watched her Sentinel as he ate his lunch. He was reading more file folders -- keeping up to date on the cases he was working on. Since they were due to go back tomorrow, Hunter was refreshing his memory.

Since the second bonding, Hunter seemed less angry and he wasn’t actively avoiding her. She still had her Guide rules, but he wasn’t blowing up at her every time they crossed paths. She was allowed to speak, and he didn’t make her kneel when he entered the room. Of course, that was just at home. She knew in public a whole different set of rules would apply. They were small steps, but she took fragile hope in them. He let her keep her personal things -- a lot of Sentinels confiscated everything from their Guide’s former life. Some even cut their Guides off completely from their families. She prayed Hunter wouldn’t do that.

He had fixed lunch and set the bowl of soup in front of her. "Eat," Hunter said softly, allowing himself the luxury of stroking her hair, the Sentinel caring for the Guide.

She glanced up just to make sure, then took hold of the spoon and began to eat the soup. The lump in her throat made it difficult to swallow. She wanted to ask questions about tomorrow. What he did -- day to day, what he expected from her specifically, when she could see her family again, but was afraid to. She turned her attention back to the soup -- vegetable beef -- and blinked back the familiar stinging in her eyes.

His file review done, Hunter got up, Sarah’s signal to pick up the plates and clear the table. She didn’t mind the chores -- she’d done cooking, cleaning and washing for the father for years. They gave her something to focus on.

"It’s a nice day outside. We’ll go in the backyard and review some things you need to know for working with the police."

What? Karate? Target shooting? Her apprehension must have shown, because Hunter almost smiled. "Nothing dangerous. Just a few things for dealing with field situations."

It was the first time she had been outside since Hunter had brought her to his house. It was a warm spring day -- unusual for Cascade -- and the yard was neatly trimmed. Stray wild flowers grew against the back fence, and the old shade trees would have been perfect for a swing. There was even room for a garden. Perhaps Hunter might let...no. Stupid idea. You have no life now, except what he allows you.

Hunter had watched her -- the simple pleasure of being outside and delight in the flowers that suddenly faded as she looked back down at her feet.

Hunter stood there, wanting to say something, wanting to make it different, but he didn’t know how. He couldn’t make it right for either of them.

He cleared his throat, and then proceeded to explain some basic police procedures: what to do if he needed to use his weapon, some basic first aid, how to wear the flak vest (which was regrettably three sizes too big -- and Hunter made a mental note to get one custom made to fit his Guide) and so on. It surprised her that Hunter was actually a good teacher -- patient and unrushed.

Hunter was demonstrating a few basic self-defense moves and idly speculating on whether she should take a class at the precinct, when she tripped and went sprawling.

Luckily, the grass was soft, but she knocked the breath out of herself when she fell. Hunter went into Blessed Protector overdrive immediately. Leaning over her, he ran frantic hands over, checking for broken bones. Sarah struggled to sit up, trying to reassure her Sentinel that she was fine, but he was too focused on checking her for injuries. He pushed her back down when she tried to move, never halting his check. If she hadn’t have been so winded, she might have even thought it was funny. This was the most out of control she had ever seen him.

"Stop," she gasped, trying to make him see she was not mortally wounded. He was too focused on her to notice the next-door neighbors watching them with shocked expressions.They had just stepped out their patio door to see the reclusive man who came and went at odd hours and kept strictly to himself pawing a young girl, who was obviously fighting him.

Mr. Randall gestured frantically for his wife to go inside. Mrs. Randall hurried to the telephone. She did not know what was going on, but that young girl was scared and the police would know what to do.

"Hey!" Mr. Randall yelled as the man hauled the young girl up, pinning her against his body. The girl was turning her head futilely, trying to talk but since the man had her face pressed against his chest, all that came out were garbled mumbles.

Hunter looked up, his nostrils flaring. Blessed Protector sensed danger to his Guide. He moved back toward the house.

"Let her go!" Randall yelled again. First the man was pawing her, now he was trying to drag her off.

"Stay back," Hunter snarled, and scooted Sarah back in the house.

Randall made a move as if to come over the fence, when the warning rumble in the man’s throat stopped him. My God, he’s crazy. He’s going to kill her.

Running back into his own house, he ran into his wife. "Maria, did you call the police?"

"They said they’d be here shortly." Maria wrung her hands and watched out the front window anxiously until the police car pulled up.

Randall walked out and caught the officers. "He’s got a young girl in there. He had her pinned to the ground and was pawing her and she was screaming 'stop'. Please, you have to do something!"

"Don’t worry, sir; we’ll handle it," the older police officer soothed and then he and his partner walked up to the house, their expressions grim.

Jones knocked sharply, "Police! Open up!"

There was no answer. Nodding at his partner, he tried the door -- it was unlocked. Opening it carefully, the two officers burst into the house. As soon as they turned the corner, they saw a large man holding onto a young girl.

"Police! Freeze!" The officers had their weapons drawn and raised.

The man looked up, and a low, feral snarl reverberated around the room. Later, the uniforms would swear they saw the shadow of a tiger cross through the room. He moved the girl behind him, creating a barrier.

Sentinel, Jones thought sickly. They had just burst into a Sentinel’s home, one that was already in BP mode and now ready to kill.

"Put your gun down," Jones urged his partner as he put away his own weapon. Holding up his hands, he backed away. His partner was already almost to the front door.

"Sentinel, my apologies. The neighbors thought that..." He didn’t even get a chance to finish the sentence before Hunter pounced. Meeks, Jones’ partner, just froze. He had never seen a Sentinel out of control.

"Sentinel, no!" Sarah was there, hanging onto his shoulder, trying to keep Hunter from choking the man he held up against the wall.

"No," she repeated. "He’s no danger to us. No threat." She tried frantically to remember what she had learned about Sentinel aggression, but nothing came to mind.

Hunter ignored her. The police officer was gasping for air.

"Sentinel!" This time her fear came through.

Danger. Hunter released the man, who slid down the wall, and gathered his Guide to him.

Sarah was scared to death. She truly thought Hunter would kill the police officer, and now he had grabbed her, but he wasn’t hurting her. She was locked into his embrace as he nuzzled her neck, breathing in her scent. Slowly, he calmed, the man returning.

Hunter looked up at the hapless police officer and his partner, who had finally unfrozen. "Are you out of your mind? What in the hell do you think you’re doing?"

"My apologies again, Sentinel. The neighbors made a mistake. We truly regret the error."

Hunter settled Sarah on the couch, then walked over to Jones, who couldn’t help cringing back.

"Name and station," Hunter barked, and Jones felt the horrible sinking sensation in his gut. The Sentinel was a police officer. How many times could he screw up today?

"Jones. And Meeks. From the 43rd."

The unholy smile the Sentinel now wore did not bode well. "Captain Hunter, Internal Affairs."

Jesus, God. I’m screwed. I am so screwed. Jones was at a complete loss for words. Nothing he could say would correct the wrong. He was lucky the man hadn’t killed him.

"I’ll be having a little chat with Captain Ross tomorrow," Hunter said gently, "and I’m sure I’ll be in touch."

I’m dead.

The despair on the man’s face gave Hunter a thrill of predatory satisfaction. "Shut the door on your way out, gentlemen," Hunter said mildly and the two officers beat a hasty retreat.

"Well?’ Randall demanded as soon as they stepped outside. "Where’s the girl?"

Jones was still shaking from the encounter. "Mr. Randall, this man is a police officer."

"That degenerate was groping her!"

"He’s also a Sentinel. What you just did is interfere with his Guide. Believe me when I tell you that you never want to mess with a Guide."

"A Sentinel?" Randall paled. He was living next door to a Sentinel. One who was now angry with him? He wondered if praying might help as he scurried back into his house.

Meeks got into the patrol car and started the engine. Jones just sat there with his head back, eyes closed.

"We are so royally screwed," he sighed, and directed Meeks to take them back to the station.

 

* * * * *

 

Exhausted from the day and the run in with the police, Sarah had gone to bed early while Hunter had settled in to watch a Jags game.

Hunter yawned and checked his territory before going upstairs. He paused and then pushed her door open and looked in on her. She was sleeping peacefully now, but he had heard her quiet crying until she finally fell asleep.

Let's face it, Hunter. You're not exactly a prize catch for anybody

. Uncomfortable memories of some of the accusations his ex had thrown at him came back. Controlling. Insensitive. Manipulative. He deliberately pushed the thoughts back into his murky subconscious and went to bed.

Hunter was sleeping soundly, but the Sentinel part of his brain was on alert, his senses weaving a sensory net around his Guide and his territory. Then through the mists of sleep, he registered her increased heart beat, her muttered word of distress, and fear, then a cry of alarm.

Sarah came awake with a start, gasping for air, then she jolted back against the wall as Hunter, gun in hand, crashed through the door, ready to destroy the threat to his Guide.

"Sorry. I'm sorry, Sentinel." Please don’t hurt me. She watched as Hunter lowered his gun, and then put it on the chest of drawers as the man overtook the Sentinel.

He could see the very real fear on her face. "A nightmare. Are you telling me all that was a nightmare?"

Sarah nodded miserably as the man ran a hand through his hair and tried to keep his temper.

Hunter had a choice: he could just walk back to his own room and forget her, or stay and comfort her. Since the bond, he was finding it harder to distance himself from her. He didn't want to have to listen to her cry herself back to sleep for the second time tonight. Before he realized what he was doing, he sat down on the bed, careful not to touch her. He leaned back against the headboard. He wasn’t sure what to do to make her feel better.

Sarah almost timidly closed the distance between them, and reached a hand out and squeezed his wrist. Mr. Sandburg was right. Her Sentinel had come to her aid. She had cried out and he was there.

She was pulled close to him as he awkwardly petted her, then he felt the brush of her mind against his. She shouldn’t have linked without his permission, and he would tell her that. Tomorrow. Not right now. He settled into the light bond.

When her mind had touched his, he had felt her emotions broadcast clearly. Fear and distress. Her voice had a slight tremor. "Sorry, Sentinel."

Suddenly it became important to him to hear her say his name. "Hunter. My name is Hunter."

Her voice faulted "H -- Hunter. I'm sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you." She knew how the slightest sound could be painful to a Sentinel. She colored under his gaze. His name made him a person, not just her sentinel.

Not Vincent? She was pondering the fact that he used his last name. He heard the thought clearly.

"Vincent sounds like a Van Gogh. It's just Hunter. It's what I do -- who I am."

A tiger in search of prey. Oh, yes, it fit all too well.

Then he looked down on the floor where a stray piece of paper fluttered. Hunter leaned down and then snatched up a gaudy leaflet.

"You read this." It was a GLA pamphlet with a photo of a Guide, leashed and beaten.

Sarah dropped her gaze to the comforter.

Hunter read the caption, his face darkening:

TRAPPED LIKE AN ANIMAL.

TREATED LIKE A SLAVE.

USED LIKE A WHORE.

THIS COULD BE YOUR CHILD.

 

Sarah moved back from him as she sensed the anger. She kept her eyes down. The GLA was considered a dangerous radical by the GDP. Now he really would punish her.

Hunter thought back to the first night, when he had told her that he was going to leash her if she ran, and place her in the corrections facility. In all honesty, what was she supposed to think?

"Guide, look at me," he commanded, waiting until her eyes rose to meet his. She was trembling again.

"Guides need to be properly disciplined," Hunter said matter-of-factly. "In order for a Sentinel to do his or her job, a Guide must be trained to obey their Sentinel without question, especially in law enforcement. It's the only way a Sentinel can keep both of them safe."

Blair would have winced at this archaic view. Sarah just trembled harder.

Sensing her distress, Hunter softened his voice. "As long as you do as you're told, there will be no need to punish you."

Sarah gave a choked sob and tried to pull from his grip.

Hunter sighed inwardly. He was making a complete hash of it. All he'd done is scare his Guide even more. "There's discipline, and then there's abuse. I'm not going to beat you or rape you, Sarah."

Sarah looked up. Through the connection, she felt the truth of that. He meant it. Then she stared down at the photos again. The Guide was contorted in a horrible wrap that twisted his body at painful angles.

Several minutes passed. "I can't promise I would never leash you, Sarah." his voice held regret, but resolve.

She swallowed painfully. Some concession, but not all. Hunter obviously viewed the leash as a normal mode of discipline.

She felt that sick, jittery feeling inside. I'm trying to do what he wants. But I'll mess up one day, and then he's going to tie me up like a dog. What if her family saw her like that? What if...?

Hunter pulled her back to him, rubbing his hand over the tense muscles of her back. "Don't borrow trouble, Sarah. I don't leash Guides on a whim."

It took awhile until that settled in her muddled brain. He was trying to reassure her that he wasn't planning on leashing her. Gradually, her heart slowed down and she relaxed against him. She was asleep before he eased himself away from her and left her room.

Hunter stared at his own ceiling as he recalled the stricken look she gave him when he mentioned the leash. He was supposed to take care of his Guide, not hurt her. For the first time, he wondered whether the Guide rules he had been observing were for the best. On that uneasy thought, he finally went to sleep.

* * * * *

Internal Affairs Department

Cascade PD

The officers in the room all looked up as their boss entered. The atmosphere in the place had been almost pleasant during the enforced Sentinel leave that their Captain had taken. But now the Dark Side of the Force was back. They hurriedly found something to do to avoid making eye contact with him.

Hunter was in usual attire, a dark jacket and tie, but this time he had an extra accessory: his Guide. Standing behind him and clutching at his jacket was a young girl, maybe five-foot-four and slight of build. Her short, blonde hair waved back from an anxious young face. She wore a pair of dress slacks and a blazer, but still looked far too young.

"Robbed the cradle on that one," one of the older men muttered under his breath, only to find himself almost vivisected by the ice blue stare his boss gave him. Damn Sentinel hearing!

A few of the younger officers had a speculative gleam in their eyes. Rumor had it that Hunter had picked this one himself, and that she’d been bonded against her will. They wondered what else the girl had to do besides Guide.

Hunter glared around the room until the men dropped their gaze, then moved toward his office. Sarah trembled slightly. There was animosity in the room, and some of it was aimed directly at her. Hunter pulled Sarah close to his side, protecting her.

Seated at the desk outside his office was Samantha, his secretary. She was due for retirement in the next twelve months and had taken the bull by the horns the moment he had arrived. And had managed to establish a working relationship with him, much to everyone else’s surprise.

"Welcome back, Captain. Your mail in on your desk, and this must be your Guide." There was nothing but friendliness when she looked at Sarah.

Hunter’s look was frosty, but Samantha was ‘safe’, so he let it go. "Samantha Trapp, my Guide, Sarah."

"Hi Sarah, it’s nice to meet you."

Sarah just nodded. Before they had come in, her Sentinel had spent about an hour reviewing the rules for the office. She did not speak to another person unless he told her she could. She was his Guide, therefore she would be known only by her first name. She would not need to kneel for him, unless she was being punished or ordered to pay respect. In general, she would use the newly-introduced standing working position.

Hunter placed a hand in the small of her back and guided her gently into his office. He was pleased to see that a second desk had been added, placed at an angle to his, Sarah would be partly hidden by him. Any one wanting to talk to her would have to go through him. In the corner of the large office was a folding screen, and discreetly placed behind it against the wall was a bonding platform. He nodded. Samantha had thought of everything.

Sarah took her seat and touched her jacket. He had made it clear that she had to look professional. He would not lose face because of her youth and inexperience. She bit her lip, wondering if she would be able to manage with so many unknowns.

Hunter had received her school and medical records and was pleased to see that she was computer savvy. That certainly would help in his job. He was booting up the laptop on her desk and explaining about the database when he suddenly froze.

"Sentinel?" No response. "Captain Hunter?"

Looking through his window, his eyes fixed on two of the IA officers near the coffee machine. Sarah was scared to hear a low deep rumbling coming from him. He was listening to whatever they were saying, and he wasn’t happy.

Remembering Mr. Sandburg’s words, she placed her hand on Hunter’s arm, her fingers wrapped lightly round his wrist, allowing him to break the contact if he wanted to. But he didn’t and she felt the muscles gradually ease.

"Stay here," he ordered, and strode out of his office toward the two hapless men.

Snow, the taller of the two officers, had been speaking of Sarah in the most graphic of terms, wondering how well she did in bed. Turner had countered that she obviously spent a lot of time on her knees and the conversation had gone downhill from there. Snow smirked, "You know, I never thought that Captain Hunter was the type to get into bondage. Imagine her: naked on the mat with just a leash -- that’s a picture that would sell."

Snow trailed off as he heard a low growling. He turned around to see the shadow of a large cat pass across the wall. What the...? Snow twisted to try and see the animal casting it and failed. He suppressed a shudder; it was as if someone had walked over his grave.

"What the hell?" Turner spluttered.

"Gentlemen," Hunter said politely, as they spun to face him.

Their captain was not moving, just watching them with his head titled slightly to the side, Sentinel senses on full alert. He registered their frantically pounding hearts and his lip curled.

Snow paled. Oh, God, he heard us. He heard us talking.

The two men stood frozen as Hunter moved closer. A low feral growl was rumbling from the large man's chest. He wasn't human anymore.

The tiger stood at watch, waiting for the kill.

 

End Mirror True