Continued from Rainier University Parts 1 to 5
The morning was not going well for Jim Ellison and he didn't care who knew it. A call from the garage said the truck would not be repaired for several days. His insurance company was threatening to raise his premiums yet again and would only pay for a cheap rental car while the truck was fixed. The other members of Major Crimes kept their distance from the seething sentinel. Except for the youngest and most unofficial member of them all. Not for the first time did Rafe and H. marvel at the way the guide seemed to be oblivious of the sentinel's anger. It was as if he was immune to it... maybe he was. Everyone in the bullpen breathed a sigh of relief when Ellison slammed down the phone and snarled, "Let's go pick out a lemon, Chief. If we're lucky it will have all four tires and a brake that works!" Sandburg laughed at his aggrieved tone and everyone waited for the explosion. Ellison confounded them all by landing a gentle swat to the back of a curly head and chuckling along with the kid. The two men exited Major Crime bantering back and forth as if the dour detective had never heard of bad days.
Jim's playful mood lasted through the first three vehicles they looked at. He viewed the fourth vehicle with disgust and kicked the tires. This was their last option and Ellison knew it.
Blair was bouncing from one foot to the other. "Well, at least the colors tasteful."
"Sandburg, do you have a death wish? If you don't shut up..."
"Hey, it could have been worse. Like, you could have had to take the pink Nissan he showed us."
"I am going to kill him and no court would convict me."
The garage mechanic was about to say something and then took a closer look at the detective muttering under his breath and the young hippie who was ignoring him. He did a U-turn; life was just too short to get involved in this.
The car pulled to halt at the parking lot closest to Hargrove Hall with a rattle and what sounded like a terminal clunk. "There's no need to take me to the door, Jim, I can find my own way. You called Harris and reported me in so that won't be a problem. You can head back to work now."
Blair saw Ellison's jaw tighten and practically heard his teeth grind. His sentinel was not going to be talked out of this course of action; he was going to be walked to the door like it or not.
A young woman Jim remembered as being present when Blair had been harassed by the GDP in his office hurried up as soon as they entered the building. "Blair, I'm so sorry. I just heard about your office."
"Carol? What about my office?" Sandburg was immediately tense.
"It was broken into last night."
Blair took off at a run, his sentinel right behind him. The door to the office opened with a push and his jaw dropped. The small office had graffiti sprayed all over the walls. SLAVES OBEY THEIR MASTERS. GUIDE WHORE. RAINIER IS NOT FOR PERVERTS.
Jim's hand dropped onto Blair's shoulders, ready to support his guide if the kid folded under this latest attack. His hand was shrugged off and he was surprised to hear a stream of obscenity from his guide in four dead languages, three living ones, and not a repeat in any of them. The kid wasn't scared; he was royally pissed, and Jim was glad to see, or was that hear, it.
"This...crap... Jim, is going to end. Now. It has to be someone close to me who can see what I am doing, when I won't be here...Oh gods, what if its one of ... one of my students?" For the first time, his voice was edged with distress. He clamped down on it, knelt and began to pull his papers together. Jim started to straighten the furniture, all senses alert for some indication as to who had trashed his guide's office. It soon became clear that only the papers belonging to his guide had been vandalised, nothing else was harmed. Jim reached out with his senses and started coughing. Blair was at his side instantly, "Jim, man, what is it?"
"There's ~cough~ some sort of chemical ~cough~ in here. Screwing up my senses."
"Turn them down, Jim. Come on, man. Listen to your guide..." Blair used the same tone Ellison always used on the occasions when he urged his guide to "listen to your sentinel."
"Chief, we need to figure out ~cough~ who did this..."
Blair said firmly, "Not at risk of your senses. Besides, Jim, we already know one thing about the perps." He hid his own smile as Ellison grinned at his use of cop slang.
"What's that, Chief?" Ellison knew, he just wondered if the kid had figured it out as well.
"They know how to derail a sentinel without risking anyone else's health."
Ellison swatted his guide's head gently. "I'll make a detective out of you yet, kid."
There was a knock on the door and two Campus security guards came in. The smaller one looked at his notebook. "Guide Sandburg?" his tone was one of disgust.
"Yes." Blair stayed calm.
"A Carol Reeves called in an incident of vandalism in this office. Was any University property damaged?"
"No. It looks like the damage is confined to my work. I..." Before he could finish, the smaller guard interrupted.
"We'll write it up, but if nothing's been damaged its not really worth the...."
Sandburg felt heat mount into his face as his work was dismissed as "nothing." He opened his mouth to protest but Ellison got there first.
"Get out." Two words only but said with all the force of a dark sentinel.
The campus guards spun around in shocked dismay. They had been so focused on the guide that they had missed the sentinel standing next to an artifact rack.
"And you are?" The larger guard took over the questioning.
"Detective James Ellison, Cascade PD. I will make sure that Nancy Hong knows all about your sterling work on campus and the fair way you treat all faculty and students." His tone said he would be reporting the exact opposite.
"Ellison? You're his ...." "Sentinel," Jim confirmed, "and I don't take kindly to people jerking my guide around. Either you find who did this or I will."
"You have no right...." The larger guard's already red face got even redder as he tried to bluster his way past the detective's threat.
"This badge gives me the right to enforce the law in the entire city of Cascade. Unless Rainier has recently become a principality, it's in my jurisdiction. Do your job and we'll get along fine. Don't make me come looking for you. Oh, and according to Doctor Woodward, the correct title for my guide on campus is Mister. I suggest you use it."
The Campus guards backed down as they suddenly realised this was more than just a cop talking; this was a sentinel.
"Okay, Gui... Mister Sandburg, what can you tell me about the break in?"
Jim settled back, listening carefully to the byplay. After a rocky start, they were doing it by the book. He still planned to have a chat with Nancy. She owed him and he would collect if it would keep his guide safe from harassment. At least these two clowns would behave in the future. Ellison nodded as they respectfully took their leave of his guide. Jim studied the younger man, wondering what was going on in the brilliantly quirky mind under the wild curls. He leaned toward his guide as Blair turned to look at him, sadness in the dark blue eyes as he spoke.
"It's the thought that they're watching me, Jim, waiting for me to fail, wanting the GDP to drag me out of here leashed like some sort of animal." Blair finally put into words what he was thinking. "Some of them look at me as if I were some sort of freak. They're scared to even talk to me, afraid that I'm going to read them." He looked straight into Jim's eyes, "I couldn't, wouldn't deliberately do that. But sometimes...half the time, I have a hard time just holding their emotions at bay."
Jim reached out a hand and was concerned when Blair pulled back.
"Maybe if I didn't need to connect so much maybe they would... Before, no one even knew that I was an empath, I hid it so well. I did hide it, Jim, only a very few people even suspected. I still don't know how Alex found..." He looked over and saw confusion on his sentinel's face. Suddenly, it was as if a cold bucket of water was dashed over him as he realized just how selfish he was being when he pulled away from his sentinel. It was no longer just him; it was them. The sentinel needed the reassurance of touch just as he needed the shielding. In denying what he was, he was denying what Jim was as well. He could not do that.
He stepped over to his sentinel and rested his hand on a muscular arm. "Sorry, Jim. I didn't mean... I mean, I'm just upset, man."
"Chief, this has to be just an ignorant few. You haven't been having any other trouble." Something shifted in his guide's eyes before they looked away. "Have you?" When he got no answer, Ellison pushed again. "Have any of your students harassed or threatened you, Chief?" Jim tried to keep his voice level.
"Not really, Jim. A few comments now and then, that's all. Its not like I haven't heard them before, and they're not exactly unique to here either."
"Meaning what, Chief?"
Oops, by the look in Ellison's eyes he had slipped up there. Blair shrugged, trying to make light of the issue. "Hey, man, it's public knowledge that I'm a guide and not everyone likes the idea of a guide at University."
Jim noticed the slight flush to his guide's face. "Blair, have you..."
The guide tried to walk away but a strong hand caught him and pulled him back. A warm, compassionate voice said gently, "Talk to me, Blair. You need to say it and I need to hear it." Wow, "Blair" twice in a row. He must be worried. It made him feel good that his sentinel cared enough to worry.
"Okay, Jim. There's a few students, undergrads, that don't like the fact I'm a guide. I hear them, they make sure I do. Stuff like *the only good guide is on his knees.* That sort of thing. A bit of *accidental* pushing and shoving, nothing much." Blair met Jim's worried eyes. "I'm here to stay for good, Jim, until I get those three letters after my name. They'll just have to learn to live with me." There was power in that last sentence spoken with a touch of the dark guide's menacing growl.
Jim was putting books back on the shelf behind the desk. His hand lightly brushed over Sandburg's prized copy of "The Sentinel" by Richard Burton, enjoying the smooth tactile feel of the old leather. He smiled as he heard Blair's voice from memory explaining "the explorer not the actor." Behind him Blair was muttering over a pile of blue books, debating whether it was worth it to try to reconstruct them or just go ahead and give another quiz.
Blair turned to the new voice and grinned broadly. He walked over and was pulled into a hug by the newcomer. "Hey, Leo. Man, it's good to see you. Thanks for the help back there, it really worked."
"Any time kid." Kessler carefully kept his emotions keyed into friendship and a certain sense of protection. Sandburg was sharp and didn't need to be picking up any negative emotions from him. The kid was already under enough pressure as it was. He released his hold on the smaller man as he realized that someone was looming over him. He turned slowly.
"Senior Sentinel Prime James Ellison, this is Leo Kessler, an old University friend of mine. Leo, my sentinel, Jim Ellison." Kessler and Ellison both heard the pride in Blair's voice when he referred to "my sentinel."
Jim looked Leo up and down slowly, his senses wrapping around the man. Kessler was in his late 20s and looked like he spent a lot of time in the weight room. He was almost as tall as Jim, with artfully tousled hair and a cynical air that Jim thought made him an unlikely friend for his exuberant guide.
"Huh, So he's a friend of yours, Chief?" Ellison's voice was neutral.
Blair had seen Ellison more friendly. Jim's reaction to Leo was so cool, he couldn't understand what was wrong with his sentinel. "Uh, yeah, Jim. I knew him when I was working on my MA."
Jim hadn't liked the way Kessler's heartbeat had sped up the moment he touched Blair. His instincts screamed that Leo Kessler would endanger his guide and that must not happen.
Leo smiled. "I best be going. See you later, Blair."
"Jim, what's the matter?" Blair didn't expect Jim to like all his friends but Jim's reaction went beyond mere dislike.
"Keep away from him, Chief."
"Just do it." That was the command roar of a Dark Sentinel.
"What's wrong, Jim?" Something was, Blair could read the sense of danger pouring off his sentinel.
Ellison took a deep breath. He was always telling Sandburg that he was an equal. One did not order an equal to stay away from friends without an explanation. Only Jim didn't have one.
"Chief, Blair, how long have you known Kessler?"
Blair shrugged. "Like I said, I knew him when I was working on my MA."
"You good friends?"
"We've had a beer or two. Leo...ah... helped me out before ... Alex..."
Jim heard his guide's heart rate speed up as it always did at mention of Barnes. "You mean he helped you hide from the GDP?"
"Sheesh, Jim. I didn't say that!"
"Did you ever read him, Blair?" Ellison was pushing and he didn't know why.
"No, way, Jim. I was keeping everything pretty well locked down all the time. You know, so that no one would get any ideas. Besides that kind of thing made Leo uncomfortable so I was always careful around him."
"What did you get from him this time?" Ellison didn't like the frown the kid turned on him as he continued the questioning, but Sandburg answered.
"He was happy to see me. Glad that I was okay. I'll bet he has a bet on with somebody about whether or not I get my doctorate though." Sandburg chuckled as he said that. A raised eyebrow from his sentinel prompted him to go on, "Leo was always making bets with somebody about something, or with anybody about anything. When I hugged him I got the sense that I'm tied up with profit.... Pretty flattering, in a way, because I know Leo wouldn't bet against me and he wouldn't bet for me if he didn't think he could win. Hey, Jim, I'll take my support wherever I can find it."
"I'm sure, Sandburg. But, just stay away from him, okay?" Ellison couldn't explain why he didn't want his guide anywhere near Kessler. He just didn't. When Jim was like this, Blair knew it was no good arguing. He'd just have to ask Jim about it later when things had quieted down some.
"I'll go and see if the janitor's got any cleaning liquid, okay?" Blair dodged the question of whether he would see Leo Kessler again.
"Okay." Jim's tone was neutral, not a good sign.
Jim Ellison took the steps to the loft at an easy jog, as usual the elevator was out of order. His head tilted to one side as he inhaled the aroma of his guide's dinner preparations. The kid was a surprisingly good cook although his idea of healthy was Jim's idea of uneatable. Fungus, in his estimation, should remain in the woods not on the plate. Fortunately, he didn't *not* recognize anything in the smells that were making his mouth water. Jim slowed as he saw the Sanders' come out of their apartment. Only a short time ago he would have breezed past them with a curt nod of the head, if that. The man he was now stopped and his smile wasn't forced when he greeted them. The older couple had helped him when his guide was hurting and sick. Jim didn't know what he would have done if Mrs. Sanders hadn't taken one look at Blair shuddering in his hold and mother-henned them. Since that night, what had begun as an errand of mercy had developed into friendship.
"Hello, Hetty, Jonathan. Don't forget about dinner next week."
Mrs. Sanders smiled gently at him. "No fear of that, dear. We're looking forward to it."
Jim grinned and joked, "You can say that because you don't have any idea just what Sandburg considers food!"
Jonathan schooled his face into an expression of seriousness. "He promised me I'd recognize it." Jim laughed and started back up the stairwell. He shook his head. If he kept on like this, his reputation as *Stoneface Ellison* was going to go by the board. He discovered that, to his surprise, he didn't care. For the first time in his life he was allowing himself to respond to people. His good mood was put on hold as he entered the loft. As soon as he opened the door, Jim knew that something was up. He could smell the food cooking, nothing unusual there, but his guide's heart had suddenly started to beat faster the minute he saw Jim. Sandburg was bouncing even more than usual, if that was possible, and he was talking a mile a minute. Jim made an effort to tune him in and caught the last bit before Blair ran out of steam... "two weeks at Croxley Meadows archaeological site."
Ellison fished a beer out of the fridge for himself and handed his guide a soft drink. Blair waved it away, his eyes never leaving his sentinel. Jim could feel the younger man waiting for the answer to the question he didn't quite catch. He took a deep pull of his drink and prepared to pay close attention.
"Okay, Chief, from the top again and, this time, try to breathe once in a while."
"Carol Reeves, remember me telling you about her, you met her at Rainier, great girl, not an old girlfriend just a friend..." Blair trailed off as Jim waved him quiet. "Just cut to the chase, Chief."
"Well... well, you said I could choose where we went for our vacation, remember, when we were at the Sanctuary, remember?" Blair was nervous, if his run-on sentences hadn't told Jim that, the change in his guide's breathing would have. He nodded to reassure his guide that he remembered.
"Well, she was in my office today and she... well, reminded me that she'd invited me to go on an archaeological dig at Croxley Meadows. It's a fantastic site, man, its going to rival anything they've found in Peru. It's only for two weeks but I know I can't leave you and you did say that we could go once you've talked to Simon and I can..."
"Back up, Chief." Jim's tone was more commanding. At this rate the kid was going to go into a full anxiety attack. Ellison hoped that the firm tone might steady his guide, but he swore silently as he saw fear in his guide's face. Fear that he might have overstepped some invisible line. Ellison smiled, "Easy, Chief. Now, then, Carol invited you to this Croxley place, huh?"
Sandburg bobbed his head and added in a rush of words, "Yeah, but Doctor Welland, the site director, has said that I can go *and* take you with me! It's really an honor, man, places on the team are in very short supply." The anthropologist pulled back into himself, the words dying on his lips as he noted his sentinel's stern face. Great, Sandburg, just great! Talking about taking Ellison with me as if I had a choice in the matter. Jim's a great guy but he is a sentinel and I am a guide. He's supposed to determine what we do, not me!
Jim frowned as he saw the younger man pale and saw the worried thoughts flashing through the expressive blue eyes. He walked through to the living room with Blair trailing behind him. Jim took a mental deep breath, thinking about spending two weeks with students...
Before Sandburg came along, he had joked along with the rest of the detectives about the long-haired hippie wannabes with their weird clothes and weirder ideas. He was even more abashed when he remembered his reaction to Detective Evans doing just that thing. The *new* Ellison hadn't liked it a bit when he'd heard about Sandburg's run-in with the vice cop.
Jim sighed and took another swallow of beer. It just illustrated how the young grad student had changed his viewpoint. But then again, Sandburg had an unbeatable advantage. In a three-piece suit, a pink bunny suit, or his second hand clothes, Blair was his guide and nothing like mere externals mattered anymore. Still, Jim took yet another swallow of beer, his gut reaction was to say no. One small word and he could switch on the TV and catch the Jag's game and not have to put up with an enthusiastic anthropologist now or later.
When Ellison thought over what had happened to his guide in just the last month, their bonding, that unbonded sentinel kidnapping him, the head injury that ... he slammed the door shut on that memory. Don't go there. The kid had settled in with him and was showing a nesting instinct, thank God. Jim no longer wondered if he'd wake up one day and find the kid had run. Sandburg no longer went down on his knees if he raised his voice at him but Ellison knew that there was still a long way to go before Blair was the man he'd been before the GDP. It was a small thing to pay back Blair for all he did for his sentinel... but, all the same, two weeks of archaeology students... Jim remembered the promise of a vacation he'd made Blair before the Sentinel Conference and the way the kid had lit up. He couldn't disappoint him now, and wouldn't the guys down at the precinct get a laugh out of that! Nope, he couldn't do that to the kid...two weeks was only fourteen days after all what could happen on an archaeological site in fourteen days?
"Okay, Chief, I'll speak to Simon tomorrow about time off. When would..."
Blair cut across him. "I know you don't like the idea, but..." His expression was almost comical as his mind caught up with his hearing. "What did you say, Jim?"
"I said I would speak to Simon tomorrow and see if I can get the time off. It shouldn't be a problem. I'm owed some vacation. I'll need the dates before then, Chief."
"I've got them right here. It's next month. Carol's going to go with us. It will be great, Jim. You haven't met her properly, not to talk to, I mean. She's really special, man, it's a pity people don't see that." He caught the look on Jim's face and reddened. "Talking too much, right?"
"It's okay, Chief, I'm interested. This dig, what's so special about it? It another KV5 or something?"
"KV5? Wow, I'm impressed, Jim. I thought, well, I thought..."
"My reading matter started and finished with Tom Clancy and Clive Cussler? You underestimate me, Junior. I read that book by Kent Weeks on the Lost Tomb of the Valley of the Kings, it's quite a classic." The sentinel shifted under his guide's keen look. "Okay, it said that on the dust jacket... and you did keep leaving it around the loft... actually it was quite interesting."
"I wondered where it got to." Blair smiled happily, accepting Ellison's foray into archaeological reading as an effort to share his guide's world. "Not another KV5 but all the early findings seem to indicate that it could be similar to sites found in Mexico and Peru. If they can substantiate that it would really put this site on the map! You know what's really neat about it, Jim? It was found by accident..."
Jim settled in, his guide had gone straight into academic mode and he was in for a lecture. Well, he'd started it. One thing about Blair, he could always make it sound interesting. No wonder his students enjoyed his lectures so much. Ellison would not shut him up for the world. He liked to hear his guide chatter non-stop, seeing it as a sign that he was reclaiming his old self, and that Jim liked to encourage.
Simon looked up from the papers he was working on as Jim knocked on the door and came into the office. The detective looked slightly uncomfortable, he just knew what his Captain's reaction would be after he made his request. He wasn't wrong. The sentinel just settled back to let the Captain get it out of his system.
"You on an archaeological dig... who do you think you are? The sentinel Indiana Jones?" Simon's tried to speak gruffly but the humor in the situation kept breaking through.
"Simon, this is important to Sandburg. It's an honor that he's even being offered a place. After all he's been through, I think he needs this. God knows he deserves it after what I put him through." Jim's tone indicated that he was willing to argue to get this if need be.
For a long moment, Simon just looked at his best detective and friend pondering how, in such a short time, he had changed so markedly. Simon knew the answer, even if he still had trouble believing it. The kid, Sandburg, had come in like a whirlwind and thrown Ellison's life into confusion. Yet Jim was emerging from the chaos a better man. The ex-black ops loner was slowly being pushed back with an almost friendly team player replacing him. Simon grinned a bit, *iceberg* Ellison was still in there and God help you if you crossed him or his guide. Still, on the whole, he was reacting better to the other officers and although they had always respected him, Rafe, Brown and even Taggart were actually getting to like him. Hell, even Rhonda will get within a yard of Ellison without a direct order; he must be improving. And all because of a neo-hippie grad student who just happened to be the guide... and maybe the friend... Ellison needed. Jim seemed happy living in the Sandburg zone, and no one was going to complain, his arrest stats were the best in the department. Simon knew what the answer to Jim's request had to be.
He kept Jim hanging for a moment, then said, "Well, it's your vacation. Send me a post card, or whatever archaeologists do."
"Thanks, Simon." Ellison actually cracked a smile.
Simon waved him away. "Don't you have work to do, Detective?"
Jim grinned and left his office leaving the captain to contemplate his sentinel and guide. Jim wasn't the only one changing for the better. Or maybe, Simon thought, changing back in Sandburg's case. The battered and terrified young empath that had been dragged into the precinct in restraints was turning into a capable, courageous man who routinely gave a 110% to everything he did. Jim Ellison was a big part of that transformation...
Daryl Banks was excited. His placement had come through and for three whole weeks he was going to be mixing with the GDP officers and guards at Rainier University and shadowing a group of GDP scholarship students on campus. He had been welcomed easily by some of the students, especially after he had told them that his father had a sentinel working for him. So far he had been to two lectures and lunch and the week was just beginning!
The teenager let his eyes roam over the campus; in a few years he might be one the students hurrying across the grounds. Out of the corner of his eyes he studied the group standing around the fountain in front of Hargrove Hall. He had been wary of them at first, they were all so much older than he was and he suspected they knew he had a bit of a crush on Robin Newman. But she was being so nice to him and wouldn't let the others tease him. It was to her that he had confided that Blair was a guide. He was a bit put out that they had already known that but they had no idea that Sandburg was in trouble with the GDP. When he had let it slip to Robin, she had listened with flattering attention to whatever he had to say. He had been so glad to have someone listen to him after the way his Dad had blown up over the placement, that he told her everything he had heard about Sandburg while hanging around the station. That had been his *in* with the group and he meant to make the most of it. Some of them were GDP scholarship students and Robin had promised to tell him the best way to qualify for one.
He would show his dad that he had what it took to be a member of the GDP. His mom and dad would be so proud of him if he got a scholarship! He had been excited but uneasy when he heard they had broken into the guide's office and trashed it. It had been a buzz to know that the guide had gotten just what he deserved. The little voice that whispered that his father wouldn't approve of vandalism was silenced when Robin explained that they had only touched the guide's stuff. Robin had explained to him that he had to be put in his rightful place and this would be a warning. Guides are supposed to be with their sentinels, helping them, not out playing student or teacher. Daryl felt righteous satisfaction when he mentally repeated what Robin had said. It made him feel good that they were including him in on this next action. Then again, they wouldn't have known about the restriction if he hadn't told them. He had every right to be included. This would teach the guide. Daryl couldn't wait. If this worked, the guide would be back with his sentinel where he belonged and maybe then the sentinel would be willing to talk to him.
Blair was at his desk checking over the proposed topics that his students had submitted for their Anthro 101 paper. It was a mixed lot at best; some he could just scribble an OK on and others called for a detailed explanation as to why the topic wouldn't work. Too broad... too narrow... where did this come from?...He pushed his glasses back up on his nose and reached for his cup of tea. Too late he realised that the supposedly hot drink was ice cold. Ever since the incident when he had been drugged, he had brought in bottled water to make his own tea. It helped alleviate the irrational fear of it happening again that was ever with him but it meant that he couldn't just grab the always-steaming water in the common room. He shrugged and decided to drink it as it was, not wanting to take the time to heat up some water. He was lucky that his student appointments had cancelled on him, at the rate he was getting through the papers he could be at the station an hour earlier... Blair was lost in thought, trying to puzzle out exactly what Jerry meant, when the phone rang. He jumped, startled, and made a grab for the handset, the cup went flying and his attempt to keep his tea from spilling only sent the phone after it. By the time he got himself sorted out, his "hello" was breathless.
"Chief, you okay?" Blair smiled at the concern in Ellison's voice. It hadn't even been two full months yet but Blair already knew that if he had to have a sentinel, Ellison was the one he wanted.
"Fine, Jim, just trying to do two things at once." Ellison extended his hearing and heard the sound of someone mopping up spilled liquid. He grinned as he thought of his guide's reaction to his news.
"Book the tickets. I got the time off." Yep, there it goes, heart rate through the roof and... yep, there go the chair springs!
"That great! I can't wait to tell Carol!" Jim's grin widened. He could all but see, as well as hear, his partner bouncing. "See you tonight, Jim. I'll get the data on the dig for you, it won't hurt for you to see the site before we get there, I wonder if you can detect the difference in the soil coloring and if we can use that to find..."
"Chief...., Chief...... BLAIR!" Silence and then a meek,
"See you tonight. Don't forget to breathe." With a grin, Jim put the phone down.
Blair heard the door to his office open. He swiveled around on his chair and his smile faded. Guards Knight and Cameron entered his office as if they owned it.
"Hi." He winced at how lame he sounded.
"Guide Sandburg, you are under arrest. You will come with us now to the Rainier station. If you resist you will be leashed."
"What did I do wrong?" Sandburg was honestly puzzled and not a little frightened.
Knight shook his head and began to undo the leash he wore around his waist.
Immediately, Blair went onto his knees, head down low in the extreme position. "My apologies for questioning you, sirs."
Cameron shook his head. "I don't see a need for the leash, Terry. Okay, Guide, on your feet"
The two GDP guards flanked the smaller empath as they left the office. Blair put everything he had into appearing cool and unworried. The last thing he wanted was to draw attention to his predicament. At least they had allowed him to secure his office and take his backpack with him.
Daryl Banks watched as Blair Sandburg walked between two larger men. He looked cool but Daryl saw how hard he held onto his backpack and knew he was more nervous than he let on. The others thought it was funny; their only complaint being that the guide wasn't on the leash. Robin nudged him, "That was a good idea of yours, Daryl. How did you know about the restriction order?"
"Remember I told you my dad's his sentinel's Captain?" The youngster paused, did that sound right? "and I heard him talking to Ellison about it. He said that Blair... er, the guide... had 14 days of this curfew. I knew that if his student appointments were cancelled he should have been on his knees in the GDP office." Robin smiled at him and Daryl blushed at her approval as she said, " And since Ian and Xander and I were his appointments and we cancelled..." Daryl finished, "It was easy."
Xander grinned and hit him on the shoulder. "Nice work, kid, and the fun has just begun. Officer Dexter told us we can go to the station any time to observe what they do there. What say we do it now and see the little professor get put through his paces?"
"Yeah, why not?" Daryl tried to sound eager even if he felt uncomfortable with that idea for some reason he didn't want to examine too closely.
Lieutenant Harris looked at Trainee Officer King and held back a sigh. King was so delighted with himself for the prompt way he had dispatched Cameron and Knight to pick up Guide Sandburg for breaking restriction. Harris wasn't, but he could scarcely reprimand the man for following procedures. Now was not the ideal time to have a gung-ho trainee around. Harris was pretty sure that Sandburg hadn't meant to violate restriction, he had attended each and every break in his program when they occurred. More than likely he had forgotten that, with the cancellation of his appointments, he should have returned to the GDP office. He had probably just carried on working. Judging by the bulging backpack he hauled into the station every day, the young guide/student/teacher had more than enough work to keep him busy. He himself would have been inclined to just let it go... but someone had made it their business to tip the GDP off about the cancelled appointments. King had logged in the damn call so Sandburg had to be pulled in even though it made Harris feel as if he was doing someone's dirty work for them.
The two guards escorted their prisoner into the office. Harris took a deep breath as he saw the wariness in the deep blue eyes that briefly met his before staring at the floor. "Accept your punishment, Guide." Harris picked up a leash. The young guide took a step back, automatically looking around for a way out, an avenue of escape. Hell, not that! Don't run, kid, you'll only make things worse. The lieutenant hoped the empath could pick up the silent plea. He said again, in the calmest voice he could muster.
"Guide Sandburg, Accept your punishment." Harris had done some thinking about this guide and had come to certain conclusions. Now to see if he were right. "You do not want to make trouble for your sentinel." And just like that the flight instinct was overruled and Sandburg went down on his knees, his backpack hitting the floor.
Harris closed the distance between them until he knew that the guide could see his feet.
"Secure your hair, Guide." He kept his voice neutral, unthreatening. Behind him, Trainee King cut in, "Take the option away from the guide." The sound of a scissors opening and closing underscored his meaning. Harris swore softly to himself, he definitely needed to transfer Trainee Officer King!
"I covered the requirements of the Guide's restriction with his sentinel, Trainee Officer King. We will not deviate from that agreement." The lieutenant nodded in satisfaction as previously tight muscles relaxed somewhat in the kneeling form. That won't last long, he thought grimly.
Harris picked up bright red overalls from the table and threw them onto the floor. "Put that on, NOW."
"I was told.... Commander Slater said... I wouldn't have to wear these again." Harris found it difficult to ignore the plea in the young guide's voice but rules were rules...
"You are under punishment, Guide, you will wear them. You will remain in them for the day and tomorrow you will arrive here in them. Guard Knight will take you to the correction facility for a day's training; the arrangements have already been made." Harris winced as Sandburg's face lost what little color remained. The blue eyes held a distance in them that worried the GDP lieutenant.
"For speaking without permission, talking back at that, you will remain on your knees for the next hour." Harris fingered the leash, calming himself. A standard wrap with the larger leash would at least give the empath some movement in the restraints. There was something about this particular guide that was making Harris question everything he had learned about empaths... and how they should be treated.
Blair slowly stripped off his clothes, his shivering becoming worse by the moment. He heard Harris say quietly, "Leave on your shorts. You will not be harmed, Guide." Startled, he raised his eyes to the lieutenant's and read the truth of that statement. Surprised that the GDP officer had even noted, much less cared, about his fears, he nodded jerkily. At no time did Blair rise above hip high as he pulled on the correction overalls, trying to lessen his sense of exposure. Some of the "lessons" he had learned kept cutting in and it took all his control to push the panic away. He pushed his clothes into his backpack and his mind wandered, he had left some books he needed back at his office. His fingers ghosted over the soft flannel and he remembered the shopping trip with Jim and the sentinel's amused resignation at his choice of clothing. Remember Jim will come for you, this is different from the last time remember Jim will come. Blair made it his personal mantra.
Harris waited patiently until the empath had regained some control of himself. The slender body was still shivering but it was not as pronounced as before. King shuffled impatiently and Harris turned to him. "You always ask the guide about the condition of his barriers first, before you attempt to leash him. If they are low then extra care must be taken. If they're gone, you administer a damper first." He turned back to the grad student waiting with resignation for what he could not escape.
"Guide Sandburg, your barriers?"
"High, Sir." Not a quiver shook that voice and Harris shook his head at the sheer courage that bit of bravado implied. This was wrong! All the kid did was get lost in his work. It was obvious the guide wouldn't do anything that would reflect badly on his sentinel. He'd like to get his hands on the busybody SOB who called this in!
"We now leash the guide." Harris let none of his thoughts show on his face or color his tone.
"May I do that, Sir?" There was eagerness in King's voice that troubled Harris. He shook his head. "His sentinel is the Senior Sentinel Prime of Cascade, this has to be done correctly." The Lieutenant was all too aware of the emotional state of Ellison's guide and the history that made leashing so traumatic for him. A trainee fumbling around him would only increase his terror. He said conversationally, "You must push your emotions down when you use the leash. This is a discipline measure; there is no pleasure in doing this." He leaned down and put the collar around the guide's throat, then trailed it down his back, securing his hands there instead of in front of him.
"Belly, Guide." Harris caught a lean shoulder and helped him down, feeling the fine tremors that the guide could not conceal. When Sandburg was stretched out on the carpet, he attached the restraints to his ankles. As he worked, Harris kept up a monologue explaining the traditional leash wrap, as much to give the empath something to focus on besides the feel of the cords as to train King. He pulled the guide back to his knees and hit the intercom.
"Guard, put him in Room 25 and call his sentinel."
Sandburg was pulled to his feet. "Now you tighten the leash to the correct tension so that he can walk without choking himself. There is no need to put the damper on but I want him checked in an hour's time and his status logged. I want no mistakes on this one."
"Yes, Sir." Guard Knight nodded, none too happy with the order. He'd been hoping to have a little fun with the "professor" after his embarrassment at Hargrove Hall.
Harris had done the leash to allow Blair to walk easily as long as he took small steps. He came out of Harris' office with his head down. It didn't prevent him from seeing the students who had gathered in the waiting area. He recognized some of them as being in his class and for some reason, Daryl Banks was with them. They were obviously amused by the leash and the correction overalls and he winced. This would be all over Rainier tomorrow! He forced himself to not react and ignored them. Keep silent and maybe they would forget about him.
A hard hand caught Blair's arm, pulling him along so fast he almost fell in the hobbles. He was pushed into a cell. Knight hefted his backpack onto the table and spilled the contents onto the table.
"Kneel, Guide." He didn't even bother to turn to see if the young man had followed his orders, he knew he would have. The guard circled the table, so he could watch the guide's face.
"Your sentinel actually allows you to study?" He paused, giving the guide a chance to answer. He grinned as the grad student remained silent. "Good little guide, isn't he? Knows he shouldn't speak until his masters allow it." The last was said with a sneer. "Answer me, Guide!"
"Yes, Sir." Blair fought a battle with himself and won. His voice was carefully neutral when he answered, none of the rage, none of the fear he was feeling obvious in the two short words.
"Why?" There was genuine curiosity in Knight's question.
"Senior Sentinel Prime Ellison is a dark sentinel. My research would help him, sir."
"Now that makes sense. There had to be a reason a man like Ellison would put up with a degenerate like you, a rogue guide when he could do so much better." Knight saw heat touch the pale face and knew he'd hit home.
"And I knew there had to be a reason correction scum like you would be allowed at Rainier. My kid brother wanted to go to university. He got turned down. Now, why would they do that and allow you in?"
Knight's aggression level was spiking and Blair could feel it punching through his barriers, as the man towered over him.
"Answer me, scum."
"I don't know, Sir." A neutral answer would be best.
Knight leaned down and with a quick, vicious move shortened the leash. Blair's neck ached as his head was forced down on his chest; cramping ran through his legs.
"Smart professor like you ought to know the reason. Think about it, guide." Knight walked out of the room without a backward glance.
Knight noted the time for the next check and was about to post it on the chalkboard when the students interrupted him.
Harris closed his last file and got up to shove it in the file drawer. Thankfully, the University kids hadn't stayed around long once they knew that Dexter wasn't in her office. And once they realized that he had no intention of letting them "observe" Sandburg's correction. Harris realized from something he had overheard that at least two of the students were in the class that Sandburg taught. Harris wondered just whose appointments had been cancelled... He would not like to find out that he had been used to help a bunch of smart alecs get back at their teacher. Harris also wondered how that Banks kid had gotten mixed up with the group. Personally, he thought the teenager was in a bad crowd, they had looked entirely too pleased with themselves when Sandburg had been taken to the cell on the leash. If he had his way he'd just declare the station off-limits to that bunch until the grad student's restriction tour was finished. But Dexter was serious about her bloody PR work, "positive promotion of the GDP" and all that crap. She would have him on the carpet if he didn't play his part. Harris looked at his watch and frowned. He'd expected Ellison to show up by now. Unless the Sentinel had collected his guide with less protesting than Harris thought him capable of... He went into the waiting area.
"Knight." The guard turned to him and straightened. "Yes, Sir?"
"Has Sentinel Prime Ellison collected his guide?"
The sick look on the guard's face told him the answer before Knight cursed briefly. "Hell!"
"You did call him, Knight?" Please have called him. That was in the agreement!
"I... the students were asking questions and... I forgot, then ..." Knight suddenly realized that was the wrong way to handle it. He straightened up,
"No excuse sir."
"Call him now."
Knight had just picked the phone up when Ellison arrived. There was no mistaking that here was one furious sentinel, the anger radiated from him in waves. The man with him looked equally angry, he was slightly smaller than Ellison but had the same disciplined bearing and cold eyes that screamed ex-military.
"My guide, he was not in his office and the secretary said he went somewhere with two GDP guards. Where is he?"
"This way, sir." Knight swallowed and led the sentinel and his companion down the hall to the cell. It always paid to be polite to sentinels, especially when they were in Blessed Protector Mode. Ellison was ... and the man with him didn't look all that happy either. Knight suddenly swallowed as he looked at the chalkboard and realized he had never logged Sandburg in, never made sure that the required checks on his condition had been done. Shit, I could be in big trouble here.
"Your guide is in room 25, Sentinel." Knight moved to block the other man, saying, "This way, Sir, you can wait for..." His voice choked off as a hand shot out and caught him around the neck and he was pinned to the wall. "Go on, Ellison. I'll wait out here unless you need me." Sentinel Ellison yanked open the door to the cell.
Jim entered the cell quietly, dusk had fallen outside and no one had bothered to turn on the lights in the small room. He dialed up his sight and quickly crossed the distance to his guide. The young empath was hunched into himself, held in that uncomfortable position by the leather thongs of the leash. Blair was staring at nothing, his eyes unblinking, unmoving. His breathing was slow and sluggish. "Chief?... Blair? Can you hear me, kid?" Ellison reached out to his guide and the kid slumped forward into his arms. "Oh, God, Blair... what the hell kind of a sentinel am I that I let those bastards keep doing this kind of crap to you?" There was no answer.
Harris came out of his office in time to see Knight struggling against a well-built man he had never seen before. One whose body language screamed "sentinel" to his experienced eye.
"Let him go." Harris made that an order but nothing happened until a voice he recognized as Ellison's bellowed from the cell behind them.
"Edwards, get David!"
The face that "Edwards" turned to him held the fury of a primitive sentinel, everything of instinct and nothing resembling civilized control. Harris knew he had a major problem on his hands. Ellison was a Dark Sentinel. When he had gone into Blessed Protector Mode it had obviously triggered Sentinel Edwards own protective instincts. Edwards threw Knight at the Lieutenant's feet and snarled.
"This is now a Clan matter. Interfere and you will regret it."
Edwards walked out of the station and returned with his own guide, holding onto him tightly. David's reaction to the GDP uniforms only fueled Edward's own protective mode. David had never been rogue but he had linked with the Senior Guide Prime and had experienced the fear and horror they held for the younger man. Even second-hand, that fear was enough to rattle the older guide.
He shepherded his guide through the door into the small cell. Ellison had removed the leash from Blair's limp form and was gently patting his guide's face... Blair was non-responsive. David knelt down, putting a hand out to link with his fellow empath. Cautiously, he connected, trying to kick-start the younger guide out of the fugue he had fallen into. Lightning suddenly scorched through him and he gasped as he was pushed away. Blair's barriers were indeed gone, but something else was there, something wild, angry and burning that stood guard over the gentle young empath. David fell back onto his backside as the Dark Guide lifted his head, looked at him, and snarled, "Get out! He would not see you hurt." . Edwards caught his guide and pulled him close. "David?"
"Gods! He kicked me out. I can't handle the power." He grabbed for his sentinel, desperate for his support. Without questions, without waiting for the privacy Edwards had always demanded, the sentinel prime agreed to the link.
Jim tugged his guide to his feet, a strong arm holding him when he would have fallen. He manhandled the smaller man to a chair, and began to rub circulation back into his arms and legs. Blair still hadn't said a word but for the Dark Guide's snapped warning to David. One shaky hand rested on the sentinel's shoulder. Jim's head snapped up as their connection flared, as Detective Jim Ellison was connected to the Dark Guide. Blair's hand was softly caressing Ellison's broad shoulder. Jim straightened up and looked into the deep blue eyes of his guide.
"Come on, Chief, put him back in the box. There's no threat and he's not needed, not now." He coaxed, his hands grasping the empath's upper arms.
"And miss out on the fun? There is a threat to me here, or have you forgotten that, Sentinel?" Sandburg got to his feet and swayed as cramps rippled through his legs. A strong arm pulled him tightly against his sentinel's body and a bitter voice said softly.
"No, my Guide, I have not forgotten but sometimes discretion is the better part of valor, Chief." The Dark Guide was fully capable of defending himself but that was something best kept from the GDP.
"David get my backpack, please." The polite command was from the Dark Guide.
Ellison had to get Blair home and rested, and maybe then the Dark Guide would give way to Blair.
Harris blocked the way. "Sorry, Sentinel, but you..."
"Get out of the way Lieutenant. You shackled my guide and left him like that for three hours. I never got the agreed to phone call. Get out of my way before I put you down. Blair will report as he is duty bound, but you will not leash him again or you will answer to me."
"He has to go to the correction facility." Harris did not want to bring that up but he did want to hear the sentinel's answer. He got it as both sentinels pinned him with eyes radiating primal fury.
"No, he does not. If you have a problem with that, you come to me." Ellison's smile twisted and changed as the Dark Sentinel came out to play. The smile grew wider as Edwards laughed. The lieutenant held himself still. He knew that the sentinels had detected the increase in his heart rate but he refused to let it show.
"Come on, Chief." Ellison tucked the smaller man under his arm.
Harris was nervous and confused. The young man walking out looked like Blair Sandburg, but Harris could have sworn that he wasn't. There was no cringing awareness of the correction facility overalls he still wore. This was a man who didn't care about the message they sent, he had all the confidence that had been beaten out of the young guide he had leashed.
Harris watched them leave, wondering what, if anything, he should report about this.
David and Blair took the back seats of the sedan and the sentinels took the front. That had been Blair's choice. He needed to get his own emotions under control before he linked with his sentinel. Jim understood his decision; he didn't have to like it. Ellison turned to Edwards. "My thanks, Sentinel."
"And mine too." Blair leaded forward and, without asking permission, laid his hand on Edward's shoulder. The connection went deeper than a guide not his own should have been able to get but Edwards accepted the touch of the Senior Guide Prime.
"We are thankful that our assistance was of help to you, Senior Guide Prime," Edwards responded formally.
David raised his hand and laid it on top of Blair's and felt the power coursing between his sentinel, Ellison's guide and himself. His own link to Edwards seemed to deepen as if Sandburg was somehow refining the older guide's skills. Karl had mentioned that he could not understand how Blair handled the emotional load of the Dark Sentinel and stay sane. David now knew how, the Senior Guide Prime had resilience and strength in spades.
Blair eased out of the connection and curled in on himself. David immediately lay back against the seat. His arms encircled the younger empath and pulled him to rest against his shoulder. David linked with him, his support more to let Blair feel that he wasn't alone than to repair the trauma he had sustained. Soon Sandburg would bond with his sentinel and all would be right, but a car crowded with another sentinel/guide pair was not the place. David sighed as he felt the smaller man's body lose some of its tenseness and looked to the front. He smiled to himself; the sentinels were in protective mode guarding the Guide Prime. David realized that he hadn't felt any jealousy when Sandburg had touched his sentinel and there was a rightness about his sentinel guarding the Guide Prime that he couldn't deny. He wondered at himself. Karl is right, Blair is a puzzle. They both are.
Jim pulled out of the parking lot and headed back to the station and the sentinel suite.
Leo Kessler was angry as he went through the files in Blair's office. He had been sure that the kid would have something on his dark sentinel research he could find. He knew the way Blair Sandburg worked. He would have plenty of notes, the kid went everywhere with a notebook and nothing was too insignificant to escape his notice. He slammed shut the last file drawer and swore. Nothing! Damn kid's starting to get careful. That was a disturbing trend. Leo counted on Blair's innate belief in the goodness of people and the care he took to not read his friends, to blind the younger man's sharp intelligence to his true purpose in befriending him. Kessler stilled as he heard someone in the hall, it was time to leave. He had had to break the lock to get in and that would be noticed. Couldn't be helped, the bloody kid had the presence of mind to lock the door even while being arrested. He tugged an aerosol can out of his pocket and sprayed it over his tracks. He went to the door and listened...then left. He would have to wait and try later. Information on Dark Sentinels was very marketable and he wasn't going to let some wet behind the ears empath keep it from him.
"Jim, the loft, please." The voice from the back seat was very soft.
"We need to bond, Chief. The station's closer."
"NO. Just get me back to our territory." Blair sounded very sure and Jim scanned his guide's body for physical distress. The heart rate was still slightly elevated and fine tremors coursed through the slender body but, overall, Blair was better than he had any right to be.
Jim hesitated, then capitulated. Blair needed a sense of control right now and Jim could give him that. This time, the guide would lead and he would follow. The silence in the car was companionable and soothing. Both sentinels smiled as they sensed the young guide drop into a light doze.
Edwards waited in the car with his guide as the sentinel and guide primes went up to the loft. He chatted with David, trying not to tune into the argument that was raging over his head about whether or not the guide needed to bond now or later. A few minutes later, Ellison came out and Edwards knew who had won the argument. The detective was angry, fuming more likely. The car door slammed as Ellison yanked on his seat belt. Luckily, Edwards had turned his hearing down. Edwards got into the back seat with his guide as Ellison muttered,
"Damn kid thinks it more important that I finish out my shift at the station than see to his welfare."
David said quietly, "Sentinel, he worries that Captain Banks will resent his interference with your job."
"Simon? He puts off bonding so that Simon will be happy? I am going to have a talk with that kid when I get home..." Ellison stabbed the key into the ignition. "Jim, do you think you should be driving? You're pretty upset. I ..."
Edwards' comment ended with a shouted, "Oh, hell" as they narrowly missed a truck and a catering van. "Jim, you want to be a little careful? My guide's in this car..." He shut up as Ellison squeezed through a narrow gap between two trucks that he would never have attempted. Jim might be sentinel prime but his driving was terrible. Well, okay, not terrible... just reckless... thank God for sentinel senses and reflexes or they'd never make the station! Edwards threw an arm around his guide and held on.
When James Ellison entered the loft at the end of the day, he stopped dead in his tracks. It looked as if some one had ransacked the place. His formerly neat home was covered by a veritable blizzard of paper. The chair and sofa had been moved to make room for a chart on the floor. Videotapes covered the coffee table and floor. There was no sign of his guide. He instinctively reached for his gun even as he extended his hearing. He slid the gun back into the holster when he heard only one heart beat, and recognised it as belonging to his guide. Jim looked around the chaos and yelled,
"Okay, Chief, front and center. Want to explain this... NOW."
Blair emerged from his room. "Hey, Jim, you won't believe..." Jim almost smiled as the younger man did a classic double-take. Sandburg glanced at the clock, at the mess and at Jim and swore. He began to collect the papers into towering piles.
"Sooo sorry, Jim, I didn't think it was that time. Carol brought the stuff over and I ..." he shrugged.
"Got carried away, junior?" Ellison teased him even as he felt thankful that the dark guide had gone back into his box for the moment. It scared him a little when he came out. He was looking forward to the day Blair meshed with that persona completely. Then Blair could call upon the strength of the Dark Guide without losing his... his "Blairness." In the meantime, The Dark Guide's presence was like having a wild cat as a pet, dangerous and unpredictable.
"No problem, Chief, just get this mess ...." he trailed off. God, his guide was giving him the look that made him feel like he had just kicked a box of puppies. "You can clear it up after dinner. Okay?"
"Okay, Jim. You're going to love this site, Jim! It..." Blair was off and talking a mile a minute as Jim prepared the evening meal. Ellison had only four meals that he could cook and be willing to serve another person. To say that Blair had widened his dining choices considerably would not exaggerate the case. At first, Blair has been uncomfortable with Jim cooking, fearing that he was being tested. Then he realized that his sentinel liked to cook... as long as Blair could be happy with his limited repertoire. It wasn't Ellison's food that Blair liked so much as the proof it gave that Jim did not regard him as his domestic to do all the work around the loft. Cooking was something they shared, as they did all the chores.
Doctor Welland was in his early fifties, a tall buff looking man with high color to his cheeks and an eye for the ladies. He was considered a good archaeologist but he lacked that big discovery that would have made his name at an international level. He smiled at Carol Reeves; she was his favorite student, pity she didn't work for him as a TA. His own curvaceous TA went by and for a moment he was lost in the sight. Then he pulled himself back together. "You ask Blair Sandburg if he was coming?"
"Yes, Martin. He said that his sentinel had agreed to come on the dig so Blair's all set." Reeve's delight that the young Anthro grad student was coming was clear in her voice.
"That would be the Dark Sentinel he's using for his dissertation?" There was a hint of disapproval in Welland's question.
"Sure. His name's Ellison, Jim Ellison. He's a detective with the Cascade PD." Reeves looked slightly puzzled at his tone and Welland smiled heartily at her.
"Good. I'll have a word with Doctor Woodward about them. Must know how to look after our sentinel and guide, you know."
She glanced at her watch. "I... er... better be going."
"Remember about the digger team meeting, make sure that Sandburg knows about it." Welland reminded himself to keep his opinion of Guide Sandburg to himself.
Personally, he could not give a damn about the little creep coming on the dig. As far as he was concerned it was criminal that with all the hard working students at the University that a prime TA position, a fellowship at that, should be given to a guide. What mattered to him was that the sentinel was coming. That was important for the plan. He phoned Professor Anderson's office.
"Hello, Richard. You remember that William Steele was going to do that Dark Sentinel thesis for his PhD and it got turned down because he had no subject?" He waited for the other man to express his opinion on that touchy topic before continuing, "What would you say if I told you that I know where he can find a Dark Sentinel?" More blustering. "No, I'm not kidding, Richard. Turns out that the Sandburg kid... yeah the Guide TF over in Anthro, belongs to a Dark Sentinel. The dissertation review board has accepted Sandburg's proposed topic on Dark Sentinels for his doctoral dissertation... Woah, Richard, don't shoot the messenger, but yes, his guide is being allowed to do his doctoral studies on his own sentinel, a bit incestuous, isn't it?"
He nodded as he heard Richard start to rant on the other end of the phone. Richard Anderson would be hot on the phone to the Board. It would take him two or three weeks to get them to agree on an emergency meeting, long enough for the pairing to be on the dig before it hit the fan. Blair Sandburg would return to the University only to find that his farce of an academic career was over before he had a chance to blight Rainier's reputation as a serious center of Sentinel research. It helped his plans immeasurably that William Steele's father was a big benefactor of the University. He leaned back in his chair. Nothing like a pissed off father and a jealous academic to get things in motion. Anderson had never liked the respect and authority that the University officials heaped upon Doctor Woodward. Woodward was the only man who could have brought a Guide into the University as a Teaching Fellow and that fact had rankled more than one academic breast.
Woodward's a bleeding heart liberal who needs to learn the truth. Guides are second class citizens, one grade above a guide dog, and you would not let Rover in the university. He chuckled at his own witticism, picked his file and went to his meeting with Doctor Woodward.
Blair pulled out his ID card and ran it through the bar code reader. The door clicked and he entered the University Library. For a moment he just stood there and looked up at the vaulted ceiling, breathing in the aroma of old paper and ink. This is what he had missed... the whole atmosphere of learning that had been his whole life before the GDP had caught him. He shook himself out of the dark thoughts that threatened, that was over. He belonged here again! He headed for the stacks; he needed to get a couple of books out for the extra course he was taking.
"Guide Sandburg." The voice was as arid as a desert and as welcoming. Blair knew who he would see even before he turned around. Professor Higgins had had it in for him ever since Blair had been a sixteen-year-old sophomore who had challenged a point of fact in one of Higgins' articles and been right. It hadn't been the most politic thing to do but Blair had passionately believed that it was all about truth. It had been a rude awakening for the young student to discover that, for some "scholars," it was about reputation, not truth.
Blair turned and juggled the books in his arms. "Professor Higgins, can I help you, sir?"
Higgins looked him up and down, his disgust plain to see. "I see you are down for my Tuesday seminar."
"Yes, sir. I think that having more of a background in psychobiology will help me understand my sentinel better. It will also..."
Higgins overrode him. "You will not enter my office, my lecture hall or my department. If you do, I will have the GDP remove you." He moved into Blair's personal space, fully aware that one did not do that to an empath. "I personally believe that your presence at Rainier is an insult to this academic facility. I have no problem with your kind receiving Guide college education to assist their sentinels, but University?" His laughter was mocking. "You take up space a normal student with a future could have occupied. You are a waste of time and effort. Get down on your knees where you belong." He pulled the books from Blair's hands, meeting no resistance. "You won't be needing these, guide." The professor walked away.
Blair sank down onto one of the nearby chairs, his heart pounding. That had come out of nowhere. Okay, okay, settle down, Blair. You knew there would be resistance to you being here. Okay, put it behind you, there are other courses where the professors aren't narrow-minded bigots. He ran a hand over his face and then went to pick his other books up. He kept his head up and refused to show his embarrassment. He was aware that there had been witnesses to the scene and that the details would be around Rainier in no time at all. One of those details was not going be a description of him slinking away as if he had done something wrong.
Doctor Welland had no trouble arranging a meeting with Woodward, the man prided himself on being accessible. The archaeology professor settled himself into a seat opposite his host.
"Thanks for seeing me at such short notice but I wanted to make sure I knew where I was. You see, Blair Sandburg has been accepted on the Croxley dig for two weeks and for some reason, he's bringing his sentinel with him. I don't have any experience with those sort, sentinels and guides, I mean. I was hoping that perhaps you could give me some guide lines on dealing with them, excuse the pun." Welland smiled as if he had nothing but admiration for the man who outstripped him in professional renown.
Robert Woodward leaned back in his chair. He had had little personal contact with the Welland beyond the odd faculty meeting. But he had been on the receiving end of his memos for the last six months, ever since the Croxley Meadows dig had been authorized and put under the Anthropology department budget because it related to sentinels. He knew Welland hated the fact that archaeology was the poor relation to the anthropology/Sentinel Studies department.
"I would suggest that you read the Sentinel 101 text. It's a good starting point although some of the views it presents are a little dated as applied to the particular pairing you'll be dealing with but it would give you a foundation. Blair Sandburg has been bonded to James Ellison for a little less than two months, a relatively short time as bondings go. We would regard their partnership as still a new bonding." Woodward noted that Welland moved restlessly as he referred to "their partnership" and wondered what that was all about. He went on, trying to explain enough so that his favorite student could avoid any problems.
"Now then, Ellison is Senior Sentinel Prime of Cascade as well as a Dark Sentinel. His senses are far stronger than is normal for even sentinels and his control is less certain. Blair's job is to keep him focused and centered so that Ellison can work. That Ellison is a Dark Sentinel means that he could react more aggressively to anything that he sees as a threat to his guide. Ellison is a cop and has military training in his background that should help his control but it must always be remembered that instincts are a powerful influence on Dark Sentinels."
"Dark Sentinels are the more primitive type, aren't they? I thought they had died out." Welland was curious even beyond what he needed to know to fit Ellison into his plans.
"No. Just very, very, rare. Blair is doing his dissertation on him. He is a meticulous observer and a thorough scholar... his work should make for the first real study on this phenomenon."
Welland looked thoughtful. "He's working with his own sentinel? That's been approved?"
Woodward picked up the man's disapproval. "Anthropology is a discipline that requires that it's practitioners "join the tribe" so to speak while still remaining objective observers. In particular, to study a Dark Sentinel requires the closest observation and a tremendous amount of trust between the sentinel and the student... who better than the sentinel's guide to fill that role? And Sandburg is fully capable of separating his feelings from his findings. He wrote a report on his experiences with another Dark Sentinel that is a masterpiece of objective reporting despite the sometimes horrific nature of the details. He has my full confidence and support for his work."
Welland felt as if he'd been taken to task but he let none of his anger show.
"So, how do I deal with this Dark Sentinel?"
"Will your people be camping or staying in town?" Woodward had given some thought to this, seeing it as a potential source of problems.
"Camping, the town people aren't exactly happy with us at the moment. We're holding up the reopening of the lumber mill that's been taken over by the Grace Company. It will be best that we keep out of the way."
"Actually, that will work out well for the sentinel. Blair tells me that Ellison loves to camp. Just make sure that Blair and Ellison share a tent, just the two of them. A third person would be invading his territory. Basically just keep the two of them together and listen to Blair, he knows what is best for his sentinel. Other than that, treat him like an ordinary human. It is what he is after all. Human, I mean."
"He's a police officer, I hear." Welland said after a moment.
"Yes, he is a detective with the Major Crime Division. Why?"
"We both know that students like the wacky tobacco. I'll have to make sure they're aware that the sentinel is a police officer. It wouldn't look good if half my digging team got busted."
With anyone else it would have been a joke, but Woodward realized that Welland meant it. Woodward could not quite put a finger on the cause, but he was beginning to dread this archaeological dig. He had a bad feeling about it. He turned his attention back to the other professor as Welland asked, "So, Sandburg, how do we treat him?"
Blair had touched base with Harris, signing in with Jim by his side. All thoughts of a day at the correction facility had been forgotten. The Lieutenant was pleased to see the guide was reacting normally again, the bright light of intelligent curiosity back in the blue eyes. His report to Commander Slater had resulted in an hour-long conference with the Director's right hand man. The Commander had hinted that unless he wanted to be manning a station in Alaska, he would forget everything that had happened in the station that night. As he watched the stern faced sentinel leave the station with his guide bouncing at his side, Harris found that remarkably easy to do.
Rainier University was thronging with students moving around the campus on their way to various lectures and study groups. Many of the students were giving Jim a calculating look, his very appearance screamed one word, COP. The detective, ever on duty, monitored the passing crowd while the sentinel part of his mind was locked onto his guide. Jim could not help smiling as he watched his guide. The younger man was bouncing along beside him and talking a mile a minute about the archaeological dig that they would be attending. It was as if he had finally let himself believe that Jim would let him go. As a bonded guide, there was no way that he would have been able to hold his barriers up against other peoples' emotions for fourteen days without his sentinel's support. Which meant that Jim was going on an archaeological dig. Simon had taken to calling him "Indy" and someone had planted a pith helmet on his desk. Jim's smile widened, he could take a little ribbing if the reason made his guide this happy. The kid had been talking of nothing else for the past week. Even the unpleasant incidents he ran into on campus failed to diminish his enthusiasm.
Jim suddenly bristled as he heard a voice. "...disgrace letting that little guide freak work here. I heard the Professor say he was going to ...." A blast of a CD player overloaded Jim's hearing and he winced. Blair's hand on his arm pulled him out of it and he tried to track the source of that threat to his guide and lost it. Ellison frowned, the University was just as dangerous as the streets. The only difference he could see was that here they back-stabbed you in a civilized manner. At least he had Doctor Woodward to help watch Blair's back.
A young woman detached herself from a group outside of Hargrove Hall and came towards them. She smiled broadly at Blair. Jim's eyebrows rose as he smelled the interest the young woman took in his guide. Blair returned her smile and closed the distance between them. Receiving a light kiss on the lips, his arms went around her and she leaned back to look at him. "Still all right for tonight, Rosemary?"
"Yes, my roommates are out tonight. I thought a nice home cooked Italian meal and then we'll..." she arched her eyebrow... "see what happens."
Ellison was amused to see the kid blush but Blair answered happily, "Sounds great, Rosie, 8:30 okay?"
"8:30." She leaned into him and the kiss this time was passionate and full of promise for the evening. Then, with a grin she turned and left, with a small "Hi" to Jim.
"Hi." Jim was grinning broadly now. His freely expressed emotion would have shocked anyone who knew the sentinel, even his ex-wife had said he was emotionally dead. It was only with Blair that he allowed that side of him to show. "Another date, Chief?" He quizzed dryly.
"Hey, man, it's not like that. Carol introduced us. Rosemary's working on an organizational structure paper for a sociology seminar. I have this really great video on the Gowholi tribe and Carol thought Rosemary might get something out of it. We've had coffee a couple of times at the Commons. She is really something, Jim." Sandburg gave a sigh of appreciation as he watched the young woman walk away. Ellison shook his head, either Rosemary knew Blair was watching or she just naturally walked as if she was on the high seas and the deck was rolling. "Um, Jim... speaking of my date. Could I borrow..."
"No, Chief, sorry but you can't borrow the truck. It's in the garage, remember? And you're not allowed to drive that clunker Simon got us."
"Come on, man, she lives on the other side of the University. I would really appreciate a lift..."
Jim held up a hand. "Hold up there, junior. I was going to say that you can drive yourself."
"What? I thought you said..."
Jim enjoyed the look of confusion on his guide's face. "I was going to suggest that we pick your car up and then you'd have your own set of wheels. And I won't have to keep worrying about what you're doing to, or in, my truck."
"I can't afford to buy a car." Blair sounded as confused as he looked. For a genius, the kid doesn't have a clue sometimes.
"Stephen helped me locate a Corvair, he says its in good condition. All we have to do is pick it up today."
"You're serious about this?" Blair looked ecstatic, then he sobered up. "Jim, man, I really appreciate it but guides aren't allowed to own cars. We can have drivers licenses but..."
"The car will officially be in my name, Blair, but in every way its yours. Just like the money you earn as a TA is paid into an account in my name but you have the ATM, it's just sleight of hand, Chief."
Blair just stared at him in disbelief and Jim felt a pang in the vicinity of the heart no one thought he had. Sandburg still couldn't understand that anyone could want to do something nice for him once in a while. That's gonna change, Chief.
Jim never ceased to amaze him. Most people, even those he worked with, thought, no...knew he was nothing more than a cold stolid cop. Actually, he was a caring, thoughtful man. It was a side that he didn't show to everyone, and yet he constantly showed it to Blair. I don't understand... I'd still be his guide... why does he bother?
"Let's go, Junior, before this Corvair rusts out waiting for us."
The evening hadn't started off very well. The roommate was at home and had immediately started coming on to Sandburg, to the empath's embarrassment and Rosemary's pique. Fortunately, Blair had remembered that Jim was out on an all-night stake out and the grad students had promptly adjourned their evening to the Loft. The food had travelled well and was even tastier reheated. They had talked of things anthropological and sociological and swapped stories of "most embarrassing fieldwork moment." Mindful of Jim's neatness fetish, Blair had insisted on doing the dishes and Rosemary had insisted on helping him. When the last dish was dried, Rosemary had called, "Blair..." When he turned from the cabinet, she had decorated his nose with soap bubbles. Blair promptly sneezed and Rosemary fell into a fit of the giggles. By mutual consent, they had wound up on the sofa. Sandburg shoved in the video Rosemary had wanted to see and the two settled down to watch it.
Blair was relaxed and enjoying himself, feeling safe and secure in the comfort of the loft, of home. When Rosemary snuggled against him, he threw an arm around her shoulders and planted a kiss on the top of her head, eyes still glued to the screen and his social commentary flowing freely. Rosemary shifted against him again, and Blair absent-mindedly played with her hair. Something was tickling in the back of Blair's mind, his body started tingling... and then Rosemary muttered something about anthropologists who couldn't observe their way out of a paper bag and didn't Blair know anything about the courting rituals of the modern American female? Deep blue eyes had locked on brown and the next kiss was right on target. Blair dimly wondered if Rosemary might not have some marginal empathic talents, the connection between them was practically humming. Blair was used to knowing what his partners wanted from him; Rosemary seemed to know what he wanted, needed.
Things took off from there. Several pieces of clothing later, Rosemary accepted his hand and followed him into his bedroom. She gave him a push onto the bed when he wasn't expecting it and he wound up sprawled on his back amidst the pillows. With a laugh, she pounced on him and pinned him onto the multi-colored bedspread; she had never had such a willing prisoner. They were in close embrace when Blair rolled, gently flipping her onto her back. They kissed as frantic hands struggled with recalcitrant buttons and zippers. Then Blair slowed the pace and their mouths met in a long passionate kiss. "Rosie... Rosie... sure?" She groaned as he wasted time on what had to be the stupidest question she'd ever heard in her life and invited him with a wordless sigh and a willing body to read her.
Her emotions swept over him, intensifying his own with sweet torture, his responses tuned into her needs. They were lost in the moment, poised on the brink of becoming one, hearts pounding in unison...
It had been a sweet piece of work. Jim had extended his senses the slightest bit, relying on Rafe and H to keep him centered, just like they had practised under Blair's watchful eye. Even on what H. jokingly referred to as the "unguided power setting," Jim's senses had let the detectives find concealment blocks away from their target. Devereaux had been so sure no one was watching the warehouse that he and his men made very little effort to conceal the movement of the smuggled weapons into storage. He had not been happy to have his business disrupted by a tactical team from the Cascade PD. Simon, on the other hand, was very happy and the DA even happier. So happy, that Simon had let every one go home early before the paperwork was even done. Ellison climbed the stairs to the loft, wishing that his guide was home. He wanted to... well... brag a bit about how well it had gone, how well the senses had worked...What the hell!
Anger and terror swept over him as he heard his guide's heartbeat, rampaging almost out of control, his breath coming in gasps... Jim hit the door and sprung it open, gun out, ready to... die of embarrassment...
A loud crash as the front door was slammed open with a vengeance had the same effect as a bucket of ice water. Rosemary squeaked, startled and not a little afraid.
Blair's heart began to pound in his chest for a reason other than the woman in his arms. He tried to keep his voice level. "It's just my roommate, he said he would be out all night. Guess they caught the bad guy early. I am sorry, Rosemary."
Jim stopped in his tracks his anger vanishing as he heard a second heartbeat next to his guide's familiar one. He inhaled slightly and he smelled perfume... and a more basic scent. He hesitated a second and then turned and began to leave... but he had nowhere he wanted to go. He debated going up to his bedroom but that wouldn't be enough to take the damper off the evening; the grad students knew how sensitive his hearing was. He swore to himself, of all the times for the criminals to show up early! Well, no help for it, they knew he was here. "Sandburg, I'm back."
Blair's head dropped down to rest on her shoulder, "Sorry, Rosemary." He looked up, expecting to see anger, but all he saw was a grin. She laughed,
"We don't have much luck, do we, Blair?"
"Maybe we should try cards?"
"Come on, Blair, let's go say hi to your roommate."
Jim pulled a bottle of beer from the fridge and carefully did not listen in to the sounds from the bedroom behind him. When Blair appeared, the young woman Jim had seen that morning on his arm, he was looking slightly sheepish. "Hey, Jim, this is Rosemary Cooney."
"Rosemary, sorry about the entrance."
She smiled. "Well, it was ... um... exciting anyway. You were at the university this morning with Blair. You're a sentinel aren't you?"
"Yes. Sandburg guides me." Jim wondered where this was going.
"I was thinking that maybe you could give me an interview. I'm studying alternative societies. You can't get any more alternative than the Sentinel world with its own structures, laws and mores."
"I'll think about it." Jim was non-committal but Rosemary just flashed him a wide smile and said, "Great, Jim, thanks." She turned and kissed Blair. "See you in class tomorrow. Okay?"
"Okay. Sorry about tonight." Blair walked her over to the door and she put a hand on his chest and stopped him.
"I can get to my car on my own, Blair. You probably want to know what brought Jim home early and as for apologizing... the dinner was great, the conversation scintillating, the video amazing and ... well, let's just say you'd better ask me out so we can finish what we started!"
Rosemary kissed him again and went...humming... down the hall.
Once he'd shut the door, Blair turned. "Man, your timing could have been better, you know?" Blair's voice said he was slightly unsure of what Jim's reaction would be.
"Well, I didn't think you would be making out in our home. I thought you were going to her place?"
Blair hesitated for a second. Then his eyes widened in realization. Jim had said *our home.* He really meant it was their home.
Blair sighed happily and then grinned as he saw the amusement in Ellison's eyes. "Well, things didn't go exactly as we planned. Her roommate never left and mine came home early."
"Well, do me a favor, Chief, and take a shower." It was said with a smile.
"Jim, you don't think she... well, just to get a chance to ask you..."
Jim shook his head. "No, Chief, I don't. I was just a bonus." Blair bounced away, humming the same tune Rosemary had. Ellison grinned, the kid was in seventh heaven. Jim shook his head slowly. He had wondered when the doubts would set in. Blair really didn't know the effect he had on women. And since Blair's first fling had been a set up for murder, he had to have been wondering if Rosemary had an ulterior motive as well. He just hoped that this time the kid could have some fun without discovering a hidden agenda.
Blair smiled as he got out of the shower and carefully bagged his clothes until they could be washed. Rosemary's scent was still alien to the Dark Sentinel and he was aware that he had to be careful about triggering Jim's territorial imperative. Jim might not acknowledge, or rather pretend to not acknowledge, that he had in him the primitive, feral sentinel, but it was there and sometimes it wanted out. He rubbed his hair with another towel and for a moment he froze as he saw the marks on his back. He shuddered, the bruises from the beating he had taken at the hand of Tony Howard were still faintly visible. Rosemary hadn't noticed or if she did, she hadn't said anything. He thought about Rosemary and grinned. Her responses had not been faked and she had genuinely enjoyed talking with him too! He pulled Jim's old robe on. It was about three sizes too big for him but, somehow, wearing it made him feel safe. He hung his towels up and left the bathroom in a billow of steam.
Jim was still nursing his beer. "Want one, Sandburg?"
Blair hesitated but shook his head.
Jim's voice softened, "Blair, you can have a beer if you want one."
"No I can't. Alex never allowed me to drink. She..." Blair stopped as he saw Jim react to the other sentinel's name.
Jim brought the immediate, unthinking rage he always felt at mention of Alex's name under control. Blair had never really spoken of his time with Alex Barnes, but Jim knew that it had been bad. He had seen enough of the scars she'd left behind to know he didn't really want to know just how bad it had been. But he suspected that Sandburg needed to talk about what he had endured and Jim was pleased that his young guide felt comfortable enough to talk to him about those times. He wouldn't allow his own anger and hate of the now dead sentinel who had tortured his guide get in the way of helping the younger man deal with the aftermath.
"Tell me, Chief." Ellison threw a comforting arm over his guide's shoulders and ushered him into the living room.
Blair took a seat on the edge of the sofa. He wove his fingers together and stared at the resulting pattern. Finally, he whispered, "She... She put me in the hospital to make a point about me not drinking. One of her goons had spilt alcohol on me as a joke... I still stank of it when she got back," his voice lifted, almost as if he was living it again. "She must have known I hadn't drank anything, you would've, right?" Jim looked into the expressive face and knew that Blair was asking for reassurance that he had done nothing wrong. That Alex should have known - if she had wanted to.
Ellison took another pull from his bottle and nodded, his eyes never leaving Blair's face.
"But she...." he hesitated and stared down at his left hand. The fingers flexed slowly, as if he was feeling something remembered. "She broke my fingers... and ...." he trailed off. Dark blue eyes raised to light blue, hurt and confusion and troubled memories in the young empath's gaze.
"Blair," Jim said gently into the confused silence, "I'm not going to force a drink down your throat, but there's a beer there if you want one, okay?" The sentinel kept eye contact as he added, "If you ever want to try a beer or whatever, we'll do it here, together, so you can see how it will affect you." And so that he would be there when his guide faced any demons, real or drink induced.
"Okay, Jim. Thanks." Blair wasn't sure whether he was thanking Jim for the offer of a drink or for treating him as an ordinary person. He knew that his heartbeat had stopped, then skyrocketed when Jim had come home and found him with Rosemary. His instinct had been to run, sure that Jim would punish him for bringing her home and making love to her in his loft. But he couldn't leave Rosemary to face him... and he couldn't run, not from Jim. Any other sentinel would have never let him out on his own to start with and would probably have beaten him senseless for having her over. But Jim Ellison was different. He cared enough to treat him like a regular person, not a bonded guide. Even now he some times caught himself taking a deep breath and waiting for the bubble to burst as it had when Jim lost his memory.
"How did the stakeout go? I should have been there."
Jim shook his head in fond amusement. The kid was so predictable. He gave the kid an evening off and here came the guilt.
"No problems." He reassured Blair. "Nothing but straight forward police work, just like I use to do before all the sentinel stuff kicked in. Although you really have made a difference in how much control I have over these senses. H and Rafe were impressed with me." Jim's whole body just emoted smugness. Blair's eyebrows went up and the corners of his mouth went down. "You used your senses... what if you had zoned? I mean, c'mon, Jim, that's supposed to be my job! Watching your..."
If he didn't want to sit through a cautionary lecture it was time for a major distraction. Ellison noticed the folder on the table and grabbed for it as for a lifeline. "So, this is the information on the dig?" Jim resigned himself to the fact that he wouldn't get away with avoiding seeing the file contents this time. Last night he had been lucky, a Jags game had side tracked the younger man, but tonight all he had was reruns, not even a National Geographic special to tempt his resident anthropologist. On the other hand, talking about their vacation would be ideal to distract the kid from the lecture he was giving on the role of a guide in his sentinel's life.
Blair took the bait as the sentinel handed the folder to him. He hugged the thick package close to him. "Its high up in the mountains, above the logging works that closed in the 90's. Not even campers go up that high." He added quickly, "You'll like it, Jim, nothing but trees and streams and mountains. It's quiet, real quiet that high up. You can unwind and ..."
"Breathe, Chief, breathe." Ellison waited until Blair had pulled in a lungful of air. "That' better. You've sold me on this trip, already. Remember?" If he were honest with himself, Jim would have had to admit that he wouldn't have minded if they were planning to climb Everest in a tux. His guide was excited, the blue eyes snapping with intelligence and sense of wonder. Jim saw in him the man he had been, the man Doctor Woodward had talked about, before his life had been blighted by sentinels and the GDP. It was good to see that the vital spirit of Blair Sandburg was still there and coming more and more to the surface. Jim studied the younger man critically as Sandburg laid out photos and diagrams on the coffee table. Blair was still spooked at times; the GDP had done an excellent job of beating fear responses into him. But Jim hoped that the deeper their bond went the more Blair would understand that they could not touch him, that Jim would always come for him.
Jim moved around the sofa and sat down near him. "Okay, Chief, take me through the aerials of the site. Just how does this tower thing fit into the whole building?" Jim stared at the photograph and suddenly everything went grey. Blair's head snapped up as he realized that something was wrong. "Dammit, Jim, come on, man, don't do this to me, not NOW."
Blair turned and took hold of Jim's shoulders. His thumbs gently massaged the tight shoulder muscles as his empathic sense reached out and pushed into Jim's mind. He called his sentinel back from the zone out with touch and voice and mind.
Jim took a deep, shaky breath and his eyes opened and focused on Blair's worried face. He could feel the tugging on the back of his mind. Jim reached out and placed the palm of his hand against his guide's heart. He could feel the warmth of his skin through the material, hear the rustling of the air through his lungs and the blood in his veins. His guide was calling to him.
"Jim, you okay, man?" At Ellison's nod, he probed, "What were you concentrating on when you zoned? What set you off?"
"I don't know, Chief. I was looking at the photo, at the building, and then everything was gone."
Blair picked the photograph up. All he could see was trees. "What building, Jim?" A big hand reached past him and took the photo off him. "Can't you see it, Blair? Here, the steps... the entrance."
Jim's fingers were tracing a pattern on the photographic paper. He was starting to drift again when he was pulled back by the sharp command of his guide. The voice was designed to bring a sentinel back to the land of the living, it was a "don't make me come and get you" tone. Jim's head came up with a jerk.
"Blair?" He sounded puzzled.
"I'd better take this." Blair gently removed the photograph from his sentinel's hand. He'd show it to Colin Sharpe tomorrow and see if he could find something on it. If just a picture was zoning his sentinel, he wanted to know what it was before they got anywhere near the place. 0-0--0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0
Colin Sharpe was nervous, hell he had long ago gone past that into pure paranoid, but he was the best computer expert that Blair knew, even if his expertise was in hacking systems. Sharpe always reminded Blair of one of the *Lone Gunmen* from the classic series, The X-Files. "Hi, Blair. How's the storm trooper." Sharpe really liked Sandburg, enjoyed his intelligence and his seemingly boundless enthusiasm for life and learning. That liking was the only reason he still let him come around now that he had a sentinel. A sentinel... How the hell does the kid stand it?
"Jim's fine, thanks, and don't call him that. I've told you before, Colin, he's one of the good guys."
"You mean he doesn't make you kneel to him..." There was disbelief in Sharpe's voice. A loyal member of the Guide Liberation Army, he still couldn't believe there was such a thing as a tolerant sentinel, much less a caring one.
"No, like I said, he's good to me, Colin. He treats me as if I was a regular human. I feel... safe... when he's around, Colin. You know what I mean?"
Sharpe studied the younger man. Safe! I wish I even remembered what that felt like... but if anyone needs, deserves to feel safe it's Blair. Sharpe was sometimes aware that his paranoia might be a little over the top but it had kept him and his group safe so far. Deep blue eyes were still waiting for his response. "Okay, Sandburg, I got it this time. Jim's not your usual run of sentinel, but then again, I doubt very much that you're the usual run of guide, kid." Sharpe grinned at the blush that rose up the younger man's face and said quickly, "So, what can I do for you this time?"
"I need you to look at this photograph for me. For some reason, Jim saw it and zoned and I want to know why. He thinks he sees structures there."
Colin scanned the photo into the computer; his fingers flew over the keyboard, magnifying, enhancing each part of the picture. Finally, he sat back. "Well the picture's too grainy to get much. Ellison's right, there is some sort of structure there, but beyond that, Blair, it's a no go."
He handed it back and watched as Sandburg pulled some money from the threadbare canvas folder he used as a wallet. Colin was one of the few people Blair had trusted with the information that Jim had given him an ATM card for his TA salary. Sharpe knew how little that actually was but Sandburg had always been fiercely independent, determined to pay his own way. That hadn't changed, it seemed.
"No charge, Blair, it's not like I actually found anything." Colin pushed the $50 back into the empath's hand. "Watch your back, okay? I found traces of someone hacking into your GDP files."
"It's sealed in Major Crimes..." Sandburg's eyes had widened in response to the threat implied by the interest in his files.
"Blair, there is no such thing as total computer security. They hacked it before the file was sealed. I tried to trace it but it was a no go. So just watch yourself, kid, I don't want to lose you." Sharpe's eyes held real concern.
"Thanks, man. For this..." Blair held up the photo... "and for the warning."
Sharpe nodded acceptance of both thanks. He didn't like the shadows he'd put into the kid's eyes but better forewarned than unprepared.
Blair walked across the campus heading to the GDP office. He forced himself to remain calm, to not think about someone hacking his files. He had only one more day of detention and then he was free. That had been the deal Jim had cut with Lieutenant Harris when he had been picked up during a raid. For the past thirteen days, whenever he wasn't teaching or at lectures or study group, he had reported to the GDP office. He was put out that he couldn't use his *new* car to come to work, but the GDP had stipulated that his sentinel had to deliver him to, and pick him up from, the GDP station every day. It was a form of house arrest, but one he could live with and Jim didn't seem to mind. On the good side, in one day's time he would have his own wheels again, something he hadn't had since he was twenty-two, before the GDP and Alex. Everything in his life seemed to boil down into those words "before the GDP and Alex," "After the GDP and Alex." Maybe he should put a more positive spin on his mental benchmarks... before Jim and after Jim. Blair smiled at that thought and a young woman jogging by, turned to look back at him. Speaking of Jim and the car... he made a mental note to pick up a parking permit. He hated to think what his anal partner would think of parking tickets.
Blair hefted his backpack and continued to muse about his sentinel. Jim was always in Blessed Protector mode when he picked him up. He would totally ignore the watching GDP to pull him close and run his hands over him. He could almost feel the senses wrapping around him as he was checked over for the slightest injury. The one time he had accidentally tripped in his holding cell, banging his head and cutting his lip, he had had to plaster himself against Jim to calm him down. Jim had smelled the blood and seen the bruise and protective instincts exploded into what could have been a dangerous situation. Blair grinned again... it was a morning for smiles... Lieutenant Harris had actually thanked him the next morning for defusing his sentinel. There was respect in the officer's eyes that Blair had never expected to see in any GDPer's gaze.
Things had been a little easier at the station after that incident. Blair had been surprised to find that most of the Rainier GDP were not like others he had met during his horrific association with the organisation. Some of them actually seemed to feel they were, in fact, helping guides and sentinels. Even so, Blair's heart was beating a little faster as he entered the GDP office and recognized the officer on duty as Knight. The man was dealing with a group of school children and Blair hid a grin. He knew how much the station personnel *loved* Dexter's Public Relations exercises. The Rainier Office was a showplace since the University offered sponsorship placement to students joining the GDP recruitment program. He recognized Daryl Banks as one of the students and sighed as he saw the boy nudge his companions. He didn't know what he had done to make the Captain's son hate him... but he was almost certain he did.
Blair scrawled his signature in the log book and started to head back to *his* cell. The last couple of days, he had actually been allowed to get some work done and it had helped him to get caught up. No one interrupted him at the GDP station. Blair caught his breath as he recognized the officer coming out of Lieutenant Dexter's office. Captain Gross! Images from the Sanctuary when this man had him leashed flashed through his mind. This was one of the times that Blair wished he had his partner's stoic face. Gross turned to him and smiled. That smile chilled the empath to the bone.
Gross smiled brighter as he saw the battered backpack clutched tighter to the guide's chest as if it were some sort of shield. Oh, yes, this one remembered him and he certainly remembered the boy's terror. Time for a little fun.
"Officer Dexter, I am sure that the children would be interested in seeing a guide put through his paces. It is not something you have an opportunity to see every day."
Blair didn't have to glance around to see who he was talking to or about. Didn't need to hear the silky voice bark, "Guide, show your respect" to know he was in trouble.
Blair quickly folded down on his knees. His face heated as he heard the children's callous comments. All he wanted to do was curl up and die before the full humiliation started. Dexter's voice cut in, "With respect, Sir, I don't think that his sentinel would be too happy about this. Sentinel Prime Ellison is rather particular about his guide's treatment."
"So I have heard. Jimmy was not fully trained in guide care and it shows. I'm sure that he will get a lot out of the training I have scheduled for him."
Sure, he will, if he doesn't tear your throat out first. He is not going to be happy with you. Blair mused, not a little comforted that no matter what Gross chose to do, Jim would be there for him. This isn't Before Jim anymore. He thought back to the Conference, to what Jim had told him then. It's a role, I'm just an actor in a play. It's not really me.
"You know Sentinel Prime Ellison?" Dexter asked cautiously. Somehow, she didn't think it was a connection the sentinel would have encouraged.
"Old friends." Gross smiled at the lieutenant before turning to the audience of interested students. "Now, when a sentinel is working with a properly trained guide, he doesn't even have to talk to him or her. He can direct him by hand signals. If a working guide needs to lower his barriers, he adopts the working position so that any citizen will know that he is vulnerable to touch." Gross moved over by Blair and hand signaled him into the working guide position. Gross smiled as he felt the small tremors running through the young empath as he leaned against his leg.
"Now, since the Sentinel Prime is not here, I will not suggest that his guide lower his barriers. That would be unkind and we are not here to hurt guides. The GDP's function is to help them achieve their maximum potential. Later, I am sure Officer Dexter will show you the Guide College and then the Sentinel Institute. The Guide, at the moment, is in the working position. If you ever come across a Guide in this position you must remove yourself from the location so as not to interfere with the sentinel's work. Now, when bonding they adopt the submissive posture. Belly, Guide."
Blair dropped down onto his hands to break his fall; his hands went to the small of his back as the coarse carpet pressed against his face. He tuned out the lecture and bit down on his lip. Soon it will be over soon. Those words became his mantra as Gross's ankle pressed against his thigh. Blair shuddered briefly as the Captain's foot worked its way under his body where it had no business being.
Gross pulled his foot back into proper position after he got the reaction he'd wanted and continued smoothly, "The sentinel will connect to his guide by placing his foot like this. At certain times a guide may become rogue. This is very sad, for the guide and society. Usually they are misguided"... Gross smiled at his own intentional pun and frowned when the kids missed it... " They need gentle but firm handling for them to regain their direction in life. That is where you will come in if you join us. Ours is a teaching profession. We help guide and sentinel come together to serve the community." He bent down and placed his hand on the back of the guide's neck, the finger pattern indicating that Blair should kneel.
Blair pulled his knees under him, hands returning to the small of his back. Head down, he leaned against Gross' hip. He could feel Gross' emotions and Blair had to fight not to panic. He was little more than a barely tolerated performing animal to the captain and Gross was fighting an almost overwhelming need to put him in his place. Only the presence of witnesses held him in check.
Harris replaced his phone in the cradle. Then he got to his feet and smiled to himself. The lieutenant did not like what Gross was doing to the young empath. Somehow, what Harris had always accepted as normal training practice became an indignity when used on this particular guide. He went out into the outer office where Gross was holding court, giving the fascinated children a taste of how it felt to have control over another person... and enjoy it.
"Captain Gross, Sentinel Prime Ellison telephoned to say that he's on his way here." He kept the amusement out of his voice and face as he saw Gross stop his explanation and take a hurried step away from the Guide. So hurried, that Sandburg almost overbalanced. Harris wondered if anyone else heard the nervousness in the captain's voice as he quickly said,
"I am sure that Officer Dexter can finish explaining the Guide Development Program to you. Dismissed, Guide."
Blair got to his feet and snagged his backpack. He cast a grateful glance at Harris and stopped when he saw Knight hovering in the background. Officer Knight had always treated him like dirt but this time he saw something in the man's face that hadn't been there before. Something that almost looked like sympathy and maybe even a touch of respect.
"Guide Sandburg... Room 24." Knight said it casually. That was the room he used when all he had to do was stay at the station. When they let him work. Coming from Knight, it was almost a declaration of support.
"Officer Knight." He tried to keep his feelings out of his voice. He found himself unexpectedly grateful for the familiar confines of Room 24. Blair put his backpack down on the table, his hands shaking badly. Simon's son had been there again, had seen him down on his knees again. He shivered. The children's excitement, and Gross' arousal, had battered his barriers badly. He needed to connect with Jim. There was a noise at the door and Blair tried to school his expression before he looked up. Officer Knight was standing there. But this time, even with his barriers almost gone, Blair didn't feel the disgust usually aimed at him from Knight's direction. "I'll switch the damper on, guide."
"Thank you, Officer." Blair sighed in relief as the walls emitted the electrical pulses that mimicked a restful mind. It helped to diminish his awareness of the human emotions in the station's ambient. He pulled his books out of the backpack and tried to study the text in front of him. The words danced in front of his eyes without conveying any meaning. He shut the book and began to look at the blue books he had to grade that night, all seventy-three of them. He found his mind couldn't concentrate on them either, so he turned to the dig folder. He let his hand run over it and a twinge of excitement replaced the trauma of Gross' exhibit. I am actually going on a dig! He still could not quite believe it.
Jim entered the station in full Blessed Protector mode. Knight immediately got to his feet; he had been there when Ellison had gone ballistic because his guide had been hurt in an accident. And he'd never forget the time he'd forgotten to call the sentinel and left the guide leashed for three hours. He could afford no more mistakes. "He's in Room 24, Sentinel Prime."
He got a terse nod but he thought the sentinel had relaxed somewhat. Thank heavens for Room 24! Knight grinned as he wondered what Gross would say about the kind of "disciplining" that went on in that particular room. Lately, Sandburg seemed almost relieved to enter its door. The hours spent waiting for his sentinel were productive ones, free from distractions, and it was an open secret that many a cup of tea found its way to the young scholar's table.
As soon as Ellison entered the room, he locked his senses onto Blair. There was a sense of immense relief as they told him his guide was unhurt. Blair looked up at his entrance and immediately crossed to him, reaching out for his sentinel. Ellison pulled him into a brief hug and asked against the top of a curly head, "Blair, are you..."
"I'm okay, Jim. No harm done." Blair assured his sentinel as the strong arms around him chased away the last of the lingering nightmares.
"You're my Guide and my friend. No one does that to you." He started to turn away from Blair ready to find and do battle with Gross. He was caught and pulled back by his guide's hand. For a moment the Dark Sentinel's light blue eyes locked on the deeper blue of the Dark Guide's. There was a battle of wills for one long moment before the sentinel nodded, a little shamefaced.
Blair's lips twisted up at the corners knowing he had won. He patted Jim's shoulder, relaxing now that his sentinel was here.
"I would like to leave now, Jim." He started to get his books and work into some semblance of order.
Jim looked down at the desk and saw the set of aerial photographs among the rest of the academic clutter. "Busy, Chief?" He teased gently, thankful that after a rocky first week, his young guide had managed to win concessions even from the GDPers who were his jailers.
"Not busy enough. I didn't even begin to get through the blue books. Long night ahead of me." His voice showed that he would not swap that long night and what it meant for the world. His voice was slightly puzzled as he went on, "Jim, you're early. What happened to the stakeout?"
"Simon said to pick you up first, didn't want to leave you here longer than I had to." His voice trailed off as he caught sight of the picture Sharpe had enhanced. He leaned over his guide's shoulder, his hand hovering over it. Gray began to fill his vision.
"Jim. Jim!" Blair felt Ellison zoning. The young guide quickly reached for the statue his sentinel had become. He made contact; one hand against the broad chest and the other stroking Jim's shoulder and arm. He connected through the link and sent reassurance through their bond. His voice was soothing as it dropped to guide level, "Jim, you have to come back now. Follow my voice back." His emotions backed up his words. Finally, he noticed the clenched jaw slowly easing, and, with a sharp intake of breath, his sentinel returned to him.
"What happened?" Ellison sounded confused.
"We'll talk later, just take deep breaths for now." Blair started to turn away to get his backpack ready to go. Strong hands grabbed him and pulled him against a tall body.
"Don't break the link, Blair. Please, I've got to feel you."
There was an edge to Jim's voice, a neediness, that Blair hadn't heard before.
"Sure, Jim, we can do that. Truth be told, I could use a little connection myself. Just turn me loose enough to get packed up here."
Jim kept one hand on his shoulder as Blair scooped the papers and books scattered over the table into the backpack. Only when Blair had the battered satchel swung over his shoulder in its accustomed place and had tangled one hand in the back of his jacket and sent the other fluttering over his shoulder, did Jim release his hold. The connection between then was centering and calming him after the sudden sense of threat against his guide sent him reeling. He could not pin down the source. It had just exploded in his mind and body and then disappeared as his guide called to him. Blair was too precious to him to risk losing him. The episode, whatever it was, had sent him straight to Blessed Protector mode. He was still wary as they left Room 24.
Blair was standing just behind Jim's shoulder, one hand still holding onto the back of his jacket, the other tucked into the backpack's strap. Ellison knew his aggressive wariness was very close to the surface and that it was hard on his guide but the sense of threat still lingered. Blair's barriers were gone, or near enough to gone that he would have to help him build them up as soon as they got home. That couldn't come soon enough to suit him. And they still had to get past the outer office and the horde of students who were just returning from a trip to the Guide College.
He glared at Officer Dexter as she opened her mouth to speak to him. She turned back to the students. Ellison tried to tune out the children's voices, to focus on the increasing heart rate of the younger man beside him. A familiar voice caught his attention. He clearly heard the obscenity Daryl Banks used in connection with his guide. His ice-cold eyes fixed on the culprit and he had the satisfaction of seeing the boy blush nervously. He was ready to take it further but Blair's soft voice stopped him. "Peer pressure, Jim, he has to fit in and he's already a police captain's son. He doesn't really mean it."
Blair patted Jim's shoulder as the sentinel let it drop but he knew that the Blessed Protector wouldn't forget or forgive the kid for saying that, not any time soon.
Finally, they were out of the office and Blair sighed in a steadying breath of relief as he was installed in the truck by a hovering sentinel.
"I heard what happened. Sorry about that, Chief."
"It wasn't your fault, Jim. That guy Gross is a jerk, big time. Pretty apt name for him, Gross, I mean." Ellison relaxed even more as Blair chuckled at his own small joke. "It was lucky you rang, though. The good captain almost broke a leg getting out of there." I'm glad you can find something funny about it, Chief. I just want to tear someone's head off! Still, it had told him something about the effect his young partner was having on the station personnel.
"I didn't call, Chief. Harris tipped me off." Jim waited while Blair thought about that statement.
"So, another one of the good guys, you think? Or just feeling guilty?"
"Jury is still out on that one, Chief. Let's get you home." He paused, not really wanting to know but needing to know. "What did Gross want?"
"Um... he put me through the guide paces for the kids." He added quickly as he felt Jim's anger simmer, "Easy, big guy, he didn't hurt me." Blair couldn't help but smile as he thought of his sentinel's probable reaction to his next revelation. "Hey, Jim, he said that he had you down for guide care lectures."
"That's what he told them." Ellison seesawed between anger at Gross and relief that his guide could still see some humor in the situation. He felt the warmth of his guide's hand on his leg and his presence in the back of his mind and sighed. They'd get home and bond and then do the Miller stakeout.
Blair curled up in the passenger seat, connecting with Jim physically and emotionally as his sentinel fussed over him, making sure his seat belt was secure. Jim was still muttering under his breath as he put the truck into gear but the anger had been replaced with purpose. Blair let himself drift....
Jim steered his drowsy guide into the elevator. Hetty was just coming out and stopped at seeing the young empath tucked under his sentinel's arm. "Jim?"
"Busy day at the University, Hetty." Ellison reassured her. He nudged Sandburg's ribs and the younger man woke up enough to mumble, "Hey, Mrs. Sanders. Don't forget 'bout dinner. 'kay?" The little woman said warmly, "I won't, dear. Now you go get some rest."
"Huh? I don't need any rest. Hey, we're home. How, Jim..." Hetty Sanders smiled as the elevator door closed on the confused guide. Maybe she'd bring an apple pie next week.
"Okay, Junior, on the couch. We've got bonding to do. Unless you want to eat first?"
Blair shivered a little as the security of the loft and his sentinel's presence let him lower the guards he'd placed on the upset of the day. "I'm not really hungry right now, Jim."
Ellison nodded, neither was he and he wouldn't be until he was sure that his guide was all right. He took the backpack from the younger man and set it down beside the sofa. A hand on Blair's shoulder drew him down next to him on the sofa. "Jim?" There was puzzlement in Sandburg's voice. Ellison said softly, "We're going to try something here, junior. I want you to just sit quietly and put your head down, right over my heart."
"Jim? I don't understand..."
"It occurred to me last night that I get a heck of a lot more from these bondings than you do... ah...ah.. not a word about the way it is supposed to be, Junior. You've had a hell of a day after a worse two weeks, but it's over. No more restriction, no more GDamnP discipline. I want you to relax and let it all go."
This wasn't how it was supposed to go... but Jim's hand somehow eased his head onto his sentinel's chest. Jim's heart thumped soothingly in his ear as his back was rubbed with a big hand that unerringly found all the tight wound muscles. Blair drew his legs up on the cushions, relaxing into the solid comfort of his sentinel's presence. He tentatively reached for their bond and a flood of affection and protection poured into him, rebuilding his barriers, lifting his heart. How does he always know what I need? "Go to sleep, Chief. We've got time for a nap before your meeting and my stakeout." Ellison felt the curly head nod against his chest as tension melted from the smaller body curled next to him. Soon, he felt the regular breaths of sleep against his neck as he absentmindedly carded through his guide's hair. One of Cascade's sudden storms darkened the sky and sent raindrops splattering against the skylight. Jim pulled the blanket around Blair's body and watched the sky. He remembered holding Stephen like this when they were kids and his brother had had a nightmare. That trust had ended all too soon when his father had driven them apart. He wasn't too surprised to discover that thinking of his energetic young guide as a brother seemed right...
The Miller stakeout was a pain. Absolutely nothing was happening; the man was living like a monk. At this point, they would have been happy to get him for littering let alone for the half a million drug laundering operation of which he was the suspected head. Jim's mind was on his guide. Blair had woken from his nap with his barriers and his energy restored. The ending of the GDP restriction had restored his enthusiasm and he had regaled Ellison with tales from the University that had the older man laughing his head off. And silently promising himself to attend the University's soccer games. It appeared as if his guide had found a whole cadre of Blessed Protectors in the soccer team.
Jim knew that Sandburg faced unpleasantness at the University because of his status as a guide but it sounded as if the positive outweighed the negative experiences. And nothing called for more enthusiasm than the forthcoming dig. Blair was convinced that it would shed more light on the ancient sentinels and guides. Jim knew that Sandburg was especially ecstatic that he was going to be able to share his world with his sentinel. Ellison had seen his ebullient young partner off to an early evening meeting at the University before heading off to the stakeout. Jim had planned to go with Blair to the meeting as it was for the digging team assigned to the Croxley excavations but the Miller stakeout had taken precedence. He had wanted to get a look at the people they would be camping with for a few weeks, make sure no one would try to cause trouble for his resident anthropologist. Something was niggling in the back of his mind, a feeling of danger... Ellison decided he was definitely going to check out the dig members.
It was midnight when he got back to the loft. He aurally scanned the small room and didn't find his guide's heartbeat. He immediately checked the answering machine, no messages. Hitting the speed dial for Blair's cell phone, he swore when informed that it was switched off. Concern and worry vied together for control of the sentinel's emotions And waited... and waited...
Blair gave the other students in the van a wave and then walked into Hargrove Hall. Aaron Baker, one of the dig supervisors had insisted on driving all the anthro students, to the pub, leaving their cars outside of Hargrove Hall, he had lost the toss, and was the designated driver for the evening. They had started the discussion on the way over. The meeting itself had been a good one. He was surprised at just how much he missed the buzz of getting ready for fieldwork. The actual meeting had started at 8:00 p.m. In addition to the three Anthro majors he had driven over with, there were several archaeology minors he had already met and another couple he had seen around the campus. They weren't friends but Blair knew that digs had a way of causing lasting friendships or deep enmity.
Blair tucked his folder of photographs and excavations plans under his arm and headed up the steps to his office. He'd collect his keys and head on home before Jim got home and worried. He couldn't wait to tell the older man how well it had gone. The meeting had been a bit stilted at first but when he had shown them Colin's enhanced photos the others had thawed somewhat. He had accepted their invitation to go for a drink afterwards and that's what made him late. He had insisted on fruit juice but their initial teasing had quickly moved back to matters archaeological and anthropological. Blair had been delighted to discover that he was getting on with his future dig mates. They were still chatting when Blair got Aaron to drop him back at Hargrove.
Jim started to get worried. He snagged his car keys and headed for the Campus, if the kid was going to be late he would have at least called in.
The Mortar Board was *the* campus pub, complete with darts and pool tables, video games and draft beer. The drink and food was cheap and plentiful so it was the preferred watering hole of the students and younger Faculty members. It was not a place much frequented by cops as the owner was a retired policeman who was known to run a law-abiding place.
The sentinel ignored the looks he was getting from the students, as the word went around that a cop was in the place. He scanned the room, dialing down his senses to prevent an overload on the smell of drinks and food. He recognized Carol Reeves and crossed over to the table she was sharing with half a dozen other young men and women. She smiled. "Can I help you, Detective Ellison?"
"Blair Sandburg, where is he?" Jim's worry came out as aggression. Reeves wasn't fooled.
"Isn't he at home?" She sounded concerned. "He left two hours ago."
"He was at the meeting with us all, then he had to go. Aaron dropped him off at Hargrove hours ago." A tall lanky ginger haired student nodded agreement,
"He said he needed to collect some papers and his keys before he headed home."
Jim Ellison was already heading out of the pub and reaching for his cell phone. A curt call to Nancy Hong had the door to Hargrove Hall opened and the security chief waiting for Jim at the front entrance. The sentinel took the steps two at a time. The corridors were silent but for their ringing footsteps and the slow pounding of his guide's heartbeat. May be he dropped asleep, in which case Jim was going to kill him right after he hugged him. No, it was freezing here, the kid couldn't sleep in the cold. At the door, his worst fears were realized. He smelled the coppery odor of blood as Nancy fumbled with the keys. Too impatient, too worried, to wait until she found the right key, the sentinel booted the door down with one kick. His eyesight zoomed in on his guide and he cursed himself for ignoring the niggling sense of danger he'd felt on the stakeout.
Sandburg was laying on the floor, his hands secured behind his back with parcel tape, a thick piece of it over his mouth. His ankles were bound together and he was curled on his side, unconscious. His clothes were in a neat pile on the floor, as if to point out the care his attackers had taken with his garments as opposed to the careless way they had handled his person. His guide's... Blair's naked body was covered in graffiti, courtesy of the red marking pens on the floor by the desk. Nancy Hong gave a gasp at the obscenities but pulled out her cell phone and dialed 911.
Jim tuned her out, his hands moving swiftly over his partner, checking for damage. The tape had been wrapped around his wrists and then up to his elbows, increasing the pressure on his shoulders. Jim went through the kid's clothes' pockets and pulled out his Swiss Army knife. He carefully cut through the tape and eased his guide's arms around before rolling him onto his back. He released his ankles and then slowly tried to peel off the tape on his mouth, trying not to pull the skin. "He's been chloroformed." Over his shoulder, he snapped "On the bottom shelf by the door, there should be a blanket. Can you..."
Nancy handed him the blanket and watched as the big cop moved with more gentleness than she thought him capable of to wrap it around the young man. "He's been having trouble with some of the students but I didn't think that they would go this far. I am sorry, Jim."
"Not as sorry as they will be, Nancy, I can promise you that."
Jim thanked God that he had insisted that Blair keep the blanket in his office. He needed to conceal the kid from the eyes that would soon appear in answer to Hong's phone call. As he tucked his guide's left arm under its warmth, he noticed a small bruise on the inside of his elbow. The chloroform had been a blind. This wasn't a student attack; this was more sinister. Then his eyes lit on an object under the desk. He reached for it and swore as he pulled out a leash. What the hell had they, whoever "they" were, been up too?
Blair didn't have to have sentinel senses to hear Jim prowling up and down the hospital corridor like an angry panther. Ellison had made a nuisance of himself, getting in the doctor's and nurses' ways until they were ready to sedate him. When Blair had finally started to come around, it had only gotten worse. Ellison's constant glaring at the slightest moan of pain from his guide had the medical personnel too nervous to do their jobs. In the end, Blair had taken pity on them and ordered his sentinel out.
If he had not felt so wretched, Blair would have smiled at the surprised look they gave him when the *big bad sentinel* left on his command. But by then, he had his face in a bucket as the chloroform played havoc with his stomach. He missed his sentinel's comforting presence if not the commotion his mere *angry* presence wrought.
Commander Slater hurried into the emergency room. Nancy Hong had made one other call after she called the paramedics and the police. Slater made a mental note to thank the Campus security chief later for her co-operation. The GDP commander paused as he caught sight of the sentinel he had come to find. Ellison was standing stock still, his head tilted to one side...
Ellison might have been tossed out of the cubicle but he would be damned if he didn't stay on guard. Too late, sentinel, Blair needed you earlier. Still, he listened into the conversation between the medics, making sure they treated his guide with respect. That, at least, he could do. His head snapped around and Commander Slater jerked his hand back from where he had rested it on Jim's arm.
"Sorry, Jim, I thought you had zoned."
"Can't I stand still without you or Simon or someone thinking I've zoned?"
"Sorry," the commander's hands came up in a gesture of appeasement.
"How is he?" That would distract him from his grievances.
"He's going to be okay. He inhaled chloroform, it's upsetting his stomach, but that's to be expected. They're"... he tipped his head to one side, "they're giving him something for the nausea. The doctor just said they'll release him once they get the blood work back."
"He was injected with something, Slater. I want to know what it was."
Finally, the doctor came out. "Senior Sentinel Prime Ellison, your guide is ready to go home now. The blood work came back and identified the drug as a heavy sedative manufactured for GDP use only. It is not on the market, you need a license to purchase it. We keep a supply here at the hospital in case we need to sedate an overloaded guide. There are no lasting side effects. The chloroform was overkill, they certainly did not need it to keep Mr. Sandburg out."
"My guide was naked when I found him but I could sense no signs that he had been... assaulted. Can you confirm that?"
"You are correct, whoever attacked him, did not touch him."
"Oh, they touched him, Doctor. Maybe not that way but they touched him."
Just then Jim heard a metal bowl hit the floor and the sentinel pushed past the doctor and yanked the curtain back. Blair was backed into a corner and Jim felt a sinking sensation as he looked at his guide's eyes. The young man wasn't really there. His shaky, "Get your hands off me." Was echoed by his sentinel's roar, "Get your hands off him."
The nurse backed off. "Sentinel, I was only trying to help him dress."
"It's okay, I'll handle it."
Jim took the clothes from her and walked forward. "Come on, Chief, we need to get you dressed and home." Jim waited until he saw understanding come back into the deep blue eyes. Then memory crossed the young face and Jim watched the pain blossom.
"How many people know?" Those few words were heart breaking to his sentinel.
"As few as possible. Come on, kiddo. We even have the Commander playing chauffeur for us."
"Slater's here?" There was still enough confusion in the blue eyes to tell Jim that Sandburg had not yet thrown off all the effects of the drugs. He kept up a soothing chatter as he guided the younger man out into the hall.
"Sure, trying to do your job. But your employment is safe. He couldn't tell a zone from a hole in the wall. I was just standing there thinking and he goes to general quarters on me."
"E...easy mistake, big guy, you don't do it often enough for people to... recognize the symptoms." The words were slightly shaky, but Blair was trying.
Jim laughed. "See that, Slater, my own guide is turning against me."
Slater didn't even hesitate. "I wouldn't say that, Sentinel. He's just intelligent enough to know that you'd catch him in a lie."
"Come on, Chief, lets get you home."
Rainier University Parts 11 to EndWritten by Susan Foster