Disclaimer: The main characters are not mine. This is an amateur effort written purely for fun of it, and no money has exchanged hands. It is not intended to breach the copyright of Paramount and Pet Fly Productions.

Many thanks to Susan, my wise woman beta reader who keeps me honest.

Note: This story is set in the near future in an America very different from today. Sentinels are acknowledged and their abilities are used in everyday life in Police Work, the Military and Search and Rescue. Guides are thought of as second-class citizens whose only function is to serve their sentinel; they become their property. Some guides turn rogue and are hunted down by the sinister GDP, who have total power over them.

Sentinel Sanctuary

GDP Series

Continues from "Forget Me Not"

Part One

Simon Banks plucked the cell phone out of his pocket and growled, "This had better be good. I'm on vacation."

"Sorry, Rhonda." he apologized as he recognised his secretary's voice. He listened for a moment and responded, "Dr. Maggie Speke, never heard of her. Tell her to come after I'm back from vacation and I'll..." Simon listened some more, then exploded, "WHAT do you mean Dr. Claydove sent her with Commissioner Warren's backing?" Another shorter silence and Simon rubbed a hand over his forehead before saying, "OKAY, okay. I'll be over right away."

Simon's hand tightened on the phone at Rhonda's next news item.

"I'll bring them in. Tell Rafe and Brown to send out a storm warning. Make sure that any of the moron brigade are out of the way." On that note, he hung up.

At her desk, Rhonda's mouth curved in a small smile. 'Storm warning' was shorthand in the Major Crime Bullpen that a certain Detective James Joseph Ellison was in one of his famous moods. She had never had the full force of his fury turned on her but she had seen the storm damage to others. She had watched full-grown members of the SWAT squad stagger away under Ellison's onslaught. It was a sight once seen, never forgotten. She shuffled through the documents on her desk looking for the doctor's telephone number. Even as she dialled the contact number, she hoped everything was all right for "their" sentinel/guide pairing. She was one of the many people who had taken to the attractive young guide and didn't want to think of him being hurt. If the rumors flying around the bullpen that Ellison had laid a hand on him were true, the sentinel was going have the entire female population of the precinct on his back. And Ex-Ranger, covert operator and Dark Sentinel or not, he would find they were a force to contend with; even Ellison should never mess with the maternal instinct.

Simon looked across the loft. He had settled into the yellow armchair while Ellison and Sandburg were getting back into synch after the head injury that had caused Jim to turn into a sentinel out of Blair's worst nightmares. Now, injury healed, the sentinel was fussing around his guide. What did they call it? 'Blessed Protector Mode?' He chuckled softly, and a healthy dose of Mother Hen as well. Jim as Blessed Protector was much easier to witness than the cold, unfeeling sentinel who had "disciplined" his young guide with blows and hours of kneeling. Jim returned to the smaller man from time to time, giving him little touches on the shoulder and head as if making sure that he was all right. The kid was limping heavily from a badly strained ankle incurred when he ran from a furious sentinel in fear for his safety.

Thank God, Jim had snapped out of his 'evil twin' persona and things were pretty much back to what passed for normal for these two. Simon had suggested they take the kid to the hospital to make sure there was nothing more seriously wrong with his ankle. Sandburg had overruled him, saying that if Jim said it was okay, it was okay. Simon admitted that it had been impressive to watch Ellison check out the ankle using touch alone. With Sandburg's hand on his arm to ground him, he had been able to 'feel' that there were no broken bones or torn ligaments. Jim was clearing up the breakfast dishes while Blair sat on the sofa with his foot propped up. The kid had whipped up an outstanding breakfast and Simon had been amused to see Jim hover until Blair had eaten his fill before he ate his own meal. Even now, the captain could see him checking out his guide's condition, head tilted to one side as he ranged his senses over the necessary addition to his life. Simon knew that Jim was not going to like either the order to return to the station or the reason for it, but it came from the top and, like the good soldier that he was, Ellison would obey.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0

Rafe and Brown were in conversation with two uniformed officers when Captain Banks entered the office with the sentinel and his guide. Jim had an arm around the younger man, taking some of the weight off his ankle. He helped him to his desk, his territory. Once Blair was seated with his foot propped up on a spare chair, Ellison and Banks disappeared into the captain's office.

"Oh, dear God." Charlie Miller's soft exclamation drew puzzled attention from Rafe and Brown. The older patrolman's eyes were locked on Blair Sandburg, guilty embarrassment on his face. He sent up a quick prayer that the young empath would not remember him. His prayer went unanswered. "Charlie, what's wrong?" His partner, Mary Edwards, laid a hand on his arm. She followed his stare to Ellison's guide and watched as all color drained from the young man's face and his eyes widened in horrified disbelief. As they watched, he pushed himself up from his chair and started over to their group.

Blair settled back in the chair and looked around the room. Jim had told him he had nothing to worry about going back to the station. Blair hadn't been sure of that. The detectives and officers took their cue on how to treat him from Ellison and the sentinel had not treated him with either respect or courtesy his last time in the bullpen. Blair hadn't responded to the pep talk but Jim must have seen something in his eyes because he had smiled ruefully and said, "If anyone's in trouble, it's me, kid. Those people are your friends and I was being a bastard." Blair grinned as he remembered that conversation and the gentle squeeze on his neck that accompanied Jim's words.

His glance fell on a tall, broad shouldered man in police uniform and his good mood evaporated instantly. For an instant, time rolled back and he was lying naked, battered and bleeding on a cold cement floor praying that, this time, they wouldn't come in. Remembered terror almost swamped him; he clawed his way out of it, refusing to give *them* power over him. Fear turned into rage fuelled by everything he had endured in the name of "training." Before he knew what he meant to do, his feet had taken him over to the man. For one moment he looked up into a face from his nightmares and then his fist was coming up, his full weight behind the blow he delivered right on target.

Brown and Rafe didn't know what to make of the expression on the kid's face as he limped across the room to them. They were even more surprised when the always gentle guide launched a punch that sent Miller to the floor. Blair all but fell on top of him, fists swinging. He got in some good blows before Brown caught him by the waist and pulled him off. The young guide struggled violently to free himself and get back to his fight. Brown heard a door smash open on its hinges. Ellison was back. Brown did the only thing he could think of as he turned and threw the guide at the sentinel. Ellison reflexively caught him; his urge to attack Brown for laying hands on Blair muted by his need to protect his guide. Blair struggled against the hands that caught him, his mind back in the cell, curses and threats pouring from him in every language, living and dead, he knew. He was turned, and his ankle gave way under a bright flare of pain. Strong arms pinned him against a broad chest and a hand found its way into his curls, gently pressing his face into a warm neck. A voice murmured against his ear, "Easy, Blair. Easy, it's all right, kid. I've got you. Nothing's going to hurt you."

"Jim?" It was gasped as the violent struggles slowed.

"Yeah, Chief. I'm here. Just hang on, we'll get this sorted out."

"Jim, he... he... was *there,* Jim! He was there." Ellison tightened his hold at the lost, almost panicked tone in his guide's voice.

Simon demanded from behind them, "What the hell happened here?"

Edwards shook her head, "The kid just lit into Charles for no reason. He must be dusted."

"Why don't you tell her the reason, you bastard?" Blair screamed and started fighting his sentinel's hold again as rage rekindled.

"Easy, Chief, connect." Jim grunted out the command as he struggled to contain the twisting form of his guide.

"No way!" Blair was beyond reason. He had thought he was safe here but *they* were everywhere!

"That was not a suggestion, Guide." Jim's tone was deadly; he would brook no disobedience on this. He was having trouble holding onto the squirming bundle in his arms; distracted by his anger toward a man he didn't even know. What he did know was that his peaceable guide had been driven to violence by the guy and his own desire to rip the uniform apart was getting to a point that he was having trouble ignoring. He wasn't sure that Blair would, or even could, obey him on this. Whatever had set the young empath off had dug up all his fears and insecurities. Ellison felt a wave a relief as he felt the tug on his mind that proved his guide still trusted him. Then he nearly staggered at the emotions that swept through him. Hatred, fear, anger, panic, shame, all those and more tore through his mind.

"It wasn't for no reason, Mary, he had a damn good reason for doing that." Miller nodded his thanks to Rafe as the detective helped him off the floor. There was no anger in the patrolman's voice as he held his bruised jaw, just an old sorrow.

Simon looked from the Sentinel and Guide to the uniforms. "Jim, Sandburg, my office. Joel, can you go with them and get them seated? And, Jim, you stay put." The Bomb Disposal Captain nodded. He kept his voice level and made no effort to touch either of them. "Jim, Blair, you heard the Captain." Almost reluctantly, Ellison followed him to the office, his arm wrapped tightly around his guide's waist. Joel watched as Jim snagged one of the chairs and pulled it to where he could see the doorway. He settled his guide in the chair and stood behind it, one large hand carefully massaging the empath's thin shoulder.

Simon came in with Miller and went to his desk chair. Joel took a seat between Miller and the other two men where he could act as a buffer.

"Captain Banks?" a feminine voice interrupted Simon's opening interrogation. Simon turned. A tall, willowy woman, long blond hair twisted into a tight bun stood in his doorway. He had never seen her before and he didn't want to see her now. "What?" Courtesy flew out the window as he took his frustration out on her, "Can't you see I'm busy? And who are you?" The last was added as an afterthought as it became obvious she wasn't leaving despite his obvious desire that she do so.

"Dr. Maggie Speke. I believe we have an appointment, and... I think you might need my help." She added, taking in the scene in front of her. "And why would I need that, Doctor Speke?" His hostility was made plain in just those eight words.

"Dr. Claydove sent me to work with you. I'm one of the Department Chiefs at the Sentinel Institute. Your Detective Ellison is a Dark Sentinel, Captain, the only one we know of in recent times. We have little idea how his instincts differ from normal sentinels even in such a basic area as interaction with a guide. As such, we need to follow his career. Dr. Claydove thought you would prefer me to a GDP appointed officer." Simon was annoyed. Just what he needed, a do-gooder with a degree and one who walked in and told a man who didn't even want to be "different" that he wasn't even normally abnormal. He risked a glance at Jim and was relieved to note that Ellison was focused on Blair to the exclusion of their unwanted visitor. Banks had a choice here; he could risk Warren's wrath by yelling her out now or let Jim Ellison freeze her out later. He studied her a moment, making sure she understood whose turf she was on and then decided. Just maybe she might have an idea of what the hell was going on here.

"Take a seat, Doctor, while I try to sort this out."

She recognised Sentinel Detective Ellison from his file and for a moment she just admired the man. She was honest enough to admit that she felt an attraction for the guy. He was standing... no... hovering over his guide. The smaller, younger man was hyped up and it was obvious that only the touch of his sentinel kept him from flying out of his chair. Blair Sandburg. She had read his file as well and knew the young empath's case had been mishandled from the word go, tragically so. The big Captain was nervous. He was a layman and even he could see that this situation could end in violence. Usually, a guide acted as a damper on his sentinel's emotions, keeping them in check but this guide was angry. His fury was fuelling his sentinel's aggression. Dark sentinels were already more aggressive than normal sentinels and this one carried a gun.

"Sandburg, what the hell got into you?" Simon kept his voice level. Even so, he was pinned by a glare from the sentinel that would unnerve most people.

"He... he was a g...guard on my landing at the... fa...facility. He was there when they..." Blair struggled to get the words out. Just talking about it brought back the terror. Lying there, hoping their footsteps would go past his cell, but too often they didn't. The door would open, Wilson and his cronies would come in, and the *games* would start, leaving him hurt and bleeding. Warm hands on his shoulders steadied him, reminded him that his sentinel was with him. NO ONE could hurt him again, Jim would see to that. He glanced at Joel. There was compassion in the older Captain's eyes; not pity, compassion... and anger. Blair's head came up and his voice grew stronger. "He was there when they raped me. He saw them video the attacks on me and he did nothing." Angry blue eyes challenged Miller, "What? You got your rocks off seeing me like that?" Blair shifted forward but his sentinel's hands tightened on his shoulders. The guide looked up as he heard low, deadly growls coming from his sentinel.

Dr. Speke had the feeling she was looking at a human attack dog. One word from his guide and Ellison would be on the uniformed officer. So far, despite the Dark Sentinel's obvious desire to take a piece out of the man his guide feared and hated, the young empath was holding him in check. He did not even know that he was doing it, of that she was certain. This was the power the GDP could not understand and the reason she was here. Dr. Claydove was convinced something special was happening to this pairing and he wanted to give them all the help he could.

Simon looked at the uniformed officer. Miller was dabbing his face with a handkerchief and looking at the blood that spotted it in a slightly disbelieving way.

"Officer Miller?" Banks' voice was soft but carried an unmistakeable command.

"I've been trying to keep away from Sandburg, Captain. I didn't want to upset him or remind him of what happened to him." "You're a real prince." Ellison's voice was hard with sarcasm. Sarcasm and Jim Ellison was not a good combination, it meant it was way past time to be hunting for a storm cellar.

"Shut it, Ellison." Simon snapped. He needed to get to the bottom of this quickly before someone else got hurt.

"The reason I resigned from the GDP was because I could not stomach what they were doing to him." His eyes spoke apologies to the young empath who turned away and stared at his hands clasped tightly on his lap. "Then why didn't you stop them?" Simon asked levelly. "I was scared, Captain. They, Wilson, had the ear of Captain Mason. He would have fired me from my job with no recommendation. I needed a job. So, God forgive me, I turned a blind eye to the attacks on Sandburg and the others. But, I swear, I had nothing to do with the filming, nor did I ever watch. I was scared, Captain, not sick."

"I saw you!" It was a cry from an outraged young man who had never been allowed redress of his injuries.

"I came in after they left. You were in a bad way. Drugged practically out of your mind, bleeding badly. I got the doctor to come and treat you. I was there, Sandburg, but only when it was all over. I left after that and got the fast track entry to the police force. I should have tried to change things but I couldn't. I am sorry, so very sorry."

"So am I, man, so am I. I was there for six weeks! For six weeks, you let them rape me, play their sick games with me and you didn't do anything." The disgust in his voice was like acid and everyone in the office saw it burn Miller. "You're a cop now. "To protect and serve," right? That's what you took an oath to do? I just hope you do a better job here than at the facility," he got slowly to his feet, "or God help the people of Cascade. Come on, Jim, I need to center myself. Simon, we'll be in the sentinel suite."

Blair limped past Miller and sent him a challenging look. The cop finally met his eyes and there was a promise in them, a promise to live up to his oath. Sandburg nodded once and went to the door. The sentinel followed close behind his guide, and his look was enough to make the ex-GDP guard move well clear of the slender young man. Jim trailed his guide to the sentinel suite. It didn't seem wrong to follow the younger man's lead, it seemed natural.

Dr. Speke tuned out the sound of Captain Simon Banks dressing down the uniformed cop, her full attention on Blair Sandburg. Who had just ordered a full sentinel and a Dark Sentinel at that, to the suite for bonding, and didn't even seem to realize he had done it. He had done it as if it was the natural order of things and his sentinel had followed without argument. This was indeed going to be interesting! She and Claydove had theorized that just as there were Dark Sentinels who were different from ordinary sentinels there might also be empaths who became *more* than normal guides. She was sure that what she had just seen was a Dark Guide; that the reason that the young empath could manage his powerful sentinel was because he was a Dark Guide. He was still developing but once he had control of his talents, Sandburg and Ellison would be a very powerful pairing. Suddenly, she realised that Miller was gone and Simon Banks was talking to her.

"So, Doctor, do you think its safe here for Miller now?"

"Sandburg seems to have written the incident off as over and done. But, make no mistake, he still has a lot of emotional baggage to handle and feelings to process. I think the worst is over; still, I would suggest the officer make an effort to keep as far away as possible from this combination of sentinel and guide. It would be a kindness for both men. Perhaps a transfer?"

"I'll look into it." Simon sat back in his chair and turned on the charm. "Dr. Speke, my apologies for the reception I gave you."

She waved them aside. "No problem, Captain, defusing that situation was more important. Ellison and Sandburg have a very strong bond, don't they?"

"You could see that?" Simon sounded puzzled.

"It's obvious to anyone who knows anything about Sentinel/Guide pairings. And considering the short time they have been bonded it points well to them becoming one of the strongest teams ever. It will be interesting to see how they do at the Conference. They should do extremely well in the tests we have planned."

"What conference?" Simon asked before he remembered. "Oh, that Conference. I forgot all about it. Considering what those two were going through, it didn't seem important." "I can understand that, Captain. But the Conference is important. The GDP and the Sentinel Institute have arranged the Sentinel Conference to try and get the layman to understand what we do. There are so many misconceived ideas out there and they make our job so much harder than it has to be. The idea behind Sentinel Con is to invite Sentinels from police forces across the country to Cascade to swap ideas and run some tests. It will be the first such gathering in one place ever. And since Cascade is..."

"The home of Rainier University, it makes sense to hold it here, Doctor. Just don't ask me to like the idea."

Dr. Speke studied the big Captain and waited for him to continue. When he didn't, she prodded, "You could at least explain that remark."

"I just think there is going to be trouble, having that many sentinels from all over the country together. According to the Handbook, sentinels are territorial and status conscious. You bring them together and you're asking to start a pecking contest." A vision of sentinels as roosters clawing it out for top barnyard fowl assailed her and she almost giggled. She swallowed her amusement and spoke professionally.

"Detective Sentinel Ellison is the only Dark Sentinel we currently have on our books so he would be the Senior Sentinel Prime. Somehow, and we still don't understand how, most sentinel sense this and defer to the Sentinel Prime."

"If they don't?" Simon had a feeling he knew the answer to this one already.

"Then there is a margin of violence to be expected. But given Detective Ellison's military record, he shouldn't have any problems in that respect. I would certainly prefer to head off any troubles before they get a chance to develop, Captain Banks, and I hope you'll work with us on this."

"That, Doctor, makes two us." Simon's tone made it plain he was not happy about the whole idea.

Dr. Speke shrugged, she was used to negative comments about the conference. "We're expecting 30 pairings from across the country. In addition to the opportunity for the sentinels to come together, it's also an opportunity for other police forces to come and see just what a sentinel can do. We want to place more sentinels in the police forces and this conference can be seen as a recruiting opportunity as well. The Institute of Sentinels is sending its students over to help out and they'll be able to talk to police sentinels. Dr. Claydove is overseeing a series of tests for the delegates; the idea is to put the pairings through their paces on a series of crime scenarios and then discuss how they reached their conclusions."

"The GDP are going to be there." It wasn't a question but a statement, and said in a tone of voice that told Dr. Speke the captain had no good memories, and even fewer good opinions, of the organization.

"Yes." Dr. Speke moved uncomfortably under the captain's gaze, she had the sense that the man could see right through to her very soul. "They will be looking after the guides. The GDP are also running some special Guide Training Sessions on Campus for them. It will be an interesting research opportunity to get 30 bonded guides together."

"Do the guides have to attend?" Simon asked, knowing what Sandburg's reaction would be to any idea of attending a training session.

"Yes, of course, the guides can't be left unattended all day. This way they are kept busy and can sharpen their skills. There will be a guide room at the Conference so that sentinels can place their guides in it if they just want to leave them for a short time or if the trainers feel that a guide's barriers are eroding and need to be isolated until the sentinel can retrieve him or her."

"Like a crŠche." Simon's voice was heavy with sarcasm

Doctor Speke smiled, missing the sarcasm. "Most sentinels like to keep their guides with them at all times but some will want a break. There will also be special sentinel suites for the delegates in case they need to bond. We're hoping that some of the local High Schools will send their students to watch the tests. It would certainly help in their understanding of the Sentinel condition." Dr. Speke trailed off; she could see the captain still was not happy with the whole idea.

"I would suggest that you get the information over to me as soon as possible. I'll be honest, Doctor, I don't like the idea of this, full stop. You and I both know that it's a PR stunt, nothing more or less, but it has the potential to blow up in our faces." To himself he added, and I still haven't had a chance to break this delightful news to Jim yet.

PART TWO

Simon Banks hesitated at the door to the sentinel suite, and then knocked softly. His concern for his two men made him ignore the red light and he opened the door. Blair was lying on his stomach, his eyes closed, one hand clutching one of Jim's hands above their heads. Jim was lying on his side, one arm over the smaller man's waist and his head resting against his guide's back so he could hear his heart without having to stretch any of his senses. As Simon went into the room he saw Jim's head snap up and heard him growl low in his throat.

It's okay, Jim, its just me, Simon. Remember? I just wanted to make sure you're both okay." He kept perfectly still as Ellison's ice cold eyes swept over him. He knew the sentinel was monitoring him closely; one wrong move or a too fast heartbeat, and he would be on him. Banks relaxed as Ellison slowly eased back down and returned his attention to his guide. He tightened his grip on the smaller body and closed his eyes, sinking back into the bonding. A soft whimper from the young empath brought a large hypersensitive hand up to gently stroke his neck and shoulders until he stilled. The sentinel curled around him again. Simon slowly eased himself out of the room. Once he was out in the hallway, his heart went into double-time as he let himself realize what could have happened. He had blundered and gotten away with it. He seemed to do that a lot, he wondered what would happen if his luck ran out. He took a seat on one of the group of armchairs in the outer room and waited.

Time seemed to drag along and then the door opened. As the two men exited, Simon could see that Jim was still hovering over his guide but his aggression was gone and Blair was more relaxed.

"Captain Banks?" Blair sounded puzzled to see him there.

"How are you, Sandburg?" Simon's gruffness did not quite mask his very real concern.

"I've been better, but thanks."

"That's good, kid."

Blair smiled shyly as he realised that Simon actually meant it. The captain might have a tough outer shell but Blair was beginning to realise that Banks actually did care about him and treated him as one of Major Crime's own.

"Now, come on, we've wasted enough time on the bureaucrats. I'm told the sentinel retreat has its own trout stream and there's a fish in it with my name on it." Simon was relieved to see them smile. He personally shepherded them to his car.

Simon watched with amusement as Jim settled his guide in the back of the car and carefully buckled him in. Ellison got in next to him and Simon smiled. Usually a man the size of Jim would avoid the backseat of any car, even a large one like Simon's new pride and joy, in favor of the greater legroom available up front. But Ellison needed to be near his guide and if that meant leg cramp, he was willing to put up with it.

Banks had just got in behind the driver's seat when his cell phone rang. He had left Taggert in charge, so if he was calling it was bad. He could see his fishing trip disappear. "Banks," he growled his name, then his voice lightened as he recognised his son Daryl's voice. He listened to his son's plight and then ordered, "Okay, stay put and we'll pick you up." He clicked the phone off, "Sorry, guys, slight delay. I have to pick up Daryl from basketball practice and drop him off at home."

Coming out of the police underground garage, he had to hit his breaks hard to avoid a car passing by. "And you criticize my driving." Humor underlay Jim's sarcastic remark.

"The time I total three cars in one month *and* have the police insurance company refuse to cover me, that's when you can talk about my driving, Detective Ellison."

"Three cars in one month! What happened? I always knew your driving was bad, Jim, but three cars!" Blair left it up to the captain and Jim to decide to whom the question was addressed. Jim's expression was one of resigned disgust. "Great, Simon. Turn my guide against me, why don't you?"

"Well, you might just listen to him, Ellison. Lord knows my safe-driving lectures haven't penetrated that thick skull of your."

Simon suddenly hit his brakes as he realised that he had nearly missed his son. "Hey, Daryl, jump in." The youngster piled into the passenger seat.

Daryl smiled as he saw who took up the back seat. This was more like it; he could finally get that talk to the sentinel. Simon took a deep breath, he wasn't sure he trusted the smile that his son wore. "Daryl, this is Detective Ellison and his partner, Blair Sandburg. You remember Detective Ellison, don't you?"

"Sure, Dad. Hi, Sentinel Ellison."

Simon began to pull away from the curb. "Sentinel Ellison." Simon hoped his son was not going to push anything. Daryl was in his early teens and still had not learned that there were times to keep quiet and this was one of them. At least on the topic Simon was sure Daryl wanted to bring up.

"Daryl, it's Detective Ellison, drop the sentinel." Jim's tone was friendly but there steel under it. After what he had just done to his guide when his sentinel persona was out of control, Jim wanted no reminders of his genetic status. Daryl looked puzzled; he couldn't believe that a sentinel would just dismiss his gifts like that.

"Your guide, sen...Detective, he isn't wearing a guide identification badge. The GDP lecturer said they always had to wear one, otherwise they could get mistaken for normal people."

Simon realised that his son had no idea how insulting his comment was to the guide. He hoped Sandburg realized that too.

Blair could feel the tension in his sentinel through the hand that was causally resting on his shoulder. He connected with him and tried to soothe him. He could feel the turmoil that was swirling around inside Jim. "Simon?" The one word was a plea to defuse the situation before it got any worse.

"Daryl, son, later. Okay?"

"I was only asking, Dad. And how come he spoke directly to my father, Detective? I thought they only spoke through their sentinels unless they're given permission. Aren't you going to correct him?"

"Drop it, kid." Jim's tone had changed from resigned tolerance to artic chill. For the first time in his short life Daryl was truly afraid as he realised the sentinel was royally pissed at him.

"Sent..." He corrected himself. "Detective Ellison, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make you mad." Daryl meant it. He honestly hadn't meant to upset the sentinel but he couldn't understand why his questions had done that. In the class taught by the GDP lecturer they were told that guides had long accepted the needs of their sentinels and were happy with their lives. The sentinels took over all of the normal, tedious aspects of their shared lives and in return the guides gave them respect and obedience. So what had he done wrong? Now he was puzzled and still afraid. He looked over at his father for reassurance but his Dad didn't look too happy with him right now either. Then he saw the sentinel relax against the seat as he turned his face into the hand his guide held against his cheek. Ellison inhaled the scent and Daryl watched as he calmed. The sen... detective said quietly, "It's all right, Daryl. We know you didn't mean anything by it but drop it. Okay?"

Daryl nodded and turned to look out the front windshield. Simon breathed a sigh of relief as he turned into his driveway; this sentinel thing was a minefield and he wasn't sure if he had the map.

When he had seen his son into the house, Simon turned to Blair. "Sandburg," he was obviously uncomfortable, "I want to apolo..."

The guide cut him off with a wave of one expressive hand, "Hey, man. Don't sweat it. Kids know what they've been taught, and I know none of that came from you. It was all GDP. Let's just go fishing, okay?"

Simon exchanged a glance with his detective. Jim nodded; he was willing to let it go. Simon started the car, wondering if he could be as forgiving and accepting as the young empath.

PART THREE

The Sentinel Sanctuary was high in the mountains and it was late afternoon before they stopped at the checkpoint. The guard came over as Simon wound the window down.

"Sentinel Ellison, Guide Sandburg, and I'm Captain Simon Banks, Cascade PD. We're expected."

The guard checked his list. Typical civ, didn't even know there was no need to identify the guide. The guard suppressed a grin; he wouldn't tell him about the luggage, so why mention the guide? Oh, well, back to business. He glanced in the back of the car and quickly backed away as the sentinel glared at him. He had been on the gate for six months and every Sentinel was the same, they always looked ready to kill someone. There were reasons why sentinels came to this retreat and very few of them were good. This sentinel was even worse than the others had been. Then he saw the curly head nestled against the sentinel's chest and nodded as understanding kicked in. This one's guide was asleep, resting against his sentinel like a child in the arms of a parent. Yep, Blessed Protector mode, he'd just send them on their way and let the front office deal with him. "Sir, follow the road through to the left and then park. An officer will be waiting for you so you can sign in." He waved them through.

Simon drove slowly through the complex. The place was crawling with GDP personnel. He reminded himself that all they had to do was sign in and then it was up to the Retreat. With a bit of luck, Sandburg would sleep right through it. He hated to think what all these GDP uniforms would do to the kid. The Retreat itself was a mile higher up the mountainside. Once they were there, they wouldn't have to see another GDP goon for a week and by then the kid should be on the mend, physically and emotionally. Sandburg needed time to recover even more than Ellison; Simon just wished they had gone somewhere that wasn't near-neighbors with a virtual GDP village. A glance in the mirror showed him that Jim agreed with him. Ellison's hold tightened on the young man sleeping peacefully in his arms.

They drove past the living quarters, training fields and class buildings that made this one of the GDP's main training camps. The parking lot had only a single vehicle in it, a GDP mini bus. Simon parked and turned to Jim. Ellison's face was frozen, his eyes hard as he saw the man waiting on the steps of the building in front of them.

"Who is it, Jim?"

"Alan Gross. He was the GDP trainer that Morris in Vice sent me to see about bonding. The way that bastard treated the guides assigned to him was a big part of the reason I fought you on the bonding thing, Captain. I don't want him anywhere near Blair. Can you sign us in, sir?" Ellison watched as Banks got out of the car and walked to the building. He extended his hearing.

"Captain Banks, Cascade PD. I'm here to sign in the Ellison party." Simon was all business, trying not to let on that he didn't like what he had heard about the man he addressed.

"Captain. I'm afraid that Sentinel Ellison and his guide need to be processed in. Sentinel Ellison. Please bring your guide in." There was smug certainty in his voice that the sentinel had listened in on the conversation.

Ellison cursed and then switched his attention to his guide as he felt him stir. Sleepy blue eyes opened; for a moment they were unfocused, then they blinked and cleared.

"We there yet, Jim?" Blair made no effort to sit up.

"Just have to sign in, Chief. We'll have to deal with a GDP officer but he can't hurt you. Once the paperwork's done, we're out of here, okay?"

Jim got out and moved around to help his guide out of the car. He knew he was fussing more than Sandburg liked but he couldn't help himself. He had been doing it since the head injury that had changed his personality and made Blair run from him in fear, well-founded fear Ellison admitted. Even though Blair had come back of his own accord, the sentinel still felt panic running through him whenever his guide was out of his sight. So far Blair had not resisted his fussing and he was grateful for that.

Blair sighed as Jim handed him out of the car as if he was made of glass. He knew it was important for Jim to do this, knew why he did it. But that didn't mean that he and his sentinel weren't going to have a long talk once they settled down at the retreat. Jim was carrying a lot of guilt about what happened and it needed to be put to rest once and for all. His sentinel supported him as he got out so that he didn't put too much weight on his ankle, then he was effortlessly tucked against the older man and half-carried up the path leading up to the office.

Jim felt Blair's heart rate increase when he saw the GDP Captain standing there. Jim tried to keep him on his feet as the younger man started to kneel. But Blair caught his arm and whispered sentinel soft, "Just this one time, Jim. Then we're outta here and can do things our way."

Jim wanted to argue but stopped himself. He could not afford to lose his temper. The last time he had done that, for a moment he was overwhelmed with the memory of lashing out and knocking the smaller man to the floor. When his guide had not assumed the correct position quickly enough to suit him, he had reached down and dragged him to his knees, slapping the shocked young face hard.

Blair felt the shudder run through his sentinel. "Jim, you okay?" He reached for him only to have Ellison pull back as if he was burned.

"I'm alright, Chief." He managed a strained smile as he gently ruffled the long curly dark hair but he suspected he hadn't got away with it. His guide's soft promise "We *will* talk about this later" confirmed that.

Jim took Blair's weight as he knelt down. The damage to his ankle made it marginally more comfortable to lie flat so he slid awkwardly into the more submissive posture, flat on his belly with his head to one side and hands folded behind his back. His injured ankle was slightly hooked to one side; he couldn't stretch it out.

The sentinel's foot and lower leg rested against his guide's hip, keeping the connection between them.

Gross smiled. That was more like it. Ellison had at least made sure the punk showed the correct respect. Guess his liberal views had gone out the window once he got his own guide and found out the best way to keep the little freak under control was the GDP way.

"Hello, Sentinel Ellison, it's been a while."

"Gross." The voice was studiously neutral but Blair could almost hear the comment he wanted to make. Something along the lines of "not long enough." He bit back a grin as Jim all but lifted him from the floor. He limped a little but he stayed behind Jim, one hand on his sentinel's shoulder.

"If you'll come into my office, Ellison, we can get the paperwork done."

Once in the office, Gross picked up the papers. "See you got bonded, after all, I though you would die rather than take one of them on".

Simon cut in. "Jim didn't have a choice. I agreed to it."

"Yeah, I know, its in the records. The Fincham Syndrome, it's a killer, Jimmy. You were lucky to have such a good friend even if you did get stuck with a rogue."

Blair felt the sentinel bristle at Gross' use of *Jimmy* and at the rogue remark. He sent calming vibes through to him even as he tried to ignore the posters on the wall. Training posters showing guides in the working posture, serving their sentinels meals and working on field courses outnumbered GDP recruitment placards. A poster tucked away in a corner sent a shiver through him. He clamped down on the fear before his sentinel could pick it up as he resolutely turned his eyes away from a large photo of a guide in restraints. The place reeked of the corrections facility. He realised his mind had drifted when he heard Gross speak.

"I read the Guide's file. You keeping the punk in line, Jimmy? His kind is morally bankrupt. They need a lot of discipline. Got any problems with him that we can work on for you during the retreat? We've got a good training facility here in the Village but we don't get to see many rogue empaths. It would be handy for the rookies to see a rogue guide training session. Give them a chance to put him through his paces."

"No. We came here to fish and relax. You stay out of our hair and we'll stay out of yours." Ellison said it mildly but there was no doubting he meant it.

"Pity. But if you do change your mind, want a little time away from him, just call and I'll have someone come get him."

Jim was pleased that Blair didn't flinch at those words. Maybe they could move past the damage he had done while not himself.

Gross went on. "The doctor is waiting next door to do a medical check on you both."

"We're fine." Ellison had had enough of doctors and hospitals lately and he knew Blair would agree.

"Sorry, Jimmy, but that's the rule. No sentinel or guide gets to the retreat without a medical exam. We need to know if there are any medical problems that we should be aware of. Take your guide in first and then we can finish up the paperwork while the doc checks him over."

Jim was about to argue when he heard Blair's sentinel soft, "Let's get this over with fast, okay?"

"Sure, Chief." Gross frowned as he realized that Ellison had responded to an unsolicited comment from his guide.

The doctor was a young man in his mid-thirties. He looked at the file in front of him. "Sentinel Ellison?" At the detective's nod, he continued, "Have your guide strip for me now."

"Doctor." Ellison was ready to ditch this whole so-called retreat. He did not want his guide out from under his eyes.

"It's quite all right, Sentinel. I just need to give him a quick check-up. It won't take but a moment." He smiled, trying to reassure the sentinel. "He's perfectly safe here and it will only be a few minutes."

"I'm okay, Jim." Blair's voice was slightly shaky but he gave Jim a gentle push towards the door. Ellison was halfway out of the room when his ears popped. He spun on his heel, ready to fight. Only to watch as the doctor smiled with amused patience.

"Everything's all right, Sentinel, just a white noise generator."

"What the hell do you need a white noise generator for? It is my right to hear everything pertaining to my guide." Ellison was fast approaching livid.

"You will be given a full report, Sentinel. It is just that Officer Gross needs your full attention, which he wouldn't have if you were focused on your guide's exam. It is procedure, Sentinel."

Blair gave him another push. "Please, Jim." It was whispered.

Jim was on edge the moment he entered Gross' office. His guide was out of sight and he did not trust that doctor. He should have told him where he could put his white noise generator or refused to leave. Jim started to push his senses to monitor his guide through the white noise and time stopped.

Jim jolted back to consciousness with a shuddering breath. Disoriented, he shoved hard at the blur of red and black in front of him. It smelled wrong somehow. The blur yelped in pain but was promptly thrown against him again. His left hand tangled in long strands of silk, his right fastened on what he recognized as a throat. His vision snapped back into place and he was looking into the frightened face of his guide.

"God, Blair." He pulled his guide close. Sandburg's heartbeat was all over the place.

"Jim? You in there?"

"I'm here, Chief. What happened?" Jim pressed Blair's face against his shoulder and hung on until the young empath's pulse calmed down.

"You had a major zone out while the doctor was looking at me."

"I was trying to find you, make sure you were okay." Hypersensitive fingers lightly trailed over his guide's face, tracing the planes and curves of his features. He started to lose it again. "Jim! Don't zone on me, man. Stay with me!" There was a tone of desperation to the words that snapped Jim back. And he realised that Blair was dressed in correction facility overalls. Ellison detected the shivers born of memory under the coarse cloth.

"No. Gross, you listen to me, he is not wearing these." Ellison was angry and it showed.

"Jim, I'm..."

"Shut it, Sandburg, and keep out of this," Jim snapped.

Gross waited for Ellison to reinforce the angry command with a swift cuff. When the blow did not materialize he shrugged, sentinels could be eccentric when it came to their guides. It was obvious that Ellison knew the value of discipline; one look at the yellowing of recent bruises on the empath's face told him that. Jimmy obviously liked to correct his guide in private. He glanced at Banks and nodded as he figured it out, no need to upset the civ. They never understood the need to correct the guide's behavior.

"Sorry, Jimmy. The order comes straight from Captain Mason. The guide has to wear them. He's got quite a history with us, even for a rogue. You've done a fine job with him so far but he's still a rogue. Like all rogues, he's... well, let's say he's perverted and leave it at that. He'll always be a flight risk and I don't want to risk losing him here."

Simon Banks ground his jaw shut as Gross demeaned Sandburg to his face. The young empath just lowered his head and watched from behind a shielding cloud of hair.

Gross pulled two items from a drawer and dumped them on the desk. "So, since giving him a chance to escape is not an option, we'll use these as well."

The sentinel's mouth opened and snapped shut as he felt the sudden fear when Blair saw the items on the desk. Ellison felt his guide almost plaster himself against his back as if trying to hide behind him, using him as a physical and mental shield. He felt the tug on his mind as the young empath reached out to him in desperation.

Jim was sickeningly aware that his guide was in no position to defend himself. The overall and the items on the desktop had sent his mind back to the correction facility and he was lost in the nightmare again.

"I am not putting him on the leash." His voice was harsh. "Leash" was slang for the restraints that every rogue guide was required by law to keep with them at all times for their sentinel's use. Blair's set resided in the trunk of Jim's truck under the spare tire. Both men ignored their existence.

"Only while you're in the Village, Jimmy. Once you're at the retreat you can do what you want but Captain Mason sent orders that whenever you're in the Village, your guide has to be on a leash. We also patrol the boundaries of the retreat. You won't see any guards but they're there. If he is found alone and not wearing overalls they will pick him up, put him on the leash and bring him here for your collection. You are not required to tag him but if you don't, you will have to return him to the Village each night for secure lock down."

Simon had stood there in stunned silence. Watching as Sandburg buried his face into Jim's back as Gross talked about leashing and tagging him like an animal as if he wasn't hearing every word. He found his voice, "I thought this place was supposed to be a retreat, not an open prison." His disgust was plain to see.

"It is, Captain Banks, you and Sentinel Ellison will find it compares favourably to the finest vacation properties. But that guide is a rogue and we have to take measures to make sure that he doesn't run. If he's in the overalls and wearing the tag, the guards will leave him alone. I'm sure you can see the need for him to be easily identifiable, otherwise he could be mistaken for a citizen. We do get some lost campers from time to time and that can't be allowed."

Sure, you sadistic bastard. The public might find out just how you treat the guides. That would blow your spin job and you would lose your control, Simon thought bitterly and waited for Jim to yell the man down.

Jim pulled his guide from behind him. He studied him thoughtfully, taking in the slender hands running nervously up and down his arm, a visible sign of the fear bubbling along their connection. Blair was scared to death. "Tag him then." It was said curtly.

"Jim?" Blair whispered, a plea for reassurance. Jim wouldn't let him be tagged; there was no way he was being tagged.

The sentinel ignored him and met Gross' gaze "Tag him."

Blair saw the GDP officer start towards him. He pushed away from Jim, betrayal flooding the link. His ankle spiked pain but the adrenaline was pumping and he scarcely noticed it. He threw the nearest box file at Gross and bolted for the door, only to be caught and held by his own sentinel. He slammed his head back, trying to free himself, narrowly missing Jim's nose but catching him on the chin. But the strong arms never loosened.

It was like trying to hold a whirling dervish, made worse by the fact he was trying not to hurt said whirling dervish. Damn it, Jim breathed, he never knew what was going to spark a reaction with Blair but this he should have expected. Gross had the tag in his hand and waited for Jim to nod before he came close. A hiking book narrowly missed his groin as the guide lashed out at him. He backed off.

"Simon, a bit of help here."

"Jim, I..." Simon didn't know what to do. Every instinct he possessed told him to help the kid, but he didn't know if that would actually be helping him. He knew Ellison wouldn't hurt the kid... he caught the flying feet and held the kid still.

The tag snapped around Blair's neck. It was a one-use ring and couldn't be removed except by a GDP officer. If Blair did manage to remove it, there was no way he could seal it again and hide the fact that it had been tampered with. Gross stepped back as he explained, "Its got a location detector in it. We can monitor his whereabouts at all times through the sensors all through the retreat grounds. If he enters any of the areas forbidden to guides, it will emit a single warning whistle. If he persists he will receive a short electrical shock, it won't permanently damage him but it is painful. If he does not leave the area at once, it will continue to deliver shocks of increasing intensity until it knocks him out. Given his record, Captain Mason was insistent that he be tagged at all times or kept in secure lock down." Blair was still struggling, his breath coming in harsh pants. "I'll give you a hand with the leash and you can be on your way."

"No leash, this is enough."

At those words, Blair's struggles slowed. Ellison held his guide tightly to him until the young empath lay shuddering against him. Slowly, he relaxed his grip. Blair pushed away from him. His hands tore at the tag frantically until larger ones covered his, stilling them.

"It was that or the leash, Chief, and I could not do that to you."

"You don't think I would run," his voice was heavy with accusation. "No way, man, you know that."

Ellison reached out for him and Blair pulled back.

"Keep your hands off me, don't touch me." Sandburg backed away, limping heavily.

Gross' face showed his displeasure as Ellison didn't punish the kid for that impertinence. He decided that if Ellison wouldn't discipline his guide, he would. The little freak was going to be leashed now. He pushed the leash at the sentinel. As Ellison tried to shove it away, he said, "Either you leash him or I will, Sentinel. Within this Village, Sentinel rights over his guide are subordinate to the needs of camp discipline. Do it, the doctor is waiting for you."

Jim's hand shook as he accepted the leash. He could almost taste the eagerness in Gross to shackle his guide, saw the avidity in his eyes. Blair saw it too and his eyes widened in remembered horror. Ellison steeled himself to do what was necessary. Once they got away, he could help his guide; to do that, he had to leash him. Looking at the young man in front of him he was afraid that this new trauma would undo all the progress they had made. Then he realized something and a small smile tugged at his lips. Blair was scared, yes; but he was also royally pissed. The fact that he had answered back, even with Gross in the room, surely meant that his spirit was returning. Ellison spared a glance at Gross, it was just a pity that scumbag had seen that comeback too as it was bound to be entered into Blair's already ample file.

Jim felt the bile rise in his throat as he ordered, "Guide, on your stomach. Now."

He watched, pain growing in the vicinity of heart, as his guide backed away from him and moved towards Simon. The expressive young face showed every emotion, confusion, fear, his struggle to trust even in the face of this betrayal. Sentinel eyes saw the drop of blood as the grad student bit his lip; it stood out too brightly against his pale skin. The smell of Blair's blood sent him zoning. Before he could go deep, he was pulled back by the small figure in front of him. The soothing voice was shaky, "Its alright, Jim. Come back, I'm here."

Blair berated himself for letting his fear and anger overwhelm him. He had almost doubted his sentinel! He realized, now, that Jim was only protecting him from Gross and he had responded by scaring his sentinel into another zone out.

"Chief?" Ellison stared into deep blue eyes. The fear that had dominated them just minutes ago had been replaced by concern. Concern for him; Ellison felt humbled and very grateful.

"I can handle it, man." Blair managed a smile as he saw the worry and the... apology in the light blue eyes locked on his.

Ellison helped him onto the rough carpet and into the guide posture. Jim knelt too and gently looped the first part of the leash around his throat. "Hands and knees, Chief." He held onto the warmth in that voice as he did as he was told. His heart started to pound as the fear connected with this position ran through him. He felt a flash of lust from somewhere, someone, not Jim, not Simon. He shuddered as he found the source, Gross. And he was back in the cell, afraid to move, afraid to make it worse.

"Chief? Blair?" A voice called him out of the waking nightmare. A large hand stroked his back, calming him down. He managed to get his mouth to form the words, "Him... wants... don't let..."

Ellison barely heard the choked whisper, but the pulse of relayed desire that came over the link was explanation enough. He twisted to look at the GDP officer and saw the glittering hunger on the man's face. God! He wanted to kill the bastard. Instead, as the empath made a tiny sound of distress, he forced the dark emotions down, replaced them with concern for the young man trembling next to him.

"Leave. Captain, get him out of here." Banks had heard an angry Jim Ellison before, many times, but he had never heard a more heated rage than was in the cold voice that issued those orders.

Gross made the mistake of arguing. "Hey, Jimmy, this is my office."

Ellison said quietly, "You get ten seconds to start for that door before I throw you through it without opening it first. This isn't a peep show. Now get out." Gross took one look at the deadly blue eyes set in a graven mask and retreated.

Ellison returned his attention to his guide. He continued to run his hand soothingly over the lean back until he felt Sandburg relax just the tiniest bit. "Okay, Chief, let's get this over with." With careful hands, Ellison slid the leash around the slender waist and clipped the ring. "Okay, Chief. I need you to lie down. Don't go to sleep, okay?" The smallest of chuckles, but a chuckle nonetheless, rewarded his feeble witticism. The tremors still running through the grad student's body told him that Blair had attempted that laugh for his sake.

Sandburg lay flat, his hands reflexively going to the small of his back. Big warm hands gently caught his own and eased them up by his shoulders, breaking the pattern that had been beaten into his muscles. Tears gathered under his eyelids as he contrasted his sentinel's gentleness with the harshness of those who had last leashed him. The leash went down to his feet. His damaged ankle was cuffed carefully, lightly so as not to cause pain. The leash was constructed so that the sentinel could decide on the amount of play given to the cable running between the feet. Blair could feel that Jim made sure he wouldn't have to struggle to walk. A hand went to his hip, but before he could follow the silent command, Jim's voice reminded him whose hands were on him. "Almost over, Chief. You're doing good here, kid."

Ellison eased Blair onto his back and looped the cord around his left wrist. He said lightly, "We're gonna leave enough slack in this so you can still talk, Chief." Tears tracked silently down the young empath's face but his free hand lightly batted the older man's arm at the reference to Jim's frequent teasing that Sandburg wouldn't be able to speak if his hands were tied. The right hand was confined and the leash secured on the collar. Then Ellison sat his guide up and pulled him into his arms. He tucked Blair's face against his shoulder and firmly kneaded the tense muscles in the kid's back until he felt them relax. "You did good, Chief. Little while longer and then we're out of here. When we get to the retreat, you're burning this damn thing."

Simon had shown Gross the door and then had taken up a post out of Sandburg's sight. He had never witnessed a leashing before. If he had ever given it any thought he would have equated it with the restraints the police used. But as the sentinel continued to bind his guide, Simon realized he would have been wrong. Police restraints were meant to prevent escape; the leash was meant to punish. Simon could see how it could be used to twist the wearer's body into painful contortions. At its best, it left the wearer completely vulnerable.

As Simon watched Sandburg's body tremble, saw tears leave damp trails on a pale young face, he had to wonder what kind of nightmares were bound up in its coils. Watching Ellison try his damnedest to make it as easy as possible for Blair, he also wondered what kind of nightmares Jim would have. Finally, it was done and Jim caught the kid against him and rubbed a visibly tense back. Banks smiled as Ellison told Sandburg the leash was going on the fire. Blair must have said something because Jim shot back, "Then he'll just have to provide another one, won't he? I hope they cost a fortune." Simon's eyes met Jim's over the top of a curly head as that assertion was answered with a watery chuckle. The captain suspected that his eyes held much the same compassion and rage as did the light blue eyes of the sentinel.

"Okay, Chief. I have to see the doctor yet and then we're out of here.

Simon opened the door and Gross took back his office. Before he could start on the speech so obviously ready on the tip of his tongue, the phone rang. Gross answered and left he office with a snapped, "I'll be back in a minute."

Jim was still absently rubbing a bony shoulder even though the violent tremors had finally eased. When Gross left, he reached to help Blair onto his feet. Simon came over to help but Ellison motioned him away. The leashing had been traumatic and even though Blair knew Simon would never hurt him, Jim was quite sure the empath would shy away from his touch.

For a minute, the older men thought Sandburg had come through the leashing okay. But as soon as Blair took a step and felt the slight pull of the bonds, he froze. Then he visibly forced himself to move, muttering under his breath, waving away any offer of help.

The Captain hesitated and then asked, "What the hell is that thing with the tag and what's with this leash thing? Neither was in Sentinel 101."

"They wouldn't be, Simon." Jim's head tilted to one side as he checked on his guide. Blair was still mumbling softly as he limped around the room. "He needs to keep off that ankle. The little idiot will damage it some more if he's not careful," Jim complained. He was ready to put a stop to Blair's pacing when Simon intervened.

"The kid needs some space, Jim, now take a deep breath and let it go. He can't go anywhere and he needs to vent. Now, what about this tag business?" He succeeded in sidetracking the sentinel with the question.

"The tag would have been used at the correction facility when he first got there. He would have been in the general population and they would have used them to segregate the rogues. The leash is what they call the restraints, it can be adjusted so that the guide can kneel down; it can be adjusted so he can only kneel. It can be adjusted so they can walk but not run. Oh, it can be adjusted all sorts of ways. In the wrong hands it can be an instrument of torture. There is one "wrap" that translates every movement into a tightening of the loop around the throat."

Simon felt uncomfortable at the emotion that was pouring out of the sentinel. Jim did not *do* emotion well. The sentinel realized his discomfort. His quiet, "Sorry, Simon." sounded embarrassed.

"Don't worry about it, Jim. How did you find out all this stuff? Do all sentinels...?"

Ellison shook his head, brooding eyes on his guide. Blair was rubbing at the cord on his wrist. Jim was thankful that he had been given the standard leash rather than one meant for someone Sandburg's size. He had been able to leave enough slack that Blair had virtually full range of motion in his arms and the grad student was constantly testing it. His captain nudged him, "Jim?"

"All sentinels are aware of the leash and are given basic instruction in the safest way to secure it. Only the so-called rogues are required to have one though. The punishment "wraps," no, those are extra curricular lessons. Vice confiscated some videos. I checked one out when Blair was having some horrible nightmares; he had reason for them. Simon, Blair told me that Wilson had a leash that was impregnated with a substance that burned his skin if he moved at all. You can imagine when that bastard used that particular item."

"And that's why he keeps testing the leash." Simon sounded certain. "God, Jim, what a world we live in. Once we get to the retreat whatever you have to do to get you and the kid sorted out, you do it. Don't feel you have to entertain me. I'll be fine with the fish."

Blair finally sank down on a chair. The older men knew when he remembered where he was; he slid down onto his knees and then sank sideways as the ankle made itself felt. If Gross had a problem with his less than perfect posture that was just too bad.

Blair wouldn't look at Jim or Simon, especially not Simon. Tied and tagged like a... He fingered the tag. He couldn't believe that Jim did that to him, held him like a dog getting a collar fitted. If he hadn't felt Jim's anger and sorrow, he didn't think he could have stood it.

Gross finally returned, just as the sentinel was getting ready to hunt him down. He wanted out of there. As if nothing unpleasant had ever taken place Gross said, "The doctor will see you now, Jimmy."

Jim paused only long enough to collect his guide and take him with him. Gross' comment that the doctor wanted to see the sentinel alone fell on deaf ears. Jim was not going to leave Blair with Gross unless he was present. He knew Simon would look after the kid but the captain was still learning. Besides, the sentinel knew that the guide would feel safer if they were together.

Finally, they were checked in. Ellison only started to relax when they pulled out of the village. The black and red overalls, the tag and leash had drawn the attention of GDP personnel as they walked to the car. Jim had been on edge the entire time, the sentinel ready to protect his guide.

Gross watched the car drive out of view and then went into the room next to the office. The room was filled with banks of monitors and tracking devices as well as a white noise generator. Gross reported to the man sitting behind the console.

"Well, they're on their way up there, Commander. I still don't see what's so special about that pairing. So Ellison's guide is a rogue, so what? I could soon have him jumping through hoops."

"You had him tagged and leashed and in the correction overalls? Ellison put the leash on him?"

"Just as you ordered, but I can't see why..."

"You don't have to." The commander's tone was dismissive, "This comes from the very top." He swung the chair away from Gross and switched the monitors on. Scenes from the Retreat filled the screens from the surveillance cameras planted on the grounds and in the house. He settled back, prepared to learn what he could about this pair. His boss wanted answers to questions and at the moment they didn't have the data to make them. For a moment Gross hesitated and then left as he realised that the commander had dismissed him. Who the hell was that guy?

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

Blair had won the argument on the drive up. His words had poured out at their normal enthusiastic rate; it took sentinel ears to hear the tremble that still remained. Jim had grudgingly admitted that it wasn't worth causing trouble over. One guide respect pose and then the guard was gone.

The uniformed GDP officer waiting at the entrance to the retreat house realized that the sentinel was not happy about something; Green hoped he wouldn't take it out on him. As the three men came to a stop at the porch steps, the guide slid awkwardly to his knees on the walkway. Green studied him knowingly. A rogue, and one who still hadn't learned his place judging by the tag and leash. No wonder the sentinel was tense.

"Sentinel Ellison?" The sentinel nodded curtly, making no attempt to introduce the large black man who accompanied him. Oh, good. Really tense. "I'm the welcome wagon, Sentinel. The name's Joe Green. I'll be checking in on you from time to time, seeing that you have everything you need. I don't expect that you'll have any problems; this place was built to be low in stimuli. I'll take you around, show you what's what and then the place is all yours, relax and enjoy yourself. This way, please." He turned and entered the house.

Jim knelt and put a hand on Blair's shoulder and helped him to his feet, taking his weight. At the base of the steep steps, Blair gave an indignant squawk as he was swept into a fireman's lift. The sentinel took the steps before setting him back down gently.

The sentinel looked slightly uncomfortable under his guide's level gaze. "Next time, man, tell me what you're doing. I though you had gone all Neanderthal on me."

A rare grin split the sentinel's face, "I should have remembered to bring my club."

"Just keep off the hair, okay?"

"Okay, Chief."

Simon couldn't help but smile. It was good to see the two of them getting back in synch again.

The door opened into a large living room, done up in warm earth colors, guaranteed to soothe a sentinel, nothing to trigger a zone out. One wall was a giant window with a door onto a patio from which the view across the valley was stunning. Jim moved out onto the patio, inhaled the crisp mountain air and felt a sense of peace. He used sentinel vision to look down towards the GDP village and training areas; they were a good two miles away so with any luck Blair would not have to meet any GDP again.

He felt the hand come to rest on his arm before starting to caress his back, grounding him. "You were starting to drift, big guy. What did you see?"

"Just people, Chief, no one important. Let's see the rest of the house."

The master bedroom was on the ground floor and had two beds in it. The window had an excellent view up a stretch of mountain thick with trees. The sentinel steered his guide to the bed nearest the window and eased him down. "Rest the ankle, Chief, I'll give you the highlights of the tour later."

"Jim, I'm okay." Blair protested.

"Humor me, kid. Alright?" He patted his guide's shoulder and quickly removed the leash, ignoring the involuntary gasp of relief that escaped the younger man when he was freed. Ellison snagged a cushion from the sofa against the back wall to elevate the injured ankle. He got Blair situated comfortably on the bed, patted his knee and left.

Green leaned in to Simon. It was all the captain could do not to recoil from him. "They all pick that bed, the one nearest the door, to protect their guides. Interesting, don't you think? Shows it's instinctive. Sentinel Ellison... now, the kitchen is this way."

The split-level house was on a grand scale, built of native stone and timber. It even had a sentinel suite on a separate floor with a thickly padded bonding platform.

Green finished the tour and looked at them as if expecting questions. The sentinel fought to keep his voice civil.

"Thank you. Now, if you don't mind, we'd like to settle in." Jim was very obviously not making casual conversation; he wanted the man out of there, now, and it showed.

In the bedroom, Blair tried to stem the tears that threatened to squeeze from behind his eyelashes. His hand brushed the coarse material of the overalls and he still felt the weight of the leash. Ignoring the pain in his ankle, he pulled his legs up to his chest and wrapped his arms around himself. Exhaustion, as much mental as physical, loosened the tight control he had kept on his emotions through a long and traumatic week. As the first tear began to fall, the floodgates opened and he was sobbing his heart out. Jim was okay now. He could let himself feel the fear he had suppressed when he thought he was losing his caring sentinel for a cold heartless master. He flinched as a hand touched his arm.

Once Jim had heard the suppressed crying and smelled the salty tears he had no choice but to go to Blair. He froze as Blair flinched away from his touch. Quietly, without coming in contact with the smaller body, he lay on his side and curled around him; letting his physical presence remind Blair that he was there for him. When the storm of emotion ended, Blair snagged Jim's wrist and pulled his arm around him, his fingers interlacing with those of his sentinel. Their twined hands came to rest over his heart, and Jim could feel the still unsteady beat. Ellison shifted and eased his guide against him.

"I am so sorry, Chief, but I know Gross. He's a real bastard and I've seen him with guides. I didn't want to give him a chance to force himself on us *for our own good.*"

"They would increase the power in the tag and run us through the maze, and... and... if you didn't do what they said or you didn't do it fast enough or they just felt like it for the hell of it, they would take the caustic leash and wrap it and...and..." Blair trailed off.

Jim pushed against the connection. Blair was too tired to keep him out of their link and the empath caught his breath as the Sentinel's concern and guilt washed over him. He clung tighter to the big hand that was anchoring him. Jim ordered softly, "Lap it up, Chief, take what you need."

"Simon will want to go out."

"Simon can wait. You come first, Chief, you will always come first. Now take what you need."

Blair felt the protective surge run through him and then he was dropping asleep. Jim felt the smaller body relaxing and let his eyes close, only for a moment he told himself. He was asleep in moments, the effects of the last few days catching up with him.

Simon checked out the living room before settling in to watch football on television. He kept it low so as not to disturb sentinel hearing. He still didn't understand all this sentinel business. But he knew that if he was going to retain the services of one of the best cops he knew who was also a good friend he was going to have to do his homework and protect these men.

He glanced at the clock and disappeared into the kitchen. The fridge and cupboards were well stocked with food that was sentinel safe, according to the letter stuck to the fridge with a magnet.

"Anything interesting, Simon?" Jim's voice made him jump. "Can't you make more noise, Ellison?" the captain grumbled.

"Sorry." Jim's smirk even more than his tone showed he wasn't. Tucked against him was Blair Sandburg. The kid had changed out of the overalls and looked exhausted, his eyes red and puffy. All the same, when he saw Simon in the kitchen, he volunteered to do the cooking.

Simon held a hand up. "You don't have to do that, Sandburg. Jim and I can cook."

"I've tasted Jim's cooking, Captain. I think it would be more edible if I cooked." A grin lit up tired features.

"Great. First my captain insults me, then my guide." Jim managed to sound totally dejected and long suffering.

For a moment Blair's smile faltered, his hand going out stroke his sentinel and reassure him that he didn't mean it. His hand was caught lightly. "Just kidding, Chief." Blair's smile returned and Jim made a mental note to watch what he said and to make sure his guide could see when he was joking.

Later, Simon inhaled the steam rising from the duck and it made his mouth water. Just going by smell, the kid was a great cook. He looked up to comment on that fact, maybe get in another little jibe, and realised that Jim was frowning. Ellison crossed from the table to the kitchen, the door swung open with a thud. "Where's your dinner, Chief?"

It was then that Simon realised that Blair had only dished up his and Jim's meal, nothing for himself.

"Blair!" Jim snapped the name and his guide jumped back so fast his back struck the counter. "Chief, I told you, you eat with me. Okay? So come on, kid, fill your plate and lets eat before it gets cold."

He saw Blair's hands shake and pushed him toward the table. "Go sit down, I'll get it for you." Sandburg stared searchingly at him for one long moment before he nodded quietly and left the kitchen. Jim cursed quietly as he piled food on a plate. He hadn't meant to scare the kid but after the day they had he couldn't blame him for being jumpy. Jim's guilt started eating away at him. Sandburg had been responding normally until the head injury that had turned him into Blair's worse nightmare. He remembered, and was disgusted with himself, making Blair kneel by his chair while he ate, then scraping his leftovers onto a plate and putting it down for his guide to eat while he relaxed over coffee.

Scraps, he had fed his guide scraps and now they were back at the start again. All those old fears and new ones to be laid to rest and what made it worse was the knowledge that he had caused this fear. Jim admitted to himself that he was afraid that his guide didn't trust him anymore. He had earned that trust once, he would have to earn it again and he could see there was no quick fix to be had.

The evening was balm to the men's tired spirits. After a relaxing meal, they had shared clean-up duties and Simon had told Blair about a couple of the more colorful cases Ellison had been involved in. Sandburg had actually laughed and even teased Jim a time or two. Then they had retreated into the living room and watched television. Sandburg had admitted that he wanted to see a program on National Geographic about a religious rites site that had been recently discovered. He looked surprised when Jim and Simon had readily agreed to watch it. Simon had watched the sentinel and guide more than the screen; had seen Jim's contented smile as Blair got swept up in the program. The anthropologist's comments were sometimes serious and sometimes hysterically funny when the show got something wrong. Then they agreed on double Highlander films. Simon watched as the day caught up with Blair. The grad student was losing his battle with Morpheus. Finally, his head dropped onto Jim's shoulder and he was down for the count. The Sentinel checked he was okay, then shifted so that Blair's head and shoulders rested on a cushion on his lap. Engrossed in the climatic swordfight, he didn't even seem to realize that his hand was gently stroking his sleeping guide. Simon realised then that Jim needed this, needed to feel his guide's presence, know that he was safe and sound.

"Jim, have you talked to him yet about the... about what happened when you were injured?"

"No." Blue eyes never left the screen but one hand carded through the grad student's curls.

"Don't you think you should?"

"How do I say it, Simon? Sorry, Chief, that I was a bastard, treated you worse than a dog and abused you because...." The sentinel's voice tightened with emotion.

"Jim, it wasn't your fault. You...."

"If it wasn't my fault then who the hell's was it? No, Simon, I swore that I'd deal with it, make sure it never happened again, make sure I never hurt him again. And look what I did to him." His hand touched the tag around the younger man's neck.

"You had to do that, Jim, he understands that. Gross wouldn't have let him out of that building without it."

"I'm no better than Alex Barnes and those GDP bastards. I use and abuse him too. No better than..."

"Jim." Simon leaned forward; the sentinel was silent, unmoving. Alarmed, the captain was off his chair and over to the couch. "Damn." Jim was staring into space, zoned.

Simon hesitated. Blair had slept through the entire conversation, that alone told Simon how exhausted he must be. Still, he couldn't leave Jim zoned for who knew how long. The kid hadn't mentioned his barriers so they must be okay. He put a hand on the guide's shoulder and shook him. The younger man jolted up and for a moment he was lost. Simon pulled him back.

"Jim zoned, we were talking and he zoned."

Blair pulled himself up and reached for his sentinel. "Jim, you have to come back to me. Listen to my voice, everything is okay, follow me back." His voice held that soothing timbre that made even Banks want to obey. Sandburg laid his hands on Jim's forearms, leaned forward and breathed into the sentinel's face. He saw Jim's nose twitch as he inhaled his scent and started to relax, the sentinel was coming out of it. The next thing he knew, Jim's hand had lashed out and fisted into his hair. He was shoved back onto the sofa and Jim landed atop him. Light blue eyes stared into his without recognition or kindness.

Jim came back from the zone staring into wide, frightened blue eyes. He was sprawled on top of his smaller guide, his hand clenched in dark curls.

Jim released him with a strangled sound and then swayed as he got to his feet. Blue eyes locked on blue and Blair shuddered as he saw the self-accusation in his sentinel's face. Ellison rushed out of the room. "JIM," Blair yelled at him, afraid for his friend's state of mind. The sentinel never slowed, just kept going. The guide pushed himself up and started after him.

Simon had watched in shocked silence as the drama played out before him. But as the young empath went after the older man, he grabbed him, sure that Jim would not want his injured guide chasing him. And suddenly, he had a wildcat in his arms, twisting and turning, struggling to break free. Damn, but the kid was stronger than he looked. That thought had barely formed when a heel caught him hard on the instep. He gasped in pain and his grip loosened enough for Sandburg to get an elbow into his stomach. And Blair was gone, leaving Simon bent over his arms, trying to get an order out without air.

Blair bit down hard as pain shot through his leg as he scrambled down the stairs. It was dark outside and bitterly cold but that didn't matter; his sentinel was out there. He thought he saw movement and set out for it. He crashed through the woods, towards where he thought he heard Jim moving. Branches caught at his clothes, tangled in his hair, pulling him back, but he kept going. His sentinel needed him and he had to reach him.

Jim took a calming breath as he leaned against a tree. God, what was he thinking of, grabbing Blair like that? Hadn't he put the kid through enough trauma at the Village? He tilted his head and clearly heard Blair's voice. "Come on, Jim, find me. Please find me." There was a note of panic in that call.

The sentinel located the direction of the voice. He heard a gasp of pain and threw his hands to his ears as a high-pitched whistle blasted his ears. The tag, Blair must have stumbled into a forbidden zone but the kid was stubborn enough to keep going because he, his sentinel, was here.

Blair felt the pain increasing. The shocks were coming faster and sharper now but he kept going. He knew Jim was just ahead of him. He shunted the pain away, using the meditation exercises he had been taught as a child, the ones that had gotten him through his time in the correction facility. His breaths were coming in harsh pants, his muscles cramping on him. Then he saw a figure come out of the gloom at him and he grabbed for it. A feminine scream split the night air and a hand swung at him. He managed to duck the blow she aimed at him.

"Easy, I won't hurt you, easy." She kept struggling until her energy ran out and then began to sob, "Don't hurt me, please."

"Sheesh, kid, its okay. I won't hurt you." She calmed in his grip. "Are you lost?" *Great Sandburg, bump into someone in the woods at night and ask her the obvious.* On the other the low level shocks were muddling his thinking.

The girl was in her mid-teens, almost his height, and had short dark hair. That was all he could make out in the moonlight.

"Yes, these men picked me up... I managed to escape and... and... I thought you were one of them."

Sandburg laid a comforting arm over her shoulders. "Hey, its okay. You'll be fine. My partner is a cop, all we have to do is find him and he'll take care of the rest. "The girl brushed away her tears with a shaking hand, "You're a police officer?"

"I'm an anthropologist but I am his partner. We work together. Okay, lets try and get back to the house and we can get some help. Can you walk?" She nodded and then realised that he might not be able to see her. She squinted at him, trying to get an idea of who her rescuer was. "I'm Sophie Kramer." There was a question in her voice; somehow if she got a name from him she would feel safer.

"Blair Sandburg, nice to meet you Sophie Kramer."

"Mr. Sandburg, can you get us out of here now please?"

"Just Blair, Sophie, and I'll give it a go. Hang on." He gave her his hand. He opened his barriers slightly and was nearly swamped by fear. The kid was scared for her life. He halted for a second and considered his options. He could keep going towards where he though Jim was and the pain in the tag would knock him out, or he could backtrack to the house. He really didn't have an option. Now that he had the kid with him, he had to put her first. She was cold and frightened and he had to get her someplace safe and warm quickly. Reluctantly, he turned and started back. At least the tag would stop buzzing him.

Jim halted as he heard a second voice. He tuned in and quickened his pace. He did not like the sound of what he was hearing; if the kid were a kidnap victim, then her abductors would come looking for her. His head snapped around at the sound of another group of people moving through the woods. He increased his speed. His body began to move more fluidly as the panther persona began to take the lead, all instinct and cunning, as even the Dark Sentinel was pushed back.

Blair ran with the girl through the dark woods. He tried not to push her too hard but if there were people looking for her they needed to get back to the house fast. Jim and Simon were both armed and that was the kind of back up they needed.

"What is this place?" the words were gasped as they ran.

"Sentinel Sanctuary, we...."

"I hope we don't bump into any of them. My dad told me about them, Mr Sandburg... sorry...Blair. The guides are... well, corrupt, Dad says, and the sentinels are freaks of nature, the spawn of the devil."

Blair's grip tightened on her hand, "That's what your father thinks?"

"Yes." She sounded so sure of her understanding. "Where do you come from, kid?"

"The Purity League Community."

"Figures." Not the kid's fault she didn't know any better. His mother had told him about the PLC. She had flirted briefly with them before her death and she had told him only a little of what they thought. That little had been enough to turn his stomach, they made some of the hard line sects seem easy going. The PLC believed that Guide and Sentinel practised unnatural acts and were servants of the devil. Only when they were destroyed could the righteous go to heaven. Great, and the kid was one of them. You sure can pick 'em, Sandburg.

Blair's head snapped up as he heard a panther's scream echo through the woods. Jim, it had to be Jim. Sophie whimpered beside him.

"Easy, it won't hurt us, I promise." Of that he was sure but if Jim was letting the panther persona lose it meant that something was threatening them. But he had to keep Sophie's mind off of that possibility.

"So, Sophie, just think of the story you'll have to tell your friends. You're a hero, kid." Blair kept up a soft flow of soothing words until they blundered onto the porch off the kitchen. Blair pounded on the door and Simon opened it. "Sandburg, where's..." Then Simon saw the girl. "What the hell? Sorry, miss."

"She's been kidnapped. She escaped and I found her."

Simon commanded, "Breathe, Sandburg." The guide pulled in a few gulps of air before continuing.

"I have to get to Jim, he's... he's..." he looked from Simon to the girl and finished lamely, "different. The kidnappers were following us. He's gone after them."

"Stay here, Sandburg." Banks tried to grab hold of the young guide but he twisted free. Scooping up a kitchen knife from the counter, he bolted out the back door.

"Protect her, Captain." Sandburg's command floated back.

Blair halted his flight, it had gotten even darker and he could just barely make out his surroundings. "Okay, I can do this." He felt better speaking out loud. Jim would hear him and come find him. But what if he was injured and couldn't come? What if they heard... he jumped as a gun discharged and then started off at a run towards the sound. Part of his brain could not help but wonder at himself. A few months ago he would have run away from the gunshot but everything changed the moment he bonded.

Blair stopped suddenly as vertigo swept through him. He was dizzy, confused. He looked down at the knife in his hand. If they had hurt his sentinel, he would kill them. Blair increased his pace. Despite the injured ankle, he was moving fluidly. His mind was focused on the hunt for his sentinel. His presence was a beacon that he could follow without conscious thought.

Jim growled as he let the first kidnapper fall from his hands, unconscious. He turned but not quick enough to avoid the blow that caught him across the side of his head. He hit the ground, stunned. A boot in the side turned him onto his back. A high-powered beam of light burned through his head, blinding his sensitive eyes. His pupils constricted until he could see through streaming eyes the two remaining kidnappers.

"You shouldn't have done that, man, this was none of your business." A pair of cuffs hit him on the chest. "Put those on NOW."

The third kidnapper checked out their companion. "He's alive, Brother."

"Good. Now then, hero, you take us to the girl and we let you live."

"What girl? I haven't seen any girl." Ellison sounded groggier than he was.

The apparent leader of the little gang of kidnappers pulled back his boot to kick some answers out of the fallen man. The kick never landed; he staggered as a Blair-shaped missile tackled him. The Dark Guide struggled with the man who had attacked his sentinel. He felt more than saw his partner move in on the remaining kidnapper. That man had been frozen by the attack on his leader and didn't have a chance when 200+ pounds of angry sentinel hit him.

Ellison turned back to help his guide and then settled back on his heels and watched in shocked surprise. Sandburg was circling the man like a trained fighter. He held a knife as if he had used one all his life, his body perfectly balanced. His opponent lunged at him and the Dark Guide twisted and trapped his arm. Sandburg slammed the knife into his stomach, at the last moment reversing his hand so that the hilt of the knife connected instead of the blade. Winded, the man went down and the Dark Guide followed through with his knee, catching him under the chin. He was unconscious before he hit the ground. Only then did he turn to the Sentinel.

Jim crossed quickly to him, keen eyes noting the changes in his guide. It was Blair but it was not Blair. What faced him was more than his gentle young friend. He reached a hand out for the knife and Sandburg was just about to hand it to him when his eyes opened wide. He flipped the knife up, caught it by the blade and threw it. It whizzed past Jim's shoulder and he heard a scream behind him. He spun around in time to see the first man he had tackled collapse to his knees, a gun falling from his hand and the knife through his heart. His guide closed the distance between them, his hands reaching for his sentinel.

The sentinel allowed the touch and felt the tug on the back of his mind. Blair's emotions were swirling around him, just as his arms were wrapped tightly around the sentinel before Jim could move. Jim felt the fierce protective instinct, the need to protect his sentinel or die trying, that poured into him from the young man wrapped in his arms. Jim worried about that, not sure he liked it that the kid would throw himself into a fight for him. He turned his head and looked at the knife sunk deep into his would-be killer's chest. That certainly was un-Blair like. Ellison felt carefully along the link. He did not have the skills that the empath had. When Jim tried to control the link it felt like he was wearing hobnail boots to the receiving mind.

Jim found what he didn't know he was looking for, a tear in the connection, something different in the feel of the bond. The moment his mind touched it, pure Dark Sentinel replaced Jim Ellison. He smiled as he looked down at an answering smile. Dark Guide and Dark Sentinel met each other for the first time. Jim's hands went around the smaller man's waist and he pulled him closer, needing full body contact with him. He growled as he picked up the low hum of the tag. His hands went up of their volition and broke the ring. His Dark Guide would never wear a slave collar.

A low groan brought his attention back to the kidnappers on the ground. He reluctantly released his guide before using the handcuffs that had been meant for him to handcuff each man to the other. A frisk of his prisoners found another pair of cuffs and he used it to secure their free wrists to each other around a tree. He didn't need to bother with the third man; the knife had seen to him.

The Dark Sentinel returned to his guide and reached out for him. The Dark Guide slid into place but although one hand rested on Ellison's back as usual, it was Jim who made the connection firm with an arm around his waist. Their bond was humming with aliveness. The guide closed his eyes and leaned into his sentinel, trusting him to take him back to sanctuary.

Simon opened the door, gun in hand, at the sound of steps on the porch. Relief replaced worry on his face, "Jim. Thank God. We've got no communications, I was about to leave for the village to get help." He stepped aside to let them in and got his first good look at them in the light. "You okay, Sandburg?" The guide's face held a dazed look. Blair's body went limp; it was as if the strings holding him up had been cut. He would have fallen if Jim hadn't caught hold of him and lowered him into a chair.

"Jim? What happened? How'd I get here? I don't remember..." His voice was shaky with the beginnings of panic. Blair looked up and Simon saw the stunned deer in the headlights look in his eyes. "Jim..." Simon started.

"Later, Simon. Hang tight, Chief. I'll explain everything later. Right now, I have to get down to the village. We left her kidnappers out in the woods. One dead and two cuffed to an oak tree. We need to get them carted off and her to a doctor."

"No, Jim. I'll go down to the village; you stay with them. Sandburg looks to be in a bad way. What the hell happened out there?"

"I'll tell you later, Simon. Right now, I've got to help Blair."

Jim grabbed the colorful throw from the back of the couch and wrapped it around his guide's body. "Its alright, Blair, you helped me take care of the kidnappers but you took a nasty fall in the process. You're going to be okay, Chief." Ellison reached out and lightly ruffled the dark curls. Sandburg obviously could not remember anything of his time as a Dark Guide. Jim wasn't sure how he knew that was what had happened to... no, that was what Blair had become, but he did. He remembered when he had felt the first stirrings of the Dark Sentinel; he had lost times when he had no memory of what had occurred. It had scared him at first until he realised it was the Dark Sentinel taking over. Once he had recognized that, he had gotten it under control. With his guide's help, he had meshed with all his personas, panther, Sentinel and Ellison until he moved naturally between them at need. But Blair had just thrown him into a tailspin, his guide, his Dark Guide. His Dark Guide... that he had not expected, nor had Blair. He was brought back to present concerns when he saw Simon grab his coat and the car keys. "See you, Captain."

Jim turned back to Blair. He was still shivering uncontrollably despite the blanket. Ellison went to build a fire on the hearth. He saw the girl nervously watching from the living room doorway.

"Its okay, kid. I'm a police officer, Detective James Ellison."

"Mr. Sandburg, is he all right?" She was looking worriedly at the young guide.

"He will be." He paused. "What's your name?"

"Sophie Kramer."

"Nice name, Sophie. I have to see to him. Will you be all right for a while?"

"Yes, sir."

"Jim?" Blair's voice was shaky, "Need to bond, now."

"It's all right, buddy, we'll do it soon. We just have to wait for Simon to get back then we can take care... Chief?" Sandburg shuddered; guileless blue eyes glanced at the girl and then riveted on the floor. A blush stained otherwise pale cheeks.

Blair cringed as he felt the sudden loathing coming off the child. Then Jim's hand was on his shoulder, he felt his invitation to connect. The tension in his body relaxed as his sentinel shielded him from the girl's emotions. Jim was angry with himself. He should have known that Blair's barriers would have eroded. God only knew what the young empath had felt when he threw that knife to save his sentinel's life. Maybe it was for the best that Blair didn't remember what had happened.

"You're one of them! Dad said you're corrupt and depraved and... But he... he saved..." There was fear and bewilderment in the girl's voice as what she had been told all her life collided with the memory of the gentle, caring, young man who had saved her life.

"Sophie." Jim said her name sharply and then calmed his tone. Displaying his anger would not help either Blair or the girl. "Blair risked his life to save yours. Is that corrupt, kid? Or depraved?"

"But... Dad..."

"Has your father ever met a guide or a sentinel? Have you?" He gentled his voice. Sandburg should be doing this; he was the one who was good with people. But one look at the ashen face of his barely conscious guide told Jim it was up to him. Fortunately, he was sure Blair had laid the groundwork. "No. They're unclean."

"Well, you're meeting one of each now. I'm a sentinel and Blair is my guide."

"But you're normal, you both look normal." The girl's pretty face was screwed up with confusion.

"What were you expecting, Sophie, horns and a tail? We're just as human as you or your father. All that's different in me are a few genes that let me hear, see, smell, taste and touch better than you can. These senses help me keep the people of Cascade safe, is that wrong? To use my gifts properly, I need Blair. He's an empath, do you know that that is?"

"They suck out people's souls?" Her voice was shaking slightly, but she turned her certainty into a question; she needed to know if her father was right.

"An empath can feel the emotions of people. That's all, Sophie, there's no soul sucking involved. I have seen Blair calm the mother of a murdered child by tuning into her emotions. He knew exactly how to help her and he helped her even though it hurt him badly. He's made a difference in the most important way. Not only has he helped me find and catch killers who would have escaped and killed again but he's helped the victims of crime to recover themselves. Does that sound like something an agent of the devil would do, Sophie?"

She shook her head. Looking at these two, she had to admit that she could not see the mark of the devil; they were normal men, not demons. She came closer and studied Blair. The young guide had buried his face against his sentinel's shoulder; shivers still wracked his blanket wrapped body. Ellison knew they had to bond soon.

"Is he going to be okay?" Sophie came closer and Jim could see that she was genuinely concerned. One child, raised in the belief that they were evil, who could now see them as people. It had to start somewhere.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

Jim sat on the sofa while Simon took care of the investigating officials and spoke to Gross. Blair was still plastered against him. Jim had pulled up the blanket until it almost hid him from the GDP guards. Blair had managed to hold it together until they had said their goodbyes to Sophie but he was running on sheer nervous energy and it was rapidly depleting. Now, Blair was making soft sounds of distress that only Jim could hear and he knew that he would have to take him very soon to the sentinel suite. He was growing impatient with them all.

Gross came over and put a hand out as if to pull down the blanket. A cold glare from the sentinel stopped him. Still he forged on, "Your guide got rid of the tag collar. That is a violation of..."

"Forget it, Gross. He lost it helping me fight the kidnappers."

"He helped you?" There was disbelief in the man's voice. Empaths did not fight; their nervous systems were too easily overloaded by the emotions of their opponents, their ability to concentrate on their surroundings diminished by experiencing the pain that they themselves inflicted. There were cases of empaths fighting in dire situations, such as defense of a loved one, but they were rare and the consequences had been devastating. That a rogue would risk those consequences to help someone else was... was... unbelievable. Gross wondered what Ellison was hiding.

"Yes, Gross, he did. I'd be dead if not for him. As far as I am concerned, Sandburg proved he is no rogue, that there is no way he is going to run. You and Captain Mason can take your "regulations" and put them..."

Ellison never had a chance to finish his recommendation. Gross' cell phone beeped and the GDP officer turned away to answer it. Courtesy, and regulations, dictated that the sentinel not listen in on the phone conversation. Jim extended his hearing; Gross did not deserve courtesy and *regulations* had forced him to leash his guide and Ellison had lost tolerance for both. The voice on the other end of the line was slightly distorted but the sentinel heard what was said. "Leave him alone, its not important now."

Jim filed the voice away for future reference.

Gross clicked the cell phone cover shut and back-pedalled. "As you wish, Sentinel Ellison."

Jim left Simon to clear the house of unwanted visitors. He gathered up his guide and tried to set him on his feet. Blair hated to be carried like a child and after what he had gone through with the leash and tag, Jim knew he had to treat the grad student like the competent adult he was. Sandburg managed two steps before his legs collapsed under him. Ellison scooped him up and said quietly, "Let's get you off that ankle, Chief, and into bed." The younger man didn't answer, just rested his head on Jim's shoulder. Ellison took him down into the sentinel suite and settled him on the platform. Then he confirmed the suspicions that had been raised by the timing of the phone conversation that had called off Gross. He found and smashed the cameras and microphones scattered throughout the suite, and made a mental note to check the whole house tomorrow; he would not be spied on.

The GDP Commander leaned back in his chair as the images from the sentinel suite disappeared. He would learn no more tonight. At least one good thing had come of tonight's fiasco... no, make that two things; a little girl was safe with her family and the guide was no longer tagged. He had always thought it a stupid idea, but he couldn't openly go against Captain Mason... not just yet.

Jim turned his full attention back on his guide. They had to bond again. He felt a frisson of fear run through him as he thought over the moment in the woods when he had connected with that unexpected piece of Blair's mind. He had had no idea what he was doing, what if he had hurt Blair? The episode had affected them both, but Jim was trained to violence, the young empath was not. He remembered Sandburg killing the kidnapper with an expertly tossed knife. His gentle guide had done that to save him. Thankfully, Sandburg had no memory of what had transpired in the small clearing. He had accepted Jim's story, as had the GDP. Ellison's killing of the kidnapper was acceptable, even laudable. If they knew that Blair had done it, or even suspected that he was capable of such an act... he shuddered. He resolutely pushed those thoughts away. He had to be calm for this bonding, Blair had experienced enough violence and fear that night, he didn't need more from his sentinel.

Ellison crawled onto the platform and lay by Blair. They needed full body contact for this; Jim knew that Blair's pathways had to be fried and it would take time and touch to restore them. He tugged his unresponsive guide to him, enclosing him firmly in his arms so that his head rested against Jim's neck and shoulder. With his free hand he began to stroke the smaller man from head to hip, firmly yet gently, trying to get some warmth into the shivering body. His senses were fully open and he waited for the tug on his mind. He felt a flash of fear when it didn't come; was Blair that far gone? Jim pushed against the empath's mind as he had done in the woods, then again slightly harder, nudging him to respond. Finally, just as he was about to panic, Blair's tired mind opened the linkage and accepted the warmth and strength Jim extended to him. "That's it, kid. You'll be fine. Take what you need." Jim wasn't expecting a response; Blair was beyond coherent speech.

Blair found himself in what he recognized as a dream, but the most vivid dream that he had ever had, more real than reality. The anthropologist in him recognised the layout of the temple as mirroring that commonly used in Temples dedicated to Sentinels but there were differences. As Blair studied the details he felt a rising excitement, it was a temple all right; only, it was not a temple for sentinels. My God, this was a Temple for Guides! Would anyone have built such an edifice for slaves? Blair's dream form wandered through the imposing grey-stoned structure. Robed priests moved through cool corridors and stately libraries; workers toiled willingly in the fields and orchards; and everywhere there were potential guides. Empaths who had come to the Temple to be educated in Sentinel lore and general knowledge until they were judged ready to take on the responsibility of guiding another soul, a sentinel, to the highest level of achievement. Blair sighed as he saw peaceful scenes of Guides at study, at play, at work ... learning to fight? Violence in this place devoted to scholarly pursuits? How? Why?

Blair's eyes fell on one of the trainee warriors, a young empath wearing dark tunic and trousers with a sword strapped to his back. He was not a large man, only five foot nine and lean of build. But there was power and fluidity in the way he retrieved the long sword from it's sheathe and brought it to the ready position facing the trainer. Blair was still trying to understand when the empath's eyes moved past his opponent's shoulder and seemed to lock on his. Identical faces stared at one another, jeans and flannel and a certain air of innocence the only things that distinguished Blair from the other.

And Blair was pulled into nightmare. Dark Guide, Warrior Shaman prepared to face the warriors who would profane the Temple that day. He had been to the priest earlier and seen to the state of his soul; now, he prepared to loose that part of him that could do battle when he must. Blair shuddered as he felt the change in their nervous system that would shunt aside the agonies of those who fell to his blade until they could be dealt with in safety... or never, if his own end came in battle.

He felt a pull, and the Shaman was out of his body. He walked unseen through a camp bent on battle. Sentinels, guides and those of common humanity shared quarters with none of the usual tensions of a mixed community. A huge man with straw-colored hair seemed in charge but his and everyone's attention was focused on a tall warrior who was scenting the air as if looking for something or someone. Light blue eyes met and locked on his as if he was visible to this one man alone. A sense of kinship, of brotherhood, almost formed... Surprise shattered the linkage as Blair recognized Jim!?

Then Blair was battered by impressions of battle. The sword in his hand was a living thing as it sought and found chinks in his opponents' defenses. Man after man fell before him until it looked as if he would be away safe... and then the tall man from the camp stood before him and something pulled at his soul. A Dark Sentinel sought his Dark Guide. The Dark Guide struggled against the recognition of destiny. He would choose the sentinel who would be his brother in all but blood, not fate or the whim of a mercenary lord. But he was overmatched in size and strength and the emotions he had shunted aside were screaming along his nerves for release. The sight of the ropes in the hands of a grinning warrior watching sentinel and guide face off inspired his aching body and tired mind to new combat. But there could be only one outcome to the unequal battle. The hilt of the sentinel's sword slammed against the side of his head and he went down hard, sword falling from nerveless fingers.

Blair fought as he was pinned beneath the larger body of the Dark Sentinel; he bucked and thrashed but the sentinel easily contained his weakening struggles. He panicked as his hands were trapped above his head and a well-known voice ordered, "Get me the ropes, now."

Blair's vision splintered as the Sentinel flipped his struggling body over and settled his weight across the smaller man's back. Another man stepped forward, the large, blond man he had seen in the camp, and held his arms while the sentinel bound them tightly. The Dark Guide tried to prepare himself for what he knew was to come, the reason for this raid... his bonding, mind and soul, to the Dark Sentinel's service. Blair didn't understand, caught between past and present, memories of Jim clashing with the feel of the leash going around his throat in the GDP office and the fresh pain of rough cords binding his wrists.

Dark Guide screamed a warning at Blair, tried to prepare him for the alien grip of another mind... that never came. Instead, hands lifted him to his feet, his eyes fell on the sword the Dark Sentinel picked up from the ground. His sword, the engraving of his spirit guide, the wolf, standing guard over the blank space where his chosen... chosen, not forced, his soul screamed in defiance... sentinel's spirit guide would be etched. Then he was falling, his battered mind and body giving into the rest they craved. Vaguely, he heard the voice say, "Guides are meant to be equals, Saemund. I'll have him as my brother not my slave. He needs time to..."

And then he was spiralling up from the dream. He could hear Jim's voice laced with fear as he said his name over and over. Could feel big hands flexing on his shoulders, concern vibrating through their link. He managed to force open his eyes, and was stunned by the terror on Jim's face edging into relief as their gazes met. Jim never showed fear. Blair had seen him go up against gun wielding psychos without cracking his stoic expression. But because of him, for him, there was fear. Jim was gathering him none too gently into his arms. His sentinel was making distressed noises, not realising what he was doing. One hand moved up and down Blair's body and the other wrapped into his hair as if to anchor him to Ellison's presence.

Still reeling from the dream, it took a moment for Blair to realise that Jim was in Dark Sentinel mode, in some type of zone out. Something had alarmed his sentinel. Guide instincts forced his brain to focus on the problem. What if it had been more than a dream, his vivid reliving of a past only speculated on by scholars? What if they had shared a vision? Jim might still be fuelled by the strong images and emotions of the experience. The Dark Sentinel had fought him, and won. But Jim would be distressed not only because of the fight but because he could have hurt his guide. The guide he needed to lead him. Once he had called Jim a throwback, it had been said as an insult, but there was truth Blair hadn't recognized to the words. Ellison was a glorious throwback, primal and violent, yet gentle and protective. And Blair now knew himself for what he was, a Dark Guide and Warrior Shaman. There were facets and powers of his empathic talents to be tapped that were undreamt of by modern man. At the moment, Blair had to admit he hadn't a clue as to how to go about doing that, but he knew it would come. In the meantime, he would keep his sentinel safe anyway he could. The connection between the two of them was humming, more powerful and alive than anything he could ever have imagined. For the first time, he realised he would no longer be a victim of other men's power and desires. He had at his service the most elite killer ever created, by nature a Dark Sentinel Prime and by training a Black Ops Ranger but tempered with the humanity and compassion of Jim Ellison. Ellison would keep him safe and Blair silently committed himself to his ultimate responsibility... he would do whatever Jim needed, consciously or subconsciously, to keep his sentinel safe.

Blair reached a hand around the back of Ellison's neck and pulled his head down. He carefully breathed his scent into his sentinel's face and then opened the empathic channels as far and as wide as he could. Shaman soul guided him in the release of pheromones and the murmuring of a promise to abide with his brother forever, to serve as constant Guide in the confusion of senses. He smiled as the Dark Sentinel's nostrils flared and he inhaled the Dark Guide's essence. Shaman knew that sentinel could smell no fear, no uncertainty on his guide.

Jim opened his eyes and felt humbled by the unconditional acceptance and trust shining on the face before him. He pulled Blair even closer and admitted his deepest fear, "Can't lose you, Blair, can't ever lose you."

"I'm here, Jim, I'll always be here." Brothers-in-arms, brothers-in-soul, they no longer needed words.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0

Simon slowly opened the door to the suite. He had gotten rid of the GDP three hours ago. Although he would have denied it had he been asked, he was getting worried about his friends. He grinned as he thought of Blair's probably reaction to the idea that Simon might be his friend. When he entered the dimly lit room, Blair was huddled against Jim. The young Guide raised his head and... Simon grinned again... growled at him, clearly protecting his sentinel.

Simon eased back. "Its okay, kid, they're all gone, you're both safe." Sandburg nodded and then lowered his head back onto his sentinel's chest and turned into the caress the barely awake Ellison gave him. "Sleep, Chief, I've got you. You're safe." With a yawn, Jim pulled his guide closer, rolling slightly so that the smaller man's back was flat on the cushions. Ellison curled around him and, this time, his head was on the guide's chest, his heartbeat a soothing rhythm that lulled him back to sleep.

Simon closed the door and went to bed.

It was early the next morning when Jim woke again and saw his guide sitting cross-legged by his side. There was a look of wisdom in the deep blue eyes that sat oddly on his young face.

"So much guilt, Sentinel. Why?"

"Blair?" Ellison felt the gentle concern radiating off the younger man.

"Jim, I can feel it through the link. You can't lie through that."

"Leave it lie, Sandburg."

"No, Ellison. Can't do that." There was concern in that statement, but also a core of stubbornness that Jim was beginning to recognize as one of his young friend's defining characteristics.

"I said let it lie," Jim growled at him. He rolled off the platform and started for the door.

"No, you don't, big guy. We talk." Blair moved in front of him, one hand coming up to block his way.

"Get out of the way, Sandburg, I'm in no mood to talk."

"You beat me up, throw me around like a rag doll, and now you don't want to talk about it? Not talking about it won't make it not have happened, Ellison. It's eating away at you."

"I could have killed you, Blair. I was...I was no better than Barnes or the GDP." He had to make the kid understand that he wasn't worthy of the trust shining on the eager young face.

"Jim, you have made more difference to my life than any other person I have ever known. You treat me like a person, not a slave."

"I hit you. Don't you understand? I could do it again."

"When I spoke back to Wilson, he would have his men hold me down while he beat me. That was a good day. On a bad day he would have his men... well, you know..." Blair's voice shook slightly, "Alex Barnes used me like a... a thing, like I had no feelings, no mind or soul of my own. She hurt me, Jim, really bad, put me in the hospital a couple of times. Did you do that?"

"Chief, I hurt you." Why the hell wasn't the kid getting it?

"Did you enjoy it, Jim? Hurting me? Did you want to do more? Put me on the leash and tell me you owned me body and soul right before you ripped off my clothes and..." Tears were tracking down an otherwise calm and knowing face.

Ellison reached out and caught the younger man in a fierce hug. "God, no, Blair! I could never, would never... you're like my own brother, Chief. Please, kid, don't tell me you ever thought I would... that you are afraid I would..."

"Do I look afraid, Jim? Do I feel afraid?" Warmth and acceptance flooded the sentinel as the younger man pushed away to look at him. And Jim knew that just as he saw Blair as his brother, he had become the family that an often lonely young boy had hungered for.

"Because, even when you were struggling with the programming the Institute gave you for dealing with recalcitrant guides; even when you were most purely Dark Sentinel with his instinctive need for control and order; even when you had lost the things that make you Jim Ellison; you never once enjoyed hurting me. It was a distasteful duty that you carried out because you thought it was necessary ... even for my own good. I'm an empath, Jim, you think I wouldn't feel the difference? You think that it didn't make a difference? No, Jim, I'm going to say this one last time and I want you to pay attention here. YOU ARE NOT LIKE THEM. YOU HAVE NEVER BEEN LIKE THEM. YOU WILL NEVER BE LIKE THEM."

Jim wanted to believe that with all his heart. But he remembered vividly the feel of fragile flesh bruising under his hands. Blair was still speaking.

"Okay, so the Dark Sentinel is a control freak, we knew that. But even then, Jim, once we linked again, you couldn't hurt me. Even before you regained full control of your meshed personas you looked after me. Remember, in front of the fire, how you fed me, kept me warm and shielded me when my barriers were fried? That was you too. Dark Sentinel or not, you cared. I will not see you eat away at yourself over what happened."

"I could hurt you again, Blair. How do I know, how do you know, it won't happen again?"

"Because", one of Blair's patented mega-watt smiles warmed Jim's heart, "emotionally retarded throwback you might be but you wouldn't hurt your true guide. I know your very soul."

Jim let his fingers ghost over his guide's face. Light blue eyes met dark blue eyes, and he felt as if Blair could indeed see into his heart, just as he said. He felt the guilt start to lift from him. It would take time for it to disappear completely, he knew that, but he could deal with it now.

"Your ankle... how is it?"

"Pretty painful. I must have run on it last night but I don't remember it hurting then."

"Adrenaline rush, Chief." He saw his guide bought that, but it wasn't enough for the walking curiosity that was Blair Sandburg.

"Jim, what did happen last night?"

"You remember getting Sophie to Simon?" Ellison was feeling his way carefully. There were things about last night that he hoped his guide never remembered.

"Um, yeah. And I think I remember you fighting someone?"

"Someones, Chief, there were three of them. And if you hadn't tackled one of them and slowed him down until I could take care of him, I would have been in real trouble."

"Nah, not you, Jim. You could have taken them." Blair's confidence in him amazed Ellison. "But I helped, huh?" That was pure kid brother looking for older brother's approval, or maybe a guide for his sentinel's.

"Yeah, Chief. I couldn't have done it without you. Now, what say we go get some breakfast and get this vacation started?"

"Hey, man, I am like so up for that. Think Simon's awake, yet?"

Sandburg allowed Jim to help him up to the main living room and get him safely seated at the table. His bad ankle was propped on another chair and an ice pack securely wrapped around it, despite his vociferous protests and half-hearted attempts to dislodge it. Simon watched their foolery with an indulgent smile as he spooned coffee into the percolator. Once Jim was sure that Blair was resigned to a cold foot, he went to the kitchen and started breakfast.

Simon turned the food preparations over to his detective and sat down next to Sandburg. He handed a folded piece of paper to the younger man. "Sophie left this for you and said she hoped you felt better soon."

Blair opened it and read the short note. There was a wistful smile on his face as he tucked it into his pocket.

"You okay, Chief?" Ellison was picking up something from his guide.

"Fine, Jim. Unless I starve to death." Jim chuckled at that complaint. He knew that Blair would tell him later.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

Simon cast his line out into the water. Jim was further downstream and the captain noticed how often the sentinel would look at his young guide. He guessed that Jim was casting a sensor net around him; it said in Sentinel 101 that sentinels did that. Blair sat on their coats on a sun-warmed patch of bank where Ellison had settled him. One leg was tucked under him and the other extended with the swollen ankle submerged in the cold waters of the stream. He was totally relaxed and radiated contentment. He was wearing his normal colorful, multi-layered clothing; the correctional uniform and leash had been shredded and burned by one irate sentinel watched by a gleeful guide. Next to him, half-opened, was a thick book whose pages were ruffled by the same slight breeze that toyed with his sun washed hair. Simon grinned as he recalled the grad student's excitement when Ellison had presented him with the book over breakfast.

"Mary S. Lovell's "Rage to Live." Oh wow! Simon, do you know what this is?" The captain had shaken his head and exchanged an amused glance with his detective. Their interchange had gone completely unnoticed by the young man who already had his nose buried in the book. "No, Sandburg, I don't know what it is. Except that it's a bigger book than I've read since college."

"It's the story of Sir Richard Burton. It only just got published. Oh wow, Jim. Thanks, man."

"Sandburg, why would you want to read a book about some actor who dies before you were born? For that matter why would Ellison even buy it?" Simon could tell they were losing Sandburg's attention.

"Not the actor, Captain, the explorer. He was the first Westerner to document the existence of modern sentinels. Oh, wow. Thanks, Jim."

As a gift from a sentinel to his guide who was also an anthropologist, the book was apparently nothing less than the perfect present. Jim had handed it to him with a gruff, "Just in case you don't like fishing, Chief. Maybe it will keep you out of mischief."

Sandburg had been practically speechless the remainder of the meal, except for an occasional. "Cool." Or "Wow, man. This is so great, thanks, Jim." Banks and Ellison chatted over his head as he lost himself in the pages. To Jim's evident delight, Blair ate more than he had ever eaten at one sitting, absentmindedly transferring to his mouth the food that Ellison kept putting on his plate. Blair went along willingly to their chosen fishing spot but to no one's surprise, the book went with him. Banks grinned, he was actually beginning to like the scruffy little grad student. Lord knew he brought a certain offbeat intelligence to the bullpen that was surprisingly useful on occasion, even apart from his contributions as Jim's guide. He watched as a winsome smile lit up the young man's peaceful face and wondered what he was thinking.

Blair gradually surfaced from his meditation, feeling more centered and serene than he had felt in literally years. Since his empathy had been discovered and he had been condemned to the GDP and the witch from hell. But now he had his sentinel, the one he was always supposed to have. He smiled as his eyes fell on his present. It was little things like the book that Blair always found amazing. That Jim would take the time to actually go out and do things for him. He moved a hand to brush the glasses in his shirt pocket, another gift from Jim. His glasses had disappeared at the correction center. Jim had gone to the Center, found his medical records, and then had the prescription made up so he didn't have to squint to read things. He opened his eyes and found Jim smiling at him. He returned the smile. HIS SENTINEL, thank all the deities that he had found Jim Ellison. Together they could take on the world, he took the paper out and reread it.

Dear Blair,

I wanted to thank you, but Captain Banks said you were not well. What Dad says about guides and sentinels is all wrong. You are people, good people, and I will always remember that.

Love, Sophie

One child, but it was a start.

The End

The series continues in "Sentinel Conference"

Blair's book Rage to Live by Mary S Lovell, is actually in print, and is an amazing book about the life of one of the first anthropologists Sir Richard Burton.

Written by Susan Foster
stargate3001@hotmail.com
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