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

With Many Thanks to our beta readers Olwyn and Lois, a great job as always

Warning: Adult language and situations.

The Reflection in the Mirror Series: Part 2 (August 4, 2001)

Dìdean (The Shield)

By Susan and Maedoc

Snow backed up until he hit the desk at the end of the hallway. The captain was one of the toughest SOBs he had ever worked with. He had shaken Internal Affairs from top to bottom upon his arrival three months ago, and personnel had been transferred, reassigned and generally put through the kind of scrutiny ordinarily reserved for federal inquiries. By the time his first thirty days were up, Hunter had turned the department around. It now functioned efficiently and above all, honestly. The brass and the mayor were beyond grateful, and if they found the man abrasive and unfriendly, they overlooked it in light of his achievement.

Hunter's people hated or feared him, sometimes both, but they always respected him. They knew exactly where they stood with him. He was still a cop -- and a damn good one. His first week had him involved in a hostage situation, and he had taken out the perp with a single shot. The fact that the man was a Sentinel just made him even more unapproachable. No political agendas or lobbying ever swayed him from doing his job. Most wondered how long the captain would last if he didn't kowtow to the higher ups -- but somehow, despite his lack of people skills, Hunter continued to thrive and meet the challenge.

The grapevine had brought in the story about Hunter's ex-wife and the death of his guide. His officers wondered how long the man could keep it together without being bonded: everyone knew an unbonded sentinel was dangerous and unpredictable. When the scuttlebutt from the hospital had made its way to IA, the rumors began circulating. Hunter had forced a Guide to bond, and no one was talking about the particulars. They had spent the week Hunter was on mandatory leave speculating on who his guide was and if it would improve their boss's disposition.

The day before Hunter's return, someone had gotten a tip from the GDP -- the captain's guide was some young chick that Hunter had fallen in lust with, and that, of course, led to more innuendoes about Hunter's sexual kinks. Samantha had tried her best to quell the gossip, but people being people, they found it was much more titillating to continue talking about the boss they despised.

When Hunter had shown up this morning, the first sight of his young guide had invoked mixed reactions. Most of his department were shocked at how young she was. A few, like Snow and Turner, were thinking with their gonads. She was cute and clung to Hunter like he was the only thing in her universe. The rest of them were upset at Hunter's apparent choice of a girl young enough to be his daughter. All in all, Hunter had managed to create even more hostility.

Snow realized he couldn't move quickly enough when the sentinel hauled him up into the air and slammed him against the wall.

"My guide," Hunter growled, holding Snow by the front of his jacket. A hand moved up and tightened on Snow's throat. The world started to fade to a red-grey. The fingers flexed and the air was gratefully dragged in, only to have hand tighten again. The cat was playing with the mouse as Hunter sequentially choked Snow and then eased his grip.

The tiger roared its approval and moved in for the kill. The tabby cat came out of the wall, and immediately trotted over and cut in front of the tiger so that it either had to stop or walk over the cat. The large cat lowered its head and took a long deep sniff of its small partner and nearly knocked it over, but the tabby just purred and rubbed itself against the tiger's side.

It was at the same time Hunter heard Sarah's voice. "Please, Captain, let him go. Please...."

Hunter looked back to see her standing in the doorway, her hand clutching the doorframe with white fingers. Her eyes were haunted, fearful. Protect the guide. With a snarl, he pulled Snow up so that the man was looking straight at him, his face only a few inches away. Hunter's voice was low and threatening, but no one could hear what he said to the man he held in a death grip.

Snow lost all color, and when Hunter let him go, his legs almost gave way. He barely made it to a chair.

The room was silent except for Snow's heavy breathing. Hunter looked around at his staff and one by one, they lowered their eyes. He collected his guide and then pushed her into the office. The blinds closed and no one in the bullpen dared say a word after the sentinel's aggression. The look of fear on the guide's face made more than one of them uncomfortable. What was he going to do to her?

The office door closed and then the blinds were drawn with a snap. Sarah turned around to find Hunter already removing his jacket, placing his gun and badge on his desk. The sentinel was back in control.

"On the mat."

Sarah knelt down, her mouth dry. For a moment, he just looked at her, the need to bond and to mark and claim what was his burning him.

"Show your respect, Guide." The sentinel needed the submission to reaffirm his control.

Sarah bit her lip and lowered her head, placing her hands in the center of her back. She could feel him circle her, a feather-light touch to her head.

"On your back, Guide."

Sarah sneaked a glance up; she could see him looming over her as her eyes tracked up the full length of his 6 foot 2 frame. She was scared -- he hadn't done this before. She lay back and tried not to panic when he settled by her side.Hunter's hand ran possessively from her head to her waist in a repetitive motion. It wasn't painful, but it was more aggressive than the last time they had bonded. He wasn't asking permission; he was claiming. She couldn't help cringing, but he merely rumbled and she stilled. Looking into his face, she saw that he was drifting, almost lost in the sensation of claiming his guide.

"Sentinel Hunter," she whispered fearfully.

At the sound of her voice, he jolted out of the light zone. He eased down so his head was on her level and he could look straight into her eyes. He deliberately ran his hand over her again, this time soothing, noting how she slowly untensed. When she had calmed, she unconsciously moved into his touch, guide seeking comfort.

She reached out to him, her hand hesitantly touching his chest. He was smiling -- a smile different from the usual cynical sneer -- as he silently encouraged her.

She looked at him, then lowered her eyes. Maybe he doesn't want me to look at him. Sarah didn't want his aggression to return or to make him angry.

Sarah. The brush against her mind was light. Look at me.

She raised her eyes uncertainly.

"I want you to see me. The sentinel should be seen by the guide." His hand stopped on her waist and pulled her tightly against him, leaning into her so that he partly covered her.

This close, she had to lower her own head against his chest. She could hear his heart beating, soothing and lulling her. She opened her mind, allowing all her barriers to fall. She heard the growl of approval in her ear.

Mine.

Somehow, that proprietary rumble didn't frighten her now. She closed her eyes.

The people in the bullpen watched and waited for some sound, some signal from the office, but there was nothing but silence.

~~~~~~

"Captain Hunter," his secretary's voice came over the intercom. "Commander Slater on line 2."

Quarter to five. It figured. The day had been long, and his people were still walking on eggshells after this morning's incident. Snow and Turner still weren't sure what had hit them, but they wouldn't be forgetting anytime soon.

Hunter picked up the phone. "What?" His response was terse.

Hunter listened, his face darkening as the conversation progressed. Sarah could feel Hunter's aggression level rising. After this morning, that wouldn't be a good thing.

"I don't give a rat's ass what the GDP thinks..." Hunter trailed off as he listened to whatever Slater was telling him. It continued for several more minutes, until Slater had apparently finished his piece.

"Fine," Hunter snarled and hung the phone up with a crash.

Sarah, who had been at her desk familiarizing herself with the laptop computer, winced. She reached out a tentative hand, only to have Hunter snarl at her. She immediately pulled back.

Hunter glared at her, but didn't speak to her. Getting up, he paced the office, muttering under his breath about GDP political machines and stupid-ass regulations. None of it made any sense to Sarah. She tried to make herself as small as possible.

Hunter finally paced himself out and looked back at his guide.

She wasn't sure what to make of his expression, but it disturbed her. "Sentinel, I..." she began, but his angry exhalation stopped her.

"We are leaving. It's been a long day." With that pronouncement, Hunter grabbed his briefcase and locked his desk and file drawers.

Sarah waited, unsure what he wanted her to do.

"Sometime this century, Guide," and Sarah scrambled over to grab the back of his jacket. He was still seething, and it felt like sandpaper to touch him.

Walking out of the office, Hunter bade Samantha a clipped "Good night" and headed for the parking garage. Sarah could feel the hostile looks and feelings directed at both of them. She was starting to get a headache. By the time they pulled up at his house, Sarah was feeling chilled. They went through dinner preparations silently. Hunter didn't even seem to notice that she wasn't eating much. The tension and anger was more than enough to ruin her appetite.

After dinner, Hunter stood looking out the patio door at the back yard and Mount Rainier in the distance. His whole body language screamed "back off"." She finished cleaning the kitchen and was hoping she could escape to her room.

"Guide," Hunter ordered, and his voice was still simmering with anger.

Sarah swallowed. What did I do? She moved into the living room.

He was still looking out the window. "The GDP Director, Dr. Claydove, wants to meet with both of us tomorrow."

Sarah tensed.

"Since the bonding was...how did Slater put it...under unusual circumstances, they want to be sure that everything is working. They're more interested in you, actually, since you're an untrained empath and might not know all the little GDP customs that society expects." Hunter's voice was rich with sarcasm. "Since I was Sentinel trained in the military, and have had a guide before, they're not that worried about me."

Sarah tried to keep her anxiety under control. "Are they...are they going to put me in the corrections facility?"

"No." Hunter was emphatic. "But they will expect a little demonstration of guide protocol. We've reviewed most of it."

Oh. She had learned fairly quickly and Hunter hadn't found the need to reprimand her yet. Maybe she could get through this. But why was he still so angry?

"Unfortunately," and this was delivered with a disgusted sigh, "there's one area we haven't covered that will be necessary." Hunter turned to face her. In his hands was a long black coil.

Leash! Sarah's horrified recognition was quickly followed by panic. She hadn't done anything wrong; he had said he didn't leash guides on a whim.

"Sentinel," she croaked, all the while backing away. She hit the wall and Hunter was right in front of her.

"Please, Sentinel," she begged, and Hunter stopped a few inches away. She was terrified.

"Sarah, listen to me. One of things a sentinel must do is show the ability to control the guide. Per regulations, I have to leash you. It's just a demonstration." He kept his voice level, reasonable, and it had absolutely no effect on her. "It's just for show. It doesn't mean anything." His voice was lower, cajoling. "I don't want to do this, but I have to. We need to review this so that you won't panic tomorrow."

He was going to leash her. She remembered how he had told her he couldn't promise that he wouldn't do it. He had known all along that he would have to. She was going to be leashed like a dog where everyone would see her. She didn't even realize she was crying.

Hunter reached out and she cringed. He merely moved his hands to either side of her head, grasping lightly but securely. He pinned her against the wall, trapping her with his body weight. He just held her, waiting for her heart to slow down, ignoring her feeble attempts to free herself. It was like the first bonding; he simply waited until the adrenaline rush faded. Eventually, she slowed, and then stopped. It had always been his way to get what he wanted through cunning, force or intimidation. It made things easier and more clear cut, but as he watched his guide struggle, it seemed wrong.

Moving back, he took Sarah with him as he settled down on the floor, his back to the wall. She sat shivering, and he pulled her against him, ignoring her tension.

"I don't like leashes," Hunter mused quietly. "I figure if I can't control somebody without them, I shouldn't be in control. It's a false victory." He was stroking her hair almost absent-mindedly. "The military taught me a lot of things, including how to leash somebody a dozen different ways, but I prefer a more even battle." He paused, then resumed. "I don't want to leash you, but if I don't, then the GDP is going to stick their nose in my business, which I won't tolerate. They have no authority over me, but they could put some stumbling blocks in my way." The callous truth, but it was the wrong thing to say. Hunter realized that when his Guide started shaking again. "I don't want to do this to you, Sarah, but if it will get them off our backs, it'll be better in the long run. All we have to do is go through a couple of wraps, and then it's done."

He made it sound so banal, as if it didn't really matter. But it did -- it most surely did. She could hear the message clearly. You're a guide. You're just an animal, not a person.

"Please, Captain Hunter. I'll do extra work; I can learn more computer stuff. Just please don't...."

Hunter looked down at her bent head, not knowing how to make it more palatable. "It's just a game; it's all pretend."

He wasn't going to give in. She shuddered again, scrubbing at her wet eyes. "I don't want my family...I don't want them to see me like that," she whispered.

"No one is going to see you but Commander Slater and Dr. Claydove. I promise you that." He knew there was no way out of the leashing, but it had never bothered him like this before. He hadn't actually stopped to consider how the guide felt about it. It was a societal expectation guides grew up with, but it never felt as *wrong* as it did right now, perhaps because now it was personal. Gary had been military, used to regimented procedures and restraints, and had never complained about the time or two he had been leashed because of some bureaucratic mandate.

But you couldn't look him in the face afterward, the little voice whispered. And the tiny thread of despair he had felt in his guide afterward had been conveniently ignored. After all, he was a guide, and their wishes weren't important in the big picture.

He watched her fold in on herself. She had given up the fight and was just waiting for the inevitable.

"Come on," he said quietly and stood and pulled her to her feet. Leading her to the center of the room, he pushed her gently to her knees.

Sarah stared straight ahead, only her rapidly beating heart giving her away. She felt the loop slide over her head and held her breath. She waited for the coil to tighten and choke her, but it didn't. She closed her eyes, unable to bear to watch what he was doing.

The leash was clipped around her waist, then another gentle push had her lying flat. The loops went around each ankle, then up to her wrists, and finally clipped onto the collar. Finished, Hunter pulled her to her feet. The loops were not constricting or painful, but now he would tighten it, twist it, and she would fall....

Nothing happened. She stood waiting for him to pull the leash, and he didn't. Confused, she opened her eyes.

"That's all it's going to be, Sarah," Hunter said quietly. "Just like a costume. If you can just hold still, it'll be over in a few minutes."

She stared at him for the longest time. Hunter wondered what was going on behind her eyes.

"After tomorrow, will you do this again?"

The blunt question startled him. Hunter met her gaze after several long seconds. He wanted to say no, needed to say no, but nothing came out.

The little spark of hope flickered out, and she looked away from him. She said nothing as he undid the leash, standing in the middle of the room until he quietly ordered her upstairs. She obeyed like a little automaton, her eyes distant.

And Hunter, listening for her as he lay in his own bed, had never thought you could actually hear a soul wane until tonight. You did this, Hunter. Live with it.

~~~~~~~~

Jim put down the phone and Blair frowned at him curiously. "What was that all about?"

"Hunter and Sarah have to go in for a GDP review of guide protocol tomorrow morning. Slater says it's regulations. He just wanted to let me know since I'm Sentinel Prime and can choose to be there."

"Review? Of what?" Blair sounded nervous.

"Guide protocol," Jim said evasively.

Blair closed his eyes. He thought of the kneeling, the leash wraps, the beatings....

Jim was on him, wrapping Blair in his arms. "It's okay, Chief. They're not going to do anything bad." I hope.

"Do you want to be there, Jim?" Blair was worried, but he'd do whatever Jim wanted.

"I should. It's my clan, after all," Jim mused. "Hunter will throw a shit-fit, but them's the breaks."

Blair finally asked the question that had been bugging him for days. "Who is he to you, Jim? He's a blood relative, even I can sense that. Who is he, really?"

Jim poured himself a cup of coffee. It was a very sore topic. "He's my half-brother."

"Your brother?" Blair was flabbergasted.

"One of William Ellison's little indiscretions. Hunter's two years older than I am. We first met in the military. Hunter was military police - I was covert ops - suffice it to say we didn't get along."

"Yeah, but he's a Sentinel, too. And he looks just like you. How weird is that?"

"We are nothing alike," Jim slammed down the coffee cup. Blair flinched at the anger and almost backed out of the kitchen.

"Sorry, Chief," Jim said brusquely.

"Does your dad know he's here?" Blair asked.

"Yes, but Hunter has never met him and refuses all contact."

"Does Sarah know?"

"I'm sure he gave her the basic outline, Chief." Jim was getting antsy, wanting to drop the topic.

"So why did he come to Cascade?"

Jim sighed and took another sip of coffee. "That's the million dollar question."

~~~~~~~~

Hunter waited in the kitchen the next morning until Sarah came downstairs. Per his instructions, she wore an old pair of jeans and a sweatshirt. He didn't want her to mess up her good clothes. When you tie her up and put her on the ground. Won't that be fun? She hadn't said anything to him since he had leashed her last night.

She picked at her breakfast; she hadn't slept much. She had no idea what the GDP would do today, but it couldn't be good.

Hunter ushered her to the car and they drove to the Sentinel Institute. Getting out, she clutched at his jacket, one hand on his arm. As they approached the building, she saw two GDP guards, and the Sentinel and Guide Primes. Hunter wavered between anger and gratitude that Ellison was there.

As they approached, Hunter put the barest pressure on her neck and she went to her knees. Jim Ellison was furious, and she could feel it bombarding her. Jim glared at Hunter, who shook his head warningly. The guards were watching. She kept her eyes down; nothing would help.

Rising to her feet at Hunter's hand signal, she moved through the empty reception area. The meeting had been set up before regular business hours to avoid any undue attention. She was ushered into a large conference room. Commander Slater and Dr. Claydove were waiting for them.

Sarah slid to her knees again. Blair was silent; his distress at the whole situation was putting Jim in BP mode, which by turn was raising Hunter's protective instincts.

"Captain Hunter, I'm Dr. Claydove." The man greeted Hunter with a firm handshake and a steady gaze. "I've been briefed on your particular bonding, and while it's highly unusual, there is certainly clan precedence for it."

"So glad you approve," Hunter sneered.

Uh, oh. Blair could feel the tension. This is *so* not good.

"Um, well, Captain Hunter, we just want to make sure that Sarah is sufficiently trained to function as your guide. To have a sentinel train a guide is almost unheard of. While we certainly acknowledge your experience in dealing with guides, training one is a different ball game altogether. So here we are." This was offered with a placating tone which had no positive effect at all on the sentinel in front of him.

"You think I can't train my own guide?" This time, Hunter was smiling, and it was the kind of smile normally seen on predator carnivores.

"What Dr. Claydove means," Slater hurriedly interjected,"is that sometimes in the focus of bonding and grounding, certain guide behavior guidelines are overlooked."

"Right. Like kneeling to the GDP." Hunter was flexing his claws, and the Sentinel Prime silently approved.

"Er, well, that certainly is one aspect, but there are things like sentinel medicine, zone outs, all kinds of pitfalls that await the untrained guide." Dr. Claydove was trying not to patronize, but it still came out that way.

"I'll say this once: Sarah is my guide, claimed and marked. I will decide what she learns and needs to know. Now, if you have your little circus act you need us to go through, then by all means, let's get started. I have a number of urgent cases I need to get back to."

Hunter wasn't giving an inch, and Dr. Claydove watched Ellison from the corner of his eye. The Senior Sentinel Prime wasn't budging either.

"Fine, Captain Hunter. We'll have to review basic guide commands, and then Sarah will need to be examined by our medical officer."

Sarah's heart sped up. She had heard about the GDP physicians -- how they treated guides like second class citizens.

Blair could feel the emotion and was dangerously close to a bad flashback to his experiences in the corrections facility. Jim drew him close, grounding him.

Hunter felt her fear, and shook his head. "My guide is fine."

"I'm sorry -- it's regulations," Slater sounded regretful. "We have to have a health certificate."

"Then I'll take her to the Cascade PD physician. They deal with sentinel/guide medicine. Your jackals aren't touching her."

Dr. Claydove knew enough to back off. "Fine, then just have your doctor forward a medical report to us."

Slater steeled himself for the next part. Regardless of his personal feelings, it had to be done. Nodding at Hunter, he moved to the center of the room.

Sarah stood at Hunter's signal, and then walked to stand before Commander Slater at her sentinel's command. Dan looked down at the girl; she couldn't be more than a few years older than his own son, and she looked at him as if monsters were real. Their last meeting hadn't been anything to celebrate.

Slater looked at the nervous young girl, and then ordered, "Guide, show your respect."

Sarah sank down on her knees, her head held low, her hands in the center of her back.

"Good girl." Slater flinched at the look Hunter gave him.

"She's a guide, not a dog." Hunter pushed back the memory of leashing her the night before.

"My apologies, Sentinel." Slater didn't extend it to the young woman. This was GDP protocol, and regardless of his personal views, this had to be done by the book. Thank God he had been spared putting Blair through this. Somehow, Dan knew he would never have survived it. Ellison would have taken his head off. Hunter looked as though he might.

"Show the extreme position."

Sarah paled as she adopted it. It was degrading. Her distress was making Hunter even more tense.

Blair held on to Jim, and turned his face into the back of Jim's jacket. Bad memories.

"Now, on your stomach, Guide. Bonding position."

Sarah lay flat, hands behind her back, head turned away from the GDP commander who was trying to ignore her shivering.

Jim's jaw was tense. Seeing someone else being put through what Blair had was almost as bad.

"On your knees in working position to me, Guide."

Sarah shot Hunter a worried look and then moved quickly to the GDP commander and knelt down, pressing her shoulder to his leg. The Commander's emotions were perfectly balanced, but she trembled almost uncontrollably. Dan was about to drop his hand to her neck to comfort her when he heard the low rumbling.

"To your sentinel, Guide," Slater ordered.

Sarah moved back and took her place on her knees by her own sentinel. She was breathing hard and shivering. She felt Hunter's hand drop and rest against the back of her neck, his long fingers gently giving and taking comfort from the touch.

"Sentinel, leash your guide, standard leash setting."

Hunter pulled the leash out and then circled it round his young guide's neck. He could feel her withdrawal from their connection as she pulled into herself, closing off her empathy as best she could. Shutting me out. The sentinel rumbled, but kept his anger controlled.

Jim noted how careful Hunter was being and was pleased. Maybe the cold IA captain would turn out to have redeeming qualities.

Hunter measured the leash down to her waist and clipped it around her. Pushing her down carefully, he secured her hands at waist level and then measured it down to her legs and then secured her ankles together. It was exactly like the night before. He pulled her up to stand.

"Fine, now tighten to full restraint." Slater nearly took a step backward at the fury directed at him.

"No, this is enough." Hunter was ready to kill.

"Full restraint, Sentinel, or I'll do it." Slater had to follow the rules.

Sentinel? Sarah's plea echoed through Hunter to the Dark Sentinel and Guide. Blair tensed again.

Hunter signaled Sarah to her knees, which she did awkwardly. I'm sorry, Sarah.

He quickly tightened the leash. Her arms were pulled back and her neck down. Her legs were flexed so that she was almost curled. It hurt, the extreme stretch on her muscles, but not nearly as much as the symbolism behind it.

Nothing but an animal. She wasn't aware of the low soft keening noise she was making. It raised the hair on the necks of every man in the room. Hunter moved into full BP mode, and both Jim and Blair moved to Slater.

"Enough!" Jim barked, before Hunter could reach Slater and dismember him.

Slater hurriedly motioned Hunter to release her. With a few flicks, the leash was unwrapped. Slater, under different circumstances, would have admired the fluid ability Hunter demonstrated. He leashed better than most GDP personnel.

Sarah remained on her knees. Blair moved toward her, needing to help. He glanced at Hunter. May I?

Hunter hesitated, then nodded. He didn't want to touch Sarah as long as he was so angry. Blair knelt down, gently putting his arm around her. She remained silent, not rejecting him, but not letting him in, either. Blair moved her to a sitting position, looking over her head at Jim worriedly.

"This concludes this test. We find that your guide performs adequately. Please make sure that her physical is completed by the end of the day." Slater was using his most professional GDP voice.

"This is over," Hunter stated, daring both Claydove and Slater to contradict him.

"It's done," Dr. Claydove agreed, thankful the Sentinel Prime had defused the situation.

Blair had helped Sarah to her feet. She looked a little more aware now and started shivering again. Hunter pulled her to his side, and she accepted his shielding. Jim and Blair accompanied Hunter and Sarah to their vehicle.

Sarah said nothing on the way back to Hunter's house. Hunter cursed under his breath, displaying a range of profanities in several languages that would have had Blair in total admiration.

"Come on," Hunter said tersely when they pulled up in the driveway. He needed to get to the office, but first he needed...

Sarah stood in the entry hall. She seemed a bit lost.

Hunter moved close to her, the sentinel coming to the fore. "Mark and Claim, Guide."

Sarah turned to look at him. After all that, he wanted to bond? He radiated possessiveness and pure selfish need -- the sentinel ordering the guide to heel. She couldn't bear it anymore.

"No." Her voice was soft, but unwavering.

Hunter's eyes widened, then narrowed. So she thought she could call the shots? Time for his little guide to learn who was in charge here. He grabbed her roughly, and moved her toward the living room.

Sarah let herself be dragged, then suddenly twisted, slipping from his hold. She ran for the stairs, with Hunter three steps behind. She ran for her room, slamming the door and flipping the lock. Then she heard the door handle began to shake.

"Sarah, open this door!"

She huddled back against the far wall. Please, God, make him go away.

The door burst open off its hinges, and Hunter stalked in. She had never seen that degree of fury before. She had nowhere to run, and with the fatalistic sense of doom, she closed her eyes and waited for the blow she was sure was coming. No matter what he had promised, the sentinel was now in control.

Hunter grabbed her by the wrists and pulled her up, moving her to sit on the bed. "You will never lock this door," he said through gritted teeth. "You will not run from me, and if you disobey me, you will be punished."

Sarah just stared up at him.

"You think I wanted that? Wanted to tie you up and then pull that leash tight? The sad fact of life is that you are a guide, and the GDP makes the rules. If I hadn't agreed to this damned session, you would be in the corrections facility, being put through your paces."

She looked down at the floor. She hadn't realized how much all this had upset him.

"I can't have you questioning me, or my motives. I know a hell of a lot more about this damn GDP business than you do. I'm the sentinel; you're the guide. You will do as I say. Is that clear?"

"Yes, Sentinel." Her voice was barely audible.

"Good. Now, for your punishment, a forfeit is in order." He reached out and picked up the photo of Sarah's mother and pulled the picture out of the frame.

Sarah's breath hitched. No!

He handed her the photo. "Tear it up."

She stared at him, eyes beseeching. "Please, Sentinel, don't..."

"Did you not understand me, Guide?" He was immovable.

She stared at the photo. It was the only thing she had of her mother; the only thing she had been allowed to keep. The viciousness of it shook her.

"Now, Guide."

Her shaking hands moved to tear it, and then Hunter's hand stopped her.

"That's enough." He took the photo from her, and replaced it in the frame and carefully set the picture back on her dresser.

Confused, she looked at him. What did he want?

"It's matter of obedience," Hunter said, amazingly calm. "It's the fact that you will do as I say, and that you understand that there are real consequences if you don't. And it's about trust," his voice grew softer, "that no matter how confusing or scary things get, that I'm trying to do what's best."

All that, just to teach her that she could trust him. It was diabolical, manipulative and Machiavellian -- in other words, vintage Hunter. She put her hands over her eyes. I will not cry. I will not...

He moved onto the bed, stretching out. Pulling her unresisting body against him, he linked. My Guide.

Sarah laid her head against his chest. She was worn out, her barriers frayed and her emotions in total turmoil.

Mine.

Sarah yielded. Yours.

~~~~~~~~

Sarah looked around her room. She'd been living here for nine days and there were still mornings when she woke up and thought it had just been a bad dream. But it wasn't her room or her house. She was the property of a sentinel -- a complex angry man who had unwillingly imprinted on her and claimed her to save her from the corrections facility.

The GDP review session and its aftermath had been horrible. Being leashed had been bad, but when she had thought Hunter was going to make her destroy her mother's photo, she had almost died inside. He had been in a terrible mood for the last two days; he never really did communicate, except when he was giving her orders. As for his co-workers, Sarah knew that most of them either despised her or pitied her, and both extremes of emotion wore on her. There was no emotional support from them at all, and what they thought of their boss...she shuddered a bit. Hated and feared, and Hunter didn't give a damn. As long as they did their jobs and obeyed orders, he didn't care.

But Sarah did, much good that it did her.

It was only nine PM, but she didn't feel good -- tired, a little achy. When she asked whether Hunter minded if she went to bed early, he had given her a funny look but nodded. She had undressed and climbed into bed. Maybe it was the flu -- her stomach was cramping a bit and she felt slightly nauseated. Lucky tomorrow was Hunter's day off. Maybe she could sleep in a bit.

She looked over at the photos of her family on the oak dresser. Hunter had allowed her to keep some of her clothes and personal possessions, but he had told her it would be a long time before he'd let her see her family. Her old life had been erased by the whim of the man who could claim her as legal property. Her mother's photo sat there, undamaged. She had almost lost it.

Most of the time she was with Hunter, either at work or near him at home and the few moments she had to herself were rare. She thought about calling her father many times, but some primitive instinct whispered that she couldn't abandon the man who needed her for his sanity. That, and she was scared to death what would happen if she tried to cross Hunter. He knew exactly where to aim for maximum impact.

Not that he would admit to needing her; Hunter called it a 'biological addiction' and refused to discuss it. The only time they actually communicated was when they bonded, and that was more emotion than actual discourse.

She missed her father and sister terribly. Turning on her side, she curled up tightly. She had cried herself to sleep so many nights that it seemed like a bedtime ritual. She cried until she felt hollow inside, and then simply lay there until she finally fell asleep.

Sarah woke at 7 AM feeling awful. Dragging herself to the bathroom, she could feel the stomach cramps intensifying. Oh, no. Please tell me I'm not... Sarah groaned. Female biology that struck once a month, and here she was without any supplies. How am I supposed to tell Hunter I need to go to the store? The thought of having to tell her sentinel something so personal was enough to make her want to crawl into hiding for the next hundred years.

Making do with some tissues, Sarah got dressed. She had no money of her own, so sneaking out, even if she could get away with the attempt, was not an option. Hunter was up and reading the morning paper.

"Sentinel, I..." Sarah began, and stopped when Hunter looked up.

His guide was in pain. The heart rate was elevated, skin a bit clammy. Getting up, he crossed over to her and steered her to the couch.

"You're sick," he pronounced, frowning.

She sat down at his direction. "No, I, uh, I just need to go out. I...uhm...need to get...." The rest dwindled into an incoherent embarrassed mumble.

Reaching out, Hunter traced her back, moved around to her stomach. Laying his hand flat across her belly, he could feel the faint spasm. Sarah froze at his touch. His head tipped back. He could hear her heart, still too fast, and the faint metallic scent of.... his eyes narrowed as he realized what was wrong.

The moment Sarah realized he knew, she ducked her head, cringing. Let me just die now.

Hunter took a few seconds to consider what to say. He wasn't by nature a tactful man, and more than one person had said he had the sensitivity of a porcupine. His guide was pale with embarrassment, and he didn't want to make things worse.

"I'll run out and get what you need," he said matter of factly. Somehow, his calm behavior did make it worse.

She groaned and buried her face in her hands. And I thought bonding would be embarrassing.

"Sarah." His voice was almost kind.

She looked up at him like a puppy expected to be whapped with a newspaper.

"Pads or tampons?"

Sarah gave up and buried her head under a cushion. It had been bad enough telling her dad when she had first started her periods. This was like...well, it was just worse.

"Pads," she croaked, and closed her eyes, still refusing to look at him.

"I'll back soon," Hunter said mildly as he got up and left the house.

The thought of her sentinel shopping for female hygiene products was enough to send her into complete hysteria. Mr. Sandburg never told me about this.

She sat there, knowing nothing was going to make this any easier. When Hunter returned and handed her the plastic sack, she took it and fled upstairs. Ten minutes later she came back, still pale.

"I brought you some ibuprofen," Hunter said, as he handed her a cup of tea and some tablets.

She took the pills and swallowed them with the tiniest "thank you' Hunter had heard in a while. She still wouldn't look at him.

"Come here,' he ordered softly, and she looked up at him with horror. Reluctantly, she scooted over across the couch closer to him. She wasn't sure she was up to handling a bonding. Even when she felt physically fine, his emotions gave her major headaches.

"Lie down," he ordered, and she did. He wrapped the afghan around her, and pulled her close to him, rubbing his hand over her back. The sentinel was trying to make his guide feel better.

Sarah just laid there. She was achy, nauseated and she was cramping, but the medicine was slowly kicking in. Hunter was actually doing something to make her feel better, and he was shielding her, which muted the discomfort. Sarah was still processing this kindness from Hunter. It was unusual.

"Captain Hunter?" She had finally gotten the courage to ask him.

"Umm?" Hunter replied, almost dozing in the light bond.

"Can I write to my family? I mean, I know you don't want me to call them or see them, but I know they're worried, and I just wanted to let them know I'm okay. I just miss them...." The rest trailed off into a quiet sniffle.

Hunter knew she wasn't playing some game; he had to admit his ex-wife had been almost suicidally depressed around this time of the month. Sarah had been in bus accident, brought on-line, forcefully bonded to a sentinel, taken away from her family and now was dependent on him for everything. Quite a lot to handle for anybody, much less a young girl. He wasn't used to taking other people's feelings into consideration -- just ask his ex -- but Sarah was his guide.

With some guilt, he realized he didn't really know much about her as a person. He could read her thoughts and feelings in the bond -- her fears and some of her hopes -- but he had no idea what her favorite color was, what she liked to eat, what music she preferred. All of that had seemed irrelevant to her function as his guide.

But it is important, the little voice inside him insisted. Everything about her was important.

Sarah laid against him, trying not to disturb him, but he could feel her grief.

"I'll let you write a letter, but you'll give it to me to read, and I'll have Commander Slater deliver it." Hunter sounded reluctant, but he wasn't angry.

Sarah held her breath. "Really?"

"Yes," he growled, but spoiled the effect by tucking her closer to him. Feeling achy but much more secure and suddenly much more hopeful, Sarah fell asleep.

Hunter contemplated the rain drops striking the patio door as he attempted to assimilate this new perspective on his life.

~~~~~~~~

Sarah entered the Major Crimes division with trepidation. She hung on to Hunter's jacket and shivered. She could feel emotions buffeting her from all sides -- it was a busy place with lots of people, some not too happy. The people in the bullpen looked up at them as they entered. Some were curious -- the others hostile as they recognized the IA captain. Ever since his initial interview with Rafe, he had not won any friends. The poor detective was still shaking in his shoes from the encounter, and it wasn't over yet. Major Crimes thought that nobody could be as bad as pre-Sandburg Ellison -- they were wrong.

The captain was sarcastic, moody, arrogant and didn't mince words. He was a good cop -- but his interpersonal skills were of the search and destroy variety. The whole division had heard of the hospital incident -- rumor had it that Hunter had claimed a guide against her will. When H had asked about it, Ellison had nearly taken his head off. Clan business, and he wasn't talking.

Of course, that just fueled the fire, and it rekindled when Hunter had returned to work and people had gotten a good look at his guide. From what people had said, she was either Lolita unleashed or some sad-eyed waif. The fact that Hunter had nearly ripped apart one of his own men for making comments didn't help; neither did the unfortunate house call by the two uniforms who had burst into his home because they thought a young girl was being attacked.

Sarah peeked around Hunter and promptly hid her face against his back. The emotions were painful. Hunter sensed his guide's distress and moved her close to his side.

H stared at the girl. She was a cute little thing. No Lolita this -- just young and out of place.

"Detective Rafe," Hunter barked.

Rafe winced as if shot. He looked up to see Hunter approaching his desk. He had hoped and prayed he could avoid this second interview, but Hunter had disabused him of the notion rather quickly.

"Captain Hunter," Rafe said, his voice almost steady. "My advocate should be here shortly."

"Good. Room C, I believe. Ten minutes."

Rafe scurried out, and Hunter glanced around. He didn't want Sarah in interviews until she got used to the system. The emotional extremes in an interview were frequent, and until she could hold her barriers better, Hunter wanted to avoid any volatile situations. Hunter looked around for a safe spot for his guide.

Simon Banks, recognizing the IA Captain, exited his office. "Captain Hunter," he greeted the man, noting how Hunter moved his guide protectively behind him.

"Captain Banks," Hunter nodded.

"This your new guide?" Simon asked.

"Yes, this is Sarah," Hunter said quietly.

"Hello, Sarah," Simon said with a gentleness that few people were privileged to witness.

Sarah nodded, then looked down again.

Simon, mindful of sentinel/guide eccentricities, made no comment on her actions. He turned back to Hunter. "Here to see Rafe again?"

"That's correct. We still have some ground to cover."

"If you don't mind my saying, Captain, you scared that boy to death the last time you were here."

Hunter just smiled blandly. "Good."

God, you really are an arrogant bastard, Hunter. Simon just chewed more furiously on his cigar.

"Sarah will need to stay here. As the interview will be emotionally charged, she might overload. Her barriers are still weak."

Simon blinked. This was the first display of concern for a fellow human being that the IA captain had ever demonstrated in front of Simon.

"I'd offer my office, but I've got meetings all afternoon. How 'bout we let her sit at Jim's desk? Sandburg's at the university today, and Jim's out on calls, so it should be fairly quiet in the corner."

Hunter grunted, then nodded. He led Sarah to Jim's desk and sat her down.

"Office rules," Hunter said quietly, and Sarah nodded. Her barriers should be okay as long as no one touched her.

She reached out to grasp his arm, a fleeting connection. Yours.

Satisfied, he let her go.

She curled up in the chair, wary eyes on the other people in the room. Some of the murmurings were too indistinct to hear, but the emotions came through.

"That little girl is his guide? What'd he do, raid a kindergarten?"

"Come on, she's a doll."

"What do you think he does with her? Get 'em young, train 'em right. Woulda thought he'd be in a better mood now, though, wouldn't ya?"

"Can't think what it would be like to put up with him. He's one scary SOB."

H looked over, wondering if she had heard any of the thoughtless gossip. By the look on her face, she obviously had. He got up to go introduce himself, and then saw how she shrank back. "Hey, didn't mean to scare you. I'm Henri Brown -- H -- and I work with Jim and Blair." He kept a respectable distance, and smiled reassuringly.

Sarah nodded but didn't answer.

Perkins passed by H and sneered. "What, she too good to talk to you because she's with him now?"

The distress on her face made H want to slug the jerk.


"Perkins, back off. She's Hunter's guide. She's not allowed..." H had been reading up on guide behavior and knew she had probably been told not to address anyone.

"What the f....? She can't talk? " Perkins was stupefied.

"Sentinels determine what their guides are allowed to do," H explained.

"You mean, she has to have permission to talk? What about eating? Or going to the bathroom? This is slavery!"

H stared at Perkins for a long time, his lips a hard line. Finally, he said, "Yeah, man, it is." They stared at each other again, and Perkins finally turned away and walked off.

Sarah just sat there, humiliated. She wouldn't meet H's eyes, and so he finally left her alone. She sat there for about an hour, gently rocking in the chair, trying to block out the comments she overheard, and the emotions that brushed by her. Lost in thought, she didn't notice Jim Ellison approaching the desk, sentinel senses on alert for the intruder in his territory.

Reaching the chair, he spun it around and Sarah gave a yelp of surprise. Her face lost all color. It was the Senior Sentinel Prime -- and he was furious.

She slid out of the chair onto her knees, bowing her head. The blast of anger she felt rocked her. He's mad. He's Sentinel Prime, and I made him angry.

All Jim could see was a vision of Blair doing the same thing, and it just pissed him off even more. It was a repeat of the GDP session. She whimpered slightly, and he tapped down the emotion.

"Guide, look at me!" The order snapped her attention to him. In a quieter voice he continued, "There's no kneeling in the bullpen."

She stared at him, unmoving.

"Sarah, get up. You don't need to kneel to me."

She was afraid to move. In the house, it had been different. With Mr. Sandburg there, it was more like Jim Ellison was in the background. Here, Ellison was in charge. Just like at the Sentinel Institute.

"It's all right, Sarah. You can get up," his voice was softer, as he crouched down to talk to her.

Jim held out a hand, but Sarah cringed from him. He wasn't her sentinel, and he was Sentinel Prime. Jim backed off and let Sarah get to her feet. The little demonstration had been caught by the whole bullpen, and the alternating derogatory and occasional sympathetic comments were quite audible. Sarah could feel the cutting emotions whipping at her barriers, which were holding, but not by much.

As Sarah got back into the chair, she closed her eyes. She wanted to die of shame. Not only did they despise Hunter, they also thought the worst of her, and she had disgraced herself in front of the Senior Sentinel Prime.

"Sarah." This time Jim's voice was very gentle. "It's okay. It took Blair a while, too. I keep forgetting how new all this is to you."

She finally worked up the courage to look at him. He wasn't angry anymore, at least, not at her. His eyes were kind, and warmer than Hunter's. She wanted to ask him so many questions. About Hunter and their family connection. About Blair. About the whole mysterious clan. How Jim really felt about Hunter and why they looked so much alike. But she couldn't.

"As Senior Sentinel Prime, I order you to speak," Jim intoned, hiding his smile at her startled look. Gotta use that power for good, Ellison.

"They don't like Captain Hunter,' Sarah said solemnly. "I can feel what they think."


Jim sighed as he plopped into the other chair and rested his feet on the desk edge. "Yeah, well, he sure knows how to win friends and influence people."

"They don't like me, either," she said almost inaudibly. They think I'm a whore.

"Sarah, it's not you. Hunter is a little hard to take, and he's not exactly a people person, so by extension..." he never finished the sentence.

"He's not like that," Sarah interjected, trying to defend him. "He hasn't hit me," she continued, and Jim realized that she was trying to convey something important. "Even when he's mad, he doesn't hit me." And he didn't make me tear up my Mom's photo. And he promised I could write to my family. They were little things, but monumentally important.

The way she said it, it seemed as though Hunter had surpassed all reasonable expectations. She was making him out to be better than he was, and that irritated the hell out of Jim.

"So what? I don't hit Blair, either."

Sarah just drooped and switched topics abruptly. "Mr. Sandburg loves you."

That took the wind out of his sails. Jim just stared.

"And you love him," she added quietly. The ache in her voice was only detectable to sentinel ears.

"Well...yeah. He's my best friend. My brother." Jim seemed a bit embarrassed at the admission.

Sarah envied Blair with all her heart at that moment. That Blair could have such depth of feeling from his sentinel. Hunter didn't have that kind of emotion to give; perhaps he never would.

Sarah rubbed her finger tips along the desk top, trying to articulate what she wanted to say. "You and Mr. Sandburg are family. And I have...had...my family," she choked a bit. She still didn't know if she would see them again. She looked straight up into the sentinel's pale blue eyes. The same eyes, but not quite. "Hunter doesn't have anyone." It saddened her, knowing she couldn't help him, and that he wouldn't allow anyone else in.

Jim took in a breath. He had to tread lightly here. "He has you, now."

"Yes," and she swallowed painfully. It wasn't the same. Sentinel protective instincts were not the same as care and affection. Something that Mr. Sandburg obviously got from the Sentinel Prime. Something she never would.

Jim watched her fold into herself. She traced the desk in random patterns.

"Sarah, I'm sure Hunter will eventually...."

She looked up and shook her head. She had been inside that bleak and empty mind.

Jim, who had been feeling guilty about the crack he had made about leaving Hunter and Sarah hanging in the breeze, didn't know what to say to comfort her. Hunter was a much more complicated man than he was.

Sarah never paused from her imaginary finger painting exercise on the desk. "He's your brother, too."

That salvo blindsided Ellison.

"What?! You think that I..." Jim bellowed, and Sarah's heart raced as she tried to move back from the irate sentinel. Seconds later, Hunter came flying around the corner in BP mode. Snatching his guide and moving her safely behind him, he prepared to do battle.

"Think you can take me on?" Dark Sentinel growled.

"Anytime," Hunter snarled back as the two circled each other.

H ran to get Captain Banks. The two sentinels were about to launch into each other when Blair showed up.

"Hey, man, what's going on?" His wide-eyed stare took in the scene, and he immediately moved to Jim.

"Hey, Jim, we're okay. I'm here." He latched onto his sentinel and tried to soothe him.

Sarah, clinging to Hunter, was also trying to talk her sentinel down.

Simon took one look and immediately gave a loud whistle. Four pairs of eyes looked up; two sets were distinctly feral.

"Gentlemen, we are not going to have a fight to the death in my bullpen. Now, Jim, you and Hunter go out and settle your differences -- without bloodshed -- and Blair, you and Sarah go find a quiet spot until these two Neanderthals get this stuff worked out. Am I making myself clear?"

"Yes, sir," Jim said reluctantly.

"Yes," Hunter spit out. He was the same rank as Simon, and arguably held more power, but this was Simon's division.

Hunter watched as Blair gathered Sarah to him. He was the epitome of kind concern. Hunter bristled until he felt Sarah touch his arm.

Yours. The simple affirmation calmed him.

Blair hugged Jim with one arm, and the older man relaxed.

"I'll bring Sarah back to your house in a couple of hours, okay?" Blair addressed his question to Hunter, who reluctantly nodded.

They watched the guides leave, then stared at each other.

"I need a drink," Jim announced.

"Fine," Hunter grumbled.

They took the elevator to the parking garage.

"We'll take my truck," Jim stated.

"No way. I can just see you stranding me in a bad part of town. We drive separately."

"Fine. Meet me at Joe's."

Hunter nodded and walked off to his car.

~~~~~~~~

Joe's Bar and Grill was a cop's watering hole; the original owner had been on the force for 25 years and knew the stresses on a police officer's life. Joe offered a sympathetic ear, some sage advice and the occasional kick in the rear when necessary. Any police officer who worked for the Cascade PD ended up there at one point or another. Birthdays, retirement parties, wakes -- Joe's had seen them all. At this time of the day, the place was nearly deserted.

Billy recognised James Ellison when he walked in. Billy was an ex-con. Ellison had busted him a few years ago, but since it had saved him from the fate of the rest of the gang that had died in a drive by shooting a week later, Billy had seen it as a sign. It was time to turn away from his old life. Surprisingly, Ellison had gone to bat for him, pointing out how Billy had helped one of the uniforms when a blow to the head had knocked him unconscious. So now Billy was pulling pints at Joe's bar.

Billy looked up from polishing his glass, and then looked back down again as the Ellison took a seat.

"Still working here, Billy?"

"Sure thing, Detective. Joe gave me a raise, and I'm going to night school now." There was a pride in the younger man's voice that hadn't been there before.

"You keep out of trouble, or I'll come looking for you." It was delivered in a mock-threatening tone, but Billy just smiled.

"You got it, Detective," then his voice trailed off as a newcomer entered the bar. Billy's eyes widened as he did an almost comical double take.

Jim didn't turn around, but a smile tugged at his lips. "Billy, this is Captain Hunter from IA. Get him a drink -- two orange juices since we're still on duty."

The two men made their way to a booth. Hunter sat down warily. "You could have made it a beer, or are you always this cheap?"

"Still technically on duty for..." Jim glanced at his watch, "another forty-five minutes. Wouldn't want to be reported to IA."

Hunter ignored the little jibe, but two men at the other end of the bar suddenly got up and were edging their way out. Their thundering hearts caused both sentinels to look up.

Jones, recently reamed by his superior over the unfortunate raid on the new IA Captain's house, was panicking. Of all the gin joints in all the towns... He tried to slip past the two sentinels, when he heard a low rumbling sound.

"Well, Officer Jones, we meet again," Hunter drawled, mock-chummy.

Jones stopped in his tracks. Oh, God.

"Cap...Captain Hunter, sir," he stammered. Now he could see how much the man favored the legendary James Ellison, but Hunter was a colder, darker version.

"Break into any homes lately, Officer?" Hunter was baiting him, enjoying the way the man's heart rate increased and he began to sweat.

"No, sir. Again, I apologize. It won't happen again, sir." Jones' eyes were dilated. The scent of acrid fear coming off of him in waves.

Ellison watched as his fellow sentinel toyed with man; rather than going for a clean kill, Hunter was playing with his prey -- taking vicious delight in the man's terror.

Hunter, you earned that reputation of yours honestly, didn't you? Jim had heard about the incident through the grapevine. He couldn't blame Hunter for his territorial actions, but Hunter was now actively out for revenge. Never forget a friend; never forgive an enemy.

"So, where's your shadow, Jones?" The tiger had his prey pinned neatly, claws flexing.

"Uh..." Jones looked around desperately, but Meeks had already fled.

"Please tell him I said hello. After all, you were the first to welcome me to the neighborhood." The last was said with a mock grin that showed more fang than tooth.

"Yrgh," Jones garbled, and then bolted out the door.

"Damn, Hunter, chill. You almost gave that poor sap heart failure. No wonder Rafe was almost crying in the locker room the other day."

"I do my job, Ellison. I always get the job done." The tiger had settled back, fur sleek again. Hunter picked up his orange juice and grimaced at the taste. "What the hell do they put in this stuff?"

Jim ignored the question as he leaned forward. Things needed to be said, sentinel to sentinel.

Hunter shifted restlessly. "I'm here, so start talking." Jim might be happy to sit there, but Hunter wasn't.

Jim took another sip of his drink. He wasn't going to let Hunter dictate the pace of the meeting. His anger in the bullpen had now dissipated on the drive over. This wasn't about him and Hunter, this was about the way Hunter treated his guide. Hunter needed a kick in the ass to make him realize that he risked losing the only thing that would keep him sane.

Blair had been Jim's redemption. Jim had no illusions of what he had been like before Blair had come into his life, correction, had been *thrown* into his life. The young guide had changed him, and from all accounts, it was an improvement. He still backslid from time to time, but Blair was always there for him, ready to catch him when he fell.

Blunt was best, Jim decided. Hunter wasn't one to mince words. "You keep treating Sarah as if she was your property or your pet, and you're going to lose her."

Hunter's eyes narrowed. "She wouldn't run. She knows better than to try that."

Jim sighed inwardly. Hunter was still looking at things all wrong. "Not that way, Hunter. You'll lose the person inside. What you're doing is creating a puppet that will let you pull the strings, but the heart and soul will go." Jim leaned forward. "All the things that make her who she is will be crushed, and you'll have nothing left but a little Guide android."

"If you're taking about that farce at the Sentinel Institute, you know damn well I couldn't avoid that." Hunter was bristling now.

"That's not what I meant; you know that I didn't want that, either. I'm talking about how you deal with her day to day." Jim took another sip of his orange juice. "You don't treat her with any respect as a person, Hunter. Hell, you don't even *see* her as a person. Guides are guides, and people are people. If you don't treat her right, then no one else around you will either. They take their cue from you."

Hunter thought again how his men at IA had looked and whispered. He could handle their subtle and not so subtle dislike, but their negativity towards Sarah was a constant irritant.

"I'm willing to bet your men are already spreading rumors about what you do with her. Innocent young thing and an older man -- one who treats her like a slave."

"That's none of your business, Ellison," Hunter snarled, his hand tightening on the glass.

Jim knew that he had hit home. "People always think the worst, Hunter. They don't understand the bond; to them, any close contact has to be sexual." Jim smiled blandly as Hunter recalled his derogatory comments about Sandburg and tried not to wince. Jim let him squirm a bit, then continued. "All Sarah is to them is this pretty little doll that you bring in. No one talks to her, so she isn't a person to them. You keep her at heel, and keep others away, and wonder why people think she's your little sex slave. I bet half of them are disgusted, and the other half wants you to share." Jim got the reaction he was looking for.

Hunter banged the glass down hard. At the bar, Billy jumped at the noise. He had a touch of empathy in him, not enough to brand him as a guide, but enough for him to feel the strong emotions that poured off the two men. He had seen friendlier grizzly bears.

"She's not like that," Hunter growled.

"You're preaching to the choir, here. I know my guide. You know your guide, at least, you think that you do, but everyone you work with has absolutely no idea what to think of her. Know what somebody from your division called her? Lolita. So you have one faction thinking she's this nubile sex kitten that you fell head over dick for, and the other camp thinking she's little Red Riding Hood that got ambushed on the way to Grandmother's house."

"She's a good kid," Hunter rumbled. He hated hearing any slurs on her; in a world full of hungry, predatory, backstabbing females, Sarah was innocent.

Jim eased up slightly. "Hunter, think about it. Has she spoken to anyone, helped anyone, gone to get coffee or a sandwich, or do you keep her locked away?"

Hunter just compressed his lips.

"You bond in your office, don't you? Handy, but what do you think it looks like to them? The Captain is getting a bit of sweet stuff on office time."

"Shut it, Ellison."

"Slater's arranging to have a Sentinel Suite installed at your station. Maybe it would be better to move it there."

"No." Hunter was implacable.

Jim sighed inwardly again. There were some things the stubborn Hunter wouldn't budge on, and this would be one of them.

"Okay, okay, but you have to let her get to know people. She's a likable girl, and if she gets to know the people you work with, maybe that will open their eyes. You know people look at bonding as some mystical sexual thing; hell, Blair was accused of being everything from my boy-toy to gigolo until Major Crimes got to know him. All I'm saying is that if people get to see her through your eyes, as this nice, scared, innocent kid who is trying to help you from going insane, then they would be more inclined to treat her right."

"So why the hell was she terrified of you?" Hunter asked belligerently. He still wasn't happy about Ellison frightening his guide.

"She did that guide thing -- whap you over the head with an emotional two by four out of nowhere. I wasn't expecting her to hit so accurately."

The slight grin Jim gave him eased Hunter slightly, but he still wasn't buying all this. "So what makes you the expert, Ellison? I don't see any letters after your name."

"Blair. I learned a lot from him. I nearly lost him because of those kinds of attitudes."

Curiosity got the better of Hunter. "How's that?"

"Blair was in the correction facility."

"Now why am I not surprised?" Hunter drawled.

"Don't go there, Hunter." Dark Sentinel was at his most deadly. "Blair was the victim of Alex Barnes." The slight flicker of recognition in Hunter's eyes was enough. "He had two years of hell -- psychological and physical torture. He was trying to protect his mother, and when she died, he came to me to deliver Alex. He saved my life, and then I just watched as the GDP dragged him away. He was assaulted..." Jim paused, and the look in his eyes told Hunter that assaulted was a euphemism for something much more ugly, "and he could have died. They dragged him down to the police station to bond with me when I lost control."

Jim paused; it was still a very touchy subject for him. "They tried their best to break him, and Wilson nearly did."

"Is he still breathing?"

"Is that Hunter asking, or IA?"

For a moment the two men just looked at each other.

"A Clan Sentinel asking the Senior Sentinel Prime." Hunter said gruffly, unexpectedly moved by the depth of emotion in Jim's face. Jim loved the kid. He truly did.

"He's dead." The panther purred loudly in satisfaction.

"Good," Hunter growled back.

Jim took a deep calming breath. "When Blair first came into the bullpen, I realized that the people there didn't know anything about him. To them, he was the guide, a nobody, a tool. Once I made him work with Rafe and H, helping them with their computer work, and then helping out with the others in the bullpen, he became Blair the person to them. Now, if I'm not around, they all look after Blair for me."

"He seems a bit...hyper...for a guide."

"He can be," Jim's voice softened with affection as he spoke about his young guide. "But he's also a rock, an absolute anchor for me and my senses. There's nobody I trust more than him. Blair has to live with what happened every day of his life, but it hasn't broken or twisted him. He's the man he is now is due to his inner strength. I've seen that kid go into situations where a seasoned cop would have balked."

Jim focussed on his glass again. "What do you really want, Hunter? A department that thinks she's your little ho' or a human being? You have to make a choice."

Hunter sighed. He still thought Sandburg was bit too left-wing radical for his tastes, but everyone in Major Crimes thought the world of him. I'd guess they'd have to -- he tamed Jim Ellison.

Hunter looked thoughtful. "Do you think that hippy wannabe of yours could help Sarah?"

"I know he can, and not just Guide stuff. He knows a lot about people. I think he could help both of you."

Hunter grimaced at the thought of Blair Sandburg helping him. Still, if Blair could ease Sarah's anxiety....

"She wants to write to her family. I don't want her seeing them yet." Sentinel possessiveness, but Jim understood. Hadn't he felt the same way about Naomi?

"Hunter, they can send letters through the GDP. They have a system already in place. Letters are censored both ways, but if she is at least getting some contact, she might be more content. It's your call."

"Since when did you become Mr. Warm and Fuzzy?"

"I'm not, but Blair gets you thinking. Before I bonded with him, I could have given you pointers in the SOB department, but he changed my world view." Jim smiled slightly. "I don't always listen to him, but he can talk longer than I can tune out, so somewhere along the line it starts to sink in."

"So you're happy with the status quo?" Hunter asked.

"Wouldn't have my life any other way," Jim grinned, and ordered two beers. It was now after hours.

"I'll think about it," Hunter said, and Jim left it at that.

~~~~~~~~

Sarah looked round the small office with its piles of books and artifacts. There were piles of paper everywhere in exuberant, colorful disorder. Blair Sandburg's work space very much reflected the man.

Blair settled on the old sofa and patted the space next to him. The doctor is now in.

She sat down, still slightly nervous. He was certainly not a threatening man, but he saw too clearly into her head. He was the most powerful empath she had ever encountered.

"So how are you getting along with Hunter?"

"Okay," she picked at her pant leg, not looking at him.

First stop: The Twilight Zone. Blair sighed. "Sarah, you have to learn to look at me. I'm not the bad guy here. Neither is Jim, and believe it or not, Hunter isn't either. He didn't want a guide; you didn't want to be one, but fate and happenstance intervened. You have to play the hand you're dealt with."

Sarah pulled at a loose thread.

"When Jim and I left the other day, did you bond?"

She nodded. Pick, pick, pick.

"Did he hurt you?"

Her head snapped up, then drooped again. "No."

"Was it scary?" Blair's voice was gentle.

She nodded, looking up again. "It's so cold there, and you feel his emotions tearing at you, cutting you. He's so alone."

"He needs you."

She nodded. But needing wasn't the same as wanting. He needed her empathy to ground him, and in turn, the sentinel sheltered and fed her, stabilized her barriers. But it wasn't the same as actually caring.

"You know he couldn't avoid the GDP Review."

Sarah nodded miserably. It had been so terrible, being tied, ordered around like a mongrel pet, but what had happened afterward was what had sent her world sliding off its axis. Her mother's photograph....

Blair touched her head, ignoring her flinch, and concentrated. Dark Guide connected to clan guide, and replayed the echoes of the bond. A tiger, lost in the storm. Then, fragments of memories and feelings. It played back like a jerky black and white movie. Falling on the grass, frantic hands checking for broken bones. Men barging in, and the sentinel defending. Crying late at night, hoping sentinel ears wouldn't hear. Lonely. Scared. The leash, backing away. Tied, helpless. The GDP session, and then afterward, clutching a photo. Punishment. Destroy it. Reprieve. Yield. Nausea and cramping pain, shame, and then gentle arms. Safe. Warm. New faces, sounds. Horrible slurs and feelings. Slut. Whore. Anger. Protection. Defend. My Guide. Mine.

Blair pulled back, releasing the link. Sarah just stared unseeingly.

"Come on back, Sarah," Blair coaxed and she blinked, awareness returning.

Then she paled. He had seen right inside her -- every thought and feeling. She moaned and covered her mouth at the wave of nauseated shame. He knows everything.

"Hey, my job, kiddo. Guide Prime knows all, sees all," Blair teased, but she wouldn't look at him.

"Sarah," and there was a bite to his tone that snapped her face to his. Dark Guide was getting testy. "I have to know to help you."

He was right. She slumped and resumed picking at her pants leg.

"I think you two have made some real progress, Sarah. The bond, the connection and understanding is something only you can figure out, but I can help with some of the practicalities." Blair carefully avoided mentioning the scene with the photograph; it was so volatile. Blair thought Hunter was playing a very dangerous mind game, but couldn't interfere with his methods. He eased over so that Sarah was actually leaning back against him. At first she stiffened, then relaxed. Blair was giving her emotional support. She felt his concern wrap around her like a warm fuzzy blanket.

"Sarah, what exactly do your know about your sentinel?" His voice was deep and calm, the guide voice that could move universes.

"Not much." That hurt too, that he never talked about himself or his past.

"Don't you think you should ask him sometime?"

Frightened, she shook her head, her soft hair tickling Blair's nose.

"Okay, scratch that for now. He's not exactly forthcoming on his personal life. Hmm. How about his job?"

"He gave me some computer work to do."

"All right," Blair said, rubbing his eyes. "Let me get you some police manuals to read. That might help explain what he does at IA. Anything you can learn will help him -- and you." Blair thought for a few minutes, mulling some ideas. "Have you told him about yourself?"

Again the headshake.

"Has he asked?"

"No," she whispered. "He said my old life is over."

Thank you, Captain Hunter, for that wonderfully tactful ultimatum, Blair groused mentally. "Did he say you could see your family?"

"Not yet. But he said...he said I could write a letter." She swallowed the lump in her throat.

"That's good, Sarah," Blair encouraged. "He's relaxing his vigil. It's complicated, but a sentinel sees your family as a threat to the bond. To him, they're an unknown factor. You have to make him see that you are his, and only his. The sentinel needs that reassurance; you both do. Unfortunately, your father didn't help matters when he burst into the GDP station."

"Pop loves me," she choked. "He just wanted to protect me."

"And what do you think Hunter wants?" Blair said gently. "You're his guide. He's sworn to defend you, protect you, even die for you."

She pulled at the thread again.

"Communication is the key. I know Hunter doesn't want to talk, but you could start with work things. IA business. Police business. Things he can teach you. Eventually, he'll open up about other stuff."

She stayed silent.

"He's already treating you better than he did at the beginning, isn't he?" Blair coaxed, waiting for the small blonde head to nod.. "He's learning, too. You can't undo cultural conditioning that quickly. It just takes time."

Blair settled back, wrapping his arms around Sarah even as his mind surrounded hers, comforting and enveloping her.

And as the Polar star in me

Is fixed my constant heart on thee.

Ah, may I stay forever blind

With lions, tigers, leopards and their kind.

Vita Sackville-West "The Greater Cats"

~~~~~~~~

After Blair had dropped Sarah off at Hunter's house, the two of them had hardly spoken. It wasn't an uncomfortable silence; they were both lost in their own thoughts. That night was the first time Sarah hadn't cried. Hunter, casting his sensory net, was relieved. Perhaps Sandburg had helped her.

The next day Hunter was in his office, muttering as he looked through stacks of file folders.

Sarah was inputting one of his reports and nervously cleared her throat. "Captain Hunter?" When he turned to look at her, she stammered slightly."About this form...."

He took it from her hand. "Is there a problem with it?" His eyes swept down it -- it was correctly filled out.

"Um, could I, I mean, what...."

Hunter waited patiently for her to get the words out. He had been about to snap at her when he remembered what Ellison had said.

"Could you tell me what this form is used for? I thought that if I understood it, I might be able to help you more." Sarah managed the whole sentence in one breath, scared that if she stopped to breathe, she would never get started again.

Hunter just stared at her. His guide was still nervous -- but she held his gaze steadily.

"Well, this form covers the initial investigation. In the case of Schiller, it means that we have enough evidence to continue the investigation, so...." Hunter found himself warming to the paperwork as he explained the way an IA investigation worked. He knew she was at the top of her class by her school records. Sarah hesitantly asked and Hunter answered. She asked intelligent questions, and put things together quickly. She is interested. She actually wants to help with the work. Maybe Ellison and Sandburg are right. The tiger purred its approval.

Sarah got a crash course in IA, but began to understand Hunter's position better. He policed the police; looking for graft and corruption. But it was more than that; he investigated any unusual occurrences, such as shootings, deadly force, etc. and she began to understand why IA was looked upon so fearfully. He guards the guardians.

Sarah thought about having to face Hunter over an alleged wrong-doing and shuddered. He noticed but didn't comment.

Several times during the afternoon she watched the way his head tilted as he caught something that one or another of his people said. She noticed the muscles in his jaw tensing. He wasn't happy, but the anger rolled around her, never striking her. She was safe within his shields.

The rest of the day passed uneventfully, much to Sarah's relief.

~~~~~~~~~~~

The car pulled up in the driveway the house, and as usual, Hunter got out first. Looking around as if worried they were about to be ambushed, he would then cross over and open her door. The pattern never changed. She would then follow him to the front door, he would open it, and after scanning the interior, he would allow her to enter. The sentinel on guard.

Mrs. Randall's curtain fell back across her window, and she looked at her husband. "This is ridiculous, Marty. The man is a police officer."

"He's a sentinel and we interfered with sentinel business. People have been killed for doing that. I don't want to aggravate him." Marty was still spooked by the incident of a few days ago. Captain Ross had called from the precinct that had responded to the call and had rather forcefully suggested that the Randalls leave well enough alone. If Captain Hunter scared a police department, what would he do to ordinary civilians?

Maria opened the door, looking out. "Carrie is coming to stay with us this weekend and I'm not having you skulking around the house, afraid to put a foot in the yard because of him. I'm going over next door to apologize."

Marty Randall jumped to his feet. "Maria, you can't!"

"Oh yes, I can. Just watch me."

She strode out and walked next door. Her heart began to pound as she raised her hand to knock. The door opened before her hand even touched it. She looked up and then up again and swallowed. This close up he was frightening and his face was cold and hard.

"Can I help you?" His tone showed that the offer was the farthest from his mind.

"Yes" her voice was remarkably strong, even though her legs felt weak at the knee. She noticed his sardonic smile when he sensed her fear. "My name is Maria Randall. My husband is Marty, and we're your next door neighbors."

"My concerned and helpful neighbors," he drawled.

Sarah put her book down and then came to the door. She had heard the woman's voice and more importantly, Hunter's. He was like a cat with a mouse; tossing it from paw to paw. Sarah kept behind Hunter so that he was blocking her from the other woman, and placed a hand against his back. Maria saw the sentinel's body language change. He moved into Sarah's touch.

"I would like to apologize for the misunderstanding of the other day." Maria said in a strained voice.

"Right. When you called the police and accused me of assaulting my guide." The sarcastic statement didn't bode well. The sentinel was moving in for the kill.

Sarah hesitated and then leaned into him, allowing her body to press against him. Please, Sentinel. Let it go.

He was starting to rumble, a feral light in his eyes, and Maria stepped back.

Yours. Sarah insisted, willing him to calm.

Hunter relaxed. "Fine, apologies accepted." His face told another story, but Maria was willing to accept anything. "I would suggest you and your husband stay out of my business, or else I'll..."

"I understand, Sentinel," Maria interjected nervously. She turned to walk away.

"Tell your husband he has until tomorrow to get that tail light fixed, or I'm writing him up."

Maria froze, then murmured an assent as she scurried home. She felt something shadowing her, like the silhouette of some animal.

Hunter closed the door and stared at Sarah. He was still feral. He moved toward her, and she backed up, suddenly afraid. Sensing her fear, he stopped and reached out his hand and waited.

For several long seconds, Sarah stared back. He's your sentinel. Blair's words came back to her. He needs to know you belong to him.

Reaching out, she slowly took his hand. There was anger there, but not at her.

Moving to the newly acquired bonding platform in the living room, Sarah let herself be led and seated on the mat. Hunter pushed her back gently, then moved over her, blocking out the light. She was still frightened when he did this; it was if he were pulling her into darkness.

Reaching out, his hands skimmed over her, checking on his guide. She was getting more used to him touching her, but it still was strange and overwhelming to her. He was focusing on her with intense concentration.

She felt him lie down next to her, turning her easily so that she laid on her stomach. He draped his arm over her, pulling her close. The aggression was still simmering. Mine.

She felt his head against her back, and cautiously moved into his mind. The tiger was there in a swirling snow storm, but this time he was not alone. A small cat was seated between his two front paws, sheltered by the huge beast.

His emotions were still bleak and violent, but she was able to eventually defuse them, and the sentinel eased into the bonding. He relaxed and purred his contentment.

Sarah wondered if Mr. Ellison held onto Blair like that. As her sentinel eased, so did she, and she fell asleep with him curled around her.

~~~~~~~~

Commander Dan Slater looked Officer Knox up and down. "All right, now tell me what happened."

The Commander's voice was hard. Not only had Knox upset a sentinel, but the man was newly bonded and almost certainly related in some fashion to the Senior Sentinel Prime. Even though there appeared to be no love lost between them, any insult could be seen as an insult against their clan. The last thing he wanted was Knox filleted by a bunch of primal sentinels on a Blood Vendetta. Before he met Ellison and Sandburg, these things were just words in Burton's book -- now the clans were living them.

Knox shifted from one foot to another. "I was getting a sandwich from the vending machine yesterday and this girl walked in." He stuttered to a halt.

"Continue." Slater had a feeling he knew where this was going.

"Well, she was really nice looking, had this shy smile, and..."

Dan sighed, "Let me guess: you came on to her."

Knox nodded miserably. Slater had to suppress a smile. Poor Knox looked as if he had been pulled through a hedge backward.

"I never said anything that I hadn't said to any other girl before, you know, just flirting, but she just stared at me and didn't say a word. Next thing I know, this guy storms in there and he's in my face. How was I supposed to know that she was a guide? She didn't have it on her badge." Knox sounded more aggrieved by the fact that he had mistakenly hit on a guide than that he had upset a sentinel. That subtle distinction was insulting.

"Jerry, you remember the new regulations. I personally had great hopes for you, but now...." Slater saw the young man's face fall. "You can try making this right; apologizing to Captain Hunter."

"The guy's crazy."

"Officer Knox", Slater hardened his tone again. "He's a newly bonded sentinel in blessed protector mode, and I think you got off lightly." Slater got up and picked up his hat. "Come on -- time to eat crow."

Sarah sat behind the screen on the bonding mat; all she could see was Hunter's back. He was stabbing the keyboard as if it had personally insulted him, and he was muttering. This is not good. She had been sitting on the bonding mat for the last hour, trying to work up her courage. She knew he was stressing, could feel his emotions roiling. The case he had been working on had unfortunately resulted in the police officer being charged with burglary, and Hunter himself had to arrest him and hand him over. Hunter was already feared and mistrusted as head of Internal Affairs -- the boogeyman of all police departments -- and now he had taken down one of their own. The men respected him, but they all looked over their shoulders for the devil following them.

Then the hapless GDP guard had mistakenly hit on her, and Hunter had gone ballistic. It wasn't her fault; deep down she knew that, but she had to make it right. Had to reassure the sentinel that she was still his. Sarah took a deep breath and then got up on her knees, placing her hands in the small of her back and lowering her head. Keeping her voice sentinel soft, she said, "Sentinel, claim and mark your guide."

Hunter hit the save button and then turned his chair around. For several seconds, he just watched her. She was still scared, judging by the heart rate and the fine tremor, but by God, she was actually taking the initiative. The tiger rumbled with satisfaction.

She noticed the way his head tilted back and he inhaled her scent, his eyes never leaving her face. Getting up, he locked the door and then pulled the blinds down. Several of his men were smirking as he did so, but his eyes dared any of them to voice an opinion on what he was doing. Through the glass, they all turned away at the challenge.

He stood up and removed his gun and badge, then moved onto the mat. Sarah leaned forward and pressed her shoulder against his leg, letting herself connect to him. The emotions running through him nearly swamped her to start with. He was angry; angry enough to kill, but then she felt the emotions move around her.

"Claim and Mark, Sentinel".

Then she heard his voice "Claim and Mark, Guide."

He knelt down and she laid back, trying not to panic when he loomed over her. It was always claustrophobic at first, especially when he was angry.

She reached hesitantly for his hand, sliding her fingers through his. He moved their hands so that the back of his fingers could touch her face. All the time his eyes never left hers. Slowly, he moved down onto his side, resting on his elbow, and just looked at her. The sentinel was running his senses over her.

"Yours," she whispered, trying to placate the sentinel. She could feel the aggression and protectiveness through the bond.

He leaned over her and inhaled the scent at her neck, and then put an arm around her waist and turned her onto her stomach. She closed her eyes, willing her heart to slow down.

He lowered his head to rest on her back. She tried to defuse the anger, and when Hunter relaxed, she let her own tension dissipate.

Samantha had turned around when the blinds had lowered and the key had turned in the lock. Sentinel business. She gave her papers a hard tap; she knew bonding was necessary, but she didn't have to like it. The poor kid. It wasn't her fault that idiot from the GDP put the make on her. Being bonded to Hunter -- Sarah must have destroyed a van load of mirrors to have that much bad luck. Samantha sincerely hoped her boss wasn't going to hurt the girl.

Then the target of her annoyance loomed into view. A GDP Commander and the idiot in question.

"Can I help you, gentlemen?" The words were helpful, but her tone was not.

"We need to speak to Captain Hunter, please." This from the commander.

"The Captain is busy at the moment. Do you have an appointment?"

"No."

She made a great show of opening the schedule book. "I'm sure that I can work you in a week from Friday."

"Actually, it's to apologize. If I could have five minutes of his time." Dan was now trying his charm and hoping it would work.

Sarah sat back at her desk and put a hand out and laid it on Hunter's arm. The bonding had not only calmed him down and reassured the sentinel, it had also supported her barriers. Otherwise, he would have spent the rest of the day like a bear with a sore head and she would have borne the brunt of it.

There was a knock, and Hunter unlocked the door as he ordered Sarah to open the blinds. His eyes hardened when he saw the GDP officers.

Commander Slater smiled. "Captain Hunter, if I might have a word with you."

The IA captain stood back to allow them to enter, making it clear he was doing them a favor. Sarah froze when she spotted the GDP commander. The expression on her face made Dan feel like something slimy and half-rotted. Hunter rumbled warningly. She was about to kneel when Hunter stopped her.

"My guide doesn't kneel in this station," Hunter said frigidly.

"Of course, Captain." Slater kept his voice evenly pitched for soothing a BP sentinel. "Officer Knox would like to apologize to you, Captain Hunter."

Hunter turned icy eyes to the hapless guard who squirmed under his gaze. "Officer Knox."

"Sentinel, I'm very sorry. I didn't know that the female was a guide. I thought she was a citizen. My apologies for saying anything that would have caused you to think that I challenged you for ownership of the female." It all came out in a breathless rush.

Slater swore soundlessly. He noticed the way that Hunter's eyes narrowed and the jaw tightened as he ground his teeth. All little things that had helped him deal with Jim Ellison seemed reflected here. Hunter had the same traits.

"She is not the female, she ismy guide."

Slater saw the way Hunter's hands clenched and hurriedly interjected. "Officer Knox used improper wording, but he and the GDP apologize to you...."

Just then there was a knock on the door and Blair Sandburg walked in. Slater had never been so pleased to see the younger man. He realized that it was because Blair made a handy second target for the laser sharp eyes of Captain Hunter.

"Hi, Captain. Sorry about the interruption." He gave a nod to Commander Slater. "Just came to take Sarah to her lessons. Don't worry, I'll have her back by four o'clock."

Blair was teaching Sarah some of the finer points of being a guide after Jim convinced Hunter it would be for Sarah's benefit. After much grousing, Hunter had agreed. The time she had spent with Blair while Hunter and Jim had talked had evidently helped her, so Hunter was reluctantly going along with it. He knew Blair wouldn't hurt Sarah, but the sentinel found it hard to let anyone else near his guide.

Blair watched the man go back to his desk and make a show of checking his schedule, then took out a small box.

"This is a cell phone. It has my cell number and the number of the department, programmed on 1 and 2. You will not use the phone for personal calls, and I will be checking the statement when it comes. This is so that I can contact you if you're needed." The words were gruff, but Sarah felt the concern.

Hunter pushed the phone in her hand, then glared at Blair. "You're still here, Sandburg."

Blair let it run over him. He and Sarah disappeared out the door, leaving the GDP to their grisly fate.

~~~~~~~~

In the elevator going down, Sarah moved so that Blair was between her and the other people.

"Don't worry." He drew her to stand near him. "You have good barriers. I'm just sorry I'm going to miss fireworks. Hunter is going to make that guy walk hot coals in bare feet before he accepts his apology."

Sarah was fingering the cell phone. I could call Mandy and Pop on this. All I have to do is call and give them the number and then they could call me back. He'd never know. But she knew there would be consequences for that, so she didn't.

Once alone in the elevator she asked "Detective Rafe -- is he okay? He was really upset after Captain Hunter spoke to him." She remembered how the man had cringed when Hunter had ordered him to the conference room.

"Sarah, most people are upset when they speak to Captain Hunter. He's not exactly the person you want to deal with if something goes wrong." Blair thought about being on the receiving end of a blast from Hunter and shuddered. Don't even go there.

He led her through the garage.

Her mouth fell open when she saw the truck. "Don't either you or Mr. Ellison have a modern car?"

"Classics, Sarah. They're called classics."

She jumped; she had not seen or heard Ellison come up behind them. She started to kneel when Blair hauled her up.

"No kneeling in parking garage either, Sarah," Jim said mildly.

She dared to breathe again. "Sorry."

"No need." He tossed the truck keys to his guide. "You get one scratch on it and I'll have your ass keel-hauled, Sandburg."

"Yes, Dad."

She saw the blow aimed at Blair's head but he ducked out of the way with a brilliant grin. The first time she had seen Mr Ellison strike out at Blair, she had been horrified, but then she had realized that the blows either never connected or just clipped his hair.

Sarah was about to climb up into the truck, when Jim Ellison put a hand on her shoulder, stopping her in her tracks. He was Sentinel Prime, and by clan laws could touch any guide, but she flinched.

"Easy. Just wanted to ask you something." Jim kept his voice and emotions neutral.

Sarah looked up at Jim. He looked so much like Hunter -- but he wasn't.

"Is it better now, between you and Hunter?" Dark Sentinel was watching over his clan.

"Yes," she whispered and he patted her shoulder. This time, she didn't cringe.

"Good. Now you and Blair beat it. I've got work to do." While his words were gruff, he was smiling when he said it.

~~~~~~~~

Hunter handed over the letter to Sarah; it had been opened and screened by him, but she didn't care. Mandy had written how much they loved and missed her, and that they hoped she was okay. It was deliberately cheery, and Sarah was actually grateful that hadn't tried to send anything controversial. They must have known if they offended her sentinel, they wouldn't be allowed to see her, ever.

Then, toward the bottom of the second page, she paused. Her high school graduation was in a week. She had completely forgotten about it, and it didn't matter anymore anyway. She wasn't going to be allowed to study at university, so what difference did it make?

She quickly skimmed to the end, then carefully folded the letter back up. Her father was okay. Commander Slater had arranged for the charges against him to be dropped. Sarah was grateful for that. The GDP commander still scared her, but he hadn't gone out of his way to hurt her.

She was staring into space, when Hunter snapped his fingers.

"Earth to Sarah."

"Huh?" She flushed guiltily. "My apologies, Sentinel. I didn't mean...."

Hunter grunted. "What made you zone?"

She hesitated, then in a rush, said, "My high school graduation is next weekend. Mandy said they might go, just so they can pick up my diploma."

So that was it. Hunter watched her out of the corner of his eye. She was trying to act casual about it, but her hands were clenching and unclenching, her heart rate rapid. It was important to her, but she was too afraid to say anything.

Do you blame her? All you've ever said to her is no.

"Do you want to go to the graduation?"

Sarah looked up at him, her heart in her eyes. "Can I?"

"I suppose I can arrange my schedule. It would just be for the ceremony, though, and you will be expected to stay with me."

The slow smile that lit her eyes did something funny to him. That's the first time I've ever seen her smile.

"I'll get the details from Commander Slater," he said gruffly. "This is not going to be a family reunion, so get that clear in your head."

"But if they show up?" she persisted.

"Then they do. I'm not going to make an issue of it."

A concession. Sarah hugged herself and moved out to the kitchen to start supper. Hunter followed her and watched as she began chopping vegetables for stir fry beef. She was a good cook, for which Hunter was grateful. His menus were limited in scope.

"Captain Hunter?" she paused to look at him.

"Yeah?" He sounded absent-minded.

"Thank you." This time, the smile reached her mouth.

Hunter just nodded, uncomfortable with the gratitude he felt radiating from her. He busied himself with setting the table to avoid sliding into further introspection.

~~~~~~~~

Mandy was in tears when her father came home, she threw herself in his arms and hugged him.

"Mandy, are you all right?"

With a hand shaking with emotion, she handed the letter to her father. It was the first contact they had had with Sarah since she had been claimed by the sentinel.

"He read the letter. Look, Pop." The letter had then been stamped "passed" by the GDP. Mandy scowled at the evidence of censorship. "She's a prisoner, Pop. God only knows what that monster is doing to her."

Her father was thoughtful. "Ms. Collins from the school called me at work to say that she had just heard from this Captain Hunter. He's allowing Sarah to go to her graduation. I know we won't be able to rescue her then because he's going to be on guard, but we might be able to see and talk to her."

Commander Slater had kept his word and passed on Sarah's status once a week, but saying "She's fine. Settling in well." was not enough for Max. Was Sarah scared? Did her sentinel beat her? Did she have enough to eat? The letter was deliberately vague, and that worried Max. What else had the sentinel done to her?

"We have to get her away from him, Pop," Mandy urged.

"I know. I have to think about this. It's not going to be easy. Her sentinel is a police officer, and we have to be careful."

~~~~~~~~

Sarah looked over the blue and white graduation robe, her school colors. Tonight she would receive her diploma, and maybe she would get to see her family. Hunter had reluctantly agreed to let her go, but he made it clear that she would follow his rules. She would sit with him, not her class, and they would leave directly afterward.

Still, he's letting me go. That counts for something, doesn't it?

Since she hadn't returned for the last three weeks of school, most people had assumed she had been injured badly in the bus accident. The principal had been thrilled to hear that Sarah would come to the graduation; only Ms. Collins knew the truth of the situation.

Looking in the mirror, she wondered if she looked older now. She had lost some weight, something that Hunter had noticed and disapproved of, but her appetite wasn't the best.

She was nervous about running into her classmates -- what if they said anything? She was working herself up into a fine state when Hunter poked his head around her door.

"Ready?"

"Yes, sir." Sarah grabbed her cap and gown and followed Hunter to the car. They made the drive in silence.

They pulled into the school parking lot. Graduation would take place in the football stadium. It was loud and chaotic as people milled about. The emotions ran from one extreme to another, and Sarah winced at the intensity as she and Hunter walked to the stadium entrance. He pulled her to him, shielding her.

At the door, Sarah paused at a small photo with flowers around it. Heather, who had died in the bus accident. The shadows of grief still clung to the air. Hunter tightened his embrace.

The class was sitting on one end of the stadium. Hunter had arranged so that they were sitting close but separated. It was glaringly obvious that Sarah was being kept away from the others, and the whispered speculations started. She could see some of the students pointing and talking. Sarah looked down at her feet. She had never really fit in, and now she would be ostracized completely. Hunter saw one girl smirking as she pointed Sarah out to her friends. His sentinel hearing picked up the nasty comment. His glare chilled her to the bone and she took refuge with her friends.

The opening remarks were brief, and after a short, dull speech by the valedictorian and some other remarks, names were being called. "Sarah Freeman." At her name, Sarah jumped, then got up to walk across and accept her diploma, shaking hands with the principal and vice-principal. Hunter was on full sentinel alert, scanning the area for any danger. Sarah moved back to him and sat down. He rumbled and pulled her close. He was bordering on BP mode, so she laid her hand on his arm.

Yours. She sent peaceful, calming thoughts to him even though she was still nervous.

He settled back for the rest of the names, still scanning the crowd suspiciously. They would leave as soon as the ceremony was done. So far, Sarah hadn't spotted Pop or Mandy.

Finally all names had been called. The class was getting up, laughing and congratulating each other. Hunter scanned the crowd, looking for the fastest exit. As they moved to the door, Sarah still was searching for her family, but it was difficult to see.

"Sarah! It's so good to see you! I'm so glad you've recovered from the accident." Sarah turned to see her favorite teacher Mrs. Morris. The woman was beaming at her, then looked at Hunter. "And you must be Sarah's father. It's so nice to finally meet you. Sarah is one of my best students."

Sarah couldn't say a word. She glanced up at Hunter, who looked even more forbidding than normal. What should she say? She didn't want to hurt her teacher's feelings, but Hunter wasn't at all happy about the mistake.

"Mrs. Morris," she said weakly, "Nice to see you, too."

"Mr. Freeman, you must be so proud of her." Mrs. Morris was still beaming, and Sarah's heart sank when she noticed the muscles of Hunter's jaw clenching. Any moment, and he was going to blast the poor woman.

"Who's this, Sarah? Your new boyfriend?" The catty comment came from behind them.

Both Hunter and Sarah turned around to see a group of five or six girls.

"Jenny," Sarah said, only the slightest tremor in her voice. The malice was palpable.

Hunter pulled Sarah firmly against him, her head against his chest. He looked like he was going to kill something.

Jenny's eyes widened as she registered what she was looking at: Sentinel. Sarah was bonded to a sentinel. That made her...a guide. Jenny sneered, but didn't leave the safety of her group. "Shouldn't you be on your knees, Sarah? That's what guides do," she mocked and the other girls giggled nervously. Jenny hated Sarah, and this revenge was better than she could have ever planned. Poor little Sarah was now a slave to a sentinel.

Hunter moved Sarah behind him and took a step toward Jenny. A sentinel in BP mode was extremely dangerous, and Jenny froze as she realized she had way overstepped her bounds.

"You have ten seconds to vacate this area before I decide to do something about it." Hunter sounded like something out of her worst nightmare, and Jenny fled with her friends at her heels.

"Sarah?" Mrs. Morris's hesitant voice broke the spell. Her teacher looked stunned and upset. "Is this true?"

"Mrs. Morris, I..." Sarah began, but then she heard her father's voice.

"Sarah?" Turning she saw Pop and Mandy about ten feet away. She began to run toward them, only to be stopped by a hard arm around her waist.

"No," Hunter said firmly. He wasn't letting her go.

"Sarah?" This time her father's voice broke on her name. He and Mandy stood there, tears in their eyes. She could feel their emotions tearing at her.

"Pop, Mandy," she choked, trying again to go to them, and once again being stopped.

"Sarah," only this time Hunter's voice was a threatening growl. She subsided, and he moved her against his side.

Max and Mandy inched closer, wary of the tall man who watched them like prey. Max thought the man was even more intimidating than the night he had seen Hunter drag Sarah away, and Mandy was scared to death.

"Are you...all right?" Mandy asked hesitantly.

"I'm fine," Sarah answered, trying to work up a reassuring smile and failing miserably. "This is Captain Hunter...my sentinel."

Max's heart was breaking. His youngest looked like a pale ghost. The man who held her was big and intimidating, and he wasn't at all friendly. Max's hopes that the man might be treating her decently faded away to nothing.

"Sarah?" Her father asked, "Are you sure you're okay?"

Hunter growled again, but Sarah whispered something only he could hear, and Hunter subsided.

"I'm fine," Sarah repeated. "Captain Hunter treats me well."

She's brainwashed, Max thought in despair. He's obviously hurt her -- she's scared to death of him.

"When can we see you again?" Mandy asked, trying to move closer and stopping at Hunter's glare.

Sarah looked at Hunter again and he shook his head.

"Not..not right away. Maybe later." Sarah tried again to smile, but the emotions of her family on top of the hatred from Jenny were piling up and she shivered. She had a terrible headache, and wanted nothing more to lie down and rest.

Hunter was now in full BP mode. His guide's distress was angering him. He pulled Sarah into his arms and she couldn't stop shaking. He was rumbling something in her ear and she took comfort from his shielding, but to Max it looked as if the cop was threatening her.

"We're leaving," Hunter announced.

"Sarah, we love you," Max said desperately.

Mandy and Mrs. Morris just stood helplessly as Hunter moved past them.

Sarah stumbled and Hunter cursed, almost dragging her. He moved her so he could support her, thinking all the while that this had not been the best idea, but to those watching it looked as though he was handling her very roughly.

Mandy watched as they disappeared from view and then began to cry.

Sarah was in a daze for most of the return trip. Hunter moved into the house and steered her to the sofa. Pulling the afghan around her shivering form, he laid down pulled her on top of him, cradling her.

He could feel her tears wetting his shirt collar, and was helpless. There was nothing he could do for her pain.

"Shh, Sarah. It'll be all right. Sleep." He continued to murmur reassurances until she had cried herself out and finally fell asleep.

~~~~~~~~

Mandy stared at the video in her hand and then looked towards her father. Leo had given it to her at their last meeting. He had been apologetic, and had warned her that she might not want to see this.

"We had better do it now, Mandy, while we can."

Swallowing hard, she slid the video into the VCR and then took a seat by her father, her hand blindly searching for his. The tape started, showing a stark white low stimuli room. Two men were already in there, one they recognized as GDP Commander Slater.

Mandy explained. "Leo said they always film the sessions because they can be used as a training aid for the sentinel." Her voice trembled slightly.

Then the door opened and Sarah came in, walking one step behind her sentinel. It was hard to see her since he dwarfed her small frame.

~~~~~~~~

Sarah stood in her room and looked over her clothes. She had three jackets and three pairs of dress pants. Not enough for business wear, even if she did change blouses. She had normally worn casual clothes, and since Hunter wanted her to dress professionally, she tried to make do with what she had.

Last night was still haunting her. Graduation, which should have been a moment of achievement, had been a disaster. She had been identified as a guide, shocked her teacher, and then had been dragged away from her family.

"Sarah?" Hunter looked in on her as she sat with her jackets. She hastily pushed them to the side and stood up.

"Yes, Captain Hunter?"

Hunter frowned as he stepped into her room. She didn't even close the door anymore after the scare with her mother's photo. She deliberately tried not to antagonize him.

He looked over the clothes on her bed, then peered into the closet. There was a pitifully small selection there. Why hadn't he noticed before? He looked at her other possessions, moving around the room. The small CD player and a few CDs, the photos -- he heard the small gasp as he picked up her mother's photo and carefully replaced it -- the teddy bear, a Winnie the Pooh. A few tattered paperbacks on the shelf. He frowned again, his mood darkening. Sarah sat down on the bed, wondering what she had done wrong.

There were no posters, no knick-knacks, no cosmetics -- not that she needed any -- nothing other than a few tokens. It was a sterile as a motel room.

"Come with me," he ordered, then noticed that his guide was watching him fearfully. "I'm not angry, Sarah. We need to get you some more work clothes."

Oh. She wiped her damp hands against her jeans and got up to follow him downstairs.

He settled her in the car and moved to the driver's side. Maria Randall was on her front porch and froze when she spotted Hunter. Maria tried a tentative wave, and got nothing but a curt nod.

Sarah sat in the passenger seat, wondering what Hunter was thinking. She could sense some anger and frustration, probably left over from last night. Beyond that, it was a mystery.

Hunter drove to the Cascade Mall, and Sarah looked around. It was the first public place they had gone besides her graduation since the bonding. He even did the grocery shopping while she stayed at the house.

Hunter led her to one of the better department stores. She clung to his jacket. The crowd was overwhelming. He moved her to his side, arm around her casually. It dawned on Sarah that he wasn't making her assume the guide position, but still kept her within his shielding. As soon as they entered the store, Sarah hesitated. Business clothes were expensive, and she knew she had to find something durable and subdued. Hunter steered her to the career clothing section. There was a petite section with some business suits and jackets. His guide was a tiny thing.

"Tidbit section," Hunter said drily, but he wasn't being mean. His tone was almost teasing.

Sarah looked over the clothes. There were some possibilities here -- maybe a jacket or two, combined with a pants or a skirt. She hated skirts, though.

"Can I help you?" Sarah spun to see a middle-aged woman smiling at them. "Are you looking for anything in particular?"

"Um," Sarah stammered, then subsided.

Hunter came to her rescue. "She needs some business clothing for her job. Some jackets, pants, suits -- that sort of thing."

"How wonderful!" the woman gushed. "Your first job, I bet."

Sarah nodded weakly.

"It's so nice that your father is getting you all decked out," the woman smiled at Hunter. The man was a good-looking fellow, if a bit on the sober side.

"Uhh..." Sarah began, sensing Hunter's displeasure.

Christ. Does everyone think I'm her daddy? Hunter fumed mentally. He started to bristle.

Sarah moved to him, laying her hand on his chest, willing him to calm down. A scene at the mall was not the way to go.

The sentinel, who didn't care what the public saw or thought, ran his hand over her head and back possessively, reinforcing the connection.

The saleswoman's eyes bugged out at this display, then narrowed. Her tone dropped into the frigid range. "I take it you're not her father," the woman said, her nose raised in righteous indignation. He could read the telegraphed message: Pervert.

It pissed Hunter off to see this display of moral judgment. She was looking at Sarah with a combination of pity and disdain, and at him with complete disgust.

"No, she lives with me. I have these special needs," Hunter said with his predator smile, "and she's the only one who can satisfy them."

Sarah closed her eyes. Oh, no. Hunter was going to skin the woman with sarcasm. The saleswoman wouldn't even know that her head had been cut off until a week later when she hit a bump and it rolled off her shoulders.

"Captain Hunter, please," Sarah begged.

"Captain? You're a captain? A police officer and you're corrupting minors?" The woman's voice was raised in disbelief.

"She's 18," Hunter purred. "Old enough for...what I want."

Sarah latched onto him as his aggression level started to rise.

"Well! I never..." but the woman was cut off by Hunter's growl.

"No, I'm sure you haven't," and stepped forward to do battle.

Sarah threw caution to the wind and moved to his side, clinging to him. Her hand moved over his back up to his shoulder as she murmured to him.

The saleswoman was about to yell for assistance, when the manager ran up. He had caught the tail end of the encounter and rushed over. The manager, recognizing a sentinel in BP mode, hastily intervened.

"My apologies, Sentinel. Ms. Davenport was unaware that you were a sentinel. She meant no offense to you." The manager tried his most soothing, ingratiating tones. Unless he was mistaken, this was the new head of Internal Affairs at Cascade PD. The manager's cousin Mike worked at the main precinct and had shared some horror stories about the man.

Ms. Davenport now had the same stricken look that Maria Randall had worn. A sentinel!

"We'll be going," Hunter said softly, "I do not patronize stores with prejudiced staff."

The manager shot the unfortunate Ms. Davenport a killing look as he tried to salvage the situation. "Please, Sentinel, allow me to..." The look Hunter gave him froze him in place.

Hunter led Sarah out. Sarah was shaking from the episode. Just as they reached the entrance to the mall corridor, a young man stopped them.

"Excuse me," the man said hesitantly, and Hunter turned to look at him.

Guide. Hunter recognized it immediately."Yes?" he growled.

"Sentinel Hunter?" the young man asked, still trying to come to grips with the remarkable resemblance this man had to Jim Ellison.

"Yes, and you are...?"

"David, Guide to Sentinel Edwards," the young man said nervously. His own sentinel was over at the other end of the store.

Hunter recognized the name. Another clan member.

"I...I couldn't help overhearing. If you need clothes, there's a much better store at the other end of the mall. Higbee's. They're...they're nicer there." The young man swallowed.

Hunter stared at him for several seconds, then curtly said "Thanks." Sarah smiled tentatively at the young man, but Hunter was already dragging her away.

David blew out a breath. Captain Hunter was not a man to mess with.

"David? What's wrong?" His own sentinel came up behind him, laying a hand on his shoulder.

"Nothing, just met Sentinel Hunter." David said, and latched onto his sentinel, needing the connection.

Sarah walked into Higbee's with Hunter and hoped this time they could get through this without a full scale confrontation.

The store did seem nicer, and more trendy. When they reached the business section, Sarah moved to the petites and saw a nice assortment of clothes. The colors were vibrant, not stodgy. Sarah perked up.

"They are nicer clothes," Hunter approved. When the saleswoman approached them, Sarah's anxiety rose and Hunter moved her close to him.

She was younger, and had a nice smile. No hostile vibrations from her. "Can I help you?"

"I need...some business clothes," Sarah said hesitantly, looking up at Hunter.

Hunter patted her back, looking around for any potential problems.

"What can I help you with, Sentinel?" The woman spoke directly to him. She had recognized sentinel behavior, which was to her credit, but he didn't like that she didn't speak to Sarah.

The woman just smiled. "May I address her?" Sarah realized the woman wasn't snubbing her, just deferring to the sentinel who stood hovering over his guide.

Hunter nodded imperiously. The woman turned to Sarah -- there was nothing but friendly, if slightly curious, emotions emanating from her.

Hunter watched as Sarah selected several jackets and pants, carefully checking prices. She winced -- they were not cheap. Hunter came up behind her. "Don't worry about that," he said quietly. Her worry was making him edgy.

The saleswoman, chatting brightly, led Sarah off to the dressing room with a dozen selections. Hunter reviewed each outfit critically, seven were approved as suitable for the office and he handed the woman his credit card. Sarah stood near him. She was exhausted. The constant chatter from the friendly clerk on top of the scene at the other store had frayed her barriers. She just wanted to go home.

Home. Since when had she thought of Hunter's house that way? She stared up at him, a look on her face that had Hunter puzzled.

Hunter took the large shopping bag and scooted Sarah close to him. They left the store and headed back to the other end of the mall where Hunter was parked.

Hunter sat her at the fountain. "Wait here, I just have to pick up something," he ordered, and Sarah sat down. She was so tired.

"Well, look who's here," came a snide voice and Sarah looked up to see Jenny and her gang standing in front of her. "It's the guide. Got rug burns on your knees yet, Sarah?"

Then Sarah saw Kyle and some of his friends join them, all of them smirking at her. Their smug hostility was hitting against her barriers like little drops of acid.

"Hey, Sarah," Kyle said, "has he taught you everything you need to do while you're on your knees?"

The teenagers giggled maliciously as the other boys continued with crude comments. Sarah tried to move back, but they surrounded her.

"Guess you're not going to university after all, Sarah," Kyle said in mock sympathy. "Guides are too busy being fucked by their sentinels to need to know much more."

Sarah blushed, then turned pale. It was so ugly; they made her feel dirty and ashamed, like the first saleswoman did.

"Sarah," Jenny taunted her. "He any good in bed? They say sentinels have just the right touch."

Sarah blinked back tears, her heart rate accelerating to panic.

"Bet he chokes you when you suck him off."

Sarah felt her barriers go; she was wide open to their hostile emotions. She shivered in agony. Sentinel! She held her hands over her ears, unable to bear their comments.

All of a sudden, Kyle was lifted off his feet and tossed into the fountain. Jenny was shoved and fell to the ground as the others scrambled back. The teenagers looked up to see a large furious man. Jenny scrambled to get away even as Kyle hauled himself out of the fountain.

"My name is Captain Hunter," he said with deadly calm. "If I ever see any of you around her again, you will leave in pieces. You will not speak to her, touch her or approach her. Try anything at all, and I will kill you."

"You can't threaten us, man," one of the boys bluffed.

"Under clan laws, I have the right to defend my Guide by any means necessary. Sentinel law supercedes criminal law, and isn't it handy I'm well versed in both?" The sentinel smiled. It was a tiger's smile.

The teenagers felt an icy chill down their spines. This had been a very bad idea. The sentinel was feral and ready to kill. They moved backward, then suddenly took off like rats.

Sarah was mute, shivering and unseeing. Hunter carefully gathered her to him, wrapping her in protection as he moved them to the parking lot. She clung to him, needing to be close to him. He would keep her safe. He always kept her safe.

Hunter almost carried Sarah into the house. She was dangerously still. Hunter laid her on the bonding mat and settled next to her. He pulled her into his arms, willing her to connect. She was so small -- he had never seen her quite so fragile, not even last night when she had cried her heart out.

Guide, link, he ordered, and she finally did. The horrible comments that the teenagers had made still burned him. He had heard each and every one as he rushed back to his guide. Of course, his behavior with the first sales clerk had not been exemplary, either. But still....

Sarah's fear and confusion flooded him, and he soothed her, willing her to relax and let it go. His large hand moved up and down her back, calming the tension invading her small frame. Bit by bit, the rigidity left, until she relaxed, boneless, against him.

My Guide. Hunter's possessiveness was comforting, and Sarah basked in the emotional support that he offered her. Her headache was fading, but she felt so tired....

Hunter felt Sarah slide into sleep and tightened his embrace. His guide was safe in his territory and the sentinel stood watch.

~~~~~~~~

The GDP officer stood in front of Samantha's desk and cleared his throat.

Samantha looked up wearily. Not another one of these jokers. She was getting a little tired of the GDP waltzing in trying to suck up to Captain Hunter for yet another transgression, not to mention that her boss didn't want to have anything to do with the GDP. "Can I help you, sir?"

"Lieutenant Munro, GDP. I would like to speak to Captain Sentinel Hunter."

Samantha sighed and picked up the phone. She winced at the muffled profanity, then asked Munro to go on in. On your head be it.

Lieutenant Munro was in his late fifties, with a shock of grey hair and a military bearing. He had been in the GDP all his adult life, and would uphold the rules of the organization, no matter what. He was the perfect company man; his own views on guides were just that, his, and he didn't allow them to get in the way of doing his job.

"Lieutenant," Hunter said shortly, not rising from his seat. His guide flinched and was about to slide to her knees when Hunter's hand stopped her. He was still seething about the GDP evaluation of Sarah.

The look on Munro's face was disapproving.

"My office, my guide, my rules." Hunter said gently, and wise men backed away from that tone. Munro was not a fool. He carefully wiped all expression from his face.

"Ian Munro," he introduced himself as he put his hand out slowly and shook hands with the IA Captain. Hunter looked him over carefully, sentinel senses on full alert. Munro was used to being scanned, but something about this sentinel made him very nervous. It was the same eerie sensation he felt with Senior Sentinel Prime Ellison, and this man looked just like him.

Finally, Hunter motioned Munro to take a seat. "So what do you want, Lieutenant? It's unusual to see a GDP officer in this neck of the woods." He made it very clear that it was not a welcome visit.

"I'm with Internal Operations, the GDP equivalent of your office. We have a problem."

Sarah's heart sped up and she went pale. They've come to get me. They're going to take me away.

Hunter immediately turned to his guide, and put his hand on her back. He whispered a few reassuring words and she settled back, eyes wary and spooked.

"Sarah, why don't you go out and help Samantha with the rest of the database conversion. I know she needs some help."

Sarah looked at Hunter, unsure.

"It's okay, Sarah. This has nothing to do with you. You're not in any trouble. Right, Munro?" Hunter dared him to say otherwise.

"Correct," Munro said, and watched the girl slowly calm. She reached out to grasp her sentinel's arm, needing the reassurance. Hunter gently stroked her hair, letting her connect, and then she got up and exited quietly.

"I'm aware of your unusual bonding," Munro commented, and was surprised to see the fury in the sentinel's eyes.

"My bonding and my guide are none of your damn business, Munro. Unless you want me to make you my business, which is not a good thing, you'd better stick to the subject at hand. Back off."

Munro held his hands up placatingly. This man was even worse than the Sentinel Prime.

Changing the subject, Munro pulled a handful of tapes out of his briefcase. "These tapes have recently started to appear on the market. Now, as Vice will tell you, sexually explicit tapes about guides have been around since the beginning. Usually they are played by known faces in the porn game, 30 year old school girls one day, guides the next. There are some hard core collectors with special tastes -- they have to have the real thing. GDP Senior Guard Wilson made a fortune out of breaking guides and filming them. He would then blackmail them into acting as escorts, again for an elite clientele. The man's been dead for six months, but there's still a steady flow of the tapes coming out."

"That's GDP business, not ours." Hunter said, bored.

"These tapes were confiscated in a bust at a local shop recently. The man was caught in the act of dubbing the tapes. These are the masters -- each tape has the GDP flash on them. These tapes and the copies on site were put in evidence lock up, but there are copies circulating on the market. Cascade PD raided a warehouse last night and found two hundred tape copies. When the precinct captain checked the lockup, the master tapes were missing. He contacted me when they mysteriously reappeared today. I also have it on good authority that some of these tape copies have been seen at the PD. There are also stills and video clips that have shown up on anonymous porn web sites."

"So you suspect that someone in Cascade PD is behind this." Hunter looked interested for the first time.

Munro looked around, seeing the small VCR/TV unit in the corner of the room. "May I?"

Hunter nodded, and Munro turned on the unit and inserted the tape. He pressed the play button, and Hunter sat on the edge of his desk to watch. Munro glanced across at the IA Captain. There was no expression on his face, but his jaw was clutched tightly. After an interminable time, Hunter stood up and switched the tape off.

Blair Sandburg. There was no mistaking the younger man. He was skin and bones, his hair and body filthy, but it was definitely him. Burns and bites stood out on his abused skin. The fear in Sandburg's eyes sickened Hunter as he watched the three guards rape and abuse the Senior Guide Prime repeatedly for the camera.

How could Ellison have bonded with him after all this? But Sandburg was the victim, and Ellison must have been his only way out of hell. Hunter hadn't realized the magnitude of the problem; Ellison had only told him surface details.

"The rest of the tape is pretty sick, Captain, even for the die-hards. Somehow, a member of Cascade PD has put these tapes back on the market. We also found that some of the seized GDP suppressant drugs have also been recycled from lockup storage."

"Suppressants," Hunter shrugged.

"Not that kind, Captain. This stuff takes a guide's barriers down and makes them pleasing to their sexual partner or partners. Makes them highly suggestible and without inhibitions. It's pretty nasty stuff -- the date rape drug of the guide world."

"I can see why the GDP would want to catch this person," Hunter said mockingly. "It's really bad for your image to have GDP guards raping and taping guides. Gives new meaning to the words 'reaching their full potential'."

Munro flushed slightly. "I am a career GDP officer, and this kind of thing is bad for *everybody*."

"Not to mention the guides," Hunter drawled, but he put a hand out and collected the tapes and files Munro offered him. "I will certainly look into this case. Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I'll be in touch."

With that, Hunter sat back down at his desk, while Munro stood there and wondered how he had lost control of the conversation.

"That will be all, Lieutenant," Hunter said mildly, and Munro flushed again and bid him a terse farewell.

"And don't let the door hit you on the way out," Hunter added softly.

Sarah poked her head around the corner.

"You can come back in," Hunter beckoned, and she scurried back to her desk. Her sentinel was upset. She touched his arm and winced. Hunter pushed the anger down and let his guide ground him. After several minutes, she let go. He was once again calm.

Hunter packed the tapes into his briefcase; barely glimpsing at the titles: Bound Joy, Guided Passion and Trained for Pleasure.

Hunter handed Sarah a stack of forms and she turned to her computer. One eyebrow raised when she muttered something about atrocious handwriting. He smiled in spite of himself -- his guide was coming out of her shell.

The IA Captain booted up his own computer and entered in his security code at the Cascade PD database prompt.

Surname: Ellison

First Name: James J.

Department: Major Crime

Jim's personal file rolled down the page. Information is power. Ellison, I'm going to learn all about you.

His clan leader had a fistful of citations for bravery, an Officer of the Year Award, and several IA reports -- nothing earth shattering or remarkable. The date of his bonding was noted, with a hyperlink to his guide's file. Clicking on the link, Hunter ran into a dead end. Access denied. File sealed.

Interesting.

There had to be information about Sandburg and the tape, but without access to Sandburg's files, he wouldn't be able to investigate the situation. Hunter leaned back and picked up his coffee. Sarah was learning exactly how he liked his coffee, and the small selfish pleasure of that filled him. He took a long sip.

Now, who has the ability to seal a file, and why? He smiled. The one person who could give him his answer was only a few miles away.

~~~~~~~~

Blair looked up from his stack of journals at the knock at his door. For a moment, he thought it was Jim, but then Hunter moved into the light.

"Captain Hunter," Blair said warily, "What can I do for you?"

"Mr. Sandburg," Hunter purred, raising the hair on Blair's neck. "You and I need to talk."

Hunter came over and leaned against the edge of Blair's desk, subtly crowding the younger man. He moved into Blair's personal space, watching as the younger man's heart rate increased.

Blair moved back slightly; he knew Hunter could sense his discomfort. Without Jim there, Blair felt horribly vulnerable. Hunter was being his manipulative, predatory self.

"There's a new investigation I'm opening at IA. It's highly confidential, but I thought you might be able to help me with something." Hunter was actually smiling, using a 'let's be pals' voice that was patently insincere.

God, no wonder Sarah's so scared of him. He's a psychological menace. Blair moved back a little more, and Hunter filled the space.

Hunter smiled pleasantly. Not so brave without your sentinel, are you, kid?

"Uhm...sure. Whatever I can do to help." Blair's voice had just a edge of a tremor. Hunter tipped his head, listening to the guide's rapid breathing. He was scared.

Good. Maybe I'll get some answers. Hunter leaned in a little more, and now Sandburg was backed against the wall behind his desk. Hunter waited for several seconds, then pulled back.

Blair let out his breath. The proximity and barely veiled animosity of the older man was fraying his barriers.

"Excellent," Hunter said as he got up and walked over to the TV/VCR unit that was similar to his own. Popping in a tape, Hunter switched on the machine.

Blair watched as the picture came into focus. He went white as he recognized what was being shown. Hunter saw the horror hit him. Sandburg's breathing accelerated into harsh pants. He was shuddering, skin clammy and suddenly Blair was in the middle of a full-blown anxiety attack.

"No, nonononononono...." Blair whispered, before it became a guttural wail. He had both hands in his hair, pulling, screwing his eyes shut. He collapsed onto the floor, his barriers gone, lost in his nightmare.

Hunter cursed as he shut off the tape. He had hoped to jolt Blair into giving him information, not send him off the deep end. It was a calculated risk, and it had backfired badly. Hunter cursed again as he got out his cell phone and dialled Ellison.

"Ellison. It's Hunter. I need you to come to the university. Sandburg's in some sort of flashback." Pause. "I'm here on a case. Guide porno tapes. Sandburg freaked when he saw it." Another pause. "How the hell was I supposed to know he'd go over the edge?" Hunter listened to Ellison hurl insults and curses, then snapped, "Just get your ass over here. I've got better things to do than babysit your guide."

Hunter walked over to where Sandburg was huddled, moaning and shaking. He didn't look like the inquisitive hippy freak, or the thoughtful scholar. He looked like a battered child, small and broken.

Protect the guide. It was a more universal urge, buried in ancient history. The Shield shall protect and guard. Hunter hesitated, then crouched down next to the pitiful bundle at his feet.

"Sandburg."

The young man just moaned, cringing from him.

"Sandburg." Hunter softened his voice. "Come on, kid. Snap out of it. I've turned the tape off and Ellison's on his way."

Blair just trembled. His barriers were completely gone; even Hunter could sense that.

Protect. Hunter hesitated, then moved to sit next to him. Reaching out, he laid his hand on Sandburg's arm. The young man flinched, then stilled. Hunter shielded him, watching as the tremors started to diminish.

Blair didn't know where he was or who was with him, but there was a sentinel shielding him, protecting his barriers. Dark Guide didn't object. The Shield shall protect and guard. Blair tried to move closer to the source of comfort.

Hunter stiffened, then sighed as he allowed Blair to plaster himself against his side. Jesus, Hunter, you sure can pick 'em. The kid was still shaking, trying to burrow into him, and Hunter gave up. Hauling Sandburg's head against his chest, he wrapped his arm around the younger man.

Blair huddled as close as he could. It's not Jim. The impression registered, but didn't matter. The sentinel was protecting him, and there wasn't any anger being directed at him.

Hunter patted his back, thinking of Sarah. And I thought Sarah was vulnerable. The minefield of emotions in Sandburg swamped him. How do you deal with this, Ellison? How do you function day to day with all these fears and needs?

Blair whimpered, and Hunter automatically crooned wordless reassurances. For now, Sandburg was just a scared young guide, like Sarah. Later, Hunter reassured himself, he would go back to his usual antipathy for the hippy grad student.

Hunter felt the tentative touch against his mind. Please?

Hunter sighed again. Allowing a light bond, he wrapped his senses around Sandburg, and the young man finally relaxed.

Safe. Hunter reassured him. He leaned back against the wall, letting his head rest against it. Just another shitty day in paradise.

Blair was burrowed against him, and Hunter spat out a mouthful of Blair hair. That hair had a life of its own. He waited for Ellison and groaned. There goes my hard-ass reputation.

The door burst open. All Jim could see was his guide curled up, held down by Hunter. Sentinel Prime growled and rushed in. He knocked Hunter away from Blair and went in for the kill.

End Dìdean

(To be Continued)