Disclaimer: The main characters are not mine, this is an amateur effort written purely for the fun of it, and no money has exchanged hands, and it is not intended to breach the copyright of Paramount and Pet Fly Publication.
For adult situations, and for implied aftermath of rape (nothing graphic),
Story contains h/c and a few bad words and violence
With thanks to Jade, Gail, Susie, Chris and Lois for all your help and support.
Present Time, Cascade General Hospital:
Jim Ellison was just shepherding his Guide out of the cubical in ER, when a security officer came up. "Sentinel Prime Ellison, I need you to come with me. Sir, we have a problem on the Sentinel Floor."
"Chief, perhaps..." He never got to finish the sentence; Blair was already heading for the elevator. Shaking his head in disbelief, Jim followed his Guide.
The GDP Officer Doctor met them as the doors to the elevator opened. "Sentinel Prime, thank you for coming. One of our patients has a gun, and I'm worried he might use it."
"Have the police been called?" Jim quickly followed the doctor, trying to get a handle on what was going on.
"GDP security are already on the scene. The police are en route."
Blair staggered as he was hit by the emotions coming from the room. In the background he could hear the doctor telling Jim about the pairing in the room and the death of the Guide. Ignoring everyone, Blair moved forward toward the armed Sentinel. Jim tried to catch his arm, but Blair pulled free.
"Hi." Blair kept his voice level, the Guide tone.
The old Sentinel turned his attention fully on the longhaired young man standing in front of him. His noise twitched. //A Guide, bonded. // He looked past the Guide to the Sentinel, and he detected the man's scent on the Guide. "So, this little one is your Guide?"
He focused again on Blair. "You look healthy. Is he good to you, Little Guide?"
"He is." Blair inched forward toward the man and then froze as the gun swung in his direction.
"I know what you want to do, Little Guide, but I can't allow it. You know what I mean --only one Guide to one Sentinel. I'm too old to bond again and I wouldn't want to. Ken is my soul mate..." He trailed off.
Then Blair Sandburg knew he stood facing a man who had made his mind up to die. Nothing, he knew with certainty, could stop him from pulling the trigger. The uniformed police officers, including his own Sentinel, had their guns pointed at the old man, seventy if a day, who cradled the body of his Guide to him.
"You have to understand; he's waiting for me now. I can't keep him waiting." It was said with a level voice. The old Sentinel's eyes rested for a moment on his younger Sentinel brother, and a sad smile touched his lips. "Care for him, brother. They are life, and without them -- we are nothing." He pulled his Guide close to him, then looked down at the closed eyes and put the gun to his head.
Blair yelled at him, but the Sentinel wasn't listening -- he could only hear another voice calling him. He pulled the trigger, and Sentinel and Guide were reunited.
Blair felt as if he had just been hit in the stomach. All the air was driven from his lungs; he couldn't breathe. He started to panic. Jim put an arm around him and pulled him close, but Blair was lost in his own world. He didn't hear Jim talking to him until the Sentinel shook him, bringing him back to the present with a gasp.
Jim has never seen such grief in the face of his young Guide. "Chief, you have to talk to me. Tell me what's going through that head of yours.
"He couldn't be parted, Jim. He..."
"He had to do what he was called to do," Jim put in levelly.
"If anything ever happened, you wouldn't..." Blair needed to know that Jim was going to be okay. His voice had an edge of hysteria to it; he was trying to shake the larger man, to make him answer.
Jim never replied, but the look in his eyes told Blair all he needed to know. The day he died, Jim would follow him. It would be a journey they would take together -- Sentinel and Guide could never be parted.
Blair's breath caught as he lowered his barriers and felt the full emotion of his Sentinel. It was pointless to argue with Jim now, but later he would try to talk some sense into the man. If that failed, he was just going to have to do his best to live forever. In response to his lowered empath barriers, he was pulled up into a tight hug that had him on his toes as his Sentinel inhaled his scent, needing to know that his own Guide was alive and well.
Keeping a firm hold on Blair, he escorted his Guide back to the truck. They only had a report to file, then off for home, and they would bond in his territory. The need to claim his Guide, to reaffirm that all was right, had started to take over the Sentinel.
Blair could feel the intensity in his gaze when Jim looked at him. Reaching out, he laid a hand on Jim's arm, his fingers trying to ease the tension. Blair was all put pulled from the truck, his feet hardly touching the ground as he was half-dragged, half-carried to the loft.
Once inside, Blair turned to his Sentinel; he could see the need in him to bond. He could understand the emotions; Jim had seen a Sentinel die to follow his Guide into death. A dead Guide had awakened in Jim all the insecurities of not being able to protect him. Jim Ellison was a complex human being, and the gang at the PD might think he was emotionless, but he wasn't.
The emotion through the link told another story: of an intelligent and compassionate man. A man who had taken the time and effort to care for a traumatized Guide when he could have just forced him into submission.
For all his strength and greater build, Jim took the time to be gentle with him. Like now, he was holding him loosely with one hand at his waist, allowing Blair enough room to pull back if he did not want to bond. Blair placed the flat of his hand on his forearm, knowing that Jim could feel the warmth of his hand through the coat. The slight movement of his Sentinel's head showed to anyone who knew Sentinels that he was scenting him, allowing the scent to flood through him. His senses were telling him that his Guide was alive and well, safe and protected in his own territory.
Lightly, with only his fingertips, Jim gently brushed the long hair back from his Guide's face, his touch no more than a feather's.
Sentinel, Claim and Mark your Guide. Blair intoned the traditional vow of a Guide to his Sentinel.
Jim gently pulled Blair toward him, burying his face against his neck. Then, and only then, he released his emotions.
Stunned at first, Blair was scared as the sobs shook the bigger body which held him close.It's okay, Jim, ssssh it's okay. I understand. I understand. Blair clung to his Sentinel, knowing that the emotions he was feeling had been those transmitted by the dying pair. Athough he was the empath, he believed Sentinels had empathic ability as well, even stronger than the GDP had ever suspected.
Finally, Blair allowed himself to be eased back. Then with great care, he was escorted up the stairs to bond. Here they would mourn the old Sentinel and Guide.
Blair was comforted through the bond, and as it mellowed sleep soon claimed him, and he began to dream.
* * * * *
25 years ago
Naomi Sandburg looked from her baby to the hot plate that she was using to warm up the milk, and thanked her lucky stars that the nurse had warned her that the GDP were coming. The thought of Blair being taken away from her to be brought up in some sterile institute, and then given to some soulless Sentinel, had frightened her. * Her * baby would grow up and live free.
The Panther came out of the wall, padded over to the baby on the bed and pressed its nose against the baby's tummy, then gave a deep sniff. Backing away, the Panther's paw swiped at its nose and sneezed, nearly falling over; it sneezed again at the talcum powder.
The baby gurgled happily.
The Panther came back and nuzzled the squirming bundle as a small chubby hand caught its whiskers and pulled. With a resigned look, the Panther eased back to save its mangled whiskers. //Humans, huh.//
This little one was the soul mate to his cub. The two would walk separate paths for a while, but they would find each other. A yap caused it to turn away, as through the wall, falling head over tail, was a young Wolf club.
//Cubs. Two feet or four, they were all the same. // The Panther picked his young Wolf cub up and rejoined the spirit plain.
* * * * *
Twenty-two years later
Peru - Ranier University Expedition
The police captain wasn't happy; he had argued long and hard with the American professor. The Chopec pass was closed, and only a fool would enter their territory. He looked for support to the younger American; he at least seemed to see reason. The older man just brushed away all of his concerns, as he postured in front of a map of the territory.
He was idiot; he knew nothing.
Blair had to work at hiding his emotions; Dr. Stoddard had been one of his first mentors at the university. All gods had feet of clay, and he was now seeing Stoddard for what he was--a self-opinionated blowhard. He might be at the top of his field but the man knew jack-shit about the area and the current political situation.
Finally the captain threw up his hands. Remember one thing, gentlemen. No person who has recently entered the Chopec region has been seen again. But, if you must go, see Joseph."
Joseph? Blair put in quickly, making the name a question before Stoddard could say anything, which would put the captain's back up even further than it already was.
The captain decided to ignore the professor, and directed his story to the student. The Padre found a very old man, who was badly injured. We think he was trying to hunt and the animal turned on him. The Father could not pronounce his name, so they called him Joseph. He was of the Chopec people. Although he has found a home at the mission, he still returns to his people. The captain picked up his cap. I'll have Father MacMillan introduce you to him. If he likes you, he might tell you what you need to know. If not, then he won't talk. The man is as quiet as a sphinx. He chuckled when he saw the look on Stoddard's face. You think because we are -- how do you Americans say? -- in the 'sticks', that we are ignorant peasants? I studied archaeology at University.
Then why did you become a police officer? Blair asked.
Startled, the captain looked at Blair as he realized that the young man was actually interested. My brother was a police officer in this town. Drug dealers killed him, to try to stop the clamp-down on them. I came back, because in life we have to follow the paths that lead to our destiny, and mine was no longer in archaeology. Wanting to avoid a painful topic, he changed the subject. Have you read the new book on the Valley of the Kings, the KV10 tombs of Egypt?
Stoddard pulled back and left them talking. That was Sandburg's talent -- getting people to talk. He could be very useful.
* * * * *
Joseph was seated in the shade of a tree. He was cross-legged on the ground, his weapons around him in a ritual show. The only jarring note to this scene was the cigarette in his hand.
The Padre put a hand onto Stoddard's arm and held him back. Joseph responds better to younger people. He sees himself as a teacher of the old ways.
Blair knelt down, placed two packets of tobacco in front of the old tribesman, and waited for him to speak. Finally, the old man acknowledged him, and Blair asked respectfully in Spanish, Revered Father, we would like to journey into the territory of the Chopec. We come to learn from them, learn of their ways. How might we approach them?
The old tribal man grinned, showing stubs where his teeth had been. He caught Blair's wrist and could feel the vibrations running through the young man's body. //A Shaman. Foreign and ignorant of his abilities, but one that willblossom. //
The old man said a word in Chopec, and Blair's heartbeat jumped. The word had two meanings, with only the inflection showing the different meanings: soul mate / Guide.
He chuckled as he saw the look on the young man's face. He had felt the pulse race. //Such a pretty thing. Any Sentinel would fight to make this child theirs. So, little one, the idea frightens you, but your Sentinel will look after you.//
His twisted fingers gently petted Blair's hands to try and calm him. //The new Sentinel of the Chopec People would smell this one the moment he set foot in his territory and would rush to claim his prize.//
He looked past him to the other stranger and frowned, not liking what he saw. A warning must be given. This fool, he indicated Stoddard, will take you into danger, but your sent-tin-el will watch over you. So I have seen, and so it will be.
You have seen it?
On the Quest last night, I walked with the Panther, and he showed me what would be. Now go. He pushed Blair away, collected the tobacco and pulled it to him, then closed his eyes.
Stoddard's anger was building. He was the expert on the Chopec, and yet he was ignored. He would make sure that none of this meeting made its way back to the university. He and Blair would talk and Mister Sandburg would see it his way, if he wanted to continue at the university.
Stoddard caught hold of Blair's arm, demanding to know what Blair had been told, but his student was ignoring him.
//The Chopec have a Sentinel.// Blair's body slumped. His mind was whirling as he processed the idea. He heard the nasal whine of Dr. Stoddard cut through him like a knife.
Stoddard shook Blair, not caring that his fingers would leave bruising on his arms.
Get your hands off me, man. Blair tried to twist free, but Stoddard just caught him and threw him against the wall, out of the view of everyone.
The professor's hand lashed out and backhanded him across the face. Blair's head snapped back. When I ask a question, you answer me, Sandburg.
The venom in his voice shocked Blair momentarily. He managed to push the professor off him. You keep your hands off me, Stoddard, or I'll have you brought up so fast that your head will spin. Blair stalked past him.
Walk away from me, Sandburg, and you walk away from your PhD, Stoddard yelled after him. Did you hear me, Sandburg?
Blair dabbed at his face with his fingers and saw a smear of blood. He was no one's punching bag. Dr. Woodward would listen to him.
Pausing, Stoddard tried to get his breath under control. He ran a hand through his hair. He had lost it.
He turned back to the old Chopec man. //What was it he called Sandburg?// A chilling smile touched his lips. If he was right, there was no way Sandburg was going to walk away from him. Today, he would get the permit for their journey and tonight he would put it to Mister high and mighty Blair Sandburg. //We'll see who walks away from whom.//
* * * * *
Captain James Ellison merged with the jungle, his Chopec brothers around him. His senses were cast out as he tracked the pair of anthropologists and their guide as they moved deeper into Chopec territory. His head turned as he detected a second group, shadowing the first.
Captain Ellison easily heard them as they discussed, with much laughing, what they would do to them -- especially the young long-haired man. James Ellison *Enqueri* tilted his head and inhaled. He detected the gun oil and the scent of the drugs they carried, the poison they would trade. He signalled his brothers to follow him, the Sentinel in the lead, as they started to track the drug dealers down.
* * * * *
Five days later, Stoddard called it a day. No contact had been made with the Chopec, so reluctantly they started to backtrack their way back to the town. The bodies had already begun to rot in the heat when the anthropologists all but fell over them.
Blair's stomach did a flip-flop as he saw the maggots crawling over the bodies Each corpse had at least three arrows in them. Bending down, a hankie pressed over his mouth, he pulled one of them out while trying not to lose it, due to the sickening sound it made as it left the flesh. "Chopec, Dr. Stoddard."
Blair suddenly spun round; he had felt the tingle of senses brush across him. Someone was watching them, and that someone was a Sentinel. There was no mistaking it, not for such a strong empath as Blair.
Stoddard was staring at him, and Blair quickly tried to cover up by asking, "Do you think they'll let us leave?"
"Sandburg, if they wanted us dead, we already would have been. So we stay put and make contact."
"Sir, don't you think we should get the hell out of here, now? I mean that tree is a warning." Blair pointed to the bark of the tall tree, its high branches making up the canopy of the jungle sky. It had been slashed and color dye added to the white timber. The color had been mixed with the sap, so they stood out fresh on its bark. One of the bodies had been tied to it, the spears pinning it in place like a collector's butterfly. Black marking had been drawn over it a clear warning to leave Chopec territory--promising only death to any that came.
"They're here and we're here. You don't write anthropology papers by avoiding people, Sandburg."
Blair shuddered again; he had the feeling creeping up his spine again. //The Sentinel is still out there.//
* * * * *
The fire was dying down to a red glow, when Enqueri entered the camp. He moved silently with the strength and grace of a large cat. He paused, his body tense. Ready to fight, he scanned the campsite: two people, one older and one young. His senses had already told him that these people were not drug smugglers. These were nothing more than academics, looking for knowledge and nearly finding death.
Then he tilted his head, scenting. He inhaled deeply as he sought the source of the scent. It was the younger of the two men.
Enqueri was confused, there was a need that was pulling at him, which he could not control or understand. And that need seemed to be centered on the younger man. Since he had first seen the man in his territory, he had fought the impulse to go and take what he wanted. Drag him back to his camp and claim in front of his tribe the man that would become his guide.
His Guide Incacha was a voice he no longer heard. Now there was another voice, one which he had stretched his senses out to hear--until he knew the nuance of each word and each breath.
He knelt down by the younger man, and reached a hand out, his fingertips hovering over the fine features. It was as if static electricity arched between them. The prize was his and no other Sentinel would take it.
Incacha watched from the outskirts of the camp and caught his breath as Enqueri was reaching for the man. When he had found the Sentinel, he had believed that the gods had answered the prayers of the Chopec and sent a Sentinel to protect them. But the spirit guides had told him that his time as a Guide to this Sentinel was only fleeting. His destiny lay with another. It was then he saw the spirit guide--the large black cat--and next to it another animal, one he didn't know. But it was young--a baby, it told him. Now was not the time for Enqueri to claim his true Guide.
Incacha called softly and urgently. When his Sentinel turned, his face showed his anger at being stopped. For a moment, he feared that Enqueri would not listen, but then he pulled back.
The Sentinel was rumbling deep in his throat, his anger beyond coherent words. If he could not claim the Guide now, he would make sure that any other Sentinel he met would know of his prior claim, and that he would fight to protect what was his.
He took an arrow from his quiver and laid it on the young man's sleeping bag. Taking a small pot of black from his bag and gentling his touch so that it was feather-light, he marked Blair's face with the markings on his arrow. Two long downward strokes, one diagonal, and then he added the quills. The berry dye would mark the kid until they had left the jungle - any who saw him would know to whom he belonged. None of the other tribal Sentinels would move to claim him because they had already learned that he would kill any who opposed him. He was the Sentinel Chief of the Eastern Tribes.
In sleep, Blair was tossing and turning, his breath coming in harsh gasps. The nightmare was vivid.
He was in a jungle, running for his life; he was being hunted. He hadn't been able to see the man's face, all he had known was that he was a Sentinel, and he was in the heat of bonding. No matter how fast he had run, every time he turned the Sentinel was always stalking him. He had been caught; he had fought, but the Sentinel was too strong. He had stopped fighting because he had realized this was what he had wanted, needed. Claimed and marked. But he had been unable to see the Sentinel's face.
He woke suddenly, gasping for breath. Sitting upright in his sleeping bag, his face flushed, he rolled onto one side and emptied his stomach. He could not believe that he would ever want that, to be taken and claimed by a Sentinel, to be a slave to one.
//Not ever.// The two words burned through his head.
Then he saw the arrow, and with a shaky hand he reached out for it, careful to take it by the shaft. He realized that Stoddard was yelling his name.
Blair ignored him; he was just looking at the arrow. //Oh my God, it wasn't all a dream. The Sentinel had been here.//
Sandburg, get your ass over here, now.
Stoddard was determined to work his frustration out on someone, and Blair Sandburg was the nearest target. Besides, now he knew Sandburg's secret. He knew the student would have to do what he said, otherwise he might find himself on his knees in a training facility.
Blair quickly went to his boss, only to find that during the night the man's sleeping bag had been impaled by a spear pinning it to the ground. Its markings were like those of the arrow and identified them both as Chopec. Blair could not understand why Stoddard was staring at him.
"Your face, Sandburg."
The older man thrust a shaving mirror into his hand, and Blair was startled to see the markings. He looked down at the arrow he had found on his own sleeping bag and then into the mirror. Identical.
Stoddard laughed. "It would seem that if they come back, you have more to worry about than I do. Seems that one of them has claimed you as their chosen one, Mr. Sandburg. See that shading here?" His finger touched Blair's face. "Whoever wears this mark is who marked you as his property. It seems you have been marked and claimed, Mr Sandburg.
Or should that be Guide Sandburg?
Blair felt his own anger beginning to build. Since Stoddard had cornered him in his room the night after the scene with the old Chopec he had known that Stoddard would make his life hell. The man had said they had to get along for the sake of the project. He had dismissed, offhand, Blair's and the captain's concerns.
When the argument had become more vocal, Stoddard had turned nasty. Had told him flat out he knew Blair was a Guide, or would he like to undergo a test to prove that he wasn't one? Blair could still hear the laugh.
Then had come the ultimatum; either Blair accompany him on the project or he would go to the American Consulate and have the GDP Officer there take Blair into custody.
But if he came, then Stoddard would keep his secret, and Blair would get to keep his life. It meant having to put up with Stoddard's crap, and each day that was getting harder to do.
Stoddard was trying to get a reaction. "Come off it, Sandburg. When you joined the River People, you had to prove yourself to the tribal leader, right? That's what Ally Littlewood told me."
Blair flushed red. "Nothing like that happened. He just talked to me and brought the Shaman over to see if I had a true heart, nothing more."
The sneer on Stoddard's face showed he did not believe it.
//Ally *damned* Littlewood.// They had both been up for the same grant; she had lost out to him, and now it seemed she was trying to bring him down. Blair forced himself to calm down. //There's a Sentinel out there who has claimed *me* as his soul mated Guide. There is no way that is going to happen.//
Luckily, the incident had spooked Stoddard enough for him to increase the pace of their march out. But they had a close call while travelling back. One minute they were alone, the next, their path was blocked by a group of tribesmen. Their facial markings showed that they were on a quest, which was an easy way to become dead--really fast. Warriors had been known to kill any living thing that got in their way.
Their bows pulled back. Blair realized they were both a hair's breath away from being pincushions, when the lead warrior had snapped a short command and walked in front his men.
The Warrior pointedly ignored Stoddard and stopped in front of Blair. His hand reached out, and Blair forced himself to remain still as the man touched his face, the fingers tracing the markings.
"Enqueri chosen one." Three words and the bows were lowered as Blair kept perfectly still. The Spanish was heavily accented, almost guttural.
The warrior then raised his hand to lay it along the side of the young student's face as he added, "Chosen one of Enqueri, you are safe to enter our territory. The gods will watch over you." With that, they melted back into the forest.
Stoddard exhaled the breath that he did not realize he had been holding. //That had been too close for comfort. A few minor changes to the report I'll file at Rainier University to make sure that I get the credit for talking our way out of the confrontation, and then...// He shot a look at Blair Sandburg. //A quiet talk with the student.//
* * * * *
Seven days later
Dr. Stoddard strode out to his car without a backward glance to Sandburg as he struggled with his own bags toward the bus stop. The idea of giving the student a lift back to Rainier never entered the man's head.
He ran a hand over his car, his pride and joy. The sports car was a classic, given to him by his publishers after his last best seller. This story would make him even more. It had the lot; drug smugglers, primal warriors and a brave anthropologist to save the day. Sandburg would be nothing more than a footnote. He moved the mirror to take a look at himself. Of course, Sandburg was too honest for his own sake, but then even he might not be problem any more. The kid was a Guide, a rogue Guide, and Stoddard knew the GDP officer of the campus would be interested in that snippet of information. And who would believe the word of a Guide over a citizen?
In the mirror out, of the corner of his eye. he saw a flash of black, and dismissed it.
Stoddard floored the gas pedal; he was in a hurry to get back to his office. When he saw the big cat appear out of nowhere, instinctively he swerved to miss it. The car fishtailed and spun, ploughing straight into a barrier. The Professor was dead by the time the paramedics arrived.
The Panther padded away. He didn't like to take a life, but he had seen on the spirit walk what would have happened if the man had lived. The human would have threatened his cub. He would have made his cub to do things, which would have destroyed his very soul. Forcing the cub to kill itself in order to get away from him.
That would never be allowed to happen. The Panther would do whatever it needed to do to keep him safe. But a feeling of sadness flowed through the spirit guide. He had seen the future and knew that there would be times to come when he would want to help his cubs on their journey, but that he would have to hold back. Otherwise their destinies would not follow their true path.
* * * * *
Two years later: Cascade, Washington
It was one of the worse winters in living memory. The snow had been cleared off the roads, forming a snow barrier beside the sidewalks, but even the weather didn't seem to keep people from going into the bars and clubs of the Strip.
The Panther padded along, disgusted at the wet snow clinging to its feet. The Wolf pup was jumping up, trying to bite the snowflakes as they came down. They waited at the door of the bar for Blair to come; destiny sometimes needed a push.
The Silver Star looked no different than the other bars along the strip in West Cascade. However, when Blair Sandburg pushed the door open and felt the atmosphere, he realized with a thud that it was a servicemen's bar by the pictures and armed forces memorabilia that lined the walls. It was the worst place possible for a longhaired grad student in torn jeans and a second-hand Salvation Army coat. He shivered.
Blair Sandburg -- twenty-three, BA, MA and doctoral candidate -- pushed back the damp, long hair from his eyes and knew that he had been set up by Allan Quarterman, one of the jocks on the football team. The man had known Blair needed an evening job and had told him the Silver Star needed a part-time bartender.
As a rogue empath, he could not afford to share a dorm room with anyone in case his empathic barriers frayed, leaving him open to their emotions. But an evening job would help his meager TA paycheck, so he could rent a place of his own.
Blair was all too aware of the people watching his progress to the bar; he could not have caused more of a stir if he had arrived in a pink tutu.
BJ, the owner, leaned across the top of the bar. He looked at the kid critically. //He's certainly a fish out of water.// "What can I get you, son?"
"I was told there was a job here. Is it still open?"
BJ looked him up and down--the long hair, two earrings in one ear, multi-colored layered clothing, and the torn jeans--and shook his head. "Who told you about the job?"
"Tall guy? Looks like a line backer?"
"Yeah. So there's no job?"
//The bastard must have set the kid up, hoping that something would happen. // "You ever work a bar before, kid?"
"Name's Blair. And yes, the campus bar. Pulled a few beers."
"Come back tonight at nine o'clock and work a shift, then we'll talk pay." BJ could swear that the kid was bouncing.
"Thanks, man. I really need this job."
* * * * *
Two Weeks Later:
As the evening went on, BJ found himself looking more and more toward two of his regulars, so he finally cornered them. "Okay, what's the joke?"
"Just a little welcome for the kid. To help him join the club."
"What did you do, Vernon? Come on, spit it out."
"Just a little kick to his drink, BJ."
Alarmed, BJ sought out his bartender. Blair was threading his way through the crowd to pick up some glasses. It was as if he were a puppet whose strings had been broken. The kid's coordination was shot to hell.
BJ was next to him in a minute, catching his arm as the kid seemed to fold in on himself. He manhandled the young bartender behind the bar. As he passed a man in his fifties with grey hair pulled back into a ponytail, he said. "Doc, my office. Now."
Immediately the professional persona of the man came out, and he followed them in. "Blair, talk to me. You have to tell me what's wrong."
The kid was shaking and his voice had no strength to it. The face, when it looked up at him, was in total distress. "My barriers are gone."
Doc glanced at BJ. "He's a Guide."
"No way. No Sentinel would allow his Guide to work here."
"He's rogue, BJ," Doc hissed.
"He looks bad. Maybe we should get him to the ER."
"NO. N...O, please." Blair caught BJ's arm as he tried to struggle to his feet.
"Easy, kid. You're safe. No one's going to blow the whistle on you."
Doc looked around. His eyes fixed on a man curled up in a nest of blankets on the bed in the office, sleeping. Without the correct drugs and without an isolation room, Doc's options were limited. Blair could go so deep into his overload that he might never return. The options were down to one -- put him with the sleeping Sentinel and hope that nature could heal what he couldn't.
BJ shook his head. "Come off it, Doc. Blair would be a dead man if he tried to bond with Iceman."
"BJ, the captain is a Sentinel. Unbonded, yes, but a Sentinel and they have to protect a Guide. Blair isn't going to make it without help of some kind. We're already losing him." Doc looked at the closed eyes and the limp body, which only his and BJ's grip on Blair's shirt, kept upright.
"What the hell, Doc," sighed BJ.
Jim's hand went to his head; it felt as if it were going to fall off. //The downside of being a Sentinel. I can't stay drunk long enough.// He pushed against the rolled-up blanket, and it gave a moan of pain.
"What the f...." Ellison exploded.
"Jim. NO!" Doc caught his arm, going where angels fear to tread, right into Jim *Iceman* Ellison's face. "The kid's an empath. He's overloaded. He just needs to be close to you."
"No way. If he thinks he's going to bond..."
"The kid's a rogue. That's the last thing on his mind. You don't have to do anything. All you have to do is stay close to him." Doc's fingers stabbed into Ellison chest. Anger made him ignore Jim's expression, which would have normally had everyone running for cover. "That's what you're going to do, Ellison. Now lie back."
Jim looked at him for a moment -- the longest in Doc's life -- then laid back, telling himself he wasn't helping the kid, that his head was heavy and he needed to rest.
Doc stepped out of the office, knowing that Ellison would never help the kid if he were there. He was a stubborn cuss at the best of times.
Jim looked at his bunk buddy; the empath was a cocoon of blankets and was shivering while making pitiful whimpering noises. Jim hesitated, then put his hand where he hoped the shoulder should be, and the empath flinched.
Blair felt the connection at the touch of the Sentinel's hand, then a tingle ran through his body. A presence brushed his mind, but made no effort to force and claim him. It was clumsy and untutored but the Sentinel was shielding him.
He should have been frightened, but something older and deeper told him that the Sentinel would protect him. The tension began to relax from his exhausted body, and sleep overtook him.
Jim eased down, not liking the sensation as the Guide's mind met his. It felt alien; he had been about to pull away, when instinct took over. His hearing told him that the rogue Guide was asleep. Leaning closer, he suddenly pulled back to look around to make sure that no one could see him. Then, he inhaled with a careful sniff.
The scent was heavy and enticing; with just his fingertips, he eased the blanket back to expose the rogue Guide's head. The long, dark, curly brown hair veiled his face.
Jim looked round again before he leaned back down and brushed the hair aside so that he could scent the skin. He pulled it deep into his lungs: a musky ginger; he gave a satisfied sigh.
His mind pushed against Blair's. Even asleep, Blair felt it and began to whimper, feeling the pressure increase, pushing against his newly raised, but weak barriers. The Sentinel was nearly through them. Suddenly, the pressure lessened, then disappeared.
Jim pulled back as the man took over from the Sentinel. It's okay, Chief. I'm not going to hurt you.
He could feel the distress pouring off the younger man. The whimpering sound from the Guide increased, and Jim was drawn to him. This time, he just settled down closer, spooning up behind him with one arm resting around the smaller man. Slowly, the distressed sounds grew less as Blair relaxed. He was no longer threatened by the Sentinel's need to bond, to penetrate his weakening barriers, instead just basking in the shielding that was being offered freely.
At that moment, BJ walked in. How's he doing, Captain?
Sleeping now, I guess. Jim's tone was gruff, as if he didn't care. So how long do I have to babysit him?
Doc came in behind the bar owner, I spoke to a friend. He's into Guide Medicine. He said give it until four o'clock, then you can leave him.
Good. I've got a life, you know, Jim snapped, but he petted the Guide's head as he heard the heartbeat increase. Now, get out -- you're upsetting him.
You know, Captain, you're going be a good Sentinel for some Guide.
"No Guide is going to get the chance. Now, f*** off.
With a grin, BJ and Doc left. Typical of the Iceman, he hated to show any weakness, but he did care.
At four o'clock BJ came in and gave Jim a shake. "Doc's called a taxi for you. I'll see if it's here." BJ was startled when he was caught and pushed up against the wall.
"It's the kid, isn't it? From the bar."
"Yes, his name's
BJ, I don't want to know his name. //If I know his name, it becomes too personal//. But a word of warning," Jim tightened his grip and his eyes became blue flints that glittered. "If I see him plying his trade on the street, because of anything you said or did or didn't do, then I'll come looking for you. Understand me?"
"Sure, Captain. Sure. He remembered then all too clearly that the Iceman was a cop -- a Vice cop to be exact -- and with him on his case, his little side business in exotic weed would be over, and he would be doing time. BJ swallowed, never breaking eye contact. "There's no way I would do that."
Jim nodded, then walked out.
BJ watched him go with a small smile. //Who would have thought it? Iceman Ellison as a guardian angel. The kid was lucky.//
Blair woke up and his mind was at peace, the overload gone. He had been aware of the unbonded Sentinel shielding him.
But, BJ now knew his secret, and that made him very nervous. "Sorry about that."
"Nothing to be sorry about, Blair. Look, I know a man at the university, Leo Kessler. They call him the Metro Man. He's helped more empaths than anyone else get out through the underground railway..." BJ saw the shake of the head. "Keep it in mind, kid, if you ever need a way out."
The next evening, working his shift, Blair was puzzled. "BJ, even the mashers are polite. What's happening around here?"
"The Iceman put the word out."
"I served with him. He can be one mean SOB, but he's decided to become your guardian angel, kid. So don't knock it." BJ gave Blair's shoulder a squeeze.
The Iceman never came back to the Silver Star. When Blair asked about him, BJ just shook his head and said, "You never know with him."
* * * * *
Cascade Police Department, Vice
Jim Ellison was a hard-nosed cop. He was a good cop, but none would argue that he needed to have a personality transplant. He was seated at his desk, bouncing a small rubber ball. It would hit the floor,bounce up against the wall, and fly back to his hand. A regular thump, thump. He kept repeating the process with one foot resting on the edge of the desk. He still wore his baseball cap, even though he was indoors. The shirt he wore was sleeveless and patterned in a dark blue plaid. His long legs were covered by denim, and on his feet were hiking boots. The ball arched again.
Kelly Hastings came in. She was uniform and had been sent on attachment to Vice. Her general build and hair color matched that of women recently attacked in the park, so she was going to be Vice's decoy.
Captain Sylvia Harding came out. "Ellison! My office, now." A small woman, she had the bark and bite of a pit bull. Sylvia Harding was a captain first and a woman second. She had taken on, and won, over the macho BS.
She watched the way Ellison got slowly to his feet; his whole attitude was on the edge. The man was a ticking time bomb, but she got the feeling that under the surface, there was a man worth saving.
Harding gave Kelly a sympathetic look. //Iceman Ellison is a pain, but he's the best protector in Vice.//
Ellison leaned against the doorframe. "You wanted me, Captain?" He bounced the ball on the floor.
"First, Ellison, get in this office. And second, put the ball way. Now." There was no way that she could have finished that line without sounding like a schoolteacher taking a ball away from a pupil. "Ellison, this is Officer Kelly Hastings. She's going to be our decoy on the Chen case; you're going to be her shield. I want you to talk her through the case and get to know her." Captain Harding turned to Officer Kelly Hastings with a smile. "You're in safe hands, Officer Hastings. Ellison is good at his job."
"Haven't lost one yet." He bounced the ball again.
"Get out, Ellison. Hastings, good luck."
Kelly looked up at the man who would be protecting her, and some of the things she had heard around the station started to come back. Ellison had a reputation in Vice. He worked on his own, mainly because no one could stomach being partnered with him. He was ice cold inside, and she had heard more than one uniform, on seeing Ellison arrive, mutter, 'The Iceman cometh.'
Now she had to work with him. God help her.
* * * * *
Kelly was hanging on the side of the alley, clutching hold of the fire escape. At her feet was the dead rapist, his hand still fisted around a knife. She hadn't even seen Ellison when he had made that shot. He had been a hundred yards away and in near dark. Now she really believed that he was a Sentinel.
Jim gave her a pat on the back. "You did well, Kelly." His head turned. "Back up is on its way."
A few minutes later, the headlights of a police car lit up the alley. It was then Kelly saw her attacker for the first time; she turned quickly and threw up. The bullet had taken out half of the man's face. She looked at Ellison; there was no emotion.
Jim stepped back, and allowed another uniform to escort her away. It wasn't that he didn't care; it was just that he was uncomfortable with strong emotions.
Kelly glanced at Jim Ellison as he went to speak to the other Vice detective, the body forgotten. This was to be the first of many cases that they were to work on. Ellison tolerated her nickname for him of 'Soldier,' and he seemed to unbend slightly with her.
* * * * *
Twelve Months Later:
Captain Simon Banks looked across at his visitor and smiled. "Okay, Sylvia. Why don't you tell me why you're here?
They had both started out together in the same class of the academy, had become firm friends, and remained that way throughout the years. So, although pleased to see her, he knew this had to be more than a social visit.
"I have a detective who I think would do well in Major Crimes. I'm here to bat for him."
Simon was impressed. Sylvia was not one to praise someone. //This must really be a good cop.// She handed him the file, and the smile on his face froze. "This has got to be a joke! This is Ellison."
"James Joseph Ellison. Former covert op Ranger, and latent Sentinel." Sylvia leaned forward in her chair. "Simon, he's a good cop and could be an even better one. I've done what I could with him, now he needs someone else -- someone to channel his talents. He's wasted in Vice. He was fast-tracked through the Academy and was a detective in a year. Only problem is, he's not a team player. He's a loner, and a cold-hearted pain in the ass."
Simon said, dryly, "Please, don't sugar coat it for me."
"Believe me, he gets you like that. The man's attitude is hard to stomach. The general view is that Jim Ellison is an emotional iceberg who is capable of only two emotions: anger and fury. He's also a latent Sentinel - not a good combination." Sylvia added, reluctantly, Jim does have a temper."
"He's violent." The last thing that Simon Banks wanted in his fledgling department was a brutal cop.
"He can be. I have seen him throw people against walls. And I've seen a twenty year veteran run the other way, rather than go one-on-one with him." Sylvia chuckled at the memory. "In Vice, we give out Storm Warnings when he's in a bad temper. But I have never seen him beat on a suspect. Regardless of that, he's a good cop. You just have to learn how to control him, Simon.
"You still haven't told me why I should take the man. He seems more trouble than he's worth.
Call it a favor, Simon. Remember?
You feel that strongly about Ellison?
I do. Vice will destroy him. Captain Shiller had him undercover so long, he nearly lost himself. I've done all I can for him. Now he needs to get away, and you can help him, Simon. I won't say you'll never regret it. Ellison is a prize pain in the ass at times, but what you'll gain will out weigh his attitude." She gave a grin. "And you could be good for him.
Simon just sat there. Did he really want to buy in a lot of grief? Ellison sounded like he was that. But then Sylvia had never steered him wrong in the past. "Any advice?"
"Meet him head on. Don't back down, and don't take any crap from him. Aways remember, he's a good man deep down."
"Did you have trouble with him?"
"No, Jim doesn't have any macho hang ups. He's doesn't have to; he's got it in spades."
Simon was actually looking forward to seeing if the legend matched the man.
* * * * *
The telephone rang and Simon Banks picked it up. "All right, Rhonda. Tell Detective Ellison to come in."
Captain Simon Banks leaned back in his chair and waited for the man to come in. He had to admit, he was keen to see the man up close; he had spent a good week finding out all about him.
Simon had personally scoffed at all the talks on body language, but Ellison's shouted his from the rooftop. The man was a major pain, a self-contained loner. There were just hard edges, nothing soft or endearing about him. He pointedly allowed his gaze to rake up and down the detective. It usually unnerved them, but Ellison ignored it. "Welcome to Major Crimes, Detective Ellison."
"Sir." The tone was level and chilly. He looked not at Simon but at a point just over Simon's left shoulder. It was unnerving.
"You'll find that Major Crimes is very different from Vice. I expect a degree of dress code; tomorrow you will come in wearing a shirt and jacket. These clothes may be all right for Vice, but not for my department. Simon let his displeasure at the plaid shirt, the hiking boots and the worn jeans show, and he didn't even want to get into the subject of the ear ring.
"Sir." Said in the same bored tone.
Sylvia's earlier warning echoed through Simon's brain. Ellison falls back on sir or ma'am. He's polite, but you get the feeling that he doesn't give a damn. If he gets out of line, and if you can get him to fall back on his military responses, you know you have him.
"Your new partner is Jack Pendergast. He's a good cop and will show you the ropes."
"I work alone, sir."
"You *did* work alone, Detective." Simon could match him ice for ice. Then the thought hit him. "You're a latent Sentinel. I must admit that I have never worked with your..." Simon corrected himself. "With a Sentinel. When do you get your Guide?"
"But you'll need one..."
"No. I am never going to have one of THOSE... creeping around me."
The depth of emotion from the cold Sentinel surprised the big captain. "Captain Gross of the Training Section has contacted the department. You will be getting an invite to the mixer at the Guide Institute."
"Stuff the invite. I'm not going."
"Detective Ellison, you will go or medical will suspend you. Do you understand me?" Simon let his voice take the snap of command.
"Sir! Yes, sir!"
Simon suppressed a grin. Sylvia was right. Ellison might be seething, but he would do as he was told. //Detective Ellison is certainly going to make life in the bullpen *very* interesting. //
* * * * *
Jack Pendergast sat in the dark sedan with his new partner, James Ellison. The younger man had been in Major Crime for two weeks. He had a reputation as a cold-hearted bastard, and that was the nicest thing that they had said, but all had agreed that he was good at his job. Simon Banks, the new captain, had decided that what Ellison needed was a partner. Someone to keep him in line, and Jack had been the one to draw the short straw.
Jim already had more lethal force inquiries than many small police departments. Jack grinned. //Okay, okay, that that's pushing it slightly. But the man is dangerous, and it's not just his driving.// He pulled the cigarette lighter out and pushed it back in, disgusted. "Jimmy, doesn't anything work in this clunker they gave us?"
"Radio does. What more do you want?" The expression hadn't changed; Jim wore it like a mask, his emotions locked off behind it. Carolyn Plummer was working hard on breaking through, but so far she had done nothing more than scratch the surface.
//Pity, she might do him some good. //
Jim suddenly swore. "It's a GDP raid. What the hell are they doing?!"
Pendergast snapped into the radio, "Move in! Now!"
Both cops had jumped out of the car, but already people were coming out of the house and it was a free-for-all. Jack shuddered when he looked at the younger man. He thought of him as his friend--a pain-in-the-ass friend--but a friend all the same. Jim now had the look of a pure predator as he seemed to catch something with his senses and took off.
Blair dropped from the rung of the fire escape and took off running. He could hear the GDP guard yelling at him to stop, but all it did was spur him on. He rounded the corner and collided straight into an immovable object that caught him.
Instinctively, he began to struggle, only to be slammed up against a wall. "Quit it now, kid, because you're damn close to being arrested for assaulting a cop."
The kid, Jim revised his guess at his age, looked to be in his early twenties. His clothes were multicolored and layered like all the students. His hair was curly and shoulder-length, and he was only five nine and came up to Jim's shoulder.
The kid brought his hands up, palm out. "Easy, man. Peace man. I'm not resisting arrest here."
Jim let go of him. The kid was bouncing, hyper, and he kept glancing around while trying to edge round the bigger man.
"Cascade PD. Mind telling me why you're running?" There was a cold, sarcastic tone to Jim's voice. "What was it? A drug deal gone wrong or a trick turn nasty?"
The kid flushed. "No way, man! No way. I'm a student at Rainier."
"So? They're always short of cash." He reached for his cuffs. "Why don't we take you back and sort this all out with the GDP and Vice..." Jim's gaze suddenly focused on the kid, his heartbeat had gone through the roof. He broke off, as his senses began to shift all over the place; they seem to warp around the young student. //The herbal shampoo is heavy with something I can't identify. // It made his breath catch. //But deeper down, I can scent something else...// He almost had it, when he fell into a zone out.
Blair Sandburg was about to run. He couldn't let himself get caught by the GDP. As an empath, if he did, it would be the end of everything. But he couldn't leave the cop like this; it was too dangerous for him.
He was reaching out toward him when a voice yelled, "Police! Freeze!"
Jack Pendergast came up fast, his gun on the smaller man. "Step back, kid. Jimmy?" There was no answer. He turned back to the hippy and angrily demanded, "What did you do to him?"
"Nothing! He zoned. He's unbonded, right?"
"S---!" Jack swore. Last time this had happened, Jim had ended up in the ER. Whatever he was going to say was forgotten as he made a grab for his partner. When Jim keeled over his breath was so faint, Jack could barely detect it.
Blair started forward. "Please, let me help."
Jack nodded reluctantly. "Okay, but if you hurt him..." He left the threat hanging in the air.
Blair knelt down. He placed one hand against the side of Jim's neck, his thumb resting against his chin, and his other hand caught the police officer's wrist and held it pressed against his own heart. "His name."
"Jimmy. No, Jim."
"Jim, listen to my voice. You have to follow me back." Blair allowed his mind to brush against the unbonded Sentinel; he felt something give and he slid deeper. "Jim, you can feel my heart. It's vibrating through your fingers. You can smell my scent."
For Jim, it was as if a lifeline had been thrown to him. He could hear a voice; the tone of it called to him through the zone out. He tried to ignore it, feeling safe in the darkness of the zone. The voice changed its tone, and he knew that he had to respond to it. Then the voice took on a note of panic, immediately followed by scent: a ginger musk. He knew that scent without knowing how; it called to him -- coupled with the voice. He had to answer.
"YOU WILL FOLLOW ME BACK. YOU CAN FEEL THE ROAD UNDER YOU, THE AIR ON YOUR FACE. YOU WILL COME BACK, NOW!" Blair's voice had the power and tone of a kick-ass Guide bringing back a reluctant Sentinel.
As Jim came out of the zone, the scent and the thud of a heartbeat were too loud and too strong. He had to get away from the source; the hand pressed to his chest seemed to burn through his very skin.
Jack was punching 911, when his partner gave a shuddering breath, then lashed out. He just managed to catch the kid as he fell backward. "It's okay, Jim. You're back."
"Where- where is the kid?"
Jack turned around, fast, but Blair was already gone.
"He's a Guide, Jack." Jim Ellison could smell the kid's scent. It had no trace of linkage in it, but it still called to him.
Immediately, the older man was concerned. "Did he hurt you, Jim? Did the little witchdoctor punk zone you? Because if he did-- where..."
"No! I'm all right, Jack. Leave him alone." Something that had been dormant in his mind had begun to stir at the brush of Blair's mind across his. The sweet scent was captured deep in the Sentinel's mind, along with the beat of the heart -- clues to his Guide's identity.
The Dark Shadow moved in his mind and roared. //My Guide and only Mine.// Then it slipped away.
Blair slowed, then stopped, leaning forward with his hands braced on his thighs. He tried to catch his breath. The cop had been unbonded. //I shouldn't have tried to bring him out of the zone. Now they know I'm an empath - only an empath could do that. // But in his heart of hearts, he knew he couldn't have run off and left the man zoned.
A hand caught him by the scruff and sent him face first into a wall. His hands were pulled behind his back, and there was the snap of handcuffs.
Detective Martin Evans looked down at his prisoner. "I don't know how you got past Ellison, kid, but I got you and you're not going anywhere." The detective began to roughly, but expertly, frisk his prisoner. Now, we're going to have a chat down at the station.
"I don't know anything."
"I'm sure you'll want to talk to me, once you have been locked up awhile. A nice looking kid like you could make lots of close friends." Evans leered and allowed himself to grin when he saw the look on the kid's face as what he said sank in. "All you have to do is tell me about Max Fuller and you can go, kid. Just between you and me." His hand roughly tightened on the kid's neck.
"I don't know anything! All I did was take a wrong turn!"
"Wrong answer, kid." Blair was frog-marched toward the police van. "Let's find you some dancing partners." Evans pulled up short when he saw Ellison in his way.
"Let the kid go, Evans."
"No way, Ellison. I arrested him."
"You didn't Mirandize him, and that puts you on some pretty dicey ground as it is." When he saw the look Martin Evans gave him, Jim tapped his ear lightly.
Jack Pendergast moved forward and took Blair from Evans; he unlocked the cuffs and kept hold of his arm. "Don't even think about it, kid."
Ellison kept his gaze on Martin Evans; it was Evans who moved first, backing down. Jim tracked Evans as he walked away; there was a low rumbling at the base of his throat. //The man can't be allowed to hurt the kid.// He rubbed a hand over his face. //Where had that come from? // Jim's head turned as if on rusty springs, hand moving to massage his neck. "All right, Guide. Let's have your name."
"B- Ben Sands. I'm not a Guide, I'm a citizen." Blair saw the way the Sentinel was looking at him. The Sentinel knew he was lying. Finally, when he broke the silence, it was the longest silence Blair had ever endured.
"Okay, Ben Sands." Jim kept his tone level. He saw the relief in the kid's face. Jim turned his head slightly, trying to fix on the younger man's heartbeat, when the police siren started up. Caught with his hearing full open, Jim screamed and clapped his hands to his head, his face in an expression of agony.
Blair moved to his side, Jack Pendergast still keeping hold of his arm, while he pressed both hands against the Sentinel's chest. When the sound was gone, Blair moved one hand slowly in circles over his heart. He spoke evenly, as slowly the Sentinel brought his hearing up from where he had slammed it down.
"What did you do in that house, Ben?" Jim's voice was controlled. He had caught Blair's face and was turning it, so the younger man had to look him in the eyes as he opened his senses to read him.
"I went to pick up something, nothing more. I didn't do anything illegal, man. Come on, man, please!"
The fear was coming off the kid in waves, and the thought of frightening him made Jim sick,. The need to protect the Guide was warring with his duty as a police officer. //The kid hasn't done nothing wrong, a rogue Guide possibly, but--// he thought angrily, //
it's not my job to work for the GDP; they can track down rogues. //
"Let him go, Jack."
"He's telling the truth; his heartbeat is steady. It's not worth pulling him in, not with Evans pissed off with him." //But that isn't all of it. //
Jack hesitated. "Okay. Get the hell out of here, Sands, and don't let us catch you again."
Pulling in a shaking breath, Blair hurried away; he had just gotten a break he hadn't planned on.
* * * * *
Four Months Later
Blair sank down in the artifact storage area that was his office. The TA work he did brought in a few extra bucks and allowed him more lab time. He picked up the article and read it for the third time: Dark Sentinel: Fact or Myth? //Pity I can't do my diss on that, but where would I find one? And God, the risk I'd be taking in even approaching one. // Almost reluctantly, he placed it back on his desk. //No way will I ever be someone's lap dog, their slave. No Sentinel will ever claim me.//
Blair picked up his coffee pot and shook it. The water bottle next to it was empty and he needed a drink, so he came out of his office and headed to the tap in the cleaning cupboard to refill it. A GDP officer and guard turned the corner and walked along looking at the numbers. They paused in front of his door, only missing him by seconds. Blair closed the cupboard door, and then for the first time he saw the GDP officer and guard at the doorway of his room.
He turned and went down the stairs, taking them two at a time. He had to get to his car and the deposit box. It only contained three hundred dollars, but it was enough to get him out of Cascade. He went out the fire exit, heading toward his car but pulled up short. Even at this distance, he could see the yellow metal box round the wheel the GDP had clamped on it.
He heard the yell of the guards and took off, only to see another guard. His uniform bore the flash marks of a Sentinel. Blair backed off; they had him fenced in and he was forced to run back to the Hall.
Without warning, he was brought down with a hard tackle, the heavy body knocking the wind out of him, his arm pulled up behind his back. A voice hissed in his ear. "What goes around comes around, Sandburg. I'm going to enjoy this."
Blair was pulled to his feet, and then thrown into a van as it pulled up in a squeal of breaks. The GDP guards arrived as it started to pull away. One of them hammered on the side of the van; another threw himself in front of it to make it stop, only to be clipped by it and sent spinning down onto the ground.
Blair looked up from his uncomfortable position on the floor and saw a woman -- no, a Sentinel -- looking down at him. She had the face of an angel. Hello, Pet."
When she smiled, his heart turned cold. He knew that his life was about to take a head dive. She pulled a syringe out, then tapped it to check for air bubbles. His jeans were pulled down to his hips, the needle stabbed, and he went into a void. His last conscious awareness was the feel of her hand running over him. Then nothing.
The van pulled up outside an old warehouse. Blair was dragged from the vehicle, and thrown into a small room. The windows were covered up; there was an old mattress on the floor and a bucket in the corner. This would be his room until he had learned his place, then he would share her bed. He would be a good pet, because bad pets got punished.
She ran a hand over him, and then began to tug his clothes off, as the need to bond began to overtake her.
The Panther's head went back and it roared. //This was not to be. The cub is not meant for this intruder! // Its golden eyes fixed on a spotted Jaguar, as it came out of the wall nearby.
The Jaguar was stalking the Wolf, but before it could launch its attack, the Panther pounced. It was bigger, stronger, and meaner.
The impact sent the spotted Jaguar tumbling.
The Panther outmatched the female Jaguar. Before she knew what had happened, she was pinned down. The spotted Jaguar stopped struggling and bared her throat in submission to the alpha male, confident that she could give the Panther what he wanted, then together, they would have the Wolf.
For a long moment, gold and brown eyes met each other, and then the Panther tore the Jaguar's throat out. //Now the female Sentinel will not be able to soul bond with our cub.// No one would interfere; the Panther and Wolf had a destiny to fulfil.
The woman, Alex Barnes, screamed with fustration; she could not bond with the Guide. She had pressed against his mind -- willing or not he would be hers -- but she was blocked.
Pain burned through her head and she staggered away from him. She knew then that she could never bond with him, but there were other ways to make him toe the line, which might be even more fun.
* * * * *
One year later:
Alex Barnes was in a fury. Her wayward Guide had stopped her from taking out the second cop. //He went against me in front of my own men and that cannot be allowed. // She was a Dark Sentinel, and control was everything.
She circled the young man on the floor. He was kneeling in the position of extreme submission, the leash was pulled tightly, and he could barely breathe. "For what you did, Pet, I should kill you. But then I can't use you, and I do like to use you. Where would I get another like you?"
Alex ran a hand down his neck, and then increased her grip on the pressure points.
"Maybe I should pay your mother a visit. You would like that, wouldn't you?" The words were said with a purr that was chilling.
"No, Alex! Please, the fault is mine. My punishment is in your hands." Blair prayed to all the deities that Alex --correction, the Dark Sentinel -- would take the bait.
It didn't matter what she did to him, as long as his mother was safe. That was the only reason he hadn't run from her; if he did, she would kill his mother. He could still remember her taking him into a room: she had hired a hooker and then killed her, making sure that Blair saw just what would happen to his mother if he crossed her. //She's crazy enough to do it. At least Alex had never forced the bond. // She was psychotic; to be bonded to her would drag him down into insanity.
"Then, Pet, you are going to learn a lesson." Her touch to his face was almost gentle, the twist to her lips was humorless and the eyes ... soulless.
* * * * *
Blair opened his eyes. He was in a hospital.
Alex Barnes leaned over him; he flinched at her touch, as her hand brushed his face. "It's all right, my Pet. You're going to be fine."
"Your spleen was damaged. They had to remove it, but you're going to be all right. I'll look after you, Pet. Take you somewhere nice, for you to get better." Her fingers stroked his face. "Somewhere warm, where you can rest." Her voice was tender.
Blair could no longer keep his eyes open; he slid back thankfully into the void, praying that the memories of the beating would fade. He had really thought she was going to kill him that time; one day she would.
* * * * *
Blair Sandburg stood perfectly still in the basement archive of the library, surrounded by floor-to-ceiling file cases. The last thing he wanted to do was end up dead, killed by a cop with a jittery trigger finger.
He could see the man in the gloom: Ellison, James Joseph -- former Ranger, now of Major Crimes, and a latent Sentinel. The latter was the reason he had chosen him. He knew now that this was the same man he had met before, in the street when he had been drawn to help him regardless of the risk of capture. His life was joined in some way to this man. His only hope was that he could break free of him, once Alex was gone. But it was a risk he was willing to take to see that bitch taken down.
Blair knew that he had something to offer Ellison even if he had no plan to follow it through. Ellison was unbonded, but like all Sentinels, he needed a Guide. He was ready to offer himself to Ellison, a warm and willing Guide who would kneel down at his feet, like a well trained dog -- and trust that he could escape later.
"Come on out, with your hands where I can see them." Ellison's voice was hard.
"I'm unarmed." Blair could hear the tremble in his own voice; he could only guess what it sounded like to the Sentinel.
"Walk out. Hands where I can see them."
Blair followed the commands. The cop was perfectly balanced, the automatic pointed straight at him, rock steady. "Just chill, man. I contacted you, remember?"
Jim Ellison came forward, the gun never so much as twitched. "Name, kid." He looked at the stranger critically. //I recognize him from somewhere.//
Pet Barnes." Blair flinched at the name Alex gave him.
The Sentinel's face hardened, the jaw clenching as the shoulder caught him. Blair was roughly spun around and slammed into the wall, his head hitting it, stunning him. The hands briskly ran over his body, his arms were pulled behind him, and the cuffs snapped on. Pain exploded through his side. He bit down on his lip to try and stop the cry of pain.
"Pet Barnes, I arrest you for the..."
"No, you can't! I can give you Alex! Please! I can give you Alex!"
"Why should I listen to you, kid? You're a f-----g cop killer."
"I didn't! Alex did! I tried to stop her. She threatened to kill my mother if I betrayed her."
"Try another sob story, kid." //Kid. Why did that...// Jim shook his head to clear it. Then against his better judgment, almost against his will, he listened to the young man's plea.
"You're a Sentinel, listen to me. You would know if I'm lying. Please listen to me, Ellison."
//Listen to me. // Those three words went through the Sentinel like a knife through butter; they meant something... different. Jim spun him again and caught hold of Pet Barnes as the man went ashen and almost folded.
"Barnes, what's wrong?" He pushed him into a chair. Then without conscious thought, he reached out with one hand to hold the young man's head still, as his other hand ran hyper-sensitive fingers over Barnes' face and the back of his head. He had to fight against the panic that he might have hurt the kid when he had thrown him against the wall.
"My side. Please! NO!" Blair cried out as the Sentinel's hand went down his body. "She put me in the hospital. They had to remove my spleen. It... it was ruptured."
Jim reached out and lifted the shirt, finding several layers of clothing. The scar was very recent, and it was almost raw. The fingertips were feather-light, causing no pain. "Why did she do that?"
Part of his mind was registering Barnes' words, but in another part, something moved. He heard the purring of a big cat as his fingertips registered the smoothness of Barnes' skin, the warmth, the feel of the natural oils and the borderline hint of a scent, which he could not quite focus on.
"Because I stopped her from killing the other cop."
Jim was jolted back to reality. The Sentinel knew Barnes was telling the truth. But, it didn't jell with what Richard Travis was saying; the guy had been decorated for protecting his partner. Now this punk was telling him that he had stopped the killing.
Blair blanched as he saw the Sentinel cop's face harden. Flinching, he expected the cop to either hit him or the feather-light touch on his side to become brutal, but to his surprise, neither happened.
Barnes' heartbeat had remained the same. Even with his senses going off and on, he knew the kid wasn't lying, which sent his mind spinning. Jim reached round and uncuffed his prisoner's wrists. //You aren't here to inflict pain,// a voice at the back of his mind whispered. //You can't hurt him...//
He stepped back to avoid contact with Barnes. All his senses were starting to peak, but they settled back once he broke contact with the younger man.
Blair folded down onto his knees. He knew now that Ellison was a Dark Sentinel; he had seen the shift in the man's eyes in that split second.
//God, there are two of them,// the anthropologist's mind cut in. //I'll have to run when this goes down. There would be no fobbing off Ellison; he'll come hunting for me. //
He adopted the posture of complete submission that Alex preferred. Please, Sentinel.
Guide. The one word was snarled at him.
Blair immediately fell forward, so that his head rested on the floor. The pain shot through his body radiating up from his wounded side. The Sentinel is the will of the Guide. I have no will of my own, only to serve you." Blair said the words that Alex had made him learn; only his complete submission would keep her from beating him.
Since he wasn't able to secret the linkage scent due the injections that Alex forced on him, Ellison wouldn't be able to bond, but the ritual words would promise the Sentinel his body and mind for later. Then he would run like hell, once Alex was out of the way. Because no Sentinel was ever going to own him.
Blair noticed that the Sentinel cop wasn't listening to him anymore, instead he was scenting him. A low, deep, vibrating growl came from his throat. The cop was gone; this was a feral, primal Sentinel.
Then the Sentinel pounced, moving faster than he had thought possible. He was caught by the collar of his shirt and pushed up against the wall. The Sentinel's hands came over him in what was a near frantic search for something the Sentinel couldn't vocalize.
Blair didn't fight; he remained passive. In the Dark persona, the Sentinel could hurt him badly. Alex had. But Ellison, even though he was regressing to the Dark Sentinel state, didn't hurt him. In fact, Blair was amazed that the touch was feather-light. The Sentinel was checking him over, turning him and cataloguing his injuries.
A hiss of anger merged with the snarl. As the Sentinel found more evidence of Alex's abuse, the moaning snarl became a wailing keen. Then his head went back, and he roared in anger.
Blair felt the hair on the back of his neck go up. The roar seemed to cut to his very soul.
Instinctively, Blair tried to lower his barriers, needing to bond. In that instant, all that mattered was that he had a Sentinel and needed to be one with him.
//Oh my God, what am I doing?//
Blair's breath began to come in short gasps as he started to hyperventilate.
The Sentinel detected the increased heartbeat and shortness of breath, and the Sentinel became James Ellison again. "Deep breaths, Barnes. Steady breaths."
Blair found himself listening to the man; there was no anger at his weakness, just understanding.
Ellison saw the fear on the young man's face. "For God's sake, kid!" He took a deep breath, then snapped, "I don't want a Guide. You're Alex's. She has Claimed and Marked you."
"No, we haven't bonded. I can be yours if you help me, Claimed and Marked." Blair's hand reached up and caught hold of Jim's arm.
His instinct was to the throw the kid off; he was clinging like a leech. Instead he resorted to words, not action. "Shut it, kid. I don't want a slave or a pet. If I did, I'd get a goldfish." It was said harshly.
Jim grabbed Blair to shove him off, then without thinking, he pulled Blair closer to him. His face pressed against the junction of the smaller man's shoulder and neck as he instantly sorted his scent. The need to bond flared in his mind, and what he needed, he held in his hands.
Blair began to struggle, hitting out at the cop's shoulder trying to bring his knee up to force the Sentinel to release him. "Let go of me, man! No, no
It was the rising panic in the small man that caused Jim to pull back. He gripped the man's shoulder and pushed him away hard; Blair hit the wall with a thud. To cover his embarrassment, Jim hissed, "Now from the beginning, Barnes -- or is that your name?"
"B-Blair Sandburg. I was a grad student at Rainer University. Alex kidnapped me, just before the GDP got to me. I haven't bonded with her. I have good barriers and she gives me stuff -- you know, drugs." His voice trailed away.
Jim caught the empath's wrist; he could see the heavy bruising on the arm. He reached out with the other hand, and as it neared the smaller man's face, the Guide flinched back. With the tips of his fingers, Jim pulled the turtleneck down and saw the bruising circling his throat. "She did that to you."
she..." Blair trailed off; he could not say it and meet the Sentinel's gaze. //Ellison wouldn't understand. //
"Why don't you run?"
"My mother. Alex said if I did, she would kill her, and she made it really graphic."
"So what's different now?"
"My mother's dead. She was killed in a crash. His voice was soft at first, but his hate strengthened it. Now there is nothing to stop me, but I want to take that bitch down. She has to pay for it all. She killed me on paper and convinced my mother. She put her through that grief. I want the *bitch* to pay." Blair's eyes flashed, and for the first time he allowed Ellison to see his true feelings. You're my only hope, man!
Even to a stone cold cynic like James Ellison could see that the kid was at the end of his rope on this, it was a last ditch attempt to make her pay.
I can't go on with this - she's a poison. She destroys everything and everyone she touches. She could have been a protector of the tribe, but she preys on them. Blair's voice stuttered, he had allowed his eyes to drop down, not able to meet those of the police officer, or to see the man's disgust at his weakness.
Jim had been expecting all kinds of manipulation from the kid -- he was after all a rogue Guide and a criminal -- but in those words, Jim knew that he had heard the truth. He surprised himself when he answered, "She will, kid. Where is she now?"
Jim asked the question, then didn't hear the reply. He inhaled the kid... Sandburg's scent. This time, he picked up another scent on him. //Another Sentinel has marked him?//
Sandburg was looking at him, concern showing in the blue eyes. A scraped hand reached out and touched his chest. Don't zone on me, man. Please, not now."
Jim pulled back. "Get your hands off me," he snarled. Get your hands off me.
Blair jerked back. Sorry. He flinched as if he was going to be hit.
It was not in Ellison's nature to confess to any weakness, and he wasn't about to tell this person that he had nearly lost himself in his scent. Anger always worked best. I need to know where I can find her.
"Addison House. It's on the west side of Cascade, Wood Road. I wrote it down. Here."
Blair's hand went to his pocket, only to have it pinned to his side. Ellison took it out; he had frisked the kid, but that still didn't mean he would allow him to put his hand out of sight. The fact that the kid was here meant he was a slippery customer and not to be trusted.
"Alex will know that you've been with me. You have to stay with me." Jim found that he didn't want Sandburg to leave him. The thought of him going back to that bitch was wrong. //How can I protect him?//
Blair could hear the tone of possessiveness in the Sentinel cop's voice; he knew the man wasn't even aware of it. "I have to go back, man. Otherwise, she'll run. I brought another bag of clothes. I have a motel room; I can shower and change there."
"Watch yourself, Sandburg. If I find that you've sold us out to Barnes, there won't be a hole deep enough for you to hide from me." Jim detected the fear, not knowing if it was a result of his threat or the fact he was betraying Barnes, or both. Later, he could never figure out why he added, "I'll find you, Sandburg. Keep your head down and I'll find you."
"Thanks, man." For the first time he could believe that he might just survive his revenge. Blair hefted his bag and left first.
The Dark Sentinel in Jim's mind moved and swirled round. //That was the scent. The one from earlier. My Guide, soon to be mine and mine alone. // The thought was so fleeting, the conscious mind didn't even register it.
Three words came to Jim's mind as he was leaving. //Sands was Sandburg//
* * * * *
Blair came out of the motel shower and dried himself off. Pausing, he looked at his face in the mirror. Two years of hell were nearly over. The bitch would go down and never come out from under the stone they would put on top of her. //I'll be free. All I have to do later, when the police attack, is escape from them and just keep on running. Once clear, I can contact Leo Kessler, the Metro Man, then my life will be my own again. Maybe I can register at another university out of state. Hell, out of the country and get that PhD.// The thought cheered him up.
Blair hitched a lift near to the house and then walked the last two miles. He had managed to get out of the house without being seen earlier, but he knew that by now Alex would know he was gone, so it was pointless to hide. As he came in the driveway, he could see two of her men walking patrolling. He was forced to walk around them; to them he was Alex's toy--nothing more.
One of them, Jess, shook his head when he entered the house. She wants you upstairs in her room, now. Move yourself, Guide, and she might let you keep breathing.
Blair took the stairs two at a time. The minute he came into the room, Alex strode over and circled him, aggression radiating from her like a living wave. The blow came without warning, as she hit him hard in the stomach. He folded over, and a blow to the neck put him down on his face.
She loomed over him. So where were you, Pet?" Her fingers dug into the pressure points of his neck.
"The plans for the Museum - you said you needed them. You had one of your headaches, so I went and got them. I sneaked out. I knew your men wouldn't let me go. I wanted to show you I could make things right for you. Blair dug the papers out of his pocket.
Alex snatched them from him and laid them on the table while undoing the leash from her waist. "You should have called in, Pet. Good pets call in, and bad ones get punished. What do you say, Pet?"
Blair pulled himself into the most submissive of positions on all fours, head hanging down between his shoulders. "My punishment is in your hands."
Alex looped the leash round his neck and his waist, allowing her hand to drop lower. She pressed against the area of the healing scar, and he stifled the cry of pain. Her touch was brutal after Jim Ellison's. The cop had been so careful not to hurt him.
His ankles were shackled, then his hands behind his back. He could barely move. She pulled him to his feet and out onto the balcony of the house, then secured him to one of the pillars. Before leaving him on the balcony, she gave the leash a tighter pull, contorting his body into a painful shape. The day had been cold and the evening even colder, so Blair was shivering badly by the time the rain started to lash down on him.
* * * * *
Simon Banks saw the way Jim Ellison's jaw clenched as he looked out toward the house. Tugging out his binoculars, Simon focused on the building and gave a quick intake of breath at the sight of the young man on the balcony. "That Barnes, Jim?"
One word, but there was a snarl to it which made Simon look at his detective. He seemed more animal than human.
Jim staggered back as he hit a wall of white-noise. "The bitch has a white-noise generator. On the plus side -- if we can't hear her, she can't hear us."
Simon turned to give the order when Jim caught his arm.
"I'll take her down, but I want to get Sandburg out of there."
"A Sentinel thing."
"NO! A cop kind of thing. I told the kid I would get him out." Jim's head snapped back as he heard the door open, and Blair was dragged back inside. Blair could barely walk; his muscles were cramped up so tightly.
* * * * *
All Blair could do was remember and hang onto the fact that Ellison would be coming for him. //All this will be over soon. //
His heart came up in his mouth as he saw that Alex was drinking vodka. //She likes vodka, but it makes her mean. Come on, Ellison! Come and get me! Please come! //
* * * * *
Simon glanced at his detective. Ellison was pacing up and down, eight strides up and then eight back as the time dragged by, but Banks would not give the word to go in until all the units were in place.
She was a cop killer; she was not going to get through the net.
Jim was angry at the delay. Unable to hear past the white-noise generator, he refused to guess what she would do to Blair. He was long beyond any conscious thought as to when the kid had become so important to him.
* * * * *
Arran and Jess looked up the stairs to the master bedroom, noting the closed door. Alex had made it clear that she needed to burn off some energy, and her favorite toy was back where it belonged.
Jess heard the muffled cry of pain from the room, and Arran chuckled. Putting her toy through his paces again. I'm surprised she hasn't screwed him to death yet. He made a sweeping female figure in the air. But what a way to go.
The cry this time was long and lingering, and cut off with a choke.
Blair shuddered as Alex ran a hand across his flank.
She smiled as she felt his reaction to her touch. Her hand went lower. The touch became heavier, then her nails suddenly dug into the flesh, leaving bloody welts. "Claimed and Marked, Pet. Say the words, Pet. Nice pets answer their masters, or
The door slammed open. Arran came in fast. "Leave your f--- toy, Alex. The cops are here." Arran froze as he found himself looking down barrel of the Sentinel's gun.
She had moved like lightning, snatching up the gun as she had pressed Blair into the bed, moving over him to protect him from any outside threats. Psychotic and sadistic she might be, but there was the basic instinct to protect the Guide, which she was doing now. She rolled out of bed, pulling on her clothes, then flinched as the firefight started.
Blair was forgotten; he shakily made it to his clothes, dressing quickly. //Now to get out.//
He was halfway out the door when Alex came in. "How the hell did they..." She trailed off, her hand snapped up with the gun. "You!" Even as she said it, she fired.
Blair was out the door, heading for the back stairway that led to the garage and the bolthole that would take him out into the grounds. He pushed the window open and started crawling out, then froze as someone above him yelled. "Freeze!" He twisted around and saw Ellison.
The Sentinel cop moved quickly, snagging the Guide's sweater and pulling him to his feet. His head tilted as he heard an automatic slide being pulled back and he threw the kid sideways, using his own body to shield the empath.
A bullet was fired as simultaneously a heavy body knocked the wind out of Blair. Then Alex was pulling Jim off him, and he was looking into the barrel of a gun, her finger on the trigger.
"You betrayed me, Pet, so...." She made that one word a threat -- no, a promise.
Blair slowly eased himself up. Your property, and I have no will but yours. Please, Alex."
She reached a hand out and caught his hair, twisting it so that he had to look her in the eyes. "A good little Pet doesn't bite the hand that feeds it, does it? Why did he try to protect you?"
"He's a Sentinel. I can feel him. He wanted me."
Alex let him go with a push and pointed the gun at Jim's head. "Only one owner, one brand." She tilted her head. "Maybe I should brand you, Pet, so that everyone knows who owns you. That might work."
Blair looked round and saw the tire iron on the floor, where Arran had been working on the car. He picked it up and swung. It connected with a sickening thud, driving Alex down to her knees. He hit her again and again. //She has to die. She can't be allowed to kill Jim.//
Blair sank to his knees. For a moment, he couldn't take his eyes off the body, then he reached for Jim Ellison.
Jim gave a start and opened his eyes with a groan. He put a hand to his head; there was a trail of blood. He had zoned on the pain. His sense of touch had gone through the ceiling when he had touched Blair, so when he was hit, he had zoned.
He noticed that the empath was shaking uncontrollably, his eyes fixed on the bloody body of Alex Barnes. Instinct overrode everything else. Jim collected the younger man to him, putting his head against his shoulder so that he blocked out the sight.
Keeping Blair turned against him, one arm circling his waist, he walked him back to the police cars. A snarl stopped any of the SWAT officers from taking the Guide from him. //This protecting him feels right. //
In the back of his mind, the Dark Shadow purred. //Things are just as they should be. //
* * * * *
Seated in the interrogation room, Blair answered all the questions truthfully. He knew where all the bodies were buried: figuratively and literally. But what worried him was Jim Ellison. The cop was prowling, and that was the only word for it, back and forth.
In the background stood two other cops, one black and grunge dressed, the other white and a fashion plate. Both were doing the interrogation, and when they pressed and Blair got scared, Ellison moved forward, causing the other two to pull back.
Blair suddenly noticed the way Jim Ellison was standing, head to one side, scenting him. //The man is trying to imprint me, and this is a Sentinel who can have me legally. I would be bonded for life to this cop.//
Ellison had helped him, but he didn't want to be this cop's pet. //All I have to do is keep quiet; the cops don't know I'm an empath.// Ellison certainly hadn't said anything, which might mean that Ellison had his own agenda.
Detective Martin Evans picked up the phone and began to dial. Jim might not have recognized the kid, but he did -- the kid from the alley. Jack Pendergast had told him all about him, and that he was a Guide.
"GDP. Can I help you, sir?" The woman's voice was warm and friendly.
"Yes, I want to report a rogue Guide. Can you put me through to someone, please?"
The GDP officer and the guards arrived with the leash. Jim Ellison was out of the room when they came. Blair was manhandled down in the position of respect and then expertly leashed, to the horror of the cops, and escorted out.
They left Rafe holding a GDP warrant. Blair Sandburg, alias Pet Barnes, was an empath, and therefore he was the property of the GDP. The DA was ready to cut a deal with Pet Barnes, and the GDP had just walked in and taken over.
Jack was worried about Jim; he didn't take it well.
Inside Jim's mind, the Dark Shadow screamed its loss. //The Guide is ours! //
Simon cut across Jim's train of thought. "Detective, I want you in my office, now."
"I heard you, sir."
Simon looked at him, puzzled. //That's not the Jim Ellison I know. //
But all the same, Jim Ellison could not tear his eyes from the retreating young Guide.
* * * * *
Jack had been personally assigned the job of taking his stubborn partner to the Guide Mixer. He suppressed a grin, Jim had attended eight of them so far, and each one had been a disaster in the making. He could almost feel sorry for the poor kids that had approached Jim Ellison. //They should offer a health warning to the Guides first. //
He glanced across at Jim Ellison and gave a theatrical shudder. "Chill out, Jim, they're only here to help you. Maybe the ninth time will be lucky." Jack gave Jim a pat on the shoulder; he had seen friendlier pit bulls.
"Crap! They're here because they want a Sentinel, and I sure as hell doesn't want one of them. You ever think of what it's like, Jack? Have someone in your head, twenty-four/seven, until the day one of you dies? You can't go away for a day on your own, because if you do, they can overload and go into a coma. I didn't need one before and don't need one now."
"Glad that you're going in with such an open mind," Jack put in dryly .
"Huh." It was the only comment Jack got in return.
Captain Alan Gross was standing at the entrance of the mixer checking off the names of the arriving Sentinels and Guides. He looked up from the list. "Hello, Jimmy. Long time, no see."
Jack noted the response and winced. The last person that had 'Jimmy-ed' Ellison had ended up on their butt, staring at the light fixtures.
Gross handed him a badge, the red edge indicating he was a Sentinel. Jim barely acknowledged it .
"This take long, Captain?" Jack asked.
"Usually an hour. The Sentinels and the Guides get a chance to meet and chat. If a pairing looks promising, we arrange a private meeting. Then, and only when we know that they're compatible, do we arrange for the bonding. Jimmy is older than the other unbonded Sentinels, and that can't be good."
"The Finn-something Syndrome."
"The Fincham Syndrome. It's good that you read up on it, Detective You need to know what causes it. If that starts to happen, Jimmy will need to bond quickly, otherwise he will overload and go into a zone out that will kill him. But before that happens, all that makes him Jimmy will disappear, and an instinct-driven Sentinel will be in his place. Not good, Detective."
* * * * *
Jack stood in Simon Banks'office, his tie at an angle, his jacket torn and a nasty bruise coming up.
"Okay, Jack, out with it. Just tell me what happened. For God's sake, the mixer looked like a war zone!"
"Well, it's a bit hard to describe. It appears that Jim lost it. The GDP officer... He
well, he said that Jim started to prowl." When he said that, Simon gave him a look and Jack threw up a hand to halt the captain's words. "Those were the officer's exact words. Jim was prowling round the room. He finally ended up at the buffet, and a couple of the Guides went over to see him, to sound him out. They all left him as if he had the plague. Typical bad-ass Ellison mode."
"And well, it appears that the other unbonded Sentinels started to get on his nerves, and he got more on edge. They don't know what happened, but whatever it was, it triggered a burst of violence. Jim put two of them down *hard.* Gross, the GDP captain, had a dislocated arm and elbow. It took three of the GDP guards to bring Jim down and sedate him; he's going to be okay, but the GDP want to run some tests. GDP Dr. Amy Jenson is going to contact you with a report."
"Are they pressing charges?"
"No, it's a Sentinel thing, they said."
"Go home and get cleaned up -- and thanks, Jack."
Jack halted, just inside the door. "Jim said a funny thing, Simon."
"What was that?"
"He was ranting that '*he* wasn't there.' When he caught the GDP guard, the one who he put through the coffee table, he want to know where 'he was.' It was as if he was looking for someone."
* * * * *
One Month Later
Training Officer Larry Slater looked down at the young Guide at his feet in a punishment wrap in the extreme position. Slowly he walked round the Guide, knowing that all the other man could see with his face pressed up against the carpet was his shoes.
"Blair, Blair, do we really have to go through this again? How many times have I had to punish you for not listening to the lectures? How can you serve your Sentinel if you're ignorant of what is needed and expected of you?" He paused, then added, "At least you have learned not to speak out of turn. You may now speak, Guide."
"I will never have a Sentinel." The blow across his back, took him completely by surprise and Blair could not suppress a cry of pain.
"The role of the Guide is to support and serve a Sentinel. *That,* Guide, is what you are going to learn." Slater leaned across his desk and pressed the intercom. "Jill, has Senior Guard Wilson come in?"
Blair shuddered; he had dipped his barriers near Wilson once and had pulled them up very quickly. He had nearly been swamped by the feelings of sexual arousal which had come off the Guard. The man's touch was like slime; the Guard was always pushing up and groping him whenever he was leashed. The threat of a serious sexual assault was there.
//But who can I turn to?// The Guards wouldn't listen and certainly not Slater. All he would see was a corrupt rogue. He was alone with this, like he had been with everything else in his life.
"Yes, sir." Wilson dropped his glance down at Blair and hid a smirk. //I should have known who it would be.// He felt a stirring in the groin, as he looked at the bound Guide, but pulled himself back to the present. //If straight-laced Slater ever had the slightest inkling that I was getting off on any of the Guides in my care, I'd be out of the GDP so fast my feet wouldn't touch the ground. So far, the arrangement has proved to be very lucrative, and I don't want to endanger that. Blair Sandburg is going to be a star player in what I've got in mind. But first, I have to get him put under my personal supervision.//
"Have the Guide transferred to the Sentinel Training Section. Get him cleaned up and put in overalls." Slater reached down and picked up a file and flicked through it. "We have Steve Murray, Fredrick Simpson, Terry Williams, and Kenneth Allen. He can be their training Guide. I want him to undergo a full medical examination and to be blocked. I don't want this rogue corrupting any of them with his scent."
"Like a bitch in heat."
"Wilson!" Slater snapped at him. "If I hear that phrase from you again, there will be a formal reprimand. I have warned you before -- they may be Guides, but they are also people, and you treat them with some respect. Understand me? Now get on with it."
* * * * *
Three weeks later
Blair stood in the kitchen making a meal for the four unbonded Sentinels that Training Officer Slater had given him to. The apartment was in the GDP compound and escape was impossible. His one attempt had resulted in a six-hour punishment session that had left him barely able to stand. Of the four, Allen was the worst. The other three seemed to be embarrassed when Slater stood over them in the bonding suite, as they all ordered him down onto his stomach on the mat. The drugs prevented even the slightest possibility of a bonding, but it still caused Blair to almost hyperventilate whenever he felt them pin him down to the mat.
But Allen, he could see it in the man's eyes; he wanted to bond. //One day he'll try and force it.// Blair shuddered at the thought.
* * * * *
Blair was dragged into the office.
Captain Mason stood with his back to the door, looking out across the neatly lawned gardens, and he watched the young Guides moving from lesson to lesson, talking and laughing. He turned to look at the Guide on his knees in the centre of the room, flanked by Training Officer Slater and Senior Guide Wilson. Well, Guide, we have given you a change to redeem yourself, but what did you do? You attacked an unbonded Sentinel. Then to Slater, he asked, How is Sentinel Allen?
Guide Sandburg slashed Allen's hand with a kitchen knife. The doctor put five stiches into the wound, but other than that, he's all right.
Mason nodded. We have tried to be patient with you, Guide, but my patience is at an end. Senior Guide Wilson, the Guide is now in your care. I hope that you can succeed where we have failed. I give you a rogue Guide, and you will bring me a useful member of society.
The captain leaned down and with a flourish sighed the authorization.
Wilson hid a smile. Now Sandburg was his with no pansy-footed Slater to get in the way. He had plans for Sandburg.
* * * * *
6 Weeks Later
Cascade General Hospital
Captain Simon Banks was personally driving the newly-bonded Sentinel and Guide pairing to the hospital. As he drove, Simon's eyes kept moving from the road to the rearview mirror to check on his friend.
Jim Ellison was leaning back in the seat; he had the young Guide pulled into his lap and was holding him tightly with one hand, while his other was running freely soothingly over Blair's shoulder and head. He muttered words of support softly into his Guide's ear.
The big captain found himself running interference for the pair as they headed toward the admissions desk. The nurse looked up and immediately brought her emotions under control. Since Cascade General was the leading center for Sentinel medicine, she had had a lot of experience in dealing with Sentinels. She knew, as surely as if he had a sign branded across his forehead, this Sentinel was in the Blessed Protector mode, and handle with care.
Sentinel, take the elevator to the Sentinel Ward on the top floor. Our medical staff will be waiting for you. She picked up the phone and punched in the numbers. Gloria, a Sentinel and Guide are on their way up. The Guide appears to be injured.
Jim Ellison was usually a gentleman, but at the moment, common courtesy was beyond him. All that occupied his mind was the condition of his Guide. Blair was resting against him listlessly, fists tightly wrapped in Jim's jacket, his face buried into the material, needing the feel of the strong arms around him, holding him close.
The Sentinel's head was down, resting against his Guide's. All the time, his hands moved on the smaller man, and the soothing words continued.
Suddenly, the Sentinel's head snapped up as laser-intense eyes fixed on the woman who had dared to enter the elevator with them. Her uniform was the black of the GDP. She caught the door before it closed and stepped back out, blocking three others who would have stepped around her. That was a Sentinel, only unlike any she had ever seen before. There was a feral quality about him that shook her to the very core. She did not want to be that close to him.
When the elevator doors opened, a white-coated doctor stood waiting. He looked young -- too young -- Simon decided. Or, perhaps you just knew you were getting old when doctors looked that young.
The nurse was more reassuring. She was tall and slender, her dark hair streaked with the odd gray hair. The impression she gave was that she knew exactly what she was doing. She immediately moved forward to draw Simon out the way.
Nurse Gloria Dunlevy had been working for the last three years in Sentinel and Guide medicine and had seen enough to know that they were faced with a serious problem. She just wished that Dr. Lambert had been called. Dr. Cromwell was good, but she had the feeling that allowing him to deal with this particular Guide was going to be a big mistake. Dr. Cromwell, though capable, lacked the ability to connect with his patients, and in Sentinel medicine, when Sentinels brought their Guides in, they would hover around them even for the slightest cough or strain. But it was at times like this that she was concerned Cromwell would put his foot into it. Already the doctor had failed to hide his disgust at the correction facility overalls.
Dr Cromwell had finished his internship only recently and had moved to Sentinel medicine. He had made it all too clear that it was where he thought he belonged. Already he had been punched out by one Sentinel, and she hadn't pulled the punch. And this guy could do a hell of a lot more damage to him.
Nurse Dunlevy, take the Guide into the examination cubical, please, and I will be in with you shortly. Now, Sentinel, can you tell me what has happened?
Simon could see that Jim was reluctant to let Blair go. In fact, if anything he had tightened his grip around Blair's waist.
Immediately, Simon took charge. Jim, why don't you take Blair in, and I'll speak to the doctor and fill him in.
His friend just looked at him, as if weighing his words, then gathered his Guide to him and took him into the cubical.
Dr. Cromwell, Simon read the identification badge, Jim has just bonded with Blair; it was only about an hour ago. You should also be aware that the GDP guards sexually assaulted Blair in the correction facility he was in.
Do you have the Guide's full name, Mister---?
Captain Simon Banks, Cascade PD. Simon brought his badge out. "And the Sentinel is Detective James Ellison.
He watched as the doctor went to the nearest terminal; the screen saver showed the logo of the GDP. The doctor typed in his password and opened the program, then asked, The Guide's name, please.
There were soft clicks as the doctor's fingers ran across the keys. Blair Jacob Sandburg, rogue Guide. Not a very good start, Captain, I'm surprised that they would select him for a police detective.
Jim was entering the Fincham Syndrome, and he had already -- what is it? -- *smelled* Blair. Simon was sure that wasn't the proper word, but the doctor nodded.
Imprinted him as his Guide. It can happen. Oh. The doctor's face hardened as he read through Blair's file. The Guide has quite a sexual history at the facility. The doctor there has documented a full report on him. In my experience
Your vast experience, Simon put in, the sarcasm plain in his voice. If this man was a prime example of a GDP doctor, then he was a poor specimen all round. Doctor, with all due respect, I would like to speak to a more senior doctor.
Captain Banks, I am not an intern. I am quite capable of looking after this Guide. But if you would like Dr Lambert to see to him, then you have at least an hour's wait. He's in surgery at the moment. Do you think the Guide can wait? He pulled himself up. Just as I thought. Now, I had better see what he's been doing to himself.
Simon shook his head in disbelief; he could not believe the man. He had met too many doctors in his job. Police officers tended to meet them more often than they wanted. On the whole, they were men and women who cared deeply for their patients, maybe sometimes more than they should. He had seen them working over people, regardless of their crime, with the same will to save them as they would the most sainted of people. This doctor certainly wasn't typical of them.
Simon pulled back the curtain and saw that the young Guide was clinging to Jim for dear life, his face pressed against the imposing bulk of his Sentinel.
Jim looked over Blair's head and watched as the nurse began to lay out the equipment they would be needing near the examination bed. She looked up and met his eyes, and covered everything over. No need for the young Guide to see them and be frightened. She was all too aware that for many the examination was nothing more than a second violation of their bodies.
In his time as a police officer, Jim had dealt with rape victims before. Usually he handed them over to other members of the force with a softer touch, but this was his Guide, and it made him different.
He knew in graphic detail what was going to happen. First, his Guide would be examined for injuries from head to toe, and X-rays would be taken if needed. Then they would bag his clothing and take swabs from his body, samples of his nails and hair, some for testing later to make sure that he had not contracted any sexual transmitted diseases in from the attack. Then they would begin the examination. And there was no way that it was not going to hurt him.
In his head Jim could hear Captain Gross's words. The Guide is a tool. It's a mistake to treat them as a friend. For a detective they are no different than his shield or his service weapon. The Guide is a living, breathing tool.
The old Jim Ellison was prepared to push the clinging young man away from him, to step back and let them get on with their work. But the man that was the Sentinel stopped him. Blair was his Guide, and his distress could not go unanswered.
Jim carefully peeled Blair off him and moved him round so that he was the only thing the younger man could see. Chief, I'm here. No one is going to hurt you, but they need to get this overall off you, and then, once they're finished, we can get some proper clothes on you -- something warmer. He could feel the minute shivers running through Blair's body.
Blair nodded. His hand was shaking so much as he tried to unzip the overalls, that he fumbled. "So-- so sorry. A bigger hand stilled his.
I'll do it Chief.
Blair kept his head down. The Sentinel sensed the change in body temperature as the younger man flushed with shame as he realized they would all see his injuries - see what the guards had done to him
Before Jim eased the coveralls off Blair's shoulders, he turned to the nurse. I need a hospital gown.
Dr. Cromwell looked up from the tray that Nurse Dunlevy was preparing. No need for that, Sentinel. Just have him get onto the table. It was dismissed as easily as that.
But the deep-throated growl made him look up. My Guide gets a gown.
Blair was scared; aggression was coming off the Sentinel in heavy waves. Blair was finding it hard to stay above it, he could no longer feel where it was being directed.
Simon moved closer to his friend. Jim, you have to calm down. You're going to hurt him. When that failed, he added sharply, Sentinel, look at your Guide.
Jim swore. Blair was shaking. He was trying to hold it together, but his already over-stretched system was beginning to fail. His hands were fluttering over his own arms, his nails scoring red welts against the pale skin as he tried to pull in on himself.
Jim caught Blair's hands firmly, stilling them. It's not right, Chief. I would get a gown. Simon would get a gown, and so should you.
Nurse Dunlevy moved forward. I'll get you one, Sentinel. A small oversight -- it's easily fixed." Her tone was just right, and she saw the look of gratitude on the Guide's face.
Only when she returned with the gown did Jim help Blair undress, handing the overalls to the nurse to bag, and then stooping and tugging off the paper thin shoes that covered his Guide's feet. He took the gown and put it around Blair. Before Blair could try to climb onto the tall examination table, he was swept off his feet and laid on top of it as gently as if he were made of glass.
Have the Guide-- Cromwell commanded.
His name is Blair.
Dr. Cromwell gave an impatient sigh. Have the Guide -- Blair -- remain. You don't need to stay for this, Sentinel. If you'll take a seat outside, it will be less distressing for you.
Jim ignored him. Do you want me to stay, Blair?
Blair looked up at the concerned face of his new Sentinel, and then looked away. He couldn't have his Sentinel see. //He would think that I
. He would
Blair, do you want me to stay? Jim asked again.
Blair nodded slowly. Please?
Dr Cromwell looked up at the clock. Time was dragging on; he had a dinner appointment soon, a chance to network. He was working on getting posted to the medical department at the Sentinel Institute. Four more months at the General Hospital, and his residency would be complete, then he would be gone.
Jim's anger was slowly beginning to rise as he watched the way Cromwell treated his Guide. In many different ways he had made it clear to Blair that he didn't believe him, that somehow the young Guide had been asking for it. It was when he quizzed Blair about his sexual history that the slow burn that had started in Jim's head burst into full Blessed Protector Rage. The doctor was pushed away from Blair so hard that Cromwell collided with the trolley with the equipment in it, and doctor and equipment landed in a large heap on the floor.
Cromwell got to his feet. That's it, Sentinel. You're out of here, now."
Nurse Dunlevy saw the Sentinel's teeth pull back over his lips and heard the feral growl coming from him.
My Guide, Touch him and you're dead.
It was then that Dr Lambert came in with Simon. The captain had retreated when the examination had started. Simon had found Dr Lambert enjoying a well-earned coffee. Somehow Simon was not surprised to find that Cromwell had lied to them. The Senior Doctor, upon hearing the story. had immediately agreed to look in on the abused Guide.
Now it looked like the police captain had been right to call him. The Sentinel looked as if he was about to take Cromwell's throat out. Lambert stepped between them, and met the Sentinel's eyes. His tone was perfectly suited to dealing with an irate Sentinel.
My apologies, Sentinel, on behalf of the hospital, for any distress it might have caused you.
Simon noted with astonishment that no apologies had been given to Sandburg.
Lambert's voice hardened. Dr. Cromwell, my office, now. I will be looking after this patient. His voice changed to softer tones. Guide--? He made the title a question.
Sandburg, Jim supplied.
Guide Sandburg, we need to check you over.
Seeing the that the young Guide was holding the gown tightly, with trembling hands, Lambert put in gently, I am only going to open it enough to do the examination. You just hold onto it; everything is going to be all right.
Dr Lambert didn't hurry. This was going to be tramatic enough without forcing the pace of the examination. He would move as fast as the Guide -- and more importantly, the Sentinel -- would allowed him to.
Blair refused to meet Jim's eyes, ashamed. A hand tipped his face up. You have nothing to be ashamed of, Blair.
The intensity of his look, and the power behind it made Blair's breath catch in his throat. For the first time he realized that he was protected.
Jim kept eye contact as he undid the gown and then carefully eased it off his Guide's shoulders. He held it so the rest of his body was still covered.
The doctor gave Blair a gentle smile. Now I need to examine you. I can't promise that it's not going to hurt, but when we're finished, you'll feel better. He put a hand out. You may read me, Guide.
Blair pulled back away from the doctor. //It's a trick. They want me to do that, and then they're going to hurt me.// He shook his head.
Blair kept his eyes fixed on his Sentinel as the doctor and nurse worked on him. His hands gripped so tightly on Jim's forearms they were going to leave bruises.
Finally Dr Lambert had the internal examination to do and swabs to take. Jim carefully moved his Guide onto his side.
Blair was struggling not to cry out and disgrace his Sentinel. His eyes were screwed tightly shut, but the tears started to roll down his face. His body felt was if he was being torn in half. Then all he could feel was Wilson's breath hot on his neck and hear their goading yell as Wilson had thrust into him, not caring as he had torn him. Then Wilson had pulled away and was replaced by one of the others, all the time hands on his body, the bite of teeth on his shoulders and neck, the scratch of nails down his thighs and belly.
Blair started to struggle, to get on his knees, to escape the violation of his already abused body. Hands caught his ankles and pushed his shoulders down. Blair was locked in his memories.
The internal examination had yet to be conducted, and the Guide was out of control, locked in some flashback. His flaying hand knocked the syringe from Dr Lambert's hand. Nurse Dunlevy was already preparing a second one.
Blair tried to throw himself off the table, knowing that he had to escape. Unfortunately it was the side furthest away from Jim, and he landed heavily. Blair crashed into the instrument tray, sending it crashing. The noise caused him to scurry into the gap under one of the other tables.
Nurse Dunlevy knelt down and tried to keep Blair calm.
The doctor caught Jim's arm as the Sentinel was trying to get around to his Guide.
If looks could kill, the doctor would have been a dead man. Dr Lambert spoke, his voice calming and soothing. Sentinel, you have to speak to him, and get him to connect with you. He's too far gone now to actually link with you, but what you can do is help him. Let him know that you're there for him. That you're his Sentinel and his shield. He's scared, frightened.
Jim nodded and then went to his Guide. He knelt down, and the nurse eased back.
He could smell the fear rolling off his young Guide. Blair?
The younger man made no attempt to lift his head. All he kept doing was rock back and forward, becoming lost in the repetitive motion.
Blair! Jim said a little louder.
The curly head snapped up, and Blair tried to pull back away from him.
It's all right, buddy. No one is going to hurt you. Now you have to come out of there.
The Guide didn't answer. He just shook his head and returned to what he was doing.
When Jim inched slowly forward, Blair's eyes were wide and the fear in his Guide was such that he nearly gagged on the stench of it. His options were limited. Lambert for all his good will, would not let the situation go on much longer. If the GDP came in then with Blair in this condition, Blair could tip over the edge and Jim could lose him.
Then he remembered something. The memory slowly cut in ... He was on the street with Jack. He had zoned and Blair -- and yes, he knew now it was Blair -- had come to his aid. Blair had been frightened, yet he had risked capture by helping him. The Guide's need to protect the Sentinel was as strong as his need to protect his Guide.
Blair would put his own fears to one side to help him. This would call for drastic measures.
Jim let his mind go blank. He pushed himself to the very thing he feared -- a zone out. Chief, you have to help me. His voice trailed off.
Blair looked up and saw his Sentinel zone out. The jaw dropped slightly, the blue eyes were vacant, and the face a blank mask. With a cry, Blair crawled out of his hiding place to his Sentinel, reaching out to him, his hands running over the shoulders, across his chest and face. His voice was desperate as he pleaded with him to come back.
Then the blank eyes came alive and arms came round him, and he was pulled close. His Sentinel was safe; he was back with him.
It's all right, Chief. I'm here. Jim slackened his grip so that Blair could pull back if he wanted to. But this time Blair leaned into him, waiting for him to punish him.
Come on, Blair. Let's get this over with and get you comfortable. With one finger, he carefully tilted Blair's face up so that he was looking into the frightened blue eyes.
You're safe, now. It was said softly, only for Blair to hear, but what was not said was that it was backed by the power of a Dark Sentinel out to protect his Guide. Only when he felt that Blair was ready, did he help him to his feet and back to the table.
Sentinel, can you ask your Guide to lay on his side, please. Doctor Lambert kept back as Jim escorted his smaller Guide to the table.
Simon, can you give me that chair? Jim put it down so he could sit at the head of the table, leaning on it with his face only inches from Blair's. The younger man crossed his arms so that his head was resting on them. He closed his eyes, only to hear Jim order him to open them.
Look at me, Blair.
The dark eyelashes fluttered and then opened.
Jim placed one hand gently on his head, and laid his other hand on Blair's arm. You keep looking at me, Blair. All you'll hear is my voice and feel my touch -- You can start now, Doctor.
Blair was crying softly. He had tried to bury his face against his arm. It made his humiliation even worse to hear the camera click and know that his disgrace was now a matter of record.
Only Jim would not let him. He had kept eye contact with his Guide and gently wiped the tears away from the pale tear-stained face. Blair buried his face against Jim's hand, taking comfort when Jim began to massage his head.
Dr Lambert met the eyes of the Sentinel. The man was trusting him not to hurt his Guide more than he had to. Quickly he explained, I'm just going to give him a painkiller before I start. He turned to Nurse Dunlevy and took the syringe, then put a hand on Blair, not pulling away as the young Guide flinched from his touch. He allowed the younger man to settle before giving the injection, so not to frighten him further. Then as he waited for it to take effect, he added, Nearly finished now, Blair. You're doing very well."
To Blair, the doctor's words meant nothing . Only the constant presence of his Sentinel helped him. His cries of pain were met with words and touches of comfort.
All the time Jim talked, later he wouldn't remember what he had said, just that his voice and touch had anchored his Guide. But another section of Jim's mind had grown colder, as with a passion, he vowed revenge on the men who had so savagely and violently assaulted his Guide. The doctor's softly spoken words had made it all too clear that this was not just one assault; that there had been prolonged assasults, and Blair's body bore the wounds and scars inside and out to prove it.
Doctor Lambert finally finished. You did well. Now rest, and I'll arrange your transfer to your room.
For Jim Ellison, it was the most confusing time of his life. He had reacted to his Guide's distress, and it had overridden every protest he logically might have had. Even as he walked by the side of the gurney, he had found that he had to keep contact with Blair. His hand rested on a narrow shoulder, and a hand had timidly closed around his wrist. Jim could have easily broken the hold, but he found he didn't want to.
Before Blair had been lifted to the bed, the orderly and nurse had stood by as the Sentinel had checked the room out, prowling round it, even checking under the bed. They waited patiently as the covers of the bed were stripped back, and sensitive hands had run over the blankets and pillow. Then a none-too-pleased Sentinel had turned on them. The blankets were too thin, and the pillow not thick enough. Nurse Dunlevy quickly got her charge some more and watched while a 6 foot 2, 200 pound, buff detective, whose body was the sort that dreams -- well, *her* dreams -- were made of, made a warm nest for his Guide.
Only when he was satisfied did he allow his Guide to lay down, helping Blair find a comfortable position on his stomach.
Blair was struggling to keep awake.
Jim Ellison looked down at the now sleeping Guide. He looked impossibly young. Jim made one last attempt to try and distance himself from Sandburg, but no matter how hard he tried not to connect with Sandburg, something pushed straight through his defenses. From sitting near him, he found that he had to touch him. Automatically his touch lightened and ghosted over the fine features of his Guide.
His Guide, only two words, but the moment his mind accepted Blair as his Guide, the connection between them opened, only waiting on Blair to come alive and seal it, joining Sentinel and Guide for life.
* * * * *
Six months later
The bonding between Sentinel and Guide had been made under the worst possible conditions, but it had proved to be one of the strongest and most powerful of pairings, that of a Dark Guide and Dark Sentinel.
Jim Ellison watched his Guide playing baseball. The team was made up of Rainier University TA's against a student team, and Blair was a good fielder. He couldn't even think of not having this bundle of energy in his life. They'd had their moments and outside forces had tested their bond, but it was stronger than ever. Sentinel and Guide were one.
Blair was the only Guide he would ever take. //Bonded for life and until death do we part. //And then, // his heart told him, //
not even then.//
Now he thought nothing of spending his Saturdays on campus, cheering on his Guide's team to victory. Blair looked up from his concentration on the game and gave him a grin and then went back to business. //It's worth it, just to see him smile and bounce.//
Jim couldn't help but chuckle as the baseball went sailing out again. Blair turned fast to intercept it, only to have the ball drop suddenly down on the ground and then roll toward him.
Standing near the ball, tail wagging, was the Wolf spirit guide, its tongue hanging out as it panted and danced round, waiting for the game to start again.
The runner came round the base as Blair scooped up the ball and threw it toward home plate. The runner was going to be safe when he tripped and went face down in the dirt --the ball beat him.
The Panther got up and padded back to the Wolf, in the process he walked over the fallen man, who gave an oomph as he was pushed into the grass. Personally, he could not understand his human's obsession with this game. After all, it was not as if you could eat it once you caught it. But if his cub was going to play, he was going to win.
With a swish of its tail, it sat down next to the Wolf and began to wash its whiskers as it waited for play to start again.
Jim looked at the self-confident and vibrant young man playing baseball, and in his mind's eye, he saw the Blair he had bonded with. He nodded with satisfaction.
Blair was no longer the victim of the GDP. He was a survivor who had lived through all the crap that life had thrown at him and had come out stronger for it. Now he spent some of his time as a Guide and Sentinel student counsellor for the facility, helping others overcome their own problems, and making more survivors from victims. Jim knew Blair was a true Senior Guide Prime.
* * * * *
Present Day, Cascade
The Panther and the Wolf came up the stairs to the bedroom, the Wolf padding easily by its larger partner. Lightly, they jumped up onto the edge of the bed. The Panther made an almost human 'humph' as he circled tightly before finding a space to curl up in. The human Sentinel and Guide pair lay spooned together. The smaller Guide pulled tightly against the chest of the larger man. The Panther snuggled behind the Sentinel's legs, the Wolf settling against the Guide's stomach.
//They were now where they should be, with their respective cubs. // As the men slept curled together like littermates, the Panther looked forward to the future.
* * * * *
Forward In Time, The Sentinel Institute:
The building was steeped with the history of the modern Sentinel; its main hall was lined with parents, then the students of the graduating class, all in their black gowns. The ones on the left had a red V-neck marking them as Sentinels, the ones on the right--blue, marking them as Guides.
They stood as one, while the Senior Sentinel Prime of the Northern States entered the hall; he was the most powerful Sentinel, a Dark Sentinel. He made his way to the platform and took a seat next to Commissioner Simon Banks, who was already seated; only then did the Director of the GDP Daniel Slater rise to his feet and make his way to the lectern. "Senior Sentinel Prime, Commissioner, Guides and Sentinels. Today we are honored to have as our keynote speaker: Dr. Blair Sandburg, Chair of Anthropology at Rainier University and Senior Guide Prime of the Northern States." He led the round of applause as Dr Sandburg got to his feet to take his place.
Blair's smile was warm as always. "Guides and Sentinels, ladies and gentlemen. We have come a long way in such a short time. Many of us present," he looked at his own Sentinel, then down to the front row at Edwards and David, and Lisa and her husband/Guide Karl, their youngest child on her mother's lap, "
can all remember a time when a Guide had to kneel to their Sentinels and were no more than chattel to them. The Sentinel was able to inflict punishment: physical, emotional, and economical/financial on them. That is no more.
"For many, this new life is one that has been fought on many levels. The GDP, under Director Claydove and now Director Slater, have worked to renew the trust in them that others lost. It is this which you are able to take advantage of. Some of you are going to Rainier, and I know that I have you in my department. It was only a short time ago that no Guide was allowed to go there, until one Sentinel stood up, and said 'this is wrong,' and in doing that, set us on the road we now travel."
Blair's voice slowly faded back into a low whisper as the image gradually disappeared into a spinning vortex, and then back into the stream of time.
* * * * *
The Present, The Loft:
Blair woke and rolled over so that he could lean on his elbows looking down at his sleeping Sentinel. He looked across the bedroom space and saw the spirit guides, and smiled. //The watchers of the watchman. It would make a good title for a chapter in my diss.// Then he chuckled. //And no, they would never believe me. //
Cautiously he lowered himself down, so that he could rest against Jim without waking him. Now content, he went back to sleep. In the morning, he would talk about the dreams -- more like visions -- he had seen as he slept. He would get his normally reluctant Sentinel to talk about his past and see how correct the visions had been. As far as he was concerned, they had shown him that his life and destiny was joined with that of Jim Ellison.
//'Till death, do us part?// Blair snuggled closer and gave a satisfied sigh, as in his sleep Jim's arms came round and held him tight. //Now I can go back to sleep. All is right in my world. No -- our world.//
The Spirit Panther licked his paw. The Sentinel and his Guide would reach this point. He could not tell how far in the future it was, just that it was along the road they were travelling. This glimpse showed the prize was worth the game they played..