With thanks to my Beta reader Sue and Stormwolf for giving me a home on her web page.
At the time of this AU, the Americas have all joined together as a giant trading block, which later became one state. The day is celebrated much as the Fourth of July, it's a national holiday.
Captain Simon Banks looked around the bullpen of Major Crime and gave a contented sigh. All was quiet in his domain; most of his detectives were on holiday for the anniversary of the Uniting of the Americas. Being the canny captain that he was, he had turned a blind eye to the bartering that had gone on as detectives swapped days off with each other to accommodate their partying plans. He was surprised to see Captain Joel Taggart saunter in; after all, his wife had agreed to cater the precinct's Americas' party that evening. Then he remembered that Joel had taken the morning shift so that his younger second-in-command on the bomb squad could go to his daughter's Americas Day play.
His gaze stopped on a small figure that still seemed wildly out of place in the bullpen. Blair Sandburg, dressed in multi-layered clothing with his dark hair hanging in loose curls around his face, looked like a refugee dressed by the Salvation Army or a prime candidate for a body search for contraband at a University drug bust. At barely five foot nine, Sandburg was towered over by his partner, Jim Ellison. Height was not the only difference between the two men. Ellison could be the poster boy for the army with his cropped hair, light blue eyes capable of giving frostbite at a hundred yards, and a generally stoic face that only seemed comfortable expressing two emotions: happiness and anger. Most people had only seen the latter; and enough people in Major Crime, hell the station in general, could testify that when Ellison was angry it was better to be in a totally different state.
Ellison was currently leaning over his partner as the younger man tapped away on a computer. His fingers flying across the keyboard, Sandburg was practically melded with the monitor as he worked on Ellison's reports. What Simon saw in front of him was a very mismatched pair; but also one of the closest of pairings - that of Sentinel and Guide.
Jim Ellison, former black ops Ranger and now a detective of the City of Cascade was a Dark Sentinel, a more powerful and primitive form of sentinel. Sentinels were found mainly in the military, the police force, and in search and rescue units where their enhanced senses gave them a decided edge. But to fully utilize their gifts, sentinels needed guides to give them focus. And Blair Sandburg was just that, Ellison's guide. The young empath's bonding to Ellison had not been cause for celebration for either man. Ellison had not wanted a guide, and Sandburg had not wanted a sentinel; both men had regarded the accepted form of Guide service as little more than slavery. Sandburg had fought against bonding to such a degree that he had been classed a "rogue" guide. The Guide Development Program Trainers had brought him, traumatized and battered after weeks of brutal treatment aimed at forcing him to accept his "place" in society, to Ellison for bonding. And Ellison, deep in a sensory crisis, had been unable to resist his need.
Empaths were regarded as little more than tools for sentinels to be able to use their abilities. They were considered second-class citizens, owning few rights, dependant on the whims of their sentinels for their own emotional and physical well-being. Once bonded, an empath had to have a certain amount of physical contact with his sentinel to maintain his barriers to others' emotions; without them his nervous system would overload, driving him insane and often to suicide. Proximity to his sentinel boosted his natural shielding and protected him even in his most vulnerable state. The amount of time guides could tolerate separation from their sentinels varied with each empath, but every one of them required some contact to ground them. Touch was the medium of contact between them; a necessity that was often misunderstood in a society that assumed most non-familial touching was sexual in nature.
A strong, natural empath, Sandburg had trained himself to maintain his shielding on his own, but his stint at the GDP Correctional Facility and his subsequent bonding to Ellison had left him in as much need for grounding as empaths who embraced the Guide path. Fortunately, in Ellison he found a sentinel who persisted in treating him as a person, at least whenever his Dark Sentinel instincts were not in control of his actions.
Because of his brutal treatment, Sandburg was skittish and easily frightened, still all too aware that at any time he could be handed back to the GDP for "retraining." But weeks of careful nurturing by the detective had brought the younger man out of his shell. He seemed to bounce, and was talking a mile a minute since he realized that Jim was neither going to shut him up nor punish him for talking out of turn. Simon was willing to bet they were beginning to see something of the real Sandburg coming out.
As Simon watched, Jim straightened and said something to Blair, then gave his shoulder a gentle pat before leaving for the elevator. Simon started over; he knew Blair was uncomfortable in Jim's absence. Before he reached the younger man, Joel Taggart wandered over. Taggart was a good man, gentle and patient, where Simon was gruffer. It hurt the big bomb squad captain to see the kid pull in on himself; try to make himself smaller as he approached. Sandburg was incredibly nervous when his sentinel was not there, scared that he would say or do the wrong thing and have no protection against hurtful touch or emotion.
Joel smiled and took a seat opposite the Guide.
"Hey, Sandburg, like a piece?" He offered a cake tin to the younger man. Taggart saw the hesitation, the mixed emotions on the expressive face. "Jim's not here, Captain," Sandburg said quietly. Taggart looked puzzled but before he could say anything, Simon moved forward and cut in gently with a smile "Blair, it's okay. I know Jim wouldn't mind you eating a piece. He's a great fan of Mavis' cakes but there's plenty left, so go on."
A slender hand plucked out a slice before Blair pulled away and put distance between him and the older men, as if afraid that they would snatch the cake off him. Simon was grateful when Joel didn't comment on the action. The young guide had come a long way in three weeks but it would have taken a miracle to free him of all the fear-based responses beaten into him at the Institute. Blair took a careful nibble of the cake; his eyes checking the doorway for the return of his sentinel, not quite able to forget how Alex Barnes, his first sentinel, had punished him for eating without her permission. But this was Jim, not Alex. He took another bite and looked shyly at Taggart.
"Its very good cake, Captain. Thank you." The tentative smile that accompanied the soft words lit up intelligent blue eyes and awoke the protective instincts of the two police captains.
Joel smiled back, "I'll tell Mavis you enjoyed it. Happy Americas Day, Sandburg."
The younger man just nodded, his mouth filled with rich cake. Joel looked toward his fellow captain and saw him nod; he relaxed, he had done everything correctly in this step of the campaign to restore Sandburg's confidence in himself and develop trust in his new co-workers.
Suddenly the fruit cake fell from lifeless fingers as Blair went down on his knees by the side of the desk, hands crossed behind his back, head hanging low on his chest, blue eyes closed. Simon turned to see Jim coming in with a pile of report folders. Seeing Blair's reaction, Ellison dumped them on the nearest desk and crossed swiftly to his guide. When he noticed the cake on the table he realized that his guide had been eating when he returned. Jim made himself take a deep breath; it always angered him when his guide responded to him as if he were Barnes or some GDP goon. He knelt down in front of his guide and with a careful hand gently pushed the long hair away from the younger man's face. The look on the fine features made his heart sink; it was laced with fear, and the dull expectancy of pain.
Blair trembled slightly when the sentinel touched his face. Thoughts whirled dizzily through his head. He had done wrong he should never have taken the food from them but it had looked so nice and he was hungry and Jim let them eat together at the loft or when they were away from the station but these were Jim's superior officers he had shown disrespect to his sentinel by eating without him and God what would it take for him to get it right! But instead of the painful grip on his chin he expected, the sentinel's touch was feather light as it tilted his face up so that he was looking straight in the sentinel's eyes. Jim slowly shook his head, "It's all right, Blair. God, kid, the last thing I would do is hurt you just for eating first. I thought we had agreed that you would eat when you were hungry." He waited patiently until a curly head nodded slightly before continuing, "I thought we had also agreed that while you're my partner, you don't kneel down to anyone for anything, right?" Blair coughed before saying shakily, "I'm sorry. I just forgot."
"Well, don't forget, again. I'm too old to keep joining you on the floor," Ellison lightened his words with a smile. He gently drew his guide to his feet and sat him back on the chair. Taggart and Banks both studiously ignored the shamefaced glance the kid sent their direction, pretending to be engrossed in a report Taggart had grabbed from the corner of the desk. Returning his eyes to his sentinel, Blair reached for the cake again. Jim gave him a smile of encouragement before recalling the captains' attention with his, "Looks good, Cap. Got any cake to spare?"
"You know Mavis, she's cooking up a storm for tonight, this is just sort of a preview taste. By the way, remember the party starts at 7:00 pm, so don't be late." Taggart waited until Jim had scored his treat, then collected the cake tin and headed off as he saw his second-in-command come in.
In his office Joel Taggart picked up the phone and dialled his wife.
"Mavis, I have another two for tonight."
"Who, dear?" His wife's rich voice sounded as if she was glad her workload had just increased.
"Jim Ellison and..."
"Ellison!" Joel pulled the telephone away from his ear with a grin. His wife's views on one James Joseph Ellison were well known and very vocal. They had met for the first time a few months ago; she had heard the rumors and stories about him via her husband and that the general opinion of Ellison was that he was a good cop, but one cold SOB. A warm-hearted woman, Mavis had decided that, especially in a testosterone loaded environment such as the police, a certain amount of exaggeration was heaped on any story and Ellison could not as bad as his reputation. Unfortunately, she had come in to see Joel on one of Ellison's bad days. His sentinel powers had been going on and off line all day, Simon had again taken up the question of a guide, and Ellison was pissed, to put it mildly. Mavis had been at the wrong place at the wrong time, which allowed a suspect to bolt for the nearest exit. Ellison had brought the man down in a crunching tackle, and had then turned his full fury on her. He hadn't sworn at her; in a very controlled way, which had somehow made it much worse, he had taken her apart verbally. Then he stormed off to vent his anger somewhere else.
Joel tried to cut her off, "Ellison's bringing his partner, Sandburg. He's a nice kid, Mavis, you'll like him."
"He'd have to be a saint to put up with the almighty Ellison," she sniffed.
"Ellison's changed, dear. You'll see."
"And pigs will fly," was her final comment before she rang off. Joel grinned as he hung up the phone. One thing was for sure; it was going to be far from dull tonight.
Mavis watched the blue and white truck pulling up outside the house and her mouth hardened as she recognized Jim Ellison getting out of the driver's side door. Her husband had told her about the fragile, young guide who was climbing out of the truck and her heart went out to him; it must be terrible being paired with such a soulless man as Jim Ellison. She watched the young man wait for Jim to reach his side of the truck; they paused, and she saw Ellison raise his hand and lay it on the younger man's shoulder. To her great surprise, he appeared to lean into the touch for a moment.
Then, together, the two men headed for the front door. Her husband was already opening it and she noticed that the younger man kept close to Ellison, not exactly behind him, but just on his shoulder. When she came over to do her reluctant duty as hostess, she saw Ellison draw the smaller man out in front of him, keeping one hand on his shoulder.
"Thank you for the invite, Mrs. Taggart." Ellison was polite as always but the air was heavy between them. Joel jumped in, "Mavis you haven't met Blair Sandburg. Blair is Jim's guide. Blair, my wife, Mavis."
Mavis had never held with the nonsense that made guides property to be ignored in social situations. With a challenging look at Ellison she said, "Welcome to our home, Mr. Sandburg."
"Blair, please, Mrs. Taggart. Thank you for inviting me." Blue eyes drifted in the direction of the Sentinel and Mavis returned her attention to him.
"Yes, I heard that you have become a sentinel, Detective."
"It wasn't exactly what I had in mind as a career choice, but..." He left the comment hanging in the air and exchanged a grin with his guide.
Mavis was on their byplay in a second and Joel could just see the questions racing to the tip of her tongue. He shook his head and decided to derail her before she got going on an interrogation that would put Torquemada to shame.
"Simon's over by the buffet, Jim." As hints went it was quite a heavy one and Ellison took it, not without a certain amount of relief. He relieved his guide of the flowers he carried and handed them to Mavis. "For you, thank you for having us." Before she could reply, he added, "Come on, Chief. Let's not tie up our hostess."
Mavis looked at him in open-mouthed surprise; flowers were one thing she had not expected from James Ellison.
Eric Robinson stood balancing his plate at the buffet table when he heard Ellison's voice. He looked over at the door and his expression darkened as he saw Ellison's guide. Ellison had actually brought the hippy freak to the party, but then Taggart was always an easy touch and he'd probably invited him. Robinson flinched slightly as Jim looked at him; it was almost as if he sensed the hostility towards his guide from the unbonded younger sentinel. Aware that he had attracted Ellison's attention, Robinson went over to show his respect to the Alpha Male Sentinel, "Good Evening, Sentinel Ellison."
"Robinson." Ellison's tone was icy.
"I just wanted to apologise for any misunderstanding at the Chapel house. I lost my focus and it affected my behavior. Once I am bonded I shouldn't have that problem."
"Bonding does bring stability, Robinson." Jim realised that Blair had moved behind him and he felt the tug at the back of his mind telling him that his guide was drawing on his sentinel's emotional strength for support. Blair didn't have to lower his empathic barriers to feel the dislike rolling off the younger sentinel aimed in his direction. He was thankful and not for the first time, that he had not been given to someone like Robinson. He was the worst type of sentinel Blair could imagine; belonging to him would have been an unending nightmare.
Jim felt his guide's discomfort and turned to him. "Hey, Chief. You notice the girls over there checking you out? Why don't you go and introduce yourself? Robinson and I are going to have a chat, sentinel to sentinel, okay?" Blair hesitated until Jim made a shooing motion, "Go on, Chief, and enjoy yourself." Ellison waited until he was gone to turn back to Robinson.
Although giving Robinson his attention, he was also monitoring his guide's progress. The kid might have been out of circulation for a while, but he approached the girls like a pro. The sentinel wasn't surprised when he heard one of the girls take the young man up on his suggestion to carry on their conversation in a quieter room. Jim could not help the smile that touched his lips as he heard Blair say, "I'm a post-grad student at Rainier University in Anthropology." There was pride in his voice and Jim was pleased to be part of what put it there. What he didn't miss was the look Robinson gave him. "You have a problem with something, Robinson?" His tone was mild.
"Yes, Sentinel Ellison. I can't understand how you can let that hippy freak get away with that sort of lie."
"Its not a lie, Robinson. He starts back on his PhD at Rainier in five weeks." One more hippy freak crack and I am going to smear him all across the back wall. If Robinson could have read Ellison's mind he would have been running.
"But he's a guide?" There was total disbelief in the younger man's voice.
"My guide," Jim paused, then put it the only way Robinson would understand, " and it's my pleasure that he continue his studies at Rainier and get his PhD."
Robinson nodded, "I can understand your thinking, Sentinel, but I still think that he should be taught his manners. He was a rogue, and once a rogue always a rogue at heart. If you would like, with your permission, I could show him the..."
"You would challenge me?" Jim allowed his tone to dip to a low rumbling growl. Immediately, Robinson lowered his gaze, allowing Jim to stare him down. He didn't want to put forth a challenge; he knew the former ranger could, and would, kill him.
"The guide is yours, marked and claimed. My apologies."
Eric took a deep breath, more than ready to move on to safer territory. "How did you locate the scent from the cologne in the Chapel case, Sentinel?"
"Sandburg. He had me retain the scent in my memory and then took me through the other scents in a local perfumery." Jim grimaced as he remembered the overload of scent. "You wouldn't believe some of the stuff that place carried. Anyway, he got me to blend the scents until I could match the one from the Chapel household. When I finally got it right, the makeup matched an expensive cologne. One of the short list of buyers turned out to be the victim's ex-lover and our killer."
Robinson nodded reluctantly, "He sounds good at what he does."
"The kid has potential."
Robinson relaxed, now Ellison sounded more normal. Yes, he was allowing the guide a little freedom but Ellison's reputation showed that he would not take any crap from his guide. He was looking forward to seeing the older sentinel put the guide in his place.
Linda Thompson was annoyed, she had had a good thing going until that cat, Cathy Hay, had cut in. Cathy was put out because her boyfriend had gotten on his high horse over her perfume so she had moved in and took Sandburg right out from under her very nose. Oh well, there were more fish in the sea, and if rumours were right, a cute cop just starting out in traffic.
Hay had the satisfied smile on her face of the cat Linda called her, a cat that had just gotten into the cream. Blair Sandburg made a nice change from all the cops she met at work and one cop in particular. At first she had thought he was a narc, but when he had explained he was an observer, she decided to give him the green light. He was kinda cute, and ~wow~ those first kisses! If that was what a sample was like then she was going to buy the whole package. He had known exactly what she wanted. She had her arm around Blair's waist as they came out of the room together.
Blair was a bit bemused at how fast things progressed. Cathy had proved to want a lot more than just to talk once they had found a quiet place. Maybe it was because he had his life at Rainier back, maybe the memories of Barnes and Wilson's goons were fading, or maybe, as Blair was beginning to suspect, it was because his sentinel was there for support, but he felt more like his old self. And his old self had been more than happy to go along with her. They wandered over to the drinks table and for a moment his hand brushed over the beer; then he snagged them both a diet soda. He hadn't drunk anything stronger than tea since the bonding, and was not sure how he would react to alcohol. He could not afford to let his barriers slip, not now.
Cathy turned to him, "Come on. Let's get out of here. This place is as lively as a morgue." She slid her hand in his pocket to emphasize the point she was making. She pulled him closer, and then allowed her other hand to trail across the front of his jeans, grinning as she felt his reaction to her touch.
"I don't have a car." Now what was he supposed to do?
"I've got one... and a flat mate who's out all night."
Blair looked for his sentinel. Jim was still talking to the unbonded sentinel.
"I just have to tell my lift not to wait for me, okay?" His voice was more confident than he was. He tried to sound natural even as he wondered what Ellison would do to him when he asked for this.
"See you outside, Blair."
Jim saw Blair threading his way through the crowd in his direction. The kid was nervous; his heart was racing and his breathing was fast by the time he reached him. But he waited patiently for Jim to acknowledge him before he spoke.
"You okay, Chief?" Rather suspecting what was on the kid's mind; certainly the young woman who had latched onto his guide had made her intentions known.
"Jim, could I..."
"What, Chief?" Oh, yeah. This was fun; but, good too. After what the kid had been through this was a major breakthrough.
"Well, man, she's well..." he made a rather vague movement with his hand. He heaved a sigh of relief when he saw his sentinel grin, glad he didn't have to explain further, and really glad Cathy wasn't there.
"Go ahead, Chief, beat it. Just don't forget where you live, okay?"
"No way, Jim." Blair's blue eyes were dancing, an almost embarrassed grin on his face.
"Got your money, cell phone?" They were two things that Ellison always made sure that his guide carried. Some sentinels left their guides penniless to increase their feeling of total dependency. Ellison pretended that the cell phone was in case Blair needed it to call for backup when they were working. In fact, he had given it to his guide so that he could contact him if he needed help; Jim was expecting that the young empath would run into a few problems when he started back at Rainier.
"Yes, mom." Blair held his breath for a moment; it was the first time he had joked with Jim and for a split second he was afraid he had over-stepped the mark. When he saw the look of mock disgust on the older man's face, he knew he shouldn't have worried.
"Get out while you can, Sandburg." Ellison mock growled in return.
Blair turned on his heel and headed for the door, a bounce in his step that set his curls swinging. Ellison was aware that Robinson was bursting to say something.
"WITH RESPECT," As Ellison frowned at his tone of voice, Robinson went on in a more controlled voice, "with respect, Sentinel, you can't be letting that one out on his own. He's a rogue, he will run."
"No, he won't. You see, Robinson, he's got nowhere to run to, none of them have."
Jim's voice had lost all amusement and was now laced only with sadness. As his guide said his farewells to his hostess and disappeared out the front door, Ellison returned his attention to the younger sentinel. "Do you still want to try for the promotion board next year?" Better to keep things on a professional topic and not think too much about the realities of a guide's life when he was supposed to be enjoying himself at a party. He hoped that Blair was having himself a party too.
Cathy dropped Blair at the door. Before they parted, he gave her a goodnight kiss. She was loathe to part with him and clasped her hands behind his neck. Leaning back, she said, "Sorry about your shirt, Blair, glad this one fit."
"I'll return it to you." For some reason he didn't like the feel of the deep red shirt she had dug out of the back of her closet. Just as he wasn't sure what to make of some of the vibes he'd been picking up from Cathy off and on during the evening. He'd managed to keep his barriers pretty much intact and lord knew he was distracted enough trying to keep his memories from surfacing at an inopportune moment to be sure of anything he was getting. And her emotions had certainly been, well, flattering.
"You don't have to. Looks good on you." She tilted her face invitingly.
He leaned in to kiss her again before murmuring, "Gives me an excuse to see you again."
She eased out of his arms. "You'd best go up before I forget I have an early call tomorrow."
She watched him go up the steps to the apartment and then got back in the car. For a moment she just leaned against the steering wheel. "Pity, he was kind of cute; but she had to make a point and he was a god send. It's not as if his sentinel would let him get hurt anyway. Cathy grinned, so that was her first empath, everything she had heard about and more. The way he had tuned into her every mood and the way he responded... wow.
Blair practically bounced up the steps. The evening had been great; their lovemaking had been slow and sweet. Cathy had been the first woman he had been with since Alex Barnes and that had been about power, not mutual pleasure; even the sex had been for her enjoyment, not his. He had found it easy to tune into Cathy's surface emotions, and ... His pleasant memories came to a rather abrupt halt as he saw the clock. It was late, but he hadn't seen the truck so maybe he could get in and shower before his sentinel returned. He knew the older man would pick up her scent on him.
He fumbled with the key, still not quite believing that Jim had actually given him a key to the loft; let alone let him off the leash like that at the party. Blair thanked all the known gods that he had been given to Jim Ellison. On the outside, Ellison seemed to be a cold, stoic cop but he had supported him, treating him like a human being and not a slave. Sandburg could not help but shudder when he thought about being bonded to Robinson. He could see the anger building in the younger sentinel every time Jim did not force him on to his knees in the required submissive posture of the working guide.
"Running a little late chief?"
Jim's smile faded as he realized that he had startled his guide.
"S...s...sorry, Jim. Cathy and I, well we..."
"No, I'm the one who's sorry, Chief. I shouldn't have made you jump like that, bad joke. I'm glad you had a good time, but, do me a favor," he broke off as he sneezed, "wash that perfume off yourself before, I ...", he started another sneezing attack.
"Sure, Jim, I was going to take a shower." Blair needed Jim to know that he thought about his sentinel's comfort.
"Then we need to have a chat. Okay?"
Blair made a rush for the bathroom; he closed the door behind him and leaned against it. Okay, Jim seemed to be okay about him and Cathy but when he said they were going to have a chat he had sounded serious, but not bad serious, so maybe he was still okay.
The knock on the door made him start again.
"Chief, the last I heard you needed water for a shower. Get a move on before the coffee gets cold."
When he came out of the bathroom he was wearing a towel around his waist and one wrapping up his long hair to keep it from dripping. He hurriedly dressed in fresh clothes; from his experience of Dark Sentinels he knew that they where particularly touchy about any alien scent on their guides. Jim could put up with smoke, dirt, spilt coffee, and food - normal every day odors; but he was a Dark Sentinel and they were possessive about anyone else's scent marking their guide. Although Jim had mentioned just the perfume, he guessed that Jim was also picking up other scents as well.
He headed towards the kitchen island when Jim turned and Blair saw the look in his sentinel's eyes. It hit him suddenly, Oh God, that wasn't Jim. It was the Dark Sentinel and he was mad!
Jim had told him time and time not to kneel to him, but Guide instincts cut in and he realised that right now the Dark Sentinel needed to see his submission. Trying to keep his breathing level, he knelt down, crossed his wrists behind his back and lowered his head. He didn't hear the Dark Sentinel move and he tried to suppress a flinch as a big hand briefly moved over his head. He was left on his knees in the center of the room; as time dragged by he felt the muscles in his neck and along the back of his legs begin to knot from the position he held so tightly. He remembered the savage punishments he had received during his training, during his time with Barnes, if he so much as shifted slightly to ease his body. He forced himself to be still, trying to understand what had happened. Jim had seemed to be okay with his going off with Cathy. Even when he got home, Jim was still cool, well okay, he hadn't liked Cathy's perfume but he didn't come all over Dark Sentinel.
Before he solved the riddle, Jim's black shoes came into his field of vision. This time the hand touched his shoulder. "Open up the pathways, guide." It was an order, uttered in a voice that was ice cold. Blair did as he was commanded and felt as if he had run into a brick wall; he could not help but gasp in pain. The Dark Sentinel was blocking him off from his emotions and his own empathy was turned back on his nervous system.
"Jim," Blair gasped out; he was afraid to raise his barriers but was barely able to tolerate the growing pain. His plea was ignored. "Sentinel, please!"
"You smelled of another sentinel's scent, guide, do you want to explain that?" Ellison's voice sent shivers up his spine.
"I was only with Cathy at her apartment, no one else was there. I swear, Sentinel, there was no one else there!"
"Look up." It was not a request.
Blair looked up slowly, met the icy blue stare of his sentinel. "I remembered the scents you stank of, a female, yes... and, Eric Robinson. You think that you would be better off with him?"
Blair let out his breath slowly. Okay, now he understood. It had taken time for Jim to get past the perfume and when he did he had smelled another Sentinel. Oh god, Cathy must have been Robinson's girl friend. His scent, to say the least, must've been all over that apartment. Why would she... no, that could wait. Now he had to control this situation before Jim did something they would both regret. He had seen this kind of behavior earlier at the Chapel house when Jim had nearly taken Robinson apart when he approached them. Like then, all he had to do was make Jim calm down.
"Sentinel, I did not know that I entered the territory of another unbonded sentinel. The mistake was mine and my punishment is in your hands." When Alex Barnes had been angry, a play on those words was the only thing that had kept him alive.
"I am yours, marked and claimed," he lowered his head to await judgement.
He felt the pathway suddenly open up to him. The Sentinel's emotions were still roiled and icy but at least he could feel something; the worst thing for a bonded empath was to be cut off from his sentinel's feelings. He was fighting to control his barriers; today had been the longest he had been away from the sentinel since bonding and he was desperate to renew contact with him. His barriers had begun to weaken on the ride home and he was in real danger of overloading on the cold burning icy heat that flooded into him from Ellison. But his sentinel wasn't offering him that kind of support.
Instead, the sentinel moved behind him. He thought he heard Ellison getting down on the floor. Before he could make sense of that a hand fisted in his hair and he was pulled backward, his spine arching painfully. The only thing keeping him from falling was his sentinel's grip. A low, deep-throated growl echoed in his ears as his head was yanked sideways. Pain was exploding through his back. He could not stop a soft cry of distress. The Sentinel loomed over him, looking straight into his eyes.
"Mine, Guide, Marked," with another feral growl, the sentinel forced Blair's head back and exposed his throat. He barely heard the younger man's shocked gasp as his teeth sank into the soft flesh beneath his guide's chin. The sentinel felt the capillaries under the skin break and his tongue caught the coppery tang of blood, only a minute trace but enough for him to taste his guide. His mouth worried at the skin until he knew his guide would bear his mark. "Marked Guide."
Blair's voice was shaking as he replied, "Marked, Sentinel."
Blair felt the connection between them burn as he was bitten. It was as if Ellison's brutal action triggered some primitive part of his brain that he never knew he possessed. There was a surge of blinding pain through his head, his body lost all strength and he was on the verge of blacking out. He could feel his panic building.
Then he was thrown forward onto the floor; he managed to get his hands under him to break the fall but he immediately brought his hands behind his back in the guide's posture of total submission. He remembered Alex's blind fury, only total submission would satisfy her, should satisfy Jim. He shuddered as he thought of the damage his sentinel could do to him.
The sentinel looked down at his guide and placed a hand on the middle of the slender back. He felt Sandburg flinch, smelled his fear; some part of him that was not caught up in the Sentinel's anger gentled Ellison's touch as he carefully eased the hair out of his guide's face. He could see the younger man was scared; he was biting his lip, trying to control the terror that was coiled in his stomach. The sentinel heard the catch in his guide's throat when he touched him.
Blair was desperate to link fully with his sentinel; the pain in his head was fading but it had burned away the last of his control and he had no empathic barriers, he was totally open, totally vulnerable. With the touch of his sentinel's hand on his back he could use the link to access his sentinel's strength, be protected by that strength until he could find control. But without permission, he could not, no matter that he felt as if he was losing himself and sinking into the maelstrom of his sentinel's emotions.
The sentinel opened up his other four senses, reinforcing the imprint of his guide on his memory. He could feel the fine trembling running through his guide's body and he opened his side of the link until he could feel the young man's emotions. The panic and terror he felt there roused all his protective instincts. The other sentinel, he did this, caused this. He would fix it; make sure that his guide, that everyone, knew he was his.
When the sentinel broke contact, it was a painful wrench and Blair could not stop a small cry of pain. He suddenly felt so alone, isolated and scared. Memories of Alex leaving him with no empathic barriers, at the mercy of the always dark and hurting emotions surrounding him, came back to haunt him. Blair didn't dare move or even speak for fear that it would further enrage the sentinel. The man he thought was becoming his friend was submerged under the primal needs of the Dark Sentinel; Blair prayed he could last until Jim reappeared.
Then the sentinel gently ghosted his hands over his guide, clumsily stroking and petting the young man to calm him down, easing his arms into a more comfortable position. The Dark Sentinel tilted his head and sniffed thoughtfully; his sense of smell picked up the musky gingery smell that was his guide. There was no other scent on him and that would have to change; it had to be made plain that this was his guide and no one else's. He reached out and caught hold of the collar of the flannel shirt his guide was wearing; his guide gave a frightened squawk as it was torn off him.
The sentinel made soft shushing sounds as if he was calming a frightened child and allowed his strong feelings of protectiveness to calm the empath down, reinforcing it with gentle hands. Keeping one hand on his guide at all times, he moved just enough to take his own shirt off and bunched it in his fist. "No, please," his brow furrowed as the soft, desperate plea reached his ears and for a minute Ellison was reminded of past abuse that still troubled his guide's sleep. The sentinel shook his head free of the memories; *that* was over and had nothing to do with him and his guide. Careful not to make any moves that would frighten the man lying before him, he wiped his shirt across Blair's back from neck to waist. Then, gently, he eased him onto his back and slowly wiped his face and neck, moving downward until he reached the waist. He sniffed and smiled; *his" scent was on *his* guide. The other sentinel would smell his scent and see his mark and know to whom the guide belonged. If he tried to claim him, he would kill that sentinel or any who would take his guide away from him. Feeling that promise deep in his soul, the Dark Sentinel relaxed his vigilant watch.
Ellison frowned as he studied the young man stretched out on the floor, took in the minute shudders that still cascaded through the slender form. He realized, with chagrin, that Blair was drawing no strength from him, was wide open and vulnerable and he had been so caught up in responding to a perceived threat that he had denied his guide the emotional protection he so desperately needed. Jim eased his guide up to kneel with him; one hand supporting the younger man against the tremors that shook him, the other cupping his face and holding it still so that he could look into Blair's eyes. The sentinel felt his guide hesitate before tentatively running one hand up his arm to rest against the side of his face, mirroring Jim's hold. His other hand came to rest over the sentinel's heart. Something tugged deep within Ellison, called to him and he responded. Now the Dark Sentinel opened up his senses and his mind fully. Although Blair had meshed with him, this was different; this was a part of the Dark Sentinel that had been closed to him. The Sentinel was no longer holding anything back from his guide; Blair was swept along by a surge of sensations as if he was trapped by a storm wave and smashed against the rocks. Drowning, Blair reached back to the other man, sought to still the churning emotions; then, there was a blessed calm and *something* had changed between them. Before he had felt safe and secure with his sentinel, but now, it went beyond that. He had felt the Dark Sentinel's power, a power that Jim kept leashed and had felt the strong promise of protection; with Jim shielding him, he could not be hurt no matter how fried his barriers were. The Dark Sentinel would do anything to protect him. Freely give of his strength of mind and body to ensure his safety and well-being.
Exhaustion was catching up with Blair but he heard Jim whisper in his ear, "No one will ever take you against your will, you are mine to protect and serve, *my* Dark Guide." Something in Jim's words called forth a response. Blair's own voice was low enough that only a sentinel could hear his oath, "My sentinel, I pledge my life to you." His emotions moved along the pathway to the Dark Sentinel; at this heightened level of bonding no more words were necessary. He felt his sentinel's arms encircle his body and he was pulled closer into the warmth of that embrace, warmth not only of body, but of the soul. This feeling was beyond anything he had ever known. Sandburg knew that if other guides and sentinels experienced what he and Jim had, the sentinels would be unable to use their guides as slaves. On that surety, Blair gave in to his need for sleep.
Blair awoke and found himself on the sofa, held securely in his sentinel's embrace. Careful not to move and disturb Ellison, Blair began to run through the bonding in his head. Jim's words at the end when he vowed he would "protect and serve him", were different in form and meaning than what usually passed between sentinel and guide. Blair wondered if it could be a racial memory that had dictated the words. It might mean that earlier sentinels had not treated their guides as slaves but as an equal. In fact, the guide might have been the senior member of the partnership, providing the control and guidance that the sentinel needed to function. Once at Rainier, he would look into that possibility. He swallowed as he thought about the furor that idea would cause and put a hand to his throat where it hurt from the bite. *That* he had not expected, but maybe it had been done to prove the guide's absolute trust in his sentinel, certainly he had felt compelled to pledge his life to Ellison. Modern laws had changed the natural balance; Blair was sure of it and was going to prove it! Surely, there would be something in the records, or in myths and legends that he could use to support his hypothesis. Excitement began to grow as he thought about it.
Jim's eyes opened as his guide's heart started racing. He gently pulled his guide closer and said softly, "Take what you need, kid." Blair opened the pathways between them and could not stop a smile. He had never felt so cherished. Without any conscious thought, he snuggled up to his sentinel feeling safe with Jim to look after him.
Jim moved his chin so that it rested on the curly head that was tucked against his chest. He knew he had scared the young man he held in his arms badly; the last thing he wanted to do to the most precious person in his life. When the Dark Sentinel had taken over, that part of him that was Jim Ellison could only watch as instincts as old as man directed his actions. Usually he could fight his way back and take control, but this time he had lost. He flushed slightly as he remembered biting his guide; he made a mental note to check the injury later, and then rubbing his scent into the younger man's skin. But when he had bitten Blair it was as if everything had suddenly come clearer, had snapped into focus. The wall he had erected around his darkest emotions had shattered and he had felt the soothing balm of his guide's presence in his mind, calming the flash points of his anger. Jim knew he could never again think of closing himself off from his guide. Before there had been the man of intellect, Detective Jim Ellison, and the man of instinct, the Dark Sentinel, uneasily sharing one body. Now there was only him, intellect and instinct merged together and he knew he would no longer fight that joining; together he would be strong enough to protect the one person that mattered, his guide.
"Blair," Jim knew that the kid was still awake, "there's something that you should know." As Blair shifted uneasily, he quickly added, "Nothing bad." Ellison paused, "You studied sentinels getting those anthropology degrees you have?"
"Yes." The voice was very soft.
"After we bonded, I had a dream." Ellison hesitated, he was not good at this sharing thing and wasn't sure how to start. Then he felt a reassuring tug at the back of his mind that encouraged him to continue. "I was in the jungle and I could see my spirit guide. I *had* to follow it and I did until I came to a building. I think it was the Temple of the Sentinels. I've seen it in pictures...only it wasn't a ruin anymore. The panther stopped on the steps and then changed into someone who looked like me wearing my jungle camies, only it was the Dark Sentinel me. He stared at me and it was as if he was looking into my very soul. Then you were there at his side. He knelt to you; you put your hand on his shoulder and he morphed into the panther, licked your hand and lay down at your feet. It felt right, that you where meant to guide and advise, not be a slave or a tool to be used and discarded when it suited my purpose. Then the panther leaped into me and I was thrown backwards... and woke up." Jim's voice trailed off and for a moment his grip tightened on his guide. "This slavery is not the way it should be, Chief and I am sorry, so sorry."
"Its okay, Jim. None of this is your fault."
"I can't change it for all guides, but I can try for you."
"You already have."
That was the last they spoke for some time.
Blair came out of his room the next morning to the smell of breakfast being made.
"Coffees on, Chief."
Blair was holding a flannel shirt in his hand. "Er... Jim, I found this on the doorknob," he sounded puzzled.
"I hoped that you might wear it today when we go to the station." Jim Ellison, macho cop, sounded embarrassed.
Blair shook his head, "To mark your guide or to make up for the shirt you tore last night?"
"To replace the shirt."
"Then I'll wear it." He watched with some amusement as Jim exhaled slowly. Then he added under his breath so quietly only a sentinel could hear, "Of course, the fact it contains your scent is just a coincidence." He gave his sentinel a high wattage grin as he moved to pour his coffee.
Jim's voice took a more serious tone, "Watch your self with Cathy, Chief, that woman's got her own agenda and Robinson is not going to take kindly to you sleeping with her."
"Don't worry, I will."
Simon was talking to Jim about the case that he had assigned him but his gaze kept switching to Blair Sandburg. The guide was wearing a flannel shirt several sizes too large for him so that it hung down under the multi-coloured vest he was wearing. It looked like one Jim had worn just last week. Okay, so now the kid was pinching his sentinel's clothes. Simon grinned to himself, that was borderline dangerous; Jim would kill the kid if he got ink on it. Jim was the only person Simon knew who actually folded his dirty clothes when he got ready for bed. Simon shook his head, sharing a room at a conference with Jim Ellison was something he never wanted to do again. It had been a nightmare; the guy was a neat freak.
It was then he noticed the large bruise on the kid's throat, black against his skin and obviously sore. Sandburg was trying to avoid his gaze.
"I saw that you bailed from the Americas' Party early, Sandburg, that have anything to do with that," he motioned to the bite mark. Simon was more that a little confused when he saw Jim shift uncomfortably next to his guide.
"Indirectly, Captain Banks." The guide's voice was serene but there was a decided gleam of humor in the look he sent his sentinel.
Simon nodded, if it was a sentinel thing he did not want to go there. He noticed that Sandburg had rested his hand on Jim's arm, slender fingers softly moving in a comforting motion. The sentinel seemed to calm again.
"Well don't just sit there. Get on with it, or don't I give you enough work to do, Detective?"
"Plenty, Simon, plenty."
Three hours of pounding the pavements later, Jim finally got a chance to lean back in his chair. He liked police work and he was good at it but he purely hated going house to house. Half the people were not at home and the others were usually deaf, dumb and blind about anything going on in the neighborhood. Now he just had the paper work to do before he could get his weary body home. It had been a frustrating day. So far there had been three murders and not a hint of a lead. All they knew was that each woman was between 25 and 30 years old, single, and working within a three-mile radius of each other.
Ellison's stomach reminded him it was dinnertime. Getting some weight on his guide's too thin frame was a high priority for the sentinel and he was starting to see some results but not enough. He had made it a personal mission to make sure the kid ate more than just enough to keep a bird alive, so he reached into his drawer and dumped the deli bag of sandwiches on the desk. He started to root through the bag.
"Let me get you coffee, Jim." Sandburg offered.
"Milk and three sugars, Chief."
"You know white refined sugar is..." The guide's own personal mission was to get his sentinel to realize there was more to nutrition than sugar, grease and caffeine.
"Chief, lecture later. For now, just get the coffee." Ellison shooed him away and smiled as his guide ducked his playful swat and headed for the break room. Every day that passed saw the younger man's confidence grow. He was now willing to leave his sentinel's side at the station and often went to collect files or evidence for the detectives. Ellison took both pleasure and pride in that accomplishment.
Blair was practically bouncing down the hallway. He had already bumped into one of the girls from the party and he had a firm date for Thursday night.
One minute he was cheerfully contemplating his promising social calendar and the next he was yanked sideways and thrown against the wall. Words from his nightmares blasted into his ear in Robinson's voice. "On your knees, guide." Stubbornness overrode fear as his sentinel's voice sounded in his head, "You kneel for no one, kid." He shook his head, as much to clear it as in denial, and was hit in the back of his legs. He crashed onto the floor. His arm was twisted behind his back and he was forced to his knees. Dazed, he didn't move when he was released.
"Just because Ellison is stupid enough to treat you like an equal you think you can go around interfering in other peoples' lives. Your stench was all over Cathy and the apartment. Did you think I wouldn't know that you slept with her?" Robinson's tone turned colder, "you really think that she likes you?" He laughed cruelly, "I told her all about you. About how much you liked it when the GDP put you through your paces. You do still remember them, don't you, Guide?"
"That was rape, you bastard!" God, how could he face Cathy again, if she knew?
Blair's head rocked to one side as Robinson hit him across the face; he tasted blood. Anger warred with programmed fear but as Robinson continued to taunt him, anger began to win.
"She only went with you because she wanted to get back at me and have a taste of the empath everyone else had tried. Do you put out for Ellison, is that why he's so good to you? Which way ..."
Blair threw himself at Robinson. He took the cop by surprise only because the unbonded sentinel could not believe that a guide would dare to go for him. He caught the sentinel waist high and brought him crashing to the ground. Sandburg managed to get in a couple of good shots before he was kicked backward and folded himself around the pain in his belly. The sentinel rolled to his feet.
"You're going to pay for that, guide." The sentinel drew his foot back for another blow and a heavy body hit him. Robinson recognized his attacker and fear filled him as realized his mistake. Ellison threw him into the wall and then was on him. Robinson was almost as tall as the ex-ranger and was younger; but when it came down to pure mean, there was no way that he could win.
The unbonded sentinel had dared to lay a hand on his guide. Jim could smell Blair's blood. "Mine." The one word was roared. It was the scream of an enraged Dark Sentinel. Robinson swung at him and then screamed in agony as his arm was twisted, Jim's fingers digging into pressure points.
Robinson was forced down on his knees; when he looked up he saw his death in ice-blue eyes. He had broken every rule and had gone after another sentinel's guide. He lowered his head and waited for Jim to kill him.
The killing blow had nearly been thrown when a hand had caught his wrist and Ellison felt his guide's presence run through him, "NO, Jim. Let him go."
"He hurt you." Blair almost smiled at that; Ellison's tone was so matter of fact in conveying his justification. Blair could almost hear Jim finishing that statement in his mind. "He hurt you, I kill him. That's the way it works."
"I'm all right, Jim." Blair tugged on his sentinel's arm, "Let him go."
Jim let Robinson fall to the ground and then turned to his guide. He gently ran his hand over Blair's face; it was starting to bruise up but he could find no serious damage.
Simon pushed through the onlookers, "Jim, what the hell's going on here?"
"Robinson tried to punish my guide," his tone went icy, "No one touches my guide."
"Okay, Okay, I get it. Its a sentinel thing." Banks looked from Robinson to Jim, "Does this have to go any further, gentlemen?"" The captain glared at the younger sentinel, "Robinson?"
"Ellison?" A glare from the captain told Jim what his answer had better be.
"No, Simon, its been taken care of."
"Then get back to work. Now!" Banks watched as Jim tucked his guide to his side and then walked out with him in the same protective stance as when he first bonded. Simon sighed as he realised that what was written in Sentinel 101 was true; when in a killing rage, only a guide could calm his sentinel down. Robinson was lucky that he wasn't being carried out in a body bag.
"Taylor, see to your partner," Simon snapped.
Simon was angry. This sentinel thing was getting out of hand, was upsetting his finely ordered bullpen. He had run out of his office when he saw Jim suddenly freeze, thinking the man had zoned. When the sentinel's head tipped to one side and Ellison had exploded out of his chair and headed for the hall, he had followed him. Not sure what was going on but convinced it wasn't good.
Taylor had Robinson on his feet. The younger man was swaying and he held his left arm stiffly as he was helped out of the hall.
When Simon re-entered the bullpen he saw that everyone was giving Jim a wide berth. Brown was backing off, "I only put the file...." He never got a chance to finish the sentence.
"My desk, My Guide, My territory!" Ellison's voice was a warning growl as he threw the file at Brown.
Blair Sandburg was almost plastered against Ellison's side; one hand out of sight on the taller man's back, the other pressed against Jim's chest and moving in firm circles. He was talking but only the sentinel could hear him. The kid was doing what all guides did; try and calm his sentinel, soothe the primitive rage that Robinson had caused and Brown had unwittingly stoked.
Simon moved forward slowly, not wanting to provoke the sentinel further. Thank god he had read Sentinel 101. Keeping his voice level he said, "Brown, move away from Ellison and sit at your desk. Don't look at or acknowledge Sandburg at all."
Brown nodded, he could feel the sentinel tracking him back to his desk. Sandburg's voice was raw, "Sentinel, your territory is secure and your guide is safe. It's time to relax your vigil." The sentinel looked down at the hand and then drew his guide around before him. He could see the fine tremors that were running through the younger, smaller man. His guide was distressed and in pain. Ellison shepherded him around the back of the desk, pushing the second chair out of the way to clear a space. He reached and bunched up his jacket and Sandburg's and put them on the floor; he studied his arrangements and shook his head, still not satisfied. Icy blue eyes swept over the office, looking for something.
Simon shook his head, Hell, not chapter 9! Okay, he could handle this.
"Rafe, get me the blankets from the emergency packs, now!"
The younger detective returned quickly. Simon moved toward his senior detective, keeping eye contact, "Here you go, Jim." He offered the blankets.
The sentinel nodded and laid the blankets on the floor. Then he gently pushed his guide down onto them and took his seat, looking out across the bullpen. Blair curled up on them, careful to keep his body resting against his sentinel's leg. He had opened his pathways to help his sentinel gain control of his killing rage; but the emotion had been so strong that he was drained. He had had to channel so much rage and anger and it had knocked him badly; he was still shaking from the impact. Blair was grateful that the worst of it was over. Jim was now exhibiting the behavior of a sentinel with an injured guide. He had found him a *safe* place to rest and was keeping watch over him. That fierce protective emotion washed over him helping as he worked to send out soothing vibes himself. He closed his eyes, allowing the free flow of emotions between the two of them; trusting his sentinel to not hurt him. Just before he fell asleep, he felt his sentinel's hand gently stroke his head.
Simon breathed a sigh of relief, "Doesn't any one have any work they need to do? Crimes don't solve themselves." He smiled contentedly as his people scattered to their jobs. Well, he had managed to weather another storm of having a sentinel detective in his bullpen. Why couldn't he convince himself that it was the last one?
Blair woke with a start, feeling the stiffness in his legs and back. Disoriented, the first thing he saw was the lower drawer of the desk and then his backpack. It took a moment for the events of the day to come back to him. Then he felt the hand on his shoulder, "How are you doing there, Chief?" Blair sighed; Jim was back.
"Bit stiff, that's all."
"Sorry I lost it, Chief, but..." his words trailed off.
"Yeah, man. I know, the instincts cut in," Sandburg sounded sure.
"Right. All I could think of was that he was hurting you and I needed to kill him." It was a confession.
"But you didn't," Blair tried to reassure his sentinel.
"Because you stopped me." Jim curbed the anger he could feel re-building at the memory, the kid was in no condition to handle it.
"How are your barriers?"
"There." More or less.
"Don't lie to me, Chief. I know you were handling some pretty heavy stuff."
"They're pretty fried, but I'll be okay. But..." Blair hesitated, an air of embarrassment settled on him.
"But what, kid?" When he got no answer, Jim prodded, "I am your sentinel, tell me."
"I need to be close to you right now."
"Yes." God, he had said it. It wasn't up to the guide to ask for bonding; the sentinel always instigated a full bonding, never the guide.
"Your barriers are totally gone, you have no shielding." It wasn't a question but a statement.
"Yes." He had admitted it, his barriers were shot to hell and it would take time to rebuild them fully. Jim was his only shield against being swamped by all the emotions of the people around him in the bullpen.
Oh god. Jim was turning him down, he should never have asked, him and his big mouth, if he had been a good little guide and just kept curled up at his sentinel's feet, maybe, just maybe Jim would have suggested the bonding, now he would be stuck for the whole day without any barriers, the slightest touch an agony. Then he realised that Jim was talking and he tried to concentrate on what he was saying.
Jim frowned as he saw his guide react to his apology. Then he realized the younger man thought he was denying him the bonding he needed. Hell! When is this kid gonna learn? "I didn't mean to hurt you, Chief. It must have been like trying to eat glass to handle all that emotion. They've got a sentinel suite here; let's go use it. We've got to get your barriers in place; you can't spend the rest of the day like this. He reached a hand down and drew his guide up. Blair slid into place behind him, one hand on the middle of his back clutching his coat, the other running up and down his arm in short sharp movements. Sandburg was displaying the behavior pattern of a guide with no barriers, needing constant contact and reassurance from his sentinel, both physical and emotional.
Simon decided to run interference for his sentinel pairing. At this rate I'm going to put in for a pay raise, Captain of Major Crime and Den mother to a sentinel and his guide. He allowed a smile to come to his lips before exchanging it for a scowl as he pulled his professional persona back into place. On his way to the door with the two men, he ran into his son, Daryl. Simon was always pleased to see his son but just at the moment he had a crisis on his hands. He dropped back a minute to say, "Take a seat in my office, son, I'll be with you in a minute."
Daryl grabbed his father's arm, "That's Sentinel Ellison, isn't it?"
"Yes," he didn't mean to snap at his son but he needed to get his men to the suite. Sandburg did not look too good.
"I just asked..." Daryl was looking at them curiously. "What happened, the guide looks awfully nervous?"
"There was an incident, Daryl." Simon waved him quiet, "Not now. Okay, son."
"Are they going to bond?"
"Not in the middle of bull pen they're not. Once they get to the suite, I'd guess so." "Cool, can I watch? No one in class has seen that." Daryl's voice held all the unthinking curiosity of a teenager.
"NO, Daryl, you can't watch. It's not a peep show! Now go and sit down in my office. Now."
"But, Dad..." That contained a definite whine.
"NOW." Banks looked his apologies at Ellison, aware that the sentinel had heard every word between father and son.
Daryl went away muttering. It wasn't fair! His dad had a sentinel and pet guide and he could straight *A* the project if he would only let him near them. None of the other students had access to a real live sentinel and here was his father stopping him.
The next day Jim was in conversation with Rafe and Brown while his guide was creating the incident board. Blair was pinning pictures of the murdered women on the bulletin board behind Jim's desk and linking each to the city map in the spot where she had been murdered. He sensed more than heard the person behind him; he turned fast and found Cathy there. The young woman was wearing dark glasses.
"Blair, I am sorry. I never meant to hurt..." she trailed off.
"You knew I was a guide when you cut in at the party?" His question was also a statement.
"Yes. I knew that Eric would hit the roof when he knew I had slept with a guide. It was the worst thing I could do to him." She couldn't meet his eyes.
"I thought you liked me but I was just a means to an end. Thanks, Cathy." Sarcasm was heavy in his voice.
"Blair, I did, I do like you! And what we had..." Hay was earnest now but Blair was very careful to keep his barriers up.
"Sure, Cathy. Didn't you think he would come after me? Jim nearly killed him. Did you hear about that? He challenged Jim and that can only be met with force."
"It didn't work the way I planned. Okay?" She pulled her glasses off, "you're not the only one who got hurt by this." Her black eye was proof of her words. "Look I am sorry. I just wanted you to know that."
Blair watched her leave; there was nothing else he could say.
As she walked past Ellison, Rafe and Brown, Blair noticed the slight tilt to the sentinel's head as he took in her scent. He detached himself from the other detectives and walked over. "That her, Chief?"
"You tell me." Blair was noncommittal but Ellison could read the hurt.
"Huh, her scent, Chief, it was all over you."
"I didn't know that she was Robinson's girlfriend. For god's sake, man, I don't have a death wish. We went back to her place and we... er... well, you know. She said her flat mate was out all night."
"Do you think she wanted Robinson to catch you there?"
"She got real edgy. Yeah, maybe she did. But, Jim, I could've sworn she was enjoying herself." Ellison hid his thoughts behind one of his best stoic looks. God, the first time the kid tries to have a little fun since Barnes and the goons and this happens!
"She used you, Blair, she knew it would push Robinson over the edge. He's got a major problem with guides."
"Tell me about it, big guy." He's going to kill me for that crack; I know it.
"Okay, Casanova, try and keep your mind focused on the work at hand. And, Blair?" He waited until he had the younger man's attention, "Not everyone has an agenda like Cathy. Sometimes things are just what they seem."
Jim noticed Sandburg's heart rate slow again as he went back to the board. The kid was improving but he still was waiting for that blow. It was a pity he couldn't kill that bitch Barnes for what she had done to him. Although they had never fully bonded, she had treated Sandburg as a full guide; and punished him for the slightest word or gesture that she considered out of line. And then the GDP had taken him into custody. It had been three, nearly four, weeks now, and finally Blair was recovering himself.
Blair fished out Jim's work diary and looked up the dates of the murders. They all took place at about two week intervals. They were all the same type of woman; someone that the neighbors knew little about, good tenants, no bad debts, few vices, none illegal, each had at one point in her life worked for the GDP. If the killer followed the same pattern someone else would die tonight. The last murder had happened while they were bonding so Jim had not been called in to search the scene. That had been handled by Linden from Homicide who had replaced Jim when he had moved to vice. But Linden was unbonded, his abilities not fully on-line, so it was more than likely he had missed something. One thing he was sure of was that Jim was developing into one of the most powerful sentinels that he had ever heard of. Ellison had allowed him to run some tests and already, even though he was running mainly on instinct he had surpassed many of the other sentinels.
Blair looked up as Jim was hailed. Jim turned to the greeter but kept between the newcomer and Blair. The man was in his forties and smiling warmly at Ellison, "Detective Ellison?"
"Yes. And you are?"
"Detective Linden. What do you say we drop the sentinel crap, grab a coffee and have a chat? You have a guide and I don't; but I sure as hell don't want one, so I am not looking to take him or hurt him."
Ellison smiled, every instinct the sentinel possessed said that the man meant every word. "I think we are going to get on fine, Detective Linden."
Seth Linden looked across at Blair who was studying him keenly. "That your guide?" Ellison nodded and motioned Blair over.
"Chief, I want you to meet Detective Linden, Homicide." He caught Blair's elbow, "no kneeling, Chief, remember."
"Good to see you don't go in for all that kneeling crap. It's enough to turn my stomach. He best come along as well."
"Right, Jim. Hello, Sentinel Linden." Blair's voice was steady but both sentinels could hear his heart beating faster.
Linden shook his head, "Kid, I've got no time for this sentinel stuff, so lets just get on with solving the case. If we have the suspect's M.O. right, then he's going to strike tonight and we are no closer to getting a result here."
"You scanned the scene, Sentinel Linden?" Jim was proud of his young partner, his heart rate was up but he was focused and professional.
"That's Detective Linden, Kid, and yes I did." He shook his head, "I couldn't pick up anything."
"It's possible you did without knowing it. You might have stored it, all we have to do is tap it."
"What do you have in mind, Chief?"
"If Detective Linden will cooperate, I can talk him into a relaxed state and then through a recall process. If he did store anything, we can hopefully match the scents." Blair hesitated, "I would have to touch you, but with your permissions, Detective, Jim?" When he got the approval of both sentinels, he looked around. "Simon's office."
Linden settled in the chair as Blair knelt in front of him and laid a hand on his knee, "Detective, I want you to listen to my voice and allow me to guide you back. You remember..."
Finally, Blair leaned back and shook his head. "No good, you didn't pick anything up." He got to his feet and walked over to Jim. He slid to his knees in front of him, head down, hands crossed behind his back. Blair said quietly, "Don't fight it, Jim, you need to do this." Jim hesitated and then dropped a hand on Sandburg's shoulder, his fingers gently massaging the muscles as Blair opened up his empathic pathway. The connection made, Blair could sense the surge of possessiveness that ran through his sentinel, that all but shouted the word *MINE*. Blair confirmed through their connection that he was Jim's and no other's. Only then did he get to his feet, allowing Jim to shepherd him out first.
He was pleased that Jim had handled his working with Linden so well but there were still things that Jim neither understood nor accepted about his sentinel side. Ellison... Jim might hate the fact that his guide was forced by societal conventions to kneel to him but at times the sentinel needed that submission, that feeling of power. He was the Sentinel Prime at the Station, and like it or not, there was a whole primitive behavior pattern that went with that position. When Jim had bitten him, he had released the Dark Sentinel and their meshing had gone to a much deeper level than Blair had ever imagined. Jim had to know that his guide was safe. Had to know that his guide would obey him so he could keep him safe. 0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0
The phone rang at 1:00 am and Ellison caught it on the second ring. "Ellison." He barked his standard phone greeting whether at home in bed in the middle of the night or sitting at his desk in the office.
"Alright. We'll be over in about 30 minutes."
He paused for a moment at the doors to his guide's room and then shrugged, he was going to need him for this. He entered the small room making no effort to be quiet. Waking Blair had to be done carefully. Ellison always made sure the light was on first, hands touching him in the dark brought back bad memories for Blair and the last thing he wanted to do was spook his guide.
Carefully he laid a hand on Blair's shoulder but instead of shaking him he decided to try something different. Ellison opened the link between them. He had never tried this before; there was a certain amount of natural shielding while the empath slept. Jim hesitated, then drew on the new depth of their connection and the link opened fully. He allowed the feeling of security and safety to run between them and he felt the tug on his mind that showed his guide was feeding on those emotions. Only then did he gently shake Blair awake. Blue eyes fluttered open and looked up at him. This time, there was no fear in the still unfocused gaze, no flinching back, just a hand reaching for him and clinging to his arm.
"Sorry, Chief, Simon called. We've got another body."
Blair's hand brushed the sleep out of his eyes, "I won't be long." There was a long pause, "it worked, Jim, I didn't feel scared when you woke me."
"Glad to hear that, kid." Ellison didn't pull away until Blair moved first, allowing the empath to break the connection.
Simon was chomping on his cigar as he talked to the beat cops who had taken the call. He almost glared at the blue and white truck as it pulled up and the sentinel/guide team got out. Even with the seriousness of the crime, he couldn't help but grin; Sandburg was trotting along trying to keep up with the sentinel at the same time as he was pulling on a pair of gloves. The sentinel paused briefly and tugged the pass out of the top pocket of his coat and pinned it on his guide. Ellison patted his shoulder and they continued on to the scene. Sandburg was still talking a mile a minute when they arrived.
Suddenly Sandburg ground to a halt. Jim turned on his heel, his hand going to grab his guide, "Easy, Chief."
"This is where Cathy lives. Captain Banks, it's not..."
"It's Eric Robinson. Cathy returned late with a girlfriend, the door was unlocked and when she called there was no answer. They found him in the bedroom; someone put a bullet through his head with his own service revolver. I've had Cathy Hay and her friend taken down to the station, but I need you to go over the crime scene, Jim."
"Oh man." Blair began to hyperventialte.
Jim's attention focused on his guide, "just try and breathe for me, Chief, that's it. Nice and slow." He added in concern, "you going to be all right with this, Blair?" He had seen police officers lose it at their first murder scene, let alone a grad student.
He got a nod of the head as a reply. "Because I am really going to need you on this one."
All the way up to the apartment, the sentinel kept monitoring his guide. Apart from his death white color, he was holding it together. But he still had to view the body and that was going to be a whole other thing.
At the door to the bedroom, Blair took several deep breaths and slipped into guide mode. "Captain Banks, please have everyone leave the room. Jim needs to be able to work without the distraction of any other stimuli."
"Alright, people, every one out of here, now." Simon took up a place at the bedroom door. "Jim, I'll see you back at the station."
Blair took off his gloves and then lay his hands on his sentinel, one on his upper arm, the other resting on the middle of his back. Then he opened up the linkage between them and dropped all of his barriers. For a moment he felt anger rush through him; he fought to calm his sentinel down so that he could work. Finally, they were able to work together as Blair cued Jim into using each of his senses. He started with scent, had Jim sifting each of the odors in the room. "Okay, Jim, can you identify any of the scents in the room?"
"I can smell Eric Robinson and the scent from the other night."
"To be expected, they lived together."
Ellison wrinkled his nose slightly and brushed at it with a hand, "the place is saturated with the smells of detergent and cleaning fluid. She must have just scrubbed this place today, it's so strong."
"Robinson must have made her clean the place to get rid of my scent. He told me he smelled me in the apartment and on Cathy. Tune down your sense of smell and switch to vision."
Jim began to examine the area around the body. Suddenly, he was aware of the panic growing in his guide; he could feel it vibrating through their link. He immediately stopped what he was doing and concentrated on reassuring Blair, allowing the younger man to draw strongly from him, deep into the connection they had forged the other night. He felt the slender hand flex on his shoulder. "Go on, Jim, I'm all right now. It was just the...blood." Jim's reply was accompanied by emotion, "draw on whatever you need to get through this, Chief."
One large hand gently squeezed his guide's arm and then he turned back to the body. The bullet had been fired at close range but there was no contact burn from the muzzle flash when it had been fired. The wall behind him looked like a macabre piece of abstract art from the blood spray and brain matter. There had been no attempt to make it look like suicide; it was clearly murder. The room showed no signs of a struggle; it was as though Robinson had stood still and allowed himself to be murdered. There was no way he would have done that, unless... Jim looked at Blair thoughtfully; he was going to have to ask his guide about that because if what he was thinking were correct, it would put a whole new spin on the murder.
Back at the station, Jim noticed that everyone was giving him a wide berth, "Okay, Rafe, what's up?"
Simon wants you both in interrogation room three, now, Jim."
Captain Banks looked serious. His eyes shifted from sentinel to guide; deep down he knew this was going to be hard. He needed to get this sorted before the GDP arrived on the scene to make in person the accusations they had made by phone.
"All right, Jim, what do we have?"
The sentinel paused, then said, "We agree that its not suicide, Captain. Robinson just wasn't the type to do that and it doesn't jell with the evidence at the scene. Someone got close enough to kill him, so we have to think that maybe the GDP killings and this one are linked. To get that close to him our killer had to have the knowledge to get a sentinel to zone out. In that state, the killer would have all the time in the world to use Robinson's own gun on him."
Simon fixed the guide with a look, "You're our sentinel expert, Sandburg, why didn't he hear the murderer if he was in the apartment? I thought sentinels could hear a heart beating?"
"Not if whoever did it used a white noise generator. Robinson might have just put it down as his senses going off line; he was unbonded and that probably happened a lot."
"Do you have a white noise generator, Sandburg?"
"No, its illegal for a guide to own one. The one Wilson gave me; I gave to Jim." Fear was starting to build in Sandburg; he had a good idea where this was going.
"Could someone trigger a sentinel to overload? And zone out?" Simon asked coolly.
"Yes, sir." Blue eyes shifted between sentinel and police captain fearfully.
"So you could overload Jim?" Blair looked nervously at Simon, "Captain, I would never... It's a serious offence for a guide to do that to his sentinel, I could get... And I wouldn't. Not to Jim." The expressive face was openly pleading now.
Before the younger man could get in a worse state, Simon said, "Easy, Sandburg. I'm not accusing you of anything or even thinking of doing it. I just wanted to know if it could be done."
"I could do it," he didn't look at his sentinel, "there are certain stimuli that can trigger a zone out where he could be moved without him even knowing it."
"But they would have to know a lot about sentinels," Simon looked at him thoughtfully. "What about you, Sandburg? Everyone knows you had a run in with Robinson."
The smaller man back peddled into Jim, there was genuine fear on his face. "Time of death was put at 8:00 o'clock tonight, Sandburg. He did attack you in the station and you did sleep with his girlfriend who set you up. And you have killed a sentinel before." The Captain leaned into him, using his superior size to intimidate the small empath.
The younger man's mouth was open but nothing was coming out. He couldn't believe what Simon was saying, the man had always been good to him but now he sounded ready to hand him over to the GDP for interrogation and they would... they would...
"Jim," his voice bordered on panic. His heart was pounding out of his chest. No, no, no, no.
When Simon looked at Jim Ellison, he saw barely controlled anger. Jim's voice was icy, "At 7:30, Blair was in the office of Dr. Woodward at Rainier University talking with the Department chairman about rejoining the university at the start of the new term. We were there until 9:30 finishing up the paperwork and talking to some moron from the GDP named Zena Dexter. That a good enough alibi?" His tone indicated he thought it damm well better be.
"You would be willing to swear to that, Detective?" Banks had to ask what his position required him to, even though he hated to see what it was doing to the young empath. Sandburg's eyes were glassy, focused on horrors Simon didn't want to think about. His face was ghost white and drops of moisture were gathering at his temples. Simon wondered if Blair even knew where he was right now.
"If you don't believe me, you can have my badge." The sentinel's hands latched onto his guide's shoulders and moved him behind him so that he acted as a shield between his guide and his captain.
"I'll personally take Blair's statement tomorrow and get it signed. Rafe and Brown will collect Woodward's and the Dexter woman's statements; I don't want anyone claiming that you interviewed the witnesses, Jim. I want everything cut and dried before the GDP turn up on the scene. Since he's a guide, they can claim jurisdiction over Sandburg and I don't want to give them any excuse to do that." Simon was happy to see that Sandburg was coming out of his funk, was realizing that the captain was on his side and not going to hand him back to his tormentors. Banks added, "Bear in mind the GDP will turn up sooner or later; if they do, I will deal with it, Jim. I do NOT want to see them splattered over the bullpen walls, do you understand me, SENTINEL ELLISON?"
"Sir, yes, Sir." Simon drew a deep steadying breath. When Jim Ellison reverted back to his army response you knew you had gotten through to him. All he needed was one scared guide and one protective sentinel meeting with a moron from the GDP and mayhem would result if said moron made an attempt to take said guide away.
Now that he was sure he had gotten his point across he asked, "How exactly could the killer have zoned Robinson?"
Sandburg was thoughtful; he was still nervous, his hands moving on his sentinel to reassure himself and to keep Jim grounded. He reminded himself that this was Simon, his friend, and not an enemy. "If they knew he was unbonded they would over-stimulate more than one sense and that would push him into a zone. It could be smell with hearing, or hearing with eyesight; but you would have to know more about sentinels than you could pick up from the 101 manual. Whoever killed Robinson had a lot of information, so..."
"So, Chief, he would have to have had contact with a sentinel or been part of one of the Guide/Sentinel projects." Jim put in.
Simon looked at them thoughtfully. "The GDP are going to be shadowing us on this, the death of a sentinel is going to rank high on their list of priorities. I want the two of you on this full time. If you discover anything we will have to share it, but I want the information first, do I make myself clear?"
"Yes, sir, but what about the Lewis, Williams, and Scott killings?"
"They were connected to the GDP, Robinson was a sentinel. We treat them as one and the same until we know differently. Rafe and Brown will be working on this one as well."
The next morning, Blair was walking down the corridor when he saw the GDP officer and two guards coming toward him. This was not good.
"Guide Sandburg, show your respect." It was the officer who spoke. Blair didn't recognize him but he knew that tone of voice and the glitter in the man's eyes.
Looking around frantically for help, Blair saw that he was alone with the GDP personnel. He knew the two large guards flanking the officer. They had been at the correction facility and had been his trainers before he had been handed over to Wilson, the sadistic guard who had abused him, mentally and physically.
I am not going back, Blair vowed.
"Guide Sandburg, on your knees." It was said in a way that told Blair this was the last time he would be asked. Blair carefully knelt down but kept his head up. One of the guards snarled, "You know the drill. Head down."
Blair slowly lowered his head but kept watching as one of them came closer. He had seen the flexi-cuffs; he could not let them take him out of the station.
He would only have one chance, and he prayed to all the gods he knew about that this would work. Suddenly he swung his backpack around, keeping it low. It collided with the back of the guard's legs, bringing him down. Blair powered up from the floor and started to run. He slid around the corner as he heard them yelling. All that was in his mind was that he had to find Jim. Jim would make it all right.
He flew down the steps, crashed through the doors and headed for Major Crime. He was breathing hard as he barrelled through the door of the bullpen; looking around he could not see Jim. God, where was he?
By now the GDP personnel were coming through the door, the two guards fanning out round the officer. "Guide, this ends now. On your knees and accept your detention."
Blair stood frozen, unable to move. He never saw the shocked looks that flashed across the detectives' faces. Shock that turned to anger as they saw the young guide's fear, felt his need for Ellison.
Rafe came forward. "Don't move, Blair. The captain said you don't kneel to anyone in this building." The youngest member of the bullpen carefully caught Sandburg's jacket; he didn't touch the empath but gave him the assurance of help he needed so badly.
"This is a GDP matter, it doesn't concern the police," the officer all but sputtered the warning.
"Blair Sandburg is a member of this department and you don't mess with him unless you want to mess with us," Brown said as he moved forward to join Rafe as a living shield between Blair and the GDP officers.
"He doesn't have to kneel to anyone here. Now, if you have a problem with that you can take it up with me." Simon had emerged from his office.
The GDP officer was starting to look worried. This was not going as planned. He had never seen people stick up for a guide before; normally they just stood aside, which was the way he liked it.
Seeing the sentinel arrive on the scene, Simon ordered, "You three in my office now." Simon's voice quieted as he continued, "Jim, bring your guide in here."
Brown leaned into his partner, "What do you bet that Simon has them out of his office in ten minutes tops?"
Blair slid in behind his sentinel using him as a physical shield against the GDP, one hand latched onto the back of Jim's shirt, the other one slowly moving up and down the sentinel's arm in an unconscious movement. Jim ignored it, knowing that his guide needed the contact to keep his balance in the emotionally charged atmosphere of the small office. He saw the disgusted look on the GDP officer's face and shot him a look that had the man turning his eyes away. They train the guides, strip away their barriers and then revile them for having to take comfort and support the only way left them.
Simon looked at the GDP officer, ""Mind telling me why you're here and trying to detain a member of my department, one of my men? And while you're at it, who the hell are you?"
"Lieutenant Boscov, GDP. Guide Sandburg is wanted for questioning in the murder of Sentinel Robinson. We are aware that he attacked Sentinel Robinson and, as I'm sure you know, he has killed a sentinel before. We intend to..."
Simon cut in, his tone icy, "If you had taken the time to do your homework and read the report that I sent to GDP you would know that Blair Sandburg has an ironclad alibi. An alibi that has been corroborated by GDP Officer Zena Dexter; at the time of the murder he was in a meeting with Dr. Woodward of Rainier's anthropology department."
"I didn't see any report."
"My secretary would be more than happy to get you a copy." Simon picked up the phone and hit the internal number to his secretary, "Rhonda, can you get the Lt. Boscov a copy of Mr. Sandburg's statement and those of Dr. Woodward, GDP officer Dexter, and Detective Ellison? He will be taking them with him." Jim smiled as he heard Rhonda say, "The reports they can have, Captain, but not Blair." Banks exchanged an amused glance with Ellison, aware that the sentinel had heard the secretary's statement.
"If you have a problem with any of the statements, you will bring it to me and not to Mr. Sandburg. If I find that you have been harassing him, I will have you arrested. Do you understand me?"
"Yes, Captain, I do. I'll read this so-called alibi and if it doesn't hold water, we'll be back." Boscov tried for threatening but he didn't make much impression on the police captain... and he knew it. He left quickly, trying to salvage a little dignity.
Brown checked his watch as the GDP officer rushed past, "Five minutes. You owe me, Rafe."
"Hey, it was a sucker bet, H. You shouldn't even try to collect."
Jim came out next with his arm around his guide's shoulders, steering him toward their desk. Blair paused, "Thank you, Detective Rafe, Detective Brown." The guide's voice showed clearly that he couldn't believe that they had stuck up for him; was grateful they had.
"Any time, kid." Brown automatically patted his back, then froze for a moment and glanced at Ellison who just nodded that it was okay.
"You're one of us, Sandburg. No one does that to one of us." Brown and Rafe saw the look Jim gave them; it was full of grateful thanks that they had been there for his guide.
"Get your coat, Sandburg. We're going to take a look at the life and times of Eric Robinson, which means we're visiting the Sentinel Training Institute. Simon's arranged for us to see the director."
"Er... Jim. I don't think that's a good idea, not feeling like you do at the moment."
"You're a dark sentinel, I'm your guide, and there are unbonded sentinels at the Institute. See where I'm going with this?"
"What you're saying is that I don't have any control." Ellison's voice got louder. He prized his control of his emotions and it rankled him that his own guide would think that he lacked it.
"Its instinctive, Jim. You have to learn to respect your instincts. You're a dark sentinel, the top of the tree, the Alpha Male. You would see them as challenging your ownership of your guide. And you, we, haven't been at this long enough to really know what to expect." Blair was only just beginning to realise how stubborn his sentinel was, he would not accept there was part of him that he could not govern.
"The Director of the Sentinel Institute would not have agreed to the meeting if there was a problem, Chief, so just get your coat, NOW." His tone brooked no arguments.
The Institute was an old building, with impressive pillars and porticos. It reeked of power and importance. "Jim, you ever study here?"
"Sorry, Chief, didn't catch that."
"I said have you ever studied here?"
"For about 12 months. I wasn't identified as a latent sentinel until I was in the Service. The Army sent me here to study until I got the hang of things and the Rangers found me a temporary guide. He stayed with me until he was killed in the crash."
As they entered the reception hall, Jim felt Blair's hand clutch the back of his jacket as he edged closer to the older man. The receptionist gave Jim a brilliant smile, "Good afternoon. May I help you, sir?"
"Detective Ellison. Blair Sandburg. We have an appointment..." We have an appointment! Jim was including him as a person... "to meet with the Director." She checked the screen, "Of course, sentinel, Dr. Claydove is on the second floor. If you would sign in?"
The sentinel logged himself in and accepted the visitor's badge. She smiled again and he heard the buzzer as she pressed it. Two GDP guards appeared out of a side office. "Please don't be alarmed, Sentinel Ellison, these gentlemen will look after your guide for you. You may collect him when you leave."
"No, he comes with me. He's my guide not a piece of left luggage." Ellison felt more than saw Sandburg straighten up and move the merest bit away from him, trying to live up to his sentinel's confidence in him.
"Sentinel Ellison, it is most unusual for the Director to conduct a meeting with a guide present. No one will harm him and we have a very nice guide room..." She stopped talking when she realised that the sentinel in front of her was not going to give up his guide.
Jim was looking at the two guards; he didn't like the look on their faces, they looked too hungry to get their hands on his guide. "He comes with me," the sentinel's tone was final.
The receptionist turned back to the computer, accessing the GDP database, and asked, "Your guide's name, Sentinel?"
"He knows it. Ask him." Blair sighed; Jim was determined to be difficult. Without making her ask again, Sandburg said quickly, "Blair Sandburg."
Ellison didn't have to be a sentinel to see the look she gave his guide as she read the first part of the file. She extracted a red badge and attached the black circle to the corner of it that clearly marked him as a former inmate of the correctional facility. She handed it across to Ellison; her whole attitude screaming that it was beneath her to actually acknowledge a guide. "Fourth floor, Sentinel, room 335." Blair grinned as Jim did his by now habitual concealment of the black mark as he pinned the Institute pass half under his guide's police badge.
The Institute was busy; several people were waiting for the elevator, all wearing the distinctive blue badge of unbonded sentinels. They looked at Jim and moved backward, the white badge with the diagonal crosses on it showed him to be a fully bonded sentinel. Jim felt his guide's hand on his arm and then the tug in his mind as Blair opened up the link between them.
Blair could feel his sentinel begin to get on edge. It was as if Jim had an itch that couldn't be scratched and it was irritating him. Ellison entered the elevator, positioning himself so that Blair was tucked between him and the wall, all but hidden by the sentinel's body and protected from attack. His protective instinct was running riot and he viewed the others as possible challengers to his ownership of Blair Sandburg. As he shifted Blair he accidentally moved the police badge and the black mark showed briefly. Sentinel eyes caught it.
"Your guide has been through the correction facility. Sentinel, would you say that this has improved his..." The student froze as the dark sentinel turned his full attention on her. Jim never said a word; he just looked at her before turning back to watch the lights on the wall register the floors. When it stopped he ushered his guide off. In the elevator, the girl almost slid down onto the floor as her legs turned to water. In that one look she had seen her own death; that sentinel was lethal, a pure predator, and she had dared to talk to him. He wasn't anything like the sentinels they brought to the Institute to speak to them; they thought of themselves as sentinels, but against him they where nothing.
The Director's personal secretary was decidedly upset that he had brought a guide with him; she viewed Blair with total disgust. How the hell did things get this bad? The GDP teaches the guides to act as slaves and the Institute teaches the sentinels to treat them like slaves. It was never meant to be like that; in his soul he knew that.
The Director rose and shook hands. "Please take a seat, Sentinel Ellison, I..."
"It's Detective Ellison, Director. I worked hard to become a detective; I'm a sentinel because of genetics. I prefer the title I earned."
Yes, Blair felt like cheering. He couldn't hide his smile; he couldn't believe the Jim had just said that to the director himself.
For a moment the man was taken aback, then unexpectedly he smiled, "It makes an honest change to meet a sentinel who doesn't believe he's God Almighty. Please take a seat. I think I'm going to enjoy our chat, Detective, I'm just sorry its such a sad occasion."
Jim was not surprised to see his guide on his knees but it saddened him. He was making good progress with Blair; the kid had finally understood that he didn't have to kneel when he was with him and that he would not be punished for not adopting the working guide position. But it still kicked in when he wasn't sure of himself or was still afraid that Jim would be angry if he didn't show him the respect in front of superior officers. That was the next thing they would have to work on. Sometimes he thought that Blair was making great progress, that he trusted him; then he would react skittishly in an unfamiliar situation. All he could do was give him the confidence to keep going. He let his hand rest on Blair's shoulder, and gently eased him to his feet until sentinel and guide stood shoulder to shoulder.
"Director, my guide, Blair Sandburg. I think we can read it as written that he did pay the correct respect to you. Unless you object, I am getting another chair."
"No problem, Sentinel." The director watched as he got his guide seated. The young man still wouldn't look at him, keeping his eyes down. His face was lost under a veil of long hair but his hand rested on his sentinel's thigh, slender fingers flexing in a grounding motion. The director watched the pairing in front of him. He had heard of Ellison, especially from the GDP, and he was pleased to see that the man lived up to his reputation.
"Dr. Claydove, what can you tell me about Eric Robinson?"
The director opened up the file in front of him. "Eric Robinson went straight into the police academy from the Institute. He attended three mixers while he was here, but none was successful. To be honest, he was overpowering and arrogant and none of the guides were drawn to him. And his teachers did not see any pairings that they thought would be successful." Claydove carried on leafing through the file, "he was a good student and worked hard on the tests he was given. He believed totally that guides were subordinate to sentinels." He paused, "from what I have heard of you, Detective, that is not something that you believe in." He said it not as a question but as a statement.
"Then you heard correctly, Dr. Claydove. The guide/sentinel relationship is a partnership; we both need each other to function. To believe that a quirk of genetics gives us the right to beat and abuse another person as if they were nothing... No, I don't believe that."
Dr Claydove looked at the sentinel as if Jim had just passed an important test.
"How bad was Robinson's attitude towards guides? He *offered* to discipline my guide so I know he had a problem. Why would he ask another sentinel for permission to do that?"
"Robinson tried to force a bonding with a young woman named Jill Walker. He had tried to interest her in bonding. When she refused, he followed her when she left the mixer. It was getting pretty ugly when his trainer arrived on the scene and broke it up; there were strong indications that he wanted more than the empathic connection from Ms. Walker. At his age, there was no risk of the Fincham syndrome, so we decided to give him time to mature before we allowed him to bond. While he was here he experienced a few basic problems; he zoned out on a regular basis when he was visually over stimulated. Eventually, we had to decide that we had taught him what we could. He left here and went to the academy, as I said before, from where he passed with a good record. That's all we have on him, Detective."
The doctor watched as the sentinel leaned in toward his guide. A non- sentinel himself, he didn't hear what the young man said but he noticed the detective pat his guide's arm as if to reassure him.
"What happened to the girl, Jill?" Ah, yes, the director thought, the guide would be interested in the answer to that question.
"She went to another... No, wait a minute, excuse me." The director pushed the intercom button, "Iris, can you get me Jill Walker's file? She would be in the GDP files as she attended some mixers here."
"How serious did you take the attack on her, Doctor?"
"For a sentinel to try and force a bonding is a very serious offense, Detective. Guides are not so plentiful that we can afford to lose one through the actions of a, no pun intended, misguided sentinel."
"But it doesn't sound as if anything happened to Robinson. He still went into the police force." Ellison sounded faintly accusatory.
"It was thought that was for the best. He didn't achieve the bonding and we felt the discipline and oversight of the academy would help him mature. In any..." he broke off as the secretary entered. "Thank you, Iris." He looked at the print out.
"Jill Walker committed suicide, Detective. She was taken to the GDP facility after the attempted forced bonding where she received treatment. Apparently, it was too little, too late and it appears that she lost her barriers and unfortunately killed herself when she was swamped with input. A very sad case."
"Did she have family," Ellison kept his mind on the case and tried to not think about how close Blair might have come to the same "very sad" ending.
"Her father was deceased, her mother was her closest living relative. I do have an address, if you think it's important?"
"I think maybe you have just given us a prime reason for someone wanting Robinson dead." There was a feral gleam of satisfaction in the detective's eyes.
Jim sat looking at the small house in front of them. This had been Jill Walker's home until she had been accepted as a guide. Her file had shown that she had made no attempt to evade the GDP; in fact, she had been eager to become a guide. He glanced over at Blair and gave his arm a gentle pat, "Come on, Chief, lets meet the lady."
Mrs. Walker answered the doorbell and checked their IDs before letting them into the small front room. A mix of furniture styles added up to a homey, comfortable ambiance. Framed pictures charted the life a lovely young woman through the years from birth to death. As she offered them seats, she apologized, "You have to be careful, gentlemen, about letting people into your home. But how can I help you?"
"I'm sorry to bring this up, Mrs. Walker, but its about your daughter Jill."
"It wasn't a suicide, Detective. Jill would never have killed herself; they murdered her. All she wanted to do was help and they killed her." She broke off and focused on Blair Sandburg, "Jill was only your age, such a waste." "Why was she so keen to become a guide?" Blair asked the question gently and Jim was prepared to let his guide lead.
"Her cousin was a sentinel. She knew that he would need a guide and believed that it was her destiny to help people like him reach their full potential. You can't understand how proud she was the day she entered the facility. She was prepared to work hard, prepared to find the sentinel who needed her. Jill attended several mixers before that animal..." she dabbed at her eyes with a tissue. "She believed that guides were created to help sentinels," for the first time she noticed the three red lines on Sandburg's ID badge, "you're a guide, you know what she felt, you must have felt the same when you volunteered."
"How did she react after that sentinel attacked her?" Blair ignored her comment about his feelings and tried to move the questioning along. How could he tell this woman of the fear of bonding, of being made a legalised slave to another person? He made himself keep calm.
"She couldn't understand why he did that. Jill had to go to one of the hostels after the attack because she couldn't keep her barriers under control. The officers there were so helpful; so kind to me when she...died."
"Do you remember their names?" Blair coaxed her back from her memories.
"Jane and April, such a petty name, and there was another girl as well. All three of them worked on her floor." Blair glanced quickly at his sentinel and saw the faint nod for him to carry on.
"Her cousin, the sentinel, what was he like?"
"Oh, he was a lot older than her, a really nice boy. It was such a pity when he was diagnosed as a sentinel. He had wanted to be a teacher but of course that had to be forgotten. It would have been such a waste of his gifts. He's a policeman now."
"Did he ever bond?" Something told Blair that this cousin was important.
"No, he had a condition," she frowned, "anyway, he couldn't bond. At first they said it was a death sentence and he would die. But he didn't; he had all five senses but none of them as hypersensitive as with ordinary sentinels for some reason. That's why he didn't die."
"How did he take Jill's death?" Jim nodded in pleasure at his guide's gentle prodding. He was asking all the right questions.
"Seth was very upset, he always treated her like his kid sister. I think he felt it was his fault... that she wanted to be a guide because of him." The tissue was put into play again.
Blair patted her hand, "I'm sure that we will get to the bottom of this mystery, Mrs. Walker."
The woman looked at him, "Your sentinel, does he treat you well?"
Blair's smile was open and genuine, "Very well, Mrs. Walker."
"Then that is the way it should be; that's what Jill believed."
Later, out in the truck, Blair asked solemnly, "Will we get to the bottom of her death, Jim?"
"We can try, Chief, but all the people involved are now dead, so it's going to be hard to get to the truth, but we can try. Seth isn't that common a name; and the cousin is an unbonded sentinel detective. I'll need to take this to Simon; we have to get into Detective Linden's personnel file."
"It makes sense, Jim. His *kid sister* is *murdered* by the GDP. He goes after the three women who were on her floor because he blamed them for her death. As a homicide cop assigned to the case, he's in the perfect place to clean up the crime scenes. It would also explain his behaviour in the office when he was pleased I didn't have kneel to him, he wouldn't have wanted that for his kid sister. But, I liked him Jim."
Ellison laid a hand on the back of his guide's neck, "Unfortunately, kid, the world is full of murderers who are likable. And if he is the one who did the killings, he probably felt he was justified."
"Sentinel protective streak," Blair nodded.
Simon exploded, "you have better be right on this, Ellison. If you're wrong, the damage to his career would be..."
"He's the one, Simon. We ran his files and they match with what Mrs. Walker said. Seth Linden is a sentinel with a rare condition that keeps his senses from going fully on line. For that reason, he's unable to bond. The three women who were killed all worked on the same floor at the facility where his cousin, Jill Walker, was taken. The same Jill Walker that Eric Robinson attacked and tried to force to bond. Lastly, as a sentinel himself he would know about the zone outs and what would cause them."
"Why didn't this show up before in the murder investigations? Oh, yes, of course. Seth Linden was running the case." Simon answered his own question.
"All three women had moved on in the last three years to different departments, so there was no obvious links other than the one to the GDP. Walker's suicide isn't the only one, others have happened at the facility since then." Jim let his gaze drift to his guide; if the man didn't possess so strong a will he would have broken, and Jim might have lost him to suicide before they even met.
Blair cut in, "Seth waited for Robinson to finish his police training, that might have been the trigger that set him off on his killing spree. When he was out of sight, Jill's death still hurt but the pain was bearable. But seeing him every day, wearing a police uniform, would have rubbed him raw and when I had the run-in with Robinson it must have seemed a godsend. He had found his scapegoat. And since it's not much of a secret that I didn't exactly clamor to be made a guide and Jill was convinced that empaths were born to be one... well, maybe he felt that excused him using me, another guide, to get back at someone who didn't value guides the way he thought, Jill thought, they should."
He noticed the two police officers staring at him and shrugged, "Anthropology major and a psychology minor."
Jim was looking at Blair critically. He saw his guide move slightly, uncomfortable under his gaze. "We have to get Linden to come after someone else. If he stops now, we'll lose him. We can show his connection to the three women and Robinson but we can't put him at any of the crime scenes."
"But who, Jim?" Banks asked the obvious question.
"According to the records there was a fourth woman on that landing, a GDP rookie by the name of Joyce Caine. Linden hasn't gone after her so far. We shine the spotlight on her and get him to try for her. Then we get him first."
Simon shook his head, "I don't like the idea of using this woman as a decoy, Jim."
"Simon, Linden has overlooked her for now, but for how long? He will kill her soon or later; we can't keep the woman in protective custody forever. We have to push this."
"Okay, bring her in and let's chat with the woman. See what we can set up." 0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0
Joyce Caine was working at a local GDP office. She looked up when Ellison and Sandburg walked in and smiled, "Can I help you, gentlemen?"
"Detective Ellison, Cascade PD, my partner, Blair Sandburg. We need to talk to you in private."
The young woman looked at Blair and noted the red and black badge. She was slightly puzzled by the sentinel's reference to his guide as his partner and even more so that he even bothered to introduce him. She shrugged it off; sentinels could be a little eccentric where their guides were concerned. This one didn't even make his guide kneel down and *show respect*. "The office over there is empty. Is everyone at home alright?"
"Yes, but we do need to talk." Ellison voice was calm but grave.
Once the door closed behind them, one look at the detective told Joyce something was seriously wrong.
Jim found himself looking at a girl in her early twenties. She still wore the uniform of the GDP but now she was a simple paper pusher, whereas before she had been in the teaching program and on the fast track to a high position in the organisation.
Jim kept his voice level, "You worked in the correction facility at the GDP institute when Jill Walker committed suicide. Do you remember the incident?"
"Yes, that was the reason I came out of the training program, we should have been able to save her but I think everyone was more concerned about covering it up than helping her. Did you know that I found her?" Jim detected the shudder that ran through the girl, she was genuinely upset about the girl.
"You worked with three other women on that floor; Jane Scott, Sarah Williams and April Lewis?"
The girl nodded.
"All three of them have been murdered. We believe their murders are connected with the death of Jill Walker. As the last GDP officer of the group on duty when she died, you are a target. We need you to come with us now so we can ensure your safety."
"But why? I...we tried to help her." Her voice was almost pleading.
"The killer blames you all for her death. What we need to do now is stop him before he can get to you."
"Let me just clear up a few things, Detective, and I'll be right with you. You can wait here; there's coffee in that carafe. It's not bad with a lot of cream and sugar." Ellison shot a look at his guide; without ever saying a word, Blair let his sentinel know what he thought about that recommendation. Jim idly tried to track Joyce's preparations for departure but ran into white noise. "Damn!" Jim shook his head.
"What's wrong, Jim?" Blair had a hand on Ellison's shoulder.
"Nothing. They've got a white noise generator going."
Blair grinned, "Hey, Jim. They're GDP, they know how nosy sentinels are."
"Watch it, Junior. You can still walk home, you know."
Fifteen minutes later, Ellison and Sandburg were escorting the young woman out to the truck. As they stepped out on the sidewalk, Jim's head suddenly snapped up as he heard the distinctive click of a rifle bolt being pulled back. He lunged, pushing both his guide and the young woman down. As he covered them with his body, something burned through his shoulder and he was spiralling down into darkness.
Jim came around to find a nurse leaning over him. As he tried groggily to rise, she pushed him back down on the bed. "Detective, you must lay still. I'll get Dr. Swann for you."
Ellison waited impatiently a good five minutes. Then he swung his legs off the bed and tried to get up. The world tipped violently and he nearly blacked out. A hand caught his arm. He tried to push it away but failed. When the world stopped spinning and he could finally look up, he saw an older woman looking down at him, her face showing nothing but concern.
"Detective Ellison, you have been shot in the shoulder. You were lucky that it missed the bone. It went straight through and did very little damage but you lost a lot of blood. You shouldn't be getting up, so just stay in that bed... or do I have to get an orderly to sit on you?"
Jim ignored her, "Blair, where is he? Was he hurt?"
"No one else was hurt, Detective. Someone at the scene got your bleeding slowed or you would have been in real trouble. All you need is rest and fluids and you'll be..."
"Doctor, I asked about my partner. Is he all right?" Jim gritted it out between teeth clenched on anger or pain. She wasn't sure which but she could see he was concerned about this Blair, so she volunteered, "I'll go and find him."
Only then did Jim lie back down again.
Captain Banks stepped off the elevator, "Detective Ellison, where is he? How is he?"
"And you are?" The nurse behind the desk wasn't handing out that information to just anyone. The man had been shot, for heaven's sake!
"Captain Simon Banks, Cascade PD. Ellison is one of my detectives."
"He's conscious and we're having a hard time keeping him in his bed. He seems very concerned about a Blair Sandburg."
"He's not here?" Simon's concern, and surprise, could be heard in his voice. "Detective Ellison is a sentinel, Sandburg is his guide, he should be here."
One of the nurses listening to the exchange interrupted, "The GDP Officer that was with them called some one and they collected the guide. They took him to the hostel; he was very upset and they said they could calm him down."
Simon swore, "Sorry, Doctor, whatever you do, don't tell Ellison where his guide is or you'll never keep him in that bed. I'm going to go and get Sandburg."
Simon flashed his credentials and was admitted to the hostel. The place seemed unnaturally quiet to the big police captain. The few people he saw came in twos, one GDP guard to a guide. The guides were, to a person, withdrawn and silent. The manager who came to speak to him, David Hopkins, was a tall hatchet faced man.
"Can I help you, Captain Banks?" He looked as morbid as an undertaker.
"One of my detectives, Sentinel Ellison, was injured in the course of his work and he was taken unconscious to the hospital. A GDP Officer with him at the scene, Joyce Caine, had his guide picked up and taken here. I need to collect him and get him back to his sentinel; he's asking for him."
"Captain, this hostel specializes in rogue guides. Normally, the sentinel has to collect the guide from us; we don't usually allow them to be collected by a third person. You can understand the potential problems if we were to just let anyone pick up a guide." Yeah, some of the poor bastards might actually escape.
"Lieutenant Hopkins, Sentinel Ellison is in the hospital and the doctor thinks he will be happier and more content if his guide is sleeping at the foot of his bed. I'm just trying to get him comfortable." Go for it, man. Don't make me get rough.
"Sentinels do put a lot of store by their guides. Let me see, what's the guide's name?"
Hopkins quickly typed in the name. "Sandburg, he has quite a record with us, Captain. He would have been put in the secure facility." He dialled an internal number, "Senior Guard Druy, please escort Blair Sandburg to my office." There was a pause as he listened to something, "Oh I see, but do it all the same, he's being collected."
The Senior Guard tugged on Blair's arm as he ushered him into the office where Simon waited. At his command, Sandburg knelt down silently, moving sluggishly. The young man didn't acknowledge the police captain's presence; it was as if he wasn't really there. Simon was off his feet and on the floor next to Blair. He demanded, "What the hell have you done to him?"
"He was very emotional when he arrived and he was given medication to calm him down."
"He watched his sentinel get shot! And then he was pulled away from his side and taken here. Of course he was emotional. I should think you'd be more concerned if he wasn't." Simon growled.
Simon recognised Sandburg's condition; the hostel had used the same drug that the corrupt guard Wilson had used when he wanted to use the young empath as entertainment for some visiting businessmen. Luckily, Major Crime had gotten to him before anything could happen. Simon turned his anger on Hopkins.
"For god's sake. He's nearly catatonic."
"We had to use a strong sedative, he had some resistance to its effects."
"Blair, its okay. I'm going to get you out of here." Simon reached a hand out carefully; making sure that the empath could see his move.
"S mn?" The name was slurred.
"That's right, Sandburg, its Simon. I'm going to take you to Jim."
"J...m! S...mn. Shot 'im. M...mus g...g...get to J...jim."
God, I'm afraid to touch him. His barriers must be shot. I can't hurt the kid anymore than he already is. "Sandburg, your barriers, are they in place? Can I touch you?"
"Y...yes, but l...low. J...jim..."
The guard reached to pull the empath to his feet but Banks snapped at him. "DON'T touch him." Remembering what he had seen Jim do, Simon carefully eased the younger man's face up so that he was looking into his eyes. The usually expressive eyes were dull and glazed. Banks got to his feet and reached a hand down to the guide.
Sandburg hesitated and then, slowly, he put his hand in Simon's and allowed the big Captain to draw him to his feet. When Simon let go of him, Blair reached for him, one hand going onto Simon's shoulder as he slid around him to use the Captain as a shield. His other hand clutched Banks' forearm. Simon felt distinctly uncomfortable as the younger man plastered himself against him. Instinctively, he wanted to shrug the man off. He could not understand how Jim Ellison could put up with this sort of contact; but then, he wasn't a sentinel and didn't have the tactile need the pairing did.
Blair didn't move from that position all the time that Simon was completing the paperwork. He felt Blair's head resting against his back.
It was with some relief that Simon left the hostel. He had to gently coax the guide into his car; Sandburg was having trouble coordinating his limbs. Finally, Simon was ready to pull away; he nearly jumped when a slender hand latched onto his thigh, the guide maintaining contact.
"Have to ff...ind J...m. Sh...ot. Blood, S...mn, ever...where." Those words were to be repeated frequently on the trip to the hospital.
"That's where we're going, Sandburg. Just hang on, kid."
As Simon shepherded his charge into the hospital, he felt the guide suddenly shudder. He paused, what would Jim ask? Bank's voice was suspicious as he demanded, "How are your barriers?"
"All g... gone."
"Hang on kid, we're nearly there." Simon was the only thing keeping the Guide on his feet by the time they reached Ellison's room.
The minute the door to Jim's room was open, Blair released his hold on the captain and none too steadily moved to the bed. He reached out for its occupant.
At his touch, Jim's eyes opened. There was a look of contentment in the blue eyes that Simon had rarely seen as the older man reached for his guide. Ellison felt the tug as his guide connected with him.
Blair gave a contented sigh, his hands gently stroking his sentinel's face and shoulders in small sweeping motions.
"Simon, what's wrong with him? You said he wasn't hurt."
"The Caine woman called the GDP after you where shot. They took him to one of the hostels. He was in a bad way so they sedated him. It will wear off, Jim." Simon hesitated, "He told me his barriers are real low."
"I know, Simon, he's connected to me now." The sentinel reached up with his hand and cupped his guide's face. Blair leaned into his touch, making a soft whimpering noise. The sentinel could feel his guide shivering, harsh tremors running through him. Gently, he tugged his guide to him. Blair willingly climbed onto the narrow bed; now he could drop his barriers completely, his sentinel would protect him from the emotions that had eaten away at him since they were separated. Now he could relax.
One of the nurses entered and gave an indigent squawk. She started forward and Simon caught her arm, "They're a sentinel/guide pairing. They need this, okay?"
She nodded, making sure that she kept a neutral look on her face as she looked at them. The sentinel, Jim Ellison, returned her look with only faintly veiled hostility. She made a mental note to warn Dr. Norton. The doctor, though young, was good at his job but not up on sentinels. Right now, the wrong move could get him killed.
Jim opened his senses and allowed them to range over his guide as he protected him at this most vulnerable time. His sentinel recovery powers kicked in at full tilt to bring him to peak condition to protect his guide.
Once satisfied that his guide was sleeping, he looked across at his captain, "Simon, thank you for bringing him and for getting him out of that place. Once a rogue, always a rogue; I know what they'd do to him." His hand lightly ghosted over his guide's head and shoulders. The young man murmured slightly and tried to burrow deeper against him.
"Is it alright if I move closer, I won't touch him?"
"Yeah, Simon. He'll be okay as long as I'm close. When he wakes up his barriers should be back in place."
Simon took the seat next to the bed. Blair Sandburg was lying on top of the covers; his body was relaxed as he slept off the sedative, his mind accepting the strength of his sentinel.
"Simon, how the hell did Linden know about our meeting with Joyce Caine in time to set us up?"
"That's what we can't explain yet. Hell, maybe he was close enough to hear us talking; he is a sentinel, after all. Now you try and sleep, we'll check this out tomorrow."
Jim was like a bear with a sore head when he entered the bullpen. The doctor had climbed the wall when Jim left without medical clearance and Ellison was still smarting from the doctor's comments. Rafe leaned into his partner, "Storm Warning Ellison."
Both of them noted that the guide was plastered to his sentinel. The kid looked as pale as death. Jim was concerned. Blair had thrown up twice that morning; he had a splitting headache and was visibly shaking. He wasn't throwing off the after effects of the drug as fast as the doctors said he would. The kid was still unable to keep his barriers up; he was wide open at the moment, hence the sentinel's bad mood. Ellison was suffering himself and with the added distress of his guide, he was on edge.
Simon's voice echoed across the bullpen, "Ellison, Sandburg, my office."
He waved them both to a seat, "You look like hell Ellison. How are you feeling?"
"Like I've been shot, Simon." Sarcasm in Ellison's voice was never a good sign. Blair's hand tightened on Jim's forearm and he added a belated, "Thanks, Simon."
Carolyn Plummer came in at that point, "Jim, you all right?"
"I will be, Carolyn, thanks."
"Okay, people, lets get this meeting started." Simon noticed the way Carolyn looked at Blair. She made little attempt to hide the hostility she felt towards the empath. She was totally disgusted with the way that he was hanging onto her ex-husband. Jim was not a touchy feely person. It must be driving him up the wall having that kid practically clinging to him like that. She watched in disbelief as Jim carefully seated his guide. To be honest, she thought, that kid did not look well. Simon started the meeting and she noticed that the kid's hand was resting on her ex-husband, slender fingers fluttering over his forearm. Finally, she had enough, "Jim, can't you stop him doing that? It's turning my stomach."
Sandburg winced at her comment and tried to pull his hand away. Ellison caught it and held it to his arm as he snapped at his ex-wife, "Carolyn, his barriers are shot. He's got no protection against the emotions of the people around him. He needs me to shield him and that involves contact, so live with it." Carolyn was surprised she had rarely heard that tone in Jim's voice.
Simon cut in, "Lets get on with the business at hand, people."
Carolyn nodded, "I started to look at the computer records after Simon questioned how the suspect could have gotten onto the woman Caine so quickly. We discovered that someone had hacked the computer so that it red flagged Caine's file. The moment you had her file pulled, our suspect knew about it. The interesting thing is that Linden is a Neanderthal where computers are concerned, much like Jim." She smiled and was pleased to see a ghost of a smile on his lips. Okay, at least he was reacting to her again; maybe she could salvage the situation with dinner.
Carolyn continued, "Alice is trying to track the hacker down but with no luck, she's hitting brick walls."
"Colin Sharpe could do it." Blair put in softly.
"Who, Sandburg?" Simon asked.
"When I was at Rainier before... he could get into any computer system. He owes me a few favours and I can call them in on this."
Simon looked at the guide, "Okay, Sandburg, you go see him. Jim will go with you."
"No, he's not too hot on cops. I have to see him on my own."
"Chief, you're in no condition to separate right now."
"My barriers are up, I'll be okay."
Jim carefully felt along their connection, he could feel how shaky the kid was. But the kid wanted to this do this. "I'll wait in the truck, Blair, you get in any trouble, you call me. Right?"
"Of course, Jim." Blair smiled despite his headache.
Simon turned to Carolyn, "In the meantime, have your people keep on tracking that red flag. If Sandburg's connection can crack it, well and good, but something tells me it's going to be strictly illegal."
Rainier University was partly deserted, with the semester start still four weeks away, only a few students were milling around. The truck pulled up outside of one of the apartment buildings connected to the university.
"Your friend lives here, Chief?"
"He's working on a PhD in computer science. He really doesn't like people in general and cops in particular, so stay put, Jim, okay?"
"He the one who helped you keep hidden from the GDP?"
The sentinel felt the increase in his guide's heart rate, "Its only idle curiosity, Chief, I'm not interested in busting the guy."
Reluctantly, Blair closed the connection between them and entered the building. The sentinel cocked his head to one side and tracked his guide's movements. Suddenly, he clamped his hands to his ears as a high-pitched whistle that left his head ringing assaulted his senses.
Blair was forced onto his knees in the room, the barrel of a gun was pressed against the back of his neck. "Colin, its me, Blair. Blair Sandburg, remember?" The man holding him was built like a line backer.
"Hey, Colin, you know this guy?"
Colin hadn't changed in the couple of years since they last met; he still looked like a refugee from the classic X file series, one of the lone gunmen. "Sandburg? I thought the GDP got you?"
"They did, I'm bonded now. I need..."
Colin turned and hit a button. "If your sentinel's out there, Sandburg, he won't be listening in on us now. I heard you got bonded to a cop; that true, Sandburg? You wouldn't be setting us up would you?" God, I forgot how paranoid Sharpe was.
"Of course not, Colin. But I do need your help."
"You trying to run, Sandburg?"
"No... No. I need your help to track down a computer program."
"Yeah? This program, where is it?"
"In the GDP headquarters' central computer."
"Cool, its okay, Dave, let him up."
Blair shivered and made an effort to stabilize his barriers. Their emotions were starting to crash over him and both of them were paranoid to the extreme. It was like nails down a blackboard.
Colin's fingers flew across the keyboard before he fished out a small black book and began to input a series of numbers. A few minutes later a GDP logo came up on the screen.
"Who do you want the search on, Sandburg?"
"Joyce Caine, I think her file's been flagged. I need to know who did it, and if you can track it."
Colin nodded, "They put a firewall up. We just have to get through that and..." He swore and looked at the flashing screen where numbers were counting down. "We got through the wall but the bastards are..." His words trailed off, suddenly he exhaled, "The GDP started backtracking, but I got off line in time." He swung around in his chair, "Sandburg, what the hell is going on here?"
"Someone killed a Sentinel and three GDP officers. Whoever did it set me up to take the fall. Luckily, I had an alibi. My sentinel is working on the case. This Joyce Caine was the next logical target. When we went to get her, someone opened fire on us. My sentinel was hit when he pushed us down."
"Well, the file was red flagged, you were right about that. They had built in a firewall that would stop most people. I got through that, managed to open it up and warning bells started to ring. Now, the interesting part is that it transmitted its warning to another GDP office. It bounced around about three hundred dead files in about twenty zones but its origin is a GDP office in Cascade."
"The police are trying to locate the origin themselves."
Colin laughed, "The police don't stand a chance. They don't have the hardware or the software to peel back the layers."
"Colin, they have state of the art..." Blair protested.
"You don't understand, Sandburg. The person that flagged it created a collapsing loop; the moment anyone got through the firewall and tried to trace it, they destroyed the evidence. That's what attracted the attention of *big brother*."
"Did you get the office address?"
"You'll be wanting a full postal address next, including name and zip code. All I can tell you that it's a terminal in the Apollo building."
"Thanks, Colin, this could really help us."
"What are you doing now, Sandburg?"
"I start back at Rainier on my PhD when semester starts. Dr. Woodward has arranged for me to be a TA."
"And he allows this? Your sentinel?"
"He's paying for the PhD. What I'll make as a TA is mine, free and clear. He's a good guy, Colin, that's why I want to nail these bastards. They shot him."
"Just watch your back, its GDP source."
"I will. And I've got a sentinel watching it, too."
When Blair left the apartment building, he was aware that Jim was watching him closely. Immediately upon climbing into the truck he was reaching for his sentinel, trying to rebuild his barriers. The paranoid emotions rioting in his friend's room had drained his strength. He sighed softly in relief as he felt the safe warm feeling of his sentinel's shielding around him.
"You okay, Jim, they had a ..."
"I heard it, Chief, believe me I heard it. But I'm okay. What did you find out?"
"Colin got in but the police won't be able to. The file was rigged, but he tracked it back to the Apollo building. My guess is that Joyce Caine flagged her own file. She's involved in this, Jim."
"Linden was not aiming for her but for us, Chief. When she was supposed to be 'clearing up a few things,' she was calling him. With me dead, they would have put it down as another sentinel murder by our serial killer." Jim looked at his guide, "I think that's why she had you carted off, wanted you disappeared into the system."
"But what's her connection with Linden?"
"That's what we have to find out, Chief."
Carolyn was waiting when Jim got back to the bullpen. Jim sent his guide off for a coffee, heavy on the sugar, light on the nutritional lectures. When he turned back to Carolyn she said, "Sorry, Jim, we didn't get anywhere. When we tried to trace the file, the whole system just collapsed. Did your source manage to get anywhere with it?"
"Yes, but it gave us more questions than answers. We need to take this to Simon."
She caught his arm, "Look, Jim, why don't I take you to lunch as a peace offering? We could have a quiet talk, and..."
"Carolyn, there are two of us. Sandburg comes. You got a problem with that? I'm his sentinel and he's my guide. You either accept that or we part now." As Carolyn hesitated, Jim said regretfully, "Sorry, I just don't have time for this now."
Surveillance was ordered on Joyce Caine. Ellison and Sandburg pulled first shift. They had just pulled up when she entered her office and then left almost straight away. She collected her car and drove to a house on the outskirts of Cascade. Ellison was parked two blocks away, watching the house, senses tuned high. Another car pulled up and Jim whistled softly as Cathy Hay got out and entered the house as well. That was someone they had not expected.
"It's going to rain. I just know it's going to rain and we're going to be stuck sitting here." Blair was grumbling and Ellison waved him to silence.
He tried to extend his hearing and hit a bubble of silence. He tried to push through it and suddenly everything went black. The next thing he was aware of was Blair's voice calling to him, softly but with authority. It was the tone of voice that he couldn't ignore, the tone that had to be obeyed. The feeling of Blair's hands on his face anchored him and slowly he followed his guide back to the present. "Jim, you with me yet?"
"You zoned, talk to me, big guy."
"It was like a bubble of silence, I could hear around it but not through it. I tried to push but..." he didn't know how to finish.
"It was a white noise generator; you can actually hear around it?"
Blair watched Jim nod, "Wow. That is so cool, man."
"I'm glad you like that, Chief. All it did for me was give me a headache."
"You don't understand, Jim. Most sentinels would just have hit a wall of silence, the fact you could hear around it and could locate it is just... wow, we will have to run some tests on this."
"Later, Chief, okay? Later. They're getting ready to move." He tracked the girls' car out to the industrial area, the car stopped at a badly run down building. He recognised the unmarked police car that pulled up about twenty minutes later.
Jim reached for the radio and then froze. Linden would have his radio on and he did not want to tip him off. He pulled his cell phone out. "Simon, this is Ellison. Caine met with Hays and they are now in the old ..." his cell phone began to cut out. "Damn."
He thrust the cell phone at his guide, "Stay in the car and try to call in some back up. We're at the Westerfield Industrial estate and they're in unit 3439. I'm going to get in closer." He felt his guide's hand latch onto his arm, read the rebellion in the deep blue eyes that met his. "Just do it, Chief."
Blair watched as his sentinel headed in the direction that their suspects had taken. All he could get on the cell phone was a fading signal. He didn't even hesitate; he got out of the truck and started after his sentinel.
Blair heard Jim yell, "Cascade Police." There was the sound of gunfire and he began to run. The rain he had been expecting arrived in a hot flash of white lightning and a drum roll of thunder.
"Jim!" Blair went flying around the corner. His sentinel was on his knees, his hands pressed against his head; he had been caught by the thunder and lightning, overloading his hearing and his eyesight. Linden stood over him with a gun cocked at his head.
"Don't hurt him," Blair threw all the intensity he could muster into that plea. The gun immediately tracked on him.
"Keep your hands where I can see them, Sandburg."
Blair put his hands up and moved forward, putting himself between his sentinel and the gun. "You don't want to kill anyone else. I can understand why you killed Robinson. We know about Jill Walker, she committed suicide because of what he did to her, but..."
"You don't understand, Sandburg. He tried to rape her mind. She was a loving and trusting girl who really believed that guides were here to help sentinels, make their lives complete. And that pig tried to force her to bond with him. He destroyed her life. You just don't understand."
"*I* *don't* *understand*", All of Blair's bitterness spilled out in those three words. "The GDP forced me to accept a Dark Sentinel female who was a psychopath, I can't tell you how much fun that was. Then when I was finally rid of her, I was raped, starved and beaten to get me to bond with another sentinel. Thank God that I was given to Jim Ellison. And you say that I don't know."
Blair moved closer to Linden, "Who the hell do you think you are to threaten my Sentinel." He kept walking until the gun was only a foot away from his chest, "If you're going to kill him, you'll have to kill me first, Sentinel."
"NO." The word echoed through Jim's head. His mind forced connections between stunned nerve endings. The white light began to fade as shapes ghosted into his vision.
Joyce Caine cut in, "Do it, Seth, we can be out of Cascade before they even know where they are. This is a dead area. We would have heard if they radioed for back up and the cell phones won't work. Just kill them and let's get out of here. Come on."
Linden's finger tightened on the trigger. His eyes were locked on the young man standing in front of him. Deep inside, a tremor began to run through him. This was guide in front of him, not his guide, but a guide nonetheless. A sentinel must protect the guide; the thought was as old as sentinels themselves. Linden looked deep into the blue eyes, reading there the guide's determination to die before harm could come to his sentinel. He slowly lowered the gun.
"Joyce, get handcuffs and rope. We'll tie them up and then we're out of here."
"Sorry, Linden. But we can't allow them to live. The unbonded sentinel turned and saw the woman's hand tighten on the trigger of a gun aimed at the young guide. Time slowed down as she pulled the trigger; in the split second it took the bullet to leave the barrel he stepped in front of the guide. The bullet caught him in the back as he shielded the younger man, his weight driving Blair to the ground. Another woman's voice screamed, "No."
Her voice was drowned out by an almost feral scream. Jim clawed at his backup weapon. Although his sight was still affected, he fired and Joyce Caine was thrown backward before she could re-aim at his guide.
He got to his feet; balance badly affected by the damage to his hearing and eyesight. He could smell the heavy copper odor of blood.
"I'm all right, Jim." Sandburg's voice was shaky as the guide slowly eased out from beneath Linden. He rolled the man's body on its back and tried to find a pulse. There was one but it was faint. The sentinel's eyes opened and said something so softly that Blair couldn't understand it, even bent over him so closely. Then Linden coughed weakly and his head fell to one side.
Blair looked up at his own sentinel.
"He said that he had to protect you, Chief. He could not allow you to be hurt."
Cathy Hay just stood there hugging herself and staring at the carnage; at Linden, and down at the dead face of Joyce Caine. Ellison had shot to kill.
"Chief, use the radio in Linden's car and call Simon for back up."
Simon was facing off with Captain Mason in his office. The GDP Captain turned on his heels and stormed out, passing an amused sentinel. Ellison strolled into his captain's office.
"What did Mason want, Simon?"
"He was royally pissed off because I wouldn't tell him the name of the hacker who got into their system. It seems that a gremlin got in again last night and left a rather nasty limerick running on the screens about the GDP and Mason in particular. I took the liberty of adding Colin Sharpe to our of registry of informers, so he's protected."
"Why do I get the feeling you enjoyed that?"
Simon grinned, all was right in his world. He was just about to light his cigar and then put it down at the look he got from the sentinel cop in front of him, "Okay, where's your shadow?"
"He's at the computer. I didn't want him near Mason, too many memories."
"One thing, Jim, Linden died to protect Blair because he was a guide. Yet sentinels punish their guides, I don't understand."
"It's hard to explain, Simon, but the need to protect Blair is the strongest instinct I've got. He's my guide; in a very real sense, he's my sanity. Sometimes when a sentinel punishes his guide, it's because he believes it's in the guide's best interest. There's a tendency to forget that guides are grown men and women, not children. And sometimes it's just because the sentinel is scared enough that he loses control." Ellison grinned, "And sometimes it's just because the sentinel is a bastard. But even with the bastards, if someone else threatens to punish his guide, it is not tolerated. Linden could not bond but that impulse to protect was still in him and found a focus on Blair". Unconsciously, the sentinel's hand went out as if to gently ghost over his guide's shoulder as if to reassure him that the young man would soon stand next to him unharmed.
"Well, Jim, that explanation is as clear as mud. Get your sidekick in here and let's clear up this case."
"Sandburg, Simon's office now." Ellison's yell brought the guide's head up and he hurried over.
"Okay, Jim. Run it down for us," Simon ordered.
"Right, Captain. The last piece of the puzzle has just been found. Cathy Hay died at the age of 8 months, had she lived she would have been 25. Our Cathy Hay's name is Alison Walker, younger sister of Jill Walker. It appears that when she realised that Linden was going to go after Robinson, she got the birth certificate from the register's office for the cost of a few dollars and got the paperwork to go with it. She was enough like Jill to attract Robinson's attention and he was soon living with her. All the time she was working with Linden to set Robinson up. When she saw Sandburg at the Americas' Day party she had the perfect fall guy. She knew that sleeping with a guide would push Robinson over the edge. He'd go after Sandburg, giving Blair a motive to kill Robinson. Linden had the white noise generator. He waited inside the apartment for Robinson and used bright light to overload his vision and zone him out. Then he used Robinson's own gun on his to kill him."
"What about the three other women they killed?" Banks asked.
"There were four guards on the Walker's floor. One was the rookie Joyce Caine. It appears that Joyce got close to Jill and when she committed suicide she took it badly. She believed that the other three women hadn't done enough to help her and allowed Jill to be taken to the correction facility. She was never the same again."
Simon glanced briefly at Sandburg. Thank God, he was getting another chance.
Jim went on, "She approached Mrs. Walker and told her that Jill's death was not suicide but murder; that what had happened in the correctional unit had killed her. Cathy Hay, rather Alison Walker, made contact and they got to talking. That's when the plan started to form. Joyce had the resources to locate the three women and Linden took them out. All three of our avengers believed they were as guilty as Robinson. As a member of homicide, Sentinel Linden could make sure that his tracks were well covered. Joyce was their computer wizard and it was she who red flagged her file. The moment that someone tried to access it from outside signalled that someone was onto them and it was time to get out."
"Was it Linden who took a shot at you?"
"No, that was Cathy Hay. She belonged to a gun club for years. She was aiming at Sandburg. Her idea was that if she killed Blair it would stop me dead in the water and the whole investigation would spin off in another direction. Besides, I think she was mad at him because he wouldn't have anything more to do with her after she set him up."
The sentinel playfully slapped the back of his guide's head. Blair just shrugged and said, "It's like hair, Captain, some of us have it and some of don't."
Ellison mock growled and continued," The reason that Caine had Sandburg put in the hostel was to give them time to work out their next move. That's it, Simon. DA says that Hay will go down for accessory to murder one."
"So, a job well done, gentlemen."
As they came out they bumped into Carolyn Plummer.
"Thanks, Carolyn, but it was a team effort." Ellison looked at his guide and smiled.
"I owe you a dinner, and there's a new restaurant that just opened down town. My treat. Come on, Jimmy, a peace offering? It will be nice, just the ..." She paused, "Just the three of us, okay?" Her eyes met his, I'm trying here, Jim.
"I'll meet you both in the garage." She saw the smile she got from her ex's guide; took a mental deep breath and stuck her hand out. "Lieutenant Carolyn Plummer." The guide hesitated a fraction and then accepted her hand. "Guide Blair Sandburg."
"Nice to meet you, Blair. Jim is looking well, you appear to be good for him."
"He's my sentinel, and, my friend."
"I hope that we can be friends, too." Jim listened to her heartbeat; it was slightly fast, but nothing that said she was lying.
Half of Jim Ellison accepted that his life with Carolyn was over, but another half hoped they could become more than friends again. If she could not accept he was now an online sentinel, they could never reach an understanding; maybe this was a start.
The next story in the series is "Forget Me Not"
For my sister Eileen thanks for all your help on trying to get me back on line when my computer crashed. This one's for you.
Written by Susan Foster