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

Learning Curves
First Lesson: New Beginning

The private room was softly lit and quiet, a haven of peace tucked away on an upper floor in the bustling Cascade Central Hospital. Special materials and construction ensured that the room was low stimuli, a medical necessity for the sentinels and guides unfortunate enough to need the accommodation. But all the careful planning was wasted on its current occupants. Blair Sandburg was sound asleep in the narrow bed and James Ellison... well, the quiet only made it easier to brood about the turn his life had suddenly taken.

James Ellison, newly bonded sentinel, settled into the hospital chair and took a deep breath, trying to ease the tension that hummed through his body. His life was changed. Anger burst through him as he looked at the other occupant of the room, a young man lying too still on the bed. He didn't want anything to do with this guide; he wanted everything back the way it had been 24 hours ago when his life had been his own.

Now the young man asleep on the hospital bed was his responsibility; a responsibility that he had never wanted. His well-intentioned captain would have done better to let him die rather than sentence him to the company of some... some longhaired *kid*... he had nothing in common with. He didn't want companionship. He was a loner; often by choice, sometimes by circumstance, always happiest keeping his own council. Now his every emotion was open to another person. He couldn't shut him out because to do so would be to inflict pain on his... guide, and condemn him to insanity. Blair Sandburg, BA, MA once upon a time PhD candidate; it was an impressive resume for such a young man.

Ellison closed his eyes. There had been nothing impressive about the too thin, unkempt small creature that had been flung at his feet short hours ago reeking of terror and pain. Until he had watched the battered, brutalised young man stand up to Simon Banks for the sake of the headstrong sentinel he had been forced upon. For him, James Joseph Ellison, whose need had robbed the kid of any possibility of freedom and was, now, all that stood between him and a descent into madness. Sandburg's empathic pathways had been blasted open by their bonding. He no longer possessed the ability to keep his empathic barriers up to protect him from overloading on the emotions of the people around him. The only shielding he would have from this point on would be from connecting with his sentinel. He, Jim Ellison, card-carrying charter member of the cold-heart brigade, would be this man's emotional support. God, kid, do you have any idea what you're asking of me? Kid... can't even say his name.

Blair Sandburg, *his* guide, somehow it was harder for him to be objective when he thought of him by name. He could feel a ... a *need* to connect to him, to Blair... to affirm that this was his guide.

His emotions were all up in the air. He ran a hand over his jaw and his anger flared. The kid must have known what was happening in the interrogation room; must have known that the Detective Ellison who helped question him was an unbonded sentinel starting to imprint... Jim shook his head. Idiot. Sandburg never wanted to bond with a sentinel. If he had, he would never have gone rogue. And this isn't the first time he saved your life.

Jim closed his eyes on that thought. He had met Sandburg... or Pet Barnes as he was then called, when the kid had contacted Ellison for help in escaping a sentinel who was a vicious criminal. When Major Crime had converged on the woman's hideaway, Jim had zoned and Alex Barnes had been about to murder him. Sandburg had prevented that the only way possible; the young empath had killed the rogue sentinel. And even though he and Barnes had never had a true bond... the pain of that killing had still darkened the kid's eyes hours later during his interrogation.

Something had happened during that interrogation, something that had pulled at a part of the sentinel Ellison wasn't willing to acknowledge. So, he had stood aside when the GDP had arrived and taken the kid into custody. Sandburg had never admitted to any of the police, save Jim, that he was an empath but someone had tipped off the GDP that "Pet Barnes" had acted as a guide for Alex and that caught their interest. The DA and PD wouldn't press charges for a killing that had saved the life of a policeman, but they wouldn't interfere in "GDP business" either.

Ellison rubbed his hands over his face. God, kid. I never meant for that to happen to you! 'That' was six weeks of unmitigated terror as the young empath was physically and psychologically tortured, daily, in the name of "rehabilitation." Jim had known that Alex Barnes had tormented the kid beyond reason but it seemed as if the GDP had been even worse.

Something had happened in the interrogation room, something more was still happening now. Jim lay a hand on his guide's cold fingers. Sandburg tensed, then sighed and settled, pulling Jim's hand up against his chest and curling around it. For a moment the sentinel hesitated, every fibre of his body screamed at him to pull his hand away. Ellison thought back frantically to the discussions he had once had with the GDP trainer, Alan Gross. Gross had lectured him that guides were tools to help sentinels function. Had stressed that it was an error to let an emotional attachment form that might make it difficult to properly discipline the guide. Gross would tell him that this guide was here to help Jim do his job, a tool like his service revolver or his handcuffs, nothing more, nothing less. Gross' advice was comforting right now but Ellison couldn't help but remember his own disgust for the man and everything he stood for... before he had been saddled with a guide.

An emotion Jim refused to name, tried to fight against, swept through him. He lost his struggle as his right hand ghosted shakily over a sleeping face. His hand decided, without orders from the mind that supposedly controlled that limb, to gently stroke his guide's face with hypersensitive fingers. His touch was light but sure as he brushed tangled curls from closed eyes. He didn't know why but when he touched this guide, it felt so right, so needful to protect this young man from harm. Especially from the kind of harm wrought by the perverted scum who had injured him so badly in the correction facility.

He flushed slightly as he remembered all too clearly his reaction when one of the nurses had mentioned that he could put Blair in a GDP Hostel during his recovery. Before he had consciously made a decision, his body had readied to cut her off at the knees. Part of his brain had realised that he was reacting to the fear generated in the abused guide at the mere idea of being given back to the very people who had hurt him. Fortunately for the nurse, his brain had overruled his body. Ellison noted distantly that his hand had continued to gently stroke the guide's mop of hair. He could feel the variation in texture of the dirt-coarsened strands and it mildly surprised him.

His senses had never been so on line before. Jim began to wrap his newfound sensitivity around his guide. Icy blue eyes took in every plane of the fine-boned face, each small cut or scratch, the bruises, new on top of old, and the fine broken veins that brought too vivid images of hard slaps and harder blows to mind. His ears filled with a steady throb and a soft susurration that he identified with vague surprise as a beating heart and the puff of breath from the sleeping man's lungs. Then his sense of smell joined that of sight and hearing and he locked onto his guide's scent. Blair Sandburg had a pleasant, musky ginger aroma that Jim would forever after associate only with his guide, a scent that was ingrained on his very soul; a unique scent that was already an anchor in the maelstrom of his senses. Ellison's nose wrinkled; overlying the very scent of his guide were other odors... odors that grated on his nerves. Ellison's hand rested on his guide's forehead as he tried to identify the disturbing scents.

The smell of fear hung heavily on Sandburg and sparked a surge of aggression in the sentinel. The coppery tang of his guide's blood hardened his face into a snarl. But the height of his anger was reserved for the smell of the rank, spent passion of the guards that had used and abused his guide in the facility. One part of Ellison's mind recoiled from it even as another part book marked the scent... he would know them if they ever came near him and they would pay for their 'pleasure'.

The feel of long curls straightening under the weight of dirt and sweat, recalled him from his vow of vengeance. His guide needed to be cleaned up but that could wait until they were safe in his territory. He could taste the air as his guide breathed...

Ellison began to fall into a void, only to be jerked back to reality by a gasp of pain when Blair turned in his sleep. Then the young empath began to whimper as his heart beat faster and his body thrashed weakly. All Gross' advice was discarded in an instant as a sentinel responded to his guide's distress. Jim reached to steady the smaller body on the bed; he had to do something to calm and reassure him. Sandburg awoke with a scream as he threw himself way from the touch. Jim caught him, holding him tight as he soothed, "It's all right, Sandburg, you were dreaming." The empath's struggles died out quickly as the flare of adrenaline burned up. Starved and beaten, Sandburg had no stamina. Ellison tightened his embrace as one heart-breaking sob escaped before the kid bit his lower lip.

Blair was shivering violently as he tried to ignore the pain. He didn't know where he was, who was holding him and he fought against the arms until his strength left him. The sob burst out before he could bite it back; he waited for the cruel laughter, the mocking voices, for the confining embrace to turn vicious. Nothing happened, the arms still held him firmly but with a gentleness that had been missing from his life for years. He tasted roiled emotions and anger in the ambient but... but it wasn't directed at him! Memories flooded back... the police station, a small room, a sentinel... his sentinel. He slowly lifted his head to look at the man holding him, needing to see his face, to confirm that it was his sentinel. His sentinel who had promised that no one would hurt him anymore, that he was safe. Jim. Oh God it was true! Jim. He reached for the security of that strong figure.

Scraped fingers caught at his shirt and the young empath tried to pull himself closer, no longer fighting his hold. Jim's solitary history told him to push the kid away. The smells that clung to the too thin body turned his stomach, filled him with disgust as his logical mind filled in the picture that his senses outlined. But something else ordered the sentinel to embrace the battered guide, shelter him. For a long moment he looked into the wide blue eyes so full of fear. He remembered the look Blair had given him at the station, as if he had found his salvation. It took only a split second to give his soul to the traumatised young man in his arms.

Jim pulled him close, onto his lap, one hand keeping the curly head tucked under his chin and the other rubbing the wiry back. He pitched his voice low and soothing, "Ssh... Ssh.... It's all right, kid, you're safe now, no one will ever hurt you again." At his words, his guide burrowed deeper into his embrace. He marvelled again at how Blair calmed under his hand; his touch had been the only thing that had kept the kid sane during the rape examination. They sat that way without noticing the time. Ellison felt something break open as his walled off heart made room for his guide. The door opened and a young man wearing the badge of a GDP physician on the sleeve of his white coat entered the room. Jim vaguely remembered being told during Blair's initial examination that Cascade Central was a teaching hospital for doctors and nurses specializing in sentinel/guide medicine. This must be one of the interns...

"Good evening, Sentinel Ellison. I am Doctor Moorcroft." The doctor kept his voice soft and level just as he was taught. He picked up the clipboard from the bottom of the bed, and read through it, wincing at what it revealed. One thing caught his eye... that couldn't be right! Nobody could bond with an empath who had just been through what this one had. "How long have you been bonded?"

"Since today." The sentinel confirmed what the report said and the doctor's heart raced as he imagined the difficulties of that bonding. "Right, Sentinel, and how did the bonding go?"

The doctor's heartbeat suddenly swamped Jim's hearing. He released his hold on his guide to try and block the pounding out with hands pressed firmly to his ears.

Blair gave a cry of pain and distress as he was released and clung tighter to his sentinel. Then he realised that his sentinel was hurting. He raised one shaking hand and laid it on the side of Jim's face. "Sentinel, listen to me, listen to me, hear my voice." There was a quaver in the low tones. "Picture a dial in your head. Like the volume control on your stereo. Got it? Slowly move it down, 5... 4... 3... 2... 1."

Jim found himself following the young man's voice, finding it easier to obey the soothing tone than protect his self-sufficiency. Slowly, the pounding faded away until he was aware once more of the weight of his guide and saw the pain etched on the young face.

"What happened, Sentinel?"

"I could hear his heart it was..."

"And you didn't dial it down? What training have you had..."

"None." Jim saw the look of disbelief on the kid's face and added, almost defensively, "I went to some lectures."

"Okay, we can do this." Jim could practically see the plans forming under the curly head as the young man bobbed his head, his own misery forgotten for a moment in the face of a challenge.

The doctor coughed, reminding the two men of his presence. "Sentinel, I need to check on your guide's vital signs. Please put him back on the bed."

"Sentinel, please... please." Sandburg buried his face into the sentinel's shoulder.

"His vital signs are all fine, Doctor. Leave us, now!" It wasn't a suggestion; it was a command.

Doctor Moorcroft slowly backed out; the sentinel was too aggressive at the moment.

"The name is Jim, not sentinel, remember?" Ellison said it softly, his hand moving over the bowed head. He felt the nod against his chest.

For the next 60 minutes he listened and followed the instructions from his guide and learned more in that hour than he had in all the lectures he had attended. He finally called a halt when the kid yawned and took a sharp intake of breath.

"Okay, Chief, enough is enough, go to sleep." Ellison tried to lay the kid down, only to hear his heart skyrocket again. Bruised hands again gripped his shirt too tightly. "Sandburg, it's all right. I won't go anywhere, but let's get you comfortable. Damn bed's too small." The last was said as he carefully shifted his guide around until he found a comfortable position for the aching body. He frowned; the kid was like ice and smelled of his imprisonment. Jim took care of both problems by putting his own body-warmed shirt on the other man. His own scent masked those of the rapists, comforting sentinel and guide alike. Jim sat with his back against the headboard, his body a living pillow for his guide. The younger man was making soft noises as he settled his battered body safely in the embrace of his sentinel.

Blair lay quietly against his sentinel. He felt the strength in the powerful arms going around him and couldn't help but wonder at himself. According to everything he'd ever learned in his psych minor classes, he should be scared to death to be in the arms of a man that he had only met hours earlier. Especially a man who summed up everything that he had run from when he determined he would not become nothing more than the glorified pet or the slave of a sentinel. Yet, here he was, bonded for life to this man. But he couldn't find terror in his heart; these arms had nothing in common with the obscene embraces he had suffered at the facility. He nervously pushed against the link; it wasn't his place to instigate the connection but since his sentinel had no training he might not be sure how to do it. And he needed the contact so very badly.

Jim felt a strange tug at the back of his mind and, suddenly, he was no longer alone in his head. He could feel the emotions of his guide tentatively inching into his mind. He reached to cradle his guide's head so that he could look into his face. There was fear in the deep blue eyes. "That's you... I can feel you." There was wonder in Jim's voice.

"Yes, Sent... Jim. I... I shouldn't do it without your permission but I need..."

Jim cut him off. "Chief, if you need to join, to *link*... right?.. then you do it. Whenever you want." He smiled slightly, "You're the guide of this partnership. I'm in your hands, so take what you need." God, did I just say that? Jim couldn't believe it could feel so right having another person in your head. He experimentally pushed against the link in his mind and thought *You're safe now.* He was rewarded with a brilliant smile and a happy murmur as his guide's arm came around his back and he nestled back against his *pillow*.

Blair's mind drifted back to when he had first met this sentinel. He had desperately needed to get away from Alex Barnes while he still had a sense of self. Only Barnes' threat to kidnap his mother and teach him a lesson kept him in line. But surfing the Web one day led him to a notice of his mother's death and a great weight had lifted from his heart even as grief filled it. He had begun to lay his plans for escape while hiding his knowledge of Naomi's death from his captor. Before he could complete his plans, Barnes had dragged him along on a robbery attempt. She had killed a cop during the crime but he had managed to stop her killing the dead man's partner. He had paid for the man's life in pain.

He shivered and felt a big hand rub his shoulder. This was one of the very worst memories that haunted his sleep... when they had returned to Alex's place, she had her men leash him. They had left him enough play in the bindings so that Alex could enjoy his struggles to escape his punishment but not enough to actually hinder the beating that had put him in bed for two days. Not that cracked ribs, bloody welts and a high fever had stopped Alex from insisting on her "rights." She had come into his bed that night still on an adrenaline high from the robbery attempt. Her nails had clawed bloody welts down his back and ribs. He still bore scars on his thighs from his futile attempt to fight her off. She had taken pleasure in his pain until she lost patience with his lack of co-operation and taken the leash up one more notch until he was at her disposal. At some point during that night he had lost consciousness. When he was finally released from the wrap and could walk again he had returned to his planning with a vengeance. It was no longer enough to escape; he wanted Alex Barnes caught and made to stand trial. He wanted her to pay for her crimes.

He had selected Jim Ellison carefully; the big detective had a reputation for being a tough but honest loner and he had investigated some of Barnes' crimes. Adding a degree of difficulty was the fact that the man was a latent sentinel. Blair had wanted nothing more to do with sentinels but perhaps the fact that he was a guide would dispose Ellison to work with him; all sentinels wanted a guide. At their first meeting he thought he had made a mistake when the latent sentinel had thrown him up against the wall and snarled coldly, "I can feel your kind, like an itch I can't scratch. Make it stop." He had to work hard to get Jim Ellison settled down, even so it had been touch and go. Ellison had him on his knees, his hands cuffed behind him and was halfway through reading him his rights when he had finally convinced him that he could give the police Alex Barnes. Oh God. He hadn't meant to kill her but he couldn't let her kill Ellison.

Blair shuddered as he remembered swinging the tire iron that had cracked her skull just as she was about to put a bullet in the zoned form of Ellison. This was the first time since it had happened that he consciously let himself deal with the memories... Shudders ripped through him and his head felt as if it were going to explode. Through the agony, he heard the soft reassuring words of his sentinel as the strong arms tightened around him. He gasped in pain and the grip eased. A warm voice asked,

"Sorry, Chief, am I squeezing you too hard?"

"A little, but I feel safe". Safe enough to look Alex right in the face and see her dead, no longer able to hurt him.

The sentinel shifted him until he could draw the blanket closer around him. Ellison held him, patiently rubbing his temples until the migraine eased. Able to think again, Blair's mind jumped forward to the interrogation at the station by three cops. There was a dark grunge dressed detective, a younger one who looked as if he belonged on the pages of a fashion magazine and... Ellison. The big detective prowled around in the background as he had given his statement, straightforward without the usual double talk that Alex always accused him of using. He had seen Ellison's gaze fix on him, burning into him, and he had suddenly realised that the sentinel was attempting to imprint. It was clear that Ellison had no idea what he was doing but the tilt of his head as he inhaled the guide's scent was the classic posture of a bonding sentinel. Blair remembered his panic, he had just escaped one sentinel and this one could have him legally!

He had been thankful that Ellison had been called out...until the GDP had arrived. The cops he had given a wanted criminal, the detective whose life he had saved, everyone had stood by and watched him dragged out on the end of a leash like an animal. He had tried to ignore what had happened between the sentinel and himself in that small room but in his soul he had known that Jim Ellison would one day be back. Now he was... and to Blair's immense surprise, his uppermost feeling was one of security. He relaxed into the kind embrace; let the soothing hand on his forehead banish the headache. Let the beating of his sentinel's heart under his ear and the rumble of his voice lull him into a light doze.

Nurse Dunlevy smiled as she saw the young guide curled up against his sentinel, sleeping peacefully. The older man speared her with a measuring eye and she did her best to look helpful and harmless, knowing how careful she had to be with this guide and sentinel. She had thought they were going to lose the doctor when he had examined the guide in the emergency room. She wasn't sure who had calmed down whom but the sentinel's hand and voice had gotten the guide through the examination and stitches. And the guide's low voice had kept the sentinel from tearing apart the doctor for causing more pain. Everyone had heaved a sigh of relief when they had the two men settled in the hospital room.

Dunlevy had done the first dressings on the young man's injuries, careful to keep her anger focused solely on the animals that had brutalized him. She had seen the look of instant fear and embarrassment that had flitted across the guide's expressive face as she explained what she had to do; and so had the sentinel. Ellison had woven a big hand into tousled curls and rested a calming hand on one thin shoulder as she worked. The tough looking cop had spoken in a surprisingly gentle voice as he did his best to distract the younger man from the hands that treated his injuries. It had been hard for both men and she didn't look forward to doing it again. She sighed and nodded in response to the question in the icy blue eyes of the sentinel, holding up the tray of supplies.

Dunlevy set the tray down on the bedside table. She tried to be quiet but any noise was enough to wake the skittish guide now that the sedative was wearing off. Deep blue eyes opened and settled on the bandages and ointments and suppositories; all the helpful items needed to bring him back to health. She knew immediately that all the guide, all *Blair,* saw was the hurt they would inflict and the shame they would reflect. It was too much for him; she didn't need to be a sentinel to hear the change in his breathing or to see the bright blush that added color to an ashen, bruised face. Ellison pulled the kid closer, whispered softly in his ear. Sandburg nodded slightly, the fear in his eyes lessening.

Ellison worked his way off the narrow bed and eased his guide onto the pillows. A nod of his head brought Dunlevy over to join him just outside the door. "Look, nurse. It hasn't been a good day for Sandburg. I was a medic in the Rangers and have kept up my certification. What say I take care of this now?" The casual voice was in decided contrast to the stern eyes that let her know what her answer *would* be. Dunlevy nodded but took up a post near the door, out of the guide's eyesight. Sandburg was her patient and if the big cop didn't know what he was doing... She needn't have worried; Ellison did know what he was doing and the Guide was far more relaxed under his sentinel's hands than he had ever been for the hospital personnel.

It hurt... there really wasn't any way for it not to hurt. Blair realized that; but his sentinel's voice was calm and soothing and the big hands were gentle as they treated even his most intimate injuries. He felt his body relaxing instinctively at his sentinel's touch. But he could feel the heat in his face from embarrassment. Ellison had not signed on to nursemaid 'correction facility fodder', to have to see and touch the kinds of ... A hand lifted his face up. Blair looked straight into the laser sharp eyes of his sentinel and found not pity, but compassion; not blame, but understanding. He made himself meet that gaze head on, instinctively knowing that this was the make or break moment. He put everything he had into conveying to his sentinel that he was not what they tried to make of him. The ... *his* sentinel wiped his hands on a towel and then ruffled his patient's hair. "All done, Chief. You did good."

Jim eased him onto his back and must have seen his panic because the sentinel said calmly, "I'm not leaving, Blair." The big detective helped him sit up long enough to swallow the pills the nurse offered with a sip of water. "Look, Chief, you'll be more comfortable on your stomach right now. Relax, let me do the work." Gentle hands proceeded to arrange guide, pillows and blankets until Blair was resting comfortably on his stomach, facing his sentinel. A big warm hand circled his wrist and the other hand rubbed his shoulder, settling him down. The medication and the feeling of security and comfort lulled him into sleep.


Blair woke to find Jim asleep, his head resting on his folded arms on the edge of the bed but his hand still wrapped round Blair's wrist. Blair slowly raised his injured hand and tentatively laid it on his sentinel's head, his fingers lightly stroking the short-cropped dark hair. Daringly, the backs of his fingers gently rubbed the side of Jim's cheek. For a moment he hesitated, what he was about to do could result in him being badly beaten. His sentinel had the right to punish him for instigating the linking of their minds, but... Jim *had* said he could do it whenever he wanted. He might as well find out if that was true while the hospital was handy to patch him up if he hadn't meant it.

Blair moved his hand to the back of Jim's neck and pressed his mind against the linkage between them. The emotions he tapped into were strong; there was aggression there, but it was wrapped around him like a warm blanket of security and protection. For the first time since he came on line, he felt that he was safe. He carefully eased his body down so that his face was level with his sentinel's and gave himself over to rest. His head jerked up as the nurse came in and his heartbeat picked up. His sentinel immediately stirred under his hand, the aggression level almost flooding him until Jim determined there was no immediate danger. Ellison's hand brushed Blair's face and carded through his long hair, pushing it back.

"You all right, Chief?"

Blair felt the concern that underlay that question. He nodded, all he could do as he basked in the feeling of protection coming from the older man.

The sentinel stiffened as his sensory net fixed on the nurse. He turned slowly and she caught her breath, it was like looking at a predator ready to attack. Blair understood, in his newly bonded state, the sentinel was feeding off his own fears and amplifying them. He caught the sentinel's arm, "Jim."

Immediately, his sentinel turned back to him. "It's all right, man, she's just doing her job, that's all."

The nurse took a deep breath, "Newly bonded, Sentinel?"

"Yes." He begrudged her a curt one-word answer.

"How long?"

"Just over 24 hours."

The nurse looked a little shocked but smoothed it out of her face as she took another steadying breath. That explained why the sentinel was in Blessed Protector overdrive. Keeping her hands in sight at all times, she moved over to the bed. She reached out slowly, giving the empath time to feel, and send that feeling to his protector, that she meant no harm. The sentinel still didn't like her approach and *growled* deep in his throat. "Just checking his vital signs. He is going to be okay, sentinel."

The nurse quickly took her readings, all the time watching the sentinel who continued to rumble warningly. This particular reaction was something she had never seen before and she had often dealt with sentinel and guides. Pity too, Ellison was an attractive man... if he didn't look quite so feral. She wrote up the sheet and then left quickly.

Only when the nurse had left, did the sentinel turn his attention back to his guide. Blair raised a hand to Jim's shoulder and coaxed his head back to the bed. "Rest, Sentinel, I am safe within your territory." His hand moved to the back of Jim's head and he curled up on the bed until only inches separated his eyes from his sentinel's face. Deep blue eyes met lighter blue; trust was given and received.

For Blair it was the defining moment of his life. He had fought against being a guide not wanting the slavery of total obedience to a sentinel. Fear of that still lingered but was fading fast as he spent more time in the presence of this man. The empath suddenly felt the certainty sweep through him that his life would be better now. Jim Ellison, his sentinel, would be there for him, no matter what. All the panic slowly filtered out from his body as that insight took root in his heart; he would be safe with this man. He allowed his emotions to mix with those of his sentinel along the empathic paths and it felt so right. At that moment, he vowed to look after his sentinel to the best of his ability. His hand tightened on his sentinel as he made that promise.

Jim also made a silent vow as he tasted the fledgling trust and gratitude of the younger man's emotions. He found his need to be self-sufficient vanishing as the loner was replaced by the sentinel who needed to be close to and to protect his guide. He might still be uncomfortable with the closeness this bond carried but he promised himself that his guide would never know that. Given all the crap the kid had gone through in his short life, he swore that he would make a difference in Blair Sandburg's world and heaven help anyone who tried to hurt him now that his sentinel was on watch.


Jim watched the light starting to filter through the blind into the hospital room. Apart from the incident when he had left to arrange his guide's future with his brother and had returned to find the guide trapped in a panic attack, the night had been uneventful. He frowned as he recalled what had set off that attack... the kid had been scared that he had been deserted and left to the mercy of his abusers. Even with Sandburg's ability to read emotions, to feel Jim's silent protection, it would take time before the young man felt safe enough to come out of his shell. Ellison looked forward to finding out just who this kid was under all the dirt and hurt and defensiveness. The kid was smart, that much Jim knew, given his academic accomplishments and the way he had managed to outsmart Barnes. That he had courage was a given... he had bent but not broken under treatment that would have destroyed many of the covert ops guys Jim had worked with over the years. Jim suspected that the kid was too compassionate for his own good... he had made the choice to bond with a man who was on the verge of madness and he still seemed to care more for his sentinel's welfare than his own. So... get the kid home, convince him he really was safe and see what happened. And today was the day he would take his guide home.

*Home* that one word now meant more than just the four walls of a sterile living area; its expanse of white walls interrupted only by the dark ghostly images of long removed paintings. The sentinel turned his senses on his guide and listened to his heartbeat. He heard the slight catch in the kid's breathing which showed he was waking up. With a smile of reassurance, Jim leaned over and gave the hand he had been holding a squeeze. "It's okay, Chief, I'm here." The wide blue eyes looked at him, confusion and fear in their depths and Jim sighed. It's gonna take time. Jim gave the smaller hand another squeeze and ordered, "Connect to me."

With the command, he raised his hand and cupped the young face, the palm of his hand tickled at the bristly feel of whiskers. Gotta get this kid cleaned up. His musings were interrupted by the still unfamiliar tug at the back of his mind and he was flooded with fear. His own anger started to grow and he heard his guide gasp and the hand in his stiffened. Oh shit, kid, I'm not mad at you! Concentrating, he allowed his concern for the smaller man to sweep through him and struggled to control the anger that was scaring his guide.

Blair almost choked as chaotic emotions poured through him almost faster than the sensitive paths could handle. He struggled to keep his head above water as he was swept along by the fierce emotions. He was astonished to realize that the anger in that roil was aimed at the bastards who had hurt him. Blair exhaled slowly, and then carefully started to get his sentinel's emotions under control, pull him back from the brink. It was his turn to be calming and soothing... he had felt enough of Jim Ellison during the past hours to know that his wasn't the only world knocked into a cocked hat by their bonding. But the older man had managed to push his dismay aside to help him... the rogue empath, Barnes' toy... through his trauma. He felt a big hand slowly stroking his back and said softly, in the sentinel's own words, "It's okay, man, I'm here." Strong arms came around him and he was pulled into a warm embrace and Blair had a vivid impression of brother...

Jim's hands shook slightly as he rubbed a bony back. It had felt like this with Stephen, with his brother, before their father had made them rivals. But this wasn't his brother, this was *his guide.* Panic ripped through him as he realised that, apart from what little he retained from a few lectures at the Sentinel Institute he'd attended between missions for the Army, he had no idea about guide maintenance. Hell, he'd screwed up his relationship with his own brother and now he had to somehow help a traumatised empath who should still be safe in school cope with a sentinel he hadn't wanted and a life he didn't know the first thing about.

Ellison frantically searched his mind for bits of guide lore and discovered that he remembered the hand signals to make a guide kneel in the working position. Other than that tidbit, which he remembered laughing at, he couldn't recall a single helpful hint except for vague generalities that filled him with uncertainty. Guides were highly emotional and needed protection from outside emotions; they needed help just to deal with the vicissitudes of daily life; their diet had to be watched carefully and... His panicked thoughts trailed off as a smaller hand tightened on his.

His guide moaned in pain as he pushed himself to sit up on the bed and pain knifed through his lower body. Jim was trying to resettle him when wide blue eyes dulled with painkillers looked at him. For one moment, the drugged gaze burned with an eerie light and a strangely compelling voice ordained, "We will learn together, Sentinel, have no fear. Now, you lead; tomorrow, I will guide." For a moment Jim's eyes blazed in answer and then the light faded from the younger man's eyes and the commanding voice trailed off into a soft moan. Ellison responded to that sound of distress by easing the battered body back to the bed and rubbing a curly head until he felt his guide fall asleep. He shook his head, what the hell was that? He tightened his grip on his guide's shoulder, *his* guide. His *Guide.* Nothing would ever be the same again.

The End
Written by Susan Foster
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