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

This story is Rates PG-13 and although it is a stand alone story I would recommend that you read Sentinel 101 first.

With thanks to me beta reader Susan.

Learning Curves
Lesson 3: First Night

The day had been a tiring one for the physically and emotionally exhausted Blair Sandburg. He was a guide indeed now, not just a rogue empath used against his will and wishes by a sentinel criminal. A guide - claimed and bonded, if not according to his wishes, then not against his will - to a sentinel who had been approved by a spirit animal. An otherworldly panther that had first appeared in a small, dank correction cell, bringing with it a sense of security desperately needed by the violated young empath curled into his pain. Logic had told Blair that the panther was... had to be... a figment brought on by overwhelming despair, debilitating pain, and the drugs that had been the mainstay of his so-called diet for too many weeks. Intuition... heart... whispered that the panther was true and an ally to be trusted. When the panther appeared again in the bonding suite into which he had been thrown to serve the needs of a sentinel, Blair had set aside his fears and accepted the ritual of claiming. He *belonged* to James Joseph Ellison now, a possession like his car or home or pet. At least the detective took good care of his possessions; Ellison had seen to it that his injuries received treatment.

After a stay in the hospital, Blair had been brought 'home' by his sentinel. After a dinner his sentinel had insisted he eat, he had gone to bed. To *his* bed in *his* own room. Thirst had awakened him and driven him into the sentinel's kitchen for something to drink. The deliberate starvation and drugs that caused his overwhelming thirst also robbed him of control of his hands. His sentinel's soft words had taken him by surprise and the juice bottle had dropped to the floor and broken. Blair had expected to be punished for his audacity in raiding his sentinel's refrigerator without invitation. It was a lesson he had learned often at the hands of Alex Barnes when hunger or thirst made him risk her wrath. This sentinel had ordered him to his room while he dealt with the mess in the kitchen. Blair had waited for the big cop to enter the small room and deal with the one who made the mess, trying to prepare himself for the inevitable pain. Instead, Ellison had brought him a glass of juice and settled him down with soft words and gentle touches. The kindness had done more to gain his acceptance than all the tortures of the GDP. He wasn't sure when sleep had crept over him or for how long he'd been out. Beyond tired, his fears and stress still wouldn't let him sleep for long. This time, there was a faint light coming in through a window when his eyes opened.

Now he sat on the small futon, still dressed in the surgical scrubs that were his only clothing. Blair looked at the laptop computer on the table that was to serve as his desk. *His* computer, Ellison had told him, to replace the one lost when he had been picked up by the GDP. Ellison had also promised that he was going back to Rainier University to continue work on his doctorate. His life was going to go back on-line, his dreams made possible again. All because his sentinel wanted him to continue his education, to have a life of his own. Blair wrapped his arms around himself and wondered if he dared believe. Doubt began to take root in his mind, maybe this was just a sentinel's whim. In a few months time, would he find that his sentinel was bored with his guide being in full-time education rather than at his beck and call and remove him from the University?

His body was aching badly and the pain threatened to awaken memories best left forgotten. He bit his lip, the small hurt distracting him from the greater. Blair let his mind drift, taking him to other places free from the pain and nightmares, a sanity-saving trick he had mastered in the Facility. He was back in the rain forest on his first expedition when the light came on with a click. Startled, he immediately slid down onto his knees, the resulting pain pushed back with a groan. He felt himself falling...

Ellison jumped forward, catching his guide before he could hit the floor. The young man began to struggle but he was no match for the sentinel's powerful arms. As quickly as his panicked fight began, he stilled and then lowered his head and shoulders in total submission. Ellison frowned as the kid's heart rate accelerated, belying his seeming calm. The detective almost asked his new guide what was wrong, but there was something he needed first. He wasn't even sure what it was... just that he needed the young man in his arms to get it. Reality seemed to fade into a dreamscape as he held his guide. Instinct began to nudge him toward action.

Without a word, Ellison carefully picked his guide up, easing him back first to kneel, then to his feet. When they were both standing, he scooped the smaller man into his arms. He carried his guide through the darkened loft and up the steps to his bedroom. Ellison patted a curly head awkwardly as he felt tremors begin to shake the thin form he cradled when he mounted the stairs. Still not saying a word, he eased his burden down on the soft bed and lay down next to him. Rolling onto his side, he looked at the smaller, younger man, distantly noting that he had no trouble adjusting his vision for the dim light. Wide blue eyes were scrunched tightly closed, silent tears slid down a pale young face. Badly shaking hands started to push down the scrub pants...

He had misunderstood, oh God...but the sentinel had only promised him protection from "them." He had hoped...but the sentinel's bed was upstairs! He was too exhausted to fight. For the first time since his nightmare began almost two years ago, Blair Sandburg accepted that he had no recourse. He was, by his own vow, this sentinel's to do with as he pleased without fear of penalty or censure. He had given this sentinel what he had never given Alex Barnes, genuine empathic linkage. The gentleness and understanding this sentinel had shown him had weakened him as Alex's cruelty never had. He was deposited on the bed and the mattress dipped as the sentinel lay next to him.

At least he isn't clawing the clothes off me... surely this is a small price to pay for protection against the others and for a chance to have my life back again, however briefly, before the sentinel changed his mind. But, God, please God, he didn't think he could...but he had no choice. Even if he fought he was no match for the larger man and it would just hurt worse, he knew that from experience. But please God, let it be over soon... He distanced himself from what would happen next, closing off his empathy. Pain and shame and revulsion for what he must do shook his hands as he reached for the fabric that had given him the illusion of protection for too short a time. Before he could expose himself for the sentinel's use, his wrists were caught, trapped in the gentle hold of one big hand. Another hand cupped his face, and gentle fingers brushed away the tears he couldn't hold back. A voice came from a distance, filled with understanding... and hurt.

"I am not going to... " Jim fought to find words to ease the fear he smelled on the other man, unable to say what the young guide so clearly expected. He settled on, "hurt you, Blair." He fought down his hurt that Sandburg could think that *he* would...What the hell else is he going to think, given his experience, when you haul him into your bed without so much as a word of explanation? The anger died as he tried to explain what he himself did not understand. "Blair, you're my guide, not my plaything. Besides, kid, you're the wrong shape for me." The momentary attempt at humor died when bruised hands flexed in his hold, then stilled. His guide's attempt to pull away from him reawakened the need that had sent him downstairs to the small room tucked beneath his own. "I feel... I think... I want to... to bond, but I don't know... I don't know..." Jim was flustered, it wasn't a sensation he was familiar with... "Hell, Chief, I don't want to hurt you."

Blair risked opening his eyes. The sentinel's face was near his, and there was just enough light to make out the look of great concern and fear on the sculptured features. Fear! Jim Ellison, loner, cop, covert ops ranger and sentinel was afraid! And he'd thought the man was going to... he was lucky Ellison didn't kill him for thinking that! Something of his thoughts must have showed on his face because Ellison looked away briefly before returning steady eyes to his face.

"S...s...sorry. I ..." Blair blushed bright red. It was his turn to turn away. He tried, only to be collected against a broad chest. He buried his hot face into the warm, knitted sweater his sentinel wore. Sweater? Who wears a sweater to bed? Blair blushed even more as he realized that Ellison had taken the time to change into street clothes, probably just to keep him from suspecting the worst. Blair relaxed just a little as he realized again just how different this sentinel was from his last one. No, Barnes was never his sentinel. His sentinel was the man waiting patiently for him to get his act together and Guide him in bonding.

"We should go to your bonding platform, Sentinel. Where is it?" Blair asked, honestly puzzled. He didn't remember seeing anything in the loft similar to the thick exercise mat that most sentinels used for bonding. "I don't have one of those... bonding platforms." Ellison said it matter-of-factly as if unaware that his omission of a recognized space set aside for that purpose was... strange.

"No... no bonding platform?" Jim almost laughed as wide eyes opened wider. He wondered how the kid had survived the last two years when his every emotion was displayed on the expressive face. "How can a sentinel not have a bonding platform?"

"I wasn't exactly planning on being bonded, Chief." The bigger man shrugged away the anomaly.

"The floor will be all right, Sentinel." Blair offered tentatively. He could feel his sentinel's need and didn't think they could wait on acquiring a platform. But Ellison was shaking his head. "Chief, you're hurting already. Whatever this bonding is would hurt you like hell on this wooden floor."

Blair pushed back from warmth of his sentinel's embrace to stare into his eyes. His sentinel was worried about him, his comfort, didn't he understand? The litany that had been burned into his memory with pain fell from his lips with well-practised ease, "I am not important. The sentinel is the center of a guide's world. I will do whatever he..."

A hand came up and a finger pressed against his lips, silencing him. A commanding voice said softly, "No floor. Blair, you are an equal in this partnership. We do it my way, right?"

Silence reigned as Blair tried to compute the twisted logic in that statement.

"Right?" Still no reply, but Jim was not going to let him get away with silence.

"Right, Guide Sandburg?" He felt his young guide jolt as he raised his voice slightly.

"Yes, Sentinel."

"Chief..." Ellison prompted

"I mean...Jim." Blair lowered his head and his breath caught in his throat as he waited to be corrected for his slip. Jim had told him more than once to call him by his first name and he had forgotten. Alex didn't like it when he forgot things, no sentinel did.

Jim heard the sharp intake of breath. It was funny, but sad, that he... the man who never cared to understand another person's emotions, not even his own wife's, could read this young man so well after only two days acquaintance. He lightly put a finger under his guide's chin and eased his face back up. "No harm, no foul, Chief. Let's get this show on the road."

Jim flushed a bit as he went on, "So... how do we bond? I never really gave it much thought." He was embarrassed by his need, at having to put it into words.

"I lie on my stomach." Blair tried to keep his voice level, breathing deeply to steady his heartbeat as the events in the correction cell threatened to overwhelm him. For a moment he couldn't distinguish between the hands that had abused his body in the cell and the strong powerful hands that now held him. Hands he could not fight. He was this sentinel's property, he could do whatever he wanted to his guide and the GDP would not care, or even censure him. As panic began to build, he tried to focus on the feelings that had come through the link in the hospital; understanding, compassion, protection - correction, aggressive protection. His sentinel would never harm him.

Jim moved very slowly to position his guide, careful of his injuries. Concern flared as he heard the start of a panic attack in the younger man. Somehow, he knew, with an assurance that would have astounded anyone who knew him, that the kid was too scared to protest or even tell him what was wrong. Ellison suspected he should stop and let the kid calm down but the need to bond was beginning to take over the logical part of his mind. All he could focus on was his guide, laying by his side, bruised hands moving into place behind a lean back, curly head on one side, wide blue eyes looking into him. Ellison felt an aching void, a yearning for something that this kid possessed.

Blair waited for the command to look away, not all sentinels liked their guides to look at them during bonding. To many of them, bonding was something that *they* needed, the guide nothing more than a living tool. The order was not given. Ellison put a hand out, the back of his fingers gently stroked his bruised cheek, a dreamy look beginning to take form on the stern features.

"Sentinel..." Blair used the title, this was between sentinel and guide, not between Jim and Blair. What happened in bonding was the same regardless of the gender of the participants. Jim jerked back to the present.

Blair continued, "You lay down on your side, place your arm across my waist and rest your head against my back, just below my heart. That way you can use me as a base line for your senses."

Jim felt embarrassment as he followed instructions. It was uncomfortable lying this close to another man, years of conditioning as to what men did or didn't do threatened to swamp the need to bond. Giving his support in the hospital to a traumatised young man was one thing, but to lie with him like this in the absence of crisis, like ... He almost pulled away. Then he felt a tug on his mind and, like a frightened, small animal, the guide slowly crept into his thoughts and rightness flooded him. He tried to encourage his guide, to ease his fears... his power blazed and the young empath cried out in pain.


His sentinel's distress crashed through him. Despite the pain, he sent out soothing, calming vibes and the maelstrom around him quieted while he still had a head above water. His sentinel had no training but the raw power the man possessed took his breath away. Working the way he had been taught when he could be made to pay attention, but relying as much on instinct, he began to sort out his sentinel's emotions. Channeling them through the raw pathways of his brain was driving him towards a migraine but it had to be done. Didn't matter the cost.

Jim gave a contented sigh. He had never felt so relaxed. He thought drowsily, If this is bonding *sign me up.* Then, through the link, he realised that something was wrong, his guide seemed to be falling away from him. He wrapped his senses around the man next to him and frowned as they began to report in. Cramping muscles, a face gone chalk white, rapid breathing as he fought the tremors that wracked his body, blinding agony centered in his brain... shit, this kid's in a bad way. Worried, Jim pulled out of the linkage abruptly and flinched as Blair gave a cry of pain. "Easy, Blair. I'm so sorry, kid."

He rolled his guide onto his back, then reached down and snagged one of the pillows from the floor where he had swept it. Lifting his guide's head, he slipped the pillow under the curly hair, easing the pressure on a stiff neck. Jim settled back down, lay on his stomach and rested his head on his guide's chest. He snagged the younger man's left wrist and pulled the slender hand up against his face. His arm went around his guide's waist and pulled the slender body into the protection of his own. With a contented sigh, he opened his senses and filled them with his guide. The kid was still hurting, there must be something else he could do. Gingerly, he tried to push against the link. He was so scared of hurting his guide that he didn't use enough force to join them. It was enough to shift Blair's attention from his pain.

A nervous hand found its way into Ellison's short hair and gave it a soft stroke. Jim made another contented noise and smiled to himself as Blair relaxed and stroked again. Yep, give the kid someone else to worry about... A niggling worry about just how well he did know this young man on such short acquaintance raised its head again but he pushed it aside. Maybe he wasn't such an old dog after all.

Blair smiled as he ran his hand over Jim's head; it was almost as if the sentinel was purring. He heard another purr from the direction of the stairs. He looked over as a shape detached itself from the gloom. For the third time, he saw the panther and it was one happy cat. It curled up at the foot of the bed, massive head resting on its great paws. The beast yawned and settled down. Blair felt its satisfaction, sentinel and guide were where they should be. The young empath drifted back into the linkage on that wave of satisfaction, his sentinel's presence soothing raw paths, filling a space within himself that he hadn't realized was empty.

Jim smiled as he felt his guide drawing on the support he offered. Slowly, Blair's migraine was fading and his breathing and heart rate slowed until he fell asleep.


Blair awoke in such pain that it tore a groan from him. He was freezing cold. Fear clutched at his heart as, in the dark, he felt the heavy arm pinning him down. Time spun...he didn't know where he was... when he was...

Jim was pulled from a sound sleep by the sound of his guide's fear. "Chief, it's all right, you're all right." His concern grew as Blair fell into a full anxiety attack. He sat up and pulled the smaller man against him. His hands moved gently over the trembling body, soothing and comforting. He whispered quietly, "Breathe, Chief. Slow... slow... take a deep breath, kid, hold it... breathe. Again." As he instructed the younger man on his breathing, the harsh panting eased and the frantic heart slowed but Sandburg still clung tightly to him. When Jim tried to lower him onto the bed, the kid hung onto him even tighter. So the sentinel sank back down, taking his guide with him, patting him.

"I was... I was...*They* were..." the words were gasped and accompanied by a shudder that told the detective all he needed to know.

"Shh. I know, Chief, it was a flashback. You remember what the doctor said? That the drugs they used on you might have that effect for a while? Especially if you were stressed?" He waited until a curly head nodded under his chin.

"It will be okay, Chief. We can get through them, together. TOGETHER, Junior, you got that?"

"Your guide's a basket case," Blair put in, self-disgust in his voice. He trembled with the cold.

"Not your fault, kid. And from where I sit, you're doing a hell of a good job in rotten circumstances. You're freezing!" The non-sequitur was almost an accusation. Jim pulled back. Blair made a frightened noise and tried to hold onto him. Ellison caught him by both shoulders and ordered, "You stay there."

Jim crossed to his closet and pulled out a thick sweater and pair of sweat pants. "First thing we need to do is get you warm." He brooked no argument, but tugged them on his guide. Then he fished in his drawer until he dug out a pair of the heavy, warm camping socks he used in winter. But first, he sat back down and picked up one cold foot and began to massage some warmth into it before he pulled the sock on. Then he did the same with the second foot. Finally, he collected the winter comforter from its storage bag and spread it over the bed. He crawled back into place and pulled his guide against him as he drew up the comforter.


"Yes...." there was wonder in that word, as if the young empath couldn't believe that anyone would go to this much trouble for him. "Thank you, Sen... Jim."

"Now sleep." Jim made sure that Blair could see his smile as he issued the order.

His guide warm and safe under his protection, Jim finally allowed sleep to take him.


Blair woke up to find himself alone. He'd awoken alone many times in the cell... and those were the good days. But he'd never been warm and comfortable, never felt safe... Still sleepy, he cuddled into the warmth. He was warm for the first time in years; warmth not just of the body but of the mind and the soul.

Jim looked up from his cooking as he felt the blip on his sentinel radar. He marvelled at the way that he had detected the change in Sandburg's heart beat that heralded the return of consciousness. Then it had slowed again as he clearly heard the soft *ah* that accompanied his guide huddling down in the warm bedding. Last night had been his first true bonding with his guide. He hadn't been the out of control, barely human bundle of need that had latched onto the kid in the bonding suite as if the young empath was nothing but a lifeline to sanity. Come to think of it, he was. Ellison understood why the GDP pushed the need for bonding platforms. There was already so much misunderstanding about the intimacy of bonding that keeping it out of bed made sense. But while his guide was in pain, there was no way he was bonding on the floor or an exercise mat and damn their handbooks and their prurient little minds.

He finished making his breakfast preparations before he went to wake up his loftmate. He grinned at that notion. Give the neighbors something to gossip about. His guide was too thin and the doctor had told him to make sure he drank plenty of liquids to replace the fluid level in his body. He might not know much about the approved methods of guide maintenance but he figured he could feed the kid up with the best of them.

Jim took the steps two at a time, then stopped at the bed and looked down at the curly hair that showed just above the comforter. His guide turned toward him in his sleep and the covers slid down. There were dark circles under the closed eyes that spoke of stress and pain in abundance and food and sleep in short supply. Even with morning bristles shadowing his cheeks, he looked too young to be a guide, far too young to be *his* guide. Some of his earlier fears began to creep up on him. What if the kid couldn't do it; couldn't cope with the pressure of being a cop's guide? No, he pushed that thought away, this kid's already survived what would have flattened many Army Rangers. He's already shown he has strength. He will be all right. That last thought rang with satisfaction as his hand, at its own command, gently stroked his guide's head and brushing wayward curls from closed eyes.

Blair's eyes flew open and he tried desperately to throw himself away from the man touching him. He rolled off the opposite side of the bed, bringing the bedding with him. Catching his feet in the blanket, he stumbled and crashed to the floor, his body skidding on the loose carpet.

Jim was around the bed and on his knees in seconds. He reached for his confused guide, knowing that the young man was again trapped in some type of flashback. When Jim touched him, Sandburg pulled back with a screech that grated on his nerves like fingernails down a black board. Blair's blind stare scared Ellison. His guide was looking at something the sentinel could not see, hear, or fight, something that had the heart of his claim on sanity racing toward a coronary!

His one thought was to break through that fear, now.

Blair was beyond coherent thought, unable to respond to Ellison's entreaties to relax. Jim recognized that but still hated what he had to do. He steeled himself to make use of the reflexes that the GDP correction guards had "trained" into his guide.

"Guide. Show your respect. NOW!" Jim's voice snapped with every ounce of command experience from his military days. Blair reacted as if shot. He went down on his hands and knees, his forehead touching the floor, his whole body shaking. Jim hesitated, and then placed a hand on the back of his guide's head. He felt the flinch but the kid didn't break his posture. Jim didn't want to think about the *training* that had instilled that level of discipline into the young empath.

"Okay, kid, we're going to do this nice and easy. First, lets get you on your knees and off your face." He gave a light tug but the slender body didn't move. "Right. Okay. Let's try something else." Ellison remembered the correct hand signal and placed his fingers on Blair's neck. Sandburg immediately straightened up, his hands moving behind his back, his head still down. His breathing was short and choppy. Jim nodded his satisfaction, Blair was in the working position, theoretically his entire attention would be focused on his sentinel but the kid still looked too dazed for Ellison's comfort. He changed the handhold and, like a marionette, Blair got to his feet. Instinctively, the young empath moved closer, one hand latching onto the back of Jim's sweater as his other hand ran over Jim's shoulder and chest in quick, almost frantic, strokes.

Jim said firmly, "Guide, link." He waited until he felt the careful tug on the back of his mind and his guide came in. A minute later, he felt the young empath's body relax, his breathing even out, and he knew... "Thank God you're back, Blair."

Blair gifted him with a shy smile and rested his head against his sentinel's shoulder. A strong hand cupped the back of his head and the voice that had cut through his terror with a martinet's bark was warm and calming, "It's okay now, kid. All over. Now, lets get some breakfast into you." And then I'll think about how I can wake you up without throwing you into a flashback! Nothing of his grim resolve showed as he shepherded his guide down the steps.


It wasn't easy, Jim mused to himself, to finish cooking breakfast when you have a person plastered against you. The kid moved with him as if they were two people sharing one body. When he nearly tripped over the empath once too often, Jim settled him into one of the chairs. Big blue eyes followed his every move. Jim went into the bathroom to wash up before dishing up breakfast and when he came out, Blair was crouched on the floor by the door waiting for him. Then the younger man tried to follow him back into the kitchen area again but Jim sat him firmly at the table.

Jim dished up the scrambled eggs, placed them on the table and turned to collect the toast. He sat down, buttered a piece and bit into it. Digging into his eggs he looked up to find that Blair had not touched his food. The kid was looking down at his hands held in his lap, ignoring his food even as Jim heard his stomach growl. Now what? How much crap did those SOBs program into this kid?

Blair ignored the tantalizing aroma of the food in front of him. He would be the perfect guide for Ellison. The man had been kind to him and even if his offers were of the moment, he would show him that he could be trusted to know his place.

"Guide Sandburg, look at me." It was the command tone again.

"Sentinel?" He hadn't done anything wrong! Had he?

"Eat your breakfast. It's getting cold."

"I eat after you, Sentinel." Didn't he know that? Was this some kind of test?

"You questioning me?" The question was delivered in the same neutral tone with which he had commented that the breakfast was getting cold.

"No, Sentinel." Nothing they had pounded into him at the Facility seemed to work with this sentinel. What was he going to do? How could he avoid making mistakes if nothing he'd learned applied?

"Then eat....toast too..." Ellison pushed the pile across at his guide. The kid took some and poked at the eggs with his fork. "Eat it, don't play with it."

God, this was a nightmare. But the kid would improve and he would get the bastards that beat these responses into his guide and he would give Blair his life back.


The day had been a complete disaster. Well, except for the shopping trip. It had actually been amusing, if embarrassing, to watch the kid pick out clothes to replace the single set of hospital scrubs that formed his entire wardrobe. But then he had to answer Simon's summons to the precinct to go over his statement with the Assistant DA. He had zoned and Blair had apparently broken the indoor speed record to get to him. The kid had totally dropped his barriers to break him out of the zone and somehow, for some reason he didn't understand, his ex-wife had touched his guide while he was wide open. Blair had gone into empathic shock and Jim had thought he'd lost him. God, how did I stop from killing her? He had never felt so much rage but Blair had needed him and that had overridden all other imperatives. They had bonded, it was easier now, and he had managed to pull the empath out of the overload. And finally, they were going home.

But he was reminded how close it had been by the way his guide was weakly clinging to him as they walked out of the police station. The sentinel saw the people clear from their path and nodded grimly at their sense of self-preservation. He was ready to do major damage to anyone that so much as looked at his guide the wrong way. Ellison's anger threatened to burn out of control again, then he felt the gentle tug on his mind. It was a reassuring sensation now, no longer alien; it was Blair. A shaky voice said in the vicinity of his chest, "It's all right, man, they aren't going to hurt me. I'm safe, I'm in your care." The feeling expressed by the words were backed up with the emotions coming through the link.

Blair flushed with embarrassment as he was scooped up and deposited into the passenger side of the truck and his seat belt strapped into place as if he were a toddler. Then the truck was leaving the underground garage with a squeal of tires that clearly echoed his sentinel's impatience. He was impatient too, he just wanted, needed to get to his sentinel's home. He was so tired and achy and cold. Ellison turned the heater on and aimed the vents at him despite the outside temperature. Blair started to drowse.

The guide jerked awake as the truck came to a stop with another squeal, this time of brakes. They were pulled up in front of the hospital.

"Jim. NO! Please, Sentinel, please NO. No hospital, please." He started to panic as he looked the white-walled building. They are there, the GDP Doctors. What if they think I've failed as a guide? "Please, please."

Jim pushed back the truck's seat, undid his guide's seat belt and pulled him into his lap.

Blair moaned in pain as the twisting movement renewed the pain in his lower body but he clung tight to the big cop. He recognised the Blessed Protector mode. The sentinel was scared, without training he was unable to understand that the overload was manageable without medical intervention. All that Blair needed was to be allowed to be with his sentinel and bask in his protection. That and a few aspirin.

"Take me to your home. I'll be all right. All I need is rest. Please, Jim."

For a long moment, Jim Ellison looked down into the upturned face. Without conscious thought all his senses where tuned a hundred per cent on the man he held. He wouldn't put it past the kid to downplay his injuries just to stay out of the hospital. Not that Ellison hadn't done the same thing on occasion. Finally, he nodded, "You're the expert, Sandburg." He gave the young empath a quick hug that threatened to crack a rib and then eased Blair back into the passenger seat and buckled him back in again. He started the engine and slid the truck into gear. Before driving off, he paused and looked hard and long at his guide. When he was sure he had the young empath's attention he said sternly, "And it's *our* home, Chief." He was rocked back on his heels by the blinding smile the kid bestowed on him at those simple words.


Exhausted, Blair did not resist as he was steered to the sofa and eased down and onto his side. The new trainers that Jim had bought to replace his ratty sneakers were removed from his feet. "Stay put, Chief."

The sentinel returned carrying the parcels from the earlier trip to the mall to restock the kid's wardrobe. Jim could still feel the total embarrassment he'd felt as Blair has selected his purchases from the less... conservative...offerings. He couldn't help but notice that when he was finished putting on his new clothes, the kid was dressed in layers. A half-remembered Pysch class lecture cut in, the kid had been kept naked for weeks on end and abused at every turn. It made sense that he would feel *safer* with more clothes on. The packages dropped from his hands as he saw that far from resting Blair was in the kitchen, putting the kettle on and pulling things from the cupboards. The kid's out on his feet and he thinks I want him to make dinner? Enough is enough!

The Dark Sentinel surfaced for the first time, pushing Ellison aside. He crossed the distance to the guide and caught and turned the young man in one powerful movement. Blair looked up, biting back a cry of pain at the sudden twisting movement. From somewhere deep in his bones, he recognised the look on Jim Ellison's face...this was the Dark Sentinel personified.

"On the sofa." He wasn't given an opportunity to obey that growled command as he was dragged to it and pushed down. His feet were lifted and dropped down on the cushions as a big hand planted on his chest made him lie down. Jim walked away, then his head snapped around, his teeth showing as he growled, "Stay, Guide." The tone was pure command.

Blair felt an insane urge to giggle as he thought about Ellison house rule number four, no feet on the furniture. But the urge died as he recalled the times he had seen Dark Sentinel instincts come to the fore with Alex. Those were the times he had usually suffered the worse punishment. He suppressed a shudder as he remembered her dislocating his shoulder and knee while he was wrapped and then forcing him to make love. Love? No, it had been sex. There had never been any love in their relationship and Alex had liked it that way. He was used, a tool, nothing more. She liked pain, his pain, to flavor her enjoyment. At least Jim didn't want that from him. Thank God.

He followed Jim's movements with scared eyes. The sentinel was walking, correction, prowling up and down the room, from door to window and back again. The academic side of his brain that got busy at the strangest times cut in. Typical territorial behavior. The sentinel was patrolling his territory. Then the icy blue eyes would switch to him, raking over him. He could almost feel the senses wrapping around him. The sentinel stalked around the big room, assessing his surroundings. He apparently decided that the room was too cold for his guide because he put the fire on before collecting comforter, blankets and pillows. He dumped them on the floor by the sofa, and reached for his guide, pulling and pushing the young man into place. Blankets and comforter were piled on and tucked in until Blair's shivering ceased. The young empath suspected it was as much Jim's caring as the blankets that warmed him up. Ellison went into the kitchen and Blair let himself believe he was safe and drift off.

The clatter as a tray of food and drink was set on the coffee table roused him from a light doze. Blair was more tired than hungry but he knew that he would have to eat something to mollify his sentinel. He watched, not quite believing what he was seeing, as the tough cop picked the cup of tea up and took a sip of it. Testing the temperature, Blair guessed with an inward grin. Ellison added more milk and then tested it again before holding it to his guide's mouth. Who does he think he is? My mother? Naomi did that kind of stuff when I was small. The same thing happened with the food. It was subjected to a full sensory scan... What? He thinks someone sneaked in and tampered with it after he fixed it?... before it was fed to the guide.

Blair reached a hand up to take the fork, deciding that this was getting ridiculous, but it was caught and tucked under the covers again by his too-vigilant sentinel. Okay, he's feeding me, I can cope. But if he starts making airplane noises, I will die. Only when he had eaten most of the contents of the tray and was feeling seriously stuffed, did Jim settle him back down on the sofa, gently patting him into place. Blair felt tears start as he contrasted Ellison's gentle... if somewhat over-the-top... care with what he had grown inured to while in the "care" of Alex and the GDP. A big hand patted his cheeks dry and pushed his hair out of his face.

When Ellison was satisfied that his guide was comfortable, he kicked his own shoes off and slid onto the sofa. His arm went around the smaller man and shifted him so that Blair was between his sentinel and the back of the sofa. Jim buried his face against Blair's neck and inhaled deeply. His free hand patted the younger man again. "My guide, you're safe. The Watchman stands guard." The simple sentences were intoned as a vow.

Blair closed his eyes and forced the tension from his body as he tried to sort out what he was seeing, experiencing. It seemed to be a Dark Sentinel version of the Blessed Protector mode, a much more aggressive form of mother-henning. Blair realised that he hadn't been in any danger, except maybe from over petting. Detective Ellison had been swamped by the Dark Sentinel and the total focus on the guide's well-being was what the primal sentinel had needed. Blair allowed the aching in his body to fade from his perception as he snuggled up against the warm length of his sentinel. Opening the link between them, he channeled their undealt with raw emotions from the earlier overload. Tomorrow, he would start to teach his sentinel, his touch at the moment was like hobnailed boots, but Jim would and could learn how to make the most of the bond growing between them. But that was for a new day, this was now, and for now he had all he needed; he was warm, cherished and protected. He had relearned the possibilities of hope with his Blessed Protector.

The End

Written by Susan Foster
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