NOTE: This story is set in the near future in an America very different from today. Sentinels are acknowledged and their abilities are used in everyday life in Police Work, Military, and Search and Rescue. Guides are thought of as second-class citizens whose only function is to serve their sentinel; they become their property. Some guides turn rogue and are hunted down by the sinister GDP, who have total power over them.
For a FULLER understanding of this AU, I would suggest that you read "The Sentinel Primer" first.
Rated PG-13+ for implied sexual assault, some violence nothing graphic.
Today was the first day that Detective Ellison, Sentinel, and protector of the city would be back on duty with his guide at his side. His guide, bound to him for life, a relationship neither man had wanted but both were committed to making the best of. Their first stop at the Precinct was to get Blair the credentials he needed to accompany his sentinel on the job. Ellison riffled through the papers on the counter while Sandburg waited silently. The smaller man stood slightly behind Ellison, one hand on his sentinel's shoulder. The Desk Sergeant looked Blair up and down and didn't seem impressed with the long curly-haired young man in his early twenties who wore a long coat that had seen better days, multi-colour layered shirts and jeans with torn knees. He shook his head as he handed over the official passes and watched as Ellison counter-signed the documents. The sentinel pulled the younger man around to face him and pinned the photo badge, with the distinct three red diagonal lines marking him as a guide, onto his coat. Then Ellison was ushering the kid into the elevator. As the door closed behind them the Sergeant picked up the phone and dialled Major Crime. "Yeah, thought you'd like a head's up, Rhonda, Ellison's on his way up. Ya know, Ellison can be a real hard bastard at times but I gotta say that I pity him. You should see the punk they stuck him with; wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy." The sergeant's brows rose comically at something the Captain's secretary said. His voice turned conciliatory, "Now, Rhonda. I didn't mean anything by it. Yeah, sure, I got it. Cap'n says let the kid alone, I'll let the kid alone."
The sentinel could feel the fear rolling off his guide. Blair's heart rate was elevated and his hand was moving on Jim's arm in a stroking motion, the unconscious physical contact with his sentinel making him feel safer. What few people understood was that once bonded and on-line, the guide had a very real need to keep physically close to their sentinel. Fifteen days ago, Jim would have thrown the kid away from him; he had never been one for being touched, even his friends rarely got a hug or a slap on the back from him. For some reason he himself did not understand, since the bonding, he could tolerate the kid's touch. The elevator door opened and two unformed cops got on and Ellison noticed the look of disgust they shot at his guide. He bristled and then a wave of calm rolled over him; he knew that it was his guide's work. Blair had opened the empathic link between the two of them and was helping to calm him. Jim gently captured his guide's hand and gave it a squeeze, "Easy, Chief, its okay."
More people got on the elevator and Blair moved closer as he tried to avoid any contact with the people around him. Ellison felt the tremors begin in the compact body pressed against him, wondered what his guide was picking up from the people sharing the small space with them. "Close the pathway down, Blair. Now." Blair's head nodded against his back and the tense body relaxed. But it was with a sigh of relief that Jim got off at their floor. The Bullpen was nearly empty as Jim made his way to his desk; it had been moved into a corner of the room so that his back was to the wall and he could see the door. A second chair had been added so that his guide could sit with him but remain partly hidden while he worked. Blair nodded, someone had been reading up on sentinels. The desk was now positioned so that Ellison's "territory" was well defined and defensible.
Captain Simon Banks watched his friend and best detective return to work. He waited until the kid had set down a battered old backpack and then said, "Ellison, Sandburg, my office."
He waved them to chairs. Jim settled into the one closest to the desk and noticed that Blair still stood behind his chair. "Blair," he snapped, his voice sharper than he intended. Hell, I thought we had covered this! Ellison was nervous about being back at work with a civilian tagalong; the emotions he handled best were anger and happiness, and this was neither. But Blair heard anger. In one graceful movement that belied still unhealed injuries, he knelt by the side of the chair. Settling back on his heels, he folded his hands behind him, bent his head and stared at the floor. Simon was about to say something but Ellison beat him to it, "What the hell are you doing, kid?" His anger was plain to hear and Simon saw the guide flinch. Jim instantly softened his tone, "I thought we had an understanding about this, Blair?" He touched the back of his guide's neck and gently stroked down to his shoulder. His guide shuddered under his hand but didn't look up. Any minute he would close his hand on his neck and punish him. He remembered all too well Alex's gentle touch that would suddenly inflict pain. It was better he showed Jim that he understood his place in public.
"Jim, what the hell's going on here?" Although he had read about it, it was still a shock to see this too thin young man on his knees. He had not expected Jim to make his guide do this, not when he had seen the tender way he cared for him. It was with irritated disbelief that Jim said, "it took me all last week to get him to stop doing this when I walked in the room. I though we had it licked," he exhaled, "obviously, I was wrong." The sentinel hated it when Blair's fear responses took over; his anger was never aimed at his skittish guide.
Blair squeezed his eyes shut and held still, barely able to hear, let alone understand, the conversation through his fear. What had he done wrong? Jim had insisted that he didn't need to knee for him but he was angry when he didn't. That "Blair" in that tone of voice scared him. Maybe it had all been a test and he had failed. Maybe if Jim saw that he knew his place he wouldn't send him back to the Institute, maybe.
Jim broke off as he heard increasingly rapid breathing next to his chair. He immediately turned to his guide, "Chief, open the pathways." It was not a suggestion; it was an order. Blair knew that if he did he would be fully exposed to the full force of his sentinel's emotions; but he did it all the same. Anger buffeted him but it did no harm, it was not aimed at him. Then came the warmth of Jim's concern for him, and the gentle touch of Jim's hand re-enforcing the feeling of security and care.
In the back of his mind, Jim could feel the slight pull that told him the pathway was open. "Now do you understand why I never wanted a guide?" he snapped at Banks. He heard a sharp intake of breath and cursed, he had forgotten that the young empath was feeling his emotions. "D...don't send me back, please." Ellison couldn't tell if the soft words were meant for him or were a prayer. "It's alright, Chief, I may not have wanted a guide but what we have feels so right you ARE wanted. You're safe now." With each word he could feel the fear draining out of Blair Sandburg.
Simon had been all too aware why his friend has been so against bonding, only accepting temporary guides. He didn't want ownership of another person; no matter how it was dressed up, as far as Ellison was concerned, it was nothing short of slavery. Banks looked at the younger, smaller man; if he had to be bonded he was lucky to have Jim Ellison. The man might have his faults, but he would fight to the death to protect his guide from the Guide Development Program. Simon was surprised at his own depth of feeling on the subject; Sandburg had made it personal whereas before it had been no more than a coffee table debate.
Ellison ordered gently, "Close the connection, Chief. I don't want to hurt you and I'm not so sure that I can control what I'm feeling about those GDP goons right now." For a moment, as he raised his barriers, Blair felt lost, then he allowed the warmth of his sentinel's hand and voice to wash through him.
Simon stared, a bit shocked. Jim had a well-deserved reputation as an iceberg, yet he had allowed this punk kid to get so close that the kid's well being was his major concern. Jim was crouched next to the kneeling man, "Come on, Chief, I know that can't be comfortable, not still hurting the way you are. You know Simon; he's not going to mind if you use the chair like you did last time," he glanced at Simon, "will you, sir?" Simon tried to school his features. His voice was a little gruff but it did nothing to hide his concern. "Of course not. And, Sandburg, while you're at the station, and Jim's partner, you kneel for no one. Are we clear on this?" The kid's long hair veiled his face as he nodded. Matching words to action, Simon moved another chair right next to the one Ellison was using. "And I am sure as hell not going to hold a conversation on the floor with you two, Sandburg." He won the slightest of grins as Blair glanced up at him and then quickly returned his gaze to the floor.
Jim moved around so that he was facing his guide and gently coaxed him to his feet and into the chair. He could feel the tremors running through his guide's body, his heart thumping in his chest faster than normal. He landed a playful tap on the younger man's jaw and regained his own seat, "We're ready now, Simon."
The captain looked from the sentinel to the guide. Sandburg slowly looked up at him and he tried a reassuring smile of the sort he used with his son Daryl when he was younger. He was rewarded with the shadow of a smile as the guide placed his hand on Jim so he felt connected to his sentinel even as he grounded him. Jim patted his shoulder one last time and then settled down to find out what his captain wanted. Simon tried to ignore the slender fingers flexing against Jim's leg.
He waved a dog-eared book in front of them. "Sentinel 101, gentlemen. I've read through it but some of it is a puzzle to me, and I'm being honest when I say that. Guide Sandburg. Blair, your job is to look after Jim, keep him from zoning and help him develop his senses. Is that a correct summary?"
"Yes, sir." Blair was still getting used to the fact that Jim didn't object to him talking, never ordered him to be silent. He shuddered as he remembered his punishment at the Institute for talking. His sentinel must have picked up on it because he felt Jim tense then relax as Blair forced himself to calm down.
"This empathic thing, the constant need for contact, do you have to do it in public?" If Simon was honest, it made him uncomfortable.
"Jim needs to be grounded. I can do it with my voice, but its more controlled if I back it up with some form of contact. If Jim zones, I have to open the empathic connection and send him the support he needs to return to this time and place before he gets so lost his vital signs flat line. I can do that easier if I am in contact with him, so, yes, it is necessary." The kid sounded professional and in control; a far cry from the frightened man of five minutes earlier who knelt waiting for who knew what kind of punishment. Ellison read in his captain's eyes the same rage and disgust for what the GDP had done to a gentle, intelligent young man as he himself felt.
Jim looked at Simon and his eyes were laser sharp, pinning the captain to his chair. "I have spoken to Stephen and he has agreed that if anything ever happens to me, Stephen will get Blair out of the country. He'll have money so he can get far away from the clutches of the GDP. I need your promise that you will help Stephen because Blair won't be in any condition to help himself for a while." Simon grinned, "You realize we're sitting right here in police headquarters and plotting a crime, don't you, Jim?" Ellison grinned wolfishly back at him, "Ah, but, Captain sir, we swore to uphold justice, right?" The two big men shared a chuckle, not realizing what their black humor was doing to the object of their concern.
"Jim," Blair said the name in a plaintive tone. He could feet the panic growing inside of him. He wasn't even really sure what caused it. Fear of being caught by the GDP; fear of the unknown; or fear that he would lose the big man who was coming to represent safety and security and maybe even... friendship.
"Nothing's going to happen, Chief, I don't plan on going anywhere. But just in case, I want you safe." Blair opened up the pathway slightly so he could feel the warmth behind the words; there was anger, but none of it was aimed at him. He was safe.
Simon nodded, "Okay, back to the job. I've explained the situation to the rest of the bullpen. They'll give you both space; and Jim, no one is going to try and take him away from you, so no smashing people against walls, doors, or any hard objects. Try to count to ten, okay?"
"Yes, sir. Understood."
"Right, let's get down to business. After all, its what we pay you for. We still haven't caught a break on the Chapel murder, so I want you two to take a look at the crime scene."
"Now, Robinson has been over the scene but he didn't get anything useful from it. Still, it can't hurt to have two sentinels look at it."
"Yes, two of them, Sandburg." The captain was pleased to see that the kid was taking an interest and that Jim was encouraging him.
"The first sentinel, was he bonded?"
"No, I don't think so." He paused, "Does it make a difference?"
"Non-bonded sentinels have trouble holding their focus; if they push their senses they can zone so they generally hold back. Jim should be able to pick up more data from the scene," his voice showed his confidence in his sentinel's ability.
"So that's your first port of call, Ellison. Here's the case file, now get going. You're not being paid to warm the seat." With a grin, Jim scooped up the file. "Come on, Chief, you heard the man. Let's go earn our paycheck." God, he was glad to be back. Blair was stunned, our paycheck? Simon shook his head as the kid almost bounced out of his chair to follow Jim; it looked like Ellison was putting the pieces back together. Who would have thought it?
Rafe and Brown came up the minute they left the office; mindful of what they had been told they made sure to stop at least two feet away from Jim until they were certain that he understood that they had no ill intent toward his guide.
"Glad to have you back, Jim. The bullpen hasn't been the same without you."
Jim felt Blair move further behind him, "Its okay, Chief, they might not look it but they are the good guys. The snappy dresser is Rafe, and the grunge look is Brown." He reached behind him and drew his guide out. Rafe nodded to Sandburg before turning back to Ellison. "I heard you got Barnes, you managing okay with him, Jim?" Ellison watched as his guide froze in place, his eyes wide and unblinking. Hell, aren't we ever going to get past the memories? Even as he thought that, Ellison's own thoughts flashed back to the Alex Barnes case and his first meeting with Blair Sandburg. The female sentinel had kidnapped Blair and forced him to help her commit crimes. She had taken from him his family, his friends, his freedom, even his identity. The young man had been Pet Barnes for almost three tormented years, Alex's "pet" and her slave. It was the name Rafe and Brown knew him by, the name he had when he was interrogated. Ellison put his hands on both of Sandburg's shoulders and gave him the gentlest of shakes to snap him out of his waking nightmare, even as he answered Rafe.
"Fine, and his name is Sandburg, Blair Sandburg." There was a certain note of steel in his voice that the two police officers did not miss.
"Sure, sorry, my mistake," Rafe smiled apologetically at Blair. Brown grinned suddenly, "welcome to the bullpen, Sandburg." He put his hand out. Blair hesitated but, when Jim didn't say anything, he shook hands with first Brown and then Rafe. He didn't feel anything from the two detectives but curiosity and the ghost of sorrow for reminding him of things better left alone. Blair contented himself with a mumbled, "Good to meet you," and was glad when their attention went back to Jim.
Rafe curiosity got the better of him, "What's Simon got you working on Jim?"
"The Chapel case."
"You're welcome to it. That thing's been one dead end after another, but hey, now that you're a supercop, it should be child's play. We won't be able to complete with you."
"All I need is a brain to be one up on you, Rafe." There was an uncustomary note of good humor in the sentinel's voice.
Brown broke out in rich laughter, "See you both around. Come on, brainless, let's go catch crooks." He swatted his partner on the back before leading him out the door. Blair just watched them go, they had treated him like an ordinary person, not a second-class citizen.
Once at his desk, Jim motioned to the computer. "You any good with those things, Chief?"
"Yes." Blair was bemused by Rafe and Brown's casual acceptance of him.
"Great, get the thing fired up and let's see what we can pull from the data base."
Ellison watched as his guide's slender fingers flew across the keys as be called out names and license plate numbers, double checking the information. The case itself sounded simple. Linda Chapel had been found dead in her house of multiple stab wounds. From there it got complex; the murder weapon had not been not found and forensics had drawn a blank on the scene, finding no evidence in the house. "I've got Robinson's report here, he did the initial search of the area with forensics. What do you think, Chief?" Blair read through it. "Well, he's not fully on-line and he had no guide to help, so his senses would have been all over the place. It's also possible that he was swamped by input, the report mentions that he zoned twice. There might be something there he was trying to focus on that he couldn't handle. We need to check this out, Jim. The crime scene was sealed so we should be able to find whatever it was that Robinson missed."
Jim grinned at his enthusiasm, he could see a little of the person his guide had been before that bitch Barnes and the GDP goons had gotten hold of him. The kid had started to open up a little; he was more at home and, now that he realised that Jim wasn't going to punish him if he opened his mouth, he had started to talk a mile a minute. Okay, so it got on his nerves a bit; he was used to peace and quiet, but he was so pleased he wouldn't dream of telling him to shut up.
The house looked like any other on the street, the only indication that violence had occurred was the yellow and black incident tape that crossed the doorway.
Jim unclipped the tape and opened the door, "The body was in the living room." He stopped at the entrance to the murder scene and felt Blair's hand rest on his shoulder. His guide's voice, murmuring a litany of encouragement, was soothing to his nerves as he slowly opened up his senses. For a moment a wave of panic crested through him, the last time he had done this he had zoned badly. Blair sensed his fear and moved closer so that his body was resting against his sentinel, "Jim, its alright, fix your senses on me to start with." Ellison took a deep breath and allowed his sense of smell to detect the musky ginger scent of his guide; it was balm to his nerves. He could feel the thumping of Blair's heart against his back and the movement of his chest as he breathed.
"Good, Jim, that's cool. Now, allow your senses to range out. I'm your anchor, nothing can happen while I am here."
"There's a scent here, Chief, seems out of place somehow." He turned his head to one side as he tried to catch it, "Its faint but... its no good. I can't place it."
"Okay, imprint that scent in your memory. When we get back to the station, we can go over it and isolate the components of it."
Jim suddenly growled, startling Blair. "Hey, whoa. Easy, Jim. What's up with you, man?"
But with Ellison's senses locked on something threatening, he wasn't listening to his guide. His head was whipping back and forth, his growl getting louder as the disturbing scent was getting stronger. Suddenly, he spun around; his hand latched onto Blair and forced him to the floor on his knees. Ellison positioned himself between Blair and the newcomer. As a man in police dress came through the doorway, the roar that burst from his lips was that of a large jungle cat. Blair powered off the floor, catching his sentinel by the wrist just as he reached for the newcomer. Ellison shook him off and Blair hit the wall with a hard thud and a soft cry. That pained sound slowed Jim down; he was torn between going to Blair and challenging this threat to his ownership of the guide.
Blair lunged again, this time catching firm hold of the sentinel, at the same time yelling at the newcomer to back away.
"Its alright, Jim, he's not challenging you." Blair held onto him for dear life and opened the empathic link. The sentinel's aggression swept over him in waves; he almost staggered under the weight of it as he absorbed the emotion and felt the sentinel start to calm down.
The newcomer was a young man, an unbonded sentinel, Blair realised with a rush. Slowly Jim was starting to listen to him; the sentinel's hands ran over his body and head, checking him for injury. Content, for the moment, that his guide was okay, he released his hold and turned to the unbonded sentinel. His "what do you want?" was a low growl and Blair knew that the danger wasn't over yet. He continued to send waves of calm to the older man.
"Sentinel Ellison, Captain Banks sent me over. He thought that between the two of us we could figure out what happened. This is my partner, Jeff Taylor." He motioned to an older man standing behind him. Blair didn't need to see his sentinel's reaction to know that the "partner" was not a guide. Taylor showed no signs of the "manners" that, one way or another, guides learned at the Institute.
"And you are?" The hostility had faded somewhat from the sentinel's voice but wariness had taken its place.
"Unbonded Sentinel Robinson," he lowered his tone so that he was deferring to the older sentinel, the Alpha Male. Robinson's gaze drifted to the guide and his eyes hardened. The curly-haired young punk was not showing the proper respect, he should be on his knees.
"My guide, Blair Sandburg."
Robinson nodded although, personally, he could not help but wonder why Ellison found the need to introduce his guide. He had heard about Sandburg on the grapevine, knew the kid had gone rogue. If Sandburg were his, he would make sure he toed the line.
"Jeff works as my temporary guide; I hope to bond soon." Blair shivered as he felt the disgust aimed at him, not me. It won't be me. I'm Jim's. He felt sorry for whomever wound up bonded to this jerk.
Jim felt Blair's hand on his arm, the fingers tightened and he bent his head to his guide. "Have him check the upper level, Jim, he zoned here twice before."
Robinson's face hardened as Ellison followed his guide's advice; reading into the whispered words a slur on his abilities. "Okay, since Captain Banks sent you, you take the upper floor, and we'll cover down here. If you detect anything, give me a call."
"Sentinel." Robinson glared at Blair and followed Taylor out. He didn't see Jim bristle and start forward, only to have his guide pull him back.
"It's okay, Jim. Let's just get what we need and get out of here. I am so not into murder scenes, before or after the fact."
"I wouldn't have killed him, Chief," Jim said mildly, "Just straightened him out."
"Yeah, right." Blair snorted in disbelief, "Let's get you focused."
Ten minutes later Taylor came running downstairs. Robinson had zoned and he couldn't get him to come out of it. Reluctantly, Jim allowed Blair to go see what he could do for the younger sentinel. But he hovered close, watching as his young guide spoke in the level tone that should be for him alone; one that he had to obey. It worked as well for the other sentinel and Sandburg slowly eased the beat cop out of the zone. Robinson's eyes flashed open and he snarled as he lashed out. Blair staggered as Jim grabbed him by the scruff of his coat and pulled him clear before absorbing the blow himself. Ellison grabbed Robinson's shoulder and slammed him into the wall, one arm pressed across his throat within an inch of breaking bones, "You ever touch my guide and I will break every bone in your body." There was pure venom in his tone, and Robinson and Taylor knew with certainty the ex-black ops Ranger meant every word of his threat; no, not threat, his promise.
Over his shoulder, still retaining his bruising hold on the younger sentinel, he demanded, "You all right, Chief?" Taylor heaved a sigh of relief as the young guide answered in a shaky voice, "Yes, Jim." Blair could not believe that Jim would do this for him. Okay, the first time downstairs had been pure instinct, a territorial reaction to protect his ownership of the guide; but this was different, Jim was protecting HIM. Alex would have let him be hit, as a lesson for him to be more careful in the future.
Ellison gave the unbonded sentinel a hard push and then ignored him. "Taylor, you and Robinson re-secure the crime scene. Come on, Chief, I think we've got what we came for."
Out in the truck, Jim settled back in the seat and then turned, reaching out for his guide. Blair flinched for a moment, scared that he had misread Jim's reactions in the house and he was going to be punished. But Ellison just eased him closer and ran his hands over him, checking for injuries. Only when he was satisfied that no additional damage had been done, did he give him a gentle pat on the side of his face and release him. "What's up, Chief?" Ellison chuckled at the confusion in the wide blue eyes that met his. "Jim, why'd you do that? I touched him without his permission. He had a right to...to..." He stuttered to a stop as Ellison reached out and cradled his face, "Sandburg, Blair. No one, not even me, has the right to hit you just for touching him. Understand?" He waited until the younger man nodded. "Good. Let's get out of here." The ride to the station was silent; Jim could feel his guide's eyes on him, wondering gratitude pouring out of him in a palpable stream.
Jim scooped the message off his desk and swore, Simon had agreed to a meeting at the GDP Institute for Sandburg and him. He saw his guide look at him, slightly frightened by the outburst. "It's alright, Sandburg, its nothing you've done. Grab a seat; I'll be back in a minute after I've seen Simon."
Blair settled behind the computer and watched the meeting through the half-opened blinds. Jim was angry, even at a distance his sentinel's body language was obvious. For a moment it appeared as if he was about to storm out, when Simon said something. Both men looked over at him and Jim calmed down. A few minutes of quiet conversation and Jim started back to his desk; after a slight delay Simon followed suit.
Simon was careful not to loom over the younger man, "Sorry, Blair, but Captain Mason rang this morning, he wants you at the Institute, he..." Simon didn't get a chance to finish his sentence. Blair was a blur of motion, with anyone else he would have gotten free and clear into the hallway, but Jim snagged his guide and held on tightly as the slender young man changed into a struggling, twisting demon. But his sentinel was too strong for him; no matter how hard he tried he couldn't escape the imprisoning hold. Ellison sent his captain a barbed look, "Blair, Chief, its okay. I'm going with you. Doctor Jenson just got fed up with waiting and pulled out the big guns to get us over there. But I'll be with you every step of the way. No one will be able to hurt you again, Blair. I promise." Slowly, the guide stilled in his arms. Jim felt the slight tug as Blair opened the empathic pathways and felt the aggressive protection that surged through his sentinel.
Simon shook his head. "Sorry, kid, I should have phrased that differently. I didn't mean to spook you like that." Blair was taking slow, deep breaths to try and calm down, to head off a panic attack. He allowed his sentinel to calm him down, responding to his touch and voice and the warm emotion pouring into him from the older man.
The blue and white truck pulled into the parking lot of the Institute; for a moment Jim gazed around the campus, the place looked so peaceful and serene. Students were wandering around talking and laughing, sitting out in the sun. It looked normal, unthreatening, like any college campus anywhere. But he had only to glance at his guide to see the reality of the place. Blair was remaining calm with a desperate courage that tore at Jim's heart but the wide blue eyes were dark with remembered horror and fear. He reached out and gave his guide's arm a firm squeeze, "Its okay, Chief. Just hold it together, one hour tops, and we're outta here."
Blair nodded and started to follow Jim when his sentinel stopped and turned to face him. Jim laid a hand on his chest then transferred his Cascade PD badge so that it was visible on his coat. "Just reminding them where you belong, Blair." Ellison ruffled his guide's long curls affectionately and then started across the parking lot. Ellison turned when he sensed his guide's footsteps slowing down. All color had drained from the younger man's face and his heart sounded as if it would pound through his chest any moment. Ellison carefully showed no irritation at the slowed pace; he wanted to get this over with and get away from here but he wasn't going to hurry his guide. He waited patiently for Blair to come even with him. He caught the younger man in a tight embrace and whispered into his ear, "Blair, you will be alright. You don't belong to them anymore. You belong to yourself, and to me. You are my Guide. Please, please, kid, believe me. I will not let them keep you. We'll both be walking out of here, together. Blair, I want you to open the pathway." Jim tangled the fingers of one hand into the younger man's curls; as he felt the tug in his mind he allowed his fierce need to protect his guide, his need to defend his friend flood out of him. He heard Blair's small gasp, felt the slight loosening of tense muscles. "That's it, kid. Can't fool an empath, you know I mean what I say. You'll... we'll... be okay." When they finally started up the path, it was side-by-side, Ellison's arm thrown casually over his guide's shoulders.
The receptionist watched Jim sign in before handing him a visitor's pass with a smile. She tossed a red pass to Blair that marked him clearly as a guide. "Third floor, Sentinel Ellison. I'll call and tell them you're on your way." She waved them to the elevators at the rear of the lobby. When they were in the elevator, Ellison asked softly, "Chief, what's with the badge? Your heart about jumped out of your chest." Blair looked everywhere but at his sentinel as he answered, "Here," a slender finger touched a large black dot in the corner of the badge, "this tells them that the wearer... that I... was in the corrections unit and should be... watched... carefully." Jim growled in his throat. "Hold still, kid." With deft hands, Jim repined the Cascade PD so it covered the telltale mark. "There, that takes care of that." Blair almost grinned at the satisfaction he heard in his sentinel's voice.
Ellison felt Blair move right behind him so that he was hidden from anyone entering the lift; one hand was twisted in the back of his jacket, the other snagged at his waist. Mercifully, they stepped out on the floor without encountering anyone. The reprieve was short; as they walked down the hall, a GDP officer came out of the end office. Ellison felt the pull on his jacket as his guide went down on his knees; Blair hid his face against Ellison's hip as the GDP officer asked, "May I help you, Sentinel?" He dismissed Blair with a glance.
"Doctor Jenson's office?"
"Thanks." Ellison was curt; he didn't want to encourage conversation. The officer took the hint and nodded as he walked away.
"Blair, its okay, kid." Jim got a hand under his arm and pulled Sandburg back on his feet. He could feel the trembling running through the still too thin frame and gently rubbed his guide's back until Blair had his control back. "Let's get this over with, Chief."
Doctor Jenson's secretary smiled and said a cheery, "Good afternoon, Sentinel Ellison. Doctor Jenson will see you shortly, please, take a seat." Her eyes appraised Jim and it was clear she liked what she saw; she barely gave Blair a glance. When Blair would have knelt by his chair, Ellison made Blair take the seat next to him. Sandburg's hand was running nervously over his sentinel's arm and Jim saw the look of disgust on the woman's face. He bit back the words he wanted to spit at her. Jesus, lady, you bastards rip away his natural protections, make him what he is and then are disgusted when he does what he has to in order to survive.
The intercom buzzed and the woman stopped eyeing him to say, "Sentinel Ellison, you may go in now." As Blair rose to follow him, she added quickly, "Your guide is to wait out here for the moment." Dark blue eyes sought his frantically. He gave Blair a reassuring smile and crossed to the door. Glancing back he saw his guide shrink in on himself as if by making himself small he would avoid detection. The sight tugged at his heart; he had to fight down his instinct to go and gather him up, and get the hell out of Dodge but Captain Mason would only keep after them until he got his information. Best to get it over with.
Doctor Jenson rose as Jim came in and shook hands. "Thank you for coming, Sentinel Ellison." She noticed his slight look of alarm as he realised he could no longer hear his guide. "Its quite all right, Sentinel, this whole building is one huge white noise generator. We have a sentinel emergency medical facility here that specialises in sensory overload. I hope you don't find it too uncomfortable. On another person her smile might be charming, but this was one of his guide's demons and Jim was not impressed. Jenson blinked nervously as the sentinel just looked at her coldly and took refuge in business. "Now, what I would like to do is talk to you about the Alex Barnes case. From all indications she was another Dark Sentinel. I think....."
"Hello Sandburg." Blair's heart stuttered to a stop as he heard that voice. It pounded furiously in his chest as he dared to look up and saw Wilson standing over him. "Haven't you learned your manners yet?" Blair slid quickly to his knees, his hands held shaking behind his back, his head down so that all he could see were Wilson's boots. It was way more than he wanted to see. Where was his sentinel?
"Julie," Wilson's voice was pleasant, "Sandburg here was one of my pupils. I just want to get a progress report. If his sentinel asks where he is, he went to the men's room. More than likely we'll be back before then." He reached down and snagged Blair's jacket; pulling him roughly to his feet, he pushed him into the arms of the other guard standing near the door.
Wilson strode down the corridor, the other guard shoving Blair along behind him, until they went into an empty office. The heavy-set guard locked the door behind them before saying with mocking kindness, "Well, Sandburg, to heel." He smiled as the deathly pale guide knelt down before him. "So, how is Ellison treating you? Missing your old friends at the Institute, yet?" He circled the kneeling man while the other guard stood back grinning; both men revelling in the tremors they could see shaking the young guide's slender form. "On your belly." The order was barked in his ear, making him jump. Blair dropped onto his front as if he'd been shot and crossed his wrists behind his back; his eyes squeezed shut. "Well, good, looks like you remember some of our lessons." Wilson purred, "But then, you had good teachers, didn't he, Charles?" His voice sharpened, "Back on your knees." Blair couldn't get his shaking body to move fast enough. A hand reached down, tangled in his hair and pulled him to his knees. His head was yanked back sharply so that he was forced to look up into cruel eyes. "You always did look good on your knees, didn't he, Charles?" Charles' laughter was cruel and mocking, "personally, I liked him on all fours."
The younger man's face flushed with shame. This was a nightmare he was going to wake up in the loft safe and sound with his sentinel this was a nightmare oh god if he repeated it enough times it would be true this was a nightmare a nightmare. Wilson smirked at him, tightened his hold on his hair until tears started in his eyes. Only it wasn't. But why couldn't Jim hear him? If he heard them he would come, he promised he would be safe he promised... Almost as if reading his mind, Wilson said smoothly, "We have a white noise generator running. If you're hoping that your sentinel will come to the rescue, don't. All your sentinel can hear is what we can hear, no more and no less."
"Did you really think that we had finished with you, Sandburg? We might have officially gotten rid of you but unofficially we have plans for you." Wilson ran a rough hand over Blair's face, lingered on his mouth. Blair felt ice creep into his bones; he couldn't move, couldn't escape, not the touch, not the words that slithered into his heart. "Do you have any idea how many people will pay to have a night with a empath? How much they will pay? Any empath, much less one that comes packaged like you do? With all of them being funnelled into the GDP, they're forbidden fruit. We've got a client coming in on Thursday, he and his party want entertaining. You, sweet cheeks, you will be that entertainment. They're paying us good money for an empath; they like the idea that you can tune into their needs, their desires, and respond to their every whim. Your kind have a reputation as great lovers and you will not disappoint them." He leered, "Well, we can testify to that. Can't we, Charles?" Charles leaned close enough that his breath gusted over Blair's face. "Oh, yes."
"I won't do it!" God, was that his voice! He knew better than to challenge them... but Ellison had patched something in side of him that was broken... given him...
"Did you hear something, Charles? Because I though he had learned to not speak." Wilson twisted the dark curls around his hand until Blair was sure he'd pull them out. Blair bit back a cry of pain.
"Good boy, just keep quiet and listen. Friday, at one in the morning, you will be waiting at Fifth and Vine for Charles to collect you. Change into the clothes he gives you and do as you are told for the rest of the evening. If you behave yourself, give a satisfactory performance, then at four o'clock he will pick you up and drop you back outside your Sentinel's home. This white noise generator will allow you to slip out of the house without waking him. What you tell him when you get back is your business."
"No way. I am not doing... he knows all about you... what you did... he knows everything." Blair's voice was shaking, oh god it could not be happening again.
Wilson slammed a fist into his unprotected belly, the hand in his hair kept him from curling around the pain. "So you told him, how sweet, but what's Mr. Straight and Narrow Ellison going to think when he sees you in action, in living colour, Sandburg? Remember that session with Charles, Frank, and David? You were sooo good then, a real hot little number. You had enough to go around for everyone. Frank always said you had a real smart mouth on you, you sure proved it that night."
Wilson's grin widened as he saw the emotions on their captive's face as the memories crashed around him. Blair remembered. He had been so terribly thirsty that he drank the water they gave him even after he tasted the acrid tang of drugs. It had been a mistake; the rest of the night was a blur, flashes of sights and sounds and tastes that sickened him. It had been as if he was looking on, detached from himself, unable to stop his body reacting to the things they did to him. He had followed their orders even though his mind was screaming against it, allowed them to touch him, had done... Blair's color drained from his face.
"I see you remember it; two at a time, wasn't it, Charles?"
The other guard leered, "A real talent he's got. Shame to let that go to waste. Pity Ellison's such a straight arrow; we could have done a deal with him. He's got a real money maker in you, Sandburg, don't you think so, Larry?"
Wilson became all business; now he had gotten his point across he was sure the kid wouldn't fight him on this, they never did. He waved a videotape in front of Blair's face; pulled it out of reach when the guide instinctively tried to grab it. "Not so fast, Sandburg. You do exactly what we say this one time and you get the tape. You don't and Ellison gets the tape; and we make sure that every one knows what kind of whore he's stuck with."
"You'll make copies of the tape." Charles' eyes narrowed. Damn, even terrified, the kid was still thinking. "Check the tape, Blair, it has an anti-piracy device on it. One copy, one party and it's over. You live happily ever after with your sentinel. We understand each other?"
"Yes." Blair was too tired to fight; he just wanted this over.
"Yes, Senior Guard Wilson."
"Good, now we understand each other. It's a pity we don't have time to revisit old times but Ellison would smell us on you. Maybe next time; you'd like that wouldn't you?"
Blair refused to answer.
Wilson snarled, "I was speaking to you Sandburg, I......"
"Larry, Ellison will be out soon. Its better he doesn't find his pet missing." Charles interrupted before Wilson lost his temper and marked the kid up. That would blow the deal with the client, any marks, he wanted to put there and Ellison might pick up on any injury. They were already counting on Ellison attributing any reaction Sandburg might have to their "conversation" to a general nervousness at being at the Institute again. Charles yanked Blair to his feet. Blair staggered but managed to stay standing as he was shoved out the door and told to "get back where you belong."
Charles rubbed his hands together in satisfaction. Larry was incredulous as he challenged, "You really going to let him go after Thursday night? He could make us big money."
"Do I look like an idiot? We'll give him this tape and film his little party Thursday night. We'll wait a few months until he's more settled in with Ellison; I've heard of Ellison, he'll treat the kid well. Sandburg will have time to know just what he'll lose if we expose him; then we'll show him the new tape and..." The guards enjoyed a good laugh.
Blair halted outside the office and took some calming breaths. His head ached from Wilson's grip and his stomach roiled from his threats and the punch but he fiercely shoved it all away. He had to get through this meeting without Jim suspecting anything was wrong. There would be time later to think about it. As he entered the waiting room, Jim was just leaving Jenson's office. "Where've you been, Chief?" Blair waved a hand vaguely over his shoulder. "Men's room." Ellison's eyes studied him, "You okay, Blair?"
"Yeah, just don't like this place, ya know?"
"Yeah, kid, I know. Okay, Doctor Jenson wants you now." He could see how shaky his guide was, "do you want me to go in with you?"
The secretary cut in, "Doctor Jenson would like to speak to the guide alone, sir." Jim ignored her, "Well, Chief?"
"Could you come in?" The younger man was ready to plead.
"Sure thing." Ellison stepped back and allowed Blair to go in front of him. For a moment Jim paused, his nose twitching; there was a scent on his guide, one that he could not place for the moment. But he knew it was important.
All in all the day had not been a complete bust. Once they had weathered the conversation in Jenson's office; Blair at his most taciturn until the doctor had given up and asked for a written report, they had returned to the station. With his guide's help, Ellison had identified the smell that had bothered him at the Chapel house as an exclusive men's cologne, sold at only a few shops. From there it was only a short jump to Arnold Smith, Chapel's jilted ex-lover. Banks had been very happy with the quick resolution of the case and had even spared a gruff, "Good job" for the guide. Blair's face had lit up in a grin that had Banks smiling back at him; until he remembered he had an image to protect and tossed Sentinel and Guide out of his office, sending them home.
Now back at the loft, Jim locked the door behind him and looked at his guide. He quickly closed the distance between them, "What's going on, Blair?" He kept his voice level, not wanting to spook the kid after the day he'd had. His guide spun around and moved away from his sentinel, avoiding the sharp blue eyes. "I'll cook dinner, Jim. What do you want?" He was inching towards the kitchen as he spoke.
"Blair, stay put. We have to talk."
"No, we don't, but I do have to start cooking." Sandburg kept back peddling. Jim caught his arm and Blair seemed to collapse in on himself. He was shaking badly as he went down on his knees in front of his sentinel. Jim closed his eyes for a moment, blocking out his guide's fear response. Wondering when this had started to spin out of control, he forced himself to take a deep breath. The sentinel knelt down opposite his guide. "Sorry, Blair. I scared you a bit, didn't I? I know you know I'm not going to hurt you, so why don't you talk to me?" Using his greater strength, he pulled his guide to his feet and got him seated on the sofa. Whatever had shaken his guide was something very nasty. Blair seemed unable to look at him, his heartbeat was all over the place; he sounded as if he was heading towards a full-blown panic attack. "Stay here." He wrapped the afghan around the younger man, afraid he was going into shock, and then went and made some of the revolting tea his guide liked.
Blair's hand was shaking badly when he accepted the tea. He took a deep sip of the hot drink to buy some time. His mind was spinning; Jim knew that something was very wrong; all he had to do was speak to Jim, tell him the truth. But as he opened his mouth all he could hear was Wilson's words, all he could see was his sentinel throwing him out of the loft and sending him to one of the GDP Hostels until he needed him. Then Wilson would have him again. All he had to do was get through Thursday night and it would all be over. He could do that, couldn't he?
His stomach suddenly turned over; he only had time to put the cup down and reach the bathroom before he was throwing up. He felt Jim reach down and pull his hair out of the way, rub a gentle hand over his back. This was what he would lose, Jim's acceptance. Finally he was dry retching; when even that had subsided he slid down on the floor and leaned back against the bathtub.
He could not go through with this. His mind replayed the time in the cell when the four of them had come and the nausea started to come back again in waves. But nothing was left to come up and his throat was raw. He felt his sentinel gather him into his arms, one hand gently tracing a circle on his stomach, distracting him from the nausea. He clutched at his sentinel's arms.
"Talk to me Blair, please."
"Going back to the Institute. It made me remember things." He meant to tell him, but he couldn't, he couldn't see the distaste and disgust on Jim's face when he heard about the videotaped "correction" session.
"That's only natural, Chief. Just remember that you don't have to go back there again. I'm here; they would have to go through me first." Jim smiled, despite his worries, as his guide snuggled closer. "Why don't I get you comfortable on the sofa, buddy? You'll be warmer and you've had a rough day." His smile grew as he received a nod from his guide.
As Jim helped him up, his nose twitched again. There was that scent he had noticed at the Institute; he was almost sure he could identify it. He heard his guide's voice in his mind. Filter it out, Jim. You don't ever forget a scent; you just have to find it. His face hardened and the stoic mask slipped into place as he made the connection; it was the scent of that guy Wilson, the GDP goon who had brought his guide to the station for their bonding. It was all over Blair, on his clothes, in his hair. Somehow, while he was in Jenson's office, Wilson had gotten to Blair and frightened him so badly that he was lying to him. His first impulse was to shake his guide until he told the truth, but that idea was quashed before it had even fully formed in his head. Blair was already so scared that all he would do was make him even more afraid. The kid would clam up and all the progress he had made toward getting Blair to trust him would be lost.
The sentinel had managed to get some soup into his guide before he got him into bed. The kid was so exhausted that he was asleep before his head hit the pillow. Jim found himself watching the Jags game with no idea of what was happening, his mind on other things. Finally, as it seemed as if his guide would stay asleep, Jim made his own weary way to bed.
Jim woke suddenly and saw Blair at the top of his stairs, one hand resting on the wall. The moonlight streaming through the window was enough for his sentinel eyesight to pick up the sweat-sheen on his guide's face. He was shivering so badly, Jim wondered how he stayed on his feet. "Why don't you tell me, Blair?" He made his voice as gentle as the night.
"You won't want me around any longer." Please don't throw me out, I won't be any trouble, I won't expect you to like me. Jim read each of his guide's fears in the wide, expressive blue eyes that stared at him in the dark. The sentinel exhaled slowly, "Blair Sandburg, you are my guide, claimed and marked; there is nothing that you can have done that would make me hate you." He patted the bed in invitation and drew his feet up, making room for his guide.
"Do you want the light on?"
"No," Blair spoke quickly, he knew that Jim could see him, but if he could not see his sentinel's face, perhaps it would be easier. He sat down on the edge of the bed as far from Jim as he could, this way he stood a chance of escaping down stairs when the sentinel exploded. He placed an item on the bed between them, "it's a white noise generator."
"Why do you have it, Chief? You know it's an offense for a guide to have one of these. You could get up to two months in the correction facility if you're reported." For all he said, would Jim do that to him once he heard the truth? Wilson had made him see that Jim's reputation was at stake as well. He wouldn't want him in his home when he heard the story.
Jim felt a cold ball of ice in his stomach as he saw the look of utter fear and desperation etched on his guide's expressive face, the tremors in the hand that pushed the hair out of his eyes.
"W...W...Wilson gave it to me. He came and got me when you went in to see the Doctor." The sentinel held back his questions, allowing his guide to talk in his own time, fearing that to interrupt him would make him stop. "H...he has a tape of me, he videoed..." he looked desperately at Jim for understanding.
Keeping his voice level Jim stated what Blair could not, "When he raped you, he taped it."
"Yes, he had three of his people with him, they made me do things. *I* did things, touched them in certain ways. The water was drugged, I shouldn't have drunk it but I was so thirsty, and then I didn't, couldn't stop it, Jim." His voice was shaking as he added, "its all on the tape, if I don't do what he says, he's going to make the tape public." Tears were flowing slowly down his face, even as he tried to brush them away. "Then you won't want me, everyone will call me a whore. I'm not, Jim, I'm not like that. They made me..." Jim had never heard such desperation in his life.
"NO!" Jim saw Blair jump as he barked that one word. Actions would speak louder than words; he opened his arms and his guide scooted into them. "You were raped, Blair, repeatedly, for six weeks; you're no whore, kid, you were drugged, coerced. You're a victim here, understand me?" When he failed to get an answer he tipped his guide's face up so that he was looking at him, "understand me?"
He saw Blair nod his head, "Say it, Blair."
"I was a victim," his voice was weak, uncertain.
"Again, Guide." It was a firm command.
"I was a victim."
"That's right, and you keep saying that until you believe it. God, Blair, you have nothing to be ashamed of. You survived a terrible experience, kid, don't let them win now." Ellison held his guide in silence until he heard his breathing slow. "Now, what did Wilson want to keep quiet about the tape?"
"He provides empaths as entertainment for his clients when they come into the city. They pay big money because it's illegal. He's got a party coming in on Thursday night and I'm supposed to be the entertainment. He's picking me up on Fifth and Vine at one a.m.; the white noise generator is so I can get out of the house without waking you up."
Jim was silent, running through possibilities in his mind. If they were going to catch those bastards, Blair would have to face and overcome his nightmares. It was a lot to ask of the young man, but Jim was beginning to get a pretty good idea of the strength of character behind that deceptively innocent face. "Tomorrow morning, we're going to talk to Simon." He felt Blair twitch, "Easy, Blair, it wasn't your fault. This time we can nail Wilson and his scum. Procuring empaths for "carnal purposes" is a state statute, outside the GDP jurisdiction. You did good telling me this, Blair, I know it wasn't easy. But because you did, they won't be able to do it to anyone else. I just want you to remember that nothing they forced you to do, and that, Blair, is the important thing, they forced you, can make send you away." He chuckled softly, "Like it or not, Chief, you're stuck with me."
When he got no rely, he looked down to see that Sandburg was asleep, exhaustion and stress had finally proved too much for him. With a grin for the unlikelihood of it all, Jim bundled his guide under the covers. Pulling his exercise mat over to the top of the stairs, he prepared to ensure that one mortally tired young man got some sleep.
When Blair awoke he was curled up in his sentinel's bed in a nest of blankets. For a moment he was puzzled and then the events of yesterday crashed down on him. Before he could panic or die of shame, either of which was an option right now he thought with black humor, he felt a weight land on the bed. He rolled over and found himself looking into the face of the panther spirit guide. It yawned at him and circled a few times until it found a comfortable place, then settled down. Its heavy head came to rest on his thigh before it yawned again, showing razor sharp teeth, and looked toward the stairs. Blair followed its stare and saw Ellison lying across the top of the stairway; the sentinel was protecting his territory and, most importantly, his guide.
The clock showed it was still early and Blair settled back to sleep. He never noticed his sentinel's eyes move to track his movements and watch the panther take its place on the bed. Jim looked down at the wolf that lay cuddled next to his body; it lifted its head and whimpered. Its fur was matted and dirty, one ear torn, and its ribs showing. Jim reached out a gentle hand and petted it. It lowered its head and with a soft noise, closed its eyes and slept. This was Blair's spirit animal; it would heal as his spirit healed. Only when Blair went back to sleep did, the sentinel relax again. Jim's mind was busy with plans; he was a cop, sworn to uphold the law, but he was also a Dark sentinel, and that side of him was screaming for revenge.
Simon looked from grim sentinel to shaky but resolute guide as Jim closed his office door behind him, shutting out the bullpen.
Ellison shepherded his guide to one of the chairs and took the one next to it. Blair's hand rested against his arm and he stared down at the floor until he heard the soft command, "You have to look at Simon, Chief."
Simon Banks found his breath caught in his throat, he had never seen a look of such total misery. "What's wrong, Jim?"
"We went to the Institute yesterday, per your orders and while I was in talking with Jenson, a guard named Wilson made a move on Blair. It appears that he's got a racket going on over there. He targets the guides that go through the correction facility and blackmails them with certain explicit tapes of their 'correction lessons'. They either agree to sleep with his special customers or the tapes go public. He banks on the fact that they'll be so afraid that their sentinels will throw them out and they'll end up at the GDP Hostel where they would face retraining that they'll do it."
"I thought the bonding was for life?" Simon was genuinely puzzled.
Blair nodded his head, "Yes, sir, but not all guides stay with their sentinels all the time. Sometimes the sentinel just doesn't want to be bothered, or won't be using his senses for an extended period of time, or any number of reasons. It's tough on the guides because they're left without the sentinel boost to their barriers but who cares about that?" It was the first sign of bitterness Banks had ever seen in the young man. "And once you've been through the Correction facility, you're always sent back there. It doesn't matter why the sentinel wants to ditch you for a time. So, yes, Captain, they'd be willing to do just about anything to avoid being kicked out."
Simon's voice was kindly, "And he's set you up for this?" He saw the curly head nod slightly before a shaky voice said, "Thursday night, he's picking me up at Fifth and Vine and taking me to his client. He's got a party coming in and I'm the entertainment for the evening, afterwards he'll drop me back at the loft."
"Wilson has a tape of you. How bad, kid?"
"He..." Blair's voice trailed off as blue eyes sought the sentinel.
"Its three on one, Simon, and from what Blair said," he paused to grip his guide's shoulder, "it was as bad as it gets. At the moment, it's Blair's word against theirs; they gave him a white noise generator to block my sense of hearing, just him having it is a crime. We blow the whistle on them now, and he's the one the GDP will go for, not them. We have to catch them in the act, that's the only way we can nail them hard enough that they won't walk."
"And he agrees to do it?" Simon wasn't sure that he'd have the nerve himself to do something like this.
"Ask him yourself, Simon." Ellison's voice was curt.
"Sorry, kid, you're willing to do this to catch them?" Blair could not believe that Jim was actually giving him a choice, allowing him to make it.
"Yes." The answer was so soft that Simon could barely it but there was no mistaking the kid's determination.
"We leave the GDP out of this, Simon. One wrong move from them could blow the case. I don't want Sandburg to have to do this only to watch them escape; this time there will be justice." Simon nodded, "We'll need more men, Jim. The two of us can't do it." Ellison had thought about this, was ready with his answer. "I want to bring Rafe and Brown in on this." He had already seen how they treated his guide and he trusted them to do their best to keep Sandburg safe.
Thursday night, Blair was on edge; his hands were shaking as he sliced vegetables for a stir-fry. He didn't even realize he had cut himself until Jim took the knife away and moved his hand under the tap to clean the small wound. He had smelled the blood from the living room. "Sit down, Blair. I'll do this for you." Ellison gave him a gentle push towards the living area. The young guide halted. On the rug in front of the fireplace was the panther; this time it had an injured wolf with him. Wolf looks like I feel. The wolf was lying down, its thin, dirty body shivering. The panther stood over it, showing its teeth, protecting it. Then it settled by the wolf's side and licked its ear and nose before curling around it, a comforting rumble in its throat. As Blair stared in wonder, the panther raised its head and stared at him, then both animals vanished. Message received, you big pussycat. Jim will protect me. The wolf must be my spirit animal. Cool, I didn't know I had one. The strange occurrence helped take his mind off of what he had to do.
Later that night, he stood on the street corner and shivered. It had nothing to do with the coldness of the night and everything to do with coldness of the soul. He could feel his stomach churning; all that stopped him running was the knowledge that his sentinel was out there. The homing beacon inserted against his back teeth was organic and state of the art technology; if he was honest about it, he had more faith in his sentinel than the device. A van with blacked out windows pulled up and Blair nerved himself for what was to come. It's gonna be all right. Jim's out there and he won't let them do anything. We're gonna get these creeps, big time. I can do this. I have to do this. The side door rolled back and he climbed in. "Strip, Sandburg." The young man froze and there was a cruel laugh, "Gone shy all of a sudden? You haven't got anything we haven't seen or touched or taken, quit stalling."
Blair scrunched himself in the far corner of the van and began to undress; all too aware of the leering looks he got from Wilson and the man he knew as Charles. They let him shiver for a while before they tossed clothes across to him. He unfolded them and felt the heat mount in his face, the material of the white shirt and trousers was so sheer it did nothing to hide him, if anything it was worse than being honestly nude. He still shivered badly, wrapped his arms around himself for warmth. He watched as Wilson carefully checked his clothes and grinned as he reported, "He's clean. I knew the little slut didn't have the balls to go against us."
Blair retreated into his mind, shivering with cold and nerves. He jumped, tried to get away from the hand that slid up his leg to his groin; his breath caught on a whimper as he shifted as far back as he could get in the close confines of the can. Can't fight. Jim'll come and we won't get these creeps. I can do this. Wilson snapped "Charles, no tasting the merchandise; our clients want him fresh and clean. You can have a piece of him later, once the paying clients have had enough." The only thing keeping the younger man sane was the knowledge that Jim, his sentinel, was out there, that he would come and get him.
Simon glanced across at the sentinel and saw his teeth grinding, his whole attitude was one of deadly controlled force as he heard the leering words aimed at his guide. Ellison was getting a very clear picture of what these bastards had done to his guide; if Blair had not been so strong-willed he would have lost him before they had a chance to bond. He knew covert ops soldiers that had crumbled under less pressure than had been heaped on the shoulders of his frail guide. The captain tried to break the tension in the surveillance van, "These guys are pretty cocky, that's an official GDP van they're driving." His attempted distraction failed and he watched as his detective was slowly swamped by more primitive emotions. He spoke only once as they followed the van, "If they touch him, they are dead." It was not a threat; it was a promise. It was then that it really hit Simon that his best friend had indeed changed and that he was looking at a pure dark sentinel, infused with the panther nature of his spirit guide.
Jim watched, barely able to hold himself back as the van slid to a stop by a block of apartments and the GDP guards manhandled his guide into the building. He could see the fear etched on his guide's face; he looked as if he was starting to have a panic attack. "They've stopped at the Dorchester Apartments on Twelfth. Backup, move in now." Simon's voice barely penetrated the sentinel's focused attention. Only one thing was on his mind, eliminate the threat to his guide. He could feel Blair's fear through the bond and it fuelled his purpose and his rage.
Simon turned and watched Jim heading towards the van; the sentinel moved with the fluid movement of the great cats and the driver of the van never had a chance. One minute he was lighting up a cigarette, the next he was being dragged out of the van by a vise-like grip and slammed up against the vehicle. The man found himself looking up in to the barely controlled face of an enraged sentinel. "Blair Sandburg, which apartment is he going to?"
The man shook his head, "I don't know what you...."
Jim leaned in close as he hissed a threat, his voice so cold it sounded like death incarnate. What followed was a very practical demonstration of what he could expect if he failed to cooperate. The driver saw no sympathy in the other three men who had gathered around and spilled his guts, pointing to one of the windows on the third floor. When the hand closed on his throat loosened, he choked out, "Up there."
The Dark Sentinel didn't wait on orders; he threw his prisoner at Simon and ran up the fire escape, a great cat hunting his prey. He made no noise as he stopped at the third floor and plastered himself against the side of the window. He carefully looked in and anger burned deep in his chest. Wilson was receiving his pay off from a young man. Empty drink bottles where scattered around the room; four men, Wilson's "customers," were well on their way to a major drunk. He could hear his guide's heart thumping fast, his breath coming in quick gasps as if he was on the verge of hyperventilating as he was pushed from man to man, never allowed the chance to recover his balance. Their hands were all over him as they laughed and swigged from bottles. The situation was quickly getting out of control; Blair's shirt was already ripped and as Jim watched a tall, heavyset man caught him by his waistband as the young guide's hands were pinioned behind him by two other men. "Simon, I'm going in now." He didn't wait for his captain's reply over the headset, didn't care what it was.
Jim smashed through the window, growling. All heads snapped toward the shattered window. Dizzied, already feeling the effects of the drug they had made him swallow, Blair wasn't sure if he really saw his sentinel or the black panther at his side. Then the panther's cry echoed that of the sentinel and he knew; Jim had come for him. The gun in Jim's hand was pointed straight at Wilson's head and never wavered, even as Simon burst into the room through the door. It took all his control not to pull the trigger and blast the man's brains across the wall. The Dark Sentinel in him screamed for vengeance but the cop fought for control and managed to gain the upper hand.
Jim wanted desperately to go to his guide, Blair was standing too still as if moving was beyond him, but until things were under control he had to hold his station, the gun never moving from his target. Then, as Rafe and Brown took the businessmen into custody, clapping on handcuffs and reading them their rights, his eyes dropped and he saw the tape playing on the room's TV. Bile rose in his throat as his mind processed the images that constituted the evening's movie for jaded thrill seekers. Wilson was showing Sandburg's rape as entertainment for his clients. He saw his guide staring at the floor, could feel the heat coming off his body as he flushed deep red with shame. Wilson still held the video camera he had picked up after shoving his payoff in his pocket. The sick bastard was going to the tape the evening for his clients.
The Sentinel moved, catching hold of Wilson's wrist in an iron grip. The GDP guard looked up into the laser sharp, enraged eyes of the sentinel. He stuttered, "It's not what you..." He screamed as his hand was pulled down sharply across the sentinel's knee and Jim's heart sang as he felt the bones snap under his fingers. The camera fell to the floor. Jim holstered his gun and his hand caught Wilson by the throat. "You are under arrest." He lifted him off the floor and smashed him against the wall as Simon said mildly, "Jim, try to leave something for the trial." The captain motioned Brown and Rafe to get the businessmen out of the there. Ellison heard Brown's cheerful, "Got ya, Captain. Wouldn't want these gentlemen to get caught in the cross fire if Wilson tries to pull something and Jim has to stop him." Ellison pinned Wilson's shoulders against the wall, held him there as he snarled," There's not going to be a trial, Captain. Mister Wilson is going to save us the trouble and confess to the all charges."
"My lawyer..." Wilson never got to finish the sentence as the hand found his throat again and tightened.
"Wilson, you waive a lawyer and a trial and I will let you live. If you refuse and this goes to court, I will personally take you apart with my bare hands," Jim snarled, allowing the panther persona full range. One hand moved to Wilson's groin and squeezed as the sentinel's voice dropped to a low, deadly whisper," I'm a Dark Sentinel, Wilson. All kinds of things can be excused a Dark Sentinel when his guide is in danger. You know that, don't you?" His grip punctuated his words and agony exploded through the guard's lower body. He paled; suddenly he felt the fear that he had inflicted on the guides. "Now tell them."
His voice had gone shrill, "Okay, okay. I waive the right to a lawyer. I want to confess. My pocket, I have a book, names, times and dates."
"The video master copy?"
"In the briefcase on the table."
"Take him." He threw him to Simon who passed him out into the hallway to the waiting Rafe. Ellison's attention was now fixed on the only person in the apartment that mattered.
Simon watched as the sentinel crossed to his guide; his hands ghosted over the younger man's body and head, checking for any damage to this most precious addition to his life. But it was Detective Ellison that stripped off his own coat and wrapped it around his smaller partner to give him some privacy. "Jim. So'thing's wrong. Gave me so'thing." Simon had wondered why Blair had made no move to cover himself when he and the detectives had burst in. Now he knew, the kid was just barely able to talk. "Jim," he kept his voice soft, "be careful with him. He's going to be extremely sensitive and suggestible until that crap is out of his system. Ellison nodded grimly and tucked his guide safely under his arm.
Simon went to the TV and popped the tape. "You want this, Sandburg?" Blair stared at the tape, his expressive eyes mirroring too many emotions for Simon to catch. The young guide raised his eyes to his sentinel. Jim said gently, "Take it, Chief. We'll take it home and burn it." Simon handed the master tape to the small, pale figure that reached out just long enough to take them, before plastering himself against the imposing shield of his sentinel. "Jim, maybe you'd better have him checked out at the hospital." Ellison shook his head, "No, Simon, you and I both know what they've given him and the one thing he doesn't need is to be around a lot of people right now." Banks nodded, "Keep an eye on him, Jim. Let me know if you need anything."
"Come on, Blair, we are going home."
"Home..." There was an ache in that soft voice.
Simon looked out across the bullpen, at his newly bonded sentinel and guide pairing. Jim was sorting through some evidence bags for Joel Taggart, the bomb disposal unit captain. Taggart, like many people, was curious about the whole sentinel deal. He was watching with open-mouthed amazement as Jim identified the contents of the bags. Simon's attention went to the smallest member of the group; Sandburg, was talking a mile a minute about the cultural significance of the methods of food preservation, his hands fluttering over his sentinel's shoulder and back as he kept him focused. The kid appeared to be making a good recovery, finally able to live with his past, although he was still a little skittish and could be easily spooked.
The arrests had been successful. The clients had been wealthy businessmen and he had made sure that their names were made public. Banks smiled as he recalled the penalty Jim had extracted from them; he had collected enough money to "compensate" him for the damage to his guide to pay for Blair's doctoral program at Rainier. Wilson had called their bluff, deciding that he would go to trail. Simon looked down at the report in his hand. Wilson was dead; no one knew how it had happened but the coroner reported it looked as if a large cat had savaged him. Savaged, hell! He had been disembowelled by it. The next day Charles and the van driver had signed full confessions and waived trial, going right to sentencing. Simon suddenly found himself looking straight at Jim Ellison, and for a split second he saw an unholy light in his eyes; then it was gone, the blue gaze softening as he looked at his guide. Simon closed the door, he decided that there were some things about sentinels and guides that he did not want to know.
This series continues with "Outside Looking In"Written by Susan Foster