Finding His Way
Sam leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes. If he opened them, he knew he would be able to see New York getting smaller and smaller beneath him. He was not sure that he would be able to stand the sight, to stand the reminder. True, it had been his decision to end his modelling career and to return to Lima but it still felt like a failure. He did not regret turning his back on the industry, not after his experience with Charlie at the photoshoot, but without this career, he had no reason and no means to stay in New York.
He had no reason and no means to stay with Blaine.
It felt like years ago when he and Blaine had come to New York with Artie, full of hopes and plans for their future. But it had not worked out like they had hoped and planned. He had been finally forced to admit, at least to himself, that many of his decisions, like trying to get back together with Mercedes or adopting a dog, had been made in a futile attempt to find some small spot of happiness in New York, to hide from himself how little he liked life in New York. In the end, his friendship with Blaine had been all that was keeping him there. But that would not be enough in the long term, not with Blaine moving back in with Kurt. He might not be all that bright but he still could not help but pick up on how little Kurt liked his and Blaine’s closeness. And so he had decided to leave, not wanting to cause trouble in Blaine and Kurt’s relationship, not wanting to jeopardize Blaine’s happiness, no matter how much it hurt to leave Blaine behind.
He rubbed his chest, heart heavy and hurting. It felt like cutting off and leaving behind a part of himself, a feeling that was getting worse the further he got from New York but he was certain it had been the right decision. Even if it might mean them drifting apart. He had not said anything, had even played along and promised everyone to stay in touch but he feared that he would be inevitably losing his best friend soon. If Brittany and Santana and Kurt and Blaine had not managed to keep their relationship going while apart, what chances had their friendship?
He absentmindedly started scratching his arm. The air in the plane could get really irritating, couldn’t it?
He still had to figure out what he would do now. True, he had assured the others in New York that he would manage but he was not really that confident. He did not want to go and stay with his parents. Their financial situation had improved but not enough for him to stay there as well and for them to pay for him to attend a college. He intended to return to Lima, for now. Perhaps Mr. Shuester or Coach Beiste had an idea or he could at least help them out a bit until he figured out what he would and, more importantly, what he could do.
Sam rubbed his head when he stepped off the plane. Just what he needed, for the noise and stuffy air on the plane to have given him a headache for him to deal with on the rest of the way to Lima. He stepped to the side to avoid the other passengers, all hurrying in the same direction. He took a moment to close his eyes, leaning back against the wall. After a few deep breath, he pushed himself off. He needed to get his baggage, then get to the bus stop. He just hoped that he would not have to wait too long on his baggage. He just wanted to be home and rest. Perhaps a good night’s sleep would take care of his headache.
The baggage had already started arriving when he reached the conveyor belt. Sam winced at each piece of baggage hitting the side of the conveyor belt. It seemed unusually loud to him. Had it always been this loud or was this conveyor belt louder? Was this why so much baggage would vanish or be broken?
He breathed a sigh of relief when his bag finally arrived. He quickly grabbed it and pushed towards the exit. Out, he just wanted out. Some fresh air would do him good.
He pushed through the door to the arrival area. His momentum carried him forward a few steps, then he stopped short. It felt like walking into a wall. All those people, travellers, friends or family waiting to pick someone up, the vendors and customers in the shops, all of them talking and calling out over each other, signs being waved around, all the different smells... Then he knew nothing more.
Eloise Wells groaned. She hated travelling by plane and airports. They were always hell on her senses. She would prefer to avoid them entirely but her little brother only got married the once. Well, probably, at least.
She reached for her own wife. Sometimes she still could not believe her luck at having found a guide and wife who complimented her so perfectly. When her senses had first manifested, her teachers at the Center had told her that it was not unusual to take a Sentinel years to find a suitable guide. Sure, in an emergency, any guide and sentinel could work together but not everyone fit together for a long term relationship. The Centers tried to help, organizing events for unbonded sentinels and guides to meet. She had met her Paige at one of these events, just two months after coming online.
“Eloise?” Paige Wells asked, looking away from the conveyor belt where she was still waiting for her suitcase. She took her hand and squeezed gently, carefully looking her over. “Are your senses bothering you?”
Eloise smiled at her, reassuringly. “They’re fine. I was just thinking that I wouldn’t be able to do this without you.”
She laughed. “You’re quite the charmer today.” Still she rewarded her with a kiss.
“It’s true,” Eloise said. She grabbed Paige’s suitcase off the belt and turned to the exit. She braced herself for the assault on her senses in the meeting area.
Paige kept part of her attention on her sentinel, buffering her from all that was going on. Their bond also protected her from feeling the emotions of everyone around them, something she was very grateful for, considering how stressed everyone here was. She already got enough of a headache from the way everyone was hurrying around. She didn’t want to imagine what it was like for her wife.
A spot of stillness among all the chaos caught her attention. She nudged Eloise. “Look, over there.” A young man with short, blond hair was standing there, not moving, not reacting to people pushing him.
Eloise nodded. “Let’s call the Center.”
When Sam came to, he did not recognize where he was. The light was muted. The walls were painted an off-white colour. He pushed himself up and looked around, trying to figure out where he was. The last he remembered was arriving at the airport. How had he come here? And where was ‘here’, for that matter?
A door opened and an older man, around Mister Shuester’s age, with dark hair and a kind smile entered quietly. “Mister Evans?” he asked softly. “I’m Thomas Hayes. How are you feeling?”
“Good?” Sam replied, a bit unsure. “What happened? Where am I?”
“You are at the Dayton Center. You were found at the airport, zoned,” Hayes explained. He came to stand at the foot of Sam’s bed. “Were you aware that you were a latent Sentinel and that you were coming online?”
Sam stared at him, certain that he had misheard. “Wait, did you just say that I’m a sentinel?” he finally asked.
“You are, yes,” Hayes confirmed.
Sam wanted to protest. True, he had not been tested when he was younger but there had been no sentinels or guides on either his father’s or his mother’s side, so they had not considered it necessary. And yet now Hayes was saying that he was online, that he was a sentinel.
Hayes cave him a moment to come to terms with it, then said: “I’m a counsellor here at the Center. I advise Sentinels who, like you, have come online unexpectedly. I help them figure out the first steps.”
“Like what?” Sam asked.
“Well, the most important thing is that you start to gain control over your senses, at least enough to deal with stimulus outside the controlled environment of the Center. You will be staying here for this. If you want to, we can arrange your transfer to another Center for your further training and to get you started on finding your guide afterwards,” Hayes explained.
Sam grimaced. “I’m not sure how much the training and staying here is but I don’t think I can’t afford it.” He hated to admit it to a stranger but he’d rather say it now than to have it come up when the costs had generated and he could not pay.
“You do not need to worry about affording it,” Hayes assured him. “The initial training is free, as is your stay here during the training. Further specialized training generally costs a small fee but potential employers often offer to pay the fee or to share the costs.”
“Okay.” Sam did not expect that he would qualify for specialized training, whatever that covered, or that there would be many employers interested in hiring him.
Hayes considered him. “You seem to be settling well here. This room is designed to offer little stimulus, to give sentinels who have trouble with controlling their senses a respite. Some newly online sentinels still have trouble even in here but you are showing now such signs, so I’d say we can wait until tomorrow for your first lesson.”
“If you think that’s best.” Sam wasn’t sure what to think about it. He understood that he needed those lessons but he was not too eager for them, sure that he would struggle and possibly fail them. “Can I contact my family?”
“Of course. Your bags are in the closet over there. Feel free to call them or send them a message. You’ll stay in here for the night, just to be on the safe side and tomorrow after breakfast you will be shown to your room for the duration of your stay with us,” Hayes said. “Me and some other counsellors will come by later today to talk to you about how best to manage your senses and what you need to be careful of in the future.”
In the end, Sam decided to just send his parents a message for now. Oh, he would like nothing more than to be with them now, to be home but he knew it wasn’t possible at the moment. He wasn’t ready to leave the room, never mind the Center, especially not to travel all the way to the Center nearest his parents. If he talked to them, they would definitely pick up on how lonely he was feeling right now and would insist on coming to see him. He did not want them to take the time off and pay for the travel costs here just to visit him, no matter how much better it would make him feel to have his family close by. He just hoped that his message had seemed happy enough to fool them until he had got used to everything a bit more and would sound less miserable on the phone.
He was torn from his thought when someone knocked at the door. “Yes?” he called.
The man who entered looked to be is his late 30s or early 40s, hair cropped short and dressed in a suit. Sam had to admit that he was impressed by how impeccable it was. Whenever he’d had to wear a suit, he’d had trouble keeping in free on wrinkles for longer than a few minutes but the man’s suit looked like it was freshly ironed. “Good afternoon, Mister Evans,” the man greeted him. “I’m Nicholas Lloyd. I’m here to talk to you about your prospects after you’ve finished your training here.”
“Okay?” Sam was a bit surprised that they were talking about it so soon, without him having had even one lesson or an evaluation of his senses.
“Have you considered signing up for the policy academy or the armed forces?” Lloyd asked.
“I did, yes,” Sam said. He had briefly talked about it with Puck after he had told them that he was joining the Air Force. It wasn’t that he was particularly enthusiastic about signing up but had figured it might be a career which would not require him to invest too much money in the beginning. “I did not meet the qualifications, giving my SAT scores.”
Lloyd’s smile seemed to freeze. “I’m sure there was a misunderstanding. The SAT scores should not stop a brave young man from serving his country. If you want to, I can help you apply again. I’m sure you will be accepted.”
Sam hesitated. Sure, it would be nice to have a certainty for after his training, a certain job and steady income. But did he really want to become a police officer or a soldier? Then again, did he really have a choice? Lloyd seemed convinced that he would be accepted if he applied again. Did he know for certain that another job opportunity that would allow him to no longer depend on his parents financially?
“You don’t have to decide today, of course,” Lloyd said when he noticed his hesitation. “I’ll leave some leaflets here for you to look at. My card is stapled to one of them, so you can just give me a call when you’ve decided.”
“I guess that would be best, yes,” Sam said. He accepted the package of leaflets Lloyd offered him.
“Then I will leave you to it,” Lloyd said. “But please don’t hesitate if you have any questions. I’ll be glad to help you decide.”
“I will, thank you.” Sam shook his hand, still a bit confused by the visit, then watched Lloyd go back to the door.
When Lloyd opened it, Hayes was standing outside. “Ah, Lloyd, I see you’ve met our newest sentinel already,” Hayes said.
“I have, yes. I’ve given him the usual information package.”
“Good, good. Well, don’t let me keep you.” Hayes stepped aside to let Lloyd pass, then came in. “I’ve wanted to give you your timetable for your training. But I can come back later if you’d rather take a look at the information package.”
“No, come in, please,” Sam said. He leafed through the package. “This seems to be only information on careers in law enforcement or the military.”
“It is. Those are typically careers sentinels are drawn to, since it allows them to best protect the tribe,” Hayes explained.
Sam made a noncommittal noise. “Like I said to Mr Lloyd, I was told that I wouldn’t be accepted because of my SAT scores.”
“Perhaps but that was before you came online as a sentinel. They will waive most of the usual requirements for you, now that you’re online..”
Sam was not sure how he felt about this. While this favouritism might gain him a career he could have never hoped for before, he was not sure if it was the career he wanted, the career that might make him happy.
Blaine listlessly picked at his food. He had not had much of an appetite these last few days. He glanced at his phone again, hoping for a message or a call from Sam. Nothing. Again.
It had been days now since he’d left New York. Blaine had been sad to hear that Sam did not feel like he belonged here. He had supported his friend in his choice, of course, he could do no less, especially given how Sam had always supported him, but he had to admit that it felt like a personal failure on his part. Sam had given him back the feeling of belonging when he’d been adrift at the start of their senior year, he had believed in him and helped him regain his confidence but Blaine had not been able to return the favour. He had not been able to make Sam feel welcome and comfortable and happy in New York. Sam had so many amazing talents, Blaine was sure that he could have found a suitable career that would make him happy if he did not want to model anymore. Not that Blaine could blame him, after what Charlie Darling had done. He was still furious with her for treating Sam like that.
Still, he had thought that, even if they were apart now, they would stay in contact. Sam had become an essential part of his life. He could not imagine his future without Sam in it. So the lack of contact hurt. It also scared him a bit, if he was truthful with himself. His relationship with Kurt often still felt all too fragile. He was not sure what he would do if it imploded again and he also lost Sam’s friendship. He constantly found himself wanting to turn to him, to show him or tell him something funny or sad about his how his day had gone. But Sam wasn’t here anymore. He wondered how he was doing, how he was settling back in in Lima. Perhaps he could slip in mention in a message to one of the younger New Direction members? Surely Sam had visited them.
“Blaine!” This time Kurt’s voice was loud and sharp enough to get Blaine’s attention. “Are you even listening to me?”
Blaine smiled apologetically. “No, I’m sorry, Kurt.” He hesitated, unsure how to explain but knowing that mentioning Sam would only start a fight, since Kurt did not seem to understand that they were best friends. “I got lost in my thoughts,” he finally settled on.
“I noticed,” Kurt said dryly. He nodded meaningfully to Blaine’s plate. “And the food I made us also doesn’t seem to be to your taste.”
“No, that’s not it, Kurt, really,” Blaine assured him quickly. “I’m sorry. I’m not feeling very well. In fact, I haven’t had much of an appetite in days.”
Kurt softened somewhat. “I guess you have been looking a bit pale,” he conceded. “I’ll put the rest of the food in the fridge. Perhaps you’ll be more hungry tomorrow.” He got up and started putting away the food.
Blaine took the opportunity to close his eyes briefly and let his head hang down, too tired, too worn out to keep sitting up straight.
Kurt came back and regarded his boyfriend for a moment. “How about we curl up on the couch together? Put up a movie or something, nothing you’ll need to pay attention to, just something entertaining.”
Blaine considered it. Back in his senior year, even back two weeks ago when Sam was still in New York, he would have suggested The Avengers as comfort film but he knew Kurt would not want to watch that, preferring a rom-com or musical.
Kurt stepped closer and wrapped an arm around Blaine’s shoulders. “What do you say?”
Blaine flinched back without thought, then stared at Kurt, startled. He was not sure which one of them was more surprised by his reaction. He was also unable to explain it. Finally the silence between them became too much for him and he nervously cleared his throat. “Actually, I think I’ll go lay down already, get some sleep. I don’t want you catching whatever I have.”
“I guess,” Kurt said slowly. He watched Blaine leave, pondering his reaction.
When Blaine woke up the next morning, he was alone in the apartment. Kurt, it seemed, had already left for NYADA. Blaine considered getting up and getting ready but his head was still pounding. Perhaps a day in bed and some more sleep would help. He had to admit that he was relieved to be alone at home for now. He knew Kurt would want to talk about what had happened, both Blaine’s distraction during what was supposed to be a date night and his flinching away from Kurt. And Blaine was not ready to talk about it, partly because he still felt like shit and partly because he did not know what to say.
He glanced at his bedside table where his phone was laying, then, after a long moment of consideration, reached for it. He scrolled through his contacts before finally deciding on sending Kitty a message, saying that he hoped Sam’s return did not mess with her rule over the school.
He closed his eyes and must a have dozed a bit. He startled when he heard his phone buzz with a reply. He had to re-read it a few times to convince himself of what he was seeing.
‘What do you mean? Sam hasn’t been visiting.’
That was impossible. Surely Sam would visit their friends when he was back in Lima. Perhaps not on his first day back but at some point, definitely. He quickly typed a reply. ‘He returned to Lima nine days ago.’
‘I’ll call the others. We will find out if anyone has heard from him.’
Blaine’s grip tightened on his phone. What was going on? Where was Sam?
The worst part was that he was feeling so helpless. Even if he were to travel to Lima now, what would that help? He would not be able to do anything more than what the others would be doing. All he could do was wait.
Two days later, Blaine was out for dinner with Kurt. He was not really feeling like going out but Kurt had insisted. Blaine’s headache had not really improved. He had been feeling better after a day alone, sleeping, but after a day at NYADA, he’d felt worse than before. He would have preferred another dinner date in their apartment but Kurt had insisted that they should go out, that Blaine should do it to make it up to him for not paying attention during their last date.
Well, and during the last two days. When Blaine was not too distracted by his headache and his fatigue, he was worrying about Sam. Kitty had started out subtly in conversation with the other members of their glee club, asking about all the other graduates, Sam among them. When that hadn’t brought any results, she’s started asking more direct questions, even asking Burt Hummel.
Still there was nothing.
By now, Blaine was considering calling Dwight and Mary. They would know where their son was, wouldn’t they? He was still hesitant for now. Perhaps Sam just needed some time for himself to figure out what to do and what to tell them. Blaine didn’t want to worry them needlessly.
He quickly shook himself out of these thoughts. He needed to try and not think of this and to instead concentrate on Kurt for one evening. He just hoped the aspirin he’d taken would kick in soon.
Kurt’s mood really wasn’t helping.
“I still can’t believe the nerve of him,” Kurt was saying.
Blaine just nodded encouragingly. He knew that Kurt just needed to vent when he got like this and wasn’t really interested in having a conversation about it yet.
“He had me thrown from the show, just because he couldn’t handle the truth. If his boyfriend was really serious about him, he would not feel the need to say that he’s bisexual. Everyone know bisexuality doesn’t exist, it’s just an excuse for cowards. But Marsh got all pissed off, saying that his project is supposed to be a safe space for all participants and that he won’t allow bullies.” Kurt shifted, having to remind himself that they were in public and that he did not want to draw attention. “Can you imagine? He called me a bully. I’m gay, I can’t be a bully.”
Blaine had to struggle not to say anything in reply. He was pretty sure it didn’t work like that. He also didn’t see what Kurt’s problem with bisexuality was. While he himself had quickly figured out that he was gay not bisexual after the brief confusion following his kiss with Rachel, he saw no reason why other people should not be attracted to all genders. But saying so would only wind Kurt up again and he finally seemed to be calming down a little. He reached up to rub his forehead again, his head was pounding right now.
“Not that you care,” Kurt suddenly sniped. “You’re too distracted by your latest affair.”
Blaine was startled by the unexpected accusation. “What-? Kurt, what are you talking about? I’m not having an affair,” he assured him.
“Don’t lie to me! You have been turning down sex with me all the time these past days.”
“Because I’ve been sick,” Blaine tried to argue but Kurt just ignored him and continued: “You haven’t been showing much of an interest in me and my life. And you’re always texting someone.”
Blaine bit back a comment on how texting had not been cheating when it had been Kurt exchanging messages with Chandler. “I’m just writing with Kitty and the other members of New Direction. I’m not having an affair.”
“Will you finally stop lying to me!” Kurt yelled. “I knew not to expect faithfulness from you but you could at least have the curtesy not to lie!”
Blaine shrank back in his chair. He could feel the eyes of the other guests on them. The pain in his head seemed to spread, making him gasp for breath. “I’m not. I’m not. I made a horrible mistake last time. I’m not doing it again.” He was shocked to hear that Kurt did not trust him, that he presumed he was and would be having affairs. If Kurt didn’t believe that their relationship involved faithfulness on his side, then was he faithful?
“Then how do you explain these last few days if you’re not having an affair?” Kurt demanded to know.
“Hey, man, how about you calm down,” another guest cut in. He looked to be in his early thirties. His dark hair was artfully tussled and he was dressed casually in a shirt and jeans. He didn’t wait for Kurt to react and instead crouched in front on Blaine. “Hey there,” he said gently, “you okay? You look like you’re about to pass out.”
Blaine’s gaze jumped from him to Kurt to the other guests who were openly staring now, unable to focus. He tried to calm his breath, to gather himself enough to answer but found that he couldn’t.
The man took in his reaction. Then a look of understanding passed over his features. He reached out and gently took hold of Blaine’s wrists. “You’ve been having headaches for days now, haven’t you? Especially when you’re out among people. The pain’s like pressure, pushing, pounding when emotions are running high.”
Blaine stared at him. The pain felt like it was being pushed back since the man was holding his wrists. His words perfectly described what he had been feeling. How did this stranger know?
“This is a private conversation,” Kurt said sharply. “Who are you to get involved?”
“I’m assistant doctor Ben Ahlbeck and as a doctor, I consider it my duty to get involved when I see someone’s health being jeopardized,” the man said, still carefully looking Blaine over. He briefly glanced at Kurt and added: “Also, if you want to have a private conversation, I suggest not having it in the middle of a busy restaurant.”
“Doctor?” Blaine repeated worriedly. Was his illness more serious than he’d thought, if Doctor Ahlbeck considered in health in danger?
Ahlbeck smiled at him. “Assistant doctor, for now, yes. Though strictly speaking, I’m here on holiday.” Seeing that Blaine was breathing more calmly and was regaining some colour, he let go with one hand, reached for an empty chair at a neighbouring table and pulled in closer, then pushed himself up with a grimace and sat down.
“Are you okay?” Blaine asked.
“It’s fine. Things will be better when I get my new prosthesis,” Ahlbeck said and knocked on his leg with his free hand. “Tell me, ... Ah, what’s your name?”
“Blaine, Blaine Anderson.”
“Tell me, Blaine, have you ever been tested for whether you’re a guide or sentinel?”
“Yes, I’m a latent guide.”
“You’re what?” Kurt demanded but they ignored him.
“I think you’ve been coming online,” Ahlbeck said. “The most typical symptom of a guide coming online is them picking up the emotions of everyone around them and being unable to filter out what’s their own emotion and what isn’t. There are some, however, who are instinctively able to build shields to keep out emotions not their own but unless properly trained it takes a lot out of them. The headache is from the pressure of other people’s emotions against your shields.” He gently squeezed Blaine’s wrist he was still holding. “I’m trained to project calm and strengthen faltering shields. That you responded to that supports my diagnosis.” He grinned. “So, how about we figure out where the nearest Center is and have them evaluate you to make it official?”
“What about the newest sentinel in our Center? Sam Evans, wasn’t it? Have we been able to identify yet what could have made him come online?”
The heads of the Dayton Center were in the bi-weekly meeting set up to keep everyone up to date regarding the sentinels and guides currently residing in the Center. Declan Gregory, the head of the Center, was the one to ask the question.
Hayes shook his head. “We haven’t, no. Eli and I have talked about the days before he came here with him repeatedly but nothing sticks out.” Eli Pruitt was a psychologist employed by the Center, an important position since many sentinels and guides came online following a traumatic experience. “Yes, his leaving New York and his career was a big change but he repeatedly said that he never considered New York his home, so that loss is unlikely to have made him come online.”
Gregory frowned. “I see. Well, keep an eye on in. We need to know if he was perhaps unknowingly exposed to a threat.”
“Yes, sir,” Hayes and Pruitt chorused.
“How is he settling in otherwise?” Isla Saunders, Gregory’s deputy, asked.
“He’s doing well enough in the lessons. In fact his control over his senses when he’s consciously using them is impressive for a sentinel who has only recently come online. It’s when he’s not paying conscious attention to his dials that he has problems. It’s especially the more long range senses, meaning hearing, sight and to a lesser extent smell, that often get turned to the max and he then zones,” Hayes answered. “It would be helpful if he were to find a guide but so far he hasn’t.”
“I know that look, Thomas. Is there a problem with him finding a guide?” Gregory asked.
Hayes hesitated, head tilting from side to side as he considered the question. “Not exactly. In fact, he gets along very well with the unbonded guides, both in the joined lessons and the meet and greets he’s attended so far. It’s just that he shows no interest in getting to know them better or to pursue a bond.”
“Keep an eye on it. If there is no change, we will have to get an external consultation whether there is something preventing him from bonding,” Gregory ordered.
Sam yawned, laying back on his bed. Then he reached into his pocket with a sigh and pulled out the light sentinel friendly painkillers the Center had given him. It was still zoning frequently, which always left him with a headache, especially if it had taken the guides employed by the Center longer to draw him out of his zone. It wasn’t so bad that he had to move back into the isolated rooms he’d first woken up in but it often left him fatigued.
He was frustrated with himself over his lack of progress. The other sentinels did not seem to have as much trouble keeping their senses from spiralling out of control. He had expected that he would not be doing overly well in learning how to deal with his senses but he was disappointed at the extent that he’d been right.
What confused him was how often Lloyd still visited to suggest him signing up for the police academy or the military. He would have thought that his bad results in his lessons at the Center in combination with his bad SAT results would make his being accepted even more unlikely but Lloyd was convinced that Sam would be a shoo-in.
There was a knock on the door to his room.
“Come in,” he called.
The door opened and Pruitt stuck his head in. “Good evening, Sam. I wanted to ask if you would like to come down to the cafeteria for dinner. We’re having an informal dinner there today for the young sentinels and guides of the area.”
Sam grimaced. “I don’t know. I’m still tired from my zone this afternoon.”
“You don’t have to stay long,” Pruitt assured him. “If you get too tired, you can leave at any time.”
“I guess I can see how it goes,” Sam conceded. He knew they were worried about his lack of reaction to meeting unbonded guides. The other sentinels all described a feeling of yearning, of something essential being missing, a hole that they could not fill. Sam did not really understand what they meant by that. True, he also felt that something was not quite right, that something was missing but it was not as strong or as painful as they described it. He had not said anything to Pruitt or any of the other staff members but he worried that something was wrong with him, that he would not be able to find and bond with a guide.
When he entered the cafeteria, he found himself reminded of high school. Many of the sentinels were sitting at a table in the middle of the room, chosen so they would be center of attention. Some of the older or longer online guides were sitting around them. The younger guides and new faces were sitting at the tables against the walls, along with some of the sentinels who did not get along too well with the crowd in the center.
“Ah, were you talked into coming after all?” Alex Hughes asked. He was another sentinel around Sam’s age he’d had a few lessons together with and they had got along rather well, something that was not the norm among unbonded sentinels.
Sam shrugged. “It beats dinner alone in my room.”
“And gets us out of another visit from Lloyd about the merits of being a police officer or soldier,” Alex said.
Sam laughed. “That too.” It was their disinterest in the careers Lloyd was pushing for all sentinels that had first got them talking.
They went to get their dinner, then sat down at an empty table.
“How were your lessons today?” Sam asked.
“It was okay. I was shown how to identify and block out stimuli in situations with many different impressions. Like at a crime scene.” He rolled his eyes. “What about you?” He hesitated a moment, then said gently: “I heard you zoned again.”
Sam sighed. “I did. I just can’t get a grip on my senses.”
“Hey, that’s not true. You were one of the best in our group in controlling them. You’ll figure out how to always keep your dials under control.”
Sam just shrugged noncommittally. He did not really believe that but wasn’t willing to argue the point here and now.
Someone cleared his throat. Three guides, two male and one female, were standing in front of them with plates in their hands. “Do you mind if we join you?” the girl asked. Sam guessed her to be around his age, perhaps a bit older. Her brown hair was pulled up in a messy bun. She’d angled her body to be between the other, younger guides and the rest of the room. They were looking around, gaze constantly roving and fidgeting nervously.
“No, please sit,” Alex invited.
“Are you new here?” Sam asked. “I don’t think I’ve seen you at any of the other events.”
“I’ve been here before when I first came online,” she said. “I’m Jennifer, by the way.” The other two guides introduced themselves as Terry and Casey. After they’d all exchanged names, Jennifer continued: “Where was I? Right, ‘new here’. I’m not from Dayton. We have no Center in my hometown but my aunt is a guide as well, so after my abilities stabilized, I returned home and did my further training with her. I’m mostly here to accompany these two.” She nodded to the two younger guides. "It’s their first time here and their first time dealing with so many unbonded Sentinels.”
“Not a fan of the Center here?” Alex asked.
Jennifer snorted. “I’m studying mathematics. The Center can promote law enforcement until they’re blue in the face, I’m not interested.”
Sam pulled a face. “Not my favourite subject. But Alex seems to like it. He even attended a lecture at CalSci as a guest.”
Jennifer straightened. “Oh my God. Did you actually manage to get a seat in a lecture by Charles Eppes?”
Sam smiled to himself and turned to the boys. “And how are you liking it here for now?”
They returned the smile slowly. “There are so many people here,” Casey said softly.
Sam looked around thoughtfully. “There are, aren’t there? It really takes some getting used to, being around so many sentinels and guides. Though it’s also a lot like being back at high school. Are you still at school?”
“Actually, I’m from Zeigler Preparatory School. I actually saw you at the Regionals last year with your glee club,” Casey said. “You were pretty great.
“Thank you. Are you part of your school’s glee club?”
“I was considering it before I came online,” Casey replied, “but now I’m not sure if I should.”
“Why not? If you like singing and performing, you should do it,” Sam argued.
“My teachers suggested that, as a guide, I should join sports teams,” Casey explained.
Sam shrugged. “There’s no reason you can’t do both. We had a few sports players in the club. I was on the football and the swimming team.”
Casey smiled slowly. “I’ll think about it.”
Hayes and Gregory were waiting in the lobby of the Center for their guests. They had finally admitted that they needed an outsider’s opinion on Sam Evans. He was still zoning frequently and it was getting more and more difficult to pull him out. He was interacting and getting along quite well with the guides at the Center. Hayes and Pruitt had even taken to having him interact with new insecure guides. Evans seemed to easily put them at ease. And yet he still showed no interest in them as guides.
Gregory straightened when he saw the two men they were expecting enter the lobby. “Ah, Mr. Ellison, Mr. Sandburg, thank you for coming. I hope your travels were pleasant.”
“Well enough,” Jim said. “You said that you needed assistance with a young sentinel?”
“Yes, we do,” Gregory confirmed. “He’s still frequently zoning. We were hoping you might have an idea how to teach him.”
“Mr. Hayes has sent us his file,” Blair said. “I have some ideas we can try but I’d like to talk to him first.”
“Of course, he should still be at breakfast, I think,” Hayes said.
They had barely taken a few steps down the corridor towards the cafeteria when Saunders rushed towards them. “Thomas, Evans has zoned again. We can’t get him out.”
Blair looked to Jim, a silent question in his eyes. When Jim nodded, he said: “I’ll give it a try.” Dealing with unbonded sentinels could be tricky. If they were in sensory distress, they could sometimes try to push for a bond, even with an already bonded guide which in turn could cause tension with their sentinel. Blair just hoped Jim didn’t feel their bond was threatened by the young sentinel.
They found him standing at a window in the cafeteria. Blair figured that something outside had probably caught his eye and caused him to zone. He patted Jim’s arm, finishing with a reassuring squeeze, then stepped up to the sentinel. He decided to start slow. He touched his shoulder. “Mr Evans. Sam. Come back.”
Sam blinked and started, like waking up from a doze. He stared at Blair. “Um, hello?” It was strange but he could feel his senses pull back and concentrate on the stranger beside him.
Jim turned to the staff of the Center. “I thought you said he’s difficult to bring out.”
Hayes looked absolutely flabbergasted. “He is. It... it usually takes an effort over half an hour or more.”
Sam looked around the five people. “What’s going on?” he asked nervously.
“I’m here as a consultant.” Blair exchanged a brief amused look with Jim at those words. “I’ll be teaching some different approaches to managing your senses. Mr. Hayes suggested that you might give it a try.”
Sam looked from him to Hayes. He was pretty sure there was more to it.
Blair smiled reassuringly. “You don’t have to decide right now. We only just arrived. We’ll get settled in and, if you want, I can suggests some things you can try out this afternoon.”
Sam nodded slowly. “I guess it’s worth a try.”
Gregory looked ready to argue but Jim covertly shook his head. “Pushing him, especially so soon after a zone, isn’t going to help,” he argued quietly after Sam had left.
“I don’t understand,” Hayes said, partly to himself. “I have never seen him react that strongly to a guide. I’ve never seen him to react to a guide, period.”
“Does he avoid them?” Jim asked.
“Not at all. He gets along very well with them, especially the younger, shyer guides,” Hayes said.
“We’ll give it some thought. I think I have some ideas,” Blair said.
They waited until they were alone in the suite they’d been given for they stay and had switched on the white noise machine, then Blair asked: “What do you think?”
Jim snorted. “I think he gets along well with guides because he’s nice and not pushing them for a bond.”
“How did you feel when I brought him out of the zone and he reacted to me?” Blair asked.
“I was fine. Not worried, not territorial, nothing.” Jim frowned considering it. In moments like this, it was helpful that Blair had insisted on him learning how to recognize and talk about how he was feeling. “It’s strange. Normally when you’re around unbonded sentinels, I get territorial, even if I don’t act on it. This time there was nothing.”
Blair nodded, considering it. They looked at one another.
“So he’s not interested in unbonded guides.”
“Or otherwise trying for a bond.”
“He’s not unbonded,” Jim concluded.
“But where is his guide?” Blair asked.
Blaine had to admit that he was enjoying his lessons at the Center. They were just difficult enough to be interested and challenging but he was doing quite well.
Ahlbeck had been right, it had turned out. He was a guide and his headaches the result of him not knowing how to properly shield against all the other people around him. He’d been admitted to the Center until he could manage on his own or found a sentinel, whichever came first. He had been taken a specially shielded room to rest at first, to give him a better change to manage building his shields.
Ahlbeck had visited a few times at the Center, to see how he was getting on. Blaine had argued, worried about intruding on his holidays.
“Don’t worry about it,” Ahlbach had assured him. “It’s always nice to see patients doing better, even if you were not, strictly speaking, my patient.” He’d grinned. “Also, they are my holidays. I can chose what to do.”
Blaine had not argued further. It had been nice to have a regular visitor. His friends were only visiting rarely. Even Kurt had only visited just the once.
The few visitors he received were a welcome distraction from his other options for interaction. The Center insisted on all unbonded guides interacting as often as possible with unbonded sentinels. As courtesy to the sentinels, he also was not allowed to gel. It also meant eating all meals in the cafeteria and spending time after dinner in the common rooms. Blaine normally liked meeting new people but there were a number of sentinels he would prefer to avoid.
“Hey there.” One of the sentinels dropped down at his table. Blaine suppressed a sigh. Case in point.
“Want to go up to my room?” the sentinel asked.
Blaine did not look up from his book. “I’m not interested.”
“Come on. Let’s go have some fun. I can make it worth your while.”
“I said that I’m not interested.”
The young man pushed his book down. “Come on, at least look at me.”
Blaine looked up and glared at him. “Do you need me to use smaller words? No. I’m not interested in a date.”
“Who said anything about a date? I’m talking about sex.” He shrugged. “Though if the sex is good enough, we can talk about a bond.”
“My answer’s the same. No.” Blaine got up and walked over to an almost full table where only guides were sitting. He wished the exchange had been a one-off occurrence but it was regrettably common. Many of the sentinels around his age seemed to consider the Center as a dating agency at best and a brothel at worst.
“Another one for the list?” Jess Stout, one of the guides at the table, asked. The list in question was a list of sentinels to avoid, because they did not respect guides, because they felt entitled to a guide’s attention.
“Great,” Drake Boone, another guide, sighed. “At this rate, I’d rather just stay unbonded. Or look somewhere else. Surely there has to be someplace where the sentinels are taught more respect.”
“Or at least taught that they’re not the center of the universe,” Jess agreed.
Blaine was surprised when he was informed that he had a visitor waiting for him in to lobby after his afternoon lessons. He wondered who it was. Ahlbeck unfortunately had had to return to Germany since his holidays were over. Since then he had not had any visitors.
He stopped short when he saw Kurt waiting for him. He was not sure how he felt about seeing his boyfriend. Were they even still boyfriends? He had not seen or heard from him in a week, not even a text or a message.
Did he still want to be with him? Did he want to be with someone who was not there for him when his whole life was changing? He had not found an answer yet.
“Hello Kurt. I did not know you were coming,” he greeted.
“It was a spontaneous decision,” Kurt explained, ignoring or not noticing the implied rebuke. “I needed time to process. When some of my lessons at NYADA were cancelled suddenly, I thought it would be a good opportunity to talk.”
“It was quite a change for me as well, Kurt,” Blaine pointed out. “I did not expect to suddenly come online.”
Kurt gave him an reproachful look. “I’m talking about your lying to me.”
Blaine just stared at him for a moment, startled. “What do mean? When did I lie to you?”
“You did not tell me that you’re a guide.”
Blaine shrugged. “I was latent. Many people are latent guides or sentinels but only a few of us come online. It did not seem important.”
“It’s important information about you that you kept from me. So yes, I needed time to decide what this information and your lie means for our relationship.”
“And what have you decided?” Blaine asked.
“I’m still angry that you lied to me but your being a guide also explains a lot. Everyone knows guides are oversexed. That’s likely why you cheated on me.” Kurt glared at him reproachfully. “So knowing that you are a latent guide would have saved both of us some heartache and the trouble of breaking up and getting back together.” He shook his head. “Anyway, back to our future. We will have to set ground rules of course for what you can and can’t do with your sentinel, if you ever find them, and how much time you have to spend with them. Obviously our joint career has to take precedence. Though you should probably start cutting back now already. I mean, you’ll have to help out in your sentinel’s job from time to time, so you won’t be able to devote as much time to our career as necessary. But that doesn’t matter, I will surely be successful enough for both of us, with your assistance.” He pause. “We should probably move up the date of our wedding so I have the advantage of being your legal spouse. But your being a guide also has advantages. Sentinels are often invited to events in higher society, either for protection or as guests. That will give us great networking opportunities for my career.”
Blaine was speechless. He tried to understand what Kurt had just told him and how he felt about it. Was that really how Kurt saw their future? How Kurt saw him? Was this what he had to expect from his future? Always coming second, his own dreams and career plans ignored, set aside for Kurt’s and his sentinel’s? Then again, was that how his and Kurt’s relationship had worked in the past? With him fitting his life and plans around what Kurt wanted? Why would, why should that change?
He tried to imagine living like that, living this future Kurt had just described.
His whole being seemed to revolt.
He straightened up, decision made. “No.”
“What do you mean, ‘no’? Of course they are great opportunities,” Kurt disagreed.
“You’re right, we need to talk about our relationship. I think... I think we should break up. Should have broken up weeks ago, really.” Blaine rubbed his face. “On our date, you said that we hadn’t had sex in a while.” ‘Said’ was quite the understatement but Blaine wasn’t interesting in getting into the way Kurt had talked to him. This conversation was going to be difficult enough as it was. “I thought that it was just because of how ill I’d been feeling but I haven’t been having trouble with my shields in days and I’m still not interested in having sex with you. It’s likely that won’t change. Many sentinels and guides are not interested in having sex outside their bond. Also when – if I find my sentinel, I don’t want either of us to be an afterthought. I want an equal relationship with them.”
“You are breaking up with me?” Kurt demanded. “Are you kidding me?”
“No, I’m not. I’m completely serious,” Blaine confirmed.
“Fine. Have it your way. But you will regret it. And this time I will not take you back.” Then Kurt whirled around and stormed out.
The next day, Blaine went to the office of the head counsellor of the Center. Kurt’s visit, as short and painful as it had turned out to be, had also reminded him just how long he had been away from his lessons at NYADA. Since he had not had problems with his shields in a while, Blaine figured he should soon be able to go back and only come to the Center for the occasional lesson or mandatory event. He was hoping Eliza Parsons, the head counsellor, would be able to give him a date when he could go back so he could let NYADA know. He had asked his teachers first but they had avoided answering, instead referring him to Parsons.
He knocked at the door to his office and waited to be invited in. “Sorry to both you, Mrs. Parsons. Mr. Rutledge and Mrs White suggested I talk to you about when I can resume my studies at NYADA. I will have to give them a date soon.”
“You do not need to worry about that, Mr. Anderson,” Parsons said. “We have already informed NYADA of your withdrawal.”
Blaine was certain he must have misheard. “You have what? By what right can you simply withdraw me?”
Parsons gave him a look like he was being unreasonable. “Really, Mr. Anderson, resuming your studies NYADA would be a waste of time and money. How do you expect to support your sentinel with what you learn there?”
“What about my interests and plans? Am I supposed to just give them up for my potential future sentinel?” Blaine asked.
“Of course. A good guide always puts his or her sentinel first.” She pulled a file out of her desk and consulted it. “We have placed a few leaflets of military and law enforcement academies in your room as well as an improved fitness plan.”
“I’m not interested in military or law enforcement,” Blaine protested.
“Mr. Anderson, it is the duty of a sentinel to protect the tribe and a guide’s duty to support their sentinel. What you want is irrelevant.” Parsons looked at him over her glasses. “You wouldn’t want to be a liability to your sentinel, would you? You need to be prepared to be out in the field with them or you will get your sentinel killed. We wouldn’t want that, now, right?” She paused. “If a sentinel even choose such an unprepared guide.”
Blaine flinched. The idea of being rejected by his sentinel or worse, being the cause of their death, was distressing on an instinctual level. He had to catch himself on the back of the visitor chair.
Parsons ignored his distress and continued: “To prepare yourself, you need to adjust your physical training. You need to concentrate more on agility and stamina and cut down on your weight training. The sentinel is the protector, not the guide. A physically strong or overly muscular guide is very unattractive for sentinels.” She gave him a kind smile. “I understand that this is a lot to take in but the sooner you accept it, the happier you will be. I’ll tell your teachers that you are excused for the afternoon so you can study the leaflets and training schedule in peace.” With that she turned back to her work, wordlessly dismissing him.
Blaine stumbled back to his room, stunned, trying to wrap his head around what he’d just heard.
Hours later, he was still sitting on his bed, blankly staring at the leaflets, at what was to be his future. He tried to regain the certainty he’d had yesterday in his conversation with Kurt about having an equal relationship with his sentinel, about no longer putting himself second, but he kept hearing Parsons’s words in his head. ‘You will get your sentinel killed.’ ‘A good guide always puts his or her sentinel first.’ He wanted to be a good guide, partly out of his instincts, partly because his innate perfectionism. But Parsons had made him doubt if he’d manage it. Could he do it? Could he give up himself and his dreams for the good of his sentinel?
A knock on the door tor him out of his thoughts. “Yes?” He’d thought Parsons had said that he wouldn’t be disturbed until dinner.
He was surprised when Cooper stuck his head in. “Hey Squirt.”
“Cooper!” Blaine jumped up to greet his brother. “What are you doing here?”
“Visiting to see how you’re doing, of course,” Cooper replied. He let himself drop on Blaine’s bed. “I talked my way in. Mom and Dad are asking how you’re really doing and if you’re up to visit them soon.”
Blaine made a noncommittal noise. “I’m not sure yet. There is still a lot for me to learn and to get used to.”
“I guess.” Cooper picked the pages laying on the bed. He frowned. “Police academy? Military? Blaine, what are you doing with these?”
Blaine shrugged. “The Center gave them to me, to help me prepare for my sentinel.”
Cooper stared at him. “What the hell? You’ve never shown any interest in these kind of careers. Why would you change who you are to fit the potential career of your potential sentinel?”
Blaine flinched. “It’s been pointed out to me that sentinels and guides are instinctively driven to protect the tribe and that I therefore need to prepare myself to be a help and not a liability to my sentinel in the field. It’s also already been pointed out to me that I’m unlikely to be accepted by a sentinel as I am.”
“Shit, no, that’s not what I meant,” Cooper quickly said. “Of course you’ll find your sentinel. It’s just that there are different careers sentinels can have, not just military and law enforcement. I don’t think you should or that you have to change yourself.” He smiled encouragingly. “And hey, isn’t the sentinel also driven to protect the guide? How does that fit with the guide being unhappy in the relationship?”
Cooper noticed with worry that Blaine didn’t seemed convinced. Right, that was enough. No way was he leaving his baby brother here, exposed to this kind of attitude. “Screw this, pack your things.”
“Pack your things. I’m taking you with me.” He pushed the leaflets to the ground. “We’ll find you a more fitting Center.”
Sam had loved his lessons with Dr Blair Sandburg. Many of his ideas had been very different to what he had learnt before but he found that they worked far better for him. He had not zoned again during their stay in Dayton, though he had instead found himself constantly aware of where Dr Sandburg was. He had finally brought it up with them on their third day there, worried that Dr Sandburg would think it an invasion of his privacy or that Mr. Ellison might see it as an attack on their bond. Instead they had simply nodded.
“We suspected that would happen,” Sandburg had said. He’d clasped his hands and had regarded Sam seriously. “We suspect that you did not come online at the airport or during the flight but at some point days, weeks or even months before that. You did not notice because you formed a bond with a guide shortly after, which stabilized your senses.”
“It would explain your disinterest in bonding and your frequent zones. Once bonded, a sentinel instinctively uses their guide as focal point and as baseline to set the level of their senses. Your senses are trying to find your guide but they are too far away, so instead of finding tehm, you are zoning. Blair seems to be similar enough to your guide that he can help you out of zones and stop your senses from overreaching,” Ellison had added.
“Some of the exercises we’ve done have been exercises normally used for bonded pairs for when they are too far apart for the sentinel’s senses. In those situations, the sentinel typically has something belonging to their guide’s that appeals to their senses, mostly a piece of clothing with their scent or a recording of their voice or heartbeat. It varies, depending on which senses are strongest and strongest associated with their guide.”
“Like a security blanket?” Sam couldn’t help asking.
Dr Sandburg had grinned. “Most sentinels don’t like to call it that but yes, basically. Right now, I’m pretty much your security blanket, at least for the time being. We will have to figure out who your guide is and, until we’ve found them, what it is about me that reminds you of your guide so that we can give you a temporary inanimate security blanket.”
“We don’t want you to get your hopes up, it’s likely to be a lengthy process, with far too many tests.” At this, Ellison had smiled at his guide briefly. It seemed to be an in joke between the two. “If you have no particular attachment to this Center, it would be better if you came to Cascade with us. That way we will be less pressed for time.”
Well, Sam had been only too happy to agree. There was nothing holding him here and if they were right and he could learn to keep his senses from trying to find his guide, he could start working or getting the necessary training for work again. Not that he knew what kind of work he wanted to do but at least he’d be able to do some interim jobs to earn a little money until he made his decision.
“Damn, you’re lucky, to have the opportunity to go to Cascade and get training from Ellison and Sandburg themselves,” Alex had said when he’d come to say his goodbyes. “I expect you to write and tell how your training is going and if you’ve found your guide again.”
“And I expect to be kept up to date how things between you and Jennifer are going,” Sam had replied. “And tell Casey I expect an invitation to his first public performance with his glee club.”
Of course, when Sam had agreed to come to Cascade with them, he had expected that he would be staying at the Center again. Instead they had arranged an apartment for him in the same building they were living in. True, it was just a small condo but it was still more than he had thought and, he was sure, more than he could afford, especially since he did not have a job. They had simply said that they would be taking care of that fore now. Sam had tried to protest but Ellison wouldn’t hear it. “I’ve seen what living here in Cascade on a small budget looks like, both on the job and by what Blair considered acceptable living space. That’s untenable for a sentinel, especially one without complete control over their senses. Staying here will also save time and money since you won’t have to commute here and you’ll have assistance if needed.” Seeing Sam’s stubborn expression, he’d finally added: “Consider it a loan, if you have to. You can also start contributing some to the rent when you have a job.”
Of course, Sam was not ready to look for a full time job nor had he come to a decision yet what he wanted to do. Some of the other neighbours had started offering to pay him for helping them out, for example by walking their dogs or carrying their groceries. Sam suspected they were doing so as a favour to Ellison and Dr Sandburg but he was too grateful for the distraction and the opportunity to earn at least some money to protest.
It also served as a nice distraction from wondering who his guide was. He knew who he hoped was his guide but he was afraid to get his hopes up.
Sam climbed the stairs to their apartment in the evening after finishing one such task. He’d been invited to have dinner with them. Jim opened the door before he had even reached it, something he had already grown rather used to from the other sentinel. “Come in. Blair’s still in his office. A young shaman he’s mentoring had a question.” He let the way over to the table that had already been set.
“A shaman?” Sam repeated.
Ellison nodded. “Blair is both a guide and a shaman. It’s not uncommon for a guide to be both. They are often already more in touch with the spiritual world, so under certain circumstances, they can also walk the path of a shaman.” A strange look Sam couldn’t quite place flashed over his face. But then he grinned at Sam’s sceptical look. “I know, I had a hard time believing it myself. Just wait until you run into your animal spirit.”
“So this... this shaman he’s mentoring, he’s a guide as well?” Sam asked.
“No, not every shaman is a guide, though they can often act as one temporarily. Before I met Blair, a shaman of the Chopec acted as my guide.” They both turned to the door to the office when they heard it open. “Well, Chief, how is your unspeakable student doing?”
Sandburg gave him reproachful look. “Jim, his name’s perfectly normal...”
“...in Poland. Yes, I know, you’ve told me often enough. But it’s still pretty hard to pronounce properly for people who don’t speak Polish. I can certainly understand why he usually goes by his nickname.”
Sandburg tried to look stern but finally laughed. “Granted.” He turned to Sam. “Hello Sam.”
“Good evening, Dr Sandburg.”
Blair wrinkled his nose. “I told you, you can call me Blair.”
“Blair,” Sam repeated dutifully. He wasn’t sure he’d manage to remember. It wasn’t the first time he had been invited to call them by his first name but he had a hard time doing so. Part of it was because they were decades older than him, another part that he respected them too much for their work and their achievements.
They made some casual small talk as they ate. Then Dr Sandburg, Blair, asked: “So have you decided what kind of job you are interested in? You might not be up to working full time yet but you could look for an internship or a training course.”
Sam looked down at his plate, avoiding their eyes. “Mr. Lloyd at the Dayton Center suggested the police academy or the military.”
“Is that something you are interested in? If yes, we can ask Simon if you can ride along or Jim can talk to some of his old army buddies,” Blair said.
Sam shrugged, not looking up. He was not, not really but he did not want to come out and admit that he was not a proper sentinel. Not that he might have much of a choice in what he wanted to do.
“Is that something you’re interested in?” Jim repeated.
Sam shrugged again. “Mr. Lloyd said that it’s a sentinel’s duty to protect the tribe and that they can do it best in law enforcement or the military.” He hesitated, then added: “And that my STAT scores won’t matter there.”
Jim frowned. “Sam, tell me truthfully: Do you want that kind of career or are you just doing it out of duty?” When he didn’t reply, he sighed and closed his eyes briefly, then turned to his guide who had followed the exchange with a frown. “He’s not the first sentinel who has been ‘encouraged’ to join and was offered preferential treatment to sweeten the deal, is he?”
“No, probably not,” Blair agreed.
Jim sighed again. “Well, that certainly explains a lot about the attitude of some of our colleagues.” To Sam, he explained: “Some officers resent sentinels and guides. It makes sense, if they are aware or even suspect that sentinels unsuitable und uninterested in the profession are given spots at the academies over non-sentinels who are more interested and better suited.”
“What would you like to do? Regardless of duty or SAT scores, which profession would you choose?” Blair asked gently.
Sam considered his option, afraid to be mocked as he’d been so often about things he felt passionate about if he told them the truth. But something about Blair, probably what reminded him of his guide, whoever that was, encouraged him to finally admit: “I’d like to become a teacher. Sports and arts. Or sports and music. Or all three.” He looked up at Blair earnestly. “At school, everyone acts like you have to choose, sports or arts, and if you pick one you can’t show interest in the other. There was a guide at the Center in Dayton doubting whether he could join glee club. I want to show the students that you can do both, that you can like both.”
Blair smiled brightly. “That’s a wonderful plan. You see, serving and protecting the tribe can take many forms. By becoming a teacher, you would guide and protect the most valuable and most vulnerable part of the tribe, the children.”
Sam looked to Jim, to see whether he agreed.
“Blair’s right. And I’m hardly going to argue about how a teacher can also be a protector, considering Blair will always be a teacher at heart, no matter his current profession.”
God, Sam wanted that kind of bond, that kind of relationship. He ignored the twinge in his heart and instead turned his attention back to the matter of his potential profession. “But it’s just a dream. My SAT scores were the worst at my school and with my dyslexia, any other test I sit is hardly going to get a better result.”
“Let me talk to some people I know at Rainier, the university here in Cascade, see if there are any concessions for dyslexia or other learning disabilities,” Blair offered.
“If you want to. But I don’t want to be a bother.”
“You are not. Tomorrow I’ll visit some of my old colleagues, hear what they say.”
“They’re going to take my dyslexia into account and give me an adjusted test,” Sam explained in the video call with his parents. “Jim and Blair are helping me study for it. If I get in, I can start studying to become a teacher.”
“That sounds wonderful, Sam,” his mother said.
“Thanks, mom,” Sam said. “And how are you doing? How are Stacy and Stevie.”
“Stacy and Stevie are fine. They’re doing really well at school. We’re all hoping you can visit or that we can visit you soon,” his father said.
“And your father has been offered a new and better job,” his mother added.
“That’s great!” Sam exclaimed. “But I didn’t know you were looking again.”
“I wasn’t, don’t worry. I could have stayed in my current job but the one I’ve been offered is better paid and has a better benefits,” his father said.
Sam sighed, relieved. He’d worried that his parents had been in financial difficulties again and had hidden it from him. “Which company has offered you the job? Do I know them?”
“I don’t know. It’s Ellison Industries.”
Sam started. “Ellison Industries?” Wasn’t that the company belonging to Jim’s family?
“Yes. Have you heard about them?” his father asked.
“I think I’ve seen the name around here in Cascade,” Sam replied. It wasn’t a lie. He had seen it. It was simply that he had first heard about it when Jim and Blair had spoken about Jim’s family. He wondered if it was a coincidence. He’d have to ask Jim about it before saying anything to his parents.
“Well, if they really have an office in Cascade, perhaps I can visit you some time,” his father said.
“That would be great, dad.” Sam glanced at the clock. “Oh, I have to go. They invited me up for dinner again before my next study hour. Tell Stevie and Stacy that I said hi.”
“Will do, dear. You have a nice evening,” his mother said.
“By the way, Jim, your father called. He’s dropping by for a moment this evening,” Blair said when they sat down for dinner.
“Did he say what he wants?” Jim asked.
“No, not really. I think he wanted to drop something off. He has a key, so I told him not to worry about whether we’re busy with Sam’s lesson.”
“That’s what he has the key for,” Jim agreed.
“You’ll have to start with only Jim after dinner,” Blair told Sam. “The young shaman I’m mentoring has asked me and his other teacher to discuss a problem he’s encountered in a conference call.” He shrugged. “It would probably be easier to deal with in person but the call is quicker.”
Jim snorted. “No way. The three of you get into enough trouble on your own. We agreed that having all of you in the same place at the same time is just asking for trouble. Dingle and Stilinski will just have to deal with whatever it is on their own.”
Blair stopped short and looked at Jim suspiciously. “Have you been talking to their partners?”
Jim grinned. “What can I say? I have a soft spot for wolves.”
Sam was pretty sure that had some hidden meaning he didn’t get, considering the amused smile Blair was now sporting. “I talked to my parents today,” he mentioned after a moment, trying to sound casual. “My dad said he’s been offered a new job.”
“Oh? Was he looking for a change?” Jim asked.
“No, but he likes the better conditions he’s been offered.” Sam considered them. “He’s been offered a job at Ellison Industries.” He tried to read their reaction. When there was nothing beyond some slight curiosity, he added: “Did you ask them to hire him?”
“No, Sam, I didn’t,” Jim promised him. “I wouldn’t do that without talking to you about it first.”
“I did.” They turned to the door where an older man was standing.
“Dad?” Jim asked.
The man offered Sam his hand. “I’m William Ellison, Jimmy’s father.”
“Um, nice to meet you?” Sam offered. He was not sure what to think, having a stranger involved with his family for no reason he could see.
Jim was just as confused. “Dad, what did you mean, you asked them to hire his father?”
“Well, family takes care of family.” William shook his head. “I’ve made my peace with the knowledge that you’ll never had biological children but I figured the two of you would adopt at some point. Well, I figured you’d adopt a child, if you didn’t want a baby, not a young adult but at this point I’ll take what I can get.”
Blaine was thankful for his brother. With some distance to the New York Center and Cooper presenting him with any and all stories of guides outside the military or law enforcement he could get his hands on, he could understand that the Center had purposely preyed on his instincts to get him to follow their plans for him. He had no idea why they would do something like that but he had promised himself and his family that he would do his best not to fall for it again and give up what made him happy, what made him himself.
Their search for a better Center however had proven difficult. While those they had visited until now had not been pushing the traditional role models as much as New York, it was still clear that sentinels and guides were being strongly encouraged to serve the tribe that way.
“I think I’ve found something,” Cooper announced one morning at breakfast.
“You’ve found a new casting call you want to try out at?” Blaine asked.
Cooper gave him a look. “No. I’ve found a Center for you.” He offered Blaine his tablet. “The one in Cascade. It started out as a traditionalist Center like many of the others but twenty years ago, there was a shakeup. A guide working and studying at the local university who had been judged unsuitable by the Center wrote a thesis proving that the traditional methods were not working out for everyone and that the actual, traditional practices of sentinels and guides were much more liberal than the Centers were suggesting. He’s now bonded and has two doctorates, one in anthropology and one in sentinel studies. He’s a professor at the university and helps his sentinel by acting as consultant to the police.
“The Cascade Center now has a close cooperation with the university, so you could arrange your schedule so you can start studying while you finish your lessons with the Center.”
Blaine clicked through the homepage of the Center. There was actually a link there to Rainier University. He’d been far too focused on attending NYADA and marrying Kurt during his senior year to properly consider what he wanted to do and what the best subjects to study would be for him. Sure, attending NYADA and then making it on Broadway was the dream for a performer but with his tunnel vision, he had forgot that it was the dream for most if not all performers. The competitiveness among the students was crazy, considering the high number of graduates and the far smaller number of free roles on Broadway that were open to unknown graduates. Going to Cascade would allow him to listen in to some lectures, figure out which subjects suited him.
“Want me to look into a hotel or a short-term rental agreement in Cascade?” Cooper asked.
“You’re coming along?” Blaine asked.
Cooper shrugged. “I’ve come along to the other Centers, no reason I shouldn’t come along this time as well.”
Cooper was getting a huge present for both his birthday and Christmas, Blaine decided. He loved the Cascade Center. No one had even batted an eye when he’d declared that had no interest in military or police work, they’d simply asked what he was interested in instead. He hadn’t decided yet but there were a number of lectures at Rainier’s that sounded interesting. He was young yet, he had time to figure it out. The music lab with pianos students could use was another reason Blaine was spending a lot of his free time at the university.
At the Center, he had been assigned to a small group of newly online guides who were working on refining their control. Jordan Davis and Rebecca Sutton were also attending Rainier’s, studying medicine and chemistry respectively, while Tessa Bryant had finished her training and was now working full time as carpenter. Jordan and Rebecca had bonded with a sentinel already while Jordan was still looking, like Blaine himself. They still had plenty to talk about. It was nice, not being the odd one out. It served to show him just how much he had been so preoccupied with his relationship with Kurt in New York where he had not made any effort to connect with or get to know his fellow students at NYADA.
The four of them often met up at a café frequented by students of both Rainier’s and the Center to get a coffee each before going to the Center for their next lesson.
“I heard from some other guides studying at Rainier’s that there is a guest speaker at the Center,” Rebecca said. “They haven’t had a lesson with him yet but they’ve seen him at breakfast.”
“I wonder if we’ll get to have a lesson with him as well,” Jordan said. “I’m curious to see how other Centers teach their guides.”
Blaine grimaced. “Very differently.”
“That’s right. You’ve been to other Centers before, haven’t you?” Jordan said.
They had reached the Center. They were surprised to see Bev Kelly, another guide, stumbling their way, pale and eyes red like he’d been crying. Kelly was a guide a few years older than them who had been online for years. It was shocking to see him that distressed. He was normally openly smiling and talking to everyone but now he avoided everyone’s eye and hurried towards the private rooms.
Blaine had a bad feeling about this.
When they reached the room they always had their lessons in, they found a stranger standing there. He looked to be in his 40s, grey hair slicked back. “Well, at least you’re on time,” he said. “Sit down. I’m James Powell. I will be taking over your training while I’m here and trying to correct what foolishness they have taught you until now.”
“What do you-?” Rebecca began but he interrupted her. “Shut up, it is not your place to ask questions. That will be your first lesson today. It is your job as guide to serve the sentinel while they protect the tribe, not distract them from their duty by asking foolish questions.” He shook his head. “You are clearly all unprepared for this. What use could the military or the police have for a carpenter or a chemist? Your studies of medicine might be enough to prepare you to serve as field medic, though you’ll have to drop out, of course. A field medic, especially a guide serving in that position, does not need to be a certified doctor.”
Blaine felt himself blanch. This sounded like what Parsons had told him in New York.
“What are you talking about?” Jordan demanded to know. “I’m not dropping out of university nor am I joining the military.”
“As a guide, you will work wherever your sentinel works. That’s what you have to prepare for now.”
“Yeah, well, my sentinel is a mechanic and not interested in the military either,” Jordan replied.
Powell looked scandalized. “Not interested in-? Did you talk him into that?” He did not wait for him to reply. “Those who have the gift of being a guide or a sentinel have a duty to serve the tribe and the best way to do that is the military and law enforcement. There is no room for selfish dreams.”
Blaine shrank back in his seat. God no, he didn’t want to deal with that again. He’d thought he’d finally found a place for himself. He did not want to go again but he could not bear this.
“As unprepared as you are now, you will only get people killed, most likely your sentinel. I will train you to properly embrace your duty and your place. Unless, of course, you prove to be unsuitable as guides.”
All four guides flinched hard. To be declared unsuitable as guide was one of the worst things that could happen to a guide. It would mean forever being alone, no sentinel being interested in bonding with them and even many non-sentinels avoiding a relationship with them.
The door flew open, hitting the wall hard enough that the four guides were sure it would leave a dent. “Enough!” A sentinel stood in the doorway, looking seriously pissed off. He was older, with greying hair and startling blue eyes that were currently glaring at Powell. He stalked over to him. “This kind of abuse is not welcome here!”
“Now, see here-“ Powell tried to bluster.
“I suggest you shut up now before he completely loses it,” a dark-haired woman cut in, having slipped in after the sentinel. She looked Powell up and down. “Who are you?”
“James Powell. I’m a guest speaker from New York.”
The sentinel snorted. “Figures.” He visibly struggled to reign himself in. “You and your Center’s views and goals are not welcome here. Leave. Now. Before you do more damage to guides here.” He looked like he would be only too happy to wring his neck if he didn’t.
Powell tried to stand up to the sentinel but was unable to hold his gaze. He instead found himself backing up, then he wordlessly rushed out of the room.
“Jesus, Jimbo,” the woman sighed. “Reign it in. I haven’t seen you act all Blessed Protector since the last time Sandy got kidnapped.”
The sentinel took a few deep breath, not wanting to scare the young guides. When he had calmed down somewhat, he nodded towards the four young men, towards Blaine. “He’s like a baby Blair.”
The woman looked them over, then zeroed in on Blaine. She considered him, then cocked her head. “I guess he does look like Blair, especially with the curls.”
Blaine looked from one to the other, confused. He had no idea who they were or what they were talking about. “I’m Blaine, not Blair?” He self-consciously touched his curls.
The woman laughed kindly. “Sorry, it’s just that you remind us of a colleague.” She offered her hand. “I’m Megan Connor and this is Jim Ellison.”
Their eyes widened when he realized who he was.
The sentinel was pacing up and down but was slowing down. Finally he came to a stop. “You know that what he said is bullshit, I hope.” He shook his head. “New York Center,” he muttered.
“What do you mean?” Rebecca asked.
“The New York Center is very...” Ellison paused, looking for a good expression. “Political. A high percentage of sentinel and guide pairs in law enforcement sells well politically, especially pairs who don’t question orders.” He took a deep breath. “A sentinel can get lost in the feeling that there is a threat to the tribe, a bit like when we zone on one or more of our senses. And just like when we zone, we need our guides to help us identify the real threat. There are those in positions of power who prefer to be the ones to aim us, so they have convinced Centers to keep the guides too insecure to question or contradict orders, even when they are not in the best interest of the tribe.” He stopped for a moment, to try and keep from getting worked up again. “We know that the New York Center is first among those from the accounts of two guides. They had been deemed unsuitable, even though they both wanted to join the police, because they are no pushovers.” He smiled. “They are now happily bonded and leading a tribe, one in DC and one in Hawaii.”
The four guides had relaxed more and more as they listened.
“Rebecca!” A young sentinel skidded into the room but stopped short when he saw Ellison.
“Luca!” Rebecca exclaimed. She jumped up and hugged her sentinel.
“Are you okay?” Luca asked. He glanced at Jordan. “Tia’s on her way.”
“I’m fine. He’s gone. He-“ She broke off and shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. Mr. Ellison explained that it was just lies.”
Luca nodded slowly.
“Why don’t you take them to the lobby to wait for Tia?” Ellison suggested. “I think the lesson should better be postponed.”
“Thank you, sir,” Luca said. “Jordan?”
“Yes.” Jordan stood up and, after nodding to Ellison and Connor, followed Luca and Rebecca out of the room.
“I’ll come along,” Tessa said.
Blaine stood as well but stopped in front of Ellison. “Thank you for explaining. I... I was at the New York Center when I first came online. Hearing this... it kinda puts it into perspective, what they told me.”
Ellison smiled gently. “I’m glad I could help.” A badge on Blaine’s backpack caught his eye. “McKinley? William McKinley High School in Lima, Ohio?” he asked.
Blaine was startled. “Yes. I went to high school there. Why do you ask?”
Jim considered him. A guide who reminded him of Blair who had attended McKinley High as well. He smiled slowly. “Do you know a Sam Evans?”
If Jim had had any doubts that Blaine was Sam’s guide, they were dispelled by their reaction when they had met again. For a moment they had just stood there, staring at one another, then they’d both been rushed forward. The way they had hugged each other tight, the way Sam was cradling the guide close, had reminded him of himself and Blair. Jim had left them to it. Instead he had filled Blair in on what had happened.
Blair frowned. “The New York Center again. I’ll talk to the staff at the Center here, try to figure out who all saw him and make sure they understand that he was lying. Then we’ll have to figure out who the hell thought it a good idea to invite someone from the New York Center.” He looked up at Jim. “Can you check if he really leaves?”
“And perhaps we should take steps against the Center in New York,” Blair said.
“I could give Steve and Jethro a call. After the way they treated their guides, I’m sure they’d love to help,” Jim offered.
Blaine and Sam finally pulled apart, though Sam kept his arm around Blaine’s shoulders.
“I don’t understand. I mean, I’m happy to see Sam, to know he’s okay but what...?” Blaine trailed off, unsure how to phrase his question.
Blair smiled kindly. “From what we have been able to figure out from talking to Sam, he came online during the shooting during his final year at high school. It’s just that no one noticed because a compatible guide came online at the same time and they bonded.” He was amused to see Blaine bristle at the mention of some unnamed guide bonding with Sam. “You came online and bonded with him.”
Blaine stared at him for a moment, then turned to look at Sam. He slowly started to smile.
They all started when Blaine mobile rang. Blaine pulled it out and checked the screen. “Shit, Cooper.” He quickly took the call.
Even Blair could hear the voice at the other end. “Where the hell are you?”
“I’m sorry, Cooper. I forgot you were going to pick me up. I’m... Cooper, I’ve found my sentinel. Or re-found them, since it seems we were already bonded.” Blaine couldn’t keep the giddy smile off his face.
“Who is it?” Cooper asked suspiciously.
“Sam?” Cooper repeated, stunned, then laughed. “Of course it is. I should have guessed. I’ll let you catch up. Just give me a call when and where you want me to pick you up.”
At the station the next day, Jim told his friends what had happened.
“How are they taking it?” Megan asked.
Jim snorted. “They’re disgustingly sweet. They spend the evening curled up on the couch, catching up. Though it might still take them some more time to get used to being bonded and decide what kind of relationship they want to have.”
Simon snorted. “Then now you know how we felt during the three years you and Sandburg were pining.”
“You’re exaggerating,” Jim protested. “And it’s hardly going to take them years to figure it out.”
“You sure?” Megan asked. She nodded to the elevator where Sam stood, smiling sheepishly.
“Sam, what brings you here?” Jim asked.
“Do you have a moment?” Sam asked. “I need to talk to... to someone.”
Jim looked to Simon. At his nod, he said: “Sure. Let’s go for a coffee.”
When the elevator had reached the ground floor and the two sentinels were less likely to hear them, Megan looked at the other detectives. “Self-sacrificing idiot sentinels and guides?”
They all nodded.
Blair looked up from the tests he was grading in his office at the university when there was a knock at the door. “Yes?”
“Hello Professor Sandburg,” Blaine greeted him. “I was hoping I could talk to you.”
“Of course. And call me Blair, please.”
Blaine nervously rubbed his left arm. “Is there... could there have been a mistake with my bond with Sam?”
“Why would there be a mistake?” Blair asked. “Yesterday you seemed happy with your bond.”
“I am. Finding out Sam’s my sentinel... it’s like a dream come true. But how is our bond supposed to work? I mean, he’s straight.”
“Well, there are different kinds of bonds. Not all are monogamous. Also, sexuality is rarely clear-cut and it’s not unusual for an online sentinel to be attracted to a guide they have a bond with, regardless of their sexual orientation before coming online. It can take some time to adjust, of course, but that doesn’t mean the bond is doomed.” He grinned. “And I’m speaking from personal experience, here.” He smiled encouragingly. “Talk to him, okay?”
“What did you want to talk about?” Jim asked, sitting with Sam in a café near the station.
Sam ran a hand through his hair. “I don’t... I don’t think I’m the right sentinel for Blaine. He’s... he’s so talented. He has so much promise. I would only hold him back.” He clutched his hands together tightly. “He deserves a better sentinel, not one as... as stupid and untalented as me.”
“You are not stupid, Sam,” Jim protested strongly. “Or untalented or whatever else is going through your head right now.” He paused and looked out on the street. “You know, I worried about it as well. I’m 10 years older than him. He’s a genius who started at Rainier’s at 16 while I’m an Army Ranger and police detective.” He smiled at Sam. “It took Blair a while to get it through my head that it was his choice. Just like it is Blaine’s choice if he is happy with you as his sentinel.” He finished his coffee. “I know it’s ironic, coming from me, but go talk to him, alright?”
They met up in Sam’s apartment, since it would give them the best opportunity to talk in private. Blaine was really not interested in having Cooper listening in.
For a while they just exchanged stories of what had happened during the weeks they had not seen one another but finally Sam couldn’t restrain himself anymore. “I don’t think I can give you what you want.”
Blaine froze. He swallowed hard, chiding himself for being hurt since he had been expecting this. “I figured.”
“I just... I can’t imagine a relationship with Kurt, I can’t imagine sharing you with him.” He sighed. “Perhaps if it were someone, anyone else – hell, even Sebastian, I could deal. They could give you the support you need. I just don’t think I could deal with a relationship with Kurt.”
Blaine tried to understand what Sam was talking about but it just wasn’t making any sense to him. “What are you talking about?”
“I know Kurt is your soulmate or true love or whatever you call it. And that you want a future with him, a future in New York. But I can’t go along with that. New York has never felt like home. And Kurt... Like I said, I don’t think I could deal with a relationship with him.”
“Kurt and I broke up,” Blaine said. “For good, this time. We’re not getting back together. I finally realized that I’m not in love with him anymore.” Then something else Sam had said caught his attention. “Wait, what do you mean, you could deal with Sebastian? I thought you’re straight.”
Sam shrugged. “I’ve never cared for labels. I’ve never been in a relationship with a guy before but I have been attracted before.”
“Oh.” Blaine wanted to ask more, wanted to ask if Sam had been attracted to him, if he was still attracted, but hesitated.
“I’ve started studying here at Rainier’s,” Sam continued, “sports, arts and music to become a teacher. I don’t know where I’ll go to teach when I’ve finished my studies but it’s unlikely that I’ll go to New York.”
“Teaching, huh?” Blaine considered it. That sounded like something he could imagine doing as well. Perhaps Blair had been right. Perhaps they could have a future together after all. “Sounds good.”
They grinned giddily at one another.