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Anger had become pretty much a way of life for Blair, ever since he’d been entrusted to the tender mercies of Guide World. Back then he’d learned the hard way to suppress it, to bury it deep inside where no one could perceive it. To do otherwise was to invite even greater suffering, and Blair was far too stubborn to give the sadistic bastards that much satisfaction.

But, no matter what pains he’d taken to hide it, it was clear right from the start that it wasn’t ever hidden from Jim. Jim had said as much: it was the presence of that anger, the defiance in his eyes, that had made the sentinel choose Blair right at the start.

Since they’d gone to live with the Chopec, Blair had found it harder and harder to keep the anger buried. Sometimes he even reveled in it, taking it out into the light to turn it this way and that and examine every shining, diamond-hard facet. In some ways, his ready acknowledgment and acceptance of the inner rage he carried made exile easier to bear. It reminded him daily why he was here, cut off forever from a life denied to him because of an accident of birth and his own stupidity.

So many layers of pain, loss, injustice and betrayal. Such intense pessimism, knowing that, despite all the good work done by the guide network, nothing had changed and likely would never change in Blair’s lifetime.

Blair had never wanted to be a bonded guide. To be reduced to the legal and social status of sub-human and made a slave to a sentinel had been his worst nightmare. A fate worse than death, the faceless monster which endlessly stalked the unlucky few, like him, who had the misfortune to be born with the guide gland in their head.

He’d taken it seriously, that threat. All of those like him, who lived their entire lives hiding in plain sight, absolutely had to. But he’d been reckless as well, his resentment at the unfairness of the world tempting him almost to flaunt it. He’d gotten arrogant and complacent, and had taken risks he never should have taken. No rogue guide older than an infant had ever been detected, and Blair had had absolutely no reason to believe it would ever happen to him. He’d been careful, for the most part, just as he’d always been taught, and just as he taught the guide kids at Rainier (similarly hiding their true nature) who he mentored. But he’d always been a bit of a risk taker, someone who got a kick out of taking perverse chances. And ultimately he’d taken, so it seemed, one chance too many.

Blair well remembered the single occasion he was certain had been his downfall. Guides could sometimes sense other guides, and so it had been stupid in the extreme for Blair to go to the party in the full knowledge that a bonded pair would be there. The sentinel, returning from a tour in the army, was brother to Emily, the girl Blair was dating at the time. And Blair, as Emily’s boyfriend, had been invited to the homecoming of the triumphant warrior.

The most stupid part was not that Blair had gone to the party, but that he’d done so without taking a dose of Antidux, a mild (and illegal) dux suppressant taken by guides-in-hiding to prevent the risk of detectable pre-bond secretions. He’d been a little complacent around that time about taking it, resentful about the need to continue to put an unnatural substance in his body day after day. He’d thought that missing a couple of doses wouldn’t do him any harm.

How wrong he’d been.

Blair had recklessly brazened the whole thing out, even sharing a beer and a laugh with good old Pete, Emily’s sentinel brother, certain of his own invulnerability. Until the moment, that was, that Pete’s guide (no name, they never had a name) had raised his eyes – lowered obediently right up until that moment – to look straight at Blair, the challenge and recognition in their depths clear as day. And Blair had instantly known, with the clarity of epiphany, that he’d been made.

He’d tried to flee after that, of course. His cousin Robbie, in whom he’d confided, had helped speed Blair’s passage, giving him money and making arrangements for him to hire a car under an assumed name. In the end it had all been for naught. Blair had been apprehended by the Detectors at the Canadian border, his former life snuffed out as effectively as a candle in the path of a hurricane.

What had happened after that had been nothing more than a living death, until Jim had breathed life back into Blair’s battered body and soul. Closer to breaking point when he’d been hired out as a rental than he’d ever allowed Jim to suspect, Blair had gravitated toward the sentinel as though he was the sun, basking in the glow of Jim’s incredible tenderness after so many months without succor or hope. Suddenly, the Bond was all Blair wanted, and the one thing he could not, under any circumstances, have. But they’d both hurtled toward it anyway, inexorably merging their lives forever in the aftermath of yet one more episode of humiliation, pain and despair. 

Blair felt ultimately responsible for what had happened, and for all that came after. He’d possessed such a terrible, aching need for Jim by then. His vulnerability had called to Jim in turn, so that in the end he hadn’t given the man any kind of choice at all. 

“I don’t regret it, Blair.” Jim’s voice startled Blair from his reverie, Blair’s turmoil easily transmitting to him through their link, and Blair stopped in his tracks, closing his eyes as Jim’s arms came around him from behind. “I don’t regret any of it, and I don’t blame you for any of it,” Jim went on, the sentinel’s breath on his ear making Blair shiver in response. “You’re everything to me. I can’t imagine my life without you in it. I don’t want to.”

And Blair could feel the truth of it: through their link, there was no room for doubt. 

Bolstered once again by Jim’s belief in him Blair nodded, his unquiet emotions receding as once more he unearthed the core of strength he carried deep inside. “I’m sorry,” he said, needing to make it clear, needing Jim to understand that he wasn’t always going to be like this. “I get crazy sometimes. I’m not angry with you, just... everyone else, I guess.” He sighed, the echoes of his own pain subsumed in bitterness and grief for a different reason, reminding him why they were here. “They killed the fucking tribe, man. They’re killing the land. How could they do that?”

“I don’t know,” Jim breathed, validating Blair’s feelings with the strength of his own. “But they’ll pay for it. I promise you that.” Then, letting go, Jim moved away, getting right back to business. “My turn to take point,” he said, as he moved ahead through the trees. And, instinctually falling back on the comforting, well-established patterns of their partnership, Blair fell in behind, capably watching for threats from the rear as they progressed.