Not mine. Currently in negotiations with Aly to buy the rights, but so far she isn't budging. No copyright infringement was intended on either the Sentinel series or the stories I borrowed. No money was made, but hopefully enjoyment was had.
I have always loved Susan Foster's GPD series. This is sort of my tribute to her and her wonderful storytelling. I've also noticed that I sort of use a tiny bit that Legion used in one of her zine stories. I had written this before I had read her story, although she had written her story first (Did that make any sense?). So I would also like to acknowledge the similarity there. This series of snippets was originally written as obsenads to thank Malynda, Kris, Gersh, Sheryl and Marmoset, who helped me come up with questions for my contest story (which won first place in the "First Kiss ezine contest -- hark, what's that? Yes, that's me blowing my own horn. Heh heh heh.) Many thanks go to Autumn, Gershwhen, poyznelf (MVFSS), Lilguppee and Susan, who gave me their honest opinions about this piece and thereby made it stronger. Thank you, ladies, for speaking your minds and for being honest with me!! And to Beth, as always, who held my hand as I freaked out and helped me find solutions to the problems I had created. I'd also like to acknowledge the pieces I modified from: "The Velveteen Rabbit," by Margery Williams and "The Little Prince" by Antoine De Saint-Exupery.
Spoilers: I've been told that some people find the sex in snippet three to be slightly n/c. It's not really. You just have to read it carefully.
Also, this series is a tad darker than I usually write. When I wrote it, I was seriously wanting to push the envelope (or at least *my* envelope). I was surprised to find that people didn't find it all that dark. (Like Wiley E. Coyote.I'm back off to the drawing board)
"I want this operation to go smooth and by the numbers. No one gets out. Everyone goes down," Captain Simon Banks of Major Crimes said as he looked around the room at each of the detectives present. Vice and Major Crimes had joined together to take down a multimillion dollar white slavery ring which had only recently been uncovered but showed all the signs of having been an established practice. "You all know what you're suppose to do, correct?" He watched heads nod around the room. "Okay, now that you've got the logistics down, I'll turn this meeting over to Dr. Peter Caleb to discuss what we might expect from the victims."
The thin, slightly rumpled looking, blue-eyed psychologist stood and looked around the room. "It's not going to be pretty, gentlemen. You're going in, thinking you know what to expect, but I'm here to tell you now, all your preconceived notions are about to be shattered." Peter began pacing slowly back and forth in front of the room. "One doesn't just grab someone off the streets and sell them into slavery. These people are experts at breaking the minds and spirits of their slaves. For those who have already gone through the process and are simply waiting for a buyer, they will be shocked by the very notion that you are there to rescue them. Do not, for a second, turn your back on them. They will do you the same harm as their captors will attempt to do. These victims will have to undergo major intensive therapy. It will take years, perhaps decades, for them to fully recover -- those who don't commit suicide, that is."
Peter stopped his pacing and looked at his audience. "The ones currently going through the process will be shattered individuals. There were no white knights, no one to give them comfort. They've been through hell. They won't trust you. Why should they? Any trust they've given has been used against them. Their only thought will be to escape and if they have to kill you in order to do so, they will try."
He sighed. "In other words, gentlemen, there are no emotional payoffs on this one. Never let your guard down."
A dark hand rose at the back of the room.
"Yes, Detective Brown?"
"How many vics are we looking at here?"
"According to Martin's undercover reconnaissance work, there are ten vics who have undergone the process and who will be sold at the auction tonight. With any luck, we'll get not only the sellers, but the buyers as well. Five more are going through the process, including one who has been in for two months. From what Martin says, they simply haven't found a way to break him yet."
"All right," Simon Banks said, stepping up beside the psychologist. "I want everyone in position and ready in forty-five minutes. We do this by the book, people. No one walks. I won't have this filth in my city another night longer."
Vice detective James Ellison closed his eyes and took several deep cleansing breaths as he waited for the go signal. He had expected the excitement of the moment to throw his senses out of whack, again; but, instead, found them tingling, almost in anticipation. They seemed sharper, more on-line, than they had ever been since his time in the jungle. Above all, he was aware of a heartbeat. Not his own. Or from anyone around him. Someone inside.
After all these years, could he have finally found his guide? He ground his teeth together. Great. The heartbeat could only belong to one of the white slavers, a buyer, or one of the broken victims. No. He couldn't have found his guide. Not now.
"Gentlemen, let's do it," the voice in his ear piece said calmly; then all was action and instinct and he had no more time to think.
"You do good work, detective," Simon Banks said, smiling at the man beside him. "I've been very impressed with your professionalism throughout this entire operation."
"Thank you, sir." Jim Ellison allowed himself a calm smile, although his entire body screamed out in frustration. Something was wrong. There was still danger. He scanned the room but couldn't find anything which would explain his anxiety.
"Let me know if you'd ever like a transfer to Major Crimes. I could use a man like you on my team."
Jim blinked in surprise as he focused his attention back on the captain. "Do you mean that, sir?"
"Yes. Say the word and I'll have a desk ready for you on Monday."
The smile which reached his face this time was heart-felt and genuine. "The word is given, sir."
"Fantastic. I'll make all the arr -"
"Captain! Captain Banks," Henri Brown called out as he skidded around the corner.
"What is it, Brown?"
"It's one of the vics, sir. He's escaped, and he has a gun."
Simon stood to his full height. "How in the hell did he get a gun?"
"According to Peter, the victim was unresponsive, practically catatonic. It's the one who's been here for two months, sir. They were loading him onto a gurney, when he rolled off, slammed into Mulhoney, took his gun and raced off."
"Is he even in the building?"
"He has to be. All the exits are covered. There's no way he could have gotten out."
"Shit," Simon swore, hands on his hips as he paced away from both detectives, obviously trying to gather his thoughts. Turning back, he growled, "Put his description over the wire. The last thing we need to do is to shoot a vic."
Henri nodded and picked up the mic hanging from his flak jacket. "All units. All units. We have a vic on the loose with a gun. I repeat, we have a vic on the loose with a gun. Vic is approximately twenty-five years of age, five foot eight, and one hundred thirty pounds. Vic has long curly hair and blue eyes. Do not approach, simply call your position in once you've spotted him."
Jim listened to the description, all the while being conscious of the heartbeat from earlier racing. Now that he was in the building, he also hear the staccato panting and underlying whimpering.
His guide who had withstood two months of torture, two months of men trying to strip him of who and what he was. Without conscious thought, Jim started forward.
"Ellison? Where are you going?" Banks demanded.
"To find my guide, sir," he said matter-of-factly as he broke into a jog. He could hear the captain's sputtering, then feet falling in behind him. "Hold on. I'm coming," Jim promised quietly.
He had run blindly at first, which had been a mistake. He should have remained calm; but calmness had been a luxury he could scarcely afford. He had broken earlier. Oh, not that anyone knew. Maybe, maybe given in was a better word. He was tired of fighting. Tired of hurting. Just plain tired.
Knowing, from the guards' minds, what would happen to him once he relented, he had attempted one last recourse of escape and attempted to bury his essence deep within his mind. If he had to give them something, he had hoped they would be satisfied with just his body.
He had been aware of the two separate groups entering the building earlier. The minds of the first had been flavored with excitement and lust, anticipation and avarice. The second group was also flavored with anticipation and excitement, but there was something more - contempt, disgust, passion for what they were doing, sympathy, horror.
He had ignored both groups at first. It wasn't until he found himself surrounded by sadness that he focused outward again. The sorrow had been flavored with anger, though not at him.
When the hands touched and lifted him from the floor, he had been surprised to find he still had some fight within him. For the first time in a long time, he believed in prayers again, for surely God was giving him an opportunity. At first, he wasn't sure what he could do; but someone in the crowd around him had been fearful and he took those fears and acted instantly upon them.
But in his panic, he had run upstairs instead of to an exit. Those by the door were strong. He could feel them and in his own weakened state he wasn't sure if he had what it took to get past them. He found the location of a small room which he had plucked from one of his tormentors' heads when the man's attention had been on his latest sexual encounter instead of on breaking him.
His body trembled with the unexpected exertion he had asked of it. He sat hard upon a crate, breathing deeply and trying to take stock of his situation.
"I am... I am..." He panted quietly. "I am... Blair Jacob Sandburg." His mind sang with triumph. They had tried so hard to take that away from him. "I am an anthropologist."
Being an anthropologist had been his salvation, but it had also caused unending horror. Almost immediately, he had realized what his captors were trying to do to him. He knew each step they were going to take and therefore was able to mentally prepare himself for it. He had been surprised that they hadn't assaulted him sexually. Rape was the one thing that broke a majority of people in hostage situations; but the violation had never come.
As he continued to resist, he became more and more aware of their plans. At first, he hadn't realized how it happened for they rarely spoke to him. He had been shocked to find it in their minds.
He had read their minds.
Even now the thought surprised him. The anthropologist in him had been fascinated by the whole situation. Blair had been horrified. The anthropologist was the first to realize they were trying to break him so they could sell him overseas as a sex slave. Apparently, a buyer had been intrigued by his beauty and had special ordered him. Again, Blair had been horrified, but as time passed, he understood, as did the anthropologist within him, that he would not be assaulted as long as he held on to who he was. His captors would never turn over a damaged product nor would they sell someone who could cause harm to their buyer.
His captors had been surprised by his comfort level over his own nakedness. The anthropologist within him had joked that finally something good had come from his living in communes while growing up. After a couple of weeks, his captors had relented and given him a pair of blue jean short-shorts. They did nothing to keep him warm, but the shorts had given him some of his dignity back. Of course, if his captors had realized that fact they would have taken them away again, but his total uncaring attitude about his state of dress had thrown them and they were searching for other avenues to break him.
Being able to read his captors made it possible for him to remain one step ahead of them, but the constant grind, the unending pain and hunger had begun to wear on him, and he had found himself faltering, simply wanting the unrelenting agony to end.
"But you're free," he whispered to himself, the anthropologist reminding him that he had not lost.
He looked down at the weapon in his hand. A standard police revolver. Six shots. His brows knitted in concern. Why would he have a police revolver?
But before he could ponder the answer, he felt three minds draw nearer. He hugged the gun to his chest. He had always respected life, but he knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he would kill before he went back into the cell from which he had escaped. The question became whether he would kill himself or another.
As they neared, he whispered, "Go away."
Two of the minds immediately turned away. The third hesitated but continued forward. He could hear voices echo around the warehouse.
//"Where are you going, Detective?"//
"Go away," Blair mouthed again.
//"You're crazy, man. There's no one back there."//
//"Get ... get Peter."//
As the third mind drew closer, Blair stood and placed his back against the warehouse wall and lifted the gun in his trembling hands, turning the safety off and slowly cocking the pistol.
He felt the mind hesitate again, as if it had heard the cocking. This mind was different than the others he had read, different from the cold cruelty of his tormentors or the screaming horror of those being broken or the deadness within those who had given up hope. This mind was calm, orderly, filled with warmth and compassion.
Blair did not, however, lower his weapon. He couldn't afford to go back.
"Go away," he barely whispered.
"I can't," a warm baritone answered back.
"Why not?" he asked, despite himself, although he never raised his voice.
"Because you need me."
"I need you?" he asked sarcastically.
"Yes, to protect you. To take you out of here." A tall man stepped around the corner; his hands held away from his body to show that he had no weapons. Once in view, he came no closer. The man's body spoke of strength and he knew he would never win a physical contest against him. Nervously, he tightened his grip on the gun.
The light eyes looked sadly at him, but seemed to understand.
Another mind moved closer to them. "Go away," he whispered again.
The mind's forward momentum stopped instantaneously. The big man's eyes widened then turned his head to look down the hallway. Holding one hand out, he said gently, "Come on, Peter."
Blair could feel the mind resisting. "Go. Away," he repeated, angrily this time.
"Peter!" the big man demanded at the same time.
The mind waffled then abruptly ran forward. Blair could see a smaller figure wrap itself around the tall man. The smaller figure was slight of build and had longish blonde hair while the bigger man had a short militaristic haircut, making it impossible to tell what color his hair was in the dim light.
"What's going on?" the smaller man, Peter, asked. Blair could feel the man's curiosity rise above his fear. He was a scientist, like himself.
"He's a 'path. He's definitely a projecting empath, I don't know if he's more or not."
Peter blinked up at the taller man in surprise. "Do you have any idea how rare those are?"
The older man sighed. "Why did you hesitate in the hall?"
If possible, the scientist's eyes got even wider as he looked back down the hall, then toward Blair. "My God. How is this possible?"
"I have no idea."
"But if he's a projecting empath, why didn't he use his powers before tonight to escape?"
The bigger man shrugged. "My guess is that he had some sort of breakthrough before we arrived. Didn't Brown say he was in a catatonic state when you found him?"
Peter nodded excitedly. Blair wanted to pull the trigger, but the anthropologist was intrigued by the whole conversation.
"So what do you want to do, Jim?" Peter asked, excitedly.
"I want to claim him."
"What?" Peter exclaimed, stepping back from Jim for a moment, but immediately latched on to the taller man as the waves from the empath hit him. "Jim, I know you're a sentinel..."
"An unguided sentinel."
"But this man is damaged, maybe beyond repair."
"And yet, my senses are singing; they're sharper than they've ever been before. Tell me, Peter, tell me where I'm going to find another empath?"
"He will need time to heal."
"I know; and we will need time to learn to trust each other."
"I don't know if he's capable of giving trust; not after everything he's been through."
"D-d-don't t-t-talk ab-b-bout me li-like I'm n-n-not here," Blair demanded angrily.
"We're sorry," Peter called back, instantly contrite.
"S-s-sentinels d-d-don-don't exist any-anymore."
"And what do you know about sentinel, Chief?" the older man asked gently.
"S-st-studied them all m-m-my life. I am an an-anthro-pologist."
"Then you've read the monograph by Richard Burton?"
"So has Peter. He was the one who diagnosed me."
Blair looked skeptical.
"Then you also know that Burton claims that sentinels have to have someone to watch their backs -- a guide, of sorts."
Blair nodded again, this time reluctantly. "W-wh-why not Peter?"
"Surely, in your studies, you came across the fact that many of the guides in sentinel pairings were shaman, holy men, magicians, men of mental power?"
"But I... but I'm... n-not any of th-those things."
"But you are an empath, Chief. How else are you keeping everyone else back?"
Blair looked around wildly and realized he could feel no one closer than the two men before him.
"You're new to your power, Chief, but power you have."
The anthropologist in him was intrigued, but Blair refused to be sucked in. "Wh-w-what if I-I-I don't w-want to be b-bound to you?"
"Chief, you're tired. This place is crawling with cops. You're never going to get out of here on your own. And I...I simply can't walk away from you, not when I know you need me. Need the calmness of my mind. Need the strength my body can provide."
Blair whimpered. The minds around him were pressing in on him. He knew he needed an oasis of calm to regroup, to heal. His memory latched onto a childhood story. "B-but I'm n-not tamed."
Jim blinked and got a far away look in his eyes, then looked back at Blair. "But you have, too often, been neglected."
Blair smiled weakly and sniffed back the tears which threatened to overwhelm him.
Jim returned the smile tenderly. "Right now, you're only an empath, just like a hundred other empaths. And I am a sentinel. And you have no need for me. For you, right now, I am like all the other minds around you. But if you let me tame you, we will need each other. You'll be the only empath in the world for me and I'll be the only sentinel in the world for you."
Blair wavered. To belong. To truly belong. "Does it hurt to be tamed?" he asked, knowing he was crossing his fairy tales.
Jim stepped forward and Peter swayed. "Go and wait with the others," the older man said gently to the other man, and watched as the scientist turned and fled. "Sometimes," he answered truthfully as he turned to face Blair. "But when you're tamed you don't mind so much."
"Does it happen all at once or bit by bit?" Blair asked, uncocking the gun and lowering his arm to his side.
Jim moved slowly toward him. "It doesn't happen all at once. You simply become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen very often to people who break easily."
"But if I let you tame me, will you still want me when I become stronger?"
"Yes. There will be no one but you in the world for me."
Jim stood before him and Blair could feel the coolness of his mind. Not cold, as in unfeeling, but cool like a long satisfying swig of water on a hot day.
Blair handed him the gun. Jim took it and put it in the back of his pants.
"I'm scared," Blair confessed.
"I know," Jim said quietly as he stepped in closer. "But I will never leave you."
"Never," Jim vowed.
"I don't even know your full name," Blair whispered.
"Jim. James Ellision."
"And you're a cop, James Ellison?"
"And you'll protect me."
"Until my last breath."
"But you might not even like me."
Jim gently gathered the trembling body close to his chest. "I'll like you," he promised.
"I talk all the time."
"Then I'll let your voice roll over me like the ocean, comforting in its steadiness and power."
Safe. He felt safe. Felt it to his bones. Felt the acceptance of the man who seemed to surround him.
"I'm... I'm Blair. Sandburg. I'm an anthropologist."
Jim brushed his lips over Blair's temple. "Hello, Blair. Please tame me."
Blair looked up in shock and saw the gentle smile on the detective's lips. Standing on his bare toes, he tenderly kissed the larger man, slipping into the cool consciousness, feeling the welcoming warmth as he raced joyfully down the corridors of the other man's mind. Strong arms engulfed him and picked him up, although their lips never broke contact.
"Sleep." He heard the word in his mind. "I will protect you."
Closing his eyes, he slipped slowly toward slumber, his hands clenching the shirt of the man before him, feeling cherished. All his life he wanted to find a sentinel and as fate would have it, a sentinel found him instead. The anthropologist liked the irony. Blair simply wrapped himself within the acceptance, within the man who would always be known as home.
THE GREAT SEGUE
"What do you mean he's gone?" Peter Caleb asked in a low, frustrated voice, trying desperately to remain calm.
"I mean, sir, that he's no longer in the hospital," the head nurse said in resignation.
Peter sensed movement at his side and place his hand solidly in the middle of Detective James Ellison's chest, although he never turned to face the man. "Was he discharged?"
"No, sir. Nurse Stephens went into his room about 1 p.m. to get his vitals and to give him a sedative. The doctor ordered that he was to be kept under sedation as long as possible to aid the healing process. Unfortunately, Nurse Stephens had some sort of panic attack while in the room. By the time her relief came in to finish her rounds, around 1:30, Mr. Sandburg was gone."
"So he just vanished?" Peter asked incredulously. "With no clothes?"
The blonde nurse looked distinctly unhappy. "We believe he might have stol ... er ... taken some clothes out of the doctor's lounge. Dr. Adams is missing a pair of jeans and a flannel shirt."
Peter just nodded his head, unable to come up with a sufficient pleasantry to dismiss her.
"It's 2:30 now." Peter sighed as soon as the nurse left the room.
"He could be anywhere," Jim whispered back.
"Can you get a sense of him here?"
Jim shook his head. "I tried, but I started to zone." The detective rubbed both hands over his face. "It doesn't make any sense, Peter. It's as if I've lost all the control I've gained over my abilities."
Peter took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "It could be that the sentinel within you, for lack of a better term, has claimed its guide. His loss is throwing you for a loop."
"That doesn't make any sense," Jim said in frustration, pacing back and forth across the room. "If the guide is missing, wouldn't it make sense that everything would go into overdrive trying to track him down?"
"My first instinct is to say yes, but you two haven't truly bonded, Jim. He accepted your help two nights ago because he didn't really have a choice. Don't get me wrong, I think you're connected and I'm hoping that'll be enough to give you some sort of guidance once you get close to him, but for right now I think we're on our own to find him."
"Well, shit, Peter, what exactly am I going to have to do in order to bond with him?"
Peter cleared his throat. "I think you know." He watched Jim frown. "Is that going to be a problem?"
"Normally, I would shove your teeth down your throat for even suggesting something like that ... but I have to admit that when we found him, I had no problem with the concept," Jim conceded quietly, stopping in front of the window and staring down into the parking lot.
"Okay, we need to be logical about this," Peter said, pacing over the same tract Jim had just completed. "He's scared. He doesn't know whom he can trust. He's just gotten out of a two month captivity. Where would he head?"
"Home," Jim said, simply. "But he doesn't have a home anymore. There was some sort of explosion, and his landlord put all his surviving stuff in storage."
"So you know where he lived?"
Jim nodded. "Yeah. In a warehouse down by the docks."
"Okay, that's as good a place as any to start," Peter said enthusiastically, as he grabbed Jim by the elbow and propelled him toward the door. "He doesn't have any money, so he's either walking or hitching. He's been gone for at least an hour, probably an hour and a half. If we're lucky, we might just catch him there."
Blair blinked in amazement. His home, the warehouse where he lived, was nothing more than a pile of rubble.
A kid on a ten-speed pedaled by and Blair called out to him. "Hey."
The kid's head snapped up and he circled around Blair, never stopping his bike, never getting too close to him. Blair could feel the kid's wariness, but the kid's curiosity was getting the best of him.
"Do you know what happened here?"
"Sure. Everyone knows."
"Well, I've been away for a while. Would you tell me?"
"Yeah." The kid stopped his bike about 10 feet away from him. "Drug lab burned down. Actually, one of the gangs came in, killed everyone, stole the stuff, started a fire and raced out of here."
Blair sighed. So everything was gone. "Do you happen to know what happened to the little ape that lived on the east side of the building?"
"Oh sure!" The boy grinned hugely. "Mama Fresca took him. She likes animals. The firemen found him and one of them knew her and didn't want to take it to the pound so he gave it to Mama. She's taking real good care of him. You can go see him if you want. She lets all of us come in and play with him from time to time if we keep our grades up."
Blair nodded, relieved beyond words. "Okay. Thanks."
The boy frown a little bit. "Are you okay, mister? You don't look so good."
"I've had better lives," he smiled, sending reassurance toward the boy. The boy looked at him a second longer, then shrugged his shoulders, got on his bike and pedaled away.
Well, at least Larry was safe; that made him feel some better. During the first week of his captivity, he had worried incessantly about the little Barbary ape. He always left fruit out, but he knew that it would have run out after a week or so. He had to find a way to send some money to Mama Fresca to repay her for rescuing his friend.
Blair sat hard on a stack of wooden pallets, exhausted, and reviewed his situation. He had lost all of his personal possessions in a supposed gang war. He was thirty pounds underweight and owned no clothes of his own. He probably had something like two hundred dollars in the bank. And, he had no idea where his mother was.
But, at least, you're alive and free, the anthropologist within reminded him cheerfully. Oh, and yeah, he could feel other people's emotions, see pictures and hear thoughts. What was it the man... Jim... had called him the other night? A projecting empath? Whatever the hell that meant. Although he suspected he knew. He had been scared when the nurse came in to give him his shot, afraid of what might happen while he was unconscious. He had shoved that fear toward her and she had practically collapsed under the weight of the emotion.
He still felt bad about scaring her, but pushed the guilt aside. If there was one thing he had learned during his captivity, it was that it was a dog-eat-dog world and only the strong survived.
He needed somewhere to stay in order to regroup. He had been taken two days after the semester had ended. He had planned on surprising his mother and visiting her for several weeks. All of his friends knew he was going, so no one would have been surprised by his sudden absence. Grad students tended to disappear during the summer, either on expeditions or because they were working full-time at some mundane job to stock up on cash for the coming semester. He desperately tried to think if any of his friends had planned on staying in town over the summer, but knew there wasn't anyone, which had been one of the main reasons he had planned on spending time with Naomi.
The summer semester was half over, so he knew he couldn't get a teaching job at the university. Maybe he could throw himself on his advisor's mercy. Surely after hearing everything he'd been through someone could help him make arrangements to resettle. Hell, thought the anthropologist, there were several papers he could submit to various journals regarding his experience. It wouldn't be a lot of money, but it would help him get on his feet.
He allowed a smile to spread over his face. It was a plan.
A blue Expedition drove past him and he blinked, startled by the intrusion. Time to find someplace safe.
Jim quickly jumped out of his vehicle and moved swiftly to the back, then stopped, not wanting to frighten his guide.
"Sandburg," he called out, trying to keep his voice neutral.
The curly haired figured turned and frowned at him, the body tensing as if ready run.
"I've been looking all over for you," Jim said casually.
The grad student's eyebrows knitted together in surprise. "Jim?"
"One in the same."
"What are you doing here?"
"I could ask you the same thing."
"Well, I used to live here." The younger man pointed toward the ruins of the warehouse. "It looks like I lost everything."
"Not everything, Chief," Jim said quietly as he walked slowly toward his guide. "I spoke to your landlord yesterday and he has your stuff in storage. I figure we can pick it up tomorrow if you'd like."
Blair blinked at him. When Jim got about ten feet from him, the younger man raised his hand in a warding gesture. Jim stopped, respecting the boundaries Blair felt he needed to impose upon him.
"You were gone when I woke up."
"I know and I'm sorry. The doctor said he wanted to keep you sedated for a little while longer to help you get your strength back. I had some paperwork to finish up and I wanted to check on a few things for you."
"You said you'd never leave me."
"I did, and I haven't. I'm here, aren't I?"
Jim watched as the younger man chewed on his bottom lip. "So what do we do now?"
Jim smiled gently. "Now you come home with me."
"No more hospitals?"
"No more hospitals. I'm sorry, babe, but I had to make sure you were all right. The doctors said you were severely underweight, not surprising after all you had been through, dehydrated and generally pretty weak, but they all believe you'll make a full recovery."
Jim held out his hand to the young man. "Come home with me?"
Blair looked back at the warehouse, then back at the detective, then back to the warehouse. Jim concentrated on sending warm comforting thoughts toward Sandburg.
"Well, I suppose I can trust you, since I tamed you and everything."
"I can't think of a better reason." Jim smiled encouragingly and continued to hold out his hand, but made no movement toward the student. It was suddenly very important that Blair come to him of his own free will.
Blair hesitated, holding out his own hand and moving a step closer. 'C'mon, babe, you can do it,' Jim thought, sending as much reassurance as he could.
Blair took another step closer, their fingertips dancing over each other's palms. Jim could feel the fear the young man was trying so hard not to project. He stood perfectly still, allowing Blair to move within his personal space and sighed in relief as the young man wrapped his arms around his waist and laid his head over Jim's heart. Jim enfolded him gently within his embrace.
What was it about this cop, or pig as his mother would say, that made him feel safe? Blair thought as he enjoyed the warmth of the arms around him and the coolness of the mind which beckoned him. He leaned his head back on his shoulders and looked up into gentle eyes which promised safety and belonging.
Blair reached one hand up to the back of Jim's head and pulled him down for a tender kiss. The bigger man didn't resist in the slightest and soon his lips were engulfed as much as his body. Blair reveled in the calmness of the detective's mind and relaxed against his sturdy frame.
"Let's go home," Jim whispered when they finally broke apart for air. He nodded his compliance as Jim guided him back toward the car.
Blair hesitated when he felt joy and curiosity radiating from the Expedition.
"It's just Peter," Jim instantly explained. "He's a friend. He helped me find you."
Blair nodded, though he slowed his steps forward. Jim helped him into the back seat on the driver's side. Blair's eyes immediately went to the face of the man riding shotgun.
"I'm Peter Caleb," the blonde man said as he reached his hand out in greeting.
Blair shook it tentatively, then released it as soon as Jim got in the vehicle.
"Your place?" Peter asked.
Jim nodded. "Can't take him back to the hospital."
Blair wondered briefly if he was doing the right thing, but his exhaustion was finally catching up with him and his eyes closed by their own volition.
"Sandburg. Blair. We're here," Jim called softly to the sleeping figure in his back seat.
The young man blinked, trying to focus, and Jim wondered suddenly as he looked at the wide slightly unfocused blue eyes if Blair was really seeing him at all. Did he need glasses? Without another word, he drew his guide out of the vehicle and lifted the smaller man into his arms.
Blair started to protest, but Jim just whispered, "Sleep." And was gratified when the younger man complied.
"How do you do that?" Peter asked in fascination, opening the door to the lobby for Jim and his precious load.
Jim angled Blair so that he could walk past Peter. "He's exhausted. He fought them for almost two months. I don't think he has a lot of fight left in him at the moment."
The psychologist ran to the elevator and pushed the button. "God knows he's been through hell."
Jim rattled his keys as the elevator door slid shut and Peter took the silent hint and the keys.
"How are your senses?"
"They're practically singing."
"So he really is a guide?"
Jim nodded. "Yes."
Peter unlocked the door and pushed it open, letting Jim in first then shutting it behind them. "But what good is he going to be if he's stripped of his natural barriers? He won't be able to go into the field like this."
Jim laid the student on the couch. "I don't think they're stripped irrevocably. I think once he gets some rest and puts some weight on, he'll be able to rebuild them."
"Are you sure?"
"No," Jim said simply, looking down at his guide.
"But you're not going to let him go either, are you?"
Jim looked up and smiled regretfully. "No."
"What if he doesn't want to be kept?"
"I don't believe he has a lot of say in the matter at the moment."
NO VIABLE ALTERNATIVE
"So let me get this straight. Jim's a sentinel and you think I'm a guide?" Blair asked, incredulously. He had awakened wrapped in a cocoon of blankets, and had been fed tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich moments later. Once he had finished, the psychologist had stumbled all over himself trying to explain his theories on guides and sentinels.
"That's right," the blond haired man said, sitting forward in his chair, pushing his glasses back slightly.
Blair turned toward the police detective who was sitting on the smaller couch. "All five senses are heightened?" When Jim nodded, he shook his head in wonder. "That's simply amazing, man. Have you had them your entire life?"
"I believe so, although I've repressed them most of my life."
"Why?" Blair asked, shocked.
"Long story, Chief. I'll give you the unedited version one day soon."
"Well, what brought them out then?"
"I went up to the Cascade National Forest for some peace and quiet by myself. When I came back everything was out of whack."
"Man, I've searched for a sentinel practically my entire life and there's been one living in Cascade the whole time," Blair whispered to himself, shaking his head in amusement.
"And why's that, Chief?"
Blair blinked as the intensity of the detective's stare washed over him. "I... I..."
"You were meant to be a guide, weren't you?" Jim whispered, moving quickly and kneeling beside the couch.
"Blair," Peter said, when the younger man hesitated. "Your own studies have found that a sentinel and guide work in tandem, patrolling the borders and protecting the village. A sentinel uses his senses, while his guide, or shaman if you will, uses his spiritual powers. Both are equally important when it comes to maintaining the tribe's safety."
Blair tried to scramble back, but his legs were caught in the blanket. Jim gently caught his face between his big hands. "What are you afraid of, Sandburg?"
"I... I... don't know what I'm doing," he whispered.
"But your master's thesis was brilliant," Peter interjected. "If I hadn't found that, I don't know if Jim would have survived or not."
Blair tried to look at the psychologist, but Jim refused to let go of his face. "I... need some time to think."
"I don't know how much time you'll have to make a decision," Peter informed him.
"What does he mean?" Blair asked the blue eyes before him.
Peter looked over at Jim who simply nodded. "Blair, according to the paperwork taken from the warehouse you were 'special ordered,' which means that someone out there has taken a specific interest in you. Now that the ring has been busted, we have no idea if that individual will simply fade into the woodwork or if they'll try other means to obtain you."
"It also means your barriers are down. You don't have any control over your powers. The only time you have any semblance of command, at least right now, is when you're with me," Jim said softly, running the back of his hand over Blair's cheek. "There's a chance people, the wrong people, are putting two and two together. I need to be able to protect you, but I can't do that unless we've properly bonded."
"But last... the other night..."
"We connected, Chief, but we didn't bond."
Blair tried to speak, but nothing came out. He closed his eyes briefly, then opened them again. "S-s-so how do we bond?"
Both Jim and Peter averted their eyes, avoiding eye contact with him. "No," he gasped, shocked at how much his voice wavered over such a short word. "No," he muttered again, trembling as he pushed the blankets off his legs. He was surprised when Jim didn't try to stop him. "I... I... won't..."
"There may not be any other way, Blair. There isn't any deeper connection than sex," Peter said quietly, trying to sound reasonable.
"I... I... didn't fight for two months to keep my sanity and prevent them from... from... turning me into some sex slave only to voluntarily give it up now to someone I don't even know." Blair's trembling became even more pronounced when he got to his feet.
"Maybe... maybe we can do this in increments," Jim offered quietly. "Maybe actual penetr... maybe actual sex isn't really needed."
"No," Blair whimpered.
"Blair, Jim couldn't sense you this afternoon. What would have happened if the slavers had found you first, or if you had been mugged or hurt in some way? Jim has to be able to find you."
"Why?" Blair asked plaintively.
"Because you're the guide," Jim said simply.
"Because he needs you as much as you need him," Peter said, leaning forward again in his chair. "You need someone who can reach you when you're out of control, to bring you back from the mental plane, just as he needs someone to pull him back from the physical plane."
Blair stood, shaking his head, unable to process everything he was being told.
"Peter, I think you better go, for now," Jim said quietly, reluctantly tearing his gaze from his guide and escorting his friend to the door.
"What are you going to do, Jim?" Peter asked in a hushed whisper.
"I'm going to take a leave of absence. Simon Banks has offered me a position on his team, and I think once I get things settled here, I'm going to leave Vice. I don't want to expose Blair to the underbelly of society any more than I have to."
"No," Peter said, putting a hand on the bigger man's chest. "What are you going to do?"
"It's better if you don't know."
"Good-bye, Peter," Jim said firmly as he pushed his friend out the door and shut it behind him. He rested his forehead against the door frame for a moment, shoring up his emotions before turning to face his guide, who was staring at him in horror.
"I'm asking you to trust me."
Blair shook his head violently, his eyes frantically scanning the loft for an exit.
"We're not going to... you know... but I need to see if we can deepen this bond between us."
"I have to be able to protect you," Jim roared in frustration. "I can't allow a slaver to simply snatch you away without having a means to track you."
"Not this way. Please."
"Then tell me another way," Jim begged as he moved ever so slowly toward his trembling guide. "Tell me how to establish a connection with you so that I can always find you. I wish to God I could take my time and do this properly, but I can't... I can't lose you, Blair. Don't you feel this bond between us? It sings. It vibrates. It makes us stronger. But it's weak, we need to find a way to strengthen it."
Jim saw the exact moment when Blair realized he was too close. He reacted a second before his guide did, wrapping the younger man in his arms and holding him tight as Blair shoved his terror onto the sentinel. Jim rolled his head back and yelled, releasing all the emotions being forced upon him, but never releasing his guide. Blair's voice mingled with his and they both shook with the energy passing through them.
For a split second, Jim was grateful that the Masterson children in #207 were vacationing in South Dakota and not home below. He couldn't imagine what this release of emotion was doing to his neighbors.
And in the second the thought was complete, Blair ceased his struggles, gasping for breath and shuddering as the last of his energy left him.
Jim, not about to question his luck, swung the younger man into his arms and carried him up the stairs and laid him in the center of his bed.
"I'm not asking you to do anything, Blair. Just let me try."
The younger man just blinked at him as if not comprehending what he said.
Jim laid slowly beside his guide, inhaling Blair's scent as he did, imprinting it on his memory. His fingers ran tenderly over the exposed throat, licking at the juncture of his neck and chest. Blair gulped hard and Jim teased the Adam's apple with his teeth. A small noise escaped the younger man and Jim responded with a growl low in his own throat.
"Come in, Blair," he whispered seductively, opening his mind to the younger man, aware that he was seriously exposed, but also knowing that trust had to begin somewhere.
He brushed his lips tenderly against his guide's, licking the lips, entreating them to open. Jim groaned as Blair slipped into his mind at the same moment he opened his mouth for him. Jim felt Blair's hands tentatively fist and unfist on the back of his shirt, almost scratching with their repetitiveness.
"That's right," Jim whispered encouragingly before deepening the kiss. Keeping one hand in Blair's hair, he used the other one to unbutton the younger man's shirt. His lips quickly following his fingers' tender exploration. He teased each nub until it was rigid and was pleased to discover that the left nipple had been pierced. His tongue worried the hole and he chuckled when Blair arched off the bed, his fingers clenching in Jim's hair.
"Oh, yeah, babe, don't worry, I'm only just getting started," he responded, increasing his efforts, even as he loosened the buttons of Blair's jeans. He was aware of Blair's confusion, but the younger man was having trouble focusing on anything besides the pleasure rolling over him in waves.
Jim kissed his way down the rest of Blair's chest, aware of, but not focusing too much on the ribs which seemed to jut out. For each inch he kissed down, he lowered Blair's jeans until the object of his desire was completely exposed to him.
He looked up over the chest peppered with hair and into the eyes half-closed with desire. With his eyes still locked on Blair's, he licked the entire length before him. Blair's opened his mouth in an abortive scream, his abdomen muscles convulsing over the sensual overload.
"Let me feel what you're feeling, babe. Share it with me," Jim crooned, licking the slit on the head before him.
Blair opened his mind to Jim even as Jim edged his guide's legs apart and laid between them. The shared pleasure almost overwhelmed them both. Jim growled around the head, feeling the vibrations Blair felt. Kissing down Blair's length he sucked each sac into his mouth, nearly coming off the bed himself as Blair arched upward, trying to escape and yet seeking his torment.
Jim knew his guide was close, and gently worked his way back up, pressing his tongue under the head even as he sucked.
"J-j-j-j-j-j-j-j," Blair yelled, overwhelming Jim with his release, both mentally and physically. Jim came, even as he continued to suck his guide dry, sharing his own release with the mind within his.
Blair's head thrashed back and forth, the low keening sound he made filled Jim with lust such as he had never known before. Suddenly, the wailing stopped as Blair's eyes rolled back in his head and he passed out.
Jim looked at the space between them, his eyes slightly unfocused, and saw for the first time an almost invisible golden bond linking them. He sighed with relief as he crawled up the bed, tucking the frail younger man close to his side. It had worked. He knew he should go downstairs and get a washcloth so he could clean his guide, but the sentinel within him was sated and exhausted. He sagged back into the mattress, releasing all of his tension and fear -- Peter's theory was working. He should be able to protect Blair now. The only question which remained was: did Blair want to be protected?
Blair rose languidly through the layers of consciousness, reveling in the warmth which surrounded him. His eyes fluttered open, and he immediately noticed the digital clock on the table beside the bed.
Where in the hell were his glasses? Not wanting to leave his cocoon of warmth, he squinted, trying to bring the glowing red numbers into focus.
He closed his eyes and drew a deep breath. He knew he should get up, but couldn't seem to find the motivation to do so. Sleep beckoned him and he nuzzled further into his pillow to heed its call, but just as he was about to lose himself to the siren call of Morpheus' realm, his eyes snapped open as memories from the night before washed over him.
Jim had forced him to have sex.
The warmth at his waist was no longer comforting, but instead seared him with its intensity. Jim stirred slightly, as if roused by Blair's emotions. Breathing slow and shallowly, he moved microscopically toward the edge of the bed, sending comforting thoughts toward the sentinel every time Jim shifted.
He turned to face the sleeping sentinel as he finally eased off the bed, and was stunned by the man's aura of innocence. He shook his head wondering how this binder of souls could look so guiltless.
Blair shivered in the morning air, bereft of his human heating blanket. He wrapped his arms around his chest and searched quietly around the bed for his clothes. Trembling with the memory of the events from the night before, he moved silently down the stairs, continuing to send soothing thoughts toward the sentinel. He longed to take a shower, briefly allowing himself to remember what one felt like, but knew he couldn't risk waking his captor.
His thoughts were a jumble as he hastily pulled on his shirt. A part of him was horrified by what had transpired the night before, while another part longed to run up the steps and jump back into the large bed. He shook his head as if that would gain him some clarity. Nothing made sense anymore.
His eyes fought for focus as he tried to divest himself of the last remnants of sleep. He was surprised to sense a thin golden aura surrounding him and leading upstairs. He cringed as he realized what he was seeing. Jim had bound him, just as the slavers had, with no thought of his wants or desires. And just as before, no one knew where he was.
Blair bit his bottom lip, trying to prevent the cry which welled up within him. He had always been so autonomous, never needing anyone, always being able to take care of himself. Independent. So independent that there was no one to realized his predicament.
His friends, of course, would be curious about his absence if he didn't show up in August, as would the university. However, grad students quit their studies all the time, most with little or no warning. Naomi wouldn't think much of her inability to locate him. She would just assume he was on walkabout and would simply send good thoughts on the winds until he contacted her again. His heart ached as he realized that not one single solitary person from his life knew what he had been through.
Maybe that was why he had been selected. Because no one would miss him, or, at least, no one would spend a lot of time looking for him.
He rubbed both hands over his face until his skin tingled.
First the slavers and now Jim, his so-called protector. Jim took what he wanted, apparently not worried about the consequences. Jim said he cared. But how could he? Jim didn't know him from Adam. A Vice cop and a grad student together? Yeah, right. He snorted softly, pulling his jeans up and tucking in his shirt.
He knew Jim needed the bond, needed a guide to help control his hyperactive senses and apparently decided that Blair was it. Well, didn't he get a say? A vote? He looked angrily toward the second floor. What if he didn't want to become a guide? Would Jim try to break him like the slavers did?
The worst part was knowing that Jim would probably succeed where the slavers had failed. Jim understood what Blair was and also recognized that Blair was at the end of his endurance. It wouldn't take much and they both knew it.
He felt the anxiety grow within him. He needed to get out for a while and think. He needed to reconnect with his life again.
He picked up his tennis shoes and moved quietly to the front door, barely breathing as he slid the chain lock free and turned the dead bolt. He moved silently around the door, taking a full minute to pull it shut.
He considered the elevator briefly, but was afraid the noise would wake Jim. Sitting on the top step, he quickly put on his shoes and tied them. When he was done, he took a deep breath and released it slowly and focused on the aura around him. The nimbus mass was gone, leaving only a tiny trail which led back into the loft. He chewed on his lower lip, momentarily pondering its significance, then shook his head. It didn't matter. He gripped the rail and stood, then headed down the stairwell.
A wave of loneliness washed over him as he reached the second floor landing and he spun, thinking someone was standing behind him. But the hall was empty. Tentatively, he reached out and became aware of an elderly woman in her apartment putting a tea set back in the kitchen. She was trying so hard to be brave, to act as if the last minute cancellation was no big deal, but he could almost feel the tears run down her face as the first sob caught her unaware.
Blair stumbled backward, trying to escape the overwhelming grief, his back pressing against the far wall of the hallway.
//We're going to be late// he heard a distinctive male voice chuckle sensually in his mind.
//Call in sick, baby. The kids won't be back until the weekend and you ain't going anywhere until I have another taste of what you did to me last night// a female voice purred.
Blair shook as he descended the stairs to the first floor, trying to put distance between him and the strong emotions surging around him. But the ground floor of the building gave him no solace as he felt the emotions of the people on the sidewalk, going about their lives, unaware that anyone else was privy to their most private emotions.
Blair ran his fingers through his hair and pulled until his roots ached. The pain gave him something else to concentrate on besides the sea of thought crashing outside the building.
He whimpered low in his throat, fighting the desire to turn tail and run back up the stairs to Jim.
'NO!' he berated himself. He could do this. He had walked the streets of Cascade a thousand times, had even dreamt of doing it while in captivity. All he had to do was push on the door and go out.
And yet, he couldn't make himself move.
He leaned his forehead against the cool glass, and choked back a sob. A destination. He needed a goal, someplace to go.
The bank, he decided, then the university. He would need to find his advisor and see if he could get some assistance. Then, he would need to try to find his car. Didn't he have a spare pair of glasses in his glove compartment? He couldn't remember.
He swallowed hard and tried to grin. He had a plan now. He took several deep breaths and released them slowly. He could do this. He would just take side streets and alleys until he got to the bank, and banks were known for being quiet. There shouldn't be too many distractions there.
Releasing his breath, he pushed on the glass door and stepped out onto the sidewalk.
He looked around to get his bearings.
Colette's. Wasn't that on Prospect?
He smiled when he realized he knew where he was. He could do this.
Hesitantly, at first, he moved down the sidewalk, flinching as a young woman shoved out of the bakery, her mind going in a hundred different directions as she raced toward her car.
Blair leaned briefly against the building, but surged off as the emotions of those inside the bakery rolled over him. He bit his lip to prevent the sob from escaping and pressed his fingernails into the palms of his hands. He forced himself to take another step forward. Then another.
He couldn't go back. To go back meant he conceded, that he accepted what Jim had done to him, that he accepted the bond between them. Given time, he felt that maybe he and Jim could come to some sort of understanding. The anthropologist within him was excited over the prospect of talking with a real live sentinel, but the rest of him knew he needed time. Time to process everything that had happened to him before he jumped halfcocked into another situation. Maybe he could join Naomi on one of her spiritual retreats. He wouldn't have to tell her what happened, just that he needed to get rid of some negative energy. She would accept that, understand that.
Thinking about the scientist within him seemed to bring that part of his consciousness to the fore. 'Where are you going?' it asked quietly.
Blair frowned over the absurdity of the question. The answer was obvious. Hadn't he made the decision before he even left the apartment building? Why was his brain playing games with him?
With sudden clarity, the answer came to him. He didn't have his ATM card. He didn't have his driver's license. He had no way to prove he was who he claimed to be.
He stopped suddenly and clenched his hands into fists, bringing both to his chest in an almost hugging gesture. "God damn it," he whispered. Then throwing his head back, he screamed at the top of his lungs, "GOD DAMN IT! HAVEN'T I SUFFERED ENOUGH? WHAT ELSE CAN FUCKING GO WRONG?" His chest convulsed as he cried silently, the tears burning his eyes, but refusing to fall. His head and shoulders drooped under the weight of his situation.
He was aware of minds regarding him curiously, but instead of drawing nearer, they seemed to step back, wanting to put distance between them -- which was fine by him.
It took him several minutes to pull himself together. Finally, he sighed heavily, pulling his emotions in, and looked up... in time to see a black van with tinted windows drive by.
And suddenly his mind was back in the parking lot of Hargrove Hall, watching in horror as four men piled out the back of a black van. He had fumbled for his keys, but realized his Corvair convertible would offer little protection from the men moving quickly toward him. He had run, heart pounding in his throat. He knew the campus, knew all the cubbyholes and hiding places. He had shouted "FIRE" hoping that someone would call security, but felt the bite of the tranquilizer in his back and the heat of the drug as it moved quickly through his system. He remembered stumbling, unable to lift his arms in order to break his fall. He remembered the fuzzy figures surrounding and lifting him off the pavement as he sank into oblivion.
As his mind returned to the present, he swallowed hard. The van on the street before him slowed to a stop.
He looked back toward Jim's building realizing he had a choice between captors. White slavers or the man who had forced him to have sex against his will. Men who had tried to break him versus the man who had rescued him, though for his own purposes.
Which chains could he live with?
Which was the lesser of two evils?
He was damned no matter which path he chose.
He pressed himself against the hard brick wall and felt a hysterical laugh building in his chest.
Freedom of choice wasn't all it was cracked up to be.
Never taking his eyes off the van, Blair forced himself to take a slow, normal step back toward Jim's loft, back to safety, back to the one person he knew would protect him against the world. It was only sex, after all. Maybe, maybe next time Jim would ask first. He clenched his teeth against the hysteria rising in his throat.
He looked back at the oddly parked van, trying to see if anyone was coming for him when he ran into a solid wall of flesh. He yelped, and instinctively gathered his energy to throw at his attacker.
"Shh, Chief. It's okay. It's only me. Everything's okay."
Warm arms enfolded him and held him tight. Jim. Thank God.
"Van... black... van..." he stuttered out, pointing toward the offending vehicle.
Blair watched the sentinel's eyes narrow and focus in the direction he was pointing, cocking his head to one side. The frown lightened and pale blue eyes focused back on his face. "It's okay, babe. False alarm. It's just a yuppie on a cell phone trying to decide whether or not to stop for muffins."
Muffins. Yuppie. Cell phone. It was too much, too much. He bit his knuckle as hysterical laughter bubbled out of him.
Making quiet shushing noises, Jim gently removed Blair's hand from his mouth and wrapped his arms around Blair's shoulders, all while slowly moving them back toward the apartment building. A part of Blair thought to protest. It had been a false alarm. He didn't really need the older man's protection after all. However, he couldn't seem to find the motivation to leave Jim's embrace, and instead allowed his mind to sink into the protection and shelter that Jim's consciousness offered. The sentinel guided them into the elevator and up to the third floor to safety.
As soon as they entered the loft, Blair let loose a long shuddering breath, releasing all of his pent-up fear and hysteria. Jim shut the door, turned Blair to face him and held him tight, continuing to surround him with warm thoughts.
For several minutes, Blair leaned against the sentinel, soaking up the comfort but, as he knew it would, his rational mind reasserted itself.
"Thanks," he murmured, stepping back, his cheeks reddening with embarrassment. Jim wasn't wearing shoes or a shirt, only a pair of jeans which weren't quite buttoned up.
Jim released him. "Are you okay?"
"I don't know," Blair responded honestly, walking toward the French windows and pacing back and forth in front of them.
"What can I do to help?"
Blair stopped his pacing and faced the older man, torn by the conflicting emotions he was feeling. "I think you've helped quite enough. Thank you," he said, unable to keep the sarcasm from his voice.
"Look, Sandburg. I wish we could have done things differently in order to create the bond, but time is... was against us. I didn't have a choice."
"What do you mean you didn't have a choice? I don't recall forcing you to have sex with a stranger against your will."
Jim flinched as if he had been physically struck.
"All I meant was -"
"You took everything away from me, Jim," Blair interrupted. "In that sense, you're worse than the slavers for you took away the one thing they didn't." Blair watched dispassionately as the sentinel stumbled backward a step. "And worse of all, you didn't care, as you don't care now, how I feel about this situation."
"That's not true," the bigger man whispered raggedly, almost sagging against the kitchen island. "I know... I know I forced you... but I really didn't have a choice. I have to be able to find you, to protect you and that was the only way I knew how to do it."
"Why?" Blair cried out, unable to keep the despair from his voice.
"Because I'm the guide?" Blair shouted angrily.
Jim's chin fell to his chest. "Yes," he whispered.
"Jesus, Jim. Don't I even get a say?" Blair's voice increased in volume with every question. "What if I don't want to be a guide? Did it ever dawn on you I might have my own life, my own dreams, my own ambitions?"
"Yes, of course. I'm not trying to take those away from you."
Blair threw his hands up in the air. "You already have!" he roared.
Jim ran his hands through his short hair. "No," he whispered as if his heart was breaking.
"Yes, you have. Don't you get it?" Blair demanded in a quieter tone of voice, tears burning in his eyes. "You've bound me to you. I don't feel safe anywhere but here. When I saw that van -" he paused, trying to keep the grief from his voice, "all I could think about was coming back to you, to have you protect me."
Jim lifted his head, his eyes also bright with unshed tears. "Is that such a bad thing?"
"GOD," Blair screamed in frustration. "You just don't get it, do you? I was a grad student of anthropology. I've traveled the world. I taught. Now what am I?"
Jim took a single step toward him. "You're still all those things, Chief. You can go back to your life once your shields are back up. I'm not trying to prevent that. In fact, I want that for you."
"But I'll still be bound to you."
"Sandburg, you said yourself you'd been looking for a sentinel your entire life. Why was that?" Jim took another step forward, his arms held to his sides in a non-threatening gesture. "Were you simply fascinated by the concept? Or was the search only about making a name for yourself? What did you hope to accomplish by finding a sentinel?"
"I am so out of here," Blair sneered, heading for the door. However, Jim's bulk prevented him from reaching his goal.
Crossing his arms over his bare chest, the sentinel said quietly, "You can rant and rave and scream all you want, Sandburg, but you are not leaving this loft without me until your shields are firmly in place."
"You bastard." Moving without thought, Blair swung his fist towards the other man's face.
Jim caught the clenched hand in his own and held it against his chest. Sorrowful blue eyes looked down at him. "I'm sorry, Blair, sorrier than you'll ever know. I know I forced you into this bond, and I wish I could say I was sorry for that, but I can't. You need me. You need me as much as I need you. I wish I could let you storm out of here, but now that I've found the other half of my soul, I can't. I wish... I wish I could, but I'm not that strong."
Blair pulled his arm back and held it to his own chest.
"Sandburg... Blair, think on this. I was drawn to you before I knew you were an anthropologist, before I knew you had studied sentinels your whole life. In the warehouse, you trusted me to keep you safe over everyone else who was there. I need to keep you safe, Chief. I don't understand this bond myself, but tell me you don't feel it." Jim stepped closer, refusing to drop Blair's gaze. "Tell me you aren't drawn to me."
Blair blinked at him, his entire body trembling. He wanted to scream his defiance, but he couldn't deny the fact that he was drawn to the sentinel, felt safe only in his presence.
Blair looked into the light blue eyes above him. "I need to think," he mouthed the words, although no sound came out.
Jim nodded but did not move from the door.
Blair turned and opened the balcony doors. Stepping out into the day once again, he very deliberately closed the doors behind him. He walked to the brick wall and laid his body on top of it, facing the loft, instead of the street below. He took several deep, cleansing breaths, watching as Jim watched him for several moments before turning and busying himself in the kitchen.
Blair tried to clear his mind, vaguely aware of emotions in the distance, but nothing close enough to overwhelm him or even intrude on his thoughts. And for a moment, he enjoyed the nothingness.
'Is it so wrong to want someone to care, to have someone to run to?' a small voice within him asked.
He pushed himself up, and stared at the closed door, refusing to look beyond the windows, wondering if Jim truly cared or if he was simply acting out of some sort of territorial imperative which demanded he keep his guide safe. Blair rubbed one hand over his neck as memories from the night before flashed through his head. '
//"I have to be able to protect you. I can't lose you, Blair.//
It certainly sounded like he cared, but could Jim care for him as just Blair and not 'Blair the guide.'
The fingers at his throat reminded him of the tenderness Jim had shown him the night before. Had he ever had a lover who had been as attentive to his needs as the sentinel had? He struggled briefly with the insinuations that thought brought but pushed them aside. He smiled sadly. He had way too many things on his plate at the moment to worry about. A sexual identity crisis would just have to take a number and wait in line.
'You could have stopped him, you know?' his inner voice said softly. A part of him wanted to deny the truth, but he knew better. Jim had opened himself to Blair. He could still remember slipping into he joyful warmth. He had no idea how they had merged, but there was no doubt in his mind that they had.
Trust had to begin somewhere and Jim had been the first to open, knowing that Blair could strike out in anger and harm him, maybe irrevocably. Blair swallowed hard at the implications.
The bond they had created had allowed Jim to find him this morning. Given the state of the sentinel's undress, Blair realized that Jim must have awoken as soon as he felt Blair's fear coursing through their bond. Stopping only to put on a pair of jeans and grab his gun, he had raced outside to find his guide, not knowing what he might faced.
The bond they had created.
Blair's thoughts kept coming back to that one reality. Jim had invited Blair in to his mind and he had gone, but in the bright light of day, Blair could not deny the tenderness in which Jim had slipped into his own mind when he had hesitantly reciprocated.
Blair wiped the tears from his eyes with the back of his hand and looked at the man scrubbing the counters, so careful not to look at him, trying so hard to give him the illusion of privacy. Jim's every movement radiated strength and yet he seemed heartbreakingly vulnerable as well.
Why would a cop want to be bound to a hyperactive grad student who didn't know when to shut up or quit? Blair shook his head. Wasn't that the $64,000 question of the day?
'It's not that you mind being bound so much, is it?' the voice within him asked quietly. 'It's that you're afraid you'll come to need him and he'll leave you - like everyone else has.'
Blair swallowed hard. Jim would leave him. He knew that, accepted it on the deepest level of his being.
So why was he fighting the bond now? He knew he'd eventually have his freedom back.
Maybe, a part of him suggested, just maybe, Jim wouldn't leave. Maybe he would be different. Blair's chest heaved once in silent laughter. Of course, he'd leave.
But what would become of him during the interim? Blair took a deep breath. A cop who was a sentinel, a protector of the city. His partner, who could read emotions. They'd be unstoppable. They could protect the innocent. He could be part of something special, make a difference. Blair rubbed a hand over his face. Christ, he made them sound like a friggin' comic book heroes.
He looked back at the closed door.
There were no practice runs in life. This was it. Finding a sentinel hadn't happened the way he had expected or even wanted, but if he gave himself a chance to think about it... would he be disappointed with the way things turned out? Sure, he had been swept on the currents of change, helpless to choose his destination, but as he looked around he realized where he had been deposited wasn't so bad.
'We'll have to take things slower,' he thought.
'I'm sure Jim would appreciate slower,' the inner voice teased. No doubt, Jim had to be wondering if this was like a 'typical day' in the life of Blair Sandburg.
Blair stood and walked to the windows, tentatively reaching out with his mind toward Jim. The sentinel dropped his sponge, his gaze moving slowly toward the balcony. Blair smiled hesitantly as their eyes met.
Jim moved ever so slowly toward the windows, regret coloring his whole posture. Despite the anger he had felt earlier, Blair found himself sending quiet reassurance to the other man. Their situation wasn't anything either of them had asked for, but it still held possibilities.
Blair laid the palm of his right hand flat on the window. Jim swallowed nervously, hope radiating from his entire body as he raised his left hand and placed it on the window on the opposite side of Blair's.
Blair smiled, truly smiled, for the first time in a long time.
Maybe, just maybe, this might work after all.
- End --
End Tamed by Dolimir: Dolimir@aol.com
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