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

Thanks to Ophite for letting me using elements of "Alternate Route".

And my thanks to Susan my beta reader for all her help, advice, and for making it the story that your reading today.

NOTE: This story is set in the near future in an America very different from today, Sentinels are acknowledged and their abilities are used in everyday life in Police Work, Military, and Search and Rescue. Guides are thought of as second class citizens who's only function is to serve their sentinel, they become their property. Some guides turn rogue, and are hunted down by the sinister GDP, who have total power over them.

Rated PG-13+ for implied rape, h/c some violence nothing graphic.

SENTINEL 101

Simon looked at the detectives at work in the bullpen of Major Crime and focused on Jim Ellison. The man was a good cop; okay, he could give you frost bite at a hundred yards, but there was something about the man that Simon thought was too good to be lost to a storm of bad attitude. His detective was a former Army Ranger who had survived a helicopter crash that had killed his team, including the soldier acting as his unbonded guide. The accident had sentenced him to eighteen months in the Peruvian jungle. Ellison had been a sentinel, but upon returning to Cascade, his ability had gone offline. Only occasionally did his abilities manifest, but that had been enough to help them crack some high profile cases. The other detectives, especially Simon, acted as watchers for their colleague to prevent him from zoning out. But lately the zoning was getting worse; Jim's abilities were beginning to return. He needed a guide, someone with empathic abilities who was trained to help him fully develop his senses. But Jim had no interest in gaining a guide. He was far from silent on the subject; he considered it wrong for one person to 'own' another, to force them to give up their lives to serve a sentinel. The mere mention of a guide was enough to put him in a foul mood for the rest of the day. And Ellison in a foul mood was a man to be avoided. Still, Simon had no option; he had to find a guide for his detective. Jim was beginning to be a danger to himself and others.

Doctor Amy Jenson, Simon's friend at the Rainier University Department of Sentinel Studies, was more that happy to help. She even profiled a guide for him. But everything Simon had tried so far had failed. Threatened with suspension, Ellison had attended the mixer meetings at the university where sentinels and guides met in the hope of bonding, but that tactic had been a disaster. Ellison had ended up putting two people in the hospital. Amy Jenson had diagnosed him as a Dark Sentinel, a more primitive and much stronger sentinel than was usual. He had the same instincts to protect the tribe, but added a well-developed sense of vengeance. Dark Sentinels were rare; only two had been documented, and even those reports were pitifully short of information.

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Simon waved Doctor Jenson to a seat, but his face hardened when he recognized Captain Arthur Mason of the Guide Development Project (GDP). "Have a seat, both of you."

"Captain Banks, it was good of you to see me." Mason had the kind of voice that made Simon's skin creep.

"If it weren't for Amy, we wouldn't be having this conversation. So what's this all about?"

Mason smiled, "It's about Sentinel Detective James Ellison. He has been unbonded for five years now. Now, I know that you and your officers have been helping him with his senses, but, as a Dark Sentinel, he is much too special, too unique, to have him only partly online. I know he has refused to take a guide -- won't even work with a partner since Jack Pendergrass died -- but time is running out for him."

Simon Banks leaned forward. "Are you threatening one of my men?"

"No, Captain."

"You can't force him to bond, Mason."

"I know that. Sentinels retain their right to choose, but Ellison is headed for trouble if he doesn't bond soon."

Amy impatiently cut in. "I have been working with Arthur on profiling a guide for him, and the GDP has recently acquired, or rather, reacquired, a new guide. We think Ellison would bond to our candidate, and we believe the guide would be unable to resist that joining."

Simon moved slightly in his chair; he felt uncomfortable with Mason's casual assumption that he could order a 'candidate' to bond as if the guide was a possession to be owned, a slave. The Captain's opinion of the GDP was well known. And he found the way his Amy was acting, her agreement with Mason, shocking. It was as if she were a different person, not the loving woman that he was growing close to.

Simon noticed the file in her hands.

"I have a candidate, but you have to listen to me in full, and don't get excited." Amy held Simon's eyes with her gaze.

"Okay, but why do I get the feeling that I am not going to like this?"

"I have a man who might be the one for Ellison; he has experience with a Dark Sentinel. His name is Blair Sandburg. He..."

Simon cut her off. "Sandburg! You mean", he exploded, "the little hippy bastard who killed his own sentinel? You want me to trust him with Jim? NO WAY!"

Amy's voice hardened "Simon, first off, Sandburg wasn't Alex Barnes' guide in the full bonded sense. She needed a strong guide and picked him. She 'killed' him, erased his identity and made him into the person she wanted. She was a psychotic killer, wanted for murder and terrorism, who threatened his mother's life if he didn't stay with her. She used physical violence on him to break him to her control, and there were strong indications that she also sexually abused him just for fun. He was hospitalized four times before he escaped. When his mother died, he managed to arrange her capture, risking his own sanity, if not his life, by returning to her compound. Yes, he killed her, but he killed her in self-defense."

"So he's some kind of hero." Sarcasm dripped off the words. "Get to the point, Amy."

"Simon," she exhaled, "this is the interesting point. Sandburg contacted Ellison to help him get away, and Ellison was in close contact with Sandburg during the arrest and interrogation. Now, I have spoken to the other officers present and they said that Ellison's behavior was different. According to Detective Brown, a couple of times it looked like he was going to physically pull him and Detective Rafe away from Sandburg. To quote Detective Rafe, Ellison 'was protective of the kid.' After that case, Ellison began to come fully online. A tentative bonding would explain the incidents at the mixer. Ellison didn't want a guide; he wanted his guide, Blair Sandburg."

"No way would Jim want that guy."

"He may not have a choice. For some reason he started to imprint Sandburg, and unless the bonding is completed, his problems will only get worse. It's called the Fincham syndrome. Soon it will become impossible for you to pull him out of a zone out. His emotional control will erode away, and his brain will be swamped with input. It will drive him insane before it kills him."

"Another guide?"

"No, he's started to imprint Sandburg. It's too late, Simon."

"And Sandburg can stop this?"

Amy nodded. "A guide is like the foundation of a building. His or her presence is what the sentinel uses to build his senses on. Sentinel and guide must reaffirm their bonding on a regular bases throughout their time together. Simon, without a guide, a sentinel is incomplete."

"Jim isn't an idiot. He would know that he's connected to this Sandburg."

Amy shook her head, "No, at this point he is purely instinct driven. He could be zoning because he is trying subconsciously to find his guide."

"So where is Sandburg?"

Mason answered him. He had been content to let Amy Jenson fight this battle until now, since he knew Simon hated his guts and didn't want that coloring his views on the matter. "In the correction facility. He was still fighting his destiny as a guide. We can..."

Henri burst into the office. "Sorry, Captain, it's Jim. He's going nuts out here."

Mason said smugly, "It's happening, Captain, oversensitization, loss of emotional control..."

As he stalked out, Simon ordered, "Get Sandburg, Mason. Get him here, NOW."

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The GDP building was situated in a quiet residential area, a perfect setting for the training of empathic guides: quiet, serene. But the experience of the potential guides in the correction facility housed in the shielded, underground level was anything but peaceful. The mandate of the personnel assigned to that unit was to correct 'rogue' guides any way they could. Blair Sandburg was proving to be particularly resistant to correction.

The two GDP guards holding Blair released their hold on him, letting his body collapse onto the concrete floor. Senior Guard Wilson frowned. The kid was still refusing to obey their commands. Over the last six weeks they had deprived him of food and clothing, kept him in the dark except during his 'training' sessions, used a variety of physical and psychological coercion on him, and still the little freak was holding out. Wilson allowed himself a smile as he looked down at the heaving body at his feet. The kid was breathing fast, his breath catching in his throat as he fought back sobs. Wilson leaned over him and slapped him hard on a bare flank before allowing his hand to drift lower, his touch rough and brutal. "That was real sweet, kid. No wonder that bitch Barnes wanted to keep you all to herself." The other guards laughed at the crude comment and slapped each other's backs in high glee as they left.

The young man on the floor waited until they were gone to pull himself into a tight defensive ball. The sobs he had refused his tormentors tore out of him convulsively, his whole body wracked by them as he rocked back and forth in misery. As his mind started to replay what had been done to him, he gagged, throwing up the small amount of food he had been allowed to eat. Pain was burning through his lower body as he squeezed his eyes closed, tears finally falling.

He wasn't sure how long he lay there, afraid to move, before he heard a noise. His eyes flew open; he jumped back, scooting away from the shape that detached itself from the corner of the cell. A large black panther paced towards him to settle on its haunches in front of him, tail twitching. A spirit guide! Wonder fought with terror for control of the brutalized young man. Few people ever saw a spirit guide; most thought them legend. The panther inhaled deeply, then roared loudly, anger and rage almost a physical force as it detected and identified the scents on the young man cowering before it.

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Doctor Jenson was watching Jim Ellison on the monitor. The detective was being held in a room designed to allow sentinels to regain control of senses gone crazy. She turned as Simon Banks entered and tried to reassure him. "He'll be fine, Simon, once we get him bonded."

"For god's sake! What's wrong with him?"

"About ten minutes ago he started to scream and throw himself against the door as if he was trying to break out. He failed, but the door took one hell of a pounding."

"That can't be normal, Amy. Look at him."

Jim was pacing, no, 'prowling' up and down the small room. He reminded Simon of nothing so much as the big cats he had seen in the zoo. Jim would only pause long enough to cock his head to one side in a listening stance, and then he would angrily shake his head and start pacing again.

"He's no longer a cop or a friend, Simon. He's a warrior, a dark sentinel avenger, instinct driven. He needs to bond, and he's moving toward a critical stage. What is interesting is that he is exhibiting all the signs of a bonded sentinel whose guide is in danger. I don't quite understand what is going on here, Simon." Yet again, Simon watched as the scientist submerged the woman; at this moment Jim was nothing more than a puzzle to be solved. Well, Simon remembered that Jim was a man, a good man.

"You think this Sandburg kid can really help him? You think that he'll want to help him?"

"Simon," she put a hand on his arm, "you have to understand that guides are not like us. They are born to serve a sentinel; it is their only function, their only purpose for being. This one, Sandburg, tried to remain hidden, tried to avoid his destiny. He was at Rainier University, and had taken a BA and MA by the time he was twenty-three, would you believe that? When he was discovered, he was going for his PhD in anthropology." Much to Simon's disgust, Amy laughed as if Sandburg's accomplishments were a big joke.

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As the panther screamed its rage, Blair threw his arms in front of his face just before he felt a heavy head butt against his arms. There was a pause, then a gentle shove insisted on his attention. Carefully, having nowhere to hide, he lowered his shielding arms and looked into the vivid blue eyes of the spirit animal. He felt a wave of peace run through him, calming the terror and horror that had been his world for weeks, for months. He reached a scraped hand out and, with only a slight hesitation, smoothed the square head and pointed ears. The cat purred low in its throat. The panther carefully turned to lie down next to him, facing the doors as if to protect him. Not quite believing in its presence but desperate for its comfort, Blair slowly eased down next to it and went to sleep. When he awoke, the cat was gone, leaving behind only a great feeling of loss. He froze as he heard footsteps in the corridor and prayed that, this time, they would pass his door. Yet again, his prayers went unanswered as the door banged opened. Knowing he had nowhere to hide, still he pulled himself as close to the wall as he could. One of the guards held restraints, grinning as his partner hit him in the face with a pair of overalls. "Get dressed." Afraid of what would happen next but pathetically grateful that he could cover himself from leering eyes, he fumbled the overalls onto his bruised and abused body.

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Simon saw the GDP personnel arrive and focused on the small figure between them. This was going to be Jim's guide? This kid, barely five foot nine, with dark brown hair touching his shoulders and falling into his eyes, nothing but a hippy punk? His nose wrinkled as the too thin body was dragged past him and he smelled the stench of old sweat and new fear. The kid had not bathed in days. There was no way he wanted this person near his friend.

Before he could say anything, Amy took it out of his hands. "Thank you for coming so fast, Senior Guard Wilson; we do have something of an emergency. We have a sentinel nearing critical zone out. He needs a guide and he has apparently formed a tentative connection with this person."

Wilson sneered, "He's still a handful, ma'am. We need more time to discipline him."

Captain Mason nodded and cut in, "We'll put Sandburg to him now and see if they bond. I know he's a flight risk, but from what I understand, Ellison is more than capable of keeping him in line."

"No way, man, I am not bonding with anyone. You can't force me to bond with him." Sandburg spat the words out.

Captain Mason ignored him. Sandburg's wishes were not important; without a sentinel, he was nothing. Mason did not even raise an eyebrow as the guard answered the defiant words. Wilson slammed the young man against the wall. His head hit hard against the plaster; a second impact and his eyes looked dazed. It was obvious to the Major Crime captain that the only thing keeping the kid upright was Wilson's grip. Simon cut the distance between them, ready to pull Wilson off, when Mason blocked him. "You're taking this too personally, Captain Banks. Sandburg is a rogue guide. He needs an attitude adjustment; once he learns his place in society he will be happier for it. Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind, Banks."

"He's a human being. He's got rights!"

"He does not have the right to refuse his duty. The moment he was identified as a guide, his future was mapped out for him. He was too corrupt, too stubborn, too selfish to see that."

Simon turned to Amy and felt sick as she just nodded in agreement. "If Ellison doesn't get a guide, he's dead. Put him in there, Senior Guard." Wilson cursed as Sandburg twisted frantically in his hold, fighting to escape. Mason stepped in to help. Blair fought, terror lending him false strength, but mistreatment and starvation had robbed him of his stamina, and it was only a matter of minutes before he hung limp in his captors' hands, too spent to fight. Banks shuddered at the despair he saw in the wide blue eyes that pleaded with him for help. But he had no option; his detective was falling apart in front of him and this kid could help. With a silent apology, he opened the door.

Blair was thrown into the room; there was no way he could avoid hitting the floor, and agony exploded through him, forcing out a groan. He rolled onto his side, his head aching from its meetings with the wall. The sentinel was prowling around him. Blair recognized him; he was part of the Alex nightmares. But this Ellison was nothing like the calm, confident cop he remembered from his escape. Still, Ellison had seemed then to acknowledge that Blair was a person, had rights. Maybe... Blair tried to sit up, but when he moved, the sentinel gave a low, almost feral, snarl. Blair froze; Ellison was a Dark Sentinel, had to be, and instinct was in the driver's seat. There would be a joining, regardless of either Blair's desires or Ellison's past avoidance of bonding.

The sentinel suddenly lunged for him, catching hold of Blair's hair and leg, trying to force him onto his stomach. "Claimed and Marked, Guide," he snarled at the struggling man in his grip.

"NO! Not like THIS!" Blair yelled at him.

Blair fought. He might be forced to bond, but he would not be submissive. The sentinel yanked his head back hard, arching his body, and Blair cried out in pain. The sentinel froze at the sound. In desperation, Blair hit out, his fist connected with the sentinel's jaw. Blair threw himself backward, his body crashing into the sentinel."

"NO! PLEASE!" Blair screamed again.

The sentinel tossed the smaller man away from him, and the young guide hit the floor hard. As the sentinel moved back, Blair laid still, drawing in large gulps of air. He turned onto his side and saw the sentinel had settled down onto his haunches and was watching him. His head tilted and his nostrils flared as he took in the scent of the man in front of him. Suddenly, he roared like an enraged jungle cat as he detected and identified the scents coming off the guide's body. Blair scooted backwards to try and put distance between them; he knew the man facing him could break him like a twig.

For the second time Blair was distracted from his terror as a black panther came through the wall. It paused to look at him, and then jumped straight into the sentinel, man and panther morphing together.

Doctor Jenson, Mason and Banks were watching the monitors. She was shaking her head. "This is not good. I've never seen that happen, a guide strike out at their sentinel."

Mason cut in, "Little bastard, we nearly had him broken. Given a little more time, I would have had him crawling on his belly, begging to bond."

Amy nodded in agreement. "Unfortunately, we didn't have time for that." She failed to see the look of disgust that crossed Simon's face; any feelings he had for her on a personal level died at that moment.

"What the hell is going on in there? What is he looking at? There's nothing there! What's he playing at?" Mason was angry and confused. It certainly looked to Simon as if the kid was staring at something. And whatever that something was, it was calming him down.

This sentinel was meant to be his. The spirit guide had come to him and shown him that. This sentinel would care for him and protect him, just as the panther had done.

Blair exhaled slowly, his body slumping against the wall. This was the one thing that he had fought against his whole life, being a guide to a sentinel. Being owned by that sentinel his whole life over, expected to dedicate himself to one person. No more learning, no more teaching, just obedience to his sentinel's every whim. That's why he had hidden his empathy until mischance brought him to the attention of the GDP. Now he had no choice. He rolled onto his stomach, biting his lip to combat the pain that flared in his battered body, and folded his hands behind his back, turning his head to one side, the guide's classic stance of submission to a sentinel. One sentence and his hopes and dreams were dead.

"Mark and Claim, Sentinel." His voice was shaking as he intoned the age-old words.

Simon felt a pang in the vicinity of his heart at the hopeless bravery in that quavering voice. Then his detective caught his attention.

The sentinel moved to the younger man's side, and for a moment he just looked down at him. Then he knelt and put a hand out, tactile senses hypersensitive as he carded his fingers through the long dark hair. The silken threads were committed to memory before he touched his guide's face. He hesitated, as if expecting Blair to struggle again. When he didn't, the sentinel gave a soft growl of contentment and returned to his exploration. His hands ghosted across slender shoulders, brushed down his guide's back to his waist. The body under his hands tensed as the horror of what Wilson had done crashed down on Blair. His guide moaned, his eyes squeezing shut as he tried to stop his tears from falling. The sentinel smelled the salty liquid tracking over bruised features. The need to comfort his guide flooded him. His hands moved gently over his guide's hair and face until he settled down. Then, making soft, reassuring sounds, he returned to imprinting his guide onto his senses.

A look of anger spread across his face as he detected the injuries hidden beneath the coarse overalls. The guide, no, his guide -- those two words were burned into his brain -- had been hurt and was hurting. His hands moved faster as he skimmed down his guide's shivering body, almost frisking him as the need to imprint made him work quickly. Finished, the sentinel moved back up and gently ran his hand over the back of the younger man's head, halting when he heard the quick intake of breath. He gently fingered the lumps under the dark hair. When he placed his hand on the back of Blair's neck, he felt the fear rolling off him. The need to complete the bond was burning through the sentinel, but the part of him that was Jim Ellison was ordering him to comfort and nurture the young man whose life he was about to change.

Blair felt the controlled strength his sentinel used to turn him onto his back and then draw him up so that they were kneeling opposite each other. One big hand held the front of the overalls, while the other cupped his face, tilting it so that they were looking into each other's eyes, blue meeting blue. Blair could see the need to bond in the sentinel's eyes, but instead of pinning him down in a posture of submission, Ellison had pulled him up to kneel with him... as if they were equals. Slowly he reached out a hand to touch his sentinel, expecting it to be batted away, but it wasn't. Encouraged, he placed the flat of his hand over the sentinel's heart, knowing that he would feel the warmth of his hand through the cloth.

The sentinel heard the rapid thumping of his guide's heart. With his thumb, he lightly stroked the side of his jaw, calming him. Sense of touch had mapped his guide, now his eyesight focused on him, taking in every line of his guide's face, seeing old bruising under new along the jaw, and the split lip.

Blair concentrated, allowing the mental barriers he had created to slowly fall away. Like this, empathic ability wide open, he could be badly hurt; he was open to all the sentinel's emotions. Pheromones flooded off his body. The sentinel's nose twitched and he drew in a long breath; his brain chemistry began to change and he imprinted the scent of his guide onto his soul. He filtered out all other scents and almost purred with contentment when he found the scent of his guide; a musky, gingery smell. Blair laid his other hand against the side of his sentinel's neck, and the bigger man dipped his head so that he could inhale the scent of that hand.

The sentinel relaxed; the guide was his now. No other sentinel could claim him and live.

"Claimed and Marked, Guide."

"Claimed and Marked, Sentinel."

At the exchange of vows, it was as if the final piece of a jigsaw had fallen into place.

Slowly the sentinel pulled his guide to him gently, wrapping one arm around his back to hold him close, one hand on the back of his head to ease the long curls against his shoulder. He could feel the warmth of his guide's body, the sound of the air going through his lungs, and the blood rushing through his veins, and the sentinel was relaxed and happy. Blair felt the last of the empathic connections with his sentinel flare and seal. It was like a warm blanket thrown around him, keeping him safe and protected, his barriers against other people back in place. Blair relaxed, exhausted.

It was then that the sentinel's mind returned to the other scents on his guide and identified them. He tensed, a growl of rage rumbling in his throat. He felt the change in his guide, his returning fear, and he pushed the rage to one side as he tried to calm the younger man, his guide. His voice was whisper soft as he promised, "I'll kill anyone who tries to touch you. You're safe now, MY GUIDE." He was rewarded when a slender hand came up to grab his shirtfront, fingers latching onto him for dear life as his guide attempted to burrow under his skin. Each of the sentinel's senses was fixed on the life that was now the center of his world, his link to sanity. Later, the younger man would guide, but even now with Blair -- ~Blair Sandburg, I know this kid!~ A distant, half-formed thought flitted through his mind -- half-asleep in his arms, his senses were stronger and more focused than ever before in his life. Their lives were now joined.

He had thrown a sensory net around them as he held his guide. The younger man needed to rest; it was obvious that someone had put him through the wringer. He was content to sit on the floor and hold his guide as long as necessary. His contentment ended when he heard someone coming, and gently he broke his guide's hold on his shirt, bringing him with him as he stood up. His brain was chanting: protect the guide, kill and destroy all who would hurt him.

The sentinel pulled his guide behind him, ready to protect him from whomever came through the door. He felt one of Blair's hands on his shoulder, the other twisted in the back of his shirt. As footsteps halted outside the door, he could hear the increase in his guide's heartbeat, and it fueled his anger.

When Simon Banks entered the room, he ground to a halt. Jim Ellison, cop, was gone. All that remained was one very pissed off Dark Sentinel. Blue eyes burned with a hatred and rage that he had never seen before and never wanted to see again. He was reminded that the man was a trained killer and could kill him before he even had a chance to react. Ellison was careful to keep his Ranger skills under control, using only enough force to subdue a suspect. He was careful not to overstep the boundary, but now that control had been totally stripped away.

Banks turned to the guide. The young man stood behind Jim, watching him. His dark blue eyes were scared, but he was holding it together. Amy had said that Sandburg had the makings of a powerful guide, if properly disciplined. Bonding with Ellison had made Blair come online as guide and given him control.

Simon kept his voice level. "Guide Sandburg, I need you to calm Jim down."

"I'm not a pet. I can speak for myself." Jim spat the words, his eyes showing no recognition of Simon Banks.

"I didn't mean it like that, Jim. You're just a bit..." he trailed off, then swore. "For God's sakes, man, you looked like you were going to tear my throat out. You've got to let Sandburg help you."

Mentally taking a deep breath, Blair released his death grip on Jim's shirt and moved his hand in slow circles over the middle of Ellison's back. He began to talk to him, his voice only loud enough for the sentinel to hear, touch and voice grounding the sentinel. Simon watched the interaction between the two of them. Jim seemed reluctant to take his eyes off Simon and the newly arrived Doctor Jenson. Sandburg moved in front of Jim. Ignoring the others, he gently cupped his sentinel's face, turning it from Simon to look at him. Jim's head jerked back. Blair repeated the move and again he pulled away. The young guide tried a third time and Jim locked onto his face. He saw the ghost of a smile twist his guide's lips. "Don't zone on me, man. Stay with the program, okay?"

Jim's arms went around the smaller man and pulled him into a hug. He buried his face into his guide's neck, opening up his senses to reaffirm their bonding.

Blair Sandburg leaned into the embrace, talking softly until the older man was ready to pull away. When the sentinel eased back, Jim Ellison, the cop, was in control. The Dark Sentinel was part of him, but pure instinct was curbed by logic. And Ellison was able to acknowledge what he had fleetingly recognized during the bonding... Blair Sandburg was his guide. Laser sharp blue eyes swept over Blair in the longest moment of the young man's life. Now that the intense, instinctive bonding was over, he expected Jim to push him away. Guides were there to be used as and when they're needed... Alex and the GDP had taught him that. And Ellison knew what Barnes had done to him, knew what he was.... Before he could continue on that train of thought, Ellison surprised him. He found himself tucked against Jim's side so that he was almost hidden by the broad shoulders, his sentinel protecting him from the others' eyes.

"What the hell is going on, Simon?" The voice was direct and demanding.

Banks grinned; this was the Ellison he knew. "Doctor Jenson recognized that you were heading for a critical zone-out. If you had not bonded, you would have lost control completely and died."

"And Sandburg volunteered to be my guide?" Ellison remembered the fear pouring off the kid when he had been thrown into the room, thought back to the trauma Blair had sustained at the hands of another sentinel, added it to the visible marks of abuse on the smaller body sheltered by his own, and came to a conclusion he didn't like.

"Well?"

Doctor Jensen smiled. "He knows his place now, Sentinel Ellison. You will have no trouble with him. I am sure he will not need to return to the Institute for further training." Jim felt the shudder that went through the kid at those words.

Simon saw that shudder, too, saw blue eyes darken with remembered horror. Then he noticed that Sandburg was still rubbing Jim's upper arm and he waited for Jim 'touch me and I'll break you like a twig' Ellison to flatten the longhaired kid. But he didn't, he just reached over and stilled the hand.

Simon turned to Amy. "Is it okay for Jim to leave now?"

"The crisis is over. That was amazing, Simon. I have never seen a bonding like that. He didn't force the guide to submit. I would have thought being a dark sentinel he would have..." Her voice trailed off. "We will discuss this later, Guide Sandburg."

Ellison snapped out, "At his pleasure and my convenience, lady." Blair's deep blue eyes widened in shocked joy as he heard his sentinel's words.

"Okay, then. Amy, I'll call you if I need any answers. Jim, my office, now." Banks wasn't the only one who saw the wolfish leer Wilson aimed in the kid's direction. A cold hand on his arm stopped Jim's start in his direction. The GDP personnel left, taking Doctor Jenson with them.

For the first time, Blair spoke directly to Simon. "Are there any other sentinels in the building?"

"James in Homicide, Robinson in uniform. Why?"

"Jim is newly bonded and he's a dark sentinel. He would react badly to meeting another, unbonded, sentinel."

"Badly?"

"Jim's instinctive behavior would be to kill them on sight."

"Why?"

"Because of me."

"You?" There was disbelief in the captain's voice.

"I am his guide, marked and claimed. Another sentinel would be challenging his territory and would be met with lethal force."

Jim was listening to his guide. After what he had gone through, he was standing up to Banks remarkably well. He was drawn into that calm, musical voice.

"Will he always be like this?"

"No. Jim will settle down..." He broke off as he felt his sentinel's hand twine through his hair again, felt him losing himself in the changing colours of it under the lights.

Blair's head snapped around. "Shit, he's zoned." Turning away from Simon, he started to draw him back, his voice deepening to guide tones. He saw the confusion in his sentinel's eyes as he returned.

"Easy, Jim, you zoned for a minute."

"I thought you could stop him from zoning, Sandburg." Simon sounded angry, almost accusing him of lying.

"It's early days; he needs to settle into the bond and process the information."

The whole affair was making Simon nervous. "My office, both of you, now."

Simon picked up on the way Jim kept his guide close to him all the time as they walked back to the bullpen. Sandburg remained in place, to the side and behind him, so that his sentinel hid him from any enemies.

In the office, he waved Jim to a seat while he turned to pour himself a cup of coffee. He turned with the pot in his hand. "My cousin sent this. It all tastes like Maxwell house to me, you want to try some?" Jim ignored him in favor of prowling the office as if seeing it for the first time.

"Sandburg..." He saw the kid flinch when he spoke to him and was rewarded with a chilling look from Jim. The man looked like he would like to tear him apart with his bare hands for frightening his guide. Banks lowered his voice.

"What's he doing?"

"It's all right. It's just a reflex. He'll settle down as soon as he's checked the boundaries."

Simon tried again. "Coffee, Jim?" Then belatedly added, "Guide Sandburg?"

"Blair, just Blair, please."

"Blair?"

He hesitated. He needed a drink, but was afraid to ask; asking got him in trouble. Simon seemed to realize his fear, because he smiled gently and poured him a cup of coffee. "Thank you." Blair managed to keep his voice steady as he accepted his first cup of coffee in weeks. As Simon handed him the cup, he saw the angry welts on the guide's slender wrists. Blair took a sip of the coffee, holding the cup in both hands to try and hide the shaking in his hands, and to try and keep Simon from grabbing the mug away from him. At least he knew it was safe; he didn't have to worry about the drugs the GDP put into the little water he had been allowed to drink.

Simon poured himself a cup and sat down, watching in some amusement as Jim positioned himself protectively to the left of Sandburg's chair.

"How long before you'll be back in the bullpen, Jim?"

"Tomorrow."

"No," Blair cut in quickly. The big captain made him nervous, but he remembered the look on his face in the corridor when Wilson slammed him into the wall. He knew then that Banks would never hurt him. And now he had a job to do. Not the job he wanted, but the job he had.

"Chief, you don't have a say in this," his sentinel warned.

"I am your guide, and I have everything to say. You will start back when I say so and not before." He would do his job, keep his sentinel safe, and maybe his sentinel would return the favor.

Simon eased back in his chair as he noticed the hardening of the muscles along Jim's jaw. It always amazed him that the man had any teeth left, the way he ground them together. He gave every indication that the release of the legendary Jim Ellison temper was imminent, and if that happened they would be scraping the new guide off the wall.

"You don't have a say, Chief," Ellison repeated.

"Try me and see."

Simon shook his head slowly. Sandburg was doing better than he thought he would.

"As your guide, I am officially telling Captain Banks to keep you off work until I say different. If needs be, I can quote the directive."

"Simon?"

"Sorry, Jim. He's the expert."

The sentinel towered over the smaller, younger man, who flinched back, clinging to the mug as if it was a life preserver.

Ellison stormed out of the office, slamming the door behind him so hard the hinges nearly came off.

It was then that Simon noticed the tremors running though the young guide. He was starting to breathe fast, beginning to hyperventilate, heading for a full-blown panic attack as he realized his sentinel had walked out on him. If Wilson was still there...

Simon bent over him, reaching to take the mug from his white-knuckled grip before it broke from the pressure. As he touched Blair's hand, the young man jerked away, and the mug hit the floor and shattered. Blair went to his knees, trying to pick up the shards with hands that shook. Tears were running down his face, blind panic in his wide blue eyes. Simon tried to ease him into the chair, but with a cry of fear Blair scuttled backward. Colliding with the desk, he fell backward with a whimper of terror. He was curled into defensive ball when the sentinel came storming back in. Simon quickly backed away. "He's having a panic attack."

"I know." The words were grim. "He's had reason."

Kneeling down, he tilted Blair's face so he could look into his eyes. He felt his guide flinch at his touch. "Easy, Chief, I am not going to hurt you. I am never going to hurt you. Take slow breaths; slow, deep breaths. That's it." Under his gentle ministrations, Blair's breathing calmed gradually. Finally it returned to normal, the trembling in his body lessening.

"Sorry, bad reaction." He tried to laugh it off, but it came out hollow.

Simon watched the two of them together, matching the young man brought in between the guards to the man in his office now. Okay, he might not have wanted this kid for Ellison -- he was a rogue, for God's sake -- but once bonded, the kid had been focused and professional until something had terrified him.

Blair tentatively latched a hand onto Jim's arm, and he felt the sentinel's hand cover his own with a gentle squeeze. Jim dropped his voice to a low whisper as he leaned over his guide. Simon could not hear what he said, but Blair Sandburg flushed a bright red as he nodded slightly at the sentinel's question.

"Simon, we need to get him to the hospital now."

"He sick?"

"No. The GDP goons assaulted him."

"I'll take you." He waited for Jim to move away from Blair before he asked quietly, "Are we talking rape here, Jim?"

"Among other things." There was an icy rage and a deep sorrow in Ellison's voice.

Simon's jaw clamped down on his cigar. "Those bastards. They said they had been adjusting his attitude."

"If a person won't break, sexual assault -- rape -- can be used to break down their last barriers of resistance, take away their self-worth. It's the ultimate expression of power over another person's body."

Jim sounded as if he was quoting from a book. He saw the expression on his captain's face and grimaced. "Covert Ops: what to expect if you got caught."

Simon handed his jacket over to Jim. "Get that on the kid and keep him close." He knew he didn't have to say that. One look at his friend showed he would tear apart with his bare hands anyone foolish enough to threaten his guide. And thinking over everything that the young man had endured over the last few years, Simon found himself in agreement with the sentinel's intent.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

Learning Curves
First Lesson: New Beginning

The private room was softly lit and quiet, a haven of peace tucked away on an upper floor in the bustling Cascade Central Hospital. Special materials and construction ensured that the room was low stimuli, a medical necessity for the sentinels and guides unfortunate enough to need the accommodation. But all the careful planning was wasted on its current occupants. Blair Sandburg was sound asleep in the narrow bed and James Ellison... well, the quiet only made it easier to brood about the turn his life had suddenly taken.

James Ellison, newly bonded sentinel, settled into the hospital chair and took a deep breath, trying to ease the tension that hummed through his body. His life was changed. Anger burst through him as he looked at the other occupant of the room, a young man lying too still on the bed. He didn't want anything to do with this guide; he wanted everything back the way it had been twenty-four hours ago when his life had been his own.

Now the young man asleep on the hospital bed was his responsibility; a responsibility that he had never wanted. His well-intentioned captain would have done better to let him die rather than sentence him to the company of some... some longhaired *kid* he had nothing in common with. He didn't want companionship. He was a loner, often by choice, sometimes by circumstance, always happiest keeping his own council. Now his every emotion was open to another person. He couldn't shut him out because to do so would be to inflict pain on his... guide... and condemn him to insanity. Blair Sandburg: BA, MA, once upon a time PhD candidate. It was an impressive resume for such a young man.

Ellison closed his eyes. There had been nothing impressive about the too thin, unkempt small creature that had been flung at his feet short hours ago reeking of terror and pain. Then he had watched the battered, brutalized young man stand up to Simon Banks for the sake of the headstrong sentinel he had been forced upon. For him, James Joseph Ellison, whose need had robbed the kid of any possibility of freedom and who was now all that stood between him and a descent into madness. Sandburg's empathic pathways had been blasted open by their bonding. He no longer possessed the ability to keep his empathic barriers up to protect himself from overloading on the emotions of the people around him. The only shielding he would have from this point on would be from connecting with his sentinel. He, Jim Ellison, card-carrying charter member of the cold-heart brigade, would be this man's emotional support. ~God, kid, do you have any idea what you're asking of me? Kid... can't even say his name.~

Blair Sandburg, *his* guide. Somehow it was harder for him to be objective when he thought of him by name. He could feel a... a *need* to connect to him, to Blair... to affirm that this was his guide.

His emotions were all up in the air. He ran a hand over his jaw as his anger flared. The kid must have known what was happening in the interrogation room, must have known that the Detective Ellison who helped question him was an unbonded sentinel starting to imprint... Jim shook his head. ~Idiot. Sandburg never wanted to bond with a sentinel. If he had, he would never have gone rogue. And this isn't the first time he saved your life.~

Jim closed his eyes on that thought. He had met Sandburg... or Pet Barnes, as he was then called, when the kid had contacted Ellison for help in escaping a sentinel who was a vicious criminal. When Major Crime had converged on the woman's hideaway, Jim had zoned and Alex Barnes had been about to murder him. Sandburg had prevented that the only way possible; the young empath had killed the rogue sentinel. And even though he and Barnes had never had a true bond... the pain of that killing had still darkened the kid's eyes hours later during his interrogation.

Something had happened during that interrogation, something that had pulled at a part of the sentinel Ellison wasn't willing to acknowledge. Even so, he had stood aside when the GDP had arrived to take the kid into custody. Sandburg had never admitted to any of the police, save Jim, that he was an empath, but someone had tipped off the GDP that 'Pet Barnes' had acted as a guide for Alex, and that caught their interest. The DA and PD wouldn't press charges for a killing that had saved the life of a policeman, but they wouldn't interfere in 'GDP business' either.

Ellison rubbed his hands over his face. ~God, kid. I never meant for that to happen to you!~ 'That' was six weeks of unmitigated terror as the young empath was physically and psychologically tortured, daily, in the name of 'rehabilitation.' Jim had known that Alex Barnes had tormented the kid beyond reason, but it seemed that the GDP had been even worse.

Something had happened in the interrogation room, and something more was still happening now. Jim lay a hand on his guide's cold fingers. Sandburg tensed, then sighed and settled, pulling Jim's hand up against his chest and curling around it. For a moment the sentinel hesitated, every fiber of his body screaming at him to pull his hand away. Ellison thought back frantically to the discussions he had once had with the GDP trainer, Alan Gross. Gross had lectured him that guides were tools to help sentinels function. He had stressed that it was an error to let an emotional attachment form that might make it difficult to properly discipline the guide. Gross would tell him that this guide was here to help Jim do his job; a tool like his service revolver or his handcuffs, nothing more, nothing less. Gross' advice was comforting right now, but Ellison couldn't help but remember his own disgust for the man and everything he stood for... before he had been saddled with a guide.

An emotion Jim refused to name and tried to fight against swept through him. He lost the struggle as his right hand ghosted shakily over a sleeping face. His hand decided, without orders from the mind that supposedly controlled that limb, to gently stroke his guide's face with hypersensitive fingers. His touch was light but sure as he brushed tangled curls from closed eyes. He didn't know why, but when he touched this guide, it felt so right, so needful to protect this young man from harm. Especially from the kind of harm wrought by the perverted scum who had injured him so badly in the correction facility.

He flushed slightly as he remembered all too clearly his reaction when one of the nurses had mentioned that he could put Blair in a GDP Hostel during his recovery. Before he had consciously made a decision, his body had readied to cut her off at the knees. Part of his brain had realized that he was reacting to the fear generated in the abused guide at the mere idea of being given back to the very people who had hurt him. Fortunately for the nurse, his brain had overruled his body. Ellison noted distantly that his hand was continuing to gently stroke the guide's mop of hair. He could feel the variation in texture of the dirt-coarsened strands, which mildly surprised him.

His senses had never been so online before. Jim began to wrap his newfound sensitivity around his guide. Icy blue eyes took in every plane of the fine-boned face, each small cut or scratch, the bruises, new on top of old, and the fine broken veins that brought to mind vivid images of hard slaps and harder blows. His ears filled with a steady throb and a soft susurration that he identified with vague surprise as a beating heart and the puff of breath from the sleeping man's lungs. Then his sense of smell joined that of sight and hearing and he locked onto his guide's scent. Blair Sandburg had a pleasant, musky, ginger aroma that Jim would forever after associate only with his guide; a unique scent that was ingrained on his very soul, that was already an anchor in the maelstrom of his senses. Ellison's nose wrinkled; overlying the very scent of his guide were other odors... odors that grated on his nerves. Ellison's hand rested on his guide's forehead as he tried to identify the disturbing scents.

The smell of fear hung heavily on Sandburg and sparked a surge of aggression in the sentinel. The coppery tang of his guide's blood hardened his face into a snarl. But the height of his anger was reserved for the smell of the rank, spent passion of the guards that had used and abused his guide in the facility. One part of Ellison's mind recoiled from it even as another part bookmarked the scent... he would know them if they ever came near him, and they would pay for their 'pleasure'.

The feel of long curls straightening under the weight of dirt and sweat recalled him from his vow of vengeance. His guide needed to be cleaned up, but that could wait until they were safe in his territory. He could taste the air as his guide breathed...

Ellison began to fall into a void, only to be jerked back to reality by a gasp of pain when Blair turned in his sleep. Then the young empath began to whimper as his heart beat faster and his body thrashed weakly. All Gross' advice was discarded in an instant as a sentinel responded to his guide's distress. Jim reached to steady the smaller body on the bed. He had to do something to calm and reassure him. Sandburg awoke with a scream as he threw himself way from the touch. Jim caught him, holding him tight as he soothed, "It's all right, Sandburg, you were dreaming." The empath's struggles died out quickly as the flare of adrenaline burned up. Starved and beaten, Sandburg had no stamina. Ellison tightened his embrace as one heartbreaking sob escaped before the kid bit his lower lip.

Blair was shivering violently as he tried to ignore the pain. He didn't know where he was or who was holding him, and he fought against the arms until his strength left him. The sob burst out before he could bite it back, and he waited for the cruel laughter and mocking voices, for the confining embrace to turn vicious. Nothing happened. The arms still held him firmly, but with a gentleness that had been missing from his life for years. He tasted roiled emotions and anger, but... but it wasn't directed at him! Memories flooded back... the police station, a small room, a sentinel... his sentinel. He slowly lifted his head to look at the man holding him, needing to see his face, to confirm that it was his sentinel. His sentinel, who had promised that no one would hurt him anymore, that he was safe. Jim. Oh God, it was true! Jim. He reached for the security of that strong figure.

Scraped fingers caught at his shirt and the young empath tried to pull himself closer, no longer fighting his hold. Jim's solitary history told him to push the kid away. The smells that clung to the too thin body turned his stomach, filling him with disgust as his logical mind filled in the picture that his senses outlined. But something else ordered the sentinel to embrace the battered guide, shelter him. For a long moment he looked into the wide blue eyes so full of fear. He remembered the look Blair had given him at the station, as if he had found his salvation. It took only a split second to give his soul to the traumatized young man in his arms.

Jim pulled him close, onto his lap, one hand keeping the curly head tucked under his chin and the other rubbing the wiry back. He pitched his voice low and soothing, "Ssh... Ssh.... It's all right, kid. You're safe now. No one will ever hurt you again." At his words, his guide burrowed deeper into his embrace. He marveled again at how Blair calmed under his hand. His touch had been the only thing that had kept the kid sane during the rape examination. They sat that way without noticing the time. Ellison felt something break open as his walled off heart made room for his guide. The door opened and a young man wearing the badge of a GDP physician on the sleeve of his white coat entered the room. Jim vaguely remembered being told during Blair's initial examination that Cascade Central was a teaching hospital for doctors and nurses specializing in sentinel/guide medicine. This must be one of the interns...

"Good evening, Sentinel Ellison. I am Doctor Moorcroft." The doctor kept his voice soft and level, just as he was taught. He picked up the clipboard from the bottom of the bed and read through it, wincing at what it revealed. One thing caught his eye... that couldn't be right! Nobody could bond with an empath who had just been through what this one had. "How long have you been bonded?"

"Since today." The sentinel confirmed what the report said, and the doctor's heart raced as he imagined the difficulties of that bonding. "Right, Sentinel, and how did the bonding go?"

The doctor's heartbeat suddenly swamped Jim's hearing. He released his hold on his guide to try and block the pounding out with hands pressed firmly to his ears.

Blair gave a cry of pain and distress as he was released, and he clung tighter to his sentinel. Then he realized that his sentinel was hurting. He raised one shaking hand and laid it on the side of Jim's face. "Sentinel, listen to me. Listen to me. Hear my voice." There was a quaver in the low tones. "Picture a dial in your head. Like the volume control on your stereo. Got it? Slowly move it down, 5... 4... 3... 2... 1."

Jim found himself following the young man's voice, finding it easier to obey the soothing tone than protect his self-sufficiency. Slowly, the pounding faded away until he was aware once more of the weight of his guide and saw the pain etched on the young face.

"What happened, Sentinel?"

"I could hear his heart. It was..."

"And you didn't dial it down? What training have you had..."

"None." Jim saw the look of disbelief on the kid's face and added, almost defensively, "I went to some lectures."

"Okay, we can do this." Jim could practically see the plans forming under the curly head as the young man bobbed his head, his own misery forgotten for a moment in the face of a challenge.

The doctor coughed, reminding the two men of his presence. "Sentinel, I need to check on your guide's vital signs. Please put him back on the bed."

"Sentinel, please... please." Sandburg buried his face into the sentinel's shoulder.

"His vital signs are all fine, Doctor. Leave us, now!" It wasn't a suggestion; it was a command.

Doctor Moorcroft slowly backed out; the sentinel was too aggressive at the moment.

"The name is Jim, not sentinel, remember?" Ellison said softly, his hand moving over the bowed head. He felt the nod against his chest.

For the next sixty minutes he listened and followed the instructions from his guide and learned more in that hour than he had in all the lectures he had attended. He finally called a halt when the kid yawned and took a sharp intake of breath.

"Okay, Chief, enough is enough. Go to sleep." Ellison tried to lay the kid down, only to hear his heart skyrocket again. Bruised hands again gripped his shirt too tightly. "Sandburg, it's all right. I won't go anywhere, but let's get you comfortable. Damn bed's too small." The last was said as he carefully shifted his guide around until he found a comfortable position for the aching body. He frowned; the kid was like ice and smelled of his imprisonment. Jim took care of both problems by putting his own body-warmed shirt on the other man. His own scent masked those of the rapists, comforting sentinel and guide alike. Jim sat with his back against the headboard, his body a living pillow for his guide. The younger man was making soft noises as he settled his battered body safely in the embrace of his sentinel.

Blair lay quietly against his sentinel. He felt the strength in the powerful arms around him and couldn't help but wonder at himself. According to everything he'd ever learned in his psych minor classes, he should be scared to death to be in the arms of a man that he had only met hours earlier. Especially a man who summed up everything that he had run from when he determined he would not become nothing more than the glorified pet or slave of a sentinel. Yet here he was, bonded for life to this man, and he couldn't find terror in his heart. These arms had nothing in common with the obscene embraces he had suffered at the facility. He nervously pushed against the link. It wasn't his place to instigate the connection, but since his sentinel had no training, he might not be sure how to do it. And he needed the contact so very badly.

Jim felt a strange tug at the back of his mind, and suddenly he was no longer alone in his head. He could feel the emotions of his guide tentatively inching into his mind. He reached to cradle his guide's head so that he could look into his face. There was fear in the deep blue eyes. "That's you... I can feel you." There was wonder in Jim's voice.

"Yes, Sent... Jim. I... I shouldn't do it without your permission, but I need..."

Jim cut him off. "Chief, if you need to join, to *link*... right?... then you do it. Whenever you want." He smiled slightly, "You're the guide of this partnership. I'm in your hands, so take what you need." ~God, did I just say that?~ Jim couldn't believe it could feel so right having another person in your head. He experimentally pushed against the link in his mind and thought //You're safe now.// He was rewarded with a brilliant smile and a happy murmur as his guide's arm came around his back and he nestled back against his 'pillow'.

Blair's mind drifted back to when he had first met this sentinel. He had desperately needed to get away from Alex Barnes while he still had a sense of self. Only Barnes' threat to kidnap his mother and teach him a lesson kept him in line. But surfing the Web one day led him to a notice of his mother's death and a great weight had lifted from his heart even as grief filled it. He had begun to lay his plans for escape while hiding his knowledge of Naomi's death from his captor. Before he could complete his plans, Barnes had dragged him along on a robbery attempt. She had killed a cop during the crime, but he had managed to stop her from killing the dead man's partner. He had paid for the man's life in pain.

He shivered and felt a big hand rub his shoulder. This was one of the very worst memories that haunted his sleep... when they had returned to Alex's place, she had her men leash him. They had left him enough play in the bindings so that Alex could enjoy his struggles to escape his punishment, but not enough to actually hinder the beating that had put him in bed for two days. Not that cracked ribs, bloody welts and a high fever had stopped Alex from insisting on her 'rights'. She had come into his bed that night still on an adrenaline high from the robbery attempt. Her nails had clawed bloody welts down his back and ribs. He still bore scars on his thighs from his futile attempt to fight her off. She had taken pleasure in his pain until she lost patience with his lack of cooperation and taken the leash up one more notch until he was at her disposal. At some point during that night he had lost consciousness. When he was finally released from the wrap and could walk again, he had returned to his planning with a vengeance. It was no longer enough to escape; he wanted Alex Barnes caught and made to stand trial. He wanted her to pay for her crimes.

He had selected Jim Ellison carefully. The big detective had a reputation for being a tough but honest loner, and he had investigated some of Barnes' crimes. Adding a degree of difficulty was the fact that the man was a latent sentinel. Blair had wanted nothing more to do with sentinels, but perhaps the fact that he was a guide would dispose Ellison to work with him -- all sentinels wanted a guide. At their first meeting he thought he had made a mistake when the latent sentinel had thrown him up against the wall and snarled coldly, "I can feel your kind, like an itch I can't scratch. Make it stop." He had to work hard to get Jim Ellison settled down, and even so it had been touch and go. Ellison had him on his knees, his hands cuffed behind him, and was halfway through reading him his rights when he had finally convinced him that he could give the police Alex Barnes. Oh God. He hadn't meant to kill her, but he couldn't let her kill Ellison.

Blair shuddered as he remembered swinging the tire iron that had cracked her skull just as she was about to put a bullet in the zoned form of Ellison. This was the first time since it had happened that he consciously let himself deal with the memories... Shudders ripped through him and his head felt as if it were going to explode. Through the agony, he heard the soft reassuring words of his sentinel as the strong arms tightened around him. He gasped in pain and the grip eased. A warm voice spoke. "Sorry, Chief. Am I squeezing you too hard?"

"A little, but I feel safe." Safe enough to look Alex right in the face and see her dead, no longer able to hurt him.

The sentinel shifted him until he could draw the blanket closer around himself. Ellison held him, patiently rubbing his temples until the migraine eased. Able to think again, Blair's mind jumped forward to the interrogation at the station by three cops. There was a dark grunge-dressed detective, a younger one who looked as if he belonged on the pages of a fashion magazine and... Ellison. The big detective prowled around in the background as Blair had given his statement, straightforward without the usual double talk that Alex always accused him of using. He had seen Ellison's gaze fix on him, burning into him, and he had suddenly realized that the sentinel was attempting to imprint. It was clear that Ellison had no idea what he was doing, but the tilt of his head as he inhaled the guide's scent was the classic posture of a bonding sentinel. Blair remembered his panic; he had just escaped one sentinel and this one could have him legally!

He had been thankful that Ellison had been called out... until the GDP had arrived. The cops he had given a wanted criminal to, the detective whose life he had saved, everyone had stood by and watched him dragged out on the end of a leash like an animal. He had tried to ignore what had happened between the sentinel and himself in that small room, but in his soul he had known that Jim Ellison would one day be back. Now he was... and to Blair's immense surprise, his uppermost feeling was one of security. He relaxed into the kind embrace and let the soothing hand on his forehead banish the headache. Let the beating of his sentinel's heart under his ear and the rumble of his voice lull him into a light doze.

Nurse Dunlevy smiled as she saw the young guide curled up against his sentinel, sleeping peacefully. The older man speared her with a measuring eye, and she did her best to look helpful and harmless, knowing how careful she had to be with this guide and sentinel. She had thought they were going to lose the doctor when he had examined the guide in the emergency room. She wasn't sure who had calmed down whom, but the sentinel's hand and voice had gotten the guide through the examination and stitches. And the guide's low voice had kept the sentinel from tearing apart the doctor for causing more pain. Everyone had heaved a sigh of relief when they had the two men settled in the hospital room.

Dunlevy had done the first dressings on the young man's injuries, careful to keep her anger focused solely on the animals that had brutalized him. She had seen the look of instant fear and embarrassment that had flitted across the guide's expressive face as she explained what she had to do, and so had the sentinel. Ellison had woven a big hand into tousled curls and rested a calming hand on one thin shoulder as she worked. The tough-looking cop had spoken in a surprisingly gentle voice as he did his best to distract the younger man from the hands that treated his injuries. It had been hard for both men and she didn't look forward to doing it again. She sighed and nodded in response to the question in the icy blue eyes of the sentinel, holding up the tray of supplies.

Dunlevy set the tray down on the bedside table. She tried to be quiet, but any noise was enough to wake the skittish guide now that the sedative was wearing off. Deep blue eyes opened and settled on the bandages and ointments and suppositories; all the helpful items needed to bring him back to health. She knew immediately that all the guide, all *Blair,* saw was the hurt they would inflict and the shame they would reflect. It was too much for him. She didn't need to be a sentinel to hear the change in his breathing or to see the bright blush that added color to an ashen, bruised face. Ellison pulled the kid closer, whispered softly in his ear. Sandburg nodded slightly, the fear in his eyes lessening.

Ellison worked his way off the narrow bed and eased his guide onto the pillows. A nod of his head brought Dunlevy over to join him just outside the door. "Look, nurse. It hasn't been a good day for Sandburg. I was a medic in the Rangers and have kept up my certification. What say I take care of this now?" The casual voice was in decided contrast to the stern eyes that let her know what her answer *would* be. Dunlevy nodded, but took up a post near the door, out of the guide's eyesight. Sandburg was her patient and if the big cop didn't know what he was doing... She needn't have worried. Ellison did know what he was doing, and the guide was far more relaxed under his sentinel's hands than he had ever been for the hospital personnel.

It hurt... there really wasn't any way for it not to hurt. Blair realized that, but his sentinel's voice was calm and soothing, and the big hands were gentle as they treated even his most intimate injuries. He felt his body relaxing instinctively at his sentinel's touch, but he could feel the heat in his face from embarrassment. Ellison had not signed on to nursemaid 'correction facility fodder', to have to see and touch the kinds of... A hand lifted his face up. Blair looked straight into the laser sharp eyes of his sentinel and found not pity, but compassion; not blame, but understanding. He made himself meet that gaze head on, instinctively knowing that this was the make or break moment. He put everything he had into conveying to his sentinel that he was not what they tried to make of him. The... *his* sentinel wiped his hands on a towel and then ruffled his patient's hair. "All done, Chief. You did good."

Jim eased him onto his back and must have seen his panic, because the sentinel said calmly, "I'm not leaving, Blair." The big detective helped him sit up long enough to swallow the pills the nurse offered with a sip of water. "Look, Chief, you'll be more comfortable on your stomach right now. Relax, let me do the work." Gentle hands proceeded to arrange guide, pillows and blankets until Blair was resting comfortably on his stomach, facing his sentinel. A big, warm hand circled his wrist, while the other hand rubbed his shoulder, settling him down. The medication and the feeling of security and comfort lulled him into sleep.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

Blair woke to find Jim asleep, his head resting on his folded arms on the edge of the bed, but his hand still wrapped around Blair's wrist. Blair slowly raised his injured hand and tentatively laid it on his sentinel's head, his fingers lightly stroking the short-cropped dark hair. Daringly, the backs of his fingers gently rubbed the side of Jim's cheek. For a moment he hesitated -- what he was about to do could result in him being badly beaten. His sentinel had the right to punish him for instigating the linking of their minds, but... Jim *had* said he could do it whenever he wanted. He might as well find out if that was true while the hospital was handy to patch him up if Jim hadn't meant it.

Blair moved his hand to the back of Jim's neck and pressed his mind against the linkage between them. The emotions he tapped into were strong. There was aggression there, but it was wrapped around him like a warm blanket of security and protection. For the first time since he came online, he felt that he was safe. He carefully eased his body down so that his face was level with his sentinel's and gave himself over to rest. His head jerked up as the nurse came in and his heartbeat picked up. His sentinel immediately stirred under his hand, the aggression level almost flooding him until Jim determined that there was no immediate danger. Ellison's hand brushed Blair's face and carded through his long hair, pushing it back.

"You all right, Chief?"

Blair felt the concern that underlay that question. He nodded, all he could do as he basked in the feeling of protection coming from the older man.

The sentinel stiffened as his sensory net fixed on the nurse. He turned slowly and she caught her breath. It was like looking at a predator ready to attack. Blair understood. In his newly bonded state, the sentinel was feeding off his own fears and amplifying them. He caught the sentinel's arm. "Jim."

Immediately, his sentinel turned back to him. "It's all right, man. She's just doing her job, that's all."

The nurse took a deep breath. "Newly bonded, Sentinel?"

"Yes." He begrudged her a curt one-word answer.

"How long?"

"Just over twenty-four hours."

The nurse looked a little shocked, but smoothed it out of her face as she took another steadying breath. That explained why the sentinel was in Blessed Protector overdrive. Keeping her hands in sight at all times, she moved over to the bed. She reached out slowly, giving the empath time to feel, and send that feeling to his protector, that she meant no harm. The sentinel still didn't like her approach and *growled* deep in his throat. "Just checking his vital signs. He is going to be okay, sentinel."

The nurse quickly took her readings, all the time watching the sentinel, who continued to rumble warningly. This particular reaction was something she had never seen before, and she had often dealt with sentinel and guides. Pity, too. Ellison was an attractive man... if he didn't look quite so feral. She wrote up the sheet and then left quickly.

Only when the nurse had left did the sentinel turn his attention back to his guide. Blair raised a hand to Jim's shoulder and coaxed his head back to the bed. "Rest, Sentinel. I am safe within your territory." His hand moved to the back of Jim's head and he curled up on the bed until only inches separated his eyes from his sentinel's face. Deep blue eyes met lighter blue; trust was given and received.

For Blair it was the defining moment of his life. He had fought against being a guide, not wanting the slavery of total obedience to a sentinel. Fear of that still lingered, but was fading fast as he spent more time in the presence of this man. The empath suddenly felt the certainty sweep through him that his life would be better now. Jim Ellison, his sentinel, would be there for him, no matter what. All the panic slowly filtered out of his body as that insight took root in his heart; he would be safe with this man. He allowed his emotions to mix with those of his sentinel along the empathic paths and it felt so right. At that moment he vowed to look after his sentinel to the best of his ability. His hand tightened on his sentinel as he made that promise.

Jim also made a silent vow as he tasted the fledgling trust and gratitude of the younger man's emotions. He found his need to be self-sufficient vanishing as the loner was replaced by the sentinel who needed to be close to and to protect his guide. He might still be uncomfortable with the closeness this bond carried, but he promised himself that his guide would never know that. Given all the crap the kid had gone through in his short life, he swore that he would make a difference in Blair Sandburg's world, and heaven help anyone who tried to hurt him now that his sentinel was on watch.

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Jim watched the light starting to filter through the blinds into the hospital room. Apart from the incident when he had left to arrange his guide's future with his brother and had returned to find the guide trapped in a panic attack, the night had been uneventful. He frowned as he recalled what had set off that attack... the kid had been scared that he had been deserted and left to the mercy of his abusers. Even with Sandburg's ability to read emotions, to feel Jim's silent protection, it would take time before the young man felt safe enough to come out of his shell. Ellison looked forward to finding out just who this kid was under all the dirt and hurt and defensiveness. The kid was smart, that much Jim knew, given his academic accomplishments and the way he had managed to outsmart Barnes. That he had courage was a given... he had bent but not broken under treatment that would have destroyed many of the covert ops guys Jim had worked with over the years. Jim suspected that the kid was too compassionate for his own good... he had made the choice to bond with a man who was on the verge of madness, and he still seemed to care more for his sentinel's welfare than his own. So... get the kid home, convince him that he really was safe and see what happened. And today was the day he would take his guide home.

*Home.* That one word now meant more than just the four walls of a sterile living area, its expanse of white walls interrupted only by the dark ghostly images of long removed paintings. The sentinel turned his senses on his guide and listened to his heartbeat. He heard the slight catch in the kid's breathing which showed he was waking up. With a smile of reassurance, Jim leaned over and gave the hand he had been holding a squeeze. "It's okay, Chief. I'm here." The wide blue eyes looked at him, confusion and fear in their depths, and Jim sighed. ~It's gonna take time.~ Jim gave the smaller hand another squeeze and ordered, "Connect to me."

With the command, he raised his hand and cupped the young face, the palm of his hand tickled by the bristly feel of whiskers. ~Gotta get this kid cleaned up.~ His musings were interrupted by the still unfamiliar tug at the back of his mind, and he was flooded with fear. His own anger started to grow and he heard his guide gasp as the hand in his stiffened. ~Oh shit, kid, I'm not mad at you!~ Concentrating, he allowed his concern for the smaller man to sweep through him and struggled to control the anger that was scaring his guide.

Blair almost choked as chaotic emotions poured through him almost faster than the sensitive paths could handle. He struggled to keep his head above water as he was swept along by the fierce emotions. He was astonished to realize that the anger in that roil was aimed at the bastards who had hurt him. Blair exhaled slowly and then carefully started to get his sentinel's emotions under control, pulling him back from the brink. It was his turn to be calming and soothing... he had felt enough of Jim Ellison during the past hours to know that his wasn't the only world knocked into a cocked hat by their bonding. But the older man had managed to push his dismay aside to help him... the rogue empath, Barnes' toy... through his trauma. He felt a big hand slowly stroking his back and said softly, in the sentinel's own words, "It's okay, man. I'm here." Strong arms came around him, and as he was pulled into a warm embrace, Blair had a vivid impression of brother...

Jim's hands shook slightly as he rubbed a bony back. It had felt like this with Stephen, with his brother, before their father had made them rivals. But this wasn't his brother, this was *his guide.* Panic ripped through him as he realized that, apart from what little he retained from a few lectures at the Sentinel Institute he'd attended between missions for the Army, he had no idea about guide maintenance. Hell, he'd screwed up his relationship with his own brother and now he had to somehow help a traumatized empath, who should still be safe in school, cope with a sentinel he hadn't wanted and a life he didn't know the first thing about.

Ellison frantically searched his mind for bits of guide lore and discovered that he remembered the hand signals to make a guide kneel in the working position. Other than that tidbit, which he remembered laughing at, he couldn't recall a single helpful hint except for vague generalities that filled him with uncertainty. Guides were highly emotional and needed protection from outside emotions, they needed help just to deal with the vicissitudes of daily life, their diet had to be watched carefully, and... His panicked thoughts trailed off as a smaller hand tightened on his.

His guide moaned in pain as he pushed himself to sit up on the bed and pain knifed through his lower body. Jim was trying to resettle him when wide blue eyes, dulled with painkillers, looked at him. For one moment the drugged gaze burned with an eerie light and a strangely compelling voice ordained, "We will learn together, Sentinel, have no fear. Now, you lead; tomorrow, I will guide." For a moment Jim's eyes blazed in answer and then the light faded from the younger man's eyes and the commanding voice trailed off into a soft moan. Ellison responded to that sound of distress by easing the battered body back to the bed and rubbing a curly head until he felt his guide fall asleep. He shook his head -- what the hell was that? -- and tightened his grip on his guide's shoulder. *His* guide... his *guide*. Nothing would ever be the same again.

The End

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(back to SENTINEL 101)

Jim unlocked the front door of the loft and then stepped back to allow his guide to enter. For a moment he watched the younger man walk around the living room, clutching his backpack in his hand like a security blanket. He never touched anything, just seemed lost in a study of the room. Jim made a mental note to thank Brown for getting Blair's backpack and other belongings from the GDP facility. They provided a touch of normalcy for a young man who had lost everything he had wanted out of life. Jim pulled the curtain back on a room under his loft bedroom. The small room had formerly been his ex-wife's study: now it contained a futon made up with new blankets, sheets and pillows. There was also a table and a small bureau. "Sorry, Chief. It's not much."

"It's fine, Jim."

Blair laid his backpack on the bed and pulled his coat around him as he shivered. He turned and found that Jim still stood there.

"You won't know I am here." ~God, please don't know that I am here.~

"Chief, you are more than welcome to stay here. There was no way you were going to go to any GDP hostel or stay in that hospital, not while I'm around. Tomorrow we'll go over and get the rest of your stuff out of lock-up."

"Okay, thanks." Blair gave him a ghost of a smile. The doctor had told Ellison to go easy with his guide. Blair needed to feel safe, secure and protected after the ordeal he had been through. But, after seeing Jim in full Blessed Protector mode, the doctor had conceded that a sentinel was ideally suited to accomplish just that. The fact that Blair had been raped by the guards at the facility was something they would have to face together, and together they would get through it. Jim intended to make certain that Blair knew he was no longer alone. Now that the physical examinations were over, Blair could start healing. But Ellison vowed that Wilson and the others would not be forgotten. They would pay for what they had done to his guide. Jim looked at him critically. His guide needed to eat more and put some weight on. He was dressed in surgical scrubs that hung on his too thin body. But too big or not, they were better than the overalls he had been wearing; clothes that had too many nightmares bound up in their threads. Jim made a mental note to take Blair shopping and get him some clothes. He could tell that Blair was becoming uneasy under his continued scrutiny and he was almost ready to give the kid some privacy. But first Blair needed to get something straight.

"One thing, Chief." Jim's tone was serious. He saw fear in the younger man's face, saw him pull into himself as if waiting for some punishment. ~Watch your tone of voice,~ Jim cautioned himself. ~He's skittish and scared. He's got no reason to trust you and nowhere to run.~ He softened his voice. "If you ever get in trouble, no matter what it is, come to me. I might not always understand, but I will protect you." He held Blair's eyes, making sure the younger man understood then added, "Hungry?"

"No." Too much had happened, too quickly. He needed time to process it all.

"Wrong answer, Chief. I'm cooking, you're eating."

With that he turned on his heel and walked towards the kitchen. He couldn't help but smile as he heard a soft thud as the backpack landed on the floor. There was a quick intake of breath and the sound of fingers trailing across the keyboard of a laptop computer. One whispered word, "Mine?" Hope and longing in that single syllable. Jim raised his voice. "Yes, yours, Chief." Jim turned and was hit by a Blair-sized object as his guide hurtled from his room to catch him in a massive hug. Jim lightly tightened his arms around the smaller man to return it. "Thank you." The words were breathed against his chest. Then, slowly, Blair straightened up. "Why, Jim?"

"Your old one was completely trashed when the GDP arrested you, and you'll need one if you're going to finish your PhD."

"Don't joke about that, man, okay?" His voice was unsure.

"No joke, Chief. Stephen..." When he saw the puzzled look, he added, "my brother... went to the university today. He spoke to Doctor Woodward and he has agreed to let you continue work on your PhD at the start of next term. That will give you eight weeks' time to get settled in. He wants to offer you a TA position, too. If you're interested." Stephen had quite a lot to say after his meeting with Woodward. Seemed the kid was highly regarded by his professors and there were still some bad feelings about the way sentinels had 'ruined' his life. But Woodward had added, "He's a strong young man, Mr. Ellison. If your brother treats him with a modicum of courtesy, he will be well repaid. Blair is often too loyal for his own good." Remembering that Blair had lived in hell with Barnes for almost three years to protect his mother, Jim had to agree.

"You would allow me to do that?" The surprise in Blair's voice brought Jim out of his musings. "But you need me at the police station, don't you?" Jim smiled. There was disappointment in the kid's voice and maybe some fear. Sandburg was still afraid he would be turned back to the GDP.

"Not all the time, Chief, and we can work around it. Look, kid, you're my guide and I need you, but I am not going to stop you from living your own life. You're not my slave or my pet. You have a right to your own life and your own ambitions. One thing, and I want you to always remember this, we may argue -- hell, we will argue -- but you're entitled to your own opinions. I won't always agree with them, but I won't punish you for them, either. You got all that, Chief?"

For the first time he saw his guide really smile, tentative happiness creeping into deep blue eyes. ~Yep, Chief, you're still in there somewhere, kid. You've had a crappy few years but it won't happen again. God, what a pair we are; a sentinel who didn't want a guide and a guide who didn't want a sentinel. We'll make out, Chief, you'll see.~ He returned Blair's smile with one of his own before mock growling, "Good, let's eat."

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Part Two

Blair Sandburg handed the glass back to his sentinel and allowed the older man to fuss with the blankets, creating a cocoon of warmth around him. The pills from the doctor would cut in soon. Already he could feel sleep tugging at him. He didn't want to close his eyes, because he was afraid that when he awoke he would be back in the cell in the Adjustment Center.

As Jim began to close the door curtain, he heard Blair's heartbeat increase and stopped. "Why don't we keep this open for a while, Chief. If you need anything call. Okay?" He went out to the sofa and grabbed the newspaper. He was too wired to rest and he wanted to monitor his guide until the kid fell asleep. His eyes on the newspaper, he extended his hearing into Blair's room.

Last night he had slept on a cot next to Blair's hospital bed. Fortunately, the doctor had dealt with sentinel/guide partnerships before and had allowed Jim to remain close to Blair, giving him the support he needed. Jim had thought Blair would lose it during the rape examination, but he had held onto his guide's hand with his right hand while his left brushed over the silken curls. He had been amazed at the way his guide had calmed under his touch. He suspected it had something to do with their bonding, part of the empathic link they now shared.

Jim had stepped out of the room for a minute only to return and find his guide's bed empty. Alarmed, the sentinel had extended his senses and found him hidden in the corner between the bed and the wall. He was huddled in on himself, his knees pulled up and held close to his body by his arms. He was rocking back and forth, silent desperation pouring off his shivering body. Jim had slowly pulled away the bed to make room for him to kneel beside Blair. The younger man had kept rocking.

"Blair, it's okay. Tell me what's wrong."

There was no answer. Jim wondered if the kid had even heard him.

The sentinel laid his hand on his guide's shoulder and felt him flinch away from his touch.

"Blair, look at me." With his other hand, he tipped his guide's face up to look at him and saw the reddened eyes, tears running silently down the pale face.

"I thought you had gone." Only a sentinel could have heard those words.

Jim smiled. "You can't get rid of me that easily, Blair." With his thumb, he carefully wiped away the tears. He pulled his guide to his feet and wrapped him in his arms, allowing him to feel safe again. When Blair's heartbeat had slowed, he settled him back on the bed.

"The doctor said you would be released in a day or so."

"Back to the Center?" His voice trembled slightly.

"No, to my place. I've got a spare room."

"I can't pay."

Jim hadn't known what to make of the tone in the kid's voice; defiance, fear, desolation, pride, he thought he heard them all. He was just about to snap at the kid when he caught himself. He took a mental deep breath before saying calmly, "It's all taken care of, Chief. You help me with the police work and my senses and I give you room and board."

"But..."

"No buts, Chief."

Once he had calmed Blair enough for sleep to overcome him, Jim had gone to the doctor and rather forcefully expressed a desire to take his guide home the next day. He had listened carefully as the doctor explained what he could expect and how he should look after his guide. "Right now, Detective Ellison," the doctor had said, "more than anything, Blair needs to feel safe. His injuries will slow him down for the next week or so but quite frankly I'm more concerned with the mental trauma he sustained."

"I'll take care of him, Doctor." The doctor had measured him with bright green eyes and nodded. One look at the towering sentinel's grim face and he was sure the guide would be well cared for. It had been a long night for Ellison. Off and on during the night, despite the pain medications, Blair would move restlessly, murmuring in his sleep as nightmares visited him. Jim found himself inordinately pleased that his voice and touch could soothe his fretful guide into peaceful sleep. By morning both men were ready to leave the hospital. Blair had had enough of strangers' hands ministering to his body and Jim had had more than enough of the fear that filled his guide's wide blue eyes at their touch.

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Jim waited patiently in Blair's hospital room for his guide to come out of the attached bathroom. He had heard the kid's heart rate increase when Brown had stopped by with the items Jim had asked him to get. One of those items, a battered leather backpack, rested on the bed. Blair had waited until Brown had left to come out wearing the surgical scrubs one of the nurses had brought him. The sentinel had seen his guide's face light up when he saw the backpack. He had reached for it eagerly and then froze before he touched it; he had not received his sentinel's permission to take what was his. He had been punished for daring to do less. Jim read the fear in the wide blue eyes and found yet another reason to curse Alex Barnes and the GDP.

"It's okay, Blair. It's yours. Brown got it from the GDP lock-up." He offered it to his guide, who slowly put a hand out to take it. Blair's eyes were locked on Jim's face as if looking for warning signals while his fingers caught hold of the strap. When Jim just smiled at him, he pulled it to him, hugging it fiercely as if it contained the riches of the world. ~Probably does contain everything they left him of his world,~ Jim thought before easing back in his chair.

Jim sat there watching his guide's hands smooth over the old leather and reach inside with an almost reverent touch. Jim hadn't interrupted Blair's reunion with his past, content just to be near his guide and consider their future. He wouldn't kid himself that it was going to be easy. He knew they were in for some rough times, but the bonding was strong and the fragile young man would have someone to hold onto while he healed. Still, there would be no quick fix. Blair had been beaten, starved, assaulted, abused; from what he could see, they had tried every trick in the book to break his will. He had seen tough covert ops guys fold under less pressure, but they had failed to break his spirit. There was a lot of moral strength in that deceptively frail body, but there were wounds, physical and mental, still there for anyone to see. At the precinct, before the panic attack, he had been in control, even handling Simon well. When he was focused on his sentinel, he had shown great promise; that brilliant, capable man was still there, underneath the fear. It would just take some careful handling to get him to come out.

Simon had given him the week off, per regulations, to continue bonding with his guide. Jim hadn't been happy about that, but now saw that it was needed to settle Blair into his life. When the nurse came with the release papers and wheelchair, Ellison walked beside his guide, keeping one hand on a bony shoulder until they reached his truck. Sandburg had broken into a sweat as he tried to raise his hurting body into the seat. That time, he hadn't flinched when the sentinel gave him a hand, and had even managed to fall into a doze on the way to the loft. Jim smiled at this sign of growing trust on the kid's part.

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It had been hours since Sandburg had gone to sleep, and Jim was in bed, half-asleep himself, when he heard someone moving around downstairs. He rolled out of bed, one hand grabbing his gun, before he realized Blair was in the kitchen. He stowed his gun before he went down the steps; the last thing he wanted to do was frighten the younger man. To sentinel eyesight the light coming in from the balcony and the faint glow from an opened refrigerator were enough to see the room, and his guide, clearly. Blair was pouring a glass of juice with a hand so shaky that some of it was slopping on the counter.

"You okay, Chief?"

Blair jumped, knocking the refrigerator door shut, his breath catching on a scream at Jim's soft question. The glass bottle dropped from suddenly nerveless fingers and shattered on the floor. Jim moved toward him, worried that his guide would step on glass in the dim lighting. He stopped short as Blair cowered away from him, hands coming up to protect his face from a blow. Not for the first time since he acquired his reluctant guide, Jim felt rage as the younger man stuttered, "S-s-sorry, J-J-Jim. I'll c-clean it up. I w-won't do it again, I p-promise." He saw his guide tense as his rage leaked through their empathic bond, his lean body held ready for the first blow.

Jim exhaled slowly, got the rage under control, and reached out, taking Blair's wrists in his hands and lowering them so he could see the frightened face. "It's all right, Blair. No damage done." Sandburg tried to kneel down to clean up the pieces, but the sentinel kept him on his feet.

"I'll take care of it, Chief. You need to be in bed. You're shivering." Ellison carefully guided Sandburg around the broken glass to his room. "Go get under the covers and I'll bring you some juice. Would you rather have something hot? Tea maybe?" Blair shook his head and went silently into his room.

Jim quickly cleared the broken glass, sentinel vision finding the smallest slivers. When he carried the juice to his guide, the younger man was sitting on the side of the bed in the dark, his tension clearly visible to the sentinel. "Covers, Chief, remember?" He flipped on the small bedside lamp while he waited for Blair to stiffly work his way under the comforter and lean against the wall. "Here you go, Chief." He handed over the juice. Blair took a sip, his hand shaking.

"Jim, I..."

Jim cut short what he suspected would be an apology all out of proportion to the 'crime'. "Blair, you didn't do anything wrong. This is now your home. If you want something, get it. Barring my truck, of course, and there's a blue flannel shirt that's definitely off-limits." His attempt at humor fell flat. Clearly his guide was not used to being accorded the most basic courtesies and rights. Something else to work on. Ellison sobered. "Look, Chief, accidents happen. Why would you think I would attack you over something as trivial as a broken glass?"

"Alex." The name was whispered. "I needed permission to eat or drink. Sometimes I would be so hungry I'd try to sneak something. The first time I did it she told me it was okay, a first offense. But... but when I went back to bed, she... she had them..."

Jim sat on the bed next to his guide. "Blair, I am not Alex Barnes. I never wanted a guide and you never wanted a sentinel, but it looks like we're stuck with each other, kid. I think we'll both be happier if we treat each other like colleagues. We each bring something to the partnership. I've got the senses, you've got the sense." That did surprise a quick laugh out of the younger man and then a brilliant smile as Ellison chuckled with him. "It'll work out, Chief, you'll see. Now, get some sleep. I don't want to have to haul your butt back to the hospital." He waited patiently as Sandburg finished the juice and eased down on the pillows. Jim pulled the covers up over him and patted his leg. "I'll be right upstairs if you need anything." He snapped off the light and left.

Sliding back under his own waiting covers, Ellison monitored his guide, hoping to hear the sounds of slumber. Five minutes passed before he clearly heard a soft "Thank you," then Blair turned over and surrendered to sleep. Satisfied that the crisis was over, Jim let sleep take him.

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Learning Curves
Lesson 3: First Night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"We should go to your bonding platform, Sentinel. Where is it?" Blair asked, honestly puzzled. He didn't remember seeing anything in the loft similar to the thick exercise mat that most sentinels used for bonding.

"I don't have one of those... bonding platforms." Ellison said it matter-of-factly as if unaware that his omission of a recognized space set aside for that purpose was... strange.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yes, Sentinel."

"Chief..." Ellison prompted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Chief?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Warmer?"

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

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

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

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

My name is Jim Ellison.
I am a Sentinel.

Jim Ellison lay on the bed, an arm draped over his eyes, his mind whirling around. Without conscious thought, his senses began to track the man sleeping below in his old box room.

First he could hear his heart beat, slow and steady; then the rhythm of his breathing, the rustle of air through his lungs, the soft moan as he turned over in his sleep, the sound of the sheets sliding over skin. Then the man's scent, a pleasant, musky white chocolate. Jim licked his lips, tasting the scent of his guide, but he pulled back at the metallic scent of blood and chemicals -- a reminder that his guide was injured and still recovering from the vicious prolonged sexual assaults in the correction facilities.

This was the fourth day that he had cared for his guide's injuries. As a former army medic, he knew that sometimes you had to inflict pain to help. It still, however, made him sick to his stomach to hear the suppressed whimpers of pain that his guide tried to hide by pressing his mouth against his arm as he tended to the intimate injuries. Then there was the stench of fear that soured his guide's scent the moment he moved him onto his stomach. His ultra sensitive fingers could feel the muscles of the smaller body tense, the kid's fingers clawing into the sheet. At Jim's first touch on the small of his back, his guide would try to crawl to the head of the bed, away from him, only to be caught and gently tugged back into place.

In marriage, he had given his vow of 'till death do us part' to Caroline, and eight years later all that was left of the marriage was a divorce paper with both their names on it. With his guide, it would be different. With the merging of their minds, their fate was sealed: two people, one life, until death.

Fate or destiny had brought his guide to him. ~Fate,~ Jim mused. ~We use that word when someone dies, or when there is a tragedy -- it was fated to happen. If something good happens, however, then it is destiny. The same occurrence, but a different perspective. One-man's fate is another man's destiny.~

His guide. Was it fate or destiny that they had joined? He knew that Simon Banks, his captain and friend, already thought that the arrival of Blair, a rogue, corrupt guide, into his life was fate. Jim's lips twisted into a smile. He would say that having Blair, a brilliant and compassionate guide, in his life was destiny. And he had learned long ago that you didn't go against destiny.

The fingers of Jim's other hand curled around the report with the thick GDP embossed logo on the front. Without looking at it he knew about the red flash on it, marking the contents as that of a guide, and the black markings, a rogue guide.

He didn't have to re-read the information in it. The photograph of Blair showed the discoloration of bruising along his face and a split lip, but what burned the image into his mind was the look of total despair in his guide's eyes. The young empath had been taken to the correction facility as more cannon fodder for retraining; there were only two ways out of the facility, death or bonding.

Blair Sandburg had been declared morally corrupt. It was said that he had used his empathic ability to prostitute himself with the guards, seducing them into sexually perverted acts to gain his freedom. The report of the Correction Facility doctor had been damning. Jim shook his head at the sheer stupidity of the medical staff. That doctor had seen the effect of sexual abuse and repeated rapes and dismissed them as the guide's fault, caused by his corrupt nature. Blair should have been moved to another facility, but he had been lost in the deepest recess of that man-made hell, where Wilson had used him for his own pleasure and that of his cronies. On the day Blair had been thrown into a room to bond with an out of control sentinel, he had stunk of blood and sex. It had permeated his whole being. His young guide had been barely able to move because of the damage inflicted on his malnourished body. Yet no one had cared; he was a tool, nothing more. The sentinel remembered the looks of the people around him -- contempt and hostility -- emotions hurled at an already over-stretched empath, each emotion like a barbed arrow into his mind. Jim closed his eyes. When had it gone so wrong, that one section of society could be used and abused without a murmur of protest?

Without opening his eyes, Jim threw the crushed folder across the room. It hit the wall with a bang. He wished that he could rid Blair of the burden of his memories as easily as it was to rid himself of the report.

The sentinel's senses cocooned his young guide, monitoring him, and so detected the increased heart beat, the breath coming in quick gasps, then a scream muted against a pillow and one word, NO, cut off.

Before he knew it, Jim Ellison was down the stairs and crashing into his guide's bedroom.

Blair threw himself back against the wall, his arms coming up to protect his face and head.

"Don'thurtmeyoucanfuckmejustdon'thurtme." The words tumbled out so quickly that Jim couldn't really understand them. He slowed, and then knelt down so that he was on the same level as the younger man.

"Blair..." The sight was heartbreaking. The smaller man was shaking, the blankets pulled down low on his thighs, the bruising, the burns and welts on his skin in plain view to the sentinel.

Frightened blue eyes watched him as Blair made no effort to cover himself up. Jim knew why. It had been beaten into Blair that his mind and body belonged to his sentinel, and therefore, as a guide, he had no right to privacy, because as a guide, he was nothing. Reaching out, Jim gently pulled the blankets up to cover Blair, ignoring the blood smears caused by a body still not healed.

Jim looked down at the sweats on the floor. "Why did you take them off, Chief?" He kept his voice soft.

"Hurt, they hurt." Blair colored and made a motion down his body.

The sentinel cursed himself. He should have realized that Blair's body couldn't bear the touch of the cloth on his skin. "No problem." Lightly patting his guide's knee and ignoring the flinch at his touch, he got to his feet. When he returned, it was with his own flannel robe, which he coaxed his guide into. This way Blair was covered and warm without causing him further pain.

Jim tightened his grip on his guide, holding him close to his chest, one arm wrapped around the smaller body and the other resting on the back of his head, tucking it under his chin. Jim gave a sigh of relief as Blair slowly relaxed against him, then smiled as a smaller hand stroked across his chest to cling to him. Softly, Jim brushed his lips across the top of Blair's head, scenting the long, curly hair, needing to know that the only scent on his guide was his own. Contented, he whispered, "Connect, Chief. I have to feel you."

He felt Blair's lips move against his neck. The puff of air on his skin made him shiver through the very core of his being, then there was a tug on the back of his mind and Blair was there. The peace and comfort he felt as they bonded was the bliss that he had sought ever since he had come online as a sentinel.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

Jim was the first one to wake up. For a moment he just laid there, his arms wrapped around his guide's smaller body. His face pressed against the long hair, burying into the curls. They felt like raw silk against his skin. One hand rested on his guide's chest, over his heart. The steady thud of Blair's life force vibrated through his fingers, a confirmation that he was alive.

Encouraged, he pushed his senses out, and the voices and noises of the people around the building came to him as he listened into their lives; an arguing wife and husband, a child refusing to eat breakfast, a man griping about his car. He pushed out further and further. Then suddenly there was nothing but a feeling of falling.

The touch of smaller hands holding his face, the breath of sweet scent brushing over his mouth and eyes, and the warmth of a body pressed against him anchored him and brought him back. He opened his eyes and looked into the intelligent but worried eyes of his guide.

"You felt me zoning," Jim breathed softly. His guide had been connected to him, Blair's mind cocooning him and stopping him from falling into a zone out.

Blair nodded slightly. Leaning forward, he rested his forehead against his sentinel. Considering the abuse he had experienced, it must have taken all his courage to do that. Never breaking eye, or physical, contact, he lowered his barriers, leaving only his sentinel's shields to protect him from overload and coma. It was drastic, but it was the only way. He was driven by night terrors that he couldn't put into words, but all that had to be pushed back because his sentinel needed him.

Jim had felt the barriers around Blair's mind drop, and he gasped. It was like trying to catch water in his fingers. He could feel Blair slipping away from him. It was then that the Dark Sentinel came forward, the wilder more powerful part of his sentinel persona. The Dark Sentinel wouldn't let his guide fall; he would fight and kill to protect this most precious bundle in his arms.

The Dark Sentinel's powerful shields wrapped themselves around Blair, holding him, protecting him.

Blair tipped his head up to look into his sentinel's face, and in the piercing blue eyes he saw and felt the change as Jim Ellison, Dark Sentinel, became Jim Ellison, the man.

The chill in the blue eyes faded and when Blair started to lower his head in the submission that all guides should show, his sentinel caught his chin and tilted his head up.

My name is James Ellison. I am a sentinel. Who are you?

The end.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

(back to SENTINEL 101 - the next day)

With his guide still getting some much needed sleep, Jim had the phone ringer on the lowest setting. That was loud enough for sentinel ears to pick up as he pulled his head from a perusal of the kitchen pantry and reached for the phone.

"Ellison." His standard answer at the station or at home. It provided enough information for the caller to decide to carry on or hang up.

"Jim, I need you to come down to the station. The DA needs to go over your statement on the Philip Mears case." Banks' voice held an unaccustomed note of apology. "If it were anything else I wouldn't call you in on your day off, but you know how important this is."

Ellison glanced at the small bedroom where he could hear his guide stirring at last. "I can't leave Sandburg."

"Wouldn't ask you to. Bring him along."

"One o'clock, Simon. Best I can do. Okay?"

"Alright, but no later." Simon's tone indicated that he expected the sentinel to be on time.

Twelve forty-five saw sentinel and guide making the final turn toward the precinct. Jim was still a little flustered; they had been getting funny looks all morning while they shopped for clothes for Sandburg. Jim was no clothes horse, preferring casual attire to suits, but the kid's choices! Jim understood, hell, agreed with, the side glances. But his guide was happy, and certainly the jeans, flannel shirt, and woven vest were an improvement over the hospital scrubs.

The blue and white truck pulled into the underground parking at the police station and Jim killed the engine. He looked across at his guide. Since Jim had announced their destination after a relaxing lunch at the mall, he had been hearing the rapid pounding of Blair's heart. As they got closer to the station, he had smelled the fear starting to roll off Blair's body. Now the catches in his breathing told him the younger man was heading towards an anxiety attack.

"Easy, Chief, no one is going to hurt you. Just try to breathe for me," he gently coached his guide until his breathing returned to normal. It was the first time they had been back to the station since Blair had been dragged there in cuffs for the bonding, and Jim could imagine what was going through the kid's head.

Blair tensed as he saw the uniformed police officers.

"They're policemen, not GDP, Blair. You're perfectly safe here."

Sandburg nodded jerkily. "I'm sorry, I couldn't..." He broke off, dropping his head to avoid eye contact.

Jim shook his head. He was not going to let Blair get away with this.

"There's nothing to be sorry about."

"But..."

"Chief," Ellison's tone was a warning, "you obey your sentinel on this one." His smile took the sting from the words, and he was rewarded when Blair raised his head to look at him, a ghost of a smile on his lips.

"Let's go get this over with, Chief, then head home."

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

Simon Banks settled back to re-read the book on his desk. He had been through it once already and large sections of it were highlighted.

'After the initial bonding, sentinels and guides require a period of isolation together to confirm and strengthen their bond. This isolation should last a minimum of seven to fourteen days, during which time the sentinel will be particularly protective of his or her guide. The sentinel will confront anyone who seems to threaten his/her "ownership" of the guide. (see Territorial Behavior, Chapter 8). The sentinel and guide generally settle into their bond and work through their differences during this period.'

~Okay, its only been four days since their bonding, so Jim's going to be on edge.~

'It is recommended that during this time no one attempt to talk to or touch the guide. He or she is considered by the sentinel to be his or her "property" and at this early stage of the relationship detection of another's scent on the guide could cause a violent reaction. Case history...'

He moved to the next section.

'During their lifetime together, sentinel and guide will reaffirm their bond on a regular basis. This is especially true when either sentinel or guide is sick or injured.'

Simon quickly leafed through a few chapters until he found the information he needed.

'Bonding: When bonding, the empathic guide completely lowers all the natural barriers that shield him or her from the emotions of the people around them. While this enables them to become sensitized to their sentinel and capable of feeling their emotions, it also leaves the guide totally vulnerable to ambient emotion. A touch from a person not the sentinel can cause extreme pain. Because this pain would be transmitted to the sentinel, whose protective instincts are already on the alert, the sentinel is to be considered very dangerous. There have been cases reported when a bonding sentinel has killed someone who touched the guide, causing pain. When the bond has been sealed, the guide will again raise the emotive barriers and can be safely approached.'

~Don't touch the guide; I think I've got that.~

Simon shook his head and then turned to the next page.

'An enraged, bonded sentinel is genetically programmed to respond only to his or her bonded guide.'

God, it was like a minefield. He glanced at the clock; he had forty minutes until his own personal sentinel/guide pair arrived. He had just enough time to warn his detectives and the Assistant DA about Ellison's probable condition. If the DA had wanted to talk about anything less high-profile than the Mear's case, he would have allowed the two men to finish the bonding period in peace. If the book was correct, he was going to have a detective in a highly volatile state due to a too recent bonding compounded by an already injured guide. Territorial and protective instincts would be operating on high; somebody could easily get hurt if they didn't understand the ground rules.

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Jim stalked along the corridors leading to the bullpen of Major Crime. He had his guide tucked against him, keeping him next to the wall, and each person they passed was evaluated for potential danger to his guide. Then he saw Simon in the doorway of his office.

"Ellison, in here."

Simon waved them to seats. "Coffee?" The offer was ritual, and Ellison usually ignored it.

"No thanks."

Simon was just about to offer some to Sandburg when he remembered the ground rules and hesitated. According to the book, Jim would not take kindly to anyone talking directly to his guide.

"Would the guide like a cup?"

He let his gaze slide over Sandburg, who had remained standing behind his sentinel. Blair had dropped his empathic barriers so that he could calm his sentinel. He stood with one hand resting on Jim's shoulder to anchor him and keep in check the aggressive feelings that were racing through Ellison. Jim was naturally protective of him, but in his current primal state, his aggression was feeding off his guide's fear, sending him into Blessed Protector overdrive.

Banks saw Sandburg shake his head. He would have let it stand at that, but Ellison answered, "He said, no thank you."

"You answering for him now, Jim?" He voice trailed off as he saw the look on Jim's face. He carefully held up his hands to ward off his anger. "Easy, Jim, cut me some slack. Remember, I'm new to all this sentinel stuff."

Banks looked at his friend and saw only the sentinel, instinct-driven, aggressive, and dangerous. It was as if he had lost all control of the things that made him Jim Ellison. Irrationally, he found himself blaming the guide. He glared at Blair Sandburg and his anger hit the empath with the force of a physical blow. The young guide immediately shifted closer to his sentinel. Ellison growled and left his seat, but a bruised and scraped hand gently stopped Ellison's advance on Banks.

"Jim, no. Breathe out slowly, follow my lead."

Just that much guidance and Simon watched as, with a small headshake and a sheepish grimace, his Jim Ellison returned. Banks breathed a sigh of relief. ~Let's get this over with.~

"Okay, Detective, the Assistant DA is in room 210 waiting for you to go over your statement for the case. Get that done and you're out of here."

"Come on, Chief."

Simon shook his head, "Sorry, Jim, he can't go with you. Ms. Swift was adamant on that. He has to wait here."

"*No.*" The sentinel was reappearing.

"*Jim*," Simon snapped, "you've got no choice in this. He can wait here in my office where no one will bother him. I'll have him fill out the forms he needs to ride along with you. He'll be fine. Now get out if here." He made a shooing motion with his hands, hoping to defuse the situation.

The sentinel turned and for a moment was lost in his guide, his hands gently brushing over his shoulders and arms as he opened his senses and took in the essence of the man, reassuring himself that the only scent on the smaller man was his, allowing the physical presence of his guide to calm him until Ellison the detective was back in control.

"He's in your care, Simon." There was trust and threat in that sentence.

Simon watched Ellison leave, then turned to Sandburg. "Take a seat, Sandburg. This could take a while."

Pressing the intercom, he requested, "Rhonda, bring the guide paperwork in for Mr. Sandburg, please."

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Carolyn Plummer turned the corner and saw her ex-husband pacing the corridor outside of room 210. He was a bundle of nervous energy and everyone was giving him a wide berth. She knew now why their marriage had failed. It hadn't been her fault and certainly hadn't been his; it was the latent sentinel in him that had been the reason. Now that he had it under control, they could pick up from where they had left off before it all went wrong. She knew he still had feelings for her and she still had them for him. Where that Barnes creature's play-toy fit in with Jim's sentinel abilities she neither understood nor cared to. Regardless, once he had played his part and given Jim control, they could have him put away. As she came closer, her ex-husband turned towards her. First he smelled her overly sweet flower-scented perfume, then he started picking up the natural herbal shampoo that she always used. He began to lose himself in the scents; everything about her was so sharp. The world began to go black.

Simon answered the phone. "Banks." A moment's silence, then a resounding, "Damn." He slammed the phone down and growled, "Sandburg, Jim needs you. He's in a zone, not responding."

"Where is he?"

"Room 210. I'll take..." Blair was already out the door. "Sandburg, get back here, *now*!" Simon swore. He might as well have yelled at the wall. He took off after the guide and saw his detectives turn to stare at the longhaired young man who came flying out of the office. A couple of the uniforms started to intercept him but the captain yelled, "He's with me." He increased his speed to catch up with the younger man.

Blair took the stairs as fast as he could from the seventh to the second floor. Pain cut through his body as he hit each step, reminding him that he was far from recovered, but his overriding concern was to get to his sentinel, so he blocked out everything else.

His shoes slid as he careened out of the stairwell. He could hear Simon Banks pounding along behind him as he saw the woman standing in front of Jim, shaking him.

Over his shoulder, he snapped to Banks, "Get her away from him."

Simon caught Carolyn's arm and pulled her away. "Jim will be okay. Let his guide help him."

Blair moved close to his sentinel. He touched Jim's face, his fingertips ghosting along the side of his jaw. "Jim, you have to listen to me and come back to me now." His tone was low and level and... compelling. "Come on, Jim. Follow my voice back. Use it as a path to guide you."

Ellison was in a very deep zone out. This type of occurrence was the reason for isolating guide and sentinel just after bonding, so that they could learn to adapt to each other without outside influences. Jim crumbled and Blair caught him, struggling to ease the larger man gently to the floor. "He's stopped breathing. Get him into the office." Simon caught Jim's feet and he and Blair laid Ellison on the carpeted floor. The captain was dialing for the paramedics as Blair ignored everyone. He knew he had to get into physical contact with his sentinel. He lay on his side next to him, his body in full contact along the solid length of the zoned man.

He reached an arm out and pulled Jim against him, resting Ellison's head over his own heart. All the time he was talking in low, urgent whispers that only the sentinel could hear, his hands moving over the muscular body providing contact and reassurance. His empathic powers were pushed to their fullest; he could feel his connection to his sentinel strengthen. Jim knew he was here and that it was safe for him to come back.

Banks jumped as Jim suddenly heaved a shuddering breath. Blue eyes flew open and flickered back and forth in disorientation. Jim was breathing harshly as he rolled away from his guide and got up on all fours. He tried frantically to get to his feet, driven to protect his guide. His guide was vulnerable and must be protected.

Blair was reaching to help him when Carolyn caught his shoulder. His barriers were still wide open and the full hatred and loathing rolling off her crashed over him. There were burning needles in his head and he screamed. Carolyn pushed him back, hard. "Keep away from him, you little freak." Blair was caught off balance and he sprawled on the floor.

Jim staggered, and then his guide was in his arms and he was rocking him slowly. "Blair, you have to close the barriers. You're hurting too much. That's it. Close them, block the pain." Slowly the pain left the young guide's face. He turned his face into his sentinel's chest and wrapped his arms around him. Sandburg was shivering badly, as if he were in shock. "How you doing there, Chief?" Jim's voice was soft. His guide murmured a shaky reply.

The paramedics rushed in then and moved toward the men on the floor. Jim snarled, "Stay back." It sounded like the cry of a large jungle cat and he looked positively feral. He tightened his hold on his guide.

Captain Simon Banks moved in to block them. "They're newly bonded. He zoned out, stopped breathing." He motioned toward the smaller man, "He brought him back, but he was touched."

"He could be in shock," The older paramedic said grimly. "What's his name?"

"The guide?"

"No, the sentinel."

"Jim Ellison."

"Okay, Jim. I'm Larry Henderson. I'm a medic. I'm not going to try to take your guide away from you, but he's in shock and we have to help him. I'd guess that his empathic pathways were fully open when he was touched, right?"

Jim nodded.

"Right. Has he spoken to you?"

"Yes."

"Good. You need to keep him warm, get him to close the paths down completely and let him rest." Henderson pulled out a foil blanket, opened it up, and shook it out. He moved forward carefully, making no sudden movements.

"Can I touch him, check his vital signs?" There was a pause as he read the sentinel's reaction, then answered his own question, "That's okay, you'd tell me if anything was wrong."

Jim reached out, took the blanket from him and pulled it around his guide. His voice was a harsh whisper. "Get them out of here, Simon, all of them, *now*."

Simon was visibly worried. The paramedic nodded. "It's best we do as he asks." Henderson closed the door behind them. "How long since they bonded?"

"Three, four days..." Simon stopped in mid-sentence as his head snapped around at the loud roar of anger from the room. It was the same jungle cat cry that had sent shivers down his spine before.

"Who was the idiot who called them in? There is no way a sentinel and guide pairing should be here that soon. No wonder they had a bad reaction. My advice is to get them out of here and into isolation and do it fast. Home would be best."

Simon reached for the door handle, but the paramedic caught his wrist. "Don't, not yet. They're reaffirming the bond. Once they are re-bonded, they'll come out. Make damn sure that no one touches the guide. Whoever did it before is lucky to still be alive. My guess is that if the sentinel hadn't still been weakened by the effects of the zone-out, he or she would be dead."

Simon turned to Carolyn. "What the hell were you doing, Carolyn?"

She became defensive. "Didn't you see? His hands were all over Jim. He was getting a kick out of it, the little..."

"He's a guide. They have to have physical contact with their sentinels. Sentinels react to touch; they have a very tactile relationship with their guides. How the hell did you think he managed to pull Jim out of that zone-out?"

Simon put a hand on Carolyn's arm. "If you want to help Jim, then read the book and learn, because the next time he could kill you."

"Jim would never hurt me, Simon."

"Jim is a dark sentinel, Carolyn. He's a more primal form of sentinel. They react more aggressively to some things, and believe me, I think that hurting his guide is pretty high on that list. For now, I suggest that you get out of here. I'm sure you have work to do, Lieutenant Plummer."

"Not until I know that Jim's okay, Simon."

"All right, but keep out of his way. And don't even look at Sandburg."

Time ticked by slowly. Jim finally emerged with a blanket-wrapped Blair tucked against him, clinging to him for support.

"We're going home, Simon."

"Jim, the Assistant DA, remember?"

"If she wants the statement, then she comes to the loft. I'm taking him home now." There was a tone of finality in his voice.

Carolyn started forward. "Jim, I..."

Ellison completely ignored her. "That's the deal. Take it or leave it, Simon."

He nodded to the paramedics and left, gently shepherding his guide along.

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Back in his office, Simon again picked up the book 'Sentinel 101' and began to read. He had a feeling that he was going to need this book, because life was going to get a whole lot more interesting when Ellison and Sandburg started back to work.

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(back to LESSON THREE)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The End

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(back to SENTINEL 101)

Part Three

Simon Banks lay his cigar down as he answered the phone. Cigars were one of his few luxuries in this world; cigars, and a decent cup of coffee.

"Captain Banks?"

"Speaking." He could not place the voice.

"It's Blair Sandburg. I need you to come over to the loft now. I..." His voice was suddenly drowned out by a roar from his end of the line. Blair's voice had a shaky quality that worried the captain. "As soon as possible." The phone was suddenly slammed down.

Simon snagged his coat on his way to the garage. The trip to the loft was filled with dire possibilities he had read about in 'Sentinel 101'. When he reached his destination, he took the stairs two at a time. He paused to catch his breath and the door to the loft opened before he got a chance to knock. A tense Jim Ellison snapped, "Come in."

The big Captain took in the scene in front of him; the place was untidy, a first for Ellison. Sitting hunched in a corner of the room, on the floor, was Blair Sandburg. He was slowly rocking back and forth, his arms protecting his head. Jim shook his head. "I need your help with him, Simon."

"Wait up, Jim. Blair called me. WHAT THE HELL HAVE YOU DONE TO HIM?"

"Nothing, Simon. *Nothing.*"

"Well, it didn't sound like nothing on the phone. Come on, talk to me here, Jim."

"Blair was trying a meditation technique with me to try and release the aggressive side of the sentinel nature. It got a bit out of control there for a moment and I had told Blair to phone you if anything went wrong."

"Did you hit the kid?" Jim was puzzled by Simon's reaction. He had thought that the captain had very little tolerance for the young guide, but there was genuine concern in the big man's voice.

"No, I *can't* hurt him, but something in my reaction must have triggered a flashback because when I snapped out of the trance, he was screaming at me to not hurt him." Jim stared at his guide, and Simon could feel his need to go to the younger man. "Simon, I overturned the coffee pot on him, or the coffee pot got overturned; I'm not really sure what happened. He kept pleading with me to not hurt him, wrapped around himself in a ball on the floor. Simon, he was... God, he was whimpering. I tried to get him straightened up so I could check for burns. It wasn't easy, but I finally got him calmed down enough to try to pull up his shirt. God, Simon, he went berserk on me. Kept screaming that he was 'nobody's whore', that I'd have to kill him before I could do 'that' to him." Jim took a long, shuddering breath. Then, with a heartfelt plea, he asked, "Captain, what did they do to him?"

Simon drew Jim to one side. He didn't know why he bothered, since he doubted the kid was aware of anything but his own terror. "I didn't want to have to tell you this, at least not so soon. I got some information from one of the new patrolmen. He's former GDP, but he couldn't stomach what they were doing in the Corrections Unit. Jim, he was there while he," he indicated Blair, "was being 'corrected'. It's why he's a cop now. What they did to Sandburg was the last straw."

"What did they do, Simon?" It was growled.

"There were three guards under a supervisor named Wilson -- and if I had known this about that bastard when he was in my station, he'd still be walking funny -- who specialized in 'breaking' guides. They normally had some restrictions on their actions, but Blair was given to them unofficially and unrestricted. Their superiors didn't care what they did to Sandburg as long as when they were done, he toed the line." Simon took a steadying breath; the worst had yet to be reported. "From what I found out, they raped Sandburg repeatedly over a six week period. They beat him, forced him to do unspeakable things, move in certain ways. They kept him in a small, cold, dark room on starvation rations. Jim, you knew what had happened to him right before you bonded. You smelled them on him, didn't you?" Ellison nodded silently. Something in the blue eyes that met his told Simon that the sentinel had not forgotten what had been done to his guide, that he was waiting for the right moment to 'correct' those who had 'corrected' his guide. Simon pushed that thought away for later discussion. "By the way you're looking at me, he didn't tell you the full story in my office or since you brought him home."

The sentinel looked almost distraught. Simon was uncomfortable seeing the normally stoic, ice-cold Ellison like this.

Jim's voice was a cry for help. "I tried to get near him a couple of times, but he...." He gestured to where Blair was now crouched.

"You're his sentinel, Jim. He needs you. You've got to hold him until you get through to him. He might pull away, but hold on until he knows he's safe. And for God's sake, don't let him feel the rage I saw in your eyes a moment ago. I doubt he's in any shape right now to know who's its aimed at."

Jim moved slowly over to kneel by his guide. Gently, he laid a hand on the arms the younger man had wrapped protectively around himself. The smaller man shuddered at his touch. "Blair, come on, Chief, you're scaring me here." He kept his voice light and friendly.

Very slowly, Blair's head came up, but he kept his arms tensed in place in case he was making a mistake. There were tears on his face. Jim moved carefully so he wouldn't spook his guide. His fingers supported the sides of Blair's face while his thumbs brushed the tears away. "Its okay, Blair. I'm not going to hurt you." He forced a smile he didn't feel. "I scared you a bit there, didn't I, Chief?" He paused. "You should know I'm all bark and no bite where you're concerned. I could never hurt you; don't you know that? You're my guide."

He felt the curly head lean into his hand. The voice, when it came, was shaky. "All I could remember is what happened in the cell."

"Is that why you..." Jim's words trailed off as he saw the color flood into his guide's face. Blair started to pull away, but his sentinel was not about to let him do that. Jim pulled his guide into his arms. For a moment the younger man struggled against his hold, then his body went limp and he began to sob as if his very heart would break. Nestled against his sentinel's chest, face pushed into the older man's neck, Blair began to speak, his words so quiet only a sentinel could hear. Jim made himself keep calm and whispered soft words of encouragement when the voice faltered, made reassuring sounds as he was told about the harrowing ordeal the man in his arms had suffered, fought back rage and sickness as he heard the details of the frequent, prolonged sexual assaults and the physical and mental abuse his young guide had been put through. All the time, Ellison's hands moved in slow strokes on his guide's head, shoulders and back as Blair tried to burrow as close as he could.

Simon sat down to watch and wait. He knew that Jim would need him when this was finished. Ellison might put up a public facade of ice-cold stoicism, but since taking the ex-black ops ranger under his command, Simon had seen the changes come over the man. He had opened up slowly to the people he trusted. But the biggest change in the man had taken place in the past four days since his bonding to this fragile, nearly broken young man. Banks knew he would never tell anyone about the caring, nurturing Ellison he had seen this day. ~Hell, they wouldn't believe me anyway. I'm not sure I believe it!~

Blair pulled away from his sentinel's hold, his movements stilted. "I can understand if you don't want me as your guide now."

Jim exhaled with a shudder. "You're my guide, Blair. I wouldn't swap you for anyone. I just wish I could have been there for you to keep this from happening. God, Chief, I should have acted when we first met. I should have forced you to come with me, never let you return to that bitch Barnes, claimed you there and then."

"You weren't ready then; neither of us were ready."

"I can still wish, can't I?"

With a tired sigh, Blair returned his head to Jim's shoulder and rested in the presence that gave him what he needed. Jim detected the slowing heartbeat as his guide slipped into an exhausted sleep. Once he was sure Blair would not wake, he got to his feet, keeping his guide in his arms. Simon pushed a pillow into position as Jim laid him on the sofa and pulled the afghan over him.

"Wouldn't he be more comfortable in his bed?"

Jim shook his head, "I don't want him to wake up alone."

Simon reached down and snagged the afghan, easing it up a little higher as Blair moved and it slid down. He heard Jim's unspoken need for someone to stay with him while he processed everything that he had heard that night. "I'll hang around for a while, if that's okay?"

"That would be good, Simon. Thanks."

"He's not what I thought he was, Jim. There's a hell of a lot of courage in that young man. I'm not sure I would've survived what he went through."

Jim nodded jerkily. "He's never going to have to go through it again. I'll see to that."

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They talked through the following hours, and every now and then Jim would tilt his head to one side and listen to the steady breathing of his guide in a deep healing sleep.

"And there is nothing we can do about this? Those bastards raped and brutalized my guide," he shook his head at the thought, "and you're telling me there is nothing we can do about them?"

"The GDP is a self-governing organization, Jim. I went to Justice and one of their lawyers said that if we put in a complaint, they would act on it. They'd hold an inquiry and speak to the guards involved, but you know the track record on those. Regardless of what the laws say, the truth of the matter is that a guide is the property of the GDP. Too many people are too afraid of unbonded sentinels to change that. Given that fact, there is no way they are going public with the information that some of their guards are sick, perverted scum. It would spoil their image."

Jim swore; short, sharp, and to the point. He suddenly got up and walked across to the sofa. He had heard a soft moan from his guide; he was starting to dream, and from all indications, it wasn't a pleasant one. "Simon?" The big captain lifted Blair as tenderly as if he was his own child while Jim slid in under him, and then lowered him so that his head was resting on a pillow in Jim's lap. The sentinel gently moved his hand over his guide's head, smoothing back the long unruly curls from his face. Blair turned into him, his arm reaching to encircle Jim's waist, pulling himself tight against him, murmuring softly. Several times in the next hours, the night terrors threatened, but each time, the soft words and attentions of the sentinel drove them away.

Simon woke up with a start, wondering foggily when he had fallen asleep, and looked across to the sofa. He started to get up and leave when the sentinel awoke. Laser blue eyes pinned Simon into his seat. He knew instinctively that this was not his detective he was looking at. The sentinel blinked, recognition returning to his eyes. Sometime during the night he had moved so that he was stretched out on his side, curled around his guide on the narrow sofa. Now he rolled onto his back, gently bringing the smaller man on top of him. He ran a hand soothingly down Sandburg's back and talked softly, reassuringly to his guide as he woke from the start of a night terror. Jim looked into the expressive blue eyes and could see the fear lurking in the back of them. That fear faded slowly, to be replaced with contentment as Blair opened up empathic pathways that had felt too many hateful emotions for too long, and basked in the feeling of warmth and security his sentinel was projecting. He gasped, a quick intake of breath, as he glimpsed the barely controlled aggression channeled into his sentinel's need to protect him. Blair shifted so that his sentinel could inhale the scent at the point where his neck and shoulder met. The scent calmed the sentinel down, the aggression disappeared, and Blair eased away and yawned. Jim's hand lifted ever so gently and guided Blair's head back down on his chest. "Sleep. You're safe now."

"What about him?" The voice was very tired and a little embarrassed.

"Simon's a friend, Chief. Remember that."

He felt a nod and then another yawn as the younger man snuggled closer and fell asleep again.

Jim's attention remained focused on his guide, feeding him the emotional support the empath needed. Only when he was sure Blair was sound asleep did he open up his senses fully, allowing each one to range over the smaller man to re-enforce the bonding, just as his guide had done when he opened the empathic pathways and allowed the sentinel's emotions to wash over him.

Simon sat back and watched them. This was a side of Jim Ellison that few were privileged to see, the side he kept hidden from the world. He knew then that the sentinel would protect this young man with his life. That settled, he shifted into a more comfortable position and joined his men in sleep.

The End

Written by Susan Foster
stargate3001@hotmail.com
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