Easier Said Than Done - Kerensa
Notes: Thanks to my mom for all her help. She thought up several important ideas for this fic. The boots especially (you’ll know what I mean when you get to them) were her idea, and what he did with them. [g] *This happens to me every time that I make Kool-Aid. My mom too.
Deep in my heart I know it,
But it's so hard to show it
'Cause it's easier - easier said than done.
In a world where Sentinels and Guides were revered, treasured and sought out, Jim Ellison was a pariah. Ellison was more trouble than he was worth, Sentinel-wise. It wasn’t a very pretty statement, and didn’t say much for the people around him, but it was true.
Jim wasn’t held in very high esteem for two very important reasons; one that he didn’t have any control over and another that he did. The first reason, and the one he couldn’t do a damn thing about, was because he was 37 years old, and the second was because he didn’t have a Guide. Sentinels and Guides often met and bonded while they were in their teens. A few unlucky souls didn’t find their bond mates until they were in their early twenties, but that was rare. Someone as old as Ellison without a Guide was virtually unheard of.
Ellison’s lack of a Guide was easily explained. When he was a child, Jim had had excellent control of his fledgling senses, but seeing his coach, a man who was like a second father, murdered, and worse yet, Jim not being believed about it, had squashed down his abilities before they had a chance to foment.
His time in Peru, after the helicopter crash that killed all his men, had revitalized his long dormant senses again. But just like when he was a child, when the danger was passed, his Sentinel abilities had gone back into passive mode.
Now, however, the older Sentinel had a major problem. Just a few months earlier he had been heavily involved in the Switchman bombing case. His time isolated in the woods on stakeout had once again kick started his Sentinel abilities and his need for a Guide was getting desperate. There was a big problem though.
Since he didn’t have a Guide to help him, Jim’s senses were spotty at best. Sometimes they would fade out to almost nothing and his hearing or sight would be less than the average person’s. Then they would spike, shooting up and out of the ozone, up so high that he was incapacitated with the sensory overload. Simon Banks, his captain on the police force, had started to send him out on the so called, easier cases, where he was less likely to try and use his senses.
The problem with his abilities galled Ellison. Before the Switchman case, his senses had been semi-dormant, as they were supposed to be when a Sentinel didn’t have a Guide yet. The two times in isolation—according to the experts—had re-activated his hyper senses, this time permanently. Before his senses returned, Ellison was the top ranking detective in the Major Crimes division of the Cascade Police department. He had received many commendations and several awards, both from the force and the public. Then—Wham!—his senses had to go and ruin everything.
Too many times his senses had spiked and Jim had zoned out, letting a suspect get away, and in one memorable instance let the thief get the drop on him. The bullet he hadn’t seen or heard coming had merely grazed his arm, thanks to Brian Rafe’s tackle, but if it hadn’t been for the other detective, Ellison knew that he would have been dead.
Not surprisingly, none of the detectives wanted to be paired with him, especially the Sentinels, who didn’t like an unbounded Sentinel around their precious Guides, and the uniforms were leery of going out on a call with him. No one wanted to be known as the one who was with Ellison when his senses finally killed him.
Life was flat out miserable for Ellison. Work was a slow death by boredom, because, more and more, he was assigned to desk duty. On the increasingly rare occasions when he went into the field, it was on cases that rookies would have been disgusted with the simplicity of.
Home life wasn’t any better, if you could actually call it a life. The loft was as blank and boring as he could make it and still he suffered through sensory spikes most of the time. Even bland, and mostly tasteless, food burned his mouth. And Wonderburgers, his much loved favorite junk food, was too greasy and salty to enjoy anymore.
He had no family to speak of. He’d been estranged from his father and brother since he was 18 and his mother had deserted them all when he was 6. Except for his very short lived, and disastrous, marriage to fellow officer, Carolyn Plummer, Ellison had been alone most of his adult life. That isn’t to say that he hadn’t enjoyed the companionship of the female and male varieties, but nothing long term.
If his reserved nature didn’t freeze them out, his anger did. And, it was amazing how screaming about food burning your mouth or zoning during sex weeded out the rest. That left Jim with one good friend, Simon Banks, and a lot of time alone.
Life was quickly narrowing down to nothing. Nothing, that is, except the possibility of a small bit of metal in the barrel of his service revolver.
Blair snatched up a handful of popcorn and grinned at the talking to that Larry gave him. The anthropologist’s dark eyebrows shot up and he hastily swallowed his mouthful of popped kernels when Larry kept on complaining, one small, simian hand shaking in Blair’s face.
“Sorry, man,” he said apologetically. “Geez, I didn’t know that particular handful was yours. Sorry, Larry.”
The little ape chattered at him a few seconds longer before turning back to his movie. Blair was amused at the Barbary ape’s forcefulness and briefly wondered if the influence of the televised violence the animal was observing was the cause of the increase in forcefulness. Sandburg pulled out his field notebook—just a fancy name for the battered spiral notebook that he took notes in—and documented the event.
“More proof of my theory,” he murmured, “about how observed violence makes subjects more aggressive.”
Worry washed over him, making him shiver in dread.
Blair recapped his pen and looked around. Nothing was wrong. In fact, things were really going great lately, so why was he worried? Nothing was up at the moment.
Anger slammed into him, followed quickly by determination.
Blair gasped and rubbed his forehead. He glanced at the TV, wondering if his study was beginning to rub off on him. But he didn’t feel any different when he looked at the old movie that was playing. No, it felt the same as the last 11 times Larry had requested they watch it.
He stood up quickly as more anger, followed by waves of terror, crashed over his brain. A fraction of a second later, pain slammed into his chest, leaving him gasping. A pain, like a knife sinking into his stomach, had him doubling over.
Larry screeched when Blair screamed. The little primate jumped off the couch when Blair collapsed to the ground, holding his head in pain. That was fortuitous, because it meant that Blair and Larry were already on the floor when the wall behind them exploded, sending parts of the cinder blocks over the top of the couch and into the television, which exploded in a spray of glass and sparks. If Blair and Larry had still been sitting there, they would certainly have died. Larry’s panicked cries were the last thing Blair heard before his vision dimmed out.
Jim glared at Ted DeLansky, the beat cop who was bragging loudly about how he’d caught the thief that afternoon single-handedly; the one that Detective Ellison had missed. Ellison was pissed off at the man’s grandiose claims. He had caught the perp, but not by himself, and Jim hadn’t missed Carl Davidson, not at all.
“Ellison! My office, now!” Captain Simon Banks bellowed.
DeLansky snickered, a move that shifted his face from handsome to viciously ugly in seconds. “We know what that’s all about; Ellison’s going to get a new one ripped.”
The Sentinel deliberately paused on his way to Banks’ office and turned back to give the fellow cop a dirty look. The other man held his gaze—for all of two seconds—before scurrying off, proverbial tail between his legs. Jim was pleased to note that his fellow detective’s weren’t looking at him at all.
My life may be circling the toilet bowl, but I can still outstare the best of them, he thought with grim humor.
Brian Rafe and Henri Brown exchanged relieved glances when Ellison went into Captain Banks’ office. They had no desire to get on the man’s bad side—if he even had a good side, which was highly debatable—Ellison’s Sentinel abilities might be wonky at times, but the man was an Ex-Ranger and could kill a person without even trying.
Besides which, he was a good cop and an even better friend; they didn’t like to see how life had been getting to him lately.
Simon leaned back in his comfortable, black leather chair and gave his friend a long look; dark eyes, hidden behind red, plastic frames and fairly thick corrective lenses, perused the other man carefully. Ellison was standing in front of his desk, hands behind his back and legs spread and braced, at parade rest. His body was practically thrumming with tension.
“For god’s sake, man, sit down,” Banks ordered, waving a hand at the chair beside Ellison.
Jim gave him a quick, sideways glance before he plopped himself down in the plastic, and far less comfortable, visitor’s chair. The Sentinel ran a hand over his shorn hair and sighed.
“Sooooo. What happened out there, Jim?” the captain asked in a quieter tone, his worry evident.
“I smelled something odd when we went in for the bust,” Jim admitted. “When I turned my head to investigate, Davidson took the opportunity to come out of his hiding place and make a run for it.”
Banks nodded. “I figured it was something like that. That blowhard,” he gestured to the bullpen and DeLansky’s absent form, “couldn’t catch a cold, let alone a real criminal.”
Ellison snorted at the joke, appreciating the captain’s attempt to cheer him up. It helped for about a minute, but reality soon reinserted itself and brought him back down.
“What was it that you smelled?” Banks queried. “Do you know?”
“It was a chemical smell.” Simon perked up at the news. Jim shook his head. “Turned out to be nothing. The warehouse he was hiding out in was for a beauty supply wholesaler.
“So, basically it was…”
“Peroxide and hair color,” Jim finished for him glumly.
“Too bad. That would have been a nice coup.”
Jim nodded absently as he stared out the window. The view was spectacular, especially for a Sentinel; he could see quite a bit of the Cascade skyline. But Jim didn’t notice any of that. In his mind, the detective saw the end of his career looming on the horizon, the metaphorical, not the actual horizon.
And probably my life shortly thereafter, Jim commented to himself. The detective wasn’t sure if that would be a bad thing or not.
Three nights ago the Sentinel had zoned on the running water when he was brushing his teeth. He stood there for well over an hour staring at the crystal blue liquid coming out of his tap, and it probably would have been longer, but Mrs. Jablonski had slammed the cupboard door shut in her apartment. Since that wall was directly opposite the bathroom cabinet he had been standing in front of, the noise was loud enough to snap Jim out of his fugue state.
“I…have an idea,” Simon said hesitantly.
Jim looked over at his captain eagerly, yet cautiously. He was all for anything that would help, but obviously Simon was reluctant and that set off major alarm bells and made the Sentinel reluctant too. He sat up straighter in the chair and waited uncertainly.
“I’ve heard stories about a Guide who was found recently…”
Ellison began to shake his head, automatically dismissing what Simon was saying. Guides were identified shortly after birth. Once in a while, it took a year or two for the empathic abilities to emerge, but not much longer than that. Jim had no desire to be saddled with a toddler, not to mention how unfair that would be to the child.
“No, now wait a minute, Jim. Hear me out,” Simon held his hands up, palm out, to forestall any objections. “This guy has somehow been missed. He’s a 25 year-old grad student at Rainier University.”
“And he’s just now been identified as a Guide?” Jim asked incredulously.
“His empathy came online last month,” Simon explained, holding his arms out to the side and shrugging.
“What the hell happened?” Jim asked, curious, but grateful to learn that he wasn’t the only latent one out there.
Simon began to elucidate.
“Young man, you are not paying attention!” The strident voice ratcheted Blair’s headache up several more notches. The anthropologist rubbed his forehead, trying to ease the ache building behind his eyes, and sighed.
“I am paying attention,” Blair insisted.
“Nein, you are not.” Dr. Klaus Heinrich’s German accent thickened appreciably when he was upset, which seemed to be all the time around Blair. “Children know how to do this.”
“Well, that’s the problem, isn’t it,” Blair snapped. “I’m not a little kid that will go along with your mindless bullying.” Normally, Blair was very respectful of people, especially teachers and certainly older persons, but this guy was just a jerk and Larry would be a better teacher. Mentally, Blair thought an apology to his little ape friend; comparing him to Heinrich was way too insulting to Larry.
Heinrich puffed his chest out and scowled. Given that he was not very big, several inches shorter than Blair, and he had a head of fluffy, gray hair, it made the eminent professor look like a grouse. The teacher started to object over Blair’s description, but subsided when he saw Dr. Elliot Landry entering the room. Klaus threw down his dry erase marker which bounced off the white board and onto the floor.
“That is it! I quit!” he announced to the room in general, and the two men in particular, before he stormed off in a huff, fluffy hair bouncing with every step.
Landry sighed as he watched the educator leave. "Blair, I know it's hard, but you have to learn how to do this."
"Then send somebody in who will teach me. All he's done is yell at me when I don't get it right," Blair complained.
Dr. Landry began to argue, but then he saw the tears in Blair's eyes and the pale look on his face. As an empath with no barriers to speak of, confrontations such as this one would be unbearable. Elliot pulled a chair over and sat down beside the younger man. Blair was obviously so miserable that Elliot wanted nothing more than to give him a supportive hug, but he knew that touching the sensitive would only make things worse.
"It's not easy for us either," he admitted. "Children don't question us when they are as young as we usually get them. They are learning to walk and talk, consequently they learn to deal with their empathy at the same time and without much effort on our parts.” The doctor shrugged and looked sheepish, as if he felt lazy teaching that way.
"I know, man," Blair said helplessly as he rubbed his aching forehead.
"You'll get it," Landry said encouragingly. "It'll just take some time." And some patience from all of us, he added silently.
The Doctor of Guide Studies vowed to personally look after Blair's training from then on. Blair felt the determination and support coming off the older man and nodded his head in silent agreement. That's all he wanted really, was someone to help him, not yell at him, mentally and physically, when he didn't know what to do.
"Alright, Blair. What are you feeling, right now?"
“Everything,” he admitted. “Your emotions. Dr. Heinrich is still mad at me.” Blair gave a small smile. “I swear, his feelings are coming across as German.”
Landry laughed. “I’ve never heard it called that before, but other empaths have expressed a foreign feeling emanating from people who come from different cultures.”
Blair nodded and then winced. He leaned over and laid his forehead on his knees, his arms crossed over the back of his head protectively. The doctor felt his heart go out to the hurting young man.
“I can feel, like, what everybody is feeling all over the building, and I can’t shut it out.”
Landry was truly at a loss for what to do. He’d never before heard of a Guide being that sensitive to emotions. The doctor couldn’t decide if this was good or bad. Some day it would be good; Blair’s strong empathy would make him a spectacular Guide. At the moment, however, it was a detriment, and that was what he needed to focus on, for the Guide’s sake.
“Blair, look at me.” Pained cerulean eyes lifted to his. “You need to picture the feelings that you want to block out. Get an image of them in your mind as something you would have around you and then slowly send them away.”
Blair nodded. “Sort of the way a Sentinel turns their senses down,” he stated, having studied them during his time in school, long before he knew that he would ever need the information.
“Cool. Okay. I can do that,” he said hopefully.
“Certainly you can,” the older man said encouragingly. Blair nodded.
The anthropologist closed his eyes and concentrated. It took a few minutes, but eventually images began to form in his mind. Blair saw a room full of books, rows and rows of the shelves, each one had a person’s name, such as Dr. Heinrich or the person crying three floors up, or a feeling, like anger or fear, emblazoned on the spine. Some of the words were glowing brightly, others were barely lit up, while still others were pulsing off and on; it just depended on how strongly Blair was feeling those emotions.
“Relax,” Landry suggested. Blair’s eyes were tightly squinched shut and his hands were balled into fists on his robe covered thighs. Blair had been staying in the Sentinel/Guide wing of the Cascade Memorial Hospital since coming online and was consequently dressed in the facility’s standard patient clothing. The doctor wondered if being so far out of his element was stressing Sandburg out even more and decided to at least get his regular clothing back.
Blair consciously relaxed his muscles, one by one, and slipped into a semi-meditative state. Meditation was something he was used to; he had learned the skill from his mother, Naomi. Blair had learned to meditate, to cleanse his aura, before he could even walk properly.
The room in his mind took on form and its definition began to change. It went from a blank, stark room that held no comfort whatsoever, into a much cozier library. The blank walls took shape and Blair could see that they were paneled in a dark wood, like an old fashioned library. The floor was covered in a thickly piled, hunter green carpet that was soft under foot. The room was so real to Blair that he felt like he was actually there. The grad student sat down in a high backed, leather chair and looked around. Already the words on the books weren’t glowing as brightly.
The light on a few of the books had faded out entirely, which was encouraging, but most of them only dimmed somewhat. Still, considering it was the anthropologist’s first attempt, he was pleased. Blair’s head felt lighter without the pressure of all those emotions bearing down on him.
When he opened his eyes, Sandburg saw Landry watching him hopefully. Blair was startled by the doctor’s proximity, but then his face broke out in a happy smile when he realized that he hadn’t felt the other man standing by him.
“Yeah, that worked great!” Blair said, some of his natural enthusiasm creeping back into his voice.
“Excellent,” the doctor stated.
Ellison leaned against the cool metal of the iron railing on his balcony and looked out over the city. The lights sparkled in the ebony of the nighttime sky, like jewels on an expensive bracelet.
He loved this view and had, in fact, bought the loft primarily for that reason. Jim understood all the Sentinel needing to watch over his territory spiel. Blah, blah, blah. He just liked the view.
The earlier conversation with Simon was running around in his brain like a hamster on steroids. Did he really want to be saddled with a Guide who was so new to his empathy? Ellison had enough problems of his own, without adding some college kid to the mix.
“If he was a decent guide, that would be one thing,” Jim said quietly. “But this just sounds like it’d be a pain in the ass.”
Jim rubbed his jaw briskly as he thought. There was a new product, just on the market, that he was going to test out tomorrow, called Guide Me Now. It was supposed to sense if a Sentinel was zoning and bring them out of it. If it worked, then he could forget all about Sand…whatever the crap his name was.
Guide Me Now was about as helpful as hitting himself in the foot with a hammer, Jim thought sourly.
Oh, it had worked; a little too well, if truth be told. The help aid consisted of a small plastic box (Which is Guaranteed not to irritate sensitive Sentinel skin!) worn on the inside of his pants, next to the Sentinel’s skin. The idea was that it would send out a mild stimulation (Not in any way electrical though) that would ideally keep him from zoning, or barring that, bring the Sentinel out of a zone.
What a piece of crap, Jim thought with a snarl as he tossed the expensive heap of junk into the trash can.
Ellison had zoned four times while wearing the device and been zapped (Painlessly, of course!) a dozen or more; and that was in the first day! Jim had better luck controlling his senses himself. It galled the self confessed loner that he might have to meet the Guide that Banks was talking about after all.
Blair glanced around the shopping mall happily. This was the first time since his empathy had come online that Blair had been out of the hospital and he relished it. Sandburg was normally a people person. He liked to be around and watch the people—but not in a creepy, stalkerish way—as they lived their lives. Being isolated at the hospital had been a tough, but necessary evil.
The control of his empathic abilities was still shaky, but every day saw improvements. Blair still wasn’t ready to go back to his regular life, but he was at least hopeful now that he could someday soon. That was the plan anyway.
Although with my neighborhood… he thought.
The grad student lived in a not-so-nice section of town. Alright, he lived in a war zone. The gunfire and screams were bad enough, Blair wasn’t certain that he could handle feeling the anger and fear as well as hearing them.
When Blair heard a woman, or a maybe it was a man—hey, he wasn’t prejudiced—scream, his initial reaction was to lend a hand. It was in his nature, Guide or not, to help people. Sandburg was off and running, leaving Dr. Landry sitting on the bench by the fountain. It was only after he’d run up to the crowd and the yelling woman had grabbed his arm, that he’d given a thought to his empathy.
“Help me!” she shrieked, inside Blair’s mind, as well as physically.
Before he had a chance to reassure the woman, or recover from the pain her fear had engendered, an iron hard grip grabbed hold of his upper arm and yanked Blair back. Still reeling from the jolt to his empathy, the anthropologist was easily thrown to the ground.
“You are under arrest, punk.” The voice was snarled in his ear as he was quickly flipped over onto his stomach. He felt the bite of metal as a set of cuffs was snapped tightly around his wrists.
Blair’s confused mind was having trouble processing everything that was going on. He could hear the woman he’d been trying to help, yelling about something or other, another man, not yelling, but talking very loudly, and Dr. Landry’s quieter voice trying to calm things down.
The man who had handcuffed Blair decided to ignore everyone. He grabbed the smaller man by the upper arms and hauled him to his feet as if Sandburg weighed the same as a loaf of bread. Diet bread.
You know, that fluffy crap that tasted like air. Anyway…
The chaos was fast dissipating from his brain, leaving behind a very pissed off anthropologist. Not being one to shrink from a confrontation, Blair let his feelings be known, handcuffs or no handcuffs.
“What is your problem, man?” he asked, glaring up defiantly at the much taller, and decidedly more muscled, man.
Ignoring Blair, as only someone who was that much bigger could, he turned his attention to the woman. “Is this the only person who was bothering you ma’am?”
“What?” Blair sputtered. His unwanted companion, who still had hold of one of his arms, gave him a warning shake.
“Why, no, this sweet young man was trying to help me,” she said in all honesty.
“Hmmmm,” the larger man hummed, his face creased with disbelief as he looked from Blair’s curly and tousled hair to his old, worn out tennis shoes.
“Jim, what’s going on?” A large, very large, dark-skinned man hurried up to stand behind him.
“I heard this lady yelling for help, Simon. When I arrived, I found this guy,” again Blair was shaken like a misbehaving puppy.
“I heard her cries, too, and was trying to find out what was wrong when you jumped me.” Blair scowled up at him, not the least worried about how much bigger Jim was. If Blair had let himself be intimidated by size, his lack of it or other people’s abundance of such, he would never have left his house. Warehouse. Whatever.
Blair saw how Simon looked him up and down, as well, pausing to give his hair and earrings an extra long look. He bristled at the assessment and glared at the big man.
“Blair, are you alright?” Dr. Landry asked, his calm, quiet voice breaking through the tension.
“I will be when he,” Blair jerked his shoulder, pulling it out of Jim’s grip, “unlocks these things.”
Without being very careful, Jim turned Blair around and used his key on the cuffs. Blair rubbed his wrists after the handcuffs had reluctantly been removed. He turned to look up at the man who had grabbed him.
Good looking, he thought. Just my type.
Sandburg preferred his men tall and muscled. This guy fit that description to a t. Light blue eyes were framed by dark, thick lashes. Even his short, almost militaristic, haircut couldn’t take away from his good looks. The only thing to spoil the image was the way his mouth was twisted up in distaste when he looked at Blair.
The anthropologist was startled when Dr. Landry took hold of his upper arm and pulled him over to stand by the older man. Blair had forgotten that anyone else was there, because he’d been so lost in admiring the other man. And, oh yeah, he was mightily sick and tired of everybody tugging on him.
“What’s your name?”
Banks had pulled out a small notebook and pen and was addressing Blair. Not appreciating that he was still being treated like a suspect, Blair wasn’t very polite when he answered.
“Blair Sandburg,” he said tensely. “Shouldn’t you be trying to catch the person who did attack that woman?”
Simon ignored him and turned to the victim, who began to give her statement. Blair shook his head and looked back at the other man, who he realized must be a guard, or cop, or something like that.
“And who are you?” Dr. Landry asked.
Blair was glad he’d posed the question. He had a feeling that an inquiry from himself would be ignored, much in the way anything else he’s said had been. While he didn’t share the same disdain that his mother did for “the pigs” there were times when he understood her attitude.
“I’m Detective Jim Ellison,” the tall man answered. He extended a hand amicably toward the older man. Blair noticed that he wasn’t offered a handshake.
“What is it?” Blair asked, placing a hand on the doctor’s arm. He could feel the distress coming off his mentor.
“What is your name?” Simon asked before Dr. Landry could answer Jim’s question.
“I am Dr. Elliot Landry, with the Institute of Sentinel and Guide Studies.”
“And you are?” The tall man glanced back down at his notes and Blair saw him visibly cringe. “Oh, crap,” Simon quipped.
Blair looked over at Jim, who seemed equally confused by their companions’ reactions. Sandburg was glad that he wasn’t the only one in the dark.
“Uh, guys?” Blair held his hands out, questioning them silently.
“Blair, this is Sentinel Ellison.”
The Guide didn’t so much as blink. This was the poor, beleaguered Sentinel who needed his help?
“Jim, this is the Guide I was telling you about.”
Ellison’s eyes snapped down to the other man. This neo-hippie punk was the one Simon wanted to guide him?!
“Well, that was certainly an inauspicious beginning,” Dr. Landry said wryly.
Blair licked his lips in a nervous gesture. He was sitting on a bench just inside the Institute’s meet-n-greet room. The Sentinel that Dr. Landry had arranged for him to meet was due to arrive in 15 minutes. Blair had been waiting an hour already, but he’d been too nervous to sit in his room any longer.
Sandburg pushed his hair back from his face with both hands. He wanted to make a good first impression on the man who he would, in all probability, be living the rest of his life with.
The younger man stood up when he heard his name called and smiled at the handsome man walking towards him.
Pleasepleaseplease, Blair’s mind whispered.
“And I’m Jim. You are my Guide,” the older man said with certainty.
Ellison’s growl snapped Blair out of his daydream. He jerked back from the computer in surprise, his hand accidentally leaving a trail of gibberish in its wake.
If only things had worked out that way, Blair thought. He glanced over at the Sentinel who was scowling at him. Instead I got saddled with somebody who thinks I’m dirt under his feet.
“Yeah, what’da ya need?”
The Sentinel paused at the defeated tone in Blair’s voice. He took a good look at the younger man and didn’t like the dark circles that had taken residence under his eyes, or the way his shoulders were slumped.
“It’s time for the meeting,” Ellison said in a quieter tone of voice.
“K,” the young Guide said tonelessly.” He stood and waited by Jim’s desk for the older man.
Blair looked carefully around the room, checking for friend and foe, before he walked in. He found the foes alright, just not many friends.
Since his introduction to the Major Crimes gang a couple of months earlier he had learned to be wary when he entered a room. On average, the people Sentinel Ellison worked with on a daily basis weren’t too bad. Brian Rafe and Henri Brown, two fellow detectives, were friendly, but not too friendly, as if they didn’t expect the young Guide to be there long. The bomb squad captain, Joel Taggart, on the other hand, was very friendly. He had taken to the Guide immediately and seemed to view Blair like a son.
But that was it.
Simon Banks, Jim’s captain and good friend, looked at Blair like he wanted to do a drug test every time he saw him. The majority of the other cops either ignored him or went out of their way to be rude to him. Blair’s arms and legs were covered in bruises where he’d been knocked into, and off of, walls, door frames, etc. The Guide had a spectacular bruise in a vivid purple color that went all the way across his pelvis. Blair didn’t mind the mark all that much, because the alternative would have been missing that rail and going head first over the side of the stairs and down three flights.
Blair wasn’t sure if the Sentinel was aware of the harassment and just ignoring it, or if he was so used to keeping his senses dialed down that he didn’t hear what was going on. Whatever the reason, it didn’t help Blair’s situation any. He still had to be wary if he was away from Jim at any time and that wore on a person’s nerves pretty quickly.
The anthropologist had no way of knowing that it was actually a combination of both scenarios. Ellison had heard some of the snide comments and knew that Blair was being bumped sometimes, but the detective knew that if he protected the younger Guide, it would only make the bullying worse. At least, that was the excuse he told his spirit guide at night. The jaguar always paced at the edge of the blue jungle in his dream, visibly unimpressed with the Sentinel’s reasoning.
Most of the time, however, he kept his senses dialed down as low as he could keep them and still function. Jim was ticked off that after all those years of looking for a Guide, he’d been saddled with some hippie wanna be who had no idea what he was doing.
Everyone in the room looked over when the door opened and Simon walked in. He shut the door to the conference room and glanced around. As always, his gazed touched on Jim for a second and then stopped on Blair. He frowned as he looked Blair up and down.
Blair flinched back as the disgust from Banks pushed past the resentment from Jim. The empath already had a headache from all the emotions and feelings from the other cops in the room, but Simon’s were sharp enough to feel like someone was stabbing at Blair’s psyche with an ice pick.
Personally, Blair was getting mighty sick and tired of everyone’s attitude. He might look different than most of the other cops— but then again, hello, not a cop here—but Blair had been careful not to cause any problems since he’d been helping Ellison and he thought it was time that they cut him a little slack; especially Jim and Simon “call me, Captain!” Banks.
“Alright people, report,” his strident tones added another stab, this time physical instead of mental, to Blair’s already overwhelmed brain.
Detective Elliot Clayborn, a tired looking, 50-something detective from Vice, flipped open the thick manila folder that he was holding in a tight grip in his hands. “There was another attack last night,” he reported in a tense voice.
“How bad?” Ellison asked, a frown wrinkling his nose and marring the perfect skin between his eyes.
“This one died,” Clayborn pronounced as he slid the folder over to Banks, who had sat down to the left of Ellison.
Simon moved the folder over slightly so Jim could see. Blair, who was seated to Ellison’s right, was treated to a view of the pictures as well. He had to fight down the bile he could feel trying to creep up his throat at the images of the person who was so mutilated that he was barely recognizable as human any more. He looked away from the photos and heard snickers from the back of the room. Blair’s face heated in humiliation, which only added to the general amusement.
Clayborn ignored them and went on discussing the case. “David Pryce was a 34-year old CPA from Seattle. Married with one child, a daughter.”
There were different expressions of dismay from around the room. Blair didn’t know if they were upset over the wife losing her husband, or the daughter who would never see her daddy again.
Or the fact that they’ll be working overtime for quite a while on this case, Blair mused. The Guide decided that that was way too cynical and tried to tamp down on his inner monologue.
“His profile is different again from the others who have been attacked,” Banks stated, looking over the report that was attached to the crime scene photos; one large finger following along the side of the page as he silently read off the list of injuries.
“Yes,” Clayborn agreed. “Five victims and counting, so far. At least that we know of. There isn’t a standard mold for the vics. None of the victims are the same age, profession, marital status, nothing. We have to stop this person.”
Sandburg looked at the detectives, officers, etc., with a jaundiced eye. Sentiment hadn’t always been so strong. The first victim had been a gay teacher at Rainier and the second young man had been a black teenager from the bad side of town. Neither attack had been given very much attention. It was only when the third assault had happened to Councilman Gary Pratt, a very well known public figure, was when the case really took off. That isn’t to say that the police completely ignored the first two men, but there wasn’t a taskforce like had been formed now.
It had certainly sped the case along when the press got wind of the attacks. One reporter in particular, Mark Patrick, had sunk his teeth into the story, like a particularly vicious Rottweiler, and wouldn’t let go. He had even coined a pet name for the attacker, Midnight Madness, because the attacks always took place in or around the midnight hour. Midnight Madness had been shortened to M & M, which didn’t sound quite as nasty, or, in Blair’s humble opinion, like a late night sale at Sears. The cutsie nickname had been picked up by the UP and now all of the country knew what was happening. Heck, with the internet thrown into the mix, the whole world knew several men had been attacked in the Cascade area. It hadn’t been turned into a complete feeding frenzy, as yet, because there was no apparent racial or political motivation. No one group, nationality, or race of people had been targeted, so the various watch groups couldn’t start protesting.
However, the mayor, being the smart woman that she was, decided to act before the press really turned ugly. Only the day before, she had given orders that the task force be doubled in size.
“I want this person caught before anyone else is hurt. We need to show the world that this is Washington state, a safe place to live and raise your family, not Washington, D.C., a miasma of injustice and crime.”
The anthropologist wondered what drugs the mayor was on. Cascade had a crime rate that was way out of proportion to its population density. One of Blair’s friends at the university had started a study on the amount of crime in Cascade, as opposed to other cities of similar size around the country. The study had ended abruptly when Dave had been mugged and decided to transfer to a different school.
Whatever the reason, the news reports and the mayor’s call to justice had lit a flame under the butts of the police force. Of course, Blair knew that most of the cops were already looking for the M & M man, even before it became popular to do so, just not that many of them.
Blair listened as the roomful of detective’s and officers batted ideas around like a bunch of kittens playing with dust particles in a shaft of light—only without the cute and playful look.
Ellison leaned back in his chair and gave Sandburg an amused look. The Sentinel knew that Blair thought he was successfully concealing his feelings, but even so soon into their Sentinel/Guide relationship, the younger man was like an open file to Jim.
The detective let the other detectives’ talking fade into the background and let his senses roam over the younger man sitting beside him. Blair was watching the others with amusement, that was easy to see even without Sentinel senses, but he was also looking around in disappointment. Ellison guessed that the unfairness of the political power play going on was upsetting the grad student.
He’ll just have to toughen up, the Sentinel decided. Life’s not always fair or politically correct.
Still. It would be too bad when the younger man lost his naiveté and became as jaundiced as the rest of them.
The Sentinel glanced over at Ted Markham’s Guide, Freddie Davis. He could clearly remember when the young man had been wide eyed at the goings on inside of a real police station. His dark brown eyes could look at pictures almost as bad as the ones currently on the table without flinching any more. Jim missed the innocent young man they used to know and enjoy seeing blush.
For just a moment, Ellison wondered what Blair’s take on the case was and thought about asking him. It would be interesting to have a different perspective, a new angle. He didn’t ask though, because he knew that any idea, no matter how clever, would be ignored because Blair wasn’t a police officer. So, he planned on getting Blair’s take on the killer when they were back at his desk, or, even better, when they weren’t at the station with its prying ears.
“Any ideas, people?” Banks demanded, breaking into the arguments around the room.
“…and I hate that stupid name that Patrick gave,” Markham said. He was speaking very quietly and his comment wouldn’t have been heard otherwise, but Simon’s command had caused the room to go quiet suddenly. A flush of embarrassment crossed the detective’s face, but he kept his head high, as if daring anyone to make a comment. Banks ignored him.
From the deer in the headlights looks on peoples’ faces, Blair had to conclude that they were fresh out of ideas. Simon obviously came to the same conclusion, because a disgusted look flickered across his handsome face. He pushed his red framed glasses up on his nose and glared around the room. Blair was happy to see that for once that intense stare didn’t include him.
“Come on, people. Use those heads for something more than a place to park your hats.”
Blair smiled at the comment. He hid his mouth behind his hand, but Banks saw it anyway. Naturally, that brought unwanted attention down on the young man’s head.
“You think this is funny, Sand-burg.” The captain leaned over the table in order to look around Jim and glared at the observer as he took out his frustration on the newest member of his squad. The way he drawled out the Guide’s name had others snickering in the room.
Jim felt a sharp pain in his stomach at the way Simon was treating the younger man and how much everyone else liked Sandburg being derided that way. The jaguar snarled inside of him over the way their mate was being put down. Jim tried to ignore the inner call to say or do something, because this was his friend and captain.
Blair’s hand fell down and he narrowed his eyes at the black man. He seemed to be debating on whether to answer or not. Finally, he decided. “Well, since you made a joke, man, yeah, I thought it was funny.”
Ellison glanced over and saw a surprised look on Simon’s face; the captain wasn’t used to people standing up to him. The Guide had let the comments, looks and abuse roll off his back for quite a while, but apparently he had hit his limit.
“Do I think these men being brutalized is something funny? Of course not! God! What a…” Blair trailed off and shook his head at the captain’s statement.
Sandburg pushed his chair back. The legs made a god-awful screeching sound when they drug across the tile floor and Jim was not the only Sentinel to cringe in pain; even some of the average people flinched at the loud sound. He stood up and slammed the chair back under the table. Before they knew it, the people in the room were looking at the back of Blair’s flannel shirt in stunned amazement; Blair had complacently put up with their remarks and attitude, so it was surprising to see him react so strongly. He was already outside of the conference room before Simon found his not inconsiderable voice.
“Where the hell do you think you’re going?” he bellowed.
“Away the crap from here,” Blair retorted over his shoulder.
Ellison watched in stunned amazement as his Guide stomped over to the detective’s desk, grabbed up his backpack and jacket, and proceeded to leave the squad room. The Sentinel could hear every curse that the younger man muttered under his breath.
“I don’t need this shit. Damn, stupid jerks. It’s not like I want to be around these repressed assholes!”
Jim stood up to follow Blair, because he needed to calm the grad student down. Simon, however, had other plans.
“Let him go, Jim.”
Ellison looked down at the hand on his forearm, the one holding him back from his Guide, and felt something click inside. He raised light blue eyes to meet Banks’ dark ones and saw the captain flinch at the intensity of his gaze.
“Let go, Simon,” he growled. “Blair is my Guide! No one gets between us.”
Being an intelligent man, Banks swiftly released the ex-Ranger’s, I can kill you with an eyelash arm. Jim hurried out of the room and after the young man who he’d just realized was vitally important to him. Behind him, the Sentinel heard the surprised murmurs of several officers. One comment in particular caught his attention.
“It’s about time,” Sentinel Markham said almost sub vocally.
He guessed the other detective was right. It was time for him to get off his butt and claim Blair, hopefully before it was too late. Because, like it or not, there were other Sentinel’s out there who might make a play for the young Guide. Too many Sentinels lost a Guide, due to illness or accident, and they wouldn’t care that Blair was new to his empathy.
Blair had calmed down by the time he got home. It was amazing how a very long and boring bus ride could numb a person’s mind. Although Guido, Blair’s overly friendly seatmate, had kept him from getting too comfortable; it just wasn’t safe. The younger man’s time was spent more on fending off Guido’s eager hands than thinking about Banks and Ellison.
Now, all he wanted to do was fall into his bed and crash for the night. It had been a long, tense day and he was tired. Blair didn’t even plan on fixing himself dinner, figuring that a cup of tea would be sufficient for one night; although he might scrounge something up later on. Scrounge being the operative word; there wasn’t enough food in Blair’s sorry excuse for a kitchen to make an actual meal.
At the moment, however, the grad student was enjoying vegging out on his couch. He was exhausted, mentally and physically after the confrontation at the station. Blair was wondering what the repercussions of that little scene were going to be. He couldn’t imagine that someone as strong as Captain Banks would let it go.
Blair rubbed a hand across his forehead and winced at the pain that the light touch flared up. He had the beginnings of a migraine, something he was used to, especially since his empathic senses came online, and Blair could already feel the pain building up behind his eyes.
The anthropologist decided to forgo eating anything until, and if, his headache improved. It wasn’t as if there was anything all that tempting in the refrigerator anyway. A few left over hot dogs and half a can of peas were all that wouldn’t have to be cooked first and neither sounded very appetizing right now.
The ringing of his door buzzer sent a bolt of pain straight through Blair’s left eye and had him startling upright on the sofa. Heart pounding, Sandburg eyed the intercom box in trepidation. He didn’t know anyone in the neighborhood, certainly no one he’d want to come knocking on his door, and no one else was expected.
The second buzz sounded positively angry, if such emotions could be attributed to an inanimate object. The observer took a fortifying breath and answered. After all, it didn’t appear that whoever was on the other end was going away any time soon.
Jim stood, feet widely braced apart, with his hands on his hips and mouth hanging open as he eyed his Guide’s abode. The Sentinel refused, absolutely refused to call it a house or even, heaven forbid, a home. The warehouse was old, decrepit—he took a delicate sniff of the air and immediately dialed back his sense of smell to a “1”—and foul, he added mentally.
Dialing his sense of smell down didn’t really work. As soon as the Sentinel turned it down, the dial twirled back up. Hopefully, when he was used to having a Guide around full time, that sort of thing wouldn’t happen, but for now, Ellison couldn’t help it.
Not that Blair’s place of living was the only thing that stunk. The sanitation department needed to check the sewer system and a few more runs with a garbage truck wouldn’t be amiss. Dogs and cats, and possibly some two legged animals, had left deposits of feces and urine in doorways and the alleys. Speaking of which, that alley two buildings over was obviously a haven for drug dealers, if the smell of marijuana was any indication. The Sentinel’s subtle sense of smell also detected the chemical smell of opiates and some invented drugs.
Ellison eyed the crumbling brick façade with disfavor. He could see that one side of the building had burned in the near past, adding the un-lovely odor of sulfur and what smelled suspiciously like burnt flesh to the malodorous fragrance of the neighborhood. He shook his head in mute denial.
He slowly walked across the cracked and uneven asphalt that comprised Sandburg’s driveway. The Sentinel glanced at the Corvair sitting by the door and assumed it was Sandburg’s. He shook his head at the condition of the vehicle, reasoning that its sad condition was the only explanation why the car was still sitting there instead of being stolen; no one else wanted it. Ellison’s sense of hearing chose that moment to spike and he added the sound of multiple heartbeats to his growing list of problems with Blair’s dwelling.
Rodents, he realized after a few moment’s contemplation. A whole crapload of them, he decided.
Jim pushed a button beside the door that looked none too sturdy and heard a buzzer go off somewhere inside. He waited patiently…for about three seconds…and then buzzed again. Only seconds later his effort was rewarded when Sandburg answered.
“Hello?” he asked tentatively. Jim didn’t blame him; he would have avoided visitors in this neighborhood, too.
“It’s me, Sandburg, Jim Ellison.”
Blair’s voice squeaked in surprise. “Uh. Okay. Come on in.”
There was another buzzing noise, closer by this time, and the click of the door lock being remotely disengaged. Jim eyed the locking mechanism as he passed by, and sure enough, it was as worn out as he had predicted it would be.
Blair met him at the top of a short flight of steps. The younger man was bouncing on the balls of his feet nervously.
“Hey. Uh, what are you doing here?”
Jim pursed his lips and glanced around the room in dismay. The burnt smell was even more prevalent here, as was the smell of damp and mold. A large board was haphazardly nailed over the wall where his Guide’s “kitchen” was. Wooden crates were stacked up to make walls and give the one big room some dimension.
All the detective could see was the injury potential in the tall stacks. His carefully thought out speech, where Ellison had planned on wooing his Guide back, went out the window like a tornado in the wake of his Blessed Protector mode, which came to the fore in full swing.
“What in the hell are YOU doing here?!” Ellison yelled. Blair’s blue eyes widened. He immediately stopped his nervous bouncing up and down and stood stock still in shock. “I can’t believe you live here.”
And I can’t believe I didn’t know the conditions he was existing in, Jim continued to himself. Jim bit his lip in frustration. He didn’t want to alienate Blair any more than he already had, but this place would try the patience of a saint, let alone a super fastidious Sentinel.
One of the Sentinel’s most important jobs was to look after their Guides, watching over them and protecting them when at all possible. They shielded them emotionally and hovered over them physically. Guides protected their Sentinels as well, both from problems with their senses and when situations arose where the world intruded on their hyper sensitive bodies.
The fact that Jim had unwittingly let his Guide remain in such a dangerous situation was unacceptable. Any Sentinel worth their mettle would never have allowed their Guide to live under these conditions in the first place. Of course, most Sentinels and Guides bonded as small children and lived together from then on, so it couldn’t have happened the way it had with Jim and Blair, but that was beside the point. It didn’t matter that Jim was new to having a Guide; he should have followed his instincts, ignored his insecurities and taken care of his soul mate.
“Man, it’s not like I want to live here,” Blair said, running a gloved hand through his long curls. “I rented the place because I was doing an experiment at the university and no place else would let me keep a Barbary Ape.”
Jim looked up in surprise at the statement. An ape? Sandburg was an anthropologist, what was he doing with a primate? And why was he wearing gloves and a coat while inside?
“After that…” he waved a hand at the boarded up wall, and presumably the destruction on the other side of it, “was when my empathy came online. I was in the hospital for months. When I finally got out, it was late enough in the semester that this was the only place I could find to rent.” The grad student pulled his long jacket closer around his body and turned to walk farther into the room. “Especially to someone like me,” he muttered under his breath, not intending for the statement to be heard. Naturally, the Sentinel heard him anyway.
“Like you?” he questioned.
Blair looked over his shoulder. His face was a dusky pink color in embarrassment. Obviously he had momentarily forgotten about Jim’s superior hearing.
“Uh, yeah. I’m dangerous, man. Didn’t you know?” He shrugged, feigning indifference. “Nobody wants an unbonded Guide around them. I might snap and make everybody hug, or something vicious like that.”
Ellison scowled. It hadn’t occurred to him that Blair had experienced some of the same prejudice that he’d experienced because of his unbonded state. He looked at the smaller man and shook his head minutely. Blair was about as dangerous as a kitten. He knew that the younger man would die rather than cause another person pain.
Jim crossed his arms across his chest. “The public are mostly uninformed,” he reasoned.
Blair snorted. “Yeah, right. Like the cops are any better.”
Ellison’s eyebrows shot up at the bitterness in Blair’s voice. “The cops?” he asked in disbelief.
“Yeah, your fellow, oh so perfect, brothers in blue,” Blair said with a roll of his eyes. “According to them, I’m some fag punk who has nothing better to do than hang around bothering you while you’re working.” It was easy to see that the Guide was quoting someone from the way he was talking.
“What makes you think that?” Ellison asked. He knew that there was some hostility towards the younger man, but he hadn’t realized it had gone that far.
“Oh gee, I don’t know. How about when people came up and said it to my face,” Sandburg snapped back. Jim frowned when he saw the younger man rub his forehead.
“Are you okay? Here, sit down.” He guided the Guide to a ratty, worn out sofa and sat the young man down.
“Thanks, man. I’m, uh, sorry I lost my temper.” Blair was hunched over, his elbows on his knees and a wave of curly auburn hair hiding the side of his face from Ellison’s view.
“It’s alright,” Jim reassured him “From the sounds of it, you have every reason to be angry.”
“Yeah, but not with you.”
“Do you want me to get you something for your headache?” he offered, waving a hand toward the kitchen area.
“No!” Blair snapped out. His head jerked up, making the long locks fly back. The Sentinel was hard pressed not to zone out on the wave of colors that arched out. The anthropologist gave a small smile to negate how harsh his answer had come out sounding. “No, thanks anyway.”
The answer and the sheepish look on Blair’s embarrassed, pink face had Ellison giving the kitchen area a closer look. It seemed to be clean—as clean as it could be, anyway, given the surroundings—so the Sentinel surmised that Sandburg didn’t want him going in there due to a lack of food and not due to sanitary reasons.
“Al-right,” he drawled out, letting Blair know that he wasn’t fooled in the slightest.
“It’s not as bad as it looks, Jim…” Blair’s explanation was interrupted by a loud snap. A very loud snap, even for un-Sentinel ears.
Ellison’s eyes widened and then narrowed at the sound. “What the hell was that?!”
The Sentinel remembered his earlier scan of the building. “Mousetrap?” he asked hopefully.
Blair shook his head, cinnamon and dark russet colored curls again danced in the dim light. “Oh man, I wish.”
That statement brought the detective out of the beginning of a zone out. The play of colors in Blair’s hair was incredible to watch and Ellison had been happily counting the number of color variations he’d seen in the locks; Jim had stopped at thirty.
“Yeah. Mice are cute and little. These are,” Sandburg held his hands apart in a frighteningly large spread. The observer shuddered dramatically.
Ellison looked around the room. He took in the bed that was sagging badly in the middle and the multitude of heaters that didn’t appear all that safe. Besides which, they were barely keeping the cold at bay, if Blair’s attire was any indication.
He looked at Blair, whose expressive face was flushed with embarrassment and stated, “You’re coming home with me.”
Blair shook his head no, just like Ellison knew he would, but the Sentinel was not going to be swayed. He opened his mouth to continue the argument when not one, not two, but three rat traps snapped shut in a rapid succession. Blair looked as worried and appalled as Jim felt.
“Okay,” he agreed in a quiet, subdued voice.
Later that night, Blair lay in bed and thought back on the day. He’d really thought that Sentinel Ellison would dump him as a Guide after Blair had lost his temper in the meeting at the station. It was still a toss up what Captain Banks would do in retaliation. Instead of being dumped, however, the Sentinel had come after him.
Now, he had a nice, warm, and most importantly, rat free home. The room under the stairs was tiny, but at least he didn’t have to worry about any unwanted visitors; the multi legged ones or the bi-pedal ones. No more running from his car to the dubious safety of the warehouse, with catcalls and leering eyes following him.
The futon wasn’t the most comfortable bed in the world, but short of sleeping directly on the floor, which got way old, real quick, anything was better than his old bed. There had even been times when his couch, with its broken springs, had been more comfortable.
Ellison had stunned Blair by helping him pack up all of his belongings into the back of Blair’s car and Jim’s truck; not that there was a lot to pack. The explosion several months earlier had weeded out all but the hardiest of his possessions and even some of them had succumbed to smoke and water damage.
With a Sentinel close by, the grad student’s empathy was settled down for the first time in months. Losing himself in the warmth and feeling of security, Blair closed his eyes and let himself drift off to sleep.
Jim sat on the edge of his bed and resisted the urge to get up and pace. The only reason the restless Sentinel didn’t walk around was because he knew it would disturb his Guide, who was sleeping just underneath him.
I could have lost him, Jim thought numbly.
It made the military man sick to his stomach to realize the conditions which his Guide had been living in for months. Not only was the building appalling and he’d seen better neighborhoods in the middle of a war zone, but just the physical aspects of his everyday living were deplorable.
Ellison had been right about the kitchen, it had been virtually bare. The cabinets had been empty of everything but a lone can of pork –n- beans and the refrigerator had been so barren that it didn’t even have any milk.
Blair’s few possessions had been quickly boxed up in seven medium sized boxes, and all but one of those had been books and a few carefully wrapped artifacts. The few clothes that the younger man had owned were old, worn out and smelled of smoke. Simon had been wrong when he’d said that Sandburg was dressing like a punk just to gall the captain. Looking at the few ragged jeans and shirts, Ellison came to the disturbing conclusion that Blair had been wearing his best to the station every day.
Taking a deep breath, the Sentinel made himself relax. He consciously let his shoulders slump and rotated his neck until it wasn’t so tense. Leaning forward so that his elbows were resting on his knees, Jim sighed and gave out a tired grin.
Everything was alright now. His Guide was in his home, correction, their home, where he belonged. Blair was fed, clean, had warm, good clothes on—even if they were Jim’s clothes and three sizes too large—and was safe. The guardian could relax for the night. Tomorrow he would take Blair out shopping and replace as much of the younger man’s clothing as the Guide would allow.
Jim pulled back the comforter and slid between the blankets. As he settled down for the night, the Sentinel automatically sent out his senses to check the perimeter. His Guide was fine. The loft was trouble free. Even Mr. and Mrs. Henderson two floors down had finally stopped arguing and were snuggled together.
The Sentinel felt his senses settle down, swiftly and effortlessly, in a way they had never done before. Below him, Jim could hear his Guide’s heartbeat. He didn’t realize it, but its soothing rhythm was already coming into sync with his own.
Both men slept, trouble free, through the night.
“What is that smell?” Jim’s voice startled Blair, who jumped several inches in the air.
“Smell?” he asked in a dazed voice.
“Yeah, a really nasty stench.” Jim’s laser blue eyes looked at the glass in Blair’s hand and the sickening green concoction held in it.
Blinking a couple of times while he thought, Blair thought about his hair care products and their various scents. Then his mind segued to his clothes that still sometimes smelled a little smoky. He hoped it was neither one of those, because truthfully, he didn’t have the money to replace any of the clothes.
He was about to answer the Sentinel when the younger man noticed where Jim was looking. Glancing down, he remembered his breakfast and gave a small laugh. He looked back up at Ellison and was startled again when he realized just how close the other man was standing to him.
“Uh. That’s just my breakfast,” he explained.
“What the hell are you eating, Chief? Garden mulch?” was the ex-Ranger’s guess.
“Ha ha. Very funny,” Blair quipped. “No, man. It’s my algae shake. Want some?” he tilted the glass towards Jim as he offered some of the drink.
The Sentinel reared back as if he’d been offered a live snake and curled up his nose at the sight and smell. Blair thought the older man’s reaction was amusing, because it was so over the top. He’d researched the man he was supposed to bond with and knew about his ill-fated mission to Peru. Someone who could survive all that, and undoubtedly eat things that made his poor algae shake look like manna from heaven, ought to be able to take a little green froth in a glass.
“Get that away from me!”
“Jeez, calm down, Jim. It’s just my breakfast.”
“Well, I wouldn’t be caught dead drinking that. Give me my eggs and bacon any day.”
“And then you’ll just be dead when your arteries explode,” Blair muttered as he finished off the last of his breakfast. He deliberately didn’t look up when, out of the corner of his eye, he saw Jim give him a glare; Blair had momentarily forgotten about Sentinel hearing. Being this close to another person all the time was going to take some getting used to.
The health conscious man watched in horror as the Sentinel fixed a Pop Tart for breakfast. A Pop Tart, for pity’s sake.
Jim faced the toaster and smirked at the way Blair’s mouth was hanging open. Normally, he ate more than a Pop Tart for a meal, but this morning he couldn’t resist the urge to yank the younger man’s chain; he considered it payback for the algae thing.
“…have no nutritional value, man. You’d be better off eating the cardboard box they came in.”
Ellison calmly finished eating his strawberry filled breakfast and listened to the other man ranting. He hadn’t even sat down at the table, choosing instead to eat while standing over the sink. That way any crumbs fell into the sink instead of on his nice, clean floor and made clean up a snap.
“Chief, give it up. I’ll let you fix me something different tomorrow,” he promised.
The frown cleared from Blair’s face and changed into a smile. Ellison was momentarily stunned by how dazzling the smile was. He straightened himself surreptitiously as the Sentinel slipped his denim jacket on. Blair’s smile and the scent of him so close had sent messages to Jim’s cock, telling it to wake up, because it wanted to play. Jim told his nether regions to shut up and followed Blair out the door, eyeing his nicely rounded, blue jean covered backside into the hallway.
This is going to be a long day, the Sentinel told himself.
Blair stepped down out of the truck and sent out a quick empathic feeler into the police parking garage. He didn’t feel any hostility actively aimed towards him this time, so he relaxed a fraction. Sometimes, even when he had one of the friendly cops with him, Blair could feel the dislike aimed at him.
He had no idea why so many people were vehemently opposed to his being at the station. It couldn’t be because of his long hair, because Blair had seen guys in Vice with hair that was a lot longer.
Maybe it was the clothes. But then again, Brown and his Hawaiian shirts weren’t exactly regulation. Simon and Joel usually wore suits, as did that good looking guy, Rafe, but Jim’s attire was much more casual.
Blair gave a resigned shrug. It was probably a moot point anyway. After his blow up the day before, there was no telling what Banks would do or say. The anthropologist could easily imagine the captain tossing him and his empathy out on the street.
The grad student felt his stomach tightening up. He really didn’t know what he would do if Simon kicked him out. His empathic barriers were only under decent control when he was around Jim. When he’d gone back to the warehouse each night, Blair had struggled to keep his barriers up until he saw the Sentinel the next day. Now that he was living with Jim, that wouldn’t be a problem and it got easier with each passing day, but he was by no means ready to be alone for any extended amount of time. However, if the captain kicked him out of Major Crimes, he wouldn’t be useful to Ellison any more and the Sentinel most probably wouldn’t want him living with him either.
“Relax, Chief.” Jim slid a friendly arm around Blair’s tense shoulders. “Everything will be fine.”
Sandburg nodded. With Jim by his side, Blair felt reassured. No matter what, he could cope.
Jim sat at his desk, doing yet more paperwork. It seemed like no matter how much he did, there was always more, like it multiplied or something when he wasn’t looking. Over the last couple of months, Blair had slowly taken over most of the tedious chore, so it shouldn’t have seemed so bad, but it did. The Sentinel didn’t know how he’d ever gotten anything done before Blair came along and made him sound brilliant and wonderful for the higher ups.
The door to the squad room opened with a pop, making Blair start in his chair. Ellison frowned. Blair was going to make himself sick if he stayed this tense. The younger man was wound so tight that Jim half expected to hear him creak.
Sure enough, the door swinging shut had Blair jumping out of his seat again. The Sentinel could hear how fast Blair’s heart was beating and it worried him. Jim eyed his Guide, trying to think of a way to calm him down. He had been like this for the last three days, since Blair’s argument with Simon, and enough was enough.
“Ellison! Sandburg. In my office.”
The bellow startled several people in the bullpen, including Jim. The Sentinel had been concentrating on his Guide and had all but tuned out the rest of the world.
Jim hesitated, for all of 5 seconds. He was reluctant to take his Guide into a situation that he knew would be very stressful. However, the detective knew better than to keep the captain waiting.
He took a few steps towards the office before backtracking and snagging hold of Blair’s sleeve to pull him along. Sandburg reluctantly allowed himself to be led. When they got into the office, Jim pulled Blair up to stand beside him, not like a reluctant Geisha girl who had to stay behind him. He slid an arm around Blair’s waist, showing Banks where his allegiance stood and hopefully giving the younger man a boost in the empathic area.
For his own part, Blair was stunned when Ellison put his arm around Blair. He couldn’t believe that the stoic and oh-so strict ex-military man would give what amounted to a Public Display of Affection. Blair stood up straight. He decided that if Jim could let go of some of his ingrained tendencies to show his support, he could face Captain Banks with his head held high.
Banks noticed the protective gesture and how it seemed to bolster the kid’s confidence. For a second, Simon’s conscience wavered.
When did I become someone to be feared? he wondered.
Of course, he used his authority, and sometimes his size, to intimidate criminals and his underlings, but the large man had never deliberately frightened someone vulnerable.
Until Sandburg, his traitorous mind whispered. Now, why is that?
“Jim, man, what are you doing?” Blair sounded positively horrified. Ellison rolled his eyes.
“Making Tasty Kool, Chief,” Jim said dryly. “You’ve heard of it, haven’t you?”
“Yeah, but geez, Jim, you’re using a whole cup of sugar in there.” From Blair’s tone of voice, the Sentinel surmised that doing so was the equivalent of adding drain cleaner to the drink.
“That’s what the package calls for,” Ellison explained patiently. Okay, so not a lot of patience was happening here, but he did explain it.
“Yeah, but think of all the chemicals that must be in there, just to preserve the mix. That just can’t be…”
Blair never got to finish his sentence. It was at that moment that Jim poured the packet of dry mix into the pitcher. A cloud of dry particles puffed up into Ellison’s face. He immediately began coughing.*
“Jim! Are you okay, man?” Blair grimaced at the stupidity of the question. Ellison’s red face and constant coughing almost guaranteed that he wasn’t okay. “Come with me, Big Guy.”
The Guide instinctively knew what to do. He took hold of Jim’s arm and led the older man out onto the balcony. The Sentinel had tears in his eyes from the coughing and couldn’t see where he was going; he followed his Guide without even thinking about it.
A few minutes in the cool air on the balcony helped clear Jim’s lungs. Once he stopped coughing, he relaxed back into the chair that Blair had led him to.
“No problem, Jim.” They sat quietly and enjoyed the ever changing colors of the sunset until…
“See, I told you that powdered drinks are bad for you.”
Jim barked out a surprised laugh and looked over at his Guide. Blair was grinning back.
Blair leaned his elbows on the conference room table and rested his chin on an open palm. He hadn’t followed the others when they left the room for lunch and the silence, both internal and external, was nice.
The younger man closed his eyes and began to meditate; he needed to go to his mental library and clean up a bit. Blair was concentrating on getting the book labeled Whiny when a noise in the real world intruded on his musings.
Blair opened his eyes; it took a moment for them to focus. He glanced over, without moving his head at all, and saw that the conference room door was opening. Blair’s eyebrows shot up when Jim walked in with several things in his hands. Two bottles of juice, three sandwiches, a large bag of chips and a couple of cookies made an awkward bundle in Ellison’s hands. The detective dropped all of the items on the table and shut the door behind him.
“What’s up, man?” Blair asked, trying not to eye the food too obviously; breakfast had been a fast affair, many hours ago.
“Lunch, Einstein,” Jim said, with a smirk. “You need to eat more,” he insisted when Blair started to automatically protest.
Blair didn’t realize it, but Jim had recently come to the conclusion that money was tight for the grad student, tighter than he’d thought, and that was the reason Blair didn’t eat anywhere but at home. Once Jim had gotten past his horror at the realization, which had only happened when Blair declined to go with the team to lunch, the Sentinel made plans to take better care of his Guide.
“Eat,” he ordered, pointing to the meager meal on the table.
Blair decided that pride was well and good, but he was hungry! He grabbed up one of the sandwiches and tore the plastic wrapper off. Sandburg had already taken a couple of bites before it dawned on him that he wasn’t even sure of what he was eating. Blair paused in mid-bite to savor the food in his mouth.
Chicken salad, he decided. It was a good thing he liked that particular sandwich filling; although he did prefer it not pre-packaged. But, beggars can’t be choosers. Blair dug into the feast with gusto, grabbing up a handful of chips from the bag that Jim had opened for them.
Jim frowned when he saw how hungry Blair obviously was. They hadn’t eaten much for breakfast that morning, because Jim hadn’t factored Blair’s morning shower into their morning schedule and they’d been running late. The Sentinel mentally adjusted his morning routine to make sure that there was time for them to eat.
“So, any ideas about who the killer is?” Blair asked, swallowing the last bite of his sandwich. The younger man eyed the 3rd sandwich that was still sitting in the middle of the table. Jim waved a hand towards it.
“Go ahead. I got it for you anyway.” Ellison was lying; he’d intended to eat two of the three sandwiches, but Blair obviously needed it more. He could always buy another one later.
“No, I’m fresh out of ideas,” Jim admitted. “There’s no connection between any of the victims. They don’t have anything in common; no haunts, no friends, nothing.”
“Maybe that is the connection,” Blair stated thoughtfully.
“What is?” Jim asked.
“That there is no connection. Maybe all of the victims are picked completely at random. They just had the bad luck to be near the perpetrator at midnight.”
Jim frowned at the observer. “Chief, that’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard. There has to be some connection, we’re just not seeing it yet.”
Blair leaned back in his chair and gave a short nod. He didn’t look at the Sentinel and Jim could see the walls coming up as he closed himself off.
Idiot, Jim chastised himself. I asked for his opinion and then jump on him when I don’t agree with it.
Ellison was about to apologize when the conference room door opened and the rest of the task force began to trickle in. The Sentinel cursed their timing, because he needed to tell Blair he was sorry or they would lose all the ground that their impromptu lunch had gained.
“I’m sorry,” he said, leaning closer to Blair. At Sandburg’s astonished look he continued, “We were bouncing around ideas; I had no right to trash yours.”
Blair’s mouth was hanging open in surprise and he shut it with an audible snap. “Okay. It’s…we’re cool.” Blair smiled and then hopped up to throw the detritus of their meal away.
Conway, one of the cops from Homicide snickered and made a quiet comment to his partner about Blair’s hippie sounding statement. Jim glared at the two men, who quickly shut up. The Sentinel had made a decision at about the same time he moved the young Guide into the loft; no one was going to harass Blair, no one.
“Sandburg. My office.”
Blair’s head jerked up at the command. He gave the squad room a quick look, but didn’t see any allies. Jim had run over to the impound lot to pick up a form that hadn’t been sent like it should have been. The Sentinel went himself, because he didn’t want to risk losing any evidence that might be found in the car because of some procedural snafu. Blair had decided to stay behind and finish up the last of the other paperwork so he and Jim could have the weekend free.
The Guide had been waiting for the fallout from his fight with the captain the week before. Banks had obviously been waiting for Blair to be alone before he said anything.
“Sit down,” Banks told him, pointing to one of the chairs in front of his desk. Blair sat and waited.
“I’ve thought over the little scene you caused last week,” Banks started. “I had to look through the rule books because no Guide has ever attacked a captain before.” Blair looked at him in astonishment. The captain continued, “Here’s how it’s going to be.”
The much larger man leaned back in his plush chair; Blair recognized the signs of someone settling in for a long lecture. Years of university politics had taught the grad student what to look for. But Banks was in for a surprise, Blair was largely immune to the kind of power play that the captain appeared to be gearing up for; he had been through it with bigger (in a power sense, of course, most trees weren’t bigger than Simon) and more important people. It was true that Banks could toss him out of the department, but Blair had suffered setbacks before and he could do it again. Years ago, one of Blair’s advisors had decided that the young man wasn’t right for the Anthropology department and tried to get him thrown out of the Masters Program. Blair had fought and defeated him, (look who was gone and who was still at Rainier) he figured that he could handle one pissed off police captain.
Blair’s mind tuned back in to what Banks was saying. That isn’t to say that he was ignoring the captain. No, Blair had been listening to the captain as he listed all of the problems, both real and imaginary, that Blair being at the station had caused. Sandburg’s mind was always going in a dozen different directions at once, so he was used to multi-tasking; listening to Simon and thinking to himself was a no-brainer.
“…and if you ever talk to me like that again, I’ll toss your hippie ass out of here so fast that your head will spin.” Simon gave the observer’s curly hair a quick glance and gave a dismissive snort.
Blair raised one Spock-like eyebrow and waited, making sure the other man was finished. When it was obvious he was, Blair launched his own defense.
“I agree that you need to keep up professional appearances and having someone who isn’t officially one of your men yelling back at you isn’t good for your image,” Blair agreed. “However,” he went on, “if you yell at me like you did, for no reason, I will be out of here, all on my own. You seem to think that I’m dependent on your goodwill. While having your okay is nice, it isn’t necessary to my continued well being. Even if Jim went along with you exiling me I could still make my way. Ellison isn’t the only Sentinel in the world, you know. And while I like being around him, I can adapt if I need to. It’s not like I haven’t done it before.”
Blair stood up to leave. The open mouth and slack jaw expression on Banks’ face was worth every nerve wracking minute of the confrontation. He stopped at the edge of the room, door open, and fully aware that the men and women in the bullpen were eagerly listening.
“Oh, and by the way, Cap-tain,” Blair made sure to emphasize his rank, much in the same way that Banks always did Blair’s name. “My mother is a hippie, but I’m not. Just because you are prejudiced against me because of my long hair, doesn’t make you right.”
The captain stiffened at the implication of being prejudiced. As a black man he had suffered through name calling and the like all his life. As a police captain, it was his job to curtail discrimination, as much as humanly possible, not incite it.
“Sandburg,” he called. Blair stiffened in the doorway and turned back to the other man reluctantly.
The Guide knew better than to provoke people who were bigger and had more power than he did. All that led to was more humiliation and, in some cases, a beat down that would hurt for weeks. Looking at the much taller and definitely more muscled captain, Blair braced himself, expecting that both instances were likely to come true.
“I don’t for a minute believe that you would willingly walk away from Jim,” he stated, narrowing his eyes at Blair.
“Willingly, no.” Of course, Blair had no intention of giving up his Sentinel, not when they’d come so far, but he wanted the captain to sweat a little. “But that doesn’t mean I will stand by and be anybody’s punching bag. I don’t know why you dislike me so much, Captain, and I really don’t care at this point. I’ve seen the way you act towards other Guides, so I guess it is just me. So be it. But you might give it some thought as to why I’m such a bad guy,” Blair quietly stated.
Simon watched him walk off and hoped this confrontation hadn’t scared the younger man off; Ellison would kill Banks if he’d made the Sentinel’s new Guide run away. In the back of his mind, Simon began to think over what Blair had said and realized the observer had spoken the truth; he did treat him with a disdain that he wouldn’t dare to do with any other Guide. He had some thinking to do.
Three days later
“Jim,” Simon called in greeting. “What’s happening?”
Banks flinched at the hard look in Jim’s eyes when the detective looked at him. Simon didn’t know if Blair had told him what happened in the captain’s office, or if someone else had, but it didn’t really matter. The result was that the Sentinel had been giving Simon the cold shoulder since then and it didn’t seem like he would be thawing out any time soon.
“I don’t know, sir. We just got here.”
Even Jim’s voice was frigid; so cold, in fact, that Simon expected icicles to be hanging from the Sentinel’s mouth. The statement reminded Simon of something, rather, someone, and he looked around. He did his best to keep a neutral expression on his face. However, going by the dirty look that Ellison gave him, Simon figured that he wasn’t very successful.
“Chief,” the Sentinel called out. Simon heard a vehicle door opening and looked towards the sound just in time to see Blair emerging from Jim’s 1969, blue and white truck.
“Are you ready, Jim?” Blair asked the older man. He didn’t actually ignore Banks, but he didn’t greet him either.
“Yeah, let’s see what we’ve got.”
The captain followed the two of them over to the vacant lot where the latest victim of their serial attacker had been found. He didn’t enter the crime scene, knowing that the Sentinel and Guide team had a better chance of finding evidence if they weren’t distracted. Banks was curious though, he wanted to see exactly what it was that Blair did for his best detective, so he leaned against the gate of the chain link fence and watched them.
Blair’s neck was so tense, he knew that he’d have a headache before the night was over. Of course, since it was 3:45 in the morning, there wasn’t much night left, but that was beside the point.
I sure as hell hope I don’t mess this up, he thought. It’s hard enough, getting a handle on what I need to do for Jim, let alone my own whacked out empathy, without Banks watching my every move. The captain acts like I’m going to rape Jim, or something.
The thought of sex with the handsome and sexy Sentinel sounded good to Blair, but he gave a soft snort over the idea of him forcing Jim to do anything. Ellison turned his head slightly and gave Blair a questioningly look.
“It’s nothing, Big Guy,” he reassured the older man.
Jim nodded but gave Blair a disbelieving look. Blair hadn’t told Ellison anything about the second argument with Captain Banks, but the Sentinel had found out anyway. Blair reckoned that some of the uniformed officers, the ones who really didn’t like him, had told Ellison all about the fight. They probably hadn’t planned on Jim keeping Blair around after that. If so, they must have been really surprised when the two of them appeared the next day at the station.
The Sentinel squatted down beside the body of their newest victim. Jay Anthony had been a 56 year old accountant from Olympia who had been in town for a convention. He’d been of average height and weight, not married and had no criminal background. Just an average guy. What he’d been doing in an empty lot late at night was a lot more interesting.
Even Blair, with his far from perfect vision, could see the discarded needles, burned spoons and the narrow lengths of rubber used for tourniquets; all used in taking illegal drugs. Anthony’s blood covered quite a large area of the detritus, confirming that it wasn’t a body dump, he had died there.
Interesting place for an accountant, Blair thought to himself.
The sight and smell of the blood was overwhelming to Blair, who wasn’t used to it. He turned away from the carnage and stepped closer to Jim. If he was having trouble dealing with the mess, the Sentinel was probably in trouble as well.
The anthropologist placed a hand on his Sentinel’s shoulder to ground the older man as he used his senses. “Dial it down, Jim. Filter out the smells of the garbage and…and everything not related to the murder.” Blair had no idea just exactly what was strewn about in the vacant lot, but from what he could see, it had to be nauseating.
“Okay. Yeah, I can do that.” From the strain in Jim’s voice, Blair deduced that he was right; the Sentinel had been beleaguered by the smells. All Blair had to go on was Jim’s voice, because it was dark as all get out this late at night, even with the spotlights that the police had brought in.
“What’s left? What do you smell?” Blair asked, his voice automatically slipping into the soft, Guide voice that he used.
Blair blinked. “A gun?” he asked.
“Yeah. You know, gun powder, cleaning fluid…gun smells.”
“Oh. Wow, I had never thought about it before, but I guess you could smell a gun.” Blair was impressed, as he always was, with the extent of Jim’s senses. “Alright, what about sight?”
He waited patiently while the older man dialed down his smell and turned up his sense of sight. Jim looked around the body, slowly and methodically. After a few minutes, he tilted his head to one side, reached into his pocket for an evidence bag and picked something up off the ground, right beside the victim’s left hip.
“I’ve found a thread,” Ellison said. “I’m not sure what it’s made of, but it seems to be a synthetic blend of some kind.” Jim shrugged. “Hopefully the lab guys can identify it.”
Blair shifted from one foot to the other carefully, he tried not to move around too much, because he didn’t want to distract Ellison from his search. Peripherally, the grad student was aware that they were garnering a lot of attention from the other police personnel. Sandburg didn’t understand why, though, as the Cascade PD had their fare share of Sentinels and Guides. You would have thought that seeing a pair in action would be old hat by now. Apparently not.
Simon watched as Sandburg led Jim through the steps necessary to find new evidence, as if the younger man had been doing it for years instead of a few months. The captain watched in amazement as Jim found a thread, a thread, for pity's sake, in among all that crap. And he did it without zoning, even once.
Much as it galled him to admit it, Banks had to acknowledge that Jim's success was largely due to Blair being there to help him. The younger man was more skilled at being a Guide than people who had been at it for most of their lives.
Jim doesn't need me, the tall man told himself. Banks' eyes widened as that thought went through his mind and he wondered where it had come from.
Blair looked up from his comfortable perch in one of the chairs when Jim’s head jerked up. Even after such a short time in the Sentinel’s company, Blair knew the smelling pose when he saw it.
“What is it, Big Guy? What do you smell?”
“Cheese. Tomatoes. Pepperoni. Onions.”
The younger man’s eyebrows shot up as Jim recited a list of ingredients. He glanced around the room and automatically sniffed at the air, as if hoping he could smell what the Sentinel did. Naturally, all he smelled were lemon furniture polish and the cleaning solutions that Ellison used to keep the loft sparkling clean.
“It’s pizza, Chief. Simon’s on his way up,” Ellison clarified for him, as he headed for the front door.
“Oh.” Blair frowned, but only after Jim had turned away. So much for a nice, quiet evening at home, his mind supplied.
Banks yelped when the door opened, right before his fist could knock on it. “I hate it when you do that, Jim.”
Ellison grinned. “I know. Come on in.” He stepped back and gestured the captain in.
“Sandburg,” Banks offered in greeting.
Blair gave a small nod and looked back down at his book. “Captain Banks.”
“Simon, please.” Blair looked back up in surprise. “We’re not on duty now,” the large man explained.
The captain smiled, he genuinely seemed happy with Blair’s capitulation. Sandburg glanced at Jim, surprised by the change in Banks. From the look on his face, Ellison was equally amazed.
“I brought pizza and beer.” Banks plunked the 6-pack of beer onto the countertop.
“I know. Pepperoni and onion,” the Sentinel supplied with a grin.
“You could at least give the illusion of privacy,” Simon said, semi-jokingly. Blair snorted softly.
Ellison gave his Guide a glance, frowning. He turned back to the captain. “I’ve got to keep you on your toes…sir.”
“Off duty, remember,” Simon reminded him.
“I have to keep you on your toes, Simon,” Jim amended with a smile.
“And Sandburg will keep you on your toes,” Simon said, with an even bigger smile. Blair laughed, appreciating the joke.
“Hey!” Jim pretended indigence, but truthfully, he was glad that Blair and Simon were getting along.
Simon leaned back onto the sofa and sighed in contentment. The evening had gone well. Jim wasn’t mad at him any more and his tentative friendship with Sandburg was coming along as well. He was just glad that they accepted his change of attitude without asking a bunch of embarrassing questions.
There was no way that the Major Crimes captain was going to admit to anyone what he’d realized the night before at the crime scene. Simon had come to the disconcerting realization that he was jealous of Blair. Before the Guide’s entry into Ellison’s life, Simon had been his best, and only, friend. Now, Blair occupied that role and Simon had been resentful of it.
After he had come to that conclusion, Simon realized that Jim could have more than one friend. Blair was Jim’s Guide, a completely different role than Simon, his friend and captain, played in his life.
But he wasn’t going to admit any of it. Not even under pain of death.
“Hi, Professor Sandburg.”
Blair waved at the trio of students. Their label of professor was inaccurate, because he had yet to earn his degree, but the anthropologist had long since given up on correcting his students.
The grad student pulled out his cell phone, the one that Ellison had given him in case of an emergency, intending on calling the Sentinel to let him know that class had gone over and Blair would be a little late. He frowned in frustration when the little phone refused to light up.
“I know I charged the battery last night,” he groused under his breath. It was doubtful that Jim would believe him though; not after all the times that he had forgotten to connect it to the power.
Blair stuck the slim, black phone into one pocket of his backpack and debated on whether or not to go back to his office and call Jim or just keep on going towards his car. The teacher’s office was all the way across to the other end of the campus while his Corvair was just a few buildings away. Sandburg decided to blow it off and risk Jim’s wrath. He was wearing a pair of cowboy boots, ones that Jim had bought for him; they were new and as uncomfortable as unbroken in footwear can be. Blair had no desire to add any more blisters to those he was already sporting on his heels.
“It doesn’t matter,” Blair stated. “Either way he’s going to be ticked off. If I go back, I’ll just be that much later.”
Blair jumped, startled by the voice that came suddenly out of the quiet of the afternoon. He blushed, feeling foolish at having been caught talking to himself. The observer turned around quickly and was surprised to see Elliot Clayborn, a fellow detective from the police station. He was the leader on the serial attacker case that Blair was helping Jim with.
“Detective Clayborn?” He squinted his eyes in the glare from the late afternoon sun. “Is something wrong?” Blair gasped, his eyes going wide. “Is it Jim? Has something happened?”
Even as he asked the questions, Blair’s mind was supplying the answers. If something had happened to Jim, Captain Banks would have sent word to Blair through someone in the office. Or, barring that, say in the case of really bad news, Banks would have sent one of the officers that Blair knew, most probably Joel Taggart, with whom Blair was fairly close.
“You. You are what’s wrong,” the other man informed him.
“Huh?” Blair frowned and took a step back, this was getting seriously creepy. “What’s going on, man?” Blair asked quietly. He was eyeing the other man warily now, because while Blair had been ruminating, the detective had just been staring at him.
“You must be made to pay,” Clayborn stated decisively.
“Pay? Uh, what are you talking about?”
The detective snorted and gave Blair a glare. Blair opened the door in his mind that shielded his empathy, just a crack, to see if he could get a reading on the older man. Anger, disgust, hatred and amazingly, fear, slammed into Blair’s mind with enough force to make the empath stagger back.
Clayborn’s eyes widened for a moment. He’d obviously felt the brush of Blair’s empathic abilities, but didn’t know what it was. The confusion cleared from his face almost immediately and the bigger man’s attention was again focused solely on Blair.
Blair edged around the corner of a stone bench that he had stopped by, trying to put as much distance between himself and Elliot Clayborn as he could without taking his eyes off the detective. The older man was tall, taller than Jim, and weighed a good 80 lbs. more than Blair did. The anthropologist knew that there was no way for him to defend himself against Clayborn. His only hope was to fend the other man off somehow and hope that help arrived soon.
“I don’t understand, man. I thought you liked me.” Or at least didn’t actively dislike him, like so many at the station still did.
Blair still didn’t have very good control of his empathy and people’s emotions seeped in from time to time. While most of the cops sent out hostile feelings, those from Clayborn had always been neutral.
“Like you!” Clayborn shrieked. “You and all your kind are foul and disgusting.”
“M-my kind?” Blair asked with a wince. The detective getting so worked up that he was actually foaming at the mouth.
“Yes. You, you filthy, nasty creatures. Breaking the law. Always pushing, pushing, pushing.”
“Uhm, I haven’t broken any laws,” Blair informed him, trying to reason with the other man, even though he knew it was hopeless. Even if Blair couldn’t see the insanity with his own eyes, he could feel it pushing against his empathic barriers. It felt like an army of red ants, crawling and biting against his mind.
“Murders and corruption. Rape and thievery.”
Blair blinked at the litany of crimes that dropped from Clayborn’s mouth. He wasn’t accusing Blair of any particular crime, but any and every crime he could think of; his madness having snapped even the shreds of normality that he had been showing the world.
He inched away from the man, a slow, cautious step at a time. Maybe, if he could get enough of a head start, Blair could run into one of the buildings and get help.
“Traitor!” Clayborn screamed, pointing a shaking finger at Blair.
The anthropologist knew that this was it, he had to take a chance now or the opportunity would be lost. Blair let his backpack slide off his shoulder until it was dangling from his hand by one strap. When the insane man stepped closer, Sandburg swung it with all his might, catching the detective in an uppercut on the chin.
Having so many books worked in his favor for once. The weight of them, combined with his laptop and student papers, slammed into Clayborn’s head and knocked him down and senseless for several crucial seconds.
Heart pounding in his chest and ears, Blair ran for the nearest building, which happened to be the administration building. It was late in the afternoon, so there probably wouldn’t be very many people around, but Blair reasoned that he could lock himself in an empty office and hide there until he could call Jim.
It was a good plan. The only problem was that he could hear the cop’s footsteps as he ran down the path behind him. Blair was so unused to the boots—being more of a tennis shoe man himself—that he wasn’t able to run as fast as he normally could.
Blair couldn’t understand where everyone had gone. It wasn’t that late in the day and there should have at least been a security guard or two patrolling the university grounds. If he lived through this, Blair planned on complaining to the head of security. Considering how close Clayborn was behind him, Blair didn’t figure that Mr. Simms in security had anything to worry about.
If any of the first three office doors that Blair tried had opened, he might have been alright. It was when he was turning the knob on the fourth one that Clayborn caught up to him.
The much bigger man crashed into him at a full run, mashing Blair between his heavy body and the hard, unyielding wood of the door. The grad student lost what little air he had left from his run in a whoosh. Clayborn stepped back, seemingly unaffected by their race across the campus, and spun Blair around. This time it was his back that was slammed against the door making him grunt in pain.
“No, you’ll die as slowly and painfully as I can make it,” Clayborn swore, mumbled was more like it. Blair could see where a spectacular bruise was already blossoming on the other man’s jaw and from the way the lower part of his mouth was hanging at an angle, Blair realized that he’d broken the detective’s jaw.
He suited words to promise and plowed a fist into Blair’s stomach. Blair bent over, gagging. The only thing holding him up was the other man’s grip on a fistful of his hair. Clayborn grinned his maniacal grin, as best he could, considering his own injuries, when he grabbed a vice like grip on Blair’s right arm and squeezed.
Blair screamed at the pain that ripped through his arm and up into his shoulder. Despite the handful of hair gripped tightly in Clayborn’s fist, the anthropologist felt his legs giving way beneath him. Before he could lose a bunch of hair or throw up all over the nice man assaulting him, and thereby really upset him, Blair felt himself slam back into the door once again. The jarring of his arm sent black streaks across his vision and Blair soon felt himself falling. He was unconscious before he touched the ground.
The Sentinel heard the bones in his Guide’s forearm break as he was racing down the hallway. Blair’s scream of agony hurt his sensitive ears, but since it was his Guide’s voice doing the yelling, he managed not to zone out on the sound.
Ellison skidded around the corner and spotted his prey at the end of the hallway. Clayborn was standing over Blair, who was lying prone on the ground. Jim could see several injuries on the insane detective, indicating that Blair hadn’t gone down without a fight. Nevertheless, it was Sandburg who was lying unconscious and helpless on the floor.
“Clayborn!” the Sentinel bellowed. The distraction worked and the other man turned away from Blair and his obvious intention to finish him off.
“Ellison,” Clayborn’s voice was a hiss. “I might have known you’d come to his rescue.” The detective waved a hand at Blair disdainfully. Now that he was facing Jim fully, the ex-Ranger could see the damage to his face and understood why he was talking so badly.
Stupid Normal. Of course, I’ll protect my Guide, Jim thought. He used the term Normal, a derogatory term for people without Sentinel or Guide abilities, sarcastically. Clayborn was obviously about as far from normal as you could get and not be institutionalized.
“So, I was prepared.” The detective pulled his service revolver from the ubiquitous shoulder holster and aimed it at Jim. Ellison stopped in the middle of the hallway and eyed the other man warily. Hand to hand, there was no doubt that the younger, military trained Sentinel could take Clayborn, but a weapon tended to equalize the playing field.
“I’m going to shoot you in the gut,” Clayborn promised. “That way, it will take you a long time to die and you get the privilege of watching me kill your beloved Guide. And don’t worry, he’ll take almost as long as you to die.” The detective grinned as best he could with his mangled jaw.
Jim was concentrating on the man who was threatening his Guide, and incidentally himself, trying to think of a way to diffuse the situation. He could hear backup running along the quad and was afraid that their appearance would cause Clayborn to attack; it wouldn’t take much to set the volatile man off.
“Ooooff.” The older man grunted in pain. His eyes widened dramatically and the gun slid out of nerveless fingers to clatter heavily to the floor.
Jim blinked in surprise and glanced down. The point of Blair’s new, metal tipped boots were imbedded in the middle of Clayborn’s crotch. Blair moved his leg back as the detective fell to the floor and tried to scream. Ellison heard several uniformed officers run up behind him, just in time to see the other man go down.
“Don’t you dare threaten my Sentinel,” Blair snarled at his assailant. He spit on the writhing man and then laid back on the ground, cradling his injured arm.
“You should have seen it,” one man whispered.
“Did Sandburg really take down Clayborn?” another asked.
“Yes, even though he was hurt really badly.”
“Sandburg?” another voice chimed in. He sounded more than a little skeptical. “The little guy with the girly hair?”
Jim, who was listening to the conversation from two floors away, bristled at the slight to his Guide. If he had been closer, the third person in the conversation would have been introduced to the business end of the Sentinel’s fist.
“Yes, Sandburg,” the first speaker emphasized, sounding more than a little peeved himself. Jim recognized the man talking as Ted Franklins, one of the officers who had come as backup at the university. “He probably saved Ellison’s life, and maybe even mine too. Clayborn was waving his gun around and ranting like a loon.”
“Huh. The hippie was just saving his own skin,” the one man said disparagingly. Jim didn’t recognize his voice, which was probably a good thing for the speaker’s continued good health. Or any health, for that matter.
“No, he wasn’t, you twit.” Jim grinned at the put-down. “The gun was pointed at Ellison, not Sandburg. All the kid had to do was lie still and Clayborn wouldn’t have been a threat.”
“Yeah,” Blair’s other champion chimed in his two cent’s worth. Make that, quarter’s worth—inflation was such a pain.
“Oh. Well….oh.” That finally shut the last guy up.
Jim let his sense of hearing roam around the building. Things were certainly changing. Quite a few people were speaking up on Blair’s behalf, or, as in Franklins’ case, bragging about Blair’s exploits. Certainly, it wasn’t a clean sweep; some people were still bad mouthing Blair, but they were far fewer than just earlier in the week.
All in all, things were looking up.
Jim glanced at the clock and then back down at the sofa where his Guide was currently sleeping. The Sentinel knew that it was past time for Blair’s pain meds, but since the anthropologist was still sleeping soundly, his arm must not be hurting, so he decided to let it go for a little while longer.
The younger man was very health conscious and that extended to the use of chemical help. Blair hated to take any prescribed, or even over-the-counter, medications, be they antibiotics or pain meds. Jim had had the devil of a time to get enough antibiotics down his Guide to keep him from getting an infection, let alone pain pills to keep him from hurting.
Clayborn had really done a number on the smaller man’s arm. The broken bone had been compounded when his attacker had twisted it. Consequently, Blair needed surgery on his forearm and the appendage would be in a cast for a good six months.
The former detective was now sitting in a room at Conover. The psychiatric center housed quite a few dangerous criminals, so Ellison was hopeful that they could keep Clayborn under wraps.
Apparently, Blair had been right all along. There was no rhyme or reason for the attacks or the chosen victims. They just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time—midnight—when Clayborn’s psychosis would hit.
Jim shuddered when he thought of how close he came to losing his Guide. Blair was the only one of his intended victims that Clayborn deliberately went after. It seemed that the detective had enough of his sanity left to realize that Blair was the only real threat to him, not that Blair had considered him as a suspect, and wanted to eliminate him.
Ellison was brought out of his reverie when Blair stirred on the couch, moaning slightly as his arm was moved unintentionally. Jim gave Blair a hard stare. If that little bit of movement was hurting him, it was definitely time for more pain reliever.
“Ch-ief,” he drawled, running a hand over the top of Blair’s head. “Time to wake up.”
“Nuh. No, it isn’t,” Blair said softly, but clearly. He was obviously more awake than Jim had realized.
“Yes, it is. You need your meds and to eat something.”
Blair opened one blue eye and started to protest. The Guide obviously saw something on Jim’s face, or his arm hurt worse, or something, because he closed his mouth, leaving the objection to die on his lips.
“And I was thinking…” Jim hesitated. It was hard for him to open up like this, but it was definitely time. “That maybe tonight we could bond.”
The younger man froze, his eyes widening dramatically. Even before the smile broke across Blair’s face, like a sunrise coming over the horizon, the Sentinel could smell how happy he was.
“I like that idea,” Blair admitted. He blushed a delicate shade of rose. Jim thought it was endearing.
“Good. Come here, my Guide.” Jim helped Blair sit up and then wrapped an arm around the anthropologist’s waist.
“Yes, my Sentinel.” Blair returned the embrace. Already, the duo could feel the long withheld bond beginning to form.
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Acknowledgments: Thank you to the incomparable Bobbie for the beta and thank you to Patt for the cover art.
My friends all tell me
Go to him, run to him,
Say sweet lovely things to him,
And tell him - he's the one.
Deep in my heart I know it,
But it's so hard to show it
'Cause it's easier - easier said than done.
My buddies tell me
Fly to him, sigh to him,
Tell him I would die for him,
And tell him - he's the one.
Although he gives me a feeling
That sets my heart a-reeling,
Yet it's easier - easier said than done.
Well, I know that I love him so.
I'm afraid that he'll never know
Because I (I-I) I get so timid and shy
Each time that I look him in the eye.
They all tell me
Sing to him, swing with him,
And just do anything for him,
And tell him - he's the one.
I got a love so true
But I'm sad and blue
'Cause it's easier - easier said than done.
Well, I know that I love him so.
I'm afraid that he'll never know
Because I (I-I) I get so timid and shy
Each time that I look him in the eye.
They all tell me
Sing to him, swing with him,
And just do anything for him,
And tell him - he's the one.
I got a love so true
But I'm sad and blue
'Cause it's easier - easier said than done.
Easier-er-er-er - said than done.