Sell My Soul

By DoggyJ

EMAIL: DoggyJ

Rating: FROT (is that right? Older teenagers for language and violence)

Category: AU, gen - no bonding (surprise!)

Summary: In an alternate universe, Sentinels and Guides are known. Economic times are hard and health care has reached a crisis point. What will one man do for someone he loves?

Thanks: to Annie Booker for a quick and complete beta job!

 

 

Sell My Soul

"Shh, Casey, shh. It’ll be all right. I promise." Blair held the sobbing woman, close to crying himself. But he couldn’t indulge in that luxury, not right now. If the little girl in the hospital bed had any hope of surviving, he had work to do. "I’ll take care of it. You just stay with her, and don’t let the hospital throw you out."

Blair stepped out into the cold autumn wind, his thoughts as bleak as the sky above. He thought back to his own childhood, how different everything had seemed then. He and his mother had wandered in what seemed to be a paradise: a land full of beauty and promise. True, he had never spent more than one year in any one place, but he had seen the country and much of the world, and had friends all over the globe.

What had happened? How had it all gone so horribly wrong? The news programs were full of self-proclaimed experts who tried to answer those questions, but they all contradicted one another. The only thing they could agree on was that conditions today were much worse than even a few years ago.

Take Kaitlyn, the four year old he had just left in the hospital. There had been a time when she would have been cared for regardless of her mother’s homeless status. Public appeals would have been made and the money raised for the operation on her heart that would have saved her life. ‘Ventricular septal defect’; in other words, she was born with a hole in her heart. The doctors had said that most of those holes were small enough not to cause significant problems and would close on their own in a few years. But there was a small percentage that did not close, requiring surgical intervention.

Actually, it was a fairly routine surgery, but it was heart surgery, and it did cost money. The health care crisis had reached such epic proportions that if a patient did not have insurance, the patient had better have a wad of cash stashed away somewhere. You couldn’t save everyone, especially those who would only be a further drain on society’s resources. Casey had nothing; not since that asshole ‘father of her baby’ had thrown them out, threatening to kill both of them if he ever heard from them again.

Blair waited in the cold wind for the bus, feeling his options narrowing around him, shriveling his courage. He was about to do the one thing he had sworn he would never do again. He would sell his body if he thought he could get enough money quickly, but knew that was a dead end street. Boarding the bus, he pushed in among the crowded passengers, refusing to let himself dwell on what he was about to do.

He pulled the cord signaling the driver that he wanted off at the next stop. Climbing down, he stared at the imposing concrete building. It was dingy and gray and cold and the perfect representation of his future. Blair mounted the steps and went inside. Several hours later he was more than ready to leave. He rubbed his forehead wearily as he waited for the caseworker to come back to the desk.

"Okay, Mr. Sandburg, you’re registered." The blonde-from-a-bottle smiled brightly at him. "And may I say we’re delighted to have you on our rolls. Here are your copies of the contract and terms." Noting that Blair didn’t seem to be as thrilled as she was, she leaned forward. "Don’t look so glum. Sometimes they let you go back to work or school, or visit your family, if you’re not needed.

"And here is a copy of your Bill of Rights as an Indentured Servant," she continued, handing him yet another packet. "This contains complaint and grievance grounds and procedures. But almost no one ever has to file. If someone is going to pay good money for your services it only makes sense that they take real good care of you, a place to live and all that. Seven years of having someone else take care of you." She sighed. "I’ve even considered becoming Indentured myself. But of course I don’t have any special skills, like you being a Guide. Anyway, you’re all done. We’ll get you listed right away and all you have to do is check your email or answering service regularly. Once you have a bid on your contract, you only have forty-eight hours to respond before you’ll be found in breach. Again, welcome aboard and good luck."

Numb, Blair gathered his papers and left. He had done it. Had withdrawn from Rainier as a graduate student, dropped his teaching schedule, and quit his part time job. He had cut all his ties with his former life. He had sold his soul.

Despite the darkening sky and chill weather, Blair decided to walk home. He couldn’t bear to be around anyone else right now. As he walked, he practiced dropping his barriers, reading the people he passed on a superficial level. Once his contract was picked up, this would be his life; this was what he would do.

Not on his own, of course. At the direction of a Sentinel. He would be, to all intents and purposes, a possession of a Sentinel. So much different than the short term contracts between Sentinels and Guides that he was used to. A slave. Oh, no one would say that, not ever. He was an Indentured Servant, a ‘contract employee’, his only responsibility consisting of doing whatever the Sentinel who picked up his contract told him to. He couldn’t help but make a comparison with the indentured servants who came to the country back in its beginning.

Finally, cold, tired, and hungry, he found himself in front of the door to the warehouse he lived in. He let himself in and wandered around, looking at the books and artifacts he had collected over the years. And found that he wasn’t quite so hungry after all.

***

William Ellison stormed into the office of Captain Simon Banks, the man in charge of the Major Crimes Unit of the Cascade Police Department. He didn’t knock. Simon sighed.

"Well, what was it this time?" Ellison demanded.

Simon winced. "Another officer used her pepper spray. It affected your son adversely."

"What are you going to do about it?" Ellison demanded. Simon wondered if he had any other tone of voice.

"The department is recommending desk duty until he agrees to take a Guide." Simon was tired and had about three headaches all rolled into one. One of them had William Ellison’s name written all over it. One of the others belonged to William’s son, James Ellison.

Jim Ellison was a damned good cop. He was also a Sentinel. He was also one stubborn, pig-headed son-of-a-bitch sometimes. Probably genetic. He adamantly refused to take a Guide, despite the recommendations of his doctor, his father, his captain, and just about anyone else who had ever ventured an opinion on the subject. But now he might not have a choice. Jim had zoned and the other officer had been shot. The wound was superficial and the woman had already been released from the hospital, but it was the principle of the thing.

"I’ll take care of it," Mr. Ellison stated. Without a further word, he left.

As William left the building, he pulled out his cell phone. "Mason," the voice on the other end answered.

"Find my son a God-damned Guide!" William snapped, and then hung up the phone.

***

Blair logged onto his laptop with the same sick feeling of dread he had every day now. In the five days since he had registered with the service, he hadn’t been able to eat much. His stomach felt tied in a perpetual knot. He knew he had lost weight, but didn’t have the energy to care.

His computer came on and he signed on to the ‘net. After cutting his ties with most of his friends, he had very little email to look forward to. Almost silently, he chanted, ‘no mail no mail’ while his account loaded.

Breath caught in his throat. There it was, priority urgent. He had a buyer.

***

"You’ve got to be kidding." William Ellison stared at the longhaired young man incredulously. "This is the Guide you got for Jimmy? No." He turned away, clearly believing the conversation to be over.

Blair hid his sigh of relief. He had almost come to terms with his decision, almost convinced himself that he was doing the right thing. First of all, he would get the money to pay for Kaitlyn’s operation. Secondly, he would be helping a fellow human being, a Sentinel, to function in the modern world: to fulfill his genetic destiny as guardian and protector of the tribe. What he didn’t want to end up doing was playing babysitter to some rich man’s Sentinel brat.

"Sir," the man who had introduced himself to Blair simply as Mason said, "look at his credentials."

Ellison turned back around, his scathing eyes raking Blair once again. He took in the long, curly hair, the earrings in his left ear, the worn jeans and handmade vest over the loose white shirt. "I think I’ve seen plenty of his … credentials," he sneered.

Mason silently handed over a folder, and with a long-suffering sigh, Ellison flipped it open. "How much of this is true?" he demanded after a moment.

Blair drew himself up. "All of it," he asserted. "But I’m obviously not the man you’re looking for, so if you’ll just sign the release form, I’ll be on my way. I’m quite sure you’ll find… someone… suitable for your needs." His tone of voice conveyed exactly his feelings regarding William Ellison.

The older man stared at him, seeing the intelligence and self-confidence in the dark blue eyes. The kid wasn’t afraid to stand up for himself, that was for sure. Maybe, just maybe, he could hold his own with that stubborn jackass, James.

"Provisional contract only. Two months. We’ll pay the full fee after the probationary period," he snapped.

Blair was shaking his head. "No. I can’t do that. Either you pay the full fee up front and you’re stuck with me for seven years or release my contract so I can find someone who can. I won’t play games with you, Mr. Ellison. I need the money, and I need it now."

Ellison narrowed his eyes, glaring at the potential Guide. He needed a Guide for Jimmy, and he needed one yesterday. Since this latest incident with the police department, his son had been suspended with pay. His continued career was contingent on his getting a Guide; any Guide. Ellison was tired of fighting this battle. Jimmy would have a Guide, this Guide, and he would get along with him and they would learn to work together. Or else.

"Fine. Mason, where’s my pen?" Ellison snapped.

"Wait a minute. Don’t I even get to meet your son? What if we’re not compatible? Doesn’t he have a say in this?" Events were moving too quickly for Blair, and he desperately tried to gain control of the situation.

"No, he does not have a say. And you will be compatible, or I’ll know the reason why." Ellison signed the contract and held the pen out to Blair.

"You can’t order someone to be compatible," he protested.

"I just did. Sign here and I’ll have the money deposited to your account first thing in the morning. In the meantime," he reached for his wallet. "Here’s some money to start you off on the right foot." Ellison held out a one hundred dollar bill. Numbly, Blair accepted the money, and the pen, watching in fascination as his name seemed to appear magically on the contract.

"Good. Here’s the address. Mason, take him over there." Ellison turned abruptly and left the room.

Mason smiled at Blair, but the expression did nothing to reassure the young Guide.

The ride over was silent, with Mason shooting occasional looks at the quiet young man. At a stop light, he suddenly said, "They’re not bad men, you know. Just don’t see eye to eye. Mr. Ellison really just wants the best for his son."

Blair simply grunted, the realization that he had actually signed a contract – for seven years- finally sinking in. He had sold his soul; he just hoped it wasn’t to the devil.

The car stopped. "Upstairs. Apartment 307." Mason turned toward Blair, something like an apology in his eyes. "He doesn’t know you’re coming." As Blair stared back at him in shock, Mason sighed and pulled a card from his inside jacket pocket. "Look, here’s my number. Call me if…" Mason’s voice trailed off and he looked away from the Guide.

"Yeah, thanks," Blair said sarcastically. But he took the card anyway.

Mason popped the trunk and Blair grabbed his duffle bag and backpack, the only possessions he had brought with him for his new life.

The car pulled away as Blair opened the door to the main building. He turned for a moment, watching the taillights disappear into the darkness. Irrationally, he felt abandoned, deserted. But this was a choice he had made, and he was determined to stand by his decision.

Besides, the money was already gone. The account he had listed on the contract was in Casey’s name only. Waiting inside Ellison’s big house for Mason to bring the car around, he had used the phone to call Casey to tell her the money for Kaitlyn’s operation was available. He had refused to tell her where the money came from, only that he would call her again when he could.

Blair waited patiently for the elevator to the third floor. Then impatiently. Finally, he hoisted his duffle bag and started the long climb up the stairs. As he climbed, he considered the best approach to take to the situation. He was about to drop in, unannounced, on a man he knew nothing about and declare that he was moving in for the next seven years, courtesy of the man’s overbearing, obnoxious father. That ought to go over well.

Standing outside the door to number 307, Blair knocked firmly. Before he had lowered his hand the door was pulled abruptly open. Blair almost took a step back from the imposing figure in the doorway. He had expected to take on some spoiled kid, at most his age, but probably even younger. But the man who faced him was easily ten years older and several inches taller. He was lean and fit, exuding an air of danger, like a predator poised to spring at his prey. Ice-cold blue eyes bored into Blair’s darker ones as the man stared at him silently.

"Jim Ellison?" Blair asked. At the man’s slight nod, Blair stuck out his hand. "I’m Blair Sandburg, your Guide for the next seven years. Your father bought me," he couldn’t help but add, just a trace of bitterness in his voice.

Blair snatched back his hand just in time as the door was slammed in his face. "Well, that went well," Blair muttered, staring at the solid wood. He turned and leaned back against the wall, dropping his duffle bag on the floor. Slowly, he sank down until he was sitting on the floor next to it. He looked in his backpack, pulling out his copy of the signed contract. Opening his empathy just a bit, Blair could feel the Sentinel behind the door, listening intently to the sounds from the hallway.

Knowing the other man could hear him, Blair began to read bits and pieces from the contract. "… shall provide domicile and meet reasonable needs such as adequate food, clothing, and medical attention… shall make available a certain portion of funds set aside for personal spending at a rate not to exceed .05 % per month of the total contract amount…let’s see," Blair mused, "what would that be? Seven thousand a year for seven years, that’s forty-nine thousand, five percent would be twenty four fifty, so point oh-five would be…"

"Two hundred and forty five, and you’re crazy if you think you’re getting one penny from me," came a voice from behind the door. In other words, the person who bought the contract would bear all day-to-day costs of living while providing the IS with what amounted to a cash allowance. The balance of the money would, theoretically, be held in a bank account until the term of service was over. Blair grinned. Turning slightly, he slipped the contract under the door and waited.

He was quickly rewarded. "What the hell? Son of a bitch! He can’t do this to me!"

The door flew open and the Sentinel towered over the Guide. "Get up." He stalked toward the stairs. "And bring your crap!"

Blair sighed and pushed himself up off the floor. Once again he hoisted his duffle bag and backpack. This day just kept getting better and better.

Outside, the Sentinel was waiting impatiently in a beat up blue and white pick up truck that had definitely seen better days. Without a word, Blair threw his bags in the back and climbed in the front. Before he could even close the door, much less fasten his seatbelt, the other man floored the gas pedal and the truck roared into the street.

"Hey!" The startled yelp was torn from Blair as he scrambled to close the door and get settled in the seat. He slid across the old-fashioned bench style seats as Ellison swerved around a corner much too fast, only to be shoved roughly back toward the passenger side door. Frantically, Blair scrabbled for the safety belt, fastening it just in time for Jim to scream around another corner.

Fury rolled off the driver in waves. Blair didn’t need to be a Guide to feel the other man’s anger. He stared moodily out the window, his barriers as high as possible to protect himself. Neither man spoke during the journey.

Blair ran over the figures in his head one more time. Forty-nine thousand dollars; that was the price of his soul. Of course, when the Institute figured contract amounts, they took into account the cost of food, housing, clothing, and medical expenses. The overall total was much higher, but seven thousand a year was the amount Blair would have had free and clear if he had kept the money. Money his buyer could well afford, judging by the surroundings Blair remembered from his earlier visit with William Ellison. Of course, at the end of these seven years, Blair would have nothing. The money was already gone.

Jim pulled the truck to a chest-crushing stop in front of the big house and jumped out.

Blair followed more slowly, not anxious to witness the coming battle. He stared at the house morosely. This was his life now, for better or worse. And it looked like worse was winning hands down so far. He had been bought by a man who didn’t need him for a man who didn’t want him. He had no job, no friends, and no place of his own to live. He had nothing but the bags in the back of the old truck.

Stepping through the front door, Blair turned toward the study he had been led to earlier that evening. He didn’t need anyone to show him the way; he just followed the bellowing. Unwilling to actually enter the room, Blair waited in the hallway, trying not to hear how much he was not needed or wanted.

After a moment, William Ellison slammed out of the study, brushing by Blair. The older man stared at the Guide for a second. "I expect you to fix this," he snarled. "I paid good money for you, and I demand you do your job." With that, he was gone.

Blair waited for Jim to come out also. But the minutes stretched on, and Jim didn’t appear. There was no sound from the study. Blair expected at least some muttering and cursing. After a few more minutes, he peeked in the door. Sighing, Blair stepped into the richly appointed room.

Jim stood in the middle of the study, staring fixedly at the door. Cautiously, Blair lowered his barriers to confirm his observation. The Sentinel was zoned.

Blair looked back toward the front door, wondering if he could escape. But if he defaulted, his part of the contract would be null and void, and the money in the account would be transferred back to William Ellison, no matter whose name it was in. He had to fulfill his part of the bargain; that’s all there was to it.

Carefully, Blair crossed the room and approached the frozen figure. "Okay, man, I know this is not what either of us expected, but we’re stuck with each other for now. I’ll do whatever I can to help you out, so try to listen to my voice." As Blair talked, he lowered his barriers and reached out to the man in front of him.

One moment Blair was holding onto the Sentinel’s arm, talking softly, bringing him back to himself; the next he was lying on the floor, stunned, the left side of his face numb. Blair lay there for a moment, trying to understand what happened, waiting for the next blow. He had heard about this kind of thing, but never believed it would happen to him. Is this how Casey had felt? Trapped, alone and afraid?

He flinched as the bigger man took a hesitant step towards him. "Sandburg, I’m sorry," Jim growled. "I’m sorry. Shit!"

Cautiously Blair read the man. He was a peculiar mixture of anger and genuine regret.

Ellison paced back and forth a few steps, rubbing his hand through his short dark hair in agitation. Suddenly he was standing right beside Blair, towering over him.

"Here." And the hand, that had so recently struck him, was reaching for him again. Blair shrank back. "Shit. I’m not going to hit you again. I said I’m sorry already."

Ellison knelt down next to Blair, still sitting on his butt on the floor of the study. Hesitantly he reached out again. Blair eyed him warily, but the other man just touched his cheek, turning his head slightly. Jim winced. "Ow. That’s gonna hurt."

"You’re telling me." Blair watched the Sentinel closely, gauging his mood. "Did you do it on purpose?" he asked suddenly.

The look of shock in Jim’s light blue eyes was all the answer Blair needed. "No! Of course not! I would never hit…" Jim sagged, sinking all the way to the floor beside the Guide. He was quiet for a long time. "Are you going to file a complaint?"

Blair looked at him, letting him wait. "No."

Jim looked surprised. "Why not? It would get you out of the contract. Abuse of either Guide or Sentinel is terms for voiding the contract. And you’d get to keep ten percent of the fee."

"I can’t," Blair said quietly. "The money’s already gone."

"Gone? How can it already be gone? You just signed the contract today," Jim said incredulously.

"The account isn’t even in my name. The money all goes to someone else." Blair leaned forward, rubbing his face as the numbness wore off and the pain set in.

Jim nodded, eyes narrowing as he studied the young man sitting on the floor beside him. Blair was rubbing at his face where the initial reddened skin was turning into something darker, more angry looking. "What was it? Gambling? Drugs? Spending way more than you could afford on almost anything?"

Blair just stared at the other man. "Something like that," he finally said. Ellison didn’t need to know where the money went; he wouldn’t care, anyway. The less said about the subject the better.

Ellison just grunted, his eyes darkening with something like disgust.

Ignoring the proffered hand, Blair pushed himself to his feet. Ellison rose to his full height, but Blair met his gaze steadily. This man wasn’t going to intimidate him. After all, he was the Guide. Ellison needed him.

After a long moment of silence, Blair said, "So?"

"So, what?" Ellison looked away, toward the door leading out of the library.

"You want to play games, go ahead," Blair snapped. "It’s late and I’m tired. Not to mention that my face hurts. I’m out of here, man."

Angrily, Blair stalked out the front door to the truck, pulling his bags out of the bed. Shouldering the backpack and the duffle, he headed down the driveway.

He had almost made it to the road when the truck pulled up beside him. Ellison sat behind the wheel, staring straight ahead. "Get in," he said, not even turning to look at Blair.

"Fuck you," Blair replied, still walking.

The truck pulled slightly ahead, then Jim turned the vehicle to block Blair’s path.

As the bigger man got out of the truck and approached him, Blair tensed. He wondered if Ellison was going to hit him again, and then wondered if he could survive seven years of abuse. Instead of expected confrontation, Jim simply hooked the strap of the duffle bag, pulling it off Blair’s shoulder before he could protest. Jim threw the bag into the back of the truck then turned to face Blair.

"I’m not going to apologize again. I’ve already said I’m sorry more in one evening than in the past five years," Jim stated.

"And that’s a record to be proud of?" Blair snorted.

"Just get in the truck, Sandburg." Jim watched the Guide through narrowed eyes.

"Or what? You’ll throw me in?" Blair challenged.

Jim almost smiled. "No, I’ll just drive off with all your stuff." Without another word, Jim spun on his heel, jumped into the truck, and drove of.

Blair stared after him, cursing the damn Sentinel in several different languages. The brake lights flared, and then the back-up lights came on as the vehicle hurtled back toward the stranded man. Once the truck was next to Blair again, Jim leaned out the window. "I got most of those, but what was that last one you called me?"

"Roughly translated, it means something that lives in the asshole of a camel." Blair allowed himself a small grin.

Once again, Jim shocked the former student. He threw back his head and laughed. "Get in, Sandburg."

Blair stared at the other man for a long moment, dropping his barriers enough to gauge Ellison’s emotional state. Finding nothing threatening, for the moment, he walked around the truck and opened the passenger door.

"You gonna let me get all the way in this time?" he asked suspiciously.

Jim held up his right hand, two fingers extended. "Scout’s honor. I won’t move until you’re properly secured in the vehicle."

Once Blair was seated and belted in, Jim put the truck in gear and drove sedately down the street. As they neared the area where Jim lived, he turned to the man in the seat beside him. "You want to stop and pick up something to eat? There’s a Wonderburger just up the block."

"Wonderburger?" Blair turned incredulously to him. "Are you trying to kill me? Again?"

Jim bristled. "What’s wrong with Wonderburger? Everyone eats there."

Blair snorted. "That’s why there’s a heart disease and obesity epidemic in this country. May as well eat a handful of lard."

"So what? Are you some kind of health nut?" Jim asked.

"You don’t have to be a nut to be careful about what you put in your body. Especially you, as a Sentinel. You have to watch everything you eat, the cleansing products you use…"

Jim completely ignored Blair as he turned into the Wonderburger drive thru lane. "Two Big W’s and a coke," Jim said into the speaker.

"Hey, what the…?" Blair sputtered. "I didn’t say I was going to eat anything from here."

"That’s for me," Jim said smugly. "Now, did you want anything?"

Jim almost smiled as the Guide beside him visibly fumed. "Well?" he prompted.

"A grilled chicken sandwich, easy on the mayo, and iced tea," Blair growled through gritted teeth. The man was playing with him. Well, two could play at that game. Usually, if he was out with a friend, Blair would offer to pay for his own food. But this was a different situation. In the first place, he and Jim were not friends, and Blair had his doubts that they ever would be. It was really going to be a long seven years.

Secondly, the Sentinel was obligated to provide food and board. "The contract specifies ‘adequate’ food," Blair muttered, staring with distaste at the bags that were deposited next to him on the bench seat of the old truck.

Jim didn’t say anything else, just drove on to the building they had so recently, and so precipitously, vacated. "I’ll get the food, you grab your stuff," Jim ordered curtly.

Blair climbed wearily out of the truck, his head beginning to ache. He could feel the skin over his left cheekbone tightening as the swelling increased. Leaning against the back of the truck, he closed his eyes for a minute before reaching for the heavily laden duffle bag once again.

The hand on his arm startled him. "Sandburg? You okay?" He looked into the obviously concerned gaze of the man leaning over him.

"Been a long day," Blair grudgingly admitted.

"Here, you carry the food. I’ll get the bags," Jim said gruffly, shoving the greasy sacks into Blair’s arms. Blair started to object, but a glare from those piercing eyes stopped him before he even opened his mouth.

Jim easily hoisted the duffle and backpack and led the way into the building. Without even trying the elevator, he started up the steps to the third floor. Blair followed numbly, trying to come to terms with the sudden changes in his life.

He had known, when he signed the contract, that his life would be subject to the whims of a Sentinel. But he had assumed, based on the examples he had seen, that it would be more of a reciprocal arrangement, a relationship based on mutual respect. Well, that’s what he got for assuming.

Before he quite knew what was happening, Blair found himself seated on a couch in a loft apartment, a bag of frozen peas pressed to his painful cheek. He had already downed two ibuprofen and a glass of water. A few minutes later Jim called him over to the table, where he had put their food on plates.

"No eating in the living room," Jim said as he sat down.

Blair stood awkwardly holding the bag of peas in his hand. "Just put them back in the freezer," Jim told him around a mouthful of burger.

"But they’ve thawed some. You can’t eat them now," Blair protested.

Jim stared at him. "Who really eats peas? They’re just cheaper than an ice pack, that’s all."

Blair rolled his eyes but threw the package in the freezer then came to join his new Sentinel at the table. He winced at the first bite of his chicken sandwich but managed to chew and swallow. They ate in silence. Blair took his own plate to the kitchen, which seemed to surprise Jim for some reason.

"I’ll get those, Chief," he mumbled.

"I’m not a guest," Blair reminded him dryly.

Jim stopped for a moment and just stared at the sink. "Well, we’ll see about that," he finally said. But he washed the dishes anyway. When he turned around, Blair was still standing there, watching him. "Um, why don’t you just have a seat on the couch? I’ll fix a place for you to sleep. For tonight."

Blair sighed and turned away. He wandered into the living room and sat down on the couch. The past week was catching up with him; the stress and anticipation had wreaked havoc with his appetite and sleep patterns. Leaning his head against the back of the couch he closed his eyes, just for a moment.

When he opened them again, he found himself lying full length on the couch, a pillow under his head and a light blanket covering him. He knew immediately where he was; no confusing this place for the large, echoing warehouse he had recently occupied. Blair sighed and winced as he sat up. His head ached, his face throbbed, and he felt weary down to his soul.

He stumbled to the bathroom Jim had pointed out earlier, squinting in the sudden light as he flipped the switch. Blair finished his business quickly then turned to wash his hands. Catching sight of himself in the mirror, he stopped and stared. The red mark on his cheek had darkened into a faint purplish bruise; not overly glaring but noticeable if anyone took a closer look. His hair was a mess and his clothes, which he had been sleeping in, were rumpled and wrinkled. In short, he looked like the refugee he felt he was. A refugee from his own life.

Blair leaned heavily on the sink, closing his eyes against his own image. It was worth it, he told himself silently, all worth it. He would do anything for Kaitlyn and Casey. If only Casey would have given him a chance to prove how much he loved her. But then again, it was never his feelings that had been in question. He wanted to call Casey and make sure she had access to the account, that there were no problems. And to find out how Kaitlyn was doing. And just to hear her voice. Maybe Jim would let him use the phone later.

Squinting at his watch, Blair noticed that is was shortly past one in the morning. He looked in the medicine cabinet and found some nighttime pain reliever. Gratefully, he swallowed a couple of the capsules with a sip of water from his hand. He didn’t want to go poking around in Jim’s cabinets for a glass in the middle of the night. Blair turned out the light and waited a moment for his eyes to adjust to the darkness and then made his way back to the couch.

Sounds from the kitchen woke him from a restless sleep several hours later. He sat up, rubbing at his face, and then winced as his hand elicited a dull ache from his left cheek. His clothes felt itchy and grubby as he scratched his chest irritably.

"You want a shower before you eat?" Jim called.

"Yeah, um," Blair started, looking around the room. He didn’t see his duffle bag, and where were his glasses?

"Your glasses are on the coffee table, and I put your clothes in the spare room," Jim said.

"Are you a Sentinel or psychic?" Blair grumbled, snatching his glasses up.

"An astute observer," Jim answered, "and I heard that."

The Sentinel seemed to be in a much better mood this morning than the night before; whereas Blair had a decidedly pissy attitude. He had given up his life for a noble purpose, so why did he now feel cheated and betrayed? Casey hadn’t asked him to sell himself; he had done that all on his own. Most people who entered indentured servitude did so because they had dug themselves into a financial hole, especially now that the bankruptcy laws had been all but abolished. But anyone could offer a contract for services, as he had.

The small room under the stairs had been set up as a study. There was a futon shoved against the wall along with a desk with a computer and a bookcase against the other wall. One door led out, presumable to a fire escape, and another opened to a small closet. The door to the closet was open and Blair could see his shirts and pants hanging inside.

He looked closer, surprised to discover that the wrinkles had been ironed out of the shirts. Looking around the room again, he spied the ironing board folded up into the wall beside the closet door. The man had ironed his shirts? Shaking his head in wonder, Blair grabbed a set of clothes, digging a fresh t-shirt and boxers from his bag. He got his shaving kit and went into the bathroom.

Feeling somewhat more human, Blair approached the kitchen. He was dressed in khaki pants and a light blue shirt but had a towel draped across his shoulders to catch the water still dripping from his wet hair.

Jim glanced at him but kept his attention focused on the eggs he was scrambling. "There’s coffee," he offered.

"Thanks," Blair mumbled, edging past the other man to pour a cup. Jim told him where the plates and silverware were, and Blair quietly put them on the counter. Jim grabbed the top plate and loaded it with eggs, bacon and toast, then picked up his own coffee and went over to the table, leaving Blair to help himself. Blair took some of the eggs, one piece of bacon, and the other two slices of toast and joined Jim.

They ate quietly for a moment until Jim asked, "So, what do you do?"

Blair stopped chewing for a moment, the food turning to dust in his mouth. He forced himself to swallow and took a big drink of his coffee to wash the lump in his throat down. "I was an anthropology student at Rainier, in the Ph.D. program," he answered and then shrugged. "Now? Nothing. I’m your Guide. Bought and paid for. That’s all."

Jim frowned, staring at him. "I didn’t ask for a Guide," he said. "And I’m not the one who signed that contract." Blair could feel the other man’s frustration and resentment peak then fade into something like resignation. He looked down at his plate and pushed the eggs around, but his appetite was gone.

A deep sigh pulled his attention back to Jim. "You want more coffee?" Jim asked. Blair didn’t, but nodded anyway.

Jim took both cups into the kitchen and refilled them. When he returned he jerked his head toward the couch in the living area.

Blair stood up and took his coffee from Jim. He noticed that while he was showering Jim had put the blanket and pillow away that he had used last night. There was no sign now that anyone had slept there.

Jim took the easy chair and Blair sat down on the couch. "I’m a cop, a detective, with Cascade PD," Jim began. He went on to describe some of the problems that he had been having with his senses. "So, I’ve been restricted to desk duty until I get a Guide," he concluded.

Blair nodded. He understood Jim’s dilemma, the necessity of having a Guide but the resistance to giving up any of his independence.

"But," Jim continued, "I would prefer to find my own Guide, no offense. I’m sure you’re great, but I’m a cop. You’d have to have a complete background check, drug test, all that just to work with me."

"What, you don’t think I’d pass?" Blair challenged, suddenly realizing where the conversation was headed. He couldn’t afford to have his contract voided; he needed that money for Kaitlyn. "Bring it on." He leaned back on the couch, spreading his arms. He held Jim’s gaze, refusing to look down.

"That’s not what I meant," Jim tried to say, but Blair could feel the lie in his words. "I just don’t know that you’re cut out for police work. Wouldn’t you rather be back at the university?"

"I knew what I was doing when I signed up as an IS," Blair said. "Going back is not an option for me at this time." He paused, thinking furiously. He needed this contract desperately. "Look, just give me a chance, man," he asked, his tone reasonable. "I’m a good Guide, I’ve worked with Sentinels in the field before. And anthropology is not that different from police work. We’re both looking for clues to human behavior. There’s even a whole field of anthropology devoted to forensics now."

"I know what a forensic anthropologist is, Chief," Jim growled.

Blair’s eyes narrowed as a thought occurred to him. "Is it because your father bought the contract?" he asked. Even if he were not a Guide he couldn’t miss the change in Jim’s attitude. There was a tense silence in the room.

"Where did the money go?" Jim asked suddenly.

"For a good cause," Blair fired back quickly. "Nothing illegal, I promise."

"I’ll give you a week," Jim said, holding his hand up to stop the protest forming on Blair’s lips. "If it doesn’t work out, I promise I’ll find someone to buy out the contract or I’ll pay off my father myself."

"Or you could just keep me and really piss him off," Blair suggested wryly. He fingered the earrings in his left ear. "I don’t think he was particularly impressed."

Jim stood and took a step towards Blair, holding out his hand. "Truce?" he asked.

Blair stood and took the other man’s hand. "Truce." He felt his spirits lift and bounced on his feet a couple of times. "Actually, this will be pretty cool. I mean, I’ll be right in the middle of all the action; shoot outs, police chases, whatever. Like going from the merry-go-round to the monster roller coaster!"

"Slow down, Kojak," Jim warned. "First of all, I doubt you’ll be out in the field with me. Secondly, most of police work is truly boring; phone follow-ups, records searches, things like that."

"Of course I’ll be in the field with you," Blair asserted with confidence. "And research is my middle name." Jim just grunted noncommittally.

***

Blair fingered the ‘visitor’ badge nervously as he stood in the elevator. During the ride to the station Jim’s attitude of grudging acceptance had deteriorated into resentment and reluctance, whereas Blair’s mood had lifted unaccountably. He decided it must be due to his mother’s insistence on focusing on the positive side of life. However, he thought ruefully, in this instance the only positive aspect he could see was that Casey could now afford Kaitlyn’s surgery. He would have to find time to call her this morning.

He followed his glowering Sentinel out of the elevator and down the hall to some doors that had "Major Crimes" stenciled across the frosted glass. Through the doors was a secretary’s desk with an attractive blonde woman. Jim passed her without a word but Blair nodded as she looked up at the two men. He was aware of her keen scrutiny as he continued on behind Jim.

Beyond the secretary was a large open room with several desks, file cabinets, bookshelves; in short, all the paraphernalia of an overworked understaffed metropolitan law enforcement office. About one third of the desks were occupied. Most of the occupants were either on the phone or immersed in computer work, but a well-dressed white man, about Blair’s age, and a more casually dressed black man, somewhat older, were standing next to one of the file cabinets digging through the contents.

Both looked up and greeted Jim politely by name. Jim barely grunted a reply and Blair began to get an impression of the workplace dynamics. As with the secretary, the two men, presumably detectives, continued to watch them with open curiosity. Opening himself cautiously, Blair could sense their interest along with a wary concern.

"Sit there," Jim barked abruptly, pointing to a, in this environment, pathologically neat desk.

"Woof," Blair muttered under his breath.

"What?" Jim turned, pinning him with an icy glare.

"Sure," Blair said in a normal tone of voice. He settled into the worn chair and watched as Jim knocked on a door that read ‘Captain Banks’ then entered without waiting for an acknowledgement. He could sense irritation from the man within.

"What are you doing here?" he heard just before the door closed. Turning his attention back to the room, it seemed that everyone was watching him. He could feel their awareness as he was assessed as a possible threat. Then he was dismissed by some while the others’ speculation was all but visible. The well- dressed man who had greeted Jim headed his way.

"I’m Brian Rafe," he said, holding out his hand.

Blair rose. "Blair Sandburg," he replied. Then, just for spite, added, "I’m Jim’s new Guide."

Rafe froze as he eyes widened. Then a big grin spread across his face. "A Guide! Great! It’s about time. Hey, this is Jim’s Guide!" he yelled across the room. Instantly everyone in the room who wasn’t tied up on the phone got up and headed their way.

Blair didn’t have time to react before he was surrounded by people trying to shake his hand, slap him playfully on the arm, pound his back, or hug him. A babble of voices rose around him.

"That’s the best news we’ve heard in a long time!"

"You don’t know how happy we are to meet you!"

"That’s wonderful!"

"Anything you need, anything, you just holler."

"We are so happy to see you."

"What’s going on out here?" a new voice bellowed. The room quieted immediately. The detectives drifted back to their own desks, still murmuring happily to each other, throwing Blair grateful smiles and an occasional wink. Jim scowled at all of them. The tall black man behind him just looked exasperated.

"Mr. Sandburg," he said with forced politeness. Blair rose and followed his Sentinel and, presumably, Captain Banks into the office. He was reaching into his backpack even before he entered the room.

Blair remained standing as the other two men sat down. Without preamble, he pulled out a packet of papers and laid them on Banks’ desk. "A copy of my contract," Blair explained, "and my resume. You’ll find a list of projects I’ve worked on with other Sentinels in the capacity of Guide, as well as contact numbers and addresses."

Banks frowned as he picked up the papers. "This is highly unusual," he said. He began leafing through the papers, scanning them for pertinent information. Blair remained standing.

"Huh," Banks commented. "Neal Anderson? I know his father."

"I worked with Neal a couple of times before he found a permanent partner," Blair replied.

Banks glanced up and noticed the Blair was still standing. "Have a seat, Sandburg. You want a cup of coffee?"

"Thanks," Blair said, noticing the spike of irritation from Jim. The Sentinel radiated a curious mixture of frustration, resentment, and hope. Blair almost pitied him. He got his cup of coffee and sat down next to Jim while Banks continued to go over his paperwork.

"What was all that out there about?" Jim asked.

"They were just saying ‘hi’," Blair answered. "Letting me know how glad they were to hear you have a Guide."

Jim’s irritation flashed into outright anger. "What’s it to them?" he demanded.

Banks looked up, frowning.

Blair remained calm. "They worry about you. For the most part, they like you and admire you. Mostly, they seemed relieved."

Stunned, Jim just stared at him.

Banks asked, "How do you know all that? You didn’t have that much time out there."

"I’m an empath," Blair shrugged, reminding them of the most basic facet of being a Guide. "They’re not hard to read. It was all there."

"You read them?" Jim narrowed his eyes.

"Part of my job as a Guide," Blair explained patiently, "is to be constantly aware of the emotional attitudes of those around my Sentinel. If anyone broadcasts hostile intent, I’ll warn you immediately. That’s one reason it’s important for me to be in the field with you."

"That’s all well and good," Banks said, "but police work is a little different from search and rescue or environmental protection. We deal with some really hard core criminals."

A bitter smile twisted Blair’s lips and a hard glint shone in his eyes. He waved his hand toward the papers. "If you’ll continue reading, you’ll find I worked with the International Red Cross in Tonida. I was part of the team that went into the forced labor camps to liberate the tribespeople. I was also involved in the Sentinel/Guide teams that located and excavated the mass gravesites. I doubt there’s anything you can show me that I haven’t already seen."

Banks just grunted and went back to his reading.

Blair struggled to bury the rage and despair that always haunted him whenever he thought about Tonida. That had been the last assignment he had accepted as a Guide. Before Jim, that is. Before he no longer had a choice. Even the burgeoning respect he felt from Jim was not enough to surmount his suddenly soured mood.

"You didn’t tell me about that," Jim said softly.

"You didn’t ask about my credentials," Blair answered shortly.

"You’re right, I didn’t," Jim admitted.

"What’s that, another apology?" Blair asked wryly, trying to lighten the mood.

"Not even close, Chief," Jim snorted.

Blair sighed and closed his eyes for a moment. What was done was done, both in Tonida and more recently with his decision to become an IS. He had to focus on the good that had come out of those camps, the lives that were saved and the people that had been reunited with their families. Just as he had to believe that something positive would come out of his current situation. He still had to call Casey and make sure she got the money. And who knew? Maybe he could even help one hardheaded son-of-a-bitch named Jim Ellison.

"Hey, man, is there a phone I can use?" Blair asked.

"Sure. Use the one at my desk," Jim said, registering surprise at the sudden request. "Dial nine for an outside line."

Blair nodded and left the office.

***

"Have you read this, Jim?" Simon Banks asked.

"No," Jim admitted, feeling uncomfortable that he hadn’t. "I really haven’t had time. My dad just sprung him on me last night."

"He’s got some pretty impressive credits, if they check out," Simon said.

"Check out is the word, Simon," Jim answered. He leaned forward, looking at his captain intently. "I want him checked out six ways from Sunday. Background, financial, everything."

Simon frowned. "You know something I don’t?"

"No, not really," Jim said slowly, voicing his suspicions. "But I wanted to break his contract. He told me the money was already gone, and not to him. I want to know where it went. When I mentioned drugs or gambling, he didn’t deny the possibility."

Simon nodded slowly, thinking. As he started to reply, Jim held up a hand, stopping him. Tilting his head to one side, Jim listened to the phone conversation at his desk. He could hear Blair, but couldn’t quite hear the person on the other end of the line.

"Hey, it’s me. How you doing? - How’s Kaitlyn? – Did you go by the bank yet? – Casey, there isn’t anything else to discuss. Write down the information this time. You ready?" Blair read off the name of the bank and the account number to her again. Jim quickly picked up a pen and leaned over Simon’s desk, writing down the name of the bank and the account number.

"I can’t take it back," Blair was saying. "It’s all in your name. - Either you take the money and use it for Kaitlyn or it just sits there and does no one any good at all. - Don’t worry about that. Now, how’s Kaitlyn? - Because I love her, and I love you. – I know, I just wanted to say it. – Just take the money and take care of Kaitlyn. I’ll call you when I can. – No, I don’t have a number for you to call me. I’m not at the old place any more. – No, I’m not at Rainier, either. Just, take care of Kaitlyn. I love you." And Blair hung up the phone.

Jim concentrated on listening to the man sitting at his desk. If he didn’t know better, he would think he could hear just the slightest hitch in Sandburg’s breathing, almost as if he were trying not to cry. And the Guide’s heartbeat was just slightly faster than normal, if he knew what normal was. And why could he hear one person’s breathing and heartbeat? He hadn’t ever been able to do that before. But there was also this smell, this strange yet familiar scent that teased at his consciousness.

Captain Banks was moving, but his movement was irrelevant considering the important sensory information Jim was sorting through. And Captain Banks was yelling, but he wasn’t yelling at Jim, so that was also beside the point. The point, what was the point? The point was that the Guide was moving, coming closer to Jim. Closer so that Jim could explore the new sensations he was experiencing. And the Guide was talking to him, pulling him away from the fascinating sounds and scents that had become all encompassing.

He couldn’t ignore the voice that wormed its way past his defenses or that touch that brought him crashing back into reality. Jim started, flinching away from the hand on his arm as if it burned. Kneeling on the floor in front of him, Blair also jerked back, away from him. Jim felt a wave of shame and guilt wash over him as he remember the first and last time Blair had brought him out of a zone, at his father’s house. Blair eyed him warily. Behind him, Banks hovered anxiously.

"You okay, man?" Blair asked.

"Yeah, yeah, thanks," Jim muttered, embarrassed by the episode.

"Sandburg?" Simon said, looking down at the young man.

"Just a minor zone," Blair answered easily, rising to his feet. He took a step away from Jim. "From my understanding, Jim was fairly prone to zone outs. We haven’t really had a chance to work together yet, so I’m not familiar with his triggers."

"How soon can you get familiar with them?" Banks demanded.

"A couple of days, a week at most," Blair said, looking back at Jim warily.

Jim looked from Blair to Banks, hearing a note of urgency in his captain’s voice. "Sir, something you need me for?"

Banks went behind his desk and sat down, watching the two men closely. After a moment he picked up his phone and pressed a button.

Jim glanced at Blair who was still watching him cautiously. "Sit down, Sandburg," he growled. "I’m not going to hit you." Blair didn’t answer him but did take a seat beside him.

"Rafe, you and Henri meet us in the conference room and bring that file on the hooker," Banks said into his phone. Hanging up, he turned to the two men sitting on the other side of the desk.

"Sandburg, I’ll have to have a background check on you to work with us full time," Banks said, "but I need Jim now. I’ll give you a temporary pass while we wait on the paperwork."

"Simon," Jim began.

"I need you on this, Jim," the captain said. He waved the papers Blair had given him. "I’ll run him and make some phone calls today. If they check out, he’s in until I hear something different."

"Yes, sir," Jim grudgingly agreed. He didn’t like the prospect of babysitting an academic, even given the supposed experience the guy had. More and more he regretted not finding out more about this Blair Sandburg before he had brought him to the station. What had he been thinking this morning when he left?

He rose and followed Simon into the conference room, not bothering to check that Sandburg was following him. He knew the kid was no more than a step or two behind him. Jim resolutely refused to dwell on how attuned he was to the Guide’s presence already. It felt as if Sandburg had always been there. And that was a feeling that made Jim very uneasy indeed.

In the conference room, Henri and Rafe were all smiles, directed mainly towards Blair. Jim studied them with new eyes. He wondered if Sandburg was right in his assessment of his fellow officers. Could it be that the close scrutiny he had seen as suspicion and mistrust were just his colleagues’ way of watching out for him? Trying to take care of a Guideless Sentinel? He would have to think about that.

"Rafe?" Simon turned to the other detective without any further preliminaries.

Glancing at Blair, still curious, Rafe opened an envelope and dumped a set of crime scene photos on the table. Jim leaned forward and started looking through them, examining them closely. Blair had only to glance at them to see that they were pictures of three different people – three different very dead people.

Henri reached out and sorted them into groups. "Johnny ‘Spike’ Griffin," he said, pointing to one pile. "Small time thief and sometimes drug runner. Found him in an alley on the south side about a month ago.

"Tony McKinney, again a small time drug dealer, did some time for assault," Henri continued, indicating the second pile of pictures. "He was found in the parking lot next to ‘ChopperZ’, a local biker bar," he explained, looking at Blair. "That was about two weeks ago."

"Now," he teased out a picture of a woman’s face from the third pile. "Suzi Jones, not her real name, found last night under a bridge down by the river bottoms. Hooker, dope addict."

"On the surface there’s not anything to connect them," Rafe said. "Three different lowlifes, found in three different parts of town. The connection was made by Dan Wolf, our coroner," Rafe added with a nod toward Blair. "Cause of death for all three was blunt force trauma, in other words, they were beaten to death. Dan found enough similarities in their wounds to compare data, and he thinks they were all killed by the same type of weapon."

"Which is?" Jim prompted when Rafe fell silent.

"He doesn’t know yet, but there are very specific characteristics to the wounds. Probably some type of tool, but he hasn’t been able to match it yet," Rafe said. He spread the pictures out, selecting several that showed close up views of various wounds on the victims. The officers peered at them closely.

Blair had picked up shots of the victims’ faces, arranging them in chronological order. "You’re not considering this a serial, are you?" he asked. He met four confused faces staring at him. "I mean, there’s no real ritual here, is there? Just someone who likes beating people to death."

"Yeah, that’s how we see it," Henri agreed.

Blair picked up the picture of the woman. "She was found last night? Is the scene still protected?"

Rafe and Henri exchanged grins. Simon watched Blair appraisingly. Jim frowned.

"What?" Blair said. "He’s a Sentinel, I’m a Guide. What are we waiting for?"

***

"I know how to process a scene, Sandburg!" Jim snapped, staring at the yellow tape blocking off a section of the river bottoms overshadowed by a train rail bridge. On the other side of the tape were the remnants of an overnight party. Several colored flags dotted the area, and two crime scene techs stepped carefully around the charred remains of a bonfire, picking up beer and other liquor bottles along with the rest of the trash on the ground.

"Fine, man," Blair said in a placating tone, stepping back from the irritated Sentinel. He watched as Jim squinted against the bright morning sunlight. He would wait until Jim realized how much he needed a Guide. The realization was not long in coming.

Jim turned his head, looking up at the bridge crossing the river, eyes darting back and forth. He looked down again, walking toward the tape, and Blair could feel his struggle to focus on the scene. In a moment, Blair heard the rumble of an approaching train. He started toward the Sentinel but couldn’t reach him before the freight train roared by overhead.

"Shit," Blair muttered as he reached the other man’s side. Jim was hunched over; hands clasped tightly over his ears, eyes squeezed shut in pain. "Easy, man, easy," Blair murmured, running his hand up and down Jim’s back. "Just dial it down, let it go."

The train rumbled on, finally clearing the bridge. Jim straightened up, rubbing at his face. "Son of a bitch!" he burst out. His fury beat at Blair’s empathy, but it was directed at himself, not the Guide.

Blair stepped back and waited, keeping his gaze on Jim. For a moment, the tall man looked weary and defeated. "Ready to get started?" Blair suggested softly.

Jim resisted briefly before giving in. "Yeah, whatever," he answered with a resigned sigh.

"Okay." Blair stepped forward and put his hand on Jim’s arm, establishing contact.

Half an hour later found the pair staring a mess of tire and foot prints in the dirt. "Motorcycles," Jim said, "seven or eight. And I don’t know how many different people."

He remained staring at a particular patch of dirt. "You see something in particular?" Blair asked.

Jim knelt down, picking up a bit of damp earth and rubbing it between his thumb and fingers. "Oil," he answered, sniffing the dirt. "But I don’t think its regular motor oil. It feels different, somehow."

"Motorcycle oil?" Blair suggested. Jim looked at him. "Some bikers use special motorcycle oil, like a 20w50 weight. Some of the oils also have a higher ZDDP level."

Standing, Jim continued to rub his fingers together. "ZDDP?"

"That’s the zinc/phosphorous extreme pressure additive. Most motorcycles run just fine with regular motor oil, which can have as little as five hundredths of a percent of ZDDP," Blair said. "But if you race or run your bike hard, you want a higher percentage. It’s a little more expensive, but some people think it’s worth it."

Jim just stared at him. Blair sighed. "I had a friend who rebuilt an old Indian. We used to race it on the weekends. He always used low viscosity motorcycle oil."

Turning away, Jim called one of the forensic techs to take samples of the oil. He also confirmed that all the trash would be collected and processed. Blair stepped away as another tech arrived to make plaster casts of the tire tracks in the dirt. He joined Jim at the edge of the scene as the officer surveyed the area.

"They partied over here," Jim said, pointing to a churned up area of dirt and mud, littered with liquor bottles and trash. He walked around the area where the techs were still carefully bagging up the debris, Blair following closely behind. "And killed her over here." Even Blair could see the dark stain where the woman’s blood had seeped into the ground.

Jim squatted down, arms draped over his knees. He closed his eyes and tilted his head, inhaling deeply. Blair could feel an almost meditative state emanating from the Sentinel as he focused his senses on the immediate area.

"What can you tell?" the Guide finally asked in a quiet voice.

"She was doped up, probably on heroin and alcohol," Jim answered, eyes still closed. "Several different men had sex with her. I can smell it all around. She was so out of it she peed at some point. So did a couple of the men, possibly on her. She didn’t move when whoever it was started beating on her. She just lay there while he – or she – bashed her skull in."

Blair had closed his eyes while Jim talked. He could picture the scene: drunken, rowdy laughter from the bonfire; men and women disappearing into the darkness, only to reappear shortly with clothing not quite in place; an aging, drug-addicted whore just trying to get through one more night. She didn’t make it.

He could all but see her: laying in the dirt while the men came and went; passing out to the point of losing control of her bladder; one last man trying to get some type of response. And failing that, taking his rage out on the unconscious woman. How easily might that have been Casey?

"Sandburg? Chief, you all right?" Jim’s concerned voice broke through the visions.

Blair opened his eyes, surprised to feel the wetness on his face. Hastily he took a few steps away, wiping furiously at his cheeks. Great, now this hard-ass cop was going to think he was a wimp, not fit for field duty.

"Sorry," he muttered.

"For what?" Jim asked. "For retaining your humanity? For allowing yourself to feel something for someone, regardless of what society might think of her? I thought that was your strong point, empathy. Why try to suppress that?" Blair stared at him, surprise showing clearly in his face. Jim frowned and looked at the ground. "I’m not a total asshole," he growled.

"I didn’t think you were," Blair answered softly. Then, letting a wry smile flit across his lips, added, "Not ‘total’."

Jim looked back up at him and now the surprise was in his piercing blue gaze. He almost laughed but caught himself in time. "Cute, Sandburg. Let’s see how you do at the autopsy." Jim strode away, his long legs eating up the distance to his old truck.

"The – But I thought – Didn’t they do that already? I thought Rafe said, I mean, the photos..." Blair trotted after the Sentinel.

***

And after all that, they didn’t actually attend the autopsy. Dan Wolf had already completed his grisly work by the time they arrived back at the station. There was, however, a stack of photographs waiting in the conference room. They would wait a while longer as Blair was handed a stack of his own to go through, forms to fill out for the department if he was to be accepted as Jim’s official Guide. Simon grinned as he dumped the load into Blair’s arms then summoned Jim into his office.

"Does he really have to do all that?" Jim asked, grinning back at the captain as he closed the door.

Simon snorted. "Not hardly. I found a few extras to keep him busy."

"So, did you find out anything?" Jim asked, seeing the serious look in Simon’s eyes despite the humor. He sat down and waited as Simon took his own seat behind his desk.

"Quite a bit, in fact," Simon said. "If everyone can be believed, Sandburg is honest," he picked up a notepad and began reading from the top sheet of paper, "loyal, trustworthy, brilliant, compassionate, dedicated, intense, caring, possibly a genius, and, um, sexy."

Jim leaned forward, brow furrowed in concentration. "So what’s a guy like that doing becoming an indentured servant?"

Simon nodded and flipped the page. "I did check into his finances. He started college at sixteen on a full scholarship, and has continued to finance his education through a series of scholarships, grants, and loans. He’s also now a teaching fellow, I mean he was," Simon shot a glance at Jim, "which paid a small salary, and worked as a Guide on a contract basis. He doesn’t have a lot of money but he’s not starving."

Simon pushed the envelope that held Blair’s resume toward Jim. "You might want to read through that. It all checks out. In fact, Sandburg has worked as a Guide with Sentinels from the State Department as well as the military. He has a pretty high security clearance."

Jim reached for the envelope, toying with it as he thought. "So what’s the catch? What about that bank account?"

"I’m getting to that," Simon said. "The name on the account is Casey Bollon. She was a student at Rainier but dropped out when she got pregnant. She lived with the baby’s father, Louis Lancaster, an auto mechanic. She worked as a waitress at a local diner, got arrested once for shoplifting. She stole two cans of baby formula." Jim closed his eyes, not sure he wanted to hear any of this after all.

"The store dropped charges against her when she agreed to work it off. Apparently, the baby was sick and she had to quit her job to take care of her. Had a series of minimal wage jobs after that, never lasting very long," Simon continued, summarizing the details he had discovered.

"Lancaster liked to get drunk and hit her, had several domestic calls and one arrest," Simon continued. "Seems like the baby had some type of serious medical condition but neither parent could afford the insurance to take care of her. She and the little girl, Kaitlyn, ended up in a women’s shelter for a while. Apparently, Sandburg had something to do with getting her out of there. Casey got a job at the shelter as a receptionist and secretary so they were allowed to stay."

"So, Sandburg becomes an IS to finance the child’s surgery," Jim surmised.

"That may very well be. According to the director, Glenda Herring, Sandburg volunteered at the shelter teaching an adult education class, GED prep, I think. She says he did it just to be around Casey and the girl. By the way, Herring is the one who called him ‘sexy’." Simon looked back at his notepad. "Herring says the girl, Kaitlyn, has been in and out of the hospital several times. I haven’t had time to check that out yet."

"No, don’t bother." Jim sighed as he leaned back in his chair, suddenly very tired. "I’m sure it will all check out. Shit," he muttered, peering through the blinds at his Guide.

"What?" Simon asked.

"Nothing," Jim said. "I just wasn’t very welcoming when he showed up on my doorstep."

"Your father is only trying to help you out," Simon said, sensing the same old argument looming on his horizon.

"I know." Jim surprised him by admitting that fact. "Doesn’t make it any easier, though."

***

The week went by quickly. At the department, Jim and Blair were kept busy conducting interviews and digging around for information. Fingerprints and DNA evidence had led them to a particularly violent motorcycle gang that frequented the area. Several of the members admitted to being at the bonfire and having sex with the victim, but all maintained she was alive at the time.

With so much conflicting information it was impossible to narrow the suspects down to one. Jim threatened all of them with accessory, conspiracy, aiding and abetting, not to mention littering, but the DA steadfastly refused to prosecute without something more substantial. And they still hadn’t identified the murder weapon.

At the loft, Jim rearranged the small downstairs room into a bedroom for Blair and insisted that the former student get all of his belongings from his storage stall to move into the loft. They also had several discussions about Blair returning to his studies at Rainier; although as a student only, as his primary responsibility would have to be to his Sentinel.

By the weekend, the loft had sprouted several new wall decorations and a cabinet loaded with herbal teas. Not to mention a whole bathroom full of ‘Sentinel friendly’ bathing products. Most of which Jim vowed silently to avoid at all costs.

If this arrangement had any chance of succeeding, it would only work if Jim thought of Blair as a personal employee. His mind shied away from the implications of having a ‘servant’. He insisted that Blair get his own car back and spend some time on his own, pursuing his own interests. Interests Jim resolutely refused to investigate. He either trusted Blair as a Guide, and a person, or he didn’t. That simple. He didn’t return his father’s phone calls.

***

"Hey, sunshine!" Blair poked his head inside the door.

"Blair!" the little girl squealed. She would have leaped up from the bed and thrown her arms around his neck if it were not for the various IV’s and monitors attached to her little body. "Did you bring me something?"

"Of course I did," Blair answered indignantly. "Now, where did I put it?" he muttered. He switched the gift bag from hand to hand as he began patting various pockets.

"I know I had it this morning." He pulled up his pants legs and examined his socks, then shoved his sleeves up and looked closely at his wrists. "Where could it be?"

"Look in the bag!" the little girl giggled.

"The bag?" Blair asked blankly. "What bag?" He looked around behind himself then stared around the room. "I don’t see a bag."

"It’s right there, in your hand!" The child laughed some more than began to cough. Her mother, who had been smiling at Blair’s antics from a chair beside the bed immediately stood up.

"Easy, Kaitlyn, just take slow, steady breaths." She rubbed her daughter’s back as the thin, pale girl lay back on the pillow.

"Kat, honey, I’m so sorry," Blair said as he rushed to the bed. "Here’s your bag. I didn’t mean..."

"Stop it, Blair," Casey gently chided him. "She hasn’t laughed like that since she got here. I think it’s good for her."

Blair sighed and set the bag on the bed then leaned over and gently hugged Kaitlyn, who clung to him like she would never let go. Finally, Blair straightened up and opened the bag. "Let’s see what we’ve got here, okay?"

Kaitlyn’s eyes shone as he pulled out two coloring books and a box with sixty-four crayons. He also took out a puzzle book and two reading books, ‘Home for a Bunny’ and ‘The Runaway Bunny’, both by Margaret Wise Brown.

"Oh, and what’s this?" he asked, reaching back into the bag. Suddenly his arm began to twitch and the bag shook. "No, it’s alright, come on out," he said into the bag. "Really, she’s very nice; I promise she won’t hurt you." The bag shook some more and Kaitlyn began to smile again.

"That’s it," he crooned as the bag was reduced to small shivers. "Come on out. I have a very special friend for you." And from the bag Blair pulled the softest, squishiest, fuzziest brown lop-eared stuffed rabbit Kaitlyn had ever seen.

Kaitlyn gasped and grabbed the bunny, hugging it tightly to her frail chest. "Is it for me? Can I keep it?"

"Of course," Blair agreed. "She’s all yours."

"Does she have a name?" Kaitlyn asked.

"Not yet, and that makes her very sad." Blair leaned over and whispered loudly, "I promised her that you would find the perfect name for her."

Kaitlyn’s eyes got bigger as she studied the bunny. "She looks like a Pricilla to me," she announced.

"Pricilla?" Casey echoed, puzzled. "Where’d you get a name like Pricilla?"

"Because that’s ‘her’ name," Kaitlyn explained, as if that should be obvious.

"Well, would Pricilla like a popsicle?" Casey asked.

"Mom," Kaitlyn rolled her eyes. "Bunnies don’t eat popsicles!"

"Well, then," Casey said, hiding a smile, "would you like one?"

"Yep," Kaitlyn answered immediately, nodding her head vigorously. "A red one."

"Blair, let me show you where the popsicles are," Casey said, leading the way out of the hospital room.

Once out in the hallway Casey turned to Blair. "Where’d you get the money?" she demanded.

"I told you not to worry about it," Blair said.

"You sold yourself, didn’t you?" Casey asked. She closed her eyes and turned away.

"Hey, it’s okay," Blair said softly, reaching for her. Casey pulled away. Blair’s arms fell limply to his sides.

"What..." Casey had to stop and take a deep breath, but Blair could feel her deep distress. "What do you have to do?" she asked.

"I’m a Guide," Blair answered.

Casey turned back to him. "But you said - " Casey stopped, biting her lip. She took a deep breath. "Is he nice? Or is it a she?"

"It’s a he," Blair smiled. "And he’s okay. He’s a cop. Kinda uptight, but no problem. He told me I could go back to school. And as an IS, he has to pay the tuition."

"I can’t ever repay you," Casey sighed.

"I would never want you to," Blair said gently. "You know how I feel about Kaitlyn, and you," he couldn’t help but add.

"Blair," Casey warned.

"I know, I know," Blair sighed. "No strings. Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine. It’s all going to work out."

Casey looked away again. "I wish I could turn you down," she said sadly.

"Don’t even think about it," Blair said. He summoned up his brightest smile. "Now, I think you said something about popsicles? Pricilla won’t wait forever."

Casey smiled back weakly. "Don’t you know anything?" she asked. "Bunnies don’t eat popsicles."

The conversation moved on to Kaitlyn and her condition, and the doctor’s prognosis. "Will you be able to be here when she has her surgery?" Casey asked on the way back.

"If I can I will be," Blair said.

The rest of the visit was spent in coloring several pages of one of the coloring books and reading ‘Home for a Bunny’. Twice. They were interrupted several times by nurses coming in for vital sign checks and blood tests. Kaitlyn clutched Pricilla tightly as the blood was drawn but didn’t cry. She was all too used to these tests.

Blair’s mood was somber as he returned to the loft. He was grateful when the Sentinel just gazed at him closely then declared he was calling out for dinner. But when he caught Jim wrinkling his nose and surreptitiously rubbing it he decided that Jim could probably smell the hospital on him. He took a long shower and emerged just in time as the Chinese food was set out on the table. They ate in companionable silence then watched the twenty-four hour news, exchanging viewpoints in a friendly debate. Weary, Blair went to bed early.

***

Back at the station on Monday, Jim was once again watching the interview tapes, hoping to pick up something he had missed the first time. He kept coming back to one suspect in particular. Robert ‘Rocky’ Thompson was the quintessential bad biker. He was smug, arrogant, and belligerent. His whole attitude screamed ‘I did it and you’ll never figure it out, you dumb shit’. But his DNA didn’t match any of the semen samples taken from the victim, and his fingerprints, while all over the debris at the site, were not on file and he had no previous criminal history. All that meant to Jim was that he hadn’t been caught yet.

Muttering from the desk beside him pulled his attention away from his monitor. Blair was sorting through the crime scene photos from the three unsolved cases. He was looking specifically at close up shots of the wounds, frowning.

"Got something there, Chief?" Jim asked.

Blair looked up. "I’m not sure," he admitted. "There’s something here, but I just can’t put my finger on it." He stared off into space for a minute. "How would you like to take a ride?" he asked suddenly.

Now it was Jim’s turn to frown. "Now? Where to?"

"Go see a friend of mine," Blair answered enigmatically.

Jim may have looked comfortable, but his right hand was clutching the armrest on the passenger door of the little convertible with a death grip. It wasn’t that Blair was a bad driver, he was just – creative. And relaxed, very relaxed, regarding traffic laws.

The neighborhood was old, but the houses well cared for. Cars lined both sides of the street, showing that most of the homes were occupied by large or extended families. Blair pulled up in front of a slate blue two story and parked. The front yard was littered with children’s toys and lawn chairs.

"Here we are," Blair said quietly, his eyes taking in the sight with something like longing. A man sat in one of the lawn chairs, talking on his cell phone while supervising a gaggle of kids playing a complicated game involving several balls, two hula-hoops, and a jump rope. Jim refrained from making any comment as he peeled his fingers off the armrest and opened the door. He followed Blair into the yard.

The man smiled as he caught sight of them and ended his call. He looked to be about Blair’s age, perhaps a couple of years older, with thinning blond hair pulled back into a ponytail that hung down his back. "Blair," he exclaimed. "Hey, man, good to see you." He stood up and the two men hugged briefly then Blair stepped back.

"Jesse, thanks for letting us come over. Sorry I haven’t been by in a while," Blair said. "This is Jim Ellison. He’s my new Sentinel and a cop with Cascade PD."

"No problem," Jesse waved Blair’s apology away, shaking Jim’s hand. "A cop, huh? And a Sentinel? You guiding again?" He turned back to Blair.

"For a while," Blair evaded the question. "How are you?"

"Same as ever," Jesse said with a big smile, spreading his arms wide. "Still doing the househusband thing. And loving every minute of it!"

"I saw your article about children’s television programming. Pretty cool," Blair said.

"Yeah, and I got all my research subjects right here. Hey, kids! Come over here," Jesse called.

Three of the children broke away from the group and came running. "Blair, you remember Jason, my oldest."

Blair nodded at the tow-headed eight-year-old. "Hey, Jase, my man. Long time no see." He held out his hand, accepting the light slap and returning it with a grin.

"Hey, Blair," the boy said shyly.

"You still got my mask?" Blair asked.

"Yeah, it’s in my room." The boy grinned. "I took it to school last week. Freaked my teacher out!"

"Cool! Keep up the good work," Blair encouraged.

"And this is Jennifer. She’s five now," Jesse pointed to a bright eyed girl with hair just as blond as her brother and father’s.

"Jennifer," Blair acknowledged. "You probably don’t remember me. I think you were only three the last time I saw you."

"I’m in kindergarten," Jennifer said proudly. "Can I have a mask, too?"

"I’ll see what I can do," Blair promised. "You want a pretty one? Purple, maybe?"

"No! I want a really scary one, all black and red with lots of teeth!" Jennifer announced.

Jesse shot Blair a wry glance. "She’s my bloodthirsty one. And this is Jessica." He pointed to a little girl of about three hiding behind her sister.

"Hi, Jessica," Blair said, but didn’t try to draw her out. He’d respect her need for distance for now. He turned to Jim. "And this is my friend, Jim. He’s a policeman."

"You don’t look like a cop," Jennifer spoke up. "Where’s your badge?"

"I’m a detective, so I get to wear regular clothes," Jim answered. He pulled out his wallet. "And her, little lady, is my badge."

"I’m not a lady, I’m a tiger!" Jennifer said, baring her teeth and growling. "Are you going to arrest my daddy?"

"No, no," Blair answered. "In fact, your dad is going to help us with an investigation."

"Really? Cool," Jason breathed. "Can I help, too?"

"I’m not really helping," Jesse broke in. "Blair and Jim just needed to look at something in the shed."

"At what? The motorcycle?" Jason asked. Jesse looked at him strangely.

"Well," Jason rolled his eyes. "That’s all that’s in there. I’m not stupid."

‘Point," Jesse laughed, drawing a ‘one’ in the air with his finger. "Okay," he called out, "who wants some fruit punch?" All the kids in the yard cheered.

"Come on," Jesse turned to the two men. "Shed’s out back, Blair. You go ahead and take a look and I’ll try to keep these wild natives under control. You guys want some tea or something?"

"Sure, thanks," Blair accepted before Jim could say anything.

Blair led the way into a neatly groomed back yard complete with a wooden swing set and attached fort to a garage sized shed. Inside, they found a 1953 Indian Chief, the final year that heavyweight legend was manufactured. On a table off to the side was an array of tools, covered with a thin, clear plastic cloth, like a cheap drop cloth used for painting. Blair pulled the cover off the table, making Jim sneeze with the dust.

"Sorry," Blair apologized. But his focus was not on his Sentinel; it was on the tools laid out on the table. He ignored most of them, paying particular attention to several at one end. "See these? They’re called T-handle sockets. See the way the socket is formed on the end?"

The tool was, as the name implied, shaped like a ‘T’. It was about 10" long and made of steel. At the end, or bottom of the ‘T’, was an enlarged socket that would fit over a hex nut. "They come in different lengths, with different size sockets on the end. Some even have interchangeable sockets."

Jim stared closely at the tool, thinking about the wounds on the three victims. Slowly he nodded his head. "Could be," he admitted.

Heading back to the front of the house, they found that Jesse had put out another lawn chair and had a couple large plastic glasses of tea set on a wire mesh table between them.

They settled into the chairs.

"Find what you needed?" Jesse asked.

"Yeah, thanks, man," Blair answered. "Bike looks good. You ever take her out anymore?"

"Every once in a while I fire her up and take the kids around the block," Jesse said with a sigh. "Such is my life now."

"But you wouldn’t trade it for anything, would you?" Blair said wistfully.

"Not on your life," Jesse grinned.

Blair asked about Jesse’s wife and then the two old friends reminisced about the ‘good old days’, all of about ten years ago. Jim learned more about his new Guide in half an hour than he had in the past week. When they finished their tea, both men shook Jesse’s hand, waved to the kids, and got back in Blair’s car.

Jim called Wolf with the information on the tools as they headed back. "We know it was one of them," Jim mused after he hung up. "But how do we prove which one?"

"Bikers usually carry some tools with them, in their saddlebags," Blair said. "What would it take to get a warrant to search those?"

"Probable cause," Jim answered. He didn’t even notice Blair’s driving.

Back at the station Jim disappeared into Simon’s office. Blair called the hospital.

"Kaitlyn’s surgery is scheduled for day after tomorrow," Casey told him. "Will you be able to be there?"

"I don’t know, I’ll try," Blair said. Jim and Simon came out of the office. "Gotta go now, Casey. Tell Kat I love her, okay?"

Simon called Rafe and Henri and led them all into the conference room. "Wolf has a lead on the murder weapon, thanks to Mr. Sandburg here," he said.

"Way to go, Hairboy," Henri said with a big grin.

"As soon as it’s confirmed, we need to find that weapon and tie it to our murderer. I want you all over them like stink on …" he paused, shooting Blair a sideways glance. "All over them," he finished lamely. "Get anything you can – legally. I want results, people."

Blair sat back and watched as a schedule was worked out for the surveillance. He hid a smile as it was just assumed that he and Jim would be together, partners, like Rafe and Henri were. Only a week and already it seemed like they had worked together forever.

The thought sobered him. Blair stared out of the window of the conference room and tried to decide how he felt about that. On one hand, he was relieved that Jim seemed to have accepted him and the help he had to offer. On the other hand, he missed the university, especially teaching classes. He wondered if Jim’s offer to return was sincere.

And then there was Casey, and Kaitlyn. Seeing Jesse and his kids had reawakened Blair’s longing for a home of his own, preferably with the woman he loved. But he knew Casey would never agree. That was a discussion they had already had. Casey had flatly refused to ‘tie him down’.

"Chief, you with me here?" Jim’s voice broke through his reverie.

"Yeah, sure. We all set?" Blair forced himself to focus solely on the case, and the Sentinel who was investigating it.

***

They found out that several of the gang members lived in one apartment complex; in fact, they had all but taken over the small group of buildings. Jim and Blair alternated with Henri and Rafe in watching the complex and tracking where the members liked to hang out. ChopperZ, where the second body had been found in the parking lot, turned out to be one of their favorite bars.

Jim and Blair sat in the truck, watching the entrance of the apartment complex as the sun was setting. Blair kept squirming in his seat, looking at his watch.

"Why don’t you call her?" Jim asked. Blair froze.

"Did you think I wouldn’t figure it out?" Jim said softly. "I’m a detective, in case you hadn’t noticed."

Blair closed his eyes and leaned his head against the back of the seat. "If - " Jim started, then had to stop for a moment. "If you want to get out of this, I won’t stop you. You can file whatever charges you like, I won’t dispute them. Just don’t ruin my career, okay? The money will default to you and you’ll be free and clear. And the girl will have had her operation."

"I didn’t know what else to do," Blair said quietly. "After Tonida, I swore I’d never be a Guide again. But Kaitlyn... Man, I just had to do something."

"You’re a good Guide, Sandburg, and a good man. I don’t know of many people who would do what you did," Jim said.

"Don’t make it sound so fucking noble," Blair sighed. "I signed the contract, and I won’t lie to get out of it. You haven’t broken any rules."

"I did hit you," Jim reminded him.

"You were zoned and I was an unfamiliar influence. It’s perfectly understandable," Blair replied.

They were quiet for a few minutes. "If you stay, I want you to go back to school. My father paid for the contract, but I’ll pay your tuition."

Blair stared at him. "You really mean that," he said, puzzled.

Jim clenched his jaw. "You’ve helped a lot on this case." He struggled with the next words, but finally forced them out. "And you’ve helped me, too. A lot. I guess my father was right."

"You father loves you," Blair said simply. Now it was Jim’s turn to stare. "That night, at the house, I could sense it very clearly. He may not know how to show it, but he does love you, very much. And he’s scared to death that something is going to happen to you because of your abilities."

Jim snorted. "He hates the fact that I’m a Sentinel. When I was a kid, he called me a freak, wanted me to lie about my senses."

"He was afraid," Blair repeated.

Jim looked away. He wasn’t ready yet to accept that his father might be more than the asshole he seemed on the surface. Since Blair had come into his life, he had had to revise his opinions of his coworkers, and now he was being asked to reevaluate his relationship with his father. Time to get the focus off of him.

"So, you going to call?" he asked again, holding out his cell phone. When he had asked Blair why he didn’t have a phone, the Guide had told him he had gotten rid of it when he signed up to be an IS.

"I didn’t know if my – employer – would let me have one," Blair had said. "And I didn’t think I could afford it." Jim had determined to get Blair a phone of his own, but in the middle of this case he just hadn’t had time yet.

Blair took the phone and dialed the number. "Casey, sorry I couldn’t be there, how did it go?"

Jim could hear the woman’s voice on the other end. She sounded tired. "The doctors said it went just fine. This laser surgery is really something. She should be good to go home day after tomorrow if everything checks out okay." There was a pause. "She missed you."

"I know, I’m sorry. I’m on stakeout with my Sentinel, I couldn’t get away," Blair said. Jim frowned at that. If Blair had told him the surgery was today, he would have found someone else to sit with him on the stakeout. But Blair hadn’t given him the choice. He’d had to put two and two together on his own.

"Can I talk to her?" Blair asked.

"She’s sleeping now," Casey said. "But I can have her call you later."

"This isn’t my phone," Blair told her quickly. "I’ll call you, okay?"

"There he is, Chief," Jim said suddenly, sitting up straight in the seat.

"Gotta go, Casey. Tell Kat I love her," Blair said quickly as he hung up.

Jim had made ‘Rocky’ Thompson his special project, finding out everything he could about the man. Every instinct he had as a Sentinel and a cop told him this was his killer. Now he just had to prove it.

They followed Thompson and a couple other gang members to ChopperZ, where they parked their bikes in the street in front of the bar. Jim parked a few doors down on the opposite side of the street and stared at the bike.

Blair felt an emptiness teasing at his consciousness and knew that Jim was on the verge of another zone. He reached over and grasped Jim’s arm.

"What are you doing, man?" he asked.

"Trying to see his bike," Jim said. "I think there’s oil leaking from it."

"Really?" Blair said. "Can we get a sample?"

"He’s parked on a public street. No problem," Jim said. He climbed out of the truck and opened the large locked toolbox mounted in the bed of his pickup. Inside he had several various containers for collecting evidence. Selecting several items, he pulled on a pair of non-latex gloves, something Blair had insisted on, and headed toward Thompson’s bike.

Blair stood by, watching for any of the bikers to come out of the bar, while Jim knelt on the pavement. The detective opened a small plastic bag and, with a pair of plastic tweezers, pulled a small, white, absorbent sheet from the bag and laid it in the small pool of oil forming underneath Thompson’s motorcycle. When he judged he had soaked up enough of the oil, he picked the sheet up with the tweezers and placed it in the jar, sealing the lid tightly.

He handed the jar to Blair and stripped off his gloves. Next, he wiped his finger over the underside of the engine where the oil was leaking. He sniffed his finger then rubbed the oil between his finger and thumb.

"What do you think?" Blair asked nervously. He knew what Jim was doing was legal, but he was worried that a bar full of angry bikers was going to come boiling out of the front door at any moment.

"I think it’s a match," Jim said, standing up. He stared at the bar. "But until the courts rule that Sentinel evidence is admissible, we’ve got to have a sample."

"This only proves that he was at the scene," Blair said. "He already admitted that."

"Yes," Jim agreed, "but now with additional evidence, it might be enough to get a search warrant for his apartment and his bike."

The DA’s office took a lot of convincing, but late the next day they did get the warrant. The three detectives and Blair, along with a forensics crew and several uniformed officers, descended on the apartment just as Thompson was getting home from his shift at the shipping company. The warrant covered not only Thompson’s apartment, but also several other gang members that were tied to the scene by evidence. It also covered their bikes.

The targeted bikers and their girlfriends, wives, and/or kids stood in the parking lot jeering at the officers while the searches were conducted. Henri, Rafe, and a couple of other detectives from Major Crimes supervised the apartment searches while the officers kept the bikers and other onlookers under control. Jim headed for the bikes parked in the lot.

Pulling on a pair of protective gloves, Jim began going through the saddlebags on the motorcycles. Blair kept his eyes on the crowd in the lot. He could sense rising tension and hostility from the milling group. Several bikers called out rude comments. Focusing on Thompson, Blair read increasing agitation and animosity from that man in particular.

Thompson shifted from foot to foot as Jim neared his motorcycle. Blair kept a figurative ‘ear’ on Jim’s prime suspect as the Sentinel began digging in his saddlebags. Dumping the contents on the ground, Jim immediately reached for the T-socket that fell out. He peered closely at the tool, paying special attention to the inside of the socket area.

"Mullins," Jim called out to one of the crime scene techs. When Denise Mullins got to him, he handed her the tool. "Check the inside of that for blood, please."

With practiced ease, Denise inserted a cotton swab and then withdrew it, squirting it with liquid from a small bottle. The swab instantly turned a telltale purple. "Positive for blood," she said.

"Thompson," Jim called out, starting for the biker. Thompson turned and fled, several officers in pursuit. Knowing the area better than the cops, Thompson ducked down an alley and out of sight.

Jim ran for his truck. "Sandburg, get in!"

"You know where he is?" Blair asked as he belted himself in quickly.

"I can hear him," Jim said, turning on the truck. He winced as the radio came on. Although not turned up loud, the noise was still more than he was ready for with his hearing turned up to follow Thompson.

Blair reached out quickly and turned the radio off, then grabbed the police radio instead. He could see at least two other officers getting into their squads, preparing to follow the fleeing suspect. From his observations during this operation he knew that all the officers’ radios were on one of the tactical channels.

Without any preliminaries, Blair just keyed the mike and started talking. "All units, Sentinel is in pursuit of suspect, heading south out of the complex." He grabbed the dashboard as Jim took a hard left onto the street. "All units keep your sirens off, repeat, no sirens. Sentinel is tracking the suspect audibly."

Both windows on the truck were down. Jim turned his head from side to side as he drove, turning a couple of times as he tried to zero in on Thompson.

"Still got him?" Blair asked quietly.

"My hearing keeps cutting in and out," Jim admitted, frustration coloring his voice.

"You want me to drive?" Blair offered, reaching out to lay his hand lightly on Jim’s shoulder.

"Maybe – no, wait! I got him," Jim said. Blair took his hand away and turned forward. "No, Sandburg, leave it there. It helps to ground me," Jim said, peering forward intently. Blair immediately put his hand back on Jim’s shoulder, kneading gently.

"That’s it. There you are, you bastard!" Jim sent the truck shooting forward to block the entrance to an alley and jumped out.

"Stay in the truck, Sandburg," he yelled as Blair got out also.

"The hell I will," Blair shot back.

The two squad cars pulled up behind them and the officers also got out and started following Jim and Blair.

Not having time to argue, Jim raced down the alley. He found Thompson cornered at a dead end. The biker turned to face him. "Come on, asshole!" he taunted. "Come and get me!"

"Jim, be careful," Blair said. "He’s radiating a lot of hostility."

"No shit," Jim muttered. He scanned the form in front of him but couldn’t see any sign of a weapon. However, Thompson was facing him and could have a knife or gun hidden behind him.

The two officers ran up beside them. Both of them had their guns drawn. "Give it up, Thompson," Jim called. "You’ve got nowhere to go. Get down on the ground."

Thompson put his hands over his head and remained standing. "Don’t shoot! I got nothing. Just don’t shoot."

Jim started closer. "Get on the ground, Rocky! Do it!"

"Okay, okay," Thompson said. He lowered his arms and started to bend over. Jim stepped closer.

"Jim, watch out!" Blair yelled, reading the spike of malevolence directed at Jim.

At the same time, Thompson reached behind his back and lunged for Jim, a knife glinting dully in his hand. The two men struggled briefly. Blair felt the surge of pain from Jim as the knife sliced across his ribs, then Thompson was down and Jim was kneeling on his back. The hand with the knife was twisted away from his body and Thompson cried out as he dropped the knife.

The two officers rushed to Jim’s side and quickly cuffed Thompson’s hands behind his back, roughly searching him for any more weapons. Blair ran over to Jim who had slumped back, holding his side.

"Let me see, man. How bad is it?" Blair’s voice was shaky with fear. It didn’t matter what the circumstances were, the fact was that Blair was Jim’s Guide, and the Guide’s Sentinel was injured.

"Just a flesh wound, Chief," Jim panted.

Carefully, Blair pulled Jim’s jacket to the side and lifted his shirt. "Yeah, just a flesh wound," he agreed sarcastically. "That’s because those pesky ribs got in the way." He turned to the officers. "I need an ambulance," he called.

"No, I’m - " Jim started.

Blair pinned him with a hot glare. "Stitches. Lots of ’em," he declared. "You may not have wanted a Guide, but God knows you needed one, and now you’ve got one. When the Sentinel is injured, the Guide’s in charge." He grinned evilly. "I’m going to enjoy this," he declared.

"Payback’s a bitch, Chief," Jim said weakly, closing his eyes.

"I need that ambulance now!" Blair yelled. He moved around behind Jim to support him, so he wouldn’t have to lie down on the filthy pavement in the alley.

"It’s coming, Guide," one of the officers said, hurrying over to him with a first aid kit. The other officer was dragging Thompson to the squad car.

The officer helping Blair, Clifton, according to his badge, pulled out a large bandage and opened it, placing it over the bleeding gash along Jim’s ribs. Blair murmured encouragement to Jim, telling him to turn down the dial for pain, letting him know what Clifton was doing so he wouldn’t be startled. He was gratified when the Sentinel finally relaxed, his head resting against Blair’s shoulder.

Once the ambulance arrived, there was no question about the Guide being allowed to ride with his Sentinel to the hospital. Clifton assured Blair that Jim’s truck would be taken care of and Blair climbed in behind the gurney.

***

The wound was superficial but long. After more stitches than Jim wanted to count, he was given prescriptions for an antibiotic and a painkiller and released to go home. Captain Banks had arrived earlier with a clean shirt from Jim’s locker. He asked to speak to Jim privately. Reluctantly, Blair agreed.

"You going to be okay with him?" Simon asked, holding out the light blue, button up shirt.

"Yeah, why wouldn’t I be?" Jim replied, frowning. He eased his arm on the injured side into the sleeve.

"As I recall, you weren’t very anxious to have a Guide at all," Simon answered. "Now it’s like you two have worked together for years instead of days." He helped Jim get his shirt on the rest of the way.

Jim looked away. "I know," he sighed. "I hate the way this happened, but I can’t deny the way he seems to fit. I just wish he were with me because he wanted to be, not because he has to."

"Is there anything you can do about that?" Simon said, stepping back so that he could see Jim’s face.

"I offered to let him break the contract, he refused. Said he knew what he was doing when he signed up," Jim answered.

"So, you’re stuck with him for the next seven years?" Simon was unable to keep the hopeful tone out of his voice. A Guide for Ellison meant no more Ellison headaches, of the William or James variety. He hoped.

"Only if he wants it, Simon. Anytime he wants out, I’ll do whatever I can to help him. And he is going back to school," Jim said forcefully.

Simon held up his hands. "You’re preaching to the choir, Jim. I was never a big fan of Indentured Service, myself. You do whatever works for you, for the both of you. I’ll back you up."

"Thanks, Captain," Jim smiled.

"I’m not a Sentinel, but I think I hear someone pacing out there," Simon said.

"Chief," Jim called. Blair popped his head in the door to the examining room. "Let’s go home."

***

In the flurry of Jim’s injury, the trip to the hospital, and getting him settled comfortably back home, Blair never had a chance to call Casey or go see Kaitlyn. The next morning the first thing he did was call the hospital, only to find out that Kaitlyn had been released the night before.

Then there was taking care of Jim and keeping him from pulling his stitches out. Not to mention the paperwork surrounding the arrest of Rocky Thompson. And the arguments about Blair’s return to Rainier, which Jim finally won. Much to Blair’s relief. He did try to call Casey’s old number and contact her through the shelter, only to be told she had left the day after Kaitlyn got out of the hospital. No, they didn’t have a forwarding address or phone number, and Ms. Herring was very sorry.

After that came the serial rapist attacking women in apartments around the university. And the teenagers who went on a crime spree and hit several stores specializing in video game systems and supplies. And the hacker who got into the police computer system.

Blair re-registered at Rainier and resumed his studies, helping Jim whenever he was needed. And he found that Jim was right; most of what the detective did was on the phone and through records searches. Blair was right, as well; research was his middle name. His expertise on the computer quickly won him a warm spot in the heart of Major Crimes.

Life settled down to a somewhat predictable routine. Blair spent his time at the university or the station. Jim established a set of house rules that he half-heartedly enforced. Blair did most of the cooking. Jim decided he liked Castile soap. All in all, it was about six weeks since Kaitlyn’s operation and Blair had heard nothing from Casey. And then one day the two men were heading back to the station after lunch at a near-by deli.

"Blair!" The woman’s voice caught his attention immediately, producing the usual surge of emotion inside.

"Go on, I’ll be right up," Blair threw over his shoulder to Jim as he hurried to her.

Jim frowned, staring after his Guide. On impulse, he followed them as Blair steered the woman around the corner, away from the doors of the police station. Jim crept up as closely as he dared and extended his hearing. He felt vaguely ashamed of his eavesdropping, but he felt somehow that he would be needed. And it would be nice, to be the one who was needed for a change, instead of the one who always needing something from someone else.

"Casey, it is so good to see you!" Jim concentrated, trying to sort out the complex emotions in that greeting. There was joy and pleasure, but also a mixture of pain, sorrow, and regret. Blair’s pulse was pounding.

So this was Casey, the woman who had, from all accounts, broken Blair’s heart. The sound of fabric against fabric told him they were hugging, an embrace that lasted too long for casual friends. The day was bright and clear, with a cold wind coming straight in off the bay. Jim shivered, pulling his jacket around him more tightly.

Finally, the clinch seemed to break. "God, you look good! How are you?" Blair asked.

"Fine, I’m fine," Casey replied. After a small silence, she asked, "How are you? You kind of disappeared on me." Jim noted the catch in her voice.

"I know, I’m sorry. I had … some things … come up." Jim frowned. He had allowed Blair all the freedom he wanted, but the former student had stayed close to him since his father had bought his contract, except for returning to school. And then, he went straight to classes and straight home. Did the Sentinel really need that much support? Or was Blair using him as an excuse to avoid a painful situation? And why did Jim seem to care so much?

Casey seemed inclined to let the question drop and they were silent once again. Blair asked, hesitantly, "Kaitlyn? How’s Kaitlyn?"

Casey’s voice this time was full of undisguised love and joy. "She’s fine, Blair, just fine. Thanks to you. Her cheeks are pink!" Casey laughed delightedly. "I took her to the zoo for the first time last week, with my mother." Again there was a silence. "She asked about you. She remembers you in the hospital, before the surgery, reading stories to her, playing with that stupid bunny." Jim heard a kind of choked laugh from the woman. He closed his eyes. He shouldn’t be listening to this, but he couldn’t help himself at this point.

"Is she… Is she really going to be okay?" Blair asked in a pained whisper.

"Yes," Casey replied firmly. "The operation was a complete success; her heart is functioning better than ever. The doctor said he didn’t think she would need any further surgery." Jim thought he heard a sniff from one of them, but couldn’t be sure which one.

"Blair, how can I ever thank you? For everything. Getting me out of that… Kaitlyn… Giving me my life back? I’m going to pay you back, I promise." Casey’s voice was earnest.

"It’s okay, Casey. Don’t worry about it. Just take care of yourself, and Kat. That’s all I want. That’s all I ever wanted." Blair’s voice broke, and Jim stiffened. His Guide was hurting.

"Don’t, please, Blair. We’ve been over this already. I won’t do that to you, even if it’s what you think you want." More sniffles, this time Jim was sure it was Blair.

After another long silence, Casey sighed. "We’re leaving, next week. I’m going back home to Texas with my mother." Silence. "Will you… will you come say good-bye to Kaitlyn? She’ll be heartbroken if you don’t."

"Yeah, yeah. I’ll come by. Will you… will you write? Or call?" Jim cringed at the hope he heard in Blair’s voice.

"No," Casey’s voice was infinitely tender, infinitely sad. "It wouldn’t be fair to you. I love you, Blair Sandburg. And I’ll always be grateful to you, for saving both our lives. If it wasn’t for you, I don’t think I’d be here, or my daughter. I’ll always remember you." Jim heard the rustle of paper. "Here, there was some money left over. Twelve hundred dollars."

Blair’s voice was thick with unshed tears. "No, I don’t want it. You take it, it’s yours. Start your new life. Or put it in the bank for Kat, for her college fund."

Jim’s soul ached for the desolation he could hear, in both their voices. Casey gave Blair her new address. There was the sound of fabric again, then two sobs, one from each of them, then rapid footsteps as the woman hurried away.

Jim almost blew his cover as he heard the sound of flesh hitting concrete, and the muttered ‘shit’ from his Guide. After a moment, he could hear Blair moving away from the station. Easing around the corner, Jim searched the street. He could see Blair walking rapidly away, but couldn’t tell which of the women presently on the street might be Casey.

After wrestling with his conscience for all of half a second, Jim followed the erstwhile student. Several blocks later, Blair turned into the park and all but collapsed on the first bench he came to. Jim stopped, watching the shaking shoulders as Blair sobbed quietly.

Several minutes later, Blair wiped his eyes and sat back, turning his face to the sun. Jim approached quietly and sat down beside him. Blair didn’t say anything, didn’t even look at him, although he had to know that Jim had listened to the conversation.

"How old is Kaitlyn?" Jim finally asked. After that one time in his truck he had never asked about Kaitlyn or her mother, and Blair had never volunteered any further information.

"Four. No, five now. She had a birthday," Blair answered, his voice dull.

"What was wrong with her?" Jim asked.

"She had a heart defect, a hole. Sometimes they close on their own, but hers didn’t. It kept getting worse. She was dying." Blair stared straight ahead.

"And Casey?" Jim pressed. He needed Blair to talk about this, needed his Guide to trust him as much as he had come to trust the Guide.

"Casey… Casey’s an old friend of mine, from college. She fell in love with an abusive asshole, Kaitlyn’s father. He used to hit Casey all the time, but she wouldn’t leave. But when he hit Kat, that was it. She was out of there." Blair’s voice was drained, emotionless.

"And he wouldn’t pay for her medical care," Jim guessed.

Blair snorted. "He said he should just go ahead and kill her, kill both of them, the world would be better off." Blair leaned forward, elbows on his knees, head in one hand.

"And that’s where the money went." Jim confirmed what he already knew.

Blair didn’t reply, just sat quietly. After a few minutes, he said, "I love her, you know. I would do anything for her, and Kaitlyn. I offered… I offered to marry her, to adopt Kaitlyn. I would have done anything for her, even killed that sorry son of a bitch."

Jim waited, sensing that Blair was not done. "She didn’t want me. She said she wasn’t in love with me, that she wouldn’t do that to me. Trap me in a relationship where one person is more in love than the other. Said she’d been there, and she loved me too much as a friend to see me go through it. I didn’t care. I would have taken whatever she could give me." Blair voice quivered slightly.

"So, instead, you gave up your life, sold yourself, for her and the little girl," Jim stated.

"I know," Blair snapped. "I’m an idiot, and a fool. But, God help me, I would do it again." He looked down, absently rubbing the rapidly bruising hand that had met so precipitously with the concrete wall.

"You’re not an idiot, or a fool," Jim said. Then, "Let me see that," he reached for the injured appendage. Blair jerked away irritably.

"Sandburg," Jim sighed, weary with the tension between them.

Blair leaned back, resigned, defeated, and let Jim examine his hand. "Ow! Son of a bitch!" he exclaimed as pain shot up his arm to his elbow. He jerked his hand back, cradling it close to his chest.

"Sorry," Jim said sincerely. "I think it’s broken."

Blair just sat on the bench, rocking slightly, eyes closed against the pain in his hand and his heart. Of the two, his hand didn’t really seem to hurt all that much.

"Come on, Chief," Jim finally said. "Let’s take a little ride to the hospital."

-end-

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