Detective Jim Ellison turned at the curse and cocked an eyebrow at his companion, who was holding a ripped envelope and a crumpled piece of paper. "Something wrong, Stevens?"
"You could say that. I just got rejected by another fucking guide." Detective Frank Stevens tossed the crumpled piece of paper across the room and slammed his fist into his locker. "Damn it! I've been a detective for six months and haven't been able to work a case yet. Why the hell won't one of those stuck up pricks say yes?"
"Maybe it's your attitude," Jim replied with a terse grin. He knew the stress Stevens was under. He remembered when he had returned from the army, when his senses were all over the map. No guide would accept his requests for a bonding, and he had been forced to tamp down on his senses. Unfortunately he'd done all too well in reigning them in. Now he was an ordinary cop, with ordinary senses, and an ordinary life, complete with divorce.
"Don't know why the hell we're slaves to them. We're the one with the Gift," Stevens muttered sullenly. Jim just nodded, finished rubbing the towel over his brush cut, pulled on a grey turtleneck, zipped his jeans and went to face the pile of paperwork that had been gradually rising in his inbox. While his boss was tolerant enough of his less than enthusiastic approach to reports, eventually, they had to be done.
The main office at Major Crimes was it's usual busy place; Phones rang and detectives muttered obscenities at computers that refused to follow commands. Henri Brown gave a brief nod in Jim's direction, but his was the only face that turned to great him.
Jim picked up a folder that had been left on his desk and rubbed at the bridge of his nose. Carolyn had once again decided a personal trip to the department was necessary rather than just letting internal mail handle the evidence report. He just couldn't figure her out sometimes. When they had been married, she'd never acknowledged him at work, not wanting to flaunt their relationship or let it interfere with work. Now that they were divorced, it was like she was stalking him or something. Women, who could figure them out?
He flipped through the report, nodding as it confirmed what he had suspected about the fingerprints. They would be able to nail the guy for black mail and murder. There was enough evidence for a warrant, and the rest would be up the DA. Chalk up another case solved.
Feeling less than thrilled at the rather lackluster ending to another case, simultaneously relived he was able to pawn off the work to Chang in the DA's office, Jim booted up his computer. Time to check his email, and see how many offers for a larger penis he got today. Not that he need it, he thought smugly.
Spam, spam, spam, email from old army buddy, spam, spam, email from...Jim frowned at the subject line that read 'boom!' and clicked on it.
Dear Detective Ellison,
I hope you haven't made any plans for the next few
weeks. I have a feeling we're going to have a lot of
fun. I suggest you get to the public gardens. I hear
there's a concert there this afternoon. It should be
quite the blast.
Jim hit print and went to stand by the printer, impatiently tapping his fingers on the table as it
began to buzz and churn out the piece of paper. He plucked it free and made a bee line for Simon's office. A quick knock got him permission to enter and he shut the door behind him before sitting down in the proffered chair.
"So Jim, making any inroads in that pile of reports?"
"Yes, sir. Actually closed one today. We'll have the guy picked up this afternoon. But that's not what I wanted to speak to you about. I just got this in the mail." He passed the letter over. Simon's dark eyes scanned the text, concern clearly visible even behind his glasses.
"Is this for real?"
"I don't know. But there is a concert in the public gardens today at 3:00. Some rock band or something. Should be quite a crowd."
"I'll call the Chief, let him know we may have a situation. Get Johnson and Peterson to go with you to the gardens. Wait, Peterson's guide is sick, take Matthews instead. Have them help you secure the park Hopefully we're just dealing with a hoax."
"Simon, we need to talk."
"Have a seat. You want some coffee?"
"No, thanks. Don't think my stomach could handle it."
"So what's up, Jim? I hope this isn't about you losing the suspect at the mill last week. It's not
your fault, you know. Hell, if it weren't for you, we'd have lost most of our tactical squad and our
helicopter. It's not like he didn't evade the blockades we had placed either. Don't beat yourself
up over it."
"It's not just losing the suspect, Captain. It's...it's a bit more complicated."
Simon moved around the desk and sat on the edge of the table top. "Jim, you're worrying me. What's the matter?"
"My senses are back online."
"You heard me. I think the stakeout jumped started them or something. Everything's heightened and I'm having problems controlling them."
"Well, I guess that means you'll be joining Stevens tonight."
"There's a Guide meeting tonight. 7:00 sharp. I want you there and I want you to find yourself a guide."
"Whoa, Simon. I don't need a Guide. I've managed for six years now and--"
"Bullshit. You haven't managed anything. You turned yourself off. And unless you can do it again, you need a guide." Simon paused thoughtfully. "Can you do it again?"
Jim shook his head. "I've been trying. Nothings working though."
"Well, there's your answer. I'm putting you on desk duty until you come back in here with a guide ready to get an ID badge."
"What?! What about the Switchman case? I can't just abandon it--"
"Unless you can get some control, you're useless here, Jim. You know that. You know how it goes. No guide, no active duty. While I'm tickled pink to have another Sentinel on the force, especially my department, I'm not going to risk any of my personnel by not sticking to Department policy. Understood?"
Jim stood, his jaw clenched.
Jim had attended three Guide meetings in the past. And while he hated going, memories of past rejections reducing his hope of ever getting an actual Guide at one of them, he had to admit that he liked the atmosphere. The music was never too loud. The food was never too spicy or too bland. Air filters made sure that annoying smells were promptly whisked away, and all of the chairs and couches were covered with soft upholstery. The lights were subdued, but not so
much that Jim felt compelled to focus his eyes more intently. A feast for the senses. If nothing else, Guides knew their work, and could make Sentinels comfortable even while undergoing the gruelling process of trying to find a Guide.
Jim snagged a glass of punch and decided to make like a picture and hang on the wall. He positioned himself so that he could take in the entire room, and proceeded to do what he did best: watch people. The party was held, as usual, at Rainer University, specifically in the Sentinel Studies Department. Students, faculty, sentinels and guides, mixed together. The Faculty sometimes helped facilitate bonds, made sure their students weren't mistreated, and the non-guide students had a chance to witness Sentinels and Guides interacting together.
Stevens was blundering about like an ox in a china shop, alienating just about everyone he came into contact with, Sentinel and Guide alike. He was clearly frustrated, and with the aid of Sentinel senses, Jim could see the fine lines of stress and pain that were etched around the other man's eyes. He almost went over to say something when a petite young woman, barely in her twenties by Jim's estimation, intercepted the glass of punch that Stevens was about to drink, laying her hand on his wrist.
Jim expected Stevens to react in his typical gruff manner, but was shocked to see the distressed Sentinel relax, his tense shoulders settling down for the first time in weeks, his eyes soften and his attention completely captivated by the young woman in front of him. Jim watched in amazement as she led Stevens to a secluded corner, her hand ghosting up and down his
arm the entire time.
Well. Looks like someone was willing to get past the man's brusque exterior to the...whatever the hell was lurking under the surface. Jim shook his head and scanned the crowd.
It was a strange mixture. Sentinels and Guides of all shapes, sizes, and ethnicities, mingled together, searching for the elusive connection that would bind them together. Occasionally partnerships were made out of convenience, with neither feeling the pull to bond, but the real pairs, the ones who worked so well together that they might as well be one, those were the relationships sought at Guide Meetings.
Except for Jim. Jim had no desire to find a Guide. His life was just as he wanted it, and he didn't need a Guide messing with it.
"Hey there. You look like you could use a refill," said a soft tenor voice.
Jim turned and looked...down. Blue eyes looked back up at him and a mouth quirked with a cheeky grin. A full glass was offered and Jim accepted almost without thinking.
"Thanks." He sipped at fruity drink as the man took up a similar pose as himself, lounging against the wall, one foot braced against the painted surface, knee bent. The guy was short, compared to Jim at any rate. His hair was long and curly, and his clothes looked like they belonged to a hippy who had gone on a spending spree at the Salvation Army.
"So, you come to these often?" the kid asked.
There was an awkward silence.
"Me neither. But I organized this one, so I'm kinda obligated to come. Name's Blair, Blair Sandburg."
Jim simply looked briefly over in acknowledgment and then went back to surveying the crowd.
"You know, it generally helps to find a Guide if you actually talk to people. I mean I can understand the desire to watch; It's really fascinating! Look at those two, they've been circling each other all evening. It's like watching the mating ritual of the Mastibu tribe in Southern Paraguay. And see that group? They're pack behaviour is incredibly reminiscent of --"
"Watch a lot of National Geographic, do we, Chief?" Jim interjected wryly.
Sandburg didn't look at all fazed by the sarcasm. He simply grinned up and laughed. "Nah, man. I'm an anthropologist. Studying people is my life." He straightened from his slouch and bounced lightly on the balls of his feet. "So. What about you? I'm guessing, from the clenched jaw, the eyes, you're looking for a guide, right? Let me guess. Law enforcement?"
Jim looked down sharply. "How'd you figure that?"
Blair laughed again. "Actually, I know who you are. Detective James Ellison. Spent eighteen months in the jungles of Peru and came back a Sentinel. Quite the story, man. I'd love the get the complete version, not just what they put in Time magazine."
Jim grabbed the man by his coloured vest and none-to-gently pressed him against the wall. "Listen you neo-hippy punk, my life is not for public consumption, particularly yours. Capiche?"
"Loud and clear. Now get your paws of the vest, man." Blair punctuated his request by pushing at Jim's chest with his palms. "This is so not cool."
Jim's head spun as his hearing suddenly spiked. He dropped the young man and couldn't keep his hands from covering his ears. The voices in the room merged into a cacophony of noise, the music driving a spike into his brain.
And then it was gone, the noise reduced to regular volume, the comfortable hum of a pleasant party. And Blair was touching him.
"You okay?" Blair asked, his hand grasping Jim's wrist in cool fingers.
Jim nodded shakily. "Yeah. Just...got overwhelmed for a moment. I'm fine."
"Yeah, fine. I can see that. Listen, Jim...Detective," he hastily amended at Jim's glare, "I have a proposition for you."
Jim continued to glare, but Sandburg forged on. "I think we should become partners."
Jim's jaw didn't exactly hit the floor, but it sure felt like it was giving it a good try. "You want to
run that by me again?"
"Me. You. Partners. Like Starsky and Hutch, Riggs and Murtaugh, Mulder and Scully, yin and yang. Partners."
"You're a Guide? You want to bond?" Jim asked, incredulity spilling from each word.
"Guide? Yes. Bond? No way. Heck no. But I'm thinking we could be of great help to each other.
See, I'm a graduate student in the anthropology department and I'm doing my dissertation on closed societies. Thing is, my committee wants me to actually use a sample society rather than talking more generally about a bunch of different kinds. They thought about the army, but that's just a way bit too much testosterone for me. Me, I'm pretty sold on the idea of observing the police force in all it's protective glory. And you...you need a guide."
"Let me get this straight. You want to tag along during my work and observe me like a lab rat?" Jim felt like he was sinking into a bog, ready to be preserved, fossilized and discovered a thousand years later.
Blair shook his head, hair brushing against his shoulders with the motion. "No, I'm saying I'll help you out with your senses, and you help me out with my studies about police cultures. Mutual benefit, man. I'm not looking for a bond anymore than you are."
"Why not?" The question popped out before Jim rationally formed it.
"Let's just say I had a bond once and it was a huge mistake. But I can't let someone suffer, and you need me."
"I. Don't. Need. You."
"Sure, pull the other one. You do need me, Jim. Or at least you need a Guide. And last I checked, there wasn't anyone knocking down your door asking to be your guide." Blair rolled his eyes in frustration.
"What do you mean, you checked?"
Blair huffed his breath and waved his hands about ambiguously. "I wouldn't just approach anyone, you know. I want to know who I'm talking to. Besides, I organized this shindig, remember? I looked at the backgrounds of all the Sentinels who came. And three official rejections doesn't look good on your record, man. And two of those could have potentially been
real bond pairs."
Jim pushed himself off the wall, having finally decided action over inaction. He was leaving.
"Stay the hell out of my personal life," he snarled as he dropped his glass on a nearby table and stalked out. He could hear Blair calling something behind him, but he tuned it out.
When he hit the parking lot, he took in a deep breath and let it out in a long sigh. He loosened his tie and worked the kinks out of his neck. He hadn't realized how tense he'd been. The parking lot was dark, but with his eyes, finding the truck was a breeze.
He started across the asphalt, revelling in the sensory output of the great outdoors, tainted though
it might be by cars, cement and smog. It began to drizzle in typical Cascade fashion, and he turned up the collar on his jacket, glancing briefly up at the street light as he passed. With sentinel vision, he could see each little drop of rain as it passed before the light, refracting the beams in mini rainbows, each as dazzling as the next. It was beautiful against the background of an inky black sky, and he paused, letting himself sink deeper into the experience.
He was jerked back to reality as the noise of horn glared...overhead? He was sprawled on the pavement, a warm body pressed over him, moist dust floating about them as large wheels passed on either side of his head. Then the tornado of sound was gone, leaving him gasping for breath in the sudden absence. He was hauled to his feet, and he looked around in confusion. What the hell had happened?
"You zoned, man." Sandburg had somehow materialized out of thin air. He was brushing debris off his jeans, hands shaking and breath coming in short pants. When he finally looked up at Jim, his eyes were dilated with the tangy scent of fear pouring off him in waves. "That really sucked! You were totally gone, and almost ended up being a road pancake!"
"What...where...?" Jim couldn't form a coherent sentence, his brain filled with visions of the wheel that had passed his nose by scant inches.
"I wanted to give you my card, just in case you changed your mind. When I got out here, you were in the middle of the road about to get flattened. Phew. Next time warn a guy if you're going to do that sort of thing."
"It wasn't exactly planned, Chief." Jim said as he did a cursory check to make sure the young man was okay. Heart beat was racing, but there were no bruises or breaks. Just shaken up, and Jim could relate; His own heart was only just starting to settle down.
"Still think you don't need a Guide?"
Jim shook his head. Damn, he was a persistent little shit, wasn't he? "Look..."
"I know how the PD works man. You don't come in with a guide, you'll be riding desk duty the rest of your career. Somehow I can't see you becoming a pencil pusher."
Jim closed his eyes and felt his walls of resistence gradual crumble. How much trouble could a Guide be, anyway? They were supposed to help with the whole senses deal. And he did have a bomber to catch.
"Fine. Meet me at the station tomorrow, seventh floor, Major Crimes. I'll have the paperwork
Blair stared at him. "Are you serious?!"
"Does it look like I'm kidding?" Jim asked, giving the kid his best 'I'm-going-to-eat-you-for-breakfast' stares that sent perps into confessing convulsions. The kid just laughed.
"No, I guess it doesn't." He smiled. "You won't regret this, Jim. I have a feeling this is the start
of a beautiful friendship."
Jim wasn't sure why those words sent strange feelings through his stomach.
"First thing we do, is get you a proper haircut." Jim jerked his head towards the curls. "We'll see what happens from there. See you tomorrow."
He almost laughed at the look of horror on the kids face as he continued on his journey to his truck. He looked back and tuned up his hearing, grinning at Sandburg's protests.
"No way, man. I am *not* cutting my hair!"