An officer walked by, looking suspiciously at Jim's sunglasses, and his long, unwashed hair. Control. Jim let his eyes drift aimlessly as though he really didn't care about this guy giving him a second look. No way would he have spotted Jim as a Sentinel, not here where most Sentinels would have gone insane from the sensory overload; however, he was suspicious.
Scratching at a spot on his arm when he really just wanted to rip his dirty skin off his body, he tried to ignore the slow circle as the officer returned to focus on Jim. Fuck.
Leaving his duffle bag on the floor, Jim stood and stretched, as if he were any other dirty, scruffy citizen who'd just gotten off one plane and was about to get on another. He could replace the contents of the duffle, so he slowly wandered toward the drinking fountain. Let the idiot just wander a little farther off, and Jim would duck out a door and find another way to make contact. So close. Just a little farther and he could lose himself in the wilds of Canada and no one would ever see him again. He'd reach sanctuary, and no one would ever be able to control him again.
Jim closed his eyes and let himself fantasize a world without screaming engines that ripped at his hearing and flashing lights and the sharp stink of chemicals. He longed for some place quiet. Some place where he didn't have to escape the police and lie about his senses, some place where he didn't have to fear getting caught and shoved into a legal system that would strip his control.
The officer was closer now, and Jim started considering options. A quick strike, and he could take out the guard, but how many people in the terminal would run toward him, and how many would flee? Jim looked at the children sitting in mother's laps and playing on the floor and thought about the possibility of a panic where small people might be crushed.
"You got a ticket?" the officer asked as he finally confronted Jim, standing not more than four feet away. Jim nodded without answering. He could take this guy easy. Instead he pulled out the dog-earred paper ticket.
"Why are you hassling me?" Jim asked in his best imitation of a whine. To pull off the act, he imagined the middle-aged hippy his unit had caught smuggling drugs from South America.
"You're heading to Salt Lake?" the cop asked as he looked at the ticket. Jim wasn't, but he didn't want to announce that he was a Sentinel trying to make it to the Canadian wilds. He had no intention of being on the plane to Salt Lake when it left.
"Yeah," Jim lied. "To see my sister, not that it's your business."
"What's in the bag?"
Jim again considered the feasibility of a direct attack. This was getting too serious. If his contact showed up now, he'd take one look at the officer hassling Jim and fade into the background. But if Jim attacked, someone would pick up his trail.
"Clothes. A bottle of vodka," Jim answered truthfully. The vodka was against airline rules, but it was a small violation and it matched the disguise Jim was using. Besides, when the headaches truly overpowered him, the booze could take the sharp edge off the pain.
"That's a violation of airline policy," the officer frowned, and Jim gritted his teeth at the unctuous and offended tone. He wasn't going to bribe his way out of this.
"Hey! There you are," called an unfamiliar voice. "Man, leaving your shit like that, on the floor, that is a great way to get it stolen. I got your hotdog, extra onions, like you wanted, but if you breathe on me, I am never forgiving you. Keep that killer breath to yourself, man." A young man with long curls and bright blue eyes bounced right up to Jim, giving him a bump with his shoulder, bare skin to bare skin, and JIm could only blink in shock.
"Hey, if you're hassling him, get in line behind me because I am not going another leg on this little journey before he takes a pitstop and washes off a layer of grime. Man, sitting next to him was an adventure I don't want to repeat." The kid thrust out his hand toward the officer. "Blair Sandburg."
"Officer Witthy," the man answered automatically. "Are you--"
"Witthy? Witthy-Witty, cool name man. Now that is a name I could have worked with, but Blair Sandburg? Oh man, let's not even get into 'Blair' which is a name that no boy in grade school should have to deal with, but 'Sandburg' which got turned into 'Snowburg' as in 'snowing' everyone to 'Iceburg,' which might be kinda cool if they meant that I was all cold and dangerous, but they were talking more lettuce iceburg than ice iceburg."
Jim could see the officer start to back away, intimidated by Blair's flood of words where Jim's size and dangerous looks hadn't caused him any worry. Opening his senses, Jim focused on the energetic man who had come to his rescue.
"Oh, hotdog. Man, it must be cold by now, sorry about that Big Guy," Blair said as he turned and held the food out to Jim again. This time, Jim took it, listening as Blair's heart pounded heavily through the lie.
"So, anyway, Witthy is much higher on the status ladder. It means noble innkeeper. Now Sandburg... it comes from Hamburg, and the family's big claim to fame is being in about a million little tiny wars over little tiny bits of land, and that is so not good for the karma, you know."
By now the officer was truly backpedaling, and Blair just followed him, still gesturing like a preacher who'd found an audience of the unsaved trapped in his church and ready to hear the inspired word of God, whether they wanted to or not.
"Chief," Jim called, "give the guy a break from the chatter, huh?" he asked with an exasperated sigh as though he had to put up with this all the time. The officer glanced toward Jim gratefully and then turned and walked briskly in the opposite direction. Blair Sandburg stood watching the retreating back, and Jim could hear the heart pound dangerously fast as he panted.
"Deep breaths, Sandburg," Jim counseled his rescuer as he put his hand on the man's shoulder. "Slow down your breathing or you're going to hyperventilate." Blair backed up until he just brushed against Jim's body, and then he struggled to follow Jim's advice.
"In," Jim whispered, trying not to attract too much attention. "Out."
"Oh man," Blair finally whispered as he caught his breath, his heart slowing.
"Yeah, close one," Jim agreed. "Magna send you? From asylum?" he asked, already knowing the answer. The hotdog Sandburg had shoved toward him didn't have any onions, and there was only one reason to lie about that--to convince the cop that Jim couldn't possibly be a Sentinel. Bonded Sentinels might be able to eat onions or walk through airports without their skin trying to peel off, but unbonded ones, even runners who tended to deal with the world a little better, wouldn't touch them.
"Magna?" Blair asked, confused, and Jim could hear the truth of that confusion in Blair's heartbeat.
"Then... who are you?" Jim asked, suddenly suspicious. The hand that had rested on Sandburg's shoulder now gripped it hard enough to make the man flinch.
"Hey, I'm just trying to help," he protested without struggling, and Jim could hear the truth of that too.
"Who are you?" Jim repeated the question.
"Blair Sandburg. I work at Rainier University. I am only trying to help you, and if you just ease up there, I promise I'm not going to run or yell for a cop or something."
Jim could see Sandburg's pain in the way his eyes tightened and his shoulders unconsciously hunched in response to Jim's harsh grip. He loosened his hand and glanced across the terminal toward the clock on the far wall. Magna's representative should have come and gotten him twenty minutes ago, and in the underground, twenty minutes late meant either they'd been arrested or they'd taken one look at Jim and something sent them running the other way. But that didn't explain Jim's new little buddy.
"I'm not going to hurt you, Chief, but let's go somewhere and have a little talk." Jim casually draped one arm over Blair's shoulder as he started eating the hotdog with the other. After two days without food, it was the best tasting thing Jim had ever eaten.
"Mind getting my bag?" Jim asked as he used his seemingly friendly arm around Blair's neck to guide him back toward the chairs.
"No problem," Blair agreed as they reached the place where Jim had sat waiting for someone to take him on the last leg of his escape plan. He bent over and grabbed the light duffle without even trying to move away from Jim's possessive grip. "I've got a car in short-term parking," Blair offered as he went where Jim guided him.
Jim used his senses to check the truth of that statement. "Anyone waiting for us out there?"
"What?" Blair demanded. "No way. Just a car and a way to get out of this airport which has to be bugging the crap out of you."
Jim tightened his hold on Blair's neck, and the kid stumbled a step before Jim loosened up. So he did know Jim was a Sentinel. Well, he wasn't having that discussion here.
"You a cop?" Jim asked.
"I'm a grad student. Rainier University. We went through this once."
"What are you doing at the airport?" Jim kept his questions soft and his expression pleasant as though they were two friends just walking out of the airport together, but inside he could feel fear cracking through the edges of his control. He turned the corner and pointed Blair toward the exit for the short-term parking. If this was a trap, at least then he'd have someone to fight.
"Right now, I'm saving the ass of this cranky dude who hasn't even given me his name before kidnapping me," Blair shot back. Jim blinked in surprise at Blair's answer.
"And what were you doing here before you decided to save the ass of the cranky dude?" Jim asked, a small smile escaping as he considered his kidnapee.
Jim tightened his grip.
"Hey, easy on the shoulder. Check my heart rate. I'm an anthropology student, and I'm doing this paper on proxemics and public space. I was people watching! I have a portable computer in my side pocket, and if you check, you'll see that I've been recording the distances people establish for themselves and their families as they wait for planes."
"You do this for a living?" Jim asked as he pulled Blair to a stop and looked down at the man. Blair was blushing.
"Okay, so it's not the best living in the world, but I could see an article on urban design to a magazine for $200, another to a modern anthropology magazine for $50 or maybe for a free year's subscription, and then I could get a grant for a few thousand to do a follow up study. And then, on top of that, I'll use the data in a couple of research papers at school and maybe even try to interest the airport in commissioning a larger study on how to rearrange their public spaces to maximize the available space."
Jim listened to Blair's heart, slightly elevated, but steady. He stared into Blair's blue eyes, measuring the diameter of his pupil and tracking the small movements. He breathed deeply of Blair's scent. The man was telling the truth.
"So, you're watching people, and you decide to save a rogue Sentinel and then cooperate in your own kidnapping?" Jim phrased it as bluntly as he could, looking for some reaction. Blair flinched.
"Oh man, that's not going to look good on the police report, huh?" Blair asked.
"Not really, Chief," Jim agreed. "Which is your car?"
"Black Toyota," Blair nodded toward the far side of the lot, and Jim started walking, his arm still thrown around Blair's neck. "Can I at least get a name? I mean, if the cops are going to look at me like I lost my mind, and you *so* know they are, can I at least show them that I had the brains to get that one piece of information?"
Jim pushed his lips out as he considered that. Right now, anyone looking for James Ellison would have pictures of him in his military outfit with his hair cropped short, or his jungle fatigues after being extracted from Peru. He couldn't afford to give up that advantage.
"Just call me Big Guy," Jim said as he thought about Blair's earlier nickname for him.
"Man, I'm not batting a thousand here," Blair complained softly as he dug in his pockets. He pulled out keys, and Jim held out his hand.
"Here ya go, Big Guy," Blair said as he surrendered them.
Jim approached the car carefully, searching the lines for any breaks that would suggest it had been modified. He'd heard of people getting in cars and then finding the doors locked automatically. Walking around to the passenger side, he paused with the key hovering. Standard operating procedure... put the prisoner in first. Jim considered Blair and then the lot.
A few people wandered to their cars, one man ran to the airport, his briefcase bouncing against his leg. A chain-link fence didn't really pose any barrier between the lot and the highway. If he put Blair in first, unlocking the passenger side, it might trigger some mechanism. That's how he'd rig a trap.
"Stay here." Jim gave the order and then quickly walked around the car. He was almost surprised that Blair just stood where told and waited as Jim unlocked the driver's side. He had to nearly fold his body in half to get into the seat to adjust it, and then he reached over and unlocked the door. "Get in."
Blair immediately tossed the knapsack into the back, but then he stood next to the open door, his heart speeding up.
"Man, you have an out, you have the car, so why take me along for a ride?" he asked.
"Maybe I like the company." Jim put the key in the ignition and started the vehicle. The engine whined unhappily before settling down. "You need new belts."
"Yeah, I'll tell my mechanic," Blair answered. "You need company like how a Sentinel needs company?"
"I'm not going to rape you," Jim sighed as he tightened his hands around the wheel. God, he hated this. He hated how anyone who knew his secret looked at him like a Sentinel and not like a human being.
Immediately, the car bounced as Blair got in and put his hand on Jim's arm. "Hey, Big Guy, I *never* thought you'd rape me. That is a total urban legend. A Sentinel is far more likely to get raped by someone who manipulates their senses with pheromones and steroids. Give Sentinels the right input, and they don't have the ability to say 'no.'"
"And that brings us to the next question. How do you know so much about Sentinels?" Jim asked, his hand slipping from the gearshift over to Blair's leg.
Blair sighed and pulled the passenger side door closed. "I've worked with them."
Jim tightened his fingers around Blair's knee until the man gasped and grabbed at Jim's wrist with impotent, fluttering hands.
"Hey, okay, that just hurts."
Jim let go of Blair's knee and grabbed his wrists in both hands. Blair didn't fight as Jim brought his wrists together and held them. With his other hand, he pulled his belt free of his waist. Quickly, Jim wrapped the leather around Blair's wrists and fastened the buckle before letting go.
"I so should not have gotten in the car," Blair said quietly as he let his bound hand rest on his lap, but his heart continued to beat steadily. When Jim had first grabbed him, his heart had raced, but now it settled into a steady ba-bum as Jim put the car into gear and headed for the exit.
"Here, hold this," Jim said as they approached the toll booth. He dropped his pack onto Blair's lap, hiding his bound hands. "Do I need to warn you not to call out?" he asked.
"Yeah, I saved you from the cop in there because I want you to get caught by the parking attendant out here. You've uncovered my master plan." Blair rolled his eyes and let his head fall back against the car's headrest.
"Smartass and Big Guy. Sounds like a great title for a Hollywood picture," Blair answered. Then the car ahead went through. Jim pulled the parking pass out of Blair's window and pulled up to the attendant. Silently he handed over the pass.
The attendant looked at it, and then bent over and stared into the car.
"Hey, prof," he said. "You don't normally have company."
Jim froze, his hand going to his pocket where he had a roll of quarters. They'd give his punch some extra impact.
"Yeah, the big guy and I were testing responses to requests for help... perception of the counter culture, you know?" Blair answered quickly, and he shifted so that the pack half fell on Jim's hand while still hiding the fact that Blair was tied.
"You always have some weird ass-shit going on, prof. You have a nice day."
"You too, Bobby," Blair called, and then the attendant gave the parking pass back to Jim.
Taking it with a stiff smile, Jim slipped the pass back onto the dash and pulled forward into the airport traffic.
"Don't ever do that again," Jim warned as he checked over his shoulder and merged with oncoming traffic.
"What, try to keep you from hitting some poor kid who's working his way through auto mechanics school by sitting in a hot booth all day?"
"I wouldn't have hit him unless I had to. Despite what you have heard, not all Sentinels are raging lunatics."
"No one says they're raging lunatics."
"Sure. That's why in court, they're automatically labeled non compos mentis. They can't testify or control their own lives, but no one thinks they're lunatics."
"Oh man, you have serious control issues, you know this, yes?" Blair asked with exasperation. "Sentinels can go out of control, especially when they're stressed or when people do stupid shit like make them feel like they're in danger, but no one thinks they're raging lunatics."
"Whatever," Jim dismissed the argument. "So, back to my earlier question. How do you know about Sentinels."
"Do you have any idea where we're going?"
"Sentinels," Jim growled, not willing to be put off any longer.
"Hey, I'm totally okay with telling you everything. I just need to pee, so I hope you have somewhere to go, and if not, I'm offering my place because I really need a bathroom."
Jim didn't answer, he just looked over and glared at Blair.
"Fine. Sentinels. I work at Rainier, and after an article I wrote on eastern meditation techniques and how the west adopted and adapted them to fit western culture, and while I truly respect the origins of meditation, some of the adaptations really make a lot of sense given our own society is--"
"Chief," Jim warned darkly.
"Sentinels. Right. I gave a class on meditation at the university, and one of the students works at the Sentinel institute. She invited me over, and we convinced the head of the institute to let me teach Sentinels how to use meditation techniques to overcome sensory overload and prevent emotional outbursts."
"You taught the poor little Sentinels how to not throw fits. How sweet." Jim focused on the cars and not his own precarious hold over his temper and his senses and his life in general. Funny enough, he'd grown up around here. After the crash had reactivated his senses, Jim remembered as a child, his father's screaming face as he told Jim to fight it, to avoid becoming some freak. And now he was right back here in Cascade and right back to fighting his Sentinel instincts.
"Sentinels are incredible, man, incredible. They're the watchmen who are part of our culture. Gilgamesh who could see farther than any man and who fell into a trance that lasted for seven days and nights. Huangdi the Yellow Emperor was said to be able to hear silkworms in the trees and feel which soil would grow the best crops. Human civilization has depended on Sentinels."
"And yet, they have no more legal rights than a five year old."
"They work in dozens of fields. Every year, they save lives and solve crimes and help identify environmental disasters."
"All under the eyes of their owners."
"I live off the 2nd street exit if you're planning on letting me pee at my own house," Blair said suddenly. Jim saw the exit sign coming up. "And they don't have owners, they have guardians ad litem, and after the number of times Sentinels have been raped or forced to commit illegal acts or just been emotionally or mentally destroyed by those who have tried to abuse their skills, that's not a bad thing."
"You keep telling yourself that." Jim took the 2nd street exit. "North or south?"
"South to Prospect, then east. And I do tell myself that. If we lived in a society that wasn't so fucked up, our Sentinels wouldn't be in so much danger, but what would happen if some criminal mastermind had figured out your secret?" Blair demanded.
"I would kill him," Jim answered flatly, his memories providing that answer and the image of a thin faced thug holding a huge gun. The gun hadn't saved him.
"Oh man, okay, you might be able to do that, but most Sentinels are vulnerable. And the very fact that their senses sometimes cause synesthesia or make memories overlap onto current events... it just means that their perceptions can be manipulated."
"So, you're going to save us all."
"If I could, yes," Blair said quietly. Jim looked over and was shocked at the seriousness on the man's face.
"You would be happy if I drove up to the nearest police station and turned myself in."
"Yeah. It would mean I wouldn't have to worry about you. You look--" Blair hesitated, and then the pack slid to the floor as he pulled his bound hands up and let them rest against Jim's naked arm. "You look tired. You look like you're at the end of your running and you don't know where to go."
They were at a red light, and Jim let himself close his eyes for a moment. How long had it been since he allowed someone to touch him? Blair was right, the wrong person could turn Jim's senses against him, and so he had guarded against even casual contact.
A horn honked, and Jim opened his eyes to find the light green. He turned onto Prospect.
"If you think that, why did you help me at the airport?" Jim asked, his body starting to tremble with the beginnings of a collapse. He needed to get somewhere safe until he could rein his senses back in... until he could control the need to either touch or strike out.
"The guard was playing with fire, man. You looked stressed to the breaking point, and he wasn't picking up the signs."
"You thought I was going to go berserk," Jim tightened his fists on the steering wheel.
"I think that airport would have driven any other Sentinel to go berserk the minute they walked in. Man, that place was a field of sensory land mines."
"I can control it."
"Yeah, which is totally impressive. But if you did slip, you don't seem the kind to forgive yourself easily. That's my place on the right." Blair pointed to a building with a bakery on the first floor and a stair that led to upper apartments. Jim pulled in and parked the car.
"I'm not going to run... well, not unless you count running for the bathroom because the minute you unlock the front door, I'm making a mad dash for the toilet... but me walking in tied up is probably going to cause a few questions."
Jim looked at the building, and then stretched his hearing as far as it would go. Nowhere could he find anything that even whispered danger, so he reached over and unbuckled the belt, pulling it off. "Just do what you're told, and you'll get through this fine," Jim offered his kidnapping victim. Now he just needed to figure out what to do next.
Taking the keys and his bag, Jim followed Blair into the building and up the stairs where Blair stood outside apartment 307 bouncing from one leg to the other.
"Here, here, here," Blair pleaded as he held his hand out for the keys. Jim handed them over, and Blair immediately shoved a silver one into the lock and swung the door open. True to his word, he then ran for the bathroom, leaving the keys dangling from the door.
Jim pulled them out and swung the door closed. He liked the space. The walls were covered with masks and spears and blankets woven with reds and yellows and browns. A huge primitive painting hung above the television, surreal black dancers dressed in swirls of yellow and orange. Above, the bedroom was a loft, and clothes were tossed over the railing.
Jim walked to the table and shifted some of the books and papers. "Cultural Anthropology: the Human Challenge," "Research Methods in Anthropology: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches, Fourth Edition," "The Anthropology of Turquoise: Reflections on Desert, Sea, Stone, and Sky." Dialing up his sense of smell, everything confirmed that Blair lived here, alone, and had for quite some time.
The water ran in the bathroom for a second, and then Blair walked back out.
"I don't mind telling you, Big Guy, I was just about to seriously embarrass myself and offend that nose of yours."
"I didn't realize you needed to go so badly."
"No harm, no foul. From the way you wolfed that hotdog, can I assume you're hungry? I have some buffalo meat here."
"Hey, it's better than beef, and way lower in cholesterol."
"At this point, I'd eat anything that didn't threaten to eat me first," Jim admitted as he dropped his pack by the door.
"How long's it been since you ate?" Blair asked quietly.
"Not that long, and I'd rather miss a few meals than give up my freedom," Jim quickly answered. For a second, Blair hesitated as though he were going to argue the point, but then he turned to the old refrigerator and pulled out the meat along with more food than Jim had seen in a week.
"Are you staying long or just using this as a pitstop?" Blair asked as he started chopping. Jim watched carefully, expecting the kid to try to slip in some hot pepper or pills or something, but he just fixed a mixed vegetable, dropping bits into water to boil. Jim thought about his answer.
"I don't know," he admitted. Sitting down on a kitchen stool, Jim finally allowed himself to feel the fatigue that pulled on him. He'd been running for nearly a year, and his resources were running thin, both in terms of money and strength. Magna was his last step, and getting to her had taken his last dollar... or nearly. He had about ten dollars in his pocket.
"Let's get you fed and then maybe things will look clearer," Blair offered. "If you're going to stay here overnight, I need to know what we're doing tomorrow. I teach a 9 am class, and if I want someone to substitute for me or even put up a sign saying I'm out sick, I need to call around tonight.
"Sure, I sleep and you call the cops," Jim snorted.
"No, you sleep before you do lose that control you're so proud of, and I will lay on the bed next to you where you can keep an eye on me or you can tie me up so you feel safe, whatever," Blair offered.
"What is your deal?" Jim demanded. He stood up and walked around the counter, getting right into Blair's space and grabbing the hand with the knife. He twisted the wrist out and away with one hand and caught the back of Blair's neck with the other. "You're awfully calm for a kidnapping victim," Jim said as he pulled Blair close and smelled deeply. He couldn't even find a trace of fear as Blair stood limp in his grip.
"You're a Sentinel. You don't hurt people without a reason, without feeling like you're in danger, or the tribe's in danger."
"You're an idiot, Sandburg," Jim snarled as he leaned closer. Blair's heartbeat sped up a little. "You're so busy thinking about me as a Sentinel that you aren't looking at the man. Look who you've invited into your home, Chief." Jim stepped back without letting go of Blair's knife hand, and he knew what Blair was seeing.
Jim had stringy hair that hung to his shoulders, making his receding hairline even more pronounced. He hadn't bathed in a week, mostly because people expected Sentinels to be fastidious, and the sour stench of his own body choked him. An earring dangled from one ear, and his clothing was worn and tight. He looked like a thug.
But Blair stood in Jim's grip calmly considering him. "I see a man who is tired beyond reason, and yet he's still going. I see someone who looked around that airport at the families, and then intentionally decided to not use his best chance at escape. I see a man who hasn't done anything to hurt me even though he's scared. I do see the man, Big Guy," Blair answered softly.
Jim dropped his hand and retreated to the far side of the counter. "You aren't looking hard enough. You don't see the killer. You don't see the soldier who snapped a guard's neck to escape the base."
"I know you're capable of doing that. I also know that it wasn't your fault."
"Because Sentinels are non compos mentis, not responsible enough or sane enough to hold them accountable for their own actions?" Jim turned his back and raged into the living room, looking out the wide windows into the blue sky. "I fucking killed a man, but no one will even question me about that because I'm a Sentinel. He must have done something to trigger my instincts. I can't be expect to control myself."
Drowning, drowning in words. Jim hadn't used so many in the last year, but now they bubbled out, and he couldn't stop them. "I fucking killed him. I made that choice, not my senses, and not my fucking instincts."
"Because you were afraid," Blair said quietly. He put the knife away and moved away from the kitchen, toward Jim. He held his hands out, and now Jim understood. Blair felt safe because he was going out of his way to make sure he was harmless. He was appealing to Jim's Sentinel instincts, and that frustrated Jim even more.
"You're putting a lot of trust in my instincts," Jim warned as anger wormed its way up through the layers of defensiveness he had built around himself.
"I am. I'm also putting a lot of trust in the man who looked at those children in the airport and risked getting captured rather than endanger them. I'm a student of human nature, and I trust you."
"You shouldn't," Jim whispered as he turned to the windows and slapped the brick column. "I killed. Oh, I've killed plenty of people--that's what my government trained me to do, but the guard when I escaped... he didn't deserve..."
"And he shouldn't have put you in a position where you felt you had to do it. If he lost control of the situation, he should have just submitted before you felt threatened."
"Excuses," Jim growled. "I deserve to be arrested for what I did. His family deserves the right to stand in front of a judge and ask him to throw the book at me because I took away their son, their brother. I deserve that punishment. But I would rather be facing a murder charge than a future where I'm never again seen as a man."
"Oh, Jim," Blair breathed. Jim was so caught in his own released guilt and anger that the word didn't sink into his awareness right away. He stared out onto the city, wrapped in his frustration as the reality slowly sank into him.
He turned. "What did you call me?"
Immediately, Blair's heart started pounding faster and his face flushed. Jim took an aggressive step forward. "What the fuck did you call me?"
"Jim. I called you Jim," Blair said softly, his hands coming up in a gesture of surrender. Jim felt the sides of the trap.
"You son of a bitch," he stepped forward and grabbed Blair's raised hand, yanking him out of the chair and dropping him stomach down on the couch. Blair grunted as he landed, but he didn't fight as Jim wrenched his hands behind his back. For the second time, Jim started winding the leather belt around Blair's wrists.
"Man, that is going to hurt. The coffee table. You'll find stuff," Blair said, his words muffled by the couch cushion. Jim ignored him and tightened the belt even more, buckling it so tightly that the skin around the leather turned white.
Once that was done, Jim pulled on the top of the chest that Blair used as a coffee table. It didn't move.
"The key is under it," Blair said as he turned his head toward Jim. Despite the tightness of the belt, he didn't complain as Jim retrieved the key and unlocked the chest. Sentinel restraints. Soft, leather padded restraints with hardened steel shackles and chains.
"You son of a bitch." Jim picked up a wrist restraint and looked at it. Blair intended to use this on him.
"You have back up," Jim said with confidence.
"They should have been here by now."
"Escape routes," Jim asked, not sure that he could catch Blair in any lie, but he needed information.
"We have your picture. We arrested a woman named Maggie Little three days ago. That's where we got your contact information, so she's your Magna, and she's sitting in jail after being denied bail. You've stayed under the radar because you look so different and do things that require so much control, but now that we know you have that control, you'll never make it across the border."
Jim tightened his hold on the shackle as fear crawled up into his belly.
"Jim, listen to me. You're tired. You've been running too long. You're starting to lose control, that's why I stepped in at the airport. Come on, man. You're tearing yourself up about one guard who rushed you when you were wild with panic. If you had taken a swing at that officer, if you had caused a riot in the terminal and some kid had gotten killed, would you be able to live with yourself?"
Jim turned and looked back out the window at a freedom he could feel slipping away.
"If you'd just let me get to the wilds, get up to Canada."
"And become prey? The Mounties do their best, but you guys scatter into the mountains, and they can't protect you. Lowlifes from a dozen countries sneak into Canada to hunt for and capture desperate Sentinels. You'd either be grabbed and manipulated into working for someone who wouldn't care about the fact that you don't want to hurt people, or you'd starve to death."
"Starving to death would be better," Jim announced as the adrenaline drained from him, making his legs shake so badly that he had to sit. He ended up on the floor.
"No, it wouldn't. You're a decorated hero. Working with the military or the civilian police or maybe a search and rescue team, you could have a life again."
"A life owned by someone, a life I have no control over." Jim shuddered as he considered that he might not have a choice, not unless Blair had a lot of drugs in the place. He'd considered that choice early on, and he reconsidered it now.
"A life with a guardian who would keep others from manipulating you," Blair disagreed. "And you would have the right to report any abuse, to request a new guardian, or to have a judge review any decision a guardian made. It isn't slavery, Jim."
"It's close enough."
Blair didn't answer for a long time. "My hands are really hurting, Big Guy. The shackle keys are in the trunk, and I don't have any spares lying around, so it'd be safe to use them on me."
Jim scrubbed his face with the heel of one hand. Shit. They had his picture. They'd cut off his escape route, and he didn't have the money to buy another. And Sandburg was right, he couldn't forgive himself if he got someone killed. Fuck. Jim considered and dismissed a dozen plans. If he had money, if he could count on his father to help, if Magna hadn't been arrested, if they didn't now have a better profile of him. If if if if.
Jim closed his eyes and dismissed plan after plan, each more dangerous than the last until he could only see one choice... the worst choice. Standing heavily, Jim pulled the belt off Blair's wrists. Blair just lay there, his hands behind his back as he waited.
"Was any of it true?" Jim asked quietly.
"Every word, man. You can't lie to a Sentinel. I do work at the University. I was doing a study on people. I did get into Sentinels through the meditation class. However, one of the Institute instructors convinced me to work as a consultant trying to help bring Sentinels in. From there, I got a part time offer from Cascade PD. I'm a detective in the Sentinel division working at both bringing Sentinels in and retrieving Sentinels in abuse or trafficking cases." Blair still didn't move as he lay on the couch with his hands clasped behind his back.
Okay, Jim remembered his training... consider it a capture situation and make the captor sympathize, and despite the fact that Blair still lay on the couch submissively, Jim knew he'd lost the power here. The cops had caught him. Soon enough, he'd be chained, and it was time for a new plan. "I hate being dirty," Jim said quietly as he looked down at the cop.
"Yeah, if I hadn't seen a picture of you, and if I hadn't watched you for so long in the terminal, I never would have spotted you as a Sentinel, and I'm a professional."
"I almost made it."
"Yeah. You have a lot of control, man. Seriously bad-ass control."
"There's no way out of this." Jim didn't mean it as a question. With ten dollars, no contacts, and slipping control, he knew when he had reached the end.
"No, there isn't. But that's not the end of the world." Blair's heart beat steadily, pounding out the truth of that statement, at least the truth in his mind.
"Do I have time to take a shower?" Jim cringed at having to ask permission, but that would be his life now. He would have to ask permission for everything. Blair smiled up at him and let his hands slide down to the couch.
"Hand me the phone, and I can get you the time," Blair offered, slowly moving to sit up. "You're doing it, coming in on your own?"
Jim took an unsteady breath; he wanted to scream no. He wanted to tell Sandburg exactly what he thought of his pathetic attempts to 'help.' Instead Jim walked to where a cordless phone sat on the counter. Picking it up, he tossed it across the room before walking to his pack. He had a plastic bag with one outfit in it. He'd planned to change into it when he reached Canada. Instead, he pulled it out now.
Blair dialed, and Jim could identify each number by tone.
"Hey, Rick. Nice job on backup," Blair complained into the phone. "Good to know you have my back."
"Yeah, well you're the one who got in the car with the Sentinel. There was an injury accident on the freeway, and we had to stop. You at the loft?"
"Yeah, it's all cool."
"So, want us to put out the picture before he gets too far?"
"No, he's still here," Blair said. "He's tired. He's ready to come in, but he just needs some time to get cleaned up and changed."
"Blair." The voice at the other end sounded exasperated, and Jim was glad that he wasn't the only one frustrated by Blair.
"Hey, it's okay. He's just getting ready to take a shower, and then we're going to eat something before we come in."
"Let me call the SI."
"No. Look, he's cooperative, and we don't need more people trooping in here."
"You mean, you actually remember that he's dangerous? That's new."
"Rick," Blair warned. Jim gathered the last of his toiletries and headed for the bathroom. Even there, with the hot water running, Jim could hear both sides of the phone conversation. Part of Jim demanded that he run, even if he didn't have anywhere left to run to. Another part just wanted to sink down to the floor and make them carry him to some institute. However, he couldn't very well argue that he had a right to control if he didn't exercise it. If this was the end, he'd face it with a little dignity, not get carried out, stinking and looking like some bum.
"Blair, can he hear us right now?"
"Turn on the white noise gen."
"Blair." Oh, this Rick sounded furious. Give 'em hell, kid, Jim thought as he stripped off his clothes which were stiff with dirt and sweat. He must have been a joy to sit next to on the plane, but at least his own smell had helped block some of the nauseatingly strong scents from the jet fuel and the perfumes.
"He's under control, and I'm not going to do something that makes him wonder what we're talking about."
"Blair, this isn't the case to lose perspective on."
Jim stepped under the shower.
"He and I talked about Richardson." Richardson? Who the hell was Richardson? The guard he'd killed, Jim realized. Guilt swirled with the rising steam of the shower.
"You talked to him?"
"Yes, we talked. He thinks he should be charged with murder. He thinks he should be going to prison instead of to an SI."
"But despite that, he killed the guy."
"Yeah, he did. But when I blew my own fucking cover, he didn't hurt me at all. We talked about options and the fact we have his picture and his only contact. I told him the truth and yet, instead of striking out, he just asked to take a shower. He asked for enough time that he didn't have to go to SI stinking and hungry."
"Damn it, Blair, tell me you didn't promise him more time."
"Just wait for me to call you back."
"Fuck. Sandburg, you are a walking disaster. Have you *ever* met a rule you didn't consider it a personal challenge to break?"
"It's what makes me so good, and you know it," Blair countered. "Watch the outside if you want. Put a Sentinel out there. Hell, use heat tracking scans if you want because we're not going anywhere, but you need to give him some time to adapt."
"Blair, you know SOP."
"I'm not slipping him some drug just because that's *your* standard operating procedure. I don't believe in slipping them drugs."
"Well, you can't do it now that you've talked about it around Sentinel hearing. No way would you get the Rypno in him now."
"I wouldn't slip it to him anyway."
"It would be easier on him, to not have to deal with the transition."
"No, it'd be easier on us, but he's earned the right to make his own choice on this one. I'll offer him the pill. After all, he's coming in voluntarily."
"After how many months and how many states? He wouldn't be coming in if he wasn't trapped, so I'm not willing to say that Ellison is coming in on his own."
"It's my report, and I am. He's covert ops. If he truly wanted out of this, he could kidnap me and get away."
"Don't give him any ideas."
"He won't do it," Blair said confidently. In the shower, Jim listened to his life dissected, and couldn't come up with the energy to care. "He's running out of that legendary control of his, and he won't risk other people getting hurt."
"You're putting a lot of faith into this one."
"Yeah, I am, but I haven't ever been wrong before."
"The problem, kid, is that on the day you are wrong, we aren't going to know it until your head is cracked open like an egg. So, how long are you planning on playing house up there?"
"He's showering now. My guess is that he wants to shave and cut his hair, and then I've started dinner. Oh SHIT."
"Blair? Blair?" Rick called over the phone. Jim shut off the shower as he listened to Blair's heart race. "Fuck, I turned the vegetables to fucking mush. Shit. Since I have to start dinner over, it may be a while."
"Sandburg." Rick sounded livid. "If you ever scare me like that again, I will personally haul your ass out to the obstacle course and make you run it until your hair falls out from exhaustion."
"Right. No problem," Blair answered absentmindedly. Jim could hear pans clicking and hot water being drained into the sink with a hiss.
"Oh for god... Blair, be careful."
"Always. Remember, I'll call when we're ready," Blair answered blithely as he clicked the phone off. Jim grabbed a towel and scrubbed himself, still feeling phantom dirt clinging to him after so many weeks.
Opening the medicine cabinet, Jim found scissors sitting on the shelf next to a nearly full bottle of migraine medicine. As the fog from the hot water made his figure almost ghostly in the mirror, Jim stood with the bottle in his hand fighting through a thousand feelings. This was it. The end. Jim just wasn't sure the end of what.
"I was exhausted and shell-shocked when they took that picture," Jim pointed out dryly. It was strange, thinking that Blair had studied him, read all those old files, and yet he had stood under Jim's hands without flinching.
"I hate to tell you, but you're pretty exhausted and shell-shocked now." Blair dumped the vegetables into a strainer as the meat browned in the pan.
"You've won, Sandburg. All I want is a last meal for the condemned man."
"I mean it," Jim warned. Even with his plan in mind, his body struggled against the idea of surrender, even a temporary one.
"Okay, no problem. I just think you need some food and some sleep and things won't look as bad."
"Is this your idea of dropping it?" Jim asked as he sank into the chair at the table. All the anthropology books and papers had been dumped on one chair, and place mats set out. Blair came over with two plates, rolls and vegetables already on them.
"Yep. Rick tells me that I am constitutionally incapable of dropping anything."
"Rick's right," Jim answered as he took a bite of the roll.
"So, what do you want on your burger?" Blair asked from the kitchen.
"The works," Jim answered. "Except onions," he amended that after a minute. The room wavered, colors flashing neon for a second before they calmed back down into more normal colors.
"Man, you are not getting the onions or the jalapenos, not even if you ask for them." Blair came in with two burgers, and put one on Jim's plate. "Something wrong with the food?"
"What?" Jim noticed he'd stopped eating. He took another bite of his roll and used his fork to stab some vegetables. "It's fine."
"Okay. Right." Blair didn't sound convinced. He dropped the second burger on his own plate and then went over to his stereo, hitting the button. Jim could hear the wild pops and hisses as the electronics started up, and then soft Jazz filled the room.
"It doesn't sound right, does it?" Blair asked quietly as he came back to the table and sat down next to Jim.
"It's fine. I just don't like Jazz," Jim lied. Blair snorted.
"Oh man, you are just something. It's called a sensory storm, by the way."
Jim sighed as he put down his fork. "It's called a pain in the ass," he said. "It's happened before. It'll pass."
"You should not have to go through this without help. You need constant input... a stable environment with no big variations in temperature, light or sound. Sometimes the trafficked Sentinels we find suffer from sensory storm, a dozen little spikes that don't last long, but they really screw with your head."
"My head is fine, Sandburg," Jim said as he took a bite of burger, the mouthful turning from mush to grit and then finally to meat as he chewed. The worst part was that Jim knew Blair had a small kernel of truth in there. Jim didn't need a guardian, he didn't need someone to tell him what to do and where to work and how to live, but he did need someone to stand between him and the world. He needed Incacha. But that door was closed, and Jim wasn't about to open that old wound.
"I could show you a meditation technique," Blair suggested gently.
"Is this how you bring in runners? Talk them into submission?" Jim demanded sarcastically as he dropped his fork. Blair raised his palms.
"Fine. Dropping it." He took a big mouthful of burger, and for the first time, Jim got some actual silence. He used it to focus on eating. Even if he felt like curling up in the corner until this sensory storm passed, he needed food for strength. Eat, make the captors sympathize with him, gather resources, and escape. Jim just wished this plan didn't include him having to go through Sentinel training. He glanced over toward the shackles still sitting on the coffee table.
"If you take the Rypno, you won't have to remember the transfer," Blair whispered. Jim glared.
"You aren't good for digestion."
"Your fears aren't good for digestion, and I've always thought that truth is a great killer of fears."
"Free choice is a great killer of fear," Jim argued, "but as a Sentinel, I won't get much of that."
"Once you go through training, you'll get the portfolios of anyone applying to be your guardian ad litem."
"And while I can tell the judge that I might prefer one or the other, the judge has the final say on who he thinks would do the best job of taking care of me," Jim finished. "I know the routine, Sandburg."
"Man, it's not that different from the military, and you've been in the service most of your life."
"I had a choice, Sandburg. I could leave the service. If they gave me an order that I couldn't in good conscience follow, I could refuse."
"And guardians don't have absolute power either. You can always appeal a decision, and case workers check up on you."
"Yeah, I appeal, and a judge decides whether or not I have to follow the order. It's not the same, Sandburg. A man is defined by his code, his ethics, but now I'm told that I don't have even the most basic right. I have only the right to ask someone else for help. That's not how men live."
"I was a captain. I commanded men in the field and made snap judgments that affected thousands of lives. I held the Chopec pass for eighteen months. I didn't do that because someone ordered me to, but because I thought it was the right thing. After my men died in that wreck, I led the Chopec, trained them in how to deal with modern weapons. I made decisions that risked my life and others'."
"Not as a Sentinel," Blair interrupted gently.
"Yes!" Jim exploded up from his chair, slapping his hands on the table. "Yes, as a Sentinel. The Chopec knew what I was immediately. They never even questioned my judgment. They followed me into battle, trusting me to use my senses to keep them safe. They trusted me." Jim trembled as struggled against the rage that lay just below his control. He couldn't afford it now. He couldn't afford anger when he had a job to do. He had to survive and escape.
"But zoning... spiking." Blair sounded confused now. "Sentinels always have guardians."
Jim closed his eyes against the fear that wrapped around him, setting into his bones. "Companions," he said gently. "Sentinels have companions who watch their backs. They have friends who will give them an anchor when the senses get to be too much. They don't have guards."
"You had a Chopec companion?"
Jim walked to the window and stared out. Letting his hearing stretch, he could identify the police radios and the sound of people surrounding the building. And now the trap had truly closed. Somewhere down there, a police Sentinel was listening to him, reporting everything he said to his handler.
"I worked with the medicine man. The chief led the tribe with Incacha's help most of the time, but when the men went to battle, I led them with Incacha's help. He would anchor me, have the men defend our position when I zoned, make sure that I didn't stretch too far. But in the end, he left me to make the choices that sent warriors to their deaths. And I lost some. I remember the name of every warrior I lost. But we took out a lot more of them. We shut down the Chopec pass and forced the drug dealers out of the area."
"As a full Sentinel?" Blair had stood at some point, and now he stood in the middle of the living room.
"Yes, as a full Sentinel. When the helicopter came to take me out, I wanted to hold on to Incacha. I wanted to either drive the soldiers away and stay there, or I wanted to drag him into this world with me."
"You bonded." Blair hoarsely whispered the words, his heart racing.
"Yes," Jim admitted, unable to even admit it to himself before now. He could feel the hole where Incacha had been ripped from his soul.
"Oh, Jim. Jim, you can't blame yourself for Richardson, not when you were suffering from a broken bond and desperate to find your guardian."
"My companion," Jim corrected him. "Incacha was my companion, but he told me that our time was limited. He said that another waited for me, and that when my people came, I had to leave his land."
"He rejected you." Blair breathed the words, shock clearly rolling through him. Jim glanced over and could see Blair turn pale.
"He made a choice. I'm not some fragile flower that is going to be crushed if you don't handle it carefully enough," Jim snorted as he focused back out the window. Below, he could hear the other Sentinel repeating his words. Someone called for a background check and medical records from when Jim had first been taken into custody. Jim knew they'd find what they wanted: physical evidence of a Sentinel suffering through a broken bond.
"You're strong," Blair said carefully. "But Sentinels..."
"Chief, cut out this Sentinel shit, and look at Captain Jim Ellison, Seventh Troop, Army Rangers. I survived just fine. And despite what you think, I'm not about to fall to pieces over losing my first companion."
"Come on, Chief, you're the anthropology major, you're the one who's a great observer of human nature. Look at me. Think about how I was in the airport."
"Totally impressive. I'm not saying you weren't because you were so totally impressive, but you were still losing control."
"I was keeping control," Jim corrected him. "And I am keeping control, even though I can hear them out there. I'm keeping control. When they come in here and put chains on me, I will keep control."
"But a Sentinel needs..."
"A Sentinel needs a companion, someone who will anchor me when I spike or zone because those aren't controllable. If I use my senses, I risk that, and I need someone to be there to help me through that," Jim admitted softly, "but I'm not a child who needs someone to make decisions for me."
Blair didn't answer, and Jim turned and looked at him. Blair stood in the middle of the living room, and Jim could see that some little part of Blair had heard him, had processed the information. It was too late to help Jim, but maybe the man would think twice before capturing his next Sentinel.
The phone rang.
Jim and Blair continued to look at each other for several seconds before Blair shook, as though struggling to break some spell, and he grabbed the phone from the couch.
"Blair, things are getting out of control. We're coming up."
"No," Blair immediately answered. "He's having a sensory storm. We just need to wait until it clears because it's not fair to drag him out into the sunlight with his senses going wild.
Jim turned back to the window, able to hear Blair's boss, Rick, both through the phone and downstairs on the first floor. It made an odd echo in his head.
"I don't like the way this conversation is going."
"Then we'll stop having the conversation. I tried to get Sandburg to shut up before, but I wasn't all that successful," Jim said in a slightly louder than normal tone as he walked back to the table and picked up the burger. His stomach churned, but he took a bite, ordering his body to relax and follow through on the plan. He could hear the other Sentinel repeat his words to Rick.
Rick laughed. "He has your number, Sandburg."
"He also has senses that are making it hard for him to even eat when he hasn't had food for days. He needs some time."
"Use the shackles," Jim said quietly after swallowing around the fear lodged in his throat. They would shackle him anyway, but maybe he could buy a few more minutes here before having to face some Sentinel Institute.
"Jim." Blair breathed the word.
"Blair, don't try it, we're coming up now. Even the most stable sometimes loses control when you try to shackle them."
Jim closed his eyes, nauseous as he realized his offer had backfired. Now they would come in here and drag him out. God, he wasn't ready to face that yet.
"Jim," Blair said softly. He opened his eyes and found Blair there with the shackles. Prickles of fear swept over him, but he held out his hands and Blair locked the padded restraints around his wrists quickly.
"He's shackled, and you don't need to come up," Blair said into the phone. Jim looked down at his chained hands and struggled to deal with reality. He was a prisoner, a prisoner of war even if no one else in the universe saw it that way. And as a prisoner of war, he had a duty to escape, but he wouldn't succeed if he lost control now.
"Blair Sandburg, consider yourself on report!" Footsteps still charged up the stairs, and Jim let his hands slide down into his lap. He could do this.
"And you charging up here yelling is not standard protocol either, Yaden. Just calm down because he was fine with the shackles, but you yelling is about ready to send him into a zone."
Jim smiled grimly. So the kid thought he was fine with the shackles. He wasn't the student of human nature he thought he was. A warm hand rested on his shoulder, and Jim fought with the urge to brush it away and the urge to press himself to that warmth. He recognized that feeling: the Sentinel's demand for a connection.
He stood. He couldn't let himself get attached, not now. Leaving Sandburg behind, Jim walked to the door and opened it. Like he expected, men stood outside, one with a tranq gun pointed at him. Jim raised his shackled hands, showing that he didn't intend to fight. A tall man, slender with a pock-scarred face stepped forward.
"James Ellison, I'm charged with taking you into custody pending a determination of your status in court."
Since he'd run out of words, Jim nodded and held still when another officer stepped forward and attached two lengths of chain to his shackles. An officer would walk on either side of him, holding the leashes. It would make running nearly impossible.
"If you have a guardian ad litem or a person you wish to act as guardian ad litem, you have the legal right to notify them of your location. Do you wish to contact anyone?"
Another officer appeared with thicker shackles, and Jim closed his eyes, taking a deep breath as the woman carefully bent down to lock them around his ankles. The two officers who controlled the leashes to his shackles watched him carefully.
"If you have family members you wish to notify of your situation, you have the legal right to notify them. Do you wish to contact anyone?"
A neighbor opened a door and peeked out through the slit as the female officer now searched Jim for any weapons. He hadn't bothered trying to hide one.
"If you have a job or legal obligations that would require you to appear in person, you have the legal right to contract your employer, lawyer, or any representative thereof. Do you wish to contact anyone?"
The neighbor slammed the door.
"If you have legal actions pending against you, the outcome of your Sentinel status may impact that action. Is there any court or legal representative we need to contact in your behalf?"
Jim stood motionless as Rick read him.... well, they weren't actually his rights, they were more like the rest of the world's right to not be inconvenienced or worried by his sudden disappearance. He certainly didn't have the right to challenge the legality of the entire mess.
Jim turned and looked at Blair whose certainty had somehow evaporated in the last few minutes.
"It's okay, kid," Jim shrugged, the motion tugging on one of the tight leashes held by the officers.
"Are you ready to go?" Rick asked, pulling Jim's attentions back to the other officers. He stared coldly at Blair's boss. Eventually, Rick nodded at Jim's stubborn silence.
"Okay, let's get home, folks," Rick called. The officers quickly arranged themselves. One of the leash holders went in front of Jim, the other behind. The man with the tranq gun took position behind the rear leash-holder. Rick headed for the stairs, the woman officer with him. Three more officers walked behind tranq guy. In the middle, Jim walked with heavy steps.
The whole group moved slowly on the stairs, and the rear leash-holder put a steadying hand on Jim's arm as he slowly walked the stairs. If he were going to make a move, their very caution with him made them good targets, but Jim didn't like his odds of being able to get the keys, free himself, and escape before they tranqed him. Better to stick with the plan.
At the bottom, Rick stopped. "If your sensory storm is still going on, the Rypno is your best bet to avoid some serious pain."
"I'm fine," Jim said, his eyes focused on the open door and not the crowd of officers all focused on controlling him. A familiar scent drifted past him, and he turned to see Blair standing near the bottom of the stairs, leaning on the railing and looking like a lost child. No wonder the kid had fooled him; he didn't look much like a cop with those wide, worried eyes.
The officer in front pulled on Jim's chained hands, and he turned back toward the door, walking where they directed him. The sunlight made him flinch back, and everyone paused as Jim blinked away the sparkles and flares that almost blinded him.
"Man, he's having a sensory storm. This is so not cool."
"If you'd given him Rypno, he'd be comfortably out cold."
"I'm fine," Jim growled, cutting off the argument, and both men fell silent as the guards started moving again, Jim let the pressure on his cuffs lead him out into the sunshine. A large blue van with "CPD: Sentinel Division" painted in white waited by the curb, and Jim walked straight toward his greatest fear, using his control to restrain his overwhelming need to snap the necks of everyone between him and the Canadian border. He'd come so very close to freedom, but sometimes life just didn't work out that way he wanted, no matter how much control he had.
"Good for you," he answered as he lay on his bunk facing the light brown wall. The intake examination last night had frayed his ability to control his anger, and right now all he wanted was to close his eyes again and block out this world. He could still smell the sweet Sentinel-approved soap clinging to his skin. He'd showered in front of a lot of people in the service, and he'd long ago gotten over any need for privacy, but having three handlers stand at the edge of the room watch him had made him grit his teeth.
"What would you like me to call you?"
"Right now, I couldn't give a rat's ass what you call me," Jim snapped, "and any attempt to try and make me feel like I have some control when I clearly don't is going to be wasted on me."
"Okay, Mr. Ellison, I can imagine that you're fairly frustrated right now."
"You think?" Jim knew he shouldn't be doing this. He should be trying to convince them that he was going to be a good little boy. He should be smiling at their shit and spreading his legs farther for the Sentinel doctor who ran hands over his body looking for any rashes or irritated areas, warm oiled hands running down his legs and over his back and between his fingers and toes. He should convince them that he was ready to get his guardian ad litem and let them toss him back out into society.
"I would like to go over a few things this morning; it might make you a little more comfortable to know what's going on. I imagine given your background, that the lack of information is frustrating."
Jim sighed and turned over, sitting up on his bunk as he looked at the man standing just inside Jim's cell.
"Information is a tool when trying to decide what action to take. I don't have any illusions about having a choice here. You'll tell me what I need to do when I need to do it."
"A rather pessimistic outlook. May I sit down?" Sam Nunez gestured to two chairs sitting on either side of a small, round table.
"Knock yourself out."
"I agree that you have far fewer choices than you are used to. Your time as a non-Sentinel will make that difficult, but you do have some choices here, and you need to decide how to approach things."
Jim rubbed his face with a hand. "Think of it like being in the military?" Jim asked, remembering Blair's analogy.
"I'm not sure that's entirely accurate, but it's pretty close. I'd like to get you into classes as soon as possible. It's not healthy for anyone to sit in a locked room for too long."
Jim sat and waited for the man to continue. Nunez sighed.
"You aren't going to make this easy, are you?"
"Making your life difficult is one of my few remaining pleasures."
Nunez sighed again, and Jim gave him a not-so-nice smile.
"Let's start with some basics. Would you prefer a stereo or a television?"
"Not something I really care about."
"I'll put down television just so we can get something in here. If you disagree, feel free to say something. You've already found the refrigerator, and you can have any whole fruits or vegetables in here for snacking. Any preferences?"
"Wouldn't mind some Wonderburger," Jim answered obstinately. Nunez's pen hesitated over the form.
"I think we can skip the classes on control, but do you need to take the classes on recognizing the signs of zones or spikes?" he asked, completely ignoring Jim's non-answer.
"If I didn't know what they felt like, I never would have made it this far." Jim stood up and walked to the sink, pouring himself a glass of water that didn't have even a hint of chemical sting to it. The accommodations sucked, but the water was damn good.
"Meditation? Dealing with stress? We have a nice class on organic farming, which can be quite soothing on the senses."
Jim turned and looked at Nunez with unmitigated horror. "Gardening?" he demanded. "I've gone from being able to handle the stress of leading units into battle to being given classes in gardening. My life just keeps getting better."
"Maybe we should skip that class," Nunez offered as he wrote something on his clipboard.
"Maybe we should," Jim agreed.
"Okay, let's start with the required legal class. You need to know your legal rights and how to exercise them."
"I have the right to complain if I think my owner isn't being nice, that's about it," Jim answered. He tightened his hold on water glass and ordered himself to stop being so antagonistic. He wasn't helping his case, but Nunez's calm acceptance of every sarcastic remark made it just so damn easy to complain.
"The very fact that you think that suggests you need the course. A new one starts in six days. I'll sign you up."
"So you're my guidance counselor?" Jim asked, then he forced himself to stop complaining by drinking water. It drowned the angry words that wanted to come out of his mouth.
"In a way. I'm assigned to help you transition and to make sure you don't get lost in the system. We have a lot of vocational classes, and I really would like to get you into some of them. With your background, I think you'd enjoy police or rescue work, and we have excellent programs here. Police work in particular requires a lot of control since criminals have a variety of ways to try to throw Sentinels off track."
Jim thought about the similarity between police Sentinels and police dogs, but at least this time he had the good sense not to say it. Nunez waited, clearly expecting a smart-ass remark, and Jim congratulated himself on keeping the man off balance.
"Certainly the classes on avoiding anti-Sentinel maneuvers would apply to most law-enforcement situations. We've also had a request from the Rangers to assign you to military service, but, as you'll learn in your legal rights class, judges have very strict guidelines before assigning Sentinels to military service, including an ethical requirement to make sure that you want to go into military service, and that you have made that decision knowing what military service entails."
"I was military for 15 years, I know what military service entails," Jim pointed out dryly. He thought of Richardson's face, the shock when Jim's hands had closed around his neck, the man's futile punches to Jim's kidneys. Jim had pissed blood for a day or two, but it hadn't slowed him down as he cracked the man's neck. "I don't want to go back into the service."
"Fair enough. I just thought I'd let you know they requested you. An old commander of yours, Colonel Laraby, sent a letter the moment he heard you had surrendered."
Jim put the water glass down and went back to his bunk. It was the only place to sit other than at the table with Nunez, and he wasn't ready to do that yet, not when the most humiliating part of this whole ordeal was still coming.
"There's a class starting today on search and seizure procedure. It's run by a Sentinel and guardian pair out of the CPD with one of the highest arrest rates in the city. And while it focuses on narcotics, the basic search techniques could be applied to any number of situations. Or, if you want to get out of law enforcement altogether, there's a class on structural stability that's the first of nine courses designed to help you use enhanced hearing to check the structural stability of a building or other structure. The last course is off-site, visiting a number of different structures for field studies."
"I'll do the narcotics class," Jim said. He had a plan to get on with, and that meant convincing these morons that he would play by their rules. Sulking in his room wouldn't get him where he wanted to be. And as much as he hated admitting it, he didn't have enough control to sit through classes on structural engineering without losing his mind.
"Just try the narcotics class. If you aren't interested at the end of the day, you don't need to go back, or you can take the class later after you've adjusted some. I'll get a full brochure for you with a list of different classes and their starting times."
Jim clenched his jaw shut, and it ached with a need to scream his frustration at being treated as though he was one step shy of a total mental breakdown.
"This is the part that many Sentinels find difficult when their senses come on line late," Nunez said slowly.
"I already know what you're talking about, so I would just as soon get it over with." Jim kept his eyes focused on the wall. A crack interrupted one mortar seam, and Jim studied it with careful precision, imagining the thing spreading and flaring out until it ripped down the entire building.
"I need you to take your pants off," Nunez said slowly. Jim's eyes snapped to him.
"What?" he asked darkly. Nunez froze, obviously realizing the danger because he didn't move or speak for several long seconds as a clock softly ticked off the time.
"When Sentinels leave their quarters, they need to wear a chastity device. I thought you... you said you knew," Nunez said carefully.
"I was talking about the damn collar," Jim said as he narrowed his eyes. For a second, he glared at Nunez, and then he ripped his gaze away, forcing himself to focus on the floor as his rage swept up through him.
"Sentinels are vulnerable without a stable bond, and with your history of a broken bond, we just can't risk someone taking advantage of you. Of course, we can't risk anyone which is why the rule applies to all Sentinels outside their quarters."
"You want me to wear..." Jim's mouth refused to say the words.
"It's for your own protection."
"I thought this place was supposed to be safe," Jim said, struggling to control his temper.
"This place is as safe as we can make it. I promise you that nothing can ever harm you in this room," Nunez offered, his voice unctuous with a sincerity that might have even been real. Strangely, Jim would have preferred it if the man had been outright manipulative. If the asshole had simply announced that the chastity device was to take Jim's control, to belittle and humiliate him, Jim could have handled that better. He would have been able to simply turn his mind away and think of it as torture. Hell, it was a form of torture he'd been trained to expect in the Rangers because control over sexuality and bodily functions were key to breaking a prisoner.
"Forcing someone to wear something like that sounds like sexual abuse to me," Jim pointed out, using every bit of his control to keep himself from punching Nunez. "And for that matter, it won't stop an attacker. Locks can be picked, straps can be cut."
"But if someone tried, the staff would be aware immediately."
"So, you don't care about me being sexually abused as much as you knowing about it?" Jim asked, raising an eyebrow. That made Nunez stop for a second, opening his mouth without saying anything as he gathered his thoughts.
Jim tightened his fists, gripping the soft sheets and thick blanket as he tried to remind himself to stick to the plan: play good little defeated Sentinel, get out of this hellhole, escape. It was a good plan. Okay, it was a horrible plan, but it was his only plan, and at least ended with him free, so he needed to stick with it.
"Maybe this is too soon to discuss any of this," Nunez offered slowly.
"I want to take that class today," Jim disagreed as he stood. He started stripping off his pants, pretending this was one more military medical exam instead of a demented guidance counselor getting to degrade him. Accept the humiliation and torture without getting emotionally involved, he ordered himself. Follow his training. And no matter what shit Nunez spewed about protecting Sentinels, sexual control was about humiliation and control, not protection, so he wouldn't allow this to intimidate him.
"Jim." He spit out his name.
"Mr. Ellison is my father, and William Ellison and I have a long and unpleasant history. I would prefer you call me Jim, but if that breaks some rule of yours, Sentinel or Sentinel Ellison is less offensive than Mr. Ellison."
"Jim," Nunez started again, "you're clearly not comfortable with this."
"And I never will be," Jim agreed, "but I don't want to be stuck in this room for the rest of my life."
"Other classes start soon; you don't need to do this today."
Jim stopped, his pants around his ankles as he stepped out of them. "I'm not going to be comfortable with this tomorrow or the day after or the day after that. If you want me to wait until I'm comfortable with something I find so intimately offensive, you might as well leave and seal that door closed behind you. So, how do we do this?" Jim kept his voice tightly controlled, but he couldn't keep the bitterness out of it.
"The gear is in the white cupboard," Nunez said. Jim walked over without his pants. The nice folks at intake hadn't provided any underwear, so he gave Nunez a floor show. Opening the cupboard, what he found made his mouth go dry with rage. He took several breaths before grabbing the plastic bin with all the materials in it.
"What next?" Jim asked, his fingers clenched around the plastic box just to keep them from going around Nunez's neck.
"I think that's far enough for today." Nunez slowly stood and backed toward the door. Jim swung around and glared the man into stillness.
"If you walk out this room, you'd better never come in here again," Jim warned.
"Sentinel Ellison," Nunez placated him, hands held out.
"I'm serious. I fucking hate this, and I'm doing my best to deal with it. I want out of this room that much. But if you can't respect my choice, I don't ever want to see you back in here again, not unless you want to see me truly lose my temper. And I don't mean go into a Sentinel rage... that'd be easy for you to dismiss. No, you either respect my decision to get this over with, or I will spend every breath telling you what manipulative fucking assholes you lot truly are... what perverts you all are. If you want me to ever deal with this shit, then you give me the right to make the very few decisions your rules allow me to make, and you don't fucking tell me when things are too much for me. You don't know the first fucking thing about me."
"You're clearly upset."
"No, I'm furious. One human being can be fucking furious with another without going off on some rage."
"I'll give you five minutes to calm down, and if your heart rate is back down, we'll keep going and you'll get to the afternoon class."
"If my..." Jim closed his eyes, one more illusion of privacy shattered as he realized Nunez had someone outside monitoring Jim's vitals. Jim turned away and retreated to the back where the sunlamp shone down on the growing flowers, individual drops of water trickling down the ridged back splash before dripping into the long trough at irregular periods. He heard the door close behind Nunez.
Closing his eyes, Jim thought of Incacha's face. He remembered the way Incacha would crouch in the dirt beside him, his hand streaking the black facepaint over Jim's cheeks as he taught him the language. "Wasi," he said and then he gestured toward his hut. "Wasi," toward the neighboring hut. "Wasi," toward the hut down the way. "Wasiy," Incacha changed the word slightly, pointing to his own house, the one he shared with his wife and Jim. "Wasi," he said the original word as he pointed to a second hut. "Wasi," he said pointing to a third.
Jim pointed to the house he shared with Incacha and Omili. "Wasiy." He pointed to one across the way, "Wasi." He pointed at Incacha's house again. "Wasi and Wasiy."
Incacha had smiled, and let his hand rest on Jim's naked shoulder. A connection flared open between them and Jim smiled back.
"Imaynatan munanki chaynallatataq munasunki," Incatcha had smiled and nodded. Jim hadn't understood Incacha's words at first, but he'd learned and listened and led when the warriors had looked for him to lead. Even when he zoned, he would wake up to find Incacha crouched beside him, a hand on his back as he hummed patiently. Jim had learned to not hate himself or the world in those 18 months, and now he held that memory like a shield.
Jim didn't realize the five minutes had passed until the door slid open again.
"Jim?" Nunez called.
"I want out of this room. I want to learn to deal with this shit because I'm not ever going to be able to turn these senses off." Jim didn't turn around, he just continued to finger the leaves of the flowers, his naked ass on display.
"This is not a perversion. This is the only way to make sure that no one can come in here and manipulate or abuse you."
"No one except you, you mean," Jim pointed out. He heard the zipper, and that made him spin around. Nunez pulled the band of his jeans down just far enough to show the edge of a leather belt around his waist.
"The chastity devices protect you out there, so the only place where Sentinels are vulnerable to sexual abuse is in their quarters. You don't have to wear it when you're in here. So, anyone who works with Sentinels in their quarters has to wear a chastity devise at work. I get the key to open it when I check out for the day. Unfortunately, in the past, there have been cases of instructors brought in for training taking advantage of Sentinels. But you're safe here. The process to become one of the in-house staff is extensive, and we are still not allowed to work with Sentinels without wearing a belt. "
"And you think that makes it even-steven?" Jim asked. "You can choose to never come back here again. You can decide to find another job, and not wear that thing. I don't have that choice."
"No," Nunez agreed slowly, "you don't. However, you were right that you do have a choice about when you deal with this. If you want to deal with it now, I shouldn't have tried to deny you that choice. I'm sorry."
"So, how do we do this?" Jim asked as he ignored his guidance counselor and looked at the offensive box on the bed.
"I can either talk you through putting it on yourself, I can put it on you today so that you know how to put it on yourself tomorrow, or I can put it on you each morning when you're ready to leave."
Jim hesitated. He didn't want Nunez's hands near him, but he didn't think he could control his temper as the man talked him through doing it to himself. "The second, where do you need me?" Jim asked quickly.
"Lean against the table or the wall with your legs spread, and we can get this over quickly," Nunez said with no emotion. Jim walked to the table and put his hands on it, spreading his legs and scooting back a little to open himself.
Without any explanation or apology, Nunez slipped the belt into place. The intrusion left Jim clutching the edge of the table and a clear plastic cup in front trapped Jim's genitals.
"The end of the strap goes through the small flat ring on the base of the butt plug so that no one can pull anything off," Nunez said as he demonstrated. He pulled leather tight. "I'll adjust the straps so that all you have to do is reach back here and get the fitting at the end of the strap up into the buckle, and it will lock into place."
Jim nodded, not sure he trusted his words at this point. Jim heard the piece lock into place, and he found himself staring down at his cock and balls trapped behind a long plastic shield. At the end, a slit allowed him to pee, but it wasn't his body any more. Behind him, Nunez stripped off the gloves with a snap.
"Any garbage with smells that might bother you, including fruit peeling or organic material, goes into the red trash chute. Paper products go in green. Everything else goes in blue. It's marked on the front of the chutes."
Jim nearly blessed Nunez's sudden dispassionate efficiency. It made the ordeal just a little more bearable. He went over to grab his pants, and walking was a new experience. When he bent over, he hissed as the straps pulled tighter.
"It will loosen up as you move," Nunez said, "So, you're signed up for the legal rights class in six days. That will run from 7am to noon for three days. At the end, you'll need to pass a test with a 100 percent in order to get the requirement signed off. The narcotics class starts in four hours. It runs from 2pm to 5pm for two weeks. Most of the Cascade police departments require you to have a 90 percent in each of your police classes in order to qualify for work. However, if you miss the 90 percent, you're welcome to retake the classes. Other major cities run about the same, but smaller towns will take Sentinels with scores in the eighties, sometimes down into the high seventies."
"Is it a test, like the legal class?" Jim asked, retying the string on his pants.
"No, the vocational classes are mostly hands-on. In narcotics, you need to be able to identify the drugs in a test scenario, and avoid or overcome the counter measures the testers will use to throw you off."
"So, it really is like training a police dog," Jim snorted. Nunez looked at him strangely, and Jim just shook his head, "Nothing."
"Jim, you're new, and still very stressed."
"Everyone's new at some point, and with you as my guidance counselor, I'm guaranteed to stay stressed for the foreseeable future," Jim answered. Then he saw what else Nunez had gotten out of the white cupboard. He closed his eyes in frustration.
"Is that really necessary?"
"When you're stressed, you need to learn to ask for help."
"And you think shackles are going to make me less stressed?" Jim asked.
"Without them, you have to exercise control all the time."
"And I have control," Jim said. He'd lost control once, exactly once, with Richardson. Even when he'd killed the thug who'd figured out he was a Sentinel, he'd done it with the calm efficiency of a soldier, not the hot rage of a Sentinel.
"You can't keep control all the time. Part of being here is learning how to ask for what you need." Nunez stood looking at Jim expectantly.
"No fucking way," Jim said as he crossed his arm. "If you want to chain me, I can't do much to stop you, but no fucking way am I asking you to chain me," Jim growled. Nunez nodded.
The words sank like a rock tied to Jim's soul and dropped into the ocean. He couldn't do this. He couldn't fucking do this.
Nunez walked closer, holding out the shackles, and Jim reluctantly surrendered his hands.
"The collars have to be specially fitted so they don't cause any irritation since they stay on all the time," Nunez said as he wrapped his hand around the short chain between Jim's hands. "Let's get your collar and then some lunch before class starts."
Shackled and strapped, Jim meekly followed Sam Nunez out the door of his quarters, resentment and fear wrapping around his limbs as he realized just how fucked he truly was.
With his hand on auto-pilot, Blair started considering the topic for his next paper. His dissertation committee was about ready to toss his ass right out of the PhD program because he wouldn't settle on one topic, but instead wrote whatever paper gave him the best cover for his work with the Sentinel squad. And now, Blair didn't know what he was doing here.
Watching people get off the bus and wander to various benches or exits, Blair made the appropriate marks on his chart. Maybe for his next paper he would make a historical study of how Sentinels interacted with society. Blair certainly knew of the widespread abuse of Sentinels all through the 16th and 17th centuries. Those early Sentinels had so often died in a country worried more and more about technology and less and less about their vulnerable protectors. The laws had been put in place to protect Sentinels as the tribal and village structure had fallen apart.
Maybe a study of how different modern societies integrated Sentinels. The ex-communist countries had very different views of Sentinels. Of course, they'd locked up a couple and let them rot, refusing to accept Sentinel rage as a defense and earning the wrath of human rights organizations around the world, but hey, Sentinels had rights. And Canada pretty much left theirs alone. South America though... the tribes still had tribal Sentinels, but the cities had pretty much degenerated into the same widespread abuse as Europe and North America in centuries past.
Blair curled a leg under him and wondered, for the first time, if any of the people around him were Sentinels. In the past, he'd always been able to spot them from a mile away... the flinching from noise and light, the tentative brushes against other people as they unconsciously sought the human contact they fed on, the fear when someone brushed against them as they struggled to decide if it had been an intentional attempt to manipulate them or just a casual touch. Jim had been the first to truly fool him.
Sighing, Blair opened the calendar keeper on his computer pad and typed in a reminder to make an appointment with the doc because this was quickly threatening to turn into a full-blown depression, and he could feel the pressure of a migraine nagging at the edge of his awareness.
Denise Churchly got off the bus, hugging her backpack to her as she edged to the side the minute she got off the bus. Shit. How could the others not see her as a Sentinel, Blair wondered as her eyes scanned the whole terminal. Blair returned to his data on proxemics and space. The team, including Richards and his Sentinel, Tony, would be locked on Blair, so Blair just needed to make quick contact with her and then watch from a distance.
Before Blair could start making any plans about how to initiate contact, he noticed her walking toward him.
"Hey," she said, "I noticed you watching."
Oh god. Blair smiled up, pushing away the realization that she was so vulnerable. If he'd been anyone but a cop, she would have just taken a step down a path that led to abuse and slavery.
"I'm watching everyone, but no one else seems to have noticed," Blair agreed as he held up his datapad.
"That looks like the station," she said, looking at the tiny diagram on the flat screen.
"Yep. I'm an anthropology student, PhD student actually," Blair said with a blush. "Well, a PhD student whose never going to get his doctorate if he doesn't find something horribly interesting to say about proxemics and public space, and I'm already bored by the topic." He shrugged. "It won't be the first time I abandoned a topic."
"A doctorate student? Wow. That's exciting."
Blair snorted. "Exciting? Oh man, not so much. It's more like one part excitement of discovering some really interesting new theory and then 6 parts boredom collecting the same data over and over and over and then 4 parts complete frustration as some old guys with degrees tell you how you screwed up the data."
"Oh." She looked around, and Blair saw his perfect chance for an exit. Make contact, break contact, let the team take the Sentinel down unless the situation required Blair to get the Sentinel somewhere private. This one didn't seem the type to go on a rampage and snap any necks, and Blair knew he should just excuse himself.
"You want some trail mix?" he asked instead.
"Sure." The woman sat next to Blair so close that their thighs pressed together and then she scooted away before putting a hand out for some food.
"You coming home, passing through, or here to visit?" Blair asked as he dumped raisins and seeds in her hand.
She fell silent, cocking her head for a second before turning to look at him, confused.
"I'm visiting," she said warily. Blair could feel his heart give a jump. Busted. Fuck, his first time ever at getting caught, and it had to be by a woman who clearly needed help.
She narrowed her eyes, and Blair put the datapad down carefully and held his hands up in surrender.
"Hey, just calm down and I'll tell you everything."
The woman looked around desperately.
"It's already too late. The police have identified you, and they're just moving slow to keep you from panicking."
"To keep me from panicking? Too late for that," she snapped, then she cocked her head again.
"Blair?" she asked as she looked at him.
Blair chuckled. "I'm guessing you can hear my captain cursing me out."
"He says he's going to beat you to death with the rule book." She slid a little closer, and Blair could see the moment where she decided he was the innocent who need protection instead of the cop out to get her.
"He's threatened worse," Blair said soothingly. "He won't do it. He's threatened me with death so many times that if I ended up dead, he'd be the prime suspect, and he has too much work on his desk to take paid leave while they investigate."
"You're a cop," she accused him. Blair nodded.
"A cop and a PhD student in anthropology. I work with Sentinels."
"Hunting down runners who just want to be left alone?" she asked, her voice wavering between tears and fury.
"Most of the time, I work with trafficked Sentinels, men and women who've been subjected to some pretty bad stuff. I'm told I have a very soothing voice to listen to, but then Captain Yaden says that the sound of my voice makes him want to toss me off a building some days."
Denise looked at him with concern, and Blair smiled crookedly and smiled. "I have that effect on people."
"God, I thought I was going to make it. I just wanted to have a normal life. If I could have just gotten to Canada..."
Blair thought about that. "Maybe if you'd found a man who would act as your companion, who would let you lock your senses onto him without abusing you," he mused.
Denise cocked her head, listening. "Your captain says he's going to strangle the stupidity out of you," she said. Blair could imagine Rick used more colorful words.
"I'm just telling the truth," Blair shrugged. "But Denise, how many men have you met in your life who cherished and protected you without ever walking all over your feelings or taking advantage of the fact that you'd do anything for them?" he asked. For a second, she searched his face in confusion, and then she processed the answer to that question.
"Yeah, men suck," Blair said sympathetically.
"As a man, you're supposed to stick up for your gender," Denise pointed out.
"Oh, not a chance. I suck more than most," Blair said sadly. "I totally don't mean to suck, but I think the whole shafting people is hardwired into male brains the way the need to protect the tribe is hardwired into yours."
"Nature over nurture?" she asked.
Blair smiled at her. "Totally. Maybe," he amended himself. "I'm having a period of intense unsureness right now, so get back to me in a month or two and I may be back at my arrogant best."
"God, I don't know what I'm supposed to do."
"Just sit here with me, right now," Blair asked. She started laughing. Her laughter turned rough, sobs of breath between, and Blair let his hand rest on her arm. Eventually she sucked in deep breaths and controlled her laughter, but not her shaking.
"I don't think I could stand up and go anywhere if I tried," she admitted.
"There's a pill I could give you. You would fall asleep right here, and when you wake up, you'd be in the Institute with people who understand how hard this transition is," Blair offered.
She didn't answer either way, so Blair pulled out a small pillbox and handed it to her. "Your choice."
"If I say no?" she asked.
Blair flashed on the image of Jim, surrounded by chains and cops and Bill with the tranq gun pointed at him. He flinched away from the memory.
"That bad?" Denise asked.
"Oh man, I'm not supposed to be freaking you out. I'm sorry. I just... I don't like to see Sentinels scared, and without the pill, it's a scary transition. But whether you take the pill or not, just remember that you're safe."
Denise flipped open the small blue case and looked at the pill inside. "I don't think I can deal with being scared anymore. Will you stay here?"
"I'll be here the whole way. I'd stay with you until you woke up if they let me, but I think my captain is going to have me doing paperwork for the next month or so."
"I'm sorry I got you in trouble," Denise said as she let her hand rest on Blair's knee. Blair was used to frightened Sentinels touching him, so he let his own hand rest on hers.
"Hey, getting in trouble is like a family tradition. The only thing that keeps my mother from crying every time she thinks about me becoming a cop is the fact that I am *always* breaking one of their precious rules and pissing someone off."
"She's not a fan of the cops, huh?"
"Tell her you're one of the good ones," Denise said. She took the white pill out and popped it in her mouth before pulling a bottle of water out of her bag and taking a big drink.
"How long will it take?" she asked.
"About twenty minutes. You'll start getting sleepy a long time before you actually fall asleep," Blair told her. "If you want to lie down, no one's going to hassle you."
"I guess they can't arrest me for vagrancy again," she agreed.
"They arrested you?" Blair asked. She nodded as he moved her backpack to the floor and slid down on the bench to give herself room to lay down.
"I was at this park. It was the only place in Chicago where I didn't feel like I was getting eaten alive by the fumes and the sounds. I hadn't slept in days, and I sat down on the grass just to relax, and I guess I fell asleep."
"You don't have to worry about that anymore," Blair promised as she settled her head in his lap, one of her hands curling around his leg as she held onto him. For a long time, they lay in silence as her body slowly relaxed.
"I guess I'll have a roof over my head now," she agreed sadly. "I always wanted the perfect little dream, you know? A house in the suburbs and a husband and kids. I wanted to be a nurse and volunteer afternoons at my kids' school."
"Hey, you could still have kids. Procreation is one of the basic human rights a Sentinel is guaranteed. Just let the Institute know, and they'll pair you with a guardian who wants lots of little baby Denises running around."
"That'd be nice," she muttered, the drugs clearly starting to kick in.
"And hospitals are always desperate for Sentinel nurses, especially in pediatrics where the kids can't always explain what hurts. Every test puts a child through some sort of pain, but you could just listen and hear a heart defect or smell the skin and identify some infection. It takes a long time studying to become a Sentinel nurse, but I bet you could do it."
"I'm not afraid of hard work," she agreed groggily. She turned so her face pressed to Blair's stomach and she curled an arm around his back.
"Tell me the truth, it's going to be hard, isn't it?"
Blair stroked her hair. "Yeah, it's going to be really hard. You're going to have to learn to let someone else take control."
Blair felt his own heart contract in fear that not everyone could do that. Not everyone could survive having all the control stripped away until only the vulnerabilities and the senses remained. Not all Sentinels survived the Institute. He knew the numbers. Sometimes, late at night, he tortured himself with the percentages of Sentinels who zoned and died at the Institute or the percentage labeled intractable and moved to permanent institutions.
"But if you try, you might find that future doesn't look all that different," Blair whispered. Denise smiled weakly.
"That's the first outright lie you've told me," she said as she reached up and brushed a clumsy finger over his lips. Her hand flopped back down, and her eyes closed.
Blair just continued to stroke her hair as Rick and the others came up. Richards and Tony stood back a bit, Richards' hand on his Sentinel's arm. The polished silver of Tony's collar rested loosely on his collarbones, warning those nearby that he was a Sentinel, unpredictable if annoyed. Unlike last time, they didn't have chains and tranq guns. This time, they had a stretcher. Pedestrians pulled back as the Sentinel team moved in around Blair and Denise. People pointed and whispered as Karen and Rick rolled the Sentinel's limp body off Blair and gently lifted her to the stretcher. Bill checked her heart rate and respiration and hooked a monitor to her before setting the control box on her stomach.
"Don't forget her bag," Blair said as he bent over and picked up the worn thing. He handed it to Karen who smiled at him.
"Blair, hon," she said sadly.
"I know, I know," Blair said as he held up his hand. "I so don't think Rick will give me a pass on this one."
"Damn right I won't," Rick growled as he carefully tightened restraints over Denise's limp body. "Tomorrow morning, my office, and you had better have that charmed tongue of yours ready because I am about ready to pull you from undercover," Rick threatened. Blair nodded mutely, not even sure he wanted to fight to keep the job, not now.
Morning came, and Blair still didn't have any answers, not for himself and not for Rick. Blair sat in his captain's office waiting for the man to get back from Records, and Blair had no doubts about which file he was pulling.
By the time Rick came in, mumbling to himself darkly, Blair pretty much figured that his job was over, and along with it, his secret fantasy of asking for custody of Jim himself. He could slip in a guardianship class between the end of the semester, and summer school. Part of Blair whispered that this was a poor way to make up for imprisoning the man in the first place.
"Okay, time for you to explain exactly what the hell you were doing yesterday," Rick demanded.
Blair took a deep breath and then couldn't find any words at all. They all abandoned him in his moment of greatest need.
"Fuck, Blair. What the hell were you thinking? Make contact, and then retreat, that was the plan. I signed off on Ellison because that guard nearly caused a fucking disaster in the airport, but then you got in the car with him. And then this shit with Churchly... I don't know what's going on in your head Blair, but you are off retrieval."
"Rick," Blair said.
"God, Sandburg, don't say something that will make this worse."
"Do you ever worry about whether we're doing the right thing by them, bringing them in instead of just focusing on stopping the traffickers?"
"And that would be the worse." Rick slapped the file down on his desk as he walked around and dropped into his seat. "Fuck and more fuck. Ellison really screwed your head on backwards."
"No, you had focus before that case."
"But what if it's the wrong focus? What if we're looking at this all wrong? I was reading last night, and in the former Soviet countries, Sentinels have the full rights of a citizen. The rates of violence are actually lower than in the U.S. And yeah, there have been some pretty public cases where Sentinels went to jail for situations that we would have called instinct-driven, normal behavior, and maybe that's not the ideal world either, but are you sure we have the right answers?"
"Blair," Rick sighed as he let rubbed his eyes tiredly. "We're cops. We have to enforce the laws, and if the laws aren't right, then you get someone to change the laws, but you don't sit around discussing whether or not you want to enforce the law."
"Yeah, I get that but--"
"No!" Rick shouted. "Listen to what I'm saying, Sandburg. A cop doesn't interpret laws."
"I hear you, I totally hear you because that would be anarchy, but I'm just starting to wonder if--"
"Don't say it," Rick stopped him, holding up a hand.
"Rick," Blair said desperately. He wasn't sure if he wanted Rick to convince him that he had done the right thing in turning these Sentinels over to the SI or if he wanted Rick to give him permission to give the next one a pass.
"Blair, this is a topic for one of your papers. Academics sit around talking about the implications of laws and beliefs and rules. We enforce. If you can't enforce the law, you can't be a cop."
"Oh man, I know. And part of my brain keeps telling my mouth to shut up because I love this job. I love helping people, and I love the challenge, and I'm totally addicted to the adrenaline rush. But I can't just keep doing this, and you deserve someone who actually believes in what he's doing, and if we're going up against a trafficker, I am so right there with you, but runners... I just don't know."
"So, you'll send trauma victims from trafficking cases to SI, but you want an exemption for someone like Ellison?"
Blair got up from his seat and walked to the window. "I don't know. I guess... I guess I just want someone to ask the questions. Why was Ellison okay in that airport? If the fear-based reactions are that uncontrollable, why didn't he go off on the guard? Why didn't he snap my neck when I blew my cover? Man, he was furious with me. I mean totally ready to rip my guts out furious, but the worst thing I got was a rug burn on my cheek from him dropping me face-down on the couch."
"And if he had so much control, how do you explain a dead guard on that army base?"
"That's just it. I don't know. Shouldn't we know these answers before we go thinking that we can decide what's best for them?"
"Blair, these are questions for you to ask someone at the university. I can't even say I disagree with you, but you can't bring this into the department. We have a job here."
"Yeah, but I just don't know if I can do it anymore," Blair said, chewing at his lip. "I want to, but I outted myself with Denise. I looked at her, and I just couldn't tell her that I was there to help without wondering if I was telling her the truth. We've spent the last fifty years in this country trying to overcome racism, get people to look past skin color and then we turn around and put a shiny collar on Sentinels so that people don't even look as far as the skin... they see the silver collar, and they just stop thinking."
"And you'd rather have a world where some drunk shoves a Sentinel out of his way and gets his neck snapped? Those collars provide a warning, and they're obviously not too horrible or else we wouldn't have to keep confiscating counterfeits from the idiot teenagers."
"Yeah, but the teenagers have a choice to put it on or take it off, and *we* collar these people. Rick, that's..."
"That's the way it's been done for 200 years."
"Which does nothing to make it right. Man, I just don't think I can do this any more."
"And you're not the type to play in the backup band with the chains and tranq gun," Rick added. Blair shivered in revulsion.
"Blair, you have a couple of options here. You could quit."
Blair nodded. "Yeah, I've thought of that, and it sucks."
"It does, but option two would be to transfer to another department."
"What?" Blair looked up at Rick, suddenly confused because the conversation had taken a ninety-degree turn somewhere and he had clearly missed the exit.
"Blair, you're an incredible investigator, and you do fifty hours a week when you get paid for thirty. Every department in the station hates me because I have you and they don't."
"But, man, I just do the Sentinel thing," Blair objected.
"You do the Sentinel thing and the witness thing and the research thing, and the occasionally pulling brilliant ideas out of your ass thing."
"Sanchez in Narcotics downstairs would be one option. Keller in Vice and Banks in Major Crimes over at Central precinct would be two more. You could pretty much take your pick of them, and none of them deal with Sentinels. I assume you don't have a problem going after pornographers or drug dealers or murderers."
Blair shook his head. "No, no problem at all. I'm just a little... okay, I'm totally like blown away because I never really thought of myself as a real cop. I'm just the guy who's good with Sentinels who you let hang around."
Rick shook his head. "Sandburg, sometimes you are more than a little slow. You've been a cop in here since the first day you put your life on the line when that scared Sentinel went for Karen. Cops look out for each other, and now it's time we look after you. So, what sounds interesting, professor?"
"I don't know. I mean, any of them could really have some interesting cases. Which department would you suggest?"
"Banks. I remember all the shit that man used to put our captain through when we started together over in Traffic about a hundred years ago. If anyone deserves to put up with your shit, it's Simon Banks."
"Major Crimes?" Blair thought about that for a second. Maybe he could still apply for custody of Jim, and at least then, Jim wouldn't have to put up with someone who didn't know what he could do. At least then, Jim would have a chance at freedom because Blair knew he didn't have the heart to stop the man a second time.
"Hey," Brown offered with a nod.
"Gentlemen, this is Blair Sandburg who transferred over from Sentinel division."
"I thought you couldn't get approval for another detective," an older white man said as he walked up to them.
"Elijah Carter, Blair Sandburg," Simon introduced them. Elijah held out his hand and Blair took it, still feeling a little like a college student who someone had slipped into the room as a joke. "And we can't get another full-time detective which is why Sandburg is such a god-send. He's a university student, so he works thirty hours. As long as he solves as many cases in thirty as you mutts do in forty, we might have a chance to get caught up around here."
"I thought we liked always being buried in our own paperwork," Henri joked. Simon glared at the man.
"And this," Simon said, taking Blair's arm and guiding him away from the other detectives and toward a heavyset African American, "is Joel Taggart. He's captain of the bomb squad, but the man seems to live over here."
"You have better donuts," Joel smiled as he held out his hand. Blair shook it. "Actually, I'm always over here because any case that turns out to be a bomb and not just a teenager sticking wires out of a box for kicks is automatically a Major Crimes case."
"Yeah, that's a terrible thing to do," Blair muttered, blushing as he remembered a prank on Whitehall dorms his sophomore year.
"Oh hell yeah! Look at Hairboy's blush! I am no longer the only member of this department who had a little fun in his youth," Henri laughed.
Blair looked over at the amused acceptance in Joel's face and shrugged. "Sorry, man. It really seemed funny at the time. But in my own defense, I was about sixteen at the time, and sixteen year olds have a very tentative grasp of humor."
"So do people who act like they're sixteen," Banks muttered under his breath.
"Young at heart. You people just do not appreciate that I am young at heart," Henri teased. Blair smiled. So, Henri had class clown all sewn up, so he wondered what that left for him. He had that familiar feeling from childhood: starting at a new school and not really sure where he should slip himself into the pre-existing relationships.
"You were at the Sentinel division. People don't usually transfer out of there," Joel mused. Blair shrugged, and then glanced from Joel to Simon. No way had Joel heard Simon's comments to Henri and Brian, which mean that the two captains had already talked about this. Blair sighed. He'd assumed Rick would go over this with them.
"I love taking down the traffickers, but I just lost my nerve with undercover work. I mean, I couldn't lie to the runners anymore."
"If you could ever pull off a lie in front of a Sentinel, you're the greatest undercover man in history," Simon pointed out.
"Oh man, it's about not lying. It's about obfuscating and embellishing and totally believing what you're saying. And I was the best, but the last couple of cases, I just can't tell myself that the Institute is the best thing for men and women who are surviving on their own. Not any more."
"The Institute. I can't say I'm a fan of theirs, but it beats having Sentinels lose control because some drunk idiot takes a punch." Joel exchanged a meaningful look with Simon.
"There's your desk. I'll let you get settled before I drop a half-ton of files on your desk," Simon said, his voice suddenly efficiency and business before he turned and walked back to his office.
"Way to tread softly, there, Taggart," Henri commented before he pulled his partner away. Elijah sucked a breath and nodded his agreement with Henri's comments before he headed back to his area.
"Okay, I obviously missed something," Blair said as he looked around the suddenly quiet room.
"I'll show you the break room and fill you in. If you worked with Sentinels, you're going to hit a nerve sooner or later."
Joel headed out the Major Crimes doors, and Blair followed, feeling like he'd just stepped in quicksand and everyone was trying not to make eye contact with him in case he decided to drag them in with him. The break room wasn't as nice as over at Sentinel division, but the donuts sitting on the counter were definitely better than average. Blair chewed on a bearclaw, promising himself that's he'd drink two algae shakes tomorrow to make up for it, as he waited for Joel to settle himself at the table.
"Simon has Sentinel issues."
"Man, a lot of people are uncomfortable about Sentinels, and I totally understand that because ignorance--"
"No," Joel interrupted. "Simon's is a little more personal. He had a brother, well, a half-brother, a good deal older than he was. The fact is that Simon didn't even know his brother all that well. Darnell was a punk. He got good and drunk one night, and gets in a fight in some bar. When the first guy turns and runs, Darnell picks the next guy in line and sucker punches him. The Sentinel snapped his neck."
"But didn't he see the collar?" Blair asked, his stomach dropping as he considered his captain's past. He'd wanted custody of Jim. He'd even filled out the paperwork, and it was sitting on his kitchen table.
"Who knows what Darnell saw. He had a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit. But the part that always makes Simon see red... the Sentinel had a history of violence, and yet he was still out there, still walking around free."
"But, that shouldn't happen. If a Sentinel can't exhibit control, the guardian is put on notice to keep him closer. Where was his guardian?"
"Passed out in the corner."
"Yeah. The system isn't perfect, and it failed. This guy was one hell of a cop, and his brothers in blue covered for some pretty serious problems. The only thing is that Darnell paid for it. Simon isn't prejudiced, but he doesn't like the fact that this guy snapped his big brother's neck and no one even considered punishing him. He got removed from his guardian's custody, retrained at the Institute, and then assigned somewhere else, and no one is on notice that they have a killer in the middle of their department."
"The guardian would know," Blair disagreed. "And as much as I hate seeing the chains, if a Sentinel has a history of violence, especially out-of-proportion violence, a guardian has a duty to keep a Sentinel chained around any unpredictable situation, and a bar is about as unpredictable as they come."
"That doesn't bring Darnell back."
"No, but Joel, living your whole life in chains, isn't that punishment?"
Joel nodded. "Maybe it is, but it's the same punishment every Sentinel lives with every day. Whether the chains are on or not, they're wards of the state, and they're essentially prisoners. There's no consequence for taking a man's life, even though it was the fourth assault and the second murder this Sentinel had committed."
"The social worker or the judge should have removed him the minute they saw a pattern of violence."
Joel shook his head and smiled sadly. "Blair, you can't expect the system to work all the time. It doesn't."
"But, man, blaming all Sentinels..."
"He doesn't. But I thought this needed to come out now before you went and started talking about how wonderful Sentinels are. Simon doesn't need that, and sometimes, as much as I like Simon, sometimes I have to say that he can hold a grudge longer than a Christian should."
"Fuck," Blair breathed softly, looking down at his half-eaten donut. Could he bring Jim into this situation?
"I have the paperwork all filled out to request a Sentinel," Blair admitted. Joel was clearly the peacemaker of the department, even if he technically wasn't in the department, so maybe Joel could help his sort this one.
"Ah." Joel took a drink of coffee and avoided saying anything else. Okay, maybe not.
"His name's Ellison. He was special ops, a runner for over a year, and a functioning Sentinel in South America for a year and a half before that. He went into the Institute three weeks ago."
"James Joseph Ellison?" Joel asked in surprise.
"You know him?"
"Of him, yeah," Joel agreed. "He's a local boy, so when my sister saw his name in the paper down in Houston, she sent me the clippings."
"Clippings?" Blair had read Jim's entire file, it was SOP on a retrieval case. He'd read the news clipping from Jim's rescue from Peru, including the front cover of a news magazine, and the much smaller stories when Jim turned out to be a Sentinel. He hadn't seen anything from Houston.
"Jim was in the METRORail hijacking outside that Museum in Houston five or six months ago."
"The one where the three guys who'd robbed the bank took a train full of hostages?" Blair asked. He remembered that case. He didn't remember any Sentinel, much less Jim Ellison, being involved.
"Yeah. Apparently he took control of the situation from the start, got the passengers settled down, acted as negotiator with the cops, all the time a gun pressed into the back of his head. When the end came, he disabled two of the gunmen in the middle of a teargas attack."
"Shit." Blair flinched at the idea of a Sentinel and teargas. The police had to pull all their own Sentinels out of a six-block radius before using tear gas, and Jim had been ground zero of an attack.
"How bad was he hurt?"
"No more than anyone else. Houston papers had pictures of him stumbling out of the teargas cloud with a gunman under one arm, and three guns in his other hand."
"Yeah, but he's a Sentinel. They didn't know that at the time. He gave the name Frank Sarris. Turns out that was one of his army buddies. By the time the papers had tracked down background information and gotten through some military blocks to find out Frank Sarris was dead, Ellison had disappeared out of the hospital."
"Oh my god."
"Yeah, the national papers had pretty much dropped it by then, but someone from the army identified Ellison from the picture. He turned into a regular folk hero, and the whole disappearing act just made him seem like some comic book hero riding in, rescuing the innocent, and then disappearing into the night."
"But the teargas..."
"Blair, live as long as I have, and you figure out a couple of things. First, the system always breaks, you just don't want to be the one to break it, and second, people are very capable of doing the impossible on a fairly regular basis."
Blair sat and stared at the linoleum table top. His graduate degree had been on tribal Sentinel lore of Africa. He worked Sentinel division for three years. If he really understood Sentinels, they shouldn't be able to surprise him, and yet Jim did, time after time.
"I'm going to file for custody," Blair said quietly. He couldn't change his society, but he could at least give the man back as much control as possible. Blair remembered that large, powerful body laying on him, holding him helpless, and he gave a shiver. He wouldn't mind giving Jim control at all.
"Simon will deal, and if your Ellison really does have that much control, Simon will give him a chance. Just... just be careful how you bring it up," Joel warned.
"Yeah, thanks, man," Blair nodded as Joel pushed himself up from the table with a heavy sigh and headed out of the break room. Funny. One of the reasons he took this transfer was because Major Crimes would run into plenty of cases that needed a Sentinel and right now, there weren't any Sentinels assigned to any shift of Major Crimes. Now Blair knew why. Well, if he had to, he'd transfer again.
Jim eyed the chastity devise distastefully. The clock warned him that time was running out, though, so he hurried to get it on and get dressed before Nunez showed up. The man had a bad habit of nonchalantly watching Jim while discussing test scores and schedules and classes, and his very lack of reaction gave Jim a bad feeling.
He was used to locker rooms where men checked each other out with sidelong glances just to make sure they measured up. He was used to embarrassed eyes going everywhere but his equipment as men hid their desire. He even got a fair share of teasing from other officers, good natured insults that he didn't take very seriously considering he had nothing to worry about in the measuring department. He wasn't used to someone being in the room and not even noticing him, as though he were one more chair or table.
Grimacing, Jim pushed the plug into himself and awkwardly started strapping himself in. Anyone who could write a regulation to require a person to shove something up their own ass just to earn the right to leave the room obviously had a pretty deep streak of sadism.
Pressing the lock into place, Jim stretched and bent to get everything situated correctly before pulling his pants on. He left the drawstring loose since Nunez would want to check the lock before letting him out. Jim was just washing up when the door swung open without warning. The substitute duo who tended Jim when Nunez had a day off would knock first, but Nunez never gave Jim that courtesy.
"Morning, Jim," he said, his eyes on his clipboard.
"Morning," Jim answered as civilly as possible.
"The test scores are in for the Narcotics class." Nunez looked up and smiled. "100%. Top of the class."
Jim wanted to point out that this big achievement was learning a task normally reserved for a dog, but that would be sarcastic. It had taken Jim two weeks to earn the right to go to class without shackles and without Nunez standing at his side. He didn't want to lose the ground he'd gained. He had a plan to focus on.
"I'm glad," he said instead. "But it wasn't exactly a hard class."
"That qualifies you for a class in anti-Sentinel tactics offered by the FBI, interested?" Nunez asked.
"Yeah," Jim agreed quickly.
"Before you agree, you have to know that this is a tough one. White noise generators, pepper spray, sirens, terrorists will use pretty much anything to throw a Sentinel off, and the class does not pull punches. I've had some of my Sentinels sign up before, and they end up with their eyes burning, their ears ringing, and sometimes they go from the practice field straight to the infirmary."
"I was military. I'm not that easy to drop."
"Yeah, but these guys are trying to train you to deal with terrorists who are specifically attacking your senses. And the class requires you to train in full shackles, including the center chain."
That made Jim pause. He didn't bother hiding his hatred of the chains because he couldn't act well enough to pull it off.
"The instructors... they really push? They'll show some tactics for controlling the senses in those conditions?" Jim asked, remembering one horrible day in Houston when his eyes had burned so badly that it had taken every ounce of control to not literally rip them from his head. Sometimes he still had nightmares where his own hands pulled his eyes out, and yet Jim could still see them weeping and bloody in his hands.
"They have techniques to help you close down your senses when they're under attack, but not everyone can easily learn them. Most Sentinels just can't concentrate on shutting down a sense that is going out of control. And there is a serious risk of spiking."
"I'll deal with the shackles, sign me up," Jim said. The only part of this experience that made it bearable was learning how to better control his senses. Sandburg had been right about one thing, Jim was so overwhelmed in that airport that he had been close to losing control. Next time when he ran, he was going to be better prepared. Make the captors sympathize with him, gather resources, and escape, that was the plan. And information was the most valuable resource. He could afford to sacrifice a little dignity.
"The class starts in three weeks. I just want your word that you'll let me know if it gets too overwhelming."
"I'll be fine," Jim answered.
"That's pretty much your answer for everything," Nunez sighed as he sat at the table and pushed aside two of Jim's class books.
"And so far, I've been fine, so I'm right," Jim smiled back. He leaned against the wall waiting for the other shoe to drop because Nunez clearly had something else on his mind.
"Do you want to talk about Alex?"
"Barnes?" Jim asked. "She's a bitch, conversation over."
"The legal rights teacher said she's been targeting a few of you for some real harassment."
"Good to know the woman isn't totally oblivious. I thought maybe she had gone blind at some point because that would explain why she never calls Alex on any of the shit she pulls."
Jim walked over and grabbed his shirt off the chair. Same shirt, same pants, every day. Jim had never thought much about clothes, at least not when he wasn't undercover and trying to project a specific image, but now he would give anything to go shopping for polo shirts. The shirts they gave him had wide necks to show off his shiny collar, the one he avoided looking at every morning when he shaved.
"Are you angry with Alex?" Nunez prodded.
"I'm angry with myself for missing those two questions so that I have to take the whole fucking class over again," Jim answered quickly. "I'm really frustrated with myself over that one."
"How is most of the class reacting?"
"They stay away from her," Jim answered. Most of the students at the Institute had been raised knowing they were Sentinels. They'd gone to neighborhood grade schools, and then as they got older and the senses and instincts started appearing, they transferred to Sentinel high schools in the city or got home schooled. A few had gone through regular high school with aids who walked to classes with them. But no matter what, when they graduated, they transferred immediately to an Institute. For them, it wasn't different from their friends going off to college.
Alex, another runner who hadn't run very far considering her Sentinel abilities were triggered while she was in prison, made it a little hard for them to pretend the Institute was just the Sentinel version of college because the older Sentinel would have had her ass kicked out of college. The young Sentinels--seventeen, eighteen, nineteen years old--would come to class gossiping and whispering and copying notes from each other. And then Alex would show up, shackled hand and foot, and cursing like no sailor Jim had ever met.
"Do you stay away from her?" Nunez asked.
"The best I can. The woman has issues."
"Yes, we're all well aware of that."
"And yet, no one calls her on them because she's a Sentinel, so her actions don't have consequences. Let her verbally attack some seventeen year old kid, and everyone just pats Alex on the head and says she's having anger issues." Jim shook his head in disgust.
"You think she should be punished."
"I think there should be consequences," Jim corrected him.
A little voice in the back of Jim's head told him to just drop it, to go along with the plan and play good little boy. Arguing with captors was dangerous because they held the power. It was human nature to want to survive, and so faced with conflict with a captor, the mind would be more easily influenced. Jim remembered the military instructor who had taught that class in capture and survival. He'd been a Vietnam war veteran, and near the end of class one day, he'd pulled his shirt back and shown a vicious line of scars, each a small, jagged, white cross etched into his skin from shoulder to hip. Jim almost wished he had a visible scar, one that he could point to. Instead he had plastic shoved up his ass.
"You think Alex should be... corrected for having anger issues."
"I think Alex should face the consequences of acting like a bitch."
"Alex acts like a bitch, and you can be one stubborn bastard, but I don't think either of you deserve to be abused because of that."
Jim narrowed his eyes and barely bit back a retort about being force to wear a collar, about having to shove plastic up his ass every morning and ask for guards to escort him to the bathroom to watch him if he needed to shit, about two weeks of walking around with his wrists chained and Nunez's hand constantly on him making Jim want to shrug his touch off like a horse sheds a fly. He had lots of examples of abuse, but he shoved that back. That wouldn't earn him a chance to escape.
"The military doesn't abuse anyone, but they sure wouldn't put up with shit like that," Jim pointed out carefully.
"What would they do?"
"I would have been doing push ups until I couldn't lift my arms for doing half the shit she does."
"But what if someone just refuses to do the push ups?"
Jim snorted. "Not an option."
"But it is. If a soldier just utterly refused to do what he was told. Just woke up one day and decided that no matter what anyone said, he wouldn't do it."
"He'd get court-martialed."
"And when his time in jail was up?"
Jim spotted the trap. No way to avoid it now. "He'd be discharged," Jim said, kicking himself for getting into this debate in the first place. Fuck. A month ago he knew better than to get into debates like this. But if he didn't... if they thought he hadn't broken, he wasn't ever going to get out of here.
"You're going to be Sentinels for the rest of your lives. And I know this is hard on you, but you have kept a good deal of your identity. All the classes you're taking are focused on law enforcement, a field you were interested in before the senses. You're still Jim Ellison. Alex Barnes was a thief. Now she's lost her rights as a citizen, a situation you should sympathize with, but she's also lost her identity because we certainly aren't going to pair her with a guardian who will take her out for some second-story work."
"She's still out of line," Jim growled.
"Yes, she is. So, how are the others reacting?"
"You mean other than crying?" Jim asked. Jim had sat with his jaw locked as Alex had targeted a girl straight out of a Sentinel high school. This was her first class, and Alex had called her a Sentinel whore, had asked whether she was taking classes to learn how to spread her legs for her new owners. Only Alex had used words that not even the most battle-hardened veteran Jim had ever worked with would have used.
The girl had stood for a moment on the verge of flying at Alex. Normally Jim did his best to quietly encourage the younger ones to show some self-control, but in that moment, he'd just wanted Becky to haul off and punch Alex. A handler had hurried in, and when she put her hand on Becky's shoulder, Becky had collapsed into tears, hiding her face in the handler's neck and clinging to her.
Alex smirked, and Jim fought as every cell in his body wanted to stand up and punch the woman. The only thing that had stopped him was the knowledge that he was so much larger that he probably would have killed her.
"Becky's fine," Nunez said quietly.
"And I didn't lose control," Jim pointed out.
"You're a good example for the others in just how much control you can have over your anger, but you could be modeling other positive behaviors as well, and maybe, at the same time, making it a little easier for Alex."
The Institute might be messing with Jim's head, but it hadn't made him stupid. He knew exactly what Nunez wanted. Clenching his jaw, Jim moved to the door.
"Is that all?" he asked tightly.
"Yeah," Nunez stood up. "You need these?" he asked, gesturing toward the table and the books.
"Not until this afternoon," Jim said, holding his breath against the expected order.
"Okay." Nunez stood up and walked over, pulling the back of Jim's pants down far enough that he could pull on the straps and make sure it was all locked. That done, he reached out and put his hand on the flat panel that would open Jim's door for the day. It would stay open until Nunez checked him in for the night.
"You're not going to..." Jim paused. He should just walk out the door and not mention it. The door clicked and then Nunez could easily push it back into the wall pocket.
"You haven't lost control, so I'm not ordering you to do anything. You know what would make it easier on Alex, easier on the other Sentinels. A couple of the boys are avoiding it too, probably because they look up to you, and one of the other employees certainly requested that I talk to you. They're afraid their boys are going to lose control."
"So just chain the boys," Jim said, clenching his fists in order to even say the words.
"But they're in the same position you are. They haven't lost control yet. You're the one who likes to talk about actions and consequences. We can't just assume they'll lose control, not even if we know they will."
Jim stood in the hallway outside his door. Fuck. It would be so easy to ask, and the fact was that a little part of Jim even suspected it was a good idea. He really had wanted to hit Alex, and maybe he was a little close to losing control. Maybe the chains would remind him that he didn't have control here. And he knew that eventually he'd have to ask for the chains. He wouldn't ever get placed in a less secure facility if he didn't.
Fuck and fuck. He just wished that his first time asking for them hadn't been a situation where he came so close to needing them. He should be able to control himself. Someone like Alex shouldn't be able control him, and yet, when he got to near her, he could feel her emotions pulling on him. The Sentinel biology class called it a sympathetic response. It meant their hormones were chemically similar enough to influence each other, but she sure didn't seem influenced by his control.
And Alex did target the Sentinels who weren't chained. He could understand her frustration because the first two weeks, he'd been angry every time he'd watched the young ones run around without restraints while he had his hands chained and Nunez's touch on his shoulder.
Jim gritted his teeth. "Maybe I should wear the restraints today," he finally forced himself to say.
"It would help the others. And it's okay to ask for help when you need it," Nunez quickly assured him as he hurried over to the white cabinet, pulling out the wrist cuffs.
Jim forced himself to stay still and hold out his hands as Nunez locked them into place.
"I'll meet you back here at lunch to take them off before your afternoon classes, okay?"
"Yeah, no problem," Jim managed through clenched teeth. He didn't need to mention to Nunez the military class in fighting cuffed. Hell, with this much chain, Jim could probably choke the woman to death with the restraints. However, from the way Nunez smiled at him, Jim knew he'd made the right choice. One step closer to his plan.
He headed down the long hall where the older Sentinels had private rooms and toward the classroom areas. And despite firmly ordering himself not to, Jim found himself straining against the restraints.
"Hey, this is my new shirt," he complained, even though Blair had seen him wear that same god-awful green and blue disaster a dozen times.
"Yeah, yeah, you say one more word, and I'm giving you a bear hug," Blair warned him. With the manure clinging to him, the threat carried some weight.
"If he hugs you, you're walking home," Rafe scowled from a safe distance.
"You're my partner, you're supposed to have my back!" Brown groused with mock pain as he glared at Rafe, but Blair could see the smile.
"You'll still walk."
"Good job people. This guy is going down for the count," Simon congratulated them as he walked up. "Now that we've made the filthy rich safe from blackmail, I think we might have a murder or two waiting back on our desks."
"Well that's a record for shortest time basking in the glory of a bust," Blair said as he grabbed the hose. "And next time someone votes for surveillance in a stable, count me out. I'm sure I'll have a test at the university or something that day." Blair turned the water on, and then pointed the hose at himself. The surveillance hadn't gone all that badly, but tackling the suspect right into the pile of horse dung had not made Blair a happy camper. His only consolation was the fact that the cuffed suspect was going to jail smelling like horse shit.
"You're just making yourself smell worse," Simon complained as the water soaked into the manure.
"Yeah, I'm figuring that out." Blair pulled his now soiled and wet shirt off and threw it in Henri's general direction. One of the uniformed officers at the scene gave Blair a quick wolf whistle, and Blair flipped him off.
"Good thing you don't have that Sentinel yet. You'd drive him out of the state with your smell."
Blair glared over at Henri, but the joker just smiled and headed for his car. Brown and Rafe had backed Blair up when the blackmailer wanted to meet his target at the track, but the case was Blair's and no one was going to stick around long enough to help with paperwork. Okay, technically the case was his and Elijah's, but Eli had been out with flu more often than he'd been in lately.
"So, how is it going with the request for a Sentinel?" Simon asked as he pulled a cigar out of his pocket.
"Still waiting for Ellison," Blair said as he aimed the nozzle to try and knock the worst mess off his pants.
"He's been in there a while."
"And he has test scores that are off the charts," Blair defended the man.
"It just worries me that they've kept him for over four months. I don't want a loose cannon in my department, Sandburg."
Blair rolled his eyes. "Ellison doesn't come close to being a loose cannon."
"Blair, you keep forgetting that he killed a man."
"Simon, what would you do if Peter in Narcotics got hurt or, god-forbid, died? Would you try to cuff Dana? Would you try to physically restrain her?"
"Hell no. I'd be hiding in a tree waiting for your old boss in the Sentinel squad to tranq her."
"Good thing too because everyone has a breaking point. Hell, how many times has some family member who wasn't a Sentinel attacked you when you delivered news of a murder or told them something they didn't want to hear?"
"Plenty," Simon agreed sadly. "And I understand that there are times, like in the case of a bondmate's death, when a Sentinel deserves a little slack. Hell, I think I'd hide in the tree even if it was Dana dead and Peter on the loose."
"Simon, Jim was suffering from a broken bond when a guard went against regulations and opened the cell to check on Ellison. Ellison tried to just get away, and the guard started a physical confrontation with an out of control Sentinel. Jim *still* blames himself for that guard's death. He thought he should go to prison for it; this is not a man who is going to run amuck in your department."
"I thought we already had this discussion. You already browbeat me into agreeing to take Ellison in," Simon growled.
"I'm just making sure you remember why," Blair shrugged.
"I just want you to remember your promise to take the first week slow and then have a serious discussion about whether he's going to work out in Major Crimes."
"I will, I will," Blair rushed to agree, "but you're going to be fine with him, Simon. When I blew my cover, I was alone in that loft with him, and the only thing he did was restrain me while he thought through his options."
"That was before four or five months in the SI. You don't know him now, and I really doubt he's going to be thrilled with belonging to the man who put his run to an end."
"Yeah." Blair turned the water off and considered that last bit. "I wish I could visit him or talk to him or something, but he still has himself on the no contact list. I just keep hoping that he'll remember that I truly wanted to help; maybe that'll be enough for him to give me a little trust. But it's going to be hard."
"And I'm telling you right now, Blair, I am *not* comfortable with having a chained man sitting in my squad room. Suspects are cuffed, the detectives investigating them sure as hell shouldn't be."
"No way. I will not bring him to work chained." Blair paused as he remembered his Sentinel-care class. He'd learned a few things he really didn't want to know. "Okay, the first few weeks, I have to bring him to work chained, but once we bond, you will never see those chains again."
"You're assuming he'll want to bond."
"He'll want out of the chains," Blair said softly, sure of that. "Besides, who can resist this body?" Blair asked as he opened his arms to show off his slimy, wet, manure-smeared glory. Simon snorted.
"So, if you don't get Ellison, are you going to try for another Sentinel?"
Blair stopped. He hadn't even thought past getting custody of Jim. The idea that someone else, someone who didn't understand Jim's need for independence, might get custody bothered him more than he could imagine.
"I'll worry about that if it happens," Blair shrugged as he started toward his car. He had a blanket in back he could spread over his seat. A quick trip home for a shower and then paperwork before dashing to his night class.
"Blair," Simon said behind him. Blair turned around.
"Most Sentinels, they aren't like your Ellison. The good ones learn to show some control because they don't want to disappoint their bondmates. The bad ones and the ones whose handlers don't have that much control over them... I won't have that in my division. I won't have suspects ending up dead and just sign off on the paperwork because it was a Sentinel thing."
Simon took a long drag on his cigar and studied Blair so long that Blair started to fidget. "If Ellison goes somewhere else, really think about this. If you bring some loose cannon into my department, if someone gets hurt because your Sentinel thinks he can do whatever he wants or because he knows you don't have the guts to discipline him, I will transfer your ass to Traffic. You'll be there for the two days it takes one of the other department chiefs to transfer you back out again," Simon admitted as he rolled his eyes, "but I'll transfer you and your Sentinel there just to make my point."
"Point, got it," Blair nodded before he turned back to his car. He'd get Jim. He had to get Jim. The alternative... well, the alternative was the thing that fueled his nightmares.
Jim heard his door open, and he stepped out of the shower.
"You're early," he said, drying himself off as he pushed the glass door back and greeted Sam.
"I have a new Sentinel, another retrieval."
"We seem to have a lot of adult Sentinels around here," Jim commented as he grabbed his chastity belt and lubed the plug. He'd learned to do it without thinking about it. If he turned his mind off, he wouldn't have that involuntary grimace that always made Sam look at him with concern.
"We specialize in retraining," Sam admitted. "I think it's because we're one of the largest Sentinel Institutes and we have such a wide range of classes. Any Sentinel can find something interesting to do. They ship retrieved and rescued Sentinels here from most of the west coast."
"And if there's nothing else to do, there are always video games," Jim pointed out. Alex had finally gone that route, striking out viciously, time after time after time. Even fully shackled, she'd attacked an employee. The cafeteria worker hadn't moved fast enough, and Alex had caught her around the neck with a wrist chain.
Jim had jumped into that fray, forcing Alex's hands away from the crying woman and pinning the Sentinel to the ground until guards had tranqed both of them. Jim had spend a week in restraints after that one, but the woman he'd saved had thanked him so much that Jim had become slightly embarrassed. Now Alex sat in her room playing video games and staring at the wall.
"I think we'd all like to avoid that."
"It'd drive me nuts," Jim admitted as he pushed the plug inside and then buckled the belt around his waist.
"That's because you have something to interest you. Another paper got filed today. That makes eighteen different officers from seven different departments who have filed for guardianship."
Jim paused, the belt half on. After a heart beat's time, he slipped the strap through the base of the plug and made one last check that everything was in place before he reached around and pushed the connector into the buckle, locking the chastity device in place.
"You're still not comfortable with the guardianship, are you?"
Jim walked over to the sink to wash his hands. He'd long ago figured out that Sam was the psychologist who was writing reports on whether he was prepared to go into the real world. With his plan shoved into a deep corner of his mind where it wouldn't lead him to make a stupid mistake, Jim had woven himself a new personality. He didn't hate being a Sentinel, he hated the idea of losing himself, his ability to help people, his ability to make a difference in the world. That was the motivation he allowed himself to feel as he hid his innate need for freedom from the man who had the power to keep him in the Institute literally forever. With a sigh, Jim turned around and leaned back against his sink.
"It's that word. When you talk about someone having guardianship or custody of me, I just can't get past the gut-level reaction. I feel like some kid, and I just feel like I'm never going to be taken seriously by someone who thinks of me like a child."
Jim didn't mention his specific discomfort with offer number one, the first to come in addressed to him specifically. The potential guardian wanted a Sentinel who would work in the Major Crimes division of Cascade PD, and had to have skills in a wide range of police investigative techniques. What had really caught his attention was the second part. The guardian also worked in anthropology and wanted a Sentinel with a high level of control who could help observe people in natural settings without becoming bored. It had to be Blair. Jim wondered if his capture had earned Blair that promotion to Major Crimes. He could feel anger wrap around his spine. The little shit caught a promotion while he was in here with plastic shoved up his ass, and now the little shit wanted custody of Jim. Part of Jim knew that wasn't entirely accurate, but the offer had shocked him.
"No one who ever met you would think of you as a child," Sam laughed, and Jim figured that meant he had successfully hidden his darker feelings. "You scared the crap out of me that first day."
Jim crossed his arms. "You're kidding. You didn't smell like fear at all."
"The soap they use at intake tends to depress the smell. And it was a good thing because my fear could have pushed you right over an edge."
"I was frustrated," Jim nodded. "After I'd run so long, I didn't think anyone would ever trust me out there. No matter what you said, I thought I was going to spend my whole life in here, die in here without ever getting to do anything that mattered ever again."
"You want to be out there," Sam prodded.
"Yeah. I want to do something more important than just take classes. When I took Alex down and saved that woman, that felt right," Jim paused. He'd learned to weave as much truth into his stories as he could, and sometimes he feared that the truth and the manipulations were blending even in his own mind. "I used my sense of touch to feel where she would shift her weight in the fight. I could hear her heart. I could almost taste her..." Jim paused, "her anger, maybe."
"And you liked that?"
"I liked feeling like the senses were more than some cosmic joke, I liked saving that woman. These classes, they're fine, but it's not like me taking a class is doing any good."
"It's preparing you for the real world."
"Which is where the real world part comes in. I want to actually do something with the senses."
"Which brings us back to the issue of guardianship."
Jim fought to keep his expression neutral. "I'm working on it," Jim said.
"And I'm impressed, Jim, I really am. When you go out there, though, you may have another difficult adjustment."
"Yeah," Jim said softly, "I know. In here, everyone understands, but I remember how some people would point and stare at Sentinels, how they would slowly slide away the minute they saw the collar."
"And others will talk your ear off and treat you like a hero even when they have no idea who you are."
Jim suppressed his own dislike of that reaction as well. People who had either reaction were trying to erase some part of Jim and replace him with a generic "Sentinel." Sentinels were brave or Sentinels were creepy, and both reactions denied the reality that Jim wasn't just some random Sentinel.
"I don't want people to look at me and see some freak, but I know I'll have to deal with that. If I'm working with officers who respect what I can do and victims I can really help, that's going to go a long way toward making this easier. I'll adapt; I'm nothing if not adaptable." Jim finally answered.
"You'll have to work in restraints until you bond."
"No biggie," Jim shrugged. "Hey, I ask for restraints when I have one of the Troll's classes. I even asked you to anchor the restraints that one day that he was really bugging me."
"And I'm proud of you for that. Truitt really shouldn't be working with Sentinels given his antagonistic attitude, but not many people will teach a hand-to-hand self defense class for Sentinels."
Jim shrugged. "I have to learn to deal with that once I get back out there in the world anyway. Any word on whether or not the guys upstairs will let me teach one of those self-defense courses?"
"You certainly have the training for it, the military sent over your records, and they're impressive. No wonder Truitt can't take you down, and you do know he'd go easier on you if you didn't put him on his back every single lesson, right?"
"Yeah," Jim smiled. "I know. But the restraints make it easier. When he picks on a man who's chained up, it just makes him look like a petty bully, which he is. That's revenge enough. I take it from the subject change that you're still getting the run around."
Sam laughed. "You're like a dog with a bone, Jim. And yes, I'm getting the no-answer answer every time I bring it up. The idea of two Sentinels fighting just worries a lot of people. You've asked about it every day this week, why is this so important to you?"
Jim walked over to the bed and picked up his shirt, slipping it on before he answered. "I guess I just like the thought that I'm actually doing something real. I've learned a lot about using my senses in the field, but most of these classes are information that I've already learned. I was in the military for 15 years, I know this stuff."
"And you want to have some sort of impact."
"I don't want to take any more classes just so I can get a score on the jacket of my file. Maybe if there were some more challenging courses. Anything new coming out soon?" Jim asked as he slipped into his pants.
"Not that I know of. Maybe we can whip up something a little more challenging than normal. Okay, do you need anything else?"
"Nah, no Troll today, so I'm good without restraints," Jim shrugged.
"Maybe you should do a few day's practice in full restraints. Sometimes in the field the conditions are overwhelming... a murdered child, a brutal gang rape. And if you can't move and work in restraints, you aren't much good on that kind of scene."
Jim looked at Sam in confusion for a second, and then he slowly started to smile. "Are you trying to tell me something?" The niggling hope starting to grow in his chest made even the thought of working in chains bearable.
"No promises, but at this month's review, my recommendation is that you be placed with the understanding that the transition might be difficult and your first guardian might not be permanent. It would help your case if the committee saw you were cooperative and willing to work in restraints."
"If it meant getting to track real criminals or real drugs, I would work in restraints for the rest of my life. I'm ready to not see you and these same four walls every single morning."
"Aren't you the sweet talker?" Sam asked sarcastically as he stepped closer. Jim turned around so Sam could check the connector on the chastity belt.
"No offense, but I would rather we were better strangers."
"Shakespeare?" Sam asked as he tugged the belt and then stepped back. Jim tied the drawstring before going back to the cupboard and getting the restraints.
"Yeah, I just don't remember which play. I'd ask for a copy of Shakespeare, but hopefully, I won't be here long enough to read it. Since I might be getting out of here, I definitely need to practice the restraints. That week after Alex, I almost broke my neck a couple of times when I forgot how to move with them on. Maybe I should take another class like the FBI one, the field work with full restraints. Anything coming up?"
"I can check." Sam put out his hand, and Jim handed the two sets of chains over before offering his wrists. Sam locked the shackles around Jim's wrists, and Jim moved his hands up and hooked the wrist chain over the back of his own neck as he'd been taught. It meant that Jim couldn't quickly bring his hands down in an attack as Sam locked the ankle restraints in place.
"We haven't worked with the center chain much lately, but your guardian or the supervisors at the half-way house may want to make sure that you aren't tempted to run, especially given your reputation, so let's use that as well."
Jim went back to the white cabinet, focusing his breathing on some calm blue center and not his frustration. They monitored his vitals any time Nunez was in with him, and Jim couldn't allow the least slip at this point. He pulled out the belt and long chain, and shuffled back to Sam to offer it to him.
Sam took the restraints, and Jim hooked his wrist chain around the back of his neck again as the handler locked the wide belt over Jim's shirt. The longer chain went down to the center of the chain between the ankle restraints.
"Wrists," Sam asked. Jim slowly brought his hands down and waited as Sam threaded the long center chain through a loop at the front of the belt and then locked to the wrist chains. If Jim kept his hands at his stomach, he could walk with his normal shuffle he used when restrained. If he sat or crouched, he would have a fair amount of movement with his hands.
Sam stood up. "So, are you good for the day?"
"Yeah. I'll be back about six if you'll be around to unlock everything." Jim just prayed that he didn't need to ask to use the bathroom because the classroom guards would not remove the wrist restraints. Jim would suffer through the cramps before going through that again.
"No problem. New Sentinels usually want to spend quite a bit of time in their own quarters," Sam offered.
"What? You don't expect them to blackmail you into letting them take a class on day one?" Jim teased. Some voice in that dark corner of the mind where he'd hidden so much of who he used to be sneered.
"I'm not expecting it, but then again, I've been surprised before."
"See you later, Sam," Jim said as he walked carefully toward the door. On the way past his table, he grabbed a book on criminal profiling.
"Have a good day," Sam called back. Jim left Sam and the quarters behind as he headed for the insulated classroom wing. He'd already grabbed fruit for breakfast, and he wanted some alone time before the instructor showed up.
"Hey, Jim," one of the younger Sentinels called. Jim turned to find four boys closing in on him. He stopped and leaned against the wall.
"What's up?" one asked, looking at the chains. Jim fought down the normal frustration he felt at having people see him chained up like an animal. They might think it was normal, but Jim sure as hell didn't.
"Doing some practice. I might be up for release next month, and it's been a while since I worked in the chains."
"Aren't you going to bond right away?" the shortest boy asked. Jim thought his name was Teeg, but he wasn't sure. So many of the young ones came and left in a month, grabbing the few required courses and heading out into the world. Jim, on the other hand, had been here nearly five months now. He felt like the old war-torn veteran. Hell, the kids sure as hell looked at him that way.
"Do you really want to bond before you know someone?" Jim asked gently.
"But the judge would make sure they were safe. My mom says that it's best to bond quickly and start building a life."
Jim shook his head. "Not everyone is as good as they look on paper. When you've bonded..." Jim paused, searching for a way to describe how it had been with Incacha. The boys considered him with something close to worship. "It's hard to tell where they stop and you start. You want what they want, but if you don't know the guardian before you bond, you'll never know if they're the kind of person who you *want* to have that kind of power over you."
The dark-haired boy snorted. "They have power over us anyway," he pointed out sarcastically. Jim smiled, he liked this kid.
"No, they have power over your body. Your senses... your bonding, that's yours. So take the time to get a few extra classes, try out a guardian or two until you find one you really like, and then bond," Jim advised them.
"I hear you have fourteen offers," Teeg said, his voice all wonder and admiration, with the same enthusiasm Jim had once talked about college acceptance letters with his high-school friends. For them, fourteen choices was incredible, but Jim still couldn't help comparing it to the world full of choices he'd once had.
"It's eighteen now."
"Eighteen," one of the previously silent boys whispered in awe. "Maybe I'll stay around and take more classes. I only have two offers."
"Take classes as long as you think you have something to learn or until you get an offer you really want," Jim advised, and the boy nodded.
"Yeah, but taking classes means no sex, and I am ready to be done with this thing," complained the rabble-rouser that Jim had already decided he liked. The kid poked a finger toward his locked up crotch.
"It's called a shower, a little soap, and five fingers. Get used to it," Jim suggested with a shake of his head. Of course the boys cared more about sex than life, they were teen aged boys. The boys blushed as they caught Jim's meaning. "I have to do a little studying," he excused himself. He turned back toward the classroom, the chains rattling as he shuffled forward awkwardly. He really had forgotten how to deal with the full shackles.
Jim reached his first classroom a good hour before the class began. Sitting on one of the wide comfortable couches, Jim pulled his feet on the seat to give his hands as much movement as possible. In the privacy of the unmonitored room, Jim opened the book so he would look like he was studying as he allowed his rage to flow through him.
His heart pounded heavily and his eyes stung as he pulled on the chains. Fucking assholes. The words on the page blurred, but Jim had read them last night anyway. He was so close. Jim struggled with the rage his new hope inspired.
Weeks, maybe days, and yet suddenly that seemed so fucking long. Make the captors sympathize with him, gather resources, and escape. Nunez was on his side, arguing for him. He'd gained a good twenty pounds of muscle in the last four months, so he was back in fighting shape, and he knew more about local police procedures and ways to control his senses in the field. The plan was working, but now that he was so close to the end, Jim could feel the frustration claw at him. He focused on the reviewing gains he'd made, and not how far he still had to go.
Letting his head fall back, he stared at the white ceiling for a second before closing his eyes. He forced his real feelings back into the dark corners of his mind and repaired the woven image of the good little tamed Sentinel reading his book so he could grow up and get himself a good guardian. Jim allowed himself one last fantasy of a wrecking ball tearing this whole place down before he focused on the book and the renewed hope for escape.
Oh, they'd been trained to function in the field, but now, with no task at hand, sitting chained to a chair jangled all Jim's nerves. Even through the soundproofing on the room, he could hear something heavy hit the floor above them, and the young, male Sentinel jumped.
The guard at the door shifted nervously, and Jim leaned forward as far as he could with the chain across his lap.
"Hey, Tony," Jim called softly, and the young man looked over with wide eyes. "Come on, just focus on me for a second here, Chief."
Tony blinked, and then Jim could see him truly focus on Jim instead of struggling to hear something just beyond range, at least for him. Jim could clearly hear the cursing as someone complained about the mess, so someone had dropped something.
"Yeah, it's just..." Tony started.
"I know. It's not like the Institute," Jim nodded. After five months of white noise generators and water dripping down into pools and dim lights and soft pajamas, even his senses were playing tricks. The kid didn't have much of a chance at control, and the female Sentinel, even though she was a little older, didn't look like she was having much more luck.
"Yeah," Tony breathed.
"Tony, listen for the heartbeats in the room," Jim counseled him. Tony looked at him for a second, and then he closed his eyes as he did what Jim said. His head started moving back and forth in time with one of the patterns.
"Isolate which heartbeat comes from which of us," Jim suggested, using the technique he'd learned from one of the FBI courses on overcoming sensory overload. Listening for something and dismissing all other stimulus worked far better than trying to filter out some disabling sound. When Jim glanced over to the second Sentinel, she had her eyes closed and was clearly following the same instruction.
"Focus on those heartbeats. Three of us, one guard. Don't stop until you can feel each one distinctly."
The woman's eyes popped open. "You have a heart murmur," she said to the guard. The man started.
"A heart murmur. I can hear it. The blood is backing up into the heart; it doesn't sound right."
"Uh..." The guard stood, looking from the woman to Jim and down to his chest. Jim focused his own hearing toward the guard, who was starting to look a little pale. He could hear the steady beat, and he let himself focus on that until the sound cocooned him.
"I can hear it, too," Jim said. "I don't know if it's a murmur, but I can hear something that isn't in our heartbeats."
"I... Maybe I should call for someone," the guard reached for his radio. It wasn't exactly what Jim had in mind with the meditation exercise, but at least Tony was focusing on the sudden drama in the room and not on the distant sounds of the courthouse.
The first guard had been joined by three others, complete with tranq guns before someone finally figured out why the man had called for back up. In the middle of the drama, guard number five showed up with a clipboard.
"James Joseph Ellison?" he asked from the door as he looked from the guards to the three Sentinels.
"That's me," Jim offered with a small wave of his hand. The chain over his lap kept him from doing more.
"The judge is ready for you." Ignoring the other guards who were radioing a supervisor and trying to figure out how to get guard number one to the hospital to see his doctor, he reached over and unlocked the chain across Jim's lap.
The female Sentinel kept trying to tell them that it wasn't serious, and Tony watched with glee, his eyes darting from one person to the other.
"Thanks," Jim said as his guard got a hand under Jim's arm and helped him to his feet. In full restraints, the deep, cushioned chairs were sometimes difficult to get out of.
"You're welcome," he said as he divided his attention between Jim and the fuss.
"Baker, you okay?" Jim's guard asked.
"Okay? I have a heart murmur. Fuck. I can't believe this is happening to me."
"It's not serious. It's a small one, you don't need to panic," the woman desperately tried to reassure him.
Jim followed his guard out of the room. "Well, that was fun," he commented to no one in particular as they walked slowly down a private hallway.
"Fun?" the guard asked, his gaze slipping over to Jim before focusing on the hall again.
"It was downright boring in there until the nurse heard that murmur."
"It's supposed to be boring in there," the guard pointed out. He stopped in front of a double door. "The judge normally sees Sentinels in chambers, but they just painted in there, and she doesn't want you to have to sit in the fumes. Are you going to be okay in open court?" the guard asked seriously.
Five months ago, Jim would have rolled his eyes at the question. Five months ago he could walk through an open airport with screaming children and grandmothers who wore gallons of perfume. Now, Jim hesitated.
"I think so," he finally managed. The guard didn't look reassured.
"I'm not going to go berserk on you, but I can't promise I won't zone on something or have a spike," Jim clarified. The guard nodded.
"If you have trouble, let me know right away, and I'll get you back here as fast as I can," he offered.
"Thanks," Jim said as the guard pushed the doors open. The sound of voices, all competing, and the smell of bodies and the faint scent of paint and the sharp, chemical stink of perfume all hit Jim at once. He staggered back a step, his movements cut short by the restraints as he instinctively brought his hands up, nearly yanking his own feet out from under him.
The guard stepped back with him, half closing the door as Jim blinked. No way was Jim going in there with tears in his eyes.
"Give me a sec," Jim asked as he crouched down so that he could bring his hands up to his eyes and wipe away the tears caused by the sudden smells. "Any chance you could open that a little slower?"
The guard hesitated. "Yeah, no problem," he finally agreed as he slowly opened the door. Jim struggled to dial down scent and focus his hearing on his own heartbeat and not the hundreds of conversations stretching through the various hallways and courtrooms. Clenching his jaw, Jim slowly stood and faced the real world.
Fuck, this was definitely going to slow down the plan. Jim silently cursed Nunez and Sandburg and every other sick fuck who'd dumped him in the Institute for over five months. He'd controlled himself for over twenty years, but five months in that sanitized hell and he couldn't even face a courthouse. Well, he'd get his control back.
"You ready?" the guard asked quietly.
"Yeah, let's get this over with," Jim said stoically. He walked forward with the guard.
For the first time, he faced the world with a collar on. He could feel the heat in his cheeks as mothers and criminals and kids hanging on their parents all watched him shuffle through the hall in shackles.
The guard opened a door to one courtroom, and Jim followed meekly. The room was almost empty, just a couple of random spectators. A woman with glasses perched on the top of her head stood up.
"James?" she asked.
"I'm Steph Bennett, your social worker. I just wanted to introduce myself. You've been assigned to the Oak Street halfway house if you stay in town, which has an excellent reputation, and depending on who the judge assigns, I'll have you in the house with your guardian within the day. If you're going out of town, I already have transportation arranged."
"Thanks," Jim said absentmindedly as he listened to a woman in another room plead with her husband to just let something drop... to not testify. A kid screamed, and Jim tensed until the childlike laughter followed immediately after.
The guard pulled on his arm, and Jim let himself be led up to one of tables in front of the judge's bench. The judge was an older woman with gray hair and a horse face.
"James Joseph Ellison," the guard announced. The judge looked up and smiled.
"Thank you Roy. Now Sentinel Ellison, have you been given copies of all twenty-six requests for guardianship?" she asked.
"Yes, your honor," Jim said easily. He'd learned acting skills in the last five months that should have qualified him for an Academy award.
"Have you been given the opportunity to contact anyone and request a specific guardian ad litem?"
"Yes, your honor."
"And did you contact anyone?"
"No, your honor."
"I see here that your father, William Ellison lives in Cascade. Is there a reason why you aren't asking him to take custody? No compatible work interests?"
Jim gritted his teeth. "He's in business, and I would prefer law enforcement, your honor," Jim answered. The real truth was something colder, something about his father's furious face ordering him to hide this nonsense with his senses because no Ellison was a freak. The only upside to this whole experience was knowing that William Ellison couldn't hide his freak of a son anymore. Jim hoped all his father's golf buddies asked him about it every damn time the son of a bitch played a round.
"Just as well. You're certainly old enough to be thinking about a bondmate," the judge agreed easily, and Jim twitched at the idea of a judge thinking she had any say on that issue. They could demand a lot of him, but not that. "Twenty-six requests, all from law enforcement. I think that's a record. Two requests are from the military, and legally I need you to state a position on going back into the service."
"I don't want to," Jim said quietly.
"Any reason why?"
God-forbid that she just allow him to just make a choice. Jim considered his answer. If he wanted his plan to work, he needed to convince this judge to choose the guardian he wanted, and that meant convincing her that he was rational enough to be trusted to make a few choices.
"Military personnel are trained to have certain reactions. The man I killed..." Jim paused. He could see the guard go stiff. "We were both trained to react to perceived threats. His training led him to attack until I couldn't control my reaction, and I don't want to be in that situation again," Jim finished. He hated that story more than any of the other lies he told, but it was the party line. He was just one more Sentinel so ruled by instinct that he couldn't control himself.
"I read that report. I can't see that you had any blame in the matter, but if you aren't comfortable working in the service, that's your legal right." The judge took two files and set them to the side. "Any other requests? You seem to have twenty-four offers left."
"I want to stay in Cascade. I grew up around here, your honor." That would keep Jim from getting shipped off to Houston. Not only was that on the opposite side of the country from his Canadian goal, but he had more than a few bad memories of the town. And yet, there were no fewer than fourteen requests from the city. Houston must be seriously short of Sentinels.
The judge sorted more files. "Cascade the city, or would the surrounding towns work for you?"
Jim paused. Cities were more impersonal. If he could slip his leash, he had a better chance to lose himself in Cascade, but small towns often couldn't afford the security. Six of one, half dozen of another. "If the town is close to here, that might work," Jim finally said. He just needed to be close to the transportation grid.
The judge sorted more. "Well, you have seven offers from the Cascade police department. Surely we can find a fit in Cascade if that's what you prefer. Any other requests?"
Jim paused, he had to phrase this one right. He remembered his gut-level reaction to Sandburg--the way he'd trusted the little shit, and how that trust had been betrayed. And yet, at the end, he still remembered a warm hand resting on him. He couldn't afford to get attached. "I'm not sure I'm ready for something too stressful, homicides or major crimes. I've been out of the world for five months, and I don't want something that... important relying on my senses," Jim said carefully. The judge looked up at him.
"That's an unusual request, especially considering your test scores. The FBI even put in a request, so your abilities are not in question."
"Your honor," Jim said carefully, "If the detective is young, we can move up into the more important departments together. But I'm also not convinced I'll be able to bond right away."
"Gender specific? We have both male and female applicants here, so I can certainly accommodate any preferences," she said as she leaned her chin on her hand and studied Jim.
"I had a bondmate," Jim said. It was true, even if these people might not have recognized the relationship he shared with Incacha as bondmates. Jim knew the truth, and the medical records would show that he had a broken-bond reaction after being brought back to the states, and that's all they needed to know.
"Male or female?" the judge asked.
"Male. But I don't know if I can... Your honor, having had a bond break, I'm not sure whether I can open myself up like that again. And without a bond, the more difficult work in homicide and major crimes... it would be hard on me," Jim went for her pity even though it made him ill to pretend weakness. The simple fact was that he would bond again over his dead body, but saying that in court was a one-way ticket back to the SI. "I just need some time to decide if I can bond and if I want to bond with my guardian."
"You're certainly very articulate about your concerns, and I thank you for that. Two offers, one from Keith Walker in burglary and one from Jack Liu who works a neighborhood patrol, both fit your requirements. Neither is a request for you specifically, but I think they'd be thrilled to have someone with these test scores. Any preference?"
"No, your honor," Jim answered. The officers were low on the totem pole, but aggressive enough to want a Sentinel. It suggested they were young, and young meant more easily manipulated.
"Both have sterling records. Eeney meeny miny mo." The judge balanced the two files playfully, and Jim clenched his fists around the chains that reminded him that he didn't have control here so he couldn't call her a bitch for making light out of choosing his life for him.
"I think Mr. Walker is going to be the winner. Your talents are just too impressive for a patrol officer. And with your help, maybe Mr. Walker can move into a more critical area as soon as you two are comfortable with each other. Ms. Bennett," the judge turned her attention to the social worker in the audience, "do you have housing arranged?"
"Excellent. Roy, can you take Sentinel Ellison down to transportation while Ms. Bennett contacts Keith Walker and lets him know he's our winner?"
"Yes, your honor," the guard answered, his hand closing around Jim's arm, only this time he held on a little tighter. The story of Jim killing a guard obviously impressed him because on the way down the hall and to the Sentinel approved van, he didn't speak. He kept one hand on Jim's arm, and the other on his stun gun. Oddly, it felt good to have someone afraid of him, Jim realized as he climbed into the van for his trip to his new home.
"Blair?" a voice called. Blair blinked up blearily and then let his head drop back down to the table.
"Blair, all your hair is going to stick to that table if you don't sit up." Hands brushed the hair back out of Blair's face, and Blair managed to get an eye half open.
"I suck," he announced.
"You've sucked down beers all night, that's for sure," Carolyn answered. She picked up a glass and sniffed at it. "And the hard stuff. Blair, what is with you?"
Blair squirmed into a more comfortable position. At some point his ass had ended up right on the crack in the vinyl of the booth's bench. "I so totally suck," he repeated to the stunner who led the Forensics team.
"Let's get you home." Carolyn got a hand under Blair's arm and pulled him up. Blair managed to get his legs under him, but then he lost all balance and stumbled into the wall, knocking off a picture of a beer bottle. Carolyn grappled with him.
"Blair!" she cried.
"I got him," a deeper voice answered. Blair looked up into Simon's lopsided face.
"You're lopsided," Blair announced seriously. Simon reached down and settled Blair's glasses on his nose. "You're black," Blair corrected himself since Simon wasn't lopsided any more.
"Yes, Sandburg, I'm black. Thank you for the update."
"What got into him?" Carolyn asked as she took his other side. Blair pulled his legs up, amused at the way they dangled between the two sets of hands holding him up, but then all three of them started tumbling right.
"Sandburg, damn it! Walk!" Simon snapped.
"Walk on by, walk on by, make believe that you don't see the tears," Blair sang unevenly as he brought his feet down to earth. "They stole my Sentinel. Only he's not my Sentinel because possessives are like... possessive, and possession is very wrong. Wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong."
"His Sentinel?" Carolyn asked.
"Don't go there," Simon warned. "Sandburg, you are about two inches from going on report."
"Not on duty!" Blair sing-song before breaking out into warbling song. "And walk on by. Don't stop. And walk on by. Dddon't stop. And walk on by." His words deteriorated into a hum.
"This is a side of you I never wanted to see," Simon said and then muggy Cascade air made Blair blink his eyes open again.
"Simon car. Car of Simon." Blair let his hand slap the top as Carolyn let go of one side.
"You throw up in here, and I will transfer you to Traffic so fast you'll still have the hangover when you're writing your first ticket."
"Should lock me up. Bad bad bad bad bad. So very very very very bad badbadbabababaa." Blair's words trailed off as he lost the ability to say the word bad.
"So very, very drunk," Carolyn corrected him. Blair smiled at her. "Pretty lady," he mouthed.
"God, he runs that charm even drunk," Simon snorted. "Plummer's pretty, I'm black, and you're bad. We got it."
"I wanted to fix just one. He who save the universe save th'... universe. No. Whoever saves a world, saves a life." Blair shook his head as Carolyn opened the car door. Simon pulled him away from the car and dumped him on the front seat. "No no no."
"Yes, yes, yes. I'm taking you home and pouring you into bed."
Blair waved his hand dismissively at that. "He who saves a life, saves a universe?"
"Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire," Carolyn supplied. Blair smiled widely.
"Oh god." Simon slammed the door. Blair poked at the window as Simon came around to the driver's side.
"Didn't save the world, Simon," Blair said sadly. The world in question lurched, and Blair grabbed at his seatbelt. When did he put that on?
"You'll save it tomorrow, kid."
"Nope. World doesn't want to be saved. World doesn't think I'll save him. World thinks I'm bad bad badbadbad."
"Enough," Simon interrupted. "Blair, just let it go."
"Wake me up before you go-go."
"Oh god, it's like karaoke hell," Simon groaned as he drove a little faster toward Blair's loft.
"I did before you 'borrowed' it and left it somewhere, Sport," Jim pointed out. He sat back in his chair at the edge of Keith's desk. At the next desk, Doug Turner snorted a laugh.
"I just had it," Keith complained as he came around the corner into Burglary. His short dark hair stood up in uneven spikes, meaning he'd been scrubbing it in frustration. By the time he was as old as Jim, he wasn't going to have any hair left at all..
"And you just lost it, like usual," Doug teased. "Jim, this is why he got a Sentinel. To hell with needing someone to track down the criminals, he just needs somebody to backtrack him and find his damn paperwork."
"Very funny, Turner," Keith complained.
"I'll find it," Jim said with a sigh as he stood up and focused his scent. After nearly a month, he should have known better than to give the kid the file and let him wander off. Keith reminded Jim of one of the recruits he'd known back when he'd done a stint training recruits in Florida. They both had flashes of brilliance interrupted with periods of intense absent-mindedness. The recruit had done a lot of push ups before he had learned to keep track of his own shit. Jim wasn't sure how to break Keith of this habit since he sure wasn't going to be ordering Keith to drop and give him fifty.
"Thanks Jim," Keith said, Sentinel-quiet, and Jim gave the kid a quick eyeroll as he started out toward the restroom where he'd last seen Keith heading. Luckily, Jim had handled the file so he should be able to track his own scent on the paper.
As he walked, the chain from the ankle restraints dragged across the tile, the sound now as familiar as his own heartbeat. It only took five minutes to turn the corner into records. Behind the desk, Darlene held up a file in her hands. She had just transferred in from Central Precinct, and Jim ordered himself to give her a polite smile.
"I knew you'd come looking. Keith is going to forget his head somewhere one of these days," she joked, her free hand coming up and brushing her long, blonde hair back off a shoulder.
"One of these days," Jim agreed, ignoring the scent of her arousal.
"Here you go." She held the file up, and Jim reached for it with both hands. The chain between his hands didn't allow him a lot of freedom to move one hand without the other.
"No problem. No problem at all," she answered, leaning forward on the desk. Jim nodded, and wondered, not for the first time, if she was attracted to him, his Sentinel status, or the chains. Until Jim bonded, he wouldn't get permission to sleep with anyone else, but that didn't seem to slow her down at all. Then again, maybe she was looking for someone unavailable, and Jim was definitely that.
"So, are you going to stick around, do you think?" she called after Jim as he reached the door. Jim glanced back at her.
"Walker's a good man," he answered ambiguously. He had heard the chatter at the station about Walker getting such a high-level Sentinel. The gossip was split between Walker getting moved up and maybe even transferred to Central Precinct and Jim requesting a new guardian. But every day that Jim showed up in restraints because he hadn't bonded, the gossip started shifting toward the idea that Jim would choose to move on to a detective with more experience and status. Jim knew Keith worried about it, but the man stayed silent.
Darlene started to say something else, but Jim left, heading into the hall. A witness retreated to the side of the hall, his eyes wide as Jim passed, and Jim tightened his jaw.
"Look familiar?" Jim asked as he came back into Burglary, the file held up. He stopped at the sight of a curly-haired cop sitting in the witness chair in front of Keith's desk, a backpack over one shoulder. Jim lowered the file.
"Sandburg," he said carefully.
"Jim. Hey," the kid said as he twisted around to look at Jim. He still had the wide, tragic eyes Jim remembered from the day of his arrest, or retrieval, rather.
"Thank god. Where did I leave it?" Keith asked as he came forward and held out a hand. Jim surrendered the file.
"Oh yeah, shit, I meant to tell you. These recent thefts of copper wiring... there was a case six or seven years ago linked to a construction company. It was before I was even on the force. I went over to Records to try and pull the files, but I can't remember the name of the company involved."
"Really," Jim said as he continued to focus on Blair Sandburg.
"You remember Detective Sandburg?" Keith asked as he finally noticed Jim's distraction. He nervously crossed his arms and slid forward so that he was between Jim and Blair. Jim blinked and forced himself to relax. Keith wasn't normally nervous and had even argued with the Oak Street supervisor to leave off the central chain, so Jim figured he was giving off a lot of hostile signals for Keith to get worried.
"Yeah, I remember," Jim agreed coldly. Blair flinched.
"He's doing some work on Sentinels and I said he could interview you."
Jim looked sharply toward Keith, and then closed his fist around the chain. Right. Keith meant well and was a decent guy, but Jim couldn't ever let himself forget that Keith didn't see him as an equal, someone to actually ask before volunteering Jim's time to some neo-hippy punk.
"Okay," Jim said carefully.
"Do you need the..." Keith waved toward Jim's shackles. Keith had the central chain in his desk.
"Keith, I'm fine," Jim reassured the kid. Worried brown eyes looked at him as Keith tried to decide whether he should take Jim's word on that.
"Blair's a decent man. I think he did a shitty thing, but then you annoy me every morning with your inability to keep your crap off the floor and I haven't clocked you yet," Jim joked. Keith laughed, the stress falling away as he headed back to his desk.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. You do know you're anal, right?"
"I know I can find my shit," Jim answered. "At least, I can when you don't throw a dirty towel on top of it."
"Someone has your number, Walker," Doug added from his own desk. "I'm telling you, Jim, before you came along, we found his crap from one end of this building to the other. If he wasn't so damn good as a detective, the Cap would have busted him back down to patrol."
"If you two are done ripping on me, Blair wanted some information for his dissertation. Do you want me to tag along?" Keith asked.
"Run down your construction company lead. If you find any suspects, we can do some snooping this afternoon," Jim said. "Blair and I can use one of the interrogation rooms for our chat."
Keith nodded, his mind already running ahead to the potential leads. One day he was going to be a frighteningly good detective. Right now, he was just scattered enough to be useful to Jim. "Come on, Sandburg," Jim said as he headed out into the hall.
Jim walked to an interrogation room, standing beside the door and waiting for Blair to go in first.
"So, you got promoted," Jim said as he followed the detective in. Blair had backed up to a corner and crossed his arms. Jim could smell the distress starting to flavor the air.
"Sorta," Blair agreed. Jim could hear the lie immediately.
"You aren't as good at lying anymore," Jim commented as he swung the door closed. "So, since Keith volunteered me for this, let's get it over. What do you want?"
"I..." Blair had been looking at the floor, and now he glanced up. Jim waited.
"Oh man, this is really hard. I suppose someone's out there monitoring us, huh?" Blair asked, suddenly changing the subject. Fear now tinted the distress. Jim started dialing down scent.
"Chief, what's up with you?" Jim asked. Yeah, he could be a hard ass, but the kid hadn't been afraid of him before, and now Jim was chained and they were in the middle of a police station. Blair's eyes kept darting over to the mirror. "There isn't anyone back there," Jim assured him. He moved closer and sat at the table. If the kid was freaking out, towering over him wasn't going to make him feel any better.
"I tried to get custody, you know," he whispered.
"Yeah, I got the offer."
"And you weren't too thrilled with the idea of me getting custody."
"I wouldn't have done it again. Oh man, I'm..." Blair stopped, and then he took a deep breath and looked right at Jim. "I fucked up."
"Really? From here it seems like you're pretty damn good at what you do," Jim said as he raised his shackled hands. "You certainly got the job done when no one else could." He gave the chain a nice hard yank.
Blair flinched. "Okay, I deserved that. I totally deserved that," Blair nodded, the scent of distress intensifying until it tickled Jim's nose and gave him that feeling like he was about to sneeze.
"What do you deserve?" Jim asked, leaning back in the chair.
"Pretty much anything you want to do to me since it's my fault you're sitting there in chains."
Jim cocked his head and considered the detective. "You've had a change of heart."
Blair nodded. "Hell, yeah. It's why I had to leave Sentinel division."
"It wasn't a promotion." This was definitely a surprise, but Jim would take any advantage he could find.
"Totally not. It was transfer or lose my job," Blair admitted. "And I guess I just wanted to see if you're okay."
"You wanted absolution," Jim said as he suddenly realized why Blair was so distressed.
"Okay, maybe," Blair admitted.
"You acted like a shit," Jim said instead of offering forgiveness. Guilt was a fine-edged weapon, and Jim knew how to wield it.
"Yeah," Blair agreed, the misery floating from him in tendrils of scent that were so thick Jim could practically taste them. "And I really don't deserve forgiveness. But this thing..." Blair waved toward the room, and Jim had no idea what the kid was trying to go for. He leaned back in his chair and waited.
"Okay." Blair took a deep breath and tightened his hold on his backpack. "I wouldn't do it again. I wouldn't turn you in."
"Good for you," Jim commented without emotion. He wondered how far this guilt went.
"I asked for custody because I wouldn't have stopped you again," Blair said, and Jim blinked in surprise. All the thoughts of maneuvering Blair into a position to help Jim fled as Blair offered himself up.
"A cop in the middle of a station is offering to help me run?" Jim asked incredulously.
"Yes," Blair breathed, and Jim could hear the truth of it in the steady heartbeat.
"I don't believe you." He watched curiously as Blair processed the accusation. He flushed.
"Oh man, you're a Sentinel, you know I'm not lying," Blair said as he moved forward quickly, leaning his hands on the table and looking at Jim earnestly.
"You're the only person I've ever met who has a chance of tricking me, so I don't take that as proof," Jim countered. Blair collapsed into a chair on the far side of the table.
"I can't lie directly. You know that. I've never even tried to lie to you, so I'm telling you that if you want help escaping, if you request a transfer over to me in Major Crimes, I won't even try to fight you."
Blair's heart never faltered. Jim gave the kid credit for having balls.
"So, you get custody, and then you just let me get on a plane and head for Canada," he mused.
"Small problem," Jim said thoughtfully as he pursed his lips. "Until I bond, I wear the restraints, and that order is from the head of Oak Street house. You couldn't take these off if you wanted to," Jim said as he lifted his hands.
"Okay," Blair said slowly. "So, we bond and then you can take off."
Jim looked at the kid incredulously. "Chief," he said slowly, as if speaking to someone mentally challenged, "if we bond, I can't run." Jim thrust away the thought of taking Blair with him, of bonding and not giving him up the way he'd given up Incacha.
"You got over the first bondmate," Blair argued.
"I wouldn't get twenty feet in the air before the pressure to return got to great," Jim pointed out.
"Okay, so I go with you to Canada and then we can do something to break the bond up there," Blair countered. "I mean, if I'm going to tank my career in law enforcement, I might as well go out with a bang." Jim blinked in surprise and took a second to gather his thoughts.
"You're just full of surprises there, Chief," Jim said. He stretched his senses and felt them settle in around Blair. Jim could see the color in the individual strands of hair, and the warm musk of Blair floated under the distress. Jim yanked his senses back and stood up so quickly that the chair skittered backwards across the tile. Blair jumped.
"I'd do it, Jim. I know I fucked up here, and I'm trying to make it right."
"Sometimes you can't fix your mistakes," Jim said as he thought of Richardson. "Sometimes you just have to learn to live with them."
"But we can fix this..." Blair said desperately.
"No, we can't," Jim barked as he set his jaw. Blair crossed his arms aggressively and stood up straight in the face of Jim's anger. Jim narrowed his eyes in fury. "Five months in there. Five fucking months. I couldn't walk through that airport right now without cringing in a corner and putting my hands over my ears," Jim snapped. "If that guard got in my face today, I don't know what I'd do!"
It was true. He still hadn't gotten his full control back. He didn't bother mentioning that when he'd first gone to the half-way house he'd had Keith walk the block with him every night, and every night he'd ended up a shivering mass until he could finally make the block without falling apart. It took over a week with Keith walking beside him every step of the way.
Now he was up to walking three blocks. He would leave Keith at the corner, and walk the street shackled and alone, some people smiling at him, others making rude comments loud enough for him to hear, and most ignoring him. He couldn't walk that airport now, but he'd be able to eventually. However, if he let himself fall into the sensory lull that Blair offered... if he let himself reach out for another bondmate, his days of running would end because Jim would never give up a bondmate, not if he had a choice.
"But the SI, it improves control." Blair sounded so damn confused, and Jim silently cursed the man's naiveté.
"It improved my ability to focus on something specific, but just walking... just dealing with the constant stream of sensory input every day... After five months of a carefully managed environment, I don't have half the control I once did," Jim admitted. "I couldn't run now if you bought me the ticket and drove me to the airport, and I won't risk everyone else's lives. Besides, aren't you the one who told me I could still have a life after the Institute?" Jim asked sarcastically. Blair flinched.
"So, this is permanent?" Blair asked quietly. Jim could hear the plea for forgiveness. He tightened his jaw against the urge to comfort the man.
Jim jerked the chains, making them rattle and snap. "Until I bond, yep," he agreed. Unfortunately, the longer he was at the half-way house, the more he realized that he just might have to do something drastic if he wanted any chance to escape. His movements were too monitored. Even if he overpowered Keith and cut the chains, he wouldn't have more than an hour or two before someone checked on him. And if he wanted to earn his freedom, he would have to steer clear of Detective Blair Sandburg.
"You're going to bond with Walker." Blair sounded lost.
"You have a better suggestion?" Jim asked coldly. He watched as Blair folded in on himself, his determination of a moment ago wilting. Jim sighed.
"Chief, you did what you thought was right. I just don't know what you want me to say about it. So, are we done?" he asked, tacitly looking for permission to leave. Blair slowly sat.
"I'm trying to make up for it," he answered.
"Can't turn back time."
"I really did need information for a paper, though. I'm writing something on the integration of Sentinels into various modern societies. Canada's system of rights for native Sentinels along with an automatic defense of Sentinel instinct as a legal claim really does result in more acts of violence, especially when you look at the statistics for the Sentinels who immigrated. No wonder they allow extradition now. But Russia's system has even lower rates of violence than we do. True, their Sentinels end up in some pretty scary prisons, but you did once tell me you'd rather go to prison than to the SI. I think the system I like most is the Finnish one. Limited rights, but more than here. Limited responsibility, but more legal liability than here."
Jim leaned back against the wall and looked at Blair in amusement. "You don't take no for an answer very well," he pointed out.
"Hey, I'm just talking about my research," Blair defended himself. "And you're the expert in Sentinels among the tribes of Peru, which is still a modern society despite the fact that they live a primitive lifestyle. And I really wanted to contrast the modern legal system against the traditional ways the Sentinel fit into daily life."
"You want me to talk about the Chopec," Jim said, his voice low and dangerous.
"Well, yeah. And after this, I might do something on the effects of managed environments on baseline control of senses because I don't think that anyone means for the SI to actually degrade a Sentinel's control over his senses. The whole point of the institution is to make sure every Sentinel has equal access to education on how to maintain control and take advantage of the legal rights offered--"
"No," Jim cut him off. He didn't feel like waiting until the kid ran out of breath or words. From the little he knew about him, that might take a long time.
"I'm not talking about the Chopec with you," Jim said quietly. The tone would have sent most men into full retreat, but Blair got up and came around the table.
"Man, if we can just get people to talk about Sentinels and rights, maybe we can start changing the way people see them."
"Ease your guilty conscience with someone else. Go track down one of the other Sentinels you captured," Jim said as he turned to the door and opened it.
"Jim," Blair called, his voice cracking. Jim stood in the open door and looked at the man's raw pain. "God, Jim, I'm sorry."
Jim stood in the doorway, caught between two courses of action. He locked his jaw and pushed aside some innate sympathy that reacted to that pain. "Chief, you're a good man, and I appreciate what you're willing to do here, but just go home." Jim pulled the door closed and shuffled down the hall, back toward his legal guardian. The scent of distress followed him down the hall.