Control Issues
Angst Ahead! Character rape, social issues, sexual content, de facto slavery



"Long damn day," Jim complained as they walked into the rooms they shared in the half-way house. The single bed in the front room had Jim's bedding. He walked over and dropped onto the bed. Keith collapsed onto the loveseat in front of the television.

"No joke. Jim, you were incredible. That guy had the drop on me."

"I'm not about to let you get yourself killed, Sport," Jim said as he pulled off his shoes. "And good work with tracking down that lead." Jim tucked the shoes under his bed. He now owned two pairs of shoes, six slacks, and seven low-necked shirts that showed off his collar. As a Sentinel, Jim got a stipend that depended on his guardian's base salary, but Keith controlled it. Jim wondered idly if Keith would buy him that copy of Shakespeare he'd felt like reading lately. Probably. Jim was just too damn stubborn to ask for it. So, until he earned his freedom, he'd live with two pairs of shoes, six slacks, and seven shirts. Well, that and various underwear. Jim had never before appreciated normal underwear as much as he did now.

"No walk tonight?" Keith asked as he stretched, his back popping. The kid had held up well enough through the arrest, but Jim could smell his adrenaline and distress, and he fought his own reaction to the near disaster. He should have known better than to check out a lead without backup, even if Keith didn't. The fact is they were both lucky.

"I don't think I have the energy for a walk. Could do with a beer," Jim answered. He waited to see how Keith would react.

"She's going to give me shit," he said, his face twisting into an exaggerated horror. Jim could imagine just how much shit the kid would get for asking for beers. Madame Battle-Ax, head of Oak Street house, had very particular ideas about Sentinels. Besides, she already didn't like Keith. She was the one who had battered Keith back in his battle to let Jim leave the house without chains.

"She sure is," Jim smiled evilly.

Keith shook his head. "Only because you saved my sorry ass today." He stood up and headed back out the door wearily.

Jim pulled his shirt off and headed for the bathroom. Certain things Keith could get him, like a beer, maybe, but if Jim wanted more freedom, he had to risk everything.

Jim turned the shower on and let the steam warm the room as he pulled off his pants and tossed them in the hamper. Sentinel biology class went over bonding. Sex overwhelmed a Sentinel's senses, flooding the system with so many endorphins and so much input that the Sentinel reached out for someone to act as baseline, to define normal. So, as the Sentinel orgasmed, the partner became the bondmate, who the Sentinel then developed an instinctive need to protect. After the bond, sex with other people wouldn't necessarily disrupt the bond as long as the bondmate was given permission and was close enough to monitor the interaction. Of course, the guardian could fucking sleep with the entire fleet with no consequences except possible removal of the Sentinel if he brought a venereal disease home.

Utterly logical, and utterly wrong. Jim remembered his bonding with Incacha. He lay in the dark, his whole body shuddering with fever and his mind full of the horror of having buried his friends. The smell of burning flesh and hot metal had made him throw up a half dozen times as he worked. The Army thought Jim's senses had come on-line late, but he'd developed them right on time--on time to live through his father's furious insistence that he hide his senses and a life in the army with all its hazards. And he had lived through the crash with the perfect sensory recall only a Sentinel could manage.

The Chopec had found him afterwards, dehydrated, concussed, delirious, and clinging to an imaginary cat. They'd carried him to the village.

In Incacha's hut, Jim had given up. He had finally reached a point where he just surrendered to the darkness, and then Incacha had laid down next to him, putting a cool hand on Jim's fevered chest. The first sob had been ripped from Jim's throat, and the ones after that slid out on the emotional avalanche that followed. In the dark, he'd clutched Incacha and cried. Even without understanding a word of the language, Jim understood the comfort Incacha offered, and on that intense emotion, Jim's senses had reached out and locked onto his first companion.

There were plenty of nights after that. The first successful raid against the drug dealers, when they'd come home with all the warriors, Jim had drunk native wine until his head swam. He'd laid his head on Incacha's thigh and felt his senses stretch between the two of them. Other nights he would lay in their hut, and he would listen to Incacha and his wife grunt in pleasure, and his own cock would fill until he came with Incacha, their bond tightening.

So, Jim knew that he could bond without sex. The danger was whether he could have sex without bonding.

He'd always avoided intimacy because he'd understood the danger, but if he wanted to have any chance at a normal life, he had to convince everyone he'd bonded to Keith. Of course, the danger was that he might actually bond. If he did that, endgame. Jim wouldn't walk away from a bondmate, and he knew it. And as much as he might have a stray thought about Sandburg, grabbing him and dragging him off, it was a fantasy. Jim wouldn't take someone else's freedom any more than he would accept other people taking his.

Jim stepped into the shower and scrubbed away the dust that had settled into his skin at the construction site. Jim's stomach rolled at the thought of replacing Incacha in his soul. A part of Jim still felt his first companion, and if he did this, he risked destroying the last piece of Incacha he carried.

If he didn't do it, he'd never be free. Eventually, Keith would get tired of living in a half-way house, and Jim would be passed on to someone else. Jim refused to accept that future. He wouldn't live his life in chains. He refused to let other people control his future. With military efficiency and a new determination, Jim finished his shower.

"I got those beers, and I lost about half my manhood," Keith called as the door opened. Jim wrapped a towel around himself.

"I'm surprised you remembered what you were going for," Jim said dryly as he came out of the bathroom and snagged one.

"You're worse than my mother." Keith dropped onto the loveseat, and Jim sat next to him in nothing more than a towel. He noticed how Keith's eyes darted everywhere but to Jim.

"Maybe your mother's right."

"Don't ever say that near her because I will never hear the end of it."

"I want to bond."

Keith fell silent, his beer halfway to his open mouth as Jim's words caught him flat footed. Slowly, he lowered the bottle and blinked at Jim. Jim finished taking a drink and cocked an eyebrow at Keith.

"Okay, I hate that you can look cool when saying things that leave me scrambling to get my brain restarted."

"I have years of practice on you. You'll get there," Jim offered. He sat with his beer and listened to Keith's heart pound heavily in his chest. Keith brought the mouth of his bottle up and took a long drink. The silence lingered even after he lowered the bottle.

"Are you sure? I mean, Ms. Bennett warned me that this would probably be temporary because you could qualify for a much more experienced guardian and you were just a little unsure about your ability to deal with the real world."

"That's why you had so much patience with the walks," Jim said, suddenly feeling very guilty about manipulating the kid.

"Yeah, I mean, I figured that at most, you'd have some good things to say about me when you requested a change over to homicide or major crimes. Hell, I figured Sandburg was feeling you out about requesting a change in guardianship."

"I'm not going to request Sandburg," Jim said definitely.

"And you're sure you want me? This isn't just adrenaline? You know, from me nearly getting my ass kicked?"

"That affected the timetable, not the decision," Jim lied. Sandburg had affected the timetable. It was time to be in another timezone because Jim didn't think for a second that the man had given up, and Jim had a finite amount of control with someone who just felt so right to his senses.

"So, you were planning on bonding?" Keith asked.

"You're a good cop and a good man. If I can just train you to put your shit away, you'll get promoted. I'm not in a hurry to move up and I'm not in a hurry to work with someone else, someone who might not be such a good man."

"And the events of today?"

Jim tilted his head as he considered his answer. "It bothered me that the guy almost got you. If I could have moved faster, I could have protected you better," Jim answered honestly. The ankle chains had nearly resulted in the suspect clocking Keith with a brick, and Jim could feel the bruises around his ankles where he had fought the restraints to rush to Keith's side. Punching the suspect had felt good, and having enough control to stop before doing real damage had felt better.

"You shouldn't have to protect me. It's my job to protect you while you do your thing with the senses," Keith argued, and the guilt Jim had nursed evaporated when faced with Keith's unflinching belief that Jim needed protection. After nearly a month, if he didn't know Jim well enough to know that Jim didn't need protection, then he deserved what Jim was going to do.

"Out there, we're partners. We watch out for each other," Jim corrected him gently, reining in his own frustration.

"Okay. I'm not sure how to do this," Keith admitted. Jim cocked an eyebrow at him again. Keith blushed. "Hey, I *know* how to do this, I just don't how you want us to do this."

Jim could hear the uncertainty in Keith voice, but the musk of arousal already wisped into the air and for the first time, Keith let his eyes settle on Jim. Jim flexed a muscle, and the scent intensified.

"Let's just start and see where it leads, okay?" Jim asked as he reached over and touched Keith's cheek. The man swallowed, his Adam's apple bobbing. Jim traced a finger down his neck and started unbuttoning his shirt.

"I haven't showered," Keith whispered.

"Oh well," Jim answered, basically ignoring him as he popped one button after another. Keith's hand found his arm, holding on with trembling fingers. Jim let his hand run over Keith's chest, small hairs tickling the pads of Jim's fingers before he dialed down the sense of touch. He tweaked a nipple, and Keith gasped.

"Bedroom, get naked," Jim ordered tersely, his own thoughts clinging to the feeling of Incacha's warm hand resting against his cheek as a slightly drunk Jim lay on his lap and watched the victory dance.

Keith obviously mistook the tone for lust because he bolted up from the bed and immediately started shedding clothes. Jim rolled his eyes at the mess and followed and draped his own towel on the bathroom doorknob before he walked into the bedroom where Keith had his double bed. Their double bed, Jim corrected himself. He would share Keith's bed, and he would do it without bonding. He refused to accept any other outcome.

Keith was down to underwear, and was struggling to pull his right leg free of them as he balanced on his left. Jim reached out and put a hand on his hip to balance him. Keith jerked and lost all coordination, falling backwards. Jim easily caught him, his arms going around Keith's tall, lanky form, pulling him close.

Jim kissed the back of Keith's neck, and then the juncture between Keith's neck and shoulder. The body in his arms shivered. Jim moved forward, and then realized that Keith's legs were still tangled in the underwear.

Jim pushed, tipping Keith onto the bed. He lay with his arms splayed out against the rumpled sheets.

"Oh god. I just never--"

Keith stopped with a gasp when Jim let his hand rest against Keith's thigh and then followed the warmth up until he rested both hands on the hollows of Keith's hips.

"Jim, are you sure?" Keith asked, his voice strangled, but then most of his blood had gone to his cock which lay heavy and dark against his pale skin.

"I'm sure," Jim said, but he knew his own cock was only half hard. "It's just hard to open up. Just lay back and let me play," Jim whispered, and Keith breathed out, his body sagging into the mattress as Jim reached down and tugged off Keith's underwear.

The scent of pheromones lay heavy in the air as Jim crawled onto the bed, tugging and pushing Keith into position while Keith clutched at him, clearly fighting his own need to thrust up. With a needy moan, Keith grabbed Jim's shoulders, but Jim ignored the man's attempts to pull them together. Instead he lay down beside Keith and slipped his leg over Keith's form, holding him down.

Dialing down all the senses, Jim stroked the hot body below him as he sank into a memory.

Jim lay in Incacha's hut after a feast celebrating the tribe taking four gray deer. There was meat for all, and Jim was finally a warrior of the tribe, his skin streaked with red paint and the songs still in his ears as he lay down for the night. When Omili finally came to the hut, the moon cast pale shadows over the night which slipped into the hut through the gaps in the woven twigs. She slipped into bed with a giggle, and Jim listened as Incacha's hand whispered over his wife's dark skin.

She gasped her need, and the scent of her arousal filled the air. Jim had blushed, and held his breath as he tried to decide between waiting them out and fleeing into the night.

"Sentinel, you should enjoy this with us," Incacha whispered. Jim blushed even harder and stood to leave.

"No, do not flee," Omili had whispered kindly, her voice rough with desire.

"Stay," Incacha agreed, and Jim sank back to his pallet.

Incacha once again turned to his wife, trailing kisses across her neck and down to her bare breasts. She arched up, and Jim felt his cock harden. Feeling like a voyeur, Jim had turned his back, focusing on the woven sticks of the hut, but his hearing dialed up so that he could hear each strained breath, every sigh of skin brushing against skin.

Hell, he could feel the air currents shift as Incacha and Omili had twisted around, and the smell of lust and sweat had filled the air. Jim clutched the pallet, panting with his own need as Omili groaned and skin slapped damply against skin.

Jim felt his senses wheel out of control, his hearing straining and his body humping in time with the rhythmic thump of Incacha's thrust. On each one, Omili would mewl, and Jim could feel the air currents from her breath. The moonlight brightened until he could track their shadows across the screen of twigs that made the wall of the hut.

Unable to resist, Jim reached down and grasped his cock, sliding back and forth into his own fist until he gasped for air. His whole body unraveled and his senses spiraled out of control and Jim didn't even try to control either as he thrust faster and faster.

Omili screamed, and Incacha made a grunt of satisfaction as the thrusts grew harder and deeper so that Omili's scream became a low wail that filled the room. Incacha called out words that Jim didn't know, and then fell silent, his body collapsing over his wife.

Jim felt his own orgasm rip through him, releasing him, binding him to Incacha, draining him of energy, but filling him with all the sounds and smells of the jungle.

Panting, sated, happy, Jim slowly opened his eyes.

Keith lay with his eyes closed and his mouth open, the smell of their semen mixing in the air. Jim looked down and found his hand around both their cocks, and both of them were softening. For a heartbeat, he struggled with a reality that didn't make sense. Then grief and pain drove out the satisfaction.

Incacha had rejected him. Incacha and Omili were a world away, safe, happy. He was here. Jim's still raw senses sent flares of distress through him, and Jim clenched his jaw against the need to find his mate.

"Jim?" Keith said softly. Jim didn't realize he had closed his eyes, but he opened them when Keith's fingers reached up to his face, brushing away tears Jim didn't remember crying. "Are you okay?"

"I can see you have something to learn about the post-sex talking," Jim said lightly. "I'm fine."

"You're crying."

"It's just..." Jim paused. "It's just different for me, Keith. I'm good," Jim promised. He captured Keith's hand which lingered on his face and brought it to his lips for a kiss.

And laying in bed, Jim realized he was fine. His plan had obviously worked because instead of the joy of a bondmate, he could only feel the gaping, raw wound of Incacha's absence. The sex had only brightened the pain.

"Let's get cleaned up before we stick together," Jim said lightly. He would mourn Incacha's loss again, but not now. Now he had a plan.

Keith nodded and started rolling toward the bed. "Man, I don't mind telling you, you've ruined me for anyone else. My god, Jim, is that a Sentinel thing or just you?"

"Experience, Sport," Jim lied. "You'll get there."

Pretending to window shop for hunting knives, Blair kept an eye on his target in the reflection of the window. The mall was the last place Blair expected Jim to go, but here he was, wandering through the mall with a shopping bag after coming out of a sporting goods store.

The detective in Blair was suspicious. The part of Blair that kept him up at night whispering that he'd unfairly stolen another's person's life was ecstatic.

Jim stopped at a food vendor and Blair wandered one store down to get a better reflection. He could see the kid behind the counter hesitate, his eyes scanning the crowd behind Jim, probably looking for his guardian. Jim crossed his arms. The kid jerked. Yep, Ellison had just verbally lashed him. And there went the kid rushing to fill Jim's order.

Take away the collar that warned the casual shoppers, take away the children who pointed at him and pulled on their parent's arms, take away the ones who slid away from him, and he was just one more shopper. Two months since getting out of the SI, just over three weeks since bonding with Keith Walker, and Jim was wandering the mall by himself.

Blair blinked and found himself eying pink underwear. Shit. Blair stepped away from the Victoria's Secret window and wandered to Barnes and Noble, casually sorting the discount books, as he watched Jim's reflection on a silver trash can. Jim headed for a table, and Blair shifted so that he could see him out of the side of his eye.

He looked good.

Jim shoved half a hoagie in his mouth and chewed while flipping through some sort of magazine or brochure. Seven months ago, Blair would have considered this proof that his work with the Sentinel division was justified. Seven months ago, Jim was dirty and tired and riding the thin edge of frustration. Now he sat in the middle of a mall flipping through a magazine and looking good. Really good.

But Blair remembered the man's fierce insistence on freedom, and that collar still sat on his neck. Okay, so some Sentinels were out of control and yeah, maybe society needed a warning that they were unstable. But what about Dooger? The senior punched out some clueless underclassman every single time he got drunk, and he definitely needed to come with a warning label. If his father didn't keep giving the university endowment money, he would have been kicked out long ago.

And that was just one more unfairness. Blair added a mystery novel to his small stack and headed for the counter to pay. Jim was busy with his fries, so he wouldn't move for a little bit.

Blair wandered back out the door, desperate to scratch his neck where he'd tucked his ponytail, but there'd be plenty of time to do that once Jim got on the bus and headed home. No way could Blair follow him there. Well, he could follow him, but he really wasn't sure what the point would be. Jim would go home and switch into a thin t-shirt before working on the front yard or the car, and Keith would come out with two beers, and Blair would decide once again that he hated the scrawny detective from Burglary.

Okay, maybe Blair was overgeneralizing. Maybe two evenings watching them had given him the wrong picture. Maybe Jim didn't look so comfortable with Walker on the other nights when Blair wasn't watching. Maybe on those other nights, Jim didn't brush his hand over Walker's back. Maybe he didn't spend those nights comfortably chatting with scrawny, stupid Walker. God, if someone had Blair under surveillance, he would sure notice, but not Walker. Idiot.

And Walker clearly didn't appreciate who had chosen him. If he truly understood Jim, the department would be whispering about how remarkable Jim was, and yet, Blair hadn't caught even a hint of rumor or awe about the new Sentinel. He did his job. He was protective of Keith. He had a fair amount of control. Every time Blair pumped someone from the Two-Nine, they shrugged their shoulders and repeated the same routine, ordinary comments about Jim, but Blair knew he wasn't an ordinary man. So, if there wasn't anything wrong with Jim, Walker was clearly an idiot. And scrawny.

Jim stood and picked up his bag and his tray. He dumped his trash into a can and headed for the exit nearest the bus stop. Blair sighed and headed for the exit just to the south. He'd parted his Toyota there.

His cell phone rang as he stepped out into the brisk fall air, and Blair pulled it out.

"Sandburg," he said.

"Hey sweetie," the voice on the other end answered.

"Dinah. How is the sweetest woman at all of Rainier?"

"Yeah, yeah, I bet you say that to all the secretaries you're trying to sweet-talk."

"You're the only secretary I sweet-talk," Blair disagreed as he headed out into the parking lot. Clouds wandered the sky so that huge nebulous shadows drifted over the cars. "Can I get on Edwards' calendar?"

"She has an opening next week, but Sweetie, you are running out of time with the woman. I don't think she would sign off on this dissertation change except that you really have some people talking about that last paper. Dr. Stoddard was in here saying words like 'ground-breaking,' and promises of good press turn her head nearly as fast as big donations."

"And I will bring her all the good press she can dream of, she just has to give me a little more slack," Blair promised. "And I owe you a huge box of really expensive chocolates."

"Make that chocolates and a kiss, and I might forgive you for putting me on the spot with the dragon-lady."

"A thousand kisses, all for you, Dinah," Blair promised.

"God you're a flirty little shit. I am so setting you up with my niece one of these days.

"If she looks anything like you, I'll be a lucky man."

"She looks thirty years younger than me, and she's still probably older than you," Dinah laughed. "You're on the calendar, and you have a nice day, Blair."

"You too. And thanks, Dinah."

"No problem. Bye."

"Bye." Blair clicked the off button on the phone. The next second the phone was plucked from his hand and Blair jerked away, his heart pounding wildly as he stumbled backwards... at least he did until he spotted the smirking face of James Joseph Ellison. The man leaned against Blair's car and looked curiously at Blair as he held up the phone.

"Charming the girls, huh? Good to know that I'm not the only one who's been taken in by that smile of yours." Jim tossed the phone, and Blair caught it.

"Oh man! You just about gave me a heart attack!" Blair complained as he took deep breaths.

"I doubt it."

"What the hell are you doing?" Blair demanded as he shoved the phone back into a pocket. A couple walking through the parking lot looked over, eyes wide, and then hurried for their car with worried looks towards Jim.

"What am *I* doing?" Jim asked, his eyebrows raising as he crossed his arms. Blair felt himself blush.

"Hey, you're the one scaring me into a heart attack," Blair pointed out. Jim just continued to stare. "I'm just shopping. You know, books." Blair held his bag up defensively. "Man, I know you are all special ops guy, but you do not have to pull that shit with me just to prove some point."

"Is that what I was doing?" Jim asked.

Blair glared. "I have no idea what you were doing, but that was so not cool."

"Why are you here, Chief?"

"I'm shopping. We went over this once already, right after you scared the shit out of me."

"So, you were shopping for women's underwear?" Jim asked with a wicked smile that made Blair blush to the end of his hair. "I'm wondering if that's so you can charm some lady or if you just have a secret kink. You were looking at that pink lace number a long time."

"I wasn't... I mean... I got books," Blair finally managed to say.

Jim shook his head. "Not buying it, Sandburg. You live on Prospect, you work at Central, and you have class at Rainier. This mall isn't anywhere near where you shop."

"Hey, I am not into the whole proxemics of consumerism. I mean, sometimes a person needs to get out of their comfort zone and just go explore the city, especially since Major Crimes covers the entire city. The whole city is my beat, man."

"So, you're parking a block down from Keith's house because you felt an overwhelming need to patrol the area?"

"What? No!" Blair hurried to say.

"If you keep tabs on all your old cases like you do me, you must not sleep much at night."

"Hey! I am not keeping tabs on you." Blair crossed his arms and tried to look just as annoyed as Jim, but from the way Jim raised one eyebrow, Blair was guessing he hadn't pulled it off.

"Sandburg, whatever game you're playing, please just leave me alone." Jim uncrossed his arms and stooped down to pick up his shopping bag.

"Jim, really, I'm not playing a game," Blair rushed to say. "And I know I don't have a lot of idiosyncratic credit with you, and I am totally okay with that, but I guess I just wanted to make sure you were okay."

"I don't need a babysitter," Jim growled. Blair hesitated a step, falling behind as Jim strode toward the bus stop, and he hurried to catch up.

"I never thought you did, man. I just... after you said you had less control after the SI, I wondered if you were getting your control back, and the anthropologist in me just sometimes gets a little curious."

Jim kept walking.

"I wrote a paper on that. Two of the other Sentinels I..." Blair faltered. What should he call them? Sentinels he retrieved or captured? He skipped the whole word-debate. "Anyway, I interviewed two of them about the long-term effects of life in the SI, and they both reported significant degradation of control, and then I did a study with short-term students who were in for just the required classes, two weeks, and I found significant changes after even a short-term stay. The paper isn't out yet, obviously. I just gave it to a couple of professors, but I have so totally caught people's attention. The professors are talking about it, and one sent it to a friend of his and it looks like it might be one of the lead articles in American Anthropologist and Eli Stoddard offered to co-author a piece with me for Anthropology and Humanism if we do something with a wider population because I just slammed through that first study." Blair took a breath.

"Chief, look," Jim snapped, turning around so suddenly that Blair found himself chest to chest with the man. Blair could see Jim's nose flare as he scented the air. "This doesn't have anything to do with me."

"I'm trying to do the right thing here. If I can show them the science, I might be able to get the SI to make changes in housing. It's not much, but man, I'm really trying."

Jim sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. "I hope you get through to them. For the sake of the kids in there, I really do. But this still doesn't have anything to do with me, and I'm a little confused, and a little frustrated, about you watching me."

"Jim." Blair stopped he didn't really have an answer. "Let me give you a ride home."

"If you're looking for forgiveness..."

"No," Blair interrupted. "Hey, I'm totally okay with you being pissed at me. I'd be pissed at me too, if I were you. Hell, I'm me and I'm still pissed at me."

"So this is self-flagellation," Jim said dryly.

Blair blushed again. "Hey, if I have guilt, I deserve it, but that's not why I'm following you, honest."

"Then why?"

"I don't know," Blair confessed.


"Hey, I am well aware that I'm not dealing with this very rationally, and as a cop, I know that I crossed the stalking line a while back."

"And you knew I'd catch you at it," Jim interrupted. "And I'm wondering why exactly you want me to catch you. Looking for an easy way off the force? A chance to stop being a cop without quitting?" Jim demanded.

"No!" Blair immediately insisted. "I'm good at my job; I don't want to lose it."

"Then why tail me?" Jim gave Blair a demanding look that made him feel about two inches high. "Are you so sure I won't turn your ass in? You certainly seemed okay with turning me in."

Blair cringed.

"Fuck," Jim breathed. "You screwed me over, and you're giving me a chance to screw you over? That it?"

"No!" Blair insisted. "Maybe," he amended it when he thought about that for a second. He took an uneven breath. "I just wanted to know. I guess I just have this academic curiosity going."

"Academic curiosity?" Jim repeated incredulously.

"I mean, you rearranged my world, and now I'm intellectually flopping around trying to figure out how much of what I know about Sentinels is bullshit. I mean, you're it." Blair struggled to explain something that wasn't even clear in his mind. "You're like this Rosetta Stone with the big answer... what's a Sentinel supposed to be like, and I just.... Fuck. When Naomi comes back, and I tell her what I'm thinking, she's going to cry over me finally getting it. Then she is so going to give me the lecture about how I totally just accepted the status quo, and I so deserve that lecture."


"And she raised me better, you know? I mean, she raised me to look past society's shit. I was raised on the picket lines protesting the treatment of migrant farm workers and the dangers of nuclear energy, but I don't know. I just bought the company line about Sentinels hook line and sinker."

"And now?" Jim asked. Blair had taken to studying the buttons on Jim's shirt, and he looked up, flinching as his eyes skimmed past the collar. Jim looked genuinely curious.

"I'm an ass," Blair shrugged. "Took me a while to figure it out, but I got there. I mean, if you earn a collar by showing you can't control yourself, that's one thing, but no one should be judged without ever being given a chance. And if a Sentinel can earn a collar to warn people that he's unpredictable, then a non-Sentinel should be able to, too.

"And some of the Sentinel stuff? I mean, I went through that Sentinel class the SI puts on, and man, I would be ready to knock someone's block off for some of that shit. No one should have a right to... but they do that and if you tell them the truth, which is that they're all full of shit, they just put it down to you being a Sentinel and having no control." Blair turned away and pulled his ponytail out of his jacket, reaching back and scratching the itch.

"Man, I haven't ever fucked up this big before," Blair said quietly, "and then I go and discover that I've fucked so many people over that my karma is like this giant, overstuffed elephant... like huge. It's not good for my self-image, you know. And I guess I'm just trying to catch my balance."

"By watching me?" Jim's voice was soft now, and Blair closed his eyes.

"I don't know."

"I don't know either, Chief. But this watching me..."

"Shit. I'm sorry. I know I should just stop. I'm getting carpal tunnel from typing with the laptop perched on the steering wheel." Blair turned around and smiled weakly, but Jim's face was full of concern. It made Blair feel even worse.

"Blair, Keith and I are going camping for a week, just to get out of the city. Take the week off," Jim suggested. "Keith's going to notice you creeping from tree to tree behind us, and you need to get your head screwed on straight." Jim stepped forward and put his hand on Blair's shoulder. Blair leaned into the casual touch.

"I'm sorry," Blair whispered.

"I know you are, Chief. I'm sorry, too."

It wasn't quite forgiveness, but Blair managed a small smile, content to get what he could. "Let me drive you home," he suggested, looking up into Jim's dark eyes.

Jim stood silent for a moment and then shook his head. "No. You need to go home, Chief. I can take the bus."


"No," Jim repeated. "Blair, this is it. I don't want to see you again." Jim turned and walked toward the bus stop, shopping bag in hand, and Blair bit his lip. He'd screwed with Jim enough; maybe it was time to admit that he wouldn't ever fix this mistake and move on. Blair turned slowly back toward his own car, for some reason, feeling worse than ever.

"Rise and shine, Sport. It's dark o'clock of the morning, and we need to get on the road," Jim said cheerfully as he shook Keith. Keith groaned and flopped a hand out.

"Too damn early."

"We talked about this yesterday. I want out of the city before the traffic starts," Jim said as he sat on the edge of their bed and pulled his shoes on.

"I don't mind traffic; I'll drive rush hour," Keith mumbled as he rolled over. Jim gritted his teeth. Okay, time to do something he really hated doing.

"Keith, the car exhaust on the freeway during rush hour is really hard for me. Don't make me do that," he said in the smallest voice he could muster, given how much he hated playing helpless.

Keith lay motionless for a second. "Right, moving," Keith answered as he rolled toward the edge of the bed groggily.

He reached out a hand towards Jim, and Jim took it, sitting on the edge of the bed by Keith.

Jim felt like a heel.

"Want to wake up properly?" Keith asked as he ran a hand over Jim's thigh. Jim could smell the desire on the early morning air.

"Keith..." Jim stopped. Up until now he had managed. He didn't always come, and the infrequent sex always left him raw and struggling with a grief that ripped into his soul, but he'd managed. However, now his emotions were too raw, his hope was too close to the surface to take the risk, not now, not when he could feel freedom crouching at the edge of his awareness.

"Keith, I want to do this properly. I don't want a quicky before we jump in the car."

Keith blinked at him, and Jim could feel the worry and stress.

"My first bondmate was in the jungle, Keith. It'll be easier for me when we're out in the woods, away from all this noise," Jim promised.

"We could try downstairs again," Keith suggested softly.

"After a week of getting to know each other, I'm sure downstairs will work fine," Jim whispered. He let his own hand trail over Keith's hip, feeling like six feet three inches of pure shit. Time enough to feel guilty later. Jim reached over Keith to the end table where he'd sat the mug he'd brought in earlier. Sex and coffee... two sure ways to get Keith moving in the morning.

"Got the coffee right here," Jim said, luring the man with the mug of coffee just outside his reach. Keith reached for it, and Jim surrendered the cup.

"So, are you actually awake?"

"Yep, awake, moving," Keith grunted as he took a sip.

"I'm going to get things ready; just get yourself dressed. Oh, did you call the social worker, let her know we were going out of town?"

"Yes, mother. God, you nag, Jim."

"God, you forget shit, Keith."

"Yeah, yeah. I called her, I told her we'd be back in a week. I stopped the newspaper. I have the neighbor picking up the mail. It's all taken care of, oh mother hen Ellison." Keith took a long drink of coffee and then put the mug down on the side table.

"Good," Jim said as he walked out of the room. He went back to the kitchen and picked up a box of non-perishables and took it downstairs into the Sentinel-safe room. Other than one of their "bonding" sessions, Keith had never used it. And after Jim hadn't come at all that time, Keith had locked the door and forgotten it. But just knowing it was down here.... Jim pushed open the door to the actual room. It had no windows, but when he turned the soft lights on, a filtration system rumbled softly behind soundproofed walls. The walls were soft brown, the floor a deep, padded carpet in beige. The only door led into a small bathroom. It reminded Jim of a padded cell in a nuthouse, and it really was used just about the same way.

Every guardian needed a Sentinel-safe room, but like with most things, Keith had gone a little overboard.

Jim put the box just inside the door and went upstairs. He could hear Keith in the back bathroom, turning water on and cursing softly about the time. Jim grabbed the radio and another box of food and a few books. He carried them down the stairs and then hurried back up.

By the time Keith came into the kitchen, Jim was packing the water canteens into a box destined for the trunk of Keith's car.

"I can't believe I'm moving before the sun is even up. I haven't done this since cub scouts." Keith scrubbed his hair, and the spikes were back.

"How much rent do you pay on this place?" Jim asked as he unfolded the maps, checking them before folding them back up and slipping them into the box. He had several maps. He hadn't yet decided on an escape route.


"How much rent do you pay?" Jim repeated calmly. Keith looked at him a little strangely, and then shrugged. "Eleven hundred a month."

"How much rent do I pay you?" Jim asked as he picked up an apple and bit into it. Keith had torn open a breakfast bar, but he ignored it as he focused all his attention on Jim.

"Do you think I'd mismanage your money?" Keith asked, all the bleariness gone, his brows lowered in concern.

"I just think a man should know how much rent he's paying," Jim said easily. "So, how much?"

"Four hundred a month."

"And how much do I have in my account right now?"

"Is there something you need? Jim, you don't have to save up if it's something you really want. I mean, I don't really need that four hundred, so I'd be okay with kicking it right back to you." Keith put the breakfast bar down and took a step forward. Shit, this would be so much easier if the kid had beaten him or stolen his money, but Jim knew that Keith would never do either one.

"I just want to know how much money I have in the bank, Sport," Jim said as he put the apple down and stepped closer to Keith.

"Nearly two thousand," Keith answered.

"Don't you think that's something a man should know about himself? You know, I don't even know how much money I make a week. I mean, I know my salary is based on yours, but I don't know how much either of us makes. And I know that when I ran, I must have had at least sixty thousand in back salary. So, is that floating around somewhere or did the powers that be just decide that since I was a Sentinel now, they could save a little money?"

"If the army stole from you, we can call Ms. Bennett when we get back. That's not right, and if you have sixty thousand dollars coming to you, I'll make sure you get it."

"You will," Jim said quietly, dangerously.

"You know I wouldn't let someone steal from you," Keith assured. "Jim, are you okay?" He stepped forward and let his hand rest on Jim's arm.

"Keith, has it ever occurred to you that, as a man, I shouldn't have to ask you how much I make? I shouldn't have to ask you for permission to use my own money. I sure as hell shouldn't need you to fight my battles for me."

"Jim, what are you talking about?" Keith now started to smell of concern, and he studied Jim's face, his brows lowered in a tight frown.

"And your belief that I need to be protected is flat-out insulting."

"Whatever the problem is, let's just calm down here." Keith let his fingers circle soothingly on Jim's arm. The touch might have been calming except that Jim knew it was a calculated move meant to control him by short-circuiting his anger.

"The problem is that you, like all the assholes at SI, think you have a right to try and control me," Jim said softly. Keith's fingers hesitated before he started the petting again.

"Jim, I know that the instincts can get a little overwhelming at times..."

"No, the patronizing attitude can get a little overwhelming," Jim corrected him. "The having people assume that I can't control myself and the way that you all treat me like I'm a mentally damaged child is incredibly overwhelming. But the fact is that I have been a Sentinel for twenty years without having you manage my finances or give me permission to go to the mall."

"Jim..." Keith breathed the word, pulling his hand back as he inched a retreat.

"Keith, you look at me like just another Sentinel; you don't see me."

"I see you," Keith promised.

"Where did I train for the Rangers?" Jim asked. He crossed his arms and waited as Keith opened his mouth wordlessly. "What's my father's name? When's the last time I talked to him?"

"Hey, you aren't very big on sharing, and I'm okay with that. And your father is William."

"Which you got from my file," Jim said with confidence. "Which of us would qualify higher on the weapons range?" Jim mused. "I'm betting I would."

"You want a gun? Jim? Maybe I should call someone," Keith said shakily.

"You ignored my control, my real needs, my special ops training. Keith, you're going to be a good cop one day, but you have to start questioning what you see far more than you do now," Jim continued, completely ignoring Keith's comment, and the fear that now drifted through the air.

Keith suddenly twisted and lunged toward the phone, but Jim closed the distance between them in a single stride, grabbing Keith's arm and using the momentum to put him face first against the wall.

Keith struck out with a leg, but the kick was off-balance and ineffective, and Jim pressed his own body to Keith's back, trapping the man so that he couldn't move.

"Jim," Keith pleaded, and now the fear almost choked Jim.

"Keith, calm down," Jim muttered, unwilling to terrorize the man. Yeah, he was part of a whole system that had terrorized Jim, but the kid didn't know that. "Keith, I'm not going to hurt you, so just calm down."

"Jim, come on, you don't want to do this." Keith swallowed heavily and his words came out shaky.

"I want my freedom. That's all. I don't want you hurt."

"Jim, you don't want to put people in danger."

"I was helping people when you were still watching cartoons in your Spiderman pajamas," Jim pointed out. "So, we're going to walk downstairs. If you try to fight me, I will do what I have to in order to subdue you. The goal here is to get you downstairs without hurting you, so don't fight me on this one, Keith."

"Jim." Keith tried to turn, to face Jim; however, Jim captured Keith's arm and twisted it up behind his back.


Keith tugged once, and Jim wrenched his arm up higher, forcing Keith onto his toes and making him hiss with pain. When Jim eased up, Keith didn't fight any more. Slowly, Jim walked Keith downstairs and toward the Sentinel-safe room.

"You planned this. That's why you worked on getting me to agree to the camping trip. I thought the city really was making the bonding hard on you." God, the kid sounded like someone had just told him, for the first time, that Santa Claus wasn't real.

"You're a good kid, but no one has the right to own anyone else. I'm just doing whatever I have to do, here," Jim explained.

"When they catch you, they're going to give you to some hardass who keeps you chained and locks you in your room the minute you get home. Jim, I don't want that for you. Just let me go, and we'll forget this ever happened."

"Sport, if they catch me, they're going to lock me in some room in some Institute and leave me there until I rot," Jim corrected him. "But at least I'll rot knowing that I did what I could to earn my freedom. Besides, with a week's head start, their odds of catching me are not that good," Jim pointed out as he pushed Keith into the room.

Keith stumbled forward and then spun as if ready to take Jim on in hand-to-hand combat.

"Don't try it, Sport. You'll just get hurt," Jim warned. "I've left you enough food for a couple of weeks, but the captain will be calling as soon as you don't show up for work next Monday, so you shouldn't be down here more than eight or nine days. You have a radio, and some books. Is there anything else you need?"

"Answers, Jim," Keith said softly. He rubbed the shoulder Jim had twisted and looked at Jim in confusion.

"I deserve a chance to live free."

"But we bonded."

Jim shook his head. "No, we didn't. We had sex."

"That's why you sometimes had problems... why you couldn't come," Keith said softly.

"And I appreciate you not talking about that problem with the social worker," Jim nodded. "You're a good man, and if I had let myself, I could have bonded with you, but you aren't worth giving up my freedom. No one is."

Keith's confusion hardened into something darker. "So much for that whole story about the city causing your problems. You just played me like a fucking violin," Keith swore, which was totally out of character for the man Jim had grown to know.

"Keith, a Sentinel raised in the system would think himself lucky to get you as a bondmate. You're a good man, and I said as much in the letter I left upstairs. But you have to get this through your head. As a man, I have a right to be free. If other Sentinels don't fight for their freedom, that's their choice, but I won't walk away from a chance to be my own man. And I played everyone, from Nunez to the judge to you, so you're in good company."

Jim pushed aside the thoughts of Sandburg, who all the way up to the end seemed to sense something was wrong. Jim hadn't seen him today, but if the kid turned up trying to tail Jim again, he would have to do something drastic. He just had to fight the urge to grab the kid and make the run up the I-5 with him in the trunk.

"Jim, please," Keith tried one more time.

"You might want to spend the next week or so thinking about the unfairness of someone locking you up just because they can," Jim suggested before he pushed the heavy door shut. Sliding the bolt into place, Jim watched Keith for a second through the small shatterproof window. He stood with his hands hanging by his side, looking utterly lost.

Turning away, Jim headed up the stairs. The cool weather was the perfect excuse for him to switch into one of the turtleneck sweaters he'd bought with the allowance he'd begged from Keith. That would work until tonight when he could break into some place with heavy cutting equipment. Car body shop would be best. Sunday, and the gun shops were closed, so he could break into one and get something a little more effective than Keith's service weapon. By Monday, he could decide which escape route to use and head for Canada.

No more Sentinel Institute, no more guardian, no more chains or collars, and no more Blair Sandburg. He quickly changed shirts, grabbed the last box of supplies, and slipped out into the dark. No more putting his life on hold.

Blair stepped out onto the dark street. This tip might just turn out to be some cracked up homeless guy talking to the wall, but Ruby usually pointed Blair in the right direction when she called about Sentinels in trouble. Seven months ago, Blair would have called the Sentinel division and reported her call. Hell, seven months ago Blair would have *been* the Sentinel division. Now, nothing was quite as black and white.

Walking up to a graffitied door, Blair knocked on it, and then leaned back and watched his car. Okay, if he was lucky, he would come back to a car still mostly intact. If he hurried. Maybe. The door slid open with a screeching wail, and Ruby stood there, a solid shadow in the murky darkness.

"Hey, beautiful," Blair said as he stepped closer and leaned in to give her a peck on the cheek. Kids and gang members regularly shot out the streetlights, so even this close, he could barely see her smile.

"Blair, one day you're going to charm the wrong woman, and she's going to drag you to the church and make an honest man out of you."

"Never going to happen. I would never abandon you, Ruby."

She snorted. "Get inside before someone spots your white ass on the street," she stepped back into her kitchen and flicked on a light. Weak florescent lights flickered and finally illuminated the space.

Blair stepped into the immaculately clean kitchen. Huge pots hung from the wall and rows of spatulas waited for the morning rush when her volunteers would show up for a couple of hours of hard labor under Ruby while they fed hundreds of homeless and poor. And in the middle, stood Ruby. She was possibly the darkest black woman Blair had ever seen, and while she wasn't exactly fat, Blair, looked at her and thought of that old saying, 'built like a brick shit-house.' He wouldn't want to piss her off because she very possibly could break him in half.

"So, I hear you have a couple of Sentinels wandering around."

"Maybe," Ruby agreed carefully. "Some of the guys been talking about a couple of Sentinels down by the docks. You plan on tracking them down alone?" Ruby asked, her eyebrows going up.

"We don't even know if they are Sentinels," Blair shrugged. "So, what exactly have you heard about these two guys?"

Ruby cocked her head and considered him with narrowed eyes. "They say these guys are wandering down by the Wins warehouse. They're in bad shape if the rumors are true," she said slowly. "They're flinching away from noises no one else can hear and huddling in the shadows."

"Why do you think they're Sentinels?" Blair asked curiously. Ruby's eyes never left him; she studied him so intensely that Blair found himself squirming under her gaze.

"People down here are poor and uneducated, but they can spot a Sentinel," she finally said as she crossed her arms and silently dared Blair to challenge her. No way was Blair touching that challenge.

"Down by the Wins warehouse?" he asked, completely ignoring that creepy sensation that felt suspiciously like when his dissertation committee called him in and started demanding answers. Only, instead of facing 12 cranky, old, hide-bound men and women, he had to face one Ruby, and his dissertation committee freaked him out a lot less.

She stared at him for a second before she agreed with a simple, "Yep."

Blair sighed. Okay, choice one: call in the Sentinel division. And no way could he do that, not again. Choice two: find them and help them. Illegal as hell, but better for the karma. "I'll go check it out," he agreed as he turned toward the door.

"Hold on there, babe, where's your backup?"

"Ruby," Blair stopped. Funny, the minute anything Sentinel came up, Blair lost his bearings and struggled to make even the simplest of decisions. He took a deep breath and tried to find the certainty, the confidence in himself that he'd possessed eight months ago. He couldn't. "I'm not sure the Sentinel Institute is always the best option," he admitted softly. He turned around and faced her. "I think some Sentinels do just fine on their own, and need to just be left alone."

Ruby's eyes went wide and she stood silent as she considered him. Slowly she started nodding. "I respect a man's choices, but do you really think these two are going to be okay with just a helpful word and a meal?" Ruby asked without even batting an eye at Blair's confession.

She wasn't calling and reporting him, so that was a step forward, Blair thought as he gave her a smile and a shrug. "Probably not. But for all I know, they're two crackheads. I'll go down there and see what I can find. If I find two crackheads, I'll offer them a ride to rehab. If I find two Sentinels in really severe distress, I'll call in the Sentinel division."

"If you find two runners?" Ruby asked curiously.

"I'll clean them up, get them fed, and ask them what they want to do," Blair said honestly, well aware that he was admitting to a felony, which didn't generally look good on a cop's record. Simon would have a fit if Blair got caught.

"Honey, if I just thought they needed feeding, I would have fed them," Ruby said softly. "But you do what you need to do. If you think they're stable enough to hold themselves together, you bring them back here, and I'll help you get them cleaned up," Ruby offered.

Blair shook his head. "I wouldn't put you on the spot, Ruby. If someone's going to get his ass thrown in jail, I'm the better candidate. I mean, you're really needed down here. A lot of these homeless people count on you for more than just food, and if you get arrested.... I wouldn't put you in the middle."

Ruby laughed. Hell, Ruby howled. With one hand on a hip, she leaned against the gleaming prep table and laughed until her eyes crinkled at the sides and her eyes brightened with tears of laughter.

"Oh, honey. You are just such a little sweetie. First, I'm not going to jail. Second, I've been in the middle longer than you've been wearing long pants." She wiped a tear from her face and shook her head in amusement. Still shaking her head, she headed around the prep table to the large refrigerators and pulled out an apple. "You want one?" she asked.

Blair shook his head, struggling to understand when this conversation had gone south.

"Wrong answer, babe," she said as she pursed her lips and considered him. "Someone asks if you want an apple, you tell 'em how you can never resist the temptation, or maybe how you're tempted, but you shouldn't."

The words registered, but Blair's brain was still back on the Ruby being involved part, and it took a second for the meaning of her words to finally sink into his brain.

"Ruby?" Blair asked. He'd never been the kind of kid who sent off for secret decoder rings and played spy, but her knowing wink and the way she held the apple up told Blair just how big of a secret she had just entrusted to him. Fuck. How many doors would that open? Blair wasn't sure he wanted to know.

"Hon, you're a good man. Sometimes men need a little more growin' up time than women do, but I knew you'd get there. So, you take my word for it that these two are hurting. I think you're going to have to call in for some help."

"Oh fuck," Blair breathed. A half-dozen times, Ruby had called him for some Sentinel that wandered into the area, lured by her food. But the Sentinels they'd retrieved from her tips had been traumatized, in one case, near coma. Their senses had been so out of control that they shivered in the corner or screamed and clawed their own skin. One woman had taken one look at Blair and had thrown herself at his legs, bruising and battering him in what seemed to be a psychotic attempt to climb into Blair's skin with him. Ruby never turned in a functional Sentinel.

Blair blinked at Ruby in surprise. She chuckled and shook her head. "Sometimes you men just aren't that quick on the draw, but the moment I met you, I knew you'd figure it out for yourself."

"But, Ruby," Blair nearly whispered. "I..." he stopped and looked around. "I have a white noise generator and a Sentinel safe room. I've got access to Sentinel medicines. I might be able to help them, even if you can't," he said, truly damning himself in the eyes of the law. Yep, he'd just gone from one to five years in prison to a good eight years... ten if he actually did take them home. Suddenly, Blair wished he wasn't a cop. It might be easier if he didn't know the law well enough to know how truly damned he was if he got caught. Well, at least Naomi would be proud of him at his trial.

"If I get there and they're that bad, I'll call for help," Blair promised. "But I can't just send two people to the Institute before I know for sure, and I'm not questioning your judgment because you have always been right in the past, but..." Blair stopped, unsure of how to explain this without sounding like he didn't trust Ruby.

Ruby nodded. "Knew you'd be worth your salt when you finally went and grew up. You do what you have to do. And if you think you can help 'em, you let me know and I'll get you some transportation."

Blair blinked at Ruby in surprise, wondering just how far her fingers went into the underground. Shit, Blair would have donated a kidney to get this much information eight months ago, and thank god she had never trusted him back then.

"You're a good woman, Ruby," Blair nodded as headed for the door.

"Damn right I am," she enthusiastically agreed. "But, Blair..."

Blair turned to look at her.

"You're a good man, and you always have been. Alls you've seen is the poor souls suffering under the pain of being a Sentinel. Maybe if you'd really seen the Sentinels who live just fine without all this Institute crap, you would have thought twice, but that's not your fault."

Blair stared at Ruby for a second, and then she sniffed, a sure sign of dismissal. "Get out there before those boys take your car apart one bolt at a time."

Not really sure what to think, and knowing that his car probably was in danger, Blair headed out the door. The cool fall air smelled of trash and coming rain. Blair headed for his car as pre-adolescent shadows darted away and ran for a nearby building with boarded up windows.

Blair pulled up on the south side of the Wins warehouse and reached into his pocket for the strip of metal he usually carried. This would be a hell of a lot safer in the day when dock workers from the nearby ships would be wandering through; however, since Blair wasn't on the right side of legal anymore, darkness was his friend.

He got out of the car, not bothering to lock it. In this neighborhood, the kids could open the door faster without the key than Blair could with it. Besides, hopefully Blair wouldn't have to go far; hopefully he could lure the Sentinels to him and get them into the car. Ruby might be willing to help, but Blair just wasn't sure he was ready to be part of the organized....

Blair stopped and considered the words he could use to mentally finish that thought. Underground fit best. And given the way society treated Sentinels, the comparisons with American slavery were pretty appropriate. Funny, until now, Blair really hadn't thought of people like Ruby and Magna as anything other than criminals; he'd pretty much lumped them in with traffickers. And bringing in a woman like Magna--Blair had thought of that bust as a way to save hundreds of Sentinels who she put at risk by helping them leave the country. Well, now he was picking up where she left off.

Walking closer to the building, Blair pressed his thumb to the metal strip and clicked it. The tiny strip created an almost inaudible, odd, off-key warble that tended to make Sentinels search for the source. He'd used it to find runners in a crowd when they'd had vague tips come into the Sentinel division. Now he used it to find the two Sentinels he wanted to help.

Blair clicked it again as he walked toward the west corner of the building. A crane rumbled in the distance, unloading some ship even in the middle of the night. Blair clicked the metal bit in his pocket three times and then stopped, watching the shadows for any movement. A van was parked near the corner, and a mailbox had bright red graffiti all over it.

Blair bit his lip to keep himself from just calling out and telling them to hurry before all three of them got spotted. Somehow he didn't think Sentinels were going to trust him if he went around yelling for them to get out there.

He clicked the metal again, and something caught his attention. He deliberately turned, slowly, pulling his hand out of his pocket. Simon thought he was nuts for going undercover without a weapon, but Blair had been working undercover with Sentinels so long that he had learned to trust instinct, and not a gun.

And his instinct had come through for him again. Leaning against a building stood a man. Blair couldn't see him in the dark, but from the way the shadow cocked his head, Blair suspected that the man could see him. Yep, a Sentinel.

"Man, this is not safe for you. People have seen you. Just come with me back to my car, and I can get you somewhere safe," he whispered. It felt like familiar territory. "I promise not to turn you in to the Institute," Blair added, a promise he never would have made in the past.

The man took a hesitant step forward, and Blair stood still. With a burst of energy, the Sentinel darted towards Blair and grabbed his wrist, yanking him forward. Blair gasped, but didn't fight as he found himself shoved between the man and the building. This close, Blair could see the ripped clothing and smell both the unwashed body and the sharp stench of blood.

"Hey, it's okay. I'm not here to hurt you. You just have to take some deep breaths and calm down."

Blair knew the Sentinel wasn't doing well with the calming down part when he gave a low growl.

"Hey, it's okay, there isn't any danger here," Blair reassured him, slowly reaching up and resting his hand on a trembling arm. The Sentinel started pushing on him, back towards Blair's car, and Blair let the man herd him backwards.

"Do you have a friend here? Man, I really don't want to leave someone behind if he's as freaked out as you are, but if you can get him to come out, we can all just get in my car and go," Blair said softly, well aware that the Sentinel might not be able to hear more than the tone of voice, and oh yeah, this really might be time to call for the Sentinel division.

"Hey, just say something so I know you're in there. Come on," Blair urged, his hand creeping into his pocket and fumbling for his phone. "It's okay, Sentinel; you're safe. Just focus on my voice."

Blair's fingertips found the plastic, and he closed his fist around it as the Sentinel looked down towards Blair in confusion. His blond hair had a streak of dried blood near the temple, and when he brought a hand up to touch Blair's cheek, the wrist was red and raw.

"Fuck," Blair breathed. This wasn't a runner, this was an escapee of some trafficker. Blair pulled his phone out and flipped it open. This was way beyond a meal and a couple of days in a safe room.

The Sentinel suddenly whirled, putting his back to Blair, and then backed up so that he pressed Blair between himself and the building so hard that Blair fumbled the phone. "Fuck," Blair cursed again as it clattered to the ground. Then he focused on the strong back that had trapped him and pressed on him so hard that he couldn't even take a deep breath.

"It's okay big guy. I'm just getting someone who can help. I know you've got to be hurting right now, and I know someone who can make that pain go away." Blair didn't add that they would also make the Sentinel's free choice go away, but right now, this man didn't have much free choice—he was injured and scared and functioning on just instinct.

Blair let his weight sag, struggling to squat down even as he slowly stroked the Sentinel's back. "It's okay," he crooned, wondering how much was getting through.

The Sentinel jerked and barked out the word "No!"

"Hey, just a phone. It's okay," Blair gasped, his air just about driven out of his body as the Sentinel slammed him back into the wall.

"No," the Sentinel repeated, his voice rougher, the word drawn out. He angled his head toward Blair. "Run," he whispered before he fell to one knee.

Jim walked down the street, ignoring a need to stroke his neck where the collar no longer sat. Once again, he could pass for any citizen. He still struggled with control, but that would return in time too; he had no doubt of that.

Detouring into an all-night café, Jim pulled out Keith's wallet with the trip money. A waitress smiled and nodded as she poured someone else's coffee.

"One coffee, black," Jim said as he passed her and wandered toward a booth.

Tomorrow he would collect some weapons, and then he'd hit the I-5 up to Bellingham, abandon the car somewhere that thieves would take it to pieces, and hike to the border. He'd considered taking the car all the way to Blaine, but he couldn't be sure thieves would get rid of his evidence there. He'd get into Canada, and then find Canada Highway 1.

Long before Peru, Jim had researched some of the tribes and their attitudes, and he figured on making a run for the Chehalis Indians or maybe even over to Kasabonika Lake Reservation. Despite what Sandburg thought, Jim had no intention of becoming prey for the Sentinel traffickers who bribed their way into Canada. If he could prove that he had a value to the society, Canada was famous for losing extradition paperwork even if someone did find out that he was an escaped Sentinel from America.

"Here you go, hon," the waitress appeared with the coffee and a menu. Jim handed her a bill and smiled at her attempts to flirt.

"Anything look good?" she asked, leaning on his table.

"Just some apple pie," he answered as he handed the menu back. She shrugged and disappeared.

Jim blinked, rubbed his eyes, and then blinked again. "No," he whispered to himself as the black panther came through the wall of the café.

He opened his eyes, and the cat was still there, pacing and sticking his nose in the air as he scented something that made him growl. Jim gripped the coffee cup and tried to ignore it as the cat leapt up to the counter where the waitress was now hitting on another late-night customer.

"Incacha," Jim whispered so softly that not even another Sentinel would have heard, "This is not fair. You can't send me away and then expect me to believe in this shit," he said as he forced his eyes away from the imaginary predator.

Twice he'd seen that cat before: once when he'd laid in the jungle dying after burying his men and the second time when Incacha had fed him some shit that the army definitely would have disapproved of before they went on their 'spirit walk.'

"The cat is your guide," Incacha said seriously as they walked through a blue jungle, which was Jim's first clue that he was stoned out of his mind. Back then, Jim had studied the animal as it leapt from a pile of boulders into the path ahead of them.

"The cat is a hallucination," Jim disagreed. Incacha looked at him with disappointment, and Jim tried to hide just how much that bothered him.

"The cat is part of your soul. You have chosen the form, but you cannot fail if you follow your soul, Enquiri," Incacha had said, calling Jim by the Chopec name with which Jim had just been gifted.

"I always do what I think is right, Incacha, you know that," Jim said as he turned to his companion. The discussion of failure… that wasn't where he wanted to go. He'd failed at being his father's son. He'd failed his men and had to bury their bodies because of it. He wouldn't fail as the Sentinel of the Chopec.

Incacha shook his head. "You follow your head, Enquiri. Sometimes you follow your heart. You must learn to follow your soul."

The drug-induced trip had simply gotten stranger from that point with temples rising out of the jungle floor and him tripping over a timber wolf that really had no business in a rain forest. Jim had woken the next morning with a hangover from hell and a new resolve to never again touch drugs.

"Not working," Jim muttered angrily as the cat snarled and paced the length of the counter. The cat looked at him with the same disappointment Incacha had in his eyes on that day long ago. Jim put his cup down so fast that the hot coffee slopped out onto his fingers. Ignoring the waitress who was coming over with his pie, Jim got up and left. He had a plan. The plan did not involve imaginary cats.

As he hurried back to his hotel room, Jim tried to ignore the black shadow that followed him, tail whipping angrily from side to side.

Jim turned the television up another notch. It helped him ignore the rumbles of the cat pacing the corner of the cheap hotel room. Shit, he hadn't slept more than three or four hours, and now he had to go check out a couple of gun shops. He had his eye on one across from a cafe. It seemed to have a lot of high-powered hunting weapons, and from what Jim had seen when he did a little window shopping, the security system was old. With the one obvious exception, the plan was going well. Grab some weapons and ammo, and then get the hell out of Dodge.

The cat screamed its displeasure, and Jim jumped.

"Don't you start. If I go flinching at sounds no one else can hear, this is going to be the shortest run in history," he complained to the cat. He got up and headed for the bathroom. The cat screamed again.

"You know, if I hadn't spent so much time thinking of Incacha lately, this would not be a problem," Jim complained as he started shaving. He could mark that one up to Sandburg, too. After all, he'd planned on just playing good little Sentinel so long that even the bitchy head of the half-way house gave up on the chains, but with Blair there in the background, Jim had to accelerate the time table. Blair had forced him into a corner where he'd been forced to fake the bond, and forced to hang on to the memory of his lost companion. God he was tired. The cat leaped into the bathtub and sprawled out.

"You wouldn't be so happy if I turned that shower on," Jim commented as he pulled the razor over his whiskers. The cat laid its ears back.

"And talking to an imaginary cat is not a sign of good mental health," Jim mused. "Maybe I'm getting pot fumes from the room." God knows the room had been used for drugs and sex more often than sleeping.

The cat jumped out of the tub and stalked out to the room, belly low to the ground in a classic attack pose.

Jim finished shaving and grabbed his shirt from yesterday off the towel rack. When he headed back into the main room, the cat was pacing near the door, a dark rumble in his chest.

"Feel free to disappear back into my subconscious," Jim told the animal as he pulled on socks and shoes. He'd left most of his gear in Keith's car, so all he had to do was tuck Keith's weapon into his belt and pull on his jacket. Unfortunately, the cat had other plans as he crouched near the door and waited for Jim.

Jim opened the door and headed for the car. The cat leaped past him with such a furious roar that Jim flinched. Fuck. Immediately he bent, pretending to look at his foot as though he'd stepped on something. Keeping his head bent, he used his hearing to check for any witnesses.

"Stupid cat," Jim whisper-growled before he stood up. Ignoring the cat's angry response, Jim pulled out the keys and opened Keith's car. The cat jumped on the hood. Jim stared out the windshield for a second, his fists squeezing the steering wheel as he fought the rising frustration. He had a plan, and the overgrown hairball was not part of the plan.

"Fine, we'll check out what you want to check out," Jim finally sighed. Whatever strange trip he was on, he obviously needed to do something before the cat distracted him into a mistake. The cat jumped down to the street and began trotting down the sidewalk. Jim started the car and headed down the road toward the warehouse district.

Jim parked the car near the docks. He'd lost track of the cat, but somehow he didn't think he had gotten rid of it yet. His luck hadn't been that good lately. Locking the car, he walked casually down the street. A pair of dock workers passed him, laughing and talking in Spanish, but Jim filtered out their voices as he scanned the area.

In the distance, two ships nestled up to the wharf: The Black Whale and the Choyang Zenith. The two workers angled off toward the Black Whale. More dock workers' voices competed with the sound of heavy machinery and trucks in that direction, but Jim turned away from the ships.

A faint snarl caught Jim's attention and he turned in time to see a black tail vanish behind a building. He wandered parallel to the water, past a block where a warehouse had burned, leaving a charred scar and a few steel girders pointing up to the sky. Construction and demolition equipment was already parked at the site, so it wouldn't take long for someone to put a new warehouse here. For now, the area was largely unused, only one large building nearby.

When he reached the burnt remains, Jim started feeling something prickling at his senses, like little ant feet crawling over his skin. He stopped and let his eyes scan the warehouses a little farther back from the waterline. A burly man leaned against a door of the largest warehouse, staring at Jim, and Jim forced his eyes away as he casually walked by.

Ignoring the danger of zoning, Jim pushed his hearing, visualizing himself listening past the metal walls of the warehouse. The building was huge, and at first, he could hear only the ragged breaths of someone panting and others sleeping. He could hear one person snoring, and a woman weeping gently. They were not the sounds Jim expected to hear in a warehouse.

Jim turned his back on his target and focused on the burnt building. Let the watchman think that Jim was some construction inspector or owner or something. Turning away made it a little harder to focus, but Jim could suddenly hear the clink of chain. It was a familiar sound.

"Asshole," a voice cursed weakly, and Jim cocked his head to better focus on the second floor of the warehouse.

"Comfortable?" another voice asked, and Jim could hear the sarcastic sneer in that voice.

"More comfortable than any Sentinel you strung up like this," Blair answered. Blair. Jim tightened his hands into fists and forced himself to wander the edge of the burned warehouse. Why was it that everything came back to Sandburg these days? Okay, sentry out front, probably that meant more inside. Jim certainly heard enough heartbeats from inside. And all he had was Keith's service weapon.

"Sentinels are sturdier than you do-gooders think. I've seen them hang for days, barely breathing, and then when you cut them down, they come out fighting. Sentinels are unpredictable, but you aren't. You'll hang there until your lungs compress and every breath is a struggle. Your muscles will spasm and swell and finally go numb, but all that swelling will make your lungs close in even more. And just when you're ready to pass out, I'll cut you down and watch you flop on the ground without the strength to even lift your head." The man laughed, and Jim could feel the rage swell up inside. Where the hell were the cops?

"You'll never get away with this Kincaid," Blair warned, but Jim could hear how the kid struggled for breath. He could imagine Blair strung up so that he could only stand on his toes. His muscles would eventually cramp, and as his arms bore more and more weight, he'd suffocate. It was an ugly death. Jim paced to the end of the burnt area and then turned and scanned the whole neighborhood. A second thug stood near the far corner of the warehouse. He didn't want to study the warehouse too closely, but he'd bet money there were sentries on the upper floors, watching out the dirty windows.

"I think I will, Sandburg. If you were on a case, I might worry, but I've been listening to the police chatter. And I know something you don't know, Mr. Natural. No one has even noticed you're gone. It does make me wonder what you were doing with two of my escaped Sentinels in the middle of the night."

"They aren't yours. Sentinels don't belong to anyone."

Jim could hear the fury and certainty in Blair's voice.

"Sentinels belong to whoever can bring them under control. You just don't like that I'm moving in on your territory," the other man, Kincaid, laughed. "You're just a tool of the dictatorial government that has hijacked our great democracy. At least here, these Sentinels will do some good; they'll bring money for the cause. With the money this bunch brings, I will buy enough guns for my army and finally restore freedom to the people."

"If you're really about saving people, you wouldn't do this to them," Blair argued. Oh Chief, how about worrying about yourself, Jim thought.

"They're tools. And the life I deliver them to is no different than the one you would deliver them to," Kincaid said, and Jim could hear shuffling and a grunt. He clenched his jaw as he realized that Kincaid was touching Blair, and Blair was doing his best to escape the touch. Jim started back towards his car. He couldn't take these guys on alone, so he needed to find a phone.

"The Institute does the best they can. They want to help Sentinels," Blair snapped, and Jim noticed that the man's description of the Institute had changed some since they'd last met. "They would never sell a Sentinel to someone who would turn them into a sex slave or abuse them."

"Aren't you the clever little self-deceiver? What do you call the way the system assigns Sentinels to people they've never met? What do you think a bond is, Sandburg? Whether a Sentinel is in my system or yours, they're nothing more than sex slaves; it's their destiny. Their instincts are designed to make them perfect slaves."

Jim cringed at the cold description that struck a little too close. Every time he'd laid down with Keith, he'd felt that pull to let himself focus on Keith, to allow himself to bond with the man. Before Incacha, Jim hadn't understood the power of the bond, but the fact was that it made it almost impossible to ignore the companion. Hell, here he was months later and thousands of miles away, and he had followed that damn imaginary panther because he could visualize Incacha's disapproval.

Of course, following Incacha's cat had led him to Blair, and Jim had no intention of even following that train of thought. If he did, he would have to admit that either he had sensed Blair in trouble from miles away or that Incacha's crazy talk about spirit guides had some credibility, and Jim really wasn't prepared to accept either theory. He was sticking to the belief that the animal was drug-induced.

"They aren't slaves," Blair disagreed.

"Such perfect self-deception," Kincaid repeated. "They are slaves, and you're part of the system that enslaves them, which is why it always pissed me off that you worked so hard to catch me. What I do is no different than what you do, Detective Sandburg."

"We're nothing alike. I'm not some narcissist who thinks he can use everyone else to get the power he wants. And that's all this is... for all your talk about restoring democracy, you're really just searching for power because you're a pathetic little man."

Flesh hit flesh, and Jim could feel his blood pressure rise. If he thought he had a chance in hell, Jim would rush the damn building himself right now.

"Now, play nice Detective Sandburg. Who knows, you might even survive this. Most of my clients prefer Sentinels; their senses do make them the perfect whores, but I know one or two that might like someone less willing."

Jim was so far away that he was surprised he could still hear the conversation, but his hearing seemed locked on that point behind him where he was leaving Blair alone. He gritted his teeth.

"You're scum."

Kincaid laughed again, the sound scraping across Jim's nerves. "I'm a revolutionary. It's better than being a dead do-gooder." Jim was nearly at the car and he broke into a trot. He'd seen a pay phone back by the bar on the corner.

"Long after you're dead and buried, I'm going to be remembered for saving this country from a threat others ignored. I'm giving this country back to the people who built it and made it strong, and you, Mr. Natural, are not one who will inherit this new world I'm going to create."

Jim opened the door and stood for a second. The voices were at the edge of his hearing, far beyond his normal range, and if he got in his car, he knew he'd lose that final connection to Blair. But if he didn't go, he couldn't do Blair any good. He stood, waiting for Blair's response.

"Dream on, Kincaid. You're never going to be any more than a pimple on the butt of the world, and no one is going to notice when someone eventually pops it."

Flesh hit flesh again, and Jim got in the car. The way the kid's mouth ran, he wasn't going to survive long enough to suffocate.

Jim didn't actually pay attention to the streets as he drove back toward the bar and the phone. Fuck. Whatever Blair had gotten into, it was bad. Yeah, Jim would admit to a fantasy or two about chaining the kid up with the same chains Sam Nunez had used on him, but even at his darkest moment, Jim never would have even imagined what Kincaid threatened. For the first time, Jim seriously considered that Sentinel laws allowed him to snap the man's neck with no consequences. After all, as a Sentinel, he was supposed to be irrational when it came to the tribe's safety.

However, Jim had never allowed himself to give in to his irrational side, and doing it now wasn't going to help anyone. He just needed to keep it together a little longer. He'd make a quick call and then get on with his plan, no more harm than an hour's delay.

Stopping the car outside the bar, Jim trotted to the phone. He pulled one sleeve of his jacket down far enough to prevent him from leaving any prints. If someone identified him and freed Keith too quickly, the plan was going to be more than just delayed. He dialed with the knuckle of one finger.

"911 emergency, what's your emergency?" a calm voice asked.

"There's a warehouse down near wharf 93, across from a burnt warehouse. They're keeping Sentinels in there," he reported quickly.

"How do you know?"

Well, Jim wasn't going to be telling her he followed his imaginary friend down to the docks and then used his senses.

"I work in the area. I saw two of them outside, in bad shape," Jim improvised. From the whimpering and crying inside, and from the fact that Blair had been trying to help a couple escapees, it was close to the truth, and Jim found that lies worked best when they were close to the truth. "They were pretty bad off, and these guys came out and dragged them away."

"And how did you identify them as Sentinels? Were they collared?"

Jim ground his teeth. If they'd been collared, they'd be from the Institute with guardians. "No, but they were flinching and hiding in the shadows. Look, I've seen Sentinels before, and I know what they look like."

"So, you saw two Sentinels. Can you describe the men who you saw take them inside?" the woman smoothly changed the subject. Jim glanced around. He needed to get off this phone quickly or he risked the officers showing up here.

"One was six foot or six-one. Dark hair, Caucasian but with a slightly darker tone, a couple of days growth on a beard, 220 pounds," Jim said quickly, describing the man at the door. "The other was five-ten or so, reddish-blond hair with a tribal tattoo around his wrist." Jim closed his eyes and imagined the second goon who'd stood on the corner.

"Can you describe the Sentinels?" the woman asked.

"I don't have time for this; I have to get back to work." Jim hung up the phone and walked back to his car. That should be enough. Part of Jim whispered that he should get in the car and go back to the plan. It was still early enough to do the job at the gun shop, and he could be on the road to Canada either tonight or tomorrow morning. It was the logical plan.

Instead, Jim drove the area. Kincaid had chosen well. On the west, the only neighbor was the burned out building, and during the week, the construction equipment probably helped hide any sounds, not that anyone other than a Sentinel would hear them. To the south, a chain link fence and security cameras protected a lot where extra equipment was parked. The west had a wide road. Jim parked his car on the next street over and walked to the warehouse north of the one where Kincaid was holding Sandburg.

With the cover of the smaller building, Jim could focus on studying the layout, and it didn't make him any more comfortable. Security cameras sat on the top of the building, which wasn't unusual for this area, but it was unusual considering that the rest of the building seemed largely unused. Unlike most of the warehouses, dust covered the loading bays and the windows were covered in grime. Focusing in, Jim could barely make out bars behind the dirt. Something glinted out of the side of his eye, and Jim could see the flash from a weapon in one of the second-story windows.

"Kincaid," a voice called. "The cops are dispatching a unit. Someone saw the two runners and called it in."

"Fuck," Kincaid swore. "We'll have to carry on this conversation a little later, Mr. Natural," Kincaid said in a voice that sounded friendly even while it sent cold shivers down Jim's back. Now that he focused, he could hear Blair's strained wheezing.

"Cut Mr. Natural down or our fun is going to end a little too quickly," Kincaid ordered. Jim could hear the fast footsteps out of the room, and then a body hit the ground. Oh yeah, Jim wanted to break every bone in Kincaid's body. The very strength of that desire drove Jim back to his car. He couldn't lose control now.

Jim waited almost an hour, but the only thing that had happened was that the warehouse fell silent. Jim recognized the odd hum of top-of-the-line white noise generators from his FBI training at the Institute. He struggled to filter the noise out, but he could only hear brief snatches of sound from inside the warehouse: a woman pleading, two men swearing over a poker game, a radio playing classical music.

A police car finally arrived on scene, the black and white unit driving slowly past the warehouse. Jim took a bite of the sandwich he'd pulled out of his supplies and tried to look like a dock worker at lunch. It must have worked because the Sentinel sitting in the passenger seat of the car didn't look twice at him. She scanned the buildings and cocked her head to the side, listening.

The officer slowed to a stop, and she rolled the window down as he got out of the car, one hand on his weapon.

"You have anything?" he asked as he walked around and stood next to her door.

"Nothing," she answered. "Just the guy down the street eating."

"I hate these prank calls," the officer sighed as he walked around the car back to the driver's side.

Jim silently cursed them, willing the Sentinel to focus her hearing long enough to notice the abnormal buzz. However, the officer got back in the car and drove slowly away.

"Hey, you want to have Chinese for lunch?" the Sentinel asked as the car passed Jim going back toward the street. Jim felt an overwhelming urge to start Keith's car and ram them, but that wouldn't exactly help Sandburg. Shit, without Sandburg, these keystone cops never would have caught him.

Sandburg. Jim glanced at the building again and started the car to head back to the bar.

"911 emergency, what's your emergency?" the voice asked. Different voice, but the calm cadence was exactly the same.

"There's a cop in trouble, Blair Sandburg," Jim said. "I'm down by Wharf 93, and there's a warehouse across from a burned out building. I saw them drag him in there."

"Who?" she asked, her fingers typing.

"Two guys. One was six foot or six-one. Dark hair, Caucasian, 220 pounds. The other was five-ten or so, reddish-blond hair with a tribal tattoo around his wrist."

Jim suddenly heard another voice in the background. "Keep the crackpot on the line, we have a car in the area," a man whispered. Jim hung up the phone and headed for the car. He wouldn't do Blair any good if he got caught.

Okay, it was time to take more drastic action.

Jim stood at the entrance to Major Crimes. This wasn't his department or even his building, but common sense told him to run for the hills before anyone figured out that he wasn't playing good little Sentinel anymore. However, he couldn't do it. He couldn't walk away from Sandburg. It had almost killed him to wait until Monday when Sandburg's boss would be back in, and the only thing that had made the waiting bearable had been sleeping next to the small warehouse where he could hear Blair's breathing once they shut down the white noise generators.

"What?" bellowed a voice. Rafe cracked the door open.

"Got a guy here who thinks he knows something about Blair."

"Get him in here," called a deep voice. Rafe threw open the door, and Jim walked into the lions' den. If this guy recognized him or spotted his senses, Jim was throwing away his last chance at freedom.

"Simon Banks," the man offered as he stood and held out his hand. He was huge, a towering figure even as he leaned over the desk.

"Joe," Jim offered a fake name in return.

"He does some work with Walker in Burglary over at the two-nine," Rafe said in the way of introductions.

"Snitch?" Banks asked, his eyes searching Jim.

"I tell him things I might hear from time to time," Jim answered almost truthfully. "But he's out of town right now, and I'm hearing some stuff on the street that I don't like."

"I don't know how much Walker pays," Banks said as he reached for his wallet, "but you help me get my guy back, and I will make it worth your while."

"Fifty," Jim answered quickly. He needed the cash, and a snitch who didn't ask for money would raise too much suspicion. Even so, he felt dirty as he accepted three twenty dollar bills from Banks.

"What do you have?"

"I was down at the docks, and some of the workers are whispering about Sentinels, a couple were wandering, confused and looking all wild-eyed."

"And you think Sandburg got wind of it? He would have gone to his old division captain, or he would have told us. This sounds like information for Rick Yaden."

Damn. Blair's old boss, no way would he not remember Jim. "That isn't the information. The word is some long-haired hippy type was trying to help them. Had his arm around one when the other dock workers were busy hiding," Jim said, making it up as he went along.

"That'd be Blair," Banks said fondly.

"Apparently they think it all ended well enough because some well-dressed guys came out and got all three of them."

"And now Blair's missing. You wouldn't be the guy who tried to call in with information on him yesterday?" Banks asked.

"Look," Jim said carefully, "I'm giving you the straight story here. If you act, fine. If you don't..." Jim let his words trail off, but the chances were that Banks wouldn't guess Jim's real thoughts. If the idiots didn't act on the information this time, Jim was going to commandeer large quantities of munitions and start blowing shit up until he got Blair out of there.

"Okay," Banks held up his hands in surrender, "I want the information, but I have to bring Yaden in on this."

"Yaden and I have had words. He may not remember them, but I'm not working with him, so if you call him, I'm out of here." Jim crossed his arms and gave Banks his most implacable expression, the one that had always frightened the recruits.

"Damn it," Banks cursed. "If there are Sentinels involved, that's his department. We don't handle Sentinel cases."

"I overheard the guys from The Black Whale. It's docked on the south end. They described a warehouse across from some burned out building. You bring Yaden in, and you can handle it from there," Jim turned to head out the office. It was almost a relief to have something force him away because the need to go into that warehouse had crawled under his skin.

"Would you know the sailors if you saw them again?" Banks quickly asked.

"In a second," Jim lied. "Look, Sandburg has a good reputation, and I'll go down to the docks with you to point these guys out, but Yaden... I'm not working with him."

"You really have issues with Yaden, huh?" Banks sighed and rubbed his hand. "If there are Sentinels, we'll have to pull him in. We don't have the resources to deal with traumatized Sentinels, but for now, we don't have any proof. We'll play this your way."

Jim nodded and turned toward the door.

"But Joe," Banks warned, his voice suddenly cold. "If you're playing us, if you waste my time when my man is out there, I will throw you so far under the jail, you'll never see the light of day again."

"Fair enough," Jim answered. "But I really hope this isn't your guy. If it is, Sentinel traffickers don't have much reason to keep him alive." He watched Banks, praying that this would make the man move a little faster because every second they were here, Blair was still in Kincaid's hands.

"Knowing Sandburg, he'll talk them into something," Banks muttered. Jim just hoped he was right. He just hoped Blair could hang on a little longer.

"Oh, and from the word on the street, these traffickers have an in with police... police radios, maybe even an inside guy or two," Jim said. Banks' face turned dark at the accusation, but he didn't deny it immediately.

"Rafe, get Brown and we'll check this out. If we find anything, we'll call in for back up. Get a secured radio."

"Yes, sir," Rafe answered as he hurried out into the bullpen.

"You want to follow us down to the wharf," Simon asked. Jim shook his head. He hadn't driven Keith's car with its police parking sticker into Central station. Keith's car and his weapon were hidden a couple of blocks from the warehouse, but at this point, Jim wouldn't be surprised if they were both stolen before Jim got back to them. He still had a week, though, and losing his supplies wouldn't be the end of the plan.

"I took the bus. If I could just ride with you," he suggested as both of them headed out of the office.

"No problem," Banks agreed as he pulled on his jacket and came around the desk. "Brown, Rafe, you follow in your car," he called. A second African-American in a horrible striped shirt had appeared in the squad room.

"You got it. And, Simon, we'll find Blair," the new man, Brown, said.

"Yeah, we will," Banks agreed grimly. He headed for the elevator, and Jim silently followed. At least one thing was going right; Blair had co-workers who obviously cared about him. For the first time since he'd heard Blair's voice inside the warehouse, Jim felt like there was an honest chance to get Blair out.

The drive to the wharf was silent. Banks smoked his cigar with the window cracked, but Jim still had to focus on keeping his scent dialed down. It'd been a long time since someone did something that Sentinel-unfriendly around him.

"There," Jim said when the dock came into sight. "Stop the car here."

Banks pulled the car to the curb and Jim got out next to the equipment parking lot. "The workers said they saw those guys pulling Blair into that building behind me," Jim said as he turned towards Banks. "You might want to have your guys park behind the smaller warehouse on the north side."

"I thought you said these workers were hiding," Banks said as he narrowed his eyes. "Where?"

"Plenty of places to hide if a person is desperate enough," Jim answered as he looked around. The place was fairly open with the exception of the warehouse to the north. Simon snorted as he picked up the radio.

"Brown, head to the north," he ordered as he put his car into gear and drove away, circling the block before heading for the north side himself. By the time Banks parked the car, Brown and Rafe were already there, peering around the corner at the warehouse.

"Something's stinky in Denmark," Brown commented. "Top notch security but no sign the building's being used."

"There's more," Jim said as he ducked down below the level of a stack of packing crates. He followed it down to the far end and then lay in the weeds, near where he'd slept last night. When he turned, he saw Banks had followed him.

"There," Jim said as he pointed toward the top row of windows.

"What am I looking for?" Banks whispered.

"Gun flash." Jim watched the window, using Sentinel sight to see the sniper casually sweeping the landscape with his rifle.

"Fuck," Banks swore when the sniper's arc brought the gun back in their direction for the third time. "You sure that's a gun?"

"I was a Ranger," Jim answered truthfully. "I know gun flash."

"How did you know to look if you just overheard some dock workers?" Jim's guts tightened, but he ignored the feeling and focused on the building. Whatever Banks planned to do, he needed to focus on Blair right now. They both did.

"How did you know where to look, Joe?" Banks demanded. Jim tensed. He had to tell at least some of the truth, and then hope he could get away before they figured out the rest.

"I could hear Sandburg in there," Jim admitted. "He was fighting with someone called Kincaid. Kincaid said that the Sentinels in there will be sold to finance his army, and Blair said some things that made Kincaid hurt him."

"Enhanced hearing?" Banks asked as he crouched next to Jim. The man visually relaxed at that news, which was ironic since he had to be at least considering that Jim was a Sentinel. Some people had one or two enhanced senses, but it wasn't the norm. "I've heard some guys will have their taste buds surgically removed to circumvent Sentinel genes from kicking in," he commented blandly, and Jim glanced over.

"No surgery," Jim answered as he refocused on the warehouse. "Shit, there are a lot of people in there. Two-three dozen at least."


"No way to tell," Jim sighed and rubbed his hand over his face. "And no way to tell which is Sandburg until he starts talking."

"If he can," Simon said quietly.

"If he can't, someone is going to pay," Jim warned quietly. Simon shot him a curious look.

"For one of Walker's snitches, you seem pretty concerned about a missing cop from Major Crimes."

"I ran into Sandburg before," Jim said carefully. He'd all but outted himself already, but he could freely admit that not even the threat of getting put back into the Sentinel Institute could make him leave.

"He's a good man," Banks said thoughtfully.

"Yes, he is. And he's smart. He'll figure out a way to stay alive until we get him back." Jim said the words with as much conviction as he could. Leaving this morning, riding the bus to Central, had been the hardest morning of his life. He had lived every moment with the knowledge that Blair could be dying that very second.

"Keep an ear out, I'm going to check in with the others," Simon said as he moved slowly back, his movements suggesting a surprising grace considering his size. Jim opened his hearing and let everything flow in, knowing he was risking a zone, but willing to take the risk.

"He in there?" Brown asked when Banks got back to the shelter of the small warehouse.

"Joe thinks so. Joe also thinks we're looking at two or three dozen people inside, so we have a well-defended structure, either that or a lot of traumatized Sentinels, and neither scenario is particularly safe for us or for Blair."

"Joe thinks?" Rafe interrupted.

"He's definitely got enhanced hearing. Either that, or he's lying through his eye teeth, and if that's the case, he's going to regret ever being born," Banks threatened.

"So we're trusting him?" Brown asked.

"Until we have some other information, yes. I don't see that he gets anything out of lying. So, we're assuming that he's telling the truth."

"In that case, there's no way to grab Sandburg before someone puts a bullet in him, and not even Sandburg could talk a bullet into stopping." Jim could hear both the admiration and the frustration in Brown's voice. These people cared about Sandburg.

"And what about the other senses?" Rafe whispered.

"Maybe the conflict with Yaden is..." Brown's words trailed off, and Jim figured the man was probably silently mouthing the truth.

"Do we call Yaden?" Rafe asked.

Silence. Jim held his breath, trying to decide what to do now that he had a choice between his freedom or Blair's life. He heard the voice from inside he'd been waiting for. Blair cried out. The part of his brain the military had trained advised him to break for freedom, but he didn't move. He wouldn't abandon Blair.

Simon sighed. "He's not out of control, so right now, we have plausible deniability. I'm taking a chance that he'll help us get Blair back."

"Simon, how are we going to play this?"

"We get someone inside so that when we blow the front doors, our inside man can get Blair to safety or maybe just distract Kincaid."

"Kincaid?" Brown demanded. "Garrett Kincaid? The crackpot with the Sunrise Patriots?"

The three of them fell silent for a moment. Jim hadn't heard of the group, but between Brown's horrified reaction and Blair's weak cries as leather hit skin, he found himself digging his fingers into the dirt to control an urge to rip them to pieces with his bare hands. He had the training.

"That's a dangerous job. Kincaid's a whack job, and if he catches someone inside, he's going to put a bullet through Blair's brain."

"I can't ask any of you--" Simon started.

"I'll do it," Rafe and Brown both offered at the same time.

Banks paused, and Jim remembered that moment when as a commander you had to send someone into a situation like this. And the fact was that local cops weren't trained to deal with this. If someone didn't distract Kincaid, Blair was dead the minute a cop hit the warehouse door.

"We need uniformed officers, and let's get Joel and his guys out here to blow the front doors. Henri, I'm sorry, but Rafe's scores are higher than yours, Rafe's going in." Simon turned to the radio and started calling in the back-up that would save Blair, and that would eventually capture Jim again. Jim headed back toward the trio of cops.

He wondered if Keith would still have custody. If so, Jim figured he'd be spending a lot of time chained to the wall. Right now, he couldn't even blame the kid because after a few days staring at those blank walls, Keith was probably more into his own anger than really thinking about what Jim had said. Of course, it might not matter; Jim would probably get the Alex Barnes special: locked in a little room with a video game as company.

"I'll go in," Jim said as he came around the edge of the building. "Brown's right. If your man gets caught, Rafe and Blair are both dead long before the backup can get here."

"This isn't your business," Simon said with narrowed eyes.

Jim ignored him and grabbed a chunk of broken brick, bending down to the concrete where he drew a red square. "I can hear guards walking patrols here, here, here and here." Jim drew lines inside the square neatly boxing it. And there are stationary guards here and here at the windows." Jim drew x's.

"They have it covered." Banks growled.

"The front is covered just as well," Jim agreed. "That's why Rafe's not going in, I am."

"What?! No way. I may not know what's going on with you and Sandburg, but you are not to go anywhere near that building. They'd spot you in a second."

"I know," Jim answered. "I don't plan on trying to hide."

"And why the hell wouldn't they just shoot Sandburg and you?"

"Because," Jim said, "I'm going to give them what they want, a Sentinel."

"Fuck," Brown swore softly.

"Joe," Simon said, his voice low and dangerous, "I don't know what game you're playing, but if you get Sandburg hurt, I will personally skin you alive, Sentinel or no."

Jim smiled. "If I get Sandburg hurt, someone needs to skin me," Jim agreed. "But I can get in there; it will at least let him know that someone's out here, and it'll distract them from hurting him any more."

"I hate to be the voice of reason here, but we don't know if Blair is..." Brown stopped when both Rafe and Banks both glared him into silence.

"He's alive," Jim answered. "He's hurting, and every second I'm out here, he's hurting more, but he's alive. I go in there, and it will distract them long enough for you to get backup."

"Joe, what's really going on here?" Simon asked. "If you're a Sentinel, I don't have any jurisdiction over you. I'll have to call Yaden, but I won't stand in your way. I just have to know what your story is because this is my man's life hanging in the balance here."

Jim stared at the warehouse. He had the feeling if he walked right now, Banks wouldn't stand in his way. Rafe just looked confused. For a second, Jim allowed himself one last fantasy of Canada, of reaching some tribe and finding a companion and lover, of being a member of a tribe that respected him. Then he let go of the fantasy.

"I'm Jim, not Joe," Jim said quietly. "Captain James Joseph Ellison. Blair was the cop who finally brought me in, and he was a good man, a caring man. I won't walk away and let him die in there for trying to help other Sentinels."

"You're the Sentinel," Rafe said. "You're the one who ran for a year, Blair talked about you."

"Ellison. The one Blair requested. The one who turned him down," Banks said flatly.

Jim nodded. "Just stay out of my way once I let the Sentinel instincts take over. I haven't done this before, and I don't know how easily I'll be able to get control back," Jim warned. Simon opened his mouth to argue, but then closed it again as Jim focused his hearing. Now that he knew where to find Blair, he zeroed in on the heavy breathing punctuated with sobs. The sound of leather hitting flesh startled Jim, and he jerked at the sound of Blair's scream.

Jim let his anger rise up and wash away the part of his brain that considered angles and approached and strategy. To succeed, to distract them and put himself in a position where he could defend Blair, he had to become the one thing he hated more than all the Sentinel laws combined... he had be become an out of control Sentinel raging and focused only on finding his companion.

The emotions swelled up, and Jim allowed them to batter away his control. They were hurting his Blair. His. His companion. Jim summoned every sensory memory of that hour with Blair: the blue eyes that had looked at him with this trust as he held Blair close, the way he smiled, the way his body lay limp under Jim's. Blair screamed again, and Jim could feel the primitive surge crash into him.

"Mine," he growled low.

"Jim?" Simon asked. Jim swung his head toward the tall captain, his pupils black as his eyes searched for every detail.

"I'll fucking rip them to pieces for doing that to him," Jim snapped, and Simon took a step back. Jim shook his head and looked at Simon again. "If I don't make it, tell Blair that I'd rather go out this way than go back into the Institute. Don't you dare let him blame himself," Jim begged.

"You have my word, Jim," Simon vowed. Jim turned toward the warehouse.

"Blair," Jim breathed as he turned control over to the hungry predator in his chest. Without thinking, he started running, his body low as he covered ground as fast as he could, his senses tunneled forward.

The rear door posed a temporary problem, and he slammed his shoulder into it so hard that the metal shivered. With a growl, Jim yanked at the handle, shaking his head in frustration as it didn't immediately give. He jerked harder, pounding his shoulder against the door between each pull.

Something clicked, and suddenly the door swung open, Jim flung himself into the dark, his hands reaching for the figure standing in the shadow. His hands almost closed over the guy's throat when electricity ran through him, making him howl and drop to the ground. Jim twisted and snarled as he finally found the wires and pulled the barbs out of his skin. Turning toward the attacker, Jim dived forward, grabbing the man's neck as they both went down to the concrete.

Another shot of electricity poured into him, and this time both he and the man under him screamed in pain with him. The body under him struggled to wiggle away, and Jim landed a punch on the man's sternum that left him gasping and helpless. Then Jim sprang up and backed away as more men came running. Ignoring the men, Jim cocked his head and charged away from the group, toward a staircase.

"Fuck, intruder heading for second floor. It's a Sentinel."

Jim heard the words of warning echo throughout the building, repeated by dozens of radios, but that sound wasn't as loud as the pained whine above him.

A body appeared before him, and Jim neatly tossed the man off the stairs to the floor below without even slowing.

"Get the tranqs, tranqs!" The words echoed against the metal walls, and some part of Jim knew that he should do something, but right now, all he could focus on was the sound that called him.

He lowered his head and ran as hard as he could, the catwalk under him trembling with every step as he closed in on his target. A bee sting caught in him the back of the arm, and Jim swiped it away without pausing.

By the time he reached the hallway leading to the second floor offices, Jim struggled against the blasts of light that tried to distract him from his goal. Shaking his head like a dog trying to shed water, Jim bulled forward, his hand closing on a doorknob.

"He's at the office; he's already tranqed."

"Don't damage him. Give it some time," another multiplied voice shouted.

Jim stopped and cocked his head, struggling to find the source. Shaking his head again, he shoved his shoulder into the door, growling when it didn't open. The second time, he turned the knob and shoved, tumbling into the room so that one hand on the floor kept him from collapsing.

"It's okay, Sentinel, everything's okay," a voice crooned. Jim growled as he scanned the room. The floor twisted, and Jim widened his crouch to keep from falling over. Blair. There.

Jim surged forward and took his position above Blair, who lay on the cold ground, his body contorted. Watching the other men suspiciously, their bodies waving in and out of focus, Jim started carefully pulling on Blair, straightening his arms and smoothing his hair.

"Jim?" Blair muttered through a swollen jaw.

"Oh, lookie here, the do-gooder has a Sentinel of his very own. You see, that's what really gets me about you cops. You put on this whole show about us not taking Sentinels, but then you enslave them yourselves. I guess as long as you're the master, you don't mind slavery too much."

"Jim isn't a slave," Blair objected. He struggled to get up from the ground, the air wheezing in his congested lungs, but he failed. He sank back down with a small, defeated whine that made Jim fist his companion's shirt. They had to leave. Jim pulled Blair so that Blair's back rested against him, but when Jim tried to pull them both upright, the room spun and he crouched back down.

A man stepped closer, and Jim struck out with a leg, hearing the satisfying crack of shattering bone before he crouched once again over Blair.

"Stay back," the first man ordered as others came into the room. "He's a beauty, Blair. He's so good at playing bodyguard, I may even keep him for a while."

"Leave him the hell alone." Blair nearly whispered the words, his voice failing him as his heartbeat slowed.

"You aren't in much shape to tell me anything, and your little Sentinel is all too easy to control. Although really, he's not that little."

The man stepped closer, and Jim tensed to attack, however then something filled the air, something cold and bitter. Jim stood up, and the movement made the whole room tilt so that he fell sideways until he crashed into the wall.

"Jim," Blair's voice warbled from a distance.

"Poor little Sentinel fall down go boom," the first man said, the words chasing Jim through the lights that stained his senses. The voice sounded soft and encouraging, but some part of Jim knew those words, fed on the anger they brought. Kincaid, Jim thought to himself. He blinked long enough to see the handsome features twisted into an evil smirk. Jim stumbled forward with a new goal. He just needed one clean shot at the man.

"Come on, little boy, I have something you'll like. All the little boys love it," Kincaid cajoled as Jim backed away. Without the wall to steady him, Jim felt his body roll from side to side. The cold smell lingered in the air, but now something new flew at him, drops landing on the hairs of his arms as he fell backwards. Hot. Too hot.

His shoulder crashed into the wall where he slid down.

"Jim!" Blair cried. "You son of a bitch. I'll fucking kill you," Blair screamed as Jim wiped at himself desperately, his skin crawling.

Blair grunted as something hit flesh, and that brought Jim's focus from his skin to his companion who lay on the floor, one arm reaching to Jim and the other cradling his stomach as he vomited up bile and blood.

"You're all so easy. The right chemicals, and you don't have enough brain cells left to figure out what we're doing. So, let's get your loyalties figured out. Feel like a game of hide the salami?"

"Leave him alone," Blair snapped weakly. Jim shook his head again as Blair struggled up an inch before the man with the voice used a foot to push him back down to the ground. This time, Blair didn't move.

"Stay out of this. Or, actually, don't stay out of this. You stay away and watch as I turn your Sentinel into mine."

"No." Blair whispered the word so softly that Jim could barely hear the sound over the slow cadence of Blair's heart.

"Jim, he called you Jim, right?" the voice called. "I can make you feel better." The voice came closer, and touched him.

Jim sighed as the burning vanished, his skin still whole despite the pain.

"Jim, I can make you feel better. I'll protect you," the voice crooned as hands touched more, cooling palms sliding up Jim's arms. Jim focused on Blair, his face hidden by hair, his fingers curling against the bare boards of the office floor.

"You bastard," Blair croaked without moving, even his fingers going still as his temperature dropped. Jim struggled forward, but hands moved against him, confusing him.

"Of course I am, but by the time I'm done, you'll be dead, and your poor little Sentinel will be mine. You'll be mine, won't you Jim?" Hands ran up under the sleeves of Jim's shirt and the one hand reached down and trailed over Jim's stomach. "I'll take the pain away. I need you," the voice offered softly as a hand moved over Jim's stomach and reached up to run over a nipple.

Jim blinked. The hands cooled the fire in his skin, but Jim ignored that as he focused his senses on Blair. The man was failing. Outside, voices gathered. They were coming.

"You'll protect me. I need you to protect me," Kincaid whispered. Jim dialed down touch as he allowed the hands to roam over his body. Men leered from near the doorway, laughing at the Sentinel disabled by their drugs. Jim shoved aside a killing rage that made him want to snap their necks with his bare hands, especially since he doubted he could walk across the room to reach them right now.

"God, please, no," Blair begged. Jim glanced toward Blair before focusing back on the man whose hands touched him. He'd remember that voice, that face, that smell.

"So confused. Just listen to me," the voice suggested and then fingers were working on Jim's pants, opening them so a hand could slip in and rub his cock. "When you aren't so confused, you'll do this for me, use those senses to figure out how to please me. Won't you?"

Jim brought a hand up to the man's shoulder, bracing himself as the world wavered in and out of focus.

"Jim, fight this. You're stronger than this."

"No Sentinel is stronger than this," the man said as he pushed Jim's pants down. He couldn't fight. He wasn't strong enough. Voices gathered. Jim focused on Blair; filtering out the stench of blood and bile, he found the pure scent of the man in the airport, the heavy musk. He sank into the feeling of a hand on his cock, stroking him so that hot pleasure gathered in his groin.

"Poor Sentinel needs to bond."

Jim knelt as a hand pushed on his shoulders.

"Poor Sentinel is going to have a new master."

"Jim," Blair cried out, desperate. Jim let the voice echo in his head. He didn't like the desperate tone, but the voice was Blair's. Jim couldn't move his body as fingers brushed over his asshole. A slick digit slipped inside, and Jim let his head droop.

"You fucking asshole," Blair cried, his voice cracking.

Jim panted as a second finger pushed in and stretched him. The pain shot up his spine, but pain or pleasure didn't matter, only that the senses stretched, pushing against his skin until he felt as though he would burst.

"Oh, you aren't using the poor boy often enough because he's so tight. Let's get those senses to open up and lock on to me, my boy," the voice urged. Jim lowered his head to the ground and keened as something large pressed into him, stretching, burning, filling. A hand reached around and started stroking Jim to hardness.

"So hot. Nothing like a kneeling, helpless Sentinel. That's why people pay so much for them, you know."

"Bastard. Fucking bastard," Blair whispered, defeated. Jim blinked and struggled to raise his head, but a hand caught the back of his neck, and he didn't have the energy to fight, not with his senses clawing under his skin like an animal fighting to get out. His arms went cold, and Jim snarled and bucked.

"Impatient. They all are," the voice said smugly.

Jim felt the pressure build up in his spine, his nerve endings tingling. When the man angled and hit the prostate, Jim gasped and struggled back up to his hands and knees.

"That's right, boy, such a good Sentinel. Open up those senses."

Jim couldn't stop his hearing from snapping open until every sound crashed into him. He jerked, and the man thrust into him harder.

~~~"Taggart, we had better be ready."

~~"I'm moving as fast as I can, Simon."

~~~"If Kincaid has..."

~~A ship captain yelling in some Asian language

~~~Rats crawling through the walls.

"Good boy."

The whispered words rattled inside Jim's head, and now the scent of blood and sweat and dust and gun oil and bile and rat filled his nose.

The cock buried in him moved faster, and now Jim humped the fist wrapped around his cock, lost in the sensory input as the world expanded.

Panting, Jim twisted as the body behind drove forward into him and then stiffened. The smell of come colored the whole world as Jim came in thick waves. His senses snapped back into place, and Jim collapsed onto the floor, his pants still around his thighs.

"Good boy," the man said as he slapped Jim's exposed ass.

"Watching your face as I took your Sentinel was much more satisfying than just beating you to death," he chuckled, turning to Blair.

"God, Jim, I'm so sorry," Blair whispered desperately, and Jim could smell salt.

"Oh, you're going to be sorry, Mr. Natural. You should have stuck to your university. Dale, get the Sentinel cleaned up. He's not going to be part of the auction. However, email our clients and let them know we will have one slightly damaged and very unwilling cop with a very pretty mouth up for sale."

"Yes, sir."

"Oh, Detective Sandburg, you are going to be very, very sorry."

The voice left, and Jim struggled to push himself up as strange hands touched his exposed ass, not that the hands were any more offensive than the drying semen cooling against his thighs, but he didn't have any control over that. He struggled to roll to one side and pull his own pants up as strange hands tried to do it for him.

"Come on, boy, up you go. I didn't know the cops let their Sentinels run around without collars."

"Who cares? We'll get him his very own collar. Something in a nice shock-control steel model. I have a feeling Sandburg is going to take more discipline than his Sentinel will though. Isn't that right, boy?" Jim had fought his way up to his knees, and a hand came to rest on his head.

Reaching up blindly, Jim grabbed the hand and twisted it viciously, using the thug's body to find his balance and surge to his feet. Someone screamed, and Jim was guessing that was the man whose arm now cracked under Jim's hands, but the sound was lost in the explosion at the front door.

Jim squinted through the pain and yanked the thug to him as his buddies went racing out the door. With his unbroken hand, the man punched Jim in the ribs, but Jim ignored the pain and reached into the man's waistband for his weapon. Immediately, the man went still as Jim pointed the gun at him, an overwhelming need to kill nearly pulling the trigger even without Jim's conscious will.

"Get out," Jim tersely ordered as he let go of the man's badly broken arm. The thug howled in pain as the broken bones jostled against his side, and then he started backing toward the door, clearly more willing to take a risk with the cops than with a drugged, out-of-control Sentinel.

When he reached the door, he staggered out, and Jim stumbled forward, kicking the door closed before he went back to Blair's side. He would prefer to get his companion somewhere safer, but Blair wasn't breathing well and had lost consciousness. Jim simply sat next to Blair, one hand on a limp arm where he could feel the soft thump of life continuing to pulse within the still body. With his other hand, he kept the weapon trained on the door.

Hearing spiked dangerously high, making Jim's ears throb, but he ignored it as police moved through the lower floor. Banks' voice called to various teams, and Jim could hear him so clearly that he opened his mouth to answer, only to forget the question. The panther crawled in the room and crouched near the door.

"It's your fault, you know," Jim pointed out without much actual anger. If he hadn't come, Sandburg would have died. The cat didn't even bother glancing back toward Jim. Maybe the cat distracted him, because suddenly the door was already open and men in black vests screamed instructions.

Jim kept his weapon focused on the tallest one's head as bloated words slipped past him. "If it weren't for that damn cat, I'd be in Canada," Jim said, and this time he did manage to find a little frustration. Blair moaned, and Jim shifted closer as he moved his hand to Blair's cheek while still keeping his weapon trained on the strange man.

"Jim," a voice called, a different voice from the one before, but familiar. Jim cocked his head but kept his eyes focused on the head of the man he was going to shoot.

"Captain Ellison," the voice demanded, and Jim blinked and turned to find Banks two feet away. "Jim, put the weapon down." He turned away from Jim. "Mendez, Roberson, get out. You do not take on a Sentinel with an injured guardian."

Jim just watched Banks as the other two shuffled backwards out the door.

"Jim, give me the weapon."

"I hate drugs."

"Not fond of them myself."

"It's the cat's fault."

"Sure," Banks agreed. "Give me the gun."

"Blair's hurt," Jim countered.

"As soon as you give me the gun, the medics will come help him. Give me the gun, and Blair gets help." Banks paused a second. "Gun then help."

Jim considered the offer. He took the bullet out of the chamber and slid the ammo clip out of the weapon before he surrendered it to Banks.

"Simon, you are one lucky son of a bitch."

"I told you Rick, he has more control that most."

"And after Kincaid dosed him with Lomal and Amalynze-9, I'm surprised he's not shooting at the pretty colors. These so-called bonding drugs really leave Sentinels illogical, and his skin is white with all the residue."

Jim turned, his muscles moving like a rusted gate as he considered the new man.

"I don't like you," Jim said as he saw Rick Yaden standing in the door with a rifle. The man backed up a step and medics came in.

"We can't treat your man with a drugged Sentinel on scene. Either restrain him or we'll have to tranquilize him, even if he's been drugged already."

"Just give me the restraints."

Jim watched one medic hand familiar chains to Banks.

"Jim," Banks said quietly. "The drugs in your system make it dangerous to give you more drugs, but if you don't let me put these on, they're going to tranq you."

Jim stared at the chains.

"Blair's mine," Jim answered.

"Yeah, yeah. The kid's been yours for a long time now. It's called an obsession."

"Blair's mine," Jim repeated. He brushed the hair back from Blair's face, and black bruises made him look distorted. "Blair's cold."

"Shock. Get the restraints on the Sentinel or we're going to have to drug him," one of the strange voices said, and the sound mutated into a cartoon voice so that Jim looked over, expecting to see a white speech bubble floating over the man's head. No bubble.

Jim then turned to watch as Simon moved slowly closer with the restraints.

"I hate drugs," Jim announced again.

"Yeah, yeah," Banks agreed as he locked the manacles around Jim's wrists.

"Blair's mine."

"You have a one-track mind, you know that don't you?" Banks complained. Jim just watched Blair's chest rise and fall as Banks reached around him with the belt for the restraints. Jim struggled to remember something.

"I don't get paid enough for this. This is technically your job, Rick."

"Yeah, but you're the one who wouldn't let me tranq him."

"Don't you think he has enough drugs in him?"

Jim felt the belt tighten around his waist.

Simon came back around to the front and the long, center chain ratcheted through the ring with a familiar clatter.

"Come on, Jim, you have to turn around here. I need your legs," Simon complained as he pushed at Jim. "And considering how much I hate these things, which you wouldn't know, but I'm telling you now, I just want to get this over with so Blair can get help. I'd let them tranq you, but Blair is going to do drunk karaoke for the next decade if you go and die." Simon muttered in frustration until Jim finally settled from his knees onto his butt so that Simon could reach his ankles.

The soreness reminded him. Jim reached out and caught Simon's hand as he finished attaching the last ankle cuff. The paramedics moved in with a flurry of equipment as they called off vitals and shouted directions. The sudden movement left streaks dancing across Jim's vision.

"I hate drugs."

"We covered this."

"Rape kit."

Simon's eyes turned to Blair with clear horror, and for a desperate second, Jim thought Kincaid had come back to rape Blair. He awkwardly lunged forward, all but falling on one paramedic before Simon could haul him back.

"Shit. I'll kill Kincaid," Simon grunted.

Smelling the air, Jim assured himself that Kincaid wasn't back, and he started shaking his head.

"Jim?" Simon asked.

"Not Blair, me," Jim corrected him. Simon turned shocked eyes towards Jim. "Nail the bastard," Jim asked as more paramedics rolled in two stretchers. They moved Blair to the first one, wrapped in blankets and medical devises sprouting from him like an overripe potato.

Hands pulled on Jim, and he awkwardly stood and allowed himself to be tipped back onto the second stretcher where someone attached the chain near his feet to the rail.

"Blair's mine," Jim muttered unhappily, his fingers reaching out, but the chain stopped him.

"We'll get you to your guardian, Sentinel. Blair's right ahead of you," a voice assured him. He didn't know the voice. Jim focused on the colors draining down from the ceiling. He hated drugs.

Jim lay in the hospital bed with his head pounding. Just out of sheer cussedness, he yanked on the chain that was anchored to the two hospital beds that had then been connected. It meant the chain vanished into the crease where the two mattresses met.

"This is your fault," Jim complained to the body lying next to him. "If you had just kept being a self-righteous, arrogant little shit, I could have made it to Canada." Jim sighed at the lack of reaction to his complaints. The machine beeped in time with the heart Jim could hear beating, and not even the Sentinel-approved cleaners could remove the sharp stink of blood.

"You need to learn how to keep yourself out of trouble. Not everyone lets their prisoners off as easily as I did," Jim lectured Blair. He traced a finger over the gauze that protected the injured wrists. The doctor said the right one was fine, but the left might suffer some ligament damage. Kincaid hadn't been very careful with his chains. They weren't the ones with soft padding like Jim now wore on his wrists and ankles.

Jim almost envied him the injuries. He wished he had something so tangible, so visual. A bleeding wound would be something he could poke and feel the pain and watch heal, but Jim had something else. He felt ghost hands drift over his hips, and he tightened his lips as he ordered his senses to forget it.

The door creaked open, but Jim ignored it.

"Blair doing okay?" a voice asked. Jim glanced over his shoulder where a familiar-looking man stood next to Banks. Banks had asked the question, though.

"He's had a rough weekend. He'll wake up when he's ready," Jim said with more confidence than he felt. Blair's breathing was shallow, and his skin had turned a color Jim usually associated with paper: old, dry paper that was ready to turn to dust at a touch.

"Are you okay?" Banks asked as he came into the room.

"I've been better," Jim admitted with another tug on the chains. Banks had the decency to look away, but the other man just continued to watch.

"I'm Rick Yaden, Sentinel division," the second man introduced himself.

"Good for you," Jim said sarcastically as he turned his attention back to Blair. He reached up and brushed curls away from his face.

"The hospital said you refused to talk to their counselor," Banks stepped closer, but Jim ignored the comment. If he wanted information, Jim was going to force him to ask for it. "They have a male counselor if it would make you more comfortable than the first one. They even have a Sentinel pair that could come in from the Institute," Banks continued.

"I'm fine," Jim insisted tersely. The counselor who had come in wanted Jim to describe how horrible it had been, but the worst horror had been the lack of horror. Despite the fact that Jim had never been bottom before, Kincaid had moved so slowly and carefully that he hadn't even torn Jim. But the very caution he'd used made Jim feel… unimportant. Looking at Blair, Jim felt guilty, but he envied the man. Kincaid thought Blair was dangerous. He hated Blair because of what Blair could do to him. Kincaid hadn't even bothered to hate or fear Jim. Eventually, the counselor had given up trying to get Jim to talk and had left the room.

"We need to get a little information here," Yaden finally said as he came closer. Jim shifted on the bed, bracing himself on an elbow so that he could at least partially sit up. With his ankles chained, it was the most dignified position that he could manage.

"Since I'm just a lowly Sentinel, and one whose judgment is highly questionable, I'm not sure why you're bothering to ask me anything." Jim watched as Yaden took a small step back. Banks sighed, studied the ceiling for a brief moment, and then focused on Jim.

"I don't like this Sentinel shit. I suspect that you dislike it even more, but there are some facts that we all have to deal with here."

"When the government says that you can be legally chained up for your own protection, I might be interested in having a discussion of facts with you. Until that time, I really don't see that we have much to talk about." Jim watched as Banks' back went stiff.

"Funny, I thought we had something in common," Banks snapped back, stepping close enough that Jim could see his jaw muscle work. "I thought we both cared about Sandburg here. But if you don't care that the kid is in more shit than he knows how to get out of, you just let me know. I'll have the doctors in here to tranq you and haul your ass out of here."

"What?" Jim demanded. He didn't even realize he was moving until his hands grasped Blair's arm, and the detective shifted in his sleep. Jim forced himself to loosen his hold. "Sandburg's a good kid. He stood up to Kincaid when most men would have been begging for mercy and offering anything in order to get out alive," Jim said as he avoided the way the threat to separate them ripped at his soul.

"Fuck," Banks whispered. "Yeah, that's our Blair. He has more heart than brains some days, even if he is a doctoral student. But you know he's in serious shit now or you wouldn't have asked me to do the rape kit," Banks quickly added.

Jim could feel the heat rise to his face. He'd survive the rape. He would. He just hated that his humiliation had become something so casually discussed.

He'd hated the obnoxious cheerfulness Kincaid had shown, as though he didn't need to strip Jim of power because Jim didn't have any. If Kincaid had chained him up and whipped him the way he'd tortured Sandburg… as perverse as it sounded, Jim would have preferred that. He would have preferred an enemy who considered him worthy of breaking instead of that asshole who assumed that as a Sentinel he came broken already.

And now Yaden and Banks came in casually discussing that rape, and Jim found his fingers again closing painfully tight around Blair's arm. Blair's breathing stopped for a brief moment before Jim realized just how tightly he was holding on. Fuck. It wasn't like the kid didn't have enough bruises already.

"You knew that Blair would be the first suspect," Banks said.

"He didn't do this; Kincaid did," Jim insisted. He definitely did not want to discuss this.

"We collected the rape sample from your kit, and we'll send that to the lab for testing. As soon as we have a court order or when Blair wakes up and gives informed consent, we'll send his sample to compare." The significance of Banks' words sank into Jim like lead pellets ripping through him.

"Informed consent," he said quietly. "You're arresting him."

Yaden stepped forward again. "Under the law, anyone who engages in sexual behaviors that interfere with a legally established bond is guilty of a class four felony rape."

"He didn't touch me."

"You weren't bonded before, and you clearly are now. That's not how this looks."

"The rape kit won't match him," Jim growled at Yaden as he narrowed his eyes and started considering all the ways he would like to murder the man. He knew ways to do it slowly… so slowly.

"Without his informed consent, we can't take that sample," Banks interrupted. "We want to help Blair, and that's why we're talking to you, off the record."

Jim sighed and spent a moment staring at the tiled ceiling. God, the plan had been so simple. Foolproof. Make the captors sympathize with him, gather resources, and escape. He'd carried it out perfectly. How had it all gotten so incredibly fucked up?

"I'm too tired to play this verbal fencing match. What do you want?" Jim finally asked. He focused on Banks, but Yaden answered.

"I looked up your records. Where is Keith Walker?"

"In his basement."

"Is he alive?" Banks demanded. Jim rolled his eyes.

"Keith is probably mad as hell right now. We're supposed to be on a camping trip, but I gave him a lecture about the evils of slavery and locked him in his own Sentinel safe-room," Jim explained. Banks blinked in surprise. "He deserved it," Jim brought home the attack, and he could see Banks shift uncomfortably.

"Is he unhurt?" Yaden asked.


"How did you break the bond with him?" Yaden pulled out a notepad and started taking notes.

Jim laughed without any humor. "I never had one. Walker's a kid. He believed what I told him, and I told him I had bonded to him."

"You were planning the escape from day one," Banks said quietly. Part of Jim wanted to get some satisfaction out of this by telling them the whole plan. The fucking government had taken his freedom, Kincaid had taken his body, but maybe he could prove to these two that he wasn't the tamed animal they assumed.

"I was," Jim said simply. No matter how much he wanted to tell them the whole story, to tell them they were idiots who didn't understand the first thing about Sentinels, he couldn't. He couldn't ruin the next runner's chance of pulling the same trick. Let them think sex was bonding.

"So, how did you end up bonding to Blair?" Simon asked, and his eyes slid over to where Blair breathed with a rough wheeze. He'd been in bad shape with bruising and swelling, and he had caught a lungful of drugs used on Jim. The bonding drugs didn't have the same effect on non-Sentinels, but in his weakened condition, they had put Blair out cold. And he stayed out cold. Jim considered how much truth and how much lie to weave into his story. He reached up and brushed a curl back from the side of Blair's mouth. No matter what Jim did, the hair seemed to have a life of its own, creeping uncontrollably toward Blair's mouth.

"At the airport, when Blair first came up to me," Jim started carefully, "I felt pulled toward him. He was good. I didn't know how good until later. But he looked that guard in the eye and lied without batting an eye. He thought on his feet, he kept calm, even when I provoked him to get an emotional response out of him, he kept his cool. He would have been one hell of an operative."

"You wanted to bond with him?" Banks asked.

"Not bad enough to give up my freedom," Jim shook his head. "And then I figured out my freedom was gone, and I let myself focus on him. I let myself focus too much." Jim remembered how he'd grabbed Blair and thrown him on the couch. "I touched him, smelled his hair, held him down."

Jim laid the foundation carefully without overplaying it. He had to hide his own ability to function without a bond, to have sex without a bondmate. They still might take Blair away. Jim's fingers tightened on the fabric of Blair's shirt at the thought, but he knew they had that power. If they did, he could still salvage the plan. He just had to convince them that he couldn't replicate the same control.

Jim ignored the voice in his head that whispered thoughts of finding Blair before he ran. He had a fantasy of tossing Blair in the trunk of some getaway car and running for the border. After Blair's speech at the precinct when he'd visited, Jim wasn't sure the man would even object all that much. The problem was that Blair's plan had included going with Jim to Canada and breaking the bond, and Jim knew he couldn't do it. Either the judge would order his bond broken and he would suffer through the madness, or he'd fight to his last breath to stay with Blair.

Even while Jim's instincts geared up, ready to fight to keep Blair, he knew the best option would be to have the bond broken. He knew the pain of a broken bond. He'd survived it with Incacha, and he would survive it with Blair.

The beginnings of a new plan formed. It would take longer, but if he could convince them that Blair had been the unknown factor, he might repeat his success at escaping. He didn't even let himself consider what would happen if they broke his bond to Blair and shoved him in a locked room in some permanent institution. He wouldn't survive losing his companion and his freedom, and Jim wasn't sure just how he felt about that potential end.

"You started the bond with Blair before you were even arrested," Banks said, putting together the pieces Jim had neatly laid out for him. Jim nodded.

"That isn't possible," Yaden argued.

"We already know something impossible happened here, so one form of impossible works just as well as any other."

"I like Blair as well as you do, but this is a lot of coincidence. He's obsessed with Jim; he quits his job over him, and then he ends up being Jim's bondmate." Yaden counted off the chain of events on his fingers.

"I don't for a second believe Blair did anything wrong."

"I hope not, but I'm trying to be realistic here. I live in the real world, and in the real world, sometimes men get caught up by their own obsessions."

"Blair didn't do anything," Jim repeated.

"I know that," Banks quickly agreed. "Now we just have to get Sentinel division and IA to believe that."

"Simon, you don't have to convince me of anything. I know that even if Blair did step over the line, he did it with the best intentions. But you have to admit he plays fast and loose with the rules. But my interest here is in protecting Jim's rights," Yaden placated Banks, and Jim tightened his jaw against the accusations that threatened to pour out. What rights? He didn't have a single one worth mentioning. But Jim choked back those thoughts because he needed to play the game. He needed to get them to see him as helpless until he could stage another escape.

Invisible hands prickled down his back, and Jim shivered at the feeling of helplessness.

The door opened again and two new police officers walked into the room. One was a horse-faced woman with grey eyes, and the other was an older man with a limp, but their body language practically screamed 'cop.'

"Clark, Ferguson, I didn't expect to see you here until Sandburg woke up," Banks said slowly. Jim could hear the stress tones on every syllable.

"Captain Banks, we have a job to do. In the face of such obvious evidence, we really don't have a choice about putting Detective Sandburg under arrest," the man answered. Jim didn't know if he was Clark or Ferguson, but he didn't care. All he cared about was the handcuffs the man carried in one hand.

"No." Jim said as he stretched as far as his own chain would allow him and reached for the arm on Blair's far side before the asshole could handcuff him, but it lay just out of his reach.

"Sentinel, I understand that this is a difficult time," the man said as he stayed on the far side of the combined bed where Jim couldn't reach him.

"Blair has injuries to both wrists. He may lose partial use of one of them from ligament damage from Kincaid hanging him from chains," Jim quickly explained. He didn't have any other weapons to defend Blair.

The cop turned and glanced at Banks.

"He's right. If you have to restrain him, you'll get an ankle restraint. I will not have you physically disabling a good detective, and if you even think about it, I will personally pay for the lawyer he'll use to sue you," Banks quickly agreed even though he hadn't been in the room when the doctor had come through.

The man hesitated for a second and then looked at his partner who headed out the door without a word.

"Are you taking custody of the Sentinel?" the man asked Yaden. Jim clenched his teeth against the increasingly familiar feeling of helplessness. His senses made Blair the most important person in his world, and his senses gave everyone else the power to take Blair away from him. Jim fought the cold rage that built in his stomach.

Logically, he knew they would break the bond. Logically, he knew he should encourage that, he should try to find a way to salvage some part of the plan. Emotionally he wanted nothing more than to grab Blair and run. He waited as Yaden considered him.

"He's been tranqed, drugged, raped, and bonded. He's stressed enough. Luckily, he has a good judge on his case, so I'll give her a call and she can bring court to him and sort out this whole mess. Let's just wait and see what she has to say," Yaden finally announced.

Jim had been clutching the edge of Blair's hospital blanket, but now he allowed himself to relax. Judges didn't move fast, so if nothing else, he had another few hours where he could touch Blair, run fingers over the rough cheek and hear the heart beating. Jim knew from his experience with Incacha that those memories could carry him through some hard times. And now, bonded to Blair, the memories of Incacha had faded to normal, so Jim needed a few new ones, a few Sentinel memories with their perfect sensory recall.

The woman reappeared, this time with a thicker shackle attached to a short chain. She locked it around Blair's slack leg and locked the other end to the bed.

"You can guard the room from outside it," Banks snapped. Clark and Ferguson headed out. "You too, Yaden. Blair doesn't need people in here who aren't his friend."

Jim watched as Yaden flushed, the small capillaries on his face darkening as blood rushed to them. He opened his mouth, but didn't say anything.

"Get out," Jim said. His words didn't carry any authority, but at least he'd said them.

"Simon, I like the kid. I worked with him for four years, and if there's any way to clear him of this, I'll do it. I know he's innocent, but I'm just trying to live in the real world."

"I don't really like your version of the real world, Rick. I remember patrolling with someone who had a little more interest in right and wrong, and a little less interest in real."

"I just don't want to see you go down with him, Simon. We've been friends for a long time." Yaden didn't wait for an answer; he turned and headed out of the door leaving Simon and Jim alone with an unconscious Blair.

"If there's anything you need to tell me, I'm here to protect Blair," Banks said several seconds after the door fell closed.

"He didn't do anything," Jim repeated. Banks nodded, but they both knew the truth: a Sentinel's words didn't carry any weight in a court of law. "The sample from Blair—the only reason you need consent is to use it against him at trial," Jim guessed.

Banks looked up. "Yeah," he agreed.

"Take a sample. Blair was exhausted and collapsed on the ground the whole time Kincaid was raping me," Jim said quietly. "You don't need to use the sample against him, and no defense lawyer is going to challenge evidence that helps clear his client."

"I already have a sample. I just wasn't sure…" Banks stopped.

"Blair isn't a rapist," Jim warned darkly.

"No, but he'd do it to keep Kincaid from killing you or forcing another bond. He'd do it if Kincaid drugged him up enough that he lost track of reality. Blair has been obsessed with you ever since I met him. He drank himself stupid and cried all night when you rejected his request. He walked around the precinct like a man who'd just had to shoot his rabid dog for days after you announced you were going to bond to Walker. Give him enough drugs, and he'd be happy to try and create a bond," Banks said quietly as he stepped to the side of the bed. He touched Blair's arm lightly.

"I hope you know how much he cares about you." Banks looked up at Jim, and held his gaze for several seconds. "I hope you really get that."

"I'm the one with instincts that won't let me leave him," Jim pointed out.

"No, Blair doesn't have instincts. He just has this sense of morality and obligation big enough to match your instincts. Blair can't walk away from anyone who needs him. Other people's needs calls to him just like your need to stay with your bondmate calls to you," Banks said quietly. "Don't fuck with him, Ellison."

Jim studied the man for a moment and then nodded. Funny, he was chained to a bed, and yet Banks still felt a need to threaten him. It felt good.

"I won't," Jim promised, hoping he could keep his word on that.

"Okay, let's get this show on the road," the judge said as she pushed into the hospital room. Jim ignored her, focusing on Blair's even heartbeat as he worried about the flurry of motion that trailed after the woman. Six hours. He'd had six hours with Blair, but Jim braced himself for the inevitable.

Rick Yaden followed her, and then Simon and a couple of doctors, only one of whom looked familiar, and her bailiff and a woman with a transcribing machine and Keith and the social worker. Jim flinched a little at Keith. The man didn't look any worse for wear after a long weekend locked in his own basement, but he could just imagine how angry the kid was.

"Captain Yaden, I'm going to have you recap this because I read the emergency custody report in the car on the way over, and I was getting whiplash just trying to keep up. Bailiff, clear out a corner for Tina; the woman doesn't have room for her machine."

The bailiff nodded and quickly moved the two doctors away from the table beside Blair's bed, putting the water pitcher on the ground before he pulled it across the linoleum with an ungodly screech. Jim narrowed his eyes, but Blair continued to sleep. Jim wasn't sure whether that was a good or a bad sign.

"Judge, Captain Banks from Major Crimes called me with information on a warehouse where Garrett Kincaid was holding a number of Sentinels for sale. We recovered James Ellison at that location."

"And you recovered Mr. Walker from his basement of his house. Captain Banks, you seem to have come into this a little earlier than Captain Yaden here. Why don't you start?"

Jim shifted around so that he could get one elbow under him and watch with a sort of resigned.... not amusement, but maybe irony. He knew the whole story, but the judge wasn't asking him any of it. He shifted forward and stroked Blair's cool skin as he ignored the circus.

"Monday morning, I got notification of a 911 call involving one of my officers, Detective Sandburg."

"And this would be the Detective Sandburg who is still unconscious after being tortured by Kincaid?" the judge asked as she seated herself on a folding chair her bailiff brought in from the hall.

"Yes, your honor."

"The same Blair Sandburg currently charged with initiating an illegal bond?"

"Yes, your honor."

Jim could hear the tightness in Banks' voice.

"And it's definitely the same Blair Sandburg who applied for custody of James when he appeared in my court. I have to tell you, I do not like coincidence."

"Your honor," Banks interrupted, "Detective Sandburg is an excellent officer. Dispatch had dismissed the report as a prank call after a Sentinel at the scene failed to find anything, but standard operating procedure put the report on my desk. When Detective Sandburg did not show up for work or answer his cell phone, I sent a uniform over to his house. Detective Sandburg and his car were missing. An APB found his car in the warehouse district, stripped to the frame."

"And no one had any report about James escaping at this point?"

"No, your honor," Yaden answered. "That would have come to my office, and we didn't have any reports."

"I was still in the basement," Keith interjected, his voice tight with anger.

"And this would be where it gets really strange," the judge sighed.

"A man came to the precinct, claiming to have information on Detective Sandburg. I paid him sixty dollars and he said that dock workers had described Sandburg getting dragged off when helping a couple of Sentinels in the same neighborhood as the 911 call," Simon explained.

"Which gave you reason to trust its veracity, but you didn't have any suspicions about James at all?"

"No, your honor. He looked strung out, his clothes were rumpled and dirty, and he hadn't shaved that morning. He looked like most of my snitches, except for being a little better fed."

"Which might have simply meant he was a very successful snitch," the judge sighed. "Okay, at this point, you called Captain Yaden." The judge said it in a tone of voice that made it very clear she knew he hadn't.

"No, your honor," Banks said. Jim looked up from Blair to see how Banks was going to talk his way out of this one. Jim knew he'd backed Banks into a corner, but the man had broken a few regulations on his own. "Joe, who I now know was Mr. Ellison, said he had a problem with Yaden and that we could find Sandburg on our own from there if we called him in."

"So, James clearly wasn't bonded to Detective Sandburg at that point if he was willing to walk away. However, I don't understand why you weren't on the phone with Captain Yaden two seconds later."

"Your honor," Banks said carefully, "most snitches know a lot more than they're willing to tell right up front. The longer you get them to talk, the more information they let slip. I took two of my men, and we headed for the warehouse district. Sure enough, Joe showed us a specific building. The moment he identified the building, I did contact Captain Yaden, and the Sentinel unit arrived twenty minutes later."

"I think you skipped a couple of interesting parts, Captain Banks," the judge said as she raised her eyebrows.

"Outside the warehouse, Joe showed signs of enhanced hearing. I questioned him, and he didn't deny anything, so I retreated to my team where we discussed the possibility that he was a Sentinel."

"And did someone get a tranq weapon?"

"Before we could make any decision, Joe came back and stood between us and the car with the weapon in the trunk. Rather than risk escalating a situation, I chose to not confront him. I suspected at that point that he might be an escaped Sentinel from the warehouse, in which case he had a legitimate reason to go into a rage. Police procedure is very clear in these situations. If the Sentinel can not be subdued, we keep property and civilians out of harm's way. Physical confrontation with an emotional Sentinel is a last choice."

"So, you thought Kincaid had your detective and that Joe had gotten away from him. And no one thought that the Sentinel in question had a guardian? You could have easily found out that James Ellison belonged to Detective Walker with one call to the precinct." The judge glanced over toward Keith.

"I didn't know who Jim was at that point."

"But I thought from the report..."

"He identified himself only after that point, your honor. He then started showing signs of Sentinel distress over Detective Sandburg. He insisted that he was going in after him."

"And you got the tranq and stopped him for his own good, correct? I just must have missed that part in the report," the judge said dryly.

"Your honor, he was still between us and the tranq weapon. Before we could do anything else, Jim charged the building."

The judge sighed.

Jim just couldn't keep his silence any more. "Kincaid was beating Sandburg, telling him about the sexual sadists he was going to sell Blair to. I couldn't stand out there and listen to Blair die."

"James, I understand that the recent breaking of your bond with Detective Walker and the forced bond with Detective Sandburg has, no doubt, clouded your judgment."

"I never bonded with Keith," Jim said, ignoring the part of him that wanted to point out that the whole system had a clouded judgment. It didn't matter what he said; as a Sentinel, it would just get dismissed anyway, so he saved his breath.

"Detective Walker, did you bond with James or not? I have paperwork you filed right here."

"I don't know, your honor," Keith answered honestly. Jim studied him, but the man kept his eyes focused on the judge or on Yaden or even the floor. Guilt tugged at Jim.

"Okay," the judge sighed, "I don't mean to seem condescending here, but do we need to have the birds and the bees talk? There really should be a yes/ no answer to that question."

"Keith and I had sex; we didn't bond," Jim answered for Keith.

"Dr. Tarlson, I know I've only been doing Sentinel law for, I don't know, thirty-six years, but maybe there's some fine print that I didn't know about. An unbonded, adult Sentinel has sex. They pretty much bond, yes?"

One of the two doctors looked up from his notes.

"Your honor, the literature would suggest--"

"Don't even start with your medical double talk. Someone in this room has to have a yes, no answer here."

"No," Jim answered in the following silence.

The judge looked at Jim, really looked at him, for the first time since she had come into the room. "Succinct. Not necessarily useful, but succinct. So, Dr Tarlson, could you be equally as succinct and a little more useful?"

The doctor in question stared at the judge for several seconds, no doubt adding up his bank account and trying to decide if he could afford a contempt of court fine.

"During the sex with Detective Walker, did you experience any change in your senses?" the doctor finally asked Jim.

"They started becoming more intense, so I focused on a memory to avoid really seeing Keith," Jim answered truthfully. "I never felt any strong protectiveness towards Keith although I do think he's a good officer, and I wouldn't stand by and let anyone hurt him. It wasn't even particularly difficult for me to physically overpower him and lock him in the basement." The doctor's eyebrows shot up, and he turned to the second doctor who just looked bewildered.

"So, sex-bonding, bonding-sex, what do we have going here?" the judge prompted.

The second doctor spoke for the first time. "Some Eastern researchers suggest that bonding is more emotional than actually..."

The first doctor cut him off. "I don't think we need to need to look toward bad medicine for an answer. Your honor, Ellison's actions in Detective Walker's house precludes a bond, so if Detective Walker confirms they had sex, I would call the case an aberration. Reviewing the records, Ellison has endured more stress than most Sentinels ever do, so it might be an inability to properly bond at all created by trauma or it may be some way in which post-traumatic flashbacks interfered with his ability to focus on the present."

"That sounds suspiciously like you don't know," the judge snorted.

"Your honor--"

"Never mind. Captain Yaden, would you be so kind as to describe the events in the warehouse?"

"We used a small explosive charge on the front of an armored vehicle to take out the front doors, and then we came in with the Sentinel unit and two SWAT units. On the first floor, we recovered fourteen Sentinels, all traumatized, starved, and physically beaten to lower their resistance."

"Too bad you didn't find Kincaid. I wouldn't mind sentencing him to some of his own medicine," the judge muttered. "Tina, don't transcribe that."

"He was on the second floor when the explosion hit, but not in the room with us," Jim added.

"Are you sure? The report says you had been heavily drugged and were hallucinating." The judge looked at Jim with the expression his father had always used when Jim had been a child and said something particularly stupid.

"He would have shot Sandburg if he had been in the room," Jim pointed out. "There were two men in with us, and neither was Kincaid. I broke one man's arm and the other fled."

"We did arrest one suspect with a spiral fracture of the arm," Banks confirmed.

"Well, good for you, James," the judge nodded with a small smile. "Couldn't have happened to a nicer slimeball. Tina, leave the slimeball comment out. Okay, let's table the discussion of sex and bonding and just say that James didn't bond with Detective Walker. Oh, and James, the letter you left was rather confusing. You lead me to believe that Keith was patient and competent, but then you locked in him in his basement. The ideas seem mutually exclusive."

The judge continued to sort the papers she had in the file balanced on her lap, so Jim didn't realize at first that she expected an actual answer. She finally stopped and looked up at him expectantly.

"Your honor?" Jim asked, not quite sure what she wanted answered.

"How did Detective Walker treat you? Was there some abuse there that interfered with your ability to bond?"

Jim hesitated. The judge stared at him, and Keith's back went stiff as Jim thought through various answers. "Keith treated me fairly, but to be honest, he never had a chance of bonding with me," Jim said, deciding in an instant to continue his lie from earlier.

"Gender specific? Jim, if you'd prefer a female guardian, you only have to request one," the judge said, clearly confused and concerned. Jim shook his head.

"In the airport, when I was captured," Jim said slowly. "Detective Sandburg was quick-witted and calm and he smelled good." Jim could see that the logical arguments didn't impress the judge, but she nodded knowingly when he mentioned Blair's scent. Yeah, just chalk it all up to a Sentinel thing.

"If you felt a connection, why did you reject Detective Sandburg's request? He was on my short list of choices for your guardian."

"I wanted to be free," Jim said quietly. The judge just blinked at him, clearly not understanding, and Jim tightened his fingers around the chains that locked him to the bed. It shouldn't be a difficult concept.

"I was avoiding Blair because I knew I couldn't avoid bonding with him. When Keith and I had sex, instead of focusing on Keith, I remembered Blair. When Kincaid raped me, I focused on Blair who was lying on the floor three feet away trying to goad Kincaid into torturing him and leaving me alone."

The judge glanced down toward Blair who still lay unconscious on the bed.

"He never participated in the rape?"

"He couldn't even move an inch," Jim insisted firmly.

"Doctor?" the judge turned toward the younger doctor, the one who had been cut off so quickly. Now Jim recognized him as the doctor who'd been in earlier to examine Blair.

"With the swelling and contusions, I doubt that Detective Sandburg could have even stood on his own feet. He wouldn't have been able to engage in any sexual act, in my professional opinion."

"We have a rape kit being tested right now," Banks added. "I'm sure it will prove that Kincaid and not Blair was the perpetrator."

"So, that leaves just a couple of problems. First, what do I do with a Sentinel who can clearly fake a bond? I mean, James, it's a little hard to trust you to a new guardian after this stunt. The safest course would be an institution."

"I wouldn't run again; I wouldn't leave Blair," Jim said quickly. He looked down at the slack face and remembered the way Blair had struggled to distract Kincaid. "I couldn't leave Blair."

"That's debatable. However, the more interesting question is how you found Detective Sandburg in the first place." The judge put the stack of papers down and stared at Jim. Jim tightened his jaw, unwilling to make himself look like a nutcase by describing the jaguar, but he obviously needed to say something. He sighed, realizing he truly was trapped on this issue. As much as he hated referring to his Sentinel instincts as having any control over his life, there wasn't any logical explanation for his behavior.

"I just felt like Blair needed me," he shrugged, the motion awkward with the chain in place.

"I had the car and the supplies. I had even picked out a gun store to rob before running for the border. I got the collar off." Jim looked down. "Then I couldn't leave. Something in me just knew that Blair was in trouble, and I found myself driving the warehouse district trying to find him."

"Your honor, there are case studies of Sentinels identifying danger to their guardians over long distances, sometimes even experiencing hallucinations as their senses process such vast quantities of data that they can sense bondmates dozens of miles away."

"Unsubstantiated and unscientific studies. Myths," the older doctor disagreed haughtily.

"But when I look at a case like this, those romantic stories do seem just a little more possible," the judge pointed out. "Obviously, I don't have any weight in the criminal proceeding. But in this country, a man is innocent until proven guilty. Unless a court of law convicts Detective Sandburg of this rape, I find him a suitable guardian for James Ellison. Tina, draw up an order transferring guardianship from Detective Walker to Detective Sandburg. Okay, unless someone has something else to say, I'm calling this one a wrap, a messy and legally questionable wrap, but a wrap. Captain Yaden, have someone from the Sentinel Institute in to get James a new collar, and make sure those chains stay on until Detective Sandburg is up and about."

"Yes, your honor," Yaden quickly answered.

"I just might have time to actually make dinner," the judge said as she stood up. She strode from the room, her high heeled shoes tapping sharply against the floor, and Jim watched the rest of the circus follow her out.

Jim noticed the moment Blair's vital signs started improving. It made a nice change from staring at the white ceiling wondering if he could go insane by counting by the freckles in the finish. He hadn't started counting yet for fear that he could, but he'd been tempted.

Now he turned his head and watched as Blair's closed eyes twitched and rolled, obviously lost in a nightmare. Jim curled his fists, caught between fury for the man whose injuries had kept him from running for the border and sympathy for the man's pain. Sympathy won.

"Calm down, Chief," Jim muttered softly as he stroked Blair's arm.

Blair started twitching, his heart rate increasing dangerously.

"Blair. Wake up. It's just a dream; come on, Chief," Jim said a little louder. The heart rate spiked even more, fear scenting the air as Blair's eyelids finally fluttered open. Blair gasped, his near hand clutching Jim's hand while his eyes darted around the room.

"Calm down, Chief," Jim repeated. "You're in the hospital. You're safe."

"Wha?" Blair managed before he coughed, his mouth too dry to really talk. Jim rolled his eyes as he realized the bailiff had never put the sidetable back. Blair's water pitcher and glass were on the floor where neither of them could reach it, and the table was still over near the far wall.

"Hit the button," Jim said as he pointed toward the call button near Blair's other side. Blair swallowed and blinked for a second before he reached up and pressed the thing.

"How?" he asked, swallowing more as his throat protested. They'd pumped his stomach when they'd first arrived, and Jim could hear the pained grunt when Blair struggled to speak. He needed water.

"The police got there. They saved the Sentinels, but Kincaid got away," Jim answered. Blair's eyes had been traveling the room, but now they focused on Jim as he frowned. He made a circular motion with his hand, a clear 'go on' signal.

"I don't know what else you want. The police sure haven't given me any updates on Kincaid, so I don't know if they caught him."

Blair rolled his eyes.

"You," he hoarsely whispered. "Why are you here?"

Jim sighed as he considered all the possible answers to that question. "I'm going to assume you're asking why am I chained here with you as opposed to why I'm not in Canada where I should be, where I would have been if these damn senses hadn't suddenly decided to hijack my life again."

Blair opened his mouth, but Jim started talking before he could say anything. "Kincaid's little drug cocktail didn't work the way he expected. I couldn't totally control the senses, but I sure wasn't going to bond to the asshole who was raping me," Jim snorted. "The judge awarded you... custody... about two hours ago, but you slept through it."

Just then, a nurse walked in. "You're awake," she smiled brightly at Blair. "You were out for quite a while, so I can't offer you too much in the way of painkillers."

"He needs water," Jim said. "Some idiot moved the pitcher and didn't put it back."

"Oh," the nurse said as she looked around the room. "They did leave a mess. Okay, I'll pour you a glass, and then have maintenance move things back around in here." She bent down and poured the water before standing up with a single paper cup full. "Sentinel, can you help him? Make sure he doesn't spill or choke?"

"I was a medic; I can handle a glass of water," he answered dryly.

"*I* can handle a glass," Blair wheezed. The nurse looked at him suspiciously, but she turned to the bed controls, raising the head of the bed so that Blair sat up. Jim's bed moved with his.

"Those arms are going to hurt," she warned without giving him the water.

"Can you give me enough slack here to catch the glass when Mr. Overdoes It here drops it?" Jim asked as he pulled on the chain that vanished into the crack between the beds. The nurse looked at him for a second before nodding and moving to the foot of the bed where those controls were. A motor whirred, and Jim pulled the extra slack up.

"Thanks," he said tightly, still hating the fact he had to ask, but he was back to playing the game, and this time he couldn't afford a mistake. Okay, he couldn't afford another mistake because as far as the plan went, it was pretty much in shambles. Jim had fully expected to have the judge order him removed, and that would have at least put the plan back on track. He'd be miserable, but the plan would be on track. Now... okay now the plan was definitely derailed somewhere.

"Now, let's get Detective Sandburg some water," the nurse said as she walked around and handed Jim the cup. Blair glared.

"Drink up, Chief," Jim said sweetly. The nurse smiled; Blair glared harder. But as Blair brought his hands up to take the glass, he made a pained whine and let them fall back to the mattress. For a second he panted, his eyes closed as he muttered a string of 'fucks' that made Jim forget that he was angry at the kid. That had hurt.

"I'd give you something, but you were unconscious for a long time, and Dr. Moodie wants to have some tests done before we give you anything more," the nurse offered apologetically.

"It's okay," Blair lied. Jim held the plastic cup up to his lips, and this time Blair drank slowly without trying to take it himself. Seeing that Jim had his guardian in hand, the nurse gave him a smile and headed back to her station.

"Thanks," Blair said as Jim lowered the cup.

"Hey, I live to serve," Jim joked sarcastically as he pulled on his ankle hard enough to make the chain rattle. He watched as Blair's face slowly reddened. With Sentinel vision, Jim could see the veins darken and thicken under the blushing skin.

"I never meant..." Blair waved vaguely toward the chains.

"Sure you did. The chains you put on me in your apartment--they were yours," Jim pointed out. Blair's blush deepened.

"Okay, I deserved that. But what the hell is going on here? Okay, I'm very glad to not wake up as a sex slave to some sadist who gets off on torturing a cop, but I have to say I had kinda braced myself for it."

"Simon was outside before I ever came in the warehouse," Jim admitted.

"Simon... what? Why the hell did Simon let you come charging in then?"

"He didn't *let* me do anything," Jim snapped as he sat back, moving to the far side of his own bed. It only gave him about a couple of feet of space, but at least the distance helped Jim control his suddenly overwhelming urge to slap Sandburg. Hitting the guardian had absolutely no place in the plan. Well, not unless it included hitting him over the head, dumping him in the trunk of his car and running for Canada.

"So you just came charging in? Oh man, Kincaid could have just shot you. Okay, why didn't Kincaid's guys just shoot you?"

"Because they'd rather capture a Sentinel."

Blair narrowed his eyes and studied Jim for a second. "Okay, I have seen you, and without the collar, which you don't seem to have on, you are the most un-Sentinel like Sentinel I've ever seen. So, how the hell were they supposed to tell you were a Sentinel?"

Jim stared at a spot over Blair's head. "I let the instincts take over," he admitted. That somehow felt even dirtier than the rape he'd endured.

What Kincaid had done had been something over which Jim had no control. Hell, from the first time he'd looked across the football field and spotted his fallen watch, he'd known to expect that. He still remembered his father kneeling on one knee, explaining how Sentinels were raped and how he could never let anyone see what he could do. Jim remembered his father's fingers digging into his arms.

But letting go of his control had been a choice. If Jim had to do it again, he would in order to save Blair, but the memory of his body acting without any sort of plan, without any reason or logic, it made the hairs on his arms stand up.

Jim looked over to see why Blair was silent. The man stared at him, blue eyes searching for something in Jim's face.

"You lost control over me?" he asked slowly.

"Yeah," Jim reluctantly agreed. "I couldn't let Kincaid kill you."

"Oh man. Over me? But that would mean...."

"That means that you were an idiot for getting caught, and I did what I had to if I wanted to get you out of trouble, Shorty."

"I remember you charging in," Blair said, his voice faint as he struggling with his memory. "Kincaid thought you were my Sentinel."

"I'm not anyone's Sentinel. All this bullshit about guardianship..." Jim stopped before he could go too far. Damn it; this wasn't how to play the game.

"God, Jim, you don't have to edit yourself. Man, I know you think this is bullshit, and I think I've made myself pretty clear on the matter too. I mean, the very fact you have as much control as you do has seriously changed the way I see the whole thing. And then the whole point about the Institute actually reducing control... that really has made me rethink the whole Sentinel deal."

"I know you've changed since you brought me in," Jim said slowly, feeling out his words.

"But you think I'd what... rat you out? Go running to the judge and tell her you weren't playing good little Sentinel? Fuck, I wouldn't do that, and don't even go treating me like I'm one of the enemy. If you want to have it out, then let's have it out, but I'm not sending you to some permanent facility or requesting someone break the bond."

"Have it out?" Jim asked, amused by the way Blair's determination turned to sudden anger.

"Yeah!" Blair's anger faded as quickly as it had appeared. "Just, maybe we could wait on the whole having it out until some time when my head is not trying to stage a mutiny and fall off my body," he asked tiredly.

"I don't know. With my hands chained, you still might have the advantage here, Chief." Jim gave a dark huff of laughter before leaning back into the mattress and staring at the freckled white ceiling.

"Oh fuck, the chains. God, Jim, I'm just so tired that I'm fucking up. I know that. I'll call someone and get you out of them, and then we'll figure something out," Blair said as he reached for the call button again.

"Forget it, Junior," Jim advised. They won't take my chains off until they take your chain off."

"What?" Blair asked, his hand halfway to the button.

"Check out your left leg."

Jim watched in amusement as Blair kicked his left leg and felt the restraint pull tight.

"Oh man, what the hell is this for?"

"You're under arrest for rape."

"What?!!" Blair nearly squeaked. "Hey, that is so not fair. I didn't do anything."

"Fair. Fair. I remember that word from somewhere, but I just can't seem to remember where," Jim mused sarcastically.

"Okay, this is a bad dream. I only thought I woke up, but I'm really asleep in some drug-induced coma while Kincaid sells me. That would actually make more sense than all this. What do you mean I'm under arrest for rape? I would never do something like that. Never. I wouldn't even be able to get it up for a rape. And whatever explanation you use, just keep in mind that at this point, I suspect you might be a drug-induced hallucination."

"Chief, I know. Calm down," Jim said calmly as he heard the heart rate climb and the panic-sour leak into air around Blair. "Simon did a rape kit on me, and they're testing it now. They'll have proof in a day or two that you didn't touch me."

"Oh fuck. Kincaid raped you. Oh Jim. Man, I'm going to find that fucker and cut his dick off."

"No, you aren't," Jim snapped, and Blair's eyes went wide as he froze in place. "I am not some fucking child you need to protect, Sandburg. In case it has escaped your attention, I can kill him myself, far more effectively than you could. So take this patronizing attitude and shove it before I decide to shove it somewhere you won't like very much."

Jim stopped, his anger and his need to reassure Blair at war as he tightened his jaw and glared at his companion. For long minutes, they stared at each other, and slowly Blair's body relaxed.

"Okay, you're totally right. You're the covert ops guy, and I'm a grad student who they let play with a gun," Blair said. "But I was so not meaning that as patronizing; I was going more for righteous indignation. I would have said the same thing if the asshole had raped Simon or Rick or me."

"He'd go through my dead body first," Jim growled, realizing just a half second too late that his response was more instinct-driven than rational. "I wouldn't stand by and let Kincaid hurt anyone, and if there's a way to track him down, I will."

"Riiight," Blair said slowly.

"Don't start," Jim warned darkly. God, he couldn't get his balance here. His normally controlled emotions vacillated between extremes, and Jim took a deep breath as he tried to find the calm center where he'd always retreated when he'd feared losing control.

"Hey, I'm not saying anything about the fact that your instincts seem to be in overdrive," Blair said as he made a very odd face.

"Look, I never said Sentinels didn't have instincts. If we didn't, I would have left your ass hanging in Kincaid's warehouse." Jim failed to find his control, and he snapped the words out like knives. However, his anger vanished when Blair's heart rate spiked again. Fuck.

"Chief," Jim started again, far softer this time.

"Hey, I'm good. I'm fine. I"m under fucking arrest for rape and having nightmares about being turned into a sex slave, but I'm good, so you don't get to patronize me, either."

"I know about the sex slave fear," Jim sighed. "Look, I wouldn't have left you in there, instincts or no instincts. The Ranger's motto is sua sponte, and I live by that; I have for too long to change now."

"Of one's own accord."

"Exactly," Jim agreed with the translation. "Rangers don't wait to be told what to do. We just do the right thing of our own accord. Or at least, I did act on my own accord before someone decided that another Latin phrase fit me better: non compos mentis."

"Man, that sucks. I get that now," Blair nearly whispered. Jim looked over at the other man, and sighed.

"Yeah, you get it. You understand that it's wrong to take a man's freedom, but it doesn't really change much, Chief. Hell, right now, you don't even have the right to take these off me because I'm essentially under arrest as long as you are." Jim raised his hands and looked at the dangling chain.

"Arrested. Simon has got to be giving birth to kittens," Blair muttered. "And how long have I been out of it? I have class."

"It's Monday afternoon," Jim answered, "and you should be out of here just as soon as the rape kit comes back. After all, you didn't actually do anything illegal."

Blair's heart rate soared.

"Blair?" Jim asked as he twisted around to face the detective better.

"Hey, I did not do anything illegal that night," Blair emphatically insisted, and his heart rate remained steady.

"What did you do?" Jim asked as he narrowed his eyes. Yeah, Kincaid had said that Blair was trying to help some Sentinels, but Jim suddenly wondered what exactly had gone on.

"Nothing," Blair insisted defiantly. His heart rate climbed slightly until he tried to cross his arms, and then it spiked as Blair hissed in pain. "Fuck that hurts."

"Yeah, you're going to be sore for a few days," Jim agreed. "Finish off the water; it'll help your soreness. After they give you some drugs, we can do some stretches."

"I thought you hated me?" Blair asked as Jim brought the cup with the last of the water up to his lips.

"I hate the system, Chief. And I hate your part in the system, but I don't hate you. I just think you need a little retraining of your own." Jim took the cup away when Blair finished. Since no one had shown up to put things back yet, Jim flipped the cup over Blair's bed where it clattered to the floor.

"Retraining? I'm not a dog."

"And I'm not a slave," Jim quickly answered.

"Oh man, this is going to be fun, isn't it?" Blair asked as he stared up at the ceiling. "And here I was thinking that if I could just get custody of you, it'd all be magically fine."

"There's no magic here, Sandburg. Just two stubborn men, only one of which is right."

"Okay, I'm tired and in pain, so can we let the philosophical arguments go until I might have a chance of explaining my position?" Blair asked while still staring at the ceiling. "Right now, all I care about is getting some sleep and some pain killers, and I am so not one for drugs normally."

"I had hoped you'd agree to talk before the doctor came in here and prescribed anything," a voice said from the door. Jim ignored it. He'd registered the sound of footsteps in the hallway, and the scent of gun oil and copy paper and stale coffee just about shouted 'cop' to his senses.

"Aldo," Blair said, his voice full of quiet disgust. "Ray Aldo, Jim Ellison. Jim, this is Aldo from I.A."

Jim paid attention now. Distress radiated from Blair as his muscles tightened and his scent changed. Whoever this guy was, Jim already didn't like him.

"I always knew you were a fast talker Blair, but getting custody of the man you're accused of raping... that has to be a new low for our judicial system," Aldo said as he walked into the room, all classic Italian looks with dark hair slicked back and dark eyes. Jim pretty much hated him on sight. Behind him walked a woman, long red hair, and a silver collar flashing under the bright florescent lights.

Blair's eyes flicked toward the other Sentinel, but Aldo didn't introduce her. Jim hated him even more.

"What do you want, Aldo? Are you even supposed to be here if I don't have a rep or at least Banks here?" Blair asked as he squirmed to sit up a little more.

"I don't know; do you need a rep, Sandburg?"

"Man, I didn't do anything illegal, so don't go twisting this. Hey, since you're here, you mind dragging that table back over here?" Blair asked as he gestured toward the out of place furniture.

"Move it yourself," Aldo answered as he promptly sat on the edge of the table and pulled a notepad out of his pocket. The red-haired Sentinel stood near the door, ignoring Jim's attempts to make eye contact with her. "So, describe the events of this weekend."

"Describe the events?" Blair laughed. "Fine. I got a call, I investigated, I got kidnapped and tortured, Kincaid raped Jim and I did a big old nothing to stop it because I was flopping around on the floor like a fish, and then nothing, nada, comatose-land. That's my weekend. You know, I *still* bet it was better than yours."

Aldo glanced up from his notes with a frown. "Look, no one likes this. Not you or me or Banks. But let's face some facts. You're wandering the warehouse district alone at night. You end up with the one Sentinel you really lust over bonding to you, and you expect us to buy that nothing funny happened. If you're not going to come clean for yourself, then save Major Crimes the major embarrassment of having one of their own convicted."

"He's not going to be convicted of anything," Jim broke in. "The rape kit is going to prove exactly what I said: he never touched me."

"Sentinel, I'm sure your protective instincts toward your guardian make this difficult for you. The judge truly is an idiot for not protecting you by getting you away from Sandburg, but a criminal conviction..."

"Save it," Jim snapped. "And your chance of getting a criminal conviction is about zero and falling."

"I don't think you--"

"No," Blair snapped, "you don't think. You know what, just ask your damn questions and then get out of here so I can get some sleep. It's been a hard weekend," Blair snapped, shutting Aldo up for a second as he studied the two of them.

Slowly, the IA detective gave an unctuous smile. "Fine. Let's start with why you were down in the warehouse district."

"I got a call from Ruby, one of my old contacts. If you want her number, give Rick in Sentinel division a call. She offered--"

"You got a call from an informer from your time working with Sentinel division, and you didn't *call* the Sentinel division?"

Blair sighed. "Man, the point of interrogation is to get the other person talk. You don't get that, do you? A good ninety percent of the time, tips about Sentinels are nothing more than junkies talking to the walls. I went to check it out. When I discovered at least one Sentinel who was clearly in some serious distress, I immediately tried to call Rick."

Jim listened. Blair's heart beat steadily, but Jim was still getting the idea that the kid wasn't saying something. Hopefully Aldo was as stupid as he looked and he wouldn't spot the same creative skipping around the topic.

Blair coughed before he kept going. "Only when I tried to make the call, the Sentinel panicked and tried to protect me by grabbing me and getting between me and this car. At the time, I thought he was just being irrational. And then the phone got knocked out of my hand and Kincaid's men grabbed me," Blair finished. Aldo sat and stared at Blair for several seconds with an expression like he'd just found cockroach guts on his shoe.

"So, you're a trained detective, and you manage to lose your phone and your gun? Sandburg, that's impressive, even for you." Aldo looked over toward Jim. "But then he managed to overpower you too, so maybe it's just Sentinels you can't seem to handle? Is that why you left Sentinel division?"

"Fuck off, Aldo. The Sentinel was panicked. He wanted to protect me, but when he shoved me away, telling me to run, he accidentally slammed me into the building. I lost control of my weapon. He did his best to try and stop these two thugs, but by the time I grabbed my weapon, one of the thugs had a gun pointed at my head. I either had to surrender or have my brains splattered against the wall. And Jim had nothing to do with that night."

Jim jerked at his chains, the description enough to make him feel a surge of adrenaline. Aldo looked over, but at least Blair had the good sense to ignore it.

"They shoved me in the trunk, and when they opened the trunk again, the car was parked inside the warehouse and Kincaid was standing right there." Jim could hear Blair's heart rate slowly start to accelerate.

"And I showed up there later because I knew Blair was in trouble. He had nothing to do with it," Jim added, and Aldo focused on Jim now. "You can read the transcript from the custody hearing."

"I did. I'm surprised that idiot judge is still on the bench, but then again, I suppose her lack of judgment is why she's stuck babysitting Sentinels."

Jim felt a wave of rage that left him glaring at Aldo and considering any number of ways to inflict pain without leaving physical evidence. He shrugged coldly, as though the matter made no difference to him. "She makes more money than you," Jim answered, assuming that would strike a nerve. From the way Aldo tensed up, it did.

"So, you felt some sort of indefinable pull even though you had no bond with Detective Sandburg?" Aldo demanded. "This is strange enough to be unbelievable."

"I did have a connection," Jim corrected him. "I was attracted to Blair the minute he came up to me at the airport. He had guts. Guts and intelligence, and after a decade spent as a Ranger and months on the run, I've learned to respect those traits." Jim made sure to look at Aldo in a way to make his lack of respect for the other man perfectly clear.

"So, you started bonding? Well, that must have attracted some attention--you two doing it in the middle of the airport."

"Aldo, you are on dangerously thin ice here," Sandburg warned as he sat up. The movement cost him, and he grunted in pain as his heart raced.

"Save it, Chief. This guy's a moron. There's no reason to talk to him at all until the rape kit comes back."

"If you don't get this cleared up, your career is in danger, Sandburg."

"Jim's right. There's no point in talking to you, so, since I'm under arrest," Blair pulled at his leg, "first, you can't use that statement since no one read me my Miranda rights. At least no one bothered to read me my rights since I've been conscious. Second, I choose not to talk to you without my lawyer. Since I don't have a lawyer and I don't plan on getting one, that may be a while. Get lost, Aldo."

The other detective stood up and looked from Jim to Blair. "IA is watching," he warned.

"Oh man, do you have any idea how funny that sounds?" Blair huffed. "IA is watching," Blair mocked. "That sounds like 'Big Brother is watching.' But I don't think you're smart enough to have read that book, are you?"

"Funny, Sandburg, very funny. You step out of line, and you're going to find out how funny," Aldo threatened as he stormed out the door, his Sentinel hurrying after him.

"That doesn't even make sense," Blair shouted after the man, his voice cracking. "Oh man, now I want more water," he complained softly, dropping back onto the bed and sighing. "Fucking arrogant, ass-kissing, dumb fuck FUCKER," Blair shouted toward the open door, but Aldo was gone, nearly to the elevators now. Of course, his Sentinel could hear Blair, but she didn't seem to be repeating the insult.

"You feel better now that you got that out of your system?" Jim asked.

"Hell, yeah."

Jim listened as Aldo reached the elevator and got in while asking his Sentinel if she had detected any lies. She quickly answered that Blair had been truthful, and Jim smiled. The woman obviously didn't know Blair that well, and neither did Aldo. Carefully, Jim screened out the hospital noises as he searched for any electronic signatures from listening devices. The only heartbeat in the next room was sluggish, the breath wheezing. He couldn't pick up any recording devices at all. Finally, he asked softly, "So, what happened when you first saw that Sentinel?"

"Nothing." Blair's heart did a quick flip.

"Well, this is a great foundation for a partnership," Jim said thoughtfully as he lay back on his own bed. At least now he had enough chain to do it without having his right arm pulled awkwardly across his chest. He listened as Blair held his breath for just a second.

"Seriously. Nothing important happened," Blair finally said, his voice rough and fatigue slurring his words.

"Nothing important. I guess that, legally, you get to decide what's important for me to know, now," Jim responded, intentionally poking the one spot he was fairly sure would work on Sandburg. Some attack strategies required a little finesse.

"Fuck. Jim, it's not like that."

"Hey, you don't have to justify yourself to me. I'm just the Sentinel, remember?"

"Damn it. Fine. I thought the Sentinel was a runner. I promised to take him somewhere safe without telling the Institute, okay?" Blair whispered the words angrily.

Jim pushed himself up on one elbow and studied Blair, listening for any sign that the man was lying or creatively editing the truth. He wasn't. Jim struggled to even process that little fact. Yeah, Sandburg had offered to help him, but that had been guilt.

"Did you know him, from before?" Jim asked.

"No. I told Aldo the truth; I got a call and when I went out there, I found him."

"So, you promised to keep him out of the Institute, and then you turned around and tried to call the Institute in? Nice, Sandburg."

"He was hurting," Blair quickly snapped back. "He'd lost control of his senses. He was dirty and hungry and in pain."

"Feed him, let him use the shower, and leave him alone to get a good night's sleep," Jim held up his fingers as he ticked off the options.

"With his senses on overload? Man, if feeding him were all it took, Ruby would have done it."

"Ruby?" Jim demanded. Blair shut up so fast he almost sucked his own lips in. "Ruby?" Jim repeated. The little shit had a contact in the underground. Jim had to control the smile that threatened.

"When a Sentinel is that far gone, he needs something more than some quiet. He needs sedation and professional help," Blair insisted tersely.

"It'd be kinder to shoot him and put him out of his misery," Jim shot back. Blair had contacts with the underground. Jim started running that fact through his plan, and it opened a whole new set of doors. Being bonded to Blair tethered him here, but surely other Sentinels had decided to run after bonding. The underground would have to have facilities to help with that. They'd have a secure place to lock him up while the panic of a breaking bond ripped through his control. Jim nodded as plan version 2.0 formed.

"That's just..." Blair spluttered into silence.

"True. The word you're looking for is true, Junior. Dead is better than being a slave." Jim yanked against the chains so hard that the bed trembled."

"You're not a fucking slave."

Before Jim could answer, he cocked his head, listening to footsteps approaching. Banks was coming, the scent of his cigar floating ahead of him.

"What is it?" Blair asked.

"Well, it sounds like this is going well," Banks said cheerfully as he came in the door.

"Simon! Man, am I glad to see you. You have to get this straightened out," Blair said as he gave his chained leg a yank. Banks flinched, but he continued to Blair's side of the bed.

"I'm trying, Blair. The custody judge was willing to believe in a bond without sex, but IA is not being that flexible. It might have something to do with the Robertson case."

"Hey, if there are dirty cops in IA, someone has to investigate the investigators," Blair defended himself. "It's not my fault that the damn porn ring landed on my desk. But I'm too busy for this. You have to be able to spring me." Blair looked up, and Jim could almost see Banks' amusement as he got the full pleading treatment.

"Give it up, kid. I am not one of the women down in records you can blink your eyes at. Besides, if I got you out of here, I'd have to take you to booking, and I really want to avoid that."

"Shit," Blair said as his head flopped back onto the pillow in frustration.

"Jim," Banks said with a nod.

"Banks," Jim offered back.

"People in my department just call me Simon, unless I'm busy chewing them out at the time, then I'm Captain Banks." Simon didn't offer his hand with the introduction, but at least he'd acknowledged Jim.

"I assume I'll be working with you now?" Jim asked as he glanced at Blair. Technically a guardian could leave a Sentinel at home. Everything he knew about Blair said he wouldn't do that to Jim, but Jim didn't know that he trusted his instincts.

"We should be working now," Blair groused, "I have cases, and let's not even talk about the classes I'm missing and the papers I'm supposed to be writing. Man, I have a life; I don't have time for this shit."

Jim locked his jaw shut as Simon looked at Blair sympathetically. Yeah, the kid had a life to get back to and this arrest was taking a few days out of his life. Intellectually, Jim understood Blair's frustration, but it didn't make the knot in his gut any easier to carry.

"I brought you some work: a few files, your laptop, and that book you've been reading every lunch break." Simon put his briefcase up on the displaced side table before clicking it open.

"Put that side table back where it's supposed to be when you're finished," Jim said, aware even as the words came out of his mouth that he was being sharper than he intended.

"We can't reach the water and my throat is really bothering me," Blair hurried to explain, and Jim felt the knot tighten as the kid made excuses for his bad behavior. Jim focused on just staying silent and not letting his emotions spill out of control as the two officers talked about cases. Blair turned down the offer of his laptop since his arms hurt so bad and he didn't want it left in the room where it could get stolen or damaged. He accepted the various files and books.

"Jim, I asked Keith about your personal effects, but he didn't have anything more than clothes, and his car with your bags was stolen."

Jim shrugged. "Nothing personal in there anyway."

"I could stop by the bookstore or get you some magazines," Simon offered. Jim didn't think Simon would appreciate his taste in magazines or books. He'd learned in the Institute that showing an interest in political books or soldier magazines just made people nervous.

"Don't worry about it," Jim answered. "Being in a hospital, there's plenty to keep me occupied." Jim could hear dozens of conversations and the busy hum of machines and the distant waves of crying. This was the opposite of the Institute, and Jim took the opportunity to stretch and test his senses. Besides, the time gave him a chance to work out the new plan. He needed to find out more about Ruby. Someone with her connections could get Jim safely unbonded and then move him across the border and up into the mountains, and he wouldn't even need a week's head start.

"And Blair, I do need your signed consent form for the blood sample."

"You mean you haven't taken the sample yet? Oh man, how many days am I going to be here because chained to a bed is not my idea of a good time."

"Considering how often you pull all-nighters, this is probably good for you." Simon sighed. "We already took a sample since Jim insisted it would clear you. Plummer says she can have it processed in another day and a half. However, we don't have a signed consent form, and she's been on my ass about how this puts her in a difficult position."

"Whoa. Carolyn broke protocol for me?" Blair asked in wonder. He turned and looked at Jim with a wide smile and a wink. "I always knew she had a thing for me," he teased. Jim tightened his jaw until he could hear his teeth grind. He added Carolyn to the list of people who, like Aldo, he didn't like on principle.

"Look, just sign the damn form before she loses your sample to cover her ass," Simon said as he thrust a paper at Blair. "We're doing our best. We'll get both of you out as soon as we can," Simon promised. "Oh, and Jim, Keith said there's a problem with your back pay from the military?"

Jim took a second to wrestle his thoughts away from disliking Carolyn. "I never got any," he shrugged.

"That would be the problem. Do you want me to get the nurses to bring a phone in?" Simon asked.

"Man, they didn't give you your pay?" Blair asked, clearly horrified. "You were in Peru for eighteen months. That's got to be at least..." Blair paused. "A lot. A whole lot."

"I broke out of a cell and went on the run. I didn't hang around to ask the quartermaster to give me back pay," Jim pointed out.

"Yeah, but you've been--" Blair cut himself off as Jim glared. "Right, your money, your problem."

"Oh yeah, this is just a match made in heaven, I can see that now," Banks sarcastically muttered as he dragged the side table back into place, retrieving the water pitcher and the stack of plastic-wrapped cups from the floor.

"So, you want the phone?" Simon asked.

"Yeah," Jim nodded. "I might as well take care of it." Jim didn't even bother pointing out to either of them that he wouldn't control the money either way. Either the army had the money or Sandburg did, but his days of handling his own paycheck had ended. Jim let the frustration roll through him while he focused on weaving the fraying threads of his plan back together. He'd earn his freedom... eventually.

"Home sweet home," Blair said as he unlocked the loft's door. "Oh god. The takeout food," he immediately apologized. The loft smelled of sour Chinese noodles, probably because he'd dumped some in the trash on Saturday planning to take it to the curb that night. Instead, here they were on Wednesday morning.

"God, Sandburg, whose body did you hide in here?" Jim complained, his voice strained, and Blair flinched. Yeah, great guardian he was turning out to be.

"Let me just take the garbage out," he hurried to offer. "In fact, I'm taking the whole garbage can out. We can buy a new one."

"You can buy a new one. It's your place," Jim corrected him as he headed for the windows, pushing them open to let in a fresh breeze. Blair didn't answer. If he did, he'd feel the need to snap at Jim about the fact that it was their place now, but Jim was too busy being a standoffish asshole to care. Instead Blair grabbed the garbage can from under the sink and headed back out the door.

"Sentinel-safe air freshener's by the sink," he called before he slammed the door shut. Rather than wait for the elevator, Blair trotted down the three flights and chucked the garbage in the dumpster, plastic bin and all. Damn it. He still had his shit in the Sentinel-safe room too. Well, there was one more excuse for Jim to look at him like he was some sort of screw up.

Blair leaned against the building. Who was he kidding? Jim didn't look at him like a screw up; Jim looked at him like a jailer. Even worse, Blair felt like one. Taking a deep breath, Blair tried to push aside thoughts of the Zimbardo experiment where normal college students got a nice push toward sadism just because they played guards in an experiment on prison life and got a little too addicted to the power.

Funny, the system was supposed to prevent the guardian from feeling powerful or feeling like a jailer. After all, the judge and the social worker and the laws that protected Sentinel rights all limited the guardian's authority. And most of the time, a Sentinel's requests carried a lot of weight in the court, but Jim still acted like everyone was out to get him. And considering that Jim's ultimate goal was still to be free--Blair had no illusions about that--the system was kinda out to get him. Blair just wished Jim would stop seeing him as part of that whole problem.

Yep, after years of Naomi making subtle little comments about Blair becoming part of the system, Blair finally felt like he had. And the system sucked. Except that it was the only system they had, and Blair had seen too many out of control Sentinels to believe they could just storm the tower and open the gates. Blair had seen Sentinels in so much pain that they struck out at anyone trying to help. The system was there to protect Sentinels from other people and other people from Sentinels.

But Simon had still lost his brother to a Sentinel... a Sentinel who was in the system. And considering the control Jim had shown after breaking the one gunman's arm, Blair had to wonder whether the Sentinel who had killed Simon's brother could have made a different choice.

Realizing that he was only succeeding in confusing himself, Blair gave up and headed back upstairs. "Honey, I'm home," he joked as he opened the door. When he didn't see Jim, his heart jumped into his throat at the idea that Jim had run. Ironically, when he finally did spot Jim, standing on the second floor with his arms crossed, glaring, Blair was disappointed he hadn't.

"I don't plan on playing the housewife, Junior," Jim said as he started back down the stairs.

"What? Hey, that was just a joke... a bad joke, obviously," Blair muttered as he turned toward the kitchen, checking the refrigerator. "I don't really spend much time here, so no promises about there being any edible food. You want to order out?" Blair asked. When Jim didn't answer he turned around to find Jim staring out the open window toward the water.

"Nice view," he commented.

"Yeah. It's one of the reasons I bought the place even though I never really intended to settle down. I mean, I was raised to sort of live a nomadic life, detach with love, to not get trapped by material possessions. But I was renting a place in a really seedy part of town, and these places were going up for sale, and Rick brought me over here." Blair hadn't found anything edible in the fridge, so he stood playing with the limp celery stalk he'd found on the top shelf.

"It only has one bedroom," Jim commented quietly, his voice a little too quiet, and Blair was starting to learn to watch out for that voice. That was the voice that had come right before Jim put him face down on the couch and tied him up all those months back. That was the voice Jim used on Aldo.

"It has a second bedroom under the stairs; I know it's small..."

"That's a Sentinel-safe room," Jim interrupted.

"I had to have one to qualify for custody. I put it in when I filled out the paperwork to request..."

"Sandburg," Jim cut him off as he turned around and faced Blair. "If I sleep in a Sentinel-safe room, I wouldn't be able to hear anyone coming. I would start having the same problems I had coming out of the Institute. Take away the world," Jim opened his arms, "and I can't function in it when I need to."

Blair stood, his mouth open and silent as he considered that. Okay, he really should have been able to figure that one out on his own.

"Man, the upstairs..."

"Share *your* bed?"

Even though the words, said with supreme disgust, cut pretty damn deep, Blair was proud of the fact he avoided flinching away from that disgust. "I'll stay in the downstairs room," Blair shrugged as he turned to throw the celery away. Half way to the sink he realized that he had gotten rid of his trash can. Standing in the middle of the kitchen with wilted celery, he suddenly didn't know what to do. Behind him, Jim sighed.

"Chief, I'm not kicking you out of your bed. I'll take the sofa."

"No biggie," Blair said, throwing the celery on the counter. "Man, I don't make it up the stairs half the time anyway."

"I'm not kicking you out of your own bed," Jim insisted, a mulish expression on his face.

"Look," Blair snapped as he spun around. "I don't sleep up there any more than I sleep down here. Use your precious nose and sniff around and check up on the truth of that statement for all I care, but I can and have slept in the Sentinel safe room, so I'll sleep there tonight. You can sleep wherever the fuck you want."

Blair headed for the bathroom, slamming the door behind him as he slowly slid down to the floor. Shit. He couldn't handle this. He could almost hear his mother's voice condemning him. And who the hell was he kidding. He wasn't saving Jim, he was just part of the system that trapped him. Like the fucking pay... that was Jim's pay that Jim had earned before the senses came on line. Okay, he'd been on-line with the Chopec, but the law was clear. He'd earned the money before he'd been legally declared a Sentinel. And yet, the military insisted on speaking with Blair. Yep. This was a great foundation for a relationship, as Jim had already pointed out.

Blair couldn't hear Jim, but he had no doubt that Jim could hear every bit of what Blair was doing. Why hadn't it ever occurred to him that having a Sentinel in the house pretty much ruled out any privacy?

With a cold determination to figure some way out of this, Blair turned on the shower and started stripping. After three days in a hospital bed with bed baths because he was chained to the rail, the water washing over his skin felt sinful... refreshing. He just needed a new way of looking at this.

Blair finished his shower and pulled on a robe before he headed out in a cloud of steam and padded upstairs in bare feet, ignoring the silent Sentinel still staring out on the water like a wild animal staring at the world outside the cage. Blair reached in his closet and grabbed all the clothes, pulling the hangers off the rod before he headed back downstairs with the whole armful.

"What are you doing?" Jim asked when Blair came back out of the room.

"I told you. I'm sleeping in there. With my late hours, I sleep in there sometimes anyway because the guy in 202 plays his music way too loud." Blair dumped the clothes on the bed and headed back up the stairs and started pulling stuff out of drawers. Rather than carry loads of underwear and socks, he just dumped it over the rail.

"I'm not taking your bedroom, Sandburg," Jim yelled up.

"Good for you. I'm sleeping downstairs, so you take the couch or the bed up here or the bench in the park down the street. Whatever floats your boat, Ellison," Blair yelled, inviting the man to leave. Blair paused in the middle of throwing a pile of sweats over the rail. Fuck, he should not care that much about Jim leaving. He finished his throw and went to the side tables. Simon had brought his recovered service weapon back here and put it back in the drawer. Blair pulled it and the ammo clips out of the drawer.

The collar and the gun, two serious symbols of power. Blair fingered the cold metal. He'd thought long and hard before he'd picked one up the first time. He remembered Naomi talking to him about the sacredness of life and the need to not damage those delicate threads that connected the world. Blair had countered by pointing out that he was saving people, saving Sentinels. Blair wasn't sure he could say that now.

He headed downstairs and put his gun and the ammo clips on the table before he started wandering the living room and picking up fallen underwear. The heavy door to the Sentinel safe room stood open, and Blair aimed his underwear at the opening with a single-minded determination as he worked his way from one side of the room to the other. He could feel Jim's eyes on him, and he ignored it as Jim slowly moved from the window, around to the door, and finally near the table.

When the last sock had landed in a disorderly pile inside the Sentinel safe room, now Blair's room, Blair stopped and leaned against the over sized chair so that he could stare back at Jim.

"What game are you playing?" Jim asked coldly.

"I'm not playing," Blair answered truthfully. Jim stood next to the gun, and Blair had on nothing but his robe, and even though he'd put himself in this position, he could feel the unease settle in his bones.

"Is this your way of placating my instincts? I seem pissed, so make yourself less of a threat by disarming yourself?"

"Is that what you think?" Blair laughed. "No, that wasn't the plan."

Jim picked up the gun, and Blair could feel his heart accelerate. He concentrated on breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth, visualizing a circle of ice and imagining himself balancing on it.

"What is the plan?" Jim moved forward, the gun pointed at the ground by his leg. Blair forced himself to look up from the gun and focus on Jim's face.

"I don't know. What is the plan?" Blair shrugged and held himself still as Jim moved closer. God, how could anyone miss noticing that the man was a predator, a hunter? He'd been trained as a Ranger, and Blair could see that in the easy way he moved, his joints fluid as he stalked a half circle around Blair, studying him. Blair spent the time reminding himself that Sentinels really didn't attack unless they perceived some threat. Usually.

"So, is this your way of offering me my freedom?" Jim asked as he twitched the gun.

"If you want it."

"IF?" Jim stopped, his full attention on Blair now. "If I want it? Do you have any idea what it means to have your government decide after 15 years of service that you're not competent enough to sign your own check?"

"No, I don't," Blair answered truthfully. "But I told you before, man, I'm not stopping you again."

"And you'd just sit here, not call anyone?"

"Yeah. The Sentinel safe room locks from the outside, so if you'd rather I go in there, I will," Blair offered.

"Oh Chief, we still have a problem. I've bonded with you. I couldn't leave you behind any easier than I could cut off my own arm and leave it behind."

"So you can do it, but it would involve a lot of pain and bleeding?" Blair asked. Jim opened his mouth and seemed to promptly lose his words. After a few seconds of silence, he started shaking his head.

"Let me edit that. I could cut off my own arm *easier* than I could leave you behind. I don't think I could leave you at all, not without someone forcing me."

Blair nodded. He'd known this was a possibility too, but he wasn't sure exactly how Jim would handle it. Hugging his arms around his waist, he nodded. "Okaaaay," he agreed. "So, how are we doing this?"

"How are we?" Jim blinked at him.

"I mean, I'd prefer to be dressed for this." Blair didn't bother adding that clothes would make him feel a whole lot more comfortable around someone who was clearly disgusted at the idea of a physical relationship with him. He stood and waited for some sort of permission.

"You expect me to kidnap you," Jim said, taking up the pacing again, but this time with a tight-lipped expression that made Blair focus a little harder on that circle of ice.

"I expect you to do what it takes to escape," Blair agreed. Jim took two large steps, closing the distance between them. Blair instinctively brought his hands up, and Jim grabbed his wrist, holding on with enough strength that Blair knew he couldn't physically free himself, even if it weren't for the gun Jim still held to his side.

"And when we get to Canada? I can't just snap my fingers and end the bond."

Blair took a deep breath. This was getting into territory he didn't want to think about. "Let's deal with that bridge when we get there," he suggested.

"And if I don't want to let you go? Are you going to be this complaisant if I decide I need you to keep my senses balanced and sharp? Are you going to accept it if I decide to keep you the way the legal system has given you the right to keep me?"

Blair thought about that answer while Jim's grip on his wrist tightened until Blair grimaced. "Man, I've screwed up enough that whatever happens is karma," he finally answered, but no amount of visualization could keep his heart from pounding dangerously fast.

"And if I put you on your knees? These tamed Sentinels of yours... they think it's their duty to spread their legs for whoever the court decides. Are you going to spread your legs for me the way the Sentinels who you captured are expected to? Is that karma?" Jim demanded, using his grip on Blair's wrist to pull him close.

Blair couldn't answer, fear drying his mouth out as he tried to not fight, not struggle away from that grip. Fighting an angry Sentinel wasn't smart, and Blair could see so much rage in Jim, more than the night of his capture. And if Blair hadn't captured him, Jim wouldn't have been around for Kincaid to rape.

Jim's lips thinned into a furious line. "I tell you that I have a problem with being a slave, so you think I'm going to turn around and enslave someone else?" Jim demanded, his face so close that Blair could feel the warm breath. "Is that what you think of me?"

Jim pushed Blair back and away before he stormed back to the kitchen table and put Blair's gun down. "*I'm* not the slaver here," Jim snapped, and that hurt worse than Blair's bruised wrist.

"Man, I am getting tired of telling you that you're not a slave."

"Then why do you think offering up yourself as a slave is fair compensation?" Jim demanded as he turned back around and closed the distance, standing so they were chest to chest and Blair had to look awkwardly up.

"I'm trying to find a way to make this work so you don't feel like a slave and I don't feel like a fucking jailer," Blair shouted right in Jim's face. "Everything I do, you take it like I'm trying to personally emasculate you. I'm sorry the army is made up of assholes who wouldn't give you back pay without talking to me. I'm sorry that the system strips you of your rights. I just don't need you blaming me for all of this. And if it comes down to a choice of being the slave or the fucking slaver, I'll cast myself as the slave first."

"But that's it--you'd cast *yourself* as the slave," Jim said, his voice sounding smug in victory. "I didn't get that choice."

Blair collapsed into the chair, his own frustration rising with every arrogant, self-righteous comment that fell out of Jim's mouth. "Fine. Do whatever the hell you want, Jim Ellison. I'm not your fucking jailer, and right now, I don't even like you enough to care whether you believe me." Blair immediately stood up again, but Jim didn't move back so Blair had to push his way past, his arm brushing by Jim's chest as he headed for his new room and slammed the door behind him. With the door closed, the sound proofing made his hearing feel muffled--the constant flow of the city silenced.

Shit. Why hadn't he thought about that? Two (Blair came in here for naps in the silence) plus two (Jim already said the sensory shelter of the Institute damaged his control) clearly equaled four. Only Blair had come up with 57. Sitting on the low bed in the padded, beige room, Blair tried to figure out exactly what he was supposed to do now. He kicked over a pile of clothes just for spite. Yeah, like that spited anyone.

"Screwed this one up proper, Sandburg," he said to the ceiling with its squares of acoustic tile. Even the window and door had been bricked over to make the perfect sensory cocoon. Yep, that should have been clue one. Ellison wasn't the sort you could wrap up and protect without getting painfully gutted for your trouble. Blair scratched his stomach.

Blair dug through the pile of shit from his end table until he found his phone. It took three phone numbers and a fifteen minute wait on long distance before he heard the voice he wanted on the other end.

"Sweetie? What's wrong?" Naomi was breathy and just a little shrill, panic bleeding through the phone.

"Nothing!" Blair quickly assured her. "I just wanted to see what you were up to," he obfuscated. The silence on the other end suggested he hadn't done it well. He waited for Naomi to say something that would give him a chance to cover his pain with words, but the phone remained silent.


"I'm listening, Sweetie," she answered before falling silent again. Blair sighed.

"Mom, have you ever really, really screwed something up?"

Naomi sighed and fell silent, but this time Blair waited.

"Oh, Blair," she eventually answered. "Being human means making mistakes, and I've made huge ones. I try to learn from them, forgive myself, and move on."

"But what if you just keep screwing up over and over and you just can't seem to stop?"

"Honey, why don't you take some time off and come over here to France? You have to be done with your classwork by now, and even the police give vacation time."

"I have two classes I'm taking."

"Do you need them?"

Blair thought about that. "Not so much," he admitted. Really he just needed to write his damn dissertation.

"You need to process why you aren't finishing your PhD, Sweetie. Come out here. It will help you clear your mind and get some perspective on this mistake of yours."

"I have a Sentinel." Blair didn't say any more, but that did explain everything. Out of the country travel would now include hearings and permission and explanations. Either that, or Blair would have to request a secondary guardian be appointed or just leave Jim to the Institute. There was screwing up, and then there was unforgivable, and he didn't want to cross that line.

"Oh, honey." Naomi's voice had gone flat. "Is this the mistake?"

"Jim totally isn't a mistake. I just... I keep saying the wrong thing."

"What's the wrong thing?"

"Oh, anything that implies that he's one ounce less capable than Superman," Blair laughed roughly. "And I'm the one who brought him in as a runner, so he's not exactly predisposed to like me much."

"Blair, are you safe?" Naomi immediately asked.

"No, hey, he's not dangerous, at least not in a going out of control way. If I were a criminal, I'd so totally be buying a little extra insurance, but there is zero chance of him hurting me. I think there's more chance for me to hurt him. Either hurt him or just really piss him off--I don't know him well enough to say for sure which he's feeling."

"Being responsible for someone else like that..." Nomi's words trailed off, but Blair remembered her arguments from his childhood even if she had stopped repeating them once he took the job with the Sentinel division.

"Bad for the karma."

"You're an adult, and I respect your choices," she hurried to say.

"I quit the Sentinel division."

"Thank the powers," Naomi exhaled.

"I still work for the police," Blair added.


"Major Crimes. Mom, I helped take down a child pornography ring last month. I do good work."

"Honey, I hear you. I know you're a healer at heart and that you want to make the world better because you have a good soul."

I'm so hearing a 'but' in that."

"You can't save everyone. You need to take care of yourself first. Please, Sweetie, just come out here for a little bit. Get your balance back. How can you have any relationship with this Jim if you can't center yourself?"

"I guess that's why I called you, you know, just to talk things through." God, he was thirty, and he didn't have any friends close enough to talk through a crisis. How sad was that? Blair sighed.

"What's he like?" Naomi asked quietly.

"Before I helped bring him in, he had this wicked sense of humor, and he still has this totally centered morality where he'll put himself in danger just to save some guy he doesn't even seem to like very much. Only now, every time I say anything I just seem to piss him off."

"You're frustrated."

"Well, yeah. I'm only trying to help the guy. Hell, I even offered to go to Canada with him, to help him get away and break the bond up there, and he turned into this total asshole. Okay, turned might be the wrong word since he's been flirting with assholiness for the last few days."

"Honey, you know I love you, but no one is perfect."

"Okay," Blair said slowly. "That's sounding like you're leading up to something I really don't want to hear."

"Sweetie, sometimes you are a little manipulative. I totally understand that you want to make the world better, and I am so proud of how many wonderful things you have accomplished in your life. I brag to my friends all the time about what an incredibly moral, strong son I raised, but you have this legal power over Jim now and..." Naomi didn't finish, but Blair could see the dots laid out in a line.

"I have legal power over him, so me trying to manipulate him is probably not the way to make him feel less stripped of his power."

"I don't know that you've done anything like that, Sweetie. I'm not saying this is your fault because if he can't see that you have nothing but good intentions in your heart, then the man is blind, Sentinel or no Sentinel. I'm just making a general observation. You know I love you."

Blair could hear the desperate need for reassurance. "I love you, too, Mom," he offered. "And I might have manipulated him a little." Blair thought about the gun still sitting out on the table. "Okay, possibly more than a little. Shit, how do I fix this now?"

"Blair, you just make different choices. Life is just choice."

"Thanks, Mom," Blair said. "And I really do want to know how your retreat is going."

"Oh, it's wonderful," Naomi exclaimed, taking up the subject change immediately. "There's this guru here who teaches an Eastern meditation technique..."

Blair pushed the stacks of clothes off his bed and settled back on the pillows, listening to his mother's descriptions of all she was learning about herself and the universe. He let the familiar voice chase away the fear that he didn't know how to make different choices.


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