“What are you doing?”
Blair looked up from his computer screen and blinked. “Cross checking police employment records with registered Sentinels and known dormant Sentinel records from the Center. It’s slow going; and could be for nothing. We can’t know for sure that the man actually grew up in the area and records from back then aren’t in the Centralized system yet. Also, I can’t very well requisition the employment records for every police department in the country—as much as I would like to.”
Jim nodded. “Did you know that about Thomas?”
“Yes,” Blair nodded. “As I told you before, Jim, a Guide is what his Sentinel needs to him be. They haven’t been bonded long, you know. Just a little over ten months. Daniel and Chad have been bonded for five years so they are the old married pair around here. Chad could probably make it through the academy in the full year course without any problems but Daniel doesn’t want him in the field so he works as a consultant. You really should, however, encourage him to get Chad to qualify to carry. As a police consultant he could be licensed for a weapon.”
“Do I have the right to interfere?”
“It’s not interference if you do it right and you’re the Alpha—all of the Guides in the pride are under your care on that level. He works in crime prevention and while he rarely goes out into the field—he could easily be targeted because he’s the Guide of a cop.” Blair stood and stretched. “More coffee?”
“No, anymore and I’ll never sleep tonight,” Jim murmured, but he watched his Guide move across the bullpen so he saw the falter in Blair’s step but he didn’t move fast enough to keep his Guide from hitting the floor. “Blair.” He reached his Guide as a full body shudder ran down Sandburg’s body and a low groan of pain slipped from his mouth. “Oh, Christ.”
“Jim?” Henri demanded rushing to his side. “What? How do I help?”
Jim gathered his Guide and picked him up off the floor. “Nothing to do.” Jim closed his eyes. “I need… Simon’s office has a couch. I need you to watch the door and don’t let anyone come in, including Simon.”
“Jimbo, what’s going on?”
“He’s killing her,” Jim responded hoarsely. “Every Guide in Cascade is going to feel this. Warn the dispatcher that sensitives all over the city are going to be calling in—they probably won’t be able to help themselves. The last time a wolf Guide died violently—the entire city of New York went down. The 911 system was overwhelmed because six thousand mundanes called in because they thought they were dying, too.” He settled Blair on the couch and ran his fingers hesitantly over Blair’s face. “The Center put out a notice so that Guides and mundane senstives are aware that they were going to face a pretty harsh empathic event in the next forty-eight hours.”
“Son of a bitch!” Henri closed his eyes. “He knew it. He said it.”
“He was right.” Jim settled on his knees by the couch. “Close the door, Henri, please.”
“No one will get in.”
Three hours later, Blair’s eyes flickered open and tears slid unchecked down his cheeks. He turned to his Sentinel with a soft sob and clutched him in relief when Jim pulled him close and joined him on the couch. He shivered and cried softly in his Sentinel’s embrace until nothing was left. Finally, he lifted his head and looked at Jim. “I saw it all.”
“Christ, Blair.” Jim kissed his temple. “Let me go out and talk to Simon—they are all worried sick out there. Thomas and Chad both have been awake for about an hour. From what I could hear, the effect was fairly widespread. Sensitives as far as Seattle, and the Center went down hard. They’ve already called in reinforcements from Montana and Oregon to help with… just to help. The governor had to declare a state of emergency—they estimate she took about ten thousand people down with her but only four hundred were actually online Guides.”
“A lot of mundanes don’t even know they’re sensitive until they experience something like this,” Blair murmured. “Send out a call to our local pride, have all the Guides in Cascade brought to the meditation space on Prospect. I’ll help settle our own. What does the Seattle Alpha say?”
“He reported to me thirty minutes ago, he’s got his entire pride gathered and four Sentinels zoned out because their Guides were in so much pain.”
“Did we have any go down?”
“Daniel zoned briefly but oddly enough Megan was able to pull him out of it.”
“Not a surprise, she’s got a nice aura and a great voice for a mundane,” Blair murmured. “Gather our pride, Jim, they need us and it will be at least a day before someone finds her body.”
Jim settled him on the couch and hesitated only briefly before he left the couch and went to the door. “I’ll be back soon.”
“I didn’t hurt you?”
“No, I was freaked out but I didn’t get any of it… from all reports you took it the worse, Chief.”
“My spirit animal…” Blair cleared his throat. “It was like losing a child of my own blood, Jim.”
Jim grimaced and then left Simon’s office with a small nod. He pulled the door shut behind him and glanced over the people gathered in the bullpen. “Markus, Thomas—gather the pride and have them meet us at Prospect. Blair wants all of the Guides in the city in attendance. Anyone that can’t come on their own—have someone retrieve them.”
“Is he okay?” Thomas asked.
“He said it was like he lost his own child,” Jim responded with a catch in his voice. “He stayed with her until the end and then after… he waited for her on the spirit plane and held her until she was ready to go on.”
Thomas blinked back tears. “I’ll gather the Guides.”
“All of them and someone needs to check on Guide Monroe. If she’s in her hotel room, get her and bring her. She’s not of our pride but she has to be suffering.”
Chad cleared his throat. “Is he well enough to lead the pride in a full meditation?”
“He’ll have to be,” Jim responded. “We can’t function like this—I feel like my skin is on fire and as long as the lot of you are suffering every Sentinel in the city is suffering right along with you.”
Chad nodded. “I’ll go over to Prospect and make sure everything is ready. Second floor, right?”
“Yes.” Jim nodded. “I put your code in the security system last night; you won’t have a problem getting in. They’ll start to arrive soon.”
Simon cleared his throat as Chad left, his still silent Sentinel at his side. “What can we do, Jim?”
“How are the 911 calls?”
“Since the Center prepped the population for the situation we only received a little over three hundred phone calls. We had extra cops on duty so we verified who was actually in trouble and who was responding to the empathic event. Two sensitives were so overwrought they actually had heart attacks. So far no one has died or gone catatonic. Cascade General has a full emergency room. There were a handful of car accidents but no serious injuries. Social services are up and functioning, all twenty-five Guides on the force went down hard but Blair’s warning had them all prepared because most of them were in their offices or at home.” Simon rubbed his head with one shaking hand. “My son… Jim… Daryl felt it.”
Jim’s mouth dropped open. “He’s a Guide?”
“His mother took him to the emergency room. They don’t know yet if he is a sensitive or a latent Guide. I wasn’t aware that the Guide gene was in my family.”
“It can skip several generations, Simon. You might not have had a Guide come online in your family since… well since before slavery. Tribes in Africa have a documented history of very strong Sentinel-Guide pairs. If they came online after they came over here—neither a Guide nor a Sentinel would have survived slavery for very long. In fact, slavery conditions could have suppressed the traits all together to protect them.”
Simon nodded and took a deep breath. “Okay.”
“Get Daryl and bring him over to my building. Even if he is just a sensitive the Guide healing would help him and he’s too young to suffer through this alone.”
“His mother might not… she might fight me. I was just informed a few minutes ago that he was in the emergency room.”
“I’m the Alpha Sentinel of Cascade; we can take physical custody of a Guide if I believe he is emotional or physical danger.” Jim took a deep breath. “I’ll be able to tell if he’s a latent Guide. I haven’t seen him a long time—not since I came online but I know what a Guide smells like now, even in a latent state.” He tilted his head towards Simon’s office. “Let me get Blair and we’ll go over to the hospital and check on Daryl together.”
“How does that Alpha stuff work?”
“I’m the Alpha Sentinel of Cascade. Every city eventually has one. Once an Alpha Sentinel is identified through genetic testing—a pride is formed around him. The Alpha Sentinel Prime of a region is the strongest Sentinel of that region. So, while I’m the Alpha Sentinel of Cascade; I’m also the Alpha Sentinel Prime of the Pacific Northwest so I technically have authority over every pride in Washington, Oregon, Montana, and Idaho. I don’t have power in Canada officially but the Alpha of the British Columbia pride is weaker than me and would bow to my authority in times of emergency.”
Mouths had dropped open all over the room but Jim ignored him as he went to get his Guide. “Meet you in the garage, Captain?”
– – – – –
The emergency room of the hospital was a horror movie in the making and Jim had started dialing down his hearing as soon as they’d pulled into the parking lot. Blair shuddered against him and buried his face in his Sentinel’s chest.
“Give me a minute.”
“No, just a minute. There are several latent Guides in there and they’ll need to be taken to Prospect for help. The hospital staff isn’t going to be able to help them with sedatives like they can sensitives. A Guide’s body chemistry rejects most pain killers and sedatives during this kind of trauma. I just need a minute or two.”
It took nearly ten minutes for Blair to stop shaking but Jim and Simon had waited in silence until he was ready to leave the car. The moment they entered the emergency room conversations ground to a halt and people turned to stare at Blair, some of them looked so ravaged and heartbroken that it made Jim want to cry.
“If you are aware of your latent Guide status, you are also aware that mundane medicine is not going to help you,” Blair said, his voice clear and precise. “If you will come to me; we can arrange transport to the pride facility where we will start meditation treatment in a couple of hours.” He turned to one of the nurses at the counter as three people stood up and left the waiting room. They gathered by the door just a few feet from him; relief and some fear showing on their faces. “Do you know how many Guides or latent Guides you’ve already admitted?”
“As far as we can tell, we’ve only admitted sensitives.” The nurse offered her hand. “Kelly Morris.”
Blair took it carefully. “Thank you. I’d like to see all of the sensitives you’ve admitted individually. Do you know if any other hospitals in the area are treating Guides?”
“No, we’re the only hospital in the city built to deal with Sentinel-Guide pairs and sensitives. We have an entire wing of isolation rooms and several psychologists on staff for this kind of empathic event. Anyone that was so bad off that they needed transport have all been routed here.” She motioned them to follow. “We have twenty patients already admitted—we had to triage and deal with the most damaged first. None of them are registered Guides but as you know that really means nothing. We don’t have the time to run DNA tests so it’s hit and miss on treatment so far.”
“Start me at the most effected,” Blair instructed as she lead them through a set of double doors. “We have at least two online Guides in the building and neither of them was in the waiting room.”
The nurse sighed, her face drawn in horror. “None of them mentioned it.”
“An event like this can switch a latent Guide on, Kelly. That’s probably why they are so bad off.” Blair glanced only briefly at his Captain before he focused on Jim. “Are you ready?”
The first patient they saw was one of the online Guides. The young girl looked seventeen and her parents were huddled in the corner of the small room she was in, both of them obviously horrified by the state their child was in. Blair reached out and took the girl’s hand… and the change in her was instant. Her body relaxed, the low moan faded away, and her eyes fluttered open.
“Oh,” she whispered.
“Hello, Elizabeth,” Blair murmured and brushed hair from her face. “Did you know you were a latent Guide before this happened?”
She bit down on her lip and glanced towards her parents who looked shocked. “Yes, but my Daddy didn’t want me to be like his family so I didn’t tell them…” She took a deep breath. “It hurt so bad. How could anything hurt so badly?”
“It’s okay.” Blair soothed. “You came online during in a very powerful and painful empathic event that we could not prevent. I know what you saw and what you felt because I felt it with you. Do you understand?”
“Yes.” She nodded and looked at her parents who had gone from shocked to devastated. “It’s okay, Daddy.”
“No it’s not.” His voice was hoarse. “I’m sorry—sorry that you felt you couldn’t tell us. If you’d already been in training…”
“No, Mr. Arnold.” Blair shook his head. “I’ve been in training since I was a very young man. I’m the foremost expert on Sentinel-Guide pairs in this country and it took me down like someone punched me in the face. Nothing could have prepared her for this.”
He released her hand and she immediately reached out for him. “No, don’t go away.”
Blair caught her fingers in his again. “I have others to see and help. The hospital is going to release you and I want you to come to the pride facility for the healing we are gathering.” He looked towards her parents. “If you are willing?”
“Yes,” the mother said immediately. “Yes, whatever she needs.”
“I have three latent Guides in the waiting room. If you could take them with you as well.” He pulled a card from his pocket and scribbled on the back of it. “My Beta Guide, Thomas Howard, is already gathering the Guides within the pride so someone will already be there. They’ll help her until I can get there myself.”
The father stood and took the business card. “Yes, whatever you need. Do I need to do anything… do we need supplies? I can… just whatever she needs.”
“Understanding and a willingness to be there is all for now. There will be adjustments for her, and considering her condition, I recommend she seriously consider registration. The Guide school in the area is a good one and she’ll need their help achieving balance and establishing her shielding. She’s very fragile right now.”
“Will they pair her with a Sentinel?”
“No.” Blair shook her head. “Not unless her Sentinel comes online and is in danger of death. They don’t pair underaged Guides or Sentinels unless there is a risk of death for either party. It is likely that her genetic match won’t come online for years, if ever.” He sent her an apologetic glanced when she gasped in horror. “I waited twelve years for mine.”
Elizabeth grinned and wiggled one eyebrow in a show of bravado. “Yeah, but look what you got!”
Jim laughed from his place by the door. “I’m the man that got lucky, little one.”
She smiled at the nickname and her fingers tightened around Blair’s. “I feel empty and so hurt.”
“We can ease the pain,” Blair murmured. “But that empty place you have now—that’s the place that was made for your Sentinel when you came online.”
Her eyes watered. “I’ll live with it?”
“Until you bond.”
“If I can’t?”
“You can, we’ll teach you how.” He touched her face again. “They’ll send in a nurse to help you dress and then I want you to wait for me with the other Guides. We’ll get through this day together.”
Daryl was the fourth patient they saw and Jim’s stomach knotted in agony when he saw the teenager’s condition. Joan Banks was hovering by his bed, obviously at a loss as to how to deal with him. He’d turn fifteen in a few months but Jim would pretty much always see him as the kid he met when he’d first come back to Cascade—eight years old and full of questions and giggles. He was putting off the Guide scent so strongly that Jim was stunned by how he didn’t know this about his Captain’s kid. He should have smelled at least a bit of transfer on Simon in the last few months. Then he realized that Simon probably hadn’t seen Daryl in months—the divorce had not been pleasant.
“What are you doing here?” Joan demanded, her eyes hard.
“He’s my son, Joan. In case you forgot we have joint custody, even if you have convinced him he doesn’t need me.”
“Get out of here, he’s in no condition…”
“Shut up.” Blair moved around her. “Just shut up. You’re only making it worse.” He removed her hands from Daryl gently, but firmly. “You’re so hostile and angry that you’re hurting him just as badly as the event that put him in this bed.” She gasped and started to protest but Simon pulled her away.
“Get your hands off my son!”
“Ms. Banks,” Kelly got between her and the bed. “You are interfering in the treatment of your son. I’m within my rights to see you removed from the building.”
Blair ignored them both and ran his fingers over Daryl’s face. “Okay, kid, I know this room sucks hard right now but I need you to let go of your place and come back. She won’t touch you again, not until you invite it. No one that can hurt you will touch you again until you’re ready. I promise.”
“What’s happening?” Joan demanded.
Blair’s control snapped and he turned. “What’s happening? What’s happening is that until today he was a latent Guide and now he’s a Guide who came online during one of the worst empathic events I’ve ever experienced in my life. He bore mental witness to the rape and murder of a five year old child because she was so hurt and so weak that she couldn’t keep from projecting it on every latent Guide and sensitive mundane for over five hundred square miles.” He paused as he said it and took a deep breath. “And then he had to deal with your impatience and your frustration and finally your hostility because you are so wrapped up in your own selfish bullshit you didn’t even realize how much you were hurting him.”
“Who are you to talk to me like that?” Joan demanded.
“The man who is about to take physical custody of your son,” Blair responded evenly. “You can contact the Sentinel-Guide Center for information on your legal rights and of course to secure visitation.”
“You can’t do that! He isn’t even registered”
“An online Guide in imminent peril is the responsibility of his pride no matter his status and Guide Law is very specific.” He looked toward the nurse. “Kelly, come get this IV out of him and so I can prepare him for transport.” He looked at Joan Banks again. “Lying about the status of an online or latent Guide in a medical emergency is a felony and in this case it’s felony child abuse. You’ve let them pump him full of drugs when you knew they were never going to help him.”
“I didn’t know,” Joan snapped.
“You can’t lie to a Sentinel,” Jim murmured. “As the Alpha Sentinel of Cascade I am well within my rights to see federal charges filed against you for this.”
“Jim,” Simon protested quietly. “She’s his mother.”
“She let him suffer rather than tell these people what he was,” Jim returned. He looked at Joan. “If you cease interfering, I won’t file charges unless Daryl requests that it be done.”
“You can’t take him out of the hospital… he needs help.”
“Look at him,” Jim said evenly.
They all three turned to look at him. Daryl had curled toward Blair and had his face buried against Blair’s chest, but his body was relaxed and he was longer making the little keening noise he’d been making when they walked in.
“He told me he thought he was a latent Guide but it doesn’t run in Simon’s family—I asked his mother several months ago.” Joan finally said her voice soft and defeated. “I thought… he’s been so hostile and furious since the divorce I just thought he was making it up for attention.”
Blair lifted his head. “He was hostile because the drastic changes in his environment and his life made it impossible with him to cope. And it certainly didn’t help that he had to live with you and your anger.” Blair rocked the teenager carefully. “You need therapy, Ms. Banks, and an outlet for your anger that doesn’t involve your son. He’s been soaking up your grief and your hostility concerning the destruction of your marriage for months. The only reason you are so angry right now is that he’s incapable of buffering it for you.” He rubbed Daryl’s back carefully. “Didn’t you ever notice that the more angry and moody he got the better you felt?”
Simon swore under his breath and Joan Banks reached out to steady herself against the wall. “Damn it, Joan.”
“It’s also the reason he hasn’t wanted to be around his father. All of your resentment towards Simon bled so deeply into in him – he believed it was his own.” Blair continued to rock him. “I’m going to have to help him dress. He’s in no condition for a mundane to touch him. Kelly get his discharge papers ready.”
“Of course, Dr. Sandburg.” Kelly hurried from the room.
“I’m going to recommend that after we repair his shields and purge his system of all of the emotional crap that isn’t his own that he live with his father.” Blair looked up when Joan started to protest. “Simon is probably one of the most buffered mundanes I’ve ever come across. He’s not a latent Guide himself, but there are many in his family. They have to be for Daryl to be so gifted. Mundanes in Guide families naturally shelter and protect their own. It’s a genetic imperative not all that different from Sentinels and Guides themselves. It’s in Simon’s nature to protect and shelter Guides. He’s the best choice for Daryl and if you can’t live with that my only choice will be to take you to court and take custody of him myself. You’ll both have visitation rights—but yours would be limited and supervised, Ms. Banks.”
“He’s my child.”
“He’s a vulnerable member of my pride and Guide Law is on my side. You’ll never win,” Blair said simply. “He won’t survive in your care. I’m surprised he’s lasted as long as he has.” He started to rock Daryl again when the teenager moaned softly. “Daryl, will you introduce me to your spirit animal?”
Daryl’s fingers clenched against Blair’s shirt and he took a deep breath. “He’s hurt.”
“I know,” Blair murmured. “I know but I’m going to help him, too. I promise.” His eyes widened when a large, adult male lion walked through the wall and into the hospital room. He leapt up onto the bed and rubbed his big head against Daryl, a throaty growl his only sound. “Wow.”
“Blair?” Jim asked.
“Lion. A big, eat a full grown man, king of the jungle lion,” Blair answered. “It’s a strong spirit animal for a Guide. I’ve only ever seen them attached to Sentinels.” He took a deep breath. “He’s beautiful, Daryl, and he will be well again.”
– – – – –
Blair helped Daryl sit down on a mat near the center of the room where he would be close to him and then turned to Thomas. “There are fifty registered Guides in Cascade, thirty-seven of them are bonded.”
“There are easily seventy-five people in this room that are not latent.”
“They just showed up,” Thomas admitted. “A few of them are visitors in the area—business trips and the like. The rest are online Guides who have never registered.” He paused. “Can you handle this?”
“Yes, I’m just a little stunned.” Blair admitted. “I’ve led meditation groups over a thousand people before.” He laughed a little when Thomas’ mouth dropped open. “One day you’ll learn not to be so shocked by me.”
“You told someone I was your Beta Guide.”
“You are,” Blair said simply. “But you knew that already.”
Thomas sighed. “Yes. I just…”
“You’re the strongest Guide within the pride beside myself, Thomas and in turn Markus is the strongest Sentinel after Jim. It is your role in the pride.”
“I’m not a shaman; I’m not anything like you.”
“You don’t have to be,” Blair promised. “We all have our place and our purpose within the pride. You’ve done very well to get everyone organized, settled, and prepared. Relax, we have a lot of work ahead of us.”
– – – – –
Jim relaxed against the wall as the room fell silent and then was filled only with the voice of his Guide. Simon was tense beside him—tense and worried. Jim wanted to offer him comfort but he couldn’t imagine what it must be like to see your own child suffer through what Daryl had already suffered through. This situation had morphed into something horrible and intolerable and there was no end in sight.
He watched every Guide in the room, monitored their heart rates individually as they all settled and surrendered themselves to the peace that Blair was offering. Every one of them had taken Jessica’s pain as their own—suffered through her horror and had felt the snap as her life had ended. Now Blair was giving them the peace she’d given him after it was all said and done. He was the one who had cuddled the little Guide in the spirit world and healed her so she wouldn’t have to linger any longer than necessary.
They relaxed by degrees, heart rates slowed, and every single one of them fell into a meditative state—including Daryl which Jim had assumed would be a problem for the untrained teenager. Jim touched Simon’s arm and gave a careful nod. Simon went slack against the wall. In the end, Joan had agreed not to fight them on taking Daryl from the hospital. The rest was still up for discussion. Whether he registered or not was up to him.
Six hours later he put his own Guide to bed and curled around him. Blair had started shaking with fatigue and grief as soon as they’d got the last of the pride settled and safe. There were too many threats in Blair’s life that Jim couldn’t defend him from and he hated it. He hated it more than he’d ever thought possible.
– – – – –
Her body was reported in the early morning hours, Jim had answered the phone before it rang. He’d been able to do that since he came online and he wasn’t exactly sure what sense he was using to detect the phone calls. Maybe hearing, or maybe a combination of several. Blair stirred against him but Jim covered him carefully and pressed a kiss to his forehead.
“They found her?”
“Yeah.” Jim hesitated. “Stay here?”
“No.” Blair shook his head. “I’m your partner, Jim and I won’t be coddled no matter how much you like doing it.” He patted his cheek. “Let’s get this show on the road.”
“It’s not… it’s bad, Chief.”
“I know; she took me and showed me what was done to her,” Blair admitted. “I understand.”
They’d taken coffee and bagels to go and by the time they got to the scene everything felt almost normal—like it wasn’t going to be the day they stood over a dead child. Simon was waiting for them outside the taped off area, his cigar bobbing in his mouth unlit and mostly chewed.
“I have a forensics team waiting on the word from you. No one has touched the scene since she was discovered. A woman walking her dog found her.” Simon took a deep breath. “I’ve had to send three cops back to the station because they couldn’t maintain.”
Blair nodded and wrapped his fingers around Jim’s wrist to get his attention. “Jim, I need you to focus on me and listen to me very carefully. Dial down smell until you can smell nothing.”
“Because she’s a Guide—an online Guide and the scene is saturated with her fear hormones. I don’t want you to go feral.”
“I’ve never had a feral episode in my life, Chief.”
“Then you are due,” Blair responded dryly. “Dial it down, now.”
“You know this bossy thing is…”
“Hot?” Blair asked. “I know.”
Jim laughed sadly. “You’re trying to distract me, Chief.”
“Yes, and you should let me,” Blair snapped. “What he did to the others is nothing compared to what he put her through.”
Jim paled slightly but nodded. “Let’s get this over with.”
She was in a dead end alley, thrown away much like his other victims but the sheer brutality done to her was overwhelming. Jim tried to keep himself focused and clearheaded as he documented the scene and then started directing crime scene investigators in collecting evidence. Blair gripped the digital recorder in his hand, as he tried to discuss the scene in the most clinical terms possible all the while watching his Sentinel for the first time in action. The mundanes around them had never worked with a Sentinel of Jim’s abilities and they were soon walking around gobsmacked at the minute details of the scene he was documenting and making them collect.
Sandburg moved to squat beside his Sentinel, his recorder still engaged. “The UNSUB used more than one weapon, causing both crushing injuries and deep lacerations in the chest, stomach, and genital areas. The mutilation of the face speaks to an unwilling emotional attachment. Genital mutilation is consistent with other victims attributed to the UNSUB believed to be involved in multiple sexual homicides perpetrated on children.” He cleared his throat. “Three of her fingers are missing, it is unclear if he took them as trophies or if the brutality of the attack mangled them until they fell from the body during transport. The victim’s head has almost been separated from the body.”
“Why the escalation in violence?”
“He was excited to finally get to kill her but he was also very angry that he was being forced to because he’d been able to keep her for so long. He thought he would get to keep her forever.” Blair stood and nodded when Jim stood with him. “Let’s let the medical examiner have the scene. You’ve done all you can here.”
“Yeah.” Jim pulled off latex gloves with a frown and followed his Guide down the alley. The last thing he wanted to do was leave her alone in that alley—it was against his most basic nature to let her stay there dirty and unprotected from the world. He shuddered and his stomach clenched.
Blair turned and grabbed his arm. “No.”
“She’s a member of our pride, Blair.”
“And Dan Wolf is going to take special care of her,” Blair promised. He lead his Sentinel across the street to their SUV and met Simon Bank’s gaze briefly before he led Jim around the vehicle and down another alleyway. Brian Rafe and Henri Brown moved in behind them, to ensure privacy. “And I’m going to take care of you.”
“I’m not weak.”
“No, you’re the strongest man I’ve ever met. A weak man couldn’t control what has been given to you. A weak man would have eaten his gun the day he came online if he’d been faced with the gifts you have.” He maneuvered him against the wall and unbuttoned both of their coats. “Okay, we’re going to dial your sense of smell up just a little. I want you to seek out my scent and concentrate only on me.”
“Yeah, okay,” Jim murmured.
“I’m all you smell, all you feel, all you hear, all you see…” He watched Jim focus all of his senses on him and for a moment it was heady and overwhelming. “Good.” Blair sucked in a deep breath as Jim pulled him close and tucked his face against his neck. His mouth opened on his skin. “All you taste.”
“Everything, you’re everything,” Jim agreed in a hoarse whisper. “Tell me something beautiful.”
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
Blair rubbed his hands carefully down Jim’s sides as he stopped speaking, not interested in arousing him, but seeking to calm and center him. Jim took a deep breath and lifted his head. He kissed Blair’s jaw and then brushed their mouths together –more affection than a real kiss. Jim let his forehead read on Blair’s for a few seconds. “I want… I could kill him, Chief. Don’t let me get that far gone.”
“He won’t take another.”
“No, he won’t,” Blair agreed. “We’ll get him.” He pulled back slightly and then carefully buttoned Jim’s coat. “He won’t hurt another child.” His hands started to shake as he finished and he cleared his throat.
“You’ve been pushing yourself too hard, Blair.” Jim took care of buttoning his Guide up himself. “What you did to Marshall, leading the entire pride in meditation, keeping me grounded in such extreme circumstances. Our bond feels fragile right now.”
“Yeah, I know. It’s hard—everyone around us is so upset and horrified. It would be so much easier if they were just angry.” Blair shoved his hands into his pockets. “Go brief Simon and I’ll be out in a minute.”
Jim nodded. “Yeah, okay.” He moved past Brown and Rafe and then paused. “Don’t let anyone near him, Brown.”
“Not a problem, Jim,” Henri replied softly. “I’ll stay right here until you come back.”
Rafe walked with Ellison to the end of the alley and cleared his throat. “What was that he said to you?”
“The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost.” Jim looked around the street, searching for his Captain. “It helps me focus when he talks. When we first bonded—he would tell me really weird ass stories from when he used to work in the field until one day he started telling me about this fertility rite that he witnessed in Africa.” Jim snorted. “We had to leave our training session and spend the rest of the day in our isolation room because our bond was platonic at the time and I had no relief. You have no idea what it’s like to have your every sense focused on sex and to have no outlet for it. After that he, started to recite poetry and parts of plays. It’s infinitely safer in public because he can ramble if he lets himself go.”
Brian bit down on his lip. “Yeah, I can see that.”
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