Title: The Awakening
Author: Keira Marcos
Fandom: The Sentinel
Betas: Ladyholder & Kelly
Rating: NC-17 (for sex, violence, and very adult themes)
Warnings: Foul language, male/male sex, violence, murder, blood, discussion of sexual abuse and violence against minor characters, and various other things you might suspect in a story about a Sentinel Cop and his Guide. Mean!Carolyn. Selfish!Naomi.
Summary: Detective Jim Ellison doesn’t want a Guide. What he wants is peace and quiet and maybe for his ex-wife to disappear. Dr. Blair Sandburg, a successful profiler with the FBI, has nearly given up on finding his Sentinel. Then the night came where one’s pain drew the other across the country – neither will ever be the same.
Disclaimer: I don’t own them. I don’t pretend to. I won’t make money off of them. I rarely spend my time doing things that actually make money—much to my husband’s utter dismay.
* * * * –
“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 30 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 15 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, 30-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.”
* * * * –
Blair leaned against the wall and watched Henri pace a few feet away. “Was it all that you hoped?”
Henri turned and looked at him. “I… I really didn’t understand.”
“And now that you do?”
“I don’t know how he survived without you. I know… I mean I know he was… you know for months before he went to New York. Most of us guessed it.” Henri looked away. “It makes me… I’ve seen Jergens and Howard in the field… I’m an asshole for what I thought.”
“Working in homicide on an everyday basis can’t be a great circumstance for a Sentinel-Guide pairing. Murder is an intimate and invasive crime.” Blair paused as his cell phone started to ring. He plucked it from its holster on his belt and checked the caller ID. He grimaced but flipped it open. “Dr. Sandburg.”
“Blair, where are you? I’m in your building in New York—the doorman told me you no longer live here?”
“Actually, I live in Cascade, Washington now, Naomi. I sent you an email several months ago letting you know.” Blair walked a few paces away from Henri and leaned against the building again.
“Why on Earth would you be back in Cascade? Didn’t you get enough of that city when you went to school at Rainier?” Naomi demanded. “Wait, did you take a teaching job? That’s fantastic!”
“No, I didn’t take a teaching job. I’m actually working with the Cascade Police Department.” He winced at her harsh intake of breath. “Can we discuss this later? I’m in the middle of a crime scene and don’t have time to be lectured like a ten year old.”
“Why did you leave the FBI?” Naomi demanded.
“I bonded with a Sentinel and joined him on the job in Cascade,” Blair said. “If you participated in our communities or bothered to check your email you would know all about it, Mother.”
“How could you? How could you give yourself willingly to one of those primitive thugs? Please tell me the bond is at least platonic!”
“That’s really none of your business.” Blair rubbed his forehead and looked down the alley. Jim was standing there, his body tight, and his expression stony. “As I said, I have to go. We can talk later if you wish.”
“I’ll need time to process,” Naomi finally said. “Some time to forgive you for this.”
“I’m not in need of your forgiveness,” Blair responded and very carefully ended the call. All he wanted to do was throw his phone against the building but he liked his new phone a lot and losing his temper wasn’t a good idea, not with his Sentinel already on edge. He walked with Henri to where Jim stood and sighed. “Let’s go back to the station. I want to do some more research and then I’d like to get all the parents together in the same room—including Jessica’s foster parents. We’re missing something.”
* * * * –
“Dr. Sandburg, we’ve been over this a hundred times.” The strain in Justin Wallace’s voice was evident. “I don’t know what else we can tell you.”
“I understand how difficult this is for you, but I also know that we lost another child last night.” Blair shoved his hands into his pockets. “A wolf Guide. It is a blow to our community on a level that really can’t be measured. She came online shortly before she was taken—which is not uncommon for wolf Guides. One day her Sentinel will come online and we’ll have to tell him that his perfect-match Guide was murdered when she was five years old. The fact is that we may end up telling six Sentinels that.” He looked around the room. “All of your children were latent, but they were strong in their gifts even as latents. In the end this man may end up killing twelve people if other matches can’t be made—because it is rare for a Sentinel to survive without a bond. If we are lucky nature will leave the Sentinels of these children in peace and never wake their gifts.”
He cleared his throat. “I’ve read through the case files and I’m not going to ask any questions that have already been asked of you about that day or the weeks that followed. I want to know about the month before. I want to know where you went, did you go to any large events—events where someone could have gotten close to your child and you wouldn’t have thought much of it? A crowded place like a large shopping mall or maybe an outdoor concert?”
Jean Dailey took a deep breath. “I took the children to the Seattle Zoo as a gift for how well they did in school. All of them—Jessie had a difficult time because of the crowds but after about an hour she’d evened out and told me she was okay to stay the day. That was the end of May, just a few weeks before she was taken.”
Grace Harvey started to cry. “I took…” She closed her eyes. “I took Stephanie to the zoo. A week before she was taken. We have a membership—she loved the penguins.”
“It wasn’t in May.” Jared Harrison took a deep breath. “In April, Christopher had a project for class—he wanted to take his own pictures for his poster presentation. So we went to the zoo and we took pictures of the polar bears.”
“Tiffany’s class had a field trip to the zoo. Maybe April or May?” Deena Hanson shook her head. “It’s been so long and I didn’t go myself. Joe?”
“No. I sent my secretary along to help chaperone.” Joe Hanson pulled out a PDA. “I think it was in May of that year.”
Amber Miller shook her head. “Taylor was afraid of animals—all kinds. She wouldn’t even keep stuffed animals.”
Frank Miller sighed and ran one hand through his hair. “I took her but I’m not sure which month. Her therapist said it would help get over her problem with animals and my wife wasn’t willing to force the issue. I did it without her.”
“How could you?” Amber Miller demanded.
“Ma’am.” Blair interrupted. “Not to be rude, but can you berate your husband later?”
Amber blushed and then nodded. “Yes, of course, I apologize. This is important right? To find out all of the children went to the zoo before they were taken?”
“It’s a common link we didn’t have before.” He focused on Stacy Wallace’s parents. “Justin? Carla?”
Carla shook her head. “Not the zoo itself but one of Stacy’s favorite places to go was Woodland Park, which is just across the street from the zoo. We’d got her a puppy and she took her responsibilities very seriously—we had to walk Billie in the park every day.” Her hands curled into her husband’s as she spoke. “It’s my fault. I bought her that dog. It’s my fault.” A sob was pressed into her husband’s throat as she instinctively sought comfort.
Blair stilled and met Justin’s gaze over his wife’s shaking body. “How long has she been online, Justin?”
Justin’s mouth tightened into a thin line. “Since she got pregnant. She’s three months along—I think she came online the moment she conceived.”
“Are you online?”
“A few days after her,” he rubbed his wife’s back. “We can’t… we can’t lose another child.”
“No. I understand.” Blair inclined his head. “How did you do yesterday?”
“As soon as the word came down we left. I was four hundred miles over the Canadian border when she died. I couldn’t witness that—I knew what he did to my baby girl and I couldn’t witness that happening to another child.” He closed his eyes. “We came back by plane this morning.”
Carla lifted her head. “Speaking of the child, Dr. Sandburg. We’d like to see to her burial. We have a plot… beside our Stacy. Neither one of us planned to be buried and it would be our great honor to provide Jessica with a resting place.”
Blair nodded. “The pride is already starting to gather money for her burial. She is a ward of the state but I’ve already pushed through paperwork to gain custody of her once she is released by the medical examiner. I think it would be very nice to lay her to rest with Stacy.” He cleared his throat. “Justin, take your Sentinel home. We won’t be asking any more questions of her. You should have told us. A pregnant Sentinel is fragile and sensory spikes are dangerous for her child.”
“Thank you, Guide Sandburg,” Justin gathered Carla up and helped her put on a coat. “I’ll contact you about the plot. Please… keep us in the loop.”
“We will and Carla.” Blair waited until she looked at him. “It wasn’t your fault. Nothing could have prepared anyone in this room for what this man has done. I want to promise you that we’ll catch him before he does it again… but I just don’t know. What I can tell you is that Jim and I… we won’t stop until we catch him.”
She nodded. “Thank you.”
* * * * –
“We’ve added the list of zoo employees and seasonal volunteers to the database for cross referencing but so far we haven’t gotten any hits. Zoo officials refused us access to their membership rolls without a court order.” Chad leaned on Jim’s desk as he reported. “ADA Sanchez, our new prosecutor for this case, has been pooling the evidence and getting evidence from the other jurisdictions. They are building a federal case against him. She’s in touch with the State Attorney’s office and they are also working with a Federal Prosecutor out of Seattle. A warrant for the zoo’s records, and credit card receipts for the past seven years is in process. A lot of it isn’t going to be digital.”
“Any luck with the dormant Sentinel search?” Blair asked.
“We have the records from the Center for the entire region and we’ve asked for the records for Ontario but they aren’t interested in cooperating to be honest. They are pretty sure that the killer must be a vulgar American and therefore not their problem. I’ll hit them again if we don’t get something productive from our own searches. Right now, I’m inputting data on dormant Sentinels, zoo employees, current employees of the Cascade and Seattle police departments, former employees for the last twenty years for both departments, and known sex offenders. I’m waiting on people with yearly passes to the zoo and the credit card receipts—which is most probably a dead end since he could have paid cash to enter the zoo and, of course, the park is free.”
“Did you ask the zoo if anyone had reported problems with a visitor? Someone following their child or making them uncomfortable by approaching or talking to them?”
“Yes, the zoo security officer promised he would go through his incident reports for the past seven years to see if anything comes up.” Chad straightened up. “Also, Daniel is searching our own records for reports of stalkers focusing on children. His fascination with them didn’t happen all of a sudden right?”
“Right, that’s very good idea.” Blair typed a note about it into his case file and then sat back in his chair. “How are you? Your shields?”
“Good. Better.” Chad rubbed the back of his neck. “It was… that was probably the worst thing I’ve ever felt in my life and I’ve worked in suicide prevention when I was in college.”
“Yeah.” Blair checked his watch. “I’ve to go to the Seattle Center and Jim isn’t back, yet. I’ve called his cell phone and left a message but if you see him just let him know that I’m checking in on Daryl Banks.”
* * * * –
Simon and Joan Banks are sitting side by side in the waiting room of the Seattle Sentinel-Guide Center when Blair gets there. He took in their stiff posture, her hard eyes, and Simon’s tightly pressed lips with a sigh. They must have gotten thrown out of the meeting and it hadn’t even really started.
Simon stood. “They wouldn’t let us in with him until you were here.”
Blair frowned. “That’s not what I told them.”
“What exactly did you tell them, Dr. Sandburg?” Joan Banks demanded.
“That he needed to be isolated from unbonded Sentinels and mundanes that were not immediate family.” Blair checked his watch. “Let me speak with his Conservator and see what is going on.”
He quickly gained admission and made his way to the top floor of the facility. The administrator’s office wasn’t far from the isolation wing so he wasn’t surprised to find both the patient care administrator, Gerald Murray, and Daryl’s Conservator, a man named Sydney Johansen, talking outside a large pair of doors.
Sydney favored him with a small, tight smile and held out both hands in formal greeting. “Blair. I’m really glad you are here.”
“What’s going on? I just encountered Daryl’s parents downstairs and they told me they’d been refused.”
“I thought it best that Daryl remain isolated,” Gerald responded before Sydney could respond. “His parents are both angry with the situation and each other.”
“And I made it clear when I placed him in your care this morning that both of his parents were to be allowed access to him. He’s fourteen years old and finds this entire situation difficult. He needs his parents and since I personally helped him build his shields last night I know for a fact he can deal with them.” Blair watched the man flush with anger.
“I decide what is best for the patients in this facility, Dr. Sandburg.”
“Then he is no longer in your facility,” Blair returned. “Sydney, get him dressed and make sure his shields are firm.”
“You can’t be serious!” Murray snapped.
“I won’t be argued with,” Blair returned evenly. “Daryl Banks is my responsibility, a Guide I took into my care as the Alpha Guide of the Cascade pride and I promised his parents they would have access to him during this process. I realize his mother is bitter and angry but he’s been dealing with her for months without proper shields. He asked me three times on the way over here this morning when he would get to see his parents and you made me a liar with your interference.”
“I won’t let you take him.”
“You don’t have a choice,” Blair returned. “And if you get in my way, you’ll pay for it.”
“You can’t remove a fragile Guide from this building without my approval. I’ll file a formal complaint.”
“With who?” Blair asked. “The Alpha Guide Prime of North America? Because that’s the only Guide on this planet above my head when it comes to legal matters. The only one that I would allow the opportunity to give me orders.”
“This isn’t over.”
“You’re right, it’s not.” Blair turned as the doors opened and Sydney led Daryl out of the isolation area. “You owe Guide Banks an apology for failing to honor his wishes.”
“I will not apologize,” Murray said through clenched teeth. “Just because you’re taking it up the ass for Ellison does not…” He jerked to a stop, and the color drained from his face. “What? What the fuck are you?”
“You speak of things that are none of your business and in front of a child—I will be discussing your place here with the Council. You’ve gone unbonded your whole life and I realize your bitterness but it does not excuse such disrespect.” Blair released his hold on the other Guide’s mind. “I will be speaking to the Seattle Alpha as well concerning your placement in his pride. Your inability to adhere to pride hierarchy concerns me.” Blair looked at Daryl Banks. “Your parents are downstairs and they’ve been here a while. Sydney will be sticking with you for a while.”
“What’s he for?”
“A Conservator acts as an empathic buffer for fragile Guides.” He glared briefly at Murray and then led Daryl to the elevator. “Don’t mistake fragile for weak—because you are not weak and neither are your gifts.”
“What does it mean?”
“It means that you are very sensitive to the emotions of others, especially mundanes. One of the ways we combat this is to assign such Guides a Conservator. Sydney is a powerful but unbonded Guide—because he’s unbonded he can act as a buffer for you. It’s a role he would normally play for a Sentinel.”
“If I’m so fragile… I won’t ever bond will I?” Daryl frowned as they left the elevator. “What Sentinel would want me if I’m fragile?”
Blair smiled then. “Remember—fragile, not weak. I came online at 15, Daryl, and I was diagnosed as fragile. I had a Conservator for almost a year after that.”
“So, Sydney will stay with me until I can handle things?”
“Well, Sydney is registered and searching for his own Sentinel. If he is matched we will have to get you a new Conservator.” Blair glanced at Sydney who just smiled. “So, you shouldn’t get unduly attached to Sydney.”
Daryl laughed. “Yeah, okay.” He straightened up when he saw his parents hovering together across the lobby from them. “They haven’t been in the same room without yelling at each other in over a year.”
“They are both doing the very best they can right now to be helpful to you. I believe you would be better off if you stayed with your father; but I realize you are worried about your mother.”
“I haven’t slept in weeks at home,” Daryl admitted. “At least not while she’s there. She’s so angry and hurt and upset all the time and it doesn’t help that she saw Dad with another woman a month back. I don’t get it—she left him.”
“Relationships can be very complicated,” Blair admitted. “Have you been able to separate your own emotions from your mother’s?”
“Yes.” Daryl sighed. “I was a real asshole to my dad.”
“He understands.” Sydney cupped Daryl’s elbow as he spoke. “Now, take a deep breath and center yourself. I’ll be right here. You and I both know this isn’t going to be an easy conversation.”
“Yeah.” Daryl sighed. “Geez. Maybe I could just wait in the car?”
Blair laughed. “Afraid not.”
Simon reached out briefly and put his hand on Daryl’s shoulder and then cleared his throat. “How do you feel, son?”
“Better, it doesn’t hurt as much. Everything is better,” Daryl admitted. “Last night I slept the whole night through and I haven’t done that in… well months.” He cleared his throat and jerked his head towards Sydney. “This is Sydney Johansen, my Conservator. He’s an unbonded Guide who has agreed to act as my empathic buffer until I can maintain my own shields. He’ll be living with me.”
“No.” Joan Banks’ shook her head. “I won’t have it—Dr. Sandburg, this is not we agreed to! I won’t have some oversexed, perverted, grown man living with my son – it’s disgusting.”
Blair flushed with anger. “Ms. Banks, you do realize that your son is a Guide. Your prejudices have already caused him a great deal of pain and discomfort. If we’d known about him before yesterday—we could have sheltered and protected him during the event and he would not have suffered as much as he did. Guides are not oversexed perverts, but if that is how you truly feel I will have no choice but to petition the court and have your son isolated from you until he’s of a legal age.”
“He’s a child. He’s my child and I won’t have him corrupted by the lot of you.”
“He’s a duly registered Guide and under the protection of his pride and as the Alpha of his pride I’m well within my rights to protect him from you and your obscene attitude. Sydney is one of the most gifted Guides of his generation and is only six years older than your son—it gives them common ground and their relationship is and will remain platonic and brotherly. What you’ve suggested is an insult of the highest order. Nothing is more important to the pride than the protection of our youngest and most fragile members. Sydney is prepared to put his life entirely on hold in order to nurture and protect your son during this time.”
“Daryl needs his mother.”
“No, mom, I don’t,” Daryl finally said. “And insulting us is solving nothing. If Sydney or Blair are oversexed perverts than I’m no better. I’m not different from them and I can’t stay with you anymore. It’s been so bad lately that I’ve been thinking – I mean I didn’t get too far, but I’ve been thinking about killing myself for months.”
Simon took that news like a blow and Blair grabbed his elbow to steady the older man. “Take a deep breath, Simon, it’s okay. When a Guide gets close to empathic overload—they often think about a permanent solution to escape the pain they can’t get away from. Daryl isn’t suicidal; if he were he would have already ended it. He would have ended it yesterday and we wouldn’t be having this conversation. That he’s thought about killing himself is just an example of how badly he felt and how damaging his situation has been.”
“Daryl, you… you have to know that I would have listened to you. Why didn’t you come to me?”
“Mom monitored my phone calls,” Daryl admitted. “I didn’t want to hurt her by telling her how much… how much everything hurt. I was angry with you all the time, but I knew it wasn’t my own anger—I just couldn’t control it. I couldn’t stop it.”
“I have rights,” Joan finally said. “You can’t keep me from my child, Dr. Sandburg.”
“Actually, I can,” Blair responded gently. “I wouldn’t want to do it because I believe that a child needs both of his parents but I won’t hesitate if you can’t control yourself and your prejudices. As it stands, I will only agree to release Daryl into the custody of his father and as long as Simon agrees that Sydney will be coming with them.”
Simon pulled off his glasses and rubbed his face. He looked so defeated and overwhelmed and Blair hated that. “I’ve got a guest bedroom that Sydney is welcome to use indefinitely—as long as needed. I can arrange to take out a mortgage on my house to pay for this.”
“The Sentinel-Guide Center will see to my salary during my Conservatorship of Daryl, Captain Banks.” Sydney tucked a stray lock of blond hair behind his ear. “I will be compensated for my time and will not be punished for my leave of absence from school.” He pulled a business card out of his pocket and handed it to Joan Banks. “Due to the circumstances you’ll have to arrange visitation with Daryl through the Center. Call the number on this card and I will inform them when it is convenient for us. A Sentinel-Guide pair will be by your house to collect his things so he will be comfortable in his father’s home. If you attempt to see Daryl outside of the agreement you make with the Center, we will have no choice but to seek a formal ruling through the courts. You should know that if that takes place you will likely lose all visitation and custody rights permanently. You could also face jail time. The abuse of a Guide is a federal crime.”
“I’ve never abused my son!”
“His in-take records from Cascade General paint a different picture. Ten Guides came online yesterday during the event and only two were so badly damaged that they almost went into an empathic overload. One of them was Daryl and the other was a young girl who had stressed herself out trying to hide what she was. If Dr. Sandburg hadn’t come to the emergency room when he did and found Daryl—he would have likely lapsed into coma and died,” Sydney said bluntly. “You’ll be given a list of guidelines for visiting your son—I would suggest that you read them carefully and adhere to them to the fullest measure of the word.”
* * * * – –
“I take it didn’t go well?”
Simon looked up from the paperwork he had spread out on his desk. “Your Guide is… a powerhouse in more ways than one. If I was in Joan’s place I would hate his guts.”
Jim winced. “That bad, huh?”
“Yeah, that bad. I’ve contacted a lawyer, I’m going to petition the courts for myself and get her rights as a parent removed. I hate this—I hate doing this to her because—hell Jim she was my wife for 15 years and now I feel like I don’t even know her. As much as I used to love her, I hate her for what she’s done to Daryl. She’s got all of these prejudices against Guides that I never even knew she had and I could tell she was hurting Daryl with every word she said. She just seemed blind to it.” Simon tossed his pen aside. “What the hell am I supposed to do?”
“Protect your son before the pride steps in. The city of Cascade hasn’t had a formal pride in over a hundred years but we’re as of yesterday, one hundred Sentinels strong and that makes us one of the largest prides in the area. The Sentinel-Guide Center spreads its power thin all over the country so a local pride can wield a lot of power when it comes to protecting each other—and especially Guides. Guides are precious and they are protected. Now that he’s online; every Sentinel he comes across will recognize him for what he is and if they perceive a threat towards him –they would be within their rights to neutralize that threat.” Jim cleared his throat. “Four years ago in Seattle, a Sentinel heard a teenage girl being beaten over twenty miles away. A Guide. He went feral and killed the man with his bare hands.”
“I remember,” Simon murmured. “It made the news because her parents had pretty much sold her because she was an empath. Sold her for sex and when she refused the man started to beat her.”
“Yes, but what wasn’t reported in the news was he wasn’t the only Sentinel she called to her—he was just the one that got there first. Over twenty Sentinels in the Seattle area left their jobs, got in their cars and headed straight for that girl. Some heard her, others felt her, but they all went in search of her. Her parents are just lucky they weren’t there on scene because he would have killed them, too.”
“Did she live?”
“Yes, she’s bonded now—to the son of the Sentinel that saved her. Most assume that’s why he got there so fast—that he understood on some instinctual level that she was his son’s Guide. Their family took custody of her because of a DNA match and the son came online a few months ago.” Jim walked to the window and leaned against the frame. The warmth of the sun felt good on his back. “Blair said he found a really talented and disciplined Guide to act as Daryl’s Conservator.”
Simon nodded. “He seemed like a nice kid. Just twenty himself. I hate that he’s had to give up school to do this.”
“Don’t.” Jim shook his head. “It’s an honor really to be asked to do something like this. The kid was giddy when Blair took him aside last night and asked if he would do it. He’ll be paid well by the Center and it will look great on his resume for later. Sydney has ambitions to work for the Center and become a Guide therapist. His major is Guide Psychology. To get a chance to work as a Conservator for a Guide of Daryl’s abilities is quite a feather in his cap.”
Jim frowned as he considered how to explain the ranking system within Sentinel-Guide society. “Okay, say Guides are rated on a scale of one to six? An Alpha Sentinel requires a strong Guide—somewhere between a five and a six. Sandburg is a high six.” Jim grinned when Simon laughed but then sobered quickly. “Daryl is a six, Simon. He’s an Alpha Guide in the making. Most Alpha Guides are wolf Guides – like Blair and like little Jessica. They’ve been doing research and as far as we can tell Daryl is the first Guide in the United States to ever have a lion for a spirit animal. We’ve contacted Sentinel-Guide Centers all over Africa trying to get information on lion Guides but so far we haven’t gotten a response.”
“A six,” Simon repeated. “Jim?”
“I know. It’s the last thing you wanted to hear but you need to know why Daryl is so fragile and why Blair is willing to be such a hardass concerning his care. After our loss yesterday, the pride will be extra careful with the Guides – unbonded or not.” Jim glanced out in to the bullpen. “Most Guides don’t have predators for spirit guides, Simon. It’s telling.” He watched Chad and Thomas hover by Blair’s empty desk but didn’t bother to extend his hearing so he could hear what they were discussing. “Thomas’s spirit guide is Golden Eagle and he’s the Beta Guide of our pride. He could have easily been the Alpha Guide of the pride if he’d bonded with an Alpha Sentinel. Chad’s spirit guide is a deer. Thomas would is a five on the scale I gave you and Chad would be a four.”
“I understand,” Simon watched the two Guides with undisguised interest. “Jergens and Howard want to transfer into Major Crimes. The Chief wants to let them. He’d like me to take all the Sentinel-Guide pairs in the precinct.”
“That would just be the six of us,” Jim murmured. “What did you say?”
“I haven’t answered him, yet. I’m willing to take Jergens and Howard—though Howard will have to take his ass to the academy like Sandburg did. I can’t believe Tilman in Homicide didn’t want to bother with it. Ex-freaking-Navy SEAL on his payroll and he pays him to consult.” Simon rolled his eyes. “But what about Moore and Jamieson?”
“Moore isn’t meant for the academy and Jamieson would never allow it. That’s not to say he couldn’t do it—it’s just that Chad is a gentle person. Major Crimes gets its share of crimes that involve a lot of research and computer work. I think they could fit in well but that’s your call.”
“They’re members of your pride, Jim.”
“You’re the Captain, sir.” Jim glanced towards Simon. “When I’m here—I answer to you—and I don’t see that changing no matter what other Sentinels might call me.”
“As long as they understand that as well.”
“The first time one of them doesn’t—you can tear them a new asshole. Thomas and Chad trust you—and that means a lot to their Sentinels.”
“Because of Sandburg?”
Jim paused as he considered that. “Yes, they’ve both got a little hero worship going on but I have to tell you most of the Guides that meet Sandburg are either going to love him or hate him.”
“He has a lot of power—both personal and legal. He isn’t afraid to use either. He’s confident of his abilities and he’s bonded to an Alpha Sentinel. That makes him a target for Guides who might have more ambition that sense.”
“So, the honor code is flexible?” Simon asked with a raised eyebrow.
Jim laughed. “We’re human, Simon. We’re all weak to the same temptations and vices of mundanes. Sentinels themselves are instinctually pushed to be guardians and protectors. Guides are different animals all together—they are driven by instinct to bond with the Sentinel who is their best match and the one most likely to shield and protect them. We use DNA tests to find what we call perfect-matches these days but that wasn’t always the case. In the past, pair bonding was based purely on instinct and often times it could be dangerous for both Sentinel and Guide.”
“You said you were drawn to New York.”
“There were four matches in the DNA database for my profile. Two of them were perfect but only one of them was in New York. I was convinced that my Guide was in New York. After he consented to present himself, I was given his name. I had to go to him because his asshole boss in the FBI was trying to hold him in custody, but you know that part.”
“Do the other matches know?”
Jim shook his head. “They aren’t supposed to know. My choice has been made and pair-bonding is for life. None of the others were notified. If I hadn’t been insistent that my Guide was in New York or if both matches had been in New York I would have met both and made a choice at that point.”
“Out of curiosity, where was your other perfect match?”
Jim hesitated briefly and then sighed. “Seattle. If I had gone to the Sentinel-Guide Center in Seattle for registration and testing he would have been presented first and there is a good chance I would have never met Blair.”
“That has you a little unsettled.”
“Yes, I don’t like the possibility of a world where I don’t have Blair.” Jim tilted his head and a small smile drifted across his lips. “He’s here and he brought Daryl along.”
“Oh.” Simon stood abruptly. “Why would he do that?”
Blair burst into the bullpen full of energy and talking a mile a minute to his very avid fourteen year old audience. “So, you can imagine how that felt—there I was all of sixteen years old and face to face with these three big, huge, like oak trees Sentinels—all of whom were of the opinion that if they ‘caught’ me that got to keep me.”
Daryl laughed. “What happened?”
“Well, hell, I ran my ass off.” Blair plopped down in his chair and motioned Daryl to a seat. “You guys remember Daryl.”
“Hey, kid, how are you? I heard you were assigned a Conservator?” Thomas leaned one hip on the desk and Chad patted Daryl on the shoulder as he went back to his computer which he’d set up on an empty desk.
“Yeah, he’s great. Right now he’s across town picking up his stuff.” Daryl offered his father a small smile as Simon came to stand at Blair’s desk. “Sydney had to do some packing so I’m Blair’s ride along for a few hours. Syd didn’t want me down there where he lives in the warehouse district.”
“Wise choice,” Jim muttered. “Lots of creeps down that way.”
“He said something about not corrupting me by letting me see hookers.”
Blair chuckled. “So, what do I do? I bring him to the police station and apparently Vice had this crack downtown and there are like fifty hookers downstairs getting processed.”
Simon sighed. “Great, Sandburg.”
“I made him close his eyes,” Blair promised. “He didn’t see anything and I kept him shielded the entire way up so he didn’t feel anything from them either.” He pulled a book out of his backpack and handed it to Daryl. “Here, your first reading assignment.”
“The Modern Urban Guide by Dr. Blair Sandburg.” Daryl flipped open and grinned. “Hey, you signed it.”
“Well, I had a few copies left from the publisher.” Blair leaned back in his chair. “Don’t read the parts with the sex bonding.”
Daryl grinned. “Oh come on, I’ll be 15 soon.”
“And you can’t enter a sex bond until you are eighteen, not even if your Sentinel was your age.” Thomas tapped the book. “The sex bonding would just freak you out anyway.”
Daryl rubbed his thumb across the cover of the book. “Is it required? I mean, do you have to have a sexual bond?”
“No.” Blair shook his head. “It’s a choice you’ll make with your Sentinel when you are much older and it’s a topic you should probably discuss before you agree to enter into a spiritual bond. It’s best if a Sentinel and Guide are on the same page.”
“It’ll probably be a guy, right? I mean only twenty percent of the registered Sentinels on the planet are female.” Daryl ignored his father’s intake of breath and focused right on Blair. “So, I should prepare myself for that possibility?”
“Yes, you should. But, Daryl, you have to understand that your Sentinel would never ask more from you than you can give. It’s against their nature to hurt their Guide—either physically or emotionally. You know how you feel right now?”
“Yeah, warm. I feel warm and sort of like I’m in a bubble. Before—it was like everything got in and I couldn’t control it. Now I can see it—I can see my shield around me and then I can see yours.”
“It isn’t my shield, Daryl. It’s Jim. I have my own shields—my own protections against the outside world, but my strongest defense is my Sentinel. Our spiritual bond created a shield—a special one in him that he uses to balance his senses and use them effectively. That same shield is extended around me, no matter where I go. I think I would have to leave the planet itself to lose it. So, when I took Sydney’s place as your buffer—I wrapped Jim’s shield around you. What you’re feeling is roughly a tenth of what you would get from your own Sentinel with just a spiritual bond.”
“That’s why you don’t feel empty and Sydney does. He has a place—a dark place that I can’t touch.”
“And you should never try,” Thomas murmured gently. “Not ever, it’s a painful place for an unbonded Guide. Especially someone who has been online as long as Sydney has.”
“How long?” Simon asked gruffly.
“Sydney has been online since he was nine years old,” Blair murmured. “There are only a few Guides on the planet who have gone unbonded as long as he has and only one in this country.”
“Now,” Thomas corrected. “Sandburg was the oldest.”
Blair smiled then. “Yeah, but look what I got for my wait!”
Jim laughed. “Cheeky bastard.” He slid into his desk chair and stared at his blank computer monitor for a second. “We should start getting reports from forensics soon and Wolf promised the autopsy results by lunch today.” He glanced towards Daryl who had leaned into his father as he spoke. “Sorry, kid, I forgot…shit.”
“Don’t worry about it, Jim.” Daryl rubbed his cheek against his father’s arm. “I… I know what happened to her. You’re not going to let him do it again, are you?”
“We’ll do everything we can to stop him, son.” Simon ran a hesitant hand over the back of his son’s head and relaxed when Daryl pressed closer.
Jim could tell the man was confused, he shared a look with his Guide and found Blair regarding Simon with affection and amusement. It was relieving that Blair and Simon had developed a rapport, he’d been afraid that there would be conflict between them. Such conflict would have caused personal and professional problems on such a level that Jim would have probably had to request a transfer to a different precinct within the department.
“We’re due to have a conversation with DA Sanchez.” Blair looked at Daryl and then back at Jim. “Well, actually, you’re due to have a conversation with DA Sanchez. Sydney promised to come by in about two hours for Daryl which means I should be on hand for the reports from forensics and the ME.”
Jim nodded. “Not a problem, Chief.”
“I’d be fine, Blair, if you wanted to…”
Blair shook his head at Daryl. “No, you wouldn’t. You feel confident because you aren’t having to use your shields at all. We’ll stay here. You brought your game, right?”
“Yeah,” Daryl lifted his backpack a little. “I’m all ready to entertain myself.”
“Good, you can hang out in your Dad’s office and I’ll work with Chad on the research.” Blair exchanged a look at Simon who nodded before leading his son away.
* * * * –
“First,” Beverly Sanchez took a deep breath. “The DA wishes to convey his apologies on the actions of our office concerning the kidnapping of Jessica Martins. ADA Julie Phelps has been removed from employment and we’ve also replaced our media liaison. We are aware that the pride is preparing a memorial for her and would like to contribute in any way that we can.”
Jim looked up from his empty legal pad and looked her over. “When did I start making you nervous, Beverly?”
She glanced around the room, taking in Daniel, Markus, Thomas, Henri and then Rafe. “I, Jim, frankly we’re not sure what we can expect from the pride regarding the Jessica Martins matter.”
“You can show her the respect she deserves in death that she wasn’t given in life. Prosecute the foster parents for failing to report her missing, investigate social services within an inch of their lives for not realizing that she was missing, and make sure I never have to set eyes on Julie Phelps again. I can’t promise to be civilized if I do.” Jim took the bottle of water Markus offered him and twisted off the cap. “Now, tell me what the federal prosecutor in Seattle wants to do.”
“Since the cases cross jurisdictions and crimes against Guides are categorized as hate crimes—he won’t have a problem filing a federal case against the killer once he is captured. I understand Dr. Sandburg has requested a forensic artist from California?”
“Yes, a Guide. It will produce a better drawing of the offender,” Thomas offered in way of an explanation. “He will be arriving within the next few hours with his Sentinel.”
“Please tell your Captain that the DA’s office will handle the financial matters concerning their travel, accommodations, and any fees for utilization of their skills in this matter.” Beverly spread her hands out on the table. “Do you need help with manpower? The DA’s investigative unit is at your disposal.”
“We’re waiting on seven years of credit card receipts from the Seattle Zoo. Not all of them are digital so we’ll need someone for data entry.” Daniel lifted an eyebrow in question and then made a note when she only nodded. “Have them report to my Guide and he’ll set them up in the conference room across the hall. We have volunteers from all over the department already taking turns entering data that we’ve already gathered so he’ll be able to put them to work soon and start rotating them in shifts to prevent mistakes.”
“What kind of data are comparing?”
“City employment records, registered Sentinels, family court proceedings, and registered dormant Sentinels for the last 30 years.” He only smiled when her mouth dropped open. “We’re going to add the membership rolls from the Seattle Zoo and the credit card receipts from the last seven years as soon as we can get them. We’re searching for a common link—we’re hoping we can to find his parents in this search.”
Jim tapped his fingers on the table and Daniel slid a pen his way without looking up from what he was writing down. “Once we have a drawing, I’d like you to call a press conference and brief the city on the case. We can discuss the details that we’re willing to release after I’ve met with my Captain.”
“You don’t want to do it yourself?”
“No. I think it would be best if you and Captain Banks handled the press.” Jim made a few notes about information he wouldn’t want to be public knowledge and then cleared his throat. “If he sees a Sentinel on the news talking about this case he might get tipped that we’re aware of what he is. Don’t mention that any of the dead children were presumed to be Guides. At least not yet, we have time to work a few angles before we put our cards on the table. It’s telling that he hasn’t taken a child that was registered with the Center.”
“Why? I would have though the Center would have wanted to prepare the families of latent children Guides.” Beverly frowned. “What about the empathic event yesterday? That’s certainly no secret to anyone in the entire country.”
“The Center is going to release a brief statement acknowledging the event but they won’t be giving details on what caused it. The mundanes who were affected only received pain and fear from it. The Guides who witnessed it mentally aren’t going to be talking to the press about it. Most of them are barely functioning right now and the last thing they want is to be in front of a bunch of reporters. When we sent out the alert earlier in the day—we said only that there was a very high chance of a strong and painful empathic experience for sensitives and Guides.” Jim took a deep breath. “I don’t think the press, in general, is made of stupid individuals so I don’t expect the fact that Jessica was a Guide to stay a secret for long. They’ll be connecting the dots and drawing a big clue. That being said, I would seriously prefer that it not be confirmed or discussed by us in the public. If you are asked—give them a bland answer.”
“We are exploring all avenues of investigation into the death of Jessica Martins,” Beverly said and then raised an eyebrow. “What about her foster parents?”
“Get them in court and put a gag order on them while you are filing charges against them. Feed them and that prosecution to the press.” Thomas shrugged when they all looked at him. “What? They didn’t report her missing. He could have kept and tortured her for years before he got bored with her and killed her. I mourn her but I’m also relieved for her. The last six months must have been the most wretched of her life. I don’t wish what happened to her on my worst enemy.”
* * * * –
“Call me Ishmael. Some years ago–never mind how long precisely –having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off–then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.”
Jim chuckled as his Guide stopped speaking. “Moby Dick, Chief?”
Blair sighed. “It seemed appropriate.” He lowered himself so he could sit on Jim’s lap. “The forensic artist will be here in the morning and we’re no closer on the research front than we were when we started.”
“It takes time and it isn’t helping that we can’t reach out to the public with a profile.” Jim sighed. He was positive that Blair had initiated a grounding ritual the minute they got home for himself rather than for his Sentinel. “You know if we did… one or both of his parents would step forward.”
“Maybe, and he’d disappear. A year from now there’d be another dead child in another city or maybe even Canada. We can’t risk him escaping us.” He moved closer and tucked his face against Jim’s neck in a sure role reversal and took a deep breath. “I see why you like this, it’s very nice being close to you like this.”
Jim ran his hands down Blair’s back carefully and sank a little bit lower into the couch. “It’s the most peace I’ve ever known in my life, Guide.” He closed his eyes as Blair moved closer. “How is Daryl doing?”
“Good. Sydney said he’s already falling into a good rhythm and that he’s maintaining his personal shield for longer periods of time. He could probably function without a Conservator inside of six months but we’re probably going to do a full year since he’s so gifted and we can’t risk a blow out or a setback with him. Especially not with his mother in the picture.”
“Simon is going to sue for sole custody and limit her visitation to a few hours supervised a month,” Jim admitted. “I sent him to Derrick Bell since the case will concern Sentinel-Guide law. Bell took the case and has applied to the Center for payment since the Banks family became a Guide source overnight.”
Blair chuckled. “Wow, how did that go over?”
“Simon’s older brother was a little overwhelmed to discover that two of his children were latent. So that makes three in Daryl’s generation, but he’s the only one online.”
Blair lifted his head and sat back on Jim’s thighs. “Thanks, I needed this.”
“I could tell.” Jim’s fingers trailed through his hair briefly and then he settled hands on Blair’s hips. “How did you know she was a wolf Guide? Did you see her spirit animal before she died?”
“No.” Blair played with Jim’s belt with careful fingers and took a deep breath. “She was far to damaged by the time I came to Cascade to reach out to me like that. I started to suspect it when we were talking to the social worker. There was something about his tone of voice and the guilt he carried—it was stronger and somehow a little unnatural.”
“I don’t understand.”
“He was attracted to her sexually and it upset him a great deal. It’s one of the reasons he rarely visited her foster home and was relieved when she wasn’t home for him to check on when he stopped by the house.” Blair bit down on his lip. “The same for the foster father. Jean Daily said her husband wasn’t happy when Jessica came online but what she didn’t say was how unhappy he really was. As much as they loved her, they were relieved when she was taken.”
“Jesus, Chief.” Jim closed his eyes briefly. “I don’t understand.”
“Parents of Guides are buffered from the sexuality their children exude. They don’t have inappropriate thoughts or desires but Arnold Daily didn’t have that biological connection to buffer out that attraction. He never acted on it but it must have made him feel like the sickest fuck on the planet to want a child like that and not already have that compulsion in him.”
“Is that why most Guides don’t come online until they are nearly adult?”
“I think it’s a protective instinct, yes. It’s also why the Center does their best to isolate really young Guides. The amount of anger a mundane can build against an online Guide because of the sexuality issue is overwhelming.”
“Like Joan Banks?”
“No, her maternal instincts should buffer that out.” Blair frowned. “I mean, he is her biological child, right?”
Jim took a breath. “I… I didn’t know them when Daryl was born. I know he’s an only child because they had problems. Simon is definitely his father—there is a connection between them, a scent they share.”
Blair grinned. “Wow, you can smell their genetic connection?”
“Yes, it’s strong between them.” Jim frowned and then closed his eyes as he relaxed on the couch. “Not as strong with Joan as it is with Simon but there is something there—something related.”
Blair slid off his lap. “We need to go see Simon.”
* * * * –
Simon cradled a beer bottle in both hands and shook his head. “Joan couldn’t have children. We tried for a few years but she got angry and so frustrated that we finally decided to… her half-sister offered to have a baby for her and that’s what we did.”
“Is Daryl’s biological mother around?”
Simon shook his head. “No, she was killed in a car accident when Daryl was six. He knows about it. He understands and he’s always thought of Joan as his mother. Why is this an issue?”
“Because Joan doesn’t have the biological imperative that you have to keep your son safe and like most mundanes she’s probably unwillingly attracted to him when he isn’t shielded. Which explains some of the anger she’s carrying around.”
“Attracted to him?” Simon demanded in a yell. “Jesus fucking Christ, Sandburg!”
Blair took a deep breath. “Jim, we need to show him.”
Jim sighed. “Ah, Chief, no, I don’t think I can let you get that close… I can’t…”
“Let me,” Sydney said from the doorway of the kitchen. “Daryl is in a deep sleep so he won’t be disturbed if I drop my shields and let Captain Banks have a really good look at an unshielded Guide.”
Blair’s mouth twitched a little. “If you’re sure?”
“Oh, I am.” Sydney shrugged out of the sweater he was wearing. “He really needs to understand what kind of threat his son faces every day that he’s not bonded to a Sentinel so when the time comes for a Sentinel to enter Daryl’s life… he won’t be concerned if it’s a man or a woman.”
Simon flinched a little. “I can’t… I understand bonding… I really do.”
Sydney unbuttoned his shirt and dropped it on the table with his sweater leaving himself clad in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt that said ‘I support Ninja Rights’ which made Simon chuckle a little when he saw it. “We know. We also know you want to be open minded but the thought of your son taking it from another man has you a little homicidal.” He wiggled his eyebrows when Simon took another step away and met with the kitchen counter. “Relax, Captain, you’re probably going to like this a lot more than you ever thought possible.”
“You’re just a kid yourself,” Simon muttered as his beer was taken from his hand and set aside. “I should take a belt to your ass for this.”
Sydney laughed. “Yeah, okay, but not in front of Blair and Jim. I don’t think they are that kind of kinky.” He watched the older man’s face as he let his shields bleed away and smiled when Simon’s eyes got a little bright. “Relax, Captain, this won’t make you gay. It’s not contagious.”
Simon snorted and then wet his bottom lip as the last of Sydney’s shields bled away and he was exposed to a fully unshielded Guide aura for the first time in his life. “I… Jesus… fuck.”
“Something like that,” Sydney murmured. “You understand the anger and the denial of wanting something abnormal to you?”
“Yes,” Simon tried to look away but his gaze returned to Sydney’s too pretty face. “Jesus, Jim is that what you feel from Sandburg?”
“Nope.” Jim leaned back in his chair. “It’s about four times as strong for me—because I can engage all of my senses not just sight.”
“You’re a cock tease, kid.”
Sydney laughed. “I’m totally not but you would be very uncomfortable with me for the rest of your life if I proved how wrong you are.” He stepped back from the Captain and pulled his shields back into place with practiced ease and watched as Simon relaxed by degrees. “Take a few deep breaths, Captain Banks.”
“I think, kid, you can call me Simon. I normally let people who give me erections call me that,” Simon said roughly as he rubbed his head with one hand and reached for his beer with the other. His face hardened. “Joan was feeling that for Daryl? That’s… Jesus. She didn’t touch him, did she?”
“No, he’s pretty much an innocent,” Blair murmured.
“Pretty much?” Simon questioned.
“It would be a violation of his privacy to discuss that, Simon.” Sydney patted his arm and went to the refrigerator for a beer. “Let’s just say that all of the experiences he’s had, they’ve not been particularly intimate and it was all with people his own age.”
“Right.” Simon sat down in a chair and emptied his beer in one swallow. “I wasn’t going to use that against her in court. I really wasn’t. It’s not fair… and we agreed a long time ago that it didn’t matter to either of us. It never came up in the divorce that he was my biological child and her adopted one.”
“You don’t have a choice,” Blair murmured. “I’ll have to report this to the Center and until he can maintain shields on his own for an indefinite period of time he can’t be around any mundanes alone that aren’t his biological parents. I know she’s an aunt but that isn’t enough of a biological connection to matter when it comes to this situation. It would damage him for life if he realized that the woman who raised him was sexually attracted to him—no matter how unwilling she is to accept or acknowledge that the attraction is there. She can’t help it and it has to be tearing her apart.”
“It explains why she called us a perversion,” Sydney said. “She has to blame him for it which makes him the abnormal one. The one that is sick and has a problem.”
“Why did this even come up?” Simon asked wearily.
“I was telling Jim about Jessica and how I knew she was a wolf Guide.” Blair drew a circle on the table in front of him with his index finger. “She was untrained but she seemed to have shields in place that protected her. Her foster parents talked about how people liked her, even those who maybe didn’t want to and how she handled being in large crowded places after she had time to acclimate. It was familiar… to me. I knew she was powerful just from the way everyone who met her spoke of her and the guilt that her social worker and her foster father carried around was heavy and difficult to shift through. For her to be exuding that kind of sexuality at five years old and the fact that she’d survived as long as she had in his care—she had to be more than just powerful. She had to be a wolf. Nothing else made sense.”
“He’ll search for another like her,” Sydney murmured. “He won’t be satisfied with a latent child—the next one he takes will be online. You know that.”
“Yes.” Blair nodded. “I’ve made the Center aware of that as well. We’ve been talking with all the parents of online children in the area. There aren’t many and none close to her age. The youngest is eleven and lives in Seattle. Her parents have already agreed to board her at the Guide School under twenty-four hour guard until he’s caught.”
“Is Daryl at risk?”
Blair paused as he considered it. “I don’t think so. Daryl is a big kid and he’s a lot older than the UNSUB’s normal target. His fragile state, your status as a cop, and Sydney being glued to his side makes him an unattractive victim to try to acquire. He’s going to go for someone who is left alone for long periods of time or who is out in public a lot.”
* * * * –
“How much does Sydney know about the case?”
“Enough—most of the high level Guides who were exposed to Jessica understand what happened to her and that she wasn’t the first. They aren’t going to speak to the press, Jim, none of them want that kind of exposure.” Blair slid out of the passenger side of Jim’s SUV and waited for his Sentinel to join them before continuing into the in-take Center in Seattle. He hadn’t been all that keen to return to the place but Elizabeth had requested him personally and he hadn’t seen her since he’d led the pride in meditation. “Thanks for coming with me.”
“Not a problem, Chief, I really don’t like you running around without me.” Jim let his hand fall to the small of Blair’s back as they entered the building. The first floor was one large waiting room with a central desk. There were couches and large chairs built for comfort all over the space—a space clearly designed for a Sentinel. The Sentinel Guide In-Take Center for Seattle was the largest in the state and Jim had been avoiding the place like the plague ever since he’d come online. The Sentinel-Guide Council for the Pacific Northwest had an office tower on the north end of town and he’d been in it enough recently to last him a lifetime.
The territory hadn’t had a true Alpha Sentinel Prime in over a century so it was taking some adjustments on everyone’s part. The Council had wielded power over all of the prides with equal measure for some time and now they were faced with a very powerful Sentinel and his Guide—they’d already learned that they wouldn’t be browbeaten into submission like other Sentinel-Guide Alpha pairs in the region.
Blair checked them in with a few words to the receptionist and then they were given directions to Elizabeth’s room. Elizabeth Arnold had been progressing very well and since her gifts weren’t as strong as Daryl’s she hadn’t been labeled fragile. There was still some discussion of a Conservator but in the end that would be her decision and not the Center’s. They couldn’t force a Conservator on a Guide of her age and low level abilities no matter how much it might benefit her.
Sylvia and Nathan Arnold were good people and they’d been bending over backwards to make everything easier for their daughter. Blair knew that Nathan Arnold had a difficult past but his problems with his family had little to do with the Guide gene he’d passed to his daughter. He hoped the man would eventually be able to confide in his daughter.
Elizabeth greeted him with a smile and held out both hands in greeting, her fingers wiggling like a professional cheerleaders in anticipation. Blair could hardly deny her and took her hands the moment he could. Her little sigh of contentment amused his Sentinel and her parents.
Blair sat down on the edge of the bed she was in. “Why are you on bed rest?”
Elizabeth sighed and her fingers tightened in his. “I had a… I became upset.”
“Upset,” Blair repeated. “Your shields seem strong and flexible. What upset you enough to put you back in a hospital bed?”
Nathan Arnold cleared his throat. “She was eavesdropping.”
Blair chuckled. “Ah, and what did you hear that upset you?”
Elizabeth blushed. “It was bad and mean and so untrue. You wouldn’t do that. You wouldn’t take a Sentinel who wasn’t meant for you just because you’re a Shaman. You wouldn’t do that. You’re not a power hungry ego-maniac.”
Blair took a deep breath and patted her hand. “Calm down. I won’t have you get upset again. Just take a few deep breaths for me and close your eyes. No one is perfect, Elizabeth, not even Guides. We are all capable of jealousy and ill-will when we do not get what we feel we are due. You will always encounter situations and people that upset you but if you let their words and their actions rule you—you will be doing a disservice to your gifts and eventually your Sentinel.” He released one hand and brushed her hair from her face with careful fingers. “Tell me, what is a Guide’s role?”
“To provide emotional and mental shelter for her Sentinel through the primary mental bond.”
“That I must be in control of mind and my responses to outside stimuli otherwise I will never be able to properly shelter my Sentinel.” She blushed and looked at Jim briefly. “It’s not true.”
“No, little one, it’s not true,” Jim offered her a small smile. “His animal spirit appeared to me and led me right to him. That would have been impossible if we weren’t a true pairing.”
She smiled then and relaxed. “Administrator Murray is an asshole.”
“Elizabeth!” Sylvia gasped and then flushed. “Language!”
“Well, he is Mama.” Elizabeth frowned. “I want to go home to Cascade. Can I be transferred to the in-take Center there?”
“We have you in the Seattle Center because it’s facilities are better prepared to deal with Guides in distress.” Blair relaxed on the bed. “The in-take Center in Cascade is really more of an emergency facility so we can stabilize someone in trouble and then move them to a larger facility like this one for treatment.”
Blair bit down on his bottom lip to keep from laughing. “Yeah, he probably does. Just stay a few more days until your doctor is confident that you have things under control. You certainly didn’t do yourself any favors this morning.”
She blushed. “It’s all his fault for saying those horrible things.”
“You could go home sooner if you’d agree to a short term Conservatorship.”
She pursed her lips. “I’m not a baby.”
“I had a Conservator for a year after I came online, Elizabeth and I was sixteen. It has nothing to do with being strong or being smart or being adult. Think about it really hard and make the decision that is best for you.”
* * * * –
Marie Edwards dropped down in her desk chair and nodded. “Yes, I was there when it happened. In fact, Administrator Murray was speaking with me when the young woman came into the meditation room where we were and launched into a fit at him over what he’d said.”
Blair raised an eyebrow. “What is his problem with me, Marie?”
“Beyond the fact that you’re the epitome of what every Guide wants to be?” She asked dryly and smiled softly when Jim laughed. “You’re educated, highly successful in your own right, and you’ve bonded with a powerful Sentinel. That would be enough in most circumstances but what you don’t know is that Jim Ellison had two perfect matches in the Guide system and two other highly compatible Guide choices.”
Blair’s mouth dropped open and he turned to look at Jim who’s gaze had dropped to the floor. “Jim?”
“Yeah, Chief.” Jim nodded. “But you were the only one in New York so I knew you were the one that I needed—I hadn’t traveled half way across the country on a whim. I was so focused and intent on finding you that the people in New York didn’t even attempt to get me to wait until the other three Guides could be contacted and brought to me.”
“Murray was his other perfect match?” Blair questioned. “He shouldn’t know that! If Jim refused to meet any of the others—they should have never been notified of a match in the system.”
“Gerald Murray has worked within the system for ten years, Blair, he had his records flagged. He received notification immediately of a Sentinel match.” Marie blew air out between her lips. “He tried to lodge a protest over the fact that he wasn’t called to New York for a formal presenting. He believes that he would have been Ellison’s choice if he’d been presented—especially since he’s from the area and he thinks you purposely used your abilities as a Shaman to wake and lure Jim to you for bonding.”
“He didn’t make me come online,” Jim said from his place by the window. “I was online for ten months before I went to New York. What he did do was wake me from a sound sleep because he was in so much distress I felt it. His animal spirit appeared to me once I landed in New York and lead me to the in-take Center for treatment because I was in a fairly fragile state by that point. Then, he led me straight to Blair when his former boss at the FBI tried to put him in protective custody.”
“Ten months,” Marie Edwards whispered. “Ten months? With your gifts? On your own?”
“Yes.” Jim looked at her. “If Murray had been my Guide—the chances are I would have been compelled to go to the Seattle Center for testing. He may be a genetic match but he’s by no means a match for me spiritually or personally. He could certainly never work with me—not the way Blair does and I needed a Guide who could be my partner in all things. Gerald Murray is married and would have insisted on a platonic bond—which would have made him undesirable from the start.”
Marie Edwards blushed and but a little smile played on her lips as she digested that information. “I see.”
“It’s good that you do—I consider his behavior insulting and it borders on pair-bond interference.” Jim left the window and walked to stand by the chair where Blair was seated. “There is a reason he was never supposed to know. I sincerely hope that you are much more careful about the kind of access your non-bonded employees have in the system in the future. It’s an abuse.”
* * * * – –
“So this Murray guy, is he a problem? I mean it’s got around the pride pretty quickly that he resents Blair and thinks Ellison is his Sentinel.”
“Not that I know of. He doesn’t have a lot of power and he’s pissed off the Seattle Alpha in the extreme by irritating his Guide. Everyone should know better than to piss off Marie Edwards. Heath doesn’t tolerate anyone putting her in a bad mood with any kind of good will.” Thomas Howard shrugged when his Sentinel looked his way. “You’ve seen the way he looks at people who get her food wrong at the drive thru. Trust me, that’s mild compared to the kind of trouble Gerald Murray just took on.”
Markus sighed and pinched his nose together. “Did you hear about their grounding ritual?”
Thomas chuckled. “Yes, do you want me to start quoting Shakespeare in your ear, love? Whisper sonnets of love and passion and sacrifice?”
“No, but you could come over here and let me play with your cock.” Markus pulled his Guide under the shower spray and let his senses spread out over the locker room. “We’re alone.”
Thomas sighed as his back met with the tile. “Don’t be greedy, Markus, you know we don’t do this here.”
His Sentinel sighed. “I need…”
“I know.” Thomas pressed a kiss against his Sentinel’s shoulder as Markus lifted him right off the floor and prodded his legs around his waist. “Are you sure we’re alone?”
Markus sank his teeth into his Guide’s shoulder, hard but not enough to breach the skin, as he settled his weight more and pressed his Guide fully against the wall. “Yeah, well, Daniel and Chad are on the door.”
Thomas chuckled and let the tension ease out of his body. His Sentinel moaned at the overt submission. “Take what you need, Sentinel.”
“Just you, Guide, always just you.”
* * * * –
The Alpha Sentinel of Seattle was sitting like a coiled viper as Jim paced in his office. It was fitting since his spirit animal was a black mamba. Heath Edwards was ten kinds of pissed off for both the situation and the fact that due to the actions of a member of his pride he had the Alpha Sentinel Prime of the Pacific Northwest in his office stalking around like a big cat. He could practically see Ellison’s tail twitching. In another situation he might have felt compelled to analyze just how much Sentinels acted like their spirit animals when they were pissed.
The door to his office opened and his Guide entered with Dr. Gerald Murray in tow. He could tell they’d been arguing but the white noise generators he ran in the room had shielded him from their conversation.
“Sit.” He pointed at the chair in front of his desk and Murray gamely sat. “I don’t even know where to start, Gerald.” Heath held up one hand when the man started to speak. “Let me be clear, Gerald, your input is neither required nor demanded in this conversation. You are here to listen.”
Murray nodded and crossed his arms in a defensive posture that spoke volumes. “Yes, Alpha.”
“You’ve violated the Sentinel-Guide Center policies on the handling of Guide notification by flagging your own records so you would be notified of a potential Sentinel match and in doing so you’ve created a hostile situation between our pride and the Cascade pride. You’ve let your ego and your own selfishness damage a young, fragile Guide who was entrusted into your care because she overheard you disrespecting her Alpha Guide. A man she happens to idolize. You tried to lodge a formal complaint for not being presented to Sentinel Ellison, something that is simply not done! And you’ve accused the Alpha Guide of the Pacific Northwest of manipulating his own Sentinel for material gain.”
Murray took a deep breath. “It was my right to be presented.”
“It wouldn’t have mattered,” Jim finally said.
“I’m a perfect match.”
Jim met his gaze without flinching. “Even if I hadn’t believed deeply that my Guide was in New York and in distress—I would have never consented to your presentation. You’re married with three children and I would have been unable to tolerate sharing you with your wife. Also, it would have been offensive to me to be the cause of your marriage failing because I require a sexual bond with my Guide.”
Murray’s mouth dropped open in shock. “Platonic bonds…”
“Are unnatural,” Jim finished coolly. “And anyone who says differently has no idea what they are talking about. I bond with my Guide several times a day and have since the full imprint was made. As attractive as you are, I would have never chosen you because it is obvious we’d never agree on that subject. We aren’t compatible, no matter what the genetics say and your disrespect for my Guide is irritating.”
“It won’t happen again.”
“See that it doesn’t,” Heath murmured. “Dismissed, and take some time off, Gerald. Reconnect with your wife and children—I think you could use some perspective.”
* * * * –
“I’m not sure I understand.” Simon admitted as he gazed on Blair and the forensic artist from California. They’d been in meditation together for over an hour and hadn’t moved from the spots they’d claimed in the conference room they were using for the task force.
Thomas grinned and then carefully prodded the larger man from the room. “Blair’s memories of the event that took Jessica’s life are the most clear and precise of anyone else in the pride. His perfect memory aside, he is able to convey more about what he saw if he interacts directly with Guide Simmons’ mind. Once they are finished, Simmons will be able to render entire scenes from Jessica’s last moments—in detail that when we find where she was killed you’ll be convinced he was there in the room.”
Simon’s mouth dropped open. “Are you serious?”
“Casey Simmons is renowned around the world for this ability and he normally does it with mundanes. I can’t imagine what he’ll get out of an encounter with someone like Sandburg—the results will probably better than pictures.”
Simon looked around and found himself in the bullpen. “Are you managing me?”
Thomas grinned. “No, sir, I leave such skills for my Sentinel. You have no idea what a pain in the ass he is. Especially right now since all of the Sentinels in the city seem to be channeling Ellison’s pissy mood.”
“Well, go get him. I want to speak with you both.”
“He’ll be along shortly, Captain. He always keeps an ear on me when we are in the same building together.”
Simon only ended up having a few minutes to settle in his office with a cup of coffee before Markus Jergens entered his office and closed the door behind him. He motioned the man to sit. “Tell me why you want to be in Major Crimes, Detective.”
Markus cleared his throat. “I’ve worked in Homicide for several years and I’m ready for a change. While my solve rate isn’t as high as Ellison’s… I believe I have a lot to contribute to the unit and it would make my Guide happy. He likes you, finds being around you safe. When he’s happy and safe—I’m more productive. Therefore I believe I would be a better Detective and a better Sentinel if I were in Major Crimes.”
“Captain Tilman hasn’t been exactly pleased with you since you bonded with a Guide.”
“No, shortly after I came online and reported my status I had to register with the Center. There were no matches in the system so I was assigned a Conservator who basically buffered out everything and kept me shielded. It was the only way I could function without a bonded Guide. The Conservator was female and Captain Tilman had no problem with her being with me on the job. Then I was notified that a man in the Navy had come online as a Guide and was my genetic match. A perfect match which was more than I expected under the circumstances. They’d told me I should prepare myself to accept a near match.”
“Tilman wasn’t happy with that?”
“He seemed okay with until he walked in on us in the middle of a grounding ritual. After that he kept me at a distance and made it clear he did not approve of the relationship I had with my Guide.”
Simon bit down on his lip. “I don’t even know why I’m asking… but what exactly is your grounding ritual?”
“We have several depending on our circumstances and the location,” Thomas admitted with a grin. “It wasn’t sexual but what he walked in could have been perceived as intimate.”
“I get a little skin hungry when I need to be grounded.” Markus shrugged when Simon’s mouth dropped open. “It’s not uncommon with Sentinel’s. You’ll find that Ellison will untuck his Guide’s shirt or unbutton him enough to get access to skin he can’t see. In the situation with Tilman, I’d stripped Thomas to the waist and I might have been biting him… well let’s just say he was shocked.”
Simon snorted and leaned back in his chair. “I take it you’d had a difficult day?”
“Yes, we’d worked a family murder. Four kids, one an infant, and both parents—all shot at point blank range. Tilman rarely gave us a break on that front—it was the fourth child murder he’d dropped into my lap that month. I know he gets pressure from the higher ups to dump high profile cases in my lap because of my abilities but it isn’t always the best situation for me or my Guide.”
“Okay, I can see that. I try to make sure Jim doesn’t get murders back to back…” He trailed off and winced.
“It’s okay, Captain, we knew Ellison was online for a while.” Thomas offered a small smile. “He might have been hiding it from most of the mundanes around here but he wasn’t hiding it from me or any other Guide he crossed paths with. I was honestly going to corner him and insist he get help at the Center… only to discover that he’d left Cascade in the middle of the night and bonded with Blair Sandburg within twenty four hours of leaving. He was in a great deal of pain near the end and his ex-wife certainly wasn’t helping.”
“Why didn’t you go through the short course for ex-military at the Academy?” Simon asked bluntly.
Thomas sighed. “I offered when I first bonded with Markus. Captain Tilman told me it wasn’t necessary because I wasn’t here to be a cop.”
“Tell him the rest,” Markus instructed softly.
“He said my job was to keep his resident freak in line.” Thomas softened a little when Simon’s expression went stormy. “I would have lodged a formal complaint but Markus didn’t want the drama.”
Simon nodded and opened a file on his desk. “I signed off on your transfer to Major Crimes an hour ago. Howard, I expect you to enter the next session at the academy –your military experience and your field experience with the PD should make the short course a cake walk for you. In the mean time, you’ll qualify to carry a weapon and one will be issued to you. Understood?”
“Not a problem, Captain Banks.”
Simon focused on Markus. “Jim is my Senior Detective in Major Crimes but Captain Joel Taggert is my second in command. I realize your position as the Beta Sentinel for the Cascade pride puts you directly under Ellison’s authority…”
“Not on the job, sir. I understand the chain of command.”
* * * * –
The forensic artist stumbled briefly as he left the conference room and then reached out blindly for the Sentinel who had accompanied him. The man had settled into a small office near the conference room and had interacted with no one during the session and now it was clear why. They were both pale and shaking.
The Sentinel cleared his throat. “Captain Banks, my Guide will take a period of rest and then he will begin his work. Due to our fragile state, we have a car waiting for us to take us back to the hotel. Once we are ready to return… we will do so immediately.”
“Yes, of course, Sentinel Granger. Let me know…” He looked at the young man he’d seen cloistered with Sandburg for several hours and found the Guide shaking and clearly troubled. “Just let me know.”
“We will.” The Sentinel pulled his Guide closer. “Let’s go, Casey. We can work after you’ve rested.”
Jim watched the pair of them leave and then looked at his own Guide, still deep in meditation. He sighed. “Shit.”
“Yeah.” Simon took note of the stiffness of Sandburg’s posture and the slight tremble in his fingers. He’d seen the man meditate more than once and it looked nothing like he was seeing now. “What do you do?”
“I have no clue,” Jim admitted roughly.
Chad moved closer to him then and prodded him towards the door. “Do for him what he normally does for you. The grounding ritual works both ways you know. He finds comfort in your touch and in your undivided attention.”
Jim nodded. “Yeah, okay.”
He walked into the conference room and closed the door behind him. He didn’t bother with a lock because he knew that Chad and Daniel were outside and would linger until this was done. With a flick of his wrist he closed the shades and then walked to where Blair still sat. Jim sat down on the floor in front of his Guide and Blair immediately opened his eyes and crawled right into his Sentinel’s lap.
“Ah, Chief.” Jim pulled him close and ran his fingers over his hair. “I hate that you had to do this. I hate it.” He pressed a kiss to his temple.
Blair shuddered. “It had to be done.”
“I know.” He ran his fingers through his Guide’s short curls and took a deep breath. “Tell me what to do.”
Blair sighed and pressed close to his Sentinel. “Just keep talking to me.”
Jim grinned at the role reversal and considered his choices. He didn’t think his Guide would really appreciate him quoting the Art of War or departmental procedures. He pressed another kiss against his forehead and sighed. He turned all of his senses toward his Guide – finding his heart rate a little high and his breathing a far too rapid.
“You have heard of the Danish Kings
in the old days and how
they were great warriors.
Shield, the son of Sheaf,
took many an enemy’s chair,
terrified many a warrior,
after he was found an orphan.
He prospered under the sky
until people everywhere
listened when he spoke.
He was a good king!
Shield had a son,
child for his yard,
sent by God
to comfort the people,
to keep them from fear–
Grain was his name;
he was famous
throughout the North.
Young princes should do as he did–
give out treasures
while they’re still young
so that when they’re old
people will support them
in time of war.
A man prospers
by good deeds
in any nation.”
Blair grinned against Jim’s throat. “I don’t know that anyone would believe me if I told them you could quote Beowulf from memory.”
“My mother read it to me when I was little. It was my favorite story,” Jim admitted. “Let’s just relax here for a while, baby.”
“Yeah.” Blair shuddered.
“I’ve got you.” Jim rocked him gently.
* * * * –
Blair startled awake in his Sentinel’s embrace, his whole mind snapping into focus in one brilliant second. “No.”
“He took her. Christ, he took her.” Blair scrambled out of Jim’s lap and went for his cell phone. “She doesn’t fit. She isn’t young enough—why didn’t I think? We knew… we knew he’d take an online Guide next!”
“Blair talk to me,” Jim grabbed his Guide. “Talk to me.”
“Elizabeth Arnold is missing. Her parents probably don’t even know it, yet.” Blair took a deep breath. “We need to start moving now, Jim. Every second we waste is a second closer he gets to breaking through her mental shields and using her up.” He quickly dialed a number on his phone and didn’t even look up when Jim left the conference room at a run. “This is Dr. Blair Sandburg, I need to speak with Dr. Edwards immediately. We have a missing Guide.”
* * * *
“Casey is up and working despite the fact that he’s not ready,” Chad reported as he entered the bullpen. “I asked him to specifically to focus on drawings of the killer so we can get something out to the public. Every local station in the tri-state area and several in Canada are broadcasting her picture.” He came to a halt at Blair’s desk. “Are you sure he won’t kill her?”
“Not immediately. All of the other children were kept for months even with media exposure. He kept Jessica longer because of the lack of press coverage but he would have still kept her for several months after he took her to help calm down his mind.”
“He’s off pattern.”
“Yes, living as long as he did with an online Guide made living without one seem impossible. He won’t kill Elizabeth unless he has no choice. She’s a smart girl and by no means a child like what he’s used to dealing with. She also knows exactly what he did to Jessica. We need to know the location of every online child within three hundred miles of Cascade—seventeen years old and down. They need to be secured as quickly as possible.”
“He’d take more than one?” Chad asked softly.
“If he finds Elizabeth too difficult he might try to secure another. The fact that he didn’t go for an adult or a male teenager tells me he doesn’t think he could handle someone his own size or strength. Elizabeth barely weighs a hundred pounds soaking wet—she was as close as he could get to finding an online Guide that fit with his needs.”
“Yeah, okay, the press conference is about to start. We set up a TV in the conference room.”
Blair nodded. “Thanks.” He gathered up his laptop and several notebooks and left his desk. “How did Jim look when you left him?”
“Furious but in control. After what happened to Jessica, the last thing we need is another powerful Guide to go down like she did. Moreover, he’s met this girl and I think… well you know.”
“Yes, it makes it more personal,” Blair agreed. “He knows her scent, has felt the touch of her mind—she doesn’t have a lot of control and when we entered her hospital room she immediately reached out to us both for comfort.” He settled down at the conference table as Chad turned on the television and took another chair in the room.
* * * * –
“Good afternoon, I am James Ellison and I am the Alpha Sentinel Prime of the Pacific Northwest. I will be making a brief statement and then I have a statement for my pride. I will not be answering questions at this time.” Jim ignored the groans from the camera crews. “Two hours ago, Elizabeth Leigh Arnold was taken from her home by force. She is seventeen years old, an unbonded, online Guide, and a member of my pride. Her picture is being circulated as I speak as widely as possible in an effort to secure her safe return. Her parents and the pride are cooperating with the police in the best interests of Elizabeth. If you should see Elizabeth, I urge you not to take action yourself but to immediately call the police. The man we believe to have taken her is extremely dangerous and has already proven himself capable of violence.”
He paused and watched the press maneuver around in front of him vying for a better position. “The pride in Cascade is new and barely on its feet. I don’t know you all as well I should or as well I will in the weeks to come. We have already suffered a loss so profound that it brought us to our knees but we are on our feet again and where we have failed in the past we will not fail again. Guides are precious. Each one who steps forward and accepts their gifts and their place in a Sentinel’s life is a gift without price. They are to be protected, defended, and sacrificed for. Every Sentinel within my reach will carry that belief in their heart and in their mind—no matter their status. I don’t care if you are online, latent, or dormant—as your Alpha I am making it clear today that you have no higher purpose on this Earth than the protection of the Guide.”
Jim looked over the shocked faces of the crowd and his gaze connected briefly with Heath Edwards. The Alpha of Seattle gave him a brief nod and a grim smile slipped across his lips. He knew exactly what Jim was doing and if the mundanes didn’t get it immediately that was all the better.
“That is all.”
Jim ignored the questions that were immediately fired at him and let Daniel and Markus provide a buffer for him as he left the room. The new press liaison was hot on his heels as he entered the precinct and passed the watch desk.
“Detective Ellison, that is not the statement you were given.”
“That was pride business, Ms. Dennison,” Jim returned evenly as he headed towards a bank of elevators.
“The Chief of Police tasked me with the creation of statements on your behalf concerning this matter and you ignored me.”
“I did not ignore you.” Jim turned on her and glared. “I read it and decided that it did not convey the message I needed to send to my pride. You are not, nor will you ever be, in the position to tell me what I can say to my own pride or to the prides of the Pacific Northwest. When I am discussing pride matters with the press—I answer to one man and one man only and that is the Alpha Sentinel Prime of North America. The last time I checked he was a fifty year old retired CIA agent who likes to fish, build devices which he uses to spy on people, and watch South Park. You look nothing like him.”
“You are an employee of this department and your statement was not approved by my office.”
“Ms. Dennison, the last time we let your office make a statement to the press about a missing child—that child was butchered and left like garbage in an alley,” Jim responded in a cool voice that had people stopping in the tracks all around him. “Did you know he stabbed her with such force that he practically cut off her head?” He watched the blood drain out of her face. “The Chief of Police asked me to speak as the Alpha Sentinel of this city—I agreed. If he had wanted to control what I said he should have asked me to speak as a detective under his command.”
“It’s the same thing!”
“You would be well served to read the Sentinel-Guide Protection Act, Ms. Dennison and not just the summary. Because it’s not even remotely the same thing. There is not a circumstance on this planet where I would take orders from a mundane on pride business. I am not nor will I ever be the mouth piece of this department.”
* * * * –
Blair’s gaze jerked from his computer screen to the large doors that Jim pushed through. A woman he hadn’t met was fast on his heels, talking rapidly enough to make him wince in sympathy. “Hey, there. Who’s your stalker?”
Jim snorted and the woman turned to glare at him. “Ms. Cynthia Dennison, Public Relations Office. My Guide and partner, Dr. Blair Sandburg.”
Blair didn’t take the hand she offered. Instead he frowned at her. “It’s rude to offer your hand to a bonded Guide, Ms. Dennison. In the future, you should wait for the Guide to offer his hand to you—because otherwise you have no way of knowing if the bonded Sentinel within the pair would tolerate anyone else touching his Guide.”
Jim pulled on his jacket and grabbed his Guide’s satchel. “I want to go over the Arnold crime scene personally. Is it still sealed?”
“Yes, they are waiting on us. They haven’t let anyone in since we confirmed with her parents that she was missing.” Blair pulled on his jacket.
“Detective Ellison, we’re not finished,” Cynthia snapped and reached out for his arm as he passed her.
“Don’t touch him,” Blair snapped, his voice rich with Guide power. The woman stumbled back against Brown’s desk, completely unprepared for the mental slap Blair had given her. “Until you have learned to how to interact with a Sentinel-Guide pair, I would suggest you stay far away from my Sentinel.” Blair took his backpack from Jim and looked the woman over in disgust. “We don’t have time for your little games, Ms. Dennison. Go file a formal complaint and see how far that gets you.”
* * * * –
There were twenty Sentinels lined up along the police barricade when Jim arrived. He knew they were making the uniforms nervous but that was hardly his problem. He paused on the sidewalk and took the time to look each one of them right in the eye. Jim knew they would listen to him while he was in the house and he wouldn’t order them not to.
They worked in a variety of professions in the city ranging from medical to search and rescue. The police force only had 15 Sentinels on the job across the entire city. Jim knew that nearly ten of his pride had applied to the academy since he’d been recognized as the Alpha of Cascade. He wasn’t offended that they wanted to join him on the job—far from it. He tilted his head and they all did it with him—mundanes all around them gasped.
“I will not tolerate vigilante justice in my city but if your senses are mine to command—I ask you to listen and to see all that you can. If you are Guided, search as far as you can. If you are not bonded, do not. There is no need to make work for our pride while we have such a task before us.”
“Yes, sir.” Came the reply—delivered just as softly as his command but twenty voices strong.
Jim nodded and continued up the sidewalk with his Guide tucked close. “Have her parents gather clothing that she has worn and present it to the Sentinels that are here. They will divide the city up amongst themselves and start searching for her.”
“You can’t use Sentinels like blood hounds, Jim.”
“That’s exactly what we are going to do,” Jim returned evenly. “It’s up to you and the other Guides to make sure they can do it without zoning out.”
Blair grimaced but pulled out his PDA. He made quick work of sending out a text message to his Beta and then set up a notification grid. “I’ll have temporary Guides on site for the unbonded in ten minutes. We already have volunteers offering to shield unbonded Sentinels within the pride. We hit two hundred members this morning. Did you know that?”
“No.” Jim swallowed hard. “Are they moving here or just coming forward?”
“Mostly coming forward. Three re-locations from Seattle so far. Heath is taking it well.”
“Contact Edwards—I want his pride searching with us. Let them know what I want to do and have them come prepared for it. I want their best—ex-military, search and rescue, and cops are preferred but I won’t turn down anyone who has hunting experience at the very least.”
“Why is that important?”
“Scent tracking in an urban environment is an advanced skill. We can’t afford to have Sentinels zoning out on us.” He took a deep breath. “He wasn’t in the house—there are no male hormones outside of her father’s.” He turned and walked out of the house to stand on the front porch. “She opened the door for him. Why would she open the door for him?”
“She was expecting him.”
“Why?” Jim frowned. “She was expecting someone.”
“Yes, otherwise why open the door for a stranger? She would have trusted him initially. She’s a gifted Guide but still immature and her intuition is still developing—in the young it is often flawed because of hormone changes and their own emotional state. She’s been under a great deal of stress and came online with a horrific experience.”
“How much training has she had?”
“Primary shielding, basic Guide stuff because she was going to the Guide school. Once she demonstrated she could build her own shield—the Center didn’t even pressure her to take a Conservator.” Blair looked around the modest neighborhood. “She wasn’t even been home ten hours, Jim. How did he find her?”
“He followed her. He followed her all the way home from the Seattle Center and then took her when her parents went shopping to get the stuff she talked them into buying her.”
* * * * –
“I’m not your Guide.” Elizabeth turned her head and stared at the wall. She forced all of her mental strength into her primary shield and then glanced at her spirit animal. The polar bear cub had been her constant companion since the night little Jessica had died and now it lay curled in the corner of the room shaking in terror. Giving over to the fear she could not allow herself. She reached out hesitantly with her mind and whispered one word to her spiritual half. “Blair.”
The little animal lifted its head and stopped keening in distress. It didn’t want to leave her but the safety she offered in that one word was so beguiling and luring that he couldn’t ignore it. “Find Blair.”
“You will give me what I want; what I need. That’s all you’re good for, Guide.”
“I am not your Guide!” Elizabeth shouted. “No Guide would ever have one as sick and cruel as you. You’ll never be able to bond with me and I will never accept you—because you are not a Sentinel!”
“I am and you will do what I need or I will kill you.”
“Kill me now, you sick fuck, because I’m never going to give you the gift of my mind.” Elizabeth glared at him. “You’re not worthy of it and it is a gift for my Sentinel.”
“You will stop the voices in my head! You will do as you’re told, Guide!” He shook her and then threw her across the room. She hit the wall and sank to her knees. “You will do what I say.”
“No.” She shook her head. “Not ever. I will never do what you say.” She leaned against the wall and took a deep breath. “I am one with my spirit. I am one with my soul. I seek nothing but peace.” Elizabeth folded in on herself, her eyes blanking. “I know nothing of his cruelty and his pain is not my burden to bear or witness.”
* * * * –
“Okay, this is what we’ve got.” Chad pushed another pin into the large city map he’d put on the wall. “I’ve had fifty reports so far—each pin represents a Sentinel reporting picking up Elizabeth’s Guide scent trail. The blue are our own pride and the green are from the Seattle Pride. They started in Seattle and worked their way to Cascade.”
Simon cleared his throat. “I’ve never heard of Sentinels being used to track a person in an urban environment like this.”
“Jim and Blair are directing them—both pride teams at this point. We have 30-six Sentinels in the field with hunting and tracking experience.”
“What are the yellow pins?”
“Calls to the dispatcher reporting sightings of Elizabeth,” Chad pushed another pin into place. “So far, none of the callers have been anywhere near where the Sentinels are reporting catching her scent. Even with the way the wind currents are moving in the city—we believe if we cross paths with a visual sighting and a scent trail we’ll have a stronger chance of narrowing down her location.” He motioned towards the pins. “You can tell where the two prides met in the middle—from her house towards the Seattle Center. We have three paths that are not related to that travel pattern and one was definitely before she came online.”
Simon’s mouth dropped open. “Seriously?”
“Yeah, seriously, trust me, Captain. I had no idea a Sentinel could do something like this until Blair started directing Ellison and everyone else started following suit. Sandburg didn’t want to do it—he says it’s too taxing for the Sentinels but Ellison was insistent. Since he couldn’t talk his Sentinel out of it—he slapped radios on every Guide in the pride and teamed them up with unbonded Sentinels and bonded Sentinel-Guide pairs. Each team is made up of six individuals to prevent anyone from bottoming out without a helper on site.”
The radio beeped at that moment and Chad picked up. “Go for Moore.”
“Team four reporting, Fifth and West street, strongest scent trace I’ve found so far.”
Chad paused over the map and took a deep breath. “We have a cross over. We had a call three hours ago from a woman who swore she saw Elizabeth on West Street this morning but she was unable to confirm the time and it was before the bulletin was issued on her disappearance.” He clicked his radio twice. “Team three, join team four in sector six. Focus on residential properties and abandoned commercial lots.” He paused. “Sandburg?”
“I heard, Chad. We’re on our way as well. Have a medical team on standby.” Blair took a deep breath. “Her spirit animal just found me and from his condition –she’s not in good shape. No spirit animal would abandon his Guide unless circumstances were dire.”
“Unless she sent it to you. Could she do that?”
“She has a strong affection for me and trusts me a great deal. It could have transferred to her animal spirit,” Blair admitted. “It’s also a very new spirit. She is his first Guide. I’ve never seen an infant animal spirit before.”
* * * * –
Blair cuddled the small bear in his lap unwillingly amused by the looks he was getting. The moment he’d touched the animal everyone, including mundanes, around him could see it. Henri had been the only one brave enough to try to touch the animal and it had keened and moaned under his attention. It was obvious he would accept any comfort offered.
Since they’d arrived in the sector, they’d narrowed the scent trail down to four city blocks and Simon Banks was of the mind that they should start a door to door search. He rubbed the bear’s head and stood up from the sidewalk. “It’s time, little one, to take us to Elizabeth.”
He sat the animal down on the ground and it disappeared for everyone but him. The cub rocked a little and then laid down. Blair winced at its cries of distress and shook his head as he picked the animal back up. “I’m sorry, Jim, he isn’t going to offer us anything. Their bond is too fragile and he’s too hurt.” He cuddled the bear briefly and then walked to one of the older Guides that was helping with the search. “Natalie, would you take him?”
The woman reached out with a dubious expression but gamely took the cub from him and smiled when it didn’t disappear. “My own spirit animal doesn’t appear to anyone when I touch him.”
“He will stay visible as long as you’re holding him.” He patted the animal and started to walk away but it started to cry loudly. Blair frowned as he watched the cub reach out with both paws. “Natalie, put him down.”
Natalie squatted and let the cub down on the ground with careful hands and it disappeared from everyone’s view but Blair’s. The cub took a few steps and then tumbled. Then he got its feet and scurried towards a small group of Sentinels. Blair recognized them as students from Rainier. The cub nuzzled up against one of them and Blair took a deep breath as the young man reached down and picked up him with careful hands.
“Fuck.” Blair glanced briefly at his own Sentinel aware that the atmosphere had drastically changed in that moment. “We have a problem.”
“No kidding, Chief.” Jim cleared his throat. “Jacob, come here.”
The young Sentinel came to his Alpha, his jaw tight with fury as he cuddled the shivering spirit animal. “She’s mine. She’s my Guide.”
“You aren’t registered.”
“No, my parents didn’t want me to register until I finished college. They said I didn’t need the burden of a Guide. They hired me a private Conservator.” His fingers clinched in fur. “I never should have listened to them.”
“You’re both too young to bond.”
“She’s too young for a sexual bond but we could have had a platonic one. If we did I would know where she is right now.” He clutched the bear closer. “I should have known when I saw you with her spirit animal.”
“What is yours?”
“Snowy Owl, but I’ve been dreaming about a bear for months.” He glanced back towards his friends and took a deep breath. “That he came to me… that means she’s my perfect match, right?”
“Yes,” Blair responded. He could have never lied to a Sentinel.
“I saw her on TV… she’s… beautiful.”
“All Guides are,” Jim slid one hand onto the younger man’s shoulder and pulled him close. “Listen to me, we’re going to find her. We’re going to find your Guide but you’ll be no good to us if you go feral. I can see you fighting it.”
“I left my Conservator at the school since there were going to be Guides to help us,” Jacob admitted roughly. “I’ll do my best to keep my cool.”
* * * * –
Megan Connor spread the drawings out that the forensic artist had brought just a few minutes before and studied them. The seven uniforms she’d pulled from downstairs were all staring with her. The images weren’t pretty no matter how much talent the artist had—they were horrific in detail and in subject.
“I don’t know him, but I knew his father.”
Megan jerked. “Excuse me?”
“His father—died six years ago in the line of duty. His mother is retired and living in Florida.” The cop took a deep breath. “Stuart. His name is David Stuart. His father was Nigel Stuart, one of the first Sentinels to ever join the Cascade police department after the rules changed and Sentinels could serve outside of the military.”
Megan left the small room at a dead run and almost ran Thomas down in the hall.
“I’m already on it,” he said. “Markus is en route to the scene and we’re doing a records search for property owned by Stuart and his immediate family.”
“I’ll call the Captain.”
“Do that—and make sure to tell him that Stuart wasn’t on the list we received from the Sentinel-Guide Center. I think someone owes us a lot of explanations.”
* * * * –
Elizabeth pressed against the wall, the pain in her side was pronounced but she was pretty sure she only had a cracked rib. The bang of doors upstairs and the shouting by the police was distant and as much as she wanted to she couldn’t force herself to speak. She knew she wasn’t safe yet and until she was safe she couldn’t relax her guard, couldn’t risk letting him in for even a minute. Shots fired. Steps, running, more steps, doors banging open, voices shouting ‘clear’ in sharp, stressed filled tones.
Finally the door at the top of the narrow case snapped open and there were footsteps on those nasty little wooden stairs. She felt him first, the pressure of her Alpha Guide’s mind reaching out to her and she reached out blindly for the source of comfort. “Blair.”
Blair collapsed on the dingy blood stained mattress and took the shaking girl into his arms. “Elizabeth.” His hands fisted into her shirt. “It’s okay.”
“I didn’t let him in. I kept control and I didn’t let him in. I didn’t let him in.” She scrambled against him—trying to get closer, trying to sooth her soul. “I didn’t. I kept my mind safe.”
“You did so well,” Blair murmured his voice hoarse. “So well. You sent your spirit animal to me.”
“He was hurt,” Elizabeth whispered her body relaxing by degrees. “I couldn’t protect him—I knew he’d be safe with you.” She lifted her head. “Where is he?”
Blair brushed her hair back from her face and frowned at the bruises he found. “Do you remember when you first came online and I told you that you could wait years for your Sentinel?”
“You won’t.” He took a deep breath. “Are you ready to meet him?”
“He’s here?” she asked, her voice soft with amazement. “Really?”
“I must look horrible.”
Blair snorted and ignored the laughter he could hear upstairs—relieved laughter. “Here’s the thing—he isn’t going to care, we aren’t getting an EMT near you until he’s seen for himself that you’re okay.” He leaned in and let her burrow close to him. He whispered more for her benefit than anything else. His words wouldn’t be a secret to any Sentinel in the building. “He’s nearly feral, sweetheart and very young. I know this is a lot for you—but I need you to focus and take care of your Sentinel.”
She nodded against his throat. “His name?”
“Jacob Summers, nineteen years old, unregistered. He’s a sophomore at Rainier.”
“He’s online and unregistered?” She lifted her head and frowned. “That’s so dangerous. Get down here right now!”
Blair sat back on his heels and laughed a little as he prepared to watch a one hundred pound girl tear a strip off a two hundred pound hockey player. Jacob came down the stairs, still holding the bear cub – Jim with him, providing the anchor he’d needed to stay in his right mind since they’d realized what Jacob was to Elizabeth.
Jacob put the cub down and it tumbled briefly and then scurried to Elizabeth—disappearing into her in a flash of light that made the young Sentinel’s mouth drop open. He didn’t even glance at Blair as he walked across the concrete floor of the nearly empty basement and dropped to his knees in front of his Guide. “Elizabeth.”
She reached out and then with a little sob launched herself at him. He clutched her tightly, and sat back on his heels as she snaked her arms and legs around him and buried her face against his neck.
Jim leaned against the railing and sighed. “We’ll have hell keeping their bond platonic.”
Blair chuckled. “She’ll be eighteen in a few months and really—he’s only two years older than her. It’s not unseemly and he’d never hurt her, you know that.”
Jim pulled his Guide close with a sigh. “I do know.”
“It’s okay,” Jacob murmured, rubbing a circle against her back. “You’re safe and everything is fine. Nothing will ever hurt you again, I promise.”
* * * * –
Blair leaned against the kitchen wall. “Thomas?”
“We found…” He cleared his throat. “Pictures of the other children—plus three that he was apparently stalking. The captain’s kid among them. He had a lot of inside information, Blair, information he shouldn’t have been able to get his hands on.”
“What have we learned about his father?”
“He registered before a digital system was in place—it would have been months before we found his records if then. He wasn’t marked as a Sentinel in his employment records within the PD but was partnered with the same cop for twenty years. He was killed in the line of duty six years ago.”
“His partner and presumed Guide ate his gun a week after he put his Sentinel in the ground. We are trying to get more information from the Center but there wasn’t a formal pride in Cascade at the time so there are no pride records to fall back on and…” Thomas sighed. “It’s just a fucking mess.”
Blair glanced towards the door that lead down to the basement and then nodded. “He hit her but nothing else. Her parents?”
“Are en route.”
“Did you tell them about Jacob?”
Thomas grimaced. “I figured I would leave that to you.”
“Bastard,” Blair muttered and jerked a thumb towards the door. “Monitor them but don’t interfere unless things get heated. I don’t think either of them are in a place to initiate an intimate bond but if they are this isn’t the place for it. This isn’t even the place for a proper imprint and I made that clear to Jacob. Once he gets her calmed down he’ll bring her up.”
He walked through the building—an old brownstone in a good part of town and tried to ignore the terror and helplessness that lingered in the place. He’d experienced a lot of horrible things in his life but it was without a doubt the worst that he’s ever experienced. Elizabeth’s parents were hovering on the sidewalk with Captain Banks who was barking out orders on his cell phone and trying to get uniforms to clear a path for the medical examiner. Stuart hadn’t gone down easily and they’d had to kill him in the end.
“Sylvia, Nathan.” He reached out and touched them both as he soon as he could. “She is upset and a little bruised but all together in good shape.”
Sylvia relaxed. “Why can’t we go in?”
“It’s a crime scene,” Blair responded gently. “We’ve kept all non-essential personnel out and there is something you should know.” He sighed and glanced at the growing crowd of spectators. “Her Sentinel has been located—he was part of the search group. We found out about him during the course of the search.”
Nathan Arnold frowned. “Is he here now?”
“He is with her. She’s very upset.” Blair tightened his grip on Nathan Arnold when the man started towards the house. “He’s a very good person, Nathan. Strong, intelligent, and dedicated. He loves his parents, wants to do good things in the world, and is pre-med. He is honest to a fault and would cut off his own head before he’d put a single mark on your daughter. Their bond will remain platonic until she is prepared for more—even if he has to wait years. He alone knows how much this experience has cost her because the moment he touched her she poured it into him.”
“Did… was she…”
“No, she wasn’t raped.”
Nathan took a deep breath. “Okay, okay.”
“Jacob Summers.” Blair turned his head as the front door of the building open and he smiled. “And he, huh, plays hockey for the university.”
“Big boy,” Nathan muttered as he watched Jacob carry her from the house. “Well, good, no one will mess with my little girl after they get a good look at her Sentinel.”
Jacob sat his Guide on her feet in front of her parents and turned his attention to the paramedic who was hovering off to the side. “She’s dehydrated, blood pressure is 120 over 80, her kidneys are bruised, two fractured ribs, and it would be great if you would stop gapping and get over here so you can treat her.”
* * * * –
“His employment records with the city were altered.” Chad dropped a folder on the table in front of Blair and then slumped down in a chair. “About forty minutes before I started searching for Sentinels in the database. Someone went in and changed Stuart’s records to cover up for his son. One of our own.”
“Are you sure?”
“It had to be someone in this building,” Daniel said neutrally. “Our system would have notified us if someone had broken into it and frankly after reviewing David Stuart’s school records—he doesn’t have the technological chops to hack us. Financially, he didn’t have the money to hire someone else to do it. His mother is in Florida and his former step-father is no longer with our department.”
“Okay.” Blair ran his fingers through his hair and got up to pace in the conference room.
“How is Elizabeth?”
“She has been isolated at the Sentinel-Guide Center with her Sentinel. She tapped out all of her strength keeping him at bay—he must have hammered on her like a berserker. To be honest, I don’t know how she held out as long as she did. His father is furious and trying to prevent them from bonding—the Center threatened to sue them for pair bond interference. I should be down there.”
“We’ll keep working,” Daniel promised. “We’ll figure this out.”
* * * * –
“Mr. Summers, I understand your concern about your son’s future but his Guide is not and will not ever be a burden to him.” Jim sat back in his chair. “Do you realize that in discouraging your son from registering and hiring a low level, untrained empath to act as his Conservator you actually endangered his life and his sanity? Did you know that three of the last six Sentinels Jean Darcy worked with ended up institutionalized for life because she is not qualified or talented enough to keep a Sentinel safe? You do realize, of course, that only certain Guides in our system can even act as a Conservator. Jean Darcy is so low on the Guide scale that she barely qualifies to register as a Guide. The three Sentinels that managed to stay sane while in her care were damaged enough that they were isolated for months while a Guide search was conducted for them.”
“She is a registered Guide. I thought that was enough,” Adam Summers admitted, his eyes dark with anger. “Aren’t they all the same?”
“Jacob is the first online Sentinel in your family in over one hundred and fifty years. It is obvious because of this that you’re quite ignorant about the role of a Guide in a Sentinel’s life. Your ignorance on this matter is the only reason I’m not pursuing criminal charges against you.” Jim relaxed against the back of his chair and almost smiled when he felt his Guide enter the building. He hadn’t wanted to separate but they both had jobs to do and that had meant different destinations once they left the crime scene. “As it stands, your son is legally an adult and the experience of nearly losing his Guide has had a profound effect on him.”
“The girl on television—the one that was kidnapped. That’s our son’s Guide?” Tina Summers took a deep breath. “Is she okay?”
“She will recover.”
“I won’t have this,” Adam Summers stood. “My son is a strong Sentinel, a brilliant young man with a career in medicine ahead of him and I won’t have him saddled with a damaged Guide.”
The door to the conference room opened abruptly and slammed back against the wall. Jim barely got out of his seat in time to keep Jacob Summers from launching himself at his father. Jim caught him about the middle and slammed him up against the wall. “Don’t do it, son. You’re upset and rightly so. Your father has no clue what he just said; he doesn’t understand that it’s too late. This is not pair bond interference.”
Jacob didn’t struggle against his Alpha but he looked at his father with barely contained contempt. “I won’t let him hurt her.”
“He won’t try,” Jim promised. “Jacob, do you trust me?”
The younger man closed his eyes briefly and then focused entirely on Jim. “Yes, Alpha.”
“No one is going to take your Guide from you, my word as the Alpha Sentinel Prime of the Pacific Northwest. Anyone who tries will have to come through me and the rest of our pride first. Your only task, Sentinel, is to see to your Guide. When you’re upset she can feel it and it hurts her. Do you think she’s in a place right now where she can tolerate you being this angry? If you go feral on us—you’re going to hurt your Guide.”
Jacob paled and took a deep breath. “Get him out of this building. I don’t want him anywhere near Elizabeth.”
“We’re going to meet with Elizabeth’s parents and I assure you—you have nothing to worry about.” Jim lead him to the doorway ignoring both Adam and Tina Summers protests. “Rico, Julian. You’ll go back down to the isolation unit with Sentinel Summers and stand guard. No one outside of the pride may enter their isolation suite without my express approval. Understood?”
Jim watched them leave, his own anger boiling in his gut. He leaned against the door jam and took a few deep breaths as the elevator opened and Blair exited bringing Sylvia and Nathan Arnold with him. “Hey Chief.”
Blair frowned at his Sentinel and then ushered him into the room. “What’s going on?”
“Mr. Summers here nearly put his son on the record books for feral patricide,” Jim ran one shaking hand over his face and the flicked the lock of the door with a savage snap of his wrist. “Now, everyone take a fucking seat because I’ve had it.”
Blair prodded Nathan and Sylvia into seats and then returned to his Sentinel. “Do you need a break before we do this?”
“No.” Jim touched his Guide briefly and then directed him to sit. He pinned Adam Summers with a glare that had the blood draining out of the man’s face at a speed that could have been comical in other circumstances. “Let’s get something straight. Elizabeth and Jacob have completed their mental and spiritual bonding. For those of you in the room who don’t understand what that means—it means that they are bound for life. Bound so tightly that he could not survive without her. In most cases, a Guide can survive being separated from their Sentinel. However, they are both gifted enough to have forged a strong and penetrating bond. I doubt either could survive separation for a long period of time. Such primal bonds are rare and it’s considered an honor for a pair to achieve such a thing.”
“They wouldn’t let us see her,” Sylvia murmured.
“Her shields are tattered, Mrs. Arnold and I doubt she could tolerate your upset and your worry. She is in a very weak place emotionally and while she didn’t suffer the worst that could have been done to her in David Stuart’s hands—she did suffer. Her spirit animal is very wounded from having taken all of her fear on itself. It could be weeks before she is in a position to leave isolation.”
“But she’ll recover?” Sylvia asked softly.
“She has a strong mind and despite the lack of training she managed to hold onto her shields in the face of a severe beating at the hands of a man she knew to be a serial killer,” Blair responded and remained neutral when all four mundanes tensed at the description. “Let’s not kid ourselves—Stuart raped and butchered six children and all of that was right there in his mind for Elizabeth to see. He outweighed her by a hundred and fifty pounds – and if we hadn’t found her when we did we’d be burying another Guide.”
“You said they’ve bonded,” Tina Summers murmured. “What does that mean, exactly?”
“They’ve completed the mental and spiritual parts of the bonding process. The final part is sexual but considering Elizabeth’s condition that is not something we need to worry about at present. The legal age of consent in Washington stage for Guides is eighteen so legally no one is this room can keep them from bonding sexually if they wish it within the next few months. That being said, Jacob is very concerned about his Guide’s mental wellbeing and isn’t interested in pressuring her for something she can’t give. He isn’t going to hurt her or misuse her in any way,” Blair murmured.
“I’ve spoken with this program director at Rainier and he’s been given a week of excused leave due to his bonding with a Guide. The university has been very understanding and will do everything they can to accommodate their pairing. Jacob has registered with the Sentinel-Guide Center so he could officially claim his Guide. I asked him to consider waiting so that he could discuss this with the four of you and I’ll be frank; his response was profane and pointed.” Jim walked to stand by the one window in the room. “Elizabeth is in her final year of high school. Rainier has already set aside an apartment in married housing for the two of them—two bedrooms though even if their bond remains platonic they will likely share a bed.”
“My daughter is seventeen!” Nathan Arnold protested.
“Nathan,” Sylvia sighed and frowned. “She isn’t a virgin and I’ve had her on her birth control pills for more than a year.” She rolled her eyes when her husband glared at her. “Better to teach her to swim than let her drown in the pool, dear. What was I supposed to do? Lock her in her room?”
Blair bit down on his lip to keep from laughing, but Tina Summers snickered a little and then he took a deep breath. “Is Elizabeth still involved with the boy…”
“No, she’s refused to see him since she came online. She said he was an insincere, emotional wasteland.”
“Yes, well, teenage boys have very little hope of getting anything past an online Guide.” Blair looked at Adam Summers who still looked furious. He recognized that anger, all too well. “Jacob is an adult, Mr. Summers. He doesn’t need your permission to do anything and if you try to come between him and his Guide—you’ll lose him. He’ll turn his back on you and never look back.”
“He’s my son.”
“And your son’s first priority is his Guide.”
“We’ll see how he feels when I stop paying his bills,” Adam snapped. “Then we’ll see who is more important.”
“Shut up!” Tina Summers shouted. “Just shut up, Adam, and for the record—I pay his bills. I pay yours, too. You haven’t done any legitimate work since my trust fund matured 15 years ago. My son wants to be a doctor and he’s going to be a doctor.”
“Tina.” Adam glared at her.
“Don’t make me do something you’ll regret, Adam. It’s all my money. All of it and I’ll be damned if you’ll cut off our son because you don’t like what he’s doing. Not after what you’ve done. I can’t believe I listened to you about not letting him register with the Center. You’re just lucky that stupid woman you hired didn’t hurt him!” Tina Summers took a deep breath and turned to Jim. “Sentinel Ellison, I understand as Jacob’s parent I can set up a trust for him and his Guide—the Center will manage their money and see to all of their needs until they are both out of college, correct?”
“Yes, the Center can help you set up a Pair Fund. In most cases, especially with young pairs like Jacob and Elizabeth—parents pool college funds and any existing trusts so that in the event they are unable to care for their children the Center will be there. Elizabeth and Jacob both will qualify for scholarships – which will be filtered into their trust.”
“That’s what we’ll do then.” Tina Summers cleared her throat. “I’ve set aside money for Jacob—undergrad and medical school, plus enough to establish his own practice if he chooses to work in the private sector. If you can direct me to the right office, I’ll set up a trust fund for him and his Guide that my husband won’t have access or control over.”
“You can’t be serious!” Adam shouted. “Tina!”
“Shut up, Adam, before I ask my lawyer to review the prenuptial agreement we signed all those years ago. You’re not going to endanger my child’s life with your ridiculous ambitions.”
“What do you mean by that?” Blair asked.
Tina sniffed. “He’s been throwing parties and inviting prominent political Guide families to the house for years, trying to pair Jacob with someone with a great deal of money and political power. It’s only got worse since Jacob came online last year. I should have never played along. My dear Adam has his eye on the Governor’s mansion.”
“So what if I do?” Adam Summers demanded. “What’s wrong with that?”
“Nothing as long as it’s not at the expense of your own child,” Nathan Arnold muttered. “Sylvia, come along. We’ll help Mrs. Summers and sign over Elizabeth’s trust fund as well.”
Adam Summers snorted rudely and didn’t say anything when all three of them left the room without him.
Blair chuckled. “You really don’t know who he is?”
“What do you mean?”
“Nathan Arnold.” Blair sighed. “He owns one of those big shipping companies out of Seattle. Arnold International Shipping. You know those big deep sea freight ships?” He waved his hand as he spoke. “Seriously?”
“Arnold International,” Summers muttered, stunned.
“Yep, your son’s damaged Guide is an heiress to a multi-million dollar empire,” Jim relaxed in his chair. “Congrats on alienating the new in-laws by the way. They pretty much think the sun rises and sets because their daughter exists.”
* * * * –
“From what we’ve been able to gather, Nigel’s Stuart’s employment record with the Cascade PD was altered within hours of Dr. Sandburg making the connection between the cases. It was accessed from a terminal in this building in an office on the third floor. An unused office that had a computer in it but that machine was snagged by Robbery when they realized no one was using it yesterday morning.”
“So too late to dust for prints?” Simon asked dryly.
“Way too late but we tried anyway. Still, it won’t help because most of the cops in the building could have touched it and it wouldn’t mean a damn thing,” Daniel muttered and then frowned. “Who would have reason to hide Stuart’s Sentinel status?”
“David’s mother, but she’s in Florida and hasn’t had any direct contact with her son in years. When I informed her of his death she told me she wasn’t paying for the funeral and hung up on me.” Simon grimaced. “Where’s Sandburg?”
“Jim and Blair are in the conference room working on the profile.”
“Why?” Simon asked. “He’s caught and he’s dead.”
Daniel shrugged. “I’m the wrong one to talk to, Captain. I know less than nothing about profiling. Chad has a working knowledge of Blair’s process but he’s in the dark on this current thing as well.”
* * * * –
Blair flipped to the next picture and stared intently. Forensics had documented the entire house in great detail and he had over two thousand pictures to filter through. The drawings the artist had done—all of 30 of them were on the wall near the white board. The conference room had become something of a horror show.
“Talk to me, Chief.”
“You want to bring the rest of the team in?” Blair asked softly. “It’s… I’d rather just say this once.”
Blair didn’t move as Jim left the room just flipped to the next picture. It was of a child’s bedroom. He knew it to be the room that David Stuart had slept in. The room was filled with toys, a small half bed that would have been uncomfortable for an adult. It hadn’t taken but a few hours to get all the information he needed on David Stuart and the picture wasn’t any prettier than it had been when they’d started.
Everyone settled in around the room table and Blair accepted the coffee Henri Brown brought with a small smile. “Thanks, H.”
“Welcome, kiddo.” Henri sat down and hunched over his own cup. “This is going to suck, huh?”
“Yeah,” Blair murmured. “Pretty badly, actually.”
“Just tell us, Chief.”
“Nigel and Stella Stuart married right out of the academy. She gave birth to their only child, David, roughly a year later. Six months after David’s fourth birthday, Nigel Stuart came online. The first Sentinel in his family ever reported and the only one of his generation. He fought getting a Guide for roughly six months, then the powers that be decided to stick it to him. They put the Guide he’d been matched with through the academy and assigned him as Nigel’s partner. Obviously, working in close proximity to his Guide had the desired results and they bonded. His Guide was a man named Christopher Pike. From what I can tell of their employment records, they worked well together and their partnership on the job eventually led them to develop a profoundly close bond. I wouldn’t say they were a perfect match, but they were as close as you could get in those days. Whoever matched them up did them both an immense service.”
Blair drank deeply from his coffee cup and then sat up a little straighter. “So, within two years the wife is filing for divorce claiming that Nigel’s relationship with his Guide was unsavory. She is granted a divorce and sole custody of their son, David. Nigel had limited and supervised visitation. Stella Stuart remarried six months after the divorce was final to a homicide detective, a man named Jon Dean. He is now a Captain with the Seattle PD. Things seem to be going well until the court grants Nigel weekend visitation and his Guide discovers that David is suffering in his home life with his mother. At that point, David was nearly eight years old. The court records are sealed but the end results are damning. Nigel was granted sole custody, a restraining order is placed against his wife, and her husband. Considering David’s condition as an adult—I can’t rule out physical and/or unproven sexual abuse. Nigel put his son in an institution for the first time when he was ten years old. David was practicing self-mutilation and had attempted to kill his father’s Guide.”
“Jesus,” Simon muttered. “Just, Jesus.”
Blair nodded. “David returns home at fourteen having been diagnosed with a dissociative disorder called depersonalization which we know to be a symptom of Borderline Personality Disorder. They sent him home with a cocktail of potent anti-depressants and anti-psychotics. He could have lived the rest of his life that way without a single problem.”
“As long as he took his medicine,” Jim murmured.
“Yes.” Blair swallowed. “His father was shot in the line of duty and his father’s Guide—a second father to David ate his own gun a week later. They’d been together for twenty-five years so it’s not really surprising that Christopher couldn’t face life without his Sentinel. Four months after Pike’s suicide, David Stuart took his first victim.”
“Is he a dormant Sentinel?”
“The blood work will tell us,” Blair looked at his Captain with dark, serious eyes. “The Sentinel-Guide Center will do their level best to hide that information, Captain. They’ll pressure the department to suppress it, and since there won’t be a trial…”
“Right.” Simon grimaced. “I can’t say that I blame them. The last thing we need is for the public to paint all dormant Sentinels with the same brush as David Stuart. Do we know who covered up for him?”
“I have a good feeling but nothing concrete,” Blair murmured and shared a look with his Sentinel. “Not enough to even make a case. Just a feeling.”
“Jon Dean,” Simon said finally.
Blair took a deep breath. “If David Stuart’s mother had sexually abused him he would have taken grown women. Women who looked like his mother—he would have been fixated on her; and she’d probably be dead by now even if he had to go to Florida to do it.”
“Dean has a problem with Sentinel-Guide pairs. He’s been reprimanded repeatedly for misconduct, sexual misconduct, concerning Guides. The Seattle pride refuses to place a Sentinel-Guide pair in the precinct where the man works and from what I can tell he’s got friends in some pretty high places because I can’t figure out why he hasn’t been fired.”
“Or killed.” Markus Jergens muttered. “How has he not been butchered by a Sentinel?”
“It’s never physical. Just verbal stuff.” Blair flipped open a file in front of him. “Six years ago he was reprimanded for telling a male Guide in his department that the only thing he was good for…” Blair flushed. “He said he was a “hole” and all he was good for was to “fuck”. The man’s Sentinel had to be restrained and removed from the building. The Seattle pride pulled every Sentinel-Guide pair from the Seattle PD and refused to return them to their jobs until they were all assigned positions out of the precinct where Dean works.”
“So he created David Stuart?”
“No, he just shaped the kind of killer he was going to be.”
“He altered Nigel Stuart’s records to protect himself?” Simon asked.
“No, he altered those records so David wouldn’t get caught. He didn’t want his step-son stopped. I wouldn’t be surprised if he claims the body and buries him.”
“Wait, Chief, you’re saying he was born bad? Do you know how that sounds?” Jim frowned at his Guide.
“Not born bad. David Stuart, would have been an Alpha Sentinel if he’d ever come online. He would have had to been that strong to find Guides in his dormant state. He was probably latent as an infant—latent until the moment he was torn from away from Christopher Pike.”
“His father’s Guide.”
“Yes, David imprinted on Christopher—it’s the only thing that makes sense and when he was taken away from that safety and Jon Dean started in on him… the results were catastrophic. He went dormant within days of being separated from his father and in turn his father’s Guide. He had a psychotic break at the age of four and the fractured personality that immerged afterwards was shaped and sharpened by abuse at the hands of a sadist.”
“But we can’t go after Dean?” Simon asked.
“No evidence and if they could have got him on child abuse when David was younger—they certainly would have.”
“So, he’s untouchable?” Brian Rafe glared. “Christ, that’s disgusting.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t say he was untouchable,” Jim murmured. “He’s just outside the reach of the law.”
* * * * –
Heath Edwards crossed his legs at the knee and stared across the bedroom at Captain Jon Dean. The man had slept right through his breaking and entering. He watched him stir briefly and still completely as he realized that he wasn’t alone in the room. Heath smirked when the cop reached for his gun.
“It’s not there, Dean, don’t bother.”
Dean snorted in disgust. “Edwards, what the fuck do you want?”
“I want to ask you a few questions.” Heath lit a cigarette and took a grateful drag. “You’ll have to forgive me this vice—I smoked before I came online and my wife won’t let me smoke around her. Drives her batshit insane.” He took a deep drag. “How long did you know that your step-son, David Stuart, was kidnapping and murdering children?”
“I don’t know…”
“Don’t fucking lie to me!” Heath snapped. “You can’t lie to a Sentinel. You know, I’ve been sitting here thinking about it and I can’t for the life of me figure out how his father didn’t murder you for what you’d done to his son. Nigel Stuart had to know what a fucking pervert you were.”
“Those charges were dropped due to lack of evidence. That little bastard lied about me and the judge saw that.”
Heath snorted. “Whatever, give me one reason why I shouldn’t kill you in your own bed.”
“You’re not above the law.”
“But you are?” Heath asked amused. “Doesn’t quite seem fair does it?” Heath stood and stretched. “You’ll never know another moment’s peace, Dean. I’m going to find out everything there is to know about you and a member of my pride will watch you even as you sleep. Privacy is a luxury and you no longer have it. We will listen, we will watch, and we’ll find out all of your secrets. You’ll brush up against us on the streets and with one deep breath we’ll know what you’ve eaten for the past week. We’ll know who you used to fuck, who you do fuck, and who you want to fuck. Then one day when you least expect it one of us is going to take you.” He walked to the bed and leaned down right in the man’s face. “And we’re going to butcher you the way Jessica Martins was killed. First we’ll beat you and then we’ll stab you until your extremities start to fall off from the fucking force of it. Maybe you’ll be dead by then… but hopefully you won’t be. We have contacts all over the world so don’t think you can escape us by leaving.”
“I’ll go to Ellison. He won’t allow this.”
“This isn’t on my order, you twit. The Alpha Sentinel Prime of North America has determined you to be a threat and he wants you neutralized. But he is a petty and vicious man—so he’d like you to suffer first.” Heath tapped his forehead gently with one latex covered finger. “And like all the other Sentinels under his command both Ellison and I have decided to indulge his mean little whims.”
“Fuck you, Edwards.”
“You aren’t my type,” Heath responded coolly. He strolled to the doorway. “Your gun is under the bed. I left you a single bullet. I suggest you use it wisely.”
He made it all the way to backdoor he’d used to enter the house before the gun went off. Heath paused and took a deep breath – blood and various other body fluids filled his nostrils and he sighed. “Well, won’t Hunter be disappointed.” He closed the door behind him and walked down a small alley and slipped into the back seat of the car. Once inside, the car pulled smoothly away and he pulled out his cell phone.
Heath grimaced at the snappy voice of the Alpha Guide Prime of North America. “It’s done, Jack. He took door number 2.”
“Fucking coward,” Kelso muttered. “Fine, good work. Any loose ends?”
“No, the case files have been sealed and no one outside the task force ever saw Sandburg’s profile. Is he a risk?”
“Blair? No, he’d never do something to risk his own Sentinel.” Jack Kelso took a deep breath. “He’ll understand the need for discretion better than most; an excellent student of human nature.”
“You act like you know him.”
“You could say that,” Jack murmured. “I’ve known Blair Sandburg since the day he was born.” He paused. “Is he happy, Heath?”
“Sandburg?” Heath frowned and rested against the car seat. His wife pressed a bottle of water in his hand and wrinkled her nose at the smoky smell he’d brought into the car with him. “Yeah, he and Ellison are a good team and their bond is nice, solid. They are… very enamored of each other.”
“Good, good. He’s special, my Blair, I wouldn’t want anything to happen to him.”
Heath’s mouth dropped open briefly but he closed it quickly. “Understood, sir.”
“Did you want to speak with Rick?”
“No, sir, I’m about to go have a very late dinner with my wife.” He hoped like the hell that Rick Hunter didn’t really want to talk to him. The conversation had taken a weird turn and he wanted off the Jack Kelso train quickly.
“Very well,” Jack Kelso ended the call abruptly.
* * * * –
“A free bird leaps on the back
Of the wind and floats downstream
Till the current ends and dips his wing
In the orange suns rays
And dares to claim the sky.
But a BIRD that stalks down his narrow cage
Can seldom see through his bars of rage
His wings are clipped and his feet are tied
So he opens his throat to sing.
The caged bird sings with a fearful trill
Of things unknown but longed for still
And his tune is heard on the distant hill for
The caged bird sings of freedom.
The free bird thinks of another breeze
And the trade winds soft through
The sighing trees
And the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright
Lawn and he names the sky his own.
But a caged BIRD stands on the grave of dreams
His shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
His wings are clipped and his feet are tied
So he opens his throat to sing.
The caged bird sings with
A fearful trill of things unknown
But longed for still and his
Tune is heard on the distant hill
For the caged bird sings of freedom.”
“Maya Angelou, right?”
“Yeah,” Blair murmured. “The greatest American poet of her generation. I saw her speak once—she has the most beautiful soul.”
Jim relaxed against his Guide, his face pressed against the back of Blair’s neck. “Sometimes I feel as if I’ve caged you.”
Blair turned in his arms, concerned. “What? No. Never.” He ran his fingers along Jim’s jaw. “You set me free. I spent my whole life trapped by my gifts and in one single moment you made everything right.”
“Our first case together… wasn’t pretty, Chief.”
“I think we’ve proved to everyone we can work together in the most dire of situations. What we’ve done in the past few weeks—the work we’ve done to bring our pride together has been amazing. I desperately wish we could have saved Jessica but I know she’s in a good place now. I know she’s safe and loved.”
“You visit with her when you meditate.”
Blair nodded. “Yes, her spirit returns to me sometimes. She’s so bright and beautiful—and she totally ignores me when I tell her to move on. She says she has a purpose now and that I shouldn’t worry about her.”
“But you do?”
“How can I not?” Blair cuddled close to his Sentinel and took a deep breath. “It’s like she’s the child of my spirit now. The only child I’ll ever have.”
“You wouldn’t want any of your own?”
Blair raised an eyebrow. “Something you want to confess, big guy?”
Jim stared for a second and then started to laugh. “No, no. I figured maybe a surrogate one day.”
“Really,” Jim murmured. “I’d love to raise children with you. If not our own—maybe we could adopt. Sentinel and Guide children are difficult to place and often require special handling. I think we could handle that.”
Blair stared at his Sentinel for a while, his heart in his throat. “I love you, Jim. I really do.”
Jim laughed. “I love you. Makes us both very lucky bastards.”
Pieces of Fiction and poetry used
(in order of appearance in the story)
Ode to Duty by William Wordsworth
Soliloquy from Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare
The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost
The opening paragraph of Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Opening paragraphs to Beowulf translated by Dr. David Breeden (spoken by Jim to Blair)
I know why the caged bird sings by Maya Angelou