A/N Last chapter and you didn't have to wait half a year to get it! Thanks to everyone who took the time to review, especially skeptic7 and her insight into the legal aspect of everything. It helped a lot when I was looking at all the angles their problem had. This chapter isn't Beta'd so any mistakes are my own I apologize for any that are in here. I don't own any of the Sentinel.
Jim looked over the edge at the twisted and broken body of Dr. Hedrick. It wasn't that far of a fall, not really. People had fallen from higher heights and survived, but sometimes it didn't take a long fall to kill a man. If he landed in just the right way, falling out of a chair or off a ladder would be enough and Hedrick had fallen the right way. Jim could tell even without his keen sight that the man's neck was broken. The rocks at the bottom of the small cliff hadn't helped him any either.
Jim had never been a man to revel in death. Out of necessity and duty he'd killed men while in the army and again while in service of the police force. He didn't like it, but he understood it. This time, however, while staring down at the twisted and crooked neck, the wide staring eyes, and surprise etched face, Jim felt only an immense wave of relief sweep through him. Hedrick was gone and with him the main danger to both him and Blair. Looking down at Blair's stricken face, though, Jim couldn't help but feel sorry, not for the doctor's death, but that it had been Blair that essentially caused it.
Jim ran a hand down his face. He was still hurting from the taser. A headache was throbbing across his forehead and his muscles still jumped and twitched minutely beneath his skin. His heart pounded with uncomfortable intensity and Jim tried to convince himself that he only imagined the beat to be slightly irregular. All in all he was a mess, physically speaking.
Blair, however, he was a mess emotionally speaking.
Jim glanced down at the man kneeling at the edge of the drop, hands propping him up and looking down over the ledge. Blair was motionless, with the look of a man who couldn't believe what he was seeing. Jim thought he could hazard a guess that Blair probably hadn't been in a fight that went anywhere past the use of words much less resulted in the death of someone he knew, a colleague if not a friend. He reached down and took Blair by the shoulder and pulled him away from the edge. He drew the guide back closer to the edge of the woods. The wolf followed them, taking up a position next to Blair when they had finally stopped.
Jim looked at the dog and pointed a finger to Blair, "Stay and watch him."
The wolf just sniffed then sneezed as if to say, "You had to ask?"
Turning back to the edge, Jim moved to join the panther which was still peering over the edge looking at the body. It looked up to Jim, a glint in its bright blue eyes as it licked its chops.
Jim rolled his eyes and said in a low voice so Blair couldn't hear, "You're a spirit, you don't even eat."
The panther growled a bit but cocked his head to one side. Jim looked up toward the way they'd come, there was footsteps heading their way as well as voices. The sounds wavered in and out, probably courtesy of the after effects of the blasted taser. It was difficult to tell how close the sounds really were. He had to come up with an explanation and fast.
"I'm trying to figure that out," Jim said annoyed, "We can't hide the body, that would only be suspicious. He did attack us so there's a clear case of self defense here, but I don't want to get bogged down in the courts. I'd probably only get dragged off to the Center at the end of it anyway. Maybe an accident, there's clear signs of a struggle, but depending on how we spin it…" Jim trailed off thinking quickly.
The night was quickly descending and the day had been entirely too long for his liking. The adrenaline was draining out of his system and, coupled with the remaining effects of the taser, Jim didn't feel like doing anything but curling up on a comfortable bed and falling asleep. He dragged a hand down his face and cupped his chin as he forced his mind off his fatigue and onto the problem at hand. He'd worked under the gun like this before with more at stake than living the rest of his days in an institution.
The sounds grew louder, enough that even Blair could hear them, drawing the other man out of his shock. "Jim…" Blair said the worry plain in his voice.
Jim just shook his head and realizing Blair probably couldn't see him added in a low voice, "Let me do the talking."
Not a moment after he had spoken the two guards from the Center burst from the trees, closely followed by officer Helming. They had flashlights to cut through the gloom of the forest, though the lights would soon be needed for the clearing, as well. Helming swept the scene with the profession eye of a trained cop, staying out of the center of everything until he knew what was happening. The other two security guards didn't have the same reserve and immediately moved into the clearing, one going near Blair and the other to the cliff where Jim was standing. The man looked over and his light fell on the doctor's broken and lifeless body. He looked from the body to Jim, suspicion thick in the brown eyes.
"He's dead!" the guard said, half surprise and half accusation.
Helming moved swiftly to their side and shone his own light at what remained of the doctor. He looked up to Jim with a stern question, waiting for an explanation.
Then Jim had a stroke of genius.
"What happened here?" Helming asked, his voice back in the business tone of a cop on duty.
"He fell," Jim said, "Buying a little time to solidify his excuse in his mind. "I saw a man down at the parking lot and thought he looked suspicious, maybe your carjacker. When I tried to get the man's attention he bolted so I chased after him. My partner and the doctor here followed me. I almost lost track of him but when I got into this clearing he jumped me. There was a fight, Blair and the doctor came in a moment later. The doctor tried to shoot him with a taser he had but ended up hitting me instead. The suspect turned on him and Blair and during the scuffle he went over the cliff. Unfortunately, the suspect got away in the confusion and with me on the ground from the shock. He ran off into the trees, probably long gone by now."
Through the story Helming was weighing up what Jim said, testing it against the logic check that went with all true stories. He looked thoughtful, peering down the cliff to the body. Though Jim's eyesight was wavering, too, flitting between enhanced in the night and normal, he had the feeling the trooper was buying his story. The Guard, on the other hand seemed to be getting angrier as the minutes passed. When Jim finally finished the guard apparently couldn't control himself any longer.
"You're not seriously believing this!" he cried waving a hand at Jim.
Helming drew his eyes off the bottom of the cliff and instead trained them on the guard. "It's none of your concern whether I believe it or not. I don't recall you having any authority here."
"You are!" the guard accused, leveling an incredulous look at the state trooper. "You're really taking this cock and bull story he's handing you!"
Helming rolled his eyes, a wide enough gesture that it could be seen even with the failing light. "I am not taking anything at the moment, not until I have more information. Unless you have an accusation to make or something helpful to add I suggest you put a sock in it."
Jim kept his face impassive, a slight frown on his mouth and emotionless expression giving nothing away, though the low light made the strict control of his features unnecessary. The security guard was looking at him with open suspicion, the narrowed eyes sizing him up in the fading light. Jim turned his gaze fully on the guard, daring him to do something, say something, accuse something. He might still be on shaky ground, and the guard might well have an idea of what Jim was, but he was a rent-a-cop. He didn't have any position to accuse Jim of anything. The doctor would have had the weight but not a lackey like this.
No, this guard didn't pose a threat, at the moment. Maybe later, when the man had time to think and go through the evidence in his mind, but, Jim reminded himself, this was a security guard, not a detective. Not even a real policeman. Just a rent-a-cop, like he'd noted before. Jim could weasel and talk his way out of this.
Helming nodded toward Blair, an unasked question in his eyes.
Jim nodded, leaning closer, "He'll be alright. Still new to the force, hasn't seen many dead bodies."
The trooper nodded in sympathy. "Yeah, that takes a while to get used to," he agreed quietly before speaking up again, "You should probably get him home. Stay close to a phone in case I need to contact you, though. If I don't call you later tonight, I'll definitely call you tomorrow or the following day for a follow up."
"Will do, sir," Jim said with a thankful nod, he reached into his pocket and fished around pulling out a stray card with his name number and department from when he interviewed witnesses, "If you need help with any of this just let me know, you have my contact info."
Helming took the card and nodded. Jim turned and moved back to Blair, gently pulling him up by the arm. The wolf whined, but nobody heard it but the two of them. The other guard from the center helped, not nearly as suspicious as his partner, or at least, not showing it.
"Wait!" the guard from the Center spoke up in an angry voice, "You not just letting them go, are you?"
Helming gave the man an annoyed glance before ignoring the question completely. He turned to his radio and called for assistance with removing the body and processing the scene.
"The doc's dead and you're letting the two primary suspects go?" the guard cried, his voice rising in pitch and anger.
Jim looked over and had to concentrate to zoom in on the name pinned to the man's shirt, Charles Grunwald. When he was finished he felt more light-headed than he had before and wondered if it really had been worth the effort just to know who the man was.
"Not to mention," Grunwald continued with a heavy dose of sarcasm mixing into his voice and an accusing finger pointed at Jim, "We have reason to suspect that man is an unregistered sentinel! You have to take him in!"
And just like that, nice trooper Helming was gone. "Look pal," the cop said, aggravation clear in his voice, "I don't give a damn if he's the tooth fairy. As far as I can see he hasn't done anything illegal here. If it shows that the doctor's death was anything other than accidental we'll call both the detectives in for further questioning. However, at this moment I can see no reason in keeping them around for an accident."
"BUT HE WAS GETTING AWAY!"
"Were you illegally pursuing this man?" Helming asked a note of accusation in his voice. "Whether you realize it or not, being a sentinel in this country isn't a crime, not yet, and as such it is no reason for me to bring him in. Illegally taking custody of someone because they're a Sentinel is a crime, however. Are you telling me that that was you intention upon coming out here?" the trooper's eyes narrowed and glared at the guard in front of him, a glare fully worthy of a cop with his patience at its end.
Grunwald glared right back, jaw working and face turning red. "No," he finally gritted, then after a moment, "I'll be making a full report on this to the Center when I get back."
Helming nodded his head, "You do that, but stick around first, I want to ask you a few more questions."
Grunwald looked ready to kill someone as he stared between Helming and Jim, but he kept his mouth closed. Apparently, he wasn't so sure of his position and he knew enough of his own authority that he wasn't going to make any other demands.
Jim looked up from where he was helping Blair. The man was white as a sheet and shaking like a leaf. "He's staying at my place for the time being so you can reach both at the number on the card." Jim said to Helming.
The trooper nodded and patted the pocket he'd tucked the contact information into; then said, "Be careful going down that trail; it's dark and I don't want to have to send out a search and rescue along with the body recovering team….or organize a man hunt. Do you need a light?"
Jim shook his head. "Don't worry, we'll find our way."
"Better take clown two with you," Helming said, gesturing his light toward the second unnamed Center security cop. "You," Helming said directed to the guard, "Make sure they get down alright, then wait for the body recovery guys and show them the way up."
"Yeah, sure," the second guard said with a shrug. He sounded considerably less upset than Grunwald at Dr. Hedrick's death. He turned and shone his light into the woods, pointing out the way ahead.
Jim followed behind, keeping one hand on Blair's elbow and one eye on both Blair and the guard. Blair was turning a delicate shade of green, probably a reaction to the adrenaline leaving his system and a slow realization that he had partly killed a man.
They walked in silence for several minutes. The woods were dark and quiet except for their footfalls in the underbrush. A few times Blair inhaled next to him as though he was getting ready to say something, but Jim squeezed his arm and shook his head. The guard led the way moving slowly with the flashlight beam pointed mainly at the ground several yards ahead. Occasionally, he looked back at the two of them then turned around and focused his attention back on the trail. Jim glared at the man's back, something about the guard putting Jim on edge but he was too tired to work it out.
It was another several minutes before they could see the lights of the gas station through the trees. Jim glanced over to Blair to see how he was doing, which wasn't very well. The man was shaky, pale and green around the edges. Blair lurched a moment before pulling himself out of Jim's arm and throwing himself back to the forest floor to empty his stomach. Jim stood behind him rubbing his back as he heaved again.
The sight made the guard hesitated a few yards away. "Is he going to be ok?" the guard asked as hesitant as his shuffling feet.
"Yeah," Jim said in a short reply and waited for Blair to feel up to walking again.
Another moment of silence stretched out before the guard spoke up again with a deep breath. "Look," he said, with another quick glance behind him, "I'm sorry about Chuck. I don't really know what was going on this afternoon, Dr. Hedrick never really said anything besides vague hints, but I can guess. He and Chuck were friends. They held a lot of the same opinions and ideas about how the way things should be. Just because they felt that way doesn't mean we all do, but…enough people in high enough places agree with that sort of thing-"
They had reached the edge of the woods and the guard had stopped just outside of the circle of light from the security lights. His voice had picked up in speed until he stopped short, not able or willing to finish the thought.
"What's your point?" Jim snapped angry about everything that had happened that night, but to have the man in front of him, wearing a Center uniform, trying to make excuses for the Dr. and his friend was just one step too far.
The man didn't say anything for a long minute. He just stood there, shuffling his feet in the dead foliage, regret or perhaps shame written on his face. "I'm…not quite sure," he said, hesitating before carrying on, "I guess I'm just trying to say we don't all feel that way. I'm a Guide, or I would be if there were any Sentinels available. Still, I don't want to force someone to be my Sentinel, I'd rather it be their choice. Dr. Hedrick and Chuck, they're not Guides or Sentinels, they don't understand what it's like, but they're the ones in power and calling the shots. I wish there was something I could do, but there isn't, not that I can see and people who have tried to go up against them in the courts or somewhere else get buried alive."
"Well, I suggest you figure out something to do, because I doubt it will be long before they start trying to control Guides as much as they control Sentinels," Jim bit out, no sympathy for the man standing in front of him. He was as much of the problem as the people in charge making the policies.
The guard stared at Jim as if he hadn't thought of that particular idea. Then shame crept into his eyes again and he nodded.
Jim didn't wait for anything else from the man. He was through listening to crackpot philosophical views and excuses. He pushed past the guard, leading Blair just in front of him. The two spirit animals followed the entire way, one on either side. When Jim unlocked the truck, the wolf bounded in the foot well of the front seat then set his head in Blair's lap when the Guide was in place. The panther just slinked into the back seat and lay down, looking out between the driver and passenger seats. Jim made sure Blair was buckled in safely before circling around to the driver's side and climbing behind the wheel. He didn't turn on the engine right away, but sat a moment, letting the last of the tension run out of his body. Now that he had a moment, the on edge feeling he'd been getting from the guard had been that the man was a Guide. Not that it mattered now anyway, but for future reference it could be important since it seemed they would be staying in Cascade for a little bit longer than planned.
Jim glanced over to Blair. He still hadn't said anything, didn't seem to be taking in much of the world around him at all. Jim shook his head and started the engine, pausing before throwing it into gear. "You going to be alright?" he winced at the question. It really wasn't time for a question like that, but he'd never been good at comforting grown men.
Blair slowly turned to look at him, some of the green was gone, but he was still pale and shaky. "Lord, Jim, what he did to you. He could have killed you….and what he wanted to do. I'm not sure which is worse." There was another moment of silence before he spoke again, his voice barely above a whisper and tears leaking from his eyes, "I killed him."
"Yeah," Jim said equally quiet. Trying to deny it wouldn't help in the long run, it would probably only make the hurt last longer. Blair wasn't in the state to listen to the facts of the situation right then. They'd take care of that when they got back to the apartment and had a drink in each of their hand, preferably something strong.
Jim clapped one hand on Blair's shoulder and the wolf whined softly. The panther only looked on with the silent blue eyes, but Jim thought he could see a measure of satisfaction in its expression as he glanced in the rearview mirror. He shook his head and threw the truck into reverse. He thought back to the guard they'd left standing in the middle of the parking lot, a Guide without a Sentinel and a man without a backbone, afraid to stand up against something he knew was wrong. How many Guides out there were like that? Then, there was Hedrick and Grunwald. Men who wanted power and control, who had convinced themselves they knew what was best for an entire group of people and were willing to force it on them.
Jim looked over to Blair's dark figure as they pulled out on to the road and headed back home to Cascade. He'd take care of Blair like the Guide had taken care of him when he was sick. It was what friends did for one another and he actually found he was looking forward to it. He was suddenly very grateful Blair was neither of those things. Not a coward or an ignorant who was willing to go along with what others were saying because they were too afraid to speak up or too lazy to figure it out. Not a tyrant or an owner, someone who forced another to bend to their will through some false sense that they knew what was right. Jim didn't need a keeper like that; he didn't need a keeper at all.
No, Jim Ellison didn't need or want a keeper, but he'd take a friend.
The End….for now
A/N: Well, that's it. I hope you all liked this story and find the ending satisfying. I do have a possible sequel started. It's in the planning stages and I won't start posting it until I get a large chunk of it written to avoid long waits between updates. If people show a lot of interest in a sequel I'll move it higher up my priorities list. Thanks for sticking with me everyone who did! Leave me a review and tell me what you think when you go. I'd love to hear everyone's thoughts on the story, a possible sequel, the weather, anything, so don't forget to review! ^_^