Blair blinked then opened his eyes. 'Oookay, I see my life is continuing in the fashion it's adopted recently,' he murmured to himself staring up at a white ceiling. 'However, I am getting majorly pissed off with this waking up in places different to where I'd lost consciousness.' He turned his head and recognised his bedroom in the loft. The light peeking through his curtains told him that it was late morning and that meant he'd been out for hours. A knock on the wall next to where the curtains hung in place of a door to his room made him jump.
"Uh, Chief, can I come in?"
'Well that's different,' thought Blair. 'Before, he'd just barge in.' "Yeah, man, enter at your own peril."
"Don't worry," Jim replied as he entered, "I'm an ex-Ranger, a detective in Major Crimes and a sentinel so I think I can manage your bedroom."
The young guide snorted and then realised what the other man was carrying in his hand. "Is that coffee?"
"Uh, huh." The sentinel put out his other hand and helped Blair sit up in his bed. He very carefully said nothing about the pillow marks on his guide's face or the way that his hair puffed up in a halo around his head.
"What about house rule number 182 about no foodstuffs in my bedroom?"
Jim handed him the mug, opened the curtains to let the sun stream in and sat down in the chair in front of the small desk. "My rules, so I can break them if I wish."
They grinned at each other. Despite the issues between them that still had to be resolved there was a new easiness in their relationship.
"Um, how did I get here?" Sandburg asked noting that he was dressed in a clean T-shirt and his damaged wrist had been bandaged. Awkwardly with his casted arm, he lifted up his blanket and saw he was wearing different boxers to the ones he'd been kidnapped in. "Did YOU change me?"
"How d'you feel?" Jim countered with a question of his own.
"You tell me." The words were hard, but the knowing look in his eye took the sting out of them.
"Temp's fine, but you have a bit of a headache. You're still a bit dehydrated and you need to eat. Your wounds aren't infected and your broken arm is knitting nicely. The cast should be off next week. Your lip could do with some ice and the last bit of the dampener should be gone from your system by lunch time." He stopped as he saw Blair's eyes widen and his mouth drop open.
"You can tell all that just by looking at me?" He was even more amazed when the sentinel went bright red and closely examined a piece of lint on his trousers.
"Iexaminedyouwhileyouwereslee ping," he mumbled.
"I beg your pardon. You need to speak up. I'm not a sentinel, you know."
The piece of lint must have been really interesting as Jim lowered his head even more. "I examined you while you were sleeping."
"Oh, okay." He let that slide knowing how sentinels acted around their guides. "How did I get here, anyway? Last thing I remember was being in that place. With… with…" Everything that had happened the day before came rushing back; the kidnapping, the threats, the stuff he'd done with his empathy, the bullet coming through the door killing… "Oh, God," he swallowed.
Ellison looked up alarmed as his guide's heartbeat and breathing sped up. "What's up? Chief?"
"I killed her, didn't I?"
"No, I did. I shot her, remember?"
Blair shuddered. Oh, yes, he remembered seeing the knife descending and thinking it was all over for him. Then the next minute her head exploded and he was covered in blood and other things too horrible for him to contemplate. "No, not Barnes. Iris."
"As far as I know, she's still alive."
"But is… Is she okay?"
Ellison leant over and put a comforting hand on his arm. "Look, Blair. You'd been kidnapped and they were going to flat line you. Break our bond." Despite the seriousness of the subject, Sandburg almost smiled at the righteous indignation in the sentinel's voice at the idea. "You were protecting yourself. You did what you had to do. I'm proud of you."
The following silence was broken by Blair's stomach rumbling loudly.
He jumped on the change of subject. "No. Yes. Starving. But first, how did I get here? How did you find me? What happened after we bonded?"
"You fell asleep."
"Okay. How about I tell you everything while you eat? I got some sandwiches from that deli near Rainier."
"Natural Earth? But that's miles away and it's vegetarian only. You're not vegetarian are you? No, stupid," he admonished himself. "He worships at the holy shrine of Wonderburger so sacred to all cops." Blair managed to ease himself out of his bed with a little help from Ellison and it was with a triumphant smile that he stood up straight and stretched.
Jim blinked. This was the first time he'd seen the man smile with such unrestrained pleasure. His whole face had lit up and the sentinel found that he just had to smile with him.
"Funny, very funny, Sandburg." He helped the younger man into some sweats and then they shuffled out of the bedroom as Blair, now that he was moving, was beginning to feel every ache and pain from his ordeal.
"Ow, ow, ow. God, I feel like I went three rounds with Mike Tyson."
"Yep, You'll be sore for a while. Once you've eaten I'll run you a hot bath with some Epsom Salts. That'll help."
"That sounds good."
Once seated at the dining table and Blair was tucking into his tofu and mung bean sprout on wholemeal while Jim ate his surprisingly delicious hummus and roasted red pepper pita, the guide made a 'come on' gesture with his hand. "Okay," he said, "spill. What happened? How'd you find me? And how come you're being so nice to me?"
Jim reddened and looked down at his food.
"No, oh sorry, man. I didn't mean it like that. You weren't rotten to me before. It's just like you were being nice to me because I'm your guide and you had to do it. This is… well…" He indicated his sandwich. "Just more personal. You know what I mean?"
The detective nodded, but didn't look up.
"Jim." He waited until the other man raised his head. "Thanks. For everything." Blair was pleased to see a small smile appear on Ellison's lips and the clenching of the jaw relaxed a fraction. "So, oh mighty sentinel, tell me how you came to be outside that particular cottage just as that loony tunes was about to fillet me?" He smiled when he heard an angry growl rumbling low in his sentinel's throat.
CCC CCC CCC CCC
Blair knew that Jim's jaw was dancing like a cat on a hot tin roof, but he ignored it. He could understand his sentinel's angst and in fact, felt a small amount himself. However, he also knew that he had to do this. So, squaring his shoulders and taking in a deep breath, he pushed open the large imposing door and entered the building Ellison almost stepping on his heels. The first impression he got of the Cascade Sentinel/Guide Psychiatric Clinic was a sort of hushed calm. The pretty, young woman sitting at the impressive reception desk caught his eye and he gave her a huge grin.
"Down, boy," murmured Jim.
"Can I help you?" Asked the blond-haired goddess.
Sandburg went to open his mouth, but Jim got in first, "Senior Sentinel Prime Ellison and Senior Guide Prime Sandburg to see Dr Markham."
"Certainly, sir." She indicated a group of plush looking chairs. "If you'd like to wait, I'll inform the doctor you're here."
The two men sat down and Blair leant towards the sentinel. "What's with the titles, man? You don't like using them normally."
"I know, but sometimes, when you want something you use what you have."
"Uh huh." The guide looked down at his knees and noticed his left one was bopping up and down. He made a conscious effort to stop it. "You didn't need to come, you know."
"Chief, there is no way in hell that I'm allowing you to visit someone who kidnapped you without me with you even if she's basically a vegetable." He didn't miss Blair wincing at his description and he leant forward and put a hand on his knee. "Don't. You did what you had to do. And I'm very grateful that you did what did, to survive. I'm very pleased that my guide was returned to me."
Blair gave him a rueful smile looking up at him from under his lashes. The moment was saved from turning into a Hallmark instant by the arrival of the doctor. A tall, almost cadaverous woman, Dr Markham had a warm inviting smile.
"Senior Sentinel Prime Ellison and Senior Guide Prime Sandburg," she held out a hand in greeting. "Glad you could make it."
The two men rose and Ellison took her hand first. "Well, I must admit I wasn't too keen on the idea, but my guide can be very persuasive when he wants something."
She turned towards the younger man to shake his hand. "Guide Sandburg…"
"Okay. Then please call me Janine. I realise it must be very difficult for you to be here, but I understand. We all need closure and if this visit will help I'm happy to be of assistance."
"Quite frankly, I'd be more than happy never to see her again," Jim said acerbically. "She kidnapped my guide and was going to flat line him. She got off lightly."
"Jim, please," Blair's voice was quiet, but heartfelt. "I need to finish this."
The sentinel sighed. "Okay. Let's get this over with." Although reluctant to be present, he was here to support his guide.
In the two months since Sandburg's ordeal they'd made huge steps in building up a strong pairing, but perhaps more importantly they'd become friends. The grad student was back at Rainier teaching and completing his PhD. Unfortunately, they had no concrete evidence against Chancellor Edwards, so she was still a thorn in his side. However, having the Senior Sentinel Prime of Cascade taking an active interest in his guide's studies meant that her fangs had been pulled somewhat. Sandburg had also become a valued member of Major Crimes and not just because of his guiding of Ellison, but also because his wealth of knowledge was making essential contributions to solving crimes. And later in the year they were going to visit Naomi Sandburg's grave in Colorado.
Walking through the quiet corridors made Jim's skin crawl despite the extensive use of white noise generators. Or perhaps, because of them. To take his mind off where they were he watched his guide as he talked with the good doctor. Blair was obviously spooked about the visit, but looking at how he was speaking animatedly waving his hands around you'd have to be a sentinel to notice. He'd accompanied the young man when he'd been reintegrated at Rainier and was pleased to see how he'd been welcomed back – mostly by the female students he'd had to note. There'd been an uncomfortable moment when his friend Lee had accosted the sentinel in the corridor, but the fellow grad student had calmed down when Blair had taken him aside and explained things.
The biggest surprise for Jim had been listening to the young man give a lecture to a packed auditorium. His guide had bounced in front of the podium and, despite knowing nothing about anthropology, Ellison had found the lecture fascinating. Blair's teaching method was clear and full of little anecdotes, which brought the subject to life. However, the fondest memory he had of that day was when Sandburg's mentor, a Dr Stoddard, had arrived in his office carrying a large brown envelope. The two of them had hugged and if their eyes had been extra bright, no one said anything.
Stoddard had then handed Blair the envelope and to the young guide's delight it had held the last draft of his dissertation he'd sent to his dissertation committee. It meant that instead of having to start from scratch, he only had to make up a few weeks of work. It was at that moment that Jim had produced the present that he'd bought for Blair the day of his kidnapping. The joy on his guide's face when he saw the laptop and the hug he'd received had made his inner sentinel puff up in pride.
He came back to the present as they came to a stop in front of a door. Dr Markham put her hand on the handle, but before opening she turned towards the two men.
"You could find this distressing. Iris is catatonic and unable to do anything for herself except breathe, so there's a lot of equipment. Don't be alarmed by it. Okay, ready?"
Blair bit his lip and rubbed his palms on his thighs. Jim moved a bit closer and sliding his hand under the rich curls he gripped the back of his guide's neck. He sent encouragement down their link and got a small smile in reply. At Sandburg's nod, the doctor opened the door and they filed into the room. Despite the white noise generators Ellison could hear Blair's heart beating like a piston engine. Approaching the bed they all stared down at the dark haired woman lying there.
Dr Markham picked up the chart clipped to the end of the bed and started reading it giving them some modicum of privacy. Blair took in a deep breath and moved closer until he was staring at the slack features of Iris Johnson. She was lying on her back staring unblinkingly at the ceiling. A number of drips ran into her arms and various bags hanging below the blanket held fluids that neither man wanted to examine too closely. Ellison sent out his senses and felt – nothing.
"Oh God," Blair's hand came up to cover his mouth.
At his interjection the doctor put down the chart and went to stand on the other side of the bed.
"She's not feeling anything. No pain, no hunger. Nothing. She's at peace." The two men looked up at the doctor surprised at her declaration. She smiled sadly at them. "I did some research on her when she got here. Did you know that she'd been married?"
They shook their heads silently.
"Her husband, David Lash, was a strong guide who unfortunately had been severely abused by his mother. He bonded with a sentinel who worked for the FBI. The sentinel was transferred to Sacramento and Lash abandoned her. They didn't know that she was pregnant and in her distress she lost the baby. She then met up with an Artie Parkman who turned out to be a drug dealer and got her addicted to cocaine.
"When in rehab she met Barnes and the pair of them went on a crime and killing spree. She was a very unhappy lady who'd suffered a lot. Sad, I know, but that doesn't excuse her actions." She looked down blushing a bit at her impassioned explanation.
"No, it doesn't," Jim said firmly.
"Thank you," Sandburg said quietly and taking one last look at Iris, walked out of the room.
Ellison found him leaning against the wall to the right of the entrance his face lifted up to catch the sun dancing between the grey clouds. He joined him and slung an arm around his shoulders.
"You all right?"
"Yeah, man." They stood in companionable silence for a few minutes. "I still feel guilty about doing that to her, but…" he held up his hand as his sentinel went to protest, "I wasn't going to risk our bond and if it was the only way of stopping them, well..."
"Lunch?" Jim asked pushing away from the wall, but keeping physical contact with his guide.
He had to smile at his sentinel's answer to difficult emotional moments. "Yeah, I really wasn't in the mood for food this morning."
"I noticed. I'm not happy about it. You need to eat more."
Blair rolled his eyes and they moved towards Ellison's vehicle. "My treat as thanks for coming with me."
"No, it's okay. I'll…"
"No way, man. I've got money now, remember? And you're letting me stay rent-free. So, it's my shout."
Ellison opened the passenger door and jogged round to the driver's side. "Great! Wonderburger here we come."
"I'm paying, so I choose."
"I'm NOT eating sprouts."
"And anyway, you had Wonderburger two days ago."
"How do you know that? You were at Rainier all day."
"Ah, we guides have ways of knowing these things."
The light blue Ford pulled out of the car park and drove towards Cascade.
"Yeah." He was beginning to recognise that tone of voice. It meant that his guide was working out something in his head.
"When I was in that hut. Waiting for you, just before you came. There was a moment, like, well… it was like you were in my head. Not like our bond, but as if you were really there. It's hard to explain, but…"
"Hey, I know what you mean." Jim was surprised at himself discussing this. He hated the mystic shit that came with being a sentinel. "For a moment I could see with your eyes. That's how I knew where to shoot."
"Wow. Cool. Hey, man, we've got to do tests. Loads of tests."