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[personal profile] fluterbev_fic
Summary: No one is more surprised than sentinel Jim Ellison when primary imprinting occurs between him and a profoundly damaged guide called Blair Sandburg. Now they have just three days to achieve a final bond through a series of secondary imprintings. If they fail? The guide will be sentenced to a living hell.

Author's Note: This is the very first story I wrote, back in early 2003, but I abandoned it before finishing. I finally revised it and finished it off in 2006 to help raise money for Moonridge.

Art: [livejournal.com profile] rhianne has produced a fabulous manip for this story. You can see it here.

Acknowledgments: Thank you to [livejournal.com profile] sunglow66, both for her generous donations toward Moonridge, and her continuing and much valued interest in my stories. My gratitude also goes to Susan Foster, who has very kindly given permission for me to borrow aspects of her GDP universe and adapt them for this story. Thanks also to [livejournal.com profile] luicat and [livejournal.com profile] rhianne, both of whom commented on early drafts. And thanks very much to [livejournal.com profile] luna_61, who stepped in to beta it - a not inconsiderable task!

Category: This is a bonding AU, of the 'sentinels and guides are known' genre, and features explicit sexual bonding.

Rating: NC-17

Warning: References to non-con (in the past)




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Winner: Sentinel & Guide (Slash)




Lasting Imprint
By Fluterbev

July 2006



“Ellison, we have a problem over here.”

The gun still smoking in his hand, Detective Jim Ellison turned away from the lifeless body of the perp towards his colleague. “What’s up Rafe?” he asked, holstering his weapon.

“There was someone with Barnes,” Detective Rafe told him, nodding briefly back towards the woman Ellison had shot, as the tall detective followed him. “He doesn’t appear to be armed, but he won’t acknowledge our requests or let us get near. He looks strung out on something.” Automatically, Jim was reaching out his hearing as Rafe spoke, to where a panicked, racing heartbeat and panting, terrified breaths could be heard. “We don’t know if he was working with her or if he’s a victim.”

As they turned the corner into the dead-end alley where Detective Henri Brown was trying to corner their uncooperative quarry, Ellison’s neck prickled suddenly, as though affected by a static charge – just like it did just before a thunderstorm. Brown was advancing forward, arms raised in a non-threatening gesture towards the long-haired man, but his prey was having none of it; seemingly trying to become one with the wall, as clawed and bloody fingers scrabbled desperately at the brickwork.

“For the last time, come away from the wall, and put your hands up,” Brown was ordering as he approached the man, reaching at his belt for handcuffs as he did so, his patience having clearly run out.

With a sickening moment of clarity, Ellison realized what was going on. “Stop! Don’t touch him!” Jim advanced on Brown, the imperative tone sufficient to prevent his colleague from getting any nearer. At Brown’s quizzical look, Ellison clarified, “He’s a guide.”

“Shit.” Brown looked back at their quarry. “Her guide? Barnes?”

Ellison nodded. “She was a sentinel. There were no reports of a guide, but it makes sense that she had one. It would explain a lot of what she could do, the fact that her senses were so acute.”

Brown made as if to approach the man again, but Ellison stopped him with a bruising grip on his arm. “What?” said Brown irritably. “We have to arrest him, Jim. He was aiding a felon.”

Jim was shaking his head. “Touch him and you’ll kill him. He’s a guide whose sentinel has just been killed. With the bond severed so abruptly, he’s in empathic overload.” He turned to Rafe, who had come over to join them. “Call the Department of Sentinel and Guide Relations. This is outside our jurisdiction – all un-bonded guides are DSGR responsibility. While we wait for them, I’ll do what I can. If he’s in this state too long he’ll turn catatonic.”

Jim tuned out the sound of Rafe talking on the phone, and approached cautiously. The guide did not turn to acknowledge Jim’s approach, but his frantic scrabbles at the wall increased slightly. He would know that a sentinel approached, would feel Jim’s presence as Jim felt his.

When he was close enough to touch, Jim stopped. “Guide,” he ordered. “Turn around and look at me.”

Slowly, unable to refuse the command of a sentinel, the guide turned, pressing himself desperately back at the wall as he did so. His hands continued to scrabble at the wall, as if he could somehow become one with the stone. The guide was young, Jim now saw; obviously in pain, and suffering from the awful shock of losing not only his bonded sentinel, but all the protective empathic shielding that went along with that. Depending on the acuity of his empathic ability, he would be feeling emotions and thoughts from anywhere between the three of them in the alley to a radius of several city blocks.

Even though Jim knew that this particular guide had been aiding his enemy, he ached with pity and the need to protect; although the rational part of his mind recognized the extreme response as an involuntary reaction - the instinctive protectiveness that sentinels often felt for any guide in pain, which was part of his own genetic makeup.

As anguished blue eyes met Jim’s, the detective reeled slightly in surprise, feeling a tentative telepathic connection spring into place between them. It was to be expected – the guide was in desperate need of shielding, and in severe shock from the death of his bonded sentinel. Faced with a second sentinel who could provide what he needed to survive, the connection was instinctive and automatic.

The young man was on the verge of panic, but trying to control his breathing, although involuntary whimpers continued to escape his control. Jim leaned in, and careful not to touch just yet, placed a hand on the wall on either side of the guide’s head, hemming him in and shielding him from the fascinated gaze of his fellow detectives. “Guide, how are your barriers?” Jim knew the answer without needing to be told, but he needed to calm the guide down, and focus him on what needed to be done.

In a barely audible voice, the guide hoarsely whispered “Gone. All gone, sentinel.” The young man closed his eyes and shuddered, the sentinel’s nearness an almost unbearable temptation; but, even on the verge of a potentially fatal overload, he knew better than to touch without permission.

Jim leaned in closer, inhaling the terror-stricken tang overlaying the guide’s natural odor. “Link with me,” he breathed, and permission having been granted the guide let loose a shuddering breath that was more like a sob, his hands reluctantly leaving their scrabbling purchase on the wall to latch clumsily onto Jim’s shirt front, blood from his lacerated nails trailing livid marks on the cloth.

Contact having been made, one of Jim’s own hands slowly lifted from it’s place on the wall, as he reached around the back of the guide’s neck, drawing his head carefully forward to touch Jim’s chest. With the physical contact, the connection blazed brightly between them, solidifying and strengthening. Jim felt the tangible reality of barriers being rebuilt around the guide’s mind, walling out the maelstrom of thoughts and emotions.

Gradually, the guide relaxed as his mind took what it needed from Jim. With shielding given and received, the adrenaline that had been sustaining the exhausted guide evaporated and, as his knees gave out, Jim shifted to bear his weight as they both sank down to the ground, the guide maintaining a desperate grip on Jim.

Holding the shivering guide in his arms, Jim was astonished at the depth of protectiveness he felt towards this stranger. He had never wanted a guide; didn’t believe, in fact, in the system which forced guides to submit to the will of sentinels. Sure he could see the benefits of being guided – and in particular the sharp focus of senses brought about by being the focus of all a guide’s attention - but he was vehemently opposed to the slavery that went along with it.

But, despite his rational beliefs and resolve, he felt drawn to this guide in a way he had been drawn to no other. Shifting the hand he was using to hold the young man’s head close, he slid his hand under the long hair to gently enfold the back of the guide’s neck, meaning to maximize the intensity of the link by increasing skin-to-skin contact. Then he stopped, as he found something unexpected under the hair.

The guide was tagged. He was a rogue.

The suddenly rapid heartbeat and stench of renewed fear of the man he held informed Jim of the exact moment the guide knew what Jim had discovered. Sending a promise of safety and reassurance across their link, Jim spoke softly in the guide’s ear. “It doesn’t matter, not to me. It’s all right. You’re safe. I won’t hurt you. I won’t let anyone hurt you.” The man shuddered in Jim’s grasp but, gradually, the sincerity of emotion he felt from the sentinel calmed his fear, and he at last relaxed, quiescent in Jim’s embrace.

“Jim.”

The voice broke Ellison’s reverie, the interruption causing the guide to burrow closer to the sentinel. Jim raised his head to see Captain Simon Banks looking down at him. At some point while he had been focused on the guide, backup and Jim’s boss had arrived. “What?”

“The DSGR officers are here, Jim. They need to take the guide now you have him stabilized.” Behind Simon, Jim could see two DSGR guards approaching. One was brandishing a set of restraints, and the other held something small in his hand – a tag activator. These guards knew they were dealing with a rogue.

The guide was fully aware of their approach, and began whimpering again, muttering “No… no, please no…” The renewed stench of terror and the abject fear Jim felt across the link raised his protective hackles even higher. With a flash of insight Jim remembered what he had heard about rogue ‘retraining’.

All empaths were, by law, confiscated at birth by the DSGR. They lived their whole lives in seclusion, as wards of the DSGR, only re-emerging into the world at large when bonded to a sentinel, to whom their ownership was then transferred.

Rogue empaths were the ones who never got surrendered by their parents; whose abilities were concealed, and who grew up and continued to live as citizens, hiding their empathic nature from others. When caught, rogues underwent a brutal retraining regime, designed to break them of all they had learned and experienced in the world at large; because independence was not a desired trait in guides, whose sole purpose in life was to serve their bonded sentinel.

It did not stop there. All confiscated rogues were tagged electronically, whether bonded or not. The tag served as both a tracking device and a punishment, the activator producing an electric current in varying degrees of intensity, designed to deliver anything from a warning tingle, from excruciating pain right through to unconsciousness and death.

An overwhelming impulse took hold of Ellison, to prevent this rogue from being returned to the brutality of retraining now that his sentinel was dead. Urgently he said to Banks, “I’m taking this guide into my custody, Simon. He was working with Barnes, so this is our jurisdiction. I’m going to bring him in as a protected witness.”

Simon frowned disapprovingly. “You know that he’s not legally responsible for his actions, Jim, if he was bonded with Barnes. And ‘protected witness’? Protected from what? Barnes is dead!”

But Ellison was adamant. “He still needs to be questioned, Simon. Tell them to back off.”

Simon looked hard at the guide, then transferred his measuring expression to Ellison, as though he was going to argue. But, to Jim’s relief, after a moment he nodded and moved away.

The guide was shuddering, trying to get even closer to Jim. Ellison wordlessly tried to reassure him, simultaneously reaching out his hearing to listen to what Banks was saying to the two guards. “He may have information we need. This is a police matter.”

The DSGR officers were clearly not happy about the situation. The one holding the activator came forward, until Jim called, “That’s close enough.”

“Sentinel, this is not advisable.” At the sound of the guard’s voice, the guide became rigid in his arms, the stench of terror increasing. “Close proximity to this guide just now could lead you down a path you really don’t want to go.”

Jim pulled the guide closer, his hands stroking and patting in an attempt to comfort, and addressed the guard. “I don’t care what you advise. This guide is in police custody, so back off.”

The guard took a step closer. Ignoring Jim’s attempt to disguise his motives by taking custody of the guide, the guard continued, “You are feeling protective now, sentinel, and the pull of the bond. While this is natural and understandable, it is not rational. It is a primal response to a damaged guide. You need to reassert your rational self, and understand that this guide belongs in DSGR custody. He’s lost his bonded sentinel, and will need an extensive period of retraining before he will be ready to bond again. In view of his history, he may never be ready to bond.”

“I don’t want to bond. I just need to… question him.” Although questioning was not really what he had in mind – he just wanted to make sure the guide was stable, was going to survive the awful loss he’d suffered, before he was handed back. But even as he considered his motives, he had to question them. Was that true? Was the almost overwhelming desire to nurture and protect this guide that he was feeling actually the pull of the bond? He had never wanted a guide, but was inexplicably drawn to this one in a way he had been to no other.

The Guard spoke again. “Guide, move away from the sentinel.” A warning tingle in the implant jerked the guide to obedience, and he pulled his hands painfully away from Jim, raising his anguished eyes briefly to meet the detective’s as he began to move jerkily away. The hopelessness that Jim saw there, clear on the guide’s face, caused him to re-evaluate his life in a millisecond.

This guide believed he was going to his death, and that only Jim could save him.

Abruptly Jim put both arms around the guide, pulling him close again. “No. I was wrong. I do want to bond, and this is the guide I want. He’s mine, and you won’t take him. Not now, not ever.” The guide trembled in his arms, but didn’t pull away.

Disapproval colored the man’s tone. “Sentinel, you need to be very sure what you are taking on. This guide is seriously flawed.”

Jim was uncompromising. “I know he’s a rogue. I don’t care, he stays with me. There will be no retraining. I give you my formal notice of intent to claim this guide.”

“Sentinel Ellison,” the guard’s voice was quiet, but no less threatening. “This is strongly against the advice of the DSGR.”

“My guide.” The words from Ellison were issued with the snarl of a primal sentinel, and reluctantly the guard backed off.

“You have been warned, sentinel.” The words were an empty threat. The guards left, and Ellison filled his senses with the man he held in his arms.

***


During the trip to the station in the back of Simon’s car, the guide continued to cling to Jim. But, gradually, his grip became less desperate. As they drew up in the parking garage, Jim asked quietly, “How are your barriers now?”

In an almost inaudible whisper, the guide replied, “Better, sentinel.” Even in a whisper, the guide’s voice called to Jim, and the sentinel tightened his hold on him momentarily in reassurance.

The guide was able to walk unassisted into the elevator, although Jim kept one hand around his upper arm. Then, once they exited on the seventh floor, Simon ushered sentinel and guide through the Major Crime bullpen into his office. Jim did not notice the heads turning their way; his attention was almost entirely on the guide who, though steady on his feet, was pale with shock and exhaustion.

Simon closed the blinds in his office, while Jim settled the guide lengthways on the couch, placing his own coat over him. “What’s your name?” he asked quietly.

The guide shuddered. “Guide,” he answered, his voice shaking.

Jim was shaking his head. “No, Chief. I mean your name. Your real name, before you were taken as rogue.”

The guide had begun to tremble. “I am guide, just guide. I have no purpose other than to serve my sentinel…”

His voice had taken on the feel of a recitation, a script learned by rote, edged with a note of hysteria, and Jim halted him gently. “Shh, easy, easy. It’s all right, Chief. Just rest now. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter.” The guide subsided, shuddering, but gradually calmed as Jim comforted him, whispering reassurance and stroking his hair. His eyes, heavy lidded with exhaustion, closed and, after a few moments, Jim looked up at Simon. “He’s asleep,” he mouthed at his boss.

Now the guide was settled, Jim took a moment to look at the young man’s hands, which he had scraped raw on the wall. Satisfied that the wounds, although undoubtedly painful, were not serious, Jim decided to leave well alone for now, unwilling to disturb the desperately needed rest of the guide.

Once Jim was reassured that his charge’s sleep was deep and restful - and that his barriers were strong enough to hold without the need for the sentinel to remain in close physical contact - Simon motioned him over and, together, they went over to sit at the conference table. Simon had poured them both coffee, and Jim took a sip gratefully, his eyes drifting over again to where the guide lay.

“Jim,” Simon’s voice interrupted his reverie, and he met his superior’s gaze. Simon’s expression was grim. “This,” he gestured towards the guide, “is not exactly how I imagined today turning out.”

Jim took another sip of coffee. “Tell me about it.”

“Did you mean it when you said you wanted to bond with him?” Simon asked.

Jim looked again at the guide, then back at Simon. “Yes.”

Simon did not look happy at the prospect. “You’ve never wanted to bond before. Hell, you told me you never would, that you didn’t agree with it.”

Jim glanced back again at the sleeping man, his eyes constantly drawn back to look at him. “I can’t explain it. As soon as I touched him, I knew he was my responsibility. My guide.”

“Primitive response of a sentinel to an injured guide, Jim,” Simon pointed out. “You know the drill. It doesn’t mean you have to commit yourself to bond with him for life!”

As the volume of Simon’s voice rose slightly, the guide stirred, moaning, and Jim moved immediately to his side, speaking gently and comforting him with his hands. As soon as he was reassured that the guide was once more sleeping peacefully, he returned to Simon. In a hoarse whisper he said, “That’s not it at all. This is much deeper than that. I don’t know how I know, but I’m certain we’re meant to be together.”

Simon leaned forward, making an effort despite the anger in his tone to be quiet. “You know nothing about him, Jim. What you do know is that he’s not a tame guide - he’s a rogue. Liable to run, to be treacherous. You’ve heard the stories.”

Jim grinned suddenly. “What use would I have for a tame guide?”

Simon shook his head in exasperation. “While you were busy bonding or whatever you were doing, the DSGR guards gave me some of his details. It’s not a pretty story. What will happen if you get into something you can’t get out of, even if you want to?”

Jim shook his head. “I just know I need this, Simon, and so does he. And I need to know everything you can tell me about him.”

Simon was already rising from his chair. “I’ll get Rhonda to pull his files. The DSGR gave me the access details.”

“Simon,” Jim halted his boss on the way out of the door. “What’s his name?”

Simon cast him a look which might have been sympathy. “Blair Sandburg.” He answered, then closed the door softly behind himself.

Jim returned his gaze to his sleeping guide. “Blair,” he whispered.

***


The guide slept deeply for several hours, exhausted as he was by the breaking of his bond to Alex Barnes. It was more than enough time for Jim and Simon to find out everything they could about him from his files and, as Simon had said, it was not a pretty story.

Blair Sandburg had managed to conceal his empathy until a mere two years ago, when at the age of twenty-five he had been revealed as the rogue empath he really was. He had led a remarkable life up to that point, remarkable not just for a guide (who were generally considered to lack intelligence), but remarkable for any young man.

The official record began with basics; date and place of birth, next of kin (mother, with no father in evidence), then moved straight on to Sandburg’s educational history. He had seemingly excelled at academic pursuits, graduating early from high school and entering the undergraduate program at Rainier University at the unusual age of sixteen. On the fast track from day one, he had graduated by the age of nineteen with first-class honors in Anthropology and a minor in Psychology, and had achieved his Masters’ in Anthropology by the age of twenty-one.

Subsequently he had gained a teaching fellowship, and was close to finishing his PhD by the time he was captured. A disgruntled student, whom Sandburg had reported for plagiarism, had somehow discovered his empathic nature, and had outed him to the authorities. The student (who had been expelled from Rainier for academic fraud), was later given a commendation by the Mayor for “bravely aiding the elimination of a dire threat posed by a rogue empath, who had been fraudulently placed in a position of responsibility amongst impressionable young minds.”

Testimonials in Sandburg’s file from his professors told a different story to that of the Mayor; that of a brilliant, compassionate, popular young professor, who was an asset to Rainier’s Anthropology department. Also, countless letters from students and their parents filled the file with pleas that their favorite teacher be treated with respect. Inevitably, this all fell on deaf ears.

In the eyes of the DSGR, Blair Sandburg was an aberration. No rogue empath had ever achieved as much, or remained undiscovered for as long. His retraining, harsh for all rogue guides, had been particularly brutal. All trace of who Blair Sandburg had been was to be eliminated. The talented professor, the independent spirit, had to be completely remolded. He was to emerge as simply a tool for the use of a sentinel.

He had been in retraining for over a year, during which time the file dispassionately reported a regime of what, in other circumstances, could only be described as torture. Sandburg had been systematically deprived of all human comfort and dignity. Pain, humiliation and deprivation had eventually destroyed the person he had been, and he had emerged a broken shadow of what he once was.

At this low point, he was given to his first sentinel to bond. As a rogue, it was determined that he should be given to a ‘strong’ sentinel, one who would be willing to maintain the level of discipline necessary to keep him in line, and so he had ended up as the guide to Alex Barnes. Nowhere in the file was it acknowledged that Barnes was actually a notorious criminal, suspected of committing a variety of serious crimes, up to and including murder.

At this point in the record there were fewer entries, the day to day life of a sentinel and guide being outside the immediate jurisdiction of the DSGR; however the few entries that did exist made chilling reading. Blair had been admitted to hospital with injuries consistent with physical assault on no less than fifteen occasions during the year that he had spent as Barnes’s guide. The treatment he had received ranged from CAT scans following concussions, stitches for soft tissue damage, numerous broken bones, right through to surgery for a ruptured spleen. Most disturbing of all was the repeated evidence of serious sexual assault. Chillingly, the file noted that all of these injuries were consistent with the appropriate level of discipline that a particularly difficult rogue guide could expect from his sentinel.

Both Jim and Simon, hardened police officers that they were, were sick and disgusted by the time they had finished reading. Simon rubbed his temples, the mother of all headaches apparently making its presence felt. “Shit, Jim,” he said quietly. “This is bad.”

Jim’s face could have been chiseled out of hard granite but for the muscle jumping in his jaw. “Now you see,” he said through clenched teeth, “why I can’t let them take him back.”

Simon leaned back in his chair, letting out a sigh. “Christ, Jim. He’s going to need a therapist, not a sentinel.”

Jim said nothing for a moment, his eyes once again resting on the sleeping form of the guide, his expression thoughtful. “Maybe you’re right. I have an idea.”

***


One phone call and nearly an hour later, Jim was warmly greeting his friend as he entered the bullpen. He beckoned Simon over. “Dr Philip Booth, this is Captain Simon Banks, my boss. Simon, this is the guy who helped me when my senses first came on line. Phil is a specialist in sentinel and guide medicine.”

Phil smiled warmly. “Pleased to meet you Captain.”

“You too. Jim tells me you’re from England? I hear that things are pretty different over there for empaths.”

Phil grimaced. “You could say that, although it’s not perfect there, either. But my views of the way guides are treated in the US are pretty well known. I’ve lived over here for ten years now, and I’m a campaigner for change. It’s made me a lot of enemies, but also,” he indicated Jim with a smile, “a few good friends.” He raised an eyebrow at Jim. “Never thought I’d see the day you wanted to bond, Jim. You’d better tell me all about this rogue you’ve rescued.”

They adjourned to a conference room down the hall, and while Jim kept part of his senses tuned in to his sleeping guide, he and Simon apprised Phil of the situation. When they were done, Phil took a deep breath. “You don’t do anything by halves, my friend. This is not going to be easy, for either of you.”

Jim nodded. “I know. But I have no choice.”

Simon leaned forward, crossing his hands in front of him on the table. “One thing about this has puzzled me from the start. Jim has met un-bonded guides before, but I’ve never seen him react like this.”

Phil glanced at Jim before answering. “The protective instinct towards guides is very strong in Jim, which is one of the reasons we’ve become good friends. Blair was in deep distress when Jim found him, which Jim was profoundly drawn to. All of Blair’s barriers were gone, and when they linked it was a deep link, so deep that they imprinted on each other – we call this stage ‘primary imprinting’. The next logical step is bonding.”

Jim frowned. “That sounds so clinical and unemotional. I feel as though we were meant to be together, that I’ve found the other half of my soul, if that doesn’t sound too trite. Are you saying that I only feel like this because he was hurt?”

Phil shook his head. “I’m not saying that. Some bonds are very profound – primary imprinting is a strong indicator that you’re a good match. It doesn’t happen with all pairs – P.I. prior to a full bond pretty rare in the States, mainly because most pairs are matched through the DSGR; and you know what I think of their methods, Jim. In the cases of P.I. that I encountered back home, I’ve heard the bonded pairs who’ve gone through it talk about being ‘soul mates’. That could be what you potentially have with Blair.”

“Can it be reversed?” Simon ignored the sudden flash of anger on Ellison’s face. “You said that it’s going to be hard for them. Is there a way out?”

Phil shook his head. “It would be difficult at this stage. Even if they don’t fully bond now, they have a profound connection. The only thing that would separate them would be if Blair were to be forcibly bonded to another sentinel…” He tailed off as Jim rose from his seat, his primal side abruptly emerging.

Jim leaned over Phil, his face inches from the doctors. “My guide,” he snarled. “No one else will take him!”

Phil held his friends gaze. “Your guide, sentinel. Only yours. Sit down, my friend. You have proved my point.” Jim stared into his friend’s face a moment longer, and apparently accepting what he saw there, finally nodded and took his seat. Phil took a deep breath. “As Jim has just demonstrated, it would not be a good idea to separate them. Which brings us to the next problem.”

“What problem?” Jim’s voice was back to normal, the air of menace evaporated.

Phil took a deep breath. “In these rare cases, the DSGR allow a set length of time between primary imprinting and full bonding before they step in and re-take possession of a guide. In the case of a rogue guide, the window is smaller. What that means is you have seventy-two hours from primary imprinting to achieve a full bond, or Blair will be confiscated.”

Simon looked puzzled. “I thought imprinting and bonding were more or less the same thing.”

Phil shook his head. “Full bonding involves a more intensive, secondary imprinting. Jim needs to learn every inch of Blair with his senses - all his senses - sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. The act of bonding culminates in sexual union, where the sentinel makes the guide his own.”

Simon looked shocked. “I thought the sex part was just a rumor! And anyway, Jim’s not gay. Are you?” he demanded, looking at his friend.

Jim didn’t meet Simon’s eyes. In a quiet voice he said, “Being gay or not has nothing to do with this. No, I’ve never wanted a man before, and yes I want to bond with Blair. To bond fully.”

The silence was deafening. After a moment, Simon said calmly, “Well you might want it, Ellison, but what about that poor kid in there? According to that horror story we just read, he was not only beaten while in the tender care of his last sentinel, but sexually abused as well by god knows who, god knows how many times. What makes you think he’d want anyone, including you, to touch him again in that way?”

Jim was about to answer but suddenly froze, holding up his hand for silence, his head cocked as he listened. Suddenly he rose. “He’s waking up. I have to go.” Quickly he left the room, leaving the door swinging open on its hinges.

Phil gravely met Simon’s eyes. “Good point, Captain.” Phil said. “And unless we deal with it, that poor kid, as you called him, will be back in the hands of the DSGR by the end of the week.”

***


When Jim arrived back in the Captain’s office, the guide was lying awake where Jim had left him, clutching Jim’s coat to himself protectively. He met the sentinel’s eyes for a second as he came in, then lowered them quickly. Jim came straight over and took his chin in his hand. “No, Chief. Look at me. It’s all right to look. I don’t believe in any of that crap.” Reluctantly, Blair raised his eyes to meet Jim’s, and the sentinel smiled encouragingly. “Better. Even better still, reopen your link with me. I want you to know that you have nothing to fear from me.”

Tentatively, Blair obeyed and, as the link reestablished, Jim felt the guide relax infinitesimally. There was wariness there in the guide’s mind, evident through their connection, as well as bone-deep exhaustion. But there was also trust. Again, Jim nodded encouragement. “Good. That’s good. Can you feel that I won’t hurt you?”

Blair licked his lips nervously before answering faintly, “Yes, sentinel.”

“My name is Jim Ellison. Call me Jim.”

The guide swallowed, but his voice was stronger when he answered, “Okay, Jim.”

Jim smiled. “You slept for a few hours. I have a friend here, a doctor, who’s going to take a look at your hands, and then I’ll see about getting you something to eat.” Blair started as Simon and Phil entered, his eyes flickering over Jim’s shoulder to watch them warily, but Jim firmly turned his head back so that Blair was looking at him. His eyes met Jim’s unflinchingly, the link strong between them. “Trust me, Blair. No one will hurt you. I won’t allow it.”

Blair’s eye’s widened at Jim’s use of his real name. Then, after a moment, he nodded. “I trust you.”

“Good. That’s good, Chief. Stay linked with me. Everything is all right, here.”

Jim helped Blair to sit upright, then took a seat beside him as Phil moved over, his medical bag at the ready. He smiled reassuringly. “Hi, Blair. My name is Phil Booth. I’m an independent practitioner, nothing to do with the DSGR.”

As Phil busied himself with a look at the guide’s hands, Blair looked at Jim pleadingly. “Please, sentinel… Jim, can I speak?”

Jim put an arm around the skittish man. “Of course, Chief. You don’t have to ask. What is it?”

Blair turned back to Phil. “I know you… from before I was… a guide.” He swallowed. “I’m sorry, it’s hard…”

Phil smiled encouragingly. “I understand, Blair. Take your time. You’re safe.”

Blair was nodding rapidly. “I know, I know.” He took a deep breath. “I met you, at… at… Rainier. My mmmm… My… mother…” his breathing became ragged suddenly, and Jim moved closer while Phil put a comforting hand on his knee.

“Deep breaths, Blair. That’s it. Better lie him back for a while, Jim.” Between the two of them, they got Blair reclining on the sofa, his legs raised. Jim sat near his head, stroking his hair. “That’s it, Chief. You’re all right. Take your time.” Simon brought a cup of water over, and with Jim’s help, Blair drank it thirstily, then lay back with his arm over his face.

Phil spoke to him quietly. “I know you’re linked with Jim right now, Blair, and you obviously know who I am, so you know that you’re safe with us. But you need to take it slow. The breaking of your bond was a massive shock to your system, and you’re going to be feeling the effects of that for some time yet. We’ll have time to talk about anything you need to talk about, but right now let’s concentrate on getting you patched up and fed, so Jim can take you back to his territory to rest some more.”

Blair nodded, and lay quiet and unflinching as Phil bathed his lacerated fingertips and applied antiseptic ointment to the abrasions. Jim luxuriated in the link they shared, buffering his guide’s barriers while simultaneously marveling at the keenness of sense he was experiencing while in contact with Blair.

Simon, resigned to being the errand boy for the drama in his office, sent for takeout from a local deli, and soon the smell of food filled the office. Blair managed to drink a little soup and eat a little bread, but soon succumbed again to sleep.

Jim nodded towards his new guide. “He’s exhausted.”

Phil nodded. “He’s suffered an enormous trauma, with the bond being severed like that, and his whole life has turned upside down yet again. He’ll need a lot more sleep before he’s done, after losing his barriers so suddenly. But the fact he can sleep like this shows he’s feeling secure. I get the impression that hasn’t been the case for him for a very long time.”

At long last Jim and Phil wrapped Blair in a blanket and led the barely conscious guide out of the bullpen, leaving Simon to watch them depart, a worried expression on his face.

***


Blair awoke from a dream of safety and warmth to find himself in an unfamiliar bed. For a moment he tensed, until he remembered. Alex was dead. Jim. He was with Jim. This was Jim’s territory.

He couldn’t remember the last time he had woken like this, warm and comfortable and feeling safe. Jim wouldn’t hurt him – he knew that with absolute conviction. The difference between Jim and Alex was so great as to be meaningless. The link he had shared with Jim had been infused with what he had always believed a real sentinel was about – protection, compassion, caring.

In comparison, his time with Alex was… No, don’t think about it, he chided himself. Don’t think about it. But a memory ambushed him suddenly, as his memories always did. Alex in Alex’s bed, himself, unable to move, hurting, her lust filling his head, as He, the Man, took what he wanted, no recourse, no hope of rescue...

Suddenly he was snapped out of the flashback by Jim who, hearing his guide’s suddenly rapid heartbeat, had practically flown up the stairs. “Shh, it’s all right, Chief. Blair, it’s all right. Link with me. Link now.” And Blair did, reaching out with his mind, to be infused with such compassion that it took his breath away and brought tears to his eyes. Without another word, Jim pulled him upright into his embrace, and Blair found himself suddenly sobbing like a child, uncontrollably. Strange, he mused, as though he was standing outside himself, observing. I thought I had no tears left.

Eventually, the emotional storm passed, and Blair stayed leaning into Jim, with no inclination to move out of his arms just yet. Jim’s unmistakable acceptance of their physical closeness, perceived through their connection, overlaid any notions of social norms about how two men, strangers until yesterday, should behave. And as for Blair, it had been so long since anyone had touched him in kindness that he drank in Jim’s compassion as though parched.

Eventually, naturally and without embarrassment, they moved apart. Jim laid his hand on Blair’s cheek, brushing away tears with his thumb. “Okay, Chief?” Blair nodded, and smiled a little, causing Jim to smile in return; a happy, tender smile. The sight took Blair’s breath away.

Practicalities took over, as Jim showed Blair where the bathroom was, and found clean (but too large) clothes for him to wear. Alex had allowed Blair to shower daily, but that had been nothing like this, the peace and safety of their link allowing Blair to relax with no fear of ambush. He luxuriated in the warm spray, finding a contentment he had thought never to have again.

And after the shower, Jim made him sit at the table, and put eggs and toast in front of him, and fresh orange juice, and… coffee! For a moment he stared at it, then looked at Jim. The link hummed with the sentinel’s approval, but Jim said nothing, only watched. Blair made a decision. I can do this, I can do this, he told himself, and deliberately not asking Jim’s permission, picked up some egg on his fork, and lifted it to his mouth… oh god, oh god, oh god...

His hand shook, and suddenly Jim’s larger hand covered his, steadying him. “Easy, Chief. It’s all right to eat.”

And suddenly he could. Always wait for permission… always wait for permission... the mantra was so much a part of him now.

Blair continued to eat, suddenly ravenously hungry, and soon his plate was empty. He picked up the coffee, and, embarrassed, looked at Jim. “Go ahead, Blair,” Jim said, and gratefully, Blair took a sip. Nectar! He had not tasted coffee since… since… don’t go there, Blair, he told himself sternly.

Getting his memories firmly in check for once, he looked up at Jim, who was watching him drink with a slight smile on his face. Well, at least he had overcome that part of his conditioning, he was making eye contact without being told he could. Let’s go for another. “Thank you sentinel,” Good try, Blair. Let’s do it again. “I mean Jim. Thank you Jim.”

“No problem, Chief. More coffee?”

Blair nodded. “Yes, please.” There, that sounded normal. Just two guys having breakfast. He could do this. He could. Jim topped up his cup and he took another sip. Easy. This was okay-

BANG, BANG!

Oh god, oh god, oh god.... The cup dropped out of his hands, the warm coffee soaking his borrowed jeans. The cup hit the floor hard and Blair heard it smash. He sprang out of the chair onto his knees, assuming the kneeling position of a guide without thought. Oh god, oh god, please, please, please, I didn’t mean it I didn’t I’m sorry I’m sorry. He had been beaten for far less than dropping a cup.

Then Jim was on his knees in front of him, his arms holding Blair close. “Chief, Blair it’s all right! It’s just the door, someone at the door. Calm down, Blair! Everything’s all right here. Nothing to worry about.”

Jim continued to croon reassurances as Blair gradually got himself together. Whoever was at the door continued to knock as Jim held him and a mixture of worry and reassurance flooded their link. But no anger, not at him, anyway.

Blair took several deep breaths. Jim wouldn’t hurt him, he’d promised. “I’m sorry,” Blair croaked. Then, he abruptly became a guide, as his training kicked in. “Who is it? At the door? You should be able to tell. Use your hearing.”

“No one I know. I need to answer it, Chief. Are you all right?”

Blair was nodding. “Yeah, yeah. I’m sorry, just got a little freaked out there. I’ll clean up the mess...”

Jim got to his feet, and reached down to pull Blair up. He pulled him into a hug for a moment, as the knocking at the door became imperative. “No, leave it Chief. Go upstairs for a while. Everything’s all right, here. Don’t worry.”

Something in Jim’s tone put Blair on alert. “Jim?” he questioned worriedly, but Jim just turned him and pushed him towards the stairs. Suddenly Jim was gone from their link, and Blair reeled a little in surprise. Jim patted him on the arm.

“Chief?” he said. “Trust me. Okay?” Blair nodded, his heart thudding suddenly. Something bad was going to happen, he could feel it. But he turned and did what Jim said all the same. He reached the bed and lay down on it, getting under the comforter. The bed smelled of Jim, of safety.

He heard Jim open the door, and froze when he heard, “Sentinel Ellison? DSGR. May we come in?”

***

The two DSGR guards at his door were the very last people Jim wanted to see this morning. He already had his hands full dealing with one very freaked out guide, whose disposition was not about to be helped by the arrival of these goons.

Jim let his gaze drift over them. The guard who had spoken, the officer, radiated a smug confidence that set Jim’s nerves on edge. The second guard at least had the grace to look nervous. He was holding a weighty looking file, with a tag activator sitting on top of it. Jim looked pointedly at the latter object, and glared icily at the man carrying it. He was gratified to see the scumbag’s nervousness increase, sweat beading on his repulsive upper lip.

The officer guard repeated his question. “Sentinel, there are issues we must discuss with you. May we come in?” Jim didn’t thaw his ice-man demeanor one iota. “Five minutes. No longer.” The guard nodded as if satisfied, and the two of them moved past Jim in to the loft, their roving eyes taking in every nook and cranny, no doubt looking for his guide. Jim didn’t intend to let them get anywhere near him.

Thankfully, the guard officer got straight down to business. “Sentinel, you were registered as taking possession of a rogue guide at 17.05 hours yesterday. I am here to notify you that you have until 17.05 hours on Friday to complete the bond, or the guide will be confiscated. Do you understand this?”

Jim’s expression could have cut through steel. The guard, either foolishly oblivious to Jim’s reaction to his patronizing tone, or immune to the implicit threat in Jim’s body language, ploughed on regardless. “I am authorized to pass you the guide’s records, and to advise you that rogue guides require firm handling. Bonding with this one won’t be easy – he’s proved resistant in the past. You should administer this before you take him, to make the guide more receptive.” The guard held out a bottle, containing a viscous fluid of some kind.

Jim glanced at the bottle, then back at the guard. Upstairs, he could hear Blair murmur despairingly, “Oh no. Please not that. Not again.”

That decided it. “I don’t need it,” Jim asserted.

The guard gave him a surprised look, but he didn’t push the point. Instead he went on, “This particular rogue is especially notorious, and you are advised that you should administer strict discipline.” He took the tag activator from his colleague, and presented it to Jim. “Do not be afraid to use this. It’s set to cause pain, but not to kill. It will do no lasting damage.”

Jim took the repulsive object in his hand, aware, with his senses tuned partially into Blair, that his guide’s heart rate had gone suddenly through the roof. Looking the guard officer in the eye, he very deliberately dropped the activator on the floor, and smashed his foot down on it. It crunched in an extremely satisfying way, reminding him obscurely of the oblique satisfaction obtained from popping bubble wrap. After a little grinding with his heel, which elicited several more satisfying crunches, he bent down and gathered up the pieces, then dumped them unceremoniously back on top of the file being carried by the other guard, who was no longer looking just nervous. Peeing his pants was a distinct possibility.

Jim smiled predatorily; totally aware just how much his behavior was freaking these assholes out. They had, no doubt, been trained to be wary of protective sentinels demonstrating their primal side. “I already have a copy of the file,” he told them. “And this… object… appears to have developed a malfunction. If there’s nothing else, gentlemen, I’m very busy.”

Jim was gratified to note that the officer had at last lost some of his assurance. “Of course, sentinel. Thank you for your time.” The obsequious script poured by rote out of the asshole’s mouth, but the words trembled minutely. “We’ll be in touch.” They backed out, the officer’s subordinate nearly losing his armful of useless trash in the process of his hurried exit.

“Have a nice day,” Jim said happily, then noisily closed the door, locked it with the key, put on the chain and the deadbolt for good measure. He wanted Blair to know that not only had they gone, but that there was no way they could get back in.

Then he turned and bounded up the stairs. Crawling under the comforter, he put his arms around his trembling guide and held on. “It’s over, Chief. They’re gone. You’re okay.” He held on, murmuring words of safety, until exhaustion overtook both of them once again, and they drifted into sleep.

***


BANG, BANG!

Blair nearly jumped out of his skin once more. He’d been awake for a while, drifting, basking in the security of the sentinel’s - his sentinel’s – arms, when someone else knocked, noisily demanding entrance to the apartment.

The said sentinel’s arms tightened on him a moment, and then Jim murmured in his ear, “Easy Chief, it’s just Phil. You remember? The doctor?”

Blair nodded. “I remember. Phil. I know him…”

Jim gave him another squeeze. “Yeah, you knew him from before you were a guide. I’m going to let him in. Do you want to stay here?”

“Can I come with you?” Blair knew Phil. Phil was safe, and from a happier time in his life. “Please?”

“Sure.” Jim moved off the bed, and held out a hand to Blair.

Together they went down the stairs, and Jim unlocked the door, opening it to reveal a smiling Phil.

“Hey, you two.” Jim moved to let Phil in, then made a show of locking the door in triplicate again.

Phil looked at Jim quizzically. Jim shrugged. “Had a visit from some DSGR goons.”

“Ah.” Phil didn’t seem at all surprised at Jim’s actions. Then the doctor turned to Blair, who seemed to be almost hiding behind Jim. “How are you doing, Blair?”

Blair just nodded, not meeting Phil’s eyes, so Jim answered for him as they moved toward the sitting area. “He slept well, ate, got freaked out by our uninvited guests, and slept again. But he’s doing okay, aren’t you Chief?” Embarrassed at the attention, Blair just nodded. Jim steered him to the couch and sat down beside him, as Phil perched on the loveseat.

Phil smiled. “The need for lots of sleep is normal, in the period straight after a broken bond, Blair. It helps your barriers to heal. Don’t worry about it. Just go with the flow, okay? Get as much rest as you can.” He turned his attention to Jim. “So,” he said. “What did they want?”

“The goons? Oh, just what you’d expect. To give us a deadline, and to impart some unwelcome advice. I sent them packing.”

Unexpectedly, Blair laughed. Then, put his hand over his mouth in shock at his own reaction. Seeming surprised at the reaction, Phil asked, “What is it Blair?”

Blair looked at Jim, as if to gain permission, and when the sentinel nodded, Blair said in a quiet voice. “He smashed it. The tag activator. He smashed it.” Looking up briefly, he caught Jim’s eye, then started to laugh loudly. Jim made to move towards him, but Phil raised his hand to halt him. But when Blair’s laughter abruptly turned to gulping sobs Jim was ready to gather him in.

While Jim comforted his guide, Phil moved into the kitchen, coming back with a glass of water. As Blair calmed, Phil came to crouch by the two of them. Blair looked up at his approach. “I’m sorry,” he said in a broken voice. Phil shook his head, and handed him the glass, which Jim steadied for him.

As Blair sipped the water, Phil said, “Don’t be surprised, Blair, if this happens a lot. You’ve had to hold this in for a long time, and safety after so long without it is going to mess your emotions up for a while. But I promise you, it will get better.”

Blair swallowed. “Only if we bond.” He turned haunted eyes to Jim. “I want to, Jim. I’ve never wanted anything more in my life. But what if I can’t without the drug? The one that increases libido, and uh, makes guides receptive? I heard you refuse it.”

Jim pulled him in close. “We’ll work this out somehow, Blair. But I won’t drug you into submission. That’s just not an option. We have to do this naturally – willingly - or not at all.”

Phil gave them a moment, then asked, “Blair, do you understand why you and Jim feel so close to each other right now?”

Blair pulled away from Jim, and turned to face Phil. He nodded. “It’s primary imprinting, right?”

“Right. What that means in practice is that you are in the early stages of a strong bond. Did you have a primary imprinting with your previous sentinel?”

Blair took a deep breath, shaking his head, and Jim’s arm tightened around him. “It was a forced bond.”

“I suspected it probably was.” Phil paused a moment. “This is entirely different,” he continued into Blair’s silence, “and I know it’s hard, but you have to remember that bonding with Jim won’t be anything like that. The fact that you’ve achieved primary imprinting means that Jim would sooner hurt himself than you. And the drug should not be necessary, if you take this one step at a time.”

Blair looked down at the ground, then in a quiet voice said, “Before… before I was a guide, I liked women. I slept with them. I was kinda curious about men, you know? Just, uh, in a theoretical sense. But I never…” He looked up suddenly, and met Phil’s gaze, his blue eyes earnest, anguished. “Do you know what happened? What she let her friends do, when I was with her? I was in the hospital, there must be records…”

Phil nodded, and Jim moved to put both arms around Blair. “There are,” Phil answered, “And we guessed what must have happened from what we’ve read. I’m sorry Blair, about what she did to you.”

“So am I, Chief.” Jim said pulling him close again, and soothing him with his hands.

Phil let them be for a while, as Jim took the time to comfort Blair’s latest brief emotional breakdown. Blair was proving to be mercurial in his moods, which Phil had warned Jim to expect, considering the unique situation they found themselves in. Lending support through the link they shared, Jim held on as Blair strove to find his balance.

***


Eventually Phil came back and sat on the coffee table facing them. “Jim, Blair,” he said. “Listen up.”

Sentinel and guide unwrapped themselves from each other, and turned to face him. Phil smiled. “I have bad news and good news. The bad news is, you do have a deadline. There is no way around that. In an ideal world – and, in fact if you lived in a different part of the world - you would be able to take this slow, develop trust, and bond in your own time.

“The good news is, I believe your primary imprinting is very strong. You, my friends, are already half-way there. And the way I believe you can bond is if you continue to do this in increments.”

“What do you mean?” asked Jim.

Phil looked at Blair. “You’ve studied tribal sentinels in South and Central America, right?” at Blair’s look of surprise, Phil qualified, “I went to look at your Masters’ thesis in Rainier’s library this morning. I wanted to know more about you, so that I can help you. What can you remember about bonding rituals in Belize?”

Blair looked puzzled for a moment, then the light came on. “They lasted, what six days? The sentinel and guide did a series of sensory rituals designed to acclimatize themselves to each other. They started with hearing, then progressed on to smell and sight. The most intense sensory imprintings, taste and touch, were saved for later in the ritual, culminating in the full bond on the last day, which meshed all the senses together.”

“And my point? You get it, right?”

Blair was nodding. “Yeah, yeah. Here in the States, sentinels and guides have one intense, single bonding session. All or nothing, man.”

Jim was looking back and forth between them. “So? Why is this good news?”

Phil leaned forward. “Because a series of secondary imprintings will gradually acclimatize you to each other, while simultaneously increasing your bond, of which primary imprinting is simply the first stage, not something completely separate from it as is commonly believed. Taken as a whole, the prospect of bonding is very daunting to Blair, with his history of abuse, but in stages, you will build up the trust between you, and the bond will keep getting incrementally stronger. If the worst comes to the worst, and you don’t manage the full bond in time, you will almost certainly be ninety-nine per-cent there. It could even be enough to convince the DSGR testers.”

Jim was shaking his head. “We don’t have six days, Phil.”

Phil stood. “Then use your time wisely. You are already touching each other, holding each other. That’s a start. Blair, how do you feel when Jim holds you?”

Blair swallowed, and glanced at Jim. “Safe,” he whispered. “Like it’s right. I know he won’t hurt me.”

Phil was nodding. “You’re staying linked, right?”

Jim nodded. “As much as possible. I want him not to doubt me, so he won’t be afraid of me.”

Phil smiled. “Well, it seems to be working. Blair, you’ve studied psychology. What advantage do sentinel and guide pairs have over the rest of us at times of intense emotional stress?”

Blair grinned shyly. “You read my undergraduate work too?”

Phil shrugged. “Just the syllabus. As a psychiatrist I was curious what you covered in your psychology minor. Can you remember the answer to my question?”

Blair nodded. “Strongly bonded pairs are a buffer for each other. They can literally feel each other’s support for the other. It allows them to deal with life threatening and traumatic situations, but suffer less lasting damage than normals. It enables the sentinel to remain fully active in pursuit of their territorial imperative to protect their tribe. As most sentinels in modern society are involved in potentially hazardous and traumatic endeavors, such as police work, the buffering effect of the bond helps prevent long term psychological damage occurring in the sentinel. Or,” he added, as almost an afterthought, “in the guide, who is of necessity also exposed to the same hazards and stress.”

Phil nodded. “Well, as an observer of you two, I can honestly say I can see it in action. Blair, yesterday you could hardly talk beyond two words. Now you are sitting here, speaking eloquently about academic concepts you probably haven’t even thought about for over two years.” He changed tack slightly. “Can you tell me your full name?”

Blair looked at his hands. “Guide,” he answered quietly.

Very gently, Phil said, “Let’s try again, shall we? What is your name? Your real name.”

Blair met Phil’s eyes again, as Jim’s approval thrummed toward him through their link. “Blair Sandburg,” the guide whispered, then turned white. Fortunately Phil was ready, snatching a waste paper bin and getting it under Blair’s mouth just in time, as the guide vomited explosively.

Finally the retching abated and, as Jim held and comforted his guide again, Phil brought a damp cloth from the bathroom, and a fresh glass of water. Expecting the guide to be upset, Phil was mildly surprised to see a huge grin on Blair’s face when he returned, matched only by the one on his bemused sentinel’s face. “Blair, my name is Blair! Blair Sandburg!” he kept repeating, “I can do this!” But it didn’t escape Phil’s notice that Blair’s whole body was shaking.

Moving over he gave Jim the cloth, and as the sentinel wiped his guide’s face and helped him rinse his mouth, he said quietly, for Jim’s ears only, “Get him upstairs Jim, keep him warm and stay with him. This is a big block he’s got over, and he needs closeness with you right now. Stay linked.” Jim nodded minutely, and practically lifted his babbling guide up the stairs. Phil stayed below, hearing them get settled on the bed. It was not long before he heard Blair’s excited tones turn into deep sobs, and Jim’s murmured reassurance. He settled himself down on the couch to wait out the storm.

Finally, once Blair was deeply asleep again, Jim came down the stairs. He made coffee, and he and Phil adjourned back to the couch to drink it.

Jim put his head in both hands. “This is a nightmare, Phil. He’s all over the place emotionally. And he wouldn’t even eat without permission this morning.”

Phil took a sip of coffee. “Don’t focus on that, Jim. Look how far he’s come in a few short hours. He’s talking; without permission, I might add. He’s making good eye contact. He’s saying his name. He has it back now - that fundamental block is gone. If he were anyone but a guide, having survived the torture and abuse he’s been through, it would take months, if not years, to get him this far.”

Jim raised haunted eyes to Phil. “The name thing? And the need for permission? What’s that all about?”

Phil put his cup down and leaned forward. “It’s part of the training he was subjected to, no doubt reinforced by the sadistic sentinel he was bonded with. As a rogue, the aim would have been to dehumanize him, to strip him of his entire identity. He would have been severely punished for saying his own name, because he had to become ‘guide’, a nobody, just a tool for a sentinel. The need for permission to do the simplest things, things that are every human’s right, would have reinforced that.” Phil picked up his cup again, took another sip. “He may seem fragile just now, Jim, but he is an extremely resourceful young man. He didn’t lose his identity, he just buried it. Look how much he can recall about his academic work, despite what they put him through. Truly amazing.”

Jim leaned back on the sofa and closed his eyes. “Will he be all right?” he asked despairingly.

Grief and anger at what had been lost, and what could never be again, infused Phil, as it always did when he dealt with cases like this. “I won’t lie to you Jim,” he said bitterly. “Whatever he was before all this, that made him who he is, is gone. He can never go back to what he was before, unless the law changes, or you leave the country to live somewhere less repressive. I know, I know.” At Jim’s glare, Phil held up both hands in surrender. “That’s not an option for you. Your territorial imperative is to protect Cascade.”

“I hear a ‘but’,” said Jim.

“But,” obliged Phil, “He’s intelligent, resourceful, courageous. Once you settle into your bond, he will overcome the trauma he’s suffered, with your help. He’s already coming out of it. You do have a good way to go, and aspects of it – the memories, in particular - will be with him forever. But I believe with your help he will make a lot of headway. And he will be perfectly able to act as your guide.”

“And the bond? Do you think he’ll be able to go through with it?”

“I have no doubt that, in time, he will. For now, all you can do is concentrate on developing a gradual bond. He trusts you, Jim. He trusts you absolutely – he can’t help that, because he knows you through your link like no other. You can lead him through this.”

Frustrated, Jim hissed, “We don’t have time! They’re coming for him on Friday!”

Phil stood up. “Then make the time you do have count,” he said simply. “And start now. I’ll leave you to get on with it. If you need me, just call.”

***


Fortunately, Jim had shopped for groceries a couple of days before, so battening down the hatches for a prolonged bonding session was easier to initiate than he’d feared. They had more or less everything they needed to live comfortably in seclusion for three days – all that had to happen now, was for them to get on with the physical aspects of their bond.

One of the drawbacks of the fact that they had imprinted, however, was that Jim was, as Phil had correctly said, now utterly incapable of hurting Blair. And that left him with a terrible dilemma.

According to the file, and Blair’s own halting testimony, Jim’s guide had been raped repeatedly. He’d been forcibly restrained, and given to any number of men at Alex Barnes’s whim, because she liked to watch. And so Blair was wary of sex, particularly with men, and yet without sex, there could be no bond. But Jim would never, could never, force Blair in any way; nor would he drug him to ensure a compliance that would be, at best, false, and at worse, rape.

And yet, how could he not, if it came down to it, and Blair was unable to relax enough during the time they had, to allow it to happen? How could he damn Blair to a life – if you could call it a life – in DSGR custody?

All he could do was to hope that Phil had the right idea. That a gradual learning of Blair’s body with each sense in turn would culminate, finally, in a full bond, reached in a natural, non-traumatic way.

Okay, he could do gradual. He had some ideas as to how he could start to acclimatize Blair to his touch, without frightening him or hurting him. But he knew that at the first sign of a serious freak-out from Blair, he’d have to back off. And he was not sure what he’d do if Friday afternoon arrived, yet they still had not managed to fully bond.

Because, when it came down to it, death was an infinitely better prospect than the life Blair would be going back to. And, god forgive him, Jim was seriously considering that as an option for both of them, if it came down to the wire.

***


The first thing Jim wanted to do was to establish an atmosphere of normality – or as close as they could get to it in this situation. He needed Blair to be relaxed about the little things – eating, using the bathroom, and god knows what else he’d been conditioned into asking permission for. So the first order of the day was to lay down some ground rules.

Blair listened, wide-eyed, to Jim’s list of instructions. “You understand why I’m saying this, right?” Jim asked. “I want you to feel at home. It’s stressful for both of us, if you’re afraid all the time, even here, where you need to feel safe.”

Blair nodded, looking haunted. “I’ll try.”

“I know you will.” Jim smiled at him reassuringly. “If you need to ask, if you really, honestly can’t function without getting my permission for something, then of course I’ll give it. Don’t be scared to ask. But try, okay, Chief? Try to relax, to take the initiative, and to treat this place like your place. Because that is exactly what it is now.”

And with that, Jim made a huge effort to treat the rest of the day like any normal day at home – if you ignored the fact that the phone was off the hook, the place was locked down like a fortress, and his guide (because he couldn’t think of Blair as anything but his guide) was trying so very hard, so very earnestly, to put his conditioning to one side.

Jim was careful not to push anything else – Blair, he considered, had enough to worry about just achieving this. And, to his relief, some headway was made, Blair managing - through the link they’d established - to trust that Jim wouldn’t hurt him, no matter what.

Jim found himself giving guide frequent hugs throughout the long day, just as he had been doing ever since they met, because that actually seemed to help.

And not only that – it was utterly, wonderfully satisfying for him to have his guide in his arms.

***


The one thing that made it possible for Blair to put his fears on one side and try to act against his conditioning, was the fact that he knew, through the link they shared, that Jim really wanted him to do this. That this wasn’t some trick, some game to get him to slip up in following the rules, thereby giving the sentinel an excuse to punish him.

It wasn’t freedom, but it was as close as Blair was ever likely to get to it, now that he was a guide. And he’d long since learned to be grateful for little things.

Jim was so kind, so concerned. He wasn’t a saint, though; that was for sure. Frequently, Blair could sense that Jim was annoyed, or irritated. But Blair knew – because of their link he really knew – that the emotion was fleeting, and had no malice behind it. That Jim would not vent his annoyance on Blair, and that it was simply a normal reaction to being thrust into this abnormal situation.

The best thing of all, as Blair strove and fought to fight down instincts borne of two years of brutal conditioning, was the fact that when he got it right, Jim held him close. And even when he got it wrong, Jim did the same thing; and that affection was more than Blair had had in so long, that he lapped it up like nectar. And he could overwhelmingly sense through their link - which could only become stronger when they achieved a full bond – that Jim really, truly, wanted him.

For someone like Blair, who had never in his life imagined that he could ever actually want a sentinel of his own, the most incredible thing of all was that the sentiment was mutual. And he frequently stopped to look at Jim in wonderment, amazed and awed by the fact that, of all the sentinels he could have, he’d been claimed by one as amazing and compassionate as this.

***


They went to bed eventually, after a day of television and cuddling and eating, during which Sandburg had made considerable progress at relaxing in Jim’s space.

Now, Jim wanted to focus his hearing on Blair. To hold him close, and listen to the rhythms of his body, following Phil’s recommendation that they develop their bond gradually, one sense at a time.

“That’s all I’m gonna do,” he told Blair. “I don’t want you to be afraid, worrying that I’m going do things that aren’t gonna happen.” And, that said, he urged Blair to lie on the bed, fully clothed, flat on his back.

Blair quivered with nerves at the start, despite his apparent trust in Jim. But he gradually relaxed as Jim lay with his head on Blair’s torso, listening to his heart and the air whooshing in and out of his lungs. Listening closely to the rush of blood through his veins, and the pulse beating close to the skin.

Gradually, unhurriedly, Jim shifted, focusing his hearing in at different places in Blair’s body, and urging his guide to move this way and that to accommodate him. It was slow and methodical and, as time went on, Jim felt Blair relax, his body rhythms slowing as he did so. Pleased at the amount of trust he was being granted, Jim sent approving emotions through the link they’d established, which was more tangible with their close proximity.

As the process progressed, Jim felt the moment when their breathing synchronized, and something clicked inside them both; as a profound connection fell firmly into place. And as one, they sighed their satisfaction, when their link strengthened simultaneously.

The first stage of their gradual bonding process complete, Jim moved to lie beside the guide, taking him in his arms. “Thank you,” he whispered, kissing Blair on the brow. Then, gathering Blair close, he listened to the guide’s steady heartbeat, until it lulled him to sleep.

***

They both slept soundly until early morning. Waking early, safe in Jim’s arms, Blair felt a sense of profound peace he’d previously thought he’d never again experience.

Shortly afterwards, Jim roused. His face took on a far away look, as he focused in on Blair.

Enthralled, Blair asked in a whisper, “Are you listening to me?”

Jim nodded. “Yeah,” he breathed. “It’s like I learned a language – it all makes sense to me now.” He stroked a hand over Blair’s shoulder. “Like suddenly understanding the whole picture.”

Blair felt a little flutter of apprehension and, picking up on that effortlessly, Jim soothed him with a gentle hand. Despite the reassurance, Blair still couldn’t help noting, “Not the whole, picture, though. Still got four to do, man.” Plus, as they both well knew, the final act, which would bind them together.

Jim nodded. “Yeah.”

“I’m not afraid of you. We can take it faster, Jim.” Blair sounded determined, but he couldn’t help his heart jumping a little as he spoke.

Jim smiled at him gently. “I won’t rush this, Chief,” he said. “We’ll take this as steady as we can.”

“I trust you.” Blair meant it, meant every word.

Jim drew him into his arms. “I know,” he murmured.

Feeling more secure than he could ever remember, despite the looming deadline and the awful consequences of failure, Blair sighed happily.

***


They got up, got showered. Had breakfast. Jim was proud of Blair, of how far he’d come – he managed so much of it this second day without looking to Jim first for permission.

Once the breakfast dishes had been washed and cleared away, it was time for more imprinting. “I think we’ll do smell this time. Okay, Chief?” Jim asked.

Blair nodded. His nervousness was back – no chance of hiding that from Jim now. But he seemed determined anyway. “Let’s do it.”

Jim marveled at Blair’s courage, and at the amazing nature of his recovery so far – undoubtedly one of the better features of the connection between a sentinel and guide.

They went back upstairs. Jim really would have preferred to do this without the barrier of clothes between them, but he didn’t want to spook Blair any more than he had to at this stage. So, instead, he urged Blair to lay down fully dressed.

Aware of Blair’s pounding heart, Jim lay down beside him at first, one hand rubbing soothing circles on Blair’s stomach. “It’s okay,” he murmured. “Relax, Blair.” Gradually, the guide’s skittish nerves calmed, his aroma – which Jim was already hyper-aware of – losing the tang of something that Jim had already identified as ‘fear’.

He didn’t like that smell, or the worry it evoked in him, so he decided to seek out other, more pleasant ones. And, happily, there was a treasure trove to be found of those.

Like yesterday, when he had aligned his sense of hearing with Blair’s body rhythms, Blair relaxed under his scrutiny, while Jim’s sense of smell took a tour of Blair’s body. Jim lost himself in the different scents to be found as he traveled all over, the sweetness of this, and the sourness of that, and under it all, Blair, and his essential essence.

Lost as he was in processing intense sensory input, Jim’s conscious brain seemed to have taken a vacation as, needing to get closer and to remove the irritating fabric between him and his target, he methodically and insistently parted it and pulled it away. His only thought was to gain access to more of the smells which tantalized him. There was a momentary sour note, as a rush of the smell he’d identified as fear surged. But it subsided just as quickly, and was so brief that it didn’t interrupt his concentration at all.

It was only later, once he’d experienced the satisfying click of his sense of smell being fully engaged as part of their bond, that Jim came back to himself. Sandburg was in his arms, wrapped in a sheet which Jim was holding protectively around him.

Under it, the guide was completely nude. Forcibly stripped, by him, while he’d been lost in a haze of sensory input.

The realization of what he’d done brought a rush of shame. “Oh god, Blair, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean-”

“It’s all right,” Blair interrupted. His voice sounded dreamy, and there was no hint of fear in it; just as his heart was steady and he smelled of nothing more than contentment. “You had to, I know that.”

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah.” Blair said firmly. “I’m fine.” He pulled away slightly to look up at Jim calmly. “In fact,” he said, “can we keep going? Maybe, sight? Because I’m ready for that, if you are.”

Moved by his guide’s trust – and impressed by the obvious strength and resilience which were returning to Blair the closer to a bond that they got - Jim kissed him gently on the forehead; a chaste, loving kiss. “Okay,” he agreed softly. “If you’re sure.”

“I’m sure.” Blair’s eyes shone with certainty.

Kissing him once more, Jim nodded his assent. And releasing Blair to lie back on the bed, he got to work.

***


For the most part, Jim wasn’t touching him at all and yet, under the force of the sentinel’s regard, Blair quivered, his nerve endings on fire.

The intensity of Jim’s focus, as he peered closely at every inch of skin on Blair’s upper body, was overwhelming. It was as if Blair could feel it, as though the touch of Jim’s eyes was a tangible thing. Blair breathed deeply, enduring the sensation and forcing himself to stillness, feeling more exposed than he had at any time in his life.

But he wasn’t afraid. And the absence of fear, as he lay naked while a sentinel subjected him to this inch-by-inch examination, was a breakthrough indeed.

Jim seemed to be ignoring everything below his waist for the moment, no doubt putting off his visual perusal of that area until he was satisfied that Blair was more relaxed. And Blair was relaxed, really, considering. It was not fear that made him shake and sigh under the sentinel’s microscopic regard, it was something else; a sensation he’d truly feared that he’d never feel again.

He was intensely, achingly aroused.

Blair jumped when Jim touched him, the other man’s hands burning like fire. “Turn over,” the sentinel ordered and, without hesitation, Blair did what was asked, moving over onto his front so that the sentinel could examine the back of his body.

Blair shuddered as the hands fell away, picturing Jim’s blue eyes looking at him with profound intensity. For an eternity afterwards, Blair lay still, his back prickling with hypersensitivity when Jim’s breath stirred the fine hairs there, as he studied every inch of skin.

It went on for an endless age, Jim sporadically touching Blair, encouraging him to move this way and that for ease of access. Blair felt his hair grasped in a gentle hand, and shifted out of the way to enable a thorough, visual examination of his neck, and Blair shivered as a hand ghosted across the tag embedded there. The sentinel made an unhappy, disapproving sound, before lips descended to kiss the skin around the tag gently, causing Blair to cry out at the resulting flash of electricity which sparked along his spine, causing him to arch up off the bed.

As Blair forced himself to stillness once more, he heard Jim inhale deeply, using a second sense to interpret Blair’s reaction, and Blair murmured, “Just sight, Jim. Dial smell back.” It was important during the bonding process, Blair remembered from his studies of South American sentinels, that the sentinel keep his focus mainly on the sense he was working on, utilizing, for the most part, a single sense at a time in an almost-zone. Smell had already kicked in for Jim – if he allowed that particularly well-developed sense to intrude too much right now, it could detract from the intensity of his imprinting of the others.

Taste and touch were safe to bring into play, though, within limits, since they were yet to be fully imprinted, and therefore not likely to overwhelm the sense Jim was working on. That was just as well, since Jim’s mouth descended onto Blair yet again, licking the sweat from the small of his back and making him groan out loud.

Jim was bolder now; or, perhaps, simply so lost in what he was doing that his worries about Blair’s fears had been buried under his need to bond – just as had been the case when he’d stripped Blair, during his imprinting of smell. Hands on Blair’s lower back, then on his thighs, urged Blair to spread his legs slightly, so that Jim could peer closely at the places in between them. And, despite a momentary surge of apprehension, Blair allowed the touch, frightening memories of the last time anyone had been this close to that part of him buried under the uncompromising safety he felt through the link he shared with Jim.

Jim lingered a while, his hands parting Blair’s buttocks so he could look his fill. Blair took slow, deep breaths, accepting the need for this and, to his surprise, his arousal was not diminished, despite the fact that anything done to him anally in the past had been anything but pleasurable. It was almost impossible, he was finding, to feel any fear; hardly surprising, since their growing link was infused with such feelings of care, respect and compassion, that he was certain Jim would never hurt him.

Finally, Jim moved on. The process continued, Jim moving gradually further down, until the entire back of Blair’s body had been examined in minute detail. And then came the words Blair had been anticipating: “Turn over.”

Strong hands helped him move, since Blair’s muscles seemed to have turned to liquid. As he settled, breathing hard, Jim placed a hand on his bare chest, rubbing gently. “Blair,” Jim whispered, getting his attention. Jim’s face was intent and predatory, but softened by concern, nevertheless – the urges of the primal sentinel tempered by his innate humanity.

Blair looked back at him, interpreting the question in the word. “It’s okay,” he said breathlessly. “Do it. Do anything you need to do.”

Jim seemed to be listening for a moment, judging whether Blair was truly ready for this. Then, seemingly, satisfied, he slid down the bed, to focus his gaze on Blair’s groin.

***


It was tempting, now Jim was face to face with Blair’s erection, to focus his sense of smell. He dimly remembered doing so before, when he’d imprinted that particular sense, and had found the combination of the aromas of sweat and other secretions in this area of Blair’s body intoxicating.

He was more in control this time, though. And whereas he’d been lost in an olfactory trance before, paying no heed to how it felt for Blair to be sniffed so intimately, this time he remained aware of Blair’s reactions through their link – which currently indicated mingled apprehension and determination, tempered by a huge dose of trust. Blair’s overwhelming acceptance reassured him, but he resolved to do this carefully, nevertheless, making sure he backed off if it became too much for Blair, keeping his primal side in check, and focusing in on the one sense – vision - just as his guide had urged him to do.

Determinedly, therefore, he dialed back his already-imprinted senses of smell and hearing, and focused his vision intently on Blair’s flesh, cataloguing pores, hairs and the scars and evidence of abuse which marred the otherwise flawless skin. And he kept a peripheral awareness of one of his other, as yet undeveloped, senses – touch – using it to help him monitor and interpret Blair’s acceptance of his attentions.

Blair’s groin fascinated him, the guide’s obvious arousal a sensory delight, even to the single sense Jim was using. But after a thorough perusal, during which he gently moved Blair’s erect penis and scrotum this way and that to gain full access, urging Blair to lift his knees to allow him to peer into every crevice, it was time to move on, and complete the journey. So, reluctantly, Jim moved downwards, methodically examining every inch of Blair’s legs and feet.

He expected, as he completed his examination with a visual scan of Blair’s right sole, that things would all fall into place now, like they had with the other two senses. But, to his surprise, something was missing, and the visual part of their bond failed to kick in.

Jim’s eyes were drawn back to Blair’s swollen genitals, and he understood what it was that he needed to see.

Moving up again, he ran a finger along the length of Blair’s penis. It jerked as Blair flinched beneath him, although the emotions the guide radiated included no fear, just an urgent, desperate sense of arousal.

That realization – that Blair actually wanted this - was all Jim needed.

Lowering his mouth, he tenderly took the head of Blair’s cock into it. Blair’s hands formed into fists as the sentinel sucked, grasping desperately at the fabric of the bunched sheet which they’d earlier discarded, as Jim savored the delicious taste of Blair’s pre-come. Lifting a hand to cup the guide’s balls, Jim used his other hand to grasp the base of his cock.

Blair shuddered all over, his stomach rising and falling rapidly with the force of his breaths. As Jim sucked, he felt the balls he cradled in his palm contract, and a flood of semen filled Jim’s mouth – the guide too aroused to last for long.

Jim continued to suck, more gently now in the aftermath, until he’d lapped it all up. Then he raised his head, and watched as Blair’s spent cock went soft. Lifting the limp penis in one hand, he studied how it creased in places, and how it looked as it shrunk. He gauged how the sated balls lay in his hand, and how it was different than a moment ago, before he’d made Blair come. He scrutinized it until Blair’s cock went completely limp.

And, to his satisfaction, their link blazed with clarity, as another segment of their bond was firmly fixed into place.

***


It was so long since anyone had touched Blair in such a way.

Jim’s emotions had bled over through their ever-growing link; reflecting desire, respect, care, compassion. Despite his overwhelming, primitive need to bond, Jim had clearly never lost sight of Blair's well-being. It had resulted in an intimate, gentle touch, combined with a profound sense of safety, and culminating in an intense sexual release.

Sure, Blair had been made to come by Alex - when they’d bonded, it had been an inevitable part of the deal. But, that time, he’d been given drugs to increase his sexual response, and had been strapped down with her riding him, the ultimate consummation simply an involuntary reaction of his body to expertly applied stimulus.

It had only been that once, though. That one time, in the past two years. The other times he’d been taken, by her and her male lovers, his pleasure had been the last thing on anybody’s mind.

Blair was so blissed out in the aftermath of this particular experience, that it took a while before he was able to raise his head to look at his sentinel. Jim was sitting on the side of the bed, watching him with a worried frown.

And not just worry, Blair could feel. Need, and fervent desire.

“Are you okay, Chief?” Jim asked softly.

Blair nodded. “That was…” he drifted off. He couldn’t find the words. Instead, he sent a tendril of gratitude and satisfaction toward Jim. And wow, that link between them was so strong now.

Reassured by the emotion, Jim smiled gently. “Okay,” he said. He reached out, and stroked Blair’s face tenderly.

Then he lifted the same hand to his lips, and licked the fingers, sucking Blair’s taste from them, his pupils dilated with hunger.

Blair swallowed, fully understanding the significance of Jim’s action. “It’s okay, he reassured the sentinel, his stomach fluttering at the sight. “You can move on to taste now, if you like. I’m ready.” Jim, he could see, was already part of the way there – there would be no stopping this particular roller coaster, when Jim had already sampled the essence of Blair’s completion.

Jim paused, seemingly taking a moment to gauge the sincerity of Blair’s consent.

Then he smiled, predatorily, and swooped in.

***


Blair tried to lie still, squirming helplessly, as Jim’s tongue gradually filled every crevice and covered every inch of skin; the occasional, slight rasp of the sentinel’s close-shaven face the only contrast to the terrible softness of his mouth.

Blair’s nerve endings were on fire. Every lick, every motion of Jim’s lips and tongue, was a kind of wet, ticklish torture, causing a resulting whole-body, hyper-sensitivity which was almost more than Blair could bear.

Though Blair didn’t attempt to resist, he twitched and writhed under the onslaught, involuntarily trying to evade the terrible insistence of Jim’s tongue as it went on its journey. First, the sentinel had explored Blair’s mouth with his tongue, leaving Blair panting in reaction to the devastating kisses. As Jim moved on to other places, his hands steadied Blair when he flinched; not in restraint, but something close to it, as the sentinel’s splayed fingers framed each area he worked on, holding Blair firmly in place so that he could give his full attention to every single part of his flesh.

Blair could hear himself gasping and crying out incoherently, as Jim’s mouth methodically explored one armpit, the sentinel’s strong hand holding Blair’s arm above his head so that he could get right in. There was no respite, no way to escape the sentinel’s relentless attention, other than downright refusal; and that possibility only briefly crossed Blair’s mind before he rejected it outright. They had to do this. They were so close to completion, so close to their bond being established. No way would Blair interrupt that process now, simply because it tickled.

So, nothing to do but lie back and take it; to endure the sensations of soft wetness and the resulting, throbbing need which developed in his groin as Jim’s mouth moved down to tongue a nipple, and the sparks of extreme sensation which constantly flashed up and down the length of his spine. And, as it continued, Blair ceased to think about flight, gradually slipping into a trance-like state of mind where the overwhelming sensations blurred into a white-hot mixture of almost-unendurable torment and intense pleasure.

Blair accepted it without protest, therefore, when Jim made him turn over, so that he could explore his back. And when Jim reached his most secret place, Blair didn’t protest, although he shuddered and cried out. And he was unable to prevent the second, overwhelming orgasm that ripped through him, when Jim relentlessly and repeatedly tongued his asshole deeply.

After that, Blair drifted limply in a haze of contradictory sensation, floating high on endorphins, and shuddering helplessly at the continuing oral assault. The sentinel urged him to turn again, then licked up Blair’s emission and sucked his spent cock for a while.

Jim’s growing ability to manipulate Blair’s responses in minute detail – thanks to his newly-gained knowledge of Blair’s body, as well as their link - enabled him to make Blair hard again, despite the fact that he had already come twice in quick succession. And to Blair’s intense surprise, after a protracted period of determined oral manipulation, Jim unbelievably forced a third, almost dry orgasm to rip out of him, which was bordering on painful in its intensity.

As he panted through the aftermath, cringing at the mingled pain/pleasure Jim had forced him to endure, Blair was dimly aware of the sound of a zipper opening. He opened his eyes, heart pounding, to see that Jim had taken his own cock in hand, and was straddling him, looking at Blair with such a predatory expression that Blair would have been appalled, but for the fact that this was Jim. As Blair watched, the motion of Jim’s hand speeded up, the sentinel grimacing and crying out as if in pain, as the hot, convulsive wetness of his orgasm splashed simultaneously over Blair’s thighs and groin. And Blair cried out as Jim immediately pressed Blair’s hips firmly down on the bed, and leaned down so that he could lap up their mingled fluids from Blair’s flesh.

Blair’s head tossed from side to side as he endured the continued assault, groaning out loud, his whole groin area so sensitive now, that every touch of Jim’s tongue was sheer torture. Finally, to Blair’s intense relief, Jim finished, and moved his attentions down to Blair’s legs, tonguing behind his knees and mouthing inch by inch over his thighs and calves, following and defining the paths of muscles and tendons with his lips.

It was almost a respite, until Jim reached Blair’s feet, where he licked both soles over and over, and sucked each toe into his mouth mercilessly. Soon, Blair existed as nothing more than a mass of shuddering, hyper-sensitive nerve endings; and only the white-hot zing of the oral aspect of their bond clicking into place, an eternity later, managed to bring Blair even halfway back to himself.

Whimpering, the slightest touch making his over-sensitized body convulse in reaction, Blair endured being wrapped in a sheet and pulled close, as the sentinel embraced him tightly; the firm handling a relief of epic proportions after the endless, excruciating softness.

***

“Hey, Phil. It’s me.” The sentinel kept his voice quiet as he spoke on the phone, not wanting to wake Blair, who was deeply asleep upstairs.

“Hi, Jim. How’s it going?” The concern in Phil’s voice was unmistakable.

“Good, I think.” Jim sat down on the couch, transferring the phone to his other ear. “It’s working out exactly like you said. We’ve got four senses down – there’s only touch to go.”

“That’s amazing progress!” Phil sounded seriously impressed. “You’re making great time, too. Just one more sense, and you still have more than twenty-four hours left.”

“Yeah.”

“Something bothering you?”

Jim pinched the bridge of his nose with his fingers. “It’s just…” he tailed off for a second. “It’s been pretty intense, already. I’m afraid of what might happen when we imprint touch.”

“Intense, how? Sexually?”

“Yeah,” Jim admitted. “It’s like he’s a drug that I can’t get enough of. I… I did some stuff I was barely aware I was doing, when we imprinted smell. And when we did taste…” Jim tailed off, the memory of Blair’s helpless rapture washing over him, and the animalistic sounds he’d made, as if what Jim was doing to him bordered on torment. God, Jim had felt so powerful, so dominant, subjecting Blair to that. When Blair had come the third time, so sated already that he’d barely ejaculated, Jim had been unable to stop himself from masturbating, wanting desperately to come on Blair so that he could taste them both together. And now the fog had cleared, and he realized what he had done, he was terrified he’d pushed Blair too far.

“How did Blair take it?” Phil asked, his tone professionally neutral.

“It’s hard to say.” Jeez, Blair had been barely coherent afterwards. “He’s asleep right now, and he wasn’t in the best shape to tell me when he was last awake.”

“You want me to come over?” Phil asked.

Jim breathed deeply. “That’s probably a good idea,” he admitted.

“I’m on my way. Hang tight, Jim. I’ll be there in about fifteen minutes,” Phil said, before hanging up.

Casting a worried glance up toward the sleeping guide, Jim put the phone down, and went over to unlock the door.

***


Blair woke gradually, a sense of utter calmness filling him with a comfortable lethargy. He felt more relaxed and secure than he could remember being for an eternity.

There was conversation downstairs. Phil was there, talking quietly - Blair recognized the doctor’s voice, just before Jim shushed him. “Blair’s awake,” he heard Jim say.

Reaching out, Blair tried to reach Jim through their link but, to his surprise, given what they’d recently shared, the sentinel’s emotions were tightly shuttered. Blair lay still as footsteps on the stairs announced Jim’s ascent to the loft bedroom. “Hey,” the sentinel breathed as he reached the top step. He looked worried. “You okay?”

Blair stretched languorously. “Never better,” he said. He looked over at Jim, alarm beginning to spike when he reached out through their link again, but found himself still emphatically shut out. “What… I mean, is there something wrong?”

Jim didn’t answer. His face clouded, and he came to sit on the bed. “I’m sorry,” he said, not meeting Blair’s eyes.

Panic took hold immediately. “What is it?” Blair sat bolt upright, uncaring as the sheet fell away from his bare chest. “Have we run out of time?” Terrible memories – of what he’d endured, what he’d be going back to, swamped him. “Oh god, oh god, no, we were so close... oh man…”

He was dimly aware of Jim talking to him, saying something over and over, but it didn’t register until their link was suddenly reestablished, Jim’s concern and reassurance filling him in a rush.

Blair was being held, his own hands grasping at Jim’s shirt like a lifeline. “It’s okay,” Jim was saying. “Breathe, Chief, come on! We’ve got time. We’ve got lots of time. Hey, relax. Easy.”

With a gargantuan effort, Blair mastered his panic. He raised his head to look at Jim. “Then if it’s not that, what the hell is going on?” he demanded.

Jim’s face was still clouded. And there was something there in him, something that, in his terror, Blair hadn’t picked up on.

A hefty dose of shame.

“What is it?” Blair hated the vulnerable tone of his own voice. “What’s wrong? Did I do something…?”

Jim looked appalled. “No, no! God, Chief, it’s not you. It’s me.”

Blair swallowed heavily. “You don’t want me anymore, do you?” Grief flooded him, at the idea that he had been found unworthy.

“No!” Jim pulled him close again. “That’s not it, Blair. I do want you - you’ve gotta believe me. It’s…” Blair could feel Jim’s frustration, as he searched for the right words. “What we just did – Blair, I’m sorry. I never realized how far it was going to go. I… I never wanted to hurt you…”

“Hurt me?” Blair blinked. “You think you hurt me?” When Jim turned his face away, shame and sorrow resonating through their connection, Blair couldn’t help it.

He laughed.

Jim looked back at him incredulously. “You think this is funny?”

That stopped Blair in his tracks. “No! No, of course not. It’s just…” He took a deep breath, before continuing. “I’ve been hurt, Jim. I know what it’s like, and that wasn’t anything like it. What we just did…” he tailed off again, remembering with a shudder the overwhelming sensations. “It was incredible,” he went on, his voice dreamy. “Intense. Profound. Transcendent, man.”

Perhaps it was the sincerity of Blair’s words, which Jim could feel through their link, which did it. Because suddenly, he was laughing as well. “Oh god, Chief,” he said, in-between guffaws. “You’re a strange guy. You know that?”

“Takes one to know one,” Blair said, his voice muffled against Jim’s chest.

“I just…” As Jim’s laughter died away, and he returned to a serious tone, Blair stayed where he was, soaking up the comfort. “I never intended for it to be quite so… sexual,” Jim went on. “Not yet.”

Blair pulled back to look at him. “What did you think it was going to be like?” he asked. “Bonding, in the way we’re doing it, is the ultimate sensual act between a sentinel and guide, man. Of course it’s going to be sexual!”

Jim frowned down at him. “You knew that, going in?” he asked.

“Well, yeah.” Blair shrugged. “I studied it. Remember?”

“You knew that, and yet you still lay there and let me do that stuff to you?” Jim shook his head wonderingly. “Jeez, you’re a brave man, Sandburg, after everything you’ve been through.”

Blair had been nervous. But he’d never, for one moment, believed Jim would hurt him, or push him too far. “Maybe I’m just not scared of you, Jim. And besides,” Blair looked earnestly at his sentinel. “This is nothing like what happened to me before. Nothing like it.”

Jim was smiling now. “Right,” he breathed, as intense love/respect/awe transferred itself through their bond, making Blair’s breath catch at the incredible depth of emotion that was aimed right at him. Moved beyond words, Blair projected his own feelings back in kind.

Their reverie was broken a few seconds later by a voice calling up the stairs. “I take it everything’s okay then, Jim?”

They both started, having been completely distracted from the fact that there was someone else in the apartment. “Oh, yeah. Sorry, Phil,” Jim called back. “Everything’s fine.”

“I’ll get going then. Okay?” Phil said.

“Sure. Thanks, Phil,” As footsteps echoed across the hardwood floor, and the door opened and closed behind the departing doctor, Blair could feel that Jim’s attention was already firmly back on him.

Swallowing heavily, his libido reawakened at the overt, calculating want in Jim’s eyes, Blair shivered in anticipation.

Next up was touch.

***


Jim was being just as methodical as he’d been when imprinting his other senses. But, this time, he was allowing himself to lose just a little bit of the restraint he’d tried (albeit a little unsuccessfully) to maintain earlier.

Blair wanted this. Blair wasn’t afraid, or suffering terrifying flashbacks at Jim’s hands. Blair was, in fact, into this as much as Jim.

And that made the whole deal infinitely more sweet.

Jim had walled off his other, already-imprinted senses, to concentrate on the sensations under his fingertips and palms. Blair writhed soundlessly, therefore, under his hands; as Jim varied the intensity. He alternated between barely skimming the surface, to bring shivers and goosebumps, right up to firm, decisive kneading of taut muscles, which gradually unknotted under the pressure – and every permutation in-between.

As he added to what he’d learned about Blair with this fifth and final sense, Jim noted once again the steely resilience under silky skin. The evidence that, within what had at first appeared to be a man damaged beyond all salvation, there was incredible tensile strength, both of body and of will, wrapped up in this silent, smooth and sturdy body.

Jim didn’t need to see the flickers of desire in Blair’s eyes, or hear his desperate moans - the lost input from those two senses didn’t impede his exploration one bit. He could feel his guide quivering with need at his hands, as Jim experimented with varying amounts of pressure, running tentative or decisive fingers over every square inch of flesh.

But gradually, as time went on, Jim realized that he needed to use more than just his hands.

Pulling back a little from the zone, Jim allowed Blair to come into focus, and his breathy gasps to be heard. His guide was now on his back, limp and shuddering. “I need to feel you,” Jim told him, catching Blair’s eyes. He pulled his own tee-shirt up and off, and started to unzip his pants. “I need to feel you more.”

Blair’s eyes widened slightly, but he nodded assent, despite his heart rate audibly speeding up. Decisively, Jim thrust any suggestion of Blair’s apprehension to the back of his mind, firmly walling off his other four senses again as he stripped. Then, as soon as he was naked, he straddled Blair and leaned forward.

Jim’s strong arm muscles effortlessly held his full weight off of Blair, so as not to impede the rapid rise and fall of the other man’s chest, as he straightened his legs and stretched out to bring his whole body into contact. The silky hair which covered Blair’s torso tickled Jim’s chest tantalizingly with each rise and fall, and the heartbeat of his guide pounded Blair’s nervousness, or desire, through the pulsating gap between them - a percussive stirring of the air in the intermittent space between their bodies. Jim resisted the urge to sniff Blair, to find out which was more prevalent – fearfulness or arousal. And, ultimately, he decided that it didn’t matter.

They were too far down this road now to turn back.

Gradually, he lowered himself down, until his chest and Blair’s came into full contact; though he still strove not to suffocate Blair with his weight. Their groins pressed tightly together, and Jim got his answer to the question, in the shape of the matching throbbing pulse and hard heat that pressed back against his own.

The sentinel smiled, the predatory side of him satisfied. The guide wanted this, and wanted him.

Instinctively craving more pressure, Jim pushed against that rigid heat, the resulting flash of fire which cascaded through him delicious in the extreme. To his delight, Blair pushed back, his hips rising towards Jim’s, meeting him strength for strength. Slippery fluids – from Jim or Blair, or perhaps both – eased their way, as Jim pushed again, and again; the guide an equal and willing partner in the dance.

The fire built, the guide’s heartbeat a throbbing rhythm through every part of Jim’s flesh as they both pushed, and strove, and slid. Forgetful now of his greater weight, and needing yet more, Jim lowered himself down completely, his hands moving to cup Blair’s buttocks to increase the pressure.

To Jim’s delight, Blair’s hands moved also, gripping him back in kind, showing once again that, despite his deceptively fragile-looking frame, the man in his arms was made of pure steel. And, together, they fought to get closer still, the pressure maddeningly perfect, yet not enough, never enough.

The heat built, pressing, pushing, desperately rubbing, the two of them finding, then losing the perfect juxtaposition; then finding it again. Pushing and slipping and pressing. Pushing, slipping. Pressing, pressing harder, hands on buttocks clenching, bruising, as they pushed together hard. Pushing more, and still more, until suddenly there it was - the perfect moment. Blair convulsing, his hands grasping Jim’s buttocks painfully tight, his heartbeat thundering, the slipperiness increasing, and the pressure and the heat rushing, rushing, from the soles of Jim’s feet upwards in an overwhelming tidal wave…

And the indefinable click of the fifth element of their bond, as it found its home in both of their souls.

***


Driven to exhaustion at Jim’s hands, during the intense day they had spent imprinting all five of the sentinel’s senses on his guide, Blair slept soundly right through the night. He surfaced dreamily from time to time, to find himself held in Jim’s arms, the bond they had developed by increments cradling him simultaneously in a secure emotional cocoon, free of fear, pain and despair.

The dark of night was just giving way to a suggestion of dawn by the time they both finally woke. Blair would have liked to stay there longer, warm and relaxed as he was, but his bladder had other ideas. His discomfort must have communicated itself to Jim, as the sentinel murmured, “You go use the bathroom first, Chief. I’ll start the coffee.”

The choreography of morning commenced, each of them taking showers in turn, getting dressed and downing their first mugs of coffee as breakfast preparations got underway. They were both famished – their intense imprinting session of the previous day had left no room to eat, other than the breakfast they’d shared before getting started.

This morning was totally unlike the first one they’d spent together, when Blair had been almost afraid to blink without the sentinel’s approval. Instead, this leisurely breakfast held a comfortable domesticity, the two of them moving around each other with an easy familiarity, as though this was just an ordinary day, and they two ordinary men.

But, despite superficial appearances, there was nothing at all ordinary about the two-way flow of emotion across their bond. The nurturing power of Jim’s belief in him, in his innate value, buoyed Blair up like nothing else could ever have done, transforming him totally from the terrified, damaged creature he’d been. Their bond had proven to be his salvation.

And a bond it was now, in the full, true sense of the word.

It looked like Phil Booth’s prediction, as well as the wealth of lore that Blair had read on the subject, had been exactly right. They had achieved a complete bond in a gradual, natural way, even without engaging in full sexual intercourse. And because of the obvious depth of their connection, Blair was utterly confident that their bond was already more than profound enough to pass the DSGR test they would eventually be subjected to, and certainly far deeper than anything he’d shared with Alex Barnes.

Not that ‘share’ was ever a word Blair could truly use in connection with his former sentinel, since that bond had been achieved purely through possession and ownership. The two situations could not be more different.

Blair had lost track of time since he’d found himself in Jim’s care, alternately sleeping and imprinting then sleeping again as they’d been. As they washed and dried the breakfast dishes together, Blair glanced at the clock on the wall, which showed it was just after seven am, then back at Jim. “How long…?” he asked.

There was no need to say more – Jim knew exactly what he meant. “They’re coming at just after five o’clock this afternoon,” Jim confirmed.

Blair nodded. “Right.”

Jim seemed surprised at Blair’s easy acceptance. “Are you okay with that?” he asked, frowning.

Blair shrugged. “Can’t you feel it, man?” he said. “We’re there, already. We’ve done it – we’ve got our bond. They can’t separate us now.”

Jim wiped his hands on a towel, then took Blair’s hand in his own. “I can feel it,” he confirmed softly. “Our bond, it’s part of me, part of both of us. But…” he looked uncomfortable, struggling to find the words. “It’s just… my body still wants you, Blair. Not just in a sexual way, although it wants that too. But it’s more than that; more urgent. I need… I need…”

Blair knew what Jim desired; what his instincts were driving him to. He’d read extensively about such things, after all. “Sentinels in cultures where the primary/secondary imprinting route is traditional, affirm their bond, on the sixth day of imprinting, with a ritual where the guide is explored with all the senses simultaneously, culminating in full penetrative intercourse. The guide submits to it as a symbol of his trust in the sentinel and willingness to follow the sentinel’s lead.” He shrugged. “You need to explore me some more, and you need to fuck me, man.”

Jim looked unhappy, despite the intense sexual and primal need he was projecting. “It sounds so clinical when you put it like that. And I hate the thought of you submitting, Blair. I hate the whole ‘ownership’ deal – it’s why I wouldn’t bond before. I don’t want it to be like that with us, no matter how society views us.”

Jim was utterly sincere, Blair could tell. And maybe, just maybe, he’d be willing to hear the rest of it. Blair had nothing to lose – he was not afraid of this sentinel. So he took the plunge. “There’s… another part of the ritual. One that very few people outside the cultures that practice it know about.” Despite his trust in Jim, Blair couldn’t help some nervousness escaping.

Jim squeezed his hand reassuringly. “Go on,” he encouraged.

“Okay.” Blair took a deep breath. “Here’s how it goes. Sentinels and guides in tribal culture are equals. The dominance and submission gig we’ve got going here in the States is totally unlike what they have. And so, the last part of the bonding ritual also involves the sentinel submitting sexually to the guide, to symbolize that the trust goes both ways, as well as the sentinel’s willingness to be guided.”

Jim didn’t, to Blair’s intense relief, seem even slightly horrified (though Alex, as Blair well knew, would probably have half-killed him for such a suggestion). Jim actually grinned at Blair, totally unfazed. Perhaps, even eager. “So,” he said. “The guide fucks the sentinel, huh?”

Blair could feel himself blushing, even as his own libido sat up to take notice. “They kind of take it in turns to do each other, yeah,” he admitted.

In the next moment, Blair found himself crushed in a tight embrace. “Then we’d better get started, huh?” Jim whispered huskily in Blair’s ear. And the flash of lust which permeated their bond made Blair tingle from head to foot in anticipation.

***


Once upstairs, the primal sentinel took charge, as Blair had known he must. And so the guide lay quiescent as he submitted to Jim’s further exploration of his body - a willing target of the single-minded focus of all five of Jim’s senses.

Jim was thorough and insistent, his determination to leave no stone unturned tempered only by the innate respect and care with which he handled his guide – as well as the loving emotions which also thrummed between them through their bond. He explored every inch of Blair’s skin, every crevice and cleft; licking, sniffing, peering closely, holding the guide firmly in place as he went. Blair didn’t try to stifle the cries Jim wrung from him, understanding that the sentinel needed to hear his responses, as well as feel them under his hands.

By the time the sentinel was ready to take his guide in the final act, Blair had cast out all the memories he’d ever had of pain, and humiliation, and fear. He endured Jim’s probing fingers as he was carefully prepared, his muscles dilating to welcome the sentinel’s breach of his body. And he gasped as Jim entered him from behind, the mild, initial discomfort totally swamped by the overwhelming sense of rightness which consumed him, when they became one in a torrent of shuddering, convulsive sensuality.

Afterwards, they slept again, legs and arms tangled in a sprawled embrace, the two of them sated and exhausted. Waking at the same moment, a little after midday, they shared a kiss in relaxed contentment, before rising from the bed to go and prepare food for lunch.

Blair drifted in a dreamy haze, the residual, slight discomfort from their activities a constant reminder of what they’d achieved. There was little need for words between them, because their thoughts and emotions constantly overlapped; evidence of the strength of their bond. And the depth of Jim’s emotion towards him was a constant affirmation of Blair’s worth – salve to the soul of a man who had, until three days ago, lost all hope.

It had been nothing like this with Alex. They’d been a flawed pair, Blair now knew for sure. Because a real bond, such as this, allowed a sentinel and guide to anticipate each other’s moves, to communicate without words, whether flowing around each other in a kitchen, like now, or in a perilous situation where their ability to act as a unit could mean the difference between life and death. And he and Alex had never achieved that closeness, that symbiotic state of being.

He had it now, though. They both did. And it was more incredible than he could ever have imagined.

***


Jim had never realized, before today, how alone he’d been. How his senses, and the imperfect way they functioned, had set him apart, and isolated him from others.

Sure, he had friends. Phil and Simon were both people he cared for, people he’d trust with his life, as well as people he would protect to his last breath. But they’d never gotten close to the core of Jim Ellison, nevertheless. The lonely heart of a man who, by virtue of his gifts, was always conscious of his ‘difference’, always preoccupied with managing senses which were not entirely predictable, and therefore set apart from the regular life that other people, who were not sentinels, enjoyed.

But now, he would never be alone again. And not only that – he now had control of his senses, which were operating with a finely-tuned acuity he had not thought ever to experience. And all because of his connection to one young, courageous man, who had endured more torment than anyone should ever have to, yet had put his fears aside to willingly join with Jim.

It was not only Jim who had blossomed since they had bonded. Blair now moved around the loft with an assurance that had been entirely lacking just a couple of days before. His fearfulness had been almost entirely dissolved at Jim’s hands, the emotionally sustaining nature of the sentinel-guide bond ensuring that he now drew strength from his bond-mate. Jim was seeing in practice, in fact, what Phil had described – the natural advantage sentinel and guide pairs had in overcoming trauma.

The advantages went both ways. The guide was strengthened, renewed, buttressed. The sentinel was honed, focused, optimized.

All that was left was one final ritual. One more symbolic act, which would symbolize the shape their bond would take, despite society’s prejudices.

Blair turned to look at him, as Jim’s eagerness transmitted itself to his guide. And the guide’s hot, blue eyes, which regarded Jim longingly, were filled with a desire equal to his own.

***


It was a long time since Blair had played the role of sexual aggressor. With Alex, he’d been nothing more than a tool; his function being simply to maximize the sentinel’s control of her senses by day, and satisfy her sexual urges – which demanded nothing more than a body to be used - by night.

The last three days, he’d been wholly in Jim’s hands. Submitting to the sentinel’s need to learn him, lying passively as Jim’s senses roamed his body.

Now, he had to turn it around, and take control. And the target of his attentions was going to be the tall, imposing, buff man standing before him.

Blair swallowed, a little nervous despite his undeniable attraction to Jim. The guy was gorgeous and, whatever tendency toward heterosexuality Blair might have had before they met, there was no escaping the fact that he’d never desired any human being more than this man.

Part of it was the profound bond which resonated between them, Blair understood. Jim was equally attracted to him, and that emotion permeated their connection, doubling Blair’s own feelings toward Jim accordingly. But that wasn’t all of it. There was something far deeper than physicality between them, something which made their bond even more profound. There was a sense of belonging, and of rightness. There was mutual respect which transcended the roles sentinels and guides were expected to play. There was care, and compassion, and empathy.

And there was love.

It was that deeper emotion, therefore, which now propelled Blair into action. Putting aside all thoughts of their bond, and of the obligation they both felt to complete their circle of connection in this way, it was love which drew Blair over to Jim, and love which made him cup the sentinel’s face tenderly, and gaze into his worshipping eyes. It was love that made Blair lean in to steal an achingly soft kiss.

And it was love that impelled the two of them to turn and ascend up to the bedroom together, hand-in-hand.

There was no need for declarations of emotion – it was all there, permeating the air they breathed. Wordlessly, they stripped, their eyes feasting on each other the whole time. And Blair was overwhelmed with awe as Jim lay back on the bed, presenting his incredible body to his guide like an offering.

Moved almost beyond thought, the only impulse he felt to cherish this man as tenderly as he had been cherished, Blair knelt on the bed beside Jim, and began.

***


It was all about trust, Jim discovered. Just as Blair had been forced to trust Jim, to put aside his terrible past and subdue his fears by submitting to Jim’s attentions, Jim now had to allow himself to be vulnerable to the hands and the voice which guided him. To trust that his guide would take care of him, no matter the demands that were made of his body.

Blair spoke softly, the slight tone of authority in his voice tempered by the respectful emotions which infused the connection between them. “Increase touch, just a little. Turn it up. That’s it,” Blair directed softly, his hands hovering just a hair’s-breadth over Jim’s skin. “Just a little more. Almost there…” The resulting tingle made Jim gasp, even though Blair wasn’t even touching him.

What followed was a riot of sensation. Blair’s almost-touch all over his body, and his puffs of breath on Jim’s hyper-sensitized skin, hovered in the shadowy borderland between discomfort and pleasure. And, all the while, Blair’s voice led him, controlling his responses, helping him bear it. And, as time went on, Jim learned that, if he listened - if he lost himself completely in that voice and concentrated only on obeying - discomfort retreated completely, leaving only intense, unimaginable pleasure behind.

Jim had no long how long it went on, only that by the time he was ordered to turn touch back down to accommodate the intrusion into his body without pain, that he was shuddering and crying out with the need for completion. Safe in the hands of his guide, giving himself over completely to the strength and the care of his partner, his mind merged with Blair’s as he accepted his guide into his body. And, united in body and soul, ecstatically, joyfully, they soared as one, right up to the stars.

***


BANG, BANG!

Jolted from a deep sleep, arms and legs tangled with those of his sentinel, Blair jerked upright at the sound of the heavy handed knock at the door.

Strong arms pulled him back to lie against a hard chest. “Easy, Chief,” Jim urged, but Blair could hear his worry, despite the soothing tone.

“It’s them, isn’t it?” Blair demanded.

“Yeah.” Jim glanced at the clock radio beside the bed. “They’re early, goddamnit!”

Peering over, Blair could see that it was just after four in the afternoon. “Yeah, well,” he said bitterly. “Since when have they cared about fairness, man?”

“Hey, relax.” Jim squeezed Blair tight for a moment, then let him go. As the sentinel sat up, pulling on pants, he said, “We did it, Blair. They can’t take you.” He glanced back over his shoulder, a hint of his primal side showing. “I won’t let them, okay?”

Blair ran a hand over the silky skin of the sentinel’s back reassuringly. “I know,” he said. “I’m yours.” He smiled, feeling rather predatory himself. “And you’re mine, right?”

Jim stood, his chest bare. Downstairs, the knocking started up again, the tone impatient. “Yeah,” Jim said huskily, ignoring it. “And don’t you forget it, Sandburg!”

Blair smiled in satisfaction as Jim descended the stairs, then got up to cover his own nakedness before going down to face the embodiment of his nightmares – the DGSR guards. Although he was finding that he was only a little nervous at the prospect, for the first time in his life.

Jim – and the bond between them - had done a pretty comprehensive job of scaring away Blair’s own personal bogeymen, it seemed. And Blair trusted that, no matter what, Jim would never allow Blair to be hurt like that again.

Just as Blair would not permit Jim to be hurt in turn. This sentinel, Blair vowed, he would cherish and protect with his dying breath.

***


Jim jerked open the door just as the next knock sounded. The guard outside still had his hand raised to knock, and stepped back reflexively as the sentinel demanded, “What?”

It was the same pair as before, the second one hanging back nervously. To Jim’s displeasure, that second one was carrying restraints, and the ever-present tag activator.

The guard who’d knocked recovered swiftly. “We’ve come to take custody of the guide. I assume you’ve been unable to fully bond, sentinel, since you refused assisted methods of subduing the guide and making him receptive. I’m sorry it hasn’t worked out for you.”

Jim ignored the question. “You’re early,” he pointed out tersely.

The guard glanced at his watch. “Only a little. A few minutes is unlikely to make a difference, in this case, as I think we both know, sentinel. Can we come in?”

“No.” Jim still barred the way. “Come back when it’s time. And get someone here to test us.” He transferred his gaze from one guard to the other, and back. “What, I have to tell you how to do your job, now? Why the hell don’t you have a testing sentinel with you?”

The second guard spoke up haltingly. “Sentinel, are you saying you’ve achieved a bond?”

Jim shrugged. “Get someone here to test us, and you’ll have your answer.”

The conversation was over. Leaving the dumbfounded guards out in the hall, Jim closed the door in their faces.

***


There was just enough time for both Jim and Blair to take a quick shower. It was enough that they had a bond – the testing sentinel certainly had no right or need to know the full details of how they’d achieved it, through the evidence left on their bodies.

Blair was a little jittery as five o’clock approached, but keeping it under control, to Jim’s endless admiration. Just before five, Jim moved toward the door. “Phil’s here,” he announced. He opened it, to reveal the disgruntled guards still standing around behind the doctor, no doubt waiting for their reinforcements to turn up. Ignoring them, Jim beckoned his friend in.

As Phil entered, Jim closed the door firmly behind him. Phil looked at them both in turn, then grinned. “I imagine congratulations are in order?” he said.

Jim placed an arm around Blair’s shoulder, the guide’s hand going likewise round his waist. “Damn straight,” Jim said. “Phil Booth, I’d like you to meet my guide, Blair Sandburg.”

Phil seemed delighted. “I’m so happy for you both! This is great news,” he said sincerely. He addressed Blair. “How are you feeling?”

“Pretty great.” Blair glanced up at Jim, his eyes alight with happiness. “I can’t believe how lucky I am, man.”

Jim smiled back at Blair, intense love thrumming between them.

The moment was broken a moment later, when there was another knock at the door. A pricking of the scalp told Jim who it was. “The testers are here,” he said. Beside him, Blair shivered, and Jim pulled him close.

“I’ll get it,” Phil told them. And leaving them standing together, he turned to let in the intruders.

***


Testing, as Phil knew from the dozens of tests he had witnessed, was often a daunting prospect for a newly bonded guide. The way that bonds were commonly conducted in this country meant that guides were often fairly shell-shocked in the aftermath. For a guide in such a vulnerable state to be examined by a different sentinel immediately afterward, with DSGR guards looking on, could be traumatic in the extreme.

That did not appear to be so in this particular guide’s case, however. Blair stood impassively as the testing sentinel walked around him, sniffing and scrutinizing him like a hound circling its prey. Jim stood to one side, watching the proceedings intently, his entire baring suggesting that he would rip out the other sentinel’s throat if he so much as touched a hair on Blair’s head.

Phil had suspected, given the strength of Jim and Blair’s connection, that the testing sentinel would only need to make a very cursory examination to make a judgment. He was right. “The bond is sound,” the man declared.

The DSGR guards looked astonished. “What?” the senior guard exclaimed.

The testing sentinel ignored him. “Go to your sentinel, guide,” he ordered. Shaking himself out of his immobility, Blair did as asked, pressing close to his sentinel as Jim’s arm came around him and drew him close. The testing sentinel addressed Jim. “Congratulations,” he said. “Your bond is one of the strongest I’ve ever encountered.”

Jim inclined his head graciously.

Sensing that sentinel and guide needed more time alone – they were firmly bonded, but now they needed to truly get to know each other as men – Phil ushered the guards and the testing sentinel toward the door. As he did so, he handed over his card to the DSGR officer. “I’ll handle the paperwork for them,” he said. “Sentinel Ellison has asked that I act as proxy for him and his guide in DSGR matters.”

The guard gave Phil a hard look as he took the card – Phil’s reputation had definitely preceded him. “Very well,” the guard conceded reluctantly.

Phil wasn’t fazed by the man’s obvious disapproval of him. It was only to be expected – Phil was notoriously opposed to everything the DSGR stood for, after all.

Phil trailed them out, getting into his own car. And as the officials drove off, he glanced up at the loft balcony above his head, where sentinel and guide stood together watching them all leave, their arms about each other. “Good luck, my friends,” he murmured. “I’ll be here when you need me.” And, that said, he started the engine and pulled out.

High up on the balcony, the sentinel smiled.

***

EPILOGUE

The little kids on the video were whooping with joy, passing the ball back and forwards. “This is a village in the north Andes,” Eli Stoddard told Jim. “We were there to study local customs. Blair was my research assistant at the time. Ah,” Professor Stoddard paused, as a tanned young man came into the frame. “There he is.”

Blair was smiling into the camera, long dark curls bobbing around his face. “Hey, they’re better at this than me, man!” he exclaimed, before leaping into the fray, joining in the wild game of impromptu soccer enthusiastically.

Jim couldn’t take his eyes off the screen. Blair had been less lean and more muscled back then, and moved with a confident grace and no little amount of skill as he tackled the local kids for control of the ball, whooping with joy. “No fair, man!” he cried out, as he was tackled. “Hey, where’s the ref when you need him?”

There was intense sorrow in Eli’s voice, which echoed Jim’s own. “He was so full of energy, so full of spirit. A quick mind, and a compassionate heart.”

On the video, several kids, aged no more than perhaps eight or nine, had leaped on Blair, laughing heartily, trying to wrest the ball from his fingers. His eyes were alight with happiness as he gently mock-fought them off, until he relinquished the ball to his smallest assailant. “You’re too strong for me, little guy!” Blair was telling him.

Eli spoke again. “It was just after we got back from this trip, that Blair was taken. He was teaching a class of freshmen when they came for him.” Eli was clearly devastated. “We tried to stop them – teachers and students. Seven students and five members of staff were injured. Professor Rogerson was beaten so badly he spent two weeks in hospital. Several of us were prosecuted afterwards; although no-one went to jail or lost their job over it.” Eli turned sad eyes on Jim. “No-one except for Blair.”

The Blair on the video was horsing around now, giving piggy-backs to the kids, the rest of the pack running along by his side. His joy was palpable.

Tearing his eyes away from the images of the exuberant young man his guide had once been, Jim looked at Eli earnestly. “I can’t give him back what he lost. I’ll be honest with you; he’s different, now. Anyone would be, after what he went through. But I swear to you,” Jim told him, “I will protect him with everything I am. And, as much as I’m able, I’ll let him have his wings.”

Eli nodded, his eyes bright. “Thank you,” he murmured. “That’s all I could ever hope.”

***


Arriving back at the loft a short while later, Jim extended his hearing up there first, to ensure that he wasn’t about to walk in on anything too heavy.

Since they’d bonded, Blair had been having counseling sessions with Phil, to help him come to terms with the abuse he’d suffered. While their bond was a firm buttress for Blair emotionally, it was inevitable that, given what he’d been through, he’d need more help than that alone could provide. And as Jim had told Eli Stoddard, he intended to do everything in his power to ensure that Blair could be given everything he needed, now and in the future.

That was the reason he’d gone to talk to Blair’s old academic mentor today, while Blair was with Phil. Jim had wanted to know what the old Blair had been like, to find out how far they had to go.

Blair sounded happy enough, as Jim put the key in the door. And with the closer proximity, their bond kicked in as soon as Jim walked into the apartment. “Hey, man!” Blair greeted. “Want some lunch?”

Jim smiled, having eyes only for his guide. Blair was thinner than the healthy kid Jim had seen on the video, his eyes more shadowed. But his spirit was unbroken, nevertheless, despite the hell he’d been forced to endure. “Sure. What’ve we got, Chief?” Jim replied, as he hung up his jacket.

Lunch ensued, the three of them sitting down to enjoy sandwiches better than Jim could buy at any deli – Blair’s culinary skills being one of the many things he’d retained, despite the DSGR’s efforts to rid him of his individuality.

Afterward, Jim walked Phil to the door. “He’s doing really well, you know,” Phil told Jim quietly.

An odd sorrow caught at Jim’s throat, as he flashed on the vivid image of a young man playing soccer with local kids in a Peruvian village. “I know,” he conceded.

As if summoned by the invoking of his name, Blair slipped in under Jim’s arm, the two of them fitting together perfectly as they pressed close. “Thanks, Phil,” Blair said.

Phil smiled. “No problem. At this rate you’ll be ready to join Jim in the field soon.”

The bond throbbed between them, and Jim looked down to meet the eyes of his guide. The contentment Jim saw there reassured him. “You okay with that, Blair?” he asked.

Blair nodded. The certainty which flooded from him was a balm to Jim’s soul. “You bet,” Blair said. “Whither thou goest, man.”

Jim smiled back. “Yeah,” he breathed. “That goes for me, too, Chief.”



The End




Comments are welcome, but absolutely not necessary - all of my stories are offered freely and without obligation. If you do wish to comment below please sign your name/pseudonym if you are not logged-in to Dreamwidth or Open ID, or alternatively you can email me at fluterbev@gmail.com



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Date: 2007-08-05 09:12 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] klgrem.livejournal.com
What can I say that I've not said before? What an amazing story. And definitely a HOT story. lol.
Another simply brilliant story. I loved it. :)

Date: 2007-08-06 08:38 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fluterbev-fic.livejournal.com
I really don't mind if you keep on saying it ;-)

Thank you SO MUCH! ::hugs::

Date: 2008-05-31 08:53 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] grlewis.livejournal.com
a new and respectful view of the bonding process between sentinel and guide. handled with much tenderness. and hot as anything to boot. gr

Date: 2008-06-01 09:13 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fluterbev-fic.livejournal.com
Thanks for your lovely comment! Much appreciated, again :-)

Date: 2008-08-14 02:27 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alienfish.livejournal.com
I go with amazing.

Date: 2008-08-14 05:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fluterbev-fic.livejournal.com
Wow, thanks! What a nice thing to say :-)

Date: 2008-10-26 12:49 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nyctea37921.livejournal.com
Wonderful, as are all of your stories. You write emotional intensity exceedingly well! Thanks!

Date: 2008-11-07 05:39 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fluterbev-fic.livejournal.com
Thanks so much for your lovely comment - very much appreciated :-).

Lasting Imprint

Date: 2008-11-23 05:21 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Wonderful job of illustrating that the bond is not just about sex. What a lovely tender story.

Carol G

Re: Lasting Imprint

Date: 2008-12-13 08:56 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fluterbev-fic.livejournal.com
Thanks so much for your lovely comment! :-)

Date: 2008-12-16 09:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lapetite-kiki.livejournal.com
What an awesome journey that was!
Wonderfully written!

Date: 2009-07-18 06:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fluterbev-fic.livejournal.com
Extremely belated thanks for this comment! Glad you enjoyed it :-)

Date: 2008-12-26 09:28 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] grlewis.livejournal.com
a nice story to read on christmas day. grief and fear turning to strength and happiness. satisfying gentle and loving actions between blair and jim. this story couldn't have been better with one exception: i wish jim was able to cut that damned collar off of blair's neck!

happy christmas. healthy and happy years. gr

Date: 2009-07-18 06:53 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fluterbev-fic.livejournal.com
Thanks so much foor this feedback! I've not been getting comment notifications from this journal, and only just realised there were comments I had not responded to, so apologies for the late reply.

Date: 2009-02-19 05:54 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] animebarb.livejournal.com
This is a thoroughly enjoyable, very well crafted story. Thanks for all the hard work. Very erotic too!!!!! Barb

Date: 2009-07-18 06:53 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fluterbev-fic.livejournal.com
Belated thanks for your lovely comment! Much appreciated :-)

Date: 2009-08-09 07:03 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ivyadrena.livejournal.com
Oh man, that was beautiful... I adore the way you wrote the bonding/intimate scenes - descriptive without going into too much detail, and very respectful of the situation with a consistent tone. Well done!

Date: 2009-08-09 07:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fluterbev-fic.livejournal.com
Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments! I very much appreciate your lovely feedback :-)

Date: 2009-08-26 03:12 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
One of the best bonding stories i've read in this fandom...Thank you so much for sharing this with us:)

Date: 2009-10-19 12:05 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fluterbev-fic.livejournal.com
Thank you! :-)

Date: 2009-11-25 06:06 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ipodjunkie.livejournal.com
This is a wonderful, wonderful story. Your alternate universe picks all the best parts of Sentinel (for me, at least) and stirs it into one lovely h/c masterpiece. Perfect! I'll enjoy reading this again and again.

Thank you for writing!

Date: 2009-11-25 07:07 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fluterbev-fic.livejournal.com
Thanks for your very kind words! It's so nice to hear how much you enjoyed it :-)

Art - Rhianne

Date: 2011-02-14 08:12 am (UTC)
marizilda: (Default)
From: [personal profile] marizilda
In the link above, is not possible see to art of Rhianne

hugs

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