Rated PG for language, violence and child abuse.

Inspired by Susan Foster's GDP universe.


EXILE



Java Head






Anyone who may have noticed the boy would have remembered him. In spite of his quiet, timid nature, he was remarkable in appearance. Though small for his age, his face revealed maturity beyond his fourteen years. He rarely looked anyone in the eyes, being unable to mask his expressive blue eyes. Keeping his dark curly hair cut short had proven too arduous a task for him to keep up, so he kept its length hidden beneath a hat or pulled back and tucked into his shirt collar. He was slender and graceful and could seemingly float through crowds unseen as long as he avoided eye contact.

While most people had heard of his kind, few had knowingly had any contact with them. Therefore they didn't recognize the soft, fleeting tugging sensation of their minds when he met their eyes or unavoidable unavoidably brushed against them. But there were a few people who were aware of those with his 'gift'. They were aware and knowledgeable and they hunted him.

Had he been older, or at least appeared his own age, he could have fared better. But people were naturally suspicious of a young boy who wandered the streets during school hours. So he quickly adopted a schedule where he slept during school hours and traveled mostly at night. He rarely accepted rides. First of all, he had nowhere he needed to be. Secondly, it was dangerous. He could be turned in as a runaway or even assaulted.

His ability was strong. So strong that he sometimes couldn't hide it or control it. And he could tell when a person was a danger to him. But he had to be close to a person to 'read' them. Too close to be safe. Such constant watchfulness was too stressful for the boy so he simple avoided people as much as possible.

Secluding himself was possibly the hardest thing he did. Not just because he occasionally found it necessary to venture in among civilization for such essentials as food, but he was a friendly and naturally sociable boy and he hungered for human companionship.

The inevitability of his bleak future beat down on his soul daily, slowly wearing him down. He knew it simply was not possible to avoid capture forever. If he was weak, yes. Weak empaths were not sought after. They were no more useful than anyone with strong compassion or excellent people skills, but stronger empaths were almost telepathic. They read emotions, not thoughts, but a person's feelings often revealed their thoughts. Strong empaths often possessed strong powers of suggestion. Yes, they could be very useful, indeed in undercover and covert operations.

That lifestyle went against the very nature of an empath. They were genetically predisposed to be healers, though few known empaths were allowed to remain independent to freely pursue their natural desires. Once discovered, they were 'trained' then forced into a symbiotic relationship with a Sentinel.

Sentinels were another genetically enhanced group. Their five senses were naturally heightened, making them perfect for occupations of protective civil service. Policemen and Firemen for example. Their gift was also their liability. Their senses made them vulnerable to sensory spikes and overloads, causing them intense pain and leaving them virtually paralyzed. That, and what was termed zone-outs, a mysterious trance-like state that occurred when they focused too intently on any one of their senses, put them at risk of personal harm or even death.

The Sentinel's one and only guaranteed solution to these dangers was to bond with an empath. Mental bonding gave Sentinels the grounding and control over their senses they so badly needed. Most Sentinels could go for awhile without bonding, but they would eventually lose control and meet with a fatal accident or go insane.

The down side of bonding was that it changed the brain chemistry of the sentinel and empath, literally linking them to each other and forcing them to be partnered for life. The connection destroyed the empath's ability to block emotions from those around him. Without the shielding provided by his sentinel, he too would go insane.

The bond was truly a match made in heaven. Sentinel and Guide (what an empath was called when bonded to a sentinel) each providing protection for the other. Giving strength where the other was vulnerable.

But society perverted the relationship, as it had done with most things, giving the stronger of the two, the sentinel, dominance over the guide. Once bonded, the sentinel was master of the guide. The guide was completely at his mercy. What was naturally a strong, protective instinct of the sentinel was often, instead, a contemptuous, abusive attitude toward the guide. The Sentinel's need to be in control made him hate the guide because he was the one who had control over the Sentinel's senses. Instead of training the Sentinel and Guide to accept each other as necessary for survival and the perfection of the natural relationship, the Sentinel Program seemed to ignore the hostility of the Sentinel toward the Guide. Sometimes even to encourage it.

What should have been the perfect partnership, with the Sentinel as the protector of the Guide, often met in tragedy with the Guide meeting his death at the hands of his Sentinel. Thus, instinct, which ran deeper than the culturally developed prejudice against empaths, caused the Sentinel to suffer unbearable guilt. The only escape was suicide.

The boy knew all of this. Some through common knowledge about Sentinels and Guides, some through his own sharp observations and some through his mother's teaching.

Empathy ran strong through his mother's family. She had vowed never to have children, not wanting to pass on what had been a tool of enslavement for her people. The empathy had skipped her, which was how she was able to slip away from the authorities and travel unnoticed around the country. But a period of depression overtook her in her late teens and, after a period of drug abuse and a string of vaguely remembered one-night stands, she was horrified to find herself pregnant.

She almost got an abortion. Nobody would have questioned her actions. Abortion procedures for anyone for any reason were legal and acceptable. Living under an assumed name with perfect fake documents to back it up, no one knew she carried the genes of a protected race within her. She was standing practically on the threshold of the women's clinic when she was filled with tenderness toward the life which grew inside her. Overcome with fear and remorse over what she had almost done, she gripped her abdomen protectively and stumbled away from the abortion clinic.

In the years to come, she would often think of that night and anytime she ever wished she'd gone through with the abortion, she would look at her son with his beautiful blue eyes, quick laugh and all such thoughts would disappear.

Still, she feared for him as he grew older. If he was empathic, it would appear when he reached puberty. Imagine her terror when it appeared only days after he turned 12. It couldn't be blamed on early maturity. He was small for his age and a late bloomer. It could only mean that his ability was strong. In another time that would be an honor and a cause for celebration, but in this day and time it was cause for fear and hopelessness. It meant that he would have a harder time hiding it.

She could see no other course of action than to continue with their present lifestyle. They had always found peace and safety among the hippie communes in the 70's. Many of the residents were distrustful of the law and some in hiding themselves. She knew that she and her son were safe with them. Every few months, however, she would move on. She felt that it was safer to regularly move on to a new place where nobody knew them.

When her son was fourteen, she made arrangements to buy fake passports and visas. The hunt for empaths had intensified the past year and America was no longer safe.

Finally, passports in her handbag, she was making the final preparations for their escape. They had been shopping, buying a few last minute items for their trip. With their departure time only a few hours away, she was anxious and nervous. Perhaps that was what drew the man's attention to her at first. Realizing he knew her, the man came up behind her. The boy realized he was there before he made his presence known and when the boy's eyes met his, the man knew what the boy was. The boy knew that the man was going to betray them. The small fingers clutched in fear at his mother's arm, causing her to turn around.

When she saw him, her eyes widened in recognition and fear. Quickly she recovered and put on a convincing smile. In a swift, smooth motion, she tucked the boy behind her then held her hands out to him in a friendly gesture. "Taylor! Is it really you? How nice to see you!" she gushed.

The man smiled a wolf's smile and took her graceful hands in his. "Naomi. How long has it been? Sixteen, seventeen years? As beautiful as ever. And who is this? Your son?" He leaned sideways to peer around her. Blue eyes burned with suspicion and fear. The man almost laughed. Smart kid. Better be afraid.

She stepped to the side to put herself between him and the boy again and waved her hand to dismiss the notion. "Oh no. This is Jacob, my neighbor's boy. I picked him up from school for his parents. We were just on our way home." Her smile widened and she was even more charming. "Jacob's parents will be waiting so we really must go." She leaned forward and brushed his lips with hers. "It was good to see you again, Tay. We really must get together soon." And with that she was gone, hurrying the boy along, never looking back.

The man shook his head and chuckled. Slippery woman. She was a tease even as a girl. When she had disappeared from her home all those years ago, everyone knew she had run away. The authorities had searched but never found her. Imagine running into her after all this time. And now she had a child. An empath. The family legacy continues. He pulled a cell phone from his jacket and tapped in a number. This was his lucky day.

By the time they were out of his sight, they were almost running. The boy was silent until they reached their small hotel room.

"Mom, what's going on? Who was that man?" He grabbed his canvas backpack and started shoving items into it.

"Taylor Brandt. He lived in my old neighborhood. We went to school together. His father was a law officer."

"He knows."

She ceased her packing and looked at him. "I know. I knew it the moment I saw him. We have to leave right now." She resumed her packing.

In addition to his own backpack, she handed him a duffle that she had packed earlier.

Suddenly there came a pounding on the door. "Open the door! This is the police!"

"Mom!" he hissed.

"Go out the window, Blair."

"You'll be behind me?"

She pushed him to the window. "You go on out. I have to deter them. If you're not here, I can convince them that you're really the neighbor's boy!"

"Mom, no. Let me..."

Roughly, she grabbed his arms, making him look at her. "Listen to me!"

His eyes grew big and he swallowed hard. She was scared. She never raised her voice to him.

"Separately there's a chance for us. But if we stay together, it's all over. They know who I am now and they'll be looking for you. You go to the warehouse. Wait there." Her words began to falter. "Wait only two days, Blair. Don't let anyone see you. If I'm not there in two days, you must leave without me. Do you understand?"

His eyes begin to fill. "Mama..."

She grabbed him in a desperate hug. "Do as I say, Baby. It's our only chance now." She released him and helped him out the window. When he was safely out, she took one last longing look in his eyes then turned to the door, dismissing him.


He disobeyed her final orders and waited for three days. Denying the feeling of finality that the sound of fists pounding on their door had driven into his heart, he stayed in their secret hiding place an extra day.

While he waited, he kept his mind away from thoughts of his mother and what was happening by occupying himself with the business of survival. Checking the bag she had given him, he realized she had planned for this. It contained items that would aid in his survival should he find himself without her.

Sitting in the dark, burnt shell of the old warehouse, he took stock of his possessions: extra socks and boxers, an extra pair of jeans, two t-shirts. He was wearing a flannel shirt and a denim jacket. It was late spring and the days were warm, but he tended to be cold and he had wanted to be prepared for the trip. He was wearing new Nikes; one of the purchases that his mother had made that day. That and a new wrist watch.

Pressing the button to turn on the little light, he saw that it had taken him over two hours to make it to the deserted end of town where the warehouse was. Mid-afternoon, school was out and many people were on their way home from work. A kid carrying a backpack and a duffle bag looked like thousands of others. He achieved what he always strove for -- normalcy. Or at least the appearance of.

Defying the despair that pulled at him, he thrust his hand back into the duffle and continued his inventory. Tylenol, two wash cloths, a hand towel, a small flashlight, band aids, a walkman/radio with extra batteries, a tin camping cup, a box of matches, antiseptic cream, several packets of dried soup mix, a bottle of water, two travel tissue packets, sun screen, several tins of canned meat, baggies of trail mix, chocolate bars, raisins, plastic utensils, a bottle of antibiotics (where'd she get those without a prescription?), soap, a small bottle of shampoo and $500 cash. Had the money just been a precaution -- hiding their money in several different places -- or had she known they might be separated? They hadn't talked about the 'what-if's, but they had basically been in hiding all of his life and survival had become second nature.

He waited for three days. He would have waited forever, but the longer he waited, the greater his risk of being found out. On the third night, he let himself realize that she wasn't coming. She had either been imprisoned or was dead. He supposed the noble thing to do was to let himself die also, but he wanted to live. Oh, he desperately wanted to live. And his mother wanted him to live. She had sacrificed herself for him. He would honor her sacrifice. He would obey her and he would live.

With that resolve, he curled around his backpack and, grieving for his mother, cried himself to sleep.


Five months later found the boy on the other side of the continent. The heat of summer urged him gradually north and west into the state of Washington. The lush greenery made his solitude bearable. When his loneliness pressed down on him he would revel in the huge wilderness surrounding him, taking comfort and finding peace in the trees and mountains. Here there were no chaotic emotions that would crowd his mind and threaten to push at the confines of his brain until he could no longer think.

But more than the climate, he felt drawn to the area. For weeks now, some unidentified tickle at the back of his mind seemed to pull at him, leading him here. The day he crossed into Washington, he felt so overwhelmed he nearly had a panic attack. It wasn't the mountains or anything he could see. It was something deep inside him. Something that had been growing and reaching a peak of impending -- all he could think of was 'doom', but it wasn't bad. Not most of it anyway. It was a feeling of something huge and important. Something bigger than himself, like becoming President or inheriting Bill Gates' fortune. Something that involved great responsibility and had far-reaching implications into his future.

He had a pretty good idea what it was. He'd been aware of the feeling since he made a decision about his life two months ago. He was tired. Tired of being on the run. Tired of hiding. He knew he couldn't hide forever and even if he could, he knew his ability was too strong -- that eventually they would become too much for him to control and he would lose his mind. He made up his mind to find his Sentinel. Not just any Sentinel. If that were the case, he would have turned himself over to the Sentinel Program and he'd be paired up with whomever they deemed suitable. Most Sentinels who were registered in the Program were indoctrinated in their pompous and abusive teachings.

No, he wanted an unregistered Sentinel. A Sentinel who wanted nothing to do with the Program. Such a Sentinel was more likely to treat an empath as an equal. He would bond with an empath only out of need, without any desire to own or control the empath.

When his only purpose was to survive, life was easier and safer. Now that he had a mission, life was riskier, more dangerous. He could still stick mostly to remote, unpopulated areas, but that tickle led him in a certain direction and slowly filled him with an urgency that made it hard for him to be careful.

His mother had raised him with an eclectic collection of religious ideas and beliefs, but he'd always believed in Divine guidance and intervention. How could something this strong and clear be anything but Divine? That thought filled him with a joy that he had not known since he was a toddler.

When he entered the city limits of Cascade, he knew this was it. He sat down on the side of the road and held his head. He felt like he might faint. When the lightheadedness and vertigo passed, he wiped his hands across his eyes and was surprised to feel tears on his face.

Pulling himself together before someone noticed his suspicious behavior, he got to his feet and continued on. How long would it take? How many days until he found his Sentinel?


Police Detective James Ellison slumped heavily at his desk, elbows resting on the worn surface. He shielded his eyes from the harsh lights of the bullpen. Carefully peering up at the stark white clock on the wall, he was relieved to see his shift was nearly over. Correction: double shift. A late summer flu epidemic had left the P.D. short-handed. Every able-bodied person was expected to pull double duty.

Ellison was normally a strong, fit man and very healthy, but the sensory spikes he experienced when he got too tired could be debilitating. Even hazardous.

A touch on his back brought his vision back into focus and his headache retreated to a bearable throb. "Rafe," he acknowledged the owner of the hand without looking.

Brian Rafe was an empath. Normally the unbonded pair would have an adverse reaction to one another, but Rafe and Ellison had clicked well together since they had met and would probably have bonded except that Rafe was only a level one empath and therefore, unable to bond. The most Rafe was able to do was to pick up impressions from people and be a good judge of character. That, plus to be a temporary 'ground' for Sentinels and a safeguard against the dangerous sensory spikes. What was determined as a 'weak' ability made Rafe an answer to a prayer for the police department. His empathy made him an excellent detective and a perfect partner to the reluctant Sentinel Jim Ellison.

Removing his hand from the other man's back, Rafe sat down in the chair beside him. "How's the head?"

Jim picked up his sunglasses that were resting on his desk and slipped them on. "Better, thanks."

Rafe smiled wryly. "That why you're wearing shades indoors? At night?"

Jim sighed impatiently. "I'll be fine once I get a little sleep."

"You know, Jim. If you were bonded--"

"Rafe. We are not having this discussion again."

Rafe sighed. Yes, they'd had this discussion before. Ellison's reasons for refusing to bond with a Guide were both noble and selfish. He refused to be involved in the glorified slave trade of being bonded to a Guide. He was also a self-admitted control freak and resisted anything or anyone that took control of any situation away from him. And, though Sentinels were, lawfully, their Guides' 'masters', they had to give the Guides a certain amount of control in order to let them ground them. Such a partnership was intolerable to the domineering and strong-willed Ellison.

Rafe understood and admired the older detective. He was, after all, an empath, and subject to society's prejudices and injustices against them. But the symbiotic needs of Sentinels and empaths were a harsh reality. Jim Ellison was a good man and his friend. Rafe hoped the man didn't get killed before he accepted his own need.

"Well, our shift is over. Lemme give you a ride home."

"I drove my truck this morning, Rafe," Jim said testily.

"Sorry, Ellison. Your senses are spiking and as your official partner, I'm the designated driver."

In answer, Ellison scowled at the empath through his dark lenses.

"Sorry, men. Just got a call. Domestic dispute."

The two detectives looked up at the tall, dark-skinned man who suddenly appeared in front of them.

"Captain, we just finished a double shift," Rafe complained. "A domestic dispute? Why can't the uniforms handle it?"

"Because it looks like the 'domestic dispute' has turned into a hostage situation."

Without any further hesitation the three men moved into action.

Captain Banks pulled Ellison discreetly aside. "Jim, is there anything I need to know?" He indicated the sunglasses.

"Simon, I'm fine."

"Jim, I know how you must feel--"

"With all due respect, Sir, you don't know--"

"Fine. I don't know how you feel," he said, quietly getting in Ellison's personal space. "But I do know that if any of my people get hurt because of your damn personal pride, I will have no choice but to suspend you from the force. Do I make myself clear?" He hissed, doing a fine imitation of a drill sergeant, even in a near-whisper.

"Yes Sir," Ellison bit out.

The police Captain knew he could always get the stubborn man to listen when he went into army mode, making Ellison revert to his military days.

Rafe, who was standing at a discreet distance, waited patiently for Ellison. Letting the older detective take the lead, he followed him out.


Blair always wondered what Hell was like. Now he knew. Eternal pain and hopeless despair and he was in it.

How long, he had wondered, would it take to find his Sentinel? It had taken only two days for the Sentinel to find him. No. No, it's all wrong. He's all wrong. This isn't my Sentinel. Not this one!

Blair had felt the tingle right before the man grabbed him, the feeling of being too close to a Sentinel. The tingle itself was not normally unpleasant, but there was something dark and twisted overlaying this one. There was something wrong with this one. Sick as he was, he was still fast and too late Blair realized what was happening.

Now, a day later, Blair was in torment. Imprisoned in the Sentinel's dirty apartment, he had lost all hope. He had resisted the twisted the Sentinel's attempts to bond so far, but he couldn't for much longer. His strength and will were slipping away. He wanted to die. He would rather die than to belong to such a man. He tried to die, to make the Sentinel kill him. He kicked and screamed and even bit the man, but all he got for his fight was intense beating. His barriers were badly deteriorated, like wet tissue. He couldn't fight off the Sentinel's attempts anymore.

Blair tried to curl up, but was stopped by the ropes that held him fast to the bed he was laying on. With his hands bound tight above his head, he could barely maneuver to wipe his tears against his grubby arm.

He tried not to cry. He hadn't cried since the night he mourned for his mother. But it would hurt, he knew, to bond with this man. His mere touch hurt. Not just because he was sick, but because he was the wrong one!

He would be back soon. Blair's time was running out. He had screamed and fought and no one had come to his aid. Why should they? He was only an empath at the mercy of a Sentinel. He had been forsaken--

He jumped as the bedroom door slammed open, the Sentinel appearing in the doorway, a drunken giant.

Unable to help himself, Blair began to weep and plead. Any compassion the man may have had was obliterated by his desperate need as he stalked toward the boy.


Ellison and Rafe took a quick look around as they got out of Rafe's car. Not the best neighborhood. Run-down, low rent apartment buildings accented by bars, convenient stores and pawn shops. There were a couple of black-and-whites already on the scene.

Jim went to one of the uniforms and, flashing his badge, started asking questions. A distraught woman who had been talking to another officer ran up to the detectives. "You've got to do something! All day he's been up there, doing God-knows-what to the boy!"

The detectives looked at each other.

"What boy, ma'am?" Jim asked her.

"That Sentinel! He's crazy! Finally got a Guide, I guess. He's got no son. Poor kid's been screaming and crying all night and day. Sounds like he's going to kill him! Stupid neighbors said it's Sentinel business. None of my concern. Well, I don't care! The kid's a human being. You have to do something!"

Rafe laid a calming hand on the upset woman's shoulder. "Ma'am, what is the man's name?"

"Sean Powers. Usta' be a fireman 'fore he lost his mind."

At that moment, a scream of anguish and terror pierced the night.

"There he goes again," the woman cried, nearly in tears. "Please do something!"

Leaving the woman standing on the sidewalk, the detectives took off running, smoothly drawing their weapons as they entered the building.

As they ran up the dark, narrow steps to the third story where the screams were coming from, Jim felt the shrieks go right through his head.

Rafe clutched his arm. "Jim! Are you sure you can do this? If the kid's an empath--"

Jim jerked away from the hand and kept moving. "I'm fine, Detective," he snapped. "Just do your job."

Anger flashed from Rafe's normally calm, blue eyes. "Later, Ellison," he promised under his breath, not caring if the Sentinel heard.

Reaching the third floor, they flew down the hallway to Powers' apartment. It had been totally unnecessary to ask the apartment number. They boy's screams were clearly heard.

Both men pressed against the wall on either side of the door. Ellison reached his arm sideways and pounded on the door. "Mr. Powers!" he yelled. "It's the police! Open up!"

"Go away!" a tormented voice screamed. "Mind your own business! Go away!"

The detectives locked eyes and nodded. Ellison kicked the door in and they moved swiftly inside the apartment. Seeing no one in the front room, they moved to a closed door where the screams were coming from. Rafe kicked that one open and Ellison moved in, his weapon pointed in front of him.

"Oh, dear God," Rafe whispered from behind him.

The huge man was crouched over a boy, a young teenager, who was tied to a metal bed. The man's face was only a couple of inches from the boys and his hands were on either side of the pale and sweaty face, his fingers drawing blood, they were digging so deeply into the soft skin.

Rafe came out of his shock first. "Freeze! Move away from him!"

The out-of-control Sentinel seemed not to hear the order and didn't move.

"Get away, Mr. Powers or I'll shoot!"

Finally, the man looked up. An expression of rage crossed his face and he suddenly lunged up, running at the cops. Their training kicking in, they both opened fire on the man, the force of the bullets throwing him to the floor.

Being closest to him, Rafe checked on the fallen Sentinel. Jim hurried to the bed to check on the now-silent boy.

Pulling out his pocketknife, Jim cut the ropes, releasing the bound hands. Catching the hands before they fell free, Ellison lowered them gently to the boy's chest. He then leaned the other way and cut the ropes around his ankles. As he was turning back around, small hands caught his own.

He was totally unprepared for the jolt of power that surged through him. Instead of pulling away, he clutched at the boy's hands. Looking down at the battered face, his eyes met those of the empath. Such deep blue. Jim's heart clenched at the pain and despair he saw there. Ellison reached out his hand and, softly cupping the side of the boy's face, wiped the tears that slowly leaked out of the eyes that had seen too much.

"Jim, no..."

Jim looked up at Rafe's shocked face. The younger detective was looking down at the boy. Dazed, Jim followed Rafe's gaze down at his hands. One was linked with the boy's hand and the other on the side of his face. It was a classic stance of bonding. What have I done?


Ellison sat slumped in a green vinyl chair in the hospital waiting room, his elbows resting on his knees, forehead resting in his open hands. He could easily hear the voices of his partner and his Captain talking in the hallway, but their words barely registered in his mind.

"What happened, Rafe?"

"The kid's mind was wide open, Captain. His barriers were completely gone. Jim was untying him and the kid just grabbed his hand and--"

"The kid initiated the bond? I thought Sentinels usually did that."

"He was in pain, Sir. It may not have been a conscious action. It looks like the other Sentinel was forcing a bond and the kid was resisting, but he couldn't hold out any longer."

"If it can be an unconscious action, what kept him from bonding with the other Sentinel?"

"Sentinel/Guide pairings are chemical. Just like romantic attractions. That's why there are mixers. So the Sentinels and Guides can 'find' each other. If their chemistry is compatible, and the Training Program approves, they bond."

"What happens if a non-compatible pair bonds?"

"It doesn't work. The focus and control from the empath is ineffective and the Sentinel is unable to provide adequate shielding for the Guide. It's often painful for the empath and sometimes even fatal."

A long silence. Then, "Can the bond be broken?"

"Yes." Hesitant.

"And?"

"Either one could die..."

Jim looked up as Rafe walked in. The younger man moved a chair in front of Jim and sat down, facing him.

"Rafe, I... I don't know what happened."

"Jim, your senses have been going haywire for months now. Even with me around. You were in desperate need of a Guide. The kid was in pain and his barriers shot. Jim... you -- saved -- him. Powers would have killed him. If not by bonding, then later on. Powers had brought him on-line. He wouldn't have survived being left without shielding after that."

Jim looked at his partner, eyes begging for an impossible answer. "What if I sever the bond?"

Rafe's eyes grew cold. "If he survives, he'll go into the Training Program." Then the younger man's voice got desperate. "Jim, the kid's a runaway! He's been hiding from them. Do you know what the Program does to runners? 'Reprogramming.' Brain-washing!"

The Sentinel was silent. Shell-shocked.

"Jim." Rafe waited for Ellison to look up. "Jim, this isn't about you anymore."

For a long moment it seemed as though his words hadn't registered. Then Ellison's eyes slowly lost that lost, dead look and he nodded carefully.

Rafe's face filled with relief and he clasped Ellison's arm warmly. "Come on. Let's go find some answers."


Ellison and Rafe stood outside the boy's room with the doctor. The small man before them silently scanned the young man's chart, perusing the medical situation as the detectives waited impatiently. Apparently finished, the old man turned piercing no-nonsense eyes on the pair. "You are his Sentinel?" he asked Jim.

"Yes," Jim answered hesitantly. "I guess so."

"He chose you, from what I heard. Of course you are. The old ways are best. Damn Program screws everything up." He looked back at Jim like he was waiting for a challenge. When none came, he continued, "Your Guide was conscious in the E.R. We were able to ask him a few questions. His name is Blair. He's either unable at this time or unwilling to supply us with a last name. He says he's fourteen. Looks more like twelve to me. If we can get a last name, we may be able to secure a birth record to be sure. He's been on the run for about six months. Chances are he was running because he was identified. That's all we know of his history."

"What about his condition, Doctor?" Rafe asked.

"Your Guide will be fine, Sentinel," the doctor ignored Rafe. "He received a brutal beating and has a slight concussion. His face is rather beat up. A couple of cracked ribs, two broken fingers on his left hand and deep abrasions around his wrists and ankles. No infections, but we're giving him antibiotics as a preventive measure. Mostly he will be sore for awhile. He can be released tomorrow, but you'll need to make sure he takes it easy for a couple of weeks," he said to Jim.

"Me?" the Sentinel sputtered.

Again, the doctor pinned him with those fierce, blue eyes. "By law, you are now responsible for your Guide's well-being, Sentinel."

"Yes, of course... I just--"

The doctor patted his arm. "It takes awhile to get used to it, Detective. Just follow your instincts. You may go in and see the boy now."

"Is he awake?" Rafe asked.

"Probably not yet, but he will know you're there just the same." With a terse nod of his head, he was gone.

Rafe looked at Jim who slumped against the wall. "Jim?"

The older man lifted tired eyes to him. "He's just a kid, Rafe. A kid! I not only now have a Guide I hadn't planned on, but he's a kid!" Calming down, he said weakly, "I didn't know they came on-line this young."

"It's rare, but it happens. Usually with the stronger ones. So young and with no training, it must have been very difficult for him to deal with his abilities."

"I think I know how he feels," Jim mumbled.

"How do you feel now?"

"Better," he answered slowly. "Like I'm supposed to after... bonding. More focused, grounded. Damn," he added quietly.

Rafe tried to suppress a smug grin. "It really works. Congratulations, Jim. It's a boy." Ignoring the Sentinel's dirty look, Rafe patted him on the shoulder and was gone.


His head was fuzzy, stuffed with dry cotton. He could hear voices around him, but everything was insulated. He floated in darkness. He felt hands but most of them were gentle.

"Take it easy! He's a Guide."

"Empath, you mean."

"Guide. Newly bonded, I understand."

"Can't be. He's too young."

"Read the report."

"Medical?"

"Police. Kid was grabbed by a crazed Sentinel. The guy nearly fried his brain trying to force a bond. The cop who rescued him was an unbonded Sentinel and accidentally bonded with him."

"Accidentally?"

"The kid initiated the bond. Reminds me of the underground reports that claim that Sentinel/Guide pairs are soul-mates."

"Sounds like something outta Reader's Digest."

"I think he's coming to. Son, can you tell us your name?"

Name? He struggled to open his eyes. They finally complied and let in a sliver of white light. He hissed in pain and squeezed his eyes shut again, turning his head away.

"You're okay, kid. Better keep your eyes shut for now. Do you know where you are?"

"H'spit'le..." he whispered.

"That's right. Do you remember your name?"

"...Blair..."

"Blair? Is that your name? What's your last name?"

"...Sentinel...?"

"Blair, how old are you?"

Again, he cracked open his eyes. The light wasn't as painful this time.

"Blair?"

He moved his eyes to a dark blur at his side. Blinking, he tried to bring it into focus. Finally he made out a slightly fuzzy face looking down at him.

"Better?"

He nodded then winced as pain shot through his head.

"Easy, son," the doctor put a fatherly hand on Blair's shoulder. "Can you tell me your last name?"

The doctor's face swam out of focus and Blair closed his eyes against the vertigo and nausea that rolled over him. "Help... Sentinel..."

The doctor tried again. "Blair, how old are you?"

"...fourteen..."

"Where do you live?"

Fear gripped him for a moment. He'd kept his existence a secret for so long. He wasn't sure if he should give out any information, but he had bonded and now he was in a hospital. He would either be in the care of his Sentinel or be put into the Program.

"Son, where do you live?"

"Nowhere... ran away..."

"Where are your parents?"

Mama

Leave without me

Only chance

"Gone..."

"When did you run away, Blair? How long ago?"

"Fi... no six months..."

To find my Sentinel... where...

He drifted in and out then and was unable to answer any more questions.


Ellison sat beside the hospital bed, half-heartedly watching the sleeping figure beneath the blankets. He'd only had one blanket on him when Jim first entered the room. Acting on a foreign protective feeling, the Sentinel had immediately procured another blanket for the boy. Mission accomplished, he sat down, feeling lost and adrift.

What happened?

You saved him.

A runaway.

This isn't about you.

Sentinel

He chose you.

brutal beating

concussion

broken fingers

responsible for your Guide.

Follow your instincts.

Responsible for your Guide.

Not about you anymore.

You saved him.

Responsible for him.

A soft noise pulled him from his thoughts. He looked down and saw that the boy had awakened and was watching him through confused, unfocused eyes.

"Hey, kid," he said softly.

The eyes blinked slowly and seemed to focus better, but the confused look remained.

"Do you remember what happened to you?"

He hesitated, then a look of fear flashed across his face.

Jim put his hand on the skinny shoulder. "Hey, hey. It's okay." He waited, watching the fear drain from the young face. "Do you remember me?"

"...Sentinel?" he asked softly.

Jim gave a small nod. "Yeah. I'm your Sentinel. My name's Jim Ellison."

The boy watched Jim's face apprehensively. When no anger or condemnation appeared, the face relaxed.

"What's your name, son?"

"Blair."

"I'm your Sentinel now, Blair. I'd like to know your whole name."

"Blair Jacob Sandburg, Sentinel."

Jim ran his hand across bloodshot eyes. "Look, Blair. Let's get something straight. None of the 'Sentinel' crap. Okay? Please just call me Jim."

Blair nodded then grimaced in pain.

"Better stick to talking. Your head will be sore for a couple of days." Jim finally gave in to the instinctive drive to touch the Guide and laid a calming hand on Blair's forehead. "I know you're tired, kid, but just a few more questions. Then I'll let you rest."

"'Kay," Blair whispered.

"How old are you, Blair?"

"Fourteen."

"Where are you from?"

"All over--" he shrugged. "-ow!"

"You okay, Chief? What's wrong?"

"M-my shoulders--"

From being tied up so long.

Jim buried his fingers in the long hair, his thumb smoothing the lines of pain from the high forehead. "Easy, easy. You're on pain-killers. Don't move anymore and it'll go away." He waited again and after a few seconds, he saw the tense muscles relax. "Okay?"

"Yeah."

"Where were you born, Blair?"

"Don't know. I've always been a secret. No birth certificate. Mom kept moving us."

"Mom? What about your father?"

"It was always just... mom and me." A flicker of pain crossed his face.

With a sense of dread, Jim asked quietly, "Where's your mother, Blair?"

Blair swallowed hard, carefully turning his face away from his Sentinel. "Gone," he whispered shakily. "She made me leave... said she'd join me if she could... I waited, but she didn't--" he couldn't finish the sentence.

The Sentinel grabbed the trembling hands and held them in his warm, firm grip. He waited until he was sure Blair had himself back under control.

"Blair," he spoke softly. The deep, blue eyes looked back at him, pools of misery.

"Blair, I'm your Sentinel now, and I'm going to take care of you. But the more I know about you, the better I can protect you. Do you understand?"

"Yes."

"Just a couple more questions. Easy ones, I promise."

"Okay."

"Where were you living when you ran away?"

"New York City."

Jim was momentarily stunned. An amazing distance for the kid to have traveled. He wanted to know more about that. How had he done it? How had he survived? But he'd promised only a couple of questions. One left and that wasn't it.

"Okay, Chief. Just one more. What is your mother's name?"

The boy closed his eyes a moment. Jim unconsciously squeezed his fingers. Blair opened his eyes again. A single tear ran down the side of his face. "Naomi. Naomi Ruth Sandburg."


Alone now, Blair tried to allow the sedative in his I.V. to cloud his mind. If he couldn't think, he'd be able to relax and sleep. The doctor had said if he rested well and had no set-backs or negative reactions, he could be released tomorrow.

The hospital scared him He never knew who would come walking through his door at any time. It was nerve-wracking for the young empath who had spent the last half year hiding from people. As anxious as he was to get out of the hospital, he fearfully wondered where he would go. Some Sentinels chose to keep their Guides at the local Training Facility, and Blair knew that the Program Directors would want him there for observation and training. He was gripped with fear at that thought. Training he could use. He knew precious little about guiding his Sentinel, but he suspected that the Program's idea of 'training' differed from his own. They would punish him for running. Then 'train' him to be a 'proper' Guide.

Ellison, who had picked up on his Guide's sudden panicked heartbeat three floors down, burst into the room, nearly scaring said Guide to death. Sweeping the young man with his senses and finding nothing amiss aside from his heart rate and ragged breathing, he forced himself to calm down.

"Chief, what's wrong?" he asked softly. Moving to the bedside, he sat down in a vinyl and aluminum chair and took the icy hands in his warm ones. "Blair?"

"Sentinel?" the boy spoke in a hesitant, broken voice.

What happened here? "Hey, kid. Tell me what's wrong."

"I'm-m okay -- I was just -- thinking--" The kid was trying to assure Ellison that he was fine, but the grip he had on the Sentinel's fingers belied that claim.

"Tell me what you were thinking, Blair."

The wide eyes dropped. "Where will I go? Where will I stay when I'm released?"

Jim blinked in surprise. "Why, Blair, you'll stay with me."

"Some -- sometimes Sentinels put their Guides in a Program Facility."

Jim's face darkened in anger. "The Program's not getting their hands on you."

The relief caused Blair to deflate, and the fear in his face vanished. "Thank you, Sentinel. I promise I won't be any trouble to you--"

Blair was cut off by Ellison's held up hand and stern expression. "Listen, Chief. I'll make you a deal. You don't call me 'Sentinel' and I won't call you 'Guide'. Let's just make it 'Jim' and 'Blair'. Okay?"

Blair lifted one side of his mouth in a token smile. "Okay... Jim."

Gently pulling his hands from Blair's grip, Jim rested his elbows on the bed. "Um, how are you feeling, Blair?"

"Okay, I guess. Nothing hurts as long as I don't move."

"Do you need anything?'

"I'm tired of being on my back, but it hurts to move my arms and shoulders, and I can't--" He looked helplessly at the tall man.

Happy to do something useful, Jim stood and, careful of the I.V and tubes, smoothly rolled the boy to his side, propping pillows behind him all along his back and legs.

Jim was a powerful man, but anyone could have easily turned the young Guide. He was skin and bones. Jim's sensitive fingers could feel the muscles from walking thousands of miles, but Blair was malnourished. The Sentinel resolved to remedy that soon.

Jim waited a moment to allow the pain of movement to pass then he sat back down so he and Blair were face-to-face.

The kind friendliness Blair saw in the Sentinel's eyes was too much for the boy. Jim watched him struggle with his emotions.

"What's the matter, Chief?"

The bruised hand crept out from under the blankets and grasped Jim's fingers. "I'm sorry I bonded with you, Sentinel. I never meant to do it without your -- permission..."

"It's okay, Chief," he replied softly. "I know you didn't mean to. You were wide open and in pain. Besides, I guess I've been needing a Guide for some time now. Simon was afraid I was gonna get someone else killed and Rafe was afraid I was gonna get myself killed."

"How long have you been having trouble with your senses, Jim?"

Surprised by the boy's concern for him, Jim's mouth twitched with a smile. "Not sure, Chief. I was always paired with Rafe when the job got tricky or if I was having a bad day, but it was usually only a couple times a month. But awhile back, maybe two months ago, I had a string of bad days and Simon made him my 'permanent' partner."

"Is Rafe an empath?"

"Yeah. He's a good man. Good cop."

"Why didn't you bond with him?"

Jim shook his head. "Rafe's a low-level empath. He's unable to bond. Gives him a pretty good edge as a detective though."

"Almost as much as a Sentinel?"

"Sometimes more."

Blair chewed his bottom lip nervously. "Why didn't you have a Guide already, Jim?"

Jim looked at the thin hand he still held, grimly observing the red, weather-worn skin drawn tight over the joints and bones. Old hands on such a young boy. Then he looked up at the eyes heavy with fatigue. "That's a long story, Chief. Why don't we save it for later?"

"Okay, Jim."

Jim waited a couple more seconds as the blue eyes nearly disappeared behind eyelids. "If you're still doing well, I'm taking you home tomorrow." Then he smiled as the lids lifted a little and Blair smiled. A real smile this time. He squeezed Jim's fingers then fell asleep.


Blair had nightmares that night. He was terrified that he'd be swept away by The Program in Jim's absence. As a result, he looked quite ragged the next morning when his Sentinel came to retrieve him.

Immediately recognizing Blair's appearance for lack of sleep and not illness, Jim mentally kicked himself for not anticipating his Guide's fears. Ellison debated earnestly with the doctor, convincing him that the young man would, indeed, rest and recover better under the Sentinel's own roof.

Now, driving home in the dark green Explorer, Jim watched Blair out of the corner of his eye. The boy wore new sweats and a t-shirt that the Sentinel had bought the day before.

With Rafe and Captain Banks assisting, he'd searched Blair's backpack the night of the rescue. Jim had felt like he was violating the boy's privacy, but procedure demanded it and he didn't want to give The Program any room whatsoever to cause problems for him and his Guide. The most suspicious item he had found was half a prescription bottle of pills, but a lab test had shown them to be a standard antibiotic. Among various items necessary for survival, was a change of clothes. Though they seemed reasonably clean, Jim figured denim jeans might be uncomfortable while Blair was recuperating. A large boy's size was still loose on the empath, all the better for comfort. He wore new socks and underwear and his own ratty tennis shoes.

Jim sighed. There were so many things he'd have to do and buy to assimilate Blair into his life. It could be a blessing in disguise, though. Perhaps the sheer normalcy of shopping and such would help them move past the shock and trauma into establishing the patterns of daily life. Oh well, he had awhile to work on it. A newly bonded Sentinel/Guide pair was required to take a couple of weeks off work or school to strengthen their new connection.

"Say, Chief. What grade are you in, anyway?"

"I don't know. Mom... always home schooled me. She said public schools were too dangerous with all the Program Scouts running around," he answered, never taking his eyes off the view of the city outside his window. It was wonderful to see things go by at such speed. He'd never hitch-hiked for fear of abduction and had traveled completely on foot for the past six months.

Something would have to be done about school, Jim thought. With his past, Blair would naturally be skittish around people. But that would be best discussed another time.

"You hungry, Blair? You hadn't eaten much at the hospital."

"A little, maybe. My stomach was hurting before. At the hospital."

The hospital must be a terrifying place for an empath. The supposed healing touch of the physician causing pain if his emotions aren't controlled, the emotions of sick and wounded and of the friends and family of the patients... no wonder they needed shielding.

"Jim?" The Sentinel felt Blair's hand on his arm. Ellison turned to see the boy looking worriedly at him. "Are you okay? You feel... sad."

Jim gave him a small smile. "I was thinking I'm glad I got you out of the hospital today. I never realized how hard hospitals must be for empaths."

Blair's hand slid down Jim's arm to rest on the seat beside Jim, his fingers grazing the Sentinel's leg. He returned his gaze to the window. "I'd never been in a hospital before. I was afraid th-they'd come and g-get me wh-while you were g-gone."

Even if Jim had not been a Sentinel, he would have heard the fear in Blair's voice. He took the boy's hand, careful of the splint that protected the broken fingers, and held it firmly. "I'm sorry I left you there alone, Blair. If I'd known, I wouldn't--"

"I'm okay, Jim. I'm just glad you came back for me."

Jim gave the hand a gentle squeeze then let go, returning his own hand to the steering wheel.

Soon, they pulled up into a parking space and Ellison cut the ignition. "This is it, Chief," he indicated a brick building across the street. "I live on the third floor. The elevator was working fine this morning. Let's hope it still is."

It was and, thankfully empty of other people. In just a few minutes, Jim was ushering Blair through the front door of his apartment.

Blair stood in the middle of the room and looked around in delight. The space that served as living room and kitchen was huge and spacious. It was light and airy, with a high ceiling. The walls were half painted white and half red brick with tall windows and glass doors that led to a balcony. A narrow staircase led to an open area that revealed part of a bed. The bedroom reminded Blair of the hayloft in a barn.

"Wow," Blair said quietly. "This is cool."

Jim caught the small smile on his Guide's face and smiled in return. "Glad you like it, Chief. I like it, too."

Jim took his arm and gently led him to a doorway across from the kitchen area. "Here is your room, Blair." It was a small room furnished with a futon bed, desk bookcase and night stand. The walls were white, of course. A plain clock hung above the desk. On the desk sat a brass lamp and a ceramic pencil holder. An unopened package of Bic pens and one of mechanical pencils sat near the pencil holder. The bed was covered with a dark green comforter, which matched the valance at the window. The blinds at the window were standard white. The bookcase held a set of encyclopedias and a brand new set of paperback books. Closer inspection showed them to be the complete works of Tolkien.

New. He couldn't have bought them for me; could he? Blair looked up at Jim who stood beside him. Jim smiled sheepishly. "I enjoyed them when I was a kid. Thought you would, too."

Of all the wonderful life and sanity saving things the Sentinel had done for him so far, the set of books meant more to Blair than anything else. The rest was necessary acts of decency from one human being to another. The Tolkien set was extra. Frivolous, even. A simple pleasure. Something Jim had given special thought and extra time to purchase. A pleasant memory from his won childhood that he chose to share with his Guide. Blair wanted to say, 'thank you', but couldn't get anything past the sudden lump in his throat.

Reading Blair's eyes, Jim put a reassuring hand on his back. Changing the subject, he gestured toward the encyclopedias. "We can get Encarta on CD if you like, but sometimes nothing can take the place of a book; you know?"

"You have a computer, Jim?" Blair asked with interest.

"No, but I figured you'd need one for school."

"School?" Blair turned pale.

"Well, we need to make a plan for your schooling, but we've got a couple weeks to figure it out. Don't worry, kid. I won't throw you to the wolves." Blair looked a little reassured. A little.

Then Blair noticed a dark lump on the floor next to the desk. "Hey, my backpack! I'd forgotten about it!"

"Yeah, I brought it here the first night."

"Did you -- uh -- search it?"

"Sorry, Chief. I had to. Procedure."

"It's okay, Jim. I understand. Do you need to ask me about anything in it?"

"Well, I took out all the medicine and put it with the rest in the bathroom -- except for the antibiotics, which I threw out. I figured you didn't have a prescription for them since the name on the bottle was 'Levi Clemsen'. Where'd you get them anyway?"

"Found 'em in a dumpster. I recognized the brand name as some m-mom got me a couple times. Figured I'd be able to use them if I got an ear infection or something. I remembered the dosage I'd had before and those were the same. You wouldn't believe what some people throw away."

"Dumpster diving, Chief?"

"Hey, Jim. I'll have you know I'm very particular. I frequent only the cleanest dumpsters."

Jim laughed, pleased at the first sign of humor the boy had shown in the three days he'd known him. Blair grinned in delight at the Sentinel's reaction. Jim ruffled his hand through the wild curls. "Well, no more dumpster diving for you, young man. Now, let's go have some lunch."


An hour later found Blair curled up asleep on the cream-colored sofa and Jim washing up the lunch dishes.

Blair had insisted he wasn't very hungry, but with firm prodding, Jim got him to eat a bowl of chicken-noodle soup and a couple of soda crackers. Afterward, Jim had his Guide take his medication and suggested that he lay down in his room.

"Can I lay down on the sofa instead, Jim? Please?"

"I guess so, Blair."

Jim retrieved the soft bed pillow from Blair's room and tucked it under the boy's head. Pulling the colorful afghan from the back of the sofa, he adjusted it warmly around his Guide. Blair fell asleep immediately.

While he worked, Jim pondered on the link that connected him to Blair. It had to be what was responsible for the nurturing instinct he was exhibiting for the boy. He certainly had never been this way before or with anyone else.

Heaven knew the kid needed nurturing. Jim knew very little about his life, but he was entirely too quiet for a fourteen-year old boy. As though he were accustomed to be hunted. It had become a way of life for him. And his eyes. There was something missing in them. That look of cockiness and self-assurance that everything was in place in their world. Everything in Blair's world was definitely out of place. Jim shook his head. It was going to take a long time. Blair had never had a normal life. He had never been able to be open and truthful about himself.

I've always been a secret.

It was too bad. That was no way for a kid to grow up. Not that Jim blamed Naomi Sandburg. She had obviously done a remarkable job raising and protecting her unique son.

Jim hadn't seen any signs that the kid had been physically traumatized-other than Powers. Blair was like a silent shadow. His was a life of knowing how to be unseen and unheard.

Jim was determined that Blair's life with him would be secure and as normal as possible. Whatever it took.

The End
(For now)

I have the next installment on paper and have started typing it up. I'm well motivated by nagging -- I mean feedback.


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