The investigation was limping along, with few leads and lots of unanswered questions. Elizabeth still had not been able to remember much of anything. Her memory from the afternoon of her disappearance to the events of the roof was pretty much a blank. Even the time on the ledge wasn't especially clear. Someone's out there who knows about Sentinels, who's targeting us, and there's not a damn thing I can do about it. Jim was trying to be patient, but this was personal and patience had never been his particular forte. Worse still, he was beginning to get that edgy feeling again, like something was terribly wrong, very much like his reaction up on the roof that day, only he had no idea what it was about. Instinct would be great, if only it came with a manual.
He and Blair were putting in a day at the station, trying to further the few leads they did have, while Rafe and Brown had taken their place at the safe house, watching over Elizabeth and Sam. Blair was flipping through mug books, looking for the apocryphal Dr. Smith. They'd also had a police artist put together a sketch from the numerous eye witnesses among CPD's own ranks, and the drawing had been sent out over the wire for any matches. Megan was working on tracking down anyone who might have seen Elizabeth earlier in the day before she made it to the Lorden Towers. If they could find what vicinity she came from, that might point them in a direction. Jim was combing through the case file SFPD had faxed them, looking for any thread that might lead somewhere. He was having no luck and was almost beginning to zone on his own frustration.
"What's up, big guy?" Blair asked, watching him closely, a wrinkle developing between his eyes.
He shook his head, trying to throw off the eerie bad feeling. "Nothing, Chief. Just sick of looking and finding nothing."
"Don't do that, Jim. If you don't want to tell me, that's fine. But I know it's more than frustration about the case."
Jim froze for a minute. It dawned on him that he seriously needed to get past the old patterns. Nothing good had every come from not confiding in his Guide. Look what happened the last time I didn't tell him about this feeling. The thought made him shiver.
"You're right, Chief. There is something up with me. And I'm sorry. I should have told you about it when I first noticed it. I guess I was hoping it was just the stress of the whole situation. But it's not, I realize that now. I have the bad feeling again. The sense that something's terribly wrong. I had it up on the roof with the doctor. Now it's pretty much all the time. Not real strong, kind of vague, fuzzy, like whatever 'it' is...it's still distant. But coming."
A measure of curiosity stole into Blair's expression, something Jim hadn't seen in months. "Do you think it has something to do with Elizabeth?" his partner asked.
He shook his head. "I don't think so, Chief. Not directly at least. I don't get the bad feeling from her, not like she's the cause of it, but maybe a little like it's about her, like she's in danger. That's how it was up on the roof. The situation just looked wrong. I felt almost...protective of her. I wanted to help her. But the bad feeling is not just for her. It's a bigger sense of threat than that."
Blair fell quiet a moment, puzzling it over.
"Ellison! Sandburg! Where's my update?"
"Better go give Simon the latest before he busts something," Jim said, getting up from his desk. "Come with me, huh Chief?"
Blair hesitated a minute, then recognized the silent plea in Jim's expression.
"Okay, big guy." He grabbed Jim's sleeve before they went into Simon.
"Don't worry, Jim. Whatever it is, we'll figure it out."
Elizabeth felt like she was going to jump out of her skin. She wished to God she could jump out of her skin. That way she could get away from the grotesque crawling feeling she had all over her body. Something is so unbelievably wrong. I don't know what it is. Maybe it's that the memories are starting to come back to me. But I am going to go seriously insane if this doesn't stop soon.
She paced back and forth between the dresser and the chair on the other side of the room. Sam was lying on the bed, pretending to read, maybe even trying to read, but she knew he couldn't help watching her. Well, I am acting like a lunatic. And I'm a trained professional, so I ought to know.
"Beth," Sam said softly, pliantly, using the soothing voice. "Why don't you try telling me what's wrong?"
She shook her head. She wasn't ready.
"It would help you."
"I don't want to remember," she confessed, staring at the floor. She, of all people, knew better, knew she didn't really have a choice. The mind didn't actually forget. It just provided much needed protection in the traumatic moment, a thankful blankness to aid in the fight for survival. All of the events of the past month were still a part of her, all the pain and terror and fury. They were as much a part of her as her bones and blood and her very cells. They could not be ignored with impunity. They would have their reckoning, one way or another.
"But you are remembering, aren't you?" he asked.
She shut her eyes tight and stopped mid-pace. She nodded her head.
"Come lie down with me, love. Let me hold you." She hesitated. "Come on, sweet. Give the carpet a break. You've nearly worn a hole in it, as it is."
He smiled, the impish grin that showed his dimples, that she loved so much. It was the first thing she had noticed about him, that day in New Mexico, even through the panic and pain of her runaway senses, a smile so beautiful that suddenly it had seemed absolutely wrong to even consider killing herself. She took a deep breath and thought much the same thing she had back then, when she was first learning to manage her senses. I can do this. I can do this. I can stand it. I can do it. She met his eyes, and they both knew she would tell him.
She lay down beside him, and he curled his body around hers. "I wouldn't ever push you, you know that. If you're not ready, all you have to do is say so," he reassured.
"It hurts, and it scares me. And it's all mixed up in my head. It's so hard to make sense of any of it," she said.
He pulled her closer, rubbing his hands comfortingly along her arms. "I know, sweetheart. You just do the best you can." The voice was lilting and curvaceous, deep and rich, the second thing she'd noticed about him, the way that voice got inside her and gave her a feeling, like safe haven, restoring sense to the world gone so horribly awry.
In the comforting arms of her husband, her Guide, her other half, she found the courage to step out into the darkness, to let the fractured images churn back up from the black well of lost things. She let them rise to the surface and find their way out, telling her Guide in halting, stumbling, choked, sobbing, torturous words the splinters and shards she could recall from the past month. She felt him cringe against her back as she told him about the pictures in her head, all the terrible, bloody things they wanted her to do, that they tried to convince her to use her Sentinel senses for, nothing she would ever, ever agree to, fighting them, determined to die first.
And then there was the punishment, which she would probably have kept from him, if the words hadn't developed a momentum, almost a will, of their own. When she put up resistance, refused to see things their way, fought the brainwashing, the punishment was always the same, the excruciating idea they planted in her head, the image that seemed so much like reality, of Sam lying crumpled on the ground at her feet. And the blood on her hands that would never come off. And the absolute, soul-shattering beliefthe very stuff hell was made ofthat she was the one responsible, that she, a Sentinel, had killed her Guide, that she had done the one unforgivable thing.
"Oh, my God, Beth. My poor, poor Beth. I'm so sorry, baby. Oh, sweetheart," Sam kept saying, over and again, holding her so tightly, rocking her so tenderly.
There was something wet on her face, and she didn't remember when she had started to cry. It was silent, just the tears streaming down her cheeks. And it was just like her pain, voiceless, because no words could ever properly convey the magnitude of her suffering.
"Close your eyes, Beth. That's good. Just rest. You just did a very hard thing. It's time to rest now. It's time to remember you're safe. No one's ever going to hurt you like that again, sweetheart. I promise. Oh God, I promise, Beth."
Sam was her Guide, and she listened to him, closing her eyes. His hands were folded across her chest, and she reached for them, holding them, like a lifeline. As she was drifting off, another fuzzy image floated across her mind. It was her office in San Francisco and a woman, someone who was only vaguely familiar, someone she couldn't quite place. The woman was asking for help, but Elizabeth couldn't, wouldn't, help her. And there was the same edgy feeling of menace she'd been experiencing all day. And she'd sent the woman away, feeling so relieved when she was gone. In her mind's eye, the woman was obscured and out of focus somehow. She couldn't get a clear view. At the same time, there was a name that kept moving through her thoughts.
But who is Alicia Bannister?
Jim lay in bed, following the urgent ebb and flow of voices in the bedroom down the hall. I'm sure Elizabeth didn't have this in mind when she said she didn't mind the eavesdropping. But no degree of shame could pull his senses away from their impassioned lovemaking. He listened to Elizabeth rising and falling over her husband, the smooth glide of skin against skin, the dip and swirl of lips and tongues and fingers, low murmurs of satisfaction, sharp sighs of pleasure. It was the music of the ages. It was the natural order of the universe. It was more right than anything ever could be, Sentinel loving Guide, now and always.
His envy of Elizabeth was intricate. It had many threads, and this lay at the core of it. She was fully merged with her Guide. And he wasn't. A knot formed in the pit of his stomach. Oh God, how many times had he made the joke in his own mind that if Sandburg were a woman he'd already have gotten him to the altar. But it was no joke. The sharp claw of instinct insinuated itself into his gut. Want him. Need him. Now. Any resigned thought he'd ever had of giving Blair up without a fight vanished. This Guide was his and no one else's. There would never be another for him. The Guide must stay. The Guide must be bound to him, now and always.
The true extent of his own folly suddenly hit him with the force of a freight train. He had been fighting against nature all this time, and he would not come out of it a winner. And neither would his Guide. Three months ago, he had wilfully chosen the exact opposite of everything he should have. He had pushed his Guide away in a time of danger, instead of holding him close. He had sensed the other one on his partner and spurned him, instead of fighting for him. His Guide had paid dearly for Jim's stupidity. And when Blair did miraculously come back to life, Jim had not given him the only three words that would ever matter between them, the words he'd begged God so desperately for a second chance to say. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
The urgent rhythm built, getting close now. An image sprang to life in his mind. It was Blair, naked and beautiful and oh so willing, in his bed, in his arms, Blair beneath him, against him, over him, on him, in him, around him, everywhere, all at once. It was Blair groping and teasing, twisting and writhing, touching and tasting. It was low groans, growls, sighs, sobs, grunts, wails, whimpers, gasps, soul-shattering screams of sheer, fucking ecstasy. It was Blair the incomparable vision. And Blair the sweet music. Blair the intoxicating scent. Blair the texture of velvet and silk. Blair the delicious savor. It was Blair filling his senses, imprinting on them, immersing himself so deep into Jim's soul that there would never again be any separation between them, only this hallowed union, always and forever.
He stroked himself in time to the lovely pictures in his head, hips arching upward off the bed, as if trying to reach for the fantasy images. Yes. Yes. Yes. Want it. Want it. Want it. The world was shattering. The blood was pounding behind his ears like a symphony of jackhammers. The darkness was breaking apart. Just thinking about it was so damned good. But then, just as he was about to come, his senses betrayed him, the sweet vision collapsing like a house of cards. As release coursed through him, he felt, instead, the icy dampness of Blair pulled from the fountain, the cold mouth beneath his as he'd tried to give back the breath torn from Blair's body.
He was up and off the bed and crumpled to the floor in an instant. The nausea shot through him in waves. He fought it, too shaken to make it to the bathroom. Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! He curled up on the floor, wrapping his arms around himself, rocking, his whole body trembling. His senses did not play around. This time, he recognized their warning with perfect clarity. He had not made things right with his Guide, he had not earned Blair's love, he had not helped his partner fully reclaim his rightful place among the living. He lay there a long while, trying to remember how to breathe, trying to calm down. And when he finally pulled himself together, he picked himself up off the floor, washed himself off, threw on a pair of boxers for decency's sake and went in search of his Guide.
After looking in Blair's empty bedroom, he found him downstairs in the living room, huddled on the sofa, staring blankly out the window. The moonlight touched him, casting him in a blue glow, like some faerie vision. But when Blair heard him and turned around, the vision shattered, just as his fantasy had. The beautiful face was looking haggard, a forlorn expression in those dark-circled eyes, the previously bountiful lips pressed with sorrow. Strong emotion emanated off his Guide, and it was something Jim would have dodged a hail of bullets, walked through a wall of fire, driven into the heart of a hurricane to take away. It was utter despair.
"Oh God, Chief," he said, reaching for his Guide, taking him into his arms. "I'm so sorry. God, am I sorry."
He hugged his friend tightly against him, not in passion or possession or even expectation of what might come, but with simple, animal tenderness, offering his body, his warmth, his strength as comfort. At first, Blair stayed limp in his arms, holding back, but then the slender arms went around his waist and tears trickled, then coursed, down his bare chest. It was only then that he realized Blair had never cried and neither had he. The thought brought tears to his own eyes, but he resisted. Right now, he was on the most important mission of his life, to be there for his Guide, to see him through this difficult journey. The tears could wait. They were part of him, had been since that sickening moment at the top of the steps outside Hargrove Hall when he just knew. The time would come, must come, when he'd set them free, but it would be later, after he'd held his Guide in his arms, listening and witnessing and comforting while he mourned.
"I wasn't sure if you still liked me anymore," Blair confessed, his voice muffled against Jim's shoulder.
Jim tightened his arms around the too-thin frame. "Good God, Blair, how could you think that? You're...Jesus, this is hard to say...you're everything I have."
Blair looked up at him. "But we haven't been close since...you know."
Jim wiped the tears from his cheeks, pushed back damp strands of hair.
"It hurt me," Blair whispered.
Jim's resolve to hold back the tears was tested. He could hear the catch in his own voice. "Oh God, Blair, I am so sorry. I never meant to...the last thing I wanted to do was hurt you again. It's just been really hard for me to face up to what I did. And what I didn't do. I wasn't there for you when you needed me. I didn't protect you. I can't forgive myself for that. And I wasn't sure if you could forgive me either."
"Jim, I never blamed you. I told you that, and I meant it. I thought you still blamed me. For betraying you."
Jim's jaw clenched. "You didn't betray me, Blair. I was an asshole."
"But I helped Alex. Thanks to me, she got away with the nerve gas, and she sold it to terrorists. And it was used in that attack in Madrid."
"We don't know that for sure."
"But probably. And even if it wasn't, it will be used sometime. How can you possibly forgive me for that when you're...you? When you care about justice more than anything else?"
"Because there's nothing to forgive. You didn't know she was a criminal. You didn't know she was going to steal the nerve gas. All you did was help someone who was in pain, who needed the kind of help only you could give. That's just you being you. It's a part of your nature that I admire...that I love. And justice is not the most important thing to me, Chief."
"But you said you couldn't trust me anymore."
Jim cringed. "I was a prick, Blair. I swear I didn't mean it."
"Then why did you say it?" Blair asked, watching him closely.
Jim had to search himself for the answer. "I guess it's because...it felt like you had taken something away from me. And I had to get even. God, I'm sorry, Chief. That was such a lousy thing to do."
"I don't understand, Jim. What did I take from you?"
Jim hesitated a long moment. It was the step he'd been too afraid to take for too long. It was superstition, he realized, to believe that, once he admitted to Blair how very much he needed him, Blair would just disappear like some kind of apparition. But it was a superstition that had all the power of terror attached to it.
Jim took a deep breath and a leap of faith. "Yourself," he said very quietly, unable to quite look Blair in the face.
Blair frowned. "You mean because of Alex?"
"Christ, Chief, I don't know any other way to say this...I was jealous. I hardly saw you that whole week. And my instincts were just going crazy. And I had that awful dream about killing you. And then you came home that night, the night I pulled the gun on you, and you had her on you. And you didn't tell me about her and that felt like you didn't trust me. The whole thing drove me out of my mind with sheer, fucking jealousy."
Blair's face was alight with curiosity. Jim could almost see the lightning fast mind at work. It was the first sign of animation Jim had seen in him for three months. "Maybe it's a territorial thing?"
Jim shrugged. "I really don't know why it was, Chief. I only know how it felt. Like I was losing you. And you're my Guide and my best friend. And just mine, period. And your helping Alex made me sick with jealousy. And it would have even if she had turned out to be the nicest person in the world. And I should have talked to you about it. I should have done anything other than what I did. If I hadn't pushed you away, she wouldn't have gotten the chance to hurt you. And I'll have to live with that for the rest of my life."
Blair sighed. "Jim, Alex is the one to blame for what happened to me. Not you. I swear, I never once blamed you. Not even in the moment. Actually, when I knew she was really going to do it, I..."
"What?" Jim prompted.
"I called out for you. Even though I thought she'd already killed you. I just wanted you so badly, so unbelievably badly. They say in a moment like that people call out for whoever means true comfort for them, usually their mother. But for me, it wasn't Naomi. It was you, Jim. Only you."
Jim tightened his grip on his partner's waist. He buried his face in Blair's hair. He had no words equal to the intensity of his feelings.
"I never wanted you to see me like this. I tried so hard to keep it in," Blair said sadly.
"But why, Blair?"
"Oh man, you have no idea how humiliating this is. It's all coming out now, and there's no stopping it. And I'm sitting here bawling like a baby all over you. I always wanted you to think I was brave, that I could handle myself. But when I knew I was going to die, I was so fucking terrified," he said, shaking convulsively, beginning to cry again.
Jim ran his hands through Blair's hair, across his back, down his arms, trying to soothe him. "I'm so, so sorry, Chief."
Blair pulled back, anger flashing through the tears. "You really don't get it, man. What I want, what I've always wanted, is your respect. Not your fucking pity," he said the last word as if it tasted bad.
"It's not pity, Chief. It's just me being so sorry you ever went through this, that you were alone, that I wasn't there to help you. It makes me hurt, Chief. For you. And for me."
"I didn't try to fight," Blair confessed softly, dropping his eyes. "When she was the one who showed up at the office, I really thought...and it just didn't matter anymore, so I gave in and did whatever she wanted. I really never wanted you to know that."
"She pulled a gun on you, Chief. If you'd fought back, she would have shot you, and that could have easily been fatal. You did exactly the right thing, Blair. You survived. And I have all the respect in the world for that. And I thank God for it, every moment of every day. And you do have my respect. For a long time now. You've earned it, and you deserve it. And you're not going to lose it for doing the best anyone could possibly have hoped in an impossible situation at the hands of a madwoman."
"Do you really mean that, Jim?"
"You know me, Chief. I wouldn't say it if I didn't mean it. I think you were very brave in how you dealt with Alex. And I think you're even more brave now. I don't hold back on expressing my feelings because I think it's the courageous thing to do. Just the opposite. It's so damn hard for me. I honor your ability to tell me these things and to let yourself grieve. And I know it was hard for you to do it in front of me. And I have to thank you for that. I can't tell you how much it's helped me that you've shared it with me. If I couldn't be there for you when you were hurt, at least I can be here for you now."
"Thanks, man, thanks," Blair said, his voice raspy and shaking.
Jim hugged him tighter, and they sat together quietly a long moment.
"I feel better now," Blair said, sounding surprised. "It's been like this huge weight crushing me. It's gone now. I feel lighter. Although still sad too."
"Give yourself some time."
"I guess it will take a while before I'm more like my old self again. Some days, I go around feeling like I belong more to the dead than the living. Like it's all been a big mistake. Like I'm not really supposed to be here."
Jim shuddered. "It's no mistake, Blair. You're alive. And it's for a reason, a very good reason. And as far as I'm concerned, it's the greatest miracle there could possibly be."
"I really thought you wanted me out of your life."
"Without you, I wouldn't have a life."
"You're the best friend I've ever had."
"So are you."
Blair laid his head on Jim's shoulder, and Jim stroked his head and back, rhythmically, lulling him. When he felt Blair growing limp with sleepiness, he urged him off the couch, guided him up the stairs, to his bedroom. He helped Blair climb into bed and slid in beside him, gathering up his partner into his arms, holding him while he drifted off, falling asleep himself.
<<<Blair was someplace, he didn't know where. But somehow it was familiar. He had been here before. He had just forgotten. It was an interior. It was white, smooth and cool as ivory. There were benches here and there. And the room was decorated with carved moldings, scenes of lovemaking and hunting and rituals he did not recognize. And jaguars. Many of them. It was the Temple of the Jaguars, and he had visited it before, he realized now, when he had been waiting in the grey place between life and death.
Three figures approached him. They too were wearing white. It was Jim, Sam and Elizabeth, or rather spirits bearing their likenesses. He could hear them speaking among themselves, in a voice that was the sound of the place itself.
"He's returned," noted the Sam spirit.
"That is good," said the Elizabeth likeness.
"We knew he would," said the image of Jim.
"Do you know why you're here?" asked Sam.
"Not really," he admitted.
"What have you learned?" Jim asked.
"I'm not sure what you mean."
"The answer is inside you," Elizabeth assured him.
"Um...well, I guess what it means to be a Guide."
"And what does it mean to be a Guide?" Sam quizzed.
"It means becoming one with my Sentinel," he said, the answer suddenly clear to him.
The three of them conferred.
"You have earned the right to hear the mystery," Jim explained.
"In order to attain the light, it is necessary to traverse every aspect of darkness," Elizabeth told him.
"Those who survive the dark night of the soul have passed the final test," Sam said.
"As you have," Jim added.
"Then they may truly be of service," said Elizabeth.
"Only then are they prepared to meet their destiny," Jim said.
"A bond that has been tested is one that will endure," said Sam.
"While a faith that is never questioned becomes brittle," Elizabeth added.
"Every true Shaman dies twice," Jim told him.
"It's the only way to live in both worlds at once," Sam explained.
"Look toward the horizon, Shaman," Elizabeth said, pointing, "The night is passing."
He turned to look and found himself face-to-face with his own image, staring deeply into his own eyes, which weren't really his at all. "How will you see the dawn if you don't open your eyes?">>>
He blinked, and again it was not his own eyes he looked into. This time though, they were much paler blue, the color of an early morning sky, beautiful eyes, familiar eyes. He refocused his vision and recognized Jim above him, leaning over him, his face filled with concern and fear and care and love. Love. The realization was like the sun dawning on the horizon. And his eyes were wide open to see it this time. He stared up into Jim's face, so close to his own, letting his expression become naked, an advertisement for his want, his hunger. Jim crouched over him, taking his head between both hands, holding it in place, searching his eyes, asking permission. He parted his lips. This was his answer. Jim understood perfectly.
The touching of their lips and tongues was an electric pulse between them. And finally Blair saw it all, the mystery completely revealed to him. Sweet kiss of life, shared breath. This was the way back.
Jim pulled away and looked at him. "Are you sure?"
He traced a cheek bone with his finger. "I need you, Jim. I need you to help me feel alive again. I need you to help me celebrate that I'm still here."
Jim did not have to be invited twice. He was a man who had walked back from the edge of the world, through the wilds of loss, the tangle of despair, the empty, arid plain that would have been his life without Blair. For those few, brief moments that day when Blair was gone, he, too, had been cast out of the circle of life, the cold from his partner's body creeping inside him, freezing his terrified heart. And now that Blair was ready to step back into the magic circle, he felt the living warmth finally return, the gentle glow, melting the last icy vestiges of that nightmare by the fountain, unchaining his heart. Together, he and Blair had so much to celebrate.
Jim knew with perfect certainty that no part of Blair should be passed over in this celebration. There was nothing about him Jim wasn't grateful for. He also knew that he had to love Blair with everything he was, his whole body, his mind, his senses, an open heart. Because there was no part of him that didn't belong to Blair. It was such a simple truth. It stunned him that he'd somehow managed to remain blind to it for three long years.
Because he'd wanted to be blind. But not now. Not ever again.
He leaned over Blair, supporting his weight on one elbow. He kissed Blair's forehead, his cheeks, his chin, the tip of his nose, the line of his jawrejoicing in the beautiful shape of the face, the underlying architecture of bone, the warm skin, soft and tender in places, stubble roughened in others. He ran a strand of Blair's hair between his fingers, reveling in the texture, following the sensual curls as they flowed like water across the cotton pillowcase. He rubbed his face against Blair's chest, a ritual movement both solemn and joyous, praising the beating heart pulsing with Blair's excitement, the warmth radiating out from his center, the catch of breath in Blair's lungs as he gasped with pleasure. Jim took it all in with a glad heart, giving thanks for the precious life so miraculously restored.
It amazed Jim how one person could be so much, could be everything. How he could find the cosmos in the bend of an elbow, the perfect arch of a foot, the sweet hollow of a hip, a smooth muscled stomach that dipped and trembled at every slight touch of his breath. Or how nipples could be so warm and responsive and alive that he couldn't tease, tongue, nibble, kiss, suck them enough. Or how a cock could taste so sweet he wanted to worship it with his mouth, his lips, his tongue, forever. Or how strong Blair's ass cheeks felt in his hands as he squeezed and caressed them, cupping them as he guided Blair's body, rubbing it against his own in the most intimate, exquisite pleasure.
Jim had not forgotten the delicious fantasy he'd had when he first realized this was what he wanted from Blair, what he needed, what all Sentinels and Guides were destined to be to each other. Now, he had told his Guide and helped his Guide and earned his Guide. Now, he had won the right to fill his senses with Blair, to let that vital essence sink into him and become part of him, as much as his own bones and blood and sinews were. He opened his senses fully to his beloved and welcomed that sweet knowledge. He drank in the lovely sight of a wild, frenzied, aroused Blair spread out before him. He relished Blair's delicious flavor as it exploded on his tongue, the tang and zest and sweetness that were his beloved. He worshipped with his touch all the various textures of Blair's body, rough and smooth, warm, downy, tender. He took in the unique scent that was all Blair, a complicated tangle of spice and sweet herbal essences and something dark and rich like the good earth after a summer rain. And every one of Blair's gasps, moans, sighs, screams of pleasure echoed in his hearing, struck a chord in his soul, at last, the music of the ages.
Blair was never one to be left behind at a party, and he gave as good as he got, Sentinel or not. As Jim learned him, so he learned Jim. As Jim took in the sight, smell, scent, touch, taste of him, so Blair returned the favor. He threw himself into their lovemaking with a zeal only a man so recently returned from beyond the pale could have managed. He had at last found the way back, and he gloried in it, dedicated himself to its pursuit with all the enthusiasm of his nature, extolled the pleasure, praised the love, reveled in it, consecrated himself to it with a near religious fervor.
In their coming togther, Jim and BlairSentinel and Guideforged anew an ancient and primal bond, one that had existed among the chosen pairs of their kind since the world was young. They shared their bodies and their pleasure, opened their hearts and their minds, took each other as mates, partners, Sentinel and Shaman, holy dyad, now and always.
Coming down from his euphoria, it took a while for Blair to realize that the body beneath his was shaking. He turned over and found Jim trying to choke back the sobs.
He caressed his lover and pressed a kiss over his heart. "Let it go, Jim. You told me it was a courageous thing to do. I know you're that brave. We're both long overdue for this."
The tears had been inside Jim since that moment at the top of the stairs when he just knew, and finally, their time had come and he set them free. He pressed his face into Blair's beautiful, silken curls and sobbed. Blair held him, as Jim had so recently comforted him, letting his love cry, a good long while, until it was all gone and the heavy, heavy weight was at last lightened.
At some point, Jim managed to choke out, "Oh God, I love you so much, Chief."
As Blair petted the spiky hair at the nape of Jim's neck and smiled into Jim's shoulder, he answered,"I love you, too."
"There any coffee, Detective?" Ramsey asked, sounding as if it wasn't the first time he'd posed the question.
Jim snapped back to himself. "Sure, Ramsey, pass me your cup."
He had to get his mind off Blair and back on the job. But he couldn't get over it. It was just the most incredible thing. Coffee percolating. The sun coming up. People going to work. The everyday fabric of life went on just the same, as if nothing had happened. But something had happened. And he was so changed. Jim Ellison would never be the same again.
That morning, lying in bed, watching the sun come up, he'd held Blair, still sleeping, in his arms, and he'd had his first inkling of just how different things were. He'd hardly recognized himself, and that gave him a moment of terror. Pansy ass queers. Fucking faggots. Tinkerbells. Fairies. Homos. Perverts. He'd never used those ugly words against anyone, but still they'd lurked in the dark underbelly of his imagination, a sad legacy from his father. It had pretty much been a minor miracle he hadn't turned out to be the same kind of hateful bigot. So nothing in his life could have prepared him for falling in love with another man. But it's not just any man. It's Blair. And he's my Guide. And this feels bigger than sexual preference or anything remotely personal.
This feels right. Like it's meant to be.
Blair had eventually stirred and opened his eyes and realized where he was, who he was with, what they had done. And froze.
Jim had tightened his hold on him. "Are you sorry?" he'd asked, feeling like the world was standing still until he got his answer.
"No," Blair had said, sounding tentative and a little scared. "Are you?"
Jim had shaken his head. "No. I really meant it when I said I love you."
Blair had smiled then, and it was the good old days back again, the smile reaching those beautiful blue eyes, filling them with light. "I love you too."
They'd held each other for a long while after that, saying little, becoming used to the new thing between them. Finally, Blair had gotten up to take a shower, to get ready to go to the university. They both dressed, and Jim had walked him downstairs. There was no one around, and he'd kissed Blair goodbye at the door. It was a sweet kiss, a hungry kiss, a kiss full of the promise of things yet to come. A kiss between men.
And he was William Ellison's son. And the sun had risen the way it always did. And the world was still turning, just like any other day. And nothing would ever be the same again.
"Okay, Detective, thanks for the coffee. I'm gonna go relieve Hardy out back."
Jim nodded. "Sure. Okay, Ramsey."
The officer grabbed his hat and went out the side door. Jim settled back down to his coffee and the paper and recollections of last night that made him grin in a rather silly fashion to himself. But the tranquility didn't last long. All at once the ordinary fabric of time ruptured, diverging in an almost schizophrenic way, everything rushing into sudden, manic fast forward, but somehow still managing to feel like every millisecond was an eternity. His senses spiked off the chart with danger, and he recognized its source this time. He raced into the living room in time to see two figures dressed in black, both wearing ski masks, just as Elizabeth had described, just like the thief in the Oberon security video, in the process of kicking in the front door.
"Get down!" he screamed at Elizabeth and Sam, who quickly dove behind the sofa. He took up a strategic spot, shielded by the big chair, positioning himself between the intruders and the frightened couple. He hurriedly pushed a button on his cell phone. "This is Ellison. We're under attack. Need emergency backup. Now!" he managed to say, just as the shooting started.
The assailants were using semi-automatic weapons, and it was like watching the room explode as they sprayed bullets everywhere, sending glass shattering, wood splintering, the stuffing from the sofa and chair cushions billowing into the air like a freakish snow fall. Where the fuck is that backup? He traded rounds with the perps, but they had taken up positions on opposite sides of the room, both partially protected by curves in the wall, making it next to impossible to take out either of them, even with the accuracy of Sentinel shooting. He could still hear both Sam and Elizabeth's heartbeats, racing with terror, but both of them still alive and well, at least for the moment. This is not going to end this way, damn it! We're getting out of this room in one piece. I did not find my way back to Blair just to have that bitch ruin it again.
Unfortunately, the fates were not fully cooperating with him. He heard the empty clicking sound as his gun ran out of ammunition. Shit!
The shooters stopped firing, the one giving the other a sign, her Sentinel senses having picked up the noise, realizing they were now defenseless. They advanced on the three of them. The one seeking revenge headed toward Jim. The other, who was simply doing a job, targeted the couple. Jim could see her eyes, blue ice, determined, without humanity. Blair had said it would come down to something like this, and now, three months later, it had. Sorry, Chief, God am I sorry. I wish it hadn't turned out this way.
Thankfully, the fates were fickle in their favor. The black clad figure aimed the gun at Sam and would have fired if the rifle hadn't jammed. He then tried to use it as a club to hit Sam over the head, but Elizabeth was too quick for him and too angry. She landed a good, solid kick to his groin, with all the protective fury of a Sentinel whose mate is endangered. That distracted Jim's nemesis long enough for her to hear the sirens with her Sentinel hearing and do what she did best, look out for herself. She left her partner crumpled on the floor, clutching his privates, howling in pain, as she dove through a window, rolling skillfully to her feet, getting away. Again.
Jim got up, taking out his handcuffs, when another shot rang out. "Get down," he screamed at the couple, who were just picking themselves up. They both threw themselves back to the floor.
"It's okay, Detective, I got him."
Jim looked up and saw a red stain spreading across the intruder's black shirt, just over the heart. Ramsey stood in the doorway, gun in hand.
"Sam, Elizabeth, go to the bedroom and get your things together. We need to get out of here as soon as possible," Jim told them, unable to miss Elizabeth's horrified expression as she was forced to walk past the dead man on her way out of the room.
Jim stalked over to his fellow officer, incensed. "Shit! What the hell was that, Ramsey? The perp was already down. And you could have easily hit one of us."
"I saw him going for his gun. It was still in reach."
"It was jammed."
Ramsey looked down at the gun in his hand, his expression changing. "Oh, shit. But how was I supposed to know that, Detective? I see a guy going for a gun with an unarmed officer and two civilians in his sight, and I react. What else am I supposed to do?"
Jim shook his head. "Yeah, okay, Ramsey. That's enough for now. We'll let Captain Banks sort it out when he gets here. We still need someone securing the perimeter. And the perps got in here somehow. We need to find out if we've got officers down."
"Sure thing, Detective. But you are going to back me up on this, right? Tell the Captain I was only trying to look out for you and the doctor and her husband?"
"I'll tell him everything I know, which includes that I had my attention focused on Dr. Knowlton and Mr. Crawford when the shot was fired. I honestly don't know if he was going for the gun or not."
"Why would I lie, Detective?"
"Nobody's accusing you of lying, Ramsey. Maybe you got a little carried away in all the excitement. Who could blame you? It looks like a battlefield in here."
"Thanks, Detective. I knew you'd see it my way."
Yeah, Ramsey, I see more than you think, buddy. And I hear a lot, too.
A swarm of cops stormed through the door. "Jim, are you all right? Where are Dr. Knowlton and Mr. Crawford?" Simon demanded, worried.
"I sent them to pack up their stuff. They're both shaken, but still basically in one piece."
"What the hell happened here?"
"Two assailants. All in black, wearing ski masks, just like Dr. Knowlton described. Semi-automatic rifles. Kicked down the front door. Our guys out front?"
"Webster's on the way to the hospital with a gun shot wound to the stomach. I'm afraid Patterson didn't make it."
"Shit! That bitch is not getting away with it this time! Just thank God Blair wasn't here."
"What are you talking about, Jim?"
"I'm afraid I know who's targeting Sentinels, Simon. It's Alex Barnes."
"No, Jim, that can't be. Surely she wouldn't come back to Cascade when she knows every cop in town wants to take her down."
"I know it doesn't make sense, sir. But I'm sure it was her. I've been having these strange episodes with my senses since that day on the roof. Just before the perps broke in, it finally got strong enough for me to recognize it. It's the same terrible feeling I had the last time I ran up against her. And that's not the only problem we have."
"You mean the fact that no one could possibly have found this place unless they were tipped off by somebody in the PD?"
"And I have a very good idea I know who it was. We had the perp down and disarmed when Officer Ramsey finally shows up, after several minutes of very loud gun play, and he puts a bullet in the guy's heart."
"To keep him from talking?"
"That would be my guess. And he lied about it when he said the guy was going for his gun. And who was supposed to be watching the mysterious doctor that day up on the roof when he got away?"
Simon nodded. "I see where you're going. I'll have Rafe look into it."
"We need to get Dr. Knowlton and Mr. Crawford to a new location as soon as possible."
"Already arranged for. As soon as they're ready to go, we have a patrol car waiting to take them."
"And we'll need just our people on the detail this time. It's gotta be cops we trust."
"I'll see to it," Simon agreed.
"And Simon, as a personal favor..."
"What the hell? Jim!" He heard Blair outside, slamming his car door, starting to panic, breaking into a run.
"...I'd appreciate it if you didn't mention to Sandburg that Alex Barnes is involved in this. We're in here, Blair," he called to his partner.
"Jim" Simon started to protest.
"Oh man, what the hell is going on? God, are you okay, Jim? Sam and Elizabeth? Oh shit, are they..." he asked in a breathless stream, nearly hyperventilating as he noticed the sheet-covered body on the floor.
Jim took Blair by the shoulders to steady him, turning him away from the dead perp. "They're fine, Chief. Just slow down and catch your breath. Everything's okay, I promise."
Simon took stock of Blair's wide, wild eyes, his pale face, his shaking hands. "We'll do it your way for now, Jim. But I'll be monitoring the situation," he said.
Jim nodded. "Thanks, Simon."
"Take it easy, kid. Only the good die young, and that means Ellison's gonna live to be a hundred," he said, clapping Blair on the back.
"Very funny, sir," Jim said, as Simon left to make the security arrangements at the new safe house.
"It's not funny, Jim. You could have..."
He squeezed Blair's shoulders. "But I didn't."
"This was way, way too close, man."
"Try not to think about it, Chief. You'll only make yourself crazy."
"How the hell am I supposed to not think about it?" he demanded and then lowered his voice to Sentinel range. "I love you, Jim. I don't want to lose you."
"I know, Chief. And I love you, too. And when I have you alone again I'm going to show you just how glad I am that I made it through this today."
Jim smiled, running his hands up and down his partner's arms. "Absolutely, Chief. And I never break my promises."
That earned him a tentative smile, and Jim felt the hard knot in his stomach begin to unclench. He'd just gotten his Blair back, and he didn't want anything to cause a return to the silent, angry, heartbreaking Blair of the past three months. He would do anything to prevent that, including piss off his partner by withholding information from him. And if Blair stayed upset much longer, Jim was going to lay a hug on him that would be the talk of the CPD for years to come, and as much as he wanted to comfort his lover, he didn't think either one of them was ready for that.
It took about an hour, but the turmoil finally calmed down. Elizabeth and Sam were safely settled at the new house, with teams from Major Crimes taking turns backing up Jim and Blair. Rafe and Brown had the first watch, and they'd taken up positions around the house.
"I can't tell you how sorry I am this happened," Simon apologized to the couple.
Sam shook his head. "We appreciate all you've done for us, Captain. We know it's not your fault they're still coming after us."
Elizabeth had not been able to sit still since they'd arrived, her tension coming out in excess energy, as she paced the room. "Do you think Sam would be safer if we split up, Captain? It's really me they're after. I don't want him caught in the crossfire."
"Beth! Forget it! There's no way I'm leaving you. This topic is not up for discussion. You hear me?"
"Sam, we have to do whatever will keep us the safest. Tell him, Captain."
"Well..." Simon stalled, not wanting to get caught in the middle of an argument between husband and wife, much less Sentinel and Guide.
Blair followed Jim into the living room from the kitchen, where Jim had been double-checking security. "What do you mean you want me to go back to the loft? No way, man. Not without you."
"Chief, this is not up for discussion. This just became way too dangerous for me to take a chance on having you around."
"Well, duh, Jim. Guess what? That's when you need me the most. I can help you with this."
"Do you know what it would do to me if something happened to you? I almost lost you once. I won't risk it again."
"Me too," Elizabeth agreed, turning to Sam. "So maybe I only thought I lost you, but it was real to me. And I never, never want to go through that again."
"Simon, tell him he's finished on this assignment," Jim begged.
"Tell him he'd be safer if we split up," Elizabeth pleaded.
"Great! Now all the Sentinels are freaking out at once," Simon muttered under his breath.
"I heard that!" Jim and Elizabeth said in unison.
"Of course you did," Simon said with a heavy sigh. "Listen, I'm not getting in the middle of this. And Sandburg never listens to me anyway. And I'm betting stubbornness is pretty much a universal personality trait of Guides everywhere. I can tell you that the location of this house is known only to Major Crimes staff. Nobody else. The Commissioner himself doesn't know where it is. So you should all be safe here. Other than that, I'm going to leave you to sort it out amongst yourselves. Ellison, I expect you to check in every two hours."
Jim nodded, and Simon saw himself out.
Blair held up a hand. "Don't even mention it again. I'm not going anywhere without you."
"Me either," Sam told Beth, leaving no room for argument.
"You are one headstrong man," she said.
"So are you," Jim told Blair.
Sam kissed his wife on the cheek. "Yeah, well, that's why you love me."
Blair only smiled at Jim.
Elizabeth continued to pace the room, without any regard for the carpets, the crawling feeling only growing worse by the minute. "There's something I have to tell you."
"I think I already know," Jim said.
"You felt it too?"
"Have you felt it before?" she asked.
"What are you guys talking about?" Blair wanted to know.
"The bad feeling is back?" Sam asked Elizabeth.
"With a vengeance," she said.
"Wait, so you're having the same kind of sensory warning Jim is?" Blair asked.
"Apparently," she said. "When did you first start experiencing it?"
"On the roof," Jim answered. "But today was the first time I really understood what it was."
"Me too. And I remembered when I'd felt it before. And I finally understood something I was remembering that was all muddled. There was this name going around in my head, but I didn't know who it was. But that's who kidnapped me. That's who broke into the house today, the one who got away. Alicia Bannister."
Blair gasped and all the color left his face. "Oh my God!"
"You know her?" Elizabeth asked, surprised.
"As Alex Barnes," Jim explained.
"Oh no. Oh Blair, I'm so sorry," she said.
He shook his head, getting control of himself. "You knew, didn't you?"
Jim couldn't look him in the eye. "Yeah."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"I didn't want you to have to go through that again. You just finally dealt with it. I didn't want there to be a setback."
"Jesus, Jim, give me some credit. Is that what all this big production about my going back to the loft was all about?"
"She almost killed you once, Blair. I have to protect you this time."
"Well, back off, man. I'm not some fragile flower here. I can deal."
"You weren't there today, Blair. It was like all hell broke loose. I just don't want you to get caught in the middle of that. Okay?"
Blair sighed. "Okay. But next time, don't leave me in the dark, man. That's not the way to look out for me."
Jim nodded. "All right. I promise. Next time, you know what I know."
"Elizabeth, can you tell me what you remember? How did you meet Alex Barnes?" Jim asked.
"She came to me as a patient. She said her name was Alicia Bannister. She was very agitated, complaining about heightened senses and terrible headaches. But somehow she just gave me this very bad feeling, and even though there was nothing amiss about her vital signs, I didn't quite believe her."
"Why?" Blair asked.
Elizabeth frowned, trying to put her finger on it. "She just seemed a little too...eager to tell me about her senses. None of the others ever reacted that way. In fact, they'd go to almost any lengths to avoid it. I usually had to put on a little demonstration of my own abilities to get them to confide in me. I mean, I'm a psychiatrist. They didn't want me to think they were crazy."
Blair's eyes went wide. "Others? You've worked with other Sentinels?"
She nodded. "They just started showing up about three years ago. There have been nine in all so far. I don't know. I think it's my role somehow in this whole Sentinel thing. Helping other Sentinels when they first get their senses, helping them understand what's happening to them, until they find their Guides. At first, I just thought it was a coincidence. I treat trauma, and that's how many Sentinels acquire their senses. Not to mention the fact that the senses themselves can be pretty traumatic at first. But after a while, the sheer numbers made that impossible to believe. There's just not that much coincidence in the world."
"So that's what you meant about proof," Blair said, understanding at last.
"Yes. I'm sorry I didn't tell you then. But I've never shared this work with anyone but Sam, and I couldn't quite trust myself to make that decision when my memory was still clouded and my judgment in question. I promised all the Sentinels I've worked with that I'd keep their secret, that I'd protect them. I just had to be sure."
"No, I understand," Blair said. "So, Alex gave you the same bad feeling she did Jim?"
"This feeling," she said. "This horrible unnerving agitation, like I'm just ready to jump out of my skin. I've never been so freaked out in my life. And you have to understand, I'd never turned away another Sentinel. I'd never seen one of our kind as the enemy before. My first instinct was always to help."
"But not her," Jim said.
She shook her head decisively. "This morning after the shooting I remembered something else. A dream I had, after Alex came to my office the first time, before she came back for me. I was in the jungle, and I had a bow and arrow. And there was paint on my face, some kind of pattern. And I was hunting this spotted cat, tracking it, through the underbrush. And we came to this temple in the heart of the jungle, and it had all these elaborate carvings of..."
"Jaguars," Blair finished the sentence for her.
"Yes. Well, at least some kind of big cat, like the one I was hunting. How did you know?
"You all have the same dream."
Elizabeth raised an eyebrow at that but went on. "When we got to the temple, the spotted cat...the jaguar...turned into the woman from my office, Alicia Bannister, or Alex Barnes it seems. She was desperately trying to get away from me. She tried to go into the temple, but the doors were locked against her. She had nowhere else to run. And I was standing there with the arrow pointed at her heart. And I didn't feel angry. It wasn't remotely personal. I just knew she had to die. And I did it. I pulled back the bow and shot the arrow...and I killed her."
"Wow," Blair said finally.
"You never told me," Sam said very softly.
Elizabeth closed her eyes. "I never wanted you to know. It was such an appalling image. I was so cold about the killing."
"It was a dream, Beth. It was also deeply symbolic. The kind of thing I need to know. So I can help you."
"I realize that now. And I'm sorry."
He looked like he still had plenty to say about it, but let the subject drop for the moment.
"So none of the other Sentinels were like Alex?" Blair asked, needing more confirmation.
"Not even remotely. I meant it when I said that Sentinels are called for a higher purpose. I worked with nine of them, and they all have that built-in programming, to serve the community, to protect, to use their gift for other people's benefit. Alex is the aberration, Blair. You weren't wrong about Sentinels. Think of it like a birth defect, missing genetic information. Somehow, she got the gift without the innate sense of responsibility that's supposed to go along with it."
"It never bothered you having other Sentinels around your Guide?" Jim asked, trying to judge his own feelings on some kind of spectrum.
Elizabeth exchanged a glance with Sam, who smiled. "Actually, it did. That's something I learned as my work went along. When I first started helping other Sentinels, I tried involving Sam in it. He'd done me so much good. It just made sense. But it made me so uncomfortable, so edgy that we decided it was be better if I went on alone. Before talking with you, Blair, I'd just thought it was some kind of jealousy, since Sam's my husband, or a boundary issue, needing to keep my personal and professional lives separate. But now..."
"You think it's something inherent in the Sentinel-Guide relationship?" Blair guessed.
"It's the only thing that makes sense. I mean, it was always okay after the Sentinels found their Guides. And this is fine now, having Jim here, perfectly comfortable. It's unbonded Sentinels that unnerve me. I've been trying to explain it in some scientific way. But now, I think it's too large for that. It goes against my grain as a rational-thinker, but I have to believe..."
"That it's destiny," Sam said.
"One Guide for each Sentinel," Blair added.
"Always and forever," Jim whispered, putting his hand on Blair's shoulder.
"That's why Sam could never help any of the other Sentinels like he did me. He was a Guide, but he wasn't their Guide. I had as much success as he did. I could give them a baseline of control, enough at least to keep it manageable. And that was always enough, because their own Guides would just show up, not long afterwards."
"How?" Jim asked.
She shrugged. "I have no idea. Somehow the Sentinels found me, and the Guides always found their Sentinels. They'd just mysteriously show up in San Francisco, for one reason or another. One came from as far away as Malaysia. And somehow they all ended up at my office. One came in to ask for directions to the Embarcadero. It was a very weird thing."
"It's so weird it's almost impossible to believe. And that says something coming from me," Blair said.
"You said it, Chief," Jim agreed, teasing his Guide, who then elbowed him lightly in the ribs.
Sam smiled. "I know it's an amazing story, but it's all true. It's like some kind of magnetic attraction. Sentinels and Guides always just seem to find one another. And recognize each other on sight."
"Like we did," Elizabeth said, reaching for Sam's hand.
"And us too," Blair said, smiling at Jim.
"Even though I was kind of hard-headed about it at first," Jim admitted, taking Blair's hand.
"Better late than never, big guy," Blair whispered.
"I'm just glad it wasn't too late," Jim said, brushing Blair's hand lightly with his lips.
Blair blushed beet red. "Um, big guy..."
"It's always a sexual relationship, isn't it?" Jim asked, turning to Elizabeth.
She nodded. "In all the pairs I've known. So I take it this is a new development for you guys?"
They both nodded.
"Congratulations!" Sam said, and Elizabeth smiled, happy for them.
"Thanks," Blair said, blushing again. "Actually, you're the first people to know."
"Then we're honored," Elizabeth said, and then her expression changed. "I should have known about Alex. I should have put the pieces together sooner."
"Don't do that to yourself, Beth." Sam put an arm around her shoulders.
"But she didn't have a Guide. She told me she'd had her senses for a number of months, and it's never been more than a matter of weeks, not in any of the Sentinels I've seen."
"You think Alex went bad because she didn't find her Guide?" Jim asked.
She shrugged. "I don't know which is cause and which is effect. I don't know if she's evil because she's unbonded or unbondable, too malformed to get a Guide. I don't know if something went wrong, and there was no Guide for her or the Guide died or couldn't reach her."
"She was in prison when she got the senses," Blair suggested.
"So maybe that was it. But other pairs have found each other from continents away. I don't know. Maybe Alex was just born wrong, so the Guide couldn't find her or wouldn't accept her. The one thing that seems clear is that having a Guide is absolutely necessary for a Sentinel. Because when you really think about it, without a Guide to make it into a gift, being a Sentinel is just another form of insanity."
"Elizabeth, I need to know what you remember about the kidnapping," Jim said, as gently as possible.
She nodded. "I'll try."
"Don't push too hard," Sam told her, a hand on her shoulder. "You're still recovering. And I know you're still scared."
She touched his face, tears coming to her eyes. "Thank you, love. But I need to remember. We have to catch Alex."
He nodded. "I'm here. Don't forget."
"Thank you," she whispered.
Jim sat down opposite her. "Can you recall anything of the day you were taken?"
She frowned in concentration, closing her eyes. "I was working alone in the office, after hours, catching up on some paperwork. And these two people, all in black, with ski masks, burst in, and I had the same bad feeling I'd gotten from Alicia Bannister. And I just knew it was her. She took out something, and there was this funny sound, like air blowing, and a sharp pain in the side of my neck. And then nothing."
"A dart gun," Jim said.
"Alex has something of a penchant for indigenous South American weaponry," Blair explained.
"Then what do you remember?" Jim probed further.
Elizabeth hugged her knees to her chest, making herself small. "Well..."
Sam pulled her close. "I'll tell this part, if you want."
She nodded, eyes tightly closed, clutching his hand.
"They used drugs, post-hypnotic suggestion, deprivation and other brainwashing techniques to try to get her to use her Sentinel senses for criminal purposes."
"For killing," Beth clarified, her voice choked with horror.
"Jesus! She wanted to create a Sentinel assassin, the perfect killer for hire, to rent out to any terrorist organization with enough money to pay. That's sick, even for Alex Barnes," Jim said with disgust.
"If she can't destroy us outright, then she's going to try to turn us into what she is," Elizabeth said.
"But why come back to Cascade?" Jim wanted to know.
"She's compelled," Elizabeth said.
Understanding animated Blair's face. "It's what you once said, Jim. What are the chances of two Sentinel appearing in Cascade at the same time, both falling in with me. That's the explanation. She was here because of me."
Elizabeth nodded. "She needed a Guide. She couldn't find one of her own."
"She wanted to take Blair from me?" Jim asked, his voice half strangled with emotion.
"It was most likely an unconscious urge. But yes. That's probably why she gave you such a strong sense of danger, Jim. A rogue Sentinel in your territory, unbonded, seeking a Guide. It makes sense. That's why I had the same reaction to her. Most likely any Sentinel would have."
"But Blair...she tried to..." Jim couldn't finish the sentence.
"She's like a rabid animal. All she can do is destroy. She doesn't even have a true impulse toward self-preservation. That's why a real Sentinel would never kill a Guide. It's in every instinct, every last thing we are to protect the Guide. Because we can't survive without them. Sentinels are a breed apart. Only Guides can give us a link to the communities we're supposed to protect, to the world, to life itself."
"Oh God!" Blair gasped, his face filling with compassion. "That's why they planted the idea in your head that you'd killed Sam, isn't it? To punish you. For resisting."
She could not hold back the tears. "Yes."
Jim made his voice low and gentle. "I'm so sorry. That must have been hell."
The tears came harder. "Yes."
And Jim suddenly understood something else. "That's when you got really agitated on the roof. When Dr. Smith or whoever that prick was brought up killing your husband. Fucking bastard! He knew what that would do. It was like some kind of fail-safe suggestion, if something went wrong and they got found out. The evidence would destroy itself."
Elizabeth closed her eyes and nodded her head. "Yes."
"Because the only thing more painful to a Sentinel than the Guide's death would be to have killed the Guide. That would be truly unendurable," Blair said.
This time she could not even manage to speak. She had to settle for nodding her head.
"I'm sorry to bring back all these memories, Elizabeth. But I have to ask. Can you remember anything about the place where they held you, anything that would help us find it?"
She wiped away the tears, her shoulders still heaving. "Um...it's hard to remember. I woke up in this cinderblock room, no windows. A cage, basically. It seemed like a pretty big building. Like maybe a warehouse. And wait. I did see out a window once, when they took me to another part of the building. All I could see was countryside. Nothing around. I knew if I managed to escape I'd have to go pretty far to find help."
"What kind of country was it? Forest? Water nearby?"
She thought a long moment. "There was a field, kind of rocky. And I could see the mountains in the distance. And there was a line of trees. Evergreens."
"Okay, that's great, Elizabeth. I know it's hard. But you did great."
"You have to find her, Jim. We have to put an end to this," she said.
She leaned forward in her seat, her eyes glittering. "It has to be a final resolution."
"Beth!" Sam gasped. "Do you know what you're suggesting?"
"Yes, I do."
"This is a legal matter, Beth. The police will handle this. In a legal fashion," Sam insisted.
"You don't understand, Sam. I didn't understand either, not until just now. All this time, I've been using this ability in such a civilized way, but at its heart, it's not civilized. It has a code all its own, and it's the law of the wild. Animals won't allow a rabid one of their own kind into their territory. And they don't just chase it away either, because they know it has the sickness in it and will feel compelled to come back, at some point, sooner or later. There's only one choice if there's ever going to be anything like safety. It's a hard reality, but that's the way nature is. Ugly at times. Even brutal. All about survival."
"But we're not animals, Elizabeth. For God's sake, you're a doctor. You swore a solemn oath to preserve life, and now you're talking like some kind of vigilante. And the police aren't just going to chase Alex out of Cascade. She's going to jail, the way she should. And it's not your place to take justice into your own hands," Sam said, his voice getting louder and angrier with each point.
"But it is my place. This is so far outside the abilities of the criminal justice system to deal with, Sam. This is someone with super-human abilities who uses them to harm people. She's already murdered one person and indirectly caused the deaths of many more. Plus, she tried to kill a Guide. That's a crime against all Sentinels, and it has to be settled among Sentinels. Only we can stop her. Prison isn't safe enough. She could get released. I see it all the time. Dangerous people who manage to con the parole board. Or she could escape. She's certainly clever, and she's a Sentinel. It's not beyond her. We can't take that chance. We can't allow a rogue Sentinel to exist. We just can't."
"I know you've been though a lot, and I'm trying to understand. But I can't believe these words are coming out of your mouth. This is not the Elizabeth Knowlton I know."
Elizabeth's hands shook, and there was the chill of fear in her voice. But she couldn't, wouldn't, back down. "I'm sorry, Sam. God, I don't want to lose you over this. But Sentinels are my tribe. Sentinels and their Guides. I have to protect the tribe. It's not a choice. This is what I am."
He shook his head. "I need some time to deal with this."
"I understand," she said softly.
Sam left the room, and Blair got up. "I'll go talk to him."
Elizabeth nodded, grateful.
"You know I'm right, don't you?" she asked Jim.
He stared past her, out the window, trying to sort out the conflict stirring inside him, the ancient Sentinel instincts at war with the modern man who'd sworn to uphold the law. "Yes," he finally agreed.
"We can't leave anyone behind who knows about us. We can't leave any evidence. Nothing that might give someone else the same sick idea about how they can exploit Sentinels for some greedy purpose. It's the only way we'll be safe. All of us. You and Blair. Me and Sam. And all the rest of us."
"I understand. We'll do whatever we have to. To protect our tribe."
"I just hope my Guide can forgive me."