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A Guide's Duty

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A Guide's Duty

 

Summary: Professor Blair Sanduburg, comfortably settled in Boston, a respected lecturer in anthropology, is suddenly drafted to serve in the Wilds of the Northwest Territories. He must leave everything behind. Including the woman he is engaged to marry.

Originally Published: 10/20/05

Chapter 1

Dedication: For Alex/sylum Jim.
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"Uh oh." Was the first thing that came to Blair's mind as he dismissed his class and saw the knot of men waiting near the door, hats tucked precisely under their left arms, watching his students alertly as each one filed out of the lecture theatre.

The three of them, tall, straight backed, grim faced, all had an unmistakable military look about them, despite wearing civilian dress. And the sharp, too pale eyes....flaring nostrils, hair shaved high and tight on each side of their proud heads, up over their ears, no facial hair, white gloved hands....he knew they were Sentinels. Could be nothing else.

Blair prided himself on his powers of observation. He was an anthropologist, experienced in field work, archeology, linguistics to be sure, but his first love was people. If he had to pick a title, he would call himself a cultural anthropologist above all else. And cultural anthropologists spent vast amounts of time looking at their subjects, listening to them, and making evaluations based on those observations after wards. But even superficial observation was too much to ignore with these men, the conclusion too obvious to take long, the answer springing to his mind in an instant.

His eyes dropped to their waists. Sure enough, the gleaming curves were there, swords fastened to highly buffed, dark leather belts, polished, heavy, deadly weapons. And not tied into their sheaths. Coats short, not overhanging the blades, not in the way, nothing to stop the smooth movement of hand to hilt, to naked steel. Ready to be drawn, wielded. Sentinels under orders then. With permission to use deadly force to accomplish it. And they were here, in his Boston classroom. Waiting for him.

Professor Sandburg was a well known member of the Guide Society. A pacifist. He couldn't think of a single reason they might need to bare swords in his presence. Carefully he sorted his papers, stacking them with rather more attention that he would on any normal day, collected his pens, aligning them in a neat row and stoppered his inkwell. The papers he placed in his scuff -sided, once brown carry-all, the leather now so stained and scratched, splashed with years of ink spills, coffee stains, even a dash of whiting bleach discoloring what had once been an expensive gift given on his attaining professorship.

The last student reluctantly filed out, too intimidated to stay and ask Professor Sandburg his usual, post-lecture questions, glancing at the ominous men in awed curiosity, and Blair was suddenly alone with the men. All three were focused on him, he could feel it, without a flicker of doubt, despite the way they looked around the room, tilted their heads listening to things going on far away. He was their primary focus. He had no question. They approached him, slowly. Serious expressions not altering as he buckled his case and finally gave them his full attention, having no other excuse to absorb his concentration.

"Guide Professor Sandburg." The man in the lead said. He did not offer his hand to shake as any man not a Sentinel might. "You are being called to your duty." He held out a sheaf of ivory paper, thick, official, the sides perfectly squared, the massive seal of the Office of the Army-Sentinel/Guide Division blazoned red on the top sheet. A Sentinel standing at alert, a Guide at his shoulder. Intricate, yet simple artwork.

Blair took the pages, set them on the lectern table in front of himself, and looked from face to face. Despite the slight variations in skin color, the fractional differences in height and in body musculature, they were as all Sentinels were, as if they all came from one vast family. Some so alike as to be twins, others brothers or cousins. All tall, steady, slim, strong, classically featured, eyes penetrating, more pale than their coloring would suggest they should be. So a Sentinel with dark skin would have eyes more fitting for a man of far fairer complexion. It gave them all an intensity of gaze that rattled any they turned their full stare onto.

They waited, not saying more, and giving in, Blair turned his own attention to the orders he held, for that is what these papers were. Orders. Detailing him to go with these men, collect his belongings and accompany them to his duty station. A Match had been found. A Sentinel was in need.

Blair felt every drop of blood flee from his head, he smelled the whiff of ozone that preceded a faint. No. Not after all this time. It wasn't possible. Guides who matched did so young. He had been on the rolls in Boston since his fifteenth year. He had, and still did, put in his time at the local infirmary and clinic, meeting the needs of the unbonded Sentinels. Now, as he approached his thirtieth birthday.....now, he was called to Match? He shook his head, gripping the edge of the lectern, trying to steady himself, to catch himself before he fell.

Strong, gloved hands caught his elbows, keeping him on his feet. He looked up, his face dazed, he was certain. Blinked. No. it wasn't possible. He had a life here, he had given up the traveling, the exploration and digs, become a lecturer, a professor, started developing ties. He was to be married in six month's time, the Department of Sentinel and Guide Statistics had approved his application....and now...they demanded he leave all of it. And travel to the Northwest Territory. To Cascade. And take up his permanent Guide's duty there.

It was too much. He crumpled into the arms that supported him, the bright day going black.

 

Chapter 2

Disclaimer: The Sentinel is not mine. The story is too AU not to be.

 

Blair was still stunned, this second day traveling. The coach rocked side to side, it was well sprung, but the roads were heavily rutted by spring rains. His one, great traveling chest was tied to the roof of the conveyance, wrapped in layers of oilcloth, protected from the elements, the slashing rain which never ceased to fall since the inception of the journey. His carry-all was bedside him, one hand rested on it as he listened to the drumming rain and thought.

From the university he had been escorted home, protesting weakly at first, then more strongly as he learned the plan was for a departure that very evening. He couldn't possibly complete all of his business in one day! There was the university to notify, lesson plans to write for his replacement, the clinic where he served needed to find another Guide, his mother must know, friends, and..there was his Jacqueline...it broke his heart to think of her not understanding he had been forced to this abandonment of her....That he would have given anything so that is was not so.

One by one they overruled his objections, half carrying him to the coach as he argued, pleaded for an hour, half, then please just fifteen minutes, a quarter of an hour to tell his lady. It was not without cause that he was well known for his ability to talk his colleagues into anything. The stone faced Sentinels agreed he would have his fifteen minutes to bid Jacqueline farewell.

But as if to make him pay for winning they pushed him within the private coach and took him to his modest residence, where they stood over him as he packed. How could he chose the bits of his life to take, and what to leave behind....the artifacts so dear to him, attained from all over the world? The result of years of his labors...and so little of it would fit into a single piece of luggage.

He had been permitted only the briefest of time to go see Jacqueline, his fiancee, and once there, he had no time alone with her. He barely was allowed to pen a note, and have it sent ahead, hoping it would find her home, to prepare her for his arrival, while the men stood over him. His hand shook, the nib jumping over the paper, ink spitting. He folded it closed, sealed it, like sealing his fate. It was handed to a quick footed boy who raced off to deliver it.

Then Blair had packed. Clothing. A few books. One or two cherished knicknacks. Nothing more. His one trunk full. He had taken as many of his papers, research and ideas in progress as he could stuff into his carry-all, it bulged, and he was happy for the sturdy buckles that held it together.

As chance would have it, Jacqueline was home and dressed to receive him as he hurried to the door. The Sentinels with him, keeping him in sight, with him knowing they could hear every word he spoke, unwilling to give him more privacy. He was shown into the parlor, the three drifting after him, where his fiancee stood in front of one of the great, glass widows. A vision in white muslin, dotted with tiny purple, embroidered flowers. So lovely, so serene. His heart would break he knew, leaving her.

He spoke urgently to her, seeing the shocked incomprehension on her lively face, replacing the smile, the bravely firm chin as she heard that there was no hope for his return. Blair fought against the wave of rage that rose up in him. He wanted to waste none of the precious few moments.

Fifteen short minutes to say farewell. To know he would never see her again. If the order had come after the marriage then he stood a chance of being returned to her. But unmarried, without a legal tie between them...no. There was nothing to do, no way to countermand the order or to append it. No way to ask her to wait for him. Fifteen minutes and that part of his life was past, gone, done, over. He had nothing left. There would be nothing to return to.

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There was no time wasted after that, another boy to run a message to his mother's house. Though he knew she would not be home, that his note would rest on the sliver tray on her hall table, waiting for her to return. Perhaps a day, perhaps a week...perhaps....Naomi Sandburg was not a woman to stay in one place, or with one companion. She might not know he was gone until the Summer passed.

He was sharing his side of the coach seat with the tallest of the Sentinels. One James Joseph Ellison. A big man, unsmiling, serious, with the pale, unnerving grey blue eyes of a Sentinel. Shoulders as wide again as any man Blair would see on the streets of Boston. Big. Sentinel big. A physical man. Who's name was on the list that the Department of the Army had sent to him. As well as the other men's names.

Brian Calder Rafe, a fraction shorter, built spare, but strong, his face more handsome than Ellison's if one liked men who were so close to pretty, but the bone structure...so similar, the eyes a bit darker, but still light in his weather tanned face. His hands were large, a light colored scar across the back of one, his nails neatly trimmed, his coat undone, showing a brocade waistcoat with bright gold buttons.

The the last of the three, Christopher Michael Paul. With very white-blond hair, eyes the color of water, hard to look into, and in the right light entirely without distinction between the white of his eye and the iris. In the shade a pale, pale grey with a breath of almost olive green, still square jawed and classically handsome, looking like a cousin to Ellison or Rafe. Apart from each other they would not bring each other to mind, but for their carriage. Yet together, there was that similarity that made them look like members of a family, though Rafe was so dark with lashes actually thick and black as soot, and Paul so Nordic pale, his lashed eyes looked like they were surrounded by a chill frost of snow when the sun lit them. Yet they were all notes of the same song, a mere octave apart.

Sentinels. Ellison a Captain. The other two men Lieutenants. All military as Blair had suspected, known, from the first. All assigned to travel to their own duty stations in the Northwest Territories, popularly called the Wilds in common conversation and the tabloid news.

All three listed in his own Orders, called his escorts, along with a page of others garrisoning there at the City Fort of Cascade. And listed again, later on the very last page, filled in on the line at the top. As ~his~ Sentinels.

That was not possible, he had never seen the like of it. But each man listed was a soldier, a Sentinel posted to the Territory. And Blair was on his way there. With no way to know who he was assigned to serve, who he was Matched to. Or if, in a cruel and unbelievable twist of fate, he was being called up and sent to Cascade to work in another clinic, unMatched.

He shuddered. He would not believe it. He would not be called all across the nation, in the interest of national need, simply to open a clinic. Forced to surrender his future wife, for no Match at all. His mind drifted in that nightmare, and he called out once, sharply in distress, half waking. To soothing murmurs that eased his mind without understood words.

Large, gentle hands spread a blanket over him, tucking it in around his shoulders and legs. He might have startled at that, but he was too tired, emotion wrung out of him, draining his usually abundant energy. Warm, he slept.

 

Chapter 3

Disclaimer: The Sentinel is not mine.

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When Blair woke it was not to the unending swaying and jostling of the coach.

He was in a bed. He was warm and as comfortable as he could be on a soft, well cushioned mattress that was not his own, flatter, firmer one. A sparkling ray of sunshine was dancing over the blanket that covered him, bright and cheerful. It was quiet all around, and he felt an abrupt sense of disorientation. His room had never been so light this early in the day, or without the sounds of the street going on below his window every morning, voices and the sound of carriage wheels passing over cobblestones.

This room was smaller, less crowded, with fewer furnishings. Besides the bed it had a table, one chair, a nightstand to the right of the bed. A blue/green tinted glass stood on top of the beside table, more than half full of water. Blair licked his lips. He was thirsty. He reached over, lifted the glass, and drained it. Cool and fresh. It slid down his parched throat like ambrosia. He sighed and set the empty glass back down, then lay back onto the pillow himself, blanket resting at his waist. He was attired in his nightshirt, though he was certain he had not been the one put it on, the buttons were done up to his throat, he always left them undone at both wrist and throat.

He rested on his back, blinking, trying to remember where he was, and how he had gotten there. And memory did begin to seep back in drips and drabs. Memory and sadness, deep and profound, a sense of great loss, of despair, bafflement, of having nothing under his feet to support him, his plans for the future negated, changed, irretrievable. His past gone as if simple, blowing smoke dispersed.

Jacqueline. He had believed he was incapable of the attachment needed to be a good husband. He had remained single, without a truly serious relationship in his life, a life of travel and no one place to call home, until Jacqueline. For her...he had given up the digs, the trips. The other female companions. For her he had taken a far quieter, far steadier position at the university as a respected lecturer. It took him quite by surprise to find himself willing to do so.

He had almost had it. The life he'd been denied as a child, a youth and an adult. He'd nearly been a married man, with the prospect of children, a loving wife, a home to come to each night, a hearth. Love.

So close. But it was not to be. Stability was not in his future it seemed. Not even in the papers that bore his orders to report to the Northwest Territory and act as a Guide there. The orders gave him no name to look forward to, no hint of who his Match might be. No idea of captain, corporal, general or king. No security. Like every other year of his twenty nine so far. Nothing to hang on to.

He sat up at last. Not wanting to continue on this line of thought, for his heart felt squeezed, his eyes burned, and he could nearly see her, standing as she had, bathed head to foot in the brilliance of the sunlit room, glowing as he left her behind, no woman more beautiful to him in that moment of utter loss.

He stepped into the small adjoining washroom and pushed the door shut. Water filled a pitcher on the stand, he poured it into the basin and disrobed. He washed his face, surprised when he water ran clear, no dust of travel. No grit. He touched his hair, hanging in long curls around his shoulders, let out of it's queue. Soft, clean, shining when he pulled a lock forward and stared. His hands were without a trace of dirt, nails perfect, pristine. Impossible.

He might have washed his hands or his face quickly. But not his hair. He extended a foot, looked at it, pale and spotless. Definitely not his feet. So someone had washed him, dressed him in his night clothes and put him to bed. He dropped the wash cloth into the basin, grabbing on to the edge of the stand, trying to still the trembling that seized him. His face stared back at him from the looking glass, white as milk, stark with shock.

It was some time later he managed to drag his mind back to practical matters. He shook out the wrinkles from his nightshirt, slipping it back on over his head. Took a breath, schooling his face to calm, and opened the door. He stepped back into his room, knowing somehow he was not alone.

There, between him and the dazzling window, where the drapes had been flung wide and the full blaze of the morning let in, stood...he couldn't see exactly who, but one of the sentinels.

Bent down low over the bed Blair had only shortly risen from, hand smoothing over the sheets, slowly, as if soaking up the lingering heat of his body. Blair froze in the doorway to the washroom, his breath catching in his throat refusing to escape in the form of words. He tried to see...dark hair or light, and he could not be sure as the man straightened. Stepped away from the bed, and set pants, socks, shirt, waistcoat and underthings on the end of the mattress.

"Breakfast is ready." The whisper barely carried to his ears. And the sentinel turned, was gone, but not before Blair saw the way he lifted his hand up to his face, scenting the one he had touched Blair's sheets with. His eyes, bled even more colorless by the sun, closed as he turned away, and shut the door.

Blair looked down, at the clothes laid out, his hands fisted in the front of his nightshirt. His heart thundered, racing with primitive terror. He had seen eyes like those before. But not on any human. There had been a time in the jungles of South America, when he had come face to face with a great hunting beast. A jaguar cat. Whose eyes weighed and measured him like the eyes just now. He was being pursued, scented, tasted, he was prey.

'Oh my God", he thought. 'Oh my God."

 

Chapter 4

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Sentinels had saved the world.

Blair was familiar with that argument. It was used, over and over, as an undeniable assertion to justify all the laws, the very rigid laws, that governed countries around the world who had become Sentinel dependent.

Blair couldn't argue against all of the sentiment fueling the laws, some were true enough, Sentinels had kept the law and peace in conflict after conflict, defending their people, and their territory, but he didn't think Sentinels were thus so much better than everyone else. He wiped the shaving foam off of his chin with a damp cloth, then dried his face. He tugged his collar into place, fastening the last stud button.

In fact, working at the clinic in Boston and meeting a good dozen of the rare creatures, or at least rare in the cities, he found them a rather stern and unsmiling group in general. Hardly the glorious, uplifting heroes they were held up to be. They were, he admitted, self-sacrificing though, and dedicated, almost single-minded in the pursuit of their duty.

Yet, he didn't believe that the myriad gods created Guides to serve Sentinels and therefore the public good. He didn't believe the single purpose of his life should be to wait on the whims of a super-soldier and lawman, living day in and day out, just to keep the man he Matched happy, healthy and effective.

It sounded to him, he reluctantly accepted the obvious comparison, more like the difficult lot that women had in the world. To care for one man, a husband, to serve and obey, to bear his children, keep his house, and welcome him home whenever he should chose to come home. To voice little in the way of opinion unless asked by a man, nor to offer complaint at her lot. And to question nothing her husband should choose to do. And those were the luckiest of women. Others had not the security and respect of marriage, their lives were far more difficult.

He shuddered at this morose turn of thoughts. He himself had been ready to bring his adored Jacqueline into such a restrictive role. And he had looked forward to the day, the moment, of their joining with burning eagerness. But was it fair, ....would it have been fair to her? To limit her in that singular way? Was she not deserving of more? Would she have wanted more?

He sighed. Folly to think of it. It was now out of his hands to have any role, not friend, not husband, not worshiper from afar, he had no place at all in that wonderful, serene woman's life. If anyone on Earth was to ever bear his children and physical love, it would not be her. His heart cramped wrenching-ly. He straightened his bow tie, spreading the ends, blinking away the sheen of blurring tears that made it impossible to see his reflection clearly in the wavy reflecting mirror, even with his wire-rimmed glasses now perched securely on his nose.

His hair was pulled back in a snug club at the base of his neck. Tied tightly, concealing its length and giving the impression of short hair rather than lush and long. He tried to sense if the look made him look older, more masculine more mature. He really couldn't say. He sighed out his frustration.

The one thing he was sure of in the midst of all these abrupt, unwelcome changes, he wasn't in any way ready to deal with any kind of relationship. He hoped fervently the travel to Cascade would take a long, long time. Because once there, he was going to have to accept the fact he was Matched to a Sentinel, a man he'd never met, didn't know, and he would be expected to offer all of himself to that man. To offer a Guide's duty.

In the mean time, Blair was determined not to offer any encouragement to any of the Sentinels escorting him. He did not want to wake some night and find one going beyond the mere sniffing of his sleep-scented sheets. He did not want to wake with one making love to him, taking him as a Sentinel takes a Guide.

Blair clenched his hands again, giving himself a last look in the glass. He turned away, went to draw on his well worn boots, now shining with new polish. He always forgot to polish his boots. Not thinking further down that line, not letting himself remember other hands had done so, he jerked them on, tied them. Straightened up.

He also was well aware that he was in the minority with his views. Most of the citizens of the world believed that Guides should be compelled to serve. And be honored by the service. It was inconceivable that a Guide should object. It was a privilege to do their duty, as the Sentinels did, without dissent. That, by the accident of genetics, the Guides were made, as they were, to compliment Sentinels, to compensate the Sentinels in some way for the service and protection they conveyed unto mundane society. That Guides should give up their freedoms, freedoms held as their right by all other citizens.

Blair swallowed hard, wiping the new, bitter-salt tears from his cheeks, refusing to allow any more feeling sorry for himself. At that very moment his stomach rumbled as if to scold him for taking the time he was to dress, instead of racing downstairs to the breakfast that even he could smell cooking down below-stairs.

He pulled on his coat, heading down the stairs. He had to eat, after all.

He had to face them sometime. Face the one who had been in his room, who's eyes had devoured him where he stood, vulnerable in his nightshirt, his bare skin beneath the flannel, dimpled in shock. He swallowed hard. He would feel a bit better, if only he was sure of which one it had been....who had looked at him so.....hungrily.

 

Chapter 5

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The rocking of the coach lulled him back into thoughts he'd rather avoid. The inside was dim, the shades drawn and tightly tied against the clouds of dust kicked up by the coach's spinning wheels as they raced over the dry roads.

The Sentinels were quiet, all three busily looking over their separate stacks of papers and orders. With heads lowered, faces partly obscured both by poor lighting and by the angle of their positions, they looked nearly like the same man three times repeated. Blair found it disconcerting having to think and remember who sat where.

Ellison, the captain, was across from him today. Rafe next to him, Paul next to Ellison. Blair sighed. He'd been trying all morning and into the afternoon to figure out which man he'd seen stroking his sheets. He was no closer to telling which it was after all these hours of ruminations. He wished he had the courage to simply ask outright. But...they were all strangers, really. For all he knew their names. He didn't feel he knew them.

They had scented his distress at breakfast. His frustrated tears, too, he supposed, though he'd wiped them off and rewashed his face since. He sat in the chair Lt. Paul pulled out for him. There were marks on the floor, lighter spots where the legs of the table had sat for a long time. The table had been shifted. Positioned to give the Sentinels a more strategic angle should trouble show itself.

Blair looked around. There was a clear, open path to the door leading upstairs, and room to move between the wall behind him and their chairs. There was also room to tip the table on it's side if they might need a shield. Not one of the Sentinels fully had his back to the front entrance. And he was placed between two of them, Captain Ellison and Lt. Paul. If required they could seize him and hurry him away. He felt a grudging gratitude for the care to his safety.

He'd heard tales of Guides being abducted. Guides being far rarer than Sentinels. There were, in the less civilized regions, tribes of Sentinels who would pay well and risk much for another Guide to add to their group. In the cities the Sentinels were far more human-like in their behaviors. But Blair knew of many an account to the feral nature of Sentinels. Not all Sentinels were civilized by mundane standards. Some were definitely more animalistic in custom than human. Led to return to their primordial roots of nature by the power of their spirit guides.

Before he could even think what to say, or if he should say anything about the behavior of the Sentinel who had been in his room, a plate of poached eggs, crisp bacon, and a mound of potatoes, fried to crispy perfection, with plentiful peppers and slivered white onions was put in front of him, fragrant steam rising. He shot a distracted smile at the apron-ed girl who had brought the treasure to him. Then the yeasty, hot smell of fresh bread reached him, and saliva filled his mouth as the wooden plank bearing thickly sliced, dark bread was plunked onto the table, followed less than an instant later by a pot of soft, whipped butter.

Beyond his conscious control his hands grasped a nearby slice, the heat warming his anxiety chilled fingers, and he dipped into the butter with his knife, spreading a layer of the welcome, rich topping onto the slice he held. And following that with glistening, tart, orange marmalade, filed to bursting with shavings of orange slices.

His eyes closed as the clean, mildy acid, sort of sweet taste of citrus and creamy butter blended in his mouth. He hadn't eaten since yesterday. Not remembering at all the arrival to the hotel, or being put to bed. And this, was bliss. The bread was chewy, flavorful. Heaven.

It was the silence that hit him, popped his eyes open. He stopped in mid chew, eyes searching for trouble, a reason for the abrupt silencing of the small talk that had been flying in a low undertone between the three Sentinels who were his escort.

Lt Rafe was staring at him, fork half lifted above his own plate. Pupils dilated until his whole iris was hidden, blackness only, huge, for once not starkly brilliant, eerily glowing in his tanned face, not oddly pale. Blair swallowed hard. This was the look the Sentinel in his room had given him. It was Rafe who'd been there....Blair was as certain of it as if the man had given his name and signed a confession. Blair swallowed convulsively. Then he swallowed again.

Turned his gaze onto the other men, opened his mouth to accuse, to tell them what Rafe had done. And how he felt about it. Outraged, violated. Unwelcomingly feminine. Helpless as a woman. Without recourse. The words died in his throat. He had not expected this. He was shocked into a weird deja vu.

His gaze met only more black, dilated eyes. Looking at him. Each set exactly the same. He pushed away from the table, hands jittering. Made to stand, wondering if he could, his knees were knocking together so hard....when Ellison blinked. His eyes going back to normal, well...as normal as a Sentinel's eyes could be. And Rafe, Blair checked, Paul...all normal. Gone so fast, those black gazes, that he wasn't sure he'd really seen them. Or if it was his fear enhanced imagination that had conjured them.

A hand rested on his arm. Gentle. Reassuring. Keeping him in his chair. Other hands, powerful Sentinel's hands, passing him coffee, juice. Sliced tomatoes. Faces fractionally changed. Sympathetic. Caring for him. He felt...restrained. He felt comforted. He felt hindered. He felt safe. And terribly, terribly unsafe.

Blair wasn't sure what he felt. The coffee was wonderfully bitter and hot, almost scalding his tongue. Providing him with a reason for the tears that sprang despite his struggle to stop them. He dabbed at his streaming eyes.

Oh god. What was he going to do? What could he do?

 

Chapter 6

Chapter summary: Confusion reigns, Blair begins to get an idea of what he is facing out west.

Disclaimer: The Sentinel is not mine. Of course not, just the dabbling differences I've written.

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Blair sorted through every bit of paper he had in his hold-all. All of it was filled with writing. Small, cramped writing. Every square inch. Every corner had words squeezed onto it, front and back of every page. He had nothing left to write on. Unless he started to write in the margins of his books. Books though, were expensive, rare and cherished. He wasn't quite desperate enough to stoop to adulterating their valuable pages.

But, he bit his lip. He might change his mind in a day or two. He should have thought of it, bringing more paper. He knew that he had to put his thoughts down. It was an obsessive need in him. To write, to consider, to analyze, and all of it in writing. Now....god, especially now. After what was happening, had happened. Would happen again, he had no doubt.

The stupidest thing he'd done in the rush to leave, was to forget any money. His pockets were completely empty. The military Sentinel escorts were paying for everything. And he felt pretty strongly that to ask them for anything...well, he couldn't. He didn't want to be in their debt. As it was they were housing and feeding him. Humiliating. He swore he would do nothing to add to the debt.

He hurried into the washroom of the fourth hotel they'd stayed at since the journey started. He no longer felt quite comfortable undressing in the rooms he used. And tonight was the worst night yet. His shirt hung, what was left of it, in tatters. And he was left with the impression it might have been far, far worse.

They were in a small Texas town tonight. A town with more than its share of rambunctious and drunken men. Miles from the large cities. Miles from help. Some of them, the men...unbonded Sentinels. Drunk to keep the pain of being without a Guide at bay.

Blair was shocked. He'd never met a Sentinel who was not law-abiding. An enforcer of the law. But, what he'd seen...done...had to do....he shivered. It was a nightmare. A living hell. Not for him, though his role was difficult to be sure, but for the Sentinels.

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Blair, climbing down from the coach, stretching his aching back after being lifted down from the coach despite his automatic protest that he could get down perfectly well all by himself. Sentinel hands ignored his protest. And once on the ground, feet firmly planted, he'd bent and stretched his aching back. Feeling he couldn't wait another second before doing so. Why should he think anything of it....?

But then he'd heard a crash off to his left. He looked over, the noise hadn't been all that loud, and saw a man sprawled on the plank sidewalk. Groggy. After having just walked into the side of a post. Blair stared. The man stared back. His eyes hot, icy, incredible blue. A tongue licked his lips, tasting...tasting...him. Blair whirled around, frantic.

No.

No.

Oh no. His hands were shaking. He felt as if a vise was around his chest. He panted. Glanced up, saw more eyes fixed on him. Hungry. Strange, too pale eyes...his stomach turned to lead.

Sentinels. More than he'd ever seen at one time in Boston. A dozen. All around him. He shivered. Oh gods. What could he do? They were acting....

He was lifted. He yelled out, struggled. Turned in terrible fear, every muscle bunched, ready to fight, to scream and punch...and he saw Ellison's face, serious, stern. Most importantly he saw the Sentinel was in control. There was no light of madness in his purposeful gaze.

The captain was carrying him, arms like steel bands around him, pinning him. Up the steps of the hotel. Inside. Behind them followed Lt. Rafe and Lt. Paul, swords drawn, held in preparation of use.

Quickly left behind, two boys were retrieving the luggage from the coach, ignored by the Sentinels, not Guides, not important. Blair hid his face. His fingers dug into Ellison's shoulder, his hard arms. Held on. Shamed by his own cowardice, but it was too much, he'd seen the want on those dozen faces. Seen the need. Ravenous. Like wolves that hadn't fed in a very, very long time. And after seeing that, he sought security. Safety. Ellison's arms were both. For now.

What was going on? How had the Sentinels been reduced to such a state? Were there no Guides here to care for them? See to their need? A dozen unbonded Sentinels...and there had to be more. No way did Blair believe he had seen them all. Where were the Guides?

Because of the confrontation, Blair ate in the room that had been taken for him. A Guide's room he was told. Without windows. He'd never heard of such a thing. With only one door. A prison cell. With heavy locks and hinges. And his three escorts in the room with him. One might leave every now and again. Usually Ellison. But he wasn't gone long. Then the Sentinels would talk, in that nearly silent way they had, every time Ellison returned, they talked.

At last it was Blair's turn, Ellison approached him. Blair watched him come, sitting nearby in a chair, one of four the manager of the hotel had brought in. The captain faced Blair.

"How are you?" He asked quietly. His lightly tanned face set in an expression that might have been concern. His pale eyes fixed on Blair's face, met the Guide's darker blue ones. Waited. Patient. Lt. Rafe opened the door, slipped out, the white blond Paul locking it behind him. Not watching Blair or Ellison, but he could hear, Blair knew. He heard every word.

Blair shook his head, swallowed hard. Turned his eyes back onto the tall man sitting in front of him. Just far enough away that the internal alarms pounding away in Blair's chest didn't alert. "Scared." He admitted. "I am scared. Those men..." He didn't finish the sentence. The Sentinel nodded.

"There are few guides out this far from the east coast. Guides like cities. Civilization. Comfort. Sentinels prefer the open land. Are needed further out from the cities. In the wilds." It was more than the man had said to him in the four days of travel. Blair stared. He opened his mouth to reply...had no words to offer....then....

"What is going to happen?" He asked in a small voice. His hands wrung each other. Worried and twisted. He asked the only question he found that needed answering right away.

"You mean now? Tonight?" Ellison asked, watching his face carefully. Blair thought that the other could see even the smallest change of expression on his face, might as well read him like a book. He could see everything, Blair had no hope of hiding anything from him at all.

"Yes." Blair said. He also wondered about a week from now, a month, a year...But tonight was enough to ask, for now. He watched as the other man considered the question.

"Tonight...can go one of two ways." Ellison told him plainly. "We can kill some of them, maybe all who are in need of a Guide. The ones who are mad with the need, and have no hope of control. Perhaps thirty men in hard need."

Blair made a horrified noise. Thirty! So many! Dead. To be slaughtered by Ellison, Rafe and Paul. Killed. Or his escorts..they hardly stood a chance with so many opponents. They would be killed and he....What hope would he have alone? None.

Ellison's hand came to rest on his forearm. Big, brown, strong. With long fingers like iron. Blair felt the power in them. Saw the fine golden hairs on the back standing out against the tan. He made no excuse for reaching out, and seizing that hand. For taking it is his own and clinging to it. And nor did he deny the want he had to climb over the inches seperating them, to crawl up into the tall Sentinel's arms. To be safe.

"The other way it can turn out...we can negotiate. Buy them time. Give them hope that Guides will show up here in the future. That their government has not abandoned them. Has not forgotten them." Ellison put his free hand over Blair's, his calloused palm warm.

"But...but...I saw their faces. They were...not sane." Blair blurted out. He didn't think such men, reduced to an animal state could be reasoned with. In fact he was sure they could not be. They wanted to tear flesh from bone, not sit and parley.

"You have worked in a clinic. Surely you have seen Sentinels in need." Ellison asked. His face was puzzled.

Blair thought back. To the Sentinels he'd only thought were in desperate straights. They had been nothing like the Sentinels he'd seen outside today. These men, the ones outside....were not the same at all. He didn't feel safe with them. Didn't feel the call to heal them, to touch them, to take away the need he felt burn in them.

He had taken care of Sentinels in the clinic. And they'd thanked him for it. Politely. None of them had made him feel like food. Not a person.

"Thirty." Blair whispered, nausea rising in him. "Thirty is...so...many."

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After, he still felt them too many. Unbonded. Desperate. Fighting with every ounce of humanity they had remaining not to hurt him. Not wanting to do him harm. While primitive need demanded they devour him, possess him.

He washed, obsessively. Scrubbing them off his skin. Knowing that the three Sentinels in the other room could smell each one who had come to him on him. Even if Blair could not. But he remembered each one. All of them. Reaching out. Shaking. Burying faces against his throat, his skin, his chest, tongues licking at him. Teeth scraping. While he shook in first Rafe's supporting arms, then in Paul's and finally when he came close to screaming out loud, in Ellison's arms as the hungry Sentinels knelt, reached out, and covered him.

Peace. The power of Captain James Joseph Ellison. Was peace. Blair was shielded from all that need. Supported. Held. Cradled. While the last of the Sentinels came to him. Butting up against his bare flesh, his torso. Rubbing him through his trousers. But he wasn't going to let those be taken off, unwilling to be fully naked. He would have that much to cover him. Little as it was.

Hours of it. Hours of reaching out with trembling hands. Touching them because at last he understood what pain was, felt the enormous ache of need they shared with him. He feared them, pitied them, cared for them. Hurt for them. Ached. Cried with them. With each. And they treated his tears like purest gold. Sipping them from his cheeks before they could dry, savoring the saline drops like finest wine.

He had endured it. His shirt torn, shredded. His socks gone. His waistcoat...the first to go. Little bits taken by each Sentinel, scraps of cloth impregnated with Blair's scent. Guide scent. The smell and taste and being of a Guide, warm and offering comfort for when Blair would leave. And again the town would have no Guide. No one.

It was honorable. It was far more than what Blair had done in all the time he worked at the Boston clinic. That had been nothing compared to these hours. This night. What he did here. He knew it, as it happened. He knew that here, he saved lives. Here he fought off madness. For thirty men on the brink. He was the only cure. The only help.

And then. It was over. Lt Rafe closed the door on the last one. The last Sentinel had turned and bestowed Blair with a look of such grateful thanks that fresh tears had started in the Guide's eyes. The door closed after him, after his ice blue stare.

Blair pushed up, away from Ellison. Grabbed his nightshirt. And fled into the washroom. A temporary reprieve. He knew that once washed, he would have to come back out, into the sleeping room. Back into the company of more Sentinels, his escorts. No one had to tell him that they would all be there, and that tonight, Blair would not be able to chase even one from his room. Tonight, they would all sleep in the one room.

There wasn't the slightest chance of anything else.

Blair scrubbed at his skin.

 

Chapter 7

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Blair lay on the room's only bed.

A Guide room they had called it. A dark room without windows and at night with no lamps lit, only the thin line of light from the hall coming in under the door and the weak glow from the little guttering candle burning low in the wash room nook...it was dark.

And quiet. Blair barely heard the sounds of breathing from his companions also in the room. Sometimes he was sure he was imagining the sounds, that he was alone in a soundless, light-less, breathless space. He did not like it. Not at all. The very quiet made it impossible for him to relax or sleep.

He had just gone through one of the most trying and important nights of his life. His mind was attempting to both analyze and to forget what had happened here, on this very bed. Even if the sheets had been changed, the men long gone, shuffled out, the door closed and locked, guarded by one of the three remaining sentinel's in the room...Blair couldn't forget.

His body sang with the memory. With the sensation of those reverent yet terrifyingly hungry touches. The feel of body after body, aching with need, reaching out to him. Some out of control, trembling, kept in check only by the swords of his escorts at their throats.

The sensation he couldn't deny, the feel of hard arousal pressed into him, into his belly, from the outside, not raping him, but he had thought...he had to admit to himself he had thought about it the other way. He had thought of what would have happened to him if he was alone. If he faced thirty sentinels alone, and they had taken him, claimed him. Penetrated him, fucked him. Killed him. He could not have survived it, a frenzy. He shivered, his hands clenching into fists, shaking.

He remembered eyes, despairing, empty, greedy, painful, hopeful, joyous, disbelieving, afraid...eyes with every emotion he could possibly name, each a bit different, no two among the thirty exactly the same.

He lay on top of the only bed, as if his limbs were frozen in place, as if the room just waited for him to move, anticipated it, and he feared that anticipation. He could hear the breathing of the other men in the room with him. Or he thought that he could.

Sometimes the silence seemed to weigh on him, a vast weight, his ears filling with no sound but his own breathing, the thump of his own heart. Terrifyingly loud, drowning out everything else.

In this room, a few hours ago he had experienced one of the worst times of his life. He had been here, held by each of his escorting sentinels in turn. As he let thirty men, starving for the want of a guide, in here, let them come to him, lay hands and bodies and teeth and tongues on him, on his skin. On him they left dots of blood, spit, sweat, semen, the tang of fear, of hope stretched painfully thin to near breaking.

The scent of the other men was gone, washed from his skin until it was red, until in some places under his nightshirt his skin burned where he had scrubbed off the fluids they had left behind.

He thought back on what he had done, what had been done to him. The things he had seen, felt, heard, smelled and even tasted only a few hours ago. The sounds of men being tortured. Then given respite. Hands clawing at him, then smoothing his tangled hair as if they had never cherished any living creature more. Mouths fastening onto his skin with the power of leeches, then kissing him with utmost devotion.

He had, in this very bed, touched thirty men. And they had touched him. The only thing he had kept from them was intercourse. His body's sex, genitals, staying covered as he clutched that last piece of clothing, his fists iron hard. And the sex act itself. He had not given in. Not surrendered that last thing his bonded sentinel had the right to ask of him.

These men though, sentinels sure, but not his bonded. He hadn't given that last thing to them. They had been strangers to him. He wondered if they still were, now he remembered each and every one, vividly clear. Each burned into his memory he thought, he believed, images forever stored there.

There had been so many, hands both soft and work hard. Hair of every color, some dusty, some clean and crisp. Men young and men old, with wrinkles cutting deep into their classic sentinel features, or fresh, sweetly perfect, youthful skin.

All looking like the men who escorted him, all looking like fathers, brothers, cousins, uncles and sons of a single, vast, extended family. All with the preternaturally pale eyes that looked too deep into his own. Not one would touch him without the looking. Without meeting his frightened, stunned gaze.

He recalled eyes that held pain, loss, joy, hope, desperation, and a need so deep it ate at him, turned him inside out, made him weep to see it so many times in so many souls. Why, he asked. Why? They were abandoned here. Why?

Some had been more empty, some filled with madness that eased only when they touched him. Lay on top of his body. Licked him and sniffed him, expended on him, rubbed their thick fluids onto his bared flesh. It burned his skin to remember all of it. How they sucked at his body, drawing his skin into starving mouths, bit at him as if they would wish to eat him. The aching want, the sharp need, the trembling bodies on top of his own.

They were gone now, the strangers. Only three sentinels remained in this room with him. Three who's breathing he wondered if he imagined. Three who had suddenly become not strangers, but in comparison, familiar. Known. Safe. Three who had been there with him through the long line of men, who's swords had protected him, held the worst at bay, who's arms had given him his only shelter in those hours.

He strained his senses, wishing he were a Sentinel. But he was only a Guide. He could not see in the dimness, nor hear in the silence. He shivered with the anxiety of not knowing how alone he was. Had he fallen asleep for a moment? Had they left him? Was he alone even now, as he lay, listening for a sound? Any sound that he could grasp onto. Anything to tell him he wasn't the only one in this dark, close prison.

Then there was a definite sound. A rustle, oh so faint, but real. He almost sobbed his grateful relief. He was not in a dark tomb, the blackness a thousand ton weight on top of him, bearing down, choking him, crushing in its massiveness.

The darkness strangled him. It made him alone. Isolated. Alone. Blair hated the dark. Feared it.

A touch on his foot. He jumped, his whole body lifting in one great surge of adrenaline. A warm, roughened palm cradled his foot. Gods, he craved the touch. Needed to feel he was not the only one here. An anonymous touch better than none at all.

The hand held him, fingers wrapped gently around his arch, the ball of his foot. He felt his whole being stretch down to the point of his body where he was being touched. Where he was most assuredly not alone.

A thumb rubbed there, slow and careful over his toes, warming them, going over tips and each little, bony joint. It was heaven, exquisite. Methodical, but not mechanical.

Learning him, mapping him. And he welcomed it with his own aching hunger and need, different from a Sentinel's need, but not so very much so. Sweet in the comfort it brought Blair. Sensitive to each little spot that needed to be explored. Be warmed. Be pressed.

Blair had no idea which of the sentinels it was. Which was touching him there in the dark with such eerie knowledge of his bones, muscles, tendons and flesh. Which one it was who massaged his foot, with slow, gentling strokes. But he was grateful. His heart rate slowed. His breathing was less strained. His nerves loosened, no longer did he have to fight the urge to leap to his feet, to scream and weep and to run.

He was not alone.

He reached out with everything in him, without moving a single inch.

The one hand moved up. Slid around his ankle, up under the hem of his nightshirt. Contact that he would not dislodge for anything on Earth. Contact he had never in memory allowed or wanted or asked for from another man.

He let out a sob of relief. His fists relaxing on his chest where he'd held them, tight balls of anxiety, clenched against the night, the loneliness. Fingers loosening with a creak of tension easing. His arms fell to his sides with exhausted release.

He could see nothing beyond the faint glow near the door. He stared up into nothingness, every nerve focused on the one part of his body he knew, he ~knew~ was alive, singing with the contact of a hand coming out of nothingness, to wake him, to touch him. To save him from his own brand of madness. He was saved.

The sigh escaping his chest was a long release, shuddering. Every inch of his skin was aware of the hand on his leg. No cell in his body was not aware of it.

Then, a second hand touched him, found his wrist. Sleek as a serpent but far more welcome, their fingers oh so gradually entwining as Blair lay utterly immobile. Letting it happen. Making no move to stop it, no move to encourage it. Only accepting it with a need of his own that rivaled his need for air itself. The need of those Sentinels for one moment with a Guide. Their shared grip tightened, stopping short of pain, but firm, very firm. A second anchor, and he blessed it. Fell into it.

The two places he was being touched flamed on his consciousness. Became everything. Life and breathe and sanity. Safety and warmth and hope.

Sentinel and Guide. Together. More than any contact Blair had had in his life. More, though it was so hard to admit it. More than sex with the wonderful women who had been in his life. More than the kisses of Jacqueline. More than the caring arms of his mother when he'd been so small a boy. More than the friends he'd had over the years.

The touch of these men, these Sentinels, on him, a few square inches of contact, more than anything he'd ever had.

Blair lay unable to speak, almost unable to think. This was what he was. This. A Guide. Bonded Guide. All else was as nothing.

 

Chapter 8

Chapter summary: Voyage's end.

Disclaimer: The Sentinel is not mine.

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Blair leaned out over the ship's high, wooden railing. The salt spray from the waves slapping up, beaten into a white, emphatic froth against the hull, flung droplets onto his skin. He felt like laughing. He felt like he was flying, the wind strong in his face, blowing through his freed hair, whipping it into wild disarray around his head and shoulders. He felt free and vibrantly alive.

For now he could forget anything and everything, find a moment of utter peace and joy. The natural power of the wind and deep, green-blue waves was glorious. He laughed out loud, drawing a curious but indulgent look from members of the ship's crew who had learned that he was prone to such outbursts of happy laughter when faced with the weather and the sea, or the leaping antics of schools of fish, otters and seals alongside.

His coppery brown curls were corkscrewed tight with the constant exposure to dampness, when it dried his face was haloed by the salt frosted, glinting, thick fluff of hair, a soft frizz to the middle of his back, generous as a large, healthy bush and a perfect frame for his happy, shining, red-cheeked, pink-brown face. He discovered he loved the sea and travel on it. His enjoyment often took him to the rail, where he would stand and observe all the water around for hours at a time.

He was never without at least one Sentinel escort, more often two, and always a hand was on him, knotted hard in the waistband and belt of his trousers or in his suspenders, for he liked to lean far out as possible over the side and look into the water. He'd seen fishes and even whales as he did so, which he spoke of with unending excitement, until the next days' observations gave him something new to enthuse over. And the Sentinels, while they indulged his past-time, and listened to his speaking on the water, the creatures and the voyage, were not about to chance his tumbling, incautious over the side.

The voyage was coming near to it's end. Tomorrow midday they would arrive in Cascade, sailing into the wide, protected harbor. A city that, like all frontier cities, was dominated by Sentinels. Blair was looking forward to it, to the differences that would be obvious to his trained eyes, and to the more subtle differences that would take longer to find. He was also afraid of what it would bring. How his life would change on arriving in Cascade.

The journey, the travel would be behind him. Over. The adventure gone. This time taken in the trip had served to remind him how much he'd missed expeditions and new discoveries, new peoples, new places. He'd given it up in order to make himself a fit husband for his dearest Jacqueline. And now the ache of it, of not being the one to pursue knowledge and anthropology or archaeology any longer became a hollowness in his chest. A pain only just less the the pain of Jacqueline's memory, the vision of her standing, bright and ethereal in the sunlit parlor, as she watched him go. Leaving her forever. Having never kept his promise to her, to become her loving husband.

Jacqueline, the beautiful woman he'd so longed to marry was the past. Now, the thing that made his heart leap in his chest, rise to choke his throat...Cascade held the Sentinel that would bond to him. And it was the only blight on his experience of the voyage at sea. He wished the journey could have taken longer. Six months, a year, two...just...a longer time than it had. He feared this journey's end.

But, the reality was, it was almost over. He was almost at the end of his trip. He was almost arrived at his new home. Where he would reside as a bonded Guide. He sighed as he contemplated that. A life nothing like the one he'd had as an anthropologist, nor as a lecturer at the university. He felt his spirits begin to sag. His neck to bend with the weight of his darkening thoughts. With determination, he closed his eyes and lifted his face, which he'd allowed to drop to facing the deck, back into the misty spray. He smiled a little sadly.

Five days ago the ship had set sail from San Francisco's teeming port headed up the coast to Cascade's own busy port located a scant fifty miles from the older, larger port of Seattle.

In his hands as he leaned into the spray, Blair held a black, leather bound book. The cover was smooth, with a single, black panther tooled into the fine grained surface, tied tightly closed against the water. A journal, full of empty pages that he was just beginning to fill with his enthusiastic scrawl. It had been an unasked for gift from the Sentinels who escorted him from Boston. One day it had simply appeared atop his scuffed carry all, on a day when he thought he might go mad from having no place to put down his words and thoughts. On a day when he knew the last place to write, in the margins of his precious books, the defacement of said books, was his only possible relief. Blair had never appreciated a gift more.

His heart had swelled in his chest, and he'd beamed his thanks at the silent, efficient men who sat in the coach with him. He'd even felt a tear steal down his face. And they had, all three, watched him as he opened the book, stroking the unblemished first page with reverent fingers prior to dipping his nib in ink and putting tip to the finest, smoothest of creamy, off-white paper and beginning to write. They watched all of it with pale attentive eyes that he was sure held some kindness, some measure of affection, though not easily seen under the mask of sentinel stoicism.

That night he had not slept in the next Inn's bed alone. He wasn't sure who had shared his bed. And nothing resembling sexual congress had taken place. He wished in a way that it had. Then he would know at least, that one of these men was to be his Sentinel. But he was held in strong arms, against a muscular body separated from his back by only the thin cotton of his nightshirt, an odd feeling, but not unknown entirely. Out on expeditions there had been times of sudden, unexpected, intemperate weather, times when they'd all huddled together to share what little sheltering warmth they had.

The experience, that of not sleeping alone, continued. Every night, once the lamps were put out, he was cradled in arms, tucked against a heated body, his head pillowed on a swell of biceps, kept safe and sound as he rested.

The horror of the one town, with it's thirty ravening sentinels had not been seen to such a degree again. But in many of the little places they stopped, there were a few Sentinels without Guides to turn to. Gaunt men who looked on Blair with eyes of such pleading and hunger he couldn't turn them away. He never had to face them alone. He always took them to his skin surrounded by the protection of the three soldiers who unflinchingly watched over him. Who never allowed him a moment's fear of harm, or a lust, a need taken too far for him to bear.

Those times, the surface bondings and contacts with other Sentinels, were moments that both filled him with dark, depressing questions and finally, made him feel some degree of brightening pleasure that he could ease the pain on their faces. For the need for a Guide, the frantic hunger for one, was so great that even he could see it etched on the faces of those who came to him. It had come to the point that to send them away gave him a pain in his own heart, and he'd cupped more than one face in his guide-gentle hands before his escorts sent them away. And he wished there was more to be done, something more to offer them. A chance that they would find Guides of their very own. There were so many Guides in the cities. So many unbonded. Yet so few here.

He wrote in his book every chance he had, his rapid, small script fairly flowing from his pen. Recording all his thoughts, his feelings, his observations and his fears. The words channeled directly from his mind, to his pen, through the ink and onto the page. They came quickly, word after word, paragraph after paragraph, page after page both front and back with no hint of a margin left. Filling his time as he watched the land and sea flash by.

He was more at ease, comfortable now. Not resigned, but accepting. Yet how much better he would be if he could stay with these Sentinels, if he could travel with them forever. Knowing each day would end with them, one of them close and welcome in sleep, each day begin in their company, their careful care of him. Not talking much, for none of them were verbose, but living each day shoulder to shoulder. He wondered if women, as they were cared for, felt this peace and ease.

Of course he knew it had to end.

He saw the water streaming on the cover of his precious book and tucked it under the edges of his great coat. He leaned back from the rail, seeing the red, yellow, orange and purple of the setting sun paint the sky and the water as the day faded. He felt the welcome presence at his back. Strong and warm. Safe to lean against, to find support there. With long arms to hold him against the evening's sudden chill. The sea air cooled quickly. And the spray pulled heat out of bare as well as covered skin.

Blair looked out over the sea.

Less than one more day. A night and half a day. Then he would be in Cascade Bay.

He turned his face until he felt the smooth-shaved jaw of the Sentinel behind him make contact with his own forehead. The Sentinel's chin lifted to come to rest on the top of Blair's head, to settle in the mass of curls. Feet spread wide, steady, like a watchman, a shepard looking out for his flock of one.

Blair wished he could always feel as he felt this day.

Silently, they watched the sky grow darker. Sentinel and Guide in the moment, together. Until the darkness was everywhere, and the ship's captain called for night lanterns to be lit.

 

Chapter 9: chapter 9

 

Warning: Explicit M/M slash. Non-con. Mentions of het, but nothing explicit. Violence. Bloodplay. AU. Alternate history. I have taken dreadful liberties with the known characters....Squick alert, this chapter, especially....

 

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Blair looked up in the direction of the ceiling, not able to see it in the mostly dark cabin. It was a distant smudge of blackness in the swinging shadows cast by the sturdy, swaying, pierced tin ship's lamp.

He couldn't, sleep, couldn't forget that, in mere hours, he would be ashore. Passed from the set of hands he'd grown used to, into new hands. Away from the vague freedom he'd had at sea during the voyage to Cascade. It twisted something deep inside him, to think of being there. Of meeting the fate he'd traveled so far to fulfill. The fate he'd never wanted, but had not tried to actively resist. He had not had the courage to speak out and refuse. He'd given in to it. Plain and simple. Given in. No protest, no denial, no impassioned rebuttal. No doubt.

Would his life have been different if he had? If he had said no? If he said it now? Could he? Could he stand up, in front of the unknown number of strangers, in the new place, a place more theirs than his, and say no? He wouldn't surrender his will to them? To his unasked for fate?

He stopped the foolish sob as it rose in his throat. Stopped it before it could become undeniable sound, every rib, every muscle clenched down against its release.

Before this journey, before these men who he traveled with, he had not known what it was to crave touch on a level that spoke to instinct, to accept it as due him, unquestioned. He blossomed when he finally learned it, quite by accident, that turning into the arms that would not refuse him was his right. His Guide's Right. Given the tenderness that he could receive. From men. Other men. The warmth of it. Being held. Far more secure and safe in the hold of the Sentinels than he'd ever been at any other time in his life. A revelation. They enfolded him, gave him peace.

But. They would be giving him up. Giving him to some other man, some other Sentinel, who had been promised Blair, sight unseen, and who would claim him. With no hesitation, with no consideration beyond the promise of the government papers that gave him the right to do so.

The sob rose again, and again he fought it down. Squashed it as hard as he could trapping it in his throat a mere fraction from birth. Tight, so tight lodged there, choking him, searing its way through his chest with a determination he knew he could fight for only so long...and then it would win free. But still, stubbornly he fought.

Tears were harder, springing up, and fighting on one front to keep his silent grief, so hard, he couldn't stop the tears from brimming, from rising then falling in a cascade of crystal drops down his cheeks, sparkling with the thousand, glinting refractions of the barely lit lamp.

He didn't hear them come. Just felt it when hands found him. Felt the give of the thin pad of the ship mattress under their weight, heard the groan of the wood locker as it took the mass of hundreds of pounds of Sentinel muscle mounting it.

Stroking hands, and no protest from him when they stripped him, his clothing, his nightshirt vanishing in a wet, tearing sound. Cloth, damp and too cool washing him, fresh water cleaning off the salt of the day, missing nothing, no fraction of skin untouched, uncleansed. Taking with the sweat and salt, his last reserves, his last armour, the remnant of his strength. He lay beneath the ministrations, tears cutting newer and faster tracks from the corners of his open eyes, down across his temples and pooling in his ears. His body shaking with the sobs that had finally won, were finally uttered aloud, pain filled, wrenching.

One hand, big, broad and strong, knotted in his hair, tightening, bending back his head with fearsome gentleness, baring his neck, the vessels, the nerves, the skin pulled taut, held, and a face, dim, with eyes like chill coals coming down, closer, closer, until he closed his own, and surrendered with nothing more than a stuttering cry, his quivering need for this alien, unknown thing.

There were teeth and hands, unnaturally sharp....claws? How could there be? Not possible. He opened his eyes a slit, felt the teeth at his throat digging in, questioning his decision to surrender. Did it matter? He closed them again, and was bitten. Teeth worrying at his undefended flesh. Felt the tearing of his skin, the flesh opening to blossom red by utter sharpness, sinking deep. Nothing else existing, not his frozen goose pimpled body, not the chattering of his own teeth, not the sob that had finally won free, out into the air, unacknowledged.....just the unknown mouth at his throat, taking, the only thing, everything.

Then his feet burned. Cold turning to fire, burning into pain. Ripping, peeling skin. And tongues, licking. Mouths sucking. He lifted a hand, flailing weakly, unsure, not pushing away, not holding, not welcoming. Not doing anything but wavering in the air, untouched, above the back of the one who bent over him, mouth buried in his throat.

And they tasted him. That essence of himself, his blood, so strong. Fed on him, while he lay moaning, stunned. Unsure of what to do. What he should want to do. If he should try to flee. His hand fell down, bounced beside him on the bed. He blinked into puzzled dark. Breathing. Breathing. And the mouth at his neck pulled away, moved down, left him bereft. Colder still. The only points of warmth where their mouths touch, fastened, held.

He lay unflinching. His chest heaving, as he felt tongues winding over his wounds, the blood flowing into their mouths. He lifted his head. Looked down. Could almost see...
Yes. He could see.... Three heads bent over his feet, his ankles, his legs. Feeding on him. He made a sound, a whimper. What was it? Fear? Oh yes, it was fear. Need. Even more need than fear. A deep, resonant need. Desire? Yes. A selfish, hungry desire. For...? What? More. That was all. Just...more.

They looked up at him as he looked down, his body shivering where they left him bare and cold. Glowing, pale, luminescent eyes, from out of the dark, fixing on his own dark, blue, quite human eyes, licking their lips as they stared up at him. He could see their eyes every bit as easily as they could see his own with their Sentinel senses. He gaped at them. His tongue trying to moisten his dry lips. He saw, unmistakable, teeth flashing, longer, exquisitely, impossibly glistening, dagger-like teeth showing in the uncertain light. But not...not his imagination. No hallucination.

Then he let his head fall back with a groan. Shuddering. Feeling his whole body tense, shiver, and his breath come short. Panting. Sweating. As clawed hands held his legs, his feet, tightly gripped. And they bent back down to his flesh.

Feeding. Feeding.

Blair fainted, melted into nothing, becoming only darkness.

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He was warm when he woke. The cry of the sailors on deck that had roused him came again. The sounds of the ship coming to waking rang all around. The voices were calling that the harbor was in sight. Sadness surged in him. He wanted to weep at that cry of, "land ho!".

He turned, shutting his eyes, willing the day to go away, to vanish into nothingness. But sleep would not come again. Nor oblivion of any kind. He was awake. There was no help for it. His hands flexed into impotent fists, clutching hard. Flesh. Skin. Tightness. Pain, vague but present.

Awake and warm. Held in an embrace that kept him safe. Long arms twined round him. Lazy hands stroking him. Voices murmuring beneath the threshold of hearing. The lamp long since burned out, it's oil drained dry. From the small, thick glassed porthole, light came into the cabin. And Blair could see.

Sheets and blankets, clothing strewn about the floor of the tiny cubicle. Torn, shredded, discarded in a fit of madness. And bodies. Very close. Touching.

A Sentinel in front of him. White blond hair. Paul. The only one he could see. One behind him, who he could sense, not see, and one...who he lay on top of. Whose breathing lifted and sank under him. Held. Secure. Warm. Big hands on his hips, steadying him. On his shoulders. Petting the backs of his thighs. His arms. So gentle. So careful. So tender.

Tears started up in his eyes...and he remembered the night. Remembered, but couldn't believe. They had...eaten him, his blood. He tried to feel nausea, tried to feel betrayed. Those feelings slipped away from his grasp, no matter how determined his reaching was.

He groaned. Felt the three bodies surrounding him move as one being to envelope him, cradle him, soothe his distress. And he hurt. He felt them, all of the lacerations... at his throat, at his feet. On his thighs, at his wrists. Violation.

Violation. For what invasion could be more complete than being taken, as if food, blood drunk down, without asking? Yet. Blair, leaned back into the grip of the arms. Here he was. Not moving. Not fighting. Not wanting to get far, far away from the ones who had done this to him. To his body. Violating everything. All the trust.

He was laying still. His naked skin pressed to their naked skin on all sides. He remembered. Being tasted. Sipped. Torn. Punctured. Drained.

He remembered. Being cherished. Worshiped. Taken, his blood, supped....in sacrament.

He gasped, eyes going wide. Sitting upright. That... They... He...

They sat up with him, as if knowing it was what he would do even as he did it. Shifting with such measured and perfect ease, without one word, without needing to plan or to consult, until he was once again covered in warmth, clothed only by the bare skin of three Sentinels. Taller, larger, nurturing him in the cocoon of their bodies, so no frigid finger of air troubled him. His bare bottom cushioned on their thighs.

Here, in the faint light of morning, their eyes were not so strange. Not so different. Still sentinel eyes, but not the more than human eyes of last night. Blair lowered his face, rubbed his stubbled cheek against the nearest chest. Felt hands touch his tangled hair. Fingers wending through the long, lush locks.

"James...?" Blair asked, his voice small. Needing to hear reassurance.

Behind him, a chest rumbled. "Blair?" Breathed, just loud enough, just right, to be heard, and to keep the quiet peace of the moment.

And from two more mouths..."Guide."

Then. From the third, also, the one who had first spoken his name. "Guide."

And it was there. All there. More than his name. More. Ringing with the history. The ancient meaning, spoken with the awe of generations of Sentinels. For the beings who were everything to them. Who were the life and the breath. Who were the flesh and the blood.

Blair stared, both terrified and elated by the new understanding. His epiphany. His heart leaping like a mad thing in his breast. Here. Here was the crux of their secret mysteries. The very center of the world for the men called Sentinel. The men who worshiped the Guide. He lifted his right arm and looked down at it. At the wounds on his wrist. Then pressed his hand to the marked flesh of his damaged throat. Where fanged mouths had torn into him, pierced him. Brought forth his blood. His essence. That which was his life.

And theirs.

 

Chapter 10

Chapter summary: Landfall.

Disclaimer: The Sentinel is not mine.

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Standing was not possible. Blair discovered that when he swung his legs to the floor and tried to push himself upright. All the blood he had left sank to his middle, and his feet sent out streamers of pain. He fell back with a moan, very nearly a small scream if he hadn't choked it off, sweat dewing his skin.

The Sentinels didn't have to be told what was wrong. Paul was there, lifting his aching feet, Rafe smoothing the hair back from his Blair's forehead, fingertips trailing in the sudden damp of sweat. Ellison's face was serious, grave really, far beyond the usual stoic expression. And Blair would have spent more time wondering why if the next few moments hadn't been so distracting.

They bent down to tend to him, to wash him for the second time in just a few hours. Hands all over him, possessive, like they owned him, like he was theirs, treasured and cared for. His hair washed, dried and brushed until it shone, a mix of bronze, copper, and rich coffee brown, curling in wide swathes, crackling with the electricity of the brush until it foamed out and down his back.

Salve was applied to his freshly tended feet, to his wrists, his throat, and as he blushed in the day light, to the wounds in his naked thighs. All the handling done so competently, so like it was an everyday thing. Yet more, too, how they conformed to his need, held him just right, knowing him far more intimately than any doctor or friend who had ever given Blair simple, practical first aid. Clean dressings were wrapped protectively over every wound. His underclothing rolled on, care being taken not to dislodge the bindings. They found untorn clothing and dressed him. All but his shoes. For his feet wouldn't bear the constriction, he had to be satisfied with two pair of stockings.

The first view of the port left him breathless. What struck him was the color of the place. Out of the morning fog...brilliant blues, greens and reds shone. Bright yellows and oranges. Each building painted with care, well tended, nothing like the gray, broken down buildings and docks he'd seen in Boston and indeed in San Francisco where their ship had sailed from. Here...he gaped at the rainbow of colors, the last thing he would have expected in this city of Sentinels. He thought they'd like muted, sense soothing colors.....

Beyond the port itself, green hills peeked out, lushly covered with darker green trees, craggy hills and more of the town's large houses, the bright green of new grass flowing down the hills below the houses. People moved from here to there, carts, dogs, horses, and any number of other conveyances filled the glimpses he had of the streets. And on the great dock where they'd tied up, Blair saw the waiting Sentinels. Tall, upright, proud and silent. Every face turned towards them as they stood at the rail.

It was Lt. Rafe who carried him ashore. Across the gangway and down to the teeming shore. Blair felt absolutely secure despite the long fall off to either side of the plank and the shaky footing. Rafe's step was exact and certain. Unfaltering. He would not hesitate to sacrifice his own stability before he would let harm come to Blair. He held Blair with the care of a father his babe. And Blair felt as safe.

Long before they reached the dock, Blair looked out once again at the men who awaited them. All in uniforms of one rank or another, one branch of service or another. Red coated, blue, olive green, black. Brass buttons done up to their throats, swords at each man's waist, white gloves on large hands. Barely a few inches in height difference in the entire lot of them. Not one fat, not one short, not one not so obviously a Sentinel, not one whose blue, grey eyes didn't shine with inner light as Blair saw them fix on him, dark lashes painting a frame around each set, making them all seems so light, so brilliant, glowing like candles behind blue glass even in the sun, an odd glinting.

Rank upon rank of Sentinels. Fully three or four score of the men. All so very similar, with such pale blue eyes watching. Faces alert, watching him from the instant his head cleared the height of the rail, all the way down to when Rafe stepped with him, amongst his brother Sentinels. And without moving they enveloped him, sealing around him, Blair felt it, felt the embracing of the orderly mass, the wall going up keeping the outsiders out, closing him, Ellison, Rafe, Paul within.

Captain Ellison led the way, first off the ship. His correct and perfect carriage exactly precise. Blair watched his back, stiff, and was aware of a growing dread. Something was terribly wrong. Something...he craned his head back looking up at Rafe, at the shuttered face, the man who carried him aware Blair was looking, but refusing to look back down, refusing Blair information he needed. Blair tried to hitch himself up, to find a position that didn't make him feel so vulnerable. Rafe's arms tightened fractionally, like bands of steel, only just loose enough not to do damage to him, not to bruise.

The man Captain Ellison stopped in front of...Blair drew in a breath. All Sentinel's looked like family, but this older man...he was Jim Ellison in twenty years... He was precisely Jim's height, precisely the same eyes, the same mouth, the same skin under the weathering of a few more years. But Blair couldn't feel the connection with him, only the accelerated beat of his heart as he sensed....Blair pressed his mouth shut, trembling...no. No!

"General Ellison." Jim's clipped, deep voice addressed the granite features, confirming Blair's guess. "May I present Guide Blair Sandburg." He stepped aside to show Rafe carrying Blair. Ellison stood staring forward, eyes fixed, not looking right or left.

All around them Blair heard the indrawn breath, a sea of exactly coordinated indrawn air, unvarying in depth or duration. The moment of frigid disbelief. He couldn't call it anything else. He knew what they were doing...knew it...he wasn't sure how....and he knew it was bad. He fought the temptation to demand Rafe put him on his own feet. Rafe's arms were still too tight.

Something was wrong. Very wrong. The blank, hard face of the General was suddenly contorted with fury. Blair cringed back from it. From the raised arm, the fist...fast as a serpent lashing out.

The blow was not directed at him. It struck Captain Ellison driving his head sharply to the side. Something warm and wet splattered on Blair's cheek. Blood. Jim's blood. He stared at it when he drew his bright stained fingers back down from his face. Jim's blood on his face, Jim's blood trickling out of the corner of the mouth that had only last night been on Blair's skin, tasting him. Blair's blood. Blair looked at the blood on his fingers in shock.

Hands snatched him out of Rafe's arms. And another blow fell striking the man who had been carrying him. He was up over another Sentinel's broad shoulder, an arm hard under the curve of his hips, holding him firm. Blair whipped his head around, digging his fingers in to the heavy uniform coat of the man who held him, a blue coat he absently noted, as the crowd closed, concealing everything, he saw, barely, Lt. Paul go down. Heard the impact of blows striking. He screamed. And a hand came to cover his mouth. Careful, not punitive. He bit it, and screamed for them, for Jim, for Brian, for Chris.

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Blair woke, throat raw. He lay still, unmoving, looking up at a new ceiling. Sand colored wood, polished to a fine sheen, many years old, rich with the light and shadows cast by a fire. He turned his head towards the source of the fire.

In a wide fireplace, with red, iron rich rocks and a black iron work screen, painted with beaches, trees and mountains in the background, Cascade it had to be, the edges tipped with gold accents, the fire crackled behind it. A beautiful piece of workmanship, the screen. And again very, very old.

He was in a vast bed, pillows piled high, quilts snugged up to his chin. The light from the fire was the room's only illumination. It showed Blair the nearby things, the bed, the table alongside, a glass of water, brimming, but left the room's corners dim. Like secret nooks of a cave. The whole room reminded hm of just that, a cave, but dry, not damp, warm not cool...so not like a cave at all. Blair frowned, not understanding why he'd made the association, and why it seemed to stick so hard in his mind.

He reached out, took the glass and drank. Grateful for the cool wave of liquid soothing his parched throat. He gulped it convulsively, uneasy, in a hurry to ease the one need he knew he could. He set the glass back on the table, empty, and lay back, pulling the quilts higher, his uneasiness not abated with his thirst, rather..sharpened.

The chair drawn up alongside the bed was empty, but he knew, he was sure it had not been for long. The cushions were of a dark, red silk, a crimson so intense in was almost something more than a color. A scent, a flavor hovering. Fine silk embroidery covered the cushions, in every color Blair could imagine, creating a wild fantasy of myth and storytelling, monkeys, apes, birds, flowers, bears, and mythical beasts, ones that had never existed but in the artist's vivid imagination, in fireside tales of old men, frolicked across the chair. The nearly black wood of it set all the color off. The perfect frame. And ancient. Blair could feel the age of the chair. His anthropologist's instinct alerting him, making him want with near desperation to touch the wood, the silk and acknowledge it's antiquity, it's beauty.

He heard the door open and swung his eyes around. A man's figure came in, then another, and another, until five men were inside. Four in uniform, the last one in a robe, it's hem a fraction above the floor, a breath from brushing it's exquisite, silk edge on the boards. There was a shine at the neck of the robe, bare skin, and gold. Something thick and heavy and conveying position, authority as if the carriage of the man wasn't enough.

Brown, maybe dark blond hair. Blue eyes, of course, what else would he expect? Square, strong shoulders. A stance filled with a feral, brooding power even from across the room. Only the features hidden enough that he couldn't tell who the man was, if he had glimpsed him before. The firelight too distant from the man to show him to Blair's less than Sentinel gaze. But for certain, Blair had no doubt at all, it was not his Captain or his Lieutenants. Not his own Sentinels.

He swallowed around the obstruction in his throat, sitting up, wincing at the pull of abused muscles, healing lacerations, too aware of the tangled mass of his hair falling like a long cape around his bare torso. That quick he recalled the scene on the wharf, how he had fought to try to get to them, to Ellison, to Rafe, to Paul. To the men who had sheltered and cared for him across the continent, who he had learned to trust. And how he'd failed to get free, failed to help them, how he'd watched them struck down, while he was carried off, like a virgin prize over a conqueror's shoulder, like a rolled carpet, a sack of gold, hands holding him covetously.

He felt the bitter bile rise in him. Welling up to the same degree as he remembered his helplessness, his uselessness. And the awareness of what it meant. He was not a naive or stupid man. He'd traveled around the word to see as many cultures as he could. He knew what the treatment meant, even if his own government had not clued him in saying that he was to be given to a sentinel of his choosing. That he was to abandon his life, his dreams and go to the man they'd given title to him. His Match.

This man. It was obvious. This man who was pouring himself a finger of brandy in a round-bellied glass, who was savoring the expensive drink, rolling it across a tongue a thousand times more sensitive than Blair's could hope to be. This man was the Sentinel Blair had been sent to serve. He froze where he was, sitting up, hands fisted in the covers.

Gods. They weren't going to give him time to adjust. Time to forget the journey, the pleasant last days. The temporary joy. No time to forget that last night, when hungry mouths had explored him, bitten him, made him feel the most incredible things, things that he had not even imagined could exist between men. Not sex, no. But more. The had touched him deeper than sex, burrowed into his aching soul. They'd made him feel he'd belonged with them. To them.

And now. This. He watched in horror as the glass was laid aside, as the man turned to face him, the bed, watching him, seeing him as Blair could not. Seeing the shaking muscles, the tremors that Blair felt sweep over him. And the man advanced, the Guide's clear terror not making him slow or hesitate, not even pause as his big hands went to the robe's ties and loosened them. The role fell, caught by one of the following officers. A glint of light showed Blair the face of Jim's father as the officer folded the robe over his arm. Blair's eyes flew from the known face to the one he still couldn't see and back.

The man's body was muscular, large, without fat, just deeply cut muscle flowing one to the next, such a vast reserve of power, ominous, impossible to restrain against, to fight. Blair remained frozen, a tiny mouse in the huge bed, alone, helpless, again. White as milk, his dark blue eyes, beacons to his fear. Radiating it. It couldn't be missed.

And the man was on the bed. Bending down over Blair, pulling the covers from his nerveless fingers. Blair finally realizing just as the man was naked, so was he. Undressed and put to bed, washed and purified, his body unnaturally slick in places that should not be slick or wet or slippery. His eyes flew up to the Sentinel's. Hands took a hold of the caps of his shoulders and bore him back, down into the softness of the bed. So much larger than he, so overwhelmingly big, broad, wide. Moving between his legs, forcing them out.

The firelight at last, angled just right to show him the face of his Sentinel, the hard, handsome, cold face of the man who he knew in his heart was the wrong one to be doing this to him. The grey, ice-frosted blue eyes blazed.

 

Chapter 11

Warning: Explicit M/M slash. Non-con. Mentions of het, but nothing explicit. Violence. Bloodplay. AU. Alternate history. I have taken dreadful liberties with the known characters....

Chapter summary: A Guide's Duty.

 

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It was on the tip of his tongue. To beg for the man, the Sentinel, not to touch him, to leave him alone. But the words were stuck, lodged, and he could not bring them out.

This was why he had given everything up, his whole life, all his plans. His Jacqueline. This was the reason he was sent all across the width of the nation. To meet and bond with this one man. The Sentinel chosen for him. He had no right to deny him anything. To withdraw from him? Did he?

Blair gazed up into the hard, cold, classically handsome, craggy face, with its clenched, rigid jaw. Why him? Why? There was so little emotion in the expression, as if he mattered not at all, as if he was merely the prize being claimed. A thing to be taken, marked and cataloged. Not a real, living breathing human being. Not an individual. Not a companion for all their lives. A sense of tragedy grew. No, it shouldn't be like this...should it? He felt lost. Afraid. Like a thing, not a man. Not a Guide.

He was puzzled by that. He understood territoriality. It was an impulse that drove both man, primitive and modern, as well as animal species. Territory. What was mine, not theirs, ours. What was to be taken claimed and not shared.

Was that what was going on here? Was he territory that had been infringed upon, and now had to be taken back? By force. He shuddered. Force. Rape. Was he about to be raped?

He held no illusion that he would have any chance at all in a struggle between himself and the big man looming over him. He felt the heavy weight of the pelvis against his own lodged intimately against him. And how might he miss seeing the slabs of intimidating shoulders, the torso rippled with power? He felt so small, so without power of any kind. A trembling weakling. A subordinate creature who's alpha male, who's dominant ruler was demanding submission.

Every Sentinel who had touched him had done so with care and as if he were the greatest gift they had ever been granted. As if contact with him was an act to be cherished, revered. Never had he been used. Never did he feel less than valued. But now...he gulped. Now he felt....no more than a receptacle, a tool, a thing.

Was it possible that the one Sentinel that he was destined for was the one who made him feel less than human, not a man? Just a possession? A priceless and expensive one, but...still a possession. A trophy?

Blair lay unmoving as stone. The weight of the Sentinel lightening on him, yet no less intimidating. He was more aware of it than of the movements around them, the Sentinel officers who attended the General moving around the bed, coming to stand near. For what purpose Blair had no idea, shouldn't this be an act done in privacy? Dreamlike, unreal figures in blue coats, brass buttons gleaming, and white, shining trousers, bright in the dimness. Their movements ghostlike, silent.

Blair's attention was almost entirely fixed on the Sentinel above him. Unpleasantly, discordant feelings rushing through him, want, horror, want again, despair. The Sentinel, naked, male, the epitome of the conqueror, his conqueror, hovering over him, erect, not laying full on top of him, the man keeping most of his weight suspended up off of him, braced by his strong arms, hands planted to either side of Blair's body.

The ice of his gaze, burning. He was so big, terrifyingly so, wedged between Blair's legs. Wide and hot and too big. Smothering him. Holding him down. Blocking out the most of the rest of the room with his sheer size, so near. Blair's palms snapped up, pushing hard against the deep chest over his, the smooth hair, fine and soft an unexpected sensation when his hands made contact. He felt as if he could not breathe. Out in the room, there was more movement, motion near to him, to them, men standing so close. The officers again, but Blair could not look at them. Could not look away from the claiming Sentinel's face.

There was the long, hard thickness pressed to his belly. Heavy with blood, hotter than the skin it lay atop. Bare skin to bare skin. A pole of flesh, wet at one end, a trail of wetness over his skin. The hair of his abdomen damp with the slickness the other man was leaving, a sign of the degree Blair was wanted. His body, his submission.

No. His skin shouldn't be trying to crawl off of his body. Not while his body throbbed with a perverse and contradictory longing. How could he bear this? If his promised Sentinel made him feel like this? How could he stand to live like this? Torn between wanting and not? He pushed up harder.

He was going to be sick. There was nothing he could do to stop the automatic movement of his own body. He wrenched himself harshly to one side, drawing up his knees, shoving with all his strength, kicking free. Wriggling and squirming with the power of horror behind his limbs. He shot out from under the man, the face looking down and over at him, surprised, shocked out of the stern mask.

Blair hurled himself towards the side of the bed, leaned over the edge of the mattress and was violently sick, his whole body seizing up with the need to purge itself. Distantly he felt sorry for soiling the magnificent quilts, though most of the fluid missed the fine coverings and hit the floor. His body heaved, contracted, heaved again. Until he felt as if all of his insides had been expelled, ripped out. Then it was over and he raised his head, shivering, curled in a miserable, sweating ball.

Blair groaned, panting. Staring at the man on the bed, who stared back at him. He hardly noticed the cloth, warm, wet, that cleansed him, a hand held a cup to his mouth, he gulped, rinsed out the bitterness. Hands that smoothed back his hair, mopped his chest. Wrapped him in a clean fold of the quilts. He sat and shook, the unknown arms secure around him as the big body of an officer settled behind him, around him. A wall of safety enclosing him. He closed his eyes, leaned back into the officer's embrace, not looking to see who it was, not caring. Only knowing he was safe. Again.

He stared at the face of General Ellison less than a foot away. Stared at his owner and master, so labeled by the very nation that he had been born a free man within. Until it was known he was a Guide. Not a man. A nation that had seen to abolishing slavery. Calling it wrong, a blight that must be expunged. All except in this one instance. The case of Sentinel and Guide. The lone hold out in a nation that recognized slavery, the ownership of one person by another, was inherently wrong. Except when it was a Sentinel owning a Guide. Then it was law.

Blair gazed across the space at the Sentinel. Big. Stern. Surprised, even though the look of surprise was fading, the face retreating back into immobility, going back to unreadable. Hard. Stiff. Eyes chips of grey flint. Brittle. Blair frowned. Snuggled into the safe arms, looking out from them at the man who sat with unconscious pride, naked, but upright, not in the least uncomfortable in his nudity. A mature, handsome, fine looking man. A man in his physical prime. Not a bad man, either. Blair knew that. But... Blair let out a whimper of indecision.

It was wrong, it was wrong. It was...nature. It was. Was. Like flight to the bird, water to the fish, like...like Sentinel and Guide. He let out a sound of distress. Was cuddled more closely, soothing sounds murmured into his disheveled hair. He clung to the arm wrapped round his chest. Stared at the Sentinel who waited for him. Silent, watching. Patient.

The internal battle grew. He could hardly manage to breathe as the conflicting drive to flee rammed head on with the equal drive not to reject a Sentinel in need of him. The Sentinel who rose up on all fours, came across the remaining foot separating them, bumped their faces together cheek to cheek as Blair closed his eyes and trembled, hands clutching at the arm that supported him from behind, knuckles white with strain. He knew he must smell foul, sour with vomit despite the gentle washing he'd been given, but the Sentinel in front of him seemed to be unaware of it. The Sentinel officer behind him held him, careful, the wool of his coat sleeve scratchy under Blair's grip.

Breath feathered over his bare cheek from the man in front of him, across his temple from the man behind. Being held from behind called up images of Jim, Brian and Christopher holding him as the Sentinels from the most desperate little town came to him, one after the other, and another, and another. Blair welcomed the memory of it. Of what he had done, the feelings both good and bad. Of being needed and of being cradled. Of serving.

The sensations were welcome. Warm and tender. Odd. It didn't fit with the harsh man who had been looking down at him. And he didn't know who it was behind him. The man who had loomed over him with eyes of pure ice moved closer, reached out, took him from the arms that released him leaving him with the memory of lingering safety, a sense that did not fade as the contact left him, surrendered him back into the hold of General Ellison. He was eased over onto his side, the Sentinel close to him, very warm, a shield, protection. Not an assailant this time.

"Guide?" It was a question, hardly above a murmur, full of the same want he'd heard in the voices of so many Sentinels on the road. The desire that went beyond desire, that went to life and limb, to survival. Christ how could they all sound like that? How could they all hit that pitch that reached down to his bones and shivered his marrow to water inside?

The word tore into him. Tore away his resolve. Turned his firm decision to run from the bed into chaff, to nothing, blowing it away as if on a breeze. He looked over at the man, his horror exploding through his chest, splintering, fading.

"Yes?" He managed. Meeting the pale eyes that were...softer. Gentler, lacking the anger he had seen there a few moments ago. Now...they were so close to Jim's eyes Blair was dizzy, his mind unable to put the two bits of very different information together. Jim...not Jim. Sentinel and sentinel. Father and son. Blair. Bonded. Claimed. Worshiped. Possessed. Owned. Not free. Straining to be closer yet to the man with him.

No. No it couldn't be.... His body was betraying him, his pelvis going hot and quivering up the small of his back. If he were a woman he would be wet, warm, welcoming. All from the look he was being given? From being called a Guide in that tone?

"Guide." Close to silent, sub-vocal, tripping something, some switch inside him, viscera deep. As it was repeated, a puff of air feathering along the side of his neck, the man's face turning in toward the pulse in his neck. The pounding, crazily heaving pulse going way, way too fast. Blair willing/unwillingly stretched out his neck to let the Sentinel explore the wildly pounding pulse. "Guide."

And he was done. No longer stiff with outrage. No longer fighting with strength of wiil he had left to make his way to the edge of the bed to tumble off of it and to run, naked if he had to. The harsh face was too close to him for him to see any expression. But he in no way missed the touch of lips on his neck and chin, exploring his collarbones, the lobe of his ear, the small protrusions of his spine, the tongue flickering out to taste him. His skin contracted into gooseflesh, nipples going erect, pinpoints of tingling, hypersentivity.

"I am not free." He said, his voice full of questions. "I am not free." The Sentinel went utterly still against his back. Then a hand stroked down the side of his face, his arm, his waist to come to rest on his upward hip. Possessive, yes it remained that for sure, but also calming, far more reassuring than Blair expected. And right. No! Blair did not want to feel that. Of all things. It should not feel right. Because it was wrong.

"Yes. I know. My son...my son has done this. Men under his command, his to control. Broken custom and law. How can I blame him?" The sentences were so quiet, yet filled with such pain. Blair lay back in those arms. Let himself be held. To sink into the arms. "There is no easy way to change this."

Blair swallowed, laying under the hand that caressed him, that moved down his face with the peculiarly, wonderfully Sentinel touch, so aware of him, of what he was. It was not fair. Was not. He spoke as low as he could, the words only puffs of air but heard by every Sentinel in the room. And the anguish in them. "I don't want it to change. I am sorry. I am bonded to him, to them. I can feel it. It is..it should be. Please, please don't hurt them. Please." He finished. Not used to being unable to find the right words.

The Sentinel behind him stroked down his chest and belly, his hand so large, so encompassing. And he did not shrink from it. It was a Sentinel's hand on him. And it was not wrong. He had been born this way, to do this.

" A Guide is given, not taken." The man murmured, lips moving on Blair's skin. "You were given before you were taken." He shook his head. The exact meaning of his words not filtering through to Blair.

"Then why...if it shouldn't be, why am I bonded. Why did it happen?"

The hand came around to his belly again, holding him, pressing, until Blair was snug to the Sentinel's pelvis, until he could feel the reaction, tumescent, ready to claim him, sliding between his buttocks into the crevice of his body. Deep in his belly he felt something uncurl, unfold. "You are Guide." The man tried to explain.

That word. Whispered into his skin. Sighing against his throat as the Sentinel moved. And he could not fight. Blair moaned. Distress, yes, some of that was there. But also...his own response to having a Sentinel's hands on him. A big and powerful man looming, nuzzling into the hollow of his neck and shoulder's meeting. He let his head fall back. How could this be happening?

His body left his control. Melted. Became pliant, soft, beckoning. His arms not laying at his sides, nor pushing up, away. His legs not struggling to straighten, to hide his center, his ultimate vulnerability. Letting the man...Jim's father, General Ellison, cup his buttocks.

Just that word uttered by a Sentinel in his ear. The heart breaking need in the tone, under layers of invulnerabilty. A thing he was unable to deny. What was he...free for the taking to any Sentinel who spoke to him in that way? He prayed it was not true.

Then more.

"Guide. My Guide. I have waited for you, longer than you know. To have you here. Guide." He nuzzled Blair again. "How can I give you up?"

Subliminal, registering like a psychic message, seeping in. He sobbed hearing it. Raising his chin, lifting his face, twisting to stare back at the larger man, tear filled eyes, unfocused, to meet the gaze that had never looked away from his face. Oh God. How could he.... he let the man move his fingers down between his legs, open them, his thighs shaking.

Big hands coming to cup his hips, one to each side, thumbs large enough to brace along the seam of his groin, not forcing him, just reminding him. Reminding his body of what it should want to do. Reminding Blair he was a Guide. And he was called to serve.

A mouth ran over his cheek, drinking up the salt that wet his face. He was moved, positioned, his hips held steady with gentle force. And he felt it begin. Felt it, what he had determined he would fight tooth and nail against. What he would die before accepting from any but his bonded.

His Sentinel entering him. His unbonded Sentinel. Slow, huge and slippery, slick. Inevitable. He cried out. Full of pain and remorse and loss even as he joyed in it, unexpectedly. His hand reached out, fumbled, was caught and held. Fingers gripping, what he needed. He looked over the rumpled, chaotic bed, into the bruised and scraped face of the Sentinel officer who held his hand. Into the pale grey eyes of Captain James Ellison.

Blair let out another cry at the immensity of what was happening. He was being claimed. Wasn't fighting it. He was bonded, he knew he was, deep and to his soul he was bonded, and not to the man entering him...yet he was not stopping this, not protesting this claiming by one he was not bonded to.

And he didn't know why.

He grabbed onto Jim's hand with both of his, saw two more men moving nearer. Saw Rafe and Paul. Kneeling down, hands extending. Touching him. As his body was filled, as the Sentinel took him.

 

Chapter 12

Chapter summary: Thoughts in the aftermath.

 

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Blair lay in the steaming pool. The ceiling of the cave which contained the hot springs rose high into the air, a cathedral of sandy-brown and gold streaked stone. The mineral rich water bubbled, overflowing the pool and running in a little stream out of the cave and down the mountain side, its banks hidden by lush greenery, ferns and mosses, drawn to the heat and mist.

He had lain with a man at last. It was no longer a mystery to him. His body had opened itself to a Sentinel. He was well and truly a Guide in a way he had not known he could be. He looked down at himself through the rippling pool of water. He looked no different of course. The swirls of hair that covered the front of his body, still silky soft, still arrowing down to the center of his body. He gazed at his slack genitals floating under the surface, lax and pink with the heat.

There was nothing he could see that marked one of the most momentous changes he had undergone in his life. It was not signaled anywhere on his skin, in his expression. There was no outward mark to say that here was a Guide made new. Claimed and true. He ran his hand over his flat belly. There was nothing. Not even deep in his heart. Nothing new. He still felt the pain of loss. It had not been taken away. Would it always remain? Was it impossible to wash away?

He raised his eyes as movement caught his attention. He watched as the tall man came towards him bearing a bowl. He knew what was inside. The odd vegetable soap the sentinels preferred, liquid, sleek and spring green, clear like a jewel as it was poured from the vast tubs that held it.

Blair watched as Jim set the bowl on the rim of the pool and slid into the water. He was magnificent. Totally without false modesty. Blair felt his breath catch as he observed the other man. Long deeply cut muscles moved in synchrony, poetic in the harmony of motion. Full and sleek, making art of each action like coiling snakes under his flushing white skin.

Blair closed his eyes. He was unable to watch when this was done to him. The feel of Sentinel hands on his bare skin was too intense, ringing a chord all the way to his soul. Until every nerve, every cell rang to the tone. He luxuriated in the touch, the slippery glide of soap and palms washing him clean. The hands were melded to him, formed to each contour they caressed, not a millimeter of deviation, flesh to flesh.

He was handled, stroked, washed, rinsed, mapped as he lay quiescent under the working Sentinel. He kept his eyes closed. One time he had opened them. And he had seen the face of the Sentinel who bathed him. Rafe's face suffused in a shaft of golden firelight, lit gold, yellow and orange against the bronze shadows behind. He had seen...a halo. A worshiper surrounded in the power of his prayer as he tended to Blair. Too much. Blair had closed his eyes, not looked at Rafe again that time nor at any of the Sentinels since in this somehow, now sacred place.

Blair thought it decidedly strange that Sentinels should be so interested in his ablutions and grooming. Well, not in the sense that they were sensitive to things like smell and all, but in that they wanted to actually groom and bathe him. They wanted to put their hands on him, wash him, rub him with oils, brush his hair, braid it and even put it up in elaborate styles that were definitely feminine and drew the eye. Not only him, but all the Guides within the grotto. There were no words spoken there, only the sounds of water, the almost silent sound of soap or oil being smoothed on, the crackle of the comb running through long Guide's hair, and the muted crash of the falling logs in the fires along the cave's edge.

Not that he was unhappy to find out the Sentinels that attended to him were almost always one of the three men he thought of as his Sentinels. Not the man he had sex with, not the Sentinel who claimed him, and was recognized by the clan as his. But the men who had escorted him a few thousand miles to bring him to this place. Blair looked around the grotto. So quiet for all the men within. Men who were being bathed and bathing. Not a single word whispered.

More than one thing had changed him. Three men had bitten through his skin, drawing his blood and drinking it into themselves as he lay unresisting one night. He had not tried to defend himself, nor win free. He had lay as they positioned him, heart pounding, as they drank his life. Then he had lain with the man who had right to him that same twenty-four hours. One day had changed his whole life. His perception of every thing changed.

The sex wasn't bad. He never looked forward to it, anticipated it, but he also didn't dream up ways to avoid it either. General Ellison was a large and strong man, an imposing figure, overwhelming, and he took Blair with enthusiasm if not many smiles. And he put the effort in to see that as much as possible Blair enjoyed their encounters. There was no pain involved, not ever.

There had not been as many interludes as Blair expected. The General was often busy, and it was infrequently that Blair found himself summoned to the great room and it's lush bed, it's crimson chair where the General sat more often than not, waiting. He did not sleep with the General on the nights when he was not claimed. And they were never alone when he did go.

On the night when he was not called, Blair slept with Jim Ellison, or Brian Rafe, or Christopher Paul. Or any combination of the three. His Sentinels. Who cradled him, were comfort itself to him, but who never tried to make love to him as they held him all night.

One of them would escort him during the day, the others caught up in various duties of their own. Take him to one of the city's many Sentinel clinics, for General Ellison did not keep Blair exclusive to him, but let him work with the others. Where he worked all day long, throwing himself into the job with a desperate enthusiasm. He had never been faced with so many Sentinels, seen such discipline, nor such need.

He watched them, observed them. Thought about the many differences that slowly became apparent despite the gross similarity of face and feature and form. They even moved the same careful, precise way, like cats negotiating a shelf of glass vases. He began to wonder just how antiquated and wrong much of the data on Sentinels was. Needing a distraction he began to look at them as study subjects as well as patients of the clinic. He knew he tended to think too much. And he was not ready to think about his life in Cascade overly much. Not yet.

It both soothed and troubled him that Jim, Brian and Christopher remained with him, watched, smelled, listened to him having sex with Jim's father. But he knew he would not be able to bear it if they left him. He was tremblingly needy after those sessions. And waking in the mornings after...it was necessary to find one, two or three of them in the room with him. General Ellison would sleep next to him in the wake of the sex, but was always gone before Blair woke. It was the others who were there, who rose from their pallets on the floor, lifted him, fed him, carried him from the rooms, his bare feet dangling beneath the hem of his robe, escorted him, and bathed him to start his day.

It wasn't that the General was hard to endure. He was affectionate with Blair, the caresses of his hand feather light, the touch of his thumb across Blair's throat gentle as down. And Blair never felt threatened. But the Sentinel's harsh, chilling gaze was still mostly impenetrable to the Guide. The man did not reveal feelings with his eyes. He remained a mystery, even as he held Blair to him, even as he rode his body to ecstasy. Even as he whispered to him, "Guide", with all the longing of the world in the word, when their bodies were closer than close, one inside the other. Even then...they were apart, though they were joined.

Blair had managed to get through the same layers of protection that shielded his escorts. He could see and understand how they felt even behind the masks they wore. He could feel it. He was made a better man, a better Guide when he was with them. His own sensitivity increased.

But he did not have this with the man who took him to his bed. With that man, he had pleasure, he had sex, he had need. A need so strong it caused him to raise his arms up, to hold on tight, to grasp the man as he entered Blair, to cling and cry out as he was taken. But, he was not bound.

He hadn't bonded with General Ellison in the way he had bonded with the other three. Blair's body might respond, with increasing enthusiasm he had to admit, to the couplings between them, it did feel good when it was happening, and he did cry out his pleasure, but his heart was not engaged.

He could not overcome the instinct in him that reached out, that opened his body to the man. Nor could he defeat the sense of rightness there was in giving his claimant his body. But he would have had to be entirely unobservant, fooling himself, if he thought that they were fully engaged with each other.

Blair was bonded to the three, far younger men who took him around town. Who saw to his every need, but one. The feelings he had for them, the draw that pulled him to them was a force of nature. He had no hope, nor any desire to fight it. He craved them, wanted them, burned to offer them his blood.

Some nights he would lie awake in bed with one of them. Peaceful under the hands that stroked over him. They were soothed by the touch that also soothed him. He would be surrounded by rumbling purrs, the vibrations though his skin, in his ears, under his hand as he cupped it over their broad chests. It was a sound that lulled him to sleep. Kept him safe. Secure. Bound.

Blair was lifted out of the steaming pool, borne back on the thick pad of towels, his long hair wrapped in another. He lay, waiting for the touch he knew was coming, and it was there. Slick with oil, cooler than his well warmed, relaxed body.

Long fingers entered him. Jim's fingers, pressing the oil into his body, opening his body like a flower. Coaxing a sound from the Guide, a faint moan as his legs fell wide. As he was prepared, stretched.

He would not refuse this, would not try to understand it, this moment of having some part of Jim inside of him. He savored every sensation, the knuckles, the finger-pads pressing along his channel, thumb pressed into the soft sensitivity of the curve of his perineum. He arched into the touch. Letting it happen. Letting his body melt into it. God. God. Too intense for him to become erect, the emotions crashing through, overwhelming him. He lay utterly still, pliant, accepting. And more fingers, more oil, inside, deeper, wider. He dropped his head back, every inch of his skin glowing, burning....

Blair moaned, taking the intimate touch. Tonight, the General would call for him. And he would go, his body singing from this beginning. But for now...there was Jim.

 

Chapter 13

Chapter summary: An obstacle, overcome.....

Disclaimer: The Sentinel is not mine.

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Blair was, however, wrong. Well not entirely. But the effect was the same. He was summoned to General Ellison's room. The card came on the silver platter as usual. A long stemmed, mist dewed red rose laying beside the small, ivory toned card with the exacting, perfect script on it. Inviting Blair to attend to the General in his rooms. Like an invitation, not an order. Blair could appreciate the gesture, though he knew he didn't have the power to refuse.

He wasn't sure what to think of the inner shiver he felt as he held the rose, raised it to his nose, smelled it's faint perfume. The thorns cut away, he ran his fingertips over the smoothness of the stems. He blinked at it. Feeling a warmth, unexpected and sudden rise up in his belly. Pleasure at being courted? Anticipation? He felt the surge of heat in his loins. Oh damn. Not this, not now. He fought against the confusion. He didn't want to desire the General, his Sentinel chosen by the clan.

He dressed, turning away from the questioning looks Rafe and Paul were giving him. Thanking the gods they were their usual stoic selves, not asking him to explain. He couldn't tear his eyes away from the flower, the deep, crimson perfection, the dark emerald leaves. The note. Unsigned. Why did he want to pick it up, hold it?

He forced himself to look away, into the mirror, to adjust his jacket, his string tie. He walked to the door in silence, followed by his escorts, one at each shoulder, tall, sturdy, and he ached to turn to them, to bury his face against the warmth of their chests, to have them hold him, stop him from thinking, wondering. What did it mean....

But he made it only partway to the General's rooms when every Sentinel he saw in the hall around him, including his escorts, raised their heads high. They all stopped where they stood, looking like a great pack of animals scenting an enemy, or prey.

An undercurrent of tension was suddenly there, rippling from Sentinel to Sentinel until a web of unbearable pressure filled the place, and Blair wanted to sink to the ground, huddle there in an attempt to avoid being in it's midst. But Lt Paul's hand came to his arm, pulled him near, between Rafe and himself, the two men turning their bodies to provide him maximal protection as they moved him back against the wall.

Six Sentinels stood outside the General's doors. Six in glittering golden coats, bared swords in their hands, points resting an exact foot above the floor, held in white gloved fists. Left hands at their belts, faces forward, expressionless. Boots gleamed black, pants as black rising to cover their strong, wide braced legs, disappearing up under those gold coats. He'd never seen that uniform. Nor the hats that shone like golden suns on their heads.

Blair glanced around, through the wall his escorts had made of their bodies. Prey. They scented prey.... The golden men turned towards him, all zeroing in on him. The eyes were sharp, feral, glowing in every face he beheld. He thought for an instant that it was himself they were fixing on, and he had a moment of utter terror as the eyes, set by set passed over to him....and moved on. He let out a trembling sigh, almost a sob of relief, feeling his bladder relax, nearly losing control of its functions, only just managing not to.

He had nearly relaxed, almost taken a deep breath when all the eyes snapped back to him. And as one the swords began to lift from where they rested above the floor, rising to point at him. And teeth were bared, accompanied by a deep, resonant growling from each of those six throats. A warning. Blair's hand flew to his mouth. Shutting in the scream that wanted out. Hands were hard on him, grabbing him, pulling at him, his jacket, his hair, the heels of his shoes scraping along the stone.

Rafe and Paul started backing away with him, fast. Retreating from the proximity of the General's rooms. They took less than four steps when the door opened and two people stepped out. Tall, female, handsome, bordering on beautiful if they had not been so strong, so Amazonian. Blond hair falling in waves of glowing light, bound in strands of silver and jewels.

The two women were far taller than Blair. Slender. Wearing tunics and trousers, not dresses. Their faces so purely Sentinel, more of the pervasive family resemblance, that Blair knew he was seeing female Sentinels for the first time. Though dressed as they were, if they had had their heads covered, he would have taken them as men.

Unerringly they both looked over at him, the action quick, feral, their expressions piercing, intent. They exploded into action, faster than Blair thought it possible to move, elbowing through the golden men who made no move to stop them, but instead followed their lead. They were heading for him and his two escorts. And yet, just as fast the hall was filled with other male Sentinels, crowding in between him and the females with their golden men.

Blair was lifted in Paul's arms. They ran. Paul and Rafe, carrying Blair, they ran, not stopping until they gained the room they'd only just come from and barred the door. They were not alone. Half a dozen other males joined them inside before the door was slammed shut, and Blair heard the sound of others teeming in the corridor outside. One lowered the brace across the thick wooden, iron reinforced door.

They were guarding him, he realized, stunned. From the women. Who had looked on him with murderous intent. For no reason he could think of. He had done nothing he was aware of to give anyone any insult, and he'd never even known those women existed. How could he have angered them? How? What had he done?

He was carried to the bed, making it doubly hard to think, as he was stripped down to his skin by two sets of Sentinel hands. Paul and Rafe, faces grim, stern. While the other Sentinels in the room alternated between listening at the door, murmuring to the ones outside, and watching the disrobing.

He was examined minutely, his face flaming for all the fact he was becoming used to being handled thus, by these men. Only...this time he was being openly observed, by attentive, interested eyes, pale blue and frank in their attention. Blair wanted to be covered, he did not want to be bare. He also wanted to know what had happened and why it had occurred. He was positive that if he had been alone and he had encountered the women...he would be dead now. And he had no inkling why.

"What...?" His voice shook with the after effects of terror and adrenaline. He swallowed, tried again... "What happened?" He asked in a whispered croak. Which was not answered immediately, as his escorts were still mapping every inch of his body. Tasting and touching, fingers and tongues without the least erotic intent. Each action meant to assure themselves he was well, intact. The very intensity of their examinations woke Blair to the degree to which those females were to be feared. They were dangerous to him, to his well-being.

Then...there was pounding on the door. And Blair's heart leaped, thudded in his chest, so full of fear and horror, he thought it might burst out, leaving him dead where he lay, held down on the bed. But...Rafe and Paul had not stopped in their examination of him. They showed no increase in vigilance, made no move to put themselves between him and the door as one of the other Sentinels reached for the heavy latch and another lifted the brace.

It was Captain Ellison who entered, for the first time since Blair had known him he was disheveled, a scratch carved into his face, shallow and long beginning just below his eye, ending at the angle of his jaw. It bled, sluggishly, dripping onto his torn coat. Behind him, before the door was slammed shut once again, Blair saw other men, all in a similar state, clothing ripped, faces marked. A whole crowd of men. As if a battle had been fought.

That was frightening beyond all else. That there had been so many men, and only two women he had seen and six men with them, yet...the Sentinels here had come out the worse for it. Not one unscathed that Blair had noted.

He shuddered as Ellison stalked over to him, went down on his knees, reached for Blair, touched him. Tasted him, bit him. Blair let out a cry at the sharpness of the bite and Ellison lifted his head a fraction, his mouth red, moist with the wet, running blood. He licked it off his fine lips, his tongue long and mobile. Feeding, as he looked into Blair's eyes.

"Jim?" Blair's voice hitched, caught up in his panting anxiety. Then he did scream out loud. As two more bites sank into his thighs this time as Ellison continued to drink from his wrist. He licked at it, licked, his gaze boring into Blair. The other Sentinels moving in, coming nearer, silent as ghosts.

"Jim." Louder, Blair felt panic begin to fill him. "No." The last was almost a request, a hopeless question. "Please." And they were on him. He shivered so hard he wondered that they were not all thrown off onto the flagstone floor.

"No. no no no no...." He begged, waiting for the bites, the teeth driving through his flesh. But the bites never came. Rafe, Paul and Ellison let him go. Lifting bloodstained mouths from his punctured flesh. And the new bodies lay atop him, shielding him as the murmuring that was Sentinel speech filled the air around him. Blanketed his senses as he lay stunned, the men laying over him protecting him from his protectors.

They were speaking to him, whispering to him in a sursuration of heat and ice, breath and words.

"Guide..guide...guide...the guide is free...guide, the guide is free...he is claimed. The guide is claimed. His Sentinel is Taken. The Guide is free. His Sentinel goes to breed. The Guide is free. Blood. There is blood. Blood. The Guide is claimed. He is claimed." In voices ranging from tenor to bass, hardly loud enough for him to hear, contradicting each other, then agreeing, at last, in the end, agreeing. The weight of the mass of them too great for him to breathe, then easing off and away. Moving away as one. Logs thrown on the fire in the fireplace, crackling.

Leaving him uncovered, gasping, naked, shaking in the warmed air, hands touching him stroking him, finding the three wounds his skin wore. Touching, then examining them, lifting stained fingers to their mouths. Sniffing. Nodding. Turning to regard the three who stood tall and frowning, heads held high at the side of the bed. Watching as all the others backed away, bloodied hands at their mouths, sucking the blood as the retreated. Recognizing a prior claim as the taste of the blood confirmed that Blair had tasted the blood of these men before. He scented of them. He tasted of them. He was theirs.

Jim was there, his face "Jim" again, not only "Sentinel". Blair unfroze, flung himself up and into the arms held out to him. Was gathered close and hard in the embrace. But safe, not hurting. More bodies, two more, behind him, holding him. Rafe and Paul. Blair sobbed his relief. A blanket wrapped around him, loosely, the warmth welcome, necessary.

But he forced himself to pull back to look into Jim's face. "Tell me what happened." He ordered, insisting, not lowering his gaze, not flinching. They had attacked him...he knew the feel of it. He had to know why...

"They came for him, the General. He is Selected." Jim murmured low into his ear, his hands cupping the back of Blair's head, rubbing it, mapping it, every precious inch of it. "The females Selected him."

"He is Selected to breed. While he breeds he can not hold a Guide. The Guide must be freed. The Guide is Unclaimed." Rafe's words floated across Blair's cheek.

"The Guide may be claimed by those who dare. Any who can hold him." Paul said against the back of Blair's neck.

"You?" Blair asked, startled. "All of you?" His eyes flew around to the other men standing back from the bed, done licking their fingers clean of the remnants of his blood. All those eyes hungering, wanting more, wanting blood and flesh and sex. His blood. His sex. His flesh.

"Not all. Three. We Claim you. We can not hold you alone. We drink our Claim together. Together we can hold you against other Claims."

"And them?" Blair asked, hating the quavering in his voice. As he indicated the other men massed around them. Big, strong men, classically featured, square jawed, pale eyed. Sentinels.

"They helped us hold you against the others who would have taken you." Jim said simply. "They will be paid." He reached out, grasped the nearest man, dragged him close, put his hand on Blair's belly, the fingers spreading wide, to cover as much skin as he could.

Blair knew this. He'd felt this before. His fear fled. He took the big hand, brought it up to his face. Let the fingers wind through his hair, reached out, wound his arms around the strong body of the unknown Sentinel. He knew this. Blair was not afraid of this.

The touched him, the unknowns, while his own three Sentinels stood around him, watchful, keeping him safe. But he was never at any risk. The hands were gentle. Kind. The mouths pressed to him safe, the tongues tasting the last few trickles of blood from his bites never hurt nor frightened him. They were careful of him, respectful. And he felt it, again he felt it, the worship, the reverence.

He knew this place, his position here. He was Guide. And Guide was all. Guide was everything to the Sentinels here in this room.

He had been bitten, he had bled for them. They had drunk from him the essence of his life. His Guide's Duty, to serve and to care for them. To be their life and their sanity. To bind them to the humanness inside of them. For they were not only human. They were Sentinel. They were more than human.

 

Chapter 14

Summary: Claimed.....

Disclaimer: The Sentinel is not mine. And probably wouldn't want to be...though, damn, I'd love to slash Jim for real....

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Blair lay in the water, floating. His hair streamed all around him, coppery brown, corkscrew curls, drifting like mermaid's hair, billowing. His eyes were closed as his mind wandered, thinking of the possibilities of the next few hours. Anticipating the new turn his life had taken.

Hands held him up in the mineral rich, Earth heated water. Hands washed him, turned him, stroked him. And he lay at perfect peace as they did, no doubt in his mind that he was cared for, that he was safe in these hands, in this pool, with these men.

It had taken him a while to understand what occurred when the female Sentinels came to take away the General. When they had pursued him with murderous intent. While male Sentinels were in their own way territorial, they shared Guides among themselves for the health of the groups or clans.

Females did not. Females were stable without relying on Guides. They chose their male mates, and jealously kept them. Guides were a threat, competition. Guides were not tolerated near any male the females had decided to take as mates. Those who were selected.

Remembering their ferocity, their strength, Blair could easily believe they had the ability to enforce their claims. He was grateful that there had been so many male Sentinels in the hall between him and the women, men who were willing to intervene and keep him from harm. In a single instant, his pairing to the General had been broken. He felt the loss, more deeply than he'd thought he would.

No time was lost however, in mourning. The remaining Sentinels had made their claim to him very clear, within moments of realizing the Guide was free. Blair had a Claim placed on him. Painfully so, for the second time they had bitten him, and tasted his blood, this time in front of witnesses. Other Sentinels who supported the claim, who would be available if it were someday challenged.

Now they waited for him, his bonded three, as the others prepared him. For the first time he would lay with his three Sentinels and be claimed by them. He would be both bonded and claimed by the same men. He could not hold back the smile that spread over his face. He didn't even try, drawing a deep, moisture soaked breath, the swell of his chest rising, filling with happiness.

He did miss the General. He was surprised how much he missed the man who had claimed him, he honestly missed the warm arms and mature, studied care of himself, his body, that the other man had shown. Their pairing was growing closer with each mating, but they had not reached the stage of being bonded. Blair wondered absently if that was because of the last night aboard the ship. How would things have been different if he had not been tasted that night? But, it was right, this way was how it should be. With Jim, Brian and Christopher. They were Blair's Sentinels. No matter how it had happened, it was fact.

He was lifted, light as a feather up onto the lip pf the pool, as he had been every time he'd been here, oiled and readied. This time by new hands. Hands that touched him with the blessing of his Sentinels, hands that took their part of his Duty, of a sort, in touching him. Towels bundled him, soaking up the moisture as he was dried thoroughly, his hair fanned out wide and blotted dry, dozens of fingers, several combs picking through the gleaming, weighty mass of his hair.

They touched him, put the creme on his skin, rubbed it in, coating him lightly, massaging it into his face, his neck, the rest of his body, to his feet. There, they switched to a thin, shimmering oil, rubbing it in until his feet glowed with it's sheen. The touch, so sensual, so relaxing. He lay complacent, unresisting as he was manipulated, moved, his legs lifted, supported.

Fingers entered him, gentle and careful, filling him, stretching him with diligence, erotic, stroking the buttery smooth walls of his channel, teasing him with such gentleness that he drifted in dreams as they filled him. No fear, no worry, no pain. He sighed. His body surrendering to this. To being wrapped in blankets, lifted, carried, his hair being brushed as he was borne out of the bathing room, the last of the water squeezed out.

He was clean. He was warm. He was comfortable. He was ready. He was carried to the room where his Claiming would occur. It was not the General's room, and he was relieved at that. The General had been only good to him, in his reserved way. Never hurting him. Teaching him not to fear being taken. Almost to desire it. Tonight. He did finally desire it. He wanted, for the first time to be taken before his lovers' touched him. His male lovers. His Sentinels.

He didn't want to think of the past. He wanted to experience the now. And what his future would be. He wanted to know he had found his place, the place that he should hold, the men he should share it with.

The half dozen men carried him into the room and lay him on the bed, quilts turned down so he lay on soft flannel sheets. The fire burned in the grate, warming the air, so his skin felt no discomfort being uncovered. There was no other light. Blair knew he was the only one who couldn't see every detail in complete clarity. He didn't need to. Tonight he would feel it. His skin would be his most important of all his sense organs this night. Not his vision.

He lay, spread out on the sheet, his arms out from his sides a little, relaxed, his legs slightly open. His hands were held, fingers entwined with his own, loosely gripped at his ankles, and stroked his hair, his chest, his belly. He looked up at the ceiling, at the movement of the firelight dancing across the old, polished timbers. And he smiled. A soft kind of smile, a content smile. A smile that meant he was where he wanted to be.

He might mourn the loss of his once dearly loved Jacqueline. He did mourn the loss of the first man who had taken him as Guide. But, as those things brought him to the now, Blair could not regret them.

The men who had carried him here from the bathing pool stood back from the bed. He knew that meant the moment was here. He waited, anticipating, his breath coming regular and even. Waiting was no hardship.

They came in a line, from out of the room's shadowed corners. Advancing on the bed with a measured, sure tread. No hurry, no anxiety. Blair watched them as they approached, and finally he could see it was Jim who led them, clothed in a brilliant cobalt blue, his robe a shining echo of the color of Blair's own eyes. He did not come alone. Behind him in astonishing crimson and and blazing, yellow orange, were the two lieutenants who were his companions. Blair was overjoyed to see them.

When the three reached the bed, Jim let his robe fall from his shoulders to be caught up in the attendant's outstretched hands, two other robes fell at the same instant. Blair seeing them in all their glory. Tall, strong men, physically beautiful, serious faces fixed on him, the only window to their feelings, their pale, pale eyes. Eyes filled with momentous acknowledgment. Eyes filled with the look of men finding a lifetime's dream at last in their grasp.

They stood there, in his view, three proud, handsome men, three Sentinels who had found a way to protect him, and to Claim him. And Blair was glad. He smiled up at them as they ranged along the side of the bed, lifting his hands out to them. They came to him. Falling into his embrace.

He heard the sound. Never heard. He felt it as it happened. A rumbling against his back, his sides, his chest. Arms wound round him. As fingers tangled in his lush hair. As lips found his own. As ice blue eyes shone like miniature moons in the near dark.

The sound of Sentinels' joyous laughing.

The End....