by Leesa Perrie and Jayne
He was young, small for his age, and thin. Not to mention scruffy and dirty. It was obvious that he was neglected, maybe even a street kid. But no one ever saw him, as he passed through the wilderness, slipping into towns at night, looking for food and other things amongst the trash thrown out by those better off.
He kept away from strangers. They were dangerous. They could hurt him, or send him to a foster family, where he would never fit in. He was different, and that difference had made him a target too many times. Too many foster homes since his mother had died when he was 12. Too many failures. Too many rejections.
His only regret was that he couldn't go to school. He'd loved school. Now he had to rely on newspapers, magazines and the occasional book, thrown into the trash. Discarded, like himself.
He'd been alone now for months. Wandering the country. Looking for something, but he didn't know what.
He'd be 14 soon. He'd probably find out about his birthday after it had happened – dates only meaning something in the newspapers he found. Not old enough to be alone, he just had to survive until he was, and then he'd find a job and a place to stay. But now, he hid in the darkness at night, and the wilderness in the day.
Things were changing though. He'd cut himself on some glass in one of the dumpsters he was raiding. It was a bad cut, across the back of his hand, and it was infected. It hurt. And he felt ill. And he was alone. And scared. He needed help, but didn't know where to go, who to trust, if anyone. He'd spent too long alone, trusting and depending only on himself
He was miles from a town. He'd wandered further into the wilderness than before. Looking for a remote cabin, and maybe someone who would help him. Someone he could then slip away from more easily than in the towns or cities. Someone who couldn't hand him over to the authorities straight away. But so far, he'd had no luck.
It was getting colder. The rain was starting to fall quickly. He looked for shelter, a cave or some dense bushes, but couldn't see any. He slipped beneath a big tree, hunkering down against its bark. At least the leaves helped reduce the amount of rain, even if they didn't keep it all off him.
It would be dawn soon. His watch, given to him by his mother before she'd died, the only thing he had left to remind him of her, still worked. He didn't even have a photograph of her. Just memories. And they were fading.
Time passed. The sun started rising. The rain slowed, and then stopped. He moved on, looking for someone, anyone, to help. He was feeling really sick now. He didn't care if he ended up in an orphanage, or another foster home. He could always run away again. He just wanted to feel well again. To not be in pain. To not die.
But the fever was too great. He sank to the ground, tired and drained. He didn't remember falling asleep….
Jim was enjoying the fresh air. It looked like it was going to be a glorious day once the clouds were gone. And they were going, he didn't need his sentinel senses to see that.
He turned to look at Simon, who was getting his fishing gear together. And then smiled as he saw Blair exit the tent, searching out and finding the coffee that had just been brewed on the camp fire.
"Morning, sleepyhead," he greeted him, with a smile.
"Mmmph," was his only reply. He chuckled, as did Simon.
"Guess he's not a morning person then, Jim?"
"You guess right."
"You try being a morning person after a late night," came the mumbled reply.
"Shouldn't have stayed up half the night reading your book. Can't be good for you, to read by torchlight for so long."
"Yeah, well Jim, some of us have a lesson to take when we get back, and not enough time to read the required chapters before being dragged away on a camping trip."
"Dragged? You weren't dragged anywhere, Sandburg. This whole trip was your idea." Simon pointed out, and was greeted with under the breath muttering.
"What?" Simon asked. "What did he say?"
"You don't want to know Simon. Trust me on that."
"Fine," Simon narrowed his eyes, "but as soon as we get back to work, I'm gonna give you the most boring case going."
Jim just laughed again, not worried by Simon's comment.
"Well, I'm going down to the river to catch dinner. What are you two up to today?"
"I thought we might hike the east trail for a bit. What do you say, Chief?"
"Mm. Okay. Just let me get some breakfast, and more coffee, first."
"No problem, Chief. There's no rush."
He awoke slowly. He felt hot and drained. His hand was throbbing painfully. His arms and legs were aching. So thirsty. He opened his eyes, but the world was spinning. He tried to move his head, but it felt too heavy to shift. He groaned, and winced at the loudness of his voice.
He could hear people talking. Two voices. Men. They were getting closer. He had to move. Get away. No, no, not get away. Maybe they would help him. He tried to move, but only succeeded in making himself groan again. Then his stomach emptied. He managed to turn onto his side. He didn't want to choke. He heaved again. Then darkness descended once more.
"You hear that Chief?" asked Jim.
Blair rolled his eyes. "Noooo. What is it?"
"I thought I heard a groan. Yes, there it is again. And retching. Come on, Sandburg, sounds like someone needs help," Jim strode off in the direction of the noise, not waiting to see if Blair was following him.
"Okay, okay, I'm coming. Can you tell where the sounds came from?"
"Yeah, over here. The noises have stopped now though," he frowned.
"See if you can hear a heartbeat. Filter out everything else," suggested Blair
"Okay." He concentrated hard. "There. Over there," he said, moving to his right, and nearly falling over the kid in his haste.
"Oh man, he looks really ill."
"Yeah, Chief, he does. You got any water left? I need to clean the vomit off."
"Yeah, I'll clean him up, you start checking him for injuries," he offered.
While Blair was cleaning the kid up, he still kept an eye on Jim. Trying to gauge from Jim's intense concentration how bad the injuries were.
Slowly Jim leaned back. Blair could see the muscle on his jaw pulsating.
"His left hand has a deep cut that will need to be cleaned. I can still see some fragments of glass in there. Let's get him back to camp so I can make sure we get it all out."
"Shouldn't we take him to a hospital and get them to do that?"
Jim glared at him.
"Okay, sentinel sight, gotcha."
Very gently Jim picked the boy up. As he did so, a whimper escaped the child's lips and his eyes fluttered open.
"It's okay. We're here to help. What's your name?"
"Den...Billy, Billy Smith."
Letting the obvious lie go, Jim carried on walking back to camp.
Blair had gone ahead of them and had a blanket next to the dying breakfast fire.
Carefully Jim laid the kid down.
"Sandburg, get me the tweezers. Okay, Billy, we're going to take the glass out that is still in your hand. It's gonna hurt, but I've got to make sure we get all of it out."
Pain. Burning pain. It encompassed his whole world. He groaned, whimpered and screamed at them to stop, but there was only pain. He tried to pull his hand away, but it was held tightly. Then the pain lessened, and he became aware of something being wrapped around his hand. Someone wiping the sweat from him, talking calmly, reassuring him, gentling him. The pain was still there, burning brightly, though the agony was less than it had been. He opened his eyes, but the light hurt too much, so he closed them again. Vaguely, he became aware of someone asking how he felt.
"My hand, it feels on fire," he groaned.
"Blair, get the Tylenol. Then we have to phone your folks and arrange to meet them at the hospital."
Jim found that he had been unconsciously monitoring the boy and at the mention of his folks his heart rate had shot up.
"No, no hospital. It'll be fine."
"It's a deep cut, it needs cleaning properly. Your hand is infected and that means antibiotics."
Looking away, Billy mumbled that he couldn't afford a hospital.
"Don't worry about that right now."
Just then, Simon appeared in a run from the direction of the river.
"I thought I heard screams. What's going on?"
"We found Billy here in the woods. His hand's pretty badly cut. Jim's got all the glass out now, though."
"Simon, help me pack up camp. We need to get him to a hospital but I don't want to leave our things lying around out here. Blair, you look after 'Billy'."
Passing the Tylenol to Billy, Blair noticed that he was cradling his arm against his chest.
"On a scale of 1 to 10, how much does it hurt?"
"20," came the rely.
"Just go with the flow. Take deep breaths. I promise it will help. Okay breathe in... breathe out...breathe in..."
Slowly, Billy relaxed.
"Thanks, that helps."
"So you want to tell me how come you're in the middle of nowhere with a cut hand?"
Billy glared at Blair. "None of your business."
"My guess is that you've run away from home. If you've got a problem then tell me and I promise that I will do all that I can to help."
The look that Billy gave him spoke of great sadness and loss.
"You won't understand. You can't help."
Looking into the fire he began his story.
"Mom was killed two years ago. Drunk driver. He got a few years in prison, I got life. Life in orphanages, life in foster homes. Life with strangers. She was beautiful and had this amazing singing voice. That was how she made a living, singing in clubs, bars. Meant we travelled a lot, but she was always protective. I used to argue with her about 'giving me my freedom'. Now I would do anything to hear her voice, telling me I couldn't go out, or that I had to be home by 8."
As he was talking a tear trickled down his cheek.
"Foster homes can be a bitch."
"What do you know of foster homes?" Denny demanded.
"I've been in a few, though luckily not for long. They tried to take me away from my mom a few times, so I know where you're coming from man."
No you don't, he thought. This Blair guy might have been in foster homes, but he still had his mom. She was still alive. And he wasn't different. He bet Blair didn't get accused of lying when he wasn't. Or get beaten up by the local kids as some lying, whiny, freakish geek. He couldn't possibly know. No one could. And the pain, when everything seemed too bright, too loud, too strong, too smelly, too scratchy. Or the periods where time seemed to disappear. He got in trouble for that too. The teachers all thought he was daydreaming. Others thought he was just plain idle. Or too fussy, complaining that the clothes were itchy, or the food too spicy. Even plain scrambled eggs could taste like fire some days.
No one could understand his misery. No one else was an unwanted freak like he was. Passed from place to place, labelled as a trouble maker. Such a shame, people would say. Such a bright kid, but such trouble. If only he would get his act together.
Yeah, he'd heard it all. Even when he shouldn't, couldn't, have heard anything. The whispered comments as he walked past, the conversations in the room downstairs, or upstairs, or in the room next door. He knew he was unwanted. A nuisance. Couldn't be trusted.
So, Blair thought he knew how he felt? No way. No way on earth can could Blair possibly even begin to think he knew how he felt. And as soon as the social idiots got involved, and they all heard about his 'problems', they'd soon turn away from him. Just like all the others. No one wanted this lying brat. No one.
"Okay, time to go. Sandburg, why don't you get in the front with Simon? Billy, the back seat is yours."
Blair gave him a questioning look, but trusted Jim to know what he was doing.
Jim opened Simon's car door for Billy and then closed it once he was in. He then went around the car and got in himself.
Jim waited until they were about a mile down the road and then turned towards his passenger.
"Would you like to tell me your name? Your real name that is."
"What's it to you? If I tell you, you'll only send me back."
"You play straight with me and I'll help. Lie to me again and I'll go straight to missing persons and find out that way."
"Why would you help me?"
For a second Jim looked puzzled.
"Just trust me okay. What did your foster parents do to you anyway?"
"June was okay to me. But it was David. He used to hit me. He was a real…"
"I get the picture. Give me your real name and I promise you that you won't have to go back there again."
"How do I know that the next foster parents won't use me as a punch bag? Or accuse me of stuff that I didn't do? No thank you. Once I've been to the hospital that's it. I'm gone. I've looked after myself before. I can do it again. I don't need no help."
"Like I said, trust me. We'll go to the hospital and then you can come and stay with Blair and me for a while. We'll see what happens after that."
Billy was quiet for the next few minutes trying to work out the best thing to do. He had to admit that he felt safe with them. The first time he had truly felt safe for a long time. Admitting defeat he said, "Denny. My name is Denny Armstrong."
The rest of the car journey was spent in small talk, mainly about the jags. Lulled to sleep by the banter, Denny fell asleep.
Cursing and swearing, Simon eventually found a space in the Cascade General Hospital car park.
Gently, Jim woke Denny up and helped him out of the car. Denny felt hot under his sensitive touch. Together they made their way to the ER, where Jim left Denny in Blair's care, while he and Simon went to fill in the forms. Under address, Jim put the loft's address.
"Is that a good idea, Jim?" Simon asked.
"What? Putting my address down for Denny? I know, Simon, but I just feel the need to look out for the kid. I don't want him going to strangers."
Simon sighed. "Are you sure about this?"
"Yes. I can't explain it, but I need to keep the kid close for now."
"Okay. I'll ring Claudine in child support and see if I can arrange for the boy to stay with you, temporarily at least."
Denny was confused. Jim wanted him to stay at his place? He hoped he wasn't a perv or anything. Just because Jim was a cop didn't mean he wasn't bad like that. Yet it sounded more like concern than anything else. Why would this guy be bothered with him? He could just turn him over to social services and walk away. That's what he'd expected him to do.
He felt so sick. Too sick to try and work anything out. And hot. Why were the lights so bright in here? And as for the smells…
"Hey, Denny? You okay there?" Blair asked, but got no reply. "Denny?" Blair looked into the boy's eyes. He didn't seem to be there. Maybe it was the infection, but he looked like Jim did when he zoned. Surely not? If the kid was a sentinel, why wasn't Jim acting all territorial like with Alex. He shuddered at the thought of the psychotic sentinel.
"Okay, Denny, you just listen to my voice now. Follow it back." Even if it wasn't a sentinel zone, maybe using what Jim had started calling his 'guide voice' might work. "You need to just focus in on my voice and follow it back from wherever you are right now."
Sound. There was a sound. Soothing. Calm. Reassuring. Coaxing him back to the light. Slowly, he followed it. Followed it out of the blankness surrounding him. Back to….
Denny came back with a gasp.
"Hey, hey, it's okay," Blair reassured him. "You back with me then?"
"Uh, yeah. Sorry about that."
"Does it happen often?"
"No, I mean, not really. I just get lost in my thoughts sometimes, that's all. Daydreaming, ya know?" Denny said defensively, scared to reveal the truth.
Blair wanted to ask more, but a nurse called Denny's name just then, and took them to a cubicle, assuring them that the doctor would be along shortly.
Jim was about to follow Blair and Denny into the cubicle when he felt Simon touch his arm.
"You, Jim, are in for a lot of paper work," said Simon softly. "Claudine says that she can clear it for the boy to stay with you for a short time while she tracks down his case worker, contacts his foster parents, and tries to sort out why he ran away. But, Jim, it won't be a permanent arrangement."
"I could always foster him myself, or even adopt him."
"You don't think I could do it?"
"With the hours you put in? He needs a stable environment, somewhere he can feel secure. And when you have a kid, there are times when you need to attend school meetings, take him to clubs. To say nothing of making sure he has regular meals and making sure he does his homework. I've been there, remember, or have you forgotten how things used to be with Daryl and me?"
"As much as I admit it, you may be right...excuse me, Simon, I think Blair needs my help."
Jim pushed his way through the curtain.
Blair was talking quietly to Denny and slowly he calmed down. But Jim noticed the tear that had slipped down Denny's face.
"How is he, Doc?"
"He's malnourished and has an infection in the wound on his hand. I don't think we need to use intravenous antibiotics though. We've cleaned, stitched and bandaged the wound and he needs to avoid using that hand for a while. We could release him with a prescription, if there is someone who can make sure he takes them? He will need a check up in two days, but if his symptoms get worse he would need to come back immediately. Oh, and regular but small meals to start with."
"I've been given temporary guardianship, so he'll be coming home with me."
Blair looked at Jim in surprise, but said nothing. Denny looked surprised as well, then scowled, but also kept quiet.
"Okay. Well, in that case, if you'd like to come to the desk we'll sort out a prescription and fill out the necessary forms to release him?"
"After you." Jim said and then turned to Blair, "can you keep an eye on him, Blair? This might take a little while to sort out."
"Sure, no probs."
"Don't I get a choice in this?" Denny asked, after Jim and the doctor had gone.
"Well, you could always go to the local children's home, or to some other temporary foster home, but I think you'd be better off with us for now."
"If you really don't want to come home with Jim and me, then fine. I'll tell them, but don't think I'm leaving you alone so that you can try and sneak out."
"I suppose it doesn't matter where I go, so I may as well go with you. Anyway, as soon as you get my file, you're not gonna want me to stay."
"You might be surprised," was all that Blair said.
They all piled into Simon's car for the journey back to the loft, this time Blair took the back seat with Denny.
They were nearly back to the loft when Blair realised that Denny had gone as still as a statue again.
"Hey, Denny, you okay?"
There was no response, just like before, in the hospital waiting room.
"Is everything okay, Chief?" Jim asked, turning around.
"I don't know. Back at the hospital, in the waiting room, Denny, well, for want of a better word, he zoned out. He seems to have done it again. Let me see if I can talk him back again."
"Zoned out?" Simon queried. "As in what Jim does? You're not saying he's a sentinel, are you?"
"Well, I don't know. I need more information to go on before I'd say that. I mean, it could be some form of mild epilepsy, or something similar. And Jim's not acting like he did last time there was a sentinel in Cascade. Just give me a few minutes, and if he doesn't respond, we may have to go back to the hospital to get him checked out."
"Okay, Chief." Jim replied, wincing at the still far too fresh memories of Alex.
"Hey, Denny," Blair started, in his guide voice, "you want to come back now? Just follow my voice. Focus in on my voice, and follow it back. Nice and easy, nothing to it, is there? Just follow my voice…"
Denny came too with a start.
"Hey, welcome back," Blair said.
Denny looked around the car, and then down at his hands.
"I did it again, didn't I?" he muttered.
"Yeah. Do you know what caused it?"
"No. Nothing. I was just daydreaming, that's all," he said, guardedly.
"You sure? I mean, does this happen often? It could be some form of epilepsy, in which case we need to get you checked out."
"No! It's not anything like that! Honest, I just…get lost in my daydreams, that's all. Really. Mom…" Denny paused, "Mom got me checked out when I was younger. There's nothing wrong, not physically. And she refused to believe it could be psychological. It's nothing, really. Like the other stuff."
"What other stuff?" Blair asked, gently.
"You'll find out when you get my file. You won't like me then."
"Denny, if we're going to find out anyway, why not tell us now? And I don't think we'll dislike you just because of a few problems." Jim said.
Denny looked out of the car window, but said nothing.
"Come on, kid. It can't be that bad, surely?" Jim asked in exasperation.
"Jim," Blair warned, "don't push him. If he doesn't want to tell us, that's okay."
Denny didn't believe they were going to want to help him. He was certain of it, especially when they saw all the stuff the others had to say about him; all the lies, the fussing about nothing, the attention seeking. At least if he didn't say anything, there was a chance they would let him stay, at least for tonight. Then, tomorrow, he'd just slip away from them.
He wished he hadn't drifted off again. He knew it was always worse when he was sick or tired. He really hoped he didn't start getting problems with the other stuff while he was with them – the too loud or too bright or too spicy or whatever, that sometimes happened.
If only they would like him, but he knew they wouldn't. He wished he could find somewhere to stay, somewhere okay. But that wasn't gonna happen until he was old enough to work and rent someplace. It was better if he just slipped away tomorrow and went back into the wilderness. It was not like they would miss him, not really.
But somewhere inside, a part of him hoped that maybe, just maybe, things could be better this time.
Denny was silent for the rest of the journey. He was too tired to listen to the murmured conversation as they reached the loft, and guessed he probably wouldn't like it.
"Are you sure you don't want the kid to stay with me? He can have Daryl's room."
"No. He'll be fine at the loft. Besides, I want him somewhere I can keep an eye on him."
"Okay. I'll pick up his file from child support tomorrow and bring it by the loft. But remember, you only have one day of leave left to sort out what you're going to do."
Jim and Blair got their camping gear out of the car as Denny stood sleepily watching them.
"See you tomorrow, Simon. Night." Jim said.
"Night, Simon," Blair echoed.
"Night, Jim, Blair."
Simon drove off, heading for home.
"Home, sweet home," Blair sighed.
"Blair, you take Denny up and I'll follow with the gear."
Blair was silently thankful that the elevator was working. At the top floor he ushered Denny out and directed him to the loft door.
Denny was amazed at the amount of junk Blair pulled out of his pockets, just to locate a door key. With a smile, he unlocked the door, opened it and gestured for Denny to go first.
"Take a seat on the sofa and I'll make you a nice herbal tea."
"Er, thanks. I think. Can I use the bathroom?"
"Sure, it's over there."
Once in the bathroom, Denny slid to the floor, his feelings and emotions running riot. The loft had felt peaceful, and he felt the barriers he had put up slowly sliding down.
"Don't get comfortable, they'll chuck you out like all the rest," kept repeating through his head, but a part of him had felt almost like he had come home, except home had never looked like this.
"Where's Denny?" Jim quietly asked Blair
"In the bathroom."
Blair watched as Jim listened in the bathroom's direction.
"Should I go in there?"
"No. Let's give him a few minutes. Then put some soup on and I'll call him."
"Hey, Denny," Jim called through the bathroom door ten minutes later, "Blair's putting some soup on. It'll be ready in a minute or two."
Denny lifted his head up, and wiped the tears from his eyes.
"Okay, I'll be out soon," he called softly, wincing at the rawness of his voice. He sighed, and washed his face and hands, hoping that they wouldn't realise he'd been crying. When he came out, no one mentioned that he looked like he'd been crying, so he hoped he'd got away with it.
The meal was a subdued affair, with Blair doing most of the talking, mainly about some tribe he'd visited once. Denny was surprised at how interesting he found it.
After the meal, he started to yawn, figuring that if they thought he was tired, they'd let him sleep and leave him alone. And he really wanted to be alone right now. He didn't want to get attached to them, and he could feel himself doing just that. Sure, they were nice and kind, but he knew it was just temporary, and that they'd ditch him pretty quickly. After all, that was what everyone else had been doing, wasn't it? "Poor kid," they'd say, but it didn't take long before they couldn't wait to get rid of him.
After a brief discussion, where Blair insisted that Denny slept in his bed while he slept on the couch, he was able to escape to Blair's room. But he couldn't sleep, no matter how hard he tried, he was unable to find the sleep his body craved.
After Denny had gone to his room, Jim went onto the balcony, and Blair joined him a few minutes later with a couple of bottles of beer, one of which he handed to Jim.
"You realise it's possible he could be a sentinel, don't you?"
"I have my suspicions," Jim replied softly, not wanting to disturb Denny, especially if they were correct about his abilities. "But if he is, why do I feel like I need to protect him, rather than react to him the way I did to Alex?"
"It could be because he's a kid, and she wasn't. I mean, in tribal times, how did they cope if a sentinel was born while they had a sentinel already protecting the tribe? Did they have to send the child away? And if so, would the child want to return and take over when the older sentinel died? It would make more sense for the child sentinel to be taught by the adult one. In which case, the adult couldn't feel territorial towards the child, or it wouldn't work. Though it could be as simple as being able to sense that he isn't a threat to your tribe or yourself, and sensing that Alex was. There's no way of knowing without further research with more sentinels, and that isn't very likely."
"I don't think I want to find out for sure if it involves anymore fiascos like Alex." He sighed, "I'm still trying to come to terms with how I reacted."
"I know. It's okay, Jim, really. We were both to blame, in different ways. We've already talked this through."
"Yeah," he sighed again, "sorry. So, how do we know for sure if Denny is a sentinel or not?"
"I can run some tests on him."
"Can you do it subtly, without resorting to sour milk?" Jim smiled, easing the tension that Alex's name had caused.
"It's not my fault you didn't wait for me to finish on the phone."
"But it is your fault the sour milk was in a mug and not down the drain," he retorted, with a glint of humour in his eyes.
Rapidly changing the subject, Blair asked, "so what do we do if he is a sentinel?"
"What's a sentinel?" Came a voice from behind them.
Jim and Blair turned around, startled at Denny's voice.
"I had trouble sleeping and I heard you talking," Denny continued, "so what is a sentinel, then?"
"Honesty is the best policy?" Blair asked, glancing at Jim.
Jim grimaced and returned his gaze to Denny.
"It's a long story, it would be better to leave it until the morning, when we've all had a chance to rest."
"No, I want to know now," Denny said stubbornly, "I want to know if I am one of these sentinels and if I am, what that means."
"Jim, I think it would be best to tell him about the sentinel theory. If he is one, he needs to know."
Jim paused for a moment, and then nodded. Blair smiled reassuringly and turned back to Denny.
"Okay, take a seat," Blair pointed towards the living room.
As Denny and Jim sat down, Blair went into his room for his Sentinels of Paraguay book.
"Chief," Jim said, "try not to blind him with anthropological babble, or compare him to..."
"I won't," Blair interrupted, rolling his eyes, and opening the book.
Jim listened as Blair explained to Denny about enhanced senses and how they related to the pictures of sentinels in the book. He carefully avoided mentioning Jim's abilities.
As Blair was explaining to Denny, Jim noticed how Denny was slowly relaxing, as if things were becoming clear to him.
"So I'm not mad, then?"
"Why do you think you're mad?" asked Blair gently.
"Growing up, I could hear things that I shouldn't. Like the kid across the street being beaten up by his dad, but my foster mum thought I was making things up, to get attention she said, but I wasn't! They all think I'm a liar 'cos I see or hear things that it's not possible for me to see or hear. And I get lost sometimes, and lose minutes or hours. They all think I'm lazy or a daydreamer or something. And that I'm being difficult when my clothes itch or food tastes odd, even when it hasn't before. So, I figured I must be going mad, or something like that. All of my foster parents think I'm deranged, or strange, or just a trouble maker, so they didn't want anything to do with me. The last foster dad thought I just needed a firm hand, and used to hit me often."
"No, you're not mad," Blair replied gently, "they just didn't understand."
"And we should report the foster dad who hit you." Jim said.
"No one believed me when I did. Said I was just making it up, like all the rest of it."
"They'll believe me, I'll make sure of it," Jim said, his eyes flashing angrily.
"No!" Denny cried out in alarm, "they'll make me go back. He'll hit me again, and say that I'm telling lies. I'm not going back! No way! I'll run away again, where no one will find me, not even you!"
"No one will make you go back," Blair reassured him, resting his hand on Denny's arm, "we'll make sure of that."
"No! I don't...can't trust you. Can't trust anyone but myself."
"I can guarantee that you can trust us." Blair looked at Jim, "especially Jim. He won't let anyone send you where you don't want to go."
"How do I know you're not like all the rest? Why would you want to help me, anyway? I'm some sort of freak, aren't I? Or do you want to study me, like a...a...a lab rat, or something?" Denny got up, heading towards the door.
Jim sprang up, placing himself between Denny and the door. He placed his hand securely onto Denny's shoulders, and looked him straight in the eyes.
"Because I'm a sentinel, and I want to help you. Besides, Sandburg's got me to experiment on." Jim smiled, trying to reassure him.
Blair looked surprised that Jim had told Denny his 'secret', but pleased as it saved him from trying to convince Jim himself.
"You're a sentinel too?" Denny asked, stunned.
"Yes. That's why I can understand what you're going through. Where you are now, I was there once. Maybe not the same circumstances exactly, but my old man thought I was a freak. Look, just give us a chance, okay? Get a good night's sleep, and we'll start sorting things out in the morning."
Denny looked thoughtful, and then sighed.
"Okay. I'll hang around, see what you can do, but at the first sign of you trying to send me back, or somewhere I don't wanna go, I'm gone. I've done it before, I'll do it again."
"We promise," Jim said, and Blair nodded in agreement.
Jim gently turned Denny around and walked him back to Blair's room.
"See you in the morning. And don't worry, we'll see that everything gets sorted out for you."
Denny nodded, and climbed back into bed. Jim returned to Blair in the living room.
"We'd better go to sleep ourselves. I think it's going to be a long day tomorrow. I'm going to have to sort things out with Claudine in child support and you'll need to stay with Denny, and help him with his senses."
"Okay, Jim. I'm glad you told him, you know, about your senses. It'll make things easier in the long run."
"Yeah, I guess."
Denny woke to the smell of bacon, momentarily disorientated about where he was. Then he remembered. He couldn't believe he had the answer to his problems. He was a sentinel, a person with enhanced senses. It sounded like some kind of sci-fi film, but it was true. And maybe, just maybe, Jim and Blair would keep their promise and help him. He could only hope that they would, but he'd have to be ready in case they didn't.
The smell of bacon made his stomach growl, and he blearily made his way out of the bedroom.
"Morning," said Blair, cheerily.
"Where's Jim?" asked Denny.
"He's out seeing what arrangements we can make for you. He'll be back in a short while. Do you want some bacon and eggs for breakfast? I already ate with Jim."
"Yeah, that sounds good." He felt sure they were going to send him away and just didn't want to tell him yet. He wanted this time in the Loft to last forever.
"And maybe after breakfast we could do a few tests? Just to see how strong your senses are, and help you to avoid zone outs – that's what I call it when you get lost in your senses. I promise I won't turn you into a lab rat, but if I don't know how strong your senses are or how much you have worked out yourself, then I can't work out how to help you."
"Okay, I guess I need to learn about this stuff."
Blair smiled, and turned to make Denny his breakfast.
"I need a break!"
"Just one more test, and we'll stop for lunch," Blair pleaded.
"No! I've had enough, my head is buzzing, and I'm starving. And you promised not to turn me into some kind of lab rat!"
"Okay, okay, sorry. I get the message," going over to the kitchen, Blair opened the cupboard door, "I think the bread is doing a nice line in penicillin," Blair looked at Denny, "I think we need to visit the store."
"I hate shopping. Can't I just stay here?"
Before Blair could reply, there was a knock at the door.
"Hi, Joel. Come on in. What brings you around here?"
"I saw Simon today and he told me you were back. Actually I was looking for Jim, I have some paperwork he forgot to sign before he skipped off last week, and I really need it signed as soon as possible."
"Typical! Anything to avoid paperwork," Blair smiled.
"Jim's had to pop out, he shouldn't be too much longer, so in the meantime could you do me a big favour?"
"I suppose that depends on what it is," Joel said.
Blair beamed at Joel.
"Joel, I would like you to meet Denny. Denny, this is Joel, who Jim works with. He will stay with you while I just nip out to the store, won't you, Joel?"
Before either could reply, Blair was gone.
Joel smiled tentatively at Denny.
Blair spotted Jim's truck parking up near the Loft over the top of the grocery bags.
"Hey, Jim, perfect timing, man! Can you give me a hand?"
"Where's the kid?"
"Hey, he's okay. Joel popped round to get your signature on some paperwork and volunteered to look after Denny so I could get some food."
"Okay. We need to talk. Let's put the food in the truck and grab a coffee around the corner."
"Sure, man. What's wrong?"
As they sat down at the booth with their coffees, Blair looked at Jim.
"Okay, Jim, talk."
"I spent all morning at social. We have 48 hours and then he goes back in the system."
There was a silence as they both thought of the consequences of Denny going back into the system; that Denny would only run away again.
Jim had seen too many kids living on the street, and what could happen to them, to let it happen to Denny. Blair had memories of a friend who had lived for a short while on the streets in Canada as a kid, and how bad things had gotten for him.
"What options have we got, then? We can't let him go to just anyone. Whoever fosters him needs to know about the sentinel senses, and he needs us to help him, which means they will need to know about you."
"I need to think about that." He sighed, "let's go back to the loft, get something to eat, and we can discuss this more later," he suggested.
"Okay, let's hope Denny hasn't run out on Joel yet."
On the way back they stopped at the truck to get the groceries out.
"Well, is there any shouting or the sound of things being thrown from the loft?" Blair enquired looking at his friend.
There was a look of intense concentration from Jim. Just when Blair was starting to worry that Jim was zoning out, Jim smiled.
"They're getting on fine. Joel is telling Denny about the practical joke Cindy pulled last week."
"Yeah, you know Cindy, the kid Joel and his wife are looking after for a couple of months for social, while her Mom is in rehab."
Blair slowly started to smile.
"You know how Joel and his wife tend to take short term kids, do you think we could possibly persuade him to take a long term one?"
Jim looked doubtful.
"He would be perfect, Jim, constant contact, no problem with visitation rights. If there is anyone we can trust to tell your secret to it's Joel."
"What about his wife, Constance?"
"Is that a serious question? Even she didn't tell Simon about the PD picnic when you..."
"Okay, okay. I get the picture. Let's go discuss it with Joel and see what he's got to say."
Blair and Jim sat outside Joel's house, the engine idling.
"You know he's going to be okay now."
"I know. I can hear him laughing with Cindy."
"That's good. Er, Jim, I've been thinking."
Blair playfully swatted Jim on the shoulder, causing Jim to put on a pained expression.
"No, seriously. Denny and you have become very important to me. Like a family. And I've been thinking about what would happen if my diss got released to the public. I mean, even taking your name out won't be enough. If Brackett could work it out, then others would be able to. So, I've been talking to my dissertation committee, and they have agreed to let me change topic. I'm going to write that paper about police society that we've been using as an excuse for me to observe you."
"Are you sure about this, Chief?"
"Yeah, I've been thinking about it for a while. I'll still keep my notes, and make more notes, and do tests," Jim groaned at this, but Blair ignored him an carried on, "for our own use, and to help Denny and whoever his guide will be."
"Okay. If you're sure about this. Though I'm surprised the committee let you change topic so late on."
"I think most of them were relieved, to be honest. They've been wanting me to do something more mainstream for a while, but it will mean spending an extra year at the U, and, of course, observing you for another year. Do you think you could cope with that?" he smiled.
"So how will it be different from the last three years?"
"And now I have the chance to watch a new sentinel grow, and how he finds his guide, not to mention the interaction between the two of them..."
Jim smiled to himself as he once more listened to Denny and Cindy. He had a feeling Denny might just have found his guide, but he wasn't going to tell Sandburg that. He'd let him work it out for himself. It would be more fun that way.
A/N – It is AU as Murder 101 and all other episodes after that do not occur – especially TSbyBS!
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