(See Page 1 for Disclaimer, Background, Summary, and Author's Notes)
A New Challenge (Page 3 of 4)
The next morning, Jim got Blair up before he left for work. After tending to Blair's injuries, which he realized he had forgotten to do the night before, he made sure the slave ate a decent breakfast. While giving Blair his pills, he showed him how he had color-coded the two prescription bottles. Using colored markers, he had drawn a big red dot on one lid and a big green one on the other. Red for pain pills and green for the antibiotic. "Just in case something comes up and I can't get away before you need to take them again. I also set the alarm on one of my old watches for when the next dose is due so you'll be sure to take it at the right time." Handing Blair the watch, he noticed how the younger man wouldn't meet his eyes as he slowly took it and strapped it on his wrist. "Hey, this is more for my peace of mind than anything else. Besides, you should have your glasses later today and then all of this won't matter any more. Right?"
Swallowing a sigh, Jim plunged onward. "And enough of this 'Master' stuff. We already agreed that you weren't going to use that anymore. I didn't say anything last night because you weren't feeling good, but you need to get used to using 'Sir' from now on. Especially at the mall today. Speaking of which, my plan is to leave work around noon and come get you. I'll take the rest of the day off so we won't be rushed or anything. We can even eat lunch there, too. I'll call you right before I leave so you'll know I'm coming." He eyed Blair, who was still in his new sleeping attire of sweatpants and a t-shirt. "I expect you to be ready when I get here."
"I will be, Sir." Damn, but that was going to be hard to get used to saying all the time, especially in public.
"Good. I'd better get going. I'm sure Simon'll expect at least some work out of me this morning since I'm leaving early."
Jim headed for the door and took his jacket off the rack. He turned back around. "I want you to take it easy today. Just relax and watch T.V. or something until it's time to go. I'll call you later." He knew he was procrastinating but was reluctant to leave. Finding Blair in the bathroom like that the night before had set off a, hitherto unknown, but now very large, overprotective streak in him. He'd done everything he could think of to make sure Blair would be all right until he returned, but still, leaving him alone just felt wrong. His instincts were screaming at him to stay. But he had a job to do; people were counting on him. Not to mention it would be hard enough to ask for half a day off if he showed up late to begin with. Putting on his jacket, he opened the door, determined to make himself go through it. "I'll see you in a few hours. Bye." Not giving Blair a chance to say anything, he stepped through the door and pulled it closed behind him, using that same momentum to turn and quickly walk down the hallway to the elevator.
Blair stared at the closed door for a few seconds before turning his eyes downward to look at his watch-covered wrist. The differences between his current home and his last one were mind boggling.
Getting up from the table, Blair carried the dirty dishes to the kitchen sink. Today Master, no, Sir, he mentally corrected, had left all the breakfast dishes so he at least could do something to start feeling like he was earning his keep.
Dishes done and the kitchen clean, Blair looked around for anything else he could do. Taking the pain pills on time really made a difference in how he felt. A quick check of the upstairs bedroom showed that it didn't need any further attention. No point in cleaning the bathroom until he was finished in it. Grabbing the bag from his room, he entered the bathroom. Again, it looked as if it had never been used. Sighing, he removed what he needed and got himself ready to face the day. He already knew that the small room wouldn't look as good when he finished.
Not taking a shower and having to wash his hair cut his morning ablutions down considerably. Returning to his room, he picked an outfit. He was soon dressed with his hair combed and pulled back. Now all he had to do was wait. At least he was allowed to watch TV.
A few hours later Blair was so engrossed in a show that the sudden, loud ringing of the phone startled him. He stared at it, not sure what to do. He'd never answered the phone at Master Eli's; that was one of house slave's jobs. And of course there was no phone in the barn. Sir said he would be calling and probably expected him to answer it. But what if it wasn't Sir? What if it was someone calling for his master? Each ring seemed to get louder and more impatient sounding. Cautiously reaching out his hand, Blair gingerly picked up the handset and raised it to his ear.
"Uh. Master Ellison's house. Can I help you?"
"Blair? Is anything wrong? What took you so long to answer?" Worry and impatience colored the detective's voice.
"I-I didn't know if I was supposed to answer it, in case it wasn't you. And I wasn't sure what to say." Worry and uncertainly colored the slave's reply.
There was a slight pause before Jim spoke again. "Haven't you ever answered a phone before?"
Another brief pause. "Oh. Okay. Listen, I'm leaving the station now and should be home in about 20 to 30 minutes. Are you ready to go?"
"Good. I've got the rest of the day off so we can eat lunch at the mall while we're there. And Blair?"
"It's okay about the phone. You did fine. I'll be there soon."
Jim hung up but left his hand on the handset. Blair had never answered a phone before. It made him wonder what other everyday things he had never experienced. The impression he'd gotten so far was that Blair, while receiving a great education, was kept fairly secluded at his first home, with only occasional educational trips off the estate with Prof. Stoddard. From there he went to almost a solid year of isolation, living in a barn. No wonder Blair was so nervous about almost everything he did, always afraid of doing anything wrongalmost everything was new to him. So apparently he was going to be the one to show the kid how the world worked while at the same time trying to raise his badly damaged self-esteem.
Jim grinned as he grabbed his jacket off the back of his chair. Let the lessons begin.
Following Jim through the Riverside Mall's main doors, Blair couldn't help constantly looking around. It was so big and spacious. His mother had told him about shopping malls, but to actually be in one was much different. The mall was two levels high, and filled with every type of store imaginable. The only other place where he'd seen this many people at one time had been on the Rainier campus with Master Eli.
As two pretty, young women passed by, one of them smiled at him. Blair stopped and turned his head, slack jawed, as he watched them as they continued down the mall. A citizen had not only acknowledged him, she had smiled at him, too!
Jim, sensing that Blair was no longer behind him, turned around just in time to see the younger man do his stunned statue imitation. Smiling to himself, he reached out and grabbed a leather-covered arm.
"Come on, Romeo. You can check out the ladies later."
The tug on his sleeve pulled Blair out of his stupor. Excited dark blue eyes lit up as he fell into step beside Jim. His hands began waving around as he starting speaking.
"Sir? Do you see this place? It's like a... a microcosm of society all contained in one place. The people in here seem to cross all economic and class levels yet everyone has no problem relating to each other. The common bond of obtaining material goods seems to transcend the usual sociological differences. Don't you think so, Sir?"
It was hard for Jim to hide his amusement at the suddenly animated, intellectual Blair. Not knowing exactly where the vision care business was located, he'd been forced to use the mall's front entrance. But watching Blair's reactions to the mall was making this a rather entertaining walk. This had to be how he was when he lived with Professor Stoddard. "Sure, Chief. It's the first thing I think of when I come to the mall." He pointed towards a side corridor. "C'mon, I think the eye place is down this way."
Once she determined that he was a new patient, the woman behind the counter at OptiEyes Eye Care Center handed Blair a clipboard full of forms and a pen. Sitting beside Jim, he looked at the paperwork. "How do they expect me to fill all these out if the main reason I'm here is because I need glasses to read?"
Jim chuckled. "Good point." Reaching over, he took the clipboard out of Blair's hands. "It might be easier if I fill them out anyway since I know more of the information they need." He looked down and started reading. "First name. Blair." After filling in the line he continued. "Hmmm. Middle name."
"Jacob?" Most slaves didn't have a second name.
He wrote down the name. Oh boy. "Last name."
Jim scowled at the form. This was even trickier because technically slaves didn't have last names, much like pets. Owners used their own last name as the slave's surname on all official forms and documents concerning their slaves. Using his last name would imply that they were possibly related. Then they'd either have to starting lying every time they filled out any type of paperwork and say they were related or would have to constantly explain that they weren't. This, in turn, could raise some suspicions about their true relationship. He didn't want anyone questioning Blair about how he was dressed or why he wasn't sitting in the back of the room, waiting until all the freeborn patients were finished before getting his eyes examined.
Jim looked over, raising an eyebrow. "What?"
"My last name is Sandburg. Same as my mother's. She always told me that my name is Blair Jacob Sandburg." There was just a hint of defiance in the younger man's voice, almost as if daring anyone to say anything different.
"Okay. Good. That actually makes things easier." Jim resumed writing. "Blair Jacob Sandburg it is. Now, address. 852 Prospect Ave, Apartment 307, Cascade."
Blair tapped the address with his finger. "Could you write that down for me? And the home phone number? I already have your work and cell numbers from the note you left." He shrugged. "Just seems like something I should know."
Jim just wanted to get the paperwork done as quickly as possible. "Okay, but not right now. Let's get this finished so you can get your eyes checked out."
After that it didn't take long to finish and hand the completed forms back in. The receptionist suggested they look at frames while they waited.
The sheer number of choices nearly overwhelmed both men. Blair had virtually no experience in choosing things for himself and Jim, being a sentinel, had never needed glasses. When it became obvious that neither one of them had a clue about picking out frames, a female employee offered her assistance. After much trial and error, and a lot of laughing at how Blair looked in some of the styles, everyone agreed on a nice pair of small wire frames. Once they had Blair's prescription, they would grind and put in the lenses.
When Blair's name was called, Jim accompanied him back into the examination room. The doctor looked as if he were going to object to the extra person but after seeing the larger man's determined face and his patient's nervous one, he relented.
Having discovered that most of his patient's anxiety was due to never having had his eyes examined before, the doctor made it a point to explain each step of the procedure as he went. As Blair calmed down, Jim found himself also becoming more relaxed and watching the whole process with interest. He found it interesting, and even a bit amusing, that he could easily read the smallest line on every eye chart the doctor showed Blair, though the office was kept fairly dark most of the time.
Finally the exam was over and the office lights turned back on.
"Well, Mr. Sandburg, you definitely need glasses for reading. I also strongly recommend that you wear them while driving or during any other detail-oriented activity. Many of my far-sighted patients, such as yourself, wear their glasses almost all the time. Since you've never worn glasses before, give yourself some time to adjust to wearing them. After a few days, you'll discover for yourself when you need to wear them and when you don't. So, do you have any questions about anything?"
After a quick glance over at Jim, who just nodded, Blair turned back to the eye doctor. "What do you mean by far-sighted? Is that bad?"
Slightly taken aback that someone his patient's age didn't know the difference between near-sighted and far-sighted, the doctor launched into a simple explanation of the most common types of eye problems. Walking over to a rack on the wall holding several pamphlets, he selected a few and gave them to Blair to read, telling him that if he had any more questions after reading them, he'd be happy to answer them for him. Jim decided he liked this doctor's attitude and that he would now be Blair's regular eye doctor.
Back in the main room again, the same woman who helped them pick out the frames now put them on Blair and took a series of measurements. After going over all the different options for the various types of lenses, Jim ordered two pair of glasses with almost every extra available as well as a pair of prescription sunglasses. They were told that the glasses would be ready in about two to three hours since the eye center was a bit backlogged at the moment and they were getting two pairs plus sunglasses made. After paying for all three pairs, Jim and Blair left saying they'd be back later to pick them up.
Next on the agenda was lunch. As they walked towards the food court, Blair spied a hair salon. Unconsciously his feet stopped moving as he looked through the large glass window and watched the activity inside. He couldn't help thinking about yesterday and the long, painful ordeal it had been just to wash and comb out his hair. The thought of having to go through that every time he took a shower was depressing. A small sigh escaped as he thought about how nice it would be to have a professional hair stylist cut his hair. A small tap on his upper arm had him looking up at Jim, embarrassed to have stopped.
"Do you want to get your hair cut, Chief?" Personally Jim thought Blair's hair was way too long, but had already decided that if that's how Blair wanted it, he wasn't going to say anything.
"No, Sir. I mean, yes, Sir, but I'm going to see if there's another slave in our building who would be willing to cut it for me. I'm sorry I stopped, Sir." He started to turn away but a tug on his arm stopped him.
"We've got plenty of time. Let's go see how soon we can get you an appointment." Spreading one hand across the back of the surprised slave's head, Jim practically had to push him through the door.
Blair spent most of the twenty-minute wait poring over hairstyle books and magazines, amazed that people could walk in and pick out a new hairstyle whenever they chose. He would laughingly show some of the more outlandish ones to Jim. But when Jim tapped his finger on a picture of male model with a stylish, but very short haircut, Blair's heart sank. He didn't want all his hair cut off. But nothing belonged to him, not even his hair. He slowly closed the book. The loud, laughing voice changed to barely audible. "Yes, Master."
The sudden change in Blair's demeanor startled Jim. The thin shoulders slumped and all the previous joy left the young slave's eyes, replaced by a resigned, almost defeated look. It was when he closed the book and called him 'Master' that Jim realized what had happened.
"Hey. I didn't mean you had to get your hair cut like that. That was just another option. Forget the books. You get your hair cut any way, any length you want. I mean it, Blair. It's your hair, you do whatever you want with it."
Blair's eyes slowly turned back upwards. "You-you mean that, Ma" He quickly looked around, apparently forgetting he had already slipped once. Fortunately it was the middle of a weekday afternoon and they were the only ones currently waiting. "Sir?"
Jim sighed to himself. With Blair, it was one step forward, two back. "Yeah, Chief, I really mean it. When it comes to personal stuff like this, you call your own shots."
Any answer apart from a grateful smile was cut off when Blair's name was called.
After getting her newest customer settled in the chair with a large plastic cloth covering him, the stylist, who identified herself as Maggie, spent a few minutes oooing and ahhing over his long, thick mane. When she finally asked him what he wanted done to it today, Blair glanced over at Jim. Relaxing at the grin and thumbs up he got in return, he settled back and told her exactly how he wanted his hair cut.
Almost 45 minutes later, Blair was turned with his back to the large wall mirror, looking in a smaller hand mirror, checking out the back of his head. Maggie was standing beside him.
"So. What do you think?"
Blair tilted his head from side to side as he continued looking into the mirror. "It definitely feels lighter."
The stylist laughed as she looked down at the mounds of hair around the chair and her feet. "I'll bet. What about the length? I can take some more off it you want."
"No. No, this is just what I wanted. Thanks."
"Okay then, I guess we're done." Turning the chair around again, Maggie smiled as she removed and shook out the cape draped around Blair. "Personally, I think this length brings out those beautiful blue eyes of yours a lot more. Now to keep it this length and to prevent split ends, you'll probably need to come back and see me about once a month or so to get it trimmed, depending on how fast your hair grows."
Blair blushed slightly at the flirtatious comments, but he just nodded in response. The only way he could get it trimmed regularly would be to find another slave to do it for him. No way would Master bring him back here every month just so he could get his hair cut. Not to mention having to pay for it, too. But for now he would enjoy it. He shook his head, delighting in feeling his hair move freely for the first time in months.
Getting out of the chair, he turned to show his master his new haircut only to see... an empty chair. His next breath seemed to freeze in his chest.
It couldn't be.
What happened? Did Master just leave him here?
Over his wildly pounding heart, he could just barely make out Maggie telling him how much he had to pay for the haircut.
Pay? With what? Now everyone was going to find out that he wasn't a real person after all, only a slave.
Oh God. He was going to be punished for trying to pass himself off as a citizen. His head was spinning. What was going to happen to him now? Was he going to be arrested? Put in jail? Sold off to a new master?
From somewhere behind him, he heard voices talking. Then he was gently pushed down into a chair and a glass of water was in his hand. His hand was shaking so badly that water sloshed over the rim, then the glass was gone.
How long before they came and took him away? Propping his elbows on his knees he lowered his face into his hands, barely aware of the flurry of activity going on around him. Waiting for the inevitable.
It took several seconds before Blair registered the arm across his shoulders and the now easily recognizable voice that was just starting to break through his growing panic.
"C'mon, Blair. You're scaring everyone here. Talk to me. What's wrong, buddy?"
Blair slowly raised his head and turned to see the face he thought he'd never see again.
"S-Sir? You came back."
"Well, of course I did. A lady was getting a perm and the smell from the chemicals was getting to me. I had to get some fresh air. I was browsing around in the bookstore and didn't realize how long I'd been gone. You didn't think that I just deserted you here, did you?" The trembling shoulders and look on Blair's face told Jim that that was exactly what the younger man had thought. One step forward, two back. "You sit here for a minute while I settle everything, up then we can go get some lunch. I'll be right back." With a final pat on Blair's shoulder, Jim moved away.
After paying for Blair's haircut, to which he added a very generous tip, Jim collected his much calmer, though now very embarrassed, slave.
Neither man spoke as they walked to the mall's Food Court and picked out their respective lunches. Any other time Blair would have been delighted at the daunting task of choosing what to eat, but still shook up by what he thought had happened to him at the hair salon, his heart wasn't in it. He followed Jim up to a food counter and, after his master had ordered a burger meal, he selected a plain garden salad for himself.
Jim led them to an empty section of table and chairs, then selected a table in the farthest corner, assuring them as much privacy as possible in such a public place. Taking the chair across the small table from Blair, he divided up their food. Just as he was about to take his first bite, he noticed that Blair was sitting with his hands in his lap and his head bowed low. He made no move to touch his food. Even though Blair couldn't see him, Jim indicated the untouched food with his own burger.
Immediately, a still slightly shaking hand came out and picked up the plastic fork, spearing a bite of lettuce. It was dutifully chewed and swallowed. After the second bite was eaten, Jim started in own his own meal.
A few minutes later, Jim couldn't stand watching Blair mechanically eat his food. The heavy silence weighed on him.
"Look, Blair, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be gone for so long. It wasn't until I suddenly heard your heart start pounding that I looked at my watch and saw how late it was. Then I heard them asking you what was wrong and realized what was going on. I got back as soon as I could. Are you okay now?"
Looking up, Blair quickly swallowed the bite he was eating. "Yes, Sir. I just... I looked over and you weren't there and, for whatever reason, I thought you'd left me there. All I could think of was that I was going to be punished for trying to pass as a free citizen. I guess I panicked a little."
Jim held his thumb and index finger a short distance apart. "Yeah. Maybe just a little." That got him a small, embarrassed grin. "Blair, do you remember what I told you in the restaurant the other night?" Getting a puzzled look then a head shake, he continued. "I told you that you were with me now and that I wouldn't let anything happen to you. I meant it then and I mean it now. I know you've been through some really bad stuff but I promise you, that's all over with now. I'm sure I'll make some mistakes, like today, but I'm going to do my best to take good care of you. Understand?"
The soft reply reached across the table. "Yes, Sir. And I promise to do my best for you, too." The rest was barely muttered out loud. "As soon as I figure out what that's supposed to be."
"Later, Chief. When you're better." Reaching out a hand, Jim patted the curls that now just brushed past Blair's shoulders. "Hair looks good. I was thinking something a bit shorter, myself. But if that's what you want, that's all that matters."
"Yes, Sir. This is what I want."
"Okay then. Let's finish eating, then maybe kill some time doing a little window shopping until it's time to pick up your glasses."
Blair looked puzzled. "You want to buy some windows?"
"What?" Jim chuckled when he realized what Blair thought he meant. "No. No. Window shopping means just looking at things, usually through the store's big display windows, instead of actually buying anything." The look on the other man's face was priceless. "Never mind. You'll see."
After an hour of learning the fine art of window shopping, and another half hour spent at OptiEyes, Blair walked out of the vision care store still awed by how much better he could now see everything. Once all three pairs of glasses had been adjusted for a perfect fit, the clerk had handed him a card with several paragraphs written in progressively smaller type. Blair was amazed at now being able to read even the smallest print. Jim knew just the place to take him to celebrate his new found talent.
Just as Jim suspected, Blair's eyes grew large when, instead of leaving the mall after finishing at OptiEyes, he turned and headed into the large bookstore located on their level. "I was looking at a book in here when you finished at the hair place. I might as well pick it up while we're still here. Look around for anything that might interest you, too." He figured that anyone who was educated by a university professor had to miss not having any interesting books to read. His own taste in books mostly tended to run towards either military or law enforcement. Blair's 'kid in a candy store' expression proved that he was right. "Take your time, there's no rush. I'll find you when I'm done."
After finding his book and looking around himself for about 20 more minutes, Jim was ready to leave. He found Blair in the Reference and Research section, sitting on the floor with a small stack of books in front of him. On each side of that stack was a slightly smaller one and he was holding a book in each hand. A look of total indecision was on his face.
"Finding everything all right?"
Blair looked up, startled. "I can't decide which one to pick. They each have different types of information that I want to review." He indicated one of the smaller stacks of books. "These are some of the books that Master Eli used when I helped him with his research and these..." He pointed to the other small stack, "... came out since then so they probably have some new data in them. The ones in the middle are good general reference books to have on hand." He sighed. "I just can't decide which one would be the best to use to get the most information."
When Blair first looked up, Jim was also startled. Cleaned up, in his new clothes, haircut and glasses, Blair looked nothing like the shivering, frightened slave he first saw on the auction block. If it wasn't for the familiar sounding heartbeat, Jim almost wouldn't be able to recognize him as the same person. Sitting among the stacks of books, he now looked exactly what he had been trained since birth to bea scholar. And a scholar should have books. Lots of books.
"Welll, how about if you pick out a few to take home now and we'll have the rest sent to the loft? And what about a good set of encyclopedias? Wouldn't hurt to have one of those around. While you're picking out which books to take now, I'll find out which is the best set available and have them order it. And if you think of any other books you want, get those, too." Jim had to smile at the look on the younger man's face. "Close your mouth, Chief. You look like you're catching flies. I'll meet you back here in a few minutes."
By the time Jim led a strangely silent Blair out of the bookstore, besides his one book, he carried the books that Blair had picked out as well as several notebooks and pens. He had noticed that two of the books were pertaining directly to sentinels; the others were general anthropology or research type books. While it pleased him that his slave had an interest in sentinels, at the same time, Jim hoped that Blair wouldn't be too disappointed when he found out that he was only a Level Three. While he didn't hide the fact that he was a sentinel, they had never really talked about it either. A thick, hard covered dictionary and a thesaurus completed the take-home inventory. The clerk had placed the plastic bags containing everything in a doubled up shopping bag to be sure Jim could carry the load to his car. The rest of Blair's books were to be delivered within a few days and the set of encyclopedias ordered, to be sent directly to the loft.
Once home again Jim decided that the first order of business was to get the bookcase and table up from the basement and into the new bedroom. Even though Blair had taken his antibiotic and pain pills at lunch, Jim refused to let him help carry either piece of furniture, only allowing him to clean them up once they were placed in the room. Then it was time to tackle putting the nightstand together.
With Blair reading the directions and Jim doing most of the manual labor, a new nightstand soon joined the futon, bookcase and table/desk in helping to transform the former storage space into a bedroom. Blair stood back, a bemused smile on his face, as Jim painstakingly arranged each piece of furniture. Only when everything was perfectly aligned to his exacting standards, did the sentinel allow Blair to place the clock radio and lamp on the nightstand and plug them in. While Jim busied himself setting the time on the clock, Blair pulled his old backpack from the closet and laid it on the futon. He reached inside and slowly pulled out something flat, heavily wrapped in paper. Tenderly unwrapping the paper, he looked at the object for a several seconds then lovingly placed the picture frame next to the clock.
Jim looked at the image of a happy, smiling Blair, albeit a few years younger. His hair was about the same length it was now and, although he was obviously wearing slave whites, his shirt was covered with a multicolored vest, similar to the one he had coveted in the department store. Next to Blair was a vivacious looking red-haired woman dressed in a colorful blouse. Even though both of them were sitting behind a table and were only visible from the waist up, the woman seemed to be taller than Blair. She had one arm around his shoulders and was also smiling. Sitting on the table in front of them was a white frosted cake glowing with lit candles.
He heard Blair swallow before nodding. "It was my 20th birthday. Master Eli took the picture. He died just before I turned twenty-one and then... well, you know. It's the only picture I have of her. One of the other slaves at Master Decker's kept my backpack safe for me after I was sent to the barn. He gave it to me as I was leaving for Mr. Coleman's place."
"She's very pretty."
"Yeah. She is... was." Blair turned away from the picture, and very slowly and carefully returned the worn backpack to the closet.
Sensing that Blair wasn't ready yet to talk about his mother, Jim also turned away from the nightstand and spotted the shopping bag from the bookstore sitting in the doorway of the room. His stomach chose that moment to remind him that lunch had been several hours ago.
"Why don't you put away your things from the bookstore while I go fix us up something for dinner? You can even start deciding how you want to organize the bookcase with the other books once they get here."
Pleased to see Blair relax when he realized that he wasn't going to be pushed to talk, Jim left to start cooking.
Dinner was a simple but filling meal of pork chops, rice and green beans. Blair decided not to think about how much fat and cholesterol was in each chop. He was hungry and they smelled soo good. Jim noted that while Blair didn't ask for seconds, he did eat every bite when he refilled his plate. And he had never seen anyone enjoy a slice of store bought pie so much before. After dinner, they did the dishes together, Blair drying to avoid getting his wrist bandages wet. Jim spent some time that evening watching TV while Blair sat nearby, his nose buried in one of his new books. Occasionally he would come up for air long enough to look over at Jim or stare off into space for a few minutes, then write something in one of the notebooks. It was the most content and relaxed the younger man had looked since Jim had first seen him.
When it came time to turn in, Blair showered; Jim carefully applied the ointment, then rewrapped the wounds, relieved to see that all of them were healing nicely, though Blair still flinched a bit when his ankle was manipulated or a particularly tender whip mark was touched. Jim had found that by having him take his shower, then treating the wounds, at night meant that Blair didn't have to worry about it in the morning and assured the detective plenty of hot water for his morning shower. Shortly after the last bandage was in place, Blair gathered up his books, bid Jim goodnight and headed off to his room for the night. The detective noted that, even though Blair's ankle was still healing, his limp was a lot less noticeable, unless he was tired or had been on his feet for too long. Relieved that the young slave was physically recovering so well from the abuse he has suffered, Jim headed off to bed himself.
Blair climbed into bed and reluctantly removed his glasses, placing them in their case before putting them on the nightstand. Propping himself up on the pillows, he reached over and picked up the picture frame. For a minute he just looked at the images, slowly tracing one finger around his mother. Then he spoke, his voice barely a whisper.
"Hi, Mama. Look where I am. I'm not in the barn anymore. I'm in my own room. It's a nice room, Mama; I really like it. And look, Master Ellison bought me clothes and glasses and books. And even gave me his own watch to wear. Except that I'm not supposed to call him Master, he wants me to call him Sir. Did you ever hear of such a thing? Me neither. I miss you, Mama, so much. But I think I'm gonna be all right here, so now you don't have to worry about me anymore. Good night, Mama. I love you."
Upstairs Jim heard the sound of the picture being put back and the click of the lamp being turned off. He listened until he was sure Blair had made himself comfortable and was drifting off to sleep. The young slave's words had touched him deeply and he added his own personal vow to Naomi Sandburg to keep a close watch over her son in her stead. Secure in the knowledge that all was right in his world for the night, the sentinel also drifted off to sleep.
The next several days were relatively uneventful. Except for Blair's panicked call to Jim at work when the Home Depot installers arrived with the shelves and doors. Jim calmly told him to let them in and to show them where he wanted the shelves put up. That night Blair proudly showed off the new additions to his room. He seemed especially pleased with the French doors he had picked out himself. Two days later Jim came home to find Blair in his room happily putting away the newly arrived shipment that the bookstore had delivered. The bottom shelf of the bookcase was kept empty, waiting for the yet-to-arrive set of encyclopedias. Fortunately the bookstore order had included more notebooks with the reference books; Jim had noticed that Blair was rapidly filling up the ones he already had. The dictionary and thesaurus were sitting upright on the back edge of the desk, alongside the slightly chipped Cascade PD mug he had given Blair to use as a pencil holder. The new stack of notebooks sat there, too. Jim had to smile. Blair looked totally in his element handling the books. In fact, he was already thinking in terms of a getting him another bookcase so he could add even more to his collection. And maybe a real desk, with drawers.
The return trip to the doctor to have Blair's injuries checked proved to be rather entertaining. Much to Jim's amusement, Dr. Morrison scanned Blair's chip twice, at first not believing that this was the same slave he had treated just two weeks prior. Once the exam was over, he declared that Blair was healing much better than he had expected and that the slave could stop the oral antibiotics when the current prescription ran out. When he had his patient stand on the scale, the doctor stated that while he was still underweight, seeing the difference from the last time, he was sure that Blair would soon be up to his normal weight. If he had any comments about the slave's clothes or the fact that he referred to his owner as 'Sir' and not 'Master', he wisely kept them to himself. Dr. Morrison told Jim to keep using the ointment and bandages as usual for the next week, but only on the worst wounds. Unless there was a problem, he wouldn't need to see Blair again for another four weeks. As they left, Jim scheduled the next appointment at the front desk.
After one month of living together, the two men had settled into a comfortable routine. It turned out that Blair was a pretty good cook, having learned the basics from Eli Stoddard's kitchen staff while living at his first master's house. When Jim arrived home from work after a long, tiring day, a hot dinner was waiting for him. While they ate, Jim would tell Blair about his day and whatever cases he was currently investigating. After eating, they would share clean-up duties. The detective was surprised, and secretly pleased, at his slave's interest in police work and, in particular, his own cases. He was also surprised at the intelligent and often insightful questions coming from someone with no previous law enforcement background.
Evenings usually found Jim relaxing by reading the paper and watching TV. Blair joined him in the living room, although, often as not, even as he avidly watched whatever was on, the former scholar was busy poring over one his of books and always writing away in a notebook. Watching television was still a new treat to the young slave, so Jim tried to pick a wide variety of programs, occasionally letting him choose what they watched. Sometimes Blair seemed to ignore the TV. After noticing this happening a few times, Jim asked if he wasn't interested in the program. When Blair hesitantly replied that he couldn't hear it, the older man sheepishly raised the volume, not even aware of how low it had been. Blair had just grinned, then dropping his head, he quickly made some new notes in his notebook. As Blair became more comfortable speaking freely around him, the younger man's apt and often amusing comments during various shows reminded Jim of his slave's unique and well rounded education, while also showing off a rather quirky sense of humor.
Jim, like many red-blooded American males, was heavily into sports. Whenever he had the time, usually on weekends, he would find different types of sporting events on TV. He tried to explain the nuances of each one to Blair as they watched. The detective watched just about everything: ballgames, fishing, golf, even bowling. The young slave soon assumed that his master expected him to become well versed in every sport they watched. On their subsequent trips to the mall bookstore, he passed over his personally favored books, and instead picked out ones on the different types of contests Jim seemed interested in, trying to memorize their history as well as all the confusing rules. It didn't take long for Jim to realize that Blair wasn't enjoying himself when they watched sports on TV. He was trying too hard to memorize every player, every move and every rule, as if he were going to be tested on them later. The treasured reference books and notebooks were gone, replaced by a book on whatever sport they were watching. Once he identified the problem, Jim gently explained to Blair that watching sports was supposed to be fun, that he didn't expect someone who had never been exposed to this type of entertainment before to understand everything about all the different types of games all at once. And that, although the books contained a lot of useful information, the best way to learn was to watch and ask questions. With the pressure off of him, between the books he had already read and his own sharp mind, it didn't take long for Blair to grasp the basics, then the more subtle details, of virtually every type of sport that they watched. Basketball quickly became his favorite and he was soon an ardent Jaguars fan.
As Blair continued to heal physically and the weather turned nicer, Jim enjoyed taking him out and exposing him to culturally based, as well as just for fun, places not usually experienced by slaves. He started with few trips to the mall to help Blair become more comfortable being around other people again, especially free citizens. And if each trip always seemed to end with a visit to the bookstore and a few more books to add to Blair's second, larger bookcase, so what?
As Jim had expected, the city's expansive museum was a big hit, as was the art gallery, with souvenirs from each place gracing the new shelves in Blair's room.
Shortly after Blair made his newfound fondness for basketball known, Jim got them tickets to a Jags home game. He had as much fun watching Blair at the slave's first live game as he did watching the players. They both left the arena sporting brand new official Jags baseball caps.
Blair's excitement at actually seeing many of the animals he had only seen on TV or in books made the trip to the zoo enjoyable for both of them. Jim helped by pointing out the shyer animals that seemed to be trying to hide from all the prying eyes on them. When they later visited the small petting zoo, it was harder for Jim to tell who was enjoying petting and feeding the tamer, more domestic animals moreBlair or the children there.
Even though Blair had watched some TV before, he had never been to a movie theatre. Jim picked a new action flick he'd wanted to see anyway to remedy that situation. He sprang for popcorn, soda and candy, which were new treats for Blair. Afterwards, they stopped for ice cream, which had the young slave relishing his first banana split.
One of the most touching moments for Jim came when they were in the large main branch of the Cascade Public Library. Blair was thrilled just to be there but when Jim took him to the central desk and announced that Mr. Blair Sandburg needed a library card, the look on the smaller man's face made the drive over more than worth it. A short time later Blair was reverently holding a card with his name and his picture on it that stated he was now authorized to check out books from any public library in the city. For one scary moment, Jim thought that Blair was going hug him right there in front of everyone, but instead he took out his wallet and reverently placed the new card in it. Jim noticed that the only other thing in there was one of his Cascade PD business cards that he had given to him earlier.
Despite all the exciting places he'd been, it turned out that Blair's favorite place of all was a small park just a few blocks from the loft. After spending almost a year locked away in a barn, having the freedom to walk around outside, able to enjoy the sights and sounds of nature, was just the balm the young slave's tortured soul needed. It was here that Blair was most at peace. Jim was glad that it was early spring. That meant they had several more months of nice weather ahead of them before the returning colder temperatures would limit how often they could enjoy being outdoors. Watching Blair's absolute delight in something as simple walking through the trees or feeding the ducks in the lake never failed to soothe Jim's own soul and bring a smile to his face. He knew he and Blair would be spending a lot of time here.
As they sat in the living room one night, not doing anything out of the ordinary, Jim realized that, gradually, over the past several weeks the loft had become a place he now looked forward to returning to after being away instead of just a place to eat and sleep. It had becomehome. He glanced over at the person he had never planned on having in his life but now couldn't imagine not having around. While their legal status was that of master and slave, that was far from how he felt. It was hard to put into words exactly what he felt towards Blair. Just being around the younger man made him feel calmer, more relaxed and at ease with himself and everyone around him. Although the doctor had recently given Blair a clean bill of health and his wounds were now almost entirely healed, when Blair hurt, he hurt, and he knew he would do anything to stop Blair from hurting. Just thinking about how he had first found the young slave, chained to the ground in Coleman's tent, and the abuse he had suffered, brought out that new, but very large, protective streak in him. Blair belonged with him now, and not just as a slave, and God help anybody who tried to hurt him or take him away.
Almost as if he knew Jim was thinking about him, Blair raised his eyes from the book he was reading and smiled at him, then resumed reading. Blair and his books. Jim smiled to himself. He had already taken Blair to the local branch of the library twice since getting him the card. He was like a kid in a candy store. If books made Blair happy, he saw no reason why the kid shouldn't have as many as he could fit in his backpack. It was amazing at first how fast he went through them, until Jim realized that Blair was home all day with not much else to do. He felt a bit guilty about that, but at the same time, he didn't know what he could do about it. Besides, he worried less about Blair while at work, knowing that he was safe at home. Blair seemed happy enough and that was good enough for now.
Jim's attention was drawn back to the TV. They'd been watching the evening news and there was a picture of the Renaissance Market behind the anchorwoman. When he noticed Blair leaning forward, straining to hear the newscast, he guiltily turned up the volume.
"... taken Health Inspectors several weeks but the source of the numerous outbreaks of food poisonings around the city has finally been traced to some of the food stands located at the Renaissance Market. Edward Turner is standing by live at the Market with the story. Ed?"
The TV picture changed from the anchorwoman sitting behind the desk to a man standing outside holding a microphone with the station's news logo on it.
"Thank you, Tina. I'm standing in front of Friar Tuck's, one of the food vendors here at the Renaissance Market that specializes in the large turkey legs, which are a Market staple. About two months ago, doctors and hospitals began seeing an alarming increase in the number of what they first suspected were food poisoning cases. The Health Department was called in to investigate. Because almost all of the victims had visited here prior to getting sick, the Renaissance Market vendors were considered the most likely source of the outbreaks, but they were ultimately given a clean bill of health. It wasn't until a Level Six sentinel and guide pair was added to the investigation that the culprit was discovered. It turns out that there was a new, and until now, unknown parasite found in the meat that some of the vendors were using. Many of the vendors had recently signed up with a new meat supply company that, it turned out, was buying cheap, ungraded beef and poultry from less than reputable sources. The parasite is virtually odorless and tasteless and apparently not always killed by cooking. According to the Health Department, the meat company, All Good Meats, has been closed down and all the tainted meat recovered."
"Well that's a relief. So how was the tainted meat finally discovered?"
"As I said, the parasite is virtually undetectable, at least to most people. The original inspection was done by Level Four sentinels. In most cases, they can find food contaminants very easily. But this time, it wasn't until the Level Six sentinel was brought in that the new parasite was finally discovered. Fortunately, it turns out that All Good Meats is, or rather, was, a new company in the area and so far had only supplied the contaminated meat to the Renaissance Market vendors. The Health Department has now re-issued a complete clean bill of health to all the food vendors here and has also issued a news bulletin to assure everyone that it is perfectly safe to once again enjoy all the good food available here at Cascade's popular Renaissance Market." The reporter lifted a large turkey leg to his mouth and took a bite. Brandishing the leg, he looked directly at the camera again. "Back to you, Tina."
"Thank you, Ed. And thank goodness for that Level Six sentinel. Coming up after the break, up to the minute weather with..."
Jim clicked off the TV. Something about the news story was bothering him but he couldn't quite figure out what it was.
Blair's soft voice broke into his thoughts. "Just think, Sir, if it hadn't been for you, we would have gotten sick, too."
"Don't you remember? The day you bought me. We stopped to eat on the way out. Your friend wanted to eat at one turkey leg vendor but you said it didn't smell right, so we went to a different one. You said that one smelled okay. If we had eaten at the first place, we would have gotten sick too, just like all those other people. Good thing we had a high level sentinel with us. It's just too bad you didn't know about the contaminated meat back then. It would have stopped a lot of other people from getting sick."
For a moment Jim was too surprised to speak. He did remember the incident. Although he'd never hidden the fact that he was a sentinel from Blair, he'd never been very overt about it either. As a Level Three, there wasn't a whole lot he could do anyway. It wasn't that he didn't use his senses. Even at a low level they came in handy for things like monitoring a suspect's vital signs to determine if he wasn't being entirely truthful or seeing and hearing things that other non-sentinel cops sometimes missed. But for the most part he relied more on instinct and training than on his senses. So what was all this Blair was saying about him being a high level sentinel? "Blair, that thing with the bad meat must have been a fluke or a coincidence or something. I've had all the mandatory Sentinel Center tests and I've always been rated a Level Three. That's all."
Blair stared at him wide-eyed then shook his head. He held up both index fingers. "Wait one minute. I want to show you something." Then he disappeared into his room.
When Blair returned, he had his notebooks with him. Sitting down beside Jim, he opened the first one and turned a few pages. "I've been keeping notes, Sir. Everything pertaining to your sentinel abilities starting from day one." He pointed to the page. "Here's the first time you made a reference to hearing my heartbeat, right after Mr. Coleman told everyone what happened to my... my mother." Blair swallowed then seemed to give himself an internal shake as he continued. "I heard you tell your friend that you could hear my heart rate spike. Later, after the auction, you told him that you'd heard what the other bidder had planned for me. At that time, he was standing a pretty good distance away with several people talking in between you two, but you apparently heard every word. Then, of course, you smelled the contaminated meat that even a trained Level Four didn't detect, and you weren't even looking for a problem. That night you smelled the pizza, probably as soon as it entered the building. And that was only the first day."
Blair turned towards a stunned Jim. "Now there are a lot of my own personal observations and comments in here that we can go over later, and of course everything that happened before I got the notebooks I had to write from memory so I might have even forgotten a few things." He turned back to the notebook, turning pages and later switching notebooks as he talked. As a silent Jim just listened, Blair began cataloguing time after time when he'd used overly heightened senses, often without even realizing it. Most were from direct observations at home and during all their various outings. Things such as Jim not realizing that Blair couldn't hear the TV because he had the volume set so low. Smelling what the neighbor's were making for dinner. Realizing Blair's situation at the beauty salon. Hearing what people were whispering to each other across the spacious library. Spotting small, well-camouflaged animals hiding in the bushes at the zoo. Finding the 'secret' ingredients Blair used when cooking. Others were incidents Jim had told Blair about, usually pertaining to his job. Reading a license plate number from over a block away. Hearing a suspect's conversation from outside the building they were watching. 'Reading' what was on a notepad by feeling the impressions left behind. Knowing what flavor coffee his captain was brewing in his office as soon as he stepped into the bullpen. With each new notebook, the number of examples grew.
When he finished with the last notebook, Blair began stacking them together, placing them on his lap. "So you see, Sir, there's just no way you're only a Level Three. Based on what I've personally observed or what you've told me, and comparing that with the standard criteria for sentinels, I figured you to be a Five or maybe even a Six. That incident with the tainted meat just proves that I was right. A Three?" He shook his head. "Whatever were they thinking when they tested you?" Blair looked up, his face totally serious. "Sir. You need to demand to be retested. Either something was very wrong last time or your senses have changed since then."
Jim didn't know what to say. The evidence was all right there, in Blair's neat, precise handwriting. There was no denying that each incident he described actually happened. So that was what Blair had been writing in his notebooks almost every night, recording and researching his observations about him. But how could it be possible that he had been using his senses at such a high level and not even been aware of it? Even as he asked himself that, another, unrelated question popped into his mind.
"Blair? Why were you doing all this? What made you even want to keep track of my sentinel abilities?"
Immediately Blair dropped his eyes. "I'm sorry, Sir. I didn't mean to invade your privacy or anything. If it bothers you, I won't do it any more."
"No. I'm not upset. In fact, if this turns out to be right, I'll be grateful to you for bringing it to my attention. I'm just wondering why you started doing this in the first place."
Visibly relieved, Blair raised his eyes to meet Jim's. "Master Eli."
Professor Stoddard had been dead for over a year now. "What does he have to do with any of this?"
A small smile appeared as Blair answered. "Master Eli was a great anthropologist. One of the major leaders in the field. He was disappointed when none of his children followed in his footsteps. When I showed an interest, I guess he was happy to have a willing student to pass his knowledge on to. Even if it was only a slave. He not only taught me out of textbooks, he took me to exhibits and museums and when I was old enough even let me sit in on some of his lectures and seminars at Rainier. I loved everything about anthropology and soaked it up like a sponge. He also taught me about the abstract parts of being an anthropologist. Things like doing research and being a good observer and taking meticulous notes. He often said that observing without interfering and detailed documentation were the hallmarks of a good anthropologist." The smile was replaced by a sad, wistful look. "Even though we both knew that I could never actually be an anthropologist, he enjoyed teaching me and I just loved learning everything about the field."
Jim felt a pang of regret himself for the all those years of learning going to waste. "Well, at least you both got something out of it. Not to belittle what you've just told me, but I still don't see what any of this has to do with me."
The smile returned. "Although anthropology was always Master's first love, he had a fascination, an obsession almost, with sentinels." At Jim's raised eyebrows he continued. "You see Master Eli's younger sister, Miss Ellena, is a Level Five sentinel. He told me that from the time he was a young boy, he'd wanted to know why, since he and his sister had the exact same genetic heritage, she was a sentinel and he had no heightened senses at all. So, during his numerous expeditions around the world, Master would document any sentinel and guide pairs he came in contact with. He also kept notes on any pertinent information about sentinels he came across while researching other current or ancient civilizations. While he was still an active anthropologist, he didn't have much time to divulge in his sentinel studies, so he mainly just kept notes. Lots of notes. By the time I came along and was old enough for him to start teaching, he had retired from fieldwork and was the head of Anthropology at Rainier. He now had the time and resources to actively pursue his sentinel interests."
Blair paused. Seeing that he still had Jim's full attention, he pushed on. "When I got old enough, I kind of became his research assistant. It was a great way for me to use the skills he was teaching me as an anthropologist. I helped organize all the notes he had collected over the years. Sometimes he would drop me off at the campus library to do research when he went in to work. I was present when he interviewed several sentinels and sometimes sentinel/guide pairs. Because of his reputation as a leading anthropologist and his position at the University, he was allowed access to The Sentinel Center and a lot of sentinel research material not usually available to the public. He, actually we, because he usually took me with him to the Center, were even allowed to watch some sentinels being tested and saw some newly bonded sentinel and guide pairs learning how to interact with each other. All this was as close to anthropological fieldwork as I was going to get and I found all of it as fascinating as Master Eli did.
"Although he never did figure out why some people are sentinels and others in the same family aren't, Master Eli did publish several well received papers on different aspects of sentinels, including one on how sentinels are tested and rated. I worked with him on all the papers, even helping write some parts of the papers themselves. Master said I was a natural at researching and writing. Looks like I also ended up becoming as passionate about sentinels as he was."
Blair looked down then back up again, a slightly embarrassed look on his face. "I guess finding myself actually living with a sentinel, I just fell back into the old habit of keeping notes and started documenting your abilities. I know it's not like I could ever really do anything with them. And I know I should have asked you for permission first, but it just seemed so natural that I didn't even think about it." His head dropped as he began to nervously run one index finger along the edge of the top book. "I'll destroy the notebooks if you want."
Damn. Blair really did know what he was talking about. Jim scratched the back of his neck. Hell. He probably knew more about sentinels than he did. "Hey." Jim waited until the bowed head lifted up and Blair was looking at him again. "I already said that I wasn't upset. In fact, to be honest, I'm a bit flattered. No one's ever been interested enough in me to actually take notes before. If you're that sure about this, then I'll get retested. I'll call the Center tomorrow and arrange it."
The sun came out on Blair's face. "Oh, I'm sure, Sir. Very sure." And just as suddenly the radiance faded. "Uh. What are you going to tell them? You know, about why you want to be retested? You aren't going to tell them that Ithat a slavewas keeping track of you and your abilities, are you?"
Actually, Jim actually would have been proud to let everyone know it was Blair who, by using proven, scientific documentation, had discovered the sudden surge in his senses, even before he himself became aware of it. But the unease in the eyes looking back at him was enough quell that train of thought. Not to mention the negative reaction he'd get if he said he wanted to be retested because a slave suggested it. "I'll just say that I've noticed a sudden change in my senses. Matter of fact, Simon, as well as a few of the other detectives at the station have recently commented to me about how much more I seem to be noticing lately, too. That should be enough to warrant being tested."
Blair blew out a sigh of relief as his whole body relaxed. The full watt smile was back. "This is so cool. I wonder what your new official rating will be."
Jim couldn't help but wonder the same thing.
Continue on to the Conclusion...
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Page last updated 9/27/07.