[personal profile] starfishyeti
 

The usual disclaimers apply. I own nothing except the words in this story and am making no money from my efforts.

 

 

Chapter one

 

The lights flickered across the walls and the faces of the watchers. The tinny voices issuing from the speakers caused a few jaws to clench and eyes to narrow, but no sounds came from their mouths. Then a particularly horrifying image spilled across the screen and Blair felt tears pooling in his eyes.

 

He leapt out of his seat the back of his hand pressed against his lips. Jim jerked his head and went to grab his guide, but missed.

 

Blair backed away from him hands held up in treaty. "No, Jim. No more. I can't." He turned, pulled open the door and darted through.

 

Jim jumped up to follow, but stopped when he felt a hand on his arm. "Let me go, Captain."

 

"Hold on a moment. Just let him cool off a moment." The dark-skinned, Major Crime's captain pulled harder on his detective's arm.

 

"He's suffering. I need to go to him." Ellison looked towards the door his guide had just gone through. His sentinel senses followed him as he sped down the corridor and then winced as the toilet door banged against the wall.

 

"Ellison. Jim," Banks' voice cut through the buzzing in his ears. "Look, you'll just embarrass him. He's the one who said he could take it and to lose it like that in front of us. Well…"

 

The detective slumped back into his chair and glanced over at Edwards. His Clan second looked back at him carefully keeping his face neutral. "What do you have to say?"

 

Edwards shrugged. "I wouldn't allow David to see these." Although his voice was calm and non-accusatory both Jim and Simon could hear the underlying: 'My guide listened to me.'

 

Jim mostly agreed, but was annoyed at his second for pointing it out. He'd tried to stop Blair from watching the films they'd taken from the Centre where experiments on guides had been taking place. The younger man though, had insisted saying that as someone who'd been there he'd be able to give the police officers valuable information on what was going on. He'd also experienced some of what they were going to see and Jim thought that part of his insistence was to lay some of his ghosts to rest. Sandburg was a strong man and an even stronger guide, but the latter also made him sensitive to emotions making him vulnerable. Jim had been afraid that it was going to be all too much. It looked like he was being proved right.

 

However right he was though, no sentinel would allow his guide to be criticised by another person even if it was only a subtle innuendo. "Blair can make up his own mind."

 

"True, but perhaps in this case his thought processes are too -," Edwards searched for the word, "emotional?"

 

Ellison opened his mouth to argue, but then realised he was wasting time when he should be with his guide. He jumped up again, but then paused when he heard the younger man talking to someone.

 

"What?" Simon looked at his detective.

 

"He's talking to David."

 

"I asked him to hang around in case…"

 

Ellison glared at the other sentinel. He was being inordinately sensitive for a change; something that the ex-marine wasn't really known to be.

 

The three men swung their heads round when the door opened a crack and Blair stood so half an eye could be seen. "Uh, Jim, I'm going for coffee with David. Um, is that okay?" The half eye was pointed somewhere towards Jim's knees.

 

Stepping over to the door, the sentinel sensory scanned his guide noting the slightly elevated heartbeat, the sweat beading on the upper lip and the tremors running through the body. "Are you all right?" He murmured putting a hand on the young man's shoulder and letting his thumb rub on a pulse point in his throat. Behind him he could see Edwards' guide leaning against a wall studiously avoiding looking at the two men.

 

"Yeah, man." Blair swallowed then looked up at the feelings of support and comfort Jim was sending through the bond. He smiled at the worried look on his sentinel's face. He felt his tense muscles relax. "I'm sorry… I thought… I mean…"

 

"Don't be silly. We understand." He pulled at a long curl. "I'll see you back at the loft. Okay?"

 

The younger man let out a shaky breath. "Dial everything down a notch. You're going to see and hear some pretty difficult… things."

 

Jim just had to smile. His guide was fighting off a panic attack, but still thinking of his sentinel. "Go." He went to turn then stopped. "Oh, can you get some milk? We're out."

 

Sandburg looked at him nonplussed for a second and then his face lit up with a grin. "Subtle. Very subtle," he whispered realising that Jim was bringing things back down to the mundane in an effort to calm him.

 

"Worked, didn't it?" Now, get." He stepped away and pulled the door shut. "He's gone to get a coffee with David," he said, for Simon's benefit. Edwards, with his guide there, would have been monitoring the situation and more than likely heard what had been said. He sat back down in his chair and steeled himself. "Let's get this show back on the road," he ground out.

 

Simon pressed the button on the remote control and the frozen pictures on the television came back to life.

 

THTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTB

 

"So, where should we go?" Blair knew his attempt at being upbeat was failing miserably with the other empath.

 

Fortunately, David was too polite to comment and kept his voice calm and non-judgemental. "There's that new place over on Carter Avenue, if you like?"

 

"Yeah. Good idea." Blair jumped on the suggestion as if his life depended on it. Normal. He needed normal in his life. "You got wheels? I came in with Jim."

 

For a moment David hesitated. Although he'd had his driving licence for years he'd never really driven much as typical sentinel behaviour meant that Edwards always drove. However, seeing the Senior Guide Prime fighting tooth and nail for as much independence he could get, he'd come out of his shell more and, with his sentinel's help, had bought a car. "Um, yes," he said eventually. "You sure you want to…"

 

Blair talked over any objections the other man might have been trying to express, "Let's go. I'm parched."

 

Fifteen minutes later David carefully parked a few shops away from their intended venue. Sandburg had kept up a steady flow of words, hands gesticulating in symphony, that the driver had found difficult to interrupt. While David pushed some coins into the parking meter, Blair fished his glasses out of his backpack and peered at the menu stuck to the window of the café. Hearing someone walk up behind him he turned thinking it was his friend.

 

"Hey, they've got…" His words stuck in his throat as he came nose to nose with Chancellor Edwards from Rainier University. "Oh…"

 

"Sandburg," Edwards' smile got ten out of ten for the obvious effort it cost her, but zero out of ten for its complete lack of warmth. She pointedly looked up and down the street. "The Senior Sentinel Prime not with you?" She made it sound as if Blair had absconded from a high security mental hospital.

 

"Um, no. He's…" The grad student took a deep breath. He was NOT going to be intimidated by this woman! "He's at the station. Did you wish to speak to him?"

 

"Shouldn't you be with him?"

 

"Jim's an adult. I'm sure he doesn't need me holding his hand twenty four hours a day."

 

"He allows you out without him?"

 

"Despite being a guide, I am an adult. Sentinel Ellison knows that and treats me accordingly."

 

"Senior Guide Prime?" Edwards and Sandburg were so engrossed in their confrontation that they both jumped when David's quiet voice interrupted them. "Is everything okay?"

 

Blair turned to his friend with none of the relief he was feeling evident on his face. "Guide Prime Sutherland, Chancellor Edwards was just enquiring after my sentinel. Do you know the Chancellor? Wait a minute. Is she any relation to your sentinel, Guide Sutherland? Chancellor, do you have any sentinels in your family? Chancellor? Where are you going? Chancellor!"

 

"Oooh, I didn't know it was possible to walk so fast with heels that high," David murmured.

 

Blair shivered. "God, that woman scares me." He turned to the other man. "Thanks, man. Your timing's impeccable."

 

"Any time, Senior Guide Prime. I'm here to serve." He finished with a little bow.

 

"Dork!" The senior guide blew out a little breath. "Look, I don't… Um, how about…?"

 

David didn't need an explanation. With the emotional battering his fellow guide had taken at the film viewing and then the confrontation with Chancellor Edwards the last thing he needed was to be surrounded by the emotions of other people. "Would you like to come back to our place for a coffee? Or…" he hesitated watching Blair's face closely. "…I could take you home?"

 

Blair could feel his barriers starting to fray and the idea of being in the comfort of the loft even if Jim wasn't going to be there was enticing. "Oh, I've got a great tea I found in a small shop down in China Town. You like tea, don't you?"

 

"Absolutely." They started walking back towards David's car. "I'll just call Neds to tell him about the change in plans."

 

Chancellor Edwards stood next to her car and fished her phone out of her handbag. Turning slowly, she looked back the way she'd come and watched the two guides climb into a car. She dialled a number from memory and when the call was answered spoke without letting the other person say a word. "I have an idea. We've been looking at this the wrong way round." She licked her lips. "We've been testing Dark Sentinels and Guides separately, no?" She paused a few seconds listening intently. "Just wait… No, listen…" She turned away from the road as the car containing the two guides drove past the watched as it disappeared from view. "We need to examine a Dark Bonded Pair and I know exactly who to use."

 

Chapter two

 

As soon as Sentinels Ellison and Edwards entered the building where the Senior Sentinel Prime and his guide lived their senses searched for, and found, the two human beings that were so important to their wellbeing. Unconsciously, they latched onto their heartbeats and scanned their surroundings to make sure they weren't in danger. Loud music was playing, but pushing past the noise, and to their horror, they heard the two men shouting and their heartbeats were off the scale. Ignoring the fact that the door to the loft was locked, they burst in guns drawn and senses on high alert. Uncomprehendingly, as they came to a shuddering stop the guides' shouts morphed into peals of uncontrollable laughter.

 

The two younger men totally ignored the impressive entrance of their sentinels and continued to wrestle on the blue settee.

 

"No, David. Let go." Blair tugged on whatever the other guide was clutching to his chest.

 

"Gerroff. It's my turn." David's voice came out in short gasps as he tried to control his giggles.

 

"What the fuck is going on here!" Ellison's voice shot out like a gunshot.

 

Two dishevelled heads popped up over the back of the settee and two pairs of bright blue eyes set in flushed faces opened wide in surprise.

 

"Neds!" David let go of the disputed object and struggled to get up from his seat. Unfortunately, when Blair lost the resistance he'd been pulling against he jerked back off the settee and landed on the floor with an 'oompf'. David was torn between rushing over to his agitated sentinel and helping his fellow guide now lying on the floor. Looking down at Blair, however, decided it for him as the senior guide broke into infectious giggles and he had no other option except to join him.

 

"David!"

 

"Chief!"

 

The two sentinels holstered their guns and almost leapt over the settee in their haste to get to the guides. However, it was dawning on them that the danger that they thought the two younger men had been in was nothing more than a fight over the games console that Blair was now brandishing in triumph.

 

"I win," he positively chortled. "Oh, hi, Jim. Neds," he said chirpily seeing the two men look down at him in exasperation. "What's the matter?" He continued starting to feel Jim's emotion through the bond.

 

"Chief," he started to answer then ground to a halt. How could he say that he and Edwards had burst through the door thinking that the other two men had been in danger? Blair would obviously chide them for reacting rather than using their senses properly as they should have done in the first place. He looked at his other sentinel who was running his senses over his guide making sure that nothing bad really had happened. He bent down to pull Blair off the floor. "Well," he continued seeing he was on his own, "we… um… I…"

 

"Wow," Sandburg exclaimed, "what happened to the door? How come we didn't hear that?"

 

"Because the music's too loud." Ellison strode over to the stereo and savagely stabbed at the off button.

 

David and Edwards looked up at the silence.

 

"What happened to the door?" The guide asked innocently.

 

Blair glanced at Jim and then at Neds noticing the uncomfortable looks that passed between them. "Trying out its strength." He smiled wolfishly at his sentinel.

 

"What?" David's wide eyes showed his complete lack of comprehension.

 

"Uh, yes," Jim jumped in. "I've been thinking for a while that the door's just not strong enough and I was talking to Edwards and we decided to test it." He frowned. The door had, in fact, not resisted long against their efforts. Had he and Edwards been criminals trying to enter the loft the door would not have been much of a deterrent. His guide would not have been well protected even in his own home. Now he could get a much stronger door and Sandburg would be in safer surroundings. He smiled in satisfaction and then realised the feeling of amused bemusement filtering through the bond. Not wanting to see the sardonic expression that had to be gracing Blair's face he picked up the phone and started rummaging around in a drawer for the telephone directory. He was going to call a door company straight away.

 

"I'm taking David home," Edwards stated firmly. He felt a quick escape was prudent.

 

"But, I've got my car here," protested his guide. "And we were going to order in pizzas."

 

"That's okay. Ellison drove me here. Give me the keys."

 

"But it's my car."

 

"Ellison, Blair, see you tomorrow." With a hand on David's back he started pushing the younger man towards the door.

 

"Oh, yeah, bye Blair, Sentinel Ellison." He moved out of the loft at Edwards' quiet urging. "But Neds, I want to drive."

 

"No, it's okay. I've got it…" Their voices faded down the stairs. Well, at least to Sandburg they did.

 

"Jim."

 

Ellison seemed to be engrossed in the Yellow Pages, but looked up at his guide's voice. Scanning him, he realised that the other man was pale despite what had been happening earlier. He detected the slight tremors coursing through his body and delving into the connection they shared noted that Blair was troubled. He cursed himself and putting down the objects he was carrying he marched over to the younger man and engulfed him in a hug. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have allowed you to see that film."

 

"No, it's okay, man," Blair mumbled into the taller man's chest. "I wanted to be there. Needed to… But it was just too hard to bear." He smiled in pleasure as he felt a hand start stroking his hair.

 

"Still…"

 

"And anyway, it's not just that. I met Chancellor Edwards outside the café. That's why we came back here." Ellison's arms tightened around him.

 

"What did that bitch want?"

 

"Oh, she was just being her usual snooty self. It's… I simply can't stand her. I don't like the idea that she obviously had something to do with the Centre, but we can't do anything about it."

 

"Yet," Jim growled. "We'll get something, don't you worry. But now we bond." He started gently pushing the other man to the settee.

 

"Um, don't you think you should do something about the door first?" A wry grin flittered across his face as he watched the dilemma the sentinel found himself in. The bond was calling to him, but so was the need to protect his guide from anyone coming through the broken door. He looked down at his guide and then at the door uncertainty clear upon his face. "Go. Fix the door. I'll be waiting for you here."

 

Jim nodded and settled Blair down on the settee as if he was made of china. Taking a step away he hesitated.

 

"It's okay, sentinel. I'm safe. I am always safe when you are present." He got a swift grin in reply then watched Jim close the battered door and prop a heavy chair under the handle to block it.

 

Coming back to his guide he quickly settled himself comfortably and then pulled the younger man back into his arms. With a contented sigh, Blair snuggled against his sentinel's chest and the two men sank into the bond.

 

THTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTB

 

Jim yawned and stretched his back trying not to disturb the warm lump sleeping against his chest.

 

"Ummm."

 

Too late.

 

His stomach gave a mighty rumble. Twisting his wrist he stared at his watch. 9 PM! Shit, where had the time gone? It was a shame that bonding didn't also fill the stomach.

 

"Come on, Sandburg. Let's eat and then get to bed."

 

"Uhhh."

 

"Articulate tonight, I see?"

 

"Inarticulate and hungry." He pushed himself upright and grimaced as he tried to run his hand through his tangled curls. "What are we eating?"

 

"What have we got in the freezer?"

 

"Some of my ostrich chilli."

 

"Why don't you heat it up and I'll see what I can do about the door?"

 

"You're on." He headed towards the kitchen. "And then we've got to talk about the meeting in Washington DC."

 

"Do we have to?" Jim's voice came from the cupboard near the front door that held the few tools that weren't kept in the basement storage area.

 

"It's going to be great!" Blair pulled out a large plastic container out of the freezer and after pulling off the top he placed it in the microwave. "Meeting other Pairs, seeing how they function, showing off how well our Clan functions. You do realise that the North Western Territory has the largest number of Senior Prime Pairs out of all the Territories." Plates and cutlery were placed on the table. "And that's because of you, you know? You're the best. And all the other Territories know that. That's why we get requests from Pairs to become Clan members all the time."

 

He came to a halt as he realised that the other man was conspicuously silent. "Eh, Jim, you all right?"

 

The sentinel was closely examining the damaged door his back turned towards Sandburg. He mumbled something.

 

"Sorry, didn't get that. I'm not a sentinel, you know?"

 

"Uh, I'm not going." The door seemed to need close inspection.

 

"What d'you mean you're not going? Of course you have to go. We're meeting the President. Me, a lowly guide meeting the President of the U S of A."

 

Ellison turned and grabbed Sandburg by the shoulders. "You're not just a lowly guide. You're the Senior Prime Guide to the Senior Prime Sentinel of the North Western Territory, doctoral candidate and have the Captain of Major Crime as a friend. The President should be honoured he's meeting you."

 

"Really?"

 

Ellison nodded earnestly.

 

"Simon thinks of me as a friend?"

 

The detective huffed a laugh. "Sure, short stuff. He has an, uh, abiding affection for you." He pressed his forehead against his guide's. "Do I really have to go?"

 

"Jim, this is the first time in history that such a gathering's going to take place. There are Territories that still treat their guides no better than slaves despite the recent changes in the law. We can show them how things should be. And the President invited you personally."

 

"Invited US personally, Chief. Your name was on the invitation, too."

 

The microwave pinged and the two men stood back. For a moment, they just looked at each other and silence filled the loft. Another ping broke the stillness.

 

"Okay. We go."

 

"Yes!" Blair's smile was incandescent and Jim's inner sentinel puffed up with pride knowing he was the person to put such unbridled joy on the man's face. The younger man turned towards the kitchen. "And do you realise what an anthropological opportunity this presents? I should be able to get at least two papers out of this. And the data I'll be able to get for my diss. You know…"

 

Jim let the sound wash over him and let a small smile decorate his face.

 

Chapter three

 

"Sorry I'm late." Blair threw his backpack under Jim's desk and slumped into the chair next to the sentinel. He realised his left leg was bouncing and made a conscious effort to stop.

 

"Busy day, Chief?"

 

"You have no idea. Why on Earth students think that I haven't already heard all the excuses possible for why their assignments aren't ready, I'll never know. Mind you, saying that your mother took yours to show to her coffee morning group because she's so proud of you is pretty inventive."

 

Jim smiled at the babbling and relaxed slightly. Although they didn't need to be together twenty-four hours a day, he always felt better when his guide was near and he could protect him. He went to pick up the white out for the form he was working on when something pinged on his guide radar. He twisted round in his seat bringing his full attention onto the younger man. "What happened?"

 

"Huh?" Blair's look was innocence personified.

 

"Something's upset you. What?"

 

"Wha… Wh…? How can you tell?"

 

If the detective hadn't been so determined to find out what had upset the other man he would have been amused to see the normally on the ball grad student floundering.

 

"Your heartbeat's up slightly. So is your temperature and I can smell a trace of anxiety in your body odour."

 

Blair gaped at his friend. "You can spot all that without using touch? Wow. I've got to document this." He dove under the desk and pulled out his backpack. A hand on his arm stopped him.

 

"Chief, nice one, but don't change the subject. What happened?"

"Uh, nothing really."

 

"Sandburg." Jim's tone brooked no argument.

 

Blair's shoulder's slumped and he sighed. Pulling something out of his bag he quietly laid it in front of the other man. At first Ellison couldn't quite grasp what he was seeing then he felt his blood boil. It was a small leaflet that had the rather dubious title of 'Guide Rules: A guide's true place in modern society.' Underneath was a hand drawn picture of a small, vacuously smiling young man standing with his hand on the arm of a buff, serious looking man dressed in a park ranger uniform. The latter was pointing at a group of people in the distance that obviously looked in trouble while talking into a radio. Scanning the pages inside expressions such as 'a tool for the sentinel', 'happy knowing they help their sentinel', 'no need for higher education', 'happy with their lot' jumped out at the detective.

 

"Where'd you get this?" He growled almost dropping the document in his disgust.

 

"I found it on my desk at Rainier," Blair's voice was small and he looked down at his hands that were rubbing up and down his thighs. "This morning. When I arrived."

 

Jim brought the document up to his nose. Printing ink, cigarettes, the natural smells that he associated with his young guide and something else, something faint… slightly fruity…

 

"Come on, Jim. Listen to my voice." Blair's voice was soft and the sentinel could feel his fingers kneading his forearm.

 

"I'm okay," he said gruffly. He hated losing control and to do it in such a public place… He gave a quick look around the bullpen and realised no one was paying them any attention. Blair had brought him out of the zone quietly and efficiently. "Thanks," he murmured.

 

Blair gave him a quick smile. "What did you smell?"

 

"Cigarettes and something floral?" He pulled out a plastic evidence bag and put the leaflet in it. "I almost recognise it."

 

"Err, what are doing?"

 

"Taking this down to forensics. They can dust it for prints."

 

"Hey, there's no need for that. It's only a prank."

 

"Then why is your heart beating like a jack hammer?" Ellison stared at him until Sandburg bent his head hiding behind his hair and all he could hear were words like 'damn', 'lie detector', 'no privacy'. "Blair?"

 

"It's just a joke. You know what students are like. The others…" he stopped, a guilty look flashing across his face.

 

"Others? There've been others?"

 

"Yeah, but they weren't as bad."

 

"Where are they?"

 

"I binned them. Listen," Blair's voice took on a pleading tone, "I don't want to make waves."

 

"Do other guides at Rainier get them?"

 

"I… Well… I don't know. No one's said anything."

 

"And your office door is always locked when you're not there?"

 

"Of course, man!" He bristled. "My diss is in there. You think I'm going to allow someone get their mitts on that? And I wouldn't let the stuff I've got on you fall into the hands of a bunch of students."

 

"So, how did they get in?"

 

Blair's mouth opened then closed again as he thought over what Jim was implying. "Students can pick locks."

 

"But not the locks we put on."

 

Sandburg forbore pointing out that there was no 'we' in that decision. His sentinel in full Blessed Protector mode had insisted that his guide was going to work in an office that had a state of the art lock and that the windows were secure and free of drafts. The university had at first balked at this and then feeling the full weight of Cascade's Senior Sentinel Prime's insistence they'd agreed only asking that security have a duplicate key. It meant that the Pair had to clean the office themselves, but Jim decided that that was a small price to pay for absolute privacy.

 

"Ellison, Sandburg." Banks' bellow from his office interrupted them.

 

They stood up and Jim put a hand on the back of Sandburg's neck. "Please," he whispered, "let me get forensics to look at this. I've got a funny feeling about it."

 

"Sentinel feeling or detective?" Blair's voice was soft and he had a small smile on his face.

 

"Both." At Sandburg's quick nod Ellison straightened. "Come on. Authority has called."

 

"Sit down," Banks nodded at them as they entered his office.

 

"What's up, Captain?" Jim asked, as he first made sure that his guide was comfortable then plonked himself down in a chair.

 

Simon glanced over at Sandburg and grinned slightly as the younger man rolled his eyes at the sentinel's mother henning. "Well, now that you've decided to go to DC we need to talk about your cases." He sighed heavily. "You've really chosen the best time to go - not." He held up his hand as Blair started to protest. "I know, Sandburg. You didn't chose the dates and I know that this conference is important for you sentinels and guides, but damn it, I'm trying to run a police department here!"

 

"The President himself invited us," Jim said mildly.

 

"I know, know. But d'you have to take another five days off?"

 

"Another five days?" Blair questioned looking at his sentinel. "What for?"

 

"I thought we could get some fishing in. I've got loads of leave to take and I thought it would be nice if we could get away for a few days just the two of us."

 

The guide's face broke into a soppy grin. "Aw, that's great." He paused. "But what about Rainier? I've got lectures…"

 

"Don't worry, I've squared it with them. All I had to do was mention the President and they were falling over themselves to let you go."

 

Bristling internally that Jim had gone behind his back, Blair also understood that it was both the man and the sentinel's need for control that had pushed him to do so. "Thanks, Jim. But," he continued sotto voce, "we'll be having a discussion later about sharing things with the guide."

 

Ellison turned a light shade of pink and opened his mouth to reply.

 

"Well, that's great for you," Simon's growl butted in, "but while you two are off playing some of us will be slaving away. So, if we could get back on track, please?"

 

THTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTB

 

Jim sat up in bed and glanced at the clock on the bedside table. 5:35 AM. Something had woken him up and he now sent out his senses to catalogue his environment. Nothing untoward was detected outside the loft. There were no intruders inside. His guide was… His guide! He jumped out of bed and padded down the stairs not bothering to put the light on. Reaching Blair's room he hesitated before opening the doors. Guides had little privacy if they lived with their sentinels, so Jim didn't want to intrude if there really wasn't a problem. Quietening his breathing he stretched his senses to try and find what it was that had woken him up.

 

Blair's temperature was up, but he was also cocooned in a nest of blankets. Next he checked his heart… and he burst into the room.

 

"Wha…?" The younger man lurched out of his blankets at the noisy intrusion. He tried to speak, but found he couldn't catch his breath.

 

Jim crossed the room and knelt down next to the gasping man. "Calm down, calm down." Blair's heart was thundering in his ears. "Blair, come on." He grasped his chin and turned the red face towards him. "Slow breaths. Come on, Chief, slow breaths."

 

Blair felt as if his heart was going to explode. Mouth wide open and eyes tearing he tried to understand what was going on. Jim's words came to him as if through a fog. He brought his hands up to his chest as if he could slow his heartbeat. He looked into his sentinel's eyes in mute appeal. However, as his heart pounded in his ears and a red mist filled his eyes he laboured for more breath that wasn't there.

 

The sentinel tried to damp down the feeling of panic that was sizzling along the link he had with his guide. Reaching out a shaky hand he placed it on the suffering man's shoulder. He opened his mouth to try and calm him down when Blair gave a shudder and collapsed.

 

Chapter four

 

"Jim?" Simon's voice was uncharacteristically hesitant as he entered the hospital waiting room. However, the man standing in front of the large window with his right hand pressed against the glass ignored him. The captain stood still for a few seconds then made his way over to where Edwards and David were sitting. He sat down next to them and indicated the silent sentinel with his chin. "What's going on? I thought a sentinel shouldn't be separated from his guide when they're sick."

 

Edwards sighed and kept his voice low: not because he was afraid that Ellison would hear him, but more that he didn't want to disturb the general hush in the area. "Normally, yes. But Sandburg's got a highly transmissible bacterium that affects both sentinels and guides. In sentinels it's relatively benign. Guides can be quite sick with it."

 

"I've not heard of this before. Is it… ? I mean what's the prognosis?" Simon had come to the hospital as soon as he'd heard the news, but he'd been caught up in meetings all day and it was now late afternoon.

 

"It's very rare. I've never known anyone to get it. We're not even sure where the parasite comes from originally, but it's found in certain grains. In healthy individuals it's not usually fatal especially if treatment's started early enough. Sandburg's in good hands. He should be okay."

 

Banks let out the breath he hadn't realised he'd been holding. He'd been afraid for his friend knowing what losing a guide did to a sentinel. He was also surprised to find that he'd grown to like the irrepressible, talkative student and appreciated his contributions not only in grounding Ellison, but also his insights that helped his detectives solve crimes. "So what's the treatment and how long does it take?"

 

"Antibiotics and help with his breathing. Keep his temperature down and hope that his heart isn't permanently affected." Edwards' voice was calm, but Simon noticed that his arm was tight around his guide's shoulders and David's hand was gripping his sentinel's thigh. "The next twenty-four hours will tell us how long before Sandburg's back on his feet, but don't expect him back in the bull pen before a couple of months."

 

"Oh." Banks didn't know what to say. He glanced up at Ellison who, as far as he could tell, hadn't moved a millimetre. A thought suddenly came to him and he turned back to the Pair. "Um… what about his senses? I mean without Sandburg to… to… do his stuff…"

 

"His stuff?" Edwards' eyebrow rose, but spotting the captain's glare he rushed on. "Other guides can surface bond with him for a while and if his guide's still unable to bond then he may have to take suppressants. It's not ideal, but it'll be adequate."

 

Jim subconsciously heard the conversation going on behind him, but he dismissed it as unimportant. All his concentration was on the figure lying in the bed behind the thick glass he was pressed against. His guide was so very still and pale and surrounded by machines that beeped and whooshed and gurgled and scary figures dressed in all-in-one suits and facemasks.  His whole being yearned to be in there with him, but the doctors had bundled him away from the sick man as soon as they'd realised what was going on. He, himself, had been examined from top to bottom and given several shots apparently to reduce his risk of catching this disease. Or, as one exasperated doctor said, "…to prevent you infecting every sentinel and guide in the city."

 

Something pinged loudly in Blair's cubicle and he leaned further into the glass so his nose was touching it. The white figures bustled around doing, who knew what, to the patient for a few minutes then calmed down when the pinging stopped. After another fifteen or so minutes all but one of the figures moved towards the exit. There was a double door system with a small vestibule where they left their suits and masks to reveal themselves as two nurses, who walked off, and Dr Holland with another man in a white coat who moved towards Ellison. This was Dr Solomen from the Burton Sentinel/Guide Institute in Saint Paul who'd been called in to consult once the hospital had realised that the situation wasn't as simple as they'd first thought.

 

"How is he?" The sentinel didn't wait for the doctors to speak.

 

"Sentinel Ellison, as Dr Solomen is the foremost expert in Sentinel and Guide illnesses, so I'll defer to him. Doctor?"

 

All eyes turned to the rotund, salt-and-pepper haired gentleman. He held out his hand. "Senior Sentinel Prime, it's an honour to meet you."

 

Jim just merely stared at him ignoring the outstretched hand. "What's happening with my guide?" He growled.

 

Simon nearly missed the flash of anger that crossed across the doctor's face. It made him shiver and he wondered why.

 

"Yes, of course. Guide Sandburg is suffering from infective endocarditis lucernus, a rare form of the disease that affects both sentinels and guides. This one is caused by an airborne infection and is more dangerous when the infectee's immune system has been compromised and lung capacity is diminished. Which I believe is the case in this instance after Guide Sandburg's drowning a few months ago." The doctor swallowed as he looked directly into the eyes of the sentinel that were gleaming with fierce concentration. His silence was unnerving. "Treatment will be appropriate antibiotics and increasing blood flow to prevent the damaging molecules to settle in the heart. Treatment has to be aggressive if we're to protect the heart from endocarditis – inflammation of the inside lining of the chambers of the heart." He took a breath, but before he could continue he was interrupted.

 

"How long will it take for him to get better?"

 

For the first time the doctor looked uncomfortable. "You must understand, Senior Sentinel Prime…"

 

"Ellison will do." The man's posturing was beginning to annoy the already on edge sentinel.

 

"Um, yes. Okay. There's a risk that the heart could be damaged beyond repair and there's also a risk of stroke. But of course we'll do everything we can to prevent that. Early treatment is found to be quite effective. However, we need to take him to Saint Paul where we have everything on hand for optimum care and to give him the greatest chance of surviving. Even so, best case scenario we're talking months before Guide Sandburg will be back on his feet."

 

"When do we leave?"

 

"How did he get it?"

 

Banks and Ellison spoke at the same time.

 

"This bacterium is airborne and it normally occurs when a guide or sentinel carrying it comes into contact with a guide or sentinel susceptible to catching it. I know that Blair is a student at Rainier, which means he comes into contact with lots sentinels and guides." Dr Holland looked at Ellison for confirmation.

 

"He also works with me at the police department," Jim swallowed thinking that his work could have put his guide in this predicament. "He, he mixes with all sorts of lowlifes…"

 

"It's not a disease that's restricted to a criminal element," Solomen answered. "It could be someone who thinks they've just got a cold."

 

"So how…?"

 

"We can discuss this later," interrupted Holland. "More importantly we need to talk about his transfer to Saint Paul."

 

Ellison didn't hesitate. "Do you have to organise the transport? The Clan can help if necessary."

 

"No need. We have a plane that we use for cases like this, so we can leave tomorrow morning," answered Solomen.

 

"Good. That'll give me time to pack a few things for Sandburg and myself."

 

"Right. I'll get that sorted out straight away." With that the doctor strode down the corridor.

 

"If you don't need anything else, I can get on?" Asked Holland.

 

"Of course. Oh, can I go in?" Jim indicated Blair's room.

 

"As long as you respect the safety requirements, there shouldn't be a problem. And although we've given you the vaccination you can't touch him skin to skin. He's at his most contagious at the moment. I'll inform the staff." He nodded to everyone and followed Dr Solomen down the hall.

 

The eager sentinel had his hand on the door when Edwards' voice stopped him. "Ellison, what about DC?"

 

"What about it? You can go without us."

 

"You know that's not possible."

 

Jim turned, steel in his eyes. "Sentinel Prime Edwards, if I decide I'm not going then I'm not going." Turning again, he entered his guide's room.

 

Edwards sighed and spoke under his breath, "You know better than that." He started when Banks intruded on his thoughts. He'd forgotten that captain was there.

 

"Why? What's the problem? It's just a meeting, isn't it?"

 

"Not really. The President wants to discuss bringing in some new laws protecting guides. Ellison's input as Senior Sentinel Prime of one of the most important territories in the country and a Dark Sentinel will be primordial. And," he turned towards Simon, "please keep this quiet, he wants to create a sort of sentinel/guide governing body and he's going to ask Ellison and Sandburg to head it up."

 

Simon was alarmed at the thought that he could lose his best detective and his sidekick. "Would that mean they'd have to move there?"

 

"That's something to be discussed. But you see why it's essential that at least Ellison go. He just doesn't realise his national influence."

 

"Blair will convince him to go." David's quiet voice was full of conviction.

 

As one the three men turned to look through the observation window into Sandburg's room where Jim, covered from head to foot, was gently brushing the curls off his guide's face.

 

THTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTB

 

Solomen hung up having organised the arrival of the Institute's plane. Sitting back in Dr Holland's office chair he glanced up making sure that the door was closed. He pulled out his mobile phone from his jacket pocket and dialled a number from memory.

 

"Yes, it's Solomen. Phase one successfully completed. From tomorrow the guide will be in our hands." He closed his phone and putting it back in his pocket he allowed a satisfied smile to cross his face.

 

 

 

 

Chapter five

 

Although he couldn't see it, Blair was convinced that Jim's jaw was clenched in a grim-faced scowl. They'd been talking for nearly an hour regarding the trip to Washington DC – well to be accurate it was mostly a few words interspersed with silences as Blair needed to rest frequently and Jim was simply being stubborn.

 

"You gotta go, man," Blair's words were soft, but there was no mistaking the steely look in his eyes.

 

"No," Jim's voice brooked no arguments. He was horrified that his guide could even contemplate being separated from him for more than a day. While it was perfectly possible for Pairs to spend time apart especially if one was ill or injured neither would be very happy about it. But more than that, there was something telling Jim not to spend too long away from his guide.

 

"Listen…"

 

"Stop talking, Chief, save your breath. I'm staying with you." He pulled Blair's blanket up a few centimetres to just under his chin. If he sounded a bit petulant, so what? Didn't Sandburg need his sentinel as much as he needed his guide?

 

"Please." The sentinel kept his eyes glued to the bed not wanting to look into his guide's beseeching eyes knowing that if he did so, he'd be lost. "You know it's so important you be there." He heard the painfully drawn in breath and the heartbeat increase despite the sedatives prescribed to keep the heart calm. "Go for a few days… C'me t'Mnsota afta… Be okay fr few days…"

 

Jim looked up as a soft hand landed on his arm. "I… I can't abandon you…"

 

"Yr not." The blue eyes started drooping. "Gotta save the guides…"

 

"Is it that important to you, Chief?"

 

"Please." The word was little more than a whisper.

 

Ellison leant forward and rested his covered forehead against the exposed one of his guide's feeling the fever beginning to take hold. He wished he could touch the younger man directly. Already his natural odour was fading beneath the onslaught of antiseptics and medication. "Two days. I'll go for two days and then I'll join you in Saint Paul. You wait for me, okay?"

 

"Promise."

 

The sentinel really couldn't refuse his guide. When it came down to it he could refuse him very little. "I'll hold you to that, Darwin."

 

Blair's breathing evened out as he slipped into sleep. Jim stayed where he was for a moment and then with a despondent sigh sat back in his chair. How could he leave his guide when he was fighting for his life? The door opening broke him out of introspection and a robed person entered.

 

"Sentinel Ellison, I'm Senior Nurse Annabelle Leggerty. I need to take Guide Sandburg's vitals and you…"

 

"Don't make me leave. Please." Jim sat up in alarm.

 

"It's okay. Don't fret." The brown eyes twinkled above the facemask and Jim detected a slight Jamaican burr in the voice. "We've been told about the situation and you can stay with your guide until you leave tomorrow. A cot'll be brought in later, so you can sleep if you need to." Annabelle was an experienced sentinel/guide nurse and knew that separating a Pair when one of them was sick wasn't in either of their best interest. "But meanwhile, I need you to go and stretch your legs. Get something to eat and drink and shake the cobwebs out of your mind."

 

The sentinel hesitated his eyes sliding, almost against his volition, towards his supine guide. Once more his senses roamed over the figure cataloguing his breathing, temperature, natural odour and general wellbeing.

 

"Don't worry, pet. I'll take good care of him. And I'm sure he'll be pleased to know you're taking care of yourself.'"

 

"Okay. I must admit I haven't eaten since last night and I've drunk far too much coffee. He'd be moaning at me if he knew." Standing up he brushed a gloved hand down Blair's cheek. "I won't be long, Chief." He turned towards the nurse. "He likes to be called Blair. And he feels the cold, so keep him covered."

 

As he walked out of the isolation room Sentinel Langston and Guide Michaels rose up from the chairs against the wall opposite.

 

"Jim, how is he?" Amanda asked.

 

"Stubborn." Came the terse reply.

 

"Uh, well, that's good," Amanda glanced over at her sentinel.

 

"How is he physically?" Langston insisted.

 

Jim ran his hand through his short hair and leant up against the wall. "Holding his own, but mostly out of it. Except of course, for guilting me into going to DC."

 

"That's $10 Edwards owes David," murmured Michaels.

 

Ellison glared at the Pair, but they could tell his heart wasn't in it. "Well, anyway, I've been thrown out," he stated glumly. "I've been told I should eat and drink something."

 

"Then that's what we're going to do," the motherly guide said briskly.

 

"When are you leaving for DC?" Asked Langston as he started ushering the Clan leader towards the lift.

 

"The day after tomorrow."

 

"I've got an idea," Amanda said brightly. "Let us know what you think Blair would like to have with him in Saint Paul. If you don't object, give us your key and we'll go and pack some bags. That way you can stay longer with him."

 

Jim's smile was large and genuine and lit up his face despite the worry still lurking in his eyes. "Thanks." Although short of words his gratitude was obviously heartfelt.

 

They headed off to the hospital canteen.

 

THTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTB

 

Ellison stood in the corner of Sandburg's room biting his lip. Numerous figures were bustling around the hospital bed hooking up machines and drips and doing various medical things to the person lying in it.

 

One of them turned towards him and Jim recognised Dr Solomen behind the mask. "Sentinel Ellison, we're going to inject the sedative before we transfer Guide Sandburg to the gurney. If you want, you can sit with him until it takes effect. Then we have to move fairly rapidly and transport him to the plane."

 

Before he'd finished the sentinel was bending over the bed. Blair's face was flushed as his system was now fighting the fever that was ravaging his body. His nose and mouth were covered by a mask that was providing not only oxygen, but also some sort of chemical to keep his lungs clear. "Hey, Chief," he fought hard to keep his sombre emotions out of his voice, "they're going to take you to the plane in a minute. You look after yourself and I'll be with you in a few days."

 

"L't D'vid look afta you n d'nt let Presdnt tk you inta stayn' DC." The guide's words were slurred and soft, but Jim had no problem hearing them.

 

"Don't you worry. I've got your notes and David's been priming me with the things you and he have been discussing." Out of the corner of his eye he saw Solomen inject something into one of the IV ports. He placed a gloved hand on Blair's chest. "Claimed and marked, my guide."

 

"Clm'd n mrkd, m senl," his words trailed off as his eyes closed.

 

"Excuse me, sentinel." A female voice with a Jamaican burr intruded into Jim's consciousness. "We need to get moving."

 

"You're going with him?" Jim had noted how caring of his guide the nurse was.

 

"Uh huh. This young man will be my priority until the staff in Saint Paul take over." Leggerty knew that the sentinel was looking for reassurance. "It's the best place for him."

 

He reluctantly moved away and watched as they transferred the limp figure to a box-like gurney that unfortunately, looked too much like a coffin for his taste. The facemask was removed and a see-through, plastic cover was placed over the sick man and fastened down. Jim heard a faint hiss as an oxygen bottle was opened to fill the case so Blair could breathe on his journey to Saint Paul.

 

"Sentinel Ellison," Solomen moved in front of him as the cavalcade moved out of the room. "We'll take good care of him." He unconsciously repeated the words Nurse Leggerty had spoken yesterday.

 

Although his words seemed sincere there was something that, to Jim, appeared off with the man. He couldn't quite put his finger on it. Was it the obsequious way he talked to him, but talked about Sandburg as if he were a child? Mentally shaking his head he dismissed his concerns as merely stress at the situation. "Dr Solomen, I'll hold you to that." He spoke not only as a sentinel whose guide was sick, but also as a Clan leader entrusting a member to his care. "And thank you for everything. I'll see you in a few days."

 

"Till then." Solomen strode out of the room and as Jim watched him go he shivered. For a few seconds he fought against giving in to the feeling that he'd been torn in two. Then squaring his shoulders and holding his head high – he was not going to let his guide down – he went to face the next few days without the person that allowed him to function in a world that could be a minefield to a sentinel.

 

Chapter six

 

Jim was missing Blair with an ache that was almost physical. Despite the fact that he'd been Clan leader for a number of years he hated all the politicking that came with it. And doing it across the continent with the President of the USA in attendance didn't make it any more palatable. His guide would have been in his element. He'd argued with Clan leaders who still believed their guides were merely tools to be used by the far superior sentinels. It was a shame Blair wasn't there to ram down their throats how wrong they were. He'd been inordinately proud of Edwards and David when they'd given their extremely well received talk that they'd written with Sandburg to a packed auditorium. Blair would be pleased. He'd fought off a number of dubious invitations from both men and women while eating soggy canapés and drinking expensive champagne. The grad student would most likely laugh his head off when he heard about that.

 

He'd called the Institute in Saint Paul at least twenty times to hear the same message; Sandburg was holding his own and it was too early to say what the prognosis was. He'd lightly bonded twice with David with Edwards hovering protectively near by. He wasn't Blair. He'd made a couple of preliminary agreements with other Clans who wanted to form treaties with the Cascade one. If Blair had been there it would have been half a dozen. Despite the hotel having been 'sentelised', the sheets were rough and the white noise generators were noisy. Having Sandburg near would have made all that irrelevant.

 

Fortunately, it was now the last reception. Tomorrow morning he was flying to Saint Paul to join his guide.

 

"Why the frown, Sentinel Ellison? President Walker's voice sounded in his right ear. He turned. "From what I've heard it's been a very successful couple of days."

 

"President and Mrs Walker." Jim made an effort to appear more alert. It wasn't too difficult. The President and First Lady had turned out to be personable, approachable realists with a real interest in understanding sentinels and guides. "Sorry, I'm just a bit distracted. And you're right, this has been an excellent opportunity."

 

"And have you thought any more about my suggestion?" The President was referring to his idea of setting up a Sentinel and Guide Council.

 

"Jeremy," the First Lady's voice was soft, but sharp. "He's already explained once that while his guide's sick he can't make any decisions. They have to decide together." She turned to the sentinel. "Any news on Guide Sandburg?"

 

Ellison smiled. Her concern was genuine. "No change really."

 

"When he's better you'll have to bring him here so that we can meet him. We've heard so much about him."

 

"He sounds like a good person," added the President.

 

"He is," Ellison couldn't keep the pride out of his voice and inwardly cringed. He was sure he sounded like all the bonded sentinels he'd secretly laughed at as they grinned fatuously each time someone praised their guide. "He's also a bit of a handle, to be perfectly honest as well."

 

The Presidential couple laughed politely and with promises to keep in touch they all went their separate ways. Jim, spotting his second in command and his guide across the room, made his way over dodging numerous attempts to get him to join in conversations. Even though the room was installed with high-end white noise generators and a string quartet played softly up on a stage, he kept his voice low.

 

"I'm out of here."

 

Edwards grinned. He and his guide were taking advantage of the cottage that Ellison had booked before Sandburg had become ill. The deposit had been non-refundable. So rather than lose the money the Pair had agreed to use the holiday accommodation for a few days. "What time's your flight?"

 

Jim glanced at him with a slight grimace knowing full well that the other sentinel knew and was simply rubbing it in that his Clan leader was going to have to get up before dawn to make it to the airport in time.

 

"Yeah, well, it's a good excuse to get out of here. If I get another woman of a certain age asking me with feigned innocence as to whether it's true that bonding only occurs during sex, I'll scream."

 

David snorted. "At least they don't ask you if you get beaten if you do something wrong."

 

Edwards bristled and opened his mouth to protest.

 

"Don't worry. I tell them that you don't use the belt any more." He ducked when a hand came up to swipe the back of his head and then smiled at his sentinel when the hand grabbed his shoulder pulling him close.

 

"I'll leave you two fight off the invitations." Ellison looked over David's shoulder. "Oh look, it's Senator Bentine's wife. And she looks as if she's determined to make you change your mind about her offer to try out the hotel's hot tub."

 

The Sentinel Prime's eyes widened and a faint blush pinked his cheeks. Jim looked on in amusement as he rarely saw the former Marine so discomfited.

 

"Ellison, perhaps you should bond with David before you go to bed?"

 

"No, it's okay, thanks. We bonded earlier. I'm good to go until I see Sandburg tomorrow. Mrs Bentine, you're looking lovely tonight. I was just telling Edwards here how much I enjoy a hot tub after a long day." He ignored the glare sent his way. "I must leave you as I'm flying early tomorrow. Good night." As he walked away he could hear the portly woman's voice over Edwards' protests and smiled to himself. It quickly faded though as he thought about what his guide was going through. 'Soon,' he spoke to the empty place at his side, 'I'll be with you soon.'

 

THTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTB

 

Jim stretched and jumped out of his seat as the plane came to a stop. Despite being bumped up to First Class (he suspected the First Lady had had something to do with that) he'd not been able to fully relax during the nearly six-hour flight. No one else in First Class moved unlike the noises that were coming from Cattle Class as people opened overhead lockers. A pretty stewardess bustled up to him.

 

"Sentinel Ellison, we've had word a car's waiting for you when you get out of the airport. You don't have any checked luggage I believe?" At his nod, she opened the locker above his head and he reached in to take his bag. "Follow me and we'll get you off straight away."

 

As the doors to the arrivals lounged slid open Jim spotted the card with his name being held by a short dark-hued man. He walked over. "I'm Ellison."

 

"Oh, great. Follow me, man."

 

They started walking towards the exit.

 

"How far's the Institute?" Jim asked as they climbed into the car. "I know it's in a place called Atchison, but have no idea where."

 

"It's about fifteen miles and if traffic's okay we'll get there in about twenty minutes."

 

The sentinel slumped against the window and after the driver's attempts at conversation fell flat the journey continued in silence. Jim had never been to Minnesota and knew little about the state. And to be perfectly honest he couldn't care less. All he wanted was to get to his guide.

 

Eventually, the car drove through large, cast iron gates and up a long drive. Trees lined the route and well-manicured lawns stretched out on either side. A slight bend brought them to the front of a massive Colonial style building. Its white walls gleamed in the autumn sun and the windows fairly twinkled. The car came to a stop before the impressive steps leading to the front entrance. Before he could even open his car door, Dr Solomen was coming down the steps. They met on the bottom step.

 

"Senior Sentinel Prime Ellison, what a pleasure to have you at my Institute. I only wish it was under better circumstances."

 

"How is he?"

 

"I do believe the antibiotics are beginning to work and his temperature's falling slightly. If you'd like to come this way, I'll take you to him."

 

They started up the steps, Jim clutching his bag and Dr Solomen chatting. A few moments later, just as they entered the building, Jim felt a hand on his arm. "Sorry, what?" He looked down at the slightly shorter man.

 

"I asked if you'd like something to eat or drink."

 

"Um, no. I'm all right thanks." He wanted to go back to what he'd been doing: trying to listen for Blair's heartbeat. He knew that it was ridiculous, as there were probably state-of-the-art white noise generators everywhere, but he couldn't help himself.

 

"I understand," Solomen's words were underlined by a small chuckle. "I imagine all you want to do is find Guide Sandburg. Well, follow me." He turned right and pushed through a set of double doors. Even though the corridor was slightly less opulent than the gracious entrance with its sweeping staircase, it still retained much of its original decoration. Turning left they stopped in front of some very modern-looking lift doors that looked totally out of place.

 

Solomen pressed the down button and spoke when he saw Ellison's raised eyebrow. "Our isolation rooms are down two flights. The house is built on a slight hill and we added the more modern section of the institute behind the original building so the façade wouldn't be ruined." The doors opened and they stepped in. Solomen pressed the button marked 'Lower Level 2', the doors closed and the lift descended smoothly. It opened onto a brightly lit modern corridor and the doctor took them to the left.

 

He stopped in front of a large door marked 'Isolation Ward. Authorized Entry Only'. He swiped the card hanging from a lanyard around his neck through the card reader to the right of the door. There came a little beep and the door opened. Solomen pushed and they entered into a square area with two doors in each of the three walls opposite them. A large desk dominated the room. It was empty.

 

"This way." He led them to the last door on the left. Under the small window was a plaque bearing the legend 'Iso Room 4' and under that was written 'Guide B. Sandburg'.

 

Jim went to open the door his need to see his guide almost overwhelming him.

 

Chapter seven

 

Joel Taggart knocked on the frame of the open door to Simon's office and poked his head through the opening.

 

Banks looked up from the papers he was reading. "Joel, come in." He leaned back in his chair and took a sip from the coffee mug sitting on his desk. He grimaced as he realised that it was cold.

 

"You're working late."

 

"Paperwork," Simon's reply was terse, but heartfelt. He got up from his chair and looked mournfully at his empty coffee maker.

 

"Fancy catching a bite to eat?"

 

The captain turned round in surprise. "Actually, what are you doing here so late?"

 

"Martha's gone out with some girlfriends. She said I could fend for myself for once."

 

"When's the last time your wife let you loose in her kitchen?"

 

"Exactly. So I thought a nice juicy steak would be good compensation."

 

"You're talking about Mr Billie's, I hope?"

 

"Got it in one."

 

Simon looked at his watch. "Wow, it IS late." He moved back to his desk. "You know I haven't heard from Ellison today. I would have thought he'd let us know that he'd got to Saint Paul and how Sandburg was faring. Have you heard from him?"

 

"Nothing. Perhaps he's too caught up in their reunion?"

 

"You could be right." He turned off his computer and picked up his mug. "Let me clean this and then we can be off."

 

THTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTB

 

"Morning, H." Megan breezed into the bullpen pulling off her rain-dappled coat.

 

"Connor. How's it hanging?"

 

"It's raining."

 

"Nooo. God, I can tell you're a detective."

 

"Drongo." The Australian made her way to the coat rack in the corner of the room. Hanging up her coat she noticed one of Sandburg's corduroy jackets draped over one of the hooks. She turned back to the black detective. "Hey, have you heard from Ellison at all? Do we know how Sandy's doing?"

 

"Nothing. When was he supposed to be getting to the Institute anyway?"

 

"Yesterday lunch time as far as I know. Perhaps Banks will know."

 

The bullpen doors crashed open and Rafe rushed into the room. "H! Get moving! Gellini's been spotted coming out of the diner on the corner of Magnolia and 56th."

 

THTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTB

 

"Rhonda could you get Captain Peters on the phone, please?" Banks called out of his office.

 

"Yes, sir."

 

Simon kept on working until he heard his secretary walk into his office carrying a folder.

 

"Captain Peters isn't in today. I've left a message asking him to call you tomorrow unless it's urgent?

 

"No, no. That's all right. Is that the vacation requests?"

 

"Yes. I've got everybody's except Ellison's and, of course, Blair's."

 

"Damn!" Simon looked up at the clock on his wall; it showed that it was almost 5 pm. "Have you heard from him today?"

 

"No. In fact a number of people have been asking me whether you had any news."

 

The captain pulled his cell phone out of his trousers pocket and looked at the screen. "I forgot to turn it back on after my meeting with Keaton." Governor Keaton was an elderly statesman who abhorred being interrupted during his meetings and insisted all mobile phones be turned off. "Maybe Ellison left me a message." They waited a moment while the phone powered up. Banks had three messages, but none of them were from the sentinel. "This is getting ridiculous. Would you mind getting the phone number of, what was the name of that Institute?"

 

"The Burton Sentinel/Guide Institute. I'll get on it straight away."

 

When she came back she was followed by Connor and Taggart. Banks waved them in when Joel explained that they'd overheard Rhonda obtaining the number he'd asked for. Taking the piece of paper he dialled and waited.

 

"Uh, yes. Hello. This is Captain Simon Banks of Cascade Police Department, Washington. One of my staff, Blair Sandburg, is hospitalised with you at the moment. I'd like to talk to his sentinel, Jim Ellison if at all possible. If not, could you give him a message, please? … No, Washington State. We're on the other coast. … No, I understand you can't give me any news about your patients. Detective Ellison isn't a patient and anyway I only want to speak to him. … Well, could you then ask him to call me? … Okay…" He pulled off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. Looking up at the people in his office hanging on his every word he rolled his eyes. "Could I then speak to Dr Solomen, please? … Could you ask HIM to call me, then? … No, I understand he's a busy man. So am I and I'd like some news regarding my men. … Thank you, I'll look forward to it. Good bye."

 

He hung up, sighed and put his glasses back on. "As you've probably gathered, Ellison's not available. She's left a message with Dr Solomen, but doubts that he'll be able to get back to me today."

 

THTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTB

 

It was early afternoon and Brown, Rafe and Banks were sitting round the table in the Captain's office poring over the Gellini file. The case had been on going for a few weeks now and missing the major fraudster yesterday had put the cat among the pigeons. They all looked up when Rhonda poked her head through the door.

 

"Captain, I have Dr Solomen on the line."

 

"At last," Simon growled. "Put him through, please." He moved towards his desk and looked over at the two detectives. "You can stay." He picked up the receiver. "Dr Solomen, thank you for calling me back."

 

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"I didn't think Jim could get this disease," Megan said frowning.

 

Most of Major Crimes was crowded into Banks office and were discussing the information he'd received from Dr Solomen.

 

"Apparently, this one has mutated and the vaccinations he received had no effect."

 

"What I don't understand," Brown mused, "is that Jim got sick five days after Hairboy. I mean he wasn't in contact with him for what, five days? So how did he get it?"

 

"Solomen didn't say."

 

"Did he at least say how Blair's doing?" Asked Joel.

 

"He couldn't give me much information, but said that he was doing as well as expected."

 

"Damn," Brown said feelingly. "They really have bad luck those two, don't they? Can't we at least call them? There must be a phone in their room."

 

Everyone murmured his or her assent.

 

"Hey, we should send them a care package," Connor put in. "Some of those teas Sandy likes."

 

"A double Wonderburger deluxe," H said and everyone laughed.

 

"At least some cards or something?" She turned to Banks a questioning look on her face.

 

"I'll find out what they can have. Well, that's all I can say for the moment. Both Ellison and Sandburg are in for a difficult time, but at least we know it's not usually fatal."

 

"Yeah, but what if it's mutated into a lethal strain?" Asked Rafe.

 

Simon looked startled for a moment. "I didn't think of that. Solomen said he'd keep me informed so I'll ask him when he next calls. I'll let you know if I hear anything else. So meanwhile, it's back to work, please."

 

They all filed out until only Joel was left sitting staring at his coffee.

 

"Joel?"

 

"Uh, what?" The former bomb captain looked up with a start. "Sorry. Got lost in my thoughts." He stood up and pushed his chair back against the table and then stood there with his hand on the chair back.

 

"Joel what's the matter?"

 

"I think I might head over to Cas Gen. What was the name of that doctor? Holland, yeah." He straightened and made for the door.

 

"You think there's a problem?"

 

"No. Yes. I don't know. I just want to understand more about this disease and he seemed pretty decent."

 

Banks stared at the other man for a moment. They'd been friends a long time having climbed through the ranks together. Although Taggart hadn't been a detective long having only recently transferred from the Bomb Squad, he trusted his friend's instincts. And he knew that the gentle man had a soft spot for the guide. He nodded. "Let me know what you learn."

 

Joel nodded in turn understanding more than the words.

 

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"Morning, guys," Simon's voice spread through the bullpen as he made his way to his office. He didn't hang about wanting to get to his coffee maker. Rhonda always put the machine on if she arrived before him and it was one of those days. The enticing smell was already seeping out his door and he quickened his step. Greetings followed him, but no one stopped the big man. They'd learnt that it was dangerous to come between Banks and his coffee so early in the day.

 

"Ahh," the captain breathed in the heady aroma and took a sip. Pure heaven. A knock at the door had him jerk his head up, but he calmed down when he saw that it was Taggart. "Come in. Coffee?"

 

"No, thanks. I've just had some."

 

"So, did you get hold of Dr Holland?"

 

"No, he'd gone home. But I did get to talk to Senior Nurse Leggerty. She's a highly experienced sentinel/guide nurse and specialises in infectious diseases. She was a bit surprised about what I told her, as apparently this had never happened before. I said that the information had come from Solomen and – I don't know – she looked… I don't think she likes him much. Anyway, she said she'd find out what she could and talk to Dr Holland and call me when she had something."

 

The two men looked at each other. Was something not right or was it simply their concern for the Pair that was making them suspicious?

 

 

Chapter eight

 

Jim tiredly lay back on the cot without even taking his shoes off. He couldn't move; his whole body ached and his head was pounding. A half moan, half sigh made him open his eyes and turn his head to look at the figure curled up on the bed next to him. God, how had it come to this? His thoughts flew back to what had happened when he'd seen his guide again after their five-day separation…

 

The small vestibule leading to Blair's room was almost identical to the one in Cascade. Hurriedly he dropped his bag onto the floor and dressed himself in the protective overall that was green instead of the white used at home. All the while his eyes were glued to the figure lying in the bed beyond the large window in front of him. He looked no different to how he'd looked the last time he'd seen him. Machines hummed and beeped and various plastic bags containing diverse fluids led to tubes that were connected to his arms. He was still wearing an oxygen mask and Jim was pleased that Blair was still strong enough not to need to be intubated.

 

Then he was through the second door and without knowing how he did it, he was stroking his hand down his guide's face. It took him a second to realise that he could feel no excessive heat rising from the skin. Sending out his hearing he listened to Blair's breathing and couldn't hear the wheezing that had been starting to sound in the young man's lungs. He then concentrated on the heart and apart from an unusually slow beat it, too, sounded normal. Blair appeared to be in good health. Had the drugs cured him already?

 

He looked up to see Dr Solomen still in the vestibule staring at him through the window. The doctor pressed on a button to the right of the window and his tinny voice came through a speaker set up high in one corner.

 

"Senior Sentinel Prime Ellison, you've probably noticed by now that your guide seems to be in very good condition. There's an easy explanation for that. In fact Guide Sandburg was never actually ill."

 

Jim frowned. He was hearing the words, but to his tired brain nothing made sense.

 

"It was all a ruse to get the pair of you here. Certain drugs administered in a certain fashion can imitate the symptoms of infective endocarditis lucernus and as it's such a rare disease it was easy to fool the doctors in Cascade."

 

"Um, why?" The detective was slowly shaking his head as what the doctor was saying penetrated his consciousness.

 

"You're a Dark Pair. The first to be known about for years. We heard about what Guide Sandburg did to those two women and decided that it was time to do some tests. So, you'll be staying with us a while. Guide Sandburg's only sedated. We didn't want you feeling anything through the bond. He'll more than likely be waking up soon."

 

"What if we don't agree to your tests?" Ellison could feel a cold tendril of anxiety in the pit of his stomach start to form.

 

"You don't have a choice. This room is totally sealed and the only way of opening the doors is from the outside."

 

"We'll be missed. People will want to talk to us."

 

"There'll be told that despite the vaccines given to you, you unfortunately contracted the disease and are unable to talk to anyone."

 

"Who are you?"

 

"It's not important to know who we are, but you managed to break up our project in Cascade. If we'd known what Guide Sandburg was capable of we wouldn't have let Sentinel Barnes anywhere near him."

 

'Oh God,' thought Ellison. They were in the hands of the people who'd been running the Centre in Cascade.

 

"Now, I'll have some food brought to you. There's a bathroom through that door to the right. I can bring you some magazines, but no television I'm afraid. I'll be back in a little while." He turned away and then turned back and pressed the button again. "You can take off those protective clothes. Guide Sandburg isn't contagious."

 

"No, wait!" Jim rushed up to the door and was dismayed to see no door handle. He banged on the glass, but the doctor ignored him and opened the outer door. "You can't do this! Stop! I said stop!" He pummelled the glass with his two fists to no avail. Stepping back he pulled off the green overalls, facemask and hat and peeled off the rubber gloves. Disgusted, he threw them into a corner.

 

"Cell phone," he said suddenly and pulled it out of his jacket pocket. He pressed the switch to turn it on having forgotten to do so once he'd left the plane. Waiting impatiently for the screen to light up he glanced over at Blair. Nothing had changed there. The phone beeped, but to his dismay not one of the bars indicating there was a network showed. He then looked around for his bag thinking that maybe there was something in it he could use. He groaned when he remembered he'd left it in the vestibule.

 

He walked back to Sandburg's bed and cupped the younger man's cheek. "Hey, Chief. Time to wake up. Your sentinel's here and we're in deep shit." Nothing. He stood up straight and looked around the windowless room. "Okay, Ellison", he muttered, "what do you need and what have you got?" Time to do some exploring.

 

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"Come on, Chief, open your eyes. You can do it."

 

"Mmmm."

 

Somehow Jim knew that the younger man was trying to say his name. Blair had been making funny little snuffling noises for the last ten minutes and his eyes had been moving under his eyelids. The sentinel desperately wanted him to wake up so he could check that he was all right. And he also wanted that formidable intellect working on their problem.

 

"Yes," he breathed as slivers of blue peeked out from underneath heavy eyelashes.

 

"Jim? Wass goin' on?"

 

"Take deep breaths and open your eyes a little more for me." Now that Blair was more awake, Jim sent out the feeling that meant he wanted to bond

 

The guide, programmed to respond to his chosen sentinel, opened up his own mind to receive the connection. What he felt made him open his eyes wide all traces of the sedative wiped from his body. "Jim! What's up? What's going on?" He struggled to sit up, but was pushed flat as his buff sentinel climbed onto the bed and buried his nose into his neck. Automatically, his hand came up to brush the short hair.

 

Subconsciously, he noticed that he wasn't connected to any drips and the hated oxygen mask was gone. However, he had more important things to deal with and all his concentration was centred on Jim. The sentinel was sending out feelings of distress and anger overlaid with strong feelings of relief and happiness. Then the bond took over and all coherent thought fled out of the building.

 

It was more than half an hour before either of the Pair moved. Reluctantly, Jim lifted his head from Blair's shoulder. He smiled as the arm draped round his shoulders tried to tug him back down again.

 

"Chief," he whispered into the ear conveniently placed in front of his mouth, "we've got serious things to talk about. I'm afraid we're in a bit of a situation."

 

Blair opened one eye and with a sigh released the other man. Jim sat up, but kept a hand on Blair's arm wanting to keep physical contact. He pulled the grad student up until he was resting against his chest then leant back against the head of the bed.

 

Before he could open his mouth to explain, Blair spoke up. "Does this situation explain why I've been disconnected from all medical paraphernalia and am feeling rather good for someone who's battling a deadly disease?"

 

Jim explained everything that had happened since he'd got off the plane until a close-mouthed orderly had slipped a tray with some sandwiches and a plastic cup of water through a sliding opening in the observation window. The detective had tried to get him to talk, had shown him his police badge and had ended up shouting, but all to no avail.

 

"God, I thought that maybe they'd included plastic cutlery I could use somehow because, believe me, there's nothing in this suite that could be classed as escape material. I mean, there aren't even any needles attached to those IVs. I thought I might as well disconnect you after what Solomen said." He stopped as he picked up on Blair's increased heart rate and smelt his anger.

 

"That bastard," the younger man said in venom. "I thought I was dying and going to leave you… leave you all alone. Without a guide. I thought at least we'd not been bonded long so that there was a possibility you'd survive." The arm around him tightened.

 

The sentinel had to clear his throat a couple of times before he could speak. "It's too late, Chief. There's no way I'd survive now."

 

Blair put up a hand and patted the arm around him. There was no point arguing; it was just the way between Pairs with a true bond. Fortunately, the rumbling of his stomach interrupted the mushy moment. "Oh, man. Tell me you didn't eat all those sandwiches? I haven't eaten in days. And d'you think you could find me something better to wear? I HATE hospital gowns."

 

Chapter nine

 

"Please, no more. I can't… " Blair's voice faded off into a sob.

 

"What are you doing to him? Leave him alone, you bastards!" Jim strained against the restraints that tied him to the gurney.

 

Dr Solomen ignored both men and continued to stare at the computer screen. "Um, look at this." He pointed to something and his colleague/fellow torturer to whom they'd never been introduced turned and bent towards the screen.

 

"I don't know. I think it's an anomaly."

 

"But we saw this yesterday and it's stronger today."

 

The tall man looked thoughtfully at the Pair tapping a pen against his teeth. The sound seemed to reverberate through the sentinel's head. "When did we start bringing them in together?"

 

"Two days ago."

 

"Okay. How about we continue with both of them today and then test them separately tomorrow?"

 

Solomen nodded, noted something in a file and the other man left the room.

 

"Sandburg, you okay?" Jim's voice was hoarse from all the shouting he'd been doing over the last – he couldn't remember how any days. Blair was positioned somewhere behind a bank of equipment. He couldn't see him, but the ragged breathing echoed through the room like a warning.

 

They'd been pretty much left alone the first day supposedly to allow time for the sedatives they'd been pumping into Sandburg to leave his system. Despite the narrowness of the bed, they'd slept together revelling in their physical and mental closeness.  The separation hadn't ben so bad on the guide as he'd mostly slept through the whole time. It had been different for the sentinel especially as he'd had the added worry of wondering whether his guide was going to survive his illness intact. So, if he was more touchy feely than normal neither commented on it.

 

Their brief reprieve had been broken the following day as just after breakfast two 'orderlies' – Jim used the term loosely as the pair of them looked like professional wrestlers – had come to take Blair away. Jim had done his best to protect his guide, but a few prods from a Taser had had him jerking on the floor his senses going haywire. The last thing he'd heard before succumbing to the encroaching darkness had been the younger man screaming.

 

"Jim! Jim, are you all right?" No, let me see to him. You could kill him with…"

 

When he'd woken up, he'd been angered to find himself dressed in the same type of sweats that he'd found in the small bathroom earlier and that Blair had gratefully donned. Everything else had been removed; his wallet, badge, phone and even his shoes. He'd spent a totally frustrating few hours at first banging on the windows, doors and shouting at the two surveillance cameras. When that had produced no visible result, he'd laid down on Blair's bed – it was marginally more comfortable than the cot they'd provided for him – and had tried to find the younger man via their connection. Unfortunately, all that had happened was that he'd got a headache and then he fell asleep.

 

He'd been woken by an orderly pushing lunch through the observation window. Again, talking to the man had been a waste of time. He'd eaten the typical hospital food grimly somehow knowing that he'd need to keep his strength up despite the fact that worry for his guide was gnawing at his stomach. A few hours later, a very subdued Blair had been brought back. Jim had been anxiously standing by the door as soon as he'd been able to hear his heartbeat through the white noise generators.

 

"Chief, you all right?" What have you done to him?" His questions had fallen on deaf ears. Any thoughts of trying to take on the two men supporting the guide had gone right out the window when they'd thrust the younger man at the sentinel. Jim had had to act quickly to prevent Blair from crashing to the floor. Lifting him up he'd placed him on the bed and examined him closely. There hadn't been any obvious signs of torture or injury apart from a couple of round, red marks on his temples and red ring around his ankles and wrists. No brownie points for guessing where they'd come from!

 

"Jim." Blair's voice had been soft, but the questing hand had been strong once it had latched onto the detective's arm.

 

"What happened? What did they do to you? Are you hurt?"

 

Blair's eyes had opened and he'd almost smiled at his sentinel in Major Blessed Protection Mode. "Just tests. They wanted to compare the data now that I'm bonded to the data they have from before." He'd yawned.

 

"You have a headache," Jim had pointed out firmly.

 

"And you know the best cure for that, don't you?"

 

The sentinel had needed no further prompting and had climbed onto the bed. Gathering his guide into his arms, they'd sunk into the bond.

 

And that was how it had continued with either one or the other being taken away for tests for the next few days. It was difficult to judge time passing as there were no windows and arrival of the meals were their only indication. The tests had not been difficult physically at first. For Jim there'd been evaluations of his senses, which had been uncomfortable, but bearable. Blair had been subjected to tests relating to his empathy that left him tired and with headaches.

 

However that had changed a while back. They'd been separated at night and when they were brought together into the 'torture chamber' as Blair had named it, they weren't allowed to touch. For Jim it had been getting difficult as his senses were starting to become erratic. Two days without being able to bond and without damping drugs was eating into his control. He was also very worried about his guide. Bonding was necessary for an empath to keep his barriers up so that he wasn't swamped by the emotions of everyone around him. Apart from when he'd been sedated, Blair had never gone more than a day with bonding. He'd tried sending the younger man support through the connection they had, but it was becoming more and more difficult as the guide's control began to fray.

 

"Jim, I hurt."

 

The sentinel's heart was breaking at hearing his guide's obvious pain. "I'm here, Chief. I know it hurts, but try and be strong. Please, don't give up."

 

"Wanna go home."

 

"Me, too." 'Oh, God. Me, too,' Jim repeated in his head. "Hey, Solomen! There's no point doing tests if your subjects can't function, is there?"

 

To his surprise the doctor moved over to him and examined him a pensive look on his face. "You do know why we're doing this, don't you?"

 

"No, not really."

 

"No one understands how sentinels and guides are created, nor how the bond helps in controlling your senses or preventing a guide to burn out. We've tried testing non-bonded sentinels and guides, Pairs and even children just as their talents emerge, but we've found nothing. We know that with a Dark Pair everything's magnified: senses, empathy, connection etc. Maybe we can find something in you two that'll help us."

 

"Help you to do what exactly?"

 

"Manufacture artificial sentinels or remove the need for a guide or a sentinel. Wouldn't it be easier for you to be able to live your life without having to rely on a another person?"

 

Jim fought down the desire to rip the man's throat out for suggesting the thing. For the moment he was talking and he wanted to get as much information out of him as possible. "To what end?"

 

"Oh, there are a number of uses." Solomen's eyes roamed around the room.

 

Suddenly, it became clear to Ellison what their kidnappers were trying to do. "You're trying to destroy the instinct to protect that every sentinel and guide has. Without this instinct you can turn them into assassins, thieves, spies, mind readers… God, you want to control them. You want control to be out of the hands of the guides and in yours."

 

The doctor merely shrugged, but eyes still wouldn't settle on Ellison's face.

 

"So why are you telling me this now?"

 

"Well," Solomen looked earnestly into Jim's eyes, "if you and Guide Sandburg cooperated this would be much easier on you. And think, if we were successful you could be part of our organisation. You could train them. Think of all the money you could make. You'd longer have to rely on someone else for your control. You'd be free to live the way you wanted to."

 

Jim was flabbergasted and for a moment didn't know what to say despite the fact that the rogue doctor was saying exactly what he'd been thinking before he'd bonded with Sandburg. "And just how would these sentinels control their senses and these guides block other people's emotions? Chemicals? Implants? And who would produce these things? You and your cohorts, I imagine. Control what controls guides and sentinels and make a fortune. You want me to cooperate in tests that cause my guide and myself extreme discomfort so that you can kill our bond and profit from our suffering." He took a deep breath. "WHY THE HELL DO YOU THINK I'D DO THAT? If you could experience a bond you'd know just how crazy I'd be to want to give that up. So, come on do your worst."

 

He noticed with a certain detached interest that Solomen's face had turned an interesting puce colour.

 

"Oh, don't you worry, Senior Sentinel Prime Ellison, you've seen nothing, yet." With that he stalked out of Jim's view and a second later he heard a door slam.

 

"Way to go, man," Blair's voice was faint, but the sentinel could hear the pride that infused it.

 

"Just saying how it is, but, thanks." Jim closed his eyes knowing that this respite was going to be short lived and that they were going to have to dig deep to get through what was coming next.

 

On to the rest here: starfishyeti.dreamwidth.org/2143.html 

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