[personal profile] starfishyeti
 Chapter ten

 

Blair Sandburg thought that he had to be in hell. His head hurt, his gut hurt, even his fingernails hurt. The bed he was lying on dipped and a warm body pressed up against his back. Two arms came around his chest and he clutched onto them as if he was drowning.

 

A soft voice whispered into his ear. "How you doing, Chief?"

 

"I hurt."

 

"What's the worst? Your head?"

 

He nodded and gentle hands started rubbing his temples. A soft probe into his mind pushed him towards bonding, but he was too tired to respond. The probe became more insistent and without having to do anything the bond opened up like a flower and soothed his aches and pains. He sighed in pleasure and pushed himself further back into Jim's chest. Bonding was the only thing that was keeping them sane in this hospital of horrors.

 

Sometime later he rose up out of the bond to hear his sentinel whispering in his ear. "Wake up, Chief, but don't react. Keep your eyes closed. Can you hear me?"

 

Blair's reply was only loud enough for his sentinel to hear. "I'm awake."

 

"What did they do to you today?"

 

"See whether I could react to films of emotions, audio recordings and people imitating feeling angry or whatever." He snorted. "They have no idea. I think I got the headache from trying not to explode with disgust. Call themselves scientists? I'll tell them…"

 

"Shh, shh." Hands rubbed at his temples again. "Don't let them know how you really feel."

 

They both jumped as the outer door flew open. Jim instinctively covered Blair's body with his own. Three large orderlies came barrelling into their room and straight for the two on the bed. For a few minutes there was complete chaos as they tried to separate the sentinel and guide while the Pair did everything they could to prevent them. A Pair always acted more on instinct just after bonding.

 

"No, no! Leave him alone!" Blair's voice was almost a scream.

 

"Touch him and I'll kill you!" Jim's voice was almost a feral scream.

 

"If you don't calm down, I'll Taser him!" One of the orderlies' voices cut through the pandemonium like a hot knife through butter.

 

Ellison froze. He raised his eyes and saw Sandburg lying on the bed with an orderly holding a Taser on his chest. The two men fighting him took advantage of the calm and pulled his arms behind him slapping on padded restraints around his wrists. The sentinel, comprehending what was happening, started to struggle.

 

"Sentinel, I have your guide in my control," the orderly shouted again.

 

Right at that moment, Dr Solomen bustled in. "What the hell is going on?"

 

"We tried to separate them and they just went ape shit," the orderly panted out.

 

"Is that an official diagnosis?" the doctor snapped. He turned towards Ellison. "Calm down. Why kick off now? We've separated you before."

 

The sentinel was lying face down on the floor panting with his hands restrained behind his back and the two orderlies lying across him. He tried to heave himself up, but it was to no avail.

 

"My sentinel, calm down," the guide's voice was a mere whisper, "I'm unharmed and will remain so if you calm down." Jim blew out a shaky breath and let his body relax. The orderlies didn't move.

 

"God, d'you know nothing about bonded Pairs?" Blair asked Solomen. His voice was sarcastic despite the situation he found himself in. He was pleased to note that the orderly holding the Taser on him was panting and sporting a few scratches and bruises to his face. As the three men had burst into the room two had headed for Ellison while the remaining man had gone for the guide. They'd obviously thought that the sentinel was the person who was the real danger and hadn't taken into account how a guide would react when his sentinel was threatened. Even though he was weakened through the tests he'd been enduring over the last few days, Blair had put up a good fight.

 

Solomen whirled round. "What d'you mean?"

 

"We've just bonded; just undergone a process that exists to make us become closer by channelling our base instincts. And you get your goons to barge in and disrupt that closeness. Of course we're going to react. Sheesh, I thought you were a sentinel/guide doctor." He wasn't too sure that annoying the man was a good idea, but he needed to give Jim time to calm down before he got himself seriously hurt.

 

Solomen looked as if he was going to blow, but with visible effort, he got himself under control. "Any other information you'd like to share?" He stared coldly at the dishevelled grad student. "Huh, I didn't think so," he said sharply when Blair merely stared back at him no expression on his face. He turned to the orderlies holding Ellison on the floor. "Take him."

 

Jim was hauled up and started to struggle again. He stopped when he saw Blair on the bed a Taser on his chest.

 

"I'm okay," Sandburg whispered.

 

The detective allowed himself to be dragged out of the room. He twisted his head so he could see his friend and then he was out in the corridor. To his surprise, the two men took him to one of the rooms on the other side of the isolation area. His restraints were undone and he was thrust through the door. He found himself in the vestibule to a room that mirrored the one he and Sandburg had been in except instead of being green this one was painted yellow. A shove on his back urged him to open the second door and he walked in. The door was shut behind him and he heard the lock snick into place. He didn't move, but sent out his hearing to search for Blair's heartbeat – nothing. The white noise generators drowned out everything. He slid down the wall and rested his head on his bent knees.

 

Blair, meanwhile, had been released and was now sitting up against the wall. "Why are you doing this?"

 

Solomen looked at him. "Life would be so much easier if only you'd cooperate," he said ignoring the question.

 

"Another thing that proves you know nothing about sentinels and guides."

 

The doctor shook his head slowly and nodding at the third orderly turned away. The two men left the room. Blair curled onto his side letting the anguish he'd hidden from the doctor flow through his body. "Be strong, my sentinel," he murmured.

 

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"Morning, everyone," Joel called out as he walked into the bullpen. Greetings in various degrees of alertness floated across the room. Reaching Banks' open door he knocked on the doorframe.

 

Simon was on the phone, but looking up he waved the former bomb captain in. "Okay, good luck in the test. Let me know how it went." He put the phone down and walked over to his coffee machine. "Coffee?"

 

"What is it today?" Taggart asked as he pulled the door shut.

 

"Plain old coffee."

 

"That does me good. Was that Daryl on the phone?" He took the mug handed to him.

 

"Oh, yeah." Simon eased himself back into his chair. "He wants to go to a party, but his mother's said no. I said I would talk to her and find out why. I did tell him that if I agreed with her I wouldn't give permission either."

 

"I take it he wasn't too happy with that?"

 

"He thinks that just because his mother and I are divorced he can play us off against each other."

 

"Huh, teenagers."

 

Both men shook their heads thinking of the escapades their respective children got up to.

 

"You here to talk about Ellison and Sandburg?" Banks asked after a few seconds of silence.

 

"Uh huh. I couldn't get hold of Dr Holland, but I did run into that nurse again." He took a sip of coffee. "She admitted that she wasn't an expert on this sort of infection, but also said it didn't sound right to her. She thought that we should be getting more information than we are. She's going to ask Dr Holland and will call me when she has news."

 

Simon sighed. "I suppose that's all we can do for the moment. Let's hope Solomen calls as well and we can get this cleared up."

 

"What's making you so jumpy about this?"

 

"I don't know, but something is."

 

A knock on the door made them look up.

 

"Come!" Banks barked out.

 

Edwards and David walked in.

 

"Captains Banks and Taggart. Good morning," said the sentinel echoed by a 'good morning' from David.

 

"Gentlemen, when did you get back?" Simon gestured to for them to sit down, but didn't offer them coffee.

 

"Last night."

 

"How was the conference?"

 

"Good. But before we get to that, have you been in contact with Ellison and do you have any news on Blair?" Neither sentinel nor guide missed the look that passed between the two captains. "What? What's going on?"

 

"When's the last time you spoke to him?" Joel asked.

 

"The morning he left for Colorado."

 

"That's five days. Damn," Banks cursed. "Okay, this is what we're thinking…"

 

Chapter eleven

 

Ellison paced up and down, up and down; five paces from wall to wall and four and a half from wall to bathroom door. He was going crazy. Or he was already crazy and he was in hell. He had no idea how long he'd been locked in this room away from his guide. It had to be days if the number of meals he'd been served were anything to go by. Oh, and the fact that he was losing control of his senses; his skin was itching, the lights were too bright… He tried listening for his guide, but all he could hear was the air from the conditioning unit and his own breathing.

 

When they'd first been separated they'd been able to feel each other through the bond and Jim had taken comfort from that. However, as time past the connection had faded until now there was nothing. Banging on the doors and walls had changed nothing and shouting only made him hoarse. His emotions swung between anger, frustration, disbelief and despair.

 

God, how was Blair coping with this? 'He must be crawling the walls by now,' he thought absently scratching at his right arm. Bending down he rubbed behind his left knee and then started on his arm again. He stilled as he realised what he was doing. Pulling up the sleeve of his sweatshirt he stared in dismay at the red rash adorning his forearm. He leant his back against the wall and slid down until his was sitting on the floor. Resting his head on his bent knees he struggled to find his dials.

 

'How come with Blair present it was an exercise that took seconds?' He asked himself five minutes later. With relief he felt the itchiness on his skin start to fade away as he wrestled down the dial for touch. His control shattered as his bedroom door opened and Dr Solomen walked in. He sighed and lifted his head, but didn't bother standing.

 

"Skin giving you problems?" Solomen stood in front of him leaning a hip against the bed.

 

Ellison stared at him no expression on his face.

 

"We've had to sedate Guide Sandburg. There are no white noise generators for emotions."

 

The sentinel didn't move except for a tightening of his jaw. He didn't want to give the doctor the satisfaction of knowing that his words had chilled his heart. His guide was suffering and he could nothing to help him. Solomen watched him intently for a while as if trying to read his thoughts. Not getting any visible reaction he frowned and pushed away from the bed. Without a word he left closing the door with a loud bang.

 

Jim flinched and lowered his head on his knees again. Tremors coursed through his body. 'Blair, Blair, Blair,' ran through his mind and his hands clenched into fists. They HAD to get out of there, sooner rather than later, but he could see no way of achieving that. All he could hope for was that Simon or Edwards would realise that something was wrong and would come to their rescue. Taking a deep breath he visualised his dials and again wrestled with bringing them under his control.

 

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"Banks," Simon barked down the phone. He'd just spent a frustrating morning with a civilian police observers group and now had a raging headache. All he wanted to do was sit in his office with the blinds closed and drink his coffee. Unfortunately, he was on duty and that option wasn't open to him.

 

"Captain Banks, this is Dr Holland from Cascade General."

 

"Oh yes. Thanks for calling me."

 

"Nurse Leggerty told me that a Captain Taggart had been enquiring again about Sentinel Ellison catching infective endocarditis lucernus. As I said before I must admit I was very surprised that he'd become infected what with the preventive treatment we gave him. So, I called Dr Solomen." He paused.

 

"Did you talk to him?" Banks prompted when the silence continued.

 

"Yes." Holland's affirmative was hesitant and soft.

 

"And?"

 

"Solomen confirmed that the particular strain that infected Guide Sandburg was a mutant and unfortunately the treatment given to Sentinel Ellison would have been less than optimum."

 

"So he can be treated now?" Simon took a sip from his coffee. There was obviously something troubling the good doctor.

 

Holland's sigh whispered down the line. "He described a convincing treatment plan, but…"

 

"Something's not quite right."

 

"No. Yes. I don't know. I just can't put my finger on it. Maybe it's nothing."

 

"You're a doctor. I would think that you should trust your instincts."

 

The line hummed as the doctor thought about the captain's words.

 

"You and Captain Taggart are concerned beyond medical considerations," he eventually said making it into a question.

 

"Let's just say that we're used to trusting out instincts as well. What can you tell me about Dr Solomen?"

 

"Not much really. He studied originally to be a paediatrician and interned at St Bartholomew's in Maine. He says that while he was there he saw a number of sentinels come on line really young and suffer from not finding guides. It's what got him interested in sentinel and guide studies. He then did a post doc at Rainier and since then regularly gives seminars there. He was appointed director of the Burton Sentinel and Guide Institute three years ago.

 

"He's the foremost expert on sentinel and guide illnesses and diseases. So, when Guide Sandburg was brought in and infective endocarditis lucernus was diagnosed it made sense to call the Institute."

 

"Is it normal for the director of such a place to fly half way across the country to consult on a case such as this?"

 

"No. But we were lucky. He was at Rainier giving one of his seminars."

 

'Was he really?' Banks thought. "Dr Holland, you've been extremely helpful. Thank you."

 

"Not a problem. You'll let me know if your 'instincts' are founded?"

 

"Of course. Oh, just one more thing?" Simon asked as an idea popped into his head. "Do you know if Dr Solomen knows Chancellor Edwards at Rainier University?"

 

"Oh yes. They met when they were doing their posts docs."

 

Bingo!

 

"Thank you, Dr Holland. You've been a great help." He hung up and thought for a minute rubbing his eyes under his glasses. He picked up the phone again. "Rhonda, could you find out if Sentinel Edwards and his guide are available, please? And if they are, could you ask them to come and see me and when they arrive I'd like Captain Taggart to join me. Thanks."

 

Thirty minutes later he looked up at the knock on his door and watched as the three men walked in. He moved over to his conference table and they sat down. "Before I start I'd like to know if anyone's had any more information from Saint Paul?"

 

"I still keep getting the message that as I'm not next of kin all they can say is that they're doing as well as expected," Joel said disgustedly.

 

"As Ellison's second in command I do get a little more information, but I've still not managed to speak to either Ellison or Sandburg. I asked whether anyone could visit and was told that they were still in isolation and heavily sedated so all a visitor would be doing would be staring at them through a window." Edwards' frown showed what he thought of the situation.

 

"I've decided it's time to play dirty," Simon informed them with some satisfaction. He smiled as the others looked at him with growing interest and a feral gleam in their eyes. "I contacted Ellison's family. It was hard going because they're away a lot on business. Stephen, Jim's brother, is in Japan and won't be back for another week. However, when I explained the situation to him he said he'd call his father who was in London at the time."

 

"I thought Jim didn't have any contact with his family?" Asked Joel.

 

"He hadn't. But once Sandburg found out that Jim had a father and brother, he started bringing them together again. Apparently, William Ellison nearly had an aneurysm when he met Jim's guide. He obviously didn't fit in with what he thought was suitable for his son and a Senior Sentinel Prime. Stephen Ellison says that his father now thinks the sun shines out of every one of Sandburg's orifices because he's brought his eldest son back into his life. And, I quote, 'turned my brother back into the decent human being he was before his senses came on line'."

 

David nodded. "Guides who are empaths make great negotiators and Blair's the strongest one I know."

 

"He's also a good person," Taggart said proudly. He'd also had a soft spot for the grad student and he'd noticed how since his arrival in the pull pen things had started to run more smoothly, there were fewer arguments and people just seemed to be happier. He knew that Rhonda was constantly singing his praises as he helped her with her computer, smoothing Simon's ruffled feathers and calming overworked detectives.

 

"Anyway," Simon continued, "Mr Ellison is flying from London tomorrow straight to Saint Paul. He is a family member and is going to insist that he sees his son."

 

"I don't understand," questioned David. "Why don't we just insist and get the Minnesota police or Clan to go and ask some questions?"

 

"Although I've had my suspicions, up until now I've not really had much proof." He recounted his conversation with Dr Holland finishing up with, "I do think, however, that it's time for me to check up on my men."

 

"Fancy taking a few Clan members with you?" Asked Edwards.

 

"As many as would like to come." Banks grinned wolfishly. "Meanwhile, I think it might be an idea to set up some surveillance on Edwards. The Chancellor, of course, not the sentinel."

 

Edwards' answering smile was strained.

 

"Do we really have enough grounds to get a warrant?" Taggart questioned.

 

"No, but I was rather hoping that it could be considered a Clan matter?"

 

"Oh, I think that falls into the category of protecting Clan interests very neatly," Edwards answered Banks' grin with one of his own.

 

Chapter twelve

 

If he thought screaming would make him feel better he would. In fact he'd already tried it and all he'd got was a sore throat and a hard slap across the face. Automatically, his tongue explored the cut on the inside of his mouth where his cheek had impacted with his teeth. Instead, he thought he'd try something else. Ignoring what was going on around him he breathed in deeply through his nose, held it for three seconds then let it out through his mouth. He did it again and again until he had a rhythm going and he could feel his muscles relaxing. Almost unconsciously, his bond started searching for his sentinel. 'Jim, Jim,' he started up a litany in his head. He knew it was useless as he'd tried many times before, but even just saying his name made him feel better.

 

After a few minutes though, his calm was interrupted by an urgent desire to scratch his forearms. 'Oh, great,' he thought sardonically, 'here I am trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey and I want to scratch. He glanced down at his bare arms strapped onto boards at angles to his body. Apart from the IV port in the back of his left wrist they looked unchanged. Lying his head back down onto the gurney he blinked: the lab's lights suddenly seemed much brighter.

 

He closed his eyes again and was surprised to find himself looking at the inside of a shower stall. In amazement he watched a hand move forward and turn off the water. Was he now completely crazy? He tried banishing the images from his mind so that he could get back into his meditative state. 'Jim, Jim, Jim.' Breathe in, hold, breathe out. Breathe in, hold…

 

*Chief?*

 

He stilled holding his breath. The images in his head also stilled.

 

*Chief, is that you?*

 

God, it so sounded like his sentinel. He breathed out in a gasp. He MUST have totally lost it.

 

*Open your eyes.*

 

It was his sentinel speaking so he did so.

 

*Yes!*

 

He felt the other man's exultation as if it was his own.

 

*Listen, I can see what you're seeing. You're in the lab again and Dr Solomen's doing that really gross thing with his ear.*

 

Blair snorted. The doctor had a disgusting habit of cleaning his ears out with whatever implement happened to be handy. At the moment he was using a plastic stirrer that had come with his coffee. He looked up at the noise and Blair coughed covering up his laugh.

 

*Jim, it is you, isn't it? You've just got out of the shower?*

 

*Yeah. God, Chief. How are you? I can feel you've got a massive headache.*

 

*It's okay. It's manageable now. It must be this connection that's making it better. Is your skin playing up?*

 

*The rash is disappearing as we speak. Hey, this must be like that time with Barnes in the woods.*

 

There was silence for a moment as they both contemplated this.

 

*What are they doing to you?*

 

*Nothing… Well, nothing much.*

 

*What d'you mean?*

 

*Seriously, it's nothing to worry about. We should be thinking about what we can do with this.* Silence greeted him. *Jim?* He started to panic. Had he, in his despair, merely created this conversation?

 

*Okay… for now.* Blair breathed a sigh of relief. *D'you have any ideas of how it can help us?*

 

*Not at the moment. I do certainly feel better, though. It's almost as if we're bonding. What about you?*

 

*That's exactly it. Hey, keeping us apart to get us to bond in a panic isn't going to work now, is it?* Blair could feel Jim's grim satisfaction as he was feeling it himself.

 

*Hey, Chief, d'you think you can do that frying the brain thing as well?*

 

Blair felt his blood run cold. He felt very uncomfortable with his 'power' to overwhelm sentinels and guides and basically burn their minds. He'd only done it twice and the second time he'd killed a guide. He swallowed and strengthened his resolve. If it meant getting his sentinel out of the clutches of these sadists, then that was what he was going to have to do. *I… I don't know.* His mouth was dry and he tried licking his lips. *Maybe it only works on sentinels and guides. But it's worth thinking about.* A hand gripped his arm and his eyes flew open. 'Oh God,' he moaned silently, 'here we go again.'

 

*Chief, I can see him. Don't worry. I'm with you now. I'll shield you as much as I can. You're not on your own now.*

 

Just before injecting the liquid into the guide's IV port, Dr Solomen hesitated. Was that a small smile on his subject's face?

 

 

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"Captain Banks."

 

Simon sighed and looked around at the voice calling his name. He'd popped into the small supermarket near the PD during his lunch break to get some much-needed provisions. He knew it was going to be a long day and he'd be too tired to do it once his work day was finished. He knew he'd simply want to chill out in front of the television while eating a totally unhealthy ready meal. He relaxed when he saw it was the Pair Langston and Michaels.

 

"Uh, evening. What brings you here?"

 

"We followed you," Michaels said simply.

 

"You did?" Banks looked at her with some consternation.

 

"We wanted to talk to you away from sensitive ears," Langston said with a wry smile.

 

"Oh, okay. What do you want to talk about?"

 

"Edwards thinks it would be a good idea if you organised a poker night at your house tonight with the detectives you've got working on our project and invite some of the Clan as well."

 

"Why at my house?" Simon asked confused. "Why not at the sentinel suite or one of your houses?" Mentally he groaned. He was already tired.

 

"We don't normally allow non-Clan members onto the premises. One or two okay, but five or six would be difficult for the guides."

 

"And too many sentinels, bonded or not, at another sentinel's house would be difficult for the sentinels," explained Michaels.

 

"Oh, I see," Banks murmured when in reality he had no idea what they were talking about.

 

"There'll be four of us," the sentinel continued very much aware of the captain's confusion, but time was of the essence. "We'll bring pizza and drinks. Enough for ten?"

 

A few hours later Simon was still unsure why everyone was meeting at his house, but gamely opened the door when the bell was rung again. Megan, wearing an inordinately bright pantsuit grinned and held up a six-pack of beer.

 

"G'day, Captain," she said. "I've brought Australian beer just in case you don't have any."

 

"This isn't a party," he growled back.

 

"I know, but one won't be over the top."

 

"Move yourself, woman. You're causing a traffic jam." Brown was standing behind her eyeing what she was wearing. "That outfit…" he stopped as a tight-eyed glare was sent his way, "just looks great on you. Captain, thanks for having us," he said hastily and stepped past her into the house.

 

Banks closed the door and followed the detectives into the dining room where Edwards, David, Langston, Michaels, Joel and Rafe were tucking into pizzas.

 

"Hope you saved us some," H mock growled.

 

"You snooze, you lose," Rafe answered back taking another bite of his piece. "Mmm."

 

"Don't listen to him," Amanda said, "there's enough for everyone."

 

Simon squeezed into the already crowded room. "Okay, everyone. I've got some more chairs here, but you're going to have to get close. Hope you've all had showers today."

 

With much laughing and ribald comments everyone scooted round until they were all, more or less, sitting round the oval table. Joel was interested to notice that Edwards and Langston had placed their guides so that their backs were to one of the room's corners and were bracketed by the sentinels. He'd never seen Clan members mix so readily with non-Clan members before and wondered whether it was Blair's influence. The young man had been seen having lunch, on several occasions, with a mix of sentinels, guides and 'ordinary people'.

 

After the pizzas had been consumed and they were sipping at beers or coffees, files and papers replaced the empty boxes and the atmosphere became serious. Simon looked over at Ellison's Clan second wondering who was going to start. Although he outranked all the police officers present he also acknowledged that the potential kidnap victims were the Clan's Senior Sentinel Prime and Senior Guide Prime. Edwards looked back and nodded indicating that Banks should lead the meeting.

 

"Okay," the captain gazed around the room, "who wants to start? The Clan, as you were the ones who called this meeting?"

 

"Thank you, Captain," Edwards said. "As you know the Clan has been keeping an eye on Chancellor Edwards. After a meeting with the Clan's lawyers we've decided to declare her "A Potential Danger to the Clan."

 

Everyone heard the capital letters in his voice.

 

"Really?" Banks couldn't disguise his surprise and his satisfaction.

 

"Um," Megan interrupted, "I understand the title, but what does it actually mean?"

 

The Sentinel Prime turned towards the Australian exchange officer. "It means that we can use our senses during our surveillance of her and our findings are admissible in court."

 

"Oh, beaut," she crowed. "We have GOT to get a law like that in Oz."

 

"Well, let me tell you what we've discovered."

 

Chapter thirteen

 

Dr Solomen was sitting in his office going over the latest notes in the Dark Pair's files. He brought his mug up to his lips and grimaced when the cold, bitter coffee registered on his tongue. He slammed the cup down and pushed himself back from his desk. Standing up he put his hands on the back of his hips and stretched; he could feel his vertebrae pop. Then leaning forward he rested his hands on his desk and stared unseeingly at the papers scattered there.

 

What the hell was going on? They'd kept sentinel and guide separated for four days now. Ellison's senses should be giving him hell as the control his guide provided had been removed. And Sandburg should be a gibbering wreck and close to overload from all the emotions battering at his psyche without the shielding his sentinel provided him. Instead, the Dark Pair were behaving as if they were bonding every night. When they'd tried this with non-Dark Pairs, they'd lasted a maximum of three days. Dark Pairs were supposed to be more sensitive and thus more prone to overloading, but…

 

He blew out a breath in frustration. His backers were beginning to get antsy at the lack of data from all the tests they were performing. They'd taken a big risk in snatching the Senior Sentinel Prime of the Cascade Clan and his guide. Admittedly, there had also been a soupçon of revenge in choosing this particular Pair for testing, as they'd been instrumental in taking down the Cascade operation. But now, he wasn't getting the results he'd promised and holding on to the Pair was increasing the risk of their ruse being discovered. The virus story was only going to last for so long before difficult questions started being asked and he would have to announce that, sadly, the Pair had succumbed to the disease.

 

Sitting back down in his chair he stared at the papers again. He picked up the phone and punched in a short number. "Chan, it's Dr Richards. Sandburg's still in the lab? – Okay, take Ellison in in about thirty minutes." He put the phone down and gathered up the papers. Time to get back to work.

 

 

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Simon Banks strode of the plane and Megan Connor struggled to keep up.

 

"Captain, hold on a minute," the dark-haired Australian puffed out.

 

The tall man stopped and turned a rueful grin on his face. "I'm sorry, I just want to get there as soon as possible. I forgot that – "

 

"Not everyone has legs as long as yours and especially me?"

 

"I…"

 

"No, don't worry, Cap. I'm as eager to get there as you."

 

The Major Crimes captain and the Australian Inspector had left Cascade the morning after the meeting in Banks' house. In the meeting Edwards had reported that their surveillance on Chancellor Edwards had revealed some very interesting phone conversations to various people in which unfortunately, she hadn't mentioned any names. However, in one conversation she'd booked a flight to Saint Paul for two days in the future. It of course, could be complete coincidence, but the fact that she'd had to wriggle out of a department meeting and a faculty dinner meant that her visit was obviously important and nothing to do with work. Her excuse of a family emergency sent the major Crimes detectives to detecting the whereabouts of all her relatives. Strangely enough, none of them appeared to be in Minnesota.

 

It had been agreed that both Clan members and representatives from Major Crimes should head for Saint Paul and hook up with the Clan there and William Ellison who had arrived late last night. As with Cascade, most of the Clan members were police officers in various departments across the State. It was a slight risk as there was no guarantee that there wasn't a corrupt sentinel or guide in the Clan, but it was highly unlikely. Hopefully, the Institute would be kept unaware of their actions. Carefully, nobody mentioned Alex Barnes, as it appeared that she'd been an anomaly. Or at least they hoped she had been…

 

Picking whom to send had been difficult, as everyone had volunteered. The obvious choice on the Clan side had been Edwards and his guide, David, but with the Senior Sentinel Prime absent, the Sentinel Prime decided it was better that they stay behind and hold the fort. So, Michaels and Langston with another Pair had headed out that morning. Sentinel Briggs and her guide, Vitell, were two female detectives from another precinct, but members of the Clan. Vitell had been a nurse before becoming a police officer and had worked in a sentinel/guide institute in another State.

 

Banks had pulled rank and declared that he was going. Megan was the Major Crimes member with the lightest caseload so it was decided that she could accompany him. No one mentioned that the woman was fiercely protective of the new guide ever since she'd been shot trying to protect him from Barnes. Neither sentinel nor guide had blamed her for Sandburg's kidnap by the rogue dark sentinel, but she felt that she had something to make up to them.

 

Not having bothered with checked luggage the two made their way over to the car rental counters. Within minutes they were standing in front of a large SUV checking the licence plate number against their rental papers.

 

"Well, you did ask Rhonda to reserve something that would be large enough to accommodate your frame," Connor murmured.

 

"But damn," Banks almost sputtered, "the only thing it's missing are the cow horns on the hood." He'd been expecting a nice sedan with all the extras not this… this… gas guzzler.

 

"Well, at least we'll fit in," Megan replied eyeing the vehicles parked in the airport car park. "Shall I drive?" She asked innocently.

 

Simon sent her a disgusted look and stalked over to the driver's side. She smiled sweetly and clambered into the passenger seat. Twenty minutes later they pulled into the car park of a hotel situated on the outskirts of the city that had been recommended by the Minnesota Clan.

 

"I hope at least Rhonda booked two rooms," the captain growled as they walked towards reception.

 

Megan forbore answering knowing that Simon wasn't really maligning his very efficient secretary, but expressing his real worry over the situation. Minutes later she joined him in his room having dropped off her bag in her room adjoining his.

 

"I've called Langston. They'll be here soon." Simon was sitting in one of the comfy armchairs in front of the window his long legs stretched out in front of him sipping a mug of coffee made up from the complimentary supplies provided by the hotel. Airplane seats weren't comfortable for people of his height. "And they've managed to procure some guns for us."

 

She nodded in understanding and plonked herself down in the other armchair. As this was a somewhat covert mission they hadn't wanted to draw attention to themselves by checking in their weapons with the airplane flight staff. Edwards had arranged with the Clan here in Saint Paul to provide them with arms.

 

"I've also called Mr Ellison and he'll be joining us as well."

 

"Do you know whether he got in to see them?"

 

Banks' frown was almost the only answer she needed. "No. Apparently they were undergoing 'tests'."

 

THTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTB

 

Ellison was crawling the walls. An hour ago, as far as he could tell, Sandburg had severed their connection leaving him feeling bereft and frustrated. There'd been a spike in Blair's heartbeat and his emotions that had blasted down their connection like a bullet then – nothing. Even though his guide had been sedated he had still been able to feel their link, but now… He struck at the mirror in the bathroom hoping it would break and at least give him the satisfaction of having made a mark. Unfortunately, or fortunately for his hand, it held. He dragged in a deep breath. Why had he done it? Why had his guide cut the one thing that was keeping them both at least moderately sane? Because it had been a voluntary action; he simply couldn't contemplate the alternative…

 

He heard the door to his room open and stilled. Two sets of soft footsteps made their way to the bathroom door. Orderlies. Only orderlies wore those rubber-soled shoes that made that particular sound on the linoleum. Without even a knock, the door was opened and Jim stared into the face of Bubba. It was more than likely that it wasn't his real name, but the sentinel thought that it suited the particularly large orderly. Another large orderly that he'd christened Herc, stood behind and slightly to one side.

 

"Haven't you ever heard of knocking?" Jim demanded.

 

Bubba looked nonplussed for a moment. "You gonna come quietly or do I hafta shackle you?"

 

"Where you taking me?"

 

"Quiet or shackles."

 

The sentinel sighed. He was very tempted to resist just so that he could get rid of some of the frustration he was feeling. However, he also knew that he wouldn't be of any help to Blair if he was banged up. "Quiet," he eventually answered.

 

Bubba merely nodded and stepped back from the door. Sandwiched between the two behemoths they marched towards the lab. Outwardly he looked calm, but inside his heart started to beat faster. 'Please let Sandburg be there and in one piece,' the mantra ran through his head as he prayed to the gods of quirky guides and talkative anthropologists. The lab door opened and he peered through his eyes going straight to the gurneys with their massive restraints standing in the centre of the room.

 

"Ah, good." Dr Solomen was leaning against the empty gurney, but Jim ignored him.

 

The other gurney held a figure and he stumbled towards it something burning deep in his psyche, pulling him forward… He stopped. Oh, God, was that his guide?

 

"What have you done?" He roared and felt his control slipping. "What have you done to my guide?"

 

Chapter fourteen

 

Banks was pleased that the Minnesota Clan had had the foresight to book the hotel's conference room; getting eleven people in his room would have been a tight squeeze. Sitting round the table he eyed the Clan Senior Sentinel Prime and his guide comparing them with Ellison and Sandburg. Although they seemed to work well together they didn't have the easy camaraderie that the Cascade Pair appeared to have. He wondered whether it was because they were a Dark Pair or whether it was because they were simply good friends.

 

He stopped his wool gathering tuned back into what William Ellison was saying.

 

"… told him I don't know how many times, but he said that it was sentinel and guide business and that superseded even family contacts. This is ridiculous!" Jim's father was obviously agitated and was walking back and forth in front of the large windows. "I want to see my son!" He turned towards Simon, the only person he knew in the room. "Are they right? Can they stop me?"

 

The tall captain looked towards the Minnesota Clan members. "I believe Senior Sentinel Prime Sarenza can answer that better than I can."

 

"Please, call me Ricky," the dark-haired man said. "Unfortunately, Mr Ellison, Dr Solomen is perfectly correct. If a certified sentinel and guide doctor deems it's in the best interest of his patient he can refuse access to them."

 

"But how can I be… I mean… I'm his father. How can I not be in his 'best interest'?" There followed an uncomfortable silence, as the Pairs carefully didn't look at each other. "Well? Is someone going to answer? What are you keeping from me?" Ellison senior's glare held the full force of a successful businessman and one of the richest men in Cascade.

 

"We're not keeping anything from you," Langston replied. "It's just that we're touching on something we simply don't talk about with non sentinels and guides."

 

"Make an exception." Ellison's tone was sharp.

 

Langston sighed and pulled Amanda closer to him. "The bond is what keeps us sane. It's as essential to us as… as…"

 

"Breathing," his guide added and all the Pairs nodded in agreement.

 

"It's precious and fragile and outside factors can disrupt it so we protect it. If the Senior Sentinel Prime and his guide are sick and unable to bond then they're vulnerable."

 

Ellison stared at him a moment and then with a short nod he slipped into the seat next to Megan.

 

"Okay," Banks spoke to Sarenza, "what can you tell us about the Institute and Dr Solomen?"

 

"We've only heard good things." The sentinel looked at his Clan members who nodded in agreement. "Are you certain there's a problem?"

 

Connor sat up squaring her shoulders and opened her mouth.

 

Simon got in first. "We wouldn't be here if we didn't have genuine concerns." Seeing that wasn't going to be enough he presented all the evidence and suspicions they had regarding the Centre in Cascade, Dr Solomen and Chancellor Edwards. Once he'd finished Sarenza and his Clan members sat quietly thinking hard.

 

"Do you remember that Pair we met last year?" It was the second Minnesota sentinel, Raymond Loxen, who spoke. "They'd been at the Institute because the sentinel had had a problem with an allergic reaction."

 

"Yes," his guide, a young woman called Patsy von Roth, continued, "the sentinel said that he was sure something funny was going on, but couldn't quite put his finger on it."

 

"Okay," the Senior Sentinel Prime finally said, "presumably you have a plan?"

 

THTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTB

 

Blair let out a shaky breath and revelled in the physical contact with his sentinel. Jim had come roaring in to the lab and his anger had battered at his already fragile barriers. But what had hurt him the most was the almost unholy glee emanating from Solomen as he stood gazing at the computer monitors reading how the strong emotions were affecting the guide's brain waves.

 

"Jim," Sandburg had whispered, "please, stop. Calm down."

 

The roaring man had continued to rant and would have been tearing technicians and doctors limb from limb if the two large orderlies who'd brought him and another who'd been in the lab had not contained him.

 

Frustrated that he wasn't getting through, Blair had resorted to their sentinel/guide connection. *Sentinel, your guide urges you to calm. He needs you. Sentinel, listen to your guide! Look at Solomen. He's getting off on this, man!*

 

Ellison had calmed as if cold water had been poured over him and everyone had gaped at him in surprise. The three orderlies had held on to him just in case, but Blair had seen that all the fight had gone out of the sentinel even if his anger had still been simmering under the surface.

 

"May I go to my guide?"

 

The grad student had been amazed at how controlled Jim's voice had been even if he'd not been able to disguise his contempt at the situation. Solomen had nodded and once released, Jim had shot over to the gurney like a rocket. Not asking for permission, he'd undone the restraints holding his guide still and had gathered the smaller man into his arms.

 

"Shh, I know it's hard, my sentinel, but don't give them more data," Blair's voice had been nothing more than a breath and his arms were tight around the other man's waist.

 

"What have they done to you?" Jim's hand had gently rubbed across his guide's bald head.

 

And Blair had told him reliving the awful moment…

 

"Damn!" The technician cursed as one of leads got caught up in Blair's hair again. He tugged.

 

"Ow," complained the guide, "watch what you're doing." Even sedated the pain had been fierce and made his eyes water.

 

"Shut it," growled the technician pulling again. The lead came free taking quite a few hairs with it.

 

Blair laid his head back on the gurney and wished that his hands were free so he could rub the sore spot on his scalp. Taking a deep breath he tried to ride out the massive headache that had been building up over the last few days. He'd read up a lot on bonding including on how Pairs coped when separated for long periods. He never thought, however, that he'd end up being a case study himself and in such circumstances.

 

Another painful tug brought him out of his thoughts.

 

"This is ridiculous," the technician said disgustedly. "He's too hairy. I can't get the pads to stick."

 

"Oh, for goodness sake," Solomen's voice came from behind the bank of monitors on Blair's right, "shave it off if you have to."

 

'No, no, no!' Blair screamed inside his head. His sentinel loved his hair. He said its softness calmed him and he loved counting all the colours contained in its locks. Sandburg slammed down on the connection he had with Jim. He couldn't allow the other man to feel his distress or he'd probably do something stupid trying to get to him. The last thing they wanted to give Solomen was an opportunity to study a dark sentinel in Blessed Protector mode.

 

He closed his eyes as the technician started hacking at his hair and tried thinking of other things. However, he couldn't help a tear snaking down his cheek as the heavy tresses floated down to rest on his shoulders. A buzzing sound made him shudder and as the electric razor scraped across his head he had to use all his will power not to call out to Jim. Once it was over all he wanted to do was run his hands over his skull that felt uncommonly light and exposed. He shivered as cold electrodes were pressed onto his skin. 'It's only hair,' he said to himself. 'It'll grow back. And anyway look on the bright side, at least Jim won't be moaning about hair in the drains. And think of the money I'll save on shampoo and gel.' Somehow it didn't make him feel better…

 

"Don't worry, Chief, it'll grow back," said Jim unconsciously echoing what Blair had said to himself earlier. He dropped a kiss onto the exposed skin and tried to keep his tone light. He knew that he wasn't fooling his guide, but it was all he could offer him at the moment. Fortunately, they'd been led back to the room that they'd shared before they'd been separated. The first thing they'd done was to bond fully and they both now felt immeasurably better for it.

 

He grinned as he remembered the doctor's expression as he realised that his ploy hadn't worked and the readings he was hoping for from his experiment hadn't reached his expectations. He quickly sobered, as he had to acknowledge that they were playing a dangerous game. If Solomen wasn't getting any results he wouldn't have a reason to keep them any longer and somehow he didn't think he'd be sending them back to Cascade.

 

"Hmm, Jim?" Blair stirred in his arms as he felt his sentinel's worry through the bond.

 

The detective leant down until his lips were only millimetres away from his guide's ear. He mourned the fact that before he would have complained about getting a mouthful of hair, but he resolutely put that thought out of his mind. "I really do think we have to come up with a plan for getting out of here."

 

Chapter fifteen

 

"So, it's agreed," Simon said realising that somehow he'd become the leader of this little band of… He searched for a word that would describe this disparate group of people, but came up empty, "William will start on finding a lawyer and making a lot of noise that hopefully will keep them distracted. Connor and I are the pesky visitors that won't go away. The Minnesota Clan will hit the streets getting as much information as possible on the staff in the hopes of finding some way in. Briggs and Vitell will be joining you.

 

Langston and Michaels will also be blitzkrieging the Institute on behalf of the Cascade Clan. Everyone okay with what they're doing?" He watched as there were nods all around. "Right, well I suggest that we call it quits for tonight so we can get an early start tomorrow?"

 

Sarenza stood up and his Clan members followed. "We'll start our investigations tonight." He turned towards the two Cascade Pairs. "In the absence of your Senior Sentinel Prime I assume the watch. Your Clan is our Clan, your problems are our problems until correct order is re-established."

 

Simon looked on interested as Langston, Michaels, Briggs and Vitell stood in their turn.

 

"In the absence of our Senior Sentinel Prime we accept your watch." Langston's voice was calm and strong. "Our Clan is your Clan, our problems are your problems until correct order is re-established."

 

THTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTB

 

Jim woke up when the door to their room opened accompanied by the smells of toast and orange juice. He waited until the door closed again and opened his eyes. Blair's back was pressed up against his chest and sometime while they'd slept he'd pulled Jim's arms around him and was clutching both hands in his. Blair's bald head was pressed under Jim's chin and he swallowed as reality hit him.

 

"Jim?"

 

Damn! He'd not schooled his thoughts quick enough and Blair had obviously had picked up on his anger.

 

"It's okay, Chief. Time to get up, breakfast's here."

 

The grad student sat up with a groan and rubbed his face with his hands. One strayed up to brush missing curls and he stilled. "Well, showering will be quick this morning," he said and scrambled off the bed.

 

"Have breakfast first."

 

"I'm not hungry." He moved past the bed, but the sentinel caught his arm.

 

"Chief…"

 

"It's okay, man." Blair kept his eyes on the floor. "I just need to process."

 

"Blair, look at me." At first there was no movement. "Please." The head came up slowly until his guide's face came into view. God, his eyes looked huge and for the first time Jim realised how much weight the younger man had lost. He tamped down on his anger. Blair was suffering enough. He didn't need to deal with strong emotions just now. "Chief, I know you're upset and you have every right to be, but please believe me when I say it doesn't matter to me what you look like. You could be painted blue and have a bone through your nose and I'd still want you as my guide.

 

"You are so much more than your hair. You're intelligent, funny, steadfast, innovative… I could go on forever and still not touch on who you are and what you mean to me." He paused. "I just wanted you to know." He peered anxiously at the younger man then breathed a sigh of relief as a small smile crossed Blair's face.

 

"You know for an anal, tight-lipped, out-of-touch-with-your-feelings sort of guy you don't do too badly," he said giving Jim a big hug. "But can I at least go for a pee?" He asked into his chest. He grinned to himself as he felt a hand lightly tap the back of his head.

 

"Get thee gone, imp," Jim's voice held a smile as he let the smaller man go; crisis averted, for now.

 

Over their meagre breakfast the conversation turned to more serious things. Sitting close to each other they tried their new ability to converse inside their heads. Nothing happened. They tried sitting apart. Nada. Admittedly, it was difficult trying to communicate non-verbally while also holding an inane conversation for anyone who was listening. Jim was finding it harder than Blair the king of multi tasking. Feeling totally frustrated they moved into the bathroom to wash up and take advantage of the sound of running water to mask their conversation. Even so, they had to be careful just in case the opposition had a rogue sentinel listening in. A well-trained sentinel would be able to block out what they didn't want to listen to and concentrate on what they were saying.

 

Jim got the shower running and stood close next to Sandburg at the washbasin where he was putting toothpaste on his toothbrush. He started to say something, but the younger man held up a hand. He then realised that the guide had on what he called his 'working through a problem' face. He left him to it knowing that his quirky brain and formidable intellect would come up with something. So he quickly undressed and stepped under the steaming water. Caught up in the tactile pleasure of the hot water pounding onto his stressed body he yelped as a cold hand landed on his back.

 

"Push over a bit, man." Jim turned and tried to glare at his guide who'd climbed into the cubicle with him. However, Blair cut him short. "Wash my back for me?"

 

The sentinel awkwardly picked up the non-perfumed shower gel and squirted a generous amount on Sandburg's back. He started to soap up the shorter man's back and when he'd felt how tense the muscles were he turned it into a massage. Sensitive fingers found knots and smoothed them out to the tune of soft moans that were getting louder.

 

"Well, if anyone listening had questions about what two grown men are doing in the shower together your vocal display has just about told them."

 

"Sorry, it just feels so good. Bend closer."

 

For a couple of seconds Jim didn't react until his brain worked out what Blair had just said. Leaning forward slightly he leant his forehead on the back of his guide's bald pate. "What's up?" He whispered.

 

"Remember when you saw through my eyes the first time? What was going on?" Blair's voice was less than a whisper, but Jim easily heard it.

 

He grimaced, as he didn't like thinking about the circumstances. "Barnes was just about to skewer you," he said drily.

 

"And the second time?"

 

"We'd been separated for a few days and you were undergoing some tests."

 

"So, suffice to say, both times we were feeling pretty emotional, stressed even."

 

"Uh huh." Ellison was beginning to see where this was going.

 

"And when I did my frying people's brains out thing. I was pretty distressed then as well, wasn't I?"

 

"Uh huh."

 

"So, to test this out we need to get emotional. I know it's going to be difficult for you, but if you think of me driving your truck and getting it scratched you should quickly get into the right frame of mind."

 

The detective slapped the other man's right buttock. Secretly he was pleased to hear Blair's teasing. He knew his guide was strong and giving him something to work out was a clear way of getting him out of any funk he was in.

 

"Ow!"

 

"Okay, smart ass. You're pretty clean now, so you can get out and give me some space."

 

Silence reigned as both men concentrated on creating the connection that went beyond their bond. Jim briefly wondered what Blair was thinking about before settling his thoughts on how angry and frustrated he felt over how they'd been kidnapped and experimented on. He pictured his guide lying in his hospital bed struggling for breath when they'd all thought he'd been infected with a virus. He recalled every groan and scream the younger man had made when he could no longer take the experiments in silence. He…

 

*Jim?*

 

"Yes! Chief…"

 

*Speak in your mind, man. And don't shout.*

 

*Yeah, okay. Sorry.*

 

*I can see you're still in the shower. Feel like coming out any time soon?*

 

The sentinel turned off the water, stepped out of the cubicle and grabbed a towel. Sandburg came in dressed in the sweats they'd been given to wear when they weren't being experimented upon. "I know your senses are better, but I noticed that you still have those nasty marks where you obviously couldn't resist scratching. I want to put some antiseptic cream on them."

 

Early on, Blair had asked for a sentinel/guide first aid kit so he could treat the consequences of Jim's sensitivities. He knew that the detective was still uncomfortable when he lost control so he was careful to keep his tone matter of fact.

 

"Okay, Chief, but I get to treat you as well. I saw those injection points on your arms and even though those restraints are padded your wrists are fairly raw."

 

Leaning over Jim while slathering antiseptic cream on his arms, Blair leant forward so the other man's mouth was near his ear. "So, it worked," he whispered knowing that Jim could hear him.

 

"Yeah, but it's difficult if each time we want to use it we have to get all emotionally worked up."

 

"Turn your arm over," Sandburg said out loud then lowered his voice. "If you'd done those tests like I'd wanted to we would probably have control over it by now."

 

"Moan, moan, moan. And anyway, what about the tests on your ability?"

 

"Moan, moan, moan."

 

"I think the next time you're in the lab you're gonna have to try it."

 

"I don't know if it'll work on non sentinels or guides."

 

Jim placed an arm around the smaller man's shoulders and pulled him close into his chest. He knew that although Blair had come to terms with the fact that he'd killed a sentinel and fried a guide's brain to save his own life and by default, his sentinel's, he still had nightmares about it.

 

"But…"

 

Blair held up a hand. "But I'll try if it means getting us out of here."

 

The sentinel pulled his guide closer as he felt tremors run through the young man's body.

 

Chapter sixteen

 

"Look, mate, I don't care what the doctor says. I want to see my fiancé even if I can't speak to him. Surely I can look through a window at least? My Sandy will know I'm there."

 

Banks was impressed by Megan's performance as a frantic woman desperate to see her sick boyfriend. The poor receptionist was also buying the performance and was holding on to his patience by the skin of his teeth. The captain decided to increase the pressure.

 

"Have you informed Dr Solomen that I'm here? Captain Simon Banks, Cascade Police Department."

 

"Um, yes. Just hold on a moment, please." The receptionist stood up and disappeared through the door behind him.

 

"I think we've got him on the run, Captain," murmured Connor. They'd been piling on the pressure for about fifteen minutes now.

 

"Yeah, but he's not the one we want."

 

A few moments later the man was back. "I'm sorry, but as I said, Dr Solomen's not available and he's the only person who can authorise access to the isolation ward."

 

"Well, where is he? You're trying to tell me that he's the ONLY person who has the relevant authority? What happens when he's on vacation?" Banks' voice rose so that the other people in the reception area turned in interest to see what was going on.

 

"Um, he appoints someone before he leaves."

 

"So, where is he now?"

 

"He's busy. If you want to leave your telephone numbers I'll make sure he calls you as soon as he's free. If you could…"

 

"Not good enough, mate," Megan's declaration cut through his quiet explanations. "I haven't seen my fiancé in days. I don't know how he is, how he's doing. Please, you've got to help." Her voice broke and a tear spilled out of her right eye.

 

"Can I help?"

 

Banks and Connor turned to see a rotund gentleman in an expensive suit standing before them with a taller, younger man standing just behind.

 

"And you are?" Simon stood up straight in a not too subtle show of dominance.

 

"Edgar Wortherington III, Professor of Medicine and Administrative Director of this Institute."

 

"Strewth," Megan whispered.

 

"Well, then maybe you can help us? I'm Captain Simon Banks of the Cascade Police Department, Washington State. This is Inspector Megan Connor who's engaged to one of my men. You've had two of my men here for a number of days and I would very much like to see them. However, Dr Solomen seems to be strangely unavailable."

 

"Dr Solomen is in charge of the therapeutic side of this Institute. If he says that seeing your men is impossible at the moment then I'm afraid you'll just have to take his word for it."

 

"No good enough."

 

"Well, you'll just have to. You know that with sentinels and guides treatment just isn't the same for others…"

 

"I do know, Mr Wortherington…"

 

"Professor Wortherington."

 

"I do know how to behave with sentinels and guides, Professor Wortherington. I have worked with many and count them among my friends so I do know how to keep my emotions in check. I really can't see how simply getting to see my men could put them in danger."

 

"Really, I…"

 

"How can I be dangerous for Sandy? I love him…"

 

"If you bear with me I'll see what I can find out for you." The professor walked off his back stiff and his head held high. The younger man, who'd never been introduced, smiled at them wanly and scurried off after the rotund administrator.

 

Simon and Megan looked at each and smiled grimly.

 

Dr Solomen looked up in annoyance as his office door opened. "Edgar," he said dryly, "do come in."

 

"Gustaf. We have a problem."

 

"What? If it's about Captain Banks and some Australian woman down in reception, I already know."

 

"So, what are we going to do about it?"

 

"Stall them. I just need a little more time. The last figures are quite interesting. There's something…" He trailed off as he looked down at the papers scattered on his desk.

 

"I'll do my best, but that's not all." He waited until the doctor looked up at him.

 

"Hmm?"

 

"Chancellor Edwards will be here tomorrow lunch time."

 

"What on Earth…? Why the hell is she coming?"

 

"No idea."

 

THTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTB

 

"I'm Attorney Bernard Schlomberg, and my client, Mr Ellison, would like to speak to Professor Wortherington and Dr Solomen. Now, if at all possible."

 

The poor beleaguered receptionist looked back at the angry looking man and the superior looking lawyer. "I'll just see if he's available." He picked up a phone and dialled a number. "Mrs Slocum, I have a Mr Ellison with his attorney and they'd like to see Professor Wortherington as soon as possible. Uh huh. Okay, I'll tell them." He put the phone down. "Professor Wortherington is in an important meeting at the moment. It's due to finish in about thirty minutes. If you'd like to take a seat over there Professor Wortherington will see you as soon as he's free."

 

Schlomberg nodded at Ellison and they moved to the comfy seats that were placed near the large windows near the entrance to the hospital. Forty-five minutes later the attorney was just about to get up to see what was taking so long when a woman approached them.

 

"Mr Schlomberg, Mr Ellison?"

 

The two men stood up.

 

"I'm Mr Ellison."

 

"If you could follow me, I'll take you to see Professor Wortherington."

 

They found themselves in a well-appointed office where a short, rotund man was sitting in front of a vast expanse of desk.

 

"Please sit down. I'm afraid I don't have a lot of time. What can I do for you?"

 

"I'm Bernard Schlomberg, Attorney at Law and this is my client, Mr William Ellison. His son, Senior Sentinel Prime James Ellison and his guide, Blair Sandburg, are undergoing treatment at this establishment. Mr Ellison has been denied access to his son by Dr Solomen."

 

"If Dr Solomen has denied access I'm not too sure what I can do. His word is final when it comes to medical matters."

 

"I haven't actually been able to speak to him directly," Ellison's voice sounded as if he was talking to a slow employee. "I understand that he's most probably busy, but I would have thought that he could spare me a few minutes to explain to me just why I can't see my son."

 

"I really can't say. The good doctor probably thinks that his time would be better spent actually doing his job."

 

"Professor Wortherington, under Article 112.3 L of the Minnesota General Health Act, family members have the right to visit a patient in hospital unless the patient has given express instructions to restrict such access or unless their treating physician has declared that such a visit would impair their patient's recovery.

 

Mr Ellison hasn't even had the courtesy of a phone call."

 

Wortherington stood up. "I'm really sorry, Mr Ellison. Dr Solomen is an excellent doctor, but his people skills aren't the best. Why don't you give me your telephone number and I'll make sure that he gets back to you today?"

 

"I have a better idea," William stayed seated. "I'll go and wait in reception and you let me know when Dr Solomen can speak to me."

 

"It would really be…"

 

"I've already spoken to a judge." Schlomberg also stood up. "If necessary, another sentinel/guide doctor can be appointed to carry out an independent assessment."

 

The administrator tracked Solomen down in the lab in the isolation ward. The doctor was inputting something into a computer.

 

"Gustaf."

 

"I'm busy."

 

"Ellison's father's here with a lawyer. He wants to see his son."

 

"Well, obviously he can't."

 

"I know that." Wortherington wandered over to the computer and peered at the screen. "I can stall him for a few hours, but he insists. The lawyer talked about getting a judge involved."

 

"Damn."

 

"How long do you need?"

 

"More than a few hours."

 

"I think if you went and spoke to Ellison you could put him off until tomorrow. Come up with some reason why it's not possible right this moment."

 

THTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTB

 

'Oh God, not again,' the Institute receptionist wanted to bang his head on the desk. Instead he pasted a stiff smile on his face and hoped that the sentinel in front of him wasn't listening to his heart.

 

"Sentinel Langston, you're not even family. The isolation ward has strict restrictions on who can visit."

 

"That may be true of general hospitals, but surely a sentinel/guide institute understands that Clan law over-rides normal practices? I've been sent by my Clan to check up on our Clan leader and his guide."

 

"Um, I understand your frustration…"

 

"Well then, we'd like to talk with Dr Solomen."

 

"He's really busy and that gentleman over there is waiting to see him as well."

 

The Pair looked over and saw Mr Ellison agitatedly turning the pages of a newspaper.

 

"Ah, Senior Sentinel Prime Ellison's father. If he doesn't object we'll wait with him. However, Clan protocol demands that at some stage in the near future I get to physically see our leader." With that he and Amanda strolled over to the comfortable armchairs.

 

Forgetting for a moment that he'd just been talking to a sentinel the receptionist kept his eyes on the Pair and scraped his hand through his hair. "Oh shit," he mumbled, "more trouble." He gulped and turned bright red when the sentinel turned and gave him a narrow-eyed look.

 

He picked up the phone and dialled a number that he'd already dialled numerous times that day. "Mrs Slocum, I have a pair from Cascade, Washington who wish to see Sentinel Ellison. I know, but I thought it important that Professor Wortherington be informed…"

 

"God, Edgar, three times in one day! I'm trying to speed up things here. If you keep interrupting me I'll never get things done!"

 

"It may be too late, anyway."

 

"What d'you mean?"

 

"A Pair from the Cascade Clan has turned up wanting to see Ellison and Sandburg. They're sitting with Ellison senior in reception. Look, we knew that this couldn't last for long. I was hoping for some sort of result before now, though."

 

"Oh, this is ridiculous. Okay, I'll go and explain to them that the treatment's at a critical point. They can see them tomorrow…" He raised a hand when the administrator went to protest. "I'll then inform them in the morning that unfortunately Guide Sandburg died during the night and his sentinel zoned massively and followed him soon after. Due to the contagious nature of the disease their bodies were incinerated straight after."

 

Chapter seventeen

 

"We've done this before. Not much I know, but in the four months we've been bonded you've made amazing progress. You CAN do this." Blair's right hand rubbed up and down Jim's arm while his left hand rested over his heart.

 

The sentinel had a hand on Blair's nape where a thumb rubbed the skin under his ear. "Push through it," his guide whispered. "Find where there's nothing and rip it apart."

 

Jim frowned. He could feel a headache growing behind his eyes. He'd been trying to get past the white noise generators for nearly half an hour and his frustration was growing. He was beginning to regret his reluctance to undergo the tests that Blair tried so hard to get him to do. He promised himself that once they'd got out of this situation he'd never moan again when Blair proposed he exercise his senses.

 

All of a sudden he felt something give and he heard voices. "… inform them in the morning that unfortunately Guide Sandburg died during the night and his sentinel zoned massively and followed him soon after. Due to the contagious nature of the disease their bodies were incinerated straight after…"

 

Blair felt Jim's heart speed up under his hand and feelings of anxious frustration poured through their bond. "What? What's up?" He spoke into Jim's chest.

 

The taller man bent down until his mouth was pressed up against his guide's ear. "Things are coming to a head. We're running out of time. They're going to kill us soon."  He pulled him closer as he heard the soft gasp.

 

"We have to do this then. No, I have to this. Oh, God, what if it doesn't work? What if it does work? I'll have to kill someone. Oh, man. Oh, man. Jim, I don't think I can, but I have to…" His breathing speeded up and became shallower.

 

"Shh, shh." Jim held him tighter. "I know it's hard, Chief. But please, calm down." His words were drowned out by the gasps and racing heart. Talking wasn't going to cut it. Bending even further he tipped Blair's head back until his throat was exposed. He gently blew on the skin at the junction of ear and throat and then sniffed. For a moment he bemoaned the fact that he wasn't getting a mouthful of hair. The smaller man's hands grabbed at his shoulders and he could feel the tremors running through his body.

 

Nothing was working; it was time to bring out the hard-core methods. He gently pushed Blair back until the back of his knees hit the bed and they tipped over. He carefully manipulated the two of them until they were lying on the bed. Blair's breathing hadn't calmed and Jim could feel the tendrils of panic start to bleed into him from their link. The sentinel pulled his guide's head back and gently bit down on his neck where he could see the faint marks of his teeth from when they bonded for the first time. As he did so Blair's mind exploded into his and he had a hard time preventing himself being swept up in the maelstrom.

 

Slowly, he brought calm to chaos and together they sank into the bond. Ten minutes later he reluctantly withdrew from Sandburg's mind. The other man mewled in protest and he tried to pull himself closer into Ellison's chest.

 

"Chief, come on. You need to wake up."

 

"Five mr m'nts, man."

 

Jim snorted softly. As much as he'd like to give Blair the time to recover from his panic attack and the brief bond, they had to get out of the hole they were in. "Blair, you can sleep later. For now we have to get going."

 

"Wha..?"

 

He watched as the grad student, a veteran of end of term marathons and nights of little sleep, pulled himself together. As awareness came into those deep blue eyes he also noticed the look of shame that crossed the face. Blair ducked his head, but found his chin caught in a hand that forced him to look into his sentinel's face. Testing the link between them his heart clenched as felt what Blair was feeling. Dark Sentinel took over.

 

"Guide, do not be ashamed. You have suffered much and everyone reaches their limit eventually."

 

Blair flushed. "I have let you down, my sentinel."

 

"Hush. You have never let me down. I am very proud of you and what you have achieved. We have only been bonded a short time and not under the best of circumstances..."

 

The guide reacted immediately to his sentinel's distress. He cupped the other man's cheek. "Although the circumstances of our joining were less than ideal I don't regret that we are now bonded. You are now part of me."

 

"So believe me when I say that what just happened is nothing that should concern you. You know I would not lie to you."

 

"You didn't flip like I did."

 

Jim realised that the Dark Guide had retreated and that small voice was totally Blair. He fought down the small internal voice that was telling him to hurry up. The man was hurting. Although Blair was extremely intelligent, very personable and, truth to be said, sometimes a bit arrogant, he was also very insecure when it came to what he perceived as Jim's abilities as a detective and former Ranger.

 

"You're an empath, Blair. You feel things more strongly than me. It's what makes you able to understand people better than I. Your insights into human behaviour have helped on numerous cases. So don't be upset you're made the way you are. I'm not. We complement each other. We're a great team."

 

"Your brawn and my brains?"

 

The detective laughed and went to ruffle the man's hair, but quickly pulled his hand back when he remembered there was no hair to ruffle.

 

"I'm sorry, Jim."

 

"Ah, no apologising. All right?" He pulled Blair closer so he could lower his voice. "Could you use your vast intellect to get us out of here, then?"

 

THTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTB

 

"Ellison, Sandburg, come with me." Solomen jerked the gun he was holding as he walked through their door.

 

The two men stood up slowly and Jim moved in front of Blair. Not that he thought he'd be great protection against a bullet.

 

"Why don't you let us go? People must be worried about us and starting to ask difficult questions. What the hell are you going to do?" Jim tried knowing that really he didn't have a snowball's chance in hell of persuading the man to release them.

 

"Just get going. I need your brains not your kneecaps."

 

Reluctantly, the two men shuffled out to find themselves face to face with a short, plump man who was awkwardly holding a gun. Ellison gripped the back of Sandburg's neck placing his thumb just under his ear. He concentrated in sending his hearing out trying to punch through the white noise generators. Blair put his hand in the small of his back and started to gently rub it through the sweatshirt.

 

The plump man gestured with his gun and they slowly moved through the little vestibule into the Isolation Ward proper. Jim squeezed Blair's neck, their signal for Blair to start, and he felt the smaller man's pulse begin to speed up. There was no guarantee that it was going to work, but they were running out of time. He'd checked, as far as he could with white noise generators everywhere, and he couldn't detect anyone else in the near vicinity.

 

"Dial it down, man," Blair's voice was a whisper. "As far as you can." He shuddered as he remembered what he'd done to Alex Barnes. He didn't want his own sentinel suffering the same fate. Dialling down was the only defence they could think of for the moment.

 

Wortherington went to open the lab door while still keeping an eye on the Pair and the gun trained on the sentinel. He looked a mean SOB and had no illusions about what he'd do to him if he managed to get out of their control. He lifted a hand and rubbed it across his forehead. He had a headache that was growing second by second. Hardly surprising considering the strain he was under. He was beginning to wonder why he'd agreed to Solomen and Edward's experiments. He pushed the door open and switched on the lights.

 

"C'm on, Edgar. Get a move on." Solomen was impatient and Wortherington was holding things up. They had limited time before he had to kill the Dark Pair (and wasn't that a waste?) and there was something that had happened the last time that he wanted to explore further. He knew it was risky doing this without lab assistants, but the less people involved in their deaths the better. It was also why they doing this so late at night. Now, his head was killing him. "Edgar!" He leant round the large sentinel to see what had stopped the other man.

Wortherington was leaning against the door jam, his face ashen and the gun in his hand was shaking. A shaft of pain speared the doctor's head and he felt sweat break out on his body. He took a sideways step so he was facing the Pair. It felt like he was walking through quicksand. The sentinel's eyes were clenched tight and he was swaying slightly. He was also mumbling something under his breath that the doctor couldn't catch.

 

The guide, however, was staring right at him with an intensity that made him gulp. For a moment, the blue eyes seemed to glow and the pain in his head spiked. Solomen heard someone keening and realised that it was himself. What was the guide doing to him? He had to stop him. He tried to bring the gun up, but a large hand took it out of his nerveless fingers. A thump behind him told him that the administrator was down. God, he was hot and his head… He hit the floor and curled into a ball trying to escape the pain. Vaguely, he heard another body crash down and wondered who it could be. Darkness claimed him.

 

Chapter eighteen

 

Simon cursed as his mobile phone rang. He searched for the bedside light and then grabbed the offending item.

 

"Banks," he growled and peered short-sightedly at the bedside clock: 11:43 PM. He'd been asleep approximately twenty-five minutes! 'This had better be good,' he thought.

 

"Sorry to disturb you, Captain. It's Sentinel Edwards."

 

The big man rapidly became more awake. "Edwards, what's going on?" He fumbled for his glasses bringing the hotel room into sharp focus.

 

"I've just been informed that Chancellor Edwards advanced her trip and got on a flight to Saint Paul thirty minutes ago. She should be landing in about two hours."

 

"Any idea why she's advanced her travelling plans?"

 

"She got a phone call that seemed to agitate her. Unfortunately, we couldn't hear what the other person was saying. She took the call in a professor's office and we hadn't got that one tapped. Anyway, whatever she heard made her change her flight pronto and she left without even picking up her suitcase."

 

"Okay. Thanks for that. We'll keep an eye on her and see where she goes." He hung up the phone and rubbed the bridge of his nose. Why did sitting around doing nothing tire him more than a gunfight? He and Megan had returned to the Institute at lunchtime after getting a phone call from Wortherington's PA to say that Dr Solomen could see them briefly later that afternoon.

 

They'd arrived at reception at the end of the afternoon to find Ellison senior and the senior Cascade Pair also waiting. After being bored for more than an hour an orderly had come and taken them to the doctor's office. They'd listened to him waffling on about that it was a crucial moment in Ellison and Sandburg's treatment and that they were very sick and he was sorry that the news wasn't so good and if they came back tomorrow morning he'd allow them to look in on them for five minutes.

 

Simon hadn't believed a word of it and neither, it appeared, had anyone else. Unfortunately, without more evidence there wasn't a lot they could do. For the moment they had to be contented with the promised visit and hope that the Saint Paul Clan came up with something.

 

That, unfortunately, was wishful thinking. After meeting up again at the hotel, Sarenza had told them that they had some promising leads and were trying to confirm some rumours, but that was as far as they had got. The Clan had put a watch on Dr Solomen, but up till now he hadn't left the Institute. Frustrated, they had gone out to eat at a sentinel-friendly Italian restaurant and William Ellison had insisted upon paying. The Cascade contingent had retired to the hotel bar where they'd indulged in some expensive whisky and wines carefully not drowning their sorrows, again paid for by Ellison, and then went to their rooms early.

 

The captain had started to watch a basketball match on the television, but after twenty minutes he'd found his eyes drooping and he'd gone to bed. Now, he needed coffee, strong coffee. Fortunately, the room's drink-making facilities produced a coffee that wasn't all that bad. While waiting for the kettle to boil he called Connor and asked her to call Langston. Then he'd taken a quick shower to try and shake the cobwebs out of his tired brain.

 

Twenty-five minutes later found everyone in the hotel conference room. There was a state of the art coffee machine on a counter against one wall that had Simon purring in pleasure and he had his second cup in thirty minutes. Once the Minnesota Clan arrived they got down to business. It was decided that the Clan would follow Edwards, as she wouldn't recognise them. Banks had had the forethought to bring a photo of the woman so at least they'd know whom to follow. The others would hang back and keep in touch by radio or through the sentinels.

 

It was no surprise to anyone when the woman drove her rented car to the Institute. A quick check with the Clan members who were watching Solomen indicated that the doctor still hadn't left the place. At that time of the morning the car park was virtually empty and Edwards parked her car not far from the main entrance. Banks watched her disappear inside.

 

THTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTB

 

"C'mon, Jim, get up. Please," Blair's voice was full of the tears that he was desperately trying to keep from falling. His head was killing him and his whole body felt as if it were on fire. His sentinel had collapsed and was now lying with his head in Blair's lap his glassy eyes staring at nothing. "Oh God, please don't let me have killed him. Jim, come back. Listen to your guide. He needs you. I need you."

 

He wasn't too sure what exactly had happened with the sentinel, but suspected – and hoped – that he was in a massive zone. The grad student glanced at the other two men and winced. The fat man was lying on his back his body twitching and tears pouring down his face. Solomen was curled into himself lying very still. Blair could only see a portion of his face, but the blood under his nose was very visible.

 

As he'd started to attack their gaolers he'd tried very hard to separate Jim from the red haze that had been building up in him. Unfortunately, as the pain in his head had increased, he'd found his control slipping. For a moment, it had appeared that the sentinel wasn't suffering as much as the others and Blair had taken heart. However, just after Jim had taken the gun from Solomen, he'd collapsed. In his panic, Blair had focussed all his rage on the man who'd held them captive for so long and who'd put his sentinel and he, through so much hell. The doctor had fallen as if poleaxed.

 

Shaking, the guide was now trying to bring his sentinel out of his zone. After several minutes however, nothing was happening. It was hard to concentrate when he was feeling so rotten. The other two times he'd used his 'power' he'd past out. This time though, he'd hung on to consciousness with a steely determination. He couldn't lose control; there was a risk that if he did so he'd kill his sentinel.

 

Help. He needed help. There were drugs that would help Jim. Get him kick-started so as to speak. But he had no idea where they were. He looked again at the other two men; they weren't going anywhere. He stroked his sentinel's forehead with a feather-light touch.

 

"I'm going to get help. You be here when I get back. You hear me? Please, please hear me."

 

He gently placed the detective's head on the floor and using the wall for support, he pulled himself upright. He was moving with all the fluidity of an arthritic 90 year old, but at least he was up. What now? Looking around the room he tried to spot a telephone, but apart from the desk in the middle, it was empty. Making a wide berth around the plump man he staggered into the lab. Using the wall to keep him up he made his way to the bank of computers carefully ignoring the two gurneys with their straps standing in the centre of the room.

 

Ah, there was one. He lowered himself to a conveniently placed chair and picked up the receiver with a shaky hand. No dial tone. Okay, maybe it was like a lot of business phones and you had to dial a number to get an outside line. He pressed the zero and held his breath.

 

"Reception, how may I help you?"

 

"I… I need an outside line," Blair said shakily. He licked his lips.

 

"I'm sorry, sir, but that line is for internal calls only."

 

He quickly hung up. He had no idea who was in on their kidnapping and who wasn't. He had to get moving, there could be someone coming to check up on the call. 'Think, Sandburg, think,' he berated himself. If only his pounding head would let up for a minute! Moving back to his sentinel he carefully lowered himself down so he could touch him.

 

"Jim, can you hear me? Come back to me. Your guide's having a bad moment." Was that a slight twitch of the mouth? He couldn't be sure, but he waited a few seconds gently rubbing his hand over the older man's heart. "Okay, be like that."

 

Taking a few deep breaths to try and settle his nerves he gamely stood up. Looking around the room he went to run his hand through his hair as he always did when thinking. Encountering only fresh air made him swallow and he tightened his lips. Lowering his hand he made his way to the wide double doors that stood behind him. He squinted at them perplexed; they had no handles. He tried pushing them, but they didn't budge. Bending down so his face was only a few centimetres away he searched for a keyhole – nothing.

 

He huffed in annoyance very much aware that he was on borrowed time. He took a step back and spotted a large, grey button about waist height to the right of the doors. Leaning over he pressed on it. The doors opened with a soft swish and he found himself face to face with Chancellor Edwards.

 

Chapter nineteen

 

They stared at each other for several seconds. Then all of Blair's pent up anger, frustration and worry over Jim boiled over. His right arm came up and he delivered a perfect hook to the woman's face. For a second she just stood there then she staggered back hitting the wall of the corridor behind her. Her legs gave way and she slid down the wall to lie in a crumpled heap.

 

"Ow, ow, ow." Blair danced on his toes and shook his hand in the air. That had hurt! He was just going to walk over to see if she was really out for the count when he heard voices calling to him down the corridor.

 

"You, don't move. Police."

 

He looked round to see several people bearing down on him at a fast pace. Who were they? What did they want? He looked around in panic searching for something, anything that could save him. There was no point running. In his weakened state he'd probably take two steps before falling on his backside.

 

A tall, dark-haired man quickly caught up with him brandishing a gun. "Saint Paul Police, keep still."

 

Another, shorter man went towards the woman slumped on the floor.

 

"P…p…Police?" He didn't want to say too much as he wasn't sure who he could trust.

 

"Kneel on the floor hands on top of your head."

 

"What?"

 

"I said…"

 

"Sandburg?"

 

Blair looked up at the tall dark shape standing in front of him.

 

"Simon?" He felt two arms go around him and he burrowed into their warmth.

 

"God, Sandburg, what have they done to you?" He turned to Sentinel Sarenza. "It's all right this is Guide Sandburg."

 

"Oh, Simon. Jim!" Blair lifted his head and started to pull at the taller man. "Come on, he's here. He needs a doctor. This way. Come on."

 

Banks looked over at Sarenza who turned and told one of his Clan members to go find a doctor. He then followed the young guide through the double doors where three men were lying on the floor. One of them was Jim and his heart jumped in his chest. Suddenly, the room was full of medical staff and police officers and Blair was clinging on to him as if his life depended on it.

 

"Please let him be okay. Please let him be okay." Blair's litany was a constant murmur under all the hustle and bustle.

 

"Sandy?"

 

The young man turned towards the woman who'd been such a good friend when he'd first been bonded with Ellison. She gasped when she spotted his bald head and saw the dark smudges under his eyes. He looked truly dreadful.

 

"What on Earth's happening here?" They all turned to see a tall doctor with dishevelled hair standing in the doorway. "Professor Wortherington? Dr Solomen?" He took a step towards them, but was stopped when a tall man walked in front of him.

 

"Detective Sarenza, Saint Paul PD and Senior Sentinel Prime, Minnesota Clan. Who are you?"

 

"I'm Dr Peters. I'm Head of Sentinel/Guide Medicine and was called in when no one could find Dr Solomen or Professor Wortherington." His eyes were pulled over to where the two men were being worked on by medical staff. "Could you tell me what's going on, please? What's happened to them?"

 

"I will, but first of all I need to know in the absence of Dr Solomen who's the best doctor you have for treating a zoned sentinel?"

 

"Is the sentinel bonded?"

 

"Yes, but his guide," Sarenza indicated a bald man who was hovering over the third man on the floor while being held up by a big, black man and a pretty woman, "is in serious need of care himself."

 

"Dr Sara Bongrand. I'll call her and then you can explain to me exactly what's going on."

 

THTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTB

 

"Why isn't he waking up?" Sandburg was lying on the same bed as Ellison and was stroking his forehead with his fingers. He'd been treated for severe exhaustion and dehydration and a cracked knuckle in his right hand and had two drips feeding nutrients into his left hand. As opposed to Jim, he wasn't wearing a hospital gown, but a pair of sweats with the sleeves cut short. When the nurse had first presented him with the gown, Blair had flipped and it was only when Simon had suggested the sweats that he'd calmed down.

 

"I don't know," Banks replied for at least the tenth time careful to keep his tone calm and without inflection. He shifted again in the chair that wasn't designed for people of his stature and glanced quickly at the bed. Although he no longer winced, Blair's head was still a shock.

 

The guide was extremely fragile emotionally at the moment and his concern over his sentinel wasn't helping. Dr Bongrand had turned out to be a no-nonsense woman in her early fifties who nevertheless treated the guide with sensitivity and compassion. Blair had told them all what had been done to Jim and he since the sentinel had arrived in the Institute in a tired voice. However, when it came to what had occurred to put Jim and the two kidnappers in the state they were in he'd broken down.

 

"I did it," he'd sobbed and Megan had put her arms around him. "I killed my sentinel. It was me."

 

"What d'you mean?" Banks had asked the question gently. Although the Minnesota Clan and PD were present it had been decided that due to the circumstances it would be better if Blair gave his statement to people he was comfortable with.

 

"I'm a Dark Guide. I have this power to kill." He'd looked up at Simon. "D'you remember Alex Barnes? I did it. I killed her."

 

It was Langston who had, with great reluctance and only after speaking with Sentinel Edwards in Cascade, explained what had happened. As much as the Clan didn't want other people to know what Blair was capable of, it was important the doctors knew so that they could treat Ellison. Sarenza had declared the information Clan business and that vendetta would be declared on anyone who talked about this outside of certain circumstances.

 

Unfortunately, the information hadn't helped Bongrand and four hours later Ellison was still not quite zoned, but not quite awake either.

 

Banks looked up as there was a light knock on the door and Megan poked her head round. He put a finger up to his lips and jerked his head at the bed. Blair had finally succumbed to his exhaustion and was drooling on Jim's chest dead to the world. His sentinel, hooked up to a number of quiet machines and stuck with numerous IVs in his arms, was lying still his eyes open slightly so a sliver of blue shone out.

 

The Australian tiptoed in and sat in the other chair after pulling it close to the captain. "I've just got back from talking to Sarenza and his boss, Captain Schuman. Unfortunately, Solomen and Wortherington aren't in any condition to talk. In fact, it doesn't look like that the doctor's going to make it."

 

Banks sighed and hoped that Sandburg would have his sentinel there to help him if the worst happened. "What about Edwards?"

 

"Wellll," Megan's voice was full of smug satisfaction, "at first she denied everything. She was just here because she was concerned about Blair etc., etc. Unfortunately for her, Wortherington kept meticulous notes and her name is liberally noted all the way through them." She grinned. "To avoid having blood vendetta declared on her she's going to be giving up the financial backers of this little operation."

 

"Good."

 

Silence reigned for a few seconds as they reflected on all that had happened in the last few days.

 

"Oh yes, I nearly forgot." Connor pulled out a padded envelope from her handbag and handed it to Banks. "These are CDs with all the tests and results from Solomen's experiments. Ricky assures me these are the only copies. What should we do with them?"

 

"Destroy them."

 

The two of them jumped at the raspy voice coming from the bed.

 

"Jim."

 

"Jimbo."

 

They leant over the supine figure big smiles on their faces.

 

"How are you doing?" Simon gripped the detective's shoulder relief in his voice.

 

"I ache all over and my chest is wet."

 

"We can move him if you want."

 

"No!" Ellison managed to snake an arm around his guide's shoulders and when his exclamation caused the smaller man to half lift his head. "Shh, go back to sleep. We're safe."

 

"'kay. Five mints." The younger man rubbed his cheek across Jim's chest and then, with a sigh, sank back down into a deep, healing sleep.

 

"Simon, please. Destroy those CDs. I don't want anyone getting their hands on it no matter how well intentioned they are."

 

"Okay. Connor?" Banks held out his hand and took the envelope. Taking out six crystal cases he handed three to the Australian and opened the three he kept removing the silvery CDs. Together, they snapped the discs into the smallest pieces possible and put them back into the envelope.

 

"I'll take these and I'll dump them into as many bins as I can find," Megan said. "Good to have you back, Jim. I'll see you later." She walked out after placing a kiss on first Blair's bald pate and then Jim's forehead making him blush.

 

Jim sighed and turned so that his cheek was resting on Blair's head.

 

"You look tired, Jim."

 

"I am."

 

"I'd better tell the nurses you're awake and then we'll be needing your statement. Okay?"

 

The detective waved a hand then placed it back on Blair's shoulder as Banks walked out of the room. "We did it, Chief," he whispered shakily. "We actually did it."

 

Epilogue

 

Sentinel and guide stood on the loft balcony each holding a bottle of beer watching the sun slip into the sea. Blair smiled to himself as Jim's hand again ghosted over his head. As much as the detective said he loved the younger man's curls he seemed to be fascinated by the soft fuzz that was now sprouting. He moved closer so that their hips were touching and felt their link humming between them.

 

"You know, Chief, something's troubling me."

 

"Oh? What's that?"

 

"Why didn't our spirit animals turn up this time? I mean with that Barnes woman we were tripping over them. We could've used their help, no?"

 

"Mmm."

 

"C'mon, spill."

 

"What?"

 

"You're using that voice as if you know something I don't. So, tell me."

 

"I don't know anything, but I do have some ideas." He turned so that he was facing the other man. "We were really floundering when Alex took me. Lost even. And don't even think about feeling guilty. It's over, we learnt from it and we're better because of it. All right?"

 

Jim flushed and then nodded. His hand once more brushed the soft hairs on his guide's head.

 

"Well, I think that this time we had to find the solution ourselves. The spirit animals showed us what was possible, but we had to find out how to use what we we're capable of. Looking back now, I think that if we had really been in trouble they may very well have nudged us in the right direction. But I think we did all right, so they stayed away."

 

"Yeah, we survived, didn't we?"

 

"It did point out one thing, though?"

 

"What's that?"

 

"We need to do more tests."

 

THE END

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