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

 

 

Chapter one

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"What?" Simon looked at his detective.

 

"He's talking to David."

 

"I asked him to hang around in case…"

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

THTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTB

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"Shouldn't you be with him?"

 

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

 

"He allows you out without him?"

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Chapter two

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"David!"

 

"Chief!"

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

David and Edwards looked up at the silence.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"But it's my car."

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"Jim."

 

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

 

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

 

"Still…"

 

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

 

"What did that bitch want?"

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

THTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTB

 

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

 

"Ummm."

 

Too late.

 

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

 

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

 

"Uhhh."

 

"Articulate tonight, I see?"

 

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

 

"What have we got in the freezer?"

 

"Some of my ostrich chilli."

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"Really?"

 

Ellison nodded earnestly.

 

"Simon thinks of me as a friend?"

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"Okay. We go."

 

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

 

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

 

Chapter three

 

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

 

"Busy day, Chief?"

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"Something's upset you. What?"

 

"Wha… Wh…? How can you tell?"

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

"Uh, nothing really."

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"Err, what are doing?"

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"Others? There've been others?"

 

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

 

"Where are they?"

 

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

 

"Do other guides at Rainier get them?"

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"So, how did they get in?"

 

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

 

"But not the locks we put on."

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

THTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTB

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Chapter four

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"When do we leave?"

 

"How did he get it?"

 

Banks and Ellison spoke at the same time.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"So how…?"

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"You know that's not possible."

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

THTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTB

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

Chapter five

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"Listen…"

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"Is it that important to you, Chief?"

 

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

 

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

 

"Promise."

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"Jim, how is he?" Amanda asked.

 

"Stubborn." Came the terse reply.

 

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

 

"How is he physically?" Langston insisted.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"The day after tomorrow."

 

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

 

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

 

They headed off to the hospital canteen.

 

THTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTB

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Chapter six

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"I'm out of here."

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Edwards bristled and opened his mouth to protest.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

THTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTB

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"Oh, great. Follow me, man."

 

They started walking towards the exit.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"How is he?"

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Chapter seven

 

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

 

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

 

"You're working late."

 

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

 

"Fancy catching a bite to eat?"

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"Got it in one."

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

THTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTB

 

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

 

"Connor. How's it hanging?"

 

"It's raining."

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

THTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTB

 

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

 

"Yes, sir."

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

THTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTB

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"Solomen didn't say."

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Everyone murmured his or her assent.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"Joel?"

 

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

 

"Joel what's the matter?"

 

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

 

"You think there's a problem?"

 

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

 

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

 

Joel nodded in turn understanding more than the words.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Chapter eight

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"Who are you?"

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"Mmmm."

 

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

 

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

 

"Jim? Wass goin' on?"

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Chapter nine

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"Two days ago."

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"Jim, I hurt."

 

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

 

"Wanna go home."

 

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

 

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

 

"No, not really."

 

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

 

"Help you to do what exactly?"

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"So why are you telling me this now?"

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 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.

 

THTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTBTHTB

 

"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'."

 

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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?"

 

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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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