Power Play by LilyK

Power Play - LilyK

~~~

Notes: This novel was published as a zine in 2004 by 'devious developments press' and has been extensively edited for this posting. The art for the original zine was created by Suzan Lovett and she has graciously given permission for her art to be published with this the story.

~~~

“God, Jim! It hurts!” Blair Sandburg clutched his head, groaning deeply. He sank to the floor of the living room and curled into a tight ball.

“Chief!” Jim raced to Blair's side and fell to his knees. “What hurts? What's wrong?” Tentatively, his hands reached out, ghosting over Blair's taut body.

“Everything. My head... Please, Jim, make it stop!” Blair let out a sob. “Hurts...” He moaned once more before he went limp.

“Blair!” Jim cried, sensitive fingers touching his partner's head. “Shit,” he muttered from between clenched teeth, feeling – something.

The tips of his fingers started to tingle, then to burn, but when he looked at them, he saw nothing. Rubbing them unconsciously on his own shirt, he grabbed for the cordless phone to call 911. Before he had a chance to dial, it rang, startling him. He dropped the receiver and cursed as he reached to retrieve the runaway item. He barely glanced at the caller ID window, intent on cutting off the call to dial for help.

Hand shaking, his finger hovered over the 'end' button then the phone rang again.

“Fuck,” he growled, finally focusing on the letters on the small digital read-out.

Roshall Investigations.

Dennis Marshall. Jeremy Rogers. Sentinel and Guide. Good friends to both Jim and Blair. Jim's gut instinct told him that this wasn't a social call.

Unable to ignore the strong feeling, and desperate for any help the other Sentinel and Guide pair might provide, Jim hit the 'on' button and shouted, “What!”

“Jim! What the fuck is going on? Jeremy's screaming in pain. I can't even touch him, and he's refused to let me call a doctor. Keeps mumbling something about Blair.”

“What the...? Dennis? God damn it! Blair's passed out. What's happening?”

“Damned if I know. Jeremy's barely coherent, but he keeps yelling about – power. Says it hurts. Says it's trying to get into his head. I'm really freaked out, Jim.”

“Hang on. Blair's coming around.” Jim set down the phone and carefully slipped an arm behind Blair's shoulders. With his other hand, he cupped his partner's head and cradled the semi-conscious man. At Blair's small moans, Jim crooned, “Shhh. Chief, open your eyes. Talk to me, babe.”

Blair took a shuddering breath while his eyes flickered rapidly under closed lids.

“Blair? Can you hear me?” Jim's voice cracked as he held Blair close. “Please, Chief.” He brushed cool fingers over Blair's forehead, and after another few moments, he was rewarded with Blair's eyes blinking rapidly. It took another few seconds before the eyes stayed open and even longer for them to focus.

“Jim?” Blair whispered.

“I'm here. How do you feel?”

“Funny. Awful. My head is pounding. My skin feels – I don't know!” Blair cried out, burying his face in Jim's chest and clutching his shirt. “Make it stop, please!”

“Tell me, Chief. I don't know what to do! Dennis says Jeremy's having – symptoms, too. What could it be? Another Sentinel? What? Help me here, or I'm calling an ambulance.”

“No! Jim, no. It's not – I'm not sick. I'm- It's touching me!”

“Blair, please!” Jim's arms tightened when Blair's fingers dug painfully into his skin. “I don't know...” Knowing he had to do something, Jim did the first thing that came to mind. Taking a deep breath, he huffed it out and said firmly, “Look at me. Now, Guide. Look at me.”

Blair let out another soft moan and wrinkled his forehead. Jim laid a hand on Blair's cheek.

“Focus, Chief. Listen to the sound of my voice. Now breathe with me. In and hold... Out and hold... In and hold...” Jim continued his mantra until Blair finally released some of his frantic hold on Jim's arm and relaxed minutely. “Good. Now center yourself. No, don't look away. Watch my eyes. Focus. Picture your animal spirit and focus. Reach out to it. Share its power. The pain will go away. Trust me, buddy. Focus.”

Blair shuddered and his eyes closed. His hand flailed about and Jim captured it, holding it tightly against his chest. "I'm right here," Jim said.

A few moments later, Blair went slack in Jim's arms. Jim almost panicked, but he quickly scanned his lover. His senses told him that Blair had fallen asleep. Relief washed over him, and he held Blair close, rocking unconsciously.

-------------------------------------------------

Jim carefully picked his lover up from the floor and laid him on the sofa. He again focused his senses on him, and was rewarded with the knowledge that Blair was sleeping deeply with no signs of pain. Pulling the blanket from the back of the couch, Jim covered him and kissed his forehead. Then he sat on the floor and took Blair's hand in his. Jim gave an exhausted sigh and leaned his forehead on Blair's leg.

The sounds of a far-away voice finally broke through Jim's reverie. He raised his head and listened. Then he remembered the telephone line was still open. Spying the phone sticking out from under the sofa, he grabbed it.

“Marshall?”

“Ellison! Damn it to hell! What happened?”

“Listen to me. Have Jeremy connect with his animal spirit. I told Blair to connect with the wolf, and it must have worked. Right now, he's asleep, so the pain seems to have gone. Go and do it now. Call me back.”

“Right.”

Jim placed the phone on the edge of the coffee table within easy reach. Another careful perusal of his partner reassured him that his Guide slept easily. Unable and unwilling to move from Blair's side, Jim put a hand on his lover's chest, laid his head on the cushion and dozed.

The phone rang a short while later. Jim woke groggily. He had trouble focusing and it took a few seconds for him to recognize the sound. Wondering why he felt so lethargic, he reached for it while he tried to clear his mind.

“Yeah? Dennis?”

“Jim. Yeah, it's me. God, that was hard. He had a terrible time focusing on me through the pain.”

“Is he okay now?”

“Seems to be. He practically passed out on me and now he's dead asleep, and I mean so deeply that I'm actually scared.”

“Blair, too. It's almost like a damned coma. He is just asleep, though. Thank God.”

“Yeah. Thank God. What the hell was it?”

“I'm not sure. Did you – feel anything?”

“Strange as this is going to sound, I did. Some sort of... It's hard to describe. I guess what Jeremy said – power. I could feel power. Strong and -- uncontrollable. Did that sound as crazy to you as it did to me?"

“It's not crazy, but I'm not sure what I felt. I was so focused on Blair that I didn't pay much attention, but now that you mention it, I did feel something. When I touched Blair's skin, my fingers – tingled.” Jim let out a grunt of irritation. “I don't like this.”

“And you think I do?”

“No. No, I know you don't. We need to get together. See if we can figure out what's going on. Sometimes the four of us together are – stronger than two. You remember...” Jim paused, memories flooding his mind, reminding him, and Dennis he was sure, of the time that Veronica Sarris, insane and evil, had broken the bond between Sentinel and Guide. The chaos it had caused was terrible. Jim had been all but cut off from any human contact. It was only through Blair's shamanic abilities that he'd been saved. But even then, it had taken the four animal spirits of two Sentinels and two Guides united to give Blair the strength to defeat their enemy.

Dennis said softly, “I remember. When Jeremy's awake, we'll be over. Okay?”

“Yeah. We'll be here.”

Neither man said goodbye. Final words felt – disturbing. Almost like calling the fates down onto their heads. Jim disconnected and returned to his silent vigil, knowing that Dennis would do the same. Protect the Guide. What good was a Sentinel without his Guide? He was too vulnerable, too susceptible to many things. The Guide stood between him and the forces of evil, figuratively and literally. Protect. It was as readily done as breathing.

Jim's hand touched Blair's leg, then wrapped around his ankle through the blanket. Moving the cloth aside, Jim lifted Blair's pants leg away until he touched bare skin. The connection between them hummed with life. Closing his eyes, Jim allowed it to flow into his body. The crash of feelings melded into something warm and soothing, yet vital and crackling with electricity. He smiled even as his eyes prickled and his throat tightened.

“I'll protect you, Chief. Always,” Jim whispered.

He got comfortable and after glancing around, he cranked up his senses, testing the air. He focused as deeply as possible, and then he pushed himself as hard as he could to bring the focus into sharper perspective. He had been given his own type of special power when he'd immersed himself in the sacred waters in the Temple of the Sentinels, power that he kept buried deep within himself. The idea that he could call upon these reserves gave him pause, but he tamped down the trepidation. Blair's life could be in jeopardy, as well as Dennis' Guide, Jeremy. He would never willingly let something happen to either of them.

Jim allowed his senses to open, and he could taste the power that flowed between him and his bonded mate, could literally see it as it sparked and flitted in the air. They were infused with it, and it surrounded them, a live entity, full of vitality. It grounded them and held them together in love and friendship, in commitment and honor, in body and soul. Jim felt the comfort of their bond, and it soothed his soul while it calmed his body. Not used to the strength of the power, he carefully closed the connection, although he was pleased with what he felt. Whatever was happening, they would face it together. With their friends' help if need be. But always together.

-------------------------------------------------

“Chief? Come on, buddy. Wake up.” Jim gently rubbed Blair's shoulder. "You're having a bad dream.”

“Jim?” Blair's eyes flew open. “What's wrong?”

“How do you feel?”

Blair blinked several times before he finally looked really awake. “Oh, shit,” he muttered, struggling to sit up.

“Whoa. Take it easy. Nice and slow.” Jim helped Blair sit. “Do you feel dizzy?”

Blair shook his head as he rubbed his eyes. “No, but I do feel like when you sleep too hard, you know? My head is kind of fuzzy and my mouth tastes like crap.”

“I have a fresh pot of coffee, or would you prefer tea?”

“Coffee's fine, Jim. Thanks.” Blair turned to sit back against the sofa, crossing his legs and covering himself with the blanket. “Brrr. Man, I'm cold.”

“Here you go. Hot and sweet.” Jim didn't release the cup until he was sure Blair had a firm grip on it.

“Thanks,” Blair said with a quick smile.

Jim fetched a cup of coffee for himself and returned to the sofa. He tugged part of Blair's blanket over his own legs. “It is cold in here. Funny. The furnace is on 72. Maybe it's on the fritz. Can't be more than 68 or so in here.”

Blair sipped the hot brew, sighing audibly after a few swallows. “Tastes good.” Another couple of sips, then he asked, “What happened? I remember feeling – strange. Something was...” Blair paused, then shrugged. “It's too weird to even say.”

“Tell me."

“It was almost like something was trying to get into my head. Like it was taking over.” Blair snickered, and Jim could hear the hint of wry amusement in his tone. “Man, that sounds fucking insane.”

“You're not insane. While you were out of it, Marshall called. Rogers was experiencing – symptoms also. He said Jeremy was going nuts over some pain in his head and kept calling for you.”

“Really?” Blair asked. “Jeremy? He's Dennis' Guide,” he mused aloud as he chewed his lower lip. “I'm your Guide. What could make both of us freak like that?” Before the question had left his lips, Blair suddenly tensed and his eyes widened. Jim saw him visibly shiver. “Oh, God. Another Sentinel.”

“What makes you say that?" Jim asked testily.

Blair eyed him intently. "Do you feel anything? Anything at all, no matter how vague?"

“No, nothing." Even as Jim spoke, he shook his head. "Well, that's not exactly true. When I touched you, my fingers tingled. It felt – strong and – I'm not sure what it was.”

“Like when – Alex – she came to Cascade?”

Jim's gaze traveled from Blair's distraught face to the upper level of the loft. He rose and slid open the balcony door. Testing the air, he walked around, concentrating for a few moments before he came back inside.

“I'm not really sure, but I definitely feel something. Not like with – her, though. This is different, but I don't have a clue what it is.”

Blair nodded. “Okay. Okay. Let's think. What else happened after I passed out? I did pass out. I remember that awful feeling. I was sinking and then everything went black.”

“Yeah, you did. You were out a few minutes. Dennis called and told me about Jeremy. I heard you moan so I dropped the phone and held you. I told you to find your animal spirit and to use its strength to fight the pain.”

Blair's forehead furrowed in concentration. “I don't remember. Did I?”

Jim sat down again. “You must have. You finally calmed down, and then you fell asleep. And I do mean asleep. It was so deep, I was afraid you'd gone into a coma, but when I scanned you, it was just sleep.” He took Blair's hand. “I told Dennis to have Jeremy connect with his spirit guide. It worked. They'll both be over as soon as Jeremy's able to travel.”

“Oh, good idea. The four of us together.”

“Yeah, I thought of that. I figured we were stronger together that other time, and Marshall agreed.”

Blair put back his head and closed his eyes. “I'm so tired.”

“Rest, my love. I'll wake you when they get here.”

“I need to think about all of this. I don't have time to sleep.”

Blair's quiet voice faded as he lost his battle to stay awake. Jim tucked the blanket around his shoulders before rising and going back out onto the balcony. He closed the door and stood at the railing. Opening his senses as far as possible, he used his gifts to test the air. Blocking out the usual sounds and smells of city life, Jim sifted through the input. Faint vibrations under his feet caught his attention and some sort of shifting in the wind flowed over his body. His subconscious mind cataloged the information while his body gathered more knowledge. Unusual scents were downloaded and peculiar sounds sorted through. There was a definite change in the undercurrents that nobody but a Sentinel could sense. Now if he could decipher what exactly those were.

A warm hand on the back of Jim's neck brought him gently back to normal.

“Hey, Jim. You okay?”

“Yeah.” Jim minutely shook his head. "Just trying to figure this out."

“You get anything?” Blair asked.

“Yeah. Something. Give me a sec.”

“Sure, man.” Blair slipped his arms around Jim's waist, settling his head against his lover's back.

Jim's hands covered Blair's where he had laced his fingers together on Jim's stomach. “Close your eyes. Now concentrate. There's – something out there. It's elusive, but powerful.”

Blair cleared his mind and allowed Jim's to touch his. “Yes,” he whispered, feeling the wash of power along the edges of his subconscious. “I feel it.” He shuddered, making Jim's hand tighten.

“It's okay. Don't let go. It's – wrong, Chief. Something...”

Blair's arms tightened and a small moan escaped his lips. Jim held his hands, keeping them grounded with each other.

“Don't break our connection, Blair. Hold onto it.”

Nodding against Jim's back, Blair whispered, “Something wicked this way comes.”

“God, Blair, please!” Jim actually shivered at the strange, hollow words.

“Sorry. It's an old movie... Sorry.”

Jim pried Blair's fingers away and he turned, wrapping strong arms around his Guide and pulling him close. “I'll protect you.” Blair raised his face, blue eyes unsettled but still, always, showing the trust he had in his Sentinel.

“Yes, I know.”

Jim kissed him, comforting them both with the simple touch. He didn't try to deepen the kiss, only to connect, to reaffirm, to express tender love. When Jim pulled away, Blair's gentle sigh full of sadness cut through his heart. “I'm here. Please, Chief.”

Blair gave his lover a warm if unsettled smile. “Of course you are, man. Where else would you be but with me?”

Jim had to return the smile at Blair's statement of trust. “There isn't any place else, except in your arms. It's where I belong.”

Blair rolled his eyes though his eyes radiated love and trust.

“Get a grip, Ellison,” Blair growled, “stop with the mush and kiss me again.”

Chuckling at Blair's ability to bring comfort with exactly the right words in the midst of any growing crisis, Jim complied.

--------------------------------------------------

Jim answered the phone midway through the first ring.

“Ellison? Marshall. We're out front. I didn't want any surprises. I know how you get on alert mode.” Dennis' dry laugh crackled through the line. “The elevator's not mined, is it?”

“Not yet,” Jim quipped. “Come on up.”

Jim stood at the front door until he heard the elevator doors slide open. He examined the scents of the men who walked down the hall. Satisfied of their identities, he unlocked the deadbolt and opened the door.

“Hi, fellas. Come in. Blair's making coffee. I figured we'd need it.”

Dennis rolled his eyes and gave a small theatrical groan. With a hand on Jeremy's shoulder, the duo entered.

“More like a fifth of Jack Daniels,” Jeremy said wryly.

“Hi, guys!” Blair called from the kitchen. “Hot coffee coming right up.”

“I'll help,” Jeremy said, turning toward Blair. The fingers on his jacket tightened. Jeremy looked into his Sentinel's eyes. “Hey, I'm okay,” he said reassuringly.

Dennis gave a crisp nod. “Right.” Still his fingers didn't release the material until Jeremy's hand covered his for a moment. Without saying a word, they exchanged looks. Dennis finally removed his hand after a gentle squeeze.

Jeremy smiled before turning to Blair. “My head is killing me.”

“Yeah, mine too. It's all too weird.”

“Tell me about it.” Jeremy cast a glance at Dennis to reassure himself that they were all safe, for now. As always, the sight of his partner's slim, firm body made his own body tingle, and the affection he always found reflected in Dennis' eyes comforted him.

Dennis and Jim had walked out onto the balcony and shut the door behind them.

“Jim felt – something,” Blair said.

“Dennis, too. It's like – hell, I don't know what the fuck it's like. I just know I don't like it.”

“You want an ibuprofen?”

“I've had six already. I'd better not. Coffee will help.”

“A caffeine high sounds good to me,” Blair said with a tired sigh. “Jeremy?”

“Hmmm?”

Jeremy carried the coffee Blair had poured to the coffee table. Blair followed with the sugar and milk.

“You remember what it felt like with Veronica Sarris that time?”

“Kind of. You know I was mostly out of it after I got shot. I recognized the power but I was pretty much helpless at that point. But you,” Jeremy said with a smile, “you were fantastic!”

Blair gave an embarrassed grin. “Thanks.” He added milk and sugar to his cup and sat back on the sofa. “It was almost impossible to describe. It's hard to say what power feels like. It invades your body. It starts at your toes and ends up at your head; then it just spills out.” Sipping the hot brew for a few moments, he finally added, “Something's in Cascade.” Blair saw the resignation on Jeremy's face.

“I know. Damn it to hell."

The balcony door opened and the Sentinels joined their Guides. Jim and Dennis took seats and fixed cups of coffee. Each man unconsciously sat close to his partner.

“Marshall agrees. Something's here,” Jim said.

“We all agree, but what?” Jeremy asked. “It's so elusive. I'm not picking up anything from my animal spirit.”

“Jim? You sure you're not seeing – something. Like with the spotted cat? You remember...” Blair asked.

Jim held up a hand. “Hell, Chief. Please do not remind me. You think I'd forget something like that?” he said harshly before biting his lower lip. “Sorry, Blair.” He sipped his coffee before he said, “I don't see anything. No visions. Not a damned thing." Blair's warm hand touched Jim's leg.

When their gazes met, Blair said, “It's cool, man. Don't push it. Let it happen. You know it never works when you push it.”

“You and Rogers are the ones in trouble here. Let's not forget that,” Jim said.

“Yes,” Dennis agreed. “I didn't like what happened at all. If something is out there, what can Jim and I do to protect you both from it if we can't see, smell or touch it? Something – this evil can't be controlled. I can't protect Jeremy like this!”

Jeremy patted Dennis' arm. “It's okay.”

“No, it's not!” Dennis replied. “It's never okay when you're – like you were.”

“I know,” Jeremy said quietly.

Blair sighed. “I don't know what happened, but maybe it's that we're – shielding you both from whatever!” He waved a hand haphazardly in the air. “Or maybe it only affects Guides. Geez, I don't know. I only know that I know power when I feel it, and this was definitely powerful.”

“So what's the plan?” Jim asked.

Blair shrugged. “Not a clue, man.”

Dennis let out a deep sigh. “We can't do anything until whoever or whatever makes a move. Not unless Blair has some ability to track or locate the source. Can you do that, Blair? You're the one with the most psychic ability. You're the shaman of our little group, after all.”

Blair chuckled. “Wait. Let me channel the evil force,” he said smartly.

“You did it before, Blair,” Jeremy said. “You might not know how you did it, but you did. You don't like to talk about it, but let's face it, you cured Dennis and me of gunshot wounds with your mind! You fixed Jim's fractured wrist without lifting a finger. You have the ability. It's in you.”

All eyes were fixed on Blair. He fidgeted under the trusting gazes. “I'm not sure... You know I didn't feel like I was in control when that all happened.”

“Chief, you were very much in control. I saw you. You were calm and cool. You didn't freak, and you did what you had to. You called the four spirits together, and you defeated her evil.”

“But Jim, it took extreme duress and the four of us together. I don't know if I can do that again.” Blair shivered, leaning into Jim. “I don't know if I want to.”

Dennis smiled at the anxious Guide. “Sandburg, you'll do what you need to do when you need to do it. We're all just – apprehensive about what happened earlier. I want Jeremy to be safe. I want you to be safe. Jim, too. I'll do what's necessary to protect any of you.”

“Thanks, Marshall,” Jim said with a smile. “Hopefully, we'll all protect each other like we've done for years now. Blair's... abilities can't be turned off and on. I understand that, and we have to hope that whatever's happening won't push his limits.” Jim gazed out the balcony windows, unfocused for a moment before he said, “It's out there.”

-------------------------------------------------

“Come on, Chief. Time for bed.”

Blair nodded. “Yeah, I know. It's just... Do you think they're okay?”

“Marshall called from home ten minutes ago. You know they're okay.”

“I know,” Blair sighed. “It's just...”

“It's just what? You keep starting to say something, but you don't finish. What? What do you sense?” Jim asked.

Blair raised an eyebrow. “Do you know how strange that sounds? You asking me what I sense? Man, this is all too freaky.”

Jim walked over to Blair and put warm hands on his shoulders. Rubbing comfortingly, he said, “We'll be all right, Chief.” Troubled blue eyes met his gaze.

“I hope so, man.” With a sigh, Blair leaned against Jim's chest.

Jim was always a bit surprised how comforted Blair felt in his embrace. He tightened his grasp and they hugged for a long moment.

The jangling of the telephone startled both men.

“Don't answer it,” Blair whispered.

Jim looked down into the very unhappy face of his partner. “Chief...”

Blair shivered. “It's started.”

“Damn it,” Jim growled, grabbing the portable. “Ellison!”

“Ahhhh, Detective Ellison,” an arrogantly calm voice said. “So good to speak with you once again. And how is Mr. Sandburg these days? Or should I say, Detective Sandburg?”

Jim immediately recognized the hated voice. “Fuck you, Brackett!”

“Jim! Such language! And I thought you'd be – happy to hear from me. Old times and all.”

“Jim? Tell me you didn't just say 'Brackett'?” Blair pleaded softly, clutching Jim's free hand.

Jim nodded curtly at his partner. “What do you want?” he said into the phone.

“Gee whiz. Aren't you the least bit interested in where I am and why I'm running around amongst the defenseless citizens?”

“Go to hell,” Jim growled.

“Detective, I'm starting to get annoyed. You do not want me annoyed. Trust me on this.”

“I want you dead, you son of a bitch.”

“Apparently you need some sort of – motivation to be more amenable to my overtures.”

The phone line went dead, leaving Jim angrily staring at the receiver.

“Jim?” Blair said quietly. “What happened?”

Jim shook his head and his shoulders slumped. “I think I fucked up.”

“Why?”

“I pissed him off.”

“Don't beat yourself up. He's enough to bug anybody. What do you think the bastard wants? And why didn't Simon tell us he's on the loose?”

Jim gave a derisive snort. “Brackett's covert CIA business. I doubt Simon knows he's loose. They wouldn't exactly want to advertise if one of their worst nightmares waltzed out of a high-security facility.”

“I don't like this.”

“No shit.” Jim paced in front of the balcony windows. “I shouldn't have let my temper get the better of me.”

“What are we going to do? We need to find out what Brackett's doing. We have to find the guy before he kills somebody.” Blair ran a hand through his hair. “Dennis still has connections at the FBI. Let's call him.”

Jim picked up the portable phone before he dropped it. “He might have the phone tapped,” he mused aloud.

“Oh, right. We have to think super devious. Brackett will have thought of every single detail.”

Going over to the coat rack, Jim fished his cell phone from his jacket pocket and dialed. “Went straight to voice mail. I'll try Jeremy's.” Jim couldn't keep the worry from his voice. “Damn it. Neither is answering.”

“That's not good. We know they made it home. Jeremy said his head was hurting and he wanted to sleep, so I doubt they went out. Maybe they turned off the phones so they wouldn't be disturbed."

"Could be, but I don't- Now what?" he groused, staring at the phone in his hand as it began to ring. The caller ID showed 'blocked'. With trepidation, Jim answered.

“Ellison.”

“Are you in a better mood now, Detective?” Brackett asked congenially. When Jim didn't answer, he laughed coldly. “You might be interested to know that I'm entertaining.”

“Entertaining?” Jim asked, dread filling him.

“Yes, sirree. Entertaining. A friend of yours. Want to talk to him?”

“Yes.”

“Yes, what?” Brackett asked, a hint of irritation coloring his voice.

Jim clenched his teeth. “Yes, please.”

“Nice. Thanks. Manners are very important, don't you think?”

Jim listened carefully, alert for any tale-tell background sounds that would help him figure out where Brackett was calling from.

“Ellison,” Brackett said sharply, "don't even bother. You seem to forget that I know what you are. There's absolutely nothing that will help you pinpoint where I am... until I'm ready to reveal all. Here you go. Somebody here wants to speak with you.”

Jim's hand tightened around the phone when a familiar voice said, “Jim?”

“Dennis?” Jim asked. “Where are you?” Blair's grip on Jim's arm increased, and he absentmindedly patted the tense fingers.

“Don't come-”

Dennis' voice was abruptly cut off. The next sound he heard was a scream full of pain. Jim grimaced, his hand tightening around the phone.

“Sorry.” Brackett said. “He's – busy right now. Maybe later.”

“You son of a bitch!” Jim yelled, only to be distracted by Blair's hands yanking on his shirt. His attention turned to his Guide, who stood before him, hands on hips. Blair's finger across his throat sent Jim the clear signal for him to cut the crap and play along – for now. “Sorry,” he ground out, hating that he had to be polite to this man. “Please don't hurt him, Brackett.”

“Much better. I swear I won't lay a finger on your friend.” A quiet chuckle bubbled through the phone line. “In fact, it's absolutely fascinating! Imagine my surprise. Another Sentinel. How very intriguing.”

“What do you want?”

“What do we all want? Love? Affection? Health? Power? Wealth?”

“Cut the crap and just tell me. Please,” Jim added.

“Oh, I'll tell you. You and Mr. – excuse me, Detective Sandburg. Can't wait to see you both again. It will be like old home week.”

“When and where?”

“I'll have to get back to you on that. Oh, and just as a reminder...”

Jim kept his hearing dialed up. He cringed when another scream echoed into the receiver.

“Fuck you, Brackett,” Jim said to the dead line before he turned to Blair. “He has Marshall.”

“God, Jim. What about Jeremy?”

“He didn't say. We need to see if we can find them.”

“What did he want?”

Shrugging, Jim shook his head. “Not a clue, Chief, but something not good for anybody or anything, I'm sure.”

Blair was already lacing up his hiking boots while Jim checked his gun. “Man, I feel so damned helpless! Brackett is a Class A psychotic!”

“You're preaching to the choir,” Jim said, pulling on a warm coat and knit hat. “Don't forget your gloves.”

Blair strapped on his shoulder holster and checked the chamber before he put an extra handful of bullets in his coat pocket and a few more into his jeans.

“Ready?”

“Let's do it. Dennis and Jeremy need us.”

Jim gave Blair a crooked smile. “Chief...”

“Yeah?”

“Nothing,” Jim said, giving Blair a playful cuff on the chin. “Just stay close.”

Blair nodded and followed his partner, locking the door behind them.

-----------------------------------------------

“I smell blood,” Jim said the moment he climbed from the truck.

Taking off at a run, Blair pulled his gun. He cautiously crossed the front lawn of Dennis and Jeremy's cottage with Jim at his heels. Blair motioned to the front door and Jim made a circling motion in response. Blair nodded and on cat's feet, climbed the wooden steps to crouch beside the closed door. He timed Jim's entrance with familiarity. Turning the door handle, he grimaced when he discovered it unlocked. Slowly he pushed it open and, still crouching, peered around the corner.

Jim entered the back door and stealthily crossed through the mudroom and into the kitchen. He immediately saw a pair of shoes sticking out from behind the island. After a quick scan of the room, he skirted the island and dropped to his knees beside Jeremy, who lay face down on the cold tile floor. Taking barely a moment to assure himself that only he, Blair and Jeremy were in the cottage, Jim quickly focused on the injured man. He was rewarded with the sound of a sluggish heartbeat even as his fingers found the pulse on Jeremy's neck. The blood he had smelled was evident. A small pool had gathered next to Jeremy's head, dark red and sticky.

Blair soon appeared. “All clear. How is he?” he asked, pulling his cell phone to call 911.

Carefully, Jim examined Jeremy with his sensitive fingers. “Nothing broken.”

Jeremy moaned.

“Rogers?” Jim called. “Take it easy, buddy. Don't move. We've called 911.”

Jeremy moaned again and raised a hand to his head. “Dennis?” he gasped as he tried to roll to his back.

“Whoa!” Blair said, putting a hand on Jeremy's shoulder. "Lie still, man. You need stitches." Reaching up, he snagged a kitchen towel from the island and pressed it over the cut on the side of Jeremy's head.

Jeremy blinked slowly before his eyes focused. “No! Help me up, damn it!”

Jim pursed his lips and put a hand under Jeremy's shoulders. “Listen to Blair. You've got a good-sized gash on your head, and it's still bleeding.”

“What happened?” Jeremy asked, taking the cloth from Blair's hand and holding it against the wound.

“Lee Brackett took Dennis,” Jim admitted unhappily.

“Brackett?” Jeremy asked, confusion coloring his tone. “Not that bastard CIA rogue! Oh my God! How in the hell did he get out of Mansfield? Nobody gets out of there.”

“Don't know, but he called the loft,” Blair said quietly.

“What does he want?” Jeremy asked.

Jim pursed his lips as he shook his head. “He hasn't said, but whatever it is, trust me, it will be bad for every person on this planet. He's a sociopathic madman.”

“Paramedics are here,” Blair said. The red and white emergency lights lit up the dark. “I'll get them.”

“No police, Blair,” Jeremy said adamantly, grabbing Blair's jacket sleeve. “No hospitals.”

“Jeremy, listen to me. We'll take this one step at a time,” Blair said, rubbing a hand on his friend's arm. “First, stitches. Then you'll come back to the loft with us and we'll figure out our next step.”

“Blair's right. We need information.” Jim put a hand on Jeremy's shoulder. “We'll find Dennis, and that bastard, Brackett.”

“Jim...” Blair said.

“Don't even go there, Chief. Brackett's a dead man,” Jim growled, holding up a hand. “He's too dangerous alive.”

“I agree,” Jeremy said. “He's uncontainable and uncontrollable. He kills with impunity. Kids. Old people. It doesn't matter to him,” he said angrily. “He'll kill Dennis in a heartbeat. I want him."

Blair nodded slowly. “We'll do what we have to. Now let's get you taken care of.”

------------------------------------------------

When the trio of friends entered the loft several hours later, Jim stopped outside the door and said softly, “Quiet.”

Jeremy and Blair stood in place while Jim walked up and down the hallway, head cocked. Turning back to his companions, he pulled his keys from a pocket and after another inspection, unlocked the door. Leading the way, Jim walked through the loft, senses on full alert. He checked the balcony doors carefully before opening them and stepping outside. Blair and Jeremy waited in the doorway while he made his rounds until the Sentinel was finally satisfied that nobody lurked in the loft or in the surrounding area within his ability to scan.

“I don't sense any surveillance equipment, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have satellite or long-range capabilities,” Jim said.

Blair walked over to his Sentinel. “What should we do? We need to be able to talk without worrying about whether or not he's listening.” Blair turned to Jeremy. “Sit down, man. Your head must be killing you.”

“I'm okay,” Jeremy said quietly, sinking onto the sofa and putting back his head. His eyes closed and he sighed deeply. “Dennis,” he said softly, “where are you?”

Bringing a glass of water and two of the painkillers that the ER doctor had prescribed, Blair said, “Take these.”

After touching the small white bandage on his head, Jeremy nodded and obediently swallowed the pills. “He's still alive, Blair.”

“Good. Keep the lines open, Jeremy. It will help us to find him. Now lie down and rest.”

“How in the hell do you expect me to sleep with Dennis missing?” Jeremy said harshly before turning away. “Sorry,” he muttered. He shook his head and after punching one of the decorative pillows, lay down and closed his eyes.

Blair tugged on Jim's sleeve, urging him through the dining area and into the spare room. Closing the door, he said, “What are we going to do?”

“How do you feel?”

“What?”

“How do you feel? Can you feel – whatever it was earlier?”

“You think it's Brackett?”

“If not Brackett, who or what else? It's too coincidental, Chief.”

“Brackett doesn't have those kinds of powers. Hell, as far as I know, Brackett doesn't have any power! And this is very – strong.”

“How do you know? How can you tell?”

“I don't know. Gut instinct. Shaman intuition. Call it 'whatever', but it's not Brackett, although I don't discount that he's involved.”

“How?”

Blair rolled his eyes. “How the hell do I know?”

“Sorry."

“No, Jim,” Blair said, moving closer. “I'm sorry I snapped. You have no idea, any more than I do. I know we're just – fishing here. It's just that I feel so – strange!” He turned and began to pace, running nervous hands through his hair.

“Tell me.”

Blair stopped, closed his eyes and spread his hands. He shivered and his voice dropped. “I can feel it, and it's touching me. It crawls up my skin like something alive! It's here, in this room. Around me and through me.” He swayed.

Jim moved closer and slipped an arm around his waist. “Chief?” When Blair failed to respond, Jim gave him a small shake. “Blair!” he called, putting a hand against the side of his lover's face. “Damn it. Blair, talk to me!” Jim knew the second Blair's blood pressure dropped and when his knees sagged. Jim lowered him to the floor and cradled his head. “Come on, buddy. Don't do this to me!”

Blair's body trembled and his eyes fluttered. His voice was almost unintelligible when he said, “Templo de los centinelas.” He woke with a jerk. “Jim?”

“What the hell was that?”

Sitting up, Blair huffed out a shaky breath. “Damned if I know. What did I say?”

“Temple of the Sentinels – in Spanish.”

“Really? Weird.” Blair shivered.

“Let's not go there.”

“Okay by me, man. Trust me on that.” Blair rose with Jim's help and leaned against him for a second before he straightened up. “Now what?”

“We have to find Marshall.”

“No shit.”

“We need inside help.”

“Jack Kelso?”

“He's the best we've got.”

“Let's call him – but not from home.”

“Right. Good thinking, Chief. Let's get Rogers into a clean shirt, and we'll go across the harbor to a pay phone.”

“Clean shirt? Oh, right. The blood is driving you nuts.”

“It's too much of a reminder.”

-------------------------------------------------

“Kelso? This is Jim Ellison. We've got trouble.”

“Hey, Ellison. Is Blair okay?”

“Yeah, he's okay -- for now.”

“What about you? What's going on?”

“I'm okay. It's Brackett.”

“Good God, no. What...? No, wait. Let me call you back on a secure line. Where are you?”

“Pay phone on Pier 19.”

“Good idea. Tell me the number and give me five.”

“555-3745.”

The line went dead and Jim replaced the handset. “How's he doing?”

They both glanced over at their friend who sat in the back of the rental car they'd picked up on the way.

“He's strong, Jim, and he'll do what he has to.”

“Yeah, I know,” Jim said with a grimace. “They moved to Cascade for peace and quiet. Well,” he added with a derisive chuckle, “as much as Cascade has to offer." At Blair's eye roll, he grinned an apology. "The PI work was going good for them.”

“Jim, we'll-”

Suddenly, Blair's eyes glazed over, and he slumped against the side of the phone booth.

“Chief?” Jim grabbed his arm.

“God, Jim...” he muttered, “it's here.”

“What? Where?” Jim extended his hearing as far as possible, carefully checking out the entire area. They were blocks away from any people as far as he could tell. He pulled his hearing back and cast his long-range vision out. Finally, Blair's trembling body brought his focus back to his partner. "Blair?"

“I'm – okay,” Blair said shakily, pushing himself upright as the phone rang. “Go on. Answer it.”

“You stay put,” Jim ordered, propping Blair against the cold glass. At Blair's nod, he reluctantly released his hold and grabbed the phone.

“Jim? Go ahead,” Kelso said.

“Brackett's loose.”

“I'm in the CIA's database right now. Hang on – okay. Got it. A memo from three days ago says Brackett disappeared from Mansfield sometime the evening of the 23rd. He hasn't been found. Imagine that. Big surprise.”

“Damn it to hell.”

“What did he ask for?”

“Nothing. It's not really that, either, Jack. It's – Blair's – Oh, hell. Blair says there's “power” in Cascade. Big bad power, but he doesn't know the cause. I know this sounds freaky as hell, but he can feel it and it really hurts. It's just too coincidental that Brackett and this power trip happened at the same time. The asshole's definitely up to something.”

“God, Jim. What could it be? What can I do to help?”

“Research. Anything – everything on some kind of psychic power, any kind of power that Brackett's ever even hinted at in his reports.”

“Brackett was heavily under deep cover until he was ousted. His reports are behind ten feet of steel and glass, or at least behind heavy encryption. It will take time.”

“I don't know what kind- Hang on, Jack.”

Jim put his hand over the receiver and watched Blair intently as he pushed away from his support and walked forward a few steps, his hands spread out from his sides. Movement from the car's back seat caught Jim's attention as well, and he saw Jeremy slide to the door and open it. Jeremy climbed out and stretched out his hands to Blair as he walked toward him. Jim dropped the receiver, where it thumped several times against the glass, and took a tentative step toward the two Guides.

Jeremy and Blair touched hands and closed their eyes. Jim took another step but before he reached them, they both shuddered violently and fell to their backsides, breaking their connection.

Jim raced to Blair's side. “Sandburg!”

Blair turned his head and looked directly at Jim, his eyes wide. He shook his head and rubbed at his eyes before he whispered, “Something's – here.”

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah. I'm okay.”

“Jeremy?” Jim asked, touching his friend's arm.

Jeremy shivered. “I'm feeling a bit strange.”

Jim helped Blair to his feet first before they both helped Jeremy.

"The phone, Jim," Blair said.

“Oh, right.” Racing back into the booth, he grabbed the receiver. “Jack? Sorry. Blair had an episode. We have to go. He says it's – Brackett's here.”

“How the hell am I going to get in touch with you if he's using satellite surveillance? It will be next to impossible.”

“I don't know. Maybe we'll have to do this one on our own,” Jim said tensely as he continually scanned their surroundings for danger.

“Ellison! That's too fucking dangerous. Brackett is a crazy psychopath with not a drop of remorse. He'll kill you, Blair, your friends and anybody else that gets in his way without even batting an eyelash. You know that!”

“You're not telling me anything I don't already know, Kelso. But thanks for the offer. Listen, if we can work it out, we'll get in touch.”

Jim heard Jack's heavy sigh echo into the receiver. "Okay, Jim. No, wait! Remember my penthouse? Do you remember the address?”

“Penthouse?”

“Ask Blair.”

“Chief, do you know the address to Jack's penthouse?”

“Oh, right! Yeah, I remember,” Blair responded.

“He remembers,” Jim told Kelso.

“Good. That will help a lot. I'll meet you there.”

“When?”

“Whenever. Blair knows.”

“Okay. We'll be in touch.”

“Ellison, be careful and take care – all of you.”

The dial tone rang in Jim's ear and he slowly replaced the receiver, thinking about the next step. He walked over to the car where Jeremy and Blair sat waiting. He leaned in the passenger window and quickly examined his Guide. Blair looked exhausted as he sat with his head back and his eyes closed.

“Chief?”

“I'm okay, Jim,” Blair said with a small smile, putting a hand on Jim's arm. “It's just hard to explain.”

“Don't say any more. Let's move.”

“Okay, man. I don't like it here anyway.”

“Rogers? You hang in there."

Jeremy's eyes slowly opened. Nodding, he asked quietly, “Do you think I could have a cup of hot coffee?”

Jim smiled. “Now that I can do.” Quickly, he climbed in the car and started the engine. “Coffee first, then onward,” Jim said smartly.

Blair gave his lover a half-hearted smile. “I'm ready when you are.”

“Me, too,” Jeremy said. “Dennis needs me.” He paused before he added wryly, “The Musketeers ride again.”

Blair snorted with dry amusement, and Jim rolled his eyes as they set off.

-------------------------------------------------

The first stop was the Cascade International Airport where they rented another nondescript vehicle. Then Jim rented a cell phone from an agency at the airport. When asked for ID, Jim passed over a driver's license and credit card and ignored the surprised look on Blair's face when he noticed that the ID was false. Thankfully, Blair didn't question Jim, and he didn't offer any explanations. They had more important things to worry about right now.

After Jim signed for the vehicle, they collected Jeremy from his secluded spot in the corner of the Internet cafe in the airport terminal. At one of the computers there, Blair fed the machine three one-dollar bills, and after nervously looking around to be sure no one was able to see the monitor's screen, opened a new account in Hotmail, was granted access, and typed in the address to Jack's penthouse in the e-mail.

Jack answered Blair's inquiry almost immediately, but unfortunately, he still hadn't been able to break into Brackett's sealed files. Blair emailed back, telling him they'd reconnect as soon as possible. He thanked him and signed off. He then cleared out the history file and closed the Hotmail account.

Sitting back, Blair started to speak but Jim's finger on his lips silenced him.

Nodding, Blair looked questioningly at Jim, who merely signaled for both men to follow. They hurried toward the rental car parking area. It took Jim a few moments to realize that Blair had dropped behind. He glanced over his shoulder and saw Blair standing in the middle of the walkway with an intent look on his face. He grabbed Jeremy's coat sleeve and tugged him to a halt, then they both turned and watched Blair's deliberate pacing. Jim hurried to his side, taking in the partially closed eyes and the slightly open mouth.

When Blair's steps faltered and his body trembled and swayed, Jim moved quickly. He clamped his hands around Blair's waist and asked, “What is it? Can you feel it?”

Blair nodded.

“What if you – let it touch you?”

Blair vehemently shook his head.

Jim bit his lip before he forced himself to say, “Open your mind and allow it in.”

Again, Blair shivered and shook his head.

Jeremy put his hands on Blair's shoulders. “Blair? I'm right here. I'll help. Go ahead.”

Blair shook his head again. “No,” he finally whispered. “Please...” He tried to step back, his hands flying up and out as if to push something away. “I... can't do this.”

A group of tourists pulling luggage approached. The squeaky wheels grated on Jim's ears; his hands fell from Blair's waist. The sound must have broken whatever intangible connection Blair had between him and whatever he was feeling. He shuddered violently and only Jeremy's hold on his shoulders kept him from falling backwards. The men stepped to the side and allowed the laughing, talking visitors to pass.

Jim once again grabbed his lover's waist and held him until his eyes focused. “Are you all right?"

“I'm okay. I think.” Then he added with a smirk, “Man, that was fucking weird.”

“What did you feel, Blair?” Jeremy asked, absentmindedly rubbing his arm.

"You felt it, Rogers?" Jim asked, watching Jeremy give a quick shudder.

"Yeah. Like Blair said, weird."

Blair said, “I felt something... Oh, geez, you're going to think I'm nuts. It was calling me.”

“What was it? Can you describe it?” Jeremy asked, raising an eyebrow.

Blair shook his head. “You don't know how much I wish I could describe it. I'm good with words, but man, this has me baffled. It's cold and warm. It's hard and soft. It makes me feel good one second and then makes me want to run away screaming the next.”

Jim's eyes narrowed and his head swiveled. “Let's get out of here.”

Blair must have seen the unsettled look in Jim's eyes because he merely nodded and took his hand. Jeremy moved closer, and wrapped his fingers around Blair's sleeve. They located the new rental car and with Jim driving, they made their way to the interstate and headed north until he turned off at the Cascade National Forest exit. The men remained completely silent and after more than an hour of driving, they pulled into a deserted cabin resort.

“This place is closed, Jim,” Jeremy said unnecessarily.

“Good observation from the PI,” Jim said with a snicker.

“How's this going to help us find Dennis? He needs me, damn it!” Jeremy growled, crossing his arms across his chest. “And I need to find him!”

Blair turned in the seat. “I know you do. But just wait. Jim must have a reason for being here, so let's see what he wants us to do. Jim?”

Jim pulled back from his scan of the area and turned to his companions. “Let's see what we have so far. Brackett is back. We know that, and he's obviously tapped our phones and the truck. The loft is being watched. He seems to know what we're doing before we do it, which indicates long-range surveillance.”

“Damn it! How does this help us find Dennis?” Jeremy said loudly before wincing at the pain that lay behind his eyes, waiting to flare.

“Rogers,” Jim said quietly, “I know you're upset...”

“Don't talk to me like I'm an idiot, Ellison,” Jeremy said testily.

“I'm not. But what can we do? Brackett has him. We'll get him back, but we can't do that until we know where he is and what Brackett wants.”

“Jim's right, Jeremy. We want Dennis back as much as you do.” At Jeremy's look of exasperation, Blair added with a half-hearted smile. "Well, almost as much as you. Man, I know how you feel! When Jim was missing for five days last year, I was devastated. I know, Jeremy. Honestly, but-”

"I know he's right! But that doesn't mean I have to like it," Jeremy groused.

The ringing of Jim's cell phone interrupted the conversation. He pulled the device from his pocket and after looking at the read-out screen, he said testily, “It's the asshole,” before he pushed 'on'.

“Ellison!” Jim said curtly.

“Jim, Jim, Jim. Is that any way to talk about your best bud? I'd have thought we were better friends by now.”

Jim closed his eyes and his jaw muscle jumped dangerously. "Brackett, can we cut the crap and get down to business?”

Blair moved closer to Jim's side, so he put the phone between them so that Blair could listen in.

“How's your partner, Ellison?”

“Why?”

“Just inquiring after a friend. Can't we be pleasant about this? Ask Sandburg. We are friends."

“Brackett, what do you want?” Jim said impatiently. Thankfully, Blair's hand on his thigh centered him and he forced himself to settle down. After a moment, he asked in a flat tone, "What do you want from us?”

“I've had a lot of time to think about my past mistakes, Jim. I've realized that I've made a lot of them, and I intend to rectify the situation. This time there will be no big heists. No dramatic thefts. My requests will be simple and easy to fulfill. Even the damned bureaucrats will be able to understand.”

Jim felt fingers dig into his shoulder from behind. He cast a quick glance at Jeremy before he asked, "First, I need to know where Dennis Marshall is."

“He's – safe.”

“I want to talk to him.” Jim bit his lip. “Please.”

Brackett laughed. “You are trainable, aren't you, Ellison?” Jim remained silent, which made Brackett laugh even more. “Let me talk to Detective Sandburg.” Jim hesitated for a moment before he handed the phone to Blair, who took it gingerly and put his ear to the receiver. "Blair? May I call you Blair?”

“Sure. Whatever,” Blair snapped, unable to keep the anger from his voice.

“Touchy, aren't we?”

“Sorry,” Blair muttered with false politeness. “What can I do for you, Mr. Brackett?”

“Ah, much better, Detective. I just wanted you to know that I'm looking forward to meeting with you again. It will be very – educational.”

“What meeting? What the heck are you talking about?”

“Later, Detective Sandburg. We'll talk later. Put your partner back on.”

Blair handed back the phone with a grimace. “He's playing games.”

"I like games, Jim. They're so entertaining," Brackett responded.

“Just tell me what you want so we can have our friend back.”

“Okay, Jim. Business it is. It's very simple. I want only three things. All are very obtainable. I want cash, of course, but not some inordinate amount. Ten mil will do. Into an account of my choosing. The usual.”

“That's not inordinate? In whose world?” Jim growled.

“I could have asked for twenty or forty. I asked for ten. That's not much for the world at large to raise.”

“You're not making sense, Brackett. What does the world at large have to do with this?"

“Let me tell you my two other requests and then I'll explain.”

“Just hurry up,” Jim ordered.

“Jim,” Brackett said warningly.

“Please,” Jim added. Brackett's satisfied laugh made him cringe.

“Number two is a fully equipped, nicely outfitted, new and shiny, untraceable 65 foot yacht. Give or take a few feet, but remember, I hate being cramped. See, easy enough.”

“And the third?” Jim demanded.

“Oh, I think you'll find the third quite -- interesting. I want Blair Sandburg.”

“What the hell? Fuck you, Brackett!”

Blair tugged on Jim's shirt. “Cool it, man.”

Jim put a finger over the receiver. “He's nuts! He's a fucking insane lunatic!”

Blair looked questioningly at Jim. “I didn't hear what he said. What's got you so crazy?”

“Forget it, Chief. He's not getting what he wants.”

“What about Dennis?” Jeremy demanded. "Did he tell you where he is?"

“Jim, what's going on?” Blair likewise demanded.

Pushing Blair away, Jim said into the phone, “No fucking way.”

“Ellison, perhaps you don't realize the importance of my requests. This is not a negotiation. This is a non-negotiable demand. All three demands will be met.”

“Or what, Brackett? More nerve gas? More dead babies? What? Tell me, you fucking asshole.”

“Detective Ellison, until you can address me in a more respectful tone, I'm afraid that I must take further steps to ensure your cooperation.”

“No! Brackett, don't touch him! Do you hear me? I'm warning you,” Jim shouted.

Brackett's laugh reached Jim's ears and his tone was pleasant when he explained, “I already assured you, Jim. I won't touch a hair on his head. I swore to you that I wouldn't, and I meant it. You have my word as a gentleman.”

Jim's hand clenched the phone and his fingers turned white when the sound of Dennis' screams of pain resonated loudly through the phone line.

“Brackett, you son of a bitch!” Jim shouted. It took him a few moments to realize that the call had already been disconnected.

“Oh, God,” Jeremy muttered, throwing open the door and lurching out to fall to his hands and knees. His arm banded his stomach and he vomited onto the ground.

Blair held his head between his hands and groaned deeply. His eyes glazed over and his mouth dropped open. Jim reached out to grab his lover but Blair's scream of pain made him abruptly pull back his hands. Blair's body stiffened, and his back arched completely off the seat before he collapsed into a heap on the beige upholstery.

Jim raced from the driver's side to the passenger's, yanking open the door and kneeling on the ground next to his unconscious lover. "Blair?" Then he glanced at Jeremy. "Rogers? Jeremy?"

Jeremy's moans assailed Jim's ears and the heaving sounds of his body made him cringe. “What should I do?” he asked. “Blair, tell me what to do!” The hand he pressed to his partner's forehead felt scorched from what felt like a sudden fever spilling from his body. Jim pulled back his hand and rose, intending to call for help. It was only after he couldn't find service and stood, staring dumbly at the cell phone that he realized he had no idea who to call for help. Not knowing if the phone service had been deliberately blocked, he had no choice but to wait until Brackett decided to call back and issue his demands once again.

Jim held the phone in a fist, glaring at it. Willing it to ring. “Call, you worthless motherfucker," he ordered darkly.

As if Brackett actually heard Jim's plea, almost on cue, the phone rang. Jim hit the 'on' button. “What?” he barked.

“I am in charge. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” Jim ground out. “I understand. Just -- stop doing whatever your doing to Blair and Rogers. Give me some time. I need time to get the cash and the boat."

"Time is of the essence, Jimbo."

"You know that I can't do this without bringing in the big guns! I don't have the authority. You know I have to take it to Banks. Give me some time!" Jim paused before he added, "Please. I need time."

“And you will fulfill all of my requests?”

“You can't expect me to give you my partner!”

“Oh, but you will.”

“I know you, Brackett. You haven't shown your hand yet, you bastard. What have you done?”

Laughter echoed in Jim's ears, making his stomach tighten. “You're going to love this, Ellison. You remember when I said that I'm keeping it simple?”

Brackett paused, making Jim realize that he was going to have to show the madman that he was indeed listening and understanding. “Yes, I remember. Keep it simple.”

“Well, it's like this. Cascade is a shipping port. How many ships a day leave port, Jim?”

“I don't know," Jim said shortly, tired of the games. But what else could he do but continue to play? "Why don't you tell me?”

“On the average, 250 a week.”

“I'll take your word for that."

“In the past two weeks, approximately 487 ships have left for ports around the world. On twelve of those ships, I've added something very interesting.”

When Brackett stopped speaking, Jim had to ask. “And what exactly have you added?" As he spoke, his hand rubbed Blair's shoulder, and in a few moments he was rewarded with his partner's head moving and his eyes fluttering open. Jim pressed a hand against Blair's chest to keep him steady. “Ebola? Bubonic plague? Nerve gas? What?”

“Oh, Jim, you are amusing,” Bracket said with a laugh, “Nothing quite that – exotic, but much more – effective.”

Another dramatic pause. Jim's hand shook when he asked, “Effective? In what way?”

“In the nasty way. It's Influenza.”

“What?”

“Influenza, Jim. A simple disease. Nothing dramatic. Nothing exotic. Just a minor disease.”

“Minor? You call a disease that can potentially kill millions minor?”

“It kills mostly old people and babies. I'm doing the world a favor. Or rather, you are if you don't abide by the terms of my requests. Let's call it -- natural selection.”

“There's nothing natural about releasing an influenza virus onto an unsuspecting population.”

“Oh, did I mention that this is a special strain, Jim? Those nasty people with too much money and too many test tubes love playing with this shit. This one is very -- shall we say, special. Its incubation period is three weeks, then, well, you know what will happen. But those big bad scientists didn't finish their work quite yet, so let me add that as of today, at... one pm, there is no cure available. Of course, with today's medical advances and technological capabilities, I'd give the scientists six months to isolate the strain and find, if not a cure, at least a treatment.”

“You are a fucking lunatic.”

“And you are redundant. Surely you can think of some other more colorful insults by now. A man of your intelligence. Oh, wait... I'm needed elsewhere. It's been such a pleasure talking to you. Tell you what, I'll call you in a while to check on your progress. Let's say, twelve hours and we'll chat again. Good-bye, Jim. Best to Blair and Jeremy.”

“Fuck you,” Jim said to the dead line. He sighed, realizing he had been swearing at the telephone a lot lately. Turning his attentions to Blair, he was pleased to see that his Guide was awake and breathing almost normally.

Blair latched his hand onto Jim's. “Brackett?”

“Who else?” he snapped and looked away.

Blair asked, “What?”

“Nothing.”

“You're lying to me, Jim,” Blair said, disappointment tingeing his voice.

Jim pulled his hand back. “Let me help Jeremy.”

“All right."

Jim put a hand under Jeremy's elbow. "You okay?"

“That was horrible,” Jeremy whispered, leaning on Jim's arm as he rose.

Jim wrapped an arm around his waist to steady the swaying man. “What happened?”

Jeremy shook his head as Jim guided him into the back seat of the car. “It was so real! I felt Dennis in pain. It hurt so badly!” Jeremy raised his face and his eyes were cold. “I'll kill the fucking asshole. He's mine, Ellison. You remember that, and you stay out of my way."

The men glared at each other for a long moment before Jim admitted, "He finally shared his demands with me.”

Blair turned his head quickly. "And what are they?"

Knowing that Blair wouldn't be put off for a moment by his nonchalant shrug, he avoided meeting his gaze. "The usual," Jim said. "Ten mil and a fancy getaway boat.”

Blair's eyes narrowed, and Jim could almost hear the sharp mind click. "And what else? Jim?"

“What?” Jim said sharply, throwing out his hands. “That's it! Ten million and a yacht.”

Blair slid out of the car and stood directly in front of Jim, glaring at him. He put his hands on Jim's cheeks and held his face firmly. "Tell me."

Jim pulled the cool hands away. “Nothing.”

“Ellison!” Blair growled.

Jim took a step back and turned away. Blair rarely used that tone with Jim, but he had no choice; he had to listen. His shoulders slumped when he softly admitted, "You.”

“Me?”

Nodding, Jim pinched the bridge of his nose. “Ain't gonna happen, Chief.”

“Me?” Blair echoed. “But why?” Running a hand through his hair, he started to pace. “Why me? Why Dennis? Why? Why? Why?”

“It doesn't matter!” Jim shouted. “He can't have you!”

Jeremy pulled himself from the back seat and stood glaring at both men. "He already has Dennis.”

“Don't you think I know that?” Jim said loudly. “We'll get Dennis back. But he can't have Sandburg, and that's final!”

“What else, Jim?” Blair asked quietly. “What else does he have that he can make these demands? What has he threatened to do?”

Knowing Blair deserved to hear the truth, Jim didn't hesitate as he explained, “He's put influenza virus on a dozen ships that sailed out of Cascade for the past two weeks. They've each gone to a different port, and he plans on letting the crew infect the entire population if his demands aren't met.”

“Jeez, Jim. That's horrible! Influenza can mutate, and it can be deadly to the elderly and children. Besides being dangerous for anybody with any type of respiratory problems. Why can't we just contact all the ships and see which ones have sick crew members?”

“This strain stays dormant for three weeks. It hasn't manifested itself yet, but it will in six days. That's our time limit," Jim paused before he said, "but that's not all.”

“As if that's not enough? What else?” Blair shouted.

“This strain is a newly-developed mutation. No cure. No treatment.”

“Oh, fuck,” Jeremy said, shaking his head sadly. “Dennis is dead. I'm dead. We're all dead.”

“Stop that!” Blair cried, wrapping his arms across his chest. "Just stop it!"

“Blair,” Jim said quietly, holding out his hands.

Blair shook his head and stepped back. “You don't get it, Jim, do you? I have to do it. If I can save you and Jeremy and hopefully Dennis, I have to do this.” Blair held up a hand before Jim could protest. “Don't, Jim. Just – don't.”

“We might as well head back to Cascade. He knows where we are,” Jim revealed.

“How can he possibly know where we are?” Jeremy asked.

Blair cocked his head. “One of us has to be bugged.”

“No way. I can't sense a thing.” Jim gave the entire area another complete sensory sweep. “Nothing. Nothing at all,” he said dejectedly. "How the hell can he know where we are?"

Blair fell silent, thinking. “It has to be something, obviously...” His voice trailed off and his eyes closed.

“Blair?”

“I can feel – something.”

“What about what I suggested before?” Jim grimaced at the very idea, but he continued in spite of his trepidation. “I hate asking you to do this, but maybe you need to – reach out and find the power source. Then maybe we can work from there.”

“Jim, I'm not so sure that's a good idea.” Blair shivered.

“I know, but I'm out of ideas.”

Jeremy moved close to Blair and put a hand on his arm. “I'll help, Blair, if you're willing to try.”

“I'm not sure I can do this. It's so strange!” Blair said.

“Chief, you're our only hope right now.” Jim hated putting Blair on the spot, hated using their trust to force him to do something that obviously terrified him, but right now, their options were extremely limited.

Blair looked at Jim for a long moment, his trepidation obvious. But Jim could also see the faith he had in Jim reflected in his eyes.

"Forget-"

Blair shook his head. "No. I'll try." He cleared his throat and walked a few feet away from Jim and Jeremy. "Give me a few seconds to -- center myself. Jim, you touch me first, then Jeremy. We'll make a, a circle, I guess."

Jim nodded, casting a quick glance at Jeremy, who looked anxious but determined. Jeremy seemed to understand that they were running out of options fast and Blair was their best hope at the moment. The air was full of tension from Blair, and Jim clenched his hands, keeping his focus on his Guide.

---------------------------------------

Blair tamped down his fear, closed his eyes and held out his hands. He breathed in and out to a count of ten and opened his mind as much as possible. It took only moments before he felt the faint cold tendrils of power wrap around his ankles. The power warmed as the contact lengthened, making his skin crawl. Pushing away the feeling of dread, Blair allowed the strands to creep up his body, where it wrapped around his knees, thighs and waist. His skin rippled and goose bumps danced over his entire body as he was slowly encased in power.

He sucked in his breath when something ratcheted up the power. It grabbed hold of him internally and felt as if it was trying to take control of his entire being. He held his breath as the feeling cocooned his lower body before moving higher, inch by inch...

------------------------------

Jim ripped his hand away from its hold of Blair's shoulder. He pushed Jeremy's hand away and reached for Blair as he collapsed.

"He's not breathing!" Jim cried. "Damn it, Sandburg! Breathe, damn you!” Jim patted the cool cheeks and gently shook the limp form. “Blair!”

Terrified now, Jim laid Blair out on the ground, tipped back his head, held his nose and clamped their mouths together, forcing air into his lungs.

“Come on, Chief,” Jim muttered when he moved away to check Blair's respiration. Shaking his head, he returned to push another deep breath into Blair's lungs.

Blair's chest shuddered before he sucked in deeply. He finally took one breath and then another. In a few moments, he was breathing almost normally and his eyes fluttered before finally opening.

“Jim?” Blair said shakily. “What happened?”

“That's what I'd like to know.”

“That was – weird. I was... I couldn't... Don't ask me to do that again. Please, Jim.”

Jim hated the distress he saw in his partner's eyes. “Okay, Chief. Not again." Jim glanced over at Jeremy. "Are you okay?"

"I feel like hell. Blair, you pack quite a wallop," Jeremy said, rubbing his hand. "My arm is still tingling."

"Sorry, man," Blair said.

Jim put a hand under Blair's elbow. "Come on. Let's get you up and home.”

“Home? Back to the loft?” Blair asked.

“Might as well," Jim said. "Brackett knows where we are anyway. We have to tell Simon that we need ten million dollars and a yacht. The sooner we get this show on the road, the quicker we'll catch the prick.”

"Ellison, we know he's listening. Normally, I wouldn't give a shit what you said about him, but he's got Dennis."

“Sorry. You're right. Sorry, Brackett,” Jim said aloud. “I hate being polite to him, but I understand. Let's talk to Simon and see if he can get the ball rolling.”

-------------------------------------------------

Simon Banks chewed on the end of his unlit cigar until it was shredded and useless. Tossing the ruined cigar into the trash, he shook his head slowly, sighing deeply.

“Brackett? I can't believe it. I thought we were rid of that jerk for good,” he said with a grimace.

“Yes, sir,” Jim said from his place in front of the window. Arms clasped behind his back, he unconsciously stood at parade rest. “We did too, sir.”

Simon's gaze traveled from Jim, to Blair, to Jeremy and back to Blair.

“Sandburg, coffee?”

“Yes, please,” Blair said." Thank you, sir.”

"You look tired, Sandburg."

"I am, Simon."

“Jim?”

“No, sir. No coffee. Thanks.”

Pouring coffee for himself and Blair, Simon passed the mug over the desk to Blair.

“Ten million?” Simon echoed after he had taken a sip. “And a yacht? Influenza?”

“Yes, sir,” Jim said, looking away.

“Damn it, Ellison! What aren't you telling me? You're standing there at attention like I'm your commanding officer about to send you on a search and destroy mission from which you don't expect to return! What's going on?”

“Captain,” Blair started to say, but Jim's hand on his shoulder stopped his words.

“Sorry, Simon,” Jim said. “It's regarding Brackett's third and final demand.” Jim paused.

Simon nodded. “And so...? What is this final demand?”

At Jim's apparent reluctance, Blair blurted out, “I am, Simon.”

Simon looked surprised. “Excuse me?”

Blair shrugged. “Brackett wants me.”

“Why?”

“Doesn't matter,” Jim ground out between clenched teeth. “He can't have him.”

“Jim, Sandburg can speak for himself. I understand your need to protect your partner, but we need to talk about this. Now sit down and let's go over the options.”

“I don't know why, Captain," Blair said. "When we had the last run-in with Brackett, he didn't seem particularly – interested in me then. Not a clue what he's thinking now."

Simon looked thoughtful before he said, “Brackett doesn't do anything on a whim. There has got to be a reason. Let's think. Has he said anything at all that gives any indication why he wants Sandburg?”

Jim shook his head. “I don't give a rat's ass if he has a good reason or not! He's not getting Blair.”

“Not even if it means saving thousands of lives?” Simon asked. “Hypothetically, of course.”

“No, sir. Not even if-”

Blair rose and turned toward Jim. “Simon's right. I can speak for myself. If my going with Brackett will stop this disaster, then I'll go.”

“I won't allow it!” Jim shouted.

Blair remained calm as he put a hand on Jim's arm and said with conviction, "I'll make my own decisions, Jim. Thank you for your concern.”

“Don't act like we're strangers, Chief! Like you and I don't matter to each other! You know I can't let Brackett have you, and you know damn well why!”

“Sit down, both of you,” Simon said. “Please.” He waited until they both sat down before he asked, “Why would Sandburg, a detective, be of use to Brackett?”

“Maybe it's not Sandburg, the detective. Maybe it's Blair, the Guide,” Jeremy said quietly.

All three men looked over at the tense man.

Blair nodded. “Okay, but why?” Picking at a fingernail, he shook his head. “He's not a Sentinel. I don't understand-”

“Blair,” Jeremy interrupted, "you told me he said that he swore he wouldn't touch Dennis, but we know he's – hurting him. I know he's hurting him. I can feel it!” He scrubbed at his eyes before he said, “So to me, that means somebody's helping him. Somebody who needs a Guide.”

“Another Sentinel?" Simon asked.

Jim nodded. “Makes sense. Brackett specifically emphasized that he wouldn't hurt or touch Dennis, yet we know Dennis is being hurt. It would be like him to toss out hints that he has a partner.”

“Brackett? A partner?” Blair asked. “Man, he was a lone wolf. I've seen his file." At Jim's curious look, he explained, "When Jack helped us the time Brackett was in Cascade, I read through Jack's information. He always worked alone, and from his profile, he wasn't one to tolerate a partner.”

Simon snipped the end from a fresh cigar. Clamping it between his lips, he said, “So let's say he has a partner. Why does he need Sandburg, and how does that fit with his apparent abilities to track you no matter where you went?” Simon suspiciously looked around, realizing what he had just said. “And how do we know he's not listening right now?”

Jim rose and walked over to the window. “He's listening. I'd bet on it.”

Knowing that Jim was using his heightened senses to scan their surroundings, Blair crossed his arms over his chest. “I'd take that bet."

"Fuck," Jeremy said under his breath. "So would I."

“Damn it, Jim. I have to call the Commissioner in on this. I can't wire ten million dollars to a Swiss bank account and authorize a yacht worth a quarter of a million dollars on my own, even if I wanted to. This affects the entire world, apparently. You understand why I have to bring in the proper authorities?”

Jim nodded. “Yes, Simon. Make the calls.”

“What's our time limit?” Simon asked.

Blair tapped his fingers on the desktop. At Simon's glare, he stopped. “He hasn't said specifically, other than the virus has an incubation period of three weeks, and the first ships left a little over two weeks ago, leaving us six days. I'm sure he won't give us much longer.”

“I'll get the ball rolling," Simon said. "I'm going to need something to give the Feds, some kind of proof that Brackett can and will do what he threatens to do. They have hard and fast policies regarding negotiations with terrorists, so I can't make any promises. Keep your cell phones on you at all times. I'll be in touch.”

“Right,” Jim said curtly. “Come on, Chief. Rogers?”

Blair went over to Jeremy's side and put a hand on his arm. “You need something to eat and some rest.”

Jeremy shrugged off Blair's hand. “What I need is my partner,” he said angrily. He rose and stomped from the room, slamming the door behind him.

Jim and Blair exchanged knowing looks. Blair shrugged and Jim squeezed his shoulder before he said, "“We'll keep in touch, Captain. It works both ways. Right, sir? You'll let us know if any tips come in?”

“We work together, Jim. You know that. So what do you think-"

"Oh God," Blair said, his gaze following Jim's, who stood staring at the door through which Jeremy had just disappeared.

“Jim? What?" Simon said, confusion etched in his tone.

“Shit,” Jim said, fear mixed with irritation spilling over. “He's going to find Dennis on his own if we don't stop him.”

Blair made it to the door first, and he yanked it open. He raced across the bullpen with Jim at his heels. He skidded to a halt in the center of the empty hallway.

“Which way?”

Jim tipped his head before he said, “Stairs.”

Together they ran down the stairs and out onto the street.

“Jim?”

“That way,” Jim said, pointing right. "There! The taxi! Hurry up!"

Jim's longer legs gave him a head start as he ran down the sidewalk. He heard Jim's shout of "Jeremy!” Then he called out, “Where the hell do you-?”

Blair saw that Jeremy had already climbed into the taxi's back seat. He came to a halt beside Jim. His heart kicked into overdrive and his skin crawled when he heard the voice of the cab driver call out, "Ellison, how nice to see you.”

"Jim..." Blair said, immediately recognizing Brackett's voice. He reached out and grabbed Jim's arm as he glanced into the cab. The gun in Brackett's hand looked huge to Blair. and he took a step back.

"Get in," Brackett said conversationally while pointing the weapon their way.

Blair gave a start when Jim let out a menacing growl. The sound sent shivers down his spine, and before he could react, he found himself flat on the pavement with Jim hovering over him, his weapon already drawn.

Blair watched the scene play out in slow motion. Jim turned toward Brackett and extended his gun hand. Jeremy pushed the back door of the cab open and started to slide out. The sound of a muffled weapon being fired let out a soft burp, and Jeremy cried aloud. Blair blinked dazedly, stunned when Jeremy's hand clamped around his arm and then pulled away, stained red with blood. His eyes were wide and startled, and Blair held his breath.

Jim froze, still standing protectively over Blair, who managed to push himself to his backside and had pulled his gun. Struggling to his feet, he was angry that Jim had come between him and Brackett. After all, he was a cop. Even in Sentinel protection mode, Jim knew better than to come between Blair and the performance of his duties. But even as he thought it, he knew that these circumstances were very different than a bust on the street.

Blair kept his gaze trained on Brackett, who menacingly waved the gun toward them. "Get in,” Brackett ordered coolly. When neither Jim nor Blair did as ordered, Brackett pointed the gun at Jeremy's head. He cocked the trigger. “You have two seconds to get into the cab. One...”

“Jim, go.” Blair said, pushing his partner toward the front door while he slid into the backseat next to Jeremy. He pulled the door shut and glared at Brackett. “Let me help him!”

“Of course,” Brackett said with an ingratiating smile, haphazardly waving the gun barrel toward Jeremy. “Suit yourself.” With a quick glance at Jim, who sat in the front seat, still as a statue, Blair turned to Jeremy.

--------------------------------------

Once Jim closed the passenger door, Brackett pressed the gun's barrel against the side of Jim's neck. The warmth of the recently fired pistol almost burned the Sentinel's sensitive skin and the smell of gunpowder irritated his nasal passages. Jim took a deep breath and released it, centering his senses and controlling his reactions to Brackett's presence. Remaining calm was the only way to dance with this particular devil, Jim knew from experience.

“Gun,” Brackett said, holding out his hand toward Jim.

After Jim had placed his weapon in Brackett's hand, Brackett smiled. “The .38 too, Jim.”

With a grunt of irritation, Jim pulled the extra weapon from its ankle holster and passed it over.

Turning slightly toward the back while keeping a close eye on Jim, Brackett said, “Detective Sandburg, your weapon please. Thanks so much. Oh, I know you don't carry an extra piece,” he said matter-of-factly. “Does your friend have a weapon?” he asked, giving Jeremy a friendly smile.

“Fuck you, asshole,” Jeremy growled.

“Are all your friends so verbal, Detective Sandburg?” Brackett asked with a chuckle. “Now quit the tap dance and give me your weapon. I'd hate to put a bullet in Detective Sandburg just to get you moving along, Mr. Rogers.” Brackett made his point by directing the barrel toward Blair. “I'll make it a stomach shot. I won't kill him, but it will hurt. I guarantee it.”

Jeremy sighed and leaned forward. Blair pulled Jeremy's gun from his back holster and passed it over, butt first, to Brackett, who smiled and said convivially, “Thanks.”

“Where's Dennis?” Jeremy demanded.

“All in due time, Mr. Rogers.” Brackett laughed. “It's a very good day in the neighborhood,” he said, laughing even more deeply. “I've always wanted to say that.” He put the car in gear and smoothly merged into traffic. “Relax. We have a short drive. Then all will be revealed,” he added, smirking, apparently pleased with his own comments. “Oh, just as a reminder, I wouldn't try anything heroic. Remember, unless I disclose which ships are heading before they arrive, the disease will be released into the unsuspecting population. You wouldn't want all those deaths on your heads now, would you?” he asked conversationally.

“On our heads, Brackett?” Jim ground out. “Do you value any human life?”

“My own?” he said with a chuckle before he shrugged. “Well, maybe not.” Reaching into the glove compartment, he pulled out a blue bandanna. “Use this,” he said, tossing it toward Blair. “No sense ruining the upholstery.”

Blair clenched his teeth at the lifelessness of Brackett's tone. The man was ruthless and he knew they were in major trouble now. He tied the piece of cloth around Jeremy's wound. “That will stop the bleeding. The bullet just grazed the skin,” he said comfortingly to his friend.

“Thanks,” Jeremy said. “I'm okay.”

Blair patted Jeremy's arm. “I know you are.” He saw Jeremy's clenched fists. "Relax, okay?"

Jeremy shrugged and turned his face away, watching the passing scenery. His training and years of FBI experience took over, and he shut down his emotions, his feelings and his heart, and allowed the soldier in him to be in control. Automatically, he listened to the things that Brackett said while he mentally cataloged the route they were taking. He realized that Brackett was unconcerned that they would know the route. There were only two reasons for that: either he didn't care because he was so sure of his own abilities and knew he would be successful, or he was planning on killing them, leaving no witnesses behind. Jeremy smirked to himself. Either way, Brackett was dead. He would kill the bastard if it was the last thing he ever did.

Blair sat stiffly, the vinyl seat hard and cold under his backside. He opened a very tiny bit of his mind to test the air. His reward for this endeavor was the now-familiar cold finger of the dreaded power touching his brain. He bit his lip, drawing blood. Staring at the side of Brackett's face, he watched intently for any sign that this man was responsible for the feeling. When Brackett didn't react in any visible way, Blair's gaze moved to Jim, and he held his breath when he saw Jim start visibly.

Jim shivered and turned in the seat, slipping a long arm along the top of it. He turned to look over at Blair, smelling the faint odor of blood. Raising an eyebrow, he knew Blair would understand the silent message asking if he was all right.

Blair kept his gaze locked with Jim, minutely shook his head, and tried to give him a reassuring smile, but he couldn't force the corners of his mouth to respond. Jim nodded in understanding and turned back to face the front. His eyes prickled momentarily. In spite of everything, he was grateful that he had Jim at his side and that Jim had enough faith in him to accept him as his partner, both on the job and in their private lives. Blair ducked his head and huffed out a shaky breath while he gathered his emotions before he returned to his examination of the tendrils of power that filled the air, begging to be let into his mind and body. The closer to their destination they traveled, the stronger they became. Fists clenched, Blair sat very still and managed to keep the shields he'd somehow erected intact... for the moment.

Jim's cell phone rang. He pulled it from his pocket but before he could answer, Brackett held out his hand. He slapped the phone into Brackett's palm, eliciting a smile from the criminal.

“Temper. Temper,” Brackett said as he glanced at the Caller ID. “Blocked? Who is it, Ellison?”

“How do I know? Unless you let me answer it, I guess we'll never know.”

Brackett laughed. “Sure. Answer it.”

Jim gingerly took the phone, avoiding Brackett's skin. Brackett raised an eyebrow and laughed. Jim ignored him as he answered.

“Ellison.”

“It's Jack.”

“I can't talk right now,” Jim said shortly.

“What's wrong?”

“Nothing. I'm busy. Maybe tomorrow?”

“It's Brackett, isn't it? You can't talk because he's there? Damn it to hell!”

“Got it in one.”

“Listen to me very carefully. You don't realize what's going on. Brackett's not working alone-"

They went under an overpass, and the rest of Jack's statement was lost in static.

With a snap of impatience, Brackett ordered, "Give me the phone,” and held out his hand.

Jim hit the 'end' button. “Sure,” he said with a smirk.

Brackett smiled and shook his head, pocketing the item. “You may play with your friends later. If you're good boys, that is.” He shifted in his seat and settled back, casting a cool glance over at Jim before he turned his head to quickly look over his shoulder at Blair. Then he moved the rear view mirror toward the back seat. After a few moments' perusal, he smiled again then drove the rest of the way silently.

------------------------------------------------

When the cab pulled up in front of the gates to a large estate, Blair started to sweat. By the time the vehicle maneuvered through the gates, up the long, meandering driveway and halted in front of a three story stone mansion, he was trembling also.

Jim felt the distress pouring from his Guide, and the result was that he had to struggle to control his senses at the strong emotions wafting his way. Blair's apprehension was magnified even more by Jeremy's obvious discomfort. Jim's head swiveled from side to side as he tried to pinpoint the source of the men's foreboding. He kept a firm control of his senses while he dialed them up slowly, and as he exited the cab, he searched the grounds. Protective instincts kicked up even higher and he leaned against the back door, preventing Blair from exiting the cab. Concentrating, Jim scanned the area as quickly and thoroughly as possible. He heard the faint sound of voices from inside the large house, and his senses told him that there were two people in the dwelling. He tried to focus in on the voices, but suddenly, something blocked him. The force slammed his senses shut, making him jerk violently.

Shaking his head to center himself, Jim pinched the bridge of his nose. Brackett appeared at his elbow and poked the barrel of the gun into his side.

“Ellison! Stop with the Sentinel shit!” Brackett ordered.

“Jim. Jim!” Blair called.

Jim turned his attention to his Guide. He blinked several times, fighting the strange feeling that crawled up his back and looked closely at Blair. He brought himself back to focus when he saw Blair's wide eyes and flushed face, accompanied by rapid breathing and pounding heart.

“Chief?”

Blair shook his head slowly. "I don't know, Jim. Something weird. It's… More. So much more... Oh, God,” he whispered.

Jeremy put a hand on Blair's shoulder. “Blair.”

Blair felt Jeremy tremble, and he turned to glance into the unsettled dark eyes. He saw what he felt reflected there: fear, anger, determination...

“I'd say something stupid, like everything will be okay, but I don't think it will be," Blair said.

Jeremy nodded curtly. “I know.”

“Gentlemen!” Brackett said firmly. “Now! You're wasting time!”

“Come on, Chief,” Jim said, opening the back door.

Jeremy slid out behind Blair, and they stood uncomfortably in a tight group while Brackett stood with his arms crossed, shaking his head.

“Ellison, I didn't think I'd ever see the day when you fucked a man.” Brackett sighed dramatically. “I'm not sure whether to laugh or be disappointed. The macho Covert Ops, Special Forces Ranger is a fag. What's the world coming to?” he said, throwing out his arms theatrically.

Jim's gaze followed the gun and for a brief moment he thought about jumping Brackett.

“Don't even, Jim,” Brackett said conversationally. “I'd hate to put another bullet in your buddy.” He smiled at Jeremy as if they were old friends. Jeremy glared, making Brackett laugh. “Come along, my friends. We have work to do!” He turned and walked away.

Blair, Jeremy and Jim exchanged quick glances. Blair looked around, searching for an escape route. Jeremy actually took several steps down the driveway while Jim never took his eyes off Brackett.

As if reading their intent, Brackett called over his shoulder, “Go ahead. Try to leave. It would be most enlightening.”

Blair shivered at Brackett's words. Jim moved closer to Blair and slipped an arm around his shoulders. “Chief?”

Shaking his head vehemently, Blair said, “Dennis is here. Something else is here also. It's...” He walked a few steps toward the house. He looked up at the windows on the second floor, searching them for signs of life. “Dennis,” he whispered.

Jeremy turned and walked a few steps toward the house before he stumbled. “I can't feel him. He's here?"

"Yeah. He needs you.”

Jeremy nodded and squared his shoulders.

Blair's gaze once again returned to the house, and this time he saw movement from behind one of the curtained windows. The figure moved quickly, disappearing before he could see if he recognized the person. He took a couple of steps when something slammed into him. Wrapping his arms around his stomach, he whispered, “Oh, God. No, please.” He closed his eyes and fell to his knees.

“Blair? What the hell,” Jim said, “What is it? Please, Blair!” He knelt on one side of Blair while Jeremy raced to the other side.

Blair's fearful gaze startled Jim as much as his pleading words had. “Damn it, Sandburg. What the hell is going on?” He clutched Blair's upper arm and scanned the distraught Guide before a faint sound caught his attention. He looked toward the front door that slowly swung open and watched as Brackett crossed the threshold, turned and waved to his companions.

“Come on, fellas. We'll have lunch,” Brackett said with another deep laugh.

Jim rose, pulling Blair up with him. He could see shock settling into the slim body. Jim wrapped his arm around Blair's waist and put a hand under his arm. Gently, he encouraged Blair forward, concerned at the blank expression and lurching gait of his Guide. They stumbled for a few steps before Blair stiffened and planted his feet.

“No! No, no, no,” he whispered, vainly trying to pull out of Jim's hold. “No. It hurts...”

“Jeremy?” Jim looked into his friend's face, not at all happy at the look of distress he saw etched there. “What is it? Can you tell me?”

Jeremy put a hand on his forehead. “I don't... It's... nasty, Jim. I don't know... It's – centered on Blair, I think. I feel the fringes, but he's – somehow shielding me from most of it.” Jeremy moved closer to Blair and slipped a finger into one of the belt loops on his jeans. “I don't like this at all.”

“No shit,” Jim muttered, once again sending his senses over the building. Something blocked his scan, and he gave up after a few moments. “Might as well get this over with.”

“Right,” Jeremy said. “Dennis is in there with whatever it is. He needs me.”

Slowly, they walked toward the open door and their smiling host. Brackett moved into the entryway, giving the three men enough room to enter before he circled behind them and closed the door.

“Welcome!” Brackett said, waving the gun toward a closed door at the opposite end of the large foyer. “That way. May I get you something? Coffee? Tea?”

“No,” Jim growled.

Brackett shrugged. “Have it your way.”

Jeremy stalked over to Brackett, who raised his weapon as Jeremy approached. “Where's my partner, you asshole?”

Brackett's eyes narrowed. “Is that any way to get something that you want? Don't you know anything about manners, Mr. Rogers?”

Jeremy's fists clenched. “I want to see my partner.”

“In due time, but for now, it looks like Detective Sandburg needs to sit down.” He cocked his head toward Jim, who was almost carrying his semi-conscious partner. “This way, gentlemen.” He led them across the entryway and opened a door. "After you,” he said politely.

Jim tugged Blair along with him, with Jeremy close behind. When they crossed the threshold, Blair shuddered, listing against Jim as he moaned softly.

“I'm here, Chief,” Jim said comfortingly, tightening his hold. He glanced around quickly.

The room was large, outfitted like a sitting room with several sofas and chairs, lamps and a large fireplace. None of the lights were lit nor was there a fire, and the heavy curtains were drawn, casting the room into shadows.

Jim returned his focus to Blair. "Can you tell me what's wrong?"

Blair shook his head as his hands grasped Jim's shirt. “Hurts,” he muttered, his legs folding.

Jim held onto Blair as he sank to his knees, still clutching Jim's shirt tightly. He moaned again, his eyes closed. Jim glared at Brackett, who lounged against the closed door, arms crossed, with a devilish grin on his face.

"What the hell is happening, Brackett?" Jim demanded.

Brackett threw out his arms, grinning. "It's a surprise!”

“What fucking surprise?” Jim growled, but before he could question Brackett further, a dreadfully familiar voice spoke.

“Jim! How good to see you again! You're looking well.”

Jim was shocked as he slowly rose, wiping his hands on the legs of his pants. “Alex?”

“Hello, Jim,” Alex Barnes said happily as she crossed the room toward him. “It is good to see you.” She turned bright eyes onto Blair. “What's wrong with my Guide?” she asked as she skirted Jim to touch Blair's hair.

The moment her hand touched Blair, he whimpered and collapsed onto the carpet, curling into a tight ball.

“Get the hell away from him!” Jim growled. Before he could blink or take a breath, he found himself lying flat on his back with the breath knocked out of him.

“Apparently, Jim, you don't fully understand who or what you are dealing with,” Alex said, pushing a strand of long, blond hair behind her ear. “You have no idea what I've become.”

Pushing himself to his elbows, Jim said bitingly, “Alex, this is crazy. You haven't become anything!”

“Oh, but you're wrong. I've transformed, and it feels wonderful!” Alex said gleefully, stretching out her arms and smiling. Her red lipstick made a shocking slash across her face and her pale face seemed to glow.

Jim swallowed hard and sat up. When Alex moved toward Blair once again, Jim lurched to his feet. “Keep away from him!”

Alex smiled confidentially. “He's mine now.”

“But you killed him!” Jim reminded her.

“A small miscalculation on my part. I didn't realize then what Blair was; what I needed from him. I do now, so now I'll rectify my mistake. I could have had him for my own then, but I didn't see it until much later, but I've learned my lesson.” Alex smiled and knelt on the floor beside Blair. She ran her hands across his head and back, and as she touched him, her smile widened. Casting a sideways glance at Jim, she said, “You threw him away. Remember?”

“No! I was protecting him!”

Alex laughed, petting Blair as if he were some treasured pet. She ignored the small whimpers that escaped from his lips as she caressed him. “Keep telling yourself that, and someday you just might believe it. The truth is that you hurt him. He died because he thought you didn't want him any more.” Alex raised her head and gave him a knowing look. “It was your fault, you know. You discarded him, and he let me do what I wanted because of your betrayal. If you hadn't rejected him, he'd never have come to me. Think about that." She shrugged and smiled. "Now I'll repair the damage you've done to my Guide, and he'll be faithful to me once more.”

----------------------------------------------

He curled into a tight ball and held his breath. He heard the hated voice cut through the air like a knife and he was dragged – somewhere – against his will. His head exploded with pain and his lungs filled with water. His eyes flew open and he struggled vainly against the hands that held him under its surface. Unable to escape the firm grasp, the water filling his lungs stole his breath, and his strength quickly waned before failing completely. Spots danced in front of his eyes and when the darkness finally descended, he was almost grateful that his pain would now be ended...

----------------------------------------------

“Get them out of here, Lee,” Alex ordered, albeit somewhat sweetly.

Brackett shrugged and waved his gun at Jim and Jeremy. “Let's move, gentlemen. The lady wants some quality time with her Guide.”

“No fucking way!” Jim shouted.

Jeremy struggled to his feet and took a step toward Brackett.

Brackett chuckled, pointed the gun at Jeremy and pulled the trigger. Jim let out a shout and dove toward Jeremy. They both crashed to the ground as Jeremy cried out.

“Shit. Shit. Shit,” Jeremy chanted from between clenched teeth, his hand clamped on his side and his eyes watering.

“You stupid asshole!” Jim yelled at Brackett before he gently moved Jeremy's hand away and pulled up his shirt to inspect the wound. The deep furrow bled profusely, but otherwise, the wound, while surely painful, wasn't life-threatening.

“Get him to his feet and do as you're told,” Brackett said calmly. “Or the next time I won't be quite so careful where I aim.”

Jim rose and stood glaring at Brackett, his fists clenched. “I'm going to kill you if it's the last thing I do.”

Brackett looked bored. "Fine by me, but not before I get my money and transportation, and not before Alex has what she wants.”

Jim started to move toward Brackett, but before he took a full step, Jeremy's voice cut through the haze of anger.

"Jim, no!"

Jim heard the Guide's plea and his Sentinel instincts flared. He looked down at Jeremy, who lay bleeding on the floor. He looked at his own Guide, also on the floor, curled in a ball and trembling each time Alex's vile hands touched him. He wanted nothing more than to kill, to rip into their tormentors, and he knew he would enjoy watching the blood flowing from their bodies.

Jeremy must have seen the fury on Jim's face because when Jim spared him a quick glance, he held out a hand and said quietly, “Sentinel, help me.”

Jim growled in anger but he was unable to ignore the request. He reached down to help Jeremy to his feet before he turned to Brackett and said coldly, “Take us to Marshall – please.”

“You will cooperate,” Brackett said.

It wasn't a question. It was a statement, an order.

“Yes,” Jeremy said.

“Yes,” Jim ground out from between clenched teeth.

“Great!” Brackett said happily. “Then follow me.”

--------------------------------------------------

Blair wrapped his arms around his head and tightly shut his eyes. He clenched his teeth so tightly that his jaw ached. He heard himself begging, but he wasn't sure if he was screaming the words aloud or pleading silently when he heard his own voice chant, "“Jimjimjimjim. Nono. Not alexnotalexnotalex... nononono.... Please... It hurts so much! Dying hurts so much... Please....”

Then he felt it. Felt the power crawl into his bones. He felt the cold fingers of it dance along his skin. He felt the burning fingers touch his hair – the back of his neck – his shoulders. Even through his clothes, each touch sent a fiery stab of pain through every cell of his being. He wanted to run away from the pain, but as hard as he tried, his body refused to respond to his commands.

Still, he didn't give up. “Runrunrunrunhidehidehide,” Blair ordered himself. “pllleeassee... jimmmjimm...” Moaning, he held his breath, biting his lower lip so hard that the blood ran down his chin.

A sharp stinging on his face made him groan louder, and he jerked away. His arms circled his head and he laced his fingers together, determined somehow to protect himself. He felt cold hands on his as they tried to pry his fingers loose, but his panicked grip was too strong. His tormentor pulled on one finger. Pain lanced up his arm, but still he held on. The finger was pushed backwards until it snapped.

Hissing with pain, Blair took in great gulps of air. He moved quickly. On his knees and with one hand, he scuttled away from the hands that tortured him. He smacked into the wall and crumpled into a heap, his broken finger cradled in the palm of his other hand. He had to escape... Pushing himself to his knees, he turned and sat with the wall to his back. Blair pulled his knees to his chest and blinked rapidly through the tears of pain that pooled in his eyes. Through his watery vision, he searched frantically for his attacker.

She approached him slowly. Her hands on hips. Her long blond hair streamed around her shoulders. Her pale skin made even whiter by the blood-red lipstick on her mouth and the black liner around her eyes. When her fingers tapped impatiently against her hips, Blair's gaze was drawn to them. The long, shockingly red fingernails looked like talons that could scratch his eyes from their sockets with a single swipe.

“Stay away,” Blair pleaded, holding his injured hand tightly against his chest. He couldn't believe this. She was here. Really here. Alex was real, not just a figment of his imagination as he had hoped, as he had prayed.

As Alex slithered closer, Blair closed his eyes against the incredible push of power that he felt slam into his body. The power tried to melt into his skin, to invade his heart and lungs, to flow into his veins. He bit his damaged lip harder and desperately tried to think of some way to block the power. He knew that no matter what, letting even a bit of what Alex now seemed to possess enter him would not be a good thing.

He jerked when her hand touched his forehead, cool and soft. Her voice was measured, soft yet demanding.

“Open your mind to me, Guide,” she ordered firmly. “You are mine. If you don't fight me, it won't be painful. I can make you feel better."

Blair struggled to block out the voice that dragged at his body and seemed to weave its way into his head. He turned his face away and kept his eyes closed, terrified that if he dared look into her eyes, that she would somehow gain a hold on him. On his mind...

"I can make you feel wonderful, Blair," she crooned, gently rubbing his temples with her cool fingers. "Relax and enjoy this, Guide. It will be much easier if you cooperate."

“Nonono,” Blair whispered, shaking his head. He pictured himself surrounded by stout walls. Walls that would keep him safe. Walls that would keep -- her away.

“You will be mine, Guide. You will ground my senses and soon, I won't need...”

“No, never,” Blair said with a harsh sob. "I'll never help you willingly. You'll have to kill me first.”

“I know,” Alex said.

A hand stroked his hair. He started to reach up to bat it away, forgetting his injury, but as soon as he moved his hand, the pain in his broken finger spiked. He moaned softly, a mix of pain and terror.

"Get away from me!" he ordered.

Alex laughed, her fingers gently tugging on a strand of his hair. "You will help me, Blair. You won't be able to refuse. And then, once we are bonded, you and I will be together."

Blair's eyes suddenly flew open. "No!" he screamed as he kicked out. His foot hit Alex in the chest and she fell back with a surprised “oomph”, landing on her backside. Blair used the wall for balance and pushed with his feet until he was upright. He skirted her and raced toward the door. A hand clamped around his ankle, dragging him off balance. He fell forward with a hard crash. The hand with the broken finger slammed onto the floor, and spikes of pain radiated up his arm.

Blair cried out, as he lay, momentarily stunned. A large weight pressed down on his back as Alex dropped onto him. She grabbed his injured hand and twisted it behind his back. He let out another cry of pain and tears streamed from his eyes.

“You will do as I say, Guide. I am Sentinel. I will protect you.”

“Fuck you!” Blair spat. When he struggled against her hold, she shoved his arm upward harshly. He yelled out with pain again before he cried, "Get the hell off me!"

“You will obey,” Alex said firmly.

“I'll never help you,” Blair said. "Never! You stupid bitch!"

Alex laughed. "You will obey, and you will follow my instructions.”

"Fuck you!"

Alex released Blair's arm and rose. She stood over him as he rolled to his back, holding his hand.

"Leave me alone!"

Alex smiled and said softly, “You will obey me.”

“No,” he sobbed. “Never.”

“I'm sorry I have to do this,” Alex said, her tone almost sympathetic.

Before Blair could even grasp what she'd said, he felt something touch his face. He blinked in confusion. Alex stood several feet away, her arms crossed with a smile on her face. "What-?" The feeling intensified and grew heavier and hotter as it seemed to slip through his skin. He shuddered as his body felt cold and distant before small prickles of pain dotted his limbs. The painful sensations spread and intensified. Mouth open, but unable to speak, Blair couldn't pull his gaze away from Alex. With a sudden, sick realization, he understood now. Even as the pain mounted and he felt himself start to black out, everything fell into place.

He now knew the cause of the power that he and Jeremy had felt for days. What had made them both react so negatively. What Jim had sensed, but couldn't identify. Inexplicably, he knew it was Alex who was controlling the power that seemed to become stronger as the days passed. Somehow she had tapped into something that gave her the ability to control Guides even from a distance, and to interfere with Sentinel senses. And the last thing Blair realized before he passed out was that the instrument of this new power was Alex herself.

--------------------------------------------

Alex rose and stood looming over her Guide. With a small smile, she rolled him over and her smile widened. Dropping to her knees, her hands reached for the handsome face. She petted the stubbled cheeks and rubbed her thumb across the full lips. She traced his eyebrows with a finger and ran her fingers through the curly hair.

“Just as attractive as I remember,” Alex said with a touch of sadness in her voice. “I wish I had taken you before you took the final step to bond with that other one. We could have done much, but it isn't to be, Guide. You cannot give me what I desire.” Her hands skimmed the shirt covering the slim chest and belly, and she sighed with regret. “Your purpose is to release me from the bonds that shackle me. You will keep my senses grounded and then I will have what I desire above all things – a child. But I must have a Sentinel with the genes for heightened senses. My child must have the gift.”

Rising, she walked around Blair's unconscious body, thinking, planning. Even though she had hoped that her Guide had forgiven her for her previous indiscretion – killing him – she realized that he must still harbor some resentment over her prior actions, and needed more coaxing after all. She considered binding him in case he was as willful when he woke as he had been before she – put him to sleep. Alex laughed over the words. He was her pet, and a treasured one, to be sure. But ropes and shackles wouldn't be needed. She had almost forgotten. With her newly developed powers, she had no need for trifles such as those. She had more powerful tools at her disposal now, thanks to Lee.

Alex smiled. Lee was her savior, her rescuer, but sometimes he thought he was in charge. With a grimace, Alex remembered how Lee had reacted to her attempts to control him with her powers. She remembered how he had punished her. He had withheld her medication for two days, sending her into a living hell of sounds, smells, sights and touches that had her screaming and thrashing against the bonds that held her down. So for now, she behaved, and he let her have what she wanted. He denied her nothing – as long as she obeyed. It was a fair trade-off.

With a laugh, Alex knelt down beside her new Guide and gently patted his face. She needed to hear him speak. The sound of Blair's voice, her Guide's voice, was comforting to her senses. She smiled to herself. Even when he was being obstinate, she knew, and she laughed lightly. Things were definitely looking up.

--------------------------------------------------

“I'm not doing another thing until we see Marshall,” Jim stated adamantly, looking back toward the closed door that separated him from his Guide. He dialed up his hearing, intent on listening to what was happening in the sitting room. His probe was met with total silence.

“White noise generators,” Brackett offered. “The entire building is outfitted with them. You can't use your special talents, Ellison.”

Jim kept his face schooled into an emotionless mask. “Take us to Marshall.”

Brackett's smile faded. “No.”

Jim glared before he said, "May we see Marshall? Please." His jaw started to ache from the tight rein he had to exercise on his emotions, which were threatening to erupt any moment. Right now, killing Brackett seemed like a very good idea.

Brackett looked Jim over before he laughed. “Very good, Jim. But just him,” he said, waving the handgun at Jeremy. “You and I have business.”

“Fine,” Jim growled.

Brackett led the men down several hallways until he stopped in front of a door. "Five minutes, then you two are out of here.”

"I'm not leaving Sandburg!” Jim stated adamantly.

“Then I'm killing this one right now.” Brackett cocked the gun and pressed it to Jeremy's temple. "I sure don't need him."

“Okay!” Jim shouted. “Damn you, Brackett!”

Brackett shrugged. “Whatever.” He pulled a set of keys from his pocket and unlocked the door. Pushing it open, he waved with a flourish. “Five minutes.”

Jeremy nodded and disappeared inside.

“Come on, Jim. Let's call the powers that be and check on progress.” Brackett turned and walked away. “Besides, all of this work has made me thirsty. I need a beer.” He sauntered down the hall.

Jim stood, watching Brackett's back. Again, he considered killing the man right here and now with his bare hands, but reason interfered with rash thoughts. He knew that even if he could get Blair, Marshall and Rogers out of the house alive, he had no way of knowing where the ships with the infected crew members were located. With a tired sigh, he resignedly followed Brackett.

--------------------------------------------------

“Dennis?” Jeremy called softly. In the darkened room, he couldn't see a thing. His hand fumbled along the wall for a light switch. When he flipped it, the bulb flared to life, flooding the room with bright light. There was a cry of pain. "Dennis?" he said, then he realized that the light's glare must have been painful to his Sentinel. He slammed a hand on the switch to turn it off.

"Den, say something. I can't see a thing?" Jeremy listened as he carefully walked forward, hand extended. "Damn it!" Falling to his hands and knees, he crawled along, bumping into pieces of furniture until he heard a small moan. "Dennis?"

Jeremy moved to his left, his hand connecting with a body. He reached out, touching an arm. Gliding his hands up the arm, he found a shoulder, a neck and then a face. "Christ, Dennis," he muttered. Under his touch, Dennis groaned feebly and shuddered. Jeremy could feel him try to move away from his hands.

“Den? For God's sake.” Jeremy rose and carefully moved toward a tiny finger of light he saw on one wall. He felt the edge of something wooden, and after examining the item with his hands, he realized it was a shutter covering a window. He searched until he found the clasp holding it closed and unhooked it, pushing it aside a few inches, letting in enough light so that he could finally see.

Returning to where Dennis lay, Jeremy dropped to his knees, his hands once again stroking Dennis' bare arm. "You're frozen. Dennis? It's Jer. Can you hear me?"

Jeremy gently turned Dennis to his back and peeled back an eyelid. Biting his lip at Dennis' unconscious state, he started a thorough examination, looking for signs of injury. Dennis moaned and trembled violently, his teeth chattering. Afraid he was going into shock, Jeremy rose and searched the room for something to cover the chilled body. He located a closet along one wall and after fumbling with the door handle, finally managed to open it in spite of his own shaking hand. Pulling out a couple of blankets and a pillow, he raced back to Dennis' side.

Jeremy put the pillow under Dennis' head and tucked the blankets tightly around him. Then he inspected his Sentinel carefully from head to toe, moving aside enough blanket so that he could search for injuries. When he was finished, he sat back and chewed on his finger. There were no visible wounds anywhere on Dennis' body and a careful inspection of his head didn't reveal any head injuries that he could find. Puzzled, Jeremy took Dennis' cold hands between his warm ones and rubbed them gently. He began to speak, vainly trying to rouse his Sentinel from his unconscious state.

Thinking that Dennis might have been drugged even though he hadn't been able to find any obvious injection sites, Jeremy sighed deeply. Dennis didn't seem zoned, and he did react badly to a lot of drugs. His partner needed a hospital, but he doubted that Brackett was going to cooperate in that regard.

Angrily cursing Brackett and the woman he knew from Jim and Blair's descriptions as Alex Barnes, he did the only thing he could think of: he held Dennis' hand and talked soothingly to him.

---------------------------------------

The quiet words and gentle voice spilled over the Sentinel's mind. At first, the sounds were like a babbling brook, incoherent and muddled, yet smooth and gentle. Dennis felt himself mentally reaching toward the comforting sounds, but even as he began to feel, to think, pain flared in his body. His head pounded and his stomach roiled. His throat was so dry, he couldn't have spoken even if he had the desire to do so.

After a struggle, he managed to open his eyes. The room spun wildly and the images made him dizzy. His stomach let its displeasure be known as the nausea grew. As feeling slowly returned, his fingers twitched and his leg muscles spasmed painfully. He opened his mouth to cry out, but all he could manage was a pitiful moan.

Gathering all of the inner strength he could muster, the Sentinel made himself take stock of his surroundings. The brook's soothing babble grew louder, and he held onto the sound with a mental grasp as if his life depended on it. His ears were ringing and his eyes were burning. Everything hurt, but he managed to get his uncooperative brain to begin to focus. Finally, his hearing settled and he heard something familiar...

“...nis? Come on! Open your eyes. Damn you, Dennis, you jerk, answer me!”

The sound of a voice, a much-loved voice, finally registered. Dennis licked his cracked lips and gasped, “Jer?”

“Yes! I'm here. Look at me, Sentinel,” Jeremy ordered firmly. “You must talk to me. There isn't much time.”

“Jeremy? Oh, God,” Dennis said, his gaze darting around the room. When he saw that he was in the same room where Brackett had dumped him previously, he shuddered. Did everything have to hurt so much? He blinked slowly. "Jer, get out! Please, please leave. You can't be here. I can't... protect you here.”

“Den, please,” Jeremy pleaded. “Get up! We need to get you out of here.”

Dennis shook his head, shivering. “Get the hell out... now! For God's sake!”

“I'm not going anywhere! Can you sit up? Where are you hurt?”

Shaking his head, Dennis moaned softly. “No. Not... hurt. You don't… understand!"

“Understand what? You're barely coherent, your body temp's down, and you're shaking from head to toe. Are you drugged? Do you remember?"

“You... don't understand. If you'd shut... the fuck up, I'd tell you!”

Jeremy's eyes widened before he rolled his eyes. “Okay, hotshot, explain it to me. Did Brackett hurt you? I'll kill the prick.”

“No. No, he never... touched me. She...” Dennis tried unsuccessfully to stop his body from shaking so hard. His teeth chattered violently. “I'm not h-helping by-by not cooperat-ting.”

“Damn it, then do as she asks until we can get you the fuck out of here!”

“No... no. Can't do that... It's too much – fun making her go nuts.”

“Please, Den,” Jeremy begged. “Don't fight her!”

Dennis snickered through his clenched jaw. "I don't miss the – old d-days, Jer. Not mmmuch anyway.”

Jeremy's fingers dug into Dennis' arm. “Do not fight her or Brackett. Do as they ask. Do you understand me? That's a direct order. We'll get you out of here!”

“Or-order? We're out of the B-b-bureau, so I say, fuck 'em.” Dennis' gaze met Jeremy's. “Jer? Blood? I smell... You're hurt?”

“I'm okay. Just a couple of bumps and bruises. We need to get you out of here.”

The smell of blood invaded Dennis' damaged senses. Tangy and hot, it blasted his eyes and nose. Unable to breathe, he tried to hold onto Jeremy's hand and his words, but he couldn't help himself. He knew what was happening and he was powerless to stop it... Fingers dug into his face, and he came back with a jerk.

“...ocus, damn you! Follow my voice. Focus! Dennis, please.”

Dennis nodded, again shaking uncontrollably. “I'm... here,” he rasped before he turned to stare at the door. "“Oh, God,” he whispered, “she's here. She's coming.” Then everything went dark...

-------------------------

“No! No! Dennis!” Jeremy shouted at his partner, shaking his shoulders. "What did she do? Dennis!”

The door swung open. Brackett stood framed in the light from the hallway. With a gracious smile, he said, “Visiting time's over. Alex has plans.” With a shrug, Brackett added, “She likes him, you know.”

“You motherfucker!” Jeremy cried, launching himself toward Brackett, who coolly leveled the pistol at Jeremy's head.

“On second thought,” Brackett said, swinging the muzzle to point at Dennis. He never hesitated, firing a single shot. The bullet whizzed by Jeremy and dug into the polished hardwood floor inches from Dennis' face. A small splinter embedded itself in the unconscious man's cheek.

Jeremy froze, his fists clenched at his side, chest heaving.

“Get out. Ellison is waiting.” Brackett pointed the way. “Alex might like you, but I don't," he said congenially.

When Brackett stepped back, Jeremy surged past. Bitter words threatened to spew out, but with a final glance at his partner, he held his anger, ground his teeth together and raced toward the front door without another word. Something dark and dirty pressed against his mind, trying to invade his body. He threw an arm up across his eyes as he pulled the door open. With his legs shaking badly, he crossed the threshold and slammed the door shut with all his strength.

“I'll be back for you, Dennis. I swear it,” he promised. Suddenly, the adrenaline from the encounter with Brackett and Dennis started to fade. His arm and side throbbed painfully, his head pounded, and his body felt like it belonged to someone else. He took a shaky step toward Jim, who stood waiting at the side of the taxi Brackett had driven earlier.

“Jeremy!” Jim was at his side in seconds, his hands a welcome support. "You need to see a doctor.”

Jeremy leaned on Jim for a moment before he pulled himself from his grasp. “Fuck the doctor. Let's get out of here before I get all of us killed.” He opened the front passenger door of the taxi and stood looking over the roof at Jim. “On second thought, maybe it's better to go down fighting here and now.”

“No, it's not. We have other people's lives in our hands. You know that.”

Jeremy glared at Jim. “Fuck you too, Ellison.” He climbed into the taxi and slammed the door.

Jim paused before he got behind the wheel. He started the engine, but didn't make a move to put the vehicle into drive.

"I don't know if I can leave him here."

"I know," Jeremy said. "I don't know if I can either. But we have to, don't we?"

Jim nodded. "Yeah, guess we do." He tossed an envelope at Jeremy, who held it and looked at him questioningly. “Proof that the ships are at sea.”

"Great," he said, nervously tapping the envelope against his leg.

“This isn't over. Not by a long shot.”

“I'm down with that,” Jeremy said, eyes straight ahead.

Jeremy didn't say anything else when Jim hit the gas pedal way too hard. The tires spewed gravel behind them as the taxi peeled away in a cloud of blue smoke.

--------------------------------------------------

When Blair woke, his eyes flew open and he looked around, expecting the worst. He was relieved that he was in a normal-looking bedroom. Even better, he was alone. Breathing a sigh of relief, he sat up and took stock of his body. He felt okay in spite of his broken finger. Looking down at his hand, he saw that it had been splinted and bandaged. He touched the finger and was pleased that it was only mildly uncomfortable.

Next, he tested his mind. He concentrated, searching for his connection to his Sentinel. It was just a fragile thing, but it gave them both an awareness of the other that was pleasant and comforting. Now, for some reason, it was gone, leaving an empty space that he didn't like at all. Blair pursed his lips and crossed his legs. With his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands, he thought about how he felt psychically.

Several years ago, after he and Jim had sealed their bond with intimacy, they had greatly enhanced what Blair laughingly called his “tickle”. It was an awareness that they each had of the other that was like an invisible telephone line that connected them psychically. The good thing was that this connection made them feel safe and secure in their bond. The bad thing was that Blair had yet to find a way to broaden it into something more, something they could actually use, such as the ability to communicate or to know where the other person was or what he was thinking.

Blair was very unhappy that his connection was being blocked somehow, and he had no doubt that Alex had something to do with it. If she wanted his cooperation, this wasn't the way to gain it. He rose and looked around. There were three doors in the room. He tried one, then the other, not surprised that both were locked. The third door opened to a bathroom. He entered, closed and locked the door behind him. Then he crossed to the sink and stared at himself in the mirror for a few moments, surprised he still looked almost -- normal. He splashed cool water on his face then used the toilet. He washed his hands while carefully keeping the bandaged finger dry, and re-entered the bedroom, where he stood very still in the middle of the room, intently listening for any sounds from the rest of the house.

Blair crossed to the door that seemed to lead to the hallway and pressed an ear to it. Hearing nothing, he went over to the other door, wondering if it was a passageway to another room. He again put his ear against it, listening intently. After a long moment, he was sure he heard a noise that sounded very much like somebody moaning. He waited expectantly, but when the sound didn't recur, he dropped to his knees and mashed his face against the floor, peering under the door.

The room was fairly dark except for one stream of light that touched a piece of the carpeting. Blair blinked and rubbed his eyes before he returned to his inspection. In the shadows, he could just make out something lying on the floor. As the form took shape, he could see the body of a man. He moved yet closer to the small crack and intently studied the shape. It was definitely a body, and that body groaned softly. He could only see the back of the man's head. A head that seemed vaguely familiar...

It was with a sudden shock that Blair knew he was looking at his friend, Dennis Marshall.

“Dennis!” Blair hissed as quietly as possible through the small space. “Dennis! It's Blair! Dennis!”

He sat up quickly, hoping with all his heart that the small moans hadn't been the last things he'd heard before Dennis -- died. Please, he prayed silently, please let him be just sleeping...

Blair got to his feet. He's just unconscious, he told himself as he raced through the room looking for something he could use to pick the lock. A search of the bureau disclosed nothing of use, so he quickly went into the bathroom and looked in every cupboard and drawer. Even as he searched, he kept a close eye on the hallway door, hoping and praying that Alex was occupied elsewhere. He knew that she could very well hear every sound he made if she wanted to. In fact, she could do a hell of a lot more than that if the things he'd experienced in the past few days were any indication. He gave an involuntary shiver.

And just what was up with Alex anyway? When Blair had known her before -- when she'd killed him -- she was a Sentinel, that much was true, but she didn't hold any sort of extraordinary powers. Had she somehow evolved?

Biting his lip, Blair tamped down the revulsion he felt for Alex and forced himself to think about what she was up to while he searched. She seemed to have recovered from her meltdown at the Temple of the Sentinels and had discovered some way to magnify her senses. It was the only explanation that made sense. Alex now had the ability to use her senses in ways that Jim could not. She seemed to be able to not only project them long distances, but intensify them as well, and to use them on other Guides. He shuddered, remembering the pain he felt when she'd focused on him, and how he could feel her forcing her way straight into his brain. Jeremy had also felt her power. Blair continued his search. Sentinels responded as well. He knew that from Jim's reactions, but the influence she had wasn't nearly as intense. So Guides were very susceptible -- somehow.

The only explanation he could think of was that her immersion in the waters of the grotto had somehow enhanced her abilities. Then she'd suffered the breakdown that he had witnessed when she was overwhelmed by her new powers. He'd seen Alex fall into a catatonic state with his own eyes. How had she been able to recover from the psychological damage that she suffered from staying in the magical waters too long? Blair doubted her recovery was spontaneous, but then, she was the only Sentinel he had known to immerse herself in the waters, besides Jim. Since her experience differed from his only in the length of time of their immersions, and since he hadn't had the opportunity to examine her after she 'fried her circuits', as Megan Conner so nicely put it, he could only formulate a hypothesis based on his own observations of Jim's reactions to the sacred waters, and of Alex's as well.

For a brief second, Blair gave thought to the idea of conducting controlled studies with Alex, but then he immediately dismissed the idea with a shudder. The last thing he wanted to do was spend another second with the woman. From his brief moments in her company earlier, he knew that she had somehow gained unbridled power, and the desire to wield it to her own twisted desires. She was pure evil.

Finally his search was successful when he located one lone bobby pin in the very back of the last drawer, Blair retrieved his prize with a feeling of triumph. He straightened the pin while he quietly walked back to the connecting door. Blair fiddled with the lock, keeping his movements as quiet as possible. He had no idea how much control Alex had over her senses. She could very well have the ability to monitor him constantly, so he was very careful as he picked at the lock.

When the lock clicked, the small sound seemed to echo through the room. Blair held his breath and waited for a long minute, sure that Alex or Brackett would come charging in and do something to him, something painful, that much was certain.

All remained quiet, though, so he turned the doorknob. The door opened easily and he was thankful that the hinges didn't squeak. He had a sudden vision of the most recent Vincent Price horror movie he'd seen on late night television. The doors always screamed on rusty hinges and the helpless victim was then discovered, only to be promptly dispatched by whatever ghoul or ghost prowled the halls of the haunted mansion.

Shaking off his silly thoughts, Blair walked softly across the thick carpet and fell to his knees beside Dennis. He didn't speak, but he pressed his hands to Dennis' face. A tiny spot of dried blood colored one cheek and when Blair examined the injury, he saw a sliver of wood embedded in the tender skin. With his fingernails, he removed the object, causing a thick drop of blood to ooze from the cut. He wiped it away with a fingertip.

Blair put his lips to Dennis' ear while he covered his mouth with a hand. “Sentinel, you must answer me," he whispered. "Listen to me. You have to wake up. Don't speak. We have to be very quiet." Dennis' eyes fluttered, making Blair's heart race. "Dennis, it's Blair!"

Dennis turned his head toward Blair and blinked rapidly.

Once again, he whispered into Dennis' ear. "I'm going to move my hand. Okay? You know it's me, don't you? Nod if you recognize me.”

Dennis nodded so Blair removed his hand.

“Water,” he whispered.

"Take it easy. Be right back."

Blair rose and tiptoed to the door leading to the hall. He held his breath, listening. He didn't hear anything so he quickly crossed to the bathroom, glancing at Dennis on his way and lifting a finger to his lips, requesting silence. At his friend's answering nod, he gave a quick smile and went into the bathroom. As quietly as possible, he filled a glass and hurried back to the Sentinel's side.

Kneeling down, he helped Dennis to sit up and then held the glass for him when he saw Dennis' hand shake. When he began to gulp the liquid, Blair pulled the glass away, shaking his head. Their eyes met, and at Blair's raised eyebrow, Dennis managed a small smile. They both understood that any sound might alert their captors, and even a small cough could bring Alex or Brackett rushing into the room.

Water finished, Blair set the glass aside and touched Dennis' arm. His skin was cold so Blair draped the blanket around his shoulders, and after laying his arm across them, he moved closer.

"Do you hear anything?"

Dennis seemed to try and focus before he grimaced and shook his head.

"Listen," Blair said softly, "I know your senses are going nuts, but I have to know what's going on. I need to figure out why Alex's senses have been intensified so I can figure out how to fight them."

Dennis let out a sigh. "How's Jeremy?"

“Okay. He's with Jim. I need you to concentrate.”

"All right. I'll try, but she's done -something to me. It's not pleasant, to say the least. I feel like my head is going to explode. Hang on..."

Blair waited impatiently until Dennis leaned close. "Alex is talking. 'Why do I need it more often, Lee? I want to get rid of the shit, not be more dependent on it!' She sounds like she's in pain. Her breathing is fast and ragged. Hurry up,' she's saying, 'before I throw up. Hurry!'

"Brackett now. 'Alex, calm down. You know as well as I do that I don't have a fucking clue how to get you off the stuff. Instead of bitching, though, you should be grateful. I can always send you back to your quiet little room at the insane asylum.'

“She's -- pacing. I can hear her feet rubbing against the carpeting. He's doing – something.”

“Describe what you hear."

"It's hard to describe. The sounds are very -- faint. Wait... Paper being torn, like something opening. Some sort of -- small pings. Small sounds. I can't tell..."

Blair put a hand on Dennis' bare arm. "Good. Keep focused. What else?"

Dennis gave his head a shake, and Blair blinked at the sudden rush of emotion. He reminded Blair so much of Jim when he was using his senses. Tamping down his frustration and anger at their predicament, he asked, "What do you hear?"

“Tapping. Like fingernails on a desk, only lighter. One nail now, tapping against -- not glass... plastic. Liquid. I hear something liquid. They're not talking, but her breathing's really off, like she's holding herself in rather than go ballistic. I hear something rubbing skin... Wait." Dennis closed his eyes and Blair saw his nostrils flare. "Alcohol. And something else... Almost -- mossy. Woodsy. Like a plant, only very faint. Give me a sec..." Dennis blinked. "That was a strange sound."

"Strange how?"

"It's hard to say. Oh, I've got it!" he whispered excitedly. "A hypo going into skin!"

“Wow! Fantastic, man. Absolutely fantastic." At Dennis' grimace, he asked, "Are you okay?”

“More or less."

"Has she -- hurt you?"

"Blair, she has some ability to make me feel the worse pain I've ever felt without laying a finger on me. My senses just -- explode and I'm suddenly on the ground, screaming. And now that I've told her to fuck off, she's very unhappy with me. To put it mildly."

“Why is she unhappy with you? Other than she's a first class raging psycho?”

“I couldn't – wouldn't have sex with her.”

“What the hell? What did she do?”

“She told me she wants a kid, a Sentinel kid. Jim's a reject, apparently, so I'm the prize now.”

“Did she – rape you?”

Dennis shrugged. “Nah, just took a sample. Since I didn't respond to her feminine wiles, she used those fucking powers of hers. I couldn't help myself, but she made me respond. It was almost -- interesting how good I felt without her laying a finger on my cock. Once she got what she wanted, she ran off, so I guess she's doing some insemination thing.”

“That's horrible, the bitch.”

“Got a surprise for her, though,” Dennis said smugly. "I'm sterile." He gave Blair a pleased look before he grabbed his arm. "She's coming. Get out now."

“Oh, shit.”

"Go!"

Blair grabbed the glass and hurried back to his room. Before he closed the door, he glanced back at Dennis, who lay on the floor with the blanket over him and with his eyes closed. Blair climbed back onto the bed and shoved the glass under the pillow. He curled up on his side, facing away from the door and waited, holding his breath.

The key rattled in the lock and he heard the doorknob turn. Unable to help himself, he turned over and blinked sleepily, yawning. He glared at Alex as she crossed the room.

“So, my pet, are you feeling more sociable now?” Alex asked congenially.

“I'd feel a lot more sociable if you'd let me out of here, or at least tell me where Dennis Marshall is.”

“I'm afraid you're stuck with my company, but as for the other... I think that can be arranged. I'd be more than willing to tell you a lot of things if you'd be more amenable to my overtures. After all, I am Sentinel and you are my Guide.”

Feeling vulnerable lying in front of Alex, Blair rose, keeping his distance. “You keep saying that. 'I am Sentinel.' Like you're some kind of god or something.”

“I am a god in a true sense of the word,” Alex said, moving closer.

He had no room to retreat, so he sat on the bed. “You're a Sentinel, Alex, and not a very good one at that!”

“You and I have a lot of work to do. The more you fight me, the longer it will take.”

When Alex's hand reached out, Blair couldn't suppress the shudder that racked his body. He pulled himself up onto the mattress and moved as far way from her touch as he could. When he hit the wall, he raised his legs and wrapped his arms around his knees.

"Don't touch me," he spat. "Leave me alone."

"Oh, please," she said with a laugh. "You're being very melodramatic. Besides, haven't you figured out by now that I don't have to touch you?"

When Blair remained silent, she laughed again. "I'm sorry that you were hurt," she glanced at his bandaged hand, "but you were not being cooperative! Sometimes it's so hard, dealing with all of this. And besides it was all your fault!"

"My fault? You killed me!"

Alex gave a shake and then smiled. "Blair, my pet," she cajoled, "it can be so good between us! I can make you happy! Here, I'll show you." She climbed onto the bed.

"No! Don't you dare! Stay back! I'm warning you-"

Before Blair could protest further, he felt -- something touching his arm. He blinked. Alex was several feet away, her hands at her sides. But her eyes... They practically glowed. And she smiled, a full-toothed grin. Tipping her head down just a bit, she stared at him. He watched her, cautious for any sudden movement. Blair wasn't prepared for her mental assault and it came so quickly that he was immediately overwhelmed. He shivered violently, the back of his head banging against the wall. He tried to pull his gaze away from hers, but she held his by an invisible force.

Blair remembered the pain that Alex had inflicted on him earlier, and he was terrified that she would punish him again. He was unable to stop the whimper that rose from the back of his throat even as he strained to pull away from her.

When her force hit him, he was not at all prepared for the warm, comforting feeling that started to build around him. It caressed his body and soothed his soul, and he felt loved and protected. As the feelings mounted, he felt drowsy. His eyes became heavy, and he felt himself slump onto the mattress. Blair sighed with contentment as a voice spoke. The welcoming tones stroked across his skin and into his brain. He would have smiled if he could have, and as the feelings grew, he reached for the sweet voice, the tender caresses that he wanted. That he had to have...

He drifted along on a cloud of warmth and love, and he was happy.

-------------------------------------------------

“Simon, come on!” Jim Ellison growled into the telephone. “Blair's in major trouble here! Jeremy Rogers has two bullet wounds and five stitches! Dennis Marshall is being tortured! You need to get this together right now!”

“Jim, I'm doing the best I can. It's out of my hands. The Feds, Interpol, even fucking Scotland Yard's involved! These things take time!” Simon sighed in frustration. “I'm as worried about Sandburg as you are. He's one of my best men, not to mention my friend, in case you've forgotten,”

"All right. Sorry. And no, I haven't forgotten.” He paced a few steps before he asked, “They stopped the ship, didn't they? The one from Brackett's papers?”

“Yes, about five hours ago, two days out of Hong Kong. The entire crew was quarantined and their people are testing everybody as we speak.”

“You need to put a fire under them. We need to know yesterday! If Brackett's done this, it could be a major problem. Listen, I have some things I need to check out. I'll be back in touch in thirty minutes.” He disconnected and stood staring down at the receiver.

“Jim?”

Jeremy's voice cut through his reverie, and the warm hand on his arm brought his attention back to the present.

“Rogers, didn't I tell you to rest?” Jim snapped.

“Fuck you, Ellison!” Jeremy growled.

They stood toe-to-toe and eye-to-eye. Jim knew that Jeremy outweighed him by a good twenty pounds, but he was more than willing to give as good as he got. Especially right now.

"Do not test me," Jim said.

Jeremy's eyes narrowed. “You seem to forget that I was in the field twice, make that three times longer than you. I have twenty years of Covert Ops and more deep cover shit than you can ever imagine. Do not pander to me about this! I'm going to get Dennis out of there with or without your help! Got it?” Jeremy poked a finger hard into Jim's chest.

Jim words were icy when he said, “You aren't exactly in any shape to lead a rescue mission.”

“Know this, Ellison. I've been hurt a hell of a lot worse than this and completed my assignment. These are scratches. Do you have any idea what this feels like? What they're doing to Dennis? Hell, you and Blair have the bond. Can't you feel it? Can't you see it? Use it, for God's sake!”

“I'll do what I have to, to save Blair, including trading myself for him -- or dying for him.”

Jeremy studied Jim before he said, “You don't know, do you? You don't let him in.”

“What the fuck are you talking about?” Jim turned away before he spun around. “You'd better explain yourself, Rogers. Feel what? See what? And don't go off into some Sentinel/Shaman crap.”

“Crap? God, Jim, you are an asshole.” Jeremy stepped around Jim, casting him a disgusted look. He grabbed his coat and pulled it on. “You'd think that you weren't there with us, Jim, but hell, pretend if you want.”

Jim crossed to Jeremy and grabbed his sleeve. “What the hell are you talking about? You mean that time with Sarris? You think I don't remember? I know what Blair did. I saw it with my own eyes, but that was an -- an aberration! Blair doesn't have that kind of power! He said that it was only because of her power and our animal spirits joining together that he had the power to defeat her. He's not some damned Superman!”

Jeremy yanked his sleeve from Jim's grasp and rolled his eyes. "You're an idiot. You know that Blair is a Shaman as well as a Guide. Me, I'm just a Guide. I don't have his abilities or his power, but if I did, Dennis wouldn't stifle them. He'd encourage me to use and expand them. It's your duty as a Sentinel to nurture your Guide.”

“I'll have you know I take care of Blair. I love him more than my life!”

“Damn it, Ellison, this isn't about bravery! I know you'd sacrifice yourself in a second for Blair, and probably you'd do it for Dennis and me also, but that's not what I'm talking about! Oh, hell. Forget it." Jeremy turned the deadbolt and pulled on the doorknob, but Jim's hand on the door's edge kept it from opening.

“Jeremy, please.”

Jeremy rested his forehead against the door. “Just leave me alone."

Jim put a hand on Jeremy's arm. “Sit down before you fall down,” he said quietly. "Tell me what we need to do. What I need to do."

Jeremy turned toward him and he seemed to be looking for something in Jim's face. After a minute, he finally nodded. "Okay."

“Thanks. Tea? We've got some of that crap Blair seems to like around here somewhere. Doesn't taste bad, though.”

“Sounds good. Lots of sugar, please.”

Jim nodded, pleased his gesture of peace was accepted. “Sit down. I'll get the tea, and then you'll tell me everything I should know but, apparently, don't.”

--------------------------------------------------

Jeremy and Jim sat side by side on the sofa, tea in hand.

“I'm not as good with lectures as Blair," Jeremy said, "but here goes. I can touch Dennis' mind at will, as he can touch mine.”

“Yeah, Blair's 'tickle'. I can feel him when I concentrate.”

“Tickle, huh? That's about right. At first, that's what it was.”

“At first?”

“Yeah, at first, when we bonded fully. Sex heightens the bond, and longevity in the relationship builds on it, kind of like a brick wall. We've had a total of twenty-five years, but didn't start a sexual relationship until about year twelve. We'd been bonded since the beginning, but after we slept together... Damn, but things really took off.”

“So when did you discover more abilities?”

“It wasn't discovering so much as it was honing. I remember the first time I felt Dennis talk to me. Man, I almost peed my pants!”

“How could you feel him talk?”

“It was really strange, but he asked me to bring him home a burger, with everything.”

“By phone?”

“No, you idiot. By mental images. Geez, listen, will you? How does Sandburg put up with you?”

“Yeah, right. Mental images,” Jim said skeptically. “Listen, this is all well and good, but Blair needs me now! Right now. And Dennis does too. I don't have time to hone skills and send mental messages. God, I can't believe I said that.”

“Calm down and let me finish. Right now, if I concentrate, I can tell you exactly what Dennis is feeling and what he's saying or doing.”

Jim raised an eyebrow and shook his head, “I'm not sure...”

Jeremy scowled. “You said you'd listen.”

“Okay. Okay, I'm listening. Let's say I buy all of this – that you can turn whatever it is on and off at will. Then why aren't you reacting to Dennis' condition right now? He's certainly not in the best place... Sorry. I shouldn't have said that."

“I have my link blocked. Unless I shield myself from what's he's going through, I'd be lying on the floor in a screaming heap, and then I'd be totally useless to him. He can also keep me from feeling the full force of his experiences.”

“Hang on a second," Jim said, examining Jeremy's face. He hadn't paid much attention until now, not at all surprised to see anger in the dark eyes. But when he looked deeper, using his senses, he could also see the pain banked behind the anger. "But you can still feel it, can't you? You know he's suffering."

Jeremy shrugged as he looked away. “I have it under control." After a moment, he turned back to Jim. "You need to connect to Blair. Tonight. Right now. The four of us together need to defeat Alex. You know she has some kind of super power now, and it's going to take all of us to handle it. I felt some of it when we were out there with her. It's overwhelming, and even I can sense the evil in her.”

Jim felt a flash of fear for his Guide, and for Dennis, but he tamped it down instantly. "Tell me what to do."

Jeremy put a hand on Jim's arm. "I know how you feel. Blair's important to me, too, and Dennis is... Well, you know. And like Dennis, you're the right person to have these abilities."

"But Alex. She has them also, and she's definitely not the right person."

"Who knows? She's destroyed her gifts. She had a choice, just like we all did."

"I'm ready."

"I'll guide you, if you'll let me. It's rather – intense.”

Jim's jaw muscle twitched as he clenched his hands. "Blair needs me, so let's get to it."

Jeremy put both of their cups on the coffee table. “Close your eyes. I know you're used to hearing Blair, but if you concentrate, I think I can pinch hit enough to get you started. Making the connection is hard to do at first, but since you already have the beginnings of it, I want you to picture the connection between you and Blair. Think of it like a telephone wire stretching from your mind to his."

“He's too far away."

“No, he's not. The distance is irrelevant. Trust me, once I connected with Dennis from Singapore when he was in Poughkeepsie.”

Jim tamped down the usual doubts he felt when Blair tried to discuss mystical realms and Shamanic spells, and concentrated on his Guide. “Go ahead.”

“Can you see it?”

“Yes.”

“Now follow it. Follow it to Blair. Think of something running along that line, like a squirrel on the telephone wire. Use your animal spirit. Talk to him and send him to Blair. Think about him. What do you call him?”

“What do I call who?"

“Your animal spirit. Your jaguar. What's his name?”

“Ah, he doesn't have a name."

"Of course he has a name. There is power in knowing it. Ask him; he'll tell you.”

Jim's eyes flew open. “This is silly." At Jeremy's glare, he asked, "Is this important?”

“Yes. Do it now.”

“Now?”

Jeremy sighed. “Are you always this pig-headed?”

“Blair says I am.”

“Blair's right.”

“Okay. Okay. I'll ask him.” Jim closed his eyes and pictured the black jaguar. He was surprised at how easily the spirit appeared as he imagined it sitting on the coffee table directly in front of him. Somehow, he knew he didn't have to speak so he thought the question. What is your name?

The big cat cocked his head, blue eyes dancing with humor, as he answered, It's about time! I am Nahuaque, the Night Wind.

Jim felt himself jerk in shock when he "heard" the spirit speak and when he understood the answer. How in the hell did an animal spirit say anything anyway? By telepathy, apparently.

What about Blair's spirit guide, the wolf? Does he have a name also?"

The jaguar sank down to its haunches, and to Jim's surprised eyes, a look of pain crossed his face. He is unhappy. His Shaman suffers.

Oh, God. Please, help me to get him out of there!

The cat rose. He is called Yuma, son of the chief.

In spite of the weirdness and the fright he was feeling over Blair's safety, Jim had to smile at the jaguar. Not only could animal spirits speak, they could crack jokes as well.

Can you help us? Jim asked.

Know this. I am always with you. Call to me, and I will hear.

The jaguar's form started to shimmer before he evaporated. Jim's eyes flew open and he glanced around. The hand on his shoulder made him start.

“Jim?”

“What happened?”

“You were out of it for maybe a minute or two. Did you see him? Talk to him?”

Jim nodded. “Yeah. It was something. I had no idea.”

“Do you believe?”

Jim's gaze met Jeremy's and he answered without hesitation, “Yes.”

---------------------------------------------------

Jeremy had succumbed to his exhaustion and fallen asleep on the sofa, but as tired as Jim was, he was unable to settle down. He'd tried lying down and even that made him edgy and restless, so he prowled the loft. Senses on high alert, he stood on the balcony testing the air, listening and looking, but the city was eerily quiet this night.

He went back in and stood over Jeremy, not really seeing him. He thought about Blair. God, he missed him! With a shake of his head, he dragged his wayward thoughts back to the here and now, and went into the spare room to find a candle. Might as well use the momentary quiet to try to link to Blair. If he could enhance the connection, it might give him a clue as to what his Guide was experiencing, and how he could bring him home.

Even as he turned off the lights and lit the candle that he'd set on the coffee table, he scoffed at himself. He felt uncomfortable even thinking this might work. He was, after all, a military man and a cop – a pragmatist and a realist. He had seen his spirit guide on occasion, but he always excused those sightings as stress, hallucinations, wishful thinking. But now, after today, and after what Jeremy had explained... Now those particular qualities didn't have a place in his life, and he was willing to do anything for Blair, so he put aside those feelings and took the next step. For himself and for Blair.

He sat cross-legged in front of the coffee table, with his hands in front of him and his fingers laced together. He stared into the flame and cleared all thoughts but of Blair from his mind's eye. He pictured his Guide. His smile, his eyes, his hair, his body... He pictured Blair lying on their bed, naked and aroused, with an inviting smile on his face. Jim saw himself move toward his lover, his bonded mate, and he gathered him into his arms. He smiled down into the upturned face and whispered loving words and kissed the full lips...

“Blair? Can you hear me?”

“Jim? God, Jim! I can – feel you again! Jim! You're here? You're talking to me? How is this possible? What's going on? This is sooo cool!”

“Blair, please...”

“Sorry, man. Still can't shut up, even in a telepathic conversation.”

Amazed that he could "hear" and "feel" Blair as if he were sitting next to him, Jim couldn't keep the grin from his face. He concentrated even more, expanding their connection. He could tell from the way it deepened that Blair must have also opened up his mind as much as possible. His lover's emotions came through loud and clear, and he clenched his jaw as he felt fear, pain, unhappiness and anxiety. The slightest bit of pleasure transmitted itself to Jim, and he silently thanked Jeremy for pushing him to do this. Jim knew that bringing Blair momentary happiness because of their connection was worth everything to him.

"Where are you?" Jim "asked".

"We're still at that same place. Dennis is here."

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah. I'm okay."

"How's Marshall?"

Jim felt a surge of fear and anger when Blair "said", "He's okay. She's -- doing stuff to him. It' really sucks, Jim. When can we get out of here?"

"Soon, I hope. We're working on it. You hang in there, you hear? I'm not leaving you."

"I know."

Jim focused, feeling a shadow of -- pain?

"Blair, did she hurt you? Did she touch you?”

“How did you know? Oh, right! You can feel it. Geez, Blair, get a grip. Sorry, man. It's only my finger... it's broken, but I'm okay."

Jim's anger flared.

"Jim! I'm okay! Really. Come on! Just... open yourself to me. Feel for yourself. I'm all right. Come on, man. I wouldn't lie to you.”

Jim unclenched his fists and released the vice-like clamp of his jaw. He breathed in deeply before he released the breath slowly. He should have kept a tighter rein on his emotions. He had momentarily forgotten that Blair could feel his emotions as well, and it was up to him to keep his Guide calm and reassured.

Jim forced himself into a semblance of that calmness and reassurance and did as Blair had suggested: he examined his Guide through their connection. He was able to center on Blair's physical state and he let his focus take in the injured finger. He felt the heat of the broken bone and he also felt the pain throbbing dully.

A hint of smugness touched Jim when Blair said, "Told you." Jim made a mental note: Blair can read me as easily as I can read him, so control yourself, Ellison! He returned his attention to Blair. "...and she let me have an aspirin. It hardly hurts. I wouldn't lie to you, man. You know that.”

Hesitation... trepidation. Jim asked, "What aren't you telling me? What else did she do you? Tell me. I can feel something...”

Now, fear mixed with sadness and resignation. “Don't go ballistic, but... she's figured out a way to control me. At first, she tried to control me with pain. It worked, trust me on that, but for some reason she didn't have a handle on it, and she made me black out-"

"I'm going to kill that bitch."

The fear mounted, almost swamping Jim. Once again, he berated himself for his lack of control and after a moment, calmed himself down enough to send loving thoughts to his Guide. He smiled at Blair's bravery. It was only a few moments before Jim sensed Blair's efforts to control his fear.

"What did she do to you, Chief?" Revulsion came through, and Jim closed his eyes, imagining that he was holding Blair in his arms. He thought soothingly, "Tell me. It's okay. Whatever she did, it's all right. Listen to me. You just do whatever she says." Jim felt Blair shudder. "Blair, listen to me. You are not betraying our partnership or our commitment, no matter what she does. Absolutely nothing she's done or will do will change how I feel about you. I've in love with you, and that's the bottom line. Do you hear me?”

Jim now felt a small touch of relief overshadowing the apprehension that was still evident.

"She's -- making me feel good, and she doesn't even have to touch me! She can make me feel -- great just by thinking it! It's almost worse than the pain. It's so awful. I can feel my body responding, and I can't stop it! Please get me out- Shit!”

“Blair?” Jim concentrated harder, but something blocked the connection. Somehow, Jim knew Blair was still there – the line was still open – but there was deliberate shielding.

“Blair!” Jim's eyes flew open and the darkness cocooned him. The candle had gutted out, and the loft was quiet. Jim sent a tender, loving feeling to his partner, and he waited many long minutes. When nothing further happened, he sighed and his head dropped forward. With shaky fingers, he rubbed his tired eyes.

Jim rose, and mindful of Jeremy sleeping nearby, quietly poured coffee into the mug and set it in the microwave. He pulled it out before the buzzer rang and leaned against the kitchen counter, drinking the beverage as he examined his psychic encounter with Blair.

All of his instincts told him that Blair had deliberately shut down the connection. And one good reason for that would be that Alex or Brackett must have showed up. It made sense that Blair wouldn't want their enemies to know that they could communicate, and Blair was taking care that Alex, with whatever enhanced abilities she now possessed, didn't discover this fact.

“Smart, Blair. Very smart,” Jim mused aloud.

“Jim?” Jeremy's groggy voice sounded loud in the quiet room.

“Coffee? It's old and reheated.”

“Sounds good. Any news?” Jeremy sat up and rubbed his eyes.

“Nothing." Another sip before Jim offered, "Brackett's deadline is still four days away.”

“Dennis is very hungry.”

“Is she still – hurting him?”

“He's sleeping right now. He'll be okay if I can get to him soon.”

“Did he tell you that?”

Jeremy shrugged. “I just know it.”

“How can you make the connection so easily? I had to meditate deeply to reach Blair, and even then, it was kind of shaky.”

“Practice, I guess,” Jeremy said, taking the nuked cup of coffee from Jim's outstretched hand.

“Cookie?”

Jeremy nodded. He ate four of the small vanilla and chocolate squares that Jim had pulled from the cupboard. “I'm not hungry, really. I'm trying to lose ten pounds, you know. Dennis says I have love handles.”

Jim smiled. “He'll be okay, or Brackett will rue the day he crossed me.”

“You connected to Blair, then?”

“Yes.”

“Good.”

“I'm taking a quick shower, then heading downtown to see if Simon's made progress. I can't sit around here.”

“Do you mind if I take one after you? I feel like shit.”

“I'll find you some clean sweats. The blood...”

“Sorry. I almost forgot about the smell.” With a half-hearted grin, Jeremy said, “I'm not Blair, but what the hell.” At Jim's raised eyebrow, he quipped, “Dial it back, dummy.”

Jim guffawed. “Thanks.”

“Sentinels. They never learn. I should make double money this week.”

Jim gave Jeremy's arm a playful punch and said jokingly, “There'll be something extra for you in this week's paycheck.”

Jeremy smiled. “Thanks.” His gaze met Jim's and they looked at each other for a moment before he added, “I mean that. For everything.”

With a hand on Jeremy's shoulder, Jim nodded. “I know.”

---------------------------------------------------

Blair woke with a groan. He rubbed his aching head and licked his dry lips. Before he could take stock of his surroundings, he was pitched sideways and connected painfully with a solid surface.

“What the hell...?” he groused, blinking his dry eyes. "God, why do I feel so horrible?”

“We're so fucked."

Blair's eyes flew open, and he sat up too quickly. The floor leaned right and then left, along with his stomach. An engine roared loudly and the sound rattled his teeth. Wherever he was, it was dark and cramped, and smelled like old wood and mildew. He finally focused. “Dennis?”

“Got it in one."

“I feel sick."

“I know,” Dennis acknowledged with a snort of irritation.

“Sorry, man. Your senses must be going nuts. Where are we? I mean, I kind of figured already that we're on an airplane, but weren't we at that mansion just... this morning?”

“That was about eight hours ago, if I figure correctly. And we've landed twice for refueling.”

“What?” Blair rose too quickly, banging his head on the ceiling. His head spun and his stomach lurched. The walls seemed to waver and the floor tipped. "Ow. Damn. I'm going to be sick." He hunched over and looked around the small area. "We can't be in a plane," he said disbelievingly. "We can't be. Where are we going? Oh, God."

Blair tried to peer out a small hole in the side of his wooden prison, but the plane banked sharply to the right. He tumbled to the floor and rolled to the wall, coming to an abrupt halt. With a groan, Blair pressed a hand to his aching head as his stomach lurched. He heaved a couple of times, but managed to keep from vomiting only through sheer force of will.

Hands pulled at his shoulders. "Sit down, Guide," Dennis said as he helped Blair sit close to him. Then he wrapped a well-worn blanket around Blair's shoulders.

“What happened?” Blair asked, breathing through his mouth against the nausea that rose again.

“We were drugged, apparently.”

“I feel awful. And I stink,” Blair said after a delicate sniff.

“Yeah, I know that too,” Dennis said with a rueful smile.

“Sorry,” Blair whispered when Dennis’ arm went around his shoulders. "I'm really sorry. I guess I didn't do a very good job, huh?”

“A good job at what? Like you could do anything about Alex and Brackett? Fuck that, Sandburg. I was Covert Ops for twenty years plus, and I couldn't fight her, let alone overpower him. She had me helpless as a newborn kitten in minutes.” With a deep sigh, Dennis pulled up his legs, and after giving Blair's shoulders a comforting squeeze, he wrapped his arms around his knees. “We're in big trouble, you know.”

“Yeah.” Blair copied his companion's actions. “Can you hear them?”

“Alex is pacing around. She's just had another one of those injections, and she's recovering now. Brackett's manning the helm. He's an expert pilot, apparently, and even though there's a bad storm, he doesn't seem worried. So maybe we won't die in a plane crash. Not today anyway. Alex... The woman is a piece of work, isn't she?"

"You could say that," Blair said derisively.

"She seems to think the storm is pretty damned cool. She keeps saying something about feeling the power on her skin."

“That's just great. Do you know where we're going?

“Not a clue. I was in and out of consciousness until a while ago.” Dennis gave Blair an unhappy look. “I've cut Jeremy off. He'd be going nuts about now if he had to feel all of this, but he's going to be so pissed at me.”

Blair nodded. “Yeah, I know.” He looked around their wooden prison before he asked, “So now what? I figure we have about eight hours between her injections if the past few days are any indication. From what you've told me, she needs about an hour recovery time before whatever she's using takes hold and her powers are back to full force." Blair chewed on his lip. "So we have about an hour after each injection that she's not really able to listen to us, or track us or whatever if we make a move to escape." He fell silent before he mused aloud, "Actually, that's not entirely true.”

“What's not entirely true?”

“I was in the room a couple of times when she got the injections. I noticed that the last two times, she made him give her more of gunk. I think that it's less effective each time, and after each time it's administered, her power isn't as strong as it had been only hours before."

"Wait. You know how she's enhancing her senses?"

"Yeah. Somehow she's figured out that she can do it by using the sacred waters."

"You're kidding."

"No. She thought I was out of it when she was talking to Brackett about how much of the water they had left. It's amazing that the water has those properties."

"I think I'll pass on finding out about that first hand."

"No shit."

"But how do you know it's taking more each time to keep her senses functioning at such a high level?"

"I could feel the difference. Didn't you notice it?"

“I wasn't paying that close attention. I was too busy trying to breathe most of the time. Besides, I think your abilities make you able to gauge something like that. Hell, I'm just a guy with heightened senses.”

Blair smiled at Dennis' teasing even as he said, “I'm sorry, man. You look like shit. I know you're in pain from what Alex did to you. You should have just – gone along. Jeremy would have wanted you to cooperate.”

“No way, Sandburg. That was my revenge, my way of fighting back. I don't have the strength or your ability to shield myself, and it's definitely too much for you to shield both of us.” Dennis shrugged. “Her using me doesn't mean a thing, trust me. My body is just a shell for my spirit. She can't touch my thoughts. She'll never have the love I've had from Jeremy, or the friends I've enjoyed, like you and Jim. Her taking what she thinks is important doesn't touch my soul.” Dennis grinned. “Besides, it was a big macho thing between Jeremy and me when we were in the field. Whenever one of us was tortured, it was a test of strength to see how long a body can last before you finally give it all up.”

“God! That's sick!”

“Two decades in and out of deep cover will do strange things to fuck up your head.”

“I'm glad you got out. I'd hate to think what happened to Jim during his years in Covert Ops.”

“He's a strong man.”

“So are you and Jeremy,” Blair said with admiration. "By the way, how are your senses?”

“Barely functioning, but at least I can use them. She's fucked me up pretty good, but having you here helps. Thanks.”

“Sure, man.” Blair looked around the large wooden crate. “Do you think they'll give us something to eat soon? I'm hungry."

“I once went for ten days without food. I did have water, though. Without water, you die a hell of a lot quicker. Starvation takes a lot longer.”

“Dennis, when was the last time they gave you something to eat?” Blair asked, carefully examining Dennis' face. His companion's eyes were bloodshot and his lips dry. “Dennis?”

Dennis shrugged. “I lost count. How many days since we were invited to be their guests? Three, four? She let me have some water after a few of the – retrievals. Last time she said she wasn't getting nearly enough semen, so she gave me a couple of glasses of juice, too, so I'll be okay.”

“I'm going to kill that bitch.”

“Shhh. She's back on line. We'd better try to sleep. Who knows when she'll leave us alone again.”

"Yeah, you're probably right. I'm wiped out. But I'm still hungry."

"Go to sleep, Guide."

"Yeah, man. Okay." When Blair lay down, Dennis covered him with half of the old blanket. He wiggled several times, the floor hard under his back.

"Here," Dennis said.

"What?"

"Lift up your head."

Blair did as bid. Dennis slipped his arm behind his head. "Sleep."

"Thanks."

Blair closed his eyes and when Dennis wrapped a hand around Blair's arm, he knew the Sentinel was grounding himself. Blair smiled then yawned.

The drone of the plane's engine echoed loudly, but Blair was tired enough to feel sleep tug at his body.

As he started to drift off, he heard Dennis whisper, “I will protect your Guide, Jim. I promise." Then he added angrily, "I wish I knew where the hell we're going.”

Feeling as safe as he could possibly feel in spite of the dire circumstances, with a Sentinel close by, Blair fell asleep.

-----------------------------

Blair woke abruptly a short time later when the plane hit some turbulence and the very floor seemed to drop out from under him. After holding his breath for a long moment, he let it out with a whoosh when the plane righted itself and continued on its journey.

He lay still, thinking about Jim. He wished he had a phone... Blair then almost laughed aloud. He covered his mouth with his hand and glanced at Dennis, who had only grunted when the plane had lurched and continued to sleep. Blair realized that he didn't need a phone! He'd just call Jim on their private line.

“Jim!” Blair waited for a few moments before he called again. “Jim!”

“Blair! Please, don't – think so loud!! I think you broke a blood vessel in my brain! Could you please think a little more – quietly? What's happening? I can tell how upset you are. What's going on?"

“I don't have much time. We'reonanairplaneandit'shotandnoisycanyoucomeandgetme?”

“Chief, please! Slow down and tell me again. This connection isn't all that reliable!”

“Sorry, sorry. We're on a plane. They drugged us, apparently, so you and Jeremy didn't sense that something was happening.”

“Hang on. Good God, Chief. What airplane? Are you okay? Is Marshall with you?"

"Jim, man, now you slow down!"

"Sorry. I'm sorry. What the hell...? Are you okay?"

"Yeah, more or less. It's hot and noisy, and I'm kind of airsick. Dennis is okay, but we're both a little hungry."

“That rotten bastard's double-crossed us! We have more than twenty-four hours left on the deadline. I can't believe this!"

"What are we going to do? How are you going to find us?"

"Okay. Listen to me. You have to keep the connection open. I think I can – follow it with my senses. It's like a, I don't know, a fishing line, kind of leaving a trail as you move further away.”

“Jim, that's fantastic! Can you hurry? Dennis is in pretty bad shape. He's been – resisting. I know you can do this."

"I'll find you. No matter what. I promise, Blair. I will find you."

"I know you will. I have faith in you, Jim. I love you."

"Love you, Chief. Does she suspect anything about the telephathy?"

"Not that I can tell. I'll do whatever it takes to keep my end open for you. She's never had a Guide to bond with so I don't think she has a clue about what it means."

“Are you sure you're okay?”

“I'm okay. Listen, man. I found out what she's doing."

"Don't piss her off! No matter what. I want you to stay alive, so just cooperate. You got that?"

"Jim, you have to know what she's doing. She's using water from the Temple of the Sentinels! She actually injecting it into her bloodstream!"

“What did you say? Blair? Repeat what... said. You're fading... and out?"

“Jim! What's wrong? Did you hear what I said? She's shooting up! With the sacred water from the Temple! Her reactions are way off! It's made her senses go ballistic."

“Sand...! I'm losing you. What's she... the water? Chief!”

“That's why her senses are so powerful! She can control the Guides from miles away! She can make the other Sentinels do whatever she wants. She's evil, Jim."

"Damn it, Chief. What? Control what? ... don't understand... Blair!"

"Jim! Something's fucking up our link, but I'll keep the connection open. Did you hear me? You need to find me. Find us. If you can hear this, I'll look out for Dennis. And Jim, I really, really want to go home."

Blair felt Jim's anger and frustration, as well as his fear. He very gently shielded himself from the brunt of his Sentinel's runaway emotions and sent the warmest, most loving thoughts he possibly could back to his lover. He was sure he felt a surge of warmth in response. He smiled as he thought about Jim, and as he held the warmth and love sent to him by his Sentinel, he fell asleep once again.

--------------------------------------------------

"Jim? Come on, buddy. Ellison!"

"Jeremy?"

"Are you okay? You looked zoned there for a few minutes."

"Yeah, I'm okay."

"Your pale. Sit down before you fall over."

"I'm okay," Jim repeated, shrugging off Jeremy's offer of help. "We're fucked. Blair and Dennis are gone."

"What are you talking about?"

“Brackett and Alex have taken them! They're fucking gone!”

“That's just great. What the hell happened? You told me Banks had people watching them!"

"They screwed up, obviously," Jim said curtly. "Fuck it. Let's go."

Jim grabbed his jacket and keys and was out the front door in moments with Jeremy close behind. They raced down three flights of steps and ran out to Jim's truck. Jim cranked the engine, barely giving Jeremy time to climb in, before he stomped on the gas, laying a good five feet of rubber on the pavement.

“Can you feel Dennis? Connect with him?"

Jeremy wrinkled his forehead. "No. He's -- there, but he's put up his shields. That way I can tell he's alive, but he's definitely protecting me from whatever he's going through." He scrubbed at his eyes. "I'm going to kill the bastard myself if he thinks he can shut me out like this.”

“Blair says they're airborne.”

“Where in the hell could they be going?”

Jim cast Jeremy a quick glance before he turned left. "I know where I'd be going if I were Alex. The Temple of the Sentinels."

“Sierra Verde?

“Yes.”

“We're going after them, aren't we?”

"What do you think?"

"It's about time we did something other than sit on our asses."

Jim hit the siren and the visor lights, and pressed harder on the gas as he headed east.

“Where are we going?” Jeremy asked.

“Out to that house where Brackett took us. It's the last place Blair was, and I need to look around. See if they left anything behind that will give us any more information about what's going on that will help us."

"Okay."

"We need to arrange for a private plane." Jim reached into his pocket for his cell phone and started to dial. He started through an intersection, and horns blared as cars scattered when the truck blasted through.

“Give me that," Jeremy ordered, taking the phone from Jim's hand. "I want to get there in one piece. What's the number?"

Jim listened in as Jeremy dialed and made the arrangements.

"Jack Kelso speaking."

"It's Jeremy Rogers. Ellison and I need a plane fueled and ready to go in an hour."

"I'll see what I can do. It won't be anything fancy.

"Anything is fine."

"Hang on a sec."

Jeremy looked over at Jim. "He's making the arrangements."

Jim grunted. "No shit."

"Are you eavesdropping?"

"What do you think?"

"Asshole."

"Three hours is the best I can do, Rogers."

"No! Not three hours! That's not soon enough!"

"Give me a break! I'm not a fucking magician! I can try for two, but that's the bottom line!"

"Okay, okay. Two hours."

"You guys need anything else?"

"Any supplies you can manage would be great."

"Mission?"

"Sierra Verde."

"Jungle gear. Got it. Two hours at the small airport over by Dolphin Cove. The keys will be in the ignition."

"Thanks, Kelso. And Jim says thanks too."

"Take care of yourselves. I want a full report when you finish the mission."

"Will do. Out."

Jeremy disconnected as they pulled up the long driveway leading to the mansion. "Anybody here?"

Jim scanned the building as they approached. "It's empty."

Parking close to the front entrance, Jim climbed out and stood gazing at the mansion. He pulled his gun and started up the front steps.

“Do you hear something?" Jeremy asked.

"No, nothing."

"Why the piece, then?" Jeremy asked.

Jim glanced at him, noticing that Jeremy had also drawn his gun. "Habit mostly, but I'm tired so I didn't want to take any chances."

"Good thinking."

Jeremy turned the doorknob and pushed. The door opened easily. They glanced at each other before they began to search the rooms together, looking for anything that would give them a clue to what Alex and Brackett were planning.

In one of the bathrooms, Jim paused. His nostrils flared, and he reached down to grab the trashcan sitting beside the vanity. He dumped the contents into the sink.

"What is it?" Jeremy asked.

"Something... familiar." Using his thumb and forefinger, Jim cautiously searched through the debris, extracting a syringe. He held it up and sniffed it. "It's like rotting plants." He took another sniff. "Stale water. Swampy... Oh, God."

“What?" Jeremy asked again, his tone impatient.

“I've smelled this before."

"Where? At home? At work? Where?"

Jim gave him a tolerant glance. "Give me a second."

Jeremy looked sheepish and shrugged. "Sorry."

"I understand," Jim said. "Trust me on that." He returned to his perusal of the syringe. "It's... It's water from... the temple pool.” Jim saw Jeremy's puzzled look. "Shit. That's it! That's why her senses are so damned powerful! She's been injecting herself with water from the grotto."

"Is that possible?"

"It must be. That's the only thing that makes sense. The waters are sacred to Sentinels. Somehow she's gotten her hands on a supply and she's mainlining the crap.”

"And it's enhanced her senses far beyond what would be considered normal for Sentinel abilities. That's how she did it? It's hard to believe that the water would have those kinds of properties."

"You didn't see what it did to her. I was in that water, and I know how it made me feel. She immersed herself much longer than I did, and she said she could feel the molecules in the air and the water. I don't think we have to guess if it's possible."

"I can't believe it's given her the ability to control a Sentinel or Guide's mind from what? Twenty miles away? Thirty? This is incredible." Jeremy shook his head, his eyes wide with amazement. "I wonder how that works."

“That's Blair's field, not mine. He'd have a field day with his love of experimenting." Jim gave a soft snort of amusement before he sighed, thinking about his Guide and their predicament. He dropped the syringe into the sink and lifted his head to look over at his companion. "That's what Blair was trying to tell me when I talked to him earlier! He was so excited that we were able to communicate, but I could tell he was tired and upset. The link was fairly stable until the last few minutes, and it kept fading in and out. He said something about water and injections and Alex. I didn't catch all of it, but now it all makes sense." Jim laughed harshly. “As if any of this makes any sense,” he muttered before he added, “Why else inject herself with it? It has to be doing something positive, or she'd have fried her brain by now, or be dead!”

“But how did she even know to use the sacred waters?”

“I'd say Brackett. She was in a maximum security hospital last I heard, still comatose. He must have figured it out somehow. Although how he even thought about shooting it into her is beyond me." Jim suddenly grabbed the edge of sink and his gaze met Jeremy's. "That stupid bitch!"

"Jim?"

"I swear, if she's put that shit into Blair, I'll personally wring her worthless neck with my bare hands."

“If you get to her first. And don't forget, she has Dennis. God only knows what she's doing to him.”

Jim gritted his teeth and his head ached. “Let's go. We have one more stop, and then the plane should be ready. The bastards have a twelve-hour head start on us.”

On the drive back downtown, Jim detoured through Wonderburger and ordered two Number Five combos.

“Eat,” he ordered Jeremy, handing the bag of food over.

Jeremy unwrapped a hamburger for Jim and passed it to him. "I just can't.”

“Then you stay behind.”

“Fuck you, Ellison. I have more field experience that you do!”

“So you've told me. But you have zero field experience with Brackett and Alex Barnes! Not to mention none with the Temple and what it can do to a Sentinel. Now eat!”

“All right, you asshole.”

“Good man,” Jim said with a satisfied smile. "I need your help, so..."

Jeremy sighed. “That's bribery." Under Jim's watchful eye, he began to eat. "So what's in all of this for Brackett? I know he had asked for cash, but now that they've taken off, we know that wasn't his goal. That was a ruse." Jeremy ate a few fries before he mused, "What could be so important? He needs Alex, and he must want something. Something very important."

“No shit. It has to be worth a hell of a lot more than ten mil. But whatever it is, he's not getting it.”

“I'm down with that.”

Jim chuckled, not surprised at how much Jeremy sounded like Blair sometimes. “Guides. They're all alike.”

-------------------------------------------------

“Damn it, Ellison! How in the hell did you expect me to know?” Simon sighed deeply and tossed his ruined cigar into the trash. “I had no idea that they were going to skip out and leave before the deadline! The money's not been wired. There's no yacht yet.”

“You let them get away! Where the fuck were the Feds? Where were all the agents and all the technology? Blair's gone! Dennis is gone!” Jim yanked open the door to Simon's office. “You don't get it, do you?” At Simon's look of confusion, he explained, “They got what they wanted. Blair and Dennis. The rest was a big ruse. And we fell for it.”

“What about the virus? The ships sent to ports with influenza? You know that the results of the tests backed up his story!”

Jim threw out his hands. “He fucked with us! We all were sucked in. He doesn't need or want the cash. Hell, he probably has millions stashed away all over the damned globe! I should have known that Brackett would do this just for the thrill. He's enjoying himself! That's what he's doing. Having a grand time. And we're who he's laughing his ass off at.”

"I'm as sorry about this as you, Jim, and you know it!"

"That doesn't help Blair or Dennis." Jim paced before he turned to face his boss. "You don't know if they flew or drove or fucking swam away, do you?" he said sarcastically.

Simon sighed and shook his head.

“Thought so,” Jim said coldly. “Well, I do. Now we do this my way.” He cocked a head at Jeremy and together they headed out of Simon's office.

"Ellison," Simon said firmly, "get back in here immediately. We're doing this by the book. It's the only way."

Jim turned, and after exchanging a glance with Jeremy, he said to Simon, "Captain, we'll handle this. It's Sentinel business, not police business any longer.”

“Jim, please! Don't make me order you to stand down!”

“No, Simon. Not this time.” Jim pulled his badge from his belt and tossed it to Simon, who caught it with a surprised look on his face. "And don't even ask me for my piece. The 9 mm is mine.” He strode to the door but paused and turned back to his friend. "Simon, I know where Blair is. And Dennis too. No one can find them but us. It's Sentinel related, and it needs a Sentinel and a Guide, not the police or the FBI or fucking Interpol. I hope you understand, and when we return, that we'll still be friends. So cancel the money transfer. Forget about the ships and the virus. It's all bullshit.” He didn't wait for a response from Simon but turned and walked through the bullpen and into the waiting elevator with Jeremy beside him.

---------------------------------------------------

The next time Blair woke, he was hot and sweaty, and it was hard to breathe. He struggled to surface from the depths of his darkness when a hated voice cut through and quickly brought him back to reality.

“We're home, Guide.”

Blair blinked quickly and forced his muddled brain to work. He glanced around and fear stabbed at his gut. They were in the sacred grotto in the Temple of the Sentinels. The same room where Alex had immersed herself in the holy waters. The same room where Alex had forced Jim to be immersed. And the same room where Alex had misused the sacred waters, and had sent herself into a catatonic state. And now he was in that very water.

He shuddered when he looked to his right and saw Alex standing there, arms crossed. She moved toward him and if he could have, he would have shrunk away. As it was, he had no control over his own body. It lay unmoving in the water in spite of his best efforts. His breath came in short, shallow gasps and every fiber of his being was screaming at him to run.

“No use struggling,” Alex said condescendingly.

"God, no!" he cried. "No! Do not do this! Alex, get me out of here!"

He was panicked now, his body immersed in black water from his shoulders down. His throat closed and he could barely whisper, "Get me the fuck out of here!”

Alex only laughed, trailing her nails along the stones surrounding his prison. He tracked her with his eyes until she disappeared out of his line of sight, then he examined the grotto. It looked the same as before, when he had been held prisoner here, kneeling on the hard stone floor, his hands tied behind him as Alex tried to convince Jim that Sentinels were gods. The ancient inscriptions etched on the walls would have been something he would have examined in minute detail before, but now... Now he was just terrified.

His eyes flicked upward when he saw movement. Tiny lizards raced along the ceiling, emitting small chirping sounds as they searched for food. He saw more of the creatures on the walls, scuttling amidst the plant roots that had wound their way through the broken stones above his head and hung like thick snakes as they reached for the moisture of the sacred pools.

Blair cleared his throat. “Please, Alex. This is not meant for me!” he said. He hated how his voice shook, but he couldn't control his fright. He kept remembering Alex's immersion, and couldn't keep the vision of her meltdown out of his mind. If she kept him in here too long, he had no idea what would happen. And he didn't want to find out.

Suddenly, Alex was beside him, sitting on the edge of the pool with a crude wooden cup in her hand. He knew he must have looked scared as hell, because she looked reassuringly down at him and touched his cheek.

"Relax, Blair. I'm not going to hurt you. You know I couldn't hurt you." Blair let out a derisive sound, making her eyes narrow momentarily. "Will you stop constantly reminding me of that one little mistake? I can't believe you're still carrying a grudge!" she said angrily before she paused. After a moment, her smile returned. "It really doesn't matter because in a little while, you'll see exactly what I've seen. Then you'll understand. You'll thank me for it."

Alex looked around the room. “I can't believe I misread the words! I made the drink, I understood about it and its properties, and I understood that I was meant to possess the power, but I got this part wrong." She rose and walked over to one wall, running a finger over a set of glyphs. "Right here. If I had only realized..." Rubbing a hand over the aged stoned, she leaned closer. "See? The moss covered part of the words and some of the glyphs were damaged. Silly me!" She turned back to Blair and practically skipped back over to the pool where he lay. "Can you imagine? I made a mistake. But now I know, Guide."

The hand holding the cup moved toward Blair, and he stared at it, willing it away. "No!" he gasped. "Alex, please. It's not for me!"

"Oh, but it is, my little Guide." Alex smiled, and Blair shuddered when he saw the determined look in her eyes. "My mistake was to believe that I was to be bonded to a Sentinel. To help him see as I had seen. But I was wrong."

The cup touched his lips, and Blair clamped his mouth closed.

"I am to see all with my Guide," she said softly. "I have chosen you, Blair."

Blair held his breath. Her voice was the same as before, when she had used her enhanced powers to gain his acquiescence without laying a finger on him. Large blue eyes gazed at him, and he could feel the tendrils of her power leech into his brain. He fought her mental assault with all he possessed even though he knew she had the power to take what she wanted. But he refused to submit without a fight, no matter the futility of it.

“Don't fight me, Guide," she ordered, her eyes narrowing as she kept his gaze locked with hers.

The now familiar power crept across Blair's face before digging through his skin like so many tiny biting bugs burrowing in. With a low moan, his mouth fell open and Alex tipped the contents of the cup in. Afraid of choking, Blair swallowed quickly, the thick, sour liquid sluggishly sliding down his throat and slipping into his stomach. He groaned when he actually felt the foul stuff churning in his belly before slipping into his intestines. He could feel the release of the power of the herbs as it began to creep through his veins, along his muscles and around his heart. His body was still unreceptive to his command to move, but suddenly, his brain seemed to explode. His mind came alive. Sounds, colors, smells blasted through him.

Blair screamed.

His world faded to black for a few moments before visions danced across his sight. Jim appeared before him, much like in a movie. In his mind's eye, he cried out for Jim as he saw his partner, his Sentinel, in pain, sad, lonely, suffering...

Jim, dressed in military camouflage, his face painted black, crawling from the wreckage of a downed helicopter. His face was scratched and bruised, his arm bloody, his jungle camouflage clothing cut to ribbons, with the flames licking at his heels...

Jim, wearing a ratty flannel shirt with the arms torn off and with scruffy hair on his chin, jumped by three darkly clothed men. Beaten and knifed, his unconscious body dumped in an alleyway...

Jim, his face a mask of stone, body rigid, sitting on the sofa in the loft, with Carolyn Plummer pacing behind him. Angry and upset, her hands flew through the air as harsh, cold words spewed from her mouth. She threw up her hands at her unresponsive husband, and with suitcase in hand, slammed the door behind her as she left...

Jim, with a dart sticking from his neck, unconscious, lying on the ground. Two men in suits dragging him away...

Jim, hearing muffled gunshots, racing up a set of stairs and bursting into a hotel room. Falling to his knees, frantically calling to his partner, willing him to be alive. Yanking away the flannel shirt, breathing a huge sigh of relief. "Thank God for that vest."

Jim, kneeling on the damp ground next to his lifeless partner, the fountain gurgling in the back ground, a soothing sound contradicting the calls of a frantic Sentinel begging his Guide not to go, not to leave him...

Jim, standing in the dark, very still and silent, outside his partner's bedroom door. His hand rises once to knock before he pulls it back, shaking his head. Again, he moves forward, starts to knock but pulls back again... and again... Turning away, the longing, the desire, is evident on Jim's face. A man who hides his emotions very well is at that moment, an open book...

All the while, Blair felt things he shouldn't feel, saw things he shouldn't see, heard things he shouldn't hear, and tasted things he shouldn't taste, while the power built inside his own body, while it crawled along his veins and through his organs, while it leaked from his ears and nose, before erupting from his mouth in a blood-curdling scream.

Blair screamed until he finally was forced to stop to gasp in a deep breath of air. Then he called Jim's name at the top of his lungs. He called to his Sentinel, pleaded with him to release the sadness from his life, and be happy and content in their bond. He pledged his faith, trust and love to James Ellison, Sentinel of the great city.

The visions disappeared. Blinking rapidly at the sudden shutdown of the power, Blair sat up slowly, the water flowing from his hair and down his face in warm rivulets. He looked around, at first relieved that he seemed to be alone. He shakily rose from his watery prison and clung to the edge of the pool while his body regrouped and his mind settled. His legs finally started to cooperate, and he glanced around again. That's when he saw her. She had submerged herself yet again in the adjacent pool.

Blair barely glanced at the woman, his one thought was that he hoped she quickly fried her brain and never bothered another living being ever again. He slipped onto the wall surrounding the pool and lay still for a moment until he felt well enough to stand. His feet hit the dusty stone floor, and he skirted the pool as quickly as possible, leaning on the ledge for support. Feeling a bit better, he circled the second pool in which Alex lay and hurried for the opening that led to the antechamber, and beyond that, he knew, the main entrance that meant freedom. First he would find Dennis, then together, they would hide in the jungle. He'd take care of Dennis, and Jim would find him. He knew that Jim was close and on his way. His knowledge came from the power of their bond. Now that their connection hummed with life. Now that he'd seen the Eye of God.

-------------------------------------------------

Blair made it to the opening of the chamber when the full force of her power hit him from behind. He fell to his knees and leaned on his hands, clenching his teeth. Angered at her interference, he forced himself to his feet and stood swaying under the intensity of Alex's power as it rippled along his skin. He turned and saw her stalking toward him. He gazed into her eyes, and what he saw there made him shiver.

The blue of her irises was almost gone, dominated by the black of her pupils. The whites of her eyes were cover with red steaks from the popped blood vessels, and her lips were drawn back into what Blair supposed was a smile, but it was a look of pure evil. It was the smile of a demon. He swallowed hard and instinctively held out his hands as if to ward off her gaze.

When she spoke, her voice was cold as ice. "When will you learn, Guide? You will obey!”

“Stay away from me. I told you I'd never help you!” Blair backed up a step, glancing over his shoulder to gauge his best escape route.

“I am Yolihuani.”

“What? Are you nuts?" Blair asked, incredulous. "You are no god, Alex. You're a Sentinel who's abused her gifts! You are not the source of any life! You're just plain fucking insane.”

“You will be punished,” she responded menacingly.

“Stay back or... I'll have to hurt you.”

Alex laughed coldly and put her hands on her belly. “You wouldn't – couldn't hurt me. I'm pregnant! A child with the gifts. Your own friend's baby!” she said proudly. "I am the mother of a new race!"

“Stupid is what you are, not pregnant!” Blair angrily. “Dennis is sterile! You can't take what isn't yours! Haven't you learned anything by now?”

“No! It's not true!” Alex insisted. "You're lying."

"And you're a dumb bitch."

"Traitor!" she screamed, throwing her hands toward him.

Blair stumbled back at the sudden flare of power that he felt surge toward him. Before he could raise his shields, it smashed into him, throwing him backward against the wall. Stunned from the hard blow, he slowly slid down the stones to fall into a heap. He groaned and tried to move.

Before he took another breath, Alex was on him with her cold hands wrapped around his neck. Her face moved close to his, and she looked like a marauding animal about to devour her prey. Dizzy, he tried to wiggle away from under her hold. She moved quickly, throwing her body weight onto his chest. He could barely breath as she pinned his arms to his sides with her thighs and leaned on his chest. Her hands tightened and spots danced in front of his eyes. Still, he didn't give up as he kicked his legs, trying to unseat her before he passed out.

The wolf's howl echoed through the chamber. The sound bounced off the stone walls. Blair watched with surprise as Alex screamed and pressed her hands over her ears. She fell back, whimpering at the sudden surge of pain he could see reflected in her eyes.

Blair rolled out from under Alex and lurched to his feet. He glared down at her as she writhed in the dirt. He felt a momentary stab of pity for her and briefly wondered how anyone could abuse such special abilities. He knew he should do something to ensure that she wouldn't hurt anybody else ever again, but he couldn't bring himself to hurt her. Knowing he'd most likely regret his compassion, he quickly turned away and headed toward the portal and to the freedom beyond.

Blair wiped the wet hair away from his face and huffed out a shaky breath. He was almost out of the grotto when the hairs on the back of his neck rose. He felt the rise of power and this time, he had the wherewithal to shield himself from the blast. It hit him full in the back and harmlessly bounced off the shield.

Even as he kept his feet and turned back to where his nemesis now stood, hands clenched and eyes narrowed, she sent another surge directly at him. He easily deflected that power as well. Alex screamed her outrage and launched herself at him. Blair held his ground. He lowered his chin to his chest and gazed upward. Hands out, he closed his eyes and gathered himself internally. The sound of the wolf's howl echoed once again through the grotto, and Blair felt the power of his animal spirit course through his body.

Deep inside his soul, he felt the stirrings of a strange sensation. It started slowly, centered in his heart and radiated through his torso. Then it migrated into his arms and legs, and up his neck. His blood hummed hotly in his veins, making him gasp. The feeling grew steadily, gathering strength. The intensity of it all made him shake and his mouth fell open as he struggled to control the newly emerging rise of power.

Blair closed his eyes and wrapped his body in the blanket of strength. His mind was clear and sharp. The sensations were not at all frightening, but instead, gave him a feeling of comfort. They felt as if they were a part of him, and that he was finally becoming what he was meant to be.

Suddenly pushed to his backside, Blair's eyes flew open. Alex stood over him with her hands outstretched. Before she could touch him again, he thought about knocking her away, and even as the idea came to him, she flew back several yards, landed on her back and knocked her head against the side of the stone pool. Blair gave the unconscious woman a disgusted glance before he rose and brushed the dirt off his butt.

"Chief?"

"Jim?" Blair looked around. He was sure that Jim was right next to him, calling his name. He blinked and rubbed his eyes. "Where are you?" he called out. "Jim?" He walked passed Alex, who still lay unmoving next to the pool of sacred water. "Jim?" he called again before he realized that Jim had indeed called him -- through their connection.

With a grin, Blair closed his eyes and thought about his lover. He hoped to be able to return Jim's message, and was quite surprised when he found himself actually seeing Jim instead. He watched with delight as Jim hiked through the jungle, hacking thick brush with a machete. Behind Jim, he clearly saw Jeremy Rogers. Jeremy looked so worried! Blair knew that he needed his Sentinel as much as Blair needed Jim.

“Jim!” Blair called out again while simultaneously sending the mental greeting to the Sentinel.

"Jim!"

Jim stopped and looked around before his face broke into a wide grin and his hand latched onto Jeremy's shirt. Jim tugged on the sleeve and he spoke to Jeremy, waving his hand. From the look on Jim's face, he would imagine what he was saying. That his Guide was alive and well, and waiting up ahead. Jim's obvious enthusiasm warmed Blair's heart, and he could imagine Jim's reassurances to their friend; they were close and soon, all would be well. He saw Jeremy's face light up for a moment before he looked worried and started talking to Jim. Blair could well imagine what Jeremy's first question would be, because it would have been his also: What about my Sentinel?

Blair cried out when something knocked him to the ground. He lay stunned, breathless and startled by the blast of power that Alex was pounding him with. His shields wavered under the assault. Unused to the intensity of the power that now flowed through his own body, he reacted mostly on instinct. He strengthened the barriers protecting his mind and cocooned his body behind a wall of his own power.

He could literally see Alex's power pound against his armor before it began to retreat, sparking and sputtering. Alex grew more enraged as her power faltered. Then he watched in awe as it began to break into pieces that fell to the ground, fizzling weakly before fading away completely.

Blair rose and blinked slowly, standing with his hands clenched. He breathed heavily as he struggled to regain his equilibrium. He glanced at Alex, and his anger flared. He summoned forth his inner spirit, and in an instant, a black and grey form streaked by him. His head swiveled and he blinked with astonishment. He recognized his animal spirit, that much was true, but the shock at seeing it launch itself at Alex and smash into her body left him breathless. Alex reeled back, making him gasp. His spirit was solid -- real, not the vision he was used to seeing.

Alex fell back when the wolf guide hit her full in the chest, and she screamed in rage, digging her fingers into the spirit's flanks. The wolf howled in pain and leapped away. Worried that his wolf had been injured, Blair raced forward a few paces, skidding to a halt when the spotted leopard flowed from the downed Sentinel's body and attacked the wolf.

The spirits fought tooth and nail, and their snarls and grunts echoed off the walls. They attacked and parried, fell back and circled, bit and clawed, each vying for domination, for blood, for death. The battle continued for what seemed like an eternity to the anxious Guide. Blood dripped from wounds on both spirits, but their ferocity was relentless.

Blair sank to the ground, wrapping his arms around his chest. He felt as if he were part of the wolf. Each fang, each gasp, each wound sent shards of pain through his body. He looked down at his side, sure he could feel warm blood gushing from a gash in his own side. He moaned softly, pressing a hand over the gash, and when he brought his hand up, blood dripped from his fingers and ran down his arm.

“No!” Blair cried aloud. He concentrated, searching deep within himself and allowed the power he felt lurking there to build. He rose and stumbled forward toward the battling spirits, and closed his eyes.

He pictured his wolf dominating the fight. He willed his counterpart to latch onto the leopard's windpipe, and he urged it to squeeze. The leopard writhed in the hard grasp, screeching as it vainly tried to escape. Even as he grimaced, he held on as the leopard spirit's movements slowly became weaker until it finally lay still. The wolf dropped the dead thing from its jaws and licked its jowls.

Alex's scream of pain cut through his head. He turned to her. She stood swaying and screaming, her hands pressed to her head. The power she had tried to control seeped from her body. Tendrils skated across the dirt and up the wall enclosing the holy water to slide over and hiss as it returned to the place of its birth.

Blair was taken off guard when Alex found the will to make her feet move forward. He barely had time to back up a few steps when she slammed into him and sent him backward. His head knocked into the wall and he fell, stunned. His shields dropped as black spots danced before his eyes.

Fists rained down on his unprotected body. Screams of hate and rage poured from her mouth. A bash to his nose made him gasp, and his hair was grabbed. His head was repeatedly slammed onto the stone floor, and he felt himself slipping away.

For a moment, the blackness invited him into its grasp. He was grateful for the respite from the last few days of pain and terror, of the unwelcome combination of pleasure and punishment. Unconsciousness was a welcome state at the moment. The wolf's cry brought Blair back from the edge of darkness. His eyes flew open. Even as Alex's fists continued to pound his face and body, he called on his spirit guide.

The wolf howled. Blair felt his body release a burst of white-hot power. He was surprised that he didn't literally explode from the intensity, but somehow, he kept the power channeled and the controlled blast flung Alex backward. She landed halfway across the grotto in a disjointed heap, moaning pitifully.

Shakily, Blair rose to his feet. He grabbed onto the nearest wall when the ground rumbled and the temple walls shook. As he glanced around, stones fell from the roof to collapse onto the floor with thumps, releasing clouds of dust. The water in the sacred pools and the rocking sent waves over the sides. A large stone fell into the far pool, sending a tidal wave of water onto the floor.

The door to the chamber swung back and forth as the earthquake continued to rock the temple until a forceful shock slammed it closed with a loud thud. The torches that burned in their wall holders gutted and went out. It was dark for a moment before there was a burst of white light. In the secret grotto, the light that lit the room with blinding intensity flared directly out of Blair.

------------------------------

"What the hell was that?" Jim asked as he struggled to his feet. The earth shook, and he held onto the nearest tree to keep his balance.

"It's a hell of an earthquake!" Jeremy cried as he also found his feet after being knocked to the ground.

Jim focused his sight on the path ahead, and through the jungle vegetation he saw the temple. Large stones tumbled down the broken steps, crashing into the overgrown jungle. Huge hand-hewn rocks that had stood for centuries now fell and hit the ground with dull thuds.

Overhead, the clouds turned black and rolled through the sky, blocking the sun until it was as dark as a starless night.

"That's no earthquake!" Jim shouted over the roar as the Earth continued to rumble.

"What is it then?"

Jim felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand out. "Can't you feel it?”

“Yeah, I can. It's – strong. Power. Unbridled power. Wow! I've never felt anything like it. Strange, it's not like the power that I felt back in Cascade. This is... Damned if I know."

"It's power, all right, but so different than what Alex had. It's -- pure. Clean. I can't describe it any better than that." Glancing upward, he watched the sky before he looked over at Jeremy. "Something about it..."

Suddenly, the Earth fell still. Jim could hear the occasional rock finally come to rest, but in a few moments, all was deathly quiet.

"What is going on?" Jim mused aloud. He walked to the center of the path, and Jeremy joined him. He let his senses open and after a moment, he found what he searched for. Jim gave Jeremy a quick glance. "It's Blair!"

"What?"

"Come on!" Jim said, grabbing Jeremy's arm as he started down the path. With a final tug, he released his hold and started running. He called over his shoulder, "He's here! Stay close! I don't want you to get lost in the jungle!”

Jim ran full speed toward the temple. Toward Blair. Toward what Jim's senses told him was the source of the power: Blair, his Guide.

---------------------------------------------------

The white light streaming from Blair lit the entire chamber with amazing brilliance. As Blair turned his focus on Alex, he heard her screams. He watched her writhe on the ground, but he felt strangely distanced from the scene before him. Her eyes bulged from their sockets and blood streamed from her nose and ears. Her screams died away, but her mouth was open in a silent cry. Blair barely gave thought to his desire and she was upright, hanging limply in his invisible hold. He flicked his eyes toward the sacred pool, and her body was airborne. It hit the water with a splash and disappeared from sight.

Blair somehow managed to gather the power back into his own body, and he gave a shudder when it settled into his center. He slowly walked to the side of the pool and glanced down. She lay under the water. He could clearly see her face. He stared into the eyes that he'd come to hate, and even as he thought about what he'd done, it felt as if somebody else had done it; like it had been a movie playing out before his eyes and he was merely a spectator.

Alex's eyes were open, the terror still evident in them. He blinked slowly, feeling strangely distant from what had happened. He cocked his head and examined her face, but even his emotions seemed to be dormant. He felt faintly disoriented. Like he wasn't really here.

He lifted a hand and stared at his own fingers. He wiggled them, surprised that they responded to his commands. Even the previously broken finger worked like new. His knees started to shake and then his entire body. Very carefully, he sat on the side of the pool and inhaled and exhaled several times, then he dragged his fingers through the water, which hissed and sizzled as he touched it. Tiny bubbles erupted around his fingertips. He watched them dazedly as they jumped and popped, and almost laughed when the water touched his skin. It tickled but after a moment, he lost interest. He closed his eyes and sighed.

----------------------------------------------------

Jim Ellison pressed his hand directly onto the center of the eye carved in the large stone door. It swung open easily under his touch. Surprised, he glanced at Jeremy, who shrugged.

“You're a Sentinel,” Jeremy said in answer to Jim's unspoken question. "You're home.”

Jim gave the idea a moment's consideration before he nodded. Together, they stepped through the portal and stood side by side in the antechamber.

Jim concentrated, sending his senses outward. “Blair!” he said softly before he turned to Jeremy. "He's here! This way!” Jim remembered the way as if he'd been here only yesterday. He started down the familiar steps toward the grotto that housed the sacred pools when Jeremy grabbed his arm.

“You go. I need to find Dennis. He's here too! I can feel him, and I know he needs me. Sentinel, can you point me in the right direction?"

Jim grabbed Jeremy's hand and held it for a second. “That way,” he said, nodding off toward the far left. "There's a passageway," Jim said, his eyes adjusting to the dark shadows. "Behind those roots and vines." He gave Jeremy a little push. "Go on. I'll get Blair and meet you back here."

“Right.”

As Jeremy turned to go, Jim put a hand on his shoulder and gave it an encouraging squeeze. "Be careful. If you need me, just call."

Jeremy cast him a grateful smile before he trotted across the chamber and disappeared behind the veil of vines.

---------------------------------------------------

Jeremy unclipped the flashlight from his belt and used it to check the ammunition in his gun before he started down the dark passageway. He walked along the passageway for a short distance, stopping when it tipped away in front of him. He trained the beam of light ahead, but it did nothing to cut through the inky blackness. Jeremy concentrated on his partner, opening his mind to connect with Dennis. He smiled when he "heard" Dennis' voice.

“Get the fuck away from me! You got what you wanted! Now just get it over...”

Pain exploded across Jeremy's forehead. He pressed his palm to it and muttered, "For chrissake, Den! Do you always have to be such an asshole? Cooperate, damn it!"

He let out a low moan at the intensity of the pain that throbbed steadily, and after swallowing around a dry throat, he walked forward. He let his fingers trail along the wall to keep himself grounded against the roaring in his ears and the pounding of his head.

He followed the passageway for a short distance until it made a sharp left turn -- right into a blank wall.

“Dead end?” Jeremy said incredulously. "It's not possible. I can feel you, Dennis. Where are you?" Turning a full circle, he sought out the mental connection to his Sentinel once again, this time successfully touching Dennis' mind. "Den!”

“Jeremy? Is it really you?”

“I'm here, but where are you? I'm standing here facing a dead end, but I can feel you! You're so close." Jeremy waited, but when he received no response, he again "said", "Damn it, Dennis. Answer me! I'm in the main passageway. Where are you?"

“God, Jer, but it hurts... I'm sorry. Brackett's nuts-- Be careful. I'm so sorry!"

“You stupid son of a bitch. You're going to be a hell of a lot sorrier when I get my hands on you! Now where the hell are you?”

“The chamber -- there's a hidden door. Ah, fuck, but my head hurts!"

"Brackett's with you?"

"Yeah. He's... digging."

"Dennis, concentrate. Come on, lover, you can do it. Where are you? Picture it in your mind."

"Okay... I can't wait to see you! There's a door... You need to touch..."

"Dennis, touch what? Tell me. Where's the door?"

"Jesus, what the fuck is that thing. My head hurts... Oh, right! Sorry...“

"Quit apologizing and tell me!"

“Look for... the figure of a... a jaguar. Push on its... eyes. Push on the eyes, Jeremy. Hurry up! And bring a ham sandwich with you. I'm starving in here!"

Jeremy almost smiled at his partner's sense of humor. Even hurt, Dennis was a snarky bastard.

"Hang in there, Den. I'm coming," he muttered aloud and began to search for the jaguar.

Jeremy scanned the walls with the flashlight, hoping that Brackett hadn't taken the time to cover his tracks. Nothing jumped out at him, so he began a methodical check of the surface. He wasted five precious minutes brushing away centuries of dirt from the walls before he discovered the jaguar glyph hidden behind a tangle of tree roots.

It was a menacing-looking creature with widespread jaws that seemed ready to reach out and snatch the unwary passer-by. The sharp fangs dripped blood, the faded ruby color rubbed onto the stone still faintly visible. He touched the painted green eyes, and was surprised that his hand was shaking.

Jeremy tamped down his first instinct to open the door, rush in and rescue his Sentinel. Stupid plan, he knew. Brackett was armed, and had Dennis as a hostage. He had to get into the room without being detected, if possible, and kill the bastard before he could hurt Dennis any more. God, but he wished he knew the layout of the chamber! He hated the idea that once the door was opened and he went through that the first thing he might see would be the barrel of Brackett's gun pointing at his head. He cursed under his breath, prayed for luck, and pressed on the jaguar's eyes.

--------------------------------------------------

Jim burst into the room, gun drawn, ready to blow away anything and anybody within a hundred feet of his Guide. He skidded to a halt when he took in the scene before him. Instead of needing to rescue Blair, he found his Guide sitting on the side of one of the pools, looking quite out of it.

"Blair?" Jim cautiously walked forward. He didn't respond to Jim's call or his presence. As Jim got closer, he knew that Blair was unaware that he was even here. "Chief? Hey, buddy...”

Very slowly, Blair finally raised his head, and when his gaze met Jim's, his eyes widened. "Jim?" he whispered.

Hand out, Jim moved closer. "I'm here. Are you hurt?" At first, Jim wondered if Blair was drugged. He seemed like he was in some sort of a trance. His eyes were glazed and his skin pale. Using his senses, he scanned Blair, noting the shallow breathing and sluggish heartbeat.

“I killed her,” Blair stated flatly, nodding toward the still water.

Following the direction of Blair's gaze, Jim glanced down into the water. He sucked in a quick breath when he saw Alex lying on the bottom of the shallow pool. Her eyes were open in surprise and her mouth was open as well, as if she'd died screaming. Her hair floated away from her face, creating a golden halo, and the water distorted her features to ugliness. She looked nothing like the beautiful woman Jim remembered. Now she looked -- pathetic.

As he gazed into the face of the woman to whom he'd felt such a powerful pull once upon a time, he examined his feelings, and he felt -- nothing. No, that wasn't exactly true, he admitted to himself. He did feel something: he was relieved that she was dead. She would never hurt Blair again.

“Blair?” Jim reached out a hand, but when he touched Blair's shoulder, a jolt of electricity danced across his fingers and raced up his arm. He shuddered and yanked his hand away.

Blair raised his head. “Jim? Oh, man. It's our connection, isn't it? You're getting really good at this. So good I'd think you were standing right in front of me.”

“I am here, Blair. Really here.” Jim pressed a hand against his own chest.

Blair gave a half-hearted smile. “It's okay, Jim. You don't have to try and make me feel better. I know what I've done, and I'm really sorry.”

“For what? What have you done?” Jim moved closer and touched his arm. "Tell me. I want to know."

“That I failed you,” he said softly, his voice full of hurt. “I wanted us to spend the rest of our lives together.” The small smile returned. “I really love you, Jim. I hope you know that.”

“Please, Chief. I'm right here.”

Looking dazed, Blair blinked and looked around. “Cool.” He smiled again, then started to shake.

Jim moved quickly, reaching out to catch Blair when he collapsed. He cradled his Guide tightly to his chest. “God, Chief!” Jim said, kissing the matted hair. “Shhh. It will be okay. It will be all right. I'm here.” Jim unconsciously rocked, crooning nonsense words. He kissed Blair's forehead. A tiny spark flicked against Jim's lips, making him start. He licked the spot on his own mouth before he again kissed his Guide. With each kiss, minute jolts of electricity danced against his skin, making it tingle. Shocked, he asked, “What did she do to you? It's me who's sorry. I wasn't here to help you, and you had to face all of this by yourself."

Jim finally rose with his lover in his arms. He carefully traversed the room, skirting the fallen stones and climbed the stairs leading to the antechamber where he hoped to find their friends.

---------------------------------------------------

The carved jaguar's eyes gleamed dully under the flashlight's beam. Jeremy pressed both eyes simultaneously, and he held his breath when the door swung inwardly a few inches. He released the breath when the door didn't make a sound, and he flicked off the light, pocketing it. He wiped his palm on his shirt before he took a firm hold of his gun and slowly pushed the door open just enough to look inside.

It was dark in the chamber, but there was an archway on the other side where he could see light. He listened carefully, and a sharp noise suddenly echoed through the chamber. Jeremy recognized the sounds of digging and a metal shovel hitting stone. He waited, but didn't hear any voices, so he pushed the door open wide enough to slip through sideways.

"Dennis?” He paused. "Dennis, please answer me!”

Again he waited. After a long minute of waiting impatiently, he felt the familiar tingle of their connection.

“Jer?”

“I'm here. In the main chamber. Where is he?"

“He's digging. Found himself a haul."

"Your doing?"

"He's very -- persuasive."

"I'm going to kill him. Give me the layout."

"Through the archway, about fifty feet straight ahead, then two left turns."

"Did you have to be so pigheaded? I told you to cooperate!" Jeremy wasn't surprised to feel Dennis' smugness through their connection.

“Brackett doesn't have anywhere near the finesse – Barnes has. His technique sucks. Guess I won this one, huh?”

“You stupid asshole. I'm going to kill the bastard with my bare hands. Then you're going to be in major trouble with me.”

“Be careful. He's kind of… upset.”

“Why?”

“Alex insisted she had to immerse herself first... before she would locate the main burial chamber for him. He's not very patient, but he's managed to keep himself – amused by digging up a minor burial site that I managed to locate. Did you know I can smell gold? This one is... pretty impressive. The main one must be worth... millions."

"Great. Not only is he a rogue ex-CIA agent and a sociopath, now he's a damned tomb-robber. Hang in there. I'll be there in a second."

“Okay. Hur-"

“Dennis?” Jeremy grimaced. Their connection was fading as Dennis' reserves of strength waned. "Damn it to hell,” he muttered, carefully taking the final turn. He could see the light from Brackett's lantern clearly now.

After holstering his gun, he dropped to his hands and knees to creep forward until he could see into the chamber while keeping to the shadows. He was tense when he scanned the chamber, finally locating Dennis, who was tied and gagged, lying on the ground against the far wall. From the tell-tale stiffening in Dennis' body, Jeremy knew that Dennis was aware of his presence. He was grateful that his partner still had the strength to be able to use his senses well enough to be alerted to his presence. Their eyes met, and the connection between them flared. Jeremy nodded, sending encouraging thoughts to his partner. He was elated to have his first glimpse of his Sentinel in more than four days, and he would have liked nothing more than to run to Dennis' side.

Jeremy felt Dennis' joy at seeing him, and behind the happiness, he was aware of the pain running through his lover's body. He closed his eyes briefly when the shadows of pain Dennis was experiencing washed over him. It took a few moments to get himself back in control and when he opened his eyes, he was able to give Dennis the "okay" sign with his thumb and forefinger.

Making his way across the room, Jeremy moved quietly. Several large slabs blocked his line of vision from where Brackett was apparently keeping busy. He hunkered down behind a stone slab about halfway across the chamber and cast a glance over at Dennis. Anger flared through him now that he could see Dennis more clearly and realized that a major portion of the black marring his partner's features wasn't from dirt, but from a myriad of bruises.

When Dennis' eyes widened, Jeremy held his breath. Their connection was wide open, and he'd momentarily forgotten that Dennis would be susceptible to all of his emotions. Suddenly contrite, he pulled back some of the rage he felt at what had happened to his Sentinel and concentrated on getting close to Brackett without being detected.

Jeremy scuttled behind the last slab between him and Brackett, and carefully peered out. Only the top of Brackett's head was visible as he dug steadily. As he watched, he saw a handful of bones sail through the air and land haphazardly in front of him. He knew the value in time, education and history in the careful excavation of ritual sites, and seeing Brackett plunder thousands of years of history made him livid. From his and Blair's enthusiastic discussions of anthropology, he was well aware that undisturbed ancient burial sites often held many magnificent finds of gold, jade and pottery worth millions to private collectors on the black market. Apparently, Brackett was intent on finding a mother lode. And Jeremy was just as determined to interfere with the man's desecration of the temple.

The digging stopped and Brackett climbed from the shaft, lugging a large canvas satchel. He tossed it onto the floor and pulled himself out. He dragged the bag over to where a camp lantern sat and reached into a knapsack where he snagged a bottle. Uncapping it, he tipped it back. From where he crouched, Jeremy could see the liquid run down Brackett's neck and darken his dirt-streaked shirt. And he could feel Dennis' thirst as his Sentinel was forced to watch as his body cried for water. Jeremy's fist clenched.

“I'm almost through here,” Brackett said conversationally. He poured more of the water on his head and shook it. "Man, that feels good!"

Jeremy reached for his weapon, but paused. He wanted something more personal for the son-of-a-bitch. He crouched behind the slag of rock and glanced around.

Brackett took another drink from the water bottle before he glanced at Dennis. "Thirsty?" he asked, walking over to him. He tipped the bottle toward him. "You're a big disappointment, Marshall. I thought you were a fucking Sentinel and that you'd be of some use to me. Guess I was wrong.” Barely a drop of water touched Dennis' lips before Brackett pulled it away.

He laughed coldly when Dennis moaned softly. "I really thought you'd be able to -- I don't know, use that x-ray vision or something to find more gold. Guess I'll need Barnes after all. This," he kicked the satchel with his toe, "is small potatoes." Brackett looked toward the passageway leading to the outer chamber. "She'd better hurry up with that immersion shit because I'm tired of waiting for her to play her stupid little games.” He scratched his chest. “I really don't need you any more, so I guess this will be your home for a while.” He laughed and spread his arms to encompass the room. “It's cool and dark. You'll be very happy here. For a while, at least.” Then he turned his back to Jeremy and started to gather up his haul.

Jeremy moved on cats' feet. He picked up a nearby shovel and wielded it like a baseball bat.

“Brackett,” Jeremy hissed.

Brackett spun around and blinked once before Jeremy slammed the shovel against the side of his head. He stumbled backward for two steps before he tumbled into the shaft that he'd just climbed from. Jeremy dropped the shovel and looked down at him. He felt a great deal of satisfaction when he saw Brackett lying amidst a large scattering of broken bones, shards of pottery and small, carved stones. Blood still gushed from the side of his head, and Jeremy watched as it mingled with the ancient bones and dirt.

It looked like Brackett was dead. Good riddance. He turned away.

"Den!" Jeremy fell to his knees beside Dennis. He gently removed the gag, and with his hunting knife, he sliced through the ropes that bound wrists and ankles.

“'bout fucking time,” Dennis muttered.

“You're welcome,” Jeremy responded with a wide grin. “Any broken bones?” Dennis shook his head. “Can you sit up?”

“Doubt it.”

“I'll help you.” Jeremy slipped his hands under Dennis' arms and carefully maneuvered him until he was resting back against the wall. “Let's get some water into you. Small sips so you don't choke. Or barf." At Dennis' nod, Jeremy unclipped a water bottle from his belt and popped the cap. “Nice and slow.”

Jeremy lifted the bottle to the cracked lips, and Dennis took one sip, than another before he yanked the bottle from Jeremy's hand and took several large gulps. He began to choke then coughed deeply.

“You are such a stupid idiot!” Jeremy yelled, pulling the bottle from Dennis' hand.

They glared at each other for a long moment. "Oh shit," Jeremy blurted out, and he pulled his lover into his arms. Dennis' arms circled his waist.

“I'm... sorry,” Dennis whispered. “I'm sorry.”

Jeremy's hand caressed the dirty hair. “Shh. It's okay. I love you, you big lug.”

Dennis' arms tightened. “God, Jeremy!” he said, his voice cracking with emotion. “I love you, too.”

They clung to each other before Dennis pulled back. He took in a shaky breath, huffed it out, then asked, “Please may I have another try at that water?”

Jeremy rolled his eyes. "If you think you can behave, and let me help. You're about to fall over, you hard-headed bastard."

At Dennis' unapologetic lop-sided grin, Jeremy could only shake his head with fond exasperation. "You look like shit," he muttered, holding the bottle for his partner. Dennis slowly drank. "Better?"

“Yeah, thanks." He gave Jeremy a silly grin. "God, Jer. I'm so glad to see you!”

"Me, too. Come on. Let-"

Before Jeremy could finish his thought, the ground started to shake. He reached out to wrap an arm around Dennis, and they held on to each other until the shock wave stopped.

“Another earthquake?” Dennis asked.

“Not an earthquake at all. Sandburg was the cause of the first one." At Dennis' surprised look, Jeremy explained, "I was with Jim when it struck. He said he could feel Blair's power, and that he was the catalyst."

“Oh, God. Is Blair okay?" Dennis tried to pull out of Jeremy's grasp. "Where is that Barnes bitch? And where is Jim anyway?"

“Hey, slow down! One thing at a time. First, let's get the hell out of here before the entire temple falls down around our ears! Come on!"

Jeremy rose and pulled his unsteady partner to his feet. Dennis valiantly tried to walk, but even with Jeremy's arm around his waist, his legs refused to cooperate. Another shock wave rumbled through the temple compound, knocking them from their feet.

“We're going to be buried under ten tons of stone if we don't get out!" Jeremy shouted. "Hell with this!" he cried when another quake shook the chamber. “I know you don't like this, but I have to do it.” With that, he scrambled up, dropped to one knee and flung Dennis over his shoulder in a fireman's carry.

“You're right! I don't like it," Dennis grumbled as he grabbed Jeremy's belt for leverage. “I hate when you do this."

“Glad to be of service, Sentinel.”

Jeremy walked quickly toward the open passageway when Dennis asked, “What about Brackett?”

Jeremy paused. “Is he still alive?”

“Yeah.”

“Let him rot.”

“Works for me.”

“On second thought, if there's even a gnat's hair of a chance he'll escape, I think we should get rid of him.”

Without hesitation, Dennis growled, “Do it."

Jeremy pulled his gun. “That's one thing I love about you, Dennis. You're a cold-hearted son of a bitch.”

“Thanks. I love you, too.”

Jeremy walked to the edge of the shaft and without a second thought, put a bullet between Brackett's eyes. “Burn in hell, you prick.” Not even sparing another glance at the man who had tortured his lover, Jeremy walked from the chamber.

“Home, James!” Dennis ordered, pointing down the corridor.

The door closed behind them, sealing Brackett in his tomb. Jeremy never faltered, but asked, “You got a thing for Ellison or what?”

"Huh?"

"You said, 'James'."

“Asshole,” Dennis muttered.

Jeremy raced along the corridor while the walls trembled, the floor tilted, and the ground rumbled. “Shit,” he groused, readjusting his hold on his lover. “I do not want to get crushed into a pancake in here!”

“Jer, you're making me motion sick. I'm going to throw up.”

“Hang on. Almost out.” Jeremy rounded the last corner and cautiously peered into the main chamber of the temple. He saw Jim emerge from the passageway across the room, carrying Blair in his arms. “Ellison!”

“Let's get out of here!” Jim called, heading for the still-opened main chamber door.

“Go! I'm right behind you.”

Jim crouched low through the doorway and picked his way down the crumbling steps. Jeremy had to almost bend in half so as not to bang Dennis on the lintel. He stumbled slightly but regained his feet on the other side. Not stopping to catch his breath, he wrapped both arms around Dennis' legs and navigated the broken temple steps as quickly as was safely possible.

Twice on the journey down the steep incline, the ground shook and more stones tumbled from their precarious perches. Jeremy cursed and stumbled several times, and when he finally reached solid ground, he breathed a sigh of relief, held onto Dennis, and followed Jim into the jungle.

----------------------------------

Jim carried his unconscious partner to where he and Jeremy had stashed their hiking gear when they first arrived. He arranged Blair against one of the backpacks, and from another, he found a blanket. He laid it over his still-wet Guide before he riffled for a dry towel. He wiped the water from Blair's face, then patted his cheek.

“Come on, buddy. How about waking up for me? Blair, it's okay. You're going to be all right. Open those baby blues.” Jim glanced over his shoulder at Jeremy and Dennis. "How's he doing?" he asked, canting his head toward Dennis.

"He's crappy, that's how he is!" When Dennis' hand touched Jeremy's, Jeremy grinned sheepishly. "Sorry, Jim. He's dehydrated and hungry, and looks like shit. But he's a stubborn prick, so he'll be okay." Jeremy then smiled at Dennis and offered him a bottle of Gatorade, which Dennis took with a smile of his own.

Jim glanced at the reunited couple. Jeremy was grinning from ear to ear, continually touching his Sentinel. Dennis was tired and in pain, but his happiness at being reunited with his Guide was unmistakable. They sat close, speaking in low tones, reaffirming their bond. Jim deliberately kept his hearing to himself, and let his friends have their privacy.

He was relieved to see Dennis alive and relatively unscathed. He was happy at Jeremy's joy at finding his Sentinel. To make the outcome of the entire debacle satisfactory, all Jim needed was his Guide awake and aware. Jim then scoffed at the very thought. He needed more, to be sure. He needed Blair happy and well. He needed to kiss him and love him... Jim turned back to Blair and touched his face. When he let out a small moan and shivered, Jim put his hands on his shoulders.

"Blair?" he asked. "Come on. That's it. Open those eyes and look at me."

A hand on his shoulder made Jim glance up.

"How is he?" Jeremy asked.

"He's finally coming around. I'm glad Dennis is okay."

"Me, too. He's in a good bit of pain. Brackett really did a number on him. Bad enough what Alex did... He needs a soft bed and a good meal."

"He's a strong man and a good friend," Jim said sincerely. He looked past Jeremy and called out, "Marshall, glad you're alive." He gave his friend a grin.

Dennis nodded and smiled. "Thanks, Ellison. I am, too.”

“Did you see what happened in the temple between Alex and Blair?” Jim asked.

“Nah. Brackett had me in another chamber. I only felt the earthquakes. My senses are so fucked up, I wouldn't have heard an entire herd of elephants barreling through the jungle. Still can't,” he added with a grimace.

Jim smiled. “There aren't any elephants on the Yucatan peninsula. Just take it easy. We'll make camp.” Blair jerked under Jim's hands. “Blair? That's it, buddy. Wake up.” Jim wiped his sweaty face with a towel.

Blair's eyes flew open and he gasped, struggling to sit up.

“Whoa there, Chief! You're safe! Look at me!” Jim ordered when Blair's gaze flicked around wildly and his hands flailed. “Blair!” Jim held his hands. “Look at me. I'm right here. You're okay!”

Blair's eyes slowly focused, and he blinked rapidly several times before he finally whispered, “Jim?” When he held out his arms, Jim gathered him close and hugged him tightly.

“Shhhh,” Jim said soothingly, petting the damp hair and rubbing circles on the shaking shoulders. “It's okay. I've got you.”

“Thank you!” Blair whispered, his arms tightening. “Jim, thankyouthankyou.”

“It's all right. I'm here. Just settle down.”

“Dennis?” Blair asked.

“He's here. Say something, Dennis?”

“I feel like shit,” Dennis said.

Blair pulled away from Jim's embrace slightly, and when he saw his friend, he let out a shaky breath then tried to smile.

“Hey, Jeremy,” Blair said.

“Good to see you, Sandburg,” Jeremy said happily. “Thanks for taking care of this dickhead.”

“Happy to do it, man,” Blair said with a nod before he looked at Jim. “So glad to see you!”

Jim smiled and kissed Blair's forehead. “You're hungry and tired and thirsty.”

“Yeah,” Blair agreed.

Jim held Blair close. He was pleased when Blair's arms finally relaxed from their almost frantic hold on his waist and he leaned against Jim's chest with a tired sigh. He relaxed for only a few moments before Jim felt him stiffen and he abruptly pushed away.

"Oh, God," Blair said.

“What is it?"

“Where is she?” Blair asked, his voice full of dread.

“She's gone.”

“No. Nonono. She got away?”

Jim rubbed Blair's arms when he felt the shivers coursing through his body. “No! She didn't get away! She's dead.”

“Dead? Oh. Okay. Wait... Right. I remember now.” Shudders racked Blair's body and his teeth chattered so loudly that Jim winced. "I remember now. I – I killed her,” he said flatly.

“I'm not sure what happened, but I doubt-”

“No," Blair said, "I remember."

“It will be okay, Chief. Please,” Jim pleaded, hating Blair's defeated demeanor. “You're not responsible for any of this. You did what you had to do. You were forced to defend yourself.”

“You saved Dennis' life,” Jeremy added, hunkering down. “Thank you.”

“He's the reason I survived,” Dennis said, tossing Blair a tired smile. “Thanks, Blair. I owe you my life.”

Blair looked from one man to the other before he finally nodded slowly and shrugged, ducking his head. "Thanks," he said softly. “Still...”

“No buts,” Jim ordered. “I have you back. That's all that counts. You're hungry and exhausted. We'll set up camp. We have food and-” Jim raised his head and searched the jungle surrounding them.

"What is it?" Jeremy asked. "What do you hear? Jim?”

“Somebody's coming.”

Jeremy looked around. “We need to-"

“Too late," Jim said. "We're surrounded.”

No sooner had Jim spoken when they were circled by at least twenty dark-haired warriors. He moved from Blair's embrace and rose, hand ready to draw his weapon as he glanced at the warriors. They were an odd combination of tribal members and modern-day soldiers. Some carried handguns or rifles while others had blowguns, or bows and arrows. A few had both modern and ancient weapons in their hands, strapped to their belts or on their backs. Their manner of dress was also a mix of old and new. Some had their faces painted like warriors of old, but they were wearing blue jeans, t-shirts and camouflage clothing intermixed with traditional tribal garb. Several had pierced noses, ears or lips, while others were clean-shaven and unmarked.

One of the warriors stepped forward. She looked straight at Jim and said, “You will not be harmed.”

Jim nodded at the woman, and held out his hands. "I'm James Ellison."

“I am Martina, Sentinel to this tribe.” She cocked her head toward her warriors before touching the arm of the man who stood closest to her. "This is Adimar, my Guía... my Guide." Her English, while heavily accented, was easily understandable.

“Gracias,” Jim said. "This is Blair Sandburg, Dennis Marshall and Jeremy Rogers.”

Martina acknowledged each man in turn before she said, “We have had watchmen on the temple since it was defiled two years ago. A few months ago, The Evil One and her companion came and took from the temple what was not theirs to take. They disappeared before we had a chance to do anything about their trespassing.” Martina crossed her arms, her eyes snapping with anger. “Two days ago, one of the sentries alerted us that The Evil One had returned, with captives. Unfortunately, my warriors were hunting far from the village and only now did we have the opportunity to come and drive that one from our sacred temple and attempt to free her slaves.”

Jim spread his hands in supplication. “Please be assured that we only came to rescue our companions. We don't wish to cause any harm to the sacred temple.”

“We know this, Centinela,” Martina said. At Jim's look of surprise, she smiled. "I sensed your presence and that of the injured Sentinel earlier," she explained, giving Dennis a quick glance. "Your Guide...” Martina paused and gave Blair a thoughtful look. “He has special powers. He is not only Guide but Shaman. Your tribe knows great wealth in this.”

“Yes, yes it does,” Jim said, smiling down at his partner, who sat looking rather embarrassed to be the center of the discussion.

“We have food and shelter at our village,” Adimar said. “We would be honored for you to rest there before you return to your own village.”

“Thank you. We would be honored to accept your hospitality.” He looked up toward the top of the temple. “But...”

Martina raised a hand. “We felt the earth tremble. Whatever occurred in the sacred grotto was by the design of the gods. My warriors will see to whatever needs to be done.”

Martina's tone carried the force of authority, and Jim understood that they were trespassers into another Sentinel's territory. He was grateful that they were being treated as honored guests and not as invaders. He bowed his head and said, “You are a worthy warrior.”

Martina nodded at the compliment before she turned to her warriors. Issuing quick instructions, the group broke off into two bands. The larger group, including Martina and Adimar, made their way toward the temple, while the smaller group remained behind to escort their guests to the village.

Blair was scooped up and encouraged to sling his arms around the shoulders of two grinning warriors, who easily carried him between them. They chatted away at Blair, who looked from one to the other with curiosity. Jim knew if his Guide had been feeling better, the men would have been asked a thousand questions in the first half-hour. Jim smiled thinking about Blair and his thirst for knowledge and zest for life. He was grateful his partner was going to be okay.

Dennis was likewise made as comfortable as possible. Jim grabbed one of their backpacks from the ground, but it was pulled from his fingers by another grinning man, who slung it over his back and in Spanish, bid the group to follow. The other warriors picked up the remaining supplies and soon, the entire troop was heading through the thick brush. Two of the tribal members scouted ahead and the remainder of the group walked behind at a healthy pace. In three hours, they all entered the village, much to the delight of the women and children who followed behind, chattering and giggling over the visitors.

Led to a hut, they soon found themselves plied with drinking water and food, water for washing, along with clean material to use as towels and blankets to add to their sleeping bags. They washed up, ate a quick meal, then all four lay down for some much needed sleep.

------------------------------------------

Midmorning two days later, the group of warriors who had remained behind at the Temple of the Sentinels appeared in camp. The jovial group brought with them a large boar that they had killed, and immediately, the village women set about preparing the animal for cooking.

Martina crossed the compound to where Jim and Blair sat helping a few of the village teenagers make darts for their blow-guns.

“Centinela,” Martina acknowledged. “Guia.”

Both men rose as the woman approached.

“Please,” Blair said, “call me Blair, and this is Jim. After all of your tribe's hospitality, first names are appropriate, don't you think?” He gave the solemn woman a dazzling smile.

Martina's eyes lit up, and she returned Blair's smile with one of her own as she nodded. “Blair. Jim. Thank you. Please, sit,” she added, waving her hand.

They sat down, and Martina said, "We would be honored if you would allow us to celebrate with a fiesta tonight. Is this – acceptable?”

“Acceptable, oh yeah. Thank you!” Blair responded with a smile.

“Yes. Si. Acceptable.”

“We'd be honored. Thank you,” Jim said.

“Your companions are also honored guests.” Martina's smile faded and she grew solemn again. Spreading her hands, palms up, she said, “It is done. The Temple is cleansed.” She rose and stood for a moment before she added quietly, “I know that your trip to our Temple was not by your own making, but I would ask if it is within your power, that you do not – visit the Temple again. I ask this for our tribe."

Jim rose, as did Blair. They exchanged looks and at Blair's small nod, Jim said, “We promise. As for others...”

Martina smiled. “I do not expect you to speak for all men, only yourselves. Gracias. I know you will honor your word. And now, I must find Adimar and we must bathe. Have you found the pool at the river? About 25 meters above the small falls? The water is deep and sweet there.” With that, she gave a quick nod and left.

“Cool, man. A feast,” Blair said excitedly.

Jim smiled at Blair's enthusiasm. “You know, Chief, you can always go back to school...”

Blair put a hand over Jim's lips. “Forget it, Ellison,” he growled good-naturedly. “I'm your partner. That means we are together. So if I'm not a cop, then you'd better think about being an anthropologist.”

With a grin, Jim said, “That's not as unappealing as you think. I just might surprise you one of these days and go back to college. Six months in the jungle on an excavation or expedition sounds like a vacation in paradise after this last little go-round.”

Blair chuckled as he slipped an arm around Jim's waist. “Here. There. Anywhere. I don't care as long as I'm with you.”

“Back at you, Chief.” Jim said affectionately, ruffling his partner's hair.

----------------------------------------------------

With a small groan, Jim stripped off his t-shirt. He knew he shouldn't have eaten that last dish of food one of the grinning women had handed him earlier. Rubbing his belly, he burped. He should have hit the sack when Blair had, instead of listening to the tribal chief when he insisted that Jim remain for a little while longer. After all, the man did have another exciting tale to tell, and Jim didn't know if he'd ever be in this part of the world again.

After another small burp, he mused that maybe it wasn't the food after all. It could have been that cup of – whatever the chief had insisted he drink.

Grinning, Jim yanked down his jeans and scratched his inner thigh where some bug had bitten him earlier. He chuckled over the fact that he had forgone underwear on this venture, figuring that he wouldn't be able to pack enough clean ones for the trip anyway. Besides, he had lived in the jungle for eighteen months without underwear. Laughing a bit more at his own rambling thoughts, he slipped onto the pallet next to his partner, and in spite of the humid air and warm temperature, pulled his sleeping lover close. Blair mumbled and automatically turned toward Jim.

Jim smiled and situated Blair comfortably against him with his head pillowed on his shoulder. Blair muttered and tossed a leg over Jim's thighs before settling back down. Jim kissed the top of the curly head and sniffed the clean Blair fragrance. He was happy that the stale smell of the temple waters had been thoroughly washed away and only the familiar scent of his Guide came through, along with the sweet fragrance of the tribe's homemade soap.

When Blair stirred and sniffled, Jim peeked down. A stray hair tickled his nose, making him brush a hand at it. The hand flopped onto Jim's chest and the palm covered his nipple. Jim plucked the wayward strand of hair away from Blair's face and gently smoothed it back in place. He let his fingers trail through the slightly coarse tendrils. When his hand reached the ends, he gathered them up and brought them to his nose, allowing them to trail over his skin and tickle his face.

Jim's body began to respond. Now that it was night and very quiet, now that Blair was safely by his side, his Sentinel senses were aware of his Guide's nearness. Although in his rational brain he knew Blair was safe, relatively unharmed, and recovering quickly, his primitive brain, the Sentinel part that lay simmering below the surface, demanded attention. Unwilling to give in to the feeling that now threatened to take control, Jim lay very still, breathing shallowly. He was not going to disturb Blair because of any stupid Neanderthal demands that his body might be having.

Arguing with himself proved unproductive. Even as his senses opened to his lover's nearness, his balls tightened as his cock slowly filled, and his heart rate and breathing quickened. Nevertheless, he forced himself to lay very still. He closed his eyes, and with his free hand clenched into a fist, fought against the rising tide of lust that coursed through his body. Digging his nails into the palm of his hand, he drew blood as he stifled a moan.

The press of Blair's body against his stoked his arousal. Tiny drops of pre-cum from his cock dripped onto his belly, burning like fire against his skin. He could feel each tiny hair on Blair's chest, and it was as if a thousand darts were trying to invade his skin. Blair's hot breath against his shoulder scorched his skin. A single drop of drool from Blair's mouth hit his flesh, and Jim couldn't help but moan softly when the fiery drop seemed to sear a path straight through his body.

Blair's lax penis was pressed against Jim's outer thigh, and he could feel every millimeter of the surface touching him. Closing his eyes and biting his bottom lip, Jim valiantly fought against the rising need. He could feel the ridge around the head of Blair's cock against his leg, and the desire to take that organ into his mouth and feast upon it made him tremble. He silently cursed himself for allowing even that reaction, and he held his breath, praying that his sleeping Guide was oblivious to his body's demands.

The harder Jim fought the urge, the more intense it became. Never before had the need, the desire to join with his partner called to him so forcefully. They had always had an enthusiastic and inventive sex life, but this was very different. Jim was confused and a bit frightened at this need to stake his claim, and at the desire to be possessed in turn. His mind seemed to be clouding over while his senses started to spike, and he felt the edges of a zone tickling at his brain. He desperately fought the zone and suddenly, he knew what he had to do: he had to hide in the jungle until the feelings passed. Something unusual was happening, and he was powerless to control it.

Jim's teeth dug into the tender flesh of his lower lip hard enough to bleed. His fingers were clenched so tightly that he had to order himself to release them. The blood from the cuts his nails made pooled in his palm, and the smell irritated him. His teeth were clamped together hard enough to make his head ache. With his eyes closed, Jim tried to gather himself into a safe place in his mind so that he would be in control enough to make a quiet exit without disturbing Blair.

Jim gave a start when a warm hand cupped his balls and squeezed hard enough to make him let out a small yip of pain. His eyes flew open, and he looked down into the smoldering darkness of his lover's gaze. Blair was definitely awake. He seductively licked his lips and before Jim could say anything, he released Jim's balls and was leaning over him. In the next breath, Blair was kissing him, and Jim opened his mouth to invite his lover inside.

---------------------------------------------------

Carding his fingers through Jim's short hair, Blair grabbed a handful. Holding tightly, he clamped his other hand under Jim's chin and pushed his tongue inside. Jim thought he'd go crazy at the leisurely exploration. Blair was unrelenting as he delved into Jim's mouth, making him shudder under the passionate yet tender ministrations. Hands clamped on Blair's waist, Jim whimpered with need. His cock ached, his balls drew up, hot and tight.

Blair released Jim's mouth and pulled back, staring down at him before he leaned over and licked the blood from Jim's lips and chin. He didn't speak, but a sound much like a growl rumbled from Blair's throat. Jim clearly read the displeasure in his Guide's eyes over the small injury he'd inflicted on himself. Jim looked up at Blair with apology in his gaze. Blair gave him a sweet smile before he captured Jim's lips once again, kissing him deeply.

Not releasing Jim's mouth, Blair straddled him. A final kiss and he pushed himself up. Hair askew, he looked down as he trailed a finger down the center of Jim's chest. The finger then found a waiting nipple and it flicked the bit of flesh until it hardened. Blair lowered his mouth to the nipple, and after a preliminary lick, he bit down.

Jim gasped, pushing his hips up. He almost came from the sensation, but a hand on his balls gave him pause. The hand squeezed hard enough to make him moan, and his orgasm receded. Jim blinked slowly, and when their eyes met, he was greeted with a feral grin before Blair latched onto the other nipple. Sucking and licking simultaneously, he worried the flesh until Jim couldn't help but shudder. When Blair's sharp teeth found the nub, Jim cried out and grabbed Blair's head, holding his mouth to his chest. Blair nipped and sucked the nipple, finally releasing the abused flesh with a loud slurp.

“Oh, God, oh, God. Please, please,” Jim begged. "Need you..."

Blair slipped down Jim's body and took the head of his cock into his mouth. He sucked hard as his fingers found Jim's center and he rubbed. Jim pushed up once, twice, then came with a shudder. His vision danced and wavered, and blackness tickled at the edges.

A sharp tweak of a nipple brought Jim back to himself. He blinked and looked up into the satisfied face of his Guide. With his thumbs and forefingers, Blair rolled both nipples simultaneously, making Jim gasp again. His orgasm had taken the edge off his arousal, but had by no means dampened his almost overwhelming need to possess, and to be claimed.

Blair must have seen something in his look, because his hands moved up to Jim's face and cradled it gently. He leaned down and kissed Jim slowly before he slipped his tongue inside. Jim lay still under Blair's hands and mouth, savoring the taste of him. After he had taken his fill, Blair pushed himself back to smile down at Jim. His hands touched Jim's cheeks, his neck, his nose, the hollow of his throat. The light touch made Jim's eyes fill. Blair smiled again and wiped his thumbs over Jim's eyelids before he kissed each one.

Jim had never known Blair to be so quiet during their lovemaking. He studied Blair's face, but he didn't see anything but love in his Guide's eyes. Not wishing to break the spell that Blair had woven around them, Jim merely smiled at him and was rewarded with a sensual smile in return. Jim's smile turned to another gasp when those fingers once again found his tender nipples. Gently, nails scraped across the nubs. Jim moaned softly, blinking slowly. He looked into his lover's eyes; they were black as night and full of passion. Blair was beautiful, his hair wild, his cheeks pink with exertion, his lips swollen from kisses. Jim was overwhelmed with love.

"Please," he whispered, barely able to speak.

Blair's hand touched his own cock. The head was rosy and dripping freely. Jim ached to take it into his mouth and drink in the essence of his bonded mate. He started to reach out, but Blair took his hand and when Jim looked at him, he shook his head, putting Jim's hand back down on the pallet. Jim nodded once and with his hands at his sides, awaited Blair's pleasure.

Blair smiled and slipped from Jim's body. He rose and stood over him, looking down. With a soft sound of pleasure, Blair dropped back to his knees. His hand cupped Jim's balls while his mouth found Jim's once again. He kissed Jim while his hand rolled the sac. Jim moaned into his lover's mouth, his hips thrusting. His cock was half-hard, and the hand on his balls and the tongue in his mouth brought it to fullness once again.

Abruptly, Blair pulled away. Jim barely had time to let out a throaty sound of displeasure when Blair was back beside him. Sitting down, Blair dumped out the contents of one of the backpacks and with a triumphant grin, held up the tube of sunscreen. He cast a lecherous grin at Jim and uncapped the tube.

Blair went to his knees and squirted a large glob of the aloe creme into his hand. With his cock mere inches from Jim's face, he generously coated the hard flesh. Making a tunnel of his fist, he fucked his hand, moaning with pleasure. His gaze never left Jim's face, and his tongue licked his lips in invitation.

"Please," Jim said with a groan.

Blair gave himself a final caress before he reached out to Jim, and pushed him over onto his stomach. He tapped Jim's inner thighs and then settled himself between the out-spread legs. Slick fingers breached Jim's opening. He groaned deeply, and spread his legs as far as he could. The fingers fucked him deeply, hitting his prostate. Jim clenched the blanket under him as he thrust up onto the fingers before driving his hips forward to rub his hard cock on the blanket under him.

"Blairblairblair," Jim keened. "Ohohhh!"

Blair fucked Jim's ass with his hand and jacked his dick with the other until Jim was howling. Blair massaged his prostate. Jim cried out as he came in milky spurts over the blanket. He lay panting against the hot woven cloth. The fingers were gently removed, and he shuddered at the sensation. In the distance, Jim heard the cry of the jaguar, and he heard the wolf's answering howl. He smiled.

"Blair..." Jim spread his legs in invitation. "Chief, please." Jim felt hands on his shoulders, and then he felt Blair's thick cock push into his body. "Oh, God. Yes."

Blair started to move. He pushed in fully before pulling back. Again, slowly, then faster.

"Yes, yes," Jim said, lifting his hips. "Yes." Jim gave Blair free reign on his body. And on his heart.

Blair needed this. He needed to be wild and free. He needed to be in control. Jim clenched his inner muscles, and was pleased at the gasp that escaped Blair's lips. Again and again, he clenched and released his ass cheeks, and Blair's thrusts became frantic. A low keening sound touched Jim's ears, and he lifted his hips higher and tightened his ass muscles. He felt Blair's cock swell and then pulse deeply inside him, again, and again, and again, until he could feel the semen dripping from his body and running, warm and sticky, down onto his balls.

He could smell Blair's come, and Blair's sweat, and he savored it all. He could hear the pounding of his lover's heart, and the rise and fall of his lungs. A final thrust, and the soft penis slipped free. Blair's body collapsed on top of his, and they both sagged onto the blanket.

Teeth found the back of his neck, and he let out a shout at the sudden, sharp pain. A warm tongue licked the spot before the mouth moved to his ear. Teeth worried the tender lobe, gently at first, then a hard nip that made Jim shudder and sent goose bumps down his arms and legs. The tongue fucked his ear then explored the rim.

Lips pressed a kiss to his ear and warm breath tickled the wet skin, then Blair said, "Don't you ever deny yourself again. Don't deny me. Ask, damn you. Try that self-sacrificing shit again, and you'll rue the day.”

Jim took in a shaky breath and held it before he let it out in a huff. "If I do it again, will you do this again?”

Blair's response was to chuckle quietly. With his head nestled against Jim's shoulder, he slipped his hands under Jim's chest and pressed the palms against the still-tender nipples.

“We'll see.”

“What was that?” Jim asked.

“What? That driving need? The power of our bond? Why were the feelings so magnified?"

“Yeah."

“It was me, I guess Our connection. You felt my desires, you knew what I was dreaming. What I wanted. What I needed. You heard me call to you, and you answered. You had to answer, Jim. We love each other."

Jim shifted and Blair slipped off to lie beside him. A few more wiggles, and they were soon spooned together with Blair's arms around Jim. He took both of Blair's hands in his and linked their fingers together.

"Chief?"

"Hmmm?"

"I love you. Not because I have to. Not because of the bond."

"I know, silly. Love you too, man."

"Night."

"Sweet dreams."

Safe in each other's arms, they drifted to sleep, sticky with semen, salty with sweat, sated with sex and warmed by love.

---------------------------------------------------

Jim Ellison woke slowly a few hours later. The hot body that was plastered to his was welcome and needed. His senses tingled and his body ached in all the right places. Thirsty, he carefully untangled his fingers from his lover's and reached out until he snagged a bottle of water. Popping the cap, he drank awkwardly, unwilling to move out of Blair's embrace even if he was a smelly mess.

Blair stirred and stretched. “Hey.”

“Hey.”

“Love you.” A warm kiss was planted on Jim's shoulder blade.

“Love you, too.”

“Give me a sip.”

Jim handed Blair the bottle. After drinking deeply, he said, "Lay down on your stomach."

After Jim had complied, he sat on Jim's thighs and dribbled some of the water down Jim's back. He rubbed the cool liquid around.

“Mmmm. Feels good,” Jim murmured.

More water was dribbled between his cheeks. He couldn't help when his muscles quivered under Blair's touch.

“Sore?” Blair asked, planting a small kiss on each cheek.

“No,” Jim said softly. “Feels good.”

Blair moved to the side. “Turn over.”

Jim willingly complied. Flopping onto his back, he saw Blair look at him in surprise.

“What?” Jim said, sitting up.

“I did that?” Blair asked, pointing to the tiny bite marks covering Jim's torso.

“Yes, you did. Thank you.”

“What?” Blair asked incredulously. “You're thanking me?”

“It was wonderful!”

“You're kidding?” Blair turned away.

Jim could feel the heat of Blair's embarrassment. "Look at me!” he ordered. He waited until Blair's gaze met his momentarily, and when he started to glance away, Jim growled, “Don't.”

Blair sighed and looked sideways at Jim.

“Did you break the skin on any of these?”

Jim waited as Blair examined him. “Well...”

“No. Sure, you raised a little bruising, but you never even broke the skin. Besides, I liked it.”

“I remember tasting blood.”

“Yes, I bit my lip fighting -- whatever it was I was feeling. Look.” Jim tipped his head and pointed at the small cuts on his lower lip. “I did it myself. You licked it. That's why you tasted blood.” Raising his hand, Jim opened it to reveal the dried dark stain on his skin. “I dug my own nails into my skin. You didn't draw a single drop of blood. It was my fault.”

“Oh.” Blair fidgeted. “I was… forceful.”

“Yeah!” Jim nodded happily. “I remember. I was there. You felt what I needed, and so you responded.”

Blair blushed which made Jim grin, and he said, “You enjoyed it.”

“Glad you made it a statement. Now give me another sip of that water.”

Blair finally smiled and handed back the bottle. Jim returned the smile and drank deeply. From the corner of his eye, he saw Blair watching him closely. Blair looked -- satisfied. Jim couldn't help but grin as he wiped his lips on the back of his hand.

"What?" Blair asked.

"Nothing."

"Liar."

"I was just remembering how you looked when you made love to me."

"I've never felt that way before. Needed you that much. Wanted you that much."

"It's the power you have now. It makes us more in tune. I can feel what you feel."

"Does it bug you?"

Jim chuckled. "Sort of." Blair smacked his arm. "Hey, you asked!"

"Yeah, I did." Blair fidgeted with the blanket. "It's still dark out."

“Too early to get up. You want to go back to sleep?”

“I need to pee.”

“I'll join you.” Jim rose and held out a hand. Blair slipped a hand into his, and Jim pulled him to his feet. Tugging Blair into his arms, he leaned against Jim's chest. They kissed for a few moments before Jim asked, "“Are we on the same page then, Chief?”

“Yes,” Blair answered, fingering Jim's nipple.

The nipple hardened immediately. Jim's hand grabbed Blair's. “Pee, first. Then, who knows?" he added with a laugh.

“Then?” Blair asked eagerly. He hugged Jim tightly. “God, I missed you!”

Jim returned the hug. "Ditto, Chief."

Laughing, they walked from the hut. In the darkness, Jim took Blair's hand and guided him into the jungle. They walked toward the river, stopping to take care of the nature call. They continued along the path and were soon standing on the riverbank. Jim scanned the jungle carefully before taking Blair's hand once again and leading him away from the main path. After a few minutes of walking, Jim stopped and listened.

“I think this is good. We're far enough away from the village. I don't want to send their Sentinel into a tizzy with any noise we might make, although I'm sure Martina would recognize our voices and – whatever else we're doing.”

Blair laughed. “I don't want a blow dart in my ass!" He waded into the water. "Is it safe?"

Jim scanned the riverbanks and water. “Yeah, nothing close enough to eat you,” he said, earning a snort of amusement from his Guide.

He waded in up to his ankles and stood watching his lover splash water onto his lean, firm body. His own body started to respond. He was surprised that he had enough energy left to feel the familiar tightening of his groin.

“Say, Chief. I forgot something. You stay put, and I'll be back in a minute.”

“Right, Jim. Bring a towel or something back with you.”

“Don't go in any deeper.” A final Sentinel scan assured Jim that Blair would be safe being alone for a few minutes.

“I won't.”

Jim hurried back to the hut, grabbed two pieces of material to use for toweling, a blanket, and the sunscreen. His body responded the second he touched the tube. He was half hard by the time he made it back to the riverbank, with a grin plastered to his face. He spread the blanket and put the sunscreen in a corner within easy reach. He smiled when he touched it with one finger before he went to the river's edge and set the towels on a dry rock.

“Hi, Jim!” Blair said happily.

“Chief.” Jim walked out until the water reached his waist, held his breath and sank under, rubbing his hair briskly. He rose and smiled at his nearby mate, who had done the same.

Blair squeezed the water from his hair with both hands and with a grin, said, “I love you.”

“Blair,” Jim said, his throat tight. He pulled his lover close and kissed him roughly. "Need you,” he whispered, his erection bumping against Blair's belly. The intense need he'd had for Blair earlier when he'd felt out of control bubbled just below the surface. While he understood and acknowledged the feeling, he also knew he had to do something about it. Soon. The look in Blair's eyes told him that he felt the same.

Blair slipped his hand into Jim's. “You may have whatever you need, Sentinel.”

Jim was serious when he said, “Whatever we need.” With their hands locked, Jim led Blair from the water.

“Let me,” Jim said, taking one of the towels and rubbing his lover's body. Using his sensitive touch, he ran the rough material down Blair's face and neck, across his shoulders and down to his nipples. Taking extra time, he stroked the nubs over and over with the cloth, pleased with the small moans and wiggles from Blair.

“Like that?” he asked.

“Uhhhmmmm.”

Jim moved on, stroking Blair's firm belly, then the thickening cock. With his hand cupped around of the cloth, Jim palmed the warm sacs. Blair wantonly spread his legs, making Jim laugh. He complied with the unspoken request and patted the area dry before he dropped to his knees. Canting a glance up, he savored the beseeching look Blair cast his way. Blair was so beautiful like this, his eyes wide as he watched Jim's every move. His chest rose and fell quickly as his arousal grew, and his hands grasped Jim's shoulders as if he needed the support to remain upright. Jim gave Blair a quick smile before he leaned down and planted a kiss on the freshly washed cock. The gasp that escaped Blair's lips made Jim grin, and his own arousal grew. Taking his time, he dried Blair's legs. Blair shivered with delight when Jim tickled his inner thighs, but when Jim brushed the towel over the sensitive spot between his balls and anus, he trembled and moaned, and his fingers dug into Jim's skin.

When Jim was finished drying his lover, he rose and guided him to the blanket. They knelt down and kissed, playfully at first before Jim tipped Blair's head into the crook of his arm and kissed him deeply. He nipped at the full lips and sucked Blair's tongue until he was shaking.

Still needing to touch, Jim's fingers found the nipple threaded with the silver ring, and gently he twisted the metal. Blair let out a loud gasp and if Jim hadn't pulled firmly on his balls, Blair would have baptized the blanket with semen. Satisfied that Blair's orgasm had receded temporarily, Jim returned to his exploration of Blair's mouth while his fingers played with the nipple ring. Only when Blair was breathing harshly and shaking did Jim release his lips.

With a satisfied smile, Jim pulled back and held Blair's upper arms. His gaze raked his lover's face. Blair lips were red and swollen, and sweat ran down his face, gathering on his upper lip. He leaned in to lick away the moisture. At the touch of his tongue, Blair let out a whimper of desire.

Everything about Blair excited Jim. He smelled like sex and love, totally male and desirable beyond measure. He looked delicious and debauched, hair stuck to his face in wet strands, cock full and dripping, nipples hard and begging to be nibbled, lips parted, pink tongue licking them occasionally. Jim wanted to fuck him into the next century. He wanted to hold him and protect him. He wanted to touch him and be touched by him. He wanted to lie next to him and watch him sleep.

Jim leaned down and popped open the tube of sunscreen. Blair waited quietly, the rise in his breathing and heart rate alerting Jim to the extent of his anticipation.

Jim pulled Blair close and wrapped one arm around his waist while the fingers of his other hand found the cleft of Blair's ass. Blair wrapped one leg around Jim's, giving him better access. Jim put both hands under Blair's ass and hoisted him up. Blair wrapped both legs around Jim's waist. Their lips met and while they kissed, Jim snagged the tube of sunscreen and managed to squirt a glob onto his fingers. He stroked Blair's hole before he slipped two fingers into the tight channel. Blair gasped against his mouth.

Kissing frantically, Jim fucked Blair's ass, making him whimper and push back on the probing digits. When a finger hit Blair's prostate, Blair pulled away from Jim's mouth and cried out.

Jim leaned back, tucking his legs under him and settling Blair on his thighs. He bought their mouths together, teeth clinking. They kissed again, and as they kissed, Jim wiggled his fingers before he returned to fucking the tight channel. Senses focused on his Guide, Jim knew that Blair's orgasm was imminent unless he changed tacks immediately.

Gently, he removed his fingers and wiped them on the blanket. Blair slumped against him, his head on Jim's shoulder, his cock hot and hard against Jim's belly. Jim's own shaft begged to be touched, to fuck that firm ass, to mark his Guide as his own.

"Jim... Please," Blair pleaded. "I need you."

Hands stroked the sweaty back. "Love you, Chief." Jim lifted Blair's chin and looked into the smoky blue eyes. "You're mine, Blair. Always and forever."

“Yes. Yes. Yours. Always, Jim. No question."

Blair blinked, and with one hand, rubbed away the sweat dripping into his eyes. His gaze met Jim's, and he smiled sweetly.

Jim felt his heart lurch. "God, Chief... I am yours, but it's not -- territorial or Sentinel imperative. I love you because you're you. Not because I'm a Sentinel and you're my Guide. Oh, shit. Maybe it is territorial! Damn it-”

"Jim, shut up." Blair's hands cupped his face. “Listen to me. I'm territorial, too. In case you've forgotten,” he said, touching a set of the marks he had made on Jim's chest earlier. “I'm your Guide.” He gave Jim a kiss. “You're my Sentinel. We're supposed to be territorial. It helps us survive!”

“I don't want to be controlled by some fucking imperative!” he growled.

“I do. I want to be controlled by the imperative to love you. To have you love me. To want each other so desperately that it almost hurts! I want you! You, damn it! If the Sentinel thing deepens it, then so be it!”

“Calm down, Chief." Jim stroked Blair's back. "I didn't mean to upset you.”

“I love you!” Blair said adamantly.

“I know. I love you, too. Sometimes, though, I just need...”

“What? Talk to me. What do you need?”

“You. I need you. Always. I need you in me and around me and through me. Touching and being touched. God, Chief! It's so overwhelming sometimes! I want you!”

“It works both ways, right?”

“Well, yeah. You seem to want me as much as I want you.”

“Well, duh.”

“Smart ass.”

“Love me. Always, but especially, right now.” Blair touched himself. “Please...” he pleaded, eyes asking for love and commitment and forever.

“Don't. Just don't... be so fucking sexy! Damn you anyway,” Jim growled, fusing their mouths together again in a deep kiss. Finally he pulled away and ordered, "On your hands and knees.”

Blair launched himself from Jim's lap to his hands and knees.

Jim laughed. “Easy, Chief.”

Blair growled, “Hurry up!”

Shaking his head, Jim chuckled and lubed his aching cock. "God," he hissed when he touched himself.

“Don't you dare come!”

“You are such a bossy bastard."

“Don't care.” Blair smiled over his shoulder and wiggled his ass.

Jim rolled his eyes and moved into place. He guided his cock to Blair's entrance and slowly eased past the tight muscles. He looked down, always in awe of the sight. He disappeared into Blair's eager body until Blair's ass was pressed against his pelvis. Blair's hiss of pleasure made him smile, and the taut muscles squeezing his cock made him gasp.

Jim held onto Blair's hips and leaned down, nibbling the back of Blair's neck before he slowly pulled back until just the head of his cock was inside. He pushed in slowly, then out again, and again until Blair was moaning and his hips were rocking.

"Jim... Please, fuck me. Damn you!" he cried when Jim once again pushed in inch by inch. "You're so dead."

Laughing, Jim wrapped an arm around Blair's waist. "Going to bury myself in you so deep you'll taste it in your mouth." At Blair's nod, Jim pulled Blair up as he sat back. Impaled, Blair shouted. Jim bit his shoulder and reached around, jacking the thick penis. Blair arched his back, vainly trying to fuck the tunnel of Jim's hand. Jim merely laughed, and bit down on the tender skin. Blair gasped, bucked forward, and came over Jim's hand in hot, milky spurts.

"You smell so good," Jim said, raising a hand to his mouth to lick the semen away.

Blair groaned, wiggling his hips. "Please, Jim. Please. Fuck me. Now, damn you! Please. You've got to move. I'm dying here."

“You are so tight and hot. So beautiful...” Jim's fingers tugged the nipple ring, making Blair shout out. Jim's other hand palmed Blair's balls and he rolled the now empty sacs gently.

"Please, Jim."

"Do you feel me in you, Chief? You're mine."

"Yes. Oh, man. Please fuck me now."

“No. I'm not going to fuck you. I'm going to make love to you. Always. Remember that I love you. And I will fuck you too."

Blair laughed. "Love you, love you so much! Want you to come in me. Please, Jim."

“You taste so good,” Jim said, licking the back of Blair's neck and the spot behind his ear. “So good,” he repeated.

“Jim,” Blair whispered, hand snaking behind Jim's head. He craned his neck sideways and they kissed for a few moments before Blair said, "Let go, Jim.”

“What?” Jim asked.

“Open yourself to me. Drop the shields – walls, whatever you use to keep yourself from me. Please, my love.”

“I don't...” Jim said, unable to keep himself from fidgeting.

“Please, Jim...”

Nodding, Jim looked into the beloved face of his Guide. Blair. Blair would keep him safe. He trusted Blair with his life. They kissed, and as they did so, Jim found a small part of his brain that was still thinking rationally and he intentionally dropped the dials and mentally tore down the walls that he hid behind. For the first time since his senses came back on line, more than five years ago, he opened his senses up fully.

Blair's newly awakened power flowed from his body, enveloping Jim in a cocoon of heat and passion. Jim sucked in his breath. The power prickled against his skin like so many tiny crawling insects. It wasn't painful, just very, very strange. Jim almost panicked, but a warm hand on his face calmed him. Blair – his anchor, his life, his trusted companion.

He relaxed and his hands splayed on Blair's chest. The warmth of his skin bled through Jim's palms. Heat surrounded him, burning him from the inside out. His cock was encased in fire. The press of his lover's body against his chest branded him from throat to crotch. The sensations grew with each passing moment. Everything seemed to swell, to become more intense with each breath as he was inflamed from within. His entire being tingled with life and in the middle of the inferno, he felt loved and cared for. Jim was full of tenderness for his partner, and he felt the love that they had for each other wrap itself around him. It bubbled up and through him like a live creature. With his enhanced sight, he could actually see their passion as it entwined around them. It bonded their souls together.

A moan from his lover brought Jim back to the moment. His hand held his lover's cock and he lightly stroked the newly awakened erection. Blair writhed on Jim's cock, begging and whimpering. Jim couldn't wait any longer. He guided Blair forward to his hands and knees, and drove into the willing body. He reveled in the slap of flesh on flesh, his balls hitting Blair's on each thrust. His sense of touch flared. The head of his cock scraped Blair's prostate, and he angled each stroke to bring Blair maximum pleasure. He pounded into the hot channel until Blair was keening and sobbing into the blanket, his ass high in the hair, his entire body shaking.

Jim didn't bother to stifle his own sobs as he claimed his Guide. Senses attuned to his lover, he felt Blair's orgasm building once again. Each of his thrusts sent spikes of such intensity through Blair's body that Jim shared in the sensation. Amazingly, he felt what Blair did. Each stroke on his lover's prostate sent a thrill through Jim, and as Blair's pleasure spiked, Jim's did as well. He couldn't tell where Blair stopped and he started. They merged into one. Every touch, every thrust, every stroke was shared. The dual sensations were overwhelming, and he felt himself almost zoning. Only Blair's cries of ecstasy kept Jim grounded. And when he thought he would explode into a million pieces, Blair orgasmed.

Jim almost passed out at the intensity of Blair's coming, and he came also. Somehow he managed to keep his balance, but he couldn't keep quiet. He howled his pleasure, as did Blair. Their cries combined, and the wolf and the jaguar joined in. It was as if they were one person, one orgasm so strong that they both shuddered at the sensations. Jim felt their connection deepen. It hummed with life and love, and the power made his eyes fill. Overwhelmed with sensation, he shuddered as he slumped over his lover. Panting harshly, Jim managed to tug on Blair's waist, tumbling them to their sides and they both lay sprawled in a tangle of limbs. Sated, they fell into sleep immediately.

----------------------------------------------------

Blair woke slowly, the distant sound of voices tickling his brain. He rolled to his back and stretched, grinning stupidly. He felt so good!

Jim's eyes opened slowly. He sensed Blair next to him, and he knew that Blair was waking as well. He smiled, knowing that Blair was smiling too. He stretched and grinned, remembering their lovemaking. The sounds of water splashing and laughter brought him to his side and he propped his head on his hand, grinning down at Blair.

"Hey," Jim said, leaning down to kiss the inviting lips.

"Hey yourself," Blair said when Jim pulled back. "Love you."

"I love you, Chief. How do you feel?"

Blair grinned. “I feel great! I don't think I'll walk for a week! Man, it was cool!"

Laughing, Jim flicked Blair's nose. "You're a dork. And you need a bath."

"You're not exactly smelling like roses either, Ellison," Blair growled teasingly.

Jim just grinned and kissed him again before he pushed himself up to sit cross-legged on the messy blanket. Blair scooted up behind Jim and with a leg on either side of him, he slipped his arms around his waist and leaned a cheek against Jim's shoulder blade. He rubbed his face across Jim's skin.

"Hey! You need a shave!" At Blair's deep chuckle, Jim smiled. "Looks like Rogers and Marshall found our waterfall."

"Yeah. But that's all right. We can share."

"Not everything."

"No, Jim. Not everything."

Jim patted the warm hands laced across his chest and watched Jeremy and Dennis climb from the water and dry themselves with colorful squares of cloth before making their way over to where Jim and Blair sat.

“How are you doing, Blair?” Jeremy asked.

Pushing away from Jim and after giving his back a loving pat, Blair leaned back and stretched. “I'm great. How are you guys?”

“We're good,” Dennis replied.

“You look a hell of a lot better today, Marshall. I could almost recognize you if I saw you in a crowd, ” Jim said.

Dennis shrugged, grinning. “Good thing I'm so pretty. A few bruises can't hide all this beauty.”

Jeremy snorted in amusement and sat on a nearby rock.

Dennis sat on the blanket next to Jim and while he ran his fingers through his damp hair, he said, “I don't know about you guys, but I really want to go home.”

Jeremy was beside Dennis in seconds. He sat behind his Sentinel and pulled him against his chest, hugging him. "We'll go today.”

“Good,” Dennis said, peering over his shoulder. “Thanks, Jer.”

Jim rose, pulling on Blair's hand. “We'll rinse off and head back to the village. We'll head out as soon as we're dressed and have something to eat.”

Blair asked Dennis, "Are you sure you're okay?”

Dennis nodded. “Yeah, I think so. I just miss our place. God, that sounds so pathetic.”

“No, it doesn't,” Jeremy said reassuringly. “Besides, I forgot to feed the fish and your plants probably need a good watering.”

Blair took Jim's hand. “Let's go home.”

“Home sounds very, very good to me, too,” Jim said. “And a cold beer,” he added, licking his lips in anticipation.

Jeremy said, “Hey, guys, give us fifteen minutes, okay?”

Dennis snickered. “Make that twenty minutes.”

With a shake of his head, Jim tugged on Blair's hand. “We'll go and pack up. You guys… enjoy yourselves,” he added, tossing the tube of sunscreen to Dennis.

“No wonder we love you guys,” Jeremy said with a chuckle. “Now get lost.”

Jim wrapped an arm around Blair's shoulders, and they headed back to the village, leaving their friends to reaffirm their bond before they started the trip home.

---------------------------------------------------

Dennis unlocked the front door and pushed it open. He stood for a second drinking in the smells and sights of home before he walked through. Jeremy followed silently. He brushed passed his partner and headed for the master bedroom.

“It's so good to be home!” Dennis said happily. He watched as Jeremy ignored his comment and walked past. He closed his eyes and sighed. Following his lover into their bedroom, he sat on the side of the bed and watched Jeremy dig out clean sweats from the bureau drawer.

Dennis cleared his throat. “Taking a shower? I could use one myself. Besides, I want to check those wounds of yours. Make sure they're still free from infection. I can take those stitches out, too. If you want me to, that is.”

Jeremy ignored his partner and went into the bathroom located off the bedroom. He quietly shut the door behind him.

Dennis sat staring at the closed door for a few moments before he muttered, "Shit." He rose and knocked on the door. “Jeremy? We need to talk.” When his lover didn't respond, he turned the doorknob, grateful that it wasn't locked. Maybe Jeremy wasn't as angry as he seemed. “Jer? I'm coming in.”

Jeremy stood at the sink and when Dennis' gaze met his in the mirror, he looked away.

“Hey... I'm sorry, okay?” Dennis said sincerely. At Jeremy's shrug, Dennis put a hand on his shoulder. “Can we talk about this?”

“Would it make a difference?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

“So talk.”

“You're pissed.” When Jeremy shrugged again, Dennis bit his lower lip. He wrapped his arms around his lover's waist and laced his fingers together. He waited patiently until Jeremy looked into the mirror; then he smiled. “I know you. When you're angry, you're very quiet, and you're really pissed off at me right now. You have every right to be. I was an asshole. I'm sorry.”

“You don't care how I feel.”

“Yes, I do. You know that I love you.”

“It's not that. It's...” Jeremy sighed and tried to pull away, but Dennis' grasp was strong.

“I know you love me. I love you too. You know I do!” When his words were met with a prolonged silence, Dennis added, “I shouldn't have resisted. I hurt you.”

“It's not me, damn you. You know how it feels! How could you after we agreed? Oh, fuck it.”

“No! No. We're talking about this right now. I was wrong, okay? I wasn't using my head. I was being a bastard, goading Barnes and Brackett.”

“Do you know what I'd do if you died? Do you?”

“Yeah, I know.” Dennis' arms tightened. “Believe me, I know.”

Jeremy's forceful gaze held Dennis'. “You know I'd follow you. I couldn't stand it any other way. It doesn't matter where you go or what you do, I'll follow.”

“I know,” Dennis repeated softly. “Please, Jer. I can't take you being so pissed at me. What can I do to make it up to you? To prove I won't be so stupid again. I won't hurt you again. Not if I can help it. Please, babe.”

Jeremy's head dropped, and he touched Dennis' hands. “Promise me you'll never do it again. You'll live, no matter what. No more macho shit. We did that crap for almost twenty-five years. We're entitled to some kind of real life together. I don't mean to be such a bastard about this but... I need to hear it."

“I promise,” Dennis said solemnly, pressing a kiss to Jeremy's shoulder blade. “I love you, and I am sorry."

“All right, already. Enough with the apologies. Join me in the shower and show me just how sorry you are. And you'd better make it good, or else."

"Or else what?"

"You'll be on the sofa for the next month.”

Dennis gave a theatrical shudder. "Christ, no. Anything but the sofa."

"Asshole," Jeremy groused, but his smile reached his eyes.

Dennis hugged him fiercely. "Thanks.”

“Sure.”

“I mean that. Thanks for coming for me. Thanks for caring...”

“Oh, for God's sake, you're welcome! Now stop with the Valentine crap and give me a kiss.”

Jeremy turned in Dennis' arms and for a long moment, they stood and looked at each other. The hunger that flared between them was strong, and their mouths met hard enough to draw blood. The strength of their bond roared through them, fusing their souls together.

Dennis pulled back first. He pulled in a sharp breath before he slowly exhaled, and he licked his lips.

“God, Jer, You taste so damned good. I've missed you!” he said huskily, carding his fingers through Jeremy's short hair.

“Show me how much. And hurry up."

Dennis smiled, and he let every ounce of love he had for his partner show on his face. "When I was a kid, I loved show and tell. And you are fun to play with.”

Jeremy gave him a dirty laugh, and turned on the shower. "Fasten your seatbelt, buddy. It's going to be a bumpy night."

-------------------------------------------

Jim Ellison dropped his bag inside the loft's front door. Blair set his down beside Jim's and let out a contented sigh.

“Oh, man. It's good to be home!” Blair said, spreading his hands widely.

“I'm down with that, Chief,” Jim replied, and they both laughed.

“You want to shower or eat or what?” Blair asked.

“Any beer?” Jim asked, looking gratefully around at their home.

“I'll check.” Blair opened the refrigerator. “You're in luck!” He held up a single bottle of New Castle Brown Ale.

“Only one? Then we'll share.” Jim smiled and waited for Blair to join him. After Blair had twisted the cap off, he offered Jim the first sip.

Taking a drink, Jim gave a groan of pleasure. "That tasted great." He handed the bottle to Blair and took his hand, leading him out onto the balcony. He pulled the chaise lounge to a sunny spot and sat down. He straddled the chair and patted the space between his legs.

Smiling, Blair settled between Jim's legs and leaned back against him. When Jim's arm circled his chest, Blair's hand covered Jim's.

“This is nice,” Blair said before taking another sip from the bottle before he passed it to Jim.

“It is. It's good to be home. Reminds me of that time we came home from Peru.”

“Yeah, kind of.”

“You remember?”

“Sure. I remember everything from that day. I remember telling you that I wouldn't be going on the expedition to Borneo with Eli Stoddard, and that the reason was our friendship. I learned that lesson, let me tell you. It was about friendship, and a hell of a lot more. I just didn't know the rest of the story back then.”

“I know.” Jim took another sip and passed the bottle back to Blair.

“Thanks.” Blair drank then said, “Last sip for you.”

“You're a great guy, Chief.”

“I know.”

Jim ruffled Blair's hair. “And not at all embarrassed about it, huh?” he said teasingly.

Blair shrugged and leaned his head against Jim's shoulder. They sat quietly for a long time before Jim finally said, “You remember when we stood here and drank beer, and you asked about how I got my powers back after they went haywire?”

“I remember. You said you didn't have the energy to tell me and that we should enjoy being home.”

“And you know I never did tell you what happened.”

“It's okay. I enjoyed being home, and it was something you felt you couldn't share. It's cool. I understand.”

“You told me what happened to you when you were in the sacred waters. You didn't hold anything back. You trusted me enough to tell me what Alex did to you, and to Dennis. How she made you feel, and how you felt about what she did."

“I do trust you.”

“So I'd like to tell you now. About how I got my powers back, and about what happened to me in the grotto that first time. I'd like to tell you, if you'd like to hear it.”

Blair's fingers laced with Jim's and lightly squeezed. “I'd like that.”

“Good. Okay. The first time I figured something weird was up was right after we parachuted into the Almaguas Valley. It first happened when you were pulling that lizard from your pants...”

The End

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Author's Acknowledgements: A big 'thank you' goes out to Ankaree and Lyn for their beta work. Additional art supplied by the talented Ankaree. A special thanks to the MME writers, artists, betas and website admins.