Doors of Perception 1: In Light Revealed Author: Mice and Lady Jaguar
Email: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org Category: Lone Gunmen/XFiles/The Sentinel crossover, Doggett/Byers pre-slash, Jim/Blair
Summary: When Agent Doggett, Langly, and Byers go to Cascade to investigate a report of a potential SuperSoldier, Doggett discovers some hidden talents of his own. Archive: Basement, Lone Slasher, Countermeasures, XFMU, LGM Fanfic Bunker, Glass Onion, FHSA, WWOMB, 852 Prospect, all others ask.
Feedback: Feed me, Seymour!
Website: Mice's Hole in the Wall --
Mirror: Mice's Hole in the Wall -- http://mice.inkpress.org/ Disclaimer: These yummy guys and the other characters you recognize are actually owned by Fox and 1013, and by Pet Fly. If we owned them, they'd be having a hell of a lot more fun, and probably a lot more angst, too. Not to mention that thing about The Sentinel, XF, and the Lone Gunmen being cancelled. Can you say denial? We knew you could.
Author notes: Thanks to raven for Sentinel beta, Caro Dee for fixing plot holes you could drive a semi through, SallyH for continuing GunThoughts, and the Usual Suspects in #LGM for running commentary through the whole thing.
This is, we hope, the opening salvo of a series; our Doors of Perception universe. The beginning of our story is set 5 years after the Sentinel's final episode, The Sentinel by Blair Sandburg, in the year 2004. Although the year technically doesn't match, this is set after Mulder's return from the grave in DeadAlive, but a little before his being thrown out of the FBI. In this universe, there is no William, and Reyes is not a part of the X Files as we know them. Our series brings together characters from The Lone Gunmen, the X Files, and The Sentinel. In the future, we hope to bring in two more crossover characters from one other series, but we'd like to save that surprise for its proper time. We have plans and plots and outlines for miles yet to come. Strap in and hang on. We hope you'll enjoy the ride.
"If the doors of perception were cleansed, every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite."
It's strange, sometimes, how great things begin with a tiny motion. Fates converge on a single breath. The balance of worlds may rest not on leaders, but the deeds of a few, common men.
It was once said that the beat of a butterfly's wing might stir a tempest on the other side of the globe.
In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, our planet saw the large-scale re-emergence of a phenomenon known as Sentinels. These individuals, genetically gifted with senses far beyond those of their fellow humans, worked with their equally gifted companions, called Guides, to protect their societies. While Sentinels and Guides had been called through the ages in indigenous cultures, their existence was unknown in the most technologically powerful and advanced societies of that era.
The reappearance of Sentinels was a tiny motion among the ripples of time and fate. In the scale of cosmic events it was, essentially, unnoticed.
Prepare for the storm.
OFFICES OF THE LONE GUNMEN
TAKOMA PARK, MARYLAND
"Ooookayyyy -- I think we got a live one." Langly peered intently at the email on his screen.
John Byers sighed and rolled his eyes at the interruption. Langly was admittedly the Fast Fingered Typist of the Lone Gunman Publishing Group and the one who did the bulk of the typing, but he was also the most distractible member of the team. With the newspaper due to go to the printer's in three days, it was a bad time for a new story to land in their laps and the worst of all times for it to show up in Ringo Langly's email. With temporary jobs in the computer industry being tight, their only source of income was the Lone Gunman. If they lost another 20 subscribers because the issue was late, the next few months would go from being financially tight to financially grim.
Melvin Frohike looked up from his own computer. "A live one? Do tell," he said, sarcasm in his voice. "Is this a better lead than the tip you got from DorkLoony, about WalMart being a leading organization of the New World Order and piping subliminal messages to its employees over the in-store radion or are you just trying to get out of doing the ad layouts for page six?"
"Hey, DivaLink was right on with that report on the 'copter crash, and you know it!" Langly snapped defensively.
"You mean, that wasn't true?" Jimmy Bond asked. The big, blond jock turned to join the conversation. "Byers told me all this stuff about how they're trammeling the rights of their workers, and doing all kinds of bad things to the environment, and all that." He glanced at Byers, as though looking for affirmation.
Frohike snorted. The short, scruffy older man put his combat boot clad feet up on his desk and leaned back. "Well, that part's true, but the New World Order stuff--"
Langly turned to Frohike and glared. "Bite me, Frodo. Kimmy and I can take this one. You can stay here and twiddle your pixels and be blinded by my kung-fu-osity when I dump the evidence on your keyboard."
"Look," John Byers cut in, silencing the squabble, "if it's a story worth chasing, let's have it, Langly. Otherwise, we do need to get this issue to the printer by Thursday."
Langly's eyes glittered. "D'ya think the headline, 'Secret Government Project Funds Cyborg SuperSoldiers' will reach out and grab any of the subscribers?" he smirked, sharp teeth bared.
Frohike's boots hit the floor, and Byers' eyebrow rose, a flash of interest in their eyes. Their friends in the FBI had been running into what they'd called SuperSoldiers since Fox Mulder had miraculously returned from three months in the grave.
"A SuperSoldier project?" Frohike asked.
Langly grinned and nodded.
"Kimmy doesn't know anything about them," Byers said. "Why do you want to take him?"
"'Cuz he knows the cyborging stuff." Langly looked at Byers. "He's a total fuckin' pain, but, like, somebody's gotta stay here and do the issue for the deadline. And since the email was to me, I go. Rules is rules."
Byers and Frohike exchanged glances. "Let's take a look at the email, there, Blondie," Frohike said. "If it looks like a genuine story, you can take Byers with you. I'll sit on Jimmy and get the issue finished myself if I have to."
"It's best not to get Kimmy mixed up in the SuperSoldiers investigations, Langly," Byers agreed. Kimmy Belmont was brilliant with DoD hacks, but arrogant and exceedingly annoying, and his idea of ethics boiled down to 'if it makes Kimmy Belmont happy, it's a Good Thing.' He didn't know how to keep his mouth shut, either. "If we need to talk to him about borging, we can do it without giving him any other details -- and we can do it from a distance."
"Little prick's annoying," Frohike concurred.
"Well, you may change your mind after you hear what's in this email," Langly said, pushing his glasses up on his nose. "You guys should be checking out Detective James Ellison of the Cascade Police Department," he read. "He's been doing some very strange things out here for about eight years now. Some of us suspect he's been borged-out for some kind of hypersecret Army project, classified Burn Before Reading. This guy has the highest solve rate we've ever seen, and some of the circumstances surrounding the cases are inexplicable if he's a mehum."
"What's a mee-hume?" Jimmy looked at Langly.
"Geekspeak for Mere Human," Langly said, and continued reading. "The man in charge of the project is Blair Sandburg, Ph.D., who teaches night courses at Rainier and just coincidentally happens to be a profiler for the Cascade PD -- and Ellison's partner. He also got three DARPA grants over the past four years."
Byers rose and walked over to Langly's station as the blond continued reading aloud. "This fall he and Phil Helton (an EE prof) got another grant from the Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences. Helton was a borger at MIT in the early 80's and we think he still has implants."
"EE?" Jimmy asked.
"Electrical Engineering," Frohike replied.
Langly pointed at the monitor screen. "Here's the kicker: 'About five years ago, Sandburg was getting a Ph.D. here and working on a dissertation about people with super senses. There was a big flap over it and it never got published. A lot of folks were saying he was a fraud -- including Sandburg himself -- but we think the paper got yanked in a coverup. Shortly after the brouhaha, Sandburg's back in the department, finishes his diss on Amazonian tribal rituals, starts working for the Cascade PD as a profiler, and Ellison suddenly turns into SuperCop. Then, a few months ago, you guys broke the story on the supersoldiers.'"
"Cool!" Jimmy grinned.
"Not so cool," Langly said as he glanced up from the screen. "She thinks that Sandburg is involved in borging SuperSoldiers."
Jimmy frowned at the screen. "Uh.... borging? Borger? Like Star Trek, you mean? Or the Six Million Dollar Man?"
"Yes," Byers answered, smoothing his tie back into place. "Like the Borg in Star Trek. People who try to become a blend of human and machine; but it's far more complicated than that."
Jimmy's eyes widened and he grinned. "Ooh! We can make him better! Faster! Stronger!"
"Doof," Langly muttered.
Byers rolled his eyes. "That's about the size of it, Jimmy. You know that Agents Doggett and Scully have been running into SuperSoldiers, and it's been nearly lethal. Who knows what's happening to the people receiving the borging implants?"
Jimmy's expression became solemn, and he nodded. "Right."
"That's from Marconi, isn't it? One of our early subscribers?" Frohike asked. He tapped the scrambled email address on Langly's screen with one fingernail. It made a hollow, clicking sound.
"Ohhh, yeah." Langly nodded, grinning. "She sent me a pic. She's a babe -- not too tall, dark hair, nice and curvy--"
"Yeah, probably some beaver shot from a porn site." Frohike tossed a pen at him. "Get on with it, Langly."
"One of his online girlfriends," Byers said, crinkling his nose in distaste at Frohike's crudity.
Langly ducked the pen and continued. "She's the one who works for LaEncTekk. She's a charter subscriber to Jane's Intelliweb -- and an engineer. She's got lots of cred. She wouldn't name names without something solid."
"You know," Frohike said, "I remember that showing up on the news and the net a few years back, that flap about the dissertation. I thought we'd dismissed it because Mulder said there was nothing to the whole thing."
"Mulder's usually the first one to bite on anything like that," Langly said. "So maybe Marconi's turned up some new stuff?"
"Well, it's an interesting story, but we need to get back to work, gentlemen," Byers said, gesturing at the screen. Distractions were fine, but it was time to crack the whip on the team and get everyone back on the job. "We can slate it for next month's issue. Right now there's no need to run off after this story when this issue still isn't finished."
Langly glanced at him. "I didn't read the postscript. It says 'Sandburg's teaching assistant was talking about an Army rep showing up on Saturday to see them and do some sort of demo.' And that says we need to show up in Cascade like, yesterday."
"I think that means a quick trip by somebody, but it ain't me," Frohike said as he headed over to the light table. "I've still got twenty photos to insert and another four to clean up."
Byers mentally reviewed the state of their checking account and nodded reluctantly. "Okay. Let's pack our bags, and check this out, then."
Langly snorted. "You gonna help, Narc?"
Byers grinned. "Try and stop me."
WEDNESDAY, 9 AM
Somewhere in the back of the rattling van, a tinny electronic speaker grated out "Inna Gadda Da Vida" with more enthusiasm than the gloomy morning light warranted. Byers gritted his teeth and clenched his hands on the steering wheel. "Langly..." he growled.
He glared at his companion, who was obliviously playing an air guitar accompaniment to the music on his CD player. Byers lifted up one of the earphones and released it, feeling entirely too much satisfaction at the slapping sound it made against the side of Langly's head.
"Langly, there's something in the back of the van. It's making too much noise. I have been listening to this crap for three solid days and if you don't find it and throttle it right now, I will personally make sure that you suffer a fate worse than IHOP."
"What, like you're gonna tie me up and make me eat at Denny's?"
Byers fixed an annoyed glare on him.
The lanky blond unfolded himself from the seat and drifted rearwards. After a few seconds, the tune ended abruptly. "There. Got it. Sorry. That was the laptop battery alarm," Langly explained as he slid back into his seat.
"I thought you told me you turned off all the alarm sounds on all the equipment."
"Forgot about the other laptop." A new electronic voice chimed in with a version of "Traumerei" that sounded more like "Trauma Ward" than a composition by the classical composer Robert Schumann.
"I'm on it!" He slapped a button on his watch. A third tune suddenly split the air. Langly lunged for his PDA. "Uh... "
"Just keep the electronics quiet and tell me which turns to take." Byers rubbed one temple. God, it was already a long day, and they'd only started a few hours ago in Spokane. Traveling with Langly was always an adventure in annoying soundscapes.
Langly peered at the scrolling map on his laptop. "The GPS says we're about six blocks from LaEncTekk and it's too early for lunch. Wanna check in at the motel or do the campus first?"
"Motel. I don't want to get near the campus until we've seen what Marconi has for us."
"Then breakfast," Langly added.
Langly pursed his lips in a weasely pout. "I'm hungry again." Byers occasionally wondered if the skinny computer geek was feeding a tapeworm or perhaps hosting a personal-sized black hole. The man could pack away enough calories to feed a pack of starving jackals and never seemed to gain an ounce.
"Okay, okay," he agreed reluctantly. Feeding a pack of starving jackals might be cheaper than feeding Langly on this trip. "Breakfast. Then LaEncTekk."
"Then Marconi," Langly agreed. Another electronic noise sounded and Langly leaped for it. Byers groaned.
"Turn right at the light," Langly said over his shoulder. Byers turned the van.
"Should be like six blocks, then a left at MacElroy."
Langly settled back into his seat and refastened the belt. A few moments later, he said, "SuperSoldiers, dude."
Byers watched the traffic, waiting for MacElroy. "What about them?"
"The way Dogbert describes it, they're not likely borged, you know. It's damned hard to conceal implants like that. Most of the stuff you hear about publicly is still outboard, even."
"I know. But who knows what miniaturization has done in the past year or two?" Byers turned the microbus. "Where next?"
Langly looked at the GPS. "Tyee Teepee Motel. Another mile down this street, and they're on the right."
"It bothers me. All those weird-shit aliens of Mulder's, and now this crap too. What the hell's happening, Byers?"
"If it were anyone but Marconi, I'd suspect it was just blowing smoke."
"Well, what if it's, like, Mandroids again?"
Byers chuckled. "You've been reading too many emails from Palmer and his 'Marvel Comics is in league with the Illuminati' crowd. I thought they gave up on that now that Lewinsky's blown over."
"Blown." Langly snorted.
Byers reached over and whacked the side of Langly's head.
"Dude!" Langly griped, then he pointed. "There's the motel. I'll get you when you park."
"Not if you want to eat."
"Hey, I got cash."
"And I have the keys."
They both laughed.
CASCADE POLICE DEPARTMENT
MAJOR CRIMES BULLPEN
Blair Sandburg, Ph.D., had never intended to become a shaman. Of course, he had never intended to become a police officer either, and certainly in all his life he had never intended to become a glorified guardian and teacher of a peculiar blend of ancient ritual and modern ethics. All his life he had just wanted to be an anthropologist; an ethnologist studying cultures and civilizations. He had all that and more, but the pathways that faced him now were not as clear as those he once mapped out for himself.
The trouble was, there was no pathway mapped out that said "here's how you deal with things that walk in the shadows between reality and the spirit planes." Something was haunting him; a shadow image that wasn't quite there and never seemed to go away.
"Chief? You okay?"
Sandburg shook himself mentally. "Huh? "
"Are you okay?" His tall, buff partner, Jim Ellison, was staring down at him with an expression of concern.
"Yeah. Just... uhm... thinking." He pulled his finger from the long, dark curl of hair he'd been absently playing with.
Jim waved at the office around them. "You've been staring at that corner for the last five minutes, like a cat watching ghosts," he teased. "The corner doesn't require that much thought, Darwin!"
Blair rose and headed toward the elevator. "I'm getting sleepy. I think a nice chai latte would do me some good. How's a Tully's run sound to you?" It was their secret code for 'something's happening and I want to discuss it, but not in the middle of the Major Crimes bullpen.'
"Oh yeah. Coffee! I could do with some of that."
Blair peered in his wallet. "I'm buying," he said, as they headed for the elevator. Jim grinned down at him and ruffled his hair affectionately. It was a nice little scene, played out for the eyes of the observers. But once the elevator doors closed, Blair leaned against the wall with a tired sigh.
"So what is it?" Jim asked, worried. He held his arms open and Blair stepped forward into the hug.
"I'm not sure," Blair said as he leaned against the comforting wall of his lover's chest. Jim's arms folded him in a warm embrace. "I've been having bad dreams lately. I'd shrug it off as nothing unusual, but I'm also starting to see shadows just at the edge of my vision. Almost like when I first started seeing the Wolf."
"I haven't gotten anything odd and I haven't seen Jaguar around," Jim said. "Do you think it's another spirit? Is it possible your spirit guide is changing?"
"I don't know. Don't think so. Incacha never said anything about whether or not that could happen. There's a lot he never said." He sighed and thumped his head on Jim's chest. Nice solid thump. Nice solid chest. You could break rocks on it. There were days when you could break rocks on Jim's head... and other selected body parts. He told himself sternly to stop thinking about body parts, no matter how tempting and distracting they were. "I can't even tell what it is. It's just a shadow."
"Do you think it's someone else's spirit guide?"
A cold chill ran up Blair's spine. "You mean a rogue Sentinel -- like Alex?"
Jim's arms tightened protectively around him. "Yeah. Like Alex."
"Maybe. I can't tell. That's what's got me worried. It could be another Sentinel/Guide pair on the horizon, but I can usually see the spirits more clearly when that happens."
"I haven't sensed another Sentinel around, either." Jim bent down and kissed him softly. "S'okay. I'm here, Chief. Whatever it is, we're in it together."
Blair pulled Jim closer. "Together," he whispered. Not like what happened with Alex Barnes. Five years together as lovers, and Blair couldn't get enough of Jim. He still wasn't sure what had taken them so long to wake up to it. They spent three wasted years as partners, dancing around the mutual attraction they felt for each other. But that was then, and this was now, and he couldn't imagine life without James Joseph Ellison at his side.
The elevator settled at the ground floor, and they parted hastily before the chime, straightening their clothes. Their tacit partnership was quietly supported by their friends in Major Crimes, but that didn't mean anyone needed to see them sucking face. They had their detractors, and their enemies.
Jim led the way out of the building, his arm around Blair's shoulders.
Blair eyed the lurking shadow uneasily.
PARKING LOT, THE QUADRANGLE
"You shoulda listened to Frohike," Langly grumbled.
Byers mentally rolled his eyes. He would not swat Langly's ears. It was unmannerly and uncivilized. There were other, more civil ways of dealing with this, at least in public. Unfortunately, his headache was distracting him from coming up with more useful options.
"We didn't have room for all the equipment he wanted to load into the van," he reminded Langly.
"Yeah, but the parabolic dish would have been nice."
"Sure, Langly, the parabolic dish is subtle. Nobody would ever notice a van with a radar dish half the size of Oklahoma bolted on top of it. The engine would have melted halfway through Kansas."
"Details, details. Even a small directional would have been nice. I can't hear a damned thing above the starlings with this crappy audio booster. And the visuals from the camera just suck."
"I should have left you home and brought the dish instead."
"You'd miss my insightful observations and incredible kungfu -osity." Langly batted his eyes and flashed his widest grin as he spun the trackball controls.
"It would have cost less to feed, too."
"Byers, you are such a narc." Langly toyed with the zoom on the camera, focusing in on a brown-haired coed.
"I'm pretty sure that one's not Sandburg. The video resolution may be bad, but it's not that bad."
Langly's watch tweetled out a series of off-key notes. "Time for you to straighten that tie and go see the WonderProf," he said, as he reached for a bag of donuts. "Try to look like you're gonna donate a spare billion or so to the anthro department."
There was no reaction.
"I think I'm going to drop the idea of telling Sandburg that I'm a reporter," Byers said slowly, as he flipped a few more pages in the file. "It's the wrong tactic. I'll have to come in as a computer engineer."
"No way! Look, Byers, you're good -- you're the best with the SQL database searches and corporate programs, but you just can't hack it on the hardware. You don't know BasicStamp from BrickOS and you couldn't tell an Autonomous N-Pod Walker from a Furby. I love ya like a brother, Byers, but you gotta face it, man. There's just no way you could pass if Sandburg knows anything about this project -- which he does. I guarantee you."
"I'm not sure he's going to talk to a reporter after the experience he had with them over his dissertation."
"Look, Byers, this is the wrong time for a case of the jitters. We just spent two hours with Marconi, going over the evidence for the program, the pictures of the students wearing the experimental borging equipment, and all the funding paperwork. Hell, we even got pictures of Sandburg wearing the stuff! For all we know, he's setting himself up as the next SuperSoldier. Stick with the plan, man. Just be friendly and tell him how cool the students think it is that he's doing this."
"I find it hard to believe that he's setting himself up as a SuperSoldier," Byers said, shuffling the dossier into a briefcase. "Doesn't seem the type. He actually seems kind of... nice."
"Oh, you've gotta be kidding. I mean, you seem 'kind of nice,' and we both know what you really do."
Byers shot him an offended glance and flipped the bird at him out of Langly's sight.
"Look, man, what better way to make SuperSoldiers? You get a bunch of short, nerdy guys with glasses and borg 'em out. They all stand around and look harmless until someone gives them the signal and then wham! They're all over your ass like ugly on a gorilla, and you don't know what hit you!"
"I really doubt Sandburg's going to jump me," Byers said as he opened the door and stood.
"Shit! Duck!" Langly lunged over the seat and yanked him back inside the van. "Keep down!"
Byers stared at him, bewildered. "What...?"
"Look!" Langly hissed, stabbing the video monitor with a finger. "That guy. The one in the wheelchair. That's Phil Helton."
"No. It couldn't be Helton." Byers leaned over the seat to check Langly's monitor. The man in the motorized wheelchair was heavyset, with graying brown hair.
"I'm tellin' you it's him! Wait till he turns his wheelchair -- there! See the powerpack on the back with the Banzai Institute logo on it? Professor 'Borg-it-up' Helton, live and direct! And he's headed into the anthro building! Bet he's going to see Sandburg! Quick -- grab the bug! Sneak up behind him! Get it onto his chair! I'll go around the other way and see if I can get some video footage."
Byers nodded, grabbed the tiny electronic bug, and hurried after Helton.
PROFESSOR BLAIR SANDBURG'S OFFICE
HARGROVE HALL, RM 211
The shadows were back again. Blair closed his eyes and recited his meditation mantra, reaching toward the spirit plane. Over time, the spirit walking techniques had become easier and now instead of an elaborate 30 minute setup, he could simply do most of the process mentally. He took a deep breath and "reached."
There was an impression of greenness and heat and humidity and then the vision unfolded toward him. He studied the landmarks -- this section of the spirit realm was near the structure they called the Temple of the Sentinels.
But where was his spirit guide?
The Temple was never quite the same from one time to the next, seeming to shift architectural styles on a whim. This time it looked vaguely like an Art Deco style building from the 1930's, with a stone archway framed by rectangular panels.
He peered closely at the stone slabs. Most were of the Jaguar-Wolf design that symbolized the Sentinel/Guide bond that he and Jim had. But the bottom panel on each side was a new set of designs that looked similar to traditional Tlingit art -- closed loops and heavy stylized lines. He felt a sudden chill; any time a new set of symbols showed up, a new Sentinel/Guide pair emerged. Although most Sentinel/Guide pairs were friendly, there had been one rogue Sentinel and two rogue pairs in the past eight years.
Other guardian symbols had been Mayan, Celtic, African, or even Babylonian -- among the recognizable images; a headache for any anthropologist who liked his cultural references to be consistent. This was the first time he'd seen any designs from the Pacific Northwest. The rounded ears on the designs showed that the symbols were supposed to represent animals, but they weren't ones he recognized.
He sighed and studied the designs. He'd have to get out a book on Pacific Northwest art styles and totems and see if he could figure out just what these were supposed to represent.
A cold nose nuzzled his hand. "There you are," he said to the ghost-gray spirit Wolf. It wagged its tail in response and he pointed to the new carvings on the doorposts. "Any idea what these things mean?"
The Wolf regarded him with ice-blue eyes and simply waved its tail again. Great. Sometimes the Wolf would shapeshift to Incacha and talk his ears off; at other times, he felt he might have gotten more information if his spirit guide had been a clam. Spirit guides could tell you about something in the present, but couldn't predict the future or give you knowledge that it didn't have. It was a pity that he didn't get a research librarian as a spirit guide.
"Any idea why it's Northwest Native art this time around?" he asked. Wolf simply blinked and waved his tail. Apparently his spirit/totem/guide wasn't in contact yet with the totems of the new Sentinel/Guide pair.
"You're a lot of help," Blair said, disgusted. Wolf seemed to take this as some sort of dismissal, for the spirit yawned elaborately and then turned and loped back into the jungle. As it passed into the trees, the shadows moved forward and followed it into the darkness.
Blair blinked and looked up as Phil Helton entered his office.
PARKING LOT, THE QUADRANGLE
Byers yanked the van door open, scowling. Langly wasn't hovering over the video console as he expected, but sitting in front of his laptop, humming off-key as he sat typing frenetically on the keyboard. "And how was your day?" he asked sarcastically, climbing in.
"Hey. You're back! Didn't go so well, eh?" Langly hastily closed down a few windows. Byers' frown deepened. Surely he wasn't hotchatting.
"I was in the middle of placing the bug on the door when it suddenly swung open, and there were Helton and Sandburg, staring up at me. So I pretended I was going to knock and went with the reporter story. I couldn't do the computer stuff. Helton would have known I was faking it."
"Total bummer. So did they say anything useful about the projects?"
"I only talked to Sandburg. Helton had an appointment somewhere else."
Langly's eyes narrowed. "So did you get the story from Sandburg?"
"No," Byers growled. "I didn't get so much as a hint out of him. He was polite, he was chatty, and he didn't actually say a thing. Like any good Ph.D., the man's a pro at obfuscation. Did you turn up anything?" Byers decided that the only pleasant thing about the wasted time was that Sandburg had actually been quite charming -- and very good looking. He hoped Sandburg wasn't what they suspected. Byers hated it when the ones that seemed decent turned out to be with the Conspiracy.
"Uh, no." Langly ran a hand through his long hair, looking oddly guilty. "Got the video camera positioned but the angle was all wrong. I called Marconi and asked her for some recommendations about the glare, but she didn't have any. We tried some stuff, but it didn't help."
"That's the way things go sometimes." Byers eyed him suspiciously.
"Yeah." Langly stretched and yawned, arching backward over the seat. Byers could hear the bones along his spine popping into alignment. "At least we tried."
"Right." Byers believed that about as much as he believed the sky had just fallen.
"Hey, why don't I drop you off at the motel and you can call the guys and fill them in. I gotta borrow the van for a few hours. You get some rest. Marconi and me are gonna... go over... stuff."
Byers stared out the window, gritting his teeth. "Sure. Fine. Stuff."
"Cool!" Langly gleefully stomped on the gas pedal and worked the clutch, and they screeched out of the parking lot, accompanied by the love theme from 'Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes.'
X FILES OFFICE
4:43 PM EST
The phone rang shrilly as FBI Special Agent Dana Scully scooped up some folders. "Can you get that? We're about to be late for a meeting," she said as she flipped through the top set of documents.
Special Agent John Doggett nodded and yanked the headset off the cradle before it could ring a second time and turn his burgeoning headache into full, throbbing migraine-type agony. Perhaps it was time to go see the doctor about a prescription. Sometime during his ten day camping trip, he must have picked up the flu, because he'd been feeling headachy and miserable ever since coming back to Washington, DC three days ago. His eyes had been burning. The world just wasn't coming back into focus. So far, nothing he'd tried had helped.
"Doggett," he snapped, rubbing at his temple.
"Agent Doggett --" It was Byers' voice. He could hear the loud sounds of traffic in the background. Grinding trucks, horns blaring. Byers must have been standing next to a freeway.
"What do you want, Byers? Make it quick. I feel lousy."
Byers hesitated a moment. Doggett could hear the scrape of cloth on cloth. He could almost see the man nervously adjusting his tie in his mind's eye. "Langly and I are in Cascade, Washington. We've... well, we've come up with evidence that suggests a cyborg-based SuperSoldiers project may be in development at Rainier University."
Doggett's eyes narrowed and he covered them with his hand. "SuperSoldiers?"
Scully's head jerked up. She was wearing way too much perfume. It was almost enough to choke a horse. She'd never done anything of the sort before. Why the hell she'd bathed in the stuff today, Doggett had no idea, but it would be rude to say anything.
"Yes." He could hear the scratchy brush of what had to be Byers' beard against the phone as he spoke. God. Everything was annoying. He wanted to hit things with a crowbar to make them shut up and be quiet.
"Turn the sound down on your phone, will you? Anybody dead yet?"
There was a screaming digital beep as Doggett held the phone away from his ear, cringing. The volume went down, but not nearly enough. "Not that I'm aware of. But we have reason to believe that one of the Detectives at the Cascade Police Department, James Ellison, is a prototype. His partner, Detective Blair Sandburg, just happens to be a professor at Rainier -- who's been getting black ops grants from DARPA and other government sources. He's connected with the cyborg tech master, Doctor Phil Helton. The guy's a genius. I saw him in Sandburg's office less than an hour ago. It looks like a solid case. We thought you'd like to know."
Doggett groaned. He did want to know, but he sure as hell didn't want to deal with it. Not right now. "Yeah, you're right. I'll see what I can do about it. I'll call you when I know anything."
"Thanks, Agent Doggett. I'm sorry you're not feeling well."
"Right," Doggett grumbled. "Whatever."
"Is there any chance you could come out and take a look into this?" There was a twinge of concern in Byers' voice. "I mean, if you're feeling up to it."
"I'm fine. I'll have to talk to Skinner and Scully about it, though. I'll let you know. Later, Byers."
Scully looked at him. "SuperSoldiers? What did Byers want?"
"The Gunmen are in Cascade, Washington. Byers claims they got a line on some SuperSoldiers development project."
Scully snorted. "Oh? What's the evidence this time?"
"They got a Cascade PD cop they say sounds like one, and his partner's not just a cop, but a prof at Rainier University with black ops grants comin' in." He leaned an elbow on his desk and buried his face in his hand. Nothing seemed to take the edge off the headache. "They've also got some cyborging tech guru named Phil Helton connected with the cops."
"Helton? Amazing," Scully said. She sounded vaguely surprised. "That sounds like a legitimate lead."
"You know this guy?"
"Not directly, no, but he's published some papers in medical journals and I saw him speak at a conference. He's one of the researchers working on electronic and robotic assisted controls for the handicapped."
"Like that stuff Stephen Hawking uses?"
"Something like that," she nodded. "Why don't you go join the guys? See what the fuss is about. If you come up with something, I'll see if I can join you in a day or so."
"I can't. We got that Karamani case surveillance tonight, and you know I just got back from ten days leave. Skinner'll never let me take off right now."
"I'm not so sure. This might pique his interest. Let's talk to him, see what we can do."
"Come on, Dana, can't this wait until tomorrow?" He ached everywhere. If he couldn't go home and sleep, all he wanted was to sit collapsed in a quiet heap on a boring surveillance gig.
She sighed, frustration evident in her pitch and the tilt of her body. "If this is the real thing, it's going to become an FBI matter and land in our laps anyway. Something of this magnitude is way over the guys' heads."
"Okay. You're right. Can't turn your back on the Gunmen for five minutes or they've got their butts in a bear trap. Just gimme a chance to get something for my headache before we head for Skinner's office, okay?"
"You know, they're not that bad at it. But I think you're maxing out on the aspirin today. You should go easy on that stuff. It'll make your stomach bleed." Scully frowned. "Want me to see about getting you something a little stronger, that'll be easier on your system?"
"Nah. It would take too long. I'll stick with this. See you in a couple of minutes."
He went to wash his face with cold water. Aspirin. He needed more aspirin.
When the dust cleared, Doggett found himself heading off to check out the Gunmen's story. Scully was assigned to take Rema Salizar, a green agent, on the surveillance for the Karamani case.
Scully handed him a sleeping pill and a small vial of pain pills as he was leaving their office. "You look miserable, Agent Doggett. Take one of these now for your headache," she pointed to the bottle, "and the other one after you get to Cascade, then sleep for a few hours, or you'll drop dead from exhaustion."
"Gee, thanks, Agent Scully. And a lovely good evening to you."
TYEE TEEPEE MOTEL
2:20 PM PST
"Byers," he said into his cell phone.
"Dude, it's me." Langly's nasal voice was excited.
Byers sat up. He'd been trying to catch a brief nap after he'd called Agent Doggett about their situation. "What's up?"
"Shit, man, you'll never believe what I just saw!"
"What?" He could hear Langly wheezing on the other end of the line. "Langly, you sound like you're about to have an asthma attack. Did you pack your inhalers?"
"Oh, yeah. Yeah, hang on." There was a brief moment of confused noise on the other end of the line, then the sound of Langly hitting the inhaler twice, slow. Good, he'd remembered. "Sandburg, man," Langly said. He sounded better already. "I saw him with Jack Kelso today. They were having lunch with Helton!"
"Kelso? The ex-CIA agent?"
"Yeah -- the one in the wheelchair. Sandburg had just helped Helton get his wheelchair to the table when Kelso comes rolling in and they all get their heads together. Helton hauls some paperwork out and they start talking even softer - - and then he hauls out this bit of electronics that he's showing off to both of them."
"What was it?"
"Man, I couldn't tell at that distance. But I think it's some borging thing because Helton was pointing to Kelso's chair like it was supposed to go somewhere underneath. Super spy device. Nobody would look under some guy's wheelchair."
"Langly, Helton was probably just showing Kelso how to soup up his wheelchair so he could get around better. You know Kelso teaches Foreign Affairs at Rainier. Three professors at the University having lunch together doesn't prove there's a conspiracy here." He shook his head. Langly was so prone to these leaps of logic. He and Frohike had to sit on him often enough when he went off half-cocked about a story idea.
"Aw, man. Come on, Byers. You know why we're here! This has got to mean something."
"I'm not convinced of that. I need evidence."
"Then we'll get it for you. Marconi and I will follow this guy and prove it. Something really hinky is going on here, dude. I am so totally on top of this one."
Byers rested his face in his palm. "Okay, okay. Follow him. But for God's sake, Langly, he's ex-CIA -- don't let him see you. If he's not involved with this mess, you'll really annoy him. If he is, we don't need anybody dragging us out of our beds in the middle of the night for questioning. I'm not keen on disappearing without a trace. All right?"
"Oh, yeah. Totally. We'll be careful, don't worry." The line went dead.
Right. Careful. Byers only hoped that Marconi, a somewhat more level head, would temper Langly's enthusiasm.
RAINIER UNIVERSITY CAMPUS
Blair glanced around warily. Jack Kelso, head down, focused on easing his wheelchair down the short curb. "See anything?" the ex-CIA agent asked softly. His dark auburn hair shifted in the breeze as they moved.
"No," Blair murmured. Twenty feet in front of him stood the Wolf, staring intently at something beside the Chemistry building. He glanced quickly at the bushes and the hollow windows that glinted in the sunlight. "Nothing. I don't see anything," he said quietly.
"Keep watching. I'm pretty sure there are at least two of them, maybe more, that are trailing you. I hope Phil has something for me, like he promised. And you ought to ask him about setting up some sort of surveillance monitoring on yourself " Kelso wheeled sharply to the right.
"Eh, that's overkill for this situation." Blair turned and followed, keeping alert. He had an uneasy feeling of dj^ vu, remembering the time he'd been stalked by an assassin, and Jack had been shot. He could almost feel an itchy spot between his shoulder blades as they moved along the sidewalk.
The two made their way to the Engineering building, Blair on a constant lookout for anything unusual. At one point, he thought he spotted a woman glancing their way, but she was gone by the time he looked back.
"I think we've got a bogey, Jack. Dark haired woman, kind of short, a little zaftig."
"Crap," Kelso muttered. "If Phil's not ready with the surveillance equipment, I may have to hurt him."
"Jousting?" Blair grinned.
"Twinkies from twenty paces." Kelso whacked Blair's hip with the back of one fingerless-gloved hand. "Asshole." He laughed.
CASCADE INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
Byers was an island of quiet in the middle of the spidery arches of the Cascade International Airport baggage claim, and Doggett was grateful for it. He shouldered his bag and gritted his teeth against the noise and chaos. Hopefully Byers was driving something rented, not that rattlebag of a VW microbus they owned. "So where's the rest of the Stooges?" he asked, somewhat more nastily than he'd intended.
"Got himself a hot date, huh?"
Byers blushed. "Frohike and Jimmy are still back home."
Doggett chuckled and slapped him on the shoulder. "C'mon. Let's get out of here. The smell of the fuel and the noise are driving me crazy."
"Are you feeling any better than you were at the office?"
"Still got a headache. See if you can keep the noise to a dull roar, okay?" Actually, he hadn't been to bed in two days, and though he'd tried to sleep on the plane, he'd been in too much discomfort to settle. His headache was getting worse, his stomach was upset, and he just wanted to go to his room.
"Have you eaten anything?" There was something a little bit soothing about Byers' soft voice that Doggett hadn't ever noticed before. It was... nice. Calming.
"No. The stuff on the plane smelled lousy. God, I think it was half-rotted." Even the memory of the scent made his stomach lurch. Food or sleep?
Byers looked over at him as they crossed the sky bridge from the terminal to the parking lot. Doggett flinched and covered his ears as a plane roared overhead. "You look exhausted. I think you should eat something and then just go to bed. We've already got you a room at the motel we're staying in. You're on Bureau time, right?"
Doggett nodded. "Yeah, they'll pay for it. Thanks. That's one less thing to hassle with, at least."
TYEE TEEPEE MOTEL
"Okay, so what's the story here? I've been up for more than two days, and I want to get this briefing over with and hit the sack." Doggett closed the door to his room behind them. His headache was only getting worse and, despite having eaten, his stomach was a mess. Byers had suggested waiting until morning, but any SuperSoldier investigation was too important to put off, and he wanted to get it over with.
"We got a bunch of stuff here," Langly said, holding out a folder stuffed with paper. He'd been a chorus of electronic noises since he'd joined Byers -- beeps, alarms, and weird tones that were driving Doggett insane -- and the skinny bastard smelled like raw sex. He could at least have tried taking a shower before he arrived. Doggett wanted to throttle him. "It's from an informant who wants to remain unidentified."
Doggett nodded and took the folder, sitting at the little table in his room. He dropped the folder in front of him. Byers and Langly sat with him, one on either side. Byers was seated slightly closer to him. He was like a wave of calm in the face of Langly's excessive energy.
"Right now, we've got a solid connection between Detective Blair Jacob Sandburg and Dr. Philip Helton," Byers said. He pulled a photo out of the folder. "This one's Sandburg: the cop who's also a part-time university professor."
Sandburg was a short, strongly built, rather handsome man in his 30s, with long, curly brown hair and dark blue eyes. He looked alert and intelligent, and Doggett suspected that the mild-mannered professor was probably stronger than he looked. In the photo, he wore wire-rim glasses and was dressed in jeans and a flannel shirt; the very picture of a harmless, eccentric academic.
Doggett nodded and looked back at Byers, who produced another photo. "This one is Phil Helton."
Helton was more conservatively dressed: a bulky, graying, brown-eyed man in a mechanized wheelchair. He wore thick glasses with round, tortoise-shell rims and looked like he was in his late 50s or early 60s. He looked, in his own way, like your typical absent-minded professor, although Doggett doubted he actually was. The guy's field was too demanding. At least this one wasn't likely to be a physical threat if something went down.
"This is Detective James Joseph Ellison. He's Detective Sandburg's partner." Byers pulled another photo out of the stack.
If the other two looked inoffensive and mild-mannered, Ellison was clearly a different type. He was shown walking next to Sandburg, giving the viewer some sense of scale. Ellison was a big guy, a little over six foot, Doggett guessed, and he looked like solid muscle, with broad shoulders, a slim waist, and powerful arms and legs. He had a military buzz cut that emphasized a receding hairline, and chiseled features, with an intelligent face. He appeared to be in his mid-40s. Probably extremely dangerous, Doggett thought, even if he didn't turn out to be a borged-out SuperSoldier. They'd have to be careful.
"This is our potential SuperSoldier?" Doggett asked.
Byers nodded. "Former Army Covert Ops."
"Makes sense," Doggett muttered to himself.
"Yeah. And, like, we got Jack Kelso in the middle of this too," Langly added. A fourth photo was produced.
This man was of medium height, with straight, dark auburn hair and wire-rim glasses. He looked fairly fit for a guy in a wheelchair, with decent upper-body development, but thickening a bit around the waist. He wore leather fingerless gloves, not unlike the ones Frohike always seemed to have on. The wheelchair was one of the light, sporty ones, with no arm rests. Doggett recognized the man.
"I've heard of him," Doggett said. "Former CIA. He's a special ops specialist. Intelligence analysis, counter-intel, infiltration. Knows wetworks, may have been an assassin himself, but nobody's talking. Has the goods on a lot of people. Dangerous guy, and very knowledgeable. I read a book he wrote a few years back about the CIA's secrets. Some called him a traitor, but he exposed a lot of the crap that goes on in the Company. He's a whistle-blower, not a traitor, you ask me. Has the public's best interests in mind. But with a CIA connection, this could be a serious situation. It's never all on the surface with them, not even with the good ones."
Byers nodded. "We don't have any proof that he's involved with this."
"You mean, we don't have any proof, yet," Langly snapped.
Doggett cringed. "Langly, would you please keep your voice down? I got a headache here the size of Pittsburgh."
Langly backed off a little, just as his watch went off with an ear-splitting and utterly unidentifiable tune.
"Turn the thing off!" Doggett roared, wincing at his own volume.
Langly slapped at his wrist. "Jeez. It's just my watch."
"And every other electronic device know to God and man," Doggett growled.
Byers sighed. "He's been that way the whole trip." He laid a gentle hand on Doggett's shoulder. It was soothing, but Doggett was too irritated to pay much attention.
"Look, Langly," Doggett said, "just turn everything off. That way I won't have to hurt you. And let's get this over with so I can get some sleep."
"Uh, yeah," Langly agreed. "Maybe that'll make your headache go away." Langly's head turned. "And your grouchitude," he muttered.
"I heard that," Doggett snapped.
Langly startled and looked up at Doggett, alarmed. He pulled maybe a dozen different devices from his pockets and the fanny pack he'd been wearing. Doggett couldn't believe any one geek could possibly be carrying that many weird electronic gadgets outside of a special ops convention. He glared at the blond just for emphasis and then turned back to Byers. "So show me what you guys got on the situation."
It took maybe twenty minutes for them to go over the data in the files the Gunmen provided. Doggett rubbed his hand over his temples. They might be the publishers of one of the most outrageous, counter-culture conspiracy papers around, and hardcore members of the whacko-fringe edge of society, but he had to admit they were thorough. "This looks like you guys have some legitimate concerns," he admitted. "If we can confirm this stuff tomorrow, I'm gonna call Scully in on it," he said.
"Yeah?" Langly said.
Doggett nodded. "She said she'd try to come in a couple of days if the case looked good. At this point, I'd say it does, but I wanna check out this Ellison guy first."
"That's why we hoped you'd come," Byers said. "There's no way for us to crack Cascade PD to talk to him without arousing immediate suspicion. You're FBI, though. If we come up with a reason, you can talk to him and no one will think it's odd."
Langly nodded and produced a thick manila folder from somewhere. "Yeah, and we've got just the thing. Here's an old case of Mulder's that you can say you've re-opened for investigation. It involved some militia types and it wouldn't be much of a stretch to think that this bunch would be involved with some of the nut-jobs in this area."
Doggett grabbed the file. "Where did you get this?" he growled at Langly, who inched backwards with his chair.
"Hey, man, we have our sources," he said defensively.
Byers put a hand on Doggett's arm. "It's okay. No security was broken. We saw the newspaper reports, and Mulder mentioned something about the militia. We put together our own dossier on this case. It's pretty thorough, if I do say so myself."
"Oh. So what's this 'militia connection' I'm supposed to be investigating?"
"The Sunrise Patriots," Byers said, a grin on his face. "They're a violent, anti-government militia group led by a head case named Garrett Kincaid. He's a complete sociopath."
"Held the Cascade PD hostage and blew up a nearby building," Langly said. "And they, like, took over Cascade Stadium a few years later --"
"I remember that. I was watching that Jags game when Kincaid took the place over. Damn. And Ellison was the reporting officer on the case, wasn't he? Yeah, Langly, this is perfect. Thanks." Doggett smiled. "I can tell him we think they're active again and I'll ask him for his analysis. Should be easy. Once I get a good look at the back of his neck, I can tell whether he's a SuperSoldier or not."
"Yeah," Langly said, "and the borging would be pretty obvious too, unless stuff's been way miniaturized in the last year or so. But, like, then there'd be surgical scars and probably lumps under the skin where the implants are."
"Who knows what the CIA is capable of now?" Byers asked. "Assuming Kelso's actually involved. And," Byers got a haunted look in his eyes, "remember the chip that was in Agent Scully's neck."
Langly shuddered. "Let's just not go there, okay?" he whispered.
THURSDAY, 3:30 PM
Ellison was a likable man in spite of his being a pig-headed bastard, Doggett decided as he studied the lunch menu. He had a lot of the typical macho cop swagger and attitude; an attitude that Doggett was too familiar with from his own days in the NYPD.
It would have been easy enough to give him a dose of his own arrogance, particularly after he overheard Ellison telling someone about "meeting the Feebie," but he reminded himself that the worst way to conduct an investigation was to get the subject of your inquiries upset at you. That kind of thing would work with punk kids, but it was a stupid tactic to try on another cop -- particularly muscle-bound testosteroneladen cops who were standing in the middle of their own police station in the middle of their own home territory.
Ellison's territoriality was subtle but very present. In fact, Doggett would have sworn there was a moment when he was being almost sniffed over to check him out. For a microsecond, he had a mental image of a couple of alpha dogs poking their noses in each other's butts; an oddly uncomfortable and irritating thought that he shoved back down into a dark corner of his psyche.
So Doggett had fallen back on the good-humor, "we're all in this together" approach and spun a few yarns about his own days as a cop. That kind of bullshit tactic often worked on other cops, but it didn't work on Ellison. Or maybe Ellison thought he had the words "this guy is a suspicious bastard" tattooed in invisible ink on his forehead. In any case, his mild headache went from being an irritating annoyance to an almost full-blown migraine within minutes of meeting the man.
In some ways he and Ellison were two of a kind; ex-military, in law enforcement, into sports and camping. It was easy to form a sort of bond with him and understand where he was coming from. It was also fairly easy to see when the big cop was hiding something. Ellison was definitely not completely forthcoming, despite the shit-eating grin and good-old-boy role he was playing for Doggett's benefit.
At least Ellison had been mostly honest about what was going down with the Sunrise Patriots, though Doggett had the uneasy feeling that Ellison hadn't quite bought the "reopened FBI investigation" story. His stomach growled and then lurched as though it couldn't decide whether food or throwing up was the better option.
"So what's good here?" he asked, staring down at the laminated menu. The typeface was crisp and black, the background color a sort of bluish-grayish texture, and he found his eyes tracing the subtle nuances of color, following the sweep of gray-into-gray, focusing....
"I usually get the hamburger." Doggett didn't quite jerk, but Ellison's voice startled him.
"Yeah. Sandburg -- my partner -- is gonna have a fit about it, though," the cop chuckled. "Too much cholesterol. He screams every time I want to go to WonderBurger."
"Sounds like my partner. Agent Scully's been riding my case about diets lately. She put on three pounds and decided to reform with some sort of ... Hampton Blender diet," Doggett said, waving his hands vaguely. "After a week of fruit and nuts and reconstituted meals, I'm ready for something dangerous, like a good steak. Burger it is."
"Reconstituted meals?" Ellison's nose wrinkled. "I think I'd have to shoot someone if they put me on that kind of diet."
"Actually, that was my fishing trip. The score was Doggett zero, fish lots, and the supply store got rich off the MREs they sold me," he chuckled.
"You just weren't in the right place," Ellison said, and launched into a description of his favorite fishing areas. Doggett grinned and nodded along with the commentary, throwing in an occasional fish story of his own, but his heart wasn't in it. The headache was a constant throbbing pain behind his eyeballs and the noise of this relatively quiet place was hammering against his ears. It was time for another one of the pills that Scully had shoved into his hand before he left. He fished in his pocket for the vial and felt a sense of relief as his fingers touched the plastic.
"'Scuse me. Men's room," he said, and pushed his chair back. Ellison nodded and looked around for the waitress.
He glanced at the clean-shaven neck as he passed Ellison's chair. It was smooth and unmarked. He hadn't seen any signs of recent surgical scarring or implants, either. If the program was producing SuperSoldiers, Ellison wasn't one of them, but that still left a lot of unanswered questions about the detective.
Brass blared from the jukebox as another tune started, and Doggett gritted his teeth against the echoing noise. The headache was getting much worse. He hoped Scully's pills would help.
TYEE TEEPEE MOTEL, ROOM 114
"Chinese?" Byers asked.
Langly shook his head. "No way, man. We get Chinese at home all the time. Let's go for something a little more exotic. What can't we get back home?"
Langly leafed through the restaurant section of the yellow pages. "Um... Tibetan?"
Byers shrugged. "That's pretty unusual. What's on the menu?"
Langly looked up, confused. "What's a momo?"
"I think it's like a potsticker."
"Oh. Well, that can't be too bad, right?"
"I wonder if Agent Doggett would like something," Byers said as he peered at the ad.
"Doggett? You saw how he looked when he got back. I think we should let sleeping bears hibernate or something. It needs to be something quick, so I can relieve Marconi."
"Marconi's watching Sandburg?" Byers glared at his partner. "I thought we agreed that there wasn't any SuperSoldier threat. Ellison checked out."
"Yeah, but Sandburg didn't."
Their debate was interrupted by a frantic knocking on the door. Byers rose to open it, peering around the slide lock. Doggett stood there, one arm braced against the wall, the other clutching his stomach, his face pasty white and wet with perspiration. Byers opened the door quickly. "Agent Doggett?"
Doggett stumbled forward and leaned against the doorframe. "I'm sick," he gasped. "Food poisoning... or something. Need... help..." His knees buckled and he slid toward the floor.
Byers' eyes widened and he grabbed the FBI agent, staggering a little under the unexpected weight. "Langly!" he shouted. Doggett winced in agony and tried to curl into a fetal position.
Langly was there before Byers even finished speaking his name, and they both hauled Doggett over to the closest bed. Doggett collapsed onto it with a pained groan.
"Oh, God, shut up, shut up," Doggett muttered. "Make 'em shut up."
"Shut who up?" Langly asked, puzzled.
"Shut 'em the hell up!" Doggett barked. He put his hands over his ears, agony on his face. "Get out of my head!"
Langly and Byers exchanged alarmed glances.
"Agent Doggett?" Byers felt Doggett's forehead for fever. The sweat-slicked skin seemed cool and clammy. "He's got a chill. Get him a blanket, Langly," Byers snapped. Langly hurried to the closet and pulled one from the top shelf. Byers turned his attention back to Doggett. "It's okay. We'll get you to the hospital. What happened to you?"
Langly tucked the blanket around Doggett.
"Lunch. Ellison," Doggett groaned. "We ate... same thing." Doggett gagged and curled up, arms wrapped tightly around his stomach.
"Shit," Langly muttered.
"We've got to get him to a hospital," Byers said, "and we have to find out if Detective Ellison has this too. Is it food poisoning? Did somebody deliberately try to poison them, or drug them?"
"Oh, man, I dunno." Langly looked half panicked and laid a hand on Doggett's shoulder, squeezing gently. "But if Ellison's got it too, then yeah, it could be drugs. This doesn't look like food poisoning. You got the guy's phone number?"
"Yes. In the briefcase. Get him to the van and find the hospital on the GPS. I'll find the number and call Ellison, warn him," Byers hurried to the dresser and flipped the locks on the briefcase. Doggett moaned and curled into a fetal position, shivering, hands covering his ears.
Langly laid a hand on Doggett's shoulder, squeezing gently. "Hey, chill, dude, it's gonna be okay. We'll get you to a doc. Just hang on. C'mon. Let's get you to the van."
Doggett swallowed and started gagging. "Sorry... need to throw up... Light's too bright... Skin's on fire..."
Langly's eyes glazed and he went slightly greenish. He lifted the struggling agent and helped him to the bathroom as Byers grabbed his cell phone and dialed Ellison's home number. Two rings.
"No, this is Detective Sandburg. Who's calling?"
Byers grimaced. When the dossier said that Sandburg was Ellison's partner, he'd read it as "professional associate," not "domestic partner/roommate." This was going to be a mess if Sandburg recognized his voice. "Is Detective Ellison there?" he repeated. "It's urgent."
There was a muffled "Jim, it's for you... no... didn't say... here." Then another voice spoke.
"Detective Ellison, an associate of mine, John Doggett, had lunch with you today," Byers said quickly, over the uncomfortable sound of retching in the background. "He just showed up at our motel room, extremely ill. He's hallucinating, hearing things that aren't there. He says the lights are too bright, that his skin's burning, and he's collapsed. I don't know what's wrong with him, but we think it's food poisoning, or he may have been drugged. We're taking him to the hospital. If you start feeling strange or ill, go see a doctor, quickly. This looks serious."
"Wait,who are --"
Byers slapped his phone closed and went to help Langly haul Doggett to their van.
CASCADE GENERAL HOSPITAL
The minute he stepped into the darkened room, Blair could feel the hunger clawing at him. Jim stepped in front of him, blocking his view of the man on the bed, as Blair focused on the other two there. He recognized Byers, the bearded journalist who had visited his office. He looked calmer than the blond, but both were jittery. He didn't blame them; hospitals did nothing for his nerves -- even without the emotional hunger of an unbonded Sentinel scraping his psyche like fingernails on a chalkboard.
Touching Jim to ground himself from the desperate, gnawing need spilling from the man on the hospital bed, he stepped around his lover's body and observed Byers and the other man who stood at the bedside. The man in the bed kept moving restlessly and muttering, occasionally grimacing in pain and covering his ears with his hands.
Jim nodded grimly at Blair and bent to whisper in his ear. "I was right. Doggett, that FBI Agent -- he's a Sentinel. I think his Guide's either one of these guys, or someone on the hospital staff. I can hear his heart rate changing as he focuses on someone. Let's start with these two and see if one of them is the Guide."
The shadows he'd been seeing were flickering at the edge of his vision again. Spirit animals. The Sentinel's and the Guide's. Their forms were unclear, hiding. With both spirits so near, he was sure the Guide was one of these two. He could feel it. The Guide was definitely in the room.
"Something's going on here," Blair said, his eyes narrowing. "The one with the beard is John Byers. He came to see me in my office yesterday. I was getting a weird vibe from him that I couldn't quite place. Said he's a reporter. Asked a lot of questions about my research, but I put him off. I didn't realize he was connected to the Fed you saw this afternoon. And I've seen that blond guy before. I can't remember where."
Doggett was a fairly tall guy, strongly built, not much smaller than Jim. He had broad shoulders too, but was less bulky. Like his lover, Doggett had short cropped hair. His face was craggy and rather handsome, with an aura of strength. He watched the way the others reacted to him: yes, they were concerned, but he wasn't the power center of the group. Byers was the one the blond was deferring to. So whatever these three men were to each other, they weren't all on the same team.
"Byers might be another Fed himself," Jim whispered back. "Definitely not blondie, though. I got no idea what they're up to, but they did call to see if I was okay. Doggett was lying about the Sunrise Patriots case when I met him, but he didn't give me any sense of being hostile or a threat when I met him earlier. It's obvious they need help here." He ducked his head briefly; Blair knew he was listening to the quiet conversation of the men beside the bed. "The blond guy's name is Langly. Doggett's almost out of it. Pretty heavily drugged and fighting it all the way. I can hear his heart and respiration spiking all over the chart."
"Does he seem to be focusing on anyone?"
Jim closed his eyes, focusing. After a brief moment, he nodded. "Byers. I think Byers is his Guide. His heart slows a little when he looks toward him, respiration evens out some."
"Okay, that would explain the vibe I got from him earlier. I think it's been muted because I can't really get a good sense of their spirit guides. Let's work with that. I can feel their spirit guides nearby. Can you get the blond guy out of here?" Blair mouthed, nodding towards Langly, who was peering at the hospital monitoring equipment as though he was considering taking it apart. "If those two know each other, and they are Sentinel and Guide, then I'm wondering why they haven't gone ahead and established their bond." He tensed at a sudden emotional tug from Doggett and then shook his head. "I think we need to get something done fast. You get Langly out of here and I'll try to help Byers through Guide 101."
Jim nodded and moved toward his target. "Keep your voice down and come with me," he said to Langly in quiet but insistent tones. Langly startled. "I need to talk to you guys one at a time and we shouldn't leave Doggett alone without anyone he knows in the room. Blair and I, we've seen this before. Let's go someplace more private where we can discuss it. We're going to need your help on this one."
"Wait! What's goin' on? Ellison, where are you takin' Langly?" Doggett struggled upward from the bed, eyes wild and half-focused, reaching for Langly's arm.
"Me and this guy need to talk a bit," Jim said evenly. "Blair and I have handled this kind of thing before. It takes a bit of explaining -- and you need to rest," he said pointedly to Doggett.
Blair stepped in and put a hand on the agent's shoulder. Doggett's mouth twisted in a brief and silent snarl, but he eased back down on the bed. The heart monitor spiked then steadied, and the blood pressure numbers started easing down.
Blair smiled across the bed at Byers. "Do you want to help while Jim talks to your friend? I think we can get Agent Doggett to feel better if you're willing to give me a hand."
Jim pulled Langly out of the room and started for the elevator at a rapid pace: the old Keep Them Scurrying To Keep Up And They Don't Ask Lots Of Questions tactic. "Listen, Langly. I know this is gonna be hard to swallow, but if your FBI friend in there is gonna survive this, you have to understand what's going on."
"Survive? Shit -- it's that bad?" Langly looked stricken, his pulse and respiration rising.
"It could be, but it doesn't have to get to that." Jim put a hand on his shoulder. "If you and your pal Byers can help him, he'll be just fine. He won't even have to stay here. He could go home tomorrow and be just fine, okay? Do you understand that?"
"Wha-what the hell's going on with him?" Langly's voice was strained with worry. "And what's this bit about me and Byers doing things that could make the difference between him dying and him being fine tomorrow morning? It's not like we're doctors."
The elevator dinged and the door opened. Jim nudged Langly into it and pushed the button for the parking level. "Your friend, Agent Doggett; he's not like other people."
Langly's eyes narrowed. "What the hell does that mean?" The blond's body was pumping adrenaline now, making him jittery.
"It's complicated, okay? Try not to interrupt; you might learn something." He squeezed Langly's shoulder meaningfully. Langly twitched nervously, but nodded. "There are some people whose senses aren't like other people's. They have... hyperacute senses. They can see things, smell things, hear things that other people can't."
Langly looked skeptical.
"I mean they can see things further away than others can. Their sense of smell is fine enough to tell if something's poisoned, or if there's some kind of fumes in the air, that other people couldn't detect without a chemical sniffer. They can taste things in water that you couldn't find without analysis, feel things like slight impressions on paper that you couldn't detect without high tech equipment."
Langly gave him an annoyed look. "Yeah, right. Like this really happens. Don't talk shit, dude. Get on with the real explanation."
"I'm serious, Langly. They're called Sentinels."
Langly fell silent and stared at him. The elevator dinged for the parking level and Jim led him into the underground lot.
"Yeah, right." Langly stopped in his tracks. "Where are you taking me?"
"My truck. We're running by the place where I live. You need to hear this, and I need to get Doggett something that'll help him." He yanked open the door to the truck's passenger side. Langly slid in, looking uneasy. Jim could smell the rising scent of fear. Langly worried too much, he decided. It was time to give the lanky blond something real to worry about. He grinned to himself, shoved the truck into gear and roared out of the parking lot.
"Shit! Where did you learn to drive, dude? Mario Andretti?" Langly yelped, eyes wide, as he clung to the truck's door handles, bracing himself against the turns.
"I take it you've never ridden with a cop?" Truck tires squealed as they rounded a corner and sprinted through a just-barely-red light.
"Gah! Watch the--No! Uh!" Langly's head jerked in every direction, as though he had no idea where to look next. He clutched the seat belt strap and braced his feet. "Uh... ah! Car!"
"Hey, settle down. There's no cars coming on the next two cross streets and only one northbound on the third street after this." Jim glanced over at his passenger, trying not to laugh. Langly was scanning the streets, counting the traffic, bracing for a sudden crash. Jim stomped on the accelerator and the truck leaped. Langly's head snapped back slightly and his legs stiffened as he realized they were coming up on the third street. Jim pulled the truck to a smooth stop.
A blue Mustang cruised slowly by, music thumping from bassboosting speakers.
"Okay... How did you do that?" Langly asked as he watched the car pass.
Jim shoved the truck into gear. "I'm a Sentinel. That means I can see things before other people can, hear things they can't. Your pal Doggett, he's a Sentinel, too. It's a genetic thing. His Sentinel abilities are starting to come on line."
"Ya know, I think we'd have noticed something like that," Langly said acidly.
"The senses don't seem to happen until the potential Sentinel gets into some sort of crisis, and then they hit all at once -- wham! His senses are all out of control. He's overloaded. It's what Blair calls a zone out. Doggett's so focused on his hearing right now that he can't separate out anything else. His hearing, his sense of smell, of touch, of taste, his sight -- it's all overloaded. When that happens, let me tell you, it's agony, even if you know what's going on. When you don't know what's happening, it's terrifying. He probably thinks he's losing his mind."
"So you're telling me that Doggett, who's, like, totally hallucinating, is off on some super-senses head trip? Like Superman or something?" Langly snorted. "There's no way you're gonna sell me on that kinda crap. And what the fuck does this have to do with me and Byers, anyway?"
"I didn't think you'd get it, Blondie," he said caustically, "but Agent Doggett's life depends on somebody believing it. I didn't believe it at first either, but if your Fed friend doesn't die, he's gonna end up locked in some psych ward in a straitjacket, and they'll toss the key. The doctors won't find anything wrong with him, because there isn't anything wrong with him. He's perfectly fine, he's just sensing things that nobody else does. They're gonna think he's hallucinating, or psychotic or something. If he doesn't get some serious support, he'll probably kill himself sooner or later. A Sentinel's backup is his Guide."
"You're fulla shit." Langly fidgeted like a ferret on caffeine.
Jim pushed to stay in control of his impulse to strangle the kid. Reminded him of Early Sandburg, but taller, skinnier, noisier, and nowhere near as good looking. He eased the truck into its usual space on Prospect.
"A Sentinel needs a Guide -- somebody to help him out when stuff like this happens. A Guide is a person that can get through to a Sentinel when he's zoned, can reach him when he's so focused on one sense that he can't perceive anything else. It can't be just anybody, though anyone who understands what's happening can help, at least a little. And right now, Doggett needs a Guide. Desperately."
"A Guide is someone special, someone connected to the Sentinel. That connection is intense, Langly. They may not understand that at first, but the Guide is the Sentinel's lifeline." He paused and took a deep breath. "Look, I'm not happy about telling you this. It's too damned dangerous. But you really need to understand. Blair Sandburg is my Guide."
Langly was silent as they went up to the loft. "So, like, how does this Guide thing work?" he finally asked.
"From what Blair and I can tell, Sentinels and Guides come in pairs, and they're... they're supposed to be together, to help each other. They can't not be together. They're drawn to each other, like magnets. It's instinct. Once they're drawn together, they make this bond. It's... I can't even describe it to you. They take care of each other, like... like brothers, you know?" 'Like lovers' had been on the tip of Jim's tongue, but he wasn't about to say anything about that aspect of the relationship. It would only complicate things in an already awkward situation. They couldn't afford the diversion.
"Okay, gotcha. These Sentinels and Guides, they get to be good buds. But I'm still not seeing the big picture, here. Why are we involved? Me and Byers?""
"Guides have the same instinct to protect their Sentinels as the Sentinels do to protect their Guides," he continued. "The Sentinel protects the Guide from physical danger. The Guide protects the Sentinel from zone outs, keeps him sane, brings him back when he's lost, like Doggett is right now. And they both have some sort of instinct to protect a... a territory: a village, a tribe, a city. A place that's theirs, that they'll protect with their lives. It's a lot more complicated than that, but your pal, Byers, he's Doggett's Guide."
"No way, man! Doggett, he comes to us sometimes for help with the weird stuff in his investigations, but, like, nothing like this has ever happened before. We'd have noticed. This is reality. It ain't no Matrix Recombobulated movie."
Jim picked up a pair of white noise generators that looked like hearing aids from the living room table and handed them to Langly. "Don't drop those." Trotting upstairs, he grabbed his sleep mask and headed back downstairs. "Let's go."
"What are these for?"
"They'll help Doggett control what's happening to him."
"You're telling me it's natural? No chips involved? Just how serious is this? What causes it?"
"Chips?" Now, that came out of nowhere. Jim shook his head. "Yes, no, and we don't know. It seems to happen after being sick or isolated for a long time. Maybe something happened to him recently. Maybe he was isolated for a long period, and he'd never triggered the senses before. I don't know, okay? We'd have to ask him. But unless your friend Byers gets with the program, Doggett's not going to make it. He'll break and get locked up, or he'll kill himself, or he'll walk in front of a bus that he doesn't even see. Do you get that?"
Langly's eyes brightened and he perked. It was like some switch marked 'insatiable curiosity' had been flipped on. "Waitasec! This is what that dissertation flap was all about, right?" His eyes glittered as he watched Jim. "So the things that are happening here, that went down with you, right?"
Jim gritted his teeth. He wheeled and grabbed a fistful of Langly's tee shirt and yanked the lanky blond toward him. "Pay attention!" he growled. "Look, this guy is your friend, right?"
Langly nodded. He looked like he'd gone numb.
"He's a Fed, right?"
"Yes, it's for real, yes, this is in Blair's dissertation, and you'd better pretend you never heard or even thought about this. If anybody knows about this, your buddy Doggett is gonna be on everyone's hit lists. The mob's just the beginning. One peep outta you can kill him."
A grim-faced nod this time. Pale grey-blue eyes were wide behind thick glasses. "Are these... these Guides on people's hit lists too?"
Jim hesitated, then nodded, letting go of Langly's shirt. "If people know what they are, and how important they are to the Sentinel, yes." He poked a finger at Langy's nose for extra emphasis. "You publish a story about this and the wrong people hear about it, Doggett and Byers are both toast on a stick."
The already pale man blanched two shades whiter. "No way, man. Don't you go gettin' Byers mixed up in this Sentinel shit. He doesn't need that, and neither of 'em needs to end up in some lab full of Black Ops dudes makin' with the experiments."
"Sorry, kid. It's too late for not getting mixed up in this. You don't get a choice here, and neither do your friends. This is what it is. And if you want to keep them safe, then you need to know how to keep your mouth shut, how to help Byers with this stuff, and how to help Doggett if Byers isn't around for some reason. It's like having backup. You understand that concept?"
"Oh, I'm totally down with backups, dude. If a virus or a worm or something whacks your system and you ain't got a backup, you're suckin' the tailpipe. I'm The Man when it comes to computers. Lord Manhammer's got the woogie." There was a note of pride, if not downright arrogance, in Langly's tone.
It wasn't quite the 'backup' Jim had been going for, but if the twitchy blond got it, he got it. "You need to be the Guide's backup if Byers isn't around. It won't be the same as Byers being there, not as good for him, but it could save Doggett's life, okay? You could save Doggett's life and your friend's life."
Langly blinked at him, owlish behind the thick, black, geek glasses.
"Oh God! Not again! Give that woman some drugs, damn it!!" Doggett twisted on the bed, digging his fingers in his ears.
Byers looked up, his clear, blue eyes filled with concern. "What do I need to do?"
It was hard to teach someone to be a Guide when their Sentinel was in the middle of crisis mode. It required more explanation than they'd have time for. "Let's get him to focus. Touch his hand, tell him you're beside him and you're going to help him. Touch is important."
Byers looked at him for a moment, then hesitantly, gently laid a hand on Doggett's arm. "Agent Doggett. Agent Doggett."
Shades of the Victorian era, Blair thought to himself. He could just imagine the two of them going through life like an old married couple from the 1900's, calling each other "Mr. Doggett" and "Mr. Byers" after being together for fifty years. He suppressed a chuckle at the image. "Call him by his name," Blair urged. "Establishing a personal connection's important here."
Byers leaned in a little closer, his hand closing around Doggett's wrist. "Ag-- John," he said. Blair rolled his eyes as Byers continued speaking softly. "John, listen. It's going to be okay. I'm here with you, and I'm not going anywhere. It's John Byers; you know me. I'm going to help you."
"Tell them to close the doors," Doggett begged in a whisper. "Just a little quieter. Everything's too loud. Oh God -- no! Not that whacko again! Just shoot him and get him out of my head!"
"I'll have someone get the doors," Byers reassured him. "Breathe, okay?" Doggett took a deep breath.
Blair closed the door to Doggett's room, and returned to the bedside. "You're doing fine. He's listening to you," he whispered. "Tell him to focus on your voice, and call him to come back to you."
Byers nodded and tugged at the knot on his tie, as though it was too tight. He undid the top button of his shirt as well. "Listen to me, John. Listen to my voice. I know you can hear me. I want you to focus on my voice and . . . uh . . . come back from wherever you've gone. Just -- just focus, okay? I know you can do this."
Doggett held his breath for a few seconds and then nodded. "Hurts, God, everything hurts." He took another long breath, held it again, and then exhaled. Some of the tension went out of his posture.
Oh, yeah. This was good. Blair laid a reassuring hand on Byers' shoulder. "That's great," he said quietly. "You're doing great. Now -- since his hearing is most out of control, here's what we'll do...." He began whispering quick instructions and Byers followed them, without questioning.
Blair felt some of his own tension ebb away as well, as he watched the new Guide tend to his out-of-control Sentinel. Most of the Sentinel/Guide pairs he and Jim had run into in the last few years had established some sort of bond before they were sent -- often by their own spirit guides -- to Cascade for training. He and Jim joked about being the Ellison-Sandburg Finishing School For Sentinel/Guide Pairs, but the truth was that they were the best and most accessible bonded pair in the Northern Hemisphere.
With some of their students, the bond had been ragged and strained, their methods rough. It had taken time to train a couple of the Guides so their Sentinels were functional. It was hard to predict how well Byers and Doggett would bond, though Byers certainly had the right qualities for a Guide. He was gentle and empathic and seemed to be reasonably grounded in reality. Doggett was a lucky man.
He glanced at the monitors. Doggett's heart rate was down. Apparently Byers had managed to get the agent to control his hearing to some extent. Now the other senses were spiking and he was moaning about the painful light level, although the only light in the room came from a crack underneath the door and the glow of the vital stats monitor. Blair folded a dry washcloth and a towel and handed them to Byers. "Try putting this over his eyes."
Byers carefully arranged them over Doggett's eyes, caressing the man's forehead gently. "Better?"
"Yeah... nngh... No... Think I'm gonna be sick --" Doggett rolled, holding the cloth over his eyes, and leaned over the edge of the bed. Byers slipped the wastebasket under his face just in time. He held Doggett's shoulder and rubbed his back as the man shuddered and vomited.
"You're going to be okay," Byers insisted.
"Liar," Doggett groaned, once he could speak again.
"Just rest," Byers chided. "You should have a little water. Rinse your mouth out."
Doggett nodded and reached out blindly. Blair handed Byers a cup, and Byers helped Doggett hold it and raise it to his lips. A swish and a spit into the garbage can.
"Stinks," Doggett muttered. Byers moved it from next to the bed.
"Still stinks." Doggett grimaced. Byers pushed it as far away as he could, and still be able to reach it if it was needed again. Doggett panted weakly, exhausted.
Blair smiled wryly. If they got through this in one piece, these would be the last "normal" days of their lives. The horrible hunger Blair had felt from Doggett earlier seemed to be easing as his attention focused on Byers. As he watched, Byers' hand touched Doggett's shoulder, hesitated, and then began gently tracing soothing circles on the tense knots of the muscles. "It's okay," he heard Byers whisper. "You're going to be fine. Just breathe. Keep breathing."
Seconds stretched slowly into minutes and the FBI agent seemed to go into a light doze, as though the sound level had gone back to normal for him.
"Good work," Blair said. "Keep him calm and focused. It should help him sleep. As soon as he's stable enough, we have to get him out of here. The doctors don't have any clue about this--"
"And what makes you the expert?" Byers asked pointedly.
"We've been through this before, Jim and I," Blair said. "We can help with this. You guys just have to let us. You have to trust us to help you."
Byers stiffened a little at the word 'trust' and focused his attention back on Doggett, keeping the physical contact. "You're asking a hell of a lot. I don't even know what you two are really up to."
"And I don't know what you're up to, but you and your friends have given us some good reasons to be suspicious." It was a shot in the dark, but Byers looked uncomfortable and somewhat guilty. "You've been tailing me and some of my friends, but you were decent enough to call Jim to warn him earlier, when you thought he might be sick or drugged, so I'm inclined to think you're one of the good guys. Right now, I just want to help. You trusted me enough to do this, and it helped, didn't it?"
"If he'd been poisoned, your ... uh..."
"My lover," Blair supplied helpfully.
"Your ... lover... might have been poisoned, too," he finished awkwardly, blushing.
Blair grinned to himself. The cultural revolution might have happened, but in the great Comedy of Manners, Byers seemed stuck back in the Victorian era. It was sort of cute, when he thought about it. Actually, so was Byers. He shook his head. "It's a good guess, but the problem is that your friend's not sick, he's just out of balance. His senses are overloaded. When Jim gets back with your pal, Langly, he'll tell you more about it. Jim's been through this before. He's been right here." Blair pointed to Doggett. "He can explain it better than I can."
"He needs to stay where the doctors can take care of him," Byers insisted quietly. The look in his eyes said he'd refuse to be budged on the matter.
"They can't help him," Blair said, his stare level and serious.
Byers' response was a look of annoyed disbelief. "So you keep hinting. I'm a little tired of mystical games. I want some answers."
Ellison opened the door and he and Langly entered. "I can tell you all about it," the big man said, waving the white noise generators and sleep mask at his partner. Blair hurried forward and took them.
"About what?" Langly asked. Ellison winked and pointed at his ear and after a second, Langly gave a silent "oh!" of understanding and nodded.
Jim gestured to Byers. "Come on. We need to talk."
Byers looked down at Doggett, then up at Ellison. He looked down at Doggett again, reluctant and uncertain.
"It's okay," Blair said. "Your friend Langly and I will keep an eye on him until you get back. He'll be fine. You and Jim really need to talk."
Doggett stirred. "No," he mumbled. "Stay. Please. You said you wouldn't go." He kept hold of Byers' wrist as he rose. Blair could feel the wave of need and rising fear flowing from Doggett as Byers started to move away from him. Yeah, the bond was starting to establish. Blair could tell that Doggett knew, somewhere deep inside, that he needed Byers.
Byers hesitated. Langly strolled over and stood nose-to-nose with him. "Byers, man, you need to go. This is some serious shit. We'll be fine here. I won't let anything happen. Promise."
Byers sighed and squeezed Doggett's hand with both of his own. "I'll be back soon, I promise. You're going to be fine, John. Just keep breathing, okay? Just stay focused here and now. You'll barely notice I'm gone. Blair's here, and so's Langly."
But separating the two wasn't as easy as Blair thought. After Jim and Byers left the room, Doggett started twitching restlessly. He motioned Langly to the chair beside the hospital bed and the blond sat, arms and legs splayed awkwardly. Blair took the washcloth and towel away from Doggett's eyes and slipped the mask over them, then gently put the white noise generators in each of the agent's ears. They would clear up most of the extraneous noise and allow Doggett to actually focus on what he wanted to hear. Once the generators were in and the sleep mask on, Doggett relaxed slightly.
Langly looked disturbed. "He's in really bad shape. I've never seen him like this before, ever. Your partner mentioned helping learn to Guide. So, uhm -- what is it I can do to help?"
Blair glanced over at him. "The important thing is to not overload his senses with anything you do, so you have to be very calm. Speak quietly if you have to speak at all. His senses are spiking again. And touch him. It's the fastest way to bring them back."
Langly had a druggie, headbanger-punk look to him. Not the crowd to go in much for New Age touchy-feely stuff. The blond patted Doggett's back awkwardly, and Doggett winced and then startled at a distant noise. Blair put a hand on Langly's wrist and guided it to Doggett's arm. "Gently," he whispered. "Rub, don't pat. And reassure him."
There was a sigh, and then the long, spidery fingers began slowly stroking the agent's arm. "Hey, Agent Doggett, I'm here."
"Langly, you wearin' pants?" It seemed to be some sort of injoke. Langly hissed a little chuckle and patted the arm.
"Yeah, but Frohike isn't. So you better listen to me, or I'll have him show up and moon you or something. He's got one ugly butt."
Doggett laughed, winced, and relaxed for a few moments. Blair watched the monitors slowly creep toward the "normal" mark. The back-up guide wasn't as effective as the true Guide, he noted, but he was better than No Guide. They sat in silence in the darkness, listening to Doggett's breathing patterns change and grow slower and stronger.
After about five minutes, the heart rate monitor showed an accelerated pulse. Blair sat up quickly and pointed toward it and saw Langly's eyes widen in the dim light.
Doggett suddenly convulsed, arching upward. "*No! Not again!!*" Langly reared backwards in surprise, then reached for Doggett's arm.
"Dude, it'll be okay. Focus. Breathe."
Doggett was gagging and Blair hastily adjusted the white noise generators to a higher level.
"What's happening?" Langly mouthed at him.
"Sensory spike," Blair whispered back. He bumped the generator dials up another notch and watched the FBI agent. It wasn't working. He was headed for another overload and a possible zone out.
Blair leaned forward and put his mouth close to Doggett's ear. "It's all right, it's all right," Blair said soothingly. "Just try to picture some dials for each sense, then dial those levels down and focus. Can you find Byers' voice? He should be somewhere close. Maybe just around the corner. Just listen for him and tune out the other sounds, okay?"
Doggett was starting to pant again slightly. "Can't... can't hear him. Where -- yeah, yeah, there he is. There he is." Langly's eyes widened.
"It's all going to be fine," Blair insisted. "Now that you know he's okay, keep his voice in focus but don't tune me out. Hear him in the background. Stay with us, now, okay?" He gestured Langly over and put the blond's hands on Doggett's shoulder with a look that said 'leave them there and don't move.' "You're gonna be fine. Langly's here to help. Everything's gonna be fine. Byers will be back soon, okay?"
Langly stared uneasily at the man on the bed and, after a long moment, squeezed Doggett's shoulder gently. "You're not alone, dude. We're right here. Sleep, okay? Just sleep."
"Oh God," Doggett groaned.
Langly's head bowed, long strands of blond hair veiling the deep eyes. He took Doggett's hand. "S'okay, man. I'm here with you," he whispered. "It's just a bad trip, but I won't let you go. We won't let you go. Hang on. It'll be okay." He squeezed Doggett's hand lightly, and after a moment Blair saw the FBI agent return the squeeze. Backup was critical for any Guide, and Langly the Unlikely just might learn how to become a surrogate guide in an emergency.
852 PROSPECT #307
FRIDAY, 7:45 AM
Morning found them all, except for Doggett, in the loft apartment that Blair and Jim shared. It had been a long, difficult night, but Doggett had finally fallen into a deep, exhausted sleep, and Blair felt he'd be all right on his own until late morning. He poured coffee for the group, wondering if he could have survived such a rough initial night with Jim.
Byers sat on the couch, exhausted, nervously thumbing through the pages of Blair's Sentinel dissertation. "I don't know what to say."
Blair nodded wryly. "I can understand. It's a lot to absorb. That's six years of my life there, and thousands of hours of research. That doesn't count the cost to myself and others." Jim slipped an arm around his shoulders and they stood there for a brief, silent moment, sharing a memory and a loss.
But this man needed information, not memories. Blair hugged Jim briefly and continued. "Sentinels have gone crazy, turned into super-predators, Guides have been killed, Sentinels have committed suicide or been killed by others. It's a risky thing, being the watchman for society. But I'm not sure we had a choice -- not sure any of us have a choice."
"I don't believe in a genetic, Calvinistic destiny," Byers said, lifting his chin defiantly, his eyes fierce. "And I don't see how this can work. Agent Doggett's in the field constantly. There's no way I could be near him, and even if I could, he'd never let me. Forget the Bureau allowing anything like that. Wouldn't his partner, Agent Scully, be a better choice for this?"
"I don't know that you have a choice," Blair said softly. He and Byers stared at each other for a long moment and then he added, "I'm sorry. Even Jim and I didn't have a choice. There's something soul-deep about it."
Byers stood abruptly, not looking at them. "I think I need to go see Agent Doggett," he said, and stalked out of the apartment. The rest of them stared after him, dumbfounded.
"Y'know, Byers never liked being ordered around," Langly observed. "He's, like, totally narc-like but if you start hemming him in, he'll find a way around the walls. And I don't think he likes that soul-mates mumbo-jumbo."
Blair shifted uncomfortably. "I explained that badly. But there's so much he needs to know about this."
"Don't get your tightie-whiteys in a knot. That's just Byers being Byers. He's going for a walk. He'll be back in a couple hours." Langly finished his coffee and then reached for Byers' untouched cup.
"How do you know that?" Jim asked.
"Creature of habit," Langly grinned. "Besides, I got the van keys and the GPS -- and the hospital's ten miles away. Sometimes he just doesn't think these things through."
"Narc-boy at six o'clock," Langly said as he eased the van to a stop. It sighed asthmatically, backfired for emphasis, and then fell silent. Half a dozen electronic devices chirped or squealed in protest as their battery source shut down. "Not bad. He managed five miles already."
Blair unclipped his seat belt. "Let me go talk to him."
Langly put a hand on his arm. "Chill, dude. Byers is still in the thinking stage. Don't rush it. We just walk up to him and sit beside him. He'll start talking when he's ready, but we don't want to push him. He'll just clam up." He flipped the switch to set the electronic alarms and climbed out of the microbus. Blair followed him.
Byers looked stressed, no doubt about it. He was sitting on a park bench, elbows braced on his knees, staring at his folded hands, a troubled expression on his face. Blair paused, mentally reviewing what he wanted to say, then touched Langly on the arm. "Let's go. I'm ready."
In that brief moment, time seemed to grind to a halt. Byers looked up as though he sensed their presence. To the right, Blair saw the Wolf leaping toward him. There was a sudden pounding of feet behind him and a loud popping sound and something slammed into him with the force of a freight train and he collapsed.
He could hear voices arguing and then running footsteps and more voices. He tried to blink his eyes open, but they wouldn't cooperate. Blair's fingers clawed at empty air and his legs twitched, and somewhere in a corner of his mind he felt as though perhaps he should be a bit more concerned.
"...it off, Marconi!" penetrated through his haze. That was Langly. The pressure and strange feeling went away and he could feel someone's hands working on his back.
"Well, how was I to know?" a woman asked, angrily.
"Langly--" That was Byers' voice, and he sounded furious.
Blair pried his eyes open and found himself staring at glittering blue-gray eyes and nostrils the size of a ramjet engine. Langly. His arms had stopped twitching, so he tried prying himself off the hard concrete sidewalk, but he wasn't doing a great job of it. Langly pulled him upright and he stood, as wobbly-kneed as a newborn colt.
Byers joined them, holding him up on the other side. He was gentle about it, and very solicitous for a guy who claimed he wasn't into touchy-feely. "Are you all right? You got hit with a taser," Byers explained, sounding worried. He brushed grass and dirt off Blair's chest and legs.
Aha. Well, that certainly explained all the effects. He peered at the angry woman next to Langly. "And why was I hit by a taser?" It was a reasonable question, he thought. Langly looked accusingly at the woman. Dark haired, a little zaftig -- she was the one who'd been following him the past couple of days.
"Look, I thought you had Langly under mind control and were going to hurt Mr. Byers," she said defensively. "So I zapped you with the taser."
Langly yanked the taser away from her with his free hand. "Gimme that before you hurt somebody. Again."
"Wait a minute, 'mind control'?" Blair blinked. God, were there enough loonies around yet? Tasers were supposed to have no aftereffects, but he didn't seem to be able to connect the dots, here.
"Blair is not controlling anybody's mind!" Byers snapped. He helped Blair over to the park bench where he'd been sitting. "Langly, what on earth were you two thinking?"
Langly looked at Byers and shrugged. "Trust no one, dude." He turned to Blair. "Well, we were suspicious of some of your projects," Langly explained awkwardly as Blair stumbled forward, Byers' thin, strong arm supporting him. "So... we... um... decided to follow you around and see if you had any connection to ... uh... this militia kind of group that's made up of these bioenhanced soldiers."
"An army of Sentinels?" Blair felt as though spiders were crawling down his spine.
"Not exactly. Something worse," Byers said soberly. "It's not really something we can talk about. Why don't you sit down and rest until you're over the effects of the taser."
Blair slipped down onto the bench, and Byers sat close. Blair could feel the man keeping an eye on him. The guy was probably a mother hen when his friends got sick. Not unlike the way Blair was with Jim, actually. Maybe mother hen was a Guide trait too.
"And why can't you tell me?" Blair asked.
Byers and Langly exchanged worried glances. Byers looked back at Blair. "Believe me, if you don't already know about this, you don't want to. It's an extremely dangerous situation, and we don't have sufficient information to discuss it with you."
Blair could feel the stark fear in Byers. Maybe it wouldn't be such a good idea to push the issue right now.
Marconi, standing next to them with her arms crossed over her chest, said, "You guys published a story about the SuperSoldiers a few months ago. It's a matter of public record. You might as well go for it."
"SuperSoldiers?" Blair asked, confused.
"Yeah," Langly replied to Marconi, "but it's not like we have anything more than that."
"It was enough to make me suspect these guys," Marconi said. "And if Ellison's not one of them, how the hell do you explain him?"
Blair's heart skipped a beat. Questions -- he hated questions about his lover. He had to protect his Sentinel. "Look, we're not here to talk about Jim, okay?"
"We're exactly here to talk about your partner, blue-eyes," Marconi said, staring at him.
Byers shook his head, emphatic. "No. We're not. Ellison's not one of them. Trust me on that."
Marconi glared at Byers. "Then what is he?"
Langly took her hand. "Somethin' else entirely. Look, let's drop it, okay?"
Marconi's expression, still suspicious, softened and she gave Langly a tiny smile. "Yeah, yeah. Okay. But we'll talk about this later. You sure he hasn't got you under some kind of mind control?"
Langly laughed. "Dudette, there have been, like, no good drugs around here at all."
Blair gave a sigh of relief. The situation wasn't entirely safe, but it had at least moved away from crisis proportions. He'd corner Byers in private later and ask about this SuperSoldier thing, and what had brought them to Cascade in the first place. He laid a hand on Byers' shoulder. "Look, why don't we head over to the hospital, and see how Jim's doing with John?"
CASCADE GENERAL HOSPITAL
"You have got to be kiddin' me," Doggett said. He still felt lousy, but he desperately wanted out of the hospital. He felt... helpless here. Nothing the docs did was helping. And while Ellison maybe had good intentions for his visit, his presence didn't seem to do much for Doggett's general irritability.
The object of his ponderings sat next to the bed, leaning back in the chair, his legs crossed. "Think about it. Doesn't it make sense? Doesn't it explain things?"
"It sounds delusional." Doggett shook his head, then regretted the action. He groaned and closed his eyes. At least it wasn't too bright now. Last night, he thought he'd hallucinated hearing Byers' voice, unnaturally clear, but very far away. What Ellison said seemed impossible. John Doggett knew he was just an ordinary guy, not some kind of bizarre mutant like Ellison had described.
"It's not delusion," Ellison insisted. He lowered his voice. "I'm one of them too."
Doggett looked back over at him. "Yeah, right, you're one of 'em. And I'm Superman."
"If you weren't one of them, you'd never have heard what I just said."
"Bull." Doggett rubbed at his temple with one palm. He felt restless, like something was missing. Something he really needed. He hated that feeling. "Sounds like something Mulder would come up with on a really bad day."
"Look, when you're feeling better, we can prove this to you. Blair convinced me and, believe me, I wasn't any more eager to deal with this than you are. I thought I was some kind of freak." Ellison reached toward him and put a hand on Doggett's shoulder. "But I'm not, and neither are you. Blair was right. This is a gift."
"Some kinda gift," Doggett muttered. "Feelin' like shit all the time."
"It's not like that once you get things under control, once you and your Guide know what you're doing." Ellison's voice was surprisingly gentle. "I've been through what you're going through. I know what it's like, how it feels. It gets better. Really."
Doggett sighed. "And this whole Guide thing, that's ridiculous. How could anybody get through life depending on somebody else that much? Sounds like hauling an oxygen tank around everywhere."
Ellison grinned. "You get used to it."
"Maybe you do." Doggett closed his eyes, trying to block out everything. He really just wanted to feel better and go home, he didn't care what order it happened in. Hell, he'd be perfectly happy to stagger to the airport right now if he thought the docs would release him.
"It's not as bad as you think, John. There's a lot more going on here than you can see right now. If you can just try to work with us, things will get a lot better."
Doggett groaned. He was hallucinating again. He was sure he could hear Langly and Byers and Sandburg talking. They weren't even here.
"They're coming," Ellison said.
"Who?" Doggett said.
"Sandburg and your friends. You can hear them, can't you?"
Doggett stared at Ellison. "They're nowhere near here."
"Langly's saying he doesn't want to talk about somebody named Marconi."
Doggett's eyes opened wide. It was exactly what his hallucination had been saying. "No," he whispered.
"This is real, John, and the sooner you accept it, the better off you'll be." Ellison stood and walked to the door. "They're in the elevator on their way to the second floor."
Mechanical noises over their voices. No way. It couldn't be. But he could hear the voices, hear the rumbling. He could hear monitors beeping and the sixty cycle hum of the current in the walls and...
The next thing he knew, Byers had a hand on his arm, calling him back from nowhere. Doggett blinked and focused on the familiar face.
"Are you with us, John?" Byers asked. He could see the worry in Byers' face, could almost feel the hacker's heart beating in the man's fingers on his arm.
"Yeah. Yeah." Doggett took a deep breath. The feeling of something missing was gone. Maybe it had just been some kind of weird anxiety thing. He'd had anxiety attacks for a while after Beirut. Why the hell was he blanking like this? He wondered when he'd suddenly gone from "Agent Doggett" to "John" in Byers' paranoid brain.
Byers looked over his shoulder at Sandburg and Langly, then back at him. "We've been talking to the doctor. We're getting you out of here," he said.
"Finally," Sandburg muttered.
"Byers, what's happening to me? Ellison's been feeding me this line of crap--"
Byers looked uneasy, but there was sympathy in his eyes. "I think... I think what they're saying is true, to some extent, but this isn't a good place to talk about it." Byers took his hand. "Go ahead and get dressed. We're going to get you out of here, all right?"
Doggett nodded as Sandburg and Ellison left the room. "They told you the same story?" He squeezed Byers' hand. Having a familiar face around felt good, even from the depths of his misery.
"It ain't all crap," Langly said. He pulled Doggett's clothing from the locker near the bed as Byers carefully removed the IV needle from Doggett's hand and taped a cotton ball over the small, aching wound it left.
"I don't think the doctors are going to like letting you go, because they haven't found out what's wrong with you yet. They're not likely to, either." Byers helped him sit. "We're taking you back to Blair and Jim's loft, okay?"
"Why there?" Doggett asked.
Langly set his clothes on the bed and went to watch the door.
Byers kept an arm around him as he stood, wobbling a little. "Because there are some things there that you're probably going to want to read." He took a quick, nervous breath. "And I think we have some things to discuss afterwards."
"How am I supposed to read anything with this headache?" Doggett put his hand over his eyes again. The brightness wasn't too bad, but it wasn't comfortable either. Byers was quiet and efficient, helping him get his clothes on quickly. He didn't like needing the help, but he still wasn't quite steady on his feet, and he wanted out of there badly enough to take it. A moment later, Doggett had his sunglasses in hand.
"Put these on," Byers said, his voice soft and calm. "You're going to need them. It's bright out; you don't want to make your headache worse."
A few moments later, a doctor appeared, flanked by Ellison and Sandburg. "Mr. Doggett, I don't advise your leaving the hospital at this point. We were going to order a cat sc..." She looked at him standing there, already dressed. "Who removed your IV?"
"That would be me," Byers said. There was a look in his eyes that Doggett hadn't ever seen before. Something hard and 'don't mess with me.'
"Sir--" the doctor started, advancing on Byers, anger in her eyes and her voice.
"Just let me sign the papers and get out of here," Doggett snapped. He slipped the sunglasses over his eyes and stepped between the doctor and Byers. The guy had just been trying to help him. There was no need for her to get so bent out of shape.
The doctor held the clipboard against her chest protectively. "We don't know what's wrong with you yet, Mr. Doggett."
"I'm not staying," Doggett said. "Give me the papers."
"But the liability--"
Ellison leaned down over the thin, sandy-haired woman in a vaguely menacing manner. "Let him sign the papers."
"It's okay, Dr. Morgan," Sandburg said, gently. "I know it's unorthodox, but if you'll check my partner's records, you'll see the same sort of pattern. This isn't physical, it's psychological." That earned him a prize-winning glare from Ellison, but when the doctor looked over at the tall cop, Ellison just nodded confirmation.
Sandburg was talking quickly. "My Ph.D. thesis dealt with this sort of thing. If you'll check the records, you'll see that I'm listed as a contact for certain types of cases, since it's really more of a psycho-cultural thing." Doggett's attention wandered as the anthropologist's explanation meandered off into a jaw-breaking multisyllabic fog. Byers smiled briefly at him and fidgeted, and then suddenly the doctor was signing the hospital release form.
Sandburg smiled up at the doctor. "The hospital always does excellent work with my patients," he said. "He's in much better shape now. As soon as you release him, we'll take him to the University for the next phase of his treatment."
Doggett held out his hand. The doctor looked around at the assembled men and silently handed the clipboard to Doggett. Byers hovered close behind him -- he could almost feel him there, a warm presence like the sun on his back. He jerked back from that thought and flipped through the pages. Standard medical forms.
He signed on the various necessary lines.
852 PROSPECT #307
Doggett sat on Ellison's couch, looking up from Sandburg's dissertation. Langly and Byers had gone out to get lunch for everyone. Byers said he just wanted Doggett to be able to read in peace. Considering how loud Langly's electronics were, it wasn't a bad idea. Ellison had looked like he wanted to strangle the blond hacker too.
"So this is about you, then," Doggett said, looking at Ellison. It was less a question than a statement. He'd started feeling kind of crummy again a little while ago.
Ellison nodded. "It cost Blair his career." He looked down at Sandburg, then slid an arm around his shoulders. "He... he went on national television and told everyone he was a fraud, that the dissertation was fiction."
"Jim, it was either that or watch people line up to try to kill you. If it had been published as fact, it wouldn't just be your career, it--"
"I know, okay?" Ellison stroked a hand through Sandburg's hair. "That's water long under the bridge. I'm sorry we had to go through any of that."
Sandburg nodded and leaned into Ellison, a ghost of sorrow on his face. Doggett had to admit they looked comfortable together. Natural. Not a bad looking couple, for a couple of guys.
"And he's your Guide," Doggett said.
"Yeah," Sandburg replied.
Doggett set the dissertation on the coffee table and took off his sunglasses. He rubbed both eyes with the heels of his hands. "You guys don't make any of this easy, you know. Believin' this stuff, being able to accept any of it. It's like some bad science fiction movie." Then again, a lot of days he felt like he lived in a bad science fiction movie. Man-bats, sin-eaters -- hell, he'd come back from the dead himself a year or so ago, and he still couldn't wrap his brain around that one. He tried not to think about it.
"So if this is all true, if these Sentinels need a Guide, why don't I have one?"
Ellison and Sandburg looked at each other.
"You do," Sandburg said. "John Byers."
Doggett startled. "What? Oh, no. No, no. That ain't possible. I mean, I barely know the guy. This stuff," he picked up the dissertation, "says that there's a connection between the Sentinel and the Guide. I don't have any kind of connection with him."
He had a feeling there was a lot more that the unpublished dissertation wasn't saying, but what was there was creepy enough. He didn't want to be that dependent on anyone, much less -- "Even if this is real, I don't need anybody to help me with it, especially not Byers. He's a paranoid nutcase. I'll be fine. It's just some weird assed bug I caught."
Ellison came over and sat next to him on the couch, Sandburg standing near, touching Ellison's shoulder. Now that he was watching, it seemed like they were always close to each other, almost always touching.
"John," Ellison said, "it's not a terrible thing to have somebody you can trust when you need help."
Doggett shook his head. "Oh, come on. Not Byers. I mean, he's a nice enough guy, but really... What the hell could he do? Why do you guys think he's the Guide?"
"Because of the way you react to each other," Sandburg said. "I've been watching. When you zone, he's the one who can bring you back. Sentinels and Guides have... a certain kind of feeling to them. They vibe differently than other people. You can tell when another one's around, and whether they're a threat to you or not. Tell me -- what do you feel when he's close by?"
Doggett was starting to get angry. This was ludicrous. "Feel? What do I feel? I've still got this damn headache. My eyes hurt from the light. I'm hearing all kinds of weird stuff that I shouldn't be able to. Everything that touches me feels weird, or it hurts. That's how I feel."
"No, really," Sandburg insisted. "Just close your eyes and think about it for a few minutes. Since all this started happening, what have your impressions about Byers been?"
Doggett eyed Sandburg suspiciously. Ellison nodded, encouraging. He closed his eyes for a few minutes and thought.
"He's... quiet, you know? Calm." Doggett went back over the times he'd seen Byers since he got to Cascade. "Not like Langly. Langly jitters. It's like he's constantly vibrating. Byers isn't. He's... warm. It's like there's this quiet space around him."
"That's what a Guide feels like," Ellison said softly.
Doggett raised an eyebrow. "Sandburg's quiet and calm?" He wasn't about to buy that one. The kid bounced just as much as Langly. Looked more serious sometimes, but man, talk about high energy.
Ellison chuckled. "Not on the outside, maybe. When I need it, though, yeah. That's what he's like."
"Reminds me of Langly," Doggett said. He looked at Sandburg. "No offense."
Sandburg shook his head and grinned. "None taken, I think."
Doggett leaned back and closed his eyes. He thought about Byers. What did he really know about the guy? Not much. He was one of Mulder and Scully's friends. He was weird and paranoid and a little bit squirrely, but he seemed decent underneath it all. Kinda shy. Soft spoken. Polite. A little overly formal, like he was keeping the world away.
"Look," he said. "I don't want this. I'm not ready for this. I just want all of it to go away, okay?"
Ellison sighed. "It's not that easy," he said, "but for your own sake, you should try."
There was more behind that statement, Doggett knew, but he was too irritated and tired to probe further. "Okay, okay. I'll give it a shot," he said, staring at the wood grain patterns on the floor.
TYEE TEEPEE MOTEL
SATURDAY, 2:13 PM
"I'm tellin' you, Byers, it's just not working."
Byers sighed and looked up at Doggett. The man had stopped even trying to cooperate about fifteen minutes ago, but he'd been irritated the entire two hours they'd been at this. Byers wasn't too far behind on the grouch scale.
Yesterday some of the exercises Blair had worked on with them seemed to be helping. Today -- well, today was painful in more ways than one. Byers was just glad Blair had hauled Langly off to show him around Cascade before all this started.
If he told himself the truth, he wished he was there too instead of here with Grouch of the Year.
"You're not even trying, John."
"And when did I start being John?" Doggett asked, pacing.
Byers cringed and closed his eyes for a moment. He looked into Doggett's eyes as the man pivoted and headed back in his direction. "About the time you were nearly catatonic and not responding to anything else," Byers snapped. "And would you stop pacing?"
Doggett sat down across the table and leaned in close, until they were nearly nose to nose. Byers was nervous, but held his ground.
"Why are you pushing this?" Doggett asked.
"Because --" For a moment, Byers wondered why he was doing this to himself. He didn't need this. He barely knew Doggett. And then it hit him -- he was here because he was needed. He wouldn't have abandoned a total stranger in need; how could he do it to Doggett? "Because, like it or not, for the moment, you need me."
Doggett's eyes narrowed. "I don't need anybody. I don't even want this... this mess. And beggin' your pardon, but I don't need you."
Byers leaned back, trying not to feel the sting of Doggett's vehemence. "Look, if they're right about this, and I think they are, then if you manage to stabilize this thing, you're going to get some pretty interesting stuff out of it. You know what I get? Nothing! I get to be a remora." He snorted. "I get to run around and pick up after you like no decent human being should have to.
"I have a life, you know. Do you think I really relish the idea of tagging around with you when you're in DC, playing nursemaid when your brain decides to take a vacation?" Byers didn't like being angry, but he'd had about enough of Doggett's attitude. He leaned forward again, getting into Doggett's face.
"I'm sorry you feel like crap. I'm sorry you don't want this. It's not really up there on my list of things to do with the rest of my life either, okay? But apparently, we're stuck with it. We don't get a choice, as has been so frequently pointed out to both of us in the last couple of days."
Doggett looked slightly flabbergasted, but Byers was working up a good head of steam and wasn't in the mood to back off. "Now, we can either work together, or I can stand here and watch you disintegrate. And much as I'm exceedingly irritated right now, I can't say I like that option, either."
"Is that the end of your little lecture?" Doggett had gone from astounded to angry.
"Yeah. It is."
Doggett stood, knocking the light motel chair back. "Where the hell do you get off, Byers?" He poked a finger in Byers' face. "You are not my mother, thank God," he thundered -- and then winced and put one hand over an ear. "Shit," he hissed.
"Easy," Byers said, alarmed. "Calm down a little. You don't need a sensory spike hitting you again." He might be pissed, but he didn't want Doggett hurting himself. He wasn't that kind of angry.
Doggett, on the other hand, apparently was. He straightened up and glared. "Fuck you, Byers. Just fuck you." He turned and stormed for the door.
"Wait, John!" Byers jerked to his feet. "Where are you going?"
"For a walk."
"In this condition?" He started toward Doggett, who opened the door with a growl.
"Leave me alone."
"You can't go out like this. It's begging for trouble."
"I am fuckin' sick of this. I've got a plane ticket for tomorrow morning, and I intend to be on that flight. I'm sick of tests, sick of practice, and sick of this... this Sentinel thing." He wheeled and glared at Byers. "You can stay and learn this mumbo-jumbo nonsense if you want. I've got a life to live and a job to do and it involves studying the X-Files, not being an X-File." With that, he stalked down the corridor, head high, apparently remembering at the last moment to not slam the door for emphasis.
Byers stared after him for a moment, then deflated, resting his forehead on the door. He would have to call Sandburg and tell him that Doggett was leaving.
It was going to be a very long day.
852 PROSPECT #307
SUNDAY, 12:47 AM
Blair dreamed of shadows, and the Temple.
He stood before the doorway and traced the symbols with his hand. Stylized images of a wolf and a jaguar, looking vaguely Celtic this time, scrolled down the doorposts, wrapped in elaborate knotwork designs. Jaguar and wolf, wolf and jaguar, forever bound by fate and love. He trailed his fingers over the carvings, but the stones were silent. Beyond the doorway, a warm light flickered and danced. This time his dreamscape had set up torches in the walls of the temple; an obvious invitation to go inside.
The northern wall of the temple had been inlaid with plates of gold, and on each danced stylized images that he recognized as the totems of the Sentinel/Guide pairs that he and Jim had trained. There was a new inlay there, where he expected to find the totems of Byers and Doggett, but there were no animals inscribed on it, and when he lifted his hand to touch the oblong, the gold flaked away where he touched and left bare stone.
He stepped back, afraid to disturb the fragile surface.
"They may not survive their own stubbornness." It was Incacha's voice. Blair looked down and saw the Wolf standing next to him.
"We almost didn't," Blair said softly.
"Sometimes, this is the way of things," Wolf said, and he nosed Blair's hand. "You cannot force any bond."
"I know. Today was a complete disaster," Blair sighed. "They managed a few sessions, but Doggett decided that he needed to be back in Washington and nothing would stop him. Byers argued, and Langly threw a fit, but in the end all it accomplished was to make Doggett want to leave faster."
Wolf stood on his hind legs to look at the flaking gold panel. "Perhaps that's what he needs most now." A fleck of gold wafted from the wall and danced briefly in the torchlight before falling.
"What happens if they reject the bond now that it's started to form?"
"I have had that happen five times, and I thought yours would be the sixth. Three died, four of them went mad."
"And the other three?" Blair asked, not sure he wanted to know the answer.
"They simply went away and lived their own lives. Not good, not bad, just walked away. If you can't teach them how to live together, then teach them to live apart."
"How can I teach them something I don't know how to do myself?"
Wolf yawned, his teeth gleaming white in the torchlight. "You can teach them to live or, by not teaching them, you can teach them to die. The choice is yours." The spirit's eyes gleamed yellow-gold in the torchlight.
"But ultimately the choice is theirs," Blair added.
"So it is." Wolf, having gotten in the last word, simply faded into the shadows and Blair found himself suddenly awake, lying in bed, staring at the ceiling. Beside him, Jim snored once and rolled onto his side. Blair spooned up against him and drifted back to dreamless sleep.
TYEE TEEPEE MOTEL
"I just don't know what to do," Byers said quietly. His face was closed and carefully guarded, but Blair could see the tension in his shoulders and the way he held his slender body. It only confirmed the well-hidden wave of frustration and anger that boiled from the man.
Blair had come to like Byers a lot in the past few days. There was strength in him, and a lot of things about him that Blair found personally appealing. Byers had faced some hellish moments with Doggett over the weekend, and come through like a champ, but that didn't keep Blair from worrying.
They sat close to each other at the little table in the motel room. Byers had called him a little while ago, upset. Langly was with Marconi, apparently doing "stuff" before the guys headed back to DC in their classic but much abused VW microbus. It was going to take them three days or so to get home. Langly abandoning him for Marconi hadn't left Byers in a very good mood.
"You have to keep trying," Blair said. He sipped at the latte he'd brought; one for him and one for Byers, though Byers had barely touched his. "Because of the way Doggett's crisis went down, you had a lot harder time with this than any of the other Sentinel/Guide pairs we've worked with. It's not your fault. You did a hell of a lot better than I think any of the others would have under those circumstances. You're going to be good at this, John, I can feel it. I think you're going to be one of the best."
Byers cupped his hands around his latte and looked down at them. "Ag... John doesn't want anything to do with this. Or with me." Byers sighed and looked Blair in the eyes. "At this point, I'm not sure I want anything to do with him either."
"This is the hardest part, John. Jim and I went through times like this too, but you can't let the urge to dig in your heels and fight with him win. Being stubborn and letting him get to you harms both of you. I don't want to see you hurt each other. I don't want you to hurt yourself." The warning of his dream stuck in Blair's gut and twisted. "You need to stay with this, no matter how hard it gets."
"Look, I know this is important, Blair. You got that through to me at least. But how am I supposed to help if he won't let me?"
Blair reached over and put a hand on Byers' shoulder, squeezed slightly. "He'll be calmed down by the time you get home. It could be he'll be willing to try again by then."
"Yeah. Maybe." The tone was still dispirited but the tension in Byers' shoulders eased a little, and he took a deep breath. Blair pushed calm at him as much as he could, although he knew that Guide/Guide interactions usually didn't work all that well. Byers' emotions were spilling all over the room, even though he took pains to keep all physical evidence of them tightly under wraps.
"I'll keep trying," he finally said with a long sigh. "I just don't want this to turn into some sort of weird, twisted codependency where he falls into zones and I keep having to interrupt my life to rescue him. That's just wrong."
Blair patted his hand. "That's what we're here for, Jim and I -- to prevent abusive relationships between Guides and their Sentinels. There's a lot more to being a Guide than just playing Tonto to their Kemosabe. And you'll be able to fill in some of the necessary details for him. You read about the spirit guides--"
Byers sighed. "Spirit guides. Yeah." It was an unenthusiastic response.
"Most of what happens with the Guides isn't in the material you read. I haven't had time to write about it. But as the bond between you and your Sentinel grows stronger, you'll see more and more changes in yourself. What happens with you, what gifts you receive, depends partly on what animal guides you. They all have their own medicine, their own power. Sentinels -- well, they get the senses. It's all right there on the surface, for the most part. It's immediate. The Guide stuff is much more subtle."
Byers turned his eyes back to his latte.
"John, I want to help both of you. I want you to call me when you need to talk about this, okay? I mean, anytime, whenever. If I'm not in the middle of a shoot out, I'll do anything I can to make time for you." He folded his hands together and smiled at Byers. "You won't be alone."
"Thanks, Blair. I appreciate the offer." He paused. "Have you ever wanted to take a crowbar to Jim?" A touch of humor crept into Byers' voice. He turned his hand and took Blair's, squeezing slightly.
Blair laughed. "Oh, God yeah. And the feeling's been mutual, believe me. But things all worked out in the end, John."
"I hope so. Right now, I feel like I'm being buried alive."
Wolf was ghosting around the edge of Blair's vision. There was a shadow near it, just out of sight, but no sign of a second ghost that should have been near the first. Blair forced a chuckle. "Hey, if he gets too uppity, I know where there's a nice supply of crowbars."
There was a pause and then the shadow slipped away from Wolf and slid forward, brushing up against Byers, formless and silent. Blair couldn't tell what it was, but its presence was massive and powerful. He reached for the spirit. It hid from him, but he could feel it, could feel what it brought.
Comfort. Strength. Blair saw Byers shift and relax. Yes.
Wolf's tongue lolled out, panting. It was giving him that half-assed smile again.
A deep breath, and Byers nodded. "I won't let this make me crazy." He looked up at Blair, strength and a new determination in his eyes. "There's got to be a way for me to get through to him. I'll find it. I have to."
852 PROSPECT #307
Blair was curled up on the couch, half asleep and lost in thought, when Jim came in. He'd agreed to go grocery shopping and make dinner that night, as Blair had been doing most of the dealing with Doggett, Byers and Langly all weekend. Blair was fried. Terminal. Like crispy, over-cooked palmetto grubs.
"Hey, Chief." Jim put the bags down on the kitchen counter.
"C'mere. Hug," Blair demanded. He still had too much on his mind. He wanted his lover. Jim would make sure he didn't have to think for a couple of hours, at least.
Jim put a few things in the fridge, then ambled over to the couch and enveloped Blair in his arms. God, that felt good. Blair mmmmmm'd and buried his face in Jim's chest. Jim's fingers combed through his hair.
"Tired guppy, eh?"
Blair chuckled. "You might say that." Jim took the hint and pulled Blair into his lap.
"I think my li'l guppy needs some R-and-R."
"Oh, yeah." Blair's tired smile went wide and became a pleased grin. He ran his hands down Jim's chest. Nice chest. Nice hard chest. Nice hard other parts, too.
"Still thinking about those two?"
Blair nodded. "Yeah, some."
"Their whole bonding thing again?"
"So what's your verdict?"
Blair thought about the dream he'd had, but seeing Byers before the guys headed home that afternoon had left him feeling hopeful. He sighed and wiggled his butt deeper into Jim's lap. Damn, he was hot. And comfortable. Very comfortable. "Well, to be honest, Byers pings my bi-dar like a guy who's so far in the closet he's halfway to Narnia, but I get a strong impression he likes guys. Probably a lot. His worst problem there seems to be that he's shy as hell. Doggett, though? That man's totally vibing like a Really Straight Guy. I think he's gonna have some problems with this."
"They'll work it out, you know. We did."
"Yeah, but Jim, neither of us were straight."
Jim chuckled and nuzzled Blair's neck. "Nope. Just stubborn and stupid."
"Mmmm... that must have been you." Blair slid a hand down along Jim's side to his hip. Oh yeah. Nice, hard muscle. "Feels good," he whispered.
"Nope. All your fault," Jim insisted. "You could have jumped me anytime."
Blair snorted and bit Jim's ear. "Right. You're the one who kept insisting 'I'm not ready to go there with you, Chief.'"
Jim flipped him onto his back on the couch. "Oh, but I am now!" He nudged Blair with his erection to prove the point.
"And it's a good thing you are," Blair sighed. He gasped as Jim nipped his neck, then suckled on the skin there. "Oh, yeah. Perfect. God, Jim, you're always so hot."
"Even for an old guy?"
"Especially for an old guy."
"I swear, Sandburg, you're gonna be the death of me." Jim chuckled. Jim's denim-clad legs slid between his, and he let his head fall back against the arm of the couch. One broad, strong hand slid over the curve of Blair's ass and he let out a moan.
"I love it when you sound like that," Jim whispered.
"Yeah, but are you gonna love it in the morning when you decide you've got to wipe down the couch for the fifteenth time?" Blair teased. Jim heaved him upward and tossed him over one shoulder in a fireman's carry.
"Me Tarzan. You--"
"I am so not going to be Jane, Ellison," Blair said as he bounced against Jim's broad back.
One hand swatted his ass as Jim marched upstairs with him. "Well, I ain't doin' you if you decide to be Cheetah," he announced. He tossed Blair onto the bed and grinned down at him.
Blair grinned back, lazy, pleased. One hand slowly slid under the hem of his tee shirt, fingers teasing the soft hair around his navel.
Jim groaned and slid down on the bed beside him, nuzzling at his body, his hand exploring under the cloth of Blair's shirt, playing with the soft, wiry hair on his abdomen. Blair closed his eyes and enjoyed himself as Jim's face brushed his chest, his shoulders, his sides and arms, down into one armpit with a teasing nip -- he jerked and giggled, feeling himself get hard -- then back to his chest again.
He could feel the resonance of Jim's arousal ringing through his body. Their bond gave them an emotional closeness that Blair had never shared with anyone else in his life. A moment later, Jim tugged his hips up and rubbed a thick, hard cock against his ass through their jeans.
"Oh, yeah. Yeah." Blair couldn't keep silent in the face of that sensation.
Jim's entire body weight settled slowly on top of him, and they kissed, deep and slow and passionate. Blair responded, sucking at Jim's tongue and moaning into his mouth until both of them parted, panting hard for breath. No, he couldn't get enough of his lover. Oh, sure, sometimes he'd be sated and nearly unconscious with satisfaction, but enough? Never.
Their hands moved as slowly as their tongues had, bodies writhing together, still clothed. Jim thrust against him, the contact torturous and sweet. It stirred Blair to his marrow, leaving him moaning with his need.
"You want it, don't you?" Jim whispered, pulling back just enough to leave Blair in an agonizing haze of unrequited lust.
"Bastard," Blair gasped, "fuck me."
Jim chuckled, breathless. "You're cute when you're a slut, Chief."
Blair tugged Jim's face to his and kissed him viciously, biting Jim's lower lip and sucking it into his mouth. Jim growled and pressed into him with his whole body. Oh, yeah. That was better.
He loved the weight of Jim's body on his; loved the hard chest, the flat abs, the pure muscle of his lover's flesh. Jim's strength and grace, his power, made Blair nearly insane with desire. He knew from long experience that the love and the need they felt vibrated between them like crystal struck by sound, and fed back to both of them stronger than before. It was part of what made their joining so sweet, so irresistible.
The strong, sinuous movement of Jim's body against him was pleasure incarnate. His jaguar grace stole Blair's breath, as it always had. He moaned again, and Jim's hips rolled against him, pressing hardness into hardness. Yes. He always knew what Blair needed most, what drove him to the edge. Jim could keep him there, on the knife-edge of forever, all too easily.
A nip at Blair's throat, and they were all moving arms and legs, clothes flying in all directions. Jim would fret about it later, but right now, who cared where things landed? Jim's hot, smooth skin brushed against Blair's own, furrier body, and they both gasped and moaned.
His lover was bigger than he was, and it was one of the things Blair loved about Jim. It didn't have anything to do with the size of his cock -- which was appreciable -- but with the way he covered Blair's body. Okay, so the matching big cock was a plus, but God, the solid wall of male that surrounded him was so damned good. Blair groaned loudly as Jim's tongue caressed a nipple, made it stand up and beg. His cock was doing its own share in the wild chorus of his body's need.
"Mmmmm, you smell good," Jim mumbled. He buried his face in Blair's chest and inhaled, then rumbled another sound of pleasure. "Mine. Mine mine mine."
"Oh, yeah," Blair moaned, "always."
Jim moved down his body, the sweet, blessed weight of him slipping away. Blair didn't worry. He knew his lover wasn't going anywhere. When Jim's mouth closed on the inside of his thigh, he shuddered and slipped his fingers through Jim's hair. "Yeah, oh yeah baby. Please. Need you." Jim sucked and licked at his inner thigh. It was all Blair could do to keep from howling. Too close to his balls, not close enough. Damn, Jim was a master of the torture-tease.
Hot, agile fingers traced their way over his body, touching him everywhere, but leaving his cock unmercifully alone. Jim's hands moved, rough and demanding, running two flat palms through the hair on his body. The pull against the grain left him writhing with need. Jim knew, he always knew just how to make him nuts. His lover's senses were a blessing, doing this to him, making this possible. The bond made it so good. He could, sometimes, feel what Jim felt when they made love.
That was the best part of all.
When they'd first discovered this, they spent almost a week in bed, trying everything they could think of, just to see how much they shared, how far their bond carried them. It had exhausted them both, but what they learned had been worth every minute of recovery. It was this that had finally driven Blair into a serious study of the shamanic aspects of the Guide's role. Everything had been there, even this.
This: Blessing. Love. Connection.
Blair didn't know how other people lived without it. He knew he never wanted to, wasn't sure he could. What they shared, heart to heart and body to body, it was the most intense thing he could ever have imagined.
He let it take him, sweep him up and away as Jim sucked his cock. Oh God, what a hot mouth that man had. There was no sense of time, just touch as Jim's beautiful, blunt fingers played with his opening. Blair had been reduced to incoherent noise and didn't know when it had happened. Didn't care. It was like having your brain sucked out your dick. He wanted it, needed it, could feel Jim's need echoing back into him and spreading through his body.
It was electric. It was fire. It was a tsunami. A Sentinel's passion was like being filled with stars.
When Jim's shaft entered him, Blair groaned in pleasure. Each slow, deep thrust pushed him further into a loss of time. Their joining was like being short-circuited -- Blair could feel his own pleasure, and Jim's as well, and the sensation was always overwhelming. Jim's hot breath was in his hair, on his neck, on his shoulder. Burning kisses. The wet heat of twined tongues. The serpentine rhythm of moving bodies.
Blair would give up everything for this. He would die for this. Lived for this.
And Jim held him tight, held him close, calling out, "Blair! Oh, God, Blair!" and came inside him, and Blair followed him over the edge into the abyss, screaming his lover's name.
Exhaustion. It was familiar, an old friend. They lay tangled together, panting, chests heaving. Jim covered his face and neck and shoulders with kisses, whispering love. The man had more energy at 45 that Blair would ever have thought. And damn if that wasn't a blessing too.
They rested in each other's arms, not moving. Blair was pretty sure he'd fallen asleep at one point, but they were still tangled together when he woke. His eyes found the clock -- God, three fucking hours. They'd both needed this a lot more than he'd realized. He nudged Jim awake and pointed. "Food. Guide need food."
"Right, Casanova, you're a lot of trouble," Jim grunted as he stumbled toward the kitchen. Blair leaned back and turned the newest Sentinel and Guide situation over in his mind while Jim fixed dinner.
He yawned and heard noises downstairs.
"Hey, Cheetah. Come get food."
"Ellison, you are so dead when I get my hands on you," Blair muttered, knowing that the Sentinel-sharp ears would catch the sound. He heard Jim cackle as he and staggered to his feet. "I'm a mess. I need to clean up."
"Make it quick. Don't want dinner to get cold."
It was actually four minutes, Jim reminded him, by the time he finally sat down at the table. While they ate, they talked, and the conversation eventually turned back to John Doggett and John Byers.
"So when do you think they'll end up in bed, Chief?"
Blair smiled. "I'm not sure."
"C'mon, gimme your best guess here." There was a calculating look in Jim's eyes.
"Six, eight months?"
Jim snorted. "You said you think Doggett's straight. It took us three years."
"Well yeah," Blair said. "We were stubborn--"
"--and stupid," Jim countered. They both laughed.
"Why?" Blair asked. "How long do you think it'll take them?"
"Year and a half, two years," Jim said, sipping at his coffee.
"Oh, come on. They've got us to turn to. We didn't have anyone to tell us what was going on, or how important some of this was."
"I think Doggett'll be too freaked by it. I know I would have been, teachers or not. He's gonna reject the whole thing, like I tried to."
"You really think so? You know how strong a pull the bond has."
Jim shook his head. "Two years."
"You wanna lay some hard, cold cash on that, my man? Six months. Eight at the outside. Byers'll crack first."
"You're so full of it, Sandburg. The guy's a mouse. He's never gonna make the first move."
Blair grinned. "Put your money where your mouth is, Ellison."
"Jags season tickets."
Blair cocked an eyebrow. "You're on."
"Those tickets are so mine," Jim cackled.
"Don't even think it," Blair said. "I've got the vibe, man. I can feel it." Oh yeah. It was in his bones.
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