- Character Bashing
- Action Adventure
- Alternate Universe
‘Well, I’d like to go,’ David said, frowning at his father who calmly sipped his coffee. ‘It’s mostly over the weekend so it won’t encroach on work.’
Patrick sighed. ‘There’s no such thing as a free lunch, David. You know that. We’ve only been invited to persuade us to do business with Central Systems.’
‘So? We don’t do much at the moment that uses automation of any kind, and Jeff Briggs knows that, but if we do ever branch out into a field where we would require it, we have a place to start looking. There’s no commitment on either side, Dad. It’s just corporate hospitality. You already play golf with several Senators. What’s the difference between that and going to a golf tournament as guests of Central Systems? Your Virginia golf chums are likely to be guests as well.’
Patrick didn’t look convinced so David tried another tack. ‘You’d be interested in going wouldn’t you, John?’
John paused with his fork halfway to his mouth and held up one hand. ‘Hey, don’t involve me. I’m a soldier, not a businessman.’
‘But you do play golf.’
‘When I have the time, which isn’t very often,’ John returned. ‘There aren’t many golf courses in war zones.’
‘You needn’t expect me to go either,’ Rodney told him. ‘I hate golf almost as much as I hate the idea of corporate hospitality.’ He grinned as the others laughed.
‘Don’t worry, Rodney,’ Blair commented. ‘I doubt David intended you to go.’
‘Hey! I could schmooze if I wanted to. I’ve just got better things to do with my time.’
John patted his arm. ‘We know, buddy. You can do anything you set that big brain of yours to do. We just think you’re more suited to the lab; that’s all.’
His comment mollified his Guide who went back to his large plateful of bacon – Canadian bacon – and pancakes smothered in maple syrup – Canadian maple syrup, the very best, as Rodney was fond of telling them every day at breakfast, and John glanced over to his brother.
‘You seem keen on going to this golf tournament, Dave. Why?’
David shrugged. ‘No particular reason, but if I’m going to take over SI one day, I need to make all the contacts I can in the business world on my own. Dad has his own connections to various people and companies, but I don’t really have them, not in my own right. I met Briggs, who set up Central Systems, last year at a conference and while it’s nowhere near the size of SI, he’s making it a well-known brand within his area of the business world and has just signed a few government contracts as well. He sent the invitation even though he knows we don’t need his product. I just think it’d be polite to accept it and you never know, we might meet someone who we can do business with right now.’
Patrick didn’t look convinced but sighed again and nodded to David. ‘If you want to go I’m more than happy for you to accept and you don’t need my permission in any case. I don’t want you to think you have to live in my shadow and I do know how difficult it is for you. Don’t forget I was once in your position with your grandfather and I had to find my own way just as you do.’
David gave him a grateful smile. ‘Thanks, Dad, and don’t worry. If I thought you were stifling me too much, I would say. I think it might be a fun few days for us, that’s all.’
‘Your idea of fun certainly isn’t mine,’ Rodney commented and turned to John. ‘Do you want to go? Would you manage the walking?’
‘I think so. The extra healing you’ve been able to do in the last week has helped immensely just as Dr Francis said it would, and I can always go and sit down if I have to.’ He scowled as the others burst into laughter. ‘What!?’
‘John, in all the years I’ve known you, you’ve never once admitted a weakness,’ his brother teased.
‘And the likelihood of sitting down when everyone else is on their feet is almost nil,’ Jim added. ‘I’ve not known you long, and even I know that.’
‘Then maybe you should go with them, Jim,’ Blair suggested. ‘To keep an eye on John, of course.’
‘Then maybe I will, Chief,’ Jim retorted. ‘And you can stay here and keep an eye on Rodney.’
‘Hey!’ Rodney protested. ‘I didn’t say anything.’
‘Do you want to come?’ David asked with a raised eyebrow, then laughed as Rodney shuddered. ‘Dad? Are you going to come or stay here?’
‘I’ll think about it,’ Patrick promised. ‘We’ve got a few days yet. It’s only Tuesday, and the tournament doesn’t begin until Friday, and the people from Colorado are coming tomorrow.’ He frowned. ‘I certainly hope it’s worth all the effort we put into signing those damn non-disclosure agreements.’
‘So do I,’ David agreed. ‘My fingers almost cramped on me. How can Deep Space Telemetry have so many secrets?’
John laughed. ‘You don’t really think it is Deep Space Telemetry, do you?’
David stared at him. ‘That’s what the NDAs said it was.’
‘And it’s about the worst cover story ever.’
David opened his mouth to argue with his brother when Patrick cleared his throat.
‘We’ll hopefully find out what it’s really about this time tomorrow,’ Patrick told them severely. ‘And I dare say we’ll all be surprised.’
‘We’re planning on leaving next Monday.’ Blair tried to change the subject. ‘I hope we haven’t outstayed our welcome. We originally came for a weekend, and it’s been ten days already.’
‘It’s a pleasure to have you here,’ Patrick said sincerely. ‘You’re Rodney’s family, so you’re always welcome.’
‘And Jim’s been able to teach me a little about being a Sentinel,’ John added. ‘I’d’ve hated to have to take classes at the S&G Centre with a bunch of kids.’
‘And Blair’s helped me with extra Shaman training, so we’ve all benefitted.’ Rodney finished up the last of his bacon. ‘And on that note, I’m going to leave you all and get ready. John and I are going into the lab, but he may come back and leave me to get some work done. I’ve taken more than enough time off recently.’
‘You’ve done a fair amount from home,’ John pointed out.
‘Perhaps, but it’s not the same as being in my own lab. Radek and I are used to bouncing ideas off each other, and I’ve missed that bit.’ He got to his feet and patted John’s shoulder. ‘Give me twenty minutes, and I’ll be ready to leave.’
John nodded and filed the information about the lab away for later. What he was going to do once he was back to full fitness still weighed upon him and he pushed the last pieces of his bacon around his plate.
‘John? Are you alright?’ Blair asked quietly.
John gave him a weak smile. ‘I’m fine.’
‘Leg or shoulder giving you trouble, son?’ Patrick asked, frowning.
‘No, no really, I’m fine. I’ve just got a couple of things on my mind.’
‘Feel like a stroll around the gardens with me?’ Jim asked. ‘There’re probably some more roses out. I love your mother’s rose garden.’
John gave him a grateful nod and stood up, following Jim out onto the terrace in the direction of Isabel Sheppard’s rose garden, a favourite place of his for thinking. They walked – or in John’s case limped slightly – on in silence for a short while until John spoke, almost diffidently.
‘I…I’d appreciate your advice on something, Jim. Something that concerns Rodney.’
Jim waited for the younger man to continue.
‘I…The thing is, I always supposed that once I was fit, I’d go back to Afghanistan and my team and everything would go back to normal, but…’
There was a short silence broken by Jim. ‘But you don’t know what to do now Rodney’s on the scene. Am I right?’
John nodded appreciatively at his innate understanding. ‘I don’t want…I can’t take him into a situation where he might be in danger and, as he told me, he’s not trained for it even if I could take him with me. At the same time, I’m trained for combat. Heavy combat. It’s what Recon Marines do, and I can’t ever envisage sitting behind a desk.’
‘And yet it’s likely what you’ll have to do eventually if you stay in uniform,’ Jim murmured, and at John’s expression of puzzlement, sighed. ‘John, I was an Army Ranger and did a very similar job to you back in the day. Eventually, my knees gave up on me, and I couldn’t run as fast or as far as I used to so I joined Cascade PD instead.’
‘Couldn’t Blair have…’ John twirled his finger around. ‘You know, done his healing thing.’
‘He could, but we weren’t bonded then.’
‘But if my knees gave out Rodney could heal me?’
‘Yes, but there will come a time when you will need to take a less physically stressful job or may even be promoted to a role which would take you out of combat. There are very few Generals still in the field, for example.’
John laughed. ‘I’m still a lowly Lieutenant Colonel, Jim. I doubt I’ll ever make it that far.’
‘A Lieutenant Colonel is far from lowly, and you know it.’
‘Perhaps,’ John allowed. ‘But the majority of promotions come while on active duty. If I were to take a desk job, my career would pretty much stall, we both know that.’
‘What about the Sentinel and Guide Council?’
John pulled a face. ‘It’s an administrative job, right?’ When Jim nodded, he sighed. ‘I really don’t want to be stuck behind a desk when I’m only 34. I have a few more years left in the field I hope.’
‘I think we’re drifting off the subject slightly. You wanted to ask my advice on what to do right now, right?’
‘Then why don’t we look at it another way. What does Rodney want to do?’ Jim studied John’s face while he thought about that particular question.
‘He wants to continue with his science, obviously, and he loves his job with SI. You heard him just now,’ John mused and then paused and looked up at Jim. ‘I’m being very selfish about this, aren’t I?’
Jim gave a short laugh. ‘A little, but the whole thing’s been a big shock to you. Rodney at least always hoped to find his Sentinel and knew he might have to leave his job. There was always the chance his Sentinel might join him, but as Sentinels are drawn towards jobs of service and protection, he knew it was a possibility.’ He glanced towards the house. ‘And speak of the devil…’
‘Are you ready to leave yet, John?’ Rodney called out as he approached the two Sentinels.
‘Ready when you are,’ John returned and, with a quick smile towards Jim, followed his Guide towards the garages.
‘What? Rodney demanded, throwing his sandwich down. ‘Another attack? From the same place?’
I think so, Radek replied. But I am not best with hackers. Is Miko’s field but she is visiting friend this weekend. Can you come into Lab, Rodney?
‘I’m on my way. Stay on the line while I drive, Radek. Blair’s the worst driver I’ve come across, and I’m not letting him loose on John’s car. It would be the same fucking weekend they’re all out at this fucking Golf game thingy.’
‘Tournament,’ Blair corrected. ‘And I’m not a bad driver. I just don’t enjoy it as much as Jim does.’
‘Right at this moment I don’t care,’ Rodney snapped. ‘Get in the car, Blair, and hold my phone out so I can hear Radek. I can see I’m going to have to invent some sort of hands-free kit as nobody else seems bothered about the dangers of driving while using a cell phone.’
Rodney manoeuvred John’s BMW from the large garage and set out on the hour plus drive to Richmond VA where the Sheppard Industries Headquarters and Research labs were situated.
‘How’re you doing, Radek?’
They have broken through Firewall Miko installed. I have no idea how.
‘Think they might have inside knowledge?’ Rodney suggested. ‘It’s odd this attack comes just when Miko’s away. I mean, how often does she take a weekend off?’
Is first in months, Radek agreed then cursed in Czech. Bastards are almost into mainframe. Hurry, Rodney.
‘I’m going as fast as I can! Have you tried to call Miko?’
She has turned off cell.
‘But you can turn it on remotely, can’t you?’
Radek swore again. These people, they mess with my mind. Of course, I can.
‘And have you called David or Patrick?’
Can only hack one cell at once, Rodney. Am not superman.
‘No, that’s me,’ Rodney muttered almost to himself. ‘Okay, Radek. I’m hanging up now & we’ll try and reach one of the Sheppards. John probably has his phone still switched on in case I call.’ He risked a quick look at Blair. ‘Try dialling John’s number, will you, Blair? I—’
‘Watch out!’ Blair cried.
‘Is your leg hurting?’ Jim asked John in a low voice as they watched the 15th hole being played. ‘And don’t bother lying. I will know.’
John gave him a weak smile. ‘A little, but…’
‘It’s not my leg which is bothering me,’ John admitted and pulled Jim to one side as the crowd moved forward in the direction of play. ‘I feel…uneasy. As though something’s wrong somewhere.’
Jim gave him a sharp glance. ‘What sort of wrong?’
‘The sort that if I were in Afghanistan, I’d be looking out for roadside bombs sort of wrong.’ He pulled out his cell phone and swore quietly. ‘No signal.’
‘We’re in the middle of a golf course,’ Jim reminded him. ‘I doubt there’s a phone mast for miles. Fancy a walk back to the Pavilion? I’ll go tell Patrick and David you’ve done enough standing.’
John nodded gratefully and began to walk in the direction of the hospitality pavilion. He couldn’t shake off the feeling something was very wrong. Jim caught up with him a couple of minutes later, and they walked in silence until John’s Blackberry began to buzz. He exchanged glances with Jim as he pulled it out of his pocket.
‘It’s Radek,’ he told the older man. ‘Radek? Is there a problem?’
Have you call from Rodney or Blair?
‘Not recently. Why’
Are not answering cell. Not heard from for over two hours.
‘What? Slow down, Radek. Was Rodney due to call you?’
No, no he is coming here at lunchtime because of attack and Miko is away! I am calling him and then your father but Rodney, he is now missing and not here.
‘Radek, you’re not making any sense. Is Rodney with you?’
John heard him take a deep breath and start again, this time much slower and more precise.
We have hack on computer, yes?
‘The SI computer’s been hacked?’
Ano, ano! I am telling you this! Miko, she is away for weekend, so I call Rodney to come to Lab as they are getting into main server. He is coming with Blair and tells me to try call Miko and turn on her cell. He is phoning you or father, yes?
‘You were trying to call Miko and Rodney was going to try Dad or me.’
Ano, ano! I call Miko but then attack, he stops. All finished but when I call Rodney, no answer.
‘You couldn’t get Rodney back on the phone. Maybe he’s out of range of a cell tower. I know we were, on the golf course. Have you tried him again?’
John, you not listen. Is two hours ago Rodney cut off phone. He and Blair not here yet but they should be here.
John’s stomach sank. ‘Rodney still hasn’t arrived?’
No, no! Is what I am telling you.
‘Has he tried Blair’s phone?’ Jim asked, having heard all of the conversation.
‘I doubt he has Blair’s number. I know I don’t. Jim. I’m worried.’
‘So am I, John. Tell Radek we’re on our way. I’ll go and tell Patrick and David what’s happened.’
Jim set off at a run back towards the crowd as John continued to talk Radek down.
‘Take it easy, Radek, and breathe. Have you called SI security?’
Ano, ano! They do not see Rodney and Blair but is odd that attack is suddenly ending. Hackers were almost into central server through second firewall then pouffe. It is finished.
John’s mind was spinning furiously. ‘Do you think the hack was made to get Rodney to go into the Lab?
Ano! Is only answer.
‘So you think Rodney and Blair might have had an accident?’
No, John. I think they have been taken.
‘The police won’t do anything until they’ve been missing for 24 hours,’ David told his father, aware that John and Jim would hear him. ‘And as it’s only been nine hours since anyone heard from them…’ He shrugged, helplessly. ‘I got onto Governor Beal, though, and he’s promised to get them moving, especially as both Rodney and Blair are important people both locally and nationally.’
‘That shouldn’t matter!’ Patrick snapped, then took a deep breath. ‘Sorry, David. I’m not mad at you.’
‘I understand. I snapped at Graham Beal, and it’s not his fault either. He has promised to get the police moving though.’
John and Jim came into the study where Patrick and David were talking. ‘Do you think the whole thing was a setup?’ John asked. ‘The attempt on the SI computers when Miko was away, and us being out at the Golf Tournament?’
David opened his mouth to refute this then subsided and nodded. ‘Yeah, I think so too.’
‘Which means your pal was involved in some way.’
David nodded again and gave a feeble laugh. ‘Dad did say there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Guess this is the price we’re paying.’
Jim grabbed John’s fist before it made contact with David’s face. ‘Whoa, slow down, sport. David didn’t mean anything by it.’
‘I’m sorry, John,’ David said looking contrite. ‘That was an incredibly insensitive thing to say. I apologise.’
John nodded. ‘Then I’m sorry for almost decking you.’ He rubbed his face with his hands. ‘Is Radek okay?’
‘Shaken up as you can imagine. He was able to get hold of Miko, and she’s taken the main part of the SI system offline so it can’t be attacked again,’ Patrick explained. ‘Not that we think it will be, not now. Both Radek and Miko believe as you do, John. That the attack was made to get Rodney to go into SI so he could be kidnapped on the—’
They all turned to David as his cell rang.
‘It’s the Governor,’ he told them. ‘I’ll put him on loudspeaker.’ ‘Governor? I’ve got you on speakerphone. Any news?’
Not much, I’m afraid. The police have found Dr McKay’s car hidden behind a hedge in a field.
David’s stomach lurched. ‘Are they alright?’
They’re not there, David. The police can’t see much because it’s dark but both doors were unlocked, and there’s a laptop bag on the back seat.
‘Rodney’s. He wouldn’t go anywhere without it. They have been kidnapped then?’
Looks like it. Don’t worry, David, and tell your brother and Mr Ellison not to worry. We’ll do our best to bring them both home, I promise.
‘Okay, Governor, thank you. He clicked his cell off and looked at the other men. ‘I guess that explains why we couldn’t find the car. It’d been hidden.’
‘I suppose they are at least treating it as a kidnapping now,’ Patrick pointed out. ‘We thought we’d have to wait until tomorrow at first.’
‘True,’ John admitted. ‘I just wish I could do something.’
‘Why don’t you try sleeping?’ Patrick suggested. ‘I doubt they’ll find anything more before morning, not now.’ He glanced at the clock. ‘It’s almost 10.30.’
‘I’m not tired, and I’m far too old to be sent to bed,’ John complained.
David laughed. ‘Yeah, you keep thinking that, baby bro.’
‘I wouldn’t sleep anyway. I’m far more likely to toss and turn. I…I’ve got used to Rodney being there, next to me,’ he finished quietly, and Jim reached out to pat his shoulder.
‘I know just how you feel.’
‘That’s how I felt after…after Isabel passed away,’ Patrick said in a thick voice.
‘You still miss her?’ Jim asked.
Patrick cleared his throat. ‘Always, but it does get…not easier, just…different. You learn a new normal.’
There was a peaceful silence between the four men even in the circumstances in which they found themselves, broken only when John yawned.
‘Not tired my ass,’ David muttered and dodged the headship his brother tried to give him.
‘C’mon, John,’ Jim told him. ‘Let’s both try and get some rest. You can sleep in my room if it’d help. The bed’s big enough for two or I can take the sofa if you prefer.’
‘I spent ten weeks chained in a cave with my team,’ John replied dryly. ‘I think I can manage to share a proper bed with you.’
The two men said their goodnights and made their way upstairs leaving David and Patrick alone in the study.
‘What are you thinking, Pa?’ David asked.
‘I’m thinking you’re not too old to go over my knee if you continue to call me Pa,’ Patrick retorted and grinned when David laughed. ‘I was thinking that six weeks ago, John hadn’t been home since his promotion two years ago and now he’s home, and he’s found a life partner who’s brought along his own family into the bargain.’
‘They make a good couple, don’t they?’
‘They do, and I’m glad. I always wondered if John would ever settle down and what sort of person he’d settle down with. I was fond of Rodney before he became John’s Guide. Their paring feels…kind of meant to be, if that makes sense.’
David nodded. ‘I agree. I just hope there’s someone out there for me as well. I’ve not met her so far.’
David nodded again. ‘I’m pretty sure I’ll end up married to a woman even though I’ve had my share of boyfriends.’
‘But you’ve not found anyone as yet.’
‘Not yet, but I’m sure I will. I feel as though we’re on the cusp of something important. Something life changing.’ He flushed, not being used to spilling his thoughts and feelings in such a way, even to his own father. He got to his feet and stretched. ‘I think I’ll call it a night too. I’ve got my cell if Beal contacts me again. Night, Dad.’
Patrick remained in his chair as the house became silent, thinking about what David had just said. He felt the same, as though they were on the edge of some big mystery, something life-changing.
I need to cut down on the whisky. It’s putting stupid thoughts into my head.
John woke with a start and looked around for the danger. He still found himself on high alert at times, after his experiences in the cave, and having Rodney be kidnapped pushed him right into that zone. There was nothing apparent except…
Why the fuck is everything blue?
He looked around cautiously. He was laying on blue grass. Blue grass? What the hell did Dad put in my fucking cocoa? There was the edge of a wood a little way off and…nothing else. Just blue. He tried to stand up and noticed immediately his leg wasn’t giving him any pain, even after the miles he’d walked at the golf tournament. Am I dreaming? He jumped up and down a couple of times but…Nope, nothing hurts. So where the fuck am I? Something in the corner of his eye moved, and he swung around, aware he didn’t have a weapon on him but…Why am I dressed? I could swear I went to bed in sweatpants and T-shirt. Why am I now in my BDUs?
He scanned the trees but couldn’t see anything until a flash of grey moved behind one of the larger trees. Is that…Is that a wolf? Jesus fucking Christ I’m gonna kill my dad if he drugged me. It was a wolf, a large grey wolf with piercing blue eyes he could see clearly from a couple of hundred yards away, and it appeared to be watching him. He moved very slowly towards it. If he was dreaming, it couldn’t hurt him, but this didn’t feel like a dream so he couldn’t rely on it.
A movement to one side had him spinning around to see a second grey wolf. John looked between the two of them. Yup. Definitely two. Twins, maybe? It didn’t make any sense, though. Why would he be seeing twin wolves, both with piercing blue eyes? Did all wolves have blue eyes? Fucked if I can remember. The second wolf moved towards the first, and together they went deeper into the trees, looking back at John occasionally as though to check he was following them. Much puzzled, he stayed a couple of hundred yards behind them and kept a close eye out for any more which might appear.
He halted just before he went into the small wood and looked around. He thought he’d seen a moving shadow or something dark, something definitely not grey. He checked around himself again. It would be more difficult from here to keep a watch for anything else which might prove dangerous. The wolves, still together, stood unmoving and watched him. As soon as he took a step forward, they moved on, drawing him deeper into the wood. He took a deep breath and stepped in amongst the trees and…
‘John! John! Wake up! John! You’re alright, it’s fine. Everything’s fine.’
John struggled to sit up, panting and trying to shake the fuzz away from his head. ‘Jim? Where am…’ his voice trailed off. He was laying on the top of the double bed in Jim and Blair’s room at Ferry House, and Jim was standing over him, a worried look on his face.
‘John? Are you alright?’
John nodded, trying to catch his breath. ‘I’m fine. I had a nightmare.’
‘You were calling for Rodney.’
‘Was I? I wasn’t dreaming about him.’
Jim sat down on the side of the bed next to him. ‘What were you dreaming about?’
‘I…I’m not quite sure. I woke up, and everything was blue. The grass, the trees, everything except the two grey wolves.’
He sensed rather than saw Jim freeze.
‘Grey wolves?’ Jim might have been trying for nonchalant but he failed, and John swung around to stare at him.
‘What?’ he demanded. ‘What does it mean?’
Jim sighed. ‘Something I forgot to cover in our chats, which was stupid of me, especially with Rodney being a Shaman.’
‘There’s a thing called, at least we call it, the Spirit Plane.’
‘Spirit Plane? I think I’ve heard something about it but—’
‘Do you want to know about it or not?’ Jim glared at him, and John subsided.
‘Sorry. Go on.’
‘It’s like a…separate dimension high-level Guides often drift to when meditating, and where they can talk to other high ranking Guides, often in their spirit form. Very occasionally a powerful Sentinel can also find himself there. I’ve been a couple of times, mostly in times of great danger.’
‘Danger such as Rodney and Blair might be in,’ John said flatly.
‘Exactly such danger,’ Jim nodded. ‘Blair ‘travels’ there regularly and meets with someone we both know from Peru, Incacha, a Shaman of incredible knowledge and experience.’
‘But I don’t know any Shamen,’ John objected.
‘Sure you do. You’re bonded with one. I’m bonded with another.’
John rubbed the back of his neck. ‘I’m being exceptionally slow today, tonight, whenever it is.’ He sighed again. ‘It’s not terribly useful, though, is it? If it needs a Shaman to access the Spirit Plane, we don’t have one although it would—Ow!’ He glared at Jim. ‘Don’t poke me like that.’
‘Sorry,’ Jim said, but John could tell he didn’t mean it. ‘You’ve just hit on the solution.’
‘Solution to what?’ John began then fell silent for a moment. ‘The two grey wolves I saw, both with bright blue eyes,’ he began.
‘Blair and Rodney. Both of them have the same spirit animal.’
‘A grey wolf. But I also thought I saw a black something, or it could have just been a shadow, I’m not certain.’
‘A black panther?’
‘A panther? I…I guess it could have been. What is it?’
‘My spirit animal and, unless I’m much mistaken, yours too.’
‘So?’ John prompted.
‘So I think Blair and Rodney are trying to communicate with us.’
‘Is that possible?’
Jim nodded. ‘If anyone can do it, those two can. Whoever kidnapped them either doesn’t know they’re Guides or doesn’t know enough about Guides to know what they’re capable of.’
‘So if we can get back to the Spirit Plane we can find them and help them?’
‘I think so.’
After that, it was almost too easy. With Jim’s help and instruction, they both fell into a meditative state, and when John opened his eyes, he was, once again, standing on blue grass.
‘Took you long enough,’ a familiar voice told him.
‘Rodney? Are you alright?’ John pulled his Guide into his arms while Jim did the same with Blair.
‘I’ve been kidnapped, Sheppard! Of course, I’m not alright!’
‘You sound alright.’
‘And I will be once you come and rescue us.’
‘Oh. Oh, of course.’
‘You thought you could rescue us from here, didn’t you?’
‘No!’ John protested, not able to meet Rodney’s eyes.
‘Yeah, okay,’ he admitted, feeling stupid. ‘But in my defence, I didn’t know how any of this worked.’
Rodney pulled him into another hug. ‘Blair is explaining to Jim where we are. They weren’t expecting two of us and Blair was able to see enough to tell Jim where to come, or at least the rough area. He’ll find us from there. We’re still in Richmond; I’m pretty sure.’ He pressed a kiss to John’s lips then pushed him away. ‘Now come and rescue me, Sentinel,’ he ordered in a voice John didn’t recognise but which touched him in his very core.
‘At your command, Guide.’ Something prompted John to make a formal bow and the nod of approval from Rodney confirmed he’d made the correct decision.
Waking up wasn’t as much of a shock as before and barely fifteen minutes after Rodney had kissed him – or maybe not kissed him – he was in a car with Jim, and his father and brother, and this time he made sure he was armed, having raided his father’s gun cabinet since his own weapons were…huh. I don’t even know where my guns are. I hope Daniels or Cadman have them somewhere safe.
Jim drove with Patrick beside him and the two brothers in the back seat. David and Patrick were both still worried, but John felt as light as air. He knew they were going to be able to rescue Rodney and Blair.
As they came to the outskirts of southern Richmond John felt a curious pull on his senses. ‘Am I feeling Rodney from this distance?’ he asked, a little puzzled.
Jim glanced at him in the rearview mirror. ‘Probably. I can sense Blair.’
‘It’s like a…a rope joining us together.’
‘It’s your bond. It’s an almost physical thing, and it will get stronger over time.’
‘It’s as though it’s…humming.’
Jim grinned at him in the mirror. ‘Thrumming like a string on a guitar.’
John nodded. ‘Wow. I never realised the bond was like this.’
‘Few people do. It’s not something we talk about amongst mundanes.’
‘You know, that’s a dreadful word,’ David commented idly. ‘Mundanes. As though the rest of the population wasn’t important. Like the word Muggle in Harry Potter.’
‘Don’t tell me you read kids books, David,’ Jim teased.
‘Don’t tell me you don’t, Jim! They’re books for any age group, aren’t they, John.’
John grinned at him. ‘If you say so, Davy.’ The childhood name slipped out surprising both of them.
‘Boys,’ Patrick warned, just as he had a couple of decades previously.
‘Don’t make me stop the car,’ John and David chanted at the same time and then grinned and squeezed pinky fingers together.
Jim suddenly slowed down and switched off the car headlights, reminding John it was still the middle of the night.
‘We’re almost there,’ Jim said quietly. The large suburban moved slowly along until Jim pulled up in the shadow of a warehouse. ‘We’ll go on foot from here.’
‘Are you sure we shouldn’t have called the police?’ David asked.
‘Very sure. I was a detective. I know how disruptive the police can be in situations like this,’ Jim told him, with a grin. ‘Far better it’s just John and myself. I’m relying on you two to be ready to bring the car up to our position and call for back up if needed.’
‘I’m not staying here like a little kid!’ David retorted. ‘I’m coming with you.’
‘Do you have a weapon?’ John asked him, pulling out his own Beretta and checking it over.
‘Well, no, but—’
‘Do you have experience in silent infiltration?’
‘No?’ More hesitant.
‘Then you stay with Dad and do as Jim says.’ John nodded to his brother and opened the rear door. ‘I’m serious, Dave. You’ll only get in the way if you try and follow us. This isn’t a movie, it’s real life, and this is what I do for a living. Stay here and stay safe. We’ll call when we’re ready for you.’
David scowled but remained in the car as John and Jim made their way confidently towards one of the far warehouses.
‘They’re in there,’ Jim muttered almost silently, knowing John could hear him. He paused for a moment. ‘Two guards with them, both asleep, about twenty years inside.’
John frowned wondering how he knew this.
John nodded, mentally kicking himself for not realising.
Jim tried the side door which opened easily.
‘Surely it can’t be this simple?’ John whispered.
‘I guess they weren’t expecting us to find them so quickly.’
The two men slipped silently inside and found themselves in a corridor with several doors leading from it. They continued until they both halted in front of the same door.
‘In here,’ John breathed.
Jim nodded and tried the handle; his movements slow and silent. ‘It’s locked, but we can break it down. You go right, and I’ll go left. On my mark.’
John nodded again, aware Jim could see him, even in the dark, and Jim counted down from five. On ‘mark!’ they moved as one man and kicked down the door.
They had the element of surprise on the two guards, especially as Rodney and Blair were already awake and waiting for them. One of the guards went for his gun, but John shot his hand and heard the crack as the bullet hit a bone. Jim took out the light bulb first since neither he nor John required the light to see clearly and then took down the other guard while John went straight for Rodney, touching the bruises on his face gently.
‘They hurt you.’
Rodney nodded and clung to him for a moment. ‘Get us out of here,’ he muttered between split lips.
John bent to untie him, a sudden memory of the cave in Afghanistan washing over him. He shook it off and got his Guide untied just as Jim called for the car to be brought up.
‘Take Rodney and Blair to the car, John. I’m going to tie these guys up for the police to collect later.’
‘Wait.’ Rodney caught John’s hand. ‘Take photographs of them. I’m pretty sure I recognise that one.’ He pointed to the man John had injured, and John growled. ‘Calm down. I’m safe now, and he’s not going anywhere. Just take some photos of them, and me with my war wounds. We may need them as evidence.’
Not in the least bit happy about any of it and still growling, John did as he was told and used his new cell phone to record details of the two guards and of the room they were in.
‘Your heart’s racing,’ he told his Guide. ‘And I can smell your blood.’
‘Don’t get all vampire on me,’ Rodney snapped. ‘I’ve been through enough today. Just take me home.’
‘Finished,’ Jim said, tying the last of the ropes. ‘They won’t escape from those knots.’
‘Regular little Boy Scout aren’t you?’
John frowned at Rodney. ‘When did you last eat, McKay?’
‘Fucking hours ago, why? Ohh.’
‘We need to get some food into you. Come on. There may be some candy in the car. Dad has a sweet tooth when he’s driving.’
A squeal of breaks outside told them the car had just pulled up, and within seconds David appeared in the doorway, a large lantern torch in his hand.
‘You took your time,’ John commented. ‘And I’m pretty sure I told you to stay in the car.’
David glared at him. ‘You did, but you also forgot to give us directions since it was dark and we couldn’t see where you went. We’ve been driving around looking for you. And you wouldn’t have called us in if there was still any danger.’
John shook his head. ‘We don’t have time for this. Does Dad have any candy in the car? Rodney’s heading for a hypo.’
David swung the torch around to take a close look at Rodney’s face and saw the pallor there. He dashed back to the car, reappearing a few seconds later with some mints. ‘It’s all I could find. Will they do?’
‘As long as they have sugar in them, yes,’ John told him, holding his hand out. ‘At least until we can find some proper food.’
He unwrapped a mint and pushed between Rodney’s swollen and split lips. ‘Better?’
Rodney nodded, his heartbeat settling almost immediately. ‘Home now?’
‘Home,’ John promised.