Star Crossed: Genesis, part 2 by KAM

Chapter Seven – Friends and Enemies

When Henri and Rafe came upon the wrecked ship, both men stopped in shock and stared at the scene before them. Henri broke from the paralysis first and ran towards the two still figures lying on the ground. Just as he reached the two men, both of them took a huge gasping breath and opened their eyes. Intent on pulling Blair away from the unknown man, Henri was surprised when the man rolled Blair to the side and then took a defensive position in front of the younger man. “What the hell?“ He pulled out his weapon and took aim.

From behind Jim, Blair could sense Henri intentions. Scrambling forward, shaking off Jim's restraining hold, the young man placed himself in front of the Panterian. “Don't shoot!“

Not wanting to harm Blair, Henri moved his weapon off of the two men. “Get out of the way, Blair.“

“No, Henri. You can't shoot him.“ Blair glanced over his shoulder at Jim and was alarmed by the look of barely restrained fury on the older man's face. “Jim?“

Briefly, Jim looked down at Blair but then immediately turned his attention back to the two newcomers.

“It's okay, Jim. They're friends.“

“Maybe yours, but they're no friends of mine, kid.“

Blair looked back at Henri. “Put away your weapon, Henri.“

“But –“

“Please.“

Wavering, Henri cast a wary look at Jim and then reluctantly holstered his weapon. “For now, Blair.“

Blair smiled. “Thanks.“ He scrambled to his feet, then turned towards Jim and held out his hand. “C'mon, Jim.“

Behind Blair, Henri distractedly noticed that the younger man’s hand appeared to be healed, but then he tensed as he saw Jim reach out to take the extended hand. “What are you doing? You have to stay away from this guy.“ Henri looked at the markings on the other man’s tattered uniform and wrecked ship. “This guy is Panterian. He's the one who shot us down. Because of him, there's a lot of good people dead in case you've forgotten.“

Keeping his eyes locked on Jim's, Blair said, “I know, Henri. But just go with me here. I know what I'm doing.“ Hand still outstretched; he addressed Jim again. “Take my hand, Jim.“

Without thinking about it, Jim accepted the hand and got to his feet. Once standing, he looked down at himself in shock. Despite his torn and bloodied clothing, he didn't feel any pain or see any sign of the injuries he knew he had sustained in the crash. He looked up at Blair in shock. “How…“

Blair shook his head slightly and mouthed, “Not now.“

Reluctantly, Jim released Blair's hand and stood still as the young man walked over to the other two men.

“Hey, Henri,“ Blair greeted. “Guess you used that tracking device to find me, huh?“ Blair laughed at the look of surprise that appeared on Henri's face.

“You know about that?“

The smile fading from his face, Blair tensed as he felt a wave of anger radiating from the man standing behind him.

Noticing the change in the younger man, Henri asked, “What's wrong, Blair?“

“Nothing, Henri. I'm fine.“

Not convinced, Henri started to reach for Blair but stopped when he heard a low growl.

Alarmed, he looked over at Jim. “What's the matter with him?“

“Just … It's difficult to explain. Let's just get back to the others, okay?“

Henri jerked his head in Jim's direction. “What about him?“

“What do you mean?“

“I'm not taking that son of a bitch back with us.“ Henri's eyes turned hard as he looked at Jim. “We ought to leave him out here to die. Or better yet,“ pulling out his weapon, Henri aimed at Jim, “we should just kill him now. An eye for an eye, so to speak.“

Once again, Blair placed himself in front of Henri's gun. “I already told you to put the weapon away, Henri.“ When the other man didn't immediately holster the gun, Blair took a step forward, and brought the weapon to rest against his chest. “I said, put it away.“

“I hope you know what you're doing,“ Henri said as he relented to the younger man's demands once again and put away his weapon.

Glancing back at Jim, Blair whispered, “So do I.“ Having silently watched everything, Jim winced when Blair's quiet words reached his ears. He tensed when the younger man walked back to him. “We're going to go to my people now, Jim. Do I have your word that you won't do anything? I think we've had enough loss of life for one day, don't you?“

Jim pointedly looked over at Henri before answering. “I don't know about that, kid. I think some of us wouldn't mind one more death.“ Jim sighed as he looked back at Blair. “But, yeah, you've got my word. If anything happens, it won't be because I started something.“

“Thanks.“

Shrugging, Jim said, “It's not like I have much choice.“

Blair turned back to Henri. “All right. Let's get going.“

“Hold it a minute.“ Ignoring Blair, Henri marched over to Jim and reached for the other man.

Alarmed, Jim took a quick step back and assumed a defensive stance.

“What do you think you're doing?“ Blair asked.

“I'm going to check him for weapons,“ Henri answered. “Just because you insist on bringing him back, doesn't mean I'm going to take any chances. As far as I’m concerned, this guy is just Panterian scum.“

When Blair started to say something, Jim said, “It's all right.“ He then stood still while Henri quickly patted him down and disarmed him.

Stuffing the confiscated weapon into his waistband, Henri addressed Rafe. “Get into your pack, Rafe, and hand me the rope in there.“

Suspicious, Blair gave Henri a sharp look. “Rope? What do you need rope for?“

Henri gestured towards Jim with his weapon. “To tie him up. I told you I'm not going to take any chances with this guy. He's a killer and there's no way I'm going to give him the opportunity to finish off the rest of us. Especially you.“

“That isn't necessary. Jim wouldn’t hurt me,“ Blair protested. “Besides, he gave me his word that he wouldn't do anything and I believe him.“

“Maybe you do, but I don't.“ Henri accepted the rope that Rafe held out to him. “Cover me while I restrain him.“

“I've got your back.“ Rafe trained his weapon on Jim as Henri approached their captive.

“Henri, you –“

“It's okay, Blair.“ Jim kept his eyes on Blair as he held out his hands for Henri to bind them.

Blair lowered his eyes. “Just … just don't tie the ropes too tight, okay?“

With a slight grunt, Henri pulled the ropes tight, causing Jim to wince slightly. “Don't worry, Blair, we'll treat him real nice.“ Holding the end of the rope in his hand, Henri walked around behind Jim and gave the Panterian a shove to the middle of his back. “Get moving!“

Growling under his breath, Jim fought his instincts and didn't attack the other man. Conscious of Blair's eyes on him, and the younger man's increased heart rate and rapid breathing, Jim remained calm for Blair's sake as he stumbled and tried to remain on his feet.

“That's not necessary!“

“Stay out of this, Blair!“ Henri turned to look at the younger man. “This man is a prisoner and as the ranking officer here, he's under my authority.“

Drawing in a deep breath, Blair straightened up and glared back at his friend. “I think you forget just who you're talking to, Lieutenant.“

This time, it was Henri who lowered his eyes. “I'm sorry, Si –“

“It's all right, Henri.“ With a panicked look towards Jim, Blair quickly cut the other man off. His shoulders slumped and he let out a weary sounding sigh. “Look, I just don't want you to do something you'll regret. I'm just as mad about the death of the others as you are but we can't allow our pain and our anger to make us lash out at him. I'm sure we've all been responsible for our fair share of deaths in this war. We can't fault him for doing what any of our own would have done in his place. Especially since we don't know the whole story. There may be some special circumstances surrounding what happened. Until we know everything, I think we should all hold off on our judgments for now.“

Silently, Jim watched the interaction between the two men. His eyes narrowed as he stared at Blair. Mentally, he replayed the conversation and paid special attention to how Blair's heartbeat spiked when the Lieutenant had started to apologize. Specifically when Blair had cut the other man off. Shocked, Jim came to a sudden realization as to what the other man had been about to call Blair. Feeling a violent yank forward, Jim stumbled forward a few steps and came crashing to his knees. Still reeling from the sudden revelation, he didn't notice when someone kneeled down beside him. Feeling a hand come to rest on his arm, he looked up into Blair's concerned eyes.

“Jim, are you all right?“

Angrily, Jim shrugged off the younger man's arm. “I'm just fine, Sire,“ he sneered. This man, the one he'd felt so drawn too, was royalty among the Lupinards. Was, most likely, among the very ones who'd denied sanctuary to his people – had condemned all Panterians to death by refusing to allow them onto Lupine.

Shocked by the look of rage on Jim's face, confused at the sudden change in the older man, Blair gasped and pulled away.

Climbing to his feet, Jim ignored the stunned young man kneeling on the ground. “What are we waiting for? Let's get moving.“

“I don't take orders from you.“ Henri shot a glare towards Jim as he handed the rope over to Rafe. “Watch him while I check on Blair.“

Rafe nodded and kept his eyes on Jim as Henri raced over to Blair.

Falling to his knees, Henri put his arm around Blair's shoulders. “Blair?“

Head hanging, hair obscuring his face, the younger man tried to get control of himself and his emotions. “Jim?“ The soft plea was meant only for the Sentinel's ears and went unheard by the other two men.

Conflicted, Jim felt torn by the pain he heard in Blair's voice, his instincts screaming at him to comfort his Guide and ease his pain. But, in the end, he hardened his heart to the younger man's anguish. His eyes remained straight ahead as he ignored what was occurring at his feet.

Concerned, Henri leaned over and tried to get a look at Blair's face. “Talk to me, Blair. You're starting to scare me here. Are you hurt?“

“I… It's nothing.“ Avoiding the other man's eyes, Blair pulled away from Henri and pushed himself to his feet. “I guess everything is just starting to catch up with me, is all. I got quite a backlash on the ship during the attack. It's… it's just starting to hit me now that things have settled down some.“

“You're not in any danger, are you?“ Henri stood as well and took a step closer to Blair. “Can you make it back to the ship? I hope there’s some dampeners left in medical. I don’t know how extensive the damage was in that area of the ship. Damn it, I should have checked it out after we got everyone off the ship. I should have known that you'd have this problem. I'm sorry, Blair. I failed you again.“

“Stop that, Henri. It's not your fault. And, relax. I'm all right. I don't need any dampeners right now. If I need some after we get back, I'm sure you or one of the others will get them for me. I can handle everything until then though.“

“Are you sure?“

Blair nodded. “Positive.“ The young man pasted a smile on his face as he turned to look at the Lieutenant.

Still uncertain, Henri studied the other man's face for several long seconds before finally nodding. “All right. Let's get moving then. But you tell me if you need to stop or if you need any help.“ When Blair nodded again, Henri walked over and took the rope from Rafe. With another violent yank, he got their prisoner moving again as they all started on their way once more.

Falling into step behind the others, Blair couldn't keep his eyes off of Jim's straight, rigid back. He let out a sigh as he felt the waves of emotions radiating off of the Panterian. Nearly overcome by the sensation, he stumbled but quickly regained his footing when Henri and Rafe looked back at him. As soon as they looked away again, his shoulders slumped. I don't know why you're so angry at me, Jim, he thought. But whatever it is, I'm sorry. I… I felt something between us and I thought that you felt it too. You said you did. Was that just a lie? Was it all just a lie? But my dreams … they seemed so real. How could they have been so wrong?

When he heard the faint whispering, Jim glared back at Blair in irritation. But his irritation quickly turned to shock when he saw that the younger man's lips weren't moving. As the next set of soft words reached him, he realized that he wasn't hearing them with his ears. The words were echoing within his mind. Jerking his head around, he ruthlessly blocked out the younger man. Yet even as a part of him was repulsed by the growing connection that seemed to exist between him and his enemy, he couldn't help the surge of excitement that filled him as he discovered that the connection between himself and the younger man seemed to be growing in strength. God help me, I think I've really found my Guide. My true Guide. My bonded soulmate. Looking down at his bound hands, he let out a small snort of laughter. Hell, this is another mess you've gotten yourself into, Ellison. Crashed on a deserted planet, captured and starting to bond with an enemy who's just a kid and would appear to be royalty to boot. Aw, hell. At least things couldn't get much worse.

It was then that his sense of hearing spiked and he heard a sound in the distance. Head turning towards the origin of the noise, his eyes zeroed in on the swirling gusts of winds. Well, looks like they just did. Turning to face forward again, he called out to the man in front of him. “Hey, you, how far is it to this ship of yours?“

“Why do you want to know?“ Henri asked, without bothering to turn around.

“Oh, I just thought that if it's too far, we might want to find some kind of shelter.“

Coming to a halt, Henri spun around to face his prisoner. “And why would we want to do that?“

Jim shrugged. “Hey, it's your choice. But I, for one, don't really want to be out in the open during a sandstorm.“

“Sandsto…“ Henri trailed off as Jim jerked his head to the side. Looking off in that direction, the Lieutenant didn't see anything. “What kind of game are you playing? There's nothing there.“

“If he says there's a storm, then there's a storm.“ Blair spoke up from behind Jim. With a deep breath and a glance towards Jim, he added, “Jim is a Sentinel.“ Then he swayed when Jim's anger struck him.

Jaw clenched, Jim pushed aside the rage and sense of betrayal he felt as the younger man told the others about him. “Yeah, I am,“ he agreed. “And I can see a storm out there. It's bad and it's heading in our direction. If your ship is close, we could probably make it. But if it's not, then we need to find some shelter and wait it out. I don't know about you, but I don't want to be out in the middle of that thing. Trust me, it looks pretty nasty.“

“What about the others?“ Rafe asked. “Will the storm hit them too? What if they’re caught out in the open.“

Indecisive, Henri stared at Jim for several seconds. “Rafe, reach into your pack. There should be some binoculars in there. Give them to me.“

Obeying, Rafe wordlessly retrieved the requested item and handed it over.

With a warning look towards Jim, Henri raised the binoculars to his eyes and then let out a shocked gasp when he saw what was in the distance. “Shit!“ Lowering the binoculars, he looked over at Jim again. “At the rate it looks to be moving, I'd say it'll be on top of us in just a few minutes. We'll never make it back to the ship in time.“

Frantically, Jim scanned their surroundings. Spotting a group of rocks nearby, he dialed up his eyesight. Unconsciously, his hearing tuned into the rapid heartbeat behind him to ensure against any zone-outs. Nodding as he spotted what appeared to be a small cave, he pulled his sight back. “Those rocks over there. I spotted a cave. Hopefully, it'll be enough shelter. But we need to get moving.“ He cast a look over his shoulder. “Now!“

Looking back at Blair, Henri came to a decision. “All right. Let's go.“

As the others started towards the cave, Rafe stood still. “But what about the others?“

“We have to save ourselves,“ Henri called back as the three men came to a halt, “and just hope that the others will be okay. If the fires are out on the ship, then they can seek shelter in there.“

“And if they're not out?“

“Then we hope for the best and pray that they make it,“ Henri replied. “Either way, it doesn’t make a whole hell of a lot of difference now. We can't do anything for them.“

“One of us could try and make it back,“ Rafe reasoned. “Try to beat the storm and warn them about it.“

“We don't have time for this.“ Jim's voice was laced with irritation.

“I hate to agree with the guy, but he's right, Rafe.“ Henri glanced over at Blair. “Besides, no matter what else happens, we have a duty to fulfill. One all of us swore to before we set out on this mission.“

Rafe looked over at the younger man as well. Eventually, he nodded. “You're right.“

Jim looked over his shoulder and let out a low curse. “We don't have time for this. We need to find some shelter. That storm is coming up on us fast.“

At the Panterian’s urgings, they started for the rocks again.

When they finally reached their meager shelter, Jim and the others stood aside as Henri ordered Blair inside.

For a brief instant, Blair thought about protesting but he knew that the others wouldn't go in ahead of him. So, he accepted the light that Rafe held out to him and started towards the small cave. But as he was walking past Jim, the other man moved to block his way. Instantly, Henri moved to stand between them.

A scowl on his face, Jim said, “I just want to check it out before he goes inside. We don't know what may be in there.“

“How do I know that you'll tell the truth even if you do sense something inside?“ Henri challenged. “You didn’t seem too pleased when Blair told us that you were a Sentinel. So I imagine you'd love to see him get hurt or killed.“

“No, I wouldn't,“ Jim grated out. “I want… I want to see him stay safe.“

“Why?“

“I just do, all right?“ Seeing that the Lieutenant wasn't convinced, Jim added, “Hell, he's the only one here who seems to want me to stay alive. It's in my best interests to see that he stays healthy, isn't it?“

Henri raised his weapon. “All right. But, just so you know, anything happens to him and I'll shoot you without a second thought. We clear?“

Jim nodded and then dismissed the other man. Turning towards the cave, he dialed up his sight and easily saw into the small, darkened cave. After a few seconds, he shook his head. “It's clear. It'll be a tight squeeze though, there's not a whole lot of space in there.“

“All right. You go first, Blair. Then Rafe.“ Henri pulled on the rope. “You go after him, Panterian. I'll go last.“

Other than a quick look at Jim, Blair didn't show any emotion as he hurried forward and climbed into the small opening. “I'm in,“ he called out after he was as far back as he could go. Soon, he heard someone else enter and he shined his light towards the mouth of the cave. “How's it looking out there?“

“It's getting close now,“ Rafe answered as he crawled forward. “It'll probably hit us in a few minutes.“

As Rafe got settled next to Blair, Jim entered the cave. A grimace on his face, he crawled over and sat down, making sure to keep his back to the wall opposite the others. When Henri joined them, Rafe said, “We need something to seal off that opening.“

“We've got some tents in here,“ Henri stated as he shrugged off the pack on his back. “We can try to rig them up. Hopefully, it'll give us enough protection.“

Jim held out his bound hands. “You're gonna need some rope, aren't you?“

“We've got enough.“ Henri pulled a coil of rope out of his pack. “Rafe, get out the other tent. We'll need them both.“

Rafe squirmed around until he had his pack off as well. Then he got out the tent and handed it over to Henri. “You're going to need some help.“

“Yeah, I am,“ the Lieutenant agreed. “Get over here.“

“But what about him?“ Rafe gestured towards Jim.

“If he tries anything, we'll toss him out into the storm.“ Henri looked towards Blair. “And I will do it. Now, c'mon.“

When Rafe moved to help Henri, Blair shifted around until he was seated next to Jim.

“What do you want, kid?“ Jim didn't bother to look at the younger man.

Leaning forward, Blair peered around Jim and saw that Henri and Rafe seemed to be concentrating on sealing up the entrance to the cave. “I want to know why you're so angry at me?“ Blair kept his voice soft, knowing that Jim would be able to hear him.

Jim leaned his head back against the wall of rock behind him. “We're enemies. Isn't that reason enough for us to hate each other?“

“I don't hate you.“

Hearing the tremor in Blair's voice, Jim drew his knees up to his chest and draped his arms around them. “Who are you trying to convince of that? Me or you? I killed your people today. And they're not the first that I've killed. You were right about one thing. I do have a lot of blood on my hands. So much that I don't think they'll ever be clean again. It may not be in your nature to hate, but we both know that whatever we … whatever you think is between us can never be. There's no going back. Not now. Not after everything that's happened. Peace is something that will never exist between our people. No matter how much some of us may desire it.“

“You can't believe that,“ Blair hissed, trying to keep Henri and Rafe from hearing the hushed conversation. “You said that you felt the connection between us. That you felt the bond between us. How can you deny it? No matter what's happened in the past, we both know what our future will be. It can't be anything else.“

“And just what future would that be?“ Jim allowed his bitterness to show in his voice. “Are you and I just going to ride off into the sunset and live happily ever after? Sorry, kid, but real life doesn't work that way.“ Giving Blair a sideward glance, he added, “Well, maybe for you it might. I hope to God it does. But shit like that doesn't happen to people like me. That's something I accepted a long time ago. I suggest you do the same, otherwise you're in for a world of hurt.“ Having said that, Jim shifted his body and turned away from Blair.

****

Kneeling down, Simon put his hand on the shoulder of an injured man lying on the ground. “You're going to be just fine, Ensign.“ Seeing Megan approach, he stood up and went to meet her. “Yes, what is it, Connor?“

She gestured to the tall, blonde woman standing next to her. “This is Ensign Alex Barnes, sir. She has something she needs to tell you.“

Looking over at the other woman, Simon took a moment to assess her. “You're new to the crew, aren't you? Just transferred aboard before this mission?“

Alex straightened her back and squared her shoulders. “Yes, sir, that's right.“

Simon nodded. “You only recently enlisted, didn't you?“

“I joined after my parents were killed during a raid, sir. I felt it was the right thing to do.“

“I'm sorry about the loss of your parents, Ensign.“

“Thank you, sir.“

“Now, what did you need to tell me?“

Alex looked over at Megan and received an encouraging nod. “I'm a Sentinel, sir.“ When Simon nodded, she continued. “For the past few minutes, I've been picking something up. At first, I couldn't tell what it was but now I think I know.“

“What have you been sensing, Ensign?“

Turning slightly, Alex pointed in the direction Henri and Rafe had gone. “I think there's a really bad sandstorm headed this way, sir. I can hear heavy wind and when I looked in that direction, I thought I spotted some pretty thick sand swirling around.“

“You think?“ Simon asked. “You're not sure?“

Alex lowered her eyes. “I've only just recently come on-line so my senses aren't all that strong yet.“ Looking up, she added, “But I know I'm right about this, sir.“

The Captain held Alex's gaze for several long seconds and then turned away and scanned the area. Finally spotting the person he was looking for, he called out, “Taggart, over here!“

Head jerking upward, Taggart spotted Simon and jogged over to him. “Yes, sir?“

Simon pointed towards Alex. “This is Ensign Barnes. She's a Sentinel and she says she can see a sandstorm headed our way. I'm going to check it out, but in the meantime, I want you to take a couple of men and check out the ship. If there is a storm, we may have to seek shelter inside and I want to make sure it's safe in there.“

“Understood.“ Taggart nodded and then hurried off.

After the other man had left, Simon turned his attention back to the two women. “Connor, go and round me up a pair of binoculars.“

“Actually, sir,“ Megan drew her hand out from behind her back, “I've already got you a pair.“ She shrugged when Simon leveled a look her way. “I thought you might need them.“

With a shake of his head, Simon accepted the binoculars. Raising them, he looked in the direction Alex had pointed. “Aw, hell, this is just what we need.“ Lowering the binoculars, he stared at the female Sentinel. “Good work, Ensign Barnes. If you hadn't been here, we wouldn't have had much warning. Now, we've got adequate time to get prepared for when this thing hits. Good job.“

Alex swelled with pride. “Thank you, sir!“

“I want you to join Taggart inside the ship. With your help, his job will go even faster.“ Simon looked around and then turned to face Alex again. “What about your Companion? You'll need some help in there. We can't risk you zoning.“

“I… I, um, don't have a Companion, sir,“ Alex replied, her voice almost too low to hear.

“What do you mean you don’t have a Companion?“ the Captain demanded.

“Like I said, I only recently came on-line, sir,“ Alex explained. “My senses aren't very strong yet and … well … I haven't been able to find anyone who feels right, Captain. I've met several Companions but there's been no indication of my being able to initiate or sustain a bond with any of them. I just haven't … clicked … with anyone.“

Simon handed the binoculars back to Megan and then ran a hand over his face. “This is something that I definitely didn't need right now.“ With a sigh, he looked back at Alex. “Okay, Lieutenant Connor has had some training in this area. So as of now, I'm assigning her to be your temporary Companion.“

“But, sir –“

“I don't want to hear it.“ Simon cut off Alex's protest. “We need someone who has at least a chance of pulling you out of it in case you zone. Since Connor is the only one even remotely qualified to do that, she's got the job.“

“What about Blair, sir?“ Alex asked, a gleam in her eyes. “From what I've heard about him, I imagine he's –“

“He's not here right now, is he?“ The Captain knew that word of Blair’s disappearance had quickly spread among the remaining crewmembers. “And even if he were, there's no way in hell that I would ever allow him to act as your Companion. Not even on a temporary basis. You should know that, Ensign.“

“Yes, sir, you're right.“ Alex appeared contrite. “I'm sorry.“

“That's all right.“ Simon turned to look at Megan. “You will be able to help her, won't you?“

“I believe that I can, sir,“ Megan replied. “I know what signs to look for and I've been trained in how to bring a Sentinel out of a zone. I think we'll be all right.“

“Good. Then get in there and help Taggart.“ When Megan hesitated, Simon asked, “Was there something else, Connor?“

Megan looked off in the direction of the storm. “Well, what about Blair and the others? They might be out in the middle of that storm. Shouldn't we send someone to look for them? Blair could be… He could need our help.“

“There's nothing we can do for him right now.“ Like Megan, Simon looked off in the distance. “All we can do is hope … and pray … that he's okay.“

“But, Sir –“

“That's enough, Lieutenant!“ The Captain let out a weary sigh. “Look, I want to go out there and find him myself. You don't know how much I want to do that. But we can't. Even if I did send someone out there, they'd never be able to find Blair and the others in that storm. I'd be sending someone to a certain, needless death. That's something that I can't … that I won't … do.“

“He's all right.“

Megan and Simon both turned to look at Alex.

“What are you talking about?“ Simon asked.

“Blair,“ Alex explained. “He's all right. I know it.“

Both of them were shocked when Alex seemed to bristle and growled low in her throat.

“Barnes!“

Shaking her head slightly; Alex seemed to come back to herself. “Sorry, sir, I don't know what just happened.“ Seeing the looks she was receiving, she held up her hands. “Look, I don't know how or why I know, but I just know that Blair is okay.“

“What was that growl about?“ Megan asked. “For a minute there, it looked like you were about ready to rip someone to shreds with your bare hands.“

Before answering, Alex recalled the intense feeling of anger and territorial possessiveness that filled her a moment ago. “It's nothing,“ she lied. “Nothing at all.“

Not entirely convinced that the Ensign was telling the truth, Simon stared at her for a little while before he finally spoke again. “You two get moving. Taggart needs your help.“

Both women nodded and then walked away.

For a few moments, the captain stared after them. Despite the heat surrounding him, Simon felt shivers wrack his body. There for an instant, he thought he has seen a proprietary look in the young ensign’s eyes as she had talked of Blair. Although he knew that Blair had the ability to be a Companion, he also knew that the young man’s destiny lay elsewhere. And that even Blair himself had no idea what the full extent of that destiny was. Unnerved by the Ensign’s behavior, Simon vowed to keep an eye on the woman when, and if, Blair returned to them. Although she was a member of his crew and he should be able to trust her, Simon had some doubts about the female Sentinel. And her behavior only served to reinforce those doubts.

Eyes drawn back out towards the expanse of desert land stretching before him, Simon said a brief prayer for Blair’s safety. Not because of Blair’s supposed destiny, but because he cared for the younger man and didn't want to see Blair harmed in any way. Even if I hadn't taken a vow to protect you, I'd still watch out for you, Blair. You may not be my son by blood, but I couldn't love you any more if you were. Come back. Please come back safely.

Chapter Eight – Hostile Environment

After their quiet conversation, Jim seemed to retreat into himself. Despite several questioning looks from Blair, he remained silent and seemed to ignore the younger man altogether. Inwardly, it was completely different as the older man struggled to rein in his senses. Almost against his will, they focused in on Blair and started to categorize the younger man. Jim felt a surge of irritation and anger when he couldn’t fill all of his senses with Blair. Restrained hands itched to touch the long, curly hair. His tongue restlessly roamed over his teeth and gums, wanting to explore the younger man’s mouth before moving on to taste the beckoning skin. Trying not to be noticeable, he inhaled deeply and took in Blair's scent. Before he could stop it, a growl rumbled in his chest.

Alarmed, Blair laid a hand on Jim’s arm and leaned closer to the older man. “Jim?“

Realizing that he was only barely staying in control, and that if he maintained contact with Blair much longer he wouldn’t be able to stop himself from completing his sensory map of the younger man, Jim pulled away. “Don’t touch me!“

Hearing the hissed command, Henri turned around. “What’s going on?“ Eyes narrowed, he glared at the prisoner. “What in the hell do you think you’re doing? Get away from him!“ Hastily securing the last tie holding the tents in place, the Lieutenant rushed over and pulled Jim away from Blair. Fist drawn back, prepared to strike out at his enemy; Henri paused when he saw the smug look on the Panterian’s face.

Making no attempt to protect himself, Jim sneered, “What are you waiting for? You know you want to do it. So go ahead. Hit me!“

With a grunt, Henri shoved Jim back down. “You’re not worth it.“ Turning to Blair, he asked, “Are you okay? Did he try to hurt you?“

Blair took a shaky breath. “No, I’m fine. Everything’s okay.“

Not convinced he was being told the truth, Henri kept a wary eye on Jim as he settled down next to Blair. “Rafe, sit next to killer over there. Keep an eye on him.“

Stung by the derogatory name, Jim kept his eyes downcast as Rafe came to sit down beside him. However, he kept his attention on Blair and listened to the conversation between the young man and the Lieutenant.

“I guess I don’t have to tell you that you’re in a world of trouble, huh?“

Although still alarmed by Jim’s behavior, Blair couldn’t help chuckling. “I guess Simon was pretty pissed, huh?“

“That doesn’t even begin to describe his reaction.“ Henri shared a smile with the younger man.

Listening to, and sensing, the easy camaraderie between the two men, Jim felt increasingly familiar stirrings of jealousy and possessiveness take hold of him. There were times after he'd met Carolyn, that he felt this way when he saw someone – be it a man or a woman – pay what he felt was too much attention to her. But it had never been this intense. He wanted nothing more to reach over and pull Blair away from the Lieutenant, all the while proclaiming his claim on the young man. His attention was caught when he heard mention of Blair’s injuries. Concerned, he tuned into the conversation again.

“I mean it, Blair, let me see them.“ Expectantly, Henri held out his hand. “Your hands sustained some pretty bad damage earlier.“

With a nervous glance at Jim and Rafe, Blair held out his hands and waited for Henri’s reaction. He didn’t have to wait very long.

“What the hell?“ In disbelief, Henri examined Blair’s hands. Instead of the torn and ripped skin he had seen before, he found himself staring at unblemished hands. Shocked, he looked up at Blair. “I thought … back where we found you, I thought that your hands looked different but… How… I mean… What in the hell is going on here, Blair?“

Wincing, Blair tried to pull away from Henri. “Ow, Henri. Let go, man. You’re hurting.“ Sensing Jim tense, Blair reassured, “I’m okay.“ Despite the words, Blair noticed that Jim didn’t relax his guard any.

When the Lieutenant still maintained his hold on Blair, Jim growled, “Let him go!“

As if he were burned, Henri let go and hastily drew back from Blair, only to then stare at the younger man, a look of awe, and not a little bit of fear, on his face.

Blair’s heart sank as he saw the way his friend was staring at him. “Henri…“

Instantly, Henri lowered his eyes as he bowed his head. “Sire.“

“Damn it, Henri, don’t do that!“

Both of them confused; Rafe and Jim stared at the scene before them. Each of them glanced at the other and then quickly averted their eyes when they saw the other was looking also.

Clearing his throat, Rafe spoke up. “What… what’s going on?“

Instead of answering, Henri’s hand shot out and pushed aside the hair covering Blair’s forehead. He hissed when he saw that the wound there was healed also. A suspicious and hostile expression on his face, he glared over at Jim. “Why aren’t you injured?“

Not knowing the answer, Jim responded with sarcasm. “Sorry to disappoint you there, Ace. I know you’d rather have me all fucked up and drawing my last breath.“

“Can the attitude,“ Henri ordered. “Just answer me.“

Feeling that there was some reasoning behind the Lieutenant’s question, and wanting to know the answer himself, Jim honestly replied, “I don’t know. I was injured in the crash. Pretty badly, in fact. But then… I was just healed. That’s all I know.“

Henri stared at Jim for several seconds before turning to look at Blair again. Growing impatient at the younger man’s continued silence, he repeated, “What’s going on here?“

“I wouldn’t mind knowing the answer to that myself,“ Jim put in.

Blair looked over at Jim and then quickly averted his eyes again. “I… I healed you, I think.“ He raised a shaky, uninjured hand to his forehead. “And myself while I was at it, I guess.“

“You’re a healer?“ The others could hear the surprise in Jim’s voice. Seeing the looks he was receiving, he added, “We’ve… we’ve got healers on my world too. But… well, none of them are as young as he is. It takes years of preparation and training.“

Not willing to trust their enemy, nor wanting to provide any information about his charge, Henri addressed Blair. “We’ll discuss this later. After we get back to the ship and can talk with the Captain.“

“Why not discuss it now?“ Jim asked. “It’s not like we’ve got anything better to do.“

“Oh yeah,“ Henri’s tone was sarcastic, “we’re just going to sit around and provide our enemy with intimate knowledge of our people. Yeah, sure, that’s gonna happen.“

“Like we don’t already know everything about you,“ Jim shot back. “Get real. There’s nothing you could say that we haven’t discovered by now. You don’t have any secrets left.“

“Neither do you, Sentinel.“

Unnerved by the growing hostility filling the air around him, Blair tried to diffuse the escalating anger. “Both of you just back down.“ Neither man complied. “I mean it. Stop it right now. This isn’t doing any of us any good.“ Bombarded by the negative emotions, Blair felt a spike of pain race through his head. A gasp of pain escaped him.

Instantly, all eyes were on the young man. “Blair, what’s wrong?“ Henri laid a hand on a tense shoulder, only to be taken by surprise when the younger man instantly shrank away from the contact. “Blair?“

“Too much… can’t… hurts…“ Hands clutching his head, Blair curled into a tight ball.

“What’s wrong?“ Rafe stared at Blair in alarm. “What’s going on?“

Instead of Henri, it was Jim who answered. “It’s us. He can’t take all this crap we’re spewing at him.“

The answer just further confused Rafe. “What are you talking about?“ When no one offered any explanation, his voice grew louder, drawing a wince from both Jim and Blair. “Someone tell me what the hell is going on!“

Jim shot a glare Rafe’s way, causing the other man to fall silent. Then he tried to inch his way towards Blair, only to be stopped by Henri.

“Don’t you even think about getting anywhere near him,“ the Lieutenant warned as he grabbed Jim’s arm.

Before Jim could answer, a pained moan sounded. Angrily, he shrugged off the restraining hold. “He’s hurting. I can help him. Now do you want to let me go or do you want to see him in pain?“

“I don’t like this.“

“You don’t have to like it.“

Reluctantly, Henri let Jim move to Blair’s side. “I’ll be keeping my eye on you. If you try to hurt him, I’ll –“

“You’ll what?’ Jim interrupted, a look of scorn on his face. “Kill me? Go ahead. Nobody’s stopping you.“

“Just help him if you can.“

“I will.“

As Jim started to reach for Blair, Henri added, “But when this over, I want some answers.“

Unwilling to let the other man get the last word, Jim retorted, “Don’t you think you should clear that with your Sire first. Or do you always order him around?“ Scoffing when the other man didn’t answer, Jim said, “I didn’t think so.“

Turning his attention back to Blair, Jim slowly inched his way closer to the younger man. He kept up a constant murmur of assurances. “Everything’s going to be okay, Blair. Just relax. Let everything go. I’ve got you.“ When he reached Blair, Jim didn’t attempt to move the tightly curled body. Instead, he eased himself behind the younger man and slipped his still bound hands over Blair's head to wrap his arms around the smaller, shivering body.

Burying his nose in Blair’s hair, he scented it deeply and relished the smell of his Guide. Closing his eyes, he let his barriers drop as his mind sought out Blair's. Connecting, he gritted his teeth as he was hit by a wave of intense pain. For a split second, he almost broke off the contact. But then, pulling Blair’s body more firmly against his own, he pressed onward and deepened the connection between them.

****

With his crew gathered together inside the wreckage of their ship, Simon watched as the most severely injured crewmembers suffered through the pain of their wounds. Medical had been badly damaged by the fires that had ravaged the ship and, as a result, there weren’t adequate supplies to treat the injured crew.

Once again, as he watched a burned young woman cry out in pain, the Captain cursed the person who had attacked his ship and vowed to make that person pay for the damage they had inflicted on his crew.

Sensing someone come up beside him, he demanded, “Report.“

Following the Captain’s gaze, Joel let out a heavy sigh when he saw what had captured the other man’s attention. “All in all, we’re not too bad off.“

Angered, Simon turned to glare at Joel. “You call this not bad off?“

“I just meant that the wreckage appears to be fairly stable,“ Joel explained, not intimidated by the other man’s rage. “We can safely ride out the storm in here. I’ve got people out now gathering survival kits and anything else that may be useful. And, even though I know it’s probably useless, I sent Lash to Medical. Dan gave him a list of things to look for and there’s still a chance that we can find some salvageable supplies there.“ In a quieter voice, he added, “At least I hope so.“

Simon rubbed his eyes. “Shit, I’m sorry, Joel. I know you’re doing your best. It’s just…“

“I know, Simon,“ Joel said when the other man fell silent. “But you can’t blame yourself for any of this.“

“Can’t I? Damn it, I knew something was suspicious about this whole assignment. I just never thought that anyone would do anything to jeopardize B… Blair’s safety.“ There was a catch in his voice when he said the young man’s name. “I know that there are people working against him…. plotting against him… but to pull something as blatant as this. Someone had to be pretty damn sure of themselves to try this.“

“What are you talking about, Simon?“

The Captain looked around and then drew Joel off away from the others. “Listen, Joel, what I’m about to tell you has to remain between the two of us.“ When the other man started to speak, Simon held up his hand to silence him. Then he pressed a button on a device that was encircling his wrist. Seeing Joel’s questioning look, he explained, “It generates white noise.“

“White noise?“ A look of understanding appeared on Joel’s face. “Alex Barnes.“

“I don’t want anyone knowing what I’m about to say to you,“ the Captain stressed.

“Understood, sir.“

Simon nodded. “In case anything happens to me, I want your word that you will protect Blair. No matter what.“

“Simon, you know that I’ll protect Blair. I’ve sworn to give my life to protect him, just like everyone else here.“

“Yeah, I know. But you’re the only one that I can really trust to keep that vow.“ The Captain laid his hand on Joel's shoulder. “When this mission first came along, we weren't assigned to it. And I had to pull a hell of a lot of strings and call in a lot of favors to see that we ended up with it. I think…“ Pausing, Simon glanced around to make sure that no one was paying attention to their huddled conversation, “…that this mission was supposed to fail.“

“You don't mean –“

“Yes, I do,“ Simon interrupted. “I think someone planned on making sure that Blair didn't reach his destination alive.“

Joel looked stricken. “But who? Who would want his death? Our whole future rests on him.“

“Maybe there's some people who don't want him to fulfill his destiny,“ Simon stated. “You have to admit that if he does, our entire way of life may change. And some people don't accept change that easily. Especially Brackett and his crony, Kincaid.“

“Yes, I imagine so. But how? How would they know that fighter would be along our flight path? Unless…“ Shocked, Joel stared at his Captain. “You're not suggesting that … that Brackett and Kincaid are working with the enemy? They may want Blair out of the way, but to conspire with the Panterians? Would they stoop so low?“

“I'm sure there's people on both sides that want this conflict to continue. There's a lot of profit involved in war, after all.“

Needing a moment to digest what Simon had told him, Joel remained silent for a few seconds. “Do you know who is involved? How high up this conspiracy goes? Are there… could there be members of our own crew involved in this?“

“You know that I trust this crew with my life.“

“But do you trust them with his?“

“I trust you, my friend. I'm pretty sure Connor and Rafe aren't involved either. The only ones that I really have concerns about are those that transferred onto the ship right before this mission.“

“Of those left, who falls into that category?“

“David Lash,“ Simon answered, “and Alex Barnes.“

Hearing the hard tone to Simon's voice as he said the Ensign's name, Joel glanced over at the woman in question. “You suspect Barnes?“

Simon shrugged. “I'm not sure. Something just seems off about her, but I can't put my finger on just what it is exactly. Just keep an eye on both of them. So far, Blair has survived all this treachery and I plan to make damn sure he makes if off this God forsaken planet alive. I'll protect him until my dying breath; even if that means protecting him from our own people.“

“As will I,“ Joel pledged.

After squeezing the other man's shoulder, Simon released Joel. “Now let's go see to our crew. And pray that Blair makes it through this storm alive.“

“Amen to that, Simon. Amen to that.“

Trying to put aside their concerns for Blair and his safety, the two men went to help their injured crewmates, wanting and needing to do something to help in order not to feel so helpless as they waited to learn of the young man's fate.

****

After the connection between them became complete, Jim took a moment to adjust to the feelings and emotions emanating from Blair. Steeling himself against the desire to allow himself to become totally immersed within his Guide's mind, Jim sought out Blair's consciousness. As he made contact, he opened his eyes and was alarmed at the state the younger man was in. Once again, they were on the spirit plane. This time, Blair was lying down and there was a wolf standing guard over his still form.

Hesitantly, Jim inched forward. Only to come to an immediate halt when the wolf looked up at him and growled. Acting on instinct, Jim kneeled down and, in a show of submission, bared his throat to the animal. He tensed as he sensed the wolf approach. Expecting to feel sharp teeth pierce his neck, he was surprised when a warm tongue gave him a gentle swipe instead. Moving his head back down, he locked eyes with the wolf. He held out his hand and instantly the wolf began to nuzzle his palm. Smiling, he reached up and scratched behind the wolf's ear. “Thank you for keeping him safe. You've done your duty but now it's time to pass the protective. He's under my guard now.“

Jim held still as the wolf studied him. Then, with a soft yip, the animal ran back to the huddled body and gave it a few nudges and a lick. The wolf's eyes lifted up to lock with Jim's once more. For a few seconds, a silent communication passed between man and beast. Jim gave the animal a nod. Then the wolf turned and raced off.

Letting out a deep breath, Jim rose up and walked over to Blair. Uncertain about what to do, not knowing how to reach the younger man, Jim laid down and, just like in the physical world, gathered his Guide close to him. Thankful that his hands were free in this place, Jim reached up and began to stroke Blair's hair. “Give me some clue here, Chief. I don't know what to do. I feel so damn helpless right now and I really hate feeling that way. I've had training. I know how to deal with a stressed Guide, but … but that was with one of my own kind. And this is so totally different… you're so totally different… than anything I've ever seen or heard of before. Nothing I've learned compares to this. I'm lost here. Help me, Blair. Let me know how I can help you.“

Jim buried his face in Blair's hair. “God, I can't lose you. Not when I've just found you. Everything I said before was a bunch of bull. I know we've just met… that we don't even really know each other… but somehow I know that I can't live without you. For some reason I'm drawn to you. You’re my Guide, Blair. I wouldn't wish that fate on anyone, kid, let alone you. But for better or worse, we're joined now. And there's no going back for either one of us.“

With Blair still didn't respond; Jim rolled him over onto his back. “Come back to me.“ In desperation, Jim began to kiss Blair's face. First, his tightly closed eyes. Then his forehead and finally his checks.

Finally, the Sentinel lowered his head and brushed his lips against his Guide's. Pulling back, their lips scant centimeters apart, Jim whispered, “My Guide, my life. Where you go, I follow. My place is with you, from now until the day I die.“ Closing his eyes, Jim lowered his head until his forehead rested against Blair's.

“So does this mean that we're like married or something now? 'Cause if we are, then don't you dare think that this qualifies as a honeymoon.“

Jim jerked up in surprise and stared down at his Guide in shock. “Blair!“

Blair smiled up at the older man, but then a grimace appeared on his face. “Oh, man, my head is killing me. What happened?“

After moving to sit beside Blair, Jim reached down and began to massage the younger man's temples. “I was hoping you could tell me. One minute, me and that Lieutenant of yours are about ready to come to blows, which would probably have been pretty bad for me since I'm still tied up by the way, and the next thing I know you're holding your head and crying out in pain. I thought that maybe we overloaded you but I've never seen any empathic, not even a Guide, respond as quickly like that.“

Relaxing under Jim's ministrations, Blair let out a sigh as he felt the pain start to recede. “I think that everything was starting to catch up with me and I just couldn't take it anymore.“ Opening his eyes, he moved to sit up, dislodging the contact between himself and the Sentinel. “During the crash … well, I was hit by a lot of emotions. Then, when people started… started dying, I… it was hard on me.“

“Naturally. You're a Guide.“

Blair shook his head. “No, I'm not. At least, I was never supposed to be a Companion. I…“ Uncertain, he looked up at Jim. “I'm not sure what I can tell you. I mean, we're still supposed to be enemies. I'm so confused here, Jim. I don't know what to do or what to think. My feelings are all mixed up. My head is telling me one thing and my heart is telling me another.“

Jim gathered Blair in his arms. “Just go with your instincts, Blair. Or, if you don't trust in yourself enough, trust in someone else.“

“What do you mean?“

Instead of answering, Jim pointed. Looking in the direction, the older man was pointing, Blair saw a very familiar wolf and panther lying side by side on the ground.

“This time, I was greeted by that wolf when I found myself here.“

“What happened?“

“He was standing guard over you. Protecting you,“ Jim explained. “When I started to move towards you, he challenged me.“

“And what did you do?“

Jim shrugged. “I did the only thing I could do. I submitted to him.“

“But why? You didn't have to do that? You could've just turned away.“

Before answering, Jim turned Blair until they were facing each other. Gently, he reached up and fingered some of the younger man's hair. “He had to know. Know that I would acknowledge and accept his dominance… your dominance… over me. Among my people, a Guardian's … a Sentinel's … main purpose in life is to protect his Guide … his Companion. You can't protect the tribe unless you have your Guide there to watch your back. So without his Guide, a Guardian is nothing.“

“And you're saying that I'm your Guide now?“

“Yes.“

“But… But what does that mean exactly? Does that mean I'm supposed to turn against my people? That I'm supposed to follow after you for the rest of my life?“

“No. It means that I follow you.“

“You can't!“ Blair pulled away from Jim and stood up. Putting some distance between them, he began to pace. “You're the enemy. Not to me, I mean. Not anymore. At least I don't think you are. I don't feel that you are. But as for the rest of my people… You saw Henri's reaction to you. As far as they're concerned, you're a prisoner of war and should be executed.“

Pulling Blair against his chest, Jim wrapped his arms around his Guide. “Not if they honor the bond between Guardian and Guide as my people do. To my people, the bond is revered above all else.“

“It's different with my people. They… It's just not the same. They'll kill you.“

“No, they won't. I mean if they did, they'd condemn you to death as well.“ Concerned, Jim pushed Blair away slightly and stared down into the younger man's face. “They wouldn't do that, would they? The Lieutenant, he called you Sire. That means they can't hurt you, right?“

“Whoa, hold up a minute here.“ Blair pulled away from Jim completely. “What do you mean? About condemning me to death also?“

Now, Jim looked confused. “With my people, the bond between Guardian and Guide binds them together totally. One soul in two bodies. Completely joined physically as well as mentally. If one dies, then the other follows. After bonding, one can't survive without the other. That's the way it is for my people, at least it's supposed to be. If it's different for you, then… well then, I'm glad.“

As Blair struggled to come to terms with what Jim had told him, the older man's last words just barely managed to register with him. “Huh? What do you mean? Why would you be glad if it's different for me?“

“If it's not the same with you, then if your people do execute me, I'll be content knowing that you'll survive my death.“

With a frustrated growl, Blair spun away from Jim and began to frantically pace one again. “I don't understand you at all! One minute, you're acting like I'm some major annoyance and the next it's like you're declaring your undying lo…“

“You can say it,“ Jim whispered when Blair didn't finish. “My undying love for you. It's true, you know. Being here with you, in this place, I've touched your soul, Blair. I do love you.“ Jim chuckled. “Oh, if my comrades could see me now.“

“What?“

Smiling, Jim shook his head. “You've been a bad influence on me, kid.“ When Blair only looked further confused, Jim took pity on him. “Back home, I've got a reputation as being kind of a hard ass. A loner. Never letting anyone get close. Not since… Well, with you… I've got no defenses against you. In a matter of seconds, you've managed to do something no one else has done for a long time. You've gotten close to me.“

“Jim, I have to tell you that you're not making a whole lot of sense here.“

“Well, if I manage to stay alive for a little bit longer, I'll explain it to you some day,“ Jim promised. “But for now, we need to get out of here. The longer we stay here, the harder it'll be to leave.“

“But…. But don't you want some answers? About me? About us?“

“It doesn't matter,“ Jim replied, a serious expression on his face now. “You may not have bonded to me completely, but I have bonded to you. That's all that matters to me. From here on out, no matter what happens, my path is your path.“

“Even if it gets you killed.“

“Yes.“

“I… I don't know what to say to that.“

“You don't have to say anything. Not right now.“ Jim held out his hand to Blair. “C'mon, Chief, let's get out of here.“

Hesitantly, Blair grasped Jim's hand and let the older man pull him close. “I'm so confused.“

“You're not the only one, kid.“ Jim wrapped his arms around Blair and gave him a gentle squeeze. “Now, get us out of here. Time to go face the real world.“

“Do we have to?“ Blair asked, burrowing into the older man's embrace. “I think I like it here better. Out there, no one will understand this … this connection between the two of us. I don't even really understand it myself.“ The young man's voice dropped to just above a whisper. “But here, none of that is important. Here, whatever is happening between us seems so natural… so right. I don't think I'm ready to face everyone else's reaction to this ... to us.“

Leaning down, Jim placed a kiss on the top of Blair's head. “I’m not exactly looking forward to it myself, but we can't just hide out here forever.“

Just as Blair started to respond, an ear-splitting roar and a loud howl filled the air. Both men chuckled as they looked over at the two animals. “Looks like I've been outvoted, huh?“ Blair asked.

“Seems that way.“

“Okay, let's go.“ Blair placed his hand on Jim's chest. “So, um, does this mean we have to kiss again?“

“Well, it worked the last time, didn't it?“

Even though he couldn't see Jim's face, Blair could hear the smile in the older man's voice. “It's just… Well, kissing isn't what I expected it to be.“

“Kissing isn't….“ Jim put his hand under Blair's chin and tilted the younger man's head back slightly until they could see each other's eyes. “You've never kissed anyone before?“

Feeling embarrassed, Blair jerked his head away from Jim's hand and hid his face against the Panterian's chest. Face turning red, he couldn't face the older man as he explained, “I… I've had kind of a sheltered life up until now. This trip was the first time I'd ever been away from home.“

Although he wanted nothing more than to find out everything there was to know about his Guide, now more than ever after learning about the other man's upbringing, Jim knew that it wasn't time to press Blair for answers. “Hey.“ His voice was soft. “It's okay.“

“Yeah, right,“ Blair scoffed.

“It is,“ Jim insisted. “I think a little bit of innocence is something I could use in my life. God knows I've got none of my own left.“ When Blair raised his head up and started to speak, Jim laid a finger against the younger man's lips. “Now's not the time for this, my Guide. But soon, okay?“

Blair nodded. Then, he closed his eyes when Jim started to lean down. He sighed as their lips touched and automatically opened his mouth to the Panterian. As Jim began to explore his mouth, Blair reached up and laid a hand alongside the other man's face. Before he knew what was happening, before he could do anything to prevent it, he felt some kind of barrier break deep within his mind. A groan escaped him as an unfamiliar sensation swept through his mind. He sensed a ripple echo within him and, with a shock, realized it was Jim’s presence within his mind. Briefly, fear surged through him and he was tempted to block the connection between them.

But then he was filled with an intense longing, one he hadn't even been aware of having before now. In response, he dropped all of his mental barriers, ones that he had been trained since childhood to keep in effect at all times. As he and Jim became immersed in each other’s mind, it seemed as if everything within him clicked into place and, for the first time in his life, he felt complete. He felt whole. But most of all, what he felt was loved and cherished. As the two of them were drawn back to the world, the last thing Blair was aware of was the joyous cries of the panther and wolf. Cries which joined together as one until they were virtually indistinguishable from each other.

****

As the wind howled outside, the remaining crewmembers of the Cascadia huddled within their ruined ship. Things were quiet, only the occasional soft moan or low groan breaking the silence. Simon, sitting with Joel by his side, was keeping a vigilant eye on his crew. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Alex as she paced back and forth, clearly agitated by something.

“What's wrong with her?“

The Captain glanced over at the man beside him and then quickly turned his attention back to the erratic Ensign. “I don't know, Joel. Maybe it's the storm. Who knows how it affects her senses.“

“It almost seems like she's…“ Joel paused for a moment. “Hell, her behavior almost appears animalistic. Like she's responding to a predator or a rival in her territory. You don't think… This planet is uninhabited, isn't it? I mean, do you think there could be people on this planet, that they might have Sentinels just like we do?“

“Well, Connor san didn't pick up any signs of life,“ Simon replied, keeping his eyes on Alex. “But maybe it was wrong.“

“You said Alex had a strange reaction when you were talking about Blair, right?“ Seeing the Captain nod, Joel continued. “Maybe this behavior has something to do with him. With the reason he took off like he did.“

“I don't –“

Before Simon could finish, a loud roar split the air. Both men looked at the Ensign in shock. Standing still, seemingly frozen in place, she had her head thrown back. When the next loud yell emerged, the Captain stood up and raced over to Alex. Just as he reached her, she looked at him. Halted by the look of pure rage on her face, he felt his heart clench as she growled, “No, I won't allow it! He is mine!“ Then, before he had a chance to react, she collapsed to the ground.

Chapter Nine — A Tentative Truce

“What do you think?“

Barely able to stop himself from tearing Blair away from their enemy, Henri kept his eyes on the two figures lying locked together on the ground. “I don't know what to think.“

“Do you think… well, this guy is a Sentinel and Blair probably has the capability to be a Companion. So, do you think they've joined?“ Rafe blanched at the hostile look Henri gave him. “Hey, I didn't mean anything by it. It's just,“ he shrugged, “you have to admit it's possible.“

“I don't even know if Blair could be a Companion.“ Henri sighed. “He was always going to these lessons, with healers, tutors or seers. Kid never seemed to have time for anything but studying. But nobody ever talked about just what it was he was learning. Supposedly it all tied in to this destiny of his. To me, all it ever seemed to do was drain him. He'd come back from some of those lessons and just collapse in bed. Sometimes, he'd sleep for two straight days.“

“Did he ever talk about it?“

“No.“ The Lieutenant shook his head. “I tried to coax some information from him once but he shut down immediately. Couldn't get a word out of him. And I didn't want to pressure him, you know. That seemed like the last thing he needed, one more person pushing him to do something.“

“Hey, what do you think Sentinels and Companions are like on his planet?“ Rafe asked, indicating Jim with a nod of his head. “Do you think they're treated differently? He said that they know a lot about us, but we don't know a hell of a lot about them.“

“Maybe we do know a lot about them but our leaders haven't felt like sharing any of that information.“ Drawing back from the two entwined figures, Henri sat down next to Rafe. “I'm sure we've got our fair share of spies out there, just as they do. But as for how joined pairs are treated among their people, I have no idea.“

Rafe appeared nervous for a moment, glancing down at the two men lying on the floor and then looking at the Lieutenant. “There… there are rumors, you know? Making their way through the ranks.“

“What kind of rumors?“ When the other man seemed to hesitate, Henri encouraged, “C'mon, tell me.“

“All right, but you didn't hear it from me. The way I hear it, our people captured a Panterian joined pair once.“

“No way.“

“Yeah, man, that's what I heard,“ Rafe insisted. “Apparently, they were captured during a raid on one of the Panterian settlements on an asteroid close to the border zone. The Sentinel fought like hell but eventually they were able to stun him. When he fell, his Companion collapsed too. I guess when their Sentinels and Companions join, a pretty strong bond is formed between them. “ Seeing Henri's look of surprise, Rafe said, “Yeah, that was my reaction too. Anyway, they took the pair to some secret lab and conducted tests. The guy that told me about it, he said that they discovered that the Sentinel and Companion were so closely linked that they could actually feel what happened to the other one.“

“Okay, now I know you're shitting me.“

“I am not. I swear it's the truth. The guy that told me about it, his girlfriend is involved with the Shadow Squads. And I know that you've heard about them.“

“Who hasn't?“ Henri shuddered. “They get mixed up with some seriously scary shit.“

“Yeah,“ Rafe agreed. “And they were the ones who conducted these tests. God, I can almost feel sorry for the poor bastards even if they are the enemy.“

“So what happened?“

“The pair lasted for almost a month, enduring whatever vicious, sadistic test thought up. Eventually though the Sentinel entered a deep zone. They brought his Companion in to try and bring him out of it.“ Rafe paused and swallowed hard. “As soon as the Companion was brought into the room, the Sentinel snapped out of it. He broke free and… and killed his Companion. Snapped his neck and killed him instantly. Then he started shouting at them. Yelled something about not allowing them to torment his Guide anymore. That now his Guide was free and the two of them would be reunited again in death for all eternity. Then… then, before anyone could do anything, he grabbed a weapon off of one of the guards and shot himself.“

When Rafe finished, Henri shivered. “Man!“

“Tell me about it.“

Both of them looked down at Blair and Jim. “What's this Guide business?“ Henri finally asked.

Rafe shrugged. “I think that's what they call Companions. I don't know what their word for Sentinels is though.“

“Whatever they call them, it looks like their Sentinel/Companion pairs are different than ours.“

“Well, think about it for a minute.“ Rafe looked over at the Lieutenant. “How much do we really know about Sentinels and Companions? They're shrouded in mystery. Once it's determined that someone has Sentinel or Companion abilities, they're usually taken away. If they're diagnosed in childhood, that’s always the way it goes. Hell, when it was discovered that my sister had Sentinel abilities, she was taken away immediately. We haven't seen her since. Just receive letters every once in a while.“

“But we've all seen them before. Seen them aboard ships and other places.“ Henri gestured towards the two figures on the ground. “And I've sure as hell never seen anything like this before.“

“Sometimes I think that there's a lot we haven't seen before.“

“What are you talking about?“ Henri turned to stare at the other man.

“Don't you ever wonder why we, as a people, are kept in the dark about so many things?“ Rafe asked. “All the information on Sentinels and Companions that's kept secret. Fighting an enemy that we've been told next to nothing about. Why are our leaders keeping so many things from us? What are they trying to hide?“ Rafe pointed at Blair. “Take him for instance.“

Having been listening raptly to the other man up to that point, Henri now gave Rafe a suspicious look. “What do you mean?“

“Well, he's supposed to have some destiny to fulfill, right?“ Rafe paused until Henri nodded. “So what exactly is this so-called destiny? We've all been told that it somehow relates to our future as a continued civilization. That our whole existence and way of life is tied into this destiny of his. If it's so important, if our fate rests with this destiny, then why won't anyone tell us about it? Why can't we know what it's all about?“

“To keep him safe,“ The Lieutenant instantly replied. “If someone didn't agree with what lies in wait for our race, if someone didn't like this destiny that's in store for us, then the easiest way to prevent it is to kill Blair. It's for his safety that that knowledge is being withheld. Hell, even he doesn't know what it's all about.“

“And why is that?“ Rafe demanded. “It's his future, his destiny, so why shouldn't he know about it? Doesn't that strike you as kinda unfair to him? Not to mention just downright suspicious?“

“I just follow my orders, do my duty,“ Henri said. “And I know everything that I need to know in order to do that.“

“Stop being such a pawn!“ Rafe shouted. “Are you so blind that you refuse to see what's in front of you? Are you so trusting in our leaders that you'd mindlessly follow any order you're given without questioning the reasoning behind that order?“

“I'm a soldier.“

“Just because you're a soldier, there's no reason for you to be stupid!“ Rafe retorted. “Use your head, man! Think for yourself!“

“I don't know what your angle is, Rafe, but you're getting pretty damn close to insubordination, if not outright treason.“

“It's not treason, Lieutenant. It's thinking for yourself and having a mind of your own. You should try it sometime.“

“I don't think we should discuss this anymore.“ Henri shifted away from the other man. “Because if you keep talking like this then I'll have no choice but to report you to the Captain when we get back to the others.“

“If there's anyone left to go back to.“ Rafe threw up his hands in exasperation. “But I guess you don't want to think about that either, huh? Might disrupt that perfect little world of yours if you don't have anyone to take orders from.“

“I said I don't want to talk about it.“

“All right,“ Rafe relented. “But at least promise me you'll think about what I've said.“

What Rafe didn't know was that Henri was already pondering what had been said. For the first time, he was questioning the actions of his superiors and even questioning his race's whole way of life. “I don't know, Rafe. You've … I just don't know, okay?“

Seeing the uncertainty in the Lieutenant, Rafe was satisfied that he gotten his point across. Content to let the other man think in peace, he remained quiet and watched as a range of emotions passed across Henri's face. With a knowing smile, he settled in and kept an eye on Jim and Blair, all the while remaining conscious of the confused man keeping vigil with him.

Not aware of the attention he was receiving, Henri studied Jim and Blair's still forms. Seeing the way the Sentinel was clutching the younger man, he once again suppressed the urge to tear the two men apart. Even though he didn't know what kind of destiny awaited Blair, or how that destiny would affect not only him but their people as a whole, Henri didn't want any harm to befall his friend. And of one thing he was sure. Any continued involvement with their enemy could only result in Blair's suffering.

With a sigh, he held out his hand, letting it hover over the two unconscious men. He quickly snatched it away when he felt … something … emanating from the bodies. It felt like some kind of force... some kind of power… was surrounding them. Almost like a barrier protecting them from any outside harm, blocking any form of contact. It was true, their people didn't know much about the nature of the relationship between Sentinels and Companions. But despite this lack of knowledge, he could sense something different about what was happening between Blair and the Panterian. His own slight empathic abilities, abilities which helped him to get close to Blair in the first place, provided him with some information, though it was difficult to decipher.

I don't know what your destiny is, Blair, Henri thought as he stared down at the two men, but whatever it is, looks like this guy is along for the ride. I just don't know whether I should be afraid for you or grateful to him for coming along. He may have been responsible for the deaths of a great number of our people, but I have a feeling he's tied into whatever's going on with you. Even now, after you've only just met, I can already sense the connection between the two of you. And my empathic abilities are pretty low. But I guess we can deal with all of that later. For right now we need to come up with a way to convince the rest of the crew to let this guy live. Because I have a feeling that if we condemn him to death, we'd be condemning our whole race to death as well. Or should I say you'd condemn us. I can see it in your eyes, hear it in your voice and see it in the way you act towards him. You love him. And if we kill him, you'd never forgive us, any of us, for it. What would happen to this so-called important destiny that you're supposed to fulfill then? Would you still go through with it? Or would you leave us to fend for ourselves? Leave us to die just as we caused the death of your … of your Sentinel? The Lieutenant looked over at the man he considered an enemy. I only hope he feels the same way you do. I hope he loves you and will protect you. Because no matter what the consequences, if he hurts you in any way, I'll kill him and the rest of them be damned.

The Lieutenant emerged from his thoughts when a pair of blue eyes slowly blinked and then focused on him. “Hey, Henri.“

Keeping his voice low, Henri leaned over towards the younger man. “Hey, yourself. How are you feeling?“

“Okay, I guess.“

“That's good.“ When Henri looked over at Jim, Blair reached out and patted the Lieutenant's leg.

“It's okay.“

Hearing the soft words, Henri glanced back over at Blair. “What?“

“It'll be okay. He does. And so do I.“

The puzzled expression left Henri's face as he recalled his earlier thoughts. “You were picking up on my thoughts?“

“Just your emotions mainly,“ Blair answered, stretching within the confines of the Panterian's arms. “And you don't have to worry. He does love me and I… I love him too.“

“Yeah, I do. And I'll kill anyone who's a threat to him,“ Jim spoke up, startling Henri. When he had the Lieutenant's attention, he looked down at the man in his arms. A soft smile barely visible on his lips, he added, “My Guide, my life.“

“Well, your life might not last very much longer once we get back to the others.“ Henri moved back as Jim and Blair separated and finally sat up.

As soon they were upright, Jim immediately placed his arms around Blair again and hugged the younger man to his chest.

Relaxing into the embrace, Blair met Henri's eyes. “If they want to kill him, they'll have to go through me first.“

“You'd fight your own people over one of their kind?“

“I'd fight for the life of my Sentinel,“ Blair growled, his tone shocking the Lieutenant.

Jim chuckled at the show of protectiveness. Leaning forward, he nuzzled the back of his Guide's neck. Blair arched back into the contact, increasing the pressure between them. When his Guide started to squirm, small whimpering noises coming from his mouth, Jim broke off the contact.

“What?“ Dazed, Blair looked back at Jim.

“Soon enough, My Guide,“ the Sentinel promised. “Right now, I think we need to head out. The storm is over. It's safe to go back outside now.“ Jim held out his hands to Henri. “And it'd be a lot easier on all of us if my hands were free.“

Reluctantly, Henri put aside his weapon and then pulled out a knife. “All right.“ Knife poised right above the rope, he locked eyes with Jim. “But don't make me regret this decision.“ His eyes flickered to Blair. “Never doubt that I'll kill you in an instant if you give me reason to think you're going to cause harm to any of my people.“

An unspoken understanding passed between the two men at that moment. Having seen the Lieutenant's eyes flicker down to Blair, Jim nodded in understanding. “Among my people, our word is considered a sacred vow. And it's one that we never break. I give you my word, I won't cause any harm to your people.“ He tightened his hold on Blair. “To any of your people.“

Henri nodded, knowing that his message was received when he saw Jim tighten his arms around Blair. His movements swift and sure, he quickly cut the ropes and released his enemy.

Silently watching the exchange between the three men, Rafe crossed his arms over his chest. Well, well, he thought, things certainly just got a whole lot more interesting.

****

Sitting beside the prone body of the unconscious Ensign, Simon looked over at Dan. “Well, what's going on here? What's wrong with Barnes?“

“I don't know, sir.“ Dan sat back on his heels. “Maybe she received some kind of injury during the crash, one that we’re unaware of.“

Simon studied the unconscious woman, remembering the words she has screamed right before collapsing. “I’m not so sure of that. She screamed something right before she passed out. Something about he’s mine.“

“He?“ Megan asked, thinking back to Barnes’ earlier words. “Wait. You’re not saying… You think she was talking about Blair again, don’t you? But what about the other thing she said? When she said she wouldn’t allow something? What is going on here, sir?“

“I don’t know, Connor, but I’m going to find out.“ Simon gestured towards Alex and ordered, “Wake her up.“

“Just how do you suggest I do that, sir?“ Dan asked. “I know something about Sentinels, but not enough to know what's causing her condition. I could end up doing more harm than good.“

A raised eyebrow was the Captain’s only outward reaction. He turned to Megan. “Connor, you’ve had training, can't you figure something out?“

Megan let out a disgruntled snort. “’Figure something out’“, she mocked under her breath. With an exasperated sigh, she turned her attention to Alex. “How do you suggest I do that? I'm sure Dan would agree that this would be a lot easier if we could get her to Medical and use the scanners to make a diagnosis. But since that’s obviously out…“ Leaning over, Megan lifted Alex’s head and ran her fingers over the back of the Ensign’s head. Finding no obvious bumps, she gently lowered the other woman to the ground again.

She turned to Simon. “There are no outward signs of injuries. Maybe this is somehow related to her senses?“ Her tone questioning, she looked to Dan, who nodded in agreement. “If it is, then there’s not a whole lot I can do to help her. Perhaps if I could stimulate one of her senses, she might come out of this. Whatever this is.“

“How would you do that?“ Simon asked.

“Stimulate her senses?“ When the Captain nodded, a thoughtful look appeared on Megan’s face. “I think either a smell or a noise would be our best shot at reaching her.“ She was silent for a few moments. Then she snapped her fingers. “I’ve got it!“ Reaching past Simon, she snagged an emergency kit. Hurriedly she opened it and pulled out a small packet.

Curious, Simon asked, “What are you doing?“ When he finally saw what she was holding, he reached out to grab her arm. “Wait a minute, we can’t waste that.“

“I can’t think of any other way to bring her out of it, sir,“ Megan replied.

Reluctantly, the Captain released her arm. “Go ahead. Do it.“

Megan nodded then tore open the packet. “I just want to see if the smell will reach her.“

Nose wrinkling, Simon watched as Megan brought the open packet close to Alex’s face. “Just be careful. We’ll have to ration those as it is. The sterilization powder in that packet could be the difference between life and death if someone’s wounds become infected.“

“I know that, sir.“ Megan’s voice was terse. After several seconds, she leaned back. “I don’t think it’s going to work.“

Simon, his attention focused on Alex, saw the Ensign’s nostrils flare. “I wouldn’t be so quick to say that if I were you.“

“What?“ Megan looked down at Alex.

“She looks like she might be coming around.“

As Simon finished speaking, a low moan sounded. Concerned, Megan leaned over the unconscious Ensign. “Alex? Can you hear me?“

Alex snarled and bolted upright, startling the three officers. Crying out, Megan fell sideways and crashed into Simon. As the Captain was trying to steady Megan, Alex climbed to her feet.

“Catch her, Joel,“ Simon cried out when Alex started to race off. Disentangling himself from Megan, the Captain watched as Joel and another crewmember managed to grab Alex’s arms, preventing her from leaving. Standing, he walked over to the struggling Ensign. “Stop fighting, Ensign!“

The order only served to increase Alex’s struggles.

Not knowing what else to do, Simon reached out and grabbed Alex’s head, forcing her to meet his eyes. “Ensign! Alex, do you understand me?“

Slowly, her struggles subsided. Hanging between the two men, who didn't relinquish their hold on her arms, Alex panted harshly. A dazed expression in her eyes, she looked at Simon. “Sir?“

“Are you back with us now, Ensign?“

Regaining her composure, Alex got her feet under her again. “I think so.“

Seeing that the Ensign was coherent, Joel and the other crewmember released her. But they didn’t move far away, wanting to be there to restrain her should she become violent again.

“What happened?“

“I was hoping you could tell me that,“ Simon replied.

“I don’t know what to tell you, sir.“ Alex averted her eyes. “I just… I can’t explain it, sir. I don’t even really remember it. It was like this… this feeling of rage just came over me.“

“You said, ‘He’s mine,’“ Simon said. “Care to explain what you meant by that?“

Alex gave the Captain a sharp look. “I said that?“

“Yes, you did.“

The Ensign shrugged. “I don’t know, sir. I don’t even remember saying it.“

For some reason, something he couldn’t pinpoint, Simon got the impression that Alex wasn’t telling him the truth. Or at least not the whole truth anyway. “All right, Ensign. Go have Dan take a look at you, make sure you’re not injured.“

“Yes, sir.“

Conscious of Joel’s presence beside him, Simon watched as Alex walked over to Dan and Megan. As the two women started talking, he looked over at the Commander and saw that the other crewmember had walked away. “So, what do you think, Joel?“

“I think that we’re going to have to watch Barnes very closely,“ Joel replied. “Especially if she’s around Blair.“

Having similar thoughts, Simon nodded and then looked over at Alex again. He recalled her snarled, ‘He’s mine,’ and knew without a doubt that the Ensign had been referring to Blair. But there was no way that he’d ever allow her to have any claim to the young man. And if she tried anything, then she’d have to go through him to do it.

****

After Henri cut him free, Jim massaged his wrists as the circulation returned.

With a small hiss, Blair grabbed one Jim’s arms and lightly ran a fingertip over the red ring encircling his wrist. “Hand me one of those packs.“ Taking the emergency kit from Henri, Blair opened it and began to search inside.

“What are you doing?“

Blair didn’t stop his search as he answered Jim’s question. “I’m looking for some kind of cream to put on your wrists. I know they’ve got to be bothering you.“

Smiling, Jim shook his head. “It’s all right. Don’t worry about it. I’ll be fine.“

“Then you’ll be even more fine after I put some of this on.“ Blair pulled out a small tub and handed the pack back over to Henri. “Give me your arms.“ Reaching behind him, Blair drew Jim’s arms around his waist so that he could treat the Sentinel’s wrists. He started to squeeze some onto his fingers but then stopped. Holding the tub over his shoulder, he asked, “This is okay, isn’t it? I mean it won’t irritate your skin even more, will it?“

Touched by Blair’s concern, and impressed by the fact that he had even thought to ask, Jim smiled. Then he took the tub and studied it. “I’ve never had a reaction to any of these ingredients,“ he said as he read the small print.

“Good.“ Blair held his hand up. His heart fluttered as Jim placed the tub back into his hand and then trailed a finger down his wrist. Ignoring the small chuckle from the man sitting behind him, he quickly squeezed out some of the cream onto his fingers and then spread it around Jim’s wrists.

As the cream cooled the burning sensation in his flesh, Jim let out a deep sigh. “That feels a lot better.“

“If you two are finished, then we need to get going.“ Henri didn’t try to hide the irritation he felt.

“Oh, okay.“ Blair quickly shoved the cream into his pants pocket, wanting to have it close in case Jim needed it again. “Ready when you are, Henri.“

The Lieutenant nodded. “Rafe and I will take the tents down.“

When the two men moved towards the mouth of the cave, Jim couldn’t resist any longer. He leaned down and pressed a kiss to the top of Blair’s head. “Thanks, Chief.“

Blair twisted around until he was facing the Sentinel. “What for?“

“Just… thanks.“

Smiling, Blair said, “Well, you’re welcome.“

His hand shaking slightly, Jim reached up a finger and traced over Blair’s smiling lips.

“Jim,“ the younger man moaned.

Feeling the warm breath caress his finger, Jim shivered. A quick glance over his shoulder showed that the other two men were involved with taking down the tents. Satisfied that they weren’t being watched, Jim leaned down and replaced his finger with his lips. He fought the urge to deepen the kiss and reluctantly pulled away when he heard Henri and Rafe finishing up. He looked down at Blair and felt a surge of desire rush through him.

The younger man’s head was tilted back. His eyes were closed and his lips were opened slightly. As Jim looked on, Blair’s eyes fluttered open. “Jim?“

“Time to go.“

Blair looked over at Henri and Rafe. “Oh.“

Hearing the disappointment in Blair’s voice, Jim leaned over to whisper in his ear. “But we will be continuing this later.“ When Blair’s heart sped up, a smug smile appeared on Jim’s face.

Turning around, Henri rolled his eyes when he saw Blair and the Panterian. “Let’s get moving.“

Reluctantly, the two men separated. Standing, they followed Henri and Rafe outside. Once they were out of the cave, Blair turned to Jim. “How are you doing? I’m sure the storm messed with your senses.“

A look of surprise on his face, Jim answered, “Actually, it didn’t.“ He had been so involved with Blair that he hadn’t even noticed that his senses had seemed to automatically adjust to the storm. He looked at the younger man, his newfound Guide, and marveled how much difference Blair had already made, both with him and his senses. Before Blair could question him further, already seeing the speculative look on the younger man’s face, Jim said, “The Lieutenant is right. We should get moving. There’s no telling how frequent those storms are. We don’t want to be caught out in another one.“

Not questioning how he knew, Blair realized that Jim didn’t want to discuss the matter in front of Henri and Rafe. Moving to his Sentinel’s side, he said, “You’re right about that.“

Attention focused on each other; neither man noticed the looks they received from Henri and Rafe.

Shouldering his pack, Henri ordered, “Let’s go.“ He took a step forward and then hesitated.

“What’s wrong?“ Rafe asked when he saw Henri stop.

The Lieutenant looked back at the others. “Our footprints…“

“What about them?“

“They’re gone,“ Henri answered Blair. The Lieutenant scanned their surroundings. “Before the storm, we were following them back to the ship.“ Henri turned to look at Blair. “The storm obliterated our tracks. I don’t know which way we need to go.“

“I can help,“ Jim spoke up.

“How?“

“You said that we weren’t far from your ship, right?“ When Henri nodded, Jim continued. “I can use my hearing. It’s quiet out here so I should be able to pick up the sounds coming from your ship and its crew.“

“How do we know you won’t lead us in the wrong direction?“ Rafe challenged.

Jim kept his eyes locked with Henri’s. “You have to trust me.“

Uncertain, Henri looked to Blair. The younger man was nodding, encouraging him to trust the Panterian. “All right. But I’m only doing this because we’ve got no other choice.“

Satisfied with the Lieutenant’s response, Jim nodded. “I’m going to need your help, Blair.“ Instantly the younger man moved to stand beside him.

“What do you need me to do?“

Instead of answering, Jim drew Blair in front of him, turning the younger man so that Blair’s back was to his chest. Lowering his head, he said, “Just stay right here. If I seem like I’m going too deep, bring me out.“

“How will I know if you’re going too deep?“

“You’ll know.“

Despite Jim’s confident tone, Blair couldn’t help feeling doubtful, but he kept quiet as Jim’s arms came up to encircle his waist. His breath caught as he was pulled back tightly against the Panterian’s chest.

With the younger man now in place, Jim inhaled deeply, grounding himself in Blair’s scent. Then, anchored by his Guide, he sent out his hearing. Straining, he pushed himself to the limit and beyond, extending his sense of hearing further than he had ever attempted before. Just as he was about to admit defeat, he heard it — the sound of several heartbeats. The sound expanded, seeming to fill his mind.

Suddenly another sound intruded, making itself known. Jim felt his body jerk as he emerged from the zone out. Slowly, he opened his eyes and blinked when the harsh light struck them. Before he could say anything, he felt something press against his lips. He opened his mouth and accepted the water. When the canteen was withdrawn, he looked down into his Guide’s worried face.

“Are you okay?“ Blair handed off the canteen to Henri and then reached up to lay a hand on Jim’s cheek. “Can you hear me, Jim?“

Turning his head to the side, Jim kissed Blair’s palm. “Yeah, I can hear you, Blair. And I’m fine. Thanks for pulling me out.“

“What happened?“ Now that he knew Jim was safe, Blair allowed himself to react. Shaking, he leaned against Jim. “You really had me scared. For a few seconds, it looked like you had stopped breathing.“

Feeling the tremors coursing through the younger man’s body, Jim wrapped his arms around Blair. “It’s nothing. I just zoned out some. I knew you’d be able to bring me out of it though.“

“That was a zone out?“

Jim noticed Blair’s surprised tone. “Yeah, it was. Don’t tell me you’ve never seen a zone out before?“

Blair shook his head, rubbing his face against Jim’s chest. “No. Never.“

“Hey, I’m okay.“ Jim drew Blair away from him, enough so that he could look the younger man in the eyes. “Really, I am. You did good, Blair.“

“I didn’t know what was happening,“ Blair confessed. “I was standing here, and I felt your body stiffen. And I just… I just knew that something was wrong. I don’t know how I knew, but I did.“

“You’re my Guide. That’s how you knew.“

Blair shook his head again. “There’s so much that I don’t know. I’m feeling kind of lost here, Jim.“

“So am I.“ Jim smiled at Blair’s disbelieving look. “Really, I am. I don’t know everything about this whole Guardian/Guide thing, Blair. Especially considering the fact that we’re from two different worlds. But we’ll figure it out. Together, we’ll figure it all out. I promise.“

Letting out a shaky breath, Blair took a step back and separated from Jim. “Okay. I trust you.“

“I trust you too.“ Jim reached out and pushed some strands of hair behind Blair’s ear. “And that trust will get us through anything.“

At that moment, Henri cleared his throat, drawing Jim and Blair’s attention. “If you two are through, would you mind telling me which way we need to head?“

Jim nodded. “That way.“

Looking in the direction the Sentinel had indicated, Henri couldn’t see anything but a seemingly endless stretch of sand. “Are you sure?“

“I picked up several heartbeats coming from that direction,“ Jim explained. “Besides ours, they were the only ones I could hear. So, it has to be your people.“

Knowing that he had no other choice, Henri said, “All right then, let’s go.“

The four men started off, the only sign of their passing, a trail of footprints in the sand.

Chapter Ten – Prisoner of War

The journey was hard and several times Jim looked over at his Guide in concern. But the younger man was keeping up with the others.

As they continued, Jim felt himself swell with pride. His Guide was strong and determined. Not to mention courageous and smart. Jim knew that he was lucky to have Blair as his Guide.

He was jarred from his thoughts when Blair stumbled. Instantly, he moved to the younger man’s side. “Are you okay?“

“I’m fine,“ Blair panted.

Noticing that Jim and Blair had stopped, Henri walked back to them. “What’s wrong?“

“I think we should take a break,“ Jim suggested.

“No, we shouldn’t,“ Blair protested, pulling away from Jim. “Let’s keep going.“

Henri eyed Blair in concern. “Blair –“

“Look, I’m fine,“ Blair interrupted. “I don’t need to stop. Just let me get a drink and I’ll be okay.“ Henri handed his canteen over. Blair took a few deep swallows and then passed it back. “We can go now.“ When the others didn’t move, Blair pushed past Henri and started walking.

Henri and Jim exchanged an exasperated look. Then, suddenly realizing what they were doing, they hastily looked away. “We’d better get going. Otherwise there’s no telling where the kid will end up.“

“Yeah,“ Henri agreed.

Neither man looked at each other as they started after Blair. Behind them, Rafe looked from one to other for several seconds. Then he hurried to catch up.

****

Unnoticed by everyone, all attention focused on other things, Alex stiffened and a low growl emerged from her throat. Standing still, she tilted her head to the side and listened. Hearing the approaching heartbeats, she felt an intense wave of anger wash over her as she counted four heartbeats instead of the expected three. Her gaze immediately going to the doorway, her stance shifted as she got ready to attack. Blocking out everything around her, she waited.

Oblivious to Alex's erratic actions, Simon watched a young man approached him.

Coming to stand in front of the Captain, Lash snapped a salute. “Sir.“

Giving a half-hearted salute in return, the Captain demanded, “Report, Ensign.“

Now standing at ease, the eager man answered, “I did a survey of Medical and did find some medicine and other equipment that looked salvageable. There isn’t much though.“

“Thank you, Ensign. I want you to round up a couple of other able bodies and start gathering everything up. I want everything that’s moveable brought here.“ As Simon looked on, Lash saluted again and then left.

“What was that all about?“ Joel asked as he came to stand beside Simon.

“Lash was reporting on what he discovered in Medical,“ Simon answered. “Seems we’ve had a little bit of luck there. There’s a lot of damage, but some items are still useable. I told him to grab a couple of people and start bringing it here.“

“And after that?“

The Captain sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. “Your guess is as good as mine, Joel.“

Hearing the defeated tone, Joel became worried. “Simon?“

Straightening, Simon looked over at the Commander. “Nothing, Joel. I guess if we’re going to be here a while, then the first thing we need to do is get organized. That storm hit us before we could fully take stock of our situation. First, we need to figure out how many people are mobile and capable of working. Then we need to access the wounded and figure out the extent of their injuries.“ Simon lowered his voice. “Some of them are in pain. A lot of pain. And we need to decide what would be the most humane way to deal with their injuries.“

Joel refused to believe what he was hearing. “Captain, you can’t mean –“

“We’ve got to face facts here, Joel,“ Simon interrupted. “The odds are already stacked against us. We’re stranded on this God forsaken planet, no food or water except what we can scavenge from the wreckage, and no way on knowing when, or if, rescue will arrive.“

“I understand what you’re saying, Captain. But I don’t envy you having to say it.“

Standing there, a man he considered a close friend beside him, Simon couldn’t help feeling very alone as he considered the choices he might have to make. Looking out over the remainder of his once strong crew, he allowed himself a moment to grieve for those who had been lost. And for those who would be lost before this whole ordeal was over.

He turned to Joel. Before he could speak, a clamoring drew his attention. “What’s going on?“

Both men looked to where the commotion was coming from. And both were struck speechless when they saw Henri and Rafe, with Blair and a stranger in tow, walk over to them.

Eyes locked on Blair, Alex bristled as she caught sight of the man hovering next to him. Aware that everyone had their attention focused on the new arrivals, she reached down and slipped a knife from her boot. Crouching, she started to slowly stalk forward.

As everyone looked on, the Lieutenant came to stand in front of the Captain. Simon ignored Henri’s salute; his attention focused on the tall, muscled man standing beside Blair. “Who are you?“

Jim didn’t back down from the challenging tone. He squared his shoulders and came to attention. “Major James Ellison, Panterian Aerial Fleet.“

“You forgot something,“ Simon growled, ignoring the angry murmuring coming from his crew.

“What’s that?“

Simon’s fist flew toward Jim, smashing against the Panterian’s jaw. Distractedly, the Captain took note of the few yelled cheers. “You’re the son of a bitch that attacked my ship!“ Standing over the fallen man, Simon pulled out his weapon and took aim.

Crying out, Blair threw himself on top of Jim before the Captain could pull the trigger. “Simon, no!“

Moving his weapon off Blair, Simon ordered, “Get out of the way, Blair.“

“No.“ Blair refused to move although Jim was trying to urge him away. He looked down at the Panterian. “Quit it, Jim.“ Then, he looked back up at the Captain. “You can’t shoot him, Simon.“

“Why not?“

“Because he’s my Sentinel, that’s why.“ Blair ignored the collective gasps of the people around them. Instead, he kept his attention focused on Simon, pleading to the older man with his eyes.

Unable to withstand that look, Simon sighed as he holstered his weapon. “Get up.“ After a second he added, “Both of you.“ Warily, unnerved by the man’s closeness to Blair, he watched as the Panterian stood. “Move away from him.“ When neither man moved, Simon ordered, “Blair, get over here.“ Reaching over, he grabbed Blair’s arm and was about to yank the younger man to his side. Before he could, a strong hand clamped down on his arm. Looking up, he found himself facing the enraged Panterian.

“Get your hands off him,“ Jim growled.

“Hey, it’s okay, guys.“ Nervously, Blair chuckled. Moving the arm that wasn’t being held, he tugged at Jim’s hand and managed to pry it off Simon’s arm. Next, he hurriedly detached Simon’s hand from his own arm. Once free, he moved to stand in front of Jim, acting as a barrier between the two men.

“Blair, I want you away from him now!“

“I can’t do that, Simon.“ Blair shook his head. “Besides, Jim won’t hurt me.“

“Jim.“ The Captain’s tone was sarcastic as he repeated the name. But even as he said it, something nagged at the back of his mind. “Do I need to remind you that Jim there killed and hurt a whole hell of a lot of people when he attacked this ship. What’s the matter with you, Blair? This man killed most of my crew. People you knew – some of whom you considered to be your friends. Or have you conveniently forgotten all of that?“

“I haven’t forgotten anything.“ Blair swayed close to Jim as he felt the older man’s feelings, feelings of regret and sorrow, wash over him.

Alarmed, Simon reached for Blair again, only to draw up short when Jim growled at him. Unwilling to be intimidated by the Panterian, he reached for Blair again. With a hard yank, he pulled the young man towards him. “I don’t want you anywhere near this… this Panterian.“

“Simon, would you please just listen to me,“ Blair pleaded as he once again jerked away from the Captain and moved to Jim’s side. “I told you, Jim is my Sentinel. We’ve bonded and I –“

NO!“ Alex’s yell cut Blair off as the deranged female Sentinel pushed past a startled Henri and lunged toward Jim, with her knife poised for attack.

Acting on instinct, not even consciously aware of his actions, Blair moved to put himself between his Sentinel and the knife. As he felt the blade slide into his stomach, he heard Jim’s enraged roar. He let out a small gasp when the knife was withdrawn. His eyes flew up to lock with those of the woman who had stabbed him. Briefly, he noted her look of stunned surprise and he tried to place the vaguely familiar face. Then, hands pressed against the bleeding wound, he slowly collapsed to his knees.

For a moment everyone stood still, shock freezing them in place. Alex, her face pale, zoned on the smell and sight of the blood rapidly spreading across the front of Blair’s shirt. The bloodied knife slipped from her slack hand. The sound of the knife striking the floor seemed to break the paralysis that had fallen over everyone. Then, almost at once, they all sprang into action.

Joel and another crewmember rushed forward to restrain Alex, only arriving just in time to catch the zoned Sentinel as she started to fall backwards.

Jim immediately sank to his knees behind Blair. Reaching around his guide, he eased Blair back against his chest. Then, he laid his hands over Blair’s and pressed down, hoping to staunch the flow of blood. When hands grabbed him, attempting to pull him away, he snarled.

Henri quickly drew his hands back and, with arms upraised, took a step away from Jim and Blair. When Simon attempted to approach them, he restrained the Captain. “I wouldn’t do that, sir. Not just yet at least.“

“Are you crazy?“ Simon yelled. “Blair needs help!“

“Yeah, I know,“ the Lieutenant replied. “But first, we’re going to have to get past him.“

Henri and Simon both looked down and were alarmed by the amount of blood Blair was losing. His worry for Blair overcoming his hatred of the Panterian, Simon kneeled down next to the two men. “Look, you have to let us help Blair. If not, he’s going to die. Is that what you want? He said you were his Sentinel. If that’s true, then you’ll move aside and let us help him.“

“I… I…“ Swallowing hard, Jim turned a beseeching look towards the man who had struck him. “I can't lose him. Please.“

Stunned by the other man's reaction, by the look of misery on the Panterian's face and the pain that filled his voice, Simon was momentarily struck speechless. Recovering quickly, knowing that every second they delayed treatment brought Blair closer to death, Simon met his enemy's eyes. “You won't,“ he promised. “Just move aside and let us help him.“

His reluctance showing in every movement, Jim gently lay Blair down. Then he bent over and placed a soft kiss on his Guide's forehead. “Don't you leave me, Blair,“ he whispered. “You hear me? You live, damn it!“

When Jim moved aside, Simon gestured for Dan to come forward.

Dan gave Jim a wary look and then dropped to his knees beside the Captain. As he reached for Blair, he noticed the Panterian's aborted attempt to restrain his hands. “He's lost a lot of blood.“

His hands itching to tear the unknown man away from his Guide, Jim could only helplessly sit by and watch as they attempted to save Blair's life. For a moment, he diverted his attention to the woman who had stabbed Blair. Looking over, he saw that the two men who had grabbed her had laid her down a few feet away. Seeing how close she was to his injured Guide, he bristled and growled softly.

The noise attracted the attention of the crewmembers gathered around. Soon, the angry murmuring started again, growing in volume with each passing second. Seeming to reach a decision all at the same time, the crewmembers moved forward as two of them rushed over to grab Jim.

Feeling the arms grab him, Jim began to struggle as they started to pull him backward, dragging him away from his Guide. “Let me go! Get your fucking hands off me!“

“Shut your mouth, you Panterian scum!“ Lash yelled as he violently jerked Jim's arm. “You're nothing but a murdering coward. If you think we're going to let you anywhere near Blair, you're dead wrong!“

“He's dead, period,“ shouted one woman, a sneer on her face. “It's time for some justice. An eye for an eye.“

“Yeah!“ A chorus of voices shouted their agreement.

“What in the hell do you think you're doing?“ Henri shouted, causing the crowd to quiet down. The Lieutenant looked down at the Captain. “Sir, do something! You can't let this happen!“

A cold, hard expression on his face, Simon replied, “Why can't I? Seems to me that they have the right idea. He's a prisoner of war and he's guilty of murder. Let the punishment fit the crime.“ Sneering, he looked at Jim in disgust. “If you ask me, death is too good for him. He should suffer, just like he's made our people suffer.“

When the Captain finished, the crowd fell upon Jim in a frenzy. Seeing the Panterian disappear beneath his fellow crewmates, Henri turned to Rafe for help. “We can't let this happen!“

Rafe hesitated for a moment, knowing he could be facing court-martial if they were ever rescued, before finally nodding. Drawing his weapon, he said a quick, “Sorry, sir,“ to the Captain and then moved forward. Together, he and Henri launched themselves forward. Trying not to cause any further injury, they began pulling people off of Jim. But, as soon as they pulled someone off, the person would get up and rush forward again. Above the angry yelling and shouting, they could hear the Panterian's loud grunts of pain.

Suddenly, they were flung backwards. After climbing to their feet, they began pulling people away, redoubling their efforts to rescue Jim. Each of them grabbed a person around the waist and pulled them backwards. As they stood there, their arms full of a struggling crewmate, they heard a loud roar. Shocked, they watched as several people were flung backwards in all directions.

Bruised and bloodied, Jim shouted as he surged upward, knocking everyone off him. In the silence following his actions, Jim took advantage of the momentary lull and moved towards Blair, only to stop short when he heard a male voice exclaim, “We're losing him!“

The thought of losing his Guide spurred him to action and he ran forward and dropped to his knees beside Blair again. When Simon reached for him, trying to stop him from reaching for the young man, Jim violently shoved the Captain away. He watched in grim satisfaction as Simon fell backwards. As he reached for Blair again though, it was Dan's turn to block his efforts. Trying to resist the urge to lash out, Jim pleaded, “You have to do something! Help him!“

“That's what I'm trying to do!“ Dan exclaimed. “But I don't have the necessary equipment! It was destroyed in the crash. He's going to die and it's all your fault!“

“No! Oh, God, no!“ Moaning, Jim made a low keening noise. Everyone froze at the sound of his anguish. “Don't leave me, Blair!“ With everyone watching, Jim did the only thing he could think of. In desperation, he placed one hand on Blair's stomach, coming to rest on the still bleeding knife wound. He placed his other hand on Blair's forehead. Then, he leaned down and laid his head on Blair's chest. He squeezed his eyes shut and felt his heart clench painfully as he heard his Guide's fading heartbeat. Behind him, he could hear the faint sounds of a struggle but he tuned it out as he focused his attention on his dying Guide.

“What in the hell is he doing?“ Simon rose to his feet and started towards Jim, intent on getting the Panterian away from Blair. However before he could reach them, Henri grabbed his arm. “Let me go, Lieutenant.“ When Henri didn't obey, he growled, “This instant!“

Henri shook his head. He knew he couldn't let the Captain interfere, no matter what the consequences. “No, sir. I'm sorry but I can't do that.“

“You can't…“ Simon was shocked at the show of disobedience. “Lieutenant, if you don't let me go right now, I guarantee you I'll have you brought up on charges.“

“I'm aware of that, sir, but, respectfully, I can't let you go.“ Henri was determined to stop the Captain from separating Blair and Jim.

“And may I ask why not?“

“Because right now, Blair's only shot at living is the Panterian.“

Confused and uncertain, the crew stared at the showdown between the two men. None of them were willing to act until they saw their Captain's reaction. Though not moving against the Panterian at the moment, several of them still glared at him in anger, their opinion of him clearly evident on their faces.

Wanting to end the standoff, sensing that neither man was likely to back down, Joel stepped forward and asked, “What are you talking about, Henri?“

Taking his eyes off Simon for a second, Henri glanced over at Joel. “Look at Blair's hands.“ Only those who had been on the bridge immediately after the ship had crashed understood the Lieutenant's cryptic command.

Of those few, it was Megan who spoke up. “They're healed.“ Her voice was full of awe.

When she reached out, intending to pick up Blair's hand, Henri cautioned, “I wouldn't do that.“

Megan instantly pulled back. “What's going on, Henri? You know something, don't you?“

“The only thing I know is that we need to leave the two of them alone if there's to be any chance of saving Blair's life.“ Facing Simon again, Henri didn't back down from the simmering rage his saw in the Captain's eyes. “I can't explain it to you, sir. I don't even know what's going on. All I do know is that I don't want Blair to die. I don't think you do either. So, if Blair's life means anything to you, you'll leave them alone and you'll let this guy help Blair.“

“But he's a Panterian,“ Simon argued, though his voice had lost some of its conviction and his shoulders had slumped slightly. “He attacked my ship, killed my crew.“ The Captain gestured towards his remaining crew. “He's responsible for all of this.“

“I know that,“ Henri stressed. “But, like it or not, he's also the only person here with even a remote chance of saving Blair's life.“

Though his hatred of the Panterian was great, it still paled in comparison to his concern for Blair. Reluctantly, Simon backed down. “All right, I’ll let them be for now.“ He turned to Megan. “Connor, keep an eye on them. If there’s any change in Blair’s condition, I want to know immediately.“

“Yes, sir.“

Not knowing what to expect, only hoping that somehow the young man would survive, they all settled in to wait.

****

Once again, Jim found himself in the now intimately familiar spirit plane. Expecting to find his Guide lying on the ground like before, he became concerned when he didn’t immediately see the younger man. “BLAIR!“ The only sound he heard was his own shout echoing back at him. “Damn it, Blair, answer me! Where are you?“ This time, he thought he heard something else, a noise other than his own. Just when he thought he had imagined it, the sound came again. Louder this time, he recognized it immediately. It was the sound of a wolf howling in the distance. Without stopping to think, he started running.

Up ahead, he caught sight of a streak of gray fur. He pushed himself harder, increasing his pace in a desperate attempt to reach the wolf. Pushing his way through the dense jungle growth, he ignored the cuts and scrapes that began to appear on his body. Everything faded away as he focused his attention solely on the wolf running ahead of him. Gasping, near breathless from exertion, he somehow managed to draw a deep breath and yell, “BLAIR!“

Hearing the cry, the wolf paused for a moment and looked back. That hesitation allowed Jim to gain some ground, decreasing the distance between them. But then the wolf took off again, causing Jim to howl. It was then, as he released the primal cry of rage and fear, that the Sentinel saw where the wolf was heading. There was a ravine, a large one, just ahead. One that he knew he would never be able to cross. The wolf never slowed and Jim knew with certainty that the animal would have no trouble jumping across the chasm. He also knew, knew with every fiber of his being, that if the wolf did succeed in crossing then his Guide would be lost to him forever.

The Sentinel screamed again. But this time it was different, changing in timbre and pitch, becoming identical to the enraged yowl of a large cat. A surge of adrenaline rushed through Jim as a tingling sensation started to travel over his skin. Looking downward, he watched in detached amazement as his body started to change, transforming him into his spirit animal. Transformation complete, now running on four legs, the Sentinel was able to quickly close the distance between the wolf and himself. But even with the increased speed, it soon became clear that he wouldn’t be able to reach his Guide in time. In frustration, he let out a final cry, one filled with all of his pain and despair.

Hearing the cat’s tormented cry, the wolf paused again. But this time, he turned as well. Turned away from the great chasm and faced the panther that was pursuing him. The great cat stopped as well, coming to a halt, and locking gazes with the wolf. The cat let out another cry. Indecisive, the wolf glanced back, giving the ravine a look of intense longing, and whined. He took a step closer, seemingly drawn to it. But then the cat cried out again and he was unable to ignore the pain-filled cries any longer. With a yip, he started running again, this time towards the panther. The cat let out another cry, this one full of joy, as he too started running. Finally, almost reaching each other, both animals jumped. As they collided into each other, merging together for one brief instant, a blinding blue light filled the air.

****

Attention focused on the two men lying on the ground; Simon and the others were startled when a loud roar split the air. Turning, they saw Joel and Lash struggling to restrain an enraged Alex, who had somehow emerged from the zone. Even as they watch, the Ensign broke free and took several running steps towards them only to be quickly tackled from behind by Lash.

Snarling, appearing more animal than human, Alex twisted around and tried to dislodge the body holding her down. Giving up on escape, she frantically clawed the metal floor beneath her, persisting in vain to pull herself forward.

Grunting with effort, Lash stretched up to grab the Ensign’s arms. “I could use some help here!“

Joel moved forward, adding his own efforts to that of Lash’s as the two men fought to restrain the unnatural strength Alex seemed to possess. Despite their heavier builds, it still took all their efforts to hold her in place.

Bucking, thrashing wildly, Alex turned her head and started biting at the two men. Managing to viciously bite down on Lash’s arm, she howled when his hold lessened. With another violent thrust upward, she finally succeeded in breaking free. Scrambling upward, she raced forward.

Although stunned by the violent behavior, Simon reacted when he saw that Alex was heading towards them. Or rather that she was heading towards Blair. Not willing to let the psychotic woman hurt the young man again, Simon didn’t hesitate to strike out at her when she came within range. His fist connected solidly with her chin and he watched on in satisfaction as she collapsed to the ground, unconscious. When Joel and Lash skidded to a halt in front of him, he growled, “Pick her up and get her the hell away from me. And this time, find something to tie her up.“

The two men quickly obeyed; each of them grabbed an arm and hauled the unconscious woman up to drag her away.

While everyone else’s attention had been focused on the scene with Alex, Henri had continued to watch Jim and Blair. As the minutes passed and neither man moved, he had began to doubt his decision. But then, just as Alex erupted, he noticed something. Or at least thought he did. There for a second, he thought he had seen Blair’s body jerk; the motion followed closely by a similar one from the Panterian. “Captain!“

A scowl on his face, the captain turned. “What is it, Brown?“

“Blair, he…“ The Lieutenant stopped as the young man’s body jerked once more, again followed closely by the Panterian’s. “There. Did you see that?“

The captain’s eyes widened slightly. But instead of answering, he looked over at Dan. “Well?“

“I don’t believe this.“ Dan ran a small device over Blair’s body. Not acknowledging the two men, he set it aside and then leaned over Jim’s inert form. Being careful not to touch either Jim or Blair, he cautiously pushed up Blair’s shirt. “I need a canteen,“ he said as he finally looked over at the Captain. “I need to wash away some of this blood so I can see what’s happening with his wound.“

“What exactly is happening?“ Simon asked as he watched Henri pass a canteen over to Megan, who handed it off to Dan.

“According to the readings, his wounds are almost healed.“ Accepting the canteen, Dan poured a small amount of water over Blair’s stomach, knowing that the precious liquid could mean the difference between life and death at some point. Then he tore off the sleeve of his uniform and gently wiped away the blood. They all watched on in shock as the now completely healed wound was revealed. The only indication of its presence was a small scar that marred the otherwise unblemished skin. “I don’t believe this. It’s not possible.“

“I’ve only seen this type of thing with healers,“ Simon stated. “But Blair isn’t a healer, is he? Do you think the Panterian is one?“

“I don’t think so.“ Henri gestured towards Blair. “When we found Blair, he and the Panterian were in a state like this. All of a sudden, before Rafe or I could do anything, they came out of it on their own. I noticed that all of the wounds Blair sustained in the crash were gone. It was the same with the Panterian. His uniform was torn and bloody but he didn’t have any wounds on him. He seemed pretty surprised by it. I don’t think he had any idea what was going on. But Blair… I just got the feeling he knew more than what he was saying. I didn’t want to press him for answers though.“ He shrugged. “I didn’t think he’d answer even if I did.“

“What do you think is happening, Captain?“ Megan asked.

“I don’t know,“ Simon squatted down and stared at Blair, “and I sure as hell don’t like being in the dark here. But whatever’s going on between them allowed Blair’s injuries to be healed.“

“Yeah, but at what cost,“ Henri murmured, too low for the others to hear.

Megan looked over at Alex. “Whatever is going on, I don’t think we’ve seen the full extent of it yet. Blair said that the Panterian was a Sentinel. His Sentinel. Alex is also a Sentinel and has shown decidedly territorial and possessive behavior towards Blair. When she attacked, I believe she was going for the Panterian and would have stabbed him if Blair hadn’t gotten in the way. Basically, we’ve got two Sentinels and one Companion.“

“But Blair’s not a Companion.“

“He may not have had the training to be a Companion, Captain, but after our discussions and interaction on the ship, I believe he has the capability,“ Dan replied. “A belief which is only reinforced by the behavior of the two Sentinels.“

“So what you’re saying is that I’m going to have to put up with these two constantly being at each other’s throats because they both want Blair to be their Companion.“

“I believe so, sir. Alex wants to bond with Blair.“ Megan looked down at the two men. “But the Panterian already has bonded with him. As long as the three of them are in the same vicinity, they will be in a constant battle over possession of the Companion.“

“Over possession of Blair, you mean.“

“Yes, sir.“

The captain ran a hand over his face. “This is the last thing I need right now.“ Simon heaved a weary sounding sigh. “So what do you suggest I do? How do I handle the three of them?“

“That depends.“

“Depends on what, Connor.“

“On what your plans are for the Panterian,“ Megan answered.

“I want him to pay for what he did to my crew. I want him punished.“

“Then we have to sever the connection between Blair and the Panterian. And just pray that they haven't had time to form a deep bond yet.“

“Why?“

Megan exchanged a look with Dan, seeking the knowledge reflected back at her in his eyes. “Because if they have, the only way to sever it is through death.“

A look of disgust on his face, Simon looked down at Jim. “I don't see the problem, Lieutenant.“

“The problem, sir, is that if we kill the Panterian, we could be sentencing Blair to death as well.“

“Explain yourself, Connor.“

Megan glanced at Henri and Rafe before facing the Captain again. “I can't go into detail, sir. You'll just have to trust me on this. I know what I'm talking about here. And I know that before we do anything, we need to determine the full extent of the bond between Blair and the Panterian. If it's a strong one, then we can't kill the Panterian without risking Blair's life as well.“

“And if we don't kill the Panterian? If we keep him alive, what happens then?“

“Then the bond between the two of them will continue to grow. Unless…“

“Unless what, Connor?“ Simon prompted.

Again, she looked towards Dan and a silent communication seemed to pass between the two of them. “There is an ancient custom, one where a Sentinel can challenge another for possession of a Gu… Companion,“ Megan explained. “If Alex issues a challenge and the Panterian accepts, then theoretically they would engage in a battle to the death. The survivor would automatically be granted the Companion.“

“But you said that severing a bond could kill the Companion.“

“Yes, it can. If the bond is strong enough, and the Companion wishes it, the Companion would follow their Sentinel into death. But if another bond is formed soon enough, and if the Companion doesn't resist, then, theoretically, the Companion could survive the death of their first Sentinel. As could a Sentinel if the situation were reversed.“

“I hate all this Sentinel/Companion mumbo jumbo,“ Simon complained. “So basically what you're telling me is that it turns out Blair is a Companion and he's bonded to a Panterian Sentinel, with no way of telling how deep the connection is. In addition to that, one of my crew is an unbonded Sentinel who will be constantly vying for possession of said Companion. So, essentially, I've got one unpredictable, uncontrollable Panterian Sentinel, who's an enemy to boot, that's going to be constantly reacting to this unbonded Sentinel's desire to bond with his Companion. And somehow I've got to make sure they all get along and peacefully coexist, all the while trying to make sure my remaining crew stays alive on this hellhole long enough for someone to come and rescue us.“

“Basically, sir, yes, that's exactly what I'm saying.“

Simon groaned. “And I thought things couldn't get any worse.“

Chapter Eleven – Missing In Action

Marching right past the Corporal sitting outside, Steven threw open the door and stormed into the office. “General, I demand to know what’s going on!“

Seated behind his desk, Jack Pendergrast eyed the young man standing before him for a few seconds. Then, sighing, he said, “I’ll get back to you,“ and hung up his phone. Taking a moment, he took a deep breath before motioning for the Captain to sit.

Hands clasped behind his back, Steven stood stiffly at attention. “I’ll stand if it’s all the same to you, sir.“

Jack nodded, expecting the reply. He knew that stubbornness was an inbred Ellison trait. He'd witnessed it himself enough times in Jim. “Then, at ease, Captain.“

Reluctantly, Steven relaxed his stance. “Please, sir, tell me what’s happened to my brother.“

“First, report, Captain,“ Jack ordered. “What did you discover.“

“Nothing, sir.“ Steven clenched his jaw, looking very much like his brother. “We found absolutely no signs of Lupinard activity. None. I swear, it seems like someone sent us on one big wild goose chase.“

Jack leaned back in his chair. It was just as he suspected. “What I’m about to tell you goes no further than this room. Is that clear?“

“Yes, sir.“

“The last verified contact we have with your brother is on P874.“

“That’s a mining colony, isn’t it? One located near the space we recently took from the Lupinards?“

“Yes, it is,“ Jack confirmed. “Your brother stopped there seven days ago to refuel and everything seemed to be fine. He was on schedule and was about to set out to map some of the new territory. But now, he’s overdue to report in and we have no idea where he is.“

“Request permission to go look for him, sir.“

“Permission denied.“

“But, sir –“

“We simply can’t spare you right now, Steven.“ Jack sighed. “Conditions on Pantera are worsening. To be honest, we’re running out of time. The ecologists estimate we’ve got one year left – at the most – before this planet will be incapable of sustaining life. If we don’t find someplace to relocate – either in Lupinard space or somewhere else – our entire civilization will be wiped out.“

Steven paled. “I had no idea it was that bad.“

“Yes, well, we’ve been aware of the situation for a while now, but didn’t want to make any announcements. Can you imagine the widespread panic that would ensue if we announced that everyone on this planet had a year left to live?“ The General stood and began pacing. “Damn it, Steven, I want to find out what’s happened to Jim just as much as you do. But right now, we have to put our efforts where they’re needed most.“

“I understand, sir, but… It’s Jim, Jack. My brother. I… I…“

“I know, Steven. But you know that Jim would want us to concentrate on saving the people of this planet. He’d want that to be our main priority. And, if it were one of us out there, wouldn’t we want the same?“

Shoulders slumped; Steven looked down at the floor. “Yeah, we would.“ Clearing his throat, rubbing a hand over his eyes, he met Jack’s eyes once again. “But I swear, once our people are safe, I will find my brother. No matter how far I have to go, I won’t come back without him. One way or another.“

Jack nodded, knowing that Steven meant he wouldn’t come back without his brother or, God forbid, Jim’s body. Hell, if at all possible, he’d join Steven in the search. “All right. But for now, here’s what I need you to do…“

****

Naomi strode down the corridor towards Brackett’s quarters. Ignoring the guards posted outside, she threw open the door and barged inside. “You summoned me, Sire.“

Brackett was sprawled on his bed, watching something on a viewscreen. “Yes, I did. Come.“

Approaching the bed, Naomi looked over and saw what had captured his attention. There on the screen was her son. It looked like he was sleeping but he was thrashing around on the bed, moaning. “What is this?“

“A little entertainment, my dear.“ Brackett smiled as, on the screen, Blair arched upward and groaned. “It is a pity I couldn’t have taken him to my bed. I wonder whom he’s dreaming about? Who he’s with? Look at him, Naomi. So full of need, desire. But then again, he has been kept rather sheltered, hasn’t he? Untouched by man or woman. Such a beauty. A shame it’s gone to waste.“

“Turn it off!“

“Not yet. It’s just getting to the good part.“ Brackett reached down to stroke himself. On the screen, Blair made a noise – a soft, whimpering mewl – and arched upward once more as he came, a name escaping his lips. Turning off the screen, Brackett turned to Naomi. “So, tell me, my dear, who is this ‘Jim’ that he cries out to?“

“I… I have no idea.“ Naomi looked shocked. “I know of no one by that name.“

“If you’re lying to me…“ Bracket sprang from the bed and grabbed Naomi, shaking her “…you’ll regret it.“

“I swear, I don’t know!“

With a disgusted scoff, he threw Naomi onto the bed. Falling on top of her, he reached for the remote and turned the screen on again – Blair’s image appearing once more – and then pulled up Naomi’s dress. As the first moans sounded, he shoved her legs apart and entered her. Eyes focused on the screen, he used her body – all the while imagining it was the young man on the screen writhing beneath him.

****

Curled into a tight ball, Serena looked up in fear as the door opened. She knew they were coming to kill her. Already, she’d been tortured – repeatedly – but had refused to tell them anything. Convinced she couldn’t be broken, they’d turned her over to the guards. She’d lost count of how many times her body had been violated. But through it all, she’d held on – never surrendering, never giving them the satisfaction of seeing her pain. Bracing herself, actually welcoming the escape of death, she dragged herself to her feet – determined to face them standing.

When she saw the man who entered the cell, she nearly collapsed. “Oh, God!“

“Come quickly, Serena. We must act fast.“ Jack Kelso checked the corridor. “I’ve managed to disable the security system but it won’t last long.“ Turning, he finally got a good look at the woman he’d come to rescue. “Oh, Serena,“ he moaned. “I’m so sorry. I should have come sooner, but –“

“It doesn’t matter. You’re here now. That’s all that matters.“ Serena wrapped her arms around him. “Besides, I knew you’d come, my Love.“

Kelso kissed her briefly. “We must hurry.“

Nodding, Serena released him and followed him out of the cell.

“This way.“

Quickly, they started down the corridor. And both breathed a sigh of relief when they reached the door undetected.

“Just a little bit further.“ Kelso cracked the door and peered outside. “It looks clear. Let’s go.“

“What about Blair?“ Serena hissed, keeping her voice low. “I was unable to warn him of Brackett’s treachery. I failed.“

Kelso stopped and looked at Serena. “You didn’t fail. The distraction you provided allowed us to get our man on board that ship. It’s because of you that we’ll have a chance to be able to keep him safe should Brackett’s plan succeed. Never doubt that, my Love. But for now, we must go!“

They started moving again and had almost escaped when a shout of ‘Halt!’ sounded behind them. Exchanging a glance, Kelso handed over a weapon and then drew his own. Turning, they both fired upon the group of guards behind them. But then, a blast struck Kelso, sending him falling to the floor.

Serena let loose a volley of shots and kneeled down next to him. “We can make it,“ she shouted. “They’ve retreated. All we have to do is reach the last door and we’ll be out.“

Kelso grunted in pain. “I can’t. My legs – they’re paralyzed. I’ll never make it. Go! Save yourself.“

“No, I won’t leave you!“ Serena ducked as a shot struck the wall next to her.

They could both hear the guards advancing. Their eyes met and silent communication passed between them. Kelso pulled out a grenade. Neither of them would be captured again.

“Together forever, my Love.“ Leaning down, Serena pressed her lips to his.

Returning the kiss, Kelso detonated the grenade.

****

Brackett was kneeling behind Naomi, his cock buried in her ass, when the room shook violently. Separating from her, unmindful of her painful hiss, he pulled on a robe and rose from the bed just as Kincaid entered his chambers.

“Sire, there’s been an explosion.“

“I had already figured that out for myself, Garrett,“ Brackett sneered. “What happened?“

“It was that woman, Sire,“ Kincaid explained. “The one that Naomi had attempted to interrogate – the one that tried to reach Blair just before he left on the Cascadia. A man helped her escape. Our guards pursued and managed to wound the man. But before they could capture them, the man… He pulled out a grenade and detonated it!“

“How much damage?“

“The prisoners are dead and five of our men are –“

“Not that.“ Brackett waved his hand – an impatient movement. “The building – how much damage to the building?“

“I… I don’t know.“

“Then I suggest you quit wasting your time on such trivial matters and give me some information that’s useful. Go!“

Kincaid bowed his head. “Yes, Sire.“

As soon as Kincaid left, Brackett disrobed and turned his attention back to the bed. “Now, where were we…“

Chapter Twelve – Destiny Fulfilled

Slowly, Jim became aware of his surroundings. He blinked his eyes, seeing the blue tinted world that meant he was still on the spirit plane, and groaned. Sitting up, his pulse quickened when he saw Blair lying a few feet away. Dragging himself to his hands and knees, he crawled over to his Guide. “Blair…“ The whispered name echoed loudly in the still air. His touch gentle, Jim reached out his hand and trailed his fingers along the side of Blair's face.

At the caress, Blair stirred and opened his eyes to find two blue eyes filled with concern and love staring down at him. A smile spread over his face. “Jim.“

Knowing it wasn't real, but needing it anyway, Jim eased his body down on top of Blair's, blanketing the younger man with his solid form.

“What –“

“No, don't,“ Jim whispered. Then, he slowly brought his lips down on Blair's, softly kissing the younger man. Gradually, he increased the pressure; his tongue snaking out to lick and then pry open the lips beneath his.

Blair moaned, arching upward into the contact, and let Jim explore his mouth. When the sensations coursing through his body almost became too much to bear, he wrapped his arms around Jim and fisted his hands in the back of his shirt.

“Yes,“ Jim murmured as he wrenched his mouth away, panting heavily. His hands moved over Blair's body, pushing aside clothing to reveal flesh. “Need to be with you.“ He attacked Blair's mouth again, swallowing the breathless “yes“.

Jim placed a string of kisses along Blair's cheek and shifted his mouth down Blair's jaw to settle on his throat. Sucking, marking his mate, he nipped and bit the sensitive skin. A feeling of déjà vu swept over him. But before it could take hold, Blair tilted his head back, giving easier access to his neck, and everything else ceased to exist.

Moving downward, Jim pushed Blair's shirt off his shoulders, baring his chest. He licked a path from the marked throat down to a hardened nipple. Gently, he scraped his teeth over the nub, causing the younger man to cry out. Then, he licked it to soothe the inflamed flesh.

“Please, please.“ Thrashing his head, uncertain of what he was even asking for, Blair groaned.

Smiling in response to the plea, Jim continued his path downward, stopping briefly to rim the beckoning navel before moving even lower. Straddling Blair's lower legs, he unfastened the younger man's pants and began to tug them off. “Lift up, Blair.“

Dazed, Blair slowly blinked his eyes. “What?“

Jim urged Blair's hips upward and pulled the pants down and off, throwing them aside. For a moment, he simply sat back on his heels and looked at the man below him. Naked from the waist down, his shirt hanging open and pushed back over his shoulders, Blair lay quivering, waiting for him. Again, he was struck by the almost overwhelming sense of familiarity and he knew he'd been with this young man before – even if only in his dreams. With a low growl, he covered Blair once more. “You're mine. My Guide, my mate. No one else will ever have you.“

Hearing the words, the possession and primal force behind them, Blair opened his eyes and stared up at the man above him. Eyes blazing, his words were no less binding. “And you're mine. My Sentinel, my mate. Now and for forever.“

A piercing howl and loud roar filled the air, sealing their pledge to one another.

Smiling, his movements less frantic now, Jim captured Blair's lips again, feeling his Guide's hands removing his clothing as well.

“Claim me now, Sentinel,“ Blair demanded once they were both fully unclothed. “Mark me, make me yours.“

A feral grin on his face, Jim urged Blair over and onto his knees. He knelt behind his Guide, his hands moving over his back, memorizing the texture of his skin, before going lower. Rumbling deep in his chest, he trailed his thumbs downward, uncovering the place he sought. His nostrils flared and he inhaled deeply, taking in the scent of his mate. Needing to taste, he lowered his face and nuzzled his mate's center, licking and tonguing him.

Blair writhed, hard and needy, mewling as words fled at the first intimate touch. He spread his legs wider, lowering his upper body to the ground as he thrust backwards, desperate to increase the pressure of the contact.

Jim chuckled at the movement, driving his tongue deeper, placing a long, sucking kiss before slowly pulling back. Body rigid, holding himself tightly, the desire to claim his mate making his blood race and his head pound, he straightened, bringing his cock to rest against the entrance to Blair's body. He roared, “MINE!“ as he sheathed himself in his mate with one forceful thrust.

Blair's head flew back and he howled as he was filled. His rose to his hands and knees, fisting his hands on the ground beneath him, as Jim began moving. He began rocking backward, meeting each of Jim's thrusts. Then, suddenly, his mate brushed against something deep inside him and a burst of pleasure overcame him. Again and again, waves of ecstasy washed over him and he was left powerless in their wake. Semi-conscious, he was barely aware of Jim sitting back, bringing him to rest on his lap. He screamed as the hard cock moving inside him went even deeper than before.

Lips fastened onto the side of his throat and Blair felt a hand wrap around his neglected cock and begin caressing him. He arched upward into the touch and then thrust downward onto the hard cock impaling him – caught between the two sensations, wanting more of both. He could feel his body tightening, preparing for release. Suddenly, he felt something … some force … brush up against his mind – and he recognized it from before as being Jim, his Sentinel. Instead of withdrawing from the touch, he immersed himself in it. And the world exploded.

Jim tightened his hold on the body in his arms, crying out in joy as he felt Blair's mind welcome him. It had never been like this before – not even with Carolyn. He was filled with a sense of belonging … of rightness. And as his release ripped through his body, he could feel the connection between them strengthening – solidifying. The pleasure he felt was doubled as he sensed the backwash from Blair rush over his mind. They were now bonded – two minds, two hearts, two souls joined forever.

As they collapsed to the ground, their minds and bodies adapting to their new connection, neither was aware of the two golden eyes that watched their mating from the distance. Nor did the entwined wolf and panther laying several feet away.

Tail twitching in displeasure, the spotted jaguar turned and disappeared.

****

Megan and Dan drew back as Jim and Blair's bodies jerked repeatedly. “Sir, I think you should see this.“

“What is it, Connor?“ Simon turned from watching Joel and Lash secure Alex with some rope scavenged from somewhere and squatted down next to Connor.

Before she could explain, the two bodies jerked again, the movement less violent this time, before shuddering.

“What the hell?“ The captain eyed his two crewmembers. “Connor? Dan? Any idea what's going on here?“

“I don't know, sir.“ Megan turned to look at Simon. “I've never seen anything like this before.“

Sighing, his displeasure evident, Simon barely caught the fleeting look that passed over the doctor's face. “Dan? Do you know something about what's going on here?“

“I…“ Appearing uncertain, his words hesitant, Dan couldn't take his eyes off of the two entwined figured. “I've head rumors … speculations … but nothing that comes close to this. I think it's a kind of bond that we rarely see – one that hasn't happened in a long time. Like Megan, my knowledge of Sentinels and Companions is severely limited – just as our leaders want.“ He didn't bother to keep the hint of disapproval out of his voice. “But among my people there are legends still handed down from generation to generation – a myth that has its roots in our people's very beginnings – of a Sentinel/Companion pairing that experienced a bond that extended to the very depths of their being. A soulbond. One that went beyond death itself. But… but I thought it was just legend. I didn't think such a bond could actually exist. I've seen some Sentinel/Companion pairings and, although close – so close that they would often seek death rather than continuing on without the other – none of them were able to achieve a soulbond.“

“Soulbond?“ Simon asked.

“The deepest of bonds – one in which their minds, hearts and souls were joined, so entwined that they knew each other's every feeling, emotion, every sensation the other ever experienced.“

Simon looked at Dan in shock. “Is such a thing possible?“

“I didn't used to think so.“

“And now?“

All three looked down. “Now, I think I'm about to see those legends made reality.“ There was a hushed, reverent tone to the healer's voice. “A myth coming to life right before our very eyes.“

****

Panting harshly, Jim rolled to the side and turned Blair, gathering him into his arms. He guided the curly head onto his shoulder and closed his eyes. Extending his mind, he sought out his Guide, testing the strength of the newly forged bond. At first, Blair resisted, still wary of the intimate contact. But then, he relaxed his guard and sighed deeply as a feeling of warmth filled him.

Their minds brushed together – hesitant at first. Knowing he would have to make the first move – be the guide in this – Jim opened himself to the younger man, letting Blair see into his soul.

Amazed at the depth of love he found, Blair went deeper, his bondmate's very essence revealed to him.

In an instant, they knew each other completely – hopes, dreams, fears – everything laid bare. They lived each other's lives, sharing triumphs, tragedies, loss – experiencing every emotion, every feeling, the other had ever known.

It seemed to span an eternity yet passed in a matter of seconds – this sharing.

Blinking open his eyes, Blair found himself pinned by the – his – Sentinel's intense gaze. “It's complete now,“ Jim whispered.

“But what does it mean?“ A hint of fear tinged Blair's voice and Jim reached up to gently push back some hair that had fallen across his face.

“It means that neither of us will ever be alone again. We're joined now, Blair. Guardian and Guide.“

“Sentinel and Companion,“ Blair countered, smiling.

“No,“ Jim disagreed, causing Blair to frown. “From this moment forward we shall be … Sentinel and Guide.“

“Sentinel and Guide,“ Blair repeated softly. “Yes, it feels … right somehow.“

“Destiny.“ Blair tensed at the word, drawing Jim's concern. “What, my Guide?“

“That word – destiny. It's been a part of my life for so long, created so much uncertainty. But now, now I know. You … us … this is my destiny. I can feel it. It feels as if I've been searching for something all my life and have finally found it. Found you. You are my destiny, my Sentinel.“

“As you are mine, Blair.“

Shyly, Blair averted his eyes. “What… what we just did…“

“Yes?“

“I… I… um… I liked it. A lot.“

Jim chuckled and tilted Blair's chin up until he could look the younger man in the eyes. “So did I. A lot.“

“You're making fun of me.“

“No, I'm not.“ Jim cupped Blair's cheek in the palm of his hand. “I would never make fun of you. You know that. You know me. You know I speak the truth.“

For a moment, Blair turned his attention inward. Surprised, he looked at Jim in shock. “What…“

“The bond. We know each other now. Inside and out. Nothing is hidden. Not anymore. Not ever. “

“It's… strange. But nice.“ Blair paused for a moment. “I… I'm sorry about Carolyn. What you went through … what you had to endure … I –“

“I am sorry that Carolyn died, Blair. But a part of me knows that her death was meant to be. It freed me to be with you. And that makes it all worth it.“ Jim tightened his hold on his Guide. “You life hasn't been easy either. I know… I've seen what your life has been like. It couldn't have been easy.“

“No, it wasn't. I was so alone –“

“Never again,“ Jim vowed.

Blair smiled. “Yes, thanks to you. I'll never have to go through any of that again. And, like you said, that makes it all worth it. I'd gladly endure it all again, knowing that it meant you would come into my life.“

The two men kissed, the connection between them flaring, and became lost in each other. For several long moments, everything else ceased to exist until a howl and roar split the air, causing them to separate.

“What?“ Blair blinked, dazed, his breath coming in short pants.

“I think someone is trying to tell us it's time to go back.“

“Oh, man.“ Blair banged his head onto Jim's shoulder, causing the older man to chuckle.

“Don't worry. As soon as possible, we're going to join together for real. I will claim you there as well, my Guide – and everyone will know that you are mine.“

“As you are mine, my Sentinel.“

Slowly, eyes locked, the two men kissed, sealing their pledge.

****

Simon, Megan and Dan eased back and watched in silence as first Jim and then Blair suddenly sat up. As they watched the two men turned to each other, ensuring that the other was all right. Then, as one, they turned to face the crew of the Cascadia.

Jim stood, assessing any possible threats, seeing the hostility in the eyes of the group of survivors. He sought out the other Sentinel, homing in on her presence and saw that she was securely bound. Satisfied that the threat to his Guide was neutralized at the moment, he extended his hand to the younger man, pulling Blair to his feet.

The two of them stood there – tall and proud – at each other's side, right where they belonged.

It was Blair who finally broke the silence. “This is Major James Ellison, he is a Panterian, our sworn enemy – the one who so recently killed so many of our crewmates. I sense your hostility, and I can understand it. But hear me, he is my Sentinel and I am his Guide. Bonded soulmates. Any that want to challenge our bond, let them speak now and step forward to face me.“

Defiantly, he held their gazes until, one by one, they lowered – the only remaining eyes locked with his were the Captain's. “Yes? You have something to say, Simon?“

The captain stood, looking from the Panterian and then back to Blair again. He could see the change in the younger man he had known for so long. Wordlessly, he went to one knee and bowed his head. “As always, I am at your service, Sire.“

The rest of the crew stood by, shocked, watching their captain bow in deference to the young man. Joel was the first to react, slowly lowering himself to one knee as well. “As am I, Sire.“

The rest of them, one by one, joined the two men on the ground until the only ones remaining standing were Jim and Blair.

Despite the show of respect, Blair could still sense the raging emotions swirling amongst them. Anger, repulsion, shock, and outrage – even outright hate – bombarded him. For a moment, he weakened, his knees threatening to collapse.

But then he felt a strong presence take a step closer and he felt himself cloaked in warmth – like a shield protecting him from the onslaught. He felt his strength return – strength flowing to him from his Sentinel.

“Rise, please rise,“ he cried out. He met Simon's eyes when the captain was the first to stand. “Listen to me, all of you.“ Once everyone was on their feet, he continued. “All my life, I've been told of this destiny, this fate that awaited me. I tell you I now know what that fate is – this, my bond to this man standing beside me. It … he is my destiny. And it's a destiny shared by us all. For this, this will issue in a new era for our people, both Lupinard and Panterian alike. What we do from this point on will go down in history. For we, us few, shall be the genesis of a new civilization. One not divided by race or anger or war. We shall come together in peace. This place, this hellish planet, shall bear witness to the birth of the Chopec!“

****

On Lupine, deep within a secret cavern hidden from prying eyes, a group of men and women gathered around a wizened man, a long white beard obscuring half of his face, blind eyes staring sightlessly from the folds of wrinkled flesh. “It is done!“ he exclaimed, the strength of his voice belied by the frailty of his body. “Their paths now joined just as foretold – a new beginning.“

There was murmurings from the group and one man spoke up. “Yes, but what now, Great Seer? What happens now?“

“Destiny,“ the old man gasped out, surging upward before collapsing back onto his seat – finally surrendering his long hold on life now that the long ago foreseen destiny – the fate of them all – had finally been secured.

The End

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Acknowledgments: A lot of time and effort went into this one and it wouldn't have happened without the help of a few truly wonderful and supportive people.

To Lorraine - thank you for creating such beautiful and amazing artwork for the printed zine version of this story. Your drawings captured the feel of the story so perfectly. It was an honor to have your work in the zine and I truly appreciate all the hard work and dedication you put into it.

To Lyn - where to begin? You've been a supportive and wonderful friend. My stories wouldn't exist if it weren't for you. I'll leave that up to the readers to decide if that's a good thing for a bad thing. [LOL]

To Mal - anytime I need someone to bounce ideas off of, I know I can always come to you. Your opinion and input has been invaluable to me over the years. Your friendship and support is something I couldn't have done without and I hope you know how much it means to me.

To ME - I don't even have the words. You've been my inspiration, my support, my encouragement and my partner in crime. [G] You truly are my best friend and I wouldn't know what to do without you. Thanks so much for everything - for more than I could ever hope to express here.