Author’s Notes: The fourth story in this alternate universe where Sentinel/Guide Pairs are known. The first story provides (what I hope is) useful background for this story. In fact, this one will make less sense if you haven’t read the others first.

Warnings: AU, WIP

Disclaimers: As before, as always, not mine. Just borrowed.

For a Male Guide 4:

Back to Cascade

By Jayed

EMAIL: Jayed

Yes, it did happen, but so rarely that it was hardly discussed. Sometimes a Sentinel would be so desperate the he’d kidnap a Guide. Strangely, there had never been a recorded case of an unbonded Guide being kidnapped by a Rogue, only those already Bonded. The few studies that had looked into this phenomenon had two potential theories or answers: one, the Rogue knew that the bonded Sentinel would rescue his Guide, so that the Guide was never in any real danger, and, two, the Rogue saw the Guide as bondable and thought he was a better match than the Bonded.

Jim knew little of these studies, but he did know that Pratt was making his Guide uncomfortable, and that was not to be accepted. Yes, Jim hoped that Blair might help Pratt, as he had helped JJ and Moe and, most importantly, himself, but there had been four of them, and odds were that one of them was unbondable. Twenty percent of Sentinels never did find Guides, and Pratt was on borrowed time. The fact that he made up twenty five percent of the original group was too small a difference.

Ultimately, Blair had had enough of an ordeal for a teenager, and it was time to put some distance between anything that upset him and the new Pair. They still had to deal with whomever in Cascade had helped to set him up with the Army. Someone had to have alerted Army that a male Guide was online. Blair, himself, had already noted that only a few of his very closest friends had any inkling. If he had to deal with the betrayal of a friend, he certainly didn’t need to deal with the potential betrayal of a distraught and potentially Rogue Sentinel.

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After the three left the home of Moe’s cousins, they headed to a small local hotel near the highway. They hoped to avoid notice by avoiding the nosier and busier chains. Jim and Pratt checked in, two rooms this time. Pratt took a single; Jim got a double.

"Jim," Pratt began as they headed back to the rental vehicle where Blair was waiting, "I need to talk to Blair about my Guide."

"Tom," Jim said, as kindly as he could, "You know he can’t find you a Guide on demand. You can’t expect…"

Furious, Pratt interjected, "That’s just fine, Jim. You’ve got him. The others have their Guides. Just leave Tom in the lurch, eh?" Pratt knew he was being unreasonable. He knew it. He couldn’t seem to stop himself.

Jim stopped and turned to look at his companion. He didn’t really know Pratt all that well, and the circumstances under which they’d all met hadn’t made confidences easy. However, he did know that he had to get his Guide away from this potentially problematic Sentinel. He realized he had an obvious answer to the dilemma and almost smiled in his relief. He didn’t smile, though, because he didn’t want Pratt to read it as gloating.

"Pratt," he intoned solemnly, "First Week. First Warning. Only Warning." The ritual and the law were both satisfied by those six words. They told potential interlopers and other troublemakers that they were interfering in a new Bond. Sentinels had successfully used First Week Warnings in court for a myriad of defensive and self-defensive maneuvers as they and their Guides worked out the details and connections of a sensitive new Bond. "I’m getting us a new rental for the morning. I don’t want to see you after this. I’m sorry, but you know this is the right thing for me to do. For Blair."

Jim started to move off without giving Pratt time to do more than stutter the appropriate response, "First Week. Your Guide, Sentinel. Heard and Accepted." But he didn’t accept it. No. He didn’t. So, he couldn’t follow a fully online, and clearly strong, Sentinel. But he could go to Cascade and wait for a chance for Blair to do what he must, what he owed. Okay, so rationally Pratt knew he was owed nothing; he ignored that because it interfered with what he wanted. "Fine," he said aloud. "I’ll go my own way."

Jim, distrustful and disturbed, glanced back at the other Sentinel before he went to the car to escort his Guide to their room, and, once in the room, set the younger man up on the bed farther from the door. "You want to get a pizza delivered, or do you want to go back out? I think there’s a diner nearby." Jim was hoping that pizza would be an incentive to keep the teen in the room. He forgot he was dealing with a teen who was also an anthropologist.

"Oh, Man, we gotta go to the diner. Local culture. Local color. Good home cooking. Come on, you know you want meatloaf and over-buttered mashed potatoes." Jim grinned, and then grinned more broadly as he heard the rental car being driven away. Pratt had decided not to stay the night here. Good.

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The next day, the Pair slept in. They didn’t have anyone to please but themselves, and the little inn had a generous 1 PM checkout time. Jim woke a few times, checked his Guide and the perimeter, and went back to sleep. Blair slept right on through the night, feeling secure with his Sentinel between him and any trouble.

After breakfast, the rental agency sent over a new vehicle, a comfortable mid-size sedan in a flashy candy apple red, and the two hit the road again. As they crossed the border into Nevada, Blair began to make a lot of noise about seeing Vegas. He was, however, only seventeen, so Jim wondered what Blair thought he might see or do there. He asked.

"Oh, come on, Jim. The lights. The whole scene. All the beautiful people and desperate gamblers. We gotta drive through, really, we do." The boy’s enthusiasm was almost contagious. The taciturn man was becoming, surprisingly, increasingly fond of the babble that his Guide put forth when excited.

Suddenly the babble stopped, and Jim heard a small, "Oh."

"What?"

"I didn’t think…Oh, Jim, I am so sorry. We can’t go to Vegas. What was I thinking? You’d be way, way overloaded." Blair hit himself upside the head.

"Hey," Jim said, "There’s a Pair in Vegas. And stop hitting my Guide."

"Yeah," Blair returned, "But he’s a really weak four." He grinned broadly at the last part of Jim’s statement.

"I could tone it down," Jim offered after a moment’s reflection.

"No." Blair looked and sounded determined, all wheedling gone from his tone. This was the Guide speaking about his Sentinel. "We can’t. Maybe when we’ve been together longer, and we know your strengths and weaknesses, but not now." Suddenly he smiled, enthusiasm back. "Ooh. Sorry to get all dictatorial on you there, Jim."

Jim grinned back, teasing, "No problem. Okay, no Vegas. Remember, you’re too young for all that flesh anyway."

Blair slowly turned a deep red. "Ah," Jim thought, "Busted." Then Jim thought about it again. His guide was a seventeen year old boy. Oh.

A small rumbling sound signaled the other constant of a teenage boy’s life, hunger. Smoothly moving into the exit lane, Jim found a small row of fast food restaurants. "What looks good, Chief?"

His Guide looked at him curiously, "Chief? Because I was telling you what to do?"

"Ah, no. It’s just something someone used to call me. Do you mind?"

"Nooo. I can live with it." His grin appeared again. "The Chief decides. Let’s get you a Wonderburger before you implode. I’ve seen you looking whenever we’ve stopped, and, heck, I could use a vanilla shake. But, let’s not go there too often, okay?"

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When they hit the road again, Blair was in a contemplative mood. "Jim," he began, hesitatingly.

"Yes?"

"We never even talked…I mean…do you even want to stay in Cascade? I mean, what do you want to do?"

"You’re happy there, right? You like school?"

"Well, yeah, but…"

"No buts. I’ll find something. Then, when you finish your degree, we can decide on something else, together. Remember, I’ve got my Sentinel pension. We don’t have to worry about money."

"I’ve got some money, too," Blair hastened to say. He didn’t want Jim to think he expected to be supported, like a child.

He thought again, "Jim?"

"Yes?"

"I, um, I live in a pretty small place. It’s just a one room really, like an efficiency."

"We can work that out, too. You don’t mind if I want us to share a place, right? I know not all Pairs do."

"No." Blair smiled shyly. "I was kinda hoping." He took a deep breath. "It’s kinda lonely when you live by yourself, you know?"

Jim nodded, listening to his Guide’s heartbeat race. This really did mean something to him. Jim was glad he hadn’t offered to get his own place. He was afraid Blair might have seen that as a rejection.

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Hating himself, but unable to stop himself, Pratt found a hotel on the outskirts of Cascade and planned his move. He wanted, needed, to find Blair when Jim wasn’t with him, and didn’t know how to do that. He needed them to be quite separate, at least a few miles, and since Jim wasn’t working, and the Bond was new, they’d be sticking pretty close. Pratt settled in to wait…and brood.

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Blair’s apartment, as he’d warned Jim, was rather small. It was a bare step up from an efficiency, but it did have a small separate bedroom. Ranger-trained, Jim had no trouble sleeping in a sleeping bag on the carpeted floor next to Blair’s bed that first night. Blair had protested, offering Jim the bed and trying to take the couch, and then reversing and saying he’d take the bed if Jim took the couch. His protests died, however, the moment his curly head hit the familiar pillows of his very own bed.

Jim didn’t want him to go to school until they found some way of tracking the person who had "outed" him. Someone had aided his kidnappers. Also, Jim wanted them to spend some time talking about what he was going to do. Whatever it was, his Guide would be joining him a good bit of the time if he was planning to use his senses on the job. The two needed to work out what Blair’s schedule was and where a Pair might fit in Cascade.

Blair slept in while Jim showered and thought about laundry and new clothes. All he owned was khaki. He wanted blues and real greens and white. He thought as he stood before the enormous window that made up most of the all in the apartment’s "main room." Thank goodness he had found some coffee in amidst the strange and exotic smelling teas.

Food, on the other hand, was lacking. There were various health food items in the closets, but the small refrigerator held mostly items that had turned in Blair’s unexpected and unwanted absence. He thrown everything away, taking the bags down to the trash. Once in the parking lot, he debated running out to pick up something for breakfast, but he wasn’t sure where anything was, and he didn’t want Blair to wake up and wonder where he’d gone. Further, he didn’t trust this place. The lock on the door, well, inadequate barely covered that problem.

He turned as Blair stumbled out of his room toward the bathroom without acknowledging the Sentinel standing in living room. Jim turned his senses down as the teen shut the bathroom door. Togetherness was one thing; listening to that was something else entirely.

Suddenly the door was flung open, and the young Guide dashed out. Jim was instantly alert, trying to sense what had frightened his Guide.

"Oh, Jim," Blair blurted out. "I didn’t mean to…I thought…Wow." Abruptly he sat on floor by the bathroom door. "I almost thought it was all a dream." He smiled brilliantly as his Sentinel, "But you’re really here."

"Yes, here," came the soft reply.

Blair jumped back to his feet, hugged his startled Sentinel, grabbed a cup of coffee, and disappeared back into the bedroom, only to emerge again bare minutes later, dressed and ready for the next adventure. Jim decided that the Army had nothing on his Guide in providing an interesting life.

Blair’s interest in the little diners on the road became more obvious when he steered Jim down and around the block to "his" diner for breakfast. Blair was clearly a favorite of the waitress, and she stared at the older, clearly military man who had come to the restaurant with him.

"Anita," Blair said proudly, suddenly aware that this was his first opportunity to say the words, "I’d like you to meet Jim, my Sentinel."

Anita looked startled and then, caught in the young man’s glee, she smiled back at him, turning her speculative eye once again on Jim. Abruptly deciding that if he was with Blair then he was okay, Anita brought them the large omelets they’d ordered and then she brought them each a slice of strawberry pie to celebrate the new Bond.

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Across the restaurant, three large, African-American men were discussing cases. Police. Jim needed to take Blair to the station. They had a lot to talk about.