Splinter

cover picture for Splinter

Title: Splinter

Fandom(s): Person of Interest, Sentinel Trope

Relationship: Harold Finch/John Reese

Summary: While John was out doing what he did best, kneecapping violent suspects, following kidnappers, and getting justice for their latest number, Harold was kidnaped. Someone had bypassed all of John’s defenses, slid in through the minuscule gap between cameras, and past an extremely protective guard dog to kidnap Reese’s Guide from their safe space.

They were going to bitterly regret that.

*Note: This is not a finished product; it may be confusing at times, have plot holes and bad grammar, and may never actually get finished. Read at your own risk.

For disclaimer information for both writing and cover art see Disclaimer.


 

Part 1

Many people would have turned away once the smell of decaying bodies floated through the air. Or perhaps a day before the smell, when an altercation attempting to snatch his charge out of protective custody drove the SUV off the road. Or maybe when his boss decided to call him out of his warm and cozy bed and into work at 4:30 in the morning.

Needless to say, John wasn’t most people.

There was a smell that lingered in the air of the cabin. One part chemical and two parts nasty, it was the same smell that John had found in the automobile wrapped around a tree on the side of the road where he’d found their latest number, covered in blood and tied to the passenger side door handle, neck snapped. It was the smell the John had followed deep into the woods through brambles and thorns, well past where Finch, regardless of money or talents with satelites or computers, could follow or direct.

It led to a cabin in the middle of the forest preserve at the edge of the city. Even with John’s sensitive hearing the Sentinel could barely hear the distant traffic, he was within the reserve and had lost signal with his partner some time ago. Now, that smell lingered under the rot and decay emanating from the debris and detritus that filled the floor.

There were animal carcases littering the corners and the leaves had fallen through the whole in the roof, under moldy newspapers on the corner table was a pile of used syringes and a bottle of liquid drugs, the kind their number had been in rehab for.

John’s keen ears caught scuff of a foot against the rotten wood, the racing heartbeat of his prey lay on just the other side of the door. The foolish vermin, having saught out familiar grounds, had trapped himself within his own den of sin when he’d led the Sentinel toward the cabin. There was no other way out for John’s person of interest, not another door to crawl under nor a separate window to fall out of, the far side of the cabin’s single bedroom had caved in under the weight of the tree branches that had fallen onto the roof. All John had to do was wait him out.

It didn’t take long. Barely enough time to settle himself and brace for impact. When the cornered man John had tracked to the cabin through thistle and thorns and mud burst from the blockaded bedroom and right into the Sentinel, it was with all the skill and power of a todler on a training bike. John would be inclined to call it an insult to his skill, except the man had killed four others in the past few weeks, including their number. Any chance to get a murderer off the streets was a good move.

When the former CIA-Agent and Special Forces soldier trekked his way out to the highway to call Joss and report the location of his prey, bound by zip ties, gagged with an old sock, left with the rest of the garbage rotting through the cabin floor and polluting the forest, all he could think about was having a nice hot shower back in the library with his Guide only a wall away. John could, and had in the past, gotten lost in a sense memory of that very situation. It was a perk and a problem for a sentinel in the Special Forces.

The military taught the trick to soldiers as a mental defense against interrogation tactics. With this in his tool belt a soldier could retreat into his mind when the pain of a questioning became more than he could handle. For John it was different, as a sentinel his brain was hardwired to remember sensary data. There were no flaws in his memory of Mexico, or the night Finch refused to leave his worthless ass on the roof. So when John imagined taking a shower back in the old library, he could zone in the remembered sensations alone.

The hot pound of rain across his shoulders and back. The feel of the organic loufa as it slid and scratched down his thighs and painted his stomach in the calming oatmeal and lavander wash his Guide stocked the shower with. John could smell the must of old books left vulnerable to the elements in the partially exposed building. If he listened, under the sound of the beating water and the rushing pipes in the wall, the Sentinel could hear the faint tap-tap tap-tap-tap of the computer keyboard. And just under that, in the same direction, from the same beloved source, he could hear the Guide’s heartbeat. A soft and muffled sound, it guided John in every choice he made and every move he took, his nightmares were riddled with its absence.

What the Sentinel would give to extend the sense memory just the slightest bit more. To know the sight of the Guide’s body, wet and slick. To know by touch ever scar and its cause on the enchanting form. John wanted to know the sound of every hitch of breath he could pull and moan from the man who filled his every waking moment and more than a few of his sleeping ones. John ached to know what he could do to unravel the composure of the most contained man he would ever know.

Even just the thought of where he’d touch and what he’d do, if Finch ever walked into his shower, had John losing sight of reality for minutes at a time, zoning on sensation that weren’t even real. The problem with teaching a sentinel to escape into his mind.

As the once CIA opporative returned to the land of cell phone signals and GPS tracking, and working cars on road sides, he expected to hear Finch’s voice in his ear, waiting for the confirmation of the solution, the reassurance the perpetrator wasn’t dead, but the line was dead in his ear. No voice, no questions, no requests.

“Harold?”

Nothing.

If the hacker wasn’t responding, john knew better than to blame it on equipment failure. Something was wrong.

John didn’t need anything more, no other evidence or proof; he didn’t spend time reasoning or thinking up ridiculous explanations for why the man who was permenantly attached to a cell phone couldn’t respond to his calls. Instead he put his lead foot to work pressing the gas pedal down.

The world narrowed to his objective and the things that stood in the way of reaching his objective. The world sped past in a blur of color, later, after he rescued Harold and his enemy was lying face down, drowning in a pool of their own blood, John might be able to remember flashes of red and green light, but for now, as he urged his car to go faster and faster, trying, in vain, to ignore the pound of his own heart crying out Danger to the Guide! Three facts were looping in his mind:

Harold was in trouble.

Someone had hurt Harold.

Someone was going to get hurt.

There was no sign of forced entry when the Sentinel, fully in combat mode, skidded his vehicle to a stop in front of the main entrance to the library that his Guide and he used as their base of opporations. He didn’t bother being cautious, there was nobody still in the monolithic building. A couple of heartbeats to small and to fast to be human, and a couple to slow. It was hard won experience and training that kept his feet from rushing and his eyes searching the scattered debris for anything out of place in his den.

Nothing.

Not a shelf touched, nor a paper shifted. Just the scent trail up the main stairway, down the old hallway and straight into the nook Harold kept all of the computers and crime boards. Here was the damage.

There were bullet holes in the plaster of the walls, a lot of them, traveling no particular pattern, nor were they clustered to suggest a moving target. .35 caliber bullet, probably fired from a standard 9mm hand gun, unfortunately that didn’t give him much new information, as the favored weapon of law enforcement market surplus was always high.

No blood or pain lingered in the air, and while Harold could have been taken as long ago as two this afternoon, the stagnant nature of the building meant that scents wouldn’t have been diluted. There was some fear, hot and spicy to his nose, it clung to the arms of the computer chair, where Harold would have braced himself, and the system-kill switch which had overloaded the network’s electrical grid with a surge, taking out the computers and generator to protect their mission. The scorch of the electrical overload still hung in the air.

There was someone in here with Harold, John had already known it, Harold wouldn’t have just left and overloaded the system, but as the Sentinel adjusted to the prominent smells in the room, the underlying tones got sharper.

Bubblegum, like the sickly sweet scent of someone overdosed on opiates. Black Pepper from anger, and fresher than the scents of Cayenne pepper anxiety and briny fear-sweat, neither of which belonged to his Guide. And all over the floor was red clay, still moist, from where ever the kidnapper had been recently. John could track that, and he intended to, but as he turned to follow the scent as far as it would lead him, the phone rang.

Right into his ear was the buzz of an in coming call from ‘Private Number’ and there were too many variables unknown to the former CIA-agent, for him to ignore the incoming message, whoever the caller.

But this time luck was on his side: it was The Machine. As the discordant voices recorded played the number right into his ear, John wondered if Harold knew how frequently The Machine and he teamed up to protect their precious Admin. The man was a walking and talking bleeding heart as far as John was concerned. The Hacker might not allow anything like feeling to grow between himself and the Sentinel, what with the man’s heart guarded more like a medieval Princess’s virginity with moats and dragons than Fort Knox, even with the base’s Marines and motion sensors, but Harold bled his heart and soul empathizing with each and everyone of the victims they save. He’d certainly not given up on John, even when John thought the other man should have.

The Machine was Harold’s child, an all-seeing and near-prophetic creation that watched out for its maker in the only way it seemed to know how, by texting, and calling the former CIA-agent. John had no problem with taking the information.

The code, a long series of titles and authors, became a number, slightly repetitive and at no way random, and that number became a name: Jeremiah Sulk. Jeremiah Sulk had an address, that was more than John needed.

 

Part 2

Hunger.

It was brushing up against the Guide’s mental shields with insidious fingers, a ravening and stomach clenching hunger, the kind that blurs thought, the feeling is so strong. Harold had felt it before, and it wasn’t always for food. This was the kind that sat and boiled in the chest. It sweats out through the pores and contaminates everything within reach. It sits in the throat and stifles reason and logic. It poisons the heart and primes the mind for obsession, pushing aside all other emotions or necessities until nothing is left. Not logic or reason, love or compassion or mercy; all that is left is anger and hunger.

The hacker continued to tap rhythmically against his keyboard, flawlessly continuing his programing even as his eyes slid away from the screen and most of his attention split from the task involved. Bear sat on his giant overstuffed cushion, gnawing contentedly on a milk bone the size of the dog’s own leg. The monster John had tamed and trained, for Harold’s own benefit the Hacker knew, didn’t show any sign of danger. Not a twitch or hair out of place.

But the hair on the back of his neck had risen and wouldn’t go down. Someone was watching. A run through the dozens of security cameras and surrounding traffic monitors identified nothing, not an awkward body or partial screen shot to be found. According to all of his technology, there was no one out there and he might as well have been searching for ghosts.

That being said, Harold was a highly trained Guide hiding from one of the most powerful countries in the world; it wouldn’t even be the first time he’d found a ghost, a real one, not an escapee from the age of electronic surveillance. If he thought someone was watching, than he just hadn’t found them yet and he needed to get out, now.

A sharp and foreign command from Harold’s lips had Bear rising to his feet, guarding, before the last syllable was in the air. Harold swallowed his apprehension, even as instinct guided his fingers to the emergency kill-switch, this wasn’t the first time he’d followed the reasoning of a logic he couldn’t explain in words, simply felt right. Sometimes referred to as prophecy or premonition among the Sentinel & Guide Community, it was the one characteristic he’d always had. Nathan had frequently laughed that the smartest man in the world followed the whims of bad burritos from the corner vendor. John more than accepted it, he trusted it with his life.

There was knife and a gun hidden somewhere in the Library, probably more than one in their central command space alone, and Harold couldn’t help but regret that he’d never taken the time to learn where. Silence rang first in his heart, as the Guide realized that once again John would return to a missing Hacker, then silence rang in the room. The crack, pop, and fizzle left over from the kill-switch died off to leave the central computer nook eerily quiet even as the hunger continued to creep along the shields of his soul.

Creak.

Once, a couple years ago, Harold had laughed lightly at the necessity John had argued for making a step on the back staircase purposefully creak to betray intruders. Harold promised he would never laugh at the soldier’s booby traps again. Now he knew he was dealing with something a lot more tangible than a ghost. He had the briefest thought to try to fight whoever it was, the same thought he had every time he was in this position, John could attest that it happened far more frequently than either wished. But the Hacker knew his body, its strengths and weaknesses, and he was no fighter.

He couldn’t hear the shuffling footsteps, or see whatever lurking shadow had managed to infiltrate his and John’s sanctuary. Not for the first time he wondered if their location shouldn’t have moved somewhere else, more secure, as he tracked the cloying hunger that moved closer and closer toward his location.

Out from the shadows of one of the looming book stacks stepped a man. Ragged clothing and sneer in place, he held a pistol in one trembling hand as the shields around Harold’s heart were battered with hunger.

“Well, well, Mr. Swann, I guess I’ve finally found you.”

Harold clenched his hand in the fur scruff of the military dog standing, snarling, between him and the threat he hadn’t even known was following him. “I beg your pardon, but have we met?”

“Noooo.” The man drawled out as he paced the flooring in front of the desks, the same space where John often lounged against the bookcases, seeming to enjoy just watching Harold work after running around protecting their numbers. “No, we’ve never properly met, Mr. Swann, even though you destroyed my whole life. My house, my cars, were taken, my wife left, my attorney just barely freed me from the felony charges and I still lost my medical license! All. Because. Of you!

“The elusive and mysterious Mr. Swann, the same Mr. Swann who conveniently paid top dollar for my shares in Britanin Pharmaceuticals, had me fired for unethical research development, and brought before court for violations of inhumane research practices!”

Jeremiah Sulk was the top medical researcher at Britanin Pharmaceuticals while they developed the migraine medication that would have killed thousands, if not hundreds of thousands. And Harold had, to be honest, bought the man’s shares of the company at a reasonable price for the duration of their investigation with Zoe Morgan, before selling them back at above market value, because of the announcement of the miracle migraine cure, only to have the entire company’s stock plummet when they were placed before the FDA for medical ethics and illegal research procedures.

Even faced with a loaded weapon, Harold regretted nothing.

“Mr. Sulk, while I do regret what you’ve lost, you were faced with a choice, and you did break the law.”

“No!” Sulk said discharging his gun several times in a fit of anger into the plaster and drywall of the building. “I see you every day walking your stupid dog in the park and talking with your fucking asset manager! Yeah, buddy, you’re kidding nobody with that excuse. The great Mr. Swann, wealthy and respected around the highest levels of society in Manhattan, fucking his asset manager. Or maybe,” Sulk giggled disturbingly and crowded in as close as he was willing to go with several hundred pounds of vicious dog between the two of them. “Maybe John Mooney isn’t an asset manager at all, just a toy for his sugar daddy to play with!”

Harold refused to let this very very unstable man get the better of him, to show him who much it really did hurt to even think about the potential between John and him, because of the futility of their situation. “What exactly is it that you hope to gain from all of this, Mr. Sulk?”

“My life back, you bastard! My life!”

With the trembling gun in his face Harold followed the directions he was given- beyond the shelves laden with titles rare and forgotten, out towards the emergency exit, passing by the small room off the hall that was once a study room and now held a mattress, a kitchenette, and a truly startling array of green tea.

Harold wished he was there lying in the break room, that he could turn back time to this morning when he had woken fuzzy and calm from the pain meds John had fostered on him last night to a cup of his favorite and a breakfast quiche from DiMonico’s down the street. He wished he could wake up to John’s blue eyes everyday, to know the Sentinel from within his own shields, to fall asleep with the feel of John’s strong arms surrounding him or the heat of the other’s body running the length of his own.

Instead, he was walking out from the safety of the library to go who-knows-where with a very unstable man holding a weapon. Perhaps, not the best plan, but it was the only one he had.

There was a sharp prick from the back of his neck as the world went dark and his muscles folded beneath him. In the background, as the panic of hitting asphalt face first overwhelmed the Hacker, he could hear the explosion of aggression and violence- swearing and the faintly wet sound of flesh hitting flesh- as several hundred pounds of military dog went from docile to brawling in less than a minute. Harold had seen it before, the flash of teeth in vice-like-jaws as muscles like steel cords bunched and sprang, Jeremiah Sulk may have disabled him, but he still had a hell of a fight on his hands to escape.

The last thought Harold had, as sound and sight petered out, was that Mr. Sulk would have been better off just bringing the dog along.
———————————————————–

The Blue Jungle was known to all Sentinels and Guides though few received the prophetic visions. This wasn’t Harold’s first, in fact he’d go so far as to say that he didn’t even remember the first time he travelled on the spirit plane, just that it was many years and many visions ago.

They had started in his teens, he had been dreaming blue lines and screens of codes for decades before those visions had become The Machine. There had been a few times in his life when he’d wondered at whether it was the right thing, giving this type of control to any man, let alone a government agency. Always, though, when he doubted Harold returned to the Blue Jungle and the forever adapting lines of code, code that once he’d started writing had never stopped, like a spiritual possession his Goldfinch guide had given him little opportunity for rest or relaxation. The Machine needed to be built.

Here and now, Harold stood in the Blue Jungle absent from his body and all it’s aches and pains. There was no broken spine, no hindered movement, no hideous scarring. For a moment, after he remembers how to walk again, Harold tortures himself with the idea of a complete bond with his Sentinel. Now, he wished the bond for a completely different reason. Once again, the Guide had been kidnapped and had no idea how to save himself. Once again, he was relying on his Sentinel to be more loyal to him than determined to continue the mission; Harold was only marginally positive that John wouldn’t hesitate to come after him. The Guide wasn’t afraid to stack the deck in his favor, though.

His goldfinch sat in the branch of a tree across the meadow, easily visible in the blue haze of the spirit plane.

“I’m going to ask a favor,” the taciturn software designer said, letting his fingers brush lightly against familiar feathers. “Can you find John? Can you give him some sign or proof?”

The feathered spirit flew toward their Sentinel, even as Harold was stuck on the ground.
——————————

The color caught his eye first, a Finch the shade of goldenrod was perched on a metal bar that twenty or thirty years ago might have been a fire escape from one of the neighboring buildings, now it was scrap metal connecting the two buildings and exemplifying his Guide’s “fall of Western Civilization” theory. In a manner reminiscent of the Guide himself, the bird called to his soul.

“What are the odds?” but even as the Sentinel approached the corner by the dumpster he caught the smell of blood and fur, unknown human male and canine. Answering the question about what happened to Bear.

His own spirit animal formed in the space between him and the finch. The wolf rose on two legs to nose at the finch, as though questioning his condition.

“Smart Finch,” John said and clenched his fists, “Why don’t you return the favor, Fenris?”

 

Part 3

John held the Finch on an outstretched finger like the most delicate of treasures; to him, his heart and soul rested there. The Guide he’d follow into hell, who couldn’t be convinced to give John his real name, or give up on him, had sent the CIA-agent his soul. John would be damned if he did anything less than cherish it. The Sentinel had followed orders from high command that took him from paradise into the depths of hell, all for his country, how could he possibly do any less for the Guide who dragged his ass out of the flames of tribulation?

“Here, Little Bird, I’ve got you.” The Sentinel breathed as he cradled the spirit animal close. With no where else to carry him, and needing both hands, John carefully placed the bird in the breast pocket of his interior jacket with the colorful silk handkerchief for comfort, buttoned up to keep the spirit close and safe to his own heart. “I wish we’d met under different circumstances, Little Bird, unfortunately this is the best I can do until we meet up with Harold.”

Bear was bruised, the brave military dog had put up a hell of a fight against their attacker. John could feel the hot and swollen tissue under his fingers, the sub-vocal whine the military dog made at the movement of his jaw, as the Sentinel crouched, hoping to catch a scent from the attacker in the fur around Bear’s mouth, where contact had clearly been made given the blood and fabric pieces.

Brine, Cayenne pepper, and bubblegum. There was no one else in the alley waiting to help the perpetrator get away. With only one kidnapper, especially one on drugs, John could safely rule that it wasn’t a crime organized by one of the many powerful enemies they had made in the city in the last couple of years. It might still be an enemy, but only one man. One man, likely malnourished and looking for revenge for some slight, certainly dangerous, but unlikely to actually have an in-depth plan.

A syringe lay on the ground just outside the back entrance to the Library, pushing lightly against the plunger and John was exposed to a sedative, not complicated or sophisticated, easy enough to make with drugs from the street or over the counter, but not the work of a simpleton. Though potent because of the chemical make up, it wasn’t dangerous for Guides anymore than un-enhanced people. But it meant the kidnapper had some history of medicine or chemistry before they ended up on a drug diet.

With a hand resting reassuringly against the muzzle of his military dog, John let go a rumbling growl straight from the throat of his spirit animal. There weren’t many he’d trust with the responsibility of Bear but, Fusco had come through before and luckily he knew right where to find him.

“Lionel. I’ve got a job for you.” The phone felt odd against his ear, the echo and static he could hear as a sentinel was very different than what he was used to from Harold’s in-the-ear technology. It had something to do with bone vibrations in the inner ear and being just slightly off balance because of it. For John, it was just one more reminder of what he was doing- rescuing his Guide.

“What, you want me to babysit your boss while you go schmooze some ladies? ‘Cause, I gotta tell you, asshole, I’ve got a life beyond being at your beck-and-call.”

Harold was a hacker first, and a guide second. It wasn’t hard to figure out why or for what reasons a fairly powerful guide would restrain himself from expressing guide-like tendencies when he was hiding from the government. The last thing John had wanted to do, once his head was on straight again, was betray his Guide’s status. It was just another of the elements to his learning curve with Harold, but John had been fast to do the same with his Sentinel skills. Now, though, Lionel had sassed the wrong Sentinel and John could feel the hair raise on the cop’s arms from over the phone as he let lose a snarl.

“Finch has been kidnapped. Get your ass over to the Library, back exit; take care of Bear. He’ll need a vet.”

Ending the phone call with a little red button wasn’t half as satisfying as slamming the phone down on a receiver. He could always throw the phone, but that would be a waste of resources, and possibly his connection to the Machine, if that became necessary. So John contented himself by adding Lionel to the list of people he was going to tear apart in the near future, and at the top of his list was his Guide’s kidnapper.

It wasn’t long before the Sentinel was rolling up to the address listed in DMV for Jeremiah Sulk. The walk up was covered in litter and dirt, smelling vaguely of something else he knew, but couldn’t place at the moment. The paint was chipping and the seals around the windows were cracked. The door twisted open with no effort, there was no furniture in the entrance way- just a half broken lamp, skewed and cracked, lighting the small area with errie shadows.

Each room John walked into was trashed and near abandoned, drafty and spotted with wood. He could still smell sex on the couch in front of the t.v. and a bottle of alcohol had been thrown at the far wall at some point. There was graffiti in the dinning room where the traditional table had been replaced with a couple of mattresses.

Further into the house, near the kitchen in the back, John could stand and hear the rapid heartbeat of at least one other human in the house, without being overwhelmed by the buzz of faulty electrical wiring. He almost dismissed the kitchen, with food molding in the pots and pans, but there was a small stretch of space on the counter where clean new papers had been rested. No one had ever accused the former CIA-agent of preserving privacy.

The papers were notices: two credit card bills, the outstanding payment of legal services, divorce notice -on the grounds of harmful habits-, and a letter of release from Britanin Pharmaceuticals on grounds of unethical medical research. John remembered that night with Zoe, unsure whether she’d help or hinder, no way to contact his Guide. It was not a good time, and his Jeremiah Sulk was from it; he might actually be the kidnapper he was looking for.

Jeremiah Sulk had lost everything since the Machine had given Zoe Morgan’s social security number, and he was slated to lose the bit he had left. The thing was, men like Sulk, regardless of the rigors of medical school and residency, don’t really earn their way. So, what would a man ‏with nothing left to lose do to the man he believes lost him everything?

John had one last avenue to search, the heartbeat upstairs.

Lank brown hair, dirty face, ripped jeans and a ratty jacket. He smelt of stale sex, drugs, and sweat. As far as the Sentinel cared he was already a nameless dead body lying in an alley somewhere in the city where the only investigation the police would do, would be to find out who’s paying for the funeral.

“I don’t care about your name, or where you’re from, or how you’re just having bit of fun. My Guide is missing,” the Sentinel snarled as his newest informant as the man blinked awake with a groan. “So you’re going to tell me everything you know about Jeremiah Sulk.”

“Oh, man. Dude, you gotta let me go! I don’t know anything!” He twisted and turned his wrists in the tangle of wires that kept them above his head. “Come on, man! I just hang out here! It’s a great place to pick up chicks and dope, man! That’s all!”

“I really don’t think it is, because it’s your died blood and puke in the trash can, but you don’t smell like blood or bruising and internal injuries take a long time to heal, trust me. Which means, you’ve been living and getting high in Jeremiah Sulk’s house for at least a month.”

“Dude! I don’t even know who this Sulk guy is!”

“Really?” John tears down one of the only remaining wall hangings to shove a picture in the face of the stoner. “Because this is you and Sulk about two years, and 400,000 dollars in drugs, ago; wrapped around each other at the Britanin Pharmaceuticals Christmas party. Try explaining that one.”

The man in the bed, dark rings around his eyes and with his ribs poking out through his shirt looked nothing like the man in the photo, but there was little that could lie to a sentinel’s eyes. The two men had the same bone structure and build, along with identical freckle patterns, though John would have wagered a guess that it had been a long time since the man on the bed thought of himself as the man in the picture. His informant had grieved himself into a pit just like John had, one man had climbed into a bottle and the other a syringe, but for two completely different reasons. One man had mourned a woman, the other had mourned a style of life. Now, John had less and less time before he was mourning the loss of another in a completely different way.

“I don’t know Jeremiah Sulk, at least not as he is now.” John’s victim tugged at one hand, as though reaching out to touch the picture. “Back then, we’d been closer than friends. We shared everything. One house, one bank account, and one bed, even when he’d been married.” He gave a wet cough, “I didn’t hesitate to put all our resources into fighting for Jerry in court, or following him when Susan left with Carrie. But Jerry sank fast into drugs to keep the depression away and … it was like he died, no longer the man I’d known for most my life. And I didn’t know how to get back without him.”

John could have cared less, but there was a Finch in his breast pocket, quiet up until now, who chirped softly enough to make the Sentinel work for it. That bird wanted to give a broken man a second chance, just the way he had worked on a sentinel with more instinct than thought only a few years ago. For the man who’d walk on coals for his Guide, the thought was enough.

With the knife he kept in his pocket, John carefully slit the wires keeping the man restrained and handed him a business card and his metro card.

“There’s a rehab place in Queens if you’re serious about getting clean, and the metro card will get you there; but I need to know where to find Sulk, and if he was planning anything.”

The man rubbed his wrists, a little raw from where they’d pulled at professionally tied knots, and turned the business card over and over again in his fingers. The Sentinel might not have had much patience with the stoner, but for the presence of a little bird in his front breast pocket.

“Jerry owned a warehouse down by the dock, for a couple of years he’d thought of himself as a collector and the warehouse was where he kept the stuff he was just going to resell. The contents were sold, but the building kept falling through.” The man shrugged. “That’s all I’ve got. Maybe he’d been acting funny, but I haven’t honestly been around him for longer than a couple of minutes in a long time.”

John ignored the scent of tears and frustration, of grief, as he turned from the wrecked bedroom, taking the address of Jeremiah Sulk’s warehouse with him.

 

Part 4

He couldn’t see. It was the first thought that entered Harold’s head when he woke up and for a moment the hacker wasn’t in a small warehouse with his kidnapper, instead was back in the dock said building New York Police Department had emptied for the victims of the 2011 ferry bombing. For an instant, he was experiencing the piercing pain of his neck injury and the gaping hole in his heart where Nathan had been, for the first time. Then, Harold was breathing through it, commonly practiced copping methods more muscle memory than thought after so many years and the warehouse came into sight in a blur of color.
“Good, good, Sleeping Beauty’s awake!”

The Guide was tied upright to a chair under the central light of a mostly empty warehouse. Given his fused spine, Harold couldn’t turn to see what was behind him or to either side, but he could feel it. Reaching out with the talents he kept under strict control he felt the building surrounding him. Small hearts with base desires, rodents common to the dockside warehouses, rats and mice. Personally, Harold didn’t enjoy their emotions, larger animals could feel love and joy; but rodents were stuck with hunger and anger, not unlike Mr. Sulk.

Very very close to him was something made entirely of the spiritual energy from the Blue Jungle, but much too large to be his Finch. Rough fur rubbed against his ankles and a heavy weight rested against his legs. This was a massive beast that remained unseen to Mr. Sulk’s eye. Protective and loving, the creature made no move to hurt or harm the Guide, and indeed, it being the spirit animal of his Sentinel, Harold was sure it couldn’t hurt him. He didn’t know the name though, for the animal, probably some form of canine, that stood guard between Harold and Jeremiah Sulk.

It was the animal’s fault for Harold’s ability to know that Jeremiah Sulk was there, but not be able to feel him. Which was beneficial because the last thing the Guide wanted was Sulk’s hunger and greed battering against his shields. The canine spirit stood between the two and kept it from happening, protected the Guide the only way a being made of intangible energy could.

“What, exactly is your plan Mr. Sulk? To kill me?”

“What?” Sulk huffed, “Why would that get me what I want? Oh, sure I’d like to see you suffer a bit, maybe make that boytoy of yours twitch, but I want my life back, not fifteen years in a state prison.”

For all the medical researcher’s assurances Harold was still tied to chair in an empty warehouse, his Sentinel nowhere to be seen or felt and his only protection was a canine of indistinguishable characteristics made of spiritual energy.

“So, Mr. Sulk,” the Guide said, using all of his experience dealing with government agencies and corporate sharks, maintaining his calm. He didn’t really have any leverage room in this situation, but Harold didn’t really need any, he just had to buy time for John to find him, and he would. “what, exactly, is it you want from me?”

“What do I want? What I want is my life back!” The kidnapper snarled. “Do you realize what kind of breakthroughs we were making in Britanin?! Sure, a few people died, but that’s progress! Medical advancement does not come free, someone has to suffer!”

Harold took the opening, “What kinds of advancement?”

Eyes wide with excitement and mania Sulk approached the seated Guide, unable to contain himself. “We were making discoveries about Sentinel and Guide genes! We were sequencing the patterns, locating markers, isolating carrier genes, can you imagine the possibilities?!”

The problem was Harold could imagine the possibilities. A Sentinel’s senses without their moral compass. The enhanced strength, without the corresponding desire to serve. The chemicals signaling the brain to flip new areas of the mind. It had more than enough military applications to be worth a comic book, one where the trials eventually turned on their designers.

“Mr. Sulk, while I have to admit it’s fascinating research, don’t you think the application is a bit, heartless? There are so many downsides to that type of research and genetics is already a fairly murky field. A sentinel without a guide already goes through severe catastrophic problems, not to mention that there are areas of the brain that just shouldn’t be turned on in humans. How do you know you won’t be crossing a line nature put there for a reason?”

“Nature? Try evolution. Sentinels and Guides are just genetic mutations that have been purposefully bred for the anomalous skills and talents they possess. With a man-given ability to bestow those types of abilities, we could give every soldier the type of edge that would make winning a war a lot easier and faster, without the concern for ‘the great Sentinel’.”

“What about the Sentinel and Guide Center, how do you think they’ll deal with sentinels that don’t check all their boxes?”

Harold could sympathize with Mr. Sulk for the desire to branch out in science, to try to do something no one else has ever done before. To create something unique, but Harold also intimately knew how that could be tainted, messed up even when the creator had honest intentions. Unfortunately for the Sentinel and Guide community, Harold really didn’t think that Jeremiah Sulk really did have pure intentions. It was part of the reason he’d pushed, as Mr. Swann, such harsh penalties for the medical researchers at Britanin Pharmaceuticals. There were too many ways doctors and researchers play god everyday without taking ethics out of it. There has to be a line somewhere, Harold knew because he’d ended up crossing it and violating privacy for safety. He didn’t regret creating the Machine, he regretted who he gave it to.

Mr. Sulk, though the Guide wanted to give him a second chance, knew he wasn’t likely to suddenly see error in playing with unknown variables and injecting them into human test subjects. The man was neither safe nor sane and he’d already demonstrated, most obviously by toting a gun that he’d used to put .36 caliber bullets into the Library’s walls.

“Wasn’t all of your research confiscated?” Harold hedged lightly as he shifted in the hard backed chair.

“Unfortunately, because of you,” the man growled, “it was. But I was able to find like-minded benefactor who was interested in funding my research.”

“A ‘like-minded benefactor’?”

“Indeed, Mr. Swann, I have taken a serious interest in the possibilities that Doctor Sulk’s research have uncovered.” The man approached from behind and for a moment, all Harold could feel was overwhelming malevolence he’d never felt before. This was a black hole of hatred and anger that glutted on the suffering of others without care or cause. For an instant, Harold was in the presence of the monster from the dark with no help and no protection. He shivered and shook in the hard backed chair as wave after wave of the raw sewage of the nastiest mind he’d ever met washed up against his shields, trying hard to fill him up.

Then Reese’s spirit animal stood up. A wolf of immense proportions stood between Harold and the threat of mind numbing evil. Harold stood protected in John’s shadow just as he was every day.

“Dr. Sulk has delivered on his promise, the research conducted can be implemented in many different ways.” The man came around from behind, though it didn’t much to his impression. “We already have buyers set up.”

He was impeccably dressed and put together. Not a strange of hair was out of place and his bright blue eyes shined. His three piece suit was pressed, with creases so tight they cut glass. This polished leather shoes didn’t make a sound on the concrete floors as Sulk’s unnamed benefactor appeared to vanish from one space and materialize in another.

“What’s the problem then, if not funding?” Harold asked, watching the spirit animal watch the man. “I’m afraid we haven’t been introduced.”

“Ah, I apologize. I am Ferring, Dr. Sulk’s benefactor.”

“Harry Swann,” the Hacker reciprocated, as much as manners could make him and paranoia would let him, which was to say, not very much at all. “I’m an independant investor and business owner.”

“Which is exactly why you’re here, Mr. Swann. Dr. Sulk and I require a bit of help from you.”

“I feel necessary to remark that there are easier ways of getting an appointment, Mr. Ferring. Many of them much more comfortable than this.”

Ferring nodded as he walked, silently, toward the Guide. Running a large, serrated knife through the rope holding him tied to the chair. It was nice to be free, to have breathing room in the warehouse empty of sanity. He wasn’t free, not by a long shot, but the thin illusion of control that the Guide regained by being able to move his body was heartening.

“What kind of help do you and Mr. Sulk need from me, Mr. Ferring? Especially if you already have a product and a market.”

“That is a good question, Mr. Swann.” Ferring nodded as he paced, soundlessly, before his captive audience. “See, we’ve marked the research as an enhancement treatment. Marketing it to rich daddies for their laze-about sons, teach them about authority and responsibility, let them be different, notable. For a cool million your son can stand out.” Ferring shrugged, “But we need the paperwork to show. A million dollars apparently warrants research records and paper trails.”

“Which is where you come in, asshole.”

“Now, Dr. Sulk, just because Mr. Swann didn’t share your vision originally is not reason to be rude. After all, he can be persuaded.” Ferring said.

“What is it you want from me?” Harold asked for the second time, shuddering and twitching as the greed and lust poured off both men.

“We know you own the corporation Bi-Laurel Medical Research, and that even now that business is doing research into Sentinel and Guide genetics. What we need you to do, is fabricate a testing a research history through Bi-Laurel Medical to give legitimacy to our product. Ultimately, it was because of you that Dr. Sulk lost his job and his life; it’s only fair that you fund its return.”

Here was a man, bold as brass, who wanted Harold to go against the very tenets and morals the Hacker had built his life around. Ferring wanted to bring harm to the Tribe and to the Pride. Harold had given his life the first time around to protect the Tribe. Nothing was further than what he wanted. Now, there were a hundred different ways it could go, but Harold knew, trusting that John would find him, there was only one option he would choose.

“Mr. Ferring, Mr. Sulk, I’m afraid that’s just not possible.”

“Well, Mr. Swann,” Ferring said as he rolled up his sleeves, “that’s a problem, because now we have to find out just how ‘persuasive’ I can be. I’m afraid,” Ferring said with a fake little wince as Sulk giggled manically in the background, “I’m not that persuasive.”

———————————————————————————————

“So, what’s the plan John?”

The pain nearly blinded John it came so suddenly. He was unable to respond, unable to move or do anything more than breathe through the pain. It ebbed and flowed like a wave but there was no injury, physical or spiritual, to explain the pain. Except…
John reached shaking fingers into the breast pocket of his interior jacket. The Finch, Harold’s Finch and his heart and soul, lay crumpled in his cradling hand. Keening in pain, John could see that there was swelling and bruising to the small bird’s chest and neck, while the wings hung at awkward angles. The silk handkerchief, the one he’d wrapped the spirit animal in only hours before, had an odd color distortion, as though the bird, made entirely out of spiritual energy, had been bleeding.

Harold was hurting, badly, and channeling it the only way he could.

“Well, that’s not good.” Carter whispered.

 

Part 5

John stood, cold to the bone at the state of the Finch he was trying to protect. The spirit animal was bleeding energy from the palm of his hand, time was running out.

“We’ve got, maybe, 30 minutes to an hour before Pride pairs start showing up looking for a Guide in distress.”

Carter arched a brow, “Isn’t that a good thing?” She clutched her shotgun closer to her chest.

John spun and snarled. “I can get him!”

He slammed into a wall of righteous fury, determination, and love as Carter’s hand pressed like a hot coal against his chest. “Hold your horses, Sentinel, that’s my friend inside, too. Now, try to use your words Neanderthal, and explain to me why the S&G Center isn’t a good idea.”

“A wealthy man is an excentric reclusive; his money grants him privacy and consideration.” John ground out. “A Guide or a Sentinel, regardless of laws, is tracked. Questions are asked and answers are demanded when he disappears and speculation circulates when he doesn’t serve the public. No, Joss,” the sentinel shook his head, “the Sentinel and Guide Center is not our friend.”

“Well,” the homicide detective shrugged. “What’s the plan, then? You’ve done the impossible just about everyday that I’ve known you, John; what’s your move?”

The Sentinel shook his head, his hands trembled and for a moment he lost control, blind and deaf, he stood vulnerable to all the elements of the city, even as he counted down the remaining time. He could feel the heat beating down on the back of his neck, and the seabreeze raising the hairs on his arms as it brushed against him. He could smell his guide from inside the building, fear like lemons and anxiety like sour milk, but over that was diesel oil and rust. John could smell Carter, his friend, like fading pepper and ceyenne, dark chocolate and rain. He focused on that as color slowly added depth to the black and the buzy background of the Big Apple rang in his ears.

Along with the ring of his cell phone. With a warning look, making sure the detective was on the same game plan that he was, the Sentinel answered the call. “Mooney, Speak.”

“Ahh, Mr. Mooney, it’s so good to hear your voice.” John could hear the odd echo of bad accoustics in the back of call and the muffled groan that had him clenching his hands, his guide was hurt in there, and this asshole wanted to play party games.

“I’m afraid you have me at a disadvantage, to whom am I speaking?”

Slowly they moved around the warehouse as John tracked two different sound impressions, the voice in his ear, smug and arrogant, and the man’s walking path throught hte echoing warehouse. The Sentinel tracked where his enemy was at all times.

“I do apologize Mr. Mooney; My name is Mr. Ferring and we have a mutual aquiantence.”

“Oh? Who would that be?”

“Why Mr. Swann, of course! We’ve been in negotiations for the use of his medical research facility, but he was less than pleased with our offer. We’re hoping you’ll be more ammeniable to negotiations.”

John chuckled deeply, dryly, the play of business negotiations following through for the asset manager of an excentric and reclusive billionare was just another day at the office. To the former CIA-agent Sentinel, lying was a second nature.

“Mr. Swann can be a challenging and frustrating associate. Perhaps, if you disclose your offer we can consider an alternative that will work to the benefit of all the parties involved.”

“Oh, Mr. Mooney, your silver tongue was not overstated at all. I’m so pleased to be doing business with you.”

“Mr. Ferring, I assure the feeling is mutual. Perhaps you could describe the project in question?” John needed more intel. John needed the mastermind criminal to continue talking, remain distracted, so Carter and he could finish their survey of the warehouse.

“We’ve been calling it Project Adjustment. See, Mr. Mooney, the drug in question is an advancement in Sentinel Medical sciences!”

“Oh,” John gave a few dry chuckles, “advanced care for the dear servicemen, hmm? Does it numb senses? Or, perhaps, it accelerates healing?”

“Oh, no. Mr. Mooney, our Project Adjustment can give Sentinel-enhanced senses to mundanes. Provisionally, of course. Nothing permenant.”

A shiver went down John’s spine at the lie in Ferring’s voice. His heart didn’t skip a beat that the Sentinel outside the warehouse could hear, but it pounded away like a toddler on a drum set, excited and nervous, but not afraid. Ferring might have lied about the project’s results, in which case the drug could be a street chemical or something else, but John’s experience, his knowledge of the city and it’s people meant that he’d place money on the lie being about the drugs purported temporary condition.

John didn’t have to stretch to see the market availability for a drug like this. There wasn’t a government or militia group in the world that didn’t wish there were more Sentinel’s in their command. Never enough enhanced senses to do the world’s dirty work, not to mention that Sentinel-Detectives had a closure rate nearly 25% higher than other police officers. Intelligence Agencies liked using Sentinels to replace listening devices. White noise generators, or sense-attacking weaponry were becoming more and more popular on the battlefield.

Experience, and a weighty amount of common sense, told the Sentinel that the drug probably wouldn’t be as effective as Ferring wishes, and the use of Sentinel senses behind enemy lines probably wasn’t that useful. Turning an experienced agent into a Sentinel sounded like a good idea, until consideration is taken into account for the amount of retraining they would need toe go through to opperate in the field again. Not to mention it takes being seriously conditioned, or fucked up, to serve as a Sentinel in an intelligence agency.

Which one John was, was up for debate.

Allowing for the silence to echo for just a moment, long enough to project the sincerety and seriousness the concept deserved, he quietly spoke again, “And a Guide?”

He could hear the kidnappers in the warehouse pace, a quiet tick-and-grind of the shuffled stride of John’s enemy. There was his guide, obstacles to his guide, and the time frame he had to do it in. The counter in the back of his mind ticked closer and closer to the arrival of Pride pairs to investigate.

Now, that John had found his guide, how was he going to get to him.

“Who needs a Guide?” Ferring scoffed. “No long term effects, no long term partners! Perfect soldiers, eh? How’d you like a team of your very own super-soldiers to escort you where ever you go? Perfectly safe in a block made of men who can see and hear and smell a threat before it even gets in your surroundings?”

“You make an intriguing offer, Mr. Ferring. But you know what that means, right?”

“Oh?” Ferring snorted, “What’s that mean?”

“You’re going to have to let Mr. Swann go.”

Everything froze as John went through with the ballsiest plan he’d ever made. The Sentinel, calm as can be with Carter at his back, walked up to the door of the warehouse… and just went right on in.

“Mr. Swann is an eccentric man, he prefers his privacy.” John Mooney, assets manager to one of the richest men in Manhattan, gave a miniscule shrug. “I prefer to know where he is.”

“A tracker?” Ferring, dark suit, dark mind, said as he dropped his phone back into his suit pocket. “In his shoes, perhaps?”

“Perhaps.”

Mooney may have been able to ignore the sight of his boss covered in blood and bruises, but Reese was counting each mark and mar on his Guide’s body. The blood ruined the color and embroidery of the man’s precious suit. The skin around the Guide’s right eye was already starting to color and John wasn’t happy to see the way the other man sagged and leaned in his seat, as though it was too much work to sit straight.

“Ah, well, I guess we’re done with Mr. Swann, aren’t we, Dr. Sulk?”

Ferring was smooth. There were no options out here. The stranger had to assume that there was a ring of former soldiers currently surrounding the warehouse, ready at any moment to unleash hell on him and his partner in crime. His best chance of making it out alive was to hand Mr. Swann over, and Ferring knew it.

“What the fuck are you talking about, Ferring!?!” Sulk spat, “You said once we had what we needed that I could take my pound of flesh!!” The click of a handgun echoed slightly in the large warehouse. “I want my pound of flesh, Ferring!”

“I’m afraid you’re not going to get it.” John said smoothly.

“Oh yeah?” The man spit, waving his gun around with a finger on the trigger, “What the fuck can you do about it? Huh?!” Wild eyes bore into John’s, searching, “You money types are all the fucking same, never dirty your hands. Who do you think did the trials? The experiments? Found the participants? Me, that’s fucking who! Mr. Swann doesn’t have a fucking clue-”

The body jerked twice as gunsmoke coiled in the air between the two men. The Sentinel watched as the leaking body of one former experimental doctor and chemist collapsed. In the end Sulk didn’t even rate a footnote.

“Mr. Swann, I think it’s time you came home.”

“I do believe you’re correct, Mr. Mooney.”

Ferring, and his ridiculous super serum were nowhere to be seen.

 

Part 6

The stairs were out of the question. Harold was bleeding from multiple shallow wounds and John was certain his sensitive skin could already feel the building heat of an infection.

Luckily, this particular safe house had a back-entry elevator and one familiar emergency room doctor prepared for everything short of organ transplant surgery in the guest bedroom. The guest bedroom was sterile, having been removed of all absorbant fabrics and replaced with easily washed and sterilized alternatives. Once the Sentinel had placed his Guide on the hospital bed, there wasn’t much even his super senses could pick up to remind him that it wasn’t a hospital room. He was even relegated to pacing and waiting for news, like any other family member.

The former CIA agent couldn’t help but tune into the other room like a homing beacon. Carefully counting the beats per minute as a gentle hand tenderly pulled one handkerchief-wrapped spirit guide from an inner pocket. The small bird was all delicate feathers and hollow bones. While the Sentinel knew the bird was made of sterner stuff, he couldn’t help but be caustious. So small was the bundle in John’s palm that he cupped it in a single hand.

With the small bird’s larger body laying on the hospital bed in the other room, having been seperated from him, having been tortured for some asinine plan to reclaim a life that didn’t even rightfully belong to Sulk, there were too many chances that the little bird who held, who was, John’s heart could be hurt further. If it were up to the Sentinel he would forever take the punishment for his Guide. After all, the other man was John’s Guide.
Meg greeted the Sentinel with a gentle smile as she pulled the door shut behind her. “I’m glad to be of help, but Harold’s going to be absolutely fine. Black and blue for a few days, but the damage really looks worse than it actually is. No internal damage at all.”

Harold had been sagging. His blood had been in the air. His skin had been turning black and blue from bruising. His suit had been ruffled. The Guide had had such a limited range of movement leaving that shitty dockside warehouse that John had practically carried him. All the Sentinel’s experience said that the Guide had been hurt; that his guide had been badly hurt.

“He’s fine?” A wrinkle grew between his brows as muscles tensed and lips turned down, “but-”

Meg waved it off, “A lot of Harold’s inability to move in caused by the pre-existing damage. He was in shock from the pain and, I believe, the emotional circumstances. Otherwise he’s fine.”

John pulled in fresh clean air like he’d walked out of a burning building. “He’s fine?”

Tender brown eyes smiled up at him, “He’ll need some help for a few days, but I have no reason to believe your care won’t be adequate.” She raised a delicate eyebrow, “unless you need a nurse? I do have the number to a completely discrete, private nursing group-”

A growl rumbled roughly in his chest at the thought of some one else, anyone else, caring for his wounded mate. “Thank you, Meg, but that won’t be necessary.”

A cheerful grin
——————————————————

“It’s too late now, Harold.” The Sentinel breathed into the bare fingertips of his Guide’s hands. “I’m not letting you go.”

Harold leaned into the his friend’s, his Sentinel’s, space, lightly bumping his nose up against the other man’s. “I don’t want you to.”

John stood, letting fingertips and palms slide up the length of his body, “Let’s get you cleaned up.”
—————————————————

“-we’ll have to do some research,” Harold mumbled into the skin of John’s neck, “discretely of course, but those poor victims will have to be found. No telling what side effects that drug could have had.”

John wrapped his arm around the precious gift resting against him, and pressed calloused fingers to sensitive spots, just to the hear the hitch in his partner’s breath. The faintest pressure from John’s lips met the scars that wrapped around Harold’s neck and shoulders. “Later, Guide. Plan, later.”

Certainly, the Sentinel had plans of his own for the Guide, but somehow he didn’t think the other man would mind.