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Oldest Story In The World

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Part One

Jack could smell Allison as soon as he got out of his Jeep. The soft floral scent almost always made him relax. Except for days like today, when the smell of worry and agitation were undernotes of her distress.

Picking up the pace, he jogged toward the front door of Global Dynamics, while opening the rest of his enhanced senses, hoping to get a heads up on what was wrong. No sounds of alarm shrilled from inside the building. Usually even the white noise generators in every office and lab couldn't drone out the electronic claxon. He didn't smell or taste any strange chemicals in the air or feel any of the various waves he'd been bombarded with several times, so far, in his three months as Sheriff of Eureka.

When he caught sight of Allison, she looked serene, as always. Perfectly pressed and stylish suit, sleek hair, calm expression. Whatever it was, it wasn't going to blow up or disperse poison in the next twenty minutes or she wouldn't be out here waiting for him. She’d be inside, in the thick of things. He slowed to a walk, straightened his leather jacket and smiled.

"What's the crisis of the day?"

"Crisis?"

"You called me and told me to get down here ASAP. You're waiting for me at the front door rather than in your office. And you—" He stopped himself before he could tell her she smelled nervous. People didn't like to be reminded of the fact that Sentinels could sense all kinds of things about them they'd rather keep private.

"You look stressed." He glanced down at her hands, twisted together so tightly her knuckles were white with the strain.

Allison immediately dropped her hands and glared a little. "I'm not nervous."

"Riiight." He dragged the word out until she pouted at him. Then he curled his thumb in his belt loop and leaned against the wall to wait her out.

"Not nervous… exactly," she finally sputtered into the silence. "Just a little… concerned."

"Concerned about what, exactly?"

"Fargo called this morning to tell me the Senate committee finally appointed a new interim director and he'd be arriving this morning."

"So who is it? Someone scary? Intimidating?"

"I don't know. Fargo didn't say."

"Why don't we go in and find out, then. He can't be as bad as the last director."

"Well, considering Warren King was in cahoots with the town shrink and a consortium of congressmen and private contractors to steal technology from Eureka, it wouldn't take much. No one from the DoD to the Senate was happy with what happened here last week. I'm worried they’re sending someone to cleanup and clamp down on Eureka. Especially us."

"C'mon, we got King and Beverly and the rest. They should consider giving us a reward. A medal at the very least."

She stared at him like he'd just suggested Einstein was an idiot.

"Carter, a priceless, unexamined artifact was destroyed in the process of us arresting Warren and Beverly. Not to mention a good chunk of Section Five."

They both glanced over at the construction equipment repairing a tank size hole in the building.

Jack shrugged. "If you're going to make an omelet, you gotta' break some eggs. We stopped a national conspiracy bent on whole-sale treason. Plus, we managed to contain the blast so it didn't take out the whole Pacific Northwest. Which, according to Henry, was a possibility."

She rolled her eyes but smiled, letting her posture and her scent relax a fraction.

"You're right. It can't be that bad. Fargo didn't sound too concerned when he called. If it had been some military type, he'd have been in a panic." She frowned a slightly. "In fact, he sounded a little excited."

"Well, let's go see who GD's new fearless leader is."

Jack held open the door and followed her through, trying hard to keep his eyes above her waist.

He failed.

Hard to blame him though. She was beautiful. Strong. Smart. Everything he liked in a woman. When he'd first stumbled into Eureka and gotten roped into helping with the whole tachyon thing, he'd been incredibly attracted to her. When he got the so-called promotion, and he still wanted to have a few words with his former boss about that, he'd hoped something would come of it.

But three months in town had made him realize they were better off as friends. There was a haunted look in her eyes the few times she talked about Kevin's father that told him she still wasn't over the loss of her first love. And even though things had been over between Jack and Abby long before they'd actually split up, he still wore the ring. It wasn't out of nostalgia or pining. It was a reminder.

A Sentinel couldn't really form a long-term bond with just anyone because that spot was reserved in his, or her, heart for their Guide. Even in a Sentinel like Jack, who was one of those ten percent 'widowed-before-bonding.' Whether something had happened to his Guide before they could meet or his Guide was one that had chosen not to seek a Sentinel, it didn't matter. If his Guide was alive and willing to bond, they'd have met at one of the Guide Institute mixers by now. 

So, no, long-term wasn't really in Jack's plans. Not now. Not ever again.

He and Allison had to work together in some pretty tense situations fairly often. There wasn't room for the kind of antagonism and silent anger simmering below the surface that had marked the last few years of his marriage.

Still, it was a cute butt.

He let a satisfied smile curve his mouth and forced his eyes back up to the dark hair before he stepped inside and allowed the door close behind him.

The scent hit him immediately. Spice. Exotic and musky. Faint like an hour or two had passed since it had originally moved through the lobby. It wrapped around him, enticed him and he inhaled deep, pulling in as much as he could.

"Carter, are you okay?"

Jack blinked at Allison and realized she was now standing ten feet in front of him. Realized he had stopped in his tracks to inhale the faint, fading scent.

"No, I'm fine. I was just… Nothing. Let's go."

"Are you sure? You didn't zone did you?"

He fell into step next to her. "I haven't zoned since that incident with Susan Perkins. The real one, I mean."

And who could blame him? When the supposedly dead woman walked into the Sheriff's office his senses had locked onto her to try to figure it out. The deeper he went, though, the more like the dead Susan she looked and smelled and sounded until he'd over-extended and dropped into a fugue state.

He still thought Jo smacking his face had been overkill. If they'd tried hard enough, they could have found another way to bring him out of it. The hand-print on his cheek hadn't faded for three days.

Allison looked at him closely. Whatever she saw must have reassured her because she relaxed and started into the usual spiel.

“Let me do the talking. If he, or she, asks you a question keep the answer short and simple. For god's sake, keep the sarcasm to a minimum...”

Jack didn't mean to tune her out but the scent was actually getting stronger. And a sound was overlaying it. A heartbeat. One he didn't recognize and shouldn't be latching on to. Not like this. Not the way he followed Zoe's heartbeat whenever she was in range. Or Allison and Jo's whenever they went into a dangerous situation.

But it was drawing him. Calling him. Thank god it was in the same direction they were going or he might well have ditched Allison to go find it.

Except, the closer they got to the director's office the stronger the scent got. The louder the heartbeat got. The more realization sank in.

This could be very, very bad.

Keeping his body tightly under control and his face straight when they walked into the office was nearly the hardest thing Jack had ever had to do. Here, he was surrounded by scent, by rhythmic heartbeat and by sheer, vibrating aura.

He saw the man's back first. An impression of tall, well-built raw power in an expensive suit. Dark, silky waves curling against the collar. When the man turned around, he distantly heard Allison gasp next to him. He couldn't respond or even be curious because he was too busy sinking his teeth hard into his own lip to keep himself from reacting.

Jack raked his eyes over every inch of the man's suit searching, hoping, praying. But there was no sign of the small, silver pin in the shape of a stylized G to signify a Guide in search of his Sentinel. Not even the gold pin to show he was bonded.

There was no doubt in Jack's mind this gorgeous man was a Guide. And not just any Guide.

His Guide.

The one made for him. The one he was meant to claim, to bond with. The one who was meant to be his partner.

And he couldn't say a word.

Without that tiny little pin, Jack was forced into silence.

Custom and law demanded that a Sentinel never acknowledge an unmarked Guide.

Ever.

Especially if it was his, or her, fated Guide.

In the past, briefly, Guides had been pressured and forced into service by the government in order to get the most productivity out of Sentinels. But civil rights groups and Sentinels themselves had protested and fought until privacy laws were put into place. Now, Guide testing was purely voluntary. And Guide status was confidential unless the individual chose to advertise his status.

Either way, this man was off limits.

After several seconds of struggling to get his more primal instincts under control, Jack finally managed to come back to some semblance of normal only to realize the tension in the room wasn't just him.

Next to him, Allison was stiff and angry, her arms crossed tight across her chest and a death glare aimed at the man.

The dark-haired man, presumably the new director, looked relaxed under the gaze, but Jack could see the hint of tension in the drawn back shoulders and faint lines of strain around the easy smile. The man's eyes flicked in a slow assessment over Jack before settling back on Allison.

"Nathan, what are you doing here?"

"Allison, it's lovely to see you again, too. How are you?"

"Nathan."

It was as close to a growl as Allison ever got and it made Jack actually look away from his— from the man, to make sure she wasn't on the edge of violence.

The man, Nathan, apparently, must have recognized the danger as well, because he sighed, settled a hip on his desk and answered her question.

"I'm the interim director of GD."

"Why?"

"Why? Because the committee wanted it filled quickly with someone who wouldn't take long to get up to speed. Since it was my job, before King fouled it up, they ask me to take the reins until they could decide on a permanent solution."

"Why did you accept? Why did you come back?"

His expression softened and went a little wistful.

"Because I missed yo—" the new director caught himself, slid his gaze over Jack for a long second before focusing back on Allison. "I missed Eureka. And I missed the work we do here. I even missed Vincent's cooking."

The scent of Allison's anger was sharp and acrid and practically burning Jack's nose.

He leaned closer and whispered quietly into her ear.

"Weren't you the one telling me we should try not to antagonize the new director on the first day?"

It, at least, reminded Allison there was someone else in the room. Her body eased slightly even if her anger didn't. She took a deep breath and looked at Jack, finally. He arched an eyebrow and gave his best 'I'm harmless' smile. It worked. Sort of. She didn't smile but glass was no longer in danger of melting under her glare anymore, either.

"Right. Jack Carter, meet are new interim director. Nathan Stark. Nathan, this is the new Sheriff, Jack Carter.”

"Sheriff." Stark nodded, though his mouth had tightened into a slightly thinner smile when he'd watched the interaction between Jack and Allison. Piercing blue eyes drifted over Jack again and took in the stylized S overlay on his badge. "Or is it Sentinel? I could never quite get the hang of the proper etiquette."

Nathan's smirk was mild but his bright eyes danced with humor and Jack had to fight the urge to smile inanely back.

"Either is fine. I take it you two know each other."

"You could say that." Allison answered sharply.

"I'm her husband."

Her head snapped up and the glare was back full force.

"Ex-husband. The divorce was final three months ago." Her hands balled into fists and she took a steadying breath. "You know what? Now that introductions are out of the way, I have work to do."

Before either man could respond, she spun on her heel and stormed out leaving a trail of pissed-off vibe even a non-Sentinel could probably follow. Jack watched Nathan watch her go and swallowed hard. When the blue eyes swung toward him, he forced himself to take a step back instead of the step forward his body and his instincts wanted to take.

"I should…" He pointed a thumb over his shoulder, willing coherent words to come as Nathan's eyes narrowed on him. "She probably… I should go."

Jack retreated as fast as he could, cursing fate for giving him the one thing he wanted more than anything else and locking it behind an impenetrable wall of expected silence.

#

Nathan dropped into his desk chair and tipped his head back to stare blindly up at the ceiling.

That could've gone better.

Nathan hadn't expected Allison to welcome him back with open arms but had at least hoped for something slightly friendlier. Then again, he probably should have warned her he was coming back to Eureka, rather than letting her stumble over him that way. Still, he hadn't expected her to be quite that angry. After a year and a half, he'd have thought she'd have forgotten about that last argument before he'd walked out the door. Even now, he couldn't help flinching in his chair at the memory of the sound of the vase shattering against the closed door behind him when he'd headed for the car.

But that was the past. Nathan had come back to fix the mistakes and convince her to give him a second chance. He'd learned at a young age how to go for what he wanted and he wasn't going to let anything sidetrack him.

Not even the way too attractive Sheriff. That was one more complication he didn't need. He'd had the occasional affair with Sentinels, male and female, but they were temporary by nature. An unbonded Sentinel was really only killing time until they found their Guide. Even at Carter's age, some part of him would still be waiting and hoping despite the slim chance.

Temporary wasn't what Nathan wanted now. He'd come back for a reason and he'd be damned if he got sidetracked.

He'd known mending fences wouldn't be easy but he missed Allie. He missed Kevin. He missed having a family. For awhile, in the beginning, it had filled a need in him that he'd been ignoring for years. Now, he couldn't fill it up with work and new discoveries anymore. Of course, at the end of the marriage, the family thing wasn't filling it anymore, either. But that was his fault. He knew it. He could fix it, if he just had the opportunity.

But first, he had to get Allie to stay in the same room with him for longer than five minutes.

Unfortunately, now thoughts of his ex were all twisted up with images of the buff new Sheriff.

And he really had to stop thinking of Carter that way if he had any hope of getting Allison back.

Sure he'd been attracted to Sentinel's all of his life. Even before indulging in the sexual attraction, he'd felt a pull toward the guardians. At nine, he'd seen a documentary on Sentinels and Guides. How when they met, they formed a para-psychic bond that lasted a lifetime. For a lonely boy whose mother abandoned him and who only garnered attention from his father when he solved some unsolvable problem, the idea of bonding with someone who would love him unconditionally and never leave had been enticing.

The biggest disappointment of his life occurred when he was fifteen. After six years of nagging, his father finally gave in and took him to the Guide Institute for testing. When the results came back negative, he'd been despondent for a week while his father had told him over and over again it was for the best.

Reminded Nathan that he would have risked giving up his brilliant work to be saddled with a Sentinel. A primal throwback whose solution to everything would be violence and instinct, rather than logic and reason. A caveman who would be drawn to the military or law enforcement and drag Nathan along with him.

It was easier to believe the things his father said than to deal with that nagging empty loneliness. Nathan had turned back to what he knew best and sublimated everything into his work.

And if something was missing all along, he kept it buried and silent.

After he'd won the Nobel, though, it had crashed into him. He'd achieved the highest honor of his profession and had no one to share it with. Even if his father had still lived, Nathan had long since cut ties with the man.

When he'd moved back to Eureka, he'd thought the ready-made family he found with Allison had been perfect.

He known it wasn't a love match. It was obvious that she was still very much in love with Kevin's father. But she was beautiful and smart and they truly liked each other. There was chemistry.

Affection and sex hadn't been enough for the long run, though. Two demanding careers. The desperation of always being a little disappointed in each other. Eventually it tore away at them until there was nothing but harsh words and dark silences.

Nathan had finally left Eureka because, as angry as he'd been, he'd still cared enough not to make her uproot Kevin.

But a year and a half away hadn't dulled the emptiness.

When they'd offered him the interim job, he'd jumped at it. Hoped to mend fences. Try again.

His reaction to Sheriff Carter was wholly unexpected. The hot rush of attraction when the man had walked into the room had nearly undone him. He'd kept having to force his attention back to his wife. Ex-wife, as she'd reminded him in no uncertain terms. Nathan kept trying to tell himself the surge of jealousy he felt at the soft way the Sentinel had whispered in her ear was because he wanted Allison for himself. But his eyes had watched Carter's lips not Allison's face. He hadn't offered his hand when Allie introduced them because he'd known the physical reaction would be explosive.

He rubbed the heels of his hands over his eyes and leaned back.

Forget the Sentinel.

Those affairs never lasted.

He wanted permanent.

Permanent was Allie.

He just had to figure how to convince her to give him another chance. First, though, he had to figure out how to convince her to talk to him.

#

It took Jack longer than he expected to catch up with Allison. Especially since she ignored his first three attempts to get her attention.

He finally cornered her in her office, only to realize it may have been a mistake. Her eyes were tight with strain and bright with unshed tears, her mouth pinched shut and her hands gripped the edge of her desk like it was all that was keeping her from throwing things.

"I, uh… Are you okay?"

"Carter, I just need a few minutes to myself. Please?"

"Uh, yeah, of course. No problem. I've got Sheriffing type stuff to do, anyway."

Carefully closing the door on his way out with a sigh, Jack couldn't help smiling a little at his own ridiculousness. Normally, he'd be relieved as hell not to have to deal with a crying woman. Today, though, he'd have welcomed any distraction to keep from having to deal with the messed up curve ball life had thrown him.

He managed to maintain the numb disbelief long enough to get out of GD and into his Jeep but that was all the relief his brain was going to give him. A flood of hot, twisting emotions started deep in his gut and swamped him with anger and fear, hope and despair, the need to claim and the instinct to protect.

Fifteen years. He'd been online for fifteen years without even a hint of his Guide. Now in this crazy town full of fucked-up geniuses, Nathan Stark appeared out of nowhere.

Of course the man was unregistered and obviously looking to get back together with his ex-wife.

Jack peeled his lips back in frustration and impotent anger. Both hands slammed into the steering wheel and he didn't even feel the pain over the rushing emotions.

"Goddamn it. This is not fair. Fuck Eureka. Fuck being a Sentinel. And fuck Nathan Stark."

The radio squawked, making him jump and stare at the handset like it was an alien creature.

"Carter, come in. Carter, are you there?"

It took him a second to calm his racing heart and remind his stalled brain there was no way Jo could have heard him.

Finally, Jack took a steadying breath and picked up the handset, relieved when his voice came out normal. Relatively, anyway.

"What do ya' need, Jo?"

"Are you done at GD?"

"Just getting in the Jeep now. Is there a problem?"

"Dr. Marshall's car broke down on Old Williams Road, again. She walked into town to report it but Henry is in the middle of another call and won't get over there for a bit. Thought it might be good if you went out and kept an eye on it 'til he got there." Jo's voice lowered a little. "You know how paranoid Joyce is about that car."

He did. Of course, if he owned a 1965 Mustang, he probably would be too.

"And you didn't go out there because..."

"Well, we can't all be gallivanting around Eureka. Someone has to stay in the office to take the reports. Besides, you're already in your Jeep and don't have anywhere pressing to be."

He could hear the smirk in her voice and it drove him nuts.

"But you didn't know that, when you called."

Deep breath. In. Out. They were learning to get along and find a rhythm, lately. Which meant a little give and take in this ongoing battle of wills. Considering he'd dumped her with the suspicious sightings of the high school mascot, it was probably his turn again, anyway.

"You know what? Forget it. I'm on my way. Let Henry know I'll meet him there."

"Will do, boss." Her voice had lost some of the smugness and Jack decided to take it as a win.

Pointing the Jeep toward Old Williams Rd, Jack actually wished it was one of Eureka's end-of-the-world crises to keep his brain occupied for the next forty-eight hours or so.

Instead, all he could think was why now? He'd come to terms with his divorce. He was settling into Eureka. He was even starting to rebuild his relationship with Zoe. His life was just one cosmic joke after another, lately.

The possibility of him finding a Guide had hung over his marriage until it had self-destructed. Would he choose a platonic bond? Would his feelings for his Guide eventually eclipse his feelings for Abby? Now that he'd actually met the man, turns out it would have been moot anyway.

Jack gritted his teeth and gripped the steering wheel a little tighter. That wasn't really a fair characterization of his marriage. The potential Guide had been a nagging, unspoken wedge between them but not their only problem. Not even the most significant one, probably. Most of them his fault.

Starting with the fact that he hadn't told Abby he was a latent Sentinel when they first started dating. He hadn't thought it would matter. At 21, he was two years past the average age of coming online and it had been two generations since there'd been an active Sentinel in his family, anyway. Then she'd gotten pregnant and of course he'd married her. How could he not?

When Zoe was born, he'd felt weak and ready to take on the world at the same time. That tiny, precious bundle so fragile in his hand was an amazing, awe-inspiring gift. In that moment, cradling his baby girl and holding the hand of his beautiful, smart, strong wife, he was sure he was the luckiest man in the world and would be for the rest of his life.

Not long after, Jack had found himself tracking a fugitive, bomb-happy survivalist through forty miles of wilderness. By the time he got back to civilization, with his man, his senses were over-loaded and he dropped into a zone out that lasted for three weeks.

He'd woken up to a pissed off wife and experts theorizing that the newly emerged paternal instincts coupled with days of struggling alone in the woods had triggered his transition into an active, online Sentinel.

After that, nothing had been quite the same. They really hadn't known each other long or well when they'd gotten married and it became obvious quickly. He could sense her frustration and resentment that he'd kept such a major thing secret from her. She tried to bury her doubts and her fears under a chilly coat of armor and kept him at arm's length.

To avoid the uncomfortable atmosphere at home, Jack had thrown himself into his work. Which only fueled the distrust and frustration in a vicious cycle that raged for years.

Until he'd come home one day from a two month assignment in D.C. to find his precious baby girl was a sullen teenager and his wife had divorce papers already for him to sign.

Now, Jack wouldn’t even get the chance to screw things up with his Guide the way he’d messed up his marriage. Hell, considering his track record with relationships, it was probably better for everyone that he couldn’t say anything to Nathan Stark.

A low growl tore his attention to his passenger seat where a large lynx glared at him.

Crap.

“Look, I know you have all kinds of opinions about this, but a meddling spirit animal is the last thing I need.”

The large cat growled again, the rumble still vibrating in the air after it disappeared.

The poppy red Mustang came into sight and Jack pulled behind it, turning on his light bar before getting out of the Jeep to check out the car. He walked all the way around it but it didn't look like anything had been disturbed since Joyce had left it there. She really should let Henry give it a thorough going over considering it broke down every other week. But she was adamant about it remaining in its original condition and Henry had a reputation for tinkering. He couldn't blame her for being leery.

Jack reached out to brush a streak of dust off the passenger side door and caught sight of the gold band still circling his left ring finger. He should have taken it off a year ago, when he'd signed the papers and moved into the dingy studio apartment. But it was a reminder of his complete and utter failure. The red and blue lights flashed in the polished surface and his eyes followed the pattern...

 

Music. Loud and assaulting his ears. Fingers. Pinching and poking at his skin. Words. Muttered in a frustrated voice.

"Damn it, Carter. Wake up. You're not going to like it if I have to call Jo out here."

Jack blinked, the world coming back into focus as the captivating red, blue and gold swirls faded.

"Henry." The voice, the fingers, even the loud music coming from the tow truck, all belonged to the man who was swiftly becoming his best friend.

Shaking his head to clear the last of the cobwebs, Jack ran his hands roughly over his face, letting the sensation ground him in the here and now.

"How long have I been out?"

"I've been here about ten minutes, so fifteen? Twenty, maybe. I was almost finished when Jo called, so I couldn't have been far behind you. You all right, now?"

Jack nodded. "Yeah. I'm good."

"What did you zone on?" He glanced around at the heavily wooded land on either side of the road.

"My ring." At Henry's startled look he shrugged. "I met Allison's ex, today."

"Ah, yes. Nathan Stark. Heard he was back as acting director for GD."

If Eureka could find a way to harness the energy of its gossip mill, Jack was pretty sure it would be the town's greatest achievement.

"Yeah, well. It got me thinking about my ex." And so much more but he couldn't tell anyone what he'd been thinking about. Not even Henry. Not that he wanted to talk to anyone about the fiasco that was his life. Most of the town felt sorry enough for him as it was, just because he was average.

But Henry was nodding sagely, anyway.

"Emotional turmoil can wreak havoc on a Sentinel's senses."

"Someday you're going to have to tell me how you know so much about Sentinels."

"I did some work for the Sentinel Council a while back." Henry's eyes slid away in a familiar motion. Nearly everyone in Eureka had that look right before they uttered the world's most annoying phrase: it's classified.

What kind of work could Henry be doing for the Sentinel Council? He was a jack of all trades but he loved engineering and solving problems…

"The Tace IV," he murmured reverently, stroking his own variation of the weapon in his holster. The Holy Grail for Sentinels. A sense-friendly firearm. Nearly silent. Practically odorless. Minimal flash. Excellent accuracy.

"I can neither confirm nor deny."

But he gave the weapon a satisfied smirk.

"Too bad," Jack answered with a sharp grin of his own. "'Cause if it was you, on behalf of Sentinels everywhere, I'd have to buy you a drink."

Henry just shook his head and got started loading the car. Jack moved around to the other side to lend a hand.

"So what can you tell me about Stark?" Jack sank his teeth hard into his tongue after the words slipped out. Adding a little extra pressure when Henry gave him an odd look. "It's just, Allison seemed pretty upset. And, you know, she's a friend. I just figured I should know this guy's deal. Plus, you know, interim Director of Research at Global Dynamics probably means he's going to have a major impact on the town."

"Uh huh." Henry's knowing tone and soft smirk made it clear he thought Jack was jealous. Which was fine. It was better he believed that rather than working to figure out the truth.

Henry went back to work but started talking. "Everyone thought they were perfect for each other. Allison had been widowed since before Kevin was born and, when Nathan moved back after winning the Nobel Prize, they just sort of gravitated toward each other. Both smart, attractive and determined. They seemed like a perfect match."

"Then what went wrong?"

"I honestly don't know. Other than the usual, when two strong willed people try to make a life together. I think maybe Nathan wanted a family more than Allison specifically. And Allison wanted stability and a father figure for Kevin. One who could speak to him in the language he understood best."

"Why do you think he came back?"

"According to the grapevine, he came back for Allison."

#

Nathan's skin prickled and he looked up from the desk display. It only took him a second to notice the shadow hovering by the door.

He pressed his hands to his temple and decided to ignore it.

His second morning at GD and he sat at his desk staring at digital readouts, trying to figure out how to get things back on track. Twenty-four hours back in Eureka and it felt like he hadn't been gone at all.

The fiasco in his office with Allie and the Sheriff had been followed by a tour to get reacquainted with Global Dynamics. Just like eighteen months earlier, half the scientists had run at the sight of him, hiding from him like he carried the plague. The other half greeted him like a long lost friend, fawning over his every word like grants were going to fall from his fingertips at any second. Fargo had led the tour with his own unique, self-serving, perspective.

Allison had avoided him so completely, he hadn't caught sight of her the entire day. All in all, almost exactly like his last day at GD.

 And, after avoiding him yesterday, this morning she'd called out on a personal day. How the hell was he supposed to win her back if she refused to talk to him?

And where was he going to find the time?

The brightly lit spreadsheets mocked him from the dark surface of his desk. King had left such a tangled mess of embezzled funds and stolen technology, it was going to take weeks to sort it all out.

The shadowed wavered in the doorway again and the feeling of being watched crawled along his skin.

"Fargo, either come in or go away." He didn't bother to mask the irritation he felt. "I'm not in the mood to be watched like a caged animal today."

The assistant sidled in, tablet nervously clutched in his hands while he did his best to avoid making eye contact.

"Uh, hi. I wasn't staring. I was, uh, you looked busy, so I was just..."

"Trying to work up the courage to deliver whatever piece of bad news you've got for me?" Nathan asked dryly, keeping the frustration and resignation buried deep beneath the sarcasm. "Just tell me."

"Uh, well, Dr. Homer was doing a test flight of his weather bots over Dr. McKinney's fields. Along with gathering weather data, they're also supposed to create micro-systems to help farmers. So far, though, they haven't rained on a single plant…”

"Could you get to the point, Fargo?"

"Oh, uh, right. Um, well Dr. Flynn and Dr. Cooper were testing their anti-EMP field in the meadow next to Dr. M's farm and… "

"Anti-EMP," Nathan repeated slowly, a sinking feeling the day was only going to go downhill.

"Yeah. Um, yes. You know, a field to protect electronics from an EMP—"

"I know what it is," he growled leaning forward across his desk. "What I don't understand is why the hell it was being tested so close to another prototype?"

Fargo's chin dropped into his chest, glasses focused resolutely on the floor. A murmured jumble of words fell out of his lips but Nathan couldn't make heads or tails of them.

"What was that?"

"I, er, may have miscalculated the test schedule."

"Of course you did." Nathan forced himself to lean back in his chair rather than getting up and throttling his assistant. A faint band of tension wrapped itself around his temples and the pain began to throb in time with his climbing blood pressure. "How bad were the bots damaged?"

Fargo straightened up, face brightening. "They're not damaged at all. Actually, only one of them flew too close to the field. "

Nathan leveled his gaze on Fargo and waited until the fidgeting exploded into the rest of the story.

"There is one, teeny, tiny problem." He swallowed hard before continuing. "The bot isn't responding to Dr. Homer's commands anymore."

Nathan closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Where is it now?"

"Ah, well, that is another problem. We're not sure. The tracer also seems to be off-line."

"Schematics?"

"Huh? Oh, yeah." Fargo handed over the tablet. "The files for both the weather bots and the anti-EMP are both loaded on there."

Nathan started flicking through and trying to absorb as much as he could as quickly as he could. Fargo stood still for all of twenty seconds before he started fidgeting again. Less than a minute later his assistant was talking again.

"How'd you know I was outside your office?"

"You're not subtle, Fargo," he answered, though it was only partially true.

He'd always been intuitive and that sixth sense had been one of the reasons he'd been so sure he was a Guide as a child.

Despite the popular misconception, Guides weren't all inherently empathic. At least not in the way that modern culture insisted on portraying them in every movie of the week. They were highly intuitive in some aspect or other. Sometimes that intuition led the Guide to seem like a prodigy. For Nathan, his grasp of math had always seemed almost magical. He'd been sure his extraordinary affinity for numbers was a by-product of his gifts as a Guide.

But the tests had proved him wrong.

Turns out, he was just a run of the mill genius.

The information on the tablet gave him little insight into what might have gone wrong with the bots. This was the last thing they needed. The DoD and the Senate committee were going to be watching everything going on in Eureka. They had enough problems with missing tech inventory, he really didn't want to start his second day by reporting another one.

A smile ghosted over his lips. Allie. She'd understand the need to keep things quiet. They could solve this together. Just the two of them.

"I'll handle this." He waved a hand to dismiss Fargo without looking up. "Don't tell anyone else."

As soon as he was alone, Nathan reached for his phone, dialing a familiar number with anticipation.

"Hello, Allie," he said softly when she picked up. "Sorry to bother you on your day off but we have a small situation."

#

Allison hung up her cell phone with a sigh of resignation. She knew exactly what Nathan was trying to do. But she also knew he was right. It wouldn't take much for the higher ups to decide it was time for an outside audit of Eureka. A bunch of bean counters who wouldn't understand the eccentric personalities that were the lifeblood of the town's success.

Groaning, Allison let her head drop onto the table. She should have listened to her initial instincts all those years ago and never agreed to go on that first date with Nathan.

But everyone had been telling her for years that it was time to move on. She could love the man she'd lost and honor his memory but he'd want her to be happy. And Nathan had been sweet, romantic and persistent. Most importantly, he and Kevin had gotten along so well. It wasn't the fake interest that some men had shown her son in an attempt to get a date. Nathan and Kevin shared that unique language of mathematics that allowed them to communicate with each other.

So, somewhere around the twentieth time he’d asked her out, she'd listened to Vincent and Tess and even Sheriff Cobb when they'd encouraged her to say yes. It was easy to fall into a relationship with someone. Especially someone who understood her job and her own odd hours.

Her first husband had been the love of her life. She couldn't expect lightning to strike twice. She liked Nathan. They got along well. The sex was phenomenal. Kevin adored him. When he proposed, there was no logical reason why she should refuse. Which he'd pointed out.

That should have been her first clue.

It took less than four years for their marriage to implode.

She knew it was her fault as much as his, but it didn't make it easy to forget or forgive his high-handedness or the cocky self-assurance that he was always right.

She thought she'd gotten over the anger that had been her constant companion the last few months before he'd left. But finding him there, at GD, without any warning, had brought the fury and resentment boiling right back to the surface.

It shouldn't surprise her that he hadn't let her know he was coming back. He'd never bothered to call when he was staying late at GD. Or when he was leaving town to address some congressional committee or other.

Why should she expect him to have the common courtesy to let her know when he was coming back?

The worst part was that she'd recognize the look in his eye. Recognized the tone in his voice on the phone. Allison had no doubt he'd decided he wanted her back. She knew firsthand how single-minded he could be.

And, though she had no doubt about her ability to keep him at arm's length this time around, Allison didn't even want to contemplate how much energy it was going to take.

The man was determination personified.

Now, she had to work with him, alone, on the search for the weather bot if she wanted to keep its disappearance under wraps.

Except… she didn't.

Slowly, Allison lifted her head off the table.

Unlike Sheriff Cobb who, as part of the Army, sent his own reports directly to the DoD, all of Carter's paperwork went through her.

A slow smile curled her lips. Oh, boy, was Nathan in for a rough afternoon.

Feeling satisfied, she reached for her cell phone and hit speed dial.