It was a common misconception that all Sentinels were little more than brawn with exceptional senses, and all Guides were nerdy types with a high IQ. Nathan was one of the few Sentinels who didn't fall into the stereotypical role. Admittedly he was tall, handsome, intimidating, and extremely fit, and he had exceptional hearing, sense of smell, touch, and a sixth sense for trouble, but Neanderthal? Dumb as a brick? That's where he broke the mold by having one of the highest recorded IQ levels on the planet. It was little wonder he had a Nobel Prize under his belt and had risen to the high ranking position of Director of Global Dynamics, the greatest scientific community and think tank in the world.
Another misconception was that there was only one Guide out there for each Sentinel. Two people who would fit together perfectly with the Sentinel and Guide forming a psychic bond so strong that neither could survive the loss of the other, even following the other into death. Nathan had only heard of such a notion in romance novels and chick-flick movies. No doubt there were Sentinel-Guide pairings that approached this ideal of perfection but he had yet to meet any. Most Sentinels simply fell for someone they met just like anyone else. If they were lucky that person was also a Guide, and sometimes the bond would be strong enough to last a lifetime. Other times it broke down after a few years and they each moved on to find a new partner, and a new Guide or Sentinel if necessary.
Such was his relationship with Allison.
Her previous bond with Kevin Blake had broken when he was killed in a car crash leaving her with a young, autistic child to bring up alone. Kevin Blake Senior had been a typical Sentinel with an average IQ, and though the severing of the bond had hit Allison hard she had gathered up the broken pieces of her life and moved on. Nathan had met her while he was working with autistic individuals. He'd been studying the human brain during his research on Artificial Intelligence, looking at the different way an autistic person was wired compared to the average human. It had led to some amazing breakthroughs and his persistence had earned him not only the Nobel but Allison's hand in marriage.
He still had the Nobel Award framed on his wall but the marriage had not lasted.
Allison was a stereotypical Guide. She was incredibly smart and also beautiful, and as close to the ideal of perfection as Nathan had ever encountered but she began to resent being outsmarted by him - a mere Sentinel. He knew she loved him in her own way, but it became clear she wanted someone easier to control, and unfortunately that was not him. He still loved her more than anyone else he had ever met, and he had returned to Eureka partly because he wanted to win her back, though even he had to admit it was for selfish reasons rather than romantic. She was one of a small handful of Guides who could reach him fairly quickly when he fell into a fugue state from focusing too hard on a particular sense. Yet that was part of the problem causing her to leave him in the first place. When he got caught up in his research he could easily forget about everything and everyone, and even Allison had trouble bringing his focus back to the real world on so many of those occasions. He knew it had made her feel inadequate, especially when she had managed to control her previous Sentinel so easily. She also resented how she always came second to his work, forgotten along with everyone else when he was transfixed by a problem or excited by a new research avenue.
Perhaps their relationship had never been ideal but he hoped she would give them another chance. He hoped he might be able to channel his focus into ways to please her this time, or at least come to a better understanding of her needs. All he had to do was win her over again. Nathan snorted softly to himself. He might as well have been wishing for the stars. He and Allison had not parted on good terms but he knew how to lay on the charm, and she had fallen for him once before so maybe she could fall for him again.
To be brutally honest with himself, the true reason why he had chosen to come back to Eureka was purely professional, and Allison was just icing on a cake. Following a treasure hunt of sorts, hinted at in various ancient texts across the world, scientists from Global had found an artifact in caverns deep inside a mountain in Greece. It was something from before the dawn of this universe, buried thousands of years ago. The ancient texts had hinted it was the power of all knowledge - the fabled Oracle of Greek mythology, or possibly a link to the Akashic Field.
Originally the Government had approached Nathan to lead the project but they had sweetened the deal following Warren King's dismissal and offered him the Director position as well. It was too good an opportunity to refuse as not only would it give him full control over the Artifact Project - its budget, and allocation of staff - but also put him exactly where he needed to be if he ever had a chance to win back Allison. Of course he had yet to inform her of his arrival but he wanted to gauge the level of her hostility towards him first. He wanted to surprise her so he could fully sense how she reacted to seeing him again, to find out if there was anything beneath the anger to give him hope.
Nathan paused, scenting the increase of her perfume in the air and hearing her familiar heartbeat but there was another scent, another heartbeat approaching with her. This other person intrigued him more because there was something subtly different about... him. Yes, it was a man. He could scent apple shampoo and a cheap aftershave, citrus based, but underlying that was the man's natural scent of sweat and pheromones, and it was alluring. The man's heartbeat was steady and strong, with a rhythm that seemed to resonate through Nathan. Stronger now, closer still, and Nathan was lost inside it, inside the scent and sound, and then in the blue of the Caribbean ocean, the blue of a bright summer's day.
He felt a hand press against his shoulder, firm fingers curling around and squeezing gently, and a voice that was pitched perfectly to his ears, snapping him out of his fugue to find concerned blue eyes boring directly into his. Nathan blinked and stepped back, only now aware of yet another smaller hand withdrawing - Allison's hand. He could feel waves of anger and confusion rolling off her, tainting her scent with the wrong kind of pheromones, and he saw her looking between him and the... Nathan noticed the uniform and six-pointed star on the man's chest.
"Carter. Jack Carter." He looked at Nathan askance. "Are you okay?"
"Nathan, what are you doing here?" Allison demanded, cutting off any response to Carter.
"I'm Global's new director. Surprise!" he added weakly, and if looks could kill he knew he would have been vaporized on the spot.
At least he had his answer. She was still mad at him, perhaps even more angry now he'd zoned out again on this other man. He dealt with Carter's request quickly, hiding his annoyance behind a professional smile until both Carter and Allison had left. Behind him Fargo had remained motionless and silent throughout the exchange and Nathan turned to glare at his assistant, though it was hardly Fargo's fault.
"What happened?" he asked, voice tight with suppressed anger.
"Um... I didn't know you were a Sentinel because Sentinels aren't usually... brainy? And you zoned out staring at the new Sheriff... who is hot and... Doctor Blake couldn't reach you... and then Sheriff Carter stepped in and... I didn't know he was a Guide," he exclaimed. "It isn't in his personnel f-"
"Enough!" Nathan held up a hand.
Nathan couldn't recall the feel of Allison's hand on his arm, not until after the grip of Carter's fingers, the scent of his urgency, and his worried but firm voice had penetrated Nathan's fugue state and brought him back. It was little wonder Allison was even angrier with him now because the new Sheriff had brought him out of the zone where she had failed, and Allison hated failing at anything. Except Nathan felt angry too because it was the new Sheriff who had sent him chasing the rabbit down the hole in the first place, with his cheap shampoo and after shave, and his...
Seething with anger at losing control on this first step to win back Allison, Nathan ordered Fargo to leave before he settled in his chair so he could draw up a certain personnel file. Nathan needed to know more about Sheriff Jack Carter, and especially why Fargo hadn't known he was a Guide.
"So not fair," Jack stated after returning to the Sheriff's office.
Jo Lupo looked up, raising one finely sculptured eyebrow in question.
Although Jack had got what he wanted from the new Director - use of Global's equipment to help him resolve the case of two Susan Perkins - he had also gained something he could well do without. Namely, a strange and confusing reaction to meeting Nathan Stark for the first time. The last thing Jack had expected to find when he entered that office was a Sentinel because all the Sentinels he had ever met or heard about were street-smart rather than book-smart. Nathan Stark seemed to have won the genetic lottery in all the ways that mattered making Jack feel even more inadequate.
"A Sentinel? Really?" He whined, and her other eyebrow joined its twin, looking enlightened.
"And a brainy one too," Lupo added because everyone knew it wasn't the norm with Sentinels. Jack glared at her for rubbing it in.
Sentinel and Guide genes ran in families. Lupo came from a line of Sentinels, and every one of her brothers was a Sentinel working for the military. Jack's father had been a typical Sentinel too, joining the military as soon as he 'switched on' and becoming part of an elite Black Ops team covering dozens of covert missions during Jack's childhood. His mother was a stereotypical Guide with a doctorate in human behavior, though his father had also relied heavily upon the military Guide assigned to his strike team.
"I wanted to be a Sentinel," Jack whined.
Since childhood Jack had dreamed of becoming a Sentinel like his father. He wanted to be able to hear things more keenly, to differentiate between one scent and another with ease, to see things more clearly than normal people, and have reflexes that would gain him a Baseball scholarship at the very least. Admittedly, he did have great reflexes and if not for an injury sustained in a car crash he would have gained that scholarship. For the longest time he truly believed his abilities would kick in when he reached his late teens, just like with his dad. They never did. Both of his parents were so dismayed when their only son turned out to be a blank - a normal born into a Sentinel/Guide family - yet worse than a blank because he didn't even inherit his mother's intelligence.
"Even my kooky sister's a Sentinel," he added, gaining an intrigued eyebrow rise but nothing else from Lupo.
Admittedly, Lexi's abilities were below average, but she was still a Sentinel, and Jack was an exactly average blank.
He fumed as he watched Lupo cleaning a really big gun. She was a Sentinel with a Special Forces background, who had likely detected his anger pheromones even before he stepped back into the office. Despite not being a Sentinel Jack had considered joining the military too - for all of ten seconds before realizing he did have one trait that wasn't seen as average and definitely not desirable to the military: he liked boys as much as girls.
His father figured it out the day Jack returned home with the scent of another guy's come still on his skin despite Jack scrubbing himself almost raw in the school showers after they'd had sex. His dad never said a word but Jack didn't need extra-sensory abilities to read the fresh disappointment in his father's eyes.
By the time he was twenty Jack had finally accepted he was just an average, normal person - a blank - so he worked hard and moved into Law Enforcement. Sentinels tended to be fast-tracked in the military and law enforcement, quickly gaining rank and prestige due to their natural abilities. Jack had to work his way up to US Marshal on his own merit. He might not have had a Sentinel's abilities but what he lacked in extra-sensory gifts he had gained in heightened empathy, which was probably why gender, skin color, and all those other physical traits had never bothered him. He discovered he had the ability to put himself in a fugitive's shoes and figure out where they would run and hide.
Around the same time he joined the US Marshals, Jack managed to accomplish, quite by accident, the one thing that did make his parents truly happy; he met Abby, and he married her once he realized she was having his baby girl.
The long days, sometimes weeks on fugitive hunts destroyed his marriage and damaged his relationship with his little girl but it had led him to this crazy town of super-nerds - and a Sentinel deputy who likely resented a mere normal, average human from snatching a coveted promotion to Sheriff. Coveted by her, not him. He wasn't even sure if this was a promotion, convinced it was all part of some giant cosmic joke being played on him by the entire frigging universe... and now this.
Nathan Stark was not only good looking, a brainiac, and a Sentinel, but he was also married to the first woman to catch Jack's eye since Abby. Jack had never felt intimidated by intelligent women, and Allison Blake had both brains and beauty. He would have happily pursued her to the ends of the Earth but now every time he pictured her he saw... him.
"So not fair," he griped under his breath even though he knew Lupo could hear every word.
It was inevitable their paths would cross repeatedly, and Nathan was getting fed up of seeing Carter gain the respect and love of most of the town despite being a normal in every sense of the word, with an exactly average IQ. More than that he hated the way Carter was always following Allison around, mooning after her like a lovesick puppy. The sex pheromones he was giving off were nauseating, and Nathan refused to admit it was because they turned him on, making it that much harder for him to concentrate on winning back Allison. Instead every time he thought of Allison he kept picturing Jack Carter, having to control his reaction whenever they were in the same vicinity lest he find himself zoning out on just the man's scent alone.
In the meantime Allison was still mad at him, and acting a little weird around Carter too because of what had happened that first day back. Fargo had to be so wrong in believing Carter was a Guide. It had to have been a fluke with it just appearing as if Carter had been the one to bring him out of the zone because Carter had shown no obvious abilities with any other Sentinels. He conveniently forgot all about Lupo and how Carter had talked her into surrendering following the satellite paranoia incident.
"It was you, Allison. Not Carter. Carter's... a blank."
"Nathan," she chided at the derogatory term, smiling tightly, but Nathan could tell she was starting to thaw towards him especially as Carter had not displayed any Guide skills since that first meeting. She changed the subject. "Are you still judging the Science Fair today?"
Nathan smiled broadly and added gleefully, "I can't wait to see this year's crop of budding scientists."
Allison rolled her eyes but he knew she could be just as critical as him when it came to science. At least he didn't mince his words, or give the less stellar students false hope of having brilliant careers ahead of them at Global, not unless they were prepared to work for it. Even he had to study hard and learn from his mistakes before he reached the pinnacle of academic achievement and gained his Nobel. It hadn't come from sitting back and waiting for others to do all the thinking and experimenting.
"Just... keep an eye on Kevin," she asked before walking away.
Of course Carter had to show up partway through the judging, looking for something, and Nathan couldn't contain his grin as he thought back to earlier in the day at the gym and Carter's reaction when something went straight through the engine block of his Cherokee. It was mean spirited but the man had been asking for a divine smack down for looking so hot even in those ridiculous, borrowed gym clothes. If Carter had meant to impress Allison then he really didn't know her that well as she was all about image and how it reflected back on her.
Nathan hadn't been looking at the clothes.
Building up a little sweat the pheromones had wafted off Carter and it had taken all of Nathan's control not to lose himself in the heady scent, which was why he had been standing by the window, as far from Carter as possible, when the Cherokee was struck. Divine intervention, he thought maliciously.
His thoughts returned to the present and the glint in Carter's eye when he found what he was looking for moments later.
As the magnetic field began to draw in metal objects from all around, spinning them high in the air above the machine, Carter acted, rushing in while the machine's creators panicked, and he pulled the plug to avert a greater disaster. That should have been the end of it but Carter turned to him, smiling like a puppy seeking praise from its master, and the pheromones were tinged with electrostatic energy but still recognizable. Nathan wanted to check behind him even though his senses told him he would not find Allison standing there. He knew her scent intimately, knew the rhythm of her heartbeat, and in that split second all of Nathan's convictions that Carter was only interested in Allison came spilling down upon him the same way the metal dropped onto Carter's head. Nathan turned and walked away without another word, still mentally reeling from the possibility Carter was just as interested in him as he was in Allison.
Life went on.
Disasters were averted with precious little time to spare and despite his average IQ Carter always seemed to be in the thick of it, making simplistic suggestions that triggered the right answers time after time. It was uncanny really, as if he was tied into the Akashic Field on a superficial level, which wasn't possible as the Artifact, the link to the Akashic Field, was dead. All that remained of it following Barlowe's sabotage was a dull twisted structure that looked more like calcified coral. When Weinbrenner screwed up his time experiment and sent everything into a finite time loop that would see the end of the universe, it was Carter who came up with some last minute idea for fixing the seal using a tube of some weird adhesive he had confiscated from some Tesla High students hours before, and it just happened to still be in his pocket. Nathan had been fully prepared to step into the chamber, aware he would likely be deleted from time from that point forward. Instead he saw time restored and he'd only be fashionably late to his own second wedding to Allison.
"We should get you to your wedding," Carter stated quietly.
Except it wasn't 'Carter' any more. It was 'Jack'.
For a few precious seconds Nathan had been prepared to die and he had let go of the final strands of animosity he felt towards Jack because of Allison, and he had truly looked at the man, and not just in a physical sense. He had already noted the way Jack played with the blond hair that curled at the nape of his neck when he was nervous, and the genuine smile that greeted most people. He had seen how Jack had a way of putting people at ease, for intuitively knowing what they needed to feel safe. Perhaps he wasn't smart in the academic sense but he was kind and friendly, yet still tough when he needed to do his job, brooking no arguments even from Nathan.
Nathan realized he held Jack in respect despite their bickering and all of Nathan's put-downs. Jack gave back as good as he got, and it took until now for Nathan to realize he enjoyed their verbal sparring.
Despite the situation, Nathan could still scent the heavy musk of sex pheromones coming from Jack, letting him know Jack still desired him but looking closer Nathan could hear the labor in Jack's breathing, and he could see the discolored areas from bruises that went more than skin deep and the exhaustion in the dulled, blue eyes. Now that he was looking he could also see the way Jack held himself, favoring his side, his keen hearing picking up the slight grind as broken ribs moved with each struggled breath.
"No. First we get you to the infirmary."
Everything seemed to change after the time loop incident. For one thing, Nathan and Allison never set a new date for their second wedding. The rest of the town tiptoed around them for a week or so and then gave a collective shrug of their shoulders when they discovered the split was by mutual agreement. Life went on but Jack noticed the hard edge to his and Nathan's bickering had softened, probably because he no longer saw Nathan as an arrogant, egocentric, psychopath. Jack had found a solution to sealing the time chamber but he remembered how Nathan had been willing to put his life on the line when it counted, refusing to let Fargo be the one to sacrifice himself. It was more humbling still when Henry showed Jack a whiteboard covered in squiggles and told him it proved Nathan would have died if he had needed to reset time manually, and if Henry said it then it had to be true.
Although all of this explained why he had softened in his attitude towards Nathan, it didn't quite explain why Nathan had started to treat him with a lot more respect. Of course nothing remained stable in Eureka for long.
"Go for Carter," he answered when his cell warbled.
Allison replied, "Carter, you're needed up at Global."
Jack rolled his eyes. "What has Nathan done now?"
There was a slight but noticeable pause before she answered. "Nathan," she stressed, "has not done anything. There's been a suspicious explosion in lab 27."
He winced a little at her tone, aware of how often he called Stark by his given name since the non-wedding. "Suspicious how?"
"Nathan can explain when you get here."
She ended the call abruptly and with none of the camaraderie that had existed between them from before the abandoned wedding. It was too much of a coincidence but he had yet to call her out on it to find out why she was giving him the cold shoulder these days. On the other hand, Nathan had been far more approachable since their rivalry over Allison ended with neither of them pursuing her. Jack had accepted defeat when he poured out his heart to her during one of the time loops and she shot him down. Surprisingly, it hadn't hurt as much as he anticipated, making him wonder if his initial crush had faded as soon as he saw Nathan but he had continued to pursue her only because he hadn't wanted to see her with Nathan. Jack shied away from answering that question because it opened up a whole mess of tangled emotions that would have had his psychologist ex-wife rubbing her hands with a gleeful glint in her eyes. Abby had loved psychoanalyzing him.
It took him less than ten minutes to get to Global and another five to reach lab 27. It was a mess and Nathan was standing in the middle of it with a stillness Jack recalled from his father, aware Nathan was taking in all the minute details and scents, looking for clues that might be missed by 'normal' people. Allison was standing by the door with her arms crossed in front of her, looking angry.
"What's going on?"
"How would I know? He won't answer me."
"You want me to try?" Jack asked warily.
Allison gave him a tight smile that didn't quite reach her eyes. Ignoring the anger that was now being directed towards him, Jack took her response as a yes. Jack stepped up beside Nathan and lightly touched his arm.
"Nathan?" He watched as Nathan's dark eye lashes flickered, saying his name once more, and smiling when Nathan turned and looked at him in confusion. "You find anything?"
"Jack." Nathan cleared his throat, eyes darting down to where Jack's hand was still touching his arm. He cast a backwards glance towards Allison, and instinctively Jack looked back at her too, noticing the way her lips had almost curled into a snarl as she watched them. Nathan smiled apologetically at Jack, as if it was totally his fault Allison was angry at both of them, before getting back to the situation in the lab. "It wasn't an accident. This was sabotaged. Doctor Marsh is missing, and so is a vital piece of equipment... a prototype worth a fortune in the wrong hands."
"And you think Doctor Marsh took it?" Jack hedged.
"Fargo uncovered heavily encrypted messages from Marsh's account to a third party... which was why I was heading down here with a security team."
Jack felt an almost overpowering rage fill him. "Did he try to kill you?" he gritted out.
Nathan looked at him quizzically. "No," he drew out warily. "I never pegged him as the violent type, and all of this seems so completely out of character." He shook his head slowly. "No. I think this was just to throw us off the scent... and it might have worked if I'd been an average Sentinel," he preened back with a wide smile.
Jack rolled his eyes, feeling the irrational anger slip away now he knew Nathan wasn't the target of some psycho super-genius.
"Then we better go find Doctor Marsh before he offloads your prototype gizmo."
Nathan strode out and from his movements Jack could tell he was using his sentinel abilities to follow Marsh's trail, though Jack doubted it would lead any further than the parking lot. He should have known better because Nathan stopped momentarily at one of the parking bays before casting his eyes along the road, likely picking out the tire tracks amid the many others on the surface of the road. He rolled his eyes again as Nathan started walking, swiftly detouring to his Cherokee, and pulling up beside Nathan moments later.
"You think you can direct if I drive... or is this going to be the slowest fugitive hunt in known history?"
Nathan had the grace to look chagrined as he climbed into the passenger seat, eyes fixed back on the road as Jack stepped on the gas. Even though Jack had only been in town just over a year he knew these roads intimately, considering it part of his job to know where each road led. He knew that, barring any invisible or holographic concealed exits he might have overlooked, this road didn't have any tracks or places big enough to hide a vehicle until just before re-entering the town. Still he drove slowly just in case there was some irregularity that hadn't registered to him but would be visible to Nathan. A few minutes later Nathan spoke for the first time since getting in the Cherokee.
Jack pulled over and watched as Nathan clambered out and walked back along the grassy area edging the road. He followed, studying the ground carefully, and finally saw what had caught Nathan's eye.
"A car pulled over here... and someone got out before the car moved off again." Jack pointed to the footprints.
Nathan turned and beamed a smile at him before setting off into the trees that edged up close to the road at this point, somehow finding a path within the dense undergrowth.
"Hey! Wait up!" Jack called, wanting to grab his radio and a few other items before following. As he walked he called it in. "Jo, I'm at marker 3 heading north-east into the woods with Stark."
"Copy that," Jo responded. "I put out a BOLO on Marsh's vehicle. Surveillance caught it just outside town heading west towards Portland 32 minutes ago. Global's recognition software was 83% positive it was not Doctor Marsh in the driving seat. I repeat, it was not Marsh."
"Which means he could have jumped out here," Jack added.
He ended the call only to realize Nathan's long legs and grim determination had left Jack some distance behind
"Hey!" Jack called in annoyance and ran after him, catching up quickly and grabbing Nathan's arm. "You're not exactly dressed for this," he pointed out, indicating towards Nathan's expensive suit and Italian leather loafers.
Nathan blinked almost in confusion as he looked down at his muddied shoes and dirtied suit jacket, having been too caught up with following the trail to notice. He shook off Jack's hand in annoyance. "He's increasing the distance between us with every passing minute."
"Look, Nathan. I may not be a Sentinel but I was a highly trained fugitive hunter. All we're doing right now is following where he's been. What we want to do is figure out where he is heading so we can intercept him."
Nathan straightened, hopefully seeing the logic in Jack's argument. "Then what do you suggest, Sheriff?"
"How about we use that big brain of yours as well as those Sentinel abilities? Tell me about Doctor Marsh."
Nathan looked irritated for a moment, staring ahead before deciding to pander to Jack's demands. "Exceptional scientist. Innovative. Won the-."
"Is he a nerd or an outdoorsy type?" Jack interrupted.
"Is he like Fargo... or more like Taggart?"
"Then I doubt he's planning to sleep rough." Jack crouched down by one of the more visible footprints, looking at the depth of the tread. "How much does this gizmo weigh?"
"A few pounds."
Jack squinted at Nathan. "How much would you say Marsh weighs?"
"So he's traveling light, which means he's either heading towards a pick-up point or he has a stocked cabin out here where he plans to hold up until he can make a clean getaway." Jack looked at the terrain ahead. "Is he fit?"
"Never seen him at the gym."
Which didn't really mean a whole lot as Jack had only ever gone to the gym that one time in a misguided attempt to impress Allison. However, he had kept up with the early morning jogging after discovering he actually enjoyed the time alone with his thoughts as his feet pounded the pavement. It meant he was pretty fit these days, though he noticed he was beginning to feel the effects of the incline over rough terrain, and Nathan was breathing a little harder despite his daily regime of an hour spent on a treadmill. Shrubs and roots from the trees made it harder going under foot, and there was the occasional fallen tree to clamber over or around too, so unless Marsh was super fit then he was likely struggling as much, if not more than them.
"Over this terrain I figure he's moving at most 2 miles an hour." Jack checked his wristwatch, "And if he's more like Fargo he won't want to be hiking through the woods after dark so we should be looking for a clearing or a cabin or house no more than ten miles ahead in that direction." Jack held out both arms straight angled at about 45 degrees apart. He glanced back and found Nathan eyeing him curiously. "What?"
Nathan shrugged nonchalantly and pulled out his cell, giving orders to have a satellite diverted overhead, and two drones set loose. Nathan turned abruptly and looked into the woods behind them. Jack guessed Nathan had heard something so his hand dropped to his gun in readiness. A few minutes later several military-clad figures reached them and Jack recognized them immediately, letting his tensed hand drop away. Global's security team had arrived, and at least one of them was also a Sentinel. Jack watched as Nathan gave them orders to keep on Marsh's trail while he and Jack headed back.
"We're heading back?"
"You said it yourself, Sheriff. We need to use my brains and be where's he's going to be... but there's no harm in having the security team following in case Marsh double backs or veers off in another direction to throw us off the trail." Jack could see the sense in that. "Plus, as you so rightly pointed out, these are expensive shoes," he added.
Jack sighed and led the way back towards the road where they had left his Cherokee. At least he could chalk this one up as a win even though it never occurred to him how easily he had managed to draw Nathan back from his single-minded pursuit of Doctor Marsh and the missing gizmo.
For once Nathan didn't mind Jack taking the lead on the way back as it gave him the opportunity to study Jack Carter closer without fear of being observed. It had taken that near-death experience for him to open his eyes and see beyond the handsome exterior and average intelligence to the man beneath. Jack was loyal, dedicated, and courageous, with an uncanny ability to understand the motives of others even if he didn't understand the science they wielded. After Nathan decided to end his romantic relationship with Allison he spent weeks mentally beating down his alpha-macho pride whenever Jack so much as looked in Allison's direction but eventually he noticed Jack's glances were no longer heated, no longer pining, and he noticed Allison's confusion when Jack made no move on her following the non-wedding. Jack was still friendly with her but he rebuffed any invitations to take that friendship further into a romance, much to Allison's growing frustration.
Admittedly he was surprised at Allison's interest in Jack at all. Had Jack been a Sentinel, even one with average intelligence, he might have understood as Kevin's father had fit that stereotype and she had loved him dearly, but Jack was a blank; an average, normal guy despite his lineage, who just happened to have a gift for understanding people.
"And for reaching me," he added silently, still a little confused at how easily Jack sneaked under his defenses and pulled him back from a zoned state, especially as Jack had displayed no similar abilities with any other Sentinels. He dismissed the Paranoid Lupo incident because Jack hadn't reached just her; he had reached all of the group affected by the paranoia experiment.
Earlier, despite being focused on the trail ahead while hunting for Marsh, he had still been completely aware of Jack following on behind, dogging his footsteps. It didn't matter how hard he tried to mute Jack's presence, somehow he was always on the edge of Nathan's mind like a shining beacon drawing him back from whatever else had caught his attention. Fortunately, other than on that first meeting, Nathan had managed to avoid falling into the zone while focused on the blue of Jack's eyes, or his smile, or the shimmer of blond in his hair, or the clean-cut aftershave scent that failed to completely mask the natural musk of Jack's skin. It was always so tempting though, dancing through his mind and tingling along his nerve endings.
With all this in mind it had come as no surprise when he discovered he had no hang-ups for pursuing a relationship with Jack that went deeper than this newfound friendship. From Jack's scent, heavy with desire whenever he was in Nathan's presence whether Allison was there or not, he knew Jack wouldn't be averse to it either, and yet neither of them had made a move. The reason was pretty obvious for both of them.
Neither of them wanted to hurt her but Nathan knew it was inevitable if he wanted to win over Jack.
"So what does this gizmo do?" Jack asked abruptly, casting a glance back over his shoulder.
"It slowly liquidizes a target."
"Turns the object into a liquid," Nathan struggled. "Like water, or melting metal."
Nathan opened his mouth to refute the simplification but whether it was water or liquid metal technically it would still be a pool, or a puddle. "Yeah." He just hoped that term didn't stick if Jack started calling it a Puddlemaker, but knowing the Neanderthals in the Military it probably would because it was easier to recall, more descriptive, and far less of a mouthful than the Liquefaction Projector, or LIPRO.
They reached the highway and had almost made it to the car when Nathan's cellphone trilled.
"Doctor Stark, satellite imagery displays two possible targets within the vector zone."
"Send the details and have two teams ready on standby for immediate deployment."
Seconds late the information appeared on Nathan's small tablet. He barely suppressed a shiver of pleasure as Jack leaned over him to see the small screen, his senses feeling every inch of the warm, nicely muscled body pressed up close. Jack pointed at one particular area on the screen.
"That one," he stated.
Nathan couldn't see much difference between the two targets despite his superior vision. They both had recent tracks and the other target had smoke rising from a cabin hidden beneath the trees.
"Surely that one's the better option as it shows signs of habitation."
"You think your guy is clever enough to create a Puddlemaker but stupid enough to announce his presence?" Jack asked askance.
"If he doesn't think we're on his trail."
Jack tapped at the one he'd selected. "That's Sheriff Cobb's old place. I was out there five or six months back. It still had power-"
"And a huge hole in the floor," Nathan interrupted.
Jack huffed. "The point is, no one is likely to think of looking for him in the Sheriff's old house... with or without the giant hole in the floor."
Nathan could see Jack had a point, and his instincts tended to be better than most people's educated guesses. "Okay. Let's go."
"Wait? No! It's too dangerous. I'll take you back to Global-."
Nathan raised an eyebrow. "Wasn't too dangerous ten minutes ago."
"That was before I found out he had a dangerous weapon," he snarled.
Nathan felt a little confused. "What else could you possibly think might warrant a fugitive hunt of this scale?"
Jack opened his mouth and closed it a couple of times. "The next Velcro, or.... or Saran wrap." Nathan couldn't help but give a stunned, disbelieving look and, flustered, Jack stabbed a finger at him accusingly. "Saran wrap changed the whole world!" Nathan bit back on a smile but Jack caught it anyway, his jaw clenching in anger. "It's too dangerous, Nathan. I can't risk losing you again."
Jack's eyes widened as he realized what he'd just said aloud, and Nathan sobered quickly, reaching for him and placing a hand flat against Jack's chest.
"Even Saran wrap can be used as a weapon in the wrong hands... and I can't let you go in there alone," he added, emphasizign the 'you'.
Nathan saw the fear drop away instantly, anxiety and pain filling Jack's eyes in its place.
"It's my job, Nathan." He straightened up. "But it's not yours."
Nathan's more sensitive hearing could pick out the sound of vehicles approaching from a distance. He knew it was the Global security team.
"We could argue this out all day, Jack. It won't change anything. I'm going with you... or," he indicated over his shoulder, "with them. But given a choice I'd rather be with you."
The vehicles were almost on top of them now, and Nathan could see their reflection in Jack's eyes as the lead car pulled up beside Jack's Cherokee.
"Fine, but you stay behind me at all times."
Jack didn't wait for a response, climbing into the Cherokee and waiting impatiently while Nathan told the security team leader where they were heading. When the security vehicles pulled away Nathan realized his mistake but instead of accelerating off without him, leaving him stranded by the side of the highway, Jack waited for Nathan to climb into the passenger side.
"You could have left me just then," Nathan murmured.
"I still can," he replied but he didn't slow until he had caught up with the security vehicles.
Jack parked behind the other vehicles some distance from Cobb's house, out of view of anyone hiding there. He checked his sidearm before opening the fingerprint-coded lock-box in the back of the Cherokee, pulling out a weapon that looked like a modern Blunderbuss but was actually a riot gun capable of stunning a large group ahead. He handed this gun to Nathan because he knew Nathan had never killed anyone, outside of crazy experiments gone wrong in that lunatic asylum known as Global Dynamics, but even then definitely not on purpose.
"Stay behind me," he ordered Nathan again, "Or so help me I'll turn that riot gun on you."
"I'll consider myself warned."
Jack gritted his teeth and moved off as the rest of the security team fanned out to surround Cobb's old house. Over the Spring months the garden had overgrown, becoming a tangled mass of thorny shrubs, and most of the ground floor windows were shattered, with broken glass glinting in the late afternoon sunshine. The windows were boarded up but Jack could see gaps between the boards large enough for someone inside to shoot through. He didn't like it as the shrubs would not provide decent cover, nor would they allow them to move across the open ground quickly. For a moment he wished he had pulled away and stranded Nathan back along the highway, leaving him safe.
"Keep low," he directed, hunching over as he moved forward in line with the Security Team as they collapsed the circle around Cobb's house.
Jack decided against handing the voice amplifier over to Nathan, convinced the man would infuriate Marsh rather than get him to surrender peaceably.
"Doctor Marsh, this is Sheriff Carter. The house is surrounded... but nobody has to get hurt. Come out with your hands above your-"
Someone - Nathan - slammed into him hard, taking him down to the ground just as the air between the house and where he'd been standing began to rain. Water droplets hit the ground in a torrential downpour and behind where he'd been standing the tree began to topple, its trunk liquefied. He felt the crush of Nathan's body increase as branches and leaves fell on top of them both. Beyond the groaning of the falling tree and crashing came the sound of heavy gunfire strafing the building, and the whoosh of another unnatural rainfall before all went silent.
Jack couldn't breathe. The fall had pushed all the air from his lungs leaving him winded, and the weight of Nathan and parts of the tree on top of him made it difficult to catch his breath. If not for the touch of Nathan's body he might have given in to panic but at that moment he felt some of Nathan's weight lift off a fraction as Nathan pushed up with his arms against the weight of the branches. It was enough to allow Jack to draw a breath. The weight around them began shifting, lightening, and he almost regretted the loss of Nathan's weight bearing down on him as the last of the branches was quickly pulled aside. Jack rolled onto his back and stared up at the blue sky, watching one fluffy white cloud pass slowly overhead before his vision was obscured by something far more beautiful to him: Nathan.
"You okay there, Carter?" Nathan hauled him up to a seated position.
"It was... Jack... a minute ago," Jack wheezed.
"That was before you decided to paint a bullseye on your chest."
"How did you know...? Oh, who am I kidding. You're a Sentinel. Of course you knew."
"I heard the LIPRO... the Puddlemaker," he amended at Jack's confusion, "charge up, and saw the air between you and Cobb's house liquefy."
"Anyone else... hurt?"
Nathan glanced back over his shoulder to where the security team leader, Lieutenant Kaster, was waiting a polite distance away, ready to give his report. He moved forward.
"Doctor Marsh is dead, sir. He turned the Puddlemaker on himself."
Nathan sighed upon hearing Jack's name for the LIPRO, pinching his nose between his thumb and forefinger. He felt nothing for Marsh beyond the anger and fear of almost losing Jack. "Take the... Puddlemaker back to Global and arrange for a team to recover the body."
Jack bit back on a grin as Kaster strode off yelling orders to his men. Nathan held out a hand to help pull Jack to his feet but he didn't let go, causing Jack to fall against him.
"How's the breathing?" Nathan asked.
"Because I'm about to make you breathless again," he stated, giving Jack no time to question before he was kissing him soundly, body held tight within the band of Nathan's strong arms.
Jack froze for only a moment before surrendering, swiftly losing himself in the taste and touch of a man he had desired from the moment they first met but whom he had always believed was unattainable. No one else sent a frisson of pleasure racing through him with just a touch - a hand on his forearm, the brush of fingers as they passed over files and papers. Now, with Nathan's lips pressed hard against his own he felt that pleasure burn through his whole body, tingling with anticipation from the top of his head to the tips of his fingers and toes, and everywhere in between. He was hard and needy, pressing himself against the answering hardness at Nathan's groin, losing himself as the rest of the world muted and fell away leaving only him and Nathan. He had never felt this before, this loss of control, loss of self, as he felt himself merging with Nathan, and it took every ounce of strength to push away, putting a scant few feet between him and Nathan.
Nathan looked dazed and confused as if pulled abruptly from a zone, but Jack figured that was most likely the case. Nathan's confusion faded to dismay and Jack felt a need to reassure him.
"I... I want this." He was breathing hard, as if he'd just run a marathon rather than been kissed almost senseless. "But not here. Not now. Not with..." He glanced over to where a puddle of goo was all that remained of the tree trunk reminding them of where they were standing, grateful none of the security team had witnessed his and Nathan's loss of control.
"Yes," Nathan replied, voice hoarse. "Right. But later we need to talk."
Jack nodded. He straightened his uniform, brushing off the twigs and dirt before walking towards Cobb's house. Doctor Marsh must have had a plan to sell the Puddlemaker to someone nefarious and for a lot of money, or Jack doubted he would have taken such a risk in stealing it or been so desperate he was willing to kill himself and others to escape capture. He could feel Nathan right behind him as he entered the house, where the only light streamed through the doorway and through the window where the boards and glass had been liquefied by the Puddlemaker when Marsh shot at them. Having seen what the Puddlemaker could do to a tree - and now to a person, he thought as he spotted the liquid remains of Doctor Marsh - it was little wonder Nathan had been so determined to recover it before it fell into the wrong hands. No doubt something of that nature could be used for good but, as Nathan had pointed out earlier, anything could be used as a weapon or in the commission of a crime. Jack could already envisage it being used to liquefy a bank vault door, or on a larger scale it could bring down a building, turning bricks and mortar into a puddle, killing everyone inside the collapsing building.
Jack had stopped asking Nathan why he allowed his crazy scientists to make these weapons of mass destruction in Section 5. As a pacifist, Henry disagreed with it all, but Nathan had simply pointed out how the Military had the deepest pockets, and the price the Military paid for these weapons supported all the other less crazy inventions designed to help rather than harm. Products like Saran wrap and Velcro.
While Global's clean-up crew removed the puddle of goo that was Marsh's body, Nathan started going through Marsh's bags and clothing while Jack checked around to see if anything looked out of place from the last time he was here. He knew his eyesight wasn't as great as Nathan's but what he lacked in Sentinel skills he usually gained by following his gut instincts, which led him around the large hole in the center of the front room - the place where Cobb has lost his leg due to a mad quantum experiment gone wrong - and into the kitchen. Despite its rustic appearance Jack knew it had all the modern appliances built-in using the same kind of generator that powered most homes in Eureka. He let his instincts from a career as a fugitive hunter guide him to the one thing that looked out of place - a recently watered and potted plant sitting on the kitchen window sill conveniently placed to capture sunlight through one of the few cracks in the boarded up window. Jack knew looks could be deceiving, especially in Eureka so he stepped back rather than pick it up.
"Nathan. In here."
Nathan joined him in the kitchen but looked confused when he pointed out the plant. "It's a pot plant," he stated drolly.
"Yeah," Jack drawled. "So you're a fugitive on the run from the elite security of Global Dynamics... and you stop to pot a plant?"
"When you put it that way."
Nathan approached the pot and studied it carefully in case it was booby-trapped. When he decided his Sentinel abilities alone were not enough he took out a device like a portable scanner seen in a superstore and ran it over the pot.
"There's something buried in the soil beneath the plant."
Carefully, Nathan dug away the soil and pulled out a small microchip sealed in plastic. He took it out and placed it on top of the scanner, eyes widening and eyebrows rising as the scanner read schematics for the Puddlemaker off the microchip.
"Even without the prototype these schematics would be worth a small fortune."
"Now I'm confused," Jack stated.
"Really? Just now?"
Jack rolled his eyes. "If he had the schematics then why steal the prototype? And why kill himself? It doesn't add up."
Nathan looked thoughful for a moment before pulling out his cellphone. He barked orders for DNA testing on the remains of Doctor Marsh, only explaining to Jack after putting away the phone.
"I never actually saw Marsh, even with my Sentinel sight as he kept well hidden. We just assumed he was here-."
Jack caught on quickly.
"But it could have been a fall guy. Someone paid to impersonate him so the real Doctor Marsh could make a clean getaway... or not be reported missing if he's been abducted."
Nathan studied the microchip. "Whoever bid highest for the technology probably intended to come back and collect this later."
Jack pulled out his radio. "Lupo, it's Carter. Any luck on that BOLO?"
"We have Doctor Marsh's lab assistant, Doctor Pool, but she insists Doctor Marsh asked to be dropped off on the highway as, quote, 'it was a nice day for a walk'.
"Jo, do not let her leave. Put her in the cells."
"What's going on?" Nathan asked.
"If I'm right Doctor Pool was either working with Marsh to steal the Puddlemaker... or more likely she was behind it all and Marsh is another victim. You said it yourself earlier, this all seemed out of character for him, but what do you know about Pool?"
"Young. Gifted. Ambitious. She was disappointed when I turned down her request for her own lab."
Jack nodded, feeling all the peices fall into place and he decided to tell Nathan his theory. "Pool knew she couldn't get away with the schematics as the car would be pulled over and scanned... so she had to hide the microchip some place no one would suspect. She wanted us to recover the Puddlemaker and assume Marsh was dead - suicide by cop - and in the meantime, she retrieves the microchip and hands over the schematics along with its creator."
Jack pulled out his radio again and Nathan listened in.
"Jo, did she make any other stops along the way?"
"The tracker lost her for about ten minutes just west of the town."
Jack turned to Nathan. "What's out that way?"
Nathan answered, "Just a few disused labs."
"Jo, meet us out there... And bring one of the big guns just in case." Jack thought he heard a tiny squeal and a glance at Nathan's broad smile confirmed it. Jo and her big guns, he thought.
"On my way," she responded, forgetting to say 'over and out' as the call went dead. Jack could hear the glee in her voice.
"Will she need one of the big guns?" Nathan asked warily.
"Probably not, but I'm sure she'll find something out there to shoot."
Under Nathan's orders, the Global security team followed them. Once they arrived Nathan and Lieutenant Kaster, the other Sentinel, took point, following the tire tracks to one of the disused labs. This time Jack allowed the security team to go in first. Nathan used his override command to unlock the lab and, once inside, they found Doctor Marsh bound and gagged, looking scared but unharmed. Jack released him and tensed as the man lunged at him, wrapping him in a bear hug that would put the occasional hugs from Vincent to shame.
"Oh thank you, thank you!" He made to hug Nathan too but a stern, forbidding look dissuaded him. "And thank you too, Doctor Stark."
Jo looked pretty miffed until they heard a helicopter approaching, and it wasn't one of Global Dynamic's. When the occupants realized their plan had been thwarted they opened fire on the security team fanned out below but what they hadn't anticipated was Deputy Jo Lupo and her love of weapons - the bigger the better. Jack had told her to bring one of the big guns but he hadn't expected her to bring a missile launcher. She fired back and the helicopter took a direct hit on the back rotor blade, spinning down to the ground out of control; the security team quickly took them into custody.
Jo looked at him triumphantly. "Best day ever," she crowed before striding off.
"I seriously worry about that woman," Nathan remarked, and Jack grinned because he had no worries at all.
Nathan couldn't fault Jack's interrogation technique. He seemed to know exactly which buttons to push and gained a full confession from Doctor Pool after belittling her intelligence. None of his scientists liked to feel inferior to their I.Q. 101 sheriff, and Jack used that to his advantage. Not that Nathan believed Jack was of only average intelligence. He was like one of those idiot savants except his specialty seemed to be an ability to link events or things together to find a solution.
Nathan finished writing up the report for the D.O.D. and instructed his people to hand over Doctor Pool, glad to have her off his hands. He checked over the reports and emails sent over the course of the day but there was nothing that couldn't wait until tomorrow. For now he had unfinished business with a certain sheriff and he knew exactly where to find Jack once his shift was over.... in exactly twenty minutes according to Nathan's computer clock.
"Fargo!" His assistant appeared at his office door. "Hold all calls and reschedule my meeting with Doctor Blake for tomorrow. Barring an extinction level event I don't want to be disturbed until I set foot back in this office tomorrow morning."
Fargo nodded frantically, and Nathan had a suspicion half the town would know he had left his office earlier than usual long before Nathan stepped inside the Sheriff's bunker. Of course he was right, his Sentinel hearing already catching the whispers as he walked to his car.
Zoe was watching the door as he stepped into Jack's domain. Her eyes widened liek a deer caught int he headlights of an oncoming car before she nodded tightly and stood up.
"Dad! I'm heading over to Pilar's and I won't be back until morning," she stated quickly aloud, grabbing her school bag and heading towards the door without waiting for an answer from her stunned father, leaving Nathan alone with Jack.
The Younger Carter had seemed more in tune than most people her age, and Nathan suspected she was a latent Sentinel. Jack stared at the closed door for a moment and Nathan watched as Jack rubbed the back of his neck, not needing to scent the heightened pheromones to know Jack was feeling more than a little anxious.
"Privacy code 1, SARAH," Nathan commanded, and the A.I. complied immediately, turning off all recording devices and going into sleep mode.
"I'm not a Guide," Jack blurted out. "You should be looking for someone like Allison. Someone who can keep you grounded."
"You keep me grounded better than anyone I've ever met," Nathan stated, noticing Jack retreating with every step Nathan took forward until Jack had no place left to go, his back to the breakfast bar.
"I'm not a Sentinel... and I'm certainly not a Guide," he repeated softly this time, and Nathan could hear the hint of sadness, of regret in his tone, and scent it in the air surrounding Jack.
"Do you know what a Bell Curve is, Jack?"
Confusion. "A bell curve?"
"Let me show you," he implored, activating a computer screen on the wall opposite.
Nathan drew a graph and pointed to the vertical line. "This represents Sentinels, and the other line," he pointed to the horizontal line, "represents ability against intelligence." Next he drew a curve shaped like a bell and indicated towards the largest area. "This the stereotypical Sentinel with average intelligence and average Sentinel ability. You can see most Sentinels fall into the main part of the bell shape but far fewer on these outer edges. As a Sentinel I fall into this outer edge - high intelligence and high abilities. On the other end is low intelligence and low ability."
Jack had moved closer to the computer screen projected onto the wall.
"Okay. I get that."
"An inverse curve applies to Guides. Pretend this line," he used his finger to indicate the horizontal line, "represents the number of Sentinels, and the vertical line is now the Guide's ability to ground a Sentinel." Nathan drew an upside down bell curve in red. "The majority of Guides fall into the main part of the upside down bell and are able to ground a small number Sentinels." He shaded in this area. "These are Guides like Allison, but on the edges are the Guides with high abilities who can assist any Sentinel, such as ones used in the Military... or just one Sentinel."
"Just one," Jack echoed and Nathan watched as Jack moved forward, his finger tracing the upside-down bell curve to the highest point where it almost touched the vertical line at one Sentinel.
Nathan moved slowly towards Jack, reaching out to touch the same spot on the projected graph, fingers almost touching.
"That's you, Jack. You're not a blank. Your Guide abilities are exceptionally high but perfectly synced to only one Sentinel. To me. And although one or two Guides have helped me in the past, admittedly Allison more than any others, my Sentinel abilities are perfectly tuned to just one Guide. And that's you."
He reached out and touched Jack's bare forearm this time, feeling the shiver that ran through both of them, filled with a desire and need greater than anything he had experienced with any other person's touch. Nathan recalled the one kiss they had shared out at Cobb's place, and how it had almost consumed him, as if his very soul was trying to merge into Jack's. There had always been a psychic as well as a physical bond between a Sentinel and his Guide but Nathan knew instinctively that this bond with Jack was the stuff of all the romantic legends he had once considered flights of fancy. His one true love. His soulmate, and if they moved beyond a kiss then their bond would be forever, with each unable to survive the loss of the other when death eventually claimed one of them. Nathan was willing to accept that because even now his senses were drowning in Jack, in his scent, his eyes, and in the feel of his skin beneath Nathan's fingertips. He could both hear and feel Jack's heart beat, the pulse of life thrumming through his body, his own body syncing with Jack, beat for beat, breath for breath.
"Jack." Nathan tilted his head slightly. "Are you really going to make me do all the work?"
"You're the one who almost remarried Allison." Jack accused, stabbing Nathan in the chest with his forefinger.
"I seem to recall you were the one pining after her."
"Only because I thought I couldn't have you," he shot back.
Nathan smiled brightly. "Then this must be your lucky day, Sheriff." He held his hands wide. "Here I am!"
Jack rolled his eyes. "You are such a... an arrogant, narcissistic-."
"Ooh, big words."
"You... You..." Jack stuttered, and then sighed deeply, sobering. "I guess the world needs someone like me to keep your massive ego in check."
Nathan took that as acceptance of the inevitable, drawing Jack into a second kiss knowing this time they had no reason to pull back. Zoe had taken the initiative to leave them alone and, barring an apocalypse, no one would dare disturb them giving Nathan plenty of time to prove to Jack this was the right choice. HE was the right choice.
The universe had thrown them together for a reason. They belonged together, grounding each other in an insane world, and specifically in this crazy town of mad scientists.
Nathan could sense nothing wrong with that.