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Jack Dalton doesn’t want a Sentinel.

When he’d been identified as a Guide – capital G – he’d briefly entertained the notion of maybe one day finding that one Sentinel that would complete him, rock his world, and all that emotional crap, but that feeling only lasted until he’d met his first online Sentinel and realized something important.

Sentinels were assholes.

Most young, newly-online Sentinels grew up to be entitled bastards who thought that just because their senses were above average, the whole world had to fall at their feet and cater to their every whim. They also pretty much assumed that every Guide was looking for a Sentinel, and while Jack didn’t yet have the power to make his punches count, luckily he had support from a wide circle of scary family members who would gladly drag the little snot-nosed Sentinel bastard’s parents and/or assorted guardians in front of teachers, police officers or officials from the Sentinel and Guide Centre to argue (yell) on Jack’s behalf.

Needless to say most of them didn’t bother Jack for long, and for those few that still tried, mostly the recently online, Jack’s grandfather had a few choice words, and a load of buckshot for the really stubborn bastards.

When Jack joined the military he’d expected to be paraded in front of eligible Sentinels until either he or the Sentinels got tired of him punching them in the face when they inevitably got grabby, but it turned out military Sentinels were well-behaved. Apparently, getting yelled at by a drill sergeant who’s also a Guide does wonders for building mutual respect, and so Jack’s years in the Army went on to be surprisingly Sentinel-free.

He considers bonding exactly once after meeting Steve McGarret. While they’re both on the same level power-wise and would probably make a nearly unstoppable Sentinel/Guide pair, there’s just something that keeps them back from forming a permanent bond.

When they meet again, years later, respective partners at their side, Jack realises that they’d simply been too similar to each other to truly be compatible. He still thinks that Joe White probably regretted that more than either he or Steve ever did.

Still, even after his years in the CIA and returning to the Army, Jack was still content with being Sentinel-less and probably would have gone on to be content for the rest of his life had he not met Angus MacGyver sixty four days before his return to the great state of Texas.

Of-fucking-course.   

Angus MacGyver comes online as one of the strongest Sentinels of his generation when he’s just five years old.

It’s Halloween. His costume has been finished for a while now, hanging on the back of his door. He and his mom are just about to pop down to the store for some last minute shopping before he can finally wear it. They take his grandpa’s jeep, Angus’ dad isn’t home yet but he promised to go trick or treating with his son later.

Mission City isn’t very violent, only rarely making the news for anything crime related, but sometimes even the most peaceful of places doesn’t escape the inevitable, and so it’s on this day, Halloween of ’95, that the small corner store where Angus and his mom are busy perusing the candy selection is held up by a desperate man and the gun he doesn’t really know how to use.

Ellen MacGyver never stands a chance.

Angus…Angus zones in on the sound of the gunshot and the colour of blood on his mother’s dress and doesn’t resurface again until three days later, waking up to a world where his mother is dead and he’s forced to spend the next several weeks in one of the Centre’s isolation rooms, shut-off from the world until he learns to control his senses enough not to throw up every time he has to go outside.

His case is…unusual to say the least. Angus isn’t the first Sentinel or Guide to show up in his family line but it’s been a while – the last one was nearly a century ago – and he’s by far the strongest.

He’s also the youngest.

The Centre isn’t really sure what to do about that.

It’s one of the most common misconceptions among the non-Guide and Sentinel population that bonding is inevitable once a compatible Sentinel and Guide pair has met, because there’s still an element of choice involved, no matter how well-fitted the pairing seems to be, but Angus is five and not really able to make that kind of decision yet.

Normally, protocol dictates finding a selection of possibly compatible Guides and introduce them to Angus, see if there’s bonding potential, but while bonds aren’t necessarily sexual, there’s a significant number of asexual Guides and Sentinels for example, not to mention those who were already married before meeting someone compatible, no one involved really wants to take that chance.

The thing is, that’s not something Guides and Sentinels normally have to worry about before they’re teenagers – some Sentinels don’t come online until their early twenties. The process for Guides is more gradual, but the fact remains that no Sentinel has come online as early as Angus in nearly three hundred years, and nobody really knows what to do about it.

There are simply no Guides of compatible age and strength.

Angus makes do. He realizes early on that neither his dad nor his grandpa can help him – or understand what he’s going through, but Angus is smart. He claws his way back to a semblance of normality, religiously practicing control of his senses until he can re-enter society without wanting to claw his eyes out. His dad sees it as proof of Angus’ superior intellect, his grandpa just smiles at him sadly and buys him his favourite ice cream.

It gets somewhat easier once Angus meets Bozer. The other boy is a Guide, not nearly strong enough to help ground his senses, but even being close to his new friend is a relief Angus didn’t know he’d been missing. It’s also the year Angus becomes Mac because well…Angus died with his mother.

His father leaving should have overthrown the careful equilibrium he’d achieved, should have destroyed what progress Mac made to balance his senses, but…

Later he will realize that he didn’t so much miss his dad, as miss the idea of him. James MacGyver had all but become a ghost after his wife’s death, and Mac’s senses had never really latched onto him the way they had done with his grandfather and Bozer.

He grows up and outgrows Mission City. MIT is a blur of science, new experiences, and Frankie. Bozer and Mac’s grandfather are concerned that the sudden change will negatively affect his senses, but Mac’s control holds steady. It holds steady through his years at MIT, through his decision to leave and join the Army and even through his EOD training.

His superiors are concerned about Mac’s senses, of course. He has to dodge more than one ‘casual’ meeting with Army Guides that just happened to be in the same place as Mac, but after a while that concern fades into the background.

Mac is steady and quickly comes to be considered one of the best EOD techs to ever come out of training.

His control holds.

Then he meets Jack Dalton.

Jack doesn’t realize his new EOD tech is a Sentinel until he has to pull him out of a zone halfway into his last sixty-four days as an Overwatch. The kid is busy defusing a bomb, the street they’re in appears to be deserted, but Jack has seen too many ‘peaceful’ situations like this go to hell in a handbasket to relax his guard even slightly. That way lies madness and death by IED.

He’s ready to tell the kid to hurry the fuck up because he may be the slowest goddamn EOD Jack’s ever met, but this is slow even for him, when Jack notices something odd.

MacGyver isn’t moving. It’s not just his usual I’m thinking stillness, he’s frozen to the spot, eyes staring ahead, unfocused and Jack swears the kid is barely breathing.

Jack may avoid contact with most Sentinels like the pest, but he does know what a zone out looks like.

“Oh, you gotta be fuckin’ kidding me.” Of course, no one had actually thought to inform Jack of the little fact that his current EOD is a goddamn Sentinel.

Jack reacts quickly, scanning the street for immediate threats, using his latent Guide-inherent empathy to find potential hostiles. Once he’s reasonably sure they won’t be shot at in the next few minutes, Jack concentrates on the more immediate problem.

A Sentinel’s senses are their greatest weapon but they can also become their greatest enemy if caught in a zone out. Jack isn’t sure what MacGyver zoned on, it could be anything from the colour of the wires he’s been cutting to something as microscopic as a grain of sand.

Jack kneels down next to the kid and thinks about his options. Without a bond, trying to use his empathy to bring the Sentinel back could do more harm than good, considering Jack doesn’t know how strong he is – if they’re at all compatible. Jack will have to use the kid’s senses instead.

Hearing didn’t work, Jack’s exclamation earlier didn’t get any kind of response, it would have if that’s the sense the kid has zoned on. He tries MacGyver’s eyes next, carefully tilting up his head until Jack is looking right into the unfocused baby blue eyes of his EOD tech.

The kid is beautiful – is a thought he quickly supresses because that’s a complication he really doesn’t need. Jack doesn’t have long to think about it either way because it turns out, touching does the trick and Jack finds himself with an armful of exhausted, slumped-down Sentinel before he can even blink, his arms closing around MacGyver without a conscious thought.

“What…Dalton?” The kid asks confused but doesn’t try to get out from Jack’s hold. Jack allows himself a moment of weakness and tightens the hold he has on the kid.

“You alright, hoss?” All he gets is a confused stare in return.

“You zoned out for a moment there buddy…might have been smart to tell me you’re a Sentinel before something like this happened.” Jack watches as those blue, blue eyes come into focus again, and his EOD tech blushes and ducks his head in embarrassment once he realizes the position he’s in.

“Thought you knew about that,” the kid says and tries to get up. Jack steadies him but it doesn’t help much, MacGyver nearly tips over and Jack slings the younger man’s arm around his shoulders, pressing him close to Jack’s body, so he doesn’t fall down on the way back to their transport.

If Jack’s just a little bit selfish, not yet ready to let go of the kid, that’s between him and the God he isn’t sure he believes in anymore.

“I’m guessing you’re done with the bomb then?” Jack asks while they all but stumble back to the jeep and receives a nod in return. He puts MacGyver in the passenger seat and lingers at the door for a moment, hands carefully not touching the other man.

“Look, kid…just ‘cause I got you out of that zone doesn’t mean I’m lookin’ for a bond or anything,” Jack says because he knows how this might look to others. There are countless romance novels out there, depicting Sentinels as knights in shining armour, sweeping Guides off their feet left right and center, but the reality is slightly different. Sentinels have their senses to rely on, and Jack has seen them do some amazing things with those, but Guides’ abilities are much more esoteric and also inherently more problematic in terms of consent.

Jack can render half a dozen grown men unconscious if he really tries, granted he’s much more powerful than most and he’ll have one hell of a headache after, but the point stands…

The power imbalance isn’t nearly as tipped in the Sentinels’ direction as the general public likes to believe and, adding the fact that Jack is significantly older than MacGyver and technically his superior to boot…

“I…I understand.” Jack thinks he imagines the crestfallen look on the kid’s face because it’s gone in an instant, replaced by determination.

“Of course.” MacGyver smiles at him and it might be the first true smile he’s ever given Jack. “That would be ridiculous.” Jack looks at the EOD tech a bit longer, searching his face for any sign of a lie, trying to ignore the unpleasant feeling in his stomach, before he makes his way to the driver’s side.

They leave in silence, neither talking to the other and for all that Jack thinks they resolved the situation in the only way possible, he still feels like he lost something important.

    

Chapter Text

“With all due respect, Sir. I’d like to know why I wasn’t informed that my EOD tech is also a Sentinel.” Martinez may be a stubborn bastard, but he’s also the kind of bastard who knows the value of telling his subordinates what they need to know, which is why Jack normally likes working under him. Right now, however, the man looks at him with the long-suffering expression that all of Jack’s superiors acquire sooner or later. He doesn’t much care because he should have known. Sending an unbonded Sentinel into the field without telling the Guide watching over him that he’s well…a Sentinel is the kind of stupid Jack expects from the Navy and not the Army.

Jack is also very good at walking the fine line between insubordination and just being an unrepentant asshole, so he waits, motionless, while Martinez decides what to do with him.  

Before the Colonel can say anything, there’s a knock at the door. Martinez just looks at the door like he's expecting his impending doom and that tells Jack that whoever is on the other side must be even worse than he is.

“Come in.”

The woman who walks into what passes for an office around here is dressed very much not for the Afghan desert or an Army base, looking like she should be terrifying accountants in a boardroom somewhere. That’s not what has Jack on guard as soon as she walks in though, because he both recognizes her and does not.

He’s never met her in the flesh, but Jack would recognize Patricia Thornton anywhere. The woman is a legend in the kind of circles Jack used to move in, and rumour has it that she’s mostly retired from fieldwork these days, heading up some covert agency on the West Coast.

Shit.

He doesn’t realize he said that out loud until Thornton raises an eyebrow at him and Martinez chuckles. The Colonel gets up and moves towards the door.

“He’s all yours Director. Dalton…good luck.”

“Whatever you’re here for,” Jack begins warily, watching as she walks over to the desk and crosses her arms, “I refuse.” The eyebrow is back. Thornton leans against the desk and gives him a once over. It could have been dirty in different circumstances, but Jack knows when he’s being...assessed.

“What makes you think this is about you, Sergeant?” She asks and Jack has a very bad feeling about this.

“You’re here for the kid?” Thornton rights herself, taking a step closer.

“Specialist MacGyver is on a short list for recruitment once his tour is up,” She says. Jack feels like a specimen under a microscope under her assessing gaze, trying to figure out why the hell she would come to him then.

“Because he’s a Sentinel.” Thornton grins a quick grin and shakes her head.

“Actually, no. It’s a nice bonus, but MacGyver is much more valuable than that. His Sentinel gifts might be…strong,” Jack gets the feeling that’s somewhat of an understatement given the look in her eyes, “but it’s his brain that put him on my radar in the first place.”

She takes a step back again, still looking at him expectantly and that’s why Jack hates dealing with spooks even if he’d been one only a few short months ago. Every conversation is a dance around the truth until someone inevitably spills the beans.

Jack has the feeling that might be him this time if Patricia Thornton really is as good as she’s supposed to be.

“Did you put us together then? Because, let me tell ya’ Lady, don’t much appreciate being manipulated like this.” The grin that spreads across her face at his words tells him exactly what she thinks about him playing the dumb soldier and how much she doesn’t believe it, so he drops the act.

“You didn’t put us together, but you’re not exactly unhappy about the outcome. You said the kid is strong. If you read my file, which I’m assuming you did, you know so am I. You’re not just here to recruit him, you’re here to assess how well we’re working together, if there’s potential for a bond. What I don’t understand is why you think one instance of getting the kid out of a zone means instant bonding. You’re smart, you know how Sentinels and Guides work, just ‘cause I was able to help him, doesn’t mean he’s suddenly my Sentinel.”

Thornton smiles again and withdraws something from her pocket, it’s a business card. She places it on the desk and steps close enough, Jack can smell she’s wearing perfume. A deliberate choice to put him at ease. No field operative worth their weight would be caught dead wearing something that identifiable while on an op.

“I think I came too early, Sergeant.” Jack frowns.

“Too early for what?”

“For you to make your choice. As for your question…” She turns her head to the side, just a bit, and looks at a seemingly empty spot next to Jack that Jack’s been trying to ignore ever since he stepped into the room.

Shit.

Jack’s been shielding so well for years, he didn’t recognize when the Army dumped an actual Sentinel on him, one who apparently matches Jack in strength if Thornton thinks there’s potential for a bond there.

He lets go of his control just a tiny bit, enough to become aware of Thornton and her own Guide empathy which he completely failed to notice until now. Jack is clearly out of practice, and he makes a mental note that he needs to work on that before following her gaze to the raven lazily grooming its feathers, invisible to all but Sentinels and Guides.

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but that doesn’t look like your spirit animal, Sergeant.” She raises that infuriating eyebrow again and steps past him. “Call me once you’ve made your decision.”

Jack wants to ask her what decision, but she’s already gone. He throws another look at the raven which croaks at him, hops a few steps before taking flight and vanishing through a wall.

Yeah, he knows the feeling.

Jack makes his decision, follows the kid out of the Army and into the DXS once it becomes clear just how important Mac really is – how important he becomes to Jack. They rarely speak about the Sentinel/Guide thing. Jack has long since resigned himself to the fact that he’s unlikely to actually ever find a Sentinel strong enough to be his, who also wants him, warts and all. Mac doesn’t need him like that; his control is just that good. It may be that he’s simply more practiced than most Sentinels, given how early he came online, or maybe it’s because Mac is friends with more than just one Guide, but he doesn’t really slip again after the first time and so Jack never even approaches the topic of bonding – no matter how much he might want to.

It isn’t until the mess with Nicky, followed by Thornton’s betrayal that Jack begins to realize how deeply he’s already fallen without him noticing.

Still, Mac remains stable, doesn't seem to want a bond with anyone, no matter how many Guides are interested in him – and those are a lot. Jack has a hard time not expressing his displeasure at those guides in less than appropriate ways and it’s only Patty’s warning gaze that saves more than one oblivious Guide from Jack’s possessive instincts over the years.

He tells his feelings to stuff it and tries to be grateful for what he already has with Mac.

Mac remains stable.

Until Murdoc.

Mac is trying to concentrate on the chemicals in front of him, but the wolf staring at him with an eerily familiar look of disappointment in his eyes makes it very hard to do so.

Mac knows that wolf, knows it belongs to Jack. It had initially followed him around their base in Afghanistan for nearly a week after his little zone out before vanishing with a disappointed huff, and Mac never quite forgot the strange feeling of safety the wolf had evoked in him.

The feeling of being watched over – of being cared for which is ridiculous because he’s the Sentinel supposed to watch over others. The fact that he often relies on Jack to do the watching for him while Mac does his thing almost feels like a failure in his darker moments.

Letting Jack leave the Phoenix without him to hunt down Murdoc had been excruciating, but Mac had done it because Jack had asked. When it turned out that Murdoc was a Guide – a Guide who seemed interested in Mac for more than just his brain…

Needless to say, Mac hasn’t gotten much sleep lately.

Also, the wolf is back and he doesn’t really know what to do about that – doesn’t know if it means anything. Mac’s come to terms with the fact that Jack doesn’t seem to want a Sentinel, never expresses any interest in the various Sentinels they come into contact with in their line of work. Mac may want to crawl into his partner’s skin, be surrounded by the incredible warmth he’d gotten a glimpse of all those years ago and never leave again, but Jack has never given any indication that he reciprocates any of Mac's feelings, and he's very careful not to ask for more than Jack is willing to give.

He’s well-aware of the fact that as far as Sentinels go, Mac is far from the ideal no matter how strong he is, and he can’t imagine any Guide actually wanting him for what he is instead of what he's supposed to be.

Not even Jack.

The wolf huffs at him, still looking ridiculously disapproving. Mac tries to tell himself that an animal can’t really express feelings, but it’s no use. That’s exactly the kind of look Jack has levelled at him more than once.

“Hey buddy. Thought you’d be done by now. Didn’t we have a talk about getting enough sleep about…a million times maybe?” Jack saunters into the room and throws a glance at his wolf which disappears with a very wolfish grin. Mac ignores the raven following behind, vanishing right after the wolf. Jack stops next to Mac’s table and raises a questioning eyebrow at the mess Mac made of his project.

“Now, you know I’m not an expert at this stuff or anythin’, but I’m pretty sure it’s not actually supposed to look like that.” Mac rolls his eyes in response and sets to cleaning up the remnants of the experiment.

“Just something to pass the time,” Mac mumbles half-heartedly, suddenly feeling very much in the spotlight under Jack’s assessing gaze. His partner's been watching him closely ever since they caught Murdoc, and Mac is pretty sure that Jack’s caught on to the fact that he hasn’t been getting much sleep lately.

He fumbles with a beaker for a few excruciating moments, waiting for Jack to say something – anything – until Jack is suddenly there, putting one of his hands over Mac’s, the other catching the beaker before Mac can drop it onto the floor.

“Hey, hey. Come on, buddy. Let’s sit down so you don’t fall down.” Jack guides him over to a chair and Mac drops down like a marionette with its strings cut.

“Dammit, kid. When was the last time you got a whole night’s sleep, hm?” Jack asks while kneeling down in front of him. Mac should feel humiliated by his seeming inability to care for himself, but instead he feels…safe – cared for.     

Loved.

Jack raises a hand, carefully where Mac can see the movement because he might be compromised right now, but a Sentinel’s reflexes are nothing to joke about, and places it on Mac’s neck, nudging him until those warm brown eyes are staring right into his.

“Should have killed the bastard when I had the chance.” Jack’s thumb digs into Mac’s skin, slowly drawing circles and he resists the urge to lean into it.

“Jack…”

“How’re the senses?” Jack asks and Mac can feel him at the edge of his mind, a questioning presence, not intrusive just…there.

Mac takes a deep breath and tells his partner the truth.

“They’re…not fine exactly. Haven’t felt like this since…”

“The Sandbox,” Jack finishes for him and Mac nods in response. “Anything in particular?” Jack asks and Mac actually has to think about that question for a moment, that’s how far out of touch with his senses he’s been for the past few days.

“Sight’s okay, smell, taste, and touch too, but hearing’s been…it’s just too loud and I can’t dial it down on my own,” Mac admits and Jack tightens his grip, bringing his other hand up to mirror the hold he already has on his partner.

“Alright, kid. Trust me to get you out of here?” Jack asks and Mac nods immediately because he would trust Jack with anything at this point. “Then dial down your hearing until you’re comfortable.”

Mac does, aided by Jack’s hands on his skin, grounding him as much as the feeling of Jack surrounding him right then. He hasn't been this close to Jack, felt this much of his partner's empathy since Afghanistan, and Mac already knows that he wants to feel it again while knowing that it's probably not going to happen. When his hearing is down far enough and the world goes blissfully quiet, Mac feels like he can breathe again, he nods and lets Jack help him up, leaning into his partner as they leave the lab together.

 

   

Chapter Text

Jack takes Mac home.

“This isn’t the way to my house,” Mac mumbles while Jack is busy navigating LA traffic. Jack shrugs – so maybe his definition of home is slightly different than his partner’s right now.

The kid is curled up in the passenger seat, almost vibrating with tension, hearing still dialled down to a level where, if he wasn’t a Sentinel, Mac wouldn’t actually be able to hear Jack’s answer.

“You and Bozer aren’t exactly on even terms right now and, don’t get me wrong, I love the guy, but I thought you could use a night without his passive aggressive fussin’. Am I right about that?” Jack asks and Mac smiles hesitantly, slightly turning his head so he can look at Jack.

“So I have to put up with your mother-henning instead?” He asks, teasingly. Jack breathes an internal sigh of relief. He still doesn’t like the tension coming from Mac, which he can feel even through his shields, but if his partner is already teasing Jack again, he’s confident that Mac will have mostly gotten through this after a night at Jack’s apartment.

“Hey – I’ll have you know, my mother-henning is way better than Bozer’s fussin’. I’m famous for my mother-henning.” Jack grins when Mac chuckles at his antics. He pulls into the parking lot of his building, and is it just Jack’s impression or was the traffic being extra kind to them today, and gets out of the car while Mac waits until Jack can help him navigate the stairs up to the apartment.

They make their way upstairs, Mac relying on Jack to be his guide with his hearing still down, and Jack is relieved when they’re finally inside, the comforting presence of home wrapping around them like a dryer-warmed blanket. He can feel Mac relaxing where Jack has his arm wrapped around the kid.

Jack throws his keys on the counter and herds Mac towards his bedroom and the adjacent bath. Jack hesitates for a moment when they’re standing in the hallway before he makes a decision.

“Come on, hoss. You need a shower and a good night’s sleep. You take my bed, I’ll kip in the guest room.” Mac freezes at Jack’s words and he mentally slaps himself for his rather blunt approach. Mac has slept at Jack’s countless times, but always in the guest room himself. Sentinels are territorial by nature and even Mac, who is normally the least territorial Sentinel Jack has ever met, always treats Jack’s personal space as something precious, something that is to be protected at all costs.

Jack sighs and presses down on Mac’s shoulders, just a little bit, enough for Mac to drop down to sit at the edge of Jack’s bed.

“Hey, buddy. Look at me.” Mac does. He’s frowning and Jack knows that look in his eyes very well. Mac is trying to formulate an argument in his head why Jack should sleep in his bed and Mac take the guest room, but not this time, Jack thinks wryly.

“Don’t tell me you won’t be sleepin’ much better in here, Mac.” Jack says and it’s as close to the thing he doesn’t let himself think about as he can get without giving into the urge to bundle Mac into his arms and keep him at Jack’s apartment until the Murdocs of this world will finally give his partner a break.

Jack is in so deep, he wouldn’t find his way out again even if there was an exit sign. Scratch that, he wouldn’t take the exit, even if he could find it.

“I don’t want to be a bother, Jack. You put up with enough of my problems as it is,” Mac says and nope, there’s no way Jack is going to let that stand.

He pushes a hand into Mac’s hair and tilts his head up until Jack can see the look of uncertainty in his partner’s eyes. Mac leans into his hand, taking comfort in being touched, grounding his senses in the simple movement of Jack’s hand on his face.

Jack swallows.

“I thought we talked about this, Mac. You’re never a bother. We put up with each other’s crap because that’s what we do – Mac and Jack, till the end of the line, remember?”

Mac nods hesitantly and smiles at Jack. “Yeah – alright. I’m sorry I’m such a mess.”

“And there you go apologizing again.” Jack chuckles wryly and stands up, cursing the ever advancing middle age and the aching knees that apparently come with it.

“Now get up. Time for that shower, kid. I’ll whip up some chow while you’re getting clean. You look like a stiff breeze could blow you over right now.”

Mac gets up and makes his way to the bathroom. Jack breathes in relief and walks back to the kitchen, trying to remember if he actually has anything edible in there of if he’s going to have to order take out.

He manages to find enough ingredients to make a quick but filling soup, it’s not ideal, but it will tide them over until Jack can go foraging for a hearty breakfast in the morning. Mac returns to the kitchen wearing Jack’s clothes. The sweatpants are too short and slightly too wide at the same time, while the old Army shirt Jack didn’t even know he still had almost reaches his knees.

Jack nearly spills the boiling soup all over himself when he first spots his partner. It’s not the first time Mac has worn Jack’s clothes or vice versa, but something about the picture he makes, kind of lost and adorable at the same time, stirs up Jack’s normally well-supressed possessive instincts in the worst way.

And people think only Sentinels can get territorial.

“That for me?” Mac asks almost shyly and Jack makes quick work, handing Mac a bowl with the still steaming soup and taking one for himself.

“There you go partner.” He regards Mac for a moment, trying to gauge the kid’s mood now that he’s eating and in a safe space. “How are the senses,” Jack asks. Mac stops with the spoon hallway to his mouth, clearly thinking about the question and Jack almost laughs at the slightly confused expression on his face.

“Hearing’s better,” Mac says and puts the spoon down, blushing slightly. “The rest are okay, too.”

“Good. Now eat up. It’s late and I need my beauty sleep.” Mac grins and starts eating again. Jack breathes in relief. They’re going to be okay.

He ignores the raven cackling at him in the background.

Jack can’t sleep. It’s not the bed – it might not be his own, but Jack can sleep on wet ground, in the jungle, with mosquitos buzzing all around him, the bed should be fine. No – Jack knows exactly what it is and the raven that followed him all the way into the guest room only to disappear when Jack made no attempts at getting up again, didn’t even have to glare at Jack for him to admit that it’s Mac.

Jack’s partner, the Sentinel who is not Jack’s Sentinel, and therefore Jack has no right to fuss as much as he does. Sometimes Jack thinks that he overwhelms Mac with the need to take care of him, that the kid simply doesn’t dare to approach the topic for fear of driving Jack away – that Jack is just going to be one more person who leaves him.

But, given what Jack knows about Mac’s upbringing, he suspects that Mac simply doesn’t know that Jack is crossing lines left right and centre, at least regarding traditional Sentinel and Guide etiquette. Mac grew up mostly independent from the well-established institution of the Sentinel and Guide Centre because his control has been nearly perfect from an early age. Jack himself didn’t have much to do with the Centre either, but he at least had to suffer through the weekend classes. He suspects that someone interfered on Mac’s behalf, and the kid never really talked about it aside from some vague references to a private instructor.

Still, Mac isn’t Jack’s Sentinel and therefore Jack shouldn’t be half as attached to him as he is. Until now, he’s mostly managed to keep his instincts in check, but after Murdoc...

He really regrets not killing the guy now.

“Jack?” Mac’s voice interrupts Jack’s train of thoughts. He’s standing in the doorway, nervously twisting the fabric of the oversized shirt he’s still wearing between his fingers. Jack switches on the bedside lamp and sits up, sheets falling down to his waist, and he shivers slightly in the chill of the night.

“Mac? What’s wrong?” Mac doesn’t look at him, but carefully makes his way into the room. He pushes a shaky hand through his hair, making the unruly mess of his bedhead even worse. Jack smiles because it’s adorable and he can’t not.

“I-“ Mac hesitates before taking a deep breath and steeling himself for whatever he wants to say. “Couldn’t sleep. Jack – I know this isn’t…what we do, but-,” Mac trails off, but Jack understands him anyway. He throws back the covers and raises an eyebrow. Mac blushes, but he still comes forward, diving into the bed. Jack draws the covers back over them both and sighs at Mac’s awkward stiffness. Clearly, he’s trying not to intrude too much, so Jack turns to his side and wraps an arm around his partner, drawing him closer.

“Jack what?” Mac asks, surprised. Still, he relaxes into Jack’s hold, burying himself until he’s pressed against Jack’s chest, and Jack can feel him relax with every breath he exhales.

“You’re cold, I’m cold and you came here lookin’ for comfort. Let me guess – Murdoc creepin’ his way into your dreams again?” Mac nods against Jack’s chest and snuggles closer, clearly having abandoned his earlier hesitation. Jack knows they should probably talk about this in the morning, but suspects that they won’t. He isn’t quite sure whether to be relieved about that or not.

He doesn’t want to lose Mac, doesn’t want to lose what they have, but suspects that if Mac even had an inkling of how attached Jack is to him, he’d run in the other direction before Jack could apologize. Mac has fought long and hard to be independent, to be accepted for what he is instead of what people expect him to be. If Mac knew how desperately Jack wants to keep him, not just as his partner, but as his Sentinel...

Jack would give everything to the kid – if Mac would let him.      

Better not to go down that road.

“Can’t get him out of my head,” Mac adds. “Don’t know how.” There’s an anguish in his voice that Jack desperately wants to erase. He tightens his arms around Mac. Murdoc had rattled both of them. Jack hadn’t even realized that the guy was a Guide at first, a strong one, until he’d shown a clear interest in Mac that went beyond assassin and potential victim – until he’d made his disdain at Jack’s presence in Mac’s life more than clear. Murdoc hadn’t managed to burrow his way beneath Mac’s shields, Jack had checked – more than once, but he’d managed to frighten Mac in a way that even the most sophisticated IEDs or the worst of the terrorists he and Jack had faced over the years hadn’t been able to.

“You’re here now,” Jack almost whispers into the silence of the night. “Think you can sleep a bit with me here?” Mac doesn’t say anything at first, doesn’t even move, but then he exhales audibly and Jack can feel, Jack can feel…

Mac.” His partner relaxes his shields, normally tightly drawn around Mac’s mind. Sentinel’s don’t really need shields as such, and when Jack uses the term to describe what Mac is doing, it’s more that he consciously relaxes the hold he has on his senses, let’s go of his control just enough for Jack to-

Please, Jack? And there’s no way that Jack can deny that request, no matter how many lines he’s going to cross with his actions. Jack reaches out, empathy unfurling, slightly rusty with disuse, but still incredibly gentle as Jack enfolds Mac’s mind with his own, wraps his shields around his partner until Jack isn’t sure where he ends and Mac begins anymore.

Mac – finally – relaxes into Jack’s hold completely, the last vestiges of tension leaving his body and mind. Jack wants to say something, knows he should, but Mac falls asleep quickly, breathing deep and even against Jack’s skin, and Jack can only hold on and pray that the next day will bring him the strength to get over this. Just because Mac seeks his comfort with Jack now, like this, doesn’t mean that Jack can tread where he isn’t wanted.

Jack closes his eyes and decides to be selfish, at least for tonight. He falls asleep holding his partner, secure in the knowledge that no one will get to Mac - not even in his dreams, as long as Jack is there to protect him.

 

  

Chapter Text

“It’s been a while, Angus.” Murdoc’s voice is the only sound Mac can hear. He’s blindfolded, chained to something on the wall. The muscles in his legs are cramping because he’s been forced to sit in his current position for longer than he likes to think about.

Mac doesn’t acknowledge Murdoc. That might not be the best idea, but right now he needs all the control he has to keep the psychopathic Guide out of his head.

Something clanks loudly, close to Mac’s head. He can’t quite supress a flinch.

His blindfold is removed. Murdoc’s fingers trace over Mac’s face in the mockery of a gentle caress. Mac tries to focus on something else. He looks past his captor’s looming figure, and his eyes, still adjusting to the light, can just make out the silhouette of Murdoc’s spirit animal, watching Mac with an almost unnatural stillness.

‘Canis latrans,’ his mind supplies unhelpfully.

“Jackie-boy is an idiot,” Murdoc says, eyes glinting with anticipation.

Mac wakes up.

“Hey buddy. You alright?” Jack asks from the driver’s seat. Mac looks at his partner, eyes wide, breathing heavily.

“I’m fine,” Mac answers, but it’s clear that Jack doesn’t believe him judging by the look on his face. Mac looks at his watch. It’s late. Jack must have been driving for hours now. They’ve been on the road for more than a week, trying to find traces left by Mac’s dad, but so far – nothing.

“You know, we could still go to Vegas,” Jack adds with a grin.

Mac rolls his eyes. “Vegas is not on the way, Jack.”

Jack doesn’t respond, just frowns, and Mac wants to reach over and press his fingers to the worry lines between Jack’s eyes, wants to tell his partner to stop, that Mac is fine, that there’s nothing to be worried about.

But that would be a lie, wouldn’t it?

Jack takes a deep breath and shoots Mac a look. It’s the look that says I’m going to tell you something and you’re not going to like it, but I don’t care, you’re going to listen, dammit.

Mac knows Jack’s expressions very well at this point.

“You’re dreaming about Murdoc aren’t you?” Jack begins and Mac’s heart freezes.

“Jack-“

“I know that look in your eyes, Mac. The bastard’s been haunting your dreams ever since we arrested him. I know you don’t like asking for help, but I’m always going to be there to listen and I’m never going to look at you and think you’re weak for needing help, no matter what you tell me. I thought I’d managed to get that into your stubborn little genius brain by know.”

Mac swallows heavily, fighting with himself because Jack is right and yet…

He feels a questioning brush against his shields and shudders at the still unfamiliar contact. After spending the night in Jack’s bed, with Jack, they’d both kept their distance the next morning, unsure how to proceed after the unexpected twist in their interaction with each other. Mac knows that a lot of people in their life don’t really understand why he and Jack aren’t bonded. It would certainly make a lot of things easier, and more than one Phoenix agent had made remarks over the years that Mac and Jack’s already spectacular success rate would surely double if they added a bond to their partnership.

Even Matty had mentioned it once, shortly after taking over as director. She’d cornered Mac in the War Room after a post-mission debrief and asked him outright if they’d ever considered bonding. Mac had looked like a deer in headlights, desperately trying to think of something to say to her that wouldn’t sound like the ramblings of a lunatic, because he honestly wasn’t entirely sure of the answer himself anymore.

It’s not that he’s hiding some deeply traumatic experience with Guides in his past. Mac is strong enough, most Guides make sure to steer clear of him as soon as they only brush his shields. Nor is he afraid of hurting Jack because Mac’s pretty sure his partner could put half the Phoenix employees to sleep on a good day and only exert himself a little bit.  

Mac is just…afraid. Desperately afraid of something he can’t even put into words.

Jack puts a hand on Mac’s thigh, squeezing gently. “Hey, you don’t need to tell me right now. Just-,” he throws Mac a glance, voice heavy with emotion, an underlying sadness to his words that Mac would give anything to be able to erase, “Just…I’m here for you, buddy. If you need me. ‘S all I’m saying.”

Mac nods, not trusting himself to speak right then. Jack’s hand is still on his thigh, the warmth of his partner’s fingers almost a tangible thing, seeping into his skin. Mac closes his eyes and allows the touch to ground him for a moment, his senses focused on nothing but Jack’s touch, focused on Jack.

He falls asleep to the rhythm of Jack’s heartbeat.

Before meeting Mac, Jack had considered a permanent bond exactly once. He’d met Steve McGarrett deep in the desert, in a place that doesn’t exist anymore, for an op that technically never happened. Steve was everything most Guides dreamed of: Tall, dark, good-looking, incredibly strong, and with a personality to match. Jack had taken one look behind those nearly impenetrable shields of Steve’s and been smitten.

They’d meshed well and had enough chemistry to set fire to half their base of operations but…

In the end they’d just been too…similar.

Steve was too much of a caretaker himself to ever be comfortable with Jack’s particular brand of helicopter parenting, and Jack couldn’t stand the Sentinels who obsessed over every little detail in their Guides’ lifes. In the end, he and Steve had simply been too similar in their personalities to make a go of it. They’d parted as friends and Jack had filed the memory under pleasant-but-do-not-repeat until…

Until Mac.  

Too bad Jack had blown that chance himself within minutes after finding out the kid was a Sentinel. He’s still not entirely sure how he managed to become a part of Mac’s life long-term and sometimes, mostly when Mac retreats into his own mind too far for Jack to reach him without a considerable effort, he’s afraid of doing something, or not doing something, that will make his partner realize that his life is really much better without Jack there, constantly hovering in Mac’s shadow.

To Sentinels and Guides, spirit animals are a reflection of the soul. Mac’s raven is as impressive as Mac himself. Gleaming bright, a glossy coat of dark feathers with an almost unearthly iridescent shimmer, whip-smart, too.

Jack’s wolf is a scarred thing, impressive in size, yes, but clearly showing those who can see it how many scars Jack’s soul has collected over the years. The wolf is Jack’s darkness made visible, and no Sentinel as bright as Mac should want to have anything to do with him.

Not that Mac always knows what’s good for him. Half the reason why Jack never even mentioned the possibility of bonding, is to protect Mac from himself, to protect him from Jack.

He can’t help but fear that Mac would quickly come to regret letting Jack even closer to him than he already is.

If there’s anything Jack can be sure about, it’s this: Having Mac, for however long, and then losing him again would destroy Jack.

So he made sure the possibility never even entered into the equation.

Until Murdoc came and started haunting Mac like a particularly sadistic poltergeist.

Murdoc is strong enough to possibly rival even Jack, and now the distance between him and Mac is no longer safe. If Jack wants to protect Mac, the closer to his partner he is, the better he can do his job.

And after the night at his apartment, where Mac let him closer than he’s ever been, let Jack behind his shields and hold him through the night…

He wants

He’s just not sure if he can have.

“Hey Riley. Wait a minute.” Jill’s voice stops her from entering the elevator. She knew she shouldn’t have come in on a Saturday evening. Riley watches bemused as Jill almost runs up to her, hair for once slightly dishevelled, deep bags under her eyes that Riley suspects might have come from an all-nighter. Riley would tell her to take better care of herself, but that would be rather hypocritical considering the nights she and Mac have spent in the labs in the past, unwilling to leave an experiment running without them there to supervise.

Jack likes to complain whenever that happens, but he still shows up every single time, bearing snack foods and pillows that are way more comfortable than the ones they have stashed in the Phoenix labs.

Jill smiles at her, still catching her breath. “How’s…how’s Bozer?”

“Doing better. Bored out of his mind. Complaining that Mac and Jack left him in LA and took Sparky on their road trip instead.”

Jill grins. “He does know that they brought Sparky back to the Phoenix before leaving right? I mean, after all the money that was put into Sparky’s development, there’s no way Matty would have ever authorized Mac and Jack taking him with them.”

“I don’t think anybody’s told him yet,” Riley says, grinning impishly. Jill shakes her head, exasperated, but Riley can tell she’s holding back laughter herself.

“Anyway, that’s not why I wanted to talk to you.” Jill hands her a tablet. There’s a tracking software running, one Riley designed in her early days with the then-DXS to find and close backdoors into their system.

“We’ve hit a bit of a problem with this one. The program is telling us that it’s found a weakness in our firewall, but there’s nothing actually there. At least nothing we can find.”

Riley takes one look at the program and realizes that this is likely to take a while.

“I’ll call Bozer and tell him I’ll be late. Meet you in the lab in ten?” Jill smiles and nods, relief clearly visible on her face.

Her evening plans are going to have to wait.

Jack finds them a room for the night, bundling up his sleepy partner in Jack’s oversized sweater after Mac shivers visibly when he gets out of the car, and sends him ahead to take a shower while Jack sorts out everything else. Mac doesn’t make it that far, though. Jack finds him sitting on one of the beds, still wearing Jack’s sweater and now also wrapped up in the bed sheets.

He looks like a very adorable burrito. Jack snickers and Mac shoots him a dirty look.

“What. It’s cold,” Mac says, grumpily, and Jack breathes a little easier because a Mac annoyed with him is a Mac who regained some of his fighting spirit. Jack puts down their bags and lets himself plop down on the other bed. The springs squeak a little too much for Jack’s comfort, but they’ve slept in worse conditions, on wet ground with mosquitoes buzzing around, so sleep should come easily enough.

“Jack?” Mac asks quietly. Jack turns to his side where Mac is still comfortably ensconced in his mountain of blankets and Jack’s sweater.

Something he’s been desperately trying not to think about for the past few minutes.

“You know, I’m kind of hungry,” Mac says, eyes wide and pleading. Jack considers telling his partner that he’s an adult capable of getting his own food for maybe a second before getting up.

“I’m pretty sure that look’s outlawed in at least half the states, Mac,” Jack says, raising an eyebrow.

Mac doesn’t respond, just grins at him a little guiltily and Jack takes comfort in the fact that Mac is at least aware of what his eyes are capable of. Bozer likes to call them “the baby-blues of doom” and Jack can’t really think of a better way to describe it. He turns his attention to the immediate surroundings of their room, lazily scanning the area with his empathy, still careful not to venture too close to Mac’s shields. Finding nothing but the sleepy receptionist who handed them their keys and a few easily-spooked squirrels, Jack tips an imaginary hat at his partner and leaves to find them dinner.

Mac almost falls asleep after Jack leaves, the warmth of the blankets and Jack's sweater lulling him into a comfortable drowsiness. He’s contemplating a way to get Jack to forget he ever gave Mac that sweater in the first place, so Mac can keep it and enjoy the scent of his partner’s skin so close to his for a while longer, when most of his senses go quiet.

Mac unwraps himself from his nest and gets up as quietly as he can. There’s not much that can cut off a Sentinel from their senses, and most of it is very bad indeed. Since Mac doesn’t feel particularly sick or poisoned, the only two possibilities left are a Sentinel or Guide stronger than Mac cutting him off from the outside world, or a very strong white noise generator.

Since Mac can’t feel anything interfering with his shields, his money is on the generator. Question is, why would anyone out here use what has to be military grade equipment? Since Mac and Jack are likely to be the only Guide and Sentinel out here who would merit that kind of interference, Mac would very much like for Jack to come back, preferably right now.

He risks a glance out of the window, carefully drawing aside the curtain, but there’s nothing out there, just a few cars in the parking lot. Mac turns around, looking for his phone, and stars directly into the eyes of Jack’s wolf, looking at him with a warning in his eyes. The wolf takes a few steps forward and jumps at him. Instinct has Mac throwing himself aside despite the spirit animal’s intangible form, but the action saves him from standing right in front of the door when it explodes inwards.

He’s still thrown into the wall by the force of the explosion, but escapes the worst of it. His senses go haywire in the aftermath with nothing to ground them on. He opens his shields, trying to find the familiar presence of the wolf, but hits an invisible wall as soon as he throws his senses outward.

Mac’s hands scramble at the ground, trying to find purchase to get himself up. His head hurts and he’s all but deaf and blind right now. It’s his vision that returns first, still lying on the ground, he manages to turn around and face the door. Hope rises in his chest, because he can just make out a familiar four-legged silhouette through the dust, only to crash and burn once his sight fully returns.

Canis latrans.

The person who walks into the room after the spirit animal kneels down next to Mac grabs his hair and forces his head up until Mac can see right into cold, brown eyes.

“Hello Angus.”

    

 

  

       

 

 

Chapter Text

“This is what we have so far.” One of the Phoenix techs hands Riley another tablet and looks at her expectantly. She takes a look and barely resists throwing it against the wall in frustration because this should not be possible.

Riley’s spent the past few weeks since the lockdown rebuilding that particular part of the system herself, and she’ll be damned if some pimple-faced kid fancying himself a big bad hacker is going to be responsible for destroying her work. The attack on the Phoenix building has shaken her, hard, changed her too, in ways she’s still not entirely comfortable with. Riley’s faced a lot of danger since Mac and Jack recruited her but, until now, she’s never truly felt it.

It’s entirely possible that she’s been using work to distract herself over the last few weeks, but right now she can’t help thinking that that may have been a good thing after all. If she hadn’t spent the time she wasn’t with Bozer in the hospital painstakingly combing through every bit of code making up their system, this particular breach wouldn’t have been discovered for a while yet. Now that she’s been alerted to the breach. She can do something about it.

Jill hands her a coffee and Riley settles in to work. Nobody’s going to mess with her system again, not if she can help it.

Jack doesn’t feel entirely comfortable leaving Mac alone in their room while getting food, not after the nightmare his partner had in the car, but Mac’s not actually a kid anymore so he tells himself to stop worrying.

Mac will be fine.

He finds a bar close, selling the kind of food that’s filling if not entirely healthy, and orders enough, they’ll have some leftovers for the road tomorrow. Jack settles in to wait when suddenly every instinct he has starts screeching at him to get his ass back to his partner because Mac’s in trouble.

The explosion rattles every glass and bottle in the bar.

He races back to the motel, his heart beating a constant staccato of danger danger danger in his chest. The town isn’t big and the streets are sparsely populated at this time of night, but there are already people rushing out of their houses and Jack can hear a siren wailing in the distance.

The door to their room has been blown inwards. Jack runs across the street with no regard for traffic, which is practically non-existent this time of night anyway. He wants nothing more than to rush up to their room, but instinct and years of experience has him scanning the street first, hand already on the gun in his waistband. He almost dismisses the plain grey van in the parking lot, the only other car beside Jack’s GTO, as harmless because it had already been there when they’d arrived, if not for the huge black raven taking a sharp dive at the roof before seemingly vanishing into the metal.

Jack throws his empathy at the car to find out if there’s anyone inside and hits a wall. He scans their room next, knowing Mac is probably not there anymore, and finds it as empty as expected.

The kid’s not dead. Jack has to believe that. Whoever blew up their room took him and put him in that van. Mac’s spirit animal wouldn’t exist anymore if Mac had died in the explosion.

Drawing his gun, he tries to close in on the car from the rear, using the trees and a few garbage cans lining the street as cover, when the van suddenly roars to life and speeds out of the parking lot, taking a few of the garbage cans with it. Jack doesn’t bother with his gun. He jumps into the GTO and nearly bowls over the receptionist running out to the street.

Mac is in that van, and Jack is going to stay hot on its heels until he can make whoever thought it a good idea to take his partner away from him feel very sorry for ever having been born in the first place.

The van screeches around a curve, Jack close behind. They’ve left the more densely populated area behind, so there’s less chance of innocent bystanders becoming collateral damage, a term Jack hates with a passion, but also less chance of Jack getting aid from local law enforcement. He curses when a sudden flash of light forces him to essentially navigate blind until his eyes adjust to the darkness again, but manages to stay on the street.

Then Jack’s right front wheel explodes with a deafening sound. Only years of experience and his well-trained reflexes prevent him from hitting the brakes. He speeds through it instead, barely avoids hitting a street lamp, and comes to a screeching halt next to a sign advertising 24-hour breakfast.

The lights of the van vanish into the darkness, taking Mac with it.

Mac wakes up tied to a chair. His head hurts and if Mac had eaten anything in the last few hours, he’d probably be revisiting it right about now. His senses are surprisingly quiet, which tells him that he’s likely been drugged.

“Open your eyes, Angus. We have a few things to talk about.” Murdoc’s voice is cheerful, as if he’s expecting Mac to sit down for tea and cookies, but given that he’s just successfully abducted Mac from right under Jack’s nose, he has reason to celebrate.

Mac does as he’s bid and supresses a shudder at how close to Murdoc he is. The Guide is sitting in a chair similar to the one Mac is tied to, their knees almost touching, anticipation in his eyes. Mac takes a surreptitious glance around and Murdoc tuts at him.

“Don’t think you can escape. I’m very well prepared to play host for as long as I need to.”

Mac swallows. “What do you want?”

Murdoc cocks his head, dark eyes trailing over Mac, smirking when he settles on the oversized sweater Mac is still wearing. He leans forward, placing his hands on Mac’s thighs in an unintentional mockery of Jack’s touch earlier that day.

Mac wants to scream.

“I don’t think that sweater belongs to you, Angus. Does it?” Mac tenses when Murdoc’s hands wander higher, hands tightening for a moment, before he draws them away and leans back in his chair.

“I don’t see how that’s any of your business,” Mac says through gritted teeth. Murdoc smiles a quick smile and gets up. He pushes his hand into Mac’s hair again while stepping around the chair until he’s standing right behind it.

“You know, I always found it curious. That Dalton keeps so much distance between the two of you and yet…”

Murdoc’s hand tightens in his hair and he forces Mac’s head up. There’s a wolf in the room with them, Jack’s wolf.

“He’s always close, always ready to defend you.” Murdoc lowers his head until he can whisper into Mac’s ear.

“But not close enough, Angus. Jackie-boy is an idiot and I’m going to enjoy taking what he’s discarded so thoughtlessly.” He pushes his nose close to Mac’s skin and takes a deep breath. The wolf growls and fletches his teeth. Mac suppresses a flinch, unwilling to show any kind of weakness the psychopathic Guide could possibly explore.

The touch isn’t even the worst thing. There’s a constant pressure on his shields, an oily darkness trying to burrow its way into Mac’s mind. He resists and Murdoc doesn’t push, not yet, but Mac feels like throwing up anyway.

Murdoc chuckles and releases Mac with an almost gentle caress, fingers trailing over his skin until he’s finally free of the unwanted touch. He steps back around Mac again and sits down in the chair opposite Mac, a seemingly carefree smile on his face.

“Do you know why you’re here, Angus?” Murdoc asks, leaning back and crossing his legs. There’s an expectant look on his face, he looks like a teacher eagerly waiting for his star pupil to answer a difficult question and Mac should probably take offence at that that, but he humors him anyway. He breathes easier now, with Murdoc back in his chair, even if the pressure on his shields hasn’t lessened.

“No, but I’m sure you’re about to tell me,” Mac says and there’s a sudden flash of rage in Murdoc’s eyes that vanishes as soon as it appeared. Still, it makes him wary, reminds him of just who his captor is and what he’s capable of.

“For once you’re bait. Bait for your loyal lapdog who is surely on his way to storm this castle and save the damsel in distress at this very moment,” Murdoc says, a grin spreading across his face. “Jack Dalton is going to die in this room and you’re going to watch me kill him.”

“Why?” Mac asks into the ensuing silence, mind frantically trying to think of a way to warn Jack, but unable to come up with a plan that doesn’t end with either or both of them dead.

“Because he’s in the way. He may be a wolf, but many an apex predator has been felled by overestimating their importance. His death will sever whatever nascent bond he’s already formed with you and free you up for other…suitors.”

Mac swallows, barely resisting the urge to start giggling hysterically because Murdoc can’t really think that Mac would ever consider touching him with a ten foot pole after killing Jack, that Mac wouldn’t do everything in his power to kill him after that.

Murdoc must have read his thoughts on his face, or maybe he’s closer to breaking through Mac’s shields than Mac suspects, because he starts chuckling.

“Oh Angus. Who said I was giving you a choice?”

Jack has been cursing his car, the local police, this goddamn shit show of a road trip, and Mac’s father for being the cause of it all for the past twenty minutes. He’s changed the blown out tire, finding the remnants of a small incendiary device in the process, and whoever orchestrated this whole thing must have been well-prepared. Thankfully the GTO is still drivable despite considerable damage to the paint job, but so far the local authorities have proven to be less than helpful. He calls Matty next and doesn’t expect her to sound as awake as she does.

“Dalton, you and blondie need to get your asses back to LA. We have a problem,” Matty says without a greeting. Jack interrupts her.

“Mac’s been taken. I need Riley to help me find him,” Jack says, leaving her speechless for a moment. There’s some muffled shouting and then Riley’s voice greets him.

“Jack. You need to be very careful because I’m pretty sure that Murdoc is behind this.”

Jack’s heart freezes to a cold lump of ice. “I thought that bastard was securely behind bars?” He asks, no demands.

This can’t be real, this is all of Jack’s worst nightmares combined.

“I’m sorry, Jack. We discovered a breach in our security a few hours ago. I managed to isolate the data that was stolen and when. We're still unable to contact anyone at the site were Murdoc's been held but I'm pretty sure he escaped.” She takes a deep breath, audible even through the somewhat shaky connection.

“Riley.”

“It was during the lockdown. There’s a lot of compromised data we haven’t fully recovered yet, but one thing stands out because it’s very specific. Jack – you know that the Phoenix routinely tracks all of its field agents’ company phones. You wouldn’t carry those all the time normally, but…”

“But because we’re still on a heightened threat level after the lockdown, protocol dictates that right now we do,” Jack finishes for her. “Sonuvabitch, I’m going to kill that bastard.”

“Yeah, well. Be careful alright? We wouldn’t even know that Murdoc is behind this if we hadn’t found the breach tonight…Jack?” Riley’s voice sounds hesitant.

“What?”

“I know you and Mac don’t like to talk about the Sentinel and Guide thing much, but…is there any way for you to track him? I mean I can help, but that would probably take some time.”

Jack closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. There is a way, one he doesn’t like to acknowledge. It’s why he and Mac can always see each other’s spirit animals. Jack doesn’t even know if Mac is aware of how unusual that is and he’s never had the courage to ask.

He looks up to where the raven is regarding him with dark eyes of unfathomable depths from its perch atop a street lamp.

Bonds between Sentinels and Guides are tricky things. Technically it’s a two-way process. Sometimes it involves a lot of naked skin, by far the most enjoyable way if those non-platonic pairs Jack had talked to over the years are to be believed, sometimes it’s just making yourself a permanent home behind your partner’s shields. It differs from case to case, but it always requires both parties to form a permanent bond.

Except…not always.

This is where Guide empathy comes in to play and it’s the reason why Guides are much more regulated and closely-watched by the Centre than Sentinels, especially the strong ones like Jack.

A Guide who is strong enough can technically form a bond without a Sentinel’s consent, sometimes even without the Sentinel’s knowledge. It’s highly illegal, considered by both Sentinels and Guides to be an abhorrent violation.

And it’s exactly what Jack had done to Mac in a bout of panic when he couldn’t reach him in the desert all those years ago.

It’s not a full bond, not nearly, and Jack takes a small measure of comfort in that fact. He hadn’t even noticed it at first, and only the almost constant presence of Mac’s spirit guide in the first few weeks after they’d come home had clued him in to what he’d truly done to Mac that day.

The animals had known what Mac and Jack hadn’t and had stuck around, waiting for them to complete the bond.  

Jack has thought about telling Mac about the nascent bond a lot over the years but found himself unable to actually start that discussion. Because it is unfinished, the only thing the bond really does is give Jack a sort of constant awareness of where his partner is. It doesn’t work over long distances, which is why he can’t just magically find Mac right now, but it’s been useful more than once over the years.

It’s the fact that it also gives them the ability to sense, and see each other’s spirit guides that could make a difference now.

Jack might not be able to find Mac right now, but Mac’s raven can.

He looks up at the animal again, still waiting patiently for Jack to make up his mind, and makes a decision.

“Riley?”

“Yes, Jack?”

“I know how to find Mac. I’ll call you again when I have.” He doesn’t give her time to respond, just hangs up, gets into his car, and starts the engine.

The raven spreads his wings and takes flight.

Jack follows.

Mac loses track of how long he and Murdoc have been staring at each other. His senses return fully after a while, but when he tries listening to anything beyond the room where he’s still chained to his chair, he hits the same wall as back in the motel.

White noise generator again.

His senses aren’t the only thing returning however, because he’s been thrown into a wall not that long ago and the cuts and bruises start aching as well. Mac suspects that there were some heavy duty painkillers in the drug cocktail he’s probably been dosed with after being abducted from the motel, and that those are slowly wearing off now.

Murdoc doesn’t really say anything else after their initial exchange, but Mac can feel his stare like an almost physical brand on his skin the whole time.

The pressure on his mind never eases off.

After what might have been hours, night have been days, Mac isn’t really sure anymore, Murdoc cocks his head and smiles a slow, lazy smile. He gets up and cuts through the bonds tying Mac’s legs to the chair. Before Mac can even think to try and use his new mobility to attempt an escape, the door to the room opens and two heavily armed guards enter. Murdoc cuts through the ropes around Mac’s arms next and takes a pair of handcuffs from one of the guards.

The cuffs close around his arms and Murdoc drags him up from his chair.

“Showtime,” Murdoc whispers with almost giddy anticipation and shoves him out of the room.

“Thought you wanted Jack to die in this room,” Mac manages to grit out before his heart stops.

Standing in the large warehouse-like hall is Jack, hands up in the universal gesture of surrender. Jack’s dark gaze tracks them across the room and Mac can almost feel the vicious fury hiding behind his partner’s eyes.

“Jackie, Jackie, Jackie,” Murdoc says, drawing Mac back until his back is flush with Murdoc’s front. “I found something you lost. I don’t think I will be giving it back though.”

Jack’s eyes flash with supressed anger and he steps closer, only stopping when Murdoc’s goons raise their weapons. Murdoc presses his nose into Mac’s hair, breathing obnoxiously loudly, deliberately trying to goad Jack into doing something rash.

Mac closes his eyes and tries to think, but between the lingering injuries from the explosion and the near constant pressure from Murdoc attempting to erode his mind’s defences, Mac is all but done in. He can barely remain upright as it is.

Then he feels it, a faint brush against his shields from a different mind. The contact is a far cry from the oily, warped presence of Murdoc’s twisted empathy. It’s warm and gentle, a promise of safety.

It’s also achingly familiar.

Mac opens his eyes and looks at Jack. Jack who seems anguished for some reason which Mac doesn’t understand…until he does.

He knows about the bond, fragile as it is. Has taken comfort in the faint connection Jack had initiated in a bout of panic all those years ago, even when he’d been too much of a coward to let Jack in fully.

Mac is done with being afraid.

He lets Jack in.

The connection springs to life with an almost euphoric rush, like it had just been waiting to, whenever Mac and Jack got over themselves. Suddenly Jack is everywhere, he surrounds Mac, enfolding him in adamantine shields, viciously ripping away Murdoc’s presence in the process. Murdoc screams and seems to fold in on himself, suddenly helpless with his empathy crumbling away under Jack’s onslaught. The guards raise their weapons and Mac throws himself to the ground while the Phoenix snipers on the opposite roof take them out.

Coyotes hunt alone.

Wolves hunt in packs.

Jack is there suddenly, wrapping his arms around Mac and burying his face in Mac’s neck. He tries to touch Jack, but his hands are still bound and Mac has to content himself with being embraced instead which isn’t much of a hardship.

“God, Mac. Thought I’d lost you,” Jack mumbles into his skin. Around them, Phoenix agents are busy dragging a still alive but almost catatonic Murdoc away, but no one disturbs them.

Mac closes his eyes and burrows himself into the warmth of Jack’s skin and Jack’s mind.

It’s over.