The Right Kind of Red

by Anne-Li

Author's disclaimer and notes: I don't own them, I just dream of doing so. Feedback is better than Cappuchino-flavoured Center chocholate. Corrections to my language are welcome as are comments! Ask if you want me to archive it anywhere. You may link to this story if you want or to my main page. 23.860 words. Partly inspired by a story by torch with a similar crossover. Written in February 2008. Was published in October 2008 in the Connotations 2008 con zine.

Warnings: crossover. Possibly slightly AU, mostly with regards to timelines. Some death, but prior to the story.

Betaed by Heather Sparrows (Great job, as always) and Kadorienne (Very big thank you!). I really appreciate all your help! Remaining errors are all mine.


Cold wasn't supposed to paralyse him. He knew that. Vaguely. He should be able to handle cold. Cold was merely a matter of ... what? He half-heartedly tried to remember, but even to think was difficult. His mind felt buried in mud and as if each thought had to fight to the death just to to reach him. There was considerable pain too, but the pain didn't bother him as much as the cold. The pain was ... old? Currently not as persistent, anyway. Where the cold bit the hardest, the pain was less. The areas that ached the most were the comparatively warm areas, but each time his sluggish thoughts began to wander off in that direction, they encountered a blank wall. He was distantly aware that such a thing normally would rouse his interest: it would make him look even more insistently. He was good at digging up truths, that he knew, but something about the way the mind block ... tasted - strange word, but it was the only one that felt roughly right - told him that it was he himself who had erected the barrier. He must have thought it best for him not to think too closely of why the warmth enveloped the pain in his ... in his ... hands? Why would his hands be-- Don't go there!

The news hit Dorian as a fire in the Louvre would have. He felt as if in free fall. At any moment he would land brutally - breaking every bone in his body. He had already fretted terribly for over two weeks, ever since Major von dem Eberbach had been reported MIA. Terrible, terrible thoughts had haunted him, day after day. The entire European underworld - at his beck and call through the Rogues' Gallery - had been on high alert, looking for any trace of what might have happened during his poor darling's fateful mission in the high north of Finland. And now the news. First of all, Major von dem Eberbach had been - blessed world! - found!

That, however, was not what had rocked Dorian to his core. Oh, he had felt a brief moment of intense relief, yes, of course. Major von dem Eberbach was alive and for a few moments that was all that mattered. Until he heard the other news ...

Sudden loudness, startling him - hurting him terribly. Light - blinding him. Hurts! He tried to growl at them: tried to tell them to get the hell away from him, but the thought wouldn't take shape on his tongue. Being grabbed. Hurts! He tried to fight, but that made the hurt all that much more intense. His hands were pulled out of - Don't go there, don't go there! Loud noises searing him. Go away! Where's my, my ... The thought was lost in despair as everything turned blessedly black and silent.

"B-brain damaged?"

Unimaginable. Impossible. Unthinkable.

"Too early to tell, Milord. He's at a hospital up in Inari. They be doing their best, but they don't know yet. Perhaps he be drugged, perhaps--"

"Yes! Of course the major's drugged! He'll get better!"

"Milord, don't--"

"Get transportation there at once! Quickest speed possible! I need to get there now! Steal me a jet plane!"

"Yes, Milord."

The cold lessened - only to be replaced by horrible heat. He tried to crawl away, but was cruelly bound - unable to do anything but wriggle, toss and turn. Could only keen his anger and frustration in a low voice - too weak even to growl. He was being ... Word, word, word? ... tortured. What did they want? Who were they? He would say nothing, though, he had made sure of that.

Loud noises cut into his ears. The heat engulfed him, the fire pressing like acid against his eyeballs - and like a wave against his eyelids, when he finally was able to shut them. Rolling up and down his aching body. Red ... red ... There was something about red he should remember. Red could be both good and very bad. This was bad red. Hurting him.

On the plane to Helsinki, Dorian cried. Once in a while he did enjoy a good bout of tears - when reading a nice, angsty book a good cry could be surprisingly freeing. And on the rare occasion when a friend of his was hurt or even died - luckily, the latter had only happened very rarely - he cried too. No matter if the tears messed up his eyes: he had never been afraid to let them see how much he cared for them. He liked to think that showing his emotions made him a stronger person.

This, however, was not a graceful cry. He lay with his head in Bonham's lap, being rhythmically patted on the shoulder. The rest of his gang hovered close by. James sat at his feet, holding on to them in that strangely possessive way of his, as if Dorian was a gold coin that otherwise might be stolen from the little miser. Dorian pulled strength from them all, but he kept crying.

Assault upon assault; bombardments of pain and unpleasantness. Drowning him in sweet syrup. Forcing rough stones down his throat. Keeping him awake for days with the sharp light and the cutting noise and the foul scents. The Russians had learned new tricks. Was it the Ruskies? His jumbled mind wouldn't let him remember and nothing shouted around him made any sort of sense; was just so much garbled noises - much too loud, hurting him so much ...

"We have ways," he remembered a bear cub saying, but that was a long time ago, wasn't it? A bear cub? Why would a bear cub speak to him? Had he already lost his mind? Good - that way he couldn't babble secrets, could he? Not that he was able to speak. At least he was fairly sure he wouldn't be able to, but there might be ways, yes, there might be ways ...

Finland. Land of the Thousand Lakes. Dorian had visited the country before, if rarely. Last time had been for an exhibition of sculptures at the Ateneum Art Museum (he had left with a lovely little souvenir in the form of a delightful drawing by Albert Edelfelt). Volovolonte had a cousin somewhere thereabout, Don of the Finnish mob. He had been the one to alert Bonham that Klaus had been found. And about the state he was in ...

Dorian didn't even have the strength to work up a smile for the admittedly pretty young blond who expertly helped them through customs and onto the connecting flight, the one to Ivalo. One of Don Makkonen's men, he assumed, but he didn't bother to make sure. Bonham would know and Bonham would never jeopardise their safety. Later, Dorian would think of rewards; right then he could think of nothing beyond what they might find on reaching Ivalo Hospital.

Then into the passenger seat of a Lamborghini Countach, with John Paul at the wheel. Normally Dorian would have wanted to handle the powerful machine himself, but his hands shook too hard. He trusted John Paul, though - trusted all of his men. They would get him to where he needed to be.

On rare occasions he would find himself in less brightness and almost quiet, as if they had left him alone. As if the torment might have an end. Never completely at ease, though, of course not. The heat remained, flushing him, followed by smaller, sharp waves of pain, centred to his, his ... sometimes he remembered the word, at other times not. His hands - Don't go there! - didn't hurt much at all, they were even comparatively cool. That was ... good? Why would that be -- Don't go there! He couldn't move them, though, without being hampered by whatever rough material bound him. Since he couldn't see he had tried to creep down to reach the bonds with his teeth. Before he more than lowered his head, he had been violently ill. Whatever they had forced into him tasted so foul going up again he lost consciousness.

As the 'ghini slid to a stop at the parking lot of the Finnish hospital, Dorian forced himself to sit up straight and breathe deeply while gathering his thoughts. He needed to be alert now, needed desperately to be at the top of his strength and wit. After having exited the car he stretched, rolling his shoulders, and then arranged his face to look sharp and cool. His gang took up positions around him. Together they marched towards the hospital entrance.

On informing a confused nurse about whom he was there to see, he was directed to a stark white waiting room with the most dreadful canvases of "modern art". Dorian could have drawn better than that himself at the tender age of two. A more welcome sight was six morose-looking Alphabets huddling there already. A, B, G, T, U and W. Startled, Dorian remembered that six Alphabets had accompanied Klaus when he went missing. Bonham hadn't mentioned them being recovered.

"Lord Gloria," A greeted him, sounding very tired.

"How is he?"

A shook his head. "They've patched him up and have him on infusions, even got some food into him, but he's ... he's not responding. They ... let us in, me and B, to see if he reacted to familiar voices, but ..."

"It was horrible," B said quietly. The stocky agent shuddered. He had yet to lift his head.

"He didn't react to us either," A continued. "He's just ... He growls and moans and moves around as if in pain, but they find nothing wrong with him."

Dorian shuddered as well. "Where's the doctor? I need more information. And I need to see him right away."

"Doctor Kiviaho promised they will bring us any updates. They're not letting in any visitors, just made an exception for the two of us, to see if he'd recognize us in any way."

"John Paul - fetch this doctor. A - where's his room? That way? Room number?"

"1215. They'll keep him here, see what they can do, but when he's more stable they'll send him to a NATO-- Lord Gloria! You can't just go in there!"

Of course Dorian could! He bloody well could do whatever he wanted!

He marched down the white corridor. 1209, 1211, 1213 ... Ah. 1215. He barely took time to glance at the name badge by the door, handwritten - Klaus van dem Eberbasch - and wonder why the Alphabets hadn't had the sense to inform the doctors of the correct spelling - Klaus will have their hides if they don't correct that. - before, filled with foreboding, he opened the door. Inside it was almost completely dark. A few red panels shone or blinked slowly. In the ambivalent light from the corridor he spotted a switch to the door's right. So he used it.

Never total silence. Always noises, hurting him. Bop bop bop - couldn't it just stop? It had to be some form of Chinese water torture, but he felt no drops, just the half-deafening bop bop bop. Screeching noises. Murmurings that were almost, but not quite words. With an actual word thrown in occasionally, just to confuse him. Bastards.

Hellishly sharp noises that made him want to scream, but if he started screaming he feared he would never be able to stop. At least the overwhelming red - bad red, not good red - had dimmed, making the headache lessen a tiny bit, making it just a little easier to think, even if he had nothing to think about. A steady thunder approaching - boom-boom, boom-boom ... A searing, metallic squeal! And then a full-force assault of red!

"Nnnnn! Nnnnnnnnn ... Nnnnnnnnnnn ..."

The whines chilled Dorian's blood and made the hair on the back of his neck stand up.

"Nnnnnnnnnn ..."

Small noises, not quite begging - just continuous, hopeless little complaints.

"Nnnnnn ..."

Stiffly, with his heart threatening to bounce up his throat, Dorian jerked his body around to face the room. Finally he saw the bed - and what occupied it. Then A pushed him aside and got his hand on the switch, flipping it off. The whining stopped.

Red, red, red, he hated the red! The bad red, hurting him all over! Mercifully, this time it only lasted a short time. Not that it was completely gone - it remained in the background, merely scratching at him, not tearing. Bearable. More noises though - loud growls, like a a huge machine revving up. A truck? Or a ... big, metal, beautiful, what was it called ...? Again, he tried to move his ... his ... hands - Don't go there! - to cover his ears, but they were held with ... with ... it felt like barbed wire around his wrists. Damn all this! How was he going to escape the red if he couldn't move? Had to escape. That was imperative. At least he could tell them nothing ...

"It's the light," A explained in a whisper. "It hurts him."

Yes, Dorian had understood that. "Why is he bound?"

"He tried to hurt everyone who got close enough. He's weak as a kitten, but ... well ... he's well trained. They couldn't risk it. Not at a civilian hospital."

"And the blindfold? The light?"

"It gets even worse without it."

Dorian hissed in annoyance. "So they leave Iron Klaus blind and bound and figure he will just lie there and take it?"

"They try to keep him sedated, but it's not healthy for him to be under for long periods of time."

"I have to ..." Dorian leaned out into the corridor, never doubting that the man he sought would be patiently waiting for him. "Bonham? Night goggles."

"Here, Milord." Perhaps his trusted SIC had already anticipated the request, possibly forewarned by Don Makkonen, for a pair was immediately produced. Dorian swiftly put them on. He disliked wearing them - they were, of course, hell on his hair. "Now get out. I have to close the door."

"No!" Surprisingly enough, the vehement protest came from B. It invoked another moan from the bed. "We're, ah ... We're not leaving you alone with him!"

"Not when he's like this," A filled in, also sounding determined.

Then, as one, both agents stepped in front of Dorian, arms folded. Dorian blinked in surprise. Then, he frowned. "You - you think I would ... that I would ... do ... something to him when he's like this? A? B? You can't be serious! I've never heard anything so preposterous!"

"Nnnnn ..."

B had the good grace to blush. "He's defenceless, Lord Gloria. We ... We're not taking any chances." He didn't move.

Despite their utter idiocy Dorian still felt a measure of respect for what they tried to do. "Very well then. Bonham - another pair of night goggles for Herr A. Then close the bloody door!"

"Nnnnn!" came from behind the agents. They both jumped, even if the sound in itself wasn't very intelligent. Another pair of night goggles appeared, A took them and then the door, finally, shut. Dorian switched his pair on.

Most of the remaining bad red also retreated. There were still noises though - annoying noises that made it so difficult for him to concentrate ... Bapp bapp! Bapp bapp! Bapp bapp! Bapp bapp! Couldn't they just stop?! Why didn't he have his - his ... his ... the thing? That he could use! To make things silent! Where was his ... his ... ? The word just escaped him - it was there, on the tip of his tongue, but it evaded him, over and over. Not good ... The bapping noises increased in strength and then followed a sealike rumble that churned his belly and made him want to vomit.

Dorian had to take another strengthening breath before facing the bed again. As always the glow of the night goggles made him feel slightly disoriented. The small areas of light almost vibrated and the shades looked eerily ghost-like. As did the man on the bed. The short hair made Dorian hope, for one brilliant second, that it wasn't Klaus at all. It had all been just a terrible misunderstanding. Klaus was in a second bed, perhaps, sleeping soundly. He would wake up at any second now and start yelling at them all. Alas, no. Of course not. There was no mistaking the firm jaw that jutted out over the cover, or the proud nose, even if the blind fold covered part of it. Or the still so very kissable mouth, opened as if a lover's tongue could slip right in. The lips weren't just kissable, though, they were chafed and partly swollen - the cheek on that side sported a greenish blue bruise. Hands rested limply on the cover. They were both bandaged - but also bound to the bed's edge. Part of the cover had been pulled to the side, revealing a long leg in a thick plaster cast, also tied up, perhaps to avoid thrashing. The head moved - very, very slowly, but constantly. Occasionally a hand twitched.

"Oh Major ... " Dorian whispered, horrified by the sight.

"Nnnnn ..."

Dorian drew in his breath sharply. Had Klaus heard? Had he recognized his voice? Had he understood?

"Major?" He stepped closer, heart strumming with hope. "Major? Can you hear me?"

"Lord Gloria--" A began, but Dorian fiercely waved him off.

"Major von dem Eberbach?"

A call, from so far, far away. Yes ... A call. For ... him? No, it couldn't be. No. Too painful. Too far away. Just a noise. A kind of nice noise. From ... the good kind of red. Yes ... The right kind of red. Maybe ... Just maybe he could—

"Major, can you--"

The door suddenly opened, flooding the night goggles. Dorian hissed sharply at the influx, but his reaction - and the loud, male voice saying, "Mitä pirua täälä oikein--" were both drowned out by a loud wail from the bed.


Nonononono, noisenoisenoise! Make it go away! Not for him - of course the nice call hadn't been for him! Alone, all alone, not for him. Painpainpain. Go away! Go away! Aaaaaaahhhh ...

Dorian attacked. Viciously. If his beloved major had been in possession of his full faculties he would no doubt have been impressed - if curious where the man he so often chided for being useless in fights had learned rugby. Dorian's shoulder caught poor Doctor Kiviaho mid-chest and a moment later the man was on the corridor floor.

"B! Keep him out!" Dorian ordered sharply - yet keeping his voice low. Then he dove back into the room, closing the door quickly behind him - but not so quickly that he didn't catch the heavy wood before it banged against the frame. Then he blinked several times, finding it hard to believe what he had just done. Normally he never got that physical, except for rare occasions in bed. Not that it mattered in the least. All that mattered was that the horrible wailing slowly tapered off. Ignoring the obviously baffled A, Dorian returned to the bed - careful not to let his heels clatter against the hard floor.

"Major?" he whispered. "'s all right now. All peace and quiet. I'll make sure you're not disturbed again."

The right kind of red again. Nice. Far away, but soothing. The horror that had assaulted him was gone, replaced by a lull in the torture, letting him catch his breath. The bear cub would do that. Yes. Why would a bear cub do anything? Still lots of annoyances, making him want to crawl away - if only the enemy hadn't bound him so tight ...

"Nnnn ..."

Dorian hated that sound with a passion. At least it didn't seem as filled with mindless pain as just before. He knelt by the hospital bed, wondering what on Earth he was to do - and how long he had before the doctor fought his way back in. Something moved on the other side of the bed and he glanced over to see A kneeling in a mirroring position.

"Nnnn ..."

The bound figure tugged at the wrist bands and then moaned again, as if hurt. Dorian couldn't stop himself from reaching out. Instinctively knowing that any use of force would be met with more wailing, he - as gently as he was ever capable of - brushed the pad of his index finger against the nearest, sturdy wrist, on a small patch of pale skin that blinked between the hospital gown and the ropes. The figure before him shuddered violently.


"Shhhh ... Don't wanna hurt you ..." he whispered, barely audible. "Shhhh ... It'll be fine ... Calm down ... Shhh ..."

"Nnnnn ..."

Feeling utterly hopeless, Dorian looked up at A again. The agent shook his head softly.

"Well, what then?" Dorian mouthed. He knew A to be fluent at lip reading.

"I don't know," A mouthed back.

"That doctor. Idiot."

"Nnnnn ..."

A nodded firmly.

"What happened?"

"Mission gone bad. The others ... didn't make it. They don't know what's going on with him."

"Trauma? Was he ra-- No, forget about that, doesn't matter."

"Raped? As far as they have told us of his injuries, no."

"As I said, it wouldn't matter. He won't be staying here, will he? Hush, Major, hush ... There, there ..."

"Nnnnn ..."

"NATO hospital. When he can be moved."


A paused in a way that was not encouraging. Finally, though, he answered, "It won't be worse."

"Nnnnn ..."

Dorian rolled his eyes. "You'll be with him?" Under his patient hand the twitching had finally stopped.

"Some of us. Always."

Dorian nodded. Better than nothing. "Keep me fully updated."

Again A nodded, very firmly. "Yes, Lord Gloria."

The right kind of red had gone away again. With him so briefly, just teasing him, then going away. Leaving him to the torturers. Why? It didn't like him. Not for him, that was why. Things changed - intense cold again and he waited for his hands to - nonono -Don'tgotheredon'tgotheredon'tgothere - and he was bound so tight, tight, so hard - couldn't breathe why was this happening? Then the heat again, suffocating him and the noisenoisenoise - sounds deafening him and hurting so very much and the various horrors, wrecking him, hurting him, vomiting, hurthurthurt ...

Dorian sat in front of his fireplace. He felt little of the usually so comforting warmth and barely heard the crackles of the jumping flames. Beside him, on a 16th century foot rest, stood his black Cobra phone and it was a toss up if he was waiting for a call or geared up his nerves to make one himself. He was not alone. They rarely left him alone these days. James sat at the main table of the room, working as diligently as always with his number-filled books and his beloved Casio. Jones lay on the sofa, with his feet up on the armrest, reading a Western paperback novel. Bonham's steady hands worked on some kind of mechanic device. His occasional use of a very small hammer was the loudest noise in the room - followed closely by James's steady clickety clickety click and the before mentioned fireplace. Lastly came the soft swishes Jones made when turning pages.

Dorian stared into the fire. He followed the movements within almost as if hypnotised - marvelling at the abundance of colours as the heat shifted. His mind was divided - call or wait, call or wait? He had waited so long already, unable to do anything but sit there- hardly able to even eat as he waited. He knew, in a vague kind of way, that was why the men hung around. They worried for him, bless them.

Well, didn't he have things to worry about, then? His poor, poor Major. Still in unchanged condition after his ordeal. Well, exactly what had happened during the captivity no one knew. There had been signs of a beating and a deep cut to his right leg, but that could conceivably have happened during the escape and the aftermath. One of the Alphabets hadn't been as lucky, A had said, but hadn't mentioned who. They had all been dead in the forest clearing they had been found in - and one of them had borne evidence of a rather systematic torture. Possibly they had started in on one of Klaus's subordinates to get them all to talk. Dorian could only imagine how that must have torn at Klaus, to be forced to witness something like that. And then, the escape - lightly dressed in the raw cold of the Inari forest. Huddling together for warmth, no doubt, by the evidence unable to get a fire started ...




"Yes?" Dorian answered, as his eyes darted across to room to make sure the crash and the bang hadn't come from anything potentially dangerous. Alas, no - Bonham had merely dropped his thingamagog and James his Casio. Jones read on, possibly completely engrossed in the adventures of whatever cowboys he adored.

"It's me, C."

C. Yes. Short, reddish blond and Austrian, rather than German. One of Klaus's older agents and strangely one of his favourites, despite his deficiency in choosing a proper land of birth. Very reliable in any situation, but tended to fade into the background, possibly as a defence mechanism to avoid the full impact of Klaus's expectations.

"How is he?"

"Unchanged. A told me to call you today." They had set up a schedule of someone calling Dorian daily – more often, if something changed. "He's still with him. We're rotating. We're not leaving him alone again."

"Again?" Dorian asked, wondering why this seemed so important - and why C sounded so angry.

"He's ... They ... They're useless, incompetent, lazy arses!" C exploded, actually making a half-way decent imitation of his immediate superior.

"What happened? C, what did they do?"

"They ... Lord Gloria, I ... To hell with them! They're making it worse! I said he's unchanged, and he's ... He's not different than he was - is, most of the time. They moved him to the psychiatric ward. They've dealt with all his injuries and they're fine or on the mend. It's just ... He's still unreachable and they've begun to ... experiment."

"Was?!" Then Dorian blinked. "I mean - what? What are you talking about, C?"

"Trying to get him to react to different things. It isn't working. He's withdrawing, deeper and deeper. He comes back to ... well, you know how he was, but it takes longer and longer. And they're ... Some of them ... Not all, I'm not saying all of them, but some of them--"

"C! What! Are! They! Doing?"

"Poking and prodding, trying different things, heat and cold, medication, trying to get him to react. I just can't bear to listen to him when they're-- We've tried to make them see that it isn't doing him any good - we can all tell, but they just won't listen. And when A and B were on guard and B went to eat and A had to use the loo, they ... It took over two hours before he was back to, well ... normal ..."

Dorian realised with a start that he was no longer sitting by the fire, but standing with the phone cord in a tight loop around his wrist, squeezing the receiver hard as if it were the neck of whatever idiot had dared to hurt his major ... There and then, not even thinking things over, he made his decision. "C? Tell A to make ready to evacuate."

"Ja, Lord Gloria," said C, sounding grateful. "I will."

When the phone disconnected Dorian sat down again. As he thought things through more carefully he was aware of nothing else, not even the still playful fire.

"M'lord?" he heard vaguely. Bonham.

Good old Bonham. Bonham was good at what he did. Excellent at what he did, actually. Normally, Bonham could have done whatever Dorian deemed necessary.

"Milord? What are you planning?"

Jones. Also very reliable. The thing was - they would be expected. The NATO hospital had all their pictures. And the Alphabet, while no doubt on his side by the sound of things, well ... They were men of the law. He couldn't allow them to take too big risks, not even for Klaus's sake. Not if it could be avoided. Not when they could be out of jobs and hunted like petty criminals. He'd take them in, of course, but ... no. Klaus would never forgive him. So ... He would need help. Outside help. Luckily ...

"Oh, Milord, this is going to get expensive, isn't it?"

Yes, dear James, Dorian thought, too busy planning his coup to actually open his mouth and put his thoughts to words. This will get expensive.

For it happened to be that Dorian knew a man who quite possibly might be the world's leading expert in springing patients from mental wards. If you need help. And if no one else can help you. Maybe you can hire ...

He lifted the phone again, frowning faintly as he worked hard to remember what number to dial, taking into account the year, the day of the week and the land he called from ... Then he swiftly dialed the eleven digits, urging the disc on with a finger on the way back to speed on the progress.

"Sticking out like a sore thumb," he said regally. Spy games ...

"Green." Amusing, in a way.

"On a stove in the house near Worcester." Ironic that I have to play them to help my very own spymaster.

"No, Worcester. Oh, for Heaven's sake, man - Wor-ces-ter, then." Was it really that difficult? Normally even Americans could pronounce the word correctly. The man must be from elsewhere.

"Take me to the airport. I intend to never return." I do wonder what Klaus would think, if he knew.

Then, finally, he got to speak to a sensible person. One of his favourite persons in existence, truth be told. Even if he happened to be American. "Hello, Cousin Tem," he said.

The voice on the other end of the line answered him in turn. They weren't really cousins, but had decided that they wanted to be. Brothers would be too close - Dorian couldn't have continued to flirt as shamelessly as he did, had they been brothers - so cousins it was.

"You busy? I find myself in a bit of a bind here and could do with a spot of help. Quite. No, Germany."

Where they had, finally, flown the major, thinking him more likely to respond when addressed by the doctors in his native tongue. Much good it had done them.

"Of course I'll pay for the trip, dear Tem," he hastened to assure him, ignoring James's moan. "Capital. Now, actually. Yesterday. A week ago. Two months ago. But if you could be a dear and make it tomorrow afternoon I will be waiting, arms unfurled, just for you. All my love, Templeton. Ta."

With a plan forming and help on the way, he felt a little better already.

Increasingly long periods of peace - but always, always interrupted. First storms of nagging noises and the horrible smells and the other means of torture. Annoying, hurting and half-overwhelming, but barely manageable. Then, suddenly, the enemy pushed again, trying to break him, doing something so horrible, insidious and terrible he almost couldn't credit it. Though where were the questions? Not that he would answer - no, no, he had seen to that. Not answer - never answer. But there should be questions. He vaguely suspected something to be wrong. No questions. Perhaps it didn't matter. Soon he would dive into the peace which would envelop him entirely. He wanted to stay there, where things were cool and blue and shady. Soon, he felt/knew/remembered. Soon he would be able to stay there. Stay there - forever ...

G and H had Eberbach-Wache around noon two days later. D, who had been on morning duty together with B, had pulled G to the side and told him that something would happen. What was as of yet unknown, but they should expect something ... glorious ... Last word said meaningfully, if with a hint of sweat on D's forehead. G had prepared himself for anything. Both he and H had brought travel bags along, as had D and B earlier, ready to leave at a moment's notice. The twenty remaining members of the Alphabet had discussed matters at length. All were in agreement. The hospital was bad for their superior. Ergo, they had to get him out of there. They themselves could do little, but there was one who could - and who would. It just remained to see just exactly what he planned - and what roles they themselves would be assigned to play.

G sat by the window, studying the cars and people moving past. The psychiatric ward was on the second floor. Had Klaus been merely injured they could have gone out through the window, but with Major von dem Eberbach next to unconscious and in a wounded, vulnerable state that would be difficult. Occasionally G could hear the man moan softly. As always, the noise gave him the shivers. He loved Major von dem Eberbach, if mostly in a puppy kind of hero-worshipping way. He was perfectly aware that nothing ever could or would come of his little crush. That didn't matter in the least. He was happy with swooning at a distance, admiring and - whenever possible - being of use. A smile would last him-- well, actually, a smile would probably kill him, but a non-hostile look from Major von dem Eberbach would last him for days, and even the most backhanded type of compliment would make him warm and happy deep down to his very soul. The horror they currently lived through was driving him insane. And he couldn't bear to think how awful it must be for their proud, self-sufficient major, if he was aware of his surroundings on any but the most primal level.

The door opened. There had been no heralding knock. Good. That meant that whoever entered was no idiot, but had actually paid attention to the A4 with "BITTE NICHT ANKLOPFEN!" [Do not knock!] in huge letters which A had finally glued to the door. Too many doctors and nurses really were idiots. In the short time he and H had been there H had been forced to escort two nurses back into the hallway, where he could explain to them in no uncertain words the meaning of the note. Meanwhile, G had hovered over their restlessly tossing superior, who had begun to convulse at the noises made by the careless "ladies".

On turning G saw a handsome man, with dark hair, sharp eyes and a white doctor's outfit. He smiled sunnily at them before approaching the bed. G immediately followed suit, to keep an eagle eye on what the man would be doing. Some idiot doctors thought they had carte blanche just because the major happened to be unconscious. Luckily, Dr Handsome did nothing but study the major's face intently. Then he looked up at G and his smile turned decidedly appreciative. G could feel his insides fairly melt. What a gorgeous man! A true gentleman, that was instantly clear.

"Hello," said the doctor in barely a whisper. "I'm Dr Peck, but a beautiful woman such as yourself must call me Templeton." He had a clear, American accent.

G felt himself blushing. "Call me G," he said, all but giggling. His real name was ... was ... Well, it did have a G in it.

"G," Doctor Peck confirmed, eyes warm and full of charm. "G for Gloria, no doubt. You do look glorious."

G's blush deepened. Then he realised what had actually been said and glanced over to H, waving him closer. When his fellow agent joined them, he turned to Dr Peck again. "We're ready. What do you want us to do?"

The man's smile never wavered. "Leave it all to me. I know exactly what I'm doing."

Suddenly he could move again. Not much, no, everything hurt far too intensely for that, but he could raise his hands - Nonono, don't go there!- , just a little bit. Still not enough to reach his aching face, but the fact that they were no longer trapped in - No! Don't think about it! - had to mean some kind of progress, mustn't it? But then the enemy attacked again - this time moving him, tossing him back and forth and up and down and up and down - was it some kind of bloody roller coaster? His stomach turned and heaved and his mouth flooded. He was drowning! He couldn't breathe! It burned! No, no, no - go away! Where was the cool blue? He needed the blue.

Dorian had stood in the window for close to an hour, when he finally spotted the rapidly approaching van. He had wanted to accompany them, but he knew that his own face must be plastered all over the hospital, warning everyone that he might try to reach the major. For a brief moment he felt a burning, all-encompassing hatred - as if he would hurt his dear, dear major while the man was totally helpless? To hell with them all! Then he made a conscious effort to suppress his angry thoughts. They would do neither him nor the major any good. He had to be calm and efficient. Klaus needed him.

Abandoning his sentry post he padded downstairs. Bonham followed like a sentient shadow. Dorian felt grateful for the silent support - and for the hand that rested, warm and secure, on his shoulder, as the back of the van opened up. H and Jones clambered out, each carrying one half of a stretcher which they carefully manoeuvred out. Then a huge, dark-skinned man emerged with the other end - he looked strong enough to carry the entire thing by himself. Finally G and Templeton. Dorian hurried down, anxiously looking at the stretcher's passenger.

The major was out cold, head lolling slackly to the side.

"He was screaming," Tem said and put his arms around Dorian from behind. Since Dorian was taller than him, this was slightly awkward, but Dorian appreciated the gesture. "I thought it best to sedate him."

Dorian didn't like that - didn't like that at all, but he merely nodded. Done was done and he was sure it had been the best option, considering the circumstances. "Thank you, Cus'," he said and reached back to pat Tem's side.

Meanwhile the three had carried the stretcher very carefully up the stairs. Bonham walked first, to show them the way to the room so lovingly prepared.

"Always happy to help you," Tem answered, sounding completely sincere. "So, this is the guy, right? The one you've been mooning after?"

Blue, blue, blue, blue. Blessed, cool, nice blue. Without the tastes and smells and feelings and all the other things that pained him so. Just cool and rest. So nice ... He could float in the blue, occasionally catching glimpses of far-away movement, but nothing that alerted him; nothing to made him wary of danger. Just peace and quiet. Rarely he would experience a kind of gentle wave through the world, too slow to even make him nauseous. It felt proper. An ocean such as this should have waves - gentle, huge waves, to rock him to sleep. Nice, cold, blessed blue ...

"Yes," Dorian answered his pretend cousin's teasing query absentmindedly. "He's the one."

"Well, I can't tell much about him, when he's out like this. I thought you said he had, what was it, 'hair like raven's wings, shimmering like moon's darkness, lovely tresses that--'"

"They ... cut it!" Dorian spat the hated word, then had to stop and lean into his cousin's well-meaning hug.

"The torturers?" Templeton asked softly and patted his back.

"No!" Dorian had to draw a steadying breaths before continuing. "Those damned doctors! Curse them all! G and B were out of the room just for a few minutes, and they-- Oh, Tem!"

"It'll grow out again," Templeton mumbled soothingly and continued to pat him. "Well, I was just going to say that when you get your man on his feet again, I expect an invitation, so I can come over and make sure he takes proper care of you - and have BA kick his hiney if he doesn't."

At that image, Dorian had to smile, if only faintly. "Thank you, Tem," he said seriously. Then he hurried after the stretcher to make sure his beloved was settled properly.

No! The blue slowly faded, replaced by all the horror of The Other Place. He hung upside down and was tossed back and forth - yet strangely not, but that was what it felt like, how all the blood pumped through his head, hurting so much. The rush of his own life was almost deafening - and all the other noises: enormous booms, like that of giants dancing with wooden clogs. His skin burned and he tried to chase the blue that quickly pulled away, only to suddenly run into a black wall of pain. Smell wasn't involved for the moment, though - at least some relief. He did smell something - but it was familiar and mostly harmless. Strange, that. Still, the others didn't give him more than the briefest of moments to contemplate that change. Hurtshurtshurts ...

"Nnnnnn ... Nnnnn ..."

Major von dem Eberbach had started moving almost as soon as they had settled him on the bed. Dorian at once squatted nearby. He gently caught one of the slowly moving wrists - not restraining it, merely rubbing a fingertip to the pale skin in tiny, tiny circles, hoping to somehow break through to reassure.

"Nnnn ... Nnnnn ..."

"We've got you, major," he whispered as softly as he was ever capable of. "We've got you. Husssh, now ... Husssh. Calm down. They won't hurt you any more. You're safe here, I swear it. You're safe." To look at the still all but shaven head put a huge lump in his throat. Major Klaus von dem Eberbach, NATO's finest, wasn't supposed to look like that, damn it! My poor hedgehog ...

And after a long, long time, the weak mewling finally subsided and the long body came to a precarious rest.

The red! It had returned to him. The right kind of red. It was close, just beside him, and somehow everything else muted out. The huge gagumping noises remained, but not as overwhelming as before. He didn't feel quite as dizzy either and his skin didn't burn so much, especially not his wrists, where he felt a kind of lingering coolness - one of the first pleasant sensations he had felt in ... ever? Had he been in this pain forever? It felt as if he had. He greedily concentrated on the cool red, hoping it would stay with him from now on.

Dorian sat with his major for several hours, looking at the man he loved so dearly. He had only rarely glimpsed the major asleep before. As always he felt his heart expand at the very sight. It was at such moments he felt his love the most; how it permeated his entire body; how he would like to spend his future with this man. Sickness and health. Good and bad. For rich and for poor. The whole nine yards. Until they were too old and grey to remember a time they hadn't been together - though hopefully never too old to enjoy each other's company.

Dorian always got what he wanted. That was the law. Granted, at rare times he would have to work hard to achieve his goal, but he always got there in the end. He would get his major; his happy ending; his happily ever after. There was no other option. After years of merry chasing he wouldn't let a trifling detail like the major being ill stand in their way. Oh - he would never take advantage of the - for once in a blue moon - helpless figure. He would never, not in a million years, do something that sordid. Had the man been at least awake things might have been different. Then Dorian would have teased him and maybe - just maybe, mind you! - helped himself to just a tiny, itsy bitsy, quick little kiss. Nothing further. He would never do anything that might risk his long-term goal - a committed relationship. Which couldn't happen with one party apparently locked in some kind of private hell, if judged by the moaning and tossing. Something must be done.

"We'll get you well again," he promised, keeping his voice to a barely audible whisper. "I promise you this. Come hell or high water, you will get well again. You're Major von dem Eberbach, are you not? NATO's Iron Klaus? You would never let a little thing like this keep you down."

Still holding Klaus's wrist gently, he closed his eyes and started to plot, all the while wishing for just one affectionate curse word from betwixt those beloved lips.

The red remained with him for some time, before it abandoned him again. Black swallowed him, removing all input, then spat him out in a horror where something stuck in his throat; then he was tossed about and it hurthurthurt. He was vaguely aware that the pain could be far worse - that he had lived through far worse, in fact. This was nothing, really. The knowledge didn't help. Then came the horrible sounds, like rock concerts being held pressed against his eardrums ... Over and over again ... Perhaps the blue after all?

Only one hesitation held him back from disappearing into the soft, cool blue forever. In the blue there would never be any red, ever again ...

They didn't know for sure exactly what had happened to Klaus, only that he had been found half frozen to death, with his hands stuck up Z's stomach cavity. The latter had been done after the young agent's death, likely as a last ditch effort to keep Klaus's precious hands from getting frostbitten.

Was his near catatonic state mental due to a trauma endured or physical due to some injury or even a poison holding him firmly in its grip? Nobody knew. The NATO doctors had begun to research, even if their bumbling seemed to have only aggravated matters. Dorian had left instructions for them to continue - that if they found some potential cure he would return Klaus to them. Still, he would rather turn to an honest life than rely on them solving the problem. They were all incompetent bunglers - he had heard Klaus mutter about them often enough and even if he knew that Klaus tended to see things in an unfavourable light, in this particular case Dorian happened to agree. The NATO doctors were, after all, bound by certain laws, had limited funds as well as other priorities.

The first thing Dorian did after leaving the room, was to make a few phone calls.

"I need help," he said. "Come."

And so they came.

Evil doctors and assorted geniuses took pause in their manic attempts to take over the world. They came from Europe; they came from America, they came from Africa; they came from Australia and they came from Asia. A plane from Shanghai carried no less than four evil doctors - during the flight three passengers died from rare diseases, a dying man was cured from everything that ailed him and a woman gave birth to twins - the latter also something of a miracle, as she hadn't been pregnant on bordering the plane. Dorian met them all at the door, embraced them like brothers (albeit brothers that he had to wear plastic gloves to touch) and then put them to work. They were allowed to see Klaus briefly, then were given small measures of blood, hair and other substances. Various scans were performed. They worked and they talked and two of them died from natural causes - if natural causes both of them had been immune to - but no one could come up with what ailed the still tormented major.

Treatments were proposed, but none Dorian felt sounded reliable enough. Perhaps a bit of this, to stimulate the brain? Perhaps a tad of that, to soothe the nerves? Perhaps a dose of - well, yes, it would kill him afterwards, but he almost surely would come to first! So he listened to the suggestions and agonized over whether one of them would really be able to help his poor Klaus. Dr. West's re-agent serum sounded harmless enough and the man's reassurance that Klaus would come back after having been given it also sounded sincere, but there was just something about the look in the good doctor's eyes that made Dorian hesitate. He just couldn't be sure and no offered solution sounded right. He allowed the harmless suggestions, but no sign of progress ever came. Klaus no longer seemed to withdraw fully, but neither did his constant unease seem to lessen - except for the rare occasions when Dorian sat alone with him for long periods of time, never talking, barely touching his wrists.

Dorian hired the best nurses available. Predominantly female - and males only if Dorian himself had failed in his best attempt to seduce them. Why he would allow heterosexual females and not homosexual men might be considered hypocritical, but he relied on his instincts of what he thought Klaus would have preferred, had the man been awake.

Weeks passed and Klaus's face - never wide - looked worryingly gaunt. He received the best care money could buy, but getting enough nutrition in him was still difficult - and attempts to give him therapeutic massages or even just move him around to stimulate his muscles were met with so obviously pain filled reactions that the nurses were soon discouraged, unable in the long run to see their attempts as anything but further torture.

When Volovolonte came to visit, Dorian hadn't slept in well over 50 hours. He knew he looked positively dreadful, but didn't care enough to do something about it. Gian Maria was an old friend - if Dorian's appearance shocked him he gave no indication. After a half-hearted initial attempt to jolly Dorian out of his depression the big man came to the cause of his visit.

"I have a lead."

In his dishevelled state it took Dorian a couple of seconds to decipher the statement. "Oh, you do? I would be ever so grateful!"

"You know I love you, Dorian, there's nothing I wouldn't do for you. So I put out an alert in the entire Cosa Nostra. Anything that could help your man."

At this, Dorian perked up. He had connections in the Rogue's Gallery - of course he did. All the gentlemen thieves on the planet knew of him. The thugs, though, he had less contact with, and only with very select parts of the Italian organized crime organisation.

"I love you too - like the best brother a man could have." He was aware of that Gian Maria's feelings for him sometimes wavered past the purely platonic, but he had no desire for the rotund Italian, even if he valued their odd friendship. Klaus was all he wanted and, regardless, Volovolonte was not the type of man Dorian would have gone for. "What did you hear?" He had to put an effort in asking gently, rather than grabbing the man by the shirt and shaking the answer out of him.

"Nothing in specific, but a friend of mine, Don Luchiano, knows of a man who has ... knowledge of things. He is ... very special in many ways. Don Luchiano said that he would bet his life that this person will be able to help you."

Dorian took all of a second to make up his mind. If his old friend was convinced, he would go. He would have to see this man in person, and talk to him. And if Don Luchiano was wrong, he would really have bet his life on the matter. With the way Dorian currently felt about things, he was just about ready to kill someone ...

The right kind of red abandoned him again. It had done that, off and on, but it had always returned. The presence of the red made things easier to endure. He vaguely remembered when it had gone away for very, very long. Things had been awful. He was prepared for things to go that way again, clinging to the hope that the red would do as it had done that time and return before the blue swallowed him forever. He liked the blue, he really did, but for some reason he didn't want to lose the tenacious connection he had to the red - and he knew that red couldn't exist in the blue. If red went into the blue, it wouldn't be red any more, it would be ... it would be ... To think was so very, very difficult ...

The trip to America took about 14 hours, all in all. Dorian checked in at the finest hotel in town, slept the rest of the night away, then rose bright and early - much too early for his regular taste, but he had important things to accomplish and a growing need to return to where he ought to be. He arrived at Don Luchiano's house on the dot of nine. The man was .. interesting. A good person to all appearances, yet decidedly ... odd. Odd in a way Dorian didn't quite approve of, even if he - for Klaus's sake - held his tongue. But there was really something strange about the way he doted on his toy poodles.

At 11:30 he stepped into a small Chinatown pet shop. The kimono-dressed Chinese who greeted him was among the prettiest men Dorian had ever seen, with porcelain skin and black hair. His eyes had two separate colours - one purple and one golden.

"Welcome to Count D's pet store," the man said.

"Thank you," Dorian answered smoothly. "I am Lord Red-Gloria. I'm an Earl myself." He wasn't sure what a Count would be doing with a pet store, but perhaps the family had fallen on leaner times. Lord knew there were plenty of nobility around without a penny to their name.

"Charmed to meet you, Lord Red-Gloria. What kind of pet are you looking for? Hmm ... Do let me guess. Something exotic ... Perhaps a lion?"

Owning lions was legal in America? Well, it might be, for all that Dorian knew. "Ah, no. Well, I'm more of a cat person than a dog person, but--"

"Oh, I can see that, your Lordship." For whatever reason the Asian beauty giggled. A pleasant sound, but Dorian began to wonder if drugs were involved. "Not a lion, though. That would be too ... narcissistic. Maybe ... Hmm ... Something a bit wilder?"

Wilder than a lion? "I'm not here to get a pet," Dorian stated quickly. "I was told you might like this?" He held out a large packet, carefully wrapped in gold and red.

Count D - at least Dorian assumed this was the man himself- formed his mouth to a surprised o. His eyes widened. "For me?"

"Don Luchiano suggested they were your favourites."

The packet was quickly taken. Nails so long they made Dorian want to shudder - that was one affectation he had never really gone for - cut up the wrapping with screeching noises. "Oh my!" Count D then exclaimed and held up the huge box of chocolates. His strange eyes shone and he fairly vibrated in place. "Red Diamond Chocolate! Why, thank you, Lord Red-Gloria. They really are my favourites."

The box was opened and Dorian watched in amazement as at least ten of the little blood-red sweets were devoured with blissful single-mindedness. Meanwhile, a young boy in half-open vest, loose trousers and ... ram-horns? entered the room. He stared at Dorian in anger, then hissed to the Count, "Another one! Just like the detective! This one isn't as mangy though. What are you doing, Count D? Getting yourself a harem?"

The Asian had his mouth full. Dorian, somewhat confused, answered for him. "Young man - I assure you that I have no intention whatsoever of being part of anyone else's harem." A sudden image of Klaus and himself as well as selected members from both his own team and the Alphabet, flashed through his mind. He did his best to repress it or he would never be able to look A in the eye again.

Count D started to cough and the vicious boy stared at Dorian, looking surprised. "You ... You can see me?" he asked.

Dorian felt his eyebrows go up. Drugs. Definitely drugs. Before he had time to answer, Count D apparently had his little problem under control. "T-Chan, return to your room. I need to talk to Lord Red-Gloria here alone."

With one last, angry glare, the youngster left. Puzzled, Dorian watched him go before turning his attention once more to his host. Who looked back at him with interest. His mismatched eyes - coloured lenses? - made him look strangely otherworldly.

"Lord Red-Gloria. Tell me ... everything."

And for some reason, Dorian did.


On entering the apartment, Jim drew a long breath through his mouth. The air was filled with familiar reminders of both his home and the anthropologist he shared said home with. Lots of spices - thyme, cumin and saffron were the most prevailant ones at the moment, drifting in from the kitchen area. The tiny particles went into his nose all on their own and the sense of smell blended with taste to make him smile appreciatively. Underneath he recognised leather, wood, smoke, vanilla, the pot of flowers Sally had seen fit to give him for Christmas, wool and oil, among many others. And, of course, Blair. That was the most loved scent of all, warm and musky - a hint of sweat, of skin and the very blood in his veins. There was a more unfamiliar scent in the loft, though - a new addition, that of orchids.

He heard the clocks ticking; the faint hum of Blair's laptop; sparkles from within the oven as it warmed up; the monotone purr of the refrigerator and freezer; rhythmic scrapings of metal against metal; the sizzle of warming water - his guide's heartbeat; hair moving; clothes rasping - a symphony all in itself. He followed the sensations to let his eyes feast on the source of most of them - Blair, busy mixing something in a bowl. A sauce, probably, white with just a hint of yellow.

"Oh, hi, Jim!" Blair said on turning. "Saffron chicken tonight."

No need to caution not to use too many spices - not with his clever guide, who knew exactly how much would turn the sauce from "oh-god-I'm-ready-to-cum" to "oh-god-my-throat-is-dissolving". Sometimes Jim marvelled over how little testing had actually been needed in the end. It was as if Blair instinctively knew how to make things just right for his sentinel. Not just in the kitchen either.

Jim walked the last few steps up and dropped a quick kiss on his guide's hair, breathing in deeply to catch a heady lungful of the complicated combination of scents.

"Sounds good, Chief. What's with the floral splendour? You got a suitor I should know about?"

The flowers stood on the kitchen table, in a blue green glass vase he knew didn't belong to them either. Three long-shafted orchids, in brown-spotted yellow, orange and pale purple.

"Nah, man. Got them down at the university. A group of guys handed them out left and right. Some kind of sale thing. I got a nice set, though - see: this is a Leopard, a Crucifix and a Sogo Cherry. Some just got a single Phantom. Not too strong, right?"


Which surprised him a little. He would have assumed orchids would be overwhelming, but the intense scent balanced well.


"You smell like other flowers, though. Thought you might have visited a flower shop."

"What? Nah, that must have been the guy who came to my office. Should have seen him, man. Like an ad from the seventies, all bright colours and ruffles, and hair like twice the size of mine."

Jim raised an eyebrow. "Hippie friend of your mom?"

"Not with that chinchilla coat. Naomi would have run at him screaming - and not for a good reason. Nah - a friend of a friend of a friend of Eli, actually. He had heard from his friend - the friend of a friend of Eli - about my research and had some questions about the Sentinels of Paraguay."

"You didn't--"

His unfinished question earned him a light kick to a leg. "Of course not, man! You know me - not a word of your abilities to outsiders. But the guy already knew the ABC and we had a really nice chat. English - a real , actual, honest to God Earl. Lord Josiah Boarsbath."

"He's the one smelling like a flower shop?"

"He did wear a very strong eau de cologne, yeah. I guess old Britannia is holding on to her tradition of eccentric noblemen. Gay, man. Oh my god gay. But not one of those overdone swishers, the guy just seemed ... naturally light-footed."

Jim grunted non-committally. He severely disliked anyone asking Blair questions about the Sentinel-phenomenon. The disaster with Brackett and the Ebola virus was bad enough: certainly not something he would ever want to be repeated. He made a mental note to run a search on Lord Whatshisname first thing in the morning. "So," he then said, not wanting to worry his guide unduly, "how about that chicken?"

Dark. So dark. Too many sounds. Not a trace of red. No red. The right kind of red was gone. Again. Body hurt. Hurt too much. Blue. Where was the blue? He needed the blue ...

Jim found his pending investigation of Lord Josiah Boarsbath delayed. He and Rafe spent most of the day running half across town, tracing a lead. A Kronberg painting had been deftly stolen from the Cascade Museum of Art the previous day. As "Young Man Bathing" was on loan, courtesy of the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts, the mayor had her panties in a twist, demanding that all possible resources be dedicated to solve what would otherwise have had low priority.

Jim admitted that the theft left him a bit puzzled. The painting itself - though very nice, if you liked that sort of thing, which Jim did, even if he preferred his young men to be Blair - was not among the most valuable things at the CMA. His and Rafe's working theory was that the burglary had been a commissioned job.

On returning to Major Crimes he expected to find his little guppy hard at work typing up reports at his desk. Blair had said he would come over for lunch and Jim knew that if he left a couple of things that needed doing where they could be easily seen, then Blair would help himself, making fair use of his surplus of energy. However, what Jim found was a disappointing lack of Gupcake. With an internal sigh because of plans gone awry, he hunkered down and started typing out the report detailing today's searches as he waited for Blair's arrival. The anthropologist had an almost uncanny ability to run into people - had probably been waylaid by some goggle-eyed co-ed or whatnot. The Sandburg would show up soon enough, with a story to talk Jim's ears off with while they ate.

Half an hour later, though, when Jim saved yet another finished report (at this rate he would set some kind of record, he felt sure of it) and there still was no sighted Blairitis Sandburgis, Jim sighed and dialled his guide's cell. The explanation better be a doozy. Annoyance was, however, good - that would score him bonus points usable for convincing Blair that they were now in a hurry and thus needed to catch a Wonderburger.

Blair didn't answer.

Jim went back to finish off yet another report. By now his stomach growled, very upset with him for withholding food. He pressed a fist against it and called again.

No answer.

Faced with the alternative of typing an umpteenth report (and surely have his head explode in the process) or trying to find out what Blair "Walking Trouble Magnet" Sandburg had gotten himself involved in, Jim's decision was a no-brainer. Besides, he knew fully well that once alerted that everything might not be hunky-dory with the guppy, his guide-sense would go on high alert, never allowing a moment's peace until he had verified that his blabber-mouth friend cum lover hadn't talked himself into yet another situation that no normal person would get into drunk, high and able to plead temporary insanity.

Wouldn't surprise me if he's found a zoo escapee and is now trying to relocate it to its original habitat. Or was at a second hand store when someone tried to sell "Young Man Bathing" for four bucks. Yeah, I can see him now - helpfully pointing out that it is actually an original ... Things would quickly go downhill from there, ending in hostage taking and/or Blairnapping. Unlikely perhaps, and probably lacking a few steps of logic here and there, yet Jim wouldn't even lift an eyebrow if that really turned out to be the case. It would just be business as usual in the Sandburg Zone.

Still, rather than start doing the rounds to the likely places for guide-retrieving, Jim drove the truck towards Rainier University. All things considered, it was the Blair's favourite hunting ground and perhaps the nutty professor had simply forgotten his cell somewhere - again ... - and hadn't looked at the clock in the last hour or so - again ... - , too intent on some text or problem or obscure reference to Sentinels - again ...

On the way Jim did make yet another attempt to reach Blair's cell - to no use.

The office cubby-hole proved empty. Saturating the air was the beloved scent of his guide: the spice-rich near-presence that Jim would recognize in a breath at Times Square on New Year's Eve. A strong odour of flowers, though, made Jim frown. One of the most frustrating things with his heightened sense of smell was how difficult dating things with it was. Depending on source, placement, humidity and any of a dozen other variables, the same smell could linger for days with only minor diffusing - or evaporate almost instantly. He had no problem recognizing the sweet fragrance as the one Blair had picked up from Little Lord Lightfoot the day before - but from when? It did smell a bit too strong to still be lingering. Unless the Brit bathed in the fragrant stuff? Or had the man returned for further questions?

Some careful questioning - by now Blair's co-workers all knew him, trusted him and had made a habit of writing down when and with whom they saw Blair converse and especially leave the building with - quickly confirmed that "Prince Charming" had returned this day as well - wearing something Miss Lily Ederholt referred to as "Something out of an ABBA vid". He and Blair had spoken at length. Blair hadn't left with him, though. No, he had rushed out of the office as if hunted by bats out of hell, mentioning as he waited for the elevator that he desperately needed to get something back at the loft before getting his butt over to Major Crimes before Jim used his ranger skills to assassinate him with a paper clip and hide his body in one of Simon's coffee mugs.

So, Jim set course for 852 Prospect Avenue, trying both the cell and the phone at home, with no success. Already on entering the building his nostril's flared as he detected more of the almost sickly sweet flower smell. Prince Charming had been there! There couldn't be two people wearing that kind of cologne, both in Blair's vicinity on a specific day. With his senses trained to their apartment he continued. He had no reason to yell out Blair's name on entering - the lack of heartbeats had already told him there was no one there - at least no one who would be able to answer him. That he saw no outdoors clothes was somewhat reassuring, but he still made a quick check to reassure himself there was no body laying around. Then he took his time, making another sweep, this time meticulously using his senses to catalogue anything out of the ordinary. Blair's smell was pretty much a constant - stronger in some areas, sure, but to track him through the rooms proved difficult. Jim might have the nose of a blood hound, but sometimes his human brain still had problems simply compiling all the input normally not available to one of his ilk. The stranger was far easier, apart from that his layered scents quickly had Jim's head twinging warning signals of an impending headache.

Prince Charming - assuming it was really him – had entered through the door, had walked into the kitchen, into Blair's old room - now his study - stayed a while in the living room and then left again. The Blair smell was strong around near the Lord Boarsbath pattern - likely Blair had been with the man the entire time. There was no trace of bitter fear or the more cloudy anger-betrayal on Blair's part, which did a lot to calm Jim down. He did smell grainy worry, but from the British Lord, and so heavily ingrained with his body odour it took Jim several seconds to filter it out from the rest. Prince Charming worried constantly. About what?

There was a third scent too, just by the door. Male, also a little concerned. Whoever it was never entered further.

Before following the trace outside Jim retrieved the tape from the door camera he finally had installed. Blair didn't know about it, but after Lash and everything else, Jim had decided to go the smart route. A spy camera filmed while the door was open. A similar arrangement kept track of the balcony door. The invasion of their privacy was a small price to pay in situations such as this. Besides, only he and Simon knew about it and his boss would never misuse the knowledge, Jim would stake his life on this. He went with the smell down to the road, where it abruptly stopped. As did the Blair smell. So Blair had left with Lord Boarsbath. Why?

Exasperated, Jim hurried over to Major Crime, running the siren and overlooking a few commonly followed traffic rules in the process. There he finally watched the door camera tape and got his first look of Prince Charming.

He speeded past images of himself and Blair comin' and a-going, at one occasion sharing a quick kiss goodbye, before Blair opened the door to let in a blond stranger. While cataloguing everything he could of the man Jim found himself wondering if the mass of curls was genuine or some kind of wig for disguise purposes. He couldn't remember the last time he had seen a man with such hair. Well, Blair's was naturally curly and difficult to restrain, but if Lord Boarsbath's crowning glory wasn't a wig, one helluva perm or a can's worth of spray the man would have to have some genes in common with sheep. Jim adored Blair's hair - apart from having to clean up when it clogged the drain - but apart from Hair Boy most men in his vicinity wore their hair short - or even cropped, like himself. He admitted that Blondie carried his hair style off beautifully, though. He also understood why Miss Ederholt had referred to him as Prince Charming - the man did have an undeniable noble air about him, making the Earl-title very believable. And if judged by his clothes he appeared semi-stuck in the late seventies, early eighties, just like Blair had said. This time he wore a knee length coat in pale brown leather, lined with something fluffy and grey. Within glimpsed something slick and red. Pale orange, skin-tight trousers peeked forth between the coat and pale green, knee-height leather boots. A small, dark brown, glossy fur cap throned on the curls. He had an aristocratic face, with a large, proud nose; thin, jutting chin and high-set eyes - eyes startlingly similar to Blair's own - the shade exactly the same, in fact, even to the sentinel's eyes.

The door was held open only briefly, before Blair, looking slightly surprised, let the man in - getting a flashing smile in thanks. The image blinked off and on - this time to show Blair again opening the door. He was dressed to go outside and carried the backpack he always kept ready for travel. Prince Charming rounded him and they were both out of sight.

So. Blair had left voluntarily. Why? Where were they going? Why hadn't he been in touch? He knew that Jim waited for him, damn it! Oh, Blair would forget such things - he often did. Especially when caught up in someone else's needs and concerns. But for so long a time? No, that just wasn't like Blair.

A split second later the tape, still rolling, surprised Jim with another blink. The door reopened. Enter a stocky, blond man with a moustache. He glanced around, then reached out. From the table by the door he took the green blue vase with orchids as well as an envelope Jim only now noticed had been put there. Then he stepped out again. The footage ended.

Jim went over to Simon's door and knocked before sticking his head in. "Captain? He's gone again."

Simon, in the process of raising a coffee mug - Mocca Blanco with an extra helping of whipped cream – looked at him with a pained expression. Then he lowered the mug and visibly exhaled. "Right. Do we know who has him?"

"I have a name. Probably fake, but he goes by the name of Lord Josiah Boarsbath."

"You can have Rafe and Brown. Keep me updated, even if you just find a hair of him."

"Yes, sir."

"Well, what are you waiting for? Our boy is missing!"

So, Jim got to work.

The right kind of red would never return. He was certain now, even if just to reach such a simple conclusion was an almost unthinkable agony and more difficult than mountain climbing. The blue hovered so close - inviting and calm and peaceful. He slowly let himself drift towards it, desperately needing the rest. Where the colour enveloped him, the torture bothered him no more. Soon he would feel nothing else. Which, if there really would never be any more red, was just as well. Without the red there might as well be just the blue.

Searches on Boarsbath and various variations thereof yielded nothing. Not to any surprise of Jim's, though it made him worry even more. He detailed Rafe to dusting the loft for prints, after having told him which areas to concentrate on. It had, after all, been only four days since his last in-depth cleaning - and when a sentinel cleans in depth, the only remaining fingerprints ought to be his own and those of his guide. They had had no visitors since last poker night. To Brown he gave a still from the door cam tape, to see if it would lead them anywhere. It wasn't as if such a person as Little Lord Lightfoot easily melted into the background. Jim himself dealt with the biggest lead of them all - the Sentinel connection.

First he tried to contact Eli Stoddart, with whom Lord Boarsbath had claimed distant connection. That didn't pan out, as the professor was currently visiting Liechtenstein and while the tiny monarchy counted as a civilised country, it was on the other side of the globe. The lady Jim reached refused to wake the ageing professor up at such a late hour. She did promise, however, to tell the man about the call as soon as he showed in the morning. She took Jim's number and also promised to mention that the call regarded Blair. Jim had no doubt that the old man - who loved Blair like a son - would be in touch the minute he got the message - and probably angry as a riled rhinoceros about not having been woken.

Next call was to Jack Kelso. Here Jim's luck improved. Jack was not only awake and available, he had only heard part of the story before interrupting. "Tall, blond, British, curls, nobleman, lots of hair, flamboyant, calling himself Boarsbath and an Earl too. Hmm ... That does ring a bell, actually. You had a still. Fax it on over and I'll call you back."

So, Jim sent the fax. As he waited for his own phone to ring he borrowed Rhonda's to call around to Blair's friends in the vain hope that one of them had heard from the anthropologist student errant. He was trying to track down Naomi's current retreat when his cell finally rang and he answered mid-signal. Most of all, of course, he hoped for a Blair, but the wheelchair-bound FBI agent he got was a close second.

"It's our man," were Jack's first words. "Sorry - I should have called you right back, but I wanted to brush up on recent events. I hear things, but it's not that I'm paying attention to all of it, for all that some parts are like an on-going soap-opera."

"Fine, just tell me what you know."

"Your Prince Charming isn't exactly next in line to the throne of England, but he is a honest to God Earl, all right. Earl Dorian Red-Gloria, the Earl of Gloria. You should address him as 'Lord Gloria', or 'Milord' or something like that."

None of the things Jim intended to call the guppynapper had 'Lord' in them. "Huh. What brought him to your attention?"

"Well, that, my friend, is one of the most well-known secrets in Intelligence. By day well-mannered, somewhat fruity Earl of Britain ... by night - Eroica the art thief. I'm sure you've heard the moniker."

"Who hasn't? We did have a break-in. Young Man Bathing."

"Sound like something right up Eroica's alley. The fruity part isn't just a cover."

"What would he want with Blair, then?" A horrible thought occurred to him. "So he likes young men? Fuck, Jack, if--"

"No! Calm down, Jim! Nothing like that! I have plenty of information about Lord Glorious and he's already happily obsessed with someone."

"Well, I didn't really think he'd kidnap the Chief this way if he just had the hots for him."

"No, that's not his MO. I was going to say he's a gentleman, but from what I hear he can on occasion be a bit ... blatant in his eagerness to persuade his chosen one of his affection."

Jim felt his eyebrows go up at the delicate reformulation of what Jack had probably heard. "Sounds like there's a story there, Jack."

"One or a hundred, depending on who you talk to. Here's a name that'll twitch your ex-ranger ears. Iron Klaus."


"Got it in one."

"Sarge used to yell at us when we did something stupid or tried to be smart. 'Who do you think you are, trying to pull a stunt like that? Iron Klaus?' The man's still in service? Got to be, what, fifty-five?"

"Not quite. Joined young, record career - up to a point, where he by all accounts liked things just fine and refused to budge. He was in active duty as late as back in December. When he was captured by a terrorist group and went missing for over a month. When found, in Finland, he was alive but close to catatonic. Later he disappeared from the NATO hospital and no one has seen hair nor hide of him since. NATO is looking for him - frantically, of course. He knows things that would be disastrous if they leaked. Yet ... Well ... Most of us others aren't all that concerned. Not about that, anyway."

"How come?"

"Well ... That 'chosen one' I mentioned before, of Eroica's?"

"Iron Klaus?"

"Bingo. Eroica hasn't been seen since either, until now. When Iron Klaus disappeared in Finland Eroica tore up Heaven and Earth to have him found. This time: zip, zilch, nada. And if Eroica had gone missing the criminal world would be on the warpath. He's some kind of icon for them - or mascot so to speak. So what most people think - and what my gut feeling is telling me - is that Eroica has Iron Klaus stashed away. The opinions are more divided as to ... why ..."

The possibilities made Jim shudder. "Taking stalking one step further. Hell - skipping a couple of steps, taking a grand leap. Damn. Right - but what does he want Blair for?"

"Not a clue, Jimbo. Sorry. We have little information about Eroica's hideouts, apart from his legally owned buildings, and they've already been searched and double-searched by NATO and probably triple-searched by any half-dozen letter combinations on Earth you'd care to mention. They probably had to put up a schedule as not to trip over each other's feet. Where Eroica has gone, nobody knows. As I said, this is the first sighting of him since then. The fox had gone to ground."

"Did you tell your FBI buds about it when you got yourself updated?"

"No time, I wanted to get back to you first."

"What's your take on why Eroica took Iron Klaus, then? He's got him locked up and is banging him?"

"Not a chance. Not unless he got seriously unhinged. Which, I suppose, is always a possibility. But I've met the two of them. Eberbach more than once, but both together at one time. Little job in Belgium, you wouldn't believe what the two of them got up to ... Anyway - Iron Klaus's thoughts on things are up for grabs. Old Stone Face might be delirious with joy or in a murderous rage, one would have to be a sentinel to figure out which - unless he wants you to, which he doesn't. Eroica on the other hand ... Oh, there are actors out there and he could be the best I've ever seen, but my bet is that The Lord Glorious wears his heart proudly on display, and it beats to warm that cold, German heart of Major von dem Eberbach. Cajole, convince and persuade, never giving an inch in a million years - like young Blair when he's got his mind set. But Lord Gloria is about as capable of harming NATO's finest as our young Professor wannabe is to harm you. Just my take on things, but that's what you asked for."

"So Iron Klaus won't be in worse trouble if you hold off on telling the posse? Jack - I need to find my guide. I can't do that with the rest of them blundering into my way. God knows what those idiots might do if they fear their precious secrets might be spilled."

"Mum's the word. But I can't stay silent forever, Jim."

"Give me 48 hours."

"Deal. Besides, either way Iron Klaus is probably safer with you on the track, Mr. Bloodhound. Find them and call me the minute you do."

Jim promised and hung up. "After I've killed Blair for leaving without telling me - and kissed him silly for being all right."

Blue. Yes. All blue. Blue, blue, blue ... Peace. Still a hint of unease. Something had been left unfinished. Something he should have done? Someone who ... who ... what? But they would never find him there, in the blue. Peace ... Stay there. Stay in the nice, cool, blissful blue ... Yes. Stay in the blue. Stay forever.

After having given Simon the skinny and received as much time off as necessary ("But not a minute more, Jim! The Mayor is on my ass about these other cases and I need my best team back, stat!") Jim left for the airport. From what Jack had said, Jim knew that the world kept track of Lord Dorian Red-Gloria, Earl of Gloria. He should, however, be the only one tracking one Josiah Boarsbath. If he was in any kind of luck that name might have been used again.

Cascade Airport was, as always, a trial for his senses. So many smells assaulting him - all the humans coming from so many places, many of them sweaty after long periods of travelling without showers, reused clothes and in many cases bouts of various diseases. The minute Jim stepped through the gates leading in, cell phone in hand after having received no news from Brown, his head shot up. Scenting the air, he homed in on a taste/smell thread that shouted out that his guide had, indeed, been there - and not too long ago. Blocking out the multitude of attacking sensations, he followed the warm, inviting path. His nose led him straight to gate 6, which was closed and dark. Looking around he located a flight attendant and flashed the young, oriental-looking man his badge.

"Detective Jim Ellison, Major Crimes, Cascade PD." As the young man nodded, looking puzzled, Jim flipped his wallet in the other direction, to the picture of Blair "Head Obfuscator" Sandburg. "I'm looking for this man. We believe he might not have been here voluntarily. He left on a flight taking off from this gate. Who do I speak to?"

He was led to control and then on to bookings. After some initial confusion, another flight attendant was summoned, who had helped at the desk during boarding.

"Sure, who can forget Lord Handsome? Yes, I remember him well. Not the cutie-pie brunet of yours, but Mr. Goldielocks. Drop dead gorgeous." The woman fanned herself. "Utterly gay, of course. Why are the best ones always gay?"

"Lord Handsome, you called him. Have you reason to believe he might be nobility?"

"You know, I actually checked if his passport would have a title listed. One of the guys with him, a short, sweet one with black hair over half his face, called him 'Milord'. Real Brit accent, it was so cute!"

"Do you remember any names?"

"Only his, Lord Handsome's. Something Ferris, I think. Sorry, you know how it is, I see thousands of ID's every day ..."

Jim glanced through the booking list. "Ferrare? Hans Ferrare?"

"I guess."


While bringing Simon up to speed over the phone, Jim half-ran to the nearest ticket counter, intent on following the plane. Four hours later he landed at JFK, having missed the flight to London by two hours. The name Ferrare was still in use, but the person Jim talked to remembered a drop-dead gorgeous man with straight, black hair followed by six men in trenchcoats and one curly-haired brunet matching Blair's description. At Heathrow he missed the flight to Köln-Bonn by thirty minutes and had to wait another twenty for Lufthansa's next plane.

While on the small side the Flughafen Köln-Bonn had enough traffic that the minute traces of his guide were all but impossible to track without risking a major zone-out. Checking the car rental places was a no-go. No group of men; no Ferrare; no recognized Sandburg. Jim marched up and down the small airport, finally finding a stronger scent in the bathroom, where Prince Charming - if judged by the scent - had been forced to make a pit stop. In the main hall he spotted the telltale signs of surveillance cameras, but an American detective shield carries little weight in Germany. Shortly afterwards Jim considered calling Jack again, to see if the man had any suggestions or weight to throw around. By then he stood in a semi-circle formed by himself and four others. They seemed to understand his urgency, if not the details, when a young, blond security guard with a cold red nose joined the conversation.

"You look for Major von dem Eberbach?"

Jim blinked, then quickly nodded before using the one bit of German he was dead sure of, apart from "Ein Bier, bitte", "Ja." As does half the world, Chief Little, or haven't you heard?

Apparently the youngster hadn't. "He was here this morning, with some of his agents."

"You know Major Eberbach?"

"Not me. I am from Eberbach, where he lives. He buys smoke from father's shop."

The guy had a town named after him? "And Major Eberbach was here this morning? Did you talk to him?"

"Nein. I had nothing to tell him. I saw only his back. Not many men his size dress that way with his hair. Is anything wrong?"

Apart from Major Eberbach supposedly being one step away from a vegetable and, oh yeah, abducted by a stalker? "Did you happen to see this man?" He flipped up his wallet again, to the picture of Blair.

"Ja, he was with Major von dem Eberbach."

"Thanks, Chief. Did you happen to hear anything else, like where they were going?"

"He had the family Mercedes, so I think he would--" Suddenly he frowned. "Ah, I'm not sure I should tell you." Apparently the young man had finally clued in on that someone was asking potentially harmful questions.

Family Mercedes ... "To Eberbach? He was going home?"

"Nein! I know not where he was to go!"

Jim smiled disarmingly. "All right, I understand. Thank you for your help, I really appreciate it." He took a few more minutes to calm the young man, who kept denying knowing anything. Finally he stepped away, already dialling Jack's number. His hearing hadn't let him down, and had easily detected the stumbling of the security guard's voice when he lied as well as the flip of his heart. As far as the young man knew, Major Eberbach - since it was the major he thought he had seen, if nothing else - was heading home.

Jack easily provided an address and ten minutes later Jim drove off in a rented Opel. He had two addresses. One to a discreet arms dealer in Bonn and one to Schloss Eberbach - the Castle Eberbach. Apparently, Iron Klaus didn't just have a village named after him - he lived in a bleeping castle!

Eberbach - town and castle - lay at some distance from Bonn. To drive there seemed to take hours. When Jim finally arrived, dusk was already well on its way. He parked the car a five minute walk from the castle and continued on foot, using his Ranger-learned skills to move like a shadow in the dense German forest. Long before he reached the castle his superior ears locked onto the oh so familiar, sweet music lub-a-dub-dub of his guide's heart. Blair was present. Jim allowed himself a quiet sigh of relief. The security guard could, of course, have been dead wrong in his guess that "Major von dem Eberbach" would head home. Jim was further relieved by the steady pace of that beloved heart - Blair showed no signs of being either upset or scared. For whatever reason he had to walk a little longer before hearing Blair's voice.

"--when Naomi and I visited a Sahrawi tribe in--"

The words layered like balm around Jim's heart. At a somewhat slower pace he crept closer, making a slow circle to catalogue weaknesses and possible entry points. That was when he realised that six men hid in the woods behind the garden. They wore black and conversed in low voices. The language was English, but two had Russian accents and one a Slavic one. The fourth Jim didn't recognize and two didn't speak as he listened.

"I will go in through the kitchen, here, and take out any servants," said one. "Leo, you're with me."


"Milo, you lead the others through the garden entrance, here. We'll work our way towards the main stairs, here, and then up to the second floor. The target should be in the second room to the left. Take out everyone you meet, but be quiet as far as you can. You have 15 minutes to get into position, then we move."

Jim contemplated taking them out himself. Sentinel vision and ranger reflexes did make for a lethal combination and by the sound of things the group wasn't out for sightseeing. Still. There was an odd chance that they might escape him, which would leave the people in the castle - including Blair - vulnerable to the planned ambush. Jim remained in the shadows, undecided, when he suddenly noticed that one of the other shadows ... moved.

He was not alone.

Yet he was, he would bet his life on it - would, in fact, bet Blair's life, which was far more precious to him. He detected no heartbeats other than his and that of the terrorists. Birds, yes, and tiny, fast heartbeats that he guessed came from mice or whatever rodents might be native to Germany. Nothing from over where he had seen the move, though, nothing apart from ...

A pair of blue eyes, exactly the shade of his own, stared back at him with feline disdain. The shadow moved again, solidifying into the shape of a cat that had never strayed wild in these forests. A black jaguar. His spirit animal.

Oh, terrific - now you show up! Where were you when I tracked Blair half across the globe? I could have used a hand - paw - whatever. Well, what do you want? Is Wolfie there too?

A shockingly red tongue lolled out of the jaguar's mouth, as if his thoughts had amused the animal. Then it turned around and started to run away - in a slow enough pace to allow Jim to keep up. He did so, trusting the spirit to lead him right. Together they circled Castle Eberbach, coming up on the front side. He noted a black window on the second floor - not dark as if merely from pulled curtains, but black as if the sun's rays had been intentionally blocked. The jaguar proudly trotted up to the main door. After a moment's hesitation, Jim stuck the Luger into his jacket pocket. Then he climbed the stairs. Just as he was about to knock, the door opened.

"--and then Naomi and I smuggled the sacred red rocks back into Guelmim-Es Semara. The guard never even knew what happened," Blair finished his enthusiastic explanation and smiled towards Dorian. Who looked at him with a slightly stunned expression. "You all right, man?"

"Ah ... Yes. I just ... Never mind. Congratulations on a most daring plot, well planned and well executed. I'm most impressed. Just you and your mother too, and you the tender age of fourteen. Again, I am impressed. And those stones sound ... very interesting. But where are my manners? Dearie me. Do forgive me. Did the shower help?"

"Sure, thanks. My headache is all but gone now. Was he all right?"

The faint smile on the noble face dimmed. "No. He seems to have slipped much deeper while I was away. He didn't respond to me in the least."

"Oh. That sucks, man ..."

"Indeed it ... sucks. Come, I will take you to him now."

Blair hefted his backpack and shrugged it onto a shoulder. "I'm ready. Lead the way."

Then he followed the Brit through the castle - Wow! A real, authentic German castle! A Schloss, yes - definitely more the palace-look than a Burg - though it does look easily defensible too. Of course, the introduction of gunpowder led to the traditional castles disappearing. This would be built later than that, I think. The modern additions really blend in well, though. The family must be really keen on keeping the old style. Though that shower was really nice, very modern, state of the art. Wonder if I could persuade Jim to redo the bathroom? New shower, bigger water heater, big enough for two ...


He swung on a heel. Marching towards him with a thunderous expression came his very own Blessed Protector.

"Jim! Man! You're early!"

Then Jim reached them and sniffed him none too delicately while glaring at their host. "Early?" he said, his tone hard. This didn't worry Blair overly, though - Jim was a pussy cat, really, much like his animal spirit. He might hiss and show his claws, but scratch that head - no, the other head - and Blair would have him purring in a second. Go the guide!

"I wasn't sure you'd be able to come at all. And certainly not this quick. Great, man! I tried to call you like fifteen minutes ago, when I got out of the shower, figured you'd be home by now, thought we'd talk things over, but I just got the answering machine. Did Simon--"

"Talk things--"

"--like freak when you asked for a few days off? But he gave them anyway. Is he a good boss or what? I bet he argued though, did--"

"Sandburg!" The sharp tone combined with his surname brought him up short. "Of course he gave me time off - we thought you had been kidnapped! You're lucky the entire Major Crime gang didn't invade Germany!"

Blair suddenly felt cold to the stomach.

"What? I left you a note! I tried to call, but the lines were busy and then I left a note! It was right there, on the key table."

The key table, as in the table next to the door on which they habitually left their keys.

"Yes, you did," Jim said obligingly, though Blair didn't need Sentinel vision to see the man's jaw muscles work. "Only after that you and Prince Charming here--" He glared at Dorian, who looked slightly bashful. "-- left, someone broke into our apartment and stole the note! And the flowers, I'm not sure why."

Blair twirled. "Dorian? What's going on?"

"I'm sure I don't know," said the curly-haired blond, his blue eyes wide and utterly innocent.

Blair didn't buy the act for a second. "Listen here--"

"Yes, listen!" Jim broke in, very determinedly. "We clearly have to talk through this, but right now we have something far more urgent to deal with!"

"Yes," said Dorian. "We really need--"

"We have six men, armed with automatic rifles, ready to break into the castle in about six minutes."

"Oh," Blair said, barely hearing an echoing "oh" from the third man in the hallway, who had persuaded him to leave America on a whim, to travel near half around the globe.

Like in a parody of an old horror movie, the Schloss door had opened just before Jim's knuckles made contact. He hadn't even noticed an approaching heartbeat. On the other side stood a honest to God butler, wearing the typical penguin outfit of the breed.

"Good evening," the man greeted in close to perfect English - the German accent fainter than the decidedly Eton dialect. "Detective Ellison, I presume?"

"Ah, yes, that would be me."

"Very good. Young Mr. Mulhen phoned ahead, telling me of your interest. I regret to have to inform you that the young Master is not in residence at the moment."

Even with Sentinel senses Jim had surprising difficulty determining that the man was, in fact, lying. That's one man who'd play the shirt of even Blairboy. Better not invite him to any poker nights. "How about Lord Red-Gloria, then?" he asked, mostly to see what kind of reaction he would get.

He got nothing but the same apologetic reply -and the same, almost nonexistent indications that the answer received might not be quite truthful. Both men were in the building. Besides, Jim could smell the flowery eau de cologne from where he stood. Then he heard the unmistakable footsteps of his guide approaching, but at a different level of the castle. So he rounded the protesting butler and hurried up the stairs, where he found both Blair and Lord Goldilocks. After a few disorienting moments of trying to explain the situation he finally got the message through.

"--in about six minutes."



Perfect twin "oh"s. Well, with different stresses and intonations, but the voices were exactly the same. Jim blinked. Even if pressed he would have guessed that the second "oh" had come from a Blair who, for some reason, attempted an upper class British accent. He took a closer look at Lord Gloria and felt himself frown. Even the man's heartbeat resembled Blair's. How was that possible? Jim shook his head to clear it from the distraction. This really wasn't the time.

"Do you pack?" he asked. Even he couldn't be in two places at the same time - he would need help.

The man's eyes widened a fraction, then he shook his head. "I'm dreadful at guns, I prefer to improvise. But how many did you say they were, again?" The Earl's regal manner of speaking made the question sound as if he asked how many were coming for dinner.

"Six. Two to the kitchen entrance, four to the garden."

"Capital. Bonham!"

The stocky thief Jim had seen on the door cam tape appeared by the Earl's side. "Yes, Milord?" Jim's nostrils also confirmed that this man was the origin of the third smell he had noticed back in Cascade.

"Intruders. Two to the kitchen entrance, four to the garden. I believe it might be time to try out the new gas bombs."

Gas bombs? Jim felt his eyebrow go up - again ... "What kind of gas are we talking about?"

He received a guileless smile. "A harmless sedative. 'Knock-out gas' if you will. It'll put them to sleep for a few hours, that's all. No lasting damages, the only side-effect is a light headache. Hmm ... As a matter of fact, Bonham - clear the areas right away, then you might as well go ahead and release the gas. Ask Herr Hinkel to assist you. Six minutes, Detective Ellison, correct? Capital. By then the gas will be well spread. They'll drop before they get to the next room. No need to wait and risk lives."

"Yes, Milord."

The stocky thief trudged on down the stairs. Prince Charming turned to Jim and Blair again. Jim had taken the time to sniff his guide thoroughly and while Blair now smelled very annoyed, he was in perfect health.

"I'm very impressed by how quickly you've found us," the Earl said. "I do admit to having Bonham take your note, Blair. And the flowers - they had a tracking mechanism hidden in them, that's how we found your home address. Dreadfully sorry about that. I just felt we needed a bit of time to get things under way and I wasn't sure if Detective Ellison here - you know, I always liked my men with long hair, but you do make a buzz cut look good, my dear Detective - would let us keep this just between us. Some people feel such need to make things official ... And I just wasn't ready for that. I thought if you could have a look at my poor darling, Blair, maybe be able to fix whatever's wrong with him, then you'd be out of here before nightfall. There's really no need to draw attention to ourselves ... "

"Especially not with most of the western agencies on your ass," Jim commented dryly.

Unrepentant, the thief smiled. "There is that, too," he acknowledged. His smile was nearly blinding; all white, even teeth. Jim almost found himself returning it by pure magnetic force. "Well, do come this way," the Brit then said and gestured for them to accompany him. "We're nearly there."

He led them down the corridor, up to the second door to the left. From inside Jim heard two sets of heartbeats - one much slower than the other, almost too slow for a person to just be asleep - more like Blair's when he meditated.

"Please wait outside. I just want to check that everything's still fine," the Earl said, before going in.

Jim turned to Blair and enveloped him in a big hug. He had really missed his guide, even if they hadn't been apart very long, all things considering. "I worried, you little twerp," he said.

"Thanks, big guy. Sorry about that - I really thought you would get the message."

"You could hardly expect Little Lord Lightfoot to send someone to steal it. Your friend is apparently a master thief himself, by the way."

"Yeah, he told me some of it. Art only, though, unless this major guy needs something. And he doesn't steal from people to hurt them or anything, just if the art needs 'rescuing'." Blair bunny-eared the last word. "I'm not sure I really buy that spiel, but it sounded good when he said it. He's really persuasive."

"That I can believe. Just like you. Blair - are you sure he's not one of Naomi's old buddies?"

"What are you on about? Hey - is this about mom disliking pigs? That's prejudiced of you, Jim. Just because she doesn't like cops doesn't mean she's friendly with thieves."

"Hold your horses, Shorty, that's not what I meant. Ah, Blair, have you had a close look at this guy? His eyes are just like yours, and his hair ... Blair - under all that perfume he even smells a little like you! And you have almost the same heart rhythm!"

Blair's eyes widened and he stepped back. "You're crazy, man! Dorian's too young to be my ... my ... And besides, the guy's so far up the Kinsey scale he's casting shadows! That's just stupid."

Jim grunted. He saw what he saw.

"Maybe it's a guide thing?" Blair said. "Calming heart rhythm, soothing body scent--"

"'Now with curly hair for the Sentinel's tactile pleasure,'" Jim said, using his best commercial voice. "'Perfect blue eyes to drown in ...'" Then Blair's words caught up with him, "A guide thing? Lord Goldielock's a guide?"

Blair blinked. "I ... Oh, that's odd - I never even considered it before you started talking about him being like me. But ... Well ... It would make sense, I think. Hmm. Odd. Well, yes. The thing is. Major von dem Eberbach?"

"Iron Klaus," Jim said with a nod, feeling a little awe despite himself. After all, the man was a legend.

"Cute moniker. Did you know that Iron Hoof is cockney rhyming slang for a poof - a male homosexual, that is? Anyway - seems as if some Count guy told Dorian that Major von dem Eberbach's a Sentinel and that I - that's the Shaman of the Great City to you, bub - might be able to help. Seems as if the major is locked in some kind of mother of all zone-outs. Apparently he was in a real bad situation. Dorian doesn't want to talk about it, but bottom line seems to be that the major managed to get himself into the zone-out, rather than to spill some information he had, when it seemed as if he might get caught again. Real cloak and dagger-stuff, man. Only now he's experiencing all the sensations in waves and there's always something that is too strong for him to come out of it. Sound triggers taste, which triggers hearing, which triggers sensitivity and so on. Real nasty stuff. Besides, he simply might not be sure it's safe to come out yet."

"Oh, so it is a Sentinel thing. I was wondering why Panther showed up."

"You saw him on your way here?"

"Kind of. Um ... I think it was Panther, my jaguar, that is. It's gone now. It looked just like mine, black jaguar, blue eyes." It hadn't even occurred to him that it might not be his, until that very minute. Alex had had a spotted cat, not the same as he. But then, she had been insane, hadn't she? Another Sentinel might have a panther too, as far as he knew. "Could it have been Major Eberbach's, you think?"

Blair tsked. "von dem Eberbach, Jim. Of the city of Eberbach. That's part of his name too, if you don't use it it'd be like me calling you Jim Elli or something. Well, it's not quite the same, but you get the drift."

Before Blair had a chance to expand on the subject or answer Jim's question, the door opened. Dorian emerged, followed by a tall blond in his early forties. The latter studied them with sharp eyes before nodding curtly. Rather than stopping to greet them he continued down the corridor.

"There," Dorian said. "He's fine, so you can come in. I thought it might be best if you had as little distractions as possible, so I asked T to take a break. Come now." He waved them closer and then held up the door for them to enter. "Please don't make any loud noises. He's ... unresponsive at the moment, but they've bothered him a great deal in the past and ... Well, I don't want to take any chances."

Obviously not. When they entered the room they had to pass not one, but two thick velvet covers, hanging in the short hallway leading into the room. They were dark brown and reached almost to the floor, obviously arranged to keep light out. The windows were blocked as well and the only light came from dim oil lamps. Jim saw things clear as day - would in fact have needed far less light to do so - but from the time he had been without his senses he could guess that the light level would be barely enough for the others to make their way. The room in itself was spacious enough and the air clean and good to breathe, not at all as stuffy and closed in as he would have thought. There were some smells that annoyed him, of sharp disinfections and ammonia, but all in all not too bad. Earl Gloria's perfume actually gave him more problems. Both old and new - the man had obviously been in the room a lot. Various other persons too - most of them male, but two ... no, three females who also seemed to be steady visitors. And ...

He sneezed.

The smell didn't as much tease or annoy him as it was rather persistent, as if it wanted him to be aware of its presence. He had smelled a hint of it before, in the castle, but in this particular room it was strong and prevalent, putting him on alert. It seemed to come from the sickbed. On the latter lay a pale-faced man with short, dark hair. What colour his eyes were Jim couldn't see, for they were shut. He wore green-grey striped pyjamas. The bedding was tucked around him with hospital precision. Jim hadn't taken the time to look up his image before departing in search of his errant guide, but he did recognize the features of the man before them - even if they were sharper, more gaunt than what he remembered from images in army magazines. And he knew the eyes to be green, from the pictures he'd seen and the rumours he had heard about a man with eyes like green razor blades.

Dorian walked over to the bed and sat down in the visitor's chair. "He's here now," he said. "Everything will be fine, major, you'll see. Just a little longer now, dear."

Jim blinked when he realised that the words had been said sentinel-soft, at the level Blair usually spoke to him, when he wanted only him to hear. An instinctive level for a guide to use when talking to his sentinel only, or possibly the man just whispered the words to himself, never thinking that the obviously unconscious man might be able to hear them, even if they were addressed to him?

From somewhere far, far away a tiny little noise, not more than the whisper of wind in grass, wound its way down to where he rested. It didn't bother him. If anything, it felt ... comfortable. It had an ever so soft, red flavour - so faint it was more the palest possible pink, making the blue shift only a hair's breadth into purple. It was the good kind of red, though, the one he had missed. There was nothing he could do about it, neither follow it nor ignore it. It was merely there, amongst all the blue, where things were so calm and comfortable. He liked it, however, and vaguely hoped that it would stay. That good kind of red ...

Jim followed as Blair approached the bed, realising that his guide likely needed to be so close in order to actually see the man properly. "So what do you plan to do?" he asked, keeping his voice at a level barely audible to normal humans. He didn't want to disturb the fragile peace of the room.

"I spoke to Dorian on the flight over," Blair whispered. Jim noted that, yes, his guide kept exactly the same pitch when speaking to him as the Brit in the chair did when speaking to the pale German. "Before he went unresponsive, the major seemed to act like all his senses were bothering him. Light, noise and touch, anyway, I'm assuming smell and taste here. They've catered to that."

"Yes. Everything is pale and neutral."

"Might be part of why he has withdrawn, even. Without the stimuli to keep him 'on', he's blocked even what little there is. Just a theory, of course."

Which sounded reasonable enough to Jim. He had done that himself, on occasion. "You going to start poking him? See if smelling salt works?"

Blair boxed him, if very gently, in the stomach. "Don't even joke about it, big guy. I was going to try talking to him for a bit, see if that helps, but it seems like Dorian's got that down pat. Well, I'll try for a while, give it a go. I've got more experience than Dorian. And some new smell might be helpful, yeah, tell him there's something interesting going on that he might want to check out. I won't give him the shock treatment, though."

Jim snorted. "I'd hope not." He shuddered. "Shock treatment ..." Inadvertedly he spoke the last sentence somewhat louder than before.

"Shock treatment?" Dorian said sharply, looking up at them with suspicion in his eyes.

It had taken Blair several minutes to assure their host that they had no such intentions and then to let him carefully examine the possibly zoned-out major. Finally he had to step back from the bed, having had no luck trying to get the still figure to withdraw from his shell. He didn't even feel a connection, which he usually did with Jim when the sentinel went under. What was more important, he hadn't felt that little tug that signalled that he was being successful even in the slightest, that Jim would eventually come to. With Major von dem Eberbach it was merely a cool nothing, under which Blair secretly feared was a coil, ready to spring - only he didn't know which way. Perhaps he would wake up - but would he be sane when he did? Or would he perhaps slip into a coma-like state forever, similar to what had happened to Alex, little more than a vegetable after her adventure in the Temple of Sentinels? Perhaps he would even die. There was no way of knowing yet.

He stepped out into the corridor, meeting Jim's calm gaze. Jim had opted to stay outside, even if Blair had no doubt that his lover had kept so close a watch over him that he might as well have stayed. Dorian, who had waited with Jim, spoke first. "Well? Anything?"

Tired, Blair shook his head.

A blink - eyelids slowly sliding down, then quickly up again - was the only sign of disappointment that the handsome blond made. "You are still tired, no doubt, after the journey. Perhaps if you rested things might improve?"

Blair shook his head. "I'm just not connecting. Tell you what I'll do: meditate. Sometimes I've been able to reach the spirit world and see our animal spirits there."

"Animal ... spirits? Yes. Count D mentioned them. He seemed ... amused. I'm not sure I-- But you should know. Anything for Klaus." Then his eyes were drawn over Blair's shoulder and his next words were clearly not aimed towards him. "Yes, Herr Hinkel?"

"Herr Bonham instructed me to inform you that the situation with the intruders has been dealt with, Master Gloria," said the butler, whose approach Blair hadn't even noticed.

"Very good. Do tell Bonham that we will deal with the situation later. A can take care of them when he comes tonight, if nothing else. Keep them subdued for the moment. Capital. Thank you." His sky blue eyes again caught Blair's own. "Now, are you sure there is nothing I can provide you with?"

It only took Blair a heartbeat to get back on track. "We'll try without at first, see what that gets me. It would be good if you were in the room this time, I think. Can't hurt if you talk to him a bit."

At this, the Brit looked very relieved.

Blair settled next to the sickbed, touching one of the legs with an arm. He felt grateful for the very thick carpet that ran from the door to where he sat, obviously meant to muffle the sound of footsteps. In his experience the floors of old castles tended to be wickedly cold. Before him fluttered an unscented candle, that Dorian had provided. He was the very epitome of a helpful nobleman, doing everything to provide for his guests. The man himself sat in the chair by the major's head, one hand tapping nervously on a knee while the other's fingertips rubbed very slow circles on the pale, long-fingered hand that emerged from under the sheet. At Blair's side Jim leaned against the wall. He also sat on the floor, but had folded his jacket under himself. His eyes had a faraway look that told Blair that while his Sentinel was far from zoned, he used his senses to a great degree - likely his sense of hearing to listen in on what happened in other parts of the castle.

For some time Blair had realised that meditating came even easier to him when his Sentinel was near. He didn't need the presence, he merely felt calmer in the knowledge that they were both safe. Besides, with everything going on he knew that Jim felt it best to stay close. Luckily, no territorial problems seemed to have cropped up yet. One of the reasons why Blair had agreed to leave Jim behind - even if he had thought it only temporary - was that he hadn't wanted his own Sentinel upset with meeting another one, even one in a zone-out. Not after the fiasco with Alex. So far everything had run smoothly, though. Perhaps because they were so far from Cascade and literally in the other Sentinel's place of dwelling, Jim knew there was no danger.

Meditation had been more or less second nature to Blair since he got out of diapers (which he had done at a very early age). By now when he settled into his favoured meditation position - crossed legs with his palms spread over his lower thighs, fingertips barely touching his knees - it was as if his body automatically knew what was going on and began to adjust to ease his path. He could all but feel his heart slow down. Amused by the thought he made a note to ask Jim to listen in some time and give a second opinion. Actually, the man probably already knew and had just never seen any reason to mention it. As he concentrated on nothing at all he felt a great calm come over him. Random thoughts wafted through his mind, as they always did, but he gently shooed them aside. In each moment of absolute nothingness he sank lower and deeper, into an ocean of blue ...

Dorian noted how the young man - quite charming in himself, a little treasure in his own right, slightly rugged but cute - gradually turned into a statue. His slow breaths barely moved his chest and he might as well could have been a dressed and painted sculpture of ice.

With a sad sigh he turned his eyes back to the man on the bed. He bent closer and let his hair spill over the hand he held. It looked so thin and fragile and felt so cold and he wanted nothing more than to take it between his two and warm it, kiss it and cry on it.


Blue, blue, blue ...

Then the blue slowly dispersed. Oh, there was still blue - all shades went to blue, like a computer screen tinted terribly wrong, but there were different hues that slowly clarified into a forest. Not the tropical forest he was used to in these circumstances, but something far closer at hand – oaks, beeches and chestnuts. For some reason he thought it might be autumn, but the blue tint made it difficult to tell. No leaves covered the ground yet, in any case. The grass was thick under his feet and in among the trees grew berries which looked appropriately blue, so perhaps they really should be. There was no path, but he walked forward. To wait seemed pointless and he trusted the instinct that told him to move. Perhaps he had faced that way for a reason, so why not go there? If he went in the wrong direction, hopefully there would be a sign for him soon enough.

After a while he noticed that he had company, though the quiet entities beside him didn't seem to want to herd him anywhere but where he already headed. Slightly behind him to his left walked his wolf, looking right at home and happy in the surroundings which were far more to its nature than a rainforest. Its tongue lolled, bright red in the blue, and its eyes were the bluest shade of all. At the same distance, but to his right, slunk a midnight black shape, sleek and elegant - and with eyes exactly the same shade as the wolf's. He wondered if all spirit animals shared that colour or if they reflected the eye colour of their owner. At the thought, the wolf huffed out loud, the tone indisputably stating that he wasn't Blair's - that things were clearly the other way around. Blair smiled and continued.

Although he walked for a long, long time, he didn't feel the slightest bit tired. He knew why he was there - knew that in reality he still sat on the floor of Schloss Eberbach. Part of the meditation was all in his head, even if parts of it ... weren't. None of that really mattered. He felt content and happy as he walked. It would have been nice if Jim had been with him, but the jaguar was there - and in a way the jaguar was Jim, even if it wasn't all of Jim and Jim wasn't all of it.

While the jungle was all possible variations of the colour, from the midnight blue just a hue away from total black up to the very faintest shade of pale, there was no real black there, nor any real white. That was why when Blair saw something truly white - really, really white: sparkling white; white like the snow never is, even when you think it is - he knew that he had reached something. Possibly his goal. He hesitated for merely a breath, then continued, flanked by the wolf and the jaguar.

The huge creature stood in a clearing, taking up almost all space. Blair had seen its Earthly brethren - both in zoos and alive on the African savannah, on numerous occasions when he and his mother travelled there. Perhaps it was that the specimens he had seen hadn't been well fed - the wild ones seldom having enough food and the "not so wild ones" being fed food that most often was not what they would get on the African steppe. This one was well fed - or whatever the spirit world equivalence was. Its strong body showed cords of muscles. It carried itself more regally than any other animal in nature, a nobility that was almost staggering. Its colour was unnatural only in its brightness. Unusual, yes, to say the least, but he had seen it before, on a brief tour to South Africa while protesting against the apartheid system. A national park there had had a small pack of them - the result of inbreeding bringing forth the result of a recessive gene, causing leucism. Vaguely he wondered if they were still there or if the unrest in the country had been the death of the white lions of Timbavati ...

It was not a real lion, of course. Too white, too blue-eyed and, oh yeah - they were in the spirit world, currently shaped like a German forest. And Blair never doubted that this, before him - watching him with such calm, with such regal air, with such ... grace ... was the spirit animal of one Lord Dorian Red-Gloria, the Earl of Gloria.

As if sensing his thoughts - and why not, if Wolfie and Panther did? - the great lion inclined its head. Then it snorted, turned and started walking. Knowing that it wanted him to follow, he did. When he caught up with it, it looked at him. Unable to resist he reached out. Its side was solid and warm and so soft that the finest cashmere couldn't compare. Sensing that the great animal didn't mind his company, he stayed at its side, with one hand on the warm back as he fingered a few strands of the impressive mane. It was full and slightly wavy. Blair remembered that the fuller the mane, the healthier the lion. And according to a magazine he had read recently research indicated that mane length signalled fighting success - of course, the colder temperature of Europe could also result in a denser coat.

Again, they walked for a long while. It occurred to Blair that perhaps this was a good time to ask questions. But the animals never spoke to him. Would they nod, perhaps? Shake their heads? Of course, the concept of nodding and/or shaking heads was a matter of rearing. The gestures didn't mean the same thing in all cultures. Why, in--

The lion started to run, all but pulling Blair along. He stumbled and almost fell, but kept to his feet. Though he should have been outpaced in a heartbeat as a lion can reach speeds up towards 60 kilometres an hour, he managed to keep up. His steps echoed in the forest, while the lion moved like a ghost, despite huge paws landing with an impact that should have made the very Earth tremble. Their exhilarating rush filled him with an euphoria he had only on rare occasions managed to achieve. It was over all too quickly and he had time to wonder why a spirit animal would be a sprinter just because its Earthly correspondences happened to be, when he noticed that they had actually reached their goal.

They stepped into a glade just as what they had come to see lifted its head, glaring at them with eyes so green they seemed to heat the surrounding blue.

I guess that answers that question, Blair found himself thinking. In fact he didn't know for sure what eye-colour Major von dem Eberbach had. He would, however, bet a hundred to a dollar that the German's eyes were just that shade of green.

The animal stood out in the blue forest, much more so than the more monochrome spiritual animals. Its sides were a warm, silvery brown with black markings. Long legs, seemingly disproportional to the short body, especially the hindmost ones. Short neck, wide head topped with furry ears. Blair couldn't help but to feel impressed by what he knew was one of the most elusive, secretive predators on the planet. He had always enjoyed reading about the larger felines – panthers especially, but the others as well. People idolise the lion, king of all animals. Largest of them all, the Panthera Tigris. The cougar was feared - the panther known for its black hide (melanistic colour, which actually occurs in several felid species - for example lion, tiger, leopard as well as jaguar). Fastest of them all, the cheetah - and of course the leopard never loses its spots. If asked to count wild cats, most people would get far, far down the list before they remembered this one. Most people would, in fact, forget it entirely. People that had, perhaps, never looked into the eyes of a real one - and was that not, apart from the tufted ears, its most well known feature?

The lion loped towards the prone lynx, stopping about a meter away before elegantly dropping to its belly and stretching its massive neck forward. Strands of the blinding bright mane swept over the thick grass. The lynx looked at it balefully, but didn't budge one inch. Blair took a few steps closer and then frowned. What he had at a distance thought was black markings on its flattish face was nothing of the sort. Closer up they formed a black leather gag, held in place with rope wire.

Already disgusted by the sight, he also saw how the luxurious fur on the lynx's wide front paws was matted with blood and that the body beneath the full pelt was much too lean. Its chest shuddered and the animal appeared to have very little strength left.

On his approach it turned its head towards him. The lion took the opportunity to creep closer, rounding it. The lynx then produced a coughing sound and made as if to turn back. Instead its head fell onto the thick grass. The lion made a sound of its own: a long, murmuring tone; half exasperation and half worry. It looked up at Blair as if to say, "Well, what are you waiting for, young man? Get your cute little hiney over here."

For all his open-mindedness Blair still felt slightly disconcerted at getting non-vocally flirted with by a huge, white lion while in the spiritual realm.

However, Blair did what Blairs do best and went with the flow. He walked the final distance that separated him from the felines. When he knelt beside them, the lynx found the strength to move an almost absurdly long hind leg, slowly extending a padded paw towards him. Truly wicked claws protruded. Blair quickly sat back out of reach. The lion huffed and then reached out a huge paw - easily twice the width of the Lynx's head, placing it delicately on the smaller feline's moving leg. The lynx made a very angry noise, which the lion replied to with a woof. Then a long tongue shot out and the lynx yowled as it was liberally licked on the neck.

Blair, who had begun to smile, thanked the lion in all seriousness. To hear his own voice in the forest felt strange, almost like a sacrilege. "I really didn't like the look of those claws," he said.

The lion harrumphed, transferring understanding yet a sense of, "Yes, but isn't he a darling anyway?"

"So, you want me to remove the gag?" Blair then asked. That made sense as the animals had no opposable thumbs, at least not while keeping these shapes. Jim had said he had seen Panther transform both into Incacha and a copy of himself.

The lion nodded gracefully.

"I'd love to, man, but you better keep a paw on his front legs too."

By way of answering the lion repositioned itself, to the lynx's obvious displeasure, to lie all but curled around the much smaller animal, with one front paw weighing down its front. Blair knee-walked up to them. The lynx glared angrily the entire time. Up close it wasn't small as such. In fact it was a good-sized animal for a lynx - well over 80 pounds, the size of a large Eurasian Lynx rather than the smaller Canadian Lynx, which its colour scheme suggested. Of course, the lynx was extinct in Germany, so either way the spirit animal would find no native cousins in the wood surrounding the major's home.

"I'm trying to help you, you know," he said before gingerly reaching out. While realising the seriousness of the situation he couldn't help but to touch the thick fur first, hoping he could foist it off as a quick, calming pat when all he really wanted was to learn if the hair really could be as soft as it looked. It was far softer, dense like a mink's and somehow both warm and cool to his touch. If he had had permission he could have spent a whole afternoon indulging in the incredible sensation. Besides - how many humans could say they had felt the fur of a living lynx? Even if a spirit guide one - not that the real specimens weren't ghost-like by nature.

The lion purred - a deep, satisfied noise that made Blair glance up. It looked at him with a certain twinkle in its eyes as if it knew exactly what he was thinking. Then it, very demonstratively, licked the lynx's black-tipped ears, making it growl furiously. For some reason several facts he had heard at Timbavati regarding the reproduction habit of the Panthera Leo occurred to Blair - how mating bouts could last for close to a week, with couples copulating 20-40 times a day, likely to forgo eating. The male's spined penis, raking the walls of the female's vagina ... As well as, on a similar vein, male lions pair bonding, with affectionate nuzzling and caressing, up to and including mounting and thrusting.

Amused, Blair began the arduous task of removing the barbed wire-fastened gag. Oh, man, you really didn't want to tell them anything, did you? he thought as he worked, shaking his head in admiration.

After a while - minutes? hours? seconds? - the wolf and the jaguar joined them. Wolfie stretched out on Blair's side, with his nose on his sneaker. Panther sat on his other side. After a while the black jaguar bent down to sniff at the lynx's front legs. Then it lifted its head, panting slightly. The lion shifted so that the lynx was almost completely below it, in order to sniff the paws itself. Panther made a noise deep in its throat. The lion hummed, as if in agreement. Then it licked Panther's nose, making the other feline quickly pull back, snorting. Wolf huffed. Then the lion yelped and shifted sideways, looking back over its flank. The lynx had put one of those long, long hind legs to use, scratching the lion's ribcage. Because the lion squashed it or because of the playful flirtation with Panther? Blair could only guess - but Wolfie hadn't seemed overly concerned with possible competition. Not even considering that the lion and the jaguar had more in common than the jaguar and the wolf. The jaguar and the lion had been two of the four original panthera species (the two remaining being the tiger and the leopard). Actually, the Jaguar was more closely related to the lion than, for instance, the tiger, which had been the first of the four to break off from the original, Panthera-like felid. Lions could even breed with jaguars, producing the jaglion.

Finally he untangled the last of the barbed wire. He had even managed not to cut himself too badly in the process. Then he oh so carefully lifted the gag off the short nose. Revolted by the torture device he threw it away. The lynx blinked up at him, looking slightly confused at what he had done - but it couldn't have been, given that he had worked for so long to free it. He wondered if it would allow just one more, quick pat, but decided against taking the risk. The touch of the lynx could be both a boon and a bane - and this seemed to be one cranky spirit animal. Of course, the lynx was famous for being extremely shy and solitary - secretive, even. A keeper of secrets of the forest - though not as much a guardian of secrets as much as someone who simply knows - and who might not wish to share. One had to respect the lynx's behaviour and listen carefully - only then might one begin to receive an answer.

The lynx blinked once more. Then it turned its head to looked up at the great lion still holding it. The lion purred and blew air on it. The lynx snorted. It began to turn its head back towards Blair - then whipped around and bit the Lion's nose.

The lion jumped up and away - as did Blair, not wanting to stay within biting distance. Wolfie and Panther immediately flanked him and he found himself leaning on their bodies. The lion - with a strike of red slowly running down its milk white pelt, shook its head, snorting repeatedly. It didn't attack the lynx, though, which it could so very easily have done, given its impressive size, teeth and paws strong enough to strangle a hartebeest. Yet it just stood there, above the more medium-sized feline, staring down at it as if in wonder - or adoration. The lynx itself paid the king of all animals no attention. First it stared in clear annoyance at its front paws. Then, with an air of being repulsed, it bent down to delicately lick off the dried blood. When the lion tried to help, the lynx bit it again.

Blair emerged from his trance with practised ease, feeling calm and well rested. He had abandoned the blue and floated up, slowly coming in contact with his body and all sensations that awaited him back in the small room in the German castle. Strong hands lovingly rubbing soothing circles on his back helped. He took a long breath in, held it and, when his lungs started to indicate that, yes, oxygen was a good thing to have, breathed out and opened his eyes. For a moment his vision wavered, tinted in blue, then everything came into focus.

"You okay?" Jim whispered, dropping a kiss on his shoulder.

"Yes," he whispered back. Then he began to extract himself from the meditation position. His muscles didn't protest overly, so he guessed he couldn't have been under for any extended length of time. "How long?"

"Half an hour."

Nodding, he rose to his knees to look towards the bed's head. The Earl of Red Gloria knelt there, with a beatific smile on his face - and a smudge of blood between his regal nose and his full upper lip. Between two of his hands he held Major von dem Eberbach's right one and his full attention was on the major's face. Startling green eyes stared back at him. Blair felt like laughing. The eyes weren't slit like a cat's, but there was no mistaking the intense glare of the lynx in them. Supported - unnecessarily, but still - by Jim, he knee-walked a few steps closer. The green glare flickered towards them. The man's eyes wouldn't quite focus, but Blair supposed that was only to be expected, after the extended period in zone-out. It would take a couple of days for the major to be back up to snuff. Blair couldn't help but to smile. From behind, Jim hugged him.

After a moment, Dorian turned to them, smiling brightly. His eyes, though, looked suspiciously moist. "Thank you," he said sincerely. "Thank you so very much!"

A slight groan came from the bed. When Blair glanced that way he saw the major frown and crunch up his face, as if the loud words had caused him pain. He smiled again and reached out a hand. Dorian, looking faintly puzzled, accepted it.

"Congratulations," Blair said seriously - but quietly, as not to disturb the still sensitive German. "It's a sentinel."

Dorian's eyebrows shot up. They both turned to look at the man in the bed. He stared back at Dorian and perhaps he wasn't quite conscious or fully functioning yet, for as he closed his eyes he smiled and muttered clearly, "The right kind of red ..."

The End

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