Authors note: this is for all those people who asked what was going on with Simon……….heh heh heh! Seasons Greetings and peace to you all.
P.S. - - - the injuries Blair got from Alex probably don't follow cannon…but when has a little detail like that ever stopped me? ;-)
Blair surfaced slowly from a very deep sleep, not quite sure what had woken him. He wasn't afraid, nor could he sense any danger to the occupants of the double loft. There were no unusual scents or lights in the loft. The baby monitor that he'd never quite gotten rid of relayed the soft breaths of his sleeping eleven-year-old son - Tommy was in no distress, and breathing easily. The slightly cooler air of the loft was touching Blair's back, and he frowned sleepily. This was probably what had woken him, and he tugged at the blankets around his waist, only to be restrained …
Then Blair got it - his Sentinel was on the bed with him. He was crouching with his head pressed to Blair's back, his strong hands framing Blair's ribcage, holding the Shaman Guide in place as he listened intently. Blair remembered this from his last bout of pneumonia and obligingly took slow deep breaths. He was rewarded with a contented rumble as the Sentinel checked his lungs out thoroughly and pronounced them clear. Large gentle hands pulled the covers back up and then lingered over a shoulder, stroking tenderly, while the crouching man shifted on the bed cautiously. Whatever he was checking on Sandburg's shoulder apparently passed muster, because the blanket was pulled all the way up and his hair stroked while Jim purred softly. The handling had been tender and loving, unhurried and concerned with his comfort, so Blair drifted back to sleep, making a mental note to ask what was going on in the morning.
When he asked Jim at breakfast, though, the Sentinel had no idea what he was talking about - and even went so far as to suggest that Blair had been dreaming the entire episode. Tommy and Clare were watching with curious eyes so Blair took the comment meekly, tugging at his son's hair in passing.
They were in the bullpen all day - Jim was wrapping up a case for the DA and Blair was consulting in his office. Jim came in for lunch as usual, sitting in Blair's visitors chair with his feet propped on the desk while they munched on sandwiches and plain chips. It was rare for either man to eat in the break room now, heck it was rare for half of Major Crimes, they all seemed to end up in Blair's office for a group lunch that let them all touch base socially. Blair didn't mind it.
Tommy and Clare volunteered to cook dinner that night - a simple pasta dish that Blair supervised while reading over Tommy's history essay, and the family spent the night camped out on Blair's couches, watching Disney movies and sharing popcorn. It was Saturday tomorrow, so the kids were allowed to stay up a little later, which resulted in Clare being carried to bed and Tommy piloted by his father.
Shaman and Sentinel spent some time playing chess quietly together before the Sentinel retired for the night and Blair locked up his part of the loft, checking on Larry one last time before going to bed himself. This time he woke when the bed dipped under Jim's weight, and turned to look at his brother through drowsy eyes.
Jim's eyes were unseeing - a chilling blank that gleamed coldly in the light from Blair's skylight. The Sentinel was moving with unhurried purpose, climbing to crouch over Blair and lowering his head to Blair's chest.
"Jim?" Blair whispered softly, "Enquiri?"
The second name got a rumble of response and Blair caressed the soft short hair in a soothing touch, breathing deliberately for the man listening to his heart and lungs so anxiously. He was petted in turn, and then his shoulder cautiously stroked. Blair rotated the joint obligingly, frowning when Enquiri took the arm in his hands and manipulated it this way and that. His shoulder hadn't been causing him any problems lately, though he'd had the odd twinge from an old injury when a bad snowstorm was coming in. But it was autumn now, and wouldn't snow for quite a while.
"What's wrong, Enquiri?" Blair murmured gently, "What's bothering you, Sentinel?"
"Mine," the low growl was the only response as Blair was lifted and laid down, then tucked in and petted gently, Enquiri rumbling now and then, words that Blair couldn't hear clearly flowing over his head. The hypnotic rhythm was sending Blair back to sleep in spite of himself. He roused long enough to secure a grip on the hem of Jim's boxers and let his Sentinel lull him back to sleep.
When Blair woke in the morning he had Jim's boxers in his hand and Jim was gone. The Shaman leapt up and stumbled past Tommy's room, hurrying into Jim's portion of the double loft, jogging up the stairs to find Jim sprawled naked on his back in the middle of the bed, his arms and legs askew. Blair would have thought him dead if not for the slight snores and even breathing.
"Jim?" Blair picked up the edge of the comforter and draped it across his friend to preserve his modesty. He sat on the edge of the mattress and shook his brothers' shoulder lightly, "Jim? Wake up."
"Grrmmmffff," Jim rolled onto his side, curled up around Blair's hip and sighed deeply. Blair smiled a little, his fears assuaged by the touch - their most vital connection. He shook the muscular shoulder again, calling lightly until Jim was awake and looking at him.
"G'morning," Jim mumbled, wiping a hand over his face and then dropping that hand onto Blair's thigh in a very proprietary manner.
"Good morning," Blair replied, rubbing the shoulder under his hand lightly, "How did you sleep?"
Jim frowned, catching sight of his boxers clenched in his brothers' hand.
"What the…!" he peeked and blushed, "Chief, if this is some kind of a joke…"
"It's no joke, Jim," Blair shook his head, "Last night you came to my room again, checked me over and then put me back to sleep. I grabbed hold of the hem of your shorts, hoping to keep you with me but I guess Enquiri decided to leave them behind rather than fight with me."
"Enquiri?" Jim scowled, and Blair sighed. Even after all this time, the mystical side of things was treated with suspicion at the very least by his brother. Jim was wont to declare that Blair was the mystical one in the family, therefore any 'hocus pocus' should be dealt with by him.
"That was the name you responded to, man. You were checking me over as only a Blessed Protector would. Did you dream at all last night? Is there something at work bothering you?"
"No and no," Jim pushed himself up in the bed, "At least I don't remember dreaming and you know that work is fine - we're kicking ass and taking names, Chief. A force to be reckoned with."
Jim grinned, pride in their accomplishments overshadowing the freakiness of the sleepwalking, and Blair smiled back, patting the Sentinel on the chest lightly.
"Absolutely," he agreed, then sighed, "Ok, so tonight I'll meditate on this for a while, see if I can come up with a reason for the sleepwalking. At least in the loft you won't come to any harm, and the kids are used to hearing us wander about at night."
"True," Jim held his hand out for the shorts and Blair got up, dropping them into his brothers hand and heading down the stairs to get his son up. They were cleaning and shopping this morning, and this afternoon Tommy's basketball team was in the semi finals against the Grammar school.
"Sleepwalking?" Simon frowned, staring through the windscreen at the darkened house on the corner, "Jim's a sleep walker?"
"For the last two nights, anyway," Blair confirmed gloomily. Tommy's team had won, but one of Blair's cases had called him away from the celebrations to join Simon on stakeout duty. So far, they'd covered the game - Tommy had sunk a basket, though not the winning one - and the twins latest trick on their long suffering mother - namely taking off their dirty nappies and running around the house butt naked while she tried to catch and change them. They'd been sitting there for the last four hours and nothing was happening. Blair was ready to bet that nothing would.
"So what, he gets up and cleans the house?" Simon tried to lighten the mood and Blair snorted at him, shaking his head.
"I wish," the consultant sighed, "Actually he gets up and checks that I'm still breathing. Then he checks out my shoulder and goes back to bed. Last night I tried talking to him, but he would only answer to Enquiri."
"His Chopec name?" Simon shifted uncomfortably, "Ok, even I know that's not good. So what do you want to do? Should I take him off duty? Are you having any visions? And can someone please tell me at what point did I start accepting this crap as normal - I mean listen to me! Visions?"
There was a chuckle from the Shaman in the passengers seat and Simon turned his head to glare at the man. His glare changed to a look of something very close to fear and Blair twisted sharply in his seat as the door opened quietly. He was pinned by that awful blank gaze as a shivering and boxer clad Jim ran his hands over the startled Shaman's chest and then leaned in to listen.
"Holy crap…" Simon breathed, "Holy crap!
Blair squirmed away from the contact, managing to get his feet onto the seat and worming his way between seats into the back of the car, followed by the now growling Sentinel, who pinned him down and started to listen to the wildly beating heart and panicked breaths. Simon called in that he had to abandon the stakeout and arranged the backup team to cover their vantage point. Then he leaned over and shut the front door before starting the engine and pulling away from the curb, heading back for the loft.
In the rear vision mirror he could see Enquiri examining Andarko carefully, cuddling the smaller man close and checking his shoulder out as well as petting the long hair. When he reached for the car door, Andarko growled a no and pinned him to the seat, petting the Sentinel in turn and soothing the worried man into a deep dreamless sleep.
Simon had to help carry Jim upstairs, finding the loft door locked. The children had been in no danger, then, simply alone in the house while one of their caregivers went looking for the other. They put Jim on the couch and Simon went to get a bowl of warm water and some cloths which they could use to clean and dry the wandering man's feet while Blair covered him with the afghan from the couch and then hurried to get a heat pack ready.
Together they checked the sleeping Sentinel over for injuries, and then withdrew to the other couch, neither man ready to let the sleepwalker out of their sight yet. Jim's shivering had abated slowly, and Blair had been relieved that the crisp autumn night hadn't brought on hypothermia. You could still go out without a coat if your clothes were thick, but the loft was almost an hours walk from the stake out, and Jim's thin boxers - his preferred sleepwear in all seasons - were no protection at all. He was lucky no one had seen him and called the cops - Blair couldn't begin to imagine how they'd deal with an arrest for indecent exposure.
"What am I going to do?" Blair moaned, "Simon, what do I do now? He left the children to come looking for me…he'd never leave them unprotected like this - his instincts should have stopped him before he even went out through the door. Jim is even more protective of Clare and Tommy than he is of me!"
"First thing - stop freaking out…Jim needs you thinking and in control right now," Simon replied, looking very much as if he'd like to freak out himself, "Second thing…you may not remember too much about the fountain, but the pattern of wounds that Jim checked over on you… they match exactly the wounds that Alex inflicted. She shot you, grazed your shoulder, and then held you under to drown you."
Blair gaped at him in horror. It was true, most of the events leading to the mad dash to the Temple of Sentinels were a blur to him. Some memory loss was to be expected - he'd been dead and there had been no oxygen flowing to his brain for long enough to start the process of brain death. It was one of the miracles of the fountain that Blair had woken with all his faculties intact and only a minor amount of memory loss. By all rights he should have been too sick to follow his Sentinel to Mexico, he should have been too sick to do anything other than breathe through a tube and maybe blink at his visitors.
"I don't remember much of that time," Blair confessed, stealing a look at the man sleeping on the couch, "And after all this time we haven't discussed it."
"Maybe you should…"
"What?" Jim paled, looking from his boss to his partner. Blair had been pretty tense this morning over breakfast and the kids had picked up on that. Jim had been a little footsore, and a little stiff, but he put that down to sleeping on the couch - and the state of his Guide was putting him off as well. Tommy had watched both the adults very carefully, staying between them and his little sister as much as possible. Clare had stuck with her big brother and both children had escaped with something like sighs of relief when Jim announced that Miki's mother was downstairs to drive them to school.
Simon had called Jim into the office before they'd even had a chance to remove their coats. There had been two cups of coffee waiting for them, and Blair sat between Jim and the door in a reverse of the usual protective manoeuvre that the tall detective usually pulled on his partner.
"It's true, Jim. You can't tell me your feet weren't sore this morning. We're so lucky you were aware enough to avoid traffic and anything that could have cut or stabbed you last night," Blair leaned forward, clutching his cup in both hands, "You have to tell me what's wrong."
"I… I don't know, Chief. Honestly, I don't remember dreaming anything in particular and there hasn't been any visions or visits from the spirit guides. I'd tell you immediately if there had been, you know that."
They'd learned that lesson the hard way, and in light of Simon's words last night, the absence of the spirit guides was beginning to take on an alarming aspect.
"I know," Blair sat back with a sigh and Simon leaned forward on his desk. Jim's reaction hadn't been faked at all, and the next bit of news was guaranteed to put him over the edge.
"There's more," he told his detective, "Last night I watched you check Blair over. You checked the exact pattern of wounds that Alex Barnes left on Blair when she…"
He didn't get a chance to finished that sentence as Jim was out of his seat and wrapped around Blair in a heartbeat, shaking his head in denial and ruthlessly dialling his senses up to scan the area for the rival Sentinel. Blair twisted a little in the tight grip and crooned wordlessly, riding out the surge of Blessed Protector. When Jim had calmed enough to return to his own seat with Blair's warm hand grasped firmly in his, Simon shook his head. There was no way that he could put Jim on the streets right now - he was a danger to himself, let alone others.
"Ok, this has to stop," he frowned, "Sandburg?"
"I don't know, Simon," Blair shook his head, fear and dread dulling his eyes, "I just don't know what to do."
"Well I do," Jim growled, "First thing is to get the kids to safety. They can go stay with Dad for a while, and we'll arrange for a patrol or something to pass the house each night. The next thing is to put you in a safe house, Chief, I won't let her anywhere near you ever again."
"Hold on, Ellison," Simon interrupted the imminent explosion of temper he could see hovering over the Shaman, "I agree that the kids need to get out of the loft for a little while, and if the twins weren't such a handful at the moment I'd offer to take them myself. It makes sense, Sandburg - lets limit the targets she could aim for, and your father should be fully briefed so he knows what to look out for. But I don't agree that you should pack Sandburg off as well. That didn't work too well the first time, and besides, you need to figure out what's going on, and Sandburg's the man to do it."
"How can William defend the kids against Alex? We stay together," Sandburg butted in, slashing his hand to silence Jim, "We can't afford to split up. If she gets hold of the kids she'll kill them. Clare is a threat and Tommy won't obey her for long, if at all."
"The kids can help dad," Jim replied, "Chief… I think it's time we told them about Alex."
There was dead silence in the office, a heavy, cloying silence that seemed to absorb all the air and increase the gravity as well.
"Jim I… I can't," Blair paled, "I don't even remember all of it…"
Their hands were white from the force of their grip. Blair couldn't look either man in the eye. The thought of parading his folly in front of the children made him feel physically ill.
"Chief, we have no choice. They have to be warned. They'd find out sooner or later anyway. Tommy needs to understand the danger to him, and Clare needs to be aware that the rogue Sentinel could upset her grip on her senses."
"We don't even know if we're right," the dry whisper was brittle and hopeless. This was Blair's greatest failure - he'd betrayed his Sentinel and allowed another to not only enter their territory but to almost kill their bond. It had taken years of hard conscious effort to return the bond to the strength and harmony they'd forged in the very beginning.
"I think we are. Simon wouldn't mistake my actions. I trust his insight," the reply was also whispered, but tenderly, supportively. A curly head nodded reluctant acceptance. Simon watched closely as once again Blair took control of his emotions, harnessing them for the battle ahead. If Barnes was loose, they were all in trouble and could ill afford guilt trips or arguments.
"Go get the kids out of school. I'll give William the heads up. We'll come get the kids tonight, after dinner."
They settled on the big couch together, the children between the adults. Jim shifted uneasily and Blair smiled a trifle grimly. Looks like the bulk of the explanation would be down to him. Jim was still not the touchy feely type, and Blair would in fact be worried if his brother changed so much that way. His stoicism was a part of his defences now, and Blair loved him the way he was.
"Ok," he sighed, "There's a problem that we need to talk to you both about. I know that you've noticed that Daddy and I are a little tense and first of all, I want to tell you that it's not your fault, and that we love you both."
"You're not leaving are you Uncle Blair? Who'll be our Patriarch if you go?" Clare's lip trembled and her hand grabbed for her Guide, as if she thought they'd whisk Tommy away from her right there and then. Her instincts were right on the button, Jim reflected grimly, there was a threat to their Guides, and the junior Sentinel was picking up on that. They were lucky Clare wasn't sleepwalking as well.
"No, I'm not going anywhere, and neither is Tommy," Blair promised the little girl, "Look, this is really complicated and a little hard to talk about because it was very scary when it first happened. Just remember that everything is ok now…"
Blair trailed off, unable to think how best to start.
"About thirteen years ago there was a woman who called herself Alex Barnes," Jim took over, "She was a Sentinel just like us, sweetheart, but she didn't have a Guide. Da and I had only been together for three years and we… I was still resisting my gift. We'd had a few rough cases and we were trying to get back on an even keel when she arrived in town."
"Because Alex didn't have a Guide, she was a threat to Daddy's territory, and he started to feel very uncomfortable in his skin and around people, including me," Blair continued on, remembering the fights and miscommunications, "She was arrested because she crashed her car, and I realised that she was a Sentinel…"
Blair stopped, raising stricken eyes to his partner. He'd chosen to help that Sentinel, betraying their bond, risking everything.
"Da tried to tell me about this new Sentinel in town, but I wasn't listening," Jim stroked Clare's hair lightly, "You see I was feeling shut in and trapped. I knew there was a danger, but I didn't know where, and instead of asking Da for help I pushed him away. I was also having nightmares about Da's wolf. I didn't tell him, and I thought I was going to hurt him if things kept going, so I packed all of Da's things up and threw him out of our home."
Tommy gasped and threw his arms around his father. This was a disaster indeed. His father and uncle had always seemed so together, so simpatico that Tommy couldn't imagine anything else. His two parents had welcomed him with open arms and boundless patience after the death of his mother - helping him to rebuild his life. For them to be apart seemed like the end of the world to him.
"No!" Clare squealed, also climbing over to hug Blair as if he would disappear into thin air if his children weren't holding him tightly. Jim shifted too, pulling all three towards him and they hugged each other hard. There was a long moment of silence as Blair petted the three people in his arms and calmed them using his own slow and steady breaths.
"Is that all?" Tommy asked in a quiet voice, fixing his Sentinel's father with a very solemn look. Jim shook his head, but it was Blair who took up the tale again.
"Alex came to see me at my office, and she wanted me to go with her. She'd stolen a very dangerous gas. When I told her no…"
"She hurt Da pretty badly. I found him…we had a vision, where a Shaman called Incacha told me how to help Da get better. He had to go to the hospital and I chased Alex to a special place in Mexico. Da left the hospital to follow us, and we found the Temple of the Sentinels," Jim met Blair's eyes steadily. Maybe they could purge old demons this way - the tale was watered down for the children, but that only meant they spoke the bare truth. No embellishments, unwrapped and simple for them both to say and hear.
"Alex and I went through an initiation," he continued, "And Da was my anchor back to the real world. Because she had no Guide, because she'd tried to kill mine, Alex didn't make it. We settled her in a special sort of hospital where she wouldn't be able to hurt anyone else and came home to Cascade. Da came home to the loft, and we started to rebuild ourselves."
There was a long moment of silence in the loft, and the two men joined their hands, their eyes locked in silent communication. Blair had come home sick, the adrenaline and sheer will power that had carried him to Jim's side gone. His Sentinel had nursed him well, and they'd gone back to work stronger than ever. Two months later Simon had been visited by a private detective who had informed the three men about the death of Amelia. Tommy's arrival had been an added incentive for them to work through their remaining issues and the bond had strengthened as they confirmed their commitment to live and work as a family.
"How badly was Da hurt?" Tommy asked in a little voice, and Jim sighed.
"He hurt his lungs honey - that's why a little cold is so bad for him. And his shoulder and head were hurt too."
"But I'm ok, now," Blair reassured them, "It's ok."
"Why are you telling us now?" Clare asked the next question, while Tommy clutched his father close. The reassuring sound of the Shaman's healthy lungs and heart was resounding in her ears, so she knew that there was no immediate danger to his health at present. The little girl also knew that her parents wouldn't be telling them this without a reason.
"Daddy has been walking in his sleep," Blair sighed, "And when he goes walking he comes and checks me over, to check that the old injuries are all better. Uncle Simon thinks, and I agree, that Alex might be coming back to Cascade. So Uncle Simon is going to check the hospital where we left her, and you two are going to go and stay with your Poppy for a few days until we can sort this all out. Daddy and I are going to stick together and see if we can cure him of his sleep walking."
"You promise not to send Da away?" Tommy begged Jim, "You promise that you'll stay together?"
"I promise, kiddo," Jim nodded, "We'll stay together no matter what."
William smiled at the serious face that answered the door. His granddaughter checked him over carefully, then checked Simon and then the corridor behind them as well before letting them in - she was in full protector mode, something that he was more used to seeing in his eldest son. William knew without a doubt that Jim had been tracking them since they pulled into Prospect.
There were two bags by the door and Tommy was standing next to his father, holding his hand tightly. Normally the boy would have run to give Poppy a hug and welcome him in, that he hadn't done so was an indication of his distress.
Simon realised that the story about Alex and how she'd hurt Blair and Jim had impacted on the young Guide quite strongly. Simon himself had realised that Blair and Amelia had actually died at about the same time, only Blair had come back. He wondered if Tommy had come to a similar conclusion.
"Are you ready to come visit with me for a few days?" William smiled at his grandchildren. Jim came to pull Clare into a hug, his hands running over her head and body lightly, taking a last minute impression of her before swapping Blair for Tommy. The children collected Larry in his travel cage and William nodded to his stony faced sons. Blair handed him a notebook with instructions and reminded Tommy that he was now in charge of Clare, under William's direction.
Simon watched the door close behind the very solemn children, and turned to face his best team. Jim was hanging onto Blair, the Shaman's back pressed to his chest, the Sentinel's arms providing a safe haven. He offered them the only comfort he could, knowing it was inadequate at best.
"They'll be ok," Simon said softly, "She's got no reason to go after them."
"So she is out," Blair's voice was flat and hard. Simon nodded and pulled out the sheaf of notes and faxes he'd brought from his research at the office.
"She had some help - someone broke her out of the hospital and got her out of the country. Before she left she was having one of her 'good spells' according to the staff - she was awake and aware of her surroundings and her sensory perception was on par with a normal persons. They said she had days, even weeks where she'd become comatose - I'd say it was a zone and she pulled herself out of it."
Blair felt a dull pull of sympathy and wrapped his hands around Jim's wrists. His Sentinel could have been in that condition if they hadn't found each other in time. Jim put his face in his Guides curls and just breathed, pulling in the scent and texture of his living healthy Guide. He could still remember the cold weight and scent of the Shaman as he'd been pulled from the fountain. Even when he'd coughed and breathed for his Sentinel he'd been cold and his scent had been all wrong. It had taken a month to return to what Jim considered normal.
"Do we know who helped her?" Blair asked Simon, reading in Jim's actions a reluctance to deal with the present situation. He could allow Jim to escape for now - a part of him was registering the conversation and remembering the salient facts. The rest was immersed in the Guide and Shaman's presence.
"I'm not really sure… I only have a hunch, but you're not gonna like it," Simon warned them. Blair gestured impatiently for Simon to continue.
"Brackett is no longer locked up. I'm not sure when he got out - no one noticed his absence apparently, which says to me he was on the receiving end of some very specialised help. Looks like he still has some solid contacts. Given his obsession with Sentinels and his grudge against you two he may have gone after Alex in order to gain a Sentinel he could control."
"Perfect," Blair sighed and leaned into Jim's embrace.
The Detectives of Major Crimes didn't get their jobs on their good looks. They'd seen Jim and Blair go flying out of Simon's office - both of them wearing the expression that meant trouble with a capital yikes - and then Simon had locked himself away for the rest of the day to make call after call and sent multiple faxes and emails. That added up to trouble in the Triad - as Brown had once called them. The three men were closer than family; whatever had started with Blair's ride along had bound them inextricably. The arrival of children - for all three - had only strengthened that bond.
That bond had been a major source of comfort to the people they worked with. Instead of feeling excluded by it, they had known that they were protected in a way that was never discussed, but always acknowledged. It had freed the men and women of Major Crimes to take on the hardest cases and criminals in the city and come out trumps. The Officer of the Year Award had been won exclusively by Major Crime's personnel for the last twelve years.
Therefore, the atmosphere in Major Crimes was alert, watchful. Simon found them working at higher than peak efficiency and silently blessed them all for it. Jim had settled quietly at his desk, a sure sign that he was aware of the silent support around him, and Blair had grinned knowingly at them all - the Shaman was not subtle in his appreciation. Jim and Blair had both started pulling up records from the database of recent and open investigations - mainly burglaries and auto theft - and the team had left them to it. They'd get their briefing when the Triad had something solid to tell them.
At twelve Simon went for a meeting with the Mayor and Jim went into Blair's office alone to call the children and see how they were doing. William was keeping them at home, and under his personal supervision. The kids were in good spirits, if a little tense and missing their fathers. Tommy had made Jim promise to stick to his Guide, and Clare extracted a similar promise from her father. Jim didn't blame them - the memory of the Shaman Guide's face when Jim had kicked him out was not a pleasant one.
Jim was returning to the bullpen when Blair shuddered and then froze. All activity in the bullpen came to screeching halt as the men and women of Major Crimes realised that something was wrong. All eyes were glued to Sandburg as Ellison approached his partner slowly, a single look asking what was wrong. The single word breathed through bloodless lips explained it all.
They found Simon's car in a siding heading out of Cascade. Its doors were open and the engine still running - that was what had prompted a passing motorists call to 911. The patrol had recognised the plates and called it in just as Joel was putting out the unofficial APB. There was no damage to the car, though there were faint skid marks on the road that suggested the Captain had braked hard and swerved to avoid an obstacle.
"I don't know, Chief," Jim growled, scanning the area around the car and the interior as well, "Whoever took Simon was the most generic person on the planet."
"Ok," Blair nodded, "Ignore the scents and personal traces for a moment. What made Simon brake like that? Why did he get out of the car?"
"If he'd just avoided a run in with a careless driver he'd have got out to ticket them at the very least," Jim reminded his brother, "In fact, he carried a set of forms for just that reason in the glove box."
"But the glove box hasn't been disturbed," Blair pointed out, "And his pen is still clipped to the stack of files on the floor in the passenger foot well. He didn't stop to give someone a ticket…can you find any tracks that show where he might have gone?"
"The ground is pretty chewed up here," Jim frowned, "And where its not chewed up its solid. I haven't got x-ray vision you know."
Blair just looked at him, his face expressionless. After a minute of that Jim was shifting uneasily and avoiding his Shaman's eye. With a sigh that Rhonda probably heard in the office Jim headed into the woods to look for any indication of Simon's passage through the undergrowth. Blair followed behind, grinning on the inside. His Sentinel had yet to resist that 'you're disappointing me and being a fool' look. He'd been using it on his brother from the very beginning - there had been days when that was the only way he could get Jim to stop griping and get on with it. Brown saw them go and nudged his partner, indicating they should follow the other two men. Rafe looked at his shoes, then the woods and rolled his eyes before moving out smartly.
"Ok," Jim stopped and crouched, pointing to the ground, "Simon was here…he was running - no jogging along. There's a second set of footprints here…looks like a kids."
"So Simon brakes to avoid a kid that runs out in front of him and then follows the kid into the woods to find out if its ok," Blair glanced at the tracks, "That would explain why there's no trace of Simon's abductors at the car…he wasn't taken at the car, he was taken somewhere in here."
"Yep," Jim nodded, then raised his voice, "Brown, Rafe, one of you check with dispatch, see if there are any reports of kids playing on the roads out this way."
Rafe dropped back at Brown's signal, neither man questioning Jim's knowledge of their presence. Major Crimes had long ago accepted their colleague's gifts. Brown followed along quietly, not trying to close the gap between them. These two required privacy for their gifts to be effective.
They walked on in silence, Jim moving with the effortless grace of a hunter, Blair shadowing him expertly, directing without intruding. After ten minutes they reached a fire access road, and Jim stood still for a moment then began to sneeze explosively. Blair rubbed his shoulder, speaking quietly as he scanned the area suspiciously. Sage so strong that even Blair could smell it was clouding his Sentinel's abilities.
Before he could draw the gun he reluctantly carried there was a loud bang and a flash of light so bright that even Blair's unenhanced senses were left reeling in shocked pain. This was followed by a cloud of gas that had him choking for air even as he fought to protect his now unconscious partner. Jim had hit the ground like a load of bricks the minute the first whiff of gas had reached him. Blair fell across his brothers inert body, the gun falling from his hand as consciousness fled. He never felt the hands that grabbed him.
In the woods, Brown had been far enough back to avoid the worst of the stun grenade and tear gas. He called for help on his cell, hating himself for not running forward to protect his friends and comrades. However, he knew that he was their only chance of rescue - if he was caught he couldn't help them and it was likely that he'd be killed outright as an unwanted hostage anyway - the Triad were definitely the targets here. If he could get the details needed to his colleagues out on the roads they would have a better chance of retrieving all three men later.
Still, it was hard to watch Jim bundled into the back of the beat up van, followed by Blair - who was slung inside carelessly by the two masked and gloved men. The van took off with a screech of the engine and a cloud of dust.
Simon's head hurt. He'd been hit hard enough to knock him out for a short while, but his vision was clear and he didn't feel any blood trickling from the lump on his forehead. His wrists were cuffed together in front of him, secured through a loop in his belt, and he was sprawled back in what felt like a dentists chair. Simon frowned, turning his head carefully to look around. He kept firmly in mind that David Lash was dead - killed by the Sentinel of the Great City in defence of his Shaman. He'd never seen terror the like of which Blair showed when faced with a trip to the dentist after THAT little episode, and never wanted to again.
The chair was sitting in a dusty room - in fact it looked like a dentists office. Simon tried to think of any medical centres or clinics that had been shut down in the city area, but his head hurt too much and after a moment he lay still again. With the chair reclined at this angle and his hands cuffed as they were Simon couldn't get out of the chair without rolling off it to the floor, and he'd seen enough to know that would be a fair drop. In his current condition he'd likely black out again, and that wouldn't help his escape attempt. Better to wait a little, until the dizziness and nausea subsided.
Thoughts of Lash and Jim led Simon to straining his own unenhanced senses for any clues to his location or the number of people who had him. It was too much of a coincidence that he'd been abducted while this whole situation with Alex was going on. She was here somewhere - and he was the bait for Jim and Blair's capture. He'd noticed that when the men were split up they became even more cautious - up to a point of course, if their partner was in immediate danger Jim and Blair could be the living embodiment of reckless abandon - but when they were together and working to rescue a member of the tribe the two men tended towards a certain amount of arrogance. As a team they had come to see themselves as unstoppable and to a point they were, but with Simon missing and a pair of lethal rogues in their territory the Sentinel and Shaman would switch over to what Simon privately called hunting mode - cold determination coupled with a belief in their own powers that usually mowed the opposition down before they could get started. Unfortunately, Simon had a feeling that Alex was no longer the unstable Sentinel she had once been. From what Blair had said about Brackett's fascination with Sentinel's and the role of the Guide - a term he had coined - Simon had the sneaking suspicion that Brackett was himself a Guide, and looking for his own Sentinel. Unfortunately, it looked like he'd found one as amoral as himself.
Footsteps sounded in the corridor and Simon turned his head towards the door carefully. The pain was subsiding a little, though he'd kill for an aspirin. The doorknob jiggled and then rattled as it was unlocked. It swung open and Alex stepped into the frame, smiling at Simon in a truly sickening manner. She was a little thinner than he remembered and her lightly muscled physique had faded with her incarceration. Her hair was cut short, almost in a buzz cut, and her skin was mostly pale. A few red blotches marred her arms and neck - allergic reactions to something she'd come in contact with recently.
"Barnes," Simon greeted her coldly, "Or is it Bannister?"
"Barnes will do," she cooed at him, lifting her head a little and breathing in deeply. Simon held still as her eyes swept over him from head to toe, Sentinel scrutiny missing nothing. He'd seen Jim do this before, and so he knew that she was cataloguing his condition in minute detail, storing the data away for later comparison. She frowned and stepped lightly into the room, her fingers reaching out to barely ghost over the lump on his temple. Simon pulled away, scowling at her and she growled a little, immobilising his head with one hand while she checked him over more thoroughly.
"Hurt…" her voice trailed off and she looked down at him, her face dissatisfied. She looked around the room vaguely and then headed out the door again, leaving it open as her footsteps receded rapidly. Unable to believe his luck, Simon jack-knifed his body , swinging his legs wildly to land on the floor feet first. He collapsed to his knees with a grunt, the stinging in his knee caps making him sweat a little as he tried to get his feet under him and get to the door.
Alex came thundering down the corridor and into the room, her hand latching onto his collar, her thighs pressing into his back as she scanned the room aggressively. When she was sure there was no one else in the room she turned her attention to Simon, holstering her gun in the small of her back and hauling him upright. He couldn't get back into the dentists chair, which had been raised to its maximum height, and she looked around in frustration before hauling him out of the room by the arm, tugging him along the corridor to a small darkened room that boasted a cot along one wall. Simon was laid down and then he heard her rip a blanket into strips. Before he could think of fighting her, Barnes fist crashed into his solar plexus, winding him thoroughly. Moments later his ankles were secured together with a strip of blanket and then anchored to one of the cot legs for good measure while he whooped for breath.
Alex patted his shoulder gently, waiting until he had regained his breath to disappear again. Simon's head was spinning again and he lay still, breathing slowly to combat the nausea and the pain in his gut. The doorway darkened again and he was lifted with one arm. A strong hand pried his mouth open and popped two pills in, followed by a stream of water that had him choking and swallowing reflexively lest he drown.
"Aspirin," Alex cooed and then bent her head to snuffle and lick his neck, "Good."
Simon found himself laid back on the cot and the torn blanket tucked over him lightly. Alex stroked his face, neck and chest for a few minutes, sniffing loudly. Then she nodded and got up, locking the door behind her.
Simon listened to her footsteps recede, stunned by what had just had happened. He'd seen this exact same behaviour in another Sentinel - minus the bondage - when the man had been caring for his injured or ill partner. But Blair was the Shaman Guide. Jim had taken care of Simon the few times he'd been injured in the field, and although he'd monitored his Captain's condition closely, he'd never felt the need to scent, taste and touch so blatantly. That was reserved exclusively for Blair - not even the children were cosseted to this degree.
Simon's blood ran cold. There was now a second reason for his abduction. Alex wasn't bonded to Brackett at all - instead, she had retrieved the person she thought was her Guide…him…in the words of his civilian consultant, this sucked.
Blair moaned in pain. His shoulder hurt pretty badly, and his knee was on fire. There was a heavy, inert weight pinning him to the cold rough concrete beneath his cheek. Someone was breathing into the hair at the nape of his neck. Whoever it was, they were moaning slightly with each exhalation - it sounded like they were in as much pain as he was.
It was totally dark when Blair opened his eyes and for a panic stricken moment he thought he was blind. Then his eyes adjusted and he saw a glimmer of light in the distance - it looked like there was a door over there somewhere. Memory returned with a rush and Blair jerked in shock, moaning in pain when his body complained bitterly at the sudden and ill-advised movement.
"Jim…" the name was spoken in a slow hiss and garnered no response from the man on his back. Gritting his teeth and steeling himself for the pain, Blair rolled to one side, feeling Jim roll off onto the floor and onto his own back. Desperately hoping that he hadn't just compounded any of Jim's injuries Blair levered himself upright and ran careful hands over the body beside him. He sat back with a soft sigh of relief - no blood or breaks that he could detect and the skin of his Sentinel was cool but not clammy. Whatever was hurting Jim was Sentinel related then, not a result of some gross or mortal injury.
"Ok, big guy," Blair made his voice calm and free of pain, soothing and warm, "I'm guessing that your senses are in a pretty painful place right now, huh? Whatever else was in that sage and smoke combination probably put the dials right over the top…so we're going to take control of them and put them back where they belong for you. I guess you've been trying to do that for yourself for a while now, so you're pretty frustrated. First things first, Jim. I want you to ignore everything but my voice and my hand on your skin."
Blair put his hand on the bare forearm that he'd just checked for damage and waited for a few seconds, letting Jim get used to the contact.
"We kinda lucked out partner, because when they put us in here they dropped you on top of me…that means you've been in contact with the baseline for your senses ever since we got here, which is what kept you from losing it all together. Now I just want you to breathe for me Jim, while I help you rebalance your senses. Go to the peaceful place we visit together and just breathe. All you feel is my hand on your skin and all you hear is the warmth of my voice."
The breathing of the man prostrate beside him slowed and evened and the moans stopped. Blair breathed a silent thanks to the deity's that watched over his Sentinel and took a few cleansing breaths himself. The pain from his knee and shoulder were distracting, but he did the best he could to push it aside. Once he got Jim stable he could see to his own needs.
"Ok, I'm betting that you're pretty tired so I want you to just relax completely. I'm going to try something new, Jim. You know that the dials work…even though right now they're being pretty stubborn for you…so I want you to let me turn them instead…we'll start with touch…feel my fingers on the dial, Jim…feel me grasp it lightly…feel me turn it down…down from overload to hyper…down from hyper to sensitive…down from sensitive to normal…"
With each turn of the imaginary dial Blair swirled his fingers lightly anti-clockwise on the skin beneath his fingers. When he got to 'normal' there was a sigh of relief from the man beside him and a slight loosening of taut muscles. Pleased that the new imagery was working - Guide Dials - Blair talked Jim through the turning down of hearing, taste, smell and sight. He let the now limp Sentinel rest for a long moment, regaining his strength, then brought Jim up out of the trance to full awareness.
"Chief?" his partner sounded pretty groggy and Blair smiled in his direction. Though there was light coming from that doorway it wasn't bright enough for him to see his brothers' face.
"Yeah, Jim, I'm here…how do you feel?"
"A little…raw," Jim rubbed his stinging eyes and sighed, "Looks like we walked right into their hands."
"Uh huh," Blair sighed too, "Are you hurt anywhere? I did a body check, but it's too dark in here for me to see anything."
"Uh…no, just a sore head from whatever was in that gas, and a runny nose from the sage," Jim replied after a long moment. Blair's heartbeat settled down again and he nodded, running his good hand over his painful shoulder. It wasn't dislocated, so he resigned himself to a big bruise or a break. He reached his hand cautiously to his knee and jerked it back with a hiss as raw agony flooded his body.
Jim was up in a flash, pushing him to lie flat, Sentinel sensitive fingers tracing the jean-clad leg with a pressure so light as to almost not be there.
"Dislocated," Jim growled the diagnosis, angry he hadn't smelled the pain and distress coming from the Shaman Guide sooner, "I've got to put it back, Chief…"
"Great," Blair sighed, "It's ok, Jim. I trust you."
Jim nodded and took off their belts, moving around surely in the minimal light. He realised that his brother was effectively blind, which made it better in a way…Jim moved quickly and without warning, putting tension on the joint and guiding it back into place. Blair screamed once and then passed into blessed oblivion.
Once he was sure the knee was back in place and strapped with strips from their shirts - there being no handy plane seats this time, and yes, it was the same knee - Jim went on a further voyage of discovery, diagnosing a hairline fracture to Blair's collarbone. He strapped the arm to Blair's chest with a belt and then sat back, stroking lightly over his Shaman's hair and face, waiting for him to recover. While he waited the Sentinel played lightly with the dials, gathering as much information as he could about their prison and guards.
Outwardly he seemed calm and controlled, but inwardly he was seething with rage. While he was unhurt - the reaction had been very distressing but not permanently disabling, as Blair had proven - it was obvious that the same care had not been extended to his Guide's person. Someone had deemed Blair expendable, or at least replaceable, and whoever it was would discover to their chagrin that they were very wrong.
Dead wrong. Literally.
William hung up the phone heavily and looked down at the floor, letting it blur out of focus for a long moment, getting his breathing and heart back under his control. He couldn't face the children reeking of fear and despair - Blair's notes had made it very clear that his granddaughter had subconsciously catalogued the scents of her family and would instinctively react to any distress she detected. The children were tense enough as it was, though at the moment they were playing happily enough in the conservatory. They didn't need his fear added to their burdens.
Both his sons were gone without a trace, and Simon Banks as well, a man that William had come to see as a very good friend. Someone was heading over to his house now to be with his wife and babies. William made a note to contact her later tonight to ensure she knew he would help her any way he could.
"Poppy?" Tommy's voice startled him, but he turned smoothly, bringing a smile to his face. The slender pre teen stood in the door to his study, regarding him solemnly. For a moment William contrasted the three-year-old baby who had named him 'Poppy' with the gangly youth in front of him.
"Was that Da?" Tommy stepped into the room, his eyes never leaving his Poppy's face. Any lie would be detected instantly - he'd inherited his father's instincts, as well as his grace and speed. William would have to answer carefully if he was to avoid upsetting his grandson.
"No," William shook his head, "It wasn't. Did you need something?"
"No," Tommy looked back at the door, "I came up to get a book from my bag."
"Ok," William nodded and Tommy gave him a last, considering look before walking back through the door and turning in the direction of the stairs. William was not fooled. His grandson had let him off the hook for now, but Tommy would be monitoring the situation closely now. He was his father's child all right.
"ouch," the miserable whisper drifted to Jim's alert ears and he smiled slightly in the dark.
"You can say that again," he agreed, stroking Blair's temple, relieved that his Guide had finally woken. In truth, Blair had only been out for a few minutes, Mother Nature's way of helping humans cope with extreme pain, but any loss of consciousness was alarming to the Sentinel.
"ouch," Blair repeated obediently and Jim chuckled dutifully, moving automatically to help his partner to sit up. At one time he would have argued against the move - now he knew to save his energy for later. He shifted around on the floor so that Blair was between his legs, back to chest, supported a little if not comfortable.
"ok, what do we know and…."
"What can we make up?" Jim completed the old adage, wrapping Blair loosely in his arms, "Well for starters there's a wall about five meters to our left. If I lean against it and you lean against me we'll be more comfortable and in a better position to defend ourselves."
Blair sighed, but nodded, letting Jim arrange his limbs in the best position and breathing deeply as his brother dragged him into position. Jim was still feeling a little off balance and didn't want to risk dropping his precious burden in the move, otherwise he'd have lifted Blair in his arms. When they had settled again, Jim told his Guide that they were in an abandoned hospital complex - most likely the one twenty miles out of Cascades limits that had been set up as a free clinic by some entrepreneur. He had lost his money in a risky investment, and the clinic had been unable to find another patron. There were at least ten other men in the large and mostly intact building, all armed and in constant radio contact with each other. Jim and Blair were currently being housed in one of the large linen storage areas in the basement. The building itself was four storey's high. Brackett was one of the ten men, and Alex Barnes was here too. Jim could feel her all over his body, an itch he couldn't scratch. This time, he knew what was causing it and simply held Blair closer.
"So, Simon was simply the bait for the trap," Blair sighed, "Have you heard anything from him? Is he here too?"
"Yeah, he's on the fourth floor, and his heart rate sounds pretty good," Jim nosed through the sweaty curls in front of him idly, using the scent to combat the stale air and old smells of medicine and illness that clung to the building. If it was bothering him, then it must be worse for Alex. She didn't have the luxury of a Guide.
"So why is he still here?" Blair mused aloud, letting Jim position him any way the larger man wanted. His Sentinel needed to feel he was at least contributing to Blair's comfort, though nothing short of some pain meds and an ice pack could really do that now.
"I mean, if they only wanted him for bait…these are not people who would be squeamish about killing a man - not even a high ranking cop like Simon," he continued and Jim grunted acknowledgement.
"Continued leverage, perhaps?" Jim suggested and felt Blair shrug his good shoulder.
"Maybe," Blair sighed, "Jim, you might as well know…Simon and I have a theory about Brackett. He was extremely interested in you, how your senses worked and what you did to control them. We thought that maybe he was a Guide…you know, a latent one or something. I'm…hoping that he won't try to break us apart, so he can gain control of you."
"He's shit outta luck, then," Jim replied, his voice cold and stony, "Because all Guides have a special touch…it's what distinguishes them from the rest of the people I touch every day. And I've only ever come across four examples of it. You and Tommy, Kowalski from Chicago and…"
"And?" Blair tipped his head back in a futile effort to see the man behind him. Jim's formerly comfortable body had gone rigid in surprise, and Blair tried to figure out who could have startled his Sentinel like that, "Wait a minute…Simon?"
"He's a Guide…a latent one…not as strong as you or Tommy, but…" Jim couldn't believe he'd never noticed this before. He knew that Simon was able to break through a zone out and knew a lot about Sentinel's, but he'd always put that down to the knowledge he gained from Blair's work and teachings.
"That explains a lot," Blair mused, "Especially why he's still around…Alex must be protecting him."
"But if Brackett was looking for a Sentinel, why isn't he trying to be her Guide? Why does he want me?" Jim asked, confused by the revelations of the last few minutes.
"You've never failed…you've never been overloaded to catatonia by the senses…he must think that you're the more viable specimen," Blair shook his head in frustration, "He's using her to get to us, and if he can't break our bond, he has a back up Sentinel."
Tommy slipped into Clare's room and smiled when she reached out a hand and tapped the bedside lamp. It turned on to its lowest setting, giving Tommy enough light to see where he was going and yet low enough not to hurt sensitive eyes. Tommy slipped onto the edge of her bed and switched off the white noise generator as she sat up, her eyes fixed firmly on his face.
"What's wrong?" she asked in a soft voice. Tommy felt a tug of affection for his Sentinel, her long blonde hair tumbled around her face and flattened on one side from the pillow. Their Poppy had been a little pre occupied all day - ever since Tommy had interrupted that phone call downstairs. Both children had noticed but neither had said anything to the other.
"Clare, I want you to listen in to Poppy for a minute," Tommy said softly, "I know that Da said that we shouldn't be invading other peoples privacy. But I've got a funny feeling that something's happened to Da and Daddy…."
"Me too," she nodded, "It's ok Tommy. If Poppy is talking to his friends or about work I'll listen out again."
Tommy nodded and scooted closer to his Sentinel. He took her hand and rubbed his thumb over her knuckles. The touch steadied her as she took calm, deliberate breaths and tilted her head a little as she sent her hearing past her bedroom door and down the stair to their Poppy's study. The children had kissed him goodnight only an hour ago, before going up the stairs to sleep. It was unlikely that he would have gone to bed for the night so early, especially with the situation between their fathers what it was.
"He's on the phone," Clare confirmed for her Guide, "He's talking to Uncle Steven…oh no! Tommy, Daddy and Da are gone! They were trying to help uncle Simon when the bad Sentinel took him, and they're gone too!"
Tommy felt his young insides turn to ice, but rallied to steady his little sister. They hugged each other close, the junior Sentinel's hearing back inside her bedroom, too upset to continue her eavesdropping.
"Shhh, it's ok, Clare," Tommy patted her back, "We'll get them back."
"How?" Clare demanded, leaning back from the hug, "You know that Poppy isn't going to let us go out now…especially with Daddy missing."
"So we sneak out," Tommy insisted, "Not right now of course…we have to find out more information first, like where they were last, and how to get there."
"How will we do that?" Clare frowned, "Its not like we can just walk up to Poppy and ask."
"Let me think about it," Tommy shifted on the bed, "Shift over and lie down again. I'll wake you up when I have a plan."
"I'm not tired," a very mulish expression moved over Clare's face and Tommy sighed. His Sentinel's father had unfortunately passed on some very stubborn behaviour. He gave her his best imitation of Da's glare and was relieved when she gave in, lying down and letting him join her under the blankets. She rolled and put her head on his chest, seeking out his heartbeat, and three minutes later she was fast asleep.
Tommy stared up at the ceiling, his mind whirling with plans and ideas.
Simon pulled his now raw wrist free from the cuff with a feral grin of triumph. If he'd been paying better attention the first time he came round he'd have thought to try the cuffs, which had been fastened loosely according to Sentinel over protectiveness. Though it was a long, hard, and painful pull, Simon had managed to get his left hand free. He fumbled the cuff through the belt and sat up, both hands free and attacking the knots at his ankles. He'd figured that Alex was either out somewhere or her hearing was offline, otherwise she'd have been in here earlier when his vitals changed in response to the pain from pulling on the cuffs. Either way, now was a good time to get the hell out of dodge…or wherever this place was.
Feet freed, Simon creaked his way upright, his bruised knees protesting bitterly at the abuse. He mentally told them to stop whining and carefully tried the door. It wasn't locked and the corridor was clear. It was a moment's work to pad quietly to the emergency stairs and head down them, listening carefully and pausing above each landing to scope out the terrain.
At the fourth landing - halfway down the building, Simon thought - there was a shadowy movement and then Jim's jag stepped into his path. Simon froze in horror. Though he'd heard the Sentinel and Guide discuss the spirit guides, he'd never seen them himself, and he'd been happy about it. Seeing spirit guides only occurred when things were about to hit the fan big time, and Simon had never really been more than a bit part player in the Sentinel world - or so he'd like to have thought.
The jag trotted daintily up the stairs, stepping with the precise grace of a powerful predator. It sniffed him over carefully, growling when it came to his bloodied wrist, and again when it detected a particular scent on his clothes.
"Easy there," Simon breathed warily and the jag butted his thigh in commiseration. A second movement in the shadows and the wolf slipped into sight, limping a little, but moving with purpose and determination. If Blair's spirit guide was injured then the chances were the Shaman was also hurt, which would put the Sentinel into a VERY bad mood. The wolf also sniffed him over and whined low in its throat, licking his wounded wrist. The stinging from the deep welts faded away to blissful numbness and Simon's eyes widened.
"Thanks," he whispered and the wolf nudged the jag for a moment before the shadows stirred a third time. A cougar stepped slowly into the dim light and moved to stand beside the jag. It sniffed him over as well, then moved to lean into his leg. Simon took this to mean it was his spirit guide and brushed his fingers over it lightly before straightening. If the guides were here, then chances are the people they represented were too.
"Lead the way," Simon whispered again and the jag chuffed lightly, turning to pad down the stairs, followed by the wolf. The cougar remained at his side and Simon shook his head briefly before moving on. Things were never dull when you worked with Ellison and Sandburg.
"Simon's just outside," Jim whispered softly in Blair's ear and then covered his Shaman's eyes. Bair had been still and silent for the last hour or so, but Jim knew he was conscious so the Sentinel hadn't panicked too much. He dialled his sight down to compensate for the sudden influx of light that was about to spill into their prison.
"I've been guiding him," Blair admitted, "His spirit guide is with ours."
That explained it. The spirit walk would let Blair help Simon out, and also kept Jim from getting too restless about being stuck here. With his senses still raw and stinging from the combination of drugs used on him, Jim was not up for actively fighting his way out of the room and up to Simon, then leading them out of the building. This way he'd only need to worry about getting them out of here - as stealthily as possible.
The door opened slowly and Simon blocked the light for a moment. Jim got into a squat and powered up off the floor, bringing Blair with him. Simon stayed in the doorway, blocked from further entry by the cougar at his side. Jim shuffled Blair around so that he was supported as best as possible, then headed for the door. The sour smell of pain was tainting the air, but Jim dialled it down ruthlessly. He couldn't afford the distraction.
"Broken collar bone and dislocated knee," Jim whispered as they neared Simon. Blair rolled his eyes at Simon and sighed. Trust Jim to dob him in the moment there was someone else in whispering range.
"You ok?" he asked their boss, who nodded reluctantly. Blair noted the cuff attached to one wrist, the other cuff on the same hands knuckles. He didn't envy anyone who got punched with that hand.
"Yeah, but we have a problem. Barnes thinks she's found her Guide in me," the fear in that simple statement tugged at Blair's heart. Simon had always been a reluctant part of their triad, especially in the beginning. Now a Sentinel that Simon actively dislikes - even hated - was trying to bond with him.
"Not gonna happen," Blair told his friend, "Your abilities are mostly latent and the bond requires the permission of the Guide for it to form fully. Have you given it?"
"No!" the whisper was venomous, and Blair smiled in reply, seeing some of the tension leave Simon's shoulders. They could deal with the rest of this at a later date - when Barnes and Brackett were locked up safely somewhere.
"Let's go…Brackett is going to come down here in about thirty minutes to start 'persuading' me," Jim whispered, and saw the jag at the entrance to the stairs. The wolf was beside it and he nodded to the animals. They slipped into the stairwell and out of sight, scouting ahead. He hefted Blair gently against his side and followed.
Clare woke early in the morning and looked up at Tommy's sleeping face. For a moment she revelled in the close contact between Sentinel and Guide - the heady mixture of their scents and warmth, the ease of the body that was cuddling hers. She'd slept with her head above his heart, and the soothing sound had deepened her sleep restfully.
Tommy stirred and woke, his arm around Clare tightening for a moment. She leaned up and rubbed her face against his before sitting up, letting him sit up too.
"Good morning," Clare whispered, "What's the plan?"
"We need to get Poppy to tell us the truth. Then he can drive up to where Da and Daddy were taken. Once we're there, you can follow their scents and tracks till we get to wherever they've been taken."
"Do you think Poppy will go along with it?" Clare asked doubtfully and Tommy nodded, his face set and determined.
"He has to."
The young Guide got up and led his Sentinel to the bathroom, making sure she was washed and ready for the day. He dressed them both in sturdy boots, jeans and sweaters, adding their waterproof coats to the pile of clothes on the bed. He braided Clare's hair into a single long plait that could be tucked inside her jacket and made sure they had the usual hankies, gloves and knitted caps. He added the scarves that Da had knitted his family at the last moment.
They walked down the stairs together and put their things beside the door. In the hall closet were their backpacks, which they took to Sally in the kitchen for fruit, water and energy bars. These were also placed by the door before going in to breakfast with Poppy.
One look at the very determined faces in front of him and he knew there was something afoot.
William Ellison pulled the car over on the edge of the dirt road and wound down the windows. The children were well wrapped up, so he didn't have to worry about them catching a chill. He wondered, for the twentieth time in as many minutes how the hell he'd been talked into this. Tommy had been unstoppable in his relentless demand that they assist their fathers. Clare had double-teamed her grandfather seamlessly with her brother, and the next thing William knew they were out the door and in the car.
"Very, very slowly, Clare, I want you to dial up your sense of smell. From the way Uncle H said Daddy was sneezing we know that there was sage in whatever they used to get them. I want you to ignore everything else and look for the sage," Tommy's voice was an eerie copy of his fathers - the Shaman Guide had trained his son well. The fact that Tommy was making sure that Clare didn't just open her senses to the max alerted William that the Guide was worried about side effects of the rest of the gas on his young Sentinel.
"Got it," Clare announced and pointed further down the road, "That way, Poppy."
William started the car up and drove slowly in the direction indicated. At Tommy's directions he stopped at each junction they came to and let Clare recall the scent. They followed it for about twelve miles, along a series of fire roads and access roads, until they reached a familiar building. William frowned at the closed free clinic and then sighed. It was the perfect hideout - a four storey building in reasonable repair that had been fenced off pretty comprehensively. There was a large clear area around it and the windows on the top floor made excellent vantage points.
William had recently been approached for funding to reopen the clinic - and he'd been considering the matter very carefully. One of the problems with the place was its distance from Cascade. If you were in need of free medical treatment, you often couldn't afford the taxi ride out here in the first place, and buses just didn't come out this far. The only other alternative was to drive yourself - and the elderly people of the city that patronised this service often didn't have a car.
He pushed all this back in his mind and glanced over his shoulder at his grandchildren. They had warned him to stop while the car was still under the cover of trees, and then gotten out and walked the short distance to bring the place in sight. Clare was listening hard, her face screwed up in concentration as she worked to breach the walls of the old buildings.
"I hear him! I hear Da - he's whispering to Daddy! They're getting out with Uncle Simon - come on, Poppy, I know where we can meet them!" she exclaimed and Tommy swung around to run back to the car with her, leaving William to scramble in their wake. He started the car and backed up slowly, careful not to make any dust trails that could alert someone to their presence. He fumbled out his cell phone and hit the speed dial for Joel Taggert. Joel had hinted that if they came up with any ideas 'no matter how out there' he should call and pass it on. Though his son's colleagues were never officially informed of the Sentinel and Shaman in their midst, they were too smart not to have noticed that there was something going on. It was simply never spoken of.
Information passed on, he followed Clare's excited directions, swinging around the ex-hospital in a wide arc. He could tell that there was something bothering the little girl from the way she kept glancing at her brother when she thought he wasn't looking. Tommy had picked up on that too and was tense as he looked out of the windows, trying to spot their parents and Uncle. The tension was rapidly approaching the unbearable stage when Tommy fixed Clare with a steady look.
"What's wrong?" he asked, and Clare rubbed her hands on her knees.
"I think that other Sentinel is nearby - I feel all tingly. It's like there's not enough air…"
William swallowed a curse and upped his speed a little. Clare didn't say any more, and Tommy merely latched a hand in her jacket, letting her know that he was there, and not leaving any time soon. Three minutes later, Clare shouted stop and then called her father out of concealment. William leapt out to help get Blair settled in the front seat - there would be no squishing his youngest son into close quarters this time around - and then put the car in gear again, increasing their speed to get clear of the enemy Sentinel's territory.
Taggert met them at the lay-by where Simon had been taken. He had an ambulance with him and enough back up for world war three. Blair was loaded into the ambulance by a fretting Jim and William promised to take Clare and Tommy straight to the hospital, where Taggert informed them they would be met by a bunch of uniformed officers who would see to their safety.
Simon held Jim's wrist in his hand lightly, rubbing his thumb over the pulse in a soothing fashion. It was an automatic gesture - one he'd learned from Sandburg. The hike out of the hospital - with Jim's senses unsettled and Blair's injuries there was no way it could be called a dash - had given Simon time to think. Over ten years ago he'd met the team of Sentinel and Guide, and watched them accept the role that genetics and fate had dealt them; enthusiastically in Blair's case, reluctantly at first in Jim's. Now he had been given confirmation in his part in their lives. He could accept it or run away from it. Simon Edward Banks was no coward - he'd never run from a challenge in his life, and he wasn't about to start now. The Sentinel of the Great City needed a Guide to help him catch their prey. Simon was just the man for the job.
"C'mon Jim, lets get these numb nuts," Simon urged in a low voice, "The sooner we get this wrapped up, the sooner you'll be with them."
Jim nodded and took a deep breath, his posture straightening, and the lines in his face smoothing out. The years had been kind to Jim Ellison - who'd always asserted that Blair kept him young. Joel handed them vests and guns, and Simon led Jim to the cruiser with the maps spread out on it.
Together, the two men outlined the layout of the hospital, the placement of Brackett's defences and the number of people that the PD could expect to offer resistance. Jim outlined the best way to get their people into the hospital and how to immobilise their opponents. Gas masks were issued as a precaution, and Simon led the way to Taggert's car. The former bomb squad captain would drive the two of them, and Jim spent the trip testing handcuff keys to get Simon's 'bracelet' off.
"Ok, Jim, any surprises?" Simon asked quietly, rubbing Jim's forearm lightly and winding down the window. Jim's head tilted a little and his mouth opened, taking in the air to allow his sense of smell to combine with taste.
"No," Jim said after a long moment, "No gas, chemicals, or explosives. Just lots of guns."
"That, we can deal with," Taggert said from the front seat. His voice was a comfortable tone, not at all phased by what he'd just seen. Jim nodded quietly at his colleague and leaned into Simon's solid touch, relieved that the smell of his current Guide was untainted by pain. Alex's scent markers were rapidly fading on Simon's clothes - overlaid to some extent by the scent of Blair and himself.
"Right, lets do this," Simon said, accepting Jim's weight easily.
Tommy sat beside Clare and held her hand, talking to her softly to keep her grounded. As much as he wanted to know if his Da was going to be alright, he knew better than to ask his young sister to listen in on the often-gruesome terms the doctors used to describe their patients injuries. Poppy was sitting on Clare's other side, watching the door intently, while a couple of the uniformed men and women from Central precinct stood nearby, watching over them all.
"Poppy, do you think the doctors will come out soon?" Clare asked after a moment.
"Sure, honey," William replied, "We just have to be patient, ok? We want them to be sure that they've taken the very best care of him - and we can't rush them."
"Ok," Clare sighed, and leaned into Tommy. Her guide was positively vibrating with tension. He hadn't had time to do more than lean forward and brush his father's shoulder with his hand, though Da had turned his head and smiled at his son sweetly. Tommy sighed and leaned his cheek onto her sleek hair.
"Hey, Tommy," William leaned over to look at his grandson, "You did a great job today. You and Clare were fantastic. Your parents would be very proud of the way you handled your gifts. I'm proud of you too."
"Thanks," Tommy whispered softly, "Clare was great at her using her senses - she did it just like we were taught."
"Thanks Tommy," Clare snuggled in. She was very tired, they'd been up late and the extended use of her senses today had tapped her energy reserves quite a lot. Tommy put his arm around her and concentrated on his breathing.
Until Daddy turned up, or Da's doctors came out he'd have to keep his cool - Clare was in his charge… Da had said so.
Simon grinned at the men being escorted into the police vehicles. They'd been taken without a shot, and Brackett had been cornered on the top floor with Barnes. She was locked into a deep zone out that Brackett was trying desperately to break. Simon had stayed back and silent - just in case he really was supposed to be Alicia Bannister's destined Guide. If she got herself back online, it would be difficult to keep her in custody.
Bannister was being loaded into the correctional van on a stretcher - she was headed to Conover for observation and eventual return to her original hospital. Brackett would be charged with her abduction as well as all the other stuff.
Jim came to stand beside Simon. His senses had settled down remarkably, considering his separation from his Shaman. Jim sighed softly, and Simon rubbed his shoulder sympathetically. They were stuck here until someone had time to drive them to the hospital. No one was willing to take the chance that either newly rescued man had an injury that would cause an accident on the way to the hospital.
Joel jogged up to them and grinned, pulling his keys out.
"Come on, guys, we're off."
He followed Simon and Jim to his car and closed the rear door on them. Both men were slumped tiredly, leaning on the shoulder of the other as he drove carefully along the access roads until they reached pavement. Then he flipped on the lights and headed for Cascade General, their children and Blair Sandburg.
Jim actually went to sleep on Simon's shoulder - exhausted by the day's events, the battle with the overload and the final energy expended on the capture of their attackers. Joel kept an eye on them both in the rear-view mirror as he drove. Simon caught his eye and grinned a little. Jim Ellison shed a lot of years when he slept - letting you see the boy he'd been.
Joel pulled into the hospital lot and drove them up to the front entrance. Jim woke suddenly, before Simon could even nudge him and was reaching for the door handle even as Joel came to a full stop.
"Thanks Joel," Simon followed his friend out of the car, shadowing him closely as he weaved through the waiting area and triage rooms, finding the children sitting with William and surrounded by blue uniforms. Jim dropped down and hugged the children to him closely, feeling for himself that they were ok.
Simon smiled at the sight and then turned to head for the nearest nurses desk - he'd be able to get hold of a phone and call Moira to tell her he was ok. The city had an exchange for the deaf to use, and Simon had made use of it more than once from his cell phone. He wanted to be hugging his own family as soon as he knew that Blair was going to be all right.
"So what you're saying is that if Jim hadn't met you he still wouldn't have bonded to me?" Simon asked, watching the twins play out on the lawn with Tommy and Clare. Blair was lying on the couch - his brother had dropped them all off before going for a solo supply run. Both lofts were running out of edible food, and Blair was going stir crazy.
"Because your skills were latent. He needed a Guide that was already on line - and although at the time we didn't know that Guides were selected genetically too - I was on line and ready for him. There is no way that I wouldn't have been there for him - I was drawn to Cascade, to the very time and place that would let me find Jim and help him out," Blair explained, "You've come on line because we've been working with you so closely, but Simon, I think that eventually your own Sentinel will come to Cascade."
"Maybe she already has - maybe it was Bannister," Simon voiced his greatest fear softly, glancing down at the unnaturally still figure on the couch. Blair's arm was strapped across his chest, and his leg was braced and cushioned post surgery.
"If that was the case she'd have been drawn to you in the bull pen, not to me. Your scent and presence are all over the Major Crimes offices - if you were her Guide she'd have sought you out," Blair promised, his eyes serious, fixed on Simon's, "Your cougar is the spiritual leader of the spirit worlds - he shoulders the responsibilities and leads when others refuse. Your Sentinel will come to you, and they will match your vision and moral courage."
"You're sure?" Simon put his hand on Blair's and felt the last tension ease with the brilliant smile he got.
"Trust your Shaman," Blair nodded.
The Subaru pulled up in the driveway and Jim got out, heading for the front door with vigour and purpose. The two adult Guides in the house smiled as the Sentinel let himself in, shouting 'honey I'm hoooome' like Desi Arnez used to. Simon rolled his eyes and got up as the children - alerted by Clare - headed inside as well. They'd be having lunch together, and then Blair would be carefully returned to his home to rest and recuperate under Jim's watchful eye.
The present was satisfying enough to involve him now. The past was a closed door. The future could take care of itself.