"Okay Daryl, the numbers are on the fridge," Blair grinned at the colorfully dressed teen. Daryl grinned back at him. This was the teen's first babysitting job for Tommy and Clare and Jim had already briefed the teen three times before Blair managed to break it up and get his partner out the door and into the hall. Now it was Blair's turn. Daryl had figured the roles would be reversed - Blair would be the compulsive worrier and Jim would take a more casual approach. Apparently the opposite was true in this family and Daryl had heard his father say that Sandburg and Ellison were always proving him wrong.
"We'll be home by twelve," Blair promised, a twinkle in his eyes. It was as if he could tell what Daryl was thinking and the teen chuckled involuntarily. Blair chuckled back and winked before turning to his son. Freshly bathed and wearing brightly patterned pajamas, Tommy Sandburg was bouncing lightly on the balls of his feet with excitement. He loved having Daryl visit while his father and uncle were away because his cousin would let him do adult things like homework, instead of just playing games like his aunts, uncles and Poppy did.
"Have fun!" Tommy piped up and Blair bent down to give him a goodnight hug.
"Enjoy the game, Blair," Daryl nodded and watched Tommy kiss Blair goodbye with lots of snuggles and whispers. Even after a year together Tommy still craved touch from adults. He wasn't clingy though - lately his independence had been developing in leaps and bounds. If this was a good thing was yet to be determined - Tommy could be stubborn when he wanted to be, despite his usually even temper and sunny nature.
"Ready to draw some pictures?" Daryl asked as the door closed and Tommy's face lit up. The boy loved to draw - both his father's loft and Jim's were full of pictures Tommy drew and hung up. Simon and Joel had also been given pictures to put up - Simon's hung on the fridge at home and Joel's was up on the side of his desk at work. William Ellison was apparently collecting a portfolio of the work - whenever a picture was 'retired', Poppy collected it.
Tommy gathered his drawing materials and followed Daryl into Jim's half of the loft. They would spend most of their time there in order to be near the sleeping baby. They chose to sit on cushions on the floor in front of the coffee table. Daryl found a nature program on cable to play quietly in the background that he knew Blair approved of and started on his homework while Tommy drew beside him. Daryl had learnt to put his books away from Tommy and on the floor so no pictures would find their way into them - after learning the hard way and handing in a report to be marked that had one of Tommy's masterpieces on it. The little boy had been very sorry, but Daryl's teacher had liked the picture and even commented on it. Tommy had worried that the homework he did with Daryl would stop - the little boy was fascinated with books and the idea of learning, a trait he got from his father the scholar. Daryl had discussed it with Simon and bought Tommy a 'homework book' of his own - it was this the boy was drawing in now.
Immersed in their work, neither teen nor child noticed the shadow on the balcony.
Blair confiscated Jim's phone in the truck and fixed his partner with a solid glare.
"We are going out, Jim. That means no kids, no worries, and no responsibilities. You will not hassle poor Daryl to death. Clare is old enough to sleep through the night now, and she was fine when you tucked her up. Tommy will go to bed happily and Daryl will be able to feel good about a job well done. Simon will be proud of his son, and the gang will get to spend some time with Jim and Blair - not Detective and Consultant, or Da and Daddy, or Sentinel and Guide. So I'm ordering you to just relax, ok?"
"Sheesh," Jim grumbled, starting the truck and pulling out, "Sounds like you need to chill, Chief. Good thing I'm dragging you out tonight."
Blair stared, closed his mouth and then shook his head. Jim's lips were twitching with poorly suppressed amusement and his friend chuckled and then laughed. A friendly hand slapped an arm, hair was ruffled and two men relaxed.
The parking was as tricky as usual, and they ended up having to walk quite a distance to the entrance, and then had a second hike to the seats where they were meeting the gang. They'd won the tickets at the PD softball competition and planned to make a night of it.
Rafe was already there, a beer in hand and a grin on his face. Brown arrived a few minutes later and there was the general confusion of greetings and sitting down.
"Did you brief Daryl?" he asked as they settled down and Blair rolled his eyes.
"Three times," Blair confided in a teasing tone, "And what a tantrum we had when it was time to go - kicking and screaming and hanging onto the furniture!"
"Tommy?" Rafe asked incredulously and Jim groaned. He knew where this one was going.
"Jim!" Blair grinned as he delivered the punch line and Rafe laughed hard, leaning back in his seat while Jim whapped his partner and the two men sparred back and forth. Blair left to go get them a beer and some peanuts while Jim settled into his seat and fiddled with the dials to get comfortable. Megan, Simon and Joel arrived just as Blair returned with a tray of beers. He was greeted with smiles and enthusiasm, as he was promptly relieved of his burden, and left to sit on the aisle seat.
Megan - who was sitting next to him - rolled her eyes and glanced around. The stadium was full of people in the team colors and dressed in outlandish costumes as far as the eye could see. In Jim's case that was quite a distance.
"Busy tonight," she grinned at Blair and he shrugged, then nodded.
"Usually is when Cascade comes up against these guys - bad blood, don't you know," he replied, "Brings the fans out in hordes."
"Actual hordes or just hypothetical ones?" Megan settled in and Blair grinned. This was one of their latest games, one that he enjoyed a lot.
"Hypothetical ones," he went along with the bull easily, "The actual ones cost too much to rent."
"Really? You guys don't have Rent-a-Horde out here? They're very big back home," Megan feigned astonishment and Blair grinned at her, leaning back in his seat. Megan could always be counted on for a bit of lighthearted BS.
"Rent-a-Horde, huh? Do you have their number? We used Hordes-'R-Us; they have chains all over the country."
"Oh yeah, they started up back home but never really made it. We prefer to support local industry," Megan's tone was mocking and superior and Blair lost it, laughing hard and tapping her hand lightly to concede their game. She grinned back at him and they turned to watch the game.
Half time saw Jim a bit twitchy and eyeing his partner, wondering how hard he'd have to tackle Blair to get the phone off him. Simon thwarted that plan by asking if he should check up on Daryl. Jim knew the teenager would be crushed if his father did that and talked Simon out of the idea, knowing that if he called home now his boss would call him a hypocrite. From the knowing grin Blair gave Simon, Jim figured out that he'd been set up and conceded the point with good grace. Clare did sleep the night through and Tommy was a sweet tempered child that would do as he was told. Daryl was competent and trustworthy - there was no need to check. Besides, the teen could be trusted to call if anything came up that he couldn't handle. If there was one thing a cop's child learnt, it was when to call for backup.
After the game, the gang hit a bar for a few rounds of pool and shooting the breeze, before splitting up to go home. Brown drove Rafe and Megan caught a ride with Joel. Blair was designated driver for his household and Simon was following the truck to pick up his son before heading home too.
The lights were off in the loft, but Jim wasn't worried about that. Blair had told Daryl it was ok to go to sleep once Tommy was settled for the night. Jim had expected the teen would be staying up late, but evidently their sitter was more tired than they'd thought.
The two men waited for their boss and then strolled up the three flights of stairs, talking quietly about the game and then work. As they stepped out into the corridor, Jim's senses flared up and his arm shot out, barring any further movement.
"My front door is open," Jim said it very quietly and felt Blair's heart rate jump into overtime. He heard Simon's sharp breath and gritted his teeth. Neither cop had taken their gun to the game.
Blair's hand rested on the Sentinel's arm gently. Jim felt his senses respond as always - settling and focusing automatically in response to his Guide's touch and scent. His own heart rate slowed and evened as his body prepared for action. A glance showed Blair to be ready too, though his face was pale and his eyes wide.
Sentinel and Guide moved smoothly down the corridor. A sweep of the joined house showed only one occupant - whoever it was, he was unconscious.
"The babies are gone!" His body followed Jim's cry as he rushed to confirm his worst nightmare. Clare's cot was empty, the blankets missing from it as well. Simon's cry of shock had Jim running back to the living room of his loft.
Daryl was slumped back against the couch. There were lines of white powder on the table and some of it dusted his nostrils and shirt. Simon was kneeling beside his unconscious son, tapping his cheeks and calling his name in an effort to bring him to consciousness. Something in Jim snapped and he crossed the room swiftly, grabbing for Daryl with a cry of rage. Simon intercepted him, defending his son from the furious man, yelling in parental outrage. They struggled together until a smaller form insinuated itself between the two men and literally slapped Jim back.
"Stop it! This isn't helping!"
"He brought drugs into our home! Our children are gone!" Jim screamed in fury and was toppled to the floor when Blair deliberately tangled one leg around Jim's and threw his weight forward. Slapping the floor automatically to absorb the impact the Sentinel found himself nose-to-nose with his Guide.
"Focus damn you," Blair's voice was a hiss, "Find them!"
Jim cast his senses out, in an attempt to trace where the children's scent had gone. Blair got off him, crouching next to his Sentinel as he monitored and supported the effort. Both men were ignoring Simon, who had returned to Daryl's side and called for help.
"Someone else was here," Jim rasped finally, "Broke in and went to the nursery and then next door. Left through your fire escape. Daryl didn't even try to stop them - they stood there and looked at him, but there's no scent of his along their route!"
"Ok, file the scent away," Blair coached, his voice shaking with the stress of holding his partner together, "Remember it for later. We need to get up and look the loft over for physical evidence."
"Chief," Jim whispered and Blair's eyes closed. For a moment the naked grief he felt showed on his face and then he straightened, touching Jim's arm and urging him up. Time to grieve later - right now they had to find their children.
When Blair remembered to turn their cell phones back on both phones beeped to indicate voice mail. Daryl had been rushed to hospital in an ambulance, a grim Simon at his side. Blair had called Joan to tell her where to meet her son, and then promptly forgot all about the teen as he directed his partner in their forensic efforts. He had to calm Jim down when the rest of the department arrived to do the same job.
Jim's jaw clenched as he listened to his voice mail and he swung on his partner furiously. Brian Rafe and Henri Brown blanched at the cold fury in their colleagues' face as he went for the smaller man.
"Dammit! If you hadn't turned the phones off…!" Jim bellowed, grabbing his partner and shaking him hard. Before Rafe or Brown could intercede Blair broke Jim's hold and shoved his friend away. The anthropologist hadn't spent the last five years with the cops without learning a thing or two about self defense and threat assessment. Plus, he was just as mad as the man shaking him was.
"I know!" Blair almost screamed, "I know, ok! If I hadn't turned the phone off then we would've got the messages in time. It's my fault they're gone, it's my fault Daryl's in the hospital! I know, ok! I don't need you reciting the list of things I did wrong right now!"
The pain and terror in Blair's voice broke through to Jim better than anything else could have and he regained control in an instant. Blair's scent spoke of guilt and fear and pain and grief, his heartbeat was erratic, his breathing close to hyperventilation. Jim's face crumbled in pain and he reached out gentle hands, pulling the vibrating man closer to him and holding on tight. A muffled sob reached his ears and Jim cursed himself for a fool. There was no way to predict the future and hindsight was twenty-twenty.
"It's not your fault, Chief. God, I'm sorry. You weren't to know that Quinn was on the loose. Even if we'd got the message in time we still might not have been able to stop him," Jim's voice was rough, but his arms were gentle, "Shhh, it's ok. I didn't mean it."
"I did," the voice was choked and Jim buried his face in Blair's hair. He could feel the tears soaking his shirt and shed a few of his own. Blair's arms settled around his waist cautiously and Jim pulled him in even tighter. Two fists knotted themselves into his shirt as the other man held on desperately.
"Well you're wrong," Jim said staunchly, "We'll get them back, Chief. No way is Quinn hurting our kids. Come on now, I need you focussed and with me. I can't do this by myself. I'm sorry about the meltdown - I know it's not your fault."
"Fear based responses," Blair mumbled and Jim nodded, rocking them both a little, "We're ok now?"
"Yeah we are. If you can forgive me," Jim let Blair pull back a little. His friend's tear ravaged face was pale and strained and the smile he got was watery to say the least, but Blair was back on line again - they both were.
"Forgiven," the whisper was a promise and Jim touched their foreheads together before letting go. Blair swiped the tears away and ran his hands through his hair before straightening and turning to look at the activity in their home. As if this was the signal she'd been waiting for the new Chief of Forensics - a black woman by the name of Felicity Dunn - approached the two men. Cassie Welles had decided to move on when Cascade failed to provide her with the opportunities for advancement she craved. So far Dunn hadn't crossed paths with Major Crimes. She was developing a reputation for thorough and timely work - right now that was good enough for Jim.
"Detective Ellison, Dr. Sandburg - I need you to tell me if there is anything else missing," she said quietly. Blair looked around and bit his lip.
"The afghan from the couch is gone," he told her and she nodded. Jim shrugged.
"That's all," he told her. The intruders had taken no nappies or warm clothes for Clare, nor any shoes or coat for Tommy. Raffey was propped forlornly on the yellow chair - put there by its loving owner and forgotten.
"Ok," she ran a hand over her hair and offered what little comfort she could, "Perhaps they wrapped Tommy in it - we know they took Clare's blankets along. It's a good sign."
"Do you know what the drug is?" Jim's tone was harsh as he glared at the lines of white powder. The Detective would tolerate no drugs in or near his home after their nearly fatal brush with a designer drug called Golden. The Sentinel wasn't too fond of them either.
"It's not coke or heroin," Dunn sighed, "Actually, we're not sure what it is. There were traces of it on the couch and the books Daryl brought along with him. I called the hospital - he's still unconscious and in critical care while the Doctors wait for the blood work. Apparently, he's not presenting the usual symptoms of an OD. They're keeping him close to the resuscitation wing just in case."
"Thank you," Blair nodded and she took the hint, leaving the two men alone, "Jim, let's go into the alley - see if we can pick up the scent again."
Jim nodded and followed Blair out the door quietly. The alley was as dirty and smelly as ever - the building Dumpster was overflowing again and Jim made a mental note to call the health department - he was sick of complaining to the contractors. A little Government investigation would shock them into fulfilling their contract. Jim dragged his wandering thoughts back to the present and clutched his hand in Blair's sleeve, letting his Guide tug him along the alley.
Under Blair's direction they walked to the fire escape and Jim again picked up the scent of Quinn and his helpers.
"Whoever was with him, they split up," Jim gestured, "Quinn went this way though, and the others headed towards the harbor."
"Can you smell Clare and Tommy?" Blair asked quietly and Jim sneezed hard, reeling back into his Guide. Strong hands steadied him and a calm voice urged him to regain control of the dial.
"What happened, Jim?" Blair's voice was gently insistent. Jim grimaced and shook his head, wiping at his nose and growling in frustration. Now was not the time for his senses to let them both down.
"The harbor guys are carrying some kind of scent that's burning my nose off," he sneezed again and fought the dial for control, "I can't pick up the children at all."
"Can you still pick up Quinn?" Blair asked softly and Jim turned, testing the air carefully. The burning sensation faded and he took a few tentative steps to where the other scent was stronger, regaining control with each passing moment. Blair's hand rested in the small of his back, a steady but passive pressure that grounded him.
"Yeah, come on," he led the way down the alley. They would have to be quick - the scent was already beginning to fade. By dawn it would be gone completely.
They walked and ran for several hours - following a network of back ways and little used roads to the warehouse district. Blair was aware that occasionally Brown's cruiser would pass them on the street, or a patrol car would slow down for a look, but other than that, only the hunt existed for the two men as Jim traced the scent and later the tracks of their quarry.
"Here," Jim whispered, speaking for the first time since they left the alley. He eased the gun he'd collected from the safe at home from his holster and Blair stepped back, slotting into his accustomed place. A hand rested on the back of Jim's shoulder lightly, connecting them.
"How many?" he asked quietly in the tone he'd been using since the hunt began, "Isolate the hearts and count them out. Don't go too deep."
"Four adults," Jim straightened after a moment and turned to look at Blair. His eyes were bleak.
Blair nodded and took a deep breath.
"Then we go in there and find out where the hell our babies are," his voice was calm and determined. Jim felt himself react, as Blair had no doubt intended - his body achieving the relaxed tension required for moving swiftly and silently, his senses flaring into sharp focus. The grin he gave his Guide was feral - no more than the one he got in return.
It was a moment's work for Blair to pick the lock to the door they wanted to use - and Jim slid inside like a ghost. It was too dark for Blair's sight to adjust quickly, so he looped a finger through the Sentinel's belt and let himself be tugged onward across the floor. Both men were moving soundlessly, gracefully, as they homed in on their prey. Man number one went down soundlessly and was cuffed then stuffed behind a pile of debris.
Man number two managed to get a shout off before Blair's hands gagged him and Jim's fist stunned him. Quinn and man number three bolted while Blair was tying their second captive with his own belt. Jim ran after them, leaving Blair behind as he tried to keep up with the fleeing criminals. He lost them in the over powering stench of the sewer.
Blair was waiting in the warehouse, Brown and Rafe with him. The two detectives had finally caught up with their colleagues and arrested Blair's captives for him.
"I lost him," Jim's voice was heavy with self-recrimination and Blair nodded, his face tightening for a moment. He touched Jim's wrist in acceptance and squared his shoulders.
"We'll find him again," he told Jim and turned to Rafe, "Give us a lift to the station?"
"No problem," Rafe nodded, "There will be a cruiser here in a minute for these two. We'll go then."
"We'll wait at the car," Blair agreed and ushered Jim out. The two men were hanging onto each other tightly when Rafe and Brown got out there and Brown hesitated, then stepped forward and unlocked the doors.
"We'll find them," Brown vowed, as the distraught parents let go of each other and turned to get in.
"Whatever you need, we're here," Rafe added, backing up his partner.
There was no reply.
Conner and Rhonda managed to get some food into both men at the station and Joel managed to get them to at least sit at their desks - the closest either one would come to outright rest. The bullpen was buzzing at almost fever pitch as the detectives hit their snitches and contacts for a lead on Quinn and his cronies. The two thugs were downstairs in booking under Brown and Rafe's close supervision. None of the cops wanted to give the lawyers a reason to plead these guys down.
At eight o'clock, Miki Solange and her parents approached Blair's desk and he got up. Gabriel Solange was a petite woman with ebony skin and an iron will. Her husband, Hugh, was a broad man with a Scottish accent and red hair. They were a truly international family, both parents of mixed heritage and speaking several languages between them. Miki was clinging to her mother tightly, her eyes wide and a little scared.
"Blair," Gabriel hugged the pale man and he tweaked Miki's ear as he let go.
"God, we heard what happened," she continued, "And we…"
She faltered at the look in Blair's eyes and he stepped back, looking down and fighting for control. There was an awkward silence for a moment.
"Miki and Tommy ran into a stranger yesterday on the field trip to the zoo," Hugh spoke up. Blair looked at Miki again and got the family seated. Jim stood next to his brother, a hand on his shoulder.
"Can you tell me about it, Miki?" Jim asked tightly and Miki nodded. Her mother rubbed her back as the child looked at Blair and spoke.
"I wanted to look at the lamas and Tommy was helping me find them. Miss Cameron was right around the corner, I promise," Miki looked anxiously at her mother who patted her daughter's back and smiled in reassurance. Now was not the time for discipline.
"Did you find them?" Blair prompted in a gentle voice and Miki nodded, grinning at him. Blair was a favorite with the little girl - he always knew such good stories and interesting facts.
"Yep!" she said proudly, "They were funny. Dr. Blair, can you ride lamas?"
"Sometimes," Blair smiled, "Was the stranger at the lamas too?"
"Yes," Miki nodded, her face clouding over, "He said that he was a cop and that Tommy had to go with him. So then Tommy asked to see his badge, just like you told us to, Detective Jim. Tommy looked at it real close and said it was a fake and if the man didn't go away he'd yell. Then Miss Cameron called us and we ran over to her. She didn't see the man, and we forgot to say anything because the snake man was there and we got to play with them."
"I found the badge in Miki's school bag this morning," Hugh handed it over, "When we heard about it we called at your home. One of the cops there told us what happened."
"How did Tommy know it was a fake?" Gabriel looked at the badge in Blair's hands and he answered without looking up. Jim was shaking in anger beside him as the full import of the tale and the ID sank in. Tommy had been a target too - not just someone that got in the way. Dawson Quinn had used his own name and photo in the fake ID, rubbing it in.
"It doesn't have the hologram in the corner like ours," Blair's voice was hoarse with raw pain and anger. Quinn had shot him once and he wasn't going to forget the way Simon had been treated at the hands of the failed criminal either. He found himself praying desperately for his son and niece.
Rafe stepped in then, getting the Solanges to make a statement and sign the paperwork. Blair walked them out of the building to their car, thanking them for coming in so quickly. Hugh put a hand on Blair's arm before he got in the car.
"Blair…if there's anything we can do…this is every parent's worst nightmare…anything you need, name it."
"Thanks Hugh. We'll stay in touch. And the patrol cars will go past a few extra times, ok? Miki shouldn't be a target but we'll take no chances. Take good care of her," Blair's smile was strained and Hugh nodded before squeezing the arm he held and getting in.
Blair watched them until they were out of sight and sighed, turning to trudge back into the station. Felicity Dunn got into the elevator at the fourth floor and Blair greeted her wearily.
"Dr. Sandburg, is there anything you need?" she asked gently and Blair shook his head. He gestured to the files she held in the crook of her arm. She couldn't supply what he needed - his son in his arms, safe and sound.
"You have something for us?"
"Maybe," Dunn sighed as the doors opened. She followed Blair into Major Crimes and nodded to Jim before waving the others over.
"Ok," she sighed, "Here's what we've got. There were two different entry points - the balcony and the front door. The people who came in through the balcony blew some kind of drug at Daryl Banks and Tommy Sandburg. There was a concentration on Daryl, suggesting he was the target. After the dust settled the second party came in and moved the papers in front of Daryl, making lines of the unused powder. Whatever the drug was it's not recreational. If I didn't know better I'd say it was a strong sedative, but you don't administer sedatives like that. The second party followed the first party around, obscuring their tracks and both parties exited the dwelling through the fire escape."
The dispassionate sentences were balm to the gathered cops - letting them focus on the information for a moment, not the emotions of the situation.
"So, Quinn had someone drug Daryl and then they all left with the kids?" Blair frowned and Dunn shook her head. She didn't want to say this, but if they were to find the children all possibilities had to be at least acknowledged.
"I don't think so," she replied, "There's nothing to indicate that they were working together. In fact, I think Quinn might have come in too late to take the children. Sure, he set the scene up with Daryl - we found some prints that weren't his on the papers he was studying, maybe one of the guys in custody will be a match - but it's possible that the children were already gone."
"Dammit!" Blair slammed his hands onto his desk, venting his fear. He swept everything from the surface, kicking out at the chair as well. Jim grabbed him and pulled him away, holding on tight until the struggles stopped and Blair was hanging loosely in his arms. Their friends and colleagues were ignoring them, giving the illusion of privacy at least.
"Hang on buddy," Jim croaked, "Don't give up on me now."
Blair calmed his breathing with effort and got his feet under him. Jim let go and Blair apologized with a look. They needed to be in control if they were to get their kids back.
"Ok, that's it. I want you two to get out of here," Joel spoke up, "You're gonna be no good to anyone if you don't get some real rest. Go to a hotel if you can't go home, but I want you both to get some sleep. Come back this afternoon and we'll see where we are. Rafe and Brown - you too. Connor and I at least slept last night and the whole damn force is trolling for Quinn at the moment. We'll meet here at four and review what we have and what we need."
"Come on, Chief," Jim pulled at Blair, "He's got a point."
Rafe and Brown were already collecting their gear and walking to the door, knowing that the other two wouldn't move if they refused. Blair resisted for a moment and then nodded silently, letting Jim usher him out and down to the ground floor. Neither man had their car at the station, but they weren't planning to go far. There was a hotel three blocks from the station that Blair had dragged Jim to once or twice when the Sentinel needed some down time and couldn't last the trip to the loft.
They booked a room, collected the key and trudged up to the second floor. The furnishings and decor were as bland as only a hotel could be, but neither man seemed to notice as they stripped down to their underwear and crawled together into the double bed.
Jim pulled Blair close, curling up around his Guide and hanging on tightly. Both men shook with the force of their repressed emotion as they tried to come to terms with what was happening.
"I'm so scared, Jim," Blair's voice cracked a little, "What are we going to do?"
Jim broke, burying his face in the back of Blair's neck and sobbing heart brokenly for his daughter. Blair wriggled around to face Jim and wrapped his arms and legs around the other man, sobbing too as the nightmare overwhelmed them both.
They woke hours later, still entwined. Blair stroked Jim's back lightly, getting comfort by giving it.
"We're gonna get them back, Chief. That's what we're gonna do," Jim answered the question finally and Blair nodded. It was all they could do. The alternative was too awful to contemplate.
Simon looked up as the door opened and blinked in surprise. Blair stood in the doorway, looking like death warmed over and paler than the sheets Daryl was lying on. Joan stirred but didn't wake as noises from the corridor drifted into the quiet room. They had moved Daryl to a private room in order to afford him more protection should Quinn decide to come back. They still didn't know what the drug Daryl had been exposed to was, or if he'd wake soon.
"Any word?" Simon's heart stuttered to a stop for an awful moment, thinking that Blair had come to tell him Tommy and Clare were dead. Blair shook his head silently and looked at Daryl.
"We thought you'd want to know," Blair's voice was rough, "Quinn might not be responsible. We think he played with the evidence to get Daryl into trouble. The kids were gone before he got to them."
"God, Blair, I'm so sorry," Simon stumbled over to his friend and pulled him in close for a hug. Blair leaned into him for a moment and then pulled away to walk to Daryl's bedside. He lifted the teen's hand and stroked it lightly.
"We've got no idea who they were," the voice continued in an emotionless tone, "And they were headed for the harbor. By the time we figured it out five ships had left on the morning tide and we can't get to them. Quinn is still out there somewhere and Miki Solange reported that she was with Tommy when Quinn tried to pass himself off as a cop and take Tommy away from the field trip yesterday. Tommy told him the badge was a fake and took it…"
"Thank God you and Jim drilled him on the difference," Simon broke the heavy silence and Blair flinched, then nodded.
"He's at the station now, trying to make some sense of it all," Blair kept up the gentle stroking; his eyes fixed on Daryl's face. Their voices had woken Joan - she sat and stared at the wreck of a man stroking her son's hand and wrist.
"We don't blame Daryl, Simon. It looked pretty bad when we first saw it all, and I'm sorry about what happened, but Jim and I weren't exactly firing on all cylinders," the apology was sincere even though Blair didn't look away from the teen on the bed. Joan got up and reached out to free Daryl's hand from Blair's. The dazed man jolted back and focussed on her for the first time. Simon stepped in to steady him, then reached around and gave Daryl's hand back to his friend, glaring at his ex as he did so. Blair started stroking again, alternating with little pinches to the nerves in the wrist.
"What are you doing?" Joan protested and Blair looked up absently. Simon recognized the expression on the younger man's face and held his breath.
"Waking him up," the Shaman replied reasonably and pinched one last time. Daryl took a deep breath and opened his eyes slowly.
Minutes later Joan looked at the closed door and then at her husband in disbelief.
"What went on in there? How did he do that?" she demanded in a quiet voice, "Did you know he was going to do that? Dammit Simon, talk to me!"
"I was hoping he could wake Daryl up," Simon started, picking his words carefully. He didn't want to lie to Daryl's mother, but he sure couldn't tell the truth. He didn't know if it was a Sentinel thing or a Sandburg thing, but when Blair got that expression you stood back and let him work. Usually Simon only saw it when Blair was working on Jim, but the consultant was not exclusive in his efforts to help others.
"Dr. Sandburg doesn't practice Western Medicine," Simon looked down the corridor to where Blair was slumped in a chair, clutching a cup of coffee from the vending machine. The door to Daryl's room opened and the doctor and nurses came out.
"How is he?" Simon straightened, taking Joan's hand supportively. Her grip was tight. The doctor smiled at them both.
"He's just fine: fully aware and responsive. Motor control is normal, all reflexes normal. He's missing a little bit of memory and understandably worried about what happened to put him in here, but otherwise I have no concerns. We'll keep him a few more hours for observation and then release him tomorrow morning. I'll arrange a normal room for him now - we should be ready to move him in a little while."
The doctor took his leave and Joan hesitated a minute before running quickly down the hall to hug Blair. She jogged just as quickly back to Daryl's room and went inside; Simon looked at his friend and followed his ex wife.
Blair stood up and walked down the hall to a payphone. He called the news in and watched as orderlies collected Daryl in a wheelchair and walked him down to the teenager's ward. He waited outside the room until the orderlies left and then knocked lightly on the door.
Daryl was startled to see Blair and immediately assumed the worst. Simon couldn't blame him - his friend was a shocking sight at the moment. This situation was eating Blair alive from the inside out and it showed in his face.
"Oh God! What's happened?" the teenager gasped and Blair moved quickly to reassure his friend's son.
"It's ok," Blair took Daryl's hand in his own, "It'll all be ok."
"Son, when we got home we found you unconscious and the front door wide open," Simon sat on the end of the bed, and Joan moved to take his other hand.
"The kids were gone, honey," Joan said softly, "You've been asleep for almost a whole day."
"Blair, I'm so sorry! I don't know what happened!" Daryl turned his head to Blair and the Shaman took charge, hopping up on the bed and patting and stroking Daryl's chest.
"Stop it, Daryl. No one blames you. It's not your fault, now calm down. Take it easy, my friend, I need you calm and focussed."
Simon watched Blair soothe Daryl into a semblance of calm and patted his son on the foot absently.
"What's the last thing you remember, Daryl?" Simon asked when the Shaman fell silent. Daryl bit his lip and frowned. His mother was patting his hand, his father his foot and Blair his chest. The teenager was beginning to feel like a puppy.
"Um…I was in Blair's loft. I was waiting for Tommy to come out with his drawing stuff. I was planning to study while Tommy drew next door," Daryl looked up, "I'm sorry, that's all."
"Don't be sorry," Joan soothed, "You're doing your best, honey."
"But that won't help us find Tommy and Clare. Detective Ellison must hate me!"
"No," Simon shook his head, "He understands, Daryl. It wasn't your fault."
The door opened and Rafe and Brown entered. They smiled at Daryl, saying hello and grinning at their boss, relieved for him that his son was ok. Joan bristled immediately.
"What are you two doing here?" she snapped. She had never liked her husband's colleagues, and rarely bothered to hide it. She blamed Simon's job for the eventual break up of their marriage and his colleagues by default. The men and women of Major Crimes were well aware of this attitude and tried not to give her any ammunition against their boss. Blair put his hands in his lap but didn't get off the bed.
"We need Daryl's statement," Rafe replied in an even tone, "How about it Daryl? You up for a chat?"
"Yeah," Daryl nodded. Rafe fished out his notebook with a grin. The teen had spunk - just like his dad.
"No," Joan over rode. Brown grimaced but said nothing. Simon sighed and opened his mouth to intervene when Daryl beat him to it.
"If it helps get Clare and Tommy back I'll do it, Mom, so just let me!" the stress in his voice was enough to convince Joan to back off a little, at least for now. She sat down in the chair beside the bed and Daryl clutched her hand tightly as he repeated what he'd told Blair a few minutes ago.
"Why don't I remember more?" Daryl fretted. Blair reached out and shook his shoulder.
"It's there, Daryl. You just can't access it. Maybe you'll remember more later," Blair counseled and Daryl grimaced.
"But you need to know now. Can't you help me? I've seen you talk Detective Ellison into remembering stuff!" he demanded. Blair looked over at Joan and then at Simon. Putting the Sentinel into a trance to aid recall was one thing - to do it to a teenager in front of his parents was another. Daryl was right though; they needed the information now.
"If your parents don't object then we can give it a try," Blair agreed, and Joan frowned. Doctor or not, this strange curly haired man set all her maternal instincts tingling.
"Try what? You're not going to hypnotize him!" she blurted and Blair laughed. It was a travesty of his normal laugh and Simon shivered a little. Rafe and Brown shifted uneasily. Their friends were hanging by a thread that no one wanted to see snap.
"It's a guided recall technique. No hypnotism required. I'll get Daryl to relax and then help him nudge his memories to the front where he can access them. But I won't do it without your permission," Blair assured her. Simon wished he could just will his ex into agreeing - even in his current condition Blair would never hurt their son.
"Please Mom!" Daryl urged and Joan nodded reluctantly.
"Simon?" Blair asked, twisting to look at his boss. Simon nodded immediately.
"Do it," he ordered and Blair asked Rafe to turn the lights off. Joan looked like she was going to protest again, but subsided at the pleading look from Daryl.
Blair's voice filled the room as he held Daryl's hands and talked him into the state of relaxation he needed. Under the guidance of that voice Daryl remembered settling with Tommy at the coffee table and some of the studying he did. He remembered hearing a noise and looking up, but that was all. Blair tried for several minutes to isolate the sound and what Daryl was sensing - the teenager was no Sentinel but had a sense memory none-the-less: everyone did to some degree. They established that it was the sound of the glass doors to the balcony opening that made Daryl look up in time to get a face full of powder. He never saw his assailant.
Blair released Daryl from the trance and caught a ride with Rafe and Brown back to the station.
"I don't get it. If Quinn didn't take the kids why are you still chasing him?" Simon ushered Jim into his office and started the coffee. Jim slumped into the chair opposite Simon's desk and sighed. His eyes were burning with fatigue and every muscle in his body was screaming in protest. In the two days since his child and his nephew had been taken Jim had managed to get only three hours sleep - and that was on top of a full week of work beforehand and almost non-stop activity since. Neither man could face going back to the loft at the moment and he couldn't convince his Guide to go back to the hotel.
The fact that Blair would have been going alone may have had something to do with Jim's failure.
Blair had come back from the hospital with the information from Daryl and he and Blair had returned to the alley to follow the now very faint burning scent to the harbor. They'd lost the trace near the cannery. It was inconclusive if the first party had jumped on a ship or kept going and holed up somewhere in the city. Major Crimes continued to hit the snitches and follow up on the whispers.
Simon had come in an hour after Blair, at Daryl's request. The teen wanted as many people looking for the children as possible. Simon had been glad to go, despite the attitude Joan was giving him about leaving his sick son in hospital. The captain needed to help with this one - they all did.
"Right now he's all we've got," Jim's voice was rough and dull, making Simon's throat ache in sympathy.
"Simon, about what I said…"
"It's ok," Simon held up a hand, "Jim, I know what it looked like. If I hadn't been so worried and scared I'd have been furious with him. We said things we didn't mean. We both screwed up. I'll forgive you if you'll forgive me."
Jim nodded and Simon turned as the coffee machine burped one last time. He was using that vanilla blend that Jim liked so much - figuring his detective needed the comfort as much as Simon needed to give it. He poured two cups and turned. It took him two seconds to realize what had happened and he put the cups down swiftly, going to the door and calling to Rhonda to find Sandburg and get him here right now.
Simon closed the blinds and then stood next to his detective, bending to be at Jim's level. He put a hand on the still man's shoulder and rubbed in soothing circles, murmuring reassurances. After a few minutes Blair stormed in, the door banging shut behind him as he moved to kneel in front of Jim. Anxious eyes met Simon's as the Captain took his hand away and backed off a little.
"How long?" Blair asked, rubbing his palms in circles on Jim's knees. The kneeling man was tilting a little to the left in his own fatigue. Simon wondered how effective Blair could be, burdened by fatigue as he was.
"A few minutes," Simon replied and Blair sighed, leaning in and resting his head on the hand that clutched the arm of the chair.
"It's the coffee," Blair explained, "The smell is too strong. Did you put sugar in his?"
"He doesn't take sugar," Simon said, guilt marring his face. He hadn't realized he was overloading Jim's senses.
"It's ok, Simon," Blair looked up at the other man with a strained smile, "It was only a matter of time before he fell. I was kind of expecting this. Can you load the sugar into his coffee and stir it in? He'll need the stimulant. I'll take him back to the hotel and get him to sleep once I've brought him out of this."
"Shouldn't you be talking to him?" Simon frowned in confusion and Blair shook his head, letting the rhythm of his hands warm the fabric that covered Jim's knees.
"I don't want him to wake up yet," Blair explained, "Sometimes letting him zone for a little while is better. It's a way to recharge his batteries enough to get him to safety. Especially since he zoned on something so safe. We've been experimenting with it at home."
Simon put the loaded coffee next to Blair and then stood back, watching as Blair finally leaned forward and called Jim out of the zone, reassuring and coaxing the Sentinel back to awareness. Once Jim was able to grunt in response Blair fed him the coffee, then woke him the rest of the way and levered the stunned man to his feet.
He told Simon where they'd be and pushed Jim out of the office, supporting as much weight as he could and weaving drunkenly to the elevator. Joel and Brown took Jim from his grasp while Simon and Rafe sandwiched the consultant between them.
Blair was vaguely aware of Simon rifling his pockets for the key to the hotel and being loaded into Simon's car. Joel rode up front to help get them into the hotel and the two Captains watched as the partners curled up together, took a single united breath and passed peacefully into sleep.
"They'll need clean clothes," Simon frowned, "Come on, we'll go past the loft and pick up some gear for them. With a bit of luck they'll get some decent rest and come back ready to crack this mess wide open."
Joel waited until they were in Blair's part of the loft to voice his doubts.
"There's been no ransom and absolutely nothing from Quinn, Simon. Are we sure they're still alive?"
"I am," Simon vowed, "Anything else is just not acceptable, Joel."
Joel was interrupted by the sound of a key opening the front door in Jim's half. Both men put down the gym bags they held and snuck quietly to the corridor.
"Ok," said a familiar voice, "Let us see what we shall see."
"Why am I here again?" a second voice complained. Felicity Dunn stepped into Simon's line of sight, grinning back at the lab tech that'd spoken. She was dressed in jeans and shirt, as always. The rumors at the station said she didn't own any other clothes.
"So you can testify I didn't rip off the stereo while I was here," she told him and he rolled his eyes. Dunn went to the balcony doors and stood facing the room.
"Y'know our last Chief, Ms Welles, wasn't too popular when she tried to play detective," the tech cautioned and Dunn sighed.
"For the last time, Mikey - I'm not playing detective. This escapee disturbed the evidence patterns. I want to see if I can piece them back together. I'm not in anyone's way and it certainly will help if we get a clear picture of who did what. I just want to walk the scene one more time," she scolded and flipped open her file, "Anything we find goes straight to Major Crimes."
"Good to hear," Simon stepped in and Mikey jumped in surprise. Dunn looked up quickly, then relaxed. She offered him a grave nod, flipping through her file slowly for the information she wanted. There was nothing that read as guilty in her body language and Simon appreciated that - she was here to do her job, not someone else's.
"I didn't know you were here, Captain Banks," she commented and turned the file on its side, frowning at the contents.
"Picking up some gear for my men. They…"
"Don't want to come back," Dunn nodded, "I can sympathize. I felt the same way when my place was invaded…only, the stuff they took was replaceable."
Simon nodded. He got the feeling she really did understand. For the first time since this whole nightmare began Simon felt a pang of hope. The PD would track the children down and reunite them with their fathers. They would.
When Jim and Blair returned to the bullpen there was an oddly triumphant mood to their colleagues. The partners headed straight for Simon's office and he waved them to chairs opposite his desk with a grin.
"We've got Quinn," Simon said without preamble, "Officer Kelley was searching for his kid's cat and spotted him from the car. Kelley called for backup and we took him with no problems. Rafe and Brown are in there now, with the lawyer."
"Has he said anything about Tommy and Clare?" Blair's voice was electric and Simon shook his head, frustration dogging every move.
"He says the kids were gone when he got there. He searched the place for them, but couldn't find them. From what we've got from the goons he hired he's telling the truth. I'm sorry, guys. We're at a stand still," Simon scrubbed his face with his hand and tried not to watch the naked pain on his friend's faces.
"Let me talk to him," Jim growled, his body tense as a spring. Blair's hand latched onto his arms in a grim grip and Jim tried to shake it off.
"Calm down," Blair ordered, "You want this guy to get off? To pose a greater threat than he already is? You go in there and you'll rip his arms off or something. The kids need us, Jim. Stop it!"
"He knows something!" Jim grunted, tugging at his arm. He could have freed it with greater effort, but that might entail actually hurting Blair - an unacceptable outcome. The younger man merely tightened his grip and increased the intensity of his voice. This was familiar territory. Calling a ballistic Sentinel back to rational thought was old hat for him now.
"Let Rafe and Brown handle it," Blair persisted, "He's going back to jail anyway - he might want to bargain his time down by offering his information. He won't even try it if he sees you or me! Don't give him a reason to lie to us!"
Jim froze and then slumped in his chair.
"You win, Chief," he whispered dryly and his friend got up to lean against him - both of them needing the contact at the moment. Simon blew out a gusty breath and came to lean on the desk near them, offering support wordlessly. He knew that if Daryl had been taken like this he'd be a basket case - was in fact amazed at how well the men in front of him were coping. He had a feeling that with the arrest of Quinn their hope was about to fade for good - the criminal was their last link to whoever had the children.
"Extend your hearing, Jim," Blair suggested, "Find Brown's voice then listen to the people he's with. What are they saying?"
"Brown is telling Quinn he's going back anyway so he might as well tell us where the kids are. The lawyer's objecting to it. I can't hear Quinn at all," Jim looked up at the dark blue eyes above him and sighed deeply. Blair's hand traced a circle between his shoulder blades and Jim butted his head against his friend's hip. He wanted to cry with frustration, but instead he obeyed his Guide and reported back what he was hearing faithfully.
"Rafe is telling them about the fingerprints. The lawyer is still telling Quinn not to say anything," Jim continued in a leaden voice and his Guide shook his head angrily. Rhonda knocked on Simon's door and entered when he called. She was carrying a cloth bundle in her arms and Blair's head came up sharply. Jim twisted in his seat to stare at it as the scents grabbed his attention.
"This was delivered at the front desk for Detective Ellison and Blair," Rhonda said hesitantly, unnerved at the intensity of the expressions on the two men.
"Who delivered it? Do we still have them?" Jim's voice cracked at her and she blinked at him in shock. Jim's temper was legendary, but Rhonda felt that something else was happening here.
"Yes, he's still there," she nodded and Blair took the bundle from her, moving to place it on the conference table in Simon's office.
"What is it?" Simon asked as Jim leapt up and ran past Rhonda full pelt - re-energized. Blair was tugging gently at the ties that held the bundle together.
"It's a message bundle from Peru," Blair's voice was crisp. The young man's hands shook with barely repressed excitement as he picked at the layers. Leaves carvings and one or two animal parts tumbled out.
"What the hell?" Simon's voice was puzzled as he peered at the objects. Blair picked over everything, turning the artifacts this way and that, smelling the plants and rubbing his fingers in the scraps of material. Simon and Rhonda watched in bemusement as Blair methodically catalogued everything in front of him. Jim jogged back into the room. Both men were moving with an energy and purpose that had been missing since the abduction.
"He's a patsy - says some Indian with war paint on asked him to hand it in," Jim came to stand next to Blair, "Who sent it?"
"The Chopec Shaman," Blair replied and glanced at Rhonda, wondering how much he could say. Rhonda caught the look and grinned, rolling her eyes. These two were legendary when it came to weird occurrences and last minute saves. She prayed that this was what she was seeing now.
"I'll leave you to it," her voice was amused, "It's not like I haven't figured out the Sandburg Zone is a weird one. My lips are sealed ok?"
"You're worth more money Rhonda," Jim's voice was sincere, "Thanks."
When the door closed Simon frowned at his two friends.
"This is probably going to be something I don't want to know, right?" he grumbled, but was relieved to see some animation in the two men after three days of fear and waiting.
"Probably," Blair agreed, "The Chopec took the kids. There's some kind of trial involved - but I'm not sure who has to face it. It could be the Shaman, or the children or Jim and I."
"They're babies! How in God's name can they survive a trial?" Jim exploded. Simon took his cue from Blair and ignored the outburst - focussing on the bundle.
"I think the Shaman is acting without the permission of the tribe, Simon. If they needed us, and the tribe agreed, they'd send the bundle, but leave the children. They have to know that we'd come if they were in trouble - Jim is still a part of them, even though he is the Sentinel of the Great City," Blair continued.
"How do you know all this?" Simon asked and Blair held various items up, explaining what they meant as he did.
"Broken arrow - peril and a quest or trial. Claw from a jaguar - Jim's spirit animal. Tooth from a wolf - my spirit animal. This is from a Lynx - Tommy's animal. The seed represents Clare - she hasn't traveled to the spirit plane yet. This is a claw of a mynah bird - it belongs to the Shaman. We're all represented here. The Shaman's claw was tied to the arrow - so it's his quest we're summoned to. The plants represent various parts of the land - an address of sorts if you like. We're to meet this Shaman there and either fulfill his Quest or fight him for it. Either way, he has the children and we have to go."
There was a stunned silence from Simon as Blair put the bundle back together and Jim leaned over the table, confirming everything his Shaman had said. The scents were familiar to the Sentinel, bringing with them memories of his former Shaman and village.
"How the hell do you know all that?" Simon asked in disbelief. Jim's head came up and his glare was not friendly to say the least. No one questioned his Guide and Shaman's ability to do the job.
"He's my Shaman, Simon. What do you think he's been doing all this time? He knows the job and he's right," Jim growled and Blair laid a hand on his arm soothingly, "He knew how to wake Daryl and he knows how to control the shit that happens with the senses. Hell, he can even find new ways for me to use them…"
"Enough," Blair's voice was final, "We need to get going. Simon we'll be gone for a while - I can't say how long."
Simon looked over at his desk. Reports, budgets and pending cases buried the surface of it. He'd let everything slide to be with Daryl and then to help Jim and Blair.
"Give me an hour and I'll come with you," he told them and they exchanged long looks. Simon had the feeling that the two men were holding an entire conversation without words. In the end Jim shook his head and turned to face his boss.
"Thanks Simon, but we need to go alone," Jim smiled, the first genuine one since they'd left their children with Daryl, "It's a Sentinel and Guide thing."
Simon nodded, not offended at all by this. This was something that he couldn't help with - the last thing they needed was a skeptic dogging their tracks.
"Ok," he conceded, "Call if you can. We'll be praying."
William Ellison had grounded the corporate jet the moment he heard about the kidnapping - his sons used it to fly to Peru. Thanks to the Ellison Corporation's connections they had little trouble with Immigration and were heading for the Chopec lands within hours of landing.
The jungle greeted Jim like an old friend - his senses expanding and reaching a higher level than was safe in the city. Blair moved like a ghost in his footsteps as they hiked the trails, both men carrying the packs that they'd made up from home. It had been the first time they'd returned to the loft since it was invaded. The space felt queerly empty and Blair wondered if it knew its children were missing.
"So what's the address we're heading for?" Jim asked in Quecha. Both men had started speaking it the moment they left civilization behind, and would continue to speak it for the duration of their stay in the jungle. Blair glanced up at his friend and grinned.
"We'll need your senses to find it, Enqueri. You'll have to match the combined scent from the message to a part of the jungle," he replied, stepping nimbly over the rough terrain. Enqueri rolled his eyes and looked back at the Shaman.
"For crying out loud, Shaman, the jungle's a big place," Enqueri grumbled and the Shaman sighed. His Sentinel was a stubborn man - a trait the Shaman hoped was not passed on to the daughter. Gods help them all if they had to put up with that and the terrible twos!
"Look, wherever this place is, it's near or in the Chopec territory. Mynah birds are territorial and don't stray far from home…"
"Strayed far enough to steal our children," there was murder in that reply, but it was ignored as the Shaman kept talking like Enqueri hadn't even spoken. Better to focus on the future than the past right now - there would be time for recriminations and anger later.
"…Not to mention the fact that he couldn't afford to be absent for too long, given the raid he planned on the Great City would be noticed. He couldn't afford the censure of the village."
"What I don't understand is how any student of Incacha could go so wrong. ‘Cacha was a great teacher and Shaman from other villages often came to him for advice," there was a note of pain in the Sentinel's tone now and the Shaman reached out a hand, connecting them together.
"Chances are this Shaman is from another village - the Chopec may be borrowing him until one of their own can assume that mantle. This guy was probably supposed to teach a Chopec youth the way of the Shaman," he soothed, "We won't know until we get there."
Enqueri nodded and they hiked on in silence for a while.
Their entry into Chopec territory on the third day was marked by a definite tingle along Enqueri's skin, which manifested itself as a twitch for the Shaman to see and acknowledge. They rested just inside the Chopec lands and then hiked on again.
"It's very dry here," Enqueri commented as they hiked the fourth day. The Shaman nodded, looking at the dusty plants and listening to the dry sounds of the jungle.
"I think they're in a drought," he agreed and stopped when Enqueri did. From the tension in Enqueri's shoulders and level of focus he knew there was weapons pointed at them both.
"Almata?" Enqueri called, "How is your family, old friend?"
"Not well, Enqueri, these are hard times. I am glad to see you again," Almata was a man Jim's age, dressed in the traditional loincloth, native sandals and paint of a Chopec warrior. His bow was loaded, but now pointed at the ground instead of the two new comers.
"Welcome home, Sentinel," Almata continued, "Welcome home, Shaman."
"Thank you, Warrior. I am honored to be here," the Shaman said softly and Almata nodded. He walked beside Enqueri the rest of the way, the Shaman a little way behind. As the warrior and Sentinel talked, the Shaman wondered what name he would be given when they reached the village. The Chief of the Chopec would either name him - making him a part of the village, with responsibilities to match - or continue to call him Shaman. That would mean Enqueri and their children were his sole duty for the duration of their stay. He couldn't decide which outcome was the most desirable.
He walked in silence until they reached the village. A cry went up and people came hurrying out to greet their former Sentinel. The Shaman was surprised to be included in the welcome, though he was quick to respond. The adults looked strained, beneath the smiles on their faces was worry and fear.
"Welcome home Enqueri, Andarko. We are in sore need of your help," the tribe's Chieftain Pasha nodded to them and turned to lead the way to his home, "I have much to tell you both."
"You know our children were taken?" Andarko asked in a quiet voice and Pasha nodded, glancing at him sideways. Enqueri's jaw clenched in anger and his Guide soothed him with a light touch. Andarko's new village didn't need their former Sentinel venting all over them.
"We were unable to prevent it," Pasha sighed, "It has been a hard year for the tribe. Please, sit."
The hut was larger than normal - to cater for the larger number of inhabitants it must hold from time to time. Pasha's wife, Kabuki, served the men and then slipped away to the back, sitting down to resume whatever tasks their arrival had interrupted.
"What news have you?" Enqueri's voice was hard and cold and Pasha sighed, putting his drink aside and meeting the ice blue eyes.
"Our Shaman is not of this village. He was training one of our boys - Tayca, the nephew of Incacha. The boy is here still - he had no part in the Shaman's evil: of that we are certain. The Chopec have long been the guardians of the Wheel of Muan. It is this, the Shaman seeks," Pasha began and the Sentinel growled impatiently. Immediately the Guide's hand shot out to grip and shake his shoulder.
"Jim!" Blair's voice was sharp, "Stop that! I've heard of this artifact. Muan was a powerful Shaman who carved the Wheel to help him with his spells here on earth. When he died his peers hid the wheel to prevent it from being misused. It's reputed to be so powerful it can control the weather and even speed or slow the passage of time!"
"What's that got to do with the kids?" Jim snapped, "I just want my daughter back!"
"Only someone who is free of malice can use the Wheel - and they took children. If Tommy is a Guide like you think then this Shaman would be planning to use Tommy to make the Wheel work and Clare as leverage. Let Pasha tell us the rest," Blair's eyes were shadowed and Jim nodded, settling back down and pressing into his friend's side. The contact would help keep him calm and focussed. Pasha had watched the exchange in English impassively, his eyes following the speakers. Sensing that their argument had ended - and that Andarko had won - he took a breath to command their attention and began to speak again.
"The Shaman has taken the children to the Wheel - he will use your son, Andarko, to retrieve it from its resting place. Only an innocent could retrieve it. The Wheel is all-powerful, yet it has two flaws. The first is that the Shaman using it must have good intentions…"
"My people in the Great City have a saying - the road to hell is paved with good intentions," Andarko sighed and Pasha nodded solemnly, understanding the sentiment if not the imagery.
"The second flaw is that the Shaman that wields the power of the Wheel must bond to it in a ceremony. There must be a second Shaman present at the bonding. It is possible that the Shaman will bond the Wheel to you Andarko, and use the lives of your son and that of your Sentinel's daughter to control you," Pasha looked from one man to the other solemnly. Andarko tapped Enqueri's knee and nodded.
"Tommy is too young to control the Wheel, though he was able to retrieve it. I will be able to trade myself for the children," Andarko mused. The Sentinel kept quiet by main force of will, "Pasha, do you know where this Shaman is?"
"No," Pasha sighed, "We are unable to find him."
"Then we must," Andarko got up, "He sent us the scents of his trail. We merely have to find it. Come Enqueri - we will begin."
"I will accompany you," Pasha stood, "As will our warriors."
The men left the hut, to find the warriors of the village waiting silently. Enqueri stood silently in the center of the village and let his Guide direct his senses. As the warm voice wrapped around him, Enqueri felt his focus return with a clarity he'd never achieved in Cascade.
"Remember the scent of the message bundle as Rhonda brought it to us. That is the scent we need to find now. It is unique - there will be no other like it. Focus on the scents around you. Hear my voice and feel my hand. Let yourself stretch out above the forest, scenting your path…"
"Remember its place and trace your way back to me. Come back to me now, my Sentinel. Return to the safety of the village."
They moved out.
The Shaman had set up camp in the middle of a clearing. Pasha halted immediately, correctly suspecting a trap. In the center of the clearing a domed grass lodge rested, smoke billowing gently from the hole in the roof. Around the edge of the clearing it was easy to see where the three warriors that supported the Shaman had slept.
Andarko pointed to the talisman carved on a nearby tree and Enqueri signaled for the warriors to spread out but not enter the clearing. As a modern man from America, Enqueri knew all too well that here and now 'magic' was alive and potent. The warriors believed and that was enough to give the Shaman power over them. The breeze shifted, sending tendrils of smoke to Sentinel and Guide.
"It's a powerful hypnotic, dial it down, Enqueri, way down," the Guide ordered and then watched to see he was obeyed. When he was sure his partner was safe Andarko slipped quietly into the clearing and walked without pause into the lodge. Enqueri found Pasha's knife at his throat. That was the first indication that he'd moved to follow his Guide.
"You cannot follow, Enqueri," Pasha murmured in a low voice, "This is for the Shamen now. Only one who walks the spirit world can breach this circle."
"I walk it," Enqueri growled, but Pasha wouldn't move; wouldn't even lower the knife that held the larger man at bay. His eyes were like two black diamonds as they met and held the icy gaze of the Sentinel. Nearby, a jaguar growled in warning, but the Chief didn't back down.
"Who will care for the children?" Pasha reproved, "Who better than a Sentinel?"
"There is no Sentinel without the Guide!" Enqueri struck out to remove the knife from his throat and then froze as Andarko emerged again with a bundle cradled lovingly in his arms. The scents of the bundle reached out to fit into the search pattern the Sentinel hadn't even known his senses were making. Enqueri's arms rose urgently and Andarko slipped the healthy sleeping baby into them.
The world went away from Enqueri as his anxious senses checked and rechecked his daughter's health. A nearby sound broke the spell and he looked up in time to see his soul mate emerge, a larger bundle cradled close. Pasha accepted charge of this one and Andarko sighed, kissed his son goodbye and turned to look at Enqueri. He had given his word to the Shaman that he would return to the lodge. A Shaman couldn't foreswear himself and remain a Shaman - though Blair skirted that particular trait with his obfuscations. The tribe would disown them both and Enqueri wouldn't survive that shame. The same went for Andarko - the knowledge of his dishonor would eat him alive.
"Take care of them," Andarko's voice was loving and firm, "Take care of yourself. Tell them I love them…"
"Every day," Enqueri vowed and Andarko smiled. All thoughts of defying his Guide vanished as he read the emotions and intentions flowing through his eyes. Pasha was right, he had to trust Andarko to survive, yet be prepared for the worst. Their children needed them now. Andarko couldn't be foresworn and the tribe must be protected. He felt his memory capture and preserve this moment with crystal clarity as the young Shaman completed his sentence.
"And remember I love you," he leaned over to brush their temples together and then walked without pause into the lodge. Enqueri was left to walk back to the village with his daughter in his arms and his nephew close by.
With every step his senses shrank a little more, closing down slowly, until all he had was the norm. Clare stirred a little and Enqueri stopped, burying his face in her blankets and trying to stop the tears. He was aware the warriors and Pasha were standing patiently beside him and reached desperately for control. Thunder rumbled in the distance.
They walked on in silence. Three Shamen met the party in the village. Enqueri vaguely remembered these three men coming to see him after Incacha rescued him from the crash site. He remembered their voices chanting over him as he screamed in pain and anger. Eventually he'd found peace and tracked the three visitors as they left the village with Incacha sitting nearby.
"Enqueri, why do you grieve for Andarko?" the Eldest of the three chided. He was scarred all over, fine scars crisscrossing his arms and legs, thicker scars patterning his torso. His hair was painted in red stripes and his face echoed the decoration. An elaborate necklace of animal claws hung from his neck.
"He is gone," the former Sentinel made no effort to disguise his bitterness, and the Eldest sighed.
"Your child needs you now. You will speak of this later," he dismissed Enqueri, who returned to Pasha's hut. Kabuki had prepared a place for the children to sleep and now supplied water and a cloth for Enqueri. He unwrapped his daughter tenderly and cleaned the grimy little body, relieved to see that she bore no marks from their separation. Someone had cared for her enough to keep her nappy changed - though the cloth currently being used was a little coarse. When her bath was done Enqueri turned to Tommy, lovingly undressing the child and cleaning him as well. He was rewarded with a little sigh of happiness as the boy curled up again and drifted deeper into sleep. Outside, the wind picked up a little as the sky darkened.
Pasha presented Enqueri with a loincloth and he changed obediently. He would not return to the Great City alone - his Guide's son would remain near his father. The Chopec could always use another man to work - and that was what they'd get.
At a guess the Shaman had drugged both children to keep them docile. With a little luck neither child would remember the actual abduction. Enqueri hoped he'd be able to come up with a decent covering story for Tommy. Kabuki took away the dirty water and clothes as Enqueri settled beside the children to watch over them. A loud peal of thunder woke Clare with a startled cry and Enqueri picked her up tenderly. She was wailing for her 'mum-mum' the name she'd given to Enqueri before she could say 'daddy'. He only heard it rarely now - when she was very tired or upset.
"Hush now. Daddy's here honey. It's ok now, I've got you," he crooned and rocked, stroking her hair lightly and leaning down to press a kiss to her face, "Don't cry, Clare. I'm here."
Beside them Tommy stirred a little then sank back into the blanket. His lips silently formed the word 'Da' and broke Enqueri's heart. Clare's cries tapered off as lightening flashed nearby. Another loud peal of thunder startled her but she didn't cry again as her father slowly lulled her to sleep, holding the baby to his heart. Enqueri got up carefully so as not to jostle her awake and went to the door of the hut, standing next to Pasha, Kabuki and their children.
In the distance, clouds boiled around the mountains - huge purple thunderheads. There was a greenish cast to the sky and the wind whipped through the village fiercely. The Chopec were sheltering in their huts, though Enqueri could see the three Shamen standing in the center of the village, watching the storm. They reminded him of three guardians, the way they stood leaning against the wind, refusing to let the stinging dust or debris sway them. Every now and then one of the men would cry out, gesturing at the storm. The thunder and lightning was almost continuous now and Enqueri turned to look at his sleeping child, before glancing towards Tommy. The child's sleep was undisturbed and Enqueri felt a faint flash of unease - perhaps the drugs Tommy had been given weren't benign after all.
A final awesome display of pyrotechnics drew Enqueri's attention. Lightning struck the ground in the center of the village, right in front of the Eldest. He stood tall, shrieking his defiance at the clouds and thunder. There was an eerie silence as the wind stopped like someone had flicked a switch. The last clap of thunder left everyone's ears stinging in the sudden silence. The three Shamen threw their hands up and shrieked in triumph.
No one moved. There was an expectant silence as the three Shamen again faced the mountains. The clouds had rushed over the village and hung low in the sky. Enqueri shifted uneasily, feeling a charge build against his skin, tingling all over. The baby in his arms was undisturbed by it, yet Pasha and his wife were not.
A flash of movement at the edge of the jungle drew Enqueri's eye and the black jaguar loped through the village growling low and heading right for him. The Eldest shrieked again as the jaguar leapt into Enqueri and a light breeze stirred the leaves. Enqueri staggered and then straightened, his senses flaring out at once, searching for the backbone of his existence. The silver wolf trotted out of the jungle, tongue lolling, stopping in front of the Eldest. The old man went down on his knees slowly and the wolf threw its head back and howled. Enqueri heard the first hiss of water touching leaves as a gentle rain hit them. Andarko's heartbeat filled his ears, followed by the sight of his Shaman and Guide as the man jogged out of the jungle. The howling wolf turned and leapt into him in a flash of light and Andarko bent to lift the Eldest to his feet.
The newest Shaman to the Chopec wore his curly hair tipped in red paint. Three parallel black lines traced their way diagonally from temple to jaw. He wore a thin strip of leather on the same diagonal across his bare chest and a loincloth. On his feet was a pair of native sandals. The rain that he had run before finally caught up with him and then passed him, the cool relief releasing the build up along Enqueri's skin. The Sentinel's vision zoomed in; tracing the stylized wolf carved over his Guide's heart - the raised scar already fully healed.
Andarko turned from his peers to his Sentinel, smiling and moving swiftly to his side. The baby was handed to the Chief and the Guide was eagerly gathered close. Sensitive and anxious hands checked for injury while the Guide leaned into the strength and safe haven the broad chest offered.
"Next time we travel together," Enqueri shook Andarko a little and felt the lips nestled in the crook of his neck smile in response. The Shaman tilted his head back to make eye contact.
"It's a promise," the vow was made with his heart in his eyes and Enqueri nodded. He retrieved his baby and then ushered his Guide to the sleeping boy. Andarko curled up around Tommy, pulling him close and cradling him gently. Enqueri placed Clare in Andarko's arms too and then curled around them all.
Two deep breaths and they were asleep - the family reunited and safe once more.
Tommy Sandburg woke in his father's arms, lying with his cousin and all of them held by his favorite uncle. The little boy reached up to kiss his Da and uncle, and stroked Clare's face gently. Da woke at the first movement and kissed Tommy back, smoothing the wild curls and stroking his son's face.
"I love you Tommy," Da smiled and Tommy leaned in for a hug. Uncle Jim reached over and put Tommy and Clare between him and Da in a 'kiddy sandwich' hug that felt so good. Tommy pulled his face out of Da's chest and ran curious hands over the wolf.
"What's this Da?" he asked and then reached up to touch the paint on Da's face and in his hair.
"It's part of me," Da replied immediately, "It's part of being a Shaman."
Da and Uncle Jim were looking at him closely and Tommy smiled up at the two magical people in his life.
"Part of the magic," Tommy snuggled back in and watched Uncle Jim coo to Clare when she woke up. Looking around, Tommy realized that they weren't at home and he sat up, staring curiously. There was another man sitting nearby, watching them with a stern face but kind eyes.
"Where are we?" Tommy looked at Da, who was still lying down. Da smiled up at him and pointed outside the hut they were in.
"We're on expedition with the Chopec," Da told him and Tommy's face lit up in excitement. He bounced to his feet and trotted - bare butt naked - to the fierce man.
"I'm Tommy!" he said in Chopec, and the fierce man smiled a great big smile that changed his whole face.
"I am Pasha, Chief of the Chopec," Pasha reached out to take Tommy's hand, "You are a brave one, little warrior. You have raised him well, Andarko."
Andarko held his breath at the sight of his son confronting the Chief of the Chopec village and winning him over with a smile and a laugh. Enqueri got up as Clare began to fuss and for the first time Andarko realized his friend was wearing native clothes as well. He looked at him with an eyebrow raised and Enqueri shrugged one shoulder. Andarko nodded, understanding that his friend would have stayed here if his Shaman hadn't returned.
"She's hungry," was all Andarko said and turned his head to look at Pasha, "Can we trouble your hospitality further Chief…"
"No trouble," Pasha replied firmly and gestured for food to be brought. Clare was already crawling and pulling herself up on the furniture back home, so the fruit she was presented was no real problem for the baby. Tommy sat beside the Chief and ate voraciously. With a jolt Enqueri realized that Andarko had gone back to sleep.
"Leave him!" the Eldest's voice barked the command that had him flinching back from the intended touch; "The Wheel requires much of its wielder. Let him sleep himself out. Andarko's trial is complete - he is truly the Shaman of the Great City."
"Don't yell at Uncle Jim," Tommy said sharply and Enqueri reached a hand out to his nephew to soothe him, "His hearing is better than yours and you'll give him a headache."
"Little warrior, don't tell your elders what to do," the Eldest towered over the boy but Tommy merely drew himself up tall - he barely cleared the top of the Shaman's thigh - and said firmly,
"When Da is away it's my job to take care of Uncle Jim. So stop yelling at him!" a young foot stamped for emphasis and the Eldest cackled in laughter. The Sentinel sensed his nephew had just passed a trial of his own. The little boy certainly looked like his father - wearing what Enqueri privately thought of as the 'Guide expression', equal parts determination, strength and pure 'don't-argue-or-I'll-kick-your ass-mister' attitude.
"You are fortunate in your protectors Sentinel. You will do well in the Great City," Eldest nodded to Enqueri and then Pasha, turning and stepping out into the gentle rain. The Sentinel tracked him to the edge of the village and then turned to look at his nephew.
"Finish your fruit, sweet heart," he smiled and watched the boy settle down contentedly. Inside he was shaking his head in pure wonder.
"Enqueri, your hut is ready," Pasha broke the silence, apparently as disgusted with the whole fuss over Sentinels and their Guides as Simon Banks in Cascade got. Enqueri grinned and nodded. His former home had been on the edge of the village, under a large tree that had sheltered the village children and their watchers on sunny days. It made sense to put the village's future near the Guardian. Not to mention his unusual looks and permanent scowl had kept the young ones in line for the women charged with watching them. Now Tommy and Clare would have someone to play with nearby. With Enqueri's senses tamed by his Guide the Sentinel would be able to help his former tribe out with the hunting before they had to leave. The drought would have made food scarcer and four extra mouths would be a burden on already slim resources. It was the least he could do for his people.
Pasha painted the other man's face himself - no adult male went out in public unpainted, that was the equivalent of walking down the street in your underwear - and Kabuki put a cloth on Tommy. She carried Clare and Pasha walked with Tommy while Enqueri carried the still sleeping Andarko to the familiar hut. There was evidence of recent repairs and cleaning inside the hut. The villagers had combined to outfit it for two men and two children, and Tayca had sent over a little of each herb and lotion he had, so that the Shaman of the Great City would be able to practice his craft. There was food hanging from the roof in netting woven from plant fibres and two hammocks. The children would sleep with their fathers while in the jungle - it was safer that way. The packs the two men had carried in were also in the hut, leaning against the back wall.
Andarko was settled in a hammock tenderly and his son supervised while his uncle drew a blanket across the still form. Clare was retrieved giggling from Pasha and his wife - who looked like they wanted to protest as the baby blew kisses and generally charmed the loincloths off them.
Clare and Tommy explored the hut together - the baby crawling and pulling herself up while Tommy walked and bounced around. Jim sat in the doorway and let his senses touch the village lightly, listening as the families went about their rainy day chores and discussed the Shaman that was to finish Tayca's training. Enqueri's return was also discussed - and the improvement in his control noted by many. As hard as Incacha had tried he was unable to help the Sentinel tame the gift. His first tenure in this village had been one of inconsistent performance and a growl that even scared the adults. So far he had been in control and not really growled once. Enqueri vowed not to disappoint them.
"Uncle Jim? Can we go outside?" Tommy's voice broke into his thoughts and he looked back, smiling as Clare crawled towards him on hands and feet. She'd be walking soon - she was almost ready for it now.
"It's a bit wet," Enqueri vetoed the idea, "Why don't you come and sit with me for a while. We can play a game together. I think I can scare up enough pebbles to make up a checkers game or something."
"Can you tell us a story?" Tommy asked eagerly, bending to steer Clare to her father and then plopping down onto the beaten floor to lean against the doorjamb like his uncle was. Clare was lured between Enqueri's legs, where she immediately began climbing and petting, seeing it as a whole new game. She chuckled as she played, pushing at the strong legs and cooing nonsense words at her father. The occasional real world was intermingled there - though she wasn't up to speaking a sentence yet. She always managed to make herself understood though, and Andarko was uncanny at figuring out her most incomprehensible dialogues.
"What sort of story?" Enqueri checked his daughter couldn't escape the improvised playpen and bounced his eyebrows in invitation. Tommy chuckled and bounced back. This was a new game the two of them played together, one the boy seemed to get a kick out of.
"Why is your face painted?"
"In this village no adult goes outside without painting their face. It's like getting dressed before we leave the loft," the explanation was simple yet accurate. Tommy accepted this with a nod and proceeded to request his story.
"Tell me about the first time Da went to the station with you," for some reason the very watered down version of Blair's heroism against Kincaid was one of Tommy's favorite stories. Jim settled back a little and began to tell the story again, his voice deep and soothing as it filled the hut.
"What do you sense?"
The words startled Enqueri and drew him back from the potential zone - as the speaker no doubt intended. He met the knowing grin and bright eyes with a grin of his own and rested the side of his fist against the speaker's biceps. The newly awakened man was glowing with health and energy - much to Enqueri's relief. The Shaman had slept for two whole days.
"I'm not sure. It's being carried on the breeze," Enqueri opened his senses again, letting the touch of his Guide ground him fully, "Um…it's not a jungle smell. It's familiar though…if we were in Cascade I'd know it in minutes…uh…fuel! I can smell fuel and plastic and metal…a plane!"
"How far away?" Andarko lifted a hand to the other's back, rubbing in small circles. There was no airstrip nearby - that meant the plane had crashed, probably in the recent storm. His mind shied away from the memory of the lodge, raw power crawling over him, the other men there screaming as it slipped from their leader's grasp, killing them, the pain…
"About a days walk," Enqueri turned to frown at him, "You alright?"
The nod was firm and the frown deepened. This was not the place to drag a confession from the Shaman - that would come later. Andarko needed to process what he had experienced and Enqueri was willing to wait for now. The Guide turned their attention back to the moment.
"Can you hear survivors?"
"A few…they're young, 'Ko," he turned back towards the jungle and felt his soul mate turn to check the children.
"We'll get there in time 'Ri," he was assured, "Go tell Pasha. Ask if he can spare a few men to come with us, and a woman to watch over the children. I'll wake them and get them fed. Also, warn Tayca that we're heading out and to be ready to come with us - the more healers we have the better."
He moved to do what he was told, letting his hearing stay in the hut to listen to the morning ritual of waking, hugging and greeting that occurred in his family. A part of him had feared he would never get to hear those joyful sounds again.
Pasha was resigned to having new guests - the village was on tight rations until the rain revived the local ecology enough for food to be more plentiful. The Sentinel promised to take the hunters out on their return to feed the extra mouths and then jogged to Incacha's old hut. Tayca was already packed - he'd had a vision that night - and the fledgling Shaman followed the Sentinel to his hut. So far the mornings had been dry and the late afternoons wet. With luck they could get to the crash site before the afternoon rain began.
Andarko was playing with Tommy and Clare - a game that involved a lot of noise and no discernable rules as the three shrieked and laughed at each other. Enqueri and Tayca were given breakfast and a neutral corner to eat in while the three finished their game, which only ended when both children were perched on Andarko's chest and breathless with laughter.
Almata stuck his head in, grinned at the giggling trio on the floor and announced that the men were ready to leave. The Chief's oldest daughter - a pretty young girl called Sudartto - slipped in to pluck the children from the puddle of Shaman on the floor and Tayca slipped out of the hut while the fathers said their loving farewells.
Enqueri led the way at a quick pace, the men matching him easily as they literally followed his nose. Andarko wove from side to side, tugging Tayca along and asking endless questions about the flora and fauna that they could see. The hunters marked a pig track for later investigation and several bushes were also marked for further investigation by the Shamen.
They broke at noon for water and a brief rest, chewing on the dried meat strips that they'd brought along.
"How are you?" Andarko sat beside his friend and looked him over carefully. This was the first real test of the Sentinel's senses since he'd tracked down the other Shaman. Enqueri hadn't strayed far from Andarko since then, guarding the other man's sleep.
"A little tired," Enqueri confessed, "There's so much to filter out - and the scent was already old by the time I noticed it."
"Close your eyes," Andarko directed gently, "We're going to take a little power nap."
Enqueri grimaced, but allowed himself to be talked into a light trance, letting the energy from the living things around him flow into his tired body. Almata shot Andarko an impressed look when the Sentinel sprang up full of energy fifteen minutes later.
"You're good," Almata said softly and the Shaman shrugged, ignoring the scandalized looks the other hunters were throwing their leader. Comments on a Shaman's performance of his duty were highly unusual. Not to mention risky - an offended Shaman was a dangerous enemy.
"He's stubborn," the Guide taunted and Almata rolled his eyes. He'd got the measure of the young man pretty quickly. The energy, quest for knowledge and selfless actions of the newcomer all spoke to the seasoned hunter, telling him that this man was a good friend to have - one who did not anger easily and accepted without judgement the flaws and strengths of those around him.
"He has to be," the maligned Sentinel growled, "Who else can keep you in line?"
Almata chuckled at the aggrieved look this comment garnered and shook his head.
They walked for two more hours before coming across a colony of monkeys.
"They'll make excellent dinner for the survivors," Andarko encouraged the hunters, "And we can carry some back with us tomorrow for the village."
The suggestion was a popular one and in no time they had killed several of the monkeys and were ready to travel on again.
"Better hope your survivors don't get too close a look at dinner, 'Ko," there was amusement in Enqueri's voice, and his friend shrugged.
"I'm all out of Wonder Burger, ‘Ri," the smug reply had him laughing and he slapped at his friend's arm like he always had. Andarko slapped back lightly and then rolled his eyes when the other man mimed great hurt.
"If you two don't behave we're going right back to the village!" Almata threatened in the manner of exasperated parents everywhere and cracked them up. Enqueri grabbed for his friend as he stumbled, he was laughing so hard.
The banter had done the trick - it had kept the Sentinel grounded and online while he tracked the last of their path through the jungle to the clearing where the wreckage was strewn.
Alice Cooper sat holding her best friend's hand and wished for the thousandth time that they'd decided to stay home instead of take the once in a lifetime opportunity to travel with their professor to Peru. The trip had been jinxed from the start - they'd had trouble with everything from visas to buying the right kind of shoelace.
Their original flight had been overbooked and they'd had to travel a day later with a company their professor didn't know. Now he and the pilot were dead, killed when the plane crashed after being struck by lightning in a storm that had boiled up from nowhere. Tania had been unconscious since the crash and Pete Marshall had hurt his leg pretty badly - he couldn't put any weight on it, though she'd been unable to find a break. Rick Fuller had broken his arm and was pretty badly concussed - he kept drifting in and out of awareness. Alice was pretty sure her ribs were cracked, but otherwise felt ok.
There had been no way to call for help - the whole cockpit was crushed to a quarter of its original size. They couldn't even get the bodies of the pilot and professor out to bury them.
They'd managed to start a small fire and kept it going as best they could. The rainwater collected in puddles deep enough for them to drink, but there was no food nearby. Alice worried that scavengers would smell the dead bodies trapped in the wreckage, so she and Pete had made a shelter on the other side of the clearing from it and were hoping desperately they were far enough away to be safe. They had used broken branches for camouflage.
Pete gasped in shock as a painted warrior stepped out of the jungle, his weapons tracking across the clearing for danger before relaxing. Five more men stepped out behind him - four of them jogged over to the shelter unerringly as the tallest man gestured to it accurately. The tallest headed for the wreckage with the remaining man. There was something about the two of them that was different, but Alice was distracted by the arrival of the first man.
"Habla espanõl?" Alice asked hopelessly and was answered in a language she didn't know. The four men moved into the shelter, dropping monkey carcasses in a pile and gently touching everything in sight. One of them started stroking Tania's curly red hair and crooning softly. He was a young man and carried no weapons.
"Hey!" Alice freaked, reaching over to knock his hands away. He spoke incomprehensibly and reached out again slowly. Alice tensed up and raised her hand to strike out again.
"Easy," a voice soothed in a familiar accent, "He's a Shaman. He wants to help her."
"You speak English?!" Pete exclaimed as Alice stared into the bluest eyes she'd ever seen. This was the shorter man - he was also unarmed, though he carried a pouch made of animal skins.
"How many native South American's have curly hair and blue eyes?" the tallest man rumbled in English, stepping into the shelter too, "Just take it easy and let us check you out. I'm a trained field medic and we're lucky to have two bona fide Shamen with us."
"What?" Alice shivered, as the blue eyes seemed to draw her in. It felt like they were piercing her soul, seeing everything she was and wanted to be.
"Your ribs are cracked, but not broken. What's the name of your friend?" the first American asked and the gaze switched off, looking down at Tania.
"Tania Coleman," Alice shivered, "She hasn't woken since the crash."
The curly haired man relayed her words to the Shaman and the young man gestured helplessly, speaking rapidly. The American replied in a chastising tone and reached for Tania's abdomen. He called the tall man over and spoke at length while the tall man touched Tania and replied to what seemed to be a never-ending stream of questions and demands. Something he said sparked the young Shaman into action and the curly haired one grinned before moving to look over Rick's injuries.
The three hunters - Alice could clearly see the difference now she'd had a chance to look at the group closely - started to skin and gut the monkeys, burying the offal and cleaning the skin thoroughly to be cured later. Alice forced herself not to watch; knowing that this was going to be dinner tonight and too hungry to really object. They'd planned on buying rations in a small town before heading up the mountain on foot to study the remains of a temple. They'd never made it to the town, hence the lack of food.
Rick was dosed with something that smelled pretty potent and Pete's leg was wrapped firmly in another smelly concoction. Between them the Shaman and the curly haired guy got some potion into Tania and then headed for the wreckage.
"Where are they going?" Alice craned her neck. The tall American shrugged.
"Andarko's showing Tayca the rituals for the dead. They're the closest things to clergy you're going to find out here. Don't worry, Andarko will give them a few Western prayers too," he replied.
"Who are Andarko and Tayca? Who are you for that matter?" Pete voiced their confusion and got a wry grin in reply.
"Sorry, I'm Enqueri of the Chopec. Also known as Detective Jim Ellison from the Cascade PD. Tayca is the Shaman-in-training for the Chopec: he's the young guy that first touched Tania. Andarko is the Shaman that's training him…"
"But he's American!" Alice protested, and Jim Ellison shrugged at her. It wasn't his job to raise the student's awareness. Blair Sandburg was the teacher of the family.
"I think I know him," Pete mused, "He's…Dr.... Sandburg! We read one of his papers on closed societies in class for extra credit!"
"Woah - that's Dr. Sandburg?" Alice turned to look again. Jim nodded, enjoying the shock on her face a little. It was good to know that his friend had a reputation in academia despite working almost exclusively for the PD. Blair published articles now and then - usually at the request of one university or another - but his friend the eternal student had declined Rainier's offer to teach while he went for a second Ph.D.
"How did he become a Shaman?" Pete asked, "I thought he was Jewish!"
"You never heard of a Jewish Shaman kid?" Jim grinned as Blair's voice drifted on the wind, chanting a prayer for the repose of the dead in Cantonese - the same one he'd chanted for the pilot of their own crashed aircraft so long ago.
"I guess not…" Pete trailed off, then brightened, "Do you think he'd let me interview him?"
"Save it for later," Jim advised as Blair stepped back into sight. Tayca was speaking to him in a quiet voice and Andarko was nodding in agreement. He looked over at the shelter and spoke quietly in Quecha before heading with Tayca into the jungle.
"Almata, go with them please," Enqueri requested in Quecha, obeying his orders to stay and translate for the survivors. Almata grabbed his bow and jogged after the Shamen.
"You speak the dialect very well," Alice complimented him and Jim shrugged.
"I lived with them for eighteen months years ago - they rescued me," he grinned at the irony, "What goes around, comes around."
"No offence, but I don't want to live here for eighteen months," Pete sighed. Jim flicked a smile at him as he accepted a stick full of monkey meat and started cooking it.
"You won't be," he assured them, "We'll get you back to the village tomorrow and when you're recovered we'll head for civilization."
"What about Dr. Sandburg's research?" Alice asked curiously.
"We're done here," Jim assured her, "Besides, our boss back home will be going nuts if we don't get back soon."
Alice nodded and squeezed Tania's hand. She thought there was more to the story than the cop was telling them, but chose not to pry - as a fellow academic Dr. Sandburg would be freer with his information.
Tania woke the next morning long enough to take a larger dose of whatever medicine the Shamen were dosing her with. She was loaded onto a litter to be carried by the three hunters and Ellison. Rick had finally come back to himself and reality and walked along under his own power. Pete's leg could bear his weight again, though it was still very painful. The Shaman and Dr. Sandburg were helping him along while Alice trudged along next to Rick, wincing when the rough terrain jostled her ribs.
They arrived at the village well after sunset. Tania was carried away to Tayca's hut and Rick and Peter were ushered away to the men's hut - all unmarried men that were adults slept there until they married. Alice was ushered to the women's hut with Ellison promising to come and get her in the morning. She was given a hammock near the door and settled into it gingerly. A young woman leaned over her, patting her face gently with a wet cloth and then washing her hands and arms as well. Alice went to sleep, comforted by the attentions and exhausted by the journey.
A curly haired little boy patting her face lightly woke her. He was the spitting image of Dr. Sandburg and the mother in her was outraged that the man had dragged a baby this far around the world.
"Shhh," the little boy whispered, "Uncle Jim sent me in to get you. He can't enter the women's hut."
Alice nodded and got up stiffly, her ribs feeling better than last night. Whatever foul weed Tayca had made her chew yesterday had some positive effects at least.
"I'm Tommy Sandburg," the child introduced himself when she was standing, holding out his hand take hers.
"Alice Cooper," she replied, letting him lead her into the sunshine as the women around her stirred and woke to start their day. Ellison was standing outside, a respectful distance away from the hut, his face painted in the local fashion. He was talking to a blond baby - barely a year old from the size of her - and snuggling her close to his chest.
"Good morning, Mr. Ellison," Alice didn't try to hide her outrage and the cop ignored it to smile pleasantly. The baby turned her face shyly into his chest and he kissed the top of her head before replying.
"Call me Jim," he told her, "We'll just collect Rick and Pete, then we can go see Tania."
"And Da!" Tommy piped up, bouncing on the spot. His uncle looked down at him and smiled. Even after all this time Tommy Sandburg's bounce brought an instant grin to his uncle's face.
"And your Da," he agreed, "He was very busy last night, so he might be a bit tired now."
"We'll make him sleep again, like he did when it rained all day!" Tommy declared, "It made him all better! Do you feel all better now?"
Alice realized the question was for her and she smiled at the boy bouncing along in front of them.
"Yes, I do," she replied. Rick and Pete were standing near the men's hut, looking around anxiously. The villagers were up and about, beginning the never ending round of chores and food preparation. Many called greetings to the cop and the child. Both replied fluently in that language. Rick and Pete both stared in shock at the baby and the boy, but swallowed any comment and followed Ellison to the Shaman's hut.
"Hey Chief, you up?" Jim called into the darkened hut. Tommy bounced in excitement on the spot.
"I'm not the only one," came the laughing reply and Tayca and Blair emerged with a shaky Tania between them. Pale and obviously weak, she never the less smiled at her friends happily. The two men assisted her to a seat against the hut and then Tayca disappeared back inside while Tommy was swept up for hugs and kisses. He told Blair all about the game he'd learnt to play yesterday with Sudartto and how he and three of the other boys had climbed the big tree that hung over the hut.
"If it was a bit taller I bet I could see Cascade!" Tommy insisted and his father had laughed in agreement.
"And how is my niece?" Blair leaned in and got a kiss and a pat from Clare before snuggling his son closer and sitting down on the ground. Jim joined them, making the usual cage for Clare from his legs. Tayca emerged with the medicines for his patients, who grimaced at each other but took it obediently. Tommy looked up and rushed to help Sudartto and her mother Kabuki carry breakfast, followed closely by his father who scolded them gently in Quecha for carrying loads for such lazy people. Jim's reply was also in Quecha and had them all laughing while Pasha's wife fussed over the arrangement of the food.
"We'll have to go hunting soon," Jim said as Blair settled back down and supervised his son's breakfast.
"How about this afternoon. We can work on tracking the game by scent first," it was Andarko who replied and Enqueri responded, nodding as he chewed a ripe fruit to a pulp and then fed it to his daughter a finger scoop at a time.
"Tommy, we must remember not to tell Enqueri's secret to our new friends. The village already knows, but they don't," Andarko cautioned and received an obedient nod in reply. He switched to English, inquiring after his charges health and comfort and receiving positive replies.
"So, what are you two doing here?" Rick asked as he watched the two fathers tend their children. Jim froze, wondering how to answer that. Blair saved him the worry.
"We were invited," he smiled, "Jim told you he used to live here? Well, a while ago some of the warriors and the local Shaman came to visit Jim in Cascade. When they left we kind of made a commitment with them. We're fulfilling that commitment. Tommy and Clare couldn't be left behind - they are a part of the village too."
"Haven't you kind of gone native?" Alice pressed the issue and Blair shook his head, grinning. Going native was the worst sin an anthropologist could commit.
"I'm not here to publish a paper," he told her, "And you can't go native in your own home. That's what we have here. It's a long story and one that isn't for general consumption."
"What does that mean?" Tommy asked curiously, and his uncle tweaked a curl teasingly. The boy was far too sharp for his own good sometimes.
"That means we don't discuss it in front of short, curly-haired, little boys."
"I'm a big boy!" Tommy protested indignantly and his father laughed. The boy did indignant well.
"Yes you are, but not big enough for this discussion. I'll tell you in twelve years time, ok?"
"Promise?" Tommy looked up, his heart in his face, eyes wide and adoring as his Da smiled at him. Alice caught her breath at the love and trust in that one look.
"Promise," Blair nodded and tweaked a curl too. Tommy pulled a face and tweaked his father's hair in retaliation, which led to a tickle fight. They were both pretty grubby by the time that was over and Blair took his son to the river for a wash, with Jim and Clare shadowing them closely.
"What do you make of them?" Tania asked Alice, and her friend shook her head in confusion.
"I don't really care, I'm just glad that they were here," Alice confessed, "Though I'm surprised they brought their children along."
"From what I've heard, Dr. Sandburg had traveled all over the world as a kid before settling in America to get his first degree. I guess he doesn't see anything wrong with bringing his son along," Rick mused and Pete shrugged.
"I don't see anything wrong with it personally. Look at how happy the kids were and how well they were taken care of. There are kids back in so-called civilization that aren't cared for half as well as that little boy and that baby," he told his friends, "Besides, it's not really any of our business."
"You're right," Tania agreed in a low voice.
Simon Banks got out of the car, watched Daryl lock the driver's side, and grinned over at his son. They'd have to go looking for a car for the teen soon; he was almost ready for his license.
"You did well, Daryl," he watched the young man light up in pleasure at the compliment. They'd been working on Daryl's skills for a while now, and at the moment it was the only thing guaranteed to bring a smile to his child's face. No one had heard from Ellison or Sandburg for a month - no one knew if their children were ok or not.
"Thanks Dad," Daryl unlocked the trunk and they pulled the food and blanket out. The semi-annual PD picnic had fallen on a hot Saturday and Simon had ordered the families of Major Crimes to attend - they needed the affirmation at the moment. He knew that several other Captains had done the same thing; the unresolved tension from the kidnapping was beginning to affect morale. Quinn was back inside, but they'd been unable to tie him to the missing children.
Simon led his son to the spot ‘reserved' for Major Crimes - three big picnic tables near the huge fountain. Joel and Rafe had already strung out the shade cloths above the tables for a little relief from the heat and several of the kids were already paddling in the water under the watchful eye of Brown. The big cop was wary of fountains - they all were nowadays.
Daryl deposited the esky on the ground near a table and fished out a beer for his father and a soda for himself. Simon had made a huge bowl of potato salad - his specialty - and this was placed with the other salads and cold cuts on one table.
"All that's missing is Sandy's famous fried chicken salad and Jim's rice salad," Megan Connor smiled, her tight top and abbreviated shorts showing off her tan and fit figure.
"Yeah," Simon sighed, "I talked to Mr. Ellison a couple of nights ago - there was no word from them. It's like the damn jungle ate them."
"We must taste pretty nasty then, because it spat us back out again," Jim's amused voice sounded behind them and Simon swung around.
"Hey Simon," he smiled and Simon stared. Jim was holding his daughter on his hip, both of them tanned and smiling. Clare had grown so much she was barely recognizable to the Captain, her blonde hair longer and floating in the breeze. She wore a pair of cotton shorts and a T-shirt in bright yellow with a yellow checked hat on her head. She was looking around with big eyes at all the strange people and clutching her Daddy's short sleeved shirt in one hand.
"Ellison!" Simon roared and the men and women of Major Crimes headed for the tables at a dead run.
"Jeez, you haven't lost any of your volume, Simon," Blair said from behind the man, where he was putting two bowls on the table. Tommy was clinging onto his back, grinning at his adopted uncle in delight.
"Hi Uncle Simon!" Tommy squirmed down his father's back and ran over, putting his arms up for a hug, which Simon gave enthusiastically.
There was a general love fest as the two children were passed around for hugs and kisses. Their fathers came in for their fair share of attention and a few hugs of their own. Daryl ended up with Clare in his arms and he looked over at Detective Ellison uneasily. Clare patted him on the face and smiled before leaning in and blowing a raspberry on his cheek.
"She's glad to see you Daryl," Jim was delighted, "It's her newest trick to say hello."
Daryl finally understood that no one blamed him for something that was never his fault in the first place and smiled back at his father's friend. Tommy was shrieking as Joel and Rafe played airplanes with him, whirling the boy in dizzying circles and even tossing him up in the air.
Eventually everyone settled down to eat the children at one noisy table with Daryl presiding, and the adults at the other. Husbands and wives listened to the edited highlights of the trip to Peru and Tommy's blessed amnesia over the whole thing. Clare rested in Jim's lap; already asleep and enormously comfortable in her father's loving arms.
"Only the two of you could get sidetracked by a plane load of grad students," Simon groaned when told of the reason for the delay in returning to Cascade. They'd had to wait a few weeks for Tania to recover her strength and Tayca to undergo his final trial to attain his Shaman status.
"Hey! Not all grad students are trouble!" Blair defended them - he'd been there himself.
"The ones you know are," Simon's growl earned a chuckle around the table and a sigh from his opponent.
"Seriously guys - we both want to thank you for the support you gave us…we'd never have survived without you all," Blair looked around at them and their friends nodded, made dismissive noises and patted hands.
"That doesn't mean we're offering to baby sit for anyone," Jim broke the mood and Blair rolled his eyes as their friends cracked up and swapped insulting remarks. Simon exchanged a level look with the two men - he'd be demanding the unedited version of their trip later, and would get it too.
After all, as the Chief of this particular tribe he was entitled to know - and as the leader of the closed society that they worked for he'd demand it. Blair grinned at his boss and raised his soda in a toast.
"Welcome home," Simon returned the toast and Jim joined it with his own soda.
"Good to be home," Jim spoke for them both.
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