The Seven's Sentinel
The 7th story in the Series
April 4, 2007
A TS/M7 ATF xo
This is the seventh story in my universe, so I figure it's fitting that it is also a Magnificent 7 crossover. For those who don't know TS, a Sentinel is a person with a genetic advantage. All five of his or her senses are naturally enhanced so that they can hear a pin drop in another room, or taste a grain of salt in a cup of water. This advantage does come at a price. Sentinels need a Guide, a partner to help them. Though they can function at low levels without a Guide, in order to reach their full potential, they need that one special person who can reach them if they zone. Zoning comes from focusing too much on one sense. It can be deadly if not interrupted. The Guide is an equal in the partnership, working to help the Sentinel learn how to control the use of his senses and watching his back to prevent zone outs.
The universe begins at the end of The Sentinel TV series. Blair does go on to become a cop, but the arrival of Sentinels and Guides looking for help soon leads to Jim and Blair starting a foundation to help unite Sentinels with their Guides and teach the pairs to work together successfully. This story takes place several years after the Sentinel/Guide Foundation is opened.
For those unfamiliar with The Magnificent 7, this show is a western set after the Civil War, in the late 1800's. Seven very different men are drawn together to help defend a Seminole village and end up staying on to protect a small, nearby town from the wilds of the West. MOG took these seven men and transported them into the modern age. Today they are ATF agents working out of Denver, and that's the universe I kidnapped them from EG. Thanks MOG!
I don't spend a lot (or any?) time introducing the characters, I just assume that since you choose to read it, you are at least slightly familiar with them. I hope you enjoy the story.
Spoilers: For the first 6 stories in this series, though nothing says you can't read this one before reading the others. Also for 'Warriors' and 'The Sentinel, Too.'
Warnings: Some language.
Kudos: To my most wonderful cousin and bestest beta ever, Cheryl. Sometimes it's just scary how she finds the words I couldn't.
Disclaimers: Other people own them, I'm just borrowing. Percy, Paul and Dennis are mine, all mine… hehehe... ur… um… The universe is mine, but I'm not opposed to sharing if you want to play in it, please drop me a line first.
The Seven's Sentinel
"I don't get it," Blair Sandburg, Shaman and Guide of Cascade said as he dropped onto the couch beside his friend and Sentinel, Jim Ellison.
"It's all about politics, kid," Simon Banks replied, leaning back in the chair he'd claimed early in the evening. "The President wants to look good for the up-coming election and since we've 'come out of the closet' so to speak," Simon grinned, "having 'The Watchman' on his security escort will do wonders for his image.
Jim shook his head. "It's a wonder he didn't request us for the entire tour and not just the Denver convention."
Joel Taggart set his empty glass on the coffee table as he spoke. "Nah, the President has picked out 'celebrity' guards for each of his stops. Some of them, like you, actually have experience. Like Simon said, it's all political. I doubt you'll even be asked to look at security between all the parties and interviews."
"Great," Jim mumbled. "We get to be the entertainment."
Blair smirked. "True, but you've got to admit, it's a great opportunity for the SGF as well. We'll just have to be sure to take along a few of our own watchdogs so that we don't get any nasty surprises."
Ezra Standish frowned. There it was again. I must be going insane. He closed his eyes and tried to think more pleasant thoughts. Warm, sunny cabaña on the beach. Cool drink in hand. And a lovely señorita singing just for me. He smiled, drifting for a few moments in the daydream before the annoying sounds of reality barged back in. "Honestly, Ezra," he said, pushing himself into a sitting position on the floor of his 'cell.' "If you're going to imagine a rescue, at least imagine them opening the door and letting you out. This ridiculous hallucination of hearing them looking for you is getting tedious."
He sighed. The last three days had been difficult. Somehow his cover had been blown. But instead of being shot on the spot, his contact had gotten cold feet over killing a 'cop.' Instead he'd knocked Ezra out and the next thing the agent knew, he'd woken up in this small, dark windowless room. The only reason he knew three days had passed was due to the light on his watch. Otherwise, every minute had been spent in the dark.
Lately, Ezra fancied that the room had grown lighter. He could make out the spider web hanging in one corner and the crack in the floor that, if you held your head just right looked a bit like a rocking horse. Of course, Ezra knew this was nothing more than wishful thinking on his part. Lack of food, water, light and companionship were slowly depriving him of his senses.
"Mother always did say I had an overactive imagination." Ezra leaned his head back against the wall and closed his eyes again. Still… the voices of his teammates did seem quite clear.
"This room's clear," Buck Wilmington said.
"This one, too," JD Dunne parroted.
"There aren't many more on this level," Josiah Sanchez said. "Are you sure you he's here?"
"He's here!" Buck said. "I don't know how I know, but he's here. I can feel it."
"I believe you, pard," Vin Tanner said. "Let's keep looking."
"Here's a stairway down to the cellar," Nathan Jackson said.
Multiple footsteps sounding like a herd of horses caused Ezra to gasp and open his eyes. The steps changed, softened somehow, but were closer. Ezra stood up unsteadily and crossed to the door. He leaned heavily on the wall and pounded the door with his fist. "Buck! Josiah! Can you hear me? Are you real?" he called out, resting his head against the wall. He felt so weak. "Are you real?" he repeated to himself. "Or have I finally gone mad?"
"Ezra?" Buck's voice sounded, right outside the door.
"Ezra, hang on, we're here. Just gotta open the door."
"Buck," Ezra repeated softly, comforted by the sound of his friend's voice. He couldn't summon the energy to move from the wall.
Ezra frowned at the strange scratching noises on the door.
"Hurry up, JD," Buck urged.
"Let me do it," Vin argued.
"I got it, I got it," JD said. "Just stand back and stay out of the way."
Ezra heard a loud click then clapped his hands over his ears at JD's exuberant shout. The door opened and light flooded the room sending sharp spikes of pain right to Ezra's brain. He cried out and clenched his eyes shut as he fell to his knees. Anxious voices pounded him from all sides and Ezra succumbed to the blissful darkness of unconsciousness.
Ezra woke suddenly. He remained still for a moment trying to discover his whereabouts before opening his eyes. The last thing he remembered was being rescued by his teammates. But was that a dream? He heard beeping… could be hospital monitors. The smell of disinfectant… again associated with hospitals. Lastly, the scratchy feeling of the damn hospital gown against his skin and the pinch of the catheter in his arm. Not to mention the other catheter.
Ezra opened his eyes slowly and was pleasantly surprised that the light didn't bother him. He sighed.
"Hey, pard," Buck said, moving to stand beside the bed. "You feeling better?"
"Buck," Ezra rasped, his throat dry. Buck raised the bed a bit and gave him a drink of water. "Thanks. I thought I was dreaming."
Buck grinned wickedly, smoothing his mustache. "Well, now. I always fancied being in someone's dreams, but I sorta hoped that someone would be a woman."
"Here you go," Percy Brett said, handing Jim a manila envelope. "It was delivered by two secret service agents," the ex-cop-turned-head-of-operations at the SGF continued with a grin.
Jim took the envelope that held their itinerary for the President's visit. "Are you sure you don't need me for something next week?" he pleaded.
Percy's grin broadened as he shook his head. "No, son. I think we can handle things for a week while you're gone. We have before and undoubtedly will again."
"You're not helping Perce," Jim grumbled. "Some days being the head honcho really sucks."
Blair entered the room chuckling as he had heard Jim's last comment. "I think I'm rubbing off on you, Jim."
"Wonderful," Jim drawled. "Why couldn't it be the part that allows you to talk people into submission? Maybe then we could have gotten out of this circus with the President."
"Ah, come on, Jim. It can't be that bad. We get a paid vacation to Denver for a week. Free food, free rooms, free flights… first class all around, I'm sure. People will be hanging on our every word and catering to our every whim. What's to complain about, man?"
Jim ran his hand over his face. "I don't see how you expect to 'enjoy' this trip with the press 'hanging on our every word' and watching our every move. And heaven help us if the President really expects us to act as security, because we already know how well that works when people know who I am."
Blair's eyes widened at the reference to the dissertation leak. He looked away from Jim, his heart pounding faster at the memory. A warm hand landed on his shoulder and Blair looked up.
"I'm sorry, Chief. I didn't mean that the way it sounded."
"I know, Jim. It just caught me off guard. I'm okay." He gave his friend a small smile and shrugged. "Look, I know this trip to Denver is going to be a challenge, but why go in with a negative attitude? If we stay positive, then we can handle whatever happens. Right?"
Jim smiled. "Right, Chief. Besides, if things really get crazy we can sick the press on Paul and Dennis."
Blair chuckled. "That's evil, Jim. And you can deal with Paul if he finds out."
Jim laughed. Professor Paul Donaldson was an ex-marine and a Sentinel. He had shown up at the Foundation before the first buildings were finished and helped keep the other Sentinels and Guides that appeared at that time in line. His Guide, Dennis Kirkpatrick was a karate instructor and had also been one of the first dozen or so people to mysteriously find their way to the newly formed Sentinel/Guide Foundation.
Both men had stayed on as instructors at the school and would be coming along with Jim and Blair to Denver as backup. Blair had no doubt that that pair could handle the press.
Blair frowned thoughtfully. "Kind of strange, don't ya think?"
"What's that, Chief?"
"That a city as large as Denver doesn't have its own Sentinel?"
Jim shrugged. "Probably just hasn't come online yet."
Ezra leaned his elbows on his desk and rubbed his temples. It was only a little past ten and since he'd only been in the office for half an hour, he couldn't very well take off for an early lunch. He sighed and grabbed the bottle of Tylenol from his desk drawer. He popped four of them into his mouth and washed them down with a swig of bottled water.
Nathan watched from across the room. He knew from the fact that Ezra hadn't even tried to hide his headache that it must be bad. The medic crossed the room, not missing the Southerner's flinch as he passed. Probably thought I was going to bother him about his headache. But I know better, I'm going straight to the top. Nathan knocked once on Chris's door then entered.
"Come on in," Chris Larabee said resignedly. No one ever waited to be invited into his office. "What can I do for you, Nathan?"
Nathan closed the door and sat down in the chair in front of Chris's desk. "I'm worried about Ezra. He's got one humdinger of a headache. Now, I know he had a slight concussion, but that was almost a week ago. He should be better by now." The black medic twisted slightly in his seat to look out the window into the bullpen.
Chris frowned and followed Nathan's gaze. He could see Ezra's hunched shoulders as the agent peered at his computer screen. Ezra's posture was never less than perfect at work. And he seldom showed discomfort either, even to his friends after all these years together. Chris looked a question at Nathan.
"I'm concerned that he's bleeding in his skull. A hematoma could be causing his symptoms. Sensitivity to light, sound and smells, and the headaches. He needs a cat scan."
"All right," Chris said standing up and heading for the door. "Let's go. We'll take him to the hospital ourselves."
"Now?" Nathan asked, relieved.
The doctor shook his head. "I don't see anything to worry about on these scans, gentleman."
"I told you," Ezra muttered.
"Then how do you explain those headaches?" Nathan shot back. "And the light bothering you so bad, not to mention the nausea and sound sensitivity?"
The doctor frowned. "All of those could be secondary to the concussion, although I would have expected the symptoms to resolve by now. In light of the lack of physical trauma, I'd have to say these problems could be psychosomatic."
Ezra's eyes widened. "I am NOT crazy!"
"No one said that, Ezra," Chris soothed.
"He might as well have," Ezra said pointing at the doctor. "I'm not imagining these headaches."
"I'm not saying you are," the doctor replied calmly. "Psychosomatic symptoms can manifest as real pain and certainly seem real enough to the one suffering them. The mind can play tricks…"
"Argh!" Ezra growled. He stood up and stalked out of the doctor's office.
Chris and Nathan sent apologetic looks to the doctor and quickly followed Ezra. They found him down the hall sitting in a chair with his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands. They took a seat on either side of him and waited.
"I thought I was going crazy," Ezra said softly, without lifting his head. "When I was trapped in that room… It was so dark and quiet. After a while I began to think I could see in the dark. And then… I heard you searching the house for me. I… I know it wasn't real, but I…"
Nathan put his hand on Ezra's shoulder. "It's okay, Ezra. That was a horrible experience. The mind does what it has to sometimes to keep us sane."
Ezra looked at Nathan, his green eyes pleading. "But I'm out now. I'm safe. Why can I still hear people behind closed doors? Why was I able to drive home last night without my headlights on? How can I smell that dreadful meatloaf they're serving in the cafeteria downstairs?"
Nathan glanced across to Chris.
"I'll be right back," Chris said as he stood and went to the nurse's station down the hall. He came back a few moments later and sat down. "Ezra, what else are they serving?"
"What?" Ezra asked, looking at Chris as if he'd lost his mind.
"Tell me what you smell?"
Ezra opened his mouth then closed it and licked his lips nervously. "Potatoes… green beans… carrots… and something vanilla… cake maybe?"
Chris stared at his friend. "You're right. I asked the nurse about the menu. You didn't hear me, did you?"
Ezra frowned and shook his head.
"Can you hear what she's saying now?" Nathan asked.
Ezra turned to Nathan, breathing faster as he tried to control the panic he felt building in his chest. "What are you…? Nathan, please… I can't…"
"Ezra," Chris soothed, "It's okay. Calm down. Let's just go back to the office and see if we can figure this out. All right?"
Nathan nodded. "It's all right, Ezra. I'm sorry."
Ezra took a few deep breaths and dropped his poker face into place. "I apologize, gentlemen. I fear I've not been myself lately."
"No need to go all Iceman on us, Ez," Chris chided as they stood and headed for the exit. "There's something going on with you and we'll figure it out, don't you worry."
They walked out to the car in silence. Ezra opened his door, looked over the roof and met Chris's eyes. "It is the result of our search that has me concerned, Chris," Ezra admitted candidly then climbed in the back and closed the door.
"Me, too," Chris whispered to himself, not realizing that Ezra could hear him from within the car.
"Are you sure you don't want me to send someone with you?" Simon asked. "Megan and Joel, or Brown and Rafe?"
"We'll be fine, Simon," Jim assured his ex-boss. "We've been working with Paul and Dennis on security training since they joined up. Paul was an MP for God's sake. I trust them to watch our backs."
"Besides," Blair chimed in. "The President's people already have the entire Denver PD, plus their local ATF division on duty for the convention."
"Feds," Simon grumbled. Although the ATF had never given his people any real trouble, he still had less faith in federal agents than he probably should.
Jim grinned. "They can't all be that bad, Simon. Granted, we've run across our fair share of stupidity, but there have been a few we could trust."
"Yeah, well, just make sure you come home in one piece so I can tell you 'I told you so,' if things go bad."
Blair shared a mischievous grin with Jim. "I think Simon's trying to tell us to be careful, Jim. And that he'll miss us."
Simon growled. "Go! Get out of my office, I have work to do."
Jim and Blair stood up smiling, saluted the Captain and left his office with Blair giving him a last little wave over his shoulder. Simon grinned and shook his head. "Be careful, Jim," he added softly. Jim turned back at the door to the hall and nodded.
Chris crossed the bullpen and leaned over JD's desk. "When did you last sweep the conference room?" he whispered, only loud enough for JD and Buck at the next desk to hear.
JD frowned. "Monday when we came in, like usual." He looked at Buck to back him up.
"Yep," Buck said, "Clean as a whistle. Why?"
"Do it again," Chris ordered. "I want everyone in the conference room in ten minutes," he said in a normal voice, then caught Nathan and Ezra up in his wake and led them to the conference room ahead of JD and Buck.
Josiah and Vin exchanged a quick look and followed, not wanting to miss anything. As they entered, Buck and JD were pulling out the equipment to check the room for bugs.
Ezra sat beside Nathan at the conference table looking rather tired. Chris sat in his regular place at the head of the table. The others followed suit. Vin sat beside Chris and Josiah took the seat by Vin across from Nathan, leaving the seat between Ezra and Chris open for Buck and the one on the end by Josiah for JD.
"The room's clear," Ezra said suddenly.
"How do you know that, Ezra?" Chris asked.
His tone made the others frown. It wasn't the expected sarcastic come back or a teasing jibe. Chris really wanted to know why Ezra said the room was clear.
The Southerner folded his hands on the table and kept his eyes down. "I don't know. But you won't detect any anomalous surveillance equipment."
They waited in silence until JD and Buck confirmed Ezra's statement and took their seats. Ezra relaxed minimally as Buck sat down.
"All right," Josiah said. "What's wrong? What did the doctor have to say?" he sent a worried glance at Ezra then pinned Nathan with his gaze. Ezra was the closest thing Josiah had to a son, even if they refused to acknowledge their feelings openly. He knew Ezra respected his opinion and Josiah cared deeply for the young Southerner.
"Nothing's wrong, Josiah," Nathan assured. "The doctor gave him a clean bill of health."
"Then what about his headaches?" Vin asked. He'd seen the affects of Ezra's headaches in the last week. Some of them had sent Ezra to his knees.
Ezra leaned his elbows on the table and covered his face. "Just tell them, Nathan. The doctor thinks I'm nuts. Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. Bananas. God, I must be hungry." He chuckled a bit and looked around the table, his amusement dying as he saw that the others weren't finding his humor entertaining.
"You're not going crazy, Ezra," Chris stated firmly. "There is something going on with you, but you are not losing your mind."
Josiah and the others frowned.
"Why do you think you're going crazy, Ez?" Buck asked.
Ezra sighed and explained the things he'd seen and heard in the cell during his confinement. He focused his gaze on the table top as he continued. "Last night, I drove home. It was dark when I left the office. When I pulled into my driveway, I realized I'd driven all the way home without the headlights on. But I had not required them. I could see the road quite clearly. I actually had to leave the lights in my home off because they were too bright."
"You said you could hear us," JD asked, brushing a lock of hair from his eyes, "when we were upstairs looking for you? And out in the hall?"
Ezra nodded, trying to keep the fear in his gut from showing on his face. "I heard you picking the lock. I could hear the tumblers clicking over, the pin scratching the surface of the metal." He looked up at JD. "Good job, by the way."
JD grinned, but it quickly gave way to a thoughtful frown. "This sounds familiar…" he muttered slumping back in his seat to think.
"I agree," Chris said. "I just can't think where I've heard it before."
Josiah looked at Nathan. "The doctor didn't have any suggestions?"
Nathan shook his head. "He thought the symptoms might be psychosomatic, a result of the concussion and maybe related to PTSS. I'm with JD and Chris on this though. Something about it sounds very familiar."
"Did you do an internet search?" Vin asked. The others looked at him. "What? That's usually the first thing you do when you need an answer." The team's sharpshooter could make any weapon dance in his hands, but found computers a bit scary.
Ezra chuckled. "Vin's right. I've probably unconsciously been avoiding it." He looked at JD. "Would you do the honors?" Ezra asked motioning to the terminal in the corner. It was handy to have a computer in the conference room so that they didn't have to break up a meeting to collect additional information.
JD moved over to the computer and pulled up the internet connection. "Okay, what should I look for?"
"Hyper senses," Josiah offered.
"Sensitivity to normal sensory input," Nathan added.
JD nodded and typed in the search phrases. He hummed to himself as the search engine worked and he started to scan the list. "Huh," he said, surprised.
"What?" Buck asked, moving with the rest of the team to stand around JD and try to see the screen.
"Remember that movie a few years ago, 'The Watchman?'"
"Yeah," Vin said with a smile. "It was about a detective with… heightened senses…" He looked at Ezra with sudden understanding. "He had the same problems, hearing things no one else could, vision picking up things others couldn't see… Geeze, Ez, you're a Watchman."
Ezra stared at Vin. He absorbed what the sharpshooter was saying but kept recalling scenes from the movie. He, Vin, Buck and JD had gone to see it together, and then dragged the others to a second viewing. They'd spent weeks playing around afterward, making jokes about how a Watchman would have smelled that explosive or been able to listen to a conversation without the aid of technology.
How could he possibly be a Watchman? That was a fictitious character. He wasn't some super hero. He just wanted to do his job and enjoy the family he'd found with Team 7. He had no need for this… this…
"No," Ezra said firmly. He shook his head and backed away from the others. "I'm just having some strange reaction to that concussion." He turned and walked to the bank of windows that looked out over the street, tuning out the others as he tried to find some logical explanation for everything.
"Hang on a second," JD said. "I remember at the end of the credits there was a website. Thought it was a joke then…" He typed in .com and huffed. It was a blank screen. "That's weird."
"Probably just an inactive site now," Nathan said.
"But inactive sites usually say something," Buck countered. "Why just a blank screen?"
Vin squinted at the screen and frowned. "It ain't blank. I can't tell what's on it, but it ain't blank."
"What?" Chris exclaimed.
Vin pointed at the screen. "There's somethin' here, I just can't really make it out."
The others looked at each other.
Nathan shrugged. "Vin's always had really good eyesight. Maybe…"
"Hey, Ezra," Buck called, turning to see what the undercover man was doing.
Ezra stood looking out the window.
"Ez, come over here and look at this," Buck said. "Ez?" He moved to stand by his friend and glanced at his face. "Shit. Nathan! Something's wrong."
Nathan shot over to Buck and Ezra. "Ezra?" he asked moving the man far enough away from the window so that he could see his face. Ezra stared right through him, his face blanker than any poker face he'd ever worn. There was no sign of life in his green eyes.
"Ezra!" Nathan shouted. He shook him by the shoulders and patted him on the cheek. Nothing changed except that Ezra began to list to one side. "Help me get him in a chair."
"What's wrong with him?" Buck asked as he took one of Ezra's arms and guided him into a chair.
Everyone moved back in around Ezra, concerned by this strange behavior.
JD snapped his fingers. "It's a… whatchamacallit? Zone. The Watchman in the movie 'zoned' when he concentrated on one sense too hard."
"Right!" Vin agreed. "But how do we snap Ez out of it? In the movie he had a partner…"
"Shit," Chris swore. "How do we go about finding this 'partner'? I don't recall the movie telling us that."
Buck shook his head. "Don't we have that on DVD?" he asked JD.
"We don't have time to watch the movie!" Nathan exclaimed. "Maybe I can give him something…"
"No!" Buck shouted. Ezra flinched, but Buck didn't see it as he continued. "You can't give him anything. You know he's always been sensitive to medications and anesthesia, guess now we know why. I'm not gonna let you give him something that might make this zone worse."
Vin, JD, Josiah and Chris were watching Ezra while Buck took on Nathan. The entire time Buck had been talking, Ezra's head had been tilted toward him.
"Buck," Chris said softly.
"What?" Buck asked, still upset by Nathan's suggestion.
"I think he's listening to you."
Buck looked at Ezra and saw what Chris meant. Ezra's head was tilted slightly toward him and he was leaning against Buck although Nathan was just as close to him on the other side. "Ezra? Can you hear me, pard?" Buck grabbed Ezra's shoulder to keep him from falling as Buck went down on one knee by Ezra's chair. "Hey, Ez, come on, time to wake up. You're starting to drool, pard. It's not a good look on you."
Ezra blinked and took a deep breath. He looked Buck in the eyes, confused by his close proximity. "What happened?" He frowned and looked around at the others. "What?"
"Now, Ez," Buck soothed. He squeezed Ezra's shoulder gently. "You zoned on something. Do you know what you were focused on?"
"Excuse me? Zoned?" Ezra asked. He shook his head. "Nothing… I was just looking out the window. I saw a flash on the street below," he swallowed hard. "It caught my attention and I wanted to see what…" Ezra looked at Buck, wide-eyed. "It was a ring," he whispered breathlessly, "on the… sidewalk."
Vin whistled and sat back in his chair.
"That's eleven floors down," Josiah said, as if they all needed the reminder.
"Ezra?" JD said softly. "Would you look at this screen? See if you can see anything?"
Ezra slowly turned his head to look at JD. He licked his lips then nodded once. He and JD led the way back to the computer with Buck and the others close behind them.
Ezra stared at the white screen then shrugged. "I don't see anything."
"Come on, Ez," Vin encouraged. "It's right here. I can see there's something, but I can't tell what it is."
"You can see it?" Ezra asked.
"Just that there might be something. It's real fuzzy and almost blends in with the background."
Buck stood behind Ezra and put his hands on Ezra's shoulders. "Come on, Ez, you remember in the movie how they did things. The Watchman had to relax. Don't force it, I know you can see what's on the screen, you just have to let your instincts take over."
Ezra sighed a bit shakily, but nodded and gave his hands and arms a little shake to release some of his tension. He looked at the screen and let his mind wander. It was a bit like finding his center when he practiced his Taekwondo forms. Ezra jerked forward and touched the screen. "Good Lord," he whispered.
"What's it say, Ez?" JD asked.
"It's another website address," Ezra answered automatically. ".com."
JD typed in the address and they found themselves with another puzzle. This time the screen had only the words 'enter password' and a box. "Now what?" JD asked looking up at Ezra.
Ezra frowned at the screen for a moment and tilted his head. "Is the sound on?"
JD checked and nodded. "Yeah, just turned down all the way." He adjusted the knob on the speakers and waited. "I don't hear anything."
"It must be another test," Ezra drawled. "Like the first screen, only this one has an audio component as well."
"What's it say?" Josiah asked.
Ezra swallowed. "It's telling me to relax and focus. There's a picture, too. Try typing 'water lily,'" he said reluctantly.
JD followed Ezra's instructions and a new screen appeared. This one was a questionnaire.
"Well, brothers," Josiah grinned. "It does appear we've stumbled onto something."
"Yeah," Chris agreed, "but who's behind it?"
Buck frowned. "You think we should stop? That it's a trap?"
"Could be. What government wouldn't love to have someone with the abilities of a Watchman at their beck and call?" Chris asked.
"JD," Vin interrupted, "Can we do this from a secure address? So they can't trace it back to us?"
JD frowned and chewed his lower lip for a moment. "It's gonna take me some time to set it up so that no one can trace it back. Right now, I'd say we're only safe from run-of-the-mill hackers."
Chris nodded. "Do it. Then go back in and erase whatever trail we might have left in this search," he said with a nod toward the computer.
"So what do we do now?" Buck asked, leading a rather subdued Ezra back to the table to sit down. Everyone but JD followed.
Josiah folded his hands on the table and leaned forward. "Ezra, do you recall having anything like this happen when you were a child?"
Ezra frowned and shook his head. "No. At least, I don't think so." He ran a hand through his hair, careless of his appearance in the face of this strange revelation. "But Mother's always been a stickler for appearances. If I did something she considered 'odd' you can bet good money she would have schooled it out of me expeditiously."
Nathan frowned. Ezra was looking pale, maybe even a little shocky. "Let's take a break from this for now, at least until JD gets us a secure line." He looked at Chris. "Don't we need to go over the schedule for the President's visit?"
Chris looked from Nathan to Ezra and nodded. "I'll get the file from my office. Vin, why don't you and Josiah run across the street and get us something to eat?"
"Good idea, Chris," Josiah said. He put his hand on Ezra's shoulder and gave a slight squeeze as he passed.
Buck settled into the chair beside Ezra. "If I recall, the President has added some ex-detectives from Washington to his Secret Service contingent for the Denver convention."
"I wonder why?" Nathan asked, keeping a close eye on the silent Southerner.
"Something to do with publicity and getting in nice with the law enforcement community, I'm sure," Buck answered, also watching Ezra.
"He's chosen different people for each stop on his tour," Ezra added distractedly. "All of them have experience with law enforcement. I believe you are correct in assuming it is for show, but that does not mean these VIPs won't insist on some sort of deference from the local agencies. A friend of mine with the St. Louis PD told me that their VIPs were a royal pain. The President has named these Washington detectives as his security advisors for the duration of his stay in Denver. Presumably they will have some authority to dictate the way things are handled."
"Damn," Buck said. "Just what we need. A couple of retired cops who probably haven't fired a weapon or seen the inside of a police department in ten years."
Chris entered the room carrying a file folder. He glanced at JD and saw that the computer tech was still focused on his screen so he took his seat and opened the folder. "Here it is."
Ezra grabbed the file and slid it over in front of him. Chris rolled his eyes, but sat back and watched as Ezra read and began to comment. "The men in question are Jim Ellison and Dr. Blair Sandburg. They aren't all that long out of public service, just three years or so." He scanned the information and went suddenly white as a sheet. "Oh my God," he breathed.
"What?" four voices asked as one. Chris and Buck both reached for the file together while Nathan grabbed Ezra's wrist to take his pulse.
"Get him some water, JD," Nathan said.
JD nodded and left the room.
Chris and Buck ended up standing side by side as they read the file.
"Sentinel?" Chris said aloud.
"As in .com?" Buck asked just as JD entered carrying a bottle of water.
"Holy shit," JD exclaimed. "This Ellison and Sandburg are Watchmen?"
Chris took the file from Buck's unresisting hands and nodded. "Only Ellison. He's a Sentinel and Sandburg is his," he frowned, "Guide." Chris looked up, first at Buck and then Ezra. "Evidently the movie was based in reality. The Guide is like the Watchman's partner in the movie."
Buck stared at Chris until his old friend's gaze returned to him. "You think I'm Ezra's… Guide, don't you?"
"Makes sense," JD said, turning his attention from Ezra to his roommate. "He responded to you during the zone. And you two have always had a way of clicking, even when you were pissing each other off."
Ezra guzzled about half the bottle of water then shook off Nathan's hand. "Ah'm fine," he drawled, his accent thick and heavy with stress. "And Ah'm right here in the room, thank you."
Chris, Buck and Nathan sat back down.
"Do you want me to continue this, Chris?" JD motioned to the computer. "If we're going to get to meet them in person, do we really need to follow this link?"
Chris nibbled his lower lip for a moment. "Keep at it, JD. It would be nice to get some information now and be prepared for when we meet them." JD nodded and went back to work.
"Are you ready to talk about this now?" Chris asked Ezra.
Ezra, his face studiously neutral, met Chris's eyes briefly. "What do you wish to discuss?" he asked amenably.
"Damn it, Ezra," Chris said running a hand over his face. "This is a surprise to all of us. We want to help and we can't do that if you shut down on us."
Ezra stared at him for a long moment, weighing years of friendship and trust. He dropped his gaze to the table and his shoulders sagged minutely as he dropped his mask of control. Fear shone in his green eyes as he lifted them back to Chris's.
"I don't really know what to say," Ezra said softly. "I can't… or maybe don't… want to believe this is happening to me, but it is rather difficult to refute the evidence." He paused. "I need time to adjust, Chris. Please?"
Chris nodded. "All right, but this isn't something you can push aside and ignore, Ezra. When you're ready to talk, come to one of us." He looked at Buck. "I think maybe you and Buck need to talk."
Ezra met Buck's eyes and saw an uncertainty there that was surely mirrored in his own. He nodded. "I want to talk to these detectives," he said firmly.
Becky shook her head and looked up at Blair. "It's strange. I could have sworn we had a hit on the Watchman site, but now… it's gone."
Blair frowned at the computer tech. "A glitch, maybe? We haven't had a hit on that site since the DVD came out, end of last year."
"Maybe," Becky said, twirling a strand of her hair between her fingers. "But I don't think so."
"Well, Jim and I will be available if you figure it out. Just give me a call. I'll let Percy know you have permission to use our emergency number." Blair looked at his watch. "I've got to get going. We have to meet our flight in three hours."
"Have fun," Becky grinned. "I'll let you know when I figure this out." Cool, I get to use the Bat phone.
When Vin and Josiah got back with the food, they took the time to eat and discuss the upcoming Presidential convention. JD finished setting up a secure line and they all gathered around the computer again to see where the next screen would lead them.
"We'll have to go through the passwords again," JD informed from his seat in front of the computer. Ezra had declined the position even though he would be answering the questions.
Ezra looked at the screen and exhaled despondently. Buck patted him on the shoulder. "The password is mushroom, or perhaps toadstool, if the prior does not work," Ezra said.
JD nodded and typed in mushroom. The screen changed to the same one they'd seen before. It appeared to be a questionnaire of some sort. JD started reading aloud.
"If you have reached this site, then you are probably looking for answers to a specific problem. In order to protect you and the creators of this site, we need for you to answer the following questions as truthfully as possible. If everything checks out, you will be contacted by e-mail within twenty-four hours." JD looked up over his shoulder at Ezra. "Wanna keep going?"
Ezra just nodded.
"Please answer the following questions as truthfully as possible," JD continued. "Briefly explain a few of the things thatled youto lookforthissite."--This site is secure
"You didn't finish it, JD," Vin said before Ezra could.
"What do you mean?" JD asked, peering at the screen. "That's the end of the sentence."
"Naw, it goes on to say that the site is secure," Vin said, casting a quick glance at Ezra to confirm. Ezra nodded.
The others squinted as they stared at the screen.
"Adjust the picture, JD," Buck recommended.
JD fiddled with the monitor controls to no avail. He then opened another window and played with the screen resolution without any luck. JD frowned and glared at the monitor as he thought. With a flurry of fingers flying over the keyboard, JD "worked his magic" as Buck called it and did something that allowed him to look at the programming language of the webpage they were viewing.
JD sat back. "Huh," he grunted.
"What?" Josiah and Nathan chimed at the same time.
"He's right. The sentence was coded to fade gradually to almost white to blend with the background," JD explained. "The naked eye couldn't have picked it up and as you saw, just messing with the usual viewing settings didn't reveal it either. Someone would have to be really good with programming languages and know what they were looking for to see it… or be a Sentinel," he added slowly, looking at Vin.
Vin backed up, shaking his head. "I ain't no Sentinel," he protested.
"Then how did you see those words?" Chris asked, his gaze shifting from Vin to Ezra and back. How could they possibly deal with two Sentinels on the same team?
Ezra took a deep breath and exhaled noisily before putting a hand on Vin's shoulder in support. "This is easily solved, gentlemen. Vin."
"Yeah, Ez?" Vin asked anxiously.
"You've always had superior eye sight, correct?"
"That's what y'all keep telling me," Vin shrugged. "Seems normal to me."
"Are any of your other senses heightened?"
Vin shook his head. "No."
Ezra lifted a shoulder as he looked at the others. "See, simple. If I recall from the movie, the… Guide had been studying people with one or two heightened senses as he searched for a true Sentinel, with all five."
Nathan nodded. "Right... Right, I'd forgotten about that. Vin's vision scores have always been off the charts. He's probably got some Sentinel genes, but not enough to enhance all five senses." He paused. "Ezra, do you see the fading sentence?"
"Of course," Ezra replied solemnly. "Mr. Tanner beat me to the punch." He met JD's eyes. "Please paraphrase a few of my experiences, JD. The night driving would be a good place to start, I believe."
JD nodded and turned back to start typing. After several minutes he stopped. "Okay, next question. Was there a significant event that took place in your life just prior to the advent of these symptoms? If so, please describe the event."
"Guess that would be your kidnapping," Buck said softly, glancing at Ezra. The under cover agent met his gaze and nodded.
JD typed some more. When he finished he read the last question. "Do you have a friend who seems to be able to help you with your problem?"
Josiah chuckled. "That would be Buck."
The others grinned and JD answered the question with a simple 'yes.' He hit enter and the screen suddenly went blank. "What the…" Then just as suddenly a message popped up in the center.
"You will be contacted."
"Damn," Chris mumbled. He looked around the room at his team, not liking the feeling of helplessness that seemed to be shrouding them. "All right, ladies. Knock it off. You'd think someone was dying by the looks on your faces. We have work to do, let's get to it and stop worrying about something we can't change. We'll deal with this…" he waved his hands in the air, "when we hear back from the experts." Chris pinned Buck and then Ezra with a mild glare. "Okay?"
Buck huffed then grinned. "Okay, pard."
"Whatever you say, Mr. Larabee," Ezra said, seemingly unperturbed.
They all hung around the office while they looked over the security plans for the President's visit. Although they didn't really expect a reply so soon, they were anxious and didn't want to miss the e-mail. The conference room always had at least one man in it.
Ezra's calm façade did not last. As the day progressed he became increasingly restless. He actually growled at Josiah for putting his hand on his shoulder and snapped at JD for borrowing a pen from his desk.
Chris looked at the clock and frowned. They still had several hours until the end of the day. He just hoped he could keep Ezra from self-destructing.
Blair, Paul and Dennis followed Jim out of the airport lobby and toward their waiting rental car. Blair bumped into Jim's back when his partner stopped suddenly. Blair looked up at Jim's face and shivered. "What is it, Jim?" he asked softly.
"Another Sentinel," Jim said, still focused on the feeling that had hit him as soon as they left the building.
Paul frowned but only shook his head at his Guide's questioning glance. Ellison was sensing something that he couldn't yet detect.
"A threat?" Blair asked.
Jim frowned then shook his head. "I don't think so. Come on, Chief. Let's get settled in at the hotel then maybe we can snoop around a bit before the President needs our 'help.'"
They got only a few more steps before Blair's cell phone rang.
"Sandburg," he answered. "Hey, Percy," Blair grinned up at Jim and put his hand over the receiver. "What do you want to bet he's calling to let us know there's a Sentinel in Denver?" he whispered to Jim.
"No bet, Junior," Jim growled good-humoredly.
"What's up, Percy?" Blair asked. "Really?" He chuckled. "Actually, Jim was just telling me that… uh huh. Do me a favor and reply to the e-mail, see who it is and where we can find them. We'll go check into our hotel and go see them… Right… Thanks, Percy. Talk to you later." Blair ended the call and looked at Jim. "Got a live one, the program narrowed the location down to Colorado, but evidently the Sentinel or whoever is helping him has a pretty damn good blocker program."
"Not good enough," Jim said as they continued to the rental car.
Blair chuckled. "Only because you happened to land in the right city."
ATF Team 7 office
Nathan looked up from the file he was working on at the soft pinging noise. He turned toward the computer as he realized what it was. He stood quickly and rushed to the door of the conference room. "Hey, there's a message," Nathan almost shouted.
Suddenly he was surrounded by his teammates and they all hurried over to the computer.
JD took the chair and opened the e-mail program. He glanced up at the men around him. "It's…" he trailed off.
"Open it," Buck urged softly.
JD swallowed hard and did as Buck requested. The message opened and JD read it aloud. "Thank you for taking the time to contact us. My name is Percy Brett of the Sentinel/Guide Foundation in Cascade, Washington. We would usually take this introduction much slower, but I believe you may be dealing with the unpleasant effects of having an unknown Sentinel in your city. We felt it would be wiser to introduce you as quickly as possible. Please call 206-555-3972 and speak to Blair Sandburg. He will explain the situation to you. Welcome Sentinel. Yours truly, Percy Brett."
Silence reigned for a long moment then everyone started talking at once, well, everyone except Ezra who pulled out his cell phone and started to dial.
"Whoa, there, Hoss," Buck interrupted, grabbing the phone and Ezra's hand in his. "What do you think you're doing?"
"Calling Dr. Sandburg… If you don't mind…" Ezra said staring pointedly at Buck's hand.
"Buck's right, Ezra," Chris said. "We don't know that we can trust these people. It could be a trap."
Ezra sighed and dropped his gaze to the floor. "I can't explain how I know, but you must believe me when I say that this message is real. It must sound insane… but…"
More silence surrounded him and Ezra dared not look up for fear of the censure on his friends' faces. A gentle hand landed on his shoulder and Ezra looked up into Buck's blue eyes.
"If you're sure, Ez…" Buck said softly. Ezra nodded. Buck smiled reassuringly. "All right then, call this Sandburg and let's go meet these VIPs."
Ezra smiled gratefully back at Buck and dialed the number. As he waited for the line to connect he could hear his heart beating wildly in his chest. But what was that other sound? He tilted his head to focus and found himself surrounded by soft, but insistent thumping noises.
Buck watched Ezra with concern as he waited for the call to go through. After a few moments the newly online Sentinel's face started to go slack and Buck cursed. What the heck are you zoning on, Ez? He pulled the phone from Ezra's hand and passed it off behind him then focused on breaking the zone.
"Ezra? Ez, can you hear me?" Buck gripped Ezra's shoulder and gave him a little shake. He leaned down a bit to look into Ez's blank eyes. "Come on, Ez. We've got stuff to do here," he muttered, his concern growing.
Behind him Chris had grabbed the phone. "Hello? Anybody there?"
"Hey, I thought I'd lost the connection," a peppy voice replied.
"No, not you," Chris mumbled. He shook his head. "Is this Blair Sandburg?"
"Yes. How can I help you?"
"Percy Brett gave us your number. We, ah, have a small problem at the moment though." Chris paused, not wanting to discuss things on an open line.
"Your friend," Blair said cautiously, "the one you're calling about, is he able to come to the phone?"
"No," Chris growled. "His attention is focused elsewhere," he said cryptically.
"Is someone with him?" Blair asked concern clear in his voice.
"Yes, another close friend. But he doesn't seem to be helping."
Buck turned to glare briefly at Chris before returning his attention to Ezra.
A short silence from the other end had Chris worried. "Are you still there?"
"Yes. Listen, there are five things you need to try, do you understand? Five different things."
Chris's jaw dropped in understanding and he nodded, forgetting that Sandburg couldn't see him. "Hang on," he dropped the phone from his ear and spoke to Buck. "Try engaging each sense individually, Buck. We have to figure out which one he zoned on."
At the hotel, Jim listened and then nodded to Blair's questioning look. "They figured it out. I'd bet it's probably sound," Jim added. "If he was calling us, he would have been focused on hearing and probably got caught up in the sounds around him."
Blair nodded. "That makes sense."
"Are you there?" the man on the phone asked.
"Yes," Blair replied. "Where are you?"
"Denver, Colorado. Where are you?"
"At the Denver Plaza Hotel."
"You're only twenty minutes from here, the Federal Building, 11th floor," Chris advised.
"We're on our way, but if you don't get a response from him in the next ten minutes, call me back." Blair paused for a minute. "Um, who will I ask for?"
Chris hung up the phone and looked at JD. "Let the desk downstairs know we have visitors coming. They're to show them right up."
JD nodded and went to the phone.
Buck had dragged Ezra into a chair and pulled up another one in front of him. He sat back and sighed as Chris came to stand by them. "I've already tried hearing, sight and touch without any luck."
"That just leaves smell and taste," Chris said thoughtfully.
"Is there any coffee left?" Buck asked.
Vin frowned. "I made the coffee this morning, Bucklin." You could stand spoons up in Vin's coffee and everyone knew Ezra 'loathed' the stuff.
"I know," Buck said with a small grin. Vin grinned wickedly and dashed off to the break room.
"Nathan," Josiah said, "do you still have that cologne Rain gave you last year?"
"Hell yeah. There was no way I was keeping that stuff at home," Nathan shuddered. "She'd expect me to put it on before I left the house. I don't know what's wrong with her sense of smell." Nathan's eyes widened as he realized what Josiah meant. "I'll go get it."
Vin passed Nathan as he brought a cup of coffee. "Had to heat it up," he said, handing it to Buck along with a spoon.
Buck took the cup and spoon with a smile. "Good thinking." He dipped the spoon into the coffee and gently slipped it into Ezra's mouth. He waited for a few moments then tried it again.
"Don't think it's working," Vin muttered.
Nathan came back with a bottle in his hand. "Try this."
Buck set down the coffee and took the cologne from Nathan. He opened it and took a whiff then grimaced. "I swear, Nate, this stuff could peel paint. What was Rain thinking?"
Nathan shrugged. "Beats me." He nodded toward Ezra. "Hold it under his nose."
Buck did as instructed and the results were almost instantaneous.
Ezra blinked and jerked his head back. "What in God's name?" he exclaimed then sneezed, coughed and rubbed his nose, his eyes watering. He looked at Buck and the bottle in his hand. "Are you trying to kill me?"
The others chuckled with relief while Buck capped the bottle. "Well, geeze, Ez, if you hadn't lied to us about not likin' Vin's coffee, we wouldn't have had to go to such extremes." This got more relieved laughter.
Ezra smacked his lips and grimaced at the taste in his mouth. "Oh, good Lord. What have ya'll been doing to me?"
Josiah slapped Nathan on the back. "Perhaps you should add that cologne to your medical kit, Brother Nate. We can use it instead of smelling salt." Nathan rolled his eyes, but didn't disagree.
Buck offered Ezra a cup of water. "You zoned again. I couldn't get through with sight, sound or touch so we had to find something for taste and smell. Sorry about that."
Ezra sat back in his chair with a sigh. "No. I'm sorry. Thank you for helping." He looked around at the others. "It would appear I have become something of a burden to the team."
"What?" "No!" and "What are you talking about?" were a few of the reactions to his statement.
"Come now, gentlemen," Ezra said tiredly. "You cannot deny the liability of my… condition."
"Seems to me," JD countered, "that the Watchman in the movie did an awful lot of good with his abilities."
"Any new skill takes time to develop," Josiah argued. "You have to give yourself time to adjust and learn to use them."
"We don't have time," Ezra protested. "The President will be arriving in two days."
"Well, now, Ez," Buck soothed, "we do have a couple of experts on the way to help out."
"You spoke to them?" Ezra asked sitting up straight with interest.
"Chris did. They should be here any time now."
Chris looked at his watch and nodded.
Ezra nodded his relief then stood and headed for the door.
"Where are you going?" Chris asked.
Ezra stopped and looked at his boss with a raised eyebrow. "I find myself in need of the facilities. If that is all right with you?" One side of his mouth quirked into a grin.
Chris shook his head. "Yeah. Just don't take all day." He smiled. "And don't leave the building."
Ezra smirked and left the room.
The men's room was blessedly empty. Ezra took care of the pressing issues and then washed his hands. He splashed some water on his face and stared into the mirror at the stranger reflected there. How could I not have known? He met the anxious green eyes in the mirror, trying to recall any instance in his past that might have provided a clue to his being a Sentinel. Ezra shook his head. Nothing came to mind.
"Great," he mumbled. That meant he'd have to ask Maude and put up with her certain displeasure at what she would, no doubt, consider a fault. A strange feeling started to curl in his gut. A feeling that quickly worked its way to unease and even alarm.
Ezra raced out of the restroom and back down the hall to the bullpen. The others turned quickly at his hasty entrance, instinctively reaching for their weapons until they recognized the undercover agent.
"What's wrong, Ezra?" Chris asked, moving across the room.
Ezra stopped and tried to control his breathing as he scanned the room. The danger wasn't here, not yet. He spun suddenly to face the door and growled.
Buck moved up beside him, the others also closing rank as two strangers glanced through the open doorway. Ezra pushed Buck behind him with one hand and took another step forward to put himself between the strangers and his team.
"Chris Larabee?" the long haired man asked.
"That's me," Chris said, taking a few steps forward, only to be stopped when Ezra moved in front of him. Chris sighed. "Are you Dr. Sandburg?"
The long haired man nodded. "This is my partner and Sentinel, Jim Ellison. I assume that this is your Sentinel?" he asked with a wry grin and a glance at Jim.
Jim nodded and took a step back behind Blair to offer some distance for the obviously anxious Sentinel.
Chris nodded. "Ezra Standish. We think Buck is his Guide."
At the introduction, Buck put a hand on Ezra's shoulder and gave a squeeze. "Come on, Ez. These are our visitors. Stand down."
Ezra took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Some of the tension in his shoulders eased and he looked up at Buck. "I…" he stopped and looked at Ellison and Sandburg. "I apologize, gentlemen," he said shakily. "I seem to…" Ezra shook his head.
"It's perfectly natural, Mr. Standish," Blair assured him, still standing in the hallway with Jim behind him. "A Sentinel protects his tribe and can sense other Sentinels. In the past," he paused briefly. Jim squeezed his shoulder. "Well, sometimes that allowed the Sentinel to sense attacking tribes before they arrived. Jim knew as soon as we stepped out of the airport that Denver had a Sentinel."
Ezra drank in the explanation then suddenly realized that the two were still in the hallway. "My manners are atrocious. Please come in." He backed away, catching Buck's arm to drag him with him.
Chris stepped forward and glared at Ezra as the Southerner started to block the way again. Ezra stopped himself and nodded. Chris offered his hand to Blair and then Jim. "We've only just found out about Ezra's abilities. I'd… We'd like an explanation and any information you can give us."
Buck nodded fervently.
Jim looked back at the door to the hall. "Is there someplace a bit more private for us to talk?"
Chris nodded. "Follow me." He led everyone back into the conference room. Jim and Blair hung back and entered last, allowing Ezra to place himself where he felt most comfortable.
Jim stopped just inside the room and did a quick scan.
"The room is clear," Ezra informed him, recognizing what the other Sentinel was doing. "JD checked for bugs just this morning."
"And so did Ez," Buck added somewhat smugly.
Jim nodded and took the chair beside Blair as he spoke. "It's a habit I doubt I'll ever break. You're all Feds?"
Josiah grimaced. "ATF… Feds has such a negative ring to it," he added, trying to lighten the mood.
Blair grinned. "Don't we know it. We were just discussing that this morning with our captain."
"I thought you were both retired," Nathan said.
"Technically," Jim said. "We still help out the PD every once in a while. Our captain, Simon Banks, worked closely with us in setting up the Sentinel/Guide Foundation. Actually, our entire unit, Major Crime, helped out."
"You mind if I talk to him?" Chris asked.
Jim smiled. "Now?" Chris nodded. "Sure. You want to dial?" he asked, knowing that Larabee was concerned about security.
Chris pulled out his cell phone and dialed the number as Jim gave it to him.
A gruff voice answered. "Banks."
"Captain Simon Banks?"
"Yes. Who is this?"
"My name is Agent Larabee. Would you happen to know a Sentinel Ellison?"
The line was silent for a moment then Banks spoke. "Is he there?"
Chris handed the phone to Ellison.
Jim smiled. "Hey, Simon. Would you mind setting Agent Larabee's mind at ease? We're here in Denver and they have a new Sentinel in their midst."
"You and Blair are all right?"
"Right as rain, Simon," Jim answered with their coded phrase. "Say hi to Sandburg," he said handing the phone to his Guide.
"Hi, Simon," Blair said cheerfully. "We can't seem to get away from work even when we're moonlighting for the President."
Banks chuckled. "Let me talk to Larabee… but Blair, call me as soon as you're through there."
"Sure, Simon, but I don't really know how long that will be. I believe these are also some of the agents we're going to be working with for the President's security," he said looking around at the seven ATF agents. They all nodded.
"Fine. Then call me in two hours. If I don't hear from you, I'm catching the next flight out."
Blair chuckled. "Thanks, Simon. We love you, too."
Banks growled and Blair gave Chris the phone.
"I hope your men are better behaved than mine."
Chris chuckled. "Sounds like we're about even, Captain."
"Call me Simon. We're practically family now. If you ever need a sounding board…"
"Thanks, Simon. It's Chris. I'll be sure to keep your number handy." Chris paused. "How long have you…"
"Six, almost seven years now. Jim came online during a serial bombing case back in '96. He and Blair hooked up shortly thereafter, thank God. I don't know what Jim would have done without him. You might recall the dust up a few years back about a detective with hyperactive senses…"
"We've all seen the movie, Simon," Chris said as he realized that the movie really was based on true events.
"Well, most of it really happened. Blair's thesis on Jim's abilities was leaked to the press and it took us a while to clear that mess all up. Then they started getting visits from other Sentinels and Guides looking for help. Eventually it became a full time job and we started the Sentinel/Guide Foundation." Simon took a breath. "All on the sly at first, of course. We wanted to make sure we had the money and the power to protect our people. That's why we published the book and then the movie. With those funds and other investors we were able to build a facility outside of Cascade. The President knows about the SGF and we have several other SG pairs in law enforcement."
Chris blew out the breath he didn't realize he'd been holding. "Sounds like you've been busy." He had easily recognized the proprietary tone in Simon's voice. It was similar to the tone Chris used when speaking of his own team. That similarity eased his mind in ways that no words could.
Simon chuckled. "I'm just an advisor and member of the board. Jim and Blair are the front line team. Seriously though, you can trust us to help you and your Sentinel. We don't work for the government, though we do help out when needed."
"Thanks, Simon," Chris said. "You've eased my mind about a few things. I'm sure I'll be taking you up on your offer."
"Do that. And watch out for my men, would you? Sandburg… hell, the both of them are trouble magnets."
Chris moaned, then laughed. "Well, they'll be in good company then. We'll take care of them for you."
"Talk to you later, Chris."
Chris ended the call and looked around the table at his friends and the two visitors. He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. "I suppose introductions should be made," he grinned wryly.
"Our manner truly are lacking today," Josiah said with a suspiciously Southern drawl.
Ezra rolled his eyes, but allowed a small smile to touch his lips as he sat back, some of the tension draining from him. He watched as Chris introduced everyone, giving Ellison and Sandburg a little information on their duties and specialties.
Blair sat forward and looked at JD with awe. "You did a terrific job covering your cyber trail. We knew someone had hit the Watchman site, but couldn't find out who. And we have a very sophisticated program in place that should have prevented you from doing what you did."
JD grinned and shrugged. "Well, that sort of programming goes obsolete almost as soon as you install it. To be truly foolproof, you need someone updating the security protocols regularly. At least weekly, but daily is preferable."
Blair grimaced. "Maybe you could recommend someone? We are starting to go public, but our intranet has to be secure to safeguard the identities of our SG pairs."
JD chewed his lower lip thoughtfully. "I'll think about it and let you know."
Blair smiled and wondered how long it would take to convince JD that the younger man was the ideal person for the job.
Ezra cleared his throat. "How do you truly know when someone is a Sentinel?" He flicked his eyes at Vin briefly. "As opposed to just having exceptional hearing, for instance."
Blair leaned forward, his arms resting on the table. "That's a good question, Mr. Standish."
"Ezra. We do have a few… exercises we can run through to verify your abilities." Blair cast a wry glance Jim's direction as his Sentinel grumbled "tests" under his breath. "They'll also give us an idea of what level you're at developmentally and how well you adapt to new situations."
Vin snorted. "That shouldn't be a problem, Ez is one of the best undercover agents there is. Adaptable is his middle name."
Ezra grinned at Vin's endorsement. "Yes, well, regardless, I'm not convinced…"
"Ez…" Chris groaned.
"It's my life, Chris," Ezra snapped. He closed his eyes and sighed. He sent a silent apology to his friend then turned back to Blair and Jim. "What if I don't want it?"
Jim watched the exchange sympathetically. "You do have a choice. There's a lot more to being a Sentinel than the senses. You have to be willing to work with your Guide… and there's a… metaphysical side to it as well."
"Metaphysical?" Josiah asked.
Blair took over. "Yes. A Sentinel and Guide are… linked on a spiritual level. There's nothing hinky to it," he clarified, seeing a few dismayed looks on the faces around him. "We each have a spirit animal, a guide. Honestly… there are still things we are learning about. We know it's important though. Some of us have received dreams or visions that have warned us of danger."
Five skeptical faces looked back, but two were thoughtful.
Vin nodded and Josiah started to speak, but Jim cut in. "Blair… I was able to bring Blair back with the help of our spirit animals. He had been pronounced dead…" Blair sat back in his chair and put his hand on Jim's shoulder.
The phone rang, interrupting Jim's explanation.
Chris grimaced and answered. He 'uh huh'd' a few times and 'yes sir'd' then hung up. "We have to go over to the PD and meet with Captain Tully about the conference." He smirked. "He wants to have a plan in the works before the VIPs show up," Chris said, finger quotes highlighting the word 'VIPs.'
The others chuckled.
"Want to come along?" Chris asked, his grin taking on an evil cast. "We can continue this tonight, after we get off."
Chris led the other eight men into the conference room he'd been directed to and smiled at Captain Sullivan Tully. He and Buck had worked with the man when they were on the PD some years back. "Hey, Sully."
The distinguished looking black man looked to be about Chris's age, but he wore a well-tailored suit and his dark hair had just a touch of gray at the temples.
"Well, if it isn't Lone Ranger Larabee. It's been a while," Tully said as they shook hands. "I see you couldn't get rid of this skirt chaser," he said with a grin at Buck.
"Sully," Buck smiled back. "Gettin' a little snow on the roof there, bud. Good thing Patty finally hog-tied you and dragged you to the altar, before you lost your looks."
Tully laughed. "I was smart enough to let her catch me, Buck. When are you going to find a woman and settle down?"
Buck leered. "I'd hate to disappoint all those lovely ladies out there by limiting myself to just one."
Tully exchanged a knowing glance with Chris. "I see some things never change." The Captain looked at the other men with Larabee and Wilmington. "I thought you were the Magnificent Seven, not Nine, Larabee? You add a few new men?"
Chris chuckled. "No, we thought you might like to meet Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg."
Tully recognized the names and shot a glare at Larabee before turning a smile on the visitors. "Gentlemen, I didn't realize you were already in town."
Jim shook his hand and smiled. "We had a little personal business to attend to that brought us down town early. Chris didn't think you'd mind if we tagged along."
Blair grinned and shook his head at Jim's sudden humor. "I think the altitude is affecting my partner," he teased. "I'm sure you're all nervous about our part in this security detail, but we really are here to help, not hinder."
Tully nodded, somewhat mollified. "That's good. We have basic plans for securing the areas involved. That's what I wanted to go over with Chris's team this morning. If you'd like to sit in and offer suggestions, they'd be appreciated."
Ezra's nerves were frayed. They'd stopped at the Denver Plaza and picked up another Sentinel and Guide and now were on the way to Chris's ranch. Ezra had suggested his place or the hotel, but both of the other Guides thought that they needed a familiar, yet less personal space for Ezra.
He had to admit that the thought of having even one of the other Sentinels in his home was enough to make the hair rise on the back of his neck. And the Plaza was 'their' home space, so to speak and not a good option either. Just stopping to pick up Paul and Dennis had started Ezra's heart to racing again.
He was so frazzled that he'd even allowed Buck to drive his Jaguar. The two of them had spent the trip to Chris's in silence up to now.
Buck glanced at his friend. "Ez?"
"I just knew you were going to revert to calling me Mr. Wilmington again," Buck chuckled.
Ezra smiled ruefully. "It does seem a bit ridiculous to stand on formalities considering the circumstances." He frowned. "You don't have to do this you know."
Buck's brow furrowed. "I like driving your Jag, Ez," he said.
"You're being obtuse," Ezra sighed.
"Maybe, but it's better than burying my head in the sand and pretending this ain't happening."
"I'm not," Ezra protested.
Buck shook his head. "No, but you want to. Not that I blame you. This is pretty strange, even for our team." Buck shifted the Jag down a gear as he began to slow to make the turn onto Chris's property. "I'm going into this with an open mind, Ezra. I think you know me pretty well by now, enough to know I don't spook easy. And this Guide thing doesn't spook me."
He pulled onto the dirt road leading to the ranch and slowed to a stop so he could look Ezra in the eye. "The thing that scares me is that I might do something wrong and not be able to help you when you need me."
Ezra stared at his friend in disbelief. "Jesus, Buck. If I were in your shoes, I'd be running so fast in the other direction…"
"No, you wouldn't," Buck said with a small grin. "I know you well enough to know that for sure, too." He waited for Ezra to nod then patted him on the shoulder. "I just wanted to let you know, whatever you decide, I'm behind you. I'll be there for you, Ez."
Ezra smiled and nodded. "Thank you, Buck." He looked down the road. "I suppose we should enter the fray…"
Buck chuckled and put the car into drive.
Fortunately, Chris was used to having a crowd over to his place by now and kept enough food on hand to feed his small army when they dropped by unexpectedly. This time it was an extra pot of frozen chili Josiah had donated to the cause. The chili was put on to warm up, bread was toasted and salad was made. Joint effort made short work of dinner preparations and they all lounged around the living room to eat and talk.
Blair waited for everyone to settle in. "I suppose I should start at the beginning. I understand you've all seen the movie…" The seven nodded. "Well, the Watchman in the movie is what Richard Burton, the explorer, not the actor, called a Sentinel. A Sentinel has five enhanced physical senses – sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. We've found that for the most part each Sentinel also has a specialty. Jim's hearing is his best sense. Paul's is his sense of taste."
"Touch," Buck murmured to himself. Ezra's head jerked toward his Guide. Buck looked up into Ezra's surprised, green eyes and shrugged. "It makes sense, your dexterity is phenomenal. You should see what he can do with a deck of cards. And you always insist on the best fabrics in your clothing. I don't think that's all conceit," he added with a teasing grin. "The more expensive the fabric, the better it feels against your skin."
Blair nodded. "Silk is less irritating than cotton. You could be right, Buck. We'll keep that in mind when we test his range." He looked at Ezra. "Speaking of… I think we should wait until tomorrow to worry about that. Today's been a bit rough," he smiled sympathetically at Ezra's eye roll. "Tonight we can focus on answering your questions. If it's okay with you…" he looked around to include all of the ATF men, "I thought Jim and I could talk separately to Ezra and Buck. Paul and Dennis can give the rest of you the short course."
Buck saw the relieved look on Ezra's face and nodded his agreement. Ezra was a very private person and even though the others would be getting some of the same information, it would be easier for the new Sentinel to ask questions without an audience.
"I can stay with the others," Buck offered.
Ezra shook his head. "No. Blair is correct. I need you… to…" he frowned and looked around, his gaze landed briefly on the other two Sentinels. Ezra sighed. "Will this ever get any easier? Buck can't stay with me 24/7."
Jim smiled. "It's a bit amplified having two other Sentinels in close proximity. And you're newly online. It will get easier, but protecting the Guide is part of the package. It's something that your team needs to know to avoid misunderstandings."
"You mean, like he was at the office when you first showed up?" Nathan asked.
Jim nodded. "He sensed me in the building, probably before I got to your floor. It sets off a sort of early warning system when another Sentinel is near. I 'felt' Ezra as soon as I stepped out of the airport. Paul said he could feel us about ten minutes before we arrived at the hotel. Each Sentinel has a personal range. I think it probably increases with experience. I've noticed my range has gotten wider." He looked a question at Paul.
"Me, too," Paul agreed. "Though it may have something to do with home territory, too. Jim's territory is Cascade and some of the surrounding counties. I don't really have a specific territory, except maybe the SGF and I share that with Jim and a few other resident Sentinels." Paul paused thoughtfully. "Because my 'territory' is fairly small, I don't know that my range will ever be as large as Jim's."
Jim frowned. "How big is Denver?"
"The city itself, about a hundred-fifty square miles," Josiah said.
Blair nodded. "Cascade is around the same," he looked at Jim. "This is something we haven't tested scientifically. We have a vague idea, but… Remind me to put it on our list, Dennis. It could be important to know each Sentinel's specific range."
The other Guide nodded. "Paul's range has never been very big. I think, due to his military background and moving around so much, he hasn't had a chance to form a connection with a particular locale. Until now that is."
Paul nodded matter-of-factly. It didn't really bother him. It was one of the reasons he got along so well with other Sentinels. He didn't feel he had to 'claim' territory.
"So do they feel the need to protect the Guide from everyone or just from other Sentinels?" JD asked.
Jim and Paul both shook their heads.
"No," Jim said. "Any threat, or potential threat," he added with a rueful grin when Blair snorted. "Of course, that again is a fairly individual response. As we've found out, you can't lump Sentinels or Guides into one cubby hole. We come in all shapes and sizes and with just as many quirks."
"So," Blair said, noticing Ezra's slight fidgeting, "are you ready to split up?"
Ezra nodded and stood.
"You can use the den," Chris said.
Buck and Ezra led the way, leaving the rest of the team to talk to Paul and Dennis.
The four men pulled chairs toward the center of the room and sat down.
Blair leaned forward, his elbows on his knees as he looked Ezra in the eye. "Go ahead, ask whatever you want."
Ezra glanced at Buck then met Blair's frank, blue gaze. "Just how tied to Jim are you?"
Blair sat back and chuckled. "That's almost always the first question I get when a Sentinel comes to me with a bond already in place." He shook his head and shared a smile with his Sentinel before answering the question. "I'm tied to Jim forever… because I want to be," he stressed. "This is a partnership, neither the Sentinel nor the Guide is more important, both play a necessary role. The best analogy, though very few of our pairs are actually couples, is marriage. One partner may do the dishes, clean, cook and take care of the kids while the other goes to work every day and brings home the money, but both do something that allows the couple to take care of the family."
Blair continued seeing that he had their full attention. "With a Sentinel and Guide, the 'family' they are taking care of is usually a bit larger than 2.3 kids and a dog." He grinned. "The tribe includes family, friends, co-workers, and anyone within the Sentinel's territory, but can be extended as needed."
"Blair keeps teasing me," Jim jumped in. "He says my 'territory' gets bigger with each new Sentinel or Guide that we find." He worried his lower lip briefly with his teeth. "I guess in that respect, our territory isn't just a physical distance, it's whatever we decide is important to keep safe." He shared a quick look with Blair. "Recently that's become much more than I ever expected…" He shook his head. "Anyway, it has more to do with your sense of responsibility. That may just include your Guide, your family, your team and their family, or it may extend to anyone in Denver. I suspect, just from what you do for a living, that your 'tribe' will be anyone who needs you," he said with a smile.
"What exactly is this bond you keep talking about?" Buck asked.
"And he asks the hardest question," Blair murmured. "All I can really tell you is what our bond is like, Buck. I know when Jim is near. I can often tell what his mood is, even if he's not in the room. I have to concentrate on it, but I can. I also know when he gets hurt. That part of the bond seems pretty universal between Sentinels and their Guides, to varying degrees." He paused and let Ezra and Buck digest that information.
"You think we already have this bond?" Ezra asked.
Blair sighed. "I would say you are in the early stages."
"But how can you know that?" Ezra asked anxiously.
Buck cleared his throat. "I… I knew you were in that house, Ezra." He met the younger man's gaze. "I don't know how, but I knew you were there somewhere."
Ezra frowned at Buck noting his friend's uncertainty. He gave him a small, hopefully reassuring smile then looked at Blair. "You…" Ezra licked his lips. "Can you read each others minds?"
Jim shook his head. "Not in the way you mean. Sure, I usually know what Blair is thinking, but it's because we've been partners for so long. It's not telepathy or ESP or anything. But, we can… share our thoughts if we… well, for lack of a better word we've just been calling it bonding." He shrugged and motioned for Blair to take over.
Blair nodded. "When we both accepted our partnership, we accepted the fact that it would take both of us working together to really make the Sentinel thing work. The Sentinel can function without a Guide, and the Guide can get along without a Sentinel, but together, they can do so much more. And when a pair is bonded the way we are, they share a spiritual link that strengthens the partnership and increases each partner's abilities."
Ezra and Buck both had frowns on their faces, but remained silent.
"Another benefit of the link is that we can share thoughts when we bond." Blair ran a hand through his hair. "It's sort of like a mind meld, you know, like in Star Trek. Jim and I find it easier to deal with strong emotions, fears, disappointments and the like in the bond. We don't have to worry about all that male macho crap about not showing emotions. For us, that sharing is a very intense and private part of being a bonded Sentinel and Guide. It strengthens our connection." He waited to see if they were going to say anything. "That said, not all of our pairs bond that deeply. But since we've only been studying the phenomena on a large scale for a few years, I can't say whether all pairs bond on this level or not. I know it took us about four years to get to the point where we were ready to bond, although we really didn't know about it until it happened."
"So we have some time to get used to this," Buck said sending a tentative glance at Ezra.
Blair nodded. "Like I said, it is a partnership. You both have to accept and want to be in the partnership for it to work. You will be asked to make that decision sooner or later, though."
Jim huffed lightly. "That's the spiritual part you won't have a choice about. You each have a spirit animal guide. Ezra, yours is a cougar, a mountain lion. Buck's is a wolf. You may see them in times of stress, or if the 'Powers that be' decide it's time for a lesson or a choice."
"The 'Powers that be'?" Ezra asked with disbelief.
Blair chuckled. "That's Jim's name for it. All we know is that there is a spiritual guidance behind the Sentinel/Guide phenomena. I have no idea who or why or how, but I do know that you don't ignore your spirit guide. It can be deadly."
Jim nodded solemnly.
"How do you know what our guides are?" Buck asked. He scanned the room briefly as if expecting to see them appear.
Jim smiled. "I've gotten used to at least that part of the mystical side. I usually see a Sentinel's spirit guide before I get close enough to meet the person. And Blair will often see the Guide's."
Ezra ran a hand through his hair and then pinched the bridge of his nose. He still wasn't sure this was something he wanted. "How do I… turn it off, if I don't want it?" he asked, looking to Jim for the answer.
Jim pushed his tongue against the inside of his cheek thoughtfully. "You'll be given the choice to go back to the way things were or to be a Sentinel. Probably within the first six months to a year."
"That long?" Ezra exclaimed, dismayed.
Blair leaned forward again. "Think about this, Ezra. You're an undercover agent. How many times have you wondered if someone knew you were a cop? Being able to hear them talking in the next room without a listening device would be useful. And I'm sure there are a lot of other ways an undercover agent could benefit from being a Sentinel."
"Yes," Ezra said slowly. "But what about the zoning? I can't always take Buck under with me, and you can't tell me I won't ever zone out, I've done it twice today."
"No," Jim said, "we can't tell you that, but I can tell you that zoning is usually caused by inexperience. When you focus on one sense to the exclusion of all others, that's when we tend to zone. That's why we set up the SGF, to help school Sentinels and their Guides in safely using your senses. We can give you a few pointers to help through the week, then maybe you can get some leave and come up to Cascade."
"We don't have time to sit through a bunch of classes," Ezra argued, his frustration growing.
Buck scooted his chair closer and draped an arm over Ezra's shoulders. "Easy there, pard. We'll work things out. Chris and the others are behind us and," he continued with a classic Buck Wilmington confident grin, "we're smart guys, it won't take us long to figure this out."
Ezra eyed his friend for a long moment, Buck's smile never faltered and Ezra finally let a small grin through in response. "Very well. But," he turned back to Blair and Jim, "tomorrow we are having a crash course in using these enhanced senses I now find myself possessing."
Blair grinned and Jim nodded.
"I understand where you're coming from, Ezra," Jim said. "I just wanted to get rid of them myself when Blair first told me what was going on. We had quite a few arguments over the usefulness of my senses." He smiled fondly at his partner. "But I have to admit, I'm glad Blair didn't give up. Being a Sentinel has changed my life in ways I couldn't even have imagined. It's well worth the hassles."
"Hassles?" Blair exclaimed, jokingly. "What hassles, man? And don't give me that 'hair in the drain,' crap."
Jim chuckled and tapped Blair on the side of the head. "Nah, that's why we have separate baths now." Blair huffed and popped Jim on the arm. "The hassle," Jim continued with a grin, "is dealing with the smell of the nameless green goop he drinks for breakfast."
"Oh, please," Blair replied. "What about what I have to put up with?"
"And what's that, Junior?" Jim teased.
Blair opened his mouth then closed it and smiled benignly. "Why nothing, Jim. Nothing at all."
"Sandburg," Jim growled. Blair's grin widened.
Buck chuckled and gave Ezra's shoulder a squeeze. Ezra shook his head minutely at the rather familiar, playfulness between the other two men. They seemed to be genuinely happy with the arrangement they had. And if he was truthful with himself, he'd already committed to Team 7, quite some time ago. This Sentinel thing might come in handy, but first he had to learn to control it.
Out in the living room, Paul and Dennis suddenly found themselves the recipients of five rather intense gazes. But Paul was an ex-Marine. He simply held his hand up then pointed to the man closest to him who happened to be Chris Larabee.
Chris suppressed a grin. Donaldson reminded him of one of his commanders in the Seals. He took a moment to consider everything he wanted to know. "Just how dependent on Dennis are you?"
Paul raised an eyebrow. It was not an unexpected question considering that Ezra was an undercover agent. "You want to know if he'll still be able to go under on his own."
"I don't see why not. It will take some time for Ezra to become comfortable enough to use his senses safely. The main thing is for him to practice and refrain from using them until he's got better control."
Josiah was next to Chris and when Paul looked at him he smiled. "How long have you known you were a Sentinel, and how often do you zone now?"
"That's two questions, J'siah," Vin teased. Josiah just grinned and settled his gaze on Paul.
Paul leaned back in his seat. "Well, I found the name for what I am about three years ago when I came across the book. Before that I knew there was something different about me, but all of my senses weren't online. My sense of taste was always pretty sensitive. I had to get out of the service in self-defense," he added with a grin.
The others chuckled.
"Just before the book came out, I started having problems with all of my senses." Paul paused for a moment. "I thought I was going crazy. But as soon as I saw the blurb on "The Watchman's" cover, I knew. I did a little research and headed for Cascade." He looked over at Dennis. "I've never looked back, never regretted it for a minute."
Dennis smiled at his friend. "Paul hasn't had a zone out in… at least a year. Once he learned how to split his focus, zone outs became few and far between. Jim and Blair have been a great help. Blair's pretty much written the book on Guiding a Sentinel."
Vin spoke softly. "Do you have anyone at your Foundation with only one or two enhanced senses?"
Dennis nodded. "There are a few. Blair's theory is that some people carry the Sentinel genes, but not in the right combination to create a true Sentinel with all five senses enhanced. When this happens, the person may have one or more superior sense. Usually it's not a problem, they don't need a Guide, don't have zone outs. But we have a few individuals with such extreme sensitivities that they did need help getting control of them."
JD glanced at Vin who had sunk back into his chair and looked thoughtful. The computer tech fidgeted but waited for Paul to acknowledge his turn.
Paul grinned and nodded at JD.
"Can any of us help Ezra," JD asked with a wave of his hand, "or is it just Buck?"
Dennis glanced at Paul, surprised by the insightfulness of the question. "That's a good question. It really depends on a number of factors." He ticked off the points on his fingers. "What the Sentinel zoned on. How long he's been zoned. The relationship between the Sentinel and whomever is trying to help him." Dennis paused. "It's better to catch a zone before it happens. If you pay attention while he's using his senses, you should be able to see the change from concentration to zone out."
Nathan scooted to the edge of his seat. "What sort of medicines should we watch out for? Ezra has sensitivities to certain drugs we already know about, but I get the feeling there's more."
Paul tilted his head and shrugged. "That, unfortunately, is something you're going to have to figure out as you go. Not all Sentinels are susceptible to drug allergies. I've never had a problem with any drug, and I've had numerous surgeries, vaccinations and exposure to…" he grinned ruefully, "let's just say, certain recreational drugs, when I was younger."
"What about other Sentinels?" Nathan persisted.
Dennis nodded. "We do have a database of reactions. I'm sure Blair will give you access. If Ezra has already shown signs of allergies, then you can work from there. Any derivatives or similarly structured compounds are suspect."
Chris kept his eyes locked on his hands, mindlessly folding and unfolding the edge of his pant leg as he listened. After Dennis's last statement he looked up and took a deep breath. "I hate asking this… but I get the feeling that if I don't, it'll come back to bite us in the ass."
Paul and Dennis shared an amused glance.
Chris sighed and shook his head minutely. "What is the deal with these spirit animal… guides?"
Dennis nodded, understanding the reluctance in Chris's voice. "Animal spirit guides are not unique to Sentinels and Guides," he started.
Vin and Josiah nodded.
"That's true, Chris," Josiah said. "Many cultures believe we have animal totems that assist us in times of need. In many of the Native Americans tribes, young men and women, especially the warriors, would go on a vision quest to find their totem as they were accepted into adulthood."
"The totem," Vin added softly, "is supposed to be a guide, give them a sense of direction, let them know what their place in the tribe will be. Sometimes the visions show exactly what a person expects to see and sometimes… sometimes they are led in a totally different direction." He fell silent, studying the inside of his glass with focused intensity.
"Vin?" Ezra asked. He and the others had entered the room quietly.
Vin looked up and gave them a quick half-smile.
Ezra and Buck replaced the chairs they'd dragged into den and sat down. Jim and Blair reclaimed the empty chairs near Dennis and Paul.
"You sound as if you've been on one of these vision quests," Ezra said seriously.
Vin nodded. "My great-grandfather was a pureblood Kiowa. He was the only family I had left when my Ma died. I lived with him on the reservation until I was eleven. After he died," Vin shrugged and took a quick sip from his glass. "We didn't have any other relatives and the 'system' wouldn't allow a white boy to live on the reservation," he finished sarcastically.
Josiah reached over and gently squeezed the back of Vin's neck.
Vin smiled his thanks and continued. "On my eleventh birthday he insisted I was old enough to seek my totem. We prepared everything and I spent two days with him staring into the campfire, waiting for my totem to make itself know." Vin grinned fondly. "I never did have a vision, but on the way back to the car to head home, I found an eagle's feather. Grandpa smiled and said my totem had shown up after all." He paused for a long moment. "He died a few weeks later."
"What kind of eagle feather?" Blair asked.
Vin looked at Blair. "A golden eagle."
Blair nodded. "Like I said before, we don't really know that much about how spirit guides are chosen or why they appear to us like they do. I suspect the Native peoples could teach us a lot about listening to them," he quirked his lips ruefully. "At first, I thought all Sentinels would have a jaguar… panther," he shrugged, "for a guide, but the first Sentinel who found us had a mouse for a guide and his Guide's spirit animal was a bulldog."
"A mouse?" JD asked incredulously.
Blair nodded and grinned. "You have to understand the symbolism of the animal totems. It really has nothing to do with size of the animal, but what the animal represents. In the case of the mouse, curiosity and attention to detail. Still, the majority of the Sentinels tend to have feline guides, while the Guides totems are widely varied. I'm sure there's a pattern there in the types of spirit animals and the Sentinels they are associated with, but I just haven't had time to correlate it."
"Do you know what your totems are?" Vin asked Ezra and Buck.
"A cougar," Buck answered, pointing at Ezra. "And a wolf."
"Cool," JD grinned. "I wonder if we have animal spirits, too?"
Josiah shared a grin with Vin. "Well, we can certainly find out. We'll just have a little vision quest of our own."
Nathan and Chris narrowed their eyes suspiciously while Vin hid a smile behind his glass.
JD's eyes widened. "Yeah, that would be great."
"Of course that means fasting for… what Vin? Two days?" Josiah continued.
Vin nodded. "Maybe longer."
"Right. And a ritual cleansing. Usually that's done in a sweat lodge." Josiah looked at Chris. "But we could probably rig something up here on your ranch, if you don't mind."
Chris bit the inside of his lip to keep from smiling and shook his head.
JD had a disturbed look on his face. "Um, well, maybe I'll just wait and see if it shows up on its own," he stammered.
The others chuckled.
Blair controlled his laughter and met JD's miffed gaze. "That's only one way to find your totem, JD. Meditation is another well-respected method." He sent an amused glance at Josiah. The older man's grin widened wickedly.
"Well," Chris interrupted, "as amusing as this is, it still doesn't answer my question. What do these animal spirits mean to us? How will they impact our lives?"
Blair met Chris's gaze and stared thoughtfully at the hazel eyes for a long moment. The vision of a hawk flashed briefly before him and Blair blinked. "Mainly I'd recommend that you pay attention if you see one of their spirit guides, whether in a dream or a vision. And listen if one of them has a vision."
"What's the difference?" Buck asked.
"Well, a dream usually comes when you're asleep. Visions can happen when you're wide awake. Even if you think what you see is real, you should consider the possibility that it's a guide trying to tell you something." Blair paused. "Truthfully though, you should make note of any animals appearing to you. It could be a warning of another Sentinel that is entering your territory, or even someone in trouble." He shrugged. "That's part of the problem we've had figuring it all out. Visions and dreams just aren't usually very clear."
Dennis yawned and several of the others followed suit.
"I don't know about ya'll," Vin said, "but I'm tired and it sounds like we've got a lot of work ahead of us before we're ready for the President's visit. Think I'll hit the hay."
Chris nodded. "Any of you are welcome to stay. It's a long drive back to town this time of night."
Jim and Blair shook their heads. "The four of us will go back to the hotel," Jim said.
Ezra nodded. "I believe I will head home as well."
Buck glanced at JD who nodded. "Me and the kid, too."
"I'll stay, Chris," Josiah said. Chris nodded.
"I'd better get home to Rain," Nathan said reluctantly. He had the feeling Chris, Vin and Josiah would be up late talking and he really wanted to be in on the discussion, but his wife deserved to have her husband home when he had the chance.
Chris met his eyes and a slight smile lifted the corners of his mouth in understanding. "Tell Rain we said hello."
Nathan nodded. "See you in the morning."
"Eight o'clock," Chris said. "That means you, too, Ezra," he added with a smirk.
Ezra just nodded and Chris frowned. He caught Buck's eye and the other man nodded.
They all headed outside. Chris watched as the group split and headed for their cars. Buck stopped to talk to Ezra by his Jag. After a brief moment, Buck sighed and stepped back allowing Ezra to get into the driver's side. Ezra started the vehicle and pulled off.
Buck glanced over his shoulder at Chris and shrugged then went to join JD at his truck. JD had borrowed it to bring himself and Josiah out to the ranch. Jim, Blair, Dennis and Paul climbed into their rental and headed back to town. Vin and Josiah leaned on the porch supports to either side of the stairs and waited for Chris to join them.
Chris eyed them both as he walked back to the porch. "Anything else you two care to share about this?"
Josiah shrugged. "I studied a bit with a Cherokee holy man, but I can't say that's it's given me any insight into our current situation. We pretty much have to go with Blair's expertise, Chris."
Vin straightened and tilted his head toward the door. The three men went back inside and made themselves comfortable.
"I'm not sure there's much more to know," Vin said. "Other than to keep an eye out for visiting spirit guides," he added with a lazy grin.
Chris rolled his eyes and Josiah chuckled.
"All right," Chris said reluctantly. He tipped his chin toward Josiah. "What's your take on Ezra's state of mind?"
Josiah laughed incredulously. "Although our brother has opened up quite a bit in the last few years, he still has the ability to close down when he wants to. Honestly, Chris… I'm not sure what he's thinking. I hope…" he gnawed the inside of his cheek, "I hope that he and Buck will talk."
Vin nodded. "JD was right. Those two have always had an easier time relating than you'd expect. I don't think Bucklin will leave this hanging. I expect he'll be over to Ezra's before Ezra even thinks about headin' to bed."
Chris nodded. Yes, Buck wouldn't let Ezra stew over night. Buck was good at helping friends in need. Chris knew that without doubt. And Ezra needed a friend tonight, no matter how much he might deny it.
Ezra glared at the snifter of brandy on the coffee table. The normally comforting beverage had burned his tongue. What other things would he have to give up for this 'gift?'
A knock at the door brought him out of his fugue. He frowned. It was almost midnight. He went to the door and checked through the peephole. Buck?
Ezra opened the door. "Buck, what are you doing here?"
The ladies man looked up from the spot on the ground that he'd been staring at and offered a small smile. "I was in the neighborhood?"
Ezra rolled his eyes and opened the door wider, stepping back to allow Buck to enter. He noticed that his friend was carrying a duffle bag. Ezra's eyebrows rose. "Are you planning to stay?" he asked as he closed the door.
Buck grinned sheepishly. "Wasn't sure what time we might finish talking."
"Come on in," Ezra sighed leading the way into the living room. "Would you care for something to drink?"
Buck noticed the snifter on the coffee table. He frowned as he set his bag on the floor by the armchair. "It's a little late, don't ya think?"
Ezra waved a hand dismissively and plopped down on the sofa. Buck's eyebrows rose in concern.
"I haven't been drinking, Buck," Ezra replied tartly. "The brandy… It… I couldn't…" he faltered, not able to come up with the right phrase to describe the sensation.
Buck moved around the coffee table and sat beside Ezra. "You've got to talk to me, Hoss. I can't help you if you don't."
Ezra leaned forward and grabbed the snifter. "All of a sudden, I can't even drink brandy without your assistance," he snapped, his hand moved in concert with his words sloshing the brandy over the sides. "How am I supposed to live like this?"
Buck intercepted the hand and removed the snifter, setting it back on the table. "Ezra… do you want to be a Sentinel?"
"It doesn't sound like I have much choice," he replied bitterly as he stood and stalked into the kitchen.
Buck followed. "Sure you do. Remember, Jim said you could choose." He watched as Ezra washed the brandy from his hand.
"He said it could be months or even a year before I have the chance to go back to normal." Ezra braced his hands on the edge of the sink, his chin rested on his chest. "You know me, Buck. I'm the world's worst control freak. These senses are wild. I don't know what's going to set them off. I can't live like this."
Buck exhaled sharply through his nose. "That's baloney. You can learn how to control them, you're just afraid."
Ezra's head jerked up and he looked at Buck with confusion written all over his face. "Afraid of what?"
"You tell me. Why does having these abilities spook you so much?"
Ezra closed his eyes. When he opened them he faced Buck, fear and old pain clear in his green eyes. "I think," he said softly, "I believe my father might have been a Sentinel. I can't be sure without speaking to Mother. I was very young when he died." Ezra looked away. "He was overseas in Viet Nam when he died. I know that much. I remember him from before… Father and Uncle Rick." He met Buck's eyes again. "In my memories, the two of them are always together. We saw Uncle Rick once, years later. Mother was… rude. Rick looked twice his age and kept watching me. It was unnerving. We never saw him again and Mother never talks about Father or Uncle Rick."
"That doesn't mean your father was a Sentinel, Ezra."
"No, I just have a feeling."
"You gonna talk to Maude?"
Ezra huffed. "Not any time soon, at least, not about this. I don't believe the information is vital to our pursuits." He frowned at Buck. "Do you?"
"No. I don't think so," Buck replied. "Might be nice to know someday though."
"Yes," Ezra nodded. "I suppose."
Buck glanced at the clock on the wall. "It's late, Ez. We need to get some sleep, but I need to know…"
"What, Buck?" Ezra asked earnestly.
"Do you want me as your Guide? 'Cause I'm sure one of the other guys…"
"That is, if you think…"
"Buck," Ezra interrupted, putting a hand on the other man's shoulder. "If one of the others was meant to be my Guide, I think we'd know by now." He shook his head with a fond grin. "No. You are the one who can help me… if you are still willing to?" Buck nodded. "Then I suppose tomorrow we will be getting our first lessons on being a Sentinel and Guide."
Buck grinned and grasped Ezra's shoulder so that they stood squared off, connected hand to shoulder. "I think it's going to be fun, Ez."
Blair was up early, moving around the hotel suite with a hurried purpose. Jim listened to him for a while, smiling as his brother muttered to himself making plans for Ezra's tests this morning. Jim closed his eyes as Blair came into the bedroom. He peeked through half opened lids when he was sure Blair wasn't looking and saw his Guide rummaging through the dresser drawers.
Blair picked up several shirts, checked the labels and put all but one back in the drawer. The last one was placed into a large zip-lock baggie.
Where did he get those? When did he get those? Jim frowned and quickly closed his eyes as Blair turned back toward the bed. The Sentinel heard the sound of leather creaking and a zipper being opened. Okay, he's in my overnight bag for something. Jim focused his senses and smelled fresh toothpaste. He heard the baggie zip shut and grimaced at the smell of a magic marker. Finally, the scratching of a pencil on paper. Then he smelled his shampoo.
Jim sat up. "Sandburg!" he said, startling Blair. "What the hell are you doing?"
"Geeze, Jim. Give a guy a heart attack why don't you?" Blair took a deep breath and waved at the baggies he'd set on the foot of Jim's bed. "I'm getting things together to test Ezra's ranges."
"And you need my shirt and toothpaste and shampoo for that?" Jim asked.
Blair looked at Jim and raised an eyebrow. His partner knew good and well what he was doing and why.
Jim chuckled. "So what's the shirt for?"
"Buck seemed to think Ezra's sense of touch was his most sensitive. I want to have a wide range of materials to test it and I saw you pack this silk shirt."
"What if I wanted to wear that today?" Jim teased.
Blair grinned. "I know you packed this for one of those fancy dinners. Even though you love it, you only wear it on special occasions."
Jim scowled. "Do you know how expensive those things are? If I wore one everyday, with all the shit we run into, my budget would be blown on replacing my wardrobe."
Blair laughed. "True. Get dressed and come see what I have, see if you can think of anything else. Then we can grab breakfast and head over to the Federal Building."
Jim nodded and followed Blair's suggestion.
Buck and Ezra entered the bullpen at one minute to eight bearing two paper bags each. They nodded and smiled greetings to everyone as they made their way to the conference room and started to empty the bags. Cinnamon rolls and cups of coffee were set out while everyone gathered around.
"Cutting it awful close there, Ez," Vin teased, tapping a finger on his watch.
"We were here before eight o'clock," Ezra said, collecting his own coffee and cinnamon roll. He sat down. "And we brought refreshments."
Vin grinned and grabbed his breakfast before taking his own seat.
As they all settled in, Blair watched Buck and Ezra closely. They seemed to have come to some agreement. At least they weren't as tense as they'd been last night. Ezra looked up and caught Blair's eye. The agent lifted one brow questioningly.
"Are you ready to get started?" Blair asked.
Ezra nodded slightly.
"How do you want to do this? Do you want the others here?" Blair asked.
Buck shook his head.
"I think we need to know how this all works," Josiah said.
Buck sat forward on his chair and met Josiah's frank gaze. "No. Not for this part. Let us have some time to figure things out, then, when Ezra's more comfortable, ya'll can see. I won't have ya stressing him out with questions and helpful suggestions." Buck's drawl got thicker with his intensity and he pinned each of the other five men with a look that brooked no argument.
The corner of Ezra's mouth quirked into a grin. Nobody would question Buck when he got that tone of voice. He was in full big brother mode.
"Ezra?" Chris asked.
"I agree with Buck," Ezra replied. "I would feel more comfortable learning what I can do first, then we will share. You all need to know what I'm capable of, but first 'I' need to know."
The others nodded.
"Okay," Chris said. "Let's go over the security detail for tomorrow one more time while we have breakfast and then we'll leave you to it."
Blair dragged a box out from under the table as the others left. He pulled out two books. One was a notebook to record Ezra's tests in. The other was part of the test. He looked up at Ezra. "Ready to get started?"
Ezra nodded hesitantly.
"I thought we'd start with sight," Blair said as he grabbed the second book and went to the far end of the room. "I'm going to open the book and I want you to read the first line on the left page, okay?"
Ezra frowned slightly, but nodded again.
Blair opened the book. Buck leaned forward in his seat and squinted, trying to see the letters on the page.
Jim snorted and quickly turned it to a fake cough.
Ezra rolled his eyes. "The book is upside down."
Blair suppressed a smile and looked at the book. "Oh, right, sorry." He flipped it around and held it open again. "How's that?" he asked with an innocent grin.
Jim coughed again, this time into his fist. He whispered Sentinel soft, "he always does that."
Ezra smirked and cast a sly glance at the other Sentinel.
"What?" Buck and Blair asked in unison.
Ezra and Jim turned innocent faces on their Guides.
"Nothing," Jim said.
"Shall we continue?" Ezra asked, then read the first line aloud.
"Good," Blair said when he was finished. "Are the letters clear or fuzzy from there?"
"Quite clear," Ezra replied, relaxing a bit as he realized that these 'tests' weren't going to be too difficult.
"Good," Blair said coming back to the table. He set the book down and held up his hand. "I just wanted to start with something easy so you'd relax a bit. We'll try some long distance stuff now."
Ezra frowned and focused on the pad of Blair's thumb. "Why do you have a number five written on your thumb?" he asked.
Blair looked at his hands.
"What five?" Buck asked, craning his neck to see as Jim grabbed Blair's hands and examined his thumbs. The older Sentinel chuckled and let go. Buck frowned. "I don't see anything."
Blair shook his head. "You shouldn't. I wrote the five in ink and then washed my hands. What Ezra and Jim are seeing is the microscopic ink particles stuck in the ridges of my thumbprint." He looked at Ezra. "What color ink did I use?"
Ezra sighed. "Green."
Blair grinned. "That's great." He made a quick note in his booklet and moved over to the windows. "Let's see how far you can see. Jim I need you to verify the distance for me."
Both Sentinels joined Blair by the bank of windows. Buck moved up behind Ezra to watch.
"Now, tell me the license plate number on one of the cars on each block. If there's not a car, then describe someone or something else."
Ezra did as directed and with each number or description Jim told Blair how far away the object was.
"That's it," Ezra said after about a dozen times.
"What?" Blair asked, looking up from his notes.
"I can't see any further."
Blair frowned and looked at Jim. He had expected quite a bit more from Ezra.
"He's right, Chief," Jim said, "We hit the top of a hill. Even Sentinels need a direct line of sight."
"Oh," Blair replied. "Well, I guess we'll have to try that again later. For now we can move on…"
"Wait," Ezra demanded. "I have a question." Blair nodded expectantly. "Isn't seeing small, microscopic things different from seeing objects far away? And what about seeing in the dark?"
"Technically, yes," Blair said. "Although you do have to use your eyes for all three," he grinned. "We have found that some Sentinels have much better microscopic vision than telescopic, and some see better in the dark than others. Again, that's one of those things that still needs researching. Everyone we've tested so far has at least some enhancement in all three areas."
"I found out a few years ago that I'd be a bit near sighted without my Sentinel abilities," Jim said.
Ezra and Buck waited for more, but Jim only shrugged.
"It was one of those decision-making times," was his only answer.
Ezra raised an eyebrow and looked back at Blair. "All right then, what's next?"
"Sound. Can you tell us what's being said in the next room?" Blair asked. At Ezra's frown he added, "It's okay, I told the others before you arrived that we might be listening in. They shouldn't be discussing anything you wouldn't want to overhear."
Ezra nodded then tilted his head in what Blair called the classic 'Sentinel listening pose.' It never seemed to matter which direction the sound was coming from, they all tilted their heads the same way.
After a moment Ezra chuckled and looked at Jim. The older Sentinel rolled his eyes. Ezra looked at Blair and Buck. "JD seems to be sharing his latest joke with the rest of the team."
Buck groaned. "We're lucky to be in here." He grinned suddenly at Ezra. "Although you still had to suffer through it."
Ezra lifted his chin, with pretend indignation. "I do believe Mr. Sandburg requires proof of what I can hear," he said, his green eyes glinting evilly. "Isn't that correct, Blair?"
"Oh God," Buck groaned dramatically. "Spare us, please."
Blair and Jim chuckled.
"JD's joke goes like this…"
"How do you kill a circus?" Ezra continued blithely.
Buck covered his face with both hands, shaking his head mournfully.
Blair laughed. "It can't be that bad." Jim closed his eyes knowingly as Blair replied. "I don't know, how do you kill a circus?"
Ezra grinned, Buck sank lower into his chair and Jim started to chuckle.
"You go for the juggler," Ezra deadpanned.
Blair stared at the ATF agent for a long moment, then closed his eyes and shook his head in a quick shivering motion. He opened his eyes to Ezra's dimpled grin. "You're right, that was bad."
Ezra's grin widened. "The boy has an unlimited supply of bad jokes. I believe he looks them up on the internet for the express purpose of tormenting us."
Buck laughed. "I think you're right, Ez." He looked at Blair. "Now I have a question. Ez zoned during that phone call to you, I'm pretty sure it was on something he was hearing. Do you have any ideas?"
Jim nodded. "He probably zoned on someone's heartbeat."
Ezra's eyes snapped to the other Sentinel's face. "How did you know?"
Jim gave the younger man a small smile. "You were so intent on talking to us that you focused exclusively on hearing. The sounds closest to you would have been your teammates. When you focus that intensely it's common to zoom in on unusual or unexpected sounds. You wouldn't have expected to hear someone's heartbeat. By that point you were so intent on figuring out what you were hearing that you fell into a zone."
Ezra nodded slowly. "I was eager to speak to you. I was totally focused on the phone call and suddenly heard this thumping noise. When I tried to pin down its location I heard more thumps. They were oddly comforting and… familiar, but I found myself unable to break away from them. The noise just surrounded me."
Jim nodded sympathetically. "We'll show you how to avoid that."
Blair nodded his agreement as he cut in. "But first I want to finish these tests."
Buck frowned and opened his mouth to argue.
Blair raised his hands. "I know that sounds harsh, but we'll get a better idea of yours and Ezra's capabilities if we have a baseline. A 'before and after,' if you will."
Buck sat back tugging at his mustache in frustration as he met Ezra's eyes.
Ezra gave a slight nod and a quick smile. You won't let me down, my friend.
The new Guide sighed and looked back to Blair. "Okay, but as soon as we're done…"
"I promise," Blair said, raising his right hand. "Now I want you," his eyes rested on Ezra, "to find the guard in the lobby and tell us what he's saying."
Ezra's eyes widened. "That's ten floors away."
"You can do it."
Ezra swallowed and looked at Buck. Buck reached over to squeeze Ezra's shoulder, but he didn't let go, instead he let his hand rest where it was.
"It's okay, Ez. I got your back. Just relax. You should be able to hear ol' Bobby without any trouble. You know the man likes to talk, almost as much as you," he said with a grin.
Ezra pressed his lips together, but didn't reply. He was a little too nervous for a good come back. He tried to figure out what to do. Could he hear through ten floors? Or should he try to track through the halls and down the stairs or elevator shaft to the lobby? He sighed and closed his eyes to get rid of the distractions in the room. Blair was watching him like a hawk.
Okay, Ezra, you can do this. He tilted his head and identified the sounds in the room. Jim sat still, only his breathing and heart beat audible. Ezra dismissed them. Blair's chair squeaked a bit as well, since the man seemed as incapable of sitting still as JD. Ezra logged the noise and discarded it. Buck was a different matter. He cataloged all the sounds from his Guide and set them into a corner of his mind so he could keep track of him.
Next Ezra let his hearing drift out to the bullpen where he cataloged and dismissed the sounds of the rest of his team. I wonder if I can keep an ear on more than one… Later… For now he had a task to complete. Later he could experiment. He continued out into the hallway and paused near the elevator. No, that wouldn't work. Too many changes with new people coming up and down in the car. Maybe the stairs.
Ezra sent his hearing down the stairwell, gaining confidence as he swiftly noted and dismissed the various sounds until he reached the ground floor. The sounds from the lobby hit him all at once. Voices, the buzzing from the security equipment, noises from the cars outside... He stiffened at the assault and felt a hand squeeze his shoulder. Buck's voice soothed from the corner of his mind and Ezra relaxed. He let the din flutter around him for a moment then began to sort through it until he found Bobby's voice.
With a slightly detached tone, Ezra repeated what the guard was saying until Buck cut in and told him that was enough.
Ezra took a deep breath and opened his eyes. He blinked quickly to give himself time to adjust and turned his head to look at Buck.
Buck smiled. "You did great, Pard."
Jim and Blair nodded.
Ezra glanced at his watch, surprised to see that only a few moments had gone by.
"You did very well, Buck," Blair said. "You kept him from zoning out."
Buck shook his head. "I didn't do anything, Ez did fine by himself."
"That's not true, Buck," Ezra argued. "It was your presence that kept me focused. I did feel a zone coming on, but you squeezed my shoulder and spoke to me just at the right time." He met his friend's eyes. "Thank you."
Buck pursed his lips thoughtfully and gave a slight nod. He still wasn't convinced that he'd helped much, but Ezra didn't say thank you often, so maybe he did need his help.
"I don't remember you saying thank you very much, Jim," Blair teased.
"I gave you a roof over your head and rescued you from the bad guys, Chief, wadda ya want? A Hallmark card?" Jim snarked back.
Blair grinned. "That would be nice."
Jim smiled. "Okay. As soon as I find one that says 'To the best Guide ever,' I'll get you one."
"Jerk," Blair said fondly.
Buck turned to Ezra. "No cards, Hoss. I don't want the ladies getting the wrong idea."
Ezra grinned. "Flowers and candy, it is then."
Buck moaned dramatically and looked at Blair. "What's next?"
They went through scent and taste using some of the items in the plastic baggies than Blair had prepared. Ezra managed to get through those tests without any problem. Blair made notes on everything.
Finally, he pulled out a two bags containing shirts, and a legal size pad of paper. "Okay. I want to do a couple of quick tests on your sense of touch, then we'll get on to some practical exercises to help you with control."
Blair pushed the bags across the table to Ezra. "Can you tell by feel what they are made of?"
Ezra quirked an eyebrow dismissively as he opened both bags. He stuck his hand into the first one. "Silk." Then into the other bag. He frowned. "Silk and… something else. It's not pure silk, but I'm unfamiliar with the combination."
Blair grinned and nodded. "It's a rayon mixture. That's excellent. I can't tell the difference by touch. All right, now I want you to run your fingers over this paper and tell me what you feel." He slid the pad over to Ezra.
The top page was clean. "Don't look at it, just feel," Blair admonished. Jim had already taken this test and told Blair that he could just barely feel the indentions from what Blair had written on the now missing top pages.
Ezra ran his finger tips lightly over the paper, his tongue peeking out between his lips as he concentrated. He grinned suddenly and chuckled. "This is only a test," he said, 'reading' what was on the paper.
"Cool," Blair said. He tore five pages off and nodded to Ezra. "Can you feel anything around the edges?" he asked indicating the remaining paper.
Ezra's eyebrows rose. He had concentrated on the center of the page, not expecting Blair to be so sneaky. He should have known better. He felt along all four edges of the page before reporting his findings. "Along the top are several stick figures, a man, a woman and a four-legged beast of some kind." Blair nodded. "On the right side, four daisy-like flowers and the number eight. Across the bottom you've written 'sentinel' backwards and on the left edge, in very small print, the letters B, K, A, Z, a smiley face and the number 715. I assume there is some significance to this?"
"Not really," Blair smiled. "I just wanted to see how sensitive your touch is. Jim checked all over the first sheet and only just felt the first message. You were able to feel the stuff along the edges five pages below that. How easy was it for you to read this page?"
Ezra shrugged. "Easy enough."
Blair tapped the pad. "I want you to feel each remaining page and tell me when you have trouble distinguishing the letters."
Ten pages later, Ezra frowned. "It's difficult to know if I'm not just remembering what is written, but I believe I would be unable to determine the individual letters on this page."
Blair noted the number and nodded. "I'll work up some more tests for later, but I think Buck was right. Your sense of touch seems to be your best sense. Everything else seems to be in the more normal ranges for a Sentinel, although that may change once you've had a chance to work on them."
He collected the items on the table and placed them back in the box then looked at Ezra. "Next I want to…"
Buck shook his head. "We need to take a break, Blair," he said, flicking his eyes toward his Sentinel meaningfully.
Blair paused, then nodded. "Yeah, I could use a few minutes to stretch my legs myself."
Jim and Ezra snorted, not having missed the silent exchange between their Guides. They all stood and headed for the door.
"That's something you need to know about Guides, Ezra," Jim said in a conspiratorial stage whisper. "They are the biggest mother hens."
"Only beaten out by their Sentinels," Blair threw over his shoulder as they entered the bullpen.
"Ya'll done already?" JD asked.
Buck smiled and shook his head. "Nah, just taking a break and making sure you guys haven't started any trouble without us."
"Now, Brother Buck," Josiah said with a grin. "Do you have so little faith in us?"
"On the contrary, Josiah," Ezra replied. "We have every confidence in your ability to get into trouble. That's why we are checking on you."
Vin, JD, Nathan and Josiah chuckled.
"Where's Chris?" Buck asked. Ezra tilted his head with a slight frown.
"He had to see Travis about something," Vin said. "Should be back soon. Ya'll ready for lunch?"
"I could eat," JD piped up.
"You two can always eat," Buck teased. "It's barely eleven, Vin."
"Gentlemen," Ezra cut in. "Chris is on his way and he's bringing company. We should appear… busy," he said, moving to his desk and taking a seat.
Jim and Blair followed and stood behind Ezra, 'studying' the screen on his computer. Ezra quickly brought up the schematics for the convention center.
The others took their seats as well so when Chris came in with two suits, everyone seemed to be working diligently.
"Gentlemen," Chris said with a knowing grin. "These men are with the Secret Service. They are going to brief us on what to expect at the convention. Let's adjourn to the conference room, shall we?"
Blair shared a quick worried glance with Jim. The box was still on the table, but Ezra had already moved into the conference room. When they entered with the Secret Service men, Ezra was throwing the empty cinnamon roll boxes and several coffee cups into a box.
He looked up with a grin. "We had a working breakfast. I'll just dispose of these." He headed for the door. "I'll be right back." Ezra winked at Blair as he passed the Guide and Blair could see that it was indeed the box of tests. He smiled back at the undercover agent and joined Jim at the table.
Ezra rejoined them and took his seat by Buck as the president's agents got started.
"I'm Agent Hendricks, this is Agent Limdell."
"What, no Jones and Black?" Vin whispered loudly to Chris. Chris smirked. The rest of the men smiled as well.
Hendricks frowned to cover his grin.
Limdell snorted. "They have a sense of humor Sammy," he said to his partner.
"We do have a time table here, gentlemen," Hendricks replied with a roll of his eyes before turning more serious. "We've found that it's more effective to have multiple, smaller teams working the area under their own regular commander than to try and get everyone to report to the SecServ Agent in charge. Only the team leaders report to the AIC." He paused to make sure everyone was clear on that point, then continued. "Each team will provide their own communications and report directly to their team leader. The team leader will also have a radio linked to the base of operations. He will maintain contact with the AIC, reporting back to him and passing on any needed changes in orders. There's less confusion amongst the troops if each team gets their orders from only one person."
Limdell opened his briefcase and pulled out a folder. "Since the ATF teams are smaller than the DPD teams, we've asked the other field teams to join forces for this event. Teams 4 and 8 will be one team and Teams 6 and 5 the second. We hoped you would add the Cascade contingent to your team, Larabee," Limdell said, looking at Chris without a trace of doubt about him.
Chris glanced at Ellison and Sandburg then nodded at Limdell. "Not a problem."
"Good," Hendricks replied. "The team rosters, leaders and assignments are in the folder, as well as ID badges to get you into the convention center tomorrow." He tilted his head at Limdell. The other agent pulled a small black box out of his briefcase and set it on the table. "Here's the comm unit for you to communicate with the base." He and Limdell stood in unison.
Limdell closed his briefcase and smiled. "Please be familiar with the information in the folder, gentlemen. Things will go much smoother if we all know where and what the others are doing."
Hendricks grinned at his partner. He loved the cloak and dagger part of the job. "We'll be doing a radio check at 0700. Be sure your team is in place."
"What, no big morning briefing with all the troops?" Buck asked.
Hendricks shook his head. "There's no need. You have everything you need to know in that folder and it's more efficient to have everyone at their assigned posts from the start. If you have any questions, my number is in the folder, Agent Larabee." Hendricks glanced at his partner and they headed for the door.
The other nine men in the room looked at each other in amazement as the Secret Service men left.
Blair broke the silence. "I thought there'd be more…" he trailed off searching for the right word.
"Ostentation?" Ezra provided.
"Bullshit," Buck offered.
The others laughed.
"Exactly," Blair chuckled.
"I find it quite refreshing," Josiah said. "Most agents we work with from outside our turf come in with major chips on their shoulders."
"And you guys never go in to assist other departments feeling like their intelligence rates somewhere below a woodpecker's?" Blair asked with a wry grin.
Josiah chuckled. The chagrin on his brothers' faces answering Blair's question.
Jim smiled. "When you've got a reputation like yours, it's hard sometimes not to let it go to your head. The fact that you've continued to make the busts you do for so many years tells me that, for the most part you've kept the egos in check. Doesn't mean they aren't there, just that you don't rely on the rep to get the job done."
Chris stared at Ellison for a moment. "Your files are pretty impressive themselves, Jim. How is it that you managed to remain so humble?" he asked with a teasing grin.
"That would be Blair," Jim said pointing his thumb at his partner. "It's hard not to be humble with him constantly reminding me of my faults."
"Yeah, right," Blair grunted. "If we're going to go eat, can we call Paul and Dennis and have them meet us? I'd like to pass this information to them now in case we get tied up working with Ezra and Buck later."
"Sure," Chris answered. "Why don't we go to the Saloon?"
"Like that was a difficult choice, Cowboy," Vin drawled.
Chris glared at his sharpshooter, but it had no effect. "You call the hotel and tell them where to meet us, Tanner. The rest of us are heading out now." He picked up the file the Secret Service men had left and strode from the room.
Vin grinned at the others as he pulled out his cell phone and followed.
"I suggest we follow them, gentlemen," Ezra said, putting his words to actions.
The others fell into line behind the new Sentinel.
They asked Inez for one of the private dining rooms she had recently added upstairs, so that they could talk without fear of being overheard. Paul and Dennis joined the group and discussions ranged from the President's security detail to various forms of Martial Arts. And that was the 'light' dinner talk.
After the wait staff filled their drinks one last time and cleared the table, Ezra switched topics for the entire group.
"Blair," he said, "you said that you'd show us how to prevent me from zoning out while using my senses." He shrugged with a rueful laugh. "I do believe we are running short on time."
Blair grinned and raised one eyebrow. "You want to do it now?"
Ezra nodded. "As Josiah said, they all need to know how this works, and… there's no time like the present."
"The idea itself isn't difficult, just applying it in real life." Blair leaned his elbows on the table and folded his hands together. "You need to split your attention between the sense you're focusing on and another. If you're trying to see something far away, keep track of Buck or one of the others through the sounds they're making. If you're trying to hear, use touch to stay grounded."
Ezra nodded thoughtfully. He'd done that automatically when trying to listen to the guard in the lobby. Though Buck had certainly played a major part in keeping him from zoning. He looked at Jim. "Do you always use Blair to ground you?"
Jim shook his head. "At first, yeah, because we were still learning and it was the easiest thing to do… It came naturally. But after a while we could both see that it's impractical for a Sentinel to rely strictly on his Guide. Blair wasn't a cop when we first started working together. He wasn't always with me," Jim grinned ruefully, "and me being the go-get'em kinda cop I was, couldn't wait for him to show up so I could use my senses."
Blair snorted. Jim chuckled then continued. "With practice you can divide your attention and use your senses without Buck around, but you'll find it's easier and less stressful when he's watching your back. Not to mention your senses will seem sharper."
"Seem sharper?" Chris asked.
Dennis cleared his throat. "It's not that a Sentinel's senses are duller when they work without a Guide, it's that the Sentinel has to put part of their effort into not zoning. Basically they put out the same amount of effort, for less gain."
JD nodded. "That makes sense."
Nathan's eyebrows rose. "Really?" he asked, still trying to wrap his head around the concept.
"Sure. Just think about it like this. If you have a computer running one program, it works fast, smooth, but as soon as you start a second program on the same machine, both programs slow down, they aren't as efficient." JD shrugged. "The human brain is the same way, and what a Sentinel does with his senses surely uses a lot more memory than normal. It just makes sense that trying to use two senses at that level at the same time would be less efficient than using one."
Nathan nodded slowly. "Okay, but then why can you do so much better, even splitting your attention when your Guide is with you?" he asked, making eye contact with both of the older Sentinels.
Jim let his gaze wander over the Denver agents. "You seven are a team. How well did you work together on your first case? And the second time?" He saw understanding beginning to dawn in their faces. "What happens when you have to split up and work with another team? And today, when the Limdell and his partner told you you'd be working together, still under Chris's command, the relief coming off of all of you was palpable."
Blair took over smoothly. "The team works best when all seven of you are working together because you trust each other and know how each of you will react in a given situation. It's a bit more than that with a Sentinel and Guide, but essentially Jim knows I'll be there to keep him from zoning or being hurt while he's doing his thing."
"I'm still not sure what the Guide gets out of this partnership," Ezra muttered. He'd thought that learning to split his attention while using these senses might free Buck from his obligation to help, but evidently that was not to be.
Blair shared a look with Jim, then turned his attention back to Ezra. "That's something you and Buck will have to iron out, Ezra. Just be aware that you can't make the decision for him, one way or the other. He wouldn't be your Guide if he didn't want to be."
Buck watched the emotions in Ezra's eyes. To the four from Cascade, the undercover man probably seemed unperturbed, but Buck and the others had had years to learn to read Ezra Standish and they all saw that the fear and uncertainty were still clamoring around Ezra's soul.
"Come on, Ez," Buck said softly. "Let's focus on the problem at hand here and worry about the rest once the President is out of town."
Ezra's green eyes met Buck's warm blue gaze and he nodded slightly. "Very well. Blair, how do you want to go about this?"
They spent the next few hours putting Buck and Ezra through their paces, and even letting the others try helping Ezra a few times to see how they did. Surprisingly, Nathan and Chris had the best luck pulling Ezra out of a zone, while JD, Vin and Josiah were able to keep him from falling into one in the first place. Buck, of course, did better at both than all of them.
Blair assured them that both abilities were necessary because some zones weren't going to be preventable.
Ezra groaned. "Then what's the point of all this?"
Jim chuckled at his Guide's confused face. "What Blair meant, Ezra, is that no matter how much you prepare, there is always going to be something that you didn't expect. At least you know you have friends who can help you. And the more experienced you become, the lower the chance a zone-out will occur."
Ezra sighed and leaned back in his chair. He was tired and both frustrated and elated by his new abilities. The practicing they'd done today showed him just what he might be able to accomplish, but also that there were more than a few drawbacks to having these gifts.
Chris looked around the room. Everyone seemed pretty comfortable with each other. The excitement of the initial tests had died down to a quiet determination to help Ezra and Buck any way possible. The Cascade crew had offered suggestions and silently supported all of Team 7 and Chris felt good about having them on the team for the next few days.
"I think it's time to head home and get some rest," Chris suggested. "I want everyone at the convention center at six in the morning."
Ezra groaned. Chris just grinned. "We'll double check the comm equipment and be able to get into position by seven." The others nodded and stood, grabbing jackets and stretching out kinks. Chris caught Buck's eyes with a questioning tilt of his head.
Buck glanced at Ezra then looked back at Chris and nodded, a small smile on his lips. Got it covered, old dog.
Chris's lips quirked an acknowledgement and the men filed out of the room, jostling and joking like old friends.
The Denver Convention Center, 7:15am
Chris listened to the chatter on his team's comms with amusement. JD was keeping them all groaning with his supply of jokes, each one worse than the one before. Even the Cascade men were joining the good natured ribbing of Team 7's youngest. Meanwhile, on his other comm, after initial check-ins, all was quiet. Chris wondered how they'd take one of JD's jokes. He smirked to himself and shook off the idea. Maybe at the end of the day.
Team 7 had been assigned to check the main auditorium before the President's arrival and then assist with security within, during and after the conference. There were three levels to the auditorium, the audience seating, the stage and backstage areas, and the upper balcony and catwalks.
People were being let in already, but that was another team's headache. He'd taken Blair and Jim's advice for positioning the Sentinel/Guide pairs in the group. Due to Jim's experience, he and Blair had been given the audience seating area where the noise level was already rising to obnoxious. Paul and Dennis were checking out the backstage areas and Ezra and Buck had the catwalks. Vin and Nathan were in the balcony and JD and Josiah were checking out the stage area and backing up Jim and Blair.
Chris had the onerous task of overseeing them. He grinned. He actually had more freedom of movement than the others. As the leader of the team, Chris constantly moved between one area and another to check on his men and offer assistance if needed. So far everything was quiet.
About a quarter to nine, Chris's link with the AIC came alive.
"We've had a bomb threat," AIC Thompson's voice said through the comm. "It's an anonymous tip with no other information. Everyone go back over your assigned areas with a fine tooth comb."
Chris scowled as he thumbed his link to his team. "Boys, we've had a bomb threat," was all he said as he made his way back toward the audience seating area. He passed Dennis and Paul on the way pausing only briefly to figure out what they were doing. Dennis was talking to Paul with a hand on his Sentinel's shoulder, while Paul seemed to be staring off into space. Chris grunted and continued on his way as he realized they were trying to search the area using the Sentinel's senses.
Out on the stage he saw JD and Josiah checking behind the curtains off stage. Chris moved out onto the stage just enough to see into the audience. Hundreds of people were already seated, waiting for the convention to begin. No one would be allowed in or out once the President arrived. He scanned the area himself as he looked for Jim and Blair.
Finally, in one of the alcoves along the side of the seating area, Chris spotted the Sentinel and Guide. Jim had the same look Paul had had, and Blair seemed to be talking to his partner as well, although without the physical contact. Chris cut back behind the curtains and strode quickly across the stage. He closed on the pair, but held back so as not to interfere. He just wanted to see how they worked and to know immediately if Jim found something.
"It's awfully loud in here," Blair said as Jim took a deep breath.
His partner chuckled and grinned. "You've had me work in more strenuous situations than this, successfully, I might add."
Blair grinned back. "True, but I always worry about you. We don't even know that there is a bomb, but it certainly makes sense to try your best sense first. If you can hear it…"
Jim nodded and focused on tuning out the miscellaneous noises.
By the time Chris joined them, Jim had searched the entire area with his hearing. He shook his head. "I don't hear anything suspicious, Chief, but they could have used a digital timer, or it may not be on a timer."
Blair nodded thoughtfully. "What about smell?"
"Okay," Jim agreed.
Chris watched as Jim breathed through his nose. He looked as if he was scenting the air, like a dog. Chris snorted. He'd better not let Standish ever hear him make that comparison, or Ellison for that matter.
Chris looked back up at Jim and caught the amused look in Blair's eyes. Larabee grinned wryly and shook his head.
Sandburg leaned towards him and whispered, "Simon made the comparison all the time, don't feel bad."
Jim cast a glance at his Guide and Larabee. "The dogs get more respect," he grumbled then continued his search.
Blair chuckled and casually put his hand on Jim's shoulder. Chris waited for him to remove it, but then realized that the younger man was helping to ground the Sentinel.
Jim stiffened. "I've got something," he said as he started quickly for the stage. Blair and Chris followed.
"This is Larabee. We've got a hit in the auditorium," Chris said into both of his comms, then switched over to just the team unit. "We're heading backstage."
Jim led them through the props and wires backstage to where Paul, Dennis, JD and Josiah were already standing. Vin, Nathan, Ezra and Buck joined them seconds later.
"What do we have?" Chris asked.
JD pointed to the plain wooden box. "Paul says it's in there."
Jim and Ezra stared intently at the box while Buck and Nathan knelt beside it.
The two Sentinels nodded at the same time.
"Smells like…" Jim started.
"Semtex," Ezra finished, meeting Jim's gaze with a grin.
Jim smiled back grimly. "We need to call in the bomb squad and get this area cleared of civilians."
"You forget," Buck said, eyeing the box thoughtfully, "we are the bomb squad."
The others chuckled at the look on Jim's face.
"Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives," Nathan reminded glancing at Buck. "What do you think?"
Buck met his eyes then looked up at Jim and Ezra. "Semtex? Are you sure?"
Jim nodded. "Dealt with it before. No timer that I can hear."
Nathan shook his head. "That could just mean it's on a digital timer, or motion sensor, hell, he could just be waiting somewhere to blow it manually."
"Chris?" Buck asked, looking for orders.
Chris met his eyes, but continued to listen to the AIC over his comm. "Yes, sir," he said finally before addressing his men. "They're going to clear the auditorium, the President's been rerouted to a secondary location. Once the civilians are out, we're to assess the situation."
The others sighed. That meant sitting on the bomb for a while, never a fun past time.
They could hear the commotion from the audience as an announcement was made and the other teams began to escort people out. It was doubtful the bomber was in the audience, but they would be checking everyone before releasing them.
Jim tilted his head and frowned. "I just heard a click," he said softly.
Buck and Nathan's eyes widened. They both pulled out a pocket knife and slipped them carefully into the crack between the top and sides of the box. Ever so gently they pried the top just millimeters open.
Buck looked at Ezra. "You want to check for wires?"
Ezra swallowed hard and glanced at Jim. "I think…"
Jim shook his head ever so slightly. "You can do it," he said softly.
Ezra nodded and knelt beside Buck and Nathan. He leaned forward, resting his hands on the floor as he gazed through the narrow opening.
"You're looking for anything that might trigger the bomb if we pry the lid off," Buck said quietly. "A wire, a piece of tape or cloth or string."
Ezra's sight kicked in and the small sliver of darkness lightened, he could see the grain of the wood and the nails still holding the top on. He crawled around to the next side, and the next, inspecting each nail and the open space visible through the crack. Ezra sat back. "I do not see anything."
Buck took a deep breath and looked at Nathan. He got a quick nod from the other explosives expert. "Stand back," he warned at both men began to pry the top off.
Out of instinct, every did back up a few steps, but once the lid came off, they all moved forward out of curiosity.
There was indeed a digital timer counting down inside the box. It was attached to several blocks of Semtex.
"Damn," Buck said.
"Looks like a professional job," Nathan said with a sigh. The timer ticked down, now reading 2:46… 2:45… 2:44.
"Buck? Nathan?" Chris asked, afraid that he wouldn't like the answer.
"It's a tricky one," Nathan replied. "There're too many wires going into the explosive. There's only one that is actually primed by the timer, but you can bet that cutting the wrong one will set it off anyway."
"And we'd need some way to test each wire for a current to determine which one is safe to cut," Buck added. "The one attached to the timer won't be live until it hits zero."
"Is it safe to touch?" Jim asked. "As long as we don't cut or pull the wires from the Semtex?"
Nathan frowned. "Should be. It looks pretty straight forward, no motion detectors of any kind."
"Let me in," Jim said. He knelt by the box, Blair moving right in behind him and placing both hands on his shoulders. Jim gently touched one of the wires, his head tilting with his concentration. He frowned and touched another one, then another. He shook his head. "It's no good, the insulation is too thick for me to feel the current."
Blair bit his lower lip. "Could you hear which one is dead?"
Jim shook his head. "I've been trying to do that while Nathan and Buck were explaining. The wires are too close together for me to tell which is which."
Ezra took a step forward and stopped. "Buck?"
Buck looked up and into the uncertain eyes of his Sentinel. A wide smile bloomed on the ladies man's face. "Your sense of touch is a hundred times better than Jim's, Ez. You can do it." He put his hand up inviting Ezra to kneel by the box.
The timer continued its silent countdown. 2:05… 2:04… 2:03.
Ezra rubbed his fingertips together lightly and reached down to touch a wire. He jerked his hand back suddenly.
"Ezra!" Buck exclaimed.
"No. I'm fine, it just surprised me," Ezra explained. "Get ready to cut the wire I tell you." He leaned back over the box and touched each of the wires in succession, then started again. "There are two dead wires," he informed them. "The third from the left and the eighth."
1:16… 1:15… 1:14…
"We should cut them together," Nathan said sharing another look with Buck.
They each poised their scissors over one of the wires.
"On three," Buck said. "One, two, three." He and Nathan snipped the wires and sighed.
The timer flashed then the numbers started to scroll faster. 1:00, :59, : 58.
"Shit!" Buck said. "Ezra?"
Ezra stuck his hand back into the box, his poker face firmly in place as he literally stuck his hands down amongst the wires. He grabbed one lightly between his thumb and finger. "This one! Cut this one."
:15, :14, :13…
Buck snipped the wire.
The timer flashed and went blank.
Nathan and Buck sat back with a sigh then grinned and gave each other a high five.
"Good going, Ez," Buck said turning back to his Sentinel. Ezra still had his hands in the box, a look of… horror? on his face. "Ez? Pard? What's wrong?"
"What's wrong?" Ezra repeated softly. He pulled his shaking hands back and met Buck's eyes with disbelief. "I almost got everyone killed!"
"What? What are you talkin' about, Ez? You just saved the day," Buck said.
Ezra shook his head, staring into the box. "I must have missed that wire the first time. I don't know how," he continued, unaware of his audience, only the horrible guilt in his gut.
Nathan examined the bomb while Buck scooted over closer to Ezra. Jim and Blair held the rest of the team back with a quick glance and shake of their heads. Let his Guide handle this, was their silent message.
"Ezra," Buck sighed. "Even if you did miss it the first time, you found it in time. You did good. If that wasn't a test under extreme pressure," he grinned confidently, "then I don't know what would be."
Ezra shook his head.
"Ezra," Nathan interrupted. The undercover agent looked up. "You did feel a current in that last wire initially. The bomb was rigged with a backup trigger. If those first two wires were cut, the third one was activated to prime the bomb." He stared into the uncertain green eyes. "No one else would have been able to stop this bomb under these circumstances. No one. Not even with the right tools."
Ezra ran a still shaky hand through his hair and looked around at the rest of the team. They were all smiling proudly at him, even the other Sentinel/Guide pairs. He took a deep breath and brought his gaze back to Buck and Nathan. "I honestly don't know how you two do this all the time. My heart is still pounding."
Nathan and Buck just grinned.
"Yeah," Nathan said, "well, we could say the same for you and your undercover work. I'd rather face a bomb than some of the guys you have to work with undercover."
Chris interrupted. "Is that thing safe now? The AIC has been yelling in my ear for a report."
"Yes, sir," Nathan said with a smile as he stood and offered Buck and Ezra a hand up. "They can call in the disposal squad."
Buck clapped Ezra on the back, his proud smile still in place. "I knew you could do it, Ez." His gaze landed on Ellison and the smile dropped a bit. "Um, you know, Jim, I didn't mean anything by what I said earlier," he stammered.
"Oh?" Jim said, his face carefully neutral.
"Yeah," Buck stuttered, "I mean, Blair said it himself, so I, um…" he looked to Ezra for some help and found his partner trying to stifle a laugh. "Ezra…"
Blair chuckled and nudged Jim with his elbow. "Let the man off the hook, Jim."
The Cascade Sentinel stared at Buck for a long second then let a grin crook his lips. "It's all right, Buck. I was about to suggest Ezra try when he stepped forward. I'm man enough to admit my limitations."
"I didn't… that's not, um…"
"Give it up, Buck," Ezra said kindly. "He didn't take offense, what you said was simply the truth, just like the fact that I couldn't hear the live wires, even from two feet away." He looked at Jim. "Yet he could hear them from almost six feet away." Ezra took a deep breath and sighed. "Truly amazing."
Blair rested his hand on Jim's shoulder. "I've been trying to tell you guys that for years. Somehow, it never seems to stick. Your abilities, your gifts are amazing." He looked from Jim to Paul to Ezra. "No matter which of your senses is best, what you can do… it blows my mind. It never fails to amaze me."
Jim chuckled fondly. "It must, you don't usually have this much trouble expressing yourself."
Blair snorted, but simply squeezed his partner's shoulder affectionately.
"Well," JD said, "I'm with Blair. You guys were awesome. First Paul found the bomb," he paused and looked at Jim, "but you sensed it too, didn't you?"
JD returned the smile and continued. "Then for Ezra to be able to feel the current… too cool," he exclaimed, smiling broadly at his friend.
Ezra brushed his sleeves with either hand and buttoned his suit jacket before feeling composed enough to meet the others' eyes. "Well, gentlemen, I think we've earned our pay today. What say we finish up and head to the Saloon to celebrate?"
Larabee nodded distractedly as he was still dealing with the AIC over his comm unit. "Yes, sir. I know, sir. We're still waiting, sir." He rolled his eyes and sighed, obviously still getting some instruction from the AIC. Chris suddenly grinned wickedly. "Excuse me, sir? Do you know why the policeman was in bed?" Chris paused, grinning broadly at the sputtering on the link. "Because he was an undercover cop…"
Blair turned from handing his baggage to the porter and offered his hand to Buck. "Seems like we're always leaving new friends lately," he said, shaking Buck's hand, then Ezra's. "You've got our e-mails and phone numbers if you need anything… and be sure to get on the list. That's been one of our best tools to help new SG pairs."
"We will, Blair," Ezra smiled.
"Don't worry, Pard," Buck replied. "We'll call if we need to."
Jim clapped both his hands down on Blair's shoulders. "They've taken care of the luggage, Chief. We're all checked in, Paul and Dennis are going ahead to the gate." He looked at Ezra and Buck. "You two make some time to come see us at the Foundation."
"Perhaps," Ezra started.
"We will," Buck said firmly. "Although, the rest of the guys may insist on coming as well," he finished with a grin.
"Family is always welcome," Blair said.
Ezra put his hand out for Jim and they shook hands. "Thank you both," he said sincerely. "This will take a bit of getting used to, but seeing the two of you, and Paul and Dennis work together," Ezra glanced at Buck. "Well, I think I just might find I enjoy being a Sentinel."
Jim smiled. "I know you will, Ezra. Trust Buck, and keep him safe."
Blair snorted and looked at Buck. "Same goes for you, though I don't think you'll have a problem with the trust part."
Buck shook his head. "Naw, I've trusted Ez for a long time. Getting him to trust himself, that's the hard part."
"I object," Ezra stuttered indignantly. "I most certainly do trust myself."
"We've gotta go, Chief. Take it easy guys," Jim said with a wave.
Ezra and Buck each gave a nod in the Cascade pair's direction as they continued.
"What exactly do you mean by that?" Ezra demanded.
"By what?" Buck asked.
Blair grinned and met Jim's eyes.
"What smirk? I'm not smirking."
"You were to, after I corrected your claim, you smirked."
"Sounds like the beginning of a beautiful friendship, Chief," Jim smirked.
"Yep," Blair grinned. "Sure does."
"What do you mean, 'cheesy grin?'" Buck's voice floated after them.
"You heard me…"
Jim and Blair chuckled as they headed for their gate and their ride home.
Feedback, I love it. I love to hear what you think. Let me know.
Notes: I completely made up everything about Native Americans and animal totems… okay, maybe not everything, but it's my twisted version of anything I've read or heard.
JD's jokes were taken from several 'bad jokes' web sites. Really.
www angelfire com/pa2/scanner/jokes/police/cops html
www rinkworks com/jokes/