The harsh sounds of his 'Working for a Living' ringtone let Blair know that it was Captain Simon Banks interrupting his sound sleep. Shoving back the covers, Blair thought he caught a hint of coffee in the air and guessed that Chris was already up and about. Flipping the cell open Blair asked, "To what do I owe this vacation day wakeup call?"
"Maybe if you, oh I don't know, stopped working freelance on your time off I wouldn't have to call you to find out what the hell is going on," came Simon's frustrated reply. "I didn't have a problem with you helping out the ATF when they were short on manpower. But what's this I hear from a Sheriff Tater about you taking on three armed suspects? Are you trying to give me grey hair? Do you have any idea how freaked out Jim is going to be when he hears about this?"
"So he doesn't know about the hold up yet?" Blair sought to confirm. He had realized he would get some flak from others for his part in last night's arrests. Over the years his reputation for stumbling into trouble had grown to legendary status. The number of people who bet on what kind of danger he and Jim would find next had to be the most poorly kept secret at the station. Blair never threw a stink about it because he knew all of the proceeds went to the 'Victims of Violent Crimes' fund; all the winners just got were the pizza of their choice from Stromboli's and bragging rights. He also knew how over protective Jim could get, especially now when he was already tense about the Sentinel situation. He wanted to tell Jim about last night's little adventure in person, not have him hear about it from someone else second hand.
"I didn't hear from Sheriff Tater until after I'd dropped Jim at the airport this morning," explained Simon. "I'm happy to let you explain to your partner why you felt the need to take on every criminal in the Denver area without him."
"That so wasn't my fault," Blair insisted. "Chris and I just stopped for a late supper since we'd skipped eating to finish up the paperwork on the Timothy Miles bust. Anyone could have walked in on that holdup."
"You might be right, but once again it wasn't anyone; it was you," countered Simon. "Sheriff Tater was a good sport about the situation, said you handled yourself well and he was just calling to notify me as a professional courtesy. But I can't stress enough how much I'd like to make it through the rest of the week without anymore 'professional courtesy' calls."
"My only plans for the moment are to go to the kitchen for breakfast and wait for Jim to arrive," assured Blair. "Nothing that's likely to cause trial or tribulation."
"Are you trying to jinx yourself?" demanded Simon. "Stay out of trouble. That's an order!" The call clicked to an end before Blair could reply.
Blair set his cell down and stretched before grabbing his jeans and pulling them on. He swapped his night shirt for something clean and tugged on a pair of socks. Remembering that Jim had promised to give him a call when his plane landed, Blair retrieved his cell to tuck it in his front pocket. He followed the scent of coffee to the kitchen area and found Chris working on the beginnings of breakfast.
"I was thinking omelets," Chris offered when he noticed his son's arrival. "How does ham, green onions, spinach, and provolone sound to you?"
"That sounds awesome," Blair replied. "How can I help?"
"Cut the ham and onions while I prep the spinach," his father instructed. They worked side by side for a couple of minutes until Blair presented his meat and vegetables for Chris to add to the eggs. "I heard you arguing on the phone. Is there anything I need to worry about?" While the words were spoken lightly, almost hesitantly, Blair could hear the concern that drove his father to say them.
"I was just defending myself to my boss back in Cascade," explained Blair. "He's not really upset. Believe it or not that was his quiet voice. He was just worried about me, how did he put it? 'Taking on every criminal in the Denver area by myself.'"
"Not completely by yourself," Chris pointed out. "But I can understand where he is coming from. It's bad enough when you have to send others into harm's way as part of the job. It really catches you off guard when they're thrown into danger just going about their ordinary lives." Chris shook his head. "It's happened to people on my crew more than once and I have never liked it."
"Truthfully, dealing with Simon was easy," confided Blair. "I'm more worried about how Jim is going to react. He's already on edge knowing that Vin is a Sentinel. Hearing that I had a close call last night is likely to send him into overprotective overdrive. In Jim's case it's a bit like being smothered by a mother hen on steroids."
Chuckling, Chris moved the omelets to plates, adding a couple of slices of bacon to each, and motioned to the table. It wasn't until then that Blair noticed a note pad, printouts and laptop already on the table. With all of the chaos of the evening before they had never had a chance to discuss what being Vin's Guide might mean for Chris, but it was clear that it had been on his father's mind from the moment he'd woken up. He even had the notes that Blair had scribbled while in the truck. Seeing Blair's focus, Chris suggested, "Let's finish eating first, then you can start the Guide lessons."
"Sure thing," agreed Blair. The omelets were tasty and filling and when combined with Chris's strong coffee more than enough to clear the morning fog from Blair's mind. He insisted on clearing the dishes from the table since Chris had cooked breakfast. A second cup of coffee, this one with a bit more cream, accompanied him back to the table.
"Okay," started Blair, "How to work with a Sentinel 101. First thing you're going to want to do is get a baseline by testing all of Vin's senses and their limits. Jim hated this part and Vin might not like it much either, but both you and he need to know what he's capable of doing, especially if you want to continue using those abilities in the field. That's not going to happen without testing." He wrote 'SIGHT' at the top of his note pad. "I think we can use yesterday's shootings as a good point of reference on his range abilities. From what Brett was saying Vin essentially broke a world record."
"Without a scope," confirmed Chris.
Blair's pen froze above his paper. "Without a scope? Wow . . . that's just . . . wow. That's a better range than Jim. Though he's always leaned more towards nearsighted so maybe it's not too surprising. We should test him for acuity at both the ultraviolet and infrared ends of the spectrum. We need to see how he does up close as well, find out if he can focus down to a microscopic level."
"That's possible?" wondered Chris. He probably shouldn't be surprised by the idea after what he'd watched Vin do yesterday, but part of him still felt like Alice falling down the rabbit hole.
"Jim has been able to focus in on finite particles that way once or twice. It can come in handy when others are having trouble finding trace evidence," explained Blair as he added a few more notes to his page. "Feel free to toss in ideas if you think of something."
"How about checking out his night vision?" suggested Chris, "If he doesn't need a scope maybe he won't need night vision goggles either."
"Perfect," agreed Blair writing down his father's idea. "I should have thought of that."
As they continued to talk, Blair enjoyed a free exchange of ideas that he'd never really experienced before when discussing Sentinels. Jim's eyes tended to glaze over when he talked about the history of Sentinels and his features turned downright pissy when Blair dared to mention testing his abilities. Simon had a standard 'I don't want to know, I don't need to know,' refrain. Megan wasn't all that interested once she found an explanation for the mystery that was Detective James Ellison. Even his head dissertation advisor seemed to assume that all of Blair's claims were exaggerations, at least until Sid started courting the university with free publicity to pressure Blair into signing over the book rights to his paper.
Chris wanted to know about Sentinels. Even more, now that Vin was a confirmed Sentinel, Chris seemed to feel that he needed to know about Sentinels, Guides and everything that pertained to them. As he outlined sensory tests he'd done with Jim in the past, Chris was quick to propose ideas and adjustments that might work better for Vin. A mention of testing Vin's sense of smell led to a list of explosive chemicals that the young Sentinel might memorize, because Chris was sure that Vin would be much more receptive to tests that tied closely to the work they did. Blair's mention of Jim's extreme reaction to over the counter medicine had Chris calling Nathan to confer on the list of drugs that were already known to cause Vin adverse consequences.
Not surprisingly much of their discussion circled back to their common career in law enforcement. When Chris asked about extra precautions taken during evidence handling, Blair explained how simply rubbing his eyes after handling 'Golden' had caused Jim to temporarily loose his vision. When Chris wondered what to put into reports, Blair related Simon's ignorance is bliss method, but also pointed out Internal Affairs' eagerness to reopen all of Jim's previous cases when parts of Blair's dissertation had been released to the media. On the other hand, Blair's narrative of how the Juno assassin duo almost escaped justice for the murder of Jim's friend, because no one believed he could possibly have seen what he claimed, showed the down side to keeping Sentinel abilities secret.
Chris knew Vin's private nature would incline him towards keeping his abilities under wraps. He might not hide them from the Seven but he was unlikely to brag about them. Still, would those feelings continue to prevail when the criminals they were after avoided prosecution because Vin couldn't or wouldn't testify about the information his enhanced senses provided him with? Chris could see complications mounting which ever path they took. While as Vin's supervisor he could try to order the guardian down a certain road; his gut told him that Vin had to be the one to make the final call on what he revealed about his abilities.
"Jim's plane has landed and he just picked up his rental," Blair reported after reading a text from his fellow detective. "How are you doing?" Blair had to ask. "I haven't overloaded you with information yet, have I?"
"No," countered Chris. "I'm a former SEAL. The more intelligence I get before starting a new operation the better prepared I am," the ATF leader explained. After a moment he brought up another idea he had been considering. "We've covered most of the testing and use of individual senses, but what about ways to use the senses in tandem?"
"I helped Jim develop a technique we call 'piggybacking' that does just that," enthused Blair. "His strongest sense is hearing and his ability to zero in on the particular sound he is seeking is nothing less than phenomenal. Once he's locked onto that noise he can 'piggyback' one or more of his other senses and bring them to bear. A good example would be the time he heard a gun cocking on the far side of a parking garage. He piggybacked his vision and was able to aim his weapon before the carjacker could get into position." Blair finished off his second cup of coffee before continuing, "Jim has piggybacked his senses in several different combinations. Another advantage is that the risk of zoning drops dramatically when more than one sense is engaged, though spiking remains a concern."
Blair looked at his father, waiting until the elder man met his gaze before he spoke again. "I didn't say anything earlier, but you did an incredible job of handling Vin's spiking senses at the MARS compound. You're a natural, Dad. He responded to you without hesitation. I've got no doubt that you're the right Guide for Vin."
"And yet I had no clue what I was doing," confessed Chris. "Besides, it was you that somehow talked Vin into making that first shoot."
"Remember when I told Agent Kelly; that I was good at getting people to believe what I needed them to believe?" reminded Blair. "I just helped Vin access the abilities that were already there within. Some might say I was using my shamanistic abilities." Blair shrugged. "But when Vin's senses started to fail him you were the one that he turned to; the one who helped him regain control."
Chris nodded in acceptance of Blair's assessment, still a bit unnerved by the level of responsibility. "Well it gave me an idea of how to help him through a spike at least. But what about those zones you mentioned. You said they were almost like a petit mal seizure."
"Yes," Blair jumped in, "they tend to happen when a Sentinel throws too much focus into one sense, though I have seen Jim zone on a memory before. They'll just stop moving and sort of lock up or freeze in place. It's usually pretty easy to bring him out of a zone by just calling him back or maybe shaking his shoulder. They happened a lot more when Jim's abilities first reappeared, but now it's been over a year since his last zone. The biggest concern for Vin is going to be making sure he doesn't try to do any deep focusing on a lone sense without someone to pull him back if his senses go too far. Do that and you should be able to avoid the majority of the zones. As he gets better control of his abilities the problem should resolve itself for the most part."
"Okay, so I talk him through a spike and call him back out of a zone," Chris reviewed. "There goes my reputation for being able to go a week without speaking more than a dozen words. If being a Guide turns me into a conversationalist, I'm blaming it all on you."
Blair smiled appreciating the levity his father was bringing back into the discussion. "Could be worse; chatterbox and blabbermouth were some of the nicer nicknames I got tagged with as a kid."
"You can blame that on your mother," Chris insisted, "I always followed the belief that actions speak louder than words."
Outside the crunch of turning gravel alerted both men to the arrival of a vehicle on the long driveway. "Looks like Buck and JD. The others will likely be here soon. Let's pick these up and move to the living room. There we will have enough space to include everyone in this discussion." Chris quickly scooped up the papers near his seat. "My team specializes in undercover work. Ezra may be the best at it, but all of us take turns playing different roles. There are going to be times when the job will make it impossible for Vin and I to function as a Sentinel and Guide the way you have described. We need to figure out who else on the team might be able to act as a Guide or at least a back up guide."
"I agree," assured Blair, "though Jim's pretty insistent that not everyone can be a Guide. He's known Simon longer than me and trusts him just as much, but for some reason when Simon tries to help him through a sense crisis Jim ends up with a migraine. He has also sworn that if our coworker Megan pinches him one more time to bring him out a zone; he's going to slug her." Blair grinned at the thought of what Megan would do if Jim even tried to follow through on his threat.
Chris moved to the front door opening it wide to let his oldest friend and youngest recruit enter. "Coffee's in the pot. We're setting up in the living room," he informed his guests. A second car, this one carrying Josiah and Nathan pulled up next to Buck's vehicle.
Buck headed straight for the coffee pot but JD apparently had more pressing matters on his mind. "Is it true that you and Blair stopped a robbery in progress at some bar last night?"
"How did you hear about that already?" wondered Chris. While he wouldn't have been surprised to hear the event had been reported on the news, he had been assured that the Sheriff would withhold their names. The amount of undercover work he did made it vital that his name appear in print as little as possible. As he waited for JD's answer he noticed that his greenest agent looked more than a bit chagrined, rather like a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar. "JD?"
"Okay, so I might, in theory, have developed an automated search program designed to find any reference to our team on law enforcement databases," JD rushed to explain.
Chris rubbed his forehead as he took a moment to decipher JD's statement. "Do I need to ask how many laws this program is breaking?"
"None," JD was quick to assure, "none at all. It maybe bends a regulation or two but it doesn't actually break any laws. It sends me an email notification when the name of one of the team shows up and this morning it was you."
Chris tilted his head to the side caught between respect and irritation. "I appreciate the intent, but JD you need to give me a heads-up before you start digging through the databases of our sister agencies on a regular basis. So who gets the notification if you don't retrieve it?"
"Huh?" grunted JD.
"Always have a back-up plan; preferably three," reminded Chris. "If you aren't able to check your email, who else does the notification get sent to?"
"Um, no one yet, but I can change that right now." JD powered up his laptop as he claimed a seat on the far end of the couch.
Nathan announced his arrival with a solid rap on the front door before letting himself in, "Hey Chris, Rain said to let her know if we need to make any changes or updates to Vin's medical files." The medic's wife was primarily a pediatrician, but she did have a few adult patients. She had also consulted enough times when one or more of the seven had been injured that over the past two years she'd become the doctor on record for most of the seven. Nathan saw another doctor because ethically, his wife couldn't be his physician, while Josiah stayed with the same general practitioner he'd been seeing for more than two decades.
Chris nodded; no doubt the earlier call to Nathan about problem medication for Vin had caught the lovely doctor's attention. "What about the retreat center you took Naomi to, Wolf Lodge? The boys mentioned that Ella had been there about a month back. Did you get any useful leads?" It had been months since they had any actionable intelligence about Ella. Chris didn't bother to hide how much he was hoping that had finally changed. It was bad enough that she continued to go unpunished for the crimes she had committed against Sarah and Adam; that she was still free to pose a threat to Blair and Chris's team was unacceptable.
"We connected her to another alias and a money trail that Josiah is trying to ferret out," Nathan reported. "We also got the name of a place near Vegas that she's been known to stay at. I'm sorry it's not more." Nathan couldn't imagine how hard it had to be for Chris knowing that the woman responsible for the deaths of his wife and son was still out there roaming free. The way she'd set up Team Seven for an ambush, and played a role in hiding Chris's first born just added to the list of reasons that confirmed she needed to be locked away from society.
"I'll petition for the financials first thing Monday morning," volunteered Josiah. "With any luck we can follow the money right to Ella's door step."
Chris nodded, but tried not to get his hopes up. He'd been so sure that he'd never find out who was behind his family's murders when Fowler committed suicide. He'd actually been momentarily shocked immobile when Ella had admitted she had been the one to order their deaths. Sure the rage had started to flow quickly enough, but then he'd heard the gunfire outside. In that moment saving his friends had been more important than exacting revenge. Ella had escaped, leaving behind only a letter filled with passionate declarations of her unequaled love. If the letter hadn't been a confession of sorts, he'd have destroyed the damned thing. Instead, it was sitting in an evidence locker somewhere.
Forcing his thought away from topics that were sure to put him in a black mood, Chris said, "I don't know what you've heard from the others about yesterday's bust or Blair for that matter, but something happened to Vin that will likely have an impact on the way we work as a team and I rather harsh it out here away from the office." Chris waved to the seating in the family room. "We're still waiting on Ezra and Vin but Buck can catch you up on what you missed while we wait.
Nathan shrugged and snagged an apple from the fruit dish before joining Buck and a still typing JD.
Josiah hesitated before tilting his head to the side a bit. "Is Vin a Sentinel?"
Chris was only a bit surprised by the question, but he didn't miss the way Blair stiffened at the term.
"How did you figure that out so quickly?" demanded JD. "Ezra wouldn't let me email anything that we found on Blair's research to you guys, said it would be better handled in person. I only just had time to explain everything to Buck on the car ride here."
"Perhaps if you'd recall the field of my first doctorate," Josiah hinted.
"Theology?" offered JD still confused.
"I thought it was psychology," countered Buck.
"Theology was his second doctorate," corrected Nathan, "psychology was his third. His first was anthropology."
"Yes," confirmed Josiah, "and Sir Richard Burton was quite a famous or infamous anthropologist, depending on your view point."
"Burton," exclaimed JD excitedly, "the one you referenced in you dissertation. He first identified Sentinels but everyone figured he was exaggerating to sell books or something."
"Wait," interrupted Buck. "I thought Burton was some traveling language specialist. Didn't he translate the Kama Sutra?"
"And Arabian Nights," added Chris. "He also explored Asia, Africa and parts of the Americas. But his monograph on Sentinels his hardly one of his better known works," Chris turned to Josiah, "which makes me wonder why you'd have Burton's Sentinels on your mind?" Blair had moved closer to hear the answer as well.
"During my discussions with Naomi Sandburg my interest in anthropology was mentioned. She shared that Blair too had studied and was indeed just shy of his doctorate when a mistake on her part forced him to declare his work fraudulent to protect his subjects," Josiah explained. Speaking directly to Blair he added, "She deeply regrets that her actions trapped you into accepting a position on the police force."
"I wasn't trapped," Blair declared adamantly. "I made a choice. Was I happy about trashing my career and allowing all of my peers to think I was a fraud? Of course not, but it was the only way I could protect Jim and get Sid and Rainer to drop the issue." Blair took a calming breath. "I was raised all over the world and met plenty of friends that won't have cared about the 'fraud'. I could have picked up and started over somewhere new. I wanted that badge so I could keep helping people. I chose to be a cop."
"You don't have to convince me," Chris soothed. The detective that he had glimpsed at the bust and witnessed again during last night's hold up had impressed the ATF leader. There were a lot of reasons people joined law enforcement; power trips, adrenalin junkies, crusaders, law and order types and more than a few that saw their work as simply another job. But the level of intensity Blair brought to his work showed that he truly wanted to help others by seeking justice. Chris had no doubt that that was a big part of why Blair decided to accept a badge. Chris also had a feeling that Blair had found a family of sorts amongst the members of Cascade's Major Crimes division, just as he had found one within his oddball team of ATF agents.
"Apparently I still have to convince Naomi, though," Blair tried not to get frustrated with his mother again, but he still didn't know how to get her to see the situation from his perspective and he was getting tired of trying to explain it over and over.
"Anyway," Josiah continued, "our conversation peaked my curiosity enough for me to want to learn more. Naomi had admitted that Blair's Master's thesis was based on Burton's Sentinel monograph so I reacquainted myself with Burton's original work. It was not hard to see the similarities between Burton's tribal watchman and our own Vin's extraordinary vision and tracking ability. The only thing I don't understand is why it would suddenly impact how our team works. Vin's been living and working with these abilities for years now, hasn't he?"
"More like his senses have been coasting on the level of a kid's bike with training wheels," Chris offered the best analogy he could think of. "At yesterday's bust the training wheels got traded in for a ten speed. Vin's going to need time to adapt to his new level of ability, and we're going to need to learn how best to work with them."
"It was incredible, Josiah," JD gushed, "Vin broke the world record for a sniper shot by like 20 meters. He did it twice in less than two minutes and they were moving targets! Sure he said he had a headache afterward, but he totally saved lives out there and no way could anyone else have made those shots."
"Then perhaps it is time that I share the package that Naomi asked me to deliver," Josiah said. "She hoped that you won't be too upset with her about it." The elder ATF agent opened the backpack he had brought with him. He pulled out what appeared to be a hand bound book of surprisingly new appearance.
Catching sight of the title: The Sentinel by Blair Sandburg caused the young detective to pale. "What . . . how did she?"
"As she explained the situation to me, apparently Sid wasn't the only person to receive a copy of your unfinished dissertation," Josiah elaborated.
Chris stepped up to steady his son when Blair went from pale to grey. "Get to the point Josiah," Chris barked. As much as Blair insisted it had been his choice and that he was happy where he was, Chris knew there had still been a lot of pain and sacrifice involved in Blair's transition from anthropologist to police detective. If his son's sacrifice had been rendered irrelevant by Naomi's long ago actions, and she had never bothered to correct the situation or let Blair know, Chris was going to have to have a very long conversation with his former lover.
"When she realized what a mistake she had made, she contacted everyone she'd sent it to and asked them to delete their copies," assured Josiah.
"But is she sure they did delete them? How many people are we talking about here?" Blair could feel a panic attack coming on. It wasn't fair; this was all supposed to be in the past. Over and done with!
"Naomi sent your dissertation to three other email addresses: your Aunt Marina, Markus Redfield, and your mother's own account. She figured that way she would have it ready for when you finally gave her permission to read it," Josiah explained. "Marina and Markus assured Naomi their copies would never see the light of day."
"Uhm, not to contradict," Nathan interrupted, "but isn't Markus Redfield an investigative reporter for the New York Times? That doesn't sound like the sort of person to turn his back on a readymade story, especially one that was already making headlines."
"No," countered Blair, feeling a bit better after hearing to whom the dissertation had been sent, "we've known Markus for years. He and Naomi had a thing when I was ten. They worked together to help legal immigrants being shaken down by gangs into giving up all of their hard earned cash. He's an aggressive investigator, but he's also got a pretty firm code of ethics. When I first started publishing papers he was a huge help, reviewing everything I sent him; often sending me suggestions and corrections after just a couple of hours. After my press conference trashing my work, he called and said that life was full of tough choices and he was proud of me for not taking the easy way. Jim and I had wondered if maybe he'd put enough together from my past work and the various news reports to guess what I'd really done, but he never once asked me if Jim was really a Sentinel or not. To know that he's known the truth all along and totally supported me in my decision," Blair sighed. "I think I may need to call and thank him later."
Chris felt a sudden surge of jealousy towards the man that had had the privilege of knowing Blair since he was ten. At the same time he was proud to know that his son had won the respect and loyalty of someone he admired. It was hard at moments like these to accept the vast amount of opportunities, challenges and learning experiences that they should have shared as father and son, but were now forever lost. Part of Chris wanted to attack Redfield for usurping his place in his son's life, while another part of him wanted to thank the man who had supported Blair when he could not.
Blair reached for the leather bound book that Josiah was still holding. "I'm guessing that Naomi didn't delete her copy of the dissertation."
"Not right away," Josiah explained, surrendering the manuscript. "She couldn't bring herself to destroy what was perhaps the last copy of your life's work. She deeply regrets that her actions forced you to give up so much. This book is her attempt to return some of what was lost. She understands that you may never get your dissertation published but she wanted to give you the book it should have become."
Blair found himself marveling at the text in his hands. The binding, the paper and even the font were perfect in every detail. Naomi must have spent days possibly even weeks working on this book for him, and he had to admit part of him treasured the fact that his dissertation was finally being seen the way he'd always dreamed it would be. Yes he was still upset about how she had lied about his father, but Blair felt the old residual anger regarding her actions during the 'dissertation disaster' slip away.
"Sounds like Vin and Ezra are finally here," Chris pointed out accompanied by the sound of more turning gravel in the drive.
"Heck," said Buck, "They're only fifteen minutes late. That's almost early by Ezra's standards."
"I bet Vin had to drag Ezra out the door to get him here this early," guessed Nathan.
"Maybe Ezra was up early for once," suggested JD only to be met with a snort from Nathan and outright laughter from Buck.
Chris moved to the window frowning at what he saw.
"Something wrong there pard?" asked Buck the first to pick up on his old friend's sudden tension. He moved closer to the window and waited for his team leader to reply.
"Vin's on alert," murmured Chris. The way sniper hopped out of Ezra's sports car immediately surveying his surroundings, indicated he was expecting trouble such as an ambush; which didn't make sense when they'd just pulled into Chris's drive. Ezra also exited his Jag with unusual efficiency, but the look he sent Vin let Chris know the undercover agent was following the lead of his coworker. Chris had always trusted Vin's instincts in the past. He opened the door for the duo, Vin's agitation enough to cause the team leader to take a long look towards the road to make sure they weren't being followed. "What's up?"
"Mr. Tanner has been strangely vague, beyond expressing the certainty that danger was approaching and we needed to get here as soon as possible," shared Ezra. "I have seen no evidence of any such threat, but, as always, I trust Mr. Tanner's intuition. Considering resent events it seems highly probable that he is picking up on some minute bits of evidence that I am unable to recognize."
Chris accepted Ezra's theory and turned to his friend, "Vin, what danger?"
The tracker seemingly ignored his boss, to turn in a circle and assess Chris's home. "Too crowded," he murmured, "need more space if it goes to hand-to-hand. Windows are a vulnerability." Without further explanation he grabbed a four foot by four foot bookshelf that housed a significant portion of Chris's video collection and started moving it to block one of the family room windows.
"I can help, Vin," volunteered JD eager to assist even if he didn't know what was going on. Still in the entry way, Chris looked increasingly frustrated at having his questions ignored. Even Ezra's infamous poker face failed to hide his fluctuating mix of concern and confusion.
The sight before Blair abruptly transformed as a flashback of Jim aiming his gun in Blair's face; for a split second not recognizing his partner. Then Jim's distracted explanation about needing more space to justify the suddenly vacant loft. "Ezra," Blair's voice held just a hint of tremor, "Did Vin's feeling of danger happen to develop about twenty minutes ago?"
"Yes," Ezra admitted, "almost exactly twenty minutes ago. You know what he is reacting to?"
"I've got a theory," the detective admitted. "Jim's plan landed at Denver's International Airport about twenty minutes ago."
"You're saying that Vin is freaking out because your partner landed at the local airport?" Chris asked. "But how would he even know? This is way beyond line of sight or how far a scent can be carried on the wind." As the three debated Vin urged JD to help him move another piece of furniture to block a second window.
"Like I said it's just a theory, but Jim was reacting to Alex on a subconscious level even before she arrived at the precinct or interacted with me." Blair shoved an agitated hand through his hair. "I doubt it helped that I was walking around with her scent on me. Scent . . . Jim's reactions to Alex's presence in his city were initially little more than irritation. The fight or flight instincts didn't kick into full gear until he was faced with her scent at both work and home. I bet Vin's picking up Jim's scent from me."
"Is that really likely?" asked Ezra sounding more curious than doubtful.
"We work together, live in the same apartment. Half the time Jim is folding my laundry. If Vin hasn't caught Jim's scent off me then he's got a pretty pathetic nose for a Sentinel," Blair insisted.
"Okay," considered Chris, "if your theory is correct, why now? If it's the scent of your partner why didn't Vin shift into fight-or-flight mode after he went online?"
"Maybe because it's not just the five senses that are heightened for a Sentinel," Blair supposed. "Jim once communicated with the spirit of a fifty years gone murder victim. He also admitted that Alex being in Cascade was like feeling a constant electrical charge that made all his hairs stand on end. So if Sentinels can tell when another is in their territory as part of their sixth sense, and we combine that with the fact that Vin is likely picking up Jim's scent from me and he knows that Jim is on his way here, approaching his tribe; his Guide. Is it so strange that his instincts are telling him to get defensive?"
"Maybe not," Chris conceded. There was still so much about the Sentinel thing that he didn't know. After their discussion this morning he'd thought he was getting a handle on the situation, but watching Vin turn his home into a defendable fortress brought more questions than answers. It didn't help that Blair had become increasingly on edge during their discussion. Were Vin's actions reminding Blair of his near fatal confrontation with Alex? "If you're right we need to get Vin thinking straight before your partner arrives. It's the only way we're going to be able to avoid a big confrontation."
Blair just nodded, happy to let his father take the lead. Honestly it was taking most of his concentration not to fall into another panic. Vin's continued actions were bringing back numerous memories of the worst week in Blair's life. He didn't like cowering in the corner, but the idea confronting Vin near paralyzed the young detective. Setting his jaw, Blair pulled out his cell to make sure that Jim didn't accidently make the situation worse. 'When you get to dad's house wait in the car for me.' Blair hit send on the text and hoped that his partner's instincts wouldn't interfere with his ability to take his Shaman's advice.
"That's enough Vin," Chris spoke in his command tone hoping to snap his Sentinel's attention back to him.
"What's the matter Chris," joked Buck, "don't you like the way your place is being redecorated?" Larabee's laser glare told Buck that now was not the time for jokes. Immediately backing down though still a little confused about why Chris was so ticked off Buck tried to mollify the man by offering, "Why don't I get everyone a round of drinks."
"Vin," only when Chris grabbed the sniper's arm did he turn to look at his leader. "I need you to settle down and talk to me." Even as he spoke he wondered a bit at the absurdity of the situation. Words were Ezra's forte; Josiah loved to debate; Buck and JD both could talk your ear off if given the chance; even Nathan with his impassioned speeches about social justice was a far better orator than Chris. Yet for some unknown reason Vin seemed to have chosen him as a Guide, which made it his responsibility to diffuse the situation, preferably before Detective Ellison arrived. A part of him wondered how his son had managed to Guide a Sentinel without training, simply by 'making it up' as he went from one crisis to another without developing an ulcer.
"We don't have time for talk," Vin was emphatic. "It could be here any minute."
"What could be here? Who are you worried about?" Chris demanded. "Are you talking about Blair's partner Ellison? He's not a threat to us Vin. I invited him here."
"No," insisted the tracker, "You don't understand. I can feel something really big coming. I've got to protect you and the team from it."
Chris latched onto the small clue Vin had provided, "Feel, like a constant static charge running over your skin?"
"How did you know?" Vin wondered, for the first time giving all of his attention to his Guide.
"According to Blair it's the same feeling that Ellison had when that rogue Sentinel showed up in Cascade," explained Chris, "But aren't you supposed to know more about these Sentinel legends than me? What did Grandfather say about Sentinels from different tribes meeting up?"
"I think he said it was best for all to have the meetings on neutral territory," Vin admitted rubbing the back of his neck.
"Neutral territory," Chris repeated shooting a look to his son. Blair seemed surprised and then thoughtful as he digested Vin's tidbit of information. "And you didn't think to mention this earlier?"
"I'd forgotten about it until you asked," Vin was looking somewhat sheepish now.
"Okay, well clearly we've screwed that part up," conceded Chris. "Are you going to be able to handle meeting Jim or do I need to send you somewhere else?"
"No! I mean shoot, I think I'll deal better if I'm here." The last thing Vin wanted to do was leave his team or his Guide. Maybe he'd let his nerves get the best of him earlier. He still wanted to be present when Blair's Sentinel showed up, and a small part of him wanted to make sure Ellison didn't get too close to Chris. It was probably best that Chris didn't know that last part. His extraordinary Guide was likely to get offended. Better to give him time to understand that Guardians were hardwired to protect and their Guides fell under that protection.
Chris looked to Blair who consented with a tip of his head. "Alright why don't we all sit down . . . in what's left of my family room. I'll give you the reader's digest version of what a Sentinel is while Blair keeps an eye out for his partner." When his team headed towards the couch and chairs, Chris paused beside his son. "Are you still good to do all this; the Sentinel and Guide lessons and explaining things to my team? I know the way Vin was acting when he arrived bothered you."
"It's not Vin, I'm just remembering some very unpleasant moments," said Blair. "Part of me is looking forward to speaking to your team. Teaching classes about Sentinels used to be a dream of mine." Blair paused looking out the window for his still absent friend. "Once Jim gets here and we see how well he and Vin get along we can talk about Sentinel lessons." Smiling he added, "You're already way ahead of the curve picking up the Guide knowledge."
Chris grinned back patting his son on the shoulder before joining his team. Snagging one of the chairs from the kitchen he cleared his throat to draw his men's attention. "Listen up because I'm not going to repeat this a dozen times. As of yesterday, Vin is a Sentinel and the rest of you are here to help us figure out how to best integrate his abilities into work."
"Wait a minute," demanded Nathan, "I'm still not sure what a Sentinel is."
"I could use a little clarification too," tossed in Buck, "the kid made them sound like comic book superheroes or something."
"I did not," JD defended, "Vin's way cooler than anything like that."
"Thanks JD," said Vin, "For the record I'm more used to the term used by Grandfather's tribe: Guardian."
Blair set down his cold empty mug, turned to watch out the kitchen window and listen to his father's team banter. The friendly exchanges helped sooth his frayed nerves; though despite Vin's apparent return to rational thought Blair still preferred to keep his distance. The anthropologist turned detective could hardly wait for his partner to arrive. What had started out as a chance to get to know his father had somehow turned into a Sentinel seminar. He should have been leaping with joy over the new challenge but instead he was staring out the window longing for his Sentinel. On one hand he had spent years imagining himself teaching others about Sentinels just like this, but on the other hand his experience with Alex tainted every thought he had regarding Vin. Objectively, he could admit that Vin had never acted in a manner which would justify Blair's fears. Nevertheless the too powerful memory of being pinned down under water; feeling the aching suffocation of his lungs as he struggled against the weight of the sentinel he had, for a short time trusted, all but shouted that Vin was a danger. He knew his reactions were off. There was no logical reason that watching Vin move furniture should make Blair suddenly taste the foul and stagnant fountain water he'd once choked on.
Realizing his hands were shaking Blair shoved his fists into his pockets and tried to pretend he didn't notice the concerned looks Chris was shooting him from the other room. Blair understood too much about post traumatic stress not to recognize what was happening to him, but that didn't mean he liked being reduced to a scared child, jumping at shadows and waiting for his Sentinel / security blanket to save him. Thinking of all of the times that Blair had told Jim that it was better to talk things out than try to bury traumatic events, he had to laugh. Because when it came to Blair's own traumatic event he'd skipped passed conversation and gone right to the backhoe that would bury those memories as deep as possible. He should have known better than to assume that they would stay hidden forever.
Josiah's rumbling base caught Blair's ear. Focusing in he could hear the agent / profiler / anthropologist (and people said Blair was an over achiever) giving the others a history lesson on Burton's travels in the Americas and more specifically what he reported about the Tribal Guardians, or Sentinels as he called them. Listening to the older man he recognized several references to Burton's work and hoped that having someone with such a firm grasp on Sentinel lore would be an asset to his father.
"Grrr." The low throaty growl had Blair jumping back in fright. He had never heard the young Sentinel move, but suddenly Vin was right there beside him, glowering out the window. "He's here," the Guardian announced in the same snarling tone.
In the family room Chris was wondering how he had missed noticing Vin's departure. While the agent had a reputation for being stealthy, this sort of silent progress was usually reserved for their busts. "Vin, I think it's time to stand down." Chris could see the way his sniper's actions were agitating his son.
For Blair the words that Vin had spoken were finally sinking in, and sure enough he could see a new car making the turn up the long driveway. Not for the first time Blair wished he had the Sentinel vision to see his best friend's face.
Chris stepped between Blair and Vin, facing the new Guardian. "Stop Vin, we've got the warning. We know another Sentinel is here and you're unhappy about it, but you have got to calm down and get this aggression under control. Ellison is my invited guest, remember?"
Behind him Blair watched the rental park beside Josiah's SUV. Jim must have received Blair's text because he didn't get out of the car. Blair was willing to bet a hefty sum that it was taking all of Jim's willpower to wait where he was. Even someone with Blair's limited vision could tell that the driver of the car was fidgeting restlessly.
Vin snarled again, "You better not be thinking that I'm going to let you go out that door without me, Cowboy."
Chris's eyes narrowed and his jaw set. "I wasn't aware you were in a position to decide what to let me do," he hissed back. The rest of the team was shocked silent by the sudden confrontation between their two usually in sync coworkers.
"Enough!" Blair was almost as surprised as the others by his abrupt outburst. "Vin you aren't in charge here," warned the young Shaman, poking the Guardian in the chest hard enough to force the man back a step. "I get that your instincts are riding you hard right now, but you should get that your judgment is compromised. Chris is your Guide; let him do his job and guide you." Vin looked startled while Chris looked proud. Blair realized that it probably wasn't appropriate to have the first words that he spoke to Vin since bringing him online to be tinged with anger, but the weight that had taken up residence in his chest was finally gone and he was starting to hope that he might actually be capable of controlling this situation. "Further more, that Sentinel out there is not here to steal your Guide, harm your tribe or even get into some macho contest of wills with you. That is my Sentinel out there and he is here for me," Blair stepped forward; invading Vin's personal space, "and if you think for one second that I'm going to let you get between us . . ."
"No," Vin's startled voice cracked. "I meant no disrespect, Shaman." In truth Vin had forgotten the veteran Guide was there, so distracting was the threat of Ellison to his Guide and their team.
"Then prove it by stepping out of my way," Blair demanded. "My Sentinel is waiting for me."
Vin shifted away from the door he had instinctively blocked when he thought Chris might go out to greet Ellison. Blair pinned the guardian with one last stare and then stomped out the door.
Blair was racing down the porch steps before any one inside spoke. "Well I reckon that settles the debate over whether or not Blair inherited the Larabee temper," drawled Buck.
"Guess it does," agreed Chris with a smug grin.
"I wouldn't have thought such a little fellow could so easily intimidate someone larger than him," the jovial mustached man admitted.
"Blair prefers to let others underestimate him," explained Chris. "Speaking of being underestimated; what was it you were saying about what you would or wouldn't let me do?" Chris's voice was a dangerous whisper as he turned back to his would-be Sentinel.
Vin heaved a heavy sigh. Hadn't he decided just moments before that Chris would not appreciate some of the Guardian's more protective tendencies? Unfortunately, there was no way to retrieve the words that had already escaped his lips. "The whole point of becoming a guardian is to protect others," Vin tried to explain. "There is no one that I need to protect more than my Guide."
"Wrong," countered Chris, "Ellison might get away with pulling rank on Blair because he's the senior detective with the military background, but don't mistake their relationship for ours. I am both the senior field agent and your boss. I am not going to just sit behind a desk and wait for you to bring me the bad guys because you think there might be danger out there." Chris pushed on when Vin started to protest. "That doesn't mean that I'm going to ignore you when you've identified a threat to me or the team. But you have got to let me watch your back the same way you watch mine." Running a hand through his blonde mane Chris decided it was time to lay it all on the line. "From everything Blair's said the Sentinel / Guide connection we're looking at is a lifetime commitment. If you are really certain you want me as your Guide then this partnership has to be one of equals. Agreed?" Chris offered his hand to his potential Sentinel surprisingly nervous about how his friend would respond.
Clear blue eyes stared intently into hazel green. "Agreed," Vin accepted Chris's palm, shifting the handshake into a warrior's grip bringing up his other hand to clasp his Guide's tight. "I reckon it was too much to hope that you'd suddenly become all calm and agreeable."
Chris let out a little chuckle, "Where would be the fun in that?" A feeling of utter peace settled over Chris and he recognized this moment as one that would change is life. The last time he'd felt this way had been holding Adam for the first time. Though there were still times he believed he had failed his youngest child, reality insisted that he was not infallible and he knew Vin would not expect that from him.
Blair was still out side talking with his partner, gesturing wildly with his hands to emphasize his point. Deciding to allow his son as much time as he needed to reconnect with his partner Chris closed the door leaving it unlocked. "Let's sit back down boys; it's time to continue our Sentinel 101 class."
Blair was down the porch steps and half way to Jim's rental when the tall detective exited the vehicle, concern on his face. Blair's own features broke into a huge grin despite Jim's worried countenance. He ignored any rules about unmanly displays of overt affection and grasped his partner in a bear hug.
"Oomph, did you miss me Chief?" Jim joked.
Blair allowed himself one more squeeze before releasing his friend and stepping back. "Man, you've got no idea how much," he asserted. Jim ruffled Blair's curls playfully and Blair noticed the way his Sentinel's nostrils flared. His Sentinel was scenting him and the knowledge of it comforted Blair more than he could have thought possible.
"It sounded a little tense when I first pulled up," Jim's worried face was back again. When Blair only smirked at Jim's confession the Sentinel justified, "Your text said not to walk in when I arrived it didn't say anything about listening in." Trying to turn the conversation back to Blair he added, "That was quite the verbal smack down I heard you deliver in there. I almost felt sorry for the guy."
"Yeah, I may have been a little over the top. He isn't the only one suffering from compromised judgment," admitted Blair.
"What are you talking about?"
"I was fine until yesterday's bust, when I somehow managed to talk Vin into opening up to his abilities. I'm honestly still not sure how I managed to do that," Blair confessed.
"Like there is anything you can't talk someone into, if given enough time and motivation," Jim pointed out.
"The really strange part was I could actually feel it the second he went online, like a tingle under my skin." Blair made a mental note that he really needed to document the sensation and then continued, "I did a good job of avoiding Vin after the bust, and what with Dad and I walking in on the hold up last night there wasn't really time to stew about the situation."
"Slow down Chief. Did you say you walked in on a holdup?" Jim sought to clarify.
"It's really not as bad as it sounds," assured Blair. His arms started to swing into full motion, a clear sign to the Sentinel that his Guide hoped to cajole Jim to his point of view. "We stopped off at this little Bar and Grille that Dad knows and walked in on a couple of idiots waving guns. I did my distraction thing; Chris did his SEAL take-down thing; we snagged a third bad guy in the back; waited for the local LEOs and enjoyed a totally awesome dinner on the house as a thank you for saving the day . . . or night as the case may be."
"Sandburg that story has holes so big you could drive a Mack truck through them," Jim criticized. "But I'm willing to let it go for now because I'm still waiting to hear why you think your judgment is compromised." The taller detective almost regretted his attempt to get the conversation back on track when his comment brought a sudden stillness to his friend.
"Flashbacks," Blair whispered, "Ever since Vin showed up this morning I've been battling flashbacks from, you know, Alex and the fountain."
"Well damn, Chief," Jim tugged Blair close, resting his chin on his Guide's curls. "Has Tanner been . . .?"
"No," Blair cut off before Jim could finish, pushing back to meet his partner's eyes. "Vin hasn't done anything more threatening than growl. For the most part he's been keeping a respectful distance and addressing me as Shaman; like I actually have a clue what I'm doing."
"You've always done right by me," Jim reminded.
"Now that you mention it, Vin has been way nicer then you were the first couple of times we met," Blair teased.
"I wonder why that would be, Dr McKay. Or was that Dr. McCoy?" Jim teased right back, referring to how Blair had lied about who he was during their first meeting. Earning a chuckle from the shorter man Jim decided to tackle the elephant in the room. "So you're saying that even though Tanner hasn't acted in any way aggressive, you're still having flashbacks to Alex drowning you in the fountain. Do you have any idea why?" Blair clinched his jaw and looked away. "Well that was a yes if ever I saw one. Come on Chief, spit it out."
"Honestly, I'd be edgy meeting any Sentinel after Alex. Maybe it's worse because despite Chris and the others around us I have still felt like I've been facing Vin alone," Blair struggled to articulate the thoughts he really would have preferred to avoid.
Jim's eyes narrowed. "Just like you had to face Alex alone when I kicked you out," he inferred with a frown.
"Please, Jim, can we not do the guilt," Blair begged. "Neither of us handled the Alex situation well and there is plenty of blame to go around." Blair leaned back against the door of Jim's rental car. "Besides, rehashing all of the mistakes we made with Alex doesn't address how we handle our current situation. We need to figure out a way for you and Vin to coexist without either of you getting all territorial."
"Need?" Jim was a little surprised by how desperate his friend sounded.
"Yes, need," repeated Blair. "I need you and Vin to get along. I need to be able to keep building this relationship with my father. I mean, I know we only met two days ago but I'm already way past the point where I could walk away without a backward glance. As different as we are there is a connection between us; a strong connection. I don't think I've felt anything this strong for Naomi in years; hell, decades. I don't have to explain to him why I'm a cop, he just gets it. Last night during the hold up, I knew Chris wasn't happy with what I was doing but he backed my play anyway. He trusted me to lead us out of danger. He doesn't mind my babble, hasn't gotten the least bit judgmental about my past or the things I've done. He actually told me point blank that short of me being a serial killer he wasn't going to turn away from me. We discussed Sentinels for two hours this morning and he still wanted to know more. Not even my advisor ever showed that much interest in my ideas and knowledge before." Blair paused uncertain if his meandering explanation was getting his point across. "I need this, Jim. I need my dad."
"Which will be difficult at best if Tanner and I can't accept each other," said Jim. "Does it help that I'm not feeling all that territorial or aggressive?"
"Well it confirms a theory I've been working on," Blair said. "You were only territorial with Alex in Cascade. In Sierra Verde there were clearly other motivations taking precedence. Vin mentioned a bit ago that Grandfather had told him it was best if Guardians met on neutral territory. Now, here in what Vin considers his territory, he's the one getting edgy. Maybe it's a Sentinel version of home field advantage. The heightened awareness, the flowing adrenaline and endorphins would be a huge benefit to the Sentinel trying to protect his or her tribe."
"So what," wondered Jim, "do we hop back into the car and try to do introductions in Colorado Springs?"
"No," Blair's face became resolute. "We're going to face this head on. No way am I going to schedule visits with my father in neutral cities to avoid snarling Sentinels. Are you ready to meet my dad and his team?"
"Sure," Jim finished speaking to be towed to the front door by his determined and surprisingly strong partner.
Blair knocked twice and then opened the door, but hesitated at the threshold. "Is it okay if Jim and I come in now Dad?" Blair focused solely on his father to the point of ignoring the others in the room. His inner voice telling him that to avoid bloodshed it was the Guides that needed to take control of the situation.
Chris didn't answer immediately, instead considering Blair's request before turning to Vin. He looked at the young Guardian sternly, seeming to issue a dozen commands with his silent stare. Vin indicated he understood and acquiesced with a tip of his head. Chris stood and invited, "Please come in. I been waiting to meet the partner that I've heard so much about."
"Dad, I would like to introduce Detective James Ellison, formerly of the Army Rangers, and current Sentinel of Cascade," began Blair feeling strangely like a husband introducing his Vegas bride to the folks. Shaking away the fanciful notion he continued, "Jim, this is ATF Group Supervisor Christopher Larabee, my father."
"It's an honor to meet you sir," Jim extended his hand; the soldier within standing at attention before a senior officer. During his background investigation on Naomi's long lost love, he had found that many who knew Larabee agreed he was tough but fair and one of the most determined SOB's a person was ever likely to meet. It certainly explained where Blair had gotten the spine of steel that he hid beneath his friendly attitude and inviting chatter.
"Likewise Detective, and please call me Chris," they shared a firm handshake before Chris turned to the others. "I'd like you to meet the rest of my team. Buck Wilmington is a former SEAL like myself and now acts as our explosives expert. The young man next to him is JD Dunne, our computer and surveillance go-to guy. Josiah Sanchez is our profiler and resident philosopher. Nathan Jackson is our forensic specialist as well as a tactical medic. Ezra Standish is our lead undercover agent who also likes to supplement his income with his Vegas winnings. Challenge him to poker at your own risk. Last but not least is Vin Tanner; a former army ranger, like yourself. He acts as our tracker, sniper and weapons expert. He has also just become my Sentinel."
"My?" repeated Blair, surprised by the possessive tone after all of the hesitation Chris had shown regarding the position of Guide.
"We worked things out while you were greeting Jim," Chris explained.
"Cool," Blair smiled. Already the tingling under his skin that had so bothered him before was now barely noticeable. The young Guide didn't know if it was because his Sentinel had arrived, his father had accepted the responsibility of Guide, or perhaps a combination of both. He was just glad the sense of impending doom was gone.
"Vin," The tracker rose at his Guide's summons. "It's time for you to meet Blair's Sentinel Jim. Shake hands and play nice boys," though the words were said teasingly neither man missed the warning command within them. "Blair, Nathan had some questions that you would probably be able to answer better than me." Without waiting for his son's agreement Chris pulled him towards the empty chairs and away from the two Sentinels.
"I'm not sure," Blair hesitated to the point of dragging his feet. He wasn't so sure he liked the idea of leaving the two to their own devises.
"They are grown men," Chris insisted. "If they can't handle a simple meet and greet without us hovering over their shoulders then it is past time that they learned."
The look Vin sent after his leader was both irritated and frustrated but held little surprise. Jim waited silently across from him, certain to the core of his being that as Sentinel of this territory, Vin had to be the one to make the first move.
Finally, Vin turned back to his adversary/peer and after a deep breath held out his right hand. As their flesh met Vin remained tense for a few seconds; staring the Sentinel down before coming to some unspoken conclusion and finally relaxing. "I know Blair calls us Sentinels, but I'm used to the term Guardian. That's what my tribe would have called us."
Jim accepted Vin's offering and even restrained the impulse to strength test the younger man's grip. While he wasn't completely comfortable with Tanner yet, it was nothing like the overwhelming paranoia that had gripped him during Alex's arrival in Cascade. His investigation of the army sniper turned ATF agent indicated someone he could respect and hopefully cooperate with, so he was willing to let Vin take the lead since he was the outsider here. Besides he owed Blair his best effort at making this work. "Tribe?" Jim inquired. "Blair mentioned that you'd been pulled off of a reservation but he didn't mention which nation."
"Kiowa," Vin replied. "They switched the social worker handling my case and the new one was of the opinion that I was better off in a Christian group home than the house of a godless heathen." Once the handshake was finished Vin tucked his hands into his jean pockets. "She wouldn't even listen when I tried to explain that Grandfather was a Christian, he just respected to old ways too. For her it was either-or; there could be no compromise. I don't know nearly as much as I should because of her."
"You still probably got a better start than me. I didn't get much training with my senses until after my copter crashed and the Chopec took me in." Remember the way his senses came and left over the years, he admitted, "Even then, a lot of what I learned didn't stick."
"Didn't you have any family that helped you when you were little?" Vin's grandfather had known much about the legends and abilities of tribal guardians. Yet even his mother had helped and encouraged him with his senses during his first few years.
"No," Jim said, "Mom left us, Dad spent all of his time working, and most of the parenting was left to the maid. When my senses did force their way into my father's notice he called me a freak and warned me that I was never to use or tell anyone of my senses." He shrugged, "It was Dad's rather messed up way of trying to protect me."
"Meeting up with Blair must have changed things," assessed Vin. He could hardly imagine the sort of childhood Jim was describing. Sure there had been times when he'd lacked for material things, but he had never doubted that somewhere there were others that truly loved and supported him; even if he couldn't be with them.
"That's one way of putting it," chuckled Jim before becoming more serious. "At first, I hated the way my senses were always out of control. I wanted them gone. Blair was like a pit bull, insisting that I just needed to learn how to use them. Plowing through all of my objections until I could see all of the good they could do. Now, I wouldn't give them up if I could." Noticing that Blair's anxious gaze kept flitting their way, Jim offered what he hoped was a convincing smile. "So how is that territorial imperative? Are you still as edgy as when I first pulled up?" Jim asked bluntly.
Vin's lips quirked into a half grin. "Actually most of it seemed to go away once we were introduced. Not saying that I want you to move to Denver or anything, but I'm not feeling the need to go to war anymore."
"Good," said Jim. "Blair is already totally invested in building something with Chris, and I don't think either of us wants to be a strain on their relationship."
"No," concurred Vin, "the last few days, Cowboy has been happier than I've ever seen him. Buck said it was like looking at the Chris he used to know back before Sarah and Adam were killed." Vin was contemplative for a minute before saying, "I'm going to have JD forward everything we've got on Ella Gaines to you. I know Blair knows who she is and what she's done. But if he's anything like his father, and early results show a lot more similarities than appearances would indicate, he'll likely try to handle her on his own and she is too deadly to take that risk."
"I'd appreciate that," assured Jim. If this Gaines woman posed any kind of risk to Blair he wanted to know about it. "So Blair mentioned something about you breaking a world record yesterday," Jim let the words trail off inviting the other man to fill in more details. As a detective he had often engaged in 'shop talk' about the good, the bad and the ugly involved in police work. Never before had he been presented with the opportunity to talk shop with another Sentinel. He rather liked the idea of comparing note with someone who could truly understand how these super senses could radically alter your life.
"Yeah, JD keeps going on about that. I was just trying to protect Kirk and that family. The senses got pretty bad right in the middle of things. Even after Chris helped me get them back under control, I still had a whopper of a headache," Vin's brow creased at the memory of the pain.
"Spikes always lead to headaches, in my experience. Once you learn how to avoid most of them it won't be such a big deal, but until then you'll want to see what kind of pain relievers work best. Start with very small doses until you know how the drugs are going to affect you. It only took me one day to learn that lesson. I walked around half-blind; it looked like Andy Warhol had painted the world."
Vin grimaced, "Reckon Nathan will have some ideas about that. Hey you're not saying that coffee or beer is going to be a problem, are you?"
"No," Jim assured, "though you might have to cut back if smell or taste are giving you trouble, just until you've got them under control."
"I think I'll try a beer now, just to make sure they won't hassle my senses," decided Vin. "Do you want one?"
"I think I do," decided Jim following the younger Sentinel as he headed to the kitchen.
In the family room Blair barely restrained himself from doing the happy dance of joy about the room. Not only were Jim and Vin not killing each other, but they actually seemed to be getting along. Though he couldn't hear what they were saying; their body language indicated the beginnings of camaraderie. Could it really be this easy? For the first time in forever it felt like all of the aspects of his life were weaving seamlessly together.
"Not as bad as you expected," Chris bumped his shoulder.
"Guess I was giving myself panic attacks over nothing," Blair conceded. "I'd say something about how perfect things are going, but I'm afraid I'll jinx us."
Chris didn't dismiss Blair's unease; his own illusions about happily ever after long ago destroyed. "I wish I could guarantee you a perfect life."
"Please," Blair dismissed, "if it was perfect it wouldn't be life. Besides you can't appreciate the highs with out going through the lows."
Chris accepted Blair's words with a sad and knowing smile, "I'm really glad you agreed to stay the week, you know that right?" Chris wasn't sure if Blair understood what he was trying to say. Emotional dialog was not his forte.
"Of course," assured Blair, "I'm really glad too. Did I tell you yet about when Brackett made us walk through the minefield?" Blair may not have known his father long but it wasn't hard to figure that he wasn't a 'share your feelings' kind of guy. It didn't matter when Blair could sense the depth of Chris's emotions. For the first time Blair knew what it felt like to have a father that he could both love and respect. His Sentinel was close by and ready to support him. He had an opportunity to teach others everything he'd learned over the years about Sentinels and Guides. He'd even met a second Sentinel – make that Guardian - who thankfully wasn't a psycho and his father was willing to Guide. Blair wasn't sure how long life was going to stay this way but he intended to enjoy it while it lasted.
Author's note: I'd like to thank everyone who has reviewed the earlier chapters as well as those who checked the 'story alert' or 'favorite story' boxes for Tribal Guardians. Knowing there is interest is part of what keeps me writing.
Those looking for more of this series can check out 'Channeling Rage' and 'A Good Guide is Hard to Find'.