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Sun, Jan. 18th, 2009, 04:38 pm
Deflection part 1

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Deflection
by ljc
9/08

Summary: AU since TSbBS kind-of-happened but didn't-really-happen, and wouldn't-have-happened if this had-happened.

Warnings, Ratings: FRST. Profanity, a little more than my usual (and okay, one little gesture). Set after Sentinel Too's.

My thanks to my beta, Jaye Daver. Thanks for the read-through and the (long : ) list of comments. I hope I've cleared everything up satisfactorily. I think betas should get medals. It's a brave thing that they do. As for grammar, etc. ... that's ALL mine. If something is really bad, tell me. I try to do better each time.

Note of Thanks: I've read and enjoyed many of the stories of Susan Foster. Her darkest stories of a future inhabited by sentinels and guides and the group that controls them, the GDP (Guide Development Project), has influenced many writers in the fandom. I gladly acknowledge the influence her writing has had on this story and I wish to thank her for letting me attempt a foray into events that might have influenced the formation of this future.

Disclaimer: All characters, places, and objects from The Sentinel belong to Pet Fly Productions, UPN, Paramount and the SciFi Channel. No money is being made. No copyright infringement is intended. Any resemblance (of original characters) to any person living or dead is purely coincidental. No similarity to any person either living or dead is intended or should be inferred. This story was written by ljc with the love of the show in mind.

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Jim woke up feeling the effects of too little sleep but he slapped the alarm and sat up. It underlined his fatigue that the alarm had actually had a chance to ring. Usually he was awakened by his internal, and oh-so-punctual, alarm. He yawned and rubbed his face. It didn't help.

As he started to work on stretching out his cramped muscles, his thoughts necessarily focused on the meditation session Blair had coaxed him into last night. It was all well and good for Blair to turn himself into a human pretzel, but next time he could leave Jim out of it. He couldn't seem to work the knots out of his muscles this morning, and he prided himself in keeping in good shape. Maybe yoga would be a good thing to add to his workout - or maybe not, if he felt like this the next day.

He didn't even remember falling into bed last night, which was a little odd. He must have been 'very' tired. He felt mentally tired, too, like his subconscious had been working on his latest case while he was asleep. The stress of the case must have stayed with him and hadn't allowed him the rest he sorely needed ...

... or ... just maybe ... it was Alex.

He muttered, “Damn!” grabbed some clothes and headed for a much needed shower. Maybe it would wash the cobwebs out of his head and ease the knots in his muscles at the same time. He needed to focus on the case. He'd need his wits about him if they were going to catch the kidnapper ... now murderer. The child's body had been found, and Jim wanted this guy. The evidence showed the kidnapper had drowned the boy ...

Jim's stomach gave a queasy roll, and he swallowed hard as he came to a halt at the bottom of the stairs. He couldn't get the image out of his mind. It hit too close to home. He didn't know how Sandburg had held it together because he knew that Blair remembered his own drowning: from the lonely desperate fight for breath and life; to the shared vision with Jim; to coughing up the water that had drowned him. He remembered every bit of it!

That was probably the reason he'd forced the issue with Jim last night. It had been the last thing Jim had wanted to do after the day they'd had, but Blair had walked into the living room last night and had flat-out demanded that they were going to try to work out their problems over Alex whether Jim wanted to or not.

Blair said they needed to clear the air about their meeting with another sentinel; to dispel the negative emotions; to rid themselves of their guilt; rebuild their karma - or something like that. That neither one of them would be any good to anyone until they did ....

Well, it was nice to hear the old Sandburg in action. A 'pushy' Sandburg wasn't to be thwarted ... and wasn't that about time! And a relief. He'd been afraid that this case might be the last straw. If Blair wanted to stay and work on it, then Jim 'had' to say yes despite all the time and effort he'd put into avoiding it. Blair had just started back to work, just a week after coming back from Sierra Verde, and he'd foolishly thought that they'd be too busy now. He should have known better. Sandburg never left any sore spot alone.

It was just too much to hope that one session would 'fix' things. But he had to admit that - just maybe - he did feel a little better about the whole situation, so he hoped that Blair did, too.

Walking by Blair's door he knocked gently, and then again more forcefully when he heard Blair snore again.

“Come on, Chief. Rise and shine.”

“Oh, man. It can't be morning already.”

“Don't even start, Mr. I-can-keep-this-pace-up-all-night. You said you wanted in on this. If you've changed your mind, just tell me, Chief.” Jim didn't wait to hear the answer, because he already knew what it would be, and because as a sentinel, he could have heard Blair whisper the answer from down the block.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.”

What he couldn't see was the finger that Blair slid out from under his comforter.

Their morning routine was so well established that sentinel and guide were ready to depart in half an hour, with breakfast bars stuffed in Blair's backpack, and relying on vending machine coffee at the station, or Simon's brew-of-the-day if they were lucky. They then proceeded out the door.

It was Saturday, and officially a day off for Jim, but not since the Peterson case was still open and had taken such a tragic turn. They exited the door of their apartment building at 852 Prospect and were engulfed by a crowd of reporters.

“Mr. Ellison, what does it feel like to be a sentinel?”
“Mr. Sandburg, when will you be defending your thesis?”
“Mr. Ellison, when did you know you had super senses?”
“Who will be playing the part of the sentinel on UPN?”
“Mr. Sandburg, have you had any offers for a movie deal?”

Jim had stumbled back when the microphones were shoved in his face. He was speechless in his shock and had inadvertently stepped back and almost caused Blair to trip backward and fall through the doorway. Blair almost went down but Jim managed to grab one of his arms and hauled him up. Blair was pulled behind him as he forced his way through the crowd. He totally ignored the reporters as he dragged Blair to the driver's side of his truck, and none too gently pushed Blair up into the seat and told him gruffly, “Slide over, Sandburg. Move it.”

They pulled away slowly so as not to run over someone as they surged around the truck. Jim clenched the wheel and kept going. He knew he was too close to losing control of his anger to stop now.

Blair looked at the crowd as it parted around them and then at Jim, “What the hell was that?”

Jim answered bitterly, “You tell me, Chief. What the hell did you do? Huh? What the HELL did you DO?”

Blair slumped back against the door looking stunned, “Me? I didn't do anything, Jim. I don't know how they found out about the sentinel stuff. I'm not even close to defending the thesis. You should know that. You just read my first chapter against my wishes, just before the mess with Alex! ... Movie rights? I don't know what they're talking about!”

Jim pulled up at a stop light and turned to Blair, “I thought you had enough for ten papers, Sandburg. Tell me, if you didn't tell them, then who did? You're the one that talked about your Holy Grail and movie rights and making a pile of money. You tell me the truth Sandburg!”

Blair looked stricken, “Man, you've got to give me the benefit of the doubt here. I would NEVER hurt you. Don't you know that? I'd never betray you. Never. Not for any amount of money. You know me better than that.” Blair was shaken and hurt and it showed. He shook his head as he whispered, “Tell me, man. Tell me you know I wouldn't do that.”

A whisper, a memory, caught him before he could speak. Something about “... listening to the whispers of his own heart?" Jim's sentinel senses had been trained by Blair himself to listen to the hearts of others. He could hear 'them' just fine. He could hear lies. He could hear truth. But that's not what Blair had asked, was it? He asked if Jim 'knew' him.

He knew Blair well enough that he'd reached out to him at the brink of death to pull him back. So, how could he have doubted Blair? He realized he was gripping the steering wheel fiercely, so he consciously eased up, and with a sigh he let go.

But it was still difficult to keep his voice steady, “I know, Chief. I know you wouldn't do that. I'm sorry. It's just that somehow the secret is out. It's possible it was an accident, but it's possible it was intentional, too. But not you. Not you. It was just that they 'couldn't' have known ... and now they do. I guess I'm just at a loss about what to do. We've got to get to the PD to work this case, but they'll be hounding us now everywhere we go. We can't work that way. And - and the sentinel thing ...”

Blair rubbed both hands down over his face, and released a little sigh. Jim could see that the hurt had faded but not disappeared, but Blair's mind had already turned elsewhere. “Well, first we have to tell Simon. Tell him what's going on. As for the case, Henri and Rafe were briefed last night after it became a ... murder. Maybe they can take over.”

Jim reached over and gripped Blair's shoulder, “I am sorry, Blair.”

“I know, Jim. This is - like - your worst nightmare,” said a shaken Blair.

Jim was grateful for Blair's levelheadedness and for his understanding. “Yeah, Chief, it is. But you're right. We'll head over to the station first. Check in with Simon, hand over the investigation, and see what's going on. We need to make some decisions, and fast, and for that we need some information.”

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Beverly Sanchez, Assistant D.A. in Cascade, Washington, hurried with as much decorum as she could muster. She was the lead investigator for a top-secret task force that was formed two months after the retrieval of Alexandra Barnes. The 'sentinel problem' was dropped in their laps after the Barnes woman was brought back to Cascade in a catatonic state. Her abilities, and what she'd almost accomplished with them, could still make Beverly shiver with dread.

She didn't know who was behind the formation of the task force, or who had sent them the information on Barnes. The source was supposed to be anonymous, but her own investigation suggested a link to a rogue agent. Her evidence pointed to the FBI, but a hunch said it was some quasi-governmental organization.

Barnes's arrest and return to Cascade had been in the news, and was well known in law enforcement circles ... but at the time nothing had been known publicly about her genetically enhanced abilities.

It had not been a surprise when the investigation of Barnes's case had included the lead Detective, James Ellison, but what her assistants had discovered about his partner, Blair Sandburg, had been a shock. When his research had come to their attention she'd been appalled to discover that he was an expert on sentinels, that he had known Barnes and helped her, although he seemed to have been unaware of her crimes at the time.

She'd known from personal experience that Jim Ellison could be as charming as hell when he wanted to be, but he could also be very intense. Before he had met Sandburg he had held himself apart from others. It had been a surprise when he'd teamed up with, even lived with, Blair Sandburg.

Sentinel. Guide. Beverly knew she was good at taking unconnected events and making sense of them. Ellison's actions during the Juno case were understandable now. Sandburg was Ellison's guide, and he had tried to guide Barnes. Was Barnes catatonic because she lacked her own full-time guide? What did Blair get out of working with her? With Ellison, for that matter? Were guides interchangeable? How much of a concern should they have for those with less than five enhanced senses? Those were some of the things they needed to know, and soon.

Today her haste was because someone had leaked Ellison's name and the 'sentinel' information to the media before their investigation was complete. For all she knew it could have been one of their own assistants. Some had worked on Barnes' background, and some had been recruited to work on Sandburg's and Ellison's. She continued to hurry on grimly as she planned interrogations of all those who had worked on the latter.

Unfortunately they were still formalizing recommendations to be presented to the FBI and the current administration. Political alliances would be critical, but they hadn't been solidified yet, and they'd need allies to handle the problem properly. Hopefully it would just need a few adjustments to the timetable.

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Every entrance to the station proved to be swarming with news crews, even the underground garage. A uniformed officer recognized Detective Ellison and allowed him entrance before his vehicle could be stopped by the crush of people.

The other officers in the area stared, but said nothing as Jim and Blair made their way to the elevator. Blair held his breath as it approached every floor, but they remained the only occupants till they reached Major Crimes.

When they walked in, everyone stopped what they were doing and just watched silently. Expressions ran the gamut. Some obviously hoped the whole thing was a joke but knew that Ellison was going to be furious about the situation so they kept their distance. Others looked wary, and Jim cringed inwardly. He knew that some would hate him, with their reactions driven by fear and envy. Still others looked confused, even hurt. Those last were their closest colleagues. He hoped these friends would understand why he'd kept the secret from them. He was pretty sure he'd find out how they all felt about that soon enough. All this went through his mind as Jim strode across the bullpen. He didn't hesitate as he strode to Simon's office, knocked, and entered, with Blair right behind him.

Simon slammed down his phone, reached behind the phone and unplugged it. “There! That's the only damn way it'll stay silent. You two, sit down! How bad is it out there? I've heard that the reporters are circling like vultures. I came in early to work on the budget report, but I've been answering calls from the Mayor, the Chief of Police, the Commissioner, the District Attorney and I-can't-remember-who-else. I didn't even get to make coffee this morning ... and believe me, I could really use some right now.”

Jim said, “How bad is it?”

Simon sat back and chewed grimly on his unlit cigar, “Well, I'm still here. They haven't fired me yet, but I think it's only a matter of time.”

Blair blurted, “Simon, I didn't ...”

Simon scrutinized Jim's Observer, knowing immediately what he meant, “You didn't?”

“No.”

Simon's anger visibly deflated, but was far from gone altogether. He sighed, “Well, I sure as hell know Jim didn't. So who did? Any clues?”

Jim started tentatively, “... only us three knew ...”

Blair paled, “Not exactly. But Eli wouldn't! He's the most ethical man I know.”

Jim gently pushed Blair to a chair, and made him sit. He took the other chair. He sighed, “Chief, it might be someone that overheard you, or someone that works for Dr. Stoddard. Someone that overheard 'us' for that matter. At this point, I don't know if it really matters, unless there's some way of putting this genie back in the box ....” He looked with scant hope to his guide.

“I - I ...”

Jim shook his head, “Don't, Blair. I know better than to ask, to expect the impossible, but I guess I 'had' to ask.”

“I'm worried that it might be Brackett again.”

Jim thought for a moment, “I'd think his style would be a lot more cloak-and-dagger than this. If the secret is out, he can't use that to blackmail us but he's had a long time to think up some complicated game of revenge ... and maybe the leak wasn't even his idea.”

Simon sighed, “Well, this is a fine mess. One of the calls I received was from the Mayor. He was definitely unhappy about the leak. He revealed that a secret task force ... a Sentinel Task Force! ... had been formed two months after Barnes was returned to Cascade. Someone knew about her abilities besides us, and Connor. Brackett would fit the bill.”

Blair sighed heavily, “Sentinel information isn't widely available. I've had to dig out bits from some pretty obscure materials. I even added to it myself with my early research into enhanced senses. I'm so sorry ...”

Simon interrupted, “You can't blame yourself, Sandburg. We all knew this could blow up in our faces. Jim, you'll never guess who's leading the task force now ... Assistant D.A. Beverly Sanchez.”

Jim felt the betrayal hit him hard, “I - I don't know what to say. I thought ... we were friends.”

He glanced at Blair and met an equal level of shock. He sighed again, then straightened his shoulders, “Sir, perhaps I should take a leave of absence until this settles down and we see where we stand. And, uh, the Peterson case, I think Henri and Rafe should take over now. They just cleared their major case and were brought up to speed on this one last night. Hopefully a new perspective will help. We'll never be left alone to work the case, and time is running out to catch this guy.”

“Damn. Right. The Peterson case. I'll tell them. Wait here.”

Blair fidgeted for a moment then pushed himself up to pace, “What are we going to do, Jim? We never had plans for this ... this is just crazy! They have the info on sentinels ... they know what we look like. They certainly know where we live! Oh, man. The University!”

“Is Rainier going to be a problem, Chief?”

“Well, I don't think I'll be able to just walk quietly into my office, and what about teaching my classes? This is a nightmare!”

“Blair, you should call Eli. He's you're thesis advisor. Maybe he can handle Rainier for you.”

“Man, I hate to even ask him. He'll want to know who did this, too. 'My' ethics will be questioned, for sure. This could ruin my reputation if we can't find out who did this. They'll blame me for not protecting my source.”

Jim seemed surprised, “This could come back on you? I didn't realize that.”

“Oh, yeah. I could be censured. Forget about the PhD. Oh, man, what am I saying! The doctorate is the least of my worries. Sorry, Jim.”

Jim came to stand in front of him, forcing him to stop. “I'll stand by you, Chief. I'll tell them the truth. You're my guide. You wouldn't do that to your sentinel.”

Blair had to fight to keep his emotions in check. He said, “I'll stand by you, too, Jim. Look, I don't think this is a good time to be separated, do you?”

“We both know that it could get pretty hairy. Maybe it would be best if we put some distance between us. You've trained me to control my senses. If I need you, I'll know where to find you.”

“No way. I'm where I'm supposed to be.” Blair swallowed hard then said, “Jim, I know you can handle your senses under most circumstances, but something weird is always popping up. We both know you're going to be under a lot of stress. Maybe you don't think you really need me all the time, but 'I' need to be there with you. I know that you'd probably be fine, but I'm asking you to let me do my part. Don't try to protect me. What I need most is to be your guide.”

Jim nodded reluctant acceptance. When Blair's relief became apparent he realized that he felt relieved, too. He forced a smile and said, “Maybe you're right. Whatever goes down, we should stick together. I've certainly never had to face this kind of thing on my own. The last few years, you've always been there to back me up. A cop needs his partner, and I remember 'someone' telling me that a sentinel needs his guide.”

Blair returned the smile.

Jim's cell phone rang and he flipped it open, “Ellison.”

Blair heard Jim's voice change to concern, and listened to Jim's side of the conversation without remorse.

“Dad, what is it?” ...

“The reporters are there, too? ...

“Steven? What about Steven?” ...

“No, I haven't heard from him either, but I'll let you know as soon as I know something.” ...

“What did your lawyer say?” ...

Jim glanced at Blair and shrugged half-heartedly, “No, Dad. We don't know who leaked it, or how. We came right to the station, and it's a mess. Simon seems to be in trouble with the higher-ups, but we don't know how bad it is. I think he's doing his best to protect us.” ...

“Yeah, he's a good friend. He's known about my senses as long as Blair.” ...

“I'll talk to him about the lawyer, and I'll let you know what's going on here as soon as I can.” ...

“Thanks, Dad. I - I appreciate your help, and please, try to be careful.” ...

“But Dad ... I'd feel a lot better if you called in some bodyguards, at least for the short term. It's going to get worse before it gets better.” ...

“Good. I'll call you at least by tonight. I think we should check in with each other at least a couple times a day, just to be on the safe side.” ...

“Yeah, long overdue, hunh, Dad?” ...

“Dad? I'm sorry ...”

“I know, Dad. Call you later.”

“Jim? Do you really think ...”

“It's going to be bad, Chief. Stick close, okay?”

“What did your Dad say?”

“The lawyer is assembling a 'team' as we speak.”

“What!”

“There's the very real possibility of lawsuits; maybe criminal charges, too. We have no idea what IA is going to do yet.”

“But Jim, we didn't do anything wrong!”

“We?”

Blair looked hurt but stubborn, “Of course, 'we'.”

Jim sighed and clenched his jaw, “It doesn't have to be, Blair. I'm the one with the senses. I wish you'd hang back and let me take the brunt of this. At least until we know what IA is going to do.”

“Didn't we just settle this? I don't know where this will end up, but it would be better if we handle this together. Internal Affairs isn't going to forget about me being your observer ... for three years! We 'need' to stick together.”

“Chief, I just can't help but wish ...”

“Well, forget it ... unless ... you really want to walk away from the partnership.”

Jim wanted to say yes, knew he should say yes, for Blair's sake, but that would be wrong in so many ways. Blair had always stood by him, and intended to do it again. There was no way he could hurt him like that; not again.

He took a moment to collect himself, “Okay, Chief. Okay. I just don't know how bad ...,” Jim stopped speaking, and started listening.

“What's up, Jim?” and Blair came closer to place his hand on Jim's forearm.

Jim's muscles clenched and he quickly stepped in front of Blair, “Sandburg, it's starting. Stay behind me.”

“What?” Blair turned to look out of Simon's windows into the bullpen, but it was empty. It looked like everyone had dropped their things and left quietly, obviously, because Jim hadn't noticed. Of course he and Jim had had other things on their mind.

Blair gulped in dread as police in riot gear swarmed from both sides and into the bullpen.

Captain Maxwell was quick to take command of the situation, “Come out with your hands up, then clasp them behind your heads. You know the drill, Ellison. Don't make us do this the hard way.”

They walked out of the office with hands in the air, Jim leading the way.

“Captain ... I don't understand.”

“Do it. Then we'll explain.”

“Captain, Sandburg isn't quite as familiar with the 'drill'. Cut him some slack, and 'he' isn't armed.”

Blair already had his hands behind his head as he stuttered, “Except f-for my S-swiss Army knife.”

Jim was holding his fury in check, but just barely. “What is this all about, Maxwell?”

“That's 'Captain' Maxwell, Detective Ellison ... and surely you've seen the news.”

Jim's disgust was evident, “Do you think this is really necessary? You've got to be kidding me!”

“Just following orders.”

“From who? Why didn't you just tell me to come down for questioning, if that's what this is?”

“Would you have come peacefully?” Maxwell asked with what Jim perceived as honest doubt.

Jim's shock and dismay were also honest, and he saw that Maxwell could read him, too. Jim could only hope that he'd begin to doubt some of the rumors that were running wild.

“Sorry, Ellison. But it 'is' orders. Just questions, at least for now. You answer to IA. If they're happy ... well, you know how that goes.”

“If they're happy ... Maxwell, no offense to you or IA, but Sandburg and I want our lawyers present.” He turned to Blair, “Remember that, Chief. Everything's crazy right now. You make sure you don't say 'anything' until Dad's lawyer gets here. From Briggs, Briggs, Gunderson & Greene.” Blair met his eyes, and Jim was proud of him. He could tell he was scared, but he was also determined, so Jim squared his shoulders and did what he was told. They'd get through this somehow.

They were searched and cuffed, and weapons were confiscated. They were taken to separate interrogation rooms.

Representatives of Internal Affairs awaited both of them. The questioning went on for almost forty-eight hours - after the arrival of the lawyers. It stretched on for case after case. Any actions taken during fieldwork and stakeouts were dissected; crimes they witnessed were questioned; and evidence gathered was challenged.

Jim was well aware of what they wanted, and the actions he and Blair had taken to prevent the charges they were trying so hard to make. He wasn't too worried about the cases, and he knew that Blair had written most of the reports. He was a smart kid, and he was doing fine, in fact he talked circles around them. Since they had irrefutable evidence for their cases, they thought the cases were airtight. But crooks had lawyers, too. If they even 'thought' that their clients civil liberties had been infringed upon then it was going to be a circus, and the sentinel and his guide were going to be the main attractions, no matter what IA decided.

One thing that did bother him, and he received no plausible answer to a direct question: How did they get this information together so quickly? They'd questioned them on three years of cases that they'd worked together, but had pretty much ignored anything earlier. Why didn't they ask questions about his time in Vice? Or in the military? What did they know, and when?

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The investigators finally let them go. They seemed to have calmed their inquiries down from righteous indignation, to grudging resignation, compelled no doubt by the threats from their representatives from Briggs, Briggs, Gunderson & Greene. Still, they were put on notice that they could be pulled in anytime for more questioning. Jim didn't doubt that it wasn't just a threat, but a real possibility.

It was close to another dawn when they finally reached the loft. Jim thought he might have to carry Sandburg inside but he rallied enough to make it up the stairs, without a word spoken. Jim had known they were close to reaching their breaking point, and they couldn't afford mistakes. But still, the hours of questioning - interrogation - had dragged on. They'd only been interrupted by a few breaks, and only when the lawyers insisted.

As they headed home, Jim had been careful not to lose their surveillance, and no matter how tired he was, he still took a moment to do a sensory sweep of the area before unlocking the door. When they were safely inside, he engaged all the locks, checked the emergency exit, the windows, even his skylight. He was surprised that the loft hadn't been searched, and he would have noticed.

He came down the stairs and drew the drapes, and pulled the white noise generator from his pocket where he'd put it when checking his bedroom. He saw Blair's look of momentary confusion as he set it on the dining room table and turned it on. Then he gestured for Blair to sit while he put the water on for tea. He wondered if he looked as wiped-out as Blair did. Unfortunately, neither of them could sleep for a while. They had things to discuss.

He looked at the message light and saw that it was full. He checked the phone numbers that showed and only recognized Simon's and his Dad's. He grabbed the phone and called his father. Then called Simon. Neither had much to report but he waited to tell Blair because he looked like he was checking emails on his laptop. When the water was hot, Jim made tea and sat down wearily, passing one cup to Blair.

Blair finally looked up, “Naomi hasn't answered my last email from almost three days ago, before all this hit the fan. When she's on the grid, she almost always checks her mail every day.”

Jim offered, “Maybe she's heard the news. Would she come here, or contact you first?”

“I think she'd contact me first, especially where cops might be involved,” and he gave a half-hearted and fleeting grin.

Jim answered in kind, then took a sip of his tea.

“Jim, what did your Dad and Simon have to say?”

“Dad's worried, and not just about us. Steven still hasn't called in. His plane should have landed at the airport the day before yesterday, but the company jet is still sitting in Sacramento.” Jim sighed deeply, “It isn't like Steven to change his plans without at least informing his office. The pilot said Steven called to cancel the flight. He was told he'd be contacted when needed, and that was the last he'd heard from him. That was around noon, three days ago.”

“What about his hotel?”

“He signed out.”

“Does he have friends he would visit there?”

Jim sighed again and shrugged tiredly, “Chief, I just don't know. Even Dad doesn't know for sure. He's called the police, but they won't do anything. There's no evidence of foul play and Steven's a grown man.”

“And the brother of a cop. Doesn't that mean anything?”

Jim looked troubled as he answered, “A cop that's ... well, is a tabloid sensation and has IA crawling all over his old cases.”

“I'm sorry, Jim.”

Jim grimaced, “Bad news travels fast. I listened to as much as I could while we were at the PD. It didn't sound good. The cops are either scared to death of what they think I can do or are envious of my 'advantage'. The angry and the jealous ... a very bad mix if they feel they have common cause to band together. The few that we can still call friends are worried about us - but they're probably scared and envious of the 'freak' to various degrees, too.”

“Jim, don't. Quit with the 'f' word.” Blair sighed, “It's only natural that our friends would wonder about your abilities. You did keep a secret from them. I did, too. After this mess, they must see the reasoning behind it. Give them some credit and give them a little time to sort it all out.”

“We may not have time. If someone took Steven and ...”

Blair gasped, “You think he was kidnapped? Because of the sentinel thing?”

“Blair,” he said gently, “they may have taken Naomi, too.”

As Blair tried to bolt up out of the chair, Jim grabbed his arm to hold him in place. “I'm sorry. I'm probably way off base here.”

Blair looked like he was going to be sick. “What if you're not?”

“Is she in the States, Chief?”

“Y-yeah. In Arizona.”

“Is there someone you could call, to see if she's alright?”

Blair hastily dug in his backpack for his phone. After several calls, he finally turned back to Jim. His face was white with shock. “Jim, she's missing, too. They didn't know how to contact me. She went into town to help with the groceries. Junie said she was there one minute, then gone the next. They searched for a while then they called the sheriff, but he didn't take them seriously at first, just told them there was a forty-eight hour wait before a missing persons report could be filed. Junie was furious that he wouldn't do anything! Jim, I didn't know what to tell her.”

Jim felt helpless. What could he do from here, in their situation?

Jim couldn't hide his frustration and anger, “Dad couldn't get any help from the PD for the same reason. Forty-eight hours! At least that was the reason they gave. I understand the reasoning, but when you 'know' something isn't right ... Somebody was on top of the situation within minutes of us finding out there 'was' a situation. From what I heard, Captain Maxwell had his orders within minutes of us arriving at the station. It's possible that the sheriff may have had his orders, too. He might not be able to do anything even if he wanted to, so he may just be trying to keep them quiet until he knows which way to jump.” Jim sighed heavily and swiped a hand over his tired face, “Chief, I don't think they'll harm her, or Steven, but I don't know for sure. It's just a guess.”

After a moment of reflection Blair asked, “What about us? Will they - whoever 'they' are - come for us, too, or do you think they're, like, hostages for our cooperation, good behavior, whatever?”

Jim had no answer, only more and more questions. Was there more to the leak about his sentinel abilities or was it simply a 'seven day wonder'? Was there a power behind the scenes that was manipulating the situation? If there was, what 'were' their intentions? He was more than a little afraid what the answers might be.

He wanted to scream his frustration, pound the walls until they got some answers, or better yet, make the whole sentinel thing just disappear. Over the last few years he'd tried to convince himself that Blair was right, that he was a man with enhanced senses, not Superman. He wasn't worth a conspiracy theorist's time. But the memory of Colonel Oliver was always with him. That man had wielded enough power to order the deaths of everyone on his mission to Peru, and what Brackett had been able to compel them to do still angered and frightened him. What would they do, how far would they go, to control a sentinel? And then what would become of them?

<><><><><><><><><><>

Simon arrived at their door at 6 am. He had a chance to knock because Jim had finally made it upstairs to his bed, and had tried futilely to get some sleep. Blair wasn't asleep yet either so he made it to the door first and, exhausted as he was, almost opened it without thinking. He glanced quickly at Jim, who nodded and whispered 'Simon'.

When Simon came in they could see that he was exhausted, too. Jim had thrown on a robe and had come down the stairs quickly. He put a hand on Blair's shoulder to prevent a comment. Simon didn't look in the mood for 'pleasantries'. He looked decidedly grim, almost ill. He looked like a man who'd had too many shocks in too short a time.

Simon began with an abruptness that was unusual even for him. He began with an extremely terse introduction, “Look, we don't have much time, so just go along with this for now. You can make your complaints later, and I'm sure they'll just add them to mine and forget about them.”

Jim's sleepiness evaporated quickly. He cast his senses outward, sensing nothing untoward except for an unusual number of heartbeats on the street level and several vehicles left running and parked near 852. It was also unusually quiet for that many people. “Just tell us, Simon. What's the plan?”

Simon spoke with a gravelly, tired voice, tinged heavily with bitterness, “Unfortunately, I've not been advised of their plans. If there is one, they aren't telling me, or you. What I was 'told' is that your neighbors have supposedly joined together and made one huge complaint to the city administration. Anyone that knows anyone, has been getting a steady stream of harassment from your dear neighbors.” Seeing the look of dismay on their faces, Simon tried to backtrack, “Oh, not so much from 852, but up and down the street, and across the way. Complaints that you invade their privacy, stuff like that.”

Jim looked angry one second and gave it up the next. He was too tired. He thought for a minute and began to look worried, “Are you here to evict us? I own the loft.”

Simon looked deeply apologetic, “I'm sorry, Jim. It's even worse than that. Look, I know you got in late and you haven't seen the news reports. If I know you, you were probably avoiding them. I can't believe how badly it's gone to hell in just a few days.”

Simon averted his eyes for a moment before regaining his courage, “If my opinion means anything, and I do have a few friends out there that owed me favors, our Ms. Sanchez is in this, if not for the glory, then for the power. I don't know how she got the position, but she's managed to bend or break half the laws that she was sworn to uphold. She claims not to know who leaked the information about you to the media. I don't think it was deliberately done by the task force. From what I could find out they've been trying to suppress this - this mess! But I think it's gotten out of hand even for them.

“I have no idea how bad things are going to get but the situation has gone down hill rapidly since the leak. I'm sorry that I have to be the one to tell you, but you're not being evicted, you're both being placed in protective custody for your own protection. We're all being put under 'house arrest', but not here. Your belongings will be moved for you and held in storage until this is settled.”

Jim was furious. He wanted to strike out, to hurt someone, but whoever was behind this was far from his grasp. No wonder they hadn't bothered to search the place. They were just going to come in and take everything. They'd be able to sift through every bit of 'evidence' at their leisure, and this place - this loft - their home - would be taken apart, stick by stick.

Blair sank into the nearest chair. When he finally glanced up at Jim, he asked disbelievingly, “Can they really do that?” Simon said nothing, just stared at Jim. When Blair realized that was all the answer he'd get he blurted, “Wait a minute! We can't leave. Steven and Naomi are missing ...”

Jim interrupted flatly, “... presumed missing ...”

“What! Why am I just hearing this now?” spluttered Simon.

Blair said, his anger unleashed for the moment, “Presumed. Yeah, right. Neither of them have been heard from since ... uh, three days ago now ... No one's taken a missing person report yet! We just found out this morning from Jim's Dad, and a friend of my Mom's. Simon, man, can you at least check this out for us?”

Simon looked positively sick now, “I - I would, if I could.”

Jim and Blair shared a look. Jim said, “Tell us what else is going on.”

Simon walked heavily over to the table and sat. He didn't even glance their way when he began without further preamble, “You're suspended without pay for the foreseeable future, Jim, and your cases are still being scrutinized. I know you're well aware of that, but believe me, they've only just begun. Blair, you're fired from Rainier and your studies and grants, student aid, scholarships, everything, even the degrees you've earned, is under review. Any bank accounts or credit cards either of you have, have been frozen. Your lawyers will contact you both, soon I'm sure.

“As for me, well, I'm fired, too.” He went on sarcastically, “But wait, there's good news. We're all going to be seeing a lot more of each other. We're going to be 'protected' in the same safe house. It won't be in Cascade though, but out in the country. All they'd say about that is that they can't allow more chance for invasion of privacy or other illegal use of your senses, Jim.

“Oh, yeah ... you have thirty minutes to pack.” He glanced at his watch, “Make that twenty minutes.”

Silence reigned for several minutes. Blair reached over and turned on the white noise generator and asked nervously, “Do we have time to burn ... 'it'?”

Jim snorted, “Hell, you might as well try to get an independent publisher for the thesis. We 'might' need the money.”

Blair couldn't look at Jim. He bit his lip and stared down at the table.

“Chief? Sorry. What does it matter now? They know. At least, they think they know. Look, can you contact Jack Kelso? You trusted him with a copy of the rough draft and your statistical data for safekeeping. He's probably one of the few men with the connections to manage it. Now that the secret's out, Kelso has probably already guessed what he has in that lockbox you gave him. Maybe if the truth is out there, it will help. It'll at least be our side of it.”

“I'll try his home number.”

“Wait a minute.” When Jim came back, he had another phone. “Use this one. It'll be harder to trace. Hopefully impossible to trace, but I wouldn't take a bet on anything right now.”

Blair took a deep breath and accepted it.

Arrangements made, and belongings packed, they had just a few minutes left before the deadline.

Jim said, “Well, it's been a pleasure, gentlemen.”

Simon said, “Same here, my friends.”

Blair looked back and forth between them. “You make it sound like we'll be facing a firing squad!”

Jim grimaced, “Not that obvious an ending, Chief. Much more legal I'd think. But our freedom? I don't hold out much hope.”

Blair gulped audibly and said, “I guess none of us really thought this was going to end well, but I was trying to be optimistic. Or maybe that's naïve.”

Jim said, “It's not a bad thing to want to think the best of your fellow man. I'm just glad you haven't seen what I've seen, been where I've been, had to do what I was ordered to do. I'm glad you can still 'be' optimistic.”

Blair's voice wavered a bit as he said, “I'm - I'm glad to have known you both, you know. I hope they let us stay together, but even that's probably too much to hope for in the long run. Jim, whatever you decide to do, just remember to make arrangements for two ... if you can ... and if you can't, then just get away however you can.”

Simon asked with considerable trepidation, “Should I make that three?”

Jim rejected Simon's question/plea as gently as he could, “Maybe not three, but you know you'd be welcome. I really don't know what's in store for us, or what opportunities will come our way, but you have Daryl to think of, too.”

At the mention of Daryl, Simon's fear was obvious, but he asked, “What about Steven and Naomi?”

Jim sighed, “A lot depends on that. Naomi's friends and Dad are still trying to work with the authorities.” Turning to Blair, he warned, “I know you've been careful, but it's only going to get worse, Chief. After we leave here we have to be even more cautious about what we say. We don't need to give them any more information than necessary.”

A knock was heard at their door, and Blair quickly whispered, “Downplay them, Jim, by twenty percent. Play up the zones, and your vulnerability. The statistics in the thesis were from before your hearing increased. I never updated them. Brackett scared me, man.”

Jim looked at his friend with admiration and respect. Sandburg was always doing something to surprise him. He definitely wasn't as naïve as everyone expected.

When a firm knock was heard once again, they opened the door and were surprised to see a very tense couple of friends, Henri and Rafe. They'd come to escort them down. Henri explained that a temporary Captain had reassigned the Peterson case to Joel and Megan.

When they exited 852 Prospect, Jim looked up and down the street. It was too late to wish they'd risked running for it when he saw what was waiting for them. Despite the very early hour, many of their 'neighbors' lined the sidewalk on the other side of the street. When they were spotted, an angry rumble of voices began to fill the air. Shouts and catcalls were heard, and an entreaty by Blair that confused Jim for a moment.

“Easy, Jim. They're just voices. You can control their effect on you. Dial it down.” This was combined with a firm grip on Jim's forearm.

When Jim looked at Blair questioningly, he saw him give the barest nod toward the crowd and the other members of their escort. Jim understood. Blair was playing up his 'insufficient' control, and maybe his need for his guide, too, suggesting that Blair led him vocally and physically.

Jim decided it would be worth the risk to make sure their escort understood that the guide was 'necessary', so they wouldn't be separated. He locked down his emotions, pushed aside his exhaustion, and set his senses and experience to evaluating the size and makeup of the rest of the escort while seeming to try to control his senses. It wasn't the number of officers and vehicles that frightened him, it was the fact they'd brought an armored prisoner transport.

Overkill it might be, but it seemed to reveal a massive overestimation of Jim's 'real' abilities, although it could have been a more or less honest effort to protect them from a public that now feared them. Whichever it was, Jim had never been an optimist.

It seemed probable to Jim that Simon, Henri, and Rafe might have been sent in first to alleviate their fears ... make them hesitate to make an escape attempt with their friends in harms way. Simon had also been shocked by the 'escort', so he hadn't known about it either. Henri and Rafe looked angry and frustrated, so they must have known, but must have believed their presence would send a message to the 'powers that be'. Jim hoped they wouldn't be sorry about backing them up.

They didn't wait long to get underway. The crowd was getting louder, and some were having to be physically restrained. Jim only recognized a couple of the angry, shouting people, yet he could see that lights were going on up and down the street in apartments above Prospect as people awoke to the near riot. Jim wondered bitterly where the crowd had come from if they weren't the 'neighbors' who now stared in shock from their windows.

Once the procession started to move, Jim used his senses to track their progress, but after leaving the city it was surprisingly difficult. Endless vistas, smells, and sounds of forest left few obvious markers. Jim could tell direction, and length of travel, even elevation, but that still didn't tell him 'where' he was. Before the day was out they'd traveled through some of the least populated byways of the state of Washington.

Unfortunately none of them knew what to expect when they arrived at the safe house, so their trip was spent in a state of nervous tension. Their first glimpse of the place was disheartening. It looked like it had previously been a military compound. It certainly would have been a better description for the place than 'safe house'.

It was obvious to Jim's senses that most of it was underground. Jim didn't like the implication. Was this truly a protective detail, or a quasi-military operation? At least Jim's senses told him that the underground facilities were unpopulated and seemed to be in lockdown mode.

When they all exited the transport and saw the safe house for the first time, Blair had simply said in fear and confusion, “Jim?”

Blair's fear pushed all of Jim's 'Blessed Protector' buttons. He pushed Blair behind him and asked sharply, “Henri, what is this place?”

Henri was very subdued but tried to give what encouragement he could, “Jim, I know it looks bad, but Rafe and I have been assigned to the staff here. We're kinda' on loan. We'll split the guard duties with two other men 50-50, so if something's not right or if you need anything, you let us know.”

Jim glared but when Henri didn't flinch he said stiffly, almost formally, “We'll take you at your word H. You too, Rafe.”

“Sure thing, Jim. We volunteered to be here,” said Rafe firmly.

Jim relented and relaxed a bit. Being among friends would have to be better than being among strangers. “Thanks. We all appreciate that.”

The inside of the facilities were no more encouraging. The walls were a stark military green, with bare walls and the barest of amenities. When the guards stationed at the gate had inspected their belongings, Blair's laptop had been confiscated, as well as anything that might conceivably have been turned into a weapon. That hadn't left much except for soft clothing, and a few unframed pictures and books, but their protests fell on deaf ears.

As they moved into their new quarters, Jim used his senses to scan the area. There were no vehicles in the compound, which in itself, was a deterrent to any escape plans. There were barracks, office buildings, and a parking area just outside the south gate, but those had only been seen from the transport.

There were recording devices everywhere, even the bathrooms. There were almost the same proportion of them inside as out. They were being watched, obviously. He wondered who was getting the reports.

Simon had a quick conference with H and Rafe, to tell them about Steven and Naomi. Their friends were quite concerned that they'd been stalled in such a way, and Henri left for a short time to pass that query on to their new boss immediately. They promised to follow up on the investigation with their friends in Major Crime when they were relieved.

<><><>

It didn't take long for protective custody to wear on the three of them. They were comfortable enough, and the food they were served was perfectly adequate if uninspiring. They weren't confined to the building but they weren't allowed to wander far, since once outside, they were always within sight of the massive fence that surrounded it. It certainly looked like prison to Jim.

There were just two gates and both were guarded. Two K-9 units patrolled day and night outside the fence, while a pair of guards patrolled inside the fence, too.

It didn't take long for Jim to realize that H and Rafe were effectively under lockdown, too. When they were on guard duty, no information passed through those gates. What was happening outside? Why were they kept uninformed? It was worrisome. Jim could tell that Henri and Rafe chafed at the need to be tight-lipped. He could only hope that if there was something going on that would be detrimental to them, that their friends would try to give them a clue.

Jim listened for any comments from the guards, but they were eerily quiet. One night Jim saw and heard one pair of guards speaking quietly as they crossed paths outside the fence. When one of them noticed that Jim was watching, he shut up quickly, nodded toward Jim, and tapped his ear. Neither guard said anything further.

Even in the barracks outside the compound the guards were reticent. When they did chat, they kept it impersonal and practical. Jim thought it very odd that they didn't have a radio or television, although he did hear music from cd's. They were being very cautious around the sentinel in their 'care'.

<><><>


Click for Part 2



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