Author's Notes: This story is a part of my The Sentinel/MacGyver series, after Synchronization in Chaos. Since the relationships between Blair, MacGyver, and Sam are drawn in the first five stories (The Maze, Control, Coatlicue, Ares Bugle, and Heirs to a Nightmare), you may wish to read them first. I would also recommend reading the others in the series, especially In the Genes, since several original characters in that story reappear in this one, and several references are made to events in Charming the Hawk. There are also a couple of references to stories about Jim's mother from the sixth season of The Cascade Virtual Tales.
This story takes place during the summer of 2001, since I feel Sam would make different decisions after the events of 9/11. While the Wind River reservation in Wyoming is a real place, Fortuity and Outlaw Rock are not. Also, I wasn't able to do as much research into the Arapahos in Wind River as I would have like. If I got something wrong, please accept my heartfelt apologies.
Yes, this one took a while to write. Not only is it the longest story I've written in the TS/Mac universe, but it's a very pivotal piece in the series and the lives of the characters. I wanted to make sure I wrote it right.
As always, I wish to thank several people. Zadra, my character and sanity check; Malu and Killash, my cheerleaders who helped me find the title; Shallan, my military advisor who's always providing me with brainstorming and support; Sealie, who's periodic 'gimme, gimme, gimme' keeps me writing and her questions provide valuable insight; Toni Rae, who tries to keep me honest; my betas DebbieLD and Trishbsc; and as always to wolfpup who does the posting so I can focus on writing. And I am deeply grateful to all the wonderful people who continue to email me about my stories. I appreciate hearing from you.
Please send any comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
Enjoy the ride.
Disclaimer: Most of the characters are not mine. I'm borrowing them out of deep reverence, affection and respect. I will accept only personal fulfillment, and no monetary gain. If you do sue, you will not get much and I will send over my Black Lab mix, who will stare at you pathetically for hours and probably con you out of all your food. And he's fighting off a bout of kennel cough, so he's even more pathetic than normal at the moment.
Please do not reproduce, copy, or otherwise use any part of this story without permission from the author.
Rated PG-13, mostly for language
Lightning struck, briefly illuminating the drenching gloom. He could feel something evil lurking nearby, but it was hidden by the storm.
Water poured from the sky as he clung to the rough wood, fighting the torrent of water trying to tear him from even this small bit of stability.
The roar of an angry and overflowing river surrounded him. Yet it could not drown out the anguished howl of a wolf. Struggling against the water, he tried to see the wolf, dimly aware of something small and brown flowing past him.
A lanky tiger stood on the bank of the river. The large cat picked up a soaking wet mass of feathers in its mouth.
Jim Ellison shot up, throwing his arms in all directions. It took a moment to realize he was in his own bed at his loft. The clock beside his bed glowed a bright 1:48. From the darkness, he knew it was definitely A.M.
"Jim?" a soft voice called from the bottom of the stairs.
"Yeah, I'm okay. Sorry."
His roommate trotted up to the loft. With sentinel sight, Jim could read Blair Sandburg's worried expression. "Did you have a nightmare?"
Rubbing his face, Jim sighed into his hands. "I think it was a vision."
He felt Blair sit on the edge of the bed. In his soft guide voice, Blair asked, "What do you remember?"
Jim took another deep breath and looked up. "Just bits and pieces. Evil lurking within a storm. Cold water surrounding me. A wolf howling." Jim felt Blair's gaze intensify. They both knew Blair's spirit animal was a wolf. "Flashes of light." Pausing, Jim rubbed his face some more, hating to repeat the last bit. "A tiger picking up a wet and wounded bird in its mouth."
"What?" Blair's voice was full of confusion. "What tiger? What bird?"
"It was a hawk, Chief."
"A hawk?" Blair repeated. Then it hit him. "Jim, Marston and Phoebe Halliwell identified Sam with a hawk."
Blair's eyes grew wide. "Our trip to Wyoming. We've got to cancel it."
Jim grabbed Blair's arm before he could dash downstairs. "No."
"JIM! We're talking about Sam here. As in my brother. My only sibling. My long-lost sibling. My--"
"I know," Jim interrupted the tirade, "but hear me out." Gaining Blair's full attention, Jim swallowed hard. Words were not his strong suit; he usually left the talking to his golden tongued partner. But he could feel the importance of the vision swimming through his soul. He had to explain. "I don't think I had the vision so we can stop it. I'm not even sure how we could. It felt like... well... it has to happen."
"We have to let Sam get mauled by a tiger?" Blair exclaimed as he jumped off the bed, outraged.
"Blair." The soft command made Blair sit back down. "This is like before."
"Like my vision of me shooting the wolf. I tried to prevent it by sending you away. Instead, I fulfilled it."
Blair felt his gut tightened. That vision was mixed up in the Alex Barnes fiasco, which dug up some very painful memories. "Jim, I'm not letting Sam drown or get mauled by a tiger."
"Of course not. Just that we don't know what actions will stop it and which will make it worse. For all we know, it could happen while Sam's on assignment and we won't be there to help him."
The partners stared at each other for a long moment. "This is going to be rough, isn't it?" Blair asked softly.
Jim shrugged, a movement his friend could barely see in the dark. "Maybe."
"We've just got to let it happen?"
"I don't know, Chief. We've been forewarned, so maybe we can do something. But Sam's got his own life. We may not be able to interfere."
Blair closed his eyes. "Damn."
Same moment, eleven hundred miles away
Cory Buchanan shot up to a sitting position. For an instant, he could still hear the thunder roll through his ears as the cold rain pounded into his face. Gradually, it faded away into soft cricket chirps. He could see the dark cabin around him, still warm from the embers in the pot-belly stove. Taking a deep breath, the dark-haired young man tried to clear away the nightmare.
Yet it wasn't the one that had been waking him up for the past six weeks. He hadn't been running through the Colombian jungle, hearing his pursuers behind him as the branches slapped against his bare arms. He was very intimate with that memory.
Instead, he'd been following a tiger through pine trees in a downpour, which made no sense whatsoever. The tiger had led him to a roaring river pushing over its banks. Half in the water had been a hawk, struggling to get out. Then he'd woken up.
Still rubbing his face, Cory could easily imagine what the agency's psychiatrist would say. "The hawk probably represents your dead partner, your guilt. Another sign of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder." He had become very tired of her repeating the term, as if it explained everything. To his father, the dream would have been further evidence that his troublesome son had truly jumped off the deep end. More than likely, the general was already picking out the mental institution to which he should be committed.
A part of him felt he should be locked up. Since the disaster of his last assignment, everything had been turned upside down. He couldn't even trust his eyes and ears anymore. Add in the continuing pain from his healing head and knee and some days he didn't even want to crawl out of bed. However, despite of the general's lowly opinion, he'd never been a quitter. He just needed some time to get his head back together before returning to work, if that's what he wanted to do. Between the vaguely remembered nightmares and the accusing glares of his fellow agents, his career with the DXS was losing its appeal.
Pushing that concern aside for the moment, he returned to the dream. His godfather Bill, who was Northern Arapaho, had taught him to pay attention to dreams. He briefly wondered if it had been one of those special dreams Bill's mother often talked about. His lips twisted into a slight smile. He had always wanted to have a vision like the old ones. Perhaps he should call on Grandmother Nighthawk and see if the elder could make sense of the dream.
But even an old lady slept, and he was certain the dear woman would be asleep at 2 am. He settled back into the old feather mattress, shifted his aching knee, and drifted back to sleep.
Next afternoon, Cascade, WA
Sam straightened his jacket with a tug as he observed the party around him. "So what's this thingie for again?"
Deedra chuckled as she swirled her drink. The elegant reporter was enjoying her friend's discomfort at the high society affair. "This is the Mayor's luncheon honoring the city's volunteers." Her dark eyes identified the mayor's wife in the corner from the paper's background pictures. While noting the congresswoman she was talking with, Dee asked Sam, "And why did you convince me to get you a press pass?"
Grinning, Sam's eyes also scanned the crowd. "Because my brother and his partner are part of the security team. I want to surprise them and you want me to put in a good word for you."
"Oh, yeah." Dee matched her friend's grin. "From what I've been told, I shouldn't have long to wait for them to do something newsworthy."
"Sounds about right." Sam had finally spotted Blair across the room. His brother looked so different, dressed in a black tux with his curly hair tamed and pulled into a clip at the back of his neck. A surge of pride flooded Sam as he watched his brother doing the job he had worked hard to obtain.
However, Sam wasn't the only one to have spotted Blair. Just behind the journalists, an older blonde with a hard face glared at the detective. "I can't believe they would allow HIM to be here."
Her tall escort tilted his salt-and-pepper head. "Who?"
"Blair Sandburg. He was a T.A. at Rainier until he faked his dissertation."
The shrill voice raised Sam's hackles. Since he had been out of the country during Blair's diss disaster, he hadn't had to deal with the fallout. He didn't like hearing it now. A quick glance over his shoulder confirmed that the voice belonged to none other than Chancellor Edwards, the woman who had played a major role in destroying Blair's academic career. Knowing his brother would want him to ignore it, Sam bit his lip in an attempt to curb his anger.
Yet the voice continued loudly, "That little fraud nearly ruined the University's reputation. I can't believe they'd allow him within a foot of the police department, except to toss him in jail where he belongs."
That did it. Before Sam realized what he was doing, he had turned around. "Actually, I believe it was you who nearly ruined the university's reputation, Ma'am."
Affronted, Edwards straightened. She glared at the nobody with her best intimidating stare. "And how could I be responsible? I didn't write a fake paper."
It was a stare that had sent many a terrified student to their knees. However, Sam wasn't the least bit affected by it. He continued his calm attack. "You accepted the word of a publisher that he had Blair's dissertation without asking Blair or his committee if it was true. You wanted the glory, so you jumped the gun. When it blew up in your face, you took it out on Blair."
The point hit home, but she again attacked. "He himself admitted it was fake."
"Only to protect his friends on the force who were being used as target practice." Dee knew Sam well enough to understand his cool voice meant he was ready to explode. She gently squeezed his arm, warning him to be careful.
"And how would you know anything about it?" the Chancellor asked snidely.
"I'm Blair's brother and a photojournalist."
That caused her to pause, worry lining her features. "Journalist?"
Realizing he had gained the upper hand, a confident smirk lifted a corner of Sam's mouth. "Yes. And while I would love to dig around and expose what you did to him and any others you've sacrificed for your career, I promised Blair I'd let it drop." Then Sam leaned closer. "But if I ever hear that you're bad-mouthing my brother in public again, I can always slip the story to one of my colleagues. They've been dying for another good college scandal since Stanford."
The Chancellor's face turned white as Dee hid her own smirk behind her dark hand. From behind them, another voice interjected, "Then I would have to set the family lawyers on filing a lawsuit against the university for your needless endangerment of my brother, James Ellison." Everyone turned to see a tall, slim man standing behind them. Steven lifted an eyebrow, watching the woman lose the rest of her color.
"Come, dear," her escort suggested, leading her away.
Once they had disappeared into the crowd, Steven held out a hand. "Sam, I presume?"
"Yep," Sam confirmed as he shook the hand. "Steven?"
"Yes." A large smile stretched across the older man's face. "I've been wanting to do that for ages."
"Me, too," Sam confessed. "I've been staying away from it because Blair wanted it buried, but that felt good."
"Same here. But sometimes the little brothers have to stick up for the stubborn big brothers."
Sam clinked his glass against Steven's. "Always."
"And if you ever need a friend to dig on the story, let me know," Dee interjected. "That woman has 'major scandal' written all over her."
As Steven looked at the woman questioningly, Sam quickly introduced, "Dee, this is Steven Ellison, Jim's brother. Steven, this is a college friend of mine, Deedra Smith. She just started at the Cascade Times."
Steven smiled at her as he shook her hand. "A pleasure."
As the two began to talk, Sam caught a pair of sky blue eyes on him from across the room. He realized Jim had heard most of the confrontation. Yet the slight smirk signaled that Jim had approved. Sam nodded as he returned the smirk, then joined Dee and Steven's conversation.
On the other side of the function, Blair caught Jim's smirk. "What?"
Blair turned to look for his brother within the crowd. "He is? Where? I thought we were suppose to meet him at the airport." Briefly, Blair thought about looking for a tiger, too, then dismissed it from his mind.
"Must have arrived early. He's talking with Steven and a pretty reporter."
"Steven's with a reporter?"
"Nope, she's a friend of Sam's." Then Jim's nostrils flared. "And I smell that cologne from the letters, Chief."
"The ones threatening to ruin the Mayor?" Blair looked up at his partner, lowering his voice. "Where's it coming from?"
"This way." Jim casually wove through the crowd, Blair a half step behind him. Piggy-backing his sight with smell, the sentinel spotted a man pouring something into the punch bowl. Jim centered his sight on the label. "Damn, he just put arsenic into the punch." Blair swiftly reported Jim's information through his microphone as he dashed after his partner.
Jim grabbed the suspect, latching onto the arm holding the bottle. "No one touch that punch!" Several people backed away from the refreshment table as Cascade's finest converged on their best detective.
Bill Nighthawk's cabin, Wind River Range, WY
Suddenly, Cory shook into awareness. Muscles ached from stiffening in place. He twisted his head around to ease both the sore neck and the headache that had blossomed around his temples. Looking up into the nearby tree, the memory of a flicker high in its branches teased him. He had been studying the bird, then everything had gone gray.
Voices from in front of the cabin drew his attention. Startled, he glanced down at his watch. He had lost almost two hours. He closed his eyes and swallowed hard against his dry throat. It had happened again. He just wished he knew WHAT was happening to him. Slowly, he pulled himself up to his feet.
On the other side of the cabin, Lt. Dave Nighthawk glanced around as he slammed his truck door shut. He had always enjoyed the peacefulness of his brother's place, set in a remote mountain locale. The wind through the pine and the faint sounds of a river were soothing, especially after a difficult case. He hoped it had been working its magic on Bill's godson.
Cory had been filled with more than just physical pain when he had arrived last week. Dave could understand why his brother was so worried about the young man. He was worried, too. The Arapahos didn't have a word for 'nephew' or 'niece'; your sibling's children were considered your children, too. Since Bill had never married, Cory had become accepted as Bill's son after the boy's mother died. Dave had watched with pride as the shy child grew into a fine young man. He didn't want Cory's current troubles to derail his future.
On the other side of the truck, Dave's mother looked around, holding her basket of food. It was difficult to tell that the spry woman was over seventy. A large smile deepened the wrinkles around her eyes when she spotted the young man appearing from behind the cabin. "Cory!" she called.
A smile slipped across the pale face. "Grandmother," he called back, both as the title of respect for her age and his deep feelings for her. He limped the rest of the distance to give the tiny woman a hug, drawing much needed comfort from the embrace.
Dave studied the young man for a moment. Cory's Caucasian skin inherited from his American father had always contrasted sharply against the black hair from his Korean mother. However, Dave could swear he looked whiter than normal, the lack of a tan emphasizing the dark circles under his strained eyes. Obviously, he was still in pain. The older man wondered if it was his knee or his head. Then he turned back to his truck. He didn't want to wound the young man's fragile pride by asking.
However, Rose Nighthawk had no such reservations. As Cory pulled away, she stood on tiptoes to brush back his hair. "Another headache, grandson?"
Cory sighed, then shrugged. "It comes and goes."
"That's what happens with head injuries." She tucked her arm through his comfortingly. "It will get better."
"I hope so."
"I got your mail here," Dave told him as he turned around. "There's a big package from your sister."
Cory smiled as he studied the box in Dave's arms. "Missy said she'd be sending me something." His little half-sister may not be the brightest bulb in the family, but she had the biggest heart.
"Got some letters from Mark and Bill, too."
For a moment, Cory met Dave's eyes. He wanted to ask if his father had sent anything. Reading the negative look in the older man's face, Cory felt his walls harden. Of course his father hadn't sent him anything -- that would mean that he actually cared. He mentally shook off the disappointment. At least his siblings had remembered him. "Mark should still be in Japan."
Dave glanced at the return address of the letter, hiding his anger. Cory deserved better from his father. "Yes, Japan. His carrier in port?"
"Yep. He should be getting his fill of sushi." Cory took the mail from Dave, barely glancing at the writing. His head hurt too much to read.
Dave nodded, glancing at the stack of wood nearby. "Why don't I chop up some wood while I'm here?"
Cory frowned. "You don't have to do that."
"Doc said for you to be resting that knee," Dave replied, pointing at the brace.
"And I want to hear what Bill has to say," Rose added sweetly. She led Cory into the cabin. Soon she had the young man sitting at the small table unloading his troubled dreams as she unloaded the basket.
Cory ran a finger along the rim of his glass as he finished. "It doesn't make sense. What do a tiger and hawk have to do with anything?"
At the sink, Rose's back had straightened as she listened. "An orange-striped tiger, honey?"
Rose turned around. "No reason. However, I think you're right. It is a vision."
Cory's eyes grew round. Even his headache couldn't extinguish his excitement. "Really? But why now? Is it about Colombia?"
Rose shook her head. "Colombia is your past. This vision is about your future."
"I've always known you were special, you know." Rose brushed back a lock of hair from his dark eyes, noting the pain from his headache was still evident.
Blinking from the apparent change of topic, Cory asked, "What do you mean?"
"You'll find out soon. The Hawk will help you."
Cory could feel his headache gaining strength. "The Hawk?"
"Ah, with all due respect, Grandmother, the last thing I need right now is a wife."
Rose laughed. "No, not that type of companion. I'm talking about another warrior like you. The one who will guard your back as you will guard his."
"Then he's getting a bad deal. I'm obviously not too good with partners," Cory replied bitterly.
"That is the past," Rose told him firmly. "A past you do not even remember. The Hawk is your future."
Cory sighed. Grandmother believed that he couldn't have been at fault for what had gone wrong in Colombia. He wasn't so certain. "So now what do I do?"
"You need to eat." Rose turned back to the sink. "And follow the tiger."
"Follow the tiger?" Cory whispered, totally confused. Weren't visions suppose to make things clearer? He allowed his spinning head to sink to the table.
Late afternoon, Los Angeles, CA
"MacGyver?" Lisa Woodman pushed open the door, hoping she had the right place. The young woman, light brown hair pulled back in a long pony tail, hesitantly entered. Looking around, she couldn't help but smile. She could almost picture an old fire truck sitting in the open space two stories high. Walking towards the familiar Jeep parked in the center, she called again, "MacGyver!"
A flash from the left turned her head in time to see Mac sliding down the pole. Lisa was delighted to see her friend, who was old enough to be her father, acting like a kid. "Now I know why you bought this place."
MacGyver grinned widely as he walked over to give her a hug. "It has its charms."
Lisa gave him a brilliant smile as she pulled back. "You know, most people buy houses to live in."
"Ah, but that's not me," Mac pointed out.
Lisa giggled, remembering when Mac had lived in a houseboat and a warehouse. "Nope, not you at all."
"So, ready for the grand tour?"
"Sure, but remember we need to leave soon to meet Nikki at the airport."
A contented smile stretched across MacGyver's face as he pointed at his luggage and equipment. "I'm all ready. Did you remember to keep anything smelling like food separate from the rest of your gear?"
Lisa nodded. "Trust me, the last thing I want to meet on this trip is a bear." Glancing around again, she asked, "How many rooms to this place?"
Mac shrugged as he led her towards the back. "Five bedrooms, two and a half baths, a kitchen, dining room, living room," he waved around them, "and a great work room."
Lisa chuckled in agreement. "But that's a lot of room for just you, or even you and Sam."
"I know." Mac paused, his foot on the bottom step of the stairs. "But this just feels right somehow. Besides, you never know. It'll make things easier if Blair and or maybe Jim come down for Christmas." Shaking off the feeling, Mac continued the tour.
Early evening, Cascade International Airport
"...So he's all locked up, we've finished the paperwork, and now I'm ready for a vacation." Blair declared, waving his fork.
Jim swallowed a bite of his hamburger. "At least as much of a vacation as we can have looking for lost loot."
"Jim, it'll be an adventure! Just us, out in the sun..."
"One hundred degrees plus sun."
"Trekking over hill and dale..."
"More like rocky mountains and steep ravines."
"Out in the wild..."
"With the bears and rattlesnakes."
Sam snickered. "I thought you wanted to go on this trip, Jim?"
"I do. But I'm looking at it realistically."
Blair just shook his head. "No sense of adventure, man."
"We get enough adventure chasing after bad guys, Chief. I'm just hoping for a couple of days under a shady tree with beer and a book."
"Well, we do have a week. Hopefully, we won't be searching for the Hanson gang hideout the whole time." Blair turned to his brother. "When do you have to get back?"
Sam concentrated on his wrapper, wiping up the last of the ketchup with a French fry. "I don't."
"What?" Blair stared at his brother while Jim focused all his attention on him, too.
Sam shrugged. "Let's just say my last talk with my editor didn't go well."
"He fired you?" Blair asked, anger rising in his voice.
"No, I resigned first." Sam's head rose to meet his brother's eyes. "I've had it, Indy. All that guy wants is to dig through the mud for the ugliest rumors he can find, substantiated or not. I wanted to be a journalist to help people, not ruin people who may not deserve it."
Blair sighed. "I can understand that."
"What are you going to do now?" Jim inquired.
"Not sure yet. I can always be an independent stringer again, but I'm not sure that's what I want, either."
"Not all news agencies and editors are like that jerk," Blair pointed out.
"Maybe. But I'm tired of being the objective observer on the sidelines. I want to make a difference."
"You do make a difference," Blair assured him.
Glancing between his brother and his friend, Sam shrugged. "Maybe. But I see you two taking an active part in helping people. Dad's been putting his life on the line for decades to help people. Maybe it's about time I did, too."
Eyes narrowing, Blair's voice lowered an octave. "You're not thinking about taking Larabee up on his offer to join the ATF, are you?" Sam smirked at him. "Sa-am."
"Why not?" Sam chuckled as Blair's eyes grew narrower. "Honest, Blair, I'm not really sure yet. ATF's just one option. I've had an open offer at Phoenix for awhile now, and a friend at National Geographic said I could pick up an assignment with them."
Jim tilted his head. "Like one of those pieces on tribesmen in another country?"
"Exactly. I just need some down time to think."
Jim nodded. "Sounds like a sensible plan."
Blair was still studying his brother worriedly. "Does Dad know yet?"
Sam shook his head. "Figured I'd tell him tonight."
"Sounds like another quoting Harry discussion."
Looking into his brother's eyes, Sam asked, "Is that good or bad?"
"Definitely good. He gave me some good advice after my disaster." Blair reached over the table to squeeze his brother's shoulder. "You know, Olsen, I'm behind you no matter what you decide to do, right?"
Sam soaked in his brother's sincerity. "Thanks."
Jim glanced at his watch. "We need to head for the gate." He gently tousled Sam's hair as they stood, silently lending his own support.
Three hours later, Cheyenne, WY
"There he is," Jim pointed out to his younger companions as they exited the gate area.
Blair smiled and gave his father an exaggerated wave. MacGyver waved back as he walked towards them, Lisa Woodman and Nikki Carpenter trailing behind him. After giving both sons a hug, Mac held out his hand to Jim. "How was your flight?"
"Not bad," Sam replied, giving Lisa a hug as well. "Yours?"
"A bit bumpy over the Rockies, but not bad," Lisa replied.
"Everyone looking forward to a week of adventure?" Nikki asked.
Jim, Sam, and Blair all looked at each other and started to snicker. "At least two of us are," Blair explained. "Jim wants a beer and a book."
"Under a shade tree," Sam added.
Jim just gave the two a playful glare.
MacGyver chuckled. "We'll have to see what we can arrange. How long do you have?"
Again, the three men looked at each other, only more seriously. "Jim and I have a week," Blair responded.
Sam draped his arm around his father's shoulders. "And I need to tell you something."
Mac shot his son a penetrating look. "What do you need to tell me?"
"Well..." Sam started, leading his father towards baggage claims.
Lisa lifted her head to look at Jim and Blair. "What's up?"
"Sam quit the newspaper," Blair explained.
"Well, that's not unexpected." Lisa sighed as they turned to follow Mac and Sam. "Sam's been fighting with that new editor from day one."
Nikki looked at Sam's back thoughtfully. "I need to remind him about the Phoenix offer. I'd love to have him working for me."
"Better work fast," Blair chuckled. "Sam's still got that offer from the ATF on his mind."
"Oh, that'll go over real well with MacGyver," Lisa commented worriedly.
"Sam's aware of that, too." Jim gave the girl a smile. "Shouldn't you be out on a boat somewhere?"
Lisa laughed. "Pretty weird place for a marine biologist starting her doctorate, right?"
Jim smiled again. "Not too many oceans in Wyoming."
"The 'Tidal Pool' is in dock getting some work done. We won't be going out for another three weeks, and the prep works mostly done. Besides, after having memorized that map a couple of years ago, I'm curious to actually see where it leads. Since it only cost the plane ticket and the money we chipped in for food, why not?"
"Agree." Jim looked ahead to see Mac comfortingly wrap his arm around Sam's neck and squeeze. Apparently, the 'Harry talk' was progressing well. "Where's Dr. Hudson?"
"He's bringing the Suburban around," Nikki explained.
"Yeah," Lisa giggled, "he and MacGyver have already had a discussion over some of the equipment. We even went to an Army supply store before you guys arrived."
Blair lifted an eyebrow. "How come?"
"MacGyver kept asking if Rick had brought certain things," Lisa explained.
Nikki chuckled. "Which has to be a first; MacGyver wanting to BRING more stuff instead of just going with whatever's available."
"Very true." Lisa's smile grew bigger. "Though I have to admit that water containers sound like a big item to me."
"Me, too," Blair agreed. "So I take it Rick's not up on planning such a big trip?"
Nikki shrugged. "I'd say eager but inexperienced. Most of his knowledge is from 19th century records. It's probably a good thing MacGyver made out the menu, or we'd be eating beef jerky."
"Sounds good to me," Sam interjected as he joined the group. Jim noted that he was at ease, meaning the talk with Mac had ended favorably.
"You say that now," Mac returned, walking in behind Sam. "But by the third meal you would have been complaining." He glanced at the baggage carousel. "Here comes your luggage."
Soon, the three in from Cascade had their bags and Nikki led the party to the exit.
Looking over the girls' heads, Jim spotted a silver Suburban pull up to the curb, gear already tied on the top. A blond man about Blair's height and Mac's age jumped out. "We got everybody?"
"All here and accounted for," Mac replied. He waved a hand at Sam. "This is my son, Sam. That's my other son, Blair," he gestured at Blair, then tilted his head, "And this is Blair's partner, Jim."
"Great to finally meet you all." Rick vigorously shook first Sam's, then Jim's hand.
Blair took his hand last. "We've been looking forward to this, too, Dr. Hudson."
Rick waved his hand. "Just call me Rick, or Dr. Rick as my students call me."
"Dr. Rick," Blair grinned.
The man then rubbed his hands together. "I've got us booked into the Sheridan for tonight. Figured we could start fresh tomorrow."
Jim nodded his head. "Sounds like a good idea."
"Then we can go find out how men tamed the West," Blair joked.
"Actually, it was the women who tamed the West," Rick explained as he opened the sliding door. "Between accidents, fights, heart attacks, and other fatal incidents, men only lasted five to seven years out here on average. It was usually the women who then picked up the pieces and continued on."
"Really?" Lisa asked, surprised.
"Oh, yes. Did you know that Wyoming was the first state to allow women to vote? Though some said that was just to attract women to homestead..."
Rick continued to lecture as they piled into the Suburban. Before climbing in, Sam lifted an eyebrow at Jim, horror lurking in his eyes. Use to Blair's lecturing, Jim just gave a commiserating shrug before giving Sam a push in.
Next morning, Bill Nighthawk's cabin
A knock on the door raised Cory's face from his laptop. "Hey, Neil," a voice called out.
Cory smiled as he called back, "Hey, Tobe."
Deputy Toby Nighthawk walked through the door carrying a sack. "How's the big city guy doing?"
"Glad to be out in the country." It had been nearly a year since he had last seen Toby, but it always felt like it had been just last week. Cory closed the lid of the laptop. "What's in the sack?"
Chuckling, Toby opened the fridge. "Chicken, green bean salad, and Mom's peanut butter pie."
"Yum." Cory stood up to watch Toby shove it inside. "Though you didn't need to. Grandmother brought some stuff yesterday."
"Yeah, I did." Toby closed the refrigerator door. He walked over to the table, pulling out a chair and dropping into it. "Grandmother mentioned to Mom that you'd lost weight and she's worried you're not eating. So Mom decided that even if you didn't eat anything else, you'd eat her peanut butter pie." As he talked, Toby covertly studied his longtime friend. Cory did look pale and withdrawn. He was going to have to do something about that.
"She's got that right. I love her peanut butter pie." Sitting back down, Cory couldn't hold back a slight groan.
Toby frowned. "Knee or ribs?" He knew it wasn't a headache, since Cory had been on his computer.
"Ribs are almost healed."
"Knee?" Watching Cory grimace as he lifted his leg to rest on another chair, Toby frowned. "Dave said he didn't understand why the docs didn't just go in and repair it before you left DC."
"They thought it may get better if I just rested it. And to be honest, it was doing better until this morning."
"You pushing it?"
"No." Cory decided he'd better change the subject. "So, when did you get back from your training session?"
Maintaining a straight face, Cory inquired, "Seen the lovely Miss Rhodes lately?"
Toby stared at the ceiling. "Maybe."
A deep chuckle rumbled from his friend. "You propose yet?"
"I'm getting there." Toby's teasing glare turned worried. "As long as I don't get any outside interference."
Toby sighed. "There's a historian here from Florida with a group to look for that old Hanson gang loot."
"You mean the one we searched for that summer when we were twelve and got lost?"
"And I sprained my ankle on that loose rock?"
"And your dad, Dave, and Bill had to rescue us?"
"Yep, that's the one."
"So you're worried about Jill falling for a historian?"
"No, one of them is an international photojournalist. He and his family were here a couple of years ago, and Jill is fascinated by him."
Cory struggled against a smile. "So? My Aunt Suzanne has had a crush on Robert Redford ever since I can remember, and she still married George."
Toby glared at him. "Your aunt never actually met Robert Redford."
"Same thing, Tobe. Why would Jill go after some international star? She loves Fortuity and her dad's newspaper. If she wanted to leave, she would have done it by now." Cory sighed. "Besides, there's something to be said for small, quiet American towns."
The moment weighed heavy in the silence. "What happened?"
"Didn't the moccasin telegraph fill you in?"
"I haven't heard it from you, Neil."
The warmth of the familiar nickname tipped the balance. Cory and Toby had been friends since they were four, the year Cory lived with Bill's family. Even with all of Cory's moving, Toby was the one person he had stayed in touch. He was someone Cory could confess anything to and not be rejected. "That's the problem, Tobe. I don't remember much of it."
"What do you remember?"
Dark eyes turned inward. "There was information that a drug lord in Colombia was planning a terrorist attack at the courthouse in Cali. Alan and I were to get close enough for me to hack into his computer, pull out the plans, and help the authorities stop it."
Toby nodded. "Alan was your field partner, right? The guy who was teaching you the ropes?"
"Right." Cory released a deep breath as he ran a hand over his wavy hair. "I remember leaving the city. I remember Alan complaining about the bugs. But after that, I simply don't know what happened. Alan died, and I can't remember how or why."
Toby treaded carefully. "It sounds like it was a dicey situation. And Alan was the senior partner."
"Yeah, but what if I did something wrong? What if I made a mistake that got Alan killed?"
"And what if you didn't? Cory, you took some damage, too. Broken ribs, lacerations, contusions, concussion, blown out knee, and blood loss. Bill said you were almost in a coma when they found you." Bill had also said that it looked like Cory had been tortured, but Toby couldn't think about that without a surge of rage his friend didn't need to see. After Cory gave a dejected shrug, the young deputy continued, "All that adds up to major trauma. I've dealt with enough trauma victims to know it can play havoc with a person's memory. Add in the head injury, and it's not surprising you don't remember."
"That doesn't seem to cut it with some of the other agents."
"What?" Toby shook his head. "They're just looking for dirt. What does your boss say?"
A faint smile finally stretched across Cory's face. "Craig's been cool. Says everyone has a case go bad."
"Yeah, but Craig's been sponsoring me since the birthday greeting fiasco."
Toby grinned. "Well, how many 14-year-olds successfully hack into a high security military facility?"
"I only wanted to leave a message for Dad," Cory pointed out.
"You wanted to prove to him that you knew more about computers than all his young officers he was bragging about," Toby refuted.
"Yeah, and if I hadn't signed my name for him, no one would have figured out it was me."
Toby laughed. "You know, Bill didn't say it at the time, but he was pretty proud of you."
"Bill's always proud of me. It's Dad who doesn't care. Hell, he's already asked if I should get 'full-time professional help'."
Puzzled, Toby stared at him. "Full time?"
"As in 'Institution'."
Toby rolled his eyes. "Give me a break." When Cory only shrugged, Toby's eyes narrowed. "What?"
Cory closed his eyes. He hadn't told anyone about this, but he trusted his friend. "I've lost time, Tobe."
"Lost time? You mean in Colombia, right?"
"No, I'm talking just yesterday before Grandmother and Dave stopped by."
Sudden concern filled Toby's face. "You mean like a blackout? Like sleepwalking?"
"I don't know what happens. But I don't think I go anywhere. I'm all stiff when I wake up. But I really don't know." Under the table, Cory bunched his hands into fists to keep from shaking.
"How long has this been happening?"
"Since I got out of the hospital."
Toby frowned. "Maybe it's the head injury. Maybe you're having some kind of a seizure." Maybe Cory should be staying with Grandmother instead of by himself. Toby briefly wondered if he could talk his friend into the move.
"But that doesn't explain all the other stuff."
"What other stuff?" Toby asked sternly, trying not to let his voice rise in worry.
Cory took a deep breath. "I'm hearing and seeing things I shouldn't."
"Like voices of imaginary friends?"
"No." Cory reined in his temper with effort. "Far away stuff." Seeing that Toby still didn't understand, Cory stood up.
Toby glared at him. "You're supposed to be resting that knee."
Toby followed his slowly limping friend to the window. Cory stared out a moment. "See that squirrel on the pine tree to the right of the gate?"
Toby squinted. "Which tree?" Cory silently handed him the binoculars from the windowsill. After sending his friend a puzzled look, Toby looked through the lens. "Okay, gate, right, tree..." Toby pulled the binoculars away for a moment, then raised them again. "You can see that squirrel?"
"I can see him nibbling on a seed."
Toby slowly lowered the glasses. "That's incredible. How?"
"You got me. Also, I can hear the deer down by the river."
"That's nearly a mile away."
"I know. And sometimes I smell the Lincoln's fish smoker, and that's got to be at least three miles away."
"More like seven." Toby thought a moment, then glanced at the pale face of his friend. "Come on, let's sit while we discuss this."
Once seated, Cory shrugged. "So, am I going crazy?"
"Seeing three times farther than normal isn't insanity, Neil."
"Then HOW?" Frustration filled Cory's voice and posture. "I just don't understand what's happening to me!"
Toby thought fast and hard. "Could it be drugs?" At Cory's glare, Toby waved at him. "I know you don't take drugs, but what about Colombia? What if you were given or exposed to something? I've heard of some pretty weird stuff down there, and you can't remember what happened. Perhaps they gave you a drug to keep you from remembering?"
Cory could feel his muscles relax under Toby's cool reasoning. "You mean, I can see farther due to some drug? But it's been almost seven weeks."
"Some crud takes longer to get out of a person's system. Did you tell the doctors about any of this?"
Cory sighed. "I told them I could hear people on the floor above me. That's when all the bull about mental problems popped up."
Toby softly muttered 'Idiots' under his breath. "Maybe you just need more rest. Allow whatever junk you were given time to work itself out."
"We don't know that it is a drug."
"Maybe the head injury is having an affect. In either case, I know you're not going crazy, Neil. I saw the squirrel, too." Seeing the depressed look, Toby continued, "But I do know something that might help."
"What?" Cory asked, his voice low and full of desperation.
Pausing, Cory lifted his eyes. Then he snickered, "Okay, bring on the pie."
Blair shook his head as he dropped down onto the wooden bench. "French fries again? After having eggs and bacon this morning?"
"Not everybody's allergic to grease like you and Dad are," Sam pointed out as he joined him on the bench.
"Just worrying about your arteries, Olsen."
"Me and my arteries are fine, Indy."
"Can't be, considering your diet. I'm surprised you don't weigh fifty more pounds."
"No, I'd starve to death on your low fat diet. Besides, I need to stock up now before we hit the back country. If Dad did the menu, I'm not sure I want to know what version of food is in those boxes..."
Jim smiled, listening to the brothers bicker as he leaned against the stone of the building. If he didn't know better, he would have thought they'd grown up together. He glanced back into the Fortuity Cafe they had just exited. Mac was settling the bill with Dr. Rick while Lisa and Nikki had decided to hit 'the little girl's room' while indoor plumbing was still available.
Taking a deep breath, Jim relaxed as he scanned the corner of the sleepy town. Last time they were here, Jim's mind was occupied with searching for Blair and Mac. He hadn't paid any attention to the town itself. Looking around, Jim noted that only a handful of people were on the sun-baked sidewalks. He studied the mix of wooden and red sandstone buildings. It felt so different to the sentinel after the crowds of Cascade. No wonder they had made front page news last time -- there probably wasn't a lot of major crime here. While it wasn't his home, Jim knew he could relax and enjoy himself. Deciding to stretch his legs, he left Blair and Sam to their friendly argument to look over the town.
Two blocks later, Jim paused. The hair on his arms rose, tingling with a faint sense of excitement. He glanced down the side street. There was very little to the town off the main drag, so he wasn't surprised to see the street quickly turn into an empty road leading into the mountains. What surprised him was that in the distance, lying across the dirt track, was a tiger enjoying the sun.
Jim stared. The tiger sleepily returned the stare, apparently not bothered in the slightest by the sentinel's presence. The lanky cat even gave a large yawn, showing off its sharp teeth. In no way did it approach him or make a threatening move. It was simply soaking up some rays.
Blinking and shaking his head, Jim glanced back to see his partner waving at him. Taking another look down the side street, Jim realized that the tiger had vanished. Puzzled, he walked back to the group.
MacGyver glanced at the muscular man as he opened the driver's door of the Suburban. "Jim? You okay?"
"Fine." There was no way Jim was confessing to Mac and the group at large he had just seen a disappearing tiger. He walked over to the other side. Blair looked up at him questioningly. Jim shrugged, conveying the sense that he would explain later with his eyes. Then he waited as Blair climbed into the back after Lisa.
Suddenly, the hair on the back of Jim's neck rose. Concerned, Jim searched the surrounding three-story buildings. Nothing he could see or hear indicated danger. His nostrils flared, barely picking up an unsettling scent. Yet the sentinel couldn't identify it. Jim's sense of peace evaporated as he climbed into the Suburban.
In a room above the Fortuity Cafe
He watched his prey gather around the Suburban. His nemesis' hair might be graying, but his sharp mind was all the more dangerous with the added experience. The rest of his 'little family' were also dangerous, each in their own way.
The professor, who was checking the straps on the supplies, was of no concern to him, other than a possible pawn. Climbing into the passenger's seat in the front, the short brunette was still a fit and attractive woman. Research indicated that she was more than capable of taking over what Peter Thornton had started at Phoenix.
Further down was the curly-haired boy. He was racking up an impressive list of 'crimes solved' in his new career. Next to him was the taller boy, who was gaining his own reputation as someone able to dig up facts that others wanted to stay buried. Both sons were worthy successors to the father.
He took a moment to contemplate the young woman about to climb into the Suburban. The sweet child reminded him too much of another, the sole reason behind a brief truce between himself and MacGyver. He would avoid harming her if possible.
Then the man he previously had mistaken for a dumb cop joined the group. The man still didn't look that impressive. However, research had revealed the potential danger of MacGyver's new friend. He now suspected that the man was partly responsible for the failure of the last plan. He was a wild card in the game, the one he was unsure how to play. He hated the unknown.
Then the wild card glanced up to the window. For a moment he held his breath, even though he knew he could not be seen. He did not relax until the big man had climbed into the Suburban behind his partner, and MacGyver drove away.
An hour later, Wind River Range, WY
Rick stood on a rock outcropping, waving his hands at the panoramic view. "Somewhere in this area is the Hanson gang hideout. There are many theories as to its location..."
With effort, Blair pulled his attention away from Dr. Rick. As much as he wanted to hear about new theories on the gang, a more pressing matter was weighing on the guide. His sentinel had been too quiet since leaving Fortuity. Not that Jim was normally an eloquent conversationalist, but he would have at least joined in Blair and Sam's teasing, asked Mac about his latest project, or discussed surfing with Lisa. Instead, Jim seemed more alert yet distant, studying the passing landscape intensely. His partner was worrying about something and that worried Blair. He picked his way through the rocks and ground cover to where Jim stood on another rock outcropping, away from the others. "What's up?"
Jim finished his scan of the area. "I'm not sure."
"Something's had you all uptight since Fortuity."
Continuing to survey the ravine below, Jim sighed. "I saw the tiger."
"What?" Blair then forced himself to take a deep breath and lower his voice. "Where? When?"
"I think you're missing a 'W' in there, Chief."
"I saw the tiger lying in the sun outside of Fortuity."
Blair frowned as he put the clues together. "We're talking about another sentinel, aren't we?" At Jim's nod, Blair's frown grew deeper. "Damn. You think the tiger's another evil sentinel after Sam?"
"I'm not convinced it's evil."
Blair crossed his arms. "Do we ever meet any other kind? This could be San Francisco again."
Jim was still shaking his head. "No, that grizzly snarled at me; so did Faith's cougar. Alex's jaguar wanted to attack me. This tiger wasn't aggressive; he was just minding his own business."
"Doing what?" Blair inquired, curious despite the situation.
"Relaxing. Enjoying the sun."
"Enjoying the sun?"
"Yeah. Watching it, I felt the same way I do when I see Marston's otter-looking critter."
"Then why are you so tense?"
"When I reached the Suburban, I felt someone staring at us. Someone unfriendly."
"So it could be an evil sentinel?"
"I don't know if they're related. The tiger was gone by that time."
"So? They have to be connected. Why else would anyone be watching us?"
Jim rolled his eyes. "I'm sure there are a few people in that town who don't like us after last time. And I kinda got an impression from the tiger of someone younger and vulnerable. The other sentinel may not know or care that we're here." Then Jim sent his partner a smirk. "Plus, who knows what kind of trouble followed us here. You MacGyvers tend to find it wherever you go."
"Like you don't?" Blair took another deep breath and held it. He had to push away his fear for Sam in order to think. "Do you have any reason to believe the sentinel or whoever was watching us is following?"
Jim's face grew tighter. "No."
"And it wouldn't be easy to hide with only one, little-traveled, dirt road," Blair thought out loud.
"Yeah, but it's not like this trip's a secret. Everyone around here probably knows we're here and has a good idea of where we're going."
The partners stared at each other in indecision. "Do we tell Mac?" Jim asked.
"Tell him what? That you're seeing a tiger that may or may not maul a hawk that could be Sam after he drowns? That'll go over good."
"We should tell him there could be trouble."
"But we don't even know if there's any trouble out there!"
"What's out there?"
Blair and Jim turned to find Sam behind them. Sam shrugged. "I was getting tired of hearing where each deputy was shot by which gang member."
Another look passed between the partners, silently agreeing not to mention the tiger yet. Blair replied, "Jim thought he felt some unfriendly eyes on us in Fortuity."
Sam's eyes narrowed as he glanced between them. "How unfriendly?"
"That's the discussion," Blair admitted.
"Well," Sam drew out thoughtfully, "We were the ones who put Winston Madison in jail for what he did to you, Dad, and Dr. Rick. There's bound to be a few people around here who don't like us for that."
"A point I made," Jim agreed, tilting his head at Blair.
"But you're the one looking at every tree like it's going to shoot us," Blair pointed out.
Sam lifted an eyebrow. "Maybe you need this downtime more than the rest of us, Jim."
Blair managed a weak smile at his brother's attempt at humor. Perhaps both of them were looking for trouble where none existed. Yet the thought of another evil sentinel capturing his brother terrified him.
Jim neither confirmed nor denied Sam's observation, only wrapping a hand around Sam's shoulder and squeezing it affectionately. "Just watch yourself, okay? Vacations with MacGyvers tend to get interesting."
Blair rolled his eyes as Sam chuckled, "Not with Dr. Rick lecturing."
"Hey, he's very knowledgeable about the history of this area," Blair chided.
"Yeah, and he's insisting on telling us everything he knows," Sam replied. "I feel like I'm back in college again, wondering how much of this is going to be on the final."
Jim smirked in silent agreement as he led them back to the Suburban.
Fortuity News, Fortuity, WY
Jill Rhodes was blocking out the newspaper's next edition when she heard the bell above the door ring. Looking up, she saw Toby enter. She couldn't help the content smile that spread across her face. She had missed him while he had been at the training seminar in Cheyenne. "Hello."
"Hi," Toby answered, a matching smile stretching across his own face. He leaned over the counter as she rose, giving her a quick kiss.
"You about to go on duty?" Jill asked as she sat back down.
"Yeah," Toby replied, glancing down at his hat in his hands. "You still going up to interview Dr. Hudson tomorrow?"
"Of course," Jill replied, hiding her smile. She couldn't believe Toby would be jealous of Sam Malloy, but apparently he was. Though he seemed more pre-occupied than jealous at the moment.
"I've got permission to drive you up," Toby continued. "Johnson thinks it would be a good idea to make sure everything's going okay and to let them know he's not like the last sheriff." Toby paused again. "You mind if we stop by Bill's cabin on the way back?"
That's it. Jill had heard that Cory Buchanan was back, recovering from some injuries he had suffered due to his job with the government. He and Toby had been tight since they were kids. "Sure. You need to drop off something for Cory?"
Toby shrugged. "Just want to see how he's doing."
Jill tilted her head, studying her boyfriend. "You're worried about him."
"He's still hurting," Toby replied, "both physically and mentally. I think he blames himself for his partner getting killed."
"I thought he couldn't remember?"
"He doesn't. Which probably just makes it worse."
Jill frowned. "I can understand that. If he can't remember, he can't deal with it." After another glance at Toby, she softly asked, "You don't think he's suicidal, do you?"
Toby's head popped up. "Hell, no!"
"Then what's got you so worried?"
Toby thought fast. "He's getting really bad headaches, and I suspect he's pushing that knee. I'm afraid that it's going to give out when he doesn't expect it."
"And he'll get hurt again?" Jill added.
"Or land into a situation he can't get himself out of."
"Why isn't he at your grandmother's?"
"I tried to talk him into it, but Cory wants to be by himself."
Jill nodded. "I can understand that." She gave Toby a reassuring smile. "So we'll check on him."
Toby gave her the brilliant smile that reminded her why she loved him. "Thanks."
Late afternoon, base camp, somewhere in the Wind River Range, WY
MacGyver drew in a deep breath after he set the camp stove on a rock. There was nothing like clean mountain air to make a person feel alive. It was the perfect touch to having his sons and Lisa all together. He really didn't care whether they found Rick's loot; he just wanted to spend time with the most important people in his world.
The spot Rick had picked for the base camp was perfect. The lodge pole pines soared above them, their discarded pine needles carpeting the ground. Here and there, green bushes and wild roses made the most of the sunlight slipping past the trees. A river flowed nearby, soothing in its constant roar. Jim even had his choice of shade trees. Now they just had to get set up.
Then he noticed where Nikki was setting down the tents. "Not there," he told her.
Nikki gave him a puzzled look. "Why not? It's a perfect place."
"No, it's not."
Nikki's look grew heated. "It's flat. It's shaded. There's no large rocks."
"It's in a low spot." MacGyver waved his hand towards the slope behind her. "If it rains, it'll collected there."
Nikki rolled her eyes. "No, it won't. It will continue past the tent."
Mac shook his head again. "Only after it forms a puddle."
Nikki's eyes narrowed as her glare intensified. "I thought you were going to start listening to me?"
"We're not at work," Mac replied, struggling to keep his own temper.
"So where would Mr. Genius put the tents?" Nikki asked snidely.
"Right there." MacGyver pointed out a spot a hundred yards away. "They'll stay dry there."
"They sure will, since they'll bake in the sun most of the day!"
"Better than being wet!"
"Not when we won't GET wet!" Nikki placed both fists on her hips.
Jim, hoping to avoid a full-blown war, quietly pointed out, "There is more than one tent."
Nikki and Mac continued to glare at each other a moment more. "FINE!" Nikki snarled.
"FINE," Mac snapped back.
Nikki stalked back to the Suburban for more gear. MacGyver spun around to discover Blair, Sam, and Lisa watching him. Both his sons had an eyebrow raised, while Lisa just looked disappointed. "What?"
Pretending to ignore his father, Blair commented to Sam, "You know, I would have never believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes."
"Me, neither." Sam replied.
"WHAT?" Mac demanded.
"Our father can't take instruction from a woman," Sam explained as he followed Nikki's wake for another load. Lisa just shook her head as she followed Sam.
"I can, too!" Mac called after them. "Just that I'm right!" Then he stalked towards the river, muttering something about Judases.
Blair smirked. "Man, you could cut the electricity between those two with a knife. What do you think, Jim?"
"I'm sleeping in Mac's tent." Jim walked over to where Dr. Rick was struggling to put up the tarp for the dining area.
Nighthawk residence, Wind River Reservation, WY
Rose Nighthawk thought hard as she washed dishes. She could almost feel the strands of destiny pulling towards each other, aching to meet. Something momentous would happen soon. She had been expecting it for a long time.
It had been twenty-five years since her son Bill had phoned asking for help. His good friend and fellow officer was spinning out of control with grief, neglecting his young son. Bill had been stretched too thin trying to care of both of them. He asked if she would be willing to look after his godson while he looked after his friend. Family was important, so Rose readily agreed to take in young Cory.
She glanced at her front door, remembering the day Bill had entered with the four-year-old in his arms. The little boy had his face buried into his godfather's shoulder, slender arms tight around the strong neck. Eager to see the child she'd heard so much about, Rose was startled by what else came in with them. A beautiful orange and black striped tiger followed the pair, sniffing suspiciously. For a moment, Rose felt its penetrating stare.
"Hi, Mom." Bill's voice pulled her eyes back to the pair of humans. Her son was trying to coax the boy into greeting her. "Say hi to Mrs. Nighthawk, Cory." Briefly, the small face turned, providing a glimpse of sad, dark eyes. Then he immediately tucked his face back into Bill's neck.
"Hi, Cory," The tiger curved around Bill's legs, as if trying to lend its support. Realizing the tiger was of the dream world, Rose tried not to stare at it.
Bill gently pulled Cory away to sit on the books placed on one of the kitchen chairs. She could see the trauma still lingering in the large eyes. Acting as if scared boys and tigers were normal visitors in her kitchen, Rose asked, "Would you like a cookie?" The dark head solemnly nodded. As Rose brought over the plate of cookies, she saw the tiger sink into the little boy. From that moment on, she knew the boy was special.
By the end of the year, Cory had become as dear to her as her other grandchildren. She could still hear his and Toby's young voices, imitating engine noises as they ran their toys over Dave's legs. She had been heartbroken when his father had been ready to take him back.
Her attention was drawn out the window. A wolf was playfully jumping at a reddish hawk swooping above while a large black cat trailed behind them. She smiled. "So you're back." These were the spirits she'd seen a few years ago when Toby had been at a crossroad. While the wolf and cat had been vivid then, she hadn't really been able to see more than a shadow of the bird. "You are now ready for your destiny, too, eh, Hawk?" She could feel her gut tighten as she watched. Yes, the moment was at hand. But there was something in the air, something evil, that made Rose fear the meeting would not be an easy one.
Next morning, base camp, Wind River Range, WY
Even Jim had to admit to a surge of excitement as Dr. Rick rolled out the topo map of the area. After nearly losing Blair and MacGyver in the effort to keep the information safe, Jim wanted to see what all the fuss was about.
Next to him, Blair and Lisa were still teasing Sam about his cooking mishap. "So I missed ONCE." Sam waved his hands. "What's the big deal?"
"The pancake was half gooey," Lisa pointed out. "We couldn't even brush off the dirt."
"Besides," Blair added, "You didn't need to flip them so high."
Sam glared at him. "Well, SOMEBODY had to cook. If you didn't want me doing it, you should have gotten out of bed earlier."
"Hey," Blair objected. "I'm on vacation. I'm entitled to sleep in."
"So what's your excuse for the rest of the five years I've known you?" Jim observed dryly as he continued to study the map. He easily avoided the swipe his roommate sent his way.
"So, where do you want to start, Rick?" MacGyver drawled, focusing the attention of his unruly family to the matter at hand.
Dr. Rick brushed his finger around a nearby area. "From my research, I believe their hideout would be in this area somewhere."
"Do you believe it's in the valley there, or somewhere along this mountain slope?" Nikki asked, tilting her head to study the lines.
"That's the point I'm fuzzy on," Rick admitted. "The marshals lost them here and here." He pointed out the areas. "But the posse from Fortuity lost them around here." He tapped another place further south. "So that's why I suspect this area."
"The valley would have water and good grazing for their horses, and stay relatively cool in the summer," Nikki pointed out.
MacGyver nodded his head vaguely, deep in thought. "Yet the rocky slopes would provide shelter for hiding from lawmen, and I'm sure this river runs most of the year." Missing the glare Nikki threw at him, he glanced at the former ranger. "What do you think, Jim?"
Jim concentrated on the map, his mind translating the lines and symbols into terrain. "Both are possibilities. However, the mountainside is going to be a lot rougher to hike than the valley."
"Then we should start with the valley," Nikki suggested. "Leave the harder area alone for now, and search it only when we're sure the hideout's not in the valley."
"Yet the very fact the slope is rougher terrain makes it a better possibility for the hideout's location," Mac pointed out, still focused on the map. "Plus it would make sense to search the rougher area first while we're fresh."
Jim covertly glanced at both Mac and Nikki. Mac was still so deep in thought, he didn't even realize he was rejecting all of Nikki's ideas. However, Nikki was taking it personally.
Picking up the same signs, Blair quickly jumped in. "Well, there are seven of us. Why don't we split up into two groups, with one searching the valley and the other starting on the slope?"
"Good idea, Chief," Jim quickly supported, not wanting to witness another squabble between Mac and Nikki.
"And we can cover more territory in the time we have," Rick agreed excitedly. "That way we have a better chance of finding something before we leave."
"Well, I'm starting with the valley," Nikki stated firmly.
"Me, too," Lisa decided. "I don't think I'm acclimated to the elevation enough to tackle those slopes yet."
"I still have a bit of a headache myself," Rick decided. "I'll search the valley first as well."
Studying the map himself, Sam tapped where the lines tightened and bent. "There has to be a fantastic view of the area from here. I can take some pictures while we go up, and we can study them tonight on Blair's laptop if we don't find anything today. I'll go in the slope group."
Jim, thinking that the most fit should take the rougher terrain, decided, "I'll do the slope myself. How about you, Chief?"
Blair nodded. "I'd like to see the view, too, from a safe distance. Besides, a trail called 'Outlaw Rock' has to be good karma for our search. Count me in."
Mac looked up from the map, torn. Jim could almost see the wheels spin in the older man's head, analyzing the two groups as they stood. As much as Mac would have loved to explore the promising slope with his sons, he didn't like the idea of sending the girls and Rick off by themselves. Finally, his sense of duty won out. "Okay, I'll do the valley."
Nikki gave him a bright smile. Jim wondered if Mac knew what he'd done to gain such favor, or if Nikki understood why Mac made the decision he did. Somehow, the sentinel doubted it.
"So let's get the lunches put together," Mac ordered.
"As long as I do the sandwiches instead of Fumble-Fingers," Blair replied as he followed his father.
"Hey!" Sam protested as Lisa giggled.
None of them noticed the tiny listening device attached to the underside of the table.
Bill Nighthawk's cabin
"Yes, Craig, I'm resting." Cory leaned his head against the back of the rocking chair as he talked on his satellite phone. "No, I'm not pushing my knee... Define stupid... That covers just about everything except breathing... I'm doing okay, honest." Closing his eyes, he listened for a while. "I don't know... I'm not ready... Craig, I don't know if I'll ever be ready to go back." Cory winced. He hadn't intended to tell Craig that yet. "No, you don't need to come out here... Craig, no... Craig!"
Cory turned off the phone and groaned. He did not want to deal with Craig in person. While telling Toby his problems was one thing, telling Craig he was losing time and seeing things he shouldn't was something else entirely. He had no idea how his boss would take it, and he wasn't sure he wanted to know. It could very well start the chain of events that could end with him losing his job, and perhaps even his freedom. As scared as he was about what was happening, Cory didn't think he could handle being locked up.
Opening his eyes, Cory's entire body stiffened. Standing in the trees was a huge black cat. He wasn't sure if it was a leopard or a jaguar, but it definitely looked large enough to do damage. Another part of his brain pointed out that such a cat should be in a jungle, not semi-arid Wyoming, but he ignored it for the moment.
The cat just stared at him as if it was searching his soul. Cory held his breath. Suddenly, he felt as if he had passed some test. A feeling of protective strength and trustworthiness flowed over him. Then with a flick of its tail, the cat turned and strolled into the woods. Within a moment it was gone.
Cory could only blink, wondering what on earth he'd seen. Did schizoids see imaginary animals as well as people? Even more worried, he whispered, "Grandmother, you said to follow the tiger. You didn't mention a black cat."
Trail head, Wind River Range, WY
"Guess this is where we part ways," Blair declared, waving at the two paths forking from the trail.
Dr. Rick rubbed his hands together. "I have been waiting for this for ages. Thank you all again for agreeing to help."
"No problem." Lisa glanced up at the nearby switchback as it steeply climbed up the slope. "Though I'm glad I chose the valley."
MacGyver also studied the trails. "You boys are going to be careful, right?"
"Mac," Blair replied, rolling his eyes. "We'll be fine."
"They're..." Nikki began.
"Adults, I know," MacGyver finished.
"Smile," Sam ordered. He quickly snapped a picture of the group.
"Is that your new digital camera?" Lisa asked. "Can I see?"
Standing quietly behind Sam, Jim took a deep breath. A familiar tingle of excitement shot up his spine. He wasn't surprised to see the tiger when he opened his eyes. The tiger lay in the shade, watching him curiously. Then it faded from sight. Jim mentally nodded to himself. No matter how worried Blair was, he knew the tiger wasn't there to harm them. Perhaps if he had some time later, he would try to track the tiger to its sentinel.
But now they had a hideout to discover and loot to find. Jim took another deep breath, letting his senses stretch ahead. He registered the scents on the air, the moisture on his skin, the direction and strength of the wind against his arms, and the weight of the atmosphere against his body.
"Jim?" Blair called gently, noting his sentinel's pre-occupation.
Jim turned to the group. "We should keep an eye on the weather."
Nikki looked at the deep blue sky. "Why?"
"Feels like rain."
While the rest of the group stared at him, Rick nodded. "We are getting into the time of year when the monsoon can kick in at any time. In fact, we are not that far off time-wise from when the Hanson gang was caught in the flash flood."
MacGyver turned to his friend. "Then why did you insist we should look now?"
Rick looked at his friend innocently. "Because I wanted to recreate the conditions. Don't worry -- they don't have flash floods EVERY year."
Mac barely kept from rolling his eyes. "Yeah, but with our luck, we better be prepared." He smiled at his sons and Jim. "See you guys this afternoon."
"First ones back start dinner," Blair called after the other group.
Large SUV on a remote dirt road
He nodded to himself. While he had hoped MacGyver would have taken the Outlaw Rock trail, perhaps it was better this way. The bank of cameras showed the men crossing a bridge, pausing as the youngest snapped pictures. Once they had passed the old burn section, he could get back to work. He should have plenty of time to finish, then return to his rental to watch them spring his main trap.
Three hours later, Outlaw Rock, Wind River Range, WY
Blair took a long pull from his water bottle. "Man, it sure heats up quick around here." He sat down and opened his backpack.
Jim nodded as he scanned the area. He sat down on a rock opposite his partner's fallen log. "It's the altitude. There's less air to heat up." He then pointed towards the nearby peaks. "But we're going to be cooling off soon."
Sam clicked another picture of the valley below, then looked up. "Yeah, looks like you were right about the weather, Jim."
"Those are some impressive clouds," Blair agreed as he watched the cauliflower-shaped towers reach into the sky. Then he continued to study the area around them as he pulled out his lunch sack. They had decided to eat lunch on the large rock face Sam had spotted on the map. Pine trees covered the gentle slope to their left, while the ledge they were on dropped off steeply. Another ledge rose above them, too high to see the top. As Sam had predicted, the view of the valley below was spectacular. "Man, it's going to be tougher than I thought, searching for a hideout in this area."
Sam nodded as he sat on the log next to Blair. "We could be right on top of it and not spot it."
"We're going to need a better game plan." Blair pulled out a pad of paper from his pack. "Any ideas?"
Sam drummed his fingers on his knee. "Well, a grid pattern isn't going to work in this terrain."
"That's for sure. We'd fall off a cliff." Blair repressed a shudder.
"At least you would, since you can't read the map." Blair gave Sam a withering look.
Unnoticed by the brothers, Jim tilted his head, his nostrils flaring.
"Yeah, we almost need to THINK like the gang to figure out where they hid," Blair commented.
Sam thought a moment. "So, if we had ill-gotten loot and wanted to hide from a posse, where would we go?"
A vague memory associated with the faint scent poked at Jim's mind. He took a deeper breath as he rose to his feet.
"Well, number one would be to find a place to hide," Blair thought out loud.
"Duh," Sam returned.
Jim's brow wrinkled as he realized the scent was human. As Jim searched for the source, he noticed a video camera perched in the branches of a tree. What's a camera doing here?
Blair smirked. "Well, it would be a major factor."
"One that doesn't help us any, because that's what makes it harder to find," Sam pointed out. "Though it does explain why no one's found it yet."
"Actually, that might be an angle." Blair scribbled notes. "We can immediately cross off any place well traveled."
Suddenly, the scent combined with a faint sound within Jim's mind. His head shot up, just in time to spot a digital display planted beneath a boulder flip to zero. "MURDOC!" Jim screamed as he threw himself towards the younger men. He wrapped his arms around both of them as he tackled, to make sure they moved with him as he rolled. A small pop of an explosion sounded above them. As the trio rolled away from their lunches, a large rock fell hard where they had been sitting.
"Oh, man," Sam breathed, ending up at the bottom of the pile. He could feel the hard vibration of the rock hitting the ground.
Jim yanked him to his feet. "Move!"
Blair had already climbed to his feet. "Murdoc? Are you..."
Another explosion showered them with rocks.
"RUN!" Jim ordered, shoving Blair's shoulder.
"Oh, man," Sam whispered again as he scrabbled after his brother. They were eight miles from camp, in rugged terrain, with a madman on their tails. At least this time they weren't lost and it wasn't snowing, he reflected before concentrating on his footing.
Twenty minutes later, Blair tripped on a tree root, falling hard into the dirt. Jim skidded to a stop next to him as Sam leaned against a nearby tree, breathing hard. Blair sat up and stared at his scraped-up hands. "Just ~gasp~ great." He struggled to catch his breath.
Jim laid a hand on his shoulder. "You hurt?"
"Mostly my pride." Blair rose to his feet, brushing the dirt off his jeans as he shifted his weight to test his legs and ankles. "I'm ~breathe~ good to go."
Sam glanced back up the trail. "~gasp~ Murdoc?"
"I recognize the scent," Jim explained as he breathed deeply.
"Damn it," Blair growled.
"What ~gasp~ do we do now?" Sam asked, eyes wide.
"Get back to camp," Jim grimly replied.
"Yeah, ~gasp~ we've got to warn Dad." Blair struggled to take another deep breath. He really didn't want to have to break the news to his father that his nemesis was back.
Sam glanced between the two older men. "Do you think he's set any traps for the others?"
Jim's frown grew. "Hard to tell with a madman."
"I'd doubt it," Blair replied. "He'd want to taunt Dad, so he'll try to hurt us first."
"You think he's set any more traps for us?" Sam asked worriedly.
Jim and Blair exchanged looks. "Maybe," Blair answered.
"I'd count on it." Jim mentally kicked himself. He should have thought of that before. "We're going to have to be careful going down."
"Great, fast yet careful," Blair grumbled.
"Exactly," Jim insisted.
Blair glanced at his partner. "You don't think he's the tiger, do you?"
"Tiger?" Sam asked.
"No," Jim replied firmly. "I didn't see a tiger the last time we encountered Murdoc, and I didn't see one on that ledge. And the tiger's a good guy."
"We don't know that," Blair retorted.
"What tiger?" Sam asked again.
"Remember how Phoebe saw animals for each of us?" Blair replied.
"I've been seeing a tiger."
Sam looked at Jim, concerned. "So that means..."
"Another evil sentinel," Blair finished.
"The tiger's a good guy, Chief," Jim corrected again. "It must have been Murdoc who was spooking me in Fortuity."
"But we don't know that," Blair countered.
Sam glanced between Blair and Jim, realizing this wasn't the first time they had had this particular argument. "Can we go back to the 'fast yet careful' plan instead of worrying about tigers?"
"Knew you were the smart one." Jim gave Sam's shoulder a comforting squeeze. "Let's go."
Willow River Park, Wind River Range, WY
"Okay, we've looked here and here," Nikki thought out loud as she marked the map. She had spread the large topo across a flat rock in the middle of the mountain meadow.
"And here," Rick pointed using a carrot stick.
Nikki nodded to herself. "Not a bad start. What do you think, MacGyver?"
Mac turned from his perusal of the meadow around them. "We're narrowing it down." He took a drink from his bottle as he lifted his head to study the sky.
Lisa was also looking at the sky. "Looks like Jim's right. Should we head back?"
"Huh?" Nikki glanced up. "Oh, that's still a ways off."
"Storms move pretty fast up here," Mac returned. "We probably should head back."
"You're just worried about the boys," Nikki dismissed.
"No, Mac's right." Rick peered up at the building clouds. "Even experienced outdoorsmen can get caught. We should return to the base camp."
Nikki sighed, but rolled up the maps. "All right. Hopefully Sam's got some good pictures."
MacGyver chuckled. "Knowing those three, I'm sure they found something." He shot Lisa a grin as he stood up. "Shall we go see?"
Lisa giggled as she took his hand and let herself be pulled to her feet.
Trail down from Outlaw Rock
Blair was getting tired. The trail was a hard one under normal conditions. For three men attempting to escape a madman, it was excruciating. Add in the little extras that Murdoc had left for them, such as strings attached to bombs next to boulders and trees, and it was worse than the obstacle course he ran at the academy. At least nothing there could potentially blow up in his face. A wet drop hitting his shoulder only proved that it COULD get worse.
"Hey, guys?" Blair turned back to see Sam leaning with his arm straight against a tree, head down and breathing hard. "Can... you give me... two?"
"Take five," Jim returned, leaning over with his hands on his knees, breathing hard himself.
Blair quickly studied his brother and friend. Both looked tired, and Jim looked like he was getting a headache. Not too surprising, since he knew his sentinel had been trying to listen for Murdoc while they jogged. The high altitude was also affecting them, the thin air making it harder to pull in enough oxygen. Several more icy drops fell on Blair's arms. "Great, it's raining."
"Feels good." Sam raised his face to the sky, letting the rain splash on his face.
"Now it does," Blair returned. "But it won't when all its cold friends join in."
"Put on your rain gear," Jim countered.
"My rain gear is up there under a boulder." Blair waved his hand towards the trail.
"Mine, too," Sam admitted. "All I've got is my camera."
Jim took a deep breath, trying to draw in as much air as he could. "I still have some water." He unhooked his canteen from his belt and tossed it to Sam. The younger man quickly unscrewed the lid and drank. Then he replaced the top and tossed it to his brother.
"It just keeps getting better," Blair grumbled before taking a swig.
"But aren't we having fun, Junior MacGyver?" a voice declared gleefully. The water spurted out of Blair's mouth as he recognized the voice as Murdoc's.
"Jim!" Sam shouted as he saw a blur fly towards his friend.
Luckily, Jim had also seen the object and threw himself into the dirt. The spear only grazed the back of his shoulder before it slammed into a boulder, disintegrating on impact. "Move!" Jim yelled, scrambling to his feet. He and Sam followed Blair as they scrambled down the trail, another spear missing Jim to splinter against a tree.
Base camp, Wind River Range, WY
Jill stepped out of the white sheriff's jeep, searching the campsite with her eyes. "I don't see anyone."
Toby, getting out of the other side, shrugged. "Probably out hiking."
"Well, they better hurry back," Jill replied, studying the boiling clouds above them. "Looks like we're in for a really bad storm."
Also studying the sky, Toby nodded. "Yeah, the weather guy said the monsoon moisture was starting to kick in."
"We could use the rain," Jill agreed.
Then nearby noises turned their heads to spot a group of hikers coming up from the trail. Toby easily recognized Ms. Carpenter and Mr. MacGyver from two summers ago. Both looked more relaxed than the last time he had seen them.
"Hi, Dr. Rick!" Jill greeted, waving at the historian.
"Miss Rhodes," Rick returned, smiling at the young blonde. "Come for the interview?"
Jill grinned. "Of course. It's big news around here, especially if you find the hideout."
"No luck so far," Lisa replied with a smile.
As Jill turned to the other young woman, Rick quickly introduced, "Lisa, this is Jill Rhodes. She and her father run the newspaper in Fortuity. Jill, this is Lisa Woodman, friend of my friend, MacGyver." He indicated Mac with his hand.
"I met MacGyver and Ms. Carpenter a couple of summers ago," Jill replied, remembering that Mr. MacGyver didn't like being called 'Mr.'. "And this is my boyfriend, Toby Nighthawk."
Nikki nodded. "You helped us out last time, too." She looked around. "Doesn't look like the boys have made it back yet."
"We haven't seen anyone else," Toby replied, "though we only just got here ourselves."
Feeling the rain beginning to fall, Rick suggested, "Why don't we move the interview under the dining tarp where it's dry?"
"Sounds good to me," Jill accepted.
As the group turned to the shelter, Lisa tapped MacGyver's arm. "I'll go grab the water so we can start dinner."
"Need help?" Mac asked.
"Nah, just take me a minute."
Lisa trotted over to where Jim had left the filled containers that morning. Lifting the plastic bladder heavy with water, she staggered back towards the others. Passing the Suburban, she noticed an envelope stuck under a washer blade. Setting the water next to the table, she dashed through the raindrops to the Suburban to retrieve the note.
MacGyver glanced at her as he sorted through the ice cooler. "What's that?"
Lisa's brow wrinkled. "I don't know. But it's addressed to you." Thunder rolled outside the enclosure.
Nikki turned away from listening to Rick and Jill. "That's strange. Do you know anyone around here?" Toby, too, turned to see what was going on.
"No," Mac replied. With a sinking feeling growing in his stomach, Mac opened the envelope and pulled out a note. Nikki and Lisa watched as the color drained out of his face. Nikki instantly jumped up to look over his arm to read the note.
"Oh, my, God," Nikki breathed. Toby rose from the table, concerned.
Eyes round, Lisa looked between Mac and Nikki. "Murdoc. Isn't he the weirdo you warned me about?"
"Yes," MacGyver answered, his voice harsh and strained.
"You think he did something to Blair, Sam and Jim?" Lisa asked, fear growing on her face. Her question caught the attention of Rick and Jill, who stopped talking.
"He'll try." Closing his eyes, Mac struggled to force his panic down so his mind could work.
Cop instinct now working overtime, Toby glanced into each face. "Who's Murdoc?"
"A former assassin with a major grudge against MacGyver," Nikki replied. "He's tried several times to kill him, and last time he abducted Sam and Blair."
"Tried to, anyway." Mac's eyes popped open. "My sons and Jim aren't that easy to catch."
"What do we do now?" Lisa asked softly.
"You, Rick and Nikki are heading to town." MacGyver crumbled the note into his hand.
"MacGyver!" Nikki glared at her friend. "I am not running off and leaving you and the boys behind."
"Nikki," MacGyver growled.
Nikki folded her arms. "I can take care of myself, you know."
"Exactly. I need you to keep Lisa and Rick safe." That statement made Nikki pause in mid-tirade.
"Will he come after us?"
Mac looked down into Lisa's scared face. "Maybe. With Murdoc, anything's possible. But I'll be able to concentrate better if I know you're safe."
Lisa nodded in understanding. "Okay."
Rick, reading his friend's face, stood up. "Then we'd better get going."
"Jill can go with you," Toby inserted. He looked into his girlfriend's eyes. "Take them to the Murphy place. I'll call Johnson and tell him what's going on."
"What about you?" Jill asked.
"I'll go with Mr. MacGyver."
"I'm going alone," Mac insisted. "Murdoc is highly dangerous and has no qualms about killing innocent bystanders."
"Yeah, but I'm the law here and I bet I know the area better than both of you put together," Toby countered. "Plus if all three of them are hurt, you're going to need help."
MacGyver stared at Toby for a moment, then finally nodded. "Okay, let's go." He turned to find himself face to face with Nikki. They stared at each other for a moment, then Nikki threw her arms around Mac. Mac returned the gesture, drawing comfort from her embrace.
"You be careful, MacGyver," Nikki whispered.
Then they pulled apart to gather their groups and head in opposite directions.
Bill Nighthawk's cabin
Cory loved storms. Even though his healing body ached from the changing pressure, he sat outside on the cabin's railing. He could lose himself in the power of the wind and the fresh smell of rain.
Then movement to his right caught his eye. Turning his head, Cory felt his mouth drop open. Along the treeline was the tiger of his dreams. He could only stare as the huge orange and black striped feline paced the edge of the woods. Within moments, Cory realized the tiger wanted him to follow it. Cory slowly slipped down from the rail. "Now?" The cat just stared at him. "You've got to be kidding. It's raining -- hard." The cat curved around, pointing towards the river. Then it looked back at him.
For a moment they stared at each other. Then Cory reluctantly reached for his rain slicker lying on the rocker. "Grandmother said to follow the tiger, so I'll go. But couldn't you have shown up in the sunshine like your black friend?"
The cat didn't reply. It simply waited for him to approach before slipping further into the pine trees.
Trail down from Outlaw Rock
The rain was now pouring out of the sky, with flashes of lightning striking around them. All three men were cold and soaked. The rain also made the trail slick. The dirt was turning into a wet clay that oozed into their boot treads, reducing traction even further.
Blair struggled to stay on his feet. He was leading, trying to follow the trail. It didn't help that he had to search for potential surprises from Murdoc in the deepening gloom. Part of his brain pointed out that it would be smart to stop and take shelter from the storm. However, both those spears had been aimed at Jim. The realization that Murdoc wanted to kill his partner forced Blair's feet forward. He hadn't been this scared since Alex Barnes. Thankfully, the outline of a bridge was ahead. They only had a mile to go before reaching the main road.
Jim was having trouble, too, trying to keep his balance while working to ease his throbbing shoulder. The storm was playing havoc on his senses, the random flashes and noise twisting the pain in his shoulder out of proportion. His vision swam, and the rain had washed out any hint of scent from Murdoc. He needed to calm down, talk with his guide, bring everything back under control. But there was no defensible place to stop and no time. Jim shuddered to think of Rick and the girls at Murdoc's mercy. It didn't help that, in the back of his mind, the situation seemed frightfully familiar. Jim just couldn't figure out from where.
Sam was bringing up the rear, following the older men while glancing over his shoulder. Somehow, he doubted the madman was behind them, but really didn't know where else he'd be. Their only chance was for the storm to be hindering Murdoc even more than it was them. He couldn't help but wish they HAD found the hideout, if only for a place to disappear from his father's enemy.
Suddenly, an explosion roared behind them. Sam managed a quick burst of speed. He slipped to his knees, but didn't get hit by a falling tree.
Blair spun around. "Sam!"
"I'm okay!" his brother shouted back.
"Murdoc," Jim growled, feeling the presence of their nemesis. Another explosion roared to their right. "RUN!"
Blair raced for the bridge, knowing it was their only chance. He fought the sway of the wood and rope structure while scurrying across. He wondered if his Swiss army knife was big enough to cut it down, preventing Murdoc from following. His feet had barely touched the rock on the other side when an explosion boomed behind him. Blair flinched, then spun around. The bridge was gone.
"NOOOOOOOOO!" Blair dropped to his knees to search below. A river roared in the narrow canyon below. After wiping the rain out of his face, he peered across the canyon. Half of the bridge hung along the rock face. Sam was holding onto one of its wood planks, barely out of the water. "SAM! HANG ON!" Praying hard, Blair glanced down. Straight below him was Jim, clinging desperately to the other half of the bridge as water from the river sprayed him. "JIM!"
Adrenaline surged through his system as Blair twisted around. He grabbed at the rope holding the bridge and rose to his feet. "JIM! I'm pulling you up!" Bracing against the rocks, Blair pulled at the rope. After a long moment, the weight eased, indicating that Jim was coherent enough to climb with the rope and take some of the load off his smaller partner. His arms straining with the effort, Blair continued to haul up the rope as his mind searched for a way to reach Sam.
Just as Blair grabbed Jim's hand, a sharp crack echoed beneath them. Pulling Jim the rest of the way up, Blair looked across just in time to see his brother fall into the river. "SAAAAAAAM!" He dropped to his knees again and looked over the side, his fear of heights forgotten as he searched for any sign of Sam. There was none.
A hand grasped his shoulder. A voice shouted above the sounds of the storm and the river. "Come on, Chief."
Blair spun around, his eyes full of panic. "No, Sam's--"
"I know." Jim pulled his partner back to his feet. "We can't follow, it's too steep."
"But Jim," Blair's voice cracked with grief. "He might... He can't be..."
"He's not," Jim countered forcefully. He guided Blair back to the trail. "We'll find him. But now we've got to reach Mac."
His mind frozen, Blair allowed his sentinel to lead him away.
Further down the river
Cory gritted his teeth as he gingerly walked down the deer trail to the river. His knee, which had been aching before, was beginning to throb now. "Doctor told me to rest it. Craig told me to rest it. Toby and Dave told me to rest it. So what am I doing?" The tiger turned to look at him. "Yeah, I know, I'm still coming."
Long minutes later, Cory broke through the brush along the river's edge. Swollen with rain, the water roared past him. "Now what, tiger? We certainly can't cross that. At least, I can't cross it." Cory followed the tiger with his eyes as it padded over the rocks upstream. Then it faded out of sight, revealing what looked like a pile of feathers tangled in a debris pile in the river. Cory blinked the rain out of his eyes. He was looking at a white hand lying limp over a branch. "Oh, God."
Cory limped as fast as he could to the pile of debris. The hand was attached to a scratched up arm, which in turn was attached to a body still half in the water. Cory thought he saw the head move once, but it might have been due to the swift current.
Arriving at the pile, he reached over to lay two fingers along the man's neck. The skin was icy, but he welcomed the feel of a slow but strong pulse. "Hey, can you hear me?" A soft moan was his only answer. "Come on, buddy, we've got to get you out of here and I'm going to need your help." Carefully, Cory worked to unwind the lanky frame from the branches, mindful that one false move could send the victim back into the river. Another moan was accompanied by a slight cough and the head moving. "Easy, buddy, I've almost got you out." Cory slipped his arm under the man's shoulder, then bent back the main branch holding him in place. With a gasp as his knee protested, he yanked the guy out and dragged him over to the wet grass.
On his hands and good knee as he breathed through the pain, Cory looked up to see brown eyes blinking at him. "Hey, there." When the man tried to sit up, he fell back to the ground, holding his head and coughing. Cory grabbed his arm and held him steady until the coughing had passed. "How do you feel?"
"C-C-Cold. Head hurts."
Cory brushed back the wet hair to examine the bruised forehead, causing his patient to hiss. "Not too surprising. What's your name?" Cory started checking for broken bones or other injuries.
"Got a last name?" Cory was met with a blank look. "Do you remember the year?"
"Ah... two-two thousand and-and one?"
Cory nodded as he gently examined the man's swelling wrist. "Do you remember how you got in the river?"
Sam stared at the river, his face puzzled. "No-o." He slowly moved his head to look at his rescuer. "D-D-Do I kno-ow you?"
"Not yet. I'm Cory Buchanan." Seeing Sam shiver, Cory finished his examination. "Looks like your legs made it through without major damage. Let's get you up to the cabin and into some dry clothes."
Easing back on his feet, Cory again gritted his teeth as he shifted weight onto his knee. This wasn't going to be fun. He draped Sam's arm over his shoulders and started the long climb back up to Bill's place.
Trail to Outlaw Rock
When I was in school, there was this bully named Benny Rodgers. He was half a head taller than anyone else in his class, and I swear twice as wide. He picked on the smaller kids, threatening to beat them up if they didn't give him their money and toys. For the longest time, all he had to do was speak and kids would hand over their stuff. I managed to avoid him, mostly because I didn't have anything he wanted. Then one day he was picking on my friend, Laura. She was a sweet girl who wore pigtails and dresses. He wanted her lunch, and Laura was so scared she was crying. Benny didn't know it, but that pushed my buttons. I hated seeing Laura cry. Next thing I knew, I had intercepted the lunch box. A teacher stopped us before it could get ugly. But things changed after that incident. Benny started actively searching for me, and he was out for blood.
Now, Murdoc is the bully in my adult life, and he knows that threats to my family and friends are the quickest way to push my buttons. But other than Pete and Jack, with whom he also has a beef, he's always held back from actually hurting them. I realized later that he really did like Penny in his insane way, and in Colorado he only wanted to abduct Sam and Blair, not actually hurt them.
However, my boys aren't pliable pawns. They fought back and outsmarted the egoistical assassin. They proved themselves to be worthy adversaries like their old man, and not wide-eyed innocents like Penny. Murdoc's not going to be so gentle with them this time. And Murdoc's note was worded just right to let me know that.
And just like he planned, I'm coming in after them. Probably stupid on my part, but I just can't do anything else.
A noise made MacGyver pause on the trail, Nighthawk just barely stopping in time to keep from running into the older man. Two figures, barely discernable in the rain, were limping towards them. Recognizing them, Mac felt his gut contract. "BLAIR?"
The pair stopped and looked at him. "Dad?" The shorter figure raced ahead to meet Mac halfway, throwing his arms around him. "Oh, God, I couldn't reach him, Dad. I couldn't reach him!"
A shard of pain stabbed MacGyver in the heart as he tightened his hold on his son. Fearful of the answer, he forced himself to ask, "What happened?"
"Murdoc." Mac could hear the shock in his son's voice, muffled as it was with Blair's face buried in his jacket. "He's been chasing us down the mountain all afternoon, blowing things up and throwing spears at Jim. Then he, he..."
"He blew up a bridge." Jim ran a hand over his face. "Sam and I were still on it."
"Damn," Toby said softly, realizing which bridge it had to be.
"Jim was hanging on my side of the gorge," Blair continued. He withdrew from the comforting embrace to look at his father. "I could pull him up. But Sam... Sam was still on the other side. I didn't know what to do. Then the board he was holding broke. He... he fell into the river." Blair swiped at his tears. "I couldn't see him, Dad. And the cliffs were too steep there to follow the river and search for... for him."
Mac wrapped a hand around Blair's neck and leaned his forehead against his son's, fighting a wave of grief. "I understand."
"I, I just can't believe, that he's... he's..."
"He's alive, Chief." Jim straightened to his full height. "Now we just have to make sure the girls and Rick are safe, and then we can search for him."
"They're already heading for Fortuity." Seeing Jim's look, Mac explained, "Murdoc left me a note."
"Damn," Jim replied, exhaustion heavy in his voice.
"Jim, we should have never..." Blair stopped, still fighting his emotions.
"Sam's alive. The tiger rescued the hawk, remember? We just have to find them before Murdoc does."
"Jim, we don't know who the tiger is, or what he'll do to Sam."
"The tiger's a good guy."
"We don't know that!"
"You boys have something to tell me?"
Jim and Blair paused. Blair had never heard his father's voice so cold before. "Ah..."
"I had a vision," Jim confessed. Behind them, Toby nearly dropped the radio he was about to use.
Jim lowered his head in contrition. "In Cascade the night before we left."
MacGyver voice grew silkier. "And when were you going to tell me?"
"Ah, Dad, it was just a vision. We weren't sure what it meant."
"And neither of you thought to TELL ME about it? I could have helped."
Blair looked surprised. "I didn't know you believed in visions."
Mac growled, "I've had and interpreted a vision before. And I didn't do too bad at it. SO NEXT TIME TELL ME." Jim and Blair both nodded emphatically. "SO?"
Jim quickly explained, "I saw fragments of the scene at the bridge. Then I saw a hawk float down the river, to be picked up by a tiger."
Mac frowned, holding tight to his emotions. "I take it you think Sam's the hawk?"
Blair nodded. "Marston identified Sam as a 'bird of prey'. And the only animals Jim has seen before have represented me and other sentinels. And Jim's jag, of course."
"So you think the tiger's a sentinel?"
Jim nodded. "A GOOD sentinel."
"We don't know that, Jim."
"He rescued Sam; I'm willing to give him the benefit of a doubt."
"We don't know that either, Jim."
MacGyver ignored the sentinel discussion -- his main concern was Sam. "Do you have any idea if Sam's hurt and if so, how badly?" MacGyver suddenly noticed the scrapes on Jim's face.
Jim reluctantly shook his head. "Just that the tiger picks the hawk up out of the river."
Toby, eyes wide, cautiously inserted, "Shouldn't we start searching? After all, we've still got an assassin out there."
Jim and Blair turned. Recognizing the deputy, Jim smiled uneasily. "Hi, Nighthawk. About what we just said..."
"I'm putting it into the same category as when the tribal elders start telling their tales," Toby assured him.
"Then let's go."
Bill Nighthawk's cabin
Cory hissed as he limped out of the back room. The trip up the trail to the cabin had been excruciating, between the wet slope and the stumbling victim. It had definitely taking a toll on Cory's still-healing body. Old aches had returned and his knee was swelling painfully again, which couldn't be a good sign. He had barely been able to slide his leg into his dry jeans. However, as much as he wanted to fall into bed and sleep, he had someone else's problems to deal with first.
The guy he had rescued was dozing in front of the stove. Cory had managed to get Sam out of his wet clothes and into some of Bill's old sweats. He still wasn't very coherent. Cory wasn't sure if it was due to mild hypothermia or the huge bruise forming on his forehead. Other than the name Sam, the guy hadn't been able to tell him much. Cory couldn't help but wonder who he was and where he was from. He knew most of the locals through the Nighthawks and this man wasn't familiar. Maybe he was a vacationer who had slipped hiking or climbing. The storm outside could have been the cause of an accident. No matter what, someone was probably looking for the guy. It would help if Cory had more details to give the sheriff than white, brown hair, brown eyes, late twenties to early thirties, just under 6 foot and goes by Sam.
He was going to have to call them, since he didn't relish the idea of driving with his bad knee. He would if he had to, though -- it all depended on how fast he needed to get Sam to a doctor.
The teakettle's whistle drew him to the kitchen. Perhaps after something hot to drink, Sam would make more sense.
He clung desperately to the wet wood. Beneath his feet were only rocks and water, and both could kill him. He thought he could hear someone yelling, but it was so far away. He looked up at the rock face. Something told him there was danger up there, but it couldn't be any worse than the danger below him. He had to try to climb to the top.
His feet slid around on the rock, trying to find a foothold. Finally, his right boot found just a enough leverage to allow him to reach upward. Only desperation gave him the strength to latch onto the next plank. The wood was slick. It took a long moment to get a good enough grip to pull himself up. Again, he tried to find more leverage with his feet until his left found a precarious perch. He took another deep breath and reached for the next plank. His hand wrapped around it and pulled up.
It was a mistake. As a loud crack rang in his ears, he felt the wood give way. His hands briefly scrambled to find something to hold onto, but gravity drew his body downward. Just before he hit the water, he heard a voice scream above the roar of the river. It was...
Sam shot up coughing, only to be caught by strong hands. Disoriented, he found himself staring at another man. Worried dark eyes in a pale face stared back at him, a lock of black hair falling over the man's forehead. Blinking, Sam asked, "Do I know you?"
A grin broke out across the tired face. "Not really. I'm Cory Buchanan. We met when I pulled you out of the river an hour ago." He turned around. "You're still pretty cold. This should help." He wrapped Sam's hand around a warm mug.
That was when Sam realized his other hand was resting on a pillow set on the nearby end table, the wrist splinted and wrapped. Trying to ignore the pain, Sam sniffed the mug. He smiled as he identified the delicious scent. "Hot chocolate."
"You're not allergic, are you?" Cory asked.
"No." Sam carefully sipped the hot liquid, feeling the warmth slide down his throat. "Thanks."
Cory ducked down to peer into his eyes. "How's your head?"
"My brother." Sam glanced around. "He here?"
"No," Cory explained patiently. "You called out his name."
"Oh, man." Sam closed his eyes as his hand tightened around the mug. The sound of Blair's scream echoed in his mind. "He was yelling."
"Why was he yelling?"
"I don't know." Sam shivered. Was Blair okay? "I think I fell."
"Where did you fall from?"
Images of rocks and water filled his mind as his hands remembered the feel of wood. "I was hanging off a bridge."
Opening his eyes, he saw his host frown. "A bridge? Why were you hanging off a bridge?"
A cough hit Sam hard. He then took another sip of hot chocolate as he tried to remember. "I think it blew up."
"WHAT?" Cory exclaimed.
Sam closed his eyes. The image of an explosion just ahead of his feet teased his mind. "Yeah, it blew up."
Cory continued to look at him worriedly. It was obvious from his face he wasn't sure how to take this new information. "Was your brother on the bridge?"
After some silent thinking, Sam slowly shook his head. "I think Blair made it to the other side. Oh man, Jim!"
"Blair's roommate." Sam opened his eyes to look worriedly at the other guy. "Kinda like a big brother. He was just ahead of me. Is he here? Is he okay?"
His rescuer slowly shook his head. "I only saw you." Sam felt his scrutiny as he coughed again. "Do you know how the bridge blew up?"
Sam's frown deepened. A memory of running down a trail floated by. "We were running. Being chased."
"I don't know." Sam coughed harder this time.
Cory took a deep breath, obviously thinking a change in questions was in order. "What's your last name?"
"Malloy," Sam responded without thinking.
"What brings you here?"
The vague image of tents arose in his mind. "Camping?" Another coughing fit hit Sam.
"Easy. You probably breathed in some river water." Cory studied his face a moment. "Do you hurt anywhere else?"
"Mostly the head and wrist. Ribs and shoulder hurt some. Everything else just aches."
"Yeah, it looks like you're going to have a nasty bruise on your shoulder. I'll give the sheriff a call and let him know you're here. He can let your brother know you're safe, and help me get you to a doctor."
As Cory rose, he gave a soft groan as his face paled further. "Are you okay?" Sam asked. "You didn't get hurt rescuing me, did you?"
Cory shook his head. "Nah, I hurt my knee weeks ago. Just pushed it too hard." He limped to the desk in the corner.
"I appreciate you picking me up." Craig Bannister peered through the windshield at the rain as he brushed back his damp, dark hair. "Especially in this storm."
"You're lucky you landed when you did," Dave Nighthawk replied. "You missed the first big storm, and now we've got another kicking up."
"How is Cory?" Craig asked.
"He had a pretty bad headache when my mother and I were there a couple of days ago. I think he's lost weight, too."
"Damn. I was hoping he'd do better out here."
Dave shrugged. "From what Bill said, it's going to take some time for him to heal. Still think they should have operated on that knee in DC."
"I think they wanted him to get a little stronger before opening him up again."
Dave nodded, thinking hard. "If Cory's knee doesn't get up to full speed again, what are his options?"
Craig gave the younger man a reassuring smile. "Cory's strength is his mind and computer skills, so he has plenty of options. If he doesn't want to return to the DXS, there are a few federal agencies who would love to have him. I also have some friends at a private think tank who could use his skills and don't have the strict physical requirements. I just want to make sure he wants to leave the DXS."
"I'm not sure Cory knows what he wants right now." Dave made a right hand turn. "Hope you don't mind, but I'm going to stop by the sheriff's office. I want to check on the conditions up to the cabin, and see if there's any problems on my side of the range."
Craig nodded. As a director himself, he was rarely out of touch with his office. "Mind if I join you?"
"Suit yourself." Dave parked in front of a squat, brick building. "I'm sure they've got some coffee going, but I won't guarantee it tastes any different from liquid tar."
Together they dashed up the wet sidewalk into the office. Activity was bustling behind the desk, officers working behind computers, radios, and tables. A group stood up and moved en masse out the back door. Use to busy city precincts, Craig didn't think much about it until Dave tapped a burly woman on the shoulder. "Tess, what's up?"
"Besides normal storm problems, we've got some wacko assassin running around Paxton Peaks. One of his victims fell into the Big Carson, and apparently he's still after lots of people up there."
"What?" Dave exclaimed.
"Nighthawk." Craig turned to see a tall, slim man in his late forties walk up. "How'd you get here so fast?"
"Picking up Cory's boss, Craig Bannister," Dave explained, waving a hand in Craig's direction. "What's an assassin doing around here?"
Clancy Johnson tilted his head towards a corner. Following, Craig was puzzled as to why the need for privacy. He waited for his answer.
Johnson took a deep breath and explained, "You remember those friends of that historian Hudson?"
Dave nodded, frowning. "The ones who blew the top off the Madisons' corruption schemes, right?"
"Right. They're back in town looking for that old Hanson gang loot. Anyways, it seems that one of them ticked off some wacko. He blew up the Narrows Bridge, and one of the man's sons fell into the river there."
"Damn." Dave ran a hand over his head. "In this storm, that river's going to be running fast and cold."
"If he was lucky and kept his head about him, he may have survived. We're organizing search crews, but I've got to tell you, I don't like sending in my people with a madman out there."
Dave nodded, then suddenly paused. "Wait a minute. Wasn't Toby suppose to drive Jill up into Peaks to interview some University group?"
Johnson steeled himself. "That's the one. Toby's the one who called it in."
Dave's eyes grew wide. "So Toby's already up there? Without backup?"
Johnson raised his hands. "Easy. The man's other son is a big city police detective, and his partner is also on this trip."
"Yeah, I remember them."
"Sounds like Toby's probably got better backup than what I could give him."
"Do you have an ID on the assassin?" Craig quietly asked.
"Someone named Murdoc."
Johnson and Dave turned to Craig. "You know this man?" Dave asked.
Craig nodded. "He was considered one of the most dangerous international assassin until some friends of mine stopped him. He's never been officially caught, but they ruined his reputation. Last I heard he was supposed to be dead." Craig paused, thinking. "The man Murdoc's after -- he wouldn't happen to be named MacGyver, would he?" Johnson's mouth dropped open. "How'd you know?"
Craig swore violently. "We use to work together and Mac's the one who stopped him. Murdoc's been obsessed with him for decades. Who went into the river? Blair or Sam?"
"God, I hope the kid's okay." Craig ran a hand over his face. MacGyver adored his sons. Craig could only imagine what his friend was going through.
"How dangerous is this Murdoc now?" Dave asked.
"The only word for that bastard is scary," Craig replied, his face serious. "Intelligent, highly unpredictable, very melodramatic, and totally insane. MacGyver, who's practically a genius himself, is the only one who can out-think him."
"Great," Dave grumbled.
"Sheriff!" A tiny blonde holding a phone turned towards her boss. "I've got Cory Buchanan on the line. He fished Malloy out of the river."
"Put him on speaker," Johnson ordered as they walked over. "Cory, this is Sheriff Johnson. What condition is Malloy in?"
Through the static, Craig could hear Cory reply, "He got knocked around quite a bit and he's still coughing up river water. Hypothermic, broken wrist, and took a crack on the head. I've dried him off and now I'm trying to warm him up. "
Glancing at Johnson for permission, Nighthawk quickly asked, "Cory? This is Dave. How are you doing?"
"I've been better." Craig frowned, realizing just how much Cory had to be hurting to admit that much.
"Has Malloy been able to give you any details?" Johnson asked
"He's still not real coherent -- says something about being chased and a bridge blowing up."
"A bridge did blow up," Johnson clarified, hearing the doubt in the young man's voice.
There was a short pause. "Okay."
Craig jumped in. "Cory, this is Bannister. You're back in business. Sam's father use to be in the show, and an old acquaintance wants payback. You copy?"
"Yeah." Another slight pause. "Who's the acquaintance? And do I know Sam's father?"
"Remember my story about the guy who exchanged power steering fluid for brake fluid?" Both Johnson and Dave threw Craig puzzled looks.
"Sam's his son. You've got to protect him from a former assassin who's still very dangerous. Understand?"
Dave frowned at Craig. "Bannister and I'll be up there as soon as possible, if Toby and the father aren't there first. Just stay alert."
Nighthawk was still glaring at Craig as Cory hung up. "Are you nuts? Cory's in no condition to be protecting anybody."
"He doesn't have a choice now," Craig quietly pointed out. "If Murdoc decides to go after Sam, he'll consider Cory fair game. I want him alert if that happens. But I really doubt it'll come down to that. Murdoc will probably go after Mac or his other son."
Bill Nighthawk's cabin
Cory stared at the phone a moment. Sure, he remembered Craig's tale about exchanging power steering fluid with the brake fluid. It was an exciting tale, where Craig was driving the brakeless car down a steep mountain road with a group of irate Eastern Block officials behind him. And that his friend was perched on the front of the wildly careening car like a weird hood ornament while making the switch. It was just one of many stories Cory had heard about the legendary DXS agent, MacGyver.
MacGyver. Cory looked back at Sam, who was again dozing on the couch. He'd always wanted to meet the man, but had never heard anything about a son. Was that why the tiger led him to the river? To rescue the son of a legend? Yet Grandmother acted like it was more important than that. That the Hawk would help him in some way.
He ran a hand over his face. At the moment, Sam was in no condition to help anybody. Nor was he sure anyone could help him with his current problems, except by writing a prescription for some heavy-duty psych drugs. As usual, it was up to him to take care of himself and those around him. And if this psycho has already blown up a bridge to hurt Sam and his family, he'd better be prepared.
With a groan, he carefully limped to the secured locker in the corner of the cabin. Quickly spinning the combination, he opened the door and pulled out his Browning. He hadn't expected to need his gun. However, with someone holding a grudge against MacGyver running around, he wanted to be prepared. His knee wasn't strong enough to handle most of his hand-to-hand. After snapping in a full clip, Cory double-check the safety and tucked it away behind his back. Then he spied Bill's Kay Bar lying on a shelf. He picked it up, sliding the knife out of its sheath and testing the balance. It could come in handy, too. He slipped the knife back and clipped it to his belt. Then he yanked the emergency pack from the bottom of the locker. Thankfully, Bill believed in being prepared for anything.
As he closed the locker, he heard Sam cough again. Cory frowned, wondering if his charge was developing pneumonia. He turned back to the kitchen to see if Bill had any of Grandmother's special cold tea in the cupboard.
Base camp, Wind River Range, WY
In Blair's 32 years, he had known many different levels of fear. As a child, his biggest fear was wondering if Naomi was going to move them again. As a student he feared failing a test or losing his scholarship. Tagging along with Jim, he learned new levels of fear, such as 'about to be drowned by a psycho'. He never thought anything would top it.
Then he found out he had a brother. He didn't understand it, but Sam had become important to him in a way he never expected. With laid back ease, Sam had slipped into his life like the spot had been saved for him since birth. Sure, he worried about other people, especially Jim, Mac and Naomi. Mac's bout of malaria had scared him and Jim had even frightened him a couple of times with his heroics. But for some reason, perhaps due to the fact that Blair was usually the youngest, he never really feared for anyone like Sam.
It wasn't because Sam was especially inept. Blair's head knew his brother could take perfectly good care of himself and had been for most of his life. However, Blair's heart was much harder to convince. He had learned a new level of fear while sitting with his father, waiting for news from Chechnya. Receiving a phone call that his brother had been stabbed multiple times had been even worse. However, watching Sam fall into a roaring river topped the fear meter. It didn't matter that Jim was certain Sam would be okay -- Blair didn't KNOW Sam was okay. Until he knew, the knot of fear inside his gut was going to continue to tighten.
Only the realization of how much Jim needed relief kept him from rushing headlong to the river. He allowed Mac and Toby to lead them back to base camp so that he and Jim could change into dry clothes, bandage up Jim's shoulder, and pick up their extra rain gear.
It also gave him a chance to help Jim with the dials. "...three, two, one. How does that feel?"
"Better. Thanks, Chief." Jim carefully moved his shoulder as his eyes examined his friend. "You okay?"
"I won't be okay until we find Sam."
"I know." Jim picked up his jacket and studied it a moment. "While I would never claim that anything having to do with Murdoc is good, perhaps the vision meant that Sam was supposed to meet the tiger."
"Jim," Blair began.
"Chief, there's more going on here than just Murdoc trying to kill us."
"We don't know that."
"I don't have visions every day."
Blair finally lifted his head to stare into Jim's eyes. "Then why are you worried?"
Jim met his partner's gaze evenly. "Like you said, we've only met evil sentinels on this world. I don't want to lose one of the few good ones to Murdoc, especially if he's the one Sam's suppose to guide."
Blair's eyes grew wide. "You think..."
Then MacGyver ducked inside the tent, followed by Toby. "Are you boys ready?"
After a 'we will talk about this later,' look to Jim, Blair declared, "I'm ready."
"Just a minute," Jim inserted. "Chief, hand me my duffle." Puzzled, Blair picked it up and handed it over. Jim reached in and withdrew his Colt. Both Blair and Mac stared at it. Jim simply stared back. "What? After what happened last time going up to Harry's cabin, I decided to be prepared."
MacGyver sighed. "I understand, but it doesn't make me feel better. Guns won't do much good against Murdoc." Behind him, Toby's radio buzzed.
"Well, it makes ME feel better." Jim declared as he checked the clip, then pushed it back into place.
Blair nodded, his eyes growing hard. "Yeah, for the first time in my life, I wish I had MY gun." MacGyver shot his son a glare as Jim reached back into his duffle and withdrew Blair's Sig.
Blair began to smile. "You brought mine?"
"I keep telling you that vacationing with the MacGyvers always gets interesting. I thought you might like some insurance, too."
MacGyver opened his mouth to argue when Toby shouted into the radio, "WHAT!" Jim, Blair and Mac exchanged worried glances. "The river? With his knee?"
Jim could hear the faint words, "...don't know why he was down there, but he found Malloy. Craig and I are heading there now, but you're closer."
"We'll head there right now," Toby replied, running a hand over his face. "Thanks, Dave."
As Toby signed off, Jim asked, "Someone found Sam?"
"How is Sam?" MacGyver queried.
"Dave said he's hypothermic, possible fractured wrist, and concussed. He should be okay long enough for us to get him to the clinic in town."
"Who found him?" Jim asked.
"My friend Cory. For some dumb reason he was down by the river and found your missing guy."
"Dumb reason?" Blair repeated, not quite sure how to take Toby's sudden anger.
Toby shot him a weak smile. "Not because he found your brother. Dumb because Cory's suppose to be resting and staying off his knee. He's only been out of the hospital for a week. I'm not happy he seemed to think he ought to be walking around in this weather."
"Good friend?" Jim asked nonchalantly.
"Very good. My uncle's his godfather, so we've known each other since we were four."
MacGyver gave him a comforting smile. "Then let's go pick them up."
Bill Nighthawk's cabin
Cory carefully handed another warm mug to Sam. "This should help. Sure you don't want something to eat?"
"I'm not sure my stomach's going to handle the tea. But thanks."
Cory dropped into the soft chair next to the couch a with sigh. The afternoon had been filled with more activity than Cory had seen since waking up in a hospital bed. As his adrenaline level dropped, all his aches and pains were closing in on him with fatigue close behind. He looked up at the old clock on the mantle for the time. The swinging pendulum caught his eye. A faint voice in the back of his mind cried a warning, but couldn't stop the slow fall into oblivion.
"...Cory, listen to my voice. Just follow my voice back."
Cory suddenly shook his head. It had happened again, when he could least afford it. "Ah, man." He looked down to discover Sam's hand on his arm, then lifted his eyes to see Sam's concerned face. "How long?"
Sam settled back down into the cushions. "Less than a minute. Are you okay?"
"That's debatable," Cory muttered under his breath as he rubbed his eyes. However, the horrendous headache wasn't making its expected appearance. Then something caught his attention. Tilting his head, Cory listened.
"You hear something?" Sam softly whispered.
"Yeah." Tossing aside the fact that he shouldn't be able to hear anything beyond Sam and the storm, Cory concentrated on the sound. Vaguely, he realized that Sam's hand was back on his arm. "Someone's walking up to the house. I wonder who'd be out in this weather on foot."
"Maybe Dad and your friend?" Sam asked, still quiet.
Cory shook his head slowly, still listening. "Toby would have his patrol vehicle. Besides, we're a couple of miles off the main road." Then the sound of a harsh ~ker chunk~ echoed in Cory's head. "Damn it!" Cory shouted, grabbing Sam and yanking them both to the floor. Then the sounds of automatic gunfire roared through his head. It was too much. Cory curled up in a ball, his hands over his ears.
Then a soft voice reached through the pain. "...picture a volume control dial. It controls your hearing. Can you see it?"
He wasn't sure why, but the voice reminded him of Master Po. He fell back to his training, visualizing the dial in his abused mind.
"Okay, turn it down."
As he turned the imagined dial down, another voice broke through. "Come out, come out wherever you are, Junior MacGyver."
Cory opened his eyes. He could feel the cold, wet air pouring into the cabin from the shattered windows. Yet he suspected Sam was shaking from more than the cold. "Murdoc," Sam said softly.
"The guy after your Dad?" Sam nodded solemnly. "Damn."
Another round of automatic fire spewed bullets over their heads. Then the voice shouted, "If you come out, young Sam, I might let your Good Samaritan live."
Seeing the indecision on Sam's face, Cory softly ordered, "I make it a policy NEVER to do what the psycho says, so you are NOT going out to him."
"Does this policy usually work?"
Cory just shrugged as he pulled out his gun.
"Sam, old boy, be a good lad and come out here," yelled Murdoc.
"So what do you suggest?" Sam asked.
"We're getting out of here," Cory replied, "But we need a distraction."
Sam glanced around. "Is that a kerosene lamp on that table?"
Sam reached out and pulled a box of matches towards him. "Okay, how's your throwing arm?"
A few minutes later, the lamp flew out the window. Both young men could hear the ~whoosh~ as the lamp sent out a wall of flames. It was time to run. Trying to stand, Cory nearly fell back down to the floor when his knee gave way. A strong arm wrapped itself under his shoulders. Sam aided him off the floor, then supported him as they hurried across the cabin. On the way, Cory snatched the emergency bag off the end table. More bullets shot into the wall behind them as they ducked onto the back porch.
"Now what?" Sam gasped, holding his injured wrist tight against his body.
"We head for that shed."
Together, the young men stumbled through the rain to the small wooden structure. Cory pushed the door open with his shoulder. Once inside, he glanced down. They had left so fast, Sam only had socks on his feet.
"He'll find us." Sam peered through the gloom, trying to see if there was anything useful.
"Which is why we're leaving. Grab those jackets on the pegs there, will you? And Bill's old work boots should be under there, too." Cory limped heavily to the corner, yanking a tarp. Underneath was a motorbike.
"Nice," Sam complimented. He shoved his feet into the boots as he yanked a leather jacket and a brown work coat off the hooks. He tossed the jacket to Cory.
"My godfather's," Cory explained. He pulled on the jacket, then looped the bag strap over his head. He discovered a baseball cap in the pocket, which he jammed on his head. "We just have to get it started."
Already wearing the coat and flipping the hood over his head, Sam mounted the machine. "Hold the gas for me." As Cory obediently held down the gas, Sam jumped the kick start. The bike immediately roared to life.
"Scoot back." Cory slipped in front of Sam, trying to keep the weight off his sore knee. "Hang on." Sam held on tight as Cory maneuvered the bike around gloom-shrouded equipment, then shot out the back. Sam could hear more gun fire as Cory aimed the bike into the woods. They roared into the darkness.
Toby's Jeep, road to Bill Nighthawk's cabin
Jim glanced into the back seat of the Jeep. Both Blair and MacGyver were quiet. Silence from MacGyver was neither unusual nor unexpected. Mac was both worrying about Sam and trying to calculate Murdoc's next move. Jim could only guess what was going on within that great mind. What was surprising was how easily Mac accepted Jim's vision. Even Jim had trouble believing in spirit animals and it was his dream. Mac absorbed it and took what comfort he could, then incorporated it into whatever he was planning next. Jim suspected the worried father latched onto the vision as proof that his son was okay.
Next to Mac was the second smartest man Jim knew. Blair, too, was thinking hard and worrying. While Blair was rarely quiet, Jim took it as a good sign. His partner had been too scared for his brother to think straight earlier. Since an unthinking Blair was an extremely vulnerable Blair, Jim was glad he was back on track. Now the sentinel could almost see the wheels spinning in his partner's head, pondering Jim's suspicions about the tiger. Jim hoped that his guide would finally see what Jim had been suspecting for quite a while.
Speaking of the tiger, Jim glanced at the silent deputy driving the jeep. Nighthawk had been just as quiet and worried as the father and son in the back seat. Piecing together the bits of information, Jim figured that 'Cory' was the same age as the deputy and probably recovering from more than just an injured knee. It fit with the sense of vulnerability Jim had felt off the tiger. That worried him almost as much as wondering how badly Sam was hurt. It was hard enough dealing with the senses without adding injuries and a madman on top of it. He wanted more information, yet Jim didn't want to break Nighthawk's concentration by asking questions. The younger man needed to keep his mind on the treacherous roads.
Jim closed his eyes a moment. He was exhausted and hurting, he knew Blair was running on fumes, and he could only guess how Sam must be feeling. While the list of injuries didn't sound too bad, the sentinel in Jim needed to check Sam out for himself. For that matter, the sentinel would feel much better once Sam, the tiger, and Mac were safely on their way down the mountain, preferably with Blair. Jim wanted to do some Murdoc hunting, but didn't want to worry about the others while he did it. However, while staying with an injured Sam might get Mac out of the way, he suspected his partner was not going to be so easy to convince. After nearly losing Sam, both Jim and Blair were ready to rid themselves of MacGyver's nightmare.
Toby turned onto a smaller, muddy track. Jim glanced around. "Private drive?"
"Yeah. It only leads to Bill's cabin."
Blair sat up. "Then we're almost there?"
"Then you need to be careful." Mac, too, sat forward. "Murdoc loves traps."
Toby frowned. "Do you really think he'd be here?"
"Better to be prepared," Mac answered tersely.
Agreeing with the statement, Jim began extending his senses. With the rain, scent was out of the question. So the sentinel used his eyes and ears to hunt for any surprises. Ahead, he could see the trees open into a small clearing. A wooden cabin sat in the middle, an old Ford truck parked off to the left side. Then Jim squinted, leaning forward for a better view. "Stop here."
"What?" Toby asked, confused.
Toby slammed on the brakes, causing the jeep to skid a little in the mud. Blair undid his seatbelt and pulled himself into the space between the front seats. He squeezed his partner's shoulder. "Jim?"
"Something's wrong." Jim tightened his sight, focusing on the cabin. "Looks like there's been a fire on the porch."
"What?" Toby, too, tried to peer through the rain.
"Murdoc," Mac growled, popping open the jeep door.
"Mac, wait!" Jim warned, clicking off his own seatbelt as he opened the door. As Mac started to walk towards the cabin, Jim spotted the brown lines strung across the drive. "MAC!" Jim ran. Just as Mac's leg pulled the string, Jim yanked him backwards. They both fell to the ground as the truck near the cabin exploded, sending a fireball into the rainy night sky.
Toby and Blair scrambled out of the Jeep. Shielding his eyes, Toby shouted, "What the Hell?"
"Murdoc," Blair called back grimly as he dashed over to his father and partner. "Dad? Jim?"
"I'm okay," Jim replied, rolling off of Mac. Blair gave him a hand up.
"And I'm just plain stupid." Mac attempted to brush the dirt off his face, but only managing to add more mud. He accepted Jim's hand. "Thanks, Jim. I should've known better."
"Why blow up Bill's truck?" Toby asked, bewildered.
"It's Murdoc's way of announcing he was here," Mac explained.
Toby's face grew graver. "What about Cory?"
Blair looked up at his partner. "Jim?"
"There are lines strung up all over the yard," Jim reported. "We're going to need lights to find and disable them all."
"The cabin?" Blair asked softly, his voice infused with worry.
Jim tilted his head. He swallowed hard. "No heartbeats."
"Damn." Mac lifted his face to the sky, letting the rain mingle with the despair welling up in his eyes.
"Wait a minute." Jim and Blair turned to look at Nighthawk. The deputy's eyes were drilling into Jim. "You can see brown strings in the yard in the dark, and know there are no heartbeats in the cabin?"
"Ah," Jim uttered.
Toby held up his hand. "I'll hold all the questions except one until later. Can you see into the shed off to the right of the cabin?"
Jim concentrated on the out building. "What about it?"
"Bill keeps an old Harley there. Can you tell if anyone's been inside?"
Jim frowned. "The door's ajar." He focused harder, barely aware of Blair laying a hand on his arm. "It's open in the back, and I think there's one tread mark going out."
Toby released a deep breath. "Then they've escaped."
"But we don't know when that mark was made," Blair pointed out.
"Bill's been stationed in Germany for the past six months. He took time off for Cory six weeks ago, but he went straight back from D.C. Cory's been in no shape to take it out for fun, and my family's been too busy this summer to do more than make sure nobody's broken into the place. Plus Bill keeps it under a tarp, so unless you know where it is, you won't spot it. If that bike's left the shed, it had to be recently and Cory must have taken it. And Cory isn't the type to leave your brother behind if he could help it. So I'm guessing they both made it out."
Blair and Mac exchanged glances. They might not know for sure, but it was good enough for now. "Now what?" Blair asked.
Toby continued to stare into the darkness behind the cabin. "I think I know where Cory would head. But if what you say about the yard is true, we can't follow them."
Mac thought a moment. "I can probably get us to the cabin, but I'm going to need a lot of light and it's going to take some time."
"Would the Jeep headlights help?" Blair asked.
"And I've got a heavy duty flashlight in the Jeep," Toby added.
"It's a start," Mac replied. As the group trotted to the jeep, Toby looked at Jim. "How can you do all that?"
As Jim ducked his head behind the jeep to avoid the question, Blair piped up, "He eats lots of carrots."
Toby shot him a look as he leaned into the Jeep for his light. "I might have spent my entire life out here, but that doesn't make me an idiot." He handed the flashlight to Mac, then turned back to Jim. "Seriously, if you were standing on that porch, could you see a squirrel on that gate behind us?"
Blair blinked at the deputy as Jim nodded. "Cory do that recently?" Jim asked.
Toby looked down at the ground. "Just tell me how you do it."
"It's something I was born with."
Toby shook his head and looked up. "Then that can't be it."
"Yes, it can." Jim laid a hand on Toby's shoulder. "Cory's recently been able to see great distances?"
Blair, finally catching on, added, "And hear things he shouldn't be able to hear?"
Toby looked back and forth, then finally nodded.
"What about his other senses?" Blair asked eagerly. "Taste? Smell? Touch?"
"He mentioned something about smell. I don't know about the others. But it's only happened in the past six weeks."
"Could be he repressed them until recently. Maybe he needed them when he was hurt." Blair draped an arm over Nighthawk's shoulder. "Let's get the Jeep set up for my Dad and we'll talk."
Two hours later
They had nearly reached the porch. When they had first shone the Jeep's headlights on the yard, Blair could have sworn he was looking at a complex spider web. It was easy to see why Jim didn't suggest they try to cross without disarming them. Frustration and impatience clawed at his gut, forced to go slow when his entire being wanted to race to the cabin. If he felt that way, he could only imagine how his father felt. Yet Mac was calmly disabling Murdoc's tricks, his voice and manner reassuring to the younger men. It was only when Blair looked into his eyes that he could see his father's turmoil.
Taking the Swiss army knife his father had handed him, Blair spared a glance at Nighthawk. He was holding his huge flashlight so they could see. While most of their time had been focused on the traps, Blair had been able to ask Toby a few questions. It sounded like his friend had recently been in a bad situation in Colombia. Now Cory couldn't remember what had happened and was struggling with enhanced senses. From what he had seen with Jim, he suspected that a sentinel who went into 'primal' mode had very little memory of what happened later. What if Cory's senses had awakened so that he could escape? The memory loss might not be entirely due to a head injury. The tiny bit of Blair not wrapped up in Sam and traps was excited. He had always wondered if he could have kept Jim's senses online if he had met him right after his return from Peru. Could they help Cory stay online and gain control? Was Jim right about Cory being the sentinel Sam was to guide? Blair had a ton of questions, but he'd wait until they knew for certain Sam and Cory had escaped.
From the corner of his eye, he saw Jim pause in wrapping string around his arm. The sentinel lifted his head to stare down the driveway. "We've got company."
"Which way?" Blair asked as he handed the Swiss army knife back to his father.
"The main road."
"Probably my backup," Toby replied, glancing at his watch while keeping the flashlight steady.
Jim nodded. "I'm hearing several vehicles."
"I need to meet them."
"Hand me the flashlight," Blair requested.
Toby handed over the light, then walked back to his jeep, Jim trailing behind him.
Mac snipped the last wire, disarming the device. "That one's done."
Blair sighed. "Man, how did he put in so many so fast?"
Mac sat up and stretched his shoulders. "Murdoc knew what he wanted to do and where everything is. We're working in the dark in more ways than one."
With a sigh, Blair ran his hand through his hair. "This is ridiculous."
"We're just about there."
Blair studied his father a moment. Mac's face looked haggard. "How are you holding up?"
Mac rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. "Tired, but I'd do this all night to get to Sam."
"I hear that." Blair glanced upward. "Looks like the weather's breaking."
"First thing to go our way since we split up this morning."
Blair twisted around to look at the arriving party. "Jim's bringing some people in."
Mac turned to see Craig Bannister slowly following Jim to their position. "Craig?"
"Hi, MacGyver." Craig leaned over to shake his old friend's hand. "You okay?"
"I'm hanging. But what on earth are you doing here?"
Craig sighed as he looked at the cabin. "Cory Buchanan's one of mine."
"What?" Blair exchanged glances with Jim. Toby had never said what organization Cory worked for. "DXS?" Craig confirmed with a nod.
Mac frowned a moment. "Not someone I know?"
Craig gave him a wan smile. "Remember me telling you about the young teen who hacked into Fort xXX?"
"The one who cracked one of the highest security systems in the country just to leave a message for his father?"
"That's Cory. He had an assignment go real bad a couple of months ago, and he's here recovering. I wanted to check up on him. I certainly didn't expect this."
"I'm sorry, Craig."
Craig waved away Mac's apology. "Not your fault. Besides, I was able to give Cory a head's up, so he should have been at least somewhat prepared for Murdoc to pull something."
Mac nodded, feeling slightly better. "Let me finish this last one, and we can check the cabin."
Twenty minutes later, Mac cleared the porch area. Sheriff Johnson, Dave and Toby Nighthawk had joined them. Throughout the yard, other deputies were cautiously scanning the area, looking for more booby traps.
"Now, everyone keep their eyes peeled," Mac cautioned as he checked the steps. "I don't know how many more Murdoc set up."
As they climbed the steps, Dave shook his head at the burnt planks and broken windows. "I hope they're okay."
"Me, too," Toby replied. "Especially since I figure Cory should be the one to tell Bill about this."
Dave cracked a smile in spite of himself. "Yeah, Bill does tend to yell less at the kid. And he's not going to be happy about his truck."
Mac stopped at the door. A white envelope was taped to the door with the word 'MacGyver' scrawled across. Blair softly asked, "What's that?"
"One of Murdoc's little notes," Jim growled as MacGyver pulled down the envelope and opened it. With Jim and Blair looking over his shoulders, Mac read the note.
Blair felt his gut tighten as he squeezed Mac's arm. He had heard about Murdoc's notes, but he now understood why they upset his father so much. He really wanted to lay his hands on Murdoc himself. His fear for Sam increased tenfold.
Jim squeezed Mac's other shoulder. "Let's check out the cabin."
As they spread throughout the cabin, Blair stopped by the tipped over sofa. He knelt down to pick up a soggy hiking boot. His gut tightened another notch as he recognized it. "Here's Sam's boots."
Jim nodded as he looked at them. "But Sam's not here."
Blair relaxed slightly. That was Jim's way of saying Sam was no longer in the cabin. "They got away, but Sam's running around out there without shoes." He handed the boot to Mac, who held it tightly for a moment. "Man, I hope he doesn't get frostbite."
"It's not THAT cold, Sandburg." Jim gently cuffed Blair on the head.
"It FEELS that cold," Blair returned.
"This is good." They turned to see Dave examining a metal locker in the corner. Seeing he had their attention, Dave waved at the contents. "My brother, being slightly paranoid, keeps a small duffle here full of emergency supplies in case of evacuation. Though he was thinking more along the lines of flash floods or forest fires than psychos. It's not here, so Cory must have had time to grab it."
"He probably had it ready just in case they had to leave in a hurry," Craig added.
Jim turned to Toby. "Didn't you say you thought you knew where they might go?"
Dave glanced at his nephew. "Are we close to where Cory 'disappeared' that one time?"
Seeing the expressions from Sam's family, Toby explained, "Cory and I found a nice camping spot when we were teens. It's pretty hard to find, so it was our little secret. The next summer, Cory had a huge blowout with his dad and ran away." Toby sighed, remembering how upset his friend had been. "They were over at Leavenworth at the time, so he came up here. Since he knew that the adults would ship him back home, he hid out at our spot and I snuck him food. When Bill came looking for him, he figured I knew something and followed me. He talked Cory into going back home."
Dave smiled. "None of us except Toby and Bill know where Cory had been hiding all that time. And trust me, we were looking for him." He turned serious. "You think Cory headed there now?"
Toby nodded. "It's about the only option he had, if this Murdoc attacked them from the front."
"Then let's check it out," Mac replied.
Still being cautious, Toby led the group to a trail behind the cabin. Jim knelt down and examined the ground as Blair shone a flashlight. "It's mostly washed away, but I can still see a faint impression of a tire tread."
"Then we're on the right track," Mac added.
They had hiked half a mile when they reached a point where the trail curved through a narrow pass along the river. A rockslide had flowed down the mountainside, blocking the trail. "Murdoc?" Blair asked as he shone his flashlight on a particularly large boulder.
"Hard to tell in the dark," his father replied, "thought the timing is sure convenient."
"We can't get through that tonight," Craig pointed out.
Toby sighed. "There's a back way in, but it's a lot longer and I wouldn't want to take it in the dark."
"Then we take it at first light," Mac declared.
The promise of morning is now coloring the horizon. I hope today goes better than yesterday.
I just wanted to make some fun memories with my boys and Lisa, making up for the time we lost when my sons were growing up. I never dreamed Murdoc would show up here. Now I just want to see Sam with my own eyes, confirm that he's going to be okay. Then I'm going to have to figure out a way to contain Murdoc and get him out of my life.
Never before have I felt the need to hunt my nemesis down. Of course, all the other times he was supposed to be dead, so everyone dissuaded me from trying. But this time he nearly killed my son. Just the thought of Sam in that river last night scares me to the core. Remembering the shock and grief in Blair's face when he told me what happened doesn't help either. Murdoc put Blair and Ellison through the wringer, too. Just the fact that they both fell asleep on the ride over here screams how much last night took out of them. I have half a mind to tell Craig to drive them down the mountain while I go with the young deputy. However, I know how well that would go over. I just wish I could keep them safe.
Then again, I may really need them on this one. From the conversations spinning around last night, I realize that Jim believes this Cory may be Sam's sentinel. The poor kid sure picked a bad time to get mixed up with my family. If he is the one, then we have a lot of work to do in the days ahead. Once I know everyone is safe.
Sunlight was shining in his face. Blinking, Sam started to lift his arm to shield his eyes until a sharp pain reminded him why that was a bad idea. He buried his head into the sleeping bag beneath him instead. Through the headache, he slowly sorted out what had happened, which could basically be put into one word -- Murdoc. Sam sighed. He was really getting tired of the madman interrupting family outings. He hoped Blair, Jim and Dad were still okay. He knew they'd be worried about him, but he thought they knew he got out of the river. Things were still a bit fuzzy after the bridge blew up.
Carefully rolling over, he spotted his rescuer. Cory, wrapped in an army blanket, was slouched against a rock with his head resting on a bunched up jacket. Sam vaguely remembered Cory leading him into a rocky enclave. He had pulled out a sleeping bag from a metal locker and then had Sam crawl into it. Glancing around, Sam couldn't help but be impressed. The cliff above kept the rain out while the surrounding rocks prevented the wind from entering. The rocks also helped to retain the heat from the small fire, the dying embers still glowing. Towards the back, Sam spotted the locker Cory had opened last night. It looked like it had been there a while, the top covered in dust and a bit of rust showing in the corner. Apparently, this place had been used before.
Sam returned his gaze to Cory. The other man couldn't possibly be comfortable, but had obviously fallen asleep due to exhaustion. The gun lying in his lap near his hand hinted that Cory had been keeping watch. Sam frowned. Now that his head was clear, he could see the pale skin, the taunt features, and the gauntness in Cory's long frame. He looked kinda ill. Then Sam remembered Cory saying he had hurt his knee weeks ago. Had Cory been hurt in an accident or something and still recovering? Only to be dragged out into a cold, rainy night while being chased by the MacGyver family's nightmare. At the very least, Sam should see if there was any food in that locker and try to make his rescuer more comfortable.
He struggled to sit up, biting his lip to keep from crying out. He closed his eyes to ride out the worst of it as he held his wrist tight against his stomach. Pain assaulted him from various directions. Not too surprising after running down a mountainside and getting banged around in a river. There was no way he was in any shape to deal with Murdoc and he doubted his rescuer was doing any better. Hopefully, Jim and Blair would find him soon. Sam had faith that as long as they were alive and mobile, his brother and his sentinel would be searching for him.
Then Sam's eyes shot open. He remembered Cory hearing Murdoc approach the cabin, then curling up in pain when Murdoc fired the automatic. He remembered Cory's eyes glazing over as he stared at the clock, just like Jim's did when he zoned. Then he remembered Jim and Blair's argument on the trail, about Jim seeing a tiger and whether it was a good guy or a bad guy.
Was it a good or bad sentinel?
Cory had to be the tiger, the other sentinel Jim had been sensing in the area. Sam stared at the other man as questions flew through his mind. Did Cory know he was a sentinel? Had he always used his senses, or were they new to him? Was his injury being aggravated by the senses? Did he have a guide? Was he a good guy or a bad guy?
Suddenly, Sam realized he really didn't know much about Cory. Yet he seemed friendly with the sheriff, which could be a good sign. Then again, the last sheriff aided in his brother and father's abductions. Was the new sheriff any different? However, Cory also had gone out of his way to help Sam, even though he wasn't 100% himself. Sam was going to side with Jim for now.
Taking a deep breath, Sam pulled back the top of the sleeping bag. A moan from Cory drew back his attention. The dark head shifted, the mouth frowning. Before Sam could move, Cory jerked awake. Eyes wild, he glanced around until his eyes hit Sam. Then he relaxed, running a hand over his face. "How are you doing this morning?"
"Alive," Sam replied with a slight smile. "How about you?"
"The same." Blinking, Cory looked around again as his hand wrapped around his gun. "I didn't want to fall asleep."
"Last night was pretty rough on both of us," Sam pointed out. "I certainly wasn't in any shape to take a watch."
"We're just lucky the psycho didn't find us." Cory stretched a shoulder, trying to hide a wince. He started to get up. "Let's check you ou..." With a yelp, Cory was back on the ground, curled up around his injured knee.
"Cory?" Sam exclaimed. When Cory didn't respond, Sam forced his stiff and aching body to move the two feet to Cory's side. "Your knee?" Cory's head nodded slightly. He had to really be in a lot of pain. Then it hit Sam. A sentinel with a heightened sense of touch would feel pain more than others. He'd seen Jim have problems. What did Blair do?
Sam gently laid his good hand on Cory's shoulder. "Can you imagine a dial that represents your pain?" After a moment, Cory's head nodded again. "Okay, where's it set at?"
Sam's heart twisted at the agonized whisper. "Okay, let's slowly move it down. Turn it to 29... 28... 27..." Slowly, Sam worked it down to a five. He could feel the muscles in Cory's shoulder loosen. "Better?"
"Much." Cory lifted his head to look at Sam. "Thank you."
Sam gave him a weak smile. "Least I can do for dragging you around in the middle of a storm last night."
Cory returned the smile. "How did you come up with the dials?"
Sam shrugged, trying to ignore the sense of destiny sweeping through him. "My brother uses that trick with his partner."
"Partner?" Cory accepted Sam's help in sitting back against the rock, frowning when Sam hissed.
"Jim and my brother are police detectives in Cascade, Washington."
Cory accepted the information with a nod. "How are you doing? Can I help you with the dials?"
"Stiff and hurting, but I can't work the dials for myself." Sam tried to contain his own cry of pain when he accidentally leaned his sore shoulder on the rock facing Cory's.
Still distracted by the pain, Sam replied, "I'm not a sentinel."
Sam's eyes popped open and stared at Cory. Realizing he was already in pretty deep, he decided to dive in the rest of the way. "A sentinel is a person whose senses are genetically enhanced beyond a normal person's."
Cory's frown grew. "You mean like genetic experimentation?"
"No, it's natural. Blair, my brother, has found stories of sentinels going back to the Celts and even primitive man. It was what he was working on during grad school." Sam paused a moment, seeing the thoughts flashing across the other's face. "You have heightened senses, don't you?"
Cory's face hardened. "What makes you say that?"
Sam gave him a reassuring smile. "After all the time I've spent with Blair and Jim, I know the signs."
"You heard Murdoc approaching the cabin last night. I certainly couldn't hear anything above the rain. But because you were concentrating on that soft sound, the sound of Murdoc's gun overwhelmed you, right?"
Cory sighed, looking at the rock to the right of Sam's shoulder instead of Sam. "It felt like it was drilling into my head."
Sam nodded. "Then earlier, you zoned on the clock."
Cory's head snapped forward to stare into Sam's face. "What did you call it?"
"A zone. Blair says that sometimes when a sentinel concentrates on one of his senses, he loses himself in that sense. You lost yourself in your sight."
Cory swallowed hard. "So me losing time is connected to seeing and hearing stuff?" He paused a moment, thinking hard. "Does it go away? The losing time and hearing stuff?"
All Sam could do was shrug. "I think Blair says it can be repressed, but it's pretty much a part of a person."
"So I could have these episodes or zones or whatever you call it for the rest of my life?" Cory exclaimed, his voice rising in pitch with each word.
It was easy to see the growing panic in Cory's face. Sam held up his hand. "Whoa. Yes, zones are a danger, but they can be dealt with."
"Yeah, right." Cory rubbed his face again. "You're not the one losing time or getting huge headaches afterwards."
"Headaches?" That wasn't something Sam remembered Blair mentioning.
"I've been having megaton headaches lately. On and off mostly, but I always get one after I've lost time. I thought it was due to the head injury I had a few weeks ago, but if it's this zone stuff, I'm screwed."
Sam continued to frown. "Every time?"
"Yeah..." Then Cory paused in thought. "But not last night." He looked at Sam. "How long was I gone?"
"You were zoned about thirty seconds, a minute tops."
"Maybe that's it," Cory puzzled. "I wasn't out for hours like before."
Cory had zoned for hours? The very thought sent a chill down Sam's spine. He shook it off, silently vowing never to let it happen again. "Could be. Blair usually pulls Jim out of a zone as soon as it occurs. That's probably why Jim usually doesn't have a headache afterwards."
"Blair pulls him out?" Cory asked. "How?"
"Usually by touching his arm and talking. Blair says he has to reach Jim through his other senses."
"So this friend of yours has this problem, too?" Seeing Sam nod, Cory continued, "For how long?"
"Jim's had them off and on since he was a kid. He had repressed them most of his life, but they came back twice on him. Once when he was MIA in Peru, and then five years ago when he was in Cascade. That's when he met my brother, and Blair's been working with him ever since."
"So Jim's able to do okay with them?"
"Yep. In fact, he and Blair are considered two of the top police detectives in the city. Just that most people don't know he's a walking crime lab."
"What about the zone stuff?"
"Blair watches out for him. According to his research, all the old sentinels had partners to watch out for them. Blair calls them guides. Jim says that just Blair's presence helps to keep him grounded."
Cory sighed as he looked at his hands. "Man, that sounds nice. But what do I do?"
Sam leaned over to meet Cory's eyes. "We'll help you. When did you first notice yours?"
"When I was in the hospital about six weeks ago. I had an assignment go bad."
Cory shot him a look. "My boss is Craig Bannister."
"Bannister? My Dad's friend in the DXS?"
"Yep. In fact, I've heard stories about your dad from Craig."
Sam chuckled. "You're going to have to tell me some time. Dad tends to be pretty quiet about his DXS work." He gave Cory an encouraging smile. "So you work for the DXS?"
"Yeah. I'm a computer and security expert, and sometimes I do field work."
"That's the 50,000 dollar question. I remember going down to Colombia with my partner, then the next thing I remember is waking up in a D.C. hospital and being told my partner was dead."
Sam winced. "That doesn't sound good."
"No. Then I started hearing people on the floors above me. My father and the doctors thought I was going nuts. It didn't help that I was having trouble with the medication and that I could see things out the window I shouldn't have been able to. Hell, even the food tasted funny."
"So you've got taste, sight, hearing and touch heightened. What about smell?"
Sam nodded. "Definitely a sentinel. Where were you in Colombia?"
Cory shrugged. "Started near Cali. Craig and Bill said they found me in the jungle. I guess I was in pretty bad shape at the time."
"You know, Jim's senses heightened after he was in the jungle," Sam pointed out thoughtfully. "Perhaps it has something to do with the jungle or the isolation. Maybe Blair can figure out a connection."
Both young men fell quiet, thinking. Then Sam asked, "You don't happened to have any coffee stashed around here, do you? And maybe an aspirin?"
"Yeah, there should be both in the pack I grabbed, and there should be some jugs of water over there near the locker." Cory started to get up.
He was halted by Sam's hand. "You bum leg, me bum wrist, remember?" Sam lifted his hand up to show the splint. "I'll go get the stuff, and while you fix it I'll see if I can answer more of your questions. Deal?"
The newly discovered sentinel leaned back against the rock. "Deal."
Jim could feel the exertion and stress of the past 24 hours deep in his muscles. While the two- hour nap had helped, it hadn't helped enough to make hiking again seem like a picnic. It was times like this that reminded him of his advancing years.
Of course, it had to be worse for MacGyver. The man was both older and at least as tired. Jim suspected Mac had stayed awake all night worrying about Sam. Yet he was hiking along with every indication that he could do this all day if he had to. Jim could only pray he was in as good of shape when he reached Mac's age.
Not that the trail would have been easy in any situation. The rocky path was barely more than a deer trail, steeply winding its way up the mountainside. It would have taken all of Jim's abilities to follow it if Toby hadn't been leading them. He could see why the deputy didn't want to hike it last night. It was worrisome in several ways. With the sharp turns, fallen trees, and patches of tall grass, it would be easy for someone like Murdoc to set a trap. Jim's back tightened at the very thought of another spear hurdling at them. Nor was it a good path for evacuating injured. He didn't know enough about Sam's condition to judge his mobility, but if Toby's friend had re- injured his knee, there was no way the kid could handle this trail. Hopefully, Craig and the sheriff's department will have cleared out the other end of the trail by the time they found them.
Glancing at his partner, Jim gauged that Blair was running on sheer determination. He wouldn't stop worrying about Sam until he saw him. Though it was probably in Nighthawk's favor that Blair was tired -- Jim could only imagine the number of questions running through his partner's head. He had already asked as many questions as he could last night. The strong presence of the elder Nighthawk was also a deterrent. Toby had indicated that Cory hadn't told anyone else about the problems with his senses, so Blair had reluctantly agreed to stay quiet.
Jim took a deep breath, searching for any hint of Murdoc. It was strange how natural such actions were now. He had Blair to thank for that. However, Cory was only beginning his journey. It was easy for Jim to imagine the confusion and fear running through the younger man, since it wasn't all that long ago Jim had faced similar situations. He felt a lot of empathy for him. Soon Cory would have the support he needed. Between Sam, Mac, Blair and himself, the young man would not be forced to repress everything like Jim had after Peru. That is, if the poor kid didn't run screaming from Blair's interrogation. Jim just prayed they could keep everyone alive until then.
Cory concentrated on the familiar action of pumping out the air in the backpack stove. It had been hard to find a comfortable position to work on the small unit without straining his knee. Sam had even volunteered to do it, but Cory doubted the task could be done one-handed.
From the corner of his eye, he could see Sam struggle to keep his eyes open. Cory could still feel the tug of sleep, so it was easy to guess just how exhausted and hurting the other man was. At least Sam seemed a lot more coherent this morning, which hopefully meant the darkening bruise on his forehead looked worse than it was. Still, Sam should be checked out by medical personnel and get that wrist X-rayed. The problems were that neither of them were in any shape for hiking and the Harley was on empty. There was also the possibility of being caught out in the open by the madman trying to harm them. There was no choice but to stay put and wait for rescue. Cory knew the spot was almost impossible to find unless someone knew where to look. Only Toby and Bill knew where it was, and Cory had faith that Toby would arrive eventually.
Which left him time to think about his other problem. Was the sentinel stuff true, or the product of Sam's head hitting too many rocks in the river?
The voice of his father whispered that it was total nonsense. Logically, there was no such thing as someone with heightened senses. Non-existent cats didn't hang out in his orderly world of computer chips and electronic wiring. Was he just grabbing onto any strand of hope to avoid admitting he was cracking up?
However, he had seen too much in his life to believe the answers were only found in the physical world. Grandmother and Bill's stories of the Arapaho Way had filled his childhood. Many of his martial arts Masters believed that the spirit was as important as the mind and body. A part of Cory had come to rely on his spirit to make it through the rigors of modern life.
Of course, the general never liked his martial arts 'mumbo jumbo'. Which is why Cory had always trusted Grandmother Nighthawk's judgment on such issues. She said he was fine. In fact, she was the one who told him to follow the tiger. And just like his dream, the tiger had led him to a hawk that turned out to be Sam. Was she right? Would Sam lead him to his future?
Another part of Cory balked at the notion. He rarely depended on anyone else. Usually, others were coming to him. Besides, Sam was just a guy. Cory's current problems were a terrible load to pile onto someone. He had no right to do so, and Sam had every right to tell him he was nuts and walk away.
But Sam hadn't told him he was nuts. In fact, he had given Cory a name for his problem: Sentinel. It would have been one thing if that was all there was, a name for having heightened senses. But Sam had already suggested a practical method to deal with them that worked. Sam also knew about his lost time and gave that a name as well. Cory had always been taught that if you could name your enemy, the battle was half won. But Sam had also said it was genetic. If it was, why was it only showing up now?
Was being a sentinel really his problem? Or was he so desperate that he would grab onto any lifeline tossed to him? He knew what his father would say. He knew what Grandmother would say. The question was, what did he think? Should he continue to follow the tiger?
"You know, I don't think that's going to pump any more."
Cory blinked, realizing that the metal plunger had become almost too hard to press down. "Thanks." With a push and twist, he set it in place and picked up the matches. He struck one against a rock, then turned the gas lever. Once the stove was lit, he shook out the match then adjusted the flame.
Sam was still watching him worriedly. "Are you okay?"
Cory turned towards the pot of water Sam had filled earlier. "I'm in better shape than you are."
A deep chuckle greeted him as he turned around. "I would say that's debatable." Sam had one eyebrow raised at him.
Cory simply shrugged as he balanced the pot on the stove. "I doubt that, Samuel."
"My name's not Samuel."
Now Cory's eyebrows lifted. "No? What's Sam short for?"
"It's my initials, S-A-M."
"What's the 'S' stand for?"
"Sean." Sam shrugged his shoulder. "Always sounded a bit girly to me."
Sam smirked. "Something awful."
Cory couldn't help the smirk gracing his own face. "Yeah? It can't be any worse than my first name."
"Cory's not that bad."
"Cory's my nickname. My full first name has got to be worse than your middle name."
The two of them stared at each other for a moment.
They each paused a moment in thought. Then together, they replied, "You win." They both broke into laughter.
Once he could breathe again, Sam asked, "How did you get named Cornelius?"
"It was my Dad's grandfather's name. Mom had only been in the U.S. for about a month, so I suspect she had no idea what she was doing to me."
Sam chuckled again. "Well, my mom loved Angus. I think it was partly because it's my Dad's name. Which is pretty funny, considering how Dad avoids using it."
Still chuckling, Cory pulled two metal cups out of the duffle. "At least I can get a decent nickname out of Cornelius. What does your Dad do with Angus?"
"Nothing if he can help it. I've only heard Dad say it once, he hates it so much. A sort of cousin of ours calls him Gus, but I think O'Neill's the only one with the guts to do it."
Cory nodded as he pulled out the coffee bags. "Yeah, can't say Gus is much better." He leaned forward, hissing when the movement placed more strain on his knee.
Sam frowned. "Still bothering you?"
"Some, but much better than before." Cory shifted around, placing his Browning next to him. "In fact, that dial stuff worked a lot better than the meds the docs kept tossing down me."
"That makes sense." Sam cradled his splinted wrist against his stomach. "Blair says that drugs work different on Jim."
Cory didn't like that idea. "How come?"
"I'm not sure Blair's certain, but he suspects that they interfere with Jim's control over the senses." Sam waved a hand at the knee. "That's probably your problem, too. I wouldn't be surprised if the trauma from your trip activated your senses, then the meds interfered with your natural controls."
"So it's all a matter of control." Cory tapped his fingers on his leg. Self-discipline was familiar territory. He could handle it. "What do I need to do?"
"Blair has come up with exercises and techniques that help Jim with his control. The dials are part of it. He says it's like anything -- the more you practice, the easier it is."
Cory sent Sam a puzzled look. "You keep saying 'Blair says'. What does your friend Jim say?"
Sam chuckled. "Not a lot, other than complaining about feeling like a guinea pig. Blair has the gift of gab, so Jim just lets him do the talking. But when Jim does say something, you'd better pay attention."
Cory nodded, then looked out the enclave's entrance. Noting the distraction, Sam asked, "What's up?"
"Thought I heard something. When my friend Toby hears about what happened last night, he'll be coming up here."
"He'll know where to look?"
"Oh yeah. We found this place back when we were teenagers. His family's old hound dog was trailing something while we were hiking one day and took off. We followed him and he led us here. We thought it was cool, so we made it our secret hideout."
Chuckling, Sam nodded. "Sounds like fun." Pausing a moment, he asked, "How easy is it to find?"
"Not easy at all, if you don't know where to look."
"So Murdoc won't find us?"
"The rain should have wiped out the bike tracks, but smoke could lead him here. That's why I'm switching to the stove." Cory glanced down at his Browning, then studied Sam. "You know how to handle a gun?"
Sam's eyes narrowed. "Yeah. Took a course, and Jim's worked with me."
Cory picked up the handgun and handed it to him. "Here. Just in case."
Sam checked the safety, then the clip. "What about you? You know, just in case."
"I'm set." Cory pulled out the Kay Bar.
Lifting an eyebrow, Sam asked, "And once your friend Toby finds us?"
Cory sighed. "I'm not sure. Depends on what information he has with him. If he says they've captured Murdoc, we can go."
Sam pointedly glanced at his knee. "Any chance for a rescue chopper?"
"Tobe's a deputy, so he should have some pull."
"His last name wouldn't happen to be Nighthawk, would it?"
Cory glanced at him. "Yeah. Why?"
"He helped us out a couple of years ago." Sam leaned back against the rock. "Dad and Blair were abducted and brought out here. Toby went against the sheriff at the time to help Jim and I get them back."
"You're kidding?" Cory looked at him, surprised. Then he paused. "Did Jill Rhodes help you, too?"
"Yeah, she and her dad were a big help." At Cory's snicker, Sam asked, "What?"
"Let me guess: you're the photojournalist."
"Yeah. How'd you know?"
"Oh, Toby's mentioned you."
Before Sam could ask how Toby had mentioned him, Cory stiffened as he stared at the opening. Softly, Sam whispered, "What is it?"
"Ah... Do you know anything about your sentinels seeing things?"
"Well... like a black cat."
"A black jaguar?"
Cory glanced at him. "Could be. How'd you know?"
A huge smile crossed Sam's face. "I think that means Jim's here."
Suddenly, everything clicked into place. He followed a tiger. The other sentinel followed a jaguar. Life was never going to be the same again.
Sam was in the process of standing. "They probably ran into Toby."
Suddenly, Cory saw a spear flying towards the other man. Within a heartbeat, Cory knew he couldn't reach his new friend in time. His sight narrowed in on the spear. "SAM!" he screamed at the same instant he threw Bill's knife. As Sam dove to the ground, the knife hit the wooden shaft, deflecting the weapon. The weapon aimed at Sam's chest only nicked his shoulder before slamming into the rock behind him.
"Not bad, Mr. Rescuer." A rugged, blond man of about fifty strolled into his line of sight. His gortex jacket easily blended with the rocks around them. In his hand was a grenade, thumb holding down the trigger. Cory felt his gut tighten.
"Murdoc," Sam growled, holding his wounded shoulder.
"Tsk, tsk, Junior MacGyver. Your papa should work on your manners, not dying when I want." Murdoc motioned for both men to stand up. "But since you've survived, I'm sure neither of you want to be here when I let go."
Biting his lip, Cory managed to stand up, keeping as much weight off his bad knee as possible. Sam walked over to him and slipped his good arm under Cory's shoulders. Cory could feel the blood on Sam's hand soak into his shirt. He fought back a surge of anger. He didn't trust the psycho, but there was little he could do in the enclosure. He had to bide his time and hope an opportunity presented itself.
Murdoc herded the limping pair between the boulders scattered about the entrance of the hideout. Cory blinked once in the sunlight when he again spotted the jaguar. The beast then merged into the brush, where Cory spied a man tucked within the growth. Blue eyes met brown, reached an understanding, then the other guy motioned him to the right.
Allowing his knee to buckle, Cory suddenly forced Sam down and to the right. Once they hit the ground, Cory sent them rolling until they were behind a boulder.
Murdoc suddenly found himself standing alone in the small clearing.
"That's far enough." MacGyver stood up from where he had taken shelter. Everyone else stayed hidden in the places they'd found after Jim's warning.
"Ah, Papa MacGyver." The insane smile on Murdoc's face grew wider as he greeted his long- time nemesis. "Just when I and the kids were having so much fun."
"This has nothing to do with Sam or Blair. This is between you and me."
"You always were a bit of a spoil sport, MacGyver. Never wanting to play. Breaking the rules. Always whining about something. You never appreciated the game."
"You're right about me never wanting to play. But if I played by your rules, I would have died a long time ago."
"If we can't play by my rules, it's time to end the game."
Blair saw the slight hand movement. Realizing he had to do something before his father had a live grenade in his lap, Blair fired.
Murdoc's hand dropped the grenade as the bullet penetrated his wrist. He instantly dove for cover as Mac dropped back to the ground. Rocks and debris erupted into the air.
Prepared, Jim jumped up as soon as the danger had passed. He was a hunter on the trail, all senses on alert, following the footsteps running towards the river. Only vaguely noting his guide's steps behind him, the sentinel tore after the prey who had dared to endanger his tribe.
They raced as fast as they could through the rugged terrain. Hearing told the sentinel they were approaching the river. Suddenly, Jim stopped, shooting out an arm to keep Blair from passing him. They stood where the trees ended on a rocky clearing. Murdoc faced them, back to a sharp drop-off above the river. In his left hand was another grenade.
"So here's the man whose life got the Junior MacGyver into trouble." Murdoc tilted his head, studying the pair. "Are you a fraud, young Blair? Or are you really a superman, Ellison? And which one of you violates MacGyver's creed of no guns?"
"Doesn't matter to you," Jim snarled as he sighted his weapon. "You're done now."
"No, I'm not." Murdoc drew back his arm to throw when Jim fired. The force of the bullet slammed Murdoc backwards. His arms flung outward as he fell into the gorge. Both heard the explosion as the grenade detonated. Jim and Blair dashed to the edge, seeing nothing but rocks and the white water roaring below.
"Did you get him, Jim?" Blair asked, trying to see through the distant spray.
"'We', Chief. And I know I hit him. We'll only know whether it did the job when the sheriff's department fishes out his body." With a sigh, he clapped a hand around the smaller man's shoulder. "Now let's check out the guy belonging to the good tiger."
Blair fell into step beside his partner. "You're never going to let me forget that, are you?"
Hospital, Laramie, WY
Cory leaned against the pillow, bunching the sheet in his fist. The doctor's exam had awakened the agony in his knee. The nurse had helpfully given him a dose of pain medication before Cory realized what it was. As Sam had predicted, he could feel the dial shift away from his control. Squeezing his eyes tight, he fought to keep from crying out.
Then he noticed how sounds outside the room were becoming sharper. He could hear Toby talking to his mother on the phone, the nurses sorting through lunch trays, and janitor wringing his mop and dropping it to the floor.
Then a sleepy voice reached his ears. "...can either do the surgery here, or wait until I'm back in L.A." Like a beacon in the dark, Cory could feel his hearing being drawn to Sam's voice.
"Sure you should wait that long?" Cory thought the second voice was MacGyver, Sam's father.
"It'll be fine, Dad. I don't feel that bad right now." Somehow, Sam's voice eased the tension within Cory's muscles.
A third voice replied, "So says all the drugs running through your veins."
"Well, Indy, I'm not complaining."
A gentle hand squeezed his shoulder. "Cory? You okay?"
Cory forced his eyes to open, finding the worried face of Jim Ellison as the older man stared down at him. Taking a deep breath, he replied, "I'm okay."
Jim squeezed his shoulder a second time. "Want to try that again?"
Cory gave him a weak smile. "I re-injured my knee. They say I need surgery."
Jim sat in the nearby chair. "They going to do it here?"
Cory shook his head. "I'll have to probably go back to D.C."
As Cory threw him a puzzled frown, he suddenly heard Sam say, "Honest, Indy, they said no concussion."
"Indy?" Cory whispered to himself.
"Sam's nickname for Blair, short for Indiana Jones," Jim explained. He tilted his head to the side. "Sounds like Sam's wearing down, though. He'll probably be asleep in a few minutes."
Cory suddenly stared at Jim. "You can hear them, too?" he asked.
Jim nodded. "You're new at this, aren't you?"
"Yeah." Cory paused, thinking. "But I don't understand. Sam said this sense stuff is genetic, but I don't ever remember being able to do things like this before."
Leaning forward in the chair, Jim gave him a reassuring smile. "I repressed my senses for long periods. I didn't even remember using them as a kid until Blair started working with me. He and your friend Toby think they may have pegged when you repressed yours."
Cory lifted his eyebrows. "Really? When?"
Jim shifted uncomfortably. "Toby said you were in the car accident that killed your mother."
"Yeah. It was a multi-car pile up." Cory swallowed hard. Even now it hurt.
Jim winced. The image of a four-year-old sentinel forced to listen to his mother bleeding to death before help arrived was horrifying. "Trauma causes repression. Trust me, I've repressed enough to fill an encyclopedia."
Involuntarily, a smile briefly crossed Cory's face. Then he took a deep breath. The man before him handled the senses. Surely he could help. "What do I do now?"
Jim thought a long moment. "First off, you have to deal with them. Even if you manage to repress them again, they have a bad habit of coming back when you're least prepared for it. And it's a big package. There's a lot of stuff wrapped up in your senses that you'd never think would be involved. It changes your whole world." Seeing Cory frown, Jim continued, "However, Blair has shown me that what I called a curse is really a gift. I've been able to do things and help people through my senses that would not have been possible otherwise. You just have to learn how to handle them."
"So it's all a matter of control?" Cory asked.
"Yes. And speaking of control, there is one piece of advice I need to give you and it's the most crucial. Being a sentinel is a two-person deal. I couldn't do half of what I do without Blair's presence grounding me, and there is no one else I'd rather have protecting my back. You can't handle the senses without a partner."
"So how do I find a partner?" Cory asked.
A smirk lifted up a corner of Jim's mouth. "How's Sam doing?"
"He's sleep..." Cory started, then stared at Jim. "Are you sure?"
Jim shrugged. "Not up to me. What do you think?"
Cory thought of the tiger leading him to the river and the Hawk. Leading him to what Grandmother had called his companion. He looked at Jim. "I'm willing to give it a shot, if Sam is."
"Good enough." Jim's smirk turned into a grin. "I do need to warn you, though. You're getting another MacGyver. Trust me on this one, each member of that family can attract trouble like nails to a magnet. Gather them together and trouble is a sure thing. However, when trouble does hit, you can count on them to help get you out. They are smart and quick and can come up with inspired solutions on the fly. And be glad you're getting the quiet one."
"What quiet one?" Blair asked as he entered. He gave Cory a friendly smile. "How are you feeling?"
Cory sighed, glanced at Jim, and admitted, "Hurting."
Blair pulled up another chair. "Well, I'm not Sam, but let's see if we can get those dials working."
Two days later, Bill Nighthawk's cabin
Cory sipped the tea again. "Definitely green. Lemon's in there, too. A touch of honey. And something else."
Sam nodded. "The box says ginseng."
"That could be it." Cory glanced out in the yard. MacGyver and Blair were sanding down a wooden door to replace the one damaged by Murdoc. The lighter voices of Nikki, Lisa and Jill floated from inside where they were scrubbing the floor. The 'thumps' of Jim chopping wood could be heard from the back. Due to their status as invalids, Sam and Cory were stretched out on patio chairs. "Sure is nice of everyone to help out."
Sam chuckled. "Well, considering you saved my life and found Rick's outlaw hangout, it's the least we can do."
Cory laughed as well. "I can't believe those initials on the back wall of my and Toby's secret spot were actually done by the Hanson gang."
"Rick sure is having a ball, even though he hasn't found the loot yet. Hope Toby doesn't mind."
"Nah, Toby's just kicking himself that we didn't figure it out first." They fell silent again as Cory ran a finger around the glass. "You sure your dad doesn't mind me staying at his place?"
"You're more than welcome." Mac walked over and reached down to pick up a third glass. "There is plenty of room at my new place."
"Do you mind moving to L.A.?" Sam asked.
"Nah. I like the West Coast." Cory took another sip of tea. "I'm just happy Phoenix is willing to hire me with you."
Mac gave the young man a warm smile. "You would have been given an offer based on your computer skills alone. To Nikki, being a sentinel is just gravy."
Blair chuckled as he reached for his own glass. "Yeah, she's been trying to get Jim and I signed up for years."
Cory gave them a tired smile. Sam took a moment to assess him. "You're getting another headache, aren't you?" Cory could only nod. While they suspected that some of his headaches were part of being a sentinel, Jim had pointed out that the head injury would also give him trouble.
Blair frowned. "You stretching your senses?"
"No." The strain on Cory's face increased as Blair fired questions.
"Have you taken more of your medication lately?"
"Blair," Sam interrupted.
The brothers stared at each other a moment. Then Blair raised his hands in mock surrender. "Backing off."
"Good idea," Jim interjected as he walked up to the porch. "We're about to have company."
"Who?" Blair asked.
"The sheriff," Jim and Cory replied together.
The five men watched as the sheriff's car pulled up. Johnson and Craig Bannister stepped out. Once greetings were exchanged, Cory asked, "Like some tea?"
"Yes, thanks." Craig took a glass.
Jim looked at the sheriff. "Find him yet?"
Johnson shook his head. "No body yet. But that river goes through some pretty remote territory. It wouldn't be surprising if we don't find him."
Craig asked, "Surely you don't think he survived, do you?"
Mac stared at his glass as Jim, Blair and Sam exchanged looks. "We'd feel better if you had found a body," Blair softly explained.
Craig reached over to squeeze Cory's shoulder and changed the subject. "Sure you want to leave me for this rough looking bunch?"
Cory glanced around, the voice of Grandmother Nighthawk ringing in his ears. The easy companionship between Jim and Blair was obvious. Mac's warm smile had a way of instantly putting him at ease. But best of all, he could feel the strength and support from Sam. He looked up at his mentor. "Sorry, Craig, but I think I belong in this bunch."
Sam gave him a quiet smile as he clicked his glass against Cory's. "Let the adventures begin."
Author's note, 10/9/02: So Sam has now found his sentinel! No worries, I have a few more stories planned for this series, including another Christmas one. I also would like to get back to the Roachia series, and there is a TS/Witchblade story poking at me. Will just have to see which bunny pops up first.
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