Story Birth: This story was inspired by a paragraph from Impala's story, "Mercy." http://www.geocities.com/TelevisionCity/4915/ It goes, and I quote: "Blair as an enemy, willing or not, was an intimidating proposition. For the first time in a long while, the scope of his friend's knowledge and brilliance hit him, but this time it carried a hint of the fear he had not experienced since their meeting in that office of long ago." (As an aside, you should read this story!!! Very angsty!!!!!) Needless to say, a two hundred pound plot bunny smacked me in the middle of the forehead. However, I couldn't find the appropriate motivation to make this story real for me. Eventually, a minor plot bunny (who had only been nibbling on my toes) caught the interest of the monster plot bunny, and this story was born.
Notes: Set after Sentinel Too. Rated PG for one naughty word.
Disclaimers: All standard disclaimers apply. Pet Fly Productions and UPN own the characters and the series. No copyright infringement intended. No money was made in writing or sharing this story -- unless someone wants to pay me and then I'll talk to my lawyers about sharing *weg*
Warmest thanks and appreciation go to IrisWilde, Mpala77, Fidus Amicus and Firecattz. These wonderful ladies took a story which I ripped out over a forty-eight hour time span and turned it into something of which I'm quite proud. They caught numerous errors and made invaluable suggestions (Look Ma, no Jungle Jim *g*). However, I am somewhat stubborn, so any mistakes are solely my own.
The hunter flowed silently through the trees like a cool spring breeze as he targeted the slightly accelerated breath of his prey. A feral grin spread slowly over his face as a small grove of lush trees came into view; a seemingly perfect place to hide -- if one was not trying to hide from a sentinel on the prowl.
He strode almost arrogantly into the center of the grove, knowing his prey had nowhere to run without being seen. Taking a deep cleansing breath, he closed his eyes and expelled the air softly, listening intently for the heartbeat he knew as intimately as his own -- only to find more than one.
His eyes snapped open, expecting to be surrounded, but the forest was still -- almost as if waiting in anticipation for his next move.
He concentrated on the first heartbeat and the fierce grin returned. He had found his prey at last. Curious, he focused on the second heartbeat and frowned. Again, it was his prey. The frown deepened as he concentrated on a third heartbeat. He turned slowly, focusing on the trees, listening to the heartbeats drum louder and louder, then, without warning, there was silence.
A chill ran down his spine and suddenly he wanted the game over. Breathing deeply, he concentrated on the slight hint of strawberry. Moving without sound, he circled the giant oak and gently, almost tenderly, laid his hand on the throat of his victim. The primal grin returned as his prey jumped, the heartbeat in his victim's throat fluttering against his palm. "It's over, Sandburg."
The anthropology student laughed. "Yeah, but at least I don't have to break down the tent."
"What do you mean you don't have to break down the tent? I caught you fair and square," the sentinel growled menacingly, removing his hand.
"Look at your watch, man. Thirty-three minutes."
The hunter looked down at his watch and swore loudly... in Chopec.
"Fair's fair, man." His friend whooped in laughter as he crossed the small clearing between the trees.
The Sentinel smiled at his friend's victory dance. "How did you get the extra two heartbeats, Chief?"
"Tape players." The Guide held up and wiggled a small pocket recorder.
"And the silence?"
"Portable white noise generator."
"Yeah, but you still found me. How did you manage that?"
"Damn," the student cursed under his breath. "I even washed it twice to get the scent out."
"It wasn't much, Chief, but it was enough, especially since it's out of season."
"Yeah, but not enough to get you out of taking down the tent."
"Three lousy minutes."
"Yes, but three very important minutes." The guide laughed smugly while putting the last of his toys in his backpack and joined his partner.
The sentinel growled softly, then laid his hand over the smaller man's heart, needing to feel the precious heartbeat as if to reassure himself that the earlier silence had been a fluke. Looking down into his friend's eyes, he smiled. "Let's go home, Chief."
"Jim, do you have a moment?" Simon Banks asked quietly from the doorway of his office as the detective entered the bullpen.
Jim nodded and followed the retreating figure into his lair, shutting the door behind him. Unnerved by his captain's uncharacteristic reticence, he asked, "Is something wrong, sir?"
"He's at home at the moment. He has a faculty meeting at ten o'clock to discuss which classes he's going to teach this fall, but he should be here around noon. Why?"
"We have reason to believe he's going to be contacted shortly by a suspected murderer and kidnapper."
"What?" Jim shouted, lunging for the phone, his mind screaming to warn his friend of the coming danger. However, a dark hand settled over his as he clutched the receiver. Startled, he looked up into the face of his friend. "Simon?"
"Sit down, Jim."
All the sentinel's nerve endings screamed for action, but the quiet countenance of the man in front of him unnerved him. Stumbling back, he fell into a chair.
"What's this all about, sir?"
Simon closed his eyes briefly then handed his detective an ancient looking case file and watched as Jim hesitantly opened it and looked upon a 4'x6' photograph of a very young Naomi Sandburg.
Blair Sandburg, his body moving in rhythm with the aboriginal drums, finished rinsing the last plate, then placed it in the bottom rack of the dishwasher and closed the small door. So lost in the feel of the music, he heard nothing until a soft hand squeezed his shoulder.
Yelling, he spun around and came face to face -- with his mother.
"Mom." He laughed in relief, then in joy as he gathered the slight woman up in a bear hug.
"I knocked," she started to apologize.
"Sorry," he yelled, then reached for the remote control and turned the volume down. "Sorry," he shouted again, shuddering as his voice boomed around the loft. "Sorry," he repeated in a whisper, with a grin which said he knew he had just been caught doing something he shouldn't have been doing. "It's just that the neighbors across the hall are on vacation and Jim's at the station and the Hendersons downstairs are at work, I thought I'd..."
She laughed. "No explanations are necessary, sweetheart."
"What a wonderful surprise." He took her hand and led her to the couch. "What brings you to Cascade?"
"Great! How long can you stay?" He bounced in anticipation, but stopped when he noticed the worn lines in her face. "Mom, are you okay?"
"Yes. No. Oh, Blair, it's all falling apart," she said, sounding helpless, and began to cry.
Instinctively, he gathered her into his arms and made soothing shushing tones for several minutes. "Whatever it is, we can fix it together," he said quietly, stroking her soft auburn hair.
She cried for a moment longer, then hiccupping, sat back and looked at him. "Do you mean that, Blair?"
"Of course. Whatever it is it can't be that bad," he said with a soft smile. After all, how much trouble could one meditating spiritual woman get into?
"It's awful. You're going to hate me," she whispered.
"I could never hate you."
"You don't understand. Everything has been a lie. Everything. And it's all coming crashing down on my head. I can't believe my arrogance, thinking I could truly escape forever. But you must understand, baby, I did it for you. I did it all for you. Remember that. Try not to hate me too much." She brought her hands up to cover her face and sobbed again.
"Mom," he said quietly, unshed tears filling his eyes, the depth of her pain hurting him on levels he never believed possible. "I could never hate you, Mama," he whispered, using an endearment he hadn't used since he was a very small child.
"But don't you see, baby, I'm not your mother."
"I don't understand, Simon."
"Neither do I," the captain of Major Crimes replied. He turned a chair to face his friend and sat down, elbows on his knees, hands covering his face for a moment. "This was found in a box of old files which had been brought up for archiving onto cds. Carol in Records discovered it and brought it to me. She was quite upset. Apparently, the last time Naomi was in town, Blair had his mother teach Carol some relaxation techniques to help her deal with her migraine pain. The breathing exercises seem to be working. Carol hasn't missed a day of work since Naomi left."
Jim made an attempt to read the file, but the words seemed to jumble and flow around the page, making comprehension impossible. "This file has to be twenty-five years old."
"More like twenty-eight."
"I don't understand."
Simon took in the distressed look on his friend's face and ran it down for him. "Her name is Naomi Goldman, the daughter of Esther and Samuel Goldman. Mr. Goldman is a man of some means on the East Coast, one of those big-shot, wheeler-dealer types. In 1969, Naomi was fifteen years old. It was also the year their son, one Blair Jacob Goldman, was born. Two months after Blair's birth, the police received a frantic call from a young woman claiming her father had just murdered her mother. When the police arrived, they found Mr. Goldman distraught and holding the broken body of his wife -- evidence indicated she had either fallen or had been pushed down a very large flight of stairs. Upon searching the house, no sign of either child could be found. At first, it was believed they had been kidnapped, but no ransom demand was ever made, no bodies ever found."
"Was there an investigation?"
"Yes. Several officers on the case believed Mr. Goldman pushed his wife down the stairs, but no motive or evidence could ever be found. He, of course, hired the best attorneys money could buy and the case against him was eventually dropped. However, during a press conference, Mr. Goldman told reporters he believed his daughter had killed her mother. He went on and on about what a troubled youth she had been -- and she was to a certain extent. She had been brought up on truancy and protesting charges several times. Nothing substantial; basically, kid's stuff."
"So how do we get from truancy to murder?" Jim asked, standing and walking to the window.
"I don't know. The Manhattan homicide squad wanted Naomi brought in for questioning with regard to Esther's murder." Simon hesitated for a moment then plunged forward, "But even if she isn't guilty of her mother's murder, Jim, she is guilty of one crime."
Jim turned to his captain with a bewildered look.
"How am I going to tell Blair?" Jim asked, scrubbing his face with his palms.
"I wish to God I knew."
He moved back to his chair. "This is going to kill him."
"Maybe you should bring him in and we can do this together."
"I don't know. I... I... What are you going to do, sir?"
"For now, nothing."
"For now. I can't bring myself to call Manhattan until we've talked to Blair. Manhattan didn't put too much effort into locating the children and that makes me wonder why, but for now I don't want things to escalate out of control. Let's just take this one step at a time."
"And when Naomi shows up?"
"Bring her in for questioning. While Naomi may be a little fla... free-spirited, I have a hard time believing she could murder anyone. I, for one, would like to get to the bottom of this before we bring the feds in. Besides, we have no idea how long it'll be before she shows back up in Cascade. Knowing Naomi, it could be months."
"I appreciate your keeping this quiet, sir."
"Go get Blair, Jim."
"Yes, sir," the sentinel said quietly, all his defenses rising as he did, sequestering his emotions behind blank eyes.
A small whimper caught in the back of Blair's throat, his mouth opened, trying to form words, trying to get a handle on the emotions which threatened to rise up and drown him just as surely as Alex had.
"Baby, I need you to pack and come with me."
"What?" he cried out, bewildered.
"We don't have much time."
"What are you talking about?" he yelled, feeling slightly hysterical, as he stood and began to pace back and forth.
Naomi closed her eyes and sobbed into her hands again. A light touch to her shoulder made her look up into the face of the young man staring down at her.
"Please," he begged in a hoarse voice.
"Our father... my father... was a very influential man, very old money. He married mother because she was beautiful. I remember her being smart and funny. She had laughing blue eyes, just like you do." Naomi gazed into Blair's eyes, lost in their sweet familiarity. "Father swept her off her feet and married her before anyone could object. But he changed." She closed her eyes against remembered pain. "He became embarrassed by her total lack of interest in the social scene. He began picking at her, belittling her, but he couldn't break her spirit. I can't begin to tell you how many times he yelled at her, telling her how useless she was. But she would never cry. I think in some ways that made it worse for her. When I was thirteen, he began to hit her. I remember trying to get him to stop once and he hit me too," she whispered, holding her cheek as if the blow had only just happened.
"He stopped hitting her when he found out she was pregnant. I guess he hoped she would finally give him the son he had been demanding for years. And she did. Never was there such a sweet tempered baby."
She cupped the cheek of the man who knelt before her, but seeing the pain reflecting back at her, dropped her hands. "However, Father was a hateful man and couldn't believe you were his. He accused her of having an affair. One night in July, he was screaming at her again and she simply admitted to the affair. To this day, I don't know if it was true or not. I think some part of her simply wanted peace and thought, maybe, he would leave her alone if he heard what he wanted. Her mistake was that she told him at the top of the staircase." Naomi's voice fell to the barest whisper. "He slapped her so hard, I swear I heard her neck break before she hit the stairs. I remember standing at the top of the stairs in shock, watching him screaming over her body, screaming how he was going to kill her bastard child and there was nothing she could do to stop it."
Naomi took her son's hands in hers, her eyes brilliant with memory. "Mama loved you so much, baby. She said you had understanding eyes, that people would find themselves wanting to help you because your eyes held such innocence."
She squeezed Blair's hands. "Father saw me standing at the top of the stairs and demanded I bring you to him. I remember just standing there, shaking my head, screaming that this wasn't happening. When he started up the stairs, I panicked. I raced to the nursery, locked the door and called the police."
Naomi tried to steady her voice, but three decades of fear pushed to the surface and the words came in an anguished torrent. "He banged on the door so hard that the wood began to splinter. He kept screaming about how he was going to kill me, too, if I didn't open the door. I was so scared. I didn't know what to do, so I grabbed you, climbed down the trellis outside the window and ran. I never stopped running. I wanted to go to the police, but Father was so influential and I was just a child. I was afraid they'd believe him over me, that they'd put me in a juvenile home and you'd be at his mercy."
Blair spoke slowly, trying to comprehend everything he had just been told. "But all my cousins and uncles--"
"Were Mama's family. They knew about Father. They believed me. They gave us food and money, and time when they could. Mama's family was huge and spread out all over the country. Even with all his money he couldn't watch all of them all of the time."
"So our moving--?"
"Father had two assistants he used all the time to do his dirty work. I was always trying to stay one step ahead of them," Naomi explained, standing and moving to the balcony window.
"The seventies were a beautiful time to hide. What was one hippie with a child amongst a million other hippies?"
"Why didn't you ever tell me?" he whispered.
Naomi seemed shocked by the thought. "And have you looking over your shoulder all the time? You needed some stability."
Blair barked out a harsh laugh then covered his mouth with his hand, afraid the hysteria would overwhelm him if he let it run free. "Why are you here? Now? Telling me?"
"Because the bloodhounds tracked me down as Naomi Sandburg. I barely escaped the retreat undetected. It's only a matter of time until they make the connections and find you. We need to hide."
"Jim." Blair whispered the word in pain. "How can I leave him?"
"Jim won't understand, baby. He's a cop. His whole life is about law and order."
"He needs me."
"Jim's a nice man, Blair, but he's an adult. He's more than capable of taking care of himself."
"You don't understand."
"No, baby, you don't understand. We need to go now."
Blair stood, backing away from his mother, his sister, shaking his head and holding up his hands as if to ward her off, but Naomi ignored him. "Do you have your backpack? The one I told you to always have ready?"
Without thinking, he nodded, trying to get the world to stop spinning.
"Where is it?"
"Back of my closet," Blair said, collapsing into the stuffed chair, hanging his head between his legs and taking deep breaths.
A few moments later, she emerged from his room with his old canvas backpack in her hands. "It's time to go."
"I can't just pick up and leave. I won't."
She closed the distance between them. "Do you trust me?"
She knelt in front of him and took his hands in her own. "Do you believe what I'm telling you is true?"
A small whimper in the back of his throat was her only answer.
Tears flowing down her face, she asked, "Do you love me?"
"Yes," he cried out, horrified that she could ask such a question.
"And you know I love you."
"Yes," he nodded, his tears matching hers.
"Then please, baby, I beg of you, please come with me. Let's find somewhere quiet, where we can regroup and process. Please, Blair. Please."
Wiping his tears away with an impatient swipe of his sleeve, Blair followed his mother toward the door. But as they neared it, the knob turned and the door opened.
"Jim," they both whispered in horror.
"Sandburg. Naomi," Jim acknowledged in a quiet, but dangerous, voice as he firmly shut the door behind him.
"Jim!" Naomi smiled, although the joy did not reach her eyes. She stepped forward and gave her son's roommate a hug. "How wonderful to see you."
"Where are you two going?" Jim asked, perfunctorily returning the hug.
Naomi stepped warily back. "We're just going out for a bit."
"Then why are you taking Blair's running sack," Jim asked softly, remembering the evening shortly after his friend moved in when he had explained the purpose for the fully packed sack at the back of his closet.
"Blair doesn't have any classes this summer and..." Naomi began, but Jim cut her off with an impatient wave of his hand, and stared at his silent roommate. "Is that true, Sandburg?"
The student looked up at his friend, then, shaking his head as if trying to dispel a daydream, turned and walked to the refrigerator. As if nothing had happened, he poured some juice into a glass, returned the pitcher and turned to watch the scene in front of him.
For several moments, the loft reverberated in silence, with each person taking in and assessing the other two people.
Finally, Naomi spoke, her voice dull and lifeless. "When did you know?"
"I just found out," Jim said, apologetically.
"An old file was found, one which had been passed to the various agencies. It was purely by accident."
"Then you aren't here to arrest me?" she asked in quiet shock.
"I... I... I think it would be best if you came downtown with me," Jim said softly.
"And if I refuse?"
"Naomi, please. Don't make this any harder on me or on your so... Sandburg," Jim pleaded.
She gasped. "So, you really do know?"
"I'm not going in, Jim. I'm sorry, truly I am, but I can't risk Blair. I can't put him through this. I know you've never thought much of me as a mother, but know this... Blair is my son. I have spent my whole life protecting him. Yes, I've left him behind at times, but it was usually to throw the bloodhounds off his trail. His childhood wasn't idyllic, but at least he had one. I know you only want to protect him, to help us, but you can't comprehend the forces at work here."
"I can protect you. Let Simon and me help."
"And what are you going to do when the FBI shows up?" Naomi demanded in anger. "Will you fight them to keep me from going back? And when men come for your partner, what will you do?"
"Sandburg's a grown man now. He was an infant when this all went down. He's done nothing wrong."
"Except be born. His father wants him DEAD."
"You don't know that."
Naomi stepped forward, her voice choking as she patted the big man's cheek. "My poor sweet man, you don't understand anything at all, do you?"
"I can't let you leave, Naomi. I took an oath. I'm... sorry," he whispered, pleading for her to understand as he removed the knapsack from her hands and reached behind him to remove his handcuffs.
A glass shattering in the kitchen, followed by a sharp tang of copper assaulted his senses. Jim focused on the tiny droplets of crimson blood dripping slowly from his partner's hand onto the kitchen island.
"Sandburg," Jim said in quiet exasperation, moving toward the zoned anthropologist. "Blair, buddy." He took his partner's hand and led him to the sink, where he began to rinse the glass and blood away. "You have to trust me, Blair. I won't let anything happen to Naomi, but we need to go down to the station and talk with Simon."
The only response was his partner hissing in pain as the cool water splashed over his hand. Then in a voice which was barely audible, Blair said, "I think there's still a piece in there."
The sentinel immediately raised his partner's hand for a closer look as he probed the wound. "I don't see anything."
"I can feel it. It... ow... hurts."
Jim focused his vision. The blood seeping out of the tiny crevices fascinated him. It was almost as if he could detect individual cells escaping the confines of their tunnels, darkening slightly as they were exposed to the air.
"Jim," Blair whispered after a moment. Not loud. Not wanting to break the spell holding his sentinel. When he didn't get a response, he looked over at his mother. "In my room is my school bag. Go get it."
He stood in silence as he waited for his mother... his sister... to return.
"Is he okay?" she asked worriedly.
Blair ignored the question as he carefully maneuvered his other hand into his rear pocket and withdrew his keys. "Go downstairs and start my car. Then," and he slid her a wicked looking butcher's knife, "slash all four of the truck's tires. You have three minutes."
Naomi stared at him blankly.
"Go," he hissed and watched as she picked up the other bag and fled the apartment.
Blair took the opportunity to look around the loft one last time. Home. The only true home he had ever known. He looked at the frozen sentinel in front of him -- the only brother he had ever known and wondered if he truly had the strength to leave him. Could he turn his back on everything they'd been through together? He heard the horn honk below telling him the deed had been done and thought of Naomi, who had given her life to protect his and knew he couldn't leave her to face God-knew-what by herself.
Softly, being very careful not to use his guide voice, he said in a choked whisper, "I know you can hear me, Jim. I need... I need you to know that I love you, man. This has been the best three years of my life and I wouldn't trade a day of it for all the money in the world. My leaving is not about us or about you, but about Naomi. I can't allow her to be locked up. Her spirit is too wild to be caged. Jail would kill her. You know it would. But I also know if I walk out that door, I can never come home again. I know you'll see this as a betrayal, man, just one more in a long line of people who've abandoned you. God p-please forgive me, I didn't want to be one of them. My notes, all of my research, I'm leaving behind. They're yours to do with as you please. I won't take anything. Your secret is safe with me."
Gently, he withdrew his hand and started walking to the front door, but stopped when he reached it, leaning his head against the smooth surface. He couldn't leave Jim in a zone, defenseless.
He walked back, took a deep breath and released it slowly. Then leaning forward, he placed a tender kiss on his sentinel's forehead. "Jim, I need you to come back. I need you to follow my voice back." He kept up the soft mumbling until he saw signs which indicated that Jim was beginning to come around. With the grace of a pickpocket, he removed the cell phone from Jim's belt and cut the line to the phone in the kitchen. Opening the door, he used his guide voice for the last time. When Jim shook his head, he carefully shut the door and ran down the stairs to his uncertain future.
Simon sighed, closing the small flap of his cell phone. How in the world had things spiraled so far out of control so quickly? The man staring sullenly over the city was a man Simon had hoped never to see again; a cold-hearted bastard, who got the job done and did it well, but who had checked his humanity at the door. He had apparently returned, bigger and badder than ever.
"What did they say?" Jim asked as Simon closed the distance between them.
"Sandburg closed out his account with the bank -- all $247.53."
The sentinel laughed bitterly. "I don't suppose he left a forwarding address."
"No, afraid not." Simon shook his head, then after a moment of silence added, "I put an APB on the car."
"It won't do any good."
"Why do you say that?"
"He's already ditched the car."
"How do you know?"
"Because it's what I would do."
"Then, oh great, all-seeing sentinel, what do you think he's going to do next, run for the border?"
"No. That's what most people would expect. While Vancouver is close, it's too risky."
"No. People who don't head north, head south."
"So where do you think he's headed?"
"We have Naomi's picture circulating at the airport. He would be foolish to try getting her out that way."
"Not Cascade's airport. My guess is he'll probably drive to Idaho, take a hop to an international airport and have Naomi out of the country by morning."
"Now that would be sneaky... wait a minute... you said 'and have Naomi out of the country by morning'."
"So I did," the sentinel responded quietly.
"You don't think he'll go with her?"
"No. He's got too many obligations here and, despite what so many people think of him, Sandburg takes his responsibilities seriously."
"So, he'll be back."
"But I thought you said..."
"He'll come back to Cascade."
"And then what?"
"Once he's tied up his loose ends, he'll leave."
"So what do you intend to do?" Simon asked quietly.
Simon shuddered at the icy tone. "Technically, he hasn't committed any crimes here, Jim, besides a possible property damage charge for your tires. Hell, the kid even put your cell phone in the glove box and left money to replace the wiring for the kitchen phone. He's only aiding and abetting a person wanted for questioning in a thirty-year-old murder/kidnapping case." Simon paused and pinched the bridge of his nose and said in a lower tone of voice, "I have no idea what I would do if I were in the kid's shoes. I can't help but think I'd have made the same choice."
"He didn't puncture my tires, sir. Naomi did," Jim stated matter-of-factly.
"Do I even want to know how you know that?"
"I heard him tell her to do it."
"You know, the more I think about today, the more I'm glad Sandburg's always been on our side. Who would've guessed he was such a crafty devil?"
"So why not just let him go?"
"Because he started the hunt and I intend to finish it," Jim said with a low growl, turning and going back into the loft, leaving Simon suddenly feeling cold and wondering how the world got so off kilter.
"So, where will you go?" Blair asked hoarsely, sitting beside the woman he had always believed to be his mother.
"I was thinking about going back to Israel to Saul's kibbutz."
"I always liked Saul."
"He's a little straight-laced," she said, trying to smile but failing miserably.
"True, but he's always loved you."
"Yes, he has. I just never felt worthy of his love."
Blair took Naomi's hands in his as he turned in his plastic seat to look deeply into her eyes. "You are very worthy of his love."
"How can you forgive me?" she breathed out, not trusting her voice.
"Because I love you." He curled both of her hands in his and brought them to his chest. "I'm sure Esther was a gentle woman, but you are and always will be my mother. Everything I am, I owe to you. I will not live with what ifs. This is the hand I've dealt and I can honestly say it's been a winning one so far."
"Come with me," she begged quietly.
Blair leaned forward and gently pressed his lips to her forehead. "I can't right now, but maybe soon."
"Shhhh. We've been through this before. I have some things I need to wrap up. It can't be helped."
She sobbed openly, leaning her forehead against his, squeezing his hands. "This is good-bye, isn't it?"
"No, Mama," he whispered back. "We'll see each other again. I swear it."
"All passengers with tickets for American West 492 to Minneapolis/St. Paul may begin boarding," a tinny disembodied voice informed them.
"That's your flight." He stood, gently pulling her to her feet.
"Oh, Blair!" She flung herself into his arms and held him tight. His arms came up and held her in a similar fashion as he inhaled her fragrance and listened to the sound of her hitched breathing.
"Be safe," he whispered. "Call the number I gave you as soon as you reach Saul's. Remember what you're supposed to say?"
"Nothing more, nothing less."
"I understand." She nodded, then looked at the line disappearing down the rampart to the waiting plane. "I love you, Blair."
"I love you, Mom."
They stood for a moment more, drinking each other in, before Naomi kissed him on the cheek and fled to the now nonexistent line. Blair stood rooted in place and watched her leave, suddenly feeling very small in the universe.
Jim sat in his truck, staring at the red brick building where Jack Kelso had his offices -- waiting. Simon had granted his request for leave, deeming that his detective would be no good to the city with his mind so preoccupied. The sentinel had made several discreet inquiries and learned that his guide was indeed back in Cascade and wrapping up the majority of his business, including turning in his observer's pass to Vera. He seemed to be waiting for something, however. It had taken only a moment for Jim to realize Blair was waiting for some sort of prearranged signal from Naomi indicating she was safe. Once he received the communique, all traces of Blair Sandburg would be gone from Cascade. Jim reasoned that Jack would be the one person, outside the station, Blair would trust with such an important task.
He extended his hearing again to Jack's window, listening for the voice he knew better than his own and was surprised to find it.
"Home base," Jack laughed, as if he wasn't quite sure what the joke was.
"Thank God," Blair whispered.
Jim got out of the truck and quickly made his way to the building, being extra careful not to be seen by anyone who might be casually looking out Jack's window.
"Do I need to know what it means?" Jack asked.
"It just means that someone I care about is safe. I'm sorry to have imposed upon you, Jack, but you were the only one I could trust."
"What about Jim?" Jack asked, confused.
"It's a very long story."
"Blair, are you in trouble with the law?"
"No. I... I honestly don't know."
"Does this have anything to do with your pulling up stakes from the university?"
"How..." Blair laughed startled. "Of course, you would know."
"Let me help," Jack said with quiet determination.
Blair seemed to hesitate. "There is one thing you could do for me."
"Check in on Jim from time to time. Just... I don't know... keep track of him. I'll contact you... probably through email. If you could... maybe... just let me know how he's doing."
Jim stopped on the stairwell steps, closing his eyes against the pain he heard in his friend's voice.
"I can do that," came the soft reply.
"Don't try to track me down, okay, Jack?" A pause. "Please."
"I might be able to help," Jack offered again.
"Don't retract that offer. I might take you up on it one of these days."
"Anything you need, Blair. Anytime. You let me know. I owe you."
"No, you don't, Jack."
"Don't argue with me."
Blair chuckled. "And you keep your nose out of trouble."
"Yeah, I hear that, man. Must be why we've always gotten along so well. Bye, Jack."
Jim stood leaning against the wall of the landing in the stairwell below Jack's floor, knowing full well Blair would take the stairs instead of the elevator. He tuned into the heartbeat as it grew closer.
The door burst open and Blair began to fling himself down the stairs at his normal breakneck speed, but stopped when it became apparent he recognized the figure half a flight below him. Jim watched the emotions flitting over his guide's face: joy, relief, puzzlement and fear.
"Going somewhere, Sandburg?" he asked with a grin which said you've been caught, so give up.
"Hey, Jim." The student swallowed, looking briefly over his shoulder, obviously trying to gauge the distance between himself and the door behind him.
"The game is over."
"There never was a game, man."
"I'm not going to play semantics with you, Chief."
"Good. It wouldn't be right to play against an unarmed man."
A savage smile flitted across the sentinel's face as he pushed himself off the wall and noted how the wayward guide scrambled up the steps, neither taking their eyes off the other.
"Look," Jim said patiently as he moved toward the stairs, "we can do this the hard way or we..." He watched Blair fumbling with his coat pocket with only mild curiosity until he removed a small aerosol can.
"Sorry," the student apologized before he pushed the top of the airhorn. The blast of sound drove Jim to his knees, his hands covering his ears, desperately looking for the appropriate mental dial to turn down his hearing.
Blair pivoted and opened the door, scrambling down the hallway from which he had just come. Jim pushed himself off the floor and loped after him, noting that the anthropologist had already reached the stairwell on the other side of the building. Racing after him like a wounded panther, he ignored Jack Kelso's inquires as he ran past the ex-CIA agent's door. By the time he had reached the ground floor, he could see Blair's fleeing figure in the distance.
The hunt was on.
Blair ran until he couldn't run anymore. He stopped and leaned back against an old stone building trying to catch his breath. While the stitch in his side felt like hot coals pressing into his skin, it was nothing compared to the emptiness in his heart. He prayed silently that Jim's hearing hadn't been turned up too high and wouldn't feel the effects of the horn for very long.
Taking in large breaths, he felt his heartbeat slow and the ache below his ribs begin to subside. His breath caught, however, as he spotted his sentinel standing at a crossroad of sidewalks in the small park across the street.
"Son of a..." he whispered, but stopped as Jim's head whipped in his direction, the primal smile of a hunter who had found his prey once again gracing his face.
Without thought, Blair turned and ran.
The hunter frowned for a moment as he entered the abandoned tenement. The building wasn't very safe structurally and he began to worry about his guide. He shouldn't be here. Hell, he shouldn't even be in this part of town, but the hunter understood the necessity of keeping his guide away from his source of transportation.
He could hear the scurrying of rodents in between the ceiling and the floor above. He could hear a fly trapped on the inside throwing itself at the window in its futile attempt to escape, never considering the other alternatives to getting out of the room. He sniffed, trying to catch the familiar scent of the anthropology student, but there was no hint of strawberry or any other odors which would link him to his prey. There were light whiffs of sweat, almost a musk, but he had no way of identifying how long they might have been present. Keeping an awareness of the dust around him, he stretched out his hearing -- no heartbeat or muttering. He began to experience his first hint of doubt. Hadn't the trail led to this building? Had his prey doubled back?
Just as he was about to turn around and backtrack, he realized that one portion of the third floor was quieter than the rest. He smiled. A white noise generator. On the way home from his defeat in the woods, his guide had given him several suggestions on how to identify a white noise generator and how to tune it out to hear what it might mask. He closed his eyes again, found the circle of normal space in the sea of minute creaking and settling, and driving his nails into his palms to ground him, pushed past the silence to hear the slow, steady, familiar heartbeat.
He quickly made his way up the staircase to the second floor and stopped abruptly when he realized the anthropology student's heart was not racing. He had relaxed, which could only mean he wasn't worried about being found. Did Sandburg believe a white noise generator could fool him so easily? He found that hard to believe. No, it was because he had a secondary line of defense -- something to tell him when danger was nearby.
The hunter scanned the stairs leading up to the third floor. On the step before the landing a small dirty tripwire blended with its surroundings. He moved carefully over it and noticed another one halfway up the next jog of stairs. His guide wasn't taking any chances.
The sentinel closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He needed to figure out a way to approach his guide without frightening him into running again. The hunt was doing nothing but widening the chasm between them. He knew they needed to talk, but first he had to catch his guide in order to make him listen to reason.
His hand clutched around the door knob and slowly pulled the door open -- but not slow enough. A tiny bell jingled. He cursed under his breath as he began to sprint down the corridor. Halfway down, his guide appeared in the hall and sprinted toward the opposite stairwell.
"SANDBURG!" he roared, sliding to a stop, knowing if he continued to run so would his guide.
The anthropology student ran to the door, but stopped and turned toward the hunter, his eyes wide with fear and anger. "What do you want?" he demanded. "Why can't you let me go?"
"I... I..." Jim stammered, unsure how to answer the unexpected question.
"I'm sorry, Jim. Sorrier than I can ever express, but I couldn't let you take her to jail. She would've died in jail. You didn't even try to listen to her story. Always the cop. Where was my friend when I needed him?"
"Is that why you were running when I got to the loft?" Jim sneered, trying to cover up the pain the accusation flung at him had caused.
"Touche," the student said softly, briefly bowing his head. "In my defense, I can only say that I wasn't thinking straight. My mind was just... hell, everything I thought I knew about my life was a lie. I... things... just spun out of control. But I can't be sorry for helping her. I won't be sorry." Looking up into the hunter's eyes, he begged in a whisper, "Please let me go, Jim."
"I can't," the sentinel said in a low voice which reverberated with frustration and fear.
"So be it," the guide mouthed silently as he flung a small glass vial at Jim's feet. Concentrated sage whirled around the sentinel. He flung his arms over his face to protect himself, but still the intense smell gagged him. He pushed himself through the invisible cloud and headed down the stairs, only to be assaulted on the second floor landing by cinnamon concentrate and evergreen by the door leading to the outside. Coughing, he exited the building and scanned the street, catching just a fleeting glance of hair whipping around a nearby corner.
"Blair, wait," Jim shouted, running after his friend, knowing he had to catch him before the chasm became too wide to cross.
Exhausted, Blair tripped over a protruding root and fell to the ground. The darkness, along with the thick grove of trees which bordered the campus, provided adequate protection from casual observation. He lay on the ground for a moment, trying to catch his breath.
He had had a stroke of luck two blocks from the old tenement and managed to catch a taxi. He had given directions to a shopping district two miles from Rainier. After paying the driver, he began the long walk back to campus, blending with the Saturday crowd on the busy streets. He had been tempted to just have the driver take him to his car, but was scared that Jim would call in reinforcements and didn't want the origin of the search to begin anywhere near where it should.
Once he caught his breath, he tried to sit up but found he didn't have the energy. He started to give himself verbal encouragement but clamped his mouth shut, irrationally frightened that Jim might be nearby. He knew he was only about a thousand yards from his car and freedom, but it might as well have been a thousand miles. A part of his mind screamed that if he stopped he would be caught, but his body couldn't show enough interest to care.
Ten minutes, he thought. He would rest for ten minutes then be on his way.
Blair awoke in a cocoon of warmth and safety. He sighed quietly and began to stretch only to find his right arm blocked by a mass of muscles. His eyes shot open and focused on the face of the hunter beside him. The morning light filtering through the trees gave the sentinel an almost ethereal quality.
The hunter growled. "It's over, Sandburg."
In a moment of pure panic, the guide tried to surge forward and out of reach. Instead, he found himself thrown onto his back with his sentinel straddled over him and his arms pinned to his sides.
"Why?" he demanded in despair.
"The hunt is over," the sentinel whispered. "Time to go home."
"What?" the guide asked, so stunned by the last pronouncement he ceased his struggles.
"I want you to come home, Blair."
"But... but I betrayed you," was the pain-filled response.
The sentinel seemed to fade and the blue eyes of his friend and brother looked down at him with infinite sadness. "No, you didn't. You said it yourself. This wasn't about us, it was about saving Naomi."
"How can you say that?"
"Because I believe it," Jim explained quietly, then after a moment's pause, added, "Besides you came back."
"To tie up loose ends."
"No, you came back so I'd find you."
"Did you want to leave me?"
"No, of course not. It about killed me to walk out that door."
"So what are you saying?"
"I'm saying that things spun out of control and decisions were hastily made." Jim placed his hand over his friend's heart, feeling the fluttering of the heartbeat beneath his palm. "I'm saying I want you to come home."
"But I could be putting you in danger."
"We'll face anything that comes our way -- together. Please."
Blair slowly moved his hand from its confinement and reached up and settled it over his sentinel's heart. "Together," he promised.
Simon Banks sat on the couch in front of the fire, a mug of coffee resting on his knee, his head laying back for a moment. Straightening, he asked, "Do we know where Naomi is?"
"I didn't ask. I don't want to know."
"That makes two of us," Simon agreed. "Do you think she was telling the truth?"
"That's what I was afraid of. Do we have any idea when we might be expecting visitors?"
"No, but my guess is we'll see the scouts within the next month or so. I have no idea how long it'll actually take Goldman to step up to the plate."
"How does Sandburg feel about meeting his father?"
"He's frightened. He wasn't running from me, Simon. He was running away from his father."
"Well, it sure looked like he was running from you," the older man said as he pinched his nose and rubbed his eyes under his glasses, then reached into his pocket and flopped the observer's credentials on the table.
"Looks can be deceiving," Jim said quietly, reaching out to reverently touch the plastic badge.
"Are you two going to be okay?"
"Yes, whatever happens, we'll handle it together."
Simon Banks looked over at the sleeping figure on the opposite couch, and said quietly, "You won't have to do it alone."
"That means a lot to me, sir."
"Only one request."
"We put Sandburg in charge of strategy."
Jim chuckled as watched the rhythmic rise and fall of his partner's chest. "Agreed."
"So why'd he came back?"
Jim smiled at his captain, "Sandburg said it best himself, sir. It's about friendship. It's all about friendship."
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