I wrote this because I always kind of liked Naomi and wondered about the reason for her wanderlust, serial dating and general contrariness.

The explanation of the post SbBS situation is what I think would have happened, (if I were writing it) and I know several others have had similar notions.

Thanks to Shallan for her excellent Beta on this and my earlier stories.

The guys don't belong to me, and I don't get money for writing theses stories.


THE ROAD TO HELL



Crowswork






Naomi Sandburg was doing penance. She had destroyed her son's career, possibly his life and characteristically, he had forgiven her. Now, if only she could forgive herself.

She had come to the remote village of San Reymos, to help rebuild a school. When her friend Carla, told her she was going to Central America with a group of liberal nuns to set up schools, Naomi instantly signed on. Schools. It was a sign... a way to balance the karmic scales just a little.

She had, with the best intentions, brought ruin upon her only child. The world had lost a brilliant teacher. Her son had lost the dream he had sacrificed half his life for.

When Naomi thought about it, she dissolved into a sobbing heap of misery.

So she worked until she was too tired to think, searching out food for the group and cooking it, trying her hand at every sort of manual labor. She became brown and lean, with wild, sun streaked hair and work worn hands.

Today she and Carla, along with a young man named Enrique, were in the next village on a food buying expedition. The three of them had loaded up the old Ford with supplies and, with Naomi at the wheel, were headed back to San Reymos.

The winding, mountain road required all of Naomi's driving skill, as the Ford's brakes worked only when they wanted to.

Rounding a hairpin curve, she was confronted by a fallen tree, lying across the road. She slowed, but the car still made violent contact with the tree trunk, causing her to hit her forehead on the steering wheel.

The car doors were yanked open and rough hands grabbed them and pulled them out. Dazed, Naomi heard them saying something about Americans and sisters.

There was a terrible explosion of sound and she turned to see Enrique collapse against the car, his face a mask of blood, his dead eyes staring into the burning afternoon sun.

Carla was barely conscious and Naomi was in shock as they were tied, blindfolded, and loaded into the back of a truck. As she lost consciousness, her only thought was of her son. Her precious baby. What would he think when he heard of this?


Blair Sandburg had a hangover. There had been a major party with Major Crimes after his Academy graduation.

The last few months had been a whirlwind of activity. Jim and Simon, and Blair suspected -- William and Steven Ellison -- had somehow conspired to clear his name.

Lawyers were hired, people were threatened with lawsuits and when the air cleared, Blair Sandburg was no longer considered a fraud.

In fact, the press now considered him a martyr of sorts. Risking everything, to help his friends in the police department. Giving a phony press conference to help catch a dangerous and maniacal terrorist.

Sid 'confessed' that he'd taken the material out of context from a 'novel' Blair had written. It was, the publisher decided, better than paying a six figure settlement.

The members of the press were a bit embarrassed that they had reported the rather whimsical story about Sentinels as fact.

Blair got his Ph.D. and an apology from the university. His dissertation was the one he had already decided to hand in. It was on closed societies and the police department.

Then, after everything calmed down, he had surprised everyone, including himself, by going to the academy anyway.

And now he had a hangover. Even his hair hurt. What was left of it.

Blair ran his hand over the tangle of curls that barely reached his collar. He remembered the champagne, and the fancy layered drinks made up of different liqueurs, but blanked out after someone ordered tequila shooters. There was only a vague memory of Jim cautioning him not to have any.

He knew he should drink something. Water, juice, anything. Logic told him he needed to hydrate his body. His stomach threatened a revolt if he dared take so much as a sip.

He staggered out of his room wearing his boxers, one sock and, mysteriously, his good, hand- screened silk necktie. "Jim?" He whispered, not because his friend had sensitive hearing, but because his head would fall of if he spoke too loudly.

"HEY CHIEF!"

Blair reeled backward. Somehow he'd missed seeing his rather large roommate across the room. "Jiiiiim shusssh," he whined.

"Sit down, Chief. I made you some tea." Jim, last nights designated driver, lowered his voice. "I don't suppose you want any Denver Omelet?" He uncovered a skillet with a fragrant flourish.

"Blair?"

The sound of retching from the bathroom made him wince as he dumped the eggs onto one plate. "Damn! That's almost enough to put me off my food."

He carried the sweetened chamomile tea to the bathroom and sat it on the sink. His partner's head was hanging over the rim of the toilet bowl. "You OK down there?" He inquired helpfully.

"...fucccoff..."

"OK then. Yell, if you need me."

"...asshole..."

If Jim had any thought of saying 'I told you so,' he wisely refrained.


Hours later, Blair lay drowsing on the couch, with a bag of peas on his aching head. Jim was watching TV with the sound all the way down when he stood suddenly and went to the door.

He stepped into the hall as Simon exited the elevator. "Sandburg's sleeping. Is something up?" They were supposed to have the week off before Blair started his new job.

"I have to talk to the kid, Jim." Simon looked distraught as he sighed. "It's about Naomi."

Jim gestured for him to enter the loft, and followed slowly, icy fingers of dread tightening under his ribs. "Wake up, Chief. Simon has to talk to you."

"Hey, Simon." Blair sat up and yawned. "Something wrong?"

"Blair. Did you know your mom was in Central America?" Simon's voice was soft and kind.

Blair? Since when does he call me Blair? The younger man thought sleepily.

"She said she was going south for a while with Carla." Blair looked at their visitor for the first time. Oh God! Naomi's dead. He's here to break the news to me. "Is she dead, Simon?"

"No... they don't know, kid. They found the car she was driving wrecked on a remote road. She and her friend Carla have been missing for two days."

"Come on." Jim sat close to his friend and put his arm around his shoulders. He felt the chill wave of shock as it moved through the body next to him. "You know Naomi. She's a survivor."

Hope shining in his blue eyes, Blair looked up. Then he saw Simon's grim expression and the hope vanished. "There's more, isn't there?"

Simon wondered again why Naomi had left his number as her contact in an emergency. "The young man escorting them was shot to death. His body was with the car."

"They didn't find her or her friend, Chief." Jim was still trying to comfort his partner. "We'll head down there. We'll find your mom."

"Jim... they took her. Who knows what they did to her. Oh God!"

"We'll find her Chief." Jim tried to sound reassuring. "We'll find her."


When Naomi awoke, she was still in the truck. It had stopped moving and the heat was stifling. She crawled to her friend and tried to rouse her. Carla only groaned and batted at her hands.

"Help! My friend needs help!" Naomi called, pounding on the metal walls of the small panel truck. "Please?"

There was no sound from the outside and she finally collapsed, exhausted to the rusted metal floor.

Much later, they were tossed helplessly into the side panels as the truck sped along a rough, curved road. The vehicle slammed to a halt and the metal doors were thrown open. Carla was dragged out and two men wearing the uniforms of the deposed Junta reached for Naomi. One caught her ankle and the other smirked and lifted the hem of her skirt.

She kicked at the grinning face and was pleased to see him tumble backwards out of the truck. The man holding her ankle pulled hard. "Let me go you fascist son of a..." She felt other hands on her, touching her as they manhandled her out of the truck.

There was a sharp command from a man in an ornate uniform and she was released. Naomi gulped as she realized what had saved her. The nuns she was working with dressed in the same clothes as the local women. The same clothes she wore. Apparently, he was concerned about the negative press in the USA, if his men raped an American nun.

The officer was her height, with heavy features and a shiny bald head. He informed her that she and the other Americans were being held hostage. Colonel Graupa and his men wanted to trade them for weapons and the drug money frozen in US bank accounts.

All she could see was a tumbledown building, scorched and shattered, with a steeple at one end. He took her arm and shoved her through a low doorway. Unable to get her balance, she tumbled down the uneven stone steps into the dank cellar below.


"Jim. How long till that plane gets here?" Blair paced in front of the ramshackle hanger.

"Simon arranged for us to hop the next mail plane. We're being shipped parcel post. I think we're paying by the pound."

"But when does it get here?" Blair was frantic to get to San Reymos.

"Soon." Jim unbuttoned his shirt and sprawled on a bench, unaccustomed to the extreme heat. "These planes don't hold to a rigid schedule."

Even Blair had shed all but his gray undershirt and light slacks. But the heat didn't keep him from his frantic pacing. When ever he stopped moving, he began to picture his mother in the hands of strangers. Murdering strangers. He fought the urge to pound his fists into the nearest wall.

I'm coming Naomi. Hang on mom.

Blair recited the words to himself like a mantra. He'd forgiven his mother for sending the dissertation to Sid. He had.

I'm coming Mom. We'll make it right.

He'd kissed her goodbye and told her he loved her. And Naomi had smiled and called him her Sweetie. They'd gone through the motions.

Hold on. I promise I'll find you.

He saw his partner stand and turned to follow the Sentinel's gaze until he, too, could see the tiny plane approaching them.


The man holding her in his arms was a monk. Naomi blinked at the kind, handsome face of a man in his fifties. "Who are you?" she asked as he examined the cut on her forehead. "Where is this place?"

"I am Brother Jeremy. My friend, Marcus and I were kidnapped three days ago. I don't know where we are."

"Carla?" Naomi pulled away from him and scuttled over to where another monk knelt next to her unconscious friend. There was a pale square of light from the barred window. "How is she? Did she wake up yet?"

The monk, a stocky man with a mop of gray curly hair scooted back. "No." he whispered gruffly, looking intently at the floor.

"Carla? Wake up... oh, she's hurt." Naomi went to the door and pounded on it, screaming at the top of her lungs. "HELP! MY FRIEND NEEDS A DOCTOR! SOMEBODY! HELP!"

The door was shoved open, almost knocking her back down the stairs. The man she'd kicked from the truck sauntered in. He grabbed her hair and, jerking her head back, marched her back to the cellar.

"You better be quiet, you Marxist, American bitch. Many of us don't believe you are a true Bride of Christ."

"Take your filthy hands off her, NOW!"

The soldier let go of her as the stocky monk named Marcus, advanced on them. Dimly, she was aware of the soldier leaving and slamming the door.

That voice. Power resonated through that familiar deep voice.

Naomi looked down slightly into the man's bright blue eyes. Familiar blue eyes.

"YOU!" Her words were as harsh as any she'd ever spoken. "I thought you were dead. I hoped you were dead."


The Militia Captain shrugged helplessly. "I wish you had not come here."

"I'm going to find my mother." Blair spoke slowly, as if to make very sure he was understood.

"This area is unsafe for Americans. We have evacuated all Americans to the Capital. The former government's soldiers are very well armed, and the local people live in fear of them.

Jim listened to the rapid Spanish and felt a certain sympathy for the harried official. "We'll go to the capital, after we find my friend's mother."

The man threw up his hands in disgust. Crazy American cowboys. Coming into a situation they knew nothing about. The big one with the sharp, cold eyes looked to be a dangerous man.

The shorter one seemed quiet and mild until you looked into his eyes. They burned, bright and dark as blue steel. The Captain backed away from the men. "Take care you don't end up among the missing."

Jim and Blair had already scouted out the village. They decided to camp out in the partially rebuilt school building of the edge of town. The sisters had left some food and blankets when they'd been hustled away and Jim knew they wouldn't begrudge their use.

He felt naked without his side arm, but there was no easy way to bring a hand-gun into a foreign country. "We'll take turns sleeping," he said, looking into the twilight dimmed forest. "Get some rest, kid. We'll start looking first thing in the morning."

Blair looked like he wanted to argue, then shrugged and went to the bedroll he'd already made up. "What the hell?" His butt hit something small and hard among the covers and he rolled out. Flipping up the bright local blankets, he looked at the small automatic pistol lying there, next to a box of shells.

"Jim? There's a .32 in my bed." Blair looked at the tarnished weapon skeptically. "You think this is some kind of trick? A trap?"

Jim lifted the covers on his own bedroll, finding an old long-barreled revolver and a half empty box of ammunition. He lifted both guns and studied them. The pistol was ancient. The automatic's broken grip was taped with electrical tape. "Trap? Maybe? They might blow up in our faces." He sat on his bedroll, his back against the wall. "I'll field strip and clean them while you sleep."

"Sleep? I don't think so."

"Rest then." Jim watched as his friend pulled the thin blanket over his shoulders. He was almost vibrating with tension and nervousness as he lay on the mat. "Do that breathing thing of yours."

Making sure that the little automatic was loaded, Jim laid it next to his right leg. Only then did he dismantle the revolver, his motions quick and practiced. He barely needed his sentinel vision. He'd learned to do this blindfolded, years ago in the army. Working covert ops, sometimes with whatever weapons were available, had taught him to make serviceable, virtually any implement of war.

As he performed the automatic chore, he ranged out with his senses. He heard a distant murmur of people in the village, sleeping, making love, and weeping.

In the darkness beyond the tree line, animals scurried and an owl hunted. No human presence threatened them and he returned scan the half built building. He'd caught Naomi's scent on some of the blankets and in the kitchen. He committed it to memory.

Tomorrow they would drive to the road where Naomi disappeared and he would try to follow her trail. He was afraid he would disappoint Blair.

He was afraid if he did find her, she would already be dead.


1968

"Take your filthy hands off her, you cracker bastards."

They were the first words she'd ever heard him say.

She was just 18 and had left college to go to Kentucky with Carla and her boyfriend Jake. They were there to be a part of the civil rights movement.

Jake's dad was a union organizer and he was in town to unionize the workers in the local textile factories. His stories of the harassment the workers suffered made Naomi see red, so she'd joined the local women on the picket line.

When the sheriff and his hastily deputized thugs showed up, they had dogs and clubs. The fact that she was a stranger, combined with her looks and colorful attire, made her a natural target for the bullies.

Two of them were dragging her into an alley when she heard the voice. It was special, that voice. It made the two men stop and turn around.

There in the mouth of the alley stood a good-looking man in his twenties. He wasn't tall, but he had an air of danger about him. He seemed fearless as he hefted a length of chain, swinging it casually. "I said... let her go."

The men hurled her against the brick wall and, by the time she stood up, the fight was over. The two bullies were on the ground and her savior was bleeding. "Are you OK?" she panted.

"Come on." He took her hand and they ran from the noise and violence. "We'll go back to my room."

One look into those deep blue eyes and she would have followed him anywhere. The warmth from the strong, square hand holding hers traveled clear to her heart.

Naomi Sandburg was embarrassed to admit that she was still a virgin at eighteen. Now, as she looked at the heroic, beautiful man leading her through the streets of this awful little town, she was glad she'd waited.


"Jim. Sun's up, rise and shine."

"I'm up." As always, his Guide's voice woke him instantly.

"I'll grab some food and water while you get ready." Blair was gone before Jim rolled out of his bed.

Jim was still dressed, so he splashed water on his face and visited the privy. By the time he returned, Blair was waiting at the jeep, his backpack in one hand and a jug of water in the other.

He didn't say a word until they reached the spot where the kidnapping occurred. They'd been informed that the 'accident' had really been an ambush. Jim easily found traces of blood on the road where the local man Enrique had died.

The old ford still sat in the weeds, were the Militia had pushed it. Blair looked inside, standing at the front door on the drivers side. He started to pound his fists on the roof, taking out his frustration on the sheet metal. "Damn, damn, damn!"

"Whoa, Chief." Jim caught his hands and held them after a moment. "Don't break anything."

"Why?" Blair turned to his friend. "Why did she come here? Why couldn't she just go to some ashram or nudist colony, or symposium on the Harmonic Convergence?"

"She was doing good, trying to help."

"No good deed goes unpunished." Blair's tone was uncharacteristically bitter. "And the road to hell is paved with good intentions."

"Sometimes it seems that way." Jim wished he could argue with the old cliches. He wished for the old Blair, who never would have said something like that in the first place. "But you can't give up. If you start thinking like that, the bad guys have already won."

"Sure, Jim." Blair bit out the words as he stalked away from the car. "Let's start looking, OK?"


1968

Naomi was in love for the first time in her young life. She'd met Jack Koszinski two weeks ago and since that day, they'd been inseparable. Since that first night in his room, when he had taught her how to love, she'd known the truth.

He was her soul mate. The love of her life. All those silly conventional things she'd laughed at in movies and books. She would love him till the day she died.

She rubbed her cheek against the broad, sleek muscles of his chest, giggling as the soft hair there tickled her ear. "I love you, Jack," she whispered the words to the sleeping man, whose only response was to tighten his arms and pull her closer.


Jim offered Blair a piece of cheese wrapped in a tortilla. "Eat something, Chief."

"I'm OK." Blair poured himself another cup of water and shook his head.

Jim watched as his partner paced the edge of the road, searching for something that wasn't there. He was not OK. He looked like he was ready to drop from exhaustion or the heat. His baggy cotton slacks and undershirt were soaked with sweat. "Please?" He offered the food again.

The tortilla was snatched out of his hand and eaten in three furious bites. "Hapfy?" he growled, his mouth full.

"Yes. Thank you for not biting off my fingers."

"Can we go now?"

Jim had lost the trail, if he'd ever really found it. The scent of Naomi's shampoo, was it real, or was he imagining it, lead north into the hills, then disappeared into a maze of dirt roads.

They drove along the rutted paths and stopped at any sign of recent activity. Jim listened and scanned the area until he was satisfied, and then they moved on.

They were never going to find her this way, the Sentinel admitted to himself. "This isn't working, Blair." He tried to make his friend see the truth. "We need a lead of some sort. A clue. A place to start looking."

"Look, if you want to go home, just go. I'll stay and..." His tirade was silenced by his partner's haunted expression. "I...I'm sorry. I know you want to find her, too."

"Damn right I do." Jim put his hand on the younger man's shoulder. "Look, I know you're worried sick. But you got to keep it together."

"We'll find a clue." Blair tried to look hopeful.

"We're both detectives, after all."


The better part of a day passed as the people in the cellar ignored each other.

The two Brothers occupied themselves with creating a privy of sorts in the corner. Marcus used a piece of flooring to make a wall, while Jeremy dug a hole. Naomi cared for Carla and ignored them.

The soldiers had given them a pail with some water in it, and a tin cup. When they'd finished their chore, the two men drank a cup each. Marcus filled the cup again and went to Naomi. "Here, you should drink something."

She took the cup and sipped the warm, brackish water. Cringing, she wet the unconscious woman's lips with a bit of cloth.

Marcus sat down heavily and spoke softly, "Naomi, please, we have to talk. Tell me what you're thinking."

"I hate you, Jack." Her voice was hard and cold. "I wish I'd never met..."

"Met me?" Marcus's tone was kind. "Now Naomi, we did at least one thing right all those year ago. We made Blair."

"Blair!" Naomi backed away form him. "I never meant for you to know about him."

"Why did you run away?" Marcus looked into her eyes pleadingly. "You just disappeared."

"I was such a little fool. I loved you so much." Naomi tried to find the words to tell him how he'd broken her heart.

At first it had been little things, a gun hidden in a suitcase. Rough looking characters stopping by in the middle of the night to drop off a package. She had been afraid that he was involved in something dangerous.

But he just kissed her and told her he loved her, and she forgot her fears.

For a while.

Before the month was over, she suspected she might be pregnant and worried all the more about Jack being in danger. One night, he slipped from their bed and dressed in the dark. She pretended to sleep as he crept out of the room, the gun in his jacket pocket.

Anxious for his safety, she pulled on her robe and impulsively followed her lover into the night.

"Jackie, how long you gonna hang out in this hick town. There ain't no money to be made form these rubes." The burly man who was talking towered over Jackie.

In shock, Naomi hid in the shadows of the porch and listened as 'Jackie' answered. "Look, if these yahoos want their freight hauled, they'll pay us plenty. Moving the union in here is just a bonus."

"Two for one, huh Jackie?"

"Plus, I met this chick. She's real class."

"Jus' so your wife don't find out, right?" The big man gave a dirty laugh.

"Shut up about her." Jackie grabbed the bigger man and threw him against the car. "You don't know anything about it. Now give me those names."

Naomi had backed away and returned to the room. She threw on some jeans and a jacket and stuffed some of her clothes into her backpack. Jack was still talking to his sinister looking friend when she left.

The waitress from the coffee shop was finishing her shift, and gave her a lift to the next town. Once there, she caught the first bus out. She didn't even ask where it was going.

Jack a.k.a. Brother Marcus listened sadly, to her story, his kindly face lined with pain. "I thought you just left me. I should have known you'd have a good reason."

"You were a criminal, Jackie. My God! You had a wife." She sat on the dirt floor next to Carla and looked at him. "And what is it with the robes? Halloween?


Blair was starting to panic.

They had searched everywhere and found no trace of his mother. Jim had gone to talk to the Captain, to see if there was any news.

He sat in the jeep and looked around the village of San Reymos, studying the people. Two adolescent boys with a guitar and a trumpet were playing loud, discordant music.

A group of young women were laughing and joking with each other.

Otherwise the street was deserted.

"Senior?" A girl of about twenty beckoned him from beside a tumbledown house. "Doctor- Professor Sandburg?"

Blair stepped behind the thick adobe wall and followed the girl. She knew his name. She knew who he was. "What do you want?"

"Professor Sandburg. You want to find the missing American women? Yes?"

"Yes!" Blair leaned closer. "Tell me, please, do you know anything?"

"If you want to find them, come with me."

It was a trap.

Blair knew it, as surely as he knew his own name. They wanted to kidnap him.

He'd been kidnapped before and it felt just like this.

"Wait here. Let me get my shirt." He backed away from her, his mind working furiously. Let me get my shirt? Jeez Sandburg, all those years of college have paid off. He looked around for Jim, but couldn't see him.

If I let them take me, will they take me to Naomi? Will they just kill me?

He rooted through his backpack, leaving the little automatic inside. It was just enough of a gun to get him killed in this situation.

He needed something, though. Something to insure that his Sentinel could follow him. He opened the first aid kit that he always carried. It was rather complete and he searched for something he'd only used once.

A tube of muscle rub. After he strained his shoulder at the academy, the instructor had given him the extra strength salve.

Jim had still been complaining about the smell two days and three showers later. In the chaos surrounding his graduation, and the subsequent rush to come here, he had forgotten it.

Now, he squeezed the whole tube into his hand before tossing it away from the jeep. Rubbing most of it on his belly and down the outsides of his trousers, he wiped the rest on his shirt as he went back to the girl.

"Jim is going to kill me if I don't get kidnapped." He muttered soundlessly, as the girl ran ahead of him, toward the trees. She turned and gestured for him to follow.

Please let this be the right thing to do. Jim said we needed a clue. A place to start looking. The Sentinel has always been able to find his Guide. So far at least.

The dark green of the rain forest closed around him. Night was falling fast and the deeper he went into the trees, the harder it got to see.

Suddenly, there was a blinding beam of light. He could hear the ugly metallic snick of weapons being locked and loaded. Blair tensed as he waited for the impact of the bullets. I'm sorry Jim. I'm sorry you have to find me dead.

The light moved and a voice commanded. "Put the Professor in the truck."

YES, Blair thought, as he tried to look helpless and unthreatening. It wasn't hard.


"Halloween... Sister Naomi? Unlike you, I really am a part of the religious community. I've lived with the Brothers for many years now."

He tried to think of a way to explain his old life. He had joined the union and worked his way up through the ranks. His skill at numbers made him a natural as an accountant and his flair for speaking made him a good front man.

He had married very young. By the time he came to Kentucky, he and his wife had long since separated. Afterwards, he hadn't seen the point of getting a divorce. It was his estranged wife's murder that prompted his decision to get out.

In exchange for his testimony, the Feds had offered him a new face, a faked death, and witness protection.

He'd taken them up on the first two, but he had his disappearance already planned. His old friend Jeremy had offered refuge, peace and a chance to atone.

Jackie Koszinski had found true contentment as Brother Marcus.

"I'm so sorry I hurt you, Naomi. But, I'm not the man I was then."

"You were involved in organized crime! I was terrified when I found out the truth about you. When did you learn about Blair?" She whispered her last question

"As part of my deal with them, I asked the FBI to track you down. I wanted to know you were all right, before I disappeared."

"The FBI!" Naomi snapped at the serene looking monk. "I can just imagine the sort of file they had on me."

"It was colorful, to say the least. And a shock to find out about a teenage son I didn't know I had."

"Are you so sure he is your son?"

Marcus smiled gently at the only woman he had ever loved. "Well, even without the certain physical similarities, I can count, Naomi. I was an accountant."

She merely huffed, wishing she could stand up and turn her back on him. Wishing he would stop looking at her. Wishing she could stop looking at him. But, Naomi had Carla's head resting on her lap and couldn't move.

"I'll admit that I arranged to meet our son. I even became his friend. Believe me, it's all I want from him."

"You won't tell him?"

"I won't lie to him, but no, I won't volunteer the information either."

"Thank you." Her tone wasn't gracious, but she was grateful. Blair had been through enough. He didn't need to know that, while his mother might be criminally stupid, his father was simply a criminal. "I'm sure he's back in Cascade, with Jim and Simon, raising hell, trying to get us released."

There was a commotion outside the door and they turned as a man was thrown through the door and tumbled down the stairs. The figure lay still, a heavy cloth bag over the head and shoulders. Resigned, Naomi watched as Ja... Marcus and Jeremy removed the sack.

As she suspected, it was her son. He lifted his head and smiled as he saw her. "Hi mom." His battered face beamed as he struggled to sit up. "I'm here to rescue you."

"Oh, baby. What did they do to you?"

"Oh, those soldier types pounded on me a bit. I'm OK. Hey... Marcus... Brother Jeremy." He peered at the men helping him sit up. "What are you doing here?"

"We were kidnapped," Jeremy said dryly.

Marcus looked closely at the dark bruises that covered the right side of the younger man's face. "Easy there, son... ahh, Blair." He sat back helplessly as his son pulled away from him.

Blair crawled over to where his mother sat swaying with shock. "I'm OK, mom. How's Aunt Carla?"

"Oh, Sweetie. Why did you come here?" She caressed his face, tears falling unheeded down her cheeks. "Carla's hurt, baby. She's been unconscious since the accident."

"Carla, hey, Aunt Carla?" He touched her cheek and was startled when she jerked away. "Carla!"

"mmmmuts tha smell?"

"She's awake. Sweetie... you're better than smelling salts." Naomi gave her son a watery smile, before she leaned over her friend. "It's Blair, Carlie. And he does smell awful."

Jeremy dipped a cup of water from the pail and brought it over. They managed to get the injured woman to take some before she lapsed back into a deep sleep.

"Blair honey?" Naomi looked at her son quizzically. "Why do you smell like that... and what did you do to your hair?"


Jim resisted the urge to pick up the jeep and throw it, or at least try to.

They had his partner.

They had his partner because HIS PARTNER had given himself over to them.

The kids playing those horrible instruments had told him what happened. A girl. Calling Blair over toward the trees.

Before he went with her, he came to the jeep and left his weapon in the backpack.

And smeared enough muscle cream on himself to leave a scent trail even a normal person could follow.

Then he went with her, damn him.

"How could you do that, Chief?" He wasn't dead. Jim didn't know how he knew, but he did.

He remembered his own words. We need a clue, he'd said. Some place to start. Guilt hit him like a blow to the stomach. "You gave me a trail to follow, didn't you?"

The panther lounged at the edge of the trees. "Why didn't you warn me?" He snarled out loud. "Trust you to show up now, too late to prevent this. Come on, you black, hairy-assed manifestation of my unconscious mind. Where's Blair?"

Jim felt the primal Sentinel taking over. The panther stalked toward him and launched itself at him. He stood straighter, welcoming it as merged with him, happy to give up the guilt and worry. Now, he was simply Enqueri. As focused as a laser beam.

Protect the Guide. Let no one stop you.

He drove from the village without looking at the people lining the street. If he had, he might have noticed the superstitious fear in their faces. Or see several of them cross themselves before they slipped back into their homes.

Like an arrow loosed from a bow, he went forward. His senses ranged far afield, assuring that his mission would prevail. He would allow nothing else.

The trail followed the main road, turning off into the dense jungle on the slopes of the mountain. From here, there were only dirt roads. If he took the jeep, it would be too easy for the ones who had his Guide to track him.

He drew in the essence of the jungle, filtering out each scent until only the strong, pepper- eucalyptus-mint smell remained. Leaving on his black tee shirt, he tore his khaki outer shirt apart and tied a rough square of it around his head.

To destroy the men who held his partner, he was going to need his sight. It wouldn't do to have sweat drip into his eyes.

The pistol he tucked into his belt, the barrel slanting safely to the side. It's chamber cleared, the little automatic was tucked into his pocket with its ammo.

After darkening the pale planes of his face with streaks of black mud, he started to run. Long easy strides carried him into the trees, each foot placed carefully, making no sound. As graceful as a cat, he raced through the darkness, his objective never wavering.

One man guarded the northern perimeter of the encampment. He was removed from the equation, as easily as a chess player removes a pawn. All of Jim's training made this terribly easy.

The dead man's rifle now in his hands, he stalked toward the bombed out church where his friend was being held. There were only two men standing guard. There were around twenty soldiers camped in a clearing nearby. If he could overpower the guards silently, without the main body of soldiers hearing, they might have a chance.

There were six heartbeats in the cellar. From what he could hear, at least one person was injured. A panel truck was parked near the entrance, and he could see the keys in the ignition.

Patiently, Jim waited. Finally, one of the men walked into the trees. It was his last mistake. After, it was a simple matter to take out the other before he called for help. The first man had been carrying a ring of keys and Jim was soon in the cellar.

"Jim!" Blair started forward only to be held at arms length.

"Chief, please." The Sentinel cringed away from the odor.

"Oh, sorry. But it worked, huh?"

"And I ought to kick your ass for it." He handed Blair the automatic and it's box of shells.

"Hello, Jim." Naomi might have been greeting him at the loft. "Nice to see you."

"Detective?" Brother Jeremy walked over with Marcus close behind.

"Old home week, Chief?" Jim looked at the monks before checking the unconscious woman on the floor.

Jeremy smiled as he spoke. "We were repairing Churches damaged in the revolution."

Marcus leaned closer and confided. "A combination of repentance and going underground for a while."

Jim gestured for the others to listen. "Be as quiet as possible, until we get to the truck. Once we start the engine, all hell is going to break loose."

"Can you carry her to the truck?" Jim asked the monks as he pointed at Carla.

"I'll do it." Marcus knelt and easily lifted the small woman. "I'll drive too, if you like. I was a truck driver, once upon a time."

"Let's go then." Jim led the way to the truck, the AK 47 in his hands. Jeremy followed with Marcus and Naomi, Blair bringing up the rear.

Marcus climbed behind the wheel after handing Carla to Jeremy and helping Naomi into the back of the truck. Jim gave the older monk a pointed look as he whispered, "I have a plane waiting at the strip just this side of San Reymos. Just get them there. Don't stop for anything." He turned to Blair. "Get in chief."

"You know that's not going to happen, right?" Blair picked up the second rifle and joined his friend.

"Ah hell, Chief! Can't you ever listen?" He walked into the bombed out shell of the church and prepared to cover the escape.

Blair asked Bother Marcus to take care of his mom, and quickly said his good-byes before the truck motor roared to life. Then he ran and joined Jim behind the section of church wall.

"Cool hand Luke, Chief?"

"Butch and Sundance?"

"Lord, I hope not." Jim grimaced as the first of the soldiers rushed toward them.

He could hear the old truck making good time toward the main road. Taking a deep breath, he targeted the first group of men racing toward them through the dark.

When they returned fire and Blair had a target, he too began to shoot. If it caused him pain, he had only to think of the truck and it's precious cargo racing toward safety.

Shoulder to shoulder they stood firm, holding off an army, until the soldiers set up a mortar. Jim saw them and dragged his partner into the jungle, seconds before what was left of the church disappeared in a ball of flames.



"Simon?" Naomi looked down as the tall police captain offered her his hand.

"I got here as soon a I could." He lifted her and set her on the ground. "Where are my detectives?"

"They stayed behind so we could escape." Her expressive eyes filled with tears. "Simon... they... we have to go get them."

"umm, yes." Simon turned to the taller of the two monks. "Sir, could you help me get this lady over to the chopper there." He gestured to a trim looking helicopter as he lifted Carla in his arms.

"Simon? What about Jim and Blair?" Naomi tagged along after Simon and Jeremy. "Where are the others? You did bring troops?"

"NOT NOW, NAOMI!" Simon growled at the woman, who seemed about as impressed by his legendary bellow as her son was.

She pulled away when he tried to load her into the helicopter. "You aren't just going to leave, are you?"

"Naomi." Brother Marcus tried to reason with her. "Go with your friend."

She ignored him as she looked at the plane on the other side of the field. The pilot lounged against the wing smoking a cigarette. "You're staying aren't you, Simon? You're going to wait for them?"

"Yes, I'm staying. Now go."

"Not his time." Naomi stood firm as Jeremy was seated in the chopper. "That plane can carry six or seven passengers."

Simon watched helplessly as she stalked away from him. "Damn it! Oh, sorry Brother...?"

"Marcus. Brother Marcus."

"You are the Brother Marcus?"

"Yes and I'm staying, too."

Sighing heavily, Simon closed the door and motioned for the helicopter to take off. He ducked low and ran to join the stocky monk.

As the chopper disappeared, he joined the others at the plane. Jim had bribed the pilot to stay, but he was getting nervous and Simon was afraid he would rabbit.

There was the sound of gunfire in the distance and a car approaching. "Get in the plane, NOW!" He roared as he herded the man and woman onto the rickety airplane.

The pilot took this chance to run around the aircraft and disappear into the darkness.

"Damn!" Simon roared as he saw a jeep racing toward them, Jim at the wheel.

"Damn!" he grumbled as he saw, in the distance, what looked like half an army chasing the detective.

Jim stopped the open vehicle and vaulted out, pausing only to heave his unconscious partner over one shoulder, and two rifles over the other.

The engines behind Simon rumbled and sputtered as his men approached. He didn't know who was in the pilot's seat and he didn't care. Jim paused long enough to toss Simon a rifle and hastened through the door.

The plane was already moving as Simon dived inside.


"Take off! NOW!" Jim shouted as he took up a post at the open door.

Simon looked around, spotting his younger detective laying, partially buried, in a nest of mailbags. He joined Jim at the door, holding on as the plane turned and picked up speed. "HE OK?" He bellowed over the engine noise.

Jim must have had his hearing dialed way down, because he didn't answer. Two Jeeps, filled with soldiers, raced along the rutted airstrip and he sighted carefully.

Despite the bouncing of the aircraft, the Sentinel's spray of bullets hit a tire and sent the speeding vehicle into a lethal roll. The men in the other Jeep began to fire. Simon ducked as the sheet metal wall was perforated with small deadly holes. Then, he too began to return fire as the plane picked up speed.

The soldiers kept shooting, even after they'd left the ground. When Simon saw that they were out of range, he stopped and stepped back from the door. "Jim?" He watched as his detective aimed and fired relentlessly into the darkness. "JIM! It's over." He tapped hard on the tense shoulder. "Let's get this door closed."

Jim's rifle slipped out of his hands as he swayed, one foot stepping into space. His eyes closed and he toppled forward, dead to the world. Only Simon grabbing the back of his belt kept him from joining the gun in free fall. "JIM!" Simon fell back and landed hard, pulling his friend on top of him.

Marcus came back from the cockpit and closed the door. He helped Simon lift Jim and lay him next to Blair. As the Captain checked the bloody bullet wound in Jim's thigh, Marcus tried to wake Blair.

His son's only injury was a nasty bullet graze that traced a gory line from above his ear to his hairline. He felt for a pulse and was relieved to find a steady beat. "Blair?" He whispered sadly as he surveyed the pale features. "Oh Blair, my boy. What did they do to you?"

Simon fashioned a pressure bandage out of his shirt and bound Jim's wound tightly. Suddenly, he realized what was wrong with this picture. He stood up straight, banging his head on the ceiling. "Marcus," he looked at the older man nervously. "Who's flying the plane?"

"Naomi."

"WHAT?"

"Naomi's flying the plane." The monk said absently. "Be a good fellow and go tell her that Blair isn't injured too seriously."

Simon ducked into the cockpit and took the co-pilots seat. "Naomi?" His voice was soft and patient. "Do you know how to fly this thing?"

"Well, since we're in the air, my guess would be 'yes'. I lived with a pilot for a year; he taught me how to fly almost anything. I even have a license somewhere." She looked around and frowned. "Do those things ever expire?

"I... I don't know." He watched as the woman he'd always thought of as beautiful but flaky, held his life in her hands. Her hands looked strong and capable as they eased the stick back, controlling the plane as it rode out a patch of turbulence.

"How's Blair? Where is he?" She craned her neck trying to see into the back.

"NO! Just fly the plane." Simon swallowed and continued more calmly. "He's out... unconscious right now. Marcus thinks he's OK though."

"Jim?"

"He got shot too, in the leg. He's out cold"

"Shot too!" Naomi looked shattered. "Blair got SHOT?"

"It doesn't seem to bad." He tried to sound reassuring.

"And I was worried about him being a cop, because it is my fault he IS a cop, you know -- oh of course you know -- and now my poor sweet baby gets shot and it's because of me, and my stupid do gooder..."

"NAOMI!" Simon interrupted her before she passed out for lack of air. Now he knew where her son got his tendency for run on sentences. "It isn't your fault this time."

"This time. I ruined his life once. That's enough."

"No. Everything got straightened out. He tried to call you... tell you, but you'd vanished." Simon filled her in on what had taken place in Cascade.

"You mean he got his Ph.D.? He's welcome back at the University?"

"Yes, he can teach there or the Academy, if he wants to. But Naomi... he choose to be a cop."

Her shoulders drooped as she steered a swooping path barely above the moonlit treetops.

Marcus leaned in the door and grinned. "Our boys are waking up. They aren't too thrilled about how they feel right now, but they seem to be all right." He looked out the windows and shook his head. "Naomi, you don't have to fly below the radar. The government here will want to help us, not kill us."

"Oh? I forgot." She pulled up to a more comfortable altitude and relaxed.

"Err... that pilot you lived with?" Simon shifted uncomfortably as he looked at the woman beside him. "Do I want to know what cargo he carried?"

"Oh him," her tone was dismissive. "I thought we were flying supplies to the rebels in Nicaragua. I dumped him when I found out about the drugs, though."

"That... was good." Simon looked at her with awe. He was torn between arresting her and falling in love with her. "You did the right thing..."

Marcus laughed knowingly and returned to the back.


Blair tried to sit up, holding his head as he fell back. "Mom? Where's my mom."

"You're mom's flying the plane and giving Captain Banks a heart attack." Marcus brushed the short curls back off Blair's forehead. The texture was eerily like his own and it made him sad somehow. "Rest son, we'll have you at the hospital soon."

"...sure will be soon, if Mom's flying. She's pretty good, isn't she?" Blair's eyes fluttered and closed tiredly.

"She's the best," Marcus agreed sincerely as he studied the peaceful features. He could see so much of her in their son. The way she was when she was young and innocent. Blair was the kind of person she might have become -- if she had never met Jackie Koszinski.

Jim watched his partner through half closed eyes, marking the slower breathing as he slipped into a deep sleep. Only then did he speak to the older man. "You ever going to tell him Marcus?"

Marcus looked into the ice blue eyes and forgot about playing games. "How...? When did you guess?"

"I just felt it."

"A Sentinel thing?"

"Blair told you?"

"He told me about his thesis, years ago. Then, one day, he shows up with a friend who's his polar opposite." Marcus grinned as he looked down at the battered young man. "A friend who can see and hear things no one else can."

"It's a secret. It cost him a he... heck of a lot to keep it a secret."

"And it's safe with me, Jim."

"And your secret?"

"You saw his face when he found out about me being Jackie. Imagine how this would hurt him." Marcus touched the curly head and sighed, "I think I make a better friend, don't you?"

"I think you make a good dad, too. Even if he never knows."

"Thanks Jim."


The two jets came out of nowhere, dropping down to flank the old plane.

"They want us to follow them -- that's what that wiggly thing they're doing with their wings means -- because we don't have a radio, so they're sending us a signal, isn't that nice?" Naomi waved at the helmeted figures in the F-14's. "Hellooo."

"Thank you, Jesus." Simon breathed a huge sigh of relief.


"They shaved my head!" the words echoed through the tiny clinic next to the U.S. Embassy.

"Just a patch, you needed stitches."

"But now, I have to cut the rest. It'll be even shorter than before."

Jim groaned and flopped back on the bed. "Chief, you survived a small war -- not to mention -- flying with your mother. You got shot in the head!"

"But..."

"It. Will. Grow. Back." Jim looked at his guide and grumbled enviously. "It will grow back in about a week."

Blair had to smile at his friend. Jim lay with his leg propped up on pillows, an IV in his hand. The deadly Guardian had vanished, replaced by the grumpy Jim Ellison.

"Mom stopped by while you were sleeping," Blair chirped brightly. "Good news. She's going to fly us back home to Cascade."

"WHAT?" Jim almost fell out of bed before he saw his friend collapse in a fit of laughter. "Oh... funny. That's very funny."


"Simon, you don't have to wait for us." Jim started to get out of bed, gritting his teeth as he put weight on his injured leg.

"Crutches, Jim." Blair lifted the ice bag off his forehead and glared. "The doctor said that the inflammation would just get worse if you walk on it."

"As I was saying! Simon doesn't have to hang around here till I'm released."

"He's right Simon," Blair agreed. "You might as well go. I can't come home until Naomi agrees to leave."

"And I'm staying right here until I can take you both back to the nice safe streets of Cascade." Simon announced as he checked his appearance in the small mirror over the sink. "When is Naomi due to arrive?"

"She said you all had breakfast together every morning." Jim watched him suspiciously. "Didn't you see her this morning?"

"Yeah, with Marcus and Jeremy sitting between us," Simon huffed. "I was going to ask if she wanted to go to dinner tonight."

"Simon! That's my mom!"

"I'm willing to overlook that, Sandburg."

Blair groaned and pulled a pillow over his face.

"Anyway, the government here politely suggested that we all go home as soon as possible."

"Jeremy and Marcus, too?" Jim wondered as he sat back down on his bed.

"Yes. As soon as you and Carla are cleared by the doctors, we all get an escort to the airport."

"Like an honor guard?" Blair wondered, peeping out from under the pillow.

"More like, 'here's your hat, what's your hurry', Chief." Jim grinned at his friends as he lay back and closed his eyes. His friends were safe and he could relax now.

Soon he would return to his city and take up his post as Sentinel, with Blair at his side. My official permanent partner, he thought, as the voices of his friends flowed over him.

Blair was teasing Simon about visiting his 'little brother' Daryl. "Can I call you Pops?"

"Watch it, Sandburg." Simon's tone was playful. "I'm one of those strict, corporal punishment kind of dads."

"Simon! You don't believe in beating children, do you?" Naomi's voice joined the conversation.

"Oh yeah," Blair laughed mischievously. "That's why poor Daryl is so timid and well behaved."

"You see, Naomi... that's what happens when you don't spank um." The captain's deep chuckle rumbled through the room.

"Maybe you're right." A feminine giggle was added to the lovely symphony of sound.

"MOM!"

As his loved ones argued and noisily teased each other, Jim let himself slip into a restful sleep, a smile of pure contentment on his face. All was right with his world.


As it ended up, that they all flew back together on a chartered jet, sent by Jim's father.

Naomi made her peace with Brother Marcus. She'd even started to think of him by that name. Jack Koszinski was dead, after all. Odd that it gave her a pang to think that after all these years.

When she offered to tell their son the truth, he refused, and finally made her see his point. Blair loved 'Marcus' and it was enough for the older man.

Nothing would be gained by telling him about Naomi and Jackie Koszinski.

Blair saw his mom and Marcus in deep conversation and grinned happily. Who knew his mom would hit it off with a monk.

Marcus and Jeremy were returning to the monastery and Aunt Carla was going home to New York.

Naomi decided to stay in Cascade for a while, and Simon was MUCH too pleased about that.

Blair looked over at Jim, sleeping sprawled in the seat next to him. "You've got the right idea, partner." We aren't dead and we're going home. Anything else can wait until much, much later.

He tipped his seat back and drew the soft wool blanket around his shoulders. Easing a miniature pillow under his bandaged head, he let the hum of voices and the soft snoring of his partner lull him to sleep.

All was right in his world.

Well, except for that Simon flirting with his mom thing.

The End


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