Just the Facts

by Debra Noellert

Disclaimer: The Magnificent Seven is owned by MGM and The Sentinel is owned by Pet Fly Productions. No money has been made from this so please don't sue me. Photo credits: Puma cub photographed by Albright Images. Fox kit photographed by The Wild. Again, no profit made and only respect intended.

Notes: This story is a Sentinel crossover and a sequel to The Cub and the Kit. I recommend reading that story first. Many thanks go to Sherri and Sevenstars for their beta work.

Interview Room Three hadn't actually started out as an interview room. Its original purpose was to be a meeting place for various police officers working large cases and the occasional multi-unit task force. But when detectives working a case needed somewhere to question a suspect or witnesses they weren't shy about using any space available. So over the last decade the Taskforce room had become Interview-3.

Simon led the parade into the room, as first, the detectives of Major Crimes, and then, the ATF agents of Team Seven took their seats around the conference table. That two boys had joined the meeting was greeted as perfectly natural.

Rhonda brought up the rear with several bags and a medical kit. "Here are the first aid supplies you wanted." She handed them to Nathan. Then she set the bags on the table. "And these are at least two dozen sandwiches, compliments of Sally's."

"Thank you, Rhonda," said Simon. "Would you make sure that we get a bit of privacy for the next hour or so?"

"Of course, Captain." Rhonda locked the door on her way out.

"Is this where we finally get to find out what the hell happened over at Sally's?" Buck asked, impatiently.

JD started the narrative. "While we were waiting on our order, Vin mentioned smelling a lot of gun oil." Several members of Major Crimes exchanged knowing glances. "When I scanned the crowd I spotted three suspicious individuals scattered about the restaurant. I tried to get Vin and Ezra out of there, but it was already too late. They pulled their weapons and ordered everyone to lay on the ground. The robbery went smoothly at first. The cashiers handed over the money; the perps seemed ready to leave, but then the one guarding the door insisted on stealing valuables from the customers too. When he shot a woman because she didn't take her ring off fast enough, I felt I had to intervene. I put down the two perps near the door but the one behind me took cover."

"One behind you?" Buck interrupted, demanding clarification. "You engaged in a firefight when you knew you had a suspect at your back?"

JD sighed; knowing Buck wasn't the only one making plans to lecture him about dangerous maneuvers. "It was a calculated risk," he insisted. "I couldn't just stand by while they started shooting civilians, especially when Vin and Ezra were threatened."

"I think that's about when I came on the scene," said Rafe, trying to draw some attention away from the beleaguered young agent. "I heard the gunfire, saw several bodies down and Agent Dunne ordering someone to surrender. I began setting up a perimeter with several patrol officers and called Blair to bring in the Cavalry." Usually that call would have been to his partner Henry Brown, but having just learned of Jim's vision, Rafe had decided that the Sentinel and Guide needed to know first. "The perp started dragging Ezra to the door, apparently unaware of the police presence outside."

"He was so high I don't think he was aware of what planet he was on," commented eleven-year-old Vin.

"When he backed out the door we were able to separate Ezra from the perp and arrest him," Rafe finished.

"So when did Ezra dislocate his shoulder?" Nathan asked, as he carefully eased the 13-year-old's jacket off.

"I did that," said JD, his voice heavy with guilt. "I should have been more careful when I pulled him away from the perp."

"A dislocated shoulder is a lot better than some of the alternatives," decided Chris. "You did the right thing."

Jim finished bandaging Rafe's hand, putting the tube of anti-bacterial cream back in the first aid kit. "This is going to hurt for the next day or two." Rafe nodded, having expected as much.

"It probably wouldn't hurt to have it looked at by a doctor," Nathan advised.

"That's not necessary; there isn't any muscle damage," Jim diagnosed.

Nathan shot him a critical look. "You can't always tell that by looking."

"No, but I can tell by touch," countered Jim, looking past Nathan to Vin. "Would you like me to show you how?" When Vin nodded Jim moved next to the boys. "First, I want you to take a breath and relax. It might help to focus on a sound you find soothing . . . maybe Ezra's heartbeat." Jim almost hadn't added the last bit but he was glad he did when Vin's face showed first surprise and then relief.

A few feet away, Blair was watching in fascination. It wasn't often he got to see this side of Jim. Not that Jim was bad with kids or anything, but usually he left the kids and the teaching to Blair. In truth, most of the room was watching Jim and Vin with varying degrees of curiosity, though Larabee's gaze was definitely the most intent. Blair supposed he'd probably be a bit cautious, too, if his sons had just escaped from a hostage situation.

"Now, I want you to very gently brush your fingertips over Ezra's injury and tell me what you feel," insisted Jim.

"The area is all hot. Everything feels stretched out, out of place." Vin's fingers slid across the top of Ezra's shoulder and paused, his eyes becoming slightly glazed.

Recognizing an impending zone Blair stepped forward. "Ease up, Vin," he instructed, "you're focusing too much." His warning drew only a dazed blink.

"Vin?" entreated Ezra.

Immediate awareness returned. Vin frowned, "There's something wrong here."

"May I?" Jim asked Vin, before he moved to touch Ezra. Not that Ezra couldn't speak up for himself; Jim just figured there were some things you shouldn't do without permission first. Kissing someone else's spouse, picking up another parent's newborn baby and touching another Sentinel's guide, all topped that list. When Vin nodded, Jim set his fingers where Vin's had been. It only took a second to identify the problem. "It's an old fracture, feels like it wasn't set properly."

"How did you--?" started Nathan. "We didn't learn about that old fracture in Ezra's collarbone until we saw his x-rays last year. It wasn't in any of his medical records."

"It's a bit like identifying objects under a blanket; if you pay attention to what you're feeling you can figure out what's below the surface." Turning to Ezra he asked, "Are you ready to have your shoulder fixed?"

"Yes," Ezra replied through gritted teeth.

"Vin, help me out here," Jim requested. He arranged Vin's hands on Ezra's shoulder and arm, and then instructed, "We'll need to rotate just a bit and then pull."

Ezra only hissed as the joint slid back into place. Nathan was there immediately to immobilize it with a sling.

"Is that better, Ezra?" Vin asked nervously.

"Eminently," Ezra replied. The two boys smiled at each other in perfect understanding.

"I think it's time for you to explain your connection to Vin now." Chris's words were clearly an order, not a request.

Jim didn't take offence at the sharp tone. "It's not so much a connection as it's a recognition, that Vin is someone with the same unique abilities that I have. Blair could probably explain better what those abilities entail."

Blair was momentarily thrown off by the sudden attention turned his way, but he gathered his thoughts quickly, launching into his old familiar lecture mode. "Now bear with me while I give you a little background information. Over a hundred years ago there was an explorer by the name of Sir Richard Burton."

"Are you talking about the guy that translated the Kama Sutra?" asked Buck.

Josiah let out a deep chuckle. "Why am I not surprised you'd be the one to know that little bit of information?"

"Hey, a fellow's got to have priorities," Buck explained.

Blair smiled. "Well, as compelling as the Kama Sutra is, it was another of his works, The Sentinels of Paraguay, that caught my attention."

"You believe Vin is a Sentinel," said Josiah. The complete understanding on his face told Blair that Josiah knew exactly what he was talking about.

"So what exactly is a Sentinel?" Chris didn't think they were talking about the typical 'Webster's Dictionary' definition.

"A Sentinel," explained Josiah, "is a type of tribal watchman or protector. They achieved their status through their ability to utilize their naturally heightened senses."

Chris let his gaze slip from Josiah to Blair. He'd been aware for some time that Vin had extraordinarily gifted senses, but he wasn't sure he liked the idea that this stranger, Blair, seemed to know more about Vin's abilities than he did. "Are having these 'heightened senses' really such a big deal?" he asked.

"Definitely," Blair enthused. "Having one or two heightened senses isn't all that uncommon. Someone with heightened taste might work as a taste tester. A person with a heightened sense of smell could be employed by the perfume industry. My master's thesis was on how people used their senses in their lives and work. I wanted my doctoral dissertation to be on people with all five senses heightened, but although I met hundreds of people with one or two, and at least a dozen with three or four; I couldn't find anyone with all five until Jim."

"So you received a doctorate for your study of Detective Ellison's Sentinel abilities?" asked Ezra.

"Not exactly," Blair hesitated. He didn't have to lie to these people like he did with most who wanted to 'discuss' the dissertation, but in some ways explaining the truth was more painful than telling lies.

"The rough draft of Blair's dissertation was leaked to the press without his consent by a third party," Jim cut in, sparing Blair any recriminations. "The next thing I knew I was being hounded by the press, targeted by criminals and having every old case searched by I.A.B. and defense attorneys alike for 'procedural violations'. I was still trying to figure out which way was up when Darwin here had the bright idea of falling on his sword by declaring his thesis a fraud."

"Did it not get both the reporters and the lawyers off your back?" questioned Blair.

Jim looked ready to argue the point, but Simon cut him off. "The situation was poorly handled by everyone involved, myself included. Debating what we should have done or could have done isn't going to answer the young man's question."

"Right," said Blair. "Well, I did get my doctorate, but the dissertation wasn't on Jim. Because Rainer was forced to admit it took part in the improper . . ."

"Improper?" snorted Jim. "It was intellectual theft."

" . . . release of my work, I was able to convince them to allow me to use my backup subject as the primary. Then I obfuscated with the press so they thought that only Jim's vision and hearing were heightened," Blair finished.

"I remember reading about some of this," said Josiah. "Wasn't there also something about a military study?"

"Yeah," agreed Blair, "though I'm still wondering when that chip is going to be called in. About the same time I was trying to downplay Jim's abilities to the press, a General Dave Meister with Special Forces released a newly declassified military study that showed that one in four members of the Special Forces have at least one heightened or enhanced sense. It was then that the public started to lose interest."

"I can't believe I somehow missed all of this in the news." JD shook his head.

"Not so hard to believe," countered Josiah. "You and Buck were both undercover for the Whitman case at the time. Then you were shot during the bust, and hospitalized for several days. Combined, that's bound to interfere with your current event upkeep."

"I remember Mary interviewing me during Whitman's indictment. She knew I'd been in the SEALs and wanted my opinion on the military study." Chris shook his head. "I told her I didn't see what the big deal was, lots of guys in Special Forces had unusual or unique abilities, myself included."

Buck immediately picked up on the curiosity dancing in Blair's eyes. "That's Chris's way of saying he's got real acute hearing and touch, for those keeping track. But if I get the gist of what you're saying, having all five senses heightened is beyond unusual."

"I spent years searching for people with all five senses heightened," admitted Blair, "and I only ever found two. Vin brings that tally up to three." When he saw a knowing look pass between several of the ATF agents he had to ask, "Have you met someone else with all five?"

Buck waited for Chris's silent nod of consent before explaining, "I guess the reason we never took much notice of some of Vin's more unusual abilities was because we'd already seen Chris's first son, Adam, do a lot of the same things. And before you ask, Adam and his mother died two years ago, and the topic is not open for discussion."

The grief etched on Chris's face was more than enough to curb Blair's natural curiosity, although he did take note of how Vin and Ezra both shifted closer to their father in silent support.

Deciding their conversation needed a push in a new direction, Jim volunteered, "I'm sure you gentlemen can recognize the advantages heightened senses have when it comes to gathering forensic evidence, tracking a suspect or even the occasional search and rescue operation. But there are a few downsides that ought to be mentioned. Since coming online I've had several odd allergies develop and my body seems to have some pretty strange reactions to drugs in my system. Even over-the-counter cold aids like Sen-quil can cause huge problems."

"I knew we were missing something!" Nathan's exclamation was quickly followed by action as he pulled out his cell phone and hit one of the speed dial numbers. "We need to get Rain down here. I'll have her bring Vin's medical records with her."

"Do it," agreed Chris.

Next to him Vin squirmed a bit. It wasn't that he didn't like Aunt Rain, he did, but he couldn't help but feel uncomfortable when she got to fussing over him. When Nathan and Rain both fussed, it was downright claustrophobic.

"Wait a minute," insisted Jim, "who's Rain?" As far as he was concerned there were already too many people in on the 'secret'.

"Rain is Ezra and Vin's doctor," Chris answered for Nathan, who was already murmuring urgently into his cell. "She's also Nathan's wife and I trust her with the boys' lives."

Recognizing that Larabee wasn't going to be swayed and seeing the potential advantages to having a licensed doctor 'in the know', Simon picked up the intercom headset and tapped out the extension for his secretary. "Rhonda, in a bit a Dr. Rain Jackson is going to be arriving downstairs. Could you make sure she is brought straight to Interview - 3? Thank you, I appreciate it."

"I think we also need to mention zones," added Blair. "Any time a Sentinel focuses too much on one sense, to the exclusion of all else, they can happen. Zones present like a fugue state or a petite mal seizure. When the zone is mild, any little distraction can bring Jim around, but deeper zones can be more problematic. If a doctor misdiagnosed the condition and tried to treat a zone with drugs, it could have life threatening consequences."

Chris was nodding thoughtfully, as though cataloging past events that correlated with Blair's description. Next to him, Ezra's face looked much tenser, as he said with a mixture of fear and determination, "Vin doesn't have those any more."

Blair blinked in surprise at the boy's words. "But he has in the past?" he pushed to confirm the implications of Ezra's outburst.

Now Ezra looked embarrassed and turned somewhat guiltily to Vin. He knew Vin hated it when he 'got lost'; hated when it happened and hated talking about it. But wasn't it important to get all the information they could to protect Vin? While it was true that Vin hadn't zoned while they'd been living with Chris, Ezra still had nightmares about Vin getting too 'lost' to recover. "He hasn't had one in over a year. Wouldn't that indicate he's gotten past that problem?" No one in the room missed Ezra's anxiously hopeful tone.

"That would depend on a lot of different factors," Blair replied gently. Ezra was obviously afraid of Vin's zones, a feeling Blair could sympathize with. The first time Blair had witnessed Jim zone it had terrified him, in more ways than one.

On the other side of Chris, Vin was slouched back in his chair with his arms crossed. The frosty look on his face efficiently voiced his displeasure with the current topic of conversation.

Watching the byplay between Blair and the boys, Jim decided it was time to intervene. He knew Blair was only trying to help, but a hovering Guide wasn't going to get Vin to open up. Directing his words to Vin, Jim began exposing his own vulnerability, hoping it would be enough to get Vin to respond in kind. "I used to use my senses all the time when I was a kid, just like you do. But then . . . things happened that made me wish I didn't have them. So I suppressed them to the point where I could convince myself they didn't exist. Every time they tried to pop up I just pushed them down again. Eventually, though, that stopped working, and it had been so long since I'd used them that I had forgotten how to control them. Between the headaches and the zones, plus hearing, seeing and even tasting things that no one else could, I was fairly certain I was going insane. Blair helped me prevent zones by figuring out what was triggering them, and then learning how to avoid the triggers." Holding Vin's gaze Jim continued, "It would be a lot easier for us to estimate your chances of zoning if we knew what had triggered your previous zones."

Vin squirmed a bit in his seat, uncertain how much to say. Looking to Chris, Vin recognized his father's supportive gaze. Chris wasn't going to push him to talk, he'd leave what to reveal entirely up to Vin. "Sometimes it was food. Mostly we could buy stuff with Ezra's poker winnings and the money I got from odd jobs but sometimes we had to go dumpster diving. Figuring out what food was still good to eat could get tricky. More often it happened when I was listening, you know, for gangs or some of Humboldt's goons."

"You were living on the streets?" Suddenly Blair was revising all the assumptions he'd made about what a good father Larabee seemed to be. How could he have misjudged someone so much?

"Yeah, we were on our own for about five months," Vin glanced at Ezra to verify the time, "when we made it to Denver. Then Chris took us in, became our Dad."

Blair was surprisingly relieved to hear that Agent Larabee had nothing to do with the boys ending up on the streets. Admittedly, there were still a lot of questions, like what had led the boys to the streets in the first place? But every bit of information they'd shared so far had been released with great hesitancy. Blair doubted they'd share more of their past before he earned their trust. To that end he offered up his best reasoning skills to explain what had caused Vin's earlier zones. "Well, it sounds to me like the circumstances you were in forced Vin to overextend his abilities. Our senses are just like any other part of our body; they continue to develop as we grow. But Vin was in a position where his survival, and that of his brother, depended on him pushing his abilities well beyond the norm. For another teen that might manifest as pulled muscles or torn ligaments. For Vin it manifested as a zone. Once he was removed from the situation that was stressing his senses, the zones stopped."

Vin's brow furrowed as he pondered what Blair had suggested. Blair made it all seem so normal, something Vin had never felt when he roused from a zone to see Ezra's frightened face. "So does that mean they won't come back again?"

"Any time you find yourself in a situation where you're pushing your senses, zoning is a risk," Blair answered honestly. "But I think that with a bit of training and practice, you can learn not only to greatly reduce the odds of zoning, but even to recognize a zone as it starts so you can prevent yourself from completely losing awareness."

"That sound like an admirable goal to achieve," encouraged Ezra, with clear relief in his voice.

Vin looked at his brother, seeing something the others missed. "Sure, it's not a bad idea, but at the same time it's not like you ever let me down."

"We both know that's not true, Vin," Ezra whispered, his head bowed in shame.

Vin huffed in frustration. "I already told you, you did the right thing. What good would rousing me have done if it meant getting caught by Humboldt's hired guns?"

"You almost died because of me," Ezra's recriminations continued.

"Whoa, hold up," insisted Chris. "I think you two need to tell me what you're talking about."

"It happened a couple weeks before we got to Denver," explained Vin. "I'd had the feeling that we were being hunted for a couple of days. When I heard a voice I thought I recognized, I focused on it, trying to figure out who it was." Vin shrugged his shoulders. "I guess I focused too hard."

When only silence followed Vin's intro Chris prompted, "Ezra?"

Ezra gnawed his lower lip nervously before speaking, a huge tell for the usually confident young teen. "When I got back from a poker game I saw Mr. Humboldt's associate, Mr. Renfer, skulking about the alley near the abandoned restaurant where we'd taken refuge. I saw the peso on the nail so I knew Vin was still inside. I managed to sneak past our nefarious hunters only to find Vin incapacitated by a zone. I tried to shake him awake but it didn't work and then I heard Mr. Humboldt's retainers entering the building. I hid us beneath a curtained counter until they left. It took almost an hour before Vin was conscious again."

"I'm still waiting to hear the part where this is your fault," said Chris, knowing Ezra had left too much unsaid.

"I could have brought him back at any time, all I had to do was speak to him. Vin always responded when I spoke to him," said Ezra.

"And then Humboldt's goon squad would have caught us," Vin pointed out.

Ezra continued as if Vin hadn't spoken. "Instead I cowered in the dark like a frightened rabbit," he finished, his voice heavy with self-loathing.

"Enough," Chris cut off, somewhat harshly. "Being afraid isn't a sign of cowardice. In fact, doing what needs doing despite your fear is about the best demonstration of courage anyone can make." Chris rested a hand on Ezra's back and softened his tone. "Sometimes we get caught in situations where there aren't any good choices. Maybe talking to Vin would have roused him; then again maybe it still wouldn't have. Humboldt's mercenaries were under orders to eliminate you both. Hiding Vin from their search and then rousing him when it was safe probably kept him alive."

"See," interjected Vin, "I told ya you'd done the right thing."

"But it took forever before you responded to my voice," argued Ezra, still unable to accept his family's reassurance. "And you had that horrible migraine for two days afterward. If I hadn't waited . . ."

"You did the best you could in a bad situation," interrupted Chris. "That you both escaped with your lives should be enough. You've got nothing to be ashamed of."

With the words of his family finally sinking in, Ezra admitted his darkest fear. "I was so afraid Vin was never going to wake up again. That he'd be a vegetable and it would be my fault."

Jim noticed that Chris seemed at a loss on how to answer Ezra's confession, so he decided to offer a little reassurance of his own. "I'll let you in on a little secret, Ezra. It might sometimes take a while, but there isn't anywhere a zone could take Vin that the voice of his Guide couldn't bring him back from."

"Guide?" came Ezra's confused query.

"Sure," said Jim, "Sentinels can't do it all on their own. They need backup they can trust. And I'm not talking about some Superhero sidekick gig. Sentinels and Guides are partners. Guides can reach Sentinels when no one else can. They help us focus while preventing zones. Guides can also get us to back down when we're pushing too hard. They're the anchors we cling to when the flow of sensory input threatens to overwhelm us. The person that does all those things, that Guides me, is Blair. And I think the person that Guides Vin is you. So stop worrying about losing Vin to a zone. That will never happen with you around." Ezra's hesitant smile told Jim he'd said the right words.

Jim was so intent on easing Ezra's fear that he barely registered the sudden quiet of the room until Simon broke it. "And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a speechless Sandburg. Look fast, it may never be seen again."

The scattered chuckles, originating heavily from the Major Crimes crowd, had Blair sputtering a moment before defending; "You can't blame me for being shocked when my partner, the throwback, suddenly transforms into an eloquent, sensitive speaker." Blair elbowed Jim. "I didn't know you had it in you, buddy."

"I always had it," assured Jim. "I just never used it for fear of bloating your already over-inflated ego."

Blair let the tease slide past him without effect. "I'm glad to know how you feel," he continued. "I just wish others," his gaze shot accusingly to Simon, "were as willing to trust my instincts regarding the welfare of my Sentinel."

Like spectators at a tennis match, everyone's eyes bounced from Blair to Simon.

"I have one word for you, Blair: Peyote."

Jim couldn't help but laugh, having known just how Simon would respond to Blair's challenge. The other faces in the room held varying degrees of shock and confusion.

"It wasn't Peyote," denied Blair, "just a Peyote-like substance." The justification sounded weak, even to him. "And it was in minute traces."

"Did we not already cover Sentinels having extreme reactions to drugs?" Simon looked to Nathan, hoping the medic would back him up. When Nathan nodded, it was done with much trepidation. He didn't really want to join either side of this apparently long standing argument. Simon, however, was already pressing on with his next point. "Your homemade cold remedy had Jim seeing people that weren't there, for crying out loud!"

"One spirit," clarified Blair, "and just because you and I couldn't see her, doesn't mean she wasn't there. There have been ample indications that Jim's sixth sense is just as heightened as the other five. The manifestations of spirit guides, visions, and even prophetic dreams all support that theory. And it's my job as his Guide to help figure out what they mean."

"Prophetic dreams?" The question escaped as a cracked sob from a suddenly pale JD.

Jim could hear the young agent's heart pounding away at double time, and he was fairly certain that both Vin and Chris could hear it too.

"He told me. I should have listened," said JD, the color leeching from his face. He rose out of his seat and stumbled away from the table, turning his back to the others in the room.

"JD, don't." Chris also rose; trying to prevent the anguish he knew was coming.

"He trusted me to protect him. I should have gotten there faster!"

Chris couldn't tell if JD was talking to the room or himself. He wasn't even sure if JD knew he was speaking out loud. When he placed a hand on JD's arm, JD jerked and then rounded to push him away. Chris pushed right back, grabbing his arms and pinning him to the wall. "You were on the other side of town. They were gone in a matter of minutes. There was no way humanly possible for you to reach them in time." JD shook his head, his grief forcing him to deny any comfort. Chris slammed JD back against the wall in frustration. "Listen to me!" Finally, JD's dark eyes met his. Chris dropped his voice to a harsh murmur that only JD should hear. Chris knew that Vin and Jim were both more than capable of listening in, but Chris hoped that Jim at least would get the hint and aim his ears elsewhere, or whatever it was the Sentinel did to avoid others' personal problems, that were really none of his damned business.

Across the room worry and confusion reigned among the police detectives. But it was Blair who first inquired, "Can I ask what's going on?"

"Adam," was Buck's curt reply.

"Chris's first son?" Blair questioned cautiously. He hadn't forgotten that Buck had already declared that topic off limits.

Buck looked from Chris and JD to Vin and Ezra, who had moved closer and were now casting concerned looks in their father's direction. Face ever more grim, he nodded to himself in decision and started to speak. "Chris and I were scheduled to testify in a Federal arms smuggling case involving both officers and civilian contractors from several military bases. Our testimony had already been postponed several times, due to continuances from the defense. The FBI started to get nervous and insisted the two of us be put into protective custody until we'd finished testifying. Chris didn't like it, even tried to get Sarah and Adam allowed to join us but the Feebs wouldn't go for it. Said our cover had never been broken and there was no reason to believe Sarah or Adam were in danger. Then the night before Chris started testifying," Buck's voice shook and his face contorted in pain, "that night . . ."

Josiah set a soothing hand on Buck's back, letting him know he'd take over the burden of this tale. "I was awakened around 3 am by a frantic call from JD saying Sarah and Adam were being attacked. I didn't ask questions, just rushed out to the ranch, calling local authorities along the way. It wasn't enough. By the time help arrived the ranch appeared abandoned, its front door broken in and furniture overturned in an apparent struggle. A small shed between the house and the barn was a smoldering ruin. The crime scene investigators confirmed that Sarah and Adam had been chained within the shed, preventing any escape." Josiah paused to take a deep breath.

By the wall Chris had finally gotten through to JD, his tear streaked face one of regretful acceptance. Chris was far from pleased with the realization that Buck and Josiah had distracted the others from JD by telling the story of his family's deaths. He was inclined to take the two men to task for setting his personal grief on display for strangers, but the revelation of Ezra's fears stayed any such action. He couldn't overlook the possibility that hearing Adam's story could prevent Ezra and Vin from repeating a similar tragedy. Love for his sons had Chris nodding for Josiah to continue, despite his private preferences.

"You mentioned prophetic dreams," said Josiah. "Perhaps a week before . . . the fire, Adam began having nightmares. In some he saw a lynx and kestrel tied to a burning stake. In others he was the one surrounded by flames. It never occurred to us that they were more than a child's bad dreams. Then, that night when JD woke Nathan and me with calls of danger, it wasn't because JD was there or he'd gotten a phone call of his own. JD had also had a dream, this one of Sarah and Adam being attacked, bound and burned. But by the time he woke, it was already too late for anyone to save them."

"JD was Adam's Guide." Jim's words were a statement of fact, not a question.

"It sure seems to fit with what you've been saying." This time Nathan answered. "There was always a connection between the two, from the first time they met. Whenever Adam was sick or feeling poorly, having JD around was the fastest way to get him feeling better. JD used to say that when the time came for the rest of us to retire, he'd take over the team and run it with Adam at his side." Nathan's remembrance brought several sad smiles from his teammates, but JD just ran a hand through his hair before looking away; unprepared to speak of the lost boy he'd considered a little brother.

"And the murderers?" Both the Sentinel and the cop within Jim were demanding justice.

"We collared the get away driver who chickened out when he realized the hit included a kid." Buck made no attempt to hide the disgust in his voice. "Probably a good choice on his part since the other two mercenaries were murdered by the man running the hit, Cletus Fowler. We cornered Fowler in a little town near the Mexican border but we weren't able to arrest him." Buck's frustrated anger darkened his features. "The bastard walked into a burning building, rather than tell us who hired him. The case has been cold ever since."

You didn't have to be a detective to see how hard it had been for the ATF agents to reveal this particularly painful part of their past. It was obvious that they all felt the loss of Agent Larabee's family. Remembering how criminals gunning for him had almost killed his own son, Simon offered what little aid he could. "A while back some of the other Captains and I started swapping our departments' cold case files. We found that sometimes time and a fresh perspective could help move an old case forward. If you'd be willing to let us look at what you have . . ." Simon let his words trail off, not wanting to pressure Chris.

Chris scrutinized Simon for several seconds before saying, "Only Major Crimes."

"Of course," Simon easily agreed. "We'll be ready whenever you can get the files to us."

"Uhm, I've got a question," volunteered Vin. "Did you really see somebody's ghost?"

Jim shot a warning look towards Joel, H and Rafe, who looked varying degrees of abashed and appeasing. The last thing Jim wanted was one of those pranksters cracking a joke just as Vin was starting to open up. "A woman's ghost," explained Jim. "Blair and I were able to track down her murderer, and help her move on."

"Did you ever see something like a ghost animal?" Vin asked a bit nervously.

"Several times," Jim smiled reassuringly. "Including about twenty minutes before we met, when I saw a puma cub and a fox kit hanging out by Rafe's desk. I guess that was their way of telling us you boys were going to need Rafe's help. Usually I see my own black panther or sometimes I'll see Blair's wolf, but when I saw the cub and the kit I knew someone new was in town."

"But what are they?" asked Vin.

"You want to take that one?" Jim asked Blair, but before Blair could get any words out he cautioned, "Let's try to keep it to the 'Reader's Digest' version."

Blair shot Jim a withering look, as if he didn't know better than to give too much information to a couple of already shell-shocked kids. "There are many cultures all around the world that believe that spirits will take the form of animals to guide and protect us."

"They're there to tell us what to do?" Vin wasn't expecting that.

"More like, they're there to help us become our own best person, to point us down the right path. Sometimes, to warn us if there is danger," Blair answered.

"But the times I've seen them I couldn't even tell what they wanted," Vin admitted.

"Join the club," snorted Jim.

"At least you can see yours. I only saw mine once and it wasn't an experience I'm eager to repeat," countered Blair.

"Were you sick?" asked Ezra.

Sensing his answer was important, Blair replied with brutal honesty, "I'd just been drowned by a suspect." He decided it wasn't necessary to add that the suspect was also a rogue Sentinel. There'd be time enough to review that mistake later.

Ezra nodded, as if Blair's answer confirmed something. "I had an exceedingly high fever, acquired through an infected gunshot wound. I kept seeing the small fox; the puma cub was protecting him."

"Gunshot wound?" Joel asked the question bothering every member of Major Crimes.

"You could say," started Nathan, "that nothing about our first meeting with Ezra and Vin was normal, or easy. Chris had gone down to the warehouse district to make contact with an anonymous source. We were listening on his wire, scattered about as backup. When Chris's contact arrived, we noticed that Chris started sounding funny, but we couldn't see them and Chris hadn't called us in so we just let it play out. Then Buck spotted some heavies from the north, Josiah sees a couple more coming from the east. He told Chris to pull out, but Chris wouldn't leave his contact. Being closest, I went in; just as the bullets started flying. That's when I saw Chris laying down cover fire to protect two boys. Ezra had already caught the ricochet in his arm. While I was tying it off, Chris was calling in backup from every cop and Fed in the city. I sent the boys through a hole in the wall so they'd have better cover, but when our backup arrived the boys were nowhere to be found."

A few feet away Vin shrugged. "You said go, so we went."

"After searching the city for 36 hours," continued Nathan, "our boss, Judge Travis, ordered us home to get some rest."

"And just guess," picked up Chris, "who I found sitting on my front porch?" He ruffled Vin's hair. Ezra leaned aside to avoid the same treatment. "What started out as protective custody eventually became a more permanent arrangement."

"There weren't any relatives trying to claim the boys?" Megan asked. Coming from a large family she had a hard time imagining how two boys could end up so alone in the world.

"Ezra's mother, Maude, is alive, and she's not happy about Ezra being with me, but since she's in no position to provide for him, I maintain full custody." Further questions about Ezra's situation were forestalled by either Chris's warning headshake or Ezra's shuttered look.

The knock on the door reminded the occupants that they were still within a busy police station. The door swung inward and Rhonda looked in. "Captain Banks, Dr. Jackson is here." She stepped back to let the mahogany skinned beauty into the room. Nathan quickly got up to kiss his wife hello.

"I brought Vin's medical file," started Rain. "What kinds of drugs are going to be the greatest potential risk to his health?" She wasn't usually so overbearing the first time she met someone, but with the scare they'd had the last time she'd prescribed medication for Vin, she wanted answers and she wanted them yesterday.

"Actually," cautioned Blair, "I'm not sure it's a good idea to assume Jim and Vin will have exactly the same reaction."

"You're right, of course," agreed Rain easily enough. "Just their age difference will create different reactions, never mind adjusting for body mass and overall health. But honestly, right now I feel like I'm rolling the dice every time I try to treat him. If I could just get a point of reference from Detective Ellison's past drug reactions it would be a huge improvement."

"In that case," replied Blair, "I suppose we should start with Sen-quil . . ." He launched into a detailed list of Jim's past medical history, with Nathan and Rain peppering him with occasional questions, while taking notes.

Deciding he'd trust Vin's health to the medical professionals, Chris turned back to Jim. "So far you've mentioned several potential problems for Sentinels, but what about Guide issues?"

"Well, I've only got my own Guide to go by, but I'd say Blair is extremely intelligent, charismatic, and personable. I'd also say that he has a frightening curiosity that sometimes borders on insatiable, and he's a 'psycho magnet'." Jim assessed.

"I am not a 'psycho magnet'," denied Blair, before launching into a new tale of Jim's experience with Golden.

Jim merely raised an eyebrow at his obtuse Guide. "So tell us, Blair, just how many times have you been kidnapped or held hostage in the last few years?"

Blair's reply was a disgusted look coupled with a, "Man, that is just so not my fault."

"That kind of makes sense," piped up Vin. "Just think of JD's ex-girlfriend Maddy or that weird Achilles guy."

"I do not attract any such psychotic lunatics," insisted Ezra haughtily.

"No," agreed Chris, "you just attract mass chaos everywhere you go."

"So then," asked Vin, "what does Rafe attract?"

"Me?" Rafe asked, confused. "Why would you ask what I attract?"

"You smell like a Guide," said Vin, as if that explained everything.

That was enough to completely redirect Blair's attention. He looked expectantly at Jim, waiting to hear him confirm the younger Sentinel's words.

"Don't even think about asking me to sniff our coworkers." The exasperation in Jim's voice drew chuckles from both teams.

"Alright then." Blair was already looking for another way to investigate the new data. "Vin, do you think you could describe what a Guide smells like?"

"Describe it?" At Blair's encouraging nod, Vin pondered a moment. "It doesn't smell like just one thing, more like a combination of friendship, safety and home."

Blair wasn't entirely sure how to translate that answer.

Paying no heed, Vin continued, "Yeah, Ezra and you have the strongest scent, then JD. Rafe's is actually pretty mild."

"So maybe," theorized Blair, "Rafe's Guide abilities are latent, the way Jim's were for so long. Or maybe he's more like Chris. Chris possesses some heightened abilities but isn't a full Sentinel. Rafe might have some Guide abilities but not the whole package. Of course, that brings up another problem. I've never really done much work on trying to quantify Guide abilities. I'm not even sure where to start," he admitted.

"Pulling me out of a zone without having to pinch, hit or knock me out of my chair is certainly an appreciated ability," admitted Jim. He was certain that if Megan pinched him one more time, he couldn't be held responsible for his actions. "Hey, maybe I could help by developing some tests to measure your abilities," he suggested a bit too hopefully.

Blair suppressed a groan at Jim's all too eager desire for payback, and offered another thought. "Our first priority should be teaching Rafe how I help you manage your Sentinel abilities," he insisted. "That way I won't have to worry, like I did when Vice needed me undercover and you were working surveillance."

"I was fine," Jim asserted gruffly.

"Right," Megan tossed in sarcastically. "Fine. Three spikes and a migraine put you in such a good mood." She ought to know, she'd been stuck in a van with a grumpy Sentinel for eight hours.

Rafe sat still in his chair as others discussed the newest developments, trying to figure out what being a Guide (Latent Guide? Partial Guide?) might mean. He really hoped he wouldn't somehow become the new hostage du jour.

"Would you also be able to train JD to help Vin in my absence?" asked Ezra.

"You planning on going somewhere?" teased Vin.

Ezra replied in a far more serious tone, "We can't predict the future. Maude could . . ."

"We're not going to let Maude take you anywhere you don't want to go," Chris assured his son.

"I think," Ezra replied, "you're greatly underestimating Maude's ability to manipulate situations to her advantage."

"Ezra," said JD, waiting until his young friend looked his way. "I'd be happy to practice with Vin, if it would help you feel better." Ezra's smile was all the answer he needed.

"Vin," started Blair, "I thought it was interesting the way you described Guide scent, especially since our sense of smell is the one most likely to trigger strong memories and emotions. But I was hoping there might be a more analytical way to assess it."

"Not sure what you mean," admitted Vin.

"I need a concrete point of reference, instead of an ideal." When Vin still looked confused, Blair started giving examples. "Do Guides smell like lemons or cinnamon? Cedar or fresh cut grass?"

Vin's eyes grew wide as he finally understood Blair's problem. "You don't know what friendship smells like!" There was a hint of sadness in his voice as though he felt sorry for the elder Guide's obvious lack. Blair, on the other hand, was realizing that for Vin friendship was a concrete smell, not an ideal, and scenting it was no different than smelling a fresh baked apple pie.

Jim watched Blair struggle a moment with how to proceed before asking, "You aren't ready to give this up, are you?" The suddenly hopeful glimmer in Blair's eyes cemented Jim's decision. Man, he was such a spineless goober where his Guide was concerned. "Rafe, can I have your hand?"

Rafe held out his uninjured hand. Though he'd guessed what was coming it was still a little weird to have Jim turn his hand over and sniff at his wrist. Rafe felt Henry shift beside him and then draw in a breath. Knowing his partner all too well, Rafe promptly elbowed H in the gut. "Hey, what!" demanded Henry.

"Save the comedy routine for poker night," Rafe ordered.

Smirking at Rafe's partner management skills, Jim released the detective's hand and turned to the youngest ATF agent. "JD?" JD held out his hand, letting Jim repeat the process without comment, although he did notice a definite tensing from Larabee. It looked like the boys weren't the only ones he was protective of. Finished with JD, Jim saw Ezra squirming uncomfortably in his seat. "Relax, Ezra. I caught your scent earlier while we were fixing your shoulder." Turning back to Blair, Jim found his Guide literally bouncing with poorly disguised anticipation. "Minty sandalwood," came Jim's verdict.

"Minty sandalwood?" Blair made a mental note to pick up some mint and sandalwood to both refresh his own memory of their scents and see if Jim would be able to try to reproduce the Guide scent.

"There's also an underlying musk that varies from person to person. The minty sandalwood is the common scent that all four of you share," Jim explained.

"Man, this is so cool," enthused Blair. A knock on the door muted his excitement.

Rhonda poked her head in the room. "I'm sorry, Captain, but Robbery is chomping at the bit to interview Rafe, Agent Dunne and the boys about what happened at Sally's."

"Tell them we'll be done in five more minutes," Simon instructed. When the door closed again Simon recommended, "If there are any last minute bombshells, now would be the time to drop them. Otherwise, I suggest we exchange contact information and continue this discussion later, in more comfortable surroundings."

"Not to sound paranoid," volunteered Jim, "but there is a topic I think needs to be brought up. Since the 'dissertation disaster' it's been a matter of public record that I have heightened sight and hearing. But the only people who know I have the whole package, outside this room, are my Dad and brother, some Chopec Indians down in South America and a rogue CIA agent currently in prison for treason. I'm not sure whom he may have told but General Meister's study seemed conveniently timed in its release. I don't believe that our government is the dark evil monster that some do. The fact that the Army never reactivated me, even as an advisor, raises my faith in the military hierarchy by a notch. But we all know that there are people within the government who will take unethical actions to achieve their goals if they think they can get away with it. Probably the only upside to all the media attention we received is that no one can touch Sandburg or me without raising a lot of unpleasant questions."

"You think the boys may be in danger?" Chris's tone balanced between question and confirmation.

"I think now is the time to set up safety precautions so they can't be exploited in the future," Jim replied bluntly, accepting a slip of paper from the tall, mustached agent. Smiling as he passed it on to Blair. "You've bought a condo on Prospect, Agent Wilmington?"

"Yeah, a nice loft. JD will be rooming with me. Do you know the place?" asked Buck.

"Very well. Blair and I live in the loft kitty-corner to yours," Jim replied.

"Well, sounds like we just found the ideal place to hold our next get together, assuming you don't mind a few boxes, of course," said Buck.

"Assuming it's not as disastrous as your previous abode," Ezra commented teasingly.

"He's only been living there a few days," Vin pointed out. "It can't already be that messy."

"You're underestimating Mr. Wilmington's ability to proliferate clutter," countered Ezra. Chris just chuckled.

Persistent pounding on the door brought a response of, "Alright, already, we're just wrapping up!" from Simon, who opened the door to glare at the Robbery detectives on the other side.

Many of those gathered continued to scribble names and phone numbers on scraps of paper. Rain and Nathan had again hijacked Blair to answer a few more medical questions. Looking at the gathering of detectives and agents, the new family that included two boys and even a doctor, Jim realized that his clan was growing. That growth was certain to bring a lot of change, but his typical 'fear-based responses' remained silent. Jim had a feeling that good things would come with this change, and for once he welcomed it.