Frances ran as fast as she could through the trees. She wasn't going back, at least not alive. She had seen what had happened to the other kids when a guard got interested in one of them. The Hell Queen did nothing to stop the guards when they wanted to amuse themselves with one of the underage teens. As long as the kid could still work the next day the guards could do any thing they wanted. Frances Jean Quinn wasn't about to become a zombie. That's what the others called the kids who had been so abused their eyes were blank as if nothing was going on inside their heads. They went through the motions of working but they had shut down their minds. They had shut everything down, no longer feeling or caring about anything that was done to them.
So Frances ran as fast as her legs could carry her. She didn't stop till the adrenaline fueling her panic had run dry, calming her down enough to think what to do. Only three kids had tried running that summer, they had two days in the wilds before Thomas, the head guard, was sent after them. A bear had found the two who had run off together. Thomas had discovered what was left and had brought the remains back to camp. Everyone had been made to look at the mangled bodies before they were buried. The other kid had been brought back cold, tired and scared. The Hell Queen beat the shit out of him with a riding crop while the entire camp watched. The next day he was back at work as if nothing had happened. He couldn't stand up straight or walk without a limp but work he did or risk another beating. While she had been on kitchen duty Frances had eavedropped on two of the guards while they were eating. They had been joking that the kid had been easy to find. He had been going around in circles when Thomas found him.
Frances had to think. She had maybe two days to run before Thomas came after her. How would she keep from going in circles? How would she keep from being eaten? Taking time to look around she noticed there was a slant to the land. Of course the camp was on top of a mountain. They had figured that out early after one of the smaller kids had climbed up a tree as high as she could to see if there was anything outside the camp. The only thing she had seen had been mountains and more trees. Frances would try to keep going down hill to keep from going in circles and pray that she ran into a forest ranger before she ran into anything else. She told herself to keep walking, keep walking till it got too dark to see or she dropped from exhaustion, than crawl if she needed to. She wasn't going back to camp and what waited for her there.
+ + + + + + +
Vin followed the older man into the woods. As long as Ellison was with him and away from Ezra, he was comfortable. For some reason, Vin just didn't want the Cascade's sentinel too near his guide. Vin didn't dislike the older sentinel but he wasn't sure he liked him either, which was unusual for Vin. He ordinarily could make up his mind about someone pretty fast, always had been a good judge of character. One thing Vin could tell right up front was Jim Ellison was a dangerous man, a whole lot like Vin himself.
"Hey old man, are we going somewhere or are we just going to walk all day." They had been walking for a while now and Vin was getting bored. He liked being out in the woods but they weren't taking the time to look at anything, just walking.
"Kid. . . don't call me old man."
"Don't call me a kid then."
Vin tried to think of something to talk about, wishing Ezra were here to carry on the conversation for him. Ellison wasn't offering up anything. It was always easier to listen and pick out what information he needed than to ask questions. What could he ask to get the other man talking? The only thing out here were the trees and the. . . .
"What's up with the big cats? The cougar I can understand, this being his backyard. But the black jaguar belongs in South America."
Jim stopped and turned to the younger man. "You can see the cats?"
"You know about spirit animals?"
"You don't talk a lot do ya?"
"Nope." Jim sighed. He wasn't used to being the one to explain anything doing with sentinel matters, that was Blair's job. Blair was the shaman, the teacher and the guide; the one who understood or could figure out what the hell was going on. Not him. . . He wasn't the kind of guy to start a dialogue with an almost stranger even if he was a fellow sentinel. . . hell.
"The black panther is my spirit animal and the cougar must be yours. If your spirit animal shows up its trying to tell you something, talk to your guide and figure it out. Your lives could depend on it or the life of a member of your tribe."
Vin knew about spirit animals. One of the foster homes he had been sent to as a kid was run by an American Indian family that lived just off the reservation. The grandfather had taught him all kinds of neat stuff about the Indian culture. He had been allowed to spend time on reservation with the grandfather. It was one of the better memories he had of his childhood.
"What about the wolves?" They had come up to a couple of fallen trees, Jim moved to sit on the trunk of one of them, if they were going to talk they might as well be comfortable. Vin followed giving Jim space as he sat across on the other dead tree. He waited for the senior sentinel to speak.
"Sandburg's spirit guide is a great gray wolf. I haven't seen Standish's." Jim told Vin.
"Ez's is a Red Wolf." Vin answered, shaking his head at the humor of it. "He would have an endangered species for a spirit guide." Jim was beginning to see a kindred sprit in the younger sentinel so unlike Alex Barnes. Barnes had been alone, a choice she made when she became a criminal. Vin Tanner had a guide and a team as family to back him up. He also had a sense of humor.
"They're trouble magnets you know." Jim told him.
"Yeah, I kind of guessed that."
"Part of the job is to keep them safe. Sandburg is usually helping someone when the shit hits the fan."
Vin studied a small bug crawling across the tip of his shoe as he listened. He knew where Jim was coming from. Ezra always seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Ezra did his best to stop the bad guys even if it meant he'd be hurt during the process. Vin waited for more.
"The guide is the center of a sentinel's world. The guide makes it possible for you to do your job and keep your sanity. If you forget that, then you've lost it all. I had to learn that lesson the hard way, before I did. I got Blair killed, not once but twice." Jim looked off into the trees to mull over what he was going to say next.
Vin would wait. In the forest he had learn to be patient. He was good at it if what he was waiting for was important. Jim began to speak again.
"I grew up being taught that I didn't need anyone to help me get through life. Everyone I ever relied on left or betrayed me. Had a hard time trusting Blair, trusting him not to do the same thing. Forced him away once and a rogue sentinel drowned him in a fountain."
"Drowned, as in breathe your last?"
"As declared dead by the paramedics. A miracle brought him back to me. But I still hadn't learned my lesson. I should have talked to him about my fears and his. The second time he destroyed his academic life, the one he had before becoming my guide. He did it to allow me to keep my life the way it was. Both times I should have trusted him and I didn't."
"So you're telling me to trust Ezra. Hell, I already do that."
"I'm telling you to talk to him, let him know you trust him and want him to be your guide. Tell him what you're afraid of, it's probably the same thing he is." Vin looked up from his study of the bug on his shoe. Jim had his full attention.
"You're afraid he doesn't really want to be your guide and you're willing to force him away if that's what he wants or if it will keep him safe. Ezra doesn't believe he's good enough to be your guide and will leave so you can have someone better." Jim enjoyed the surprised look on the kid's face. He hit the biggest problem the two were having right on the head, but then it was one of the same problems he and Blair had had.
"Damn. You read minds too?" asked Vin.
"No, but sometimes I think my shaman does."
"Blair?" When Jim nodded his head in agreement, Vin added. "Wondered why he reminded me of the grandfather. That explains it."
"No, his daughter ran one of the foster homes I lived in as a kid. He was an Indian shaman and still lived on the reservation. He visited his daughter's family a lot and I was allowed to visit him on the reservation. Blair reminds me of him."
"He's the one who taught you about spirit animals?"
"Yeah and not to be afraid of ghosts." Jim's head shot up at those words and he stared at the younger man. "You see ghosts?"
"Yeah, don't you?"
"None that I'm willing to admit to." Jim shook his head. He'd have to tell Blair about Vin seeing ghosts. Let Blair run tests on someone else for a change, but only if he was in the room with them. Jim was willing to bet that Ezra wouldn't be willing to allow Vin and Blair to go off on their own either.
"This grandfather didn't know you were a guardian?"
"He might have, I didn't understand all he tried to tell me; I was kinda young. He did tell me that one-day I'd have the family I dreamed of and fulill my destiny. I got the family when I met Chris and the others. Guess Ezra is the part about being able to fulfill my destiny." Both men were quiet for a while, listening to the sounds around them. Jim was getting curious about this skinny kid from Denver. Blair mentioned that Vin had been in the Army.
"What ya muster out as kid?"
"A full Lieutenant, Army Rangers, Special Ops. . . You?"
"Captain, Rangers, Black Ops." Vin already knew that, he had heard of Ellison while he was still in the Army. After Peru, the man had become a legend within the Rangers. But still he'd like to hear it from the man himself. So he asked. "A full spook?"
"No, just part time spook, full time muscle behind the intelligence." Jim and Vin thought about the Army for a while when Jim added. "Ya going to have to watch out for what Blair calls the shadow people." Vin waited, needing a better explanation of shadow people
"Think about it kid, military types would love nothing better than to get their hands on us. Hopefully, to work for them and not to be caged and experimented on in some hidden laboratory." Vin couldn't stop the shudder that ran through him at the thought of being locked away and. . . . "The guys would come looking for me," he said to reassure himself.
"If they can and if they aren't made to believe you're dead."
"What about Ezra?"
"Don't know how much they know about the importance of our guides. If they would grab them or not. Either way Blair and I don't intend to be taken anywhere against our wills. We have plans to disappear if we need to. You might think about that yourself and make plans just in case."
Vin's mood turned black. It all seemed so simple once he found out what was going on with his senses. With Ezra and the rest of the team to back him there didn't seem to be anything they couldn't handle together; especially once Ezra had found them teachers to show them the ropes. Now he had to worry about the shadow government agents. He remembered all too well what it was like in Special Forces and knew Jim was right. There were groups within groups within groups that no one talked about. But they had a bad habit of showing up and taking what they wanted or whomever they wanted. No one could say no and you were lucky to get back alive from one of their jobs. Vin had been lucky and never been sent for but he knew of a few who had. They were never seen again. Their platoon were told they been reassigned and not to asked questions about their disappearance.
"Lieutenant Tanner, it's not that bad, for all we know they know nothing about you or your guide. Just be prepared to move if the need ever comes up."
"Don't call me Lieutenant. I put all that behind me. I ain't calling ya Captain."
"Just don't call me old man. . . kid." Vin let the kid go by, "What we are. . . it's not. . ." Vin was having trouble putting his thoughts into words not sure if he wanted to hear the answer if he voiced the question. It would be all too real then. Jim seemed to understand.
"We are not crazy, or abnormal or freaks. We have gifts and it's how we use those gifts that makes us good or evil. We can be the guardians of the tribe. Or we could be very successful crooks. But you would have to be willing to hurt those who can't protect them selves. Starting with your guide." Vin looked shocked at the idea of harming Ezra or of harming anyone who wasn't a criminal; never an innocent. He'd had enough of that in the Army.
Vin's stomach growled. It was time to change the subject. He pointed at the bag Jim was carrying and asked.
"What did Blair pack us for lunch?" Jim tossed the carrier to Vin. "After we eat I'll tell you about a few tricks with the senses that I've learned over the years. Like how to pick your guide out of a crowd by his heartbeat..."
+ + + + + + +
Chris and Simon fished the stream for a mile in both directions before finding a spot for a late lunch. Most of what they caught they released back into the water. They needed to stay within the legal size of the fish they were allowed to catch and keep, as well as not wanting to take more out of the stream than they could eat that night.
They sat on boulders near the water's edge under a shady tree, watching as it rushed by as they ate their lunch. Both men had paid attention to their footing while fishing, not wanting to end up in the fast moving water. Getting wet would have been the lesser of two evils. The stream was narrow in spots with the water rushing wildly over and around the rocks. In a few places the stream widened and slowed to form deep pools. Chris and Simon were big men and weren't in any real danger but water filled waders would have made getting out difficult and uncomfortable.
Conversation had been kept minimal. The two hard working lawmen avoided the subject of sentinels and guides for a while to get some fishing in. It wasn't often either man got any free time and by an unspoken agreement they decided to enjoy it.
Chris put his sandwich wrappers back into the insulated carrier. He didn't recognize the filling, but having been on stakeout with Josiah and Nathan a few times, he had gotten used to trying new food concoctions. Some of what they came up with were actually tasty. This one had been good and he'd be willing to bet it was healthy too. The Cascade guide looked as if he was health conscious, taking care of his friends as best he could, even if he didn't tell him what he was feeding them. Pulling an apple out of the bag he bit into it and looked over at Simon who was still working on finishing his second sandwich.
"What is it you want to ask me?" invited Simon. The ATF agent had to have questions about the whole sentinel/guide thing. More importantly to the agent was the fact that the two men involved were his friends as well as people under his command.
"How does he do it? How does Ellison do his job and not endanger himself or the people working with him?" This was Chris'biggest concern, the zones frightened him more than he wanted to admit. Chris couldn't allow his friendship with Vin to endanger the rest of the team.
"It's having a guide, Blair has taught that hard headed loner how to use his senses, taught the rest of us in Major Crimes a few things as well." Simon put his trash away but decided to forgo the apples. He leaned back against his rock and relaxed before continuing his narrative.
"The zones that I know of were never long or too serious, someone or something would distract Jim and h'd come out of them. Lord only knows what they didn't tell me and the truth was in the beginning, I didn't understand or want to know what was going on with those two."
"It's to my shame I didn't take a more active part," Simon admitted. "I might have kept some of the troubles that came their way later from happening. At the very least I could have kept the lines of communication open between them. A lot of what happened to my men came about because they weren't talking to each other." Chris kept quiet as he listened to Simon Banks. Banks was someone who had gone through what he was just about to start and he didn't want to make the same mistakes Banks had.
"On the job, Blair is at Jim's side most of the time, they're partners. There's something about having his guide close by that allows Jim to use his senses without problems. Even when Blair's not there, Jim doesn't zone. At least he hasn't in almost a year, thanks to Blair making Jim practice his controls. Of course Blair has everyone in Major Crimes trained in what to watch out for, and can head a zone off." Simon paused, thinking over what he just said. "I shouldn't make it sound like Jim needs continuous supervision, he doesn't. He can work on his own, but he excels with his guide by his side, especially when they're on a crime scene. Some of the things Blair has come up with to utilize Jim's senses have been remarkable. Off the job, they still stay close to one another. At first they were roommates. After Blair graduated from the police academy he moved into the apartment next door to Jim's. Close enough for Jim to hear his guide's heartbeat, that's important." Chris thought all this over and asked, "You said Ellison hasn't zoned in almost a year. Will Vin master his senses eventually and won't need a guide?"
"No, a sentinel needs his guide and I'm guessing that the job's a life-long one. You'll have to ask Blair about that. He's the only expert on sentinels in the civilized world that I know of. What position does Vin have on your team?"
"Vin is our sniper, he's often somewhere high and alone as he watches a bust go down, covering our backs. How will he be able to do that if he goes into a zone?"
"Does he always work alone, without contact from the others on your team?"
"No, only when he's needed as a sniper. Even than he has a headset that keeps him in contact with us. He works closely within the team most of the time."
"If he's in contact with the rest of his team he shouldn't zone with someone talking to him." But then again asked Blair. "What's Ezra place on the team?" inquired Simon.
"Undercover agent, the best in the ATF. There will be situations where he could be under for weeks at a time. How will he be able to guide Vin?"
"Either they go under together or Vin's his contact on the outside or Ezra doesn't go at all. . . unless." Simon was thinking how different the two sentinels were. "Unless Vin isn't as possessive as Jim is."
Simon knew there was no way Jim would ever allow Blair to work undercover away from him. Most of the time his detectives worked in pairs, not getting
ogether unless they were all working a big case. They were two different men with two different backgrounds and different ways of functioning on the job. Vin Tanner was used to working closely with all his coworkers. They could step in and watch over the new sentinel, like the other members of the Major Crimes unit now did after Blair trained them in what to watch out for.
"Possessive?" Chris was listening carefully and wondered what the Cascade's captain meant by possessive.
"Don't mess with the guide, even one that's capable of taking care of himself." Simon told him. "Blair says it has to do with Sentinels being territorial and the guide being the center of that territory."
"Makes it sound as if Ellison controls Sandburg." Simon started laughing. When he finally calmed down he explained. "I have seen the meanest, deadliest criminals wet themselves from one of Jim's icy death glares. At the same time that short, hairy anthropologist, neo- hippie wannabe, even before he became a cop, would get in Jim's personal space and back him down. Whenever he thinks Jim is in the wrong or trying to intimidate him, the man refuses to back down even when he should. Hell half the time I can't intimidate him and I'm his boss as well as being a foot taller and thirty pounds heavier."
"Yeah I figure he had to be a force to be reckoned with by the way you and Ell. . . Jim treat him. But you still haven't explained what you mean by Vin not being as possessive as Jim." Chris was beginning to think of the Cascades police officers as friends and really wanted to know.
"Vin doesn't strike me as being as closed off emotionally as Jim was when all the sentinel stuff started. Closer friendships with his co-workers for one thing, as well as being comfortable with telling you and your team up front about being a sentinel. It took a major dilemma for Jim to open up with the others at Major Crimes and by then most of them had guessed the truth. Damn, I'm beginning to sound like Blair, the kid's rubbing off on me. I should have never let him talk me into taking those psychology classes."
"That must come in handy when dealing with your men."
"Well you've got more people than I have. We borrow from other teams when we need a female agent." Chris told him. "You haven't told me why Jim didn't let the others know."
"Jim has problems with trust and allowing people to get too close to him. He was one mean cold- hearted SOB before Sandburg broke past all his walls and settled in. It took a while, but no matter how badly Jim treated him, Blair hung in there, proving he wouldn't leave. It's something to do with being a guide I think. Hell, it must be a guide thing. Anyone else would have left the first time he was held hostage or kidnapped."
"Why do I think there's got to be stories behind those statements." asked Chris.
When we get back to civilization we'll sit down and have a drink and I'll tell you about the serial killer who kidnapped him or the time the police station was taken over by a militia group holding everyone inside hostage."
Chris wasn't sure to believe Simon Banks or not. Cascade must be one hell of a dangerous city. "Anything else I need to know?"
"Probably a lot, but most of it you have to experience for yourself. Your pairings are different than mine, so their needs will be different. The most important thing I can pass on to you are to make sure the lines of communication stay open, and never get between one of them if the other one is hurt. They will do anything to get to the side of the one that is suffering. If both of them are injured, be sure to put them together. If they're in the hospital, make sure they're in the same room, if elsewhere put them in the same bed. Touching is important; it grounds the sentinel and lets him know his guide is safe. The guide needs to know where his sentinel is and won't rest until he does. And they will be restless if you don't. Turn your back and they'll be out of bed and hunting for their partner."
"So that explains it." At Simon's raised eyebrow Chris gave him details. "Anytime one of us gets hurt there is a standing order to put us in the same room. Soon after the team was created Vin and Ezra both got hurt on a case. Ezra disappeared from his room at the hospital. We found him wandering the halls in a daze as he searched for Vin who was on another floor. He fought the orderlies and us, wouldn't go back to his room, wouldn't let anyone near him. Josiah managed to talk him into a wheelchair only after promising him they'd go see Vin first before going back to his room. From then on the hospital's staff decided it was less work if they kept us together."
"Partners get better quicker if they're together. Guess the same goes for teammates." Simon got to his feet. "If we want baked-fish- ala-Sandburg we better get going."
"A guide and a cook?"
"Don't tell him but he's a better cook than either Jim or me. I've been looking forward to this meal all week."
"Than lets go."
+ + + + + + +
The fish supper turned out better than Chris expected even after Simon's praise. The fact Ezra was helping Blair cook surprised Chris more than the excellent meal. But then both Vin and Ezra were acting different; more comfortable in their new rolls as sentinel and guide. Whatever had gone on today between the sentinels and guides went a long way in putting Vin and Ezra at ease. They were actually being playful with each other where outsiders could see them. The group sat by the fire after supper roasting marshmallows. Vin tried to get Ezra to eat a sticky s'more. The city kid wasn't sure he wanted to try the sticky marshmallow and melted chocolate treat. But than Ezra wasn't sure about eating any food that was cooked at the end of a wooden stick. It was so alien from anything he'd known before, but he was trying to be one of the guys. So he took the gram-cracker mess apprehensively and bit into it. His eyes flew open; this was good. He stuffed the rest in his mouth and chewed.
Vin had put extra chocolate in the s'more, he knew Ezra was as big a chocoholic as he was, only his guide tried to hide the fact. Vin laughed at Ezra as melted chocolate smeared his cheek and got all over his fingers. Ezra was trying to decide if he should get something to wiped them clean or if it would be all right to lick the chocolate off his fingers. Vin didn't think anything of licking his fingers of the chocolate mess as he sat by the fire roasting more marshmallows. Maybe he could too, maybe just this once he could. Ezra popped one chocolate- covered finger in his mouth and sucked it clean. Heavenly.
"You want another one Ez?" Ezra shook his head yes, he was busy sucking the rest of the chocolate off the rest of his fingers to answered verbally. Vin turn back to watching the marshmallow he was roasting. He'd take care of Ez and give him some of the experiences he had missed out on growing up. Ezra was more than his guide, he was Vin's friend and always would be, just like the rest of the Team Seven, only more so.
Blair watch the byplay between the Denver's sentinel and guide with a smile as he leaned against Jim who had just handed him his own s'more. The cooks were being exempt from making their own desserts. That afternoon Blair had made the Denver pair sit down and talk over their fears. Included in the conversation was what their futures might entail. It cleared the air, they were more relaxed and confident in their relationship now. Vin would take good care of his guide, as Ezra would his sentinel. Blair had been planning on giving the pair more time to get used to being guardians of the tribe before bringing up Ezra's empathy abilities to Vin and Chris, but his shaman's instincts were telling him now was the time.
"Guys there something else you must get out in the open. Secrets are dangerous, not just between sentinel and guide, but to your chiefdom as well. Simon is our boss, our chief (Blair indicated Jim and himself) and he knows stuff he'd rather not know. But it's important he understand what's going on with us just in case he has to step in and put something to right."
"You mean cover your ass, don't you Sandburg?" Put in Simon.
Blair ignored the interruption. "He knows that I'm a shaman as well as Jim's guide." Chris looked at the longhaired man. "Shaman?" He questioned that part of the statement.
Chris had talked to Nathan and had found out having a heightened sense like hearing, smell, touch, sight and taste were not abnormal. There were many instances of people having one or two heightened senses, it was just unusual for one person to have all of them at one time. Having someone to help them (a guide) was reasonable too. But a shaman? Didn't a shaman deal with magic? That was asking too much for Chris to accept.
Blair smiled at Chris' skepticism, "One who is connected to the spiritual plain, who recognizes and can translate the meanings of the unseen. Schooled and forever learning of traditions involving magic, healing, nature and divination over natural events."
Vin didn't seem surprised and seemed to understand, Ezra looked anxious. For now Chris would accept and get Vin to explain it to him later. It was Ezra he was watching now, the Southerner seen restless.
"Sorry Ezra," Blair said. "I wanted to give you more time to get used to it. But if past camping trips have taught me anything, it's the need to get the important matters out in the open. Before anything comes up and prevents us from talking about it. Vin needs to learn how to help you with your abilities the same way you help him with his senses."
"Vin has sufficient matters to deal with other than being concerned about ma state of being. Ah'm sure Ah can manage without assistance." Ezra tried to get up but Vin caught his arm and held him in place.
"What does he mean Ez?"
"It's nothing and Ah'm sure he's mistaken. Ma migraines are just headaches and nothing more." He shot Blair a pleading look to change the subject. Chris got up from where he had been sitting and moved over to sit beside Ezra and Vin. It placed the undercover man between them cutting off any chance of escape. He gave the Southerner's shoulder a squeeze in support.
Ezra shook his head. "It's of no importance, we're not here for me. Vin is the one we came here for." Chris gave Ezra's shoulder a shake. "Ezra Standish, you are as much my little brother as Vin or JD are and if there's something up with you I want to know about it. If I can handle Vin being a sentinel I can take whatever's troubling you." Chris told him. Vin added his share too.
"That goes double for me Ez, you're my brother of choice, my friend and lastly my guide. Sentinel or not, I'll stand beside you, if you like it or not, so talk." Ezra shook his head, "You won't believe it, Ah'm not sure Ah believe it maself. Blair would you explain your theory?" He really didn't want to talk about it.
"Ezra is an empath, he feels the emotions of others. Probably has all his life but not as strongly as now, after meeting his sentinel. As a child he wouldn't have known he was doing it, and subconsciously built mental shielding to protect himself. He has been doing it so long that as an adult he's not conscious of it or the need to keep his shields in place. When he's tired his natural shielding goes down and he is overwhelmed by people's emotions, thus the headaches."
"He gets migraines at the office. Even when it's just the team?" started Chris. ."How often is it after a long undercover assignment that he gets a migraine? Or is there an emotional upset within the people surrounding him when he gets a migraine?"
The ATF agents thought it over before replying, they wanted more information.
"Why not while he is undercover?" asked Vin in concern.
"He's on the guard, he's in danger and knows it. He subconsciously pours his energy into his shields, it'd be after he feels safe that he crashes. Which might be the problem when he gets back with his friends. His teammates are men he trusts and feels safe with. He doesn't feel the need to keep his shields up with them and doesn't have the energy to hold them up any more. This is where Vin could help."
"How can I help Ezra?" demanded Vin. He wouldn't allow Ezra to be in pain if he could help it.
"First the sentinel/guide bond might act as a protective barrier that Ezra can mentally stand behind. There also...." Blair hunted for the words for something that didn't have a name or a description. "Jim can give me his strength when I'm tired, when I've pushed myself beyond my limits, or when I don't have enough strength by myself to do a task. It's as if he adds his energy to mine."
"How?" All of a sudden, Jim was the center of attention. He pulled off the well-browned marshmallow he had been roasting and sandwiched it between chocolate and graham crackers. Reluctantly, he handed the treat he was making for himself to his boss before he addressed the group.
"It's a sentinel thing that helps keep the guide healthy. Found out about it after I found Darwin here," Jim tugged at one of Blair's curls, "collapsed in the middle of the loft after a week of giving exams and grading tests at Rainier University, as well as taking his own, when he was still part of that world. He was also spending time on stakeout with me when he should have been sleeping. Figured out later he was getting less than five hours of sleep a night on the few nights he was home." "Jimmm. . . stick to the subject, tell them what you did." Blair told his sentinel then mumbled to himself, "and he complains I can't get to the point." Jim smiled at his guide's discomfort. When it was Blair's turn to be the subject under discussion, he didn't like giving up any details. But he decided not to tease his friend any more on this topic, at least tonight.
"After I got him off the floor, I placed my hand on his chest and felt how weak his heartbeat was. I wanted. . . needed to do something, to give him my strength to make him better. It was like I willed my strength into him through our bond. I don't know how it worked, but it did. Didn't tell him at the time, it made me uncomfortable that I could do it and I sure didn't want him to go running tests on a new ability. Now I can touch him anytime and still give him help when he needs it."
"How did you know to do that?" demanded Vin. There seemed to be a lot he wasn't getting on how to care for his guide. He needed a book or something on the care and feeding of guides.
Jim shook his head, "I'm not sure how I knew to do it, I just did. My guide was beyond exhausted and I needed to do something. Call it Sentinel's instinct, suddenly I knew that I could, so I did and it worked."
"Don't forget it makes you tired as well. Giving weakens the donor, the more strength given the more tired the donor gets." Blair wanted to be sure Vin understood the drawbacks.
"Does it harm him?" asked Ezra. He wouldn't allow Vin to do anything that would cause him injury.
"No," Jim answered for himself, "I get tired yes, but a good night's sleep puts me back to rights. It would take longer for my guide to get over his exhaustion on his own, if he got over it, and didn't end up in the hospital."
"Jim" warned Blair. Jim was getting into an area neither agreed on. He didn't like being force-fed his sentinel's energy. When it was necessary to help with his shaman duties was one thing. but Jim seemed to want to do it every time he got tired. Blair feared it would harm his friend somehow. Vin and Ezra would have to work out a balance between them; between the give and take.
"Chief" answered Jim, he and his guide had had this argument before and he wouldn't be the one to give in. He'd do anything to keep his guide safe. It was Simon who reminded them they had an audience.
"Chris, you seen to be handling this latest development well." said Simon.
"What can I say? I always thought Marina Sirtis was hot so I paid attention to her part. If I'm understanding all this correctly Ezra's abilities are the same as her character's."
"Cool. I hadn't thought of that," beamed Blair, "You're right." Vin and Ezra looked at each other and Vin shrugged his shoulders. "Who's Marina Sirtis?" Four pairs of eyes turned to the younger sentinel and guide. It was Blair who answered. "1987 Star Trek: The Next Generation, she played Counselor Deanna Troi, an empath."
"Oh, Ah rarely partake to any great extent in viewing television programs. Ah must have missed it." said Ezra
"Same here, most the time I didn't have a TV to watch." Vin added. "But you haven't explained how I'm going to help Ezra keep from getting migraines."
"The same way he helps you with your senses and learning not to zone. Practicing what you can do, what you know can be done and learning to do more. Ezra's got to learn all that and more." Blair told the pair, "Think of your abilities as muscles that need to be strengthened. The more you practice the stronger they get. Vin won't zone and Ezra won't be overwhelmed by emotions. The bond between sentinel and guide is mental as well as spiritual. The longer the two of you are together the stronger it will become. Through that bond Vin can help Ezra to block out other people's emotions from his mind and give him extra strength when he needs it. Through the bond, Vin will always be grounded and will be able to learn how not to be overwhelmed by sensory input from the world around him."
"And if the two of you can't figure it out, the rest of us will be at your side ready to help." Chris told them, "Josiah is itching to get involved. He's been rereading Burton's works and has a few ideas he wants to run by you already, and this new development's not going to throw him."
"Our profiler was new age before they had a name for it; he undoubtedly has more familiarity about such things than we do," agreed Ezra.
The men from Denver had a lot to think about, and the sentinel and guide were tired from the emotional day they had had. While Ezra's usual bedtime was far later, he decided to retire early. He had a lot to think over and didn't want to discuss it with his friends just yet. The others were ready to call it a night as well. After cleaning up the camp sight and making sure there was nothing left out to attract animals into their camp, the six men crawled into their tents.
Vin got into his sleeping bag. Ezra was already in his. "You doing alright Ez?" Ezra had his back to his sentinel and didn't reply, pretending to be asleep.
"Ez, I can tell by your heartbeat that you're not asleep." Ezra sighed and spoke sentinel soft. "Ah always knew when to run, when someone was dangerous to be around, even when no one else believed me. Ah always assumed Ah was just good at reading people. Now Ah find Ah was just some kind of freak." He was unprepared for the swat to the back of his head. He started to turn to protest but the strong hands of his sentinel started to kneel his shoulders working on the knots he knew were there.
Vin kept it up till he could feel the stiffness ease a little, before he spoke. "Am I a freak?"
"NO!" Ezra tried to turn around and reassure his friend but Vin's hold on his shoulders kept him from doing so. "Of course not." He whispered softer to Vin who never stopped rubbing at the stress- caused knots in the shoulders under his hands
"Than why in hell do ya think you are, if I'm not."
"Because. . . that's different. . . you're different." Ezra wanted to protest but the sensitive fingers of his sentinel were finding all the knots in his muscles and working them out, making him relaxed. Vin's next words went a long way in getting rid of his anxiety.
"We've both got gifts we used as kids to keep ourselves safe, even if we weren't aware of it at the time. Now we use those same abilities to help others. We are the good guys, hell, we're almost superheroes." Ezra chuckled softly at that statement. Sleepily, he listened to his friend talk and let the warm emotions of his sentinel wash over him. Vin kept talking.
"The only difference now is we've got a chance to learn how to use our gifts better. It will make us better cops and we'll be able to put more of the bad guys away." Vin smiled in the darkness, Ezra's slower breathing and steady heartbeat told him his guide was asleep. He settled into his own sleeping bag and adjusted his hearing down a few notches to quiet the background noises but not the heartbeat of his guide, allowing the steady beat to lull him to sleep.
Over in the far tent Blair was waiting for his sentinel to return. Jim was walking the perimeter making sure there was nothing in the area to worry about. He was turning the lamp down when Jim made his way into their tent. "All safe mighty hunter?" He asked.
"Yes, and the children are asleep. They seen to be handling everything with each other's help."
"Good, that's the way it's supposed to be." Blair yawned, ready to go to sleep himself, but Jim didn't seen ready to turn in yet. "Was there something else?"
"Yeah, I remember the word test coming up a lot when you were first helping me learn how to gain control over my senses. But you hadn't used that word once since we got here. How come?"
Blair raised his head to look at his sentinel. "Cause you taught me how much you hated that word. Your stress levels went through the roof every time that I brought up the subject of tests. You didn't mind exercising or practicing your abilities or even setting goals to achieve, but you didn't want to test them." Blair settled back down but chuckled when Jim said.
"Good, no more tests for me either."
+ + + + + + +
Frances had spent the night under a fir tree; its low hanging branches hid her from sight and from the wind. She had slept curled up in a ball hugging the tree trunk to keep warm. The sun was high over head before she woke up and crawled out from her nest. Exhaustion and fear had taken their toll and she had slept longer than she should have. Getting up she started walking down hill again. She had been walking for hours when she realized that the sound of running water was making her thirsty. She changed her course and headed toward that sound. The sound also made her hungry, reminding her she hadn't eaten or drank anything since yesterday afternoon.
She kept going toward that sound till she found the wide bubbly stream. Walking across the rocks to the water's edge she almost fell in her haste to quench her thirst. Drinking her fill of the sweet clear liquid, she wished she had something to eat to go with it. Sitting on a rock, she watched the fast moving water. A fish jumped breaking the surface of the water and dove back in again, surprising her. If only she could get her hands on that fish she'd be willing to eat it raw.
Frances had no idea how to catch the fish and the water in the middle of the stream looked deep and it was flowing too fast for her to go wading in to try. Her attention was drawn to her feet where tiny lobsters were swimming around the rock she was sitting on; no not lobsters, crawfish. They only looked like tiny gray lobsters. Well she ate sushi; she could eat raw crawfish.
The next hour was devoted to catching all the crawfish she could find around and under the rocks in the shallows. She hit them with a small rock till she broke their shells to dig out the meat. Her hunger drove her to eat what she would have normally turned her nose up at. The din of the fast flowing water breaking against the rocks kept her from hearing the sounds being made by a grizzly bear as it worked it's way through the under brush on it's route down to the water's edge. It was the smell that made her look up from her hunt. There, not ten feet away from her was a monster, huge and deadly looking. Frances couldn't stop the whimpers of fear from escaping her mouth. She was going to be eaten alive by a bear. With each step the bear took to get closer to the water, Frances took a step backward into the stream to get away from the beast. Each footstep took her farther out into deeper waters.
The grizzly bear was thirsty, and after eating his fill of a dead dear he had found this morning, he wanted nothing more than to get a long drink of water and take a nap. He wasn't hungry so he didn't pay much attention to the small creature in the water. After eating the dead carcass (a carcass that had been dead for a while) he couldn't get a good scent off of the unusual being. The bear wrinkled his nose, pulling back his lips and sticking out his tongue to get a better taste of it's smell. The creature screamed. The sound hurt the bear's ears. The smell was clear now, fear. Was there danger nearby? Something the bear was unaware of? Rearing back on his hind legs the bear stretched himself up to his full high of ten feet to take a good look around.
Frances screamed when the bear showed his teeth; she knew it was going to attack her at any moment. She had to get away, she had to get across the stream. Frances struggled against the current, the water was moving too fast. She lost her footing on the slippery rocks and the water pulled her under only to bring her up again further downstream. Frances now had a new battle on her hands as she fought to keep from drowning as the current swept her away.
The bear looked all round and didn't see anything to be alarmed about, so he went back down to stand on all four legs and got his drink. Where did the noisy creature go? He hadn't wanted to eat it, not after the deer. Not that it looked or smelled like something he'd want to put his teeth into. The bear yawned, forgetting all about the strange creature. There was a nap to take and he knew a sunny spot to take it in.
+ + + + + + +
While the others spent the day practicing their sentinel/guide skills, Chris and Simon had another enjoyable day of fishing. They were about to pack up and head back to camp when Chris noticed a lump of clothing caught against the rocks in the shallows. Thinking unpleasant thoughts about the arrogant campers who left their laundry behind them to foul up the park, Chris bent down to pick up the soggy mess when it groaned.
"What? "He bent down turning over the pile of clothes to discover a child.
"Simon get over here." Simon hurried over, after taking one look he turned and bellowed. "Jim, Vin get the first aid kit and get over here. Bring Blair and Ezra." They quickly checked the girl for obvious damage before getting her out of the water and up on shore. They covered her with their jackets to get her warm.
"Think they heard you?" Chris asked.
"We'll give them ten minutes than start back to the camp."
It didn't take that long for the sentinels and their guides to make their way to the fishermen's location on the banks of the stream.
+ + + + + + +
Chris walked back to the camp sight after getting off his cellphone with JD. He had been forced to find a clear area to get his call out even with the satellite connection. JD promised to call back in two hours after checking on the girl and her story. In the mean time, Chris was going to keep a close watch on her.
He wasn't sure what to make of her story. What kind of parent sends their child off to camp without checking the place out thoroughly? Or at least checking on the kid some time during the summer. And the drugs? Both Jim and Vin swore they smelled ammonia on her clothes; a tell-tail sign of criminal crystal meth manufacturing.
And the sentinels had monitored her heartbeat and respiration during the story and declared she was telling the truth. Ezra put in his two cents, the girl was terrified as well. Calling on his own childhood memories he added that the dropping off of children for the summer camps was often done by servants straight from school. Parents weren't even in the loop in those cases. Chris couldn't understand it; a child was a gift. How could anyone not want them around?
Frances wasn't sure what to think of these big men who had pulled her out of the water and wrapped her in their coats. They hadn't tried anything and it turned out they were cops. What were the chances of that happening? She had been hoping for a forest ranger and got cops instead. She started to giggle but forced herself to stop before she gave into the laughter. She might not be able to stop. She was safe for the first time since she left home and was light-headed with relief.
The longhaired cop told her his partner was an ex-army medic and wanted to check her out for any broken bones and to see it she was hurt anywhere. She got scared but the soft-spoken Southern cop reassured her that they wouldn't do anything she was uncomfortable with. The big cop ran his hands down her arms and legs. He checked her neck, back and chest barely touching her, for which she was grateful. She wasn't ready for anyone to touch her too much, not yet. After that they gave her clean clothes to wear and a private place to change in and food.
Chris walked over to where Simon, Jim, and Vin where standing. They were watching the girl eat. She was a little thing, under five feet and they would bet she didn't weight fifty pounds wet. They hadn't wanted to scare her by their size; she was scittish enough with Jim. Only the reassurances she got from Blair and Ezra had allowed Jim the chance to check her for injuries. So they stood off to the side and let Ezra and Blair work their magic calming her down.
Chris'watch alarm went off , telling him it was time to go back to the clearing and wait for JD's call. This time Simon went with him. Jim would guard the camp and Vin would search for any sign in the surrounding area that the girl had been followed this far.
+ + + + + + +
The next morning the group broke camp. Chris and Simon would take Frances down the mountain, between the two of them they should be able to handle anything that might come up. They would meet up with the local law as well as the rest of Chris'team. The girl's story had checked out and thanks to JD's computer skills he had located an abandoned military station in the area. The declassified report he found said it had officially been a weather station. Unofficially, at the height of the cold war, the military had been using it to keep watch in case of a Russian invasion by the way of Canada. JD had also spent the night hunting for any information on the names and information Frances had given them; cross-referencing cases for any with missing children connected with summer camps, drugs, 'Get Strong Camp for Teens', helicopters, forced labor and the like.
He had come up with several hits spanning the last four summers. Unless someone had been looking for it, they wouldn't have seen the connection. JD had been looking. JD then told Chris and Chris spoke with Travis. It was now a federal case involving charges of kidnapping, child abuse, child endangerment, drug manufacturing and possible homicide; and since Chris and his team were already on the scene he'd be the lead investigator. Travis would clear it with the other agencies as well as getting more manpower on the scene.
It was decided that the sentinels and guides would locate and reconnoiter the camp where the drug lab was. Chris and Simon would take care of Frances, seeing to her safety. By the time Chris and Simon got her down the mountain, they would be met with a small army of personnel ready to go on the offensive.