Finding Family

by Debra Noellert

Magnificent Seven / Sentinel crossover

Disclaimer: The Magnificent Seven is owned by MGM and The Sentinel is owned by Pet Fly Productions. No profit has been made and only respect was intended. Thanks go to Sherri for her work as beta. All mistakes are mine.

Five of the seven members of the ATF's elite undercover unit, Team Seven, wandered through the corridors of the Denver Airport, radiating an air of frustrated boredom.

"This is so uncool," complained their youngest, JD. "First Buck and Vin get bumped from our flight because it's overbooked, and then their new flight gets delayed. Of course, they couldn't tell us that when we called to see if they'd be on time."

"Most companies in the airline industry are barely keeping their heads above water. It would hardly make good business sense to advertise how incompetent their scheduling is," commented Ezra, with his typical southern drawl.

"Look on this as a lesson in patience," advised the eldest, Josiah.

"I wish I'd brought a book to read," murmured Nathan. He hated to be idle.

"Enough," declared their leader, Chris. "I'm hungry. Let's find a place to eat."

+ + + + + + +

"So, how are your friends at work doing?" asked Naomi hesitantly.

Sitting across the table from her, in the small dining area of the Denver Airport's Mile High Grille, Blair figured Naomi's question was essentially the equivalent of 'How's the weather?' It was the type of small talk spoken between strangers and people who had nothing to say to each other. It made him realize just how uncomfortable Naomi was around her son, now that he was a cop.

He probably should have realized that her early show of support, when he had first been offered a badge, was due to her certainty that he wouldn't accept. Honestly, Blair had been surprised by how much he wanted that badge. His only objection, that a self proclaimed fraud would make a lousy witness in a criminal prosecution, was erased with the subtle handling of Steven Ellison and his team of lawyers. Within a few days Berkshire publishing was being charged with intellectual theft, Chancellor Edwards was running scared from Rainer's ethics committee, and Blair was receiving a 'Good Citizen' award from the Chief of Police for, "willingness to not only risk physical danger, but also sacrifice reputation and career to assist a police investigation and ensure public safety." Unwilling to look a gift horse in the mouth, Blair grabbed the badge and immediately enrolled in the necessary Academy courses.

That was when Naomi backed away. She was still smiling at Blair even as she packed her bags, but the smile never matched the fear in her eyes. She had insisted that she was proud of him. She just needed some time to 'process'. Her past year of travel from one new age retreat to the next, broken only by the occasional stilted phone call, clearly hadn't done the job. When Blair had learned he'd be making a six hour lay-over in Denver, he had call Naomi and all but begged her to meet him. Hoping that if they could just talk face to face, maybe he could help Naomi reach some sort of understanding of the path he had chosen to walk. So far things didn't look very encouraging.

"Good. Everyone's good. Henry's gotten real serious about his lady friend. There's a betting pool on when he's going to pop the question." Blair half-heartedly answered her question while gathering his inner resolve. He was determined to hash this out. He wasn't going to let Naomi run from the situation any longer. "Look, Naomi, I know that you're not really happy about me being a cop now but..."

"I'm sorry, Blair, I've done my best to set aside my own prejudice about police. I know they're not all jack-booted thugs. Your coworkers all seem to be good people, doing their best in a difficult job." Naomi seemed caught somewhere between an explanation and a plea.

"I'm hearing a 'but' in there," insisted Blair.

"But you could die, Blair! You could get caught up in some high-speed chase. Or have a bust go bad. Or be targeted by a murderer. Your backup could arrive too late. Your..."

Naomi's voice had become more frantic with each new scenario.

"Or I could die in a car accident on my way to pick up bagels." Blair countered, though he couldn't help wondering at how accurately her fears matched situations he had been in.

"It's not the same," Naomi denied.

"You're right. It's not the same. At least if I die on the job, I'll go knowing that I've helped others." Blair spoke these words with a quiet acceptance of his own mortality.

"How can you be so cavalier about your own life?" asked Naomi, aghast.

"It's not cavalier. It's reasonable. I want to spend the time I have on this earth helping others. 'All it takes for evil to run rampant is for good people to stand idly aside.' I learned that from you, Naomi."

"There are other ways to help people," Naomi interrupted. "Safer ways."

"Of course there are." Blair agreed. "For Angela, it was joining Amnesty International. Michael is a member of Doctors without Borders. Zachary practically lives in DC just so he can continue to lobby Congress into passing more green legislation. Erin and Brown Wolf help others by setting up a retreat in the middle of a nature preserve. You, you protest. You speak out against unfair laws, give impassioned speeches, and make people think about the way things are and how they could be made better." Blair took a steadying breath before he continued. "Catching murderers and rapists, finding the evidence to lock them away from society, helping families shattered by violence learn the truth about their loved ones; giving them what they need so that they can go on with their lives; that's how I help people." Naomi opened her mouth to speak but Blair pressed on, determined to have his say. "And I want to be very clear: I did not become a police officer just so I could keep working with Jim. Yes, he's my best friend and there's no one I'd rather work with. But if he were to die today, I'd still be a cop. The only question is whether I'd stay with Major Crimes. As much as I like Simon and the rest of the gang, I think my skill set and natural empathy would be a great fit for Special Victims, and I've already done enough undercover work to qualify for Vice."

"But, Blair, you loved being at Rainer. You loved teaching," argued Naomi.

"Of course I loved Rainer. It was a haven of learning, where questions were encouraged and even demanded. But, don't you see, I haven't stopped learning or asking questions. It's just that now my questions have a purpose beyond mere curiosity or acing the next exam. Now my questions help secure the safety of an entire city. Teaching was fun, especially when I had that rare student who would soak up knowledge with eager anticipation, but it never gave me the sense of fulfillment I have now." Naomi was looking away now, staring sightlessly at the passing crowds while tears rolled down her cheeks. Blair gentled his tone but didn't stop speaking. "All those years I spent traveling from country to country, tribe to tribe, always on the outside. Never quite belonging, always searching . . . not even realizing what I was searching for. It wasn't until everything that I thought mattered was stripped away that I knew what I wanted." Blair reached across the table to take her chilled hand in his own. "Cascade, working on the police force, is where I belong. I feel I'm meant to be there, serving and protecting my own tribe."

A small gasp was drawn from Naomi. Blair thought that perhaps his words had finally reached her. But then he realized something else had caused her to suddenly pale. Following her now focused line of sight, Blair saw a group of five men walking through the dining area towards a large circular booth a few yards away. The group moved with the relaxed cohesion of men who trained together. Military? More likely federal agents, though their dress was too relaxed to be FBI or Federal Air Marshals; not counting the auburn haired gentleman in Armani. His sleek, stylish suit would have left Rafe drooling.

A tall, athletic man of African decent was the first to slide into the booth, his jacket parting just enough to show a hint of holster. The young Caucasian that sat down next hardly looked like a Fed, with his backwards ball cap and longer than regulation hair, but he too was armed.

"Scootch on down there, JD," ordered the deep voice of the oldest of the group, a giant with salt and pepper hair.

"How come I'm the one who's always got to 'scootch down'?" complained JD good-naturedly.

"Cause if you don't," answered the dark skinned man, "Josiah will just sit on you, and I don't have the time or inclination to fix squished JD."

"Gee, thanks for your support, Nathan," said JD in disgust. Josiah just chuckled as JD quickly moved to make room for him.

The fancy dresser in Armani sat on the other side of the booth and opened a menu. "It's hardly my preferred cuisine but the fare is reputed to be of good quality," spoke a strong southern accent.

"Then you won't mind buying," insisted the tall, darkly dressed blonde that brought up the rear.

"I don't see any reason ..." protested the southerner.

The blonde set both hands flat on the table, and then leaned forward into the southerner's personal space. "Hallay expense report," he murmured cryptically.

The words drew an immediate change in the southerner's demeanor. "I don't see any reason not to treat my colleagues and friends to a well deserved repast." The man's tone was almost placating. "Thank you so much for the ...suggestion, Mr. Larabee."

"Any time, Ezra." Larabee snagged an empty chair from a nearby table and settled it sideways to stretch his legs out next to the table.

Blair returned his gaze back to Naomi, who continued to stare at the group. "Chris?" The broken whisper was so quiet that Blair barely heard it. Yet Larabee immediately turned, seeking its source.

Cool hazel-green eyes landed on Blair, assessing his threat potential the way so many in law enforcement did when greeted with the unknown. After a few scant seconds Larabee gave Blair a nod of acknowledgement and let his gaze dip to Naomi. His eyes widened in shock. "Naomi?"

That was all it took to launch Naomi across the room and into the blonde's arms. She was straddling his lap and kissing his lips before Blair could do more than blink. The sudden passionate reunion drew chuckles from the group with Larabee, but Blair didn't find anything humorous about their situation. He'd finally cornered his mom into a face-to-face meeting, and does she listen to what he has to say? No, she's too busy playing 'tonsil tennis' with some old boyfriend. It wasn't even anyone Blair recognized, though he was surprised that his mother had been involved with someone who appeared to work as a federal agent.

The two finally came up for air. Naomi tenderly framed Chris's face with her hands. "I can't believe it's really you. They said you were dead. There was even a tribute to you in the newspaper."

"Not dead, captured," Chris explained with a sad smile. "I was a P.O.W. for two years before I was released during a prisoner exchange. When I finally made it home, you were gone, your family had moved. I tried to look for you, but it was like you'd vanished."

"By then we were traveling from one commune to the next. Half the time we weren't even in the U.S.," said Naomi.

"We? So what lucky man convinced you to marry him?" wondered Chris.

"Oh, I never married. I never even considered marrying anyone but you," assured Naomi. Then she noticed the gold band on his left hand. Taking that hand she said, "It looks like I owe some woman an apology for jumping on her husband's lap and kissing the daylights out of him."

"Sarah would have understood," murmured Chris.

"Would have?" asked Naomi.

"She and our son, Adam, died about three years ago." Holding up his left hand, Chris admitted, "I guess I never was very good at letting things go."

"What am I thinking?" asked Naomi, suddenly climbing off of Chris's lap. "I need to introduce you." While Chris and Naomi stood, Naomi motioned Blair closer. Blair had decided to cut Naomi a bit of slack when he heard that Chris had been reported dead years ago. He'd been shocked when Naomi had revealed she'd considering marrying Chris. He seemed the complete opposite of her usual radical, counterculture boyfriends. Besides she'd always told Blair she wasn't meant for marriage. "Honey," Naomi set a hand on Blair's shoulder. "I want you to meet my childhood friend . . . and first love, Chris Larabee." Chris extended his hand to Blair in greeting. "Chris, this is Blair . . . our son." Both men froze, mid-handshake, as the meaning of Naomi's words sank in.

Turning to Naomi, Blair said, "You couldn't have said what I just heard, because that's not possible."

"Blair . . ." Naomi started.

"It's not possible because I asked you, more than once, who my father was and you always said you didn't know. 'It could be any one of a dozen, Blair.' That's what you told me." Though he hadn't raised his voice, Blair couldn't quite disguise the hint of bitterness in his tone.

"I was trying to protect you," protested Naomi.

"Protect me from knowing who my father was?" wondered Blair.

"You don't understand. I thought Chris was dead. Killed in a war we shouldn't have been fighting. Sent there by a government that didn't care," Naomi rushed to explain. "You were so impressionable. I couldn't risk having you decide that you had to grow up and join the Navy. I couldn't . . ."

"Risk having me end up like my father," Blair finished for her. Glancing at the man that still held his hand, Blair's eyes flicked from Chris's gun to his own. He found it a bit ironic that Naomi had put so much effort into keeping Blair from emulating his sire, yet it was her actions that had guaranteed his entrance into law enforcement; just like his father.

"Blair, please say something." Naomi's tone begged for understanding.

Blair wasn't ready to give it yet. "I'm too angry to speak with you right now, Naomi." When Naomi didn't flee the scene, Blair decided he needed to leave before he said something he'd later regret. Blair had just started to shift his weight when Chris's hand tightened around his own.

"Josiah, would you mind taking Naomi over to the water display we passed?" Chris asked.

"It would be my pleasure. Ma'am." Josiah gently, but firmly, guided Naomi away.

Blair studied the man that was holding his hand in such an unrelenting grip. "Look, man, I'm not planning to make any claims on you, if that's what you're worried about." Blair was too old to need some complete stranger to play daddy.

Chris started to say something but then remembered their audience. A quick glance towards the table had Ezra, JD and Nathan making excuses about needing to check on Buck and Vin's flight.

Blair didn't wait for Chris to speak. "We don't even know if she's right. You and I don't look anything alike."

"Naomi's word is good enough for me," Chris insisted. "You look just like Naomi's father. Except your eyes, they're the same shade as Adam's."

"Adam was your son?" Blair wondered if the reason Larabee wasn't letting go was because the grieving father hoped to replace the child he'd lost. Yet even as that thought crossed Blair's mind Chris was releasing his hand and stepping back.

"I know it might not seem like it right now," said Chris, "but the Naomi I knew always acted with the best of intentions."

Blair didn't hold back his breathe of frustration. "I just wish, for once, Naomi's good intentions weren't shredding my life to bits." When Chris just studied him in silence, Blair asked, "What about you? You seem to be taking this all pretty calmly."

"I'm not the one Naomi lied to," Chris pointed out. "I don't figure I've got much right to be angry when she thought I was dead. I did look for her when I got back, but I could have looked harder. Instead, I let others convince me that she'd moved on with her life, and was better off without me intruding." Regret shimmered in his eyes before he blinked it away. "Besides, it's not as though you're an unpleasant surprise."

Something about this man kept drawing Blair in. "You don't even know who I am."

"True," admitted Chris, "But that's something I'd be willing to take the time to learn."

Blair was overwhelmed. He had no idea how to respond. Luckily, the ring of his cell phone bought him some time. "Detective Sandburg speaking."

"Hey, Chief. How are things going in Denver?" asked Jim, a fellow detective, Sentinel and Blair's best friend.

"That's not a good question to ask right now," Blair informed his partner.

"Naomi better not be laying a guilt trip on you for accepting that badge," growled Jim.

"Is there a problem with one of our cases? Is that why you're calling?" Blair tried to steer the conversation away from his mother.

"No. I just had a feeling that I should call you," came Jim's subdued admission. Though Blair had downplayed the importance of this stop, Jim knew it hurt Blair to be estranged from his only family.

"You had a feeling," repeated Blair. Apparently someone out there was trying to tell him something. Even though Chris was still watching him with steady eyes, Blair decided that he needed to tell Jim what was going on. "Okay, here's the deal: When Naomi told me she didn't know who my father was, she was lying."

"She knows who your father is." That certainly wasn't what Jim expected to hear.

"She's always known," Blair clarified. "She thought he was dead. I can't decide if that belief makes her lie more or less forgivable. But in her mind lying to me would somehow keep me from ending up like him." Blair could even sort of understand Naomi's warped logic, but for once he couldn't accept it.

As Chris blatantly listened in on the phone conversation he couldn't help but note that Blair inherited his verbal skills from his mother. Chris hoped he'd also inherited Naomi's more forgiving nature; otherwise Naomi and Blair were in for a rough road.

"You haven't even heard the best part yet," continued Blair. "Guess what he does for a living?"

"Law enforcement." Jim wasn't sure where the answer came from; he just knew he was right.

"And he gets it in one," answered Blair. "Give the man a cigar!"

"What department does he work with?" Jim had a sudden need to know more about this mysterious father.

Eying Chris reinforced Blair's certainty that he wasn't a local cop. "ATF or DEA?"

"ATF," Chris confirmed.

"ATF," Blair relayed to Jim.

"Does this ATF agent have a name?" asked Jim.

"Chris Lara . . . No way." Blair lowered his voice to a whisper. "You are not going to run a background check."

"Naomi's not always the best judge of character," Jim pointed out.

"No, Jim. You can't . . ." Blair's cell phone was neatly plucked from his hand.

"The name is Chris Larabee. L-A-R-A-B-E-E. Born in Picksville, Indiana; January 4th, 1952. I served for 15 years in the Navy, though some of my time with the SEALs is still classified. I've spent the last ten years working for the ATF." Chris handed the phone back to Blair.

Blair accepted it, somewhat confused. "You don't have a problem with my partner running a background check on you?"

"It'd be hypocritical to be upset with your partner for running a background check on me when I know Ezra and JD are likely running one on you right now," Chris explained. "Friends are supposed to look out for each other. A wise man understands and appreciates that."

"I'll call you back later, Jim. Have fun running your background check." Blair hit end before Jim could reply. Facing Chris he asked, "So where do you want to go with this?"

Chris took a moment to think on Blair's question before replying. "Finding out whether we could be friends seems like the best place to start. How long were you planning to be in Denver?"

"I'm just here for a six hour layover." Blair glanced at his watch. "I've got about three and a half hours left before I need to board my flight." Then Blair took a leap of faith. "Or I could trade this ticket in for another flight, maybe something tomorrow. Of course I'd need to get a hotel room." Blair was suddenly afraid that Chris would think he was assuming too much.

"Forget the hotel. I've got a perfectly good guest room, fully furnished and just waiting to be used." Chris countered Blair's fears.

"If you're sure it wouldn't be an imposition?" Blair couldn't contain the smile that came to his lips. All those years he'd convinced himself and everyone else that not having a father didn't matter. Now, standing here face to face with a father that actually wanted to know who Blair was as a person, it felt great. In fact, it felt incredible.

A throat cleared a few feet away. "I'm sorry to interrupt, War Dog." The tall, mustached brunette radiated tension. "But I think we may have a problem."

Chris became immediately alert. "What is it, Buck?"

"Vin and I ran into the others out on the concourse. Ms. Sandburg was telling Josiah that she didn't understand how she hadn't found out you were alive sooner. Especially since she's always stayed in contact with at least one person from the town you both grew up in . . . Ella Gains." The last two words were spoken in a venomous whisper.

"I wish I could say I was more surprised," spoke Chris grimly. "She was one of the people who was most insistent that I should give up looking for Naomi and get on with my life." Chris looked at Blair with worry. "Can you tell me how often Ella's been in contact with you and your mother over the years?"

"She'd usually visit a few days to a week every year, if we were in the U.S." Blair thought back on the attractive brunette who had always made him uncomfortable. "You're saying that she knew you were my father and that you were alive all along. I guess that explains why she would look at me funny and ask me what I thought my father might be like when Naomi wasn't around."

"When was the last time you saw her?" asked Chris.

"Well, I can't speak for Naomi, but I haven't seen much of Ella since I started college. The last time was when she and Naomi came up together, for a belated celebration, about a month after I got my Masters." Blair couldn't quite suppress a small shudder.

"What happened," demanded Chris, picking up on Blair's unease.

"After dinner, we went bar-hopping. Naomi hooked up with some guy. Once she was gone Ella started coming on to me pretty strong. I declined as politely as I could, and she later just laughed it off," detailed Blair.

"She's an attractive woman," Buck pointed out. "Why'd you turn her down?"

"You mean besides the fact that she was old enough to be my mother?" asked Blair. "Whenever she was around I always got the feeling that she was playing some game I didn't know the rules to. I'm guessing that she's obsessed with you," he directed at Chris.

It was Buck who replied, "More like a fatal attraction."

Chris sent Buck a short look and then explained, "I mentioned earlier that my wife and son died three years ago. What I didn't say was that assassins hired by Ella killed them." Chris edged closer to a now pale Blair. "If she makes any attempt to contact you; if she suddenly shows up for a visit . . ."

"I'll arrest her," vowed Blair.

"No! At least not without back up. Ella is smart, manipulative and usually has a gang of mercenaries at her disposal. You can't afford to underestimate her. The last time I did it nearly cost the lives of everyone on my team." Chris's words carried an intensity that demanded Blair's attention.

The sound of others approaching halted the conversation. Ezra, JD and a longhaired stranger that Blair assumed to be Vin stepped up. All three men looked uncomfortable as they approached.

"Your mother asked that we give you a message," informed Ezra, as the spokesperson of the group. "She said that she understands your anger and wants to give you the space to process what's transpired. She was also concerned that her presence might interfere with your ability to form a relationship with Chris." Ezra radiated discomfort at having to relay such a personal message to a stranger.

Chris responded first, his irritation clear. "She just left?" He couldn't believe she was gone without saying a word to either of them.

Blair wasn't nearly so surprised. "She can organize a protest rally, speak eloquently before City Hall, and be the first in line to help during a natural disaster. Handling emotional upheaval, however, really isn't her thing." Blair had to admit, at least to himself, that he was relieved she'd left him to work things out with Chris.

"Josiah and Nathan are escorting her back to her retreat center," Vin reported to Chris. "Ms. Sandburg mentioned that Ella had visited the retreat for several days, just last month. Josiah thought he might be able to learn some useful information from others working at the center."

Chris nodded his understanding. He trusted Josiah to lead a thorough investigation, and there would be time to read his findings later. Right now Chris wanted to focus on Blair. "Blair, let me introduce you to some of my friends and teammates. This is Buck Wilmington, Ezra Standish, JD Dunne and Vin Tanner. Boys, this is Detective Blair Sandburg. I didn't catch which department."

"Cascade, Washington," Blair filled in. "Major Crimes division."

"Cascade's Major Crimes has a reputation for being quite the elite unit," pointed out Ezra as he shook Blair's hand. "You must be very good to have earned a spot."

"I like to think I do my part, but I can't claim too much credit. I've only been an official member of the unit for four months now," explained Blair as he took each man's hand in turn.

A strange current passed from Blair to Vin the instant their hands touched. Vin's eyes widened and he promptly lapsed into a native dialect that Blair didn't recognize. The confusion on Blair's face soon had Vin switching back to English. "Sorry, honored Teacher. I was unprepared for your arrival. I don't have any tobacco, but I hope you'll accept this medicine bag."

Blair's first inclination was to decline the man's sudden gifts. But another part of Blair; the ancient part of him that he usually only heard in the midst of deep meditation, insisted that to refuse Vin's generosity was to insult his honor. "This is more than sufficient. Maybe you can tell me the story behind your medicine bag later."

Vin's face split into a wide grin. "I'd like that, Teacher."

"Okay," piped up JD. "I don't get it. Why are you giving Blair your medicine bag? You got that from Chanu."

Vin smiled reassuringly at JD. "I'm just showing proper respect for a Shaman."

"Shaman? You mean like Kojay talking to spirits in the sweat lodge, type of Shaman?" JD turned to Blair with interest. "You're a Shaman?"

Blair hesitated under five intent gazes. "A while back the Way of the Shaman was passed on to me by a dying Chopec medicine man, but I don't have much in way of traditional training. It's not a title I usually claim."

"Whether you claim it or not, doesn't change what you are," insisted Vin.

The ancient whisper within Blair agreed. Eager to, if not change the topic, at least turn it's focus somewhere else, Blair suggested, "You must have had some training yourself, to be able to identify a Shaman."

"Yeah, I was trained, but not to be a Shaman. The Kiowa medicine man that was counseling me said the spirits meant for me to be a tribal guardian. He was preparing me for a right of passage when the social worker pulled me out of the tribe. She didn't like all the crazy heathen ideas he was filling my head with." Vin's tone gave clear indication that he still didn't agree with what the social worker had done.

Blair probably should have been outraged by the close-mindedness of the long ago social worker. Unfortunately, Blair was stuck on two of Vin's earlier words: tribal guardian. The ancient voice was rumbling again; telling him that Vin was a latent sentinel, and he had the abilities to bring Vin online. Blair immediately shot that idea down. There was no way he would consider even hanging around with another sentinel without Jim's consent. Blair directed his attention back to Chris. "If you're sure about wanting me to stay overnight . . ."

"I'm sure," Chris insisted.

"Then I'm going to need a couple minutes to see if I can clear it with work." Blair unhooked his cell phone from his belt. "If you'll excuse me?" Blair stepped away from the group to dial Jim's number.

On the second ring Jim picked up. "Is everything alright, Chief?"

"I guess that depends on how you look at it," said Blair. "There have been some complications."

"Complications?" Jim wasn't sure if he wanted to know.

"Chris has asked me to stay longer," Blair began.

"That's good, right? It would give you a chance to get to know each other," offered Jim.

"Yeah, but something happened when he introduced me to some of his team. Jim, I think one of them might be a latent Sentinel," warned Blair.

"Has he threatened you?" Jim demanded; the sudden need to protect Blair overwhelming everything else.

"No, nothing like that," Blair rushed to explain. "When we shook hands there was this strange charge between us. He addressed me as a Shaman, admitted he'd once been trained to become a tribal guardian by another Shaman, but was pulled from the tribe before he could take the right of passage. Remind me to rant about that later. I haven't actually seen him do anything unusual; it's more just a feeling. But if you think it's a bad idea to be around him, I'll leave today."

Jim bit his tongue against agreeing that Blair should come home immediately. Staying in Denver meant giving Blair the chance to reconnect with a father he hadn't even known existed. After all of the effort Blair had put into helping Jim reconcile with both his father and brother, how could he deny Blair the same? Besides, for Jim to assume this latent sentinel was as twisted as Alex would be as foolishly shortsighted as when Blair assumed all Sentinels were virtuous warriors. People were people, being a Sentinel didn't necessarily have an impact on that. "Let me talk to him," insisted Jim.

"Uh?" Blair felt like he'd missed a step somewhere.

"The latent sentinel. What's his name?" asked Jim.

"Vin Tanner," replied Blair hesitantly.

"Let me talk to Tanner," Jim reiterated. Jim could hear Blair's uncertainty through the quiet signal of the phone. "Just trust me, Blair."

"Okay," Blair walked back to the group of ATF agents, who were once again sitting at their table. "Vin, my partner, Jim, wants to talk to you for a minute." Vin's brows rose in surprise, but he accepted the phone.

"Is something wrong," asked Chris. It seemed that if Blair's coworkers were concerned about Blair they'd want to talk to him, not one of his subordinates.

"Vin said he was training to be a tribal guardian. That's not a title a Shaman hands out lightly." Blair debated the best way to explain the situation without revealing too much about his partner. "Jim's concerned because the last tribal guardian we encountered killed me."

"Don't you mean tried to kill you?" asked JD.

"No. I mean after twenty minutes of CPR the paramedics declared me dead and packed up their gear, killed me," detailed Blair.

"But what happened?" asked JD in awe.

"I think 'Miracle at Rainer' was the headline the local paper ran with," joked Blair. When his joke fell flat, he shrugged his shoulders and gave the only answer he could. "Jim didn't give up on me."

The whole time Blair had been answering the other's questions, Ezra had been watching Vin talk to the detective's partner. What he saw amazed him. Vin Tanner was . . . not submitting, Vin didn't have a submissive bone in his body. Even with Chris he didn't always cede authority, yet that's what he was doing now with Blair's unknown partner. The signs were subtle, especially given Vin's monosyllable responses, but small shifts in Vin's body language gave Ezra all the clues he needed. Clearly, a background check on Blair and Naomi wouldn't be enough. The moment they could get some distance, he and JD would need to do thorough checks on Blair's partner and everyone else involved in Cascade's Major Crimes division.

"Understood, sir, you have my word." That caught the attention of all of the agents. Vin wasn't a man to give his word lightly. "Here he is." Vin handed the phone back to Blair. When Vin noticed the curious looks from his teammates he explained, "Jim just wanted to make sure his Shaman was protected while away from his tribe."

On the phone Blair heard Jim say, "I cleared your absence with Simon. You can take the next three days, but you have to be back in Cascade when the Leathery trial begins."

"Not that I'm complaining, but are you sure this isn't going to be a problem?" The last thing Blair wanted was to return home to a stack of boxes, because Jim was denying his feelings.

"I think that Tanner's one of the good guys," Jim offered. "Check in with me; let me know you're okay. Even if it's just to rant, I'll be here."

"Thanks, Jim." Blair didn't know what else to say.

"Good luck with your dad, Chief," was Jim's farewell.

Blair took a deep breath, and then hooked his cell phone back on his belt. "I've got the next three days off." Blair locked eyes with Chris searching for any hint of rejection.

Instead, Chris smiled. "Sounds like we better see about changing that ticket of yours then." With those simple words Blair realized his life was irrevocably altered. He couldn't help but wonder where this roller coaster would lead.

The End