Warnings: This story contains spoilers for The Sentinel by Blair Sandburg. (It's a mild spoiler and my betas didn't even see it. If you do I'll send you cyber roses for your observational technique.) If you don't want the spoilers then, please hit the delete key. It also contains a lot of references to my other story, "The Protests". If you haven't read that one, you may want to do so.
Thanks go to my very nice and endlessly patient with me betas: Heather and Toni Rae. All errors are mine and not theirs. (I have a thick skull, you know). Comments are welcome.
She opened her eyes and saw nothing. Not a speck of light, not a glimpse of color, just darkness. She closed her eyes and tried again. Still the blank nothingness that gave her no clues, no ideas as to what had happened.
She tried to move and froze. First she noticed the pounding in her head. Then she noticed the painfully tight rope around her wrists. Last of all, she noticed how tightly wedged she was in a . . . a box? Something made of rough wood, that was certain. She decided that she needed to get loose.
Turning her focus on her hands, she gradually realized they were tied around someone. The other person was smaller than she was, frailer. She breathed in deeply, noting the scent of the baby powder that Brown's wife had rubbed into the small boy's skin.
She groaned, not meaning to make the despairing sound, it startled her as much as it startled the other person tucked so tightly around Evan Lashon Brown. She stilled, waiting as she tried to place the slightly spicy scent of the aftershave Daryl Banks had begun using while in the police academy.
"Ms. Fortaleza?" The teenager's voice was hesitant, as if he was trying to speak softly.
She couldn't hold back the hiss as his voice reverberated in her head. The pain she had been so carefully ignoring flared up into an incandescent white burn. As it did her memory returned. Her thoughts flashed, turning the incandescence into darkness as she drifted away again, "Oh, God! The kids! Will they ever forgive me for not getting their kids out of this mess?"
The bull pen was eerily quiet. The men and women of the Major Crimes Division were still in shock. All three shifts were present, so the room was filled to overflowing, but no one was speaking. Everyone was crowded around the three men who had lost the most.
Captain Simon Banks was staring at the television screen, eyes wide, tears streaming down his face. He could care less who saw him. Daryl, his precious son lay on the tarmac like a broken doll. There was no way that he could explain this to Joan. Their little boy was dead and he couldn't bring him back. Slowly he sank into a chair as the thought sank into his brain.
Detective Henri Brown held his wife tightly as they both tried to deny the picture before them. At the first keening whimper, he had tucked her face into his chest, rocking her. Daryl's body nearly hid Lashon's from view, but the small outstretched arm held his attention. He prayed with all his might that he would see the fingers move. They didn't.
Only Jim's heavy hands on his shoulders kept Detective Rafe from bolting out the door. The tear filled green eyes stared at him from where she was hanging limply in her guards' arms. She had fought the men, fought them hard enough that one man still lay on the ground behind her. If the video had included sound, he knew he would be able to hear her fury. He had watched as the gun was placed at her head, refusing to turn away. Mercifully, the tape had frozen there.
"We asked for one thing, the release of our compatriot, Kincaid. Since you didn't believe us, we have proven our dedication to our cause. If he is not released, another three of Cascade's finest will lose their loved ones. You have 24 hours." The voice was gleeful as the picture changed to an insignia. The bold reds and golds seemed to writhe before the monitor went blank.
The stunned silence was only broken by the soft wails of Henri's wife and creaking of furniture as detectives sat on the nearest thing that could support them. In the twenty-four hours since the first ultimatum and then the three hours since the victims had been snatched at safe house, everyone had been trying to find, a lead any lead. But none had appeared. And now it was too late.
"I don't believe it." Rafe's whispered words echoed hollowly. The hands tightened briefly before releasing his shoulders. "I would have felt her die."
"Rafe." Ellison's voice made him turn. The big detective looked crushed. Three people, three cherished members of his tribe, ones under his protection, were dead. The pale eyes were red rimmed from sleeplessness, hard work, pushing too hard. "You..."
"I won't give up on her any more than you could give up on Sandburg." Rafe shook his head as he said the words, not needing to see the reaction to them. Just as Jim had been so certain a year ago that Sandburg had still been alive, he was certain his Kyrie was still alive. He knew it, the same way he knew that the sun was in the sky overhead.
He was staring down at an amulet in his hand. The cool stone seemed to pulse in his hand, like a faint heartbeat. He rubbed it, letting it soothe his frazzled nerves. The golden brown cabochon fit so perfectly in his hand as he watched light flicker across it. He glanced up to see them staring at him, not seeing two detectives, even though that was what they were. Instead, for a brief moment, he saw sentinel and guide staring at him in amazement.
"Did AJ give that to you?" Blair Sandburg, guide, shaman, detective and one time anthropologist watched the long fingers glide over the stone. He could almost hear AJ whispering encouragement to Rafe. A tightening of his sentinel's jaw made him realize that Jim heard it too.
"She said I would never loose her as long as I had it." Rafe's voice shook as did his fingers. He straightened and looked at his friends. He kept his voice low, too low for anyone else to hear. "I know she's alive. And I think the kids are too."
Blair held out his hand, not asking, not demanding, just waiting. Reluctantly, Rafe pulled the thong over his head. With a last glance at the symbols on it, he let the carved stone slide into Blair's hand. As it left his fingers, he felt something brush his leg. Looking down, Rafe thought he saw the pale shadow of a cat slip past him.
"Ms. Fortaleza?" Daryl's voice came again, softer, not even a whisper this time.
"Mmm. Kani Fortaleza." For some reason the words were wrong.. She tried again. "Soy."
"It's okay." The boy's voice was tense. "You were hit pretty hard. Can you understand what I'm saying?"
She understood his words and underlying fear below them, but she couldn't answer. She moved her hands, twisting them in the ropes until she could put a palm on Daryl's side. She felt his sigh of relief as she forced the name from her lips, "Daryl?"
"That's right. You have to stay with me, ma'am." The boy rushed through the words. He had been so patient, waiting for her to wake up. He could hear her breathing, feel the breath as it stirred their close air, but he had been afraid she wouldn't wake up. "My dad will find us."
"Ari." She pushed at the wooden wall with her shoulders. In her arms, Lashon stirred. The heavy scent of milk lace with something, something she couldn't recognize wafted across her face. At least he was breathing, for now.
"Who?" Daryl's voice cracked. He wasn't sure he could do this. He didn't want to be the only adult present. At her quiet hiss, he froze, silenced.
"Kastillanu-ta rima-nki-chu?" She tried to focus beyond the box. She knew that there was something she needed to listen for, and then she heard it. The muffled roar of a motor and a hissing thud above them. She didn't like the sound of that. The more she tried to focus, to respond to Daryl, the greater the pain grew. She tried again, but couldn't wrap her tongue around the English meaning of the words. "Qheswa-ta rima-nki-chu?"
"I don't understand." There was no fear, just a tense resignation. It was obvious that she was trying to talk, trying to explain but it made no sense to him. She seemed to understand, because she didn't say anything else. Instead her fingers tapped his side in an odd rhythmic tempo. Moments later her voice began to croon, a low unintelligible song. As Daryl tried to catch the words, he never noticed that he was drifting off.
As she felt his muscles become slack, a smile graced her face. If she couldn't explain to him what she knew was happening, she would try to keep him from worrying about it. Composing herself, Kyrie AJ Fortaleza let a heartfelt prayer fly from her lips. "Find us, Enqueri! And soon. "
Simon Banks looked up from his study of the floor as his best team straightened. Something about their movement, their faces and the awed expression in Sandburg's eyes as he stared at Rafe, caught his attention. The men had often teased him about having 'spider senses' when it came to Ellison and Sandburg, well this time they were going off like crazy. He walked through the crowded room, pausing only long enough to catch Joel's eye.
"What is it?" He whispered, half afraid of the answer he was going to get. He watched silently as the sentinel looked at his guide before both of them looked at Rafe.
"Kyrie's alive." Rafe's voice was quiet, without inflection, and completely certain.
"I want to get a better look at the tape, sir." Ellison spoke as Rafe took something from Sandburg's hand. "I think he might be right."
"I know he's right." The deep choked whisper made them look at Sandburg. His eyes were wide as he stared at something they couldn't see. "They're all still alive. But it won't last long, especially with the Feds involved."
Simon nodded. He didn't want to know how or even why. But if Jim said his son was alive, he was going to believe the man. The fact that Sandburg seconded the information was a plus. He'd watched too many times as the sentinel and his guide did the impossible not to believe. "Joel?"
"Got it. You four are going to be taking some down time, right?" The serious expression on the ex-bomb unit captain showed his promise to back them up 100%. He glanced at the bull pen. "The tape will be at Ellison's as soon as it's been copied. I'll keep the Fed's out of your way. Go."
The four men walked out of the room, their coworkers subconsciously moving to cover their retreat.
Daryl opened his eyes. He blinked in shock. They were no longer in the dark box. In fact they were no longer tied up. He didn't think they were in Cascade anymore either. This looked familiar. It took him a moment before he recognized the area. He'd been here before, when he'd gone to Peru with his father.
A bright fire burned in the center of the clearing. Trees, tall and many shades of green surrounded them on three sides. The fourth side of the clearing was lined with a rock wall, beyond which he could see a mountain valley. The happy sound of a child's laughter made him turn.
Wearing only a breach cloth, Detective Brown's son was happily playing with a . . . black panther? Even as he moved forward, a tanned hand caught his arm. Slowly, wondering who he would find, he let his eyes trace the brightly colored paint that flowed up the arm.
He recognized the eyes first, bright green and lit with amusement, they startled him. He'd seen natives of the Peruvian rain forest before, so the paint wasn't too strange. But the sight of it decorating most of the photographer's skin was unsettling. "We're safe here, Daryl."
"Thank you, God!" he whispered, remembering too well her dazed words from before. "You can speak English again."
"Who said we're speaking English?" She asked him, leading him to the fire. She pulled a pot from the coals, asking, "Hungry?"
Deciding that this was so not the time to ask for an explanation of that comment, Daryl looked around. "Where are we? How did we get here?"
"Beyond, where I can keep us safe until Enqueri can find us." She ladled stew into a bowl and handed it to Lashon. "It's hot. Blow first."
The toddler sat down beside her, waiting for her to blow on his dinner.
"Enqueri?" Daryl knew he'd heard that name before.
"Detective Ellison." Fortaleza handed him a bowl as she sank to the ground beside Lashon.
He had to ask. "Are we dead?"
A soft smile crossed her face. "Not yet, Daryl. Not if they find
us in time."
Megan didn't even get to knock on the door before it was opened and she was dragged into the loft. Rafe took the tape from her hand and tossed it to Blair. She looked up into flat hazel eyes for a brief moment before he turned and walked away. In the corner by the TV, the tape was quickly handed over to Ellison.
"Sorry, I took so long, but I didn't think you wanted any party crashers..." Her words caught in her throat as she took in the loft.
Several maps were spread out on the table. Backpacks, the ones used by Jim and Blair when they were camping lay next to one that obviously belonged to Rafe, the monochromatic border Fortaleza had embroidered on it mirrored the woman's tattoos. Beside it was an older one that had to be the Captains. The thing that caught her attention the most was the sight of both Captain Banks and Rafe stripping and cleaning rifles. She headed over to the table where they were working.
"Are you going to need any back up?" She asked quietly, knowing that the sentinel would hear her but still trying to keep from bothering him.
"If you join us, you may get asked to go home by the Feds." Banks' voice was soft, trying not to disturb the pair working on the video tape. He never looked up from what he was doing.
"Do you need any back-up, sir?" She asked again.
With a smile, the big black captain offered her a rifle. "Glad to have you aboard."
"This is it." The weary words from the sentinel were a relief. "This is the place in the video. We go on foot from here."
In the past four hours, Ellison had been pushing himself to the edge of a zone out. First going over the video tape until he had an idea of the location of the compound. Then he was the first out of the car at each possible location. Both Rafe and Sandburg had tagged at his heals, ready for any move, any order from the bigger man.
At Jim's quiet words, the party spread out, searching for clues that would lead them to their next destination. Almost like he was following a trail, Rafe veered off to the side of an abandoned hanger. Megan followed him, wondering at the change in pattern. At every other stop, he had closely followed Ellison's lead. This time, he was in the lead. When he stopped at a pile of refuse she understood. There lay a brightly colored bag, the torn strap like a beacon against the dull rusted metal.
"Is it hers?"
"Yes." Rafe picked up the bag, fingering the beadwork before tucking it into his backpack. Placing the embroidered bag and his backpack on the ground he reached for a piece of metal. "Help me move this."
Raising an eyebrow, the Aussie did as she was asked. If Rafe could do this, she could help. The sight hidden by the metal nearly made her drop her end. Three bodies lay there. Two were dressed, one like Daryl Banks, the other like little Lashon Brown. The third was a naked dummy, one that could easily have passed for any of several wives or girlfriends of the Major Crimes detectives.
"Well, now we have proof they weren't killed." Rafe's voice was wooden as stared down at the mannequins.
"But why?" Blair asked as he came up to them. One by one, the other searchers joined them. "Why go to all that trouble? The kidnappers would have more leverage if the police thought they were still alive."
"Not if we're supposed to find them later, Chief." Ellison answered quietly, eyes masked by his sunglasses. "Simon, once you've given up hope, how far would you go to get back your son? Or to keep him from being sent back in pieces?"
"Aw, man. That is..."
"Connor, call this in." Banks cut him off, his eyes tracking Ellison as he loped off, following an unseen trail. "I don't care if you say it was a hunch or a lead. We've got to keep moving if we want to find them while they're still alive. You haven't seen us. Got it?"
"Yes, sir." She pulled out her cell phone. She understood the unspoken order. Her job was to keep the federal agents handling this case away from the truth.
She listened in the darkness, waiting, hoping. All she could hear was the faint, soft sounds of her companions as they exhaled together. In the distance, she felt more than heard the whisper of thoughts but it vanished before she could lock onto it. The air was stale and getting worse. She allowed herself to submerge again, being awake was too risky, it used up too much of their precious air.
Jim stared at the black panther in front of him. It had been flashing in and out of the shadows ahead of him for the last hour. They were getting close, but they were also almost out of time. The shrill ring of a phone made him turn.
"Banks!" The growl that came from the captain's throat was almost as dangerous as the one from the panther. The big man stared into the undergrowth as he listened to the voice that barely came through the crackling line. He turned off the phone and looked at the three men who were watching him. "According to Joel, the Fed's caught the group about 20 minutes ago and are trying to get an answer as to where the hostages are."
The howl of a wolf made Jim turn. It stood beside the panther, turning to look back into the woods. There at the edge of the clearing he thought he saw a cat, nowhere near as big as his panther, but a sleek running feline form. Without conscious thought, the sentinel broke into a sprint, following the three spirit guides. Behind him came muffled curses as the others hurried to follow.
In the clearing, AJ rocked the dozing child. Her eyes met Daryl's over the toddler's head, reading the growing fear. She closed her eyes and bowed her head.
"It's been too long hasn't it?" Daryl's voice was tight. He blinked sleepily. He was so tired. Too tired to remain standing. He laid down, one hand reaching out for her.
AJ's hand met his, curling her fingers around his, she let a tear slide down her cheek. "Almost. Sleep. There will be no pain. In the next world, you will be an honored warrior. I'll fight at your side."
He smiled up at her. All day or was it night, he mused, he really couldn't tell without a sun, she had told them tales of the jungle. She had explained the life she had lived until coming to Cascade. He really wished it wasn't over. He really wanted more time. Daryl Banks closed his eyes.
Hands linked to the two boys, AJ opened her eyes, focusing beyond the clearing. The air burned her throat, tasting dead and foul. Beyond the small space she heard a cat crying and a wolf answer. Letting herself fall out of the gentle rhythm of the otherworld, she called to them.
"Please! Jim! Rafe!" The last of her thoughts was brushed by darkness
He slid to a stop beside the freshly turned ground. He didn't want to think of it as a grave, even though he knew that was what it had been intended to be. From the frantic way the spirit guides were pawing at the dirt, he knew it was going to be close.. He threw down his pack. Then he heard the muffled words coming from under his feet. "Please! Jim! Rafe! Hurry..."
"Hold on! We're here!" He called out, hoping that Fortaleza had heard him. Grabbing the first thing that come to hand from his backpack, the sentinel tossed it aside.
By the time the other three men had caught up to him, the sentinel had already begun digging. Rafe barely got his pack off before he too began scooping the soft earth from the site with his bare hands. They worked frantically, tossing the dirt in piles to the side.
The box hadn't been buried deeply, so it didn't take them too long to uncover it. It was an ugly, roughly made wooden rectangle. Heavy plywood, bound and reinforced by 1X2's and 1" wide steel banding, it looked too small to hold the three people they knew had to be inside it. A simple lock, shiny nickel plated steel kept them from pulling it open. Ellison crouched on the lid, debating how to get the lid open. The wood was too thin to protect them from a ricochet so he couldn't shoot the lock off. He tugged experimentally, deciding it was too well built to be ripped open.
"Jim! Do you hear...?" Simon couldn't bring himself to say the words.
"She was calling for us as I arrived." Jim spoke as he took the pocket knife Blair silently offered. "Now, I don't know."
It took only a moment for him to get the lock open and pull the cover off the box. Inside, laying on their sides, Daryl and AJ were curled protectively around Brown's son. None of them seemed to be breathing.
Jim jumped down onto the edge of the wooden box. There wasn't enough room to work on them where they were. He reached in and gently pulled the little boy from the tangled arms that held him. Carefully supporting the limp child, he passed him up to the men surrounding the hole.
Blair took the little boy, laying him on the ground searching for a pulse. Finding it, he sighed in relief. Checking that there were no obstructions, he blew lightly into the little boy's lungs. "Come on, Lashon, breathe for me."
With a muffled cough, the little boy breathed in and out slowly. With each breath his pulse grew stronger. After a couple of minutes, his chocolate brown eyes opened and met Blair's.
Jim climbed out of the hole, senses focusing on the unmoving form. After a moment, Rafe looked up at Jim, shaking his head. Without saying a word, the two men began CPR.
"Dad?" Daryl's voice was weak as he watched the two detectives. The two men had stopped working. "She was hurt pretty bad. Is she ..."
"She's alive, son." Simon's voice was relieved as he watched Rafe cradle the young woman.
Ellison stood and moved over to his partner. The tired detective pulled a blanket from his back pack and wrapped it around the child curled in Sandburg's arms. He offered another to Simon as he pulled out a thermos. "Want some coffee, sir?"
"How is she?" Simon tucked the blanket around his son.
"Looks like she's got a pretty bad concussion, with a mild case of carbon monoxide poisoning." He poured the coffee, his head tilted to the side as he listened to something in the distance.
"We need to get these three to the hospital, Jim." Simon started to get up only to be stopped by the shake of Jim's head.
"No need. Connor is leading the paramedics this way." Jim
sipped his coffee, relaxing now that he knew that everyone was alive and
safe. There would be repercussions, but for right now, everything
was going to be fine. "We might as well wait for them here."
Extraneous Notes: For all those wonderful folk who know what goes in
an SAR backpack thanks for the information. For those who don't, think
of a magic bag of holding! Actually, the objects in the backpacks tend
to be things that rescue workers have found to be needed at most rescue
sites... canteen of water, small medical kit, thermal blanket, folding
shovel, camp axe (often a folding one), heavy bladed knife, radio/walkie
talkie, spare batteries, emergency rations (this varies), fire starter
and more. My drill sergeant had a 50 pound one that held everything but
the kitchen sink. Because of Jim's experiences in the military and Blair's
experiences with the PD, I gave them each a simple version of that one.
I hope you enjoyed the story.