Many, many thanks to my beta: Heather. Without her aid, this piece would be seriously filled with errors. All remaining mistakes are my own.
Warnings: This has spoilers for The Sentinel by Blair Sandburg as well
as my short story "The Protests".
"What's up Rafe?" Jim looked over at the younger detective. In the few days since the insanity on campus, the normally perfectly attired detective had been looking absolutely scruffy. Today's outfit, torn, worn out blue jeans, a faded T-shirt and a flannel work shirt were not in keeping with his normal 'GQ' style. Everyone in Major Crimes had been curious but the firmly entrenched frown lines had kept them from pushing.
"I need to borrow you, Sandburg and your truck tomorrow." Rafe's voice was weary, but he was smiling. The smile widened with amusement as astonished looks swept through the department.
"Sure, man. I don't think that would be a problem." Blair Sandburg, ex-grad student and soon to be police officer, laid his pen down. He really didn't want to be doing paperwork anyway. Quickly he shoved away the thought and turned his attention to his friend. "What's going down? Are you moving?"
"Kyrie is. When the she quit at the U, she had to get a new place to live. I offered to let her stay at my place..." Rafe grinned sheepishly at Brown's crowing laugh. Everyone knew that he was more likely to be found at Fortaleza's place than she at his. It was bad enough that if it wasn't an emergency, messages were left on her answering machine for young detective, that was if she didn't just hand him the phone. "So, anyway, she bought herself a house at the city limits."
It only took a few minutes for them to figure out a schedule. Everyone wanted to help move the woman to her new place. After all, she'd been on the front lines with them, trying to help Sandburg. None of them wanted to think what might have happened if she hadn't been working along side of Ellison, pushing the protests from behind. Of course, none of them 'knew' that she was the ringleader. Not to mention all the other times the stubborn woman had quietly gotten herself involved on the fringes of things involving the Major Crimes staff. Now it was their turn to invade her life.
Saturday found the off-duty detectives pouring into the campus apartment building. It was easy to see who was moving. Several students were carrying boxes from the second floor apartment, all of them labeled Kyrie AJ Fortaleza in Rafe's neat handwriting. The men glanced at each other, smothering grins. Their friend most definitely had been bitten hard by the love bug.
Inside they found Fortaleza quietly talking to a group of students, giving them directions to her new home. As she answered their questions, a ruffled Rafe came out of the back room, carrying a box. He grinned at his friends and stacked the box on a pile. Without pausing in her good-byes to her former students, the young woman smoothed his hair into place. Her hand then caressed his jaw line before tracing its way down to be caught by his.
"There they go again." Brown muttered turning away to hide his grin. "They're as bad as newlyweds."
"Morning, Rafe." Jim grinned himself. He had a feeling that today was going to give them lots of blackmail information on the younger man.
Blair looked over at him quizzically and catching the light in his Sentinel's eyes winced. He whispered, soft enough that only a sentinel could hear, "Jim! I don't know what you're planning, but you need to remember that..."
"Thank you for coming, gentlemen." Fortaleza turned her green eyes on the group of detectives. There was no edge to her voice, but her eyes were watching the big sentinel warily. At the scrutiny he froze and then smiled innocently. She shook her head as Blair grinned at the other man's expression. "Especially on your day off. I wouldn't have had Rafe ask, but I really need the help. I have to completely out of here by 3 PM."
"Didn't they give you a grace period?" Simon's growl was deep and threatening. Even in eviction proceedings, the people were given a grace period to get their stuff off the property.
"Capitan Banks," her accent was heavy with amusement. "After what I helped organize on campus, you expected politeness, between the administration and myself? I think the fact that they gave me until the weekend to find a new home and pack was very nice of them."
"All we have to move is the stuff in boxes. Some of it's here and some's in her campus storage box." Rafe spoke up, neatly diverting his glowering captain's attention. "Most of it is stuff she never unpacked."
"Then let's get moving, gentlemen." With those words the detectives went to work.
The early afternoon sun poured into the empty apartment. It was 2 o'clock and they were nearly done. Closing the refrigerator door, Jim looked over at woman scrubbing the kitchen counter. As always, she looked up as soon as she felt his regard.
"Is something wrong, Enqueri?" The quiet words caught his attention and brought Blair's head up, eyes focused on them. She smiled and tossed the sponge into a bucket.
"No. Just thinking. Since you bought that cottage, I guess you'll be staying permanently." He spoke quietly, but loudly enough that Blair heard the words too. His guide stopped working, listening and watching, waiting for whatever was coming.
Fortaleza winced at his words, paling. "I didn't think to ask. If you don't want me in your territory..."
"Whoa. Calm down. You're welcome to stay in Cascade. In fact, I think you and Rafe are kind of 'cute'." Jim grinned as the woman blushed. Her lips twitched and when he started laughing she smiled. "It's not a problem. It just that the idea hadn't occurred to me before."
"Oh. I can live with that." With one last glance at the kitchen, the photographer/anthropologist stretched, wincing as her back cracked. "I think we're done."
"I'll do one last check of the rooms." Blair called from the living room as he leaned a broom against the wall.
A moment later, the younger man's voice called from the back room. "Hey, AJ! You forgot a box."
Jim's cell phone rang. He pulled it out, answering distractedly. Most of his attention was on the quiet conversation heading his way. Something about the box being fragile due to water damage.
"So are you two done yet?" Megan's tone was amused. The fact that Jim was a neat freak had touched her funny bone. The idea that Fortaleza was his closest competition had brought tears to her eyes when she'd overheard their arguments on the proper way to clean an item. Blair had stayed behind to play 'referee' and make sure neither tried to kill the other and hide the body. "You're supposed to clean the place, not sterilize it."
"Yeah. We'll be heading out as soon as she finishes the paperwork." He answered. He listened to her response and grinned before disconnecting the line. Blair walked up to him, a worn battered box in his hands and raised his eyebrows. "Megan just wanted to know if we were done, Chief."
"Man, are we ever. I don't think this place has been this clean since it was first built!" Sandburg complained. He ducked as Jim swatted playfully at his head. The movement, coupled with age and the water damage was too much for the old cardboard box. With a soft sigh, the seam gave way.
"Shit!" Jim reached out, trying to stop the cascade of items falling from the torn side.
"Aw, man!" Blair's voice was pained as the woman came racing out into the room. "I'm sorry, AJ. I didn't..."
"Are you all right?" She interrupted, looking him over carefully. At his nod, she squatted down and began picking up the fallen items. Her motions were quick and sure as she inspected things. Absently she slid a pair of bracelets onto her arm as she placed an odd looking metal object in her backpack. Jim and Blair looked at each other and began helping her pick up the spill. "I doubt anything broke. None of it is really fragile."
"What is this stuff?" Blair asked as he picked up a filed metal arrowhead.
"Things from my past." AJ reached over and took the arrowhead, dropping it into an open wooden box. "Things from when my life as anthropologist met up with Uncle Zel's work with the government."
At her gasp, Blair looked up. Jim had reached out and grabbed her, one hand wrapped around her wrist, the other holding her forearm. When she tried to move, his fingers tightened. Her voice was pained as she whispered, "Let me go."
The sentinel's eyes were focused, too focused. He had zoned on something. Blair wasn't sure what it was, but from the look of things, it was bad. He reached over and gripped Jim's wrists. "Come on, man. Come on, back. You need to let go. I need you here, Jim. Jim, come on."
Several minutes later, Jim was still crouched over Fortaleza, his hands tightly wrapped around her arm. Blair looked over at the young woman, noting her pale panicking face. Up until now she had been calm. The lack of any response by the sentinel to his guide's entreaties had her on the edge of her endurance.
"Blair. I ..." The mixed pain and fear made him wince. The rest of her words were in a dialect he didn't quite recognize.
"I'm trying." The sound of door opening brought both of their heads up and around. Rafe stood in the doorway, face concerned.
"Looks like you have a problem." Rafe moved over to them. He'd heard about Jim's zones but had never noticed one. He had been prepared to witness one, what with the revelations just a few weeks before and the discoveries he'd made over the past year. However, the idea that Jim could zone on his girlfriend was not something he wanted to think about or really face. He knelt beside her, wrapping his arm around her and bringing his hand next to Jim's. "What happened?"
"I'm not sure yet." Blair admitted. He pried gently at the steely fingers. Rafe reached down and joined in the efforts. Between the two of them, they pried Jim's fingers off of AJ's wrist. One look at the bracelet and Blair began to swear softly. "Well, now I know why he zoned."
Wrapped around her wrist, now squeezed tightly into her skin was a brass bracelet. It was a plain, simple curve of metal, open on one side so that the wrist could be slipped inside it. On the polished outer curve read the words Jim had zoned on...
Capt. James Joseph EllisonAJ fumbled as she pulled off the slim metal and placed it in Jim's hand.
U.S. Army Special Forces
MIA Peru February 1988
"Jim? Come on back, man. It's over. You're safe here." Blair's voice reached through the memories and the sentinel's eyes blinked.
"What..." His blue eyes were pained as he looked around.
"We don't have time to deal with this now." Fortaleza spoke softly. She was huddled in Rafe's protective embrace, as far from the big man as she could be and still be crouched next to him. "You take Jim, either to your loft or my new home. The housing director is almost here. Go."
Blair nodded and pulled Jim to his feet. Still a little dazed, the detective followed him silently. Behind them, Rafe helped AJ scoop that last few fallen things into her backpack.
"Thank your wife for the brownies, Henri." AJ smiled up at the detective. "and thank you for all the help."
"If she hadn't been planning on going to Seattle with my mom she would have been here too." A wide smile crossed his face as his partner's lady tugged his face down so she could kiss his cheek. "Hey..."
"Pass it on to her for me." She wriggled her eyebrows at him. The smothered chuckles from the others made him glad they couldn't see his blush.
"I will, girl." With a cheery wave he led the way to the cars parked in the driveway.
"Now that their gone, will the four of you explain what happened?" Simon's voice was mild. The look on his face calm. He grinned fiercely at his friends' surprised expressions. He held up a hand, ticking off the points as he expressed them. "Yes, I know something is up. One, Ellison's jaw was grinding when he finally got here. Two, Sandburg was keeping an almost silent running monologue for the first hour and then even though he shut up, he kept a very close eye on his Sentinel. Three, once Rafe and Fortaleza arrived, nearly an hour late, both of them checked in with Sandburg before doing anything else. Four, Rafe hasn't let Fortaleza out of his sight since their arrival. Five... do I really need to continue?"
The small group looked at each other, avoiding the captain's eyes. Simon enjoyed the times he blind sided his detectives. For some reason they seemed to jump to the conclusion that since he dealt mainly with the administration of Major Crimes that he was no longer a detective.
Rafe took the initiate in the silence and led them to the back porch. "Kyrie? Do we have any more beer? This may take a while."
"I think so."
Before she could move to get them, Rafe pushed her gently towards a chair. "I'll get it."
After Rafe brought each of them a beer, they sat in silence for a while. Simon watched their interaction and the obvious tension that had appeared. Once comfortable with both of the partners, AJ now flinched warily when Jim moved too fast or too close to her. It was just as obvious that Rafe was staying between the two. Blair didn't quite hover, it was a delicate balance between concern and hovering as he glanced from person to person.
"Enough." Simon's voice startled the group again. This was getting old. He wasn't sure who was harder to make talk, the sentinel, the guide, the concerned detective or the skittish photographer. "Why did Ellison zone and how did it affect Fortaleza?"
With a soft gust of breath, Jim straightened and pulled a brass bracelet from his shirt pocket. He stared at it grimly before tossing the metal. It caught on the neck of the beer bottle with a ringing clatter before slowly settling against the dark skinned hand. Simon stared at the words on it, comprehension slowly dawning.
"I broke a box at AJ's." Blair's voice was soft as he quietly began the story. His eyes met Simon's briefly before glancing over at his sentinel. "It was filled with things. We were all picking up the stuff and putting it in her back pack when Jim saw it and..."
"It was my fault." Her voice was raspy and choked. Simon stayed silent as Rafe pulled her into his lap, bringing his arms around her securely. "I know how sentinels react to bright shiny stuff, especially when they aren't expecting them."
"So, I'm part magpie?" Jim's comment brought chuckles from the men. Fortaleza looked up, not understanding the word. With a very wry smile he looked over at her. "Soy lora o mono?"
The tension in her shoulders disappeared immediately. "Un mono loco."
Even Simon understood her laughing response. He toasted both of them with his beer. "Well, I have to agree, Jim. You are as bad as one of those little accordion monkeys... I never know what to expect." As Jim and Blair both spluttered the beer they had just sipped, he winked at her. "I'm guessing the fact that Jim's name on this is what really caused the zone?"
"I didn't expect it. I didn't think a bracelet would have been made. I was part of cover ops. The fact that this exists..." Jim's voice trailed off. His eyes were introspective as he gazed into the forest behind the little house. His guide gripped his shoulder, silently lending the bigger man his support. Simon watched quietly, knowing that Jim needed the silence to speak, to tell his thoughts. "I wonder if they made any for the rest of the team. And if they did, what happened to them? Where are they now?"
"In my attic." The whisper was quiet, almost silent.
Simon saw the surprise in Ellison's face before it became closed again. Even Sandburg and Rafe were staring at Fortaleza. He had to ask the question they were all thinking, "How did you end up with all of them?"
Green eyes looked up, meeting his before turning to stare at her hands again. "I have a bracelet for every U.S. military man or woman who disappeared or died in my territory. I know all of their names, their last known locations, and what most likely happened to them."
In the growing silence, she stood, pulling away from Rafe. Her eyes looked at Ellison's closed face as she spoke again. "Yours was the only one not in a case. I'll get the others."
"How on earth..." Simon began.
"Remember who her uncle worked for?" Rafe's voice was taut.
Simon winced as he remembered the men in the plain, well fitted suits. They had shown up after the mayor and the chief of police had seen proof of Sandburg's dissertation. They had quietly advised both Ellison and Sandburg that if they ever needed employment, it was only a phone call away.
Before leaving he had seen one of them handing Fortaleza a cell phone. The look of pure fury in her eyes had been enough to make him wonder what she had been forced to promise in exchange for their help during the protests at Rainier.
Fortaleza paused at the doorway, a box in her arms. She looked at him, setting the box in front of Ellison. "These are yours if you want them."
"Why?" The simple question came from Blair. "Why you?"
"I am from the 'Walks through' people. Who else would hear of strangers falling out of the sky? I was also sagrado, if I asked for the strangers to be held for me, they would be." She opened the flaps of the box and began pulling flat boxes out of it. "These are ..."
"Why wasn't my bracelet with theirs?" The pale blue eyes were watching, scrutinizing the woman crouched beside the box.
"You lived. You were adopted by the Chopec." She shrugged, staring back up at him. "Yours was one filled with luck and power. I kept it with me whenever I was in the high forest near the Chopec lands."
"Humph." The sentinel grunted and reached for her arm. Fortaleza didn't move a muscle as he pushed her sleeve out of the way. A dark bruise stood out against the fair skin. "Doesn't seem like it was too lucky."
"Really? If you hadn't survived, I would have bound it away, like the others. Then it wouldn't have saved my life." A quick grin flashed across her face. "Personally, I like it. I wear it... wore it a lot."
"Now that is a story I have to hear." Blair sat up, curiosity actively lighting up his eyes.
"Another time, Chief." Jim's voice was soft as Fortaleza fought a yawn. "I think we've worn out our hostess."
Taking the hint, Simon stood. "Jim's right, especially since some of us have to be at the station early tomorrow morning."
It was only as they were pulling out of the driveway that Blair realized that they had left the bracelet behind. "Jim, we forgot..."
"No, I didn't forget. AJ will keep them safe." The sentinel's words were quiet in the cab of the old, classic Ford. "If I need to look at them, she'd hand them over to Rafe to bring to the loft."
"Yeah, but what about you zoning on the bracelet?" Blair's voice was concerned. Anything that could cause his partner to zone was worth worrying over until he found a way to prevent it.
"It was a one time thing, Chief. If I had known the existence of the bracelet, I wouldn't have zoned on it." The sentinel grinned at the doubtful look on the other man's face. "I promise you, I'll tell you if I have any other problems with shiny objects."
"You better, man." The guide's voice was firm, unhesitating, but
his answering grin was relieved.