Warnings: Spoilers to "The Sentinel by Blair Sandburg". Also, you don't have to read my other stuff, but it is helpful if you've read "The Protests" and "Moving Day".
Thanks go my wonderful wonderful betas. Without them this little piece of wandering thought would not exist. Why? Well, when my computer ate everything, this was one of the three things that completely vanished. As in I never wrote this one out by hand so it was gone. Thank you, Toni Rae! Thank you, Hazel!
Another thank you goes to everyone who asked me why the Sunrise Patriots chose AJ, Daryl and Lashon for their little blackmail scheme.
Daryl looked around, watching the adults acting like kids. He really wasn't sure why he agreed to come to the annual PD picnic. Normally he thought it was a bore. The food was good. He had to admit that. These people could really cook. Now that Blair was around, the food was usually different. The man could cook as well as some of the cops' wives. Blair's dishes almost always came from some place he'd never heard of; heck, he couldn't even identify the ingredients most of the time, but it was still good.
As he dug into the odd looking mixture that Blair had made, he watched the anthropologist. Blair had finally managed to tease Jim into a game of Frisbee. Even though he had lost his bet with Henri over the outcome of the argument, he had to admit that the two of them were good for each other. Daryl still wanted to know what Blair had meant by his comments about tests. Anything that could make the big detective respond that fast had to be good. Of course, he knew that Jim let Blair get away with stuff that no one else could and this might just be another of those 'only Blair can do this and live' things. Nah, he decided it wasn't worth snooping into their lives. After all, if the press hadn't been so gung-ho, his dad and Megan wouldn't have come so close to dying. He shook away that thought-- it wasn't a good thought for such a rare nice day -- and turned back to watching the game.
A long toss made the Frisbee carom past a very startled Vice detective. Within minutes the two-man game expanded as officers from Major Crime, Homicide, and Vice joined in the fun. Daryl grinned to himself as he watched them. It wasn't that often that the different groups of the PD came together as a single unit, unless something big was going down; at those times there was none of the laughing camaraderie he saw now. Yeah, he'd seen them express rough jokes and black humor, but there had been none of the smiles or enjoyment of life.
Daryl shook his head in amusement at his own thoughts. He wondered briefly if his father would even believe that they were possible. Sometimes his dad seemed to think he was still the angry teenager who argued about going on a fishing trip while in Peru. He knew he wasn't the same kid he had been back then. He had changed so much over the past few years, and he knew that a lot of it was due to his father's friends on the force.
"Hello, may I join you?" The voice was soft but it still startled him. He looked up to see Rafe's girlfriend watching him curiously, her face peering down from a hidden nest in the branches.
For the first time since her arrival, she wasn't holding one of the many children who came to the picnic with their parents. About half an hour earlier he had noticed that she was missing but seeing that Rafe seemed to be ignoring it, he decided it wasn't worth mentioning. Now he knew why the detective had smiled when he sat under this tree. When he nodded, she slid down from her perch. She carefully laid her camera on the grass between them, rubbing at the mark the strap left on her neck.
He found himself asking, "You finally get released or are you taking a break?"
"Break?" She tilted her head with a frown. "From what?"
"The kids, I mean, this is the first time you haven't been...." He broke off as little Lashon Brown toddled over. The kid was cute; even he had to admit that. The baby plunked himself down in front of them with a smile.
"You don't like children?" Fortaleza smiled back at Lashon. Raising an eyebrow in question and accepting Daryl's nod, she handed the tot a small piece of fruit from Daryl's plate. For a moment she looked away, obviously listening or watching someone else. She waved at the Browns. Once she had their attention, she pointed to the child who was climbing into her lap. "I think they are fun. Besides, I promised Rafe I would stay all day and who better to photograph?"
"It's not that I don't like them, it's that...." How could he say it without sounding like a cad? Daryl bit his lip and began again. "Look, I know and everyone else here knows that you hate cops but you're here and you're playing with the cops' kids. So, I thought they'd hired you or something. You know, to get you to come with Rafe and make a 'happy picture' for the papers."
Green eyes turned to him in astonishment. The woman's lips opened and then closed. She looked down at the little boy who was happily sitting in her lap and thought about her answer. When she answered it was with a simple, "Rafe asked, so I came."
Daryl shook his head in disbelief. After what his dad had hinted at, he just couldn't believe it was that easy. "Dad used you as an example to warn me off being a cop. He said that being a cop wasn't always a good thing. He said a lot of people, including you, had good reason to fear the police. "
"Daryl, it's true, I don't like uniformed men. Bad memories. Policemen, firemen, paramedics, soldiers... they all fall into same group. But that's from living through several bad years in South America." Her eyes were sad, almost lost for a moment in those memories. Then she let her eyes fall on Lashon. The boy smiled at her, offering a piece of watermelon he had just stolen from Daryl's plate. "Here, I can be around them, they are not in uniform. They are off duty and I can meet them as people. When it gets to be too much, I go play with the babies or hide up in a tree. I don't have to feel bad around them. Nobody made me come. Asked me to come, yes. And for Rafe, it is important that I try to get over my fear of police officers, so I came."
In an odd sort of way, Fortaleza's explanation made sense. He knew his dad wouldn't have pushed the issue but he figured someone had. Even Joel had mentioned to him that no one really expected to her to show up today, but she was at the picnic. Maybe not anywhere near the rest of the people, but she was here. Daryl looked away, trying to figure out what he really wanted to ask her. Across the way, Brown and Rafe were talking, glancing over at them occasionally. He'd noticed that the Major Crime group seemed to keep an eye on each other and their guests.
"You're good with that?" He finally asked gesturing at her camera.
"Is that the question that is bothering you?"
He looked up in surprise at her question. Then he frowned then answered. "No, it's not. I don't know how...."
"Just ask it. It is obvious that something has been bothering you for quite a while." Fortaleza carefully steered Lashon's questing fingers away from her camera before looking at him again. "Daryl?"
"Everybody wants me to be someone different. How do you handle it?"
She didn't answer him right away. Instead she looked around the park, eyes half glazed as she thought about his question.
"Mom wants me to go to college and become a business tycoon. Dad just wants me to go to college. Everyone wants a piece of me. They don't seem to want me to be who I am. They want me to be who they think I should be."
"I don't understand..." The woman shifted so that she was facing him, eyes steady on his face. "You don't want to be what? A college student or a business tycoon?"
"Yes... no. I mean, kind of." Daryl tried to explain. "I want to be a cop. I don't want to be a corporate executive like my mom. I never see her any more; work is more important. I don't want to be like that." He sighed. Nothing was coming out right. "I want to be me, not someone else's idea of me."
"I am who I am. And it hasn't been easy, especially since I came to Cascade." The sad but final tone in her voice made him look away. She smiled as she watched Rafe toss the Frisbee he had caught far beyond Jim's reach. "The people I care about let me be who I want to be. They may ask me to do something, be something, but they let me go my way too."
"Blair said you never went to college..." Daryl was startled as the words slipped out of his mouth.
Fortaleza chuckled. "It's all right. I think I understand your question now. No, I never went to college and it makes things hard sometimes. I never went to school at all. It means I cannot get a job here... not easily. I can be a photographer because that is what I have always been. I can guide 'professors' to the tribes because I am one of them, a member of the tribes. I can write articles because I have published before and my name is already known by the publishers." With a sigh she settled Lashon into a more comfortable position against her shoulder. Her words were quiet as she continued. "If you want to be a police officer that is your choice. The same goes for being a businessman. The question is which is best for you? Once that is decided you need to find out how best to become your desire."
"You sound like a guidance counselor." Daryl's eyes flickered over to the man who was approaching.
Rafe smiled at him as he crouched next to Fortaleza. He noticed, not for the first time, that they seemed to communicate without speaking. Fortaleza scooted forward a bit, just enough to allow Rafe to slide between her and the tree trunk. As she leaned back against him, she smiled, eyes laughing at Daryl's comment. "I spent the better part of a month talking to the counselors at the U last semester. I didn't quite fit in with their idea of a guest professor."
"Oh." Daryl laughed with her. If anyone could confuse the university more than Blair Sandburg,he had an idea that it would be her. Then he quietly watched for a moment as Rafe's arms snaked around AJ's waist pulling her tight to his chest and helpicng her support the sleeping toddler. "So how do I find out the best way to do that?"
"Ask Blair or your father. I don't know a lot about the way things are done here." She paused, eyes closing as she thought about his questions. "In the mountains you get apprenticed until you are ready to be on your own... I guess your college education is like an apprenticeship. You learn how to do; you learn the knowledge. The academy sounds like the final year of the apprenticeship, where you learn to apply the knowledge."
"So you think I should go to college." His voice was flat. He had hoped that she would support him against his folks.
"Daryl," Rafe spoke for the first time. "I know you want to be a cop. But what kind of cop?"
"Huh? I want to be like my Dad."
"For that you need some skills you don't have yet." The detective spoke seriously. "You need a background that will help you to be the best police officer possible. Classes like criminology, basic forensic science, criminal law, psychology... they all help. Your dad is the Captain of a group of detectives. If you want to be like him, you're going to need every advantage you can get. Without a college education it's not easy to move through the ranks. It is still possible to move up from patrolman to detective through sheer hard work, on the job training, and pure luck. The best detectives we have on the force went to college and earned at least a BA."
Daryl glanced over to where Blair was grabbing a plate of food. Beside him, Jim Ellison was grinning at some comment the smaller man had made. He looked over at the couple beside him, his words quiet but firm. "I don't want to go to Rainier after what they put Blair through."
Rafe whistled softly, eyes meeting Daryl's as he spoke. The regret and sadness there made Daryl worry. He knew had just missed something again. "Okay. So don't go to Rainier. Washington State has some good criminology classes. That's where I went."
"No wonder you always rooted for them against Rainier." Blair's quiet words made them look up. The former grad student watched them holding a couple of plates. "Are these seats taken?"
Rafe and AJ looked over at Daryl. The young man shook his head. "Nah, they're free."
"Thanks, man." Blair managed to settle himself on the grass without spilling either plate of food. He handed one to AJ, grinning at her. "Here. We all noticed that you were avoiding the tables and the crowd, so Rafe told me what you like."
AJ glanced back at the detective behind her. She then looked down at the plate she was holding with her free hand. The confused look that she gave it made Rafe chuckle. Shaking her head at his reaction, she commented. "Thanks, I think. What is it? I don't recognize it."
"Try it." Rafe's voice was amused as AJ wrinkled her nose at the casserole.
After a long moment she tried it and smiled. "It's good."
"Of course it is, I made it!" Rafe growled playfully.
Daryl bit his lip at their quiet display. To his amazement, Rafe didn't even look disturbed as he shifted the woman slightly, freeing one of his hands to feed her a morsel from the plate. He met Blair's glance and rolled his eyes. In their own quiet way, they were worse than some of the kids at his school.
"I want to go through the academy with Blair." He spoke softly, half hoping they wouldn't hear him. Three pairs of eyes met his and Daryl fought off a blush.
"Sounds good to me." Ellison sank to the ground next to Blair and handed him a soft drink. "Will you be ready for the academy by February?"
"February? But I thought that Blair was going this fall..." Daryl broke off at the wide smiles from his father's men.
"That depends on whether or not I manage to get my diss accepted this summer. The Dean is pushing for everything to be finished by August but I don't know." Blair's voice was wistful as he poked at his food.
"Your diss? But I thought that..." Daryl felt his jaw drop as he tried to make sense of the words he had just heard. "I mean, they tossed you out because of that sentinel thing. I..."
The four adults looked at each other before turning back to meet his confused stare. Finally Blair relented. "You heard about the disruption a couple of weeks ago? It made the administration take another look at the whole situation and they decided to let me turn in my real dissertation."
"You mean the protests worked? I think everybody heard about it. It was bigger news than your press release. Especially when the entire university emptied." Daryl nearly bit his tongue at the anguished look that crossed Blair's face. He stayed silent as he watched Jim lay a gentle hand on the other man's shoulder.
"We tried to be loud." AJ's words shifted the tension. She smiled happily at them. "Well, it's true. We wanted to be heard everywhere. The supercilious officiating didactic administration needed to learn a lesson."
The men chuckled at her accented words and she rolled her eyes. Daryl looked from Jim to Rafe and back to AJ. The way they were grinning at her words, the things he had overheard, suddenly it all made sense. "You were all part of it!"
"Nope." Jim corrected quietly. "Blair had no idea what was going on that week."
"And you still want me to go to college?" Daryl couldn't believe what he was hearing.
"We want you to be the best cop possible. None of us want to risk hearing that you became one of the rookie statistics. Too many burn out or worse." Rafe spoke solemnly. "How you get there is your choice, Daryl. You can go straight to the academy or go through college first."
"You can always take night classes after you graduate from the academy." Blair added.
Jim looked Daryl in the eye, "Whichever choice you make, we're still your friends and we'll be there if you need us."
Daryl nodded, feeling a lump in his throat. He had never really considered Jim and Rafe his friends. Yeah, they worked for his dad, but he thought of them as his father's friends. Now, they were including him in their circle, as a friend. He glanced around, noting for the first time that Joel and Henri had joined the group. All of them were there except Megan. Looking up he saw that she had cornered his dad in conversation close to the food tables. "You set me up?"
"Nah, Daryl." Joel Taggart's voice was warm and mellow as he laid a hand on the teenager's shoulder. "We knew something was bothering you. A lot of people care about you. So we took a vote and were going to send Blair over but you were already talking to AJ."
He looked at AJ, a quick hurt expression crossing his face. "You could have warned me."
She raised an eyebrow at him. "I wasn't there when they planned their strategy. I was in the tree above you, remember?"
"Then how did you set this up?"
"Coincidence?" Blair asked quietly. At Daryl's rueful chuckle, he grinned. "That or you would have to believe in the newspaper theory. You know, that Jim has super hearing."
Daryl knew he didn't quite understand the laughter that comment generated. But he decided it wasn't worth the trouble to question them. He didn't think he would get a straight answer anyway. There was something about the whole situation that didn't quite add up. When he figured it out he would ask them.
"Hey, dad, can I talk to you?" Daryl asked, as they loaded the car. It was late, the picnic had dragged on until the sun began to set. "It's about college and the academy."
Simon turned to face his son, wondering again when his little boy had grown up. It seemed like only yesterday he'd been as small as Lashon Brown. With a hidden sigh, he took his cigar out of his mouth. He didn't really want to get into another argument with Daryl over the academy; they'd had enough of them already. But if his son wanted to talk, he had to be there. "I'm listening, Daryl."
On the other side of the parking lot, Blair turned to Jim. "Well, did it work? Are they talking again?"
"Yeah, Chief, it did. They're talking. I'm just glad we don't have to explain how we clued AJ into the whole thing." Jim placed the last few things in the back of the truck.
"The guys are pretty smart. They probably just aren't asking. I mean, they know about your senses. They probably think she asked for your help." Blair double checked that he hadn't forgotten anything, before turning towards the truck door. He grinned and said, "Tell her I said thanks."
Jim looked up at a whispered goodnight. A few cars away, Rafe and AJ were helping the Browns and Taggarts load their cars. He nodded to woman who had looked up at his partner's comment. The sentinel raised his voice slightly as he spoke. "Thanks, AJ."
"Anytime, Enqueri." Her reply was soft, as Rafe wrapped his arm around her shoulders. Both of them waved before heading for their own vehicle.
Neither Simon nor Daryl Banks noticed the smiles as they drove away, still deep in their discussion of Daryl's future plans. Everyone from Major Crimes had been worried about the two. Especially as they had been at loggerheads since the night the Sunrise Patriots had taken over the Jag's stadium. Maybe through their little bit of assistance, life would settle down to what they considered normal -- the captain growling at them to finish their cases as quickly as possible, without the added tension that came from being unable to communicate with his son.
"Here are the pictures, sir." The uniformed man laid several packages on the desk. "Our man made a copy of everything the lady photographer took as well taking his own."
"Good work, soldier." The man behind the desk smiled as he began flipping through the photos. He paused at one, his smile going feral. "This is perfect. These are your targets, I want to know every move they make."
The picture was a long distance shot. It showed Daryl Banks leaning back against a tree. AJ Fortaleza was sitting next to him. In her lap, Lashon Brown was taking something from the tall youth.
"Yes, sir. They will never know we're there." With a smart salute the soldier strode out of the room.